Saturday, March 30, 2013

Qualifications and screens on bins.

Blog (Rants) 30/3/13

Wow! How dead is London on a Bank Holiday? Amazing. I didn't take Good Friday off, so I was writing all morning and teaching in the afternoon. Getting to my lesson was lovely. There were no people, barely any traffic. If only every Friday could be like that. So calm and pleasant.

I used my Barclaycard for a contactless payment on the bus yesterday. Dig me for stepping into the 21st Century. Finally. (I guess it had to happen sometime.) I only had £1.20 left on my oyster card and couldn't be arsed finding somewhere to top up and annoyingly you need £1.40 for a single bus journey. Buggers. So of course I didn't have much choice. I had to step into the portal that briefly transported me to the 21st Century. I had a slight panic and asked the driver, "Did it work?" And then I slunk back into my little 20th Century hovel, where I feel safe.

Oh, there are random bins with screens on along Holborn. How bizarre. They are sponsored by the CBS Outdoor, I think and actually they are quite useful. They show a clock, the tube status update and then a few adverts and back to the clock again. I do kind of wonder how long they'll last without being vandalised and if they will put them anywhere else, but little old fashioned me, thought it was a nice idea, the clock and tube update especially.

Had a disastrous start to my journey back North for Easter. This morning as I took the tube to Euston the driver says, just as we pull up to Euston, "Euston station has been evacuated. I will not be stopping at Euston." If he'd have said at the stop before, I could have jumped out and got a bus. But instead I have to jump off at Warren Street, not even sure if the station will be open or my train there and peg it down to Euston. With around 15 minutes till my train. Eek.

When I get there, along with quite a few other hurried passengers, the trains are all boarding and the station hadn't been evacuated. So it must have just been the tube station, or they sorted out the problem pretty sharpish.  Slightly stressful as well as early start to Easter Saturday, but hey I'm almost home and it's only 8.50am.

And now to the main rant. Qualifications. A word that often makes me want to throttle someone. So I go for my final teaching class of the week and one of the parents starts asking if she can pay me with childcare vouchers as I'm a qualified teacher. I said, "No I'm not." I have never claimed to be that. So then she said I didn't need to be fully qualified but my Montessori classification would count. "I'm not Montessori trained." Again, something I never claimed to be. So then, obviously not seeing where this was going, she said that whatever childcare qualifications I had would suffice. "Er, yeah, I don't have any formal qualifications in childcare." No just 7 years classroom experience. 2 and half years as a room leader. 4 years as a SENCo and the fact that I was damn good at my job.

"Fraud." She joked. But this is not much of a joke for me. I never announced I was something I wasn't. I never lied and said I had Montessori training. In fact most parents new I didn't but it ain't rocket science and I learned a lot from past teachers and colleagues. Still, the fact that this was being brought up now, when I no longer work in that field ticked me off no end.

Half the time qualifications aren't worth the paper they are written on. And if they don't have practical experience at applying those learned skills to something real then they are no better than anyone else.

Take my music degree. I got a 1st, granted only scraped through due to lowered grade boundaries that year, but it doesn't say that on my certificate. It also says Popular Music and Recording as the title of my degree, which it was, but I know very little of recording as I chose the performance pathway. Again, it doesn't say that so someone could look at that and think, wow she's good with Popular Music and Recording....Misleading. It also doesn't say that I owe my high mark to my written work (dissertation and business plan) which was great, whereas my performance mark was mediocre.

What I'm trying to say is that people could look at my certificate and say wow she must be an awesome musician but it says nothing of my insecurities on stage, or the fact that there are loads of things I am crap at.
Anyhoo, back to childcare: I get riled up when people harp on about being an unqualified member of childcare staff, or should I say a member of staff with an abundance of practical experience. People seem to think that holding an NVQ or whatever makes you instantly better than someone that doesn't and that can well be true. But if they can't back up that knowledge with practical skills; enthusiasm; actually liking children (believe me this has been a problem in the past) being able to relate to children and flexibility.....then what's the point.

I had parents begging management to change to my key worker group. At one point I had 15 key children and most of these parents didn't know of my qualifications. If they asked I would tell them but otherwise they knew I had a Masters degree in Music and that I loved working with their kids and that was enough. But when past parents ask me and I say have no formal qualifications, they have this air of disappointment. Does it change anything I've done for your children? Does it make me any less good at my job? Does it change the level of education and care they have received? Does it change their experience?

No. Because kids don't give a stuff about a piece of paper. They want to be loved and cared for. They want to have fun in a stimulating environment. They want someone to play Pirates with and create play dough aliens with. They want someone who'll read epic stories and sing and giggle and shout and laugh. Kids need to see the reality of that qualification or a natural affection and passion that shines through everything you do.  They need to see that this person is actually good with children.

Anyhoo, whilst I was teaching my class, the three parents in the other room, discussed this in depth. (Lovely) And they came to the conclusion that maybe it doesn't matter if you have a qualification if you are naturally good at what you do and you have that passion and drive. And so they came to the conclusion that it didn't matter.

