Saturday, 31 December 2016

Review of 2016

'Eventful' is an understatement, but sums up 2016 in a word.  I've been looking back through my columns, and here's my review of the year:

Just two weeks in and we'd sadly lost Lemmy of Motorhead, David Bowie and Alan Rickman.  This theme continued throughout 2016 when we also lost Prince, Leonard Cohen, Victoria Wood and Paul Daniels amongst others.

In February, yet more sad news with the death of Terry Wogan.  I explained that I'm not Terry's Hellen Bach, but in a way I am as I grew up with him.

Boaty McBoatface put in an appearance in March, as this was the name the public chose for a polar research vessel, eventually named after Sir David Attenborough.

April came the Panama Papers revelations, and the report from the Economist Intelligence Unit that a Trump presidency was rated among the top ten global risks.

In May we had Leicester City FC winning the Premier League, and I went to the Richard III visitors' centre.

The surprising result of the EU referendum occurred in June, and The Flying Scotsman steamed through the county.

July, and I visited the wonderful KettFest and the 'I (heart symbol) Music: Kettering' exhibition.  In August I confessed my new found interest in the Olympics and how I was basking in the glow of 80s nostalgia.

September saw the shock news of Bake Off heading to Channel 4 and the Brownlee's 'he ain't heavy he's my brother' moment.  October, and I questioned the reality of Honey G and the arrival of the 'killer' clown craze from the US.

In November, following the US election result, I imparted the fact I've been wearing my 'theme park face' (a rictus grin with terror in my eyes) for most of the year, and asked had anybody got a paddle.

In December I imparted the news we'd all suspected - our chocolate bars and tins are indeed getting smaller, yet the price remains the same.  I wonder what 2017 will bring?  Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Merry Christmas everyone!

It's Christmas!  Some of you, like me, probably read that in a Noddy Holder from Slade voice, and if you didn't please re-read and give it a go.

Apparently it's a scientific fact (in truth, I'm not sure exactly how much science was involved) that there are some phrases you just can't read without saying them as a song lyric, or alternatively if you utter them, it will encourage somebody else to spontaneously burst into song.

Not convinced?  OK, try this one - 'my name is'.  There's going to be some of you saying that in the same style as Eminem.  'It wasn't me' will prompt some of you to remember the song by Shaggy, and 'I just can't get enough' will spark a Depeche Mode tribute.

At primary school one of my teachers was called Mrs Robinson, and every time her name was mentioned at home my Dad would sing 'and here's to you Mrs Robinson' from the Simon & Garfunkel song.

A discarded Frozen child's lunchbox was found by a dog walker near where I live, and he helpfully posted a picture of it on our local Facebook group page trying to find its owner.

After several unsuccessful attempts and repeated questions as to who owned it, somebody replied with the simple three word phrase 'Let it go', which caused much amusement.  For those uninitiated in the world of Frozen (and I believe there are still some although I'm not quite sure how), that's the theme song magnificently warbled by Idina Menzel.

Nobody can utter 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' without thinking of Kelly Clarkson's uplifting anthem.  If anyone says 'the final countdown' I'm immediately transported back to the eighties to soft-rock out with my air guitar, Europe and Joey Tempest's magnificent perm.

All of which leads me to say Merry Christmas everyone, channelling my inner Shakin' Stevens and sporting my best festive jumper and stonewashed jeans, and then sing Happy New Year to you all in an ABBA style.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Duxford and Al Murray

It seems a distant memory now, but we went to Duxford for the first time in the October half term.  We were going to go before but the American museum was shut and being refurbished so we waited until it re-opened.

It was certainly worth the wait - this was the first part we visited when we got there one Sunday morning at 10am, using the theme park rule of visiting the areas furthest away and then working your way back towards the car park - it works for us, anyway.

From the outside I thought it resembled a larger version of the Teletubby house, as the entrance area nestles into the surrounding bank.  But it's certainly an amazing sight when you walk through the doors and come almost nose-to-nose with a B-52.

That's when we saw Al Murray.  Yes, standing to one side chatting to a member of staff was the Pub Landlord.  I spotted him first, and said to husband and daughter, quietly, 'That's that bloke off the telly!  Pub Landlord!', which caused husband to spin round and look straight at him, make eye contact, and then act embarrassed as British people tend to do in that sort of situation.

We didn't interrupt him, just smiled and walked on by, with daughter asking me when we were out of earshot 'Who is he, is he famous?'  She's a Harry Hill fan, and I said he was in Harry Hill's programmes and I thought in the Harry Hill Movie.

A bit later on my daughter and I were in the Ladies' loos, and talking from cubicle to cubicle as women tend to do if no-one else is there. 

She said to me 'Ah, I think I remember him, was he the man in the dress in the nuclear power plant?'

We emerged from our cubicles to find a woman washing her hands, staring at us in the mirror like we were very odd. 

We've since discovered that Al Murray wasn't in the Harry Hill Movie, and that actor was Jim Broadbent, so she will probably never work out what we were talking about!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Ever-decreasing chocolates

Things aren't what they used to be - how often did you hear that growing up?  Well, it turns out it's true, especially if we're talking about chocolates.

We've put up with quite a lot in 2016 already, but this may be the final straw.  It's nearly Christmas and the large chocolate companies are messing with our chocs!

It's been done quite sneakily and gradually - I bet there were hoping we wouldn't notice because of Brexit and Trump etc.  But Watchdog have highlighted it, and it's really quite shocking.

I'd suspected it for a while - I'm fairly sure that when I was a child a Wagon Wheel was the size of my head.  OK, if not my head, it still seemed pretty large.  Now it's not even the size of the palm of my hand.

That Christmas favourite, the Terry's chocolate orange, used to have the chocolate segments so tightly packed together we would have to smash it repeatedly against our fireplace to separate them, and then there was the solid stalk of chocolate left in the middle as an additional treat once the segments had been consumed, remember that?

