Podcast Interview: Stratford Calling

Stratford(-Upon-Avon) Calling is a new podcast series, promoting individuals and businesses in and around Warwickshire.

The series is available to download on all major podcast providers, including Spotify (search ‘Stratford Calling’).

Emma kindly interviewed me as part of episode 7, where I feature alongside the town’s new mayor and a dog grooming service (it’s a unique mix, I grant you).

In my segment you’ll find me talking all things bloggy and the challenges and opportunities it brings for creative types such as myself. I also read out my poem Sometimes It’s Hard.

(I wanted to read Mr Blobby’s Take on Mental Health, but we agreed that it would quickly turn into a lengthy discussion of everything 1990s.)

Stratford Calling Podcast

Bio: “This week I speak to the new Mayor of Stratford, Councillor Tony Jackson, and find out exactly what it is a Mayor does, and to Sophie from Happy Paws in the Shire, about doggy holidays to the beach and fussing and feeding our feline friends. I also speak to local blogger, Alice, who writes the blog ‘My Housemates A Mermaid’, about her very interesting housemate, and she shares her lockdown poem with us.”

Jump to 24:25 to listen to my interview in full.

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Writing Course Success!

In July last year I subscribed to a Novel Writing course offered by the London School of Journalism. Keen and eager (although somewhat less convinced my idea could hold a story) I penned the first draft of a synopsis in a charming little coffee shop in Ilfracombe, North Devon.

(Shout out to Annie and The Flint – perfect atmosphere for penning those challenging first words!)

Fourteen classes and twenty-seven written submissions later, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve have completed the course with flying colours. Go me!

This isn’t the end of my creative exploits. Spurred on by the course, I’m continuing in earnest on my manuscript (#AmEditing as the cool cats on Twitter say) and dipping my toe into the world of short stories.

While my love, life and ambition is to turn my manuscript into a fully published novel, I’ve discovered that diverting energy into other avenues is a great way to refresh and experiment. Also a bit of fun! (Which I know for some people must sound weird. The idea of hours of writing, followed by 2000 words of something news.)

Thank you to my wonderful tutor Val Holmes for being a fresh pair of eyes throughout the course and being unafraid to challenge the creative choices I make.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of my writing exploits.

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When Three Weeks Becomes Three Months: Family, COVID-19 and the Faith of the Fatigued

Every morning I roll out of bed and stumble the 1.5 strides to the bathroom. I look in the mirror and study the damage; one new spot since yesterday, five new eyebrow hairs, a shade darker under the eyes. I toy with the idea of doing something to remedy this, but then sigh and do little more than splash water from the sink lined in dirt and limescale. If it’s a ‘treat day’ I might apply a thin layer of face cream but today, like most others, is nondescript so tepid water will suffice. Pasty skin ready, I grab one of my face coverings from the coat hanger, rubber gloves from the box and go out into the big, dangerous world to stand in a queue. “Just another day in paradise” plays solemnly through my headphones, a Phil Collins track which I long to change, but my unisex latex gloves are two sizes too big and even if I could, touching the screen would only defeat the point of preventing the spread of germs. I leave him be.

Here I am, starting another 24 hours in a string of days that end in the letter Y. Dull, predictable and dragging, welcome to the human face of lockdown. 

If you haven’t already got the gist from recent posts, in March (2020) I made the choice to move fully back in with my family, days before the UK went into COVID-19 lockdown.

I own a house, a car and a job in the same location, but with the job reduced to working from home and my ability to travel limited to as far as the curb-side wheelie bin, it seemed more logical to return northwards.

At 27, the novelty of spending an extended period of time with my family felt like a throwback to the days when home was a refuge from exhausting summer jobs or algebra homework. But now the family home represents my safety and my imprisonment. I am denied my freedom and, some days, forgetting what it feels like to be a fully accountable adult at all. I’m turning into a woman-child.

Three weeks I thought this would last, three. But now we’re speedily heading towards twelve and to be quite honest, I fully expect it to last longer than that. I normally work out of an office populated by a large number of employees. I can only imagine what social distancing will look like if I am, ever, mandated to five days a week in that environment.

Practical but impractical: the DIY masks that itch and pull

Can you imagine the first day of everyone being back? A three hour queue to get your pass reactivated, followed by at least two trying to fix some technical fault with laptops (always tends to be that way). Everyone will take an extended lunchbreak (by which point the only option will be a cheese sandwich) and then there’s just enough time to go around hugging as many people as possible before it’s home time. Michelle is given an out of date bottle of wine from the store cupboard for something she won twelve months ago and then it’s off to the car park for gridlock congestion.

