Please note: The blog has now moved over to www.rickiejosen.co.uk
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See you over there!
Please note: The blog has now moved over to www.rickiejosen.co.uk
If you subscribe, I’d appreciate it if you kindly subscribe on the new site (WIP).
See you over there!
Readers of this blog will know how much I have grown to love walking discovery tours. What started as a way of getting to know San Francisco on a short trip there, grew to having month of to discover my home town, Bedford. In the last year or so, it’s been an excellent way of getting to know about the very Birmingham streets I walk in every day.
A group of us mostly strangers and a few from my girls social network (Out with the Girls) turned up on a wet Sunday – the first in ages! – to meet at the council building and with warming hot chocolate beverage, set out to discover the stories behind the canals.
You’d think the number of walks I’ve been on with our trust guide Ian Braisby, I’d be doing his job for him (it is actually a secret dream job of mine) and yet I learn new Birmingham facts every time.
Britain’s canal capital
For example, the oft asked question is answered; are there more canals in Birmingham than Venice? How many?
Why there is a round-a-bout in the middle of the canal near Brindleyplace.
The generations of canal boat workers and how at one time the canals were privatised and tolls had to be paid to get through.
How the canals link Birmingham up to other towns and cities.
Apart from the imagined stench, we were taken right back to the times when canal boats were the main transportation for companies such as Cadburys (who despite moving away from the city centre still have their base near the canal in Bourenville) and especially for the heavy goods movement of the breweries.
As well as the canal history, we learnt about the beginnings and subsequent uses of a variety of buildings along the canal way, especially what is now The Brasshouse and the beautiful Round House and how Saturday Bridge got it’s name..
This is just a fraction of what I learnt. To book a place on a forthcoming walk, visit the Midlands Discovery Tours website here Then have fun spouting facts to your friends as you walk along the delight that is Birmingham canals.
This time last year, I remember reading about all the lovely things people give up in January as part of New Year’s resolutions’. (or rather by now, given up on them). In the first instance, I‘m of the school of thought that if we want to change something about our life we can change it any day of the year; why wait for a cold January 1st to roll round?
However, this isn’t an anti-resolution rant; far from it. Despite being one of the world’s odd balls in that I love Winter (sorry) and don’t have any problems with January (truly sorry) – I go off on my travels and have a lovely break for Christmas week, Italy for the second year, but still look forward to coming back on the 1st and being refreshed and raring to go for the fresh new year ahead. (Again, I apologise).
What I’m advocating is that change is indeed as good as a rest so let’s make fun changes in January. Rather than giving up things you love (wine) to do things you despise (exercise) in the coldest, darkest month of the year, let’s take up piano lessons or even better crafting or baking; activities that can be done in the comfort of our homes whilst eating chocolate and/or drinking wine.
The time to give up is April, when you have warm summer months as an incentive to leave the house and jog round the park.
For now, here are some fun things to do in January:
Take off your layers and go to a Spa. Go for a weekend if you can and with your friends.
Another in a series, this is based on in particular long-haul flights but many of these services will be ideal on short-haul too.
From the minute I reach the website until I get out of the airport on the return journey, what I need is real customer service; where I can call on a normal number rather than having to have to listen to two minutes on a premium rate just to hear all the options. Or better still, an actual email address that reaches a person rather than an automated ‘we’ll get back to you when we can be bothered’ message. This is on top of the expected standards of politeness and courtesy of course.
One example is a delightful indulgence to eat while watching the movie, having eaten a decent meal earlier. I love the way Virgin always give old fashioned ice cream.
Lots of food – keep the options coming so I can choose when and what I want to eat.
On board drinks
Serve refreshments immediately we’re up in the air, or if there’s more than 20 minutes of waiting before we’re airborne.
Or air miles, even if I book through a third party and for on-board purchases
Customer focused staff
Groomed, friendly and ready to help and greet customers like guests of the airline.
Discounts and additional services
For booking in advance, booking multiples flights and for airline loyalty
Ideally discounted or VIP treatment for insurance, hotels, theatre tickets etc
Choose our own seats for free and have somewhere under the seat to neatly place footwear. Have a warning light on the seat so person behind knows it’s about to move, like a reverse light. When it does go back, make it so the difference can be felt and it’s easier to fall asleep. To this end, we need a flap that comes out of the head-rest (rest?!) so the head can lean against it.
