Sunday, 30 September 2012

£100 challenge: week four and month one

Monday: £20.90 groceries (from Aldi, obviously!)
               £22.00 dress from ASOS
Tuesday: £11.50 plants and firewood from the garden centre
Wednesday: £2.80 book for Christmas present
                     £6.08 earbuds
Thursday: £15.17 petrol
                 £28.00 blouse, slippers and groceries from Sainsburys
Friday: £15.00 flowers, cider and chocolate - I was staying with friends in London and these were my
             offerings for the evening
Saturday: £13.50 ticket for National Wedding Fair at Earls Court
                £5 Oyster top-up
                Approx. £30 on ludicrous amounts of cider and comparatively meagre amounts of food in a
               pub, which we 'popped' in to for 'one drink' at about 3 in the afternoon, and left at 10pm.
Sunday: £6.50 breakfast in a greasy spoon cafe in Crouch End
TOTAL: £176.15

Oops.  The overspend was almost entirely due to spending the weekend with my friend - and bride-to-be - Cara in London, overseeing my bridesmaidly duties.  So, erm, I'm sure it's an allowable offence.

This weekend is also the end of my first month of the challenge, and I've managed to pay off one credit card completely, to the tune of £398.  I would have had a further £300 saved, if I hadn't broken the rules slightly (massively) by buying a new iPhone and booking a three day trip to Amsterdam for half term.  Still, £400 of debts paid off feels pretty good, and I've not really struggled with sticking to my limit until this weekend.  I think my overspend can be forgiven and forgotten for now, but I need to be ultra-strict in the next few weeks so that I have some spending money for Amsterdam.               

Friday, 28 September 2012

Seen, read & heard: September


1. Anna Karenina.  I've not really been in a film mood this month, and I probably wouldn't have bothered with Anna Karenina, but Sarah tweeted such interesting comments about it that, when I realised it was showing at the local indie cinema, I took myself off to see it.  Definitely a case of style over substance - and I mean that in the nicest possible way - this film looks gorgeous, and is so cleverly staged, with much of the action taking place in and around a 19th century Russian theatre.  I never felt entirely engaged with the central love story: a wooden Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky, and my natural antipathy towards Keira Knightly, made it hard to truly care about the tragic couple.  But I loved the film as a theatrical spectacle, and there were some wonderful performances from the supporting actors (particularly Domnhall Gleeson as Levin).

2. The L Word.  I was obsessed with this trashy yet compelling LA-based lesbian soap opera a few years ago, and decided recently to revisit my boxsets.  It's a world in which all characters can be reduced to two descriptors - Shane (sexy and damaged), Jenny (mental and annoying), Bette (arty and driven), Alice (kooky and bisexual) - but my gosh, I love it!

3. Game Of Thrones.  Bit of a cheat this, as I actually haven't begun watching it yet.  But my head of department has just lent me the boxset and I'm undecided about plunging in.  I have this weird thing about getting too attached to TV series, so whenever I hear about a 'Must-See', I'll often go out of my way to avoid it, so I don't get too attached... yes I know it's strange.  So, I'm kind of hesitant about plunging into the world of Game Of Thrones (especially as I still have four series of The L Word to get through!).  Anyone seen it and think it's worth making the effort for?


1. The Next Big Thing by Jennifer Weiner.  Weiner writes wonderful novels which are often unfairly dismissed as formulaic chick lit.  Does the girl usually get the guy?  Well, yes (although not always), but her books are laugh-out-loud funny, emotionally true and always touching.  Her latest was no disappointment, and I devoured it in one sitting while hungover one Sunday.

2. Now You See Me by S.J Bolton, whose crime thrillers err on the side of ludicrous, but who nevertheless knows how to pile on the tension.  I read this in one sitting, finishing at 4am, and when I had to leave my bedroom to go to the loo, I did so with my back against the wall, turning on every light as I went, so scared was I.

