Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Films That Mean A Lot To Me (And WHY)

So, tonight is the biggest night of the year for film-buffs, movie-goers and of course, Leonardo DiCaprio: it's The Oscars and obviously, that means that I've been thinking quite a lot about films, today.  No, not any of those shortlisted for an award, because - regrettably - I can barely remember the last time I went to the cinema (don't even talk to me about the fact that I never saw Star Wars, because I'm not okay with it).

The thing is, it's not that I don't love going to see films at the cinema.  I mean, sitting in a dark room where nobody can see that I'm slowly gorging myself on popcorn is quite close to Heaven on Earth, when I really think about it.  It's just that until a recent revelation caused me to change my mind, I used to think that I couldn't do things like go to the cinema by myself.  And seeing as my closest friends all live a minimum of an hour's drive away, it makes simple things like popping to see a movie more akin to a military operation, involving planning when everyone's free, arranging which cinema is convenient for us all to get to and whether we should get food afterwards (pro tip: when inviting me to do anything, please note that yes, we should ALWAYS get food afterwards).  So, sad though it is, I've long tended to miss out on films until such time as I can get them on DVD, or they're screened on telly.  It's just not quite the same.

Although, I don't get to wear my jammies at the cinema.  And my local one definitely doesn't serve wine.

So, when I found myself thinking about movies today, it wasn't those shortlisted for awards at tonight's Oscars ceremony.  No, instead, it was the movies that have touched my life and still mean a lot to me, for various reasons.  And, because sharing is caring, I thought I'd write a little list.

My plan is for this to kind of run in chronological order (ie the films that meant a lot to me as a kid, all the way up to the present day), but my memory is like a sieve at the best of times, so if this ends up being all over the place, well... We'll just chalk it up to it being part of my "rambling" nature, shall we?!

Essentially, I think we can all agree that this trip down Movie Memory Lane is a damn good excuse to have a little party all by myself.

And that sentence was literally just an excuse for me to use that gif.  Phil's in a tux.  Your argument is invalid.

So, here we go...

1. THE CARE BEARS MOVIE II: A New Generation.

I regret nothing.  

I know you're probably shaking your head at the screen right now and wondering what the heck is wrong with me, but just go with me on this.

The Care Bears Movie II is a lovely, sweet film, with a frankly brilliant musical score.  Try to get the songs out of your head after watching it and I almost guarantee you'll fail.  The end song over the closing credits, Forever Young, is particularly gorgeous and features probably the first ever guitar solo that I air-guitared to.  Click play on the video below and experience the poignancy for yourselves.

In all seriousness though, this film was one of the first ones I really, truly loved.  It focused on some pretty major themes, considering it was a kids film - feeling left out, not being as good at stuff as others are, pride coming before a fall and, of course, good triumphing over evil.  A classic, I'm sure you'll agree.  Oh, and it had quite a few scenes of kids playing marbles and seeing as I was obsessed with marbles as a child, that alone gave the movie a special place in my heart.

Seriously, so much of my pocket money went on bags like these.

2. Half A Sixpence

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a MASSIVE musical theatre nerd.  This is largely down to the fact that my mum is also quite a big musical theatre nerd and she raised me on the classics: The Sound of Music, The King And I, Mary Poppins etc.  Although I can't talk about Mary Poppins, because there's a bit in it that really upsets me for silly reasons I won't go into...


Ahem.  Where was I?

Oh, yeah, musicals.  So, I was brought up on musicals and the one that probably hooked me the most was Half A Sixpence.  I was only a little kid when I first saw it and I fell in love with not only the story, the music and the costumes, but with Tommy Steele himself.  Which was quite unfortunate, because my mum had to break it to me that the film was actually quite old and he definitely didn't look like "Artie" anymore.

But he was SO cute back then.  And I wanted to look like Julia Foster SO badly.

To this day, although it has been - shamefully - quite a number of years since I last watched Half A Sixpence, I still think being given half of something to keep whilst you're separated from your loved one, knowing they have the other half, is a really sweet gesture (unless you're cutting a baby in half or something, in which case, stop it).  I still often find myself singing the songs.  And I still find myself filled with a deadly rage at the mention of "Miss Helen Walsingham."  

If you've not seen the film, let me explain that Helen is the character who waltzes into Artie's life (see what I did there - Walsingham/waltz - I am hilarious) and completely spellbinds him, causing him to ditch his long-term love, Anne.  Neither Artie or Anne have ever been wealthy and have spent much of their lives in service in one form or another, but Helen is from a very rich family and, after Artie turns out to be the recipient of a fortune, it looks as though Anne will be left alone and poor, whilst he and Helen swan off into the sunset.  Indeed, poor Anne is working as a maid, bringing champagne to a wealthy couple wanting to toast their engagement, when she is faced with the horrifying realisation that the happy couple are Artie and Helen.  Thankfully, Artie eventually comes to his senses and marries Anne, but still, Helen Walsingham is one of the biggest villains in cinema history as far as I'm concerned.  You can't come between them, Helen, they have a sixpence they share and everything!

