England

Weekends are for…

1. Royal Wedding Parties

In spirit of last week’s post on all the negativity surrounding the royal wedding, nothing made me happier than being able to spend Friday glued to the radio, hearing of the hundreds of thousands who’d flocked to London to line the streets outside Buckingham palace, decked out with Union flags, wedding dresses and patriotic Daleks in the lead up to the event of the century. I can’t begin to describe the buzz in the air as I listened in on the outburst of national pride and excitement – despite being halfway across the world, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of your home country uniting in masses of support over such a joyous occasion. As soon as the clock hit four, I rushed home to finish our attempt at Prince William’s chocolate biscuit cake , deck the halls, lay out the spread and put on a party dress. Girlfriends arrived in style, and we spent the next six hours toasting, laughing, crying, and sitting in awe as we witnessed an historic occasion that will be talked about for generations.

Favourite moments? Prince William whispering to Kate how beautiful she looked. The nod to nature as the aisle of the stunning Westminster abbey was lined with a canopy of trees. The Bishop of London’s charismatic and powerful sermon which was composed perfectly, captivated hearts across the globe, and got major bonus points for quoting Chaucer. The music. My goodness, the music. The choral arrangements sounded like angels, and hearing Jerusalem (a patriotic, national treasure of a hymn) in full choral and orchestral arrangement ringing through the abbey, covering my arms in goosebumps and my cheeks in tears, making me positively proud to be British. Kate’s dad radiating with pride the whole day long. The human tide of support lining the mall, and Kate’s reaction to seeing it. And of course, Princess Beatrice winning the award for Most Ridiculous Hat in all of millinery history.

2.  Nerding Out

Sometimes there’s nothing better about being a fan of something than being able to share it fully with people just as passionate as you. A new season of Doctor Who is underway, and we gathered together to celebrate with a kickoff party. The wedding TARDIS made a welcome appearance, geeky t-shirts were worn with pride, and a major hand went to a die-hard friend who made us all Oreo  Dalek cake balls! The new season is excellent so far, and scarier than ever – just as it should be. Any fellow fans with thoughts on the major turn of events in episode two, thoughts are most definitely welcome!

 

3. Creating a New Space

We live in a two-bedroomed house, and with only two people, one of these rooms had inevitably turned into something that may as well have been visited by a Malon freighter. It had nothing on the walls, everything on the floor, and acted more as a storage locker for all the things that didn’t fit anywhere else in the house than an actual functioning room. When it got to the point where we could no longer remember if there had ever been a floor, we decided it was time to do something. After a few hours and cries of “Sweetie? I think I might be a hoarder…”, the closet was organised, the floor cleaned, and the paraphernalia sorted into several donation bags to go to the local Salvation Army. The room became a fresh slate – and a fresh opportunity. After scoring a few bargains on Kijiji, learning how to use power tools and spending an afternoon at Winners, our spare room is now a haven for reading, writing, and creativity. Fairy lights sit behind translucent cream drapes, candles occupy ornate decorations, and a vintage desk and antique nautical barometer are enough to make my inner history nerd rejoice! Now it’s finished, I adore retreating upstairs after a day at the office, slipping in some choral music, and reading by the candelight in our new space. 🙂

How did you spend the weekend?

A Royal Rant

This Friday marks an important date in the world’s calendar: the Royal Wedding. Now, some of you may be rolling your eyes and hovering your cursor over that red X, but I ask you to bear with me – this isn’t intended to be a gushy post of patriotism (okay, maybe a little), but to express why this event has – and rightfully deserves – captured the hearts of millions across the globe.  (Sidenote: isn’t this the most beautiful wedding image you’ve ever seen?)

Sadly, people’s reaction to my talking about the royal family usually tends to be one of apathy or of utter opposition.  I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard people say things like “why bother with a monarchy, they don’t do anything”, or even profess “hatred” toward people they don’t even know. In a way, the royal family seems to be met often in the same manner people talk about celebrities – they love to gossip, spread rumours, and thrive on stories that show them in a poor light. Just take a look at your local checkout stand, and you’ll see all sorts of defamatory headlines about pop stars or politicians, sold by the hundreds of thousands and making people throughout the world salivate. It’s awful, but it’s also a strangely intriguing behaviour – why do people try to tear down those in the spotlight without second thought to the fact that behind the magazine covers and paparazzi shots, these are real people with real feelings?

A couple of months ago I read a post from a wonderful writer.  It came following the Oscars, and really made me think:

It’s a night dedicated to people who love what they do, who pour their heart into their job at all hours of the day, and then get a bad reputation for it. They are the only people we don’t whisper about when we’re gossiping. Everyone else receives hushed voices, but for them, we gawk and squeal, and we forget that they’re someone else’s daughter or sister or son or husband. Someone else’s friends and families. They are real people with real passions. And each year, we expect more of them. We have the nerve to complain about the clothes they wear or the colour they dyed their hair. So many people in our world are guilty of the same indiscretions and yet we magnify their lives and their missteps and we forget that they stumble over all the issues that come with being human. We forget that they have to roll out of bed and go to work… that they’re real. They have big dreams, just like you and me.”

Prince William and Kate Middleton may not be movie stars, but they are real people who just so happened to be born into the public eye. They didn’t ask to be famous, they just happened to fall in love. And yet so many people in the world meet the mere mention of their names with an almost reflexive tone of scorn. Why do people do this to anyone in the spotlight? They’ll make judgment on people they don’t know, and spread rumous like wildfire without a second thought to bother questioning if there’s any truth behind them. They’ll jump on the bandwagon and spread criticism like the plague, without considering that the subjects of their scorn are real people with real feelings that can be hurt just like yours or mine.

To me, the Royal Wedding is a wonderful occasion. I love to celebrate anyone’s wedding, but there’s something special about something that only tends to happen once a generation. She’s intelligent, charming, and a beautiful role model and ambassador for England. He was raised by one of the most compassionate, caring mothers there ever was; his life was touched by tragedy and his grieving thrust across newspapers globally. Yet he faces the world with a positive attitude, does work in third-world countries, and has done a lot in his career to make the world a better place. Years ago, entire nations would rejoice at a royal event. People would hold parties and deck the streets and squeeze big groups into living rooms tightly around a little black and white television, celebrating the occasion, united and proud, happy for people that were synonymous with the country they loved so dearly.  There are still lots of people that do this – my heart gave a little leap when I saw the bunting decking the streets of London. But today, a large proportion of people seem quick to vocalise their apathy or distaste. They find reason for fault, create hateful Facebook groups, and the British security have to be out in full force thanks to the enormous range of threats to the royal family from protesters, terrorists, anarchists and anti-monarchists.

Do people really have nothing better to do with their lives than trying to take other people down?

It happens to a degree whenever somebody lands themselves in the spotlight. For every fifty people who’ll be happy for you, it seems certain that there’ll be five that will spread hate and gossip and try to rain on your parade.  A good friend of mine said it well when I last wrote about this sort of thing (after being targeted repeatedly by an Internet troll): “There’s always gonna be haters, and they only get more numerous and louder the more successful you become.”  Which is why I think it’s important to try to counter the negativity thrown carelessly about the world with kindness and support. Don’t join the bandwagon of gossip and rumours – if you don’t like something, keep quiet. Spreading hate isn’t going to do anything except make you look bad. If you’re in favour of something or someone, wear your support proudly on your sleeve. There’s enough pessimism and slander in the world already, and how are you going to feel at the end of your life when you look back and see that you chose to spend the time you were given actively trying to hurt others? Trying to tarnish reputations and ruin occasions of joy. I feel so strongly about this because I’ve been the subject of it, and I don’t want to live in a world where people are quicker to fuel the rumour mill than they are to stand up for somebody.

In two days, two good-hearted, loving people who just so happen to be under the microscope of millions across the planet, are going to celebrate their commitment to each other in a beautiful ceremony that will be talked about for years, at the heart of the country I’m proud to call home. If you have negative thoughts about the monarchy, please keep them to yourself and allow those who support them (as well as those directly involved) to have their day unhindered by hate. There is nothing worse than looking back on your once-in-a-lifetime day and remembering it for something other than the joyous celebration it deserves to be. Trust me. So, this Friday, I will be hanging my Union Jack, making the Royal Chocolate Biscuit Cake, donning fascinators and celebrating the Royal Wedding with my girlfriends as we wonder where on their journey the congratulatory cards we made for William and Kate might be. (Yes, we are secretly twelve years old. :)) 

Think for a second that whether you’re discussing a coworker or a celebrity, there are real people at the other end of your commentary. In this situation, there are real people with real feelings who’ve committed no crime other than falling in love, who would probably prefer an intimate celebration to a national event anyway.  And keep this in mind as you go about your day-to-day life, or your travels across the Internet. 