That reminds me, I think I left behind a large stash of snack bars in my locker before I left town. Damn.

I’ve gotten slightly off topic, but then again, I always do. Can you really blame me, when one of the few excuses I get to spend time away from my family is to find one of the few quiet spots in the house and type on this blog? Mumma B is forever demanding new blog post, Papa B is forever blissfully unaware of them (but then sending a text to dad has a likelihood of receival on a same level of attaching a letter to a dove in a hurricane).

The improvised supermarket queue barriers of early lockdown

I haven’t dyed my hair since January. I guess originally I saw it as a form of resistance, the idea that I wouldn’t colour it until we were out of lockdown, but that idea faded as quickly as the shade of my roots. Resistance turned to indifference, colour fading with every wash, and now I’m reunited with a shade of brunette I haven’t seen in years. It could almost pass for stylish, a layered multi-tonal style.

Makeup? What are these expensive alien products of which you speak? I’ve almost forgotten how to apply what little I used to wear. Mascara is a challenge, the smudgy black fluid streaking up my eyelid and smearing across my fingers when I try and rub it off. I’m a toddler experimenting with these curious substances, playing about with pencils and powders that used to mean something to me. The woman I recognise in those summer holiday pictures, how can I look like her? How can I wear lipstick like she once did without turning into a clown? But then, what’s the point?

Five closure signs are better than one

Now you can’t exit the house without having to cover up. Facial coverings and gloves have swept across the globe, marking the creation of a new religion with its own dress code. The irony, the racists and xenophobics who used to speak against religious coverings are now the same people yelling that face and hand covering should be made a legal requirement. Next they’ll be demanding the use of headscarves to prevent spread, whilst splashing and gargling in the sea. Society has been united (be it on a surface level) by new codes of conducts and coverings. We have no way to object to the world around us, voices blocked by sheets of fabric, we can only go along with the rule of government. By law or by fear, the faith of the fatigued marches on in varying gaps of social distance.

Early days of lockdown shopping

The highlight of my week is now the Saturday morning food shop and the lowlight is getting back from it. That feeling of exhaustion from exerting myself more than at any other point in the days leading up to it. The rub of the fabric mask, the feel of rubber residue that sticks to my fingers long after I’ve taken the gloves off. In the world I live in this is one of the few excuses I have to leave the house, my world is now so tightly tethered to that of my family. I have no friends to see, no places to visit, no errands to run that can’t be handled over the phone.

Fun is now reduced to comparing the length of supermarket queues week-on-week and counting the number of times we’re reminded to keep two meters apart over the tannoy. The buzz when tinned foods are taken off restrictions, the disappointment when when they’re reapplied the following week. Three tins of soup per customer, a luxury. And yet, the Saturday food shop is the one thing that reminds me time is passing at all. Time is reduced to the little-wins, twice daily teeth brushing, hair washes every other day, changing bedding every few weeks. The mundane activities that make milestones of hope; another week towards a vaccine, another week towards normality. And not just a new one, a true one.

Later methods of enforced social distancing. One way systems and theme park queues outside to reduce store numbers inside

The phrase ‘new normal’ has grated on me since first time it was used by politicians who know about as much on what ‘normal’ looks as Chairman Mao knew of peasant struggles during the 1960s famine. New normal implies that this is the first time normal has changed, but what about the invention of the internet? Or the Industrial Revolution? Or when we started hunting with metal spears instead of stone? In which case, what are we headed into? New Normal Version 9999998767.8?

Instead of new normal, I’ve adopted a different phrase, ‘My Normal’. The way I see it, you have to embrace and adapt to what works best and safe for you. In lieu of coffee shops I’ve taken pleasure in making my own coffee and enjoying the views I’m lucky to have. I miss the noise and hubbub of activity, but sometimes I think it’s easy to romanticise an experience. Countless times in life I’d find myself trawling from coffee shop to coffee shop to find space, only to find it too noisy to focus or hold a conversation.

I write a hell of a lot more now than I used to. Whether the quantity results in quality is yet to be seen but regardless it feels, well, good. But I’ve also dropped the stupid targets, I’ve moved away from expecting myself to have produced the next best-seller. I’ve realised that I get bored, I procrastinate, I live with three other adults who seek me out if I go three hours without doing a tea run. I’m human. One day I’ll spend an evening working solidly on a manuscript, another I’ll decide to do something unrelated to writing; I might watch rubbish TV or read my History Magazine. My lunchbreaks I might donate towards researching the publishing industry or even find myself so done with taking myself seriously that I turn to this blog to remember that deep down I am still the kooky person I’ve always have been. No lockdown is going to stop me being me.

