Monday, 30 December 2019

That's amore

When the moon hits your eye...

PIZZA, baby!

Because I had the good luck at 17 to meet the best person I'll ever know (although granted, he was well-disguised as a scrawny self-important teen with a prog rock fascination I will never understand) AND the good sense to stay with the ornery cuss for 33 years, I am in the fortunate position of living with someone who loves and knows the very soul of me. As a result, his gift selection is brilliant.

I was dreading Christmas this year - the first year without Mum and to a large degree without Dad too because he needed to ignore it all for his own wellbeing. Mark found things to rekindle my excitement and engagement in the world. The man's a magician.

First amazing gift was from my parents-in-law at M's suggestion. They got me a wildlife camera so we can see who and what visits our garden at night. I'm absolutely delighted. I know we've had some hedgehogs over that past 2 years and that foxes visit to hope for a wandering hen (never mind the rodent corpses our cats thoughtfully provide) but actually seeing what comes when, and how it behaves is very exciting.

I've spent my Christmas money from my brother on a large charger and lots of rechargeable batteries so I can run the camera down the bottom of the garden. My plan is to move it every few days until we discover where we are most likely to see our nocturnal visitors.

The next brilliant gift was my own personal Springwatch experience.

I love Springwatch. I love Chris and Michaela and poor deposed Martin and I'm bearing with Gillian hoping she finds her feet as a presenter eventually but above all I love Iolo Williams. He's the lanky Welshman who bubbles over with enthusiasm and delight at all wild encounters in this tiny but remarkable country. Iolo's the reason we went to the Farne Islands and why I wanted to see a murmuration - I didn't know such things existed and he inspired me with a desire to seek them out.

He's doing a talk at a centre near my Dad for a local wildlife charity. Mark's got tickets for Dad and me and a copy of Iolo's book about UK wildlife so I can get it signed. I'm beyond delighted.

So far, so middle aged twitcher. Which is an identity I am proud to acknowledge, by the way.

But the third gift...

That's the "yeah, great, thanks for the two scented tree resins, Caspar and Melchior, but where's Balthazar with the gold?" gift.  Not just ace but brilliant.

A pizza oven.
assembled inside, but for OUTSIDE use only

I know it's a fairly shameful claim, but we eat more pizza than any family I know. Luke would eat pizza for every meal of his life if he could. I love Roman, Neopolitan, Chicago style -  all of it. I remember my horror moving to the UK in 1985 and seeing the ghastly cardboard discs passing as "pizza" here, and my cousins' bemusement at my disgust. (Britain, I love you but your food prior to the 90s was a damned disgrace). I've experimented with lots of different dough recipes, various cooking techniques, bought pizza tins, stones and peels. Ever since my Very Excellent Mate Nic talked about how she and Ady built a cob pizza oven on their croft on Rum I've been trying to persuade Mark we need one.

The Ooni 3 is a work of genius. Like my beloved Eglu did for hen-keeping, it makes wood-fired pizzas a doddle in your back garden. It's portable, it takes 15 minutes to heat up rather than the 4-6 hours of a cob oven and the pizzas cook in under 2 minutes. They are beyond anything -
I can't recommedt them enough. I made around 8 of them today, I think, maybe more.

The dough recipe I used was a very simple one - 500g strong flour, 300g water, 7g quick acting yeast and a heaped teaspoon of salt. I put it in the kitchen mixer for 10-15 minutes then moved it to an oiled, covered bowl in a warm spot in the kitchen. The first batch was done while the kitchen door was open and it was really cold so I popped it in the Instant Pot on the "yogurt making" setting for 90 minutes. The second sat in a sunny window.

Each dough batch made 5 balls weighing 160g. After a second prove I kneaded and stretched each into a 24-30cm circle (this is a lie, they were weird splodges). I put flour on the peel (official name for that metal flat thing that gets pizzas out of ovens) and plopped carefully placed the dough on it. 2 spoons of pizza sauce, a scattering of olives/pepperoni/nothing, a generous sprinkling of mozzarella and a quick shimmy to get it from peel to oven.

The thing cooks unbelieveably quickly. I charred the first one because I couldn't believe 30 seconds was enough before turning. (it was)
in which we learn 60 seconds a side is too long

Using the peel, I pulled the pizza out every 30 seconds or so and rotated it 180 degrees. Within 90 seconds to 2 minutes (depending on the temperature of the baking stone at the heart of the oven) each pizza was perfectly cooked.
one of many misshapen but delicious pizzas

I had a brilliant time. I was supposed to be making dinner for everyone but I got overexcited and made pizza for a late lunch first. This was serendipitous, as trying to use an unfamiliar cooking technique with FIRE and at up to 500 degrees Celsius in the dark would have been a nightmare. I did have a second batch in the dark but it was much harder to see whether things were cooked/burnt/undercooked so in future I'll stick to cooking with actual visibility.

It was wonderful to find things that are fun and exciting, especially when I'd anticipated this season with a fair amount of dread.

If you need me, I'll be pitting olives and sourcing 00 flour online for the foreseeable future.

Happy New Year, and may the coming decade be kinder than the last.

