Sunday, 25 October 2020

This Week - 25/10/2020

Being human is given. But keeping our humanity is a choice.



Monday and Tuesday were taken up with virtual meetings and the end of quarantine. On Wednesday I moved back home and spent the next few days alternating between sleeping, more meetings, and surfing social media.

The covid cough has pretty much gone now but I still feel really drained - alongside the usual post illness feeling of 'I want to reorganise the entire house and rearrange my life', right up to the moment I have to actually do it. So, yeah, instead I've spent way too much time on Twitter getting angry over politics.

Ben Bradley, Philip Davies, Selaine Saxby... How are these people in decision making positions??

In some ways I can sympathise with the regular Tory MPs who voted against FSM. In normal times they would expect public support for voting it down, their arguments about individual responsibility and dependency striking all the right chords. I wouldn't agree with them, sure, but many would. That's democracy. But this isn't normal times. So many more people are going to lose their jobs this winter. 

Thousands more are likely to lose their lives. (I found out yesterday that someone who caught covid in our outbreak cluster of c. 20 has now died of it.)

And they've chosen the relatively tiny matter of FSM over Christmas to be the step too far. When public money has been thrown away in its millions on PPE companies that could never deliver, consultants for projects that were never going anywhere, and all manner of spurious expenses for things everyone else in the country is expected to fund out of their own pay packet.

Because they don't want kids to starve, obviously. They just don't want to pick up the tab for feeding them. They wanted overstretched local authorities to find the money from, well, they didn't care where and then claim it as their own victory when programmes were rolled out around the country. 

That is happening. Every single part of it. But the damage to them reputationally may prove not to be worth it. It really does feel like this is going to be Johnson's 'milk snatcher' moment. Will it have any real impact? It's doubtful. It did nothing to put the breaks on Margaret Thatcher's career. But, then again, does anybody believe Margaret Thatcher would have waffled and wavered and incompetently blundered through this pandemic?

The lady was many things but she certainly wasn't lazy or stupid.

We might be in opposite worlds politically but I have always admired Thatcher's commitment and competency. When she set her mind to something, she got it done. One of my dirtiest secrets is that I went out and bought a glossy retrospective of her premiership - and I still have it. Then you look at Johnson. Maybe it would be okay if he had a front bench that made up for his failings. The truth is that they're almost universally terrible. 

Over the last few months I have been seriously re-evaluating my stance on Welsh independence. I always felt like it would be economic suicide. But we're doing that with Brexit already. I thought the Senedd couldn't compete with the national political talent. But now I just look sadly at Johnson. I used to feel British. Now I... don't. If Britishness is denying facts, actively seeking isolationism, overlooking rank incompetence. Well. I don't want a part of it. 

I remember watching those awful ads about how the police would come for fraudulent benefit claimants when I was a kid and feeling ashamed that my parents needed welfare. I remember getting into politics with the fiery passion of youth, hoping no other kid would ever be made to feel that about parents who were just trying to do their absolute best for them.

Now I just feel old and knackered and like things aren't even going to stagnate. They just keep getting worse with every new policy announcement. I don't know what the answer is. But at least I feel slightly better for having typed it all up...



Deal of the Week -

Up to £40 with Three using referral code link: http://aklam.io/cQfyBu



Song of the Week -

We Need To Talk - Waterparks



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Saturday, 24 October 2020

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice - making ends meet in modern Britain

This week has definitely been a low in British politics. In response to some spurious anti-welfare claim or other, I saw a tweet by Jack Monroe linking to this amazing blog post: You Don't Batch Cook When You're Suicidal

It made me think about the worst times in my own life, financially. Unsurprisingly they corresponded with some of the worst in terms of depression too. I'm not going to claim that my story can rival Jack's. I was in a much better position, and I had a lot more support. It was still tough.

Really bloody tough.

And if I was in that much difficulty while in work and with loving family able to help out, just imagine how much worse it is for people who do not have those safety nets.

Anyway, this keeps rolling around in my head so here it is...



December 2014. Anthony and I had recently moved in together and were looking forward to the arrival of our first child. He was working in British Gas' Cardiff call center on c. £16,000 pa, I was a backbench councillor for Torfaen County Council on c. £13,000. I had just gone on statutory maternity leave - £87.55 a week in 2014/15 - and we knew things would be a bit tight but, so long as we budgeted, we'd be fine. 