More time to clear out the junk

Do I scrap with my family? Of course! Even when I was living here as a teenager and my parents were working jobs we didn’t see each other as much as we do now. There have been plenty of times I wanted to get away from it all and return to life where I had my independence and my freedom. But the benefits of being in a space where I feel safe and wanted outweigh having to ‘go it alone’. I am incredibly lucky to have the family I do, even if they do all drive me insane.

And here’s something potentially controversial; I’m actually more content now than I have been in years.

More time to read

Gone is the pressure to look a certain way or to live in a certain location (e.g. London). I don’t feel the pressure to be in a relationship, in fact, as time has gone on and the faked perfection has slowly disappeared from the internet, I’m left wondering what it must be like those couples, the unstable relationships built on sand and Snapchat filters.

In just under three months my life has, once again, changed enormously. And there was I thinking living in London was the biggest shake-up to happen to me. Moving back into the family abode is shifting my perceptions and five-year goals more than any office manager or two-day Excel training course ever did.

Those lamenting that office work is as extinct as the dinosaurs need to get real and understand that people will always crave social interactions. There will always be a queue for my office car park and when the doors open I will be at the front of it.

Like everyone else I worry for the future economy, my job security and the health of those I care most about. But of all that I worry most about what we will become. More than once I have woken from a nightmare, to discover it was only a more warped version of the life I used to lead before. I fear that when this is all over and the generation moves on behind us, we will horrify or romanticise this event like it’s our version of Vietnam. The youth will never understand, will never appreciate what we went through, when in fact we were the ones who returned to 45-hour weeks, we were the ones who were so desperate to recoup physical loses that we forgot the gains we made on our front door.

But more than this, so much more, is the reassurance that this will not last forever. One day I will return to the town where I live and work. My mum will go back to cooking for two, not four, my sister will teach in schools and my dad will be able to work in customer’s homes without wearing a mask. None of us will be the same, but we will have future hope. One day we will all be reunited and will laugh; back when we thought this would all be over in less than three weeks.

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Covid-19 Shower Thoughts

When your country is in the middle of a hard lockdown it’s sometimes hard to see what life could possibly be like on the other side. Will things ever be the same? What will our human interactions be like?

Here are some of things that have randomly popped into my head as I’ve carried out my day-to-day life trapped in four walls (not limited to just the shower, even if it’s now the highlight of my day).

 

Will Everyone be Terrible Drivers?

There were enough bad drivers on the road before lockdown, but now everyone has been cooped up for so long without regular driving/commuting, does this mean that the entire driving population will default to their newly qualified status? Will people forget the highway code or which side of the road to drive on?

See the source image

Will Offices be Full of Zombies?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten dangerously comfortable with rolling out of bed and not having to be quite so concerned with hair and makeup. So when we are eventually asked to return to the office will the change of routine and earlier starts result in a workforce of smartly dressed zombies? Zombies downing coffee like there’s no tomorrow.

 

The coffee maker is broken | Coffee jokes, Coffee cartoon, Funny ...

Should I Have Embraced Dabbing?

For those less aware, dabbing became a worldwide craze in the mid 2010s. It was a thing young people did to celebrate gaming success in their bedrooms, living rooms and (I think) other places? To be honest, I’m not sure of it’s history (I was having too much fun watching paint dry this afternoon to research it thoroughly), however it looks like this. If you were a unicorn.

Amazon.com: Dab Unicorn Sticker Car Truck Laptop Cup Window Bumper ...

I don’t think much more explanation is needed as to how this links to Coronavirus and the spread of viruses.

How to protect yourself against coronavirus | World news | The ...

Should have got in on that gravy train back when it was cool. As opposed to now when it’s Government advice (aka ‘the man’ aka uncool).

Will Vampires Become Fashionable Again?

See the source image

This sounds wacky, but traditionally economic recessions are often marked by a moodier feel to what we watch on big and small screens (think Daniel Craig in James Bond).

Vampires in particular tend to peak in popularity just before or during a recession, although it’s less certain why that’s the case. The first Twilight film was released in 2008 following the success of the book series by Stephanie Meyer.

Like it or loathe it, the film series went on to become an icon of teen viewing during the time it dominated movie screens. The last film, Breaking Dawn Part 2, was released in 2012, at the point people were beginning to feel more positive about the economy (and waking up to better fiction). Coincidence? I think not!

If that’s not enough proof, BBC’s Dracula started airing on 1st January 2020 and here we are months later facing into economic turmoil.

