Some short thoughts about blog prizes

Over the last few weeks I and my tiny corner of the interweb have been absolutely blown away to be nominated for a couple of different blog awards. It’s beyond super lovely when anyone likes the blog enough to comment favourably, let alone nominate me for any sort of award. So, thank-you Anita Chapman, Sue Fortin, Clare Wartnaby and Juliet Greenwood. Great bloggers all and freely recommended, particularly to those of you with an interest in writing.

Both the awards, The Versatile Blogger Award and The Leibster Award, ask recipients to do certain things in accepting the award. You’re either asked to blog on a particular subject (7 things about yourself for the Versatile Blogger) or link back to your nominator and make a certain number of nominations yourself. Now I wouldn’t put those requests (which you are entirely at liberty to refuse or ignore) in the same category as the sorts of internet chain letters and the like I had a little rant  about a few weeks ago. I think these awards can offer a benevolent and practical way for small bloggers to support each other and encourage a little bit more web traffic to one another’s sites.

However, I won’t be participating in the recipient’s end of these awards. It’s not because I don’t appreciate them. It might actually because I’m a tad miserablist as a personality type. I want you, my small in number, but much valued, readers, to know that if I recommend a site or a blog it’s simply because I think it’s great, and not because I’ve commited myself to recommending 17 blogs in return for accepting an award from someone else. I also enjoy the individuality of my little blog. It is a corner of the internet that is very much devoted to whatever I happen to be musing on at any given time. It doesn’t have much theme beyond the fact that it’s all stuff I thought. It’s a little self-obsessed of me, but I am slightly reluctant to post on a topic because I’ve been instructed to do so. Perhaps it’s a little odd of me, but I am protective of the eclectic and spontaneous nature of the subjects I talk about here.

So if I’ve linked you to this post because you kindly nominated me for an award, thank-you. I really deeply appreciate you liking the blog and taking the time to tell your own followers about it. If I don’t accept and pass on the award it’s not because I’m not grateful, and it’s definitely not personal. I’ve simply decided to keep both my posts, and my blog recommendations sparing, independent and heartfelt. And thank-you again. Yes. Thank-you. Really, you are kind.

Where I muse on weight loss and dieting and shaking the fat off one’s child bearing hips

I am obese. I want to lose weight.

Now I would never dare to make assumptions about your reactions, dear reader, but I do know from experience that commonly people respond to those two statements in one of two ways. Either something along the lines of: “You don’t need to lose weight. You look fine. Society wants us all to be skinny. You shouldn’t listen to the pressure…” or “Oh my god! Me too. I am sooooo fat. It’s just disgusting.”

The interesting thing is that those two reactions don’t come from different groups of people. They can come from the same individuals at different times (different times sometimes being different moments within the same conversation). And I’ve had both of those reactions myself, both to other people’s claims to need to lose weight and (more worryingly) in my own internal monologue. BTW, any of you who don’t have an internal monologue should really get one. They’re marvellous fun. You never have to be lonely again.

Anyhoo, why is it that we don’t seem to respond to our weight in a rational way? If I was a smoker who told you I really wanted to give up, you would probably be encouraging. You would recognise that this is a decision with benefits. You would understand that smoking, although marvellous fun, is fundamentally a deeply unhealthy habit. Well, actually, so is overeating, but somehow dieting can come to feel like we’re giving in to pressure rather than doing what’s best for us. Here are some thoughts on the subject. I shall probably number them and put them in a list. Regular readers of this blog will have noticed how I do like a numbered list. I find them very soothing.

 

1. Yes. The diet “industry” is totally repellent.

I have a lifelong commitment never to give them any money. Working from home I get to enjoy the full gamut of weightloss advertising. Weightwatchers, Jenny Craig, Slimfast, “Click here to find out how some random off Big Brother lost 4 stone in 28 minutes.” I have ignored them all (and suspect that once this blog is published I shall have a flurry of new weight loss spam to ignore further). I will give Weightwatchers a slight exemption for being one of the few marketed weight loss systems that does have a fairly strong evidence base for it’s efficacy, but actually I know I’m overweight, and I know why. I’m not generally keen on paying to have someone tell me the obvious. And I’m definitely not paying for a snake oil solution. There is no magic pill, and, however well it’s marketed, there’s no such thing as a (calorie) free lunch.

 

2. Yes. Magazines, popular culture, tv, film and all that jazz, put ridiculous pressure on people (particularly young women) to look a certain way.