A clean roomy bathroom with somewhere to place toiletries is a must and a mini hairdryer would be handy for 60 second touch ups.
A shower room (pay extra and possibly book in advance) including towels and toiletries will be a nice addition.
Socks, toothbrush/toothpaste and headphones are good as a basic requirement with each seat purchase as are decent blankets, pillows and reading material. A bottle of water will be very handy.
A variety of choice of music and films and an in-flight radio station
This is not a description of the perfect airline as then I’d want 30 minutes from check in to plane (need 20 minutes to mooch around shops), unlimited luggage that a porter will carry, no delays, drink & snack immediately upon boarding, fine food restaurant for main meal, a large armchair in a suite on my own with a cinema screen that I don’t need wear uncomfortable headphones for. Come to think of that some off that is available on business class – but a complete waste of money, I’d rather travel 3-4 times a year than pay that once a year.
I love Let the Great World Spin.
This one took a while to get into, despite it being as beautifully written. I’m almost half way through when I realise that the author is writing about two different families, in different eras although I would have known that had I read the jacket first!
There’s two types of freedom, son.
The freedom to do what you want and the freedom to do what you should.
The story gives us the viewpoint of those men who endured ill-health and early demise to dig the tunnels beneath New York City so that the transportation we see today can be implemented. This is supplemented but the more modern story of those homeless – the forgotten society – who still make their homes underneath our pavements and the modern builders working on sky scrapers.
“The knowledge that he is the one who will pierce the virginity of
space where the steel hits the sky.”
Because of my previous read, I read avidly to see where the generation connections may come; it’s a journey through history seeing what the successors know about their ancestors and how much has changed for them. The book centres on the racism that still exists in the early 20th century and in particular around a rock solid mixed marriage and their children.
An excellent, literal look look at New York’s underground.
Inspiration factor 7/10
When I came back to England via New York, I put a plea out on Twitter for ‘Cupcakes’ and I was introduced to these guys. I did try them from Heals when I was staying in a hotel on Tottenham Court Road at that time, 30 months later they seem to have excelled. I pick up each of the flavours when at St Pancras International station (a whole separate piece due on that) and here’s the verdict.
Coconut & Raspberry
Coconut is in my top 3 of favourite flavours and whilst not keen on raspberry, most of the flavour came from the perfect raspberry on top. What makes this cake are the giant coconut flakes on top, just gorgeous to mop up the remnants of the light creamy topping.
What I love about Peyton & Byrne: more than anything is that their individual cakes look like cupcakes – albeit mini ones, not American size – but they call themselves fairy cakes! USA bakery cupcakes have large muffin size bases with two/thirds of the item being the flavoured cream. You cannot see the cake past the cream on these giant concoctions, which are in my opinion made for two, Or for two sittings.
The second of the four cakes picked up at Peyton & Byrne This one looks creamily glorious with the filling carrying on the flavour in the cake beautifully. It’s a fairy cake for sure; a moist base but not crumbly and with a light topping.
What I love about Peyton & Byrne: they are decidedly English which makes them extremely popular, especially with the tourists hence their placement at St Pancras International train station.
Again not being a fruit person, this wouldn’t be a first choice and yet I love it. This one tastes like it says on the tin with a pretty little flower on top. It’s bound to be a classic favourite with all.
What I love about Peyton & Byrne: Is that they are not a ‘cupcake’ shop. These fairy cakes are just part of the cake collection, all of which I’ll be trying on frequent, otherwise unnecessary visits to St Pancras, after all, it’s just a few minutes from my regular Euston.
I’m not a big chocolate cake fan (chocolate itself, I like more) so not the best to judge. However, the BF is and we tboth hought this chocolate creation is very rich and flavourful.
What I love about Peyton & Byrne: the topping, as with all Peyton & Byrnes fairy cakes is more frosting than butter cream so delightfully light.