See the source image

So, if the economic and popular culture trends are to be believed, do I need to dig out my CD copy of My Chemical Romance and invest in garlic like this town?

Will we be a Nation of Alcoholics?

Short answer – yes. But there are sweet little pictures on the internet making fun at this so it can’t be all that bad…right?

See the source image

Will Pets Become Intellectuals?

My family cat, Squeak, sitting on my lap and facing onto what are likely to be confidential work emails.

Now we’re around all day a number of family pets must be feeling very spoiled by attention right now. That’s more time watching how we act, more time listening to us talk and, most importantly, more time of my cat watching money advice like The Martin Lewis Money Show.

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How Will I React to Other Humans?

It’s exciting enough returning after Christmas break and reconnecting with colleagues and friends I haven’t seen in about two weeks, so how the hell am I going to get through thirty minutes without bursting into emotional tears and wanting to hug everyone?

I’ll be like Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest when, having spent her whole life in her father’s company, she’s introduced to multiple new men also on the island.

PPT - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Pre-Reading Guide ...

Will I be Expected to do Thoughtful Gifting?

Two reasons I say this. Firstly, the world supply chain will be shaky, so the more quirky things things I might usually buy via China (or in shops…via China), well they might not be available to purchase anytime soon.

Secondly, I rely on human interactions to pick up on people’s interests which then feed into what I buy. You tell me how the stuff I’m meant to do that when I’m only catching up with you over the phone, once a month?

Look, all I’m saying is don’t get Judgy McJudgeFace with me when the best you get this Christmas is a bath bomb in one of my old socks, or a Bic “for her” pen.

BIC pens for her become the most sarcastically reviewed product on ...

 

Has “The Matrix” Run out of Money?

Our alien overlords were sat around a table.

See the source image

The Director of Financial Records made an announcement to the board. “We’ve got the shareholders on our back,” they said. “We can’t afford the maintenance of the full-blown software this year. We also need to cut costs elsewhere.”

The software operators thought long and hard before responding. “Don’t worry,” they said. “We will create a killer illness meaning the humans are forced to stay in their homes. We can scrap the complex mountain/exotic beach software, because most will do as we (aka their governments) direct. It also will explain why a number of humans suddenly disappear from the Matrix, no one would question it.”

See the source image

Alternatively…

Truman Show Theory – Have we Become too Boring?

truman-show-2

The Chair of Audience Engagement storms into the writing department at Human Watch HQ. She throws the proposed plot lines up in the air.

“Viewers are getting bored of Trump!” She yells. “Our target audience aren’t responding to religious wars like they were ten years ago. The weekly statistics are down and plummeting. Do something better and make it quickly implementable, something that’ll catch people off guard.”

The writers pulled out their previous storylines. “We haven’t used a global pandemic in a while; in fact it’s a centenary since the Spanish Flu affected the richer zones. We could build some great marketing around it.”

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There you go, some initial concerns and/or anxieties I’ve introduced into your merry little worlds. Don’t worry, you’re very much welcome.

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Lockdown: 10 Things No One Warned Me About

It’s a strange old world when the phrase “you must have been living under a rock” is more of a compliment than criticism. Because why would you choose to be kept informed on a minute-by-minute basis? Why would anyone take to pointing the blobby face in the BBC’s Coronavirus background just to get through the 10pm news? Why would anyone do that? They’ve to be pret-ty sad to do that.

BBC

bbc edited
Once you see it…

Like many people around the world who has or is currently going through a version of a lockdown, there are a number of things I feel that I was no prepared for. Most are very typically British and being me, I’m going to take a very Alice-y approach to this. The community spirit, the crazy hoarding, those are commonplace knowledge in the UK. But what about the little things? The small changes to the day-to-day that I really was not prepared for and some I’m really not sure I’m okay with.

Lockdown: 10 Things No One Warned Me About

1. I look good in a mask

Never did I expect to scrub up nicely in a DIY mask. I don’t wear it very often, only the couple of times when I’ve gone out food shopping. But you know what? I kinda like it.

img_20200328_160743_634304081365821512030.jpg

Solves the problem of make up and my fledging career in ventriloquism, as this accidentally taken video shows.

2. I’d be fighting pets for work space

Squeak in the Kitchen

I mean, sure, space can be tight when you’ve got multiple people working from home, and I get having any age of children about can add an additional layer of ‘fun’ to the mix. My cats however, no one seemed to teach them the importance of sharing.

Squeak in particular, she seems to view my presence are a mere inconvenience to her sleeping arrangements and trust me, this lady is not for turning!

