Orchids, spring-cleaning and raving: Bring on the “Free Range” life!

The legendary Winston Hazel and friend at work

The legendary Winston Hazel and friend at work

I finished my full-time job on Friday. I hadn’t visualised what it was going to be like. Back in March, when I told my manager that I wanted to take the redundancy option, the end of April seemed a very long time away. That was the day before the big snow-storm and as you can tell from my other blog posts, a lot has happened. My notice period has gone remarkably quickly and I’ve found out a lot about myself and other people.

Firstly, I’ve been really pleased with the reaction of my colleagues at work. No one was negative about my decision. In fact, the comments were all along the lines of “well done”, “brave decision”, “go for it!”, “I wish I could escape too!” As this was a job I’d landed in “by accident” and I’d never worked for a large corporate company, I’d made lots of assumptions about my colleagues and their outlook and never felt like I “fitted in”. Of course, I was wrong. As I started to reveal my plans for my career change, I realised that many colleagues had fantastic hidden talents and interests. Here’s a small selection: one of my colleagues is a country music DJ and one of the founders of internet radio station http://www.2country.net/ The lady who is taking over most of my old responsibilities brought me gifts of amazing watercress, grown on her family’s farm. There are lots of talented musicians in the company too. One of the colleagues I’ve worked with  closely over the last five years, leads a sporty, sociable lifestyle and volunteers for charities while living with Epilepsy. And in my last half an hour, I had a great conversation with the IT guy I was talking to on the phone and he writes about science and technology in his own blog: http://hattix.co.uk/blog/. People are amazing.

My last day was lovely. I was in a great mood and got loads of loose ends tied up. I brought in a cake I’d made (chocolate fridge cake – see my Food page for the recipe), and I was presented with some lovely cards, an orchid and a lovely bottle of bubbly. My colleagues had even checked that it was suitable for vegans! It was great to leave my job with a smile on my face; with hugs and well-wishers. My manager gave me a lift home and we had a brilliant, philosophical chat. It might not have been the job I wanted to do for life, but it’s given me skills and the discipline I’m going to need to run a business.

Yesterday, I  started cleaning the house from top to bottom. I sorted out two bin-bags of clothes and took them to the charity shop. I’ve dropped at least one dress size since last year and I also wanted to get rid of the more boring items from my work wardrobe. Our bedroom was also suffocated by a thick layer of dust, so a determined vacuuming session was also needed. After I’d struggled up the hill with the bin-bags, I felt a sense of relief: I’m finally letting go of the baggage that’s dominated my life for the past few years. In the past few weeks, I’ve been putting myself forward for opportunities, giving myself chances and being determined to make my new “portfolio” career work. This has been combined with the total exhaustion of commuting 100 miles every day, so imagine what I can achieve with more time and energy! My diary for next week has already got some very interesting things in it, and I’ve got a long list of “things to do”.

And last night, after my partner had gone to bed, I headed out for a night of partying with Angelina, a friend I’ve known for 9 years, when we met at work. (She also teaches dance – see The Dance of Life” blog post!) We were meeting other friends and heading to a Kabal party. Kabal parties aren’t some kind of religious cult, just a very DIY style club-night, in the true spirit of the old warehouse parties, but all legal and “above board”. Since our first Kabal party, Angelina and I have always got in free, in return for taking photos of the festivities and sending them to the party organisers. This was the first Kabal party in over a year and we had a great time, dancing for hours in the dark womb of an old industrial building in Attercliffe, and being startled that dawn had arrived. Not bad going, considering that I’d nodded off at 10pm the previous night! I woke up this afternoon feeling tired, but alive and happy and raring to go!

Last night, we had a great time with the wonderful Kweku of Ghana, who I hope to do some work with in the future! Another example of my amazingly cheeky new attitude! http://www.kogmusic.co.uk/

Here’s an interview with legendary Sheffield DJ Winston Hazel, who is always the mainstay of Kabal parties. http://www.djhistory.com/forum/winston-hazel-forgemasters-interview


Brooke Weston

This takes taxidermy to a whole new level! Wonderfully, weirdly surreal!

Crafted in Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Brooke Western and Carhartt

Small worlds and fairy tales, vibrant colors and amusement parks. That’s what drives Brooke Weston’s mixed media creations. Brooke works out of her home in Portland making the most unique dioramas I’ve ever laid eyes on. What glorious combinations of dream lands and taxidermy! Check out a few of her other pieces HERE.

shop Brooke’s look: Huron Shirt, Clarkston Cami, Straight-Fit Slim Straight Jean, and Duck Nail Apron.

