Nostalgia

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Gosh, after claiming that this time around my London life would be different; inspired by my zen travel times, where yoga and plenty of time to contemplate was a regular feature in my life… crikey have I been busy! I think it’s slightly impossible to press the pause button when living in the big smoke. Especially in the summer! I zoom off to work and when I escape into the sunshine at the end of the day, I can’t wait to take a walk by the river, or go meet friends that I’ve been missing and just really enjoy being completely plonked back into the thick of it. There’s always somewhere new to go, something nice to eat and some bubbles to be drunk. It’s so hard to say no! Those shaky reverse-culture-shock stuttery days have long passed and I’m nose-diving super speed into London living, part 2. That’s not to say it’s all been this way; on the odd night that I do come straight home, I have dissolved into a drooly sleeping mess by 8.30pm (still oh so light outside! childhood me would be outraged that this has become a desirable thing!) because I am still suffering massively from new-girl brain drain.

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When I am at home, I am so happy. It’s lovely to finally have a bit of London that is just ours! As much as we have loved previous house mates, after staying in a different hostel every night for 7 months, it was time to have some privacy. Our flat has really exceeded expectations. Sure it’s fun-size, but it still has everything we need, and plenty of sneak space for hiding junk you don’t want out on display. It’s the third floor flat in a converted terrace, so it feels a little like we are living in a treehouse. Our views are pretty much 90% sky, which is lovely, and every time a big truck or lorry passes a rattle passes through. At first I felt like I was about to topple out, but now I’ve got used to them I quite like the daily mini earthquakes! It’s strange to think this time last year I was working in Cannes, with the unknown of travelling and this mammoth life change all ahead of me.

Anyway! What has been keeping me such a busy Bee? Well one thing I have to share, is that a couple of weeks ago one of my loveliest friends Oli celebrated his birthday by inviting a gang of us to the Barbican. We took part in tour that was based around the Barbicans’ Brutalist Architecture. I confess, before rocking up, I had to do a quick Google of “what the heck is brutalist architecture” (read: am I going to have pain inflicted on me during the tour) and the quick answer is no. Brutalism was a fragmented movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, perhaps as a post-war reaction to some of the frivolity in the architecture of the 30s/40s. Brutalism isn’t as bleak as it sounds; it just reflects the lack of bells and whistles in the look of these buildings. They are very functional, often with a dominance of concrete and rather than hiding them; the architects express in the external elevations the functions, people-flows and general bits that are usually kept hidden. Some famous examples are Park Hill in Sheffield, Western City Gate in Belgrade and the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington.

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We totally lucked out with the weather for our tour. It was warm enough to lig about in the cold for two hours (you definitely get your moneys worth on this excursion) and the sky treated us to pinky, golden, magic hour hues for the whole time. It was as if the Barbican was really putting on a show of just how beautiful it can be. Our tour guide was a super enthusiastic Irish academic, who wore an amazing batman cape-like coat and stomped around in big clompy heels, whilst blowing our minds with facts, figures and LOTS of secrets. The first thing she was keen to inform us, is that there is a misconception that the Barbican was created as a council housing estate (something I certainly thought was true). The architects who created the Barbican did work previously on a council estate just up the road, but the Barbican certainly wasn’t built as one. In fact, it was built to attract city-types and yuppies! As during the time it was built, there was a huge housing crisis and a demand for more professional housing close to the centre of London. That isn’t to say it didn’t serve the community though; there was a YMCA, a library, a girls school and a church within the estate.

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In my head, I wondered how much more there would be to learn, as I naively thought that in my 7 years a Londoner “I’ve been to the Barbican loads of times”. I’ve actually only really visited the Arts Centre, and briefly scuttled to and from the tube station. What I hadn’t realised what how vast the Barbican estate is. Our wise-owl tour guide told us to start thinking of it less as a building, and more as a town. It houses over 4000 people; which is actually half of the City of London’s population. We started off taking a good look at the bit EVERYONE knows about… the famous towers. They are so dizzyingly magnificent up-close; no matter how you feel about the marmite aesthetic. At the time of being built, they were the tallest building in Europe. Something I found remarkable, is that despite having slightly different heights (2 towers are 43 floors, 1 is 44 floors) they are identical in every other way. When you view them from the ground, this fact seems impossible! They all look totally different angles, directions and shapes. Our guide informed us that the architects did this on purpose, and it’s one of the most amazing feats of the architecture.

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Something that was instantly noticeable on the tour was the quiet. Sitting smack in the centre of London, surrounded by chaotic rush hour hustle and bustle, at most parts of the Barbican all there was to hear was peace and tranquillity. This is another feat of design; with the architects focussing on sound-proofing the Barbican by building it raised high above the streets and noise. This also gives more opportunity for light and views to trickle in to every bit of the estate. We trailed around the nooks and crannies of the residential areas, and peered enviously at the secret gardens and secluded jungle-like patches that are nestled between the buildings. These are private so we couldn’t go in (I need to make friends with a Barbican resident stat) but our guide assured us that they are so sprawling that once inside, you feel like you could be in the middle of Hampstead heath!