Well, no more.  The segments are quite frankly puny, there's no centre stalk of pure orangey chocolate goodness and it's reduced in size by 10% too - that's two whole pieces less.

And do you remember the huge tins of Quality Street you used to get for Christmas as a kid?  The seemingly bottomless box of brightly wrapped chocs and toffees that you'd be wading through until well into the New Year?

Not any more folks - you'll be lucky to make them last until Boxing Day.  Also the Toffee Deluxe has been replaced with a Honeycomb Crunch - how was this allowed to happen?

Now there's gaping valleys between Toblerone's mountains, and a bag of Maltesers has shrunk by 15% - that's 10 Maltesers per bag lost, never to be seen again.

Enough is enough - it's time to take a stand, and woe betide the chocolate company that messes with the Purple Ones or the Strawberry Cremes and Dreams!

Ssshhh! I'm watching the play, or film etc...

I have to say I agree with Imelda Staunton's call for a ban on eating and drinking in theatres during performances.

After all, there's usually an interval, which is the ideal time to seek refreshments if required, but I do appreciate that this is also the occasion when many women spend the entire time queuing for the loo (or is that just me?)

It appears to be a widespread problem, and not just with noisy snacks either.  One actor said he'd seen a person in the front row of a theatre in which he was performing produce a full fish supper, complete with mushy peas, which was then consumed with gusto during the play.  This did distract him, particularly as the smell of the food wafted towards the stage.

This won't be popular, but I would also like to see noisy junk food banned in cinemas.  I wouldn't ban popcorn, although I did nearly choke on a kernel once while watching a film but did it so quietly that husband didn't even realise until I informed him afterwards.

But is there anything worse when watching a film than having a critical moment in the plot ruined by the ear-shatteringly loud rustling of a crisp packet, family size Minstrels bag or similar?  Or the slurp of the end of the slushy cup just to make sure it's empty?

Please don't get me started on people who use their phones during performances either!

I went to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them on the day it was released - very good, highly recommended, bit dark in places so not appropriate for very young children - and lo and behold, at several times during the film there was the glow of a mobile.  Not just a quick glance to check the time or to see if there'd been an emergency either, people were just sitting there staring at their screens.

Can't we please just engage in one activity and spend a couple of hours watching a play or film without eating, drinking or looking at our phones?

Thursday, 17 November 2016

'Distraction' burglars take much more than property

People who prey on the elderly and vulnerable really are despicable.

So-called 'distraction' burglars who trick elderly people into letting them into their homes by pretending to be from utility companies for example, before searching the house and then stealing whatever they can get their hands on, they take much more than just property.

They often shatter the older person's confidence and trust, they make them feel vulnerable in their own homes, and they cause a great deal of worry and stress for them, their family and friends.

There has been a spate of such incidents recently in Northamptonshire, so the Police have re-issued some helpful advice reminding people what to do with unexpected callers:

Here are the key points:

·        Don't feel pressured into opening the door - if you're not sure, don't open it. 
·        Make sure you can see who is at the door before you answer it - use a spy-hole or talk to them through a nearby window. 
·        You can set up passwords with your utility companies, and genuine callers will need to recite this password to you. 
·        Don't use telephone numbers on ID cards callers might produce - if the person isn't genuine, then the telephone number won't be either.  Get the telephone numbers from the phone directory, save them into your mobile phone or make a list of your important numbers and keep it near the phone. 
·        If someone knocks on your door saying they are the Police, call 101 and check the identity with the Police control room.  In an emergency call 999. 
·        Look out for those who are vulnerable within your family or neighbourhood and please share this information.

In Northamptonshire, agencies have come together to form the Doorstep crime Action Network (DAN).  If you have any concerns that doorstep rogue traders or distraction burglars are operating in your community please call the dedicated doorstep crime hotline on 0345 23 07 702.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Theme-park face

I have a theme-park face.  That is, a face I seem to pull on certain so-called thrill rides at theme parks.

I only discovered this after I'd had my photo taken several times on these various attractions, and when viewing the results on the screens in the little booths, I realised I was pulling the same face in each.

I'll try to describe it - it's a rictus grin, I look like I'm trying to smile, but my teeth are gritted and you can see in my eyes that I'm actually terrified, but I'm putting a brave face on it.

Well, that's the face I've been wearing for a good part of 2016.

This year's rollercoaster ride shows no signs of slowing down.  In fact, it's speeding up, the highs and lows are getting greater, and now my knuckles have turned white from gripping onto the safety bar and my jaw is aching.

Way back in April, when the prospect of a Trump Presidency seemed like a very distant possibility, I wrote about an article I'd read with the terrifying headline "A Trump Presidency rated among the top ten global risks".  The Economist Intelligence Unit reckoned that Donald having the keys to the White House was riskier than Britain leaving the European Union.

I remember listening to Jeremy Vine on Radio2 while I was in the dental hygienist's chair about a month ago, and he was saying that he didn't think Trump would be elected, but then he didn't think Britain would leave the EU either.  And it was at that point I thought to myself, 'What if Hillary doesn't win?'

Why didn't people vote for Mrs Clinton - would it be like Cherie Blair standing for Prime Minister here, are the Clintons really that unpopular in the USA?

Much like after the EU referendum, we are at the stage where we have to accept the result and work with what we have.  Has anybody got a paddle?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Dedicated followers of slipper fashion

Do you ever look at the various fashions highlighted in magazines or in the Sunday supplements and think 'There's no way I'd wear that, people would laugh.'

I only ask because I was flicking through the Sunday paper and there was a feature about the new, latest, most fashionable footwear as seen on the tootsies of such trendsetters as Alexa Chung, one of the Kardashians and that chap who was the Night Manager and who may or may not be the next James Bond, Tom Hiddleston.

