Thursday, 30 October 2014

voting again!

I'm trying to be balanced with my bumf, but I'm afraid
the Tories didn't waste any paper on me. And there's
nothing for the independent candidate either.
I've been at the polling station again today. 

A local councillor died, and we're having a by-election to replace him.

On the matter of voting, I completely disagree with Russell Brand, who says that we should not vote because none of the parties are actually interested in representing the people (although I would welcome an option for 'none of the above'). Rather, I agree with the fictional American President Jed Bartlett: “Decisions are made by those that show up.” I want to be one of the people who shows up.

According to the Electoral Reform Society's website, Scotland is the only part of the UK which uses Single Transferable Voting to elect local councillors. I like it. It feels more likely that someone tolerable will get in. I feel the blank spaces by the people I tell my children are the 'bad guys', have merit.

These days you can vote by post, which is allegedly convenient, but in reality, a bit of a faff. However, most people still go to their polling station to vote, on the Thursday that polling takes place.

Why a Thursday? I've covered that before, here, so I'll not go into it again.

But while we're questioning things, why do we vote in the places we vote? 

Clearly, we need a big, indoor space, which can be used all day. Village Halls, Theatres, and Community Centres are great for this. However, schools in term time are terrible. According to the North Ayrshire Council website, they have moved those who would normally vote at one church hall in Largs to the theatre, because that church hall was fully booked. Yet, they are still using a primary school, and giving the children a day off (with all the childcare ramifications). Surely the school must be considered booked as well? Parents are told they may not take children out of school in term time, but a school can be closed to pupils to serve as a polling station. In some places it might be the only option, but here there are four church halls and a masonic hall, as well as the theatre, and various other community spaces. Of course, school closures could be dealt with by weekend voting.

It's difficult to shift from the way we've always done things, but I think it's time we thought about it.

What do you think?

Other posts you might like:

Thursday, 23 October 2014

shopping at Morrisons

I've just come back from a shop at Morrisons.

They've upped their game.

It wasn't so long ago that they converted their trolleys so they no longer need £1 to use them. A change which might not seem like a very big deal, but changes the feel of a places. £1 to use a trolley feels like a shop doesn't trust its customers, which makes me, the customer, feel like the shop is likely to be overpriced (because the shop isn't interested in my concerns), and I am at risk of having my purse pinched. A free trolley, well, that's more classy. On top of that, I am more likely to get a few more things if I don't have to pay for a trolley, because who can be bothered to queue up to get a £1 coin if they forget to bring one (or if their husband uses the one that's kept in the car to pay for parking)?

So that was good.

I also like Morrison's attitude to the new bag charging. The staff are reminding us to bring our own bags. There are bags to buy, but they're not being pushed. I like that. It compares well to Sainsbury's in Irvine, where I went on Monday, where the woman on the till's first question was what kind of bag I wanted to buy for my shopping. Er, none? That said, I do hope we're going to get a range of nice shopping bags in in time for Christmas, because you can never have too many :-)

But the big thing (from today in the Largs store, but they're bringing it in gradually across the country) is the new loyalty card. Morrisons are late to this game, and they're doing things their own way. Linking the loyalty card to price checking, so you get more points if your shopping would have been cheaper elsewhere. And by elsewhere I mean in Asda, Sainsbury's, and Tesco, and also Aldi and Lidl. They're the first of the price matching supermarkets to price match with the stores famous for being cheap. You also earn points from special offers around the store, and they seem to be giving a lot of points away just now, as a promotion of the card.

2 packs of bread rolls for £1
It is a bit of a faff, because you get the points on a voucher, which you can put onto your card the next time you shop. Also, you can only use the card on baskets over £15. However, come to think of it, all the cards are a bit of a faff in some ways. Tesco for example, might put your points straight onto the card, but it takes some doing to work out the Boost rewards system. At least with Morrisons you just save up points until you get to 5,000, at which point they send you a £5 voucher. Simples.

2 small fresh loaves for £1
The Largs store has also had a makeover lately, so it is looking fresher, and feels like a nicer place to be.