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“I love it when a plan comes together!”

I’ve just come back from an amazing weekend. I stayed in Sheffield, so I didn’t go very far in terms of distance, but it’s been a wonderful journey nonetheless.

We were celebrating my friend Jaspal’s hen night. We’ve been friends since Fresher’s Week at university in Sheffield – eighteen years ago. It’s a big change for Jaspal. After years of living in Sheffield, she’s going to be emigrating to Canada. So it was much more than an average hen night. It was our chance to celebrate our friendship and an opportunity to bring old and new friends together.

As we live in Sheffield, my friend Kirsty (who has also known Jaspal for eighteen years) and I were helping Jaspal to organise the hen night, with a few sneaky surprises added along the way. Months ago, we discussed options such as renting a cottage in the Peak District for the weekend, but we decided to have a good, old-fashioned night out in Sheffield, culminating in dancing to Northern Soul and old indie favourites at the Leadmill, one of Sheffield’s legendary music venue.

A few years ago, we virtually lived at the Leadmill, but now we’re older, with more responsibilities and less time. It’s not that we’re getting old and boring, but we’re all trying to get our dreams off the ground. The time we spend with our friends gets more precious: the moments of laughter and lunacy mean more to us.

Organising the hen night was hard work, and Kirsty in particular put in a lot of hard work, organising a treasure hunt and a quiz, making a huge pile of muppet masks, buying pink hair extensions (in tribute to the amazing pink highlights Jaspal had in the early 2000s!)  and blowing up balloons, as well as making sure the whole thing ran smoothly! My partner made some brilliant compilation CDs to play in the restaurant and Abbi bought some highly amusing penis-shaped straws and a “willy wand”. At a hen night, no matter how classy, it’s mandatory to have penis-shaped novelty items, and omissions in this area are punishable by law.

My contribution to the hen night extravaganza was a biography of Jaspal, compiled from tributes, poems, photos and memorabilia donated by friends and relatives. It was difficult to keep it a secret from Jaspal – the tributes were so funny and moving that it was really difficult not to talk to her about them! When I met up with Jaspal a couple of weeks ago, I’d been looking at photos of her for so long that seeing her “in the flesh” was unsettling, like being in the room with a celebrity I’d been stalking! (Not that I stalk celebrities – honest! The closest I’ve come to it was talking to Mark Chadwick from the Levellers twice at Beautiful Days.)

I really enjoyed compiling the biography. It was hard work to combine it with my ridiculous work situation (only one week to go now!) but I loved the process of scanning photos, writing, designing and editing. I rediscovered my desktop publishing skills and spent many hours totally absorbed in the project. I had a great time making the front cover of the biography look like a Select magazine from the 1990s. Select was a monthly music magazine that I was totally obsessed by in my teenage years. it was irreverent, yet influential, and I cherish my battered Select collection. http://selectmagazinescans.monkeon.co.uk/

The look on Jaspal’s face when we revealed our surprises was worth all the hard work a thousand times over. It was very emotional and I was delighted that things had come together so well. I was so pleased that I’d been able to bring together contributions from so many of Jaspal’s friends and family and to tell the story of so many friendships. The muppet masks were a brilliant shock / surprise, and we all had a fantastic time terrifying young men at the Leadmill by plastering them with stickers which read things like “nice biceps” and “worst dancer”. We then headed back to our rooms at the Hilton Hotel, where we were staying too – to be part of the fun. It was a great idea and we found ourselves sharing the hotel with a WWF wrestling team. It was disconcerting to be sharing a lift with a giant (about 7ft tall) man at 3am!

There were a few headaches this morning but no major hangovers (i.e. the throwing-up, lying on the sofa all day kind of hangover). In fact, there were a few people who weren’t drinking, notably Kerry, who came along to the Leadmill, despite being due to give birth in less than a month! Kerry had her hen night in Sheffield two years ago. This morning, I woke up to find the “Mr T” wig we’d used at Kerry’s hen party on the bedside table! So there’s the A-Team reference, if you were searching for it! We had a great day floating around in the pool and sitting in the jacuzzi at the hotel.

