Sunday, 22 December 2013

I'm All In A Fuddle


The last two and a half weeks have been such a mad frenzy of Ofsted, end of term string tying and festivities, I haven't managed to fit any time in to digest any fat. I've had my annual Christmas party in my flat and after accidentally ending up with 26 types of cheese, have been living off cheese ever since so already have my Christmas paunch before it's even begun! I've had The Boy's works do, two different departmental nights out and a whole school end of term shindig. On top of all of this, there have been various meet-ups, thirtieths and I've attended my first fuddle (at least, my first, knowing it is actually called this).

If, like me, the word “fuddle” is new to you, you'll find most definitions unhelpful as on-line reference sites generally define a “fuddle” as a “state of confusion or intoxication”. The intended meaning my department head had in mind for our lunchtime session was the dialectal word hailing from Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Bedfordshire. In these places “fuddle” apparently refers to a picnic or party where attendees bring their own food. Food was certainly brought and consumed but sadly rather a lot of cheese still remains; it's once again ready to travel to yet more festivities elsewhere where I'm sure I'll end up in a bit of a fuddle... Happy Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

No Cat Walks But Plenty of Pretty Kitties


When I was a child, we had a Siamese tabby point cat. One year my mum decided he was such a character, he ought to be entered in a local cat show. Oscar was a pretty handsome boy and exceedingly good-natured so it was no surprise when he won a rosette. I can't remember much about the experience other than him being weighed and people cooing around him.

More than twenty years on, I re-lived the experience at the cat equivalent of Crufts: The Supreme Cat Show. Four of us ventured over to Birmingham for the night with pre-booked tickets, excited “Cat Day” had finally arrived and unsure of what to expect. Checking out impressive Comic-Con costumes on the way over, expectations were high.

We all hoped for some kind of cat assault course but unfortunately cats don't seem to be deemed suitable for such qualifiers. Instead, there was an enormous hall with a centre section of cat-related merchandise both for meows and their owners surrounded by cats of every breed imaginable and yet more stalls lining the walls.

There was very little to see or do, aside from judges inspecting cats and talks on how to treat cat diarrhoea. But it was still awesome because we got to go around meeting all sorts of dudey cats, gawp at comical fairytale-themed display cages and marvel at some rather eccentric owners, decked out in cat print clothes and jewellery.

On the whole the cats looked happy, despite some rather paranoid owners putting signs on cages warning against strokes and contact in fear of diseases being spread. Here are some favourite mementos from the day:

For fatty cats with balance who have VERY rich owners.
British Blues are awesome!
You can actually get four poster cat/dog beds too.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Cyber Monday Christmas “Must Haves”


Having browsed several different Christmas markets at the weekend and noted a strange pattern of stalls selling diamanté encrusted skulls, I thought I'd see what inspiration the web has to offer. Here are my favourite oddities and top trends:

1) Those keen to waste money can purchase “Nothing” .


2) For any South Park fans, you can buy your very own Mr Hanky.


3) Human moths can purchase from a weird selection of light-up novelties, ranging from show laces to laser fingers. And my personal favourite...


4) Anyone aiming for an erotic present that is more likely to be a laughable turn-off than prompt apres-dinner delight can opt for this pair of pudding nipple tassels.

5) For that hard-to-please relative, perhaps something from the extensive grow-your-own range is the answer. Think buddhas, yachts, pink convertibles, geeks, black taxis, London buses... pretty much anything!


6) For the truly awful, why not purchase a blue Justin Bieber teddy bear that has no real relevance to the Biebster, aside from having his name printed on its hoodie.
7) Finally, purchase an awful sign the recipient of your gift is likely to be too embarrassed to ever display.

If any of these take your fancy get in there before Cyber Monday on December 2.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Professional Misjudgement


Advancements in technology have resulted in weightier workloads as colleagues think nothing of sending multiple e-mails. In the past the necessity to create paper signs or hand-outs meant people were often more discerning, keen not to stretch restrictive photocopying budgets. These days, sending an e-mail is quick and cost effective, also ensuring there's always a point of reference if required. Unfortunately click happy colleagues significantly increase the amount of time I have to spend sifting through scores of e-mails to find information deemed important and relevant to me.

