Monday, 16 October 2017

Strictly vs. The X Factor

Much like the rest of the country I suspect, our family Saturday nights are spent juggling Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor, with husband often heading off elsewhere muttering about car shows on Quest - sound familiar to anyone else?

But what I like best about Strictly are the people who obviously have no previous dance training - step forward Ruth Langsford and Northamptonshire's own Rev Richard Coles - who have fun and give it their best shot.

OK, so they're not the best dancers and truthfully are in a similar vein to John Sergeant, Ann Widdicombe and Ed Balls, but they train hard and enjoy themselves, which is surely what it is all about.  In my mind, they embody the spirit of Strictly.

What about Debbie McGee - how amazing is she, who knew she was such a good dancer?  Yoga and pilates are said to be the secret of her suppleness - if so, find me a class and sign me up please!

If I was a betting woman (which I'm not), my money would be on Aston Merrygold or Alexandra Burke to win though.  They are, to borrow a phrase from Craig, 'fabulous, darling!'

But for sheer guts and determination, I'm going to be cheering on Ruth and Debbie now our Richard has sadly been eliminated.

As for The X Factor, we're still watching it but I loathe the bear-pit that is the Six Chair Challenge.

It's bordering on cruel, and while we do our best to encourage our young people to be kind, this is the antithesis of that message, with the audience baying as to who should be thrown off their seats to make room for the singer of their choice.

Not that I'm sure Simon Cowell cares or will ever read this, but I believe a rethink of the current format is needed.

I'll concede that it's maybe an age thing, but a bit like swapping from Radio One to Radio Two at a certain age, I've found myself making a similar migration from The X Factor to Strictly Come Dancing.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Air Ada - Northamptonshire expressions

Local dialects and expressions are probably something we don't spend much time thinking about.

But the BBC recently ran a project in which they encouraged poets to write pieces celebrating words specific to the areas from which they came.

'Mardy' was the word for the East Midlands, of which Northamptonshire is a part.  Mardy is one of those words that I didn't think was specific to this area, but apparently further south they don't use it.  Just in case you're in any doubt, it means sulky or moody.

Some of you may remember 'Air Ada', the classic cartoon which ran in this paper for many years, and was packed with Northamptonshire sayings and pronunciations.

I've been thinking about words that I think are Northamptonshire-isms and I've picked my favourites - I'm hoping Ada would approve:

M'duck - a friendly moniker, suitable for people of all ages, and particularly helpful if you can't remember somebody's actual name;

Jitty - a small alley between rows of houses.  Sometimes used in the expression 'he/she couldn't stop a pig in a jitty' if the person is bow-legged;

Keck - I never knew the real name for keck until recently, it was something that grew in hedgerows and of which my childhood rabbit was particularly partial; its real name is apparently cow parsley.

Another local word I particularly like is mackle - it means to try and repair something using items easily at hand, although I tend to use it in a culinary sense (as in 'I've mackled a meal together').

You don't have to travel far to be confronted by new words either.  Heading over the border to University in Leicester I was confronted by 'cobs'.  Until this point I believed a cob to be a breed of horse, but over there it's a bread roll, as explained to me by my friend who hailed from near Wolverhampton, where good things were always described as bostin'.

What are your favourite Northamptonshire words and sayings?

Thursday, 28 September 2017

It's the little things in life...

Sometimes it's the little things in life that make us happy, like somebody taking the time to say 'thank you'.

I was so pleased to be part of an event to say these two little words to three very special people who've been part of my life for the last twenty years.

A large crowd gathered together one Saturday morning in September to say thank you to Mike, Julie and Sam who ran Gretton Post Office and Stores which sadly had to close earlier that month.

The event was held at Lydia's Coffee Shop, which was also celebrating ten years serving the community, and wanted to say thanks to all the staff, volunteers and customers who've supported it over the last decade.

With busy lives, sometimes it's easy to forget to show gratitude, but this event meant a lot to the people there and showed the strength of community spirit - plus there was cake, and lots of it.

The same weekend, I headed to a vintage ploughing match near Harringworth. 

Standing in the sunshine, clutching a cup of tea from Merv's mobile catering van, it was a pleasure to watch the competitors try to achieve ploughing perfection with their old tractors - Fordsons, Fergusons and the like.

High octane it certainly isn't, but it transports you back to simpler times, and makes you appreciate the beautiful countryside we're blessed to have in Northamptonshire.

I stood watching as one man knelt on the ground - I momentarily thought seeking divine inspiration, but then realised it was more likely to check his furrow was straight - and he then took out his Tupperware box to partake in what I'm guessing was his ploughman's lunch.

While he was distracted by chatting to somebody, a black Labrador spotted his chance, raced across the field and plundered the ploughman's, snatching the chap's sarnie and running off into the distance before he could be apprehended.

Fortunately for all, the funny side was seen and Merv no doubt sold more bacon butties as a result!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Ryanair flights fiasco

I feel compelled to say something about the Ryanair flights fiasco, allegedly caused by their pilots all holidaying at the same time (out of interest, I wonder with which airline they've managed to get their flights?)

I haven't actually flown with Ryanair for nearly twenty years - partly out of principle, but mainly because of a fear of flying developed after 9/11 (long story, but I was in the US at the time).

The thing is, they're not the only airline serving the UK market, so vote with your feet people!  If you're not happy with their customer service - or distinct lack of it - simply take your custom elsewhere.

Yes, it really is that simple.  No, I don't want to hear it - don't start making excuses saying 'Oh, but they're so cheap'!

What about all those people who've merrily booked flights and holidays and now don't know if they can get away as planned?

