Saturday, 8 February 2020

Corrie 10K: Why It's More Than Just a Soap For Me

This week, Coronation Street, the long-running British TV soap, celebrated it's 10,000th episode which is a huge and astounding achievement for any TV show. This isn't particularly something I've blogged specifically about before, with the exception of my Corrie Tour Review back in 2014 but I am a HUGE Corrie fan and it's probably one of the first things anyone who knows me would say about me. 
Now, many people really don't get that. Many people respond to that fact with utterances of "why would you watch that miserable drivel?" and similar remarks, some of which are much less mild in tone.

But for me, there are an abundance of reasons why I don't consider that to be the case. For me, as a Northern girl in a gritty little town and a blunt and abrupt society, Coronation Street speaks to me on many levels. I come from a family who like most, would bend over backwards for each other but aren't particularly always so open and talkative with each other about day to day goings on. But the one thing that has always been a constant and common talking point for me and several of the women in my family have been these fictional little worlds provided by British soap opera that we'd all stop life for, for the sake of an hour or two and be totally engrossed. On many occasions, I'd say that these fictional worlds have helped make sense of real life and put real life into perspective. They've always been something I can converse about and relate to with my mother, my nan, my grandma, sisters even. For that reason, when I moved to university at the age of 19/20, I kept up that tradition. 7pm each night was soap time in our flat and it was something my uni tribe got on board with and started to know me for. It was that little bit of home in my new home for 2 hours each night.

Coronation Street, whilst quite obviously stretched for entertainment purposes is fundamentally somewhere that we all know. For me, it's completely reminiscent of the house and street my grandparents lived in for the entirety of my life and that I now live in with my grandma to this day. The terraced houses, the back yards, outhouses, all in such close proximity to each other. And whilst it may seem far-fetched that one little street and it's neighbouring little offshoots would have and need every amenity on it's very doorstep, way back before I was born, the very street I live on was exactly like that. In it's time, my very street and the adjacent few have housed pubs, shops, post-offices, chip-shops. gyms, cafes, butchers, garages, churches, schools, warehouses, factories, parks, community centres and so on. And from the tales I've heard from my grandparents over the years, back in the 60s-80s it sounded like a Coronation Street away from Coronation Street with it's very own stock characters and the incredibly similar setting. 

These little things have been what's always drawn me to Corrie and when I decided to use it as the focal point for my university dissertation in 2014, my love for it only strengthened. I read about it's creator, Tony Warren and how he'd spent years subconsciously observing and listening to his surroundings whilst growing up, in order to come up with this little world and its inhabitants. I read about how he admired and felt extreme gratitude towards an abundance of strong women in his life that had impacted him in one way or another. How he'd paid close attention to how men and women, Northern in particular interacted with each other and the ironies and humour that often came from these interactions. I suddenly had a sense of pride for a man, I obviously never knew but just to know that his little vision had become such a staple of the British TV guide. 

One thing that always struck me was the notoriety of the characters. They were and are household names, possibly more noticeable to British families than many Hollywood megastars. And as I read more about the show's beginnings, it became apparent that this was always Tony's aim. To create multi-faceted, well-known characters, particularly females. And just as the setting is somewhere that we all know, the characters are too. I've met people who completely and utterly echo Ena, Annie, Elsie, Bet, Rita, Hilda and the many more that have come after them. I still meet people now who remind me of those characters, some of which were penned 60 odd years ago. Even looking at the street now, I would say I know a Beth Tinker, a Gemma Winter, I know a Jenny Connor, I know a Steve McDonald, a David Platt. Not by name, obviously, but by personality, values, mannerisms.

Some have a passion and a following for a football team, a favourite band, a celebrity. And those things build into to people's identity. Corrie is that for me. And so, for me, the 10,000th episode was a complete treat. It wasn't the most spectacular episode in terms of storyline, special effects, production values, not by a stretch, but it had all of those core things that Corrie was built on. Rich characters, humour, nostalgia, community, poignancy and relatability. It had the stalwarts of the street, either directly featured or mentioned, it had little nods to the scenes and quotes that us super-fans could recite in our sleep. It had heart but it had adversity. It was sentimentally self-referential and celebrated itself without arrogance. 

