Sunday, 30 November 2014

This Week's Sunday Challenge is a Real Nail-Biter!

I think we can all agree, this isn't my best look...

A couple of weeks ago, when I blogged about my lousy lungs, I mentioned a habit of mine that I've struggled to break.  In the words of the song: "uh-oh, it's biting my nails."

Yes, I am a seasoned nail-biter.  I'm practically a pro.  I don't know why I find the habit so irresistible either, because I genuinely hate the appearance of the chewed-down stumps that currently pass for fingernails at the end of each one of my stumpy digits.

When I was about eleven years old, my Nan made me a promise.  I was always admiring her lovely nails and the peachy-pink nail polish she used to paint them with.  She told me that if I could stop biting my nails, she'd buy me my own bottle, so that I could paint my nails just like hers.  I was absolutely determined to get my hands on a bottle of that lovely varnish, so I did everything I could think of.  

I tried buying some Stop'n'Grow nail biting solution.  But I just became accustomed to the foul taste of it and carried on biting.

I tried reminding myself of how gross nail biting actually is.  I mean, think of all that trapped dirt I'm probably ingesting!  I have a little bit of OCD about germs, so you'd think that knowing what might be lurking beneath my nails would put me well and truly off, but for some reason... Nope.

I even tried sitting on my hands when I was bored and most prone to nail-nibbling.  But it was just uncomfortable and after a while, I'd change position and next thing you know, I was gnawing away...

Eventually, when my Nan sadly died less than a year later, I decided to buy my own pretty nail varnishes, in the hope that if I painted my stubby little nails, I'd be less likely to bite them.  To be honest, that's still the method that works best for me.  But I couldn't wear nail varnish to school, plus I was being horribly bullied there, so I was stressed out of my tiny mind and... Yep, I chewed away on my nails to relieve some of that tension.

Now, as an adult, I work at a place where we're not allowed to wear nail varnish (aside from the clear stuff, which I've run out of and can't afford to buy more this side of Christmas), so I have the same problem.  I'm fine at the weekends, when my nails can be plastered with various glittery varnishes, but come Monday, the temptation to nibble is ridiculous.

So this week's Sunday Challenge isn't one I can sum up at the end of this blog and let you know how I got on.  It's more of a work-in-progress.  But I am going to try very, very hard to quit my incessant nail-gnawing.  It looks ugly as sin and it's pretty vile in general.  And I really, really don't want my nails to look like this anymore:

Because... Yuck.

So if anyone has any handy hints (pun absolutely intended) that could help me in this quest, please do share them with me!  Next Sunday, I'll be catching up with my girlies and I may well write a bit of a Christmassy blog in the absence of a challenge (unless eating as much as I can at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet is something I fancy writing about...), but I'll be keeping you updated as to how my talons are progressing.  Because my nail-growth is just that fascinating.

Wish me luck...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sunday Challenge 23rd November 2014: Food Review!

The view from our table at The Mariners in Rock.

Okay everyone, try not to expire from shock, but... IT'S THE RETURN OF THE SUNDAY CHALLENGE!

I know, I know.  I don't even remember what my last Sunday Challenge was, let alone how long it has been since I did one, but this week I'm actually back on track for a change.  I wondered for a while as to what my first challenge in forever should actually be, but since I'm a foodie and since my dad had booked a table for lunch at The Mariners Public House in Rock today, I thought: "Why not try being a food critic?!"  So here goes...

Newly opened in July, The Mariners sits overlooking the Camel Estuary in Rock.  It's one of many dining establishments owned by Michelin starred chef Nathan Outlaw, so my expectations were high from the outset.  Throughout the week, the pub offers a menu ranging from standard bar snacks (fish finger sandwiches and pork pies etc) to more substantial meals, such as pork schnitzel with fried duck egg.  On a Sunday, the pub boasts a traditional lunch menu at a very reasonable price (especially for an area such as Rock, where prices can be high): £12.50 for one course, £17.50 for two courses and £22.50 if you can squeeze in all three courses.  Lunch is served from 12 until 4:30 and we arrived at 12:30pm, having skipped breakfast in readiness...

We were offered a choice of tables by a very friendly waitress and opted to sit by the window to make the most of the beautiful views around Rock.  I actually work not far down the road, but I rarely get a chance to admire the scenery, so it was lovely to take it all in.

