Unpopular Opinion: Literary Edition

I don’t know where the recent obsession with ‘unpopular opinions’ came from, but it seems to be the new ‘no offence’ – phrases which, although overused, seem to make it perfectly justifiable to say something controversial and/or offensive if your comment is preceeded by those two little words. However, as irritating as I find the Radio 1 segment of ‘unpopular opinion’ (that theme tune is the Playdays theme, how on Earth did they get that through copyright, and how dare they ruin a cherished childhood TV show); a feature which seems to be code for ‘let’s just all have a rant about minor inconveniences in our lives’, I am both a feminist and a chatty Northerner and therefore a big believer in expressing one’s opinion, however ‘unpopular’ it may be. Literary opinions, I find, are often even more divisive, so I have bravely decided to challenge the status quo around the written word; and am hoping to boldly shake things up by causing even more of a stir than ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.

Harry Potter is not good. 

Okay so I probably lost the majority of you at that point, but hear me out. Conceptually, Hogwarts is a great idea in itself – it is quite original if you discount baiscally every specific character and magical spell, all of which have largely been copied and pasted from a Wikipedia page on Greek Mythology, though I am a big fan of magical realism so these books definitely paved the way for more in this genre, and I am always in favour of women making careers for themselves – J.K. Rowling is a really great influential woman. BUT, her writing is not good. I’m sorry, but the sentence structure is terrible, her laptop clearly had no ‘synonyms’ function because every other word is the same, and they are just. too. long. for. children.

The ‘Twilight’ Saga really isn’t actually bad.

The odd couple of people who accepted the first point have probably now closed this window on their browser, but if you are still here, please hear me out. The films are absolutely terrible, we can all accept that and move on. That is a discussion for another day. But the ‘Twilight’ saga, is actually pretty damn good. I read all four books before any of the films came out, so I’m probably one of few people who were truly objective about it, and it really is a travesty when a terrible film ruins a truly good book *cough* Gone Girl *cough, cough*. The main things which irritate me about ‘Twilight’ critics is the unbridled hatred for Bella Swan. “She’s too quiet”, “she’s pathetic”, “she’s too plain” – I’m sorry, can anyone locate a teenage girl who is NOT quiet, shy, a bit plain looking and completely pathetic when it comes to a hot boy? We were ALL Bella Swan at some stage in our lives, and for me the release of this saga coincided with my awkward phase of admiring boys from a distance, wishing I had a decent pair of tits or a wardrobe with something other than plaid shirts and yearning for the universe to give me some self confidence – Bella Swan is the relatabale hero which we all need at some point in our lives. In a world of Hannah Montanas and Kendal Jenners, be a Bella Swan. Believe me, having a Bella Swan phase does wonders for developing resilience as an adult, not to mention an excellent grasp of self-depricating humour.

Stephanie Meyer is actually a good writer as well. So, even if you don’t like the overall concept of ‘Twilight’, it has the edge over sagas in that it is actually an engaging read. I do however accept that Breaking Dawn was entirely unnecessary and, if it absoutely had to be published, did not need to be so long and drawn out (I have a slight suspicion it was actually written by J.K. Rowling), but Twilight does not deserve the level of hate it gets, not one bit. But, if you really can’t damage your social status by being seen with a Twilight book, ‘Shiver’ by Maggie Stiefvater is definitely worth looking into; very similar concept but, you know, better in that you don’t have to picture Robert Pattinson’s slightly pained facial expressions when you read it.

Anne is the best Bronte sister

It goes without saying that the Bronte sisters are all a hugely important part of literary history and Feminism. All three were absolute trailblazers and I don’t dislike any of them. However, Wuthering Heights is absolutely and utterly terrible. That novel is the Twilight of the nineteenth century; Heathcliff brooding over his own misery and kind of being a d*ck to everyone because he isn’t with the girl he likes, which has only occurred through his own self loathing and punishment, and Cathy being unable to function without his weird, narcissistic and controlling persona – that is Bella and Edward at their worst. Cathy in her room refusing to eat? That is ‘New Moon’ Bella who is literally prepared to lie on the ground in a dark forest and then isolate herself for like a year because she is too pathetic to function without her aloof man. Maybe in a hundred years GCSE students will be studying ‘Twilight ‘and discussing if the wildness of the Forks forests is indicative of the wildness of Edward’s character like the Moors and Heathcliff, but honestly I do not understand the obsession with Wuthering Heights. It’s badly written, drones on a lot and is just utterly depressing.

Jane Eyre on the other hand? Hello, feminist empowerment. I have never seen a TV or film adaptation of Jane Eyre, and I don’t need to. That book is just perfect, although the ending is a bit questionable – I mean, she’s so fiercely independent that she is prepared to sleep in the field rather than rely on the weird, old, MARRIED, man she fancies; but then ends up with him in the end? What’s that about? Which brings me to, the absoulute MASTERPIECE that is ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’. I know an English teacher who has not even read this book. Anne is such an overlooked Bronte sister and it deeply upsets me because that story would be divisive even today – romance from the point of view of a heterosexual man pursuing a woman? A woman who has fled an abusive relationship who isn’t damaged or in need of saving by the new man? Unheard of, yet incredibly refreshing and empowering. Anne, on behalf of the reading community globally, I would just like to take this opportunity to apologise for treating you like Michael Collins on Apollo 11. Go on, Google who that is, and you’ll get the joke.

Historical fiction can and should be enjoyed by young people.

Anyone who has looked at this blog will be well aware that I love a historical fiction saga. The Shipyard Girls gives me life, Rosie Goodwin and Glenda Young literally could not churn out a bad novel if they tried; basically I will read anything that takes place prior to 1960. But, for some reason, historical sagas like this are almost exclusively marketed at women over 60. The same applies for ‘teen’ and ‘young adult’ fiction. Apart from books which help children how to read and those which contain some distressing or inappropriate content, I do not understand how fiction can be marketed at particular ages, or even genders. I just don’t get it. You don’t go to the cinema and say “what’s new in the ages 14-16 section this week?” or “what’s being pushed on the twenty-something women via Heat Magazine this month?”. Everyone I have ever met enjoys an absolute array of film genres, so why do we restrict ourselves with books? I know people who will exclusively read crime, or exclusively read romance – why are you doing that to yourself? I enjoy Silence of the Lambs as much as Bridget Jones, and as much as Frozen; film choices depend what ‘mood’ you’re in, and it’s absolutely the same with books. Snobbery is what it is if I’m going to be quite frank, and I can’t chuffing stand it.