Well, thanks for that!


Anyway, I had a new picture book idea that I've written and need to hone before I can think about getting someone to illustrate, but that's quite weird and fun. And I'm up to Chapter 25 of the re-edit of my first novel, which was originally Chapter 34. Whoop! I've shaved off a good 9 chapters. Get in! Perhaps 12-15 Chapters to go? If I could make it no more than 40 Chapters I would be happy with that.

Next stop Wigan, so I'd better skoot. Happy Easter weekend everyone. It's sunny! Whoop!


P.S My tenses are all over the place in this blog. Oooops.

P.P.S I am not detracting from people that have relevant qualifications I'm just saying you need something more than a piece of paper. You need something inside you. You need to be able to bring those learned skills into a real situation.

Okay. End of rant.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An ode to the kitchen.

Ah, my dear kitchen.
How I love thee.
Despite you being roughly 2 metres square.
How I love to bake cookies in there.
And cakes of fruit and sponge,
And one day, maybe Rhubarb gunge. (Yes it is a real thing)

It is a place of creation, of smells and tastes,
A tiny fridge freezer, but no waste.
A place of innovation, a place without limit.
A gingerbread man timer and ladybird trivet.

Silicone bakeware, muffin cases and cutters.
A tiny fridge filled with Lurpak butters. (On offer in Tesco)
More gadgets per cubic feet,
You're always sure of a treat.
Just check the tins on top of the microwave.
You never know what might be in them.
Today gingernuts, tomorrow apple cake.
The next day, they are likely gone.

Minimal work tops and limited space,
Not many could cope with this tiny little place.
But dancing around in my kitchen all grace,
In my slippers and PJ's, there's no disgrace.

I use the microwave as a mirror,
To do my hair, it's so much clearer,
It's so much more than a food heater,
The wooden spoons are drum stick beaters,
The whisk has no handle but still whisks well
But I can't throw it away, who knows, pray tell
When I will find another that whisks so well.

The constant line of washing up.
Waiting to be cleaned, is that my cup?
Green Fairy liquid, gooey and slimy
A lovely yellow scourer and crusted on food, cor blimey.
A spice rack above, the washing machine below,
A kettle and toaster that decided to blow.
RIP Reginald, stupid flammable raisin.

Who would have thought a hot cross bun could cause a fire.
And ruin my toaster with it's funeral pyre.
But alas Reginald is no more.
He only toasts one side, which becomes a tiresome bore.
And so we bid you adieu and say farewell.
We will never forget the toast you toasted so well.
Goodbye my red and black friend.
An ode to my kitchen
And now it's the end.

Don't worry. I won't give up the day job. I will most definitely not be turning to poetry, though I think you'll agree what a fabulous job I just did. Ha!

I really have lost the wonderful Reginald (Yes I named my toaster Reginald, what's the problem?) to a rogue raisin on a suicide mission. Why do these things always happen when A is away and then it makes me feel like I'm incapable of looking after myself or the flat? Although, I did put the fire out very carefully and calmly, after the initial shock of, Oh Dear Lord, Reginald's on fire.  And I cleaned it out and carried on using it. It's alright, you just turn the bread over half way through and it toasts both sides.

Time to get ready for my Wednesday run. Feeling chilly just thinking about it. Let's hope it hurts a little less than last week.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Sarky Traveller: LA 1: Downtown in 5 hours

It's been a while, fellow travellers, but Rants has been ranting a lot lately and it's just easier to let her have at it. Breaking her mid rant is not advised.

All The Sarky Traveller blogs now have a new home on

So as promised here is LA in several instalments, starting with the speed tourism of Downtown. Now ideally, if you are taking the lengthy journey to LA, I would advise a couple of days to do Downtown as there is actually a lot of stuff to see and it is well spread out. They say you need a car to live in LA; they weren't lying. A car is essential, though they do have a subway service as well as buses and light railway services. Public Transport is fine for shorter journies but a rented car is just easier and you can pick up from the airport or various places in LA, and it is really cheap, especially if you book in advance!

A great starting point for a venture in Downtown, is union station. There are various small and reasonably priced parking areas around there and you are a stones throw from the El Pueblo de Los Angeles, which is awesome!

The beautiful exterior of Union Station, with it's towering arches and bold white clock tower, flanked of course by bandy legged palms. Welcome to LA!

But its when you get inside to explore, that the magic really happens. It's Art Deco furnishings, all tiles and marble and mosaics, give it such a feeling of grandeur and luxury, that it almost doesn't feel like you're in a train station at all. There are gardens on either side, with fountains, more mosaics and an array of flowers and plants most Britains would only see in a visit to The Eden Project or Kew Gardens.

And what is even better.........This is rush hour on a Wednesday in October. Wow, the rush!

