Sunday, 8 September 2019

Entering the World of Digital Illustration

I have genuinely always been in awe of people who can draw and those who just have a natural artistic flair. I love arts and crafts and all expressions of creativity but have never been lucky enough to have that natural artistic flair. Or so I thought.

During this summer I decided to treat myself big style and splashed out on an Ipad Air and Apple Pencil. I'd never had any form of tablet before and thought purchasing one would help me out with my blog, give me a lighter, more efficient alternative to taking a laptop when I go off on trips and want to watch movies and I also wanted to try my hand at a bit of digital doodling. 

Since buying my Ipad, it's been super useful for all of the above and has definitely proved a worthwhile investment. But one thing that has shocked me, given my lack of natural artistic flair has been how easy I've actually taken to using it for digital art. I bought Procreate and have been playing around on it for no less than a week and it's now my fail-safe happy place. I've found inspiration all around me and have been brimming with ideas for future pieces. I set up a new Instagram for all my work and am even now considering turning it into a bit of a pocket money gainer in the near future. 

The tools and settings available on drawing apps can make haphazard creatives like me feel like they have an expressive talent and it is so good for relaxing, winding down and practising mindfulness. Of late, I've had a lot on my mind, a lot of stresses and a lot to deal with, often taking my brain and my emotions into overdrive. The one thing that has been keeping me grounded and keeping me sane is sitting and experimenting with little creative pieces on my Ipad and it's something I'd honestly recommend to anyone. It gives me the same creative and expressive release as blogging always has (hence why my blog is also my happy place) and I can so easily take it on the go and scribble as and when I please.

The digital art is something I want to expand on and hope to have prints and cards available for purchase soon, with some close friends already commissioning pieces from me. To check out what I do and follow my new journey into the world of digital illustration then please follow my new Instagram account which will specifically be for the promotion and sharing of my blog content and digital doodles. 

A lil low res sneak peek of some of my work^

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Yesterday Movie Review

The Beatles are one of our many British national treasures. They won the hearts of the baby boomers, conquered the world, fed Beatlemania, aided in putting Liverpool on the map and left us an entire legacy of hits. But what if they never existed? Or what if they did, but you were the only one on earth who remembered them? Well, whilst The Beatles and their back catalogue have been no strangers to the silver screen, Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle (whose work I love and who I share a birthday with, I'll have you know) have brought the music of The Beatles back to the film forefront with their movie, Yesterday which explores that very idea.

Yesterday explores a world in which, after a power surge, the population's memory of The Beatles is completely erased. Seemingly, the only person to remember and idolise them is Jack Malik, a passionate musician, desperate for a break out of his mundane day to day. Jack is played by Himesh Patel who many people would remember from UK soap opera, EastEnders in which he played Tamwar Masood. I have to add that Tamwar and his partner Nancy, were two of my fave characters so to see him starring in a major film was a treat. The film also stars Lily James and has other appearances from Robert Carlyle, Sarah Lancashire, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, James Corden and Ed Sheeran who should be commended on his ability to poke fun at himself at times in the film.

With his new found knowledge that the world doesn't remember The Beatles (or Coca Cola or Harry Potter for that matter), Jack toys with the idea of passing their songs off as his own. If he can only remember them, that is. The film unfolds this narrative alongside mini strands such as a love interest between Jack and Ellie (Lily James' character) and a friendship/competitive streak between him and Ed Sheeran who plays himself but is somewhat shadowed by Jack in the music stakes.

Himesh performs the songs in the movie and clearly has musical talents which until this role haven't been demonstrated. I genuinely looked up whether or not it was him performing whilst I was still in the cinema because I was so shocked. The music element to the film is one that I loved. Obviously it's built around the songs of The Beatles but music is a key theme throughout and you can tell that Jack's character appreciates music and has good taste from his posters, record collection and the fact he Googles some of his favourites to make sure they too haven't disappeared off the face of the earth.

The film is a light, heart-warming typically British story based around one of our most celebrated groups of pop culture icons. Like all films of its sort, it has some of the cringe, the cheese and the over-sensationalised bits you'd expect but ultimately, it celebrates a bunch of classic anthems, has genuinely funny moments, exhibits a relatively new upcoming British acting talent and above all, makes you smile and be damn happy that a world without The Beatles is not one in which we reside. I loved it and it will definitely be one of those easy going films that I'll watch again and again.

Like The Beatles? Check out my blogs Britannia Rules the (Radio) Waves in which they feature and Solo Travelling - Living My Best Life in Liverpool where I explored their hometown and old stomping grounds.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Yorkshire Day 2019 | An Ode to Yorkshire

On Yorkshire Day, a little creative writing piece to pay homage to all that makes this glorious county that some of us are lucky enough to call home...

"Eee bah gum" she said, "isn't it a lovely feeling, being from that Yorkshire?"
There are many things to make us proud of God's own county, that's for sure.

The beautiful landscapes and coastlines up there in Scarborough, Brid and Whitby,
The Tour De Yorkshire flying past in as much times as it takes to say "si thi."

So much heritage and history and all those crucial industries,
Mining and waterways, steel, textiles and all the best breweries.

A recognisable dialect that unearths our home soil:
"Ow do, young bairn, put wood in't oyle."

The puddings, the rhubarb, Wensleydale cheese and parkin,
The liquorice, Henderson's Relish and while you're at it, get the Yorkshire Tea mashin'.

Museums a plenty with media, mining, Armories and railway,
Not forgetting Eden Camp, Eureka! and the Thackray.

Sheffield, York, Bradford, Hull and Leeds,
A city for each and all of your needs.

Cosmopolitan hubs full of business, finance, media and culture
Places decorated with Hockney's art and Hepworth and Moore sculptures.

From gothic, medieval, Viking and Roman
The castles and ruins will leave you unspoken.

