Category Archives: Personal

Social Media Discovery & World Cup Blogging

It was eight years ago when I began to embrace social media and in general the potential of the internet.

My mobile phone wasn’t connected in any way to the internet, it had no apps or means to log into my subscription email account, which I periodically checked using my laptop. My computer operating system was about to become vulnerable to internet use due to it not being supported for future updates. So a crunch time was approaching, especially with my husband enthusing about Twitter and suggesting I really should consider joining Facebook. So with the purchase of a small pay as you go mobile phone (INQ Chat 3G) I got a Gmail, Twitter and Facebook account and a means to check my emails “on the go”. My social media discovery and tentative internet searches had begun.

Shortly after this epiphany, my husband Rob came across an internet competition looking for official FA Fan Bloggers for the World Cup in South Africa. He mentioned it to me; I entered and won a place on the team. The idea was that all English teams (92 I think) would have a representative writing about the World Cup through blogging, where posts would be uploaded onto a dedicated website for the event. My team were Port Vale because at the time I was a volunteer commentator for them. I’d never blogged before nor uploaded anything onto the internet. The content ideas and writing wasn’t a problem but the technical issues were, with my husband using his computers initially to upload stuff for me. It was obvious I needed a new laptop and some quick lessons, on how to access the dedicated website and upload my blogs. For part of the tournament Rob would be away, so I had to go on a fast learning curve. But I managed to grapple with learning to use my new laptop along with accessing the website. All blogs had to be scrutinised by the FA and considered suitably appropriate, so there was a time lag between the uploading process and website publication. So it was a bit annoying that my last two reports didn’t get officially onto the website, despite being sent in good time. But the operation was closed down within about 2-3 days of the final whistle! As a memento I printed off all my musings, including lists of every team player, and made it into a book. If I may say so it does look rather good.

So the World Cup will forever be associated with my initial forays into blogging. My husband had his own personal blog and persistently encouraged me to do the same. Although I had really enjoyed my World Cup reporter status in 2010 I had felt the pressure, rather like a professional journalist with deadlines to keep and an audience to satisfy. I wanted to do things properly from start to finish, and I did fully cover the South African tournament.

Rob pointed out that with my own blog page I’d have total editorial control and could suit myself. But I didn’t think I had anything to say or write about, so it wasn’t until 2014 that I relented. The 30th anniversary of Torvill & Dean’s Bolero victory was coming up, the Sochi Winter Olympics were imminent, and summer 2014 would see the World Cup held in Brazil. So many ideas, knowledge and feelings about these events rattled around my head, they needed a proper outlet to be expressed. And so my Angies Allsorts blog was born in February 2014 and I’ve never looked back. Shortly after this new personal adventure began, I surprised myself by taking up the reins as a horse racing pundit for a friend’s website, and spent a year doing this too. As the website developed in a new direction, my equine musings found themselves stabled in my Allsorts blog instead.

By 2014 I was in possession of a smart phone with apps to keep me updated on news and sport events. It was also my main resource for internet searches as well, helping me broaden a blog idea, or clarify information I already had. So as the 2018 World Cup is about to start, I look back at the 2010 and 2014 tournaments as significant moments that enabled my social media and personal blogging experiences to develop.

 

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Chess the Musical Review

On Saturday May 19th 2018 the day Prince Harry married Meghan Markle; I saw an ENO production of Chess and witnessed a very different, intriguing kind of love story portrayed on the London Coliseum stage. Four people caught up in a maelstrom of emotion bound together and/or torn apart by the demands of East/West political neuroses and the game of chess. The performance was spell-binding, thought provoking and a joy to watch and I felt privileged to be in the audience.