We all decided to go for a starter, given that the menu was so appealing - it was almost impossible not to!

Soused herring with white cabbage, mustard and salad cream.

One thing you can rely on in Cornwall is an abundance of beautiful seafood, so it was no surprise that my dad went for the soused herring.  It came with a delicate mustard-flavoured salad cream and white cabbage.  The herring was so fresh and not overly pickled in any way that dad had no trouble polishing it off!  Even mum, who's not usually a fan of herring, tried some and said it was delicious.

Mariners' Scotch egg.

Mum chose the Mariners' Scotch egg and actually gasped when it arrived at the table, because it just looked so good.  The egg was perfectly cooked, with the yolks still soft.  The sausage meat surrounding the egg was spiced beautifully, giving the whole thing a really deep, delicious flavour when you bit into it.  And yes, I did demand a bite...  The chutney served with it complimented the dish really well and mum was very happy with her choice.

Cauliflower soup with goat's cheese and crusty bread.

Meanwhile, I went for the cauliflower soup, served with crumbled goat's cheese.  The soup itself was beautifully thick and creamy, with the simple, yet delicious taste of cauliflower shining through.  The addition of goat's cheese was something of a master stroke; it's not a flavour combination I'd necessarily have thought of, but oh my goodness, does it work!  The tang of the cheese perfectly complimented the delicate cauliflower, adding to the taste and yet not overshadowing it.  It was all I could do to stop myself from licking the bowl...

Sunday roast!

Mum and I had both chosen roast beef for our main, whereas dad had gone for pork.  The beef came with a lovely horseradish cream and a huge, fluffy Yorkshire pudding.  Dad's pork was served with an apple and whiskey compote and of course, it came complete with some deliciously crispy crackling.

There were an array of vegetables on offer to accompany our roasts and they weren't your bog-standard limp carrots or overdone sprouts (and I say that as someone partial to an overdone sprout...).  Instead, we had honey-glazed parsnips, which I'm told were beautiful (I'm not a parsnip fan, but I did sample the glaze!), as well as calabrese, carrots (cooked whole, with a stunning glaze on them), creamed leaks and cabbage with bacon and roast chestnuts.  There was so much food on offer, we couldn't quite believe how generous the portions were!

The meat itself was beautiful; my beef absolutely melted in my mouth and dad was practically in raptures about how perfectly moist his pork was.  

And then there were the potatoes...  I don't know what magic they sprinkled on them, but they were so crispy on the outside, yet fluffy and light on the inside.  Just perfect.

Being a Sharp's Brewery pub, there were plenty of local beers to choose from to wash your lunch down with and dad enjoyed a very refreshing pint.  Mum and I stuck to soft drinks, but we were kept just as refreshed and offered top-ups by the attentive staff.

Having gorged ourselves on the mother of all Sunday roasts, we knew we couldn't manage puddings, which was a shame as the menu looked delicious!  Maybe next time I'll skip a starter in the hope of saving room...

All in all, I was hugely impressed with The Mariners.  The food was absolutely lovely and the staff were all very friendly, knowledgeable and conscientious.  In fact, we enjoyed our lunch there so much, we've already booked our next visit!

If you're in the area and you'd like to check it out, you can call The Mariners to book a table on 01208 863679, or drop them an email at  There's lots more info, plus sample menus available at their website.  

Monday, 17 November 2014

Let's Take A Deep Breath... And Talk About My Crappy Lungs!

Pictured: How NOT to take an inhaler.

I've not blogged for almost a fortnight and I'm a bit cross with myself about it.  One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to blog every week and well... Like most New Year's resolutions, this has gone the same way as my promise to stop biting my nails.  Which I will totally do.  In 2015...

The thing is, I do have something of an excuse.  Last weekend (not the one just gone, but the one before that), I wasn't well.  Granted, I've already blogged about having not been 100% for quite some time, but on Saturday November 8th, I was really not very well.  I have asthma and, following a trip to Trago Mills to get a few bits and bobs, I started to find myself coughing and struggling for air.  Being an entirely sensible human, I refused to go to hospital and instead sat in the back of the car on the way home, chugging on my Ventolin, expecting it to kick in and everything to go back to normal.

It didn't.

