Friday, 27 June 2014

These Are A Few of My Favourite Things...

I was at an event for work recently and five minutes after settling into my seat and taking a sip of my tea, the presenter uttered the dreaded words "Ice Breaker" and I felt a little bit of me die inside. I hate Ice Breakers. I understand the purpose of them, but they make me feel awkward and uncomfortable and I sometimes feel like it's the host's way of trying to make something rather dry and boring seem like it's fun and we're all just a gang of happy campers, hanging out together playing games, instead of being forced to sit in a room full of strangers and listen to a boring presentation about boring work stuff. Ice Breakers, and indeed, boring work events, are not among my favourite things. But during this particular Ice Breaker we had to tell everyone our favourite colour and animal and why we were there. (I said "the free lunch," rather than the more honest "I was told I had to") But it got me pondering my favourite things and I realised that I'm not the sort of person that can commit to anything - I'm like Bruce Forsythe with his Strictly Come Dancing 'favourites'.

Favourite Colour

I don't have a favourite colour. If pressed, I usually say red. But that's because I support Liverpool Football Club and I associated my favourite colour with my football team. Football may well be the only thing, for which I can definitively claim to have a favourite. I've often said green too, but I think that is largely influenced by the fact that green is my dad's favourite colour. Truthfully, I actually quite like blue, but it feels morally wrong to admit that. Frustratingly enough, blue looks good on me, much better than red, but you don't pick a team for it's colour, or at all in fact - I believe your team picks you! As a colour scheme my preference is the classic black and white. But in the wider world, my eye is usually drawn to turquoise, shades that span blue and green. But I'm not sure if that makes it my favourite colour. Frankly, if I was to select a favourite colour, it would be a specific shade and I'd know the pantone number for it!

Favourite Animal

julius-the-monkey-36879 monkeyandAlMonkey. Definitely a monkey. Or cat. Yes Cat. I don't know. I've always loved monkeys. I love their little faces, and their human like mannerisms and opposable thumbs. I love that we evolved from monkeys (I know this isn't actually true, we share a common ancestor with apes and chimps, but you know what I mean, right?). I have a large selection of Tshirts with a variety of animated monkeys. Paul Frank is the one exception to my rule about not wearing designer clothes - because I love Julius the Monkey. But my love of monkeys came from the knitted monkey in the ITV digital and then later the PG Tips Advert.My Two CatsCats though. I love cats. I've got two of the cute little buggers. One of them is a real princess and could give Grumpy Cat a run for his money. She looks at me with disdain, most of the time and I always imagine her plotting to kill me in the voice of Stewie Griffin (Family Guy). In fact she's caused me to fall down the stairs on a couple of occasions - I'm entirely convinced she planned it! The other one seems to think he's a dog. He wags his tail and runs to his bowl if we so much as move in our seat, and he runs to the front door to collect the post for us. He's the one who comes to wake us up at 5am when he wants feeding. He scratches his claws down the wardrobe door and peers over at the bed to see if it woke us up. He's a little menace, but he's got these beautiful big eyes and a tiny little head and he couldn't be cuter...until he flicks out his wolverine like claws, and stretches his paws up in the air to make himself look big. But I love dogs too.   We could be here for months if I try to decide on my favourite book, film, song etc so perhaps I'll leave those for another day!   What's your favourite colour and animal?

Friday, 20 June 2014

Prologue - part two

April 2004

The taxi was just passing Chalk Farm station and I needed to make a decision, go home or go back to Brian’s. I quickly assessed how drunk I was on a scale from can name all of the actors who played Doctor Who to can’t remember my name. I was somewhere around can still remember the apple keyboard short code for the hashtag sign.

I rested my head against Brian’s arm and said nothing as we passed my road. Something in the back of my mind alerted me to the ridiculousness of a situation where I had to be just drunk enough to want to go home with my own boyfriend.

I followed him into his house and he shut the door behind me pushing me up against it, his lips latching onto mine. I quite liked kissing him, it was nice, and I did enjoy being with him, he was funny, making me laugh all the time.

His hands moved the strap of my vest across my shoulder, pulling it down to expose my bra and I held back a shudder. In most respects, Brian and I made sense. We’d known each other our entire lives, our parents were friends, so why did I hate it when he did this?