And our musical talents, sure enough would make you gulp
Def Leppard, Arctic Monkeys, The Beautiful South and Pulp.

Everyone knows with Yorkshire, what you see is what you get.
Weather doesn't do much for us though, so prepare to get wet.

Yorkshire looks lovely when captured on the big and little screen
Full Monty, Emmerdale, Heartbeat and all that's in between.

Our little county offers a lot to see and do
Lots to take in while sipping your lovely brew.

So come and visit us, for we'll not bite
And we're not coming South, we're just too tight!

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Lion King 2019 Review

Like many 90s born kids, one of my favourite ever films growing up was the Lion King. It was one of our most over-played and excessively worn VHS tapes alongside Matilda and The Jungle Book. It tugged on everyone's heartstrings and gave us some of our best loved Disney characters and soundtracks, soundtracks that we knew every single word to and still do. The 1994 version was undoubtedly a classic that has stood the test of time. And so, like many, I was initially apprehensive about a re-make, particularly when the sequels and go-between films weren't particularly memorable. 

However, Disney have upped the ante where re-makes are concerned in recent years and have already given some of our much-loved classics a revamp, successfully. Alice in Wonderland for one, seemed to garner massive popularity and although it's subjective and a matter of personal preference, I am a big fan of their other re-makes such as The Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and although not explicitly a re-make, Mary Poppins Returns. All of these were my childhood favourites and so that provides a fair assessment of their standing.

Obviously Disney have been at the height of discussion recently after having cast for their Little Mermaid remake (on which I currently have no opinion and shall reserve judgement until having seen it) but all of the above films had also been widely discussed and scrutinised before their release. And honestly, whilst it's quite easy to get deep and analytical about Disney movies, these films still provide such entertainment and pleasure for audiences. So, with all that in mind, off I popped to see the Lion King 2019 re-make.

The usual jubilation surged as the castle intro began and the sparkly logo appeared and straight after, just like the original, the Circle of Life began. This opening straight away seemed identical to the 1994 version and then on in, much of the film was too. Which in one respect is brilliant because if too much had altered, it really would have faced scrutiny and it would lose the nostalgic aspect which is what we all buy into in the first place. I think the photo-realistic technology is fascinating, much like when I watched Jungle Book, also directed by Jon Favreau, I was in awe of that. But whilst it is fascinating, there were points about it that I disliked, which I'll touch on later.

From a casting point of view, I think it was good and I think the voices fit perfectly with the characters and particularly loved that James Earl Jones reprised his role. I think Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner did Timon and Pumbaa really well also and provided some of the personality we know and love from the first. I was also happy that all the well-known songs were included. But, I wasn't really a fan of the alteration of Be Prepared which was one of my faves from the original but, you win some, you lose some.

One thing I thought about after having watched it was that the characters possibly had less character this time round. This could purely be because we have the original so well-etched into our minds but I think that the photo-realistic imaging, whilst fascinating, takes that over-exaggerated caricature element away and so makes the characters much less expressive.  I also think some of the cast of the original were just so perfect for those characters such as Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons and Rowan Atkinson. For those reasons, I think it lacked some of what the original had, but at the same time it's rarely known that a re-make would be better than the original anyway.

Overall, the 2019 Lion King satisfied a deeply nostalgic itch and provided positives and negatives, which are hard to put into perspective when the original is so iconic and moulded into our brains. It's definitely worth a watch if you're a fan but as most would predict, nothing will ever beat the 90s version. 

Saturday, 20 July 2019

National Video Game Museum - Sheffield

The National Videogame Museum - Sheffield

If you're a sucker for a museum, an absorber of popular culture and have grown up loving video games or having at least one or two firm favourites from your youth (Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 and Tekken, if anyone wondered) then you will love the National Videogame Museum in South Yorkshire. 

The NVM is a relatively new addition to Sheffield as it recently relocated from its original home in Nottingham. Based on Angel Street in the city centre, the museum is home to a range of different video gaming set-ups based around particular themes such as 'gravity and 'made in Sheffield', to name but two. It also houses some of the world's best loved video games from the industry's beginnings through to our modern day and all of these are completely free to play once you have paid for your admission.

There are old school consoles and games, newer consoles and games, arcade machines, multi-player set-ups, differing editions of particular games such as Super Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong. There are also displays of familiar gaming memorabilia and artefacts from over the years.
The museum also has a lab area where you can test out a number of design, creation and development facilities and there is also a café and gift shop on site too.

Admission to the museum *costs £11 per adult, £9 per child or £35 for a family of four and after that, you can come and go as much as you please throughout the day with your wristband and can play on all the games for free. At the moment there is also a Groupon** deal on the museum with a significant discount on tickets on certain dates so be sure to check that out should you wish to visit soon. It is super easy to find from the train station and no more than a 10 minute walk, if that. The museum is *open Friday, Saturday and Sunday but all week during school holiday periods.

*At time of posting, please check out the NVM website for most up-to-date pricing and opening hours
** Limited time remaining Groupon offer, check availability

I recently took my 11 year old brother as a birthday treat and we both loved it and totally lost track of time, playing on every game there was to offer and snapping pics with the huge Sonic. Our favourites in the NVM were the Sonic set-ups, (particularly the original), the Street Fighter arcade machine, classics like Tetris and Space Invaders and a funny little snowball game that I've totally forgotten the name of but it had us giggling our faces off, trying to pelt each other's player with pixelated snowballs.
It's definitely worth a visit and I only hope that it can build more funding to expand further, acquiring more games and more artefacts as although me and my brother absolutely loved it, we both saw it as more of an arcade than a museum. Would love to see more of the history, info and timelines of video games, how they've adapted and developed and how our relationship with them is altering. 
But still, a proper little gem in the heart of Sheffield, go forth and check it out!

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Stranger Things 3: The Most Bitchin' Yet?