Each morning before my working day even technically begins, I have approximately twenty e-mails that multiply at an alarming rate throughout the day and this of course takes time to sort through - time I don't rally have. At the end of work this week, I'd failed to check my e-mails and again, had a daunting number of unread newbies awaiting my attention. A shocked colleague drew my attention to one e-mail someone had sent round to everyone in the wrong school. Intending to send this to staff in our partner school, “Jane The Pain”, seemed to judge the following to be perfectly acceptable to send out to colleagues and mark “For Females Only” in the subject box:

Whoever has pebble dashed the end toilet in the ladies staff room toilets please clean it up after yourself next time, instead of leaving it to the cleaners! iI you cant be bothered to clean the toilet seat and toilet I hate to think what your knickers must be like.”

As someone who carefully proofs and re-reads all my e-mails, I was just as shocked as my colleague to be sent the above and can't help but agree Jane is indeed a pain and a rather unprofessional one at that!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

High In Wizz


We've almost exhausted Ryanair's destination list so have decided to brave WizzAir. Our first Wizz flight takes us to Bucharest and we're curious to see how the experience will compare to its rival. Our flight leaves an hour late without any announcements admitting this is the case until we're actually finally on board and about to leave. As a mini hurricane is forecast, I'm happy to excuse the lateness but less impressed by the lack of information and Wizz sharing Ryanair's ludicrous policy of no allocated seats without additional cost.

We're part of an ever-changing queue as latecomers saunter up, hovering around the boarding desk, only to blatantly queue-jump in the final moment. An elderly lady, dressed as I'd image Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell, feigns ignorance acting as if she has no understanding of how to queue, as if her age somehow excuses her behaviour. She sits away from the queue until there's movement then she holds her head high, putting on airs, pretending not to notice those of us who've been standing for almost an hour. Strolling to the front, she stands beside two others, avoiding all eye contact to look towards her goal – the check-in desk. No-one challenges her and as she boards well ahead of us, I wish I'd been further forward to say something.

Finally on the plane and it feels even more cramped than Ryanair. It's near on impossible to sleep, the seats are so uncomfortable and flight crew are elusive when needed. The only way to survive is by reading the flight away. Over the past few weeks I've been so busy, I've to had work during my morning commute so have a back-log of newspapers to get through. Perusing several of these, provides the necessary entertainment to wile away the time. I read about a blind man stopped for speeding in Sheffield who swapped seats when finally stopped and had the audacity to claim, “It wasn't me driving. I'm blind.” There's the well-wisher in Thailand who was arrested after donating methadone to flood victims in Sattahip, hoping they'd be able to raise funds by selling on the drugs. And Frederik Colting, a Swedish inventor, who has come up with an idea for, The Tikker, a watch that counts down to death, taking account of individual stats.

Five newspapers later, I make it to Bucharest unscathed and so does my bag. The service provided makes Wizz comparable to Ryanair and it's hard to say if either budget airline is superior. There's much less of a hard sell during our Wizz flight with tannoy announcements kept to the minimum but Ryanair's seats felt marginally more comfortable. The return journey back from Bucharest runs more smoothly with a slightly more roomy plane, suggesting Wizz may well be the victors but with only one Wizz journey to go on, perhaps more testing if needed.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Guilty Gigs


At some unknown point in my adult life, films became a priority over music. So many albums and films are released constantly that keeping up with all of them is a daunting and virtually impossible task. I used to be a huge gig-goer and as a teen, I'm ashamed to admit I used to be a bit of an autograph collector, regularly frequenting Tunbridge Well's Forum where I saw bands like Feeder before they “made it”.

Through University, my annual aim was three festivals a year and plenty of gigs in between. It's very hard to pinpoint when all of this changed; these days I'm averaging a weekly trip to the cinema but rarely even listen to albums or music, even on the radio. I was encouraged to stop buying CDs some time ago as living in a flat, I have limited space and I'm a bit of a hoarder - my tape collection is still in storage tucked away in a hard-to-reach spot at my parents' house.

The arrival of Spotify virtually removed the need to ever purchase an album, leaving me to guiltily watch my first gig in some time this week. I've wanted to see My Vitriol for years – they're one of the few bands on my “must see” list that are still going – albeit, only just. They've only recorded two albums (although they're technically referred to as one re-packaged double album) and new material hasn't been released since 2002. They've toured since then and the timing of my world travels meant I missed them playing London by a few weeks.

Going to see them in Manchester, I was almost expecting a cancellation so was delighted to see them on stage. They rocked, despite the normal irritating sound troubles that result in vocals being far too faint. The support act Bleech had an appealing 90s' sound, tempting me to purchase their CD. Checking out the merchandise stall, I discovered it would set me back a crisp £10 note. Umming and ahhing, I was soon put straight by The Boy who instructed me to test them out on Youtube first.