In the first act Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (Michael Ball) travels to Merano Italy for the World Chess Federation Championship, where he is to face American champion Frederick Trumper (Tim Howar).  The differing nature of both men’s countries was brilliantly portrayed at the opening ceremony, contrasting between the regimented goose stepping military display from the Russian delegation, to the freedom loving, casual, and commercialised pom-pom wielding cheerleaders of the US. As the battle commenced between the chess players the East/West backdrop of history was cleverly depicted through video montage, chronicling the political statesmen behind the scenes who shaped their countries foreign policy from the beginnings of the Cold War. Successive historical events appeared in the narrative (Sputnik, Cuba Missile Crisis, Man on the Moon, Afghanistan invasion by Russia) and thus the chess showdown progressed between Anatoly and Freddie. The American eventually conceded victory to his Russian counterpart, and then promptly announced his retirement from the game. Both men had strained relations with their seconds (US-Florence, Russia-Molokov), and I don’t doubt this played a factor in Sergievsky defecting and seeking asylum in the West, after his victory was secured. Florence (Cassidy Janson) disgusted at Trumper’s manipulative & violent behaviour runs from her American lover, into the compassionate arms of the Russian and helps him negotiate the trials of Western burocracy.

Back in Moscow Svetlana Sergievsky (Alexandra Burke) hears of her husband’s defection plan through a TV news report. Her lament “Someone Else’s Story” was heartbreaking and Burke’s emotive performance truly expressed a woman subsumed by events beyond her control or understanding. Meanwhile back in the West, the eccentricities of the British foreign office/civil service were amusingly depicted by a scene where dark suited men in bowler hats and wielding brollies, sang and danced a number called “Embassy Lament”. This was reminiscent of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance Policeman’s Song. Video montages of documents with endless words, several heavily underlined, all stamped “pending” “not approved” formed the backdrop (nothing has changed there). A press conference is held to announce the Russian’s defection and when challenged Anatoly silences his critics with the thunderous “Anthem” which brought the first half to a climatic finish. Michael Ball’s rendition was sensational and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end.

When the second act begins a year has passed, Anatoly and Florence are lovers and the World Federation Chess Championship is due to commence in Bangkok Thailand. Molokov has trained a new chess protégé Leonid Viigand to challenge Sergievsky the reigning champion. He has also persuaded Svetlana to travel to Bangkok with her son to confront her estranged husband. Freddie now a TV commentator experiences the delights of “One Night in Bangkok” and discovers from Molokov that Florence’s father long believed dead (at the hands of the Soviets) is alive, but has suffered for decades imprisonment in Russia. Molokov (Phillip Browne) hopes this news, and Svetlana’s arrival in the Orient will be enough to blackmail Anatoly into throwing the game, even though he seems supremely confident in his young protégé when singing “The Soviet Machine”. There were some very deep resonant notes in this song which hinted at a brooding menace, and Browne carried them off superbly. This scene struck me as being very similar in style to one in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye agrees to his daughter marrying the butcher. The men drink a toast to the arrangement (which falls through) and Russians in the bar drink and dance in merriment of the occasion. Nothing works out quite the way it was supposed to in Fiddler, and I suspected the same was going to happen here.

Freddie interviews Anatoly for his TV network, but throws him off guard by announcing that Svetlana is to join them. Anatoly storms off to join Florence off-camera where a heated confrontation occurs, with the Russian emphatically stating “NOTHING must get in the way of my winning the game. I will deal with this other stuff later”. Charming I thought as Anatoly stomped off like a spoiled child, leaving Florence alone to face witnessing Freddie interview Svetlana. The sheer brilliance of the staging for “I Know Him So Well” was breathtaking, as both Cassidy Janson & Alexandra Burke performed this heart rending duet. The video montage juxtaposed both their images together, two women expressing very individual interpretations of their love for the same man, fused together like one heart beating, yet separate entities sharing the same confusion, hope and despair. I was mesmerised by these two extraordinary women, felt oddly empowered, yet was desperately fighting back the tears as well. AMAZING and quite rightly the song received rapturous applause for a couple of minutes afterwards.

