Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins and November Movies

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins was one of the world's greatest opera singers - by her own reckoning, at any rate! She began her musical career as Little Miss Foster, and gave a piano recital for President Hayes before she even hit puberty. But, sadly, it just wasn't to be. When her father refused to let her study music she eloped with an older man who infected her with syphilis on her wedding night, and when she left him to support herself through piano tuition she injured her arm and had to move back in with her mother.

Things finally began to look up in 1909; her father died, leaving her a substantial sum of money, and she met the love of her life, St. Clair Bayfield, a mediocre Shakesperean actor played by Hugh Grant in the movie. Bayfield encouraged Florence to live her dreams when it came to music, becoming her manager, and supporting her in singing lessons. Lady Florence, as she liked to be known, became a fixture of wealthy New York society, helped along by her generous patronage of the musical arts and her lavish tableaux vivants. From 1912, already in her 40s, Florence began giving recitals - much to the astonishment of her audience.


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Sunday Blog Linkies

Monthly Blog Linkies

Blog linkys, hops, parties - whatever you want to call them! - are a great way of connecting with other bloggers and becoming a real part of the blogging community. Here are a bunch of Sunday linkys you can get involved with.

For other days of the week, please check out my Connecting With Linkies post.


Monday, 28 November 2016

Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs is a radio show that has been going since 1942, and currently airs on BBC Radio 4. The concept is pretty basic, but entertaining nonetheless - guests have to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island, to listen to over and over during their slow descent into insanity... They also get to pick one book and one luxury item, though the latter can't be animate or communication technology. There's no escape from your fictional island.

Anyway, here are my answers:

Sunday, 27 November 2016

This Week #58

Help your brother's boat across and your own will reach the shore

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Roxy the Raccoon and other Stories

Roxy the Raccoon

I've written before about the Truth and Tails book series, and how impressed I always am with them. They have lovely, colourful illustrations, and the simple stories provide the ideal starting point for discussing big issues with young children. Carlos the Chameleon explores outward appearances and fitting in, for example, while Vincent the Vixen introduces the idea that sex and gender don't necessarily correlate.

The latest in the series, Roxy the Raccoon, is another triumph. I was sent this to review some time ago and today I finally had chance to sit down and read it with Marianna - she loved the artwork and quickly picked up some new animal vocab. Roxy lives at the bottom of a big tree in the forest, close to her friends Sammy the Squirrel, Cherry the Chipmunk and Brad the Beaver, who all find ways to better include Roxy in their activities because "it's much nicer when we can do things together."

Roxy the Raccoon watches the sunset
Roxy watches a beautiful sunset.

Brad fashions a ramp to his dam, for instance, so Roxy can use her wheelchair to visit him, and Sammy switches from playing football to catch so they can all play. I really liked how the message was presented, with a focus on how much better it is for everyone when we make things inclusive - too often inclusion is still seen as something done to fill a quota, rather than something which positively impacts on all of us.

The stories are aimed at 4-8 year olds, so I wasn't expecting Marianna (almost 2) to know exactly what was happening, but she followed along pretty well and understood when Roxy was sad and when she was happy. Read more about Truth and Tails at the official website, or head over to Amazon where you can pick up your own copy of Roxy the Raccoon for £7.99.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Friday Frivolity: Black Friday

Friday Frivolity

It's Black Friday! A few years ago this didn't even exist in the UK, linked as it is to Thanksgiving, and was instead used to denote the Friday before Christmas - a day much feared by police and A&E (accident and emergency, like the ER) professionals. But Walmart owned supermarket Asda was determined to see the retail event take off here.

2014 was kind of the break through year, with unprepared police forces being called in across the country to deal with assaults, unruly crowds, and generally threatening behaviour. It was complete chaos and last year many retailers really scaled back their promotions to avoid a repeat performance. This year the media says it will be a primarily online event - the truth remains to be seen, I guess!

Shoppers wrestle over a television at an Asda superstore in Wembley REUTERS - Luke MacGregor
Shoppers wrestle over a television at an Asda superstore in Wembley REUTERS / Luke MacGregor

Though it has resulted in some classic Tweets:

Black Friday at Tesco

Stay Calm and Buy Nothing


Are you braving the crowds today? And, if you've already been, did you pick up any bargains?






