Thursday, 31 December 2015

Auld Lang Syne

As it'll be New Year's Eve when you read this, let's link arms and sing 'Auld Lang Syne', before imbibing a medicinal sherry and cramming in another Quality Street (strawberry cream for me please).

Right, now we've done that, let's have a quick review of 2015 as seen through my columns:

In January, I talked about saving Corby's Fire Engine, the need of which was particularly highlighted after the appalling fire at the town centre.

In February, the earth moved for me when we had the Rutland earthquake.

Northamptonshire County Council lifted the 30 mile limits on from where waste could be brought into waste plants in Corby in March, and Jeremy Clarkson rather unceremoniously left Top Gear after a fracas.

April, and I talked about the protest march in Corby, and how a gust of wind caught my placard as I walked up George Street and I nearly whacked (our now MP) Tom Pursglove and the UKIP candidate Margot Parker on the head.

In May I asked what's with all this air kissing and hugging these days - what's wrong with a proper handshake?

Much excitement in the County in June, with the Women's Cycling Tour speeding through, and also the inaugural KettFest Community Festival.

I wrote about daughter leaving primary school in July, and how I wept buckets - and set other people off crying - at the Leavers' Assembly.

In August I admitted that until then I'd never seen Mamma Mia!  I enjoyed it immensely, and also felt that Pierce Brosnan's singing wasn't that bad - I'm sure he's relieved to hear that.

September saw me marvelling at the lady with the Nigel Farage tattoo, and in October we had the Great British Bake Off final, with the winner Nadiya making an uplifting victory speech.

In November, I imparted the decision that I would be embracing hygge (and possibly Morten Harket), and in December shared my ambition to one day have a pint and a chat with the fabulous Adele.

I wonder what 2016 will bring?  Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

It was Christmas Eve, babe...

'It was Christmas Eve, babe...' - so begins my favourite Christmas song by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

I will also confess to having a certain fondness for Shakin' Stevens' 'Merry Christmas Everyone', but mainly because I remember the video and his rather fetching festive jumper.

When you read this it will indeed be Christmas Eve, probably my favourite day of the festive period.

I love the anticipation of Christmas Eve.  The presents still wrapped neatly, nestling under the tree waiting to be opened (if the dog hasn't got to them first and given them his inspection).

The mulled wine warming gently in a pan on the stove, mince pies, sausage rolls and a whole host of other delights which I try to only consume at Christmas, otherwise I'd have a belly the size of Father Christmas's and need to borrow his nice red suit, or perhaps fetch my maternity jeans from the attic (now there's a thought - thanks Joey from Friends for that idea!)

One of my Christmas Eve highlights is the candlelit crib service at the local Parish Church.

It's lovely, attracts people of all ages, and offers a calming influence before the 'storm' of the festive season. 

The old stone building is transformed with the glow of the candles, carefully balanced out of reach of little hands on the stone columns which have stood proud for hundreds of years, witnessing many events such as this.

Everyone joins in singing - it's not just hymns either; last year we had the 12 Days Of Christmas, with each pew having to stand up and sing their line, causing much amusement when people didn't arise at the correct time and boomed out 'Five Gold Rings' at the wrong moment, for example.

The children usually dress up as characters from the Nativity, but I'm pretty sure there was a Gruffalo once.  I'm anticipating Star Wars-themed outfits this year - perhaps Darth Vader himself, some Ewoks or a couple of Storm Troopers?!  Merry Christmas to you all.


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Keep it simple, keep it local - Small Business Saturday

On Small Business Saturday I only shopped in small, independent businesses.

This was partly conscious effort from me - my mantra for Christmas shopping being 'keep it simple, keep it local' - but also because I happened to be in Oakham.

This is where we have to buy my daughter's school uniform, in a small independent store run by a lovely lady who occasionally has to shut the shop early if one of her children is ill or if she has a parents' evening.

I also shop in my local Post Office and Stores on a regular basis, where I'm guaranteed a warm welcome by Julie, Mike, Sam and Michele.  They know what bread I like, what paper I read - they're even aware of my (slight) Fry's Turkish Delight addiction!  It's great to have that level of personal service and interaction.

In complete contrast, my husband was recently overcharged in a supermarket - he bought some wine because it was on special offer, but on arrival home he checked his receipt and discovered he'd in fact been charged full price.

The difference was quite significant, so he returned to the shop for a refund.  The staff treated him like he was a complete nuisance, and didn't even apologise for their mistake.

This same supermarket have also sold us in the not-too distant past a rhubarb yogurt which contained what appeared to be ham.

I only discovered this when I'd eaten some of it and wondered why there was something lumpy in my supposedly smooth yogurt. 

We duly returned it - we were refunded the purchase price and told they would send it off to Head Office for analysis.  To date we still haven't heard anything.

Genuinely, I felt sick afterwards, particularly when I told a friend about it and she replied 'Are you sure it was ham?  It might have been the top of someone's finger!'

Apologies if you're reading this whilst eating.  I can assure you that I won't be eating rhubarb yogurt ever again!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Apostrophe misuse - #becauseitschristmas

Amongst my pet hates - be warned, the list is getting longer the older I get - is apostrophe misuse.

