How To Be A Social Media Simpleton

social media fail

We all know ‘those’ people. The ones who seriously make us consider leaving a particular form of social media for all of about, ooh, 5 seconds. The ones who make you look up how to block/mute/hide/ignore, but then decide against it as you are far too nosy. The ones who we deride for their poor social-media skills. In the unlikely event that you would ever want to become one of ‘those’ people, simply follow my guide below:

facebook

1. The cryptic status 

This, in my opinion, is the worst. The sort of status that is BEGGING for attention. You know – ‘Some people need to keep their noses out’ or ‘I’m so upset right now – how can people be such dicks?’ It’s letting whoever ‘people’ are know that they are annoyed, without confronting them directly. It’s about as passive-aggressive as you can get. And then, when all their concerned/nosy friends comment ‘OMG – are you OK?’ and the poster replies with ‘I’ll message you’ GAH. Because deep down, we all really want to know what they mean.

2. The game invitations

They’ve started playing a new game, and they’re hooked. They’ve used it to procrastinate instead of doing something useful, and suddenly they discover that to be able to do another level/task/quest they need to pay or add a million new people into the game. In an addiction-hazed fog, they turn to Facebook and try to add their friends, resulting in far too many unwanted notifications that you annoyingly mistake for a real gesture of friendship or human contact.

3. The quizzes

How many quizzes can these evil fiends think of?! I’ve done 100% of quizzes that are a poor distraction from the pressures of the real world, and most of them seem to just use randomisers to get their answer. How can knowing my favourite colour determine what career I’m best suited for?! I wouldn’t mind, but at least don’t pretend that this quiz will serve as any more than a very brief form of entertainment.

4. Group and comment notifications

Ooh, I have 300 new notifications – I wonder which of my friends are trying to get in touch with me, and what they’re wanting to say?! Oh no wait. I’m part of a group from some event and some people have spent all day writing on it about a private in-joke or a subject entirely unrelated OR just posting stickers. Alternatively I made a comment on someone’s status and now all their friends are also commenting and turning it into a full on conversation. Sigh.

5. Grammar Nazi

I turn into one of these with every post – the constant and flagrant misuse of your and you’re, their, there and they’re, and been and being make me furious to the point of unacceptably correcting a poor person going about their daily business.

twitter

1. The over share

Must tell all of my followers that I just had cornflakes for breakfast. Two seconds later – oops too much milk! Just on my way to work. Raining – sad face. I wish it was dry – I do like walking on crunchy leaves! Mmm lunch. Here’s a picture of my lunch. Here’s a picture of my friend’s lunch. I wonder what you’re having for lunch? Can’t be bothered doing work. Must instead spend all of my time telling twitter every dull non-event and thought in my life.

2. My life’s better than yours

I’m much healthier than you – I can prove this by tweeting about my morning workouts. I’m much more positive than you – here’s a retweet of an inspirational quote. I’m much funnier than you – here’s my sarcastic quip usually using some sort of swear word about a topical issue. I’m much more socially aware than you – here’s a link to a charity for which I do tireless work. How do you know that I do tireless work? Why, I tweet all about it of course!

3. Twitter is a great platform to complain

Hello company that has a twitter account – I shall name and shame you with a damning review of a recent service or product in a way I never usually would dare in the real world because here I’m safe and protected by the faceless mask of the internet. Oh, some poor person who works for this company has taken the trouble to reply and is extremely polite and apologetic – now I feel more than awkward for kicking off – argh should I reply? Probably will just say thanks like the true coward I am.

instagram

1. Selfie

I definitely want to see a photo of you after you have spent hours carefully applying makeup, doing your hair, and probably some crunches, just in case. This is likely the result of contorting yourself to ensure you get the best lighting and angle, and I can guarantee it isn’t your first attempt. Oh, and will have a hashtag along the lines of #natural #nomakeup #nofilter #LIAR

2. Holiday snap

Hotdogs or legs? Breadsticks or arms? Coffee or skin? Can you tell I’m on the most amazing holiday ever and yet instead of enjoying it I’m spending my time uploading loads of insanely flattering pictures?

3. Atmospheric location shot

Oooh pretty flowers with an unfocused filter – I’m so arty and interesting. A meadow in only sepia tones? Yeah, I can see the beauty in everything. I must be a fascinating and complex person that you want to get to know.

 

The worst thing of all? Worse than Facebook fumblers, Instagram annoyances and Twitter twats? I am guilty of every single one of the above!

Have I missed any of your social media pet peeves?

How to Survive Parents’ Evening

Parents’ evening is a rite of passage all teachers have to go through, from your very first ‘Ooh you look too young to be a teacher’ comment (sigh – I miss those days – I even used to get ID’d in supermarkets, now the cashier takes one look at me and flinches), to the time when you’re recognised by ex-students bringing their children in. With a few years of learning the hard way under my belt, I thought I’d share some of my mistakes with other teachers in the hope that it will spare at least someone some embarassing blushes/potential ‘ground swallow me up’ moments. Make no mistake, this is my guide to surviving parents’ evening – for teachers. For any parents reading this, I can only apologise – and promise that we do actually care about your child and their progress!

