What Is The Media’s Obsession With Snow?

Yes.  We get it.

It’s snowing.

This morning every TV and Radio channel I flicked to seemed to be screaming the weather at me: Snow is forecast.  It will fall from the sky and carpet the roads.  There will be some traffic disruption.  People will work from home.  Winter is coming.But let’s get come perspective here.  We don’t live in the world of Game of Thrones.  Snow doesn’t equal apocalypse… to be honest, it’s been a pretty standard annual event for the last five years.  So why are we so obsessed with talking about it (I realise that the fact I’m blogging about this is all highly ironic)…?

The Daily Express is one of the worst weather-story offenders with regular front page splashes dedicated to it.  And with the media shouting stories like  “COLDEST WINTER IN 100 YEARS ON WAY” and “SNOW CHAOS TO CRIPPLE BRITAIN WITH -15C WEATHER PREDICTED” it’s not really surprising that the country grinds to a halt and people decide to work from home.

Back in 2009 when the sky suddenly dumped a foot of snow across most of Great Britain without warning, I agree there was a snow-story to be told.  Motorways became car parks, people slept in shopping centres – that was a proper snow day.  Maybe the media feels a sense of guilt for the lack of warning about that occasion, and since then has been trying to make up for it by ringing the alarm bells as soon as there is even a sniff of a flake.  But it gets people really jumpy.

Reading, Berks, February 2009

Reading, Berks, February 2009

It got fairly laughable this morning, I watched a news reporter, dressed as if for the Arctic, on the streets of London reporting that there was currently no snow.  A snow report about no snow.  I couldn’t help but snort over my porridge.

Social media isn’t helping the sense of hysteria either.  Facebook is filled with excited posts about “Snow Days”, Instagram gets clogged with snow pictures, and #uksnow trends on Twitter (you can even get it as an iPhone app for heaven’s sake)… we can track the spread of the white stuff without even looking out of our window.

It’s not a surprise the us Brits just love talking about the weather, but we really do need to get a grip on reality and some perspective.  Prepare for snow, obviously, check weather forecasts, look out of the window, make sure you’ve got a blanket and food in your car.  But it is highly unlikely that you’ll need to stock-pile tinned food…

The media fan the flames of our obsession, and we do so even more by driving conversation about them on social networks, so really we’ve only got ourselves to blame…

The thing to remember is that in a few days it will all melt away and the predicted chaos will be forgotten.  We’ll go back to talking about rain.

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From Rags to Riches – The Rise of the Charity Shop

I remember many hours as a child where I would trudge around the shops after my mother bored utterly silly.  I was never a huge fan of clothes shopping as a nipper (I had a bit of an odd podgy shape as a pre-teen), but shopping with my parents’ was worse than having my teeth pulled…  At least if I hit the high street with my friends I could lurk by the rails in New Look or TopShop looking wistfully at the clothes I’d never fit into – but my Mum was attracted to another type of shop entirely.  One that I just couldn’t understand:  The Charity Shop.

I remember how charity shops started to spread rash-like through the village as the smaller independent shops on the fairly disused high street collapsed under the weight of a new “Outlet Shopping Village” full of big name brands.  But I just couldn’t understand what my Mum’s fascination with “un-fashion” was.  To me everything from the charity shop looked as bland and as old as it smelled.  And nothing could reach through my cloud of sulking and feet dragging to tell me otherwise.

But, a decade on, my attitude has changed somewhat…

This weekend I found myself tasked with a plethora of charity shops to explore, but this time it was Mr D’s turn to follow on behind as a dashed excitedly from one to the other hunting for bargains.  I’m proud to say I came away with a skirt (£3.99) and a very nice LK Bennett blazer (£7.99).

Modelling my recent charity shop acquisitions

And that’s the thing – far from the disgust I felt as I teen now, I actually take pride in my finds.  When I wore my new outfit to the office today I couldn’t help but gloat – sharing with my colleagues, not just  it’s humble origin but also the price I paid.  I have to wonder what changed my mind so dramatically.

I don’t remember an eureka moment when suddenly charity shopping made sense, nor am I in such a tight financial pickle that I can’t afford to treat myself on the high street – the thing is I now actively enjoy the treasure hunt.

The smell may still be exactly as I remember it from my childhood, but today’s charity shops are functioning in a very different world then we were in a decade ago.  The economic slump is biting hard, but personally I think the rise in popularity of second hand goods also has a lot to do with the rise of the social web – or if not a direct correlation, it’s certainly been facilitated by it.