It was lovely to hang out with such an amazing group of friends! It’s an honour to know so many talented, intelligent, feisty women. I’m sure we could all conquer the world if we put our minds to it. I really appreciated everyone’s support for my new career plan. Everyone thought that starting a business putting together biographies and tributes to people (similar to the biography I’ve compiled for Jaspal), would be a great idea. After all, lots of people want to celebrate the life of a friend or relation, but not everyone has enough time, editing or design skills to make it a reality!

Elsewhere in Sheffield, it was Record Store Day, and there were enormous crowds outside the shop, queuing to buy records, especially when the singer from the Crookes decided to hold up a bus! http://recordcollectorsheffield.co.uk/ http://www.thestar.co.uk/lifestyle/music/record-store-day-vinyl-fans-flock-to-sheffield-1-5600971

Winds of change?


Powering the music at the Derbyshire Eco Festival

Powering the music at the Derbyshire Eco Festival

I’ve just returned from a weekend at the Derbyshire Eco Centre spring fair, near Wirksworth in Derbyshire. I was running an Usborne children’s book stall on Saturday, then camping overnight before spending Sunday co-ordinating the car-parking at the fair and collecting donations for Oxfam’s Syria appeal. I’m absolutely knackered!

It finally seems like Spring is on its way, but in Derbyshire, we also had lots of rain overnight, and woke up to some tremendous winds. Luckily, my friend Rhian’s new tent stood up the weather conditions brilliantly, despite the wind being so strong that lots of gazebos and stall covers had blown down at the Eco Centre.

Saturday morning was beautiful and sunny and it felt like Spring really had arrived. I’d never been to the Eco Centre before but I instantly felt at home. It’s a beautifully designed building, sitting in the Derbyshire Hills. It felt a bit strange to be at a spring festival with traces of snow still visible in the fields but the sunshine was warm and the smell of woodsmoke was in the air from the wood-fired open air pizza ovens. I sampled the pizzas (without cheese of course) later, and they were delicious.

I set up my book stall full of optimism. but then the winds started blowing harder and grey clouds formed overhead. The stall was around the corner from the main part of the fair and no one seemed bothered about looking at my books at all. I started to feel despondent; and started to think that nothing I did would ever be a success. I was sharing the stall with a friend though and she was managing to stay cheerful and give me some optimism. We took turns wandering around the event and there were some great things going on, such as cycle-powered Scalextric car racing. One of my favourite festival performers was peddling a cycle-powered sound system and playing her witty songs, accompanied by her trust accordion. Check her out: Hatty Hatstar. A community bellydancing group also got me in the mood for enjoying myself. The grey skies started not to matter so much.

Rhian and Tyler, two of my Oxfam volunteers arrived on Saturday afternoon and bought three of my books. That definitely cheered me up. Later on, we had a few ciders (well I did, anyway!) and watched a band playing at the Eco Centre. Their set was bicycle -powered too and Rhian and I took turns at peddling. The bike was rather big, so it was a slightly uncomfortable experience for me as my short legs stretched to reach the pedals! The band did some great cover versions of indie songs so I had a bit of a dance. I got chatting to a lady who worked at the Eco Centre and I told her about my book stall. She said that they were supposed to have a storyteller, but they’d been let down. I volunteered to do a couple of storytelling sessions!

This morning, I spoke to the staff and the eco centre again and I arranged to do the storytelling sessions. I explained that it’s one of the things that I’m hoping to start doing professionally as part of my creative writing business. I was a little nervous, but sure I could do it. I gathered together a large group of children and their parents and I really enjoyed telling fairy stories, reading some of my Usborne books, and particularly had fun making up a story using the children’s suggestions. It involved a vampire alien from Mars and Dr Who coming to save Earth. Maybe I’ll send it into the BBC! As I told each story, I felt my confidence grow. I’ve now got the details of the lady who runs courses at the Eco Centre and I’m going to send her my CV. My book stall might not have yielded many sales but I’ve had a great opportunity to develop my skills and may even lead to some professional work.

The Oxfam volunteering in the carpark today went very well too, with an excellent group of volunteers to collect donations and point people into parking spaces. Lots of people attending the event made extra donations and over the two days of the event, we’ve raised about £600 for Oxfam’s Syria appeal. Link to Oxfam’s Syria Crisis appeal

So I’ve learned some lessons! It’s important to talk to people; to make connections. Then things can start to happen. The winds may be fierce, but they are starting to blow from the right direction; and it feels like the cycle of life is entering a new, more creative phase.