For me, Corrie isn't "that miserable drivel". It's somewhere to escape to, that isn't actually all that far from home. It can be miserable but life can be miserable. But it's also humourous and ironic, just as life is. It's relatable and it makes sense of real life and pokes fun at real life in equal and manageable measure. 
Yes, it's a little absurd that people would have the deepest conversation of their life in the local café or pub and yes, people's kids seem to be around one minute and not the next and yes it's always weird trying to work out how about THAT many people are living in a 2 bed terraced house but those things aside, it's a national institution and I hope it's still around in another 10,000 episodes, whether I am or not. I am a watcher of the three big soaps and have the same admiration for all of them but for me, Corrie is queen. It came first, it paved the way and whilst the others have their moments in the spotlight and rightly so, it remains for me, the best.

Video via Coronation Street YouTube:

Sunday, 29 December 2019

New Year, No Fear - There Should Be No Shame in Processing and Reflecting at New Year.

Pretty much every year, the new year brings with it a chance to reflect on the year gone by and to think about and plan for the one to come. We've all seen it, most of us have probably done it. The standard "good riddance to this year" social media post, the "this year was awesome" social media post, the sentimental post about growth and development, the top/best nine photos/memories of the year. I am usually a culprit and I don't see a problem with reflection and processing things, in fact, I feel it's a cathartic and healthy thing to do in many ways. For me, the year has brought a lot of challenges and the end of the year has thrown me out in a very different place to where it started. A lot has changed and I have possibly changed with it.
2020 brings a lot of uncertainty for me but the one thing I am certain of is that I really want to work on myself and the way I manage my own personal anxieties and stresses. That is the highest priority for me this new year and I'm probably not alone in that. I also want to develop and work on my own skills and abilities. For instance the digital illustration I've recently embarked on and embellish my knowledge and use of practical software and technical knowledge from back in my media realm.
I will probably partake in the old year round ups on social media but for me, the new year is about me and doing the things that make me happy and proud and align with my morals and values. 
I don't think there's any shame in reflection and self-prioritisation and I don't think anyone else should be shamed for doing those things. For many it’s easier to speak honestly through written words than it is in reality and I personally love seeing what others have achieved and I feel honoured when someone chooses to share what they’re going through, good or bad.
So here's to a new year, with no fear. Encourage each other, support each other, inspire each other and be there for each other, but more importantly... encourage yourself, support yourself, inspire yourself and be there for yourself.

Happy new year!

Monday, 9 December 2019

Why Me and Teaching Need a Bit of Distance.

When I finished my degree in 2014, I had wholeheartedly enjoyed my university experience and had worked hard throughout but I still had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. I had some insecurities about my university experience, in that I often felt I took the easy option and just did what came naturally to me but it became apparent quite quickly that those who were to succeed in the media industry and get the job of their dreams were those who already knew what to pursue, had that focus and would stop at nothing to get there.

For a long time, I thought it was journalism that I wished to pursue and I'd taken mostly the right steps to make that happen but I soon realised that my own values and morals would possibly jar with what was needed to make it in that industry. I loved writing and I loved expressing creativity and passion through writing but had no intent to pry or probe and found interview situations awkward and un-natural. I saw those around me experimenting with the world of broadcast, be it TV or radio and it interested me but again, insecurities and jars with my own values and morals stopped me from pursuing anything in that field. I was nervous, I was introverted and whilst I was sure of myself in many realms, in others, I had very little confidence and a fear of failing or being judged. And so, I plodded along with the journalistic side of things and was somewhat happy, doing all the right things, getting work experience and having work published in local news outlets, starting a blog but ultimately never really pushed myself aside from that, and wasn't 100% sure if this was what I actually wanted to do. When my degree ended, I still had that passion and love of writing but as I'd not stepped out of my comfort zone enough, I didn't quite have the experience, contacts or confidence I probably should have had in order to get into that profession. And so, I found myself at a bit of a loss and having a complete re-evaluation of my skills, my desires and the things I'd learned and developed over the last few years.