They were slippers.  OK, mules, backless slip on shoes - a nightmare for hammer toes I imagine - and apparently the latest 'thing' in which to be seen.

Now, I can't speak for you of course, but I would not be seen outside the confines of my own home in my slippers.

Having said that, my slippers are actually quite 'on-trend' I believe - they are Moshulu ballet pumps in a fetching leopard print.  I used to call them my Bet Lynch slippers, but have re-named them after Theresa May and her penchant for a similarly patterned kitten-heel shoe; I don't think she'll be offended.

But other than running to the washing line if it suddenly starts raining, or popping to the bins armed with my recycling, they don't see the outside world.

I wouldn't even dream of heading out into the street to fetch-in the wheelie bin on collection day wearing them.  In fact, if I see somebody outdoors wearing slippers I assume they've had an in-grown toenail removed or a bunion op and can't wear proper shoes.

Which leads me to wonder, what fashion PR genius persuaded a bunch of celebrities that to be seen out in public wearing what is in effect a leather, fur-lined slipper is the height of sophistication?

Now I've said this, I expect I'll be seeing these shoes, or high-street copies of them, everywhere, and I won't know whether people are keeping up with fashion or simply nursing a painful foot injury!

Thursday, 27 October 2016

GBBO 2016 - Let's All Bake On!

Well, that's it then.  Bake Off has finished and Candice is the new champion.

Congratulations to her, she certainly deserved to win, as week after week she produced ever-more elaborate bakes - the detailed recreation of her childhood pub home, complete with sticky carpet, was a particular highlight.

The final was close though, and I thought Andrew might just do it, but unfortunately his sausage rolls let him down.

Sadly it means that it's also time to pack up the fancy Neff ovens, Kitchen Aid mixers, the pots and pans, fold up the tent and the gingham altar of baking perfection and head to Channel Four, with only Mr Hollywood for company from the original line-up.

Since the announcement that Bake Off was leaving its spiritual home on the BBC, I've watched the remainder of the series tinged with more than a little sadness.

Sorry, but it doesn't matter who replaces Dame Mary, Mel and Sue, it just won't be the same.

I may give it a brief look just to confirm my suspicions, but even if they do manage to lure French and Saunders as a swap for Mel and Sue by dangling carrot cake and large sums of cash, I can't see anyone being able to replace Mary.

Mary, the yin to Paul's yang (or vice versa), the voice of calm and reason when all around is collapsing like a soufflé which has had the oven door opened too soon, her gentle words of encouragement and the ability to find something positive to say when, quite frankly, a bake looks like I've made it - who can replicate that?

Maybe Delia, Nigella or even Candice - could they be the answer to Channel Four's Bake Off prayers?  How would they get on with Paul, would there be the same chemistry as he had with Mary? 

I just hope that somebody at the BBC has been smart enough to commission another cooking show with Mary at the helm, ably assisted by Mel and Sue - Let's All Bake On.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

I say Honey, you say...

There's a question that's been annoying me.  I'm sure I'm not alone, so I'm going to open up and discuss it with you all.

In the great scheme of things, I know I really shouldn't care.  But here goes - is Honey G a real 'urban artiste' or is it somebody creating a joke character in the style of Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G?  Could it even be David Cameron in a wig and baseball cap?

I only ask because I really don't know.  I'm wondering if she's going to rap her way to the final and then be transformed into an opera singer or something.

I was actually quite cross when she made it through to the X Factor live shows at the expense of talented singers like Janet.  We've always had to sacrifice good singers for the so-called 'entertaining' acts like Wagner, Jedward and Bratavio.  Bratavio's Aqua/Vengaboys mash-up was pretty awful, I'm not surprised they've been voted off. 

But, and I almost can't believe I'm admitting this, I actually enjoyed Honey G's performance during the first live show.

She looked like she was enjoying herself, not taking it terribly seriously, and even more surprising, she appeared to be singing in tune too.  I could even get behind the 'I say Honey, you say G' refrain.  However, she needs to prove now that she is not a 'one trick pony' - she really can't put that into every song week after week.

I'm not sure what categories have survived through to the new X Factor jukebox which supposedly randomly chooses the following week's theme.  I think it will be a great surprise if Fright Night isn't on the Hallowe'en weekend.

We used to have Big Band and Abba weeks.  Now we have 'Louis Loves', which makes me wonder what horrors we will be subjected to when the wheel of fortune selects that option.  I imagine Boyzone and Westlife's greatest hits will feature prominently - the prospect of Honey G singing 'Flying Without Wings' is enough to keep me tuning in!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

'Killer' clowns in the UK

Whose stupid idea was it to import the sinister clowns from the USA?

That's another thing to add to the list of things of which I'm scared.  Not satisfied with a roll-call that already includes spiders, heights, any furry creatures smaller than my hand (mice, rats etc), snakes, worms and slugs I now have to add clowns.

I've never been keen on clowns, although they haven't made my list before now. 

I didn't like Ronald McDonald - probably why I hadn't eaten a McDonalds before the age of about 16, that and the fact that's when they opened up in Kettering town centre I imagine.

Then there was the BBC testcard girl with the chalkboard and her clown that used to appear when your TV service was playing up - thanks for bringing that back in Life on Mars just as I'd managed to erase that particular memory - so double freak out, your telly's not working properly and there's a clown staring at you.

But this new craze brings a whole new level of terror.  Seriously, who thinks that it's ok to dress up as a clown - which ranks as one of the most common phobias in the UK anyway - and then either jump out or chase some unsuspecting member of the public down the road brandishing what may or may not be a real weapon?

What if they surprise somebody with an underlying heart condition and then that person has a heart-attack and dies?  Suddenly a prank turns into a manslaughter charge.

I've heard unconfirmed reports of somebody locally dressed as a 'killer clown' sitting on a swing in a children's play park singing nursery rhymes.  That's not funny, that's not clever - it's just creepy and weird and could mentally scar a young child. 

