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q: how many times a year do you travel? 26 days holiday. I go away a lot- 4 times last year to Normandy/Brittany in France, Edinburgh Festival, Granada in spain and a small towin in holland. _______________________________ q: for how long do you go away? Never more than 8 days, rather have lots of short trips than one long one. Though tempted by using all my hols to go to south america _______________________________ q: do you stay in your home country or do you go abroad? I have the occasional day trip to london - or various cities of interest, and as an exiled scot I spend a lot of time there, but generally go abroad _______________________________ Q: Do you organise your holidays yourself or do you go to a travel agency? I have never ever booked a holiday from a travel agent and hope never to do so. never even been in one. Actually I lie . I booked a flight to New York in trailfinders. Does that count? _______________________________ Q: Do you prepare your holidays in advance by reading guide books and studying maps? A: yes- Yes YES. A great pleasure in my life is reading maps etc. Like to know what interests me in each place and plan accordingly. However it's nice to discover unaided too. _______________________________ Q: Do you travel alone/with family or friends/with an organised group? A: Friends and Orchestras and Bands- music trips are great- cheap way to see the world and entertain the natives. Next to that I have never been on an organised package/group. Though I am tempted by a company that does semi- guided tours of latin america- don't really want to go there on my own so it might be the safest way ______________________________ Q: Do you prefer the sea / mountains / plains / cities as destinations? A: Cities for base with a wander round the mountains _________________________
_________ Q: Do you mainly relax or are you an active holidayer? A: Never ever had a relaxing holiday. Culture with a K and Active with a Z __________________________________ Q: If you go abroad do you learn at least some words of the foreign language? A: Would always make an effort to learn enough to say hello. Maybe more difficult if I went to Vietnam- but get by in France. Actiually learned some Russian once before I went. Just enough to prounounce things but surprisingly useful. _________________________________ Q: Are you interested in the cuisine of a foreign country? A: Ermmm. Vegetarian so the cuisine is sometimes not for me. Always try the local resturant though- wouldn't eat in a brit bar abroad- though I ate once in an English Tea shop in France- not my choice, but it was good to get a decent cup of tea _________________________________ Q: Which means of transportation do you prefer? A:Depends on distance. Plane for speed- boat is fun too and I have even done coach trips with bands. That is tiring but surprisingly fun filled _________________________________ Q: What kind of luggage do you take with you? Have you got problems packing? Do you tend to take too many / too few things with you? A: Only a rucksack. Take the essentials- no make up or whatever. Shorts etc. Though the trip to Iceland included a woolly hat and gloves. If going as a musician need instrument,(trombone) stands, mutes music, concert dress.... then I may be forced into taking a case as it won't fit in the rucksack _________________________________ Q: Do you send picture postcards to your family and friends? A: Yes-always. Also try and send picture messages from my phone
I don't like football, well actually it's more than that, I absolutely detest it, not the game in itself,which is, in my opinion dull, but the supporters, their desparate need to fit in, to find a family of similars. Now before I get a barrige of hate mail,I accept that not every supporter is like that- it's a minority, but for me that's the image that pervails. So why am I making all this clear? Because I am going to say that I found a book, about a football (albeit American Football) fan fascinating and moving. I still have no time for football, neither do a feel a need to read 'lad lit'- but this is excellent writing that far surpasses the likes of Nick Hornby etal who generally write for this market. I tried to read Hornby and failed. Couldn't do it. Thought it was badly written twaddle. So why did I read this?, a friend mentioned it as a male version of Sylvia Plath. Then presented me with a copy. Which I put off reading. Finally started it a week ago and fairly flew through it. So what's it about. Your typical American male?- no it is much more complex than that. It starts with the main character in a bar, drukenly cheering on his team- the giants, mimicking the runs by charging up and down the bar and making slurred comments about the team, he lives for that moment, and the rest of his life is sidelined until the football weekend. As a schoolteacher in a small town, he cannot be seen in such a state by the children so has to cary out his weekend activities elsewhere. The book jumps back and forward in time chronicling a life in an out of public and private mental institiuations, with therapy, shock treatment and insulin therapy used as an attempt to cure- Exley is different from the norm in thought and has no desire for the normalities of life such as a steady job, family and membership of the local golf club, early on he muses, what will these people do after the goal of the membership of
the most exclusive club is attained? A good point is made early on- some will always be different and the sooner you realise that the better, many spend years of misery trying to conform. We then move on to the non football activities, he is frustrated in work, a teaching faculty who ensure everybody passes, no real friends and a wife who is understandably about to leave him. This is where I took interest, it's not just about a thug, but an intelligent man who sees beyond the facade of country clubs membership and social leeching, he takes solace in a team and fires his emotions at that. As the book progresses we have more of Exley's background, there are slight references to his mental health at the earlier stages of the book, but as we delve into his past, we see that he has been hospitalised for mental disorder, including insulin and electric shock treatment. He has been depressed and manic, perhaps even borderline schizophrenic at times,the book then moves into the past, exploring his movements through the various jobs and cities, and frequent breaks for recuperation. We get a different picture from the man in the earlier book, more arrogant, womanising and failing in personal relationships. There is a somewhat obsessive relationship with a younger woman called 'Bunny', which results in his impotence, and for me marks a deep change in the character. He seems to have an idealistic view of her, and only really realises her humanity when he takes a trip to see her family, this is the beginning of their end. He also has a problem with her level of sexual experience, it at least equals his and he is intimidated and upset at her normalness, her proof of being an average person instead of this pure being that he has envisaged. I have no need to go through every instance in the book but will highlight some of the more poignant ones. I actually felt great empathy with the character, some of issues in the book can affe
