Alice Takes on the Pudding Van

Someone abandoned their catering van on my housing estate. And I was not happy.

Look at it! It’s massive!

Naturally, I applied a very level-headed attitude to this. That’s right, I sent a ranty email to estate management. It went something like this:

WHY IS THERE A MASSIVE CATERING VAN PARKED IN A VISITOR SPACE? I’VE CHECKED THE REGISTRATION PLATE (“XXX XXX” for your reference) AND IT’S NOT TAXED OR INSURED. IT’S UGLY AND CLEARLY BEEN ABANDONNED. I PAY MY MANAGEMENT FEES, SORT IT OUT!

(The caps are a reflection of the shouty voice in my head and okay, I may have left the last bit out.)

Estate management responded, saying that they’d run some checks on the licence plate and, indeed, it wasn’t insured. They’d located the owner and told them to move it within the next 48 hours.

48 hours came and went, the van unmoved. I wish I could say my hatred for it was equally stagnant but when you’re facing onto something like that every time you want to go and make a cup of tea in the kitchen, it’s hard to let go.

Whilst waiting for the owners to be chased up again, I did a little investigation of myself. By in investigation, I mean be super nosey. There weren’t any company details on the van and the only reference to it on the internet traced me back to a since closed-down Facebook page, linking it to Pershore some 56 miles away, several counties over.

Instead of hard, concrete information, I had to deal with statements like this:

It reads: “Feeling stressed? Stressed backwards is desserts”

I don’t know what bothered me most; the font, the placement, the words or the fact that it’s annoyingly true. Everything about it grated on me more than the sugary sweetness of the food it claimed to provide.

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Update: I drafted this post in September 2021, however in June 2022 the van disappeared altogether. I assumed it was at local festival and that it would be back later that evening. But it never came back and I haven’t seen the van since. No idea what has happened but the problem of the Pudding Van seems to have sorted itself!

(I’m totally putting it down to my ability to moan, that or my top-notch judgemental stares out the window.)

(And as for why I’m not posting it until now…well, I forgot I’d written it.)

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Book Review: “The Ultimate Workbook to Train Your Brain, Body and Spirit” by Steven Clinch

Rating: 3 Stars

Headline: The only place where you can complete sudokus and hug trees: a little book of fun

Review:

The Ultimate Workbook to Train Your Brain, Body and Spirit by Steven Clinch is a neat little publication, at 129 pages there is by far more visual content in here than words (for context, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is around 77 thousand words in length, The Ultimate Workbook nears a modest 1000). It is a welcome relief from a lot of the denser material that exists in the market.

This publication provides the reader with 150 different exercises to conduct at their own pace. Activities include colouring in, wordsearches and short exercise routines, all of which are intended to trigger feelings of relaxation or deep thought as the reader is given the opportunity to pick (and subsequently tick off) the activities they’ve completed. For those needing a bit more guidance, answers to the puzzle activities are provided towards the back.

Be it sudoku or crosswords or even wordsearches, for a indecisive person like me I like the variation in activity and puzzle. I could pick and choose an activity based on how much time I had or how I was feeling on a particular day. I tended to reserve the ethical dilemma questions for when I had the most time and use the brain teasers as a bit of fun when spending time with friends and family. In this sense the book is perfect across a broad range of age groups.

The cover’s intense and dark imagery is easy to misconstrue, I had to take a second glance before recognising this as being aimed toward mental stimulation rather than physical. The solutions on the final pages have not taken into consideration accessibility – my eyesight is perfectly fine but I still found myself struggling to read some of the answers and I am not convinced the author should be making bold statements. Claiming the completion of the activities will create more brain neurons and therefore result in to a longer and happier life? The colouring lead to a happier half hour, let’s start there.

