Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Trip to the Theatre

Dealer's Choice is on at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton until 14th June, and OH and I were lucky to get free preview tickets. Checking the website for the same seats for another performance, that's saved us £50. Awesome!

Family, friendships and honour are tested In Patrick Marber's (Closer, Notes On A Scandal) brilliantly funny story of male camaraderie and obsession, set in the gritty world of amateur poker.
When first staged at the National Theatre in 1995 the play won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy. This new production is directed by Michael Longhurst, who recently directed Constellations in the West End, winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Play and receiving four Olivier nominations.                                                                                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           View the teaser trailer here.
 Rather unfortunately, we found ourselves seated near an audience member who had paid and was vocally dissatisfied with their choice of evening entertainment from about the third line in, right to the interval, which was a pain (it's a wonder the ushers never had a word, because it was constant!). Admittedly, the scene-setting was a little over-laboured, and the characters  were well established by the time the plot got going, but it wasn't that bad. In fact, it was pretty good overall.

Sweeney is the most interesting character: a chef, who has a kid and some hopes of making a decent go of being a dad, much to the chagrin of his colleagues, as parental duties are threatening to interfere with the game of poker they are planning to play. Mugsy, a waiter, is an imbecile, who is dreaming big and planning to go into business with Carl, son of the boss, Stephen. Frankie, another waiter and Sweeney's flatmate, is a bit of a wide boy, but is seemingly happy to just be cooler than Mugsy. There is some interesting subtext going on between Frankie and Sweeney that is not fully explored, but hints at a greater potential to this story than the simple trap that the characters all find themselves in. Clearly, this is the pond these fishes are swimming in, and they're not going anywhere. They need something to break the surface, and that comes in the form of Carl's mysterious friend, Ash.

The first half is set in a split stage view of the kitchen in which three of the characters work (well, one does, the others just get in his way), and the restaurant, enabling some fast-paced scene switches. The set is a simple baize-green background with a yellow dividing line, and lighting and sound effects used to go from scene to scene, reminiscent of  televised poker. The rough and ready theatre walls are used to great effect in the second half, where we transfer action to the basement for a game of poker. This is a lot pacier, and lighting and soundtrack are used in a very filmic way to show the passage of time and emphasise the emotional highs and lows of gambling. It's cool and stylish and very reminiscent of some of Guy Ritchie's films.

Ultimately, this banter-filled escapade is tragedian in scope. We have a bunch of men who have known each other for years and still can't talk to each other, and who hold each other back. Because the actual game is central to the production, we can't see how the characters' lives work out once they leave the table, which leaves unresolved story threads (in a way, that's goods, because it caused some discussion afterwards with friends as to what might have happened to those characters). This also brings the focus back to just two characters, ensuring their conflict is central to the story.

Despite being overlong in the first half this is a neat production and an interesting vignette of male relationships, with some definite laugh out loud moments, and we had a great time watching it. I believe there are other deals on and some tickets at full price are only £10, so if this sounds like your cup of tea, then enquire with the theatre.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Live Below the Line - The rest of the week.

Thanks everyone for all the support I have received for doing the Live Below the Line Challenge. I made it!

And thanks to your generosity, I have raised £92 (so far, because you can still donate here).

I had a much better end of week. I think being very busy kept my mind off food during the day, and the evening meals were substantial enough to satisfy me and OH. Yes, he cheated - of course he did. I'm 5ft 2, female and was pretty sedentary over that week. He's a 6ft fella and needed more.

I happened to weigh myself on Saturday morning and the scales told me I had lost 4lbs in weight, but don't panic, I recovered the bulk of that over the weekend. This included a huge bowl of spaghetti bolognese, which may have been the size of the cow we were raising money to send to Africa.

Thursday night supper was a soup made with split peas, onion, cumin,  a smidgen of passata and gravy granules, followed by liver and onions in gravy with 175g mash, the potato skin crisps (again) and 80g mixed veg. Offal-y good.