So, if you’ve made it this far without recoiling in disgust at my defence of Bella Swan and slating of J.K. Rowling – to the majority of the reading community that’s like saying the American version of The Inbetweeners was better than the original. But, I’m comfortable with who I am and absolutely believe we should all let our literary freak flags fly and read whatever the hell we want to without judgement because what’s the worst that could happen – you find a new series that you love?

“Reader, I married him”

As now seems to be a ‘Clyde’s Corner’ tradition, I’ll begin with this month’s attempted justification for my lack of recent blogging activity. At least this time I have a legitimate excuse because….drum roll please….I got married last week! Yes, the ‘Bridezilla Diaries’ element of this blog will sadly be no more, so let’s make sure it has a good send off. Planning my wedding was, in many ways, the worst experience of my life – it plunged my mental health and relationship with my now-husband to depths so low they could only be seen by the Kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean. I came very close to falling out with pretty much everyone in my life at some stage or another, did not sleep for weeks at a time and seriously discussed cancelling the whole thing on at least four or five occasions that I can remember (probably more). People kept telling me “it’ll all be worth it in the end” and I just could not conceive of that actually being the case, especially since the majority of people providing this reassurance were either unmarried or had had much smaller weddings than mine. However, I can confirm, as a married person who recently had the experience of a wedding (they do say you forget trauma if you talk about it too long after it happened), I can confirm that, if done correctly, it is absolutely and utterly worth it (even if it is so windy that your veil hits the registrar directly in the face during the vows).

Like Christmas, there was so much anticipation and build-up to the day that, despite it being utterly amazing, I never really got ‘the feeling’ of it being my wedding day. Even whilst walking down the aisle with all my friends and family staring awkwardly at me, my heels sinking into the mud, veil blowing all over the place and my husband sobbing uncontrollably in the distance, it still didn’t feel like it was my wedding. That is one thing which I do wish other married people had told me – ultimately, it is just a day with your friends and family where you all have a party together, and that’s fine! That is still a great day, but if you’re waiting and waiting for it to ‘hit’ you that it’s your wedding, you’re probably going to be disappointed. I think I’m still in denial that it even happened and wasn’t all just a dream, because let’s face it, moshing out to Evanescence and My Chemical Romance in a gorgeous dress and sand-covered Converse is literally the dream. Or maybe it’s because marriage is too big a thing to really imagine; like outer space, it’s just too mind boggling to really think about so in the same way we describe infinite space as being “pretty big”, my wedding day was “pretty amazing”.

Having said that, it was a wedding, we have a big family and (let’s face it) this is me, so obvioiusly there was some drama. The night before, I remember sitting in my beautiful big room, finally able to enjoy some peace and quiet after spending all day and night with friends and family, and just sobbing uncontrollably. Every worry which I’d managed to suppress during the months leading up to it, every snide comment I’d faced and the overwhelming feeling that I was being a massive, selfish diva by having a wedding at all just came pouring out of my eyeballs like the lava at the end of Hunchback of Notre Dame. Through every conflict I’d kept reminding myself that it was ‘our day’ and ‘we should do it how we want’, but when the push came to shove I felt a horrible sense of guilt that the day ahead should be about other people, and that I was letting everyone else down. Inevitably, as is the case with most weddings, we did disappoint people in some ways – there is always something more that people want to do for you, or some other way they want to be involved and you do have to become comfortable saying “no”, which is really hard to do to family and friends.

However, despite the guilt, everyone who attended my wedding (even people who I never expected to admit it) made some reference to how amazing it was that me and my husband had had the day that we wanted, and how it had been ‘so us’. At the time I was obviously just so relieved and happy that everyone was enjoying the day as much as I was, and revelling in the fact that people finally understood why I’d made the decisions I had in the run-up; but now I’ve had time to come back down to Earth and reflect on the day, I do find it a bit sad that people had to say that at all. Of course the wedding is about the couple getting married – without them the day wouldn’t be happening at all! It’s 2019 and usually couples pay for their own wedding (or at least a large part of it), so where is the sense in dropping the average spend of £30,000 on a day that you’re not going to enjoy? It should be a total given that it’s the couple’s day, and I do genuinely find it sad that people were surprised by this – if people had accepted this a year ago I would have been saved from so much anguish.

Our day was made completely perfect by our wonderful venue and suppliers (in particular our amazing photographers who ensured we had free drinks in our hands at all times throughout the day), so I feel incredibly lucky to have made it through what is arguably the biggest, most stressful day of a person’s life, without a long list of regrets; but the one thing I would have absolutely done differently is how we managed the day before. Our wedding venue is an hour and a half drive away from our home, so a large chunk of the day before was spent packing our car and driving up the A1 with some family, and since a lot of our friends were staying locally we arranged to meet for dinner the night before to catch up. Although this was a lovely meal and a great time spent catching up with people and introducing everyone who hadn’t met before, I was totally knackered. Being tired before your wedding has even properly started is never a good thing, and I basically didn’t see my husband-to-be at all. We also had beautiful rooms booked  and paid for, which we had no time to really enjoy. I remember settling into bed, later than I would’ve liked, dimming the lights and getting tucked under the covers with my book and thinking “I wish I had more than an hour to sit and enjoy this”. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that you see very little of your new spouse on the wedding day, and even though our venue were wonderful about ensuring we had enough time to enjoy each other’s company on the day, I do wish we’d had some quiet time together to relax and really take it all in the night before.

So, much like getting into the North Sea on a windy day, your wedding day really isn’t that bad once you get into it, and even though it can feel like you’ve royally pissed off every person you’ve ever met throughout the planning process, it is indeed worth it in the end; as long as you stick to your guns and blow everyone’s naive minds by ‘having the day you really want’. And if it all goes a bit pear shaped; photos can be edited, most people probably weren’t paying enough attention to notice the mistakes anyway, and you can always just get divorced.

Exhibit A of things going wrong, aka “we did not notice this cake has ribbon on each layer”

 

 

 

 

Summer Reads

I feel like I keep starting every blog post with an apology for the lack of recent posting, but by skipping July entirely I’ve set a new record for myself. However, instead of boring you with yet more excuses about how busy my day job is and how stressful it is organising a wedding (which will all be over and done with in four weeks – eek!), I’m just going to glaze right over that and skip ahead to the actual post.