3. Hope & Glory: A People's History of Modern Britain by Stuart Maconie.  Erstwhile music journalist and, recently, travel writer Maconie is typically amusing and informative in this history of the 20th century.


Very boring of me, but I've listened to hardly any new music this month (only one film and one album?  What have I been doing with myself for the past four weeks?!).  Grizzly Bear's new album, Shields, was a cheeky buy in HMV last week and I'm hoping it's a grower, as on the first couple of listens I'm feeling kind of 'meh' (usually a good sign, as my brother will tell you!).

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Stuck for gift ideas? Try Present Indicative

I've written before about my love for The Literary Gift Company, which is basically, a website full of book-related loveliness.  Well, the people behind The LGC have just launched a new site, Present Indicative. Subtitled 'The Intelligent Gift Company', it sells the same kind of stuff but instead of book-themed, the gifts are sorted into categories including Physics, Philosophy, History and Mathematics.  Essentially it's a site full of stuff for the geek in your life (and I include myself in that category).  A few favourites...
From the Library section: Personal library set (sadly out of stock at the moment, but usually a bargain £12.95).  Perfect for the person who only lends their books grudgingly, and who looks like they want to fine you if you turn a page corner down.

From the Chemistry section: I'm rather taken with this oil & vinegar lab bottle set, which is £20.95 and would be perfect for a keen cook who's also a budding Dr Frankenstein.

From the Politics section: only £8.95 for this Suffragette slogan print tea towel.  I bought this for my step-mum last Christmas and she loved it, but then who wouldn't?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How I spent my day off

Today was my second day off of the year (I've started teaching nine days a fortnight, so I have two days off a month), and I've been very industrious.  In fact, in future I think I might try and take things a little easier, as I'm knackered now!

1. Visiting the garden centre to buy violas and pansies for the back yard.
 2. Choosing books to share at tonight's inaugural book group (basically the members of my craft club diversifying into different ways to spend a Tuesday evening!).
3. Sewing cushion covers out of fabric I bought in Africa this summer.
4. Chopping and stacking logs for the fire.
5. Baking caramel cupcakes.  I'm not overly impressed with the Hummingbird Bakery recipe, which was overly fiddly and seems to have produced stodgy cakes.  Boo.
6. Cleaning the house and dusting my bookshelves, as I'm hosting the book group tonight.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The end of Music Monday?

I'm writing this at school, where I'm stuck until 8 o'clock tonight because of Open Evening later.  Oh joy.  Of course, around this time is when I would usually post my weekly Music Monday video, often with some ramblings attached.  But lately I've been feeling pretty unmotivated and uninspired, and whereas I used to enjoy having the structure of Music Monday to give me something specific to write about, now I find it a bit of a chore, which can't make for good posts.  So I'm thinking about retiring the Music Monday posts, or keeping them as an occasional feature only.  I'd love to hear what you think could replace it, or perhaps you'd like me to continue writing them?

In the meantime, here are a few of my favourite Music Monday posts of the last year and a bit:

The very first one, in which I write about seeing my brother shuffle his feet to Grandaddy;
If at first you don't succeed to like Jeffrey Lewis, try, try again;
How Tarrie B of Tura Satana taught me to be a fearless rock chick;
Why Courtney Love is still my style icon;
A digression into the rhetoric around abortion, when I was meant to be writing about Ben Folds Five;
Why I love my friends (and My Friends), from last month.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

£100 challenge: week 3 & budget food shopping

Monday: £19.84 groceries (see below)
Tuesday: £12.20 petrol
Wednesday: Nothing
Thursday: £13.00 for meal & cinema ticket deal at Phoenix
                £3.60 pint of cider
                £5.00 entry into my friend's gig
Friday: Nothing
Saturday: £4.95 hair dye
               £1.99 Christmas present
               £15 two CDs from HMV (the new Grizzly Bear & Fiona Apple albums)
               £10 lunch in Firebug
               £5 evening drinks in the pub, plus a play on the quiz machine
Total: £89.06