If someone passes on a rumour, question it rather than continue it. Stand by those you care about instead of keeping quiet while they’re under attack. Take a stand for positivity, and spread love in a world where it seems so easy to spread hate through text messages and cowardly anonymous comments. It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing, but it takes courage to stand up for what’s right. And on Friday, the decent thing is to show nothing but a spirit of congratulations, and allow the Prince and Princess-to-be to celebrate their love just like anyone else. Surely it can’t be too much to ask to allow them to have this one day?

Surfing on a Wave of Nostalgia for an Age Yet to Come

One of the biggest things I’m thankful for in this day and age is technology. While babysitting for a friend a couple of weeks ago, we were chatting as his wife was getting ready about how strange it is that we are getting to the point where people our age are now contributing to a new generation – one that will have access to technology from birth.  I remember, as a child, sitting next to the radio for hours (nothing’s changed there, then), cassette tape at the ready and my finger eagerly hovering over the play/record button, waiting for the chance to capture a favourite song. I remember when my parents brought home our first computer – I must have been about twelve or thirteen, and having absolutely no idea how web pages or e-mail worked. I remember a girl in my maths class being the first to get a CD burner, and being one of many kids who’d submit her a list of twenty songs… along with a five-dollar bill. I remember the days of Napster, and even though it took two hours to get a song, thinking it was the most amazing thing in the world. Don’t even get me started on the first time I was able to watch Doctor Who the same day it aired in the UK!  Heck, I remember how it felt three weeks ago when I got my first smart phone, being absolutely blown away by the fact that I could make my own ringtones, check Facebook, read blogs, watch videos, get directions and, best of all, stream live British radio which I could listen to on the go. It’s bizarre to think that my future children won’t experience any of these firsts – that they’ll have access to these things right from the get-go.

The reason this intrigued me was because recently, I found a collection of a whole load of television programmes I used to watch as a child. I burned them to a DVD, and set about introducing my husband to SuperTed, Gladiators and The Crystal Maze (why don’t game shows today involve adventure and strategy games against futuristic robots or in medieval dungeons??). When I first saw that these were even available, my husband said he hadn’t seen me as excited about anything as when I saw Sooty again, and I have to admit, I was ecstatic. 🙂 Now, I know I’m not the only one to cling to things that I enjoyed in my youth – parents across the world still play the records that were popular when they were young, grandparents do the same, and the mere mention of a popular eighties cartoon to many of my friends is almost enough to make them salivate. So what causes this phenomenon? Are we simply programmed to archive the memories of youth under a rose-tinted light?

I recently read about a study that came to the conclusion that “many 25-40 year olds don’t plan for the future because they prefer to reminisce about past times.” It showed the effect of nostalgia on current pop culture too, and the result is unmistakable: many movies, fashions, and music of late all have a significantly retro feel. Remakes of Star Trek took over the silver screen (huzzah!), children’s stories became box office hits, American Apparel lined high streets across the country with eighties-inspired gear like leggings, headbands and spandex, and the sound of new wave was born all over again. Now, as excellent as that all is, the more interesting question is that of why: why do the memories of a generation’s youth evoke such positive feelings – and why do we remember everything that filled it as being full of the best life had to offer? I think it probably has something to do with the fact that nostalgia, quite simply, makes us feel better.

I’m no psychological expert here, but my guess is that when our free time was unencumbered by chores, work, or bills, when we didn’t know anything of the world of world politics or international poverty, we had a happier and more carefree outlook on life – and that carefree outlook on life attaches itself to the memories of things that filled our youth, and thus we remember things perhaps more positively than they actually were. (Pulp’s Common People excluded – that song will remain epic regardless of generation!) According to that logic, when we re-watch a favourite childhood television programme or movie today and realise how dreadful it was (the Stargate film, anyone?), the disillusion should shatter, no? Apparently not. Today, even after watching the primitive eighties animation on YouTube, I get filled with a case of the warm fuzzies. Exposure to the things I watched while living the happy-go-lucky life of a child seems to evoke a sense of deja-vu of the mind, and consequently after said 5-minute cartoon, my thoughts are transported to a time when life was simpler and impressions were fresher  – and I end up feeling more positive.

It seems somewhat of a paradox that in the current technological age where a new model of iPad is out quicker than the entire lifespan of the Dreamcast, the Internet and range of ever-expanding TV channels are used widely to re-live experiences from the past. We watch all the programmes, films, and music videos we listened to when we were young, and the entertainment industry is capitalising on it, creating new versions of old favourites. We listen to a song we haven’t heard in twenty years and remember all the words, yet we can’t remember the phone number of someone we called last week. And the evolution of social networking sites have allowed us to get back in touch with people we knew ten or fifteen years ago – often, in the prime of our youth.

Yes, reliving things from the past can evoke positive emotions today. But on the flipside – if we remember things in a rosier hue than was perhaps real; do we run into the danger of stifling the possibility of new things, or worse, airbrushing our own personal history? If the entertainment industry is recycling old styles, shows, and trends, are we discouraging the potential for new ideas?  If the new wave and punk sounds of the late ’70s/early ’80s are being recycled twenty-five years later, then that bodes terribly for the future of music – in middle age, every radio station may be flooded with another wave of rap, auto-tune, and Ke-dollar sign-ha. By continually reminiscing about the “good old days”, is there ever going to be anything new? As well, the very essence of who we are as people is based on our accumulation of memories – if those memories are in fact distorted, then how can we look back on our life and say it was really what we think it was? Maybe I’m going off on too much of a sci-fi tangent, but the question fascinates me. I think it’s incresibly interesting how generation after generation latches onto the same period of their life and holds it in such high regard, and I’m interested to know why. Nostalgia can be a great thing – and though the consequences of reminiscence can evoke short-term positivity, I think there’s also a danger of overdoing retrospect. We may end up mentally re-writing our own existence, or hanging onto a rose-tinted past so tightly it suffocates any possibility of original thinking in the future.

What do you think? Why does each generation seem to latch onto the same period as “the good old days”? Are we conditioned to Photoshop our past to make us feel better in the present? And what effect is nostalgia going to have on the future of the entertainment industry? Lots of questions… I suppose I’m feeling rather pensive today. Pardon my ramble, but if you can’t do it on a personal blog, where can you… And bonus points for anyone who knows where the title of today’s post is from 🙂

New Marketing Strategy: Telling Your Customers to F*** Off

Firstly, I should start this story with a little background information. Some of you may remember a post from around Christmastime a couple of years ago (e-mail me for the password) regarding my family situation – my parents had separated a few years prior, and sadly, my relationship with my mother had subsequently dissolved. A few things happened throughout the years between us; things were said and tears were shed, and I spent a long time trying to maintain the relationship before finally, following lots of kind words and advice from the blogosphere, deciding to temporarily opt out – with the hopes that one day, we’d both be on the same page again. Going through Christmases, and especially wedding planning without my mum was hard – but something I’ve learned in recent years is that you can keep holding the door open, but one must make the choice intrinsically to walk through it. And now, I’m thrilled to tell you that since a few days before the wedding, she’s back in my life. In the grand scheme of things, holding onto past hurts isn’t going to pave the way for a positive future, and after receiving a lengthy letter composed of the words I’d always hoped to hear, I decided to let go, run back to that door, and welcome her in with open arms. The feeling was finally mutual, and we’ve been getting together every week or two for the last few months, talking for hours, sharing coffee, music, going shopping, and doing all the mother-daughter things I’ve been wishing for for such a long time. 🙂

So last week, I met her at Starbucks, and about two minutes into the conversation her eyes widened, and she excitedly exclaimed “I know what I was going to tell you!!” She proceeded to tell me how she’d just come from causing “a rumpus” in the local chemist’s. Oh dear, I thought, quietly counting my blessings I hadn’t been there. She’d been in a queue at the postal counter, when she noticed a big display over in the makeup aisle – a giant advertisement for a new mascara from L’Oréal Paris, displaying an attractive lady looking awfully happy about the fact that she was flipping her photographer off. My mum pulled out her phone, eager to show me the evidence she’d snapped, and my jaw hit the floor. There it was, in all its glory: The V-sign. And worse, the brand is holding a vlogging contest – entitled “Show Us Your V-Moment!”

