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what I think

Forget the sunshine and sharks' teeth, in Florida I got to meet Mickey Mouse!

There is seriously nothing more exciting than being a child and getting to meet… Mickey Mouse! Throw in Daffy Duck and Pluto and holding a baby alligator with its mouth taped shut and you’re pretty much in child heaven.

I went to Florida when I was just seven and 25 years later – cripes, that makes me OLD! – I still remember it vividly. Our family holiday consisted of non-stop excitement and adventure and included eating alligator soup, watching HUGE crocs launch themselves up and out of the water to eat chicken carcusses swinging from a washing line, and collecting sharks’ teeth on the sandy white beaches.

Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse (Photo credit: ross_hawkes)

I remember it like it was yesterday; my dad waking us up in the middle of the night to get us washed, dressed and packed off to the airport for a family holiday. A few days later and my brother and I were combing the beach for the little black teeth, thinking how cool it was that they washed up on the shore and that sharks couldn’t be very dangerous if all their teeth fell out and ended up in our bucket. An America chap popped over with a HUGE bag of sharks’ teeth and said my brother and I could each take a handful of his to help us with our own collections. Painfully shy but spurred on
by our parents we delved in. It was SO exciting!

We also found it hilarious that every time mum ordered chips we got crisps but, despite being just seven, I can remember the sense of fun, excitement and happiness of holidaying in Florida. It was the last big holiday we had as a family before my parents split up a couple of years later and it was three weeks of awesomeness. It was also my first introduction to the road looking wet because of the heat but when you got up close it’s perfectly dry; an optical illusion that kept my childlike brain wondering for hours.

People in Florida were helpful and friendly too and when my brother’s ‘cush cush’ went missing, the hotel staff rallied around to find it. It was an easy mistake to make, ‘cush cush’ was a full sized pillow that my younger brother insisted on travelling and sleeping with, his little comforter, and the hotel maid had scooped it up into the laundry by mistake. But after a ‘911’ call to hotel reception and a manic half hour, ‘cush cush’ was returned to the room safe and sound and my brother’s tears stopped. A happy ending and another Florida memory I’ve been unable to shake off.

Seriously, my time in Florida has stuck with me as the sort of childhood holiday I’d want my own kids to have; the whole experience was simply magical, not least because we spent time at Disney World and got to shake hands with THE Mickey Mouse. I also remember a ride called Figment of Your Imagination themed around a little purple dinosaur called Figment, a toy version of which accompanied me home on the plane thanks to a visit to the Disney World gift shop.

Gatorland Zoo sticks in my mind too (ref the gators chomping on chickens above) as well as a boat trip around the Everglades

, the fear and excitement of seeing crocodiles and alligators in the water filling my little belly with butterflies. At the zoo my brother and I got to hold a baby alligator, its mouth taped up so it didn’t snap at us and I got the exciting end – the mouth – to hold while my brother settled for the tail. We also have a great family photo – and this is when I realise I wish I had a digital copy to share or could easily pluck it from my mum’s photo albums at home – of my brother and I putting our heads into the wide open jaw of a gator. Of course, the gator was a replica version in the zoo but it looks pretty damn real to anyone who sees the photo.It’s on my ‘to do’ list to return to Florida for a holiday as soon as possible, as a sunshine-filled adventure with hubby and maybe friends or in a few years when we have kids and can give them the sort of amazing holiday I had when I was seven.

I don’t have such vivid memories of any other childhood holiday, Florida really stuck with me and I wish – as I type this from my desk on a raiy evening – that I was back there.

My Pancake Day podcast…

… in which I sound like a bit of a tosser.

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Disclaimer: I had to do this as part of my MA. As an audio experiment. Honest.

Moan for Monday: texting sucks

I’ll try not to do this too often, I promise, but Monday is a great day for moaning. And here’s today’s theme… texting. I just hate texting.

Rewind five years and I was glued to my phone and texted all the time, replying to people swiftly and engaging in regular text convos. Now, it’s days before I can be bothered to reply and that’s not because I don’t like the person at the other end of the message, I just find texting tiresome.

I hate texting textThis is for several reasons…

Firstly, my phone is now used for so much more then phone calls and texting; I check emails, read the news, take photographs, do social media stuff, check train times, find directions… the list goes on. So texting is just another thing to do and it tends to take too much time. Which leads to my second point…

I’m rubbish at text speak, it feels wrong to truncate the English language in such a  ruthless way and I fear I’ll end up sending textual (that’s textual, not sexual, which may be a word I’ve just made up) messages that sounds like they’ve come directly from the chewed up fingertips of a teenager. I’m 32. So my texts aren’t always short and if they are, they probably sound rude.