ct us all, but some are more infuriated than others by certain happenings. For example, he has a short lived job in PR for a missiles company, one of his workmates writes a script for a sales conference, this is to encourage the sales staff- and at one point inserts jingle, 'that's the way the missille works- pop goes the world'. Crass by any level, but loved and promoted by the senior management. He is incredulous of this and the resulting mania leads him further down the path to mental health. The jingle is tastless, but he is the only one that see that- and I must say on a personal note- I see things like that every day at work and am constantly querying- and unfortunately getting nowhere. The path of least resistance seems, for many to be the easiest way, and is frustrating for many others. He continues in a self destructive way for the remainder of the book.There are too many poignant incidents to discuss any in particular, but it also explores the nature of his few friendships, his subsequent marriage and his production of children, it's a sad tale, in a way it's about someone who is too intelligent for, and disinterested in, the trappings of our society. Alas he cannot deal with being different and is destructive as a result. He realises quite late on that his fate is always to be a fan, never a contender or artist, but that like most he will only sit on the sidelines.
Sometimes the thing that bounds friends together is the fragility of the relationship. The fact that you probably will fall out, grow apart or find new interests. Sadly most friendships are like that, to use the well quoted maxim, 'Some friends are for a reason and some are for a season'. But what if, in your youth you makes some friends and you think that they will be your friends forever. Not because of any bond or closeness, but because together you have done something so scary that you must stay close. So, the tale. Poor boy Richard from California gets a scholarship to an east coast university. The family relationship is poor, and not very well drafted. Disinterested parents and an ill defined environment. In traditional poor boy fashion, he finds a fascination with Ancient Greek and arrives at Hampton scholarship cheque in hand. He wishes to study Greek, but the department seems pre-defined and not just any potential scholar is accepted. A chance conversation on Greek Grammar with the existing students effectively gains him a pass to this exclusive club, and in entering this realm effectively checks out from the life of the rest of the college. The Greek tutor, Julian takes almost all the classes of his charges and so a very insular circle develops. The class consists or 6 students. All wealthy , upper middle class Americans. They are unconventional, elitist and cerebral. Does Richard fit in? Not really, though he is accepted and bonding occurs through the strong ritual of massive amounts of alcohol. He seems a lesser partner to me, accepted into a world of hand made suits and well stocked freezers, but never really getting all the information about his classmates activities. He knows something is up, and event has happened which worries them, but he is not brought into their confidence, they are all friends of long standing and he is the newcomer. So what has happened? It comes out in a drunken conversation with Rich
ard, and 'Bunny', another character who always seems a bit of a misfit in the group. He is charming, loud and garrulous, but lacks self control. The original group decide that a Greek ritual of excess is needed. Alas Bunny finds it impossible to do the fasting that is necessary and the ritual occurs without him, a night of bacchanalian excess occurs, resulting in the accidental death of a local farmer. Bunny finds out this and his constant taunting of the involved group members puts amazing stress on them all. Finally Richard, last as usual finds out about the night of excess, and the problem of Bunny being indiscreet. Bunny is dealing with the murder most poorly from a group point of view, and most normally from a society point of view. He cannot cope. For me it seems to be the nearness, had he been able to control his desire for lunch and fast with the others, he would have been involved. Although it is never mentioned, He seems torn by this, what would he have done if involved? Once you have killed once, even accidentally it becomes easier to kill again, So the plan is to murder Bunny so that he cannot implicate them in the death of the farmer. This occurs and then the ensuing aftermath of funerals and police investigations but the group into the situation I described earlier, the thought that you are bonded for life. Different group members react in different ways to the second murder, one becomes full of life, egotistical and almost maniacal, while another takes solace in alcohol. The book is excellent and when it was initially released it got deservedly great critical acclaim. Style of writing is excellent, and it does encourage one to ponder on moral issues. Can you do such an act and remain unaffected? There are lots of paths unexplored, such was the first murder really intentional, or part of a little known Greek ritual. There were lots of one off comments or actions which were never explored- a quickly glimpsed kiss between m
ale teacher and pupil, we never know why- and the way it is staged it is not an implication of an ilicit homosexual relationship. These linger in the mind, and although never resolved they add to the 'background' It's realistic and these instances add to the flavour of the book. I haven't read something so quickly for a while. I honestly found it hard to put down.