February 2015. Marianna was born by emergency cesarean 12 days overdue on January 1st; I nearly bled to death. (Obligatory shout out to the amazing surgeons at the Royal Gwent! We would not be here without you. ♥) She then spent 19 days on NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) before being allowed home. Halfway through Anthony lost his job. Suddenly that £87.55 was going to have to pay all our bills and feed three of us until the welfare state could kick in and help.

Except calculations used my regular wage, not maternity pay, and as Anthony had been self-employed before the stint at British Gas he didn't have enough NI contributions for full JSA. That month I sold my beloved collection of hundreds of books and CDs for 12p a pop to Ziffit so I could pay the gas bill on time. I obviously had to get back to work, and quickly, which I did at the end of February.

With me back on full pay, plus child benefit and income based JSA, we were now getting about £1,400 a month. It was still a struggle. I cancelled all my charity and magazine subscriptions. Anthony sold his own books and comics. We set a budget of £25 a week for food and I submitted cringeworthy tips to all the women's weeklies for the £20 on offer. The washing machine broke down, the oven packed in, and gravity dealt my laptop a death blow. Every month was a grind of not quite making ends meet.

Christmas 2015; we are so unbelievably lucky to have friends and family who could help. I just bought Marianna a single doll that year and told myself she wouldn't remember anyway.

Through it all the bank continued to charge me for being in my overdraft and missing payments, sometimes upwards of £70 a month, and we started to get behind with the gas and the water companies because the other utilities would cut us off quicker. When I was rang up the night before the council AGM 2016 and asked if I would be Deputy Mayor for the upcoming civic year I was torn - my head was a mess and I really didn't want the stress, but it came with an extra couple of grand.

There was only ever going to be one answer.

So on the one hand I got to chair full council and hobnob at civic functions while the Mayor was off for surgery on her knee. On the other I was too afraid to answer my front door because we had bailiffs charging us extra for every time they caught us at home. I was a fool with a conscience and turned down the 0.93% pay rise recommended by the IRP (Independent Remuneration Panel), and flogged all the nice vintage pre-pregnancy clothes I had hoped to get back into for pittance on ebay. 

At the 2017/18 AGM I was voted in as Mayor proper. It felt like if not all then at least most of our problems were over. The Mayor got an extra allowance of almost £6,000 and an honest to God chauffeur to civic functions! I was saving nearly £7 bus fare on most of my journeys to the civic centre. We didn't have to buy more than the bare essentials in food because everywhere we went had tea and biscuits and little cakes that while nutritionally dubious were always very tasty.

Mayor Making ceremony 2017 - those gold chains are worth over £200k...

On the downside we were (quite rightly) expected to spend a fortune in raffle tickets and I had to scrounge up some half decent stuff to wear for all the photographs. I remember going to one concert that we had been given free tickets to, to represent the borough, then at the door the lady in charge of taking the money said we could surely afford to pay our way, couldn't we? I handed over our last £20 and tried not to cry during the performance for worrying about how I was going to get the bus to other work commitments later in the week.

The thing is I could have asked for help. My colleagues would have given me a lift. My mum would have given us a few quid. I just didn't want to admit I was a failure. I was too proud. So proud I stopped seeing friends rather than explain I didn't have any money to go out with them. So proud I lied to people rather than confess that things were dire. If you read my blog posts from the time you'd never know. If you met me at the time you probably wouldn't either.

Instead I sold more stuff and signed up for any and every free trial going. I scanned receipts, took surveys, and reviewed any old tat right here in the hope I might be able to sell it on afterwards. I couldn't sleep at night for worrying about money, and let my compulsive skin picking get out of control again until I had to go back to wearing plasters to hide the bleeding.

There was no time left over for getting my head together. Anthony was still out of work, in spite of his best efforts, and for the 2018/19 year I managed to get myself elected into a committee chairship for the c. £8,000 extra that came with it. It should have been more than enough to set us right. And eventually it did. But first I needed to pay off those utility arrears. Scrape my way out of constant bank charges. Buy some shoes that weren't falling apart. 

