Thursday, 30 December 2010

The "Box" In Boxing Day

I'm a huge fan of Christmas and love the build up – decorations, advent calendars, Christmas films (even the nonsense the Christmas Channel shows!)... The only thing I'm not a fan of is traditional Christmas food and this year finally made the much talked about alternative all-meat decorative mince pies. Of course supposedly being an adult and knowing the “Christmas secret” means Christmas morning isn't as exciting as it used to be but I still love my family's annual routine – stocking opening for all (regardless of age), church, lunch, the Queen's speech, presents and games.

This year with so many members of my family ill, for the first time ever the pressure to go to church was off and church goers seriously diminished but because it's part of a long-held tradition, I braved the service voluntarily. One year The Boy threatened to abstain and found himself locked outside and shoeless with little choice but to join the rest of the family but this year no such shenanigans occurred. These days when it comes to presents, I still love opening them and sure, I still experience the same spoilt mix of glee and disappointment but I'm generally more excited to see the reactions of those I've bought presents for.

In many ways I enjoy Boxing Day more than Christmas Day as we embark on another strange family tradition – a dress up themed evening. This year there's a Spanish theme. Bumbling around as one of Dali's melting clocks, I think back to a clueless conversation I had in Cologne about the origins of the name “Boxing Day” and Germany's much simpler title: “Second Christmas Day”. I remember having to do various Christmas projects at school and rather obviously vaguely recall the name having something to do with presents.

Celebrated in Australia, Canada (an optional holiday, except for Ontario where it's statutory), New Zealand and other commonwealth nations, Boxing Day is also known as “Day of Goodwill” (South Africa) and “St Stephen's Day”/”The Day of Wren” (Ireland). Originally established through the 1871 Bank Holidays Act during Queen Victoria's reign, although dating back to medieval times, the exact etymology of the name “Boxing Day” is unclear. There are several linked and competing theories all sounding just as plausible:

  1. The tradition of giving money and other gifts to those who were needy on the day after Christmas. Gifts were placed into boxes for easier transportation.

  1. The European tradition dating back to the Middle Ages and possibly even the late Roman/early Christian era of placing metal boxes outside churches that were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen. St. Stephen was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian Church who were ordained by the Apostles to care for widows and the poor. As told in the Acts of the Apostles 6:1 to 8:2 , in exchange for his dedicated preaching and devotion to Christ, St. Stephen was stoned to death by a mob and as he died begged God not to punish his killers. Some folk believe that there's a Swedish St Stephen, who is the patron saint of horses and thereby associates Boxing Day with outdoor sports, especially horse racing and hunting.



  1. The 19th Century Victorian custom that saw servants in Britain carry boxes to their masters when they arrived for the day's work. On the day after Christmas, it was tradition that all employers would put coins in the boxes, as a special end-of-the-year gift. Some records show these boxes were earthenware and would be collected to be smashed open on Boxing Day. Linked to this tradition is the idea that on Boxing Day tradesmen would collect their "Christmas boxes" or gifts in return for good and reliable service throughout the year – rather like the modern concept of a “Christmas Bonus”. Equally in America where Boxing Day isn't celebrated, slaves were given goods from masters to show their appreciation and sometimes allowed a few days off to spend with their family.

  1. The old English tradition that allowed servants to take the 26th December off to visit families in exchange for ensuring that wealthy landowners' Christmases ran smoothly. In addition, employers gave each servant a box containing gifts and bonuses (sometimes including leftover food). The goods were distributed based on the family's needs, the status of the worker and their services to the giver, with spun cloth, leather goods, durable food supplies, tools, and other items being handed out. The items were chucked into boxes, one box for each family, to make carrying away the results of this annual restocking easier.

  1. The tradition prevalent in the 1800s of churches opening their alms boxes (boxes where people place monetary donations) to distribute the contents to the poor.

Whichever explanation you decide to go with what's important to remember is Boxing Day was traditionally a day to thank the community for the year's efforts and while being a gracious day, also reinforced class lines as social superiors did not receive gifts from those deemed to be of inferior social standing.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Old Friends Take On New Significance

The journey from Leeds to London and back should be a familiar path for me by now but in a coach departing after 6pm it's pretty difficult to see road signs. In addition, I have an unfortunate habit of accidentally sitting on the right of the coach so that I am too far away from the side of the road. Normally I am generally only interested in my exact whereabouts on the journey up from London to Leeds when this information would be useful for The Boy in order to meet me at the right time or for me to gauge whether I am going to arrive on time. Sadly the only trusty landmark I can rely on to help me estimate my arrival time is good old well-lit up Meadowhall.

This week, for the first time in a long while I undertook this route by car. Setting out in the afternoon for our annual journey to Kent for the family Christmas, meant we were travelling in daylight. Being much more lit-up with the vastly-improved visibility of a front car seat also meant that I was actually able to read road signs and in doing so, was reminded of a few place names that I have frequently passed and often wondered what their “Unique Selling Point” is.

To satisfy my own curiosity and for the benefit of others who regularly take on this mammoth drive or who at least regularly pass segments of this route, it seemed fitting to find out just what there is to do, other than visit churches, in some of these repeat offenders, old friends and intriguingly named destinations...

Grantham – I have always wondered if there's anything there, having passed through it many times in a train and coach. In this historic market town there's actually a surprising number of things to do and see: the Grantham & Queen's Royal Lancers Museum, historic home Belton House, Easton Walled Gardens, Belvoir Castle and Woolsthorpe Manor. For those less into historic Britain who fancy a break in their journey, why not check out Ancaster Karting, Quads and Paintball or go tenpin bowling. Personally my favourite, and I think the most appealing, Grantham fact is that it was recently awarded the title of “Home Of The World's Hottest Chilli 2010”.

Newark – Like Grantham, this is merely another train/coach curiosity. Having rolled on through Newark many a time, I can't help but guess what local folk get up to to pass their time and The Boy hopes there's a welcome sign pointing out its name is an anagram of “wanker”. A quick google search and there's surprisingly no such information about Newark's name but like Grantham it's a historic market town with a fair bit to see: castle ruins and gardens, Newark Air/Millgate Museums, a tour-able Georgian town hall and river Trent walks. For those into their antiquities, it might be interesting to know Newark is home to six huge annual antiques fairs held at Newark County Showroom. I'm most amused by the overly specific Newark walking trails advertised: a Civil War trail, a Medieval timber framed buildings trail, a malting and brewing trail...