So, apparently it’s summer. Despite the constant rain storms and the fact that I sadly no longer get six weeks of freedom to mark the occasion, according to my calendar it is in fact summer. I’ve never quite understood the logic around ‘summer’ book promotions – as anyone who has visited this blog before will be well aware, I read anything and everything and the time of year doesn’t really come into the decision making process. Having said that, book shops and women’s magazines seem to become inundated with ‘holiday reading’ recommendations faster than chemists can promote this year’s must have ‘chub rub’ hack (still haven’t been able to find that liquid talc, god dammit, Asda). So, I decided to compile a quick list of my personal favourite summer reads.

In the same way Christmas seems to exist on a foundation of do-gooding and pigging out, I’ve always thought that Summer is constructed around an obsession with self reinvention and the pursuit of new adventures, yet also at the same time built on a premise of revisiting one’s past and reveling in how far you’ve come (think Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama). On that basis, I decided to include books with plots or general feelings along those lines, rather than a stereotypical romance by the pool with the cabana boy type rubbish which usually hog the limelight in Summer promotions.

The Single Girl’s To-Do List – Lindsey Kelk

It’s very difficult to review a book which you read seven years ago, BUT, the fact that I read it so long ago and still think of it as a good summer read surely counts for something, yes? I read this in my first ‘grown up’ summer, after finishing my A Levels and trying to figure out the next step in my life, and although I genuinely can’t remember specific parts of the plot or even the characters’ names without Googling it – what sticks with me is that feeling of freedom, that anything is possible and that a Summer lived to the max has some inane power to turn you from the proverbial caterpillar into the butterfly you always knew you could be.

The Last Piece of My Heart – Paige Toon

Disclaimer: every Paige Toon book is a perfect summer read, but TLPOMH is the one that really sticks out for me. I grew up in a family that loved staycations – i.e. staying in the U.K. for holidays (usually in a caravan), so for me, being in a campervan in Cornwall signifies everything that is British Summer. Falling in love whilst staying on an actual British caravan site by the sea brought back endless memories of a misspent youth for me, do with that information what you will. As with all of Paige Toon’s work, the reader becomes completely and utterly immersed in the setting, and you fall in love with yet another fictional character which sadly only exists inside Paige Toon’s mind. But, again as with all Paige Toon books, you end it with your heart feeling full and an overwhelming desire to sack off your day job and take off in a Campervan looking for hot widowers to pursue romance with.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary – Nick Burd

Simply one of, if not my actual, favourite books of all time. This is a young adult fiction book which was gifted to me by my mum years ago, though I managed to misplace it and then find it again as an adult; but the writing still had exactly the same impact. I’m a big advocate of adult readers exploring young adult fiction – there’s something about the YA genre which makes writers push the boundaries a bit more and let their creative freak flags fly (I’m looking at you, Twilight, I mean what on Earth was that actually?). Like The Breakfast Club, this is one of those wonderfully plot-less yet still gripping stories. It takes place over the summer holidays and follows the teenage protagonist as he tries to navigate through his first love, which is relatable to absolutely everyone young or old, but the story also runs in parallel to a local child mysteriously disappearing. I’m not aware of anything else Nick Burd has written (please send links my way if he has), but the writing is just extraordinary. Also, the love triangle which is the central focus of the plot involves three gay male teenagers, which is a really refreshing change from all the hetero-normative girl-meets-boy teen romance which seems to dominate the shelves (again, sorry Twilight, I secretly love you really).

Ingo – Helen Dunmore

Another young adult fiction book which I was gifted by my English-teacher mother, I’m sensing a theme here. I read, actually no it’s more accurate to say I devoured, the Ingo series when I was in my early teens. Again, I love an English seaside town in the Summer as the backdrop for an adventure, and anything involving a mermaid will always have me on board. Even when I have re-read these books as an adult, I’m still always sucked into the magic and excitement of Sapphire discovering the magical underwater world of Ingo, and her long lost father. What starts as every little girl’s dream, finding a secret mermaid colony right on her doorstep, develops into quite an intense saga which spans multiple installments, throughout which Sapphire is conflicted between the life she’s always known and the complicated, sometimes dark, world of Ingo where her familial roots lie; which at times physically pulls her in.

Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

Unpopular literary opinion alert – I don’t really get the hype of To Kill a Mockingbird, though this is at least 99% due to the fact that I studied it for English Literature GCSE within a school that thought watching the film and learning four or five quotes was an acceptable substitute for actually teaching literature for two years. Rant over. I did re-visit To Kill a Mockingbird as an adult, and have to admit I enjoyed it far more when I wasn’t under pressure to remember specific quotes about a rabid dog and walking around in someone else’s shoes which I would then later have to regurgitate onto an AQA workbook in a smelly, sweaty school hall in mid-June. Mockingbird, although it reads a bit weirdly and more like columns than a novel, is a classic Summer story in my humble opinion – for me it’s tyre swings, lakes and running freely with your friends whilst relishing in the fact that school is out (try reading that last bit without getting Alice Cooper stuck in your head – impossible). Scout Finch will always be one of my main literary heroes; I want to call my future daughter Scout but sadly my husband to be does not appreciate good feminist heroes. Watchman is again a Summer story of the American countryside: tyre swings, lakes and catching up with friends, but experienced through the adult Scout who returns to Macomb with a fresh pair of eyes from her new life in New York. Although the plot is a little darker than Mockingbird (yes that apparently is possible), it still left me with a warm heart and a nostalgic smile on my face from revisiting summers gone by and seeing how Scout graduated into the adult, yet still just as feisty, Jean-Louise Finch.

 

 

Review – If You Could Go Anywhere

It’s mildly ridiculous that I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year and have yet to review any Paige Toon books. I had always been aware of her writing but never got around to reading any of her books until I met her at a signing last year, and since reading ‘Five Years from Now’ have become hooked and got through her entire back catalogue with rapid speed. I think a lot of readers are put off her books because, if you line them all up together, they do look like a stereotypical, mushy ‘chick-lit’ series which is one dimensional and lacks any real substance. I don’t know why so many people hate on ‘chick lit’ (I wrote a specific rant about this previously) – if a book is good it’s good, I don’t think genre particularly matters and, why is it so ridiculous that someone might want to read books which make them all warm and fuzzy inside? Rom-com films largely follow the same formula as ‘chick-lit’ and they aren’t frowned upon in the slightest. I’ll never understand literary snobs, but I digress as always.

“Angie has always wanted to travel, but at twenty-seven she has barely stepped outside the small mining town where she was born. Instead, she discovers the world through stories told to her by passing travellers, dreaming that one day she’ll see it all for herself.