Oh and the Derbyshire Eco centre is located very close to where my main characters live in ‘Distortion’, the novel I’m currently working on. I need to get cracking with completing my first draft but it was inspiring to be close to nature for the weekend – and close to my characters!

Link to Derbyshire Eco Centre.

Contrition and Catharsis

Manic Street Preachers at the O2, December 2011

Manic Street Preachers at the O2, December 2011 – a cathartic, celebratory night

This week, I had an argument with one of my closest friends. At its peak, a really tempestuous argument which involved slamming doors and shouting like a fishwife, which is something I don’t do very often but am actually quite good at! Later, we managed to have a good talk and get a lot of our emotions and the issues which had been simmering around under the surface out in the open.

It’s important to move on from these times, and perhaps they are needed – big arguments are a pretty rare occurrence in my life but are always significant. There are things I’ve got to look at

I’d been burbling on about the plans for the launch of my new writing business, as I’ve just booked the dates for the first taster course I’m delivering. This is all very exciting, but very scary! I’ve just come up with a new business name too. As soon as I’ve got everything sorted, I’ll let you know!

Therefore, my excitement was tempered with anxiety and insecurity. After a long day at work, moonlighting occasionally to scribble my own ideas and to book the venue for my taster courses, I was bursting to tell my friend. I hadn’t stopped to reflect all day. At the moment, I’m compelled to spend every second when I’m not sleeping or working in my day job, planning, writing and doing things to get my new life started, step-by-step. My life needs to stay afloat, and keep afloat when I finish work in a few weeks.

I appreciate that I’ve been irritable and have “snapped” at my closest friends and family, when they are just trying to make sensible suggestions or give me advice. This is partly a reflection of my own fears and doubts. I’m glad I’ve been “pulled up” about this. I’ve still got a lot to learn about myself, not least that I need to keep focussed on positive things. I’ve got to embrace my emotions as they come along, rather than pretend that everything’s great but I shouldn’t expect my friends and family to validate every idea I have – otherwise, I probably wouldn’t do anything! I need to listen to them and respect them though.

The same can’t be said for the “top dog”, otherwise known collectively as the “shitty committee”* that lives in my head and feeds me negative thoughts, just like those school bullies when I was thirteen who treated me like a freak, when, I realise now, that I was just a normal teenage girl who wanted to be an individual. The trouble is, for a while, I believed those voices, real and imaginary. I know I keep going on about this but the lovely world of Free Range Humans finally helped me to understand that I’m not mad, but that EVERYONE has these voices. In fact, you probably wouldn’t be “normal” be if you didn’t have them! The trick is kicking them into touch as soon as they arise. I’m not sure why I’m using a rugby metaphor here because I have absolutely no understanding of rugby, but that’s what you’ve got to do – jump up and down on the heads of the shitty committee until they realise that you’re just not taking their shit anymore!

On my long drive to work the next morning, I was still feeling chastened, but calmer. I felt the urge to listen to something dark and loud, to meet any negativity I was still feeling head-on. So I blasted ‘The Holy Bible’ by Manic Street Preachers down the M1 to Derby, singing along to the lyrics I’ve managed to decipher. For a while, I thought “So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything” from Faster was “so damn easy to Kevin”! It’s a notoriously bleak album, but I always find it very cathartic.

At work later that morning, I sneakily checked Facebook on my phone and Download Festival had posted that it was the 19th anniversary of Kurth Cobain’s death. I was 17 when Kurt Cobain died, and a big Nirvana fan. Nirvana are another band that can make you feel better if you play their music. Millions of teenagers from my generation onwards have felt the therapeutic effect of jumping up and down and crashing into each other to Smells Like Teen Spirit. Negative music can often have a happy effect. It’s s shame that it doesn’t always have a positive effect on its creators and Richey Edwards and Kurt Cobain are still very much missed.

Anyway, now I’ve cheered you up and brought you down again, here’s an article about an academic research project that proved that goths “grown old gracefully”, although I’d dispute what he says about people growing out of punk and rave from my direct experience. The journalist has clearly not been to Beautiful Days festival. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/oct/24/goth-culture-research

*I got the term “shitty committee” when I went to see Dudley Sutton at Beautiful Days festival last year, AKA Tinker from antique / detective show from the 90s, Lovejoy! He is absolutely amazing and guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Watch this. He is a legend!

Things this blog is about…