AEB Reviews

Links

Original Reedsy Discovery review: AEB Reviws – “The Ultimate Workbook”

Purchase link: “The Ultimate Workbook” (Amazon)

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Book Review: “Doorways to Transformation” by Karen Kinney

Rating: 4 Stars

Headline: Offering bite-sized ways to make significant improvements, this is perfect self-help for creatives, big and small

Review:

The last two (plus) years have been challenging for the best of us. Lockdowns, 24/7 global news coverage, crises after crises, current affairs have taken a huge toll on even the most resilient of individuals, let alone the those of us who are prone to succumbing to negative thoughts and letting them play out into the everyday.

Against this backdrop Karen Kinney enters into the ring with her new book Doorways to Transformation, a self-help guide that aims to restore self-belief and confidence to the reader by means of personal mediation. Each chapter opens with an inspirational quote and closes with reflective questions or prompts to encourage the reader to broaden their horizons and apply the learnings on that topic to their unique situation. Of the 37 bite-sized chapters few go by without a nod to a personal experience linked to the topic in hand.

That’s what I like about Kinney, she brings a very real and relatable touch to this book by bringing in her own personal experiences (and challenges) from her relocation from America’s Los Angles to the city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

The digestibility of this book also appealed to me. I’m a busy woman at the best of times and there are days where five minutes to myself can seem an utter luxury. The brief nature of the chapters meant I could pick this up and quickly flick to the relevant section before diving straight back into the hustle and bustle of daily life. Kinney even states in the introduction that there is no order to how the chapters should be digested, that their placement should be seen more as a guideline; music to my ears!

For anyone looking for a mid-morning alterative to coffee, Doorways to Transformation is the perfect pick-me-up. Caffeine, in paper form.

AEB Reviews

Links:

Reedsy Discovery review: (AEB Reviews) “Doorways to Transformation” by Karen Kinney

Purchase Link: “Doorways to Transformation” (Amazon)

Author website: https://karenkinney.com/

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Desperate Times Call for Christmas Measures

You know the feeling, you’re going about with the final touches on a birthday present. You’ve already got the gift (because you’re super organised like that) now all that remains is the wrapping up.

You go to your trusty roll of wrapping paper and, oh…

That amount of paper, well, that was not going to cover the item. Far too…rectangley.

But it’s okay. It’s not as if you’ve spent so much time on the present acquisition part that it’s now 18:30 and in 30 minutes you’re meant to be handing said gift over to friend. No one would be that much of a muppet…

*Cough*

This was around the time my improvise mode kicked in. Five minutes / mad rummage around later, ta-da! Present wrapping sorted!

(We will just ignore the fact that it came out as upside down on the ‘prettier’ facing side.)

I even made and effort and dressed-up the second gift.

*Whispers* It’s Pepsi Max.

There you go, birthday wrapping a-la Alice. Think of it this way, if you waited until the 25th December this would be perfectly normal.

That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.

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Alice’s Historic Image of the Week

I don’t know if I’ve shared this before but even if I have I’m sharing it again.

This was in York Castle Museum, as part of an exhbit on exercise through the ages. Originally produced to highlight the importance of cycle safety, the whole overdramatization of scenario is hilariousand (even though I am the first to accept it does feminism no favours).

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Book Review: “Picturing Freedom: African Americans & Their Cars, A Photographic History”

Having read some of my fabulous book reviews on MHAM, the good editorial team at Reedsy Discovery approached me to start writing reviews for them.

Here’s my first one…

Picturing Freedom: African Americans & Their Cars, A Photographic History”

Rating: 5 Stars

Headline: The pictorial history of American civil rights you never knew you needed

Review:

I’m not always a fan of photographic books, most often the content seems to take a back seat to a random consortium of imagery, thrown together by the author to fill out pages. They don’t provide the level of substance I look for when I want to fully immerse myself in a period of History. Not this book, however.

Picturing Freedom is a fascinating collection of imagery of African Americans with their motorcars from across the twentieth century. Shedding light on an overlooked element of American culture, Burns highlights the significance of car ownership for what was most often the most impoverished segment of society. It offered freedom from segregation, class and gender structure and from the bindings of Jim Crow laws.