When her grandmother passes away, leaving Angie with no remaining family, she is ready to start her own adventures. Then she finds a letter revealing the address of the father she never knew, and realises instantly where her journey must begin: Italy.”

The thing which really makes Paige Toon’s books stand out from others in this genre is that there is always a massive amount of significance given to the location in which the characters’ stories unfold. With every story of hers I have read, I’ve always felt completely immersed in the characters’ worlds and she always takes her readers on a journey through these places, essentially like Google maps; and ‘If You Could Go Anywhere’ is no exception. I was completely transported to the streets of Rome and it was like I was stood behind Angie the whole time, taking in what she was discovering. The locations in the book, as with all of Paige Toon’s work, act as benchmarks through which the characters’ stories progress, rather than through linear dates or significant life events, which allows the story to run much deeper and properly submerges the reader in the characters’ thoughts and feelings, rather than being focused around pacing and where the story is ‘going’.

I think this is what always keeps Paige Toon’s work so original, although the plots are always great and the character development is amazing, new and different locations allow for great characters to blossom within different cultures and keep their stories fresh. Again, I have absolutely no issues with ‘chick-lit’, I think it’s as valuable a genre as any other and if a formula works then why change it? But, the magic formula of a girl meeting a boy who helps her get over some past issues and she discovers who she really is along the way, can start to feel a little bit tired when you read as much as I do. It’s no reflection on the genre or skills of the author, but when you read a lot it does start to feel a bit tedious reading about yet another single twenty-something with a HR job in London who is struggling with the loss of a parent or sibling and trying to progress her career.

On the topic of the ‘magic formula’ of chic-lit and classic ‘girl meets boy’ novels, of which there is nothing inherently wrong, ‘If You Could Go Anywhere’ completely turned this on its head. Without revealing too many spoilers, on completion of this book I would definitely say that it’s actually a story of the girl saving the boy – Angie is definitely the strong pair of arms shielding him from his inner demons, which is really refreshing and very 2019 – feminism, yay! It would have been very easy for Paige Toon to take shy, sheltered Angie on a journey across Italy with a daring, carefree, ‘tumbleweed blowing in the wind’ Jack Dawson type who shows her how to really live, and that would have been a perfectly lovely plot, but Paige never does a plot by halves. Angie is a very tempting character to place in the role of a damsel in distress and I think if the author had fallen into this trap, the overall plot and character development wouldn’t have had half the impact – Angie becomes so headstrong and independent by the end of the story that it is really inspiring, and not only does she become her own hero but she becomes someone else’s too, which is an absolute 180 turn from the Angie at the beginning – though as with all Paige Toon books, I’m too busy enjoying the amazing setting to notice how much the character has developed through subtle changes until it hits you in the face during the climactic finale.

So, if you have been living under a rock and are not familiar with Paige Toon, or if you’ve been reluctant to try her work because it looks too ‘chick-lit’, I would absolutely suggest picking up literally any of her novels as a starting point because you will inevitably end up reading them all. Hopefully ‘If You Could Go Anywhere’ is followed by yet more additions to the long list of Paige Toon’s totally inspiring and feel-good reads. Besides, surely she can’t retire until she’s written about at least every country? Certainly doable if you ask me…

‘Dark Angel’ – Why it’s ‘sometimes’ Understandable to Kill Your Husband

Dead and rotten though she may be, Mary Ann Cotton remains a fundamental figure in North East history. I live within the parish where she was christened, used to live in a flat which stood on the site of her former workplace and have had the privilege of entering the archives of Beamish Museum to see what is alleged to be the infamous teapot. Whilst I cannot ever condone poisoning one’s husband(s) and children, or poisoning anyone for that matter, I recently re-watched ‘Dark Angel’ on ITV (an excellent dramatisation and possibly the best true crime series ever created), which does always leave me feeling sorry for her and wondering whether, when all things are considered, she really had much of a choice.

It is apt that I watched this series (for the third time, seriously cannot get enough of it), on the same day where I had had a conversation with a work colleague about how infuriatingly useless men can be, and the frustration she was feeling at her partner failing to understand how difficult it is for her to juggle full time work, childcare, housework, cooking, laundry, paying bills and something of a social life whilst he works away. Of course, this is not the case for everyone – even in the North East which still has clearly marked working men’s clubs in which women are not welcome; contains women such as my mother in law who refer to hoovering as ‘women’s work’ and judge people on how strongly their house smells of Zooflora; I’m sure there are many stay at home dads, single dads and combinations of parents consisting of all genders and sexualities who don’t conform to the North East ‘ideal’ of the male coal miner and his loving wife who has his slippers on the fire and tea on the table every evening. And, I’m sure there are many heterosexual, ‘typical’, nuclear families who have a perfectly even division of household labour, but it did get me thinking about how much things have actually changed for women.

In a news week where a woman finally had her conviction quashed for killing an abusive husband in self defense and police have suggested replacing knives with blunt blades is a viable solution to protect domestic violence victims, taking place well over a hundred years after Mary Ann Cotton’s era, this did heighten my curiosity about the kind of life she lived. No, we aren’t giving birth in coal dust, gathering water from a pump at the end of the street and catching smallpox at regular intervals any more, but the majority of women I know who are in long term, heterosexual relationships spend a lot of time feeling bloody stressed out, especially when children are thrown into the mix. And this is in a time of free healthcare, accessible contraception, maternity leave and child benefit – so living a life of being perpetually pregnant, existing in absolute poverty, having no understanding of mental health issues and living in a time where domestic violence and rape perpetrated by your husband was perfectly legal, must have been absolutely horrendous.

Again, I feel a need to disclaim that serial murder is never justifiable, but it is my personal belief that people are a product of their surroundings, and nurture is far more important than nature when it comes to understanding people; this is a woman whose own father’s dead body was brought to her house in a bag marked ‘property of Hetton colliery’ when she was barely out if nappies, it was bloody tough going in the 1800’s! I have seen in my academic and professional background that you can never really know how someone will react to being pushed to their absolute limits of survival until they are tested and what pure desperation can do to even the most level-headed of people. I do think Mary Ann’s story is a testament to just how extreme the situation was for working class women at the time, and although it’s generally accepted by Criminologists and Historians that she became motivated by pure greed and lust by the end of her criminal career, when you consider the perfect storm of depression, constant bereavement, living in squalor, not knowing where your or your children’s next meals are coming from, being unable to afford basic healthcare and being totally dependent on a husband to pay to have your basic needs met, although not excusable, it isn’t surprising to see how quickly things escalated. Wanting love and stability is probably a fundamental desire for the majority of people, especially women, and when faced with such limited options, specifically, the possibility of going to the workhouse or dying of starvation in a filthy alleyway because your husband is unable to work, I can see what she was trying to achieve, despite disagreeing with her choice of method on every level.