He took my hand and pulled me up the stairs to his bedroom, kicking off his shoes and unbuttoning his shirt as he made his way through the door. I sat on the edge of the bed, kicked off my shoes and wriggled out of my trousers. I climbed under the duvet and rolled onto my side facing away from him. The room was plunged into darkness and I felt him press his body against mine, his hand snaking round and clasping my breast, his warm breath leaving a damp patch against my ear.

The sex that followed wasn’t worth writing about.

“I need to go to the bathroom.” I said afterwards

“Okay,” he moved towards his side of the bed to turn the light on

“No, leave the light off. Where are my clothes?”

“What do you need your clothes for?”

“What? Just give me my clothes.” I was starting to get irritated with him.

“Maybe I want to see you naked.”

“Maybe I don’t want you to see me naked.” I grumbled, climbing out of bed and making my way to the door.

Half way across the floor the room was illuminated and I froze, exposed, in the middle of his bedroom like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. As I squinted I could just make out his lascivious grin and I felt an overwhelming urge to punch him in his smug, irritating face.

I scurried to the bathroom, fuming. Why does he always do things like that? It bothered me that our relationship felt like a game of one-upmanship, and he was always the winner. Why would he want to make me feel uncomfortable all the time?

I sat on the toilet, and curled my body round to hide my exposed breasts. Even alone in a dark room, I didn’t want to be naked, I certainly didn’t want to walk into a brightly lit room. I realised that he knew how I felt about my body and this was his way of exerting some control over me, showing me who’s boss.

I don’t know whether you’d call it an epiphany or my road to Damascus moment, but sat there in his grotty bathroom, shivering in the dark cool air, I had a realisation.
I don’t want to be with him, he disgusts me.

I had an overwhelming urge to run out of the house, never to be seen again. I illuminated my binary watch and stared at the formation of led lights, calculating the time to be 3:17am.
Right then, I resolved, I’m going back to bed, and I’m breaking up with him in the morning.


“Are you fucking kidding me?” He shouted at me, I shook my head. I didn’t even feel sad anymore.

“Look, I love hanging out with you, of course I do, but I just don’t think we should have tried to be more than friends.”

“I don’t believe this.” His face was red and distorted with rage.

“I mean, the sex thing…”

“Well frankly I’ve not been happy for a long time about the lack of sex,” he sniped.

“Yeah, well obviously, but it just never felt right to me.”

He shook his head angrily.

“Well, fucking you was like shagging a blow up doll, you’ve got about as much passion as a wet lettuce.”

I bit the inside of my cheek, there was no reason for me to get angry, he was just lashing out, probably embarrassed at being dumped. Mentally I rolled my eyes and pointed out that’s because I absolutely didn’t want to have sex with him.

“And you know what?” He continued, I realised I’d tuned out most of his rant but his question caught my attention, I raised my eyebrow, inviting him to continue, “you’re lucky I even got it up for you, you eat so much fucking pizza you’re starting to resemble one, fat bitch, go on get out of my house.”

I closed the door behind me and pulled out my phone to call Ruth.

“Hey sweetie, what’s happening?”

“I’ve got an overwhelming urge for an all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut buffet, want to join me?”

“Sure thing, what are we celebrating?”

“I just broke up with Brian.”

“Not what I was expecting you to say,” she laughed.

“Yeah well, he said I eat so much pizza I’m starting to look like one.” Ruth was silent, “so obviously now I want pizza.” I smiled at her continued silence, “you can laugh if you want.” Her laugh exploded down my ear.

“I’m sorry, but you have to admit, that’s pretty funny coming from Brian.”

“Yep” I chuckled, I knew he was trying to hurt me, to save face. Although there was some truth in what he said, I wasn’t in great shape and my diet was mostly takeaways.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just realised last night, the whole relationship was like an endurance test. It was time to call it quits. And we have absolutely nothing in common. He doesn’t even own a computer.” Ruth laughed.

“I did wonder if you were panic buying, when you said you’d hooked up with him.”

“I think I probably was, I’ve no idea why it seemed so important to me to have a boyfriend.”

“I hope it’s not because of me and Andrew?”

“Shit, I’ve got no date for your wedding now.” I sighed.

“Hey weddings are great places to find romance… You might just bump into the perfect uber nerd.”

