Category Archives: Random

The Rescue Run 2012 – sign up now!

I’m a terrible runner, but I do have a ‘move your lardy arse’ app on my phone which occasionally pushes me around Northampton’s Racecourse for around two and bit miles.

A good friend of mine, Selena, takes the whole running thing to a new level and for the past ten years she’s helped raise thousands for our Air Ambulance via The Rescue Run, which takes place each September.

It’s not just for serious runners – although you could start training now to get a good time – it’s also for those starting out with a vaguely good intention of getting fitter or those who simply want to walk, hop, skip, jump or push a buggy around the 5K course. I opted for the walking with buggy method a couple of years ago while the rest of the family jogged.

You can raise sponsorship or just turn up on the day and pay an entry fee. You need to fill in an application form so Selena and the organisers have an idea of the numbers. The poster and forms are below:

Good luck!

2493 RESCUE RUN 2012

2493 RESCUE RUN 2012 Entry Form



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Oh, we’re going to the Olympics


So far so slow. Signage very confusing at stations. 


Direct train delays, doing tube to Liverpool street and Stratford.
Herding boys is like herding cats…

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Back from festival in Dorset, off to the Olympics

Not much posting recently; we’ve been on holiday at Camp Bestival in Dorset (review to follow).
And after catching up on sleep in real beds, having much needed showers and unpacking (sort of), we’re off again tomorrow to the Olympics. The boys and I, (Bloke has gleefully opted to spend the day dossing at his parents’ with our four year old daughter as we could only get four tickets) are off to watch women’s hockey at 7pm.
I’ve now got to work out what we can take and what we can leave behind. Only one small bag for the day which can fit under the seat. No liquids, no branding, enough clothing to cope with anticipated showers, blazing sunshine and evening chill (our match starts at 7pm).
So, much like packing for last week’s camping then.
I’ll try and blog during the day, phone signal permitting…

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Wearing silly hats and waving a very formal goodbye to the class of 2012 – University of Northampton graduation

IT’S a funny old week for the staff of a university when graduation comes around.

For the students, finishing years as students and about to step tentatively out of the world of lectures and daytime TV, it’s very exciting. This is when they finally get to wear the funny hats and show their parents/family where the money went.

For the staff it comes a few weeks after the students have actually left. They’ve probably been marking piles and piles of papers solidly for four weeks and quite possibly cursing the students whose work will, or perhaps won’t, have earned them the piece of paper declaring them a graduate.

Three years is a long time to be seeing someone almost every week. And naturally most lecturers develop relationships (not THAT sort) with their charges. You see the first years arrive, nervous and eager, who then proceed to doss their way rather too casually towards year two. This is the serious year, when it starts to dawn on them university work is nothing like A Levels, and they need to get their finger out to get better grades which will reflect in their final degree grade.

Then if they make it to the third year, there are far fewer lectures and kicks-up-the-backside. They must start to actually use what they are meant to have learned to prove their academic worth.

For the last three years I’ve been teaching BA (Hons) Journalism students and have joined my academic colleagues on stage at graduation to see my final year students collecting their gongs.

The terrible toilet mirror shot, just to show you the silly hat

There’s quite a lot of pomp and circumstance involved, with lectures having to don gowns and silly hats and parade onto the stage to sit and clap as hundreds of students collect their awards. We all wear the ‘colours’ of the university which gave us our degrees or the level of our academic magnificence (mine is a very boring, bottom-rung-of-the-ladder affair), while some of the PHD doctors and higher ‘Profs’ have some very elaborate garb. I envy those who have a squishy hat rather than a mortar board like me. They are a devil to keep on and can leave a delightful indentation on your forehead for the rest of the day.

This year’s summer event was at the Derngate theatre, rather than in a marquee at Park Campus. As we waited in the wings for our fanfare to signal our entrance, we were given the instruction by an usher “may I remind you ladies, to keep your knees together while on stage. This ceremony is being live streamed on the Internet and we’d like to look dignified.” Apparently another group of academics were also told not to pick their noses on stage.