“I wanted more. More than coal dust, childbirth and men who think saying ‘I love you’ is enough” 

Joanne Froggatt as Mary Ann Cotton, ‘Dark Angel’ (ITV, 2016)

It is worth noting at this point that despite Mary Ann Cotton being widely accepted as the UK’s first serial killer, and the first serious female offender, she was actually only ever convicted of one murder, which she steadfastly denied into the grave. I love a grizzly true crime story and a local history legend – I’ve had the ‘privilege’ of seeing up close what was Durham Gaol inside the prison and can confirm it is every bit as haunting and creepy as it probably was for Mary Ann Cotton when she walked her final steps to face the noose, so it’s no surprise really that I find her story fascinating. However, if you’re not familiar with it I strongly recommend watching ‘Dark Angel’ or reading the book by Professor David Wilson on which it is based, and inevitably forming your own theory – was she a desperate pauper doing what she could to survive, or the greedy black widow the nursery rhyme portrays?

25 Lessons Learned in 25 Years

Now, obviously I’ve learned more than twenty five things in my twenty five years spent on this Earth; but I don’t think writing about how I learned to walk, drive or use a ‘big girl’ toilet would make very interesting reading. So, in honour of my twenty fifth journey around the sun, I decided to compile twenty five useful things which I have learned at some point in my life, in the hope that it might offer some assistance to your own. Although, if you’ve followed this blog for a while you will probably have gathered that my life is a hot mess and in no way an example of success or inner peace, so this may also serve as a useful guide of twenty five things to avoid doing, for fear of becoming like me.

  1.  Drink water.
    It sounds obvious, but it makes a huge difference to everything; skin, waistline, staves off the dreaded cystitis, wakes you up, and it’s free – what’s not to love?
  2. Take vitamins.
    Obviously consult a doctor before taking anything you aren’t completely sure is safe for you, but I swear by Zinc for making a cold recover quickly and taking Vitamin D every day last Winter gave me a new lease of life.
  3. Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to friends.
    I have probably four or five friends, and that’s it. No wide circle of acquaintances, no huge group chats, I simply can’t be bothered. All of my friends know how often I pee, where I would go if I needed to go off grid after killing someone and who I would invite to my fantasy dinner party. It is far more beneficial to have one genuine friend who has your back than fifteen who don’t.
  4. Have an exercise routine.
    Whatever that means to you; whether it’s walking the dog each night, swimming, going to a gym or doing yoga in your pants on the living room floor. I’ve had a variety of routines with varying levels of effort in the last few years, but there has always been one consistent theme – I have felt better physically and mentally when I have had some sort of exercise habit, regardless of its intensity.
  5. Good bras are worth investing in.
    I rarely replace my bras. I buy about four sturdy bras and keep them for about two years. It is worth paying the money up front, rather than buying fifteen Primark bras a month. Especially so with sports bras, because back pain is not fun. Life is too short to spend it with your boobs hanging round your knees and breaking your shoulders.
  6. Do the job which you enjoy the most, not that which pays the most.
    I have wasted too large a proportion of my life and happiness on horrible jobs which were everything I wanted on paper, but made me loathe the thought of getting up in the morning. I was at my happiest when I left that job for a significant pay cut to work somewhere that made me smile every day.
  7. Be with the partner who makes you laugh.
    Obviously other qualities are important to overall compatibility, but looks change, interests change, life changes; and I’ve found that the best way to get through the tough bits is to have someone with you who is on your level of humour.
  8. Read as often as you can.
    Even if it’s just a magazine or the odd newspaper article, reading something printed on paper is good for the imagination and healthier than looking at a screen. Unplug yourself from the Matrix once in a while and exercise that brain.
  9. Eat less meat.
    I’ve been pescatarian for four years now. Do I miss meat sometimes? Yes. Did I enjoy meat? Absolutely yes. But, my blood pressure is down, metabolism is up and the planet and the animals are thankful for it.
  10. Have a ‘treat yourself’ beauty splurge habit.
    When we feel good on the inside, it shows on the outside, and I think this goes both ways. When we feel confident in our appearance it affects everything positively, so whether it’s having a quick face pack at home or something more indulgent like a spa day, have something in reserve that you know will always make you feel fabulous. I always feel like I can conquer the world with a fresh manicure.
  11. Have a proper de-clutter at least once a year.
    I usually do two big de-clutters a year. I don’t even plan it in, it just consumes me at certain points. I’m currently basking in the after-glow of a good clear out, and feel more relaxed and centred for it. Plus, donating things to charity and recycling things properly is good karma all round.
  12. Invest time and money in making your home how you want it.
    You spend too much time at home to not feel totally comfortable in it. I wasted years in crappy flats which I never bothered to improve in any way because they were “only temporary”, but your home is your castle and feels much better to come home to when it reflects your personality.
  13. An extra spin and drain cycle on the washing machine makes an incredible difference to drying time.
    I thought this was common knowledge until about a fortnight ago when a colleague complained her washing was taking ages to dry and steaming her house up. It takes ten minutes after a normal cycle but means my washing is dry overnight. Simple choice.
  14. Use sun cream.
    Skin cancer is not a joke, even if you think you don’t burn. Most daily moisturisers have an SPF in now anyway, so you don’t have to think about it as much.
  15. Mental health is important.
    It’s possibly more important than physical health. I have experienced physical health problems as a result of mental health issues, between which I never connected the dots. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t experienced some form of mental ill-health in their life; I learned the hard way that it’s better to deal with it early on and not bury your head in the sand, because that doesn’t actually fix it.
  16. Look after your teeth.
    Dentist bills are not fun, and fillings are not fun. Avoid both by flossing every day and using an electric toothbrush.
  17. Don’t ever lie to fit in.
    I wasted a lot of time and energy doing that as a teenager, it is exhausting and attracts the wrong type of friends. Real friends don’t care if you don’t go to clubs every week and prefer to watch Teen Mom in your pyjamas – find your tribe because they’ll sit next to you doing the exact same thing.
  18. Before posting anything on social media, do the boss/grandma test.
    “Would I care if my boss/grandma saw this?” If the answer is yes, probably best said privately or not at all. It’s far too easy to spy on other people’s content now, and some people like to ‘grass’ other people up as we say in Sunderland. Employing this has definitely saved me from some awkward situations.
  19. Wash your hair as little as possible.
    Nobody can actually tell if your hair has that slightly greasy, in-between-wash feeling. I have managed to get my hair washing down to twice a week and yes, the lie-ins are worth it. Plus, it’s good for your hair and the great Jonathan Van Ness swears by it so that’s good enough for me.
  20. The world does not end if you go out without make up.
    I used to put foundation on to take the wheelie bin out or go to the petrol station. Then I joined a gym which is next to a supermarket and often pop in on my way to or from a workout. Guess what? Nobody is even looking at you because this is Britain and we all look at our phones/the floor when in public. Make up is expensive and a faff to put on, don’t waste it on five minute trips to the shops.
  21. It’s not a race.
    I wasted a lot of opportunities for happiness by comparing myself to other people who were ‘further ahead’ than me in terms of careers and relationships. We’re not all playing the same game, it’s like entering a race but looking at the person throwing a javelin – it isn’t like for like, it’s you vs you.
  22. End relationships which are not beneficial or productive.
    It sounds harsh, but sometimes, through nobody’s fault, relationships break down or stop serving a purpose. It’s wasteful to both parties to continue flogging it if it’s faded, whether that’s a partner, friend or even a family member.
  23. It’s okay to say no.
    Whether it’s a work commitment, social event or even to that little voice in your head who is telling you to feel guilty if you don’t get x, y or z done. I’m a Brit, I’m used to people pleasing and then complaining about it behind their backs. It’s far easier to just say no from the outset.
  24. Tampon applicators serve literally no purpose. 
    Other than polluting the planet and taking up extra space in your bag. I have never used one and do not see the point. It’s not a difficult target to miss, that’s all I’m saying.
  25. Take photos.
    We all hate that annoying friend who makes you stop and take photos every two seconds, but I have multiple photo albums which are ordered chronologically and I love looking back through them. I’m not saying take a photo every morning when you arrive at work, but when you spend quality time with loved ones, take a photo to commemorate it. I will always remember one specific occasion where I saw a group of close friends and we forgot to take any photos, I actually used the phrase “we’ll take some next time”, and one of those friends died a week later. Making memories is important, but it’s also important to capture them so you don’t forget when you look back.