3. Back To The Future

This photo contains a spoiler for another film on this list...

I don't even have to explain why Back To The Future is made of sheer awesomeness, right?  I mean, you've seen it, haven't you??!!  

As a kid, when I wasn't crushing on actors from musicals that were actually made years before I was born, I was busy crushing on Michael J Fox.  There wasn't a person I knew at school who hadn't seen Back To The Future and who didn't completely and utterly love it in every way possible.  And with good reason.  That film has everything - your archetypal mad professor (Doc Brown), a handsome young dude (Marty McFly) and a freaking time travelling car.  I mean, DeLorean's look futuristic enough without also acting as portals to the past/future, but add that in and you have a winning combo.  

This film is also responsible for the fact that whenever I have a crush on anyone (which as you will have gathered by now is all the time), I feel the need to refer to them as "my density."

4. Sister Act (And also Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit, now you come to mention it...)

When I was a kid, we lived for several years in our own house in a village called Sawtry.  It was important, because Dad was in the RAF and most of my childhood was spent living in military houses that were all a uniform (haha) shade of beige inside.  So, having our own house that we could paint any colour we liked was very special and that house still has a lot of fond memories connected to it, from a time before Dad got posted and we moved into another military property - albeit a house with one bedroom randomly painted blue, which I immediately claimed.

Whilst living in the village, we had next door neighbours named Fran and Trevor (or "Fran and Treasure" as my sister adorably pronounced it).  I can't remember why they looked after my sister and I one day, but they did and on that day, they asked if we'd like to watch a video.  That video turned out to be Sister Act and it blew my tiny mind.

Already being obsessed with musicals, I was bound to love a film that centred around a bunch of singing nuns, but I was beyond in love with Sister Act.  It was more - and still is more - than just a film, to me.  It was the moment I became seriously interested in singing in a choir (something I went on to do on and off throughout school), it was a film that bonded my sister and I in our mutual adoration and it had a soundtrack so fantastic that we actually attempted to record it from the video (once we had our own copy), using a boom box and a blank cassette tape.  Of course, we ended up with a really naff recording of the songs, but a pleasingly loud recording of ourselves chatting and singing along, which we found hilarious and kept for several years.

It also featured the story of Mary Robert, the shy, quiet novice nun who didn't want to sing loudly, but turned out to have a beautiful voice and ended up being the star of the choir.  For a girl who was often the shy, quiet one at times in her life, but who sang like nobody was listening in the privacy of her bedroom, that novice nun was my idol.  After I reached adulthood, I once had a dream that I had "Mary Robert Is My Senpai" tattooed on my arm.  True fact.  I love the stage musical Sister Act for making Mary Robert into arguably an even bigger and more important character, too.

Of all the films on this list, Sister Act is one of the most important to me.  It just takes me back to being young, carefree and having a bloody awesome boom box.

5.  Hook

Oh, Robin.

I'm not going to lie to you, dear reader, I could have put any number of Robin Williams' films in this list.  Aladdin is amongst my favourite Disney films of all time (and if you're wondering why I haven't included any Disney in this list, it's purely because I COULDN'T CHOOSE) and Mrs Doubtfire was, along with Sister Act and Sister Act 2, funnily enough, one of the movies we were almost guaranteed to watch in the school hall on the last day of term before the Summer holidays.

But Hook has an extra special place in my heart and always will.  There's something so beautiful about the idea that time and the inevitability of age can blind you to the magic that's actually all around you, yet it can still be awoken, if you just believe in it - and yourself - enough.  That's the lesson I took away from the story of Peter Pan having grown up and become a rather dull, fearful adult who most certainly doesn't have a great deal of magic in his life, until he comes to realise the truth of who he is.  There's magic and beauty all around us, if we only open our eyes to it.  Or, to paraphrase the film itself:  "To live (is) an awfully big adventure."

When the world tragically lost Robin Williams, I can guarantee that a huge number of my generation were mourning the man who fronted many of their favourite films from childhood.  I was certainly no exception.  Robin was hilarious, warm, silly and so, so good at conveying emotion.  I can't watch his films without a misty-eyed moment, since he's been gone.  We miss you, Robin.

6. Jurassic Park

And lo, I slept with the light on that night.

What kid isn't fascinated by dinosaurs?!  I was certainly a dino-fan and when Jurassic Park came out, I was hugely excited to see it at the cinema.  The premise is amazing - the idea that dinosaurs could be recreated and that we could go to a park to see them "wild" is one that had me hooked from the offset.  Why can't we do that?!  Oh, because...  Yeah, have you seen the film?!