There’s a lot of clapping; really a LOT. Every student has their name read out and a few weeks before the ceremony we lecturers have to fill out forms giving the phonetic spelling of the names of students with hard to pronounce monikers. It’s a wise move. The students prefer their big moment if it sounds like you at least know their name.

Perhaps because I’m a newish lecturer, or maybe because since having my own children I’ve become a teary old wuss who wells-up at the slightest hint of sentimentality, I always get a fizzy nose and a lump in my throat when my students come up for their moment of adulation. Even, or perhaps especially, the ones who have driven me mad with laziness, inane questioning and unfulfilled promise over three years. The ones who at times I thought wouldn’t actually make it to the end. (Not so much the ones who by some bizarre twist of mathematics have managed to scrape a degree with very little attendance, effort or submitted assignments. But I clap them too).

And by the way, while it’s pretty hard to fail a degree, it’s also pretty hard to get a decent grade. We had a first-class award on our course this year, thanks to the hard-working Miss Farida Zeynalova, BA (Hons), and lots of ‘two-ones’. Then there are ‘two-twos’ (nicknamed, the ‘Dessy’, as in, Desmond ‘Tutu’), and a ‘third’. You can even fail quite a lot and still chose to pick up a ‘non-hons’, or an ordinary degree, with the honours. Those who fail completely have a last chance to re-sit and potentially graduate next year.

Some of the class of 2012, with Dr Jon Mackley (floppy hat); Farida (who achieved First Class Honours), Tamika and Simon.

Afterwards there’s usually a glass of fizz and a chance to Meet the Parents (this is where you see cocky students become models of civility). It’s a form of closure as we wave off our charges and hope to goodness they will get a job or at least a sense of achievement and purpose from the university experience.

It may surprise you to know we must be doing something right as despite the fees, the numbers are going up. Three years ago there were only five graduates on my course, last year around 18 and this year around 30, with only three having to resit exams or final projects to graduate in February. Next year’s Northampton journalism graduates are likely to number over 40, assuming they knuckle down and keep taking the metaphorical kicks to the derriere. And yes, despite the rumours of the media being a dying beast, there’s plenty of jobs out there for the ones who want them.

The new graduates can get quite emotional as they leave, despite often doing nothing but moan about all the assignments and essays they’ve been forced to do. It’s a mixture of sadness at leaving friends and familiarity, and fear of the unknown.

What comes next? My advice is usually to live a little, for a little while. The conventional new graduate will be in their early 20s, and while already with some debt, without the responsibility of a mortgage or kids. It might be their last chance for a while to see the world, or pursue a dream. But they must also remember they will only be the new-blood; the keen and fresh faces in their field, for a short while, until next year’s graduation ceremonies.

Meanwhile, as I guess all teachers do, we wave off the leavers and get ready for the next batch of undergraduates, with their quirks and excuses, promises and potential.

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Review of Blood Wedding – part of the Festival of Chaos at Royal & Derngate

Blood Wedding Review – Royal & Derngate, Northampton


Blood Wedding_Seline Hizli The Bride and Kathryn Pogson The Mother

GOODNESS I love Royal & Derngate. I can’t help it. I’ve seen those theatres going through their ups and downs of the last twenty years and fight and win against the finance-sucking behemoth of the London arts scene.

They’ve been consistently producing attractive and challenging theatre – with the brilliant Made in Northampton branding – while other regionals have struggled to survive.

So when they announced the Festival of Chaos series of plays – The Bacchae (staged in the abandoned Chronicle & Echo press hall), Blood Wedding and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler – it was further proof of their refusal to allow regional theatre to drop the curtain and bow out.

Yes. Exciting, original theatre in our little Midlands town. World premieres, national arts press heading north to visit, international playwrights drafted in, unfailingly fabulous sets and live musicians; what’s not to like?

I’ve been particularly looking forward to The Bacchae (which I can’t help but pronounce with a Scouse accent, as in; ‘aye, where’s me baccy?’), but couldn’t see it today on the afternoon press show.

