Category Archives: Fun stuff

TV Talk: Television’s Twitter Trends

I love television, so I blog about it over on TV Talk. Here’s a piece I’ve written recently about how the use of social media on TV is awkward and unnatural, and how comedy could show us how to do it better.

If you’re like me, then you will cringe when a television show goes to their social media hub to see “What Twitter thinks”. It’s clunky and always awkward and my understanding of the show hasn’t been improved by username7543 saying “LOL”. Or even worse “Let’s get this trending”.

Ross Noble's Freewheeling on Dave | Photo: UKTV

Social media is seen as such a huge part of people’s daily lives that everyone wants to tap into. It’s not enough that when watching television you are encouraged to tweet along with their suggested hashtag, they want to read your tweets out as well. Disregarding the studio full of talented people in favour of this. It’s strange though because TV is using social media in a way that normal people don’t. Unless the comment is so spectacularly amazing people don’t discuss a topic and then read a tweet out loud, so surely TV programmes need to start using social media in a way that normal people use it. And comedy seems to be the best at doing this.

To read the rest of this piece head over to TV Talk

Book club: May

Last month I decided I would pay my respects to Sue Townsend by reading more of her books. I’ve read all the Adrian Mole books but there are plenty of other characters that Sue Townsend wrote about. The woman who went to bed for a year is a sweet and funny portrayal of family life.

Eva’s twins leave home to go to university and Eva decides to take to her bed for a year. She takes stock of her life and realises that her husband who she doesn’t love is having an affair, her brainy children are unable to cope with the real world and she doesn’t know who she is anymore.

From the confines of her bed she manages to bring the family back together, whether they like one another is a different matter, and they create this varied supporting cast. Eva now has the time to just talk to people and ends up hearing people’s problems. Word gets round that she’s lucky and people from around the world end up just sitting outside her house hoping to catch a glimpse of her. I don’t know if Eva learnt a lot from staying in bed for a year but she reset her life, and I was left kind of hopeful.

Who is Tom Ditto? by Danny Wallace, image from Random House.

I’ve been looking forward to the new Danny Wallace book, called Who is Tom Ditto?. This is the second novel from Wallace, it’s a bit more grown up in comparison to his earlier books like Yes Man and Join Me. I thought his novels would be jovial and happy-go-lucky too, instead Wallace seems to deal with men who’ve lost their way.

Who is Tom Ditto? starts with Tom’s girlfriend leaving and insisting that he should carry on as normal. Understandably he tries to understand what has happened to her and discovers that she’s a follower. She has no personality of her own and just follows the lead of strong people. But rather than being an annoying person who agrees with everything you say she literally drops people to follow the next person. That can even mean ditching everything to move to Paris. Tom ends up wrapped up in the idea of following too, initially as a distraction, but realises it can help him out.

At points the book started to get a bit unbelievable, and it is a bit bleak to be following a character who doesn’t want to help himself. Luckily the supporting characters are good and they take charge in Tom’s life where he can’t. There are lots of funny stories too, Tom works at a radio station where someone ends up having a sweary meltdown on air about jam.

A good book to dip in and out of is The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. It’s all about the terms used for interesting English phrases — most of them we use unconciously but didn’t know they had names. Each short chapter deals with a term, explaining it using old and a few modern examples too.

It’s approach to language reminds me of the book For who the bell tolls by David Marsh. They both explain complicated language terms and show how the Beatles manage to use several of them in their songs. It’s enjoyable not to be told off for using language in a poor way but to be shown the interesting and powerful ways that it has been used, and sometimes without even realising how they’ve done it.

What to read in June

I’ve been on a bit of a book splurge, all classics for hardly anything at all, just need to make sure that I actually read them. I’m hoping to sit down and enjoy the sun reading outside over the next few months — but I have to see if the weather agrees with that idea too.

Book club: April

It’s very strange reading a story that you feel you should know more about, yet you don’t. Despite my love of classical literature I’ve hardly read any Charles Dickens novels. I’m trying to change that now starting with Oliver Twist. I know the key parts of the books, if I wanted to I could bluff that I’ve read it already, but I have a weird nagging feeling that I don’t know how the story ends.

One thing I’ve learnt from it is no matter how many times you think of the cheery musical or the comical voices used for, “Please sir, I want some more” is the book is pretty miserable. Oliver seems to sweetly keep going despite all the depressing things happening to him. The writing is fantastic, and brings you into this world, which I think makes it sadder as it feels real.

Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts wasn’t a happy book either, but not as immersive as I found the storyline a little farfetched. The book deals with the idea of loss, the main character Freddie is unable to move on from his brother’s death which leads to him travelling through the French Pyrenees. He finds a small welcoming village and starts talking to a woman who is happy to listen to him talking about the sadness he feels about his brother. Then it turns out that this lady is a ghost and leads Freddie to the undiscovered tomb of her family and friends. I’ve been a bit harsh there but that’s essentially what happened and I thought was a bit odd. It was supposed to be closure but it just seemed a bit unlikely.

Alan Partridge’s autobiography | Photo: Harper

Time for a completely different book now — Alan Partridge’s autobiography I, Partridge we Need To Talk About Alan. It was hilarious, I was sceptical because I was unsure that the ridiculous character of Alan Partridge would work on paper but I was snorting with laughter throughout.

The book stays close to the back story of Partridge from the radio and TV shows, which is funny already, but there’s plenty of new bits written to fill the gaps. A favourite part was Alan’s Toblerone hell, dealing with the pain of losing his television show he turns to the triangular-shaped Swiss chocolate to cope. After reading the book I have now rewatched all the Partridge shows and the recent film. If there was a Partridge pop quiz I would ace it.

Way back in February Suzy recommended Be Awesome by Hadley Freeman which I have now got round to reading. I feel there are a lot of articles and blogs about feminism at the moment that are written purely to get a reaction, not to help, which is frustrating. Whereas Be Awesome is an interesting and measured guide to feminism.

The book is split up into chapters that deal with a different issue, like learning to be fine with being single, how to cope with having friends who have kids and how to read women’s magazines without wanting to grow a penis. Not all the chapters will be relevant to you all the time, but there’s good advice throughout the book. Essentially it all comes down to the idea of be awesome and don’t get hung up on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

Hadley Freeman predominantly writes for the Guardian and some other magazines, which means there are fun chapters written in different styles to make a point. The chapter about the effect of the Daily Mail is written entirely in the style of their headlines: “Tea for two? No, just one, actually: sad Hadley cuts a lonely figure as she buys just one cup of tea in the office canteen.” It’s a nice and simple way to ridicule that style of writing.

May’s reads

I’m tempted to read some Sue Townsend books this month in memory of the fantastic author who died in April. I’ve read all the Adrian Mole stories but never tried Townsend’s other titles. Apart from that I’m not sure what to read so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Are there any books you’ve read recently that you loved?

Creme egg millionaire’s shortbread

It has become tradition that at Easter I bake something creme egg related. Previously I’ve made cupcakes and brownies and this year I have created creme egg millionaire’s shortbread. These sweet bites have a homemade creme egg filling, instead of caramel, and a chocolate topping covered with mini creme eggs.

These biscuits aren’t too complicated to make but they need to be made in stages so will take a while to make. This is mostly waiting for the fillings to cool and set so it looks more impressive before you eat it. It’s also incredibly decadent but creme eggs are only around for a few weeks a year.

creme egg shortbread first

Ingredients

This amount of mixture will make roughly 20 biscuits and I was using a 30 cm by 25cm tray.

For the shortbread you will need:
250g of butter
50g of sugar
250g of plain flour
125g of cornflour

To make the creme egg filling:
2 tablespoons of butter
190g of icing sugar
60ml of golden syrup
A tablespoon of milk (if needed)
Half a teaspoon of vanilla essence
A pinch of salt
A few drops of yellow food colouring

For the chocolate topping:
200g of milk chocolate
Some creme eggs to decorate — the mini ones are best

Recipe

Start off by making shortbread, this is the base for the biscuit and is the only bit of baking that needs to be done. You can use a food processor for this bit, it won’t be as messy and quicker than doing it by hand.

First crumb the flour and the butter until you get something that looks like breadcrumbs. Then mix in the sugar and the cornflour until it all comes together in a ball of dough.

shortbread Now you need to wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for about half an hour. This will allow the dough to firm up a bit and become easier to mold and shape.

After it has chilled remove from the fridge and place in a lined tray. Pat the dough down until the bottom of the tray is completely covered and it looks roughly equal. Pierce the dough with a fork to stop the shortbread from rising. Put in the oven for 30-40 minutes at 170C until the shortbread is golden.