There are some things that just shouldn't be imported from across the Atlantic.  Donald Trump's 'locker room' attitude to women is one, so-called 'killer clowns' are another.  

Chris Packham, a Brazilian and a penguin

I'm quite a fan of Chris Packham.  I remember him and his extravagant peroxide-blonde quiff from The Really Wild Show many years ago.

This show also fascinated me because of the other presenter, Terry Nutkins, and the fact he'd had part of his fingers chewed off by an otter.  I think until that point I'd thought that otters were quite cute and cuddly and wondered if they would perhaps make nice pets - I very quickly had a re-think.

I tuned in to Nature's Weirdest Events on BBC2 not quite sure what I was going to see, as the whole set-up is quite eerie and Chris stalks about like he's going to unveil Frankenstein's monster or something.

But I was glad I did as this programme contained one of the most heart-warming stories I'd seen in a while.

An elderly Brazilian man found a starving oil-soaked young penguin on the beach near his home.  He brought him home, carefully washed his feathers and fed him.  When he was strong enough, the man returned the penguin to the ocean and set him free.

But the penguin found his own way back to the house, and stayed for a few months before disappearing again.

Experts think that the penguin heads back to Patagonia for the breeding season, and then comes back to Brazil to spend the summer with the man and his wife.  He does this year after year, without fail.

The penguin and the old man are inseparable.  Their friendship is remarkable, and they are devoted to each other. 

There was a lovely picture of the man, his wife and the penguin sitting on the sofa having a cup of tea together - although just to clarify, the penguin didn't appear to be partaking in a cuppa, but he was sitting with them looking very comfortable much like a pet dog or cat.

It served as a reminder that the friendship we can have with animals is genuine, as that kind of loyalty cannot be faked.  

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

"If you want to live and thrive, let a spider run alive."

This is a saying my Dad used to say to me when I was little, and even though I'm quite scared of spiders, I still go out of my way not to hurt them.

This usually involves me having to either wait until husband gets home from work so he can capture them safely and release them to freedom, or me donning my Marigolds - I know, it's daft isn't it, but I can cope with most things if I've got my trusty rubber gloves on! - getting some cardboard, a glass, or whatever else I can find and then moving as swiftly as I can to get them outside.

At which point my dog will block my way, look at me - much the same as Moose does in the Clearscore advert - and I can almost hear him say 'What doin'? Where goin'?'.

I only mention this because there's been a raft of stories involving spiders in the press, and my house also seems to have become a haven for the largest spiders in the world who look like they're wearing boots.  Seriously, they're enormous - about the size of my hand.  Well my daughter's hand, ok possibly the same size as the dog's paw, but you get the idea - they're big.

We've read about the family from Leicester who bought some bananas and then had to have their house fumigated after a cocoon burst forth and hundreds of what's thought to be baby Brazilian wandering spiders emerged like something in a horror film.

To make matters even worse, these spiders apparently have a bite that results in a very unfortunate medical condition - I'll leave it there, this is a family paper - and possibly death if not treated in time.

Then I read about an Australian man using a Portaloo and being bitten in the same delicate place twice, a few months apart.  Now that's what you call unlucky - not sure he'd agree with the 'live and thrive' advice from my Dad! 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

He ain't heavy, he's my Brownlee brother...

Sport has provided many inspirational moments this Summer.

Firstly the Olympics, and stunning performances by the whole of Team GB, but particularly the cyclists Laura Trott and Jason Kenny.  Then the Paralympics, with the amazing gold medal tally achieved, and each and every athlete a perfect example of overcoming adversity.

But sometimes, there's something which captures everybody's attention and reminds you that even in the highly competitive world of sport there's more to life than winning - and that moment was what I shall call the 'he ain't heavy, he's my brother' Brownlee moment.

The road had indeed been long, and as Jonny negotiated the last winding turn of his triathlon in Mexico he staggered around like a drunk man who couldn't find his way home.

It was almost painful to watch - the finishing line was only a few yards away and winning this race would have meant he'd won the world triathlon series.

But he just couldn't do it, his legs were jellified (technical term) and he stumbled into the arms of a steward.

Just then, his older, wiser brother Alistair who'd paced himself properly in the race, appeared and scooped him up and half-carried, half-dragged him to the finishing line where Jonny was unceremoniously dumped to ensure he crossed the line of his own accord and could claim second place, before being rushed to hospital to be re-hydrated.

Alistair himself - who could have won the race had he continued running - gave up his victory to help his brother in his time of need.

This was nothing short of heroic - it's not often in sport, or indeed in life, that people give up their own chance of winning to support somebody else.

If I was Alistair and Jonny's Mum, I would be so proud right now.  Not only are they brilliant athletes, they're also decent human beings who look out for each other. 

The only way this could have been more perfect would have been if the South African runner who overtook them and claimed victory had just run beside them instead. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Another great Gretton Music Festival

My family and I enjoyed another great August Bank Holiday weekend of entertainment courtesy of the Gretton Music Festival.

Despite rain of Biblical proportions on the Saturday afternoon - which resulted in the hog roast having to be rescued lest it be swept away in the flood - all the events were well attended.

My favourites of the weekend were the Musical Marquee on Saturday afternoon, where we were treated to a variety of singers performing - yet again Kara Hamer provided 'goosebump' moments with her stunning interpretations of Snow Patrol's 'Run' and Josh Groban's 'You Raise Me Up'.  Hard to believe that a 15-year old can sing like that, she's amazing.

Mark Thompson entertained the crowd with his Rat Pack set Shades Of Sinatra, and was also the lead singer of The Top Banana Band charity fundraiser gig on Sunday night, as well as MCing the open mic event at The Hatton Arms on the Monday afternoon.  He was certainly kept very busy!