Anyone with asthma will know that that little blue inhaler is pretty much your go-to weapon of choice when things get bad.  You have a cough?  Ventolin.  You need to do some exercise and you're worried your lungs won't cope?  Ventolin.  You're a bit breathless... Well, you get the idea.  Ventolin.  So when your go-to inhaler doesn't work, it's pretty damn scary.  Because the simple act of breathing in and out is something we just don't think about until we can't do it.  And believe me, when you can't, it's literally all you can think about.

So there I was, arriving home after a successful shopping trip, hacking away like I smoke 90-a-day (which is hilarious, because I couldn't so much as touch a cigarette even if I wanted to; cigarette smoke is one of my major triggers).  By this point, I'd taken my Ventolin three times (so six puffs) and it wasn't doing anything.  My chest felt like an elephant had taken up residence on it and actually trying to get any air into my unwilling lungs was so painful that I was starting to regret my earlier insistence that I was "fine."  

Yes.  I am.

Eventually, my mum (I knew there were bonuses to living with your parents at my age!) insisted on taking me to hospital,  During the journey, I was so breathless and in such pain with my chest, that I was actually trying to physically remove something non-existent from my chest; convinced that there had to be something actually on me that was causing such pressure.  Of course, there wasn't.  Just my lungs bashing against my ribcage in a painful spasm.  Thankfully, we only live 20 minutes away from a minor injuries unit, where upon arrival, I was immediately put on a nebuliser.  And where I immediately burst into tears, because not being able to breath is terrifying.  Seriously.  Think of the scariest thing you can imagine and double it.  And then double it again, because of the whole "I'm going to die" thing, associated with not being able to breathe.

Now, if you've just been diagnosed with asthma, or if you're a sufferer who's lucky enough to have never had a major attack, I'm honestly not trying to scare you.  Because what happened next is testament to our fantastic NHS and proof that we have fabulous, life-saving treatments available to us and that as long as we're sensible about our condition, we can live totally normal lives.

Like I said, I was put on a nebuliser straight away.  After 40 minutes or so, my breathing was much easier.  My peak flow had gone up, my heart rate was returning to normal (upon arrival, it was so all over the place that the nurses put me on a silent heart monitor machine so as not to frighten my mum with the erratic beeping) and my oxygen level was healthy.  I was treated with kindness, respect and absolute care.  I was given treatment that I desperately needed, along with a course of steroids to take home to stave off any future attacks.  And I didn't pay a penny for any it.  Our NHS is free at the point of use and we should cherish that.

Yes, I have a pretty major beef with the out of hours doctors service who, after being contacted by a nurse at 3:30pm, didn't get back to the hospital until well past 5:30pm and that was to tell the nursing staff that they weren't sending a doctor to see me until gone 7pm.  That was pretty crappy.  Thankfully, a passing doctor visiting the hospital agreed to come and see me and prescribe the steroids I needed, allowing me to leave shortly before 6pm instead.  I was incredibly grateful to him, because once the attack had passed, all I wanted was to go home, crash in front of Strictly Come Dancing and have something to eat.  Of course that week, Judy Murray stayed in and my annoyance at that almost gave me another asthma attack...

And I say that in the nicest possible way...

Anyway, since then I've been on steroids.  And if you want me to be a pedant, I'd been on them for a fortnight prior to the attack, too.  So that's four weeks.  FOUR WEEKS.

Again, if you've recently been diagnosed, or you're an asthma sufferer who's never been put on steroids, I'm honestly not trying to freak you out.  But guys, someone has gotta spell this out:  Steroids?  NOT FUN.  I'm now - finally - in the process of gradually reducing my daily dosage.  By Sunday, I'll be off them and I could quite happily jump for joy at the thought.  Or at least I would, but I'd probably need my Ventolin first...

So why do steroids suck?  Weeeeeeell...

Firstly, there's the weight gain.  Steroids make you hungry.  But not like: "ooh, I fancy a sandwich."  I mean, like: "Ooh, I fancy EVERY sandwich EVER.  Two of each!  No, three!"  And you eat.  And you're full.  And then half an hour later, you fancy a snack.  It comes to something when the actual list of side-effects printed on the leaflet you get with a packet of steroids is "moon face."  Cheers for that, pharmacists.  I'm half expecting people to ask me if my face is made of cheese.  

And of course, steroids not only make you starving hungry, but they give you acid indigestion as a lovely little extra bonus.  Pro-tip to anyone reading this who's recently been prescribed steroids?  Take those pills in the morning, after breakfast with a pro-biotic yoghurt drink.  It'll protect your tummy.  Plus those drinks are really quite nice...

