Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas Crafternoon

Now I'm not crafty - in any sense of the word.

In fact I'm filled with dread when my daughter comes home from school requiring a costume for a school play as my sewing skills are minimal.  Sadly, sewing on a button is about the sum total of my needlework ability these days.

We didn't do sewing as such at school - by the 1980s it had been re-branded as 'Art Textiles' and involved me having to draw a cross-section of an apple and then re-create it as a pin cushion, using felt purchased from the now much-missed Button Boutique. 

But when my friends organized a Christmas Crafternoon in aid of MIND, the mental health charity, I went along to help.

In fairness, my contribution amounted to me doing a very good impression of Mrs Doyle from Father Ted - 'will you have a cup of tea, ah go on!' - but as this was something that I could do well, I rather enjoyed my role as tea lady. 

There was a wide variety of crafts that people could partake in if they wished, or they could sit and chat and enjoy the refreshments on offer, which included some lovely homemade scones, cakes and mince pies - they wouldn't have been out of place on Great British Bake Off!

It was a fabulous afternoon and £100 in donations were raised for MIND.

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for some people, particularly if they have mental health issues, and it was good to do something which raised money for those in need but was also enjoyed by the people who took part.

In fact, it was so successful that we've decided to do it on a regular basis.  You never know, I may graduate from tea making to learning to sew properly, or do decoupage or decopatch - whatever they might be!

Here's wishing all of you and yours best wishes for Christmas and New Year - thanks for reading.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

'Black Friday'

I appreciate that by the time you read this there will already have been numerous discussions about so-called 'Black Friday'.

The name itself conjures up something sinister doesn't it?  The scenes shown on the news were shameful - when did we become a nation that would trample each other for a cheap telly?

But just to balance out all the negativity, I have two positive things that also happened on that day.

My husband by chance had that day booked off for our Christmas shopping, both of us unaware of the apparent carnage that would greet us should we step inside our local Tesco or Asda.

However, we visited both stores and can report that there were no scenes of fist fights over TVs, tablets or similar.

In fact, in Tesco where we were trying out expensive headphones because they were on daughter's suggested present list, a lady approached us.  She had seen we were looking at a certain brand and gave us a £10 discount voucher that she'd been given for them.

My husband thanked her, but mentioned that we might not be buying them.  She replied that it didn't matter because she wouldn't use it anyway.  She then went on her merry way, as did we, but we left the voucher behind for somebody else to use as we didn't need it either.  A little act of kindness from her which brightened my day.

On the Friday afternoon we had a Thanksgiving Dinner at my daughter's school.  Her current topic is America, so the Teacher and the year six class had bravely decided to cook a meal for their parents, from scratch.

This feast for 28 people included turkey with all the trimmings, followed by the best apple pie that I've ever eaten.

We then all had to say for what we were thankful - mine was for living in such a wonderful community and for the fabulous school which is at its heart, while husband was thankful for the apple pie.  Not such a 'Black Friday' after all then...

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Brookfield update - current application 'disposed of' by Corby Borough Council

One of my favourite quotations is from Edmund Burke - the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Sometimes, you know in your heart something is just plain wrong.

Don't sit back and think somebody else will do something, because we all know what will happen if everybody thinks like that.  You need to act.

This is what happened when we heard of the plans to destroy Brookfield.  We all did something. 

For two years we've been campaigning to save Brookfield from the plans to destroy 120 acres of trees and grassland - have I mentioned that's equivalent to 70 football pitches? - and replace it with waste plants.

Brookfield, a beautiful woodland, home to Chalky the white stag, his son Snowy, the rest of the fallow deer herd whose ancestors have roamed Rockingham Forest for centuries, plus protected species like great crested newts, bats, badgers and red kite.

One of the last remaining woodlands on the outskirts of Corby - yet it was deemed cheaper to destroy the trees and wildlife habitat than to redevelop other previously-used contaminated land that was standing empty.

Well, we weren't going to let that happen.  We've had peaceful protest marches, written numerous letters to the council, Lee and Corinna gave guided walks, we had a high profile media and social media campaign and kept on fighting.

As you've probably now heard, Corby Borough Council have 'disposed' of the application.  This means that they will not consider it in its current form, but it hasn't been rejected outright so the developer could re-apply.

So, as I've previously said, in the words of Lenny Kravitz 'it ain't over till it's over', and I for one won't rest until Brookfield is safe forever - we now need to get protected status for it to prevent future applications.

But for now at least Chalky and the trees are safe.  It's the best Christmas present Corby Borough Council could have given the town and its villages.  Thank you for all your support.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Seventies TV

What TV programmes do you remember from the Seventies?  For me it's kids' shows like Playschool, Bagpuss, Mr Ben and Trumpton.

So the recent Channel Four programme 'It Was Alright in the 1970s' was an eye-opener to say the least!

Of course, the title turned out to be ironic, because nothing about the programmes they showed was in the least bit all right.

Some will perhaps say that it's unfair to judge the past through our 21st century eyes, but I think that this programme served as a reminder of how far we've come and how dark some of the TV shows were in the decade that taste forgot.

It made uncomfortable watching - a bit like the 'talking heads' who were there to give their views having watched the same clips, I sat with jaw dropped at times, physically cringing at others.