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This is an original map from when the Barbican was first built, and it lists the Museum of London as “building in progress”! I think the map is an example of one of the key perks of paying for a guided tour, as this is something you could so easily march past without paying the slightest bit of attention to. I have previously thought the rather dingy subway style tunnels around the Barbican were quite intimidating, but our tour guide laughed that off, claiming there has never been a street-crime on the Barbican estate so it’s safer than basically anywhere else in London. I need to remember to head there next time I’m drunkenly staggering about after a night out. (What am I saying, I am 30 now, and definitely don’t partake in those shenanigans anymore!) Something I found quite sad as we walked around this incredible chunk of London history; is over half of the flats look un-lived in. Curtains closed, blank window faces, ghost town exterior (I think we saw 2 residents, max). Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t empty and up for grabs – sadly – they are just second homes. They are city crash pads or a novelty piece of real estate. I guess that’s actually in-line with the market they were initially aimed at, but I found it quite sad that they don’t get sold to the tenants who’d love every second of the experience but aren’t necessarily the wealthiest.

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I’m sure the question on your lips is… Is the Barbican Brutalist (!) and the answer is well, no, not exactly. See that photo above? After using concrete on the whole estate, which is dead easy, the nuts architects then decided they wanted to add the texture that you can see in this close-up. So, they created that texture using a hand held machine. Yup, on every millimetre (even the high bits!) of this sprawling monster of a creation. Pretty fiddly really, and not quite in line with the anti-ornate simplicity of Brutalism. And now you know! At the end of the tour, raring for more and not wanting to leave, we were snuck into a very secret plant room. This was the most exciting bit, as we headed deeper into the Barbican underbelly. Down in the dank dingy darkness, we could see a patch of wall where the architects sampled different looks for the finish of the building. Fun fact: they gave serious thought to covering the whole lot in white marble! You can still see the sample of it there today.

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I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Versions of this tour run on a pretty regular basis all year round; you can book your tickets here.

And now for something completely different! Saturday 7th June had been a date engrained on my brain for a pretty long time. Whilst I was travelling, someone I missed horrifically was my gal pal and bridesmaid extraordinare Kate aka Kasia Basia. Epic emails were exchanged, attempted Skype calls melted into frustrating pixels and darth vadar voices, and we generally pined a lot for each other. When Craig came over to meet us in Guatemala he bought me a letter from Kate, and inside was a IOU note saying she had bought us tickets for Arcade Fire in June. At the time, sat in a sticky sweaty Guatemalan hostel and off the back of 5 months of living in the wild, my brain could barely process the information. Gigs? Was that something I did? I was so disconnected from my “old life” and found the whole thing almost impossible to imagine. All I remember thinking was “I’ll have to travel up to Brighton for that” (when in reality I had a 20 min tube journey home). Anyway home we came and the date rolled around, and it had extra special meaning given that it was so loaded with travel memories and was a really special celebration of being back together. So special, I had to wear my new Twin Peaks nerd dream tee-shirt.

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The gig had a whole other layer of nostalgia, as it was at Earls Court which is due for demolition in the probably not too distant future. Gigs there tend to be a bit pricey, so realistically Arcade Fire is the last time I’ll step foot in there. Emotions were riding high! The support was stellar; Lorde and a DJ set by 2 Many DJs, who were joined on stage by an amazing human mirror ball man.

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I last saw Arcade Fire on the Neon Bible tour in 2007, the gig was at Alexandra Palace, it was pouring with rain and I trecked all the way there from Streatham. I knew they were fantastic, and liked them enough, but in the past 7 years they really have taken on a pretty iconic position in my favourite-music charts. Every album so perfectly encapsulates the time of my life it was released. I was so happy to be there with Kate who I know feels exactly the same. I had been apprehensive about the gig for two reasons. The first was that it was in such a mega dega venue, and we’d be sharing the gig with over thousands upon thousands of other people. I quite like to be near the front and in the heart of the action at gigs, but I knew that wouldn’t be an option here (as we were too busy tucking into pizza and chugging wine and nattering to bother queuing for early entry). I also thought I might get a bit irritated by annoying crowd etiquette ignorers and hooligans. Secondly; (shhh) I don’t exactly love the new album. In fact, I pretty much don’t like. So there was that…