I love Oprah but…
I really do, I think she’s an inspiration, particularly to a section of America needing inspiration but to all of us too. I admire anyone who strives to achieve their dreams (and far beyond in this case) particularly when there are obstacles thrown in their way. A non-supportive family is an impediment at a young age and I know I’m lucky to have the encouragement I did that lead me to believe I could and can do anything I set my mind to.
A lot of people don’t have that support and that’s where Oprah comes in. I’ve been 50/50 when it comes to the Oprah Winfrey show; I’ll watch it if the subject matter appeals to me or if someone I like is being interviewed. I’m not into the stories of abuse and gruesome murders but I can’t help but watch the transformations of women who have simply dressed to stay at home and watch TV and then they are transformed into ladies wot lunch. The same with houses that haven’t seen a lick of paint or any visitors since 1975 and the gay one (I assume) converts it to 21st century living by kicking the short floral curtains into space and putting bamboo blinds in their place. His main victim is chintz and he’s not keen on animal shaped fur rugs.
So it’s some years after becoming a fan of Oprah and just as her TV series ends that I pick up copy of ‘O’ magazine. Somehow, taking a rare (and I mean I cannot remember the last one unless I count travels abroad) morning off I unexpectedly end up watching back-to-back Oprah shows, enticing me to even more Winfreyness.
The magazine however, is not meant for people like me who just want to bask in the O great one’s glory as I do. This publication is for those who really need help and fair play to Ms Winfrey & her BFF Gayle King for giving it to them.
What strikes me first is the amount of advertising; it’s not unusual to have the first 20 or so pages of a glossy women’s magazine to be full of advertising but ‘O’ magazine goes beyond; it is full of product placements too. An excellent business decision but oh so obvious to the trained eye! I’m wondering if the average ‘O’ reader realises these are adverts and not the Great One’s recommendation?
Then there’s talk of ‘emotional mugging’ and apparently long ring fingers mean you are ‘at risk of osteoarthritis’ plus thick dark facial or body hair means you could have ‘Polycystic ovary syndrome’. Or just that you have thick dark hair elsewhere on your body I would have thought. Is this just making everyone hypochondriacs?
What stops me in my tracks is when readers are asked to pray, I mean you just would not get that in the UK’s ‘She’ or ‘Red’ magazines (I think).
If America doesn’t already know the answers then all this then all I can say is thank God for Oprah. Long may she reign in America, beyond the television show.
Huge thanks to Rebecca Sloan from Glacier Films for this fantastic film
Before I start going through all the feedback (we gave out feedback forms – taking this very seriously!), I just want to document what worked for me.
The music; LOVE, now and forever
Two bands? Well of course, it’s my event.
The guitar solos, the hair, the psychedelia, and the shirts – I’m in musical heaven, if a little self indulgent.
The traders trust in the event despite it being a new and unique concept what with Retro café and live music as well as lots of handmade and jewellery all mixed up with the more usual vintage. This is no ordinary event and I would never want it to be.
The fantastic effort they made to make their booth as unique as possible and to spread the word is just amazing.
The amount of people who came (258 paid + over 60 in the room, nearer 400 all in all.)
And the feedback, ideas and support they gave.
The family, festival atmosphere
The outfits; so many people in 70s style which somehow made us all feel even more chilled out and laid back.
The number of Twitter mentions
The support of Fellows Auctions, 24 Carrots, MyJQ and Jewellery Quarter Association who had nothing to gain other than help raise the profile of this wonderful neighbourhood
The press coverage – Birmingham Mail, the Post and even Express & Star all covered it as well as mentions on Switch Radio. These are just the ones I know about.
The cakes – three cake stands? Well of course, it’s my event
The festival vibe achieved without the alcohol
The staff and the volunteers
The film makers & photographers who took hundreds of fantastic and differing photos
The music. Again.
I’ve been through the alphabet twice now, this time ending with the sublime talent that was Luther Vandross. Inspiration to many, loved by all.