Over the past couple of weeks it's become clear to me that I spend too much on my grocery shopping: even while working on a restricted budget, it's been making up between £30 and £40 of my weekly £100 limit, and if I wasn't doing the challenge, I would usually spend well over £50 a week.  That might not sound like too much for those of you who shop for a couple or a family, but for just one person it's quite a significant amount.  So after reading this post on the blog A Thrifty Mrs, I decided to try doing my weekly shop at Aldi, to see if that made a difference.  I do visit Aldi quite a bit, but usually only for specific things (their lemon & coriander couscous is amazing).  I've never attempted to do my weekly shop there, partly out of habit and partly because I didn't think I'd find everything I needed there.

I didn't have a long list, but I needed quite a lot of fresh fruit and veg, some bits and pieces for packed lunches, and a few basics like eggs, mince and tinned vegetables.  When I got home I used the Tesco website to check their prices, as that's where I usually shop.  The results?  My Aldi shop came to £19.84 for eighteen items.  The equivalent items from Tesco would have cost £29.71.  I have to admit, I was surprised that the difference was so significant.  I tend to think, "oh, it's only 9p more expensive, that's not much" but it turns out all those small amounts - plus a few really significant savings on the meat, cereal bars and crisps - all add up.

I was impressed that I could get organic, free range and fair trade food at Aldi, which had always been one of my excuses for not shopping there.  For example, their organic & fair trade bananas were half the price of the Tesco pack.  However, the fact that most of Aldi's fruit and veg is sold in packs isn't ideal if you live alone: I didn't really want or need a whole bag of carrots (although now I've got them, I am eating loads to try not to waste them, so maybe it's a good way to eat more of my 5 a day!).  One thing that is definitely helpful at Aldi is that, because there's not a massively wide choice, the temptations are less.  Best items on the list?  Aldi's Camembert, which was absolutely delicious, and the Australian Chardonnay.  Their Pringles-alike crisps weren't quite the same, though, and the chilli mix wasn't hot enough for my tastes.  But overall I was very impressed: I'll definitely be doing my weekly shop at Aldi more often in future.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Image association week two

Sarah started our project last week with the picture below.  Being a words person rather than a visual one, I had to convert the image into a word, then convert that word back into an image for me to photograph. 

And the word I came up with when I saw Sarah's photo was... 'Home', and when I thought 'home', the first thing that sprang to mind was this sign, which sits in a park about a mile from my house, on the edge of the city centre.  I've always enjoyed the juxtaposition of my adopted hometown with the homeland I've never really known.


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Meet the parents

I originally wrote this post when I thought I was leaving the UK for a year, and it's been lurking in my draft folder for months.  As the post I was hoping to publish today is stubbornly refusing to take any sort of coherent form, it's an opportunity to publish what is essentially an extended brag about how ace my mum and dad are!
One of my favourite photographs -
my parents on their wedding day in Johannesberg, June 1976

My mum is the bravest person I know.  She often tells me that she doesn’t know where I get my independent and adventurous spirit, but I know the answer is staring back at her in the mirror.  At the age of 29 she left her family and the country where she had grown up - South Africa - and she and my dad boarded a ship to England.  Due to the political situation, neither of them were able to return for almost 24 years.

She was a stay-at-home mum for my whole childhood; she cooked, baked, encouraged us to be artistic and active and instilled in me a love of books.  As we (my younger brothers and I) got older, she became more and more active in voluntary organisations both local and national, and is now manager of a large charity.  At the age of 44, she left her marriage of 17 years and came out as a lesbian.  She struggled to support three children in the aftermath of the divorce but never let the strain show.  In her 50s she coped with devastating hearing loss, which has left her profoundly deaf and entirely dependent on hearing aids.  She is amazing and the most important person in my life. 