At the Open Mic event we listened to a wide range of performances - stand-out acts for me included a rock band of youngsters called Unpredictable, who were brilliant.  I'm not sure, but they must have all been aged 16 or under.

They performed Pink Floyd's 'Another Brick in the Wall', which seemed quite appropriate coming from kids that young, and also the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Under the Bridge', a very-rocked up version of Nina Simone's 'Feeling Good', and encored with Bon Jovi's 'Living on a Prayer' which they encouraged us to sing along to, something in hindsight they may have regretted!

We were also entertained by a trio called Post Hatton, who provided another 'goosebump' moment with their version of Adele's 'Hello', and a folk band who I think were called Soundbase who played a variety of violins, guitars, mandolins and a box. 

All very different, but all very talented.  Thanks to all the venues and the organisers, and especially to Terry Forsey who's now stepping down after seven successful years at the helm.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

GBBO - please don't change the recipe!

There are some recipes that just shouldn't be messed with.

Take Victoria sponge for example.  It's flour, eggs, butter and sugar, then with good quality jam and perhaps butter icing added for the filling.  Sometimes there are variations on this theme - like adding cocoa powder for a chocolate cake - but basically the four main ingredients remain the same.

Well, that for me is the Great British Bake Off.  We have our four main presenters - Dame Mary of Berry, Paul 'Sparkling Blue Eyes' Hollywood, and innuendo laden-duo Mel and Sue.  That's it, don't mess with it. 

The chemistry between the team works.  Yes, the talk of soggy bottoms etc sometimes gets a little trying, but we forgive them because it's such a good watch.

In a world where there's so much uncertainty and nastiness, we could rely on good quality BBC output like Bake Off, and Strictly, and Countryfile to help us forget just for a little while what life was really like.

Wrapped in our cocoon of icing sugar, or sequins or Adam's Farm, we can surround ourselves in good things, even if it is just for an hour.

And now?  Well, the bad news is that GBBO is leaving home.  It's packing its bags and mixing bowls and heading for Channel Four.  It's decided that Auntie Beeb's house isn't enough and it wants more.

More what exactly?  Money obviously.  Which is a shame, because although I'm well aware that everything sadly revolves around money, it  just feels a little bit tawdry. 

The silver lining in my cloud is that at least it hasn't gone over to the great satellite dish in the sky, because then my relationship with GBBO would have abruptly and permanently ended.

As it is, I'm thinking I will give it a trial reconciliation, just to see if we can make the new arrangement work. 

But if they change the recipe, lose the main presenters and drive me mad with commercial breaks every ten minutes, I may have to reconsider my position.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Will I be forced from my Victorian Bathing Machine?

If I'd been contemplating swopping my short break in North Norfolk for a sojourn to the South of France - don't get me wrong, I love Norfolk, but guaranteed sunshine might be nice - I'd be rapidly re-thinking my plans right now.

You see, I don't want armed Police to surround me on the beach to make me remove my kaftan, sarong or other cover-up clothing.

There are numerous reasons for this, which I will share:

1) my less-than-toned bits are my concern, and mine alone - not for public viewing at home or abroad;

2) my skin is so breathtakingly white - growing up my brother nicknamed me Data from Star Trek - that everyone else on the beach would need protection from the brightness reflected back on them or they may sue for retinal damage;

3) without said protective garments, even with Factor 50 sunblock slathered over any exposed skin, I will, without fail, go bright red within nanoseconds and resemble a lobster.  I will then blister, peel, and never tan, ever.

OK, so although the above is written slightly tongue-in-cheek, I'm trying to make an important point here.  What I wear on the beach is my choice and mine alone.  It's what I choose to wear.  If I could wear an all-in-one outfit that kept me completely covered, or use a Victorian bathing machine, I probably would.

The Muslim lady who went to the South of France beach wearing long sleeves, well hopefully that was her choice too.

It was shocking to see her surrounded by armed Police, forcing her to remove her clothing.  It must have been embarrassing and humiliating for her.

I wonder if a white woman sits on a beach fully clothed - like I have done in the past - or perhaps a Nun in a habit visits, will the Police response be the same? 

Every woman should have the freedom of choice as to what they wear, wherever they are.  Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, 1 September 2016

My Olympic journey...

Something surprising happened to me in August.  I went from being not bothered in the slightest about the Olympics - and chuntering because it completely messed up the TV schedules - to being glued to my set.

Within a fortnight, I became an avid Olympics-viewer, insisting on watching the synchronised diving and cycling races which seemed to be on at about 9pm each evening. 

But in all honestly I hadn't got a clue what the rules were and how the scoring worked.

Watching the pursuit cycling, where just two competitors cycle around the velodrome, I couldn't understand why they had to start so slowly and the lead one had to keep looking over his/her shoulder at the person behind.

How did they manage this without cutting off the circulation to their heads?  Would it not be easier to have mirrors on the bikes so that they didn't have to crane their necks at such an awful angle?  I appreciate this might affect their aerodynamics, but still, it might be better.  This suggestion was laughed at in our house, but I think I might be on to something.

Also, with the Keirin, why do they have the little 'motorbike' that sets the pace for the riders?  Why does it go so slowly, gently build up speed, and then get in the way and cause near disqualification for the riders who then try to get past it? 

The Jason Kenny race had me up way past my bedtime, sitting on the edge of my seat with a complete adrenaline rush - head in hands when I thought he might be disqualified.  It was so stressful I couldn't get to sleep for hours after.

With regards to the little 'motorbike', I'm thinking that I could train to ride one of those, as it'll be the only way I ever get to take part in an Olympic games.  But I can personally assure Jason Kenny that I wouldn't get in his way!  In all seriousness though, well done to everyone in Team GB.

Monday, 15 August 2016

The neon glow of 80s nostalgia...

I'm currently basking in the neon glow of 80s nostalgia.

