The End Of An Era

It was April 2005.  A few months earlier my mum had died and, as part of this defining time in my life, I made the move to return to work after spending 14 years as a 'Stay At Home Mum'.  I spent six weeks temping and then attended an interview for a 9-month project administration contract. I was offered the job but had no idea how the decision to take up that position was going to change my life.

Eight months passed and I grew to respect the woman who was my boss. I was working for a small not-for-profit educational charity and there was so much scope with the services we offered.  My boss, Jackie, was an innovator and a forward-thinker and I wanted to stay a part of the vision she had planned for the organisation.  I managed to negotiate a further year's contract and the company continued to grow.  I started managing monthly finances, made the administrative role my own and grew with confidence.  I  was also offered a permanent contract.

Working for a not-for-profit organisation is sometimes worrying. Especially when you have access to the bank balance and can see the fluctuating figures. But we always seemed to find new funding pots and used our unique services to underpin other projects.

All the time, Jackie was there, cheering me on.  She encouraged me to study for my degree with the Open University (a work in progress), she listened to any development ideas I had and I always felt like a valuable part of the team

A position became available last year for a new role within one of our funded projects and I requested an application form. I had no previous experience for the job role but my life experiences meant that I could relate easily to the clientele.  I was successful at interview (after being assured that I would be given no preferential treatment) and the past year has been a huge learning curve but also another step down the path of self-improvement. 

But times change.  Contracts finish, services change, other organisations cease to be.  The arena that we work in is constantly developing.  Also, Jackie took the very personal decision to retire in December 2012 at the natural end of a huge European project we were leading.  It felt very strange not to have her at the helm as Partnership Team was born from an idea of hers back in the mid 1990s. 

And now, due to a number of factors, we are merging with a much larger organisation.  From Monday I will no longer be one of the main players of a team of four or five people.  I will be part of a small department in an organisation that employs around 100 people.  But I am grateful that I still have a job!  If we hadn't been able to merge, I'm not sure that I would have had a full time job by the end of the year.

So on Monday it's all change.  The job is the same, but for twenty hours a week I am working with different people, using different systems, maybe working on different projects.  For the remaining sixteen hours a week I am working with my familiars on the year-old project, changing people's lives; something that is so rewarding - even more than I ever thought it could be.

Who knows what is around the corner?  Being part of a larger organisation means that there are more opportunities available to me and there are some ideas that I have which may turn into reality in a company like this.  I just don't want to get lost in the crowd.


[REVIEW] Canvas print from PrinterPix

Whilst dabbling in a bit of (very) amateur photography I occasionally have a favourite photo printed onto canvas.  It's usually a scenery picture and used to brighten up the walls in the lounge or at a focal point on the stairs.  Most recently I have had two images put through the process by PrinterPix.

I sent off an image of my son after his Territorial Army passing out parade in April (proud parent moment) and one of our dog on the beach from a few months ago.  They were returned within a few days and looked even better than I had imagined.




Soldier Boy is on a canvas that is 16" x 20" on a standard thickness (2cm) frame.  Michi is on a 12" x 16" canvas which is stretched onto a thickeer (4cm) frame.  Both have been printed using a gloss finish.   All canvases from PrinterPix are hand-stretched, use fade-resistant ink and tension wedges are fitted into the corners of each frame to aid stability.

What do you think?  I'm in love with them and they look fab on the wall.  PrinterPix also do a myriad of other photo-style gifts and accessories and I ordered a mobile phone case with my Jar of Hearts printed on it.  It's already getting comments when people see it!

It's official. I'm running* the Race For Life!

race for life, cancer research UK
* slight exaggeration

I'm getting my lardy arse off the settee and doing something about moving further than the settee to the car and back again.  I can't run very well and have failed miserably at 'going to the gym' in the past.  But now I have a purpose and this time it's not for me - it's for something far more important.