It might seem strange to associate the dowdy atmosphere of a charity shop with the fast paced online world, but over the last 10 years with the rise in popularity of sites like ebay and Amazon our homes have slowly been filling with second-hand goods without us really realising. How often did I buy a book off ebay at university for a few pence as it was much cheaper than buying it in the campus shop, or purchase a “nearly new” DVD from an Amazon seller?   Slowly the second-hand culture has seeped into the shiny dynamic world of the internet, and there it is flourishing.

Facebook groups are now popping up across the country specifically for people to list their unwanted items and there are dedicated sites such as Freecycle offering us recession-battlers a forum to find unwanted items for free.  There’s no need to advertise your old sofa in your local corner shop window – the nature of the internet and social networks to allow people to easily connect with strangers without even leaving the living room (and you’ll probably be reaching a lot more people than would have walked passed any shop window).  Second-hand shopping has become so much easier.

You can never wholly predict what you will find when you start rummaging through a charity shop’s stock, which is rather trying to predict online interactions and who you’ll meet online – so maybe it is this very nature that makes both quests exciting.

Or… all high-brow speculations aside, maybe I just got old enough to appreciate the value of a good bargain.

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Childhood and Performance: Forming my Offline Social Network

I’ve not posted a blog in a few weeks.  Normally I’d feel a sense of crushing guilt that I was somehow wasn’t exercising my creativity or the pressure of a wave of anxiety that I was being swamped with my day-to-day work to allow myself to structure my thoughts into writing.   And whilst I have been somewhat busy in the BOTTLE office, it’s not my 9 to 5 that’s been causing my blog silence for the last month.

The last twelve months have been full of change for me in many ways – I’ve changed jobs, I’ve moved to a new town, I’ve lost a dear friend – and I’ve been pulled along in the swells of emotion that goes with all of it.  My job is very social, I work with some very energetic and exciting people, and I spend my day building relationships online, but even still, I’ve felt very isolated and strangely static. So at the end of last month I decided to make a change.

It might sound a little cliché, but four weeks ago I decided that it was time to become more proactive and to shake off this ‘comfortable’ funk that I’d settled into.  So instead of spending my weekends padding around in my PJs drinking endless cups of tea, I decided to push my boundaries.

Me, age 4, preforming in the school Christmas play

When I was a littlun’ I loved performing.  I remember standing up in my grandparents’ living room serenading my family with ballads and writing plays with my friends.  My love of theatre translated into a Drama GCSE, and then a few years later an A level in Drama and Theatre Arts.  However for whatever reason when I went to University that part of my life was retired, and the closest I got to performance was karaoke on a Thursday night after the student pub quiz…  So, when I decided that I needed to shake up my outlook, I couldn’t think of anything better than to revisit my childhood passion.

Having not performed in any form for at least 5 years, and having the grace and coordination of a fairy elephant, I decided to dive in head first and turned up at a rehearsal for an amateur production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  And it really was the best thing I could have done.

I fully meant to work backstage, maybe helping with costume changes and organising props, or possibly front of house selling programmes and taking tickets, but somehow, just two weeks before opening night I ended up being pulled into the scenes, my photo was taken for the programmes I thought I’d be selling, and I was absorbed into the cast.

The WYSPAs cast of Jesus Christ Superstar 2011 (I'm the second angel on the left!)

So the reason for my lack of blog over the past few weeks has been down to my frantic swotting over the Really Useful Group score, attending rehearsal, organising PR for the show, and finally performing four nights of Jesus Christ Superstar – and I’ve loved every second.

It’s been like a wake up call. I have experienced a lot of change in the last year and have been using the social web as an anchor on this fluctuating tide, but being reacquainted with my childhood hobby has given me a new appreciation for the psychology of the social web and how I build relationships online.

We engage in behaviour in our online social networks which is unlike any behaviour that we would conduct in our offline social lives.  Ultimately we’re being constrained by the limitations of each network, and we’re being forced into whatever template we’re given to interact within and to therefore build our relationships around.

So if relationships spend their childhood online, (whether these relationships are between individuals or between brands and fans) they ultimately need to be given a connection to the offline world.  It can only make them stronger.

