Burns Night

It’s Burns Night…and I’m not eating haggis.  I know, I’m a bad Scot.  But getting the stuff in England tends to be a right faff, which means acquiring a Burns Supper has become a lot more ‘interesting’ since I moved away from Scotland in 2011.

A brief history of my Burns Supper eating:

  • 1985-2002: Burns Supper at home, cooked by parents, complete with horrible off-key chanter playing by my dad (who is a good musician but not a regular chanter player) as we ‘piped in the haggis’ and people reading the Selkirk Grace off a teatowel
  • 2002-2011: as above, except that I no longer lived at home so went round to my parents’ specially; my dad had given up on the chanter playing by this point as well
  • 2012: our first Burns Night living in Southampton – Geth bought extortionately-priced veggie haggis from a butcher and made a decent if not entirely presentable job of cooking it, but I felt SO HOMESICK
  • 2013: went to eat at a cafe in Southampton where they were serving ‘haggis’ made out of tomatoes and had people onstage reciting really patronising attempts at ‘Scots’ poetry – had to leave before table flipping occurred
  • 2014: still in Southampton; had friends round for Burns Supper, which was slightly ruined by Geth buying the wrong veg due to English supermarkets’ insistence on calling neeps by the wrong name (they call it ‘swede’ instead of ‘turnip’ for some reason, so he ended up getting something completely different that did not mash well at all)
  • 2015: we were preparing for a stressful move from Southampton to Newcastle, so Burns Night, along with various other late winter celebrations like Valentine’s Day and Shrove Tuesday, fell by the wayside that year
  • 2016-2017: took advantage of only living a 90-minute train journey away from Edinburgh to go land on my parents for Burns Night again, just like old times
  • 2018: did vaguely plan to go up to Edinburgh…but house moving has struck again, and we’ve been too busy/tired to get organised

Dry January also means no toasts with whisky or Thistly Cross cider.  I couldn’t even find any Diet Irn-Bru at the supermarket today.  Living in England strikes again.

To make up for the lack of the haggis picture that would obviously accompany this post had I cooked any, have a link to Tam O’Shanter, my all-time favourite Burns poem.

Modern pop music

At the start of 2010, with my interest piqued by the 2009 Christmas number one race between Joe McElderry and Rage Against The Machine, I decided that for the entirety of the 2010s, I would follow what was happening in the UK music chart, no matter how terrible the music was.  I’ve always liked the way that pop culture nostalgia can be packaged neatly into decades, and I thought it would be cool to follow the evolution of one from start to finish.

Though I’m a list obsessive and had loved following the chart as a kid in the ’90s (the tail end of that happy period in UK pop music that roughly ended with the demise of Smash Hits and Top of the Pops), I’d lost interest during the ’00s, largely because I was Too Busy Being Goth.  I was roughly aware that some of the more pop-punk and emo stuff that was featured in the rock magazines I read was in the charts around mid-decade, but I didn’t really have any idea of what was going on in pop music at all, other than what people were dancing to on Strictly.*

Eight years in, it’s been interesting, and catching up with the chart has become such an ingrained weekly habit that I expect I’ll keep doing it into the ’20s and beyond.  90% of 2010s chart music, IMO, is awful, but there has been some stuff I like – the more electro-pop direction of the early part of the decade was good, as was the brief folk-rock trend.  Unfortunately the quality seems to have dipped a bit in the last couple of years and at the moment it all seems to be uninspiring EDM, offensively bad sampling of classic ’90s dance, bland forgettable pop-by-numbers and Ed Sheeran ballads.  I can’t remember the last time there was an actual rock song in the charts.

Some stats, ’cause I like stats:

I’ve liked 250 songs from the 2010s enough to add them to my Spotify playlist.

  • 42 from 2010
  • 49 from 2011
  • 26 from 2012
  • 33 from 2013
  • 27 from 2014
  • 20 from 2015
  • 20 from 2016
  • 32 from 2017
  • 1 from 2018 (so far).

My 2010s playlist does get a look-in when I’m in a more dance-y/upbeat mood, but obviously it doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of airtime my 1980s playlist gets.  Nothing beats the ’80s for me as far as pop songs (and, let’s face it, most things) are concerned.

* I’ve never been Too Busy Being Goth to watch Strictly.

2018 Ciders #5: Stowford Press

This is another one I had on my birthday.  Twenty days without a drink!  I don’t think I’ve gone sober for that long since the time I gave it up for Lent in 2011.