Review – I Heart Hawaii

I don’t watch ‘Game of Thrones’, but I have social media and speak to other members of the human race, so I am very aware that a good ending to a franchise is important and how people do get a little bit upset if an ending isn’t seen to do the story justice. I binge read all of the other ‘I Heart’ books last year, and although I do like Lindsey Kelk’s writing generally, I did find myself getting a bit bored by the time I got to I Heart Forever, and was wondering whether another book would be overkill. The characters were getting to a point of needing their happy endings tying up so they could walk off into the sunset, and Angela’s chaotic lifestyle of jetting around the globe spending silly amounts of money with her OTT friend and generally ignoring her adult responsibilities was, although very fun to read, getting a bit unrealistic. This sounds like a scathing review, but I would like it noted on record that I do generally enjoy this series, and was hooked on the first two to three installments, but some ‘I Heart’ books were better than others, which is always going to be the case in any series. Season five of friends is extremely forgettable, but doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable to watch.

I Heart Hawaii is probably my favourite book of the series in terms of overall enjoyment. I’d tie it with I Heart New York (the first installment) for content and storyline, but I Heart Hawaii has the advantage of containing characters which the reader has already come to know and love, which makes the ending that bit more special. I felt that in this one we saw a different side to most of the characters too, which made it feel really fresh and that is hard to achieve after so many installments. Jenny has grated on me as a character since book one, I know she’s important for driving Angela’s character development and is integral for the overall plot, but I’ve always found her to be selfish, ego-centric and totally dominating towards Angela – she is just generally someone I wouldn’t personally like to be friends with. However, without revealing spoilers, in I Heart Hawaii Jenny’s vulnerable side comes out, which made me appreciate her character so much more and was maneuvered very eloquently by Lindsey Kelk, because vulnerability and Jenny Lopez don’t naturally go together, but it felt very genuine and believable, without taking away from her overall characteristics.

I Heart Hawaii showed the biggest change in Angela too, she started off as a kind of poor woman’s Carrie Bradshaw but a version who actually values her friends and doesn’t have appalling taste in male partners, with the genuine balls to take leaps and pursue her dreams which is what captivated the readers, though she went off track a bit and became a sort of celebrity hanger-on in the middle of the series, so it was nice for her to come back down to earth and become a real ‘grown-up’. Seeing Angela’s genuine insecurity too was refreshing, because she seemed to quickly become really confident with her new life in New York without issue or self-doubt, which for someone with anxiety, I found a bit hard to comprehend, but seeing her trying to navigate motherhood and a new career while feeling like she isn’t getting it right most of the time is something that resonates so strongly with everyone. It felt a bit like after the readers had gone on all the wild ‘I Heart’ adventures with Angela and her famous friends, we came back to Earth in the final book to touch base with our friends and our first love, New York City.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who is yet to read this book, or who hasn’t made it this far into the series, but I can say with confidence that everyone gets their storybook ending, some of which I would never have seen coming in book one but as the characters developed over their journeys I definitely feel they’ve been rounded off properly. And it was really nice to have a book which took place mainly in New York; while it has been fun exploring new cities with Angela, it was New York which captured her and all of our hearts so it felt only right for her story to come full circle in the place we all ‘heart’.

 

The Bridezilla Diaries – Lessons Learned

It’s currently T-minus twelve weeks until I become a married woman. That is terrifying. In one way it feels like I’ve been planning this wedding for my whole life (probably because it’s aged me about fifteen years within ten months), but in other ways it’s flown over. With hindsight, like most things, I look back over it now and there are definitely things I could have done differently to make it easier for myself, and things that I wish I’d known before starting the process. So, like the generous person I am, I thought now is about the right time to pass on the wisdom from one bridezilla to the next cohort of bridezillas. It’s too late for me, but with the following suggestions it’s not too late to save yourselves!

