Category Archives: Fun stuff

Swimming for Sport Relief

A couple of days after the event I’m still aching yet I’m incredibly proud of swimming 5k for Sport Relief. It was a challenge but it all took place in a friendly atmosphere and was actually a fun swim. All 200 lengths!

I wasn’t sure what to expect on Sunday. I’d panicked myself that on the day everyone else would be a professional swimmer and I’d be the equivalent of a man in a rhino costume at a marathon. But it was all so relaxed and casual. All of us that were swimming would chat to one another and the staff had plenty of encouraging words. My family also sat and watched me for well over two hours which was the best bit of support.

In my session most people did shorter distances so at points I had the pool to myself, which was so much fun. I went at my own pace and got to enjoy being the only one in a massive pool.


When I first came up with the idea I thought I’d swim most weeks in preparation and have a strict regime, gradually improving until the big day. In reality I commute most days and work shift patterns which gym opening hours don’t tend to take into account. Also sometimes I wanted to sit on the sofa and watch TV rather than head to the pool.

So to be honest I didn’t do a full 5k in the month up to my swim. Thankfully after doing the first 40 out of 200 lengths I knew I was going to do it. It’s strange to explain but it felt quite calming rather than daunting.

There’s a few standout moments (apart from finishing – of course) which include getting to 100 lengths I went back to counting from one to try and pretend I’d just started swimming. Also there was music playing at the pool and I very noticeably sped up when David Bowie’s Heroes came on.

I’m very pleased that my friends and family supported me in all sorts of ways. Between us we’ve raised around £300 for charity. I mean I’m no Eddie Izzard with his 27 marathons in 27 days but I’m quite proud of myself.

My charity swimathon

Well… I’ve decided to try doing something a bit different. One Sunday in March next year I’m going to swim 5k (in one go) for charity.

Ponds Forge Photo: Jason Parrish
Ponds Forge Photo: Jason Parrish

I’ve never been that sporty but since living near Ponds Forge in Sheffield I’ve had less excuses. So about two years ago I started lane swimming, something I hadn’t done for about ten years. After a few sessions and realising that I was actually doing doggy paddle rather than a stroke I started to get better.

I’m still nowhere near professional, but now when we go on holiday we tend to go somewhere with a pool. On this year’s break I started doing about 3k every day and getting into a nice rhythm. So I looked up swimming challenges and signed myself up for one, knowing that I wouldn’t have to make the final decision until the end of the year.

Earlier this week I finally got the email about registering. After being enticed by half price entry for early sign up and a few encouraging words from friends I decided to go for it.

It’s a long distance, I’ll be doing 200 lengths in the pool on the day. I guess the next step is figuring out some sort of training regime, I might even come up with a target time.

As I’ve mentioned it’s for charity – this particular event is a Swimathon event held at Ponds Forge all in aid of Sport Relief. If you’re interested here’s a link to my sponsorship page.

Currently I’m a bit shocked, and distractedly thinking it’s still about four months away. I’m also aware that it’ll no doubt come up really quickly.

Photos: Poznan

In May I went to Poland for the first time ever. We travelled to a place called Poznan for a friend’s wedding.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Poland at all but it was very pretty and also thankfully pretty much everyone spoke English. I also haven’t been abroad that much before so was surprised to discover KFC, Pizza Hut and H&M as just some of the new and different shops we could visit.

Here’s a few snaps of Poznan city centre where I was very excited to discover an elaborate water feature, a cafe in a tram and the square.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photos: Sheffield skyline

An afternoon walk is not a usual Easter tradition for me, but this year in between chocolate and a roast we wandered to a new bit of Sheffield for us.

I knew the story behind the city’s amphitheatre and the Park Hill flats but I’d never walked up there before. I see them on an almost daily basis with my walk to the station so we finally went to go and find out more.

I learnt that it’s very quiet up there and is also a good example of Sheffield’s green credentials. You also get some fantastic views of the city. It was the wrong time of day to take good photos, the sun was right in my eyes, so these photos are actually heavily processed. Again it’s just photos on my phone and the tweaking was all done by Google’s automatic features.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mini creme egg mini cupcakes

It’s that time of year when I start to bake with creme eggs. Over the last couple of years I’ve made cupcakes, brownies and shortbread so I wasn’t too sure what to do this time.

I experimented making creme egg doughnuts, using custard and cream to make the white and the yellow of the egg. Not having the right equipment to make fried doughnuts meant I couldn’t make it work well enough — I’ll get a recipe sorted next time though.

I did like the idea of using custard and cream though, it has the right egg colours but it’s a slightly different take on egg whites and yolk. I then used them in the safe territory of a cupcake and made mini creme egg cupcakes.

Mini creme egg cupcakes

You will need a mini muffin tray, but if not then you can just double the mixture and make normal sized cupcakes.