Friday night, we had spaghetti with split pea bolognese, using the rest of the passata, 200g mixed veg, onions and some basil leaves. I'd not though of using split peas as sauce-base for pasta before, but it worked really well and tasted really nice.

What I think I've picked up from this challenge is that I do not have to be afraid of feeling hungry; I do not have to overeat at one meal to compensate for eating light the rest of the day. I've learned the power of menu-planning, and I think I can be more resourceful now in my use of ingredients. On the not so positive side, I've learned that it's easy to under-eat too, and with me that leads to over-tiredness and lack of concentration. I do feel more empowered to get the balance right, though.

Why is LBTL important to me?

This week, European elections have been run, and I have seen a large number of commentators mention certain political parties' stance on the aid budget used as one of the reasons to vote in a particular direction. In this country, we have never managed to reach the UN Council's target of 0.7% of Gross National Income in donations. That was a target set in 1970! Of course, it doesn't help when one country in receipt of aid squanders budget on space programmes, that makes all of us wince. Does the aid budget end up where it needs to go? The government can't say. And no firm deadline has been set for recipients to respond on where that money goes. That might be shocking, but is that a reason not to give at all?

Guess what: I'm sensing a lot of protectionism in the air. If pressure is kept up the way it seems to be from those protectionist politicians, I can't see us ever reaching our promised target. And I do believe we have a duty, a responsibility, to give back to those nations that we exploited to get to be a rich country in the first place. Yes, we have our own poor, scraping by, dependent on food banks. That should make us angry. Because we're still rich as a nation.Why is there such disparity?

Having to give to charity to try to even things up feels like such a Victorian thing to do, but until we have people in power globally who are truly acting on behalf of their fellow humans to make things fairer, charity will be the sticking plaster solution.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. We all have the power to be kind. It doesn't have to be with money, but I'm so very thankful for your support.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Live Below the Line Day 3

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has donated so far to my Live Below the Line Challenge. I'm over the target I set myself already. And if you'd like to donate and haven't done so yet, you can do so here.

Let's buy that cow!

Hope you all had a nice trip to the voting booths today. I liked reading some of the ridiculous party slogans on the ballot paper. "NOimmigrants NOeu NOsomethingelsefascistinlowercaseandoneword"
Oh well.

Yesterday was a much better day. I had the same things to eat for breakfast and lunch yesterday, plus a drink from the machine. I went to meet my writing group last night (they were discussing a short story of Rod Rees's and my novel's first chapter), so I microwaved my dahl and rice at 5.30 and smuggled it to eat upstairs on the bus on the way there. Naughty me.

Of course, my writing group meets in a pub...

Picture me salivating at the prospect of cider! Amazingly, I was fine with my water. I think I was dizzy enough from the lack of food.

Except, I manged to eat a sufficient amount yesterday. How did I achieve that? Well, I had a sneaky second bowl of porridge when I got home and used my pear to sweeten it - this was fine. Who needs extra sweetener?!

What this did though was push my Weight Watchers Points over the daily allowance for the first time this week.

Look at all those smiley faces!

Here's the boringly meticulous MyFitnessPal stats:

(and with that, statto fans, I'm off to bed).