Fast Food is a marketing machine of a book, it's slick and intelligent, telling you what you *need* to know. Need being the operative there. I think everybody should read this book, it opens the readers eyes to the modern world. OK it is theoretically about hamburger and fast food outlets, but the book goes far beyond that and discusses labour laws, the meatpacking industries, big business marketing and flavour science. A recipe for indigestion in whole. So, why is the McDonalds clown so thin? Originally he was, shall we say, more of a traditional clown shape, but the powers that be decided that having a large clown would give negative implications about the effect that eating at McDonalds has on you. So, the implicit message is , eat at McDonalds and stay thin.....not quite. It's perhaps not rocket science but, the food is really bad for you, personally and as a society. Americans used to eat most of their potatoes is standard( i.e boiled) form, Now most of the potato food they eat come in the form of chips. Sometimes these chips have beef extract in them to improve the taste, sometimes not, their often claimed mantra of same food in the same place isn't quite true, a country with a high vegetarian or Hindu population would get the non beef extract version. Maybe. If they complained enough. So what you may think, I won't eat the beef burgers, I'll have the *healthy* chicken nuggets instead. White meat is usually healthier? Not always, the nuggets have more fat that the beef. So how do these companies market, they target the poor for staff and target children for its produce. The limit the skills needed for the works, so that few transferable skills are needed. You don't speak very good English, well you don't need to , if you are working on the tills you only need to press a picture to ring up the food purchase. Want a join a union? If you get anywhere near it you'd be lucky. The one 'restaurant'
that managed to unionise was closed by McDonalds due to 'lack of custom'. The adult market for this sort of food it pretty saturated, so they target the children who will bring the adults in. Get them young and have them for life. In US schools now, you can buy your lunch from a Subway franchise, or Taco Bell. Your school may have an arrangement with Pepsi, so you can guarantee that you will be always able to locate a Pepsi in the building. Woe betide you if your school misses it's sales targets. But who cares if you are drinking too much fizzy stuff, the school is getting books, let's hope the books are accurate. It seems that certain suppliers have a vested interest in skewing the information provided in the workbooks though. Did you know how good that logging was for the environment, that's what certain corporate sponsored workbooks are implying It does seem like a McDonalds rant, but they could do so much more to help workers if they chose, they discuss the meatpacking industry and we see example after example of disregard for the health and safety of employees, again the poor wages and targeting of those who have little choice, the chicken farmers that don't own their chickens, merely raise them and are given a predefined profit. They control nothing and have no say in what amount the can charge for the birds. The big purchasers could solve this, if they said, we want fair conditions for the meatpackers, the farmers the chicken growers they could easily do that. They choose not to do so. So, is this all true, it seems to be, the book is well researched and all comments are sourced and documented. If we are what we eat we are in trouble now and will be in even more trouble in the future.