More than anything I felt like it was all my fault. If I had budgeted more carefully. If I was in a better paid job. If I wasn't such a useless liability. I had a degree from Cambridge and I was still panicking about how I was going to pay my Labour group subscriptions before I'd have to admit to people I couldn't. I tried to overdose on sertraline, I only succeeded in making myself violently sick. I went and stood on the rail bridge and wondered if I'd be aware enough in the last seconds to regret it.

I was lucky to have family who forced me to visit my GP. I got my prescription altered and another referral back to counselling. I managed to borrow £2,000 so I could get out of my overdraft before the Natwest began charging 39.49% interest on it. Some months it can still feel like I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul if there are unexpected outgoings, and I still get a sick feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach every time there's a knock at the front door. 

But I'm lucky. I have a job that puts us above the welfare threshold. I have family who can help me out if things get tight and there's still a week to go 'til payday. I know my daughter's going to have enough to eat this winter. 

Some parents don't have any of those luxuries and they need better answers than 'buy a bag of porridge oats' or 'stop supporting crack dens with food vouchers'. The UK is broken. I only hope it isn't too late to fix it.



Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Mini Mart: Ulicazelazna

Ulicazelazna 1/6 Sale Furniture

Supplier: Ulicazelazna
Website: Etsy Store

Products:

1/6 scale beds, sofas and armchairs. Originally I had the red plastic Sindy sofa and armchairs but I wanted something a bit more sophisticated for the refit. These reminded me a lot of the IKEA Strandmon chairs we have in our real life living room, so I figured they'd be the perfect choice in miniature too. :)

They cost me 25 Euro each, which was about £23.25 when I placed the order.

Ulicazelazna on Etsy

Post and Packing:  12 Euro from Poland.



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Sunday, 18 October 2020

This Week 18/10/2020

Your silence will not protect you.



I had plans to get lots of blogging done over the local lockdown period. That... did not happen. Instead we all contracted coronavirus last week and I have spent my days coughing, sleeping, and generally feeling like something the cat dragged in. Thankfully we have all had the mild version so, though it hasn't been fun, we haven't needed any medical intervention beyond rest and over the counter meds.

Rhys fell ill first but literally within 48 hours we had all come down with it. I had Children and Young People Committee last week and I felt so bad I wanted to call in sick, even though it was just a virtual meeting. I did chair it in the end but I wished I hadn't; I was shaking and sweating and basically passed out for a few hours afterwards. A couple of people at Hannah's office had tested positive at this point, so I knew it was a real possibility, but I was leaning more towards regular flu because my breathing was fine.

So Rhys took a postal test as he needed the results for work - the rest of us can remote work with no difficulty and the test is bloody horrible - then it took over 85 hours to get a response. The waiting was maybe the worst part of it all, because I couldn't help but obsess over it on and on and on. He finally got the positive notification at 10pm on Tuesday and it was a huge relief to think we had it and were probably over the worst of it. 

On Wednesday I started catching up with work email and all the other stuff I'd missed while out of it. I still felt rough, but well enough to be bored and antsy. Then Wednesday evening it felt like something was sat on my chest and I started majorly freaking out. Rhys' friend who started showing symptoms the same time as him was admitted to hospital for breathing difficulties on Wednesday too, which inspired ever greater panic. Once I'd calmed down enough to get some sleep I felt loads better though.

I had a virtual licensing panel on Thursday which I chaired, albeit without much finesse! I was still feverish until Saturday, and coughed until I was sick a couple of times, but overall it was a continuous upward curve and, bar a headache and general malaise, today I don't feel too bad. I'm now on day 12 and will be able to get back out and about on Wednesday. 

It's council AGM on Tuesday which, luckily, is being held virtually. I'm stepping down as committee and full council chair, and have also asked to come off Bron Afon housing board. My health - physical and mental - wasn't great before this and I really want to just take some time with less responsibility and try and focus on getting better and being a good mum to Marianna. <3



Deal of the Week -

Up to £40 with Three using referral code link: http://aklam.io/cQfyBu



Song of the Week -

Lead You Home - Barbie

This is as good as it gets right now!



