Thursday, 23 May 2019

Peaks and troughs

Children and noise go hand in hand - everyone knows that. Likewise, it’s hardly a secret that said noise increases exponentially, the more children you add to the mix. Some people are blessed – it washes over them. Not me, however – I’m literally allergic. The consecutive (and indeed concurrent) episodes of shrieking from one child or the other have overexcited my senses such that I’m now clinically intolerant of even their tiniest squawk.

Being unable to abide the incessant clanking and slurping of children at mealtimes is nothing unusual; however, the fact that I now have a doctor’s note to excuse me from the table, does rather set me apart.

These days, my happy place would be inside an immersion tank guarded by Benedictine librarian mice. And yet it was not ever thus. Indeed, there was a time when all my spare time and pennies were devoted to music. Once the small things found their lungs, however, things changed.

At first, I didn’t notice how much I was cowering from their hullaballoo. It started with simply switching off the radio so I didn’t have to suffer the blather, and before long, not playing anything during the day as I knew I’d only be hauled out of the room to wipe another backside or resolve another fight. Eventually, it got to the point that I’d simply forget to turn on my music at all. Night after night, I’d sit in unnecessary silence – not even noticing the peace, never mind enjoying it. Come birthdays and Christmas, people would give me new CDs that I’d rinse for a couple of weeks, but somehow, it was never enough to relight my fire. The silence would always prevail.

The solution was of course simple: if you want mobile music, plug in your headphones. If you want to block out the noise of your issue, plug in your headphones. If you want to listen to music uninterrupted, plug in your headphones.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been blessed with smarts these last few years and it took me a while to work this out. Don’t all judge me at once.

The real clincher in this regard was winning a pair of wireless headphones. That they were officially noise-cancelling too got me extra excited. To be fair, so “noise-cancelling” doesn’t mute children quite as much as I’d like, but at least I can no longer hear them from the other side of the county.

More to the point, thanks to these cans, I’m finally able to offer my ears shelter-in-place without leaving the auditory blast area. This means I’ve started listening – actually listening – to music again. It’s like finding a nugget of my soul down the back of the sofa.

Or it was. Last night they went Pop. Sproing. Or whatever noise you might imagine a piece of tech might make when it bursts open FOR NO GOOD REASON.

it broke! it broke!


I mentioned this to the promoter. They oohhed and they ahhed and they said it was definitely odd.
But no replacement will be forthcoming. Their best offer was 25% off a new pair.

It’s a nice discount, to be sure, but when your experience with a product is that it self-combusts before you’ve even used it a dozen times, you feel a little reticent to renew it. Or is that just me?

Thankfully, I do have some other headphones that I can plug in and please my ears - a gift from someone I met because of our shared interest in this deliciously niche hobby. And for this reason I say Thank You Davina - My sanity is in your hands!

I’m regularly touched by the generosity I see in this community and can’t wait to meet more of you later this year!

Sunday, 5 May 2019

RTFM

I just entered the biggest competition of my life. Well, technically it wasn’t a competition - every now and then, the BBC scouts for fresh talent by opening its inbox for the submission of speculative scripts. The BBC makes it quite clear that this isn’t actually a competition and there aren’t prizes per se; however, those writers with the strongest potential to be developed and produced are invited on to a six-month development scheme for writers. Personally, I can’t see how such a life-changing opportunity isn’t a prize, but then semantics isn’t my strong point.

So, yes, I’ve been quiet of late because I’ve been putting an indescribable amount of effort into writing a sitcom about superheroes that contains no superheroes. A disproportionate amount of that effort was made in the last few days. Not because I care to be a last-minuter (I really don’t), but because I only scrutinised the instructions for authors four days before the deadline.

I’ve a degree in literature and a career in publishing. I’ve spent more hours reworking other people’s manuscripts than I’ve slept in the last ten years. But can I actually read instructions? (Clue: no).

Things I’d missed on the first pass included (a) how to format the screenplay; (b) the minimum length of the screenplay; and (c) all that extra stuff you have to include, such as outlines for the next two episodes.