So first for us was Blood Wedding, a new adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s tale of family feuds and infidelity set beneath the searing Andalucian sun.

We’re introduced to The Groom (Liam Bergin) and his whining, mourning mother (Kathryn Pogson) as she constantly revisits the terrible deaths of her husband and son at the hands of the vicious Felix family. She’s seeing snakes in the kitchen and hidden all the knives.

But the central setting is not the events of the past but the wedding of her surviving son to the daughter of a successful widower, brought up in isolation on one of Spain’s many desolately dry farms. (So far, so Shakespearean).

While the wedding formalities are arranged we’re presented with the stifling poverty of Leonardo’s family. While his wife (played beautifully by the arresting Amanda Wilkin) and baby wait for him to get work and feed them physically and emotionally, he’s already detached himself and riding his horse into the dust to pursue illicit liaisons with the bride-to-be.

As the marriage date arrives the (surprisingly large) cast gather to celebrate, but the Bride and Leonardo behave less like star-crossed lovers and more like spoilt teens. The Groom’s mother continues to dominate the play both physically and mentally as she perpetuates the mythology of her victimised family and drives the last good thing in her life away to seek revenge.

As always the Royal’s staging is beautiful, innovative and makes the small stage work like a much bigger canvas.

The cast work most effectively in the wedding scenes, when the swaying choreography and sweet vocals combine to give the audience its only sense of a hot Spanish setting.

There’s also the surreal but effective performance of Robert Benfield (yes, a grown man) as The Girl, a dirty voice of reality who dips in and out of the action and whose purpose lends more to the playwright’s poetic obsession with death than the fluidity of the story. By the time The Cousin turned into The Moon I was truly confused and a little bit bored.

The monologues dragged on, the occasional forays into ‘modern’ humour grated and broke the flow, and the search through the woods gave me no sense of jeopardy, perhaps because I already had no affection for the fugitives anyway.

Seline Hizli as the Bride tried her damnedest to portray a woman who wanted to reject the path chosen for her as a woman, (while looking like a cross between Rose Byrne and Rachael Weiss). Similarly Amanda Wilkin gave the inexplicably rejected wife a life of sorrowful inevitability.

Some of the movement was allegorical and beautiful. It was lovely to watch, but I wanted to feel the oppressive dry Spanish landscape of the 1930s. I wanted to care.

Still, two rather buff male characters got their shirts off quite a lot, which was nice.


Blood Wedding runs at Royal & Derngate, Northampton until June 30. You can find out more about the whole Festival of Chaos line-up and book tickets on 01604 624811 or via


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From daily to weekly – Northampton Chronicle & Echo among five regional papers to end daily printing

DESPITE knowing for a few months that Northampton’s daily newspaper, the Chronicle & Echo, was about to reduce from six-days-a-week publication to just one, I felt immensely sad yesterday when the news was finally broken to staff and readers.

I have such mixed feelings about the end of daily print publishing I barely know where to start this post. And some might remind me, a vested interest, as I still work – as a freelance weekly columnist – for the paper which employed me full-time as a journalist for 13 years.

My other-half also writes a weekly column for them and is still employed full-time by the paper’s owners, Johnston Press.

And in addition to all that, I now work as a journalism lecturer at the University of Northampton, teaching the traditional trade in a (*shudders*) “platform neutral” format (news and feature reporting for print, broadcast and online).

As expected, the outcry over the loss of six-day printing has been loud and clear.

When was the last time you bought a local newspaper? Actually bought one, rather than picking one up for free or reading it online?

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The end of the Cherry Orchard (Middle School)

YOU may not have noticed unless you live in the area, but in the past week the former Cherry Orchard Middle School has been bulldozed.

Since closing as a 400+ pupil middle almost eight years ago, and briefly becoming an annex for Weston Favell School, the site has fallen into terrible disrepair and become a haven for wildlife. After the council’s first Big School Sale fell through, they’ve spent goodness only knows how much on security, and the grounds became overgrown and the windows broken. The only visitors were vandals, a security guard, and members of the police dog unit who used it for training exercises.