May 21, 2014

Foods Calories Carbs Fat Protein Cholest Sodium Sugars Fiber
Milk - Whole, 3.25% milkfat, 100 g 60 5g 3g 3g 10mg 40mg 5g 0g
Sugar - Sugar, 2 tsp 30 8g 0g 0g 0mg 0mg 8g 0g
Porridge - Porridge, 50 g 186 17g 2g 2g 0mg 0mg 5g 1g
Kingsmill Medium Sliced - 50/50, 2 slice 188 33g 2g 8g 0mg 320mg 3g 4g
Sainsbury's - Cooked Ham Basic Slice, 1 Slice 15 0g 1g 2g 0mg 245mg 0g 0g
Cucumber - With peel, raw, 0.1 cucumber (8-1/4") 5 1g 0g 0g 0mg 1mg 1g 0g
Lettuce - Iceberg (includes crisphead types), raw, 2 leaf outer 11 2g 0g 1g 0mg 8mg 1g 1g
Sainsbury's Basics - White Rice, 100 g 351 78g 1g 7g 0mg 0mg 0g 2g
Sainsburys - Yellow Split Peas, 100 g 104 17g 0g 8g 0mg 0mg 2g 5g
Garlic - Garlic, 0.25 clove 1 0g 0g 0g 0mg 0mg 0g 0g
Vegetables - Red Chilli, Raw, 2.5 g/1 chilli 2 0g 0g 0g 0mg 0mg 0g 0g
Aldi New Season - Frozen Mixed Vegetables, 80 grams 39 4g 1g 2g 0mg 9mg 4g 0g
Spices - Cumin, 1 tsp 8 1g 0g 0g 0mg 4mg 0g 0g
Onions - Raw, 0.75 medium (2-1/2" dia) 35 8g 0g 1g 0mg 2mg 4g 1g
Porridge - Porridge, 50 g 186 17g 2g 2g 0mg 0mg 5g 1g
Milk - Whole, 3.25% milkfat, 1 tbsp 9 1g 0g 0g 2mg 6mg 1g 0g
Pears - Raw, 1 pear, small (approx 3 per lb) 81 21g 0g 1g 0mg 1mg 14g 4g
Vending Machine - Hot Chocolate, 1 small cup 90 18g 2g 0g 0mg 0mg 16g 0g
TOTAL: 1,401 231g 14g 37g 12mg 636mg 69g 19g

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Live Below the Line Day 2

On Monday I felt fine.  About 3pm yesterday I realised I was heading for a crash. I had to eat the pear and very nearly ate the stalk too.

OH was working late so before he came home I was irritable. Couldn't read, write,  the garden went for a Burton (what does that even mean?) and I realised my TV planner was full of food programmes.  Agh!

By the time OH came in I was so ravenous that I couldn't be bothered to wait to take a picture of my food.

Maybe you can see one tomorrow as I am eating the same today.

Dinner : dahl and vegetable rice.

To feed 2:

200g plain rice cooked with 160g mixed veg and a teaspoon of gravy granules.

Dahl was 200g cooked yellow split peas. I'd soaked these overnight and cooked in the slow cooker all day after a quick ten minute rapid boil. I had plenty of time to just boil them up when I got in to be honest.

The mush was added to  sweated onions, a chilli,  half a clove of garlic and about a tablespoon of cumin. Later I added a tablespoon of passata and more gravy granules.  Thankfully it didn't taste like gravy, but it needed some flavour dammit!

The result: not too bad,  but boy did my energies remain dipped and I could feel a sore throat coming on, in spite of all the water I've been drinking.

I then tried to book a train and failed to realise the option for my travel card had unticked so I paid £40 too much. Something to be sorted out today.

I decided to look at Jack Monroe's attempt at doing this to see how she had fared. Unfortunately,  she gets a lot of trolls and commenters who didn't get this challenge at all.

The reason this challenge is a challenge is because it's generally thought that the people doing it are going to be comfortable most  if not all of the time.  The reason it's short is because it's not an a lifestyle plan or diet. It's not meant to be sustainable because it isn't sustainable.  It's not nutritional or sufficient: I barely scraped 1100 calories yesterday.

Is it self - serving?  Well the idea is to raise money for Africa,  similar to when I ran the 10km last year. There is something to be said for the psychology of doing stuff for charity as it generally makes people feel better about themselves.  I am pissed off that we live in a world where charity is needed for anything though.  Mind,  I am busy,  and doing this sort of thing takes a lot less energy and fewer risks than say, agitating for change,  direct action,  fighting in a war zone or giving away all my possessions to go live like an ascetic hermit. I don't care if you think I should.

Anyway,  I'm not finding it fun. Please donate!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Live Below the Line Day 1

Like what you read? Please donate here to raise money for Send a Cow!

I had thought I could wing my way through this week Masterchef invention test- style,  but as Sunday was awesomely hot and as I noticed the use by dates of some of the food I had bought were a bit close,  I rethought what I had planned to do when,  and how I was going to store stuff.