Before I proceed on to analyse* Stranger Things season 3, I must point out that this post will quite obviously be absolutely riddled with spoilers and so anyone yet to watch it put everything on hold and get round to it ASAP do not read on or it will be significantly ruined.

*And just as a disclaimer, I'm not an expert, I don't know every single reference or every fact about the show, I'm merely discussing it with my opinion, conversations I've had with fellow viewers and things I've read, in mind.

With any TV show fortunate or successful enough to make it through several seasons, there's often no beating season 1. At that point, the producers have probably spent quite some time making it happen and might not have even considered the possibility of an ongoing run. The first season of Stranger Things was for me, a 'watch the whole damn thing in one day' kind of thing. From episode one I was hooked and as a Media teacher, a lot of that came from the abundance of intertextual references and the fact that it was full of likeable characters and was suspenseful enough to keep you hooked but not keep you fully awake at night. After watching that first season in one entire Saturday, I couldn't wait for the next instalment. Season 2 satisfied that itch but other than the introduction of Max, Billy, Bob and the discovery of Eleven's counterpart, for me personally, it wasn't too much to write home about. Number 3 however, I found to be on par if not better than season 1 and here are just a few of the reasons why:

Development of Erica and introduction of Robin and Alexei.

If there's one thing Stranger Things nails, it's introducing us to characters we grow to love. In season one, we are introduced to the quirkiest little gang of kids that we've ended up rooting for in every possible way. We've also acquired a strange affinity for Hopper and even though Joyce is batshit for the majority of the prior seasons (understandably, mind), we love her too. 
In season 3, The Duffer Brothers once again nail the character development. In the first instance, Lucas' little sister, Erica gets way more screen time and whilst she started out being THE most irritating little brat, throughout season 3, we grow to love her confidence, sass and ability to totally show up people that are years older than her. The instant that Steve and Robin enlist her help in foiling the Russians, her one-liners and strategies floor them and us. After all, "ya can't spell America, without Erica...nerd!"
Two characters that are new to us in season 3 are Robin and Alexei. Robin comes across as the typical 80s alternative anti-hero girl, sporting the multiple choker/bracelet combo, haven't slept in years dark eye, beachy bob and the most finely honed sarcastic comebacks and RBF we could wish for. I love Robin because of all of that and her natural ability to ground Steve somewhat. Whilst her and Steve could have been the best match and it looked to be heading that way, I love the twist in the tale that her character never actually succumbed to Steve's charms unlike so many of the girls in Hawkins, because in actual fact, she's attracted to girls! Very excited to see if Robin will be a part of season 4 and if so, how her and Steve's friendship will develop.
And last but not least on the newly popularised character list, Alexei. It's incredible how a character that started out as an indirect baddie, ends up being so well-liked but the internet seems to have gone mad for Alexei, mockingly named Smirnoff by Hopper during their adventures. I think the affinity for Alexei came through his love for cherry slushies, his ability to rile Hopper, his amusing Russian exchanges with Murray and those content little facial expressions every now and then. But alas, Alexei's fate meant that he was quite possibly this season's Barb.

El finding her identity.

Whilst an obvious consideration is that by the final episode, a major part of Eleven's character is in question, luckily throughout the season, we see her develop her identity and express herself in a number of new ways. Her grasp of the English language has developed throughout all 3 seasons and therefore in season 3, she is way more expressive and articulate, although still adding to her vocab, with the help of her peers. Due to her upbringing or lack of, Eleven, although unique in obvious ways seems to mould to and adapt to her closest peers, evidently Hopper and Mike. In this season, we see her develop a new friendship with Max, a close female bond that she evidently needed in order to grow as a female teen. Max and Eleven's newly found friendship enables El to stand up to Hopper and Mike and see things differently, not to mention that ever so typical 80s makeover. Which brings me onto my next point, not only do we see Eleven express herself more with language and attitude but also aesthetically. As a huge fan of shopping, 80s films and Madonna, I totally lived for that makeover scene. Every outfit in the montage and there on in was absolute fire. The garish patterns, the braces, the scrunchies, the turn-ups.

Totally bodacious soundtrack.

So whilst this could easily be pointed out in every season so far, there were so many bangers featured in season 3 that I've been listening to playlists from it on Spotify ever since. An obvious mention from the point above was the inclusion of Madonna's Material Girl over the makeover montage. But other particular favourites were Foreigner's Cold as Ice, Can't Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon, and Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died in Your Arms. Not to mention the genius decision to include Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again as we realise the haunting enormity of the whole mind-flaying situation.

Great Scott! That Facehugger's one clever girl!

In my opinion, Stranger Things would not be what it is without its perfectly nostalgic intertextual 80s references and it does them so damn well. The sheer amount of nods included in every episode, let alone season is quite frankly, seismic. The concept of a group of kids adventuring against creatures in itself is the whole premise of so many 80s films and the internet is full of articles pinpointing all the little references we sometimes don't even notice. Season 3 contained tonnes but a few of these are my favourite yet. The way that the Mind Flayer often replicates the actions of Facehugger from Alien, the fact that Back to the Future was the hit movie that the scoop troop sneaked into after escaping the Russians (I particularly enjoyed Steve and Robin trying to make sense of it whilst high as a kite). And last but certainly not least, the nods to my favourite film of all time, let alone the 80s, Jurassic Park. Two things in particular were reminiscent of Jurassic Park, firstly the fact that scientists were playing god with dangerous creatures and chemicals in hidden labs and secondly, the kids hiding from the Mind Flayer behind a unit in a very 'Lex and Tim in the kitchen' kinda way.


Steve 'The Hair' Harrington seemed to grow on everyone after he and Nancy split and he became instrumental in helping the gang defeat the creatures of the Upside Down. Both his big brother style bromance with Dustin and his friendship this season with Robin have grounded him somewhat and dampened some of that ego a little. He has become much more likeable throughout and much like most female occupants of Hawkins, I too have succumbed to the Harrington charm. Especially when he and Robin have been drugged by the Russians as their mischief was so contagious. Now a firm favourite of the gang, for me.