Back in 1992 our world was turned upside down.  Our daughter, Rachel, was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma.  Cancer... that dirty word that no-one ever wants to say.  And when cancer affects children, people want to talk about it even less.  But thanks to the amazing health service that we have here in the UK and the phenomenal work that researchers conduct on medication we still have our daughter with us.

Aqua Pura (official sponsors of the Race For Life) approached me last week and asked me if I wanted to be a part of this year's event.  I jumped at the chance, obviously.  Then I looked at the dates and realised that my local event is on the 26th June.  THAT'S FIVE WEEKS AWAY!!  Then I looked at the distance.  FIVE KILOMETERS!! 

I opened up Google Maps and measured a normal dog walk.  I was already walking about a mile with the dog each time I took him out.  Then I converted five kilometers into miles and realised it was only 3.1 miles.  So, in my head, if I just walk the dog three times, I've done the 5K.  I know, I know, but that's the way I think.

I'll not bore you with the training details for now but I'm sure I'll keep you up to speed (see what I did there?) over the next few weeks.  But if you do have some spare cash I would love for you to sponsor me.  The Race For Life raises money for Cancer Research UK.

And a quick thank you to sportsshoes.com for providing my footwear for the Race For Life.  The new trainers have been a godsend.

Here is a link to my official sponsorship page.

Just hit the 'Sponsor Me' button.  Easy peasy!

  JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

If you're in the UK and pay tax please do not forget to hit the Gift Aid button - it doesn't cost you any more but ensures that the charity can claim the basic rate tax on every pound donated.  Read more here.

You can also donate by text message if that's your thing.

Text my personal code - NJOH99 -  and the amount of your donation to 70070


The text is free through the Vodaphone JustTextGiving service. Read more here.  You will be given the option to select Gift Aid in a follow-up text.


Stay tuned for further updates



Soundtrack To My Life - Jean

soundtrack to my life
We're ploughing on to another Soundtrack To My Life and this week we have Jean sharing her musical choices.  I've met Jean on a couple of occasions when we have been involved in blogging projects (we are both Northern bloggers - YAY!).  She is a fantastic single parent to two girls and (in her own words) is a soppy dog owner.  All Jean's links are at the end of the post but, for now, here are her tunes.



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David Bowie - Let's Dance 

I had to include one song by my favourite singer, and although it's not my favourite Bowie track (which is probably Drive-In Saturday) this one reminds me of my first serious boyfriend. It was a song we both loved and we'd have it on loud in the car driving to North Wales for the weekend. Great song, great first love.


Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights 

The first time I heard this song on the radio I was mesmerised - I'd never heard anything like it before, and then when she performed it on Top of the Pops I thought she was so different. I've loved Kate Bush ever since and her Hounds of Love album is a work of genius.


George Michael ft Muyta - This Is Not Real Love 

This is such a fantastic song and the vocals (particularly George's) are sublime. He's a really good singer and conveys such emotion in this song which is about the end of a relationship.


Justin Timberlake - Like I Love You 

This is from the album 'Justified' which I bought just before we went on our first holiday to Wales as a single parent family. We had this CD on in the car for what seemed like the whole holiday, and now every year since then we've continued to take it with us, and we still love it.


Alicia Keys - Lesson Learned 

Fantastic song from the As I Am CD and it features another of my favourite artists, John Mayer. There's no particular reason for including this one, other than I love the song and the message in the lyrics.



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soundtrack to my life
Jean can be found blogging at Not Supermum.  She's also on Twitter as @notsupermum and her as a Facebook page with the same name.  That makes it easy for us all to remember, doesn't it?

If you want to join in with Soundtrack To My Life you can complete this form and I'll be in touch when your feature is due to go live.  Click on the mix-tape to the right to read all the "Soundtrack To My Life" entries.

Eurovision Song Contest

Eurovision Song Contest 2013 logo
It is that time of year again.  We submit our most mediocre song of the year to the biggest song contest on our continent and attempt to win a hugely political vote.  

I don't normally write about the Eurovision Song Contest.  I just sit with my laptop on my knee and tweet my observations, fuelled by a bottle of wine or two.  I follow the @BBCEurovision account and have all the #Eurovision tweets live streaming.