Svetlana (under Molokov’s influence) implores her estranged husband to lose the chess match for the sake of their son; life would be made difficult if he didn’t comply. Freddie (colluding with Molokov) tells Florence her father is alive and will be freed from prison if Anatoly forfeits the game. But neither Florence nor Anatoly agree to any match fixing and Freddie is left alone with his thoughts. An apparent mental breakdown seems to occur in Trumper through the utterly devastating “Pity the Child”, which was met by thunderous applause. The tears of Tim Howar seemed totally real as the actor immersed himself into his character’s troubled childhood, and effectively expressed Freddie Trumper’s love of chess as the saviour of his soul. After this redemptive moment Freddie leaves Sergievsky with some tips on how to beat Leonid Viigand, having spotted a weakness in his game.

As the tournament begins there is almost an Ode to Chess as previous world champions’ names are honoured. Tightly fought matches occur between Anatoly and Leonid and with the score at 5-5, a wonderful four way harmony “Endgame” sung by Freddie, Florence, Svetlana and Molokov heralds the decider where Anatoly gets checkmate. He retains his world title and dignity, maintains the honour of the game, but relinquishes his love for Florence and his political asylum. Sergievsky decides to return to his motherland having made an agreement with Molokov, that in return Florence’s father will be released from prison in Russia. Anatoly realises he’s a pawn in a far bigger game, but sacrifices himself in order for Florence to be reunited with her father. Throughout the story this deep rooted issue has haunted her, but now she can gain peace by the Russian’s grand expression of total love. The final scene finds Anatoly & Florence sadly acknowledge their time together is at an end as they sing “You and I”. What an incredible love story portrayed in such an innovative way.

The casting was superb, the singing and orchestration sublime and the setting in London’s Coliseum stunning. And I particularly appreciated the video graphics at either side of the stage, which enabled the audience to see the main characters up close. This was a revelation, particularly seeing the illuminating facial expressions of Alexandra Burke which gave her solos a whole new meaning. But the over-riding feeling I had as the show ended was just how brilliant the music was. I only knew two songs in the production “One Night in Bangkok” and “I Know Him So Well, although I wasn’t fully aware of their context in the storyline. Everything else was totally new to me, and I marvelled at the sheer genius of Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice, although Rice really worked on the lyrics side, which in themselves are clever and poignant.

During the chess competition between Trumper and Sergievsky the music sounded so distinctly Russian in style, you would have thought it came from a composer like Borodin. Yet the Merano bar entertainment sounded like original European alpine music, the foreign office British interlude was perfect, whilst the soundscape of Bangkok seemed so authentic you would swear it emerged from the Orient. And the two main composers of this smorgasbord of music styles are Swedish! Being a huge ABBA fan I always knew how clever Benny and Bjorn are, but Chess exhibits their true genius beautifully. Of course Andersson and Ulvaeus background in the pop genre meant the razzmatazz of American popular music was easy to achieve. But I thought a perfect blend of Russian and American influences was cleverly created in the character of the chess judge Arbiter (Cedric Neal). The depth of some notes this actor had to achieve was phenomenal and rather like American Paul Robeson in style. Yet at other times a truly classical Russian delivery was evident to my ears, and the range of notes produced were positively operatic. Neal managed this difficult task with aplomb. And I couldn’t help but chuckle, as I thought his character came across as a Jay Leno TV larger than life persona, mixed with pure unadulterated Oprah Winfrey charisma. What a combination.

Sydney “Absolutely” Devine In Motherwell

Cleland born entertainer Sydney Devine positively “rocked” Motherwell’s Civic Centre with an electric 90 minute performance on Friday 20th April. Syd’s I’m Back tour returned him to the bosom of his ain folk for the first time in almost twenty years.

The audience, suitably warmed up by the first half acts, always a comedian, a singer and Sydney’s band Legend, awaited with eager anticipation the stage presence of Devine. The arrival of Sydney onto the stage is always heralded by the strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra. As this faded the concert began with “Stop” part of a high octane frenetic paced 10 minute 10 song medley (at least, I lost count).