Thinking back to days of old, I felt enormously guilty. Back in my youth, I'd think nothing of buying a CD of a random and would have been prancing around, sweating profusely and grinning inanely, like some of the marginally younger crowd members in Gorilla. I, instead, watched from afar, leaning against the side wall, clutching a weighty trench coat, sweating not from exertion but from the sheer weight of my coat and workload in my rucksack I'd had to complete on the train journey to Manchester. Oh, how times have changed!

Returning home, I felt all the more guilty to discover the album I'd contemplated buying was indeed on Spotify in its entirety. I wonder, if Spotify didn't exist, would I still be buying the odd CD? Is my new mentality to blame or is technology?

Monday, 21 October 2013

Returning To The Nineties


As I approach the terrifying age of 34, I've regressed twenty years and just had my second brace fitted. Back in 1992 I had train tracks glued onto the top and bottom of my exceedingly gappy enormous bolder-sized rabbit teeth. Two years later when my teeth were deemed corrected, I remember the strange sensation of running my tongue over smooth enamel, falsely believing I'd never have to wear a brace again.

Fast-forward eighteen years and my rather stubborn teeth suddenly decided to re-wonk themselves, despite the metal bar still glued behind them. Having already been through the delights of having a brace once before, I've always been over-protective about my teeth, even giving up smoking when I thought it was affecting my gums. Seeing my teeth re-goofying themselves really annoyed me and I've been contemplating re-arming them once again for some time.

Temporarily working in my last school, I came across two teachers preparing for their weddings by getting braces and one of my best friends has also since strapped up. Finally finding an orthodontist that was marginally more reasonably priced, I did the deed two weeks today and I'm already counting down the days until its removal: five and a half months remaining if all goes well....

Having it fitted was an odd sensation. Wearing science lab style perspex safety specs, my mouth was held open by something the orthodontist described as like a scuba mask, ensuring my teeth remained dry while the tracks were glued. My mouth was stretched open for so long, it felt numb like I'd been administered an anaesthetic.

Once the metal bar behind my teeth and the rubbery mouth jack were removed, all feeling instantly returned and I had the odd sensation of being able to feel the smooth surface of the back of my teeth for the first time in two decades. The brace itself was rather more discreet than the silver grey of the nineties, easier to clean and as I've already had four adult teeth removed and been through it all once before, the entire experience less traumatic.

The first few days after I'd armoured up, my gums were tender and eating exceedingly messy. In addition to my beloved chewing gum, I'd been advised to avoid curries or foods with tomato sauces and was really starting to feel rather sorry for myself. Without walking around with teeth caked in food, snacking was out. My morning routine included packing a toothbrush for work and toothpaste/mouthwash now have their own special place in my classroom. Water is a necessity with every meal in order to attempt to swill out trapped foods. Without being melodramatic, it is safe to safe my life has changed considerably. How much so, only time will tell over the coming weeks...

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Grand Wish List


Living with a Grand Designs fanatic, I feel well-acquainted with Kevin McCloud. As the show's exhibition recently came up on Groupon it seemed stupid not to make the most of the deal. I've never been to an Ideal Homes exhibition and was pleasantly surprised by the day, initially expecting very little.

On arriving, there was a ten minute walk between the car park and the show before we were pointlessly ushered in a loop back to the start where the entrance was situated. The show was split into four main areas: Garden, Interiors, Building and Kitchen/Bathroom with smaller food and design sections.

The Garden area and mini design/food sections were all personal favourites with some pretty innovative designs tempting my credit card. We made one preposterous purchase that I shall reveal in due course when funding permits its delivery. In the meantime here are some clever designs I rather like and have added to my lottery wish list:


An outdoor dining/sleeping pod, costing around five thousand.

A children's rocking horse made of recycled tyres.

Amazing walls clocks and furnishings made from plane parts.

A Dali style grandfather clock, costing well over ten thousand.

A six person outdoor sauna.

Another custom made Dali style clock, costing around thirty thousand this time!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Bus Belter

http://www.allposters.com/-sp/A-bus-is-an-accordion-Musical-notes-come-out-the-back-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Posters_i9170408_.htm

 “Is this a singing bus?” he optimistically asks our driver. I've already experienced the school gates being locked, prompting an annoying detour to get to the bus stop, Since arriving at my departure point I've just missed a bus and two scheduled have been “Out Of Service,” so at this point, I'm pretty keen to get home.