This isn’t just the obvious areas of skimpily clad popstars and computer game characters clearly drawn by someone who thought Barbie was a tad on the hefty side. When’s the last time you saw a fat newsreader? That’s really not a job requiring a high level of physical fitness. Sit on a chair and read this out. Even at my biggest (especially at my biggest) I think a sitting and reading based occupation would have been acceptable.

And, certain sections of the press still run a fairly constant feed of “X celeb has lost weight – hurrah!” or “X celeb has gained weight – she’s a witch! She’s a witch! Burn her!” stories. All of which equates your weight with your worth as a human being, and that’s a problem. It would be patent insanity to decide that all blue-eyed people were outwardly jolly but secretly self-loathing and deserving of ridicule. Substituting “fat” for “blue-eyed” doesn’t make the thought any saner.

 

3. Yes. If you diet there is a good chance you will gain weight again later.

I’ve done this one myself. I lost over 4 stone in my mid-twenties and promised myself that that would be the only time in my life when I would diet. It’s now 8 years on and I’m probably only about 10lbs less that I was at my highest weight before that big diet. In the meantime I’ve been up to within a couple of lbs of my highest  point and down again to within a stone of my lowest.

But this isn’t because of any inevitability of regaining weight. It’s because I went back to eating too much and eating too many high calorie foods. It was entirely within my own control. I just didn’t control it.

 

Losing weight is a health decision, and the practicalities of doing it aren’t hard. Eat less. Exercise more. That really is it. You can spend hours trawling the internet or watching daytime tv for specific diet plans and particular views on whether it’s sensible to eat carbs after 4pm (it’s totally fine, by the way), but the only outcome that reliably leads to weight loss is to eat less calories. And when you’ve lost weight, you keep it off by continuing to eat less calories than you did before. You got fat because you ate too much. You get thin by eating less. None of this is complicated, and none of it needs to be an emotional issue.

But there is an emotional element, and for more and more women that I talk to it goes like this. Society says I have to be thin. I’m an independent strong woman. If I lose weight I’m giving into society rather than celebrating my individuality and accepting the woman that I am. I can understand that feeling.  I actually think that sometimes it takes more confidence to say, “I don’t like x about myself. I’m going to change it,” than to say that everything is fine. All I can say is that you have to do what is best for you. For me being thinner is better. I feel fitter and stronger. I get out of breathe less quickly. I can walk up hills without feeling like I might vomit up a lung. In the long term, hopefully I will have a longer and healthier life, which I want. There is so much cool stuff in the world. I really want to give myself the best possible shot at seeing as much of it as I can.

And if I’m honest, society has got to me too. I like being able to try on size 10-12 clothes, rather than being on the cusp of sizes that the “normal” stores don’t stock. I like going out in a floaty top and feeling confident that no-one is going to ask when the baby’s due. I like being able to count my chins without having to use the fingers on the second hand. I do feel prettier when I’m thinner.

So for all those reasons I am going to lose weight again. And I’m really going to try to make this the last time I go through it. For my height I should be somewhere between 8 stone 10lbs and 10 stone 10lbs. From past experience I know that too far under 10 stone and my hip bones and collarbone start to stick out a bit worryingly (maybe Grandma was right all those years she told me I had childbearing hips, which are sadly completely wasted on me). 

The target is 10stone. That’s 3.5 stone to lose. Gosh. I’d say wish me luck, but that would miss the point. I don’t need luck. I just need to eat less calories and workout more, which is hard because exercise is fun once you’re doing it but a pain to motivate yourself for, and food is lovely, like really really lovely, but not quite as lovely as a life without heart disease. So lovely scrummy food in moderation only from now on.

Eat less. Exercise more.

Eat less. Exercise more.

Eat less. Exercise…

Where I muse on compliments, chain letters and not liking cancer.

Not so long ago the lovely Sue Fortin included me in her list of Friendly Blogger award recipients. The Friendly Blogger award is a generally nice, happy, caring, sharing way of bigging up blogs you love. Us little individual bloggers scibbling away in our tiny corners of the modern Interweb appreciate all the support and links we can get, and so a bit of sharing the blog love is always welcome. The Friendly Blogger award invites you to “pay it forward” if you will, and when you read down to the bottom of this post you will see that I’m sharing a few of my fave blogs for your delectation. The award also invites bloggers to share seven interesting personal things about themselves. Sadly  my fundamental British/Northern/middle-class ness prevents me from doing that. Seven things? About me? Seriously, I’ve been with my hubbie over 15 years now, and he probably only knows about four things. I consider that a sign of a worrying level of emotional outpouring as it is.

