Category Archives: Personal

Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) 2017

The GBBF17 festival held at London’s Kensington Olympia ran from 8th-12th August, and for the first time I attended the trade session on the Tuesday afternoon. It was great to be near the front of the queue, getting in and grabbing a coveted seat, then viewing the vast hall with nothing more than a scattering of people, ready to enjoy the vast array of ales on offer. I had already reviewed the list of beers available prior to arriving, so after a brief look at my brochure for tasting notes and floor plan study, I set to work armed with two third pint glasses!

            Serious study going on!

There are key words in beer descriptions that I naturally gravitate toward (chocolate, liquorice, caramel, biscuit, toffee, coffee, malt, subtle, floral) and others I tend to avoid, as too much of them can seriously disagree with me (strong hops, citric, tart, lemon, grapefruit, highly bitter, smoke). But I tried this time to mix things up, so deliberately didn’t choose the most obvious ones for me. I also tend to notice “quirky” descriptions and try them out, and GBBF17 was no exception on that front. Thanks to having food sorted (see later) and not going into the high gravity beers until the end of the day, I managed to go beyond my usual 2 pint limit without ill effect, having 9 third samples on Tuesday and 10 on Wednesday.

Everything I tried was nice and a favourite would be hard to pick out, but there are two distinct categories “quaffable” and “memorable”.  Here are my summary notes for each section.

Quaffable: You could sup these all day if you wanted.

Golden Triangle: ELDERFLOWERPOWER 4.2% Light and refreshing, delicate yet robust floral taste with a hint of floral essence on the nose. A lovely refined pure flavour.

High House Farm: RED SHEP 4% A smashing dark ruby mild very smooth with light caramel and fruit.

Palmers: DORSET GOLD 4.5% really nice golden ale with the banana heart giving a mellow vague sweet essence, and the mango providing a hint of tropical fruitiness.

Coniston: ASRAI 4 % with light fruit, delicate hops, mellow orange and a hint of herbs (coriander). Beautiful.

Irwell Works: MARSHMALLOW UNICORN 4.4% think toasted marshmallows on the fire. A mellow beer with a warming burnt sugar essence, smooth and tastes very wholesome. Great for a cold autumn/winter day.

Memorable: With unusual ingredients giving the beer a “quirky” personality

Belvoir: WHITE KNUCKLE RIDE 4.3% smells amazing, sweet and inviting. Taste smooth, distinct white chocolate flavour with a harmonious coconut edge. No bitterness rather like a posh barley wine. Looks like a top class smoky quartz with a dark chocolate heart and a clear caramel edge. Tastes as good as it smells, think melted white chocolate infused with the coconut of a Bounty bar. Wonderful but could be rather sickly if too much consumed.

Metalman Brewing: EQUINOX 4.6% a clean yeasty essence, vague fruit and a smooth quality with a distinct pepper aftertaste. Brochure described this as “wheat aged on sun-dried lemon peel and white pepper”.

Sonnet 43: I SHALL BUT LOVE 6.8% has a pungent roast coffee and coconut heart. Heady yet mellow with no real bitterness though a little smoky.

Birrificio Italiano: DELIA 4.5% has a green, fresh resin quality with a hint of sweetness, slight effervescence and mid bitterness. This Italian Draft Pils was described as having “fruity notes, herbaceous and balsamic resinous hints of fresh flower hops with sweet malt”.

Tiny Rebel: MOJITO SOUR 3.9% the taste was as good as the smell. Literally a wonderful “cocktail” beer with the mint and lime perfectly balanced, giving a wonderful fresh palate. I kept thinking it should have an umbrella and straw in the glass. But the mint also made me think I should be chewing something edible!

Drinking the Mojito Sour made me think of two stand-out beers from past festivals at Stoke. Both of them tasted great, smelt wonderful and yet had a weird twist making them unforgettable, for the strangest associations. Wolf LAVENDER HONEY 3.7% screamed pot-pourri and Woodlands OAK BEAUTY 4.2% furniture polish!! All thoughts told me consumption of these drinks should NOT be happening. It seemed my taste and smell senses were turned upside down, an unusual experience.