Then there's the lucid dreams.  And I don't mean dreams that are a little bit vivid.  I mean crazy lucid dreams.  One morning last week, I woke up from such a realistic dream that I was utterly convinced I was in Blackpool.  Why Blackpool?  I have literally no idea.  But I was totally shocked to find myself in my own bed and I had to stop myself from contacting one of my friends to ask how I'd gotten home from "her place" in Blackpool.  The only thing that stopped me from doing that was remembering that said friend lives in Canada and I'm not sure she's even been to Blackpool in her entire life.  Such is the craziness of the steroid-induced dream.

The worst thing, though, without a shadow of a doubt?  The way steroids play with your emotions.  "'Roid Rage" is a thing, people.  As is, apparently, "'Roid Snotty Crying At Nothing In Particular."

Yes, over the last four weeks, I've been a bitch queen from Hell or an oversensitive wreck.  Case in point?  On Saturday I went Christmas shopping.  My mum asked me to text my sister's girlfriend a photo of a gift she was thinking of getting for my sister.  A harmless little request and one I obviously granted.  But then my mum and I separated so we could buy presents for each other and I spent most of the time we were apart messaging my sister's girlfriend in response to the original text.  I love my sister's girlfriend - she rocks and I think of her as an extra sister - but my brain went: "OH MY GOD, WHY IS MY PHONE BEEPING?  I KEEP HAVING TO GET IT OUT OF MY BAG!  WHHHHYYYY?!"  Even though I was happy to send messages back and forth, the sound of my phone going off and interrupting my shopping was so irritating to me that I started wanting to throw it.  Preferably at someone.  Of course, I hated myself for feeling that way and I was equally confused about feeling that way, because I was texting someone I think the world of.  By the time I arrived at one particular shop, only to discover they'd sold out of the very thing I'd gone there to buy for my mum, I literally had to gulp "okay, thanks" at the poor shop assistant and then leg it out of there before I burst into tears.  On my way out of the store, some hapless woman stopped dead in front of me, blocking the exit and I yelled: "MOVE!" and barged past like some ignorant bitch.  If I could go back in time and politely say "excuse me," I would do, ten times over (although that would be a bit excessive).  Upon making it out into the street, I could literally feel adrenaline coursing through my veins and I wasn't sure whether I was going to scream at the world in general or have a massive breakdown and weep right there in the street,  My poor mum was amazingly patient with me and didn't flinch when we met up again and I announced that I hated literally everyone on the planet.  I knew what was causing my erratic moods, but I could do precisely nothing to control them, other than keep taking deep breaths and apologise.  And apologise.  And apologise again...

Literally nothing and nobody was safe from my ire.  I arrived home from our shopping trip and tried to fit presents for my friends into gift bags I'd bought.  One bag was too small for all the presents I wanted to fit into it and I actually yelled at it: "WHY DO YOU HATE ME SO MUCH?  YOU'RE RUINING CHRISTMAS!"  And then I cried, because STEROIDS.

Thankfully, I've gone from 8 per day, to six and now down to 4.  My moods are bordering on normal as I decrease the dosage (I say "bordering," because I've never been quite normal :P), much to not only my relief, but probably everyone who has ever met me.

But you know what?  As my very sensible friend Richey pointed out last night; these drugs might be incredibly annoying to be on, long-term and I might hate the side-effects.  But thanks to them, I've not had another attack in the past fortnight and I've become able to do my morning exercises again without collapsing in a breathless heap.  They might be irritating, but they do the job.

And at the end of the day, that's all we can ever ask for.  That when we're poorly, we get the right treatment and we get well again, whatever it takes.  I'm on the mend now and I promise to update this blog more regularly and to crack on with my Sunday Challenges again - I've missed those!

So if you're asthmatic and you've read this and are thinking "OMG, I never want steroids..."  Well, I don't blame you.  But the alternative is way scarier than the side-effects.  Like... Way scarier.  My advice?  Take whatever they give you.  Just ensure your loved ones are a safe distance away from the blast zone when the moods kick in...

I promise to keep this blog updated more regularly.  And who knows, I might even keep to another New Year's resolution and stop biting my nails too...  In the meantime: here's to getting well again, here's to our fantastic NHS and here's to this weekend's Sunday Challenge, whatever it turns out to be! 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Sometimes I wonder... Am I creative or just mad?!