Godmanchester – We both imagine Godmanchester to be a smaller version of its great northern counterpart solely comprised of churches. Oddly, instead of a church, the first tourist attraction I find listed for the Roman town of Godmanchester is a stroll over its Chinese footbridge. Although a good base for a whole array of nearby attractions, Godmanchester's only other draw is booking on a family run tour around the privately owned Georgian country house, Island Hall. Despite it's scant attractions, Godmanchester clearly has an I.T. savvy proud resident: www.godmanchester.net/residents/placestogo.htm.

The Alconburys - This one is signposted near to the following curiously-named place and sounds like it's the manor house that accompanies the paupers estate, The Stukeleys: an abominable place of no escape from social rank. Both built on the old Roman road of Ermine Street, unsurprisingly The Alconburys and The Stukeleys villages, offer little to entertain passers by but a church and former RAF airfield. If you're ever stuck in the area you can at least take comfort in knowing that “ Great Stukeley village” actually has a hotel and there's also a website dedicated to village life: www.thestukeleys-pc.gov.uk/

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Sod and Murphy Conspire Against Me

It's been a while since I've taken you on a linguistic journey – you can blame my latest foray with National Express for this outing. I'm sitting on the coach with the inconsiderate “background” sounds of some TV show someone several seats in front is watching on their laptop. I'm actually pretty glad to be on this coach and amused that despite its reputation Megabus feels much more luxurious than National Express in that the individual spotlights overhead are actually WORKING! I'm also pretty lucky to be on a virtually empty coach with seats all around me free. So what's the problem you say? And why mention National Express when you're travelling with Megabus?

My day didn't begin well. My two morning cautionary alarms went off and shortly afterwards I got a phone call from the agency. I had work for the fourth day running – almost unheard of! For the second day I'd be travelling to an extremely far-flung suburb of outer “London”. Having travelled for two hours and passed nearing 25 tube stops to get to Upminster (technically Essex) the day before, today I'd have to get an overland train out of Liverpool Street to Chingford. Where Chingford is exactly I'll never know. Having hauled myself out of bed, I pretty much sleep-walked into the shower. Unable to brave the shock of turning on the lights, I showered and got ready in darkness. Just as I'm about to leave, I get a phone call to say the booking is cancelled and they'll see if they can get me something else. Several hours pass lying in bed fully attired in work clothes before I am ready to accept defeat.

One of those non-existent days passes and low and behold the second irritation for the day strikes... that old devil called “Sod's Law”. I leave the house giving myself plenty of time to get to Victoria Coach Station and all is going well until the Victoria Line segment of my journey that is. At every stop we seem to need to wait for a signal to enter the station and as the minutes pass I'm no longer able to comfortably read my copy of Stylist. Rather like that old pointless habit of pressing the traffic light button repeatedly, I always seem to think when panic strikes I'm better off waiting at the ready so I can leap into action as if this strategy is actually going to fix the delay. The Stylist is tucked back into my laptop bag and my coat sleeve is slightly rolled up to allow easy watch face access. Two stops out of five and a second disaster is announced – there's a broken down train in front between Warren Street and Green Park. I'm well used to delays on the somewhat unreliable Victoria Line but thankfully they normally don't occur at such a crucial time.

I finally arrive into Victoria Train Station with a mere five minutes before my coach leaves to attempt a walk that normally takes ten minutes. I'm characteristically heavily laden and trying to run through the underground. Typically Victoria Train Station has closed off the normal exit so I have longer to go and my trousers have decided to try and embarrass me but all four sets of traffic lights are in my favour. I make it into the coach station bang on six, extremely red faced and drenched. Coaches to the north are unfortunately the furthest departure points so I pant on through dragging my case behind. Last week when I got the coach from London to Leeds I arrived in plenty of time and the coach was delayed departing by two hours. Today seats near the departure gate are disturbingly empty, the computer screen message board is blank and those passengers waiting around have no idea if the 561 has gone. I desperately ask a near by policemen if he's seen it and he usefully rather obviously tells me that he doesn't work for National Express.

My fate is now left in the hands of the lady at the ticket desk. I'm hoping my pitiful appearance might help my case but she goes by the book and I have to buy a new ticket for a coach leaving an hour later. Typically after already waiting an hour, my Megabus coach is delayed by 45 minutes due to “adverse weather conditions” on the M1 – clearly conditions that didn't affect the 6pm National Express Coach. The phrase “Sod's Law” comes to mind again and I wonder where it comes from.

As I am a bit of a language geek when I finally arrive in Leeds, I whip out one of my many dictionaries and the one of most use turns out to be my dictionary of modern slang which tells me that “Sod's Law” is “the supposed tendency for things to go wrong in a perverse or annoying way”. Attributed to Murphy's Law back in the 70s, it seems the phrase has a whole other name and actually isn't that old but http://hubpages.com/hub/Murphys-Law-Origins and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sod's_law vaguely suggest it's etymology dates back further. So there you go, no clear answer but certainly a phrase who's dictionary definition aptly matches my unfortunate day.

Friday, 3 December 2010

I'm Dreaming Of A Green Christmas

I am slightly ashamed to confess that as a child I was a complete wuss and suffered from an extreme aversion to dirt. I recall several occasions when my sister and cousins waded through streams, had snow ball fights or generally rolled around in the mud while I stood at the side watching, protectively clutching my padded fluorescent hair-band to my head.

At some point over the years I became less squeamish almost over night and started annually going to two music festivals and contending with portaloos without any of the old fuss. Despite miraculous advancements in my stance on dirt, one old hatred has only grown as I have. I don’t understand and will possibly never comprehend the excitement that comes with snow. As a child I remember being all wrapped up, verging on tears and almost having to be forced to go and play in the great white outdoors. I recall enjoying sleigh rides in the fields near to my Nan's house but just like today I wasn't so keen on the uphill walk afterwards.

As an adult I have to admit that snow certainly helps make everything look much more attractive but as soon as it starts to thaw, snow has quite the reverse affect. Rather than helping me feel more festive, snow encourages seasonal tourettes. I am such a clumsy accident prone person already that the very presence of snow puts the fear in me and I start to imagine my demise. Heading out in snowy conditions is never good but is at least safer when the snow is deep. Walking from the flat into Leeds the other day was a severely dangerous task – not a central city road, the route glistened with thick layers of ice daring me to take it on. Attempting to carefully cross at the central reservation, I couldn't help but fear the worst. My walk time doubled as I precariously slid around occasionally having to grab onto a rather filthy railing to avoid the worst as passing drivers most probably giggled at the spectacle.