A recent post on social media for an upmarket wine shop in a nearby market town said the following:

"I enjoy a glass of wine each night for it's health benefits.  The other glasses are for my witty comebacks and flawless dance moves".

Now, I shared this because I found the sentiment amusing, but also stated that rogue apostrophe really needs removing!

I've always been a great believer in the 'if in doubt, leave it out' rule, but somehow this has resulted in my most recent source of apostrophe-related stress.

The culprit?  The Asda Christmas advert and its hashtag #becauseitschristmas.

Now I'm fairly certain that you can use apostrophes in hashtags.  I don't think you get charged by the symbol or anything. 

So why - particularly when we're trying to teach 10 and 11 year olds for the SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) SATs - is a major supermarket and their advertising agency committing such a heinous crime of apostrophe omission and misuse?

I know there will be some people reading this thinking to themselves 'with the current state of the world have you not got more pressing things to concern your brain Bach?'

Yes, that's a good point, but when you can't control the big things in life, you can at least try to get the small things right.

Moreover, grammar is important.  If you're applying for jobs or writing e-mails in a business context, if your grammar and punctuation is appalling it's not going to create a good impression.

The Barclays Lifeskills advert, which gives us helpful advice on how we should use our social media to get a job, could also do with explaining to people the difference between 'it's' and 'its', and 'there', 'their' and 'they're'.  It could also tell them that it's 'should have', not 'should of'.

While they're at it, could they please let Asda know it should be #becauseit'sChristmas!

Thursday, 3 December 2015


I love Adele - of all today's modern musicians, she's the one I'd most like to meet and have a drink with in the pub.

She's genuine, warm and funny - who else can you think of that would have donned a prosthetic nose and chin and gone along to an audition as a tribute act for themselves?

In one of the funniest things I've seen lately, there was Adele, standing at the back of a queue of singers waiting to perform on stage as 'Adele'.  She stood nervously backstage with the other contestants, and was the last one to sing.

The look on the other performers' faces was a joy to behold as they realised that their idol was amongst them.  She may not have looked like Adele, but the voice was unmistakable.  If you missed it, it's on BBC iPlayer for about a month and I'm guessing on YouTube for eternity.

It really was one of the best moments on TV recently - which admittedly wasn't hard, as I find it hard to stomach watching celebs eating unmentionables in the Australian bush, no matter how entertaining the commentary by Ant and Dec.

I have to confess to still watching The X Factor - mainly because daughter insists upon it - but I think this series has been very disappointing.  Thank goodness Lauren and Louisa are currently still there, as they are brilliant and deserve success.

As for Reggie and Bollie, they seem to be a barometer for how much alcohol I've consumed.  After two glasses of wine they appear quite amusing, less than that and I'm wondering what on earth's going on with the world and why Seann Miley Moore isn't still in the competition.

The series highlight for me has been Fleur East performing her new single - despite what Chris Evans might think of it - which features on a supermarket's Christmas adverts. 

I wonder if John Lewis might consider Reggie and Bollie for next year's ad - I'm sure they'd be considerably cheaper than the £7 million spent on this year's 'Man on the Moon' offering!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Accentuate the positive

At times like this, when the world situation looks particularly bleak, you have to try and look for positives.

Remind yourself that there's still a lot of good people working hard to make it a better place.

I was glad to read on the Northants Telegraph website about a nurse from KGH volunteering in a Kenyan orphanage; the friends and family of Cat Anderson fundraising for the brain tumour charity Cat In A Hat; and two businesswomen from Corby who launched a project to raise money for the mental health charity MIND.

Plus many local schools took part in Children in Need, and to date an amazing £37 million has been raised nationally for this great cause.

The Clements Family from Gretton will soon be hosting their annual Christmas light switch-on, fundraising for the Air Ambulance (last year they raised £860).  Just a few local examples of people helping others.

I'm also lucky that I sometimes work with young people.  Their energy and enthusiasm for life is infectious, and it's hard to feel depressed when you're with them.

They make me smile with the things they say.  Here's a recent example:

Young boy to me:  "Do you know what copyright is?"

Me (thinks, don't make it too complicated, give him the facts without too much technical legal jargon):  "Yes, it's when somebody owns the rights to something, like that book you're reading, and you can't copy it without their permission."

Young boy:  "That's not right.  It's dinosaur poo."

Me (thinks) - that's a little harsh, but perhaps it wasn't a great answer.

Young boy (pointing enthusiastically at picture in book):  "Look, here it is, it's fossilised dinosaur poo."

Me (reading book):  "Oh, coprolite, sorry I thought you said something else..."

Young boy:  "You can get DNA from dinosaur poo you know."

Me (genuinely amazed):  "Can you? I didn't know that.  I also didn't know it was called coprolite."

Look for the good, always try to see the bright side.  Sometimes it's hard - a bit like coprolite - but it's worth it.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Waste not, want not

I believe there was a time that nobody minded 'wonky' vegetables - their very existence was indeed celebrated by Esther Rantzen and her team on 'That's Life!', with an item dedicated to showing their photographs.

I wouldn't mind buying them now either.  OK, so carrots and parsnips are more challenging to peel if they've got a few lumps and bumps, but it's no great hardship really is it?