Thursday, 24 November 2016

Five (In)Famous Fandom Flaps

Five (in)Famous Fandom Flaps - Scandals which shook the Fannish World

These days my online identity is 'blogger' foremost and 'comper' second. But, pretty much from the moment we got our first dial up modem to not so long ago, my online identity was very definitely 'fangirl'. I have to admit I kind of miss it! Because, don't get me wrong, parenting / lifestyle blogging has a lovely online community, but fandom is just something else entirely. It's all encompassing;  a proper subculture, with its own etiquette, lingo, social norms and, as a collective, it never ever forgets anything.

Fandom has been around for as long as people have been fans of things. It really began to come into its own in the 20th century, when sci-fi fans exchanged fanzines, attended fan conventions, and generally did their best to outfan everyone by creating intricate worlds within worlds in homage to their favourite creations and creators. When the internet came along, fandom made the natural progression, and today creators often court fandom actively, recognising that an endless stream of fanart, fanfiction, fan meta (essays), etc, serve as free and enthusiastic advertising. But, it wasn't always that way...

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

25 Questions Food Tag

25 Questions Food Tag

I found this tag over at Anca's Lifestyle blog and decided to give it a go. :)


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Monthly Blog Linkies

Monthly Blog Linkies

Blog linkys, hops, parties - whatever you want to call them! - are a great way of connecting with other bloggers and becoming a real part of the blogging community. Here are a bunch of monthly linkys you can get involved with.

For other days of the week, please check out my Connecting With Linkies post.


Monday, 21 November 2016

Is Breast Best?

Breast vs Bottle - why one is no better than the other

Before pregnancy the breast vs. bottle debate is something you may be aware of, but is unlikely to be something you particularly care about. I certainly didn't. Once I knew I had a baby on board it became impossible to ignore it. Breast feeding was constantly pushed at check ups and antenatal appointments as beautiful and natural, something which only a particularly cruel specimen of humanity would deny their child. (And if that didn't convine you, there were those terrible posters about how breastfeeding would help you lose weight because, obviously, it's the only thing women ever worry about.)

The way that message was framed riled me on so many levels. 'Breast is Best' because 'Natural is Best', as though we recommend new parents also ditch shoes and electricity. Mother Nature, as wonderful as she might be, really doesn't care if you and your offspring die - whether from dehydration when you hit feeding problems, or tetanus contracted through something you step on - there are plenty more people around to keep the species going.

Don't get me wrong. Breast milk is good for babies, that's not something I'm disputing. Just look at this lovely NHS infographic:

Breastfeeding Benefits

And it wasn't so very long ago that if you couldn't produce enough breast milk, couldn't get the baby to latch properly, couldn't afford to employ a wet nurse, or even simply couldn't take the time away from work lest the rest of your family starve to death, your child's prospects were much grimmer.

Milk available on the open market was routinely contaminated and poor quality. Half a million infants died of Bovine TB in the UK in the period 1850 - 1950, and sour milk was a chief factor in infant diarrhoea, something which accounted for up to 20% of all infant mortality in the 1890s. (Source) The babies of the poor had to rely on condensed milk or bread sops; the infamous Wynne Baxter, London coroner, said in 1907 that they might as well be fed on flints and tin-tacks for all the former's nutritional value.

Another problem was the general lack of sanitation. Baby bottles and teats were difficult to clean, and proved a breeding ground for bacteria. They can still be dangerous today if they're not properly sterilised, just like breast pumps and feeding cups. Thankfully these days we have easy access to hot water and Milton tablets, even if standard NHS practice is only to advise on sterilisation if a mother indicates she will be formula feeding! Similarly, baby formula is strictly regulated - it's the advertising and promotion which preoccupies UK lawmakers in the 21st century, not concern over what is actually in it.

Victorian Baby Bottle
Victorian feeding bottle.

We are so lucky to live in a time and a place which offers safe alternatives to breastfeeding and what really irks me, I guess, is the attempt to remove maternal choice on the issue. Breastfeeding has advantages, but they're not so marked as to make it an imperative - and are notoriously difficult to separate from other factors into the bargain. Is it breastfeeding which results in the perceived long term health benefits around obesity and mental wellbeing, for instance, or the fact that take up of breastfeeding is higher amongst middle class women whose children can be expected to have better health outcomes thanks to their socio-economic status?