Remembering student’s names

Perhaps for my primary colleagues this is slightly less of an issue, but for a secondary teacher who can teach up to 250 different students in one year group it can make parents’ evenings a bit of a minefield. The non teachers among you may wonder ‘why not just ask the parents for the name of their child?’ but what you may not be aware of is that some parents bring their child with them – something I’ve always been a fan of as it means you can all have a discussion about progress, but it can cause more than a little awkwardness when you look at the child in front of you, draw a deep breath and…nothing. Below are some tried and tested techniques by myself and my colleagues which I’ve rated for success and how professional they make you look:

  1. Class photos

Some colleagues like to have their class photos in front of them – just a quick glance and they can speedily identify the child in front of them – however this does flag up to parents that you don’t know all your students.

Success rating: 2 (good)

Professionalism rating: 3 (requires improvement)

2. Find the surname

I have used a surname approach, ranging from the ‘remind me of your surname’ query to allow me to hastily scan my data to the risky ‘how do you spell your surname again?’ approach. With the latter question I have been subject to funny looks as the child awkwardly recites ‘J – O – N – E – S’. Overall I have found this useful once I tweaked my opening patter.

Success rating: 2 (good)

Professionalism rating: Ranging from 4 (inadequate) to 1 (outstanding) depending on your smoothness and charm.

3. Just ask

‘Remind me of your name again’ said with a smile could work – but I’ve never had the (Ed) balls to try it…

Success rating: potential 1 (outstanding)

Professionalism rating: 4 (inadequate)

Suit up

I find that dressing smartly (or as smartly as possible after a long school day full of inexplicably laddered tights and somehow rubbing off all my makeup til my skin is a dull grey colour) helps me feel more professional – until the moment when a) I look down and realise that I have toothpaste all over my black top from this morning or b) I catch sight of myself in a mirror after talking to several parents and I realise that I have lipstick on my teeth. But in all honesty I am a big fan of slapping on the makeup to avoid looking like the crypt-keeper, spritzing a bit of perfume and giving my teeth a good brush – not, I hasten to add, in anyway trying to give off a ‘come hither’ vibe to an unsuspecting hot dad, but in a way that helps me feel confident and presentable. I’m sure there are some of us who have a staffroom suspect for deliberately trying to put off parents with a less than attractive outfit, or sour odours, in order to speak to them for as short a time as possible – but let us remember, innocent until proven guilty.

Fuel up

Ensure your table/desk is piled high with cups of tea/coffee/water (other beverages are available) and biscuits (custard cream, thanks) before starting. Parents’ evening is particularly taxing on the voice, so keeping your throat well lubricated (not a euphemism) is a must. My top tip for avoiding spraying poor parents with crumbs as you scoff your much-needed sugar? Rummage around in your bag as you down your chocolate hobnob in one go (still not a euphemism).

Be organised

Before you start, make sure you have all the relevant info on your students to hand – recent data, work examples if necessary. There is nothing worse than ‘flying blind’ to a parent who is clearly wise to your sweeping generalisations, or the narrowing of their eyes as you turn to the students and sweetly ask ‘how do you think you’re doing?’ while trying to hide the panic as you manage to forget EVERYTHING you’ve ever taught this child.

Schedule breaks

Parents’ evenings can be really long, and in a rush of goodwill to try and fit all your students in for a chat you may suddenly realise (when it’s too late) that you’re going from 4pm – 8pm without a wee. Couple that with the umpteen cuppas you’re drinking, and that time can become very uncomfortable indeed. Yes, of course you shoudl try and see as many parents as you can in the time, but do remember to book the occasional ‘stretch the legs’ break, and hotfoot it to the bog.

Teachers – recognise any of the above or have some tips of your own to share? And I ask the next question very tentatively – parents – recognise any of the above? Or have some ways in which you think we could improve?

 

 

How to Procrastinate

Everyone thinks they are a determined procrastinator, however in reality procrastination is a delicate balance between achieving nothing at all and finding something else entirely to do. I would go as far as to say that true procrastination is an art – and without being big-headed, it is one that I have perfected. Many think that procrastinating is simply doing nothing – but a faithful procrastinator knows that it involves much more than that. For all you perfectly productive people, I have provided a point-by-point ‘Procrastinator’s Guide’.

  1. Making a brew

In general, making your circumstances under which you are expected to do work is of vital importance. Temperature, hydration and fuel are all key to being able to get into the work mindset. A good procrastinator can spend a healthy amount of time fiddling about with heating, blankets, and food provisions, before declaring the situation ‘just right’ to settle down to work. And of course, getting up to make a cuppa is a perfect way to put off an unwanted task – especially if you’re particularly thirsty. After all, you can’t possibly work without a warm drink on the go.