My dad, meanwhile, was on that ship to England too, leaving everything he knew far behind to start a new life and a family thousands of miles away.  And if I admire my mum for having the courage and fortitude to come out in her 40s, I think I admire my dad more for what he went through in those years.  He made huge efforts to ensure he stayed in our lives... but never tried to make us take sides.  When, in a fit of teenage pique, I told him I wanted to go to Manchester with him rather than live with my mum, he very calmly told me that it wouldn’t be a good idea because I belonged with her: quite true, but it can’t have been easy to say.

My mum has supported and cajoled and listened and cared for me for the last 34 years.  She always knows exactly how I’m feeling about anything; knows when I need a kick up the arse and when I need some TLC.  Meanwhile, my dad is the person I will always call first if something goes wrong with my car or my boiler.  He is practical and pragmatic and, in the way of dads, knows everything about everything... apart from how to send a text on his mobile.  They are both incredible people, I am very lucky indeed to have such great parents.

*Update* My dad has let it be known that actually, he does know how to send a text, he just "chooses not to - too fiddly".  He told me this via (of course) text.  So I stand corrected, my dad in fact knows everything.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Music Monday: Lucy Rose

You know how sometimes, you can hear a record and feel quite "meh" about it, and then you see the band play live and they make you fall in love with them?  That is totally what happened to me with Lucy Rose.  I'd heard her singles Lines and Bikes quite a bit on Radio 1 and 6 Music and found them pleasant but forgettable, but I thought she might still be worth a watch at Summer Sundae last month.  How right I was!  

She and her band all seemed so into the music they were playing, and between them they turned sweet folky indie pop into big tunes that rocked.  I love it when a band or artist sounds completely different live than they do on record, and this is definitely the case with Lucy Rose (although seeing her play live has made me really appreciate the loveliness of her recorded music, too).  She is touring the UK this autumn (and playing Leicester!  Anyone wanna come with me?) and I would heartily recommend going to see her. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

My weekend shenanigans

I am ever so tired this evening after a fab weekend full of fun.  I started early, with a night out on Thursday (to the ace Craftwerk session at The Crumbling Cookie in town: it's a bit like competitive Blue Peter crafting, with added alcohol and music.  Basically, my perfect night out), which left me slightly tender-of-head for work on Friday.

Saturday found me in Stratford-Upon-Avon with Leanne, where we saw an ace pavement trail with cryptic/odd/funny messages carved into the paving slabs.  My favourite was one I didn't get a photo of: "That pigeon's looking at me funny".  A lovely lunch at Othello's (highly recommended) was followed by a trip to the theatre, dah-ling.  Much Ado About Nothing is by far my favourite Shakespeare play, and the production at the RSC did not disappoint.  Fabulously funny and lushly staged, it had an all-Asian cast and an Indian setting.  Wonderful music, staging and performances.

Today I dropped in to the Leicester Good Food Fair at Belgrave Hall and bought myself some goodies, before driving up to Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire to meet my brother.  The ensuing three hours stumbling around the woods couldn't really be called hiking; there wasn't one moment on the entire walk when we knew where the hell we were, and the map book was no use.  We were just one candy cottage away from it all going a bit Hansel & Gretel (and the spooky, dead trees did not help one bit!).

£100 challenge: week 3

Monday: £12 groceries
Tuesday: £6 lunch
Wednesday: nothing
Thursday: £20 two rounds of drinks and a taxi home from Craftwerk
Friday: £5.50 eyebrows waxed
Saturday: £20.08 petrol
               £2.50 cute Cath Kidston handbag mirror
               £1.50 bag of nougat from a sweetshop in Stratford
               £4.99 Shakespeare quotation poster
               £15 lunch
               £8 groceries
Sunday:  £11.50 cakes, jam and other assorted goodies from the Good Food Fair
TOTAL: £107.07

Oops, slightly over this week.  However, I did carry over £12.68 last week, so overall I'm still a fiver in credit.  And that's exactly what I have jangling in my purse right now, so at least my maths is on target even if my spending is not!

