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April 2016

Just stuff

Why I love Milton Keynes

#LoveMK and the concrete cowsHappy #LoveMK Day – a whole day of the year dedicated to celebrating Milton Keynes. I’ve lived here for 10 years now and I only caught onto this momentous day in 2016. Yes, I’m a bit slow. Born and raised in the shire, I moved to Leicester for a year and headed south to grace the MK Massive with my presence. And I’ve been here ever since.

Despite the extortionate house prices, and as a non-native, I REALLY love it here. We’ve often talked about moving somewhere else to get more bang for our buck, but MK just has too much to offer. What, I hear you cry? (in my head). Let me spell it out for you…

M is for motorway

Sitting right next to the M1 motorway (I can see it from my house, lucky me), MK is super accessible and it makes hot-footing it up north or down south to see friends and family super easy. Motorways may be grey, noisy and busy but they’re pretty handy if you want to travel.

I is for inspiring

Ever heard of Bletchley Park and the codebreakers? Then you’ll know that Milton Keynes has more to it than a load of dual carriageways and roundabouts; it has some proper history, the stuff worthy of making TV programmes about it.

Milton Keynes aerial shot

An aerial shot of Milton Keynes.

L is for layout

Milton Keynes sits on a grid system, a bit like New York, albeit it named in a more obvious way. We have V roads and H roads (that’s V for vertical and H for horizontal) and they’re numbered from 1 to 10 (ish). They have proper names too, but are always accompanied by the letter and number (V10 Brickhill Street, for example), making it pretty easy to navigate anywhere once you’ve sussed out which direction you’re going in. Newbies will tell you everywhere looks the same, but once you get used to it it’s very handy. As well as the grid system, there’s the city centre, a hub of bars, restaurants, shopping and leisure facilities split into smaller sub-areas like The Hub, Intu MK, Centre: MK, Theatre District and Xscape – you can get anything you want, within reason, here. And then nestled amongst the housing estates dotted across the V and H roads, you’ll find what we call local centres, mini city centres comprising all the basic facilities you need. It’s all very handy. MK is built for convenience and easy access, with loads of parking spaces. I like convenient, therefore I like Milton Keynes.

T is for 10 minutes to anywhere

Generally, it takes no longer than 10-15 minutes to get from A to B in MK. Which supports what I said above – very convenient. I’ll happily take an abundance of roundabouts and dual carriageways over one-way systems and a sporadic sprinkling of speed cameras.

O is for open spaces

I grew up in Shropshire and it’s pretty damn, well… pretty. But I kid you not, from my front door in Milton Keynes I have access (by walking)  to more green and open spaces than I did back in the shire. Ralphie is spoiled for choice on his walks and if we decide to hop in the car and go a bit further, there’s even more. Take a wonder along the canal at Great Linford, for example, and you’ll soon forget you’re not in the middle of the countryside.

Swan on Tongwell Lake, Milton Keynes

And here’s yet another swan – there are lots in Milton Keynes. This one’s having a lovely time on Tongwell Lake.

N is for nightlife

I don’t really know what a nightlife is these days. Having two children kind of killed that off. But in my 20s I spent many a weekend frequenting the local pubs, clubs and restaurants. I never had to walk too far, I could always get a dirty kebab (or equivalent) before calling it a night and never failed to get a taxi home. Now my evenings are more boring civilised there are two big cinema complexes and loads of places to eat – the popular chain restaurants as well as loads of village-y style pubs nestled away in the prettier parts of Milton Keynes or just on the fringes. I’m thinking The Swan, the other Swan, and the other, other Swan off the top of my head.

Willen Lake, Milton Keynes

What we refer to as ‘mini Stone Henge’ at Willen Lake.

K is for kids

There is so much here for kids to do and you can find out more about this on this very handy blog. As the proud owner of two such kids, I’m not short of things to do with them and without having to wander far either. For example, the park on the housing estate where I live looks pretty cool from Google Earth. And it’s free! I think it truly hit home how great MK is for children (and their parents) when we moved to Dorset for a few months while waiting for our new house to complete. Dorset is beautiful and I’m never one to scoff at beautiful countryside and beaches, but… there was very little organised stuff for kids and what was on offer involved travelling a bit.

