Thursday, 31 January 2013

Valentines cards that don't make me want to vomit

I am not and never have been a fan of Valentines Day.  For one, I'm not all that romantic in the traditional sense; overblown gestures involving roses and candlelit dinners strike me as a bit cheesy, and I've spent too many years as a single girl to be able to wholeheartedly celebrate the date.  In my twenties, my best friend and I used to go on platonic Valentines dates: she'd bring me a bunch of tulips (my favourite flowers), I'd make her a card, and we'd have a nice meal out somewhere.  But to mark the frankly bewildering turn of events that have led to me spending Valentines Day in a relationship (and, thanks to Easyjet, able to spend the 14th with the object of my affections), I took to Etsy to see if I could find a nice card that didn't make me want to pull puke faces...

I really like the urban graffitti range by Eyeshoot Photography.  But I reckon 3 months is a little soon to be throwing the word 'love' around willy-nilly.

One for the How I Met Your Mother fan in your life.  But still with the 'l' word...

I adore this card but it's perhaps too far in the opposite direction from the hearts and flowers and love nonsense.

You can't go wrong with song lyrics on a card.  Unless they're from a James Blunt song, in which case: no.

Ding ding ding, I think we have a winner folks!  Not sure what the badge is all about, but the card is fab.  Not too gross and romantic, no 'l' word, nice graphics and a lovely message. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Seen & Heard: January


1. The Descendants
A quiet and contemplative film which I didn't exactly love.  It passed the time, and I thought it had some interesting things to say about land politics in Hawaii, but I wouldn't watch it again.

2. Les Miserable
I cannot explain just how excited I was about this film.  I'm a sucker for musicals, and I love the songs, the staging, the plot, everything about Les Mis.  I thought this film did a brilliant job of adapting the stage show for the big screen.  If the singing was sometimes slightly lacking, the emotional intensity was never left wanting.  So good I saw it twice.

3. The Breakfast Club
I'd forgotten just how cheesy this film is, but yet it's always fun to watch (if only to play the 'which character were you?' game.  My answer: a combination of geek Brian and weirdo Allison).


1. Tame Impala, Lonerism
I'm still a bit obsessed with this brilliant, sun-soaked album with a 70s vibe from last year.  Give Mind Mischief or Feels Like We Only Go Backwards a listen on Spotify and tell me you don't feel the same.

2. Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
I'm a voice person: if I don't like the sound of the person singing, I'll hate the music.  Bob Dylan and Neutral Milk Hotel are just two of the many brilliant musicians and songwriters I can't bear to listen to because of their voices.  I'm afraid Bruce Springsteen might be a third, despite The Boy's best efforts to get me to appreciate it.

3. Local Natives, Hummingbird
New album from Local Natives - exciting!  On first listen it's not that brilliant - boo :(  I'm hoping it'll be a grower, because I still very much love Gorilla Manor, their first record.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


WATCHING very little 'live' TV and lots of DVDs and stuff on my recorder.  I'm enjoying Happy Endings on E4, reminding myself of the genius that is Flight Of The Conchords, and failing to tire of the endless repeats of Big Bang Theory, which seems to have taken the place of Friends on the E4 schedule.

READING trash, mostly.  I finished A Room Full Of Bones by Elly Griffiths at the weekend (Norfolk-based archeology-meets-crime fiction), and am about to start The Chess Men by Peter May (Lewis-based crime fiction).  My book group meets later this evening to discuss The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window and Disappeared, which I read during my Christmas break and which I am still undecided about.  It was undoubtedly funny, and I loved the flashbacks to key events in 20th Century history, but I also found it a tad contrived and a bit silly.

DREAMING of open fires and well-insulated houses; my home is lovely but it is not the warmest place, so I have spent a lot of this past few weeks cuddling hot water bottles and shovelling logs into the wood burning stove.

EATING lots of utterly delicious vegan food.  It's been a challenging experience to change my culinary habits for The Boy, but the vegan lemon cake I made last week was as good as any 'normal' baking I've ever done, and my mouth is watering just thinking about the aubergine curry we whipped up together. 