There are three of us on the bus and the driver. The rather eccentric elderly gentleman who's keen to sing his heart out, is having a chat with the driver as we await for our departure time:

“But is this a singing bus?” he continues to gauge. The driver unsurprisingly insists he's never known a bus purely dedicated to “singing”, despite our gents apparent certainty that the “Halton Moor” bus is indeed a “singing bus”. Stories of the old Headingley route and rare occasions of whole bus performances of “Bohemian Rhapsody” are regaled as the driver continues to politely humour said gentleman.

It is not long before he's turned to face us unsuspecting three. We're desperately trying to keep to ourselves while trying not to appear too interested. “Do you mind if I sing?” he asks. The girl at the back texts away pretending to be too busy to hear, the girl in front is deafened by headphones and I nod, dazed from a long day at work, attempting to keep the peace.

He very seriously belts our, “As Time Goes By” unaccompanied by any musical backing as if auditioning for X Factor's OAP series. He actually boasts a reasonable singing voice and unpainfully completes the entire song, finishing to silence and expectantly looking around as the last note leaves his mouth.

No-one says a word. I'm trying to focus on my paper, attempting to not make it obvious I'm fascinated and amused by the whole spectacle. For the next few minutes, there's an awkward silence while our performer proceeds to sing random verses from a selection of big name tunes. As the bus fills and gradually proceeds towards my destination, the whole incident fades and soon I'm the only one still inwardly chuckling at the musical interlude.

An annoying journey was quickly transformed to a memorable story and now I'm tempted to catch the “Halton Moor” bus, if only to discover whether sing-along buses still really exist or whether they are firmly a thing of the past as my bus driver confidently affirms. As random Yorkshire trips are a more recent weekend activity, old Halton may well be on the cards...

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Still Time For Trashy Tales

Despite the sizeable stacks of ever-increasing exercise books and stamps for every eventuality that seem to perpetually surround me, I've still managed to keep up with the news this week. Among the daily headlines detailing horrors in Kenya and Syria, I came across several stories that could easily slip you by and need sharing...

Metro's front page told of a gifted student's attempt to rob a Liverpool branch of Barclays with a BB gun: http://metro.co.uk/2013/09/24/model-pupil-turned-into-police-after-carrying-out-video-game-style-bank-robbery-4104453/ 

Chessington theme park have employed style gurus, threatening the continuation of the leopard print trend: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-24240527 

Villagers in Shantou City in China's Guangdong province have befriended an escaped hippo with the aid of multiple cabbages: http://web.orange.co.uk/article/quirkies/Escaped_hippo_swam_out_of_flooded_zoo 

Fake penises and urine are apparently easily obtainable online; an Italian long-distance runner attempted to cheat a drugs test by purchasing said items: http://metro.co.uk/2013/09/24/italian-athlete-accused-of-using-fake-penis-to-deceive-doping-testers-4103884/ 

And a survey by Opinium Research has rather tellingly revealed 21% of men and 10% of women haven't read a book in the last year with 49% of those questioned claiming they don't have time to read: http://metro.co.uk/2013/09/25/only-one-in-five-knows-william-shakespeare-wrote-hamlet-4103304/

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Fate Loop Is Tempted

http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/46423174?view_mode=2

Back in the middle ages folk had the right idea when they warned against “talking of the devil”. Originally used as a threat against directly naming God's nemesis, talking about said figure or evil in general, these days the proverb has a new face - “tempting God” in the 1300s, “tempting fortune” in 1603 and more popularly “tempting fate” around 1700. My superstitious forebearers were of a more religious disposition than me and believed “speaking of the devil” would actually incite the horned “man”, therefore resulting in unfortunate consequences (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speak_of_the_devil).

This week I've had a very unpleasant reminder of exactly how accurate said proverb can be. As I clicked on “update”, I turned to a colleague to breezily comment how awful a computer crash at that precise moment might be. Having spent a good hour and a half bumbling through an enormous professional development questionnaire on a website used by my new employer, I should have known merely verbalising my thoughts was “tempting fate”. OK, the computer didn't crash; instead, as soon as I'd saved the document and logged out, I returned to a rather empty proforma. Being a little paranoid I wanted to reassure myself my endeavours were safely logged. My actions failed to provide me with peace of mind, revealing a blank document that in the process proved I am indeed incredibly unlucky.

