Sunday, 26 February 2012

Random Thoughts 3: Memories

My blog challenge for this week is to write about a holiday memory. When I got my email telling me what my topic was this week, I confess I thought - ya dancer, this will be a cracker. Which of my many amazing trips, sorry adventures would I write about? Would it be Spain, or Sicily? Wales, perhaps? Or Shetland? Or maybe my first solo foray to Bristol?

But then I thought I'd blogged enough about them already, and it woud be too easy. Or rather, too hard to pick out just one memory. So I thought I'd go a bit further back and think about my childhood holidays.

Again, it's not too easy to pick out just one memory. Rather it's a mix of all sorts of rememberings, sights, sounds, smells and just plain feelings.

Most of my childhood holidays were spent with my grandparents at their home in York, or  in some part of the UK in a cosy (and sometimes, not so cosy!) self catering cottage in the off-season. We never really took holidays in the summer because either my dad would be working or the garden would be in full bloom and needing a lot of attention. In any case, we were lucky enough to grow up in a seaside village and my sister and I were more than happy enough to spend our summer holidays running wild at home. We were never short of things to do and there were adventures aplenty from what I can remember.

When I was thinking about this blog post, one particular non-home, non-York holiday memory sprang to mind. I must have been very young, probably less than 4 years old. We were staying in a cottage next to a working farm. It was the summer and we were somewhere in the west of Scotland. It was a hot summer (for a change!) and the cottage was beautifully cool inside. I seem to remember us being cooled off after days at the beach with cool baths and the smell of calamine lotion springs to mind, so I'm guessing we probably got a touch of sunburn as well. I remember we played on the beach a lot. I think our grandparents were there, I seem to remember showing off my new pretty cotton nightdress to them and thinking I looked like a princess.

All of those are great memories but that's not the one that sprang to mind. This was.

One day we'd been out and got home later in the afternoon. The farmyard had piglets in it. We'd seen them a few times during our holiday. This particular day they were quite agitated and squealing a lot. And their bottoms looked sore. I can remember asking what was wrong, and my Dad (or my Mum) told me they were a bit sore because they'd just had their tails docked.

Now, to my little mind that was bad enough. Imagine having a bit of you cut off, that must really hurt. No wonder their bottoms were sore and red! Looking back on it now I realise, you don't dock piglets' tails. I think what had probably happened was a bit more painful and something that little boy piggies definitely wouldn't enjoy...

Oh, the innocence of youth!

(And I bet that's not the blog post you thought you'd get this week, Frances!)

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Random Thoughts 2: Of ships and shoes and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings

This week's blog challenge, set by my partner in crime, I confess has had me somewhat flummoxed. My prompt was to write about a man who teaches his cockroaches how to dance. I mean...??? To be fair, this kind of thing was always going to happen since we're taking our challenge prompts from a creative writing ideas page. But, since my blog is generally about me and my meanderings, and dancing insects with exoskeletons don't generally make an appearance in my daily life, this was a hard one.

To start with, I thought I'd find out a bit more about cockroaches. A quick Google search took me quickly to more information than you'd ever want to know. And just as quickly convinced me that I *really* don't want to know anything more about the little darlings -  I mean, I knew (and was quite comfortable knowing) that they are hardy little creatures, most likely to survive a nuclear holocaust, but did I really want to know that the female can remain pregnant forever and can produce 150 offspring per year? Or that they can fly? Or that they can grow to be over 2 inches long? No, I didn't. And, sadly, now that I know them, I can't unknow them, no matter how hard I try. And believe me, I'm trying really really hard just now!

By now, you're probably as grossed out as I am by the subject so I'll change it - but first, another factoid I discovered is that they have 6 legs with 3 knees per leg. So dance classes were probably quite fun - if you like cockroaches that is...

Anyway, having convinced myself that I didn't need to know anything more about cockroaches, my mind next wandered on to that phrase about angels dancing on pins. I realised that I didn't actually know what that meant, what the proper quote was or even where it comes from.

Seems it is a reference to pointless discussions about meaningless things, or at very least things so completely theoretical that it would be impossible to prove them one way or the other, and of little real value if you did. Hmm, sound like another item in the news recently?

And after that, my wardrobe mind led me on to the quote in the title of this post -a prize to the first person to correctly identify its source (without checking Google first - no cheating now!). Details of the prize will be revealed once the winner is announced.

Which all just goes to prove, if you really try, you can write about anything...

And in case you're wondering about the photo, as befits a post about random thoughts, it's a random picture too. Pretty, isn't it?!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

North by North West

I'm currently heading back to Scotland after a(nother) great weekend in and around Manchester. As the TransPennine Express whisks me North, I thought I'd use the time productively to share my weekend.

Until I visited just after New Year, I really wasn't sure what I'd think of Manchester. It's a big city after all, one of England's 10 'core cities', and that means big. Being a bit of a hick, I don't always feel comfortable in big cities. London, for example, usually intimidates me – the buildings are so tall and close together, the crowds so thick and purposeful, the expressions on faces so focused.