What followed was a glorious repertoire of songs, the number so numerous because of the longevity of Sydney’s career. He was a boy entertainer long before he left school and turned professional aged 15, and he is still going strong at 78! A nod to his boyhood stardom came from “If I Were A Blackbird” where Syd both sang and unleashed his wonderful bird song whistling, the thing that got him first noticed. Yodelling came into play as well, along with the “Elvis” style knee trembling. In style there has always been an Elvis type quality about Devine’s delivery, not surprising when he sang The King’s songs as The Tartan Rocker, touring in Europe with The White Heather Group back in the 50s & 60s. At one performance Elvis Presley himself was in the building witnessing the Scotsman on stage.

Songs of different tempo and style were included in the playlist,  with several characters acknowledged “Maggie”, “Kelly”, “Laura”, “Honky Tonk Angels” and “Fraulein’” to name a few, whilst “Nobody’s Child” was sung as a tribute to The Alexander Brothers. Other titles I recall being performed include-Save The Last Dance For Me; Eighteen Yellow Roses; A Room Full Of Roses; Cryin’ Time; Make The World Go Away; I Fall To Pieces; Married By The Bible; Pretty Woman; Can’t Help Falling In Love; Crystal Chandeliers and Tiny Bubbles. Audience participation always ensures bubbles float over a part of the auditorium when Tiny Bubbles makes an appearance! Oddly one of Sydney’s three stalwart songs didn’t make the cut and that was “Legend In My Time”.

Knowing the mournful quality of many songs that Sydney performs, I was aware of the carefully crafted playlist created for the show. Not surprising considering the heartache the Devine family have endured recently, when Sydney and his wife Shirley unexpectedly lost their eldest son Gary aged 58 to sepsis.  About an hour into the show Syd slowed the pace with a dedication section, reading out greetings and singing requested songs not already covered. This is where Devine showed his real professionalism, bravely covering most of two songs “The Lightning Express” and “Long Black Veil”, but wisely avoiding the saddest parts. He also used this quieter period to acknowledge his band members and their loyalty to him, particularly Dave on electric guitar 36 years, Dougie slide guitar 42 years and Bill Garden on keyboards 46 years service.

Returning to the show again, Syd began a very moving and emotionally charged section for me. I don’t recall him ever singing “How Great Thou Art” (Mammy favourite hymn) and “The Old Rugged Cross” (Granny favourite hymn) together before. It was like the two most influential women in my life, both long gone, were with me enjoying the show. These were followed by “The Answer To Everything” which always gets me. When Syd sings “do you love me, really love me, as I love you” and the audience scream YES, it’s a spiritual experience. Performer and audience share one heart together in those moments, and it never fails to catch my breath. During “The Answer To Everything” Sydney found himself unexpectedly sharing the stage, accompanied by a fan wearing a red cowboy hat. Whilst the Civic staff had been rigidly enforcing their “no photo” policy, this guy had managed to evade their eye, launch himself from his seat and hurtle onto the stage. He threw his arm around Syd, kissed him and was happy to mouth a few words of the song with his idol. Devine looked a bit flustered by this but continued the show seamlessly, although I don’t think the cowboy seen the show finale, which is always “Scotland Forever”.

The Motherwell crowd enjoyed one and a half hours of sheer unadulterated entertainment, provided by a 78 year old man who is a performer to his fingertips. His vocal range (3 octaves I think) is still there, deep resonances to high heady notes are still knocked out very pleasantly with gutsy conviction. Proof that Sydney Devine is truly a “Legend In My Time” came to me in Glasgow the day before the concert. Walking around a large department store carrying an overnight bag, I was asked three times if I was visiting. Each time I replied I was up to see a Sydney Devine show in Motherwell. Each woman (from three generations) though not professing to being a fan, gave me a big smile and named a different song-“Eighteen Yellow Roses”, “Crystal Chandeliers” and “Tiny Bubbles”. How many other entertainers can say they have made that kind of indelible imprint on the nations psyche?

When the concert finished a throng of people awaited Sydney, all keen to have a word, get a photo or autograph. Every one of them would be met and greeted with humble thanks, charm and good grace. I had a last bus to catch so couldn’t stay, but I managed to grab a photo before leaving.  It was a wonderful show, thanks for the memories Sydney, we love you.