There are so many things to love about Jurassic Park.  The concept, the CGI (which back then was totally awesome), the moment a dude gets eaten by a T-Rex whilst on the toilet... It's a film that truly has it all.  Add to that the strange feelings I had for Sam Neill (he was hot, okay?!) and the absolutely incredible musical score and the film is just an instant classic.  It's one I could still watch and love just as much, now.

Oh, and it's single-handedly responsible for my totally irrational fear of finding a velociraptor in my kitchen.  Every morning I don't see one is a blessing...

It's also a film that I immortalised on YouTube last year, when my friend Lizzie and I decided to fuse it with Downton Abbey.  You know, as you do.

Click on this and feast your eyes on my weirdness.

7. Beaches

Okay, I'm saying it: Beaches is my favourite film of all time.  Hi, I'm Emma and I'm a massive female stereotype.  Honestly, I like action movies and sci-fi, too.

But Beaches has a place in my heart that simply cannot be usurped.  If this blog was a countdown, Beaches would be at number one.  

I was eleven when I first saw it.  It was on TV one night, whilst my Nan and Paps were visiting us from London.  I think we got around halfway through it and then my parents decided it was time for my sister and I to go to bed.  Since our grandparents were staying in my room, I was sharing a room with my sister and we decided to put the telly on quietly and watch the rest of the film.  By the end, we were utterly inconsolable, snotty tears everywhere, so we decided to go downstairs for some hugs.  When we opened the door to the lounge, we were greeted by the sight of Mum, Dad, Nan and Paps all in floods of tears. 


No matter how many times I see it, it still reduces me to this at the end:

Beaches, for those of you who haven't seen it, centres around the story of two young girls, CC and Hilary, who come from very different backgrounds and who meet when one of them gets lost at the beach and the other comes to her rescue.  Over the years, they stay in touch via letters and meet again as adults.  Throughout the film, their friendship has its ups and downs (including falling for the same guy - major friendship no-no), but when it comes to the crunch and Hilary is diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, CC is there for her right to the end, proving that friendship really can last forever.  I should probably have written that last sentence in white or something, seeing as it contains a spoiler, but what with Beaches being listed in almost every single top ten list of weepies ever written, I suspect you'd probably have guessed that there's a death involved, somewhere along the line.  Sorry, if you hadn't.

8. The Shining

I was probably around 15 or 16 when I first saw The Shining.  We were staying with some friends who live up North and my sister and I were hanging out with the family's two oldest sons, who we'd known since we were really young.  The subject somehow turned to horror movies and we talked about our favourites.  One of the boys asked my sister and I whether we'd ever seen The Shining and when we said no, he rushed to grab the video (retro).  

There is something wonderfully understated about The Shining.  It's not like a lot of modern horror flicks, where there's just endless gore and violence, or the scary bits are practically signposted with neon.  Instead, the horror is often internalised, only leaking out bit by bit as events slowly begin to unravel at The Overlook Hotel.  

Without meaning to spoiler the film for those who haven't had the creepy pleasure of seeing it themselves, I will just say that for me, the scariest moment of the whole thing is without doubt the woman in the bath.  YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.


The Shining cemented my love of horror (which was created even earlier in my youth, via Point Horror books, obviously) and to this day, I can't help but love watching something purely in the hope of terrifying myself, so that I'm forced to sleep with the light on.  This one will always be my favourite, though.

9. Airplane!

Probably the most quotable film on this list, Airplane! is one of those movies I first saw with my dad when I was too young to understand some of the jokes (some, but not all).  It feels like every time I watch it, I notice something hilarious that I didn't spot the last time.  Yes, bits of it are massively dated and some parts make me cringe (I don't think "talking Jive" would get past the censors these days...), but on the whole, this is one film that can always cheer me up if I'm a bit low and will always make me giggle.  If you've not seen it, you should.  And then watch the Naked Gun trilogy, too.

10. Titanic

You've no idea how hard it was to resist using the Dan & Phil "I'm flying" gif for this.

I've always had a fascination with certain periods of history and certain historical events.  World War II is one of them and another is the sinking of the Titanic.  I can't fully explain why I'm so gruesomely obsessed with it, but I've literally lost hours of my life, looking at photos of the ship on the sea bed and reading facts about that night in 1912.  It started young, when I learnt about the tragedy at school, so by 1997, when the iconic film came out, I had to see it.  Luckily, I had a friend who was utterly in love with Leonardo DiCaprio, so we headed off to the cinema.

Up until that point, only Beaches and certain musicals had caused me such profound weeping.  Titanic absolutely devastated me, but it had less to do with the death of Leo's character ("I'll never let go?"  YOU WOULDN'T EVEN LET HIM LIE ON THE WOODEN THING WITH YOU, ROSE!) and much more to do with the fact that I knew that 1500 people really did lose their lives when the "unsinkable" ship struck an iceberg that night.  It's not so much Jack promising Rose that she'll die an old woman, warm in her bed that sets me off.  It's the images of the band playing on as the boat sinks, the Irish mother tucking her children into bed, knowing they're all going to drown, the captain going down with his ship...  Knowing all of that is based on fact is heartbreaking.  