I was prepared to feel that way in Manchester too – but it didn't happen. Instead I actually felt quite at home. Now that might in part be because I was being shown round by someone who knows the city well, but I'm not sure that's the whole reason. The city has (to me at least) a good vibe – an undercurrent of humour and humanity, a city where people live not just work or visit. It also was far less busy and crowded than I expected – although to be fair, we did avoid the main shopping drag. 

It has some big buildings and some very modern ones, that's true. But it also has some more human scale ones, and a great combination of old mixed in with the new. The red brick definitely helps too. Less severe than London, or Edinburgh even. And stylish, very stylish!

In the city we visited many of the sites – the Town Hall with its Ford Madox Brown murals and opulent marble staircase, Old (or to be more accurate, not so old quite spanking new) Trafford, Rylands Library, Museum of Science andIndustry, Salford Quays, the Lowry Theatre, the People's HistoryMuseum. We even made a trip out to the mecca of Mammon that is the Trafford Centre. Sadly, Coronation Street is no more so the Granada Studio Tour wasn't on the itinerary.

But it wasn't all city life – and I confess I was amazed at what beautiful countryside there is within very easy reach of the city centre. Beautiful market towns and former mill towns with vibrant high streets and pretty cottages. Rolling moors and enticing country walks. Saturday morning'stea stop, for example, was a garden centre near Warrington boasting a tea room complete with outside booths, blankets and heaters, all with a great view of the fantastical ice sculptures created by the small fountain.

Admittedly the North West has its fair share of down at heel locations – mill towns that haven't survived the post industrial age that is modern Britain, areas of deprivation and poverty. A quick scan of the local council websites tell the story with regeneration schemes, anti poverty projects and youth employment initiatives commonplace.

But for all that, you know what? I liked it – even the train journey through Dumfries & Galloway, the Lake District and Lancashire is a pleasure. Apart from the damn Virgin Pendolino trains that is, their travel sick inducing properties never cease to amaze me. This morning's alternative of the TransPennine Express is a joy by comparison, even if it is just a glorified Sprinter train!

PS Best of all was the company, but that's a whole different story for another day...

Friday, 10 February 2012

Random Thoughts: Wealth

I blogged earlier this week that I've taken up a new blogging challenge - the Random Thoughts challenge set by my partner in crime, the awesome Just Frances. So here goes with my first one...

I am challenged to write for you about Cooking up my own 'Get Rich Quick' scheme. Now this is a bit of a hard one for me, in part because I've never yet managed to do it, and in part becauise I'm really not that interesting in getting rich. In fact the whole millionaire celebrity culture that we appear to have created in this country simply turns me off. Don't get me wrong, I like having cash. I like being able to afford to buy the pretty silly things I like, but if I'm honest, I'm really quite happy just being comfortable. I don't crave more, I'm content with what I've got - and I really don't know what I'd spend it on if I had more. Apart from shoes, that is - obviously. And travelling...

But back to the challenge. I've never really been an entrepreneur. As a child, I wasn't the one setting up car washing or gardening businesses. I did have an after school job doing ironing for one of the local shopowners, but that was the scale of my ambition.

My only foray into self employed-dom has been a fairly unsuccessful (financially at least) dabbling in handmade jewellery making. For a couple of years I spent most of my evenings creating 'unique' (ie unsellable) items that I would then spend most of my weekends at craft fairs not selling.

Overall I made a financial loss on the 'business'. Ironically, however, I did make a profit courtesy of HMRC - to keep on the right side of everything I opted to declare myself self employed and as a result was obliged to complete a tax return each year. It seems I was overpaying tax on other aspects of my earnings and as a result for the last few years I've received a rebate.

Not quite get rich, and certainly not very quick, but bizarrely it did bring in additional income. Ho hum, who'd have thought it.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Missing in inaction

As regular readers will realise, I've been a bit absent this year so far. At least from my blog that is. Truth i,s I've hit a bit of a block. Not a 'can't write', writer's block kind of block, but a 'not really sure what to write' one.

The thing is, as you know, this is a personal self indulgent little blog, where I get to write about what's happening to me, what I'm thinking and how life is faring for me. I'm generally pretty open in it, and at times I've shared some deeply personal stuff. It's what seems right to do. But at the moment, for a variety of reasons that I'll no doubt share in due course, my personal life isn't something I'm comfortable sharing with the world at the moment.

Now don't worry, there's nothing wrong. I'm perfectly ok, no bad things are happening - it's just that I'm not ready to write publicly about some stuff and that's been blocking me from writing about anything. So it was with great pleasure today that Frances (the queen of awesomeness herself) and I agreed to our latest blog challenge. So for the next while, we're going to both post at least once a week on a random topic - and not just any random topic but one drawn completely at random from a creative writing prompt website with numbers generated digitally at random for us. To make sure we don't cheat, we're both going to select each other's number and therefore topic and then we will have until the following weekend to compose our inane ramblings, sorry works of genius.

We'll be identifying our challenge posts with the title 'Random Thoughts' and I'll be tagging mine 'randomness' just in case you're ever daft enough to want to read them all.

Hopefully this will help me get back into my blogging groove. To be honest, I've missed it - you may not have done, but I definitely have. So here we go, let 2012 be the year of random!!