People will be interested in your wedding. 
It sounds obvious, but I definitely underestimated this. The only thing I find more boring than going to other people’s weddings is hearing about other people’s weddings (well, that and maybe Star Wars films). I have no interest in how much someone spent on a cake, what flowers they’ve chosen, or the difference between ivory and off-white (spoiler alert: they’re the same damn colour); because I am a normal person. Sadly, not everyone on this planet is normal, and some people feel a need to ask you about your wedding plans every time they see you. So, if you see a lot of people in a given day, that’s a lot of small talk. The best way to handle this is to not answer honestly. I made the mistake of providing an honest answer to “how much does your cake cost?” in the break room at work and got an uncomfortably long lecture about what else I could have bought with that money. My advice is to rehearse a set “yeah it’s ticking over nicely, it still doesn’t feel real though and I’m sure there’s something I’ve forgotten”, because you will be saying it approximately ten times a day for at least a year.

Give an early RSVP deadline.
Again, I am a normal person; so when someone invites me to an event which is a significant time away, I immediately provide confirmation as to whether I can or cannot attend, and write the date down. However, other people are not normal. Other people think that it is perfectly acceptable to spend ten months providing vague excuses about possibly going on holiday or possibly not having a babysitter; or confirm they are coming and then decide they have a better offer, and even decline but are then unable to find anything better to do and so backtrack and decide they are coming. I know, it’s stressful – there is a reason my hair started to fall out during this process. So, do not make the mistake of assuming that your extended family and friends are competent adults. I made the fatal error of giving people a nice long time to RSVP, which just allowed for people to change their minds and/or drag out the clearly very difficult task of ticking “yes” or “no” and putting a stamp on a piece of paper. I know, it’s a challenging task which clearly takes months. Make an early cut-off date and stick to it.

Enjoy the lull in the middle.
The start of planning your wedding is so fun. Bridal magazines, Pintrest boards, wedding fayres; just spending time soaking up ideas and enjoying having a ring on your finger is great. Also great is the last couple of months when everything falls into place and your venue show you how everything will run like a well-oiled machine on the day, so you can finally picture it all coming together. There is however a quiet interval between those two time periods, which I found incredibly unsettling. Going from constant shopping and reading endless reviews of various suppliers to having nothing to do but wait for RSVP’s (see above, that can take a long time if your family are inept), is unnerving if you’re a stress head like me. I had a constant fear that I should be doing something, and a paranoia that my wedding had been forgotten about – why was my planner not emailing me? Why were suppliers not checking in? Answer – because they have other things to do. Like the brief minutes of relief between contractions during labour, the down time is important to recharge for the challenge ahead. Do not make the mistake of wasting it by endless worrying about the wedding like I did – find a hobby or just take a long nap.

Look after yourself.
Easily the most important thing to remember, and the main thing that I wish someone had told me. I have never had so many colds in such a short space of time until I started planning my wedding. Stress makes my immune system crash and prevents me from being able to get a decent amount of sleep, so Olbas Oil and Vitamin C have been my friends for the last few months. Mental health is an important thing to keep an eye on too; this is something which has unfortunately always been a bit of a struggle for me, but the process of planning what has to become the happiest day of my life (no pressure) was so overwhelmingly stressful that I had to speak to a doctor about getting extra help to alleviate it and make it bearable. I thought I was bordering on insane, and that there was something wrong with me for not enjoying every second of planning the blissful union which other people would kill to have, but according to Google it’s not uncommon; and I wish someone had told me about that so I didn’t spend months crying silently in the bath so nobody would notice. Look after yourself, however that is best achieved for you: take breaks; delegate tasks to other people; have set times where all wedding talk is banned; do what you need to do to get through.

Don’t become too reliant on advice from others.
This is an easy mistake to make when planning your first wedding. Surely other people who have been married or have helped plan weddings in the past are the best people to assist you? To an extent, yes, but experience planning weddings is not an adequate substitute for knowing your own taste and comfort zone. There is definitely such a thing as too many cooks spoiling the broth, and everyone has strong opinions on weddings. At the end of the day, you and the person you are marrying know best what you like and what kind of celebration you are both comfortable having; and whether something is popular, quirky, expensive or “just what you have to do” should not come into it at all. Stick to your guns and have the day that you both want, even if people take the huff because, trust me, they soon snap out of it once you make it clear you’re having it your way.

 

Review – The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter

“They call me a heroine, but I am not deserving of such accolades. I am just an ordinary young woman who did her duty.”

If there are two things in which I firmly believe, it is that real stories from history about strong women must be told, and the assertion that the Northumberland coast is the best place in the world. Having grown up spending most weekends and every school holiday in Beadnell, it was only natural that this part of the country would occupy a very special place in my heart and, since there are a finite number of tourist sites within the surrounding radius, it also follows that I know more than your average North East person about Grace Darling.

Grace Darling is an extremely undervalued heroine, her picture was recently added to the ‘North East Heroes’ display in the Metro Centre’s Platinum Mall in Gateshead but beyond that I’ve never really heard her name mentioned outside of Bamburgh. As a child I spent many a happy hour combing Seahouses beach for sea glass and occasionally experiencing the thrill of coming across some specific green and white patterned china – real remnants of the Forfarshire wreck from which Grace and her father rescued nine survivors in treacherous conditions. I remember the Grace Darling museum when it was contained within a tiny house on Bamburgh’s main street opposite St Aidan’s church, which has since been renovated into a modern, interactive museum which is absolutely worth a visit. Every time I’m in that region I make a trip to Grace’s iconic memorial in the churchyard, but I’m always infuriated by the amount of people who live in the North East and have no idea about this important piece of history.

The author’s note indicates that Ms Gaynor came across a book about Grace Darling when she was in Alnwick’s iconic Barter Books, which inspired her to write the story. This stretch of Northumberland is a breathtaking place with so much depth and history, of which The Farne Islands is a particularly unique area and is almost a character in Grace’s life, so I have no trouble believing that it would inspire anyone to write about it. I’ll admit I don’t know much about Hazel Gaynor herself, or her other work, but it was clear from how passionately she writes about the events, the location and the rich detail flowing through each of her characters that she was inspired by the legendary story and the wild, untamable North East coast on which it was set; and she was able to completely do justice to both, which, for someone who is fiercely defensive of this part of the country and views it as her home with pride, is a real compliment.

“I don’t belong in bustling towns with their crowded streets and noisy industry, I belong here, with the birds and the sea, with the wild winter winds and unpredictable summers.”