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Luckily, my fears were unfounded. From the first beat of the first track, Kate and I were completely in our own world of Arcade Fire joy. We carved out a decent sized dance floor, marked it with our empty pint glasses (top gig tip) and then bounced about madly, arms slung around each other and crooning along every lyric. It’s such an exhilarating experience when you see a band you truly love. The memories attached to each song seemed so much stronger and more powerful live, than when I listen to them on my commute or during a bedroom private disco (everyone has those, right?). Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) reminds me of Lol so much. I was lucky enough to have a best friend who worked at Virgin Megastore (RIP) and therefore we got into every weird, eclectic and obscure band that came along thanks to her work discount and impeccable taste. Before Arcade Fire had really got out, I can remember really clearly going to an indie night at Stylus (Leeds Uni student union) and the DJ playing it early on in the night. Lol and I raced onto the dance floor, which is sunken below the bar and therefore everyone was looking down on us as we danced completely alone and like absolute idiots! Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) reminds me of my uni boyfriend, who lived on the other side of Hyde Park to me and was on my course, so our pretty short relationship was a constant haze of walking to campus or walking to and from each others houses. I don’t know why but I have such a strong memory of walking through the park one time, wading in inches of thick snow, and stupidly wearing converse with no socks (my teen brain had somehow decided socks were not sexy? I guess?) and I was listening to this song. So my feet basically half froze off, and even now I still get chill-blanes every winter and it’s all because of that one fateful day. This is the weird way my brain works, and every time I hear Tunnels I think about him and Hyde Park and snow and frosty feet.

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When they played Ready To Start Kate and I held clammy hands, and spun around, and generally existed in a shiny twinkly perfect world of me-and-her for those 3 minutes. The good part was that even when they played the new songs that I’m not so keen on, there was incredible stage production and dancers and light shows and it made it all fit seamlessly in with the older stuff. It was hot in there, so hot that you could basically see the steam rising off the writhing dancey bodies around us. When they ended on Crown of Love (of course) the room exploded into a burst of glitter ticker tape. Which was as magical as you’d expect! Look at beautiful Kate’s happy-face-happy-place.

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All in all, it was one of the best gigs of my life. Thanks so much to my Kate date, for making it the best London night since I moved back. It really reminded me just how on top of the world and super human a good gig can make you feel. I definitely need to stop being scared off by the cost and eat beans on toast in order to go to a few more shows this year. That’s just a taste of the new news for now, I still need to write a double whammy about Craig and I’s 30th celebrations which involve life size emojis, wobble chops (!) and Nick dressing as the goblin king from Labyrinth. Yup…

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This is it, my FIRST post of my thirties. How on earth did that happen? On Sunday, I woke up in the most remote part of Exmoor National Park, donned a dress covered in beetle & butterfly print and ate the biggest full English of my life, with extra fried bread. I was now 30 years old. When Nick had asked how I wanted to spend my birthday weekend, I think my requirements were pretty simple; somewhere wild where we can hike around, somewhere just us and somewhere I could eat a cream tea! He chose the most incredible little country house nestled amongst the hills of Dunkery Beacon and beneath one of the only dark sky patches in the UK (stars!) We will be writing about this trip as our first UK-Travel adventure over on Twentysomething Burnouts so I won’t spoil it here, and I don’t want to write about it here anyway because instead I want to write about ~feelings~.

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I had been warned by older relatives and friends about the pre 30 freak-out. I hated the way it was talked about with such inevitability and that from the moment I turned 29 last year the words on everyone’s lips were “ooh 30 next!”. At around this time I started to take stock of my life and the one area of my life I felt there were some pretty heady regrets was seeing the world (and the fact I hadn’t done it, basically). There were many reasons Nick & I decided to quit life and go to Latin America, but a secret one I kept tied up in my heart was that I felt I could perhaps dodge the freak-out bullet by facing head-on the one unsatisfactory area of my twenties, before 30 chased me down once and for all. For anyone else teetering on the late-twenties nearly-thirties gap, I would highly recommend this tactic. If you can use the big day as inspiration to take a look at the bits of your life you would ideally change beforehand, and then make steps to do this, there isn’t a whole lot left to be freaking out about!

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Lately I’d been so distracted with interviews, house hunting, catching up with long lost friends, shuttling around under ground and re-acclimatising with London-me, that I didn’t do very much of thinking “this is the last cup of tea of my twenties”, “this is the last time I wear this dress in my twenties”; the type of thoughts that might start to make your heart patter a little faster. I felt a bit super-hero-esque about this whole turning thirty thing. I kept trying to prod and pinch myself with little tests of if I felt weird about it yet… but I mostly felt excited at the prospect of getting to make an extra big fuss of celebrations more than anything else.

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And then it happened.

