Wednesday, 11 November 2009

=On Armistice Day=

"Wear your poppy with pride," I'm told,
"Wear your poppy with pride.
Wear it for those who have fallen
For those who have suffered, and died."

Limbs that were bloodied and broken
Hearts left deserted and cold
Youth that was shattered and wasted
Boys who could never grow old

Families whose homes were left empty
Their loved ones for cenotaph wreaths
Children caught up in the crossfire
Lives of despair and of grief

Battlefields peppered with corpses
That once were our people, now lost
I'll remember each person who fought there
But still more, I'll remember the cost

For the sake of the lives that were taken
For the sake of those who have died
I'll feel anger, and sadness, and horror
But I'll never, no, never, feel pride.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Don't worry, be happy

Cheer up! Here is my feelgood Spotify playlist, guaranteed to put a smile on any face. Featuring The Jacksons, Boo Radleys, ELO, Beach Boys and more.

Burn, baby, burn

This brilliant indoor campfire is my partner Mark's creation. Cool hey?

To Desmond Carrington: thanks for the memories

Any fans of eclecticism in the house? Try my Desmo Jukebox Spotify playlist, dedicated to the great Desmond Carrington on Radio 2, whose Tuesday evening show is as unpredictable as it is listenable. 5 hours' worth of music - enjoy!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Who won the bloody war anyway?

A post to mark 70 years since the start of World War II.

I think it's very easy for those generations who didn't live during the war years to forget that the narrative structure surrounding World War II is something which has grown up since it ended, borne of the morale-raising propaganda used to keep Britain's spirits up and guard against "defeatism" during the conflict itself. We younger folk look back on the war as a story: the ultimate battle between good and evil, a plot for films and books and the substance of grandparents' nostalgia-peppered anecdotes. My own grandad, who was 6 when the war started and 12 by the time it ended, talks about the Mickey Mouse sweets he used to get with his ration voucher; teasing his friend Jimmy for being named-checked in Vera Lynn's "White Cliffs of Dover" ("When are you going to sleep in your own little bed, Jimmy?"); scrounging sticks of chewing gum from American soldiers (he'd never seen chewing gum in sticks rather than pellets before); reading comics; helping with paper drives; going to see John Wayne at the pictures. When I was a child, hearing these stories, listening to 1940s music and watching films from that time, the war seemed like a great time to be alive. Yes, I knew there was hardship too: I knew there was rationing, there were bombs, there was the terrible ordeal of evacuation which separated parents and children, there was the constant fear of hearing that a loved one had been killed. Among my grandad's glossy nostalgic anecdotes was a frightening near-miss story of a ship full of evacuees to America which he and his sister were due to take being sunk by a U-boat, killing all on board. The horrors of the concentration camps were the stuff of nightmares for my later years. Even so, I formed a lasting attachment to the era. I'm sure many people my age feel the same, and think affectionately and patriotically of a period when Churchill displayed the Victory sign, George Formby strummed on a ukelele and Douglas Bader overcame disability to become a national hero.

But what I feel people don't often consider, is that when we look back, it's with the certainty of knowing who would win. It almost seems like victory was written, it is so much a part of our national psyche. Nazi victories are the stuff of distopian novels and films created for our entertainment, or a quickly-dismissed comment from an older person that we "might all be speaking German now". It doesn't seem real, or as if it was ever even a possibility. But the war didn't really have a narrative structure. In reality, it wasn't a story but a historic event, which real people lived through. It's hard to imagine now the uncertainty, the fear, which must have been sickening for those people - fears which could hardly be expressed, as "defeatist talk" was not tolerated. In the early years in particular, as Britain appeared to be losing the war, it must have been terrifying for those on the home front to imagine the consequences of a Nazi victory.

"Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win," Victor Laszlo says to Rick in Casablanca. But Victor didn't know that. Nor did anyone involved in the making of that film, which started production in 1942. And I think that's a pretty massive thing to contemplate.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Smackdown: Astor v. Churchill

Ok, hands up if you have ever had this piece of dialogue or a variant recited at you by some tedious dullard trying to impress you with his wit and historical knowledge.

Lady Astor: Mr Churchill, you are drunk.
Winston Churchill: And you, madam, are ugly. But tomorrow I'll be sober.

Smirk. Guffaw. Ha ha ha haaaaa. Good for Winnie, eh? Score one to the Bulldog. Great example of the spontaneous wit of a British icon, right?

Wrong, actually.

First, some background. This incident, held up as an inspirational victory for put-upon men in the grip of joyless nagging haridans everywhere, may well never have taken place. If it did, Churchill's likely adversary was probably Labour MP Bessie Braddock, not Nancy Astor. But as this anecdote is widely believed, quoted and revelled in, I'm going to deconstruct it anyway.