Sydney Devine Waits To Meet Fans. Image credit abmj

The Tale of Two Washing Machines

The story begins with the Hotpoint Aquarius range coming off the production lines in April 2000, that’s the date on the instruction book anyway. Checking the household accounts, our linen-coloured WMA32 model was purchased from the GUS (Great Universal Stores) catalogue in August that year for the cost of £484.89. Hettie Hotpoint-Jackson gave faithful service over the years and continued to do so until her departure yesterday. But signs of late on-set teenage tantrums had been discerned since last September, and my nerves became rather frayed at dealing with them. A younger child would have to be adopted to take up the family laundry business.

I knew Hettie’s moods and voice intimately and I noticed a different timbre in her voice last September. She also developed a sudden interest in the art of dancing, initially taking form with a gentle shuffle with some rattling accompaniment. At the end of her performances I was aware her footprint had moved about an inch to the left. I would monitor this new development carefully. Gradually over the months her dancing craze became more animated and laundry days turned into “hug a machine” mode, as frenetic river-dancing took hold. This was partnered by full on percussion of drums and timpani joining in. The orchestration sounded particularly violent at times, followed by a quieter mellower mode when the shuffle dance returned. Every time I switched the machine on my heart was in my mouth wondering if the load would finish, or if the clothes would be stranded in a locked machine drum full of water. As Hettie’s tantrums grew worse I nursed her along with ever smaller loads, using slower spins to ease her pains. Having private insurance I could have had her examined, but last time the doctor was so bolshie, I was put off. And with her age, the prospect of buying a newer model was becoming a better idea, despite the hassle it would cause. So in the meantime I got what needed to be washed done, leaving the winter woollies and the heavy duty sheets and towels, until I had no choice but to tackle them. The pile of winter jumpers turned out easy enough to do; the sheets produced bigger strops and then the towels. OMG!!! Hettie’s Riverdance obsession hit new heights as she spectacularly leapt several inches off the floor, crashing back to earth and four inches from her start position. A full percussion section framed this spectacle. I felt sick and relief flooded me as the wash cycle finally ended. Somehow she had not done irreparable damage to herself and I managed to nurse her for several weeks after this event. But my psyche toward Hettie was damaged, and research really began with a temporary Which Guide subscription arranged in February (although I had mentioned wanting this in November). I narrowed it down eventually to an all singing-dancing (pardon the pun) Bosch, or a reliable nicely programmed Bush model.

So this was the backdrop to us taking delivery of our new Bosch machine. His first delivery attempt with disconnect old/connect the new model failed, because Hettie’s connector valves were malfunctioning and the water could not be switched off in any way. The guy wasn’t impressed either when he saw our pipe work and the draining tube going into the sink. So the machine returned to the depot. We would have to get Keele plumbers into fix the connector valves at the very least and preferably connect the new machine too. The inner pipe work eccentricities of our flats mean that only Keele plumbers can fully understand them anyway. Negotiations took place between Rob, Keele and AO.com and a new delivery date was set. It transpired that any outside person would be required to have completed a Keele certified safety course, before undertaking ANY kind of work in the flat! That was news to us, and a complete contrast to the remote off-hand attitude of Staffs Housing Association, who we had to go through before. They just left us to our own devices. Keele are all over us like a rash by comparison, which is good in a way, because our museum piece boiler is always maintained to perfection, we’ve had CO, heat and smoke detectors installed and are checked annually, and new wiring a few years back. So it’s rather nice that Estates care enough now to be hands on, and it gave us someone to approach with our dilemma.

Having been flooded at least twice through other peoples’ machines not being connected properly, I can see why Keele are so jumpy now. And as I’ve said, the foibles of  the flats infrastructure means that only Keele guys would know how to carry out work, and not flood the place in the process. So the Bosch was delivered Tuesday night and Gareth turned up first thing on Wednesday morning, to fix the connectors and hook the newbie up. My heart sank when even Gareth showed an element of surprise/dismay at the state of our pipes. The upshot was he would have to fix the connectors, seal the hot water one because washing machines tend to be cold fill only now, and it would need to be plumbed in properly. Pipes draining into sinks are a health and safety hazard with contaminated water, which I knew, but we were operating on a lack of support for over twenty years. So the under sink cupboards had to be emptied and then Gareth cheerfully set about his task.