The multi-strand, episodic narrative.

Again, only the dorky Media teacher in me would spot these things but I loved the way the narrative played out with each character or set of characters seemingly on their own little quests that consequently became linked as we progressed through the episodes. At the beginning, I did wonder exactly how all of these events would link up and why everyone seemed so stand-alone in their escapades. I think this played out perfectly and it also allowed us to see the development of characters and the development of relationships between characters really well too.

Dustin's bromance and romance.

As aforementioned, Dustin's bromance with Steve is 100% friendship goals and is something we've seen slowly grow over the seasons. In this season in particular, Dustin and Steve seem to be closer than Dustin and the gang as it's Steve that Dustin turns to when the others seem a little disinterested by his return. I love the fact they are now basically brothers from another mother.
Similarly, Dustin gets his own little romance this season, albeit one that seems fictional for the most part but after that total waste of valuable time pivotal moment during the battle, we see that Suzie is in fact real and that she and Dusty Bun have bonded to rather embarrassing levels with their own theme song in the form of A Neverending Storyyyyyyyyyyyy.

The end scene that tells us it'll definitely be back.

The very end scene not only gave us solid confirmation that Stranger Things 4 will happen but also gave us clues as to what might happen. Now everyone is debating just who 'the American' could be with theories suggesting Hopper, the original Doctor from the lab and Barb amongst others. I have no clue who it could be. On one hand, I'd love Hopper to re-appear but at the same time think he's not submissive enough to have been held hostage. 
Things I do hope will happen though are: The Byers' still being key characters despite moving, Eleven getting her powers back, Nancy winning her fight against the sexist egomaniac journalists of the world, Erica being a forefront character again, Robin and Steve's friendship developing and more scenes involving the two of them and more incredibly satisfying iconic 80s references.

And finally, the fact that it seemed way more brutal this time round!

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

10 Things that Epitomise the British Seaside Trip

For many of us, childhood memories are glittered with days out at the seaside or week long caravan or chalet stays. 
For me, those are some of my favourite childhood memories and the ones I can remember most vividly. There are so many of these memories, with grandparents, with mam and dad, with siblings, before siblings, with school and who could forget those Working Men's Club trips?! 

Sundays during my childhood seemed to alternate between early mornings at car-boot sales or early mornings up and ready for what we'd call a 'ride out' or 'going off for the day'. This would usually entail a day long visit to somewhere like Scarborough, Bridlington, Whitby, Blackpool or (my least favourite) Filey. We'd also have UK caravan holidays way more regularly than trips abroad and so for me, the British seaside really was a home from home. 

Despite the odd trip here and there, the seaside trips seemed to have lessened particularly as I've grown up and moved on and away from the family home. But after a pretty hectic few months I recently decided to embark on a number of seaside trips. The first of which was last weekend in sunny old Scarborough. I decided to plan a spontaneous, last minute 2 night stay just to allow my head to vacate work mode and for some much needed chill-time and TLC. 

Immediately on arrival, I was filled to the brim with instant happiness and nostalgia as derived from those vivid childhood memories. As a child, you're just so energetically excited by all the seaside has to offer, the bright lights of the theme park and amusement arcades, the beach and all the fun it brings, the textures, the sounds, the foods, everything so fascinating. As an adult, I found myself just truly in awe at the freshness of the air, at the breath-taking scenery in front of me and at the fact that sights so beautiful belong to us, here in the UK. The trip allowed me to vacate work mode but also provided relaxation, reflection and mindfulness. 
One thing it did get me thinking about was the seaside trip itself and how we as Brits, tend to have solid rooted traditions that we fulfil when visiting one of these coastal little towns. It got me reflecting on those childhood trips and all the little things that seemed to perfectly epitomise a trip to the British seaside...

1. The car games to pass time on the journey

Don't get me wrong, they can be tedious after some time but no 'ride out' was complete without a game of I Spy, Who Can See the Sea First? or Blackpool Tower or a Pylon. This was of course until my younger sister gazumped the whole family with "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with D....Distance" many years back. The Michelin I Spy books were also a personal favourite when heading to the seaside as a child, the organised control freak in me loved ticking off all the things I'd seen. Needless to say when you visit on your own, on a train, social media is the new I Spy!

2. Making the most kick-ass sandcastles or just burying each other in the sand

Days on the beach weren't complete without trying to make the biggest, layered yet intricate sandcastles, complete with a moat which meant you had to keep trekking down to the sea edge to fill up your bucket, only to find you'd come back and the first lot would all have absorbed! Or that villainous streak that would come out when you'd sabotage your sibling's masterpiece by kicking over every castle they'd build. Failing that, you'd see which family member was daft enough to lay back and relax and subsequently cover them in sand, burying every inch of them except for the head. My favourite thing was when grandad or dad would make a 'boat' out of the sand, with a little bench for us to sit in. Again, not quite the same when visiting on your own as a 27 year old, but... you're never too old to write your name in the sand!

3. Fish and chips, ice-cream and donuts

The traditional staple diet when visiting any seaside town and arguably one of the best things about visiting the seaside. Fish and chips out of a tray or newspaper with only a two-pronged wooden fork, no knife and a one handed fight with every seagull in town whilst sat on the harbour edge, beach front or promenade. Followed by, usually, the biggest, most indulgent but structurally unsound ice-cream you could find just to melt all down your arm or to fall dramatically off the cone, causing undue tragedy. For me, the two that scream seaside are a whippy lemon sorbet-topped or a scoop mint choc chip. 
And after all of that has settled begrudgingly in your stomach for an hour or 2, out come the donuts, one for each of us and the rest for the dads, grandads and stepdads of the group. (We'll just skim over the fact that I might have eaten 8 of these myself over the course of last weekend!)

