Cheers To The Happy Couple

For the lockdown marriage of one of my mates (remember Woman on The Verge of a Birthday Breakdown?) the groom’s sister asked everyone to record a video message to send to the happy couple.

“Sure!” I thought, “this’ll be easy. I can be classy and endearing at the same time, that’s totally me!”

Then again, this is also me:

Several glasses of prosecco down (you’ve got to get into the party vibes with this sort of thing), I set up my phone and filmed this.

“I mean, it’s something,” I mused whilst watching it back. “Not sure what that something is, but it’s that. Hmm, maybe I’ll do a second take, just in case.”

And then the cat came along…

It was a tough call between the two but ultimately I knew which one I was going to send over.

Yes, I sent the cat video.

(Jess, I hope you and Dave had a lovely wedding day. See you on the other side when we can properly celebrate. x)

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A Very 2020 Take on the 1974 UK General Election

While the rest of the country flipped out over Covid for the billionth time that year, my sister and I chose to spend one particular Saturday night watching the high-quality coverage of the 1974 General Election.

No, I’m not joking.

One day we’ll look back on things like this and go, “yes, we really were living life to the best when in our 20s.”

(By the way, we shouted “PHONE!” When the phone was heard ringing in the studio. It’s not quite audible on the playback and I’d hate my reputation to be damaged by this one element.)

Spoilers: Harold Wilson of the Labour Part won a majority of three seats and took over from Ted Heath’s Conservative-led government (I may have Googled that – even I couldn’t face staying up until 12:45am).

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Be Right Back – Quick Update

For those not already aware, I’ve been pretty rough of late.

Quick update, I seem to have turned into a floating head.

I suppose anything that gets me one step closer to forming a tribute act to Talking Heads…

Jokes aside, things are still very on/off. Moved onto new antibiotics on Thursday and I’m holding out on those to sort me out which should take a couple of weeks. I’m also on strong pain meds, probably why you might find me posting things like this:

My stomach is swollen up and burnt to shreds from the hot water bottle, but nobody wants to see that (including myself). It also means I can’t drink alcohol while on this medications OR COFFEE* (*on the particularly bad days).

I’m aware that to an outsider perspective this might look like me adopting Kerry Mucklowe levels of melodrama…

…But if you genuinely want you to know why I’m not responding to your emails or texts or anything else, that’s why. It’s not you, it’s really all down to me. Well, and Squeaky the cat.

I put her as acting secretariat but as expected, she’s a cat.

The times I feel more myself, I hurriedly blogging future posts/writing Christmas cards/doing human things, as well as the full-time job.

So please and thanks for bearing with me. x

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Oh, and I’ve had a few questions about why I’m so rough. High-level summary; cut in my arm didn’t get bandaged correctly, so that got infected. Plus complications with a routine procedure so more infection! (It took 5 weeks to get a formal diagnosis which is never ideal, especially when you’re being told to take painkillers and see how it goes. But hey, it’s in the past now. Totally over it…totally.)

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UK Christmas TV Adverts 2020

This post has been sparked off my Mumma B, who only the other day asked me about this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert.

The thing is, she comments about the lack of visibility, but at the same time records everything on her YouView box purposely to skip all the adverts. You see the dilemma here?

Basically I’m posting all the Christmas adverts for the main UK players so that my mum can see them in one place (and once only).

I’ll add to the list as and when any additional companies release theirs (please do also poke me with a metaphorical stick in the comments). Otherwise lets get to it! In no particular order…

UK Christmas TV Adverts (2020)

John Lewis / Waitrose Supermarket

Aldi Supermarket

Lidl Supermarket

Walkers Crisps

McDonald’s

TK Maxx

Argos

Barbour

Very.co.uk

Amazon

Tesco Supermarket

Asda Supermarket

Morrisons Supermarket

Sainsburys Supermarket

Boots

Lego

Dreamies Cat Treats

M&S Food

Disney

Coca-Cola

JD

Ralph Lauren

(Disclaimer: All videos above have been lifted from YouTube via the URL. I don’t own any part of these videos.)