Now, some of you may be wondering what the kerfuffle is all about. In England, flipping the V (with palm facing inward) is equivalent of giving someone the middle finger. The origin is said to have come from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt (1415), during the Hundred Years’ War. According to the story, the French claimed they would cut off the arrow-shooting fingers of all the English longbowmen after they’d won the battle, however, (naturally) the English came out victorious, and displayed the sign showing their two fingers intact as an insult to the French. Several headlines involving the Vs include a front-page tabloid proclaiming “Up Yours, Delors” with a large hand, flipping the Vs, superimposed over a Union Jack; a show-jumper being disqualified from competition over a televised V-sign at the judges; Liam Gallagher famously giving the Vs regularly to paparazzi; the opening credits of Buffy showing a British character insulting another character with the Vs; footballers being permanently banned from the national team, and comically, George Bush attempting to give the peace sign to a group of Australian farmers (where the sign means much the same as in the UK) – and instead telling them to f*** off.  Check out The Mirror‘s top ten celebrity V-flickers here.

My mother explained the significance to the lady at the postal counter, who immediately got on the phone to her manager, saying things like “customer complaining about a display with a profanity on it” and “yes, I think we should too…” before informing my mum they’d be pulling it from the shop floor. “It’s funny,” the clerk said, “L’Oréal’s a French company. Do you think they’re subtly sticking it to the Brits?”  My jaw, once again, came within grazing distance of the floor, and I quickly pulled out my phone to see if there was a European version of the ad. Sure enough, there was – with the palm facing the other way, displaying an innocent V for Victory. I couldn’t help but laugh, and we both decided that now we have different surnames, we could get away with writing in and complaining, and hoping for some free schwag!

What do you reckon? Are L’Oréal deliberately taking part in a less-than-subliminal advertising message – or is this a hilarious, innocent mistake? I feel bad for all the girls entering the contest – you might “become a YouTube star” for “showing your V”, but perhaps not quite for the reasons you were hoping.

I’m not asking you for money. I’m just asking you to think.

Friday is a massive day in the UK, and even though I’m thousands of miles away, I’m following along and trying to help as much as I can!  On the third Friday of March each year, known nationally as “Red Nose Day”, the entire country bands together to raise money in countless different ways to help impoverished or underprivileged people across the UK, and around the world.  Currently, Comic Relief is supporting projects across the world, including helping young people with mental health issues, including dealing with self-harm and suicidal thoughts; sexually exploited and trafficked young people, the elderly, those experiencing domestic or sexual abuse, local communities, and helping develop technology to better help people with disabilities. And that’s just at home. Internationally, Comic Relief is making enormous strides to help children living and working on the street, people affected by HIV and AIDS, women and girls, people affected by conflict, those living in slums, giving people access to education and healthcare, helping develop systems so communities can become self-sufficient, and protecting families from social injustice, abuse and neglect.

This may sound like I’m trying to ask you for a donation, but I’m not. Today I just want to write about this incredible cause, and just spread awareness of how big of a difference people can make if they really band together. If you’re not familiar with Comic Relief, allow me to explain: For a few weeks every March, absolutely everyone from the local postman to the nation’s favourite celebrity will be doing something to get involved in doing something to make this world a better place. Taxi drivers donate a day’s fares to the charity. Schools and workplaces have fundraisers across the country, and everyone joins in in “doing something funny for money.” Teachers lead classes of students in activities and contests; employees hold talent shows, shave their heads, walk around in costumes, run marathons, sit in baths full of baked beans, throw pies at bosses and even hold T-shirt relays, where branches of a company across the country take part in getting the shirt from one end of England to the other, having it ride all sorts of modes of transport with staff and taking in landmarks across the country.

Celebrities from all modes of entertainment get in on the action too, and raise hundreds of thousands in donations – 100% of which goes straight to changing countless lives throughout the world.  For the last few weeks, groups of celebs have given up all their creature comforts to experience life in one of the world’s most impoverished and unsanitary places – the Kibera slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. Almost 4,000 people joined in at the Royal Albert Hall to blast out Ride of the Valkyries on kazoos to break a Guiness World Record. Stars of stage and screen join together to create parodies of popular TV shows, and favourite TV programmes air short specials during which people can make a pledge to the charity.  A couple of years ago, a team of some of my favourites (including the nation’s favourite radio DJ, the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world, and the beautiful Cheryl Cole) went on a six-day trek to climb Kilimanjaro, experiencing freezing temperatures, exhaustion, and altitude sickness to raise money for malaria nets in Africa.  The six-part documentary was incredible, moving, and absolutely awe-inspiring, and I remember bawling as I watched them reach the summit, and find out they’d raised over 3.3 million pounds – over $5,000,000 through the climb alone.  This year, another team went on a hundred-kilometre trek in 100 degree heat across the desert – all in an effort to raise money for people living unimaginably tough lives in Africa and the UK. As I write, the aforementioned DJ is currently broadcasting live on  national radio for thirty-seven hours straight – they’re in the eighth hour, and are at 93 thousand pounds already.  [Update: 4:47 PM CST – at hour fifteen, they have a giant beacon of a building promoting the show towering over London, and are at a quarter of a million. Update: Thursday morning: hour THIRTY-TWO, and over £600,000 -that’s over a million dollars!!) Tomorrow night, there’ll be a TV marathon culminating celebrity activities, comedy specials, and a documentary on the desert trek, with the final amount announced to the nation on just how much they’ve done to help countless lives across the world.

It’s things like this that make me proud to be British. I wish Comic Relief could go international, and North America could build their own nation-wide team of events and activities designed to change the world. Where every TV show, radio station, and newspaper had coverage of all the things people were doing to raise money, The power of a team on this scale, where everybody is involved, is absolutely phenomenal, and though I’m not asking you to donate, I am just asking you to take a moment to think, just for a second, about how lucky you are. If you have Internet access and are simply able to read these words, you are blessed. If you don’t have to worry about dinner tonight, or if your home is going to be safe, you are blessed. If you have access to water, and working limbs, you are blessed. And just for a moment, I’d like you to reflect on the good things you really do have in your life right now. Maybe you don’t like your job, or maybe you had a fight with your boyfriend. Maybe you ran out of milk, or your laptop is broken. Maybe you missed the bus. But please, if just for a minute or two, think about the thousands of people elsewhere in the world, who are living in war-torn or impoverished countries. Who lost their vision, or a limb. Whose entire families have been taken away by a catastrophic natural disaster. Who can’t afford to provide for their children, or who die from disease leaving those children to fend for themselves, or who go home to be abused every night. If you feel moved enough to donate to Comic Relief, you can from anywhere in the world just by going here. We may not be living our ideal life, but we can count our blessings. We may not be in a position to donate, but we can spread awareness. And we may not be able to change the entire world, but we can make a dent, and go about our days with a spirit of gratitude, servanthood, and compassion.

History and Hauntings (Part Two of Two)

Continued from Tuesday’s post

So after a stunning (yet exhausting!) whirlwind trip to Madrid, I arrived back in Stevenage, a bit later than expected, since some genius managed to get his luggage on the plane and then couldn’t actually find the plane. Which resulted in missing the last bus back! But I eventually made it, and spent a bit more time with Nan, who distressingly, had had a pretty bad accident right before we’d walked in, and had injured herself severely, causing her to be laid up in bed the rest of the trip. In all her stubbornness she refused for us to call a doctor, but consented by Friday, when both a nurse and doctor visited and thankfully declared that though bruised and in a lot of pain, she hadn’t broken anything. It’s things like this that make it so incredibly difficult to be so far away, but my Dad is heading over within a few weeks, which will mean the world to her, and hopefully something can be done to help make sure she is as safe and comfortable as possible.

The next day, I visited some beautifully kept gardens at Hatfield House (where Elizabethan history began!), with another good friend, Shareen, and her boyfriend, who was great! We had afternoon tea and scones, Victoria Sponge (well worth the three pounds I put on in the last week), and talked travel, memories, and Extreme Ironing – a venture yet to come! That night, another one of my oldest friends, James, took us out to an historic little town just outside Stevenage, where we spent hours talking about everything and anything, learning about life in the military, reminiscing, laughing, and sharing hopes of the future. It still blows me away that someone I sat with in school over a decade ago, who I’ve only seen once or twice since, can still be so close and so comfortable to be around. Nights like that truly make me count my blessings.