Opening with an introduction, extensive historical context, and several case studies of influential African Americans, the book showcases hundreds, if not thousands, of images from the Burns archive. Moving chronologically from the turn of the 1900s, where expensive cars limited most to posing in studios with set props, through to the roaring twenties, thirties and forties and beyond, the clothes and models may change must the sense of owner pride remains the same.

As I moved through this book I found myself completely transfixed by the characters and the stories I desperately wanted to learn more about. The young solider headed to war, the women with the blunt stare down the lens, elbow proudly rested on the bonnet. These are truly the untold stories of ordinary people during a turbulent period of American civil rights. And yet for the most part, these individuals are nameless, limited to the occasional half-written note on the back of a photo. It leaves the reader guessing, who are these people? What were their thoughts, ambitions and dreams in life? And did they achieve them? Forget people watching, this is photo watching at its very best.

The time and effort Burns has invested into compiling, researching and editing this book is nothing short of admirable. If you’re looking for something to spark a deep and meaningful conversation, or simply a new addition to your coffee table, then look no further.

AEB Reviews

Links

Reedsy Discovery Review: Picturing Freedom (AEB Reviews)

Purchase Link: Picturing Freedom: African Americans and Their Cars

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Alice’s Funding Page

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The Elizabeth Line: An Alternative Review

Here’s a quick run-through of what happened when I went on London Underground’s newest service, the Elizabeth line.

The first thing I was aware of when I descended the escalators at Paddington was the whizzy LED signs.

I don’t know why, but I found them mesmerising, like a lava lamp. It was also 7:30am and I hadn’t had coffee, which I acknowledge may have been a contributing factor. Nudged by another commuter in that classic “get-on-or-move-on” fashion, I hopped onto the next Eastbound train.

Now the thing is…well, I wanted to illustrate that even though it was very busy at Paddington station the train was pretty quiet. But, equally, I didn’t want it to be obvious I was taking random photos of the train. You can see my predicament. So what do you get?

A slightly burred picture of a door.

It really was a classically Alice dilemma.

Oh, thumbs up for the seat coverings by the way.

And the floor? I mean, I wouldn’t say I’d be eating off it, but by London standards it was fairly squeaky.

I just wish I could say it was seam-LESS! (Get it? Because there’s a joining line? Well, I thought it was witty).

And here’s a photo of Custom House, before a-la-mosh pit I got scooped up by corporate commuters and funnelled toward the ticket gates.

*Then Alice did actual work stuff at the ExCel conference centre*

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On leaving the ExCel I was running back what felt like the thickest black jacket in the hottest day. To say I was a bit toasty was an understatement, I was effectively drowning in a pool of sweat and free pencils.

Honestly I was so relieved to be somewhere with air conditioning and seating I forgot to take any photos. Minor detail.

It was probably owing to this (realising at Bond Street I hadn’t taken any photos and unable to, thanks to the copious amounts of free pencils filling my hands) that I became very obsessed with scoring a selfie with the Underground sign at Paddington. That, and in part because of the very strong coffee I knocked back before leaving the ExCel.

Ten attempts later (not kidding), I settled with what I got and shambled upstairs to find out the outbound train I’d been racing to get was actually a very slow train so ended up loitering around Paddington for 40 minutes for the train which, it turns out, all my colleagues were on as well. None of them were interested in my pencils, only moaning about the cleanliness of the toilets at Paddington. For a whole hour.

So yeah…

The Elizabeth line! Clean (enough), mesmerising signs (if you’re suffering from caffeine withdrawal) and just enough air con to stop you gagging on the stench of someone else’s body odour. What more could you want?!

Oh, and it’s actually super quick to get places. Minor detail.