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Look Out Gardeners’ World: Dad’s Polytunnel Revisited

Following the huge popularity over my previous post on the topic of Papa Bennett’s polytunnel/allotment (Dad’s Polytunnel), I decided to drop on by to give an update on how things were progressing as of October 2020.

Papa B was busy at the time I wanted to film this, so I didn’t have his services to help document the changes. But still, it’s only a couple of plants, how hard can it be?

Yeah. I think the cat had a better idea of what was going on (and she’s a cat).

Thankfully, Mumma B showed up to provide from subtle guidance. And you know my Mum, she was incredibly patient and by no means frustrated by my lack of knowledge…

I think we can agree that going forward we’d be better off asking the cat to tend to the plants.

That said, at least the raspberries are coming out alright (Papa B asked me to include this as proof he can grow more than six. Sorry, Dad).

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“Protect Swindon 18-30!”: The Unexpected Success of Community Fundraising

You’re only as valuable to the community as the last thing you did for it.

That might or might not be a plagiarised quote from someone notable or, more likely, something I just made up after two (large) glasses of wine, but I’ve put it in fancy italics so the point stands.

This is the story of a group. No, actually, not a group, a community. Thrown together by birth, work, or sometimes just passing through; a community of humans who came together under limited expectations, only to save something far greater.

The Birth of a Community

When it comes to community the good deeds you make only go so far. It’s harsh but true. Unlike the good old days, people come and people move on.

The movement of people was one of the reasons I initially established Swindon 18-30 Professionals. People were coming into the town (mostly for work) and then rapidly fleeing as soon as they’d decided it wasn’t a place for them. Not enough to do, not enough of a scene for young people. And I couldn’t blame them; I’d relocated to the area and was feeling the cold shoulder of the real world. A world outside education where you can’t make best friends with people simply by shaking hands or offering out birthday chocolates by means of bribery. The real world just simply isn’t like that, in or outside Swindon.

From Strength to Strength

It came as a massive relief to me when I won the support of a local sponsor to cover the essential website maintenance costs. With the free subscription membership blossomed, and with it the strength of having a group that arguably was the biggest apolitical collective of local voices the town had seen in many years, if ever.

Over the months and years that followed, friendships were made and romances solidified. Multiple engagements, weddings and even babies have been created as a direct impact of the conversations struck up in pubs or over bowling lane rivalries. I was humbled, that feeling that the group was now self sufficient, it didn’t need me to babysit it 24/7 anymore.

Anything But Normal

And then Coronavirus happened.

Our version of normal was now ‘old’ and everything else was now to be referred to as the new version (whatever that was). Social gatherings were illegal, mental health, financial security, a secondary concern compared to the threat of a killer virus. We watched it all slip away, like sand through our fingers.

My steadfast sponsor, like everything else, was forced to close. As their income disappeared overnight, so did the lifeline of Swindon 18-30. I sat on my bed one night, barely able to sleep. Years of hard work, of creating and building, ended before people had even the chance give it a decent send off. I was left hollow, wounded but without the blood to show for it.

“Sh*t Happens, Get Over It”

I proposed to the leadership team setting up a fundraising page. A last-ditch hope that we could scrape together enough to cover the next six months of fees (around £100).

I did some research, compared the options eventually went for GoGetFunding which was one of the few which let fundraisers withdraw money, even if they don’t make the target set on the page. This in mind, I went for a over optimistic £260 which would cover costs for a year, plus the fundraising page fees. I hit submit, the page went live.

I sent a frank and blunt email to all the members with a link to donate money and walked away. A watched pot never boils and I couldn’t bear to spend a wasted evening watching a page that got no engagement. In five years I’d never asked anything of my members, new and old, so to be begging for money now? I was adamant that they’d see me as being unrealistic.

The Kind of Thing That Only Happens in Movies

I retuned to my laptop and was taken with the number of emails in my inbox. “Probably spam,” I thought, but I was wrong. Very wrong. Because instead of the junk mail I was expecting, all the emails were notifications from the fundraising website.

