Archive for September, 2012

“Inspirational quotes”

Inspirational quotes, hey. That old hat. The good old, why aim for the sky when you can aim for the stars? I mean it’s all so silly. I’ve read so many ‘your life is like a…’ and then a ridiculous comparison that I feel I’m being taken for a fool here.

Let me make something up. You can literally say anything.

Your life is a like a Hoover. Sometimes it cleans up, sometimes it sits around doing nothing. But when you’re hoovering, everyone knows you’re hoovering.

And that’s inspirational because it’s about how, when you decide to do something amazing with your life, people will sit up and listen.

I mean, nonsense. That’s nonsense. I just made that up. Not that I’m down on positivity. I’m definitely not! I’m quite a positive person. But there’s only so many times I can read the words, ‘if you try hard enough, you will achieve your goals’ before I’m like, hold up, there’s a lot more at play here. That’s not the only factor. For every success story, there’s a guy on the side going “Well I tried loads and I’ve still got nothing.”

So here are some of my quotes. Should you wish to quote them or draw strength from them, go ahead. There’s no copyright here.

That’s another life-coachy quote for you. “There’s no copyright here.” I’m sure you can make something of that if you want to.

Ok, here goes. A foray into my potential new career as a life coach.

In life, generally, there are people who are fairly happy and there are people who are fairly unhappy, no matter what their actual life circumstance is.

Sometimes you make loads of effort and end up nowhere.

Sometimes that doesn’t matter. You’ve probably figured out something else to do by then.

Having money helps.

Sometimes you should just bake a cake instead.

Life’s quite nice.

Moaning doesn’t help, but we like it anyway.

Being in sunny weather isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Truffles are tasty.

And that, my friends, is my life advice. Should you need any more, I am more than happy to share my talent again. I expect to see my wisdom embossed on people’s doors and tattooed on arms before long, ok?

O, here’s another little titbit before I go.

When you’re tired, going to bed is nice.

Eating artwork for lunch

Yesterday, for Danda’s birthday, we had fancy lunch next to the Thames river, in a place called The Bingham. I was quite excited when I booked it as it’s one of those super swanky places that you never think you’ll eat in. I had done a bit of research though and found out that their lunch menu was very reasonably priced. So we had a lunchtime booking and I was very much looking forward to it.

They have a Michelin star, by the way, did I mention that. O yes, they have a Michelin star.

I started the whole thing off in a rush because I decided to bake thank you gifts for my neighbours who helped me break in the other day when I locked myself out, remember? There I was, baking away, then suddenly it was half eleven and the booking was at twelve and I was still in my jarmies!

I practically threw the baked goodies at my neighbours as I hurtled by, yelling “Can’t stop! Sorry!” Then we ran for our lives and arrived, red faced and sweaty, a few minutes late. Not the grand entrance I was hoping for!

This place is lovely. It’s quite grand and, to start with, there were no other diners.

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About four or five waiters and hosts and what have you, hovered about, checking if we were fine and if we needed anything.

We were given some lovely fresh-from-the-oven bread to start…

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…and then an amousse bouche. No, erm, amooze boosh… No… Amuse bushe…. Ok! I’ll admit. My non-fanciness was giving me away! I had heard of this but I’ve never known what it was. I’ll never become the Masterchef Champion of the World at this rate. I did some research. It’s a goat’s cheese mousse, with tomato mousse and cheese and onion sprinkles on top.

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I know what you’re thinking. And I was thinking it too. Cheese and onion sprinkles! What on earth!? But it’s ok. Just roll with it. They have a Michelin star.

Next were the starters.

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Chicken soup with Jerusalem artichokes (and other stuff which I don’t remember) and a small beautiful ham and cheese toastie. If I were ill or just miserable and grumpy, I can’t imagine anything better than this beautiful beautiful little soup dish.

The other starter was a pig’s head and rabbit terrine with a pear and chicory salad. I was initially a bit scared of the “pig’s head” part but decided to face the fear and do it anyway. There was some kind of mustardy dressing thing on this which was gorgeous. And the terrine was really meaty, no snouts or eyes as I feared.