The arrival of this year's second major freeze was perfectly timed to almost ruin my holiday plans as it decided the day I was flying to Cologne was a good time to settle. Thankfully East Midlands Airport wasn't too badly hit and we took off on time but arriving into Cologne we were back to havoc wreaked by snow - left waiting on the plane for an hour for some extremely icy steps to arrive. Departing Cologne three days later snow delayed us by an hour and a half and on arrival we faced a frosty car and no de-icer – thank god (or whoever there is) for the hard edges of empty savoury egg containers.

Having been relatively unaffected by the snow once in Cologne, returning to the UK I was advised to avoid my Leeds-Kent journey because of train cancellations – apparently whole train routes had been suspended for days due to “adverse weather conditions”. Southeastern trains cover an enormous commuter route and I honestly couldn’t quite believe the snow had completely halted any kind of service. Ringing up the “weather hotline”, I was repeatedly transferred to the automated service (love those things) and usefully told the journey was “amended” before the message cut out. A lucky friend actually managed to get hold of an operator to ask about the situation but the employee clearly hadn’t been briefed in any way and was equally useful, admitting they had no idea if trains were even running at all.

Deciding to take a chance I stubbornly risked letting National Express take charge of my fate and actually made it to London, merely half an hour delayed. Luckily Southeastern trains were operating a limited timetable again and I made it home safely after about seven and a half hours travelling time. One hurdle overcome now just about five to go!

As I am still a bit of a hobo I have two more weekends and a journey back Kentways before Christmas to haul myself up and down the country AND then after all of that... I need to get to Chester and from there back up to Leeds. Daily newspaper snow forecast updates do little to ease the depression. We’re threatened with the coldest winter in 30 years; warned those planning on travelling cross-country might have to completely postpone Christmas and celebrate the week after; told snow on Christmas Day is a “foregone conclusion” and even reassured by comforting bosses at Southeastern that trains running in snow “will always be a problem”. Is the arrival of this extremely cold wet occasionally dangerous and debilitating white fluff really worth celebrating?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

'Tis The Season To Be Merry (As Long As You're Not In Primark)

Forget road rage – as Christmas draws near Primani rage increases. I am not sure there is any other shop that can cause such extreme irritation. The branch in the centre of Leeds is unbearable at the weekend – early in the morning shortly after opening or half an hour before closing are the only times there's a chance of leaving with sanity in tact. And if you think that particular shop's bad try visiting any London branch.

When I first visited the Oxford Street Primark, I vowed to never return – the shop was so vast it felt daunting and queues for changing room and tills were like nothing I'd ever seen. Frequenting the smaller more manageable Wood Green branch is relatively painless but as soon as Christmas draws near queues weave through the shop and everything is in disarray. Of course these days retailers deem Christmas to be near months before the actual date and many shoppers follow suit believing it's better to get in there early.

This week I rather unfortunately had to make an exchange and re-visiting the dreaded Oxford Street shop was unavoidable. Not only was I visiting my most hated branch but also at the worst possible time – 6pm when the workers are out in force and seeking retail therapy. And of course in London there is also the added annoyance of a huge array of tourists to worsen the already burgeoning shop's footfall.

I marched in purposefully desperately trying to get the whole inconvenience over with as quickly as possible. It wasn't the Saturday sea of heads you despairingly overlook when entering the Leeds city centre branch so with optimism I briskly located the escalators and ascended to the men's department, quickly locating the desired exchange item and seeking out the customer services till. Much to my dismay a somewhat discouraging queue snaked around the ladies shoes out of the queuing barriers and to add to this, three diligent Primark employees were standing around chatting, watching the ever-growing human reptile. As I slowly edged forward, I could hear their trivial chat - all complaining they didn't want to “do customer services”. Far too much time passed and eventually the eldest of the three gave orders so that two started to work the queue, wheedling out customers exchanging “like for like”.

I had made it to the barriers when the woman in front abandoned her suitcase and went off to have a little shop. We were finally making headway moving forward and looking back, I could see the deserted suitcase was some way off. As we crept forward there was a disruption in the queue behind and the woman having a “little shop” had decided perhaps she had better rejoin the queue so wheeled past me to several places ahead, clearly beyond her original position. The man behind her said nothing – I was internally saying it all for him and more!

Having been panicking for some time, fearing I may be late for the theatre, I was now about eight customers away from a till and starting to relax. That is until a woman at a till started having doubts and decided to get the cashier's advice. Despite the enormous queue of waiting people, she rather frustratingly started to alternate trying on her original purchase and the potential replacement, all the while “umming” and “ahhing”.

I finally reach the till and within moments I'm headed once again towards escalators and the safety of the outside world. As I walked towards the tube station, I couldn't help but wonder how long people actually shopping spend in there. I try not to imagine the pain of rooting through the messy racks of this vast shop, queuing for the changing rooms and then joining an equally alarming line to pay. Surely a few hours or more would have to be pencilled in?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Horrific Short Distractions While I Distract Myself

This week I was going to write about one of two things but changed my mind. I could have written about my slightly depressing supply teaching observations – how I seem to benefit while others suffer. Shingles, Jury Service, tube strikes and volcanic dust clouds... bring them on –after all when something like that happens I finally seem to get some work!

I could have also rambled on about my recent observation regarding the link between childhood, parenthood and traditions. I love Bonfire Night and Halloween but despite this seem to manage to miss both every year with some other poorly planned commitment taking precedent or a complete lack of plans. As a kid I was never allowed to go "trick or treating" in case people put razor blades in the treats – a restriction stemming from my over-paranoid highly suspicious mother. As a result, I have only been once when I was about 15 and was determined to experience it - I trawled around the neighbourhood attached to a friend as a poorly realised “two-headed monster”. This year, I managed to watch a horror film misleading dubbing itself as part of the genre and also missed Bonfire night once again. Observing patterns among friends, it seems to me that, it’s only possible for “adults” to successfully annually attend such events if they have children. But I am not here to talk about that...