The next day, we made way to Leeds, where I learned that booking train tickets in advance is crucial. Clearly I hadn’t; and discovered it was consequently going to cost about $200 to travel there and back! C’est la vie, I suppose – didn’t let it spoil the time I had with one of my oldest friends, who I’ve literally known since I was about nine or ten years old, and her fiancé, who was incredibly hospitable and such a laugh. After a night of dinner, exploring the city, cat cuddling and zombie fighting, he drove us into our final destination: York.  London may have a piece of my heart but I have to say York has a little part of my soul, too. It’s the most haunted city in the UK, and the sense of history that consumes you the second you cross the city’s walls is just awe-inspiring.  Surrounded on all sides, York’s streets are made of cobblestones that date back hundreds and hundreds of years. Lining them is an assortment of speciality shops, boutiques, and small pubs, one of which is built without foundations, giving rise to an inside full of warped nooks and twisted crannies with no regard to symmetry or balance at all. The walls were lined with newspaper clippings and framed ghost stories – the perfect place for a good English beer and a bite to eat on Friday the thirteenth! I squeezed the day dry, exploring the Dungeons, learning about Highwaymen, conspirators, plague and witchcraft, not to mention being scared witless as a group of us made our way through the dark. I walked a recreation of 10th century York and learned all sorts of Viking history, as well as the Shambles, an ancient street of mismatched buildings recorded as early as 1086, leading to Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral. I was led on an award-winning ghost tour where I laughed, cried, and was left wondering if I’d capture a glimpse of the plague girl abandoned by her parents, or the medieval army of ghosts. It was perfect.

I made my way back to Stevenage for a last goodbye with my Nan, a night with family friends in London, and onto the flight back – bags packed with sweets, souvenirs, and photographs, eyes heavy and jetlagged from a whirlwind of excitement, and hearts full of memories and contentment that would soon be making space for nostalgia and wanderlust.  Times like these may be few and far between, but the lifelong memories and friendships make them more than worth waiting for. This week, it’s back to work, back to reality, back to ROSE KITTEN, and back to catching up with all of you who I missed terribly! I took a look at my Reader, which is pretty close to 300 unread. Not going to lie – that’s a pretty scary number. So tell me all what you’ve been up to for the last two weeks – and I promise, I’ll get round to catching up on everything ASAP. 🙂  And as an ad said quite aptly on the plane:

Onto planning the next trip! I don’t think I’ll ever get the travel bug out of my system, not ever. Prague, Italy, more of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and India are all very much still on my list, and I have every intention of exploring every one inside out. One day…

Oh England, my Lionheart (Part One of Two)

Oh England, my Lionheart,
I’m in your garden, fading fast in your arms
Flapping umbrellas fill the lanes
My London Bridge in rain again
Oh England, my Lionheart
Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park
You read me Shakespeare on the rolling Thames
That old river poet that never, ever ends
Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in,
And keep the tower from tumbling
Oh England, my Lionheart,
I don’t want to go

– Kate Bush

WARNING: This WAS going to be my longest post ever, and there was going to be a serious high five waiting for you if you made it all the way through – I did SO MUCH on this trip, I couldn’t leave anything out! However I think breaking it into more manageable pieces is probably for the best, so this is just part one. 🙂

It seems I’ve arrived back in one piece, and I cannot begin to describe how quickly the last two weeks seemed to pass. Or how mortified I was to have had to go back to work on extreme jet lag and a throat which may as well have been full of razorblades the morning after landing!  The trip was nothing short of breathtaking – visits with friends I’ve known over half my life; the feeling of pure belonging while roaming the streets of London by night, high on post-West End Musical awe and excitement while simultaneously thrilled at the feeling of sharing the grandeur of thousand year old monuments. Getting lost in a country not speaking the language and exploring another culture; seeing family and loved ones and moving on again in a whirlwind journey to the country’s most haunted city, full of gothic architecture, cobblestones, and ghosts. It was perfect, though all over far, far too fast.

The trip started in one of my favourite places in the world: London. I don’t know if you’ve ever been away from home before (though I suppose London is a train ride away from the place I should truly call home), but every time I see a reference to the city on Doctor Who, have BBC radio playing on a Friday morning at work, or hear another English accent, my ears perk up along with my heartbeat and I feel an enormous sense of longing to be back there again. Sweet and I arrived at our hotel, which was a stone’s throw from Big Ben, the London Eye, and all things iconic and dreadfully, wonderfully touristy. Which, after a brief nap, I threw myself into headfirst.

Initially, I went on my first international blogger meetup with the lovely Stephen Ko, where I overindulged in proper sausages, mash, and copious amounts of gravy. We then headed off to explore the city’s museums, which Stephen was kind enough to lead us to, though I must admit an hour’s sleep in over 24 hours didn’t make me the most brilliant of company! That night though, I must have got a second wind, and set off for what was certain to be a highlight: Wicked! I’d seen the show once a few years ago, and it was the best thing I’d ever seen, and once again, it was nothing short of gobsmacking. Dazzling costumes and special effects combined with incredible songwriting and world-class singers, and by the end of it, I was so thrilled with the evening ($12 for a drink aside – forgivable, since it was Pimm’s!) I decided to walk back through the streets of London by night. Illuminated monuments and landmarks were at every turn, and I arrived back, perhaps a hundred photographs later, and collapsed in a happy heap. Roaming London after dark should very well have been dangerous, so I hear, but I felt no sense of fear, only an incredible feeling of belonging. I must say a good part of my heart will forever lie in that city.

With the next day came my NEXT blogger meetup – brunch with Aly, who was absolutely lovely (she even left me with a little koala bear!). She took me to a favourite place of hers, where we talked for hours, feasted on pancakes, fruit and clotted cream, and discovered an amazing secret: our little table was in fact an old desk, and was the only one, it appeared, with a drawer. Aly opened it and found a secret stash of notes – on receipts, napkins, notepaper – little notes of love, hopes, appreciation and dreams, to which we of course added our own. It was quite remarkable, and made for quite the magical morning.

After moving on to Stevenage, my home town (as well as teen pregnancy and chav capital of England), I was shocked at its deterioration. The walk from the train station to my Nan’s should have been filled with little shops, friendly faces, a picturesque duck pond and flower gardens at every step. I’m not sure if it was a trick of the memory of youth, severe degradation, or a combination of both, but the streets I grew up on were no longer as I remembered. The pond was caged off; a rank quagmire of mud, shopping trolleys, and birds no longer able to swim. The shops had all closed down, and the streets were covered in rubbish and trodden-in gum. But I was going to see Nan. The last time I’d visited was two years ago, when she was still very much herself; in a sling, yes, but in good spirits and perfectly able to come out with us, to cook, and to hug. When I walked into her living room, I almost didn’t recognise her. She’d lost a lot of weight, as well as her glasses, and her hair had grown out, shining and white, making her look small, frail. She’d broken both shoulders, and was unable to extend her arms, and seemed consumed by the armchair which I’m certain hadn’t moved in years. But then she opened her mouth to speak, and then she was Nan again. Fiesty and opinionated as ever, and beyond thrilled to see me. Everything was okay once she spoke, and the next day we went out with her wheelchair, her first exposure to the outside world in two months. It meant so much to be able to do something for her.

That night we met up with Kier, one of my oldest friends in the world, for some drinks, pub food, and hours of talking and reminiscing. It felt wonderful to be able to share in his company again and I only wish the time didn’t have to be so fleeting, or the distance quite so far. We met again for a brief brunch later on in the trip, where he surprised me with a gift – a Star Trek bottle opener and a star ready for naming up there in the beautiful night sky. The thoughtfulness was incredible, and I must admit I shed a few tears on the way home that such good friends must be so far away.

I didn’t spend much time in one place – I only had nine days left of holiday time from work, and two of them were spent on the journey there and back, so I REALLY crammed everything in. Next day I headed off to Madrid, Spain – a city I’ve never seen. After a plane ride where I was sat in front of two of my least favourite things in the world (a seat-kicking, screaming baby), I arrived in the middle of siesta time, when everything shuts down for a few hours and people retire for a brief nap to energise for the night ahead. I hadn’t realised my hotel was in The Dodgy End, either, so the initial impression of deserted, streets covered in graffiti was slightly disappointing – until I asked reception what there was for evening entertainment, and was pointed to the Metro station, similar to London’s Underground, which took me to the heart of the nation’s capital.