It was actually due to my plans for writing this blog post that things started to unravel. I wanted to post some old photos of me through the ages, and therefore knew I needed to have a dig around my storage boxes and bin liners. I found a tote bag that on the surface seemed to be filled with photos, and set about spilling the contents around me. Disappointment quickly stained my initial excitement as I realised all the photos were reasonably recent (mostly blurry drunk photos and Lol & I at various indie nights around Leeds). Having filtered through all the grins and gins and finding nothing from earlier than my twenties, I noticed the bag was still half full. I blindly dug around tombola style, pulling out scrap of paper after bank statement after ticket. I’m not sure why, but the rest of the bag was a mini time-capsule of 2006. I must have stuffed everything in there, before moving down to London, and thought I would sort it out at the other end. Five house moves and nearly eight years later, and that obviously never happened! It was so surreal to suddenly be face to face with my life back then and to every bit of paper trail that surrounded it.

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I dragged the bag to a shredder and sat reading every item before destroying it forever. Some parts were fascinating; like my revealing wage slips that showed how many hours I worked at a busy gig venue & bar but how pitifully I got paid. All my bank statements were just one more H&M splurge away from the bottom of my already-extended overdraft. There were cheque books (how quaint!), receipts for dates I don’t remember, an annoyed letter from my dad about my eating habits (which I had no recollection of) and endless ideas and plots and plans for short stories I never wrote, and maybe should. There was a doozy of a heart-wrench find in a letter from my ill-chosen university boyfriend, who had apparently staggered drunk into my work and had to be thrown out by my manager. Talk about dramatic, I don’t remember my life being so Hollyoaks like. It was three a4 pages of empty apologies and promises I had heard a million times. Safe to say, things didn’t last very long after that! Shredding that particular find felt extra satisfying.

I’m actually really happy that by some twist of fate, I ended up having to face up to some lurking ghosts of my past and the inevitable reflecting that comes along with switching decades. The feelings I felt most strongly were disconnect from that early twenties in-debt love-troubled bar-working dreamer. It felt almost like rummaging through someone else’s life. It was familiar, but mostly it was shocking how far removed I have come to be from that chunk of my life.

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The key learning I took from it is what I think it the NUMBER ONE difference between the twenties and thirties. Are you ready? In my twenties I thought I knew everything. I thought I had everything and everyone sussed out, I thought I was wise before my years (cringe) and I thought I had it pegged exactly how my life was going to pan out. In my thirties, the first thing I am happy to do is put my hand up and admit I have a LOT to learn. I certainly do not know everything, and that’s exciting to me. I don’t rush in making snap judgements anymore, or assuming I know what someone it about. I sit back, I take my time and I am happy to admit when I was wrong and have to go back to the drawing board (the big “lets move to Brighton” plan for example!)

Ever since turning 30 on Sunday I have felt an unusual sense of inner calm. I think I look a tiny bit wiser/have a new wrinkle. I feel so relieved to draw a permanent line in the sand between the me of my twenties and the me now, who has so much to look forward to. So far, being 30 is pretty excellent! And, because I am no longer twenty and paranoid about what people think of me, I will happily confess that I have practised saying “Hi I’m Bee and I am 30” in the mirror a few more times than is healthy and it feels… ok!

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Sit back, make a brew and I will whisk you back to summer 1991 when I was 7 years old. I was on a family holiday to one of our favourite spots; Seahouses in Northumberland. I’ve only found out as an adult that on the fabled morning that I set this tale, my parents had an almighty row. I think maybe two weeks cooped up in a tiny self-catering holiday home with a scrapping sister & brother was taking it’s toll. So following the row my dad did the sensible thing; escaped the house with my brother and I. Seahouses is famous for it’s boat trips and despite the fact we’d done them so many times we headed out under a blackening sky for another, leaving my mum to have some much-needed alone time. As it was already a dank, drizzly day and hardly puffin-spotting weather, there was only us and another family on the boat and in that family was another 7 year old girl called Clare Foster. The boat trip turned into something more resembling white water rapids at a theme park. A storm rolled in and waves heaved over the boat as it was bashed around the sea. Obviously being kids we thought this was fantastic, but I’m sure my dad and her parents were more green and less happy about the situation. After a stomach-reeling hour the sailor took us back to shore and it was there that on the back of a receipt she wrote her address down for me. (And my parents? My mum had watched us out in the stormy sea and was so happy to have us all back in one piece that all was forgiven. We were the last boat trip to go out that day, all the rest were cancelled because of dangerous conditions!)

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Clare & I were penpals from the age of 7 to 15. We wrote on a weekly basis, if not more. She lived in a little village in rural Cumbria, and I lived in a smoggy urban city. To each other, our lives seemed idyllic and exciting and as we got older we would also go to visit each other in the school holidays. Our relationship was far closer than perhaps some of our school-friends as we could be really honest about all the things that were happening to us as we negotiated those tough teenage years. The letters were more like diaries really, where we offloaded anything and everything that we felt, thought and bought (we shopped aLOT!) in intricate detail. On average each letter was 4 pages of doodled A4. We shared photos, stories and most details of our everyday school lives. I think we did a really good job of maintaining contact for such a long time, but the letters petered off around 15/16 when you discover boys, under age drinking and get a bit overwhelmed with life choices.

