Looking back ~ July 2016

One day before the end of August, and here I am recapping July. I was tempted to miss it out, but I actually had a lot of fun in July, and I didn’t want for it not to be documented!

I began the month by taking a holiday to Camber Sands with my best friends. As I so often say on here, we are so rarely all together, but there are a couple of times a year when we try really hard to be all in the same place. One is a Christmas date, and the other is a weekend in East Sussex, where my friend’s mum has a caravan. Freebie holiday with my favourite people – there’s nothing not to love!

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We got fake tattoos, we played Pass the Pigs, we went to the beach, we played Cards Against Humanity, and we generally had a lovely weekend.

My dad turned 70 and had a party, so I got to see all my family. And if it’s difficult to get my four friends and me in the same room more than twice a year, it’s actually impossible to get my entire family – all 25 of us – in the same room more than once every couple of years. So that was nice.

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This is just my siblings and my dad – the photo of all of us contains too many children for me to comfortably upload it onto my blog. But this is one of my favourite photos of the year!

I went to Bedford for the Bedford River Festival in July – my brother and sister-in-law live there, so Hannah and I drove up to see them and take part in the festivities. It was a very busy and hot day; I had fun, but I was glad to get home!

Bedford River FestivalI also headed along to the BFI Southbank for yet another Mark Kermode Live in 3D. It feels like such a long time ago, because there was no August date, so I feel like I’ve been waiting forever! This time we were treated to Hadley Freeman and David Arnold as guests, as well as a special video message from Jordan Vogt-Roberts, especially for us!

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And last, but by no means least, I went to YALC, which is the Young Adult Literary Convention. I had planned a full post on this, and I still hope to do it, but in the meantime here’s what went down: I met up with my friend Chloe, and we saw two panels, one with Simon Mayo as a panellist, talking about revolution in YA fiction, and one with him as the moderator, with panellists talking about music in YA literature. Then afterwards, I met him, he signed my book, and was as charming as ever. Yay for YALC!

YALC Simon MayoSo, that, in a nutshell, was July. See what I mean about not wanting to miss this one out? Usually I have to scour my Instagram looking for fun things I did, but this month was all about the fun!

I’ll be back soon (probably in a couple of weeks, knowing my track record), to round up August!

 

Book Review ~ Blame by Simon Mayo

1523In the near future the world has started to implement Heritage Crime laws; if you are the child or grandchild of a criminal whose crimes went unpunished, you face prison. Ant and her younger brother Mattie are locked up in Spike, a family prison, as punishment for the crimes of their parents. With them are their foster parents, Gina and Dan, both of whose own parents were also criminals. Situated between Pentonville and Holloway, prisoners of Spike are known as Strutters, named because of the way the locator straps they are forced to wear make them walk upright. Tension soon breaks out, with Ant at the centre of things, giving her the chance to show the world that they are not to blame.

Blame is a worthy addition to the canon of Young Adult dystopian literature. This is a world that is only slightly removed from where we are living now; heritage crime does not exist, but it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to think that it’s something that could become a part of the way we live. The wider society in the novel needs someone to hold responsible, to blame, and if the actual perpetrators cannot be caught, their children will have to do.

As he proved with his Itch series, Mayo is adept at creating wonderful female characters, and he more than proves himself with Ant, a truly wonderful central character. Written in the third person, the perspective is almost entirely hers, with only a few scenes taking place away from her view. We learn that Ant is mixed-race, with a white father and a Haitian mother, and rather than rely on lazy tropes such as a long look at herself in the mirror, her heritage is explored through language; the phrases and expressions that she shares with Mattie, such as the way she counts to four when she needs to steady herself. Ant and Mattie’s heritage is significant to them as more than just a way for them to be punished for their parents’ crimes.

Ant is outraged by what is happening to her and her family, and she becomes a figurehead for the movement within the prison to try and fight back. In doing so, she joins the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior, who lead their own revolutions. The world of Blame, however, feels so much more real and familiar than those portrayed in other Young Adult dystopian novels. The technology, the politicians and the media are not so far removed from the world we live in, and that’s what ultimately makes Blame so frightening.