The Friendly Blogger award also got me thinking about some of the downsides of my modern uber-connected life, the main one being that, although being easily connected to masses of people all over the shop opens you up to equivalent masses of loveliness, it also brings a whole world of opportunities to get irritated with humanity. Here are a few of my main InterWeb things that make me go Grrr.

1. Just for the record, I think that cancer is a Bad Thing. But here’s where I’m setting myself apart from those annoying Facebook status updates on the subject. I’m just going to assume you feel the same. Frankly, if you don’t, you’re a bonker and any further discussion would be pointless anyway. What I’m not going to ask you to do, is copy and post my view that cancer is a Bad Thing onto your blog or status update. I’m not going to imply that if you don’t do that, you’re a living embodiment of evil. I’m not going to suggest that failure to comply with a copy & paste instruction suggests that you are somehow in league with cancer and in favour of your friends and family suffering painful and premature deaths. I’m definitely not going to imply that if you fail to copy & paste as ordered you are not a True Friend.

For future reference, valiant status updaters, please assume that, when it comes to cancer, I’m against it. I’m also opposed to many other major life-shortening illnesses and pretty much anything that can be shown to kill children, puppies or kittens. Thank-you.

2. Secondly, internet, I would very much like you to learn to do simple maths. This would stop you, for example, from tweeting comments about how a month with five Sats, Suns & Mons in it only comes along every 800 years. This is obviously preposterous. Every month with 31 days (of which there are 7 every year) will have three days which appear 5 times. As a rough guestimate I’d figure that any given set of three days must appear around about once a year. And yet, every time there’s a 31 day month I see one of these tweets or status updates. That means I’m irritated unneccessarily at least seven times a year. So why not think about the numbers before you click on post and save me the mental effort of checking your working? 

Now I know that lots of people struggle with maths. I’ve taught adult numeracy in the past, and fully understand that maths is a subject that lots of people find intimidating and a bit overwhelming. That’s fine (well, it’s not fine really, but I’ll save the discussion of the bigger failures in education that have created that situation for another day). What I would suggest though, is that if you’re one of those people who suffers from a touch of Maths-blindness you shouldn’t write status updates or tweets that rely on a mathematical oddity for the point they’re making. There’s a high chance you’ll be wrong, and that will irritate me. And it should be clear by now, lovely internet, that I do feel that you need to be dedicating a higher percentage of your time and brainpower to not irritating me than is currently the case.

3. Actually, it’s not just the maths, I’d actually like you to think more right across the board. So, when you get an email that alerts you to a specific crime wave that is spreading across the globe, what I’d like you do to is pop over to Google, copy in a couple of key phrases from that email and click search. What you’ll probably find is that the email is a hoax, and you’ll have saved me the time of searching myself and then deleting the email, and you’ll have saved yourself from looking like a gullible fool. And again, I’m less irritated. Win:Win:Win.

4. Finally, I would just like to remind you internet, that, back in the old days of mail being delivered by a man (or indeed lady) who had to physically carry stuff to your house, there was such a thing as a chain letter. That was a letter that carried the promise of much reward if the receiver passed on the letter to x people, and, often, the threatened dire consequences for those who did not. Those sorts of chain letters were a fairly revolting attempt to prey on the superstitious and the vulnerable. Status updates/emails/tweets that demand reposting, or which promise great luck for those who repost, are exactly the same thing, only now they get reposted by people who would have thrown away a paper chain letter (and who would never have dreamed of starting one).

So don’t do it. Don’t repost messages that promise great riches for those who continue the chain. Doing so is manipulative. If you wish your friends luck and happiness contact them directly and tell them that. Don’t post it to a general audience with a veiled threat against those who don’t participate included. That is Very Bad Internetting indeed.

Ok. I think that is all. I’m breathing normally again and my little fists are starting to unclench after good venting of irritations, but please tell the world about your internet irritants in the comments (or indeed tell me why I’m wrong and facebook statuses promising to make me rich if I repost are beneficial to society).