Friday, 20 December 2019

It's been a weird year

This is likely to be a clunky post. It's the "Previously in Jay's 2019", the one that recaps where I've been so I can move on.

The year started dreadfully because our ace Luke was in a bad way. Accessing mental health support when each arm of the service says "Yes, he's clearly badly in need of help, but not our specialised flavour of it" is exhausting and upsetting. However, things did improve eventually.

Obviously Mum's illness and death meant May and June barely registered.

A mystery illness in July had me admitted to hospital and meant I missed both RHS Tatton show and cancelled our 25th anniversary celebrations. In September it ceased to be a mystery and became an emergency surgery, onvernight stay in ICU, week-long stay in hospital on many drips and a long, slow recovery at home which pretty much ate up my life through to early November. It also scared the bejeezus out of Mark. However, I managed not to die so that's a good thing.

Luke and I had an overnight visit to London where we ate pizza 4 times in 4 different places to decide on London's Best Pizza (we have done previous research on this important topic in the past). My part in this wasn't very scientific because I had a different pizza at each place, so my contribution was mainly financial. Luke was a purist, naturally, and had a Margarita at each one.

Pizza Union was cheap and cheerful but its crust was far too crunchy and toppings a bit slapdash. Pizza Express was its usual self - overpriced for what it is but enjoyable enough. Pizza Pilgrims had a great sourdough base but the sauce and toppings were very soggy. Soho Joe was the runaway winner - great sourdough base, good sauce, plenty of cheese. Very friendly service too.

We also managed to fit in Book of Mormon and some serious book shopping time as well. That was the highlight of my autumn.

Mark turned 50 and bought a crazy car - swapped the much-loathed Ford for an enormous aged Lexus that's got both a hybrid engine and a cassette deck. It's very comfortable but also very funny. Cassettes. Seriously.

Understandably, Dad is very much not in the mood for Christmas. I did all his shopping/wrapping stuff to give him the chance to opt out, and then tackled my own. I feel like I've been wrapping things for days, but it's all done now - if not to my usual standards nor enthusiasm.

The kids have been great - they understand that I'm not feeling very celebratory and have stepped in to some of my previous roles. Mark and B chose the Christmas tree - only needed a mere 3 foot cutting off it to fit it in the house, and took a bit of the doorframe with it - and the 4 of them decorated it without me. They were very thoughtful and didn't use any of the handmade decorations I made with Mum when  was young. Finding a message from her on a gift bag I was reusing had me in tears all day, so the fewer trigger points to trip me up the better, quite frankly. Grief is hard.

Because the universe hadn't finished being cruel, Dad's closest friend died last week. He was a lovely man and a great support to Dad. His poor family will have a damned rough Christmas.

I've been trying to keep my Reasons To Be Cheerful 1,2,3 project on Twitter going through this year, even when it felt very hard to find them.  Above all my reason for cheerfulness has been the compassion, love and support I have been lucky enough to receive from my family, friends and neighbours. I'm a very fortunate woman, I know truly lovely people. My garden and its produce has remained a source of happiness and balance. Recognising and appreciating small pleasures whrn they occur has also been important.

As I escape this ghastly year, I wish everyone a peaceful New Year. I wish that hope, compassion and good hearts are enough to make 2020 better for all of us.
Have a good Christmas, however you're spending it.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

What a difference a day makes

The day I wrote my last blog post, Monday April 29th, was the day everything changed.

It was the last day of Luke's teens. Miss B was going to a friend's house after Rounders so the four of us could watch Avengers Endgame. (It's not that B couldn't come, she just isn't interested.) We couldn't go on the opening weekend because Z was on a camping trip so we'd been extremely careful to avoid spoilers. We had brilliant seats, we'd been looking forward to it for ages, it was going to be A Good Day.

As not monsters polite patrons, we all turned our phones off for the three hours plus trailers. It was a good film. Or at least I think it was, because I honestly don't remember much. Events rather overtook us.

In the lobby of Leeds Everyman Zach was the first to turn his phone back on. He was already ringing back a missed caller when I saw I'd missed numerous calls from Mum. "Hi, Nana, yes, she's right here - Mum, Nana wants to speak to you."

On Good Friday 10 days before, the four of us went to a screening of Monty Python's Life Of Brian with Mum, Dad, my niece and her pal. It was tremendous fun culminating in an audience singsong. When we got back to the house I noticed Mum had an awful bruise on her hand. "Wow, what happened? That looks dreadful?" Mum was startled. She hadn't hurt herself, didn't feel anything. Odd.

She mentioned the following day she was feeling really tired. She'd just had a 17 year old move in, so I thought that wasn't really surprising. Teens are ace but knackering. Over the next week she was increasingly exhausted as she carried out her normal active life - Nordic walking... I swear I'm a changeling in that family - but not being able to manage her usual number of matches at her beloved table tennis showed something was clearly Not Right.  She went to the GP on Monday morning for a blood test.

"The doctors say there's something wrong with my blood, my bone marrow isn't working. I have to go in tonight for a transfusion."

And that was it.  New rules applied.