One thing that had always fleetingly crossed my mind was the prospect of teaching. I loved writing and creating, I loved my chosen subject and a bunch of others alongside and I loved the whole concept of learning and had always been able to help people academically. I'd always played teachers as a kid, constantly taking registers with my family and asking them to declare if they'd require packed lunches or school dinners and relishing the opportunity to get out the whiteboard at gran's and force everyone to play along. And I was, even though I'd never admit it, labelled the bossy one in the family, despite my deeper introversion. This continued through my childhood and once computers entered our homes, it only developed as hand-written registers were a thing of the past and now I could make PowerPoints and handouts for everyone to reluctantly complete, just for fun... mine, not anyone else's! As I got older, these things naturally stopped and the prospect of teaching only crossed my mind again whilst in sixth form college. I'd evaluated the experiences I'd had with different teachers and reckoned that some of my teachers had been the second biggest influence and driving force in my life, aside from family and some had been frankly, not great. Although the former were the ones I held in such high regard and always remembered, the latter were the ones who actually made teaching a prospect for me. When inadequate experiences with teachers occurred, it led me to think, "I could do that" or "if I was teaching this, how would I do it?" I then also took part in being a sample class for prospective new teachers and loved that, loved seeing all the different personalities and techniques demonstrated by all of them and suddenly, the seed was subconsciously planted. It was buried until I'd finished my degree and had the realisation that I had no path of progression and whilst evaluating my life and abilities and thinking deeply about what I could do, the seed began to sprout again.

I looked into the possibility of teaching and it seemed more straightforward to pursue than I expected, particularly as I'd already decided that I wanted to teach in further education environments and it was simply a year's add-on to my degree in the form of a PGCE. I took this path and really enjoyed my PGCE experience and felt at this point that I had matured and realised that this was the purpose I'd been looking for and really took everything on board and relished this new, different, mature learning environment. I met great friends from all different paths, fields and generations and learnt a lot from all of them. This was now something I definitely wanted to do and I would do it. It was difficult and it was testing but alas, that was teaching and everyone who gets into this profession knows that. The reward outweighed the challenges and the job satisfaction was above anything I'd ever experienced.
For the first year or two of my teaching career I was on cloud nine. Don't get me wrong, there were still tough, stressful days but I always felt so lucky and proud to be able to call myself a teacher at the age of 23/24 because it always felt like it'd be something it would take years to get into and it was of course, an esteemed profession, held in high regard. I considered myself to have the best job in the world and felt certain that this was my forever job and I had life nailed, in the career stakes anyway.

But four years later and a very different picture has been painted. For the first few years, I was somewhat oblivious to the funding, business and financial nature of education. Obviously I knew how things worked and how the system played out but it wasn't my job to fully understand it or play a part in it and I still don't really think teachers should. However as funding has become more prominently discussed in the profession both on a micro and macro scale, it became clear that it actually was factoring into my job and that things like recruitment, retention and achievement all played a part in this and those things were actually within my remit as a teacher.
This, like many other things I'd encountered in life, began to jar with my own motives, values, morals and incentives and I started to resent this culture of business, restriction and accountability that was inherently built into the sector. As more responsibility came my way, it became harder to avoid this and found it being echoed on the news, with other teachers from other institutions and sectors and even in other industries. Funding, time and resources were at the heart of everything and these were the things that made the career so difficult and challenging, but were also quite often things that were completely out of the control of the teacher. And having experienced so many different strands of the NHS this year, I would argue that the same issues are arising there, with the lack of funding, time and resources and a culture of business, accountability and restriction taking over a sector that should be driven by care, integrity and trust and at grassroots level, it definitely is, but unfortunately, those things seem to be over-ridden by the former, from those above making all the decisions.

This year for me, has been a whirlwind of traumatic and upsetting instances, all of which have only helped alter my perspective on life and this profession and my future on the whole. This very week last year, I received a call to say that my grandfather, who I lived with had been given a diagnosis of terminal cancer. On the very same day, an Ofsted call also came. That week alone was one of the hardest weeks of my life, I don't think a single day occurred where I didn't cry my eyes out at one thing or the other, or indeed both. Unfortunately, for me, those two things seemed to set the tone for the entire next 12 months in terms of the resilience, empathy and emotional integrity required.