“Yeah, but knowing my luck, he’ll be some distant relative of yours who lives in Australia.”

The last thing I wanted was another romance. My relationship with Brian had taught me something valuable. I didn’t want to settle. I had dreams. I wanted to use my degree and make video games. I had no idea how I would get the money to do that, but instead of wasting my spare time on a boy I didn’t like, I was going to spend every spare moment working on achieving my goals.

There was a spring in my step as I walked through the door of Pizza Hut. I was feeling very inspired.

Prologue - part two

Monday, 16 June 2014

Freebie Five: World Cup Edition.

Are you a World Cup Widow? Perhaps this will help. Thirty Two teams each with 23 players equals… A lot of men! Correction: A lot of fit men – well they must be pretty fit, if they’re professional footballers, right?

I mentioned recently that Tom Ward would definitely be top of my Freebie Five list, if I had one. I am currently responding to some interview questions from fellow Xcite author, Danielle Austen for her blog and one of the questions asks who would be on my freebie five list, so I will be giving it some careful thought shortly. For those of you not familiar with the term, the Freebie five is a list of five celebrities you would be allowed to hook up with by mutual consent of your other half. The idea became popular following the Friends episode ‘The One with Frank Jr.’

Chandler: Does anyone else think David Copperfield is cute?

Monica: No, but he told me he thinks you’re a fox.

Chandler: All right, Janice likes him. In fact, she likes him so much she put him on her freebie list.

Joey: Her what?

Chandler: Well, we have a deal, where we each get to pick five celebrities that we can sleep with, and the other one can’t get mad.

Ross: Ah, the heart of every healthy relationship. Honesty, respect, and sex with celebrities.

So who’s loving the World Cup so far?

Now don’t misunderstand me, I love football, but I only really care about watching my team (Liverpool) or England. I enjoy the game itself, but I’m also human, so I’m not going to complain about watching some attractive muscular legs running around the pitch. Anyway, for those of you struggling with the overload of football on TV at the moment, here’s my World Cup freebie five, keep an eye out for these guys and it might make the whole thing slightly more interesting!

Hugo Lloris – Goal Keeper for France.[/caption]

1. Hugo Lloris – France.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out why this guy caught my eye. In fact, seeing Hugo line up for France against Honduras gave me the inspiration for this very blog post!

He’s got a touch of the Tennant/Ward about him, with his floppy dark hair and chiselled good looks. I’m definitely looking forward to watching France play again!

2. Emir Spahic – Bosnia-Herzegovina

Michael Vorm - Belgium

Michael Vorm – Belgium

3. Michael Vorm – Netherlands

30 year old Michael Vorm is goal keeper for Swansea, but so far hasn’t been used by the Netherlands squad. Which is a shame, because he’d definitely light up the pitch with that smile.

Keep an eye out for him on the bench though.


[caption id=”attachment_334″ align=”alignleft” width=”148″> mertens belgium Dries Mertens – Belgium


4. Dries Mertens

I’ll be looking out for Dries Martens when Belgium play tonight. Described as being lively, skilful and incisive, a small player destined for big things.

Well, they say good things come in small packages!





Benoit Assou-Ekotto - Cameroon Benoit Assou-Ekotto – Cameroon

5. Benoit Assou-Ekotto – Cameroon

I’ve always had something of a crush on this Tottenham Hotspur player, currently on loan at Queens Park Rangers. Just look at that hair!

He’s described as having intelligent positioning – I don’t know what that means but it sounds good!


Now that’s what I call Fantasy Football!

So have you been watching the World Cup? Do you have your own list of footballers to watch out for?

Share your favourites below.

Freebie Five: World Cup Edition.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Does romance only exist in fiction?

You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” – Mr Darcy

imageSwoon! It was already lovely in the novel but when Colin Firth’s Darcy utters the words to Jennifer Ehle’s Eliza, it’s just breathtaking.

So romantic. Until he follows it up with some insult about her mother – Jane Austen may have inadvertently inspired the modern day insult, “yer ma”, back in the 17th Century.