This increased use of my phone is uncomfortable too. I get finger ache, knuckle ache, wrist ache and arm ache, no doubt due to my bad posture which just gets worse with a phone in my hand. If I stopped mid text and looked in the mirror, I’d probably see a hunched over, lady, shoulders curled forward, head down, arms and fingertips tensed. I tense while typing at speed, and it’s really not good for the old body. 21st century communication is bad for the skeleton.

So I much prefer email, it’s quicker, hurts less and messages can be sent to more than one person and replied to by more than one person. Texting to multiples means you get five replies but the other four people in the convo don’t. Not good for group discussions.

So I keep my texting brief, avoid sending pointless ones and don’t reply to “see you in five mins, I’m running a bit late” ‘cos there’d be no point. My mum, on the other hand, reads a text asking if dinner’s still on for Wednesday and while she says yes to herself she fails to communicate that yes by sending a text back. Bless.

Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky. How do you feel about texting?

It's all about dogs…

Dogs have been hitting the headlines this week… or should that be pawing? Either way, it’s only Tuesday and already this week I’ve listened to debates about dangerous dogs following the mauling of another wee child; semi-scientific reasoning behind why our four-legged friends might being psychic; bid farewell to my latest MA assignment which is very much doggy related; and digested the sad, sad news that my sister-in-law’s dog Dylan went to doggy heaven today.

The latter made me sad to the core; the death of a dog, no matter how expected, knocks you off your feet and it takes time to get over the loss of one of your family. So big love to Dylan up in doggy heaven.

Over to the dog-themed headlines: the first utterly ridiculous, the other no laughing matter.

So let’s deal with the silly first: psychic dogs. BBC Breakfast yesterday gave the seriously lightweight example of a dog escaping from his sitter and finding his way home on the exact day his owner flew back from a holiday. This doesn’t spell psychic to me, more coincidence. And if the dog had been psychic surely he would have ‘seen’ sense to stay put and wait for his owner to collect him and save a massive and dangerous trek home? Others agree with me.

I have no doubt that dogs have a sixth sense: how do they know when another dog passes by the house, even when the curtains are closed and they can’t see out the window? And that’s pretty clever. But they’re not psychic, surely?

Robyn and Ralphie walking by canalRalphie knows when he’s about to get a walkies, not because he reads my mind but because he’s cottoned on to our family routine. And he recognises the out of routine walks because I might put my shoes on or go to the cupboard where his dog lead is kept. Dogs are clever and they pick up on cues, this doesn’t mean they’re psychic.

The second dog-themed headline of the week is much more serious: another dog owner charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act and another child left with permanent scarring, no doubt physical and emotional.

One of the guests on BBC Breakfast, the mother of a child lost to a dog attack, suggested that all dogs be muzzled, in public and at home, when around children under 12. The second guest, from The Dogs Trust, flagged up all the good that dogs do; helping people, guiding the blind, saving lives and offering companionship to the elderly or lonely.

What they both agreed on is awareness and responsible dog ownership and training. I’d bet my bottom dollar that if we hadn’t taken Ralphie to training classes he’d be running rings around us right about now. Instead, he knows he’s at the bottom of the pack and that he has to behave.

Ralphie’s a cocker spaniel and his forever swinging tail is the most dangerous thing about him but he has snapped at other dogs, never a human.

We’ve met dog owners on walks who don’t have friendly dogs and recognise the fact their pet doesn’t like other people or dogs and might snap or bark. But they pre-warn us before we pass by,  so we can keep Ralphie out of harm’s way if he’s off the lead. Or they’re muzzled. And that’s fine; I don’t expect temperamental dogs not to be out and about, they need walking like any other, but it’s more about the owner and how they react. And having the control over their pets to deal with a situation should something go awry.

What did shock me was one cyclist’s extreme views in dealing with dogs as I caught part of Radio 2’s lunch time slot with Jeremy Vine yesterday. He had clearly been pestered by bicycle-chasing dogs for many years and taken extreme offence to it. He listed pointing at dogs and shouting them, hitting them with sticks, kicking them in the genitals and punching them in the head as recommended tactics to avoid being attacked.

What a dog trainer then pointed out was this man was doing everything possible to provoke an attack, his list clearly illustrating deep misunderstanding of our canine friends. And they are our friends, for the most part.