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The mains were great, just the right amount for lunch and unbelievably tasty. They were a partridge dish with blackened figs and a crostini with game pate on it. And some greens, I forget which. I was too busy eating the amazing figs and trying to contain my excitement.

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The other main was a butternut squash risotto. That sounds quite ordinary, doesn’t it? This was NOT ordinary. It had a parmesan mousse and some teeny baby shitake mushrooms and some clear squares of jelly which were beautifully sweet but I couldn’t remember what they were! Anyway, the whole thing was amazing.

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Lastly, we had dessert and it was no less fabulous. Danda loves cherry and chocolate together so he got a chocolate ganache thing with cherries and a sweet lemon sorbet.

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I had a giant marshmallow thing with strawberry sorbet hidden in the middle. It sat in a bed of summer berries and raspberry juice. It was phenomenal.

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Lastly, just when we’d ordered espressos and thought we were done, they brought this beautiful board of sweeties.

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What you can see is a vanilla macaroon, an orange and ginger jelly, a passionfruit marshmallow and a Baileys chocolate truffle. I scoffed most of it without an inch of decorum and I don’t care who knows it.

Overall, this might be one of the tastiest and most beautiful lunches I’ve ever had! Really great service, amazing food and a beautiful view of the river. What more could one expect from lunch?

One of the strangest girls ever

I once went to Aylesbury, to a young offenders’ centre to train as a mentor for young men at the prison who were about to be released, to encourage them to not come back, essentially.

So I had a phone interview, then an interview in person then two days of training. Everyone else there had also had two interviews so I’m not sure how this girl made it to the next stage.

She was one of those people who is totally socially unaware. When the woman running the session asked us to take a few minutes to write something, like why we wanted to become a mentor, we would all fall silent. But this girl didn’t seem to realise what was going on. She was sitting, talking aloud and sighing and huffing and puffing.

“Why do I want to be a…. *loud sigh* …. hm… a mentor… hffffff… Why do I….. Erm…. *sigh*.”

It was bizarre! We were all silent, scribbling away and she was talking aloud to herself as though it was the most normal thing in the world.

When we were asked to each read one thing off our list it went as such…

“To help people.”
“To help reduce crime by repeat offenders.”
“Because I’d like to do criminal defense work so feel this would help me understand the issues involved.”
“Because I just retired and would like to do more voluntary work.”

And then it gets to her at the end of the line and she is asked for a reason. She looks at the list of things other people have said, which have been written up on a board and sighs, then picks one.

“To reduce crime by repeat offenders.”
“O, haven’t you got something off your own list that you wrote?”

She continues looking up at the board, not even glancing down at her own paper and goes, in a vacant type of way, “Yeh, it’s the same. All the same ones.”

Erm. It doesn’t make any sense. How can she have those same same things? The whole day went like that, talking aloud, sighing, saying odd things, copying whatever anyone else said.

When we left at the end of the day, I was offered a lift to the station by a woman who then offered the strange girl a lift too. It was hilarious. Five minutes in to the journey, she freaks and goes, “I’ve lost my passport! I’ve lost my passport.”

So we pull over and she talks v e r y slowly through what she might have done with it. And she figures out she has thrown it in the bin in the prison! Yes. That’s right. She has thrown it. In the bin. The BIN! How stupid is she?

I forget how she worked it out. But she ended up calling the prison to ask them to go and check in the bin. Of course, in a prison, you do not just run around different buildings looking in bins. Every door is opened and closed by keys. You never have two doors open at a time. You open one and close it behind you and it all takes a long time. We had been in the admin building, the staff of which had all gone home when we left. No-one was allowed in the building when the staff left. The security measures were tight.

She tried persuading the officers to go in the admin building. They obviously said no. She was going, “But my passport is in the bin!” like an idiot.

It was unbelievable.

I forget if she got it back. I just remember that I had to stare out the window really intently when we were in the car and try not to laugh out loud.

When we got to the train station, she got the same train as me! It was awful. She said, “I can’t believe I’ve left my passport in the bin,” about a billion and four times.