This film starts quite dramatically with a young boy being taught how to swim by his father, it isn't one of the traditional father and son bonding experiences, but, merely chuck him in a lake and see if he floats to the top. It gives an essence of an unhappy childhood and sets the scene for the whole film. The drowning boy grows up to be a an unhappy, unfilled man, who drifts through life, not expecting anything, and in return not receiving anything. He is taken on by a women, and they become married and have a child, the woman is pretty dreadful and seems to be completely irredeemable and immoral. It's a one dimensional character, and she is killed in a car crash after selling the child to an adoption agency. She is the typical personification of American 'white trash', and the inclusion of her doesn't strengthen the film. After the death, and the return of the daughter, Bunny, (yes mother is called Petal, daughter is called bunny) Quoyle's (Kevin Spacey's character doesn't seem to have a first name), unknown aunt, (Judi Dench) arrives on the scene, dragging them off to a shell of a house in Newfoundland. She has the most interesting accent, sounding more Irish than Canadian, and as the odd accent is similar throughout the Newfoundlanders in the film, I can only surmise that there is a strong link from Ireland, perhaps through immigration. So Newfoundland is a bleak inhospitable house, but the family seem to fit in to the community quite well, Quoyle landing a job in the local newspaper as a shipping and car crash reporter, as he becomes more confident and you see the initial awkwardness melting as he matures. He begins a relationship with a local divorcee who has a slightly backward son. The children bond neatly, Bunny being a more unusual child prone to seeing ghosts and having minor premonitions. This is never really explored in the film, just mentioned in passing. Although inexperienced,
Quoyle develops into a reasonable reporter and manages to pack some human interest into the local rag through a combination of luck and blundering. As the tale develops we hear more of the history of the Quoyles, the aunt was raped and made pregnant by her brother at an early age and earlier than that the family had been chased from the main community after they had tied a man to a tree, and cut of his nose to attract the hungry animals and birds. They had been seen to be dangerous looters and pirates. Now this area is interesting as the character of Quoyle seems to develop when he hears these unpleasant truths. It can't be pleasant to hear these things about relatives, there is always the thought- are these things genetic,? am I going to end up like that, or can it be avoided. As the storyline unfolds , and he learns more about his families history and past, he becomes more complete as a character, showing the potential which was all but quashed in his earlier years. As the winter hastens the family move always from the initial house, the snow will cut off the roads and to get to work, school and the town in general would be impossible. Here the film begins to build up to the ultimate destructive storm, where the original house is battered to bits, nothing remaining.. The house was symbolic of the older dysfunctional family and was all that linked them to the past, once it had gone they were no longed tied to themselves and could move onwards. I quite liked this film, it was genuinely amusing in places, but more gentle humour than rip roaring stuff, I enjoyed the themes behind it, holding onto the past being a strong one, and self perpetuating lack of achievement being another. The acting was good, Kevin Spacey being particularly impressive and Judi Dench also excelling in her role as aged aunt. I would like to read the book, as I believe it would fill in a lot of the gaps which the film left out, there were many th
ings hinted at, for example the psychic element of the little girl bunny, that I don't feel was explained enough in the film. However a two hour film is always going to be limited and have some gaps so perhaps the book would clear these matters up. It's not an outstanding film, merely good, it's weakened most by the beginning and the mother character being so excessive, still, all in all I would recommend it , but it's not American Beauty.
I've read the big issue fairly regularly since it's inception- that must be about 10 years ago so it is pretty obvious that I am a supporter of the magazine and it's ideals. So what is it? It's a magazine that is sold by the homeless. It?s quite a popular idea and there are street papers all over the world including the USA, Canada and Russia. They are all based on a similar idea, the vendor buys the magazine at a discounted rate, at present 60p and sells it on for £1.20. They are initially given a pack of 10 to sell and after that they put the money up front. It can be looked upon as running your own business, you have your pitch where you sell, and also you have to look at your outlay, how many you will sell, how many you can afford to buy, where you will keep them overnight, what happens if you don?t sell them all that week and have spare copies? the list goes on. It's not a soft option and although the vendor makes 50% on each item sold, the responsibility for everything is on them. It isn't easy for someone who is on the streets or living in a hostel to live an ordered life- you may not know where your next meal is coming from, or where you will sleep that night, so to assist the Big Issue foundation gives support and assistance. Each potential vendor is given a certain amount of training and has to sign a ?Vendor Code of Conduct. After this a Vendor cannot beg, or harass the public. I'm not quite sure that I agree with the implication that a homeless person is more likely to 'harass', but unfortunately it does happen and I have experienced it on more than one occasion. The magazine itself is fairly good. It is very socially aware and often touches issues that other publications leave well alone. It has crosswords , articles, letters pages, cartoon and is as well presented as any rival glossy. It is an entertaining read- and is sensibly put together. Many a time I have read things in the Big Issue and