I'm feeling well disposed toward Morrisons at the moment, and they've got some good offers on in store too. I'm sharing here a few of the offers I picked up today.

Starbust Haribo mini packs 10p
each (please note the big
Halloween tub contains 24 packs
and is £5 so it's less than half the
price to buy individually)
So, what else could Morrisons do to improve? 

Well, they could open more tills when they're needed. No doubt the conversations the staff have while there are massive queues are essential, but it doesn't feel like that when you've been queueing for 15 mintues, your ice cream slowly melting. I wish they had a 'one in front' policy, like some other stores do, that they would prioritise getting people through the tills, it makes shopping less of a chore.

They could also ditch the cafe. I'm afraid the Morrisons cafe is rubbish, and we have so many options in the town which are good. There are of course, people with mobility issues who may not want to traipse in the town, but if Morrisons does want to keep a cafe, I wish they'd let someone else run it, or just do drinks and cake and do them well.

What do you think of Morrison's makeover? And what could they do better?
Satsumas and gala apples 99p each
or 2 for £1.50 (lots of things in this
offer, inc persimmon)

Other posts you might like:

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Choosing where to live: What to think about when planning a move

What couldn't you live without in your local area?

Advice on moving home tells you to look not just for a home that suits, but an area that suits too. You need to think about what you need: shops, leisure, schools, work, and people. It will vary for everyone.

I love watching Grand Designs LINK, but most of the people on it are presented as if they have no considerations other than their fabulous box house.

I have other considerations.

I have moved on from wanting a cute little gingerbread house with moss on the walls; with alcoves, original sash windows, and wooden floors. Experience has shown me that warmth and good storage beat damp and woodworm, crumbling chimneys, and bulging plaster. Your house has to be affordable, both now, and down the line, should inflation go up. This can be really hard to do, especially if you're buying, but renting is also worth thinking about.

Once you've set the parameters for a house, you need to think about the area. 

Distance to work, distance to school, a train connection, shops etc. All this is very personal and can be very specific.

For example, in choosing our current house I wanted somewhere within cycling distance of my husband's work, and within little kid walking distance of the best school. On top of that, I wanted a supermarket, a high street, and a train connection to the nearest city.

We worked out the best school for us by checking the HMIE website (basically Scottish Ofsted). We are quite academically focused, so HMIE is a good yardstick for us, however, we also visited the school in question and we liked it. The school had the biggest impact on where we could live, because it's oversubscribed, we had to live in the catchment area to get in.

That made it pretty simple. For our last move, we also chose the town based on the school. We tried to do the same in Suffolk, but in that case we were priced out of the town we wanted. In the town we could afford were a lot of other people in the same situation as us. Interestingly, they joined together and set up one of the free schools, which just got a great Ofsted inspection report.  The impact of a good school on house prices can be huge.

Everywhere we've moved, at least one of us has visited the towns before choosing a house, just in case! It must be harder, I imagine, in cities, where everything is more expensive, and schools are bigger. We're so lucky that my husband's work is generally in rural areas (and I'm so glad we've no plans of moving again!), so we get good high streets, rubbish supermarkets, and fair train services (except for in Moffat, which would benefit so much from the re-opening of Beattock station).

What do you consider when you're moving? What wouldn't you want to live without?

Other posts you might like:

Monday, 20 October 2014

talking about our favourite fictional characters

I wrote this post before... and then I decided to use the Blogger app again, and lost half of it. Last time I used the Blogger app, the same thing happened, but that time after a lot of digging, I was able to resurrect my work. This time it's gone. 

And so's the Blogger app. UN-IN-STALL.

And with the mood I'm in I'm not sure I can be bothered to do it again. Meh. Well, maybe. OK, I'll do it, but I'm going to change my favourites.

Today, once again, I'm sharing my top 10 favourite fictional characters (favourites for various reasons, which I've explained below.

I'm hoping you'll return the favour and share your ten favourite fictional characters.