Now I’ve met strange people in life but I think she might have been the worst.

P.S. It’s Danda’s birthday today!

The Lion Saltworks and Anderton Boat Lift

My regular guest blogger is posting on Thursday this week, a day later than usual. Enjoy it!

This week’s post finds me in a village in the Cheshire countryside just NE of the town of Northwich. What am I doing here? Well, at the end of last week’s blog you remember the guy at the Museum told me about a site visit with a free guided tour in a nearby village; and so off I went, just 2 miles across town, to the Lion Salt Works in Marston. (Its population was in 1801-284, 1901-878 & 1951-729.) It is interesting to remember that the discovery of salt in the area was accidental; people in the 17th cent were digging to try and find coal and came across the salt.

Here’s a view of the works from the opposite bank of the canal. You can see how handy it was for collections and deliveries to the site. Canals were of course the highways of their day. They were the new form of transport enabling importers and exporters to get their goods to or from a port and others who just needed to move goods to market where there were no decent road connections.

Thanks to Chris Allen for photo from Geograph site. Photo used with permission under Creative Commons Licence (details below, each of which can be copied/pasted into browser to see relevant info):
Licence details: “http://creativecommons.org/ns#”
Picture: “http://s0.geograph.org.uk/photos/63/79/637954_1bcb2934.jpg”
Owner: “http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/4264”
Usage permission: “http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”
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And next is an aerial view; the renovation scaffolding had not arrived at this point. Thanks to Edward Robinson for the pic from the Geograph site (taken in Oct 2011). Photo used with permission under Creative Commons Licence (details below, each of which can be copied/pasted into browser to see relevant info):
Licence details: “http://creativecommons.org/ns#”
Picture: “http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/02/81/57/2815732_839ef24f.jpg”
Owner: ” http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/75769″
Usage permission: “http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0”
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I had to use someone else’s aerial view as my private helicopter was in the garage being repaired and my pilot was on holiday! It was his turn on the rota (or should that be rotor….haha).

The site was owned and operated by the Thompson Family from 1894 to its closure in 1986: this was due to a civil war in the country where most of its exports went – Nigeria. (It was the last open pan salt works in the county; it is the only surviving Victorian salt works in the UK; and although not actually working, the structure is one of only 3 surviving open pan salt works in the whole world!).

The poor quality of the upper structure, made from mainly wood, corrugated iron & asbestos, was due to its owners believing it would be just a temporary building until the mine or brine was exhausted and they would move on.
It made the BBC’s “Restoration” programme but didn’t get enough voted to progress finishing in second position on the day. However a campaign, which has run for many years to turn the site into a proper visitor centre, has eventually resulted in an £8 million refurbishment programme; it is hoped that work, just started, will be completed by Spring 2014.

Our archaeologist guide Chris was ready and waiting with a couple of other visitors as I arrived; in the next 10 minutes the group expanded to about 12. I hope I have remembered his info correctly – any mistakes are mine as they say in the publishing world.

Open pan means basically you construct a large rectangular shaped metal tank, fill it with brine pumped from underground, and put a heat source (originally coal, later oil) underneath it; as the brine evaporates a salt precipitate is formed which is then scooped out. The one we were able to see measured about 30ft x 20ft (9.1m x 6.1m). The strength of heat is what determines the quality of salt produced: hotter equals better quality. It was said that it needed 1 ton of coal to produce 2 tons of salt.

The Lion Salt Works, as you saw in the pic, is located right next to the Trent & Mersey Canal which runs 93 miles from Derby through to near Runcorn. That canal also serviced exports from the Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent area) and Josiah Wedgewood (yes ‘the’ JW himself) cut the first piece of turf (in 1766) to start the construction of the canal. It also brought coal to the Lion and took salt exports away.

The big barrier to the smooth operation through to the ports on the River Mersey was the difference in height which had to be overcome at Anderton just north of Northwich itself: about 50ft (15.24m). It was solved by building a boat lift to raise and lower the narrowboats with their cargoes. It was closed for a long time because of corrosion caused by the very cargoes of salt which it was built to move. After a £7 million refurbishment it is now open and working although the salt trade has gone. It’s well worth a visit as there are only two such structures in the UK – this one and a far newer one in Scotland called The Falkirk Wheel.