The liver went in the freezer for defrosting Wednesday night for Thursday's tea. Half the milk went in the freezer too. Taking a tip from Kath Kelly,  I also froze the bread. There's only just enough for 2 slices each per day,  and I knew I would be heartbroken if I came to use it and found it was mouldy. Separate slices can be prised off the loaf, and sandwiches made by spreading the frozen bread (if you're using any, mine have to be dry this week). In weather like this they are defrosted by the time you've finished making the sandwich. By lunchtime, that's a certainty.

Day 1 menu was:

Breakfast: 40g porridge cooked in water and whole milk. I took this to work a) so I could use my work benefit sugar  allocation,  and so that there would be less of the day to feel hungry.  This involved military tactics of careful transportation and judiciously careful microwaving. I'm well-renowned for explodey porridge at work...

Lunch: ham sandwich. 2 slices of bread,  1 of ham. Plus lettuce and cucumber sticks.  I also took a pear but managed not to need to eat it so that's a treat for today.  The air conditioning was broken at work,  so a very hot office probably helped to kill my appetite.

Dinner: spicy salmon fishcakes with salad, potato crisps and mixed veg.

I cooked the potatoes (175g per portion) in their skins so as not to waste any through peeling.  I'd not done that before,  and when I was peeling off the skins it occurred to me that I could use those too. I put them on a tray and popped in a 175 degree oven for half an hour or thereabouts while I got on with the rest of the dish.

1 and a half onions were fried and mixed with the potatoes, salmon (a pack of trimmings), 2 teaspoons of cumin and these shaped into patties and returned to the pan. I used a nonstick pan, no oil, so ended up with something akin to fishy bubble and squeak.

Some lettuce leaves and the rest of the second onion sliced made up the salad.

This was served with 80g frozen mixed veg per portion cooked in a little boiling water.

 I must admit, it doesn't look much, but it was tasty, and very filling. OH declared me a genius for using the potato skins as I did. It added a nice bit of crunch and flavour to the salad. I'll do that again!

Let's see how that stacked up as nutrition for the day. I built these charts using Weight Watchers and My Fitness Pal, before I decided not to eat the pear. My Fitness Pal tends to be a bit anti-sugar, so I don't let the red alarm me too much (important to watch if you need a low sugar diet). I can see it's broadly nutritional, but lacking in healthy oils - and, crucially, calories. There's not enough of anything there. Not even for a diet! I'm sure that will be rectified on day 2. Bigger helping of porridge for a start...

And yes, OH had his cakes yesterday too.

Doing this has made me mindful of my garden's potential to feed me and how I should be making the most of it. Unfortunately, the sage and parsley I planted out on Sunday in our very heavy Belfast sink planter looked cat-attacked today. I tried to save them as best I could, but I think only the chives, mint and possibly thyme stand a chance. The sink is now covered with the grill from our old broken barbecue to keep the cats off. I used the rest of the brick barbecue to make a Jenga-style cold frame and planted out some more basil, lambs lettuce and oak leaf salad. Tonight I want to weed and net the strawberry patch, to give some of the very tiny strawberry flowers a chance to grow into fruit. Life's good.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Live Below the Line - Please Sponsor Me!

Hope you've had lovely weather, wherever you are.  

Most of the weekend has been spent trying to sort out the garden. Most people do their tidying in February/March and then sow stuff and about now they're enjoying lovely salads and  things they have grown themselves. Trouble for me is that late winter/early spring is my busiest time (job no.2). So my garden has to look after itself. And it grows brambles and gnarly-rooted weeds and very tall meadow grass.

Well, I'm attacking it, better stuff is growing. Progress picture one shows the garden yesterday. It's a bit better since then.

Whilst tidying the, admittedly invisible here, patio I bumped an old burner and was alarmed when about twenty bumblebees flew out.

Okay, this is just one bee. But there were more, honest!

