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barnsley, family life, gardening, Home, Uncategorized

Goodnight Garden. Sleep Well.

I have just spent the majority of the morning in the garden. As I choose to say, I’ve been ‘putting my garden to bed’ for the Winter. I cleared out my hanging baskets. Cut back the ivy that explodes out of them all Summer. Put some bulbs in ready for Spring and put the last remnants of the pumpkins on the soil to break down the clay. That’s it now for another year. Many of the bushes are now devoid of leaves. The blooms on the roses have ceased. My Virginia Creeper that masks so beautifully the greyness of the back fence, is now just a mass of empty branches. There are leaves all over the grass and I even found some weird mushrooms growing on the lawn.

The last hints of the Summer are nearly gone

I find this time incredibly sad. For much of the year, my garden is an extra room in the house. We sit outside a great deal in the Spring and Summer and we love to see every single plant and flower grow. Now there is very little of interest apart from our Norwegian spruce tree, which has really shot up this year and will soon be taller than all of us. We shall be covering it in lights this year to celebrate Christmas.

I rely on my garden for my mental and physical well-being. I enjoy nothing more than going into my garden and having a great potter whilst listening to Radio 4. This morning was no exception. My window cleaner called in and saw me at work and said to me, ‘Should you really be doing all that lifting?’ I always work up quite a sweat and it is not long before I am able to remove my coat. My cats follow me everywhere and they enjoy being in the garden with me. When I cut the pampas grass down, Mittens loves playing with the bits of stray plume. Our garden is on a slope and the earth is mainly clay and so in the Winter it is impossible to walk down to the bottom as it becomes like ice underfoot. Last year I had quite a spectacular fall. My husband bought me some spikes to put on my boots but I find them incredibly uncomfortable to wear.

It’s ten to three now and it is almost dark. The nights of sitting in the garden until it turned dark after ten, seem a lifetime ago now, along with that glorious, long, hot Summer when we were desperate for just a drop of rain.

Darkening skies

Yet, it is in spending the next few months away from my garden that means that when February and March come, I am eager to get back into it as soon as possible. For it is really only when we miss something, that we truly appreciate it. When I think of my garden I often think of the song ‘Turn. Turn. Turn.’ by The Byrds that my brother used to play a lot and which is taken from the Bible. In particular the lines:

To everything

There is a season

And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep.

In the winter, plants rest and live off stored food until spring. Some shed their leaves and grow new ones. Winter is very much a reminder that just as plants need to slow down and store energy, then we should learn to take a break too. So that is why it is important to value each season. I always think there is something quite lovely about long Winter nights huddled in front of the fire by candle-light, drinking hot chocolate or soup and keeping warm. And then when Spring returns, the novelty of Winter is long gone and at last it is time to get back in the garden again and see what delights Nature has in store.

Fresh soil ready to grow more vegetables.

I’m really going to miss my garden for the next few months.

 

 

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advice for parents, children, christmas, Discussion, nostalgia, Nottingham, Uncategorized

Christmas : It’s not fantastic if it’s plastic.

Everyone loves Christmas don’t they? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love the season. It’s a time of excess when no one does anything in half measures. Diets get thrown out of the window and we spend two weeks drowning in a mass of turkey, chocolate and mince pies, in a fizz-induced coma. We spend huge amounts of time with family that we spend the rest of the year avoiding, unless there’s a funeral. We buy enough food to survive an apocalypse even though the shops are only shut for one day. Somewhere amidst all the wrapping paper and tinsel is a message about goodwill to all Man and peace in our time. But no one can really be bothered with any of this when there’s the umpteenth repeat of Goldfinger on the television. The Christmas period is very much akin to when we go on a beach holiday. We spend time being busy doing nothing. We learn to veg out and recharge our batteries ready for a new year where there will be fresh hopes and expectations for all of two weeks.

assorted gift boxes on brown wooden floor surface
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Over the years I’ve had some great Christmases. I’ve always spoilt my children. On top of a massive pile of every toy they could possibly wish for, I always buy them a stocking complete with silly joke presents and a mountain of chocolate. Last year I bought a huge joint of lamb,(I can’t stand turkey) and a buffet of food from Marks and Spencer; the majority of which ended being thrown away, either as we didn’t have enough room in the fridge or simply because it went off before we could eat it. Not to mention the buckets of chocolate and the packets of mince pies. We still have the leftover bottles of Baileys, Champagne and sherry and we probably will still have them at the dawning of the next century.