Here’s a view from a boat on the River Weaver approaching the lift. Thanks to Dave & Ann-Marie of the blog Becoming Listless for the excellent action photos. Their blog, about their narrowboat travels, is definitely worth a visit: (http://becominglistless.blogspot.co.uk/).
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The Lift, built in 1875, has two large tanks both of which can take two full length (72ft/22m) narrowboats (side by side) – see the space beside the one in the bottom left side of the lift in the photo. The tanks are called caissons and each weighs 252 tons when full of water.

Can you answer this question: if there were 2 boats, in one caisson, each weighing 24 tons how much would the total weight in the caisson be? Think carefully! Can only offer a (paper) gold star to the first correct reply but they’re quite rare in the Rambler’s Blogworld.

And here’s a view from the boat when it’s actually in the lift looking back the way it’s just come.
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In the distance you can see the concrete buildings of an industrial site called the Winnington Works. These chemical works were built by the Brunner Mond Company in 1873 – remember the wavy lines in the Northwich Town Crest at the beginning of last week’s blog. (Interestingly, Brunner was born and raised in Everton in Liverpool.)

Also interesting is that, at these very works back in the 1930s, a substance called polyethylene (or PE) was discovered just by accident; we know it by its more common name of polythene. One of its uses is in the manufacture of – what currently seems to be public enemy no.1 – the ubiquitous plastic carrier bag. So now you know, that’s where the bag that has gone all over the world started its life.

But I digress. Back to the Lion Salt Works.

I had hoped to show you a picture showing a plan of the site but have been unable to obtain copyright permission. (There’s one in Google Images if you’re interested.

Because of all the scaffolding and areas still being made safe we were somewhat restricted in the areas we could see but we did go inside pan house 4 and the small Exhibition Centre. The rest of the talk took place outside looking across the site towards the canal at the top of the plan.
Here are a couple of views of the side of panhouse 4.
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And here’s a close up of the chimney on the left of the previous pic<
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Here’s a view of one end of the saltpan inside panhouse 4.
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And where the furnace was fed with coal:
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When the crystals were scraped out of the saltpan they were put into receptacles (salt moulds) originally cone shaped but later a tapered rectangular shape and packed down. Once set, the blocks would be tipped out and then lifted through a space in the roof to an area just above head height where they would be stored to dry out using the heat rising from below.

I had hoped to use 3 or 4 pics from a booklet produced by the Lion Salt Works Trust but unfortunately after many attempts by phone (including leaving messages) and an email using an address from the site which was returned as “unknown recipient” this has not been possible. I will have to just direct you to a YouTube vid (sound not that good, seems to be too fast but it shows the place and some old stuff). If you have a couple of minutes watch this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vk69Dij9oUI

Apparently elm was the wood used for the salt moulds. They had a cricket bat shaped piece of wood called a ‘mundling stick’ which was used to bash the crystals down into the moulds to make the lump as heavy as possible. Long handled perforated ladles (‘skimmers’) were used to gather the crystals and allow surplus liquid to drain off back into the pan. After tipping the blocks out of the moulds the next job would be to lift them up over head height into the drying area on the floor above.

Halfway through the tour a visitor arrived, from a nearby village, who told us (and our guide) that he had actually worked at the site in the 1960s doing various jobs including the one just mentioned lifting the blocks to the floor above. His info was great as we were literally hearing it from the horse’s mouth. He told us that working there in the heat caused a number of health issues from breathing in the fumes coming off the saltpans and burns from hot surfaces.

He also showed us his finger tips where you could see he had no fingerprints – they were burnt off he said through the work there! Yeah, I know what you’re all thinking….. because I did too. (Had he thought of a safe job…. Perhaps at my local bank?)