been horrified at social circumstances and situations which have been ignored by the rest of the media. For example there was a long article on a mentally disturbed young man who has been jailed for decades for the crime of setting some church curtains on fire. He has slipped through the net and it is likely that he will be imprisoned for a long time still. However the problem is this. When I read an article in the Big Issue that I know anything about, I find the article unreliable and badly researched. It may just have been bad luck on my part, but there was once a large articles on computer hacking- now I am not a hacker, but I work in computers so know a fair amount about the subject. The article wasn't good- but only because I knew that some of the things they were saying just weren't right. Similar story with an article on some film industry thing that I knew a fair amount about, so I wonder if the reporting is a little sensationalist. I may be wrong, but, once bitten twice shy- and I am unlikely to take anything they say too seriously now, which is a pity, but other friends have said the same after reading articles that they know a lot about. They also run writing groups for the vendor, this is good for self esteem and general literacy and must in general be applauded. Much of what is provided is published in the Magazine, and sadly, a lot of it isn?t particularly good.. Now again you can shout , maybe these writers haven't had the benefit of an education or the opportunities that a lot take for granted, I agree, but I am not sure if printing poor poetry is doing anybody any good. Seems a little patronising to me and I don't like it. My next gripe with the Big Issue is attitude related. As far as I am concerned I have had a lucky life and am willing to give infinite time to those who have had problems, regardless if the problems are self inflicted or not, we all make mistakes and we all are constantly learning. H
owever I feel that the Big Issue is trying to be 'all things to all men' In one way we are told that the vendor is doing a job of legitimate employment, and the magazine should be bought because of its appeal, not as a charity donation. However, when I proffer £2 for a 1.20 magazine, I am rarely offered change. I don't mind giving money to the homeless, but I like it to be my choice, Also, which often happens, If I buy a copy of the magazine I don't like to be told ? Oh can I just take the money and keep the magazine- or 'I need £2 for this Issue'. A price is a price and if the magazine wants to be treated in a professional way that can't happen as often as it does. Now, a lot of people could say, but these Vendors are homeless surely you don't grudge them a bit extra- and I don't, what I don't like is the inference that on one hand you are a professional commodity, and the other hand 'it's chariteee mate', so you must give. This attitude was shown wonderfully in one of their cartoons- which I remember reading years ago. It had a guy in smart clothes, carrying a walkman, a big radio, a laptop ,dripping in jewels etc walking past a Big Issue vendor saying 'Sorry, I already have one'. Regardless of personal wealth, you have a choice of where to spend your money- looking wealthy doesn't mean that you have to buy the Big Issue, and maybe you already have bought one. Is the idea that, you are well off so you *have* to buy two copies I've bought two and three copies some months, but that's my personal choice and I don't like the implication that people have to buy it. That mixed message pervades round the magazine and I don't like it, it must put people off, I will continue to buy it anyway- with my misgivings , but a different type of person will think of buying a magazine once, get hassle and never do so again. To be really honest I don't buy it as often as I used too,
I go back because of the basic person that I am, I know it's hard for people, I try not to judge, it easily could have been me but really, they have to make a stance one way or another, or eventually they may lose me as a reader for good.
Directed by Todd Solondz Storytelling is composed of two tales- one lasting an hour and one lasting half an hour. The first story is shorter and discusses many taboos of our society, disabled sexuality, rape and inter-racial and inter generational sexual relationship. The second type is on typical American family life- and is at times is purposely reminiscent of American Beauty. The first film is darker than the first, and the second is more humorous. Tale 1 is based around a creative writing class within American College, there are three main characters, Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick ) who has Cerebral Palsy, his girlfriend( Selma Blair) Vi and their class lecturer. (Robert Wisdom) Marcus, who is noticeably disabled from our first view of him is beginning to realise that she is only seeing him out of sympathy and that 'she doesn't sweat during sex anymore', there is an argument and she returns to her accommodation, obviously upset. She goes out on the town 'to get laid', and when entering a local bar, sees the afro American lecturer from the creative studies class and goes back to his home. She discovers some photographs of other girls from the class, bound and gagged, but proceeds back to the room where they have intercourse. This tale is documented and read to the class as an example of creative writing. There is a lot of interesting material in this short tale, we rarely see examples of disabled sexuality on screen, we wonder what the interest is, is she seeing him through pity, or did have a true interest Both write their main classwork on personal experience, the first story is Marcus. He writes of a person with Cerbral Palsy who is transformed into feeling 'normal' by his love for someone else. We hear little of the story, but the class reaction is interesting, first of all it is lauded, like a 'disabled Faulkner' a work of great sensitivity and insight. There are wonderful momen