Donations came in thick and fast and at values that almost made me want to cry. I probably would have if not for the personalised messages getting to me first.

There I’d been, working my socks off and building up a strong leadership team and thinking no one had noticed. That no one had particularly cared for all the effort we put in. The words I was reading now, they proved me wrong.

“Every penny well deserved!”

“An amazing organisation, I hope it carries on long into the future.”

“This group helped me take control of my social anxiety and build my confidence.”

“I owe so much to Swindon 18-30. So many incredible people I wouldn’t have even crossed paths with if it were not for the events put on.”

“Well done Alice! Keep up the good work and long live the mermaids!”

In just over 24 hours we hit my target for funding, but yet the money kept pouring in, it seemed everyone wanted to show their support and ensure the group stayed alive. And this wasn’t just current members, people who’d long left Swindon donated, keen to ensure its legacy for new batches of young professionals.

For the second time that week I found myself unable to sleep, although this time it was out of happiness and relief. The group had validated its existence, it had an army of young people prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it running.

Stop the Press!

The local press release was published the following week with a number of last minute updates. The original purpose, framed to act as a plea for help was now repurposed as an awareness piece, to reach out to those who felt alone and isolated. That at the end of all this there would be a place to safe place to meet and engage with other people.

The finished article can be accessed online via this link.

Trouble on the Murky Crime Horizon

Like everything that happens in my life, there had to be a catch to all this positivity. For me, this came when the webpage was bombarded with fraudulent donations. The alarm bells came when the donations were coming in tiny denominations (usually £1) and from people I didn’t recognise. Later it transpired that these payments were likely stolen cards being tested out prior to the thief either selling them on or using them for bigger transactions. Wanting to do the right thing (and wanting to avoid severe penalties), I promptly returned the money back to the payment card, only to then be charged a handling fee for doing so!

I spoke with both customer services on GoGetFunding and then PayPal, voicing frustrations. They both pointed fingers at the other, both refused to acknowledge the faults in their system, both saw no reason to refund me for doing the right thing. I enchanced secrity controls, as per PayPal’s recommendation, which made things worse. The next morning I had ten transactions to refund. It was at that point, stressed and deeply angry, that I was sadly forced to close the funding page ahead of time.

If there is one top tip I can place in all of this it is to not use GoGetFunding. The commission is less but damn, you pay more in blocking fraudulent payments in the long run!

However, all said and done the final figure at the point of close spoke for itself. The group had done it, we had enough to keep going throughout the tough months to come.

The Future is Bright…

On the far side of all this (whenever that might be) it’s confirmed, that there will be a group and place for people to call their social home. A place to buy a pint or two and give toast to everything that’s made us who we are today.

Here’s to the silent supporters and the ‘this one’s on me’ drink buyers. Long live the donators of good causes, the ones who have the vision to see beyond the news headlines and the weeks on a calendar. From my heart to yours, thank you. Thank you so much.

You can find out more about Swindon 18-30 Professionals via the group’s dedicated website. https://www.meetup.com/Swindon-18-30-Professionals/

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New Ways to Support

Just a quick reminder that I’m still here, earning tumbleweed from my writing (well, actually, tumbleweed would at least be something…)

A big, big thank you to those who have donated so far (you lovely people know who you are). For those less aware, I have an active donation page called Buy Me A Coffee, a platform which helps creatives get money doing what they love and keep producing content for their fans.

If not for me and my coffee spilling antics, it’s worth checking out to discover some hidden gems from people across the world.

I’m always reviewing the page and just recently added two funky new extras you can buy as a one-off. Check out the website to find out more.

Thank you in advance!

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Three Secrets of Resilient People

I’m not gonna lie, times are tough. Working from home, cat bum in my face as I try to juggle conference calls with a window that washes me out (aka looking like a knock-off Second Coming of Biblical proportions).

It’s easy to shrug it all off, make out we’re invincible. Likewise, it’s also very easy to blame ourselves for the things we cannot help.