Times have certainly changed - and what a relief they have.  The casual racism and sexism, which then passed for entertainment, was quite shocking.  And knowing what we know now about what certain celebs were doing, it made it all the more uncomfortable to watch.

We weren't allowed to watch Benny Hill in our house, and having seen some of his work on this show I feel I haven't missed much.

But some of the sexism was far more subtle - they showed Ted Rogers on 321 patronising a blonde-haired Danish assistant and making out she was stupid because her English wasn't perfect.  I wonder how good his Danish was?

Don't even get me started on the Black and White Minstrels - what on earth were TV producers thinking when they commissioned that show?  In one scene shown they managed to offend black people, women and Scottish kilt-wearing men simultaneously.

It will be interesting to see how programmes we currently watch and think are acceptable stand the test of time. 

In another forty years will people watch clips of 'I'm a Celebrity...' and say 'they made them eat what?!' and 'who is that?' - but in fairness, they're questions I'm asking myself now!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Imagine a world without chocolate...

I have a confession - my name's Helen and I'm addicted to Aldi's dark chocolate Lebkuchen.

If you haven't tried them, give them a go - heart shaped sponge with apricot jam, smothered in dark chocolate, and only 55 calories each.  If you're a fan of Jaffa Cakes you'll like them.  If you're not, well sorry I can't help you, as I'm not sure how anyone can't like Jaffa Cakes.

Fortunately Lebkuchen are not on sale year round, as they're a traditional German Christmas speciality, so I can't be blamed for the chocolate crisis that's apparently heading our way.

A shortage of chocolate?  Surely it can't be true.

I know there's more serious items on the world's agenda at the moment, with Japan going into recession and David Cameron saying that the warning lights were on the global economy's dashboard.

This did make me wonder, which lights are on exactly?  Oil temperature?  Lack of water?  Not enough air in the tyres?  Can we carry on driving or should we stop straight away and phone the AA?  And is there a warning light for the chocolate shortage, because if there isn't there should be.  Mr Cameron, make it so.

In a previous column when people had been panic-buying vacuum cleaners I joked about stockpiling chocolate, but now I'm wondering if this is going to become a reality.  Should I clear a space in my pantry to stock the chocs?

Stop for a moment and imagine a world without chocolate.  No more Wispas, Bountys or Creme Eggs available from just after Christmas until Easter.

Advent calendars with just empty windows, no chocolate coins in your Christmas stocking, no more Buttons.  No selection boxes, or giant tins of Quality Street or Roses from Auntie Ethel.

Yes, scary times are ahead people.  Chocolate keeps many of us sane.  Britain without chocolate would be like China without rice, or America without supersized fast-food.  Somebody do something please - I'm off to Cadbury World before it's too late...

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday 2014

This year's Remembrance Sunday service has to be the mildest temperature-wise I can remember.

I'd wrapped up well though, with numerous layers as I'm usually frozen standing at outdoor services.

I have memories of being a Brownie and then a Guide on parade, wearing as many jumpers as would fit underneath my uniform so I probably resembled the Michelin man, as it was always bitterly cold on Remembrance Sunday.  But walking down the road at the back of the parade this year I actually felt warm.

I was pleased to see that the Parish Church was packed again.  The Silver Band played the hymns - including 'I Vow To Thee My Country' which is a personal favourite and I sang along with gusto.

Last year there was a lone butterfly which floated above the heads of the congregation while the Vicar gave her sermon.  To me this seemed highly symbolic, and represented the fragility of life.  There was no butterfly this year, just the late-Autumn sunshine bathing us in its welcoming glow.

The service after at the War Memorial was quite rightly sombre;  there was the laying of the wreaths, followed by the two minutes' silence which was only briefly punctuated by a distant ice-cream van playing its tune - further testament to the mildness of the temperature.

Thank goodness no mobile phones went off here - I watched the service from Cenotaph earlier that morning and I'm sure I heard a phone ringing while the wreaths were being laid.

It's a shame people can't unplug themselves from their phones for just a few minutes.  If for some reason they can't switch it off completely, surely they could at least make sure it's on silent?

It's one of my pet hates that people don't switch their phones off during Church services.  There's nothing worse than when during a quiet moment of reflection somebody's mobile goes off (I'm now picturing Dom Joly yelling 'I'm in a Church!').

Please remember to silence your phones - nobody wants to hear a ringtone at a funeral, especially something like Disco Inferno at the Crematorium!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Harvest Festival 2014

I recently attended what will be my last Primary School Harvest Festival for a while, as my daughter is in Year Six now so leaves next July.

I'm aware that every concert, play, assembly etc will be the last I see her in at the local school, so it adds a certain poignancy to everything.

I appreciate that I'm also lucky in that I work from home, so try to re-arrange my work so I can be at these events.  It isn't always easy, but somehow I've managed most of them.

I think I only missed one drama performance in recent years due to a hospital appointment that couldn't be re-arranged, but somehow she remembers this and periodically reminds me of the time 'you weren't able to see me be a pirate'!

The Harvest Festival was lovely - although we didn't sing my personal favourite 'We Plough The Fields And Scatter', as more modern tunes are now the norm - and the Year Six children, accompanied by their Teacher and a Teaching Assistant, walked around the area delivering boxes of fruit and vegetables to the older residents.