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Saturday, 17 October 2020

Pass the Pigs Review

Pass the Pigs Review

Pass the Pigs started life as 1977's Pig Mania!, itself an adaption of a dice game named Pig which had been around for decades. Eventually the publishing licence was sold to Milton Bradley and the game was rebranded as Pass the Pigs. Today the game is produced by Winning Moves and available in regular, big, giant, and party versions.

Pass the Big Pigs

The concept behind it is pretty simple. You roll the pigs and, depending on how they land, score points. The more acrobatically they land, the more points you score. For instance, both pigs landing on the same side will net you 1 point, but if you manage to get two in the 'leaning jowler' position you'll bag yourself 60 points. The first player to reach 100 points is the winner.

Pass the Pigs Scoring

Although I had heard of the game I had never actually played it, so I didn't waste any time when I was given the chance to review it on the blog. Marianna has been itching to play it ever since it arrived - over a week ago! - but all of the adults in the house managed to come down with coronavirus and she had to make her own entertainment in front of the television until we felt better again.

It's not been much fun but, thankfully, we've had it pretty mildly and are now nearing the end of quarantine. That made it time for Pass the Pigs!

Pass the Pigs Game

We tried out Big Pigs first. The pigs are quite large, like a pet toy, and even make a loud squeaking noise when you squeeze them. I think the Big Pigs are best suited to summertime in the garden or parties as their size means you need more room to throw them. Marianna loved flinging them about the place though, especially when she eventually won the game.

After that we roped nanny in for a game of the classic version. The small pigs needed much less room, though Marianna's exuberance in throwing them meant rescuing them from under the sofa on more than one occasion! It was really good fun, all the same, and we got pretty invested in it - adults and children alike.

Pass the Pigs Winning Moves

What I really liked about the game is how easy it is to play, making it absolutely perfect for young children. You don't need a board, so you don't have to supervise the moving of counters. You don't need to teach any special skill before you start, and there isn't any fiddly mechanism to set up. You just roll the pigs and off you go.

If it's all children playing you might want to simplify the scoring system to enable them to keep track, but for a grouping of adults and young children I am completely sold on Pass the Pigs. It's going to be our new go to game above even Snakes & Ladders and Buckaroo. 

Winning Moves Pass the Pigs

Pass the Pigs is available from the Winning Moves website. The original version is £9.99, while Big Pigs and Party Pigs retail for £14.99 each. Signing up to the newsletter will bag you 10% off your first order too. Once you have the game you can join in the fun on social media using the hashtag #PassthePigs and share all your best moves.

Have you ever played Pass the Pigs? What did you think of it?


*We were sent the games to review, but thoughts and opinions are all our own!*



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Friday, 16 October 2020

Friday Five: Super Pops Songs

Friday Five

Marianna is 100% obsessed with Totally TV - both their Disney princess pastiches and their original series, The Super Pops. (As I type this she is rolling around on the floor taking part in a Super Pops yoga positions challenge...)

It's not as great as the musical group that defined my early childhood, obviously. (I mean, come on, how can anything compare to Rod, Jane and Freddy's Dick Turnip the Naughty Highwayman??? What the Rainbow team would have given for a green screen though - just check out that home made cardboard carriage in the link!) But that's not to say it isn't good fun.

Some of the songs are pretty good too. They take me back to being eight years old listening to B*Witched and Lolly on my cassette walkman over and over again. Here are five of my favourites...




#5. Double Trouble

Mizeree and Dr WhoDoo have trapped the Super Pops at the circus. Shenanigans ensue. This is Marianna's favourite so I have lost track of how many times I've heard it.




#4. Rain On Me

"When you change the way you look at things, you're changing what you see." <3




#3. Friendship

When Bungler Psyphony's clone Hoppy turns good - and that's a sentence I never thought I'd type - she goes the full hog and joins the Rap Pops. To celebrate the girls sing an ode to friendship.




#2. Follow Your Dreams

The Latin Pops only joined the Pop line-up this month but Marianna has already listened to this dozens of times at least. It is incredibly catchy!




#1. The Man

"You got me sick and tired of you telling me to just be quiet...
This is a call for every woman, got to stick together and make a stand,
Anything is possible and we can do big things just like a man,
Everyone's got something to give, to make the world a better place to live,
One voice, one heart, together we stand: the woman, the boy, the girl, the man."

