Silent Sunday – Football and Sunshine

Look how lovely I am! (or Guardian Q&A’s)

Fellow comper, blogger and Twitter pal Kay Wilkinson has cyber-collared me to complete this little meme, chain blog survey thingumybobby. It’s a bit like those (fascinating? annoying?) ‘100 things about me’ questionnaires that used to do the rounds on Facebook. Well, the boy is at the pub (I like to let him off the leash once every half term) and I haven’t had a better offer so here are my answers.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

I’m not into hero-worship or idols – no-one’s perfect, we’re all just muddling along trying not to die. I like individuals who do things that don’t automatically benefit themselves, people who try to make the world a better place, fight the good fight and stick it to the man. I also like clever people and people who make me laugh. Mark Thomas fits the bill nicely.

When were you happiest?

From being 18 or 19 onwards (the time N and me started ‘courting’). But if you were to put a portion of deep-fried shredded crispy beef in front of me right now, I’d probably have to say – right now and pass the chopsticks!

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Blimey – how long have you got? I fall down a lot – it’s a combination of a dodgy hip and a habit of not looking where I’m going. But, hey, (so far) I’ve always managed to get back up again.

I suppose the most memorable incident was when I was at the height of my ‘gothic powers’ (how I laugh!). It happened during the first few months of Uni – about half the people in the block I was living in (biggup C Block Nicholson Hall at The Lawns) decided to go to the flicks to see ‘Stigmata’. I’m a BIG horror fan and have never considered myself particularly squeamish when it comes to fake gore, in fact I’ve always actively sought it out. The movie stars Patricia Arquette and centres around a woman suffering the wounds of Christ. At a certain part in the movie, she’s in hospital and they remove bandages from the wounds on her wrists – which literally gush with blood. I remember thinking “Ooooh, that’s a bit gross.”, then the next thing I knew, the girl sitting beside me was shaking me by the shoulder, my vision was blurry and I’d missed about two minutes of the movie. Not for the first time in my life (I’m needle phobic) I’d fainted. Pretty shameful under normal circumstances, doubly so in front of new friends but as the block goth with a room covered in Marilyn Manson and Evil Dead posters – well, you can imagine how my image was, shall we say, somewhat tarnished. Luckily the nickname ‘Plastic Goth’ (‘PG’ for short) never really stuck but I never fully lived it down either.

All this said, I don’t really suffer from embarrassment, life’s too short and there’s too much fun to be had to waste time worrying about making a fool of yourself. Which is a blooming good job really.

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

I’m a bit of a bargain hunter, this combined with my typical Yorkshire frugality and the fact that if I want something worth a few bob I will try to win it (a semi-sucessful tactic), means I don’t often ‘splash out’. I recently treated myself to a pair of £100 boots, but I intend to make them earn their price-tag. If they give up the ghost before I do, I’ll be very disappointed. I don’t think something is ‘expensive’ if it’s worth it.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Gran’s silver charm bracelet that she gave me for my 18th birthday. It’s got about 30 charms on it, marking lots of the places she travelled to with my late Grandad, as well as other moments in her life. Most of the charms ‘do’ something – I used to play with it when I was a child and it brings back lots of memories.

Where would you like to live?

I would love my own farm/smallholding. Just me, my man, lots of cats and farm animals (and a broadband connection!) and I think I’d be pretty much in heaven. Though if I’m allowed to be greedy, I’d probably like a flat in London for when I get the occasional urge to be cosmopolitan.

What’s your favourite smell?

That’s a pretty mean question for someone who is olfactorily impaired. My sense of smell is rubbish and most smells don’t even register with me (a Godsend if you happen to be in a queue/on a bus next to a particularly ‘ripe’ individual). I do love the smell of rubber though – I remember spending many happy hours (well, probably minutes as my Mum would shoo me off) sniffing the inside of the washing machine (the rubber seal was rich pickings for a rubber-sniffer).

Who would play you in the film of your life?

I’d pick someone like Maggie Gyllenhaal (she’s amazing in ‘Secretary’) or Zooey Deschanel because I admire their spirit but if I were choosing based on similarity of appearance I think it would have to be either Samantha Morton (after a few pies) or Rebecca Callard.