Looking back at old diaries I’ve concluded this was my 13th visit to the GBBF and it proved “lucky” in many ways. This was by far the most organised visit I’ve ever had, with military precision planning going into the whole four day trip. Knowing I intended spending two days at GBBF spanning lunch and dinner times (nothing gets in the way of me and my food!!), I ensured that I packed suitable foods/drinks to cover lunch and snacks, so we would only need to buy dinner. There was ample provision of foods and snacks at the venue, many at a reasonable price, but you have to seek them out and fight the queues. All those little nibbles eventually add up to a hefty cost, so I packed a rucksack with fruit juice, fizzy drinks, nuts, savoury crunchy snacks, cake bars and protein bars costing about £25 in total. I organised all these things into individual bags for each day (they actually covered all four days in London) and added some fruit from the hotel breakfast bar each morning. I reckon to buy all that lot in London/at the venue would have been about £100. Had the little flask I’ve taken on my travels not malfunctioned, I’d have had a flask of tea for a cuppa as well.

Unusually I took home some wonderful chocolate from the Oddfellows Chocolate Company having been able to taste some samples. These were sold in small bags with enough content to compliment the beers on offer, but I preferred to enjoy them away from the festival. And I bought two great sounding ales to savour at home as well. Ticketybrew ROSE WHEAT BEER 4.7% from Manchester and Lord Chambray FLINDERS ROSE 4.2 % a Maltese Gose were a delicious way of toasting a wonderful Great British     Beer Festival. Cheers, until next year.

          With little friends at GBBF

RSC Summer Party at the RA Summer Exhibition

The Royal Society of Chemistry summer party was held at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on July 20th this year. As my husband Rob is acting Head of the School of Chemical & Physical Sciences at Keele University, we had the pleasure of an invite to this select event. The dress code of “black tie and decorations!!!” meant we were dressed formally for the occasion, which turned out to be great fun. We were on our own most of the time amusing ourselves, but it was nice to bump into a handful of Rob’s science acquaintances as well.

Having been to see the Summer Exhibition before, Rob knew my tolerance/opinions of the art works involved can be limited to say the least. On entering the first room Rob said “I’ll be interested to see what you think of these”. He smiled as I looked around, drew breath and said as I eyed my first two pieces “I like these, I GET them”. I was looking at the Mick Moon pieces 95 At Sea and 97 Dusk, quirkily made I thought in muted colours with a simple yet beautifully expansive design due to the faintest of details. Then I spotted 88 Untitled (Violin) a massive piece of bold coloured acrylic on aluminium by Sir Michael Craig-Martin. This violin seemed bigger in size than a double bass and I thought “violin on steroids with a psychedelic dress sense”. I loved the colours and the clean elegant lines and it certainly grabbed the attention, as did the selling price of £120,000.

We managed to see about half of the exhibition because my attention was distracted by the lovely food buffet provided. Prosecco flowed all night and dainty canapés did the rounds first. As I was examining the artwork in another room I spotted someone with a small bowl of curry! That was it; culture was forgotten as I sought satisfaction in culinary appreciation instead. I unearthed small bowls of vegetable rice with succulent white fish, mini chicken and full sized vegetable kebabs, gorgeous herby prawns, walnut & apple salad and mini buckets of parsnip and sweet potato chips. These were devoured with vigour and thoroughly enjoyed by us; though I’m glad I didn’t come face to face with the duck/blue cheese dish someone waxed lyrical about as we left the venue.