It's so chilled and relaxing in there, I urge you just to spend a few minutes in one of the famous seats (famous to me from the TV series Alias) and read a book or just sit and people watch, or just enjoy the inevitable Californian sun shining through those windows shedding light on the beauty of this remarkable building. For those TV buffs, it has also been used in 24 and lots of films too and you can see why. So if you want to be Jack Bauer saving the world or be Sydney Bristow and Vaughn having a secret meeting, pretending they don't know each other, back to back on the seats........We did not do this by the way....No no. 

Okay, the long and short of it is:
  • Union Station is beautiful
  • Go there if only for ten minutes to walk around
  • Soak up the Art Deco furnishings
  • Sit in the very comfortable seating area
  • Grab a coffee
  • If you have time act out your favourite Union Station moment
Now just across the road is the El Pueblo de Los Angeles, home to the oldest buildings in LA, celebrating not only the Mexican cultures of the families that founded it, but also the Chinese, Italian and French that arrived afterwards.  It is a tiny area crammed between two streets but there is so much to see.

Shown here are the Old Plaza Firehouse, which is open daily and free to look around. Expect fire helmets through the ages and some interesting pre-engine Fire engines. You can also see Pico House which was LA's first three storey structure and used to be a hotel. Now it houses various art exhibitions. Where the trees are is the Old Plaza, a central square (or circle in this case) with bandstand and benches. Lots of interesting cultural events happen here.

Now, also in the Firehouse is a lovely group of volunteers that offer free tours of the Pueblo for anyone and everyone. Our tour guide Marilyn was so sweet and even though she had a tour to do in half an hour, she still fit us in with a brief walking tour and gave us lots of options for our continued exploration of Downtown. Lovely, friendly, helpful people and free free tours! They are local people with a great knowledge of El Pueblo and the local area. So ask your questions, ask advice on the best place to eat, they are more than happy to help and share their experiences.

Now if you were unlucky enough to find no tours or helpful people, then El Pueblo is more than small enough to navigate yourself around and has plenty to look at. Olvera Street Market is a great place to soak up the Mexican culture, with stalls bursting with colour and creativity, smiles, delicious smells and interesting gifts. There are plenty of opportunities to grab a bite of Mexicana with taco stands and restaurants with waiters in traditional dress, or more low key cafes where you can grab hot tamales, rice and beans for about $7. Yum!

Also along Olvera street is the oldest house in LA - Avila Adobe 1818. This is free to get in and free talks are given by local people dressed in period dress, discussing life in the 1940's and the history of the house.

It's kind of fun to just wander the market and soak up the interesting architecture and the way they have retained the original character of the buildings but kept them fresh and interesting.

Also along Olvera Street is Sepulveda House containing the El Pueblo visitors centre and America tropical, a controversial and extremely rare mural by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, charting the exploitation of Mexican workers.

Ending up back at Old Plaza, if you're lucky enough to be there end of October/beginning of November then you are likely to encounter some sort of Day of the Dead festivities. Now, gloomy as it sounds, this is big, colourful and completely takes over El Pueblo. We managed to catch a dance rehearsal and bought some interesting souvenirs and cards. (Watch out for the Day of the Dead Wedding cards....brilliant!)

So now, leaving the Pueblo you can already see the iconic tower of City Hall, seen in so many TV shows and films and such a beautiful building. For many years it was the tallest building in LA. You get the sense from this picture that things are close by, but it's all an illusion. Still, if there's one thing I like to do, it's to get to grips with a new city and walk around, especially with that sun beating down on me.

It is possible to enter the rotunda and take a free tour of City Hall. Alas we didn't have time, but it's definitely on the list for next time. (So many free tours. The city of LA really doesn't want you to pay for anything. Amazing!)


Okay, so City Hall is one of my favourite buildings in LA. So here are two more shots. There's just something about it. So striking and I love that it isn't surrounded by buildings that out tower it, or out beauty it in any way. It's just allowed to breathe and be. (Okay, next time I am definitely going in. They might not get me out again.)

Wandering the massive streets of Downtown, you get a sense of the size of the place. It may only be a tiny area of the City of LA, but it would take hours to walk the streets and take in all the sights. Still, once you are walking there are plenty of interesting/slightly geeky sights to see. I especially enjoyed seeing The Sister Cities Sign and saying, "Oh, I've been there." Or, "Ooo, I want to go there." And there are a lot of them.

For any Offspring fans out there, you will have to physically force yourself to stop singing 'LAPD' as you walk past the LAPD building. It's not worth it, trust me. Though by all means sing along in your head and smile. Their building is ultra modern actually and across the road from an equally modern and also kind of weird Transport building:

Then if you take a turn on West 1st Street, you can swing by The LA Times building, take another free tour or if you don't have time then you can just check out the free exhibit on the ground floor. Cool building and it's interesting to see how the paper has evolved in the 21st Century. 

Continuing up West 1st street you finally get a glimpse of the cluster of high rises comprising the banking district. Such a well seen view, though usually more aerial then ground level. Think Alias, Chuck, Numbers, 24, anything set in LA really and you'll know what I'm talking about.