It's not supposed to be this way. Mum is the one who is supposed to live to a grand old age. Dad's had so many health problems, he looks increasingly frail when something else hits him - he lived through sepsis and complications following surgery in the last two years alone.  Colin's 80 and had a quadruple bypass over 20 years ago, turned down a subsequent one. Marion's health has been lousy for years, and she struggles to get farther than her garden.  Mum was the youngest, the fittest, the one with the most smoking-free years, the one with the healthy lifestyle and active engagement in the world. Everything you're supposed to be. Everything that's supposed to keep you in good health.

The narrative went wrong. The wolf ate Red Riding Hood, the ugly sister marry the prince. There are supposed to be rules, damn it.

20 days from the blood test, my Mum died.

On the whole, it was a good death. 15 years too early, but good. Her illness was short with very little pain, just exhaustion really. She could make her peace with what was coming, she reflected on her life and said she'd been so very lucky. She could say her goodbyes - in person or by text to her cheering squad of friends and family on a WhatsApp group we made for her. I was able to stay overnight a few nights, thanks to the lovely staff at The Christie in Manchester, so she wasn't alone for much of it, and she was with Dad, Neil and I when she died. As her oxygen levels dropped, the morphine kept her from feeling distress and she died holding our hands.

Everyone said I'd been great. Everyone said I'd been a rock, a wonderful daughter. It's bullshit. I did it because I could, and I *had* to do something. Sitting at her side all day, getting drinks, pulling lip salve on to stop them cracking, moisturising her hands and feet in the dry hospital air, helping with bedpans and meals, drinks and CPAP masks... these were all small and achievable things. Even the travel was nice - the transpenine rail journey is a breautiful one and the tram from Victoria to West Didsbury goes through some lovely areas. That was the easy stuff. Sitting at home wondering what was happening would have been far harder.

I knew Mum was dying. So did Mum. We talked about it, which is a bloody difficult conversation to have. She didn't want to distress me, and I wanted her to be able to talk and just ignore my leaky eyes because that was OK, it didn't matter, and I couldn't stop it so let's just not worry about that and keep talking.

She was frightened of suffocating. I promised I'd intervene, I'd be her advocate and fight for what she needed when she couldn't, to make it as unscary and as gentle as possible. She remembered her own Dad's death, and how desperately she tried to hold on to him when he was ready to die. He asked her to let him go; it was so hard for her. She didn't want that for us. I can't speak for Neil, I know he and Dad were blindsided by it which makes everything harder, but I was OK. Mum knew she was dying, she knew how she wanted it to be and I could help.

We talked about the funeral. She used to want to be creamated but later decided burial, especially an environmentally sensitive woodland burial, would be better. "And don't let your brother get one of those tacky floral MUM displays. You know what he's like!" Yes, I do know, and it's OK Mum, I've got you covered.

In the immediate aftermath, I rang Mark to come and fetch me. Dad and Neil were reluctant to leave me alone at the hospital, but quite honestly it was a relief. I've never liked crying in front of people, and I was struck numb anyway. Best to have a little time to sit quietly.

I rang the few people I thought would need to know in person, then sent out a message across WhatsApp, Facebook Messanger, email and text to everyone else. That was OK too, although talking was hard, except to my cousin Al who loved Mum like a mother so was in the same boat, really. People obviously wanted to express their grief, their shock, their sympathy. I didn't want to listen - it felt like a burden I had to help them carry and I didn't have it in me. I just wanted to be quiet and still.

Dad kept crying, and yelling at himself for crying. I didn't cry, not much. I still don't. A little leaks out now and then but it's soon shushed and moved to the side. It's not like Dad, it's not that I don't think I should cry - I do! I think it would be natural and healthy. But I can't face it. I can't let it out because I don't know if I could stop, how to regain control again once I started.

Words help. Words always help. They give things form, make it possible to turn them around, inspect from different angles, reinterpret the world.

Some of the words -
It's a wood. There is a path. Mo, Kim and all the other medical staff at The Christie showed us that path, explained the obstacles and terrain we'd encounter on the way, but ultimately we'd go from Having Cancer to Remission to Transplant and then to Healthy. That made the cancer far less scary.  I took notes while they talked so I could keep on track, I could hold the information and share it to everyone as needed, so no one needed to frightened or misinterpret or feel lost. We have a path and I have the map safe.

Then there's a huge box in the path. A Pandorica, a Pandora's box, a monolith. It completely fills the path, there's no way past it. And maybe inside the box is Mum, gone, out of reach, locked away. Or maybe it's grief in the box. I don't know. But there's such an enormous block and as I walk towards it I sheer away. I swerve. We're like magnets repelling. I can't get close to it, my self-defence moves me to the side. Then I shut down. Napping, watching telly, sitting in the garden still and quiet for two hours at a time.

I don't know what the correct response to bereavment is, but I don't think this is it.  All the time I have tasks to focus on, I'm just fine. List of funeral directors, research what to ask, send out enquiries.  Research flowers, celebrants, coffins, what are normal processes, who else do we need to tell, what is the next step.

Six days after Mum died I had my long-awaited trio to London (50th birthday present) to see the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.  At the time I'd have said I had a brilliant day in London. It was truly remarkable, so much sunshine and happiness. There were tricky moments bubbling up, but I mostly revelled in the warmth, the beautiful things, the music, the remarkable building.