Titanic has such a place in my heart that it's one of only two films I've ever immortalised in a spoof on YouTube, when, a year or so ago, my friend Lizzie and I decided to fuse it with another film I absolutely love - Donnie Darko - to create "Donna Titanico."

11. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

We've discussed my love of musicals, so that won't come as a surprise, but my sheer love of cult-classics and blokes parading around in suspenders might.

Given that I have a soft spot for sci-fi and a childhood obsession with The Crystal Maze, Richard O'Brien's raunchy tribute to B-movies was always going to be a hit with me.  The sight of Tim Curry, prancing around with a full face of make-up and the kind of high heels that you can usually only get from Irregular Choice did something wonderfully weird to me and I've never looked back.  Yes, I know the audience participation bits.  Yes, I've been to see it at the cinema at a special screening, whilst dressed up as Magenta.  Yes, I've seen it on stage.  I have given myself over to absolute pleasure and it was great.

This is another film that's special to me at least in part because it was an obsession I shared with my sister.  We watched the film together, listened to the soundtrack together, Googled trivia about the film together and, possibly most impressively, listened together as our mum told us all about the time she saw the original stage production, complete with Tim Curry and Richard O'Brien, play at a tiny theatre, well before the film ever saw the light of day.  I don't think I'll ever stop being jealous of that.  Ever.

12. Bridget Jones' Diary

Yes, I am a thirty-something single woman cliche.  But I first saw this film when I was nineteen and had a boyfriend, so...  I had a point there, but it's run away from me.

When Bridget Jones' Diary came out, I had never read the book (I have since and I have also read the sequel, but the third Mark-less book DOES NOT EXIST IN MY WORLD, OKAY?!).  All I knew was that a lot of people I'd spoken to had read it and said it was brilliant, so of course I was absolutely desperate to see the film.  I tried my best puppy-eyes on my then-boyfriend, but he just shook his head and told me we were going to see some action film or other.  I didn't mind too much, given that I like most genres of film, but I was a tad disappointed.  Still, he told me to go and buy the popcorn whilst he got our tickets, so I skipped off to do just that.  It wasn't until we were settled in our seats and I had my face in the popcorn, snuffling like the greedy pig I am, that I realised, seconds into the film starting, that he'd bought us Bridget Jones tickets as a surprise.  It's tragic really that that story remains probably the cutest thing a boyfriend has ever done for me.  My life needs a romance injection, stat.

Anyway, despite my being all loved up when I watched it, I massively identified with the film's unlucky-in-love protagonist.  Her silly, clumsy, awkward ways just seemed to ring true to me and I could easily put myself up there on screen in her place.  I got Bridget Jones.  Still do.  But then, I am her, these days...  

Ugh, v. bad.

13. Sabrina

Most people who know me can tell you that I absolutely love, worship and adore Audrey Hepburn.  She's my absolute idol, so there had to be one of her films on this list.  And, though I love Breakfast At Tiffanys, I swoon over Roman Holiday and I can easily sing my way through My Fair Lady or Funny Face, for me, it absolutely has to be Sabrina.

Telling the story of an awkward, shy girl with a crush on the wealthy, party-going ladies man whose family her father works for, Sabrina has a wonderful twist in the tale.  Sabrina goes off to Paris to study and, on her return, suddenly the lifelong object of her affections, David Larrabee, notices her at last.  But, as David is now set to wed the daughter of a very rich baron, ensuring the Larrabee family's fortune increases even further, David's brother - an all-work-no-play type named Linus - decides to step in and ensure that nothing happens between David and Sabrina.  How best to do this?  To woo her himself, of course!  Linus' plan is to seduce Sabrina whilst his brother is recovering from an "accident," then persuade her to believe that he wants to set sail for Paris with her, only to ship her off there alone so that she's out of the way and David's marriage can go ahead.  However, at the last minute, Linus realises that he can't hurt Sabrina in such a manner and he tells David to go to her after he's left her alone.  But David realises that Linus has actually fallen for Sabrina himself, whilst "pretending" to have feelings for her and Sabrina also discovers that she'd been hankering after the wrong brother for all those years - Linus is the one for her.

Everything about the film is just gorgeous and Audrey is perfect in it.  If I want an "Audrey night," where I tuck myself up under the duvet with a glass of wine and bask in my idol's sheer perfection, Sabrina is my movie of choice, every time.

14.  The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring

Obligatory Flight of The Conchords reference.