I am shortly about to be away for a few weeks in an attempt to escape facing up to my next scary and exceedingly unexciting Birthday and as a result won’t be writing for a while so I thought it fit to keep you guys busy. Below are a series of absolutely amazing short films and the odd trailer we were shown for other amazing looking future releases I recently watched at the 10th Leeds' Film Festival “Night Of The Dead”. The Horror-shy should be aware that none of the below are remotely scary and all are worth watching. I also include a link to a film called Still Life that featured at the festival some years ago but I was reminded of once again at this year’s event. Anyone who likes the look of “Rare Exports” should check out the feature film when it’s released on December 3. Right: “Happy Viewing Folks.”

Rare Exports: Part 1


Rare Exports: Part 2


The Horribly Slow Murderer With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon - shown last year but you need to see this to fully appreciate the next one!



Spoon Vs Spoon


Papa Wrestling



BLARGHAAAHRGARG



Iron Sky



Still Life

Thursday, 28 October 2010

At War With Time

A friend once gave me a rather random Birthday gift – a wall clock with a homemade inverted face whose hands went backwards. Although somewhat perplexed but appreciative of this pointless gift, I didn't use it much - after all, twice a year life gets confusing enough, causing my body to go into revolt. Generally the clocks going forward is less traumatic. I'm aware this statement may sound a little strange to any SAD sufferer but it's the truth. The clocks going forward always seems to coincide with my sister's Birthday which means we're often out somewhere arguing over when the taxi is actually coming. One year was particularly disastrous but in an attempt to avoid completely embarrassing myself I'll avoid going into that one.

As the time draws near for the clocks to go forward, I find myself for the first time ever contemplating where this ritual comes from and who observes it. Why I have never pondered this before I have no idea. My rich friend google is quick to tell me that we are one of about 70 countries who utilize daylight saving hours – the Chinese and Japanese do their own thing and equatorial/tropical countries have no need for DST due to daylight hours remaining fairly constant regardless of season (see http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/g.html for maps http://www.timeanddate.com/time/dst/2008.html for country lists).

Although ancient civilisations flexibly adjusted daily schedules and Mr Benjamin Franklin anonymously suggested something similar back in 1784, modern DST wasn't actually proposed until 1895 by the Kiwi Etymologist, George Vernon Hudson. The combination of his shift job and insect collecting hobby made him aware of the value of after-hours daylight and lead to several proposals to the Wellington Philosophical Society suggesting a two hour daylight saving shift.

A decade after Hudson's idea a British builder by the name of William Willett came up with a similar suggestion in 1905 after his dismay at the amount of Londoners sleeping through a large part of the summer day. Rather selfishly he also wanted to extend the day in order to avoid having to cut short his golf round at dusk. He drafted and published a proposal two years later that went to a Liberal MP but was repeatedly rejected right up to his death. It wasn't until World War One when the Germans introduced DST to try to conserve coal that Britain and the allies followed suit and countries across the world gradually wanted a piece of the action. Sure there have been plenty of readjustments since then but essentially the Germans are responsible for our biannual clock alterations.

Despite a yearly muddle, I am not complaining. I am just immensely grateful Benjamin Franklin's suggestions weren't too influential – taxing shutters, rationing the light source of his time and ringing church bells/ firing cannons at sunrise to wake the public. I'm far too much of a night owl to appreciate that last kind gesture. Pretty sure my dad wouldn't mind though!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

All I Want For Christmas is...

For at least a month now various shops have been stocking both Halloween and Christmas themed wares but with the clocks going back soon, winter is truly kicking in. Recently Metro (and probably a variety of other publications) printed a list of top ten most wanted children's Christmas presents using survey results. As I'm soon due to be an entirely unexciting old age, it's past the time for Birthday lists but a recent conversation led to the formulation of this joint Christmas list to ensure The Boy and I are warm and entertained for winter, safely cocooned in the flat.

Item 1: Either a Chow Chow resembling a lion to curl up next to or



a cat named Tessa to provide company when dining alone.


Item 2: A sleeping bag suit for those particularly icy days...


Item 3: When your muscles have seized up this overly expensive boy's toy will both help clean your pad and if you have pets, provide hours of entertainment.


Unsurprisingly none of the above items featured in Metro's list but then I'm no longer aged five-sixteen years-old or quite as demanding as those interviewed who better have rich mummies and daddies...

http://www.metro.co.uk/tech/845024-iphone-ipod-and-ipad-top-christmas-most-wanted-list-for-kids


Unsurprisingly none of the above items featured in Metro's list but then I'm no longer aged five-sixteen years-old or quite as demanding as those interviewed who better have rich mummies and daddies...

Friday, 15 October 2010

All The Time In The World

It's late Sunday night and I'm trying to book a series of coaches but after entering my card details my booking fails. Having attempted to book one journey approximately five times, I'm now swearing profusely and decide to give up. Enough of my time is already swallowed up by National Express journeys these days but now unsatisfied by this, they've decided to deprive me of the remainder of my weekend.

The next day, determined to book ahead to get cheaper ticket prices, I tempt fate and go through this rigmarole again. Naturally the same error page is displayed so I decide to book another journey using a different site only to face a similar helpful onscreen message. Complaining to little sis, she asks if I'm with “GayWest” to which I answer in the affirmative. She instantly recommends going to the branch and getting them to check my card, having had her card frozen due to “unusual activity” after buying a bottle of wine from the farm shop next to our childhood home she used to drop-in on daily.

Already attempting to fit the London Film Festival around supply teaching and failing pretty badly, I have an exceedingly busy week that isn't helped by the schedule for press screenings or the process of applying for and collecting film screeners. I am not particularly overjoyed by the prospect of a trip to “GayWest” but I'm unwilling to waste my own precious phone credit to call their Visa helpline when I'm sure I have done nothing untoward with my card. I end up queuing for some time at the information desk to be told there is an error message on my card and I may use a phone in one of the private side offices to contact the helpline. Simple? No.

Typically on a day when I am already feeling pretty ill, all of the phones seem to be out of order. I have to repeatedly wait for an office to become free, only to be met by a dead line. After nearly 40 minutes in the bank, a lady goes to get me the cordless but that's also not working for inexplicable reasons. Eventually she takes my cards and rings from the back office on my behalf but returns to inform me she can't access my account details because she's not me. Really?

Miraculously one of the phones that was earlier on strike, suddenly has a ring tone so I'm put through to the fraud line. As if the 50 minutes I have already been hanging out for in NatWest isn't enough, I'm put on hold while the same lady stands watching me huffing and puffing and soothing muzak worsens my mood. What was wrong? Apparently booking two RyanAir tickets for approximately £80 was deemed “unusual activity” and NatWest decided to act like a protective parent by blocking my card.