So. Churchill has turned up pissed to the House of Commons. Lady Astor, only the second female MP ever elected in the UK and the first to take up her seat in Parliament, clearly thinks this is inappropriate behaviour for a British Prime Minister at a time of international crisis and takes him to task on the matter. Churchill responds by childishly insulting her physical appearance.

Astor has quite rightly drawn attention to the fact that drunkeness in Paliament is inappropriate and unprofessional. This once-famed society beauty is then physically abused by a man who, for most of his life, has resembled a plastic toy left out on the radiator for too long (see portraits above). While Churchill may well have been sober the next day (no doubt burying his head in his hands, wondering what he said to who while on his latest bender), he certainly didn't magically become better looking: the words "a bit rich" and "no oil painting" spring to mind. Given his astonishing lack of facial symmetry, you'd think the man would have kept his head down and not drawn attention to his own physical shortcomings by pointing out those of others. You might even question why someone who was never one of the "beautiful people" should be so depressingly shallow in rushing to pass judgement on the physical appearance of others.

If this anecdote is true, then clearly Churchill (along with so many others) believed that an ugly man, so long as he had a good career, material wealth and all the trappings of success, was to be approved and congratulated, but a woman who didn't measure up to a high standard of personal beauty, no matter what else she may have achieved in her life, could never be regarded as anything but a failure. Even Astor, at one time considered a great beauty, is written off as a waste of space once she has committed the cardinal sin of ageing. Then, as now, success for men was measured by possessions, career, lifestyle. For women, it always boils down to shaggability.

It strikes me that once analysed, Churchill doesn't emerge too well from this famed and celebrated exchange. It exposes him as being sexist, juvenile and unprofessional. Still, that was then. At least we'd never find people obsessing over the appearance of a female politician instead of the way she does her job nowadays. Oh, wait, I forgot...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Wintry stew for summery days

Here is my recipe for a one-pot veggie stew (serves 4-6). Extreme comfort food.

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 swede, peeled and chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
  • Portion broccoli/cauliflower/green beans (whatever you've got in the fridge, basically)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 100g pearl barley (soaked overnight if indicated by packet instructions)
  • 100g red lentils
  • 2 Oxo vegetable stock cubes
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 2tbsp Marmite
  • Dash of tobasco
  • 2tbsp Worcester sauce
  • 1tbsp tomato puree
  • 2tbsp soy sauce
  • 1tbsp dried thyme
  • 1tbsp dried rosemary
  • 1tbsp dried marjoram
  • 1tbsp oregano (optional)
  • Salt and pepper

Method: In a large stew pan, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes until beginning to brown. Add all other veg to the pan and cover with boiling water. Throw in the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer until the veg and pulses are tender (about an hour). Or use a slow cooker.

Note: all measurements are approximate. I tend just to throw things in until it tastes nice.

Serve in one of those giant Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire puds. Yum yum.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

iPhone and me: BFFs

Hurrah, blogging inspiration has arrived in the form of my new iPhone. Here it is, with the Gryffindor case I knitted to keep it cosy. Isn't it beautiful?

So I thought I'd share my favourite iPhone apps which I've so far discovered. Here goes:

1. Spendometer (free)
This is a little app to help track spending. You can set a monthly budget, and categorise how you spend your dosh. There's also a useful going out feature. Credit crunchy.

2. Facebook (free)
User-friendly and cleanly laid out, this is the best way to use Facebook on the iPhone.

3. Google Earth (free)
It's Google Earth. In an app. I like that.

4. Fluid (free)
Creates the effect of moving water over pebbles which ripples to the touch. The novelty quickly wears off, but it's great for entertaining small children (if you don't mind them jabbing their sticky fingers all over your touch screen).

5. Zoom in (59p)
I'm not impressed that the iPhone camera didn't have a digital zoom feature built in so I had to pay 59p for an app which does it for me. I know I could just crop them after, but still, it's handy to have.

6. Around Me (free)
A useful little app which uses GPS to work out your location and lets you know where your nearest supermarkets, bars, cash machines and other amenities are.

7. WikiTap (free)
Wikipedia in an app. Settle arguments in the pub.

8. SnapTell (free)
Take a photo of a book, DVD or CD and this app will reocgnise it and provide links to reviews, Wiki entries etc. It also gives price details and links to buy the product, but as it's a US app everything is in dollars so that's not much use for us in the UK. So for that I use . . .

9. pic2shop (free)
Take a photo of a barcode and this will identify the product, linking to its Amazon UK page.

10. Stanza (free)
Simply the best ebook reader. You can download looooads of out-of-copyright books direct from Project Gutenberg to read with it. I've got 70 so far...