Therefore I found Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recent programme about food waste shocking.  I couldn't believe the amount of good quality food which was going to waste because it wasn't the 'perfect' size and shape.

The supermarkets claim that it's us, the consumers, who want our fruit and veg to look perfect.  I can't answer for you of course, but I know for a fact that nobody has ever asked me my opinion about wonky veg or fruit.

As long as fruit isn't overripe, and veg isn't mouldy, I would happily stick it in the trolley.

Perhaps naively I thought that supermarkets gave food that was close to its best-before dates to charities to feed the homeless etc.  Apparently that isn't always the case.  Only a very small proportion of food is given to charities, the rest is just thrown away.

If, like me, you don't agree with how supermarkets are wasting good food, we can do something about it.

I appreciate that not everybody can grow their own, or shop at farmers' markets or a local greengrocer.  But we can voice our concerns to the supermarkets and tell them that we would eat fruit and veg that they deem not to be 'perfect'.

We can ask that they give more to charities, instead of putting it into skips and feeding it into anaerobic digesters or dumping it in landfill.

We have the power to demand change and stop this criminal waste of food.  Vote with your feet and go elsewhere if your supermarket doesn't comply - remember if we all shout loudly enough, they will have to listen.

For more information please visit

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

I'm embracing hygge

I've decided that this year I'm embracing hygge.  But before you all panic and think I'm going to go around bear-hugging people in public places, please be aware that it's not a person, place or thing - it's a concept.

A concept for which I believe we've can thank Denmark, and which we should now import by the bucket-load, especially as the WHO have told us bacon is potentially as deadly as plutonium (that's the World Health Organisation, not Roger Daltrey's band with a similar name, just in case of confusion).

Not that I've ever craved a plutonium and fried egg sandwich on a Saturday morning mind you.  I can't quite look at a full English breakfast in the same way now - I can only assume that black and white pudding and pork pies also feature somewhere on this scale, possibly right up there with 'mushroom' clouds.

Anyway, I digress - back to hygge, pronounced 'hoo-ga', which is the idea that at this time of year you do things which nourish your soul and, roughly translated, it means 'cosiness'.

Hygge encourages you to have a relaxed time with family and friends, and be indulgent and good to yourself, lighting a few candles as you do - although husband probably won't approve of this, he just doesn't 'get' candles. 

Be warned though, cleansing diets and fitness regimes aren't hygge - self-deprivation never made anyone feel cosy and warm inside.  I keep seeing adverts for these, encouraging me to lose weight to get into my little black dress.  No thanks, I'll buy a slightly-bigger black dress if needs be!

Now drinking mulled wine, or hot chocolate with marshmallows, and enjoying some comfort food, whilst toasting your toes in front of a real log fire and reading your favourite book are most certainly hygge.

Wearing an elaborate 'Scandi-style' knitted jumper like Morten Harket did in the 1980s a-ha band pics is strictly optional.  Although I could perhaps be persuaded...


Thursday, 5 November 2015

We want plates!

When I eat out I like my food prepared simply, using the best possible fresh local ingredients, served on a plate.

The 'Great British Menu' has a lot to answer for:  eateries take note, people want plates, not boxes, garden spades, miniature picnic benches or flat caps - apart from the difficulty trying to eat from these, how are they properly cleaned afterwards?

Therefore I'm not sure how I feel about a new trend that's taking off in South East Asia (

For they have created food with faces - now I'm not keen on this, I don't want eyes looking up at me from my plate - but more than this, they've moulded it into little cute creatures with even cuter faces.

It's called 'character bento', and is part of the 'kawaii' trend, meaning cuteness, which is seen throughout Japanese popular culture (I guess 'Hello Kitty' falls into this category also).

But it's not for children, in a bid to get them to eat their greens or similar.

No, this is for adults - grown human beings make these little creatures for their packed lunch at work, but photograph them before consumption and put them on social media for the world to see, admire and comment upon.

Now making husband's pack-up falls into the category of household tasks I perform (which is fine by me - I haven't washed a car since I married him).

But I can just imagine his reaction if I constructed him a lunchbox of cute little animals made of rice, vegetables and dough instead of his usual doorstep sandwiches.  I don't think he'd be congratulating me on my creativity and skill!

However, I did see a picture of a pyramid of coloured bread rolls which consisted of four Winnie the Poohs at the bottom, with three Eeyores, two Tiggers and what I can only imagine was meant to be Piglet balanced on the top.

I wondered if this would be a suitably challenging 'Bread Week' task for next year's Great British Bake Off?

Thursday, 29 October 2015

What's in a name?

'What's in a name?' asked Mr Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet.  You might well ask William - names are very significant, and become an intrinsic part of our identities. 

When I heard that the Met Office wanted to name storms for the UK and Ireland, I must admit I did wonder why.

I know the Americans name their hurricanes, and I did muse why we also wanted to import this idea from across the Atlantic, along with Thanksgiving, 'Black Friday' and 'Cyber Monday'.

However, I discovered that they're not trying to make them sound friendly and cute, the idea is by naming them it is hoped to raise awareness of predicted severe weather, and therefore encourage people to adequately protect themselves. 

Our storms will only be named when they could potentially cause 'substantial' impact, so we hopefully won't have a huge list of names forever being mentioned in the forecasts.