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An Earful of ELO and Bitter Tea: Why I Write

What do you picture when you think of the writer? A recluse, working in the half-light of winter or in the sun-kissed parklands of summer? Novel thoughts that flow through dainty calligraphy on tanned pages? Web string ideas that will one day sit proud and hardbacked in Waterstones or Foyles. Half an hour to transpose to pixel, twelve weeks to complete, another month or two for luck.

Ha.

If that’s the vision, let me grace you with the reality, as I find myself propped in a generic coffee shop. The table is scratched as a post, the air sticky and the green chair worn away to the bare threads. There is only one word for it, uninviting. But what does it matter? My leggings are peppered with rips and holes anyway, the stains and the marks, it’ll wash out.

A train goes past, one of those piddly little things that carry children at walking pace, no, slower than that, a snail’s. The driver sounds its electric toot-toot as it crawls by, my right ear left ringing while my left is pumped with coffee grinding and the tinny music of overhead Electric Light Orchestra. The best ambiance £2.25 of tea can buy. I sip the cold fluid with a grimace, bitter and stewed.

It’s gone 18:00, my hair is wet with grease and my young face slightly more etched from another exhaustive day at the office-come-dining table. Eyes swollen, fingers twisted. I worked through lunch, which every psychologist from here to Timbuktu will say is a one-way trip to an early grave, but the extra hour of toil then means an extra hour of freedom now. A fragment of bliss with a half-eye on time. Later, a stranger beckons at my door to collect dusty offcuts from my garage; he won’t negotiate on the timings and I really could do with that £20.

Writers are leather beaters, we take the skin of an idea and scrape, beat and dunk until that piece of flesh returns gold. Sometimes our elbows linger for too long in foul-smelling liquids that the only thing golden is our stained skin, saturated with stench.

Write. Write harder and faster and quicker and smarter and eloquently, until your fingertip pads run smooth and your skin cracks with effort. That’s what writing is. I’d consider myself a very successful woman indeed if I were ever to stumble across my work in a library or charity shop. Maybe that makes me simplistic, or maybe that makes me even more of a dreamer. I scrub my manuscript some more.

I started putting keyboard to laptop in 2014 on little more than a whim and utter boredom, to fill lonely nights in a strange town I barely knew. Eight years later I find myself plagued with a parasitic urge I can barely comprehend. What time is it? When did I last eat? How long before the staff spot my empty cup and kick me to the curb?

I don’t write because I want to, I write because it is an addiction. Leave hollow hope be for there is nothing to be saved.

My colourless eyes glance sideward as the same empty train edges closer once more.

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This piece was kindly sponsored by Ben Miller, who spotted my business card on a noticeboard and commissioned me to write a post on “Why I Write”.

Please sponsor me to keep doing what I love by donating here: Alice’s Funding Page

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Volunteering to Beat Cancer

I signed myself to volunteer recently at a Cancer Research UK Race for Life event at Cheltenham racecourse.

Stick me in a high visibility jacket with a radio and I’m your girl (be it with a slightly inflated sense of importance).

It was very windy (hence the squint) and, being Britain, I did get caught out in the rain for a short spell. Observation of the day, racecourses aren’t great for weather protection.

Here are some choice phrases from my time as the very important marshal number six on the 3km, 5km and 10km run:

  • “I want your tutu!”
  • “3km that way, 5km that way. Also, check me out with my semaphore arms!”
  • “You’re doing this so I don’t have to!”
  • “No such thing as going too slow. Look at me, I’m standing still!”
  • “It’s very windy here!”
  • (In response to someone asking for a mid-course vodka tent) “don’t have shots, but lots of shouts – YOU’RE AWESOME!” (It made them laugh.)

A big shout out to everyone across the country who make Race for Life (and similar) events happen and to all those taking part and raising money to support such a worthwhile cause. I’d wholeheartedly recommend volunteering for anyone looking for a fun day out (with a laugh or two along the way).

Links:

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK – Get Involved (Volunteering Opportunities)

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