The problem with the legend of Grace Darling is that her courage and heroism is matched only by her secrecy and mystery. She was famously private and closed off, deterring the attention resulting from her heroic rescue with every fibre of her body. So, sadly, very little is known about her personal life and recreations or media adaptations are exceptionally difficult to create. However, this did not stop Hazel Gaynor.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter follows Grace’s life following the Forfarshire rescue and how it was changed forever; not just through the reluctant fame which followed, but a resulting friendship with the only female survivor, Sarah Dawson, which ultimately leads Grace to possibly finding love. Grace was known for being fiercely independent and dedicated to her duties within Longstone Lighthouse, so history tells us that she never married, and Hazel Gaynor’s interpretation of Grace is just that, but it was still thrilling to imagine another side to her character and a possible paramour. History also tells us that an unknown man from Durham attended Grace’s funeral in full mourning, so there must be a chapter of her story which she managed to keep secret from everyone.

“Although only slight in build, she is possessed of a great strength of mind; a strength which needs no bolstering by the affections of a man.”

Within The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, Grace’s story is intertwined with that of Sarah Dawson’s descendant Matilda who, in 1938, finds herself shipped off to America from Ireland after an unfortunate twist in her life following her meeting a dashing young soldier. On arrival in America, she lives with her mysterious cousin Harriet who is also a lighthouse keeper and, like Grace, uses the lighthouse as a kind of fort within which to enclose all her secrets. Matilda finds some letters in the Rhode Island lighthouse which, although tens of thousands of miles away from Longstone Lighthouse, could contain the answer to the question of the identity of this mysterious man from Durham, and who he was to Grace Darling.

I was gripped by Matilda’s story as well as Grace Darling’s from the first page, and although Grace’s is more “real” in terms of historical accuracy and factual events, both stories were equally powerful and inspiring to read. Although set almost a hundred years apart, both stories are about women who had to overcome physical challenges and rebelled against the conventions of the society within which they existed, and mysterious cousin Harriet’s story, which becomes more prominent towards the end, is much the same.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is an inspirational, genuinely heartwarming tale of hardship, loss, love and friendship for both principal female characters who, although they never meet, are intertwined. It was made more special for me by my existing love for The Farne Islands and its surrounding area, however, anyone who was to read this I would defy to not become curious about this wonderful place and to not immediately want to book the next boat trip out there to walk in Grace Darling’s footsteps.

‘Wannabe’ – Sunderland Has Been Spiced Up

Much like bangers and mash, Ant ‘n’ Dec and complaining about the weather, The Spice Girls are a timeless British classic; like a port in a storm they provide reassurance and fond memories of a better time. The late ’90’s was a far simpler, more joyous era (perhaps because I was an innocent child at that point), but I do think if Britpop made a return, the world would be a much calmer place; as it brings everyone together like the shared sense of annoyance within any delayed train carriage in any location within the British Isles.

So, like the mature, professional adult I am, I spent my Saturday night at the theatre. Everything is cultural and high brow if it takes place in a theatre, right? I’ve spent countless happy evenings in the Sunderland Empire, from the annual ballet with my mum and sister to family pantomimes at Christmas, countless musicals and even performing on that very stage myself, I’m always just as impressed by its beautiful Victorian interiors, the grandeur of the bars and the exquisite ceilings. And last night I was able to appreciate that for approximately four minutes; prior to the audience erupting out of their seats as the classic hit ‘Wannabe’ began blaring from the speakers following the curtain raise.

‘Wannabe’ the show is an odd mix between a Spice Girls tribute act and a musical. There isn’t a story per se, but it follows the career of the Spice Girls as both a group and solo artists (who knew Victoria Beckham had a solo single? I must’ve been washing my hair the day that came out), peppered with numerous nostalgic 90’s references: tamagotchis; Nokia 3310 phones; Pepsi cans – it was like opening a time capsule and re-living so many wonderful memories of a well-spent youth. Well, if it wasn’t for the eleven year old child in front of me incessantly asking her mum what all those references meant. When did I get so old?

So, the lack of a solid storyline is completely made up for by the experience of being able to hear classic, amazing songs performed by artists who, unlike the actual Spice Girls, can sing and dance with real competency. ‘Wannabe’ coming to Sunderland a month prior to the real girls’ performance at the Stadium of Light is a blatant marketing tool, for which I was always going to be sucked into buying tickets, but this technique may have actually backfired because the quality of performance in the show far surpasses anything I’ve seen from the Spice Girls, even when they were 20 years younger. I’ve always been a great lover of theatre productions because musical theatre performers are always so unbelievably energised and talented that stories and songs come alive before the audience’s eyes; and being able to experience classic, fun pop songs performed with a level of enthusiasm and talent that actually does them justice has completely upped the ante – the actual Spice Girls should feel nervous to follow that if I’m honest.

The set list was of course an array of Spice Girls classics, but also intertwined with some other classic covers. Having been born in the 90’s I am of course a firm believer in Girl Power, but a vocally competent version of the Spice Girls covering ‘Sisters are Doing it for Themselves’ was like a feminism bomb going off inside the theatre, there was not one bum which remained on their seat. An audience consisting entirely of drunk women and gay men is always going to be somewhat energised, but I was not at all prepared for the level of enthusiasm which this show aroused from its audience. The group rendition of Geri Halliwell’s classic cover of ‘It’s Raining Men’ complete with extremely buff male dancers ripping their shirts off at appropriate moments naturally caused absolute carnage in an audience of hen parties, cocktail-infused women in platform trainers and men who can high kick better than Louie Spence, but, because it’s in an ornate Victorian theatre the experience was, of course, classy and sophisticated at all times.

My only regret about attending ‘Wannabe’ was not dressing up. My friend and I joked about dressing up as Geri and Posh but stupidly, I dressed appropriately for an evening of dinner and the theatre with my friend, so by the interval I was sweating buckets and my feet were blistered beyond belief. The interval offers no relief either, consisting of a 90’s karaoke singalong to classics from the likes of Steps and Hanson; suffice to say I went home with no voice and aches in places I didn’t know could ache. A word of advice to anyone intending to cosplay their favourite Spice Girl – pick Sporty. Because when you’re cutting shapes in the aisles with topless male dancers to ‘Spice Up Your Life’, the last thing you want is to have a nip slip in Ginger’s Union Jack dress or to fall and break your neck in Posh’s stilettos. Any Spice Girls themed event is one of the few occasions where it’s appropriate to wear tracksuit bottoms and trainers in public, so I’m quite annoyed I didn’t allow myself that luxury.

But anyway, I’m off to catch up on my sleep, before digging out my old Union Jack dress and collapsing on the sofa in front of Spiceworld the Movie while planning how to re-design the interiors of my house to resemble the Spice bus.