11. Paper Toss (free)
Very addictive flick-paper-in-a-bin game.

12. News UK Lite (free)
See the top headlines from five major news sources. I've got the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Times and, erm, the Daily Mail. Well, know your enemy...

13. Stitchminder (free)
At last, stitch counters go virtual. Monitor number of rows, increase rows, pattern rows and pattern repeats.

14. KnitGauge (59p)
Measure your gauge.

15. (free)
This is great. Enter the name of an artist you like and this app will stream music from similar artists.

16. RadioBOX (£1.79)
This was the only radio app I could find which would stream the BBC stations. Now I can listen to 6Music on my phone, hooray.

17. Shazam (free)
Use this app to identify music. Hold it up to a song which is playing and it will identify the song, album and artist for you, and provide a link to the artist's wiki entry.

18. Flixster (free)
See what the latest film releases are and when they are showing at your nearest cinema. Links to Rotten Tomatoes reviews and the film's imdb page are also given.

19. VegOut (£1.79)
A good one for us veggies. This identifies your location and tells you where your nearest veggie or veg-friendly eating establishment is.

20. iDrinkulator (£1.79)
Track your alcohol units and find out how they could be affecting your health. Useful but depressing. 23 units this week, gulp...

Other apps I couldn't live without: my to do list app, ebay app, Sky+ app (record programmes on the move), multi-converter app and shopping list app.

Other apps I could live without but choose not to: iPint (navigate a pint along a bar and win yourself a free virtual pint), BubbleWrap (pop virtual bubblewrap against the clock), Lightsaber (what it says on the tin: turn your iPhone into a lightsaber).

And I've only had it a week...

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Cogito ergo sum: on being a blogger

Get me, my own blog. I am down wiv da kidz, oh yes. Anyway, so, my first post. All about me. My life. What make me tick. Erm.

Ho hum, ho hum, ho hum . . . oh, I experimented with using Macros in Word at work today. Yeah. And we put some humane traps down to catch a mouse that's been living in my colleague's drawer and pigging out on her Bourneville chocolate. And I ate a Jaffa Cake.

Ok, so I made that up about the Jaffa Cake. I was just trying to liven things up, I actually only had a clementine. Sorry.

Having never considered blogging before, I've been thinking a little bit about the whys and wherefores of blogs lately. What people share on their blogs; what motivates them to share their innermost feelings; to expose activities, opinions and lifestyles both mundane and magnificent. And I've come to the conclusion it centres around immortality: that by creating a record of their lives and thoughts, they verify their own existence. That by revealing via an international public medium more than they would perhaps tell to a close friend, they enter a part of themselves into an international consciousness, ensuring their continuation. Or it could be yet another human invention to aid procrastination. Anyway, as an atheist I'll sign up for a piece of Existence Pie any day, so sit back and relax while I share with you the full mediocrity of my innermost soul.

So me. Stuff about me. Ok, here's a list of me-related things which I think are important.

  • I like knitting, reading, comedy and films both classic and modern, being angry and ranting about various social injustices I feel impotent to fix.
  • My politics are liberal in nature. I may or may not be part of the fictional "PC Brigade".
  • I am a humanist.
  • I am a feminist.
  • I am from Yorkshire but no longer live there. Once upon a time I did a degree in English Literature. I'm in my late twenties and trying to combat a growing sense of ageing and my own inevitable mortality.
  • My favourite cheese is mature cheddar.
  • I don't eat meat, but would not criticise anyone else for doing so.
  • I help out with a Rainbow group. That's little girls aged 5 to 7.
  • I live with two cats, one hamster and one boyfriend.
  • I have no wish to marry or reproduce, and am annoyed by the expectation that I should want both these things. I would like to adopt children at a point in the future when I am secure in my career and finances.
  • I have been known to do a bit of creative writing, very badly.
  • My favourite sites to waste time on are Mailwatch, Ravelry, the BBC news site, Wikipedia, The F-Word and of course Facebook.
  • My favourite book is Catch-22.
  • My favourite film is probably Casablanca.
  • My plans for the weekend include adjusting some curtains for the knackered old 80s campervan we recently bought, watching Top Gun, drinking gin and tonic and sleeping.
  • I am currently reading "When the wind changed: the life and death of Tony Hancock" by Clive Goodwin.
  • I am currently knitting a Forest Canopy Shawl for my aunt.
  • I am currently thinking "I wonder why I decided to start a blog on the understanding that anyone but me really cares about my life or opinions?"
  • I am currently drinking Douwe Egberts coffee.
  • The Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright really gets on my wick.

Well, that's all folks. More to come within an unspecified period. That's right; contain yourself.