What I thought was particularly good about this was they stopped to chat to the ladies and gentlemen they met and the older people talked to them about their memories of the Primary School as a lot of them, or their children and grandchildren, had also attended it.

I believe it took them all morning to deliver the produce, but spending the time chatting to people was worthwhile for all of them.

We are lucky that we live in a close-knit community, and the school is at the heart of it.  Long may the tradition of the harvest festivals and delivering the  produce boxes continue.

I expect the next time I'm at this sort of production though it will be to see my grandchildren perform - now there's a thought!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Songs that make you Happy!

Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody came top in a recent poll to find out the song that makes people happy.  Second was Abba's Dancing Queen, and third was Pharrell William's appropriately-entitled Happy.

I thought Queen was an interesting choice - on face value, it doesn't appear to be a particularly happy or amusing ditty.  In fact, its subject matter is surprisingly bleak, which made me wonder why it came top.

Could it be that people of a certain age - like myself - associate it with the film Wayne's World and join in with the head-banging part like they do in the film?

Or perhaps they sing the 'Scaramouche, scaramouche will you do the fandago' bit, pretending to be opera singers - or maybe that's just me, ahem, let's move on swiftly.

As far as I know dear old Morrissey didn't feature in this list, although Steph McGovern of BBC Breakfast fame did say that listening to The Smiths always cheered her up.  I happen to quite like Everyday is Like Sunday, but I can't say I'd reach for it to lighten my mood!

Which then got me thinking, what songs do cheer me up?  Being a fan of the Eighties - music that is, not fashion; no shoulder-pads to see here - I would say that Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Round (Like A Record), or She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult tend to put me in a good mood.

I also like Abba, but would put Mamma Mia or Gimme Gimme Gimme ahead of Dancing Queen in the cheering-up stakes.

Looking at more up-to-date songs, I'm partial to Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass, which I tend to sing around the house much to my daughter's dismay. 

I also like Pharrell's Happy, although it's probably in danger of being played too much. It was in Despicable Me 2, and I love the Minions.  In fact, I would have to say that singing Minions make me happy - I swear!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Great news on the Brookfield campaign - Chalky has a son, Chalky Jnr!

Great news on the Brookfield campaign front - Chalky is alive and well.

Not only that, he has a son, a white buck that's been named Chalky Jnr.  OK, no prizes for originality, but what else could he have been called?

In fairness, without a DNA test we don't know Chalky is the biological father - this conversation is getting a bit Jeremy Kyle-esque for my liking - but the two have been pictured together and are part of the same herd, so it's fairly likely.

Local people tell me that Brookfield and the surrounding woods have been home to white deer for many years.  In many cultures, white harts are prized, valued and considered lucky.

It's a shame that some people around here don't value Chalky and Chalky Jnr more.  Their home at Brookfield, as I'm sure you're all aware, is under threat from developers wanting to destroy it and replace it with waste plants.

Why is this even being considered?  You've got beautiful woodland, home to a whole host of wildlife, and somebody comes along and says they want to cut it down and build waste plants instead.

Why aren't we encouraging visitors to Brookfield?  Thank goodness for people like Lee and Corinna who are voluntarily showing people the beauty of this area - sticking to the public right of way, as yes, we know it's private land owned by Tata Steel.

In an ideal world, and once the contamination question is settled, I would like to see this land given to the people of Corby and its surrounding villages so it can be enjoyed by everyone, especially schoolchildren for Forest School projects etc.

We need green spaces, our children need to be able to see trees, birds, wildlife, and to have clean air to breathe.

Northamptonshire is reportedly only 5% woodland, the UK is one of the least wooded countries in Europe.  It's time we valued our trees and stopped the destruction.  Leave the trees for Chalky, Chalky Jnr and our children please, and stop concreting our countryside.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Which politician would you trust... to bake a cake?!

There was an interesting survey I read about the perceived trustworthiness of our politicians.

It was unusual in that I'd never seen these particular questions asked before, and it really made me think.

Instead of the usual who do you trust over the country's finances, immigration, crime etc, it asked more everyday questions like who would you trust to babysit your children, pay back money, fix a shelf, feed your pet or bake a cake.

This survey asked about the leaders of the four main parties in England, and then ranked them in order of trustworthiness.

My default response when I read the categories was 'none of them', but fortunately the people they'd questioned gave more forthcoming replies!

It turns out that David Cameron was the most trusted to perform all of the tasks except fix a shelf.

If you need a shelf fixing, people think Nigel Farage is your man.  I expect you'd have to hold his pint and cigar while he did it though.

The second most trusted person was Ed Miliband, except in the shelf-fixing category.

Nick Clegg was third for babysitting, feeding pets and baking cakes, tying equally with Miliband over shelf-fixing and - rather worryingly for the Lib-Dems I imagine - coming last in the paying back money category.

Which leaves Nigel Farage first choice for shelving, third for paying back money, but trailing in last for babysitting, feeding pets and baking cakes.

Now, I appreciate that some of you will think that this perhaps isn't the best way to decide who should lead the country.

But I would argue if you can't trust people to do seemingly simple, everyday things, how they be trusted to do the major things either?

I'm not sure yet who all the candidates are in my locality for next year's General Election, but I might well apply the above test to see if they're worthy of my vote. 