When Fellowship came out, I was kind of in two minds about going to see it.  I'd never read the books (I know, I know) and I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy it.  But I went with my sister (notice how many of these films are special to me because of family?!) and we utterly loved it.  To this day, I still have a replica of Arwen's necklace, which I wear now and then, just to project my not-so-secret nerdiness out into the world.  Lord of The Rings is long and fantastical and I kind of want to watch it right now, except I don't know where the DVD is, so I can't.  Damn.

But anyway... The theme of friendship and my strange crush on Sean Astin have combined to make this a perpetual winner in my eyes.  I enjoyed The Two Towers and Return of The King, too, but I think the first one deserves its place on this list.

15. Donnie Darko

Then call me, Jake.


Donnie Darko is one of those films that gets slated for being too pretentious, or for trying too hard or whatever, but I think it's utterly brilliant.  The very first time I saw it (when I was in my early 20s - I missed it at the cinema), I was hooked from start to finish and when the credits rolled, I just sat there with my mouth hanging open, not entirely sure what had just happened to me.  When a film has that sort of effect on you, it kind of stays with you and I've never not felt similar at the end of Donnie Darko.  I've read all the theories, I've discussed it at length with fellow fans and yet I'm still searching for answers, somehow.  Bitch about it all you want, but this movie got under my skin and I've yet to get it out.  I'm not sure I even want to.

16. Kill Bill

This was another film that I didn't actually see at the cinema.  But my sister (AGAIN with the sister link!) bought the DVD and insisted that I see it.  It was bloody (quite literally) awesome.  Beginning with a heavily pregnant bride being beaten and shot, it's a gore-fest from start to finish.  When our "heroine" wakes from a four-year coma, she sets about seeking vengeance on every member of the gang who so brutally attacked her.  

In a rare event for a grisly action flick, Kill Bill is almost entirely dominated by strong, female characters.  Given that I saw this film at a point in my life where I was getting more and more interested in finding out what feminism really meant, it intrigued and impressed me to see so many powerful women depicted on screen, in a genre that can be pretty male-centric.  Not only that, but Uma Thurman's Bride depicts a vulnerable side and a very rounded, three-dimensional portrayal of female strength - not merely physical, but emotional, too.  And really, there's little in the costume department to suggest that these feisty women are being presented as sex objects, either.  They're attractive, but they're not dressed in especially revealing costumes.  Finally, women on screen could be tough without it having to be sexualised, too.

I saw this film at a time when I was really figuring out who I was and what I believed and seeing women portrayed as such strong characters definitely helped me to feel stronger in myself.  Sure, it's not perfect from a feminist standpoint, but it's a game-changer.

17.  Brokeback Mountain

Again, Jake... Just please shave.

This film is the source of endless amusement for a lot of people, but for me, it's up there in my "Guaranteed To Make Me Cry" list.  I've read Ang Lee's original short story, from which the film was created and being someone with several gay friends and loved ones in my life, it felt incredibly important to me to have a major movie depict a very loving homosexual relationship, whilst also focusing on the hardships and the disgusting intolerance that can, truthfully, still be faced today.  I still think Brokeback was a brave, bold film and it makes me moist-eyed every time I watch it.  

It's my belief that nobody should be judged for something they can't change about themselves and sexuality falls into that category.  I've written before about my hatred of "Straight Pride" events and about my sheer loathing for the Westboro Baptist Church, due to their homophobic nature, so it felt massively important to include this film as part of this blog.

Indeed, it was a toss-up between this and the utterly brilliant Pride when it came to inclusion in this list, and I plumped for Brokeback only because I've re-watched it more times.

But that's probably just because I don't yet own Pride on DVD.  I should rectify that.

18.  Inception

Leo contemplates a killing spree at the Oscars, unless he finally wins Best Actor.

I mentioned earlier that Donnie Darko basically made this list because it blew my mind.  And so it is with Inception.  When you can sit in a cinema and still be opening and closing your mouth like a fish, just repeating "WHAT?  WHAT?" over and over as the lights come back up, you know you've seen a film that's going to stick with you and mean something to you in years from now.  

Inception is still too new for me to tell you whether I'll be basking in its glory ten or fifteen years from now, but I can tell you that six years on, it still makes my head hurt.

19.  Guardians of The Galaxy

It speaks volumes about how infrequently I actually go to the cinema these days that the most recent film on this list of movies that mean a lot to me came out two years ago, but there we have it.  Guardians... is a franchise I knew I was going to be obsessed with.  And I am.  There's a short, but factual review, for you.

So, there we have it.  Nineteen films that mean something to me, either because they touched my soul, made me cry, messed with my head, unleashed my inner nerd or simply because they remind me of my youth.

You made it to the end of the list, my young Padawan.  Be proud of yourself.  It was shaky at times, but you got there, despite the fact that at least 50% of this has been written whilst I've been slightly inebriated and overtired.  BUT WE BOTH SURVIVED.