We moved the burner to another location, which worked for a bit and I was able to get on. However, some of the bees didn't realize their house was not there anymore, and they started coming back and buzzing round me. Good excuse to stop the gardening for a bit and go for a nice walk.

Our excursion took us by the riverside, where the sea cadets were practising.

We then wound our way to beautiful Delapre. People were cooling off in the lake (not sure they're supposed to, but still) and someone was water-skiing. We veered off into the verdant woods, spotting bunnies scrambling away into the brambles. The floor was carpeted with harebells, buttercups and forget-me-nots. Very pretty.

We cut through  to the house. A bawling toddler was being made to stand against one of the handsome trees that skirt the lawns for a photo. He was having none of it! Heading right, we found the ornamental gardens and tea rooms. He, we decided to share a cream tea.

Hooray, just enough change!
On the way home, we foolishly decided to stop for a pint at the pub. It's never one, is it?! And with that, our care was somewhat abandoned. Call it sunstroke... oh well, back on the path to frugaldom now.

Today, OH was taking part in a 100 mile cycle ride as he did the 3 Counties 100 Cyclosportive. A gruelling epic cycle ride that takes in Beautiful Rutland Water. This is one of the awesome sights he will have seen:

the Welland Viaduct
He says it was brilliant. He's very sore now though.

 So, while he was out, I decided to get the shopping in for the Live Below the Line Challenge (link takes you through to my donation  page). OH is supporting me in this challenge, so he will be eating the same meals as me. But he is not taking part himself. So he'll be eating cake at the office tomorrow, and drinking a pint in the pub when I won't be at my next Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group meeting.


On OH's advice, I am including some things I already had, but costed them out, so as not to waste food. This included 1kg of potatoes, which cost 66p. Unfortunately, I went bust, so have had to reduce the number of potatoes I was going to have to 700g. 2 meals maybe? Two small meals...The rest of my pears from a multi-pack, which have only just started to ripen came to 37p's worth. OH says we should also include the bananas he won today at the end of his race. Mmm... freebies not allowed! That said, I'm having all the tea and stuff I can at work as that's one of my work benefits. Not birthday cake, though. Boo.

We can include stuff from the garden, so long as production costs are taken into consideration. I'm taking basil as 0p, as that cost me nothing, and if we can work out how to use it, rhubarb. Though, I think that would need sugar! All the nettles and dandelion we want, though. Nom!

So here's the week at £1 per person per day.

bread (reduced) £0.34
cucumber £0.39
cumin £0.49
frozen mixed veg £0.89
gravy £0.20
ham £0.61
lamb's liver £0.74
lettuce (reduced) £0.20
onions £0.69
passata £0.35
pears £0.37
porridge £0.75
potatoes £0.46
rice £0.40
salmon £1.49
spaghetti £0.20
whole milk £0.85
yellow split peas £0.55
Total £9.97

Okay, 3p left over... I think an old chilli and garlic clove from the market can take that up.

Wow, that was hard. And to think, if I hadn't got hold of reduced items it would have been even worse. I think to have been comfortable, another £2 would have been awesome. But of course, what this is about is to raise money for people who really do have £1 - or less -  to live on per day. My charity is Send a Cow.

I'll let you know how I get on each day. Every day an invention test!

Friday, 16 May 2014

I am Rubbish at Staycations

If you read my last post, you will know that OH did a triathlon on Sunday, then had a whiskey for his birthday.

What happened next completely changed our plans for the week.

Swimming, cycling, running? Pah - they're nothing compared to the challenge that is 'stepping off a pavement'.

Somehow, OH injured his ankle. We were worried he might have sprained it, putting paid to his next challenge - a 100 mile cycle ride from Holborn House on Sunday. Fingers crossed he can still do that if he has recovered sufficiently, but on Tuesday, it looked bad.

So, we had a plan to jump  on a bus, travel to the gorgeous village of Oundle, visit a bike shop there, and walk the hour's walk to Fotheringay Castle. Not with a potential sprain we weren't!

I had high hopes of maybe writing a frugal travelog: Have Bus Pass Will Travel.