Nearly an hour after entering and I'm finally back on the street ready to locate the drop in clinic to see a doctor merely to have my own self-diagnosis confirmed so that I can access the prescription drugs the chemist refused to give me. Ironically, while the NHS waste my time, there are initiatives in place to try to reduce the amount of wasted appointment time. I'm certainly glad the NHS exists but at times like this wish some drugs were more readily available over the counter like in countries like Vietnam and China. But I guess if they were, certain people would selfishly abuse the system, resulting in a rise of “unusual activity”.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Morally Dubious Scenarios

I'm sandwiched between The Boy and my mum watching Slinky Sparkles and Candy Girl slowly strip one after the other in front of a bare stage with nothing but a chair and two over-sized fake plastic lollies as props - I have to wonder if there is something wrong with this picture. An evening of Burlesque for beginners ends a week of morally dubious scenarios.

Scenario One: I find myself inadvertently being paid to stand in a church aisle and monitor 15/16 year-olds during a fifty minute “re-dedication” service in one of Westminster Abbey's chapels. As a devout atheist I long ago stopped parroting lines vicars and priests spout at me and ceased participating during the prayers. These days I am generally only in church twice a year and occasionally manage to whittle these visits down to once a year. From a family with rigid Christmas and Easter traditions and ceremonies, it's pretty difficult to escape family visits to the church on these occasions – there was in fact one memorable incident when The Boy attempted to avoid a church outing but found himself locked outside and shoeless with little choice but to get in the ready waiting car.

I generally feel happier and less hypercritical not joining in with the “worship” but this week standing on display the discomfort returned. As the member of staff nearest the front in the central aisle of the church, I couldn't help wonder if I was being scrutinised by bored fidgety pupils. Then there was the other matter of the school's Head. Watching his flock and ensuring full participation, he paced at the front of the church where I was clearly in sight and even walked up and down this central aisle passing me by. Surely he'd have seen my still lips and heard my lack of participation? I couldn't help but wonder whether as an adult “role model” failing to repeat the appropriate lines or join in during the prayers would be a disciplinary matter if part of the regular staff? Standing in such a prominent position reminded me of being a school pupil when I'd mouth the words rather than join in with the singing of the hymns - I was almost tempted to mask my principles by returning to this favoured method of old.

Fast-forward to Scenario Two: I'm attending the BBC Four World Cinema Awards for one of the many websites I write for. Aside from the host, Jonathan Ross, I am not expecting to see many recognisable celebrities but then suddenly Tilda Swinton is waiting to be seated across the aisle from where little sis and I are expectantly waiting. Respectful of Tilda as an actress with a varied and often selective back catalogue, I watch her with interest but neither her greatest fan or critic, I am not particularly desperate to speak to her. My sister, however, contemplates a conversation with Tilda and as someone who is inexplicably annoyed by her very appearance, decides attempting to chat with her merely because she's famous would be a hypercritical act, unless of course she was to show her contempt.

I'm back in the Hastings auditorium, I began this entry from and Scenario Three is well under-way. Having watched two dull strip acts, I seemed to have upped my Minstrels intake and wonder whether chomping on chocolate and watching ladies strip are appropriate activities to combine. One of the male audience members directly in front of me doesn't seem to need any snacks – he'd do better with a safety harness, he's leaning so far forward in his seat, I wouldn't be surprised if he dived over the Upper Circle's railings. After an appalling magic act courtesy of “Biff the Magic Dragon”, it's a relief to have ex-Parisian Playboy model, Chrys Columbine, on stage to inventively combine Burlesque with Classical music.

Thankfully after a much needed interval, the reappearance of several embarrassingly named frankly mediocre acts is redeemed by an entertaining stint by the talented “Hula Girl” and a finale from the show's star, Amber Topaz. With it's wartime theme, feather fans and titty tassels, our evening of Burlesque may have incorporated the appropriate props and figures but the seedie-looking organiser, Mr Moonie, clearly lacks imagination and cast members, resulting in a noticeable absence of choreography, chorus lines, dazzling costumes and the splendour of The Moulin Rouge. The most entertaining memory of the evening? Big G reminiscing about her trip to Paris and disappointingly complaining the show was too tame.

Final Consideration: Should a strip show ever be “too tame” for your mother's eyes?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

My First Eulogy

Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you plann'd:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad.

“Remember” by Christina Rossetti

Possibly coming from the legend that Baldwin III, Count of Ypres, threw some cats from a tower in AD962, their ability to fall from heights uninjured or associations with the cat-headed goddess of Egypt (Pasht or Bastet), the saying cats have nine lives is well known but sadly throughout my life has repeatedly been proven to be incorrect. Sure I have had several suicidal cats who seemed to like trying to dodge traffic or kept well away from the road until one sad day “curiosity [quite literally] killed the cat” but this week we lost another faithful friend who lived a very careful life.

Jenny had several homes. My mum first met her in an old people's home she used to work at. Jenny was then taken on by one of the ladies who worked there until her unfortunate death. A cat lover through and through, my mother took pity on Jenny and brought her home. For years I never thought much of her but as she grew in confidence she became quite the character – an unrelenting yowler, fine “lap cat” and strong lady who could hold her own. Constantly bullied by our two arrogant rather attractive male cats, she learnt to bat as well as she got and even managed to steal food from the boys. Suffering from thyroid problems, Jenny grew terribly thin and bony but always purred and had something to say. She spent most of her time sitting in the AGA cooker, on the DVD player or trying to steal the warmth from laptops and barely left the house, very occasionally stretching her legs outside the door for five minutes. Although recently, she'd become an extremely sociable “lap cat”, spending much of her time wherever anyone else sat.

About a month ago, we noticed a lump on Jenny's throat and after a visit to the vets our fears were confirmed. Jenny had cancer. It seems we have recently been rather unlucky with cats – we had one who contracted tuberculosis and currently have two with their own ailments – one suffered from some kind of appalling dermatitis causing him to rip away his fur and the other has finally recently been diagnosed with asthma having spent at least a year making strange noises you'd expect to hear from a guinea pig, duck or snake.

Jenny rapidly deteriorated in just under two weeks. The last time I saw her she was still animated - yowling and purring and I heard her more recently chatting away over the phone. Gravitating towards Dad, perhaps understanding the similar pain of his ailment, Jenny happily spent her last weeks. Sadly on Monday after obvious pain and apparently embarrassed by her ailment, Jenny departed. The world ration of births to deaths is stated on one website as five births to two deaths and elsewhere as 2.452:1 (worked out by using the global death rate: 8.23 deaths per 1000 population) and events this week are suggesting these dubious stats could actually be a true reflection of the world's life cycle: as one well-missed cat departs this earth, two friends have announced the end of life as they know it through the imminent births of “mini-thems”.