The Salt Union, which is still in business today, was formed in 1888 by the amalgamation of over 60 salt producers to try and address the problem of overproduction which was bringing the price down to uneconomic levels. (The influence of cheap Cheshire salt was felt across the country. The decline and closure of salt workings was reported in town histories for places as diverse as Lymington on England’s south coast and the county of Fife in Scotland!) Today technology has moved on of course and the production figures, by this conglomerate, are staggering compared with earlier times. Here are some statistics from their own publicity. Check out how far their tunnels go in the last paragraph.
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It’s also worth remembering that, in our ecologically more sensitive times, some of the excesses of the salt mining companies which caused land & road subsidence at various times have got a new life. For instance Neumann’s Flashes, an area of subsidence just up the road from the Lion Salt Works, has been turned into a Community Woodland with a lake and numerous wildfowl species. (My 1908 OS Map puts the lake size at 17 acres – that’s about 10 times the size of Liverpool FC’s Football Pitch!) Keep your eyes open there and, amongst other species, you might catch a glimpse of the rare “dingy skipper butterfly”!

The Census records for 1871 tell us that Henry Neumann, who had owned the mine in that area, had retired by 1871: that means prior to his 60th birthday. It possible to gain some idea of his financial success as a salt producer from the census records for that year: at his home are four family members along with a butler, domestic servant, house maid & kitchen maid. Records for the 1881 & 1891 continue to show him with a staff of at least 4 servants. Salt was very good to Henry. Don’t know about you but I wouldn’t mind retiring with such a set up as that.

Anyway that was it. Overall I’d learned a lot about salt, how it was produced & some of the disasters over-mining caused. It was certainly a lot more interesting than I’d expected. Time to set off for home. The Lion Salt Works free tour had been an unexpected bonus on my trip and very enjoyable. Hope the guys doing the renovation work will not meet too many problems in trying to preserve the structure and build the new stuff. Roll on Spring 2014 and the new Visitor Centre.

Salt does have other more unusual uses: have a look at this clip showing a guy producing a picture using salt! It is quite good.

http://www.wimp.com/artsalt/

And finally don’t forget to have a go at the quiz question about the boat lift. If you can’t work it out try a guess. Answer will be given next week if no-one gets it by then.

The big 200 and an Italian feast

So it’s my 200th post! Very exciting. I haven’t been swimming in a little while as I’ve had a cold so I’m going to try, from next week, to swim 200 lengths in honour of it. Not all at once. I’ll try a bit each day. I need to do 30 each day, right? Wish me luck!

I’ve got lots of birthdays and excitement this week so am going to give it til Monday to start the challenge. Thanks for staying with me or joining me along the way. It has been lots and lots of fun. To celebrate this milestone and to embrace my recent trip to Italy and in honour of seeing a friend for the first time in ages, I prepared an Italian feast!

I got a beautiful cookbook the other day. The most beautiful cookbook I’ve ever seen.

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It’s full of Venetian recipes and the antipasti section is amazing. In an effort to impress, I insisted on making one of everything!

I finished work at 3pm and had timetabled in when to start everything so that I’d be ready by 7pm. I suddenly realised, at 3.35pm, that I didn’t have almonds for the cantuccini biscuits. I set my white wine and white wine vinegar and juniper berries to boil (for the pickled chicory) then I quickly grabbed my purse and ran down to the shop. I got the almonds and ran back to the house…. When I said ‘I quickly grabbed my purse’, that’s exactly what happened. I grabbed my purse AND NOTHING ELSE! I was locked out. There was no-one else with keys who would be back before 6pm. We had taken the spare key from the next door neighbour because it didn’t work anymore, it was always getting stuck. We kept meaning to get another cut, but didn’t. O no! The next door neighbour walked by and I explained my predicament. We went in her garden to see if I could climb over her fence into my garden and try and figure a way to get in. It’s not really a climb-over-able fence so I was stuck outside, pan boiling inside, on a tight schedule for preparing dinner, with no way into the house.

We eventually got in but another neighbour played a very risky game of almost falling through a roof to do so and it all took about an hour. I was VERY behind schedule.