ts of awkwardness here, the class feel embarrassed that a writer with CP is writing about experiences of CP and, as they cannot emphasise they cannot criticise his work. However, one student is different and criticises the tale , which is backed up by the lecturer, the work is deemed weak and clumsy. We are led to wonder, had the work been from someone able bodied, would it have been seen in the same light. Then we ask, should the work of someone disabled be seen as better because of their difficulties, can we criticise what we do not understand. The same vehicle of the class attitudes is seen with the girls story. She recounts the sexual experience she had with the lecturer though, not mentioning by name. I wonder if her desire was to shame him with the story. The idea could be similar to the Hamlet theme when a play is recounted to show the death of Hamlets' father and encourage a guilty reaction from the guilty party. The politically correct reaction of the class was entertaining, 'the story was weak, racist and relying on old sexual stereotypes of the black male as sexual predator'. Was he a predator?, she made no complaint, she was not coerced but the power relationship was that she, as a student had less strength. What would have happened had she chose to leave. Would she have appeared like the others, bound and gagged. The story- a true experience for the girl was slated by the class. This part of the film can be seen as a comment on Politically Correctness, we assume that as so many disabled people are discriminated against and that the question of criticism is rarely used so many black men are falsely imprisoned and accused of sexual crimes that we cannot ever criticise. The second, longer story was on American Suburbia, a wannabe documentary filmmaker was chronicling the life of Scooby,( Mark Webber) an American teenage wannabe chat show host. The film maker doesn't seem particularly adept and is portrayed as
a man who has fallen from a popular and potential actor from his high school days, to someone who has drifted down to working in a shoe shop in New York. He has obviously been popular at school, although his life is different now- and wants to record the attitudes of America's youth and theoretically concentrate on the problems of the SAT's (exams) and stress of college application. Scooby's family is the standard for middle class dysfunctionality. He is around 17, has homosexual tendencies, vegetarian, non communicative with little application and ambition. He has two younger brothers one the typical American teenager, solid football playing type while the little brother is precocious and intelligent. The father is John Goodman with interesting dyed jet black hair while his wife is the typical suburban mother. Much of the family interaction is filmed around the dinner table where conversation is stilted. Much of the documentary film consciously parodies American Beauty we have the dancing leaves, the rows of similar houses and at the initial review showing the film is entitled 'American Scooby'. We follow Scooby through his days- learning very little about what makes him tick, very little different from many teenagers. Little ambition or depth in the documentary until tragedy hits the family with the middle child ending up in a coma after a football accident, the producer who is interested in the documentary only seeing opportunities when the family meets with misfortune. The documentary is meant to give Scooby depth, give an understanding to the pressures of American Youth, but all it does is emphasise his societies shallowness, he has no interests and little intelligence , the documentary just ridicules him, but does the film maker know?, he who has failed in almost everything sees this as his great art- understanding the pressures of youth but alas, his subject adds nothing to his grand theory.. The
two stories are complementary one showing the nihilism of contemporary suburbia and the other discussing the taboos of our society, the one thing I didn't like about the film was that it didn?t feel complete, I believe that a third segment- starring James van der Beek from Dawson's Creek was filmed to make it a trilogy, but for 'artistic reasons' (read.. main star kicking up a fuss) it was never shown. Shame, I think it would have made the film whole.
Hmm, the title implies that it is something that can be mastered. Like anything else you learn throughout your life, some parts you slip on, some parts you are constantly improving. I started to learn to play the trombone when I was about 15, this was late to take up a musical instrument ,and had I wished to take my studies further, I really would have had to start a good few years earlier. I had an advantage though, I had sung in a professional type children's choir. That sounds pretentious I think, but effectively I was a member of the children's chorus associated to the Scottish National Orchestra (now the Royal Scottish National Orchestra )and we sang at quite important events. The standard of the chorus was high in that you had to follow a part and sing in tune but it wasn't purely for those who had vocal training. I just went along and sang. We did two records (actual vinyl, this was 1983) and performed whenever the main chorus needed a junior choir. I remember singing Mahler, Orff and ?.lots of varied music. I also remember sitting behind the brass and finding the instruments fascinating. So when the choice came round at school for who wanted to play brass instruments, My hand was in the air and, I knew what I was letting myself in for. In Glasgow, lessons were free for interested pupils. They were individual in that there was only one pupil in a 40 minute lesson. I believe that now students share lessons. We were also supplied with an instrument. I had wanted a trombone and had been sent home with a shiny blessing scholastic, a good basic make. It's positive that they supplied the instrument as, firstly even beginner models are expensive and secondly, different personal characteristics affect your skill level on an instrument. Now I always think that anybody has the right to play the instrument of their choice. If you live to play the violin, but are not blessed with good hand eye co-ordination, you will not make