E is for enterprise

Did you know that Milton Keynes is the 22nd best place to launch a startup? Or, if you read the 2016 Cities Outlook report, MK has the second highest number of startups per 10,000 population. To me that says MK is good for the economy, offers job opportunities, is creative, enterprising and innovative. This is good news for me and good news for my kids – I want them to grow up somewhere full of opportunities. I was pretty much laughed out of Shropshire when I told the school careers woman I wanted to be a journalist. I think much more is possible in MK.

MK Storm netball team

Lovely ladies: Me and members of the awesome MK Storm netball team, playing in the Milton Keynes Indoor Netball League.

Y is for…

Okay, so I’m struggling with Y. Read on peeps, nothing to see here.

N is for netball

I’ve been playing netball since I can remember and have always found teams to play in wherever I’ve been living. We all know when you put competitive women in a sports hall and throw a ball in the air it can get a bit bitchy. But I have the pleasure of playing for and with the nicest bunch of netballing ladies ever. And it just so happens that they’re pretty awesome at netball too. Go team MK Storm!

E is for education

Milton Keynes is home to The Open University, making education accessible to all, wherever you live and whatever your circumstances. I know this because I work there (and I won’t get flowers for writing this) and see first-hand the impact it makes. It reminds me every day that education is really important.

S is for smart

Milton Keynes is a smart city. Officially. And because I can’t be bothered to write anymore, you can read all about it here.

Uncategorized

Cats versus dogs (why woof gets my vote)

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I have a dog and am wildly allergic to cats. This could be a very short post couldn’t it…

I could curate some accurate and amusing meme here to help showcase my preference for dogs over cats, but that would be cheating.

This post, after all, is one in a weekly series (oops, we missed last week, sorry) in which Kate Owen and I challenge each other to write about something – anything – to update our somewhat dusty blogs. And this week’s post is cats versus dogs. So…

I’ll start with cats because this is easy. Aside from the usual cat qualities, I’m allergic, they make me sneeze, itch all over and hinder my breathing. So I tend to avoid them at all costs. Makes sense, right?

My oldest child. And the cleanest?

The same can’t be said for Ralphie, my almost six-year-old Cocker Spaniel (who has his own Facebook page btw) who knows he should bark wildly at them and chase them, but after that he’s at a loss. If he ever gets close enough to almost catch a cat, he does a speedy u-turn and runs in the opposite direction like he’s forgotten his wallet or something. If dogs had wallets, of course. Ralphie’s chosen currency would probably be gravy bones or chicken slices over cold, hard cash.

Pushing his cat confusion to one side, Ralphie is my oldest child, my black, hairy, four-legged, faithful and reliable child. And probably the cleanest. We collected him one sunny day from a layby off the M25 (sounds dodgy, it was a legitimate exchange) and he’s been at the core of our family ever since.

12036379_1169252879757034_1896091512501141259_nSave for a short period when we had human child number one and there was lots of crying and not a lot of sleep (Ralphie looked at us regularly with eyes that said ‘what have you done!?’) he’s been very happy to be a Bateman.

He makes his presence known by persistently dragging our shoes from the hallway to the family room, nicking off with the kids’ favourite bedtime toys just before bedtime, and rushing to our feet the second the fridge door is opened. He also takes up all the room on the bed (yes, something has come between Richard and I – it’s Ralphie) and has the longest eyelashes in the world. I love him.

Best house guest ever

But my love affair with dogs started when I was a kid. Mum left for work one morning with instructions that, after school, we needed to make sure the house was tidy because she was bringing special visitor home. And we obeyed, the house was immaculate when she walked in that evening with… Henri, a blue roan Cocker Spaniel! We – my brother and I – were giddy with excitement. Best. Visitor. Ever! Until in he did a poo in my bedroom…

He was part of our family, loved us loyally, and was so soppy we could sit him at the table with a tea towel round his next and feed him with a knife and fork. True story.