4. The amusement arcades

As a kid, it was all about saving up your 2ps over the year ready for the holiday or just going for the day and being given a few quid for the change machines before being told "make it last cause that's your lot!" The amusements would often be saved up for rainy days as it was somewhere under cover that you could easily spend hours in, particularly if it had a bowling alley in the back too. Shamelessly skulking around the joint looking for rogue coins in the cannister beneath the slots or sounding out the ones with a toy just about to drop before attempting to whoop your sibling at air hockey or the dance mat. For me, I always just played on the ones where you'd win sweets instead of coins and just fill my pockets to their limit to ensure unlimited snacks for the rest of the holiday. Or, you'd annoyingly spend ages collecting those pointless tickets you'd be excited to cash in at the end of the break, only to find that a pen or a keyring cost at least 2000 tickets.

5. The promenade/beach stroll

I think this was mainly a ploy on behalf of the adults to tire out the children with a million steps and a face-full of sea air for the ride home but every seaside trip involved this. For us it was usually so the grown-ups could admire the sea-view houses and properties on the fronts or purely because it was cheaper to park the car way up the promenade! Albeit not the favourite part for the kids but the promenade walks could be made marginally better with a number of things. At Scarborough, it was the prospect of a Peasholm Park or SeaLife Centre visit at the end. In Bridlington, it was slightly more tolerable with the promenade story running down the path and the little paddling pools half way down towards the Spa. And Blackpool felt like the longest walk of any child's life but at least the rollercoasters of Pleasure Beach provided some relief at the end. As an adult, you definitely appreciate the serenity and peace of the promenade walk a lot more!

6. Buying a stick of rock

That ever familiar seaside novelty but, it was never actually that nice, was it? We'd often buy a bag of rock to take back for our class at school or we'd get a sugar dummy that would last us ages and be found stuck to the sofa arm for at least the next two weeks. One thing we loved as a kid was the visit to John Bull rock factory when visiting Bridlington for the week. It was all very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, allowing you to create your own stick of rock complete with initials running right through the middle and this was again, a cheap and cheerful solution to that inevitable rainy day on the holiday. 

7. The rides

Possibly the only bit you were genuinely interested and invested in as a kid. But due to the ridiculous prices of tokens/tickets, you'd always end up finding one cheap thing and going on it about 4 times or just giving up and spending all your time at the Hook a Duck because your greed and materialistic tendencies would get the better of you. No? Just me? My family have far too many photographs of me and my siblings on the one and only ride we'd ever go on, which was sort of like a road with different vehicles on it that just went round and round. We once ventured onto the big kid rides that fling you up and down and backwards but again, that stopped when I went on with a massive bag of 2ps in my pocket which naturally exploded everywhere and forced the operator to stop the ride and everyone to get off.

8. Big pencils and other random souvenirs

This one could just be a Terri-ism but every seaside has the gaudy souvenir shop and as a nipper, I loved them. One thing I always bought was stationary but in particular, always seemed to end up with these abnormally large pencils adorned with pictures of whatever the seaside destination was. I definitely had one or two of these and could never actually write with them so they were entirely pointless. Failing that it'd be a pen, pencil, rubber or postcard that would serve little purpose as you'd be home by the time it arrived. 

9. Listening to the top 40 on the way home

Again, possibly one just synonymous with my family but one of my favourite memories of seaside visits when we were younger was that although I hated going home, I loved being able to listen to almost all of the top 40 charts on the car radio on the way home. I remember not caring if we hit traffic because it meant that I'd get to listen to more of it. I remember telling dad to turn it up when my favourites would come on and desperately longing for the ones I loved most to be number 1 because it meant they'd interview them for 2 minutes before playing their number 1 track. For some weird reason, particular charting songs that stick in my head from those trips are I'll Be Missing You by P Diddy and Faith Evans, Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve and The Bad Touch by Bloodhound Gang which as a 7/8 year old, I naively nicknamed 'the sexy song' because I knew it was about all manner of rude things but was thankfully innocent enough to not know the full extent!

10. The unavoidable car sleep

The sea air, promenade walk, questionable nutrients consumed and overall excitement takes its toll and no matter how hard you try to keep it at bay, the car nap always happens. Obviously, I'd try to fight it off as much as possible so as to not miss any of the chart rundown but it always occurred and then I'd be fuming if I'd missed my best song. You'd wake up covered in saliva and red hot with one of your siblings arms stuck to yours and the other sibling uncomfortably sprawled across the three of you and then you would either need carrying from the car straight to bed or would wake up just before arriving home and consequently be awake all night.

The novelty and nostalgia of these towns never really wears off and the views are truly breath-taking and something to be proud of. Long live the Great British Seaside!

Friday, 21 June 2019

A Lesson in eBay Etiquette.

I've been an eBay user since 2009 and I think it's still the original and best way to find particular purchases and sell your unwanted possessions online even with all the more recent alternatives. I think eBay is a simple, straight-forward and no-nonsense online buying and selling platform and when I've had a wardrobe clear out, it's my go-to place to pass on whatever I no longer want or need. However, whilst the website itself is a brilliant platform, it has become more and more apparent to me over the years that people still do not know how to use it effectively and after a few conversations with friends who have found the same, I decided that it's time to pen a few tips and give a bit of a lesson in eBay etiquette.

Disclaimer: I'm by no means an expert or a regular/business user and there are still eBay tips and tricks I've probably not uncovered yet. I'm merely a user who buys and sells things maybe a couple of times a year. These are just common things I've found and my friends have found over the years so if you are in doubt or unsure about anything or have a query, please do contact eBay directly.