Here's mine, in no particular order:
Izzy is on the left. This pic is taken from

1. Izzy Reubens (from Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers).

I love Izzy, I would still like to look like her. She is also gloriously tragic and broken, furious, and demonic. The Love and Rockets series is a fabulous comic series, mainly about women who have great roles, even if they do get their clothes off more than strictly necessary.

2. Helen Burns (from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

I wanted to say Jane, I really did, but she's such a wet lettuce! Helen on the other hand had such potential. She wouldn't have faffed around for so long with Mr Rochester. Sadly she died (causing floods of tears from me). But that was the way it had to be. Bad girls gotta die.

3 and 4. Cobweb and Calanthe (from the Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine)

I have spent so long deciding between these two, but they are both so beautifully wrought, so deeply flawed, and yet majestically wonderful. They could have done without the sharing the same man bit, but it was really the only way that Constantine could bring them into conflict, and wow, what a conflict.

Sadly the Wraeththu series is yet to be televised, but there's some nice fan art on the Deviant Art site here.

5. Jaqen H'gar from the Song of Ice and Fire Series by George RR Martin, and Game of Thrones from HBO

Jaqen H'gar as played by Tom Wlaschiha
There are so many contenders for the best character in the Song of Ice and Fire Series. Tyrion Lannister is a fan favourite, as are Arya Stark, Jon Snow, and Brienne of Tarth, but Jaqen H'gar is my favourite.

Jaqen is fascinating - the first of the Faceless Men we come to know. What was he doing in the Black Cells, and what is he doing now?

Was the accent (gloriously portrayed by Mr Wlaschiha) just for the 'Jaqen H'gar' face, and what is he calling himself now? I'm hoping he's Pate, and I can't wait to find out what he's up to. I also have a soft spot for Arya, and I would love it if they met again, although I would hope that that wasn't because one of them was going to die.

A still from the film version,
which is available on YouTube
6. Amber St Clare from Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

Sexy, brave, adventurous, and really rather fabulous, Forever Amber was one of the first grown up books I read (and I wasn't the only one, according to this article), and showed me just how much I love to sob my way through a story.

7. President Josiah Bartlet from The West Wing, created by Aaron Sorkin

Because who wouldn't want to be on his staff? He certainly beats President Fitz Grant, who is a jumped up little twerp. President Bartlet inspired love, devotion, and good deeds in his staff. It was a shame it all went to hell in a hand cart, with fallings out between writing staff, and the drug problems of the creator, Aaron Sorkin.  Some great characters, and great dialogue. Like this opening speech.

8. Captain Mal Reynolds from Firefly, created by Joss Whedon

Never lacking in self confidence, Mal Reynolds is the Captain of Serenity, in the incredibly good (and what were they thinking of to cancel it?) series, Firefly.

I absolutely adore a space Western, and they don't get better than Firefly, and Mal is sexy, stupid, funny and fun. Whedon being Whedon, there are lots of great women characters too, but Mal is my favourite.

And can I just say of that scene at the brothel, when he is commencing the walk of shame - NO!!!!!

9. The Angel Islington from Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I've got a bit of a crush on Neil Gaiman. He's smart, funny, sexy, married to the marvellous Amanda Palmer, and he's also fabulous at writing characters.

Peter Capaldi's Angel Islington
I've chosen The Angel Islington, because I love the way Gaiman has taken a tube map and run with it. Of course the Angel Islington is an actual angel, and what Gaiman does with the actual angel is genius.

If you haven't read Neverwhere, pop to your local bookshop and buy it. Alternatively, the BBC like making it. They did a TV version a while back, with Peter Capaldi, the god of swearing, and lately time lord, as the Angel, and last year they did it again, for radio, with a star studded line up, including Natalie Dormer (Queen Margaery, of Game of Thrones, and Anne Boleyn in The Tudors) as Door, and Benedict Cumberbatch (I'm guessing you know who he is) as the Angel. Can't believe I missed that one.