When I was back in the kitchen, I pickled my chicory, made my duck stock, grilled my aubergines and dressed my rocket. I was back on track. As I was whizzing the almonds in my food processor for the cantuccini, it popped and stopped working! This was NOT on my schedule! It wouldn’t have been a very big deal had I not needed to whizz the duck breast fillets for my duck and porcini mushroom meatballs. My only option was my handheld whizzer thing. You know the type that you stick in a pot of soup to whizz all the lumps out?

So there I was, with a handheld whizzer thing, trying to whizz duck breasts. I got it done in the end but it wasn’t easy and bits of mashed up raw duck kept flying about and sticking to my face and arms.

I threw together an apparently Italian drink, minus the alcohol – elderflower cordial with mint, lemon and ice, then topped up with ginger beer.

I was nervous about attempting the Carta di Musica (music paper) as it needed to be rolled really really thin. It’s basically a paper thin cracker made with semolina. It went surprisingly well. I had some rocket and walnut pesto I had made that morning and after grilling some aubergines with parmesan, mozzarella and basil then rolling them up, I was almost ready to go. I just wrapped the end of a few grissini sticks in salami and pickled chicory and stuck them in a glass, put some dressed rocket into the braesola and rolled it up and put some truffle butter in a dish and we sat down and dug in. (Yes, you heard me right, truffle butter! I finally got some! And it was totally worth it.)

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At this point, I noticed that the caster sugar was on the side, unopened and realised that in my panic over the food processor breaking while I was making cantuccini, I had forgotten to put the sugar in! What I had was a savory almond dough! I whipped the biscuits out of the oven and binned them then mixed some sugar into my remaining dough. It didn’t really mix in very well though. I just wrapped the dough in clingfilm, fridged it and hoped for the best.

Next was the main course. We had a parmigiana, a roast tomato risotto, a duck and porcini meatball in a duck stock and tomato sauce, and scallops and pancetta on a bed of minty pea stuff.

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The parmigiana looks quite large and intimidating, I didn’t realise that when I cut it!

After eating everything and having a bit of chitchat and sneaking another meatball or two, it was time to address the cantuccini disaster. I cut my dough into six pieces and put it in the oven. It did not go well. Because there wasn’t enough dry stuff in the mixture, it didn’t bake hard enough. It also wasn’t sweet enough. I made us espressos in a percolator, which were really strong, and we dipped our biscuits in.

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I felt a bit feeble, with my savory, slightly soft almond thingys. So I implemented a back up plan. There was ice cream in the freezer! Mascapone, cherry and pistachio. Score! The dinner was rescued and we tucked in.

All in all, a success, I think.

Happy 200th post to me! What a fabulous way to celebrate.

A dedication to my childhood friend

My favourite friend when I was a little girl at school had blond hair, like me. She was a little bit short, like me. And we were always together. People used to mix us up.

One time we swapped shoes for fun at breaktime and forgot to swap them back. Our parents were quite annoyed at us when we went home with the wrong shoes on.

We used to play with two dinosaur shaped erasers, one blue and one green. The game we played consisted of us burying the dinosaurs at break time then coming back at lunch time and digging them up. It was a pretty good game, if I remember rightly. We were about six years old and inseparable.

When we were about nine or ten, my favourite friend said she was moving away. They were moving Wales, which was the other side of the world for all I knew! I now know that it was essentially just down the road, a few hours at most. But then, it was the most far away place I could imagine. I was pretty gutted.

A few years of letter-writing later and we planned a visit. My mum drove a friend and I to her house and we stayed overnight. It was hilarious. We ‘made’ a Ouija board and made out we were terrified of looking in the mirror at midnight. We giggled and pulled our stuff into the front room, away from the mirrors, to sleep.

A few years later, my friend came to Liverpool to stay over. Another friend was there too and we had great fun. The next visit was a few years later, when my friend came to look at the university in Liverpool on an open day.

Then I left for Africa and lost contact with most people. I then went to university in Glasgow for a bit and one day, I decided to try texting her old phone number. She was still using it! Amazing! A bit of catch up and lunch in Liverpool next time I was back re-established the friendship.