Having had 3 glasses of Prosecco I switched to the delightful non-alcoholic elderflower and raspberry option and returned to the artwork. Unusually Rob stayed on the Prosecco though white/red wines were available too.  Further exploration of the exhibition yielded more praise than grumble from me and my all round favourite (from what I viewed) was 274 Heligan by Christine Woodward. A nicely sized acrylic piece of what seemed a beautiful garden (or mountain foliage) with gorgeous greens and yellow hues, with swathes of navy blue and light purples that are almost shimmering on a bright summer’s day. Positioned in the middle of a vast array of other pictures on the right wall of a room, my eyes alighted on it almost immediately and I was transfixed.  At £500 it seemed a bargain to me. Another stunner was 138 Calton Hill 3 by Jock McFadyen where an enormous moon hung over a small settlement on a hill, a scene I found very evocative and quite moving. Multiple classical references in 835 Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (After Piranesi) by Emily Allchurch was extremely clever and 544 Yellow Mimosa, July 23 2015 by Donald Sultan simple colourful beauty. My attention was caught by the date which was my Mammy’s birthday.

Just as I came upon two lovely sculptures that appealed to me, a waitress appeared carrying a tray of desserts. This included dinky meringues, tiny mouth watering lemon sorbet cones and delightful milk chocolate lollipops with fudge and salt. Of course I had to try them all (more than once) as I closely studied the sculptures. 770 Venus De’ Medici by Yinka Shonibare was a good looking shapely fibreglass gal with an all over Dutch wax pattern (I thought tattoos but better class) and a hand-coloured globe head! I spotted the globe first as I adore anything with maps but was surprised to see it was attached to a female body. It was sort of radical yet establishment as well and I thought it was terrific, and by far the most expensive item that caught my eye at £162,000. 909 Living Doll by Cathie Pilkington was elegant, graceful and classy and made me think of the little mermaid in Copenhagen.

Whenever I’ve been to the Summer Exhibition before, I’ve made a tally of the items I’ve liked just for fun. This year notched up 35 pieces to catch my attention, ranging from £250 to £162,000, which together totalled £784,195. And I only viewed a fraction of the displays, so I wonder if my appreciation of art is increasing?

In closing this was a lovely evening and I’ve enjoyed revisiting my favourites online where all the display pieces can be viewed at http://www.roy.ac/Explore, until at least 20th August.

              Enjoying RSC summer party at Royal Academy

 

Hospital Radio in the 21st Century

Not everyone engages in today’s modern technology phenomenon where entertainment, news, family and social interactions are accessed in an instant. Society assumes that the majority of us have the means and capability to use modern communication devices (mobiles, laptops etc). However, as a ward walker for hospital radio, I know that there remains a large majority of patients who do not have this facility available to them. Many come from a generation who neither understand nor like or can afford modern devices. Those who do have mobile technology gadgets may not find them particularly easy to use in hospital. Mobile phone usage may be prohibited; the phone/data signals poor to non-existent; keeping phones charged a nightmare; Wi-Fi access unavailable or at a cost, so a longer than expected stay may prove expensive. Consequently those excluded from the mobile technology world, rely on whatever form of entertainment a hospital complex provides. That is why hospital radio still has a role to play in the 21st century. It can provide local news, cover local sports in more detail, convey personal messages and play a much wider more varied selection of music than national/commercial radio stations.

As a ward walker taking patient requests I’ve found myself in a mix of roles over the years. At times I’ve been a patient’s only visitor, other times I’ve felt more like a councillor, social worker, priest, confidante and friend. The music presenter part comes last of all. Through hospital radio a patient has a friend at the bedside, the lonely find companionship, those feeling frazzled by the demands of their illness find a reassuring calming presence and friendly voice on the radio. Having spoken to the patients before I go on air, I’m sure they feel a sense of community and belonging when they listen to me, and have a palpable sense that someone somewhere still does care about them. Speaking for myself, I know that money cannot buy the feelings I’ve experienced over the years serving the patients of Leighton Hospital. It remains an absolute privilege and pleasure helping those who are unwell, feel a little better and more comforted.

Modern technology offers connection and interaction with the world, yet maintains a clinical remoteness as well. Perhaps that’s why many users of social media still claim to experience feelings of great loneliness. By comparison, hospital radio offers an incredibly personal interaction with patients both face to face and over the airwaves. This is a priceless attribute that should be protected and nourished. Long May Hospital Radio Reign.