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Yet over the past few years there appears to have been an increased awareness of the harm we are doing to the environment with plastic. I read a great article recently from as far back as 2012 by George Monbiot entitled The Gift of Death, in which he argues that ‘pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice’ it. In which instead of buying someone a ridiculous piece of plastic in the form of a singing fish he argues that we should ‘Bake them a cake, write them a poem, give them a kiss, tell them a joke, but for god’s sake stop trashing the planet to tell someone you care. All it shows is that you don’t.’ He’s right. He’s so right.

earth space universe globe
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We’re only one humble family in the many millions in the UK or billions within the World. But I really feel that now is the time that we all started to make a stand and re-educate ourselves about how and what we should be spending at Christmas. It is also our duty as consumers to think about the moral consequences of where we spend our money.

When I used to teach in schools, I knew a parent who instead of buying her children the latest plastic piece of mass consumption at Christmas time used to buy them a trip abroad on a cruise. At the time, the children themselves felt that they were hard-done-to compared to all their friends who had the latest Barbie talking doll or Action Man. Yet now when the plastic items of Christmases past are in landfill, those children have their memories of seeing the World rather than playing with something for all of one day. I’m not saying that I am going to do this for my children, but it is worth thinking about. As a sort of compromise this year, I am going to buy only the things that are useful to my children in some way. My daughter loves baking so we may just get her a professional mixer. Rather than buy her a load of chocolate then I’m sure she’d prefer some electronic baking scales.

closeup photography of gift box
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For the past few years I have stopped buying and sending cards. I just think that it is a huge waste of  money and time when I could spend that money giving it directly to a charity instead. We live in an age of electronic mail. I know it is lovely to see a hand-written card but what is the point of sending something, when it is more meaningful to visit that person and wish them a pleasant festive season in person? My Dad always buys me a card but I spend all of Christmas with him, so why does he need to send me a card to wish me a happy Christmas? Christmas crackers are another example of pointless waste. How long do any of the jokes and paper hats last? What about the gifts? How often do you use that pair of plastic fangs you received in a Tesco Value Christmas cracker in 1999?

I’m sat here now writing and next to me there are two piles of about fifty books waiting to be read. I open my drawers and they are bursting at the seams with clothes that I have yet to wear. My dressing table has bottle after bottle of perfume and pots of make-up. I have a tin of seven lipsticks that I have never touched.  There is a wardrobe full of dresses that have never been worn. I really do not need anything else. So in a bid to start living with less and stop buying things that serve no real purpose I have started to sell off items on E-Bay. There’s quite a large reseller community out there and they are all desperate to give you advice. All it takes is a little organisation and you are away. I’ve sold quite a few dresses, many of which still had the label on. What’s the point in keeping a dress that I bought in 2013 that I have never worn?

bookcase bookshelves bookstore business
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These are meant to be austere times and yet you would never know it from the mass marketing of consumerism that takes place in the expensively-produced adverts that are shown in the build up to Christmas. Do you really need to buy a brand new Christmas tree and ornaments simply because the colour ‘biscuit’ is now in vogue? Last year we bought a living tree that has been happily growing in a pot in our garden since January and which we’ll be bringing inside this year for all of two weeks. People end up getting themselves into debt because they feel that they must buy the latest examples of affluence and acceptance. Advent calendars used to be a cardboard picture of the nativity and the windows would be opened to reveal a new symbol of the birth of Christ. Now you can get wine, beer, beauty products and even pork scratchings. Christmas has gone from a short season into an entire month of festivities, fuelled by consumerism.