...perhaps  there was something else we could do. Where could we go that wouldn't involve a lot of walking about? We settled on Market Harborough.

The X7 bus ride to Market Harborough is undoubtedly very pretty; it goes through the Northamptonshire and Leicestershire countryside. We noticed that every bus stop was at an inviting-looking pub, intersecting with cycle routes and the Jurassic way footpath. Plans were sprung for later walkabouts/pubcrawls.

On alighting, our day trip to Market Harborough started pleasantly enough with tea in the town's oldest bakery: Emerson West.

I did say tea. That's clearly a raspberry 'pressé', But we also had tea.

On strolling into town, we were looking forward to being proper tourists and gazing upon the pretty architecture an ancient market hall, later converted to a Grammar School. Only this is what we saw:

This is what it normally looks like:

Well, how about that church? They're normally good for a look round!

As we approached the doors, we saw a man standing in the aisle of the church playing a trombone. In fact the precise tune was Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings".

"Hey, must be one of those lunchtime concerts," I said, before OH noticed how formal and sombre the audience looked. Thus, we narrowly avoided walking in on someone's funeral.

Where else can tourists go. The museum! Actually, we did enjoy looking at the Hallerton treasure. This is us trying on helmets. As you do.

It's as fun as it looks.

The rest of the museum is decidedly weird. Built in the old Symingtons Corset Factory, you can go there to see things that make as much sense as silver teapot spouts next to Egyptian mummified cat heads with no explanation as to what or why they are there.

Come - see our old stuff! Also some packet soup from the 90s.

Market Harborough has some cool old-fashioned shops. If we wanted to buy candles, or a brace of pheasants, or some pork pie, we could have filled our boots. Or some bags. Yes, bags would be better.  But we didn't.

So, to the pub. Now that was freaky. We inadvertently walked into the 70s. Or earlier. We couldn't decide. The jukebox had about 25 records - actual records.

And the till was a proper Arkwright's number. It said things like 2D and 6D, even though the pints were actually £3.30. How mad!

Unfortunately the beer tasted like from a previous decade too, so we called Tom Young - our comedy friend who lives there - to come and rescue us and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking better beer elsewhere and wondering why we had done this.

Tourism on a bus! What do we remind you of?

It's Sightseers, if you didn't get it.

Monday, 12 May 2014


I am incredibly proud of my hubby, who took part in the Grendon triathlon yesterday. This is him wearing his free t-shirt that he got for entering. He looks pretty happy because it was also his birthday. There may be a whiskey before him.
What was also quite brilliant was that he rode on a bike he built himself (for the cycling bit, the other bits being swimming and running/hobbling). Having found a frame at the tip, he sourced the rest of the parts separately and gradually put the bike together. I think my frugal ways may be rubbing off on him - what a moneysaver! Of course, it hasn't stopped him eyeing up the £3K bikes in Cycle Plus...

OH is cycling-obsessed these days. I think I'm catching the bug, too. Last week I found myself reading and very much enjoying The Bluffers Guide to Cycling - normally £6.99 but currently free on Kindle. Using this guide, I have identified my husband's 'cycling tribe' as MAMIL, i.e. a middle-aged man in Lycra. I don't know what I am, apart from severely grazed after I fell off onto some gravel last week. That was on the way to dinner for our anniversary, too, so I looked well with my ripped tights and scabby knees.

Ah well, Aldi had a bike stuff sale on last week, so I have  proper gloves now. I'm pretty impressed with Aldi sports gear actually. It's good quality and not very dear at all. You have to get there bang on opening time, though, as the popular stuff flies off the shelves. OH managed to grab himself a tri-suit for £15 (they're about £80 elsewhere), and when he looked again later there were only Large ones left.

Have you been following the Women's Tour? I think it has been brilliant. It has been superb watching Marianne Vos, Emma Johansson and Rossella Ratto battle for their podium spots, and we had Sharon Laws grabbing a prize for the Brits by winning overall Queen of the Mountains.