I can't speak for you, obviously, but when I was working with other humans, we had a holiday list.

That holiday list was an important document, sagely passed around from person to person, in order of seniority, and we were allowed to book just a maximum of two weeks when we first received it.

Nobody - I repeat nobody - on that document was allowed to be off at the same time as another person on it. 

This rule didn't waver, so much so, that if you had a wedding and the inevitable honeymoon, you had to negotiate with others to ensure you could have the time off.

I remember on one occasion when somebody had to delay their romantic getaway because another staff member was away and couldn't swap (due to a significant birthday and a cruise or something).

Surely Ryanair pilots must have the modern-day equivalent of a holiday list, and if not, why not?  How can an airline make huge profits and not have fundamental admin procedures in place? If you've been adversely affected, I suggest you write to Michael O'Leary and ask him!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Arts Fresco, Market Harborough

If somebody had told me that I was going to spend a Sunday morning in September standing in the street outside Fat Face and Joules in Market Harborough watching an 'Aled Jones - the difficult years'- lookalike (his description) wearing nothing but a fake tan and a tiny pair of pink frilly pants while riding a unicycle (him, not me) I'd have said 'I don't think so!'

But no, there I was, and I was laughing so hard that my face ached, as was the huge crowd of people that had also gathered to watch this rather surprising spectacle for a rural market town (performers Garaghty and Thom).

The reason we were all there was the rather fabulous Arts Fresco street theatre festival, which is totally free except for donations.  This was its 15th year, and my second visit, and it's such good fun for all ages.

From stilt walkers and face painters for the children, to an array of street food stalls and drinks tents, the atmosphere was warm and friendly despite the chilly wind that made the eight-foot high unicyclist's job even more precarious than normal.

The first act of the day we saw was Betty Brawn - not her real name I imagine - who was billed as The World's Strongest Lady.

She was amazing - talk about ripping up the gender stereotype book, one of the aspects of her act, as it happens.

She took a 500-page romance novel purchased from a charity shop up the road and ripped it clean in half; she followed this by breaking a chopstick in two using  her 'breasts of steel' (i.e. cleavage); she snapped a chain across her back and then proceeded to pick up men out of the audience.

I mean literally pick them up, and throw them over her shoulder.  Her finale was hoisting two twelve stone men using a yoke-type device and turning herself into a human carousel as she spun them around.

Funnily enough, I don't think she warned us to not try this at home, but some things go without saying!

Many thanks to all the performers, organisers and volunteers.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Ignorance is bliss

'Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise' - I sometimes think it would be better for my mental health not to watch the news, especially the ten pm one just before bedtime.

The current situation between North Korea and the United States - well, the rest of the world, in truth - is particularly scary.

I haven't felt this concerned about nuclear war since the 1980s.  My generation grew up firstly with the threat of nuclear war between the USA and the USSR - vividly depicted for us in the video to Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood - and then with the fear of AIDS.

Basically, the threat of death in one form or another, was all around us - it was just something you lived with.

But I'm guessing that there were also some kids I grew up with who didn't watch the news or read the papers - these were very much pre-internet days - so were probably blissfully unaware and just carried on through life reading The Dandy or The Beano, watching Scooby Doo and riding their Raleigh Grifters etc.  In some ways, I wish I was one of them.

Of course we did have terrorism in the 1970s and 80s - these were the days of the IRA bombing campaigns - but I don't think it felt as scary then as it does now with the ongoing terror threat we are facing.

But before I depress everybody too much, I think this is when we need to remind ourselves of the good things in our lives.  I've taken to mentally listing at least three good things that have happened each day before I go to sleep.

It doesn't have to be big things - one day for example I listed the fact that I'd bought myself some loose leaf tea and a tea strainer so I could enjoy an 'old-fashioned' cup of tea.

I find that this helps me, perhaps it will help somebody reading this too - and I can also highly recommend loose leaf tea!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Great British Bake Off humble pie

The sweet, sweet taste of humble pie - truthfully I'd prefer mine with a quenelle of ice-cream or perhaps some crème anglaise please, but let's not get all Mastercheffy!

OK, I'll admit that I was, shall we say, a bit sceptical about the move of Great British Bake Off from Auntie Beeb to the 'wild child' that is Channel Four, but I'm pleased to say my fears were unfounded, and I'm adult enough to admit it.

Yes, it's not quite the same - although Prue does a reasonably good impression of Mary Berry, and Noel and Sandi could morph into Mel and Sue with a change of wardrobe and different haircuts.  In fact, Sandi's floral bomber jacket in episode one was taken straight from the Berry school of dressing if I'm not mistaken.

But happily I can report that the main concept remains unchanged, the tent is the same, and they still have the fancy Neff ovens with no perceptible controls and hideaway doors which make most of our ovens at home look clumpy and old-fashioned - and people still fail to switch them on correctly.

Paul remains that mixture of twinkly blue-eyes and badger grey, dispensing the Hollywood handshake with the similar rarity of unicorn manure, so I can just about get over the other cast changes and the adverts which annoyingly pop up at around 15 minute intervals, usually at key-critical moments.

Because, ultimately, it's all about baking.  It's about 12 ordinary people, not professional cooks, creating culinary alchemy with flour, eggs, butter and sugar - plus a few other ingredients, and a lot of time, effort, hugging and tears of frustration and/or relief.

We sometimes need to be transported and cocooned in a world where cakes and baking are a form of escapism, and we can forget about the various horrors on the news, even if it is just for an hour.  Well, better make that an hour and a quarter now, because of those pesky aforementioned adverts.