As promised I’ll finish with a handful of blog recommendations. These are mostly of the writerly variety. As noted back here I don’t very often write about writing, so here are a few suggestions of some people who do, and do so rather well:

Talli Roland: http://talliroland.blogspot.com/ Talli writes a bit of general journal stuff about what’s happening in her life, but also about her writing and publishing experiences. As she’s just announced that she’s self-pubbing her next novel I’m watching her blog with interest to see how that goes.

Raw Light: http://rawlightblog.blogspot.com/?v=0 Jane Holland’s Raw Light blog is celebrating it’s 6th birthday at the moment. A mix of writing about poetry, prose writing and anything else that crops up.

Hollyannegetspoetic: http://hollyannegetspoetic.wordpress.com/ A poetry blog – this one generally has 2-3 new poems every week, so not even writing about writing, just actual writing. And (for those of you in Worcestershire) you’ll be supporting one of my fave local poets too.

Sally Jenkins: http://sallyjenkins.wordpress.com/ Good stuff on here on all different sorts of writing, including articles and short stories 

So there you go, four writerly blogs to make up for the fact that I can’t focus my brain enough to blog about what I actually do. As ever, if you like please subscribe either as an email subscriber or via NetWorked Blogs (and, yeah, I know that RSS feed isn’t working quite right at the moment – I’m working on it, promise.)

If I could be anyone, I’d be..

In honour of (and blatant advertising for) the rather lovely Talli Roland’s new novel Watching Willow Watts being launched today, I’m hopping on the “If I could be anyone..” bandwagon. In the story Willow attracts public attention by impersonating Marilyn Monroe, so today bloggers all over the Interweb are considering who they would be if they could be anyone at all.

So who would I be? Well, the honest answer is, probably that I’d just be me. I live what is, all things considered, a pretty charmed life. But that’s boringly well-balanced as well as boringly boring, so putting that to one side, who would I like to have a go at being, just as an alternative? I’d like to pretend that this was a tricky choice and that I considered a wide range of beautiful, intelligent and worthy people, but I so didn’t. There was only ever one choice.

River Song.

Alex Kingston as River Song

River Song is just brilliant. She’s got that hair. She’s intelligent. She’s foxy. She’s fearless and she gets to snog the Doctor. What’s not to love?

And ok, so River is currently in prison for murder, but she is not the sort to let that get her down, so I don’t think we should either. I do know, just for the record, that River Song is a fictional character, but actually that just gives me more reasons to love her (and to love Steven Moffat for inventing her). She’s a independent-minded action heroine, who isn’t size 0 or aged about 17, and she’s on mainstream British TV. Again, if you put aside the murdering, she’s a top class gold starred role model for little girls everywhere. Yay River Song!

Ooooh… you remember all that gubbins about three paragraphs ago about how I could only think of one possible choice, well I’ve thought of someone else. All of a sudden this game is hard. Ok, I’m going to have to award a runners-up prize.

In a very close 2nd place… Elizabeth I!

Miranda Richardson as Queenie

Now I don’t mean actual Queen Elizabeth I. She was forever having to worry about cousins plotting against her and Spaniards trying to invade. That all sounds a bit of a bother. I mean Queenie as played by Miranda Richardson in Blackadder series 2. The screwing up of her face if she thought she might not get her own way. The “Off with his head” in the tone of a sulky toddler. The occasional bursts of random flirtaciousness. I think I might pretty much be modelling my personality on Queenie. I find it very disheartening that I’m hardly ever allowed to have anyone executed.

So that’s who I’d be. And now I’m away to fret slightly about why I don’t idolise any real people. Why don’t you hop over here and see about downloading lovely Talli’s lovely book?

What I did on my weekend mini-break

After the unprecedented blogging success of my post about my holidays (it got three whole comments), I’ve decided to see if I can repeat the trick. Obviously, in the true spirit of sequels, this post will be not quite as interesting, and feel disappointingly lacking in originality.

So here we go – what I did on my weekend mini-break in London Town, ranked in reverse order of fun-itude! We saw 3 shows  and did 3 museums, so read on to find out which were charttoppers and which fell flat. Feel free to play some Top of the Pops style chart rundown background music in your head to get you in the mood.