Better still, perhaps the candidates could perform a Great British Bake Off-style technical challenge and we could taste test the results!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

First Aid courses

I was really pleased to hear that my daughter was taking part in a first aid course at school.

I've long thought that this is the sort of useful information everybody needs to know, and it's great that basic first aid techniques are now being taught to children.

Safety was emphasised to them, and they've been told not to practice the Heimlich manoeuvre on each other - they've seen Mrs Doubtfire and the scene where Robin Williams saves Pierce Brosnan's character's life by throwing him around like a rag-doll.  But they've been warned that you can really injure people if you don't do it correctly.

I took a 'first aid at work' course a long time ago - there was lots to learn and remember, but I enjoyed it.

One of the reasons I'd volunteered to do it was because I was in a pub one evening when another customer started choking on their meal.  Sadly, somehow nobody there was first aid trained and none of us knew what to do. 

They were coughing and gasping for breath for what seemed like ages, and then eventually coughed up the offending article.  They were OK, but the incident made me think that we all should have some first aid knowledge for such an occurrence.

I never needed my first aid training at the workplace that sent me on it, but it's come in very useful several times since. 

The first time was when my father-in-law was bitten by a dog on the inner thigh - there was nobody else available, so I dealt with it in a very efficient manner, we just don't mention it (until now)!

I've also known what to do and dealt with people during and post-seizure, various burns and wounds, and other minor health crises. 

In fact, my first aid training was called upon twice in the last few weeks, and I was glad I had some knowledge to be able to assist.  I would recommend that everybody do a course if you get the chance.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Brookfield - what's in the new information...

I've been reading through the new paperwork submitted for the proposed development at Brookfield Plantation.

There are items in there which I need to bring to your attention.

Contamination has been 'scoped out' of the report - that means it's not being considered.

From what I understand this is because the landowner, TATA, says that this land isn't contaminated. 

I want much more than somebody's word that land around here isn't contaminated.  I want proof - independent evidence to show us for sure that there's no toxic materials buried beneath Brookfield Plantation.

People who previously worked for British Steel claim that all sorts was buried there.  We don't want a repeat of the birth defects that occurred when contaminated land was dug up.

Also, the new paperwork discusses another renewable energy generation facility processing waste in the 'Resource Recovery Park'.

So despite the developer insisting that it isn't a waste plant, plans definitely include one - it's there in s4.3.8 of the Environmental Report.

With NCC having already granted planning permission for a gasification plant on Gretton Brook Road, and a pyrolysis plant and an anaerobic digester at Shelton Road, that would bring us a total of FOUR waste plants just in Corby.

There are health concerns surrounding these waste plants, from their emissions and also the increased HGV traffic transporting the waste. 

Depending on which way the wind is blowing and routes taken by the lorries, the emissions potentially affect a large number of people living in Corby, Gretton, Priors Hall,  Deene, Weldon, Rockingham, Great Oakley and Stanion.

But the bottom line is, how can this development ever be in the interests of the environment, as is being claimed?  To create it 120 acres of trees - equivalent in size to 70 football pitches - will be destroyed; this is a designated wildlife site, home to numerous rare and protected species. 

Please e-mail or write to Corby Borough Council by 16th October 2014 to let them know your opposition before it's too late.  Thank you.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

So no-one told you life was gonna be this way...

There's been a lot in the papers lately about the 20th anniversary of the TV series Friends.

This has served two purposes for me - firstly, to make me feel old, as I can remember watching it when it first appeared on Channel 4.  Secondly to remind me how great the show was in its heyday.

In those days it was 'appointment television', hard to believe for younger readers I imagine, but we didn't have fancy catch-up TV then - if you were lucky you had a video recorder to catch your favourite programmes if you were going to be out, otherwise you had to make sure you were in to watch them.

So Friday nights for me meant Friends followed by Frasier, another great US comedy.

But whereas I loved the subtle humour and sophistication of Frasier, I struggled to relate to him as a person - him being male, middle-aged, a successful psychiatrist and radio presenter - and me being a twenty-something student and female!

Friends was a fantastic programme, funny, clever, quotable - I watched the shows when they were first on, then the seemingly-endless repeats.

The Ross/Rachel saga, Joey with his 'how you doin'?' chat-up line, Phoebe with her kookiness, Chandler with the job that nobody quite knew what he did and Monica with her cleaning obsession. The births, deaths, marriages, break-ups, and even guest appearances by famous faces - being a Magnum P.I. fan, I loved the fact that Tom Selleck guest-starred as Monica's boyfriend Richard. 

All of this was underpinned by the idea that there's a point in your life where your friends are your family and are always there for you, hence The Rembrants' theme song.

And before anyone asks, no, I didn't have 'the Rachel' haircut, but I know a lot of people did as it has been named the most requested hairstyle ever.

I'm pleased to hear that a new generation is now watching it on Comedy Central.  It's good to know that great comedy never dies, it lives on somewhere on a Satellite channel.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The new U2 album, Songs of Innocence

I've been a U2 fan for many years - I think The Joshua Tree is a great album, certainly one of the best of the 1980s.

I also embraced Achtung Baby, which was a change of direction musically for the band, and One is probably one of my favourite songs.

But I was more than a little annoyed with Bono and the boys last week when they gave away their latest album, Songs of Innocence. 