Hurt them and I’ll hurt you

Cocker Spaniels are a lovely breed and I’d definitely have another one. In fact, baby number three is off and dog number two is on (at some point in the future, at least). I remember a vet saying that all dogs love you but Cocker Spaniels REALLY love you. And this is true of both Henri and Ralphie, both choosing to lie, if not on you, somewhere where all human movements can be monitored from a lying down position. And they’re a fantastic breed with children; I can trust Ralphie implicitly not to run off, not to bite and not to eat the kids’ biscuits. Okay, that last one isn’t strictly true.

12540928_1222678077747847_6754879257909777303_nSo it’s cats 0, dogs 10 for me. Every time. But with that said, I am a general lover of all animals and the single thing I hate most about Facebook (and there are a few) is the number of animal cruelty posts I see. I scroll past them super fast, not wanting to be reminded how sick some people are to hurt such innocent creatures when their only ask is to be loved. If you won’t love an animal, can’t treat it with respect, manage its needs, care for it, afford it, respect it, then don’t get one. Whatever that animal may be. They’re a commitment, like children, and you should be in it for the long haul. Hurt animals, be it on TV, cases of cruelty or just sad stories can fill me with tears in an instant. People hurting animals makes me want to hurt people.

Eek, sorry, that just got a bit heavy didn’t it. Moving on… I often joke that I’d love to swap lives with Ralphie, he’s got it good. And that’s all that he deserves in payment for loving us, making us laugh, getting us out in the fresh air and preparing us, in part, for the commitment of having children. Dogs rock.

PS Kate (a cat owner) and I need inspiration for next week’s blog post or we’re at risk of writing about saggy eyelids. I kid you not. Ideas welcome!

Journalism, Life in general, Online journalism

Creating more ‘me time’ by studying: 7 reasons why I’m doing an MA

Photo by Padurariu Alexandru via Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/Yvl081TVnvASigning up for a Masters degree seems like a strange thing to do to find time for yourself but, for me, getting some much-needed ‘Robyn time’ has been a surprising consequence of studying.

When I started the MA four years ago (pre-children, with a full-time job) I enjoyed study but was resentful of the amount of hours it consumed each week, especially in the run up to an assignment deadline. I was caught in this limbo land of enjoying the topics, the learning and the upskilling, but begrudging the time, the brain strain and the effort required. Alongside the fear of failure, of course.

Now I spin many more plates, I work the equivalent of four days a week, I have two toddlers born 11 months apart (which means more of everything – washing, cleaning, shopping, cooking), have a dog to walk, a netball team to play in and, occasionally, some friends to catch up with. Oh, and I LOVE sleeping. So free time is pretty non-existent.

NB I said more cooking above and this is a blatant lie – hubby is the cook in our family so this is one thing I don’t generally have to do too much of. But I am in charge of the washing machine!

What the hell am I doing?

To remind you all (do you like how I phrased that, to make to make it sound like someone is actually reading this?!) I’m embarking on the second half of the MA in Online Journalism, part-time via online distance learning with Birmingham City University. And hats off to them, for welcoming me back to study (first year completed before I had Child Numero Uno) mid-way through an academic year and extending the limits of flexibility. A week-by-week approach works less well for me (some weeks will be quiet and others manic). BCU handed over a whole module block to me, to work through in 12 weeks in any way I pleased and giving me complete control over which tutorials to do when. And my tutor (the guy who reassures me I’ve got the right end of this online journalism stick) is a call or email away if I need him.

There are lots of positives that come with immersing myself in a world of learning, but the most surprising thing has been that I feel like I’m getting quality me time. The time I spend on tutorials and project work and research is time for me, to get some quality alone time with the Mac or iPad Mini, read some interesting stuff, try some cool things, talk to some inspiring people. It’s all about me, and that feels pretty good – a common side effect of being a busy working mum with hobbies and interests is that time for yourself drops by the wayside.
Here’s why the MA is proving worthwhile:

1) It’s a confidence booster

Just being accepted onto an MA course (I don’t have a degree) was a huge confidence boost and I confess to being hugely nervous about returning to study post-kids, confident in the fact many of my brain cells were thrown out with the placenta during childbirth. That’s two placentas in the space of a year so probably a lot of brain cells. I repeat myself, forget things and talk shit far more than I used to (and that was quite a lot). So being able to grasp concepts, contribute valuable ideas and communicate at MA level does wonders for self-confidence. It’s easy to lose a sense of yourself when you’re a working mum and this claws some of that back. I’m remembering what I like, what I’m good at and that I’m multi-dimensional. I’ve discovered that…