The Met Office opened up the choosing of names to the Great British public via social media.  The results are perhaps surprising - I was expecting to see at least some celebs or sports stars in there.

But no, we have a choice of names, alternating between male and female as is apparently the custom, which seem to embrace monikers from all areas of the British Isles.

If you haven't seen it already, here's the definitive list - Abigail; Barney; Clodagh; Desmond; Eva; Frank; Gertrude; Henry; Imogen; Jake; Katie; Lawrence; Mary; Nigel; Orla; Phil; Rhonda; Steve; Tegan; Vernon; Wendy.

To be honest, I would find it hard to be scared of Storm Steve, Nigel or Phil as they sound like mates you'd have a drink and share a packet of crisps with in the pub.

However, Storms Clodagh and Gertrude sound like they could be very fearsome - I'm certainly not going to mess with them.

And I can almost picture the weather presenter saying the words 'Britain, batten down the hatches and brace yourselves for Barney!'- although I might momentarily have a big purple dinosaur flashback...

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Vulcan Farewell

Sunday 11th October, and I was sitting in a car on a roadside overlooking Rutland Water.

It was just after noon, and - in typically British style - we had a picnic.  As I sat munching my sarnies, crowds started to gather.

People alighted from their vehicles with cameras the size of small children and a sense of excitement built.

Another car pulled up with a blue badge in the window.  The occupants of the car in front of ours were summoned, as the driver needed assistance with his wheelchair.

The group of people - who it turns out had never met this man before - not only assembled his wheelchair and helped him into it, they found a blanket for him as there was a cold wind blowing, and put him in a hi-viz jacket for safety purposes as we were near a main road.  The traffic was then stopped while they wheeled him across the road and helped him into the field where the crowd was assembling.  A heart-warming example of the kindness of strangers. 

You're perhaps wondering what was going on, was it twitchers trying to spot a rare bird?

No, it was plane enthusiasts (and their families) hoping to glimpse a rare bird of the aeronautical variety.

It was the Vulcan's farewell tour, although I'm aware - a bit like Status Quo - she's had more than one, I've been told that this time it really is it.

She flew low over our house once, and rattled our windows.  Husband missed it because he was in the shower, and I couldn't correctly identify in time the source of the noise.  He sometimes reminds me of this.

Hoping to erase memories of missed opportunities, there we stood in the field, eyes focussed on the skies.  She appeared at about 1.10pm, glided past our heads, gave us a 'wing waggle' and continued on her way. 

Yes, she's something special.  Is this really the end, or will she come back and see us again sometime?  Thanks for the memories XH558.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Great British Bake Off Final 2015

You know that feeling when you finish a good book and then feel bereft because it's finished, and you really enjoyed it?

That's how I feel now about the Great British Bake Off.  This series was so good, I really didn't want it to end.

And yes, I cried at the final episode too - and I'm fairly sure I wasn't alone.

I was so pleased for Nadiya.  She really deserved to win, but Tamal and Ian were brill too, however just not quite good enough on the day. 

The curse of the non-setting crème pat finished Tamal's good run, and Ian forgot to put the sugar in his iced buns - quite a major omission, and not something from which you could easily recover.

(And was it just me, or did Tamal's showstopper remind you of Miss Havisham's wedding cake from Great Expectations?)

I started welling up when Nadiya created her fabulous wedding cake, which honoured her Bangladeshi heritage as well as being a Great British lemon drizzle cake.

It was clear that this meant so much to her, and it was so beautifully decorated with jewels from her own wedding that I got quite emotional.

And then she made her speech:

"I'm never going to put boundaries on myself ever again.  I'm never going to say I can't do it.  I'm never going to say maybe. I'm never going to say I don't think I can.  I can and I will."

I think this probably struck a chord with a lot of people who let the fear of failure put them off even trying to succeed.

All of which then set off Mary, Queen of Baking, shedding some tears too, so I felt in good company weeping at a cooking programme.

Just one question though - with all those people present at the final tea party, how did they manage to keep who had won a secret?  How did the children refrain from saying 'My Mum's won Bake Off'?  Well done Nadiya on so many levels!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Am I Cultured?

As I was drinking my glass of Rotkäppchen and scoffing cashew nuts by the handful - well, it was a Saturday evening - I noticed a survey in the paper:  'Are you cultured?  The top 20 ways to prove you're sophisticated'.

I promptly put down my glass of Germany's finest 'champagne', won by me in a drinks hamper - I've drunk worse, I've been a student - and had a read.

Phew, sigh of relief, apparently I am cultured!  At least if you can believe the survey commissioned by Yakult - which I then mused, is this a joke, a play on the word 'culture' as it's a yoghurt drink?

Undeterred, I reassured myself of my level of sophistication.  So you can also be reassured, let me share with you some of the apparent signs of being cultured, along with my tongue-in-cheek analysis:

Going to the theatre - pantomime surely counts?

Recognising paintings/art - where's an Athena poster shop when you need one?

Visiting local heritage sites - the pub, they're getting rarer after all.

Listening to classical music - I performed in a Gilbert and Sullivan at school.

Knowing how to choose wine - what's on special offer?