Not that I mind them giving away their music - that's completely up to them.  No, it was the fact that they gave it away on iTunes, and I don't have an iTunes account!

I'm one of those Luddites who prefers to still have actual CDs.  I even trundle off to record shops to buy them, rather than having them delivered (how quaint and old-fashioned I hear you cry!)

I appreciate that this perhaps puts me in a minority.  But I personally don't own an MP3 player of any variety.  Instead I have numerous CD players and like to play music on those.

I also study the artwork on the cover of the CD and read the sleeve notes.  I like reading the lyrics of songs - invariably I've mis-heard them and would be singing along to my own variation were it not for the fact I can discover what they're actually saying.

I was in a local town centre the other Saturday morning and I took a notion that I'd like to buy The Pierces or Ward Thomas's albums - perhaps I was feeling influenced by the Yeehaw! festival at Rockingham Castle.

Sadly, there wasn't anywhere I could go to make this purchase. All the record shops in this particular town have closed down. Thankfully there's still a HMV in Kettering, and I will head there soon.

As for the new U2 album, I believe it's on general release from 13th October.  But will anyone buy it?  I'm not sure I will - if they can give it away to iTunes customers, many of whom didn't even want it, why not give it to fans who do?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The X Factor 2014

You know it's definitely Autumn and Christmas is just around the corner when The X Factor appears back on our TV screens.

Time to put away the barbecue, perhaps purchase a takeaway and settle down with the family to hear about people's journeys, emotional rollercoasters, dying hamsters, how they were born to do this, how they're not going to let anyone down, and are going to give a mathematically improbable 110% etc. 

I'm not knocking it though - I'm already hooked.  This year is a bit special though, isn't it?  We have the return of Mr Cowell, career creator and hope-dasher extraordinaire.  Can I just ask though, what's with the shirts open to the navel Simon?  Button up or you'll get a chill - you're in England now, not L.A.!

Also back is Cheryl, who was Tweedy, then Cole, and is now Fernandez-Versini, but is just known by her first name, in the same style as Madonna and Kylie.

Into this mix arrives Melanie Brown, Scary Spice in a previous life.  She's very blunt, but I do like her honesty.  Then there's Louis, good old reliable Louis.  He's been in every series apart from a brief blip a few years ago, but he soon returned and is now part of the show's furniture. 

It'll be interesting to see how the chemistry of the new panel progresses - I'm expecting some fireworks given Simon and Cheryl's history.

I love watching the audition stages, but, and I say this every year, I cannot believe how deluded some people are when it comes to their singing voices!

Do they not have partners/friends/parents/neighbours who could have a quiet word and tell them that their singing really isn't that great?  Is public humiliation on prime-time Saturday night TV really the best way to go?

New for this year is having the closed-room auditions beamed into the contestants' waiting room, which is great as some of the reactions and conversations between the people watching are priceless. 

I particularly liked the ones discussing the 'posh' girl, who said they thought she'd celebrate getting through to the next round with caviar, Champagne and asparagus.  I have to say, it seemed an unusual and unlikely combo to me!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Vacuum cleaner frenzy

I'm proud to announce that I didn't get swept up in the latest craze - I'm not talking about the ice-bucket challenge, although I did get nominated for that but chose instead to give a donation to the Air Ambulance.  No, I mean the craze for panic-buying vacuum cleaners.

The thought never even occurred to me.  I heard about it on the news, and at first assumed it was a joke, but they had photographic evidence of people loading the soon-to-be-banned high powered devices into the back of their cars in a frenzied fashion.

Now, I'm not a professional cleaner - I prefer to maintain my amateur status in case it ever becomes an Olympic sport - so perhaps I don't fully appreciate the complexity of the cleaning-power required.

In truth, I don't even know the wattage of my current machine - it was purchased from Clearance Bargains a few years ago, it does the job, and I'm not really bothered - it is not a status symbol.  It's a household appliance which lives in the garage or utility room and only makes an appearance when nobody else is present. 

Unless of course I'm missing something?  If you've got a high-powered, limited edition, fancy make, do you wheel it out in company so your friends can marvel at it?  Do people have parties where they bring along their vacuums and compare features?  Perhaps there's a whole other world of domestic appliance envy out there of which I have no knowledge and play no part!

Joking apart though, I guess if you've got family members with allergies a better quality machine becomes more important, but for the vast majority of us I'm sure the lower-powered versions we can still legally purchase are adequate.

But this discussion did lead me to consider the items I would perhaps consider panic buying should the EU decide to ban them.

Cadbury's chocolate heads the list, followed by tea bags and Marmite.  I'm fairly sure a ban on these items is highly unlikely, but should it ever occur don't be surprised if you see me on the news loading up my car, or a van, or perhaps a lorry, or even two lorries...

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Goosebump moments

I had a couple of 'goosebump' moments over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

The first was at the Gretton Music Festival, watching the Youth BUSkers event on the Corby Radio Bus.

A young girl performed the operatic piece 'O Mio Babbino Caro' (O My Beloved Father) by Puccini, which I remember from the Merchant Ivory film 'A Room With A View'.

It was amazing, the whole crowd fell silent and listened intently.  She was brilliant - I think we could have another Faryl Smith in the making!