a particularly good violinist. But, if you enjoy it that is more important. You may constantly scratch away in the second violin section and love every moment of it. However it is best to take into account personal characteristics when you choose an instrument. So many people are put off music by enforced piano and violin lessons.,' Oh yes, and a flute for my daughter!' She'll like that. Well she might not! Sometimes it's a class thing, I am middle class therefore my child will be musical, and the clarinet is a nice quiet instrument. Or, we have a piano, you must learn it. There was a good book about by a woman called Atatrah Ben Tovin(sp?) called something along the lines of 'Choosing the right instrument for your child' For anybody considering music lessons it's worth a look. It's not an exact science, but is helpful. So, Shy delicate children are not likely to take to the trumpet, and a child with poor co-ordination might struggle with the piano. French horns requite an excellent sense of pitch, while the clarinet makes the sound for you so doesn't require that ability so strongly. Also where you want to play affects the choice, you can't play the tenor horn in a symphony orchestra,, it is a brass band only instrument, and up until recently some colleges wouldn't accept musicians on purely brass band instruments. So if you were a star euphonium player- you couldn't do single study on that at music college level. So, I was tall and relatively strong (to carry it) and had a good sense of pitch which you need to stop the slide in the right place, so I was a natural trmbone player. The first hurdle was reading music, most people at that time started with a book called 'a tune a day', which taught you the basic slide positions with the carrot of a recognisable tune to play at the end of each lesson. I regaled the neighbours with endless renditions of 'On top of Old
Smokey', 'Michael Row the boat ashore' and' Silent night'. Unfortunately the book was designed for people taking up the instrument in first term, and as I had taken it up in April the seasonal tunes were not appropriate. I played jingle bells in May and Autumn Leaves in December. The book was American, so not all of the tunes were instantly recognisable. I also had to supplement it by learning scales, practising lip flexibility's and learning some theory . A lot goes into learning an instrument. I honked away after school, my enthusiasm indeterminately waning and waxing as I progressed. Some weeks I loved it, some times I hated it. Then, I was put in for an exam. My first one was a grade three. I had to play two pieces, a study and some scales and ear tests. Now there are at least 3 exams boards (guildhall, trinity and the associated board) and although they are all the same in theory, looking at the syllabus later, I think that the guildhall demands the most advanced music. So I was assigned my pieces to play and practice. And,practice I did, until the fated day appeared. It was up about 6 flights of stairs in a tiny attic room. I had the advantage of knowing my the accompanist, my teachers' husband had offered to play for me, a great advantage as, generally you have to hire someone to play the piano parts. I played my best, and after a few weeks got a phone call from my music teacher telling me I was a qualified musician. Regrettably, that was the only grade exam that I sat although I did do the Scottish Ordinary and Higher grade exams , passing the exam did me a lot of good, and I went on from strength to strength, much more enthusiastic than I was before, However, it was a lonely life, after all, I was the only trombonist in the school- actually I was the only Brass player, all the others had given up and the teacher came in for me only. We had no school band, and I had no peers that played anything. So, altho
ugh I was of <I> strong character </I> it was hard to continue doing something that nobody else understood. I really wanted to give up, but was too scared to tell my music teacher. I think she must have noticed this, and she made a suggestion that turned everything around. I was to audition for the local schools band. If accepted I would spend a fortnight in the summer playing wind band music. I would meet other people with similar interests, and improve my playing. I was naturally apprehensive, I had never played in a band before and had to audition. I would have to play a part instead of the tune, and would have to learn to follow a conductor. There was also the slight embarrassment of being a late starter, I was 17 by this age, and had only been playing for two years. Most of the other pupils of this age had 5 years of experience under their belts. I went to the audition in fear and trepidation, and left in jubilation after I was awarded the post of third trombone. I loved it, the camaraderie amongst the brass, the sound of the instruments, I discovered playing loud, really loud, I heard of this thing called 'piano' and 'pianissimo', but our trombone section leader told us that these marking did not exist for trombones and should be ignored. This was really the making of me, I returned to school and asked my music teacher to get me in a band, which she did with pleasure. Music is about working with others- but it isn't easy if there is no school band to induct you. After that I was in many bands, jazz , military, orchestras, and I loved it all, I was out three nights a week for years, I was in Germany and Russia through music and met many lifelong friends. It was only then that I felt that I could actually play the instrument instead of 'learning' it. It's a mental switch that happens just after the first secure top Bb. You can play it proficiently , some are better, some are worse, but the instrument
is (just about) in my control. I continue on to this day, not a easy to practise when you have a full time job and a house to run but I enjoy it, I can move job and city and know that I can makes friends through my music. It's a great leveller. Most give up when they leave school, either thinking it's a kids hobby. That's a pity as it really is a worthwhile thing to do, the hours you spend in practice are repaid in pleasure. I don't know what I would do if I couldn't play anymore. For me, not being able to participate in music would be a tragedy.