In the short term studies show there is a very slight reduction in hospital admissions for diarrhea and chest infections among exclusively breastfed babies, but on the flipside a 2013 study into severe neonatal hypernatraemia (dehydration, basically) found that of 62 cases over a 13 month period, only one was in a child which was exclusively bottle fed. Less than 5% of women physically can't breastfeed but that doesn't mean the other 95+% will pick it up without assistance - and when mothers are shipped off home within hours of giving birth, there's little time to make sure they get it. (source)

In other words, it's not as simple as breast good and bottle bad, and trying to present it that way only does the campaign to boost breastfeeding rates a disservice.

Because, for all the government's best efforts, people can still see - anecdotally if not in official releases - that breastfeeding is not the miracle cure to money troubles or sleepless nights or postnatal depression. For every positive there remains a correpsonding negative, be it the increased time demands it places on the mother above other care givers, the painful mastitis which continues to affect one in ten women who breastfeed, or the sense of failure engendered when breastfeeding simply doesn't work out for one reason or another. Right now, that is the default position - some 80% of newborns are breastfed, but that figure falls sharply to 34% by six months and 0.5% by twelve months. When it comes to exclusive breastfeeding at six months, the government's target, less than 4% of mothers actually achieve it.

I didn't breastfeed and if I could do it over again I still wouldn't. I was busy recovering from my near death experience - certain death if I'd gone au natural and refused the intervention of medical science - and then I was back at work to provide for my family. Even if I hadn't been, I don't see why anyone should be made to feel guilty for choosing formula, just as nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable if they want to breastfeed: in our first world society both are safe and healthy ways to feed babies. BPAS (British Pregnancy Advice Service) sum it up nicely for me when they say:

Policy needs to reflect the flexibility and open-mindedness that health professionals need when engaging with new mothers, and focus less on increased breastfeeding rates than the truly optimal outcome: thriving infants.






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In the News - posts on topical issues



Sunday, 20 November 2016

This Week #57

Good friends are like stars - you don't always see them, but you know they're always there
Life This Week

This week has had its downs - a fault on the phone line left us without internet for a few days - but for the most part it's been a good one. I had healthier scrutiny committee this week, but there wasn't much else of interest on, work wise. Two of my friends from uni came down to stay on the weekend though which was really fun. We went shopping to Cardiff and, of course, Marianna treated them to six or so episodes of Batman... ;)

Photo of the Week

TBA

This Week, I 'ave Been Mostly...

☆ READING: N/A

☆ WRITING: How to host a blog competition.

☆ WATCHING: Batman. So much Batman. Marianna loves the old 1960s TV show, so we've just been watching it over and over again. It's so cheesy, and has way too much emphasis on Burt Ward's bare legs and random exclamations. (Holy Ravioli, Batman!)

 LISTENING: Since U Been Gone - Kelly Clarkson. We've been binge watching Supergirl and this was the song they used for Kara's flashback to being a newly arrived 13-year-old refugee in 2004, the year I turned 16. It felt so weird, I can't believe the song and I are that old.

☆ WEARING: My winter coat. It's so warm, it's like going out wrapped in a duvet!

☆ EATING: Cat brought some awesome homemade lemon drizzle cake with her - yum. :)

☆ REVIEWING: Wise Words For Kids - I'm running a giveaway on the post too.

On the Blog

I did the When I Was Young blog challenge and this week's #FridayFrivolity theme was Thanksgiving. In other newsTots 100, the parenting blogger rankings, got a new update and I went up a few more places to 115. I'd love to get into the top 100, even if it's just for one update, so fingers crossed I can keep building on it!

Finally, this week's Twitter competition is for Fishtales on DVD:






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This Week - Weekly Overviews




Saturday, 19 November 2016

How To Host a Blog Competition

How To Host a Blog Competition

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to run it, you need to think about why you're running it. What do you want to gain from your competition? This might sound like a stupid question, but it will have a big impact on how you go about organising your giveaway.