Leave the shortbread to cool while making the creme egg filling. It is tempting to buy a lot of creme eggs and just spoon out the filling but it is easier to make your own. Beat together butter and icing sugar until you have butter icing. Next add the golden syrup, vanilla and a pinch of salt and mix. If you think at this point you need it to be liquid like add a tablespoon of milk.

Pour three quarters of the creme egg filling over the cooled shortbread. Put this in the fridge and allow the filling to set. Meanwhile put a few drops of yellow food colouring in the remaining creme egg filling. This will make it look more like the filling of a creme egg.

creme egg fillingWhen the white filling has set remove from the fridge and pour over the yellow part of the creme egg filling. Try and marble it so it looks more like eggs. Then leave the completed filling to set in the fridge for a couple of hours. If it isn’t setting quickly put it in the freezer for half an hour.

The final layer of the millionaire’s shortbread is the chocolate. Melt the chocolate and leave it to cool, it still needs to be melted but if it is very hot it could melt the creme egg layer. Pour the chocolate and spread to cover the top. Then take some mini creme eggs, unwrap them and break them up. Decorate the top layer of chocolate with the eggs and leave in the fridge to set.

creme egg shortbread

And here’s the finished shortbread.

creme egg millionaires shortbread

Chop the shortbread into about 20 squares and enjoy it sometime over the Easter break. If you do try it let me know you think. Or if you fancy trying something else creme egg related have a read of my cupcake and brownie recipes below.

creme egg cakes ad
creme egg brownies ad

Book club: March

This month my books have mostly been trapped inside boxes as we moved to Sheffield. This means I had to rely upon my Kindle instead. It’s really handy to have a collection of books available at the tap of a finger so even when I finished one book I still had plenty more available to me.

Most of my time was taken up by moving so I took it as a chance to enjoy reading some short stories. I started reading some Blandings tales, after I had initially read about the PG Wodehouse characters at the start of the year. I first discovered Blandings thanks to the BBC television series and the book I have is of the small screen adaptations they have made. The stories are daft, short and sweet and enjoyable reads.

I also started to read Catch 22 and 12 Years a Slave but reading them has rolled across into April now. They are both very important books though and I’m looking forward to reading them properly.

I also found time to finish a book that I started to read several months ago — David Mitchell’s Back Story. This is the comedian’s memoirs starting from when he was a small child growing up in Oxford to his present day life in London.

David Mitchell’s Back Story

I bought this cheap from Amazon thinking I like David Mitchell and I’m a fan of his Observer column so this should be a good read. I was wrong. He starts at the beginning of his life and a good half of the book is about his childhood which, bar going to private school, is largely the same as anyone else’s childhood.

It starts to get interesting when he goes to Cambridge and meets up with people he started working with, such as Robert Webb and Olivia Colman. But I feel the book actually became interesting because it wasn’t about him. The chapter about him falling in love with Victoria Coren and pining for her for three years is actually very sweet, and makes you grateful they did get married eventually. So there are some nice little anecdotes in there but you have to go looking for them.

The book is written in an odd style, which I think largely put me off. Each chapter coincides with a walk round London where you get to hear Mitchell’s opinions on pubs, beer and various other random topics. He’s also very poncy about it. One line that particularly annoyed me was “But, when you don’t really like it, cider is quite difficult to get down in any quantity. Its acrid sugariness precludes quaffing for all but the most alcohol-calloused tramp’s throat.” Yuck!

As he came to London relatively late in life and has only lived in a small part of the city it makes no sense that London takes up such a large part of the narrative of the book, until you get to the end. Mitchell arrives outside BBC Television Centre shortly before it was closed. This serves as a eulogy to television comedy as Mitchell knows and likes it, which sort of makes sense.

Perhaps it was wrong to expect a book from a comedian to be funny, but still the lack of laughs disappointed me. However, the book did remind me of the “I’m a Mac” adverts Mitchell and Webb did.

April

IMAG0572

Before I had even properly moved to Sheffield I had joined Sheffield Central library. It’s a beautiful building and I’ve already had a peek in. It has such a varied collection of books in comparison to other local libraries I’ve been a part of before. It has a really nice atmosphere too. Libraries have a reputation of being silent but when I popped in recently there was a CD player in the film and music section playing Pulp songs. I look forward to using the library properly.

Book club: February

This month’s book that I really should have read by now was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The book takes place in 1930s America and follows the court case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Everything the reader sees comes from the perspective of Scout Finch, the young daughter of the lawyer defending Tom Robinson.