As I experienced it I thought I was putting my grief aside for a few hours. However, it didn't work out like that in the long run.

The trip down was great, being handed free bouquet and a book was lovely, the Royal Ballet was as wonderful as I hoped and the Royal Opera House itself is absolutely magnificent.  But when I think back to the day it's tainted by the numbness of trying to keep the grief at bay. Of oversharing and crying at strangers on the train home. (Oh god, those poor women!) Of crying in the shop changing room as I chose my outfit for the funeral. Of the shop worker hugging me, she used to be an oncology nurse. Of pouring so much energy into keeping the door closed on grief I couldn't fully experience anything. The loss was so new and raw.

It was in a fabric printing workshop a few weeks later that it all burst out. We were supposed to be doing a moment of quiet reflection before the next project started, and I cracked. Grief poured out in loud, messy sound. I wailed, I shrieked. I locked myself in the bathroom and howled snottily until I couldn't breathe. It was hideously embarrassing to rejoin everyone, but I did feel a pressure had lifted. At least it hadn't happened at the funeral. Public displays of distress are very much not my thing.

I stopped seeing people. I knew they would want to express their condolences, to talk to me about it and I just couldn't face it. My Very Excellent Mate Kirsty was an absolute rock, bless her, and listened to my babblings for hours, administering coffee and cake regularly. I avoided everyone else, even some of my very dearest friends because I just didn't know what to say. Mark wanted to comfort me but I wouldn't accept comfort, I just wanted to close myself inwards, turn everything off.

Now we're at nearly 3 months since Mum died. Dad's done lots of the admin associated with death, and had to face his loss every minute of every day. It's heartbreaking. I'm so proud of him and I hate that he has to go through this.  I've done bugger all, except help sort some of the more personal items out - emptying handbags, sorting jewellery and toiletries, that sort of thing.  I'm not as numb, but I'm still far from accepting it. I go to ring her regularly. I take photos to send her and remember I can't.

I'm lucky. I lost someone from the right generation - not a partner, not a child but a parent, the way you are supposed to as people get older. I have friends and cousins haven't been so fortunate, and that's been just awful.

I'm lucky.  I had my Mum with me until I was 50 years old. Mum lost both her parents by 38.

I'm lucky. We argued and blew up at each other sometimes, but we had brilliant times together too, and we knew we loved and were loved. Not all people have that relationship with their parents.

I'm lucky. I didn't have to see Mum dwindle and suffer, to lose herself to dementia or be trapped in an ailing body. She was fit and active and relishing life until her final weeks.

I'm lucky that Kate Williams was my Mum. But I don't feel very lucky just now.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Dear Zoo

Happy Birthday!

I've passed my half century, along with my First Ever Best Buddy Beth, Cerys Matthews of 6 Music, and the Open University. Balloons and cake to us all!

Like your typical eight year old fifty year old, I made the excellent decision to take a picnic to the zoo.  I say zoo, I mean the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster which is a friendly and excellent place.  It functions partly as a normal zoo and partly retirement home for animals no longer in the zoo breeding programme. It's one of my favourite places and somewhere all five of us enjoy.

Feeling pretty lazy, I bought a pack of fondant fancies to serve as a mini birthday cake. Feeling hungry, I made spanokopita to take with us on the picnic.

Leeds used to have a place called Salt's Deli, and their spanokopita was to die for. They vanished some years back and I really had a hankering for the lovely spinach and filo pie. As usual, I turned to Felicity Cloake of The Guardian for recipe advice. I roughly followed her recipe here.

I reduced the spinach from 1kg to 750g and would recommend increasing the feta to 350g. Chopping and massaging a tablespoon of salt through the fresh spinach did work, but I had to put it in a colander with heavy weights on to help remove the excess liquid.

It was a pretty easy recipe and I highly endorse it - it was delicious and kept me in lunches for several days. My VEM Kirsty had a taste and went home to cook it herself.

We had a brilliant time at the Wildlife Park. The baboons were busy with new babies, and freaking out about a male mallard that was somehow terribly threatening as he swan serenely around the pond. There were fights over a stick, brawls over getting too close to the babies, sibling jealousy, male posturing and female impatience with all this crap.  Pretty much like the rest of us. Except for the mallard phobia, obviously. That was just weird.

The painted dogs were remarkably laid back in the face of their neighbours' noisy chaos. I'd swear one of them was rolling her eyes, but anthropomorphising is too easy. 

One of my great delights is visiting the polar bears in their 10 acre playground. Polar bears are HUGE. Really, really huge. Not "gosh, that's big" type of beast, more "Holy Geez, look at the the size of him!" It's hard not to want to go in and give them a cuddle, even if they'd eat you - they are gorgeous and hey, a bear's got to eat. You don't get to be the world's largest land carnivore without a heck of an appetite. This is beautifully demonstrated by the sign on the staff entrance to the bear enclosure "Do You Know Where The Bears Are?"