Jane Austen was the master of romance, in my humble opinion. Her formula is regurgitated time and time again, indeed, I hold my hands of up and admit that unintentionally, Inspired by Night also emulates the Pride and Prejudice way, right down to the sensible, no nonsense, female lead character. Although, in a way, Olivia Jones follows Darcy’s path rather than that of Elizabeth Bennett, because it is 2014 and I’m all for equality of opportunity, so why shouldn’t the roles be reversed slightly?

Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kiss you right now.” – Steven Teller


But let’s be honest for a moment. Ladies, look at your man – go on, look at him sat there on the sofa watching sport / playing Call of Duty / picking his nose. Imagine him looking over at you and saying:

you are too generous to trifle with me…”

You’re going to look at him and say

mmmm trifle!”

Or at least that’s what I would think immediately prior to laughing at him.

Because we don’t live in a romantic world. Our minds jump to comedy retorts faster than they process compliments, and there’s plenty of unromantic comedy moments in popular culture:

I love you”

“I know” – Princess Leia and Han Solo

“I love you”

“Quite right too” – Rose Tyler and The Tenth Doctor

“I love you”

“Thank you” – Leonard and Penny

We went to see an amateur dramatics group perform an original play called Jefferson’s Tale this week, a romantic comedy set against the theme of time travel, which ticked all the boxes for me, I was well prepared to love it before it even started.*

There was a proposal scene, and as the lead guy got down on one knee I felt my heart sink.
Oh no I thought, he’s going to propose.

I was expecting a really cringey speech – this was theatre after all – of love and feelings and I want to hold your hand til the end of time type stuff. And that’s exactly what we got. And I felt awkward watching it because it felt real, and unnatural. That sort of stuff is surely only acceptable in books and movies.

See, we’re not a romantic couple. We never have been, except for that one time, when he bought me a Stormtrooper helmet for Valentine’s day (to be fair it was only 4 days after we got together and we weren’t sure of the valentine day etiquette at that point) and I saw the Stormtrooper helmet and raised him a pose-able Yoda.

But is anyone romantic anymore? Has romance ever really been a thing outside of literature. Do we dust reality off our hands before turning the front cover, rather like leaving a muddy pair of shoes outside the back door? If we suspend reality to enjoy a work of fiction, then anything goes. Is romance just a notion invented by early authors?

Blinded by the romance of it all

When I hear girls complaining about their unromantic partners, I sometimes wonder what it is we expect from our partners. Chocolates and flowers? To be wined and dined?

They’re all just gestures aren’t they? I wouldn’t thank my other half for jumping out of a plane and snowboarding down a snow covered mountain to present me with a box of Milk Tray – I don’t like half the fillings and you get more chocolate to the pound in a Christmas tin of Quality Street. And it’s fine, you know, to just bring them round to my house, I don’t need a dramatic gesture.

And flowers just stink. I had a boyfriend once who bought me a red rose on valentine’s day. He left it on the floor outside my bedroom with a note, starting a treasure hunt… Which would lead me to the prize of… Him. I buried my nose amongst the petals and took a deep breath, and immediately started coughing and spluttering.

I knew exactly where he would be, so I don’t know why I bothered doing the treasure hunt, cursing him all over town because he knew my car overheated and couldn’t go very far. As I broke down just outside the town and waited an eternity for the RAC I took immense pleasure in imagining squashing the red rose in his face.

When I finally got to the pub I realised it had been a ruse to distract me so he could watch football. What an absolute insult. Not only do I not give a crap about Valentine’s Day or flowers, but I also missed the match. Apparently he didn’t know me very well at all, if he thought I would rather traipse across town on my own in a car spewing smoke from under the bonnet than sit in a pub with him and watch my own team play.

Just be nice

Sometimes I hear girls say things like “well, he knows I love tennis so he got me tickets to Wimbledon, he’s so romantic” or “we went to Venice to see Verdi’s Requiem, it was so romantic.” But see, for me, I’d rather get a KFC boneless banquet and watch The Simpsons.

imageDo we, in fact, confuse a simple case of doing something nice with romance? I don’t consider it particularly romantic on my part, if I return from the shops with Cheesecake for dessert as a treat, it’s simply a gesture because I know my other half likes cheesecake. Once in a while he’ll present me with a packet of shortbread fingers because, as I’m fond of declaring, I love shortbread. I always rip the packet open, and after the first bite I say to him “this is how I know you still love me, when you buy me shortbread for no reason.”