In fact, all the young performers were excellent and should be congratulated - it takes a lot of courage to stand on a stage and perform.  Well done to you all.

The music festival was a big success and was well attended. I also enjoyed the live bands, sadly I couldn't see them all, but Point Blank were very good, and performed a range of rock music including songs by Kings of Leon and the Stereophonics.

Then on Sunday I danced the night away to Jive Honey, a ten-piece band with three lady vocalists, horn and rhythm sections, who played a wide range of soul, funk, pop and rock.  They were fabulous, a great party band that also included Mike Wedderburn, the Sky Sports presenter, on keyboards!

Before the Jive Honey gig on Sunday, we had headed to Stamford for a charity car show in The Meadows.

At 3pm I had my other 'goosebump' moment when the last two flying Lancasters in the world - Vera and Thumper - flew overhead.

It was a fantastic sight and sound - the roar of the Rolls Royce Merlin engines as they went over is something that I won't forget. 

We had been due to see them the week before at the Sywell airshow, but they couldn't attend due to high winds.  I just wish we could have seen a bit more of them as they just did the flypast and then headed off to their next destination.  But they were worth the wait, and I feel privileged that I eventually got to see them both - it's unlikely that I'll get the chance again.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Brookfield protest - still waiting for a decision...

On Tuesday evening (19th August) there was a large gathering of people wearing green outside The Corby Cube.

It was a peaceful protest about the plans to destroy 50 hectares (120 acres, or approx 70 football pitches) of trees on the outskirts of Corby to create the controversial 'resource recovery park'.

The protesters were a varied bunch, some very young, some young at heart, but all united by a common purpose - to save the trees.

The protest was timed to coincide with the Brookfield decision meeting, however this turned out to be the Brookfield deferral meeting.

The developer got his wish and left the council with no choice but to defer their decision after new information was produced by his agents late Friday afternoon.

Undeterred, the protesters still attended to send a clear message to Corby Council and the developer that this development is not wanted.

I doesn't matter what PR spin the developer tries to put on it, destroying this designated Local Wildlife Site is just wrong.

Empty promises of jobs won't fool us either - we've heard it all before.  Anyone remember Stanion Plantation?  What happened to the trees there, and for what?  We don't want the same thing to happen at Brookfield.

Despite the meeting being held in the summer holidays when many families are away, the council chamber's public gallery was packed out with protesters. I can't imagine that happens often.

Apparently the planning development committee still had to meet to hear why they needed to defer the decision and then vote on the deferral.

So, having all trooped up about three flights of stairs, sat in the Council Chamber - which reminded me of a cross between an exam hall and a 1970s dining room - there was a discussion, then a vote, and we then heard that the decision was indeed to be deferred, and we all left again.  It was over in less than 30 minutes.

But we'll all be back, having studied the new information, and there'll be even more of us next time.  Hopefully we might actually get a decision then.  I'll let you know...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Great British Bake Off

Thank goodness for The Great British Bake Off.

With so much awfulness going on in the world right now, it's lovely to have an hour where you can tune in to something that's not going to depress you or tax you too much mentally.

We all watch it in our house - daughter particularly enjoys it.  But then again, she likes most cookery programmes; this summer holiday has introduced her to the joys of Gino and Mel at lunchtime.  Actual quote from daughter - 'Mum, did you know Mel's older than you?  But she only looks like she's 30!'  I didn't dare pursue this conversation any further.

But I digress, back to GBBO.  I tend to sit and marvel at Mary Berry's teeth and worry how they'll stand up to some of the sturdier baked goods she has to taste test.

I gaze in admiration at her perfectly manicured nails, coiffured hair and immaculate outfits.  Yes, when I grow up, I'd like to be Mary Berry.

I also wonder whether or not Paul Hollywood's eyes are his own - I mean, obviously they're his, he hasn't borrowed or hired them for the day, but are they naturally that blue or does he wear contact lenses?

All this, while caring about the contestants and whether or not their cakes will rise, will they cope with the technical challenge and will their showstopper be just that, or more of a door-stopper?

I've already got my favourite bakers - my proverbial money is on Nancy.  She's from Lincolnshire, and us Midlanders tend to do well in these sort of competitions, as demonstrated by last year's winner Frances Quinn from Market Harborough.

I also like Diana the WI lady, Richard the builder, and Kate from Brighton, who made a rather spectacular red velvet Swiss roll in week one.

But I think Nancy can do it.  Anyone who makes a replica Jaffa Cake but first has to ask her husband to construct a fancy guillotine to ensure an even cut gets my vote.

Such care and precision, it reminds me of myself - I open my boxes of Mr Kipling's finest very carefully too...

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Brookfield - it ain't over 'til it's over...

After nearly two years of waiting, at what will no doubt be a packed Council Chamber at The Corby Cube at 7pm on Tuesday 19th August, the decision whether or not to grant planning permission for the 'resource recovery park' at Brookfield Plantation will be made.

Despite reading that refusal is being recommended on technical grounds, I for one won't be happy until we know for certain that the future of the wildlife and the trees is secure.

Now is not the time for complacency - remember, in the words of Lenny Kravitz, 'it ain't over till it's over'.  My concern is that 'technicalities' can be overcome if you have enough money, time and determination. 