Victor is my favourite. He's a behemoth of a bear - old, wonderful, father of 10,  grandfather of many. He had a lovely swim in his lake and spent a lot of time blowing bubbles because he can.  

I love the capybaras and the maras; if a rabbit and a deer had babies, they'd be maras. For my 40th birthday my Best Woman SJ bought me a hutch and two guinea pigs (Lola and Lotta because they were small and very funny) and it's hard not to see the capybaras as giant free-range guinea pigs, happily bimbling around and dozing in the sun. They *definitely* want a cuddle and a scratch on the back.

Guinea pigs on steroids

We were delighted to see the tiny baby anteater, Licky Minaj, having a cuddle with her mum then having a little wander in the outside world. She's ridiculously cute. Top work crowd-sourcing the name, YWP. No Anty McAntface for you.

Our big surprise of the day was discovering that armadillos go jogging. Watching them trot in opposite direction around their well-worn circuit had us transfixed for ages. Sure, the marmosets were cute, and it was exciting last time when they escaped, but jogging armadillos are adorable.

After our picnic, a visit to the tigers and giraffes, total failure to find the Amur leopards and a pause to admire the black rhino standing to attention, we met with Elvis the Emu. Elvis is under the misapprehension he's an ostrich. No one wants to hurt his feelings, so he lives in the African enclosure and hangs out with the female ostrich who's too polite to say anything. Maybe it's in the name.  We adopted a hen called Elvis from my good friend Lisa recently. She and her lads all refer to Elvis as "he" despite Elvis laying eggs daily.  Emu, ostrich, boy hen... Live your best lives, Elvis.

It was a lovely day spent with my best people. Dinner at Salvo's and home again to indulge in another birthday treat - watching the live-action Peter Pan from 2003, which remains one of my favourite film.

Over coming weeks I've a series of workshops, courses and performances to enjoy as I continue my bid to make this a year I look outwards rather than in. Textile printing, glass work, sewing garments, seeing ballets and shows... 50 has a lot to look forward to.

I'm handsome and I know it

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

To the half century.. and beyond!

Nearly 3 years ago I wrote a list of happiness-inspiring things I'd like to try before the end of the year I turn 50. It all seemed reassuringly far away, I had loads of time to do it all. 
2 years ago I updated my progress, and then completely forgot about it.
Last week my mother-inlaw reminded me of my list, and asked if there was anything on it she could facilitate as my birthday present.
I'm 50 in 3 weeks.
Better get my damned skates on.

Here's the list, which I could add to as I found new things I wanted to do. Those I've done are highlighted with white:
Venice is incredible.

  1. Go fishing  
  2. See the Giant's Causeway - Still haven't arranged it
  3. Try salsify and Jerusalem artichokes
  4. Go rock pooling again - somehow the opportunity hasn't arisen
  5. Sing in a choir - I'm a wuss. Nearly gone to 5 different ones and always bottle it
  6. Grow cut flowers 
  7. See live music 
  8. Visit Hadrian's Wall 
  9. Spend all day at the movies  
  10. Learn to apply make up properly 
  11. See the Northern Lights 
  12. Go whale-watching 
  13. Learn a new range of cooking 
  14. Sew something I can wear  
  15. See a new ballet company 
  16. Learn to play a song on an instrument 
  17. Go birdwatching on the Farne Islands 
  18. Return to Paris 
  19. Cook a decent roast dinner 
  20. Build sandcastles - not done that in ages, and I like it
  21. See Venice while it's still there
  22. See at least one of the birds on my most wanted list 
  23. Visit Petra - never going to happen, but it's the ancient wonder I'd most like to see
  24. Start another business
  25. Find a fossil
Each of those I have done has given me such a sense of achievement or pleasure. Seeing a Bearded Tit (keep your sniggering to yourself) at St Aiden's wildlife park the other week had me grinning for days - such a tiny bird, and so glorious! Venice was beyond my expectation of beauty and impossibility. Except for the eating of octopi it was perfection itself. (Octopi are probably smarter than we are. It's rude to eat them.)
weeks of sweetpea bouquets

I'm so glad Mark's mum reminded of my list.

Moving forward, I've found a workshop to achieve No.14 at the charming Hello Workshop in May. If I can make myself a T shirt someday I might be able to make myself jersey tunics, and I LOVE tunics.

M's parents are kindly treating me to a train ticket and ticket to see the Royal Ballet in Covent Garden - WOW! - so I can achieve No.15 as well as seeing one of my favourite ballets, Romeo and Juliet.  I'm ridiculously excited at the prospect.

My parents generously offered money for a trip.  I'm clearly horrendously middle aged as I decided I'd rather use it getting new stuff for the garden. Isn't that a lowering thought? It's true though; I spend all my daylight hours outside once the weather is half decent and eat most of my meals in the garden. Replacing our rickety, collapsing table and chairs with something better will give me many more hours of happiness than a weekend break, even if I were visiting the Giant's Causeway or Lisbon or somewhere else wonderful. Being in my marvellous garden is my easiest source of happiness. It's often scruffy but it's wonderful.

Obviously the trickiest is to start another business. I loved being self-employed, and I would be delighted to be so again. I need to think of something I can offer that other people would pay me to do. I'd say 'watch this space' but I feel I'd leave you hanging a good while.