 

6. Wicked – the Musical

This is the musical based on the Good and Wicked Witch characters from The Wizard of Oz. The basic idea is that the story is retold from the Wicked Witch’s point of view, and the show makes us consider who actually decides that one person is Good and another Wicked, and whether we might take a different view if we heard the other side of the story. It’s a clever and interesting idea, and the show had absolutely stellar reviews both on Broadway and the West End, so it might be a surprise to see this coming in in bottom place on my weekend chart. Unfortunately, for me (and much beloved accompanying husband),  it was just a bit meh. Very ballad heavy, lacking in memorable tunes (Defying Gravity excepted), and the stage set, whilst aesthetically impressive didn’t really contribute much to the performance. Add to that some pretty ropey diction from the performers, which undermined the impact of a lot of the songs, and the overall experience was never more than ok. Worth seeing if someone springs you a free (or very heavily discounted) ticket. We had £55 tickets, discounted to £30 and still felt like it wasn’t worth the money.

 

5. The Science Museum

A museum of highs and lows. Highs – being free, LaunchPad (the kid’s bit with lots of stuff to play with), the space gallery. Lows – the history of medicine galleries and the history of maths/computing gallery – both suffer from very dry, old-fashioned displays. The major low though seemed to be the lack of science. Lots of the museum is taken up with objects which are never really linked together into a story of scientific progress or endeavour. It’s just big rooms of stuff.  I also docked big points for them calling themselves the Science Museum and having a display about homeopathy that at no point mentions how there’s no reliable scientific evidence of anything beyond a placebo effect from homeopathic treatment. Just an asterix and a footnote saying “Of course, this is bollocks” would have sufficed. It’s the SCIENCE Museum, not the RANDOM THINGS SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE Museum. Tsk.

 

4. Tate Modern

Another mix of highs and lows. Highs – being free (sensing a theme at all??), and some individual works, particularly some of the Picassos, the Alberto Giacometti sculptures, a Jackson Pollack and a Kandinsky painting which was my personal favourite. Lows – the feeling that I must be a bit thick cos I don’t really understand most of the art. Yes, I see that you’ve cut out some red paper. I totally get that you’ve stuck it to the wall. Yup, you have stuck it to the wall in quite a nice pattern. I can read on the little explanation card that this can be seen as a comment on the nature of materials and disposability, but I’m not really feeling it. Now, I’m not going to just diss Modern Art. I completely accept that some people get something from these installations that I don’t. But I still don’t.

 

3. The Globe Theatre Tour & Exhibition

Lovely tour guide who was super-enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Beautiful theatre. Interesting exhibition, which felt just the right size for the information being communicated. (Science museum take note – no endless cabinets of loosely associated objects here). Would have liked a little bit more time to see some of the live demonstrations (sword-fighting, costume making etc) that were going on, but I can’t really blame the exhibition for us not allowing enough time.

 

2. We Will Rock You

The surprise hit of the weekend. We bought tickets to this because we wandered along to the late tickets booth in Leicester Square on Saturday morning and this was what they had. It’s the Ben Elton scripted musical based on the music of Queen. The basic premise is that 300 years in the future rock music has been banned in favour of computer generated homogenised pop. Our hero and heroine are two teenagers who go on a quest to rediscover the old music and reinvent rock. It’s a terrible premise. Every rational expectation is that this show should be awful, but somehow it’s kind of briliant. I think there are basically three reasons it works despite itself. Firstly, Ben Elton’s script embraces the lunacy of the premise, makes lots of jokes about it and then cheerfully steamrollers through. The sheer gusto is hard to resist. Secondly, the familiarity of the music gives an instant feeling of audience involvement and engagement. Thirdly, the performances and production values were generally excellent throughout, and this was in a performance where three of the main characters were being played by understudies. Fully expected to hate this. Didn’t. Pretty much loved it. It was sort of the opposite of Wicked which has a good idea, poorly executed. This was a terrible idea, somehow elevated into a really very good show.

 

1. Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre

The standout event of the weekend, and the reason for the whole trip. I’d never been to a play at the Globe before. If you haven’t either, then you really should. Standing tickets for the yard immediately in front of the stage are only a fiver. That’s cheaper than the cinema and you have the possibility of being hugged, jostled, and spat on by the actors. The Globe experience is unlike a modern indoor theatre. The audience are much more open to distractions from outside the play, and the actors have to be completely engaged with the audience and the wider environment to keep the audience within the story.

The play itself, Much Ado About Nothing, is one of my favourite plays (so much so that I’ve based on novel on it), and this was a brilliant production. The scene stealing characters in Much Ado are always Benedick and Beatrice – if you get those two characters right, you’ve generally got a pretty good production, and this production got them both bang on. I was particularly impressed with how well all the actors played the comedy in the play. Comedy in Shakespeare is tricky with modern audiences. There’s a lot of wordplay, much of which doesn’t quite survive the jump across 400 years of development of English. This production played both the language and the physical comedy beautifully.