I've always been weird.  I've even blogged about it.  But sometimes I wonder why my brain chooses to work in such ridculously silly ways.

Take last week for example.  Last week, I went to one of my favourite places to just hang out and be silly with my friend Lizzie for a week - sunny Butlin's in Minehead.  There was a point where Lizzie and I had no immediate plans for the day and it was at this point that my mind took a random stroll down Insanity Avenue.  

Most people might have thought: "Hmm, maybe we'll go into town and get lunch somewhere."  Or perhaps: "Let's see what local tourist attractions there are that we could visit?"  Not me.  Oh no.  My mind immediately went: "WE SHOULD MAKE A FILM."

It kind of just got weirder from there, too.  For reasons even I can't explain, Lizzie and I reached the decision that said film should somehow merge Titanic and Donnie Darko into one movie.  And lo, Donna Titanico was born.

I admit, the Donnie Darko bit was probably due to there being a redcoat in Minehead who looks like Jake Gyllenhaal.  And maybe the Titanic bit came from Lizzie's "Heart of The Ocean" style necklace.  But one way or another, I found myself hastily scripting a plot involving a girl called Donna, who has serious psychological issues, who finds herself on board the Titanic, befriending a skeleton called Jank Dawson (SEE WHAT I DID THERE? FRANK, HAHAHAAAA LOL), who persuades her to sink the ship.  She then masters time travel (off screen, because I wasn't clever enough to work out how to film that bit...) and dies as "a young man, warm in your bed, when a jet engine crashes through your bedroom ceiling."

Frankly, I'm a weirdo.  I know this to be true.  But you know what?  I'm totally making another film when we go back for New Year.  Until then...  It's a cinematic masterpiece, guys.

I won't go on to say just how much I urge you all to embrace your own personal weirdness, because... Well, I've blogged about it already and the link is right there at the top of this post.  But I'm glad I'm odd.  It's taken me a few years to embrace my utter lack of cool and my general oddities, but now?  Yeah.  Weird is good.  Weird is fun.  And weirdos make the best films.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sunday Challenge - 2nd November 2014

Rocking the deckchair.

Greetings, Earthlings!  

Now, last Sunday I had to duck out of my weekly Challenge blog, due to illness and general woe.  This week, despite the fact that I'm still breathing so heavily I sound as though I'm about to make a dirty phone call, I'm back and ready to rise to the challenge!  And what is this week's challenge?  VLOGGING!

Currently, my YouTube channel is made up of bizarre self-made episodes of Doctor Who and a previous attempt at vlogging, which was... Well, rubbish.  Oh and the odd bit of footage from a gig etc.  So, I decided that for this week's challenge, I'd attempt to film an actual vlog, i.e. me talking to the camera.  Seeing as I've spent the last week at Butlin's, I opted to film said vlog there and my challenge this Sunday would be to edit and upload it.  It was a great plan.  And like all great plans it was DOOMED.

I'd forgotten that I had little to no memory left on my phone and that my digital camera recently died a tragic death.  So basically, I was trying to film something with, er, nothing to film it on.  Consequently, my vlog is pretty short, but in fairness, nobody needs to spend a long time staring at my face or listening to my uniquely irritating voice, so it probably worked out for the best.

Lack of memory space meant I didn't film anywhere near as much stuff as I'd hoped to, so there's a lot of stuff that's not on the vlog that might have otherwise made it.  That shot of me doing the ironing, Oscar-worthy though it was, didn't make the cut...

In spite of cringing at the constant sight of my own face, I actually enjoyed filming this little vlog and cutting it together.  In fact, I decided that filming the Sunday Challenge rather than just writing about it might be something I come back to in the future.  So here's to much more of my nasal voice and close-ups of my eye-bags... YOU KNOW YOU LOVE IT.

Anyway, I'm keeping this blog entry short, because a) I'm still not feeling 100% and my eyes are hurting and more importantly b) I'm so hungry, I could eat a small child.  It's unlikely anything I write is going to make sense right now, because my brain is busy listing all the food I would like to eat.  And believe me, it's doing a thorough job; I've mentally gorged myself on everything from steak and chips to baked Alaska since I started writing this...

So, without further ado, here is the link to this week's Sunday Challenge: A vlog filmed on location at Butlin's in Minehead.  Enjoy!  

*Disappears to find food*