For the cake

110g of butter
150g of sugar
1 egg
250g of self raising flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
250ml of milk
30g of cocoa powder

For the custard

Half a pint of milk
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of cornstarch

And 250ml of whipping cream and a packet of mini creme eggs.

Begin by making the custard as this will then have time to cool and set while the cakes are baking. Start by pouring the milk into a saucepan and put on a gentle heat. In a bowl beat together the egg yolks (keep the separated egg white for something else such as meringues) with the sugar, vanilla extract and cornstarch.

When the milk is warm pour it slowly into the egg yolk and sugar mix, stirring gently. Then when they are mixed together pour it all back into the saucepan and put back on the heat. Then stir the custard until it thickens. It should take about 10 to 15 minutes. The test is to see if the custard sticks on the back of a wooden spoon. If it runs straight off it needs a bit more time.

Then pour into a clean bowl and cover with cling film. Actually push the cling film onto the top of the custard, this prevents a film from developing on the custard as it cools. Pop it in the fridge to cool and set.

Next, make the cake. Beat the sugar and butter together. When it’s creamy add the egg to the mix. Then the flour, baking powder and milk. Finish with the flavourings, the vanilla extract and the cocoa powder. They are only little cakes but I think it works to have them very chocolatey tasting in the spirit of Easter.

Spoon the mix into mini cupcake cases, you don’t need much before it spills over the tiny cases when cooking. Then put in the oven at 180 degrees celsius for about fifteen minutes. Keep an eye on them because they’re small. When they’ve finished baking take them out the oven and allow them to cool.

Now whip the cream, it needs to be stiff enough to hold it’s shape when piped on the top of the cakes.

Make a hole in the middle of your cool cupcakes and fill it with your cold custard. A couple of teaspoons should be enough and noticeable. Then put the whipped cream in a piping bag and squidge it on top of your cake, covering the hole and custard. Do this on all of your cakes.

To finish unwrap your mini creme eggs and put on top of your miniature cakes.

Mini creme egg cupcakes for Easter

The cakes are just an assembly job really, the custard is a bit complicated but actually quite fun to make once you’re used to it.

If you fancy trying out one of my other creme egg recipes you can find them here. Here’s brownies, millionaire’s shortbread and whole creme egg cupcakes.

Happy Easter!

July Book Club

At the beginning of the month Caitlin Moran released her first novel called How to Build a Girl. I felt a bit strange reading it because even if I wanted to change who I was as a teenager it’s a bit too late now, but there was enough to enjoy regardless. I will also admit that I can’t write a better review of the book than John Crace’s digested read in the Guardian which gets to the crux of the problems with the book.

The main character Johanna Morrigan lives with her large family in Wolverhampton doing the usual teenage things, but after winning a poetry competition and embarrassing herself on local TV with an impression of Scooby Doo she decides to reinvent herself. She gets interested in music, goth culture and changes her name. She’s also really interested in boys but there’s no boys willing to help her find out more about sex so Johanna spends a lot of romantic time with herself. A lot of time.

Photo: Published by Ebury Press

She moves on from writing poems to writing music reviews for a national magazine. This career feat gives her the opportunity to become a lady sex adventurer. This is Moran’s rebuttal to the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, but I think it works best as a chance to explain to young people what sex is actually about, the precautions needed to make it fun (there’s a chapter about coping with cystitis where every word made me wince) and how it isn’t always romantic.

Eventually Johanna realises she needs to allow herself to actually be a teenager, but by this point I think the rest of her family are more interesting. They all seem to struggle so that Johanna can have what she wants, this includes having their benefits reduced as she’s earning now but continue to lovingly support her.

The strangest thing is Caitlin Moran says the book is not autobiographical, there’s even an opening page to explain that, but there’s a lot of similarities to her career and moments in her life that she’s spoken about in How to be a Woman. All of her stories tend to involve a huge family in Wolverhampton with the main female character doing something different, if that was the case then Caitlin Moran wouldn’t be so different to everyone else. I really enjoyed reading it but it didn’t have the impact I was expecting. This could be that I’m too old for the book, or I grew up agreeing with a lot of these values. Mostly I think it didn’t hit the same stride as How to be a Woman, whether that was because it was fiction or something else, but I would recommend How to be a Woman over this book.

Last month Monty Python performed on stage for the last time at the O2, so as well as watching old shows, documentaries about the group I decided to read Michael Palin’s diaries of The Python Years. This first volume covers 1969 to 1979 which goes from Python getting established to the controversy surrounding the release of the Life of Brian.

It was interesting to see how the team worked together, and there would usually be squabbles and at several points it seems Monty Python was on the verge of splitting up. Then they get together to write something, have a pleasant chat and everything seems happy again. He also writes very honestly about his family, and makes no apologies that his diary entries sometimes miss a momentous piece of Python news for sharing a day out with his family instead.