Petrol is turning out to be a real drain on my wallet: topping up my tank on Saturday got me to Stratford and back yesterday and to Nottingham and back today, but I'm now almost running on empty and so will need to spend another £20 tomorrow.  But I've had a full week, with a day out on Tuesday (my new day off!), a great evening in the pub on Thursday and a busy weekend, so I'm pretty impressed that I managed to (almost) stay within budget.

Friday, 14 September 2012

On being a spinster

I loved Zoe's recent post about why she's happy being single, and heartily agreed with all of her reasons.  In fact, many of them are precisely what I cite when I sense colleagues or relatives becoming unnecessarily sympathetic of my single state: not having to shave my legs; never having to compromise; being able to sleep in the middle of my lovely, comfy double bed.  They're all part of what makes being single so damn good. 

I've been single for almost ten years.  Yep, you heard right: a decade.  After a passionate but heart-breakingly ill-fated relationship from 16 to 18, and an even worse one from 20 to... well, it kind of dragged on until I was about 24 (even though it was utterly toxic and we spent more time apart than together), I made a decision to stay single for a while.  And, four or five short-term relationships apart, that's just what I've done, and 'a while' has turned into five, then eight, then ten years.

But as much as I'd like to pretend that I've been single for all that time because I just love having hairy legs and sleeping in a star shape, recent misadventures in internet dating have led me to further reflect on just why I'm still single.

1. I am cripplingly shy and have shitty self-esteem.  I can't talk to strangers, and I work on the assumption that everyone thinks I suck.  Bottom line is, dating (and especially internet dating, with its blind date-type situations) is something I am extraordinarily ill-suited to.

2. I am lazy.  Like, really lazy.  If the choice is between sending some messages to potential life partners or wasting 20 minutes on Songpop, the latter will always win out.

3. I am massively fussy.  It's not that the past ten years have been devoid of action: I've had lots of flirtations, plenty of people making it clear they'd like to take things further, a number of flings, even a declaration of love.  But in all that time I've only actually, genuinely, truly fallen for someone twice.  Ten years : two people is not a great ratio.  And neither of them were interested in me!  Sod's law.  I'd love to meet someone who makes giving up all the good things about my single life worthwhile, I really would.  But I need to become much less picky if that's ever going to happen.

4. The less available someone is, the more I like them.  My first love was my then-best friend, Clare.  She had an overprotective and extremely homophobic mother, and we had a jealous and threatened mutual best friend.  Not a recipe for a happy, healthy relationship, but we stuck it out for two years.  My second love - D - was attached when I met him, and for the next four years he proceeded to lie to and cheat on both me and the girl he was originally dating.  Since then, I've gravitated more towards the physically rather than emotionally unavailable: the best way to get me interested has been to live 200 miles away or be about to leave the country for a year.

5. I'm afraid of going mental again.  So just to re-cap for those not paying attention, I was in those two bad relationships pretty much from the age of 16 until I was 24.  On what I have only recently realised is probably a not-unrelated note, I was pretty much mental that entire time.  I started cutting myself not long before Clare and I started seeing each other, and I didn't stop until I was in my early twenties.  It was only when I finally made the break from D that I came off anti-depressants and out of counselling.  I'm healthy and happy now, so I'd never really linked the two concepts - relationships and poor mental health - together, until a few months ago.  I'd been emailing this guy and really started to like him, and he suddenly stopped replying.  My first instinct - literally the first, before crying, drinking or sending angry texts - was to cut.  I didn't, but it really gave me pause.  I'd never even met this bloke and had no real relationship with him, and I start to reach for the blade?  It freaked me out, to be frank, and has made me very cautious of dating again.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Image association

I am so excited about a new project that Sarah and I are starting today.  When I reviewed my 'to do' list recently, Sarah very kindly offered to help me with number 6 - 'Take more photographs' - and she has come up with a way to do just that.  I'll let her explain the project:

"What we're doing is a blog-based game of associations. One week, I'll post a picture on my blog, the following week Janet will post a picture related to it in some way - and back and forth we'll go. The response might be in relation to the subject matter, the colour scheme, the shapes in the image, anything."