There is a huge community of compers - people whose hobby is entering competitions - and providing you promote your giveaway properly, they'll come. But, if you're running a giveaway to reward your regular readers, you might want to go about things differently to ensure it stays within that target audience. By tailoring your strategy to what you want from the giveaway will give you a much better chance of acheiving it.

divider

Putting principle into practice -

One of my goals for this year was to increase my Klout score. To do this you need to get a lot of social media interaction, something which I have very little time to accomplish. Another thing I wanted to do this year was grow my Twitter following. I soon realised that a giveaway would let me hit two birds with one stone.

For the last three months or so I have run a weekly DVD giveaway on Twitter, requiring entrants to follow my account and retweet my pinned competition tweet. My following has more than doubled from c. 4,000 to c. 8,600, and my Klout score stays steady at 66 / 67 without me having to do anything.

It doesn't cost much either. The DVDs are free - usually some of my own competition wins, typically retailing for well under £10 - and cost around £1.20 to post. You couldn't even buy fake followers that cheaply, and you get all the added Twitter interaction into the bargain. Last week I gave away The Wizard of Oz on DVD; the competition had almost 800 entries, in addition to generating over a hundred replies or direct tweets.

Win with Babi a Fi

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Comparing Giveaway Widgets -

As the above example shows, if you're looking to increase followers / engagement on a specific social media platform, it's often worthwhile to host your giveaway on it. There are online tools which will help you pick a winner (e.g. Tweetdraw, Woobox and Tint) and when you're specifically looking for numbers, the easier it is to enter your competition, the better.

If, on the other hand, your primary objective is blog traffic, a giveaway widget is an excellent way forward. You set up the giveaway on the provider's website, input the entry options you desire, copy and paste the HTML code into your post and, when it's all over, you can pick your winner at the touch of a button. Here is the lowdown on the most common widgets:

Gleam - This is my personal favourite, simply because it's faster. Once you're logged as a user your details will be remembered from giveaway to giveaway, allowing you to enter with a single click - a boon if you're trying to attract compers. As the host it does have some limitations to be aware of; you can't ask people to follow you on Facebook or Instagram via it, in accordance with their terms of service, and you need a paid account to access all entrants' details. I've no interest in doing that, but it is a deal breaker for a lot of bloggers, especially those looking to build their mailing lists. For a step bu step guide on how to use Gleam, check out SuperLucky Di's guide.

Rafflecopter - Similar to Gleam, but a little slower to enter. I find people are more likely to set up custom entry options with Rafflecopter too, requiring follows on networks there is no default button for. Like Gleam, you can input mandatory entries - usually blog comments - which must be completed to reveal other entry options. As a host, try to include your blog comment question in the body of the post as well as in the widget; people will click the 'done' button out of habit and be unable to check back. Also, it may be useful to remind people to leave comments over eight words (spam limit) and not to put a false website link into the url box of your comment system, both of which are common complaints from bloggers running competitions.

PromoSimple - The free version is quite limited, but it does still allow default Instagram and Facebook follow options which can be handy now that the others will only let you 'view' these profiles.

Giveaway Tools - The number of default options is lower than that of competitors, but it's easy to set up and use, and good for collecting newsletter subscribers.

divider

Terms and Conditions - 

I've used the terms 'competition' and 'giveaway' interchangably in this post but, strictly speaking, they are different things legally. A 'competition' or 'contest' implies that winners will be chosen on merit - for submitting the best photograph, or writing the funniest caption, for example. A 'prize draw' implies that the winner will be chosen at random. Make sure you use the correct term in your T&Cs.

Other things you should include are when the giveaway ends, what the prize is - along with whether or not there is a cash alternative - and how you're going to inform the winner. Make it clear if there are any entry restrictions, and any other relevant details. Here is an example of the kind of thing I'd write:

"This prize draw ends 14th December 2016 and entry is restricted to UK residents only. Prize is one 'x', no cash alternative is offered. Winner will be contacted by email within one week of the closing date, and given 28 days to respond with their postal address. If there is no response, another winner will be chosen. Prize is to be fulfilled by Company Z."

The Beginner's Guide To Comping (The Art of Entering - And Winning - Competitions)

divider

Promotion - 

This is what will make or break your giveaway because while you might be lucky and someone visiting your blog will add it to a comping website, chances are you won't be. Of course, if you want to keep your giveaway small and private, that's a good thing - you might even want to email such websites and ask that they not add links from your site, to avoid an influx of compers. If you're actively seeking entrants however, here are some failsafe ways of getting them:

The PrizeFinder - One of the biggest UK comping websites, it's totally free to add your giveaway to and has consistently been my main source of traffic when hosting giveaways.