A Year of Firsts In 2016

I managed to achieve a few personal “firsts” in 2016 which I feel should be acknowledged, and it all began in January at the Burns Night Supper, where I recited two poems in public for the first time ever. I felt a nice sense of accomplishment after that. You can hear my efforts from both 2016 and 2017 Suppers here:

https://soundcloud.com/angies_allsorts/burns-2016-robert-burns-mcgonagall-to-a-mouse

https://soundcloud.com/angies_allsorts/burns-2017-address-to-a-veggis-haggis-to-a-daisy-to-a-louse

On a regular basis I attend exhibitions but I NEVER thought I would witness the technology that effectively began the space race. Seeing the “Cosmonauts Birth of a Space Age” in the Science Museum London was incredible. Viewing Sputnik, hearing the signal she sent and seeing all that pioneering technology and reading about the history was amazing. That was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. I also managed to see the 175 Faces of Chemistry exhibition at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Here I had the surreal experience of knowing about six of the faces through Rob’s work as a chemistry lecturer. But my “first” was considering one of them a good friend who is still only in the “first phase” of her career. Dr Suze Kundu has achieved so much for her tender years and I’m sure will continue to fly high. I felt quietly proud of knowing this clever young woman who I first met as a bubbly PhD student at the Aberdeen Science Festival 2012.

During the spring I saw The Three Degrees perform at the Crewe Lyceum Theatre for the first and probably only time. Although I’ve attended many concerts and theatre shows, I never cease to marvel at seeing acts I’ve known about since childhood. I still pinch myself at the wonder of it. The Three Degrees were as beautifully attired as I remembered, with vocals as wonderful as ever, and a real class act. At the same theatre in the autumn I witnessed a Q&A with Dame Joan Collins a style of show I hadn’t seen before, although I had seen Joan do pantomime a few years ago.

Toward the end of the football season 2015/16 I decided to get into “pre-season” training immediately. I had thought of doing it before but dismissed the idea fairly quickly. But doing football commentary from the top end of the main stand at Gresty Road needs stamina, and a three month layoff is no good for the body at the start of a new campaign. So I began a proper exercise routine the day after Crewe Alexandra’s last home match. With the aid of a few home exercise DVDs’ I devised my own workout sequence and kept at it, even when I discovered muscles I didn’t know existed and found general movement (especially sitting down/getting up) difficult. Gradually the shock left my system and come August I bounded up the main stand stairs like Rocky in the film. It was with great restraint I didn’t throw my arms aloft and start dancing around. But I did emulate Rocky inside my head which felt good.

The big sensation of the summer was the Pokémon Go craze and Rob jumped on board within a few short weeks. It got him into exercise as well because walks were suddenly on the agenda and I joined the Pokémon bandwagon the third week of August. I had never done any kind of real computer gaming before, and my coordination is such I don’t use the phone much whilst walking, as something is bound to come a cropper. So I learned a new game and by doing so vastly improved my general coordination. And a bonus is the wonderful sunrises, sunsets and morning/evening birdsong I’ve enjoyed witnessing so much. For a while the walks replaced the workout sessions, although I’m trying to mix the two together now, because each has its place. The added bonus to all this activity is I’ve managed to shave a number of inches and pounds off my frame as well.

Captured on Camera Keele Squirrel
                                Captured on Camera Keele Squirrel

I finally got around to visiting the observatory for the first time, to witness the transit of Mercury in May, a few months short of my 25th Keele arrival anniversary. The observatory was always somewhere I was going to visit but never got round to it. Another Keele first was finally getting a really good photo of the areas main resident, the grey squirrel. Armed with a new digital camera with a huge optical zoom, I at last captured decent images of these distinct Keelites. I’m also working on some bird photography too.

Little Robin Redbreast
               Little Robin Redbreast

Last year was particularly good for moon watching and I can hardly believe I’ve got images which make me think of films from the lunar landings. It was the first time I had ever considered turning my camera toward the moon, but I’m so glad I got the idea.