What should I tackle next? 

The music? I have access to a ukulele, guitar, recorder, keyboard and clarinet, but can't play any of them.  Probably the wisest "play a song" route is the uke or the keyboard. 

Finding a veggie/fish - friendly roast dinner to prepare? Mark always does the roasts here. I prefer non-English food myself (if it doesn't start with garlic, why even bother?) so I've not been motivated to learn to do a roast properly with all the trimmings. Actually, asking Mark to teach me how to do it would be fun, we like cooking together... until I remember how critical he is of my knife skills and that I inevitably tell him to sod off about it. 
Perhaps not.

Planning a day at the seaside for rock pooling and castle building is easy enough - I just need the seasons to turn. I'll put a reminder in my diary and arrange it.
The movie one needs a confluence of events - enough films I'm interested in out at the same time, and not at a manic time of year like Christmas. We used to love our 3-movie days, in our pre-kids life. There are very few mainstream movies of the 90s I haven't seen, unless you include horror. (Remember, I'm a wuss) It would be a lot of fun to ditch being responsible and binge watch films in a cinema again.

So, newly inspired to seek out my adventures and about to hit my half century, I'm making plans. I'm not going to stay inside, letting my anxieties dictate the pace of my life. Spring is here and it's time to grow up and grow onwards.

I'd really appreciate any suggestions or advice, my lovelies. It's a big world and I do get a bit daunted.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Time After Time

October 7th, 2018. 8pm.

That's when Doctor Who returned. Well, sort of returned. New face, new sex, new friends, new writers. Probably a new TARDIS, sonic screwdriver and title sequence too. Regenerating in every way and still being the same.
Got to love Doctor Who.

In late August the magnitude of my Hamilton overspend hit me; over £450 for one night out.
Even in the cheapest of cheap seats, that's 5 tickets, 5 rail tickets to London, 2 hotel rooms needed.  That's before dinner, breakfast and lunch for 5 and spending money.  I decided to recoup it as best I could. I listed toys on eBay and Facebook, washed and dried many kilos of Lego, looked for anything else of value that wasn't needed. It went well, and I raised a good chunk towards the costs.

Mark suggested getting rid of a lot of the DVDs and CDs sitting crates in the office. He sold them in a bulk lot, making us over £100, but we all had a check through the boxes to make sure nothing vital was being disposed of.

The lunatic had only gone and included my DVDs of Doctor Who.

(Yes, I know they are all online at BBC iPlayer and Netflix, but it's not the same.)

Rescuing them from the crate, I thought it might be fun to re-watch every episode from Rose through to Twice Upon A Time, in time for the arrival of Jodie Whittaker's Doctor in October. So many great episodes, it will be ace, I thought. There are probably about 60 episodes or something, I can definitely do it. Rose! Donna! Amy and Rory! Angels, Cybermen, Daleks, Ood, Adipose, Silurians! It will be a blast.

No, Jay, you twonk. There are 166 episodes from Christopher Eccleston's Doctor grabbing Rose's hand and saying "Run" to Peter Capaldi meeting himself in the form of David Bradley in the snow. That's an awful lot of telly viewing to cram into 6 weeks. I didn't start counting until I was already 20 episodes in, and I'd kind of committed to it by then.

Series One:
Ah, the joys of the Eccleston year. I love this season with all my heart. Eccleston is a delight to watch, Billie Piper converted me from thinking "some vacuous pop pixie" to "I love her forever, even though her mascara scares me". The delightful Captain Jack, the massive story arc in the Buffy style. Sobbing fit as the Doctor kissed Rose and changed. He really was fantastic. It was even more fun than I'd remembered, although I still can't be doing with the Slitheen.
Never did like a fart gag.

Series Two:
That magical boy from Taking Over The Asylum and Casanova - isn't he a delight? A less than wonderful Christmas special and a few absolute duds (Absorbaloff? seriously? was it a dare?) but my goodness there are some right belters. Werewolves, alternate worlds, the Satan pit, the glory of a Dalek vs Cyberman standoff. I love the humour ("Look at me! I'm a chav") and the glee of this series.    Sarah Jane Smith comes back - hurray!
Again, my heart broke. Cried buckets, the sentimental thing that I am. Lots of people hated that but tough luck, cynics. Love and sacrifice are great stories.

Series Three:
Oh dear, the difficult third album.
Martha drove me nuts the first time because she was mooning about like a lovestruck groupie instead of being smart and focused. Second time around, I wasn't in mourning for lost Rose, so could view her more compassionately. She still got on my wick but I felt she'd had a revelation in the Family Of Blood two-parter; even when the Doctor was free to fall in love, he didn't fall in love with her. I think it finally clicked and she moved on. I did hate the "it was all a dream Pam had, Bobby's really in the shower" bit about rewinding the last couple of years in the final episode, though. It felt stupid.

Series Four:
The mates.
Donna was a wonderful companion. They were sparring equals, they were drinking buddies, they were glorious. She never once let him get away with ego, and she was fantastic fun. The adorable Adipose - please can I lose weight like that? pretty please? - the Oods, the Daleks, the reappearance of  Rose and the gang... one of the strongest series of the lot.