Having a deadline to work to and something concrete to take photographs of is just what I need to get me motivated.  Now I have to start thinking of a response to this, Sarah's first offering...

Image © Sarah Rooftops

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Rocky road bars

Photo via the BBC, as I ate all of mine (ahem, gave them away...) before I could get the camera out

I am dangerously addicted to these rocky road bars at the moment.  They are easy and relatively cheap to make, but packed full of sugar and butter as they are, are probably best kept for a treat!  I use a Nigella recipe with some amendments.

Rocky road bars

200g dark/plain chocolate (Nigella specifies 'best quality dark chocolate' but Tesco Value chocolate has worked just fine for me)
100g milk chocolate
125g butter (not Stork or similar baking margarine, as the bars won't set properly)
3 tbsp golden syrup
150g rich tea biscuits
100g mini marshmallows
50g raisins
50g glace cherries

  1. Melt the butter, chocolate and golden syrup in a Pyrex bowl over a pan of simmering water.
  2. Remove from the heat, scoop out about 125ml/4½fl oz of the melted mixture and set aside in a bowl.
  3. Place the biscuits into a plastic freezer bag and crush them with a rolling pin until some have turned to crumbs but there are still pieces of biscuit remaining.
  4. Fold the biscuit pieces and crumbs into the melted chocolate mixture in the saucepan, then add the marshmallows raisins and glace cherries.
  5. Tip the mixture into a 24cm/9in square baking tin (lined with greasproof paper) and smooth the top with a wet spatula.
  6. Pour over the reserved 125ml/4½fl oz of the melted chocolate mixture and smooth the top with a wet spatula.
  7. Refrigerate for about two hours or overnight.
  8. To serve, cut into squares.  I like giving these as gifts, dusted with icing sugar and wrapped in cellophane or packaged in a nice tin.  Or. alternatively, scoff them all at once yourself.  Yum.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Music Monday: The Mummers

You know those moments of pure joy, the ones where, for a fleeting second, everything is right with the world?  Most of mine have a musical link: hearing the perfect song on my iPod when I'm on my travels (Lone Wolf by Eels when I was walking to meet a date, my big clue that he wasn't the guy for me), or having a favourite song being played beautifully at a gig (Grizzly Bear's awe-inspiring performance of Ready, Able a couple of weeks ago in Nottingham).

A few summers ago I was at Latitude with Abby and Ruth.  Sitting outside the tent in which The Mummers were playing their set, I had a cold pint of cider in my hand, my friends next to me, the sun on my face and the knowledge of a whole summer off still to come, so when they launched into This Is Heaven all I could think was, "yes, it is, isn't it?"  Even now, years later, I feel an echo of that bliss whenever I hear the song.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Leicester through a lens

I began this weekend in just about the worst mood possible, but two days of journeying through my city on foot, in the sunshine, and with a purpose, have worked wonders.  Investigating new places and revisiting old haunts have made me feel more connected to this town than I have in a while.  Today I wandered around the west side of the city centre, the historical core of Leicester, looking at the remains of the city walls around the castle, taking lots of pictures of my favourite old building in town, the 600 year old half-timbered Guildhall, and scampering down the alleyways surrounding the cathedral.

£100 challenge: week two

Monday: £32.82 groceries
Tuesday: 90p parking
              £16.25 theatre ticket
(I'd hoped the fact that we had free tickets for a preview of the new Finding Neverland musical, which is premiering at Curve in Leicester soon, would make for a bargain day, but we just ended up being tempted into buying tickets for the actual show.  Ah well, they were 2-for-1.  And we got to sit in a room with Harvey Weinstein, which was cool)
Wednesday: nothing
Thursday: nothing
Friday: £7.60 groceries
Saturday: £9 books
               £5 Christmas present
               £2 birthday card
               £5.95 lunch
Sunday: £7.90 lunch
TOTAL: £87.42

Although, weirdly, I have £22.68 in my wallet, so no idea where that extra tenner comes from.  Paying cash for everything is definitely a great way of keeping track of my spending, and I haven't particularly felt like I've denied myself anything this week.  So it's two weeks down, only twelve to go...