Super Moon
                                                           Super Moon

In November I had the pleasure of being a volunteer at the local Fenton Manor Sports Complex. My first time ever at a table tennis event, and it was an international European qualifier match England v Greece. I know absolutely nothing about the game but learned quickly as I undertook my duties as a “live scorer”. England was victorious after a nail biting tie-break set and as we wrapped up the evening, I discovered that 600 had been in the venue and 2.2 million had watched on Bible Sport!! Next day I Googled the site and came across footage of the match (with me in it from a distance), and managed to glean some screen shots for the photo album, another first from the experience.

I’ve always felt privileged to have seen Torvill & Dean perform their Olympic winning routine Bolero after they turned professional and went on tour. I didn’t think I would see another Olympic performance again. But at the London International Horse Show at Olympia I witnessed Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro perform their Gold medal routine from London 2012. I didn’t see it at the time nor afterwards. What an honour to see this pair perform together for one last time to say goodbye. My first ever equine Olympic experience was simply sublime to witness and a glorious way to end my year of “firsts”.

Valegro's Last Performance
                                 Valegro’s Last Performance
Goodbye Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro
                        Goodbye Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro

Burns, Sweeties & the Broons: A Guid Scots Year

Burns Night (January 25th) celebrates the birth of Scots poet Robert Burns and is generally marked by a traditional Haggis supper. As I look back to last year’s event I realise that in 2016 I began to truly embrace my “Scots heritage” rather than run away from it.

 I was attending a Burns Supper for only the third time ever in my life. With less than 48 hours notice I was asked/told if I could do the Selkirk Grace, a Burn’s poem of my own choice, and recite the William Topaz McGonagall ode “Robert Burns”. I fell back on my old training from Cleland Primary where we all studied Burns for a local competition, although I never had the nerve to audition anything from the stage for the scrutiny of the school. So “To A Mouse” sprang to mind as my obvious poem choice, as I can still remember great swathes of the verse from school. The McGonagall piece was not an easy read and I spent most of my free day trying to get the feel of the words and find its rhythm. I had never heard of this chap before and a Google search told me he was considered one of the worst poets of the English language. Poor guy, and although I could see where that unfavourable label came from, I love an underdog and someone who keeps trying no matter what. So I persevered and came to an understanding with the verse.  On the night I discovered I was on the top table “mistress of ceremonies” I guess, and had a formidable audience of learned folk with Burns anthologies in hand, only too ready to point out mistakes. No pressure then I thought as I stood to attention, knees quaking, to start the ball rolling so to speak. But as the evening wore on and my poetry section approached, I found myself nervously looking forward to doing my turn. Somewhere deep down that wee Scots school lassie was dying to perform the Burns words that came so easily to her, because many of them I spoke at home growing up anyway, and I had a natural affinity for them. I’m pleased to say I carried off the recitals without much trouble, then sat back to listen to the only other Scot in the room do “Tam o’ Shanter”. I smiled knowingly to myself as I recalled teaching Robert how to read this narrative over twenty years ago, and how I’d shook my head in appalled disbelief when he had admitted to never having “done Burns” at his Paisley schools.

My first ever Burns Supper in 2010 was held on my 40th birthday. It was with great reluctance I was persuaded to attend, and I only agreed on condition I had a strictly vegetarian meal and hired a Highland outfit. Much hilarity ensued when I was measured up for the outfit and had the fitting, but I felt terrific wearing all the regalia as I strutted into Keele Hall that night. It definitely felt like I was wearing an outfit ready for battle, I could have taken on the world. Since then I’ve worn a dress at the event, but last year I was asked about half a dozen times “where’s your kilt?” There was a palpable sigh in the air when I replied with my own question “why do you think I should wear one?” It got me thinking, and I toyed with the idea for the rest of the year. Eventually I came up with my own “alternative Highland outfit” idea which will be unveiled this week. This coincided with the discovery a traditional sweetie shop Mrs Mitchell’s and a kilt section in the TJ Hughes store nearby.