Farewell Jenny. It's quiet without you.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Old Age: A Hairy Experience

When I'm in London, I have often walked past an elderly gentleman who must live nearby. Every time I pass him, I have been drawn to his eyes, fascinated by the sheer size of his eyebrows, unable to comprehend how someone can live with such irritatingly obscured vision. I mean these things are huge!

I know as a lady eyebrow plucking is socially acceptable and virtually expected and guys generally don't get the tweezers out but surely when seeing becomes a challenge, it's OK to bend the rules a little? I can only try to imagine how annoying having long curly wispy hairs permanently in sight must be – I sure as hell get annoyed when my rogue side fringe starts growing out. With the birth of the "metrosexual" male, it must be more common for younger guys to sneakily remove the odd hair, right?

Going bald and/or receding seems to be the universal male fear but unruly eyebrows never get a mention. Last weekend, celebrating an old codger's Birthday in a Leeds restaurant the topic of hair came up and I couldn't help but smirk, remembering an earlier hair removal session. Standing in the lift to the flat, I caught sight of two "mutant" insanely long eyebrows curling up and out of The Boy's beanie neatly distributed one per eyebrow. Sitting around the restaurant table chomping on Indian, similar confessions of recent disturbing discoveries started to come out.

I began to wonder whether there was any truth in the whole common belief that hair grows after a person dies and if so, whether greater nose hair, eyebrow and ear hair growth with age is somehow gently preparing us for death. A whole array of sites tell me the whole hair growth after death phenomenon is a myth and the more credible New Scientist confirm this – the hair and nails merely appear to grow as a result of the surrounding tissue drying out and shrinking away from the nail folds and hair shafts. So as the body gradually caves in the hair and nails appear more prominent.

Unfortunately the growth with age of eyebrows, nose hair and ear hair is no natural illusion. Unlike men, ladies are less likely to suddenly develop wild bushy eyebrows and are actually more likely to experience thinning or bald patches due to many years of extensive plucking. Those who notice eyebrows disappearing, may also suffer from general hair loss due to hormonal or thyroid activity changes or vitamin/mineral deficiencies. The so-called “sex steroid hormones”, principally oestrogen and androgen, are supposedly responsible for the thinning of hair and appearance of unwanted excess hair. The old skool method of re-drawing in arches with an eyebrow pencil, is now often overlooked for more realistic and expensive remedies like the recently popular eyebrow transplant procedures.

With age, men are often left with the opposite problem – their hormone levels also change and consistent or increasing levels of testosterone (up to the age of 70), can result in vigorous hair growth, especially in areas that flourished less in youth. Yep those pesky ear hairs, nasal whiskers and eyebrows! Trips to a a clinic for professional trimming and shaping, purchasing electrical hair trimmers, or perhaps the privacy of tweezers behind closed doors all suddenly sound more appealing.

The nose and ears have actually got thousands of hairs already on and inside them too small for the eye to see. After all, apparently the hairiest part of the body in terms of density of hairs per unit area is the tip of the nose and how many people complain of wolf nose? Although, I did use to work with a man many years ago who suffered from exactly that ailment. Some nasal hair is preferable to none to protect against allergies and particles in the air being inhaled, just like some eyebrow hair is useful to soak up sweat and protect the eyes. But when you have a brow streaked vision of the world things have surely gone too far?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

My Future In 3D

Back in April, I made a discovery that was both relieving and slightly devastating (especially as a huge film fan). After seeing Clash of The Titans and carrying out a bit of research I confirmed a suspicion – I can't see 3D. I have had a “lazy eye” or amblyopia for as long as I can remember, being told to wear a patch as an exceedingly reluctant child. I've never been able to see Magic Eye images and wondered whether there was a link between this and my inability to understand the 3D hype.

A spot of googling and my hypothesis proves to be correct. To be able to see 3D, you need to have normal depth perception, “stereo-vision”. Stereo-vision is the ability for both eyes to work together simultaneously as a team. Twelve percent of the population have some kind of problem with binocular vision and less than five percent have severe visual disabilities. With my bone-idle eye, I fall into the five percent stat.

Making this discovery meant I could at least stop concentrating extremely hard to spot the difference in picture quality and just enjoy the film but brought up another fear. As old films are being hashed up and resold in 3D, sky launches a 3D channel and early 3D televisions are on sale, the craze is spreading and I'm fearful for my future. I envisage a world in which I'm surrounded by gasping folk making firework appreciation noises in front of a TV that holds hidden mysteries. A world in which to watch anything I have to re-embrace that unfortunate 80s' flip sunglasses trend and still don't get the benefit - when I put 3D glasses on what was once a blurred image, merely becomes as clear as a regular 2D picture. And my greatest fear of all? A world where 3D glasses become obsolete and us five-percenters are overlooked, left to watch head-ache inducing mish-mashed images.

A recent TV shopping outing to DirectTVs' showroom near Huddersfield finally allayed all these long-held and ever-growing fears. When finally picking up our first flat-screen dwarfed by a giant 3D Samsung TV, I was unable to hold back my bitter 3D rant. Specked up like me, the staff behind the counter quickly asked me why I was unable to see 3D. After listening to my explanation, they took much delight in explaining that 3D TVs use a different more advanced kind of technology to that used in cinemas.

3D programmes are filmed using two separate cameras which are next to each other, producing images from two slightly different angles. These images are then broadcast simultaneously and given depth using 3D glasses. 3D TVs differ to 3D cinema technology in that the glasses that accompany them do the work for your eyes. When viewers put glasses on and look at the TV, the technology in the glasses blocks the left lens and then the right - this happens faster than the blink of an eye. The images are then shown to each eye separately, creating a "staggered" effect that achieves far more lifelike 3D images. So for people whose eyes don't naturally work together, with these special control-taking glasses, 3D is finally a possibility.

Wearing Samsung's new battery powered “3D Active Glasses”, I was at first sceptical, unsure of what to look out for but when the champions of 3D behind the counter flicked to a particular scene, there was no doubting that I could finally see 3D. Watching one of Pixar's many animated movies, a red ball suddenly flew out of the TV. 3D Television is supposedly best utilised with camera shots that are lingering rather than frantic but for the sceptical and those experiencing 3D viewing for the first time, it's the sudden movements and action sequences that are most impressive and memorable.