It may be the 21st century, but generally women's sport doesn't attract the same amount of coverage, sponsorship and rewards as men's, so it was great that this Tour not only offered equivalent prize money, but that the press and the public really got behind it. The first and second stages passed through our county, and OH took advantage and went to watch. Unfortunately I couldn't get the time off work myself, otherwise I would have been there, but I followed the live updates. I even spotted OH twice on other people's photos as he waited for the race to pass by his position. Here he is in Brixworth at the QOTM point.
What a brilliant thing to be a part of - and it didn't cost a bean. In Northampton, the Ministry of Bicycles had their Bomberdrome on display (awesome Wall of Death!) and there were info stands from British Cycling, Skyride and Breeze - these are organizations that seek to encourage cycling.  They organize events, guided rides and social rides for all ages and abilities, and Breeze also organizes women-only rides, and offers cycling and bike-buying advice. Have a look to see if there's something happening near you - it's free.

Cycling doesn't have to be expensive. We have bikes because we don't run a car, and so they are for leisure, fitness and boring old commuting. My first bike was a child's bike (I'm very short) and was free from a skip, and it was fine for me. I will probably use it if I ever do a duathlon. Why not? I'm not going to win...

I'm going to try to update this blog a bit more often, as I know I have readers getting frustrated with my pace of posting. You think that's slow, you should see me cycle...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Eastercon Happened!

Dear readers, apologies for my absence. There has been a lot going on in Frugal Wenchdom - lots of doing fun stuff for very little, a  lot of saving.. and a bit of spaving and spending too.

One of the major things that happened was going to Eastercon in Glasgow. I had meant to write about this on my website but the software keeps rejecting my photos, which is very annoying. It would make more sense to write there as it has more to do with my writing/creative life - this blog looks at all that stuff too, but through a certain lens. So please bear with me while I attempt to convey both aspects of a lovely science fictional weekend...

I traveled to Glasgow by train on Thursday with OH. It is unusual for me to get to a con early, as I normally have my frugal head on and compromise being organized and unflustered for a night less hotel expenditure, but with several birthdays to celebrate Thursday was the best night to do this - and I'm so glad I went as this was a fantastic night. We had curry in a great value restaurant, and it was very nice indeed, and then popped next door to a proper whiskey bar. They had the world's oldest whiskey on sale at £900 a dram. Fortunately, the cider was pretty cheap! I took homemade cards for the birthday peeps. One of the pressies was a telescope bought from the antiques market. I accidentally broke the glass top of the box, so we had fixed it with genuine Northampton recycled shoe leather, and it looked pretty good.

First up con-wise, on the Friday was a book launch. This included several titles by Newcon Press and PS Publishing, including two PS collections of Ian Watson's work and also a poetry collection by him which he can be seen brandishing here.

Newcon Press was also launching Neil Williamson's novel, The Moon King (which I have read and it's awesome), an Imaginings novella by Eric Brown, and two anthologies - Femme and Noir, the latter featuring a story by me!

On Saturday, I had my first panel: Future Representation. "The panel explores SF literature in the context of what stories actually are, or are not, being told. Who gets to be in the future; what happens to everyone else; and who gets to decide?" This was moderated by Fran Dowd and included myself and novelists Ian Whates, Laura Lam and Stephanie Saulter. It was a great discussion!

 Saturday night, the entertainment was a swing band at the Space Admiral's Ball. I did my best Lindy hopping, which is not very good at all, but still managed to wear myself out completely.

Later, I noticed that one of the musicians was masquerading as author Juliet E. McKenna. I think it might have been the trumpet player.

I had a panel on Sunday, too: Poetic License - Does poetry allow exploration of challenging issues concerning gender, race and identity in ways that prose cannot? The panel was moderated by Ian Hunter and included Susan Bartholomew and Amal El-Mohtar as well as myself. Jo Fletcher was also due to have taken part, but she had a very sore throat and was unable to speak, which was a shame. Nonetheless it was a really fun panel, though an impromptu request to perform one of my poems had the old adrenalin going a bit.