MAKING sock pigs at craft club.  Next week we learn to crochet, which I am super-excited about.

PLAYING Scrabble.  Can you believe The Boy didn't know how?  We spent a lovely snowy Saturday a couple of weeks ago lazing in bed with snacks, 6 Music on the radio, and a Scrabble board between us.  I won, obviously.  There would have been tantrums otherwise.

WORKING ON my piles of marking, which seem to grow ever-higher.

WEARING wellington boots and a lovely, cosy, navy blue wool duffle coat; the combined effect being to make me look a bit like Paddington Bear (which is no bad thing).

PLANNING multiple trips to the continent.  I'm off to Nijmegen in two weeks time, and I cannot wait to be that annoying couple* who run into each other's arms at the airport.  Then Paris in April, the Netherlands again in May... this long distance relationship thing is an expensive, but exciting, prospect.

FEELING grateful for the wonderful family and friends who said so many nice things, and offered their support in all sorts of ways, last week when I had the double whammy of my Granny dying on Monday and The Boy leaving on Friday.

* This is how misanthropic I am: most people would consider it romantic, but it drives me up the wall (until I'm one half of that couple, and then I'm all for it).

Monday, 21 January 2013

In memoriam

Photograph courtesy of jennyjuststuff

This is my granny, Helen Kotze.  She died earlier this afternoon at the age of 92. 

Helen was a formidable woman.  Raised in South Africa as one of four daughters to a Methodist minister, her childhood memories were of climbing trees, reading books, writing poetry and playing the violin.  When she was twenty she met my grandfather - a charismatic student called Theo - and they fell in love and got married, with a son (my uncle Derek) following soon after.  Four more children followed and my grandpa entered the ministry.  From Reverend's daughter to Reverend's wife.  Helen was by Theo's side as he became active in the anti-apartheid movement and supported him in all his work; a wife's duty, she would have said.  She was of the generation who believed that a woman's role was to support her husband, and this she did in every way she could, enabling Theo to become successful and admired while she stayed in the background (although not always: she was an active member of Black Sash, a womens anti-apartheid organisation).  In 1977, a dramatic escape from the South African authorities led to a sixteen year exile, first in the Netherlands and America, and then, from 1980, in the UK.  Helen did not have an easy life, but it was one filled with hard work, children, friends, love.

One of my earliest memories is of staying at my grandparents house the summer my brother was born.  They had a houseful of family - cousins, aunts and uncles - gathered from around the world, and so we (my cousins and I) had to sleep in the garage.  Because they were older than me, their bedtime was later than mine, so granny came into the garage to sit with me, telling me stories, until I fell asleep.  I remember feeling safe and comforted by her presence.  My brothers and I were lucky enough to grow up with granny and grandpa in the same country (a luxury few of my cousins had), and I always enjoyed spending time with them.

Later, as a teenager, I found Helen an intimidating prospect.  When she and Theo left the UK to return to South Africa, I was still the sweet, studious, blonde-haired grandaughter of her dreams.  Returning on a visit a couple of years after, she didn't really know how to deal with the dyed hair and facial piercings, and we clashed at times.  She was never one to hide her displeasure: I will always remember how she reacted when she felt my brother, Richard, and I were being insufficiently attentive while playing Scrabble (which was something akin to a second religion in Helen's book).  Let's just say, we quickly started taking the game more seriously after she'd said her piece.

For the past twenty-ish years I have lived thousands of miles away from Helen, seeing her on her rare visits to the UK and on my even rarer trips to South Africa.  But I was lucky enough to spend time with her last summer, by which time her decline - begun in many ways when Theo died in 2003, after which she suffered from depression - meant that she didn't really recognise or remember me. 