1. Ensure your profile details are regularly updated.
Whilst I consider myself to be quite savvy where eBay is concerned, I have been caught out with this one previously. As a buyer this is indefinitely important as you want to make sure your purchases are going to find their way to you at your current address. Whether buying or selling, you also need to make sure the notifications regarding your items are sent to your correct email and most importantly that your PayPal account and associated email are linked properly. I changed my email address last year and immediately went onto all my signed up websites to change it, including eBay. However, at the time, I didn't realise that although I'd changed my email and PayPal details in my account settings, I would also need to change the PayPal account on the listing of each individual item I sold. I assumed that this was done and dusted in the changing of the general account settings and ended up selling a bunch of items and people sending money to the wrong email address. It wasn't as big of a deal as it sounds as I still had access to the old email account and no money had actually processed. As a long-time user with positive feedback, I panicked, felt awful and immediately contacted everyone that had won my auctions with apologies and detailed instructions as to how to rectify the issue. Which brings me smoothly into my next tip...

2. Communication is key.
Whether buying or selling, it's always best to contact the other person involved in a transaction if there are problems or you need to clear something up before processing an exchange of money. In instances where I've been a seller, I've had to communicate more with other users than as a buyer but if there is a fault or problem with anything, I've always been super upfront, polite and apologetic, even in some cases offering free postage or a more expensive postage service as a consolation.
However, whilst communication is key, there are also eBay users who will message the most bizarre requests or queries about items. I have had many messages asking me to measure very specific bits of clothing items, have been asked about materials, colours, where sleeves and hems come up to, my opinion on what sizes actually are and even if items would look nice with others. Some of which are easy to answer and I'm more than happy to, but I don't own a tape measure, many people generally wouldn't and I have in the past had my opinion on sizes used against me in feedback. For instance on a piece of clothing that was let's say a medium, I wrote in the description that whilst it was a medium, I'm a 12 and I found it snug. I then got negative feedback because the buyer did not find this to be the case. People are obviously different! Plus quite a lot of items I sell are total bargains and end at less than £5 so to be contacted with odd requests or things that would be used against me, is quite petty and often not worth the hassle, particularly when like other sellers who don't do this for a living or even that often, I have a full-time job.

3. Feedback helps out other users. Be sure to provide it.
As a general rule, particularly when buying, it's a good idea to check out the feedback of other users before carrying out a transaction. Clicking their username or the number in brackets beside will navigate you towards this. You'll then be able to see how many positives, negatives and neutrals people have from both buying and selling. If there are any negatives or neutrals, don't immediately disregard the user, be sure to read the comment provided if there is one. If the positives outweigh any negatives or neutrals, just consider how much of a red light you consider that to be. Whilst a number of these may signal an inconsistent seller, one or two could simply be a misunderstanding as outlined with my previous cases above. If the seller is a business, you would expect good customer service and reputation as standard but a personal user like myself just selling the odd bit or bob will likely have work, family and other external commitments, so just be considerate of that also. Whilst being considerate though, don't stand for bad experiences if the reason doesn't seem legitimate and the user isn't apologetic or  honest. This is why eBay allows users to open cases against other users if their transaction was not as expected. Always refer back to tip 2 before doing so in any instance though. And most importantly, feedback should be provided for all transactions, even where it was smooth and straightforward. This helps provide a good picture and gives users a higher seller rating.

4. Pay for items immediately.
This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, as a seller rather than a buyer. As stated previously, I simply list things on eBay on a one off basis, possibly twice/three times a year when having a clear out or getting rid of unwanted or needed things but when I do, the cost of my items are never particularly high. Quite often I begin items at 99p unless they are BNWT (brand new with tags) and a lot of these might only go up to £1.50-£3.00. But every time I do put on a range of clothes as part of a clear out, I can always guarantee that there'll be at least one user that doesn't pay straight away. Now eBay does give a timeframe for people to pay within and you can appeal to cancel if people don't but when items are priced so low, I don't understand why people wouldn't pay immediately, particularly when they must have just been sat at computer or phone to bid and win the auction anyway. Don't get me wrong, not everyone has the money there and then, I appreciate this but at the same time, if this is the case, maybe don't bid or buy things until you do. Similarly, I list items when I know I will have the free time to post them, for instance when I'm off work. If people wait days before paying, this puts days on the seller's schedule and therefore they might not then be able to post straight after your payments due to external commitments. Again, just common courtesy and if it is a genuine one off or something that can't be helped, then its simply back to tip 2 and a compromise or alternative arrangement could be made.

5. Don't bid on things too early.
Another thing I see all too regularly. Someone is selling a dress, its got a full week left, yet one lone singular bid on it. Do not be this person! Just stick the item in your watching and keep your eye on it. Bidding like this will just increase the price for everyone interested. Whenever I've bid or even won an auction style listing, I've always done it by sticking it in my watching and coming back to it on the day that it ends. I'd then place bids in the last few minutes or even seconds before it does end. You don't necessarily need to bid to show your interest, a seller can see how many views, watchers and bids their items have had and can make assumptions from this. I'm not saying don't bid at all until the last 2 minutes but if it still has 10 days left and no bids, leave it that way and come back to it later on.

6. Read the small print.
This applies for both buyers and sellers. As a buyer, be sure to fully read product descriptions for item specifics, locations, postage terms and services to ensure you are purchasing the right thing and so that you don't give yourself a shock because something might not be as assumed, after all you are the one parting with money. As a seller this also stands, particularly when listing items. Check all values, settings and inputs when listing an item as you want to make sure that your item is being sold in the right listing style (auction, buy it now etc.), at the right postage amount and you also need to check specifics such as whether or not you accept things like click and collect, returns, global shipping and that the funds will come to you in the correct format, amongst other things. On this note, if you are a more regular seller, ensure you know all the terms and conditions where things like fees, taxes and declaration are concerned. As a seller, doing the above ensures your feedback stays positive, that you build a good reputation as a seller and that you won't face any bad comebacks where feedback, appeals, complaints or misuse allegations are concerned.