On countless occasions when my luck has failed, my generally ignored “gut” has often rather cleverly already predicted any negative outcomes. Today, I've made a personal vow to henceforth try to avoid stating any such negativity in order to perhaps escape repeat instances where fate is quite blatantly tempted to shaft me again. Feeling rather unlucky at present, I have to wonder whether the very act of writing this blog is already tempting fate?

Friday, 6 September 2013

Carousel Hell


You'll have to knot it up if you need the loo,” beams a jovial voice as fellow passengers smirk in amusement at the train conductor's attempt to make light of an already testing situation. A sarcastic voice taunts me; “Welcome back to England,” it jeers.

When it rains it pours”; my return journey to Inglaterra perfectly illustrated the idiom's meaning. An hour journey to Guatemala airport in order to get a three hour flight to Houston was followed by a two hour wait before another flight to Frankfurt. Nine hours later and I pottered around Frankfurt killing time before the final leg of my journey back to Manchester.

Another seven hours later and finally back on English soil and keen to get home, the queue for passport control loomed and the normal luggage collection fears kicked in. Already dubious I'd be reunited with my bag, the fear started to mount thirty minutes after the imminent arrival of our baggage was announced. Allayed by the cluster of fellow passengers also looking expectantly at the “carousel”, I'm still optimistic bed is in sight.

My gut instinct is unfortunately perceptive and five minutes after the last bag appears, there's still no obvious sign of my luggage. A lady in uniform confirms the obvious telling me there's no more baggage. The explanation is predictable: my bag has been held in Houston and will be returned to me by courier the next day.

Having already been awake for nearly thirty hours, I make it to Manchester airport's train station only to be told services are limited due to engineering works and I'll have to wait almost an hour until the next train. Running on a mixture of frustrated adrenaline and exhausted near hysteria, I board the train only to hear an announcement apologising that all the train's toilets are mysteriously out of service. “Welcome home,” says the man opposite me, mirroring my English sarcasm. When it rains it really does pour!

Bed is almost in reach. As I contemplate sinking into familiar surroundings, the tannoy announces the “mysterious recovery” of one of the train toilets and there's all-round chuckling. At least I'm finally less than two hours from home and won't have to cart much around or unpack on my arrival! Things are looking up...

Friday, 9 August 2013

Tips and Travel Lines

Perhaps if I was Japanese I'd have had palm surgery some months back and discovered then that booking a trip to Central America this August wouldn't be the best move financially. Maybe I'd have had the surgery even earlier and been able to look into the future to tell The Boy he'd need a doctor's check-up sooner in order to have the op in time. As I'm not Japanese, have only recently discovered palm surgery even exists and seriously question its point, I'm now about to go on our annual adventure on my own.

Having finally had confirmation from the specialist on Wednesday that The Boy is indeed not fit for travel or coverage on our insurance, I've been doing some last minute organisation. In the process, I've discovered a few useful tips for fellow travellers I thought I'd share before my departure. If, like me, you are venturing to foreign and occasionally somewhat remote climes with some time still before the off, the following may help:

1) Despite what doctors tell you, antibiotics are indeed accessible for emergency situations. Last summer's Morocco trip left me feeling pretty jealous when I suffered from some form of impenetrable stomach upset. My walking pharmacy was no armour against my ailment and while I visited a pricey Moroccan hospital, fellow trip chums easily recovered, having taken their supply of home-brought antibiotics. I, on the other hand, felt somewhat off for several days longer and had to take an alarmingly large number of strangely labelled drugs I'd been prescribed, including one called “Spasfon”.

Keen to avoid a repeat occurrence, I visited the doctor who after trying to put me off, gave me a private prescription, warning me I'd have to shop around chemists as additional dispensing costs would probably be a minimum of £20 for my antibiotics. Fear not – this information seems to have been yet another attempt by the doctor to deter me. The very pharmacy that partners my doctor's surgery and is indeed right next door, sold me said antibiotics for less than the normal prescription charge at a mere £4.

2) Never trust your bank to give you the best exchange rate. Having always banked with Natwest, I went to get some dollars and came out with rather a raw deal. Two hundred US cost me £181 of your English pounds. Returning home, I checked the exchange rate and as suspected found I had been cheated and given a rate of around 1.1 to the pound, instead of 1.5.

Annoyed, I returned to the bank the next day and to my relief found it was a mistake and a new cashier had accidentally given me the Euro rate. One refund later and I was disappointed to discover Natwest's rate was merely 1.3 when I'd seen much higher elsewhere. The answer? Take recommendations, forsake your bank and go British. Good old M & S offered the best rate of 1.54! Certainly a new favourite for buying currency.