In the spring my thoughts strayed away from Easter eggs to sweets I remembered having as a kid, especially the “non PC ones” like sweetie tobacco and proper pipes with sherbet. I distinctly recall getting both of these in Martin Brennan’s Cleland paper shop when my Mammy got her own cigarette/tobacco supplies. Finding I had a decent enough wifi connection, I thought I’d tap a few choice words into a Google search and see what came up. To my utter surprise and delight I discovered many of the sweets I thought had long ceased production were still being made, many came under the handle of “traditional Scottish sweets” and could be found in select shops in big towns and cities. This is when I discovered Mrs Mitchell’s in Glasgow existed and on entering that wonderful sweetie emporium I was a wee girl again. The sights and smells took me right back to the Martin’s and also Bessie Allen’s corner shop, with the big sweet bottles and waxed boxes filled with delights such as odd fellows, floral gums, Berwick cockles and Chelsea whoppers. Willie Wonka could keep his factory this was my kind of place. After my first visit I came out with a canvas bag that was so heavy it felt like a kettle bell weight.

My appetite for Scottish sweeties satisfied I turned my attention to that burning thought of kilts and Burns suppers. Noticing a TJ Hughes store a few doors down from the sweet shop, I strolled inside for a look around, and happily noticed a nicely sized, not too intimidating, decently priced kilt section near the back of the store. I was travelling light for my Glasgow visit and had my sweeties to haul back home, but I promised myself I’d return for a proper look in November. I always have a pilgrimage that month to Glasgow to see Sydney Devine at the Pavilion Theatre. So back I went and spotted THE MOST GORGEOUS jacket, the only one of its kind in the store and in my size with a matching waistcoat. Trying them on, I again experienced that distinct empowered feeling, and the clothes sold themselves. Talking to Alex the concession manager we agreed a kilt purchase wasn’t really necessary, some black trousers would do just as well. With what is in my wardrobe already I can create about three different variations, and with the odd extra purchase that can stretch to six plus outfits. So I’m well sorted for January 25th now, and I just need to opt for the final permutation each year.

As well as seeing Sydney Devine in November, I went to see an 80th anniversary celebration of The Broons on stage. Despite talking like them growing up, my ears took about five minutes to acclimatise to the distinct burr of Scotland’s famous family. I’m just not used to hearing that style of talk from a stage, and my “Anglicised “ ears had to get back up to speed with the rapid fire delivery, the very specific style of humour, and general Scots patter. It was a terrific show and I felt very much at home. By the end of the evening I had reverted back to the Maw Broon dialogue of my childhood, and I didn’t feel in the slightest awkward or embarrassed about it, quite the opposite really. It was as I gazed at the packed bag containing my Broons program, some sweeties and my Sheriffmuir jacket and waistcoat, I realised that those Scots essentials filled me with an enormous pride. You can take the lassie out of Cleland/Scotland……

The Poppy World Cup Qualifier: England v Scotland

England faces Scotland at Wembley in a World Cup football qualifier on Armistice Day November 11th 2016. Both teams wish to wear the poppy symbol as an act of remembrance, but face the wrath of FIFA sanctions if they do. The World governing body of football stipulates that no international team may wear any sign of political, religious or commercial affiliation, which they deem inappropriate. Alas, FIFA have once again in my opinion, shown how totally out of touch they really are with the game at ground level. Perhaps if they got out of their ivory towers, seen things as they really are in the sport and learned a little history they would get on a lot better.

I am totally in favour of both teams wearing the poppy symbol, especially with the game falling on the actual date when the guns of WW1 fell silent. It is particularly poignant when you consider the hostility between England and Scotland goes back centuries, when men fought on battlefields in the name of an English King, a Clan leader or a Young Pretender to the throne. Two nations shaped by their shared history through war, intertwined by a strange mix of inherent animosity and togetherness. What better way to honour the fallen of battle from both nations than by wearing the communal symbol of remembrance.

I’m aware that some people are of the opinion the poppy has become a political symbol which advocates support for interventions around the world. I don’t share that view, because if you think about it, war in general has been perpetuated throughout the ages by political manoeuvrings. Therefore you could say that ANY war or conflict is politically motivated and unjustified, not just the battles you disagree with. To me wearing a poppy shows a small sign of solidarity with all those who gave their lives in conflict situations, believing “ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die”.