Appropriate gif?  Maybe not, but... Reasons.

Feel free to let me know what films have meant the most to you over the years in the comments!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Bedtime Story (24/2/2016)

Every now and then, I am influenced to write a story about one of my favourite things.  This week is no exception and this week, I'm writing about something of a British institution: The "Fry Up."

For the podcast edition of this story, just click here!


Claudia Cooks Breakfast

The sun was barely rising, when Claudia hopped out of bed.
She'd rather have been sleeping, but she had things to do instead.
Today was her dad's birthday and she had plans to start;
She'd cook him a scrumptious breakfast - it couldn't be that hard!

Claudia had seen her parents cook breakfast so many times before,
That she didn't feel at all nervous, as she opened the kitchen door.
A full English fry up would send her dad to Birthday Heaven!
She was sure it didn't matter much that she was only seven...

Claudia opened up the fridge and found sausages and bacon,
Then she thought: "Pancakes!"  But she didn't know how to make them.
She knew that eggs were involved somehow, butter and flour, too.
But first, the bacon and sausages needed to cook - now, that much, she knew.

Whilst the oven heated up, Claudia searched the cupboard for beans.
Then, she rummaged on the shelf, for a recipe book she'd seen.
She flicked through the pages, to the pancake recipe.
There weren't too many words - in fact, it looked pretty easy.

So, Claudia put the bacon and the sausages on a tray
And she put them in the oven, so they could cook away.
She opened up a big drawer and found a frying pan.
Then she found a bowl and whisk - then the trouble began...

First, Claudia squeezed the bag of flour and it sort of puffed up in her face.
She turned white, just like a ghost - the mess was all over the place!
Then, she cracked some eggs, but the shell went in the flour.
She glanced up at the clock and gasped; Dad would be up in an hour!

Quickly, Claudia whisked some milk into the mixture in the bowl.
She added butter to her pan and watched it froth and roll
Around the surface, melting fast, until at last she knew that it was ready.
Claudia poured the mixture in and held the frying pan steady.

She wasn't sure how long it took for pancakes to be done
And Claudia had so many jobs to do, she thought she'd start another one.
She pulled the ring on a can of beans and poured the beans into a dish.
She shoved them in the microwave, then gave the frying pan a swish.

The pancake sort of lay there, all golden and quite flat.
Then, Claudia smelt a burning smell... "Oh no, whatever's that?!"
The bacon needed turning, it had gone all dark and crispy.
Claudia didn't want it to burn, that would be too risky.

She turned the bacon over and the sausages as well,
But was that pancake ready?  There was only one way to tell...
Claudia took a deep breath and then, with a confident feeling,
She flipped the pancake up... And it got stuck on the ceiling.

Then. she heard a popping noise coming from the microwave.
Oh, no!  The beans were overcooked - the situation was rather grave.
The beans had crusted to the dish and they didn't look that tasty.
Claudia would have to find another can and she'd have to be quite hasty!

But before she could get that done, she smelt the burning smell again.
The bacon and the sausages were turning black - and then...
Just as Claudia was trying to prevent any further harm,
There came a sudden beeping sound - she'd set off the fire alarm!

Her parents both came running downstairs, with sleep still in their eyes.
When they came into the kitchen, they got quite a surprise.
With burnt meat, crusty beans and no pancake, Claudia looked sad.
Her bottom lip trembled and she whispered: "Happy birthday, Dad."

Luckily, her dad just smiled and gave his girl a cuddle.
"Oh, Claudia," he chuckled. "You've got into quite a muddle.
You could have burnt the house down, all by making breakfast.
You had a really sweet idea, but it was a little reckless."

So he and Claudia's mother quickly got to work,
Clearing up the mess, with a barely hidden smirk.
Then, once it was done and everyone was definitely ready to eat,
Claudia's dad took them all out for breakfast as a special birthday treat.

"I don't think I'll cook again just yet," Claudia announced on the way.
"Next time, I'll help you," her dad replied.  "We'll try again another day."
Meanwhile, back at home, something they'd missed was peeling...
With a tiny little "splat," the pancake fell off the ceiling!


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Emma's Top Time Wasters!

If there's one thing any writer knows, it's the art of procrastination.  You sit at your computer, the cursor blinks back at you, inspiration begins to strike... Then half an hour later, you're watching a video of a dog who can talk and you can't remember what you were originally planning on doing.

Now, sure, when inspiration really strikes, I can totally lose myself in my writing.  I'll be hammering away at my keyboard for hours at a time.  But it's fair to say that we all - all of us, not only writers - have those moments when we just can't quite make ourselves get on with the task at hand.  

If you're someone who finds that happening to them on a regular basis, help is on hand!  No, I'm not going to teach you how to stop procrastinating - that sounds far too much like hard work.  Instead, I'm going to tell you what my favourite time-wasters are, so that you can enjoy them for yourselves.  You'll thank me one day.  Probably not on a day an assignment is due, though...