Saturday, 8 September 2012

To do list: take more photographs

Today I got out and about in the glorious sunshine to tick off two items from my to do list: #1 - appreciate and enjoy my city, and #6 - take more photographs.  I still feel a bit of a prat when I walk around snapping away on my little Sony Cybershot, but it was lovely to explore some of the more hidden parts of my hometown.  I failed miserably when it came to taking photographs of Leicester Market though; there were just too many people around and I felt awkward in the extreme.

The area directly to the east of the city centre has been redeveloped in recent years and is now home to some lovely bars and art galleries, as well as the independent Phoenix cinema and the wonderful Curve theatre.  Below is the 1930s Athena building (previously a cinema, now a venue for events) as seen reflected in the glass exterior of Curve.

Across the road from Curve is a graveyard and church that I've always wanted to explore.  The church and grounds served as a wonderful contrast to the ultra-modern architecture surrounding it, and it was so peaceful, you'd never guess that the hustle and bustle of the ring road was mere metres away.

I ended my explorations in the best possible way, with a pint of cider and some veggie chilli at my favourite bar, Firebug.  Yum.  Tomorrow I'm going to head out with my camera to explore another of my favourite areas of the city: Castle Park.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Like mother, like daughter

My lovely mum when she was in her early 20s, wearing a cardigan she knitted herself.  But she's not creative, oh no.

A few months ago I wrote this post, about feminism and crafting.  I began my musings with this question: Having been long seen as unfashionable and something of relevance only to a few grey-haired WI members, the past few years there has seen a resurgence of interest in baking and crafts among the younger generation.  Without wanting to generalise, my personal experience suggests that most of the young women who are passionate about creating – whether it be cakes, clothes or Christmas decorations – are also educated, career-minded and, in many cases, feminists.  Which leads to something of a disconnect: how does one reconcile feminist views with wearing a flower-print pinny while potting homemade jams?

While I was putting that post together I asked my mum - a feminist and, although she denies it (of which more later), a crafter - for her thoughts.  Her responses have been lurking on my hard drive ever since, until I stumbled upon them yesterday and thought I would share them because, well, because my mum is ace.

The first question I asked her was "when did she start seeing herself as a feminist?"  I don't have a memory of her being anything other than a feminist; she was always vocal about equality issues and challenged me and my brothers if we said or did things she thought were sexist.  But interestingly, my mum's recollection is different.  She responded: Interesting question!  I would have actually said that it was the MA in Women’s Studies which raised my awareness (Sept 1992 – June 1993) but... I guess it wouldn’t have occurred to me to do the MA if I hadn’t had awareness raised already. I probably didn’t call myself a feminist before the course though – not sure.
What was fascinating to me about her response is that I'm fairly sure that by 1992 (when I was 14) I was calling myself a feminist, and I'm confident that I never would have done so had my mum not introduced me to the concept.

I then asked her to share her experiences of crafting with me.  My mum has always maintained that she is "not a creative person," but I'd disagree.  When I go home, I still sleep under a patchwork blanket that she knitted for my cot; every Christmas we use the stockings she sewed when we were children; she recently told me about the time she taught herself to crochet so she could make a dressing gown for me.  Not creative?!  Erm, ok mum!
I sewed, knitted, crocheted, cooked and baked because that’s what women (mothers) did!! I used to knit and sew my clothes when I was a teenager. So just continued that I guess. Maybe it was also about saving money – when you children were little I would try and find material and wool in charity shops or off market stalls. But I also enjoyed the challenge – creating things. But I always worked to patterns and recipes - I don’t see myself as creative; I follow other people’s creations. Also being a ‘stay at home’ mother meant that I had time to do these things – up to a point – and they were much more interesting than cleaning! I have wondered whether I will return to knitting or some kind of craft work when I am retired...... but then maybe not!