Competition Database - My personal favourite comping site. Again, it's free to add your giveaway - though you will need to register with the site - and is a good source of traffic.

Competition Linkies - These are blog based link ups for giveaways. The main ones are SuperLucky Di, U Me and the Kids, Life in a Breakdown, and Tots 100.

Don't forget to promote your competition across your social media channels and, finally, no promotion list would be complete without mentioning the competition forums of Money Saving Expert. It can generate a lot of traffic, but note that you can't add your own giveaways to the site - you have to wait for some kind soul to do it for you.






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Blogging Guides



Friday, 18 November 2016

Friday Frivolity - Thanksgiving

Friday Frivolity

This week's theme is something I don't really know much about - Thanksgiving. Pretty much my entire understanding of the holiday comes from that episode of Friends with the turkey (which was clearly just a total rip off of Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean) and the 1993 film Addams Family Values.

Thanksgiving with the Addams Family

My mum actually said to me last year that she had always thought Thanksgiving was just an American name for Christmas. I mean, it does have a lot in common with the traditional British Christmas - namely, eating until you feel sick and then falling asleep in the living room.

Fat Cat at Thanksgiving

I hope turkey isn't big at Christmas in the States though, that must be serious turkey overload in the same month!

turkey


If you're celebrating, I hope you're having a great time! :)







Thursday, 17 November 2016

When I Was Young

When I Was Young Blogging Tag

I found this 'geneameme' over at the Lonetester HQ genealogy blog. I just had to give it a whirl!

1. Do you (or your parents) have any memorabilia from when you were a baby? (ie. baby book, lock of hair, first shoes etc.)

My mum kept everything she could, uncaring of the fact we lived in a tiny house with no attic, garage or basement. Cards, baby stuff, schoolwork - all kinds of stuff. I try to remember how I didn't want it every time I'm tempted to keep everything of Marianna's. I mean, I enjoyed looking through the things she had kept but I didn't want to keep it. Hopefully saving the bulk of it digitally will be the best of both worlds.


2. Do you know if you were named after anyone?

I know that I wasn't. My mum just liked the name from the time she was in secondary school, and decided she would name her future daughter Jessica. She has often complained to me that it got really popular in 1987/88, and how annoyed she was that there were so many other Jessicas in my year at school.


3. And do you know of any other names your parents might have named you?

I think I was going to be Robert if I were a boy, but my mum was convinced I'd be a girl and didn't give it much thought. Rhys' name was more contentious, and if he was a girl he was going to be called Stacey.


4. What is your earliest memory? 

Watching a spider in the corner of the room when I was about two, and trying to be brave and not scream for someone to come and get it. That phobia runs deep.

Baby Me
My nan (mum's mum), mum, and me. (1988)


5. Did your parent/s (or older siblings) read, sing or tell stories to you? Do you remember any of these?

I was the eldest, but my mum was always reading, singing, etc to me. Even at a really early age I liked quiet play and learning, and my mum was really proud that I could read my name, count, and so on, by the time I turned three.


6. When you were young, do you remember what it was that you wanted to grow up to be? 

It changed all the time. At various points I wanted to be a teacher, an author, an illustrator, a journalist, a translator, a police officer, and probably dozens of other things.


7. Did you have a favourite teacher at school?

My history teacher. I had always liked history, but it soon became my favourite subject and I went on to study it at Cambridge which was a big thing for me. I was the first one in the family to go to university, so I was pleased I had managed to set the bar pretty high for all my younger cousins!


8. How did you get to school? 

I walked. For a few years I lived right next to the school and that was awesome, we didn't have to get up until the last minute. It was a shock to the system when I started secondary school and had a half hour walk every morning.

School Uniform
Me and Rhys on my first day at secondary school, 1999.


9. What games did playtime involve?

The usual - skipping, hand clap games, dancing, yo-yos, etc. My brother and I used to play dolls and armies too, which usually meant a war was on, or sometimes a natural disaster, and we'd get to choose which of the other toys were saved and which were going to die horrible, horrible deaths. Like, getting pecked to death by birds or starving to death on a life raft. These were probably the occasions when our mum and dad stuck their heads around the door and thought to themselves, aw, our children are so adorable, playing nicely together, not realising the dark realities at play.