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I was such a geek (I know Geek-branded tee’s and Star Trek re-boots have made saying that chic, but I really was and not in a cool way) that I filed tons of the letters Clare sent me, in a very dashing lime green Homer Simpsons folder. Somehow this collection of letters has survived every house move I’ve made; through living in 4 different cities and a whopping 11 different addresses. Mobile phones and the internet barely existed when we lost touch, so it was a pretty permanent thing. I had fleetingly thought about Clare many times; especially when I ended up at uni with two of her school friends who we later worked out I had met on my visits to see her, but I had never been able to find her amongst the many other people with similar names online. By this age I had really felt like if we were going to get back in touch it would have happened, but I must have had a small psychic inkling that our story wasn’t over as her letters remained in a box in my loft.

Then, two weeks ago I got a message on LinkedIn. When I saw Clare’s name pop up I nearly fell over! It was such a rush of emotions and questions and curiosities. Literally ANYTHING could have happened to her in the 14 years we’d been out of contact and sometimes I had wished I could somehow know she was okay. And here she was!

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I hope she won’t mind me including a few snippets of our letters! I just think they are so 90’s and so amazing to read as adults, it’s such another world being that age. Anyway after a quick browse of the internet we discovered that we are both living in London and both bloggers (Clare wrote a really inspiring piece about us getting back in touch here) I guess a childhood of pen-palling conditioned us both into writers even now. Within days of her note on LinkedIn we were planning to meet up, and this morning we headed to Salvation Jane for a delicious brunch and 14 years worth of nattering. I was a bit nervous before she came in, but the second we got sat down the cappuccinos and chatter flowed and two hours zoomed by. To be honest it almost felt as easy as if we’d maintained our weekly penpal letters of news and gossip, it was so natural to just pick up where we left off. I’ve got no doubt that this is the start of a new chapter in our friendship, that started on a stormy day in 1991 and just took a bit of a breather.

I suppose the point of my writing this is to really encourage you to seek out friends you may have lost by the wayside. I know it’s impossible to stay connected to everyone and also you shouldn’t push where relationships have reached a natural end. But in those cases of treasures from your past, I definitely think if you find yourself pondering “I wonder whatever happened to so & so” it might be worth just tapping their name into Google and seeing what happens next.

 

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This time last week I thought I would be in London this weekend, pottering around a market or watching Django Unchained and zooming about on the tube. Actually, I am back home in Yorkshire! During the week I spoke to my Mum and had a sudden urge to pay her a post-birthday visit. I started scrabbling through the pages of my already-scrappy 2013 paper diary and with a heady combination of Morocco holiday, NY & LA working weeks, a 30th, an engagement party and two hen do’s (suddenly realising that I am so that age!) I wouldn’t have been able to get back to Yorkshire until April at the earliest, so quickly booked myself a ticket for this weekend and here I am.

It is never a hardship for me to come back home. I’m fortunate enough to remain extremely close to my parents so any real-life time (rather than Skype time) is always much appreciated and only a 3 hour train ride away. I also still get massively homesick for the village, the city, the country and the NORTH that I grew up in and feel like I breathe easier the second I walk through the door to the home I have lived in my whole life. I’m sure nowadays it’s quite unusual to have only had one family home and I appreciate that I’m very fortunate to still be able to bluster in full of London stories and tense work shoulder stresses and dump myself on the sofa and be in the first and only proper home I have ever known. Now that I visit at the age of 28, being well and truly moved out for approaching a decade, it’s sometimes almost like going to a museum of memories. In every part of every room I have existed as a baby, a toddler, a child, a teenager… and sometimes the ghosts of yourself in days gone past creep upon you when you least expect it. I’m a nostalgia sucker anyway and constantly pick the scabs of good and sad times gone by, but the anonymity and scale of London makes it far easier to avoid triggers of past times and constantly recreate yourself and your life. Once you are back in a land of everything familiar and covered in layer after layer of people and moments and heartaches and experiences it’s like opening the floodgates to everything that’s ever happened to you.

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So I seem to have transformed myself into a SNOW HUNTER! This time last week my whole weekend revolved around snow, and this weekend… despite London swooning away in positively balmy sunshine, I have been back out in the snow as about 7 inches fell overnight here. It was my mum who suggested taking the sledge (!) so we bundled up with some serious knitwear (and showing her increased intelligence, my mum opted for waterproofs too, whereas I typically had to slope home with a soggy bottom and jeans dripping in thawing snow). The amazing thing about this snow day was the bright blue sky overhead. I’ve got used to the claustrophobic low mushroomy London sky this week, so it felt like we were somewhere far more exotic and piste-like than Bradford. The snow was so incredibly deep that my first attempt at sledging involved me sitting on the snow, moving about a foot, and then sinking. Clearly my weekly 5k run/pilates/swimming regime has not shifted enough of those Christmas pounds yet!  We had to adopt a very scientific approach to creating a proper sledge route which involved compacting the snow down with our wellies and then sledging over and over again until it was super-speedy and slick. I am definitely a far worse driver than my mum though, as I kept nosediving into snow banks and twice the sledge stopped and I carried on going, getting some classy derrière friction burning.