10. Raina Blackhail from the Sword of Shadows Series by JV Jones

I changed the list. Because Raina wasn't on it. Raina is an awesome clan matriarch, in a patriarchal system. She doesn't act the warrior queen, but rather plays to her strengths, overcoming serious difficulties with grace and dignity. Ned Stark would still have died if he'd been married to Raina Blackhail instead of Catelyn Stark, but Raina would have avoided the Red Wedding. Come to think of it, the Sword of Shadows Series would be pretty good on TV. HBO?

Who are your favourite characters? And what cross-author 'shipping might you do? 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Scared: stranger danger and use of space

It's 5am and I'm awake because I just had a horrible nightmare.

I dreamt that a young, fit (as in quick and strong) man attacked me and my children in a secluded spot.

It's made me think about how much more concerned I am now of 'stranger danger' than I was as a younger woman. Which is ironic, because of course I was at more danger then, and was in fact sexually assaulted a few times. 
There are lots of places to hide in those trees

None were especially serious, thankfully, and the time when it was a complete stranger was actually the easiest to deal with because I had no concept that I 'should' do anything other than kick him in the nethers and scream like hell. I also didn't mind what happened to the man at the hands of those who came to my aid (who were more interested in a fight than a distressed damsel).

The fact is that attacks of any type from strangers are rare. And when they do happen, it's young men who are at highest risk, and yet we all know of a case or two which is someone like us, mainly from the news. 

I'm also now painfully aware that I'm not as fit as I should be, and that I have three beautiful children, whom bad people might want to hurt.

But it's not very likely is it?

I shouldn't let it curtail my movements, partly because that's exactly what the sick puppies want. And I really don't want their actions to be effective like that.

But I do.

After an incident in a Bradford KFC toilet, I ask my boy to come to the ladies with me, even though he's 9. He doesn't mind yet, but it can't go on forever.

Now if I'm out walking and see a man who looks strong and fit, by himself, I head quickly to where others can see me. I know that most men are kind and good, but I also know what I have to lose, and since becoming a mother it's too too much to risk.

It doesn't have much impact day to day, but it does limit the walks I'll go on. The only way around it, I think, is teaming up with friends for walks. Now I see the benefit of those rambling groups.

It makes me mad that those sick puppies who do these rare attacks are having such an influence on me!

Which leads me to a question. Do you feel like this? And if so, what do you do about it?

Other posts you might like:

Thursday, 9 October 2014

loving October's work

I used to think that Autumn was my favourite season, although since I've been living in Scotland Summer has been growing on me. I am definitely at my happiest when I'm warm and dry. However, on a nice day (and by that I mean sunny, or possibly misty), I do love this time of year. Nature celebrates the end of long summer days, by getting her glad rags on ready for the long nights of winter. I love the greens of summer, but am glad to see the beautiful reds and golds, and mysterious mists of Autumn.

I suspect I'm such a big fan of Autumn because my birthday falls just before Halloween, so as a kid my birthday parties were often Halloween parties, featuring bobbing for apples, and marshmallows on strings, as well as dressing up, and lots of sweets and cakes.
I used to love going trick or treating too. Happily I still get to go, because my children need to be taken, but I don't usually get to dress up, which is a shame. I love the Scottish tradition of guiseing, with the children memorising spooky songs and jokes, rather than the English way which basically just involves begging for sweets and minor vandalism. I'm 
from Yorkshire, where we kept the vandalism for mischief night on 4th November, and just dressed up and begged for sweets at Halloween (I believe the idea is that people would give the spirits goodies to make them go away).

Every year the Headteacher would tell us that Mischief Night was cancelled. Every year it would go ahead anyway. The vandalism was bad, some people would go way too far. Personally I was a fan of toilet roll streamers, rather than any actual criminal damage!

But before we get to Halloween we have the October holiday. It was good to get back to school after the long summer holidays, but after a few weeks of morning rush, ferrying the children to after school clubs, and squeezing in all the homework (not that I object to homework, but it is often dull, repetitive, and frustrating for all of us), I will be glad of a pause. We're mainly going to be at home for this one, which delighted my son, who is an avid gamer, until we broke it to him that we'll be doing day trips: museums, castles, swimming, and visiting friends. 