A couple of spectacular set-pieces give this story a real cinematic feel; the short chapters through which we experience the terrifying prison riot will keep readers of all ages on tenterhooks, and the climax draws everything together whilst leaving plenty of scope and room for a potential sequel.

The plausibility of the world that Simon Mayo has created is what for me, makes Blame such an essential read. Having read it, I couldn’t leave it behind; its themes and ideas are thought-provoking, and Ant is a character who, though not without her flaws, is more than worthy of standing alongside the likes of Katniss as a true heroine of her world.

Blame by Simon Mayo
First published: June 2016
ISBN: 9780552569071
Corgi Childrens
Review copy provided by publisher

 

The Movie Doctors

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Last week I was lucky enough to find myself at the BFI Southbank, watching Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo do their stuff in their guise as the Movie Doctors. I reviewed the book that accompanies their nationwide tour last month; having laughed my way through the book, I knew that I was going to have a similarly fun time at the live show.

I wasn’t disappointed; essentially the show is made up of two men standing on a stage talking about films and having the odd bicker, and when you’re a fan like me, there’s nothing better than this. As with the book, the show set out to cure various different ailments and illnesses, with members of the audience asking for help. From a lady worried about a mid-life crisis (Serial Mom was prescribed, with an accompanying clip); to my lovely friend Chloe who was seeking a cure for shyness – Punch-Drunk Love was recommended, with a disclaimer not to actually smash up any toilets.

The show really works, because Mark and Simon really know their stuff, and are really good at what they do. We even got to watch a short clip of Mary Poppins. This alone made it worth the £16, especially as it was from my favourite part, when the children are up on the rooftops with Mary and Bert, and London in the twilight makes me cry.

Afterwards I had some minor anxiety about meeting Simon and Mark, to get my book signed, mainly because I am so in awe of them, and also because I felt that I wanted to say a lot to them. Mostly I wanted to say thank you (to Mark especially) for tweeting my review of the book, and I wanted to do it eloquently without making an idiot of myself. I also wanted to make a hilarious Foot-Lamberts joke again, as I did in a letter to Wittertainment, and I wanted to say how much I liked the book, and again, this was all to be done in the coolest possible way.

In the end, though none of it was done in a remotely cool way, I managed to say thank you for the tweet, causing Mark and Simon to shake my hand like the gentlemen that they are. Simon commented on my necklace, I got my book signed, they posed for a photo with me, and all in all, it was a pretty amazing way to spend a Tuesday night.

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Mark talked all the way through our photo being taken, so there’s none where he’s not pulling this face or similar!

And, for those of you paying attention, I put ‘Have a photo taken with Mark Kermode’ on my 33 Before 33 list a whole year ago, and as this particular evening was two days before my 33rd birthday, I get to tick it off.

18. Have a photo taken with Mark Kermode

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Birthday Number 33

I had a birthday last week. I’m still a little sad that it’s over, because I just love my birthday so much. It’s not about the presents, or the fuss, it’s just about the feeling that you get on your birthday that you get on no other day of the year. I have dubbed it the special birthday feeling, because I have a way with words.

I dubbed the week surrounding last Thursday my birthday week. I’m not usually so precious, but the truth was that I got up to a lot of fun things between 7th and 15th November! A few of them are 33 Before 33 things that I wanted to get ticked off before the deadline, and as such they will have separate posts shortly. But here are just a few of the things I got up to.

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  • I got a piercing (post to follow)
  • I went to the fireworks display at Alexandra Palace with Hannah; at only £6 I think it was a bit of a bargain, and it was a really long display, and totally worth the journey into London.
  • I went to my niece’s 6th birthday party; she’s currently undergoing an incredible Spongebob Squarepants obsession, and the whole party was themed as such! She dressed as Spongebob himself, encouraged her friends to wear yellow, and had crab patty cakes. All rather fun.
  • I went to the Lord Mayor’s Show in London on Saturday morning with my sister and her family. We’ve been going for years and it was the 800th anniversary this year – amazing to think something has been going for that long!
  • No big deal, but I met Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo at their Movie Doctors event. There’s a blog post to follow here too.
  • I had a birthday! This is a photo of me that I really, really like, wearing a present that my friend Laura bought me – it’s a necklace that says ‘Practically Perfect in Every Way’ in case you can’t see it.
  • On the evening of my birthday, I went for something to eat with some lovely ladies from work. I’m really grateful to this little lot for making my birthday special and full of laughter.
  • On the day that we went to London to see the Movie Doctors, Hannah and I also went on a little boat trip on the Thames. It was freezing cold, but good fun, and I took quite a lot of photos, including this one of Tower Bridge.