It is actually one of THE BEST night of the year on Twitter.  I'm convinced this type of social interaction is what Twitter was made for.  And with the semi-finals that have been introduced, you can build up to the Saturday night excitement on BBC3.  It's a party that lasts all week - genius!  You can find your Eurovision Bingo Card at the bottom of this post, courtesy of Bob Bardsley of Phronsis Freelance.

This year, my friend Paula has excelled herself with a challenge we discussed earlier in the year.  Here she is singing the alternative Eurovision Song Contest entry.  And if we're struggling to find an entry (song and singer) next year, may I suggest that we pass the baton to Paula?  The lyrics are below the video so you can sing along too.

Also, if you're at a loose end this evening, you might like to play along with the Friday Twiz (it's a quiz, on Twitter, on Friday - clever, huh?).  Tonight's theme is... *checks list*... "Eurovision", obviously!

I Believe In Meat



You say you don't believe your beef's strictly bovine
You laugh at the thought that Tesco says it's fine, like wine.

You never eat lasagne, reckon that it's filled with horse, of course
And as for value burgers, no idea of their source, that's worse.

But that's all fine if that's how you want it to be
But if you're feeling hungry, a sausage could be all you need.

Believe in meat, yeah x 2

Believe in, the crap they're selling you and it may poison you.
You're finding bits of hoof so now they lie to you.
If you just believe Shepherd's Pie isn't eyes and knees
Believe in meat.

You've got a dicky tummy and staying near a loo is wise, that's why
The seconds and the minutes of the days of your life go crawling by.

But that's all fine if you're trying to lose a pound or three
But if you're feeling alone and afraid and you can't breathe.

Believe in meat, yeah.

Believe in, the crap they're selling you and it may poison you.
You're finding bits of hoof so now they lie to you.
If you'd just believe Shepherd's Pie isn't eyes and knees
Believe in meat.

What ya gonna do when your pie is sinking?
And you're crying out for help and paramedics listening
In the dark of the night, in the middle of a shite
When you're reaching out for loo roll and there's nothing.

Believe in meat, yeah

Believe in, the crap they're selling you and it may poison you.
You're finding bits of hoof so now they lie to you.
If you'd just believe Shepherd's Pie isn't eyes and knees
Believe in meat.



Eurovision Bingo Card




Supporting The Katie Piper Foundation, by Tracy

Occasionally I lend my blog to my friends.  Friends that need a space to shout, friends that need a space to be anonymous from their world, friends that need a bit of support, friends that are doing good in the world.  This is one of those occasions.  I'd love for you to read Tracy's post and help out at the end if you can.  Thanks. 

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Hello! It’s Tracy here, friend and massive fan of Nickie and her world, just adore her blog and everything that she does. Anyway! I've asked to come on here and share a wee bit about my most recent awesome experience - Nickie very kindly obliged, so here goes.

It’s Monday the 13th of May, late in the evening, and yesterday I completed the Glasgow Women’s 10k with my amazing friend Lynn - we did it in one hour twelve minutes, and we are very proud of this given it was our first 10k race. A great wee achievement, and a real honour and privilege to see so many other women complete it too. If you haven’t done this race before I’d highly recommend it - the route weaves through gorgeous parts of Glasgow, and thousands of locals turn out to cheer and shout words of encouragement. The sense of support and respect from all the other participants feels so tangible, and Lynn and I still managed to have a good proper gossip all the way round! What’s not to love?!

the katie piper foundation
Image Credit | Channel 4
I completed this race to raise money for The Katie Piper Foundation, as I am a burn survivor with significant scarring on my upper body. An accident when I was a baby has left me with skin grafts, aches and pains. But I’m the lucky one. I survived. Barely - I went into shock, choked on my vomit, stopped breathing, and was resuscitated just in the nick of time - but I survived. I can walk, talk, I’ve got my own hair, and I can just about get away with telling children (and some gullible adults) that I got bitten by a shark. Trust me, that always grabs their attention in a good way!