On the day of this meeting the campaigners against the development will hold a peaceful demonstration at 6.30pm outside The Cube as a reminder to the Councillors that this is not a popular application.

'Not a popular application' is a huge understatement - the council's report says: "the planning application has been one of the most controversial applications in Corby Borough Council's history with over 350 individual objections and a petition with over 1000 signatures."

Many of the campaigners will be taking their children too, as this affects their futures.  None of them want to see the trees and wildlife replaced by concrete.  They care about Chalky the white stag, the great crested newts and all the other creatures living happily among the trees.

With regards to jobs being created by the proposed scheme, various numbers have been claimed by the developer.  However, how can any of these can be substantiated when no details of businesses signing up to the 'resource recovery park' can be given?  Plus, with numerous brownfield sites available, why not create jobs there?  Why destroy this area rich in flora and fauna?

Ultimately, for me the question is how can anyone even contemplate losing this designated Local Wildlife Site, complete with a wide range of protected species - an area that Corby Council pledged to protect - replacing it with a 'resource recovery park', whatever that might include?

We can only hope that the Councillors make the right decision...

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Loom bands

The loom band craze has arrived at our house.

We have the starter kit, sets of coloured bands, and daughter has been given strict instructions not to leave them anywhere the puppy can get hold of them.  I've already heard of a friend's dog who 'passed' loom bands, producing a multi-coloured 'offering' for collection.  Not pleasant, and not to be repeated!

For the uninitiated, loom bands are small rubber bands which you can weave together to make friendship bracelets - or even a dress as one enterprising young girl from Desborough did.

The manufacturers must have known they'd got a hit on their hands when schools start banning them.

My daughter's school did in the summer term when there were numerous arguments and fallings out over who owned which loom band bracelet.

Despite the ban, on my way into an assembly at school there was a trail of loom bands, reminding me of a modern-day version of the breadcrumb trail in Hansel and Gretel.

A parent was picking them up, and I thought to myself what a great citizen he was, caring for the environment and making sure birds didn't choke on them, etc.  As he then pocketed them, he announced he'd be making his own bracelet when he got home - and I don't think he was joking!

There have of course been the inevitable horror stories in the press, of the child who got hit in the eye, and the other one who fell asleep with one wrapped around his fingers, cutting off his circulation.  Several people noted that his parents took the photo first before removing the offending article - surely it should be safety first, not photo first!

But generally, most kids seem to play quite happily with them and are being creative.

It also means they're not plugged into one of the multitude of electrical gadgets they own these days - you can't simultaneously weave loom bands and play on a games console or send texts, unless you know otherwise?  Now there's a challenge for the school summer holidays!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ode to Brookfield Plantation - decision day is 19th August, 2014

There’s a place near here where the white deer roam,

The stag and his herd, they call it home.

Tall trees grow here too, reaching to the sky,

The red kite cry as they soar on by.


It’s beautiful, wild and quite untamed,

Yet lurks beneath buried waste, unnamed.

An industrial past, buried deep,

But nature’s reclaimed it while we sleep.


It was green fields before then, and should stay that way

And should be forever, but sadly who can say?

Greedy developers want to build on it

To construct a waste plant to process .... rubbish.


The trees will be destroyed, gone for good,

A ‘resource recovery park’ instead, replacing the wood.

Where will the deer and the wildlife go?

Ask Corby Council, see if they know.


An industrial past, a waste plant future –

Corby a dumping ground – how does that suit you?

Please say ‘NO’ before the trees are gone for good.

Stand up for your rights, you know you should.


Wake up – save the deer, the birds and the bees,

Do what you can to save the trees.

We need green spaces for the future generation,

We need to save the Brookfield Plantation!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The positive challenge

I'm sorry to say but when I watch the news on television at the moment I find it very depressing.

The tragic plane crash in Ukraine, the situation in Gaza, the ongoing situation between Russia and Ukraine, world events in general really, it can get you down.

So I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to be nominated to do a positivity challenge by a friend on Facebook.

Every day for five days, I had to list three positive things, and nominate three other people who could do the same if they wished.

Sometimes, we just need to do this - to take stock, and be thankful for what we've got.

It's very easy to get caught up on the 'hamster wheel' of life, constantly chasing from one thing to another, keeping up with 'The Joneses', not being content with your lot in life.

But ultimately all that really matters is your family, friends and your health, because without that you've got nothing.

Yes, money can perhaps get you seen quicker by a specialist, but it can't buy you your health.

We all have little moans and groans about things, that's human nature.  But every day thinking about three things that you're thankful for really helps put things in perspective.

Another friend of mine posted a picture of a female Great Crested Newt that she and her family found at Brookfield Plantation.  Genuinely, I was so pleased to see this that I couldn't have been happier if she'd told me she'd found a pot of gold. 

Such a lovely little creature, living happily without a care in the world.  Yet further proof why we need to protect its home, and why I make no apology for keeping on talking about Brookfield Plantation and its wildlife.

Taking pleasure in our countryside and nature and appreciating what we've got is so important.

Our lives may not be perfect, but we don't live in a war zone, with rockets flying over our heads.  Our daughters can go to school without fear and discrimination.  Our children are educated and we have healthcare.  For these facts alone, we need to be thankful, and remember that there's always somebody somewhere worse off.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Following in Dolly Parton's high-heeled footsteps...