3. I’d listen to more questionable radio

Tune in to Heart 90s right now! - Heart

I’m not adverse to radio, in fact I listen to a good deal of the stuff when focusing on work or creative projects. But, listening to so much of the same hosts you naturally want to venture out and explore new things, did I however expect to be listening to Heart 90s? Did I ever expect to be researching The New Radicals on my lunch break? And did I still expect for Westlife to not be over their exes? Short answer, no.

Reminds me, I really need to buy more CDs. Also, did you know Cyndi Lauper did a remake of her hit Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in 1994? Well, you do now.

4. I’d drink more

Coffee, gin, prosecco – they’re all the same, right?

20200411_2005243151572652680840241.jpg

Still, for the first time in my life I’m actually drinking two litres of water a day.

5. People are more demanding

Sometimes it’s household chores, other times it’s life admin, but living with family I cannot get away with dodging tasks in the same way I could when I lived over an hour’s drive away. I feel like I’m six again.

On a similar level, I’m getting constantly asked when my book is getting completed, the expectation is apparently I’ll come out of lockdown with the next international bestseller ready to hit the selves.

18600675_1955472301145018_469646454_n18614797928302280912.jpg
My face when people ask for a publication date.

I’ll spoil it for you now, it ain’t happening by September 2020.

And then there are some people who use their connections and position to request frequent updates on new blog posts (yes mum, I’m looking at you).

I have more time, but I do also have a job and endless cups of tea to make.

6. Downing Street briefings would become the highlight of my day

The daily updates, usually televised from 17:00 have been a key milestone I structure my day around. Stranger still, I now have favourite ministers who I get more excited by presenting than others. Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, not a big fan.

New Housing Minister is Alok Sharma, MP Reading West - The Negotiator

(Also, I can’t un-see Tom from Tots TV whenever I look at him. Don’t ask me why.)

Inline image
Just me?

However, Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, he’s a bit of a political dreamboat. I always look forward to his briefings, which is something because I barely knew the chap before this all kicked off.

Why Rishi Sunak is the one to watch in parliament | The Spectator ...

At the age of 39 he’s basically 20 years old by political standards and doesn’t he know it? I mean, the man even poses for photos in his socks. Puts the full shirt and tie combo on, but no, leave off the shoes. What a tease!

New chancellor Rishi Sunak cashed in on fund that helped break ...

All I’m saying is that the next series of Love Island needs to watch out.

This leads nicely onto my next point…

7. Having a legitimate excuse for my non-existent dating life

After years of trying to defend my singledom status to an irritating number of people (singletons, you’ll get it), it’s taken a pandemic to stop people asking.

I mean, the apps can give it large by encouraging people to facetime but if there’s one thing I really can’t be handling is the awkwardness of a) making an effort when really, what’s the point? Or b) having to talk through my choice of bedding with someone I’ve known all of five minutes or even c) terminating the ‘date’ because the 17:00 briefing is about to start and Rishi is chairing.

Instead, the phrase I’m not using is “I’m practising this new fashion called social distancing. Very a la mode, it’s all the rage on the continent!”

After all, it worked for the Netflix series Love Is Blind

Love is Blind

For those less familiar with the car crash TV series on Netflix…

8. My family are insane

I love them dearly, but with all us temporarily living under one roof for an extended period, a length of time none of us have known for many years, well, the weirdness starts to surface eventually.

Case in point: Mumma Bennett has taken to drawing on a potato.

20200402_180037125095501623069783.jpg

And I know what you’re thinking…

For better, or worse, Mr Potato is now part of our lives. Mum is very precious about it and gets upset if we says nasty things about it.

Mr Potato Abuse

Again, we’re all living in the same house.

I’ve now come to embrace Mr Potato; he’s no couch, he’s my mate. He’s pretty sharp on boosting morale.

Boris Potato

(But I have had to have words about his unexplained trips.)

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9. I’d be using Christmas decorations in Summer

20200419_1032356226197889136083749.jpg

We’re now using seasonal charms on every glass/mug to identify who has been drinking out of what. The only slight difference now is that instead of it being “ho-ho! Wouldn’t want to accidentally drink your wine!” it’s more “DON’T YOU DARE CONTAINATE MY COFFEE, YOU MASSIVE GERM!!”

10. Dad’s legs

Apparently it’s now Summer. Missed that memo; the one which said the weather would be pants for weeks and weeks, but the second we go on lockdown it would improve. But, dad has his legs out so it must be the case. Can’t argue with that, (really, I can’t.)

Dad's Legs

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To finish off, here’s one of the more respectable 90s songs I’ve heard on the radio (it’s a cover of an absolute classic but then, the 90s):

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