Series Five:
Amelia Pond, name from a fairy tale.
Matt Smith, a man with insufficient control of his limbs.
I loved the moral quandary of The Beast Below, the Vincent episode was lovely, and obviously Rory is everyone's relationship goal. He's utterly wonderful. Amy is fun and stroppy; James Corden does a corking job as lovelorn Craig in The Lodger.

Series Six:
Strong start - murdering the Doctor in the first episode.
Unfortunately this series featured very annoying voiceovers in the opening titles that felt like nails on a blackboard every single time. Loved the eeriness of drawing a line on yourself every time you see The Silence, it was properly disturbing. Completely DON'T love the over the top Look How Zany I Am stuff Matt Smith was forced to do. He wasn't so much a Time Lord as a Time Toddler on a sugar rush. Grow up, man, and calm the heck down.
The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People was the best story for me. Mark Bonnar and Marshall Lancaster never fail to charm me, and Raquel Cassidy was superb.  It actually made up for the stupid Pirate episode. The Doctor's Wife was brilliant (because OF COURSE Rory is The Pretty One)  and the reappearance of Craig with baby Stormaggedon was great fun.

Series Seven:
Goodbye Amy and Rory, Hello various incarnations of Clara Oswin Osgood.
No stupid voiceover, now a great opening sequence with the Doctor's face, like the 70s and 80s.
Like the sentimental fool I am. I was distraught at Amy and Rory's estrangement, delighted by their reunion, and loved Souffle Girl. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship's only redeeming feature was the accidental kidnapping of Mark Williams as Rory's dad. I actively dreaded Angels Take Manhattan because I knew I'd miss Amy and Rory, and I wasn't wrong.
I didn't take to Clara at all. Sorry.
However, the Cold War episode with the ever-lovely Liam Cunningham was a stand-out episode. I swear I could watch that man read aloud from a phone book and be charmed. Really not fussed on The Great Intelligence and the Trenzalore rubbish. It was entirely too convoluted for my taste.

Day Of The Doctor
Happy 50th birthday, Doctor Who!
I was at a wedding when this was originally screened. We came home and watched it in the middle of the night, then again the next day. I love it.
John Hurt punctures the manic gibberish of Tennant and Smith magnificently. His calm, weary stillness throws Matt Smith's gurning into stark contrast. I'm as much in love with David Tennant as I ever was; is that man ever anything but charming? I loved the Zygons as they were my first Doctor Who memory as a child and they scared the bejeezus out of me back then. The wonderful Osgood and a reappearance from Billie Piper were marvellous.

Series Eight:
Look, it's a grownup!
Hello Peter Capaldi, how lovely to see you. Although not as a demented twerp belched from a dinosaur, running around and shouting, having a deeply weird relationship with Clara, and watching the moon hatch. This was a real low point. The moon hatching was definitely the thing that made me most angry, for such a daft reason... It got heavier.
It was an EGG. Eggs don't get heavier, because there is no new matter (ie food) going into it. it's not like a placental mammal, getting nutrients piped in. Eggs containing chicks ready to hatch or wee crocodiles are NOT heavier than when they were laid. It drove me insane.
The overnight forest was also stupid, while I'm having a moan. I did like the Cybermen and Missy, though. Chris Addison as an irksome afterlife civil servant was perfect.

Series Nine:
The best of times, the worst of times.
I'd totally erased this from my memory, had thought there was a Clara series and a Bill series. Would that it were so.
First up, the good bits: The Christmas Special with Nick Frost as Santa with a pair of bickering elves was a corker. Fun, frightening, made sense (not always a given in the Moffat years) and as festive as it's possible to be. Davros and Missy meant a cracker of an episode in the Dalek city - indeed Missy's dialogue throughout is a joy. "See that couple over there? You're the puppy." Top quality snark, it was great.
Otherwise? hmmm. Clara overstayed as a companion, there really wasn't anything good to do with her. Jenna Coleman was fantastic in Victoria, I honestly don't dislike her as an actress. I did loathe Clara, other than as Souffle Girl, because she was such a cipher. She brought nothing but big eyes and shiny hair to the party. I've missed Amy, River, and especially Donna so much in this series. I felt Moffat had created a character he was in love with, and didn't bother to explain to us why we should love her. RTD *showed* us why we loved Rose and Donna. Clara just stood there and we were expected to see something in her that I didn't.
The other significant character, Ashildr, had some interesting moments but didn't hold together that well (not Maisie Williams's fault, she was great). The only bit that really worked for me was the two of them riding off into space and time together, the long way 'round.
The antepenultimate* Heaven Sent was so nasty I could barely stomach it. The merciless terrifying and torturing of the Doctor again and again, clambering out over his own skulls... just NO. (Luke disagrees, by the way, because he loves a time loop.) I felt like I do when I see Dumbo - complicit in the bullying of someone. For god's sake, Moffat, seek therapy, ditch Clara and move on!
He does move on, and then it gets better.
The Christmas episode that followed the series, The Husbands Of River Song, was marvellous, and the superhero boy in New York for the following Christmas was the sort of episode that made me love the Doctor when I was young.