7. Know your postage.
I'm not an expert in all postage services as I normally just opt for Second Class when posting items, unless it's something a little more expensive or somethings gone wrong and I'm offering an alternative as compensation. As I'm usually only selling clothing items, my trick is to fold whatever it is into a small but thin pile, trying not to make it bigger than A4 or too high. I'll squeeze the air out of parcels and even leave them underneath books or something the night before so that they are all nice and flat and thin. This is a useful tip because Royal Mail have size guides which distinguish prices and these are usually slots that they fit the parcel through to see where it sits. It would be super useful if these were available to the public but I've asked a few times and they don't give them out. It's often hard to know how much a parcel will cost you to post and whilst there may be generators online to estimate this, if it's a bog standard piece of clothing I'll usually say anywhere between £2 and £3 depending on material and what it actually is. For instance, anything corduroy or denim is obviously going to be a lot heavier and harder to fold into a small shape. I tend to use brown paper or jiffy bags for posting and make it as tight and compact as possible with loads of tape. Royal Mail will generally ask what is in the parcel for safety reasons as there are certain things that can't be posted so do check restrictions. They will also offer different services if its something worth a lot of money to provide a level of assurance. I haven't used couriers or collect options so can't comment on these facilities but just be upfront with whatever you're offering. And don't be picky if you're the buyer, a lot of sellers will offer free postage but this will do them out of money if they are personal sellers and we can't always be absolutely certain how much it will cost to post. Plus don't discount the fact that we also have to buy the packaging materials and find the time and transport to actually get to the post office too. I've had someone complain before because the postage was about 40p more than it actually ended up costing and just politely reminded them of the above points.

Welcome any other suggestions that might be of use to personal use eBay-ers so feel free to drop comments.
Happy buying and selling!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

An Open Letter to the DFE...

I've been a teacher within the further education system for 4 years now and for the biggest part of that time, I've considered my job to be one of the best in the world.
I also consider it to be one of the most important jobs and one of the hardest jobs in the world.
Don't get me wrong, it's nowhere near on a par with something like our wonderful emergency services, who risk their lives everyday and have to deal with some unthinkable instances, all of course whilst being terribly understaffed and often underpaid. I couldn't imagine the stresses and pressures involved in jobs like these. (If you could pass that on to your relevant pals down in the big smoke also, that would be grand.)
But nonetheless, teaching is an essential yet challenging job and one which requires, quite frankly, a bit of TLC.

Now, there are different sectors and different routes into the profession. I can't speak for everyone, I can only speak for myself and those teachers I speak to, day to day. It took me four years to qualify to do this job and about 10 minutes to realise how much I loved it and how much it suited me. Teaching is a profession for those who care, who empathise, who love the notion of learning, who want to impart wisdom, creativity and help people develop and grow, whatever the subject. It's also a profession in which you see yourself develop and grow, in confidence, resilience and just generally, because as good old ‘continuing professional development’ shows us, you're never fully trained to be a teacher.

Whilst my daily step count is nothing to be sneered at, it is just by nature a more mentally draining than physically draining career. It's not manual labour but quite often, teaching can feel like a performance. The classroom is your stage and not in a melodramatic, attention seeking manner but just in the way that you have to give out the energy that you want to receive back from your students. You have to emit this positive, interesting, humourous and approachable vibe, constantly. Even on days where you don't think you have that vibe in you, you are forced to dig deep and find it from somewhere.

One thing that is seemingly apparent amongst teachers is that people don't seem to account for everything that this job is. Not only is it a constant performance as outlined above but there's so much more to it than that classroom act. Teaching is like that image of the iceberg, the top of which, poking out of the water is the classroom part, the huge part at the bottom hiding under the water that nobody ever sees, is everything else that teaching entails. The sad part is, the bit poking out of the top is nowhere near the largest part of the teaching iceberg. The bit underneath is made up of planning, paperwork, emails, phone-calls, meetings, interviews, training, parents' evenings, open evenings, internal moderation, external moderation, exams, invigilation, external visits, inspections, retention, peer practice, targets, data and oh goodness, the marking, who could forget the marking?
 I wish we could forget the marking.

Now, many are brainwashed when it comes to teaching, by that ever popular myth we all love, that it's all massive salaries, 6 hour days and 14 weeks worth of holidays a year but rest assured, that could not be further from the truth, for me anyway. A normal week for me is around 24 hours in the classroom, around 7 at my desk for all of the above and the remainder of my 37 hour week is made up of break times (lunch hours and morning and afternoon 15 mins). As you can imagine though, the phone doesn't stop ringing or inbox filling up, just because it's a lunch hour or break and so a large proportion of these are spent at a computer or on a phone. For instance, lets say we're bobbing to the toilet on one of our breaks or even during our desk time and there's a student sat in the corridor, crossed arms and crying. You're going to stop whatever it is you're doing and go speak to said student. You're going to open up a room and chat to them, find out what is making them upset. You're then going to have to follow this up, maybe its a simple row with a peer, you'd go find the other party and sort out a reconciliation. But let's say its something much deeper, let's say it's a safeguarding issue. You're possibly going to need to bring the student to another staff member, you may even need to then make a phone-call, make several phone-calls or emails just to get this student the help that's needed. But this has taken all of your free time and you now have a class about to start, you're weighing up what needs your attention more, the one student in serious need of help or the 20 odd waiting to be taught. This is a common occurrence. This is an occurrence that quite often might happen even twice a day. And whilst your utmost priority needs to be getting students the support they need, suddenly that 'desk-time' is being eaten up. Making the gargantuan list of tasks above pile up and up. A staff meeting comes up, questions will be raised about the gargantuan list of tasks not yet done. “Oh but by the way, there’ll be observations soon.”