The poppy became a symbol of remembrance in the UK shortly after the end of World War One, representing the poppy fields of Europe and the bloodshed spilt by the flowers of a whole generation. On the first Christmas Day of the war in 1914, a number of football matches broke out in several places along No Man’s Land in France. Warily laying down their weapons, soldiers from both warring factions came together to share small gifts and play improvised games of football. Peace on that 1914 Christmas morning was briefly restored, as the British and Germans celebrated a shared Christian faith and spoke the universal language of sport, and football was the most fluently spoken language between the two sides. Football gave the men a shared understanding, a reminder of their humanity and a brief sense of peace and camaraderie.    Hostilities resumed the day after and continued for four long hard years, orchestrated by military chiefs far away from the front lines. But on December 25th 1914 the foot soldiers took matters into their own hands and shed a light on what can be so good in sport. Thinking of those historical and unprecedented football matches makes it seem even more relevant that England and Scotland should wear their poppies with pride.

FIFA have not always been consistent in their edicts on the laws of football. In March 2016 a friendly match took place between the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland, where the home team displayed an overtly obvious “political” reference to the Easter Uprising of 1916. And FIFA did allow England to wear a black armband with a poppy logo on it for a November friendly match in 2011. But the match next week is a World Cup Qualifier which puts a different slant on the situation, and I guess they are trying to ensure every team conforms in the same way! But giving out mixed messages over the years does not help FIFA’s argument. Neither does the rather pompous comment made by the FIFA general secretary Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura “they are not the only countries affected by war”. That is not what the FA or SFA are saying at all, just that they would like to show a mutual mark of respect for a shared national remembrance day. If either England or Scotland had been playing Germany, I may have at least understood FIFA’s discomfort with the situation a little more.

FIFA should lead by example before riding rough shod over member nations with their interpretation of what political, religious and commercial neutrality actually means. Let FIFA be seen to conduct itself in a transparent and neutral manner, and show it has its own house in order first. But FIFA has shown itself to be a seeker of massive commercial advantages by awarding a World Cup to Qatar, a nation awash with cash but with no real football heritage. The decision can be interpreted as being religious and politically motivated as well. The successful Russia World Cup bid isn’t much better, though the nation is not as financially viable as the Middle East option. The rumblings of an “extended World Cup” that would allow more nations to take part in a qualifying round of the tournament, smacks of fleecing the average football fan out of their hard earned cash.  To me that idea is a purely commercial initiative to fill the FIFA coffers even more than they already are. And I haven’t even touched on the corruption charges meted out to several high ranking FIFA officials.

It seems that the Football Association and Scottish Football Association are agreed that they will defy the FIFA ruling, and wear a poppy symbol for the match. In a world where political correctness has gone mad, thank goodness some common sense prevails between my two home nations.

25 Years at Keele: Then & Now

A quarter of a century is a long time in the life of a university and although much has changed at Keele, some things have remained reassuringly the same.

The basic infrastructure of the campus has been kept in place with the same ring road linking everywhere. However the entrance has been moved to nearer the brow of the hill rather than the gatehouse at Barnes. Visitors will find all the “old buildings” still on site but with the addition of newer facilities, such as a medical school, several innovation centres (for business) and a research centre located between the library and Geology. Several of the older buildings have undergone some form of interior re-design over the years, with Chemistry having gained new laboratory suites for example, and the Home Farm complex is now a Sustainability Hub, whatever that is! The Union downstairs area is almost unrecognisable from when I first saw it 25 years ago. Of course this “renewal process” has meant that at various times, in multiple locations, the campus has been a building site. At present the Life Sciences building is being extended and new accommodation is being added to the Barnes site. Once the new student residences are available at Barnes, I’m sorry to say that the Hawthorns site will be demolished. After years of protracted arguments the “death knell” was given for Hawthorns to be transformed into a huge housing complex. The golf course has been allowed to go to seed as well, and after messy negotiations falling through between potential buyers and the council , it looks like that area could well be turned into housing too!!! So the campus may find itself in the middle of a “house building” sandwich in the very near future (finances permitting), with none of the surrounding roads having been remotely improved to deal with the extra pressure from building, or the addition of new people to the area. To add insult to injury, many of the proposed house designs are NOT going to be in the price bracket of your average lowly paid local Staffordshire resident.