This one is super catchy and comes right on the back of Cosmic Pop explaining what misogyny is, why the guys don't have the right to just shout over them, and how they should all be on the same team. There's plenty of time for filling in the nuance, at five that's feminism 101 right there!



Have you ever seen The Super Pops? Let me know in the comments! :)



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Friday Five

Monday, 12 October 2020

Take That Dolls

Take That

Formed in 1989, Take That are an English boyband who had a string of top ten hits in the 1990s. They officially disbanded in 1996 - before returning to the charts in 2005. In 1995 Vivid Imaginations released a line of dolls based on the band.

★ Howard Donald - box front / box back.
★ Gary Barlow - box front / box back.
★ Jason Orange - box front / box back.

Take That Dolls



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Dolls



Monday, 5 October 2020

The Wanted Dolls

The Wanted Boyband Dolls

The Wanted were a British-Irish boyband who were a pretty big deal back in the early 2010s. Vivid Imaginations produced a doll line of the guys in 2011.

The Wanted Dolls

Tom Parker - box front / box back / promo.
★ Max George - box front / box back / promo.
★ Siva Kaneswaran - box front / box back / promo
★ Nathan Sykes - box front / box back / promo.

Vivid Imaginations The Wanted



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Dolls



Sunday, 4 October 2020

This Week - 04/10/2020

Be somebody nobody thought you could be.



I have achieved so little this week, seriously. Marianna and I have moved back in with my mum and dad for local lockdown, so it's a bit cramped and hectic but at least it's not boring! 

There was another full council meeting on Tuesday which I chaired, but other than that I've just been writing and reading for the most part. I'm trying to get some research heavy blog posts finished - it's slow going.



Deal of the Week -

Get 100,000 free tokens for the Spin Day app with referral code: 010161927359000603



Song of the Week -

Follow Your Dreams - The Latin Pops

Marianna has played this so many times already. So. Many.



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Croesyceiliog School History

Croesyceiliog School - A History

I downloaded scans of this book ages ago in .rar format from a school history website made by Sam Grainger, a then Croesyceiliog sixth former, back in 2010. It was written in 1975 to serve as "the story of a School, a School which has grown, developed, and accepted change, during its first sixteen years. ... It is intended as a tribute and a farewell gift to the Headmaster, Mr. Summers, in recognition of his achievement."

In the spirit of making it more accessible, here are the files converted to jpg and embedded for ease of reading. There are 90 pages so I've put it under a cut!

Friday, 2 October 2020

Friday Five: Crop Circles

Friday Five

There have now been over 10,000 documented crop circle formations - see cropcirclecenter.com for an awesome database - with the vast majority in the 1990s and 2000s after Doug Bower and Dave Chorley revealed to the press how easy they were to make with little more than string and a piece of wood. They took credit for over 200 circles created across England over the previous decade or so, crediting 1960s news stories about 'saucer nests' in Australia with the initial inspiration.

What had been a fairly basic artform quickly developed into something seriously impressive as artists around the world attempted to outdo each other in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Later, inevitably, public interest trailed off with a growing awareness of their man made nature and general over exposure, and some of the best crop circles today tend to be organised competition entries or paid publicity stunts. 

Check out The Croppie for up to date news on what's happening in the crop circle world.

Anyway, here are five of my favourites...



Milk Hill 2001

#5. Galaxy, 2001

This absolutely massive formation from 2001 is probably one of the best known of the whole phenomenon. Discovered on the morning of August 12th at Milk Hill in Wiltshire,  it was made up of 409 circles and measured some 780 foot across! It allegedly took a team of 13 people over six hours to complete and remains one of the biggest on record.



Crabwood 2002 Crop Circle

#4. Crabwood, 2002

This c. 300 ft formation was discovered at Vale Farm in Hampshire on August 15th. The 'grey' alien is very nicely done, but what marked this one out as particularly special was the disc (pizza...) he is carrying. Analysis revealed it to be a message printed in binary code:

"Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES. Much PAIN but still time. (Damaged word [possibly 'believe'). There is GOOD out there. We OPpose DECEPTION. Conduit CLOSING (BELL SOUND)".

Cool, huh?