Don't worry, I'm not going to indulge in recreating the fashions of the era.  Sporting large hair, a power suit with American Footballer-style shoulder pads and blue eyeliner is going to be a little excessive for a trip to the shop to get my bread and paper.

But the decade of excess seems to be appearing all around me.

My musical tastes have always been influenced by this era, as this is when I became a teenager.  I love those compilation albums, and sing along heartily with all the songs much to daughter's dismay.

I've also become a fan of The Goldbergs.  This too annoys her as she discovered it on E4, but now I also watch it which of course makes it instantly uncool.  She carries on watching it though because it's so good.

The Goldbergs is a comedy about the family dynamic and contains huge chunks of key 80s music, films, fashion and gadgets (e.g. Rubik's cubes and top-loader VCRs). 

Adam Goldberg writes the show, and his childhood-self is the main character.  He filmed key moments from his childhood on a camcorder in a sort of visual diary, and this provides the source material for the storylines.

Then there's the more high-brow study of the time, courtesy of historian Dominic Sandbrook.  He has a three-part series about The Eighties, the first of which managed to portray Delia Smith as the leader of a revolution.

I have to be honest, when I think of revolutionaries it's probably Che Guevara rather than Delia which springs to mind, but it was an interesting viewpoint on how our lives forever changed in those ten years when Mrs Thatcher ruled from Downing Street, and Delia was Queen of the TV cookery shows.

I'm a big fan of Delia, but quite how her teaching us the wonders of cooking dried pasta was more of a turning point than Mrs Thatcher selling off the social housing stock and the privatisation of major companies is perhaps open for more discussion. 

As for her being a revolutionary - I can't imagine many young people wearing t-shirts with Delia's face emblazoned across them, can you?!

Do you have the mental strength to be an Olympian?

I do love a good online quiz.

There's nothing like it to while away a few moments when I should be working, but in fairness I'm my own boss and entitled to an occasional break - that's what I'll tell myself at my next annual review anyway.

While I was supping one of my numerous daily cups of tea - just wondered if there's a recommended allowance for tea, the same way as there is for fruit and veg? - I had a go at the 'Do you have the mentality of an Olympian?' quiz on the BBC website (

I can safely say that I don't have the body nor the athletic ability of an Olympian, but funnily enough it turns out I qualify as a 'solid athlete', which tells me I have 'most of the mental strengths needed to be a good athlete, but I may struggle to challenge Usain Bolt & Co to get on the medals podium'.

This insight caused me much amusement, as I thought back to my school days and the PE lesson where I was told by the teacher 'You'll never be a sprinter, because sprinters are born not made.  But you could always train to be a long distance runner.'

To date, I've never taken this risk either.  I'm sure Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe are much relieved. 

That's not to say I haven't run in the past.  I took part in the 'Run the World' fundraiser and shuffled along nicely, and I've even been known to run for a bus occasionally.  However, due to a niggling knee injury, walking is now my chosen method of transportation and exercise.

The quiz was quite insightful in some ways though, as it was written by a sports psychologist from Loughborough University.

It turns out I score highly in the following categories: conscientiousness; perfectionism; focus; social support; motivation and competitiveness.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't score so highly in self confidence.  Funnily enough, I don't have the belief that I can be an Olympian - not until tea drinking becomes an Olympic sport anyway!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Who you gonna call... the BBFC?

The Bach clan went to the cinema the other day to watch Ghostbusters.

Now, I haven't seen the original - I know, I must be the only person on the planet of my age group who hasn't - and I must say I really enjoyed this version.

For a start, I think Melissa McCarthy is brilliant - she was really good as Sookie in the Gilmore Girls, which I'm pleased to hear is being brought back for some follow-up films - and I thought the mainly-female cast worked well.

There are also subtle nods to the 1984 film - some of which husband had to explain to me in the car on the way home - with stars like Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver making cameo appearances.

But I do have some observations that I'd like to make about the whole experience, if I may.

We had to queue for nearly half an hour to buy our tickets.  This problem seemed to be caused because you buy tickets and food at the same counter - and everyone in front of us was purchasing a three-course meal, or so it seemed.  It would make more sense to have a separate line for each as the queues would then move much quicker. 

Also, Ghostbusters was rated as 12A.  I had to look up what a 12A rating means but according to Google:

"Films rated 12A are suitable for children aged 12 and over.  However, people younger than 12 may see a 12A as long as they are accompanied by an adult."

This resulted in the people in the row along from me bringing in their little girl (at a guess, about four years old) to see a film that really wasn't suitable for a child this young.  She was crying for most of the film because the ghosts in Ghostbusters really are quite scary.

This isn't the cinema's fault, but I feel that this rating needs clarifying by the BBFC as it is confusing and contradictory.  Thank goodness this wasn't the 3D version or she'd probably need therapy.

Friday, 5 August 2016

The end of an era...

Oh dear, this is a worrying development.  The last-ever VHS recorder is being produced in Japan.

OK, I appreciate that for people under 35 this means absolutely nothing.

But for those of us still own a library of videos - what was I supposed to do, replace them all with DVDs? I haven't won the lottery! - what on earth are we going to watch them on now?

Not that I often watch my graduation video, but it is on video cassette, somewhere, not sure where exactly at this precise moment.

We never taped our wedding ceremony, so that's not an issue.  Neither did we ever own a camcorder ourselves, so daughter's first steps etc are just committed to memory, not tape.

It's the end of an era, albeit an era that saw us having to fast forward through tapes to find the programmes we may or may not have recorded, and then rewind them while the machine whirred so violently you expected it to explode at any moment.

But at the time they came out they revolutionised our TV watching.  Because you could actually go out, and set the video, and then watch whatever vital programme you were going to miss (probably Neighbours in my case) on your return.