Five for Friday: achievements this week

Hooray, it’s Friday and I’ve made it through the week. Here’s why I deserve a weekend…

1) Last weekend – and I mean all of it – was spent on my latest MA assignment, as was the weekend before, and while absolutely necessary it’s meant I’ve missed out on any relaxtion-recover-from-the-working-week time and fun-stuff-with-my-family time. Last Saturday hubbles dragged the dog off on a big walkies so I could concentrate on my project in peace. While I was beavering away in the office, the two men in my life, Rich and Ralphie, spent three hours on an adventure. They returned covered in mud having fallen upon some Roman ruins, a wood and some open fields we didn’t even know existed. I was very jealous. So this weekend we’re doing three-hours walkies part two and I’m looking forward to wearing my silver wellies very much.

2) On Monday I played volleyball for the first time this year and got player of the match, and a few aches and pains to boot. I’m really enjoying my return to the sport having ‘retired’ a couple of years ago because this time the pressure’s off. No coach, no subs waiting to take my place on court, no pressure to win and stay in a division. Regional league is all about playing with five of my bestest mates – and the fact we’re winning most games is an added bonus.

3) On Wednesday I attended a data journalism course at Birmingham City Univerity. Organised by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and lead by online journalism guru (and my tutor!) Paul Bradshaw, it offered a basic guide to finding stories in data and displaying it in a cool way. I love the idea of data journalism and some of the visualisations (this one, for example, from a member of my MA class) are very, very cool. That said, I have real trouble getting my head around data and wince when I have to open an Excel file, so perhaps it’s not for me. But I will keep trying and even have some data sets in mind to look at in the future and try to display visually. I certainly don’t want to give up without at least dabbling.

4) As the above was at BCU, this gave me an opportunity to attend the university I’ve signed up with and meet some more members of my cohort. Despite enrolling last September I’d not yet visited campus and wanted to check it out. I even rode the train in from New Street with other students and trekked onto campus with them, so I felt like I belonged. It’s odd being 32 and attending university but I don’t think I stuck out too much. I also got to hang out with some of my fellow students, one of which I’d already met and another , a fellow distance learner I’d emailed several times. The others were new to me but it was great to catch up, swap stories about our backgrounds and ambitions for the future, our journalism careers to date, stories covered, and our shared insecurity over our projects. Have we done the right thing? Will we pass? What will we do if we don’t?

4) The only downside of Wednesday – data-journalism-and-hang-out-with-students-day – was that I almost fainted just before I got there. As I hopped off the station at Perry Barr I had  sharp stomach cramps which made me want to double over and scream in pain. If I didn’t know better I’d think someone was jamming a screwdriver into my middle. But I was in a public place so I came over all English, resisted anything that might have drawn attention to myself, and tried to carry on walking as normal. This resulted in me getting very hot, vision blurring and just before I passed out I managed to prop myself against a wall and take some deep breaths. A lovely student came over and asked if I was okay, handing me her unopened bottle of coke and genuinely being lovely. Whoever you were – huge thanks! 20 minutes later I felt normal again but sharp pains persisted throughout the day and by the time I made it back to Milton Keynes and fell on the sofa that evening  I felt utterly shattered.

5) My dog has more Twitter followers than my little sister. She’s very upset about this but I think it’s quite an achievement :0)

Reign supreme: 100 ideas for your blog #1

One of my birthday presents two weeks ago was a copy of No One Cares What You Had For Lunch: 100 Ideas For Your Blog by Margaret Mason, from my good friend Angie.

In it are 100 prompts to help you create interesting blog posts and, in the absence of a ‘Project 365‘, I’m going to dip into this book throughout the year and follow its lead. Starting with #1 – reigning supreme. An example of this is Heather Powazek Champ belies the world would be a more beautiful place if toilet roll is positioned in a certain way on a holder. I happen to disagree, but that’s another matter.

So my reign supreme post is this: if you’re not going to eat your steak rare or even medium rare then you shouldn’t be eating steak at all. To order your steak well done is offensive to the taste buds, to the chef who has to cook it that way and also to the poor animal who died to give you dinner. Yes, the thought of blood dripping from your meat is possibly a tad disturbing but get past it; think of it as jus and tuck in. I promise you’ll enjoy it way more. If you can’t eat your steak rare or medium rare then skip past it on the menu and plump for something else. The phrase “well done” should only be used to praise someone for something they’ve done, not to describe how you want your food cooked.

Picture by missmeng via Flickr under this licence