And I suspect we'll fit in a bit of gaming too. 


What does the rest of October have in store for you?

Other posts you might like:

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

talking about Mary, Queen of Scots

One of my favourite historical characters has to be Mary, Queen of Scots.

What do I like about her? Well: 

  • she became Queen at 6 days old
  • She was 5'11" (1.8m) tall, in the C16; 
  • and she had a really interesting personal life. I mean 'interesting' like the Chinese curse - 'may you live in interesting times'.

You need to read a book really to get the full gen on Mary Stuart's life, but here are some basics:

Not actually Mary, Queen of Scots, just
someone dressed up at Linlithgow Palace

Mary was born in December of 1542, in Linlithgow Palace. Her parents were Mary of Guise and King James V of Scotland. Sadly King James was on his deathbed, and when he was told his only surviving heir was a girl, he said "it came with a lass, it will pass with a lass" referring to the Stuart line of Kings, started from the daughter of Robert the Bruce marrying into the Stuart family, and, James thought, ending with Mary (he was wrong).

King James died, and Mary became Queen at six days old. There was a dispute over who should be regent, won out by James Hamilton, the 2nd Earl of Arran, who was Protestant, and was next in line to the throne. He had ties with the Protestant King of England - Henry VIII, with whom he arranged that Mary would marry King Henry's son, Edward, when she was ten, and move to England.

The little girl (aged 3), looking through the hole
provided for little Queen Mary
The man who had been named as regent in James V's will, the Catholic Cardinal David Beaton, was not happy with the situation, and formed an army to take Mary and her mother to the more secure Stirling Castle when she was six months old. She was crowned there, and had gardens to play in. They even made a small hole in the wall, so toddler Mary could see the beautiful views from the castle. 

King Henry VII meanwhile arrested some Scottish traders who had done nothing wrong, and James Hamilton decided he had been backing the wrong horse, converting to Catholicism, and joining with Beaton. The marriage proposal was rejected by the Scottish Parliament, although Henry tried to enforce it with the 'rough wooing'. Mary was moved to Dunkeld for her safety. In 1546, Beaton was murdered by Protestant lairds. Henry died not long after, but the campaign against the Scots continued. Fearful for Mary's safety, her guardians turned to the French for help.

The French King, Henry II offered to marry Mary to his own son, Francis, and promised to help. Mary was moved from place to place, with the English inching closer, before the French arrived at Leith docks to save the day. The Scottish Parliament agreed to the French marriage in 1548, and five year old Mary was sent to France. She went with her own court, and caused quite a stir, being lively, intelligent, and beautiful. She made friends, and got on well with Francis, although they must have looked an unusual couple, as he was rather short (and was said to stutter, while Mary was thought to be eloquent). Secretly, the French King had Mary sign a pre-nup, handing over Scotland, and her English claim, to France, should she die without issue. This wasn't the death he should have been worrying about however. Mary and Francis married in 1558, when Mary was 15. 

Posing with a unicorn horn (it's a
replica of the original, which was
actual a narwhal horn). The unicorn
is the national animal of Scotland,
and this picture was taken at Stirling
castle, where Mary of Guise's throne
room is reproduced.
Soon after that, Queen Mary I of England died, and was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, who had married King Henry VIII while he was still married to Queen Katherine (Mary of England's mother) under Catholic law. Elizabeth was therefore, not considered eligible for the throne by many people, whereas Mary was the legitimate heir, as her grandmother had been Henry VIII's sister. Mary was also Catholic, which helped.

The following year (1559), King Henry II died from a jousting injury, and Francis and Mary became King and Queen of France. Mary was 16. In Scotland, Mary of Guise was running Scotland in her daughter's absence, with the help of French troops, working against an uprising of Protestant Lords. It was all rather stressful. The next year, Mary of Guise died of dropsy (possibly caused by heart failure). That same year, France formally accepted the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but Mary refused to ratify the treaty, citing her grief. She was to know more of grief, as later that year, her husband died from complications of an ear infection. His brother succeeded him to the throne, and Mary returned to Scotland.