  1. Having a lie down

A good pianist friend of mine once confessed that when a whole day was set aside for rehearsing with his band, he would spend approximately 30 minutes practising, and the rest of the time split fairly equally between having a cuppa and lying down on the floor. Whereas I’m sure he could procrastinate even further by extolling the virtues such a position has on his shoulder muscles (and between you and me, he does like to wang on) but the truth is that this is a form of procrastination. On the spectrum of procrastination, it is in a grey area between actively procrastinating (finding something, anything other to do than what you’ve been asked) and just being lazy and doing nothing at all. However the truly avid procrastinator would be able to justify a little lie down before cracking on with their work – as below:

“I’m really tired, so if I lie down for a bit first I will be well rested enough to start my work/job/task.”

Legit.

  1. Checking social media/emails/texts

These can put off ANY task. I can spend hours answering emails at work seemingly without achieving anything. There is always a friend to text or email which takes vital importance on my to-do list and MUST be done immediately despite looming deadlines. I can loop various social media sites endlessly – thus putting off any form of productiveness at all. I think the time to end doing this endless looping of social media only comes when you are doing it so often that nothing new has happened since the last time you checked it…but then there is always a new form of social media to get involved in…

  1. Tidying up/cleaning

I like things to be tidy before I start work. Not just in some semblance of order tidy, but TIDY. Monica from Friends tidy. This provides an excellent excuse to postpone the start of a work task – binning various useless pieces of paper, taking empty cups (from all those cups of tea) down to the kitchen, then obviously using the time in the kitchen to decide to clear out all the old spices in the cupboard that have been there for years, (why, oh why are they sticky?!) before returning to your work area to sharpen your pencils and test all your old pens. An ideal way to make sure that work isn’t done any time soon!

5. Doing life-admin

Isn’t it funny how as soon as you settle down to do some work you remember that bill you wanted to set a direct debit up for and you decide to do it there and then? Or you decide to do some essential research into a new energy provider (after all you could probs save some money). So vital to do these tasks straight away, rather than anything else. Or you could even spend some time that you definitely have into dreaming up a new career…

How do you procrastinate? Which method do you favour when you have an unwanted pressing task?

A Very Teacher Christmas

Today when I was at the checkout in M and S (I know, I know, get me, I’m such a big shot etc – I was only getting a Dine In For £10 meal-deal jobby ok?! I’m still a Tescos girl at heart) I was asked what I do for a living (this wasn’t a random question – I’d done my usual of making friends with everyone in the shop just because I love a chat). I always hesitate before I answer this question, as I know for a fact what the response will be. Sure enough, it came:

Cashier: So, what do you do for a living?

Me:….I’m a teacher

Cashier: When do you break up? Lucky you with all those holidays!

You see?! What on earth do you respond to that?! ‘Erm yes I have a holiday coming up but on average I work a 60 hour week so actually over a year I don’t get any holidays at all?’ Not the best way to breeze over a comment from a stranger as you try to cram all your shopping into your handbag so you don’t have to pay for a carrier bag (I know it helps the environment but I cannot justify five whole pence to conveniently carry home a bottle of wine – my Northern roots won’t allow it). So I’ve decided to compare a very merry Christmas to a very teacher Christmas – and let all the skeptics know what teachers will be doing during our ‘holiday’.

The First Days

You’ve just finished work, you have a few days off – time to relax yes? Not for the teacher. We will be spending the first few days recovering from various colds, coughs and sore throats. But surely lots of people get ill this time of year? Oh absolutely, and I know lots of parents who have to not only dose up themselves with Lemsip (other cold remedies are available) but also have to look after equally suffering partners and children. What you need to remember is that teachers are exposed to around a million (to the nearest million) germs a day. We will be on our knees after being coughed on by little darlings for several weeks, and after working those 60 hour weeks, most teachers spend the first few precious days hibernating, propped up by cold remedies, cough medicine, tissues and chocolate.

Christmas Shopping

Unfortunately, as teachers we can’t book a day off work to go Christmas shopping during quiet times. Imagine just being able to ring in and book an afternoon off, leaving 9j4 to their own devices…Impossible! So we unlucky bunch have to brave Christmas shopping on the weekend, fighting through the busy crowds, making tricky decisions about whether or not furry handcuffs are appropriate for a staff secret santa present (hint – they’re really not!) and trying to avoid bumping into students when buying knickers in Primark (‘What’s that you’ve got in your basket Miss?’). Just awful.

The Work Days

Christmas has been and gone, and we have entered the weary days of ‘Crimbo Limbo’ – there are still endless boxes of chocolate to eat, and the temptation is to give into lethargy and sit about watching festive TV stuffing ones face, vowing to go on a diet in January. Teachers however will start to feel the dread of returning to work unprepared, and will be using these days to mark and plan and remind themselves that in all too few days they will be going back to a world of few wees in a day and even less opportunities for a hot drink or a lie in. Sigh.

Banuary

I’m sure teachers aren’t alone in feeling the effects of a cold, bleak, joyless January. People nationwide will be experiencing the long dark days, the fights with frost and snow to get to work, and above all the grumpy colleagues as everyone grows quickly fed up with their January diets and pledges of no drink (Banuary at its best.) Now imagine throwing equally grumpy teenage hormones into the mix, and the threat of upcoming exams when all our senses are begging us to hibernate and eat pie and gravy…Worst ever.