Programming it required a degree of skill, knowledge of the 24 hour clock, possibly some kind of scientific qualification, but still, you could, in theory, record something and keep it for posterity.

Or not, if you had sports mad Dad and brother like me who had a tendency to tape over things randomly with a vital football match, horse race, etc.

I had a video player until fairly recently when it decided to 'eat' Mrs Doubtfire.  As this is one of my favourite films, I invested in the DVD version.

VHS having a revival in the same way as vinyl seems fairly unlikely - although I did read that collectors are paying up to £1500 for rare horror films on this format.  Not sure my graduation video would qualify as that though!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Why I can't watch The Job Interview...

There are some TV shows I find it stressful to watch.  The news, obviously, because some days it's just all bad.  At the moment you almost need a restorative cup of tea at hand just to be able to sit down and watch it.

Then there's MasterChef, when they go into the professional kitchens.  I'm fine when they're cooking in the studio, despite Gregg and John's constant shouting which really isn't necessary.  It doesn't add to the tension, it just makes me reduce the volume.

I don't even mind when the cooks are hurriedly preparing lunch for hundreds of people, and the queues are building and nothing's cooking on time, they're dropping things on the floor and the pastry's burning.

No, I really hate it when they're being shouted at in a Michelin-starred establishment and it's all going a little bit 'Pete Tong'.

I've tried to figure out why I feel like this.  It could be because I worked in the kitchen of a pub with a chef that made Gordon Ramsay look positively mild-mannered and pleasant.  I may be mentally scarred - in fact, thinking about it, I've never been able to eat a prawn cocktail since, and as this was one of the signature starters of the day (yes, it was a few years ago) it's probably that. 

With this in mind, I also can't bring myself to watch The Job Interview.  With my prestigious track record of messing up in interviews, I just think the flashbacks would be too much for me.

When I get really nervous, I either lose the power of speech or say the first thing that comes into my head - neither of which is particularly helpful.

In one interview when I was asked 'where do you see yourself in five years time?' I actually responded, 'not that old one!' because, frankly, I'd been asked it in every single interview I'd attended up to that point. 

This was sadly not appreciated by the interviewer, but it did make the accompanying HR lady laugh out loud.  No, I didn't get the job!

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Kudos to Dame Judi for seizing the day...

I don't like needles.  I don't mean the sewing variety - although to be quite honest, I'm not overly keen on those either. 

I remember in sewing classes in primary school one of the boys thinking it would be great fun to put a row of stitches with embroidery thread through his thumb.  He was alone in thinking this was funny, as the teacher and the rest of us in the class didn't agree.

I can't watch when the phlebotomist is taking a sample for a blood test.  How very interesting the pictures on the wall become at this point for me, as I gaze at the artwork much as Brian Sewell would have done at a gallery, but slightly less critically I imagine.

I therefore don't have any body art as I would have to undergo a general anaesthetic - yet more needles! - in order to have it done.

Hats off then to Dame Judi Dench for having her first tattoo created for her 81st birthday.  The words 'CARPE DIEM' are now indelibly inked on her right wrist for all the world to see, in block capital letters no less.

For those who, like me, went to the local comp and didn't study Classics - or if you haven't seen the film Dead Poets' Society - these words translate from Latin as 'seize the day', and this is apparently her motto.

It's definitely nothing to do with the fish of a similar name - for those wondering otherwise, ask yourselves why would Dame Judi have something about koi carp tattooed on her wrist?  Although the company of A Winter's Tale, which she was filming at the time she went under the needle, used to joke with her that it meant 'fish of the day'.

I did read that she previously considered some kind of symbol, but was unsure what it depicted despite assurances that it wasn't rude - she quite rightly erred on the side of caution and gave it a miss.  That would have been an interesting assignment for E4's Tattoo Fixers though!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Communards, The Rolling Stones and my mother-in-law...

My family and I combined a visit to the wonderful Kettfest - taking advantage of KBC's free parking for the day - with a trip to the Manor House Museum in Kettering.

Somehow I'd never managed to visit here before, despite living in this area for most of my life.

It really is a little gem, and well worth a peek.  As well as its usual collections, it's currently home to the rather fabulous 'I (heart symbol) Music: Kettering', which is running from now until 17th September.

This charts (no pun intended) the history of music in and from Kettering from the 1950s until the present day.

Possibly the coolest exhibit features some photos of Mick Jagger & Co hanging out on the High Street - I knew the Rolling Stones played at what is now the Gala Bingo hall because my mother-in-law was at the gig.

The artistes who hail from Kettering have been given their own gold star on the floor, which is sweet.

Amongst the exhibits there is information about Faryl Smith and The Temples, along with The Communards who have lent a framed gold disc and photos.

Growing up around Kettering in the 80s we were all immensely proud of the fact that (the now Rev) Richard Coles came from here - I remember singing along to their number one single 'Don't Leave Me This Way' with my friends in the lunch queue at school, and the teacher on duty raising his eyebrows as we warbled 'Baby, my heart is full of love and desire for you' (not aimed at him, obviously).

There were more trips down memory lane for me with memorabilia from Tymes nightclub, where we celebrated many an 18th birthday in the late 80s, dancing the night away to various tunes of the time including the 12" version of New Order's Blue Monday, which seemed to last forever.  Tymes is long gone, but was located over what is now Greggs bakery on the High Street. 

Admission is free and the museum is open from 10am to 4.45pm Tuesday to Saturdays.

Friday, 1 July 2016

To Hell in a handcart...

We've had the Ice Age, the Stone Age, we may have even had the Age of Aquarius, but now it seems we're entering a new phase.

I'm not entirely sure what name it should be given, but with politicians behaving in this manner it's leading me to think it's the 'to Hell in a handcart' age.

When I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the EU referendum and the 'In' 'Out' 'Shake it all about' vote, I didn't really expect politicians to carry on doing the Hokey Cokey and turning our world upside down.