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We even tried once going down together in the sledge and recreating Cool Runnings. Luckily there weren’t too many people around to see two fully grown women trying to fit onto a tiny piece of plastic and whooping down the hill! Can you see how hideous my wellies are? They are bright neon pink with yellow Mr-Blobby spots and I can very clearly remember buying them when I was 15, so its a good job my feet haven’t grown. That’s another thing I love about my family home, there’s always the odd old item around for emergency weather. After haring up and down our sledge track for a good half an hour, I was scampering about like an idiot and DROPPED my iPhone in the snow! The snow was so deep that it instantly covered the spot where my phone had fallen in, like a vortex. I am ashamed to say that I think I reacted with the speed and fear of a parent who’s child has just fallen in a lake or something! I dove head first and dug dug dug until I found my (white – helpful) phone and ripped the cover off, trying to get the melting snow to stop creeping into all the nooks and electricity ports. After giving it a big wipe with my jumper and blowing on it a bit,  it miraculously seems completely fine? I am aware that after 5 minutes buried in melting snow this should not be the case… so really hope that in a few days it doesn’t die a death, but its charging away and sending messages and happily posting my 1000th photo to instagram, so perhaps I got really lucky.

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As we were leaving there was a mum with two toddlers setting about a sledging session herself, and I was really tempted to point out to her that she could very well still be doing this in her sixties with her grown up kids if she was anything like us! Considering I had no idea or plans to be here this weekend, it’s definitely turned into a memory I’ll always treasure and never forget. I better go retrieve my clothes that are drying in various places all over the house and go get an afternoon bath (such a guilty pleasure) and attempt to finish my current book. I’m reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern which fits well and truly into the modern fairy tale genre that am a total fiend for (if you haven’t read any I’d recommend Of Bee’s & Mist, The Man Who Rained & The Snow Child). Sometimes a book comes along that just captures your attention and heart immediately, and The Night Circus is definitely one of them for me. The writing style is incredibly evocative and uses every sense to ensure you feel that you not just reading about the circus, but that you’re actually a part of it too. It so vivid that I’ve had three dreams about being at the circus from the book now, and quite like the way it’s dominating my sub concious slumbering (way more fun than dreaming about keynote presentations and VFX job jargon). I’ll be quite sad when I finish the book but I have to stop dawdling as I am falling way behind in my pesky 51 book challenge.

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Is everyone getting a little sick of Christmas chat? I thought I’d have a  day off, since strictly I can’t really feel in full festive swing until my plane lands safely tonight in Northern Ireland and my two weeks of lie-ins, boardgames, FOOD and family fun starts! And I’m still at work today, poor me.

So; this is just a shameless excuse to talk about my all time favourite thing growing up, and put out a plea to see if there were any fellow obsessives like me.

From the age of 9 to about 12, I was single-mindedly obsessed with one thing and one thing only. Both myself and my sister were in fact, regularly pooling pocket money and Christmas present opportunities and tag-team scouring car boot sales and charity shop shelves. No it wasn’t Sylvanian Families, or cute Care Bears or wholesome Enid Blyton stories. Our lives were consumed with the world of POINT HORROR BOOKS!

  

   

The Point Horror phase of my life (yes it deserves official ‘phase’ status) started when the portable book library came to school. I’m not sure if this was just a Yorkshire, Northern or UK thing but once a year, this glorified shelving unit on wheels would pitch up to your school and you could purchase cheap books from it. I guess it was an initiative to encourage reading, and it was definitely one the most exciting days of the school year for freaky bookworm kids like me.

I was still stuck in the lame old land of Babysitters Club books, but my older and way cooler sister picked up a copy of The Boyfriend. It was a book that basically took a pretty weak storyline and stretched it over an entire 80 pages! I would describe the storyline, but only the amazingly cheesey blurbs (that used to make my heart leap!) can do it justice:

Wealthy, beautiful, spoilt Joanna Collier has it all, including her boyfriend Dex. But then she breaks up with him – the gorgeous Shep seems more her type. When Dex dies in a terrible accident, Joanna’s sorry, of course, but it’s not her fault is it? She never loved him anyway – he was just another toy to be used and thrown away. But now Dex is back – from the dead. And he wants one last date with her…

What is there not to love! The mega-cool American names Dex and Shep (so exotic), the romance, the passion, the TERRORRRRR!!! I remember we passed this book between us until it was literally falling to pieces. And then we discovered that this book was not a glorious once-off, but part of a collection of books in the Point Horror genre.