What is your favourite book?

I’m really not good at favourites and I love books too much to choose just one. I worry if I pick one, I’ll offend the others and I won’t be allowed to read them again. The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, The Zombie Survival Guide, Cloud Atlas and The Gone-Away World are in my top 10 though. That’s the best I can do I’m afraid.

What is your most unappealing habit?

I swear quite a bit (unless I’m in company where my manners prohibit it) – is that unappealing? I suppose it depends who you ask.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

Princess Mononoke.

What is your earliest memory?

Eating a Milky Bar at the Laxey Wheel.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I’m not particularly big on guilt either – if it feels good and you’re not hurting anyone else, do it. I do watch the odd bit of trash TV though. I don’t do IACGMOOH or Big Brother but, against my own better judgement, I will occasionally dip into ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’ or ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’. The intellectual part of me tells me it’s wrong, but the bit that likes people-watching and gawking at freakery tells it to shut up and we all watch it together anyway.

What do you owe your parents?

Neurosis and a hot temper.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

Maybe my Mum, for the odd sleepless night I caused her in my youth. But then, she made the decision to breed and it’s not like teenagers are meant to be plain sailing, so I can’t afford her that much sympathy. At least I never got pulled over by the cops for having a beer mat in place of a tax disc when I was a teen, eh Mum, eh?!

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My partner – goes without saying, but coming in at a very close second is food.

What does love feel like?

Jumping off a cliff knowing there’s someone there to catch you. A rush with a nice soft landing.

What was the best kiss of your life?

My first kiss with N – in a graveyard. Worth the (12 month) wait.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“I saw this thing on Twitter/Loquax/teletext/The Guardian website…..”

“Bag of bast*rds!”

“Ah feck it, it’ll do.”

“It be reet!”

“I’m hungry!”
What is the worst job you’ve done?

Factory jobs when I was saving for Uni. In the salad factory I had to chop cucumbers for hours on end and actually got a blister on my hand as a result. I did learn a lot about cucumbers though – such as M&S and Netto have the same quality cucumbers, only the M&S ones are straighter and are packed with more care in fancier crates. It also taught me never to eat pre-packaged salad lunches – sometimes the tomatoes have dead flies on and sometimes the conveyor belt is going too fast to pick them off and sometimes they get sealed in the tub. *nods wisely*

The chocolate factory put me off Mini Heros for life – it was the height of summer and the sickly smell of warm chocolate was overpowering (even for me), particularly up top where we had to feed the sweets into a giant hopper which spat them out into the tins. We were allowed to eat the odd ‘sample’ but that novelty wore off very quickly. It was hard, monotonous work. I also shredded my hands with paper cuts every day breaking and making up boxes. Oh and the vast majority of the workforce were the scary sort of women you see brawling in town centres of a Friday/Saturday night, they HATED students with a passion and I feared for my life on a daily basis. But I made a lot of beer money and had fun with my friends, so it wasn’t all bad.

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

I’d be more sporty, I think if I’d developed a passion for fitness early on I wouldn’t have such a problem shifting weight now. That’s the theory anyway. *eats a cupcake*

What is the closest you’ve come to death?

Amsterdam. Twice in the same week. Once at the hands of Feyenoord football hooligans who wanted to kill (but only managed to maim) the visiting Sheffield United fans and/or the home Sparta Rotterdam ones – we got caught up in some nastiness and had to get an armed escort back to the train station. And the other time……. well, it was Amsterdam, I’ll leave your imagination to fill in the blanks.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Completing my dissertation and getting my degree. Not bad considering a few months previous Mum had a massive brain haemorrhage (on Christmas Day of all days!) and nearly died. I was a bit distracted to say the least but managed to pull off a 1st.

When did you last cry, and why?

Yesterday. I cry when I’m frustrated – it’s like a safety valve. I open it up, have a wee sniffle, then I can carry on and face the world in all it’s madness once again.

How do you relax?