Watching the news on television - what else is on at one, six and ten o'clock?

Learning to read music - I played the recorder at Primary School.

Taking an avid interest in politics - yes, I know who the party leaders are, I understand the differences, I dislike them all.

Taking walks in the countryside - I live in the countryside, I walk to the shop and the pub (see above).

Knowing about cheese - yes I know about cheese, I eat it regularly.  I like it in a sandwich with pickle.

The survey also said drinking herbal tea and doing Sudoku were signs of being cultured.  Does my supping builders' strength tea and watching Eight Out Of Ten Cats Does Countdown equate to the same thing I wonder? 

Friday, 25 September 2015

A Nigel Farage tattoo?

I'm trying very hard not to be too judgemental here, but what on Earth possesses somebody to head to a Tattoo Parlour and say to the tattooist 'I'd like a picture of Nigel Farage on my arm please!'?

Yet, as I was watching the news at lunchtime today (Friday 25th September), there before me was a lady sporting a pen and ink image of the UKIP leader on her right arm.

Not only that, she was getting Nige to autograph her arm underneath it - I imagine so the tattooist could then ink that indelibly.  Forever.  Unless she can get laser surgery or ask the amazing artists on Tattoo Fixers to transform it into Brad Pitt or George Clooney.  Now they're good, but I'm not sure they're that good.

My only hope is that it's some kind of transfer, a temporary adornment.  Or maybe it was Mrs Farage, showing her undying love for her hubby?

If not, it only leaves me with the conclusion that the lady in question is a Farage Super Fan, because to get a tattoo of any party leader seems a little extreme in demonstrating how you vote.

Have a bumper sticker on your car, a poster on your door, maybe even a badge on your lapel - but a tattoo?  Surely that's party loyalty in warp-drive? 

I'm not sure any Tories would sport a Cameron tat, and even the recent Corbyn-mania hasn't seen a Jezza inking (yet, as far as I'm aware anyway).

I saw some amusing comments on Twitter about where people would like to get tattoos of the party leaders done.  I won't share them, you can seek them out if you wish.

Just be assured, I won't be copying this trend any time soon...



Monday, 21 September 2015

Could a Robot do my jobs?

On a wet Monday morning the last thing you want to see when you switch on your computer to start a week's work is the question 'Will A Robot Take Your Job?'

Yet this was what greeted me when I thought I'd quickly check the BBC website to see what was going on in the world. (

Apparently 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerisation over the next 20 years.

Which got me thinking - which of my jobs would you like to do Mr/Ms Robot?  Wife, mother, daughter, puppy-mum, voluntary worker, cook, cleaner, personal assistant, errand runner, and that's even before we get to my paid work as a writer/PR person.

If a robot would like to take over my household chores, all well and good, please feel free.  Take over the dusting, vacuuming and all the other things that I really don't enjoy doing but have to do.  And, judging by some of the negative critiquing I often get, my family would probably like a robot to take over the cooking too!

However, I really don't think a robot could do the whole host of other jobs that I and most people do in an average week, whether paid or unpaid, and often simultaneously - can robots cook dinner, help with homework and feed the dog, all at the same time?

Fortunately working in the creative industries is a good place to be, as robots aren't good at that.  They're also not very handy at empathy and caring, so you're ok if you're a nurse, midwife, paramedic or a member of the clergy.

According to the research, those most at risk of losing out to the next generation of Metal Mickeys are telephone salespeople, typists or other keyboard workers, and legal secretaries.

Those professions least at risk include publicans, hotel managers and school inspectors.  Perhaps something to consider if you're looking for a career change - I predict a sudden rush of applications to OFSTED!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

School Summer Holidays

OK, I'm going to put on my tin hat and put my head above the parapet - would it be so wrong to reduce the school summer holidays?

Hold your fire and hear me out - what if we had four weeks in the summer and the other three weeks were added onto the October, February and May half-terms?

Obviously this would have to be done with the agreement of the teachers and support staff, but might it be a solution to the expensive summer getaways which nobody can afford?

Wouldn't it give more opportunities for families to have affordable breaks together without taking children out in term time and facing fixed penalty notices and fines?

Plus, seven weeks is actually a long time to entertain children, and, particularly if both parents are working full time, it's also very expensive to pay for clubs and other childcare.

I know at this point you're all looking back misty-eyed to the school holidays of your youth, were you played in the fields, picked blackberries from the hedgerows, made dens and the time seemed to drift on forever like a scene from an Enid Blyton book, complete with lashings of ginger beer.

But, in the same way that dear old Enid didn't actually write about lashings of ginger beer, was any of that other stuff real either?

Don't you remember how much it rained - except in 1976 when we had the drought and the ground cracked so much you could lose your leg down the crevasses created.

We only had three channels on the TV, and much of that didn't cater for children.  I do remember 'Why Don't You...?', but that strapline finished with the words 'just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead' - such helpful advice!

Perhaps we should have a national debate to see what teachers, support staff, parents and children think.  We can't just leave this to MPs to decide - remind me, how many weeks Summer Recess do they get?

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Gretton Music Festival 2015

Ah, the great British weather.  August Bank Holiday Monday was a bit of a wash out, but fortunately I was able to take refuge in The Hatton Arms for the open mic event, part of the sixth annual Gretton Music Festival.