It's almost like we were playing a board game - a very long, drawn out one like Monopoly - and somebody has picked up the board and hurled it across the room, then stormed off in a huff, leaving us scrabbling around on the carpet, trying to collect up all the pieces before the dog eats them or we tread on them whilst barefoot.

Except that this isn't a game, this is real life, and it's all very well for people to say they don't want to play anymore but they really need to grow up and clean up the mess they've created.  Yes, David and Boris, I mean you.

At the time of writing - I have to put that because this story changes almost hourly - we've lost a PM, the guy who effectively deposed him has himself been metaphorically stabbed in the back (Karma, anybody?), and the Leader of the Opposition is stubbornly hanging on in there despite everyone telling him he should go. 

However, on the plus side and trying to find the silver linings in the many storm clouds we currently have hanging over our heads, we could very well have women taking the roles as PM, Leader of the Opposition, and, if Hillary can beat Donald, there may be the first ever female POTUS too. 

Let's hope that they can put the brakes on our virtual handcart because this journey is not a pleasant one.  To quote Duran Duran from The Reflex 'I'm on a ride and I want to get off'.

Coming to terms with our divorce

Forty years is a long time to be married to somebody.  Inevitably during this time there will be good and bad times.  A successful partnership is based, amongst other things, on compromise, trust and good communication.

But when the two parties decide they want very different things, a split is inevitable if those wishes cannot be reconciled.

The momentous decision taken last week by the British people feels very much like an acrimonious divorce from the European Union.

As EU head Jean-Claude Juncker didn't very graciously put it, it was 'not an amicable divorce', but it 'was not a tight love affair anyway'.

Since the decision was taken that there would be a referendum, we have been bombarded with biased information from both sides, had to listen to the endless arguing and vitriol just like parties involved in a disintegrating relationship.

So now it's over, we've reached splitsville, and the squabbling over the children, dog and crockery begins.

Where do we go from here?  There are so many unknowns, it's impossible to predict.  Only time will tell.  There's a long process involved including invoking Article 50 and we will have to wait and see.

What we do know so far is that David Cameron has resigned.  A predictable response, but I don't think it's the right one.  What we need now is a period of stability and transition, not more uncertainty as we watch the wrangling while Tories vie for the leadership role instead of concentrating on sorting out the next steps. 

The prospect of another Scottish Referendum has been raised, and there are questions about Gibraltar and Northern Ireland too.  We may even have another General Election, who knows.

However, whether or not you voted for this outcome - or indeed voted at all - we must recognise that this result is the will of the majority of the people in Britain. 

We live in a democracy, and we need to accept it, all work together and move on.  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The EU Referendum

By the time you read this we will all be scurrying to the Polling Stations to vote in the EU Referendum, using those ridiculously tiny pencils firmly attached to string so we don't run off with them.

Do the powers-that-be trust us so little that they think we're going to pinch the miniature pencils?  OK, perhaps they've got a point - I've just spotted an IKEA one lurking on my desk.

I'll be relieved when it's all over.  It got to the point where I was starting to wonder if there was any other news happening - how could every bulletin be dominated with people arguing about facts, figures, calling each other liars, and generally behaving in a manner that we tell our children is unacceptable in the playground, let alone demonstrated by politicians on national television?

No matter which way it goes - be it 'in', 'out' or 'shake it all about' - at least we'll have a definitive answer, although I seem to remember they also said that about the Scottish Referendum.

Thank goodness then for TV programmes like 'Rescue Dog to Super Dog' which provide a welcome respite from all the political bickering.

If you haven't seen it, two dog trainers selected rescue dogs and paired them with people who needed assistance dogs for their various medical conditions.

In the first episode there was a young girl called Emily who had narcolepsy and a disorder which caused her to collapse on an alarmingly regular basis.  She was paired with a stray cross-breed dog called Poppy, who was trained to wait by her side when she collapsed, effectively guarding her.

We also met Alan, who had Tourette's, and his rescued Labrador called Parker whom he re-named Duke.  Parker/Duke was trained to distract Alan during his Tourette tics, to fetch his medication and to even pull the duvet off the bed when Alan's alarm went off to make sure he got up.

The change in both Emily and Alan's lives was clear, and their confidence grew due to having their assistance dogs. Truly inspiring, uplifting television.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Flying Scotsman steams through Northamptonshire

It's not every Saturday morning I stand in a field in Gretton for nearly an hour, but the first weekend in June I did exactly that.

Having first headed to Lydia's Coffee Shop for refreshments - not sure how I managed to resist the fabulous bacon butties, I must have very high levels of self-control because they smelt so good! - we walked down past the Church and made our way to Tythe Field.

The sheep that graze this corner of Northamptonshire looked slightly surprised to see their field fill with people, their usual visitors being those who travel past on the nearby railway line, who probably don't even give them a second glance.

And that's the clue to why we were all there, for this was our chosen vantage point from which to see The Flying Scotsman.

Now, I'm not usually a trainspotter, but this is quite a significant locomotive and worth the effort to catch a glimpse.

We had quite a wait as it happens - I believe there was some trouble with people on the line, or at least that's what I was told on Twitter - but eventually it arrived, steaming gracefully past us whilst giving us a toot on the whistle.

We waved at the passengers, who waved enthusiastically back at us - I even saw my friend Joan who was aboard with her husband Stephen for his significant-birthday treat.  What a lovely way to celebrate (and apologies once again for letting slip about the surprise birthday party!).

There's something about steam trains which gets those of us who aren't normally interested in trains enthused.  It's almost like we are transported back in time, or become extras in The Railway Children - although none of us were waving red flannel petticoats to make the train stop, thank goodness.  Well, not in Gretton at least.

If you missed it, The Flying Scotsman is returning to Northamptonshire on 25th June - please remember to watch it from a safe, legal place.