Walking and swimming. Fresh air and laughing with friends. Sitting in the sun watching the world go by. Music.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

Moving house – I genuinely love Hull so we’re staying in the city but I want to move somewhere less main-roady, with a garden. Also I’d like neighbours who can grasp the concept that rubbish goes in the dustbin not the front garden.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Pick your battles, don’t sweat the small stuff and never turn down the opportunity to have an adventure.

Easter cupcakes

Cupcakes seem to be the ‘in’ thing at the moment and, while I’ve never been a particularly avid follower of fashion, I don’t need much encouragement to make cakes. Last month I bought a load of cake decorating bits – food colouring, marzipan, coloured sprinkles, plain and coloured fondant icing – with the intention of expanding my decorating repertoire (which has never really got beyond basic buttercream) but inspiration had forsaken me until this week.

As it’s the Easter holidays, I’ve got a sweet-toothed, hollow-legged, fridge-bothering fiance at home as well as lots of friends and family dropping by, so it’s always handy to have something yummy to keep them all happy (Nigella, eat your heart out!).

I made a big batch of vanilla cupcakes and split them into three. The first batch I decided would be birds’ nests – a swirly topping of chocolate buttercream, a few Mini Eggs, the odd chocolate birdie and some chocolate sprinkles, et voila.

Next I thought I’d give the coloured fondant icing a bash. This stuff is a bit fiddly but practise makes perfect – lots of icing sugar on the work surface and rolling-pin, and a bit of patience is all that’s needed. I’d intended to make them all into Easter eggs, using Dr Oetker Writing Icing (who knew he lived in Leeds?!) but I got bored after three and decided to showcase my ‘artistic talent’. I’ll let you be the judge of if I managed to pull it off! Please note – I did drop the rabbit on the cooling rack so that’s why he’s a bit mangled (honest!).

Accepting that fondant icing maybe wasn’t where my talents lay, I went back to buttercream but decided to have another go at bunnies. Using green food colouring and a thin piping nozzle I made grass (that does look like grass, doesn’t it?). Colouring a small piece of marzipan orange (with red and yellow food colouring – like being back at primary school) I fashioned four carrots (with a tiny piece coloured green for the top). Then I used fondant icing sugar to make the rabbit tails and feet (they’re disappearing down a hole – can you not tell?), a bit of fondant icing coloured pink for the foot pads and a bit more writing icing for claws and there you have my marzipan carrot and fondant bunny cupcakes.

Not bad for a first time effort with no cook book or previous experience to refer to, even if I do say so myself.

I have to confess though, I did make two ‘special’ cakes which had a rather secret and special Eastery ingredient, added at the baking stage. Topped with vanilla buttercream, Haribo Fried Eggs and some green sprinkles, they look pretty normal from the outside.

But anything Heston Blumenthal can do, I can do better (well, not really, but you get the idea). Want to see what’s inside?

Yep, it’s a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. Well, if my Scottish brethren can fry the little beauties, I don’t see why I can’t put ’em in cakes. Actually, it worked quite well, they didn’t explode or leak and if you ignore the fact that they may actually be illegal due to OBSCENE calorie content, they’re pretty nice. I’m glad I only made two though. Sickly isn’t the word.

Potty about pets

I love independent shops – Hull is full of them, even though their numbers have sadly dwindled in recent years. I like the quirk, the individuality and the opportunity to find something that you wouldn’t necessarily find in the city centre chain shops.

Some of the names given to these independently owned stores also beautifully illustrate the Hull sense of humour and creativity. Bo-Kays (a florist), His and Hairs (a hairdresser), Aversnack (a sandwich shop) and Get Stuffed (a cafe) spring to mind.

Conversely, there is a pet shop in the Avenues area of the city, very matter-of-factly, straight-to-the-pointedly, called ‘Not Just Pets’. Ah, you may think, so it sells garden or household stuff alongside animal supplies?

Not exactly.

Fruit and veg then perhaps?

Try again.

Clothes? Car parts? Paint? Cakes? Electrical equipment?

No. Do you give up?

To be honest, you were never going to get it (unless you’ve seen the shop in question). They sell, what I guess is best described as, drug paraphernalia – bongs, grinders, rolling machines, that sort of thing. Makes sense I suppose. I mean, how many times have you nipped out for cat litter and realised you didn’t have any Rizlas?! *thinks* Actually, it’s none isn’t it?