For the uninitiated, screenplays are generally typeset in 12pt Courier, with all manner of prescriptions for where to lay out (i) this; (ii) that; and (iii) the other. Do it wrong, and your script goes straight for recycling. It’s basically combat school for writers. I’d researched elsewhere how to format a script, so my formatting wasn’t awful; on the other hand it wasn’t perfect, so it had to be fixed. Really though, that was the least of my worries.

The big problems were the fact that my screenplay was timed to accommodate an ad break - not something there’s much call for at the BBC, and that I hadn’t even thought about outlining further episodes.

In other words, I went from thinking I was an hour or two away from submission to finding about one-third of the labour still lay ahead. Oops.

Screenplay titlepage

On top of that, my eyes were bubbling from my heinous week of work, and my blood was boiling from my heinous week of parenting.

Blessed was I then that my incredibly supportive wife effectively locked me into my office, acted as a human shield, and sent in food as and when I sent out words.

Realistically, the odds of getting through to the final stages are punitively long. Last year, there were over 2600 submissions, most of which were likely discarded after the first ten pages were read. For this reason, if twenty pages of my work get read, I’m doing well.

I’m not sure they let you know how far you make through the process, but rest assured, if I find out someone has read the whole thing, I’ll be popping fizz.

The fact is, it’s a learning experience. And already I’m better prepared for my next effort-based competition as I’ve learned the hard way that instructions are designed to be read at the outset, not retrospectively!

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Prize Unboxing April 2019

Due to other commitments (more on which anon), I've taken my foot off the pedal these last couple of months. As a result, the wins have tended to be more modest. This month, however, has enjoyed a little uptick. That and a minor injury to my little helper - but don't worry, it grew back!

Be lucky!


Thursday, 11 April 2019

When luck comes out of the blue

Some wins come out of nowhere. Literally nowhere. Like not even from a competition nowhere. You’re busy minding your own business, and then all of a sudden, a message slides in and you can't help but crack a grin.

Of course, mostly when this happens it’s spam. That much is obvious from the sender’s weird email address or the dodgy link you’re supposed to follow in order to claim your prize.

When this happened to me the other day, however, everything was above board.

I’d uploaded my son’s latest mad birthday list to Instagram and somehow it managed to end up getting seen by the sweet-hearted folks of Gentlemen’s Practice.

Just your average boy's birthday list, right?
As vendors of gentlemen’s accessories, they loved the idea that a wee lad was so keen to dapper up for his ninth birthday. The fact that he also wanted a “monk costume”, however, just made their day, and they asked if they could send him a little birthday treat.

A couple of days later the parcel arrived, and what a treat it was! It was so cool, that it took all my willpower not to hand it over there and then.

Four long weeks later, his birthday finally arrived, and at last I was able to tell him the story behind this extraordinary birthday treat. This got him even more excited - so much so that he decided to do a little unboxing video...


As if this generous treat wasn't bounty enough, it turns out that GP also sell very reasonably-priced pocket watches. Given that the little man has been begging for one since he was six (six!) and that for only a fiver more, you can get them engraved - how could we possibly resist?! When he saw his name on the watch, he was lost for words, which as anyone who knows him will tell you, is unprecedented!

Today we're sporting the matching bowtie & pocket square, which he's accessorising with a personalised pocket watch from the Gentleman's Practice store. Not shown here is the coordinating lapel pin (or the other tie and lapel pin)
Since then, his grandmother has given him a new suit, so all that remains to do is create a buttonhole in it so that he can wear his lapel pins (although, knowing him, he'll probably want a pocket in that monk’s habit so he can carry on wearing the watch, of course!).

I mention all this because even on the best of days, I'm terrible at remembering to water the flowers, much less stopping to smell them. Indeed, now that I'm coming off my pills, there are times when I'd cheerfully pave the whole front yard to put up that parking lot. I'm not alone in that. For this reason, when a complete stranger stops a moment not just to admire my hanging baskets, but also, through their green-fingered magic, make them bloom brighter and smell sweeter, I couldn't possibly feel more blessed. Thanks just aren't enough!