2) I have a brain

I definitely have a brain, although it malfunctions on a regular basis. But my brain is starting to work in a different way, thanks to the MA. I’ve always been good at getting shit done but I’m now asking questions and looking at different ways to approach, organise and do things. I’m becoming more strategic. The way the MA is delivered – online and with a ‘learn by doing’ approach, I’m being forced out of my comfort zone and stretching those brain cells. Don’t get me wrong, my brain is working so hard I probably have some kind of internal bleed, but when you come out the other side of a mental block it’s quite a nice feeling. I am not an academic by any stretch of the imagination but I do have a brain. Which leads nicely into…

3) Impact on work

The MA directly relates to what I do for a living and it’s having an impact on how I conduct myself at work. I have more knowledge stored away and more resources – from contacts to apps to books to technology – to help me. I’m approaching ideas from a journalist’s point of view again and having that external focus really helps when trying to promote an organisation from the inside. On the flip side, work is also helping with the MA. I’m getting to test theories and tools during the working day which contributes to my learning journey without eating into personal time. And…

4) It’s good to talk

I have more to talk about beyond business as usual (work), toddler tantrums and threenagers (home). This latest module on enterprise and innovation is helping me to help my husband, who runs his own web design agency, and we’re swapping advice on entrepreneurship over the dinner table (our dinners on our laps on the sofa). I’m swapping ideas with colleagues about the way we brainstorm content and campaigns, the way we tell stories, the channels we use and confidently doing things that stretch me at work and tick an assignment box at the same time – mobile video interviews and editing, for example, which I’ve been doing for both. Trust me, I like talking brainless shit too but it’s nice to talk semi-intelligently at times too. This also helps build…

5) A growing network of useful contacts

It’s no coincidence that my network of followers on Twitter has grown since jumping back on the MA trail. Not only do I have more to talk about offline, I’m more chatty online too. I have more to say and on a different range of topics including entrepreneurship, digital marketing and small business and this is reflected in my new following. I’m not showing off here, by the way, just pointing out that growing a following organically is a nice consequence of study and learning new shiz. Add all the points above together and this means I am…

6) Making more of my spare time

The spare time I get now is hugely limited and therefore massively valuable. So I make the most of it. When I collapse on the sofa to catch up on The Night Manager or watch a movie with hubby, I know I truly deserve it (I know, a movie night, I’m so rock and roll). I think the more you do things, the less you enjoy them and I was guilty of using up my spare time slumped on the sofa, thinking it was the only way to switch off and relax after a busy day. Now my sofa slumps are rare but utterly earned. So I’m enjoying everything else outside of study a bit more. Don’t get me wrong, my life consists of shifts, juggling acts, running to and fro and my social life has taken a huge hit as study comes first. Me and the hubby are like ships passing in the night but I have a little over a year to go and it’ll be worth it. Family holidays, breaks and date nights in between will be enjoyed all the more during this hectic time. Learning to make the most of your time is, to me, just as important as learning how to critically evaluate a project. And finally…

7) I want to leave a legacy

I’m the first member of my family to enter university-level education. I don’t believe university qualifications are the best route into careers and won’t be pushing my kids towards uni if it’s not for them (I ignored it when I was 18 and it did me no harm), but I’m proud to be doing it now, aged 36. And I feel like I’m setting a good example for my children – that you can achieve things at different times of your life and you can combine work, family and education and survive (I say that, I still have a year to go so will report back then. If you don’t hear from me, maybe I didn’t make it). I literally cannot wait for my graduation, should I be lucky enough to get there. And how awesome is it that my tiddlywinks will be able to be there and be as proud of me as I am of them.

But…

There is a downside though… studying means there is no time for reading for fun so I have a huge backlog of novels to catch up on. And I’m juggling more to do lists than ever before – thankfully, Wunderlist makes this SO much easier.