Now, the reason why I feel so strongly about supporting the work that Katie Piper does is because of the impact she has made on everyone’s perceptions of burns, scars, disfigurements, and disabilities. In the 30 odd years that I've had this scar, I have never known such a powerful change in people’s interest and curiosity in the story behind how it got there, since Katie started filming, publicising, sharing other‘s stories the whole mindset has changed. Whereas some people used to avert their eyes, point, gasp, mumble, now a unique mark is something to be proud of, something fascinating, something that absolutely should not be covered up or hidden for the sake of other people‘s reactions. And that, to me, is awesome!

And I must point out - even with my own shark bite, erm I mean burn, I would still have moments of eye averting, the odd pointing - we all have, we’re only human. (Never a point and gasp though - I remembered how horrible I felt when it happened to me all too well…) Not now though, now I want to know their story, I’m fascinated, and want to know the story behind it. Human nature promotes curiosity, and I feel that the polite (and sometimes not so polite) oppression has lifted now in a very positive way. I welcome questions, queries etc - again, the Katie effect, and while I can’t speak for every burn/mark/scar owner I’m pretty sure that anything you would want to ask is welcomed.

I’m now a very eager and enthusiastic volunteer for The Katie Piper Foundation, and I hope to carry out much more fundraising and awareness raising. I've asked Nickie to post this in the hope we can have a discussion about the subject matter as I’d love to hear your thoughts and views on your own body perception, any scars you have, how they have impacted on your sense of self, how you feel about Katie Piper and her story, anything at all!

Some links I’d love you to have a look at -

  • Firstly, my Just Giving page; if you’d like to make a donation I’d be utterly delighted, every penny is going to such a worthwhile cause!
  • Secondly, my friend Lynn’s JustGiving page; she’s raised an astounding amount!
  • And last, but most important - Katie’s website, where you can see what she’s achieved, how much of an impact she has had on people, and where the charity hopes to go forward.
Lots of love from Tracy xxx

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PS from Nickie.  You can follow Tracy on twitter as @TracylovesEdie - show her a bit of tweet-love.
PPS from Nickie.  Regular readers will have 'met' Tracy before on my blog.  She has guest posted about Drugs, Alcohol, Prostitution and Families and I used a text from her to ask a WWYD question about make-up for children.

Soundtrack To My Life - Debbie

soundtrack to my life
Debbie has patiently been waiting since October for me to publish her Soundtrack To My Life.  She is mum to three children and lives in South Wales with a small menagerie.  Debbie blogs just because she can and her details are at the end of this post.  But let's start with her tunes (there's even one of my guilty pleasures in this list and I have a story for Seasons in the Sun too - but more of that another time)...



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Terry Jacks - Seasons in the Sun 

My mum and dad really introduced me to music. Thursday nights at 7pm were sacred. A bit like being allowed to sort through button boxes and jewellery boxes, every now and again on a Sunday night, after we had all been bathed, I was allowed back downstairs to listen to LPs with my mum. Now, with my own daughter, I am not sure who was fooling who, but I remember the more records I lined up to listen to the later I got to stay up, until my mum would realise the time and I'd go straight to bed. This song just takes me right back to that moment.


The Levellers - One Way 

Not only a good track but probably the one I credit most for how I turned out. It defined my teenage years. All those moments when I felt I had to stand for what I believed in, for difficult decisions that had to made, I fell back on this song for motivation. And, for those who were there- for Metro's: the 'nightclub' with the drippy ceiling.


Counting Crows - Mrs Potters Lullaby 

A track where the lyrics mean as much as the music. What most defines it to me: "If you've never stared off in the distance, then your life is a shame". To this day I love travelling by train. I don't care who sits next to me if there's a window to look out. It's sort of the song that makes it ok to feel lonely, to be happy in your own company. It doesn't have to be that way, but when if happens, it's not a bad thing.