Keele still remains largely a dual honours university, although more courses are available as single honours from the beginning of a student degree. So in addition to the Biomedical Sciences course of yesteryear, there are now courses in Midwifery, Nursing, Pharmacy and Physiotherapy. Subjects like Chemistry in an attempt to survive developed an additional Forensics course, whilst a few staff members formed the core of an independent Pharmacy department. Other courses have disappeared altogether such a Principal Languages, Electronics and my beloved Classical Studies.

The student population has definitely doubled and quite possibly trebled since my arrival in 1991. With more students to deal with, the university has begun attempts to simplify the timetable by making less option combinations available. So very soon it will only be possible to study Chemistry in combination with another science for example. Both Rob and I can see the beginning of the end of dual honours in this decision making, which is a great shame because that is what has made Keele so distinctive over the years. It certainly means that I may well be the ONLY person to ever graduate from Keele University in Chemistry & Classical Studies. A friend in the Alumni office dug around the records a few years ago and couldn’t find anyone else with that combination degree. Knowing the pressures this almost split-personality degree type puts you under, I’m not surprised. But I’ve always had the mantra “why be a sheep if you can be a shepherd”, and my degree fits this perfectly.

Far more students these days travel into the university on a daily basis than when I was an undergraduate. So the campus can look like an oversized out of town shopping car park, whilst the buses feel more akin to the London Tube during peak time travel. And the Chancellors Building is a bit like Piccadilly Circus with the throng of people leaving/arriving for lectures. Particularly noticeable to me is the obvious recruitment drive that Keele has had in the Far East. From what I hear this has made a rod for the university’s back with the difference in cultures and their interpretation of learning causing problems.

The library is now open 24/7 for students during the semester as well as exam time, when I’m told there is provision of fruit and bottled water at regular points to aid study. In an attempt to alleviate exam stress, I believe this year puppy therapy was offered in the Union as well as free relaxation exercise classes in the Sports Centre. Rather a big difference to my time as a student.

Neil Baldwin (the first person I met at Keele) can still be found loitering in the Students’ Union or the Sports Centre. His extraordinary life story was immortalised in the BBC docu-drama “Marvellous” aired in 2014. As a consequence Neil is in demand for personal appearances elsewhere, but I’m sure he still attends Chapel whenever possible. I was very sorry to recently hear of the demise of the Student Led Services, the first of which was held on February 9th 1992. I was at the forefront of this initiative being the Free Church leader that day alongside my friend Angela Oakey-Jones (now a real life Church of England Reverend).

As for me, the shy girl who could hardly say a word in class or at work, who was literally afraid of her own shadow, is somewhat different today. Through shared experiences with fellow students, I made lifelong friends and grew in confidence as I faced, and overcame difficult situations. The young lady, who was overwhelmed by a professorial personality in her interview, can now speak with ease to anyone of any rank or status. In P1 my fear of the Cambridge/Oxford swagger of two Classics lecturers meant I could barely put a sentence together for their essays. Wise council from the Classics head Richard Wallace sorted me out so much, that in my final year, I gave a seminar with such conviction and depth of research I was told I’d managed to teach the lecturer something new. I literally found my voice at Keele through the Chapel and Classical Studies. Today that voice rings out on Hospital Radio Leighton in Crewe, where I present a music show, a patient request program and play my part in the Crewe Alex football commentary team.

In conclusion, I got the degree I so desperately craved but from a country and university I never originally considered, in subjects I never contemplated studying. And I married the kind of man I always hoped existed but never dreamt I would meet. So when all is said and done I think it’s true to say “I was born in Scotland but I was made in Keele University”.