10. Did you have a cubby house? 

No. We did use the shed as a playhouse for a bit, as I remember, and we had a series of spectacularly naff dens around the local neighbourhood.


11. What was something you remember from an early family holiday? 

My granddad winning a bunch of teddy bears from the crane machines for me, and then me insisting they share the bed with me and my brother. There were way too many and I was just like, well, he can sleep on the floor, it's no problem!


12. What is a memory from one of your childhood birthday’s or Christmas? 

New pyjamas at Christmas! It always made everything more special somehow.

Me and Rhys at Christmas
Me and Rhys, c. 1997.


13. What childhood injuries do you remember?

I remember falling off my bike and cutting all my knee open. That was probably the last time I rode a bike, come to think of it. I was about ten or so.


14. What was your first pet? 

Ariel, the goldfish. She went to that great toilet bowl in the sky.


15. Did your grandparents, or older relatives tell you stories of “when I was young ..?”

Of course, we got to hear all about the 'good old days'. ;)



16. What was entertainment when you were young?

Reading. I did so much reading as a kid, and then I'd write my own stories or act them out with my toys. I liked spending time alone, but I'd also go out and play with other kids. My dad would take us to historical sites - castles, ruins, churches - at the weekends before he got ill too, so I have lots of memories of searching these places for ghosts or 'artefacts' which would obviously just be left lying around for us to find, just like they were in my favourite kids' books.

out and about


17. Do you remember what it was it like when your family got a new fangled invention? (ie. telephone, TV, VCR, microwave, computer?)

I remember getting our first PC, and playing a demo disc of Worms over and over again.


18. Did your family have a TV? Was it b&w or colour? And how many channels did you get? 

We always had a TV - a big colour telly in the living room, and I had my mum's old black and white portable in my room when I was still pretty young. That one when in the dining room when we moved to the house we grew up in, and Rhys and I both had TVs in our bedrooms. We had Sky on the main TV, which was primarily used for Cartoon Network, but for the most part there were four channels - four and a half if you count S4C - and I remember watching the launch night for Channel 5 in 1997.


19. Did your family move house when you were young? Do you remember it? 

Yeah, a few times, but we moved for the last time when I was about 5 or 6. I remember changing schools, but I don't remember anything about the move itself.


20. Was your family involved in any natural disasters happening during your childhood (i.e. fire, flood, cyclone, earthquake, etc)?

Nope. Wales is a pretty safe part of the world in that respect.

me sat in the garden


21. Is there any particular music that when you hear it, sparks a childhood memory?

So many terrible pop songs take me right back to childhood birthday parties. Like Mr Blobby, the Macarena, and anything by Black Lace. I only just remembered this as I wrote that but, and this is so cringy, we used to have our own little parties with a portable tape player and a Black Lace cassette out in the street. There would be like 5 kids just dancing around to Black Lace for an hour.


22. What is something that an older family member taught you to do? 

My nan taught me to knit; I made some shockingly bad scarves for my teddy bears.


23. What are brands that you remember from when you were a kid?

They're mostly the same as they are now, though a few changed names. Jif became Cif, for example, and Opal Fruits are now Starburst.


24. Did you used to collect anything? (ie. rocks, shells, stickers … etc.)

I loved to collect stuff. Anything and everything, it was all fair game. I had collections of shells, thimbles, trolls, crystals, trading cards, Kinder Egg toys, coins, stamps, stickers, Tazos... Seriously, anything!



25. Share your favourite childhood memory.

Just chilled days at home playing. No pressure, no drama, just being a kid and enjoying it.






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blog tags, memes and challenges



Wednesday, 16 November 2016

What Did We Do Before The Internet?

What Did We Do Before The Internet?

We received some horrific news this week... there is a fault on the phone line so we have no internet until Thursday night at the earliest. It's been a nightmare - we had to decamp to my mum's today, or otherwise I wouldn't have been able to get anything done.