Finally some insight into how 3D actually looks and I am no longer so fearful for my future. As I have only just become a flat-screener, a 3D TV is not on the cards any time soon but at least I know I can be part of an ever-growing gang should I want to be. 3D televisions are so expensive right now (a thousand plus) that I think I'll wait until prices drop, they become more commonplace in the average family home and the technology improves.

It is possible to convert normal televisions to 3D but as they don't possess the same technology as specialist 3D TVs the quality is no-where near as good. At the moment 3D TVs don't come with 3D glasses and are often merely described as “3D ready”, allowing viewers the choice of watching in 2D or 3D. At the moment each set of 3D glasses can cost you anywhere between £69.97-£99.97 so imagine what it would cost for the whole family to enjoy the same film or programme! The next issue is the fact that each manufacturer has their own 3D glasses that only work in conjunction with their TV sets so should you want to go round to a friend's house with a different TV brand, you'd have to have a different set of glasses or hope they have a spare. There's talk of TVs that don't require glasses but to enjoy quality 3D you currently have to watch square on - no group viewing without a pile-up and probably pretty depressing for five percenters like me!

I'm not going to install a glasses rack in my living room quite yet but at least I know that when Ikea's ornate holders are the new house-warming gift or Christmas stocking filler, I may not feel too resentful or frustrated receiving one.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Paranoid Future Pet Owner Syndrome

Recently I seem to have spent a lot of time scrolling through the RSPCA Leeds web page looking for cats with broken, injured or missing legs. It's not a sadistic pastime, a strange injury fetish or even because I have a desire to take in the less desirable. Living on the Twelfth floor, I am sceptical as to whether it is safe to keep a cat. I have seen cats falling off the roof of my parents' house and casually walking away, dignity still intact plenty of times but that is only a two-storey house.

Little ginga cat, Simba, is crying out for a home and looks like a complete dude but I worry with an adventurous kitten's spirit, he'll decide to take a peek over our terrace, go for a stroll, get distracted by something airborne and that'll be the end of his short life. Injured/legless cats seem like the less worrying alternative and we've also contemplated fat aged cats who can't be bothered climbing but unfortunately none have captured our hearts as completely as Simba.

I was surprised today to discover that there seems to be no clear answer from the magnificent google as to whether it's safe to keep a cat on the highest floors of a block of flats. Any answers I found were anecdotal from cat owners and many seemed to focus more on whether it's humane to keep cats indoors. The only vaguely useful information I was able to ascertain came from a series of articles all homing in on one scientific study carried out in New York.

In 1987 two vets examined 132 incidences of cats falling from high-rise flat windows and published the results in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The cats were taken to a New York veterinary hospital called the Animal Medical Centre for treatment. On average the cats fell 5.5 stories and amazingly 90% survived, although many did suffer serious injuries (Two-thirds apparently required treatment, and half of that number needed lifesaving treatment). One cat allegedly survived falling from the 46th floor, bouncing off a canopy and into a flower bed, although the optimum fall height seems to be six floors.

You might think, the greater the fall the bigger the injury as I fear but according to this study, this is not the case. After analysing their findings the two vets realised that the cats' injuries worsened as the height of their drop increased BUT after seven floors this was no longer the case. Cats that had fallen from higher than seven floors, suffered less extreme injuries - the farther the cat fell, the better its chances. The vets called this phenomenon The High-Rise Syndrome.

The vets rationalised their surprising discovery by suggesting that after falling five floors or more the cats had reached a terminal velocity – a maximum downward speed of 60 miles per hour (significantly lower than a person’s 130 mph). Once reaching this max, cats relax and spread themselves out like flying squirrels, minimizing injuries.

There are a few potential flaws in this study in that it was was based solely on the cats that were brought into the hospital, not those who didn't make it so who knows what the actual death/survival ratio is. Then of course how lucky the cat is also partly influences the stats – I'm guessing those that were unfortunate enough to fall on something pointy or didn't land on four legs aren't included in the study.

According to another source, it apparently takes a normal cat about two and a half feet of free-fall to orient itself to feet-down. Cats having very flexible spines and ribcages help them to manipulate their fall using the strong muscles behind it. They are able to "swish" their spines with the help of their tails to make all four feet land on the ground, thus distributing their weight over a larger surface area than us two feeters.

The invention of high-speed cameras has given some insight into how these acrobatics actually work - the cat first tucks its front legs in and splays out its rear legs, allowing it to quickly situate its forequarters with the feet down. The procedure is then reversed so that the cat's front legs are extended and its back legs tucked in, allowing the hindquarters to quickly twist into position while the forequarters turn only slightly. The back legs then re-extend when the cat's in place and fully deployed. This is the cat's landing position and allows for limited aerodynamics, rather like a squirrel. Impact on landing is reduced by the fact cats have three joints in each leg.

In order for a cat to twist so quickly many muscles have to rapidly operate in sequence, in doing so creating tension. The tension is why six to seven stories seems to be the optimum height for a cat to fall from as it allows time to unwind and momentarily relax into free-fall before landing.

Fascinating but even after reading all this information, I'm still none the wiser as to whether it's actually safe to take in a mobile active cat. Google has let me down - without pushing a cat from the twelfth floor, I'll never be confident I'll avoid kitty tragedy. After all, pets are supposed to be like their owners and I'm painfully accident prone so what chances would any furry ward of mine have? Unless anyone can tell me otherwise...

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A National Let Down

It's 9pm, dark and the reading lights aren't working. In front of me two ladies loudly cackle after one of them screeches the odd lyric or tune from the head-phoned music they listen to. My own head is throbbing and my nose is sore from the constant blowing my cold demands. Having held a mobile phone screen to the newspaper I am attempting to read for the past two hours while cursing the lack of lighting, I'm attempting to get some sleep but the tuneless wailing sporadically continues and the kid across the aisle decides to play music from a mobile phone that reminds me of the accompaniment to a 90s' Nintendo game or a keyboard demo that seems to be on repeat. I am sure the sound of me fog-horning is grating on some nerves but if I am to breath, the noise is an unfortunate and painful necessity.