In the evening it was the BSFA Award Ceremony. I got to present the James White Award.
This is an annual short story competition open to non-professional writers and the winner is chosen by a panel of judges made up of professional authors and editors. The James White Award was instituted to honour the memory of one of Ireland’s most successful science fiction authors, James White. The winner of the £200 first prize was “Beside the Dammed River” by DJ Cockburn, his story will be published in a future issue of Interzone. The judges also awarded a special recommendation to Vina Jin-Mae Prasad for her story “Flesh and Bone.” Neither of them were there to make a speech, so it was on with the ceremony for the BSFA Awards.

These lovely awards were made by Dan Brodie and Lauren Hubbard of Northampton's Skulls and Robots.The ray-gun shaped awards apparently caused one of the winners a bit of hassle at airport security... but all worth it, I hope!

The ceremony was hosted by Alice Lawson and Steve Lawson with guest presenters Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Jim Burns, Andrew J. Wilson and Stephanie Saulter. And these were the winners...

Best Non-Fiction: Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer.
Best Art: cover of Tony Ballantyne’s Dream London by Joey Hi-Fi.
Best Short Fiction: Spin by Nina Allan
Best Novel: ties between Gareth L. Powell for Ack Ack Macaque and Ann Leckie for Ancillary Justice.

M'friend Gareth L. Powell with his award, some champers and his stick. Aw!

Thanks to the wonderful crew at Satellite4, administrator Farah Mendelsohn, Claire Briarley, who helped with the awards, and John Meaney who lent us his laptop and saved our bacon!

After that we went to the disco and danced like frickin' demons.

I have to say this was one of the best conventions I have been to. It had interesting panels and things to do, it was well organized, friendly, and lovely Glasgow was within easy walking access. And yes, I do mean lovely. It's a great city. I was with wonderful friends and my husband - it couldn't have been better. A lot of the time I was stuck behind the BSFA desk, but that can give you a different perspective and a chance to chill. And knit...

One thing I really learned that weekend is that I need to be kinder to myself. I have been beyond tired lately, and it really caught up with me at the weekend. I wish I'd been more able to put this knowledge into practice recently, mind...

Frugalwise, here are my tips for keeping the spending down at cons:

Graffiti by the Clyde
  1. Shop around for the best deals on hotels. Staying at the convention hotel is the most convenient option, but we chose to stay at the hotel next door. We had stayed at the other next door hotel before which was £30 a night cheaper this time round. The hotel we stayed at this time was only £10 cheaper per night than the main hotel, but we knew it would be comfy and have the all-important good breakfast included in the price. Oh, and there were special convention rates too! I checked to see if I could do better elsewhere, and no... it was a good deal.
  2. Check facilities in advance. I checked and found there was a gym we could use, so we brought exercise clothes with us. I also found there was a mini-fridge in the room, so we bought things for sandwiches and made our own lunches.
  3. Book transport early. We missed out on cheap flights and had to get the train. We used the Two Together card and Quidco to maximize what we could get for the money, but if we'd just been a bit earlier, maybe we could have reserved seats on what was a very crowded train.
  4. Don't be lazy. £1.50 for a can of pop? Or walk out of the door to the shop and not spend half that? Of course, not advocating drinking that in the bar, where you should buy the drinks you consume. Bar spend is a crucial factor for conventions. We do our best...
  5. Lovely free fresh air. A walk into the city centre was free. We saw great architecture, listened to music and enjoyed the riverside. Glasgow is full of graffiti art ahead of the Commonwealth games. It's like a big, open art gallery.
  6.  The Best Things in Life: we limited our book spend budget to £30, which went in one book and a couple of comics. But then on the last day, the freeby tables had some awesome free books on them. My favourite freeby - a beautiful fabric-bound edition of Terry Pratchett's Men at Arms.
  7. Launch parties: great places to bag those fast-selling limited edition books, nab authors for signatures, and grab a free wine.
We also took along vouchers for restaurants and pubs just in case. We didn't use them, but they were nice to have.

Make the most of your conventions.  There's always something new to try, somewhere new to go.