But if he told me he loved me, unprompted, I’d furrow my brow and give him a sideways glance of suspicion and probably just say, “well, good, I should hope so too!”

The suffragettes called and they want their bras back

I’m a sucker for a good romance novel. The pure fantasy of being swept up in strong manly arms and showered with kisses and declarations of love. But in real life I think I’d just find that a bit too full on. The male love interest in a lot of novels, is described as being strong and powerful, capable of taking care of his leading lady, protecting her, treating her like a princess. In real life that sort of behaviour would be creepy and controlling.

Take Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight. These books have had women going insane over Christian Grey and Edward Cullen, while they imagine themselves playing the damsel in distress characters of Ana and Bella. Seriously, these girls haven’t got a backbone between them. Do you know what I would do if my boyfriend started spying on me at work and forbid me from walking to the sandwich shop to buy lunch, or sulked if I even spoke to another man? That’s right, I’d dump him. Probably slap a restraining order on him too!

So what does it mean to be romantic? Have you ever been swept off your feet and treated like a literary heroine? Or is romance just a work of fiction?




* By the way, I did love Jefferson’s Tale, which is a welcome relief because a friend of ours was in it and it would have been awkward if it had been rubbish. Thankfully it wasn’t and neither was our friend, who was pretty awesome actually.

Does romance only exist in fiction?

Sunday, 8 June 2014

A nice cup of tea and a slice of cake.

You know by now that a nice cup of tea is the cornerstone of my diet, closely followed in another corner by pizza. But one cannot live on tea alone, sometimes the beige nectar needs to be accompanied by cake.

We have a cupboard in our house dedicated to cake and biscuits. My other half has quite a sweet tooth and there’s always something sugary to eat.

When I was a kid my mum used to bake scones. I always loved a nice scone with jam and cream.

Want to make these bites of loveliness? Click the image for the recipe courtesy of BBC Good Food. Want to make these bites of loveliness? Click the image for the recipe courtesy of BBC Good Food.

But they’re not very cool are they? When I went to uni I had my head turned by things like dough-nuts and caramel slices and before I knew it fifteen years had passed and I hadn’t given any thought to the humble scone.

I was at a work event one day and there at the end of the buffet table was a tray of scones with jam and cream. I smiled at the quaintness and popped one into my mouth. Oh my word. It was like a little taste of heaven. All the memories came flooding back, of home baked scones and tea.

It’s top of my list now. First choice cake, and the reason I’ve developed something of an addiction to Afternoon Tea.

Followed swiftly by another classic: the Victoria sponge cake.

image Click on the image for this recipe courtesy of Channel 4 food recipes.

A friend of mine recently poo-poohed the simple classic Victoria sponge as being the cake equivilant of Spam.

Now I’m something of a convert to Spam at the moment. We are in a recession after all and I can get a good few dishes out of a tin of spam. Grilled like crispy bacon. Yum.

Still, I believe my friend meant to insult the Victoria sponge and needless to say, he is wrong.

There is something of a theme here of course – the Victoria sponge with its jam and cream filling is a lighter alternative to the scone, reserved for those times when you don’t want to risk a tongue strain injury dislodging bits of mashed up scone from around your teeth and gums.

Dessert Cakes

I do like some of the fancy desserts though. In recent years I became  a big fan of banoffee pie. Especially after I found a cheat that didn’t require me to boil a tin of condensed milk for five hours. I microwaved the milk in 20 minutes! But now you can buy tins of already caramelised condensed milk.

Get the recipe from the chocolate cake recipe blog by clicking the image. Get the recipe from the chocolate cake recipe blog by clicking the image.

I like the banana flavour and the vague feeling that I’m getting one of my five a day while eating something sweet and naughty!

I also love Cheesecake. My other half is on a mission to sample every type of cheesecake imaginable. Regardless of what is on the dessert menu, if there’s a cheesecake he hasn’t tried then that’s his choice. We recently discovered blueberry muffin cheesecake in Asda, bringing together a much loved tea cake with a much loved dessert cake. It was beautiful!

But my ultimate favourite dessert is Trifle.

I know, another uncool classic. But there it is. I’m very particular about my trifle.

I like to make it with a Swiss roll and Strawberry jelly base. Thick custard layer and dream topping with chocolate sprinkles.