On the corner of 1st Street and Grand Avenue you meet the Music Centre and the Walt Disney Hall, home of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra and an architectural beauty.

Head inside even if there's nothing showing because guess what? You can get a free tour. It's a self guided tour. All you have to do is sign in as a visitor and get your wonderful sticker and set off. It's all about angles and space and shape and light. And it is truly magnificent. The very asymmetry of it is strangely stabilising but there was no way I could get my head around it. Magic?

There's a roof top balcony type thing, as well as gardens, an out door amphitheatre, gift shop and cafe. Sadly, unless it is a performance you are not permitted in the actual performance space but if you're speed touring then this is enough to give you a thirst for more. (Next time we'll take in a show).

Oh and watch out for 'wannabe' actors and models having photo shoots dressed in tight dresses and ridiculously high heels. It's obviously a great place to be photographed! Plus it made me giggle.

Taking Grand Avenue South, you head towards the high rise district and LA's lovely little cluster of giants. I love that it's not all high rise, that there are all these spaces and smaller buildings. It really creates such a different feeling than say New York where everything just feels so big and domineering. LA is a huge place but it has all these pockets of air, these spaces to breathe and you never know what's going to be around the next corner.

Along Grand Avenue is the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Wells Fargo History Museum. But it's mainly all about the modern giants, eating away at the sky, making you feel exactly what you are, tiny and insignificant, just another ant in the colony.

I actually went in the lobby. He he. Giddy. And sad, I know but it was literally on every episode in Alias. you see it and it's like, wow, where's Sydney? Oh wait, she's probably on mission somewhere. (By the way, I do understand it's not real, but my mind is a warp of fantasy and it's fun to live there.)

Take West 5th street to see The Central Library and Bunker Hill Steps, two beautiful staples of Downtown. The Library has free tours which usually take around an hour and fifteen minutes. They are super interesting but we had no where near this much time, so we asked for a twenty minute one and got fifty minutes. Those lovely Americans really do love to talk. But it was really cool, especially for a writer. American libraries are just so much nicer than most of our libraries. Honestly, I would probably live in Kentish Town Library if it looked like LA Central Library, so grand and again, luxurious!

I won't ruin the tour for you as it is actually really interesting, but there are a few awesome sights that you shouldn't miss:

The 48 light bulbs for the 48 states at the time it was made.

 An amazing use of the now discarded, card catalogue filing system. They fill the lift shaft so that when you are moving you see them all. I even managed to focus on a very British one: Shakespeare. As our tour guide said, you always find something relative to you.

We just had a little time to wander the streets to find a taxi to take us back to the car and whilst doing so saw some classic American architecture. It's all about the fire escapes. And we even managed to catch a glimpse of China Town through the cab window.

There is still a lot to see in Downtown, least of all China Town and Little Tokyo. But also gems such as Grand Central Market, the Museum of Neon Art (no I'm not kidding and that sounds awesome!) and the LA Live centre, with music venues, sports and entertainment. But if you have a very short time, I've proven you can see and do much and on an extremely small budget. We only paid parking, lunch and taxi. Everything was free, all the tours and places of interest. It's great! I honestly wasn't sure I would like LA but from that first few hours in Downtown, I loved it! The people, the vibe, the mix of old and new. The architecture, the innovation and the beauty. And that was such a small segment of a massive City. 

Now, in terms of places to stay. LA is huge so you just want to find something suitable for you. If you want to be nearer the beaches, then go for it. Check out the usual air b'n'b, and There are always deals and with air b'n'b you often get whole apartments to yourself. We stayed in Echo Park area which was phenomenal and you got to wake up to views over the whole City. Amazing! If you can stay on higher ground it just gives you that lift and makes you feel out of the City, yet still close enough you can touch it. 

Watch out for the temperature fluxes. It gets very chilly at night, especially out of the confines of the 'Inner
City'. So no matter what time of year you go, make sure you have a decent jumper. I ended up wearing the jumper I'd taken for the East Coast - was not expecting to need it. It almost has that desert mentality. Extremes of temperature.

Now that's all for Downtown but next time I'll be reporting on two of LA's most fabulous beaches. I hope this inspires you to visit. It honestly shocked me. I never thought I could fall for a place like LA. (Genuine sentiment, no sarcasm!)

The Sarky Traveller

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mate Dates; Space Invading Women; Filming Chicken and......THE PEG!

What a week! Normally when A is away I forget to organise anything and end up with 10 days by myself going stark crazy, although at least before I would go out to work and see the kids, staff and parents. Now it's very minimal contact with the outside world and a whole lot of talking to myself.

But, this time I planned ahead and Monday-Thursday I had all manner of things planned with the ladies:
Monday. Breakfast date with T
Tuesday. Lunch with C
Wednesday. Dinner and movie at mine with S
Thursday. Cocktails, burger and L

Though what I didn't realise was that whilst I would be interacting with people and having lots of fun and giggling and chin wagging and eating and drinking and travelling and having a blast; I would in fact also be leaving very little time to do any writing. Ha! But at least I haven't let go of my last strand of sanity. That was beautifully reattached by my lovely ladies over the week, double knotted and everything.