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The Guardian Asks Some Questions… #meme

I’ll be honest.  Until Friday I was a MeMe virgin.  That was until Nicki (@NickiCawood) tagged me…

So, any way, here I am (just a few days late) sitting in my garden enjoying this strange April sunshine reflecting all about myself.  For people who read my blog you’ll know that it’s a bit of a mish-mash –  a lump of social media insight, with a sprinkling of film reviews and a dash of day-to-day ranting – but very rarely do I sit and think about myself in my blogs.  I’m usually more a conduit to let some angst about some topical subject flow through.  But it’s been really refreshing to sit and think a bit about how I’ve got where I am.  So thanks Nicki, this has been a jolly interesting couple of hours in the sun!

Questions about Me.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

I’ve sat and racked my brains and I just can’t think of an individual.  There are so many people who I admire, and not for a life of fame or celebrity.  The people I admire I’m honored to consider friends.

When were you happiest
Usually sitting with a cup of tea/nice cold cider(depends on the season!), chatting with friends watching the world go by.  The world of work has confined these occasions to just rare weekends now, but at university I remember there was chase for this every day.  No special occasion, no reason, but for the simple pleasure of enjoying someone else’s company.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

I am a very sensitive person, but I do have a tendency to fail to engage brain before opening my mouth. 

My first “proper” job was as a Real Life Features journalist, I’d have to “chase” down stories and interview people and then get their stories into national magazines and newspapers.  I met some absolutely amazing and inspiring people whilst I did that job – some people who had been through absolute hell, and were willing to talk about it in order to act as a warning to others.

I won’t go into details, but the first every story I got published saw me speaking to a woman who was talking me through a horrific ordeal.  Unfortunately my brain didn’t stop my mouth when it tried to make light of the subject and I said something that was possibly ever-so-slightly inappropriate (I completely blame my rooky status) – thankfully the lady took it quite well, but I spent the rest of the week I could hide under my desk.

Bad mouth.

Aside from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

Having never bought any property, (not even a little caravan or rainbow-bedecked beach hut I dreamt of as a child) I can easily say that the most expensive thing I have ever bought is my little VW Polo called Percy.  He’s lovely and had a happy little flower that sits on the dash-board.  He doesn’t even complain about my terrible taste in music on the drive to work…

What is your most treasured possession?

I treasure my memories.  More than anything.  I’m a bit of a sentimental fool, and so what I deem to be treasured possessions a lot of people would deem to be tat.  But to me it’s the small things that provide a solid base for my memories to hang on:  My stuffed Care Bear that I’ve had since my second Christmas (somewhat thread-bare now, and eyeless…), a wooden heart that was given to me by a teenage Mr D, and a plastic headband with fluffy cats ears, handmade 18 months ago for Halloween, the first blanket I ever knitted (and am still knitting) and a used New Look gift card – the last birthday present I’d ever receive from one of my best friends.

Where would you like to live?

I’m not too fussed about where I live as long as I can be happy and I can spend time with my friends and family.  Although, a beach would be nice.

What’s your favourite smell?

Easy! Laundry. 

Specifically the inside of a washing machine or the fumes given off by tumble dryers (yes, I am a little bit strange).

Who would play you in the film of your life?

Johnny Depp. Obviously this would have to be an “inspired by” interpretation of my life, but  I’d love to see him attempt my old Real-Life Features job.

What is your favourite book?

I have an English Literature degree and so this question is always thrown up in job interviews!  I hate it!

 I can never pick a favourite book, it’s completely impossible!  I love the works of Margaret Atwood if I’m fancying a bit of dystopian explorations of femininity, and I love the familiar rhythm patterns of Shakespeare.  But equally I enjoy the epic fantasies of Robert Jordan,  the insights of Greek Myths and even guilty pleasures of JK Rowling, Tamora Pearce and occasionally even the ridiculous dreaming of Wilbur Smith (honestly, hilarious if you’re a woman!). 

What is your most unappealing habit?

Not thinking before I speak (see above).  Bad move.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

Another easy one!  Rainbow Brite!  80s children’s TV legend, and the reason I am RainbowClaire.

What is your earliest memory?
Being put into my cot – I remember it was brown, and that there were new people down stairs and that I did not want to be in said cot.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t get what I wanted.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

That would have to be my terrible taste in music.  I can’t help myself.   Whilst I have a wide range of music I enjoy I love nothing more than blaring out some really terrible tunes as I drive, or turning up the volume and spontaneously bursting into dance in my living room.

I find myself apologizing if anyone listens to my iPod…  there’s only so much Spice Girls/B*Witched/Steps that you can cover up. 

What do you owe your parents?

I’m lucky in that I know my parents will always support me.  No matter what I do.  I can’t imagine owing anyone anything more.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
The man I married.