I’m not trying to be Ebenezer Scrooge and dictate that all Christmas is a humbug. Far from it. As I said at the beginning, I love it. However, this year I am going to be more mindful of my impact on the planet as well as being conscious of not wasting anything and only buying what I truly need. Christmas is a season of goodwill, telling your loved ones that they matter, trying to be kind and generous of heart not wallet. It really doesn’t require you to take out a small mortgage just to show how you feel. I remember growing up in the seventies with very little money. My presents were often very modest such as a repainted bike or a new set of slippers and a Bunty annual. I remember being bought a digital watch with three functions on it. I thought it was the most wonderful piece of technology ever. It certainly didn’t take away the meaning of Christmas, that I never received a Rubix cube or we didn’t have ten tins of Quality Street.

I’ll let you know how we get on in January with our ‘mindful’ Christmas. But in the meantime, if anyone wants to buy a plastic Darth Vader talking light that doubles as a money box and a drinks machine and has its own detachable light sabre, then do let me know. I’m open to any offers.

man in santa claus costume
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advice for parents, book review, children, festivities, Uncategorized

Penny for the Guy

Today is November 5th also known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night in the UK. On This Day in 1605 a group of conspirators, led by Guy Fawkes, failed in their plan to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. Image result for pen and sword the real guy fawkesIf you wish to read more about Guy Fawkes and the conspiracy then do read the excellent book by Nick Holland “The Real Guy Fawkes” https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Real-GuyFawkes-Hardback/p/14065 

Nowadays we celebrate the fact that this attempt failed by holding large communal firework displays with bonfires. However, when I was a child growing up in the seventies, most families held their own bonfires and firework displays in their gardens. We would eat jacket potatoes cooked in foil on the fire and the occasional sausage. This would be followed by bonfire toffee or a toffee apple. My Mum’s bonfire toffee used to be rock hard and could have easily been used in place of bricks. It was rare to go to a large event. My Dad was always in charge of making the fire and setting light to the fireworks. He’d begin to get the fire ready a few weeks before.

bonfire burning burnt campfire
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Prior to November 5th, children would be seen on the streets with an effigy of  ‘Guy’. This would resemble Guy Fawkes and was usually made from Mum’s old tights stuffed with newspaper and dressed in old clothing. It was a tradition to see children sitting in the streets with a guy in an old pushchair or pram and asking for ‘A penny for the Guy.’ The money children received from this would pay for fireworks. However, there was a growing realisation that fireworks were incredibly dangerous and not suitable to be used by children. There would always be a safety lecture on children’s show Blue Peter and some of the public safety announcements were more scary than horror films. Fireworks were sold in selection boxes a few weeks before the day.or you could buy rockets and larger fireworks one by one. Catherine Wheels and Roman Candles were particularly popular, as were sparklers and bangers. 

photo of fireworks
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Over the years people began to realise how dangerous an event it was and so larger organised displays started to take the place of the smaller, family traditions. I’ve never really liked Bonfire night. It is one of the few celebrations that I avoid. As someone who is incredibly clumsy, being surrounded by fire and explosives, is just an accident waiting to happen. In the seventies you would only hear and see the fireworks on November 5th. Now it appears to encompass most of October and November. In fact our street often sounds like London during the Blitz during those months.

However you are spending the fifth of November, please make sure that you think of pets and animals and follow the firework code too.

Image result for fireworks pets

blur bokeh bright burnt
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biography, film, film reviews, music, nostalgia, Uncategorized

Bohemian Rhapsody : Film Review

CAUTION: SOME SPOILERS

I don’t think I have ever been to the cinema to see a film where the entire audience stands and applauds at the end. In fact it’s been an age since I went to the cinema and didn’t look at my watch once. But this is exactly what happened when I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody last week. It was a fast roller coaster ride with loud hair, loud personalities and loud music a-plenty. Like Queen, it was tongue-in-cheek and at times comedic, occasionally the characters appeared like Freddie’s teeth, to be larger than life. But one thing it never did was disappoint. This was the best film I have seen in a long time.

Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of the genesis of the band Queen and culminates in their monumental performance at Live Aid in 1985. This film has been beset with problems and has taken over ten years to produce. The lead role of Freddie was originally cast with Sacha Baron Cohen until artistic differences with the remaining Queen members, Brian May and Roger Taylor, led them to recast Ben Whilshaw before finally settling on Rami Malek, known for playing Elliott in the American network show, Mr Robot. It was first directed by Bryan Singer, who was eventually sacked and replaced with the brilliant Dexter Fletcher. The remaining members of Queen didn’t want the film to be simply a Freddie Mercury biopic. However, Freddie Mercury was such a natural front man with a talent for showing off and performing, that it is impossible not to set him centre stage. One would have thought that with such problems the film would lack cohesion This is definitely not the case as the movie’s continuity is fast-paced and much like a fairground ride, there is no time to stop and pause or get off.

The film sets as it frame, Queen’s performance at Live Aid. It begins with Freddie Mercury nervously warming up as he waits to appear on one of the largest Worldwide stages ever. We then return to the seventies where we see the emergence of Freddie from Farrokh Bulsara, the poet and dreamer-son of Persian immigrants who is little more than a baggage handler at Heathrow, where he is the target of racism. There is the typical ‘my family doesn’t understand me’ scene where his father sees him as a disappointment before we see Freddie joining Brian May and Roger Taylor in the band Smile and forming a relationship with the beautiful, Biba-bedecked Mary Austin. Freddie appears to be the ambitious one, pushing the band to make an album and break free from their mediocre performances in pubs and students unions.

As the band finally settles on its identity of Queen, we see the group horrified by the idea of lip-synching on Top of The Pops with ‘Killer Queen’ and watch their slow rise to success with an early tour of America. Their fame begins to grow, and we see brief glimpses of Freddie’s battle with his sexuality. As much as he adores Mary, he feels strongly attracted to the thrill of casual homosexual encounters. He writes,’ Love of my Life’ for Mary and their relationship is far deeper than any definition. It transcends sex and shows that despite his fondness for picking up men, Freddie had an overwhelming need to love and be loved. When he becomes famous, Freddie still keeps Mary near to him.

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One of the most dynamic sections of the film concerns the 1975 production of Queen’s third album, ‘A Night At the Opera’ and in particular the song Bohemian Rhapsody, which at the time was twice as long as most popular songs played on the radio. Now it is perceived as one of Queen’s greatest songs, but we see the opposition Queen faced from record companies and management because it was against the norm. Enter Mike Myers as Ray Foster with the very witty joke, ’It goes on forever, six bloody minutes!” To which Freddie retorts,’I pity your wife if you think six minutes is forever.’

Myers took this role as he is a huge Queen fan and the sing-a-long to Bohemian Rhapsody used in Wayne’s World, led to a resurgence of Queen’s hit in the nineties. However, of all the characters in the film, I found this the least convincing. Myers has a tendency towards ham acting and with his penchant for prosthetics, his character seemed out of place in a film with the right blend of seriousness and frivolity. I was relieved when Tom Hollander appeared as Queen’s lawyer and eventual manager, Jim Beach, to restore the gravitas of the film.

As Freddie’s fame ascends then so too does his recklessness and promiscuity. We see the Court of King Freddie, complete with arch villain and procurer Paul Prenter, and a cast of larger than life characters such as dwarves, transexuals and shady, self-serving characters. Freddie begins to believe his hype too much and his demise is inevitable as he descends into a wilderness of hedonism and endless partying in Munich. The message is simple but clear. In trying to discover who he is, Freddie has ostracised the only people that genuinely cared for him. We see Freddie return to Queen with his tail between his legs, desperate to atone for his sins by performing at Live Aid. In a plot twist that in reality occured much later, Freddie is diagnosed as being HIV Positive. Tragedy leads to revelation and as Freddie forces himself to live with this death sentence then his family learn to accept his homosexuality. We must never forget the impact of AIDS on the gay community. It took so many bright stars too soon from us and it is a legacy that must be taught to each new generation.