(By the way, I don't want to in any way insinuate that I regretted this week or am blaming them for not getting off my ass and doing more writing. I have also been very lazy and not sleeping well and besides, I will be using Saturday and Sunday to catch up as A isn't back till late Sunday, possibly even Monday as they gave him 55 minutes to change flights in Chicago. 55 minutes? Really? I guess I'll be seeing him Monday afternoon then.) Wow, that was a long by the way.

So I guess more than anything I want to thank all four of the letters above (S, C, T and L) for making this week such a great one and now I have three days to really knuckle down and shut myself off from the world again, safe in the knowledge that my sanity thread will not blow away in the random sporadic blizzards we keep having, as it is firmly tied on! You are all amazing!

Now from four amazing ladies, to a space invading woman who was anything but amazing. I hop on the tube, (though I use this phrase 'hop on the tube', I wonder how many people actually do 'hop on' as opposed to just walk on, or stroll on, or jump on. Hmmmm. Useless wonderment.) to meet L for early cocktails in Clapham. I'm giddy and first looking forward to a forty minute journey with my book - re-reading Cassie Clare's Clockwork Prince for about the third or fourth time before next week's finale.

After a few stops the carriage is invaded and the seats surrounding me are occupied. No problem at all until the space invading woman in the red fleece turns up and takes half of my above seat space. I don't even know how she managed it. She wasn't massive. She didn't even have a bag or coat with her and the guy on the other side of me who was rather large was taking up non of my above seat space. Now by 'above seat space' I essentially mean the space from your lap upwards. Somehow this woman was leaning across and taking up half of my space. Then she picked up a newspaper and took up even more of my space. You should have seen me try to perch my book to one side and avoid elbow bashing with her. The book I was reading is not a small book either. Every time I turned a page it was like, I can't get my elbows any closer together, I'm actually squishing my breasts!

Honestly, did I ask for a space invasion? Did I want a free elbow fondle? The way she leaned across she was practically across my lap. I ain't paying for no lap dance, skank!

Anyhoo, a few stops later, she switched sides of the carriage and sat next to her fella. But then she continued to stare at me for the rest of the journey. Weird, space munching lunatic. I actually think she was probably just jealous of my satchel. Who wouldn't be, it's so pretty!

But the annoyance of this was soon forgotten as the cocktails started to roll! 5pm cocktails. Winner!

Oh, actually, just a couple more transport related rants before I move on. TFL eats money. It actually eats my money. I feel like I'm always having to top up. I hate having to constantly think about travel costs. It was so much easier when I had a travel card. But literally as soon as I've topped up it's like, where did half of it go? I just put a tenner on, oyster swines!

Okay, now to announcements. How many times do we hear, line suspended between such a place and such a place because of a person under the train? A lot! But I realised last night that when I hear this, I'm not thinking stupid person who threw themselves in front of a train and died. I'm thinking more of a James Bond scenario and someone actually under the train, clinging on, hoping to infiltrate the carriage and save the world. I feel they need to be a little more specific. It should be more like: We regret to inform you that another idiot has been crushed by a train and this is going to ruin your day, as we are closing the line. Or person threw themselves in front of the train and shockingly it killed them. Expect delays. I just feel the other way is a little vague, afer all if James Bond is under a train trying to save us all then we wouldn't mind a little delay!

Would just like to big up, B@1 bar in Clapham Common. Awesome cocktails! Amazing music and always a great atmosphere even when there's only two of you and three bar tenders. Ha! Some of the tunes of the evening were:

Perfect 10 - Beautiful South. (Nice!)
Rock Star - Nickleback (Freakin' love Nickleback....sad I know!)
Son of Preacher Man - Dusty Springfield (Classic!)

I swear the guys that work there have a direct link to my brain and they just pull out from the dark recesses, all the tunes that I haven't even thought about in ten years, let alone heard. Honestly, that place has an inner link to me and most importantly it makes me cocktails 2 for 1. Hmmmm cocktails! And I have to say that last one we had L, wow that was strong. Russian Spring Punch. That definitely made me squiffy.

He he. I had a hilarious toilet trip too. Don't you just love a self contained bathroom cubical (as in sink and dryer in there too, just for you) where you lift your dress up and it ends up in the sink. I did laugh at myself, bearing in mind the cocktail fuzz. Then when I was washing my hands, I pushed on the soap dispenser and instead of going in my hand it squirted on the floor. Oops. Big clear wet patch on floor. Then I turn on the tap and it splashes all over me and the floor, looking like I peed all over the floor. I just laughed at myself and left hoping no one went in there after me. By the way, just to clarify, I did not pee on the floor!