Christina Aguilera - Fighter 

Another which has helped me through difficult times. This is the track I play when I know I'm going into a situation where I need to do everything in my being not to break down and cry. It is probably the most random choice for my top 5 tracks, but it is the track I always turn to. Now, mainly in a work context. And that's not good.


Blue October - Calling You 

I found it most difficult to choose a Blue October track. Blue October are sort of 'our' band. As in, Mr J and I. I would have to admit that he introduced them to me (don't ever tell him that) and that he is probably the bigger fan (or that!). There are so many amazing lyrics, from becoming a father, coping with drug abuse, separation. I love the emotion of 'Hate me', and how 'Blue does' just defines, to me, having a daughter. This song, this was our 'first dance' at our wedding. Our song. And when I asked Mr J what would be in his Top 5, this was the only one we had in common- it was meant to be!




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soundtrack to my life
Debbie can be found blogging at Johnson Babies and is on Twitter as @_johnsonbabies.   

If you want to join in with Soundtrack To My Life you can complete this form and I'll be in touch when your feature is due to go live.  Click on the mix-tape to the right to read all the "Soundtrack To My Life" entries.

Review : 2.9m Telescopic Ladder from Maplin

Ladders are a necessity in this house as we have very high ceilings.  Also, being an end terrace means that we get the brunt of the weather so outside touch-ups are an annual activity.  We have a huge set of metal ladders that reside outside, chained to the fence for security.  This review will compare the use and build of a telescopic ladder in comparison to our existing metal ladder.

The ladder can be found in the Home & DIY section of the Maplin website.

review, telescopic ladder, maplins,

The Review

The ladder is extremely light and portable.  The specifications say that it weighs only 8kg (the equivalent of eight bags of sugar).  When closed down it easily fitted under my arm and could be carried all over the house and the garden.

What stands out immediately is that the ladder does not need to be extended to its full reach; it can be opened to any convenient height for the job that you are doing and it is still really sturdy.  For this, I'd advise extending the ladder from the top so that the weight of the unopened rungs is at the bottom.   We've had the ladder out in the garden reaching right up to our upper window (painting the windowsills) and up to the loft (as you can see in the pictures).

The plastic clips that trigger the spring mechanism for closing the ladder felt a bit fiddly at first but you get used to the way they work after using them a few times.  Also, the retraction is quite quick because of the weight of the ladder sections so I'd advise caution the first few times you use the ladder so that you don't get your finger trapped like I did (I'm ok, don't worry)!

As you can see from the pictures, when in the closed position the ladder is secured by a strap (velco fastening) and can be stored in a waterproof bag (supplied).

Overall, we're really impressed with the ladder.  We had our reservations at first but I would really recommend this as a purchase for both indoor and outdoor use.  It's also a great size for throwing in the boot of our car for use up at the allotment.

Additional Specificiations

  • Weighs only 8kg
  • Height when closed: 79cm
  • 10 steps
  • Maximum load: 150kg
  • Tested to European Safety Standard EN131
  • Available from Maplin stores and online priced at £99.99.  At the time of writing the ladder was reduced to £59.99 - a huge saving of £40! 

I was provided with a set of ladders for the purpose of this review.  Please view my disclosure page for more details




Radio GaGa

radio
I always knew that I had a face for radio and I can talk the hind leg off a donkey when it's a subject I'm comfortable with.  So from ringing up for random quiz shows and late night chat shows to appearing as a guest on BBC Lancashire, I found myself in a Preston FM studio being interviewed in a work capacity by Will Buckley for the Chat City programme.

The second I pushed the set of guest headphones over my ears I knew I'd found a comfort zone.  The show recording passed all too quickly however Will talked me into returning to Chat City on a couple more occasions.  It has been a great place to promote work in a local setting and also to learn that I definitely do love the medium of radio presenting.

Preston FM is a community radio station.  Presenters are volunteers and are from the local area.  They have free-rein over topics and music that is featured on-air.  So when the station offered the opportunity to train as a presenter I jumped at the chance.  Obviously!