So many to choose from:
1. Never Too Much – an all time classic
2. Give Me The Reason
3. Stop to Love
4. So Amazing
5. Dance with My Father – will always be emotional as it was the last single whilst he was alive
More Luther Vandross here
Wow this is tough! I judge ‘best restaurants’ to be those I’ve had the best time in, not necessarily best food, expensive or Michelin stars. Still, there have been so many, especially in New York. I’ve eaten at the Waldorf on Christmas day and had countless great experiences. If I had to choose one eating experience then I choose the one that I enjoyed during one of my ‘top 5 days ever.’
In brief: San Francisco 2007, to celebrate my birthday, the first time I go away for my birthday rather than have my traditional party. It’s the Sunday before my birthday; I go to Little Italy, always a favourite place in any city.
In SanFran, it’s the North Beach neighbourhood. Instead of placing me at the side somewhere, they seat me right in the middle. I have the most unrushed brunch and my love for Eggs Benedict starts right now.
I read most of the Sunday Times magazine feature on Paul Weller, going back to his home town, Woking. This was the first day I appreciate Paul Weller’s music, perhaps because I’m in such a good mood, but I’ve bought and loved every CD since. I go onto have one of the most perfect days ever including walking over Jack Kerouac’s ‘star’ outside a gorgeous book store. From then on, every time I have Eggs Benedict, it reminds me of both Paul Weller and San Francisco.
I have no idea what the place is called but its right by the church on the square. One day I’ll find out.
I know Roxy Music have been an enormous influence on so many of my favourites and not just for the music.
1 Same Old Scene
2 More Than This
3 Over You
4 Dance Away
5 Oh Yeah (On the Radio)
Wow there are so many, I could write a book on the subject (Ahem!). I have it down to two but will choose
Gary Pucket and the Union Gap – Young Girl
This song could not be released in todays, scared politically correct world so it’s iconic now.
There isn’t a song that makes me fall asleep, they only serve to keep me awake, good or bad.
If I was to think of a song that was soothing it will be from the country/folk genres so I pick one of my all time favourites.
Also one of my favourite lyrics of all time.
I love Christmas; it’s a definite high point for me and by that I mean the whole of December rather than just the big day so by rights, I should feel a post-festivities come down. In addition, I have one of my holidays during Christmas week so I should be feeling post holiday blues too.
And yet, I only have positivity racing through me as I face the harsh January. New Year, show me what you got.
To me January is a fresh new start, a chance to wipe the slate clean. It’s an excuse to stay in; a month of reading, writing, researching, deciding, planning and plotting.
To this end, I am amazed at why so many people choose this bleak month to give up things they love to do the things they dislike. I’m talking about the G word and the D word*
Ways to make January work for you
Replace your Christmas decorations with something else. If you are looking to buy new furniture or refurbishing a room, this is great time to do so. At the very least fill your house with flowers or if flowers is not your bag change the curtains, cushions, bed linens, towels; whatever helps put a little extra spring in your step.
Book a holiday. If taking January off to go to sunny climes or skiing is a little extravagant, spend ages planning your big holiday for the year.
Don’t hate me but I tend to lose weight at Christmas rather than put it on. How? For one, my stomach doesn’t get any larger so I can’t fit anymore in December than I can during the other eleven months. More likely it’s because I go on holiday and on my holidays, I tend to walk a lot. Everywhere. This Christmas, my mission to walk along undiscovered lanes in Verona did the trick. But that’s just me.
We all want to treat ourselves at Christmas so why not cut down during October and November? That way you have Christmas to look forward to and you can indulge in comfort food in January too.
Throw a party in the middle of the month or have a dinner party every weekend. All that time spent with your friends enjoying good food and wine will mean the month will whizz by without you noticing.
Wear bright colours or at least something other than black. In fact, see how long you can go without wearing black. The bonus here is that everyone is cheered up by having bright colours around. Or just invest in a coat or umbrella in a cheery pattern or colour.
Ladies (and men) book into a spa, have a massage, get your hair cut or at very least have a pampering day at home.
Make January the month when you start to do all the things you want to do; painting, singing, learning a language, reading, start writing a book (that old chestnut), dance class, picking up PC skills or horse riding. If it’s something you want to do, now is the time.
Have a sparkling 2011!