Next thing I knew, I was back and forth travelling quite a bit before settling into a different course in London and we start emailing again. She’s in Thailand, teaching! Perfect. I had just started sponsoring a little girl in Viet Nam and was really keen to visit her. So I planned a trip to see my little sponsor girl in Viet Nam and my friend in Thailand. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was such fun.

The next year, after she had returned to England, I went back to Asia with a friend and she came for two weeks of our trip. That was in 2007. She moved to Hungary for a few years next.

I don’t think we’ve seen each other since then. We’ve been friends a long time now. Over twenty years. I don’t think I’ve known anyone (excluding family) for that long!

And then, a few months ago, my friend Facebooked. She had a place on a postgraduate course at my old university, down the road!

This is very exciting. For a whole year, my childhood best friend will be living down the road, instead of across the world.

Tonight, she is coming for dinner. I am preparing a feast. When I get excited, I cook. I hope I don’t burn everything now, in a frenzy of excitement and forgetfulness.

Why Kingston University probably hate me

My relationship with Kingston University has been strained, to say the least. I first applied for a course there way back in 2006, when I was looking at undergraduate courses. I visited it one day, to have a look around and will always remember passing somebody on a path and overhearing them say something like, “This uni is so rubbish…” as they passed me. It felt like an omen. My first choice uni accepted me anyway, so I didn’t go to Kingston, as they were my back-up.

Then, late last year, I decided to apply for a PGCE with them, as they had quite a good reputation for the course. I again put them second and a different university first. I was surprised, therefore, when I got a letter from Kingston University asking me to come for an interview, before I got anything from my first choice university. I called up UCAS, the people who process and send out your applications to universities. I asked if something was wrong and if my first choice uni had my form.

And of course they didn’t! On the application form, you list your first choice UNDERNEATH your second choice. So I had put my choices the wrong way round.

UCAS said they would have to withdraw my application from Kingston Uni before they could send it to the other one. I would have to call Kingston and tell them to stop my application.

The phone call went something like this.

“Hi, I just need to speak to someone about my application for the PGCE.”
“Yes, I can help you with that.”
“Ok, I need to withdraw it. There’s been a problem on my form so I need to correct the mistake and then send it out again.”
“O, right. What’s the problem on your form?”
“I just, erm, it’s a problem with my choices.”

(Awkward, don’t want to say, “I put you first by accident but I don’t want you, I want someone else.”)

“Right, so what’s the problem with your choices then.”
“….Erm, it’s just… Erm… They’re in the wrong order.”
“Ok, so what’s the problem with the order.”
“…Erm. I, erm, put Kingston first and I meant to put the other university first.”

There it was. I’d said it. I’d said, you’re my back up, I don’t really want you. Now can you give me my form back so I can take it to the university I actually want to go to.

Awkward phone call.

She tried to persuade me to come to the interview I’d already been offered, because if my first choice university didn’t want me, it would have to go back to Kingston anyway, so that way, they’d already know whether they were going to offer me a place on the course. I said I’d try to change my shift at work because it was the next day and a bit late notice. Someone could cover but from 9am so I called back to ask if I could come a bit late, she sounded irritated but said it was fine. Then there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with workmates and I realised I couldn’t take the day off at all. So I called back and said I couldn’t come. So I’ve annoyed them. I’ve really annoyed them.

Then my first place university DOES reject me. And so my application goes back to Kingston Uni! They offer me an interview but when I call up to accept, they say there’s no record of them offering me an interview. Their system tells them I’m down as having been rejected.

I email someone to ask what the confusion is. I have a letter for an interview. Their system says they’ve rejected me. In the end, they kind of say I can come to a group interview day, I think to get me off their backs.

I go along and spend the day using three words to describe myself and what I feel makes a good teacher and other such nonsense. I felt like I did ok. We were told we’d get a letter in a week.

The next day, I get an email from them saying no thank you.

Whoops.

I think they hated me by the end of it all…! I’ve also got a feeling I was allowed on the interview day just to get me to shut up and stop calling and emailing!

The moral of this story? Don’t be an idiot with your application form. And don’t make it really obvious you don’t want something, if you might need to later pretend you really do want it.