Elegant, ornate building fronts combined with enormous billboards to envelop us in a city of culture. Nobody seemed to speak a word of English, but I’d been told of a hidden little Michelin Star restaurant, considered one of the “top 1,000 things to do before you die”, where I’d find fantastic food and see some of the world’s best flamenco dancers, which was supposedly a 10 minute walk from the train station. 10 minutes ended up being well over an hour, which had been filled with getting lost and exploring streets full of cathedrals, cityscapes and architecture (not to mention rather sore feet), but eventually, we found the Corral de la Morería, found my seat, and experienced a night of breathtaking entertainment. The next morning, I got up bright and early to visit the grand cathedral and the Palacio Real, where I was heartbroken to find I wasn’t allowed to take photos. A REAL PALACE, from the outside in, where I saw such elaborate decor – gold embellished walls, ceiling frescos, a dining hall which very well could’ve been a mile long, and the thrones upon which King and Queen sat only a few hundred years ago. It was remarkable, and I left thoroughly satiated in beauty, history and culture, before arriving back to a shocking and distressing surprise…

Going to stop here, as this marks about halfway – the rest to come on Thursday, along with stories of the most incredible, most haunted, most beautiful and one of the oldest cities in the world. Thanks for your patience 🙂

Of Pirates, Poetry and Prayers

I’m not going to lie, this week and last have been lots of things, but the victory prize goes to exhaustion! Not in a bad way – work has been packed with learning, meeting new people, and creating copious amounts of curriculum leaving little time for anything else. Except that what little time has been leftover, I’ve been filling to the brim with STUFF.  Theatre (the city’s enormous Fringe festival is in town. Read: 155 plays; sleep is on the backburner!); friends from far away staying with us for 2 weeks; weddings, new experiences, and family stuff. It’s left me running on adrenaline, excitement, nerves and of course, way too much coffee, so I think I may be taking a bit of a break from blogging until later next week when I have time to gather my thoughts.  So much stuff has been going on that today’s post is a tad disjointed, so please forgive me!

The Winnipeg Fringe is seriously my absolute favourite time of year. Huge theatre companies, solo shows, musicians, contortionists, comedians… you name it, if it can go on stage and entertain people, it will happen in Winnipeg in July.  Each year’s Fringe also has a theme – we’ve had the frightfest “Night of the Living Fringe”, James Bond, Vegas, a Fringe “Factory”, Cowboys, and this year – everything Science Fiction (I KNOW!).  The Exchange District is a BEAUTIFUL part of town, full of old buildings, ornate architecture, and little boutiques full of vintage clothing and music. But it’s also sadly one of the dodgier areas for most of the year, bridging downtown and the North End (think crime and poverty), and, for the most part, deserted.  Streets are empty and a slight feeling of danger lurks in the air (maybe because I’m a bit of a girl when I walk alone at night!). But in July, everything changes. Hundreds of artists take over the city; dance halls, upstairs book shops, pubs and even the streets become performance spaces, home to a thriving community of arts lovers. Colour and creativity radiate from every corner, and every conceivable surface is turned into prime advertising space for shows ranging from the hilarious to the moving, the haunting to the incredible, the brilliant to the downright bizarre. This week, I’ve seen a one man riot, a brilliant true story of one man’s joke gone wrong that shot him to international stardom, two actors playing one man as they deliver spitfire comedy in Freud vs. His Ego, Cirque du Soleil-esque 19th century pirates, a stunning romantic tale told through tin can radio, described as  “part fairytale, part vaudeville routine, part old-fashioned love story… the theatre show The Decemberists would create if Roald Dahl directed them.” This weekend we have one of the funniest men I’ve ever seen on top of a parody of everything Europop – it’s my favourite two weeks of the year, and this year I’m thrilled a good friend of mine (who visits every year doing shows) happens to be staying with us. All this culture is fantastic, but I’d be lying if I said my sleep pattern hasn’t been affected 🙂

In less than two weeks, I will be heading home to England with Sweet, for his first time to Europe. We’re chiefly going to visit family and friends that won’t be able to make it over for the wedding (it’s a long way, a lot of money, and December in Winnipeg pretty much qualifies for Arctic conditions) – so they get to meet him, and so he gets to see home! I have mixed feelings about the trip – I’m so excited to go home, see friends, see sights and castles and stock up on Angel Delight – but I’m also nervous. I had word earlier in the week that my Nan, who most of you know was in hospital from late 2009 – early summer, doesn’t remember being in there at all, neither does she remember my Dad’s visit from earlier this year. One of my biggest fears is a loved one losing memories of our time together, and worse, forgetting people – my Dad says she remembers we’re coming to visit, but I’m terrified one day she won’t remember me.  It breaks my heart to even think about, and this trip is going to be one of mixed emotions.  If you could spare a thought or prayer for her, I’d really appreciate it.

These past few weeks have also brought about big changes in terms of socialising. I’ve always been a big advocate for putting things out into the Universe, and an even stronger believer that the Universe is pretty amazing when it comes to delivering.  I don’t want to alienate anyone by talking about something that’s very personal to each and every individual, but let’s just say I’ve been very blessed on a number of occasions  over the last few months in which I’ve prayed… and my requests have been fulfilled. I believe more and more that there is a path that’s set for each of us, and sometimes we don’t understand why things happen… but there are certain things that are meant to be, certain people we were meant to meet and share experiences with, and certain people who we’re better off without. Recently I’ve experienced both.

Finding meaningful friendships and people who were genuine, who’d be around for the long haul, was something I’d wished for back in the Spring, and since then, people have arrived in my life who have welcomed me with open arms, talked and shared and listened like good friends, and have just felt 100% natural, fun and comfortable to be around.  I am so lucky to have crossed paths recently with so many awesome people.  On the other hand, people who had been around for previous chapters in my life, who, though still present, brought with them unnecessary disputes, stress, and a feeling of uncertainty, have recently had those doors closed. When we’re younger, I think we place such importance on popularity, sometimes at the expense of sincerity – we’re more content with lots of people who may turn their backs at the drop of a hat than we are with a small handful of amazing souls who’ll stand by through anything. I have a feeling I’m experiencing the tides turning, and I’m beyond excited to be able to start a brand new chapter.

Work! My first month is almost at an end, and it’s been full of training and learning and opportunities to create new and better ways to serve people, to empower them, and to contribute to the community. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few fits of tears worrying about not being good enough, or learning quickly enough, but I have to remember we’re all in the same boat, and we all have the same goal: to work to make people’s lives better. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have been given this opportunity, and though quite possibly the biggest challenge yet, I’m ready for launch come August. I can’t wait to see everything that happens over the course of the next year.

And lastly, there’s less than a week to go until the Weddingbells contest ENDS!! I have been in this competition for eleven months and words cannot come close to doing justice to how much I’ve appreciated everyone who’s stuck by me throughout this journey. Six days left, and trust me, after being in the semi finals I know how quickly a big lead can turn into a close call – I have so much love and appreciation for all your votes so far, and if you could keep spreading the word over the next few days, I promise I’ll never ask you to do anything again! 🙂  You have been absolute STARS!!

I’m off to spend the week soaking up the arts – see you all next week. Have a great one 🙂

Oh, Canada…

Yesterday was Canada day.

[Church bells chime in the distance. Insert tumbleweed.] No, I’m kidding. 🙂

I’ve lived in this country for ten years this year, and though I may have the occasional moan about disliking Winnipeg, Canada Day always kicks my arse into gear with fireworks, flags, performances and MORE cake, since it also happens to fall on Sweet’s birthday.  You all know I’m pretty patriotic when it comes to England. I post videos all over the place, burst into tears of pride at Britain’s Got Talent, have BBC radio accompanying me a good 12 hours out of every day, and am on an ongoing mission to convert all my friends to Dr. Who loving Anglophiles. I’m probably going to be rocking Union Jack socks at my own wedding. National pride is something I think the Brits do really well – they still flock together to support things their nation does brilliantly. And not so brilliantly, if you count their last World Cup game.  It really makes me proud! But this week, on Canada Day? I wanted to take a second to forget all the things I dislike about where I live, join in with the rest of the nation and really appreciate the great things about this country to make it a day worth celebrating.

I love Canada for the education it’s given me, both scholarly and socially. I arrived fresh from a school of tucked in shirts and scoldings for more than one pair of earrings, where everyone was part of a sea of conformity. I was blown away on my first day in a real high school, where there were people of every clique or style imaginable. Sure, I spent my lunch hours in the physics room with the other IB nerds making science jokes and eating pizza with a knife and fork. But it doesn’t mean I wasn’t introduced to an enormous variety of people. I got to geek out in a program designed for kids who loved learning. I got to take classes with people who did improv and wore blue Mohawks and let me join their punk band. I got to experience a culture so drastically different from everything I’d grown up with, and I loved it.