So there you have it – a very teacher Christmas. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, but whatever the reality, I’ll let you in on a little secret: we still count down the days til our holiday starts! (5 get ups to go!) What’re your worst things about work around the Christmas period?

How not to be the perfect blogger

There are many bloggers who I admire for all sorts of reasons, and my recent trip to Blogfest has introduced me to even more amazing blogs that render me speechless with a worryingly furious envy. Reading these blogs has made me even more aware of how lacking in blogger-savvy I am, and so this post is all about why I will never be a perfect blogger.

1. I can’t take photos for shit.

There are some bloggers who pride themselves on their level of photography, not just sticking on the nearest Instagram filter and hoping for the best, but genuinely taking a proper photo with a real grown up camera (not just the crappy one on your generic smart phone which usually has some sort of greasy mark over the lens) and then EDITING it. Adding things like contrast, definition, jingle bells and so on (I added in jingle bells to see if anyone would notice it wasn’t a real editing technique – deffo got away with it.) My photos are just dreadful. If I haven’t got my finger over the lens, the focus is blurred, or I’ve taken it at an inexplicably wonky angle (probs drunk.) When I do manage to add a photo into a blog post I feel an overwhelming sense of pride, only to then come back to it a few minutes later and realise how dire it actually looks. Photos are not for me.

2. I can’t use technology to save my life.

You will notice some links on the left hand side of this writing. They are supposed to link up to thinkgs like my blog Facebook page and my Twitter account, or encourage you to sign up and ‘follow’ my blog, however I am 99% sure that they do not work properl/that no-one ever wants to follow me or my blog because I’m far too irritating (it must be the technology thing, right? RIGHT?!) I also would like to be able to change my blog layout and format around, or even just alter the background colour, or perhaps swap my photo for a much less obviously posed one. The reason I cannot do these things is because my technical ability is limited to being able to switch on a computer, and having the know-how to wiggle a cable a bit if something isn’t working. I’m not even entirely sure how my DVD player works (don’t tell Pedro – I’d never live it down). For these reasons, my blog does not have ‘widgets’ or ‘badges’ as I simply cannot be arsed spending an entire day getting hot, frustrated and increasingly frizzy as I attempt to work out how to make my blog as slick as everyone elses.

3. I cannot be bothered writing 40 drafts of a post.

At Blogfest I attended a ‘Find My Funny’ panel discussion (and before you all think you’re hilarious, no, I clearly didn’t find it) with some amazing writers such as Arabella Weir, Jon Ronson and Rebecca Front. They admitted to making as many as 40 edits of a post or article before publishing it – really?! I simply do not have the patience to read something that I have written that number of times – I’d be bored to tears (there might be another reason why I am not a perfect blogger, if my posts bore even myself). I am very aware that I am rubbish at ending posts – if you don’t believe me, check out the ending to some of my other posts – I bet I stop abruptly, ineptly try to write a conclusion, then put an open question in the hope of enticing even one or two comments, usually from a good friend, or worse, a relative. (Please please keep commenting!)

4. I don’t take photos of myself – ever.

Some stunning blogs have amazing photos of the author at a lovely day out looking impeccable and casually stylish. If I took a photo of me at a lovely cafe sampling delicious cakes you would all be unjustly exposed to my unruly hair swept up into a rubbish topknot to allow the chocolate from the cake to be all over my face, rather than in my hair. You would see that the carefully applied (slapped on with a trowel) concealer has melted away revealing hideous dark shadows under my eyes, and that my outfit is mismatched (but not in a chic stylish way) and my cardi has a hole under the armpit, and is probs inside out.

5. I don’t get sent beautiful products to review.

I love reading blogs where the author has been sent something lovely and perfumed to review – oh no wait, I feel an immense rage and jealousy. The closest I have got is a rather ranty and unsolicited review about First Class on a train – or some embarassingly gushy ones about restuarants where I had to pay for my meal, despite making Pedro feel mortified by a) taking photos of my food before eating it, not something I’d ever usually do as I’d usually be shovelling it into my face and b) talking VERY LOUDLY about my blog every time a waiter came near, all in the hope I’d be told that my meal was on the house. Sigh.

So there you have it – the reasons why I will never be a perfect blogger. What are your tips for the perfect blog? (See – told you I was rubbish at ending posts – see point 3 above!)

 

 

First Class – a first class waste of money?

As part of my weekend visit to Blogfest in the fair city of London, I took it upon myself to book my trains for the journey early to get the best possible prices. On booking my return ticket I was offered an upgrade to first class for a bargainous amount. Knowing this would be a long journey, I decided to treat myself.

First Class was not a luxury I’d ever treated myself to before, so I was very excited. I imagined an Orient Express level of glamour and opulence, and my very favourite thing – freebies.

On my outward journey I presented myself eagerly at that hallowed of all places – the First Class Lounge at the station. Upon my slightly smug arrival, I was informed that as I’d had the audacity to book in advance I would have to pay a further £5 to enter the lounge. Being the good Northern girl I am I refused, and flounced off in a huff. My train was then cancelled, fortunately I had been my usual pathologically early self and was able to board an earlier train. This was lucky, as one member of staff cheerfully told me that if I’d had to wait for the next one I was not guaranteed a seat at all, let alone the First Class one I’d already paid for. Hmm.