Series Ten:
Hello Bill! Love Bill, me.
This was the Doctor Capaldi was meant to be. He's fantastic - he looks at ease with himself in the role at last and his band of Bill, Nardole and Missy sparked off each other beautifully. The Pilot was a wonderful start, the emoji robots were suitably menacing, I love any excuse for a Frost Fair, and the final battles with Missy and The Master were super. I loved that they went to look for the lost Ninth Legion to settle an argument (although Kar being the reason crows saw Caw was stupid and irksome). A few sluggish episodes but on the whole a massive return to form. I even got over a smidge of my Moffat-dislike.  I don't think he's terribly good at writing women except in relation to men, so Bill was a refreshing change.
I'm also glad so many got a happy ending - Nardole with his Hazran, Bill with Heather and in a funny way, the Master and Missy destroying each other.
The final episode, featuring the masterful David Bradley as the First Doctor in a reprisal of his role as William Hartnell in An Adventure In Space And Time, was a stonking way to acknowledge the origins and prepare for the future of one of the most loved television characters in the world. And the more TARDISes the better, in my opinion.

And there we have it - ten series and many specials in 6 weeks.

I finished with a whole 27 minutes to go before the new series started (I'm the kind of gal who likes to live on the edge**). Thrust headlong into a new adventure, enjoying the full exploration of 'Lots of planets have a North' through the Sheffield setting, revelling in the first female Doctor engineering her own sonic screwdriver instead of having one gifted by the TARDIS. I couldn't be more chuffed.

All that, and it's nearly time to use those Hamilton tickets!

*Isn't that such a delightful word!
**If you haven't watched Rob Reiner's film The Sure Thing, you should do it immediately

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

A bit of a catch-up

As Storm Ali turns my tree into a Whomping Willow, I'm hunkering down inside. The chimney and the window gaps are making spooky noises and the animals are jumpy so I'm banishing the eerie atmosphere with smells of spices and cooking vegetables. I have pans of pulses simmering, batch cooking underway. 
Next Week Me will be very grateful.

The younger two are back at school and thriving. Z is in Sixth Form and absolutely loves his courses. He's so full of enthusiasm, I do love to see that. He's also exhausted - lots of work! Miss B is about to go on one of the highlights of her secondary school experience - the Year 8 trip to Butlins Skegness with the whole year group. 300 kids taking over the place for a week, living in apartments with their friends and having an incredible range of activities and workshops put on for them. I know she'll love it and throw herself into everything.

Familial relations have broken down still further amongst our feline residents.  Ferris Mewller has ceased coming home entirely, even when his adopted family went away. I looked for him and called for him, but he refuses to enter the garden, never mind the house. He hisses at us when we try bring him inside and ignores offers of food. 
I miss my special lad, he was very much My Cat (or I was very much His Person) until I ruined things by bringing Gonzo to live with us.
Poor Isaac Mewton is suffering too. Gonzo's only 2 years old and he's ENORMOUS. He is the alpha cat now; eats all the food, fights with Isaac every time they are together. He's a thug - bites Isaac while he sleeps, claims every sleeping place Isaac prefers. This morning they were fighting on opposite sides of a glass door for heaven's sake - it's madness.  I have to chuck Gonzo outside and feed Isaac separately; they work the house on a timeshare system.
I'm definitely not the cause of any trouble
This autumn I can appreciate the advance planning of Winter and Spring Me, as all those events I booked tickets for are finally coming around. We have a lot of standup comedy to look forward to, some workshops, activism, Yarndale, theatre, music, a meal at a Michelin starred place we've been looking forward to, and of course the mighty Hamilton. It's lovely having all these things on the horizon. I start getting tense about the coming dark months around now, and having so many interesting things to focus on is such a help.

I've not done a great deal of crafting for a long while. This year I have been focusing on cooking new things, expanding our meal choices and overcoming my unease at cooking with meat. I don't eat meat myself much (pastrami and pancetta are my exceptions because they don't have the texture that puts me off) and I've always hated handling it. However, the point of a blog called Fearlessly Attempting is to have a go at stuff that made me nervous.
I've done pulled pork, poached chicken, pork loin steaks, cooking meals with mince, chicken curries, meatballs, fajitas.  I still hate the smell, especially of the fatty meats like the pulled pork, but the successes of getting B to try more food combined with how delighted Z is with the meals makes it worth it.

As well as the many Indian recipes from Meera Sodha's wonderful books, I've done more Mexican influenced food too. (OK, TexMex, and not remotely authentic, but tasty anyway!). There have been  refried beans with additional chillies, spicy tomato and paprika rice with onions and peppers, guacamoles and fresh salsas. Pulled jackfruit was pretty good, although at heart I do prefer a veggie chilli. Miss B and Z like tacos and wraps, Mark prefers a plate, and I don't care as long as I get to eat it.

Of course, having settled down to type what I've been up to,  I've completely lost track of time. I am dragged back to painful reality by the acrid smell of a pan burnt dry.
Aw hell.
That's going to take a lot of scrubbing to make it useable.
No refried beans today.