Wisdom imparted, I'm going to continue packing my life up and prepare for lone travel. I'll be absent for the next three weeks so if anyone reading is due to depart soon, enjoy.

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Elusive Etymology


As a teacher seeing sulky pouting students is part of the job but a sight much less common these days than you might expect as the sound of teeth sucking seems to have taken over. Not so long ago, I actually witnessed a student formulating what I've always called a “fletcher lip” and commented on it to a colleague who'd never heard of the expression, instead referring to it as “making a moue”.

I recall many a scene as a child where I was accused of “making a fletcher lip” and as a result, laughed at. As I've been on an exceedingly gluttonous Herefordshire trip with my family, I thought I'd ask them where the term came from. Old Dear had no idea but Big G was quick to explain its etymology lies in archery: apparently back in the day when strategically-placed archers were a primary form of defence, having the bow's anchor point placed near to the lips when ready to draw resulted in a similar lower lip pout-like expression.

Having just returned from my mini-break, I thought I'd put my mum's explanation to the test and did indeed discover that “fletching” are the stabilising fins or vanes of an arrow (each individual fin being a “fletch”) and that a “fletcher” is the craftsman who makes/attaches “fletching” for the arrows. While there's nothing explaining the exact etymology of the term or explicitly linking a “fletcher lip” to archery, there is obviously a semantic connection.

Both to “make a moue” and “fletcher” have origins in French with the first use of “moue” recorded from Middle French in 1850 and “fletcher” coming from the Old French “flèche”, meaning "arrow” and the Frankish “fliukka” from between the fourth and eighth centuries. As there seems to be little evidence of similar uses of the term on the Internet, I can only conclude “a fletcher lip” is an original Owenism and wonder what pet names other families have for the expression?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Solutions For A Summer Silhouette



If, like me, you've failed to get that bikini body in time for the summer sun, you may be tempted by one of the following Chinese products – if you can handle the heat that is...

A few weeks ago, I was struck by a small news piece that more discerning readers would have easily missed. Travelling through China some years back it was hard not to take note of the bizarre array of novelty items available on the market. I came away with buckle on flashing heelies I then carried from country to country for several months before putting them into storage never to be used. I still see the appeal of my redundant purchase but hairy tights?



And if you've shaved your pegs but still can't stomach that much flesh on show, the face-kini may be your answer. Ensuring anonymity allows you to let it all hang out:



Protecting an area often overlooked during the application of suntan lotion, the "beach balaclava" will also warn off any embarrassing and unwanted attention - as long as you're surrounded by fellow wearers. Otherwise, expect some bemused stares and wary reactions... Or why not go wild and adopt both crazes?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Extreme Cultural Diversity In The UK


For the last decade I've been all about world domination, wanting to sample as many different cultures as humanely possible. Part of my global takeover has led to a real interest in food from foreign parts; a result of one of our many trips, has been a love of Polish cuisine. Since visiting Krakow some years back, I'm all about Polish food and have recently been trying a variety of Polish restaurants in West Yorkshire's “City Of Dreams”, Bradford.

My first stop was Balanga on Goodwin Street that began as a real leap of faith and has since remained interesting due to its restrictive time restraints and exceedingly cheap highly authentic menu. Although grotty from the outside, Balanga has a genuine feel with billboards in the toilets covered in Polish adverts, multi-lingual menus and bar staff rather endearingly actively warning clientele they only serve Polish food.

Several Balanga food babies later, it was time for a change – if only to locate somewhere that serves food after 7pm! Idly wandering the streets of Bradford through a previously undiscovered gay quarter with ex-Bradders colleagues, we stumbled across Ambrozja on Sunbridge Road. At 7.30pm on a Friday night, Ambrozja was deserted but boasted low prices and food worth revisiting.

My final Polish discovery was Staropolska Restaurant on Manningham Lane. Only recently opened, outside looked inviting but inside was immediately off-putting with staff telling us on arrival there'd be a party later, implying we might not want to stay. The entire menu was in Polish with no translations, making ordering an interesting experience. Pointing to several dishes on the menu we were told no translation was possible or given dubious explanations that seemed to solely entail staff members pointing to the stomach region. Even the drinks were inaccessible or unrecognisable with a whole listed section being unavailable and Western drinks like “Bulmers” being listed as “Blumbers”.