He was absolutely brilliant, knowledgeable, quick and efficient. As we chatted he talked of the very hard water wrecking havoc on washers and connectors, and how Keele’s miles of pipe work are a law to themselves. We discussed the merits of machine models (Miele, Samsung, Bosch, Hotpoint) as he will have to replace his own washer soon. On discovering that he had been told Bosch didn’t engineer their machines in Germany anymore but in Britain I quipped, “Well as long as young Beau here doesn’t go all Brexit on me I’ll be happy”. That raised a big smile. When the job was done, our all white Bosch baby was fully plumbed into new under sink pipe work (a bonus) and I patted Hettie goodbye as she was towed away.

I haven’t tried the new machine yet, that awaits my return from a trip to Scotland at the weekend. There is a lovely large basket full of sheets and towels to be done, and I’m sure Beau Rex (he is kingly looking, and it’s from T-Rex as he’s a 21st century boy) Bosch-Jackson will do a splendid job. Welcome to your new home my son.

Life Is A Chess Game Living In A Flat (part 2) – Nothing is Ever Simple or Straightforward

Having described some of the trials of “small flat living” in part one, let me put our “chess game” into context. We live in a 1960s built two bedroom rented flat on Keele University campus. By modern standards our living room and main bedroom are quite large, and I thank God on a regular basis for this blessing. The spare bedroom, bathroom and kitchen are compact and bijoux. Nowadays when people move into these rented campus properties the whole infrastructure is renovated, new fitted kitchens, bathrooms, pipes, woodwork, new decor, appliances and windows. With a high turnaround of people, we reckon some flats have effectively been rebuilt multiple times. But when Rob moved into our flat over three decades ago no such renovations took place at all. As a result our kitchen still has the original fitted units and the bathroom, pipes, and woodwork have never been renewed during Rob’s tenancy. Any decorating (with one exception) or appliances have been down to us, and we were the last property to have our wooden framework windows replaced, after multiple invasions of wood ants!

As I researched new washing machines I realised the technological abilities of these things had sky rocketed, since we got our last machine 15-18 years ago. The size of them had gone positively “steroidal” as well. I wanted to take as much advantage of these technology advances as I could, but was aware the space for the machine was limited by the location it would NEED to be in, between the gas boiler and kitchen sink unit. So that was a limiting factor in the decision making. I was acutely aware that the new machine would effectively be a 21st century star wars gadget being fitted into an infrastructure from the Apollo 60s era. What could possibly go wrong? A nightmare scenario crossed my mind but I pushed it to one side.

Instead I concentrated on the preparation for the newbie, because I knew the flooring would have to be removed. So when Rob was away for his birthday conference I spent four hours lifting vinyl tiles. Who needs a gym? I had hoped my steam cleaner would ease the task but it broke down, so it was a knife, scrubbing brush and mop job. Next day I could hardly walk (squats for 4 hours!) and the kitchen floor without vinyl flooring but with a lovely layer of thick very sticky glue on it. The kind that makes your shoes want to detach from your feet! A Google search led me to using two solvent sprays I had at home (isopropyl alcohol & WD40) with a wallpaper scraper to remove the offending gunk. The floor became so smooth appliances positively “skated” over the surface. At least moving them wouldn’t be a problem anymore. So for the moment the ancient floor covering with paint spatter and speckles of glue remains a work in progress.