*Gym & Diet
I was out of the country when the expenses scandal first started and when I came back, I expected absolute outrage. This is the money we all have been paying for most of our adult lives, entrusted to those who govern us who have then squandered it for their own gain. I expected, marches, rioting and strikes. I got some mumblings but mostly all the expenses scandal has done is given a couple of years of material to comedians.
However, when the government changed the way in which university education is funded, something that only affects those who decide to have further education, there are riots. I don’t understand
For the first time, I heard her speak the other day. It was her Oprah interview and the background noise to my taking the Christmas tree down. It hasn’t changed my opinion one bit and Ms Winfrey was, as customary, is pretty soft on her.
Sadly, a big chunk of middle America resonates with her. That says more about middle America than Mrs Palin.
Why the UK can’t cope with snow
Yes that old chestnut and I absolutely don’t buy the argument that we’re not a snowy country. We’ve been saying that for a few winters now. Wake up and smell the snow. People don’t seem to have any idea on how much money the country loses in trade for every ‘snow day’ that they relish. Furthermore some people do actually want to carry on working/ shopping/playing and generally keeping life going.
I don’t see why we have to ’put up and shut up’ as a caller recently said on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show. We pay our taxes for clear roads, just as we do for emergency services.
Just invest in some ploughs (I’m looking at you Heathrow Airport), gritters (councils) and get on with it. The snow is clearly here to stay so let’s enjoy White Christmases without the country coming to a complete standstill.
I have no curiosity for strangers’ lives at the best of times so why other people do will always be beyond me. Everyone complains and yet everyone watches it.
Again, it’s beyond me. Nation’s sweetheart? Which nation?
Music to commit suicide too.
I always say it’s a lot easier to stick with plans than change them. I cannot understand why one human being can let down another. It’s unfathomable and unsociable.
Why drivers stop
This is when crossing a side street, I wait while a slow car comes to the end of the road so I can cross after it passes. But it decides not to come to the end of the road, instead it slows down just before the end and I wonder
1 Has he run out of gas
2 Has he forgotten how to drive
3 Does he want to me to cross
It drives me absolutely crazy to the point of violence. Keep going, take those 2 extra seconds as I have waited for you this long, it will make no difference to me. Don’t flash me – I’m not looking. Just keep bloody going.
End of rant; as you were
by Rickie J (Mon Nov 29, 2010)
I don’t know about you but I feel a little insulted when anyone suggests I’m a Feminist. I grew up in the 1970s and started work in the middle of the 1980′s. This was a time when I felt there was nothing to stop me achieving and striving for what I wanted.
Read more (Published by Powder Room Graffiti)
Latte is not ‘Italian coffee’, it is just Italian for milk. Italian coffee is cappuccino for the mornings and espresso for any time you like.
I just want to clear that up.
Yes you can have coffee with latte but is this not an American invention, like all the other Americanisms that are trending in the UK?
Don’t get me started on cupcakes (fairy cakes) and apartments (flats).
My belief is that the latte was invented by an Italian in America as the espresso is too strong for the American palate and for most of us probably. So we can call it American but not pass it off as Italian. If you ask for a latte in Italy you’ll get exactly that; milk.
Just like in France we have cafe au lait but we don’t go around asking for that in the UK, we just say ‘coffee with milk’ please.
After about the age of nineteen, for many, birthdays are greeted with much derision but me? I like to celebrate another year full of laughter, fun and of course new experiences. I think of a birthday as a celebration of being on this planet rather than having one year less to go. Who’s to say what will happen? My plan is to make the most of every minute and pack every day and go places I want to go every year.
Up until the big 40 I had parties at home just for my nearest and dearest – no hangers on that were unknown to me. I only want to celebrate the most important day of my year with people that matter, not strangers. Each year would have a theme, NOT fancy dress but a random theme just for fun. The last few were Bollywood, a children’s party, pink, All Saints and ending with ‘Letting it all Go’.
The 40th was a surprise to everyone; it was a commemoration of everyone I have known in my life with a look back in pictures and every track we played was painstakingly put together (remember @girltaristhan ?) as I celebrated a lifetimes’ love of music; we had top 3s, top 5s and top 10s of all my favourite artists and genres and yet with 5 hours, I still didn’t have room for Springsteen.