Cherry Orchard Middle school demolition

I know this because I have an allotment just over the wall and was regularly ‘surprised’ (scared witless) by a loud voice shouting “DOWN! Get down on the ground, put your hands where I can see them!” (or words to that effect). I stopped hiding in the shed and calling the police after about the third time it happened.

In recent weeks things have started to happen very quickly, as the council sold the site for houses and the contractors moved in. The rear grounds were fenced off, and at the front; the Birchfield Road East side, the buildings were smashed up and foundation work for the houses that will take its place began. Now trees have been removed, and the whole site looks strangely empty. For now at least, because soon it will have 160-odd new homes on the narrow site running between Wellingborough Road and Birchfield Road East. We’re hoping the row of magnificent mature trees bordering the allotment won’t be touched.

I’m sure thousands of you will have spent your formative years at Cherry Orchard. It may have been the best years of your life – or not . . .

Anyone passing must have felt sadness to see a school that has stood on the site for decades simply disappear into rubble. It might not have had much history as a building – it wasn’t a red brick Victorian school with a pretty clock tower, more like a 1960s or 70s building block of a place – but it would have held plenty of memories for all the former staff and pupils, who, I believe, include politician Tony Clarke and BBC radio presenter Helen Blaby.

A similar fate awaits a further 15 abandoned schools, which were said to be worth over £100 million to county council coffers when they closed almost a decade ago. Meanwhile, isn’t the council making cuts of, oh, around £100 million?


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Another of our weekly chats: Watch “His and Hers: Love and pipes” vlog on YouTube

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Stubbornly getting into hot water

THERE are varying levels of cleanliness in our house, and without wishing to gender-stereotype, the boys can get rather smelly at times.

However, there’s nothing like sudden unavailability of hot water to make people realise just how whiffy they’ve become – and how reliant we’ve become on the shower.

When our hot water pipes froze over the weekend I wondered whether we’d ever be accepted into polite society again.

One of our sons has worked out that short daily showers before school keep the spots under some control, while another will only shower after sport, and there hasn’t been much of that recently due to the weather. Son three would happily go a week without a wash if he were allowed to.

Daughter will take ages over any type of washing, but is also happy to accept a wet-wipe over the face and hands if time is of the essence. Thankfully, this is one of the few areas of life she’s not too fussy about.

We didn’t realise the hot water had gone until quite late in the day on Saturday because, well, it was the first Saturday in ages we hadn’t had to be anywhere or do anything.

So were all slobbing about in our pajamas until lunchtime, and our basement kitchen taps had been working perfectly.

Our hot water pipes froze during last winter’s snow, but had thawed out after I’d scrambled about on my hands and knees for a few hours under sinks, armed with hot water bottles and a hairdryer.

Not this time. Not so much as a drip.

Now any normal person might have just called it quits and accepted that the pipes were going to stay frozen for at least 24 hours. A normal person may have just boiled a couple of kettles for a wash. A normal person might have continued to slob out for the day watching the Saints and England rugby matches on TV.

But no, I had to try to beat the pipes. We needed to have showers.

I drove to Argos and spent £40 and probably a lot more electricity on two fan heaters, and by the time the kids had gone to bed – filthy – the house was like a sauna and the pipes were still frozen.

Bloke knows there’s often little point trying to deter me from a determined quest. But he gave me a look. It said: “The kids are in bed. No one is going to have a shower tonight. The pipes will freeze again overnight. Is it time to give up?”

We turned off the heaters, made some hot water bottles and went to bed. I lay awake trying to think up a Plan B. We’d get up early, go to the Mounts swimming baths and have a shower. Like people did when their loos were still outside and baths were copper and placed in front of open fires.

The next morning, early, I woke up to the sound of running water. Hot water. Running. No need for Plan B after all.

By lunchtime everyone was clean and we were all slobbing out watching the rugby. Sometimes I think I worry too much.


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An experiment we may regret: Watch “His & Hers: Firemen and rugby” on YouTube

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