It never ceases to amaze me how many talented musicians there are around here. 

The highlight of the afternoon for me was a new outfit called The Top Banana Band - they were absolutely amazing!  Brilliant cover versions of I Feel Good, Mustang Sally, Brown Eyed Girl, Soul Man and The Blues Brothers' Shake Your Tailfeather and Everybody Needs Somebody To Love to name but a few.  They had the whole pub singing and clapping along - we would have been dancing too if there had been enough room!  Can't wait to see them again.

Earlier in the weekend we saw the young performers at Gretton Recreation Ground, and were dazzled by Charlie Botting and Cara Hamer, both classical/crossover artists who were fabulous.  I had a goosebump moment when Cara sang 'Run' by Snow Patrol - she's certainly a name to watch for the future.

On Saturday afternoon we were entertained by the lovely Al and friends, and then Mark Thompson, who sang a fantastic tribute set to Frank Sinatra in honour of 100 years since the birth of ol' blue eyes.

Sunday afternoon my friends and I headed to 'Puccini and Prosecco', hosted by impresario Martin McEvoy.  It was very informative, entertaining and enjoyable, with Martin seeking to bring opera back to the masses and demystify it.  I've attended one of Martin's opera appreciation courses, and he explains all the different types of opera and voices - highly recommended.

It might not be Glastonbury - even though we probably had enough rain to rival it on the Monday - but it's a great community event, with something for everybody, and is thoroughly enjoyed by all.  Thanks to all the performers, organisers and venues. We're looking forward to next year's event already!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Harry Potter Studios

I climbed aboard the broomstick and wrapped the black cloak tightly around me while a queue of people looked on - not a phrase I thought I would ever use, but something which happened to me the other weekend.

No, I haven't had a radical career change, or started my Hallowe'en preparations two months early, rather we visited the Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden.

My daughter is a huge fan of JK Rowling's boy wizard, has read all the books and seen all of the films.  I read the first four books, then had her so that was as far as I got as nappy changing etc took over from reading, whereas my husband has seen some of the films but not read any of the books.

But I have to say it was absolutely fantastic and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.  Admittedly, a bit of knowledge is required to appreciate the full effect, but even if you aren't the biggest Harry Potter fan it is well worth a visit.

Highlights include the Great Hall set, with tables laid ready for a feast, and Diagon Alley with its quaint shops selling all manner of items including wands and puking pastilles.

You can climb aboard the Hogwarts' Express, have a photo taken of you pushing your trolley through the wall of Kings Cross to reach platform 9 3/4, practice your wand skills, walk across the wooden bridge to Hogwarts or stand outside the Dursley's front door at No4 Privet Drive. 

The broomstick ride, courtesy of green screen technology, lets you soar high above the ramparts of Hogwarts Castle and through the streets of London.  Also on display are the models, costumes, wigs, prosthetics and props used in the films. 

And then you can drink butterbeer, if you really want to.  Best described as like a weakened version of that soft drink 'made from girders' with very sweet artificial cream on top, it's really quite disgusting!

Exit is via the giftshop, with some eye-watering prices for souvenirs (£8.95 for a chocolate frog), but overall it was excellent.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Great British Bake Off, 2015

It's that time of year again, when friends and family know not to call me, invite me to any sort of social gathering, and try not to have a major emergency between the hours of 8pm and 9pm on a Wednesday evening.

Yes, The Great British Bake Off is back, and I'm hooked again.

Rooted to my sofa with my Labrador at my feet, I sit and ooh and aah at the various creations on screen, critiquing the baked goods like I'm some sort of expert (I'm really not), whilst still fearing for Mary Berry's teeth on the sturdier offerings produced - the biscotti were particularly nerve-wracking in this regard.

Marie went from star baker to bus fare home in the space of a week, which surprised me, but if you can't switch on the oven then chances are you're not going to win Bake Off any time soon.  (I appreciate that's ruled me out then, those fancy Neff ovens must take a bit of working out and could be my own personal technical challenge.)

So far my favourite bakers are Sandy from Yorkshire and Mat the fireman - because he's a good baker, nothing to do with a man in uniform before you ask - although I think the youngest competitor, Flora, has a good chance of winning too.

Paul, the Prison Governor, appears slightly scary and I wouldn't want to upset him over rating his sponge cakes, and although I like Nadiya, she always looks terrified when presenting her bakes on the gingham altar of judgment.

Then there was Dorret; I will confess to gasping in abject horror at her collapsing Black Forest gateau - and I for one didn't think I'd ever say that without borrowing a time machine!  At least she kept her cool and didn't fling it straight in the bin like Iain did with his not-baked Alaska last year. 

Who would have thought that a wholesome pursuit like baking could turn responsible adults into snivelling wrecks, obsessed about soggy bottoms?!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


Regrets, I've had a few - so sang Frank Sinatra in My Way, but it turns out he's not the only one if you can believe what you read in a recent survey.

It's been reported that the average Brit has three major lifetime regrets and spends more than five minutes a day reflecting on them.

This made me think a couple of things - really, they spend more than five minutes a day thinking about things they haven't done, or have done, but really wish they hadn't?  And, that's actually quite sad, in the true sense of the word.