My uncle, Michael, and aunt, Jenny, have done a wonderful job of caring for Helen these last few years (you can read Jenny's amazing blog post about Helen's last days here.  It is a beautiful piece of writing).  My favourite story of theirs is the time they arrived at her flat to find her laid out on the bed, fully dressed, breathing deeply.  "What are you doing, mother?" Michael enquired of her, to which he received the answer, "practising taking my last breaths".  Granny has been ready to die for a long time, complaining (as, at 92, she had every right to!) of being tired of living.  Her death comes as a relief in many ways, and to know that she died peacefully, and at home, is a great blessing.  But the quietness of her death should not eclipse the wonderful things she achieved in life. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

An apology

I want to say sorry for being such a crap blogger at the moment... my usual Image Association post is overdue (despite Sarah managing to reply while in the grip of illness last week), I'm barely writing anything, and I'm being utterly rubbish at reading and commenting on other blogs.

My excuse?  The Boy is back in Leicester very briefly, and pretty much every second I'm not at work is being spent with him.  He goes back to The Netherlands in a week, so normal service will resume then. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Music Monday: One Direction

In my 18 months of writing Music Monday posts, I've been very careful to not duplicate artists, preferring to write about a new band every week.  Until now.  And it is to my great shame that the first band to gain the honour of a second slot are One Direction.  I know, I apologise for letting you down.

The things is, my music taste has suffered a recent dramatic decline in quality, and I blame The Boy.  Of the many things that annoy me about this whole relationship thing - the nervous and constant checking of the phone; the inability to eat, so that none of my clothes fit and my jeans keep falling down; the butterflies in stomach sensation - the one I'm most concerned about is my sudden obsession with terrible pop music. 

Ok, so the fact that I 've written in praise of pop music before perhaps indicates that this isn't an entirely new phenomenon.  But the extent of my pop love has become far more severe of late.  My attitude has become: why put on the latest Grizzly Bear album when I could be singing along to Rihanna?  Why listen to Ryan Adams when there are ghastly-yet-compelling Ed Sheerhan ballads out there?  And why hunt out the latest Sufjan Stevens live recordings on Youtube when I could be watching back-to-back One Direction videos?

The thing is, though, I can't really blame The Boy for this last one because let's face it, I have always loved me a bit of 1D and their latest single, Kiss You, is absolute classic boyband pop in the mould of You Don't Know You're Beautiful, and I fucking love it.  I loved it when I heard it on the radio, and I love it even more now I've seen the video.  It has Harry tweaking Zayn's nipples.  It has Liam in a sidecar.  It has the line "chinny chin chins" sung with a completely straight face.  It is, in a word, the best thing you will see in 2013*.

* If your tastes run to boyband cheese and extreme homoeroticism which, if not, why not?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Year in The Netherlands

What an adventure!  Having got very last minute flights using my airmiles, I headed off to Nijmegen (via Amsterdam Schiphol airport) on 30th December.  I'd inadvertantly booked myself into business class, so at Heathrow I was able to enter the hallowed halls of the BA Club Lounge and hang out with all the rich old white guys.  Being able to board the plane first was weird, too: I had a brief moment of thinking, "wow, this is cool," but then I started feeling like a twat as I walked past all the standard class passengers*.

New Year's Eve itself was lovely; The Boy and I wandered around the town all afternoon, drinking tea and looking at secondhand books, then in the evening we ate dinner with his friends in the cafe downstairs from where he lives, then had drinks and watched a punk band in the venue in the basement of the building (the building is a story to itself: an old newspaper building that was once a squat, it's now an anarchist/vegan cafe and gig/club venue with communal living accomodation above: it is so awesome). 

At midnight, we all headed out onto the streets where the full craziness of a Netherlands NYE was revealed.  People light bonfires in the middle of the road and set fireworks off all over the place: the whole town was lit up with explosions.  For a Brit raised on health & safety lectures, it was pretty terrifying, but exciting too.

I didn't take any photographs at all, which is kind of a shame, but I wanted to just live it and enjoy it.  I promise that if I ever go back I'll be a better blogger!  But this is what I wrote on the plane on the way home; a mental snapshot, if you like:

* This was even more the case on the flight back on the 1st, when I had a proper New Year's Day hangover, teary eyes and a pair of underpants stamped on the back of my hand from the club the previous night. I stood out a mile in the business class section!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Top twelve of 2012: Music

I know, I know.  I'm really late to the party with my round-ups of last year.  Better late than never, hey?