So after cocktail squiffiness it was time for nourishment and that of course came in the guise of burger and fries at GBK. They always have an offer on and the burgers are extremely good! So really, what more do you want? Before we reached GBK we went past the chicken place that was being filmed. Apparently there is some show about a chicken place and some of the knobs that presumably go in there late at night. So if you watch it, you may see me and L walking past. Ha!

The mystery of.....THE PEG! I don't know if this is done in all GBK's, but I'd definitely never experienced it before. They came and put a clothes peg on your table number. And I'm thinking, why do we need a peg? Then when they've asked you if everything is alright and you say with the inevitable full mouth....mmmmm and nod, then they take away your peg. How bizarre and yet how simple and effective a way to remember if you've asked the question, (unless they forget to take the peg) because nobody wants to be repeatedly asked, they just want to eat burger! And as we were leaving, I saw on their board where they keep the menus, a line of clothes pegs. He he.

Twitter chufty badges. People are actually starting to reply to my tweets and favourite them and stuff. Now I don't want to sound like a complete saddo, but hooray, people are replying to my tweets! *wearing twitter chufty badge*

And my two final points are: Wentworth Miller is so pretty it actually hurts! (Michel from Prison Break)

And: I've never understood the term 'gut wrenching' until re-reading Clockwork Prince. Cassie you are evil! (Evil = amazing of course.) I couldn't sleep the other night, my stomach was turning knots and I know what happens because I've read it three times before. Again, complete saddo!

Alright, well I think that's all I had to say for now. I've spoken to The Sarky Traveller and she should be making an appearance again soon with a blog on Downtown LA, so watch out for that. And have a great weekend, hopefully devoid of blizzards and hail storms.

Happy Friday.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Just Another Magic Monday

2 weeks in a row, all my kids have turned up for music class. And 2 weeks in a row we've had amazing lessons! So much fun. So much enthusiasm and me smiling, out of breath and sweating like a pig, despite the snow outside.

So here's to another magical, musical Monday and many more to come.

I hit 4000 blog views today as well. So thank you everyone who has ever read a blog. And I hope I can continue to keep you entertained over the coming months and years because I do love to rant and it's nice to know there's someone on the other end of that rant. 

Now to a recurring subject of mine: Never a dull moment on a bus.
And Friday night was no exception. I'd been babysitting for around 7 and a half hours, managed to miss the last tube, so at 12.40 on the rain soaked Tottenham Court Road, I took the 134 home. (Incidentally during my babysitting I had the joy of making real popcorn for the first time. And I realise that sounds lame but I don't like popcorn and it wasn't something we made at home as kids, so I didn't realise how exciting it was.  He he. Exploding corn, popping in the pan. Shame I don't really like the taste.)

So I sit down thinking headphones and book. That's all I want to do. Get home as quickly as possible and avoid as many giddy drunks/grumpy drunks as I can. But, no sooner have I sat, than I have been accosted by a lovely tempered, giddyly drunk, extremely camp guy.
"Where are you from?"
"How old are you?"
"Do you need a boyfriend?"
He was so loud. It was like kids when they pretend they're whispering but they are actually just shouting. He kept telling people they were "pretty." Or scoffing that they were all, "covered in wet stuff." I did hasten to add that is was in fact raining outside and had been for the last two days, but sometimes obvious facts can be difficult to face when hideously drunk. (And it's never easy to be stone cold sober in these situations.)

The best thing was that he was sat next to, what I thought was a friend, but later found out was just a random guy, who was trying his best to stay out of it all. Poor guy. I was slightly worried he might offend someone with his rather loud ramblings, you never know what can kick off on a night bus, but thankfully everyone seemed friendly enough and willing to take things on the chin.

He kept trying to set me up with random guys in their mid 40's, whom all found it very hilarious.
"Don't you need a boyfriend?"
"No. I have one."
"But he has such nice shoulders. And look at this one's ears."
He he. Yeah, that almost won me over.
There really never is a dull moment.......
And when he got off the bus he was all concerned that I had to stay on. He offered for me to go with him, but I gratefully declined. Then I was finally allowed my 10 minutes of book and earphones. The joys!

Now to another recurring theme: More ways cyclists can annoy you/surprise you.
Well for one there was the guy who went through a red light on the wrong side of the road and almost ran over two or three people on the crossing. Dick!

Then there was the guy cycling in the pouring rain, singing a porn chant at the top of his voice. Bow-chigga-bow-wow. etc. Nice!

Now for Polish TV and the mystery of St Mary's snow.
Okay, so I love Poland: the food, the drink, the language (though I am ignorant of most of it), the cheap flights, the cute old towns, the cake.....You get it. I like it! I also love that they don't dub their movies so it meant we could see two films for ridiculously cheap. But Polish TV, what the feck?

I figured there would be a few English/American channels, and I was right. They had 'My Family' on Comedy Central and a couple of movie channels all with English speaking films. (I know what you're thinking...'My Family on Comedy Central.' Really?) So they don't dub the UK/US shows and they don't put sub titles. Instead they have a voice over explaining what is happening, in Polish. There's no emotion or expression; no indication of who's talking. So you can hear bits of the English underneath and then you get monotone guy over the top. Seriously, how do they live like that?