 

So to conclude, I think I’ve decided, through the method of gallivanting around our rather brilliant capital for three days, that I really am a very word-oriented girl. I’m not really moved by music when I can’t hear the words (Wicked). I’m not that interested in physical objects if I don’t have a sense of their narrative (Science Museum). I don’t really respond to a lot of visual art until I’ve read the card that tells me what to think (Tate Modern). I do very much like a good communicative tour guide (Globe Exhibition), a song I know the words too (We Will Rock You), and a bit of 400 year old romantic wordplay (Much Ado About Nothing).

Come back later in the week (or you know, maybe the week after) when I shall be thinking more random thoughts about things. In fact, why not click on the lovely “Subscribe” link up at the top of the page and I believe you’ll get a rather charming little email notification whenever I actually get around to thinking something new.

What I learnt on my holidays

For my holidays I went to Switzerland. And in good, back to school, spirit I have written something about it. Here are the things I learnt on my holidays.

1. Bears can climb trees.

I saw one do it. Here: http://www.baerenpark-bern.ch/index.php?id=info&L=0  I also learnt that it is a bit unnerving to just be having a gentle stroll along the river bank, glance to your side and think, “Oh. Bears.”

2. If you are having heart-shaped balloons at your wedding, you should look at them from the top, just to be sure they don’t look like boobies.

The wedding party we saw on our last day in Switzerland had failed to do this. They had nipple balloons. How we laughed.

3. Western Europeans are totally over the whole bomb scare thing. Australians still find them quite exciting.

At Gare du Nord station, waiting to board the Eurostar back to the good ol’ UK, we were rudely interrupted by an announcement instructing us to evacuate the area due to a security alert. We should do this, the announcement said, in line with instructions from the station staff. The 300 or so people in the waiting area glanced around for some station staff to instruct us, saw none, and went back to reading their books. About ten minutes later the same announcement repeated. This time, a few people stood up, clearly feeling that they at least ought to show willing. Some station staff appeared, milled around a bit, and made no attempt to evacuate us. The people who’d stood up, now feeling they had foolishly overreacted to the risk of being blown limb from limb, tried to look as though they’d wanted to stand up anyway. Really, honestly, they were just stretching their legs. They sat down again. We all went back to reading our books. Another ten minutes or so passed, and then a medium-sized bang was heard from another part of the station. Not a “the whole place has blown up, run for your lives” bang, but not a “Oh dear, Jean Claude’s dropped another plate” sort of bang either. A medium bang. A controlled explosion sort of bang, you might say. This, at last, got a reaction from the waiting hoard. Several people looked around. A few went, “Oooh.” We all went back to reading our books. Another ten minutes or so passed and we were allowed to board our train.

On the train, we were seated across the aisle from a group of Australians, who were “doing Europe.” They seemed very pleased with the whole incident, and talked enthusiastically about how they must email home and tell everyone how they had survived a real European bomb scare. So there you go, slight risk of terrorism is apparently considered part of the modern authentic European tourist experience. Oh dear.

4. Swiss trains really do run on time.

And the station clocks pause slightly at the top of the minute. The second hand goes all the way around in about 57 seconds, pauses slightly at the top of the hour, before the minute hand clicks on and the second hand resumes it’s journey. You can watch the clock. See the minute hand click around. You then just have time to say, “We should be going now,” before the train pulls away. It’s very impressive.

5. Switzerland really is excruciatingly expensive.

People told me this before we went. It’s one of the things everyone knows about Switerland. Mountains, chocolate, cuckoo clocks, Nazi gold, very expensive. Basically the Swiss are rich. Their GDP is around $67000 per capita. The UK’s is around $35000 per capita. So there’s an awful lot more money floating around. This is a bit of a pain from a tourist point of view. You  have two choices. Either you don’t eat and only do free activities. Or you absolutely cane your credit cards and decide to worry about it later. Hmmm… yeah… about that… *shuffles feet a bit* There might need to be a tiny bit of belt tightening round these parts over the next couple of months.

So that’s what I learnt on my holidays. Try to only overspend within numbers the human brain can count up to, and look out for bears.