Stowford Press
Stowford Press, partially consumed before I remembered to take a picture.

I first discovered Stowford Press in 2006, in the pub in the Somerset village where my father-in-law and stepmother-in-law live.  I think at that point it was still particular to the area – maybe Westons hadn’t rolled it out nationally yet – but it soon became fairly ubiquitous, and nowadays you can get it anywhere there’s a good pub.  It’s probably one of my favourite draught pints; it’s slightly sweeter and lighter than Strongbow, so it goes down a bit easier.  My favourite local pub serves it, so this is another one I expect I’ll be drinking often this year.

’80s jumpers

I’ve been a lot colder than usual this winter.  I’m guessing this is because I’ve lost a lot of weight and so I don’t have that cosy layer of fat keeping me warm anymore.  Luckily, my love of vintage clothing fairs came to the rescue, and so in recent months I have become the shamelessly proud owner of a new collection: a collection of vintage ’80s jumpers.

Me in a vintage '80s jumper
This jumper was labelled a ‘Cosby jumper’ by the vintage stall that was selling it. No, that didn’t put me off it, though I did resist the slightly more garish ones that were next to it. I make no promises for next time, however.

In previous winters, I lived in hoodies.  This was the most practical thing at the time, because the various sources of heating in the house, combined with my larger self’s tendency to overheat every time I did any activity that wasn’t sitting down, meant that I was constantly doing the too-hot-too-cold dance and needed something that was easy to throw on and off.  This winter, though, I’ve found it’s most comfortable to wear something warm and cosy all day long, which is where the jumpers come in.  They’re nice and hardwearing, and there’s never any shortage of them at vintage fairs, so I think they’re going to be my winter go-to for a few years to come.

Pasta

One of my favourite things about the Slimming World plan – and I don’t think I’d have been so successful on it if this hadn’t been the case – is that pasta is a ‘free food’, so you can eat as much of it as you like (within reason – I have been cutting down on my portion sizes as I’ve got closer and closer to target – but I still eat pasta nearly every day):

Pasta and pesto
Pasta and red pesto, my all-time favourite. Used to be a regular meal but now just a ‘treat’ – I need to add lots of veg and use my ‘syns’ to make it Slimming World friendly!

My favourites are Quorn bolognaise, Quorn chicken pesto (after months of unsuccessful attempts to make my own syn-free basil pesto, I gave up and went back to using the stuff in jars for 3 syns per tablespoon), Quorn lasagne (did you guess I’m vegetarian yet?) and, when I’m in a super stodgy high-carb mood, pasta with potatoes, carrots and chickpeas.  I love carbs and I’m so thrilled I’ve found a way to lose weight without having to cut down on them too much.

One of my ambitions for this year is to try and find more pasta favourites.  I’ll keep you posted!

Packing…and shoes

This weekend, I finally got round to starting packing all our stuff up for the move, and immediately remembered that it’s a far bigger job than it seems.  Guess I’m going to be spending tomorrow afternoon drawing up a minute-by-minute immovable schedule for the next few weeks, seeing as we’re on a strict timetable in terms of moving out.  Geth has suggested getting it done bit by bit in the evenings (and is far more excited about it than I am), so it will get done – it just seems like an impossible mountain at the moment.

So far, I’ve packed about 80% of our books (which has reminded me exactly why I asked for a Kindle for Christmas – ideally I’d never buy another physical book again, but not everything is available in ebook format yet, and sometimes for a vintage/retro lover like me it’s nice to have the original physical versions of old books; still, for reasons of space I would need to have a serious book cull before I bought any more physical ones) and about 60% of my shoes.  The shoes take up three holdalls so far and I’m not done yet:

Holdalls full of shoes
Some of my shoes. In the holdalls, the amount looks a lot smaller than when they’re on the shelves, which is quite calming.

I currently have 87 pairs.  I’d have a lot more if I hadn’t forced myself in recent years to be better about chucking them in the bin when they wear out.  I’d also have a lot more if I hadn’t been so broke during my most shoe-obsessive years – much as I’m still magnetically drawn to The Shiny, with age has come (a small amount of) wisdom and nowadays I’m a lot stricter with myself about only buying stuff that I know I’ll definitely wear.

Hopefully, this time next week we’ll have got a lot more of the packing done and I won’t feel quite so stressed about it.

2018 Ciders #4: Old Rosie

I was given a bottle of Old Rosie for Christmas, which I saved for when I got back from Edinburgh on my birthday.  Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo, but you can see what the bottle looks like on the Westons website.