I do not, under any circumstances, want it ruined with sherry.

Or real fruit!

Click the image to see the recipe on the Guardian website. Click the image to see the recipe on the Guardian website.

The perfectly set trifle will always make a sluuuuuuuuurppppp noise when the first spoonful is removed for serving. It’s become a high pressure deal among my friends. Everyone crowds round silently listening for the sucking slurpy noise as the jelly and custard is ripped apart. A successful slurp will result in cheering and back slapping and compliments to the chef. But fail in the slurp and the silence of anticipation turns into an embarrassed disappointed silence.

And I know. I can see from the consistency whether it’s going to slurp. My last trifle was a resounding failure, so much so, I sloped off quietly to dish it out alone, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would not slurp. The custard just wouldn’t set. The trick to the perfectly set custard layer is using the old fashioned custard powder not a quick mix packet or a tin of ready made. We’d only had quick mix sachets. Custard should be made with boiling milk not boiling water. A schoolboy error. Still it tasted like trifle even if it was a big old sloppy mess!

So they are my favourites, although there’s also something to be said for the absolute classic apple pie and custard. Always a winner and smells better than all of the above by a mile!

I’m starting to feel a bit peckish now. I only need to talk about food to get my tummy rumbling.

What’s your favourite cakey goodness?

A nice cup of tea and a slice of cake.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Teabags, phones and automobiles

I’m not sure if I believe in a master plan or that things are meant to be. I think that we can achieve anything we put our minds to and while I will occasionally pause and acknowledge a random set of events culminating in something amazing, I generally err on the side of coincidence than on the side of fate.

However this afternoon I needed to nip out to Asda to buy some tea bags. As I was pulling the front door behind me I stopped and remembered I had left my phone on the sofa. I paused and hesitated between rushing back in, because I hate being without my phone, but then something inside me whispered “you know what? You’ll only be gone five minutes, why would you need your phone?” And I pulled the door shut behind me and got into my car.

20 minutes later I’m sat in my car, head in my hands with lots of Asda shoppers all casting glances at me as I try again to get my car to start. Whurrrrrrr whurrrrrrrr whurrrrrrrrr it said to me until I let go of the key.

Once it caught, coughing and spluttering into some kind of ignition only to immediately cut out. Whuuurrrrrrrrrr whuuurrrrrrr.

As a new set of shoppers started noticing and looking my way, I stopped again and sat, fuming. I wanted to throw the steering wheel out of the window, but who’s fault is it but my own?

Normally I would phone my brother in law. He’s a mechanic and owns a garage about ten minutes away from my house. Not that it’s open on a Sunday, but generally, anything car related and we turn to him for advice.

To make matters worse my stupid bank which used to charge me £15 a month for a cool account with rewards, one of which was breakdown cover, decided to do away with that account and with it went my RAC membership.

Not that I could have phoned them, anyway.

Oh and finally, for the first time in history, as far as I can remember, the random set of groceries I bought in Asda had come to exactly £10 so I didn’t have a single scrap change on me, to use a pay phone.

I finally climbed out of the car and started walking home. Not only was this a massive inconvenience, not only was I fuming at myself for not taking my phone, but on top of it all, I was having unwanted exercise forced upon me.

I walked home, scouring the pavements for some rouge 20p pieces for the pay phone, but all I saw in my entire journey was a shiny bronze penny.

“It’s okay, I’ll soon be home with a nice cup of tea.” I told myself, but I also dreaded telling my other half, knowing that his first response would be: why didn’t you take your phone?

I slammed the front door shut behind me.

“I’m a massive dickhead” I announced, and recounted my tale of woe.

“Why didn’t you take your phone?” He asked me, causing me to smile.

10 minutes later, with a cup of tea in hand, I’d phoned Asda to ask them not to clamp my car, and my brother in law had promised to sort something out the following morning to get the car moved to his garage.


I suspect though, that as soon as I get to my car tomorrow, it will just start first time.

At some point I’ll look back on this story and laugh. I’m not quite there yet. But the blueberry muffin cheesecake I bought from Asda, may just help.

Well played fate. I’ve learned my lesson about gambling with you. And I’ll never leave home without my phone again.

Teabags, phones and automobiles