Or maybe I’m missing the point – are the ‘extra-curricular’ supplies actually FOR the pets? I guess it would be one way of stopping my cat trying to rip my face off whenever I try to put him in his travel case. Though I imagine his food bill might go up, I already have enough trouble keeping him out of the kitchen cupboards without the raging munchies.

Under the circumstances I’m surprised they didn’t go for something a little more creative – ‘Potty about Pets’ maybe or ‘Bongs and Biscuits’. What about ‘Dopey Dogs’? I’m a little disappointed at their lack of imagination really. So much opportunity wasted in a city that usually shows so much shop-naming flair.

Sticks and Stones

Another reason I’m thankful to be childfree is that I’ll never have to make the baby name decision, I’m useless at decisions, so any child of mine would probably be nameless for the first 18 months of its life while I pondered. I’ve always been quite partial to the name Lysander though so perhaps it’s for the best I will have no son to lumber with such a legacy.

I don’t know many people who really love their own name (I wonder what we’d choose given the chance to pick our own names?), so it’s always amusing to hear of those less fortunate than ourselves. Ever thought your name was too plain or a bit boring? Believe me – it could be a LOT worse.

There’s the first name/surname combos that clearly haven’t been thought out like ‘Dwayne Pipe’ and ‘Wayne Kerr’. Easily avoided if the parents had just said them out loud a couple of times. Regrettable, but, no doubt, memorable and not particularly mortifying. I’d like to think that, similarly, somewhere there exists an ‘Alison Wonderland’ or a ‘Leah Jet’.

Then there are the ones that have you scratching your head as to their origin. I heard of a girl whose name was pronounced Fee-MA-lee. Different, huh? And the spelling? Yep, you guessed it – ‘Female’. I can only imagine it was some sort of mix-up when registering the birth that they couldn’t be bothered to rectify and figured they’d make the best of it.

I once had a tongue-in-cheek conversation with a friend along the lines of, if boys can be known as ‘Dick’ and ‘Willy’ and some girls as ‘Fanny’, it stands to reason that you should be able to call a baby girl ‘Clitoris’. However, it would appear that someone has obviously had the same idea – recently I heard of a child called………….. wait for it…………. ‘Labia’. I don’t know the person in question so I can’t stake my life that it’s not a wind up. But I can confirm that someone I personally know (which is what prompted this blog) recently came across a family who had named their child, of all things, ‘Chlamydia’. I’ll just give you a minute to take that one in………….

There’s no denying it sounds exotic and, for all I know, it may be a clever tactic to make sure the girl in question is so shunned by her peers that she will never stand a chance of catching her namesake because no-one will go near her. I still can’t help but wonder, at what point did they look down at their darling, newborn baby girl, pure, angelic, precious and beautiful, and decide the most befitting name was one synonymous with cystitis and genital discharge?! I defy anyone to tell me of a youngster given a worse name than one originally given to an STD.

Many countries do have legislation to prevent this strange form of child abuse.  Sweden had to ban ‘Metallica’, ‘IKEA’, ‘Veranda’ and ‘Q’ but did allow ‘Google’, which, incidentally, was one of the names I considered for my cat.

Incidents like this proves two things. Some people are too stupid to have kids, full stop. It also highlights that many people view their children (particularly when they are babies), not as living people, but as possessions to be dressed up and accessorised (if not seen as accessories themselves) for the entertainment of the parents. I’ve no doubt that they think it’s marvellous that their new addition, ‘Grapefruit Marmaduke Bellend Smith’, is the only ‘Grapefruit Marmaduke Bellend Smith’ in the country but, quite obviously, there’s a reason for that. One can only hope that Grapefruit’s ‘terrible twos’ last until he’s at least 11 and grows up exhibiting behaviour that would make Damien Thorn look like Pollyanna.