My nightmare scenario came to fruition when the first delivery attempt of the washing machine was made. Our old machine hot/water connected pipes couldn’t be disconnected because the valves weren’t working to turn the water off. And we can’t switch the water off at all because the task involves a mystery valve behind an access panel in the kitchen. There was nothing for it but take the machine away and bring it back when something could be worked out. My emotions were running high and I just wanted to cry, I had done everything I could think of, and this was totally out of my control. Rob would have to get on the phone next day to Keele Estates/the delivery company and thrash something out. His contribution until now to the buying process was both economic and purely “electronic”, arranging a temporary Which Guide subscription and ordering/purchasing online. He would have to do some negotiating now. During the evening as he pondered an “office issue” I seethed. In my heightened state as some of his comments to the situation seemed “glib” at best, I remembered he had not lifted a single finger at home, spilt one drop of sweat, measured one centimetre, or spent a minute doing research into what to buy. The hard graft in this chess game had all been me.

With a new delivery date set for five days later, I decided to move stuff back into the kitchen, and not leave it as Rob suggested. The back room was totally inaccessible and I wanted to work on a project in there over the weekend. With my project successfully completed, I once again moved things in preparation for the arrival of our new Bosch washing machine. Having two machines in the flat overnight was a challenge, and the only extra non kitchen item I needed to move was the narrow bookcase from the hall, which holds our cookbooks. The scene was set for the removal of our faithful Hotpoint machine and the installation of the new Bosch boy. But that’s another tale to be told.

Life Is A Chess Game Living In A Flat (part 1) – Nothing Is Ever Simple or Straightforward

Like chess, every square inch of space counts when you live in a flat with a lot of stuff! Each appliance, piece of furniture or gadget has its own special area of residence, and moves within the confines of the flat (the chessboard) with regulated rules. Any game play is always different and circumstances change accordingly, but the rule of play remains the same. So any new piece of furniture/appliance must adhere to the laws of the game.

As a couple we have a huge amount of books, cds, a large soft team of stuffed animals, as well as clothes, furniture, musical instruments and appliances to accommodate. With only one small boiler cupboard for storage we have nowhere else to hide things away. So EVERYTHING becomes multi-purpose in use, where wardrobe tops become like attics, and the bottom of them like basements. Drawer unit tops act like extra shelving and cavernous cupboards become storage areas for a melee of objects.  Old suitcases store my out of season clothing held in vacuum-bags. These reside in the huge space under the back bedroom bed, specifically bought with that in mind. Memorabilia boxes are under beds too.

Any new object of significant size is bought after considerable “brain wattage” has been expended by yours truly. I know the whole process will involve a serious amount of upheaval and physical effort on my part. So I need to feel mentally robust and physically strong before the endurance campaign begins.

Last year our old TV with a “back of bus” rear end and a large footprint gave up. We considered having no telly at all, then a small twenty something compact screen that would be unobtrusive. Checking the Argos sales and models available to deliver, we ended up with a 55” curve screen whopper. Thus ensued a back breaking week long realignment and deep clean of the living room to fit the newbie in. We have a distinct lack of plugs in the flat and this was a contributing factor in the rearrange, as well as having enough wall space the TV could be placed up against.

In November 2014 asbestos fibre build up was discovered behind access panels in our kitchen. The offending material had been removed from upper flats and the debris from the job had accumulated on the ground floor. We had to move out for a minimum of four days for the cleanup to be done. I had to move most of the stuff from the kitchen and so small gadgets, pots and pans, crockery, cutlery, trolley units and food packs became new ornaments dotted around the flat. Any available space in the back bedroom was consumed completely, and the living room took its share too. When the workmen arrived they said “oh the cooker, fridge and freezer will have to go but the washing machine can stay!” An hour followed of exasperated cursing, scraped knuckles and “iron-woman” hauling. Somehow I manoeuvred the larder fridge into the bedroom where it thought it was a new wardrobe. The freezer took refuge beside the music player in the living room and became a pseudo super woofer speaker. The tabletop cooker and table joined the freezer in the living room and took up a picnic view looking out the expansive window. This state of affairs otherwise known as “organised chaos” continued for nearly three weeks, our time out the flat and our return when the university decorated the kitchen, which needed a good few days to dry out. It was a good job under those circumstances we had a tabletop cooker, our cooking camp already in place in the living room. When everything was returned to the kitchen and new flooring (sticky backed vinyl tiles) eventually put down the renovation job was complete.