Come back for tomorrow for “What I read on my holidays…”

Festival season for the old at heart

The UK’s summer festival season is starting to build up. Glastonbury kicks off today. T in the Park is two weeks later, followed by Reading and V in August. But that’s not the festival season I want to talk about. I want to talk about the one that kicks off in Hay, meanders round Cheltenham at various points in the year, depending on whether you prefer to have your boat floated by science, literature or jazz, and probably takes in a few RHS shows for good measure. I’m talking about the, much more refined, festival circuit of the middle-aged and middle-class.

I did the *proper* festivals, in a half-hearted sort of way, during my student years. I stood in muddy fields pretending to care about serious music, but my heart was never really in it. That should probably have presented an early clue to my deep inner lack of cool. I don’t really care about music. I like a good beat. I like a tune you can dance to. I even quite like a good lyric in passing. But none of those things  inspire any great passion. I have friends who get music, who buy music every week, who talk about new songs and new bands they’ve discovered. Those are the friends who look at me in horror when I tell them that I don’t really buy new music. I already own enough for the repeats not to come around often enough to be annoying. Why would I need more? So big music festivals were never my natural home, but back then I never would have guessed how totally and unsalvageably uncool I would ultimately turn out to be.

The real suspicions came the first year I attended an RHS Gardening Show. I told myself I wasn’t really going for me. I was taking my mum, and only going to keep her company. That was a lie. As soon as I walked into the special secluded world of order and pretiness that is an RHS Floral Marquee, I was captivated. Everything inside the marquee is perfect and scented and arranged beautifully. And there are plants to buy and catalogues to collect and read through later. It’s how the shopping will be in heaven. Since then I’ve been to the Malvern Spring Gardening show five times, Chelsea once, and Tatton Park twice. The gardening shows started my decline. 

Cheltenham Literature Festival probably sealed it. The first time I went I saw Lynne Truss, and nodded along with her slides of humourously misplaced apostrphes, follwed by Judi Dench. Dench was every inch the grand theatrical dame. She was interviewed on stage by her own biographer, and when she forgot a story, she simply commanded the biographer to tell it for her. Since that day “having my own biographer” has been my single greatest life ambition. I digress, and sadly I don’t yet have a minion to finish the blogging for me, so back to the point. My natural festival environment isn’t the Pyramid Stage, it’s a seat in a theatre or marquee with someone who has achieved a middle-level of fame talking about their book and then answering a few questions from the audience. And then, in between the talking, you can have wine. It’s really very civilised.

This year I’ve done the Hay Festival (talks on human evolution and poker), Cheltenham Science Festival (risk in the media, Fermat’s Last Theorem, and human extinction), Gardeners World Live (planting in containers and planning your borders) and Cheltenham Food Festival (no talks, but lots of hanging around the wine stalls saying “Can I just taste that one again?”) I think, added together, all that means that it’s time to face facts.

I am crashing headlong into middle age, and it sort of suits me. I like gardening. I like baking. I like staying in to read a good book. I like films with a proper story. I like TV programmes where you can hear the dialogue. I still like  a festival; I still like to sit on the grass with a cold drink. I’d just prefer to do it somewhere with nice food and toilets that no-one’s vomited in (or on).

So who’s with me? Who else is prepared to put their hand up to not being cool, and not really missing it? What are your nerdiest passions? And what’s your favourite summer festival?

Hello

So this is my very first blog post.

Hello.

Welcome. It’s lovely to have you here. Would you like a cup of tea while we get better aquainted? No. Maybe some squash? Or a cookie? Up to you, obviously.

Now, I’ve never blogged before because I’ve always thought that a blog should have a theme. The writer should have some particular specific  interest or expertise which people of similiar interests would value sufficiently to seek out on the web. I, myself, am simply too easily distracted to build up any unique expertise. I am something of a Jacqueline of All Trades, so this blog will, I fear, simply be filled with whatever thoughts pop into my brain. My only commitment to you is that I will endeavour, whereever possible, to think only interesting thoughts.

On my mind this week are editing and rewriting; cuts to the UK Legal Aid budget; how to lose 3 stone in 4 months; how to implement effective peer assessment with short-term adult learners; the Babylonian’s notion of “zero” and where to find pretty sandals that don’t cause pain (to the feet or bank balance). All of these things may crop up in future posts, but they may not. I may see something shiny over there and forget about all those things.

Stick with it though – there may well be absolute diamonds in amongst the rough.