1. YouTube

You should watch Dan and Phil.  I mean, right after reading this blog.

Seriously, YouTube might as well be renamed "ULTIMATE PROCRASTINATION MACHINE."  Or something slightly catchier to that effect.

Since I "discovered" Dan and Phil (had them waved in my face by my best friend until I succumbed - thank you Lyds!), I have lost literally hours of my life when I should have been writing, but have instead preferred to watch two stupidly attractive dudes with amazing hair play The Sims 4.  Phil Lester is now my number one crush and I know a scary amount of random facts about two blokes I've never met.  In case you're wondering where the above gif comes from, it's from this video, which I watched in bed last night and laughed so much I had a coughing fit.

And it's not just Dan and Phil (well, roughly 75% of my YouTube time is taken up by them, but other stuff is available).  One of my favourite time wasting activities is YouTube karaoke.  You type in a song title, add the word "karaoke" on the end, find a backing track and sing your heart out like the frustrated diva you are.  What's not to love?!

My other top YouTube recommendation is definitely "Honest Trailers."  I could sit and watch these for literally hours at a time.  In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, it does exactly what it says on the tin: they're movie given a more honest trailer and they are hilarious.  Given that I'm obsessed with Les Miserables, it's no surprise that one of my favourite trailers they've done is for the movie version, which you can watch here.

Add to the above delights the fact that you can find all kinds of documentaries, music videos, old TV shows and assorted oddities and it's no wonder that YouTube is my number one time wasting activity, possibly of all time.

2. Social Media

I moan about Facebook.  I moan about Twitter.  I moan about Tumblr.  Would I be without any of them?  No, no and thrice no.

Social media is a marvellous way to lose an hour or three of your life.  You pop onto Twitter just to "see what's happening," you notice an unusual hashtag, you get involved... Next thing you know, it's dark outside and you haven't eaten since breakfast.

Besides which, social media doesn't have to be a total waste of your time (the fact that I follow several "puppy gif" Tumblr accounts is beside the point - they are SERIOUS BUSINESS).  Can anyone else remember how we as a nation reacted in unison to major world events before the introduction of Twitter?!  Twitter is the first place I head when anything happens, these days.  Sometimes, that strange bonding-effect of feeling as though you and a whole heap of strangers have joined together to discuss some big news event can actually inspire me to write something on the subject.  So, checking Twitter roughly eight million times a day is a totally productive use of my time, thank you very much.

3. My Best Friend

She's my number one time waster, obvs.  And never actually time wasted.

My bestie is pretty much the ultimate way I procrastinate.  Can't think of something interesting to blog about?  I text Lydia.  Seen a new video that has only served to deepen my aforementioned crush on a YouTuber?  I text Lydia.  

And, given that we're on the same, very strange wavelength, many times, our perfectly normal conversations quickly end up turning into something entirely off the wall.  Today, for example, we decided that our new greeting for one another should be to pretend to whack each other in the face with our imaginary penises.  

Luckily, I try surround myself with people who are weird as I am, meaning that I can do this form of procrastination with a couple of my other friends, too.  If I'm in a strange mood, I'll send one of them a random text and simply enjoy the bizarre conversation it leads to.  Procrastination's more fun when you're dragging someone else away from stuff they should be doing, too.

4. Google image search

I will often sit down to write a blog and immediately begin wandering off at a tangent, as I try to decide on which pictures or gifs I should include.  A perfectly innocent trip to Google, to find a picture that relates to whatever I'm writing about, can often lead to half an hour of sifting through images of animals that look like famous people, for example.  As a case in point, I think the dog above looks like Bjorn from ABBA and I will not be persuaded otherwise.

Since I started using more and more gifs on this blog, my time spent on Google has only increased further.  I dread to think how much space on my laptop is taken up by gifs, but I would hazard a guess that if you lay them end to end, they'd circle the world at least twice.  And now that I've finally learned how to make them myself, the problem has only worsened.  I have an addiction.


5. Games on my iPhone

I recently discovered that you can download classic Sonic The Hedgehog to your iPhone (I'm sure it's been available for ages, I'm just notoriously slow to catch on).  I've also recently discovered that I'm terrible at it.  I'm sure I never used to be - in fact, I remember kicking ass at it on my sister's old Sega Game Gear, but apparently as a 33 year old whose thumbs have been ruined by smartphones, I suck.  This knowledge, of course, only serves to make me more determined to improve and that can only be achieved by playing it for far too long, when I'm meant to be doing more important things.

Angry Birds is still a massive addiction of mine, too.  I have a strange compulsion to not move past a level until I have a 3* rating on it, which means my eyes are pretty much square from all the furious screen-staring I've done over the years.  