Old Rosie is strong and it tastes strong.  I really like the taste in the winter though – it’s a nice kind of ‘stodgy’ cider, lovely and warming on a cold day.

Incidentally, I’m doing very well with Dry January, so I’m starting to forget what these ciders taste like!  I’ll probably be more up-to-date with my cider logging from February onwards.

GPO phones

Following on from my classic phone box post, it will probably come as no surprise that I also love classic GPO 746 telephones.

Replica red GPO 746
My replica GPO 746. Modern-day replicas have an additional hash and star on the rotary dial so as to be compatible with telephone banking.

Growing up, we had two original 746s in the house, a black one that came with the place when my parents bought it in 1982 and an ivory one that I think one of them might have brought from a previous flat.  The ivory one died a death sometime in the ’00s, but the black one still sits on the hall table, waiting patiently for me to adopt it eventually.  I think even in the ’90s, we were a bit behind the times  – whenever I had friends from school round and they needed to use the phone, none of them knew how to use the rotary dial.  I’m guessing most people in the UK had switched to push button models by the late ’80s.

I bought a replica 746 (shown above) from GPO Retro a year or two ago.  I love the way it looks, though the feel isn’t 100% right – there’s not quite as much spring tension on the rotary dial as there is on an original model, presumably to aid quicker dialling when dealing with automated answer systems such as telephone banking, and of course it beeps in your ear during dialling as well, unlike the originals.  Still, I’m very happy with it, and when we get round to extending the phone line upstairs in the new house, I’ll probably get one in another colour.

Beermats

When I was a kid in the ’80s and ’90s, I spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time in the back of a car, travelling around the UK to visit family, who lived all over the place.  My dad likes to take a lot of driving breaks, and so while we visited a lot of motorway service stations, when we were out on more remote roads our pit stop of choice was always some random country pub.

Country pub in 1988
Country pub, 1988, with my mum and younger brother. Pub drinking starts early in my family.

I don’t know where my hoarding/collecting/general possessiveness tendencies come from (some family members have suggested it’s genetic, as a lot of us are like that), but they’ve always been there, and so as a small child I soon started to notice the brightly coloured and highly collectible bits of cardboard that were always sitting there on the pub tables, preventing my glass of Diet Coke from leaving an unsightly ring.  I think you all know where this is going.

Beermat collection
A small fraction of my extensive beermat collection.

As an adult, I’ve turned part of my large beermat collection (i.e. as many as will fit on the above corkboard) into a slightly dubious-quality ‘piece of art’ that hangs in our hallway.  The display is an exercise in nostalgia as much as anything else – I often pause in the hallway and marvel at the way that some of them are painfully of their time.  The Furstenburg one in the top-left corner is absolutely classic ’80s advert styling, the competition advertised on the Martini one in the third row has a closing date sometime in 1986, and the ‘Head Out To Marlboro Country’ one in the second row brings back memories of an impossibly long-ago century when you were actually allowed to advertise smoking as cool and adventurous with only a tiny, hard-to-read government warning along the bottom edge.

At the same time, some drinks are so classic that I don’t think they’ve updated their beermat design in the intervening 20-30 years (Strongbow and Newcastle Brown, I’m looking at you) and I still see identical ones in the pubs of today.

I stopped collecting beermats around the point in my mid-teens that the alcohol itself became more interesting, but I’ll always have a soft spot for this particular hoard.

Victorian ceiling details

There are many things I am not going to miss about living in a Victorian build – draughts, damp and dust being the TLDR version.  What I am going to miss, though, are the ceilings.  I love ceilings in Victorian buildings.

First of all, they’re nice and high, and coupled with the larger rooms you tend to get in such houses, they give a real airy sense of space.  I grew up in a Victorian building – my parents still live there – and so I often find more modern houses with their low ceilings to be a bit claustrophobic.

The main thing, though, is the pretty detailing you get on the ceilings.  The house in which I grew up has absolutely beautiful cornices, at which I still find myself staring for ages whenever I visit home.  The house in which we live at the moment doesn’t have cornices, sadly, but it does have this lovely arch detail in the downstairs hallway:

Victorian plaster arch
Intricate plaster arch in our current hallway.

…and this ceiling rose in the living room:

Victorian ceiling rose
Ceiling rose with light fitting in the centre.

…both of which I absolutely love.  I will miss these pretty embellishments when we move into a more modern building, but I am looking forward to better insulation and hoovering not being a largely pointless exercise!