   

   

Various different authors published under the genre, the most profilic being R.L.Stine, Caroline B Cooney, Diane Hoh, Carol Ellis and Sinclair Smith. I don’t think we were fussy about the author, although the randomness of seemingly anyone being able to write Point Horror books did mean you occasionally got a real STINKER by some newbie, such as The Phantom by Barbara Steiner… run on Babs! You’re no RL Stine!

It is seemingly worrying that at such a young age we were obsessed with books based around sereal killers, death, horror and terror! But the books seemed to mainly focus on a girl with an issue to solve (not pretty enough, not popular enough, no prom date, no boyfriend, too many boyfriends, too popular, too pretty… you get the picture) and I guess alot of the appeal hinged on this more than the spook-factor.

My favourite trilogy of books was The Cheerleader, Vampires Promise and Vampires Return; although they actually were just one storyline rehashed for three seperate books. In them a plain, unpopular, unattractive girl is desperate to be a cheerleader and popular. She moves into a new house and there is a vampire living in the shutters of her bedroom (I know, I know) who offers her the chance to become beautiful; but she has to chose an already beautiful/popular girl to lose their looks and ultimately; life. I mean COME ON! When you are 12 and a pretty uncool, not particular popular girl  (me) of course a book where the character gets to become instantly popular and hot is going to appeal… as you sort of spend 90% of your life fantasising about the exact same thing.

And yes this photo is only half of our collection circa 1997; at that point we owned every single one that had been published up to that point. I kid you not. In each new purchase; we would proudly cross off each one we had from the full list of released titles that they printed on the opening page! We would also write ‘helpful’ marks out of ten and little reviews of each one next to the title; in case we leant them to friends. It got very messy if we both wrote reviews, especially if they weren’t in agreement.

I think my alltime favourite Point Horror was The Babysitter. Hardly the most original plot (OR blatent rip off of the babysitting urban myth about crank calls) but still, a classic!

I’m not sure what happened to Point Horrors. How me and my sister didn’t SOLELY keep them in business I do not know! For a time there were Point Crimes (bit weak), Point Romance (too slushy and WAY racier than Judy Blume – Forever, which is really saying something) and Point Sci Fi (snore). They then began a series called ‘Unleashed’ which was marketed as a slightly darker, edgier genre of Point Horrors. I remember excitedly getting the first one of these books called At Gehenna’s Door and it was so scary I started crying whilst reading it and it had a bit about eating someones brain from a skull and I was like woah woah woah where are all the cheerleaders? And dates? And the pizza parlours? It definitely went over my fear-limit at that age and they never published anymore non-Unleashed Point Horrors so the dream was over.

I have to confess, I still have quite a hefty chunk of the books at my parents house, so often whenever I’m home in my old tiny bedroom, with my single bed, I sneak a few in and re-read my favourites such as: The Invitation (RSVP or DIE!), The Snowman (A cold-blooded killer.), The Funhouse (Hear the fear!), Camp Fear (The past can’t hurt you, it can kill you.) and Dream Date (Sweet dreams and rest in peace…) absolute guilty pleasure.

 

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I watched a great movie recently, so thought I’d share as it’s one that by DVD box alone you might pass over as a load of American teen angsty mush in which Michael Cera plays the exact same character he does in every movie ever! (Despite this massive flaw, I have to say he is still up there on my number one crushes list. Is that legal? Am I old enough to be anyone famous’ mum yet? Probably not, so probably ok…) 

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist takes place in the neon, bustling New York underground indie scene as Nick (recently dumped dorky bass player) meets Norah (insecure daughter of a mega music producer) and through a series of coincidences they end up spending a sleepless night hunting for their favourite obscure bands secret show.

If you like a lot of action in your movies… well, this is the anti-action movie. As in, well, NOTHING happens. But, don’t let that put you off! It’s quirky, it’s very sweet (without being saccharine Dear John nauseous) (I haven’t seen Dear John; but the movie poster was enough for me to make this judgement!) and it is so absolutely accurate in it’s portrayal of awkward blossoming teen romances. 

Nick and Norah bond over a love of epic mix tapes and we all know how much I support mixtapes! From there they have to battle a series of obstacles such as wailing drunk best friends, broken down vans, band mates’ practical jokes going wrong and bumping into evil exes. The acting and chemistry is spot-on because it will have you daydreaming about times when nothing mattered except what gig you were going to after college, whether the colour of nail varnish you were wearing was grungy enough and how to get your drunken friend home without arousing suspicious parents!