Not letting a couple of set backs deter me, I boarded the train onto the disappointingly average looking First Class coach, and was immediately offered a hot drink. Ruffled feathers became instantly smoothed, and after playing around with my rather comfortable adjustable chair, I settled into my journey. The free wi-fi was an unexpected bonus, but I soon realised the signal strength was as intense as a rather tepid shower feels, and abandoning any hope of using the internet for any prolonged time I did what I usually do when not in First Class and read.

The meal I received (free of charge, of course) was something I’d been looking forward to, but ended up being distinctly sub standard, and certainly not as nice as the train picnics I’d provided for myself In the past.

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Nevertheless the free gin and tonics were perfectly delicious and refreshing.

I went to use the toilet, which I discovered was out of order, prompting me to walk to the next carriage, where a rather large queue was forming. Luckily I have always been able it ‘hold on’ at will, earning me the nickname of ‘iron bladder’ by my family, which I now feel sounds like a Game of Thrones character.

The return journey is actually worse – if that can be believed. My seat didn’t adjust at all, meaning that right now I am sat up remarkably straight which I’m sure is wonderful for my posture but is not the most comfortable for a long journey. I am sat beside another out of order ‘convenience’ which is not the most pleasant smelling. The plug which I was hoping to use to charge my phone is not working – which the guard cheerfully told me was something he’d noticed on the previous journey. About an hour ago eh offered to see if there was a spare seat anywhere else for me – alas he has not returned.

Is First Class worth the premier price tag? Unfortunately, no. Other than the comfortable chair (providing yours is working), and cuppas on demand, East Coast have not provided me with the level of lushness I was hoping for.

First Class is a First Class waste of your money.

The Imposter at Blogfest

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I won’t lie, I didn’t know what to expect from Blogfest, an annual event sponsored by Mumsnet. Being a new blogger I was worried that I would be shunned and cast aside by seasoned professionals who would sneer at my questions about the basics of social media. Most of all I was worried that: a) getting a train down to London and accommodation for 2 nights would have been a waste of time; b) I wouldn’t learn anything, and c) I would make a fool of myself.

Although at the start of the day I felt like an imposter, I soon realised that I couldn’t have been more wrong (ok – one of the above came true – more on that later). Everyone at Blogfest was so nice and friendly, and I was incredibly inspired by all the amazing speakers there.

My friend Emma and I (of http://www.channelislandsblog.wordpress.com fame) had travelled down to our nation’s capital the day before, had an emotional yet hilarious reunion at Kings Cross Station which Emma got lost in. We walked up to the venue which was conveniently located near our hotel (ok, Premier Inn) then collected our name badges which I maybe pretended was an exclusive press pass (totes did). I have to say the venue was amazing – over several floors of beautiful glass and shiny floors which made me feel very important. The other bloggers were of all different ages and types of people – many were parents, as you would expect at a mumsnet event, but like me, many were beginner bloggers looking for some tips and ideas.

The catering throughout the day was LUSH. We were given a million (to the nearest million) opportunities to refresh ourselves with endless tea, coffee, juice, coke, and never ending pastries. This is where I made a fool of myself for the first time by unknowingly dropping a tiny delicious pastry on the floor:

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Shameful. Surrounded by all these chic professional bloggers and I drop a pastry on the floor, not realising til it’s too late. I should have probably picked it up before someone slipped on it…

The opening panel was all about the role of the Internet, featuring amazing speakers such as columnist Tim Dowling, Sarah Vine, and Susie Boniface. There was an awkward moment when my tweet describing my mortification on realising that a man I’ve blogged rather unfavourably about in the past was married to Sarah Vine flashed up on the big screen behind her, but later on she replied to it and was very nice indeed about my Gove-bashing so I didn’t feel too bad.

After yet more coffee and cake (remaining safely on my plate) we went to our first breakout session. There were a few to choose from, but Emma and I elected to attend ‘How to find your Funny’ and we sat on the front row near these brilliant ladies:

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Pretty stellar company, I’m sure you’ll agree. There was a debate between the panellists on how much to reveal about others in your blogposts, with some saying ‘fuck ’em’ (Arabella Weir – just as fabulous as she sounds) and others arguing more for empathy for the subjects of humour. What do you think? Can you go too far when writing for humour?

We then had three 5 minute long ‘think bombs’ designed to get you thinking differently and creatively – I was really inspired by Francesca Martinez who reminded us of the strength and power of our bodies.

Accepting yourself as you are is an act of civil disobedience.

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Lunch was extremely tasty, and with plenty of time to go and visit some of the stalls of the event sponsors. I once again felt like an imposter as I hurtled past all the calm, collected bloggers to enter every competition going and try to get my hands on as many freebies as possible. After some furtive glances around I soon realised that others were also partaking in the freebie-raid, and that any intense, serious looking discussions were mainly about what other freebies we were likely to receive.