Teaching is not just a profession, in order to do it well and do it right, in the current climate of education, it's a lifestyle. The confidence and enthusiasm required to teach a class of students everyday is gargantuan and whilst it comes naturally for some, others, like myself, often need to dig deep to find it. And when you have your own personal struggles and commitments, that is especially hard to do. If you said to any person outside the profession, "here's a bunch of resources, just bob in there and teach those students for an hour and a half or two hours", it would fill a lot of people with absolute dread. It is, inherently a performance, day in, day out and often requires a damn good poker face and a lot of tongue biting as well as what I was once told is sacred to a good teacher, the classroom presence. That alone is difficult to deliver but it is part and parcel of the job and so, you crack on. What really drives that out of you though, is when the energy and effort you need for that part of the job is slowly eaten up by administrative tasks, the financial burdens of the sector, the meetings, emails, phone-calls. And each of these then unearthing further tasks within tasks. And of course, ultimately the resilience and thick skin required to do a job where you are a source of support for so many people. Those things for me, were leaving me numb, devoid of energy and I was getting home constantly feeling exhausted and either with no energy to socialise whatsoever or being volatile and irritable, often about things completely out of my control and just generally feeling like I'd given the whole of my personality for that day, or even the full week. And in a year of personal trauma, I didn't want to exhaust all my stores and give the best version of myself to my career. I wanted to exhaust those stores and give the best version of myself to family, to friends and selfishly but not selfishly, to myself. My mental health was taking a turn for the worse, with me getting anxious and irritable about things I never used to and it was very noticeable to me and those around me, my physical health was also showing signs that enough was enough and my whole mindset and perspective just started to alter. What saddens me is that I've spoken to so many people in the profession who feel much the same. What saddens me is the amount of amazing people I've met on my teaching rollercoaster and how much I hope things alter for those still on the ride and for those to be taught by them in the years to come.

I don't know what's next for me, but I need to rebuild, regain some focus and purpose and re-evaluate what's best for me and what I want to do. I love expression. I love writing, learning, drawing, creativity and generation of ideas. I always have. I have always been at my happiest when creating. Teaching gave me a little kick of creativity but the time and space for personal growth and creativity was being eaten up by other things, other tasks, other priorities. And it didn't always allow that expression. We enable others to be creative and express themselves but didn't want to do the same so as to not sway their interests or opinions and let them fully take control of these for themselves.

The moral of the story is that teaching needs some serious TLC because education is rife with stories like mine and these are often from damn good teachers who quite probably had a lot to offer when allowed to uphold their own priorities and perform within the right parameters for them. I can't stress enough that teaching is not all 9-3 and an abundance of holidays. My days were nearly 12 hours and that doesn't account for the time left thinking about or worrying about it. And my holidays were no different from the standard 4/5 weeks most professions get, only they were restricted to outside term time. Not many jobs require such confidence, resilience, hard-work, enthusiasm and passion and the ones that do are feeling the same pressures and struggles. Things that look good on paper aren't often things that matter to actual people. Wellbeing is about differentiation, something teachers know more about than most.

So this, is essentially me laying myself on the line, highlighting this and asking those who can change it, to change it and actually change it, not just make it look like you are, on paper.

Stop the cuts.
Stop the rigorous judgement and inspection or at least the manner in which it's done.
Stop trying to shoe-horn people into things that simply don't fit them.
Stop scrimping on things that require huge investment to prevent traumatic experiences like with mental health, and special needs support.
Stop zero hours or unreliable contracts for jobs that require people to give every ounce of themselves and commit fully when the same treatment and commitment clearly can't be given back to them.
Stop the culture of presenteeism.
Stop the culture of contradiction, stop the culture of having to do everything, twice.
Start consulting grassroots people when making decisions and policies that directly affect them and the things they deal with day in, day out.
Start giving the trust and respect back to these people.
Start remembering what it's really all about and who is at the heart of it all.

What's very telling is how many of those above points can apply to other sectors at the moment, other sectors also in dire need of TLC.