Nobody hates Canada. I’m living in the friendliest country in the world! In France, the natives will turn their noses up at you. In America, they’ll tell you to go back home and throw things at your baseball supporting, Canadian flag-bearing classmates. (Yes, I can vouch for this first-hand.) In England, you’ll walk cobblestone streets – covered in gob, pigeon poo and old chewing gum. But in Canada? Even the homeless tell you to have a nice day!

Living here, I get to experience a real white Christmas. Nothing can top spending Christmas eve huddled up inside with a warm mug of Baileys and hot chocolate, or popping out to grab some milk in deserted, twilit streets, freshly covered with the softest, sparkliest, most ABUNDANT snow I’ve ever seen. Sure, it sucks that we spend 8 months a year below zero. But there’s something magical about December in Canada, when the world almost transforms into the forests of Narnia.

It’s cheap to live here. Like, beyond ridiculously cheap. Allow me to demonstrate my living expenses for all my international readers. I live in a two-storey, pretty new house with hardwood floors, two big bedrooms, ten minutes away from downtown on a beautiful little street facing the river, with the downtown skyline in the distance. There’s no crime in my area, it’s close to everything, and the view is gorgeous. There’s a riverside path leading anywhere you want to go, and you can walk for miles under canopies of trees. Sure, there’s about a bazillion mosquitoes. But that’s small peanuts. (Ask me this again in a month.) My rent? $950 per month. Split between two. That’s $910 US. Six hundred quid. People are astonished when they hear how cheap it is to live here.  Every time I want to move back home, I stop in my tracks and remind myself I’d have to work three jobs just to be able to afford a tiny little flat.

Summers here are beautiful. The skies are forever blue, the streets filled with festivals celebrating the arts, theatre, music, diversity and culture.  I’m so excited there’s still another two months of it. And maybe best of all? It’s DRY. (No frizz!)  But most importantly, Canada has brought me everything that’s shaped the last ten years of my life. It’s brought me culture. It’s where I learned I had a passion for design, for learning, and for writing. It has made me realise how much I love England, which, maybe I’d never have appreciated had I remained there. It’s dragged me through hellish situations which have given rise to a huge desire to grow. It’s where I shaped my friendships, grew closer with family, and learned of the kind of person I want to be. It brought me pain and passion, highs and lows, longings and gratitude, all the while giving me a landscape of natural beauty and extreme seasons. This country does battle together. Anyone who lives in Arctic conditions for two thirds of their lives are pretty tough cookies. But they’re also the friendliest, nicest people I’ve ever met.

Lastly – Arcade Fire anyone? Most of you know I’m passionate about great music, and though I am guilty of favouring British bands, Canada has produced one of the most amazing bands in a very long time. This is the band that was formed by a husband and wife team, went on to add tonnes more members, along with harps, accordions and string sections, and became nominated for 5 Brit Awards, 3 Grammys and 6 Junos, and more. They recorded their stunning second album in a defunct church, including the haunting Intervention, full of church organs, choirs, and lyrics that continue to wrench at the heartstrings half a decade on.Way to go Canada, for producing something this brilliant.

I may have been waving my England flag strong and proud during this World Cup, but this Canada Day? Here’s to you, Canada, for everything you’ve taught me, shown me, and been to me. I know I’ll whinge when the mosquitoes hit hard, and I know I’ll whinge harder when I’m stuck at a bus shack next February picking icicles off my eyelashes. But today, I’ll celebrate with the rest of the nation, for all the great things this country really is.  It’s important to count our blessings every once in a while, after all, right?  Happy birthday Canada – and happy birthday Sweet!

Germany Killed The Radio Star (and why that’s A-OK)

This weekend was a whirlwind of musicals, radio shows, Greek history lessons, babies, Daleks, candlelit hot yoga (check!) and, of course, football.  Friday night we went to see RENT, one of my favourite musicals, which was as always, brilliant, after which we came home to finalise the tracklisting and do a bit of research for the RADIO SHOW we’d be hosting Saturday afternoon. There was a battle raging inside me between ridiculous levels of excitement and downright terror, but after some late night text reassurance and the comfort in taking Sweet on the air with me, I gave in to the former. Saturday afternoon, we arrived with CDs and notes in hand, ready to go – until we got about 20 minutes into the show and realised we were going to run out of music before the hour was up! We ended up going off on random tangents about inventions, traumatising videos and Britney Spears’ Photoshopped legs to fill up the time, and in between trivia, bad jokes and some of the best music around, we finished up with about 10 seconds to spare. I was thrilled by the end of it, and I’m totally excited to do it all over again next week!

The rest of the evening was spent with curry, Scrabble and the Dr. Who finale – a debrief for another time (sidenote: I want that ‘something blue’ at my wedding) – and then Sunday morning rolled around. The England v. Germany game. Let’s just say that nervous feeling I had in the pit of my stomach was well-warranted. I could finish the rest of this post ranting about ignored handballs and twatty referees who couldn’t see a goal if the ball sprouted arms and legs and started dancing around the net singing Three Lions, but you know what? Germany deserved that win, not just for their amazing  swiftness and ninja-like reflexes, but for everything you can take away after the game.

Looking at the German team, it’s pretty easy to make parallels between gameplay and real life, and lessons to learn in order to flourish.  Let’s take a look at the team before the game. They’d just had an embarrassing loss to Serbia, were facing a team who’d just surprised the world and beat the pool frontrunners, and their country’s faith in the team was waivering – just looking at the white out of the crowd, with cries of God Save the Queen almost drowing out the swarm of vuvuzelas, the support in the stadium was heavily English. The game even began with the German anthem being booed.  But Germany triumphed – England were indecisive, too deliberative in the brief windows of opportunity with which Germany had no hesitation in grabbing by the horns.  Take a look at that for a second. They were outnumbered 3-1 in terms of fan support, clearly not the stadium favourites, heckled and cursed for a good 90 minutes – but they went ahead and blew it out of the park anyway. Am I the only one that finds that inspiring?

I guess it hit home a little bit because it’s been somewhat a theme of the last little while – trying to do big things when the odds are stacked against you. When you’re popular, or seen as successful, or have a great job or social group or whatever to fall back on, you can afford to take your time; weigh out the pros and the cons, take the easy route of sticking to what’s comfortable because you know you’ll always be safe.  Well in England’s case yesterday, it didn’t work. Germany latched onto those tiny windows of opportunity, defying a crowd of 40,000 supporting the rivals, and won spectacularly.  I think there’s a lesson there – if you want to succeed at something, even if you’re not popular, even when people are actively trying to take you down – instead of succumbing to defeat or retaliation, prove them all wrong and just be brilliant. I know in my life, there are people who still see me as the anxiety-ridden, awkward social misfit I was a couple of years ago. But I think we all have a choice – let other people define you as something negative, or take a leaf from Germany’s book, choose to actively try and defy expectations, and prove that you can be something.  As bitter as I probably should be about the loss, I’m proud of Germany for taking action and advantage of every opportunity. I think it’s something we can all apply to our daily lives.

You’ve got to hand it to England though – their sole moment of glory came in the form of a single goal – caused by the player being punched in the face with a football. Which, if nothing else, made for pure comedy gold. 🙂

Chock full of pride and inspiration. With strong possibility of popping and locking.

A couple of months ago, I posted something I’d been holding back for a little while: how I honestly feel about living away from England.  Though I still don’t quite feel at home here, I am thankful for everything my time in Canada has taught and brought me… but every once in a while I can’t help but feel terribly homesick.

Like the whole of last week, when a small phenomenon known as Britain’s Got Talent took over the UK and the whole of the Internet. Now, stay with me here, I know America’s Got Talent has a bit of a bad reputation – but BGT brought us Susan Boyle, Paul Potts, and Diversity – the street dance crew that set the bar for the future of modern dance, combining innovative DJing, INSANE synchronization, unpredictable moves, comedy, surprises and stories throughout, pretty much rendering every former style obsolete.  I remember watching last year’s final, eating my tea with my mouth open and my fork stuck mid-air, not being able to take my eyes off them for a second.

This year, I was a little nervous the acts wouldn’t live up to last year’s standard. But with the strange, the compelling yet vomit-worthy (yes, a regurgitator made it to the semi finals – and tore at the country’s heartstrings!), and the downright bizarre have also come moments of sheer genius that have given me goosebumps, and had me giving standing ovations in my living room, applauding like a madwoman. (This is why we have curtains.)