In the afternoon I attended my favourite panel ‘Can blogging change the world’. I had been looking forward to this due to the inspirational women on the panel, including a bit of a childhood heroine Carrie Grant. Still feeling like an imposter, I plucked up the courage to ask a question about the strength of one voice in making a huge world change, and was very proud to feel included in the answer. Carrie Grant spoke about the voice of women, reminding us that:

You are not powerless. You are not a burden, you are an asset.

The next session was a round table skills sharing on social media. I was hoping to learn more about how to effectively get the most of twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If I’m honest, I didn’t get very much out of this discussion as I felt the room was too busy to hear very much in, and the chairs were set out so that I was sat outside of the ’round table’ circle. This was the closest I got to feeling like an imposter all day.

After this there were more pastries. I dropped my second pastry on the floor, but this time picked it up quickly and surreptitiously. I then ruined this by tweeting it to everyone at blogfest with the #pastrygate. Hopefully they saw the funny side.

The closing panel was on ‘the power of writing’ and featured novelist Nick Hornby. The final speaker, comedian Lucy Porter has us all laughing at her talk of penis cups, left handed masturbation, and outwitting sexist cab drivers.

After canapés and one too many free drinks, Emma and I returned to our hotel (Premier Inn) to watch Strictly in our PJs, and root through our goodie bags:

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I can definitely say that next year I will be returning, and this time with the confidence to call myself a blogger – no longer an imposter.

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The Super Story behind Supertown

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Recently I had the absolute honour of being asked to conduct the world premiere of ‘Supertown the Musical‘, written by two very dear and very talented friends, James Sidgwick and Robert Sanders. They are on a journey to expand the super power of their super musical, and I wanted to share with you the story behind this amazing work. So below you will find my guide to writing a Sidgwick and Sanders musical, or better known as how NOT to write a musical, in 3 simple steps:

  1. Step one: Writing the Musical

A Long Distance Relationship

James and Rob decided early on to involve their other halfs (Claire and Sophie). This was a potential risk, as many of us know working with our other halves can be…tricky. To add to this, during the writing of Supertown, Rob was thousands of miles apart from his partner. I can only imagine how much they missed each other, not seeing each other for months on end, communicating via the shaky internet connection Rob had out at sea (I’m making him sound like a romantic, burly sailor – the truth is he was playing keyboard on a Disney cruise having a lovely old time sunning himself). You can picture how difficult it must have been for our star crossed lovers, who were used to being together every day, watching Game of Thrones together, eating Vienetta, and now so far away. Oh I’m sorry – you think I mean Rob and Sophie? No no, I mean Rob and James! And on top of all that, they were also trying to write a musical together! The distance led to some ‘technical’ difficulties…

‘Technical’ Difficulties

As I’ve explained, the shaky and not all too frequent internet access led to some issues. Rob would send James the music he’d written via dropbox, and then James would send him back audio notes on it. All sounds very professional, doesn’t it? But what happens when two friends communicate in this way? That’s right – James would start by commenting meticulously on the music and sharing ideas (work-shopping it), then get distracted and go off into general chatting and gossiping. I know I know, hard to believe…Add to that the issue of Rob’s appalling spelling of lyrics, which upon discovery on the audio tracks James would laugh uproariously, it’s amazing they got any work done on Supertown at all..

Keeping it Clean

There is a song in the show called ‘Action Scene’ depicting some of the shows best loved characters becoming….closer. The song was originally entitled ‘Supersex’ and had to be completely re-written and re-recorded with the complete change in lyrics. ‘Action Scene’ contains plenty of innuendo and double entendres, so I dread to think how rude ‘Supersex’ was. (I might have been sent an early demo of ‘Supersex’ – obviously Rob was far too professional to have shared it with me when James expressly asked him not to show any of the tracks to anyone, however if it happened to have reached my possession, I would be able to say that it was indeed very rude, And very funny. Soz for telling on you to James, Rob!)

Distracted by a Dog

James’ favourite character in the whole show is Dogwoman, who was the last character added to the script. During the show Dogwoman is not only a superhero like all the others, but at times descends into ‘dog-like’ behaviour (from the mind of James Sidgwick, ladies and gentlemen). James’ favourite moment of the whole show is during the song ‘Superhero of the year’, where all the characters are outlining their plans (classic superhero musical theatre material right there) and Dogwoman suddenly gets distracted and ends up playing with a ball. James and Rob has assured me many, many times (too many?) that Dogwoman is supposed to be a sexy take on ‘Cat woman’ and the fact she is called a dog is in no way meant to be derogatory about her appearance.