I'm in the last generation of people in the UK who will remember life before the internet. We first went online in 1998, when I was ten years old. My parents made the decision because I was about to start secondary school, and they thought I would benefit from all this new fangled technology. What I remember most about it was how slow, clunky, and unreliable it was.

The main provider in the UK at the time was AOL, who used the slogan 'you know where you are with AOL,' which had to be followed up immediately with, 'yeah, not on the bloody internet!'

You'd sit there, listening to the screech of the dial-up tone, and hope nobody wanted to use the phone for the next couple of hours. The web itself was ugly. Like, seriously ugly. Nobody thought about digital inclusion in those days; if you wanted a website with lime green text on an orange background, you just went ahead and did it. Even the big official websites left a lot to be desired:

AOL in 1997
For more example of vintage web design, check out the 404 Page Found archive.

There was no YouTube, no Wikipedia. Even Google was in its infancy. Instead the web was littered with personal home pages and badly designed fansites. Still, I found plenty to sink my time into. I think I would probably have always been a rather eccentic type, but the internet made it all so much easier.

I discovered my sense of style online, and my love of writing thanks to the many hours I spent immersed in fandom. I also used the internet to find scores of penpals: one of my chief hobbies was swapping coins, stamps, postcards and random phrases with other teenage girls around the world - we didn't worry so much about giving out our postal addresses over the net back then. The emergence of Gaia Online and MySpace encouraged me to learn BBCode and HTML, and the access to German language publications like Bravo meant it quickly became my best school subject.

MySpace
This came up in a Google search for old MySpace profiles - I wish I had thought to screenshot mine!

These days the internet is an integral part of my life. I need it for work - for the blog, and for my day job - and I need it for entertainment; we rely on livestream for radio and have an Amazon Firestick for TV access. I keep in touch with my friends, and I get to know people who I'd never have met otherwise. I read and write, learn and consume, and if I need to know something, I just whip out my smartphone and Google it.

Being offline for a bit has its advantages, don't get me wrong. It's like a detox. You have more time, suddenly, without a million and one distractions at your fingertips, and you get a chance to remember the simpler times. Times when you didn't feel the need to Tweet about or Instagram everything.

But, mostly, being offline isn't enjoyable. It feels like something important is missing. High Hopes' Fagin was talking about TV when he explained to Dwayne and Charlie what they used to do for entertainment of an evening, but it still sums up my feelings this week:

"Nothing. We was as bored as hell. Endless nights just sitting around waiting to go to bed."

Ah, roll on Friday!







Monday, 14 November 2016

Wise Words For Kids

Wise Words For Kids

Regular readers will know all about my love for The Book of Everyone, the customisable personalised books you can give for just about any occasion. So I was super psyched when I was asked if I'd like to review their new venture, Wise Words For Kids.

As always with The Book of Everyone, the graphic design and layout of the book is awesome. The artwork is bright, eye-catching, and memorable, and the double page spreads dotted throughout work really well.

All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars

Each speech bubble comes with two default pieces of wisdom to choose between. Alternatively, you can put in inspirational quotes, or whatever other advice pops into your head. I write a weekly round-up blog post every Sunday which starts with one of my favourite quotes, so I had great fun going through my masterlist of them and picking out the best ones.

I kept a few of the defaults - they range from the heart warming to the delightfully silly ('Never do your homework in a room without windows') - then went through and fit the new quotes to the most suitable images:

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken

I remember having a little book of quotes and advice when I was a kid, which I loved looking through over and over again. The great thing about this is that it takes it a step further, combining sleek and professional design with highly personalised messages. I was able to include some Welsh for example, because it's something that is part of Marianna's life:

Work begun is half done

As always, the process was simple, and the turnaround time was excellent. I ordered the book on Monday night, and it was with me on Thursday morning. I then got busy taking some photographs, so I could put it away as a keepsake gift for Christmas. I'm really pleased with the book, and I hope that as she gets older Marianna will enjoy reading back through it and understanding more about the quotes and their meaning.

Here she is with the Wonder Woman themed page and her two favourite dollies:

Be kind to yourself

You can make your own Wise Words For Kids for £19.95 in paperback, £29.95 hardback, and £49.95 for a deluxe edition. Each option includes a free digital copy and 1st class Royal Mail delivery within the UK. Alternatively, you can enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a paperback version!

Win Wise Words For Kids Book






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