Although the topics in the book are hard going and ultimately there’s not a very happy ending there’s a great deal of warmth in the book. A lot of what happens in the book is Atticus’ children learning about the world around them from events happening at school, playing in the town and of course while watching the court case.

They’re also guided as to what’s right and wrong by Atticus who is a strong and silent hero. I also happened to see the film late one evening and Atticus is played perfectly by Gregory Peck. This makes the moment when Atticus makes his speech in the court house defending Tom Robinson so powerful and emotional. It’s also fascinating to see the impact this work of fiction has had on real life and the legal profession.

Other enjoyable reads in February were Hatchet Job by Mark Kermode and The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. I love the ramblings of film critic Mark Kermode and have learnt many things about the movie industry from his earlier books. The Hatchet Job was about the impact of anyone blogging about films in comparison to proper qualified film critics. It was a bit of a ramble in places but it just made it more like a conversation with Kermode and he has great stories and ways of entertaining the reader.

The Mousetrap is an enjoyable play from Christie, instead of being driven by characters such as Poirot or Miss Marple a lot is left to interpretation. The Mousetrap is a great detective story filled with suspense and plenty of twists. Last month I confessed to just letting detective novels explain what’s happening to me, rather than I try to figure it out. However, The Mousetrap kept making me guess and try to figure out the murderer.


Photo: Hodder & Stoughton

My Madder Fatter Diary by Rae Earl is a book I think everyone should read, especially if you have ever lived in Lincolnshire. It’s Rae Earl’s teenage diaries which accurately document what it is like to be young and dealing with mental health problems. Although it does deal with teen topics it is something all of us can relate to and that helps you to gain a better understanding of mental health. Plus Rae is interesting and funny and came up with this fantastic summary of Lincolnshire: “Shit! Am I a secret racist?! No I live in Lincolnshire which is like living in Britain in 1952.”

March’s reads

I’m in the process of moving so all my books are in boxes, so I’ll be reading on the Kindle for the next few weeks. I have started reading Catch 22 by Joseph Keller and for some light relief, in comparison, the second Sherlock Holmes book The Sign of Four. I’ve also bought 12 Years a Slave and it is on my to read list for this month.

Book club: January

The biggest problem with having a Kindle is you collect books and never get round to reading them. At least when you buy books in real life you notice that the unread pile of books is taller than the read stack. So after the excesses of my birthday and Christmas I realised my unread book pile needed to be tackled.

One of the first books I read this year was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, one of the last book splurges of 2013 was on several Agatha Christie books which were part of an Amazon winter deal. Despite watching David Suchet’s Poirot television series for years and knowing some of the stories inside out I had never read the books.

I have found with detective novels I prefer to just read the books as if I was a fly on the wall and take in all the little details, rather than try and figure out who did it. This always means that the ending of the book is a bit of a surprise because I don’t fully join all the dots. Poirot is a fun character though, and I enjoy him most when he is sparking with other characters.

PG Wodehouse was another author whose work I had never read so I initiated myself with one of the Blandings novels. Something Fresh is the first Blandings novel and follows the disappearance of a special scarab. The book was a fun caper and I am looking forward to reading more of the Blandings novels.

The book which had the most impact on me this month was probably Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton. The book follows the story of Twitter and the four founders; Ev Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Noah Glass.

Image of Hatching Twitter from Penguin/Portfolio

After reading Hatching Twitter I’m not completely sure if I like the idea behind the company, the way it operates and the people who started it. All four founders squabbled over who started it, and the coups and plotting to get a new CEO didn’t sound pretty either. The book did give an interesting insight into how start-up companies work and what it is like for them to transition into huge, global businesses.

If the rise of Twitter seems strange to you, the book demonstrated just how odd the rise of Twitter was for the founders. There are excellent stories of the politicians and celebrities who stop by the Twitter offices as well as being approached by ex Vice President Al Gore to buy the site.

What am I reading in February?

I also began reading The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas in anticipation of the BBC series. However, it was a bit more hard going than I expected so it will have to be a book that will take a few months to read and enjoy.

Into February I am already reading another book which I am surprised I haven’t already — To Kill A Mockingbird. I am already astounded by the understanding of the world through this one school girl in the American Deep South. I’m also loving every page of Rae Earl’s My Madder Fatter Diary and expect I’ll easily get through it this weekend.

When I’ve got my way through more books that I’ve had good intentions to read I’m going to start pestering for recommendations in order to complete that check list of books I really should have read by now.