  1. Step two: Recording the Demo

The Corridor of Shame

When I first heard about the ‘Corridor of shame I laughed. This was down to James and Rob’s casual dismissal of it as though it was a shared joke. Then I heard Claire and Sophie’s side of the story. In recording the demos for Supertown, James and Rob needed the female vocals of their other halves to ensure that a) they had female vocals on their tracks (obviously) and b) that they could do intensive recording sessions at James’ house (sometimes lasting DAYS). Rob and James at this point knew their music inside out from the months of work-shopping the songs – however poor Sophie and Claire did not. Having no score in front of them and often not hearing their lines more than once, they were expected to perform high quality and accurate vocal lines in one take. When they did not manage to do this after a few tries, they were sent to the ‘Corridor of shame’ – a narrow space in James’ house where they would listen to the vocal line they were supposed to record over and over, and then would return to have another go. Barbaric. James’ reaction to this is to shrug and proudly say ‘worked everytime!’

The First Rule of Recording

James had imposed a strict ‘no drinking while recording rule’ during the recording of the demo which everyone rigorously stuck to. The reasons for this are obvious; a clear head makes for better concentration, and therefore better accuracy of vocal lines; alcohol can cause some severe vocal issues making your voice not sound anywhere near as nice; and when enunciating words alcohol can cause some serious slurring (try saying that when you’re drunk). However, one night James decided to treat himself to a few beers during a particularly long solo session (not a euphemism). After some particularly spectacular tuning issues discovered the next morning, and time lost spent auto-tuning and re-recording all of his lines, James declared the rule sacrosanct, much to the annoyance of everyone else (who had been enforcing the rule all along).

The Superchair – or Furniture Issues

Throughout the recording of Supertown, Rob favoured a particular chair in James’ house (we all do it don’t we? I definitely have a particular ‘spot’ on the sofa and woe-betide anyone who sits there – PEDRO). This became known as the Superchair. The Superchair was clearly a loved and cared for heirloom, being around a million years old (to the nearest million) and had never really been sat on as much as it was during recording. Shortly after finishing the demo it had to be sent to be repaired. However, this was not the only furniture issue. The photo above of the recording sessions of Supertown looks very professional doesn’t it? The posh microphones, set at perfect mouth height. I wouldn’t want you to think this was the case from the start. Initially they had to sing into microphones dangling precariously from James’ kitchen cupboards, hanging off an old blind pole. Resourceful.

‘Artistic Differences’

Amazingly, despite the close quarters of the recording sessions, and the heavy involvement of their other halfs, there were surprisingly few fall outs. One occurred after James’ night of drinking, and his discovery of some rather mangled harmonies. After listening to the recording of the night before, James spluttered ‘and we call ourselves singers?!’ Shortly after this exclamation, he realised that he was the cause of the bum notes. Nice try at trying to blame everyone else though James. Although being crucial in the recording, Rob is not actually a singer or actor, and in some recordings on the demo this is painfully obvious – auto-tune can’t correct bad acting (sorry Rob!)

  1. Step three: Pitching the Idea

Dragon’s Den

James and Rob were keen for their beloved society, LIDOS, to perform the premiere of their musical. Despite being on the committee, James had to pitch the idea to them, and became so nervous he actually had to script what he was going to say – a real ‘dragon’s den’ moment.

Luckily, his pitch was successful, and the rest, as they say, is history! Now that you know the stories behind the writing of the first Sidgwick and Sanders musical I would love you to help these two on their journey – please have a look at their crowd funding page for more info on their story, and even some snippets of the show itself – here. I know the boys would be very grateful for any contribution you may feel able to spare that will help them realise their dreams of taking the show to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Can YOU put the ‘super’ in Supertown?

 

How To Make Food Shopping Fun!

Supermarket

I need to make something clear. This is not a post aimed at those with children who have misty eyed ideals of teaching their child to cook and enjoy seasonal produce…this is how to make food shopping fun for the adults who have little time and even less patience. Many of us have busy work and social lives, so food shopping comes fairly low down on the list of priorities in our spare time. It is often seen as a tiresome necessity – but I think I have found some ways to make it a fun part of your week. Try one of the below out next time you go – guaranteed to make something more of the experience than drudgery and boredom.

1. Zombie Attack

This is a Pedro invention to keep me from spending hours in the supermarket. After a certain amount of time down an aisle (you can set your own time limit – ours seems to be when Pedro gets bored while I’m trying to compare two products for price) you have to pretend Zombies are coming and run out of the aisle never to return. This is absolutely terrifying – particularly if, like me, you are ridiculously scared of them. Pedro soon abandoned this when he realised that with plenty of time to compare different products we would usually end up with the best possible value – and it takes a stupidly long time for me to get my head round cost per kg. When it comes to a toss up between budgeting and running for your life from a Zombie apocalypse (Pedro growling like a Walker), there is no competition.

2. Supermarket Sweep.

I haven’t done this one yet, but desperately want to! It does involve some planning ahead, but I reckon the result is worth it. You both need a copy of your shopping list, then take a trolley each and dash round the supermarket collecting everything as quickly as possible. The winner is the one who gets to the check out first with all the items – loser has to pay for that week’s shopping…and to get a bit of a head start you could have a basic knowledge of the layout of the aisles in order to reduce your time! (Ok, this one is a little bit sad, but everyone loves pushing a trolley really fast down an aisle).