I need some distance from teaching, it may not be forever, because I know, I'm damn good at it (it's rare I'll big myself up, so let's go with it). But I will always fight the teacher corner, because I've been there and I know exactly what it entails.
A year has passed since that diagnosis for my grandad and a year has passed since that Ofsted call. And so much has now changed. Grandad fought for a year and is now at peace and missed by us all.
And I've left my profession and am now doing all I can to shake the anxiety, volatility and loss of confidence and purpose I seem to have experienced over the last 12 months.
I hope the next year brings more positive change and I really hope this is a blog post that opens people's eyes and one that people can relate with. I'm not a political genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I know my own experiences and I've said it so many times but something's seriously got to alter.

In the meantime, if anyone needs a writer or illustrator or anything I can creatively set my mind to... give me a shout!

Monday, 4 November 2019

It's OK to Talk About Death. But How?

So, probably not the uplifting, feel good opening to a blog that you’d normally expect but I just found myself watching a segment of This Morning where Jim Carter was chatting to Phil and Holly about the taboo of talking about death and I found myself needing to write more about this.

It resonated with me so much because we recently experienced such a huge family loss and often, you find that until that time comes, you never consider it.
And you shouldn’t, to some respect. You can’t live life waiting for that to happen and some people obviously experience it suddenly and don’t get that chance.

However the point of this particular segment was that they were discussing the fact that we are so ready to shun conversations about death and quickly shush people who make statements like "well, when I die..." just casually. And in many ways, that's not helpful because it means that so many people are left completely clueless, alone and with a lot of pressure when a loss does happen.

Marie Curie have recently set up an advertising campaign to encourage people to be more open about death and that's where this discussion has stemmed from. On their website, they break down our attitude to death and the different ways we cope, we refer to it, we celebrate life in general. And having just lost someone very close to me, I really do welcome this campaign.
We knew we were going to face our loss and so although things were talked about and discussed, we aren't a particularly open family in some respects and I really don't think we're the only ones, hence why I think this initiative is great.

When the time comes there are so many things you wouldn't have considered, so many things that probably weren't discussed or talked about and although it's difficult, emotional and upsetting, the slightest little bit of information could help those facing the loss later on. I've talked to friends and family lately about how bizarre I found some of the traditions and processes around death and marking a death and so many have agreed that whilst there's a formality about proceedings and that marks a lot of respect for those who have passed, it sometimes can seem un-natural and un-realistic when you are such laid-back, casual people and you haven't really talked about it. And I think opening up the conversation around death would definitely help. Attitudes and processes surrounding death differ across the world but a lot of what we know of end of life and funerals comes from what we see on TV until we are faced with those situations ourselves.

It is a sensitive subject, it is hard to confront and many of us just don't feel comfortable with these conversations and discussions but I think it's great that there's a campaign to open this up and I wanted to share that.
I also wanted to share something which may seem trivial and odd to some but something I found incredibly useful and comforting after the recent passing of my grandad.

A while ago, I purchased a gift for my grandparents to mark their wedding anniversary and it was two journals, one for each of them, which had questions on each and every page. Things like "tell me about where you grew up", "what did you do to pass time as a child?", "who was your hero or biggest influence?" and the purpose was for them to write in the book, fill it out and hand it back to me when they'd completed it, so that I could read about their lives and their thoughts and opinions.

At the time of buying these, we had no idea grandad was ill and it was just a thoughtful gesture because I loved listening to tales of their lives but didn't often get the opportunity to have those chats. Grandad was a quiet, respectful man and a man of very few words and so this book proved to be eye-opening and incredibly helpful when we re-discovered it upon his passing. It helped us reminisce, helped us to make arrangements, and gave me a little piece of him that I can always refer back to and read.
If you and your family find such conversations hard or simply have regrettably had few opportunities to discuss and reflect on lives and your memories, then I would strongly recommend these books which you can buy for all members of family, friends and even yourself. The one I bought was by From You to Me as part of their Journals of a Lifetime range and was suggested to me by a friend but you can purchase them via this link.

A different post but one to get us all thinking.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Shopping Small & Supporting Creatives this Christmas

As you'll know if you've read my recent posts and seen the changes to my pages over the last few months, I recently expanded moreth4nwords to include an online store featuring prints and cards created through my digital illustration.