I was the kind of kid who was always making something, whether it was a mess in the kitchen during my attempts to bake, or glueing bits of cotton wool onto card to make Christmas decorations.  Nowadays, most weekends will find me working on a project, whether it's making teacup candles, sewing cushion covers or baking cupcakes.  And when presented with the fruits of my labours, my mum always says the same thing: "You're so clever, I don't know where you get it from".  It's clear to me that, like my feminism, I "got it" from my her; it's just bizarre that she doesn't see it the same way.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Rough Trade Album Club

I can't for the life of me remember if I've blogged about this before, so if I'm repeating myself I apologise, BUT I just had to share this amazing find. 

London record label and record shop Rough Trade have been running their Album Club for a while now.  The deal is that you sign up for membership for a selected period - either 3, 6 or 12 months - for a price starting from £12 a month for basic membership (which gets you one album, Rough Trade's Top Pick of the month, plus a fold-out guide - see left - and usually a bonus CD featuring tracks from the other album picks that month) up to a whopping £120 a month (which would get you all ten albums of the month).  Don't like the Top Pick album?  Not a problem, you simply send it back and they'll exchange it for any of the other nine albums.  Recent picks include Swedish folk-pop star The Tallest Man On Earth, hotly tipped singer Lianne La Havas and the new album from Liars.

Membership of the Album Club makes a fab present for music lovers: my brother and my best friend have both been recipients over the past couple of years and both times the gift was a great hit.  After all, who doesn't like getting a nice surprise in the post once a month?  For more info take a look at their website.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Mixtape memories

The lovely Laura at Make Do And Mend was kind enough to let me write a guest post for her series about mixtapes.  I chose to write about an ace mixtape my brother gave me for Christmas a while ago, full of handclapping songs.  Read the post here to find out more...

Music Monday: The Distillers

I've been feeling a bit miz lately and I'm not sure why.  It's partly the usual back to school blues, I think, and partly thinking about the fact that this year was meant to be my big adventure in America and instead... here I am still.  A few of my friends are having a tough time at the moment, so it's possibly about that too; a sympathy miz, if you like.  But it might just be that I'm a mardy cow!  Regardless of the reasons, the music that always helps when I'm feeling down is anything female-fronted and heavy.  Hole, Garbage, Tura Satana or this, The Distillers. 

Fronted by the charismatic and controversial Brody Dalle, The Distillers recorded and released three albums between 2000 and 2003, before splitting up.  Dalle went on to have a child (with Queens Of The Stone Age's Josh Homme, her husband), and then to form the more pop-influenced Spinerette.  I was lucky enough to see The Distillers play live at Leeds Festival in 2004, and they were a glorious mess of punk and attitude.  This video is from Jools Holland and features two tracks from their last album, Coral Fang: the rather Hole-esque Drain The Blood and Die On A Rope.  Both are eminently suited to being played at top volume and screamed along to, until any bad mood has been banished.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

£100 challenge: week one

Tue:   nothing
Wed: £20.04 - petrol
          £10.00 - pizza and soft drink with my brother before the Grizzly Bear gig
          £4.00 - parking in Nottingham
Thur:  £19.18 - groceries
Fri:    £7.02 - groceries
Sat:   £31.00 - large quantities of cider at Leicester Pride, not enough food, and a taxi home when the
                       above took its toll at midnight.
Sun:  nothing (spent day in bed due to yesterday's antics!)
TOTAL: £91.24

A successful first week, although it's notable that my budget didn't stretch any further than just living expenses with nothing spare to spend on the kind of things I usually purchase in an average week: a new dress or CD or books.  Friday was payday, so going shopping on Thursday evening with my bank balance at zero was somewhat of a challenge.  Whereas usually I go around Tesco slinging things into my trolley with impunity, I quite enjoyed thinking more carefully about what I was buying and, for once, sticking to my list.  I had £20 cash to spend and by carefully adding up as I went (in my head!  I'm so proud - I don't do maths), I managed to stick to my budget and still have 82p left over.