3. Embarrassing your Shopping Partner

I apparantly do this without even realising – unbelievable I know! The trick here is not to be easily embarrassed or likely to feel any sort of shame or inhibition. I’ve won this game by yelling ‘Arrrrrrrrrrrrriba’ at the checkout when buying food for a Mexican feast, causing all shoppers to stop and stare for an awkward few seconds and Pedro to hide behind the trolley. I would also recommend talking loudly to yourself, or making up a song about different ingredients eg ‘Chipotle Paste, Chipotle Paste, it’s such a waste when I can’t find Chipotle Paste’ and so on. (As if I buy chipotle paste! Look at me pretending to be all posh!) You could also try doing impressions of different food. I do rather good ones of boil in the bag rice, and croissants.

I do find that Pedro and I rather enjoy our weekly food shop. It should be an onerous chore, potentially wrought with hissed arguments over the cost of luxury fruit and flavours of Soreen. The truth? I make a list of the meals we will eat that week, then make a shopping list, roughly in aisle order, and we go round together being very silly and no doubt highly irritating to everyone around us.

How are you going to try livening up your food shop?

Living with a teacher – A Partner’s Guide

Teaching is a huge part of my life, which is why it’s so tempting to blog about it (soz – not soz). My last post on it indicated that at times it is very all-consuming – taking up a million hours (to the nearest million) of my life – you can read it here. This is why I’ve decided to write a 5 point partner’s guide to living with that strangest of all beasts – the teacher.

  1. The Early Starts

If you start work at 9am – you have no idea. Some people walk the dog before going to work, others go to the gym, or even have time for a leisurely breakfast, watching or reading the news. A teacher slips out of the house while it’s still dark, arriving at work while it’s still dark, and begins working before many have even been woken by their alarm. But remember – this is a guide for the partners of teachers. As a partner of a teacher you mustn’t grumble that you were woken up before you had to get up (Pedro gets an extra HOUR in bed after I have left). I would also suggest providing a ‘dressing room’ for the teacher in your life to prevent wardrobe disasters caused by them dressing in the dark. These may include: wearing two similar but ultimately different shoes, various garments on inside out, not realising that black underwear will show through a chosen outfit until you get to the bright unforgiving lights of the school corridors, and a horrific mismatch of colours. (This list is not exhaustive). Furthermore, be forgiving when the teacher in your life elects not to risk the eye-stabbing inevitability of putting on mascara at 6am. And when they fall asleep on the sofa in front of Eastenders, (8pm on Mon and Fri, 7:30pm on Tues and Thurs – yes, I am a little bit of a fan) do not make the obvious mistake of telling them that you are tired…

  1. Illness – or Being a Martyr

Teachers are the absolute worst at being ill. They will struggle bravely on unless full on vomming at regular intervals. The reason for this is simply – teachers LOVE to be a martyr. Below is a list of things you might hear a teacher say when they’re ill:

‘But I can’t possibly miss today…..

it’s my exam class!’

it’s my important meeting!’

it’s my lunchtime club!

And a classic:

‘I’ll have to set all the work anyway – it’s easier to just go in!’

Being at the germ-face of teaching (in contact with over 100 illness ridden children per day) certainly carries its risks – so as a partner of a teacher, NEVER complain of a little sniffle.

  1. Planning, Preparation, Marking

Any partner of a teacher knows the perils of whinging about the amount of work they have to do. In my eyes, if you’re not prepared to put up with the following common occurences, you should maybe rethink being with a teacher:

Endless requests for a ‘volunteer’ (that’s you in case you didn’t realise) to cut things out or feed sheets through a laminator.

Having every TV programme you watch together accompanied by the glow of a laptop screen and the sound of typing.

Picking up the pieces after yet another meltdown over a broken or lost memory stick (yes – I know we should back them up – but how often do people do this really?!)

Planning your weekend around workload – eg ‘I can’t have a late one on Saturday as I’ll have to get up early to mark on Sunday so that we can still go out for lunch…

  1. Observations

The dread of all teachers everywhere. I’ve compiled a list of telltale signs a partner should look out for if an observation is coming up:

  • Stage 1 – denial. You will hear phrases like ‘People can come in anytime to watch my lessons, I won’t be doing anything special just for them anyway.’ Be warned. It is not time to relax yet.
  • Stage 2 – planning. They will spend hours on a lesson plan that is pages and pages long, all the while muttering about how ridiculous it is. Stay. Away. They will also be creating colourful and no doubt laminated resources. Now is not the time to remark ‘I thought you weren’t going to do anything special?’
  • Stage 3 – panic. The teacher will be trying to find an outfit that hides their sweat patches of fear, and then having a breakdown when they realise it is in the wash, and ladder their tights. Be supportive during this difficult time.

5. Holidays

The partner of a teacher must NEVER, EVER commit the atrocity of reamrking on how much holiday they get. This is a cardinal sin, and may result in having a very heavy textbook launched at your head. Similarly, when the teacher is on holiday, do not come back from work and ask why they haven’t done the dishes/washing. Chances are they have been working all day/catching up on episodes of Eastenders they have missed through falling asleep before 8pm…

So there you have it – my guide to all those partners of teachers out there. Do you think I’ve missed anything out?