As I've been adding to my Instagram, Etsy and posting more and more digital illustration content, I've found myself part of an ever-growing, inspiring, kind and creative community of like-minded creatives doing what they love. My Instagram is turning into a home for all things independent, handmade and creative and I love it. It's inspired me beyond belief and I can't wait to explore the products and pieces on offer from so many small businesses and creatives this festive season and this post is a call to action urging you all to do the same and shop small and independent this Christmas.

The thought and care taken to produce some of the pieces on offer by the creative community far exceeds that of some bigger chains and mass produced gifts. That's not to say we shouldn't shop mainstream obviously, but a lot of people miss a trick when it comes to gift-buying by not knowing or simply ignoring/discounting the smaller grass roots makers out there.

So, this Christmas, shop Etsy, shop markets, shop craft fairs and start to open your minds and the minds of loved ones by exploring further for your gifts, trinkets and treats.
To start the ball rolling, I have compiled a number of sellers that I've encountered on Instagram and Etsy that I know work incredibly hard and deserve some love and sales. They all create such brilliant, relatable, quality pieces whatever their niche may be.

First up I'm shouting out to two very good friends who sell their makes on Etsy who are two long time creators whose talents know no bounds.

LetsGoFlyAKyte is an Etsy store developed by my good friend Jo to exhibit and sell her incredible hand-made jewellery. Jo lends her hand to many creative bits and bobs and is incredibly talented at whatever crafty endeavour she sets out to make. Gorgeous, trendy, quirky and unique pieces, fab quality.

JadeBreanneBridal is an online store developed by a close friend who is a genius where dress-making and textiles are concerned. A talented wedding and event dressmaker and seamstress with a side-line in bridal accessories made by hand. Check out her Instagram.

Next up are a bunch of creatives who have caught my eye on Instagram over the last couple of weeks:

DorkfaceBlog is an online blogger and illustrator with a range of products from cute art prints to stationary and is super supportive with other creatives, always engaging and inspiring posts. Check her out on Instagram.

MonsterfulMama is another illustrator who sells her amazing products online and also supports and engages a lot with other creatives. Her ghosty illustrations are the cutest! Check out her Instagram.

KellyLouIllustration is a brilliantly talented illustrator who again has been championing other creatives and her products are awesome. Lots of quirky but cute gifts and a particular penchant for Harry Potter related makes! Check out her Instagram.

Candy Doll Club is a shop by creative Jade Boylan who I recently discovered on Instagram. She creates cool as hell, quirky and sassy products and hails from the Isle of Man, a place I have a soft spot for as it's the home of one of my besties.

Rate Cute Resin is a shop specialising in handmade jewellery. Lots of rate cute pastels and glitters making up unique jewellery pieces. Rate Cute also support and engage with other creatives and have other ventures, all accessible on their shop and Instagram.

Katnipp is a business based around illustrations created by Catherine Kay, a super talented illustrator and Youtuber who I recently got into watching and who helped inspire my love for digital illustration. She seems like THE friendliest person in the world and her business seems to be thriving but her products are lush so it's really no surprise. Check out her Instagram and YouTube.

DaisyChainMakes is a creator of crochet homeware, jewellery and gift goodies. These creations are adorable and I will be keeping my eye on Instagram to see what takes my fancy over this festive period. The festive decorations are the cutest!

The Squirrel Collective is another crochet creator who makes a range of cute products, homeware, clothing and gifts. These products are lovely and she is another big supporter of creatives who regularly engages and shares findings on Instagram.

I also recently came across the Just a Card campaign which aims to encourage buyers to purchase from small sellers and independents in the field of art, design, illustration and other crafty creators. Their aim, much like this blog post is to keep the love for independent creators alive and to encourage people to share and engage with independent creators. And also to encourage people to appreciate the time, effort and resources put into creating their products. Check out their website and Instagram to see more of what they do and get involved.

And last but not least, a shameless plug of my own endeavour, an online store alongside moreth4nwords selling art prints, greetings cards and other gifts. It's something I really enjoy doing and I'm totally open to commissions and bespoke ideas if they are in my remit of creation as a bit of a beginner. Please check out my store, Instagram, Facebook page and share, like and follow if you can. Email also provided for enquiries. (

So there we have it folks, a range of awesome creators, for life not just Christmas. Check them out, shop small and support your local creatives!