In all the excitement, I sort of forgot that I had turned a year older. My age means relatively little to me; I keep waiting for the year when I’m going to freak out about getting another year older, but it hasn’t come yet. I’m 33 now, and the only thing that bothers me about it is that it’s an odd number, and I much prefer even numbers!

Radio 2 in Edinburgh

Last year, regarding Simon Mayo broadcasting live from the Edinburgh Festival, I tweeted the following:

I make silly declarations like this from time to time, without really thinking about making them happen. But it did happen this year, and I didn’t have to hitchhike or sleep on a park bench!

I applied for tickets to all of the Drivetime shows in Edinburgh, and told myself that if I got them, I’d definitely go. When I got an email to say that I had been successful for the Tuesday show, I set about working out the best way to do it. In the end, time off work and money considerations meant that I was only able to stay for one night, and I was going to have to travel by coach. I ended up travelling through the night, both there and back, and I can’t say that it was the most wonderful experience of my life, but it got me to Edinburgh for a relatively small amount of money!

All of the BBC events at the Edinburgh Festival take place in a big blue tent at Potterrow. I obviously don’t know the city well at all, but the Potterrow area is part of the University of Edinburgh, as far as I know. As well as the tent, the BBC had set up an area that had a bar, food, a big screen, a children’s area, and a ping pong table! It was a great atmosphere; particularly on Monday when the sun was shining – I sat outside for a while with some people I know from an online group, and watched people coming and going. The only famous person I saw was Rory Bremner, but I’m given to understand it’s a good place to spot BBC personnel! It’s completely free to enter as well, so even if you don’t have tickets for a BBC event, you can still go along and have a drink or something to eat.

I managed to get a ticket for Monday as well as the one I had for Tuesday, so I got to see two shows being broadcast! For someone who is a) a radio geek, b) a Radio Two geek, c) a Simon Mayo fan, and d) a huge Drivetime fan, this was a pretty big deal. Imagine for a moment getting to see one of your favourite radio shows being made; it’s a pretty big deal!

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My photos aren’t great, but of course I think it’s more important to savour the moment than to take thousands of photos. The show comes live from Edinburgh, so it follows a similar structure to what is on the radio everyday. As well as the star of the show, we also got to see Matt Williams and Bobbie Pryor at work; two of the team who do sport and travel respectively, and Claire (who you can see in the above photo), who is the producer. I realise this means nothing to anyone who doesn’t listen religiously like I do!

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~ Coolest necklace ever, right? Yeah, I know. ~

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~ Jo Caulfield and Bridget Christie ~

~ Fred MacAulay and Adam Hills ~

~ Shaun Keaveney, who was a bit drunk on one day (according to him), and a bit hungover on the other (I love him) ~

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~ Gyles Brandreth and Joe Lycett (his show is called That’s the Way, A-ha A-ha, Joe Lycett. Best show name ever) ~

~ Andreya Triani, who was the musical guest on Tuesday, and who has the most incredible voice. Her album is ace. ~

~ On Monday, a couple of contortionists came in and did some contorting on Bobbie. ~

~ Mr Mayo ~

I also saw Arthur Smith and Lost Voice Guy doing confessions, the latter of whom was hilarious. You can watch it here, and I’d recommend doing so, because it really is very funny!

Spending seventeen hours on a coach over the course of two and a half days just to see four hours of radio might seem odd to some people, but I am so so so so so glad I went. If the BBC are allowed to return to Edinburgh next year, I’m planning a return trip; I want to be there for the whole week, and see more shows!

I will be writing another post about Edinburgh; I did do some other stuff other than Radio 2 stuff!