Amazing food and reasonable prices aside, dining in Staropolska was reminiscent of eating in a foreign country. Even our apres-food walk around Hanover Square felt like we were no longer in the UK with the current extreme heat and entire families wearing tunics and trousers while playing cricket in a central shared garden area.

Bradford may not be the city of dreams but it sure is a place of extreme cultures with entirely Polish speaking enclaves right next to Indian/Pakistani communities, making such culinary adventures possible a mere twenty minute train journey from home. Never in my life have I felt so far from home, despite being so close to it. 


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Days Of University Past


With age, people get more and more nostalgic, reflecting back to the "glory days". Last weekend, a dual Birthday celebration saw me embarking on an Otley run over a decade since I last attempted it. Unlike the Fresher's Week crawl my eighteen year-old self undertook, there was no fancy dress involved and we didn't start until 3.30 after an exceedingly hearty gourmet pizza lunch.

Our old fogey's pub crawl was dominated by shared jugs of Pimm's and lots of moaning about rowdy stag parties. Our pace had definitely slowed but it was good to be reunited with an old friend again and reassuring to see that although our approach had definitely changed some things hadn't. We may not have managed the full 18 pubs but stops in the nine we decided to make from the traditional 1999/2000 route led to encounters with increasingly inebriated stag groups.

The Taps and Skyrack were curiously male-dominated while The Oak proved ever popular and The Hyde Park particularly rowdy. The Eldon seemed to have undergone a chain make-over and pleasingly served up pint-sized bottles of Hooch – yes, it is back on the market and apparently has been for the last six months!

Making it to The Packhorse was a particularly sentimental stop when we discovered it's still the rockers' pub and bands playing “back in the day” continue performing to familiar faces. After the disappointment of both Leeds University bars being closed, the near-empty Fenton was a more disturbing fleeting visit with its DJ's pumping tunes, calling for a quick shot stop before moving on to the still strangely endearing Strawbs.

Although it lacked clientele, The Dry Dock seemed to be in a time-warp and rounded-off a successful trip down memory lane before some dirty takeaway and the ever-reliable Fab Cafe. To our relief, the play list in Fab remains very much the same, as does its “anything goes” vibe but I was saddened to see an old Leeds' character looking worst for wear with age. A final sneaky blue WKD managed to transport me back to happier days, leaving me hunkering after a triumphant Aftershock. Now I need to find somewhere that serves it and people willing to join me...

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Bare Necessities


What do films like The Notebook and Clueless have in common? Both are of course fairly slushy and appeal to romantics but are also perfect examples of the current growing trend for theatre companies to adapt films into stage musicals. Having watched Ghost: The Musical in the last week at The Grand during its UK tour, I've been reflecting on what makes a successful adaptation.

The sketchy vocal quality of the leads (with the exception of Wendy Mae Brown who plays Oda Mae) and series of uncatchy songs in Ghost: The Musical made it a disappointment. David A. Stewart of the Eurythmics co-wrote the music and lyrics with the film's original screenplay writer, Bruce Joel Rubin and American songwriter, Glen Ballard - with this in mind, I had expected to leave humming one of the show's infectious tunes; alas, each song seemed to run into the next and added little to the story, seeming to merely act as a means of lengthening its running time. With this in mind, reading reports of the show's previous standing ovations, puzzled me – the only people standing at the end of Wednesday's show seemed to be folk preempting a fast escape from the theatre's sub-tropical temperature.

In the days since the show, I've found myself pondering what makes a good musical stage adaptation. Thinking over musicals of films I've previously enjoyed, the answer seems to lie in the film's original content. John Water's 1988 film Hairspray, early 90s' film Sister Act and Roger Corman's 60's flick, Little Shop Of Horrors, all made perfect stage adaptations, precisely because they all already lent themselves to catchy show tunes - music was already central to their plots or they had easily recognisable soundtracks.

Screen to stage adaptations are of course popular with each film's already existing fan base, allowing enthusiasts to see favourite characters come alive in the flesh. Films with cult status give fans a sense of unity, providing die-hard devotees the chance to recite lines in unison with the actors and in doing so, add to the atmosphere of each live performance; Shows like Fame and Dirty Dancing are a case in point.... Hearing fans singalong to popular tunes or cry out lines from the film like “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” add humour to the experience and make you feel like you're among friends in a theatre full of like-minded allies.