My long held suspicion the floor wasn’t exactly level was confirmed whilst laying the floor tiles. This would prove problematic in the future. Our annual gas boiler check requires the removal of kitchen stuff and the reposition of the larder fridge, to ensure unrestricted easy access. Such projects and general foot traffic showed up the shortfalls of the vinyl tiling. At various points individual sections were replaced when damaged. But with the realisation a new washing machine would have to be bought, the floor issue and everything else regarding small home living would come home to roost.

I knew a lot of thought, planning, research, physical effort and upheaval would be required. Over a number of months I psyched myself up for the ordeal. The whole process has been an emotional battering ram, and as I awaited the delivery (2nd attempt) of the washing machine, I realised there was nothing left in me. Mentally I was worn out, physically shattered and emotionally drained.

Managing in the Middle

My husband Rob’s tenure as an acting head of department at Keele University comes to an end on April 1st, and it can’t come soon enough. It was always made clear that in the long run an outside person was wanted, and Rob was happy to play an interim role until a full-time appointment was made. But enough is enough.

We live on campus and don’t have any internet connectivity at home in an attempt to try and keep some work/life balance. Consequently Rob mainly comes home for lunch, and before his headship, would pop back to the office for short periods of an evening or at the weekend. However, with no respite from any of his “normal job activities” and numerous additional demands on his time, 12+ hour days, 7 days a week became the norm!! Lunchtime (if he got one) could swing between anything from 11.15 to 2.45pm, depending on meeting durations or a sudden summons from “on high” being received. Whole days filled with back to back meetings regularly occur, meaning his “day job” duties would start at 5pm or clocking-off time for many others. This situation is all the more frustrating because much of these head of department meetings are on subject matters that you have no qualification for, health & safety, finance, building plans, HR etc! He is a scientist (with his research withering on the vine right now) but finds himself playing a politics game within a hierarchy that has revealed itself in a less than favourable light. Issues of legacy seem to be far higher on the agenda than issues of staff and student well-being.

Strike action over pensions is about to start in universities. Edicts from the powers that be on how to handle the situation, contradict completely the Union manifest on the same subject. It seems to me as if both sides inhabit some alternate reality called La La Land, because their expectations are so unrealistic. Rob as head of department is placed directly in the middle of this maelstrom, being the frontline face and message boy of information, regardless of his own personal feelings on the matter. He is getting hassle from all sides, the university hierarchy, the Union and most damaging of all, grief from colleagues. Rude, ill-tempered and at times derogatory emails flying back and forth is one thing, enduring highly unpleasant face to face confrontations is quite another. It’s hard to accept the Union rep’s mantra “oh it’s nothing personal” having been challenged by a disgruntled colleague “are YOU proud of what the university is doing?” If only that person appreciated just how desperately Rob is trying to tread a fine line of fairness and diplomacy. How he is filtering some of the commands from on high because they are totally ridiculous, being unworkable and highly controversial. But these efforts are going largely unnoticed.

So as strike action looms over the last few weeks of Rob being head of department how do things look to me? Well as I listen to what’s going on from the sidelines, it’s clear that work relationships are bound to be irrevocably damaged by people reacting both in the moment and to the event, whilst generalising Rob’s role in being “one of the bad guys because he’s in management”. There appears to be little awareness that work relationships will have to continue after the dispute is over, however strained that process may be. The mantras being laid down from both the Union and higher university management seem to indicate a “head in the sand” entrenched approach, which shows scant regard for the dynamics of maintaining a good working relationship in the future. It’s all very divisive and I can’t help but reflect on the miner’s strike of the 80s where families and communities were torn apart, many remaining divided to this day. I can see a parallel with the university sector doing battle over pensions now, tuition fees in the future, and lecturers taking sides. Rob will hand over the reins to a new head of department with a sigh of relief in April, but he will never see the university hierarchy or many colleagues in the same light ever again.