Mary arrived at Leith in the summer of 1561. She was 18, and recently orphaned and widowed. She was also used to living in France, and was a devout Catholic. It was not easy for her. To the surprise of many, Mary kept the Protestant advisers, including her illegitimate half brother, who had led the Protestant faction, as her chief advisor. This strengthened her position with England. Mary set to work finding herself a new husband. Several people were in the frame, including the mad son of the King of Spain, and Queen Elizabeth's own favourite.

Darnley and Mary: tall and in love
Picture in the public domain, taken from here
In February of 1565, Mary met with her cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. She had met him before soon after her husband died, but this time her grief had faded, and she noticed him. He was over 6' tall, and an English Catholic, and she is said to have fallen in love. They married later that year, although they did not get a papal dispensation to marry (which they needed, being cousins), and the union upset many. The Protestant Lords rose again in rebellion, but it came to nothing in the end.

Darnley meanwhile was not content with being King consort, and wished to share the throne with Mary (which would effectively put him in charge). Mary refused, and things between then grew strained. Darnley grew jealous of the now pregnant Mary's friendly relationship with her secretary David Rizzio, and joined in a secret plot with the very Protestant Lords who had consipired against her, to murder Rizzio right in front of her. Afterward Darnley was repentant, but Mary could not forgive him.

Their child, James, was born at Edinburgh castle in June 1566. Later that same year, Mary visited her adviser James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who had been injured. It was a long day trip and eyebrows were raised. Straight after her return, Mary was seriously ill, and took several weeks to recover, however she met with various nobles at the end of November to discuss what was to be done with Darnley. Divorce was a possibility. There were other possibilities too. Afraid for his safety, Darnley fled to Glasgow, where he too was seriously ill, taking weeks to recover.

In the new year, Mary instructed her husband to return to Edinburgh, which he did; staying at a friends house, and recuperating from his illness. Mary visited him every day, and it was thought that a reconciliation was on the cards. She visited him on the evening of 9th February, before going to the wedding reception of a member of her household. While she was there, there was an explosion in the house Darnley was staying at, and Darnley himself was found dead in the garden. There was not a mark on him.

People generally believed that Bothwell was guilty of Darnley's murder. The Queen was petitioned that Bothwell should go to trial. She allowed this, but did not allow time for any evidence to be gathered. After a seven hour trial Bothwell was acquitted. A week later Bothwell was canvassing support in his aim to marry the Queen, and quickly divorcing his wife.

In April 1567 Mary visited her son for the last time. On her way home, she was abducted by Bothwell and other Lords, and it seems likely that Bothwell raped her. Soon after, they returned to Edinburgh together, and were married in a Protestant ceremony. The marriage was very unpopular, mainly because Bothwell had probably murdered Darnley. The relationship between Mary and Bothwell was also tempestuous, and Mary suffered from depression. There was an uprising against them and Mary was denounced as a murderer and adultress, and imprisoned. She soon miscarried twins, and after that was forced to abdicate to allow her infant son to become King. Bothwell was exiled to Denmark, and Mary's illegitimate brother became Regent. Mary was 24.

Mary escaped into England, and asked Elizabeth for help, instead, Mary was held prisoner in one grand house and then the next, while Elizabeth considered what to do. The imprisonment was not good for her, and her health declined.

Mary remained at the centre of several plots to replace Elizabeth on the throne, although generally Elizabeth did not believe that she was herself the source of the plots; however there was eventually a plot wherein it was clear that Mary had given the go-ahead for Elizabeth's assassination. She was loath to put a Queen on trial, but with the overwhelming evidence, Elizabeth agreed, and Mary was tried in October 1586, and sentenced to death. Elizabeth could not bring herself to sign the death warrant until February 1587, at which point the men acted fast, no doubt in case she changed her mind.

Mary spent the last hours of her life in prayer, distributed her belongings amongst her household, and wrote a letter to the King of France. On the scaffold, her executioners knelt at her feet and begged her forgiveness. She answered:  "I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles." She was assisted in partially disrobing, and revealed a red petticoat and sleeves. It has often been said that red was the colour of martyrs and that this was a political statement, however, it is also possible that it was February, and it was cold. Red was thought to be more warming than other colours, and so she might have chosen red to keep warm. Given her poise, it seems likely she would have wanted to avoid shivering. Mary was 45.