Five sessions lead by Darren Jenkinson of DigiEnable were interesting and taught at a comfortable speed and level.  Interview techniques were honed and show themes were designed.  The final two sessions were very 'hands on', learning about equipment used in the studio and planning an actual half hour show.

Now, half an hour doesn't sound like a long time but you soon realise that you have to plan the presentation from the first second of air-time to the last and have to include a certain amount of jingles, promos, a specific chat-to-music ratio you also realise that you can't just walk into the studio, flick a switch and do a bit of talking and spinning some wheels of steel.

I was paired up with Mark and we attempted to plan a show.  We started off with a HUGE idea that involved music in some way - a subject that we'd both mentioned we would like to base our shows around in the future.  With a bit of brainstorming we came up with a concept that we were confident would work.  You can have a listen if you like.


So what's next?  I have three shows to plan and record (for May, June and July) and then come up with a show idea.  I'd love to take Soundtrack To My Life to radio but I am also trying to think of a concept that hasn't been done yet.  Maybe an open mic session for local writers/poets or something that incorporates my love of the 1980s?  I know inspiration will just hit me between the eyes one day and I need to practice, practice, practice.  I'm just so excited to be realising one of my dreams.


25 things from 25 years ago

Today is my birthday.  It is not a special birthday with a zero on the end (that was last year) but it is twenty five years since I left school (and the first time that anyone took GCSE's).

So, in the year that Alexandra Burke, Jessie J, Rihanna, Tinie Tempah and Tulisa Contostavlos were born 

people born in 1988

and in the year that Kenneth Williams, Percy Thrower  Roy Kinnear, Roy Orbison and Russell Harty died

people who died in 1988

all of this was happening.



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1988 



Films I watched were...


Films from 1988

The Accused, Big, Moonwalker, Rainman, Young Guns


Music I was listening to was...

Music from 1988

Blue Monday by New Order, Faith by George Michael, Need You Tonight by INXS, Sign Your Name by Terence Trent d'Arby, The Only Way Is Up by Yazz and the Plastic Population


The TV programmes I was watching were...

TV programmes from 1988

Neighbours (because it moved to the 5.25pm tea time slot), Red Dwarf, Roseanne, This Morning (with Richard and Judy), The Wonder Years

In the news...

In the news in 1988

Edwina Currie caused havoc by stating the most eggs were infected with solmonella, Paul Gascoine became the first £2million footballer by leaving Newcastle United to join Tottenham Hotspur, The Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie killing 270 people, the North Sea oil platform, Piper Alpha was destroyed in an explosion and Margaret Thatcher became the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th Century.


And elsewhere...

Everything else in 1988

Tales Of The Unexpected and Crossroads ended, the pound note ceased to be legal tender, A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking was published, Ben Johnson ran a drug-assisted 100m in 9.79 seconds and, on the same day, Carl Lewis ran the 100m in 9.92 seconds.



What were you doing in 1988?



Top Ten TV Theme Tunes

Top Ten TV Theme Tunes
There have been many a great TV theme tune; it's a talent that cannot be surpassed. You have approximately 30 seconds to set the tone of the show and create something catchy and instantly recognisable. 

So, after a conversation on Twitter and Facebook I decided to compile my Top Ten TV Theme Tunes (bit of fantastic alliteration for you there).  There are many that didn't quite make the grade and they are listed at the bottom.




What would make the top spot on your list?
Let me know in the comments.


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 Six Feet Under


The South Bank Show


The Muppet Show 


Grange Hill 


Jonny Briggs 


The Fresh Prince of Bel Air


Blossom 


Dallas 


Hawaii 5-0 


Scrubs 



The ones that didn't quite make it...

The Golden Girls, Cheers, Taxi, Hill Street Blues, Mysterious Cities of Gold, Brush Strokes, Lovejoy, Murder She Wrote, True Blood, Quincy, Sorry, Ski Sunday, Butterflies, Roobarb & Custard, The Littlest Hobo, Cagney & Lacey, MASH, Dr Who, Moonlighting

Is yours on the list?  What would you add?