It's super annoying for all involved, though I guess if you're brought up with that then you learn to filter one of the languages out. Still, if it sounds the same in both languages then do you really need to repeat it, Mr Monotone????? And I swear it's the same guy for every voice over.

And finally, The Church of St Mary's in Gdansk has a secret. It creates it's own weather! Bizarre or what? The Friday night we were wandering around, exploring the sights by night, when we come by the hugely domineering structure that is the brick cathedral of St Marys. We look up at the spot lights, lighting the church and we can see snow, yet it doesn't appear to be snowing where we stand. We walk a little closer and the cut off point is the perimeter of the church. Spooky. No snow anywhere else. It's a mystery.

Okay, so I'm feeling a little sleepy, wrapped up in my blanket on the couch. I think it may be time to skoot.
Nighty night and magical Monday's to you all!


Friday, March 8, 2013

The Fantasy Triangle

Slow day at the office today...... No words written (okay so that's a lie now). Plenty of words read, spoken or heard.

I completely bypassed reality today, choosing instead to visit three fantasy worlds. I have been heavily involved in London 1878, the Institute of the Shadowhunters from Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare). I remain stuck in the infirmary of The Fox River State Penitentiary from TV's Prison Break. And finally to complete the trilogy of fantasies I can't escape today, I've been battling demons with Buffy in Sunnydale.

Sometimes my mind refuses to comply, like there are outside forces at work. My mind can't cope with unfinished stories; with a half an answer or part of a solution. It just spends time writing those endings, completing those solutions. And so I find myself creating a world where Buffy and Angel can be together, or Will and Tessa will make it through (even though I know she's marrying Jem. Of course I've read book 2 TID and I'm very impatiently awaiting the final one.) and maybe even Michel can escape prison and somehow convince Sarah to forgive him. (Haven't finished season 1 yet.)

What does it all boil down to? Relationships. Once I notice a look, an unguarded smile, a tingle of attraction, that's it! I pounce. And then all I can think about is how and when and why they will get together. It's like a disease. I thrive on good characters and strong relationships and mostly sexual tension. The knowledge that something might happen, even though in most circumstances, it shouldn't or couldn't or wouldn't. "It's the not knowing that kills you." (Stereophonics) But when actors or writers portray that in such a way, it can leave me thinking of little else.

Weird that in reality, not that I visit it much, I'm strangely anti-romance. I hate public displays of affection, including my own (sorry A but after 8 years you know and love me anyway.) I hold myself back, restrain my inner thoughts. Choosing instead to live through the characters and their exploits.

Okay. So now I've written off Friday as a non work day, due to a wandering mind and fantasy triangles. I think I will take Saturday as the new Friday and Sunday as a bonus day of wonder.

I realise I may have shared too much and there may be thoughts of institutionalising but remember, left to it's own devices and without a reality button, it can be difficult to reign the mind in. It can be hard to keep the voices out. I'm only one in a sea of many.

I blame SXSW for stealing my other half, the half that keeps me remotely connected to this realm. Without him, I tend to drift. Let's hope I can reconfigure this drifting to equal productivity and creativity, otherwise the next 10 days could be disastrous!

Okay enough sharing for the insane.
Happy and productive Fridays to the rest of you.
I'm off to babysit. It could be a long night. Just me, The Institute, Fox River and Sunnydale. Ha!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Night of Sicklit Debate, One Lonely Pringle and a Clown Playing the Kazoo

So as I mentioned last blog, I've been getting to grips with this Twitter melarchy and last night was the first event I attended that I actually found out about via Twitter. A panel of authors talking about the light and dark in YA books and this hideous term sicklit.(Organised by The Children's Book Circle.) So I jumped on that, ordered a ticket straight away and started to check out the authors that would be there.

I was especially excited to be visiting the Penguin offices on the Strand and knew I would be surrounded by many fellow authors. The chance to talk to others and maybe even some of the published authors was also a great opportunity and here's how the night went.

Not off to a great start as I reopened the cut on my finger, just as I hopped off the tube. (I cut it on metal. It was essentially a paper cut, just with a lovely thin strip of metal.) Quickly wrapping it in a tissue as it oozed blood, I ran to Superdrug, bought some plasters but then had to open the box, get the plaster out, open the stupid plaster casing and put it on whilst navigating against the flow of human traffic on the Strand. Not the easiest First Aid I've ever performed.

Why do they make plasters so freakin' hard to get into? I'm sure after all these years they could have made an easier way to access them, especially when most of the time you need a plaster because you cut your finger. Think about it, come on! 

Once I reached the building, I claimed my visitors badge which actually had my middle name on. I was full named. Eek. I haven't been full named since my masters degree and that was about 7 years ago.