Elizabeth was furious when she heard that the sentence had been carried out, and had the man responsible imprisoned.

Sounds like good fodder for a soap doesn't it? Scottish history is full of treacherous murders, of Protestant and Catholic plots, and of dodgy weddings. It has provided inspiration for Shakespeare, and George RR Martin, and I would so be up for a Tudors style series looking at Scottish history!

What about you? Any favourite historical figures?

Other posts you might like:

Sunday, 5 October 2014

in the black: spending habits in the young

Steve Levitt of Freakonomics argues that young adults are the poorest they're ever going to be, so there's no point in their trying to save money. They should spend. They will have more money to pay it back later.  

What was your relationship with money like as a young adult?

It certainly seemed to me when I was younger that people were trying to get me to spend money I didn't have, and while I can see that Steve Levitt might have been right, objectively...

...I can't stand being in debt.

I had a period of time when I was young when I had £75 incoming per week in benefits, and £70 outgoing on rent. It didn't last long; it wasn't comfortable in the slightest; but I didn't spend money I didn't have (at the time, I wasn't given the option to!), instead, I cut my cloth, buying veg for pennies, which the greengrocer was going to throw out, and cooking up big pots of stew, which I would eat for three meals a day. That kept my food budget down around £2 a week, so I had £3 to spend on fags, cider, and dresses. That didn't work out terribly well, and I entered into any arrangements I could to get more money, subletting my flat whenever possible; cadging drinks and fags as I could.

The landlord offered me a better deal in the end, which I took, and in time I got a badly paid job, and worked to pay the rent and afford more cider, fags and dresses. I still mainly ate stew, although I now had porridge for breakfast – luxury.

I carried on working in badly paid jobs and paid the bills, and put money aside because I wanted to go to university, and that involved a whole lot of not working. 

Happily when I went I still could get a grant for my accommodation, but I had to work to pay for my food, fags, cider and dresses. I worked in the holidays, paid my mum rent, and struggled to put the rest aside. 

I was painfully aware that other people got student loans and credit cards, and didn't pay rent to their Mums. I was very grumpy about it.

I did end up getting a student loan in the third year of my degree. I didn't want to, but I just couldn't make ends meet any more. The stress it caused me was horrible, just knowing it was there, and when my Grandad died, soon after I left University, leaving me a little money, I just paid it off. The thing is, I still haven't earned enough to have to.

Now I do not think it is right for companies to make money off people who cannot afford to pay it, but I also don't think it's right for people to borrow money they can't pay back. I know people who've had their credit card debt written off because they were deemed too irresponsible to pay it back, even though they could have, if they'd just stopped buying stuff they didn't need. I probably judge them harshly, because I just couldn't handle the STRESS of it.

Wonga has recently written off a load of debts, and they no doubt had to, because they were lending it to people who couldn't afford to pay it back.

However, there's a part of me stomping my feet and saying it's just so unfair that people who are profligate get away with it.

I know profligate is an emotive term. I know that there are lots of people who are constantly living in desperate times, and do not have the good fortune I had to climb out of it, who take a loan that they are given to make today better, in the hopes that tomorrow will take care of itself. I also know that accruing debt is bound up with mental health issues, and there is such a lack of support for that, so I don't want to be Judgey MacJudgerson about it (well, mainly not).

I don't think I'm suited for the stock exchange, and I'll never have a debt written off by Wonga, but at least I know I can live on stew (although these days I think I'd rather go rooting in the bins behind M&S).

What about you? What were you like with money when you were young?

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

surviving the zombie apocalypse: a writing exercise

I'm using the fact that it's October as my excuse for this one, but I'm wondering how long you reckon you'd survive the zombie apocalypse?

And if you survived, what would you do?

I've put a bit of thought into this, ever since a writing exercise in my old writing group that went wrong.  