Bow Hill Circle

#3. Bow Hill, 1932

As circles go, it's not particularly impressive. Except for the fact it was discovered in 1932 and we have some nice contemporary photos of it! Doug Bower and Dave Chorley contended that crop circles were completely unknown in the UK before they created their first one in 1978 but that is clearly untrue. The same people behind the Old Crop Circles site have one pointing out the problems and inconsistencies with Bower and Chorley's confession.

There are a few of them, it's impossible to argue otherwise. But whether they cover up an attempt to lay claim to other (better...) artists' work or something more sinister is very much open to debate. Simple crop circles, imo, can definitely be formed by natural phenomena as evidenced by various cases around the world. (weather, earthworks, animal activity, etc.)

And, who knows, perhaps a few of them really are left behind by extraterrestrial visitors. Stranger things have happened!



Milk Hill 2009

#2. Milk Hill, 2009

Geometric designs are pretty and everything but, as this list shows, I'm all about the codes. This formation at Milk Hill, Wiltshire, appeared in three distinct phases. The radar/sextant bit appeared first, discovered on June 21st, then came the blocks and circle trails on June 23rd. Finally the glyphs were found added on June 38th. 11 years on and it has yet to be fully decoded!



Chilbolton 2001

#1. Arecibo Response, 2001

The Arecibo message was sent out into space, via radio waves, in November 1974. It encoded a bunch of basic info about earth, the solar system and the human race, and was created to celebrate the remodelling of the Puerto Rican radio telescope it was sent from. Then, on August 21st 2001, a response was discovered in Chilbolton, alongside an image of an alien face. 

Coded messages would become almost commonplace over the next few years, but nothing can really recapture the excitement of this one having a first decipherable 'communication' from space. Along with its contemporary 'Galaxy' formation, this was the crop circle levelling up for the 21st century.



Do you have a favourite crop circle? Let me know in the comments! :)



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Friday Five

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Hits of 1999

What I'm Listening To

In 1999 I finished primary school and started at the local comprehensive, as such it stands out more than most years of my childhood and I didn't need to consult the retro chart listings too much to compile this top ten. In fact, it was hard to whittle it down to ten because so many tracks seem iconically 1999, from S Club Seven to Steps to Shania Twain to Christina Aguilera's Genie in a Bottle...



Blue (Da Ba Dee) - Eiffel 65

This was my little brother's favourite song and I heard it over and over and over again. And I still love it!




Mambo No 5 - Lou Bega

Awesome track, forever tainted with the cringetastic memory of my year 7 form tutor taking the register while singing 'a little bit of Jessica, here I am'. Ugh. Still, while writing this post I learned that a) Lou Bega is German, and b) this was a cover of a 1950 track by Dámaso Pérez Prado.




2 Times - Ann Lee

I love the video for this so much, I thought those cargo pants and little butterfly clips made her a total style icon... It was like, wow, when I grow up I totally want to look just like that!




Livin' la Vida Loca - Ricky Martin

#1 hit that stands the test of time.




Boom Boom Boom Boom - Vengaboys

Vengaboys had two #1 hits in the UK that year, this and We're Going To Ibiza, plus a #3 with Kiss. I thought the girls looked so chic.




Viva la Radio - Lolly

The first single I ever bought on CD. No shame.




Sleeping Beauty - Hepburn

Hepburn were a short lived girl group who scored a #8 hit with I Quit. This was the B-side and was also included on one of those free CDs all the teen magazines used to give away back in the day. (TV Hits in this instance, IIRC.) I played it, and this track in particular, over and over. (And Say'n I Love U by The Moffatts. Basically my entire musical taste was molded by the free CDs I got that summer!)




Hey Boy Hey Girl - The Chemical Brothers

I think this is actually the first time I've ever seen the video! I remember the song playing everywhere that summer though, and it always brings back a scent memory of store air conditioning mixed with the small of new stuff when we went shopping for school uniform, etc.




Doodah - Cartoons

It really was a great year for kid friendly dance music!




If Ya Gettin' Down - 5ive

Everybody has a first boyband, and 5ive were mine. They're debut album was the first I ever owned too - I think I had it for Christmas '98, along with a discman I thought made me super cool.




What was your favourite hit of 1999? Let me know in the comments. :)



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What I'm Listening To



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