Add to that a rather more sedate love of playing Solitaire on my phone and you'll surely see why I get so little done.  And why I am destined to have arthritic hands and blindness in my later years.

So, what are your top time-wasters?  Let me know.  And then you'll know why there's been a long time between blog updates...

Monday, 22 February 2016

Speaking Your Mind

The other night, I was watching Come Dine With Me in my Eeyore onesie and contemplating munching on a melt-in-the-middle red velvet cookie (try not to envy my action-packed existence), when a woman on the aforementioned TV show made a comment that hit a nerve.

She'd been deliberately controversial all throughout the episode, making digs at her fellow dining companions, offering huge amounts of criticism with very little praise, and she seemed to have literally no filter between her brain and her mouth.  If she thought something, out it flopped, like a fish from the sea, before thrashing around on the table in front of the horrified guests.

Now, sure, I'm a regular viewer of shows like Come Dine With Me and I'm well aware that on any reality TV show, you're going to get someone in the mix who was almost certainly chosen specifically because of their inability to demonstrate tact, manners or humility.  It's good for ratings, apparently.  But, right at the last moment, as this woman knew that the group of assembled diners were spending their last evening together, she suddenly said: "So, what do you think about the way I've been this week?  Don't you think it's much better to just be completely honest and always speak your mind, regardless of what people think?"

And I couldn't get that question out of my head.  So much so, that I missed finding out who flipping won the show.  I was too busy trying to come up with a coherent response.  I'm not gonna lie, I was close to having some kind of crisis over it.

Like this, only less attractive.

Eventually, I realised that I was coming from an opposite place to this woman on TV.  And I don't just say that because she was from the North and I'm in Cornwall, although they're also opposites, I guess...

No, I say it because I'm the Queen of bottling things up, for fear of offending anyone.  If someone upsets me, there is a very high chance that they'll never find out, because I'll choose to keep my feelings to myself, until my stomach basically eats itself and I've not slept properly for a week.  And even then, I might not be honest about just how upset I've been.  It's not healthy and it really needs to stop.

But, then again, would I want to be someone who just blurts out random criticism, with no thought for who might end up lying awake at night with their stomach eating itself, as a result?  Hell, no.

I guess the best thing is to find the happy medium.  And no, I'm not talking about Derek Acorah (is he happy?  I don't know; to be fair, we've never met).

Recently, I've been trying to make more of an effort to speak my mind.  Something happened a little while ago, which really offended me and I said as much, immediately.  It didn't go down well, to be honest.  In fact, I've dropped an entire week's worth of shopping on the floor and made less of a mess, but I don't regret saying something, because what else would I have done?  That's right - lay in bed, not sleeping, whilst my stomach ate itself.  At least by saying "hang on, that's hurtful," my feelings were made clear and although I still lay in bed awake, my stomach only snacked on itself, which was a marked improvement.

The thing is, I don't believe that we should feel unable to speak our minds when someone else has - either intentionally or unintentionally - caused us pain.  If we don't make our feelings known, then what's to stop that person doing the same thing over and over again, causing us to feel even worse?  You end up trapped on a merry-go-round of angst, in that situation and believe me, it's not fun.  So, whilst the concept is largely alien to me, I'm determined that when I feel hurt or angry about something, I'm going to speak out - albeit politely and probably with copious unnecessary self-apology - so that people know how I feel.

And we shouldn't be worried about being thought of as oversensitive or silly, because even if we are being sensitive, feelings are feelings and if something has caused us emotional distress, we should be allowed to say so.

Pictured: Me.

But that said, I am never, ever going to become the kind of person who just blurts out random, insulting crap and covers it up with the flimsy "I'm just speaking my mind" excuse.  I do think it's important to be honest with people and I don't think we should ever stop people from speaking their mind (free speech and all that malarkey), but I think there's a massive difference between voicing an honest opinion in a tactful manner, and just flinging metaphorical shit at someone's face for the fun of it.

Taking the Come Dine With Me example, there's a huge difference between saying: "I'd have liked my steak a little rarer" and bluntly telling your host: "This is like bloody shoe leather."

One is honest, but tactful.  The other is frankly rude.

I'm not saying that we should wrap everyone we meet up in imaginary bubble wrap like precious little snowflakes, then walk around on tip-toes for fear of upsetting anyone.  That's almost as stupid as keeping everything to yourself and brooding to the point of stomach-eating misery.

But what I believe - and always will believe - is that there's nothing to be gained from being rude for the sake of it, or from never paying the blindest bit of notice to the feelings of others.  You can give criticism constructively and you can voice an opinion without resorting to insults or total tactlessness.

So, going back to the question that woman asked: "Don't you think it's better to just be completely honest and always speak your mind, regardless of what people think?"

Well, yes.  And no.  Basically, find the middle ground, okay?

Right.  So, now that I've answered your question, oh random woman on Come Dine With Me, would you mind letting me know who won?!