Here's what you do:

  • Think of 6 crisis situations, and write them down
  • Number them 1-6
  • Roll a dice. You have to go with the one that is selected.
  • Now write an account of one character coming home after a terrible incident has occurred (connected to the crisis). YOU MAY NOT MENTION WHAT HAPPENED.
  • Add a character
So what went wrong? Well, I had five crises, but couldn't think of another, so I asked my husband. He reckoned I should put in 'zombie apocalypse', which I shrugged off, much to his disgust. Reluctantly I conceeded, and then rolled a six.

So I created Laura, bringing in the shopping from the landie and slamming the door shut behind her; having to explain herself to her sister-in-law, Julia. They were living on an old farm with few animals and lots of wigwams (the wooden shed variety).

Because it was early days in my writing Laura and Julia were directly plonked in from people I know called Laura and Julia (apologies ladies), but they've changed since then. More stories have come out of the situation, but I still don't like zombie stories, and I haven't mentioned one yet. Do you think I could write a whole book about them without mentioning them?

Anyway, how to survive the zombie apocalypse? Laura is the woman to go to; she could survive anything. This is what she'd tell you:
  • If you are in Britain, go to Scotland, or possibly Wales, at a push. Leave England at all costs. Elsewhere in the world, think rural...
  • Speaking of rural, leave the motorways, leave the cities, head for the hills.
  • Find yourself somewhere like a farmhouse. You'll need room to hide things, and to gather other survivors, some animals (but not too many), and ideally have somewhere with a generator and stores of fuel. An Aga is also useful.
  • Set somewhere up to use as a cell, just in case.
  • You will need a landrover, knowledge of where to find landrover parts, and mechanic skills (or a mechanic).
  • How to survive? Run for the hills.
  • Don't be overly sentimental. People will die. Surviving means moving on.
Of course, the best thing about a zombie apocalypse is that it's so flexible; it could be some horrible sickness, rather than the traditional zombie, and there are lots of things you can do to tinker around the edges (but please, don't make them fast).

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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

thinking of songs that mean a lot to me

A friend has tagged me to put up a list of ten songs that mean a lot to me. 

It's a surprisingly personal journey, and I'm not quite sure of how much to share, but let's share the songs at least, eh? With a wee cryptic note sometimes. In no particular order:

1. Earth, Sun, Moon by Love and Rockets because of the afternoon I first heard it, which was an afternoon full of possibilities.

2. Beyond Love by The The, because someone sent it me once, and it made me change my mind.

3. Too Much Too Young by The Specials, because someone sent it to me once, and it didn't make me change my mind, although it did make me think.

4. My Old Man by Joni Mitchell (really anything off the Blue album) - because of drinking wine and being all by myself. I love to sing along with all the songs on this album, and I'm aware I do it badly, often with tears rolling down my cheeks. I love the way Joni crams words into her songs.

5. The Things that Dreams are Made of by Human League - because of dancing with my brother in the kitchen.

6. Hotel California by the Eagles, because of someone singing it to me at the Hyde Park bus stop.

7. I love Rock n Roll by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (not Britney, although I do love Britney), because of the best proposal I ever had, and because it's just plain awesome.

8. I Don't Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith, because it's the best parental love song ever, and it always makes me cry, although it is a little too creepy to sing to one's children! Mind you, we could do this in choir, right? Also Steve Tyler.

9. Ivy Ivy Ivy by Primal Scream, because I have a feeling it is always going to be true, and because it kept me alive during one of the most difficult times in my life. I cannot get the video to appear below for some reason, but you can see Bobbie Gillespie looking vacant while singing it here.

10. Celebrate by Fields of the Nephilim, because it feels like it is within me. All the other songs do somehow relate to other people, and I thought I needed one that was all about me. This is just perfect. I love the Fields, and this is my favourite (probably, although this is my favourite video - the blue angel bit), if you're going to listen though, I wouldn't bother watching, as it's mainly just a hat on stage.

So, what about you? Can you name ten songs that mean a lot to you? Please share.

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