It was a nationwide survey of 2000 people, and the top three regrets were not travelling enough, losing touch with old friends, and spending time with the wrong partner.

The cynic in me also thought this must have been commissioned by a holiday company, and true enough it was by (billed as 'an affordable accommodation alternative for independent travellers of all ages').

But while that explains the first regret, losing touch with friends and feeling you've wasted time in relationships aren't travel related - unless, perhaps unluckily, you lost friends whilst also travelling with the wrong partner!

With regards to losing touch with people and relationships, these are things to which we can all relate, particularly as we get older.

The advent of social media has surely helped with this though - I've reconnected with old school friends and work colleagues this way, and we now keep in touch on a far more regular basis than we otherwise would have.

But I think it is very sad to regret time spent in relationships, because, good or bad, we surely learn something from each of them, and the experiences go on to make us who we are today. 

Instead perhaps we should borrow the sentiment from Edith Piaf and let our mantra become 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien', because life's too short to spend time each day looking back and regretting what you've done or not done, isn't it?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Mamma Mia

Although I haven't listened to it, I'm told there's a Radio 4 show called 'I've Never Seen Star Wars', where people confess to having not seen or done something which appears commonplace to the rest of the universe.

I'm guessing that this was inspired by the lady admitting on Radio 1 many years ago that she'd never seen Star Wars, or a Bond film, and her video was a BetaMax.

So, here's my confession - until the start of August I'd never seen Mamma Mia.

I know that puts me in a minority and I'm not entirely sure how this happened.  I genuinely felt that I was destined to never watch it, having not seen it at the cinema, caught it on DVD or managed to see it when it was shown seemingly-endlessly on ITV2.

This cinematic omission started to became a source of acute embarrassment - when other people talked about it, or said they were going to see the West End show, I would have to admit that I'd never seen it, and they would look at me incredulously like I'd said that I didn't like wine or chocolate.

I feared that I would never discover who Sophie's father was - the thing is, I still don't know, I'm guessing it's Pierce Brosnan's character, but they never really made it clear did they?

I'd heard all the discussions about Pierce's terrible singing, but previously had to just nod and smile because I hadn't a clue.  But now I do!  Now I can join in such discussions and say 'it's not that bad, I've heard worse' with a slight air of authority.

I really enjoyed the film, and sang along with the songs to the obvious despair and embarrassment of husband and daughter respectively.

I'd forgotten how much I love the music of ABBA - I might even be tempted to go and see ABBAMANIA at The Corby Cube on 17th September.  Perhaps it's time to dig out the platform shoes and the blue eyeshadow - Mamma Mia, here I go again!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Burn, baby, burn - waste plant inferno

I've not talked about waste plants for a while, however I feel that the major fire at Recycleforce highlighted a number of issues on which I need to comment.

Firstly, the importance of retaining, or indeed increasing, the level of fire cover for Corby and its villages.

Secondly, with the increasing number of waste plants - recycling facilities, call them what you will - planned for Corby, this could become a regular occurrence.  There are reports on the news with frightening regularity of waste plants somewhere in the country catching fire, due to the nature of the business and the items being stored and processed.

Thirdly, and very worryingly, is do we know exactly what's being processed in these various facilities and what toxins can been released into the air if they do catch fire?

I know it's sensible to keep your doors and windows shut when such an event occurs, but unless your house is hermetically sealed, how do you ensure that these particles don't get in there?

What about the people living close to this and the other planned waste plants?  There's the Travellers' Site at Dunlop Close and the Settled Middle Age Travellers just up Gretton Brook Road, all the new housing at Priors Hall, not to mention all the houses off Rockingham Road in Corby itself and the nearby villages.

There's been a campaign about the plants planned for Corby for about three years.  We've just been informed that the approved plans for an anaerobic digester and a pyrolysis plant at Shelton Road are now being amended for another gasification plant.

What will it take for Northamptonshire County Council to start listening to the people of Corby?

We don't want these.  We don't more lorries bringing who knows what waste from the rest of the UK to be processed on our doorsteps.  We certainly don't want to live downwind of them, and we have major concerns about their safety given the number of fires.

Councillors, please ask yourselves and answer honestly, would you live next to these, or have your children go to school next to them?  I somehow doubt it...

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

One more step along the road we go...

Well, that's it - another milestone reached.

No, it's not a significant birthday, but thank you for asking - despite appearances sometimes, I've still got quite a few years to go yet until the half century.

Daughter has finished primary school.  I appreciate that this means nothing to some of you, but I'm guessing that for those of you with children you can appreciate that this is quite significant for me.

It's the end of an era.  No more walking to school and back every morning and afternoon - even though she's been more than capable of doing this herself, I still went because I enjoyed talking to the other Mums and Dads in the playground.  Working from home, this was often my only form of real human contact during the day.

No more sports days, assemblies, fund raising events, driving back and forth to various locations for performances or sporting events.

We had the Leavers' Assembly.  The children sang sad songs.  They showed a Powerpoint presentation of various things, and they had photos of when they started in Reception.

I blubbed.  No, more than that - I audibly sobbed.  Children turned round to see what the choking noise was, while my husband and my friend's husband sitting the other side of me shuffled awkwardly in their seats and looked mildly embarrassed.