Sunday, 31 March 2019

Monday, 25 March 2019

#MeatMatters

I love red meat. I really love it. In an ideal world, I'd eat plates full of it every day. I don’t, of course, for reasons too numerous to list. That said, three key ones do spring to mind:

  • Balanced diet: Beef and lamb may be naturally rich in protein, but they can’t compete with oily fish when it comes to omega-3 fatty acids. So yeah, I also eat fish.
  • Environmental impact: While the extent to which livestock farming contributes to human produced greenhouse gas emissions may be disputed, my gut feels that it’s probably best to serve smaller portions of meat, augmented with pulses - something that also makes financial sense.
  • Meat sweats: Had them once. Didn’t like them.

Nevertheless, even if I take the above into consideration, my initial point stands: I love red meat. It perks me up - literally.

Lamb, for example, is a natural source of niacin, pantothenic acid and Vitamins B6 and B12, all of which help reduce tiredness and fatigue, and goodness knows I have fatigue aplenty.

With this in mind, I was well chuffed when BritMums offered to buy me dinner on the proviso that I shared the recipe with y’all.

So here we go… Lamb chops a l’orange

Ingredients
6 lamb chops
200 g chantenay (or baby) carrots
1 bulb of garlic
3 oranges
15g fresh thyme

Method
1) Score the meat fat and season the chops with salt and pepper. Balance the chops on their fatty edges (imagine a rack of toast, but meaty) in a shallow pan on a medium-high heat and leave to go crispy (probably about 5 mins).

2) Top, tail & peel carrots and bung them in the pan, along with the unpeeled garlic cloves. Keep moving the veg around so it cooks evenly

3) Turn the chops on their sides and fry till golden (on both sides, obvs).

4) Bung in the zest from one orange, along with thyme, and stir for half a minute or so.

5) Remove the chops and set them to rest. Squeeze the juice from all three oranges into the pan and reduce until sticky. Bung the lamb & its resting juices back in the pan for a couple of minutes, and rattle it all around the pan.

6) Serve with roast potatoes. Oh, I forgot to mention them, didn’t I? Oops! You might want to start over then. Except with the spuds this time. Sorry!

So … what did it taste like?

In a word, nice - although if you use a vegetable peeler for zesting, do be aware that you're going to end up with big strips of orange peel that look like extremely finely sliced carrot. With this in mind, do advise your fellow diners not to eat these bits as fried orange peel isn't for everyone. Yes, that is the voice of experience...


My dinner... Apologies for the terrible photography. And presentation. My wife doesn’t plate up too well, and I'm rubbish at snapping food!


This post is an entry for the #MeatMatters Challenge, sponsored by Simply Beef and Lamb. Learn more about the benefits of eating beef and lamb along with recipes and inspiration here: https://www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Happy (professional) hunting!

'Job vacancies have opened for professional Crème Egg hunters with an hourly wage starting at £45 an hour.'


This from the same people that reckoned if you could ‘find at least five competitions an hour and, if possible, enter them’, then you could make £20 an hour as a ‘professional competition enterer’.

Where to begin? The idea of taking just over ten minutes to complete an entry form sets the bar so low as to make it a trip hazard. With a work rate like that, you wouldn’t get return on investment even if you paid minimum wage. Given also that third-party entries are generally forbidden, this hypothetical employer would also be disqualified for breaching terms and conditions.

‘The service launches thanks to increased demand for professional “compers”, as it’s revealed many can quit their jobs thanks to competition success.’

Who exactly are these 'many' people - and who is revealing them? Yes, there are people without conventional salaried employment who devote a lot of time to comping, and who may even be really successful, but you can’t pay the mortgage with nut butter and Nutribullets. Lottery winners might quit their jobs. Compers, not so much.

Around this time last year, the same company suggested it was possible to earn upwards of £45ph plus expenses as a professional McDonald’s Monopoly player. It’s a sorry sign of the times that even fictional jobs are losing their perks.