2012 was definitely, for me, the year of the single.  While I was underwhelmed by new album released from Grizzly Bear, Bloc Party, Beach House, Fiona Apple and others, there have been an absolute ton of single releases that I have adored.  I also saw some amazing live shows which have made the cut in my top twelve of 2012.

1. Grizzly Bear live at Nottingham Albert Hall, 29th August
Although I was somewhat disappointed to not immediately love their new album, Shields, Grizzly Bear live were anything but a disappointment.  Their incredible harmonies sounded amazing in the Albert Hall and their live versions of Ready, Able and While You Wait For The Others were awe-inspiring.

2. Ryan Adams live at Sheffield City Hall, 27th April
He played a 2 1/2 hour set on his own - just an acoustic guitar (which he ocassionally switched for a piano), a mouth organ and his voice - and it was completely captivating.  I still get shivers thinking of him singing Come Pick Me Up.  Highlight of the evening?  When he favourited my tweet about the show later that night!

3. Summer Sundae Festival at De Montfort Hall, Leicester, 18th August
I love this local Leicester festival, and am very sad that it's going on hiatus for a year in 2013.  Last year I only went for one day; highlights included Lucy Rose; lowlights included seeing lots of pupils that I teach, while clutching pints of cider and feeling slightly tipsy.

4. End of Time by Beyonce
My love for this celebratory, endlessly happy R&B tune (which I wrote about here) hasn't waned in the past eight months since its release. 

5. R U Mine? by Arctic Monkeys
Utterly brilliant, swampy-guitared, grungy comeback single from Sheffield's finest.

6. 212 by Azelia Banks
Rude, crude and brilliant.

7. Angels by The xx
From the pure filth of 212 to this beautiful lead single from The xx's latest album; I was equally obsessed with both of them last autumn.

8. Silver & Gold by Sufjan Stevens
The second, five CD box set of Christmas songs Stevens has released; it's really not as horrifying as it sounds, with a lovely mixture of traditional carols, original compositions and Christmas standards like Sleigh Ride.

9. Girls & Boys by Alabama Shakes
In the case of Alabama Shakes, do believe the hype.  This album wasn't quite up to the standard of their live shows, but it's still a fantastic listen.

10. The Idler Wheel... by Fiona Apple
I might have felt a little underwhelmed by Apple's new album, but that's not to say it isn't head and shoulders above most other releases this year.  Not at all deviating from her, "write songs about love and loss that sound like a nervous breakdown in progress," template, my highlights include Periphery and Anything We Want.

11. Ben Folds Five live at Leeds O2 Academy, 1st December
If only for the lovely moment when the entire audience (and I mean 'entire', I'm pretty sure Richard and I were the only ones not partaking: we don't do participation) was singing the interlude from Army in an attempt to get the band back onstage for an encore.

12. Lonerism by Tame Impala
Bought at the very end of 2012 but scraping into the top twelve anyway, Lonerism by Australian band Tame Impala is sun-soaked, psychedelic rock nostalgia at its very best.

But honourable mentions must also go to the following singles: Euphoria by Loreen, which won the Eurovision Song Contest this year and which reminds me of being at Leicester Pride; One Direction's new single Kiss You, which is almost as good a slice of cheesy pop as You Don't Know You're Beautiful; Solange's new single Losing You, which I'm obsessed with at the moment (and it's produced by my imaginary boyfriend Dev Hynes); Blood Red Shoes' Cold; and Breezeblocks by Alt-J.

What were your musical highlights of 2012?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Image association week 14

After a week off for Christmas, I'm back with a response to this photograph of Sarah's, showing the oldest building in Aberdeen against a backdrop of a soon-to-be-demolished tower block:

My response could only ever be one image.  It is a slight cheat, in that I took it way back in September, but it's such a perfect match.  This is the 1920s Athena building in Leicester, as seen reflected in the glass exterior of Curve Theatre.