I discovered the video below via a work colleague and it massively helped improve my understanding on resilience. That actually, part of my general fatigue was an over exhaustion of trying to be strong and hold myself to my own high standards. After watching I slashed back on the social media and have started making moves to reduce time wastage on unproductive activities.

(So FYI, that’s why I deleted you from Facebook or left your group. Honestly, you really are better following my Facebook page. I update it more often.)

Anyway, here is the video. Give it a watch, I’d be interested to know your thoughts and reactions. Would you take a different approach to the personal impact of 2020 if you’d had the chance to make different choices?

The moral of the story? We all need to be more like my pet cat.

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New Season, New Identity

As part of the UK’s approach to tackling Coronavirus, a number of establishments have implemented methods as part of ‘track and trace’.

I get it, makes perfect sense. What I’m less supportive of is how a lot of venues are using as a way to get hold of personal details for marketing cr*p.

Do I really need to informed of your new banana loaf range? Oh, great, you’re offering 2.5% discount because it’s the CEO’s daughter’s 25th birthday BUT ONLY THIS WEEKEND! God, can we get GDPR in to fix this again?

So, in a mark of defiance, I am now now using an alternative details on any wifi login that demands it. Just for clarity, if it’s strictly track and trace I am providing accurate information. However, you asking me to set up an account to order a cup of coffee from the counter literally three meters away? Nah, girl ain’t having that.

In those occasions this is what I’m registering myself as:

Yes, that’s right, my name is now Ms Boom Town (although where possible I choose to not identify as a specific gender). I was born on 1st January 1950 (because we all know that was the birth of Boom Town) and my email is a randomised mix of letters @GenericEmailProvider.com.

So there you have it, from henceforth I insist all my food and drink orders sent over public access wifi are made in the name of Boom Town.

You got a problem with that? STOP EMAILING ME YOUR SPAM THEN!! (Thanks.)

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Why I Haven’t Published my Book…Yet

In response to the frequently asked question “hey, Alice, when do we get to read your book?” here is a list of genuine reasons why I haven’t and why I’m not sorry for it.

  • My manuscript (at time of writing) is c. 70,000 words and nearing 200 pages. That’s a lot, but I want to make it up to the 80,000 mark. My History dissertation back (in 2014) was 10,000 words and took a year of solid research and writing (with no distractions). Go figure.
  • I realised three weeks ago at least half of it needed rewriting.
  • I’ve spent about six weeks working on the opening extract (first 5000 words).
  • I have a full-time job which I have continued to do throughout pandemic.
  • Up until mid August, I had only take one day off of my allocated annual leave. One day, in all of 2020.
  • I have to do human things; shop for food, eat, sleep, poop etc.
  • Shoot me, I get writers’ block/creative fatigue.
  • Covid-19. Just Covid-19.
  • I commute frequently from family home to the actual home I pay a mortgage on. A 1.5 hour car journey will just about sap up any energy you got.
  • Some days I really can’t be bothered to write.
  • Some days I really write a load of rubbish.
  • Believe it or not, I do other creative exploits. All writers need the satisfaction of quick-win completion, which is why I’ve also been writing more short stories. I can’t post these on the blog, because then I’d be unable to make money from them at a later date and/or submit for competitions. A ‘short story’ for me is 2000 words. Nine pages (double-spaced).
  • I blog.
  • I self-promote. See TV/Radio Appearances for a flavour of how much!
  • I’m busy building up a social media following. Half the battle with any published book is having an author that people love and can market.
  • Is there a chance this will NEVER be published? Yes.
  • I therefore need an agent. And to submit to an agent means you have to have your manuscript at the absolute top of it’s game.
  • (Mumma B suggestion) – ‘why don’t you just say “the dog ate my manuscript”?’
  • And as for the publishing industry in general? Please see video below. Spoilers, it’s infamous for being a slow.

Pinky promise to keep you posted on progressed. It still means a lot that I have a massive fan base that are chomping at the bit to pre-order something I haven’t even completed yet!

Much love xx

To give you an idea of time passing…that succulent I bought, it’s dead now.

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