Hull (No Longer) In Print

If I cheat and include a year in Cottingham, I’ve lived in Hull for almost 12 years now. In those years I’ve found equal measures of amusement and information in the council produced free magazine ‘Hull In Print’. As with any parochial publication, it had more than its fair share of cheesy articles on local doings, illustrated with photos of grinning dishevelled schoolchildren, Mums and tots at coffee mornings or old men holding amusingly shaped vegetables on their allotments. But it also provided useful information – theatre listings, art exhibitions, contact details for local councillors, legal advice, refuse collection dates and, in general, lots of local events that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. Not to mention the competitions (compers tip – local comps have a lower entry rates and so you have a greater chance of winning) which have, over the years, netted me 2 x £25, a Hull City Monopoly board game and a calendar (yeah, *now* you’re jealous!).

So I was disappointed for all the above reasons to find out that the magazine will no longer be arriving through my door. The decision to halt physical publication came suspiciously close to Eric Pickles’ announcement to overhaul publicity rules for councils, but the official reason is ‘cutbacks’ and so the magazine finds itself going solely online.

I’m well aware of the distinct whiff of propaganda around these types of magazines so attempts to soft-soap me with fluffy stories and spin are wasted. I probably read Hull Daily Mail as often as I read Hull In Print (once a month) so neither was losing me as a reader as the result of the other and, if I’m honest, I view the bias displayed in both publications with equal disdain.

Obviously I’m all for saving money (and trees) and it does seem wasteful when the information is simultaneously available on the web. But of course, I’m commenting as someone with ready access to, and understanding of, the Internet, not everyone is so lucky. It’s a matter of accessibility. I doubt my elderly Great Aunt (or is she a cousin? I’m never really sure) who lives in Anlaby and doesn’t have a computer or the ability to trot off to the library (*if* she will even have a local library much longer) will feel the same. That’s yet another window on the world, another link with the community that will be lost to such people. And even for those of us who can get to a PC, will we even remember to check the ‘Hull (No Longer) In Print’ website every month? Sure, it will be my first port of call when I want to find an answer to a specific question (like, “When the hell are you going to collect my bin?!” around Christmas and bank holidays) but how many important, cultural, fun or just plain interesting events are going to pass me right by? I’ve managed to find a City Arts Newsletter and there is always the Twitter account but even combined they aren’t as comprehensive as the magazine. Of course, there exist other independent local magazines (such as Tenfoot City) but they’re not always easy to (remember to) find.

While hardly representing the zenith of journalistic practise and accuracy (the last issue had a rather glaring spelling mistake – Sydney Smith School was missing a ‘y’ in the wordsearch), Hull In Print served a purpose for me, maybe not the purpose Hull City Council insidiously intended, but a purpose all the same.

If anyone can point me in the direction of any other local magazines covering the relevant issues I’d be very grateful. Oh, and if they run any competitions, that’d be grand too.

Babaaaaaa!

If anyone read my post regarding Parkin last year, they might remember I mentioned wanting, nay needing, to locate someone, somewhere that makes Rum Babas. At the risk of sounding like a reminiscing war veteran, I remember Tesco selling them when I was a nipper, I’d always get one after I’d been swimming in Goole (oh, the glamour!). A few years ago the dish came up in conversation with my OH – he’d never heard of them, which I found a bit odd being as he was actually alive in the 70s (I wasn’t) when they were de rigueur. In an effort to prove a point (and also that I’d not imagined their existence) I decided to try to track some down, a task which, until last month, was proving particularly challenging.

Hurray then for The Indulgent Tarte (fab name!), a patisserie and delicatessen in the ever pleasant town of Beverley. Walking down Butcher Row I spotted a window full of gorgeous looking cream cakes and, predictably, got tractor beamed inside. While N bought some of his own particular vice (that would be sausage rolls) I tentatively enquired if they had any Rum Babas. No they didn’t – *sad face*, but they could make them to order – *hallelujah face*. I ordered four (well – I needed to be utterly positive that they were as nice as I remembered). Happily they were as nice as I recalled, perhaps even better (being as they were from a proper patisserie not a Goole supermarket). Moist and creamy and, I suspect, if they came in packs with that stupid nutritional wheel on, it would be all red – but that just means they’re REALLY good for you, right?

I can highly recommend both the cake and the bakery that make them. Beverley isn’t short of nice eateries but this is definitely one to bear in mind should you find yourself in the area with a grumbling tummy and a yen for something a little bit naughty.

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