 

What does love feel like?
It’s being comfortable to talk about anything and everything.  To enjoy spending time together even when you’re doing nothing, or different things.  To feel safe and secure and warm, like curling under a blanket, or wiggling your toes into cool sand.

What was the best kiss of your life?

This one:

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

On text messages and online I am a bit of a smilie fiend. 

Oh and exclamation marks! Love those!  Never have too many! (Okay, I fully accept that you can and I’m working to curb that… but seriously, it’s like an addiction.)

What is the worst job you’ve done?
£2 an hour working in a fish and chip shop.  Cleaning out a potato chipper and certainly change a person – honestly, the smell… blerg.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?

I wouldn’t consciously change anything.  My life has made me who I am today.

But I would make the most of every moment, and never take life for granted – so I’d probably say “no, not today” a lot less…

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What is the closest you’ve come to death?
Luckily this is something I’ve never actually experienced personally.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I’ve always ben rubbish at telling people what I’m good at.  So I asked Mr D…

  Here are some of the things he reeled off: My English Lit degree, my CIM qualification, my job, transforming our university student newspaper, getting married, walking the Great Wall of China…  Although my favourite from his list had to be:

“Successfully completeing a transaction in a tiny shop in China with a man who spoke no English and with no understanding of the currency.”  I have to agree – that was pretty impressive.  You should have seen the sign language.

When did you last cry, and why?

Last week.  Driving back from the supermarket.  Sometimes things just make you remember, and you know you’ll never forget.

How do you relax?

Either curling up watching some brainless telly (I love a bit of Charmed/Buffy!), or being creative – usually writing poetry.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
Probably losing a bit of weight – I lost 2 stone a couple of years back for my wedding, and it’s slowly crept back on…  I’m not huge, but I can feel unhealthy so I know I’d have more energy and would do more… but at the same time I’m not ready to do a big diet right now.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Make the most of every second and never take anything for granted.

Now the bit I’m never very good at.  Tagging people.  The thing is, I always hate being tagged in notes on Facebook but for some reason I feel that blogging may be just a bit different. 

So for that reason, I’m tagging @SillyBry and @ThatJoEden, cos I know they both want to write more and that they enjoy a good bit of blogging on the quiet – and they make me laugh.

And I’m also going to tag @MattRobinson87 who is amazing, and needs to know it.

Don’t hate me guys – feel free to blog away if you wish!

 

 

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Living with an English Degree

An English degree impacts the whole life of a person who has it, but ultimately the effects extend also to their family and close friends.  Early symptoms may include shiny fingers and paper cuts from thumbing through literary works, a glazed expression brought on by the ramblings of an 18th century novelist and occasionally a reliance on caffeine and chocolate brownies.  But there is guidance and support out there for everyone, whether you are still studying, or whether you have already passed your BA.

Studying an English degree means that you will have to learn to cope with the prejudice and presumptions of others. Just because you’re a Literature student does not mean that you’ve always dreamt of being a Teacher, and certainly not necessarily of English.  No, the nature of your degree doesn’t gift you with some super-human spelling ability, nor does it mean you have to enjoy reading the works of W.H. Auden or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and indeed a female Literature student is not necessarily a feminist.Once at graduate level simple tasks such as going to the theatre or watching television become infinitely more complicated.   An English graduate may find themselves surrounded by appearance versus reality conflicts in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the apparent blending of gender roles in a re-watching of Titanic, or readings of homoerotic desire in Shaun of the Dead.

I am one of these graduates.

Just last week I journeyed to London for a night at the theatre, which resulted in my poor husband having to spend the rest of the week being bombarded with different readings of Willy Russell’s award-winning musical Blood Brothers: The role of absent family members.  Innocence versus experience.  Class and gender conflicts.  Incest.  And don’t even get me started on the role of the Narrator…  My husband, on the other hand, enjoyed the music and the story.

After graduating it took me two years to build up to reading a serious novel.  After twenty-four months of reading the testosterone-charged fantasies of Wilbur Smith, I thought my brain may have re-wired itself to enable me to simply enjoy a book again.  Sadly this is not true.

Every student has debt these days, but the weight English students carry is unlike any other…   A Law student may sweat over parliamentary transcripts, but it’s unlikely that these dusty pieces of specialist waffle would feature in an evening’s recreation.

So if you know someone who has studied an English degree I implore you to be kind to them. Understand what they have endured, and what they will forever go through in the name of their education.

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