Also, at that age, dating is tough and I’m sure everyone has had one of those nights where you meet someone you think absolutely rocks your world and therefore do not want to leave, but run out of places to go and things to do as you still live with your parents, so end up wandering aimlessly just happy to be chatting and finding out 101 things you have in common. Ah! Young love, this movie will definitely warm your heart and make you gaze wistfully for a few days as you download your teen anthem tracks (hello Silverchair and Sublime for me!)

Oh and as the name alludes, the soundtrack is pretty A+ too!

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RIP The Mixtape.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I need to face up to the facts that the mixtape is dead and even as someone still attempting to live the Sony walkman dream… I am fighting a losing battle. Nobody wants a mixtape these days. When handing over that glorious rectangle shaped present to people; I get a blank expression. Followed by a “what the hell am I meant to do with this” face. How can I upload it to my ipod? What am I meant to play it on, my laptop doesnt take cassette tape? Argos don’t sell walkmans anymore? And then I’m sure it just languishes unloved and unplayed on a coffee table like some sort of archaelogical artefact.

As I had a little weep to myself about this momentous realisation I dug out my collection of all the mixtapes I’ve received over the years and I guess they do look a little alien these days; with their fiddly little wheels and spindly brown tape and clunky cases. I know these days you can give somebody a Spotify list, a Lastfm link or a USB packed with tracks (even one of those oh so hilariously ironic USBs that look like a tape cassette) but how can that even BEGIN to compare to the LOVE someone must have for you to spend an entire day layed on their belly, surrounded by a mountain of albums and tape inlays – pressing play&record, and pause, and writing out the tracklisting in the teeny tiny gaps, and agonising over which order to put the tracks and then hyperventilating when the tape FINISHES in the middle of the best track on side A. Do you start it again on side B? Start it from where it’s left off? Not bother putting the rest, but risk the tape receiver thinking it’s a crappy song? I’m having trauma flashbacks just thinking about it! With all the newfangled technology, you lose the charm of the mixtape too. Remember the clunk of the pause button sometimes recorded onto the tape (hated that) or the telltale chatter of a radio DJ interupting the music would reveal that you were a cheapo who had recorded this track from longwave radio atlantic 252…

This is my last attempt to say hooray for mixtapes and revive some interest. Mostly mixgtapes were the currency of my teenage relationships. You had to REALLY like someone to bother making them a mixtape and it felt like an incorrect track choice could most definitely end a blossoming romance. (True tragic mixtape story: On my 17th birthday a boy I had been dating for a week made me a mixtape. Whilst handing over the lovingly decorated masterpiece, he also told me he didn’t want to see me anymore. I guess somewhere between liking me enough to make it, and actually handing it over, he’d gone off me… but had invested so much time in it that thought he’d hand it over anyway. I pulled all the tape out in front of him & it decorated the floor like really bad, sad party streamers for the rest of the night.  The youth of today can never have these incredibly teen angst soaked moments with an mp3 can they?)

This is what we used to listen to in my day – AKA Old Fogey Music!] A present from my sister Meg (ten years older than me and therefore forever 10 years maximum cooler than me) when I was 15. Felt slightly vomity and woozey when I realised she made this for me when she was the age I am now, which makes me now a certified old fogey I guess. She shared pearls of musical wisdom with me such as The Cure, Blue Oyster Cult, The Pixies, Nirvana and Radiohead which would prove vital in impressing future friends and lets face it,older boys.

Your a star shining bright] (ah! I am old! because these days I would rather someone didn’t compliment me at all, than did it with incorrect grammar) From Tom, my first boyfriend at the age of 15. He had dreadlocks, he was in the year above me at a DIFFERENT school (so excotic!) and I think he made this for me about a week into our 6 weeks together. It was during a rare UK heatwave summer and I’d lie to my parents about where I was and go to his house to sit on the roof listenings to smashing pumpkins and learning how to play guitar. We split up because he found a note I’d written to a friend in my school planner about “luvving” someone called Jonny. To this day I have no idea who the heck Jonny was, and Tom still has my school planner. Un-nerving. Still, blinding mixtape – definitely the first place I ever heard Concrete Schoolyard

Bees Tape 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5] When I was 18 I went to university in Sheffield and for many reasons, was pretty miserable. One of my best friends Kerry went to university in Preston and for many reasons, was miserable also. So we set up in informal mixtape club and every week a lovingly crafted package would dutifully wizz off to each others halls of residence mail boxes. It didn’t matter that we quite often put on the same tracks as each other (Tori Amos, Jimmy Eat World and The Flaming Lips featured pretty regularly and heavily I recall) those tapes, at that time, rescued me and reminded me that there were people out there who loved me and were rooting for me to keep going. The familiar music provided a soundtrack to such an unfamiliar city and these mixtapes will always be so special.

So is the end nigh? Or could mixtapes be something that come back with a vengence when enough people pack their bags and head off on a Sunday nostalgia trip like me.

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