After 15 years of this; of caterers, wait staff and the traditional fireworks, I realise that all I’m doing is paying a small fortune just to get my national friends together once a year, twice if you count the summer party too.
So the new tradition is take those few hundred £££ and go to a place I haven’t been before. I have been to San Francisco, Washington, Montreal and this year, Milan all adding to life’s rich experiences to be celebrated next year.
Marks and Spencer, as everyone knows, I adore. I simply cannot live without the M&S food store or indeed other parts of this iconic English store.
But there’s part of M&S that I do have a love/hate relationship with; the self service checkout.
I love that I never have to wait in line with it.
The reason is it never works so no-one else has the patience for it.
Initially, I worked out that after three items, the self analysing machine will flash an error so it was hardly worth using it if I have more, which is almost always the case.
That stopped but now I get an error because I never use the plastic bags but always have my own, a practice M&S themselves were the first to encourage.
I’ve learnt to bypass that now by not putting my bag on the ‘scales’ to get the ‘unidentified item’ alert; it’s the bag you told me to bring you stupid machine! Now I pile up all the items neatly, press finish and only then safely pack everything.
However, problems still occur although not once have staff come over to check what the ‘unidentified object’ is or indeed what it weighs. They simply clear the error from the little machine on the end of the row and I carry on.
So this is my real issue with M&S;
The machine is just there, within touching distance of both the manned customer service desk and the busy express tills and yet I wait minute after minute for them to notice when my self service unit is screaming ‘please wait, help coming’.
The only thing is my machine does not seem to be talking to this magical fix-all machine at the end. It’s a bit like having a burglar alarm that rings in the house but not at the police station; pointless.
The only way staff know I need help is when they see the gas coming out from the top of my head when I am blowing my top. I am left helpless, not able to leave my shopping (I had a House of Fraser bag full of new bed linen bargains stolen from this very spot) all I can do is get their attention. I have known many a time when there have been three ‘please wait; machines and a line building behind us although that situation works much better in getting their attention.
It’s so unlike M&S staff to not offer an apology or explanation, no matter how many times I ask them.
I occasionally visit the Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s and I know that they have someone standing there just to encourage use and to help if anything goes wrong.
Fashion is not the same thing as style. And being stylish is not just about what you wear. Read article published on Powder Room Graffiti
I read an article in the Evening Standard, in the ‘Healthy & Beauty’ section by Michele Gorman entitled ‘Why I Love London Men’.
London men apparently are more laid back, compared to the Americans, she says because of the long working hours there. She goes on comparing the two in (typical) American fashion; London (population 8m) and America (pop 300 mill):
London men would rather spend an hour with their friends than another hour in the office.
They open the door for us confidently without awkwardness.
They give us their coat when we’re cold, hold our umbrellas and walk on the outside of the pavement nearest the traffic.
They aren’t afraid to accessorise with man bags
They pay us compliments.
Ms Gorman goes on to say it’s displaying charming manners when taxi drivers call us ‘love’ and change is returned with ‘cheers darlin’ and concludes that London men heed a strict code of conduct when it comes to women, which this American thinks may be the consequence of queuing.
And there’s more.
All I’d like to know is who are these men that walk on the outside of the pavement? Whitmore I’m not particularly keen on men accessorising with man bags but if he has to carry his stuff in one, then fine. Is there anyone out there who thinks it’s ‘charming’ to be called ‘love’ by a taxi driver? Acceptable yes but charming? Charming would be to call us ‘Madam’ surely.
Oh and how does one compare every American man to those in one city in England?
Doctors prescribing contraceptives to 11-year-olds
I read recently that children as young as 11 are taking the contraceptive pill in the UK. The statistics in last week’s Sunday Times stated that more than 1000 girls aged 11-12 are on the pill, a fivefold increase in the past decade. A further 200 girls aged between 11-13 have long-term injectable contraceptive devices. Read the rest
1. British climate. I like the mixed up seasons and it rarely gets unbearably hot or cold, as it does in New York
3. Always doing work I love
4. Victoria Beckham
5. Having the radio on all the time. Preferably radio 2.