Although memories of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost transport me back to the more optimistic days of my youth, watching the musical reminded me of a teenage mistake. Back in 1990 after the film came out, I foolishly spent well-saved pocket money on the film's soundtrack; I was disappointed to discover that Unchained Melody was the only vocalised song on a predominantly instrumental soundtrack that sounded like a mishmash of special effects. If I'd paid more attention during the film, perhaps I'd have been less surprised and saved myself some money.

To me, this whole experience seems to merely highlight that plot is more important than fluff and sometimes it's better to stick to the bare necessities. With its impressive special effects and sets, Ghost: The Musical would have made a fantastic play, captivating viewers through its story alone. However, despite this rather negative experience, I'm still planning on trying to catch the stage versions of Once and The Commitments. As music is already key to both, I'm expecting to prove my hypothesis...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

For Once Not Drinking Tea Is A Good Thing




I generally find not drinking tea or coffee to be a drawback – an unsaid barrier between colleagues, a missed opportunity for rare freebies, very unBritish... Over the last week, for the first time ever my unusual tea/coffee aversion has actually worked to my advantage. Metro (and I'm sure many other publications) printed a list of fifty telltale signs that a person is getting old:


I'm only recently coming to grips with my age and becoming more accepting of inevitable changes so pitting myself against the list was quite a relief. Of the fifty symptoms of old age The Engage Mutual friendly society found after their survey of 2,000 people, I'm glad to honestly say only 12 are representative of the 33 year-old me (I'll leave those of you who know me well to guess which of the 50 I exhibit).

Having delighted in my relatively low result, I stumbled across two other laughable/ interesting articles. One detailing a 52 year-old French mother's attempt to sit her 19 year-old daughter's English baccalaureate exam for University:


What struck me most about this article was not her amusing teen costume but the fact that it took invigilators two hours of the three hour exam to spot her deception. Equally amazing, is a new YouTube craze for whispered role play:


I'm not sure about the whole idea but as someone prone to bouts of insomnia, I'm willing to give it a go and may even one day blog about my excursion to the ASMR world...

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Something to Make You Smile


If the last fortnight has been a bit of a trial and like me, you're needing a pick-up, here's something to make you smile and perhaps, marvel at the random things in life. In the last week, West Midlands Police received a phone call from a man complaining the prostitute he had solicited was too ugly and therefore breaching the Sales of Goods Act:


A cat resembling Salvador Dali has been discovered:


Wandering among the stalls in the indoor market of Manchester's Arndale Centre, I spotted this bizarre model who seems to be championing braces:



And after seeing Tristan and Yseult at The West Yorkshire Playhouse, noticed this rather suggestive art installation on general display, the same night the audience happened to be largely comprised of school 
parties:


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Frisky Felines



I'm woken from a light slumber by a repetitive motion near my feet. The heat is making it difficult to sleep and I've not been “out” long so I'm partially conscious. It feels like something is gently riding my feet.

I hear The Boy laughing, something resembling fabric scraping across fabric and a motorised engine-like noise. Sleepily lifting my head, I look down to see a purring Maj with his ghost costume in his mouth straddling my feet bobbing up and down like he's humping my lower body. The sight unsurprisingly causes me to chuckle and I'm back to square one, trying to clear my head of thoughts and return to the land of dreams.

Although he admittedly has a bit of a foot fetish, this is the first time The Maj has decided to mount my feet but certainly not the first time we've witnessed his bizarre nightly sexual routine. About six months after adopting The Maj from the Howarth Cat Rescue Centre, I purchased a dog's Halloween costume that made him look like a member of the Klu Klux Klan and fitted rather poorly.

Like his mum, The Maj likes his food and isn't keen on waste; he soon claimed the costume and put it to use, dragging it around the flat while loudly yowling in order to alert us to his need for food or loving. In more recent months, he's taken to dragging the costume around, simulated humping, more dragging with some near tripping, gazing at himself in the mirror, more dragging, more humping...

This bizarre ritual seems to have increased in recent weeks with him shunting around in a circle, almost as if he's making sure we witness this spectacle from every angle. We've also unfortunately noticed a Maj erection for the first time since getting him some two and a half years ago.

My mum wisely suggested the diet food he now exclusively dines on may have side-effects but so far web searches have proved fruitless. I've found myself wading through links selling Hill's c/d prescription diet pet food and others that are amusing but unhelpful, including titles such as “Please Help! Can fixed cats still... uh, ejaculate?”

Next visit to the cat doctor some questions will be asked but in the meantime, we'll have to continue to be amused and confused by our frisky feline.