Personally the best bit in the diaries was when Palin met Brian Winston, who is an instantly recognisable name for anyone who’s been to the Lincoln School of Journalism.


Jeremy Paxman’s Great Britain’s Great War was a fascinating read, after studying history I knew a lot of the main events of the first World War but Paxman has lots of anecdotes from the time. He wanted to challenge the perception that the generals just sat back and got a lot of things wrong which meant a lot of young men died, and show that the approach to war and fighting was changing. However, I think the best parts of the book was dealing with the emotional side effects of war. The chapter detailing how families dealt with missing men after the war was particularly touching, especially how the public reacted to the tomb for the unknown soldier.

While Paxman’s book is a good for those wanting to start finding out more about the war, Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics is a little bit more advanced than I was anticipating. It deals with the way Ancient Greek and Roman history has been collected, from the sounds of it mostly by people with little understanding of the Greek language or a bit too keen to make places into tourist destinations. For my A levels I studied Classical Civilisation and thought that would help with the book, but I largely studied Ancient Greece, buildings and the prose whereas Mary Beard’s book is mostly about the Romans. This just means it’s more of a challenging read and I hope it gets me reading more about the subject.

August’s reads

After reading about the war, feminism and classical civilisations I fancy some easier reads this month. I’m tempted to read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because it’s fantastic and I haven’t read any of the books since I was a teenager. My brother is also very good at finding cheap yet good books for the Kindle and found me Where do comedians go when they die? A journey of stand up by Milton Jones for 99p. Maybe a light-hearted classic as well, we’ll see what I fancy on some of the long train journeys I have this month.

Book club: June

June has been an odd month, I’ve started stockpiling books again and I’m not actually reading them. This is not what my year-long book club is about. I realised in January that I was collecting books and not reading them, the downside of owning a Kindle. I just need to remember that as tempting as new books are, reading them is even better.

One of my favourite books is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, so I thought I’d try another one of his novels. I wasn’t sure what to expect as A Clockwork Orange is a very violent read filled with a made up language. One Hand Clapping is very gentle in comparison. It follows Janet and Howard who are just a normal working class couple, who enjoy watching television in the evening. They watch a boy win £1000 on a quiz show and Howard decides he will use his photographic memory to win big on the quiz show. Once he has the £1000 it’s not enough and he uses it to win roughly £80,000 by betting on horses. Now with more money than they can imagine Howard and Janet set about having an expensive lifestyle.

Burgess wrote this novel to vent about the slide in Western culture and education, and despite the book being over 50 years old it did feel current. The best bit is the twist ending though when you realise that Janet isn’t as meek as she’s made herself sound.

Dexter’s Final Cut published by Orion Books Limited.

If you thought the Dexter TV series, about a police forensic specialist whose hobby is killing people, could be a bit grim at points, then try the books by Jeff Lindsay. The storylines are different but most of the ‘baddies’ are similar, and it’s much worse reading the chopping and slicing yourself. Having said this I’ve always enjoyed the Dexter books in some way. Dexter’s Final Cut is different, not just because the title isn’t alliterative, as the killer is caught half way through the book by Dexter and not in his police capacity. But the murders continue happening.

I thought the end was a bit predictable and perhaps went a bit too far, not particularly gruesome just a bit too personal. However, it was a really enjoyable read and the ending makes me want to read the next book.

The Midwich Cuckoos is a fantastic read, I read the whole book during one long train journey. Wyndham sci-fi novels are stereotypically British. The village of Midwich experiences a strange ‘Dayout’ event, there’s no consequences until all the women of childbearing age realise they’re pregnant. Nine months later 61 children are born and the village has to deal with raising these extraordinary children and keeping it a secret. Then the villagers realise that the Children are pitting the villagers against one another and something needs to be done.

It was fascinating to follow the children and the impact that it had on the village and the women. The book was written mostly as a factual report with not many mentions of the emotional impact. There were hints to one woman who had moved to Midwich just for work and ended up pregnant as a result of being there on the Dayout and abandoned her baby because she just saw it the same as if she had contracted an illness. That story was just a sentence but I would be interested in finding out more of what the women thought about the invasion. It’s also a very sweet idea from the 1950s that a whole village of women giving birth wouldn’t get in the papers. Nowadays someone would be live tweeting something like that.

July’s reads

When it comes to the summer months people often look for beach reads, romantic novels which can be devoured in a week and left behind in a hotel room for the next person. Instead I’ve picked a few non-fiction books to read. I was enticed by Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics because I studied Classical Civilisation at A Level so I like to revisit the subject now and again.

Continuing the non-fiction theme I’ve missed Jeremy Paxman since he left Newsnight so this month I’ll be reading his book about the first world war. And for something completely different… I’m hoping to get a copy of Michael Palin’s Monty Python diaries from the library. Monty Python do their final stage show this month and I’m quite interested to see what Python was like at the beginning.