What I love about this competition is that it gives the opportunity to showcase not only variety, but imagination, something different, and gives ordinary people a platform upon which to surprise the world. This year’s final was nothing short of STUNNING, and I honestly had no idea who’d take the title for 2010 and go on to perform for the Queen. Here are some of the acts that made my SPINE tingle with awesomeness:

Spelbound – a young gymnastics troupe who auditioned to Carmina Burana, with routines including human cannonballs, bodies as skipping ropes, launching bodies over the judging panel and SUPER HUMAN STRENGTH, balancing upside down, on their heads, sideways on a single hand, building stories, drama, and will literally make your jaw drop to the floor. I’ve never seen anything quite so exhilarating and awe-inspiring (and so proud they’ll be representing the country – amazing winners!!)

Tobias Mead, a 22-year old “body popper” whose limbs and joints appear to be held on by jelly, or string… who absolutely defies physics and throws in totally creepy and downright GENIUS imagination. Probably the most mind blowing two minutes you’ll ever see.  Plus, he’s gorgeous. LOVE him:

Tina & Chandi. The first human-canine dance team I’ve ever seen – this dog does whole routines, ballet, Sinatra, and the can-can all in perfect timing. Their bond reeks of absolute devotion to one another and it’s one of the most simultaneously adorable and impressive acts ever:

And I couldn’t leave out everyone’s favourite 80-something diva, Janey Cutler. A great grandmother from Scotland who’s delightfully oblivious, endearingly full of absolute joy, and belts it out just as well as Shirley Bassey and Whitney Houston. I ADORE her spirit, her strength, her absolute DARLING personality, and the fact the her massive voice blew the entire nation away. NAN’S GOT TALENT!!

The finale was made up of all these acts, as well as a street dance comedy double act, the man of a thousand voices (<3), another Susan Boyle moment with the petrified but incredible opera-singing ACCOUNTANT, the smallest boy band in the world, a UFO flying drummer and more… I’ve always been a little bit patriotic, but after being thoroughly blown away last week, I HAD to share with you one of the things that really make me love Great Britain.  I had no idea who’d possibly win this year…but it’s confirmed that one of the things on my 26-before-26 list is going to be learning to sing and DANCE.

Not ballroom dancing or hopping about my kitchen (although Ashalah may argue the latter)… but actually moving. Like Tobias!! I want to dance (and sing), even if I start from nothing. Even if it’s not for me – I want to try!! This year’s competition has filled me with pride and inspiration, so they’re both going on the list.

I hope you loved this lot as much as I did. 🙂

Quickhits of Happy

This week has been going all sorts of wonderfully, and I had to share with you guys – in bullet-pointy goodness:

  • On Tuesday, I officially started in my new position at work. I arrived like a total keener at 7:15 after the long weekend, and the first thing I did was not setting up my computer… it was decorating!!  I have two big windows, blinds, tonnes of space for photos and plants… I absolutely love it! I must admit that it is a little different having my own space and I do miss my old officemates, but we’ve started making plans outside of work. Which is lovely 🙂 I’m learning tonnes in my new role, too, and am being given all sorts of marketing and promotion responsibility – which is perfect!
  • I also secured some contract work through a good friend, which has been keeping me busy and allowing me to be creative, and gain some more design experience (for a pretty big company, too), all adding to the portfolio. Three hurrahs for networking, and big thanks to ItStartsWith.Us’s Nate St. Pierre!
  • Great Skype dates with blog friends and surprise packages in the mail are awesome. Thanks to Jen for the beautiful handmade apron!
  • Tonight I start my Creative Writing class – as much as I love blogging and writing articles, I’m looking forward to more imaginative writing opportunities too, and hopefully I’ll meet some new people while I’m there. I’m excited, but I kind of feel like a bit of a noob never having attended the college before 🙂
  • More good news came this week regarding Nan – last time I wrote, she’d taken a turn for the worse, but this week, after speaking to my dad, it seems our prayers were heard – the reason for her confusion was because she was being put on morphine and sedatives constantly – which was awful. She’s been moved to a different place, where she has the option for pain killers but is choosing not to take them, and is being given rehabilitation exercises to help her get better. My dad spoke to her this week, and said she is sounding much like herself again – I’m thrilled!! Thank you SO much for all your kind thoughts and prayers…
  • And perhaps the best news of all this week is that Sweet and I will be visiting her in August. We decided instead of taking a honeymoon after the wedding, it was more important to go see Nan so they could both meet before the wedding, and I’ll get to see my friends, my home, my country… and show Sweet where I grew up. We leave for England on the 5th August for ten days, and already have our first day planned sightseeing, taking in a West End musical, museums, and staying over in a posh hotel. Ooh, and Stephen? International blogger meetup? 🙂  The rest of the trip will be spent visiting Nan, travelling by train like proper tourists, catching up with old friends, and hopefully a day trip or two to Ireland or France while we’re there. Our pockets are definitely hurting, but I think it’s most definitely worth it. I can’t wait to tell Nan the news, and to see her again – she’ll be over the moon!!

What are some highlights of your week so far?

No French Pirates

When I first moved to Canada from the UK, I knew there were going to be differences.  Especially in the language department.  I knew that Ts would be pronounced as Ds, I’d be going to the washroom instead of the loo, and I’d have to end my relationship with the letter U.  But it’s been nine and a half years, and I’m now pretty much certified to communicate. 

It was only recently that I’ve started picking up little bits of French here and there (I know, I’m from a country where this came second to God Save the Queen as the national anthem) – I’m marrying into an extensively French-speaking family, so it’s only natural I’m going to pick things up here and there.  I can understand what’s being said at the dinner table, and I can usually read outdoor signage, but though I can’t yet speak the language, I did notice something rather conspicuous  this weekend on a packet of biscuits:

I’d bought these to dunk in my tea, not just for the lovely melted chocolate, but in a day and age where women’s hearts skip a beat at the thought of Johnny Depp in dreadlocks and a bandana, you can’t deny the power of a wonderfully nautical name. 

But then there was the French side.

I double checked with Sweet.  “Mr. Christie’s small chocolate pieces?” He nodded.  “But what about the pirates?”

I learned in school that there was no French word for breakfast;  it was “small lunch”.  There was no word for weatherman, and, as George Dubya taught us, there was definitely no French word for “entrepreneur”.  If they needed the words, they’d just use the English ones, preceding them with “le”.  But this weekend, I learned that there was no French word for “Ahoy”.  They hadn’t even Franglicised it.  And Mr. Christie had a silly sounding product indeed. 

He did borrow something off the English, though. 

That’s right – Mr. Christie may make good cookies, but Mr. Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes.

Sweet and I are this close to booking a trip back to England this summer – he’s never been to Europe, I miss it dreadfully and I’d love for him to be able to meet my nan.  He’s already made a few additions to his vocabulary – he’ll happily call someone a git, and even writes kitchen roll on the shopping list – but I can’t wait to see lollipop ladies, enjoy a 99, and come home and make jackets for tea.

Cowell’s Stranglehold?

Recently, there’s been an outburst of attacks on smash UK reality show The X Factor.  For those not in England, the show’s basically American Idol, but good.  Four judges (including Mr. Cowell) each mentor a category (Girls, Boys, Groups, and Over 25s), pitted against each other for their act to win the competition.  They go through initial auditions in front of thousands, bootcamp at the judges’ homes, and lives shows on an enormous stage with pyrotechnics, smoke and confetti cascades.  Winner gets a hundred thousand pound recording contract, and total world domination (Leona Lewis, anyone?). 

I’ve been watching faithfully for years now, and I suddenly feel like a minority in a war between the masses.  There’s the pop-loving, Britney-singing X Factor faithfuls who’ll buy anything remotely connected to the show (and whose musical taste is determined solely by who’s currently at the top of the charts, and who they heard in the club last weekend).  Then there’s the other half – the recent outburst of celebrities giving a voice to the music snobs (hey, I’m a music snob too, I’m allowed to say that), Sting for one claiming the show is a “soap opera which has nothing to do with music”, and Calvin Harris, who crashed another awful “Jedward” (two bratty little tone-deaf twin brothers who jump about the stage, rapping to Queen songs) performance, running across the stage with a pineapple clutched to his head.  

His aim was to vocalise the growing concern of the state of the music industry.  In recent years, we’ve seen incredible artists emerging out of the UK, but now, in Harris’s words, “it’s like a frightening stranglehold that Simon Cowell has got over the entire music chart in the UK at the moment.”  

Growing up, the phenomenon of the Christmas number one was something exciting to look forward to. After the turkey, presents and mince pies were done with, the family would gather around the TV to watch Top of the Pops, and see who’d won the battle of the charts for the all important top spot.  Since X Factor inception, the spot’s been a guaranteed win for whoever comes out of the show on top, or the annual charity single sung by the year’s top twelve contestants (always a cover, always a ballad, always so horribly Westlife). 