The film ends with Queen’s spell-binding performance at Live Aid. Rami Malek used a movement coach rather than a choreographer to make his performance more genuine.It is impossible not to believe that he is Freddie Mercury with his suggestive moves and commanding presence. It is this segment of the film that is most emotionally moving, for as an audience we see the deep tragedy of a life cut short far too soon for one of our greatest showmen. My only criticism of this section is that I would have liked there to have been a merging between the film and the original performance to underline the magnitude of Queen. Yet it was impossible not to willingly spend my disbelief in order to believe that I was witnessing Queen at Live Aid. I found myself singing along and moving with the rest of the audience and when it ended, there were huge tears of emotion running down my cheeks and for once it wasn’t caused by my hormones.

This really is a must-see move with a stellar cast, excellent direction and a fast-moving script. Brian May, played by Gwilym Lee is so real in his performance, that I wondered if the real Brian May with his love of astrophysics, hadn’t somehow managed to invent a time machine to go back in time to play himself. There have been criticisms that the film, with its certificate of 12, anaesthetised the extent of Freddie’s lifestyle. Yet I believe that this was handled appropriately. When we think of Freddie Mercury and Queen, it is their music and performance that is most admired. A 12 rating also enables the film to be more accessible to a new generation of Queen fans. ‘Who wants to live forever?’ Freddie once famously sang. Now because of this film, we get to see the real magic and legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen. The message of the film in the tagline ‘Fearless lives Forever’ has never been more apt.

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advice for parents, book review, career, Uncategorized, writing

Writing is a Journey not a Destination

We are nearly at the end of #blogtober. I have written a blog post everyday for the past month and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the discipline of writing and posting.

I set up this blog to showcase my writing. Earlier this year I completed the first draft of my novel about a woman who becomes a victim of coercion and control. I’m going to edit the book early next year with an experienced editor. I needed time away from the novel, as sometimes it can be difficult to know how to change something if you are too far into it.

person holding type writer beside teacup and saucer on table
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I would never have written a book if it had not been for the experience I gained from writing courses. I have done two writing courses with Curtis Brown and two courses with Laura Jane Williams. If you are interested in writing yourself, then I really would recommend doing a course. Laura Jane Williams is a published author. She is incredibly likeable and enthusiastic http://www.superlativelyrude.com/p/courses.html  As her courses are online, then you can do the work in your own time. They are also quite reasonably priced. Unlike most writing courses, you receive feedback from Laura herself.

My writing career is now starting to take off. I’ve been given a small role as a guest writer for a film festival. I’ve also got a few articles coming out in magazines soon. But writing is very much a journey. It is not a destination. I’ve been writing for years but it has only been in the last couple of years that it has really taken off.

This week I have had two short stories published in a collection benefitting mental health charities. This was organised by Nev Raper, an incredibly generous and supportive writer himself. You can buy the paperback version of the book from Amazon. It is only £7.99 and all profits from the sales go towards Mental Health Charities.

You can buy the book from here

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1728787599?pf_rd_p=855cdcfd-05d9-474f-b84d-8286a3530ba1&pf_rd_r=K0NBES5ZX123K758ACN1

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Nev has also published his own collection of stories

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-Unaccepted-Mr-Neville-Raper/dp/1548896446/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1540927372&sr=1-1

and

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thoughts-Chairman-Anyhow-Neville-Raper/dp/197801077X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1540927372&sr=1-2

That’s it for now. I will continue to blog as much as I can throughout November and you never know I may just try #Blogmas as well! Thank you for all of your comments, likes and support! I hope that you have enjoyed #Blogtober as much as I have.

Happy Halloween!

Elisabeth.

pumpkinblogtober
Jonny’s Famous Pumpkin – ready for Halloween.