I'm a great believer in that you're only as old as you feel, hence why I'm not a big fan of people telling me that I'm too old to do something.

I read about a survey of 1000 Britons where they discussed the 'cut off' dates for certain things after which time it apparently becomes cringe-worthy to do them.  I'll share some of the findings with you.

They reported that the age limit for listening to Radio 1 was 29.  I can relate to this, as I think you get to an age when you outgrow it and switch to Radio 2 or your local station, but I will admit to sometimes listening to the charts on a Sunday afternoon.

It also stated that if you're getting a tattoo, get it done before you're 32, and don't wear a baseball cap after this age either.  Don't wear one back to front once you're 25.

Don't end emails or texts to strangers with a kiss or use abbreviations like LOL after you're 29 years old - especially if you don't know what they mean (giving the example of David Cameron, who thought LOL meant 'lots of love').

Men apparently shouldn't grow goatee beards once they're 32, nobody should wear very high heels after 34 or kiss in the street once you're 25.

The poll also said you couldn't wear a bikini once you're 48.  This particularly annoyed me - Helen Mirren looked fab in hers at 63, Elizabeth Hurley is 49 and Elle Macpherson is 50, so that's obviously nonsense.

Also controversially was not going to music festivals once you're 41.  Well, Dolly Parton's 68 and she rocked Glastonbury this year wearing very high heels, breaking at least two of these rules - she was fabulous, and the highlight of the event for me and many others.

So I'm going to follow Dolly's rebellious lead and attend Gretton Music Festival on the August Bank Holiday weekend, possibly wearing a baseball cap if we're blessed with sunshine, and high heels if I want to (but not a bikini!).

I'm just hoping that Jive Honey play their version of Nine to Five so I can sing along...

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Decision day for Brookfield Plantation is looming...

Decision day for the future of Brookfield Plantation will soon be upon us.

The fate of Chalky, the white stag, his herd and other wildlife pals now lie in the hands of Corby Borough Council.

The councillors have to decide whether or not to grant planning permission for a 'resource recovery park'.  If this gets the go ahead, 50 hectares of established trees will be destroyed. 

These include significant stands of broadleaved varieties - oak, hazel, sycamore, poplar and elder - and coniferous trees including Scots pine, Corsican pine, European larch and Norway spruce.

Brookfield Plantation is home to 85 protected and notable species, including great crested newts, badgers, bats, red kite and grass snakes.

There's other wildlife too, with bumblebees, hedgehogs, lizards, dragonflies, damselflies, crickets, grasshoppers, butterflies, toads, frogs, rabbits, foxes and spiders.

Understandably, given all of the above, Brookfield Plantation is a designated Local Wildlife Site.

It's had what you might call a chequered past, in that there are said to be unknown materials buried beneath it from its British Steel days.  The expression about not digging up the past is usually meant metaphorically, but in this case I feel it might be wise to take it more literally.

Fortunately nature has reclaimed it over time, and it now supports a varied ecosystem, with the trees acting as a 'lung' to absorb pollutants.

Opposition to the 'resource recovery park' is nothing to do with NIMBYism - it's to do with protecting the environment and doing the right thing for our children and their futures.  We are temporary caretakers of this land - it's our duty to protect it and the wildlife it supports.

To this end I've written articles, a poem, a children's story, attended a protest march and meetings, written to the council, the MP and the newspaper, delivered leaflets, set up the 'Save Chalky and his Brookfield Plantation Friends' Facebook page, and proudly worn a 'Save Chalky' t-shirt.

If you also want to keep the trees, please tell your friends, family and neighbours, and make sure the council knows your opposition before it's too late.

Borrowing from Joni Mitchell, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, they want to pave paradise...

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Alternative festivals to Glastonbury

The weekend of Glastonbury I attended two very different festivals - my local flower festival and an agricultural show.

Sadly the weather didn't play ball for either.  Despite sunny intervals being promised, the flower festival suffered from rain on both days which reduced attendance. 

On the positive side, the parish church looked lovely, the cakes were very good, and I managed to purchase The Best of Donna Summer on CD for just £1 at one of the stalls.

Sunday brought the agricultural show.  Although I've lived around these parts all my life, I'd never been to an agricultural show before.  It immediately reminded me of a scene from 'All Creatures Great And Small', particularly when the terrier racing was announced over the tannoy.

We were in attendance as a classic car run around the Welland Valley was part of it.  This involved us partaking in a 30 mile route through the picturesque Rutland and Leicestershire countryside, again raising money for the air ambulance.

But unlike our previous outing in this type of event, the roads we were travelling along were extremely rural - I'm talking grass growing up the middle, a few cattle grids, blind bends complete with tractors the other side etc.

In spite of carefully following maps and instructions, we ended up in a dead-end, and then found we'd been followed by an E-Type Jaguar, two Triumph Stags and a classic Mini, all of whom presumed we knew where we were going and had simply followed us!

So, understandably, my nerves were somewhat shredded by the time we reached the show ring to join the parade of vehicles.  Of course this was the point, when we were right in the middle, that our vehicle decided it had had enough, and proceeded to stall repeatedly.

For what seemed like an eternity - but what was probably only five minutes - we were stranded.  Fortunately we got it going again just in time for us to exit before the dog show started, or that would have been very embarrassing!