Anyhoo, I took the lift up and was pleasantly surprised to find wine and nibbles. I'm thinking.....Couple of glasses of wine and I'll loosen up, maybe even talk to some people. (Yes I know I'm pathetic. I need dutch courage to help me talk to strangers.) But actually I made conversation with a lovely lady - I - and I'd only had one sip of wine. I'm sure it doesn't work that quickly. So yeah me, or so I thought........

The panel was chaired by the lovely Graham Marks and the three authors debating this subject were, James Dawson, Anthony McGower and Joanna Kenrick.

The main issues were: Should a YA audience be exposed to books about sex, teen pregnancy, suicide, self harm, rape, terminal illness, loss, alcohol, drugs, death, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, violence.........? Basically all the issues that an actual teenager does face, every day. Or has YA become too dark?

And well, the answer is a big resounding Duh! Of course they should! And no, it can't be too dark really. The World is full of darkness, we experience it every day. Refusing to or banning books or causing controversy around a particular subject matter is hardly shielding those YA from it. They only have to go on the Internet, do a google search, or read a newspaper to see these issues first hand. And as for violence, I think film, TV and computer games would have to take the brunt before books.

Besides, as the authors rightly stated, their books have been edited and seen by many eyes before given the go ahead. Sometimes things had to be toned down, perhaps language or a particular sub plot taken out, or a warning added to the front of the book. But still, this has already passed through several professionals in the field and been accepted, so therefore, what is the problem? A publisher wouldn't publish it if they didn't think it was needed or relevant in the market. Why would they? It wouldn't make sense.

Language could be an issue in my book, because one of the characters is a little older and he swears a lot, but it is actually integral to his character. It's part of what makes him, him. So I know when it comes down to it, I would battle hard to keep that, but not because I wanted everyone to start if they don't anyway. 

The term Moral Obligation was bandied about a lot, but I think it is a moral obligation for an author to tell the truth of their characters and to focus on real subjects that affect YA. So if their character is gay or has a drug addiction, or both, then it doesn't mean the author is glamorising drugs or telling everyone to be gay, or telling everyone not to be gay. It is a story, a work of art, a character, a truth. And as AMcG said, "Don't lead with a concept", lead with a plot, or a character and you focus on "real subjects." JK made some interesting points about the teenage years being a time when you "learn about things outside of yourself." You start to see the bigger picture and begin to understand how it's all linked and how one thing can affect another. But also that first things first, these are, "books about people." JD added that mostly authors should use their "common sense." You know when you've taken something too far and it is no longer integral to the plot. You know when you've spiralled or digressed and anyone with common sense can reign themselves back in. (Plus anyone that can quote from the film 'Clueless' on a panel like this, makes you know you're in safe hands.)

It may not seem like it, but there was a lot of laughter on the panel and during the accompanying discussion, as well as a little bit of disagreement. But that's what we were there for, to hear different sides of the argument and hear authors points of view alongside that of the public. (The YA writing public.....well most of them were, I think.)

So then came the inevitable after panel mingle. So of course I ran away to the toilet first. That one glass of wine had made my face explode! Great. Anyone want to talk with the beetroot? And to top it off I made a rookie mistake with the nibbles and wine. I took one lonely pringle before the discussion and one glass of white. When I returned to the nibbles table afterwards, there were no pringles and no white wine left. Rookie mistake! I've never in my life ever eaten just one pringle. Damn my stupid manners and the fact that I didn't want to expose myself as the crisp monster I am. J will be tutting at me right now.

If there had been more wine, I may have found the courage to stay and chat but everyone seemed in these little closed off groups and there were all these blonde women - you know how they intimidate me so. Okay. I admit it. I'm pathetic. I have an inability to talk to strangers and mingle. Put me in a room full of early years and I'll chat away but childcare really doesn't teach you to talk with adults, it just makes you more akin to the age group you're working with. It also teaches you to give parents whatever they want, or always say yes to management and to feel inferior amongst childcare professionals. And you don't have to do a great deal of mingling within childcare.

Still, it was good to get out and see real people, especially real authors and hear them talk about their craft. I spend so much time in my P.J's by myself that you sort of forget how to converse with others, not that I've ever found that easy. And when there are barely 5 men in the room and probably 50 women, I am even less inclined to speak up. But I made one acquaintance that night, which is something and she said she would check out my blog. So hi I!

I am annoyed at myself that I didn't go and introduce myself to the authors, especially JD who follows me on facebook and vice versa. I wanted to but #cantminglefortoffee. Ah well, maybe next time.

So after two glasses of orange juice and a few panicked looks, I departed. Why wasn't I given that gene that allows you to talk to anyone and be confident and.......ah well, there's no point whinging about it now. So I set off for the tube thinking about food and Prison Break (my new obsession, though I know the series is 9 years old - thank you Netflix) when I pass by a busker dressed as a clown, playing the guitar and the kazoo. Now I'm talking red nose, make-up, hat and those weird baggy dungaree type trousers, with patches on them.

Amazing! Definite highlight of the way home.