I love the X Factor.  I think it’s great entertainment, not to be taken too seriously, and a fun way of spending your Saturday night in the cold leadup to Christmas.  I’m also passionate about British music, and hate to see publicity taken away from real, talented musicians struggling to make it in a world dominated by reality TV.  I’m not going to stop watching the show.  But I’m not going to stop supporting the little guys, either.

UK / Ireland Trip

So I thought about writing a “summary” when I was on the plane home from my UK trip, didn’t have a pen or a laptop, so it’s coming a bit late. I’ve been back 4 days now and I’m in a bit of a post-Europe-blues phase – my trip was all too short and I can’t believe it’s over already. I’ve already started a weekly savings transfer thing so by this time next year, I’ll have enough to be able to go back, and possibly stay longer in Dublin and see some kind of awesome music festival too.

I got there to find Sophie waiting for me at the airport with a fun little sign she’d made me, and we went through London, stopped for an amazing baguette lunch (seriously, baguettes full of chicken curry are the way forward!) and Ribena, had a quick detour to the Arsenal stadium and then on to Stevenage finally. I was knackered but it did take me 4 or 5 days to get used to the time difference!

My first Saturday there was spent in London with 3 of my favourite people in the entire world. Met up with Sophie, Jayde and James and we started off trying to be all intellectual and cultured by going to the Victoria & Albert, but shortly decided we needed something far more juvenile and headed for the Science Museum instead, where we played interactive toilet-catching games and went on the Spongebob Squarepants simulator ride, which was brilliant!! Then we took the tube to “lunch” – which ended up being a surprise trip to the Doctor Who Exhibition at Earl’s Court, which I had no idea even existed. Best surprise EVER!! I love my friends!! Took tonnes of pictures, spent far too much money and then had a happy pub lunch afternoon in Covent Garden. Wrapped up the day with a posh night out in the West End seeing Wicked the musical, which was just phenomenal. I got home that night at about midnight and I just cried – partly because I was sad I didn’t get to see these wonderful people again for goodness knows how long, but mostly because I was just so happy to have spent an amazing day with people I love.

Monday I headed to Dublin – and unfortunately got a right cold that morning, so wasn’t exactly feeling great, but I got to the airport early (I was all paranoid I’d miss the bus and then miss my plane) only to find my flight had been delayed a bazillion hours, so I ended up spending the whole day in the Departures Lounge, which made for very fun times indeed. Missed out on an ENTIRE afternoon in Dublin, but eventually got there and David was still waiting for me, thank goodness!! So we checked into our hotel and hopped on the Ghost Bus Tour which was totally cheesy but tonnes of fun, and really interesting to learn about all the haunted places and creepy stories from medieval Dublin. I was definitely being hit hard with the man flu by the end of the night, and it turned out to be a bank holiday so there wasn’t anywhere open past 11, which was slightly rubbish – I’d been looking forward to a drink and some Celtic music in a proper Irish pub! But we settled for fish & chips at some random shop and just stayed in catching up ‘til about 3:00 in the morning which was lovely all in itself. The next day was a WHIRLWIND of touring and sightseeing. There was a 23-stop tour bus but we only made about 5 or 6 of the stops – I think even if we did have more than a day there, we still wouldn’t have been able to see it all! I really wish we could have had just one more day though – there were so many beautiful, beautiful buildings and just so much history to take in. I was completely awestruck when we went to Trinity College, where the Book of Kells is currently kept. Ireland has been my number one place I want to go for the longest time, and the Book of Kells is one of those “I have to see this before I die” things that you always have on these lists but never expect you’ll actually get to see. But there it was, and I just got so overwhelmed that I just started crying (again!). I can’t describe how it was to be in the presence of something so historically epic and beautiful. I fell in love with Trinity College and I’ve seriously been thinking if I do go back to school, eventually, that’s definitely where I’m going to go. The rest of the day was spent with lots of other sightseeing, including the Guinness Storehouse – we toured the brewery, learned all about Guinness and got to enjoy a free pint at the top of the plant, overlooking the entire city, which was beautiful. The flight back to England came way too quickly and I headed back to rainy old Stevenage from a beautiful day in Ireland, exhausted but happy to have spent it in such wonderful company and full of knowledge about the city. Did I mention I fell in love with Dublin??

The rest of my trip in the UK I spent visiting people, shopping, and got together with a bunch of old school friends on Thursday night at the pub. It’s ridiculous that it’s been 8 years since I’ve seen some of these people, but amazing that it’s been that long and people like Sophie I still talk to on a daily basis despite being halfway round the world. I saw a little notecard out there, with “No matter where you are, it’s your friends who make your world” written on it, and definitely took it to heart.

My last night was spent back in London, playing Wii fitness and with a proper Indian meal, before flying back the next day. I was so nervous before I left about travelling alone, but I did it all and I came back unscathed and I just thought to myself on the plane, this was another one of my new year’s resolutions from this year that I’ve actually kept. I never keep resolutions but so far I’ve learned to cook properly, I’ve got healthy and started going to the gym, I got contact lenses, I’ve been reading way more, and I’ve done something really independent. That was my biggest one – becoming really independent and being happy to do it; and I was really happy that I’d gone to Europe by myself and seen all these amazing sights and had all these amazing times. An 8 hour flight is a long time to reflect and the last 6 months have been ones of enormous growth and change and I really feel quite proud about that. I had an amazing time with some truly wonderful people on this trip and I learned so much about Ireland too. It’s sad to think that so many people in the UK itself actually don’t like living there, although I suppose I was guilty of the same thing when I did live there. I guess sometimes you only truly appreciate a place when it’s not so immediate to you any more. I definitely had a phenomenal trip, and I can’t wait to go back next year.

EN-GER-LAND!

Soooooo yesterday I got back from my holiday to Blightey. I had access to one computer while I was out there, which happened to be 15 years old and was now “too old” to update to IE7 and wouldn’t load anything but MySpace, so I just gave up and figured I’d do all the updating when I got home.

The first few days me and my dad spent adjusting to the jet lag and catching up with family and friends, stocking up on British goodies (we bought the ENTIRE store’s stock of Angel Delight, plus lots of Galaxy chocolate, trifle mix and steak and kidney puddings!) and visiting old schools and nearby towns, which was lovely. Stevenage Day was on Sunday which I went to with Jayde, and we got 99s and watched gorillas on bikes, lol. Caught up with Sophie and Sam at a lovely (but insanely expensive!) dinner and then a trip to the pub… oh how I miss pub lunches and having endless choices of them!

Spent a day in London with my dad soon after, visiting everything from Trafalgar Square to the London Eye and Tower Bridge and everything in between. I had new shoes on because mine had broken but they were hurting pretty bad (my toenails are still blue :S) by the end of the afternoon so we came home but still we took loads of pictures and it was a lovely day.

Thursday was my “birthday surprise” – we got up at about 6:30am and my dad took me to the airport – we were going to Paris!! We flew there in about an hour, and we spent the ENTIRE day on the Metro, walking around seeing ALL the sights, the Louvre, Notre Dame cathedral, the Champs-Elysees and of course the Eiffel Tower – the queue for the lift was well massive so I decided to go up the stairs and get fill my exercise quota for the next year. It was pretty amazing to see the view from up there. We got home at almost midnight and just pretty much crashed.

Spent Friday with my old childhood friend Victoria, we’d grown up on the same street together and it was amazing to see her again, we caught up over an amazing pub lunch and then had a shopping trip in the town before watching old videos of our ‘Talent Shows’ we used to put on for the neighbours as kids. How embarrassing!! Here’s hoping she doesn’t keep her promise of uploading them to youtube 🙂

Sunday me and Sophie headed in to London to see the MUSE GIG AT WEMBLEY – oh my god, most amazing thing ever!! The new stadium was incredible, holds 90,000 people and it was probably about 75% full if not more. Biffy Clyro played and were great, then My Chemical Romance, who weren’t as bad as everyone was making out, and then Muse… I can’t even describe how incredible it was to see my favourite band in such an insanely cool show. It was a 2 hour set and there was fireworks, smoke, the stage going up in flames, searchlights off of massive satellite dishes, even air trapeze acrobats flying through the stadium off masssive globe balloons. Now every time I hear a song of theirs I get goosebumps because it was just absolutely incredible.

I miss England terribly… but it’s my birthday tomorrow, so I’ll be seeing you all hopefully on thursday at indie night 🙂 I’m going to upload all the pictures tomorrow because my dad has half of them!