Up until now, I have generally been quite lucky with National Express journeys – aside from the one journey when we drove with a loud ear-splitting beeping noise for several hours before the driver finally announced we could no longer continue. After pulling into a service station and waiting for a mechanic for nearly an hour, our coach was deemed unroadworthy and we had to wait another half an hour for a coach with space to stop off and pick us up before being transferred onto yet another coach and taken to Leeds by a driver who had no idea where the coach station was and spent 20 minutes driving around Clarence Dock when we were already pretty annoyingly delayed. On that occasion I am thankful I wasn't hung-over or suffering from a headache!

I did my last NCTJ exams back in February and since then have been pretty jammy for the past seven months, still having a student card until September and as a result managing to get a Young Person's Railcard also until then. Unfortunately my time is up soon which will be pretty devastating as I seem to be doing some sort of long-distance haul virtually every weekend. Occasionally, despite the dramatic rail discounts I get, trains are still far too expensive and I find myself braving a four-five hour journey courtesy of National Express.

I have always been good at occupying myself and am lucky enough to be able to read without feeling sick while travelling. I know many people prefer listening to music, sleeping, day dreaming or staring out of the window but I view travel time as a chance to either finally catch-up on the news or progress further in my current read. During my year out I remember being annoyed on a few occasions during long night journeys that left in the early evening but failed to provide any form of individual down-lighting so passengers could read. I am not one for going to bed at seven when some of these coaches left so the prospect of hours spent in darkness didn't please me. On the few occasions this occurred, I was generally saved by the torch I always carried and the fact that we were travelling through much poorer countries easily excused this.

Despite many of these countries being much poorer than Blighty their transport was generally far more luxurious than National Express. Most journeys included film showings and some even provided a meal (sometimes three courses and hot!) and/or a pillow and blanket. Around South American countries different seat classes were available – Classico, Semi-Cama and Cama. Classico is the kind National Express offer, Semi-Cama are a regular reclining seat with the addition of a mechanism kind of resembling a foot-stool and Cama are virtually fully reclining beds and meals often came with whisky. In certain Asian countries coaches were filled with exceedingly short partially reclined bunk beds with troughs to put feet in and blankets supplied. Travelling on these buses involved removing footwear on entering the bus and were a rather surreal experience.

National Express and Mega Bus are pretty much the cheapest way to travel around the UK and if booked in advance almost match coaches I experienced around the world in price, but certainly not in quality or distance for your money. Arguably shorter travel times around the UK justify the lack of on-board entertainment but even some four hour journeys while travelling came with filmage. Trains in China provided a similar kind of class system as those in South America but as Laowai (foreigners) we were often the onboard entertainment, although I do remember a service offered allowing for the rental of laptops and films by the hour. The lowest class of Chinese train is “hard seat” and is as the name suggests – plastic moulded seats covered in a thin deceptively comfortable looking layer of material. From there, classes moved up to slightly padded and reclining “soft seats” to carriages of sets of six bunk beds with three facing another three (like the Indian “Sleepers”) and private doored cabins of four bunks.

Unfortunately, our transport system isn't so advanced or variable and trains are so expensive that without a railcard and an extremely well-planned diary, for me they will soon be unaffordable. Preempting future costs I report with dread that I've already got my next date with National Express - bring on the potpourri of human smells, wailing children and adults, dim-witted drivers stopping far too frequently, faulty coaches, inconsiderate passengers, stuffiness, stinky toilets, cramped conditions and solitary hours of boredom spent fretting in the darkness.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Finding A Space To Temporarily Call Home

Saturday night in Sheffield and I am sitting at a long table in a Vegetarian BYO Cafe, possibly celebrating almost the last 30th Birthday for the year. The view from the glass-fronted restaurant shows a street scene that transports me back to an age when I had time to kill and actually occasionally claimed I was bored.

The Boy has spotted a group of “youths” standing around a bin and their presence attracts attention from our table as we track their progress. I have to lean forward slightly but can see a group standing around and their pointless loitering prompts me to pose the question: “Did you have a street hang-out as a teenager or was there one other kids met up at?” My fellow dinners are animated when asked and tales of local shops, woodlands and even a favoured traffic isle are regaled, suggesting this phenomenon is shared universally.

Some time passes and eventually the chums are off. Their exciting probably nightly social foray reminds me of the old shop in Cranbrook – the legendary Circle C. Providing a modest covered walkway alongside the shop, it was the perfect place for track-suited smoking youths to hang-out, regardless of the weather. Its central location along the “high street” allowed for easy tracking of friends and an observation platform provided a vantage point to take in any daily excitement like a tractor passing through. The fact the shop was the latest open in the “town” and sold alcohol and cigarettes gave it an added appeal.

My mum would look on in disgust at the permanently positioned group of smokers. My sister and I had no chance of ever joining this elite team without being spotted and later reprimanded. It was only when we joined a local drama group meeting every Tuesday night at the Scout Hut, we gained a brief entry into the world of loiterers.

One night the group was canceled and being a warm sunny day, some of the Circle C Gang had moved to the benches in the valley running behind the local supermarket. Walking down the hill from the Scout Hut it was difficult not to make eye contact with the picnic benchers and we were soon part of a conversation. Away from the shop doors and covered walkway and in smaller numbers, these normally intimidating figures were actually quite approachable.

As the weeks passed and we got to know the boys better, Drama club seemed less appealing and little sis and I decided to join their club. I don't recall when we stopped meeting them or why but I remember on rainy days trying to find shelter away from Circle C and running to other exciting spots like the doctors' surgery or family planning clinic that both also had some kind of porch-way to seek refuge in.

Over the years, not much has changed – a gang still remain outside the same shop, despite it rebranding itself and being named after a sanitary towel. Nestled among twee shop fronts, old stone buildings, the parish church and the town's focal point, the windmill, Alldays proudly stands in the centre of the old historic market town of Cranbrook and is now the only late opening shop - closing sometime after 10pm, even at the weekend!

As a teenager, I always thought a youth club was in order to solve the loitering problem but now as an adult I realise this would have never worked. Any youth club would have acted merely as a meeting point and once individuals had formed friendship groups, emigration to less watchful points away from adult eyes would be inevitable. I'll still never understand why standing in such a public spot appealed but I guess I came from a different background where I had rules to follow, parents who could be shocked and punishments to receive. Finding a hidden place of my own was always important to me to get the space I needed and occasionally break some of those rules unseen.

Perhaps, our bin-side entertainers, lived equidistantly from the bin and were merely awaiting a final gang member before venturing to more exciting parts.... We'll never know but their very presence certainly got me thinking.