Teaching is a job with a constant to-do list. A to-do list that you can never quite get on top of. A to-do list that piles up and up and topples you with pressure but a to-do list that despite all the stress and anxiety, somehow always gets done eventually. Teaching is a job with constant pressures, from students, colleagues, managers, governers, parents, Ofsted and more. Constantly being judged on facts and figures or just on that tiny bit of the iceberg poking out and no contextualisation of all that exists underneath. Teaching is a job in which you absorb the stresses and issues of those around you. Teaching is a job that shouldn't come home with you but absolutely does. Nowhere near 14 weeks worth of holidays, more like 5 at a push, 5 weeks which often have restrictions as to when they can be taken. But how much of the holidays, evenings or weekends are spent taking home the gargantuan list of tasks? How much of the holidays, evenings or weekends are spent worrying about upcoming events, about observations, about data, about the safeguarding issues you deal with day in, day out? And let's be real, if the holidays, evenings or weekends aren't spent doing all of the above then you'd better believe they're spent asleep by 9PM because you're just that shattered.

And when considering the pressures of a job like this, let's not forget the fact that horrifically, education is a business. And somewhere, someone is totting up figures. How much is lost if students don’t achieve? How much we need for equipment and resources? And the fact that it often seems that to those people totting up the figures, teachers are dispensable. Teachers are out there doing all of the above on zero hour contracts, teachers are out there doing all of the above and then being made redundant or being restructured because of the overall funding crisis. Teachers are out there doing their job and someone else's all in the name of cutting a few quid. Teachers are out there spending their pittance of a wage on their own resources because it's just not worth asking. Teachers are out there working themselves to the bone and getting very little appreciation or acknowledgement. Don't get me wrong, we're not looking for certificates, cards and presents. Teachers are best rewarded with support, gratitude, understanding and just being cut a bit of slack by students, colleagues, managers, governers, parents and Ofsted. Because we have a hell of a lot to do and such a small amount of time every single year to do it. Look at further education as a whole, we bridge the gap between high school and university/employment. But we're also expected to fill in the gaps where any predecessors might've fallen down. Where schools and universities have 5 or 4 years to get their jobs done, we might have one or two depending on the particular student's choice of qualification and overall journey. Yet we often get the least funding out of the lot. Why, why is there no parity when we all work together, why is there no consideration for this?

The students are always the priority for any teacher, or at least they should be. But time and time again I hear the phrase "I failed because the teacher didn't like me" and every single time I wince. And I always answer with the same response, that it's not their job to like you, it's to help you get a qualification. And the teachers want to be given more time to be in the classroom, to be with the students as their utmost priority. Chances are, when that INSET day comes up, the teachers would rather it not be there because they are losing curriculum time, hence giving them and students more work to do. But whilst students are the first and foremost priority for us, parents sometimes don't understand that when you teach about 25 students at once and well over a hundred a week, one particular child can't be our number one priority all of the time. That actually, that priority has to be shared between all of those in the class. And that the teacher constantly faces a balancing act of what needs their time most in that particular instance. The cohort every year comes with such a brilliantly diverse range of students, some who love learning and genuinely love to be in that classroom, some that are here because they feel that have no other option. Some with complex needs and who therefore require extra support, some that are harder to guide due to their behaviours or attitudes and some that might have been through some unimaginable things and are therefore just crying out for a stable and consistent source of empathy, care and support. To know and learn all of these little attributes for hundreds of students and manage their different classrooms effectively, making considerations and adaptations for each and everyone of them is an adept skill. But it is quite obviously exhausting and we are just one singular person, at the end of the day. As such, our compassion is a well-honed quality, it stretches further than the average person's, we know how to look at things from different points of view. But all of this really takes its toll. To the point where I remember sitting at my desk, uttering the phrase, "yes, we look after the students, but who in turn is looking after us?!"

In the last year or so, the stresses and challenges of this job have been far greater than any year prior, for differing reasons. I have colleagues who agree and some of them have been in the profession for decades. It seems that teachers are constantly squeezed for more and more but with less support and less resources. And year on year we are faced with these pressures but we get on with it. We exhaust ourselves mentally, we run ourselves into the ground, we spend hours fretting about things but it all gets done. We are completely and totally taken advantage of and constantly expected to fulfil so many expectations. People forget that we are humans, that we come in and do all of the above when we have our own stresses and pressures, when our family members are ill or have passed away, when we are ill, when relationships breakdown, and even with our own people to care for. We come in and put on that classroom performance, we come in and still attempt that gargantuan list of tasks, we come and get judged and observed, we come in and face the teen angst, the teen attitude. Because it's not a job in which you can hide yourself away and have that peace and quiet and that alone time to just mill through tasks at your own pace. 

This is a job that is undervalued, underappreciated and continually running on fumes. It's a job in which the very core importance and purpose has been dwarfed by all of those fruitless, menial burdens on the gargantuan list of tasks. And this is not in isolation, this is not a one off case, this is the state of teaching across this country, particularly in further education. Whilst I can't speak on behalf of absolutely everyone, the articles I read about teacher burn-out and the conversations I have with teachers from differing institutions all the time, confirms to me that it's a common theme. The fact that people are struggling for basic resources like pens/pencils, the ability to print their resources, in many circumstances, even things like chairs for students to sit on or a computer to work at. It's a sad state of affairs and it needs to be properly addressed. Changes and decisions in this sector, both FE and education as a whole need to be made with the students and the teachers in full consultation and consideration. We are the experts, we are the ones there in the classrooms. We are the ones with a million and one questions when the latest qualification reform happens or the latest budget comes out. We are the ones jotting down questions about learner support, funding, resources, guided learning hours, progression routes and a whole repository of other considerations that only we would think of because we deal with it all, day in, day out. 
This is a line of work that was once thought very highly of, that was esteemed and commended and one that would instill a sense of pride and honour in those who pursued it. 
Now, it seems that the pride, satisfaction and generally rewarding nature of the job has been suppressed by the exploitative, demanding nature of what it has become.