I reached for a tissue, I wiped my eyes and nose - still the children stared.  Then they started crying too.

My husband said to me:  "Stop crying, you're making the other kids cry too!"

But I couldn't help it.  I daren't look up at the stage where my daughter was sitting with her friends.  I didn't want her to see me cry as I thought it would set her off too.

When it was finally over she came across to where I was sitting, trying to compose myself.

"Don't worry Mum," she said, "You didn't start crying first, and you weren't the worst either!"

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Mankind v Machines

It has been reported that Barclays Bank has decided to name some of its automated machines to make them more appealing to customers and to encourage them to use them.

If you want to pay a cheque in, you use Sally, for example.

Well, Barclays, here's a revolutionary idea for you - have you actually asked customers if they'd prefer to deal with real-life human beings instead of machines?

I hate self-service tills in supermarkets - in fact, I refuse to use them as I feel that they're doing people out of a job.

Yes, of course the bosses of big companies like Barclays Bank and numerous supermarkets want us to use machines - they're cheaper than people, don't need paid holiday or don't take time off sick.

But some of us actually like the human interaction of speaking with a shop assistant or a bank clerk.

I like exchanging social pleasantries, discussing the weather etc, all the little things that make our existence on this planet more enjoyable.

I worked as a bank clerk twenty or so more years ago, and I used to enjoy my little chats with customers if the banking hall wasn't too busy - obviously if there was a queue you couldn't talk for long.

In fact, for some elderly people or those that live alone perhaps, these exchanges can become a lifeline in human interaction.

Plus, if you've got any questions or queries, the automated machines can't help you can they?

These businesses make enough profits as it is, why do they want to do away with humans and leave scores of staff unemployed?

My advice - vote with your feet!  Next time they try and force you to use a machine, and you'd prefer to speak to a human being, stand firm.  Insist that you speak to a real person, and gently remind those trying to make you do differently 'don't you realise that you'll soon be out of a job?'

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Nuisance sales calls

It's a scenario with which I'm sure we're all familiar.

You're sitting down to dinner, discussing your day, work, school etc.

The phone rings.  Glances are exchanged - who's going to get up from their meal and answer it.

You try and sit tight, but the phone's still ringing and it's not going to stop.

It'll be a sales call, you think, but then you've got the nagging doubt that it might be a family member having a crisis, so you put your cutlery down, get up from the table and shuffle through to find the phone.

'Hello?' you say into the receiver, and then you get one of the responses you've grown to despise.

'Mis-sold PPI?  Solar panels?  I'm not trying to sell you anything... Is your PC playing up?  Does your Dyson need a service?'

Now, I'm a woman of infinite patience - actually that's not true, but I'm married and have a child, so I'm fairly patient on a good day - but I could actually scream when faced with these questions.  I don't even own a Dyson!

I've signed up to the Telephone Preference Service, and I tell the sales people this - but I swear I can hear them thinking 'I don't care.  Meals will get cold, you'll miss bits of your favourite TV shows, we'll disrupt you in the shower, we'll call you on your mobile, wherever you are we will ring you because that's our job.'

But I can't be rude to them, even though they drive me mad.  Because ultimately it is their job.  They're trying to pay their bills, feed their kids etc. 

My coping strategy developed over the years is to stop them as soon as I can in their script, tell them very politely that I'm not interested, and to thank them for their call.  Genuinely, that's what I do, and it usually stuns them into silence.

However, I do feel angry about the companies that make huge profits from bullying elderly people into charitable giving.  When one of those call me, I can't promise I shall be so polite!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

'If wet in Village Hall' - the Great British Summer Fete

The Summer Fete/Flower Festival season is in full swing.

It's just a pity that the weather doesn't always play ball with the array of outdoor events planned for what should be a glorious English Summer (yes, I'm aware we've had a mini heatwave, but sadly it won't last!)

All too often whilst driving through our corner of Northamptonshire I see a sign advertising the village fete, accompanied by another one stating 'if wet in Village Hall'.

I think that should become our motto - that sign carries with it a sense that we resign ourselves to the fact that the fate of our summer outings relies upon the weather, and we just adapt and carry on regardless.

We went to the Harringworth Fete the other weekend.  It was dry when we set off, but upon arrival - you've guessed it - the heavens opened and it rained quite heavily.

Fortunately, one of the lovely ladies organising it lent us an umbrella, so we remained dry as we perused the stalls, had tea and cake and listened to the Gretton Silver Band playing Singing In the Rain, appropriately enough, amongst other tunes.

I even managed to win a bottle of gin on the bottle raffle, and I thought our run of bad luck on the tombola had changed when my daughter managed to produce a ticket ending in a five.

However she did look a little crestfallen when she was presented with a tin of Essential Waitrose borlotti beans.  Still, a win's a win and they're now sitting in my pantry while I decide into which recipe they'll be incorporated.

There was a coconut shy, face painting, and a 'treasure hunt' where you had to  guess where a £50 note was buried - never have I stared at a patch of grass for so long trying to see the slightest disturbance!

The viaduct looked its usual magnificent self, even in the rain, and I did think to myself how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the county.