I seem to have been the only person in my peer group who did not read clan of the cave bear- and indeed the entire Earth’s Children series of book when I was around 15. When visiting the prehistoric caves in the Southern France area last summer, I took an interest in prehistoric things- and discovered a lot more about the early people of earth than I had ever known. I visited a site, near to Lascaux, where the famous cave paintings are, which was a Neanderthal settlement where there had been both Neanderthals and bears buried in the same site. I then heard that the relationship between bears and prehistoric settlements was relatively well documented and that, this series of books had been written about their relationships. So I decided to read the book.. It is a very well researched book telling the tale of a young girl Alya who is of cro magnon (us) heritage, after an earthquake she is separated from her family and is found, near to death by a Neanderthal clan. The clan is searching for a new cave as a home and although they are apprehensive about adopting one of ‘the others’ realise that she is close to death and that she needs care and attention to survive. Soon after this, she recovers and makes the first sighting of the cave that is to be their new home. She is then seen by the clan as lucky- and that coupled with her obvious difference from the clan, gives her a certain leeway in behaviour which is not permissible for the rest of the female clan members, She is primarily cared for by Iza, the medicine women and her brother the Mog-ur, or magician Creb. Basically the story is a bit of a soap opera. It is pretty simplistic and easy to see why it is popular with teenagers. The characterisation is pretty weak, there is Iza, the medicine women, kind and caring, Creb the magician, deformed and initially lonely until Ayla treats him as a substitute father, Brun the clan’s leader, a fair and just man who is limited by the traditions
that he must follow, and Broun his son, an arrogant and unpleasant young man who takes an instant dislike to Alya. at this point I must mention that the family distinction is different to this- it is not known that the male physically fathers the child. Each person has a representative totem and when that totem is defeated the women becomes pregnant. A lot of people will be agog that I can describe the story as a soap opera- any other reviews of this, by paper, electronic copy and word of mouth have said it is a wonderful story, but the majority of readers first visited this book in their teenage years, and like anything else tastes develop as you age. If you read and enjoy a book when you were relatively young you retain a fondness for it when you re-read it, and you don’t see the flaws that someone else, reading it as an adult might see. I did enjoy it though- it is extremely readable and does many very interesting things. Primarily, it ‘humanises’ the Neanderthals. It is well documented that Neanderthals were not intelligent, they did not learn and relied on tried and tested methods- their civilisation did not mature and, when the weather became more brutal, they could not survive. So, they were looked upon as stupid, the expression Neanderthal effectively means that today, unable to learn and develop, with unsophisticated antics. So this race dies out, perhaps they were stupid, but that is nobody’s fault, you develop with what you have, and regardless everybody has feelings and social groupings. However, here is where she delves into the unknown, and that for me is an understandable flaw. The research is meticulous, I believe the book took many years to write, but it is in the end a work of fiction, we do not know for example, as claimed, that these people had the ability to remember things of centuries. I personally suspect not. So even though it is based in historical fact a lot is fiction too, this confused me somewhat. For
example when the great clan gathering is discussed it is made evident that a lot of the ceremonies are under the influences from naturally made hallucinogenic drugs, I have heard this theory before, and it seems that it is likely to be true, but who really knows, this prehistory is so ancient that I cannot get hold of it, so with the exception of what we can see of their tools and remnants e are only really guessing at a civilisation- most of the suppositions seem to me, with my 20th century mind, to be sensible and likely, but who really knows, and the fact that so many other parts of the book are ?real?, we tend to accept the whole story as real. So, as an extreme view, the meticulous detail actually weakens it, we don’t know which bits are true and which are fiction, and our understanding is skewed. Interesting approach to cursing and death- when found to have been doing a purely male activity such as hunting Ayla is sentenced to death curse- but not a permanent death, but one where, if she comes back, she can return to the Clan. Confused? Well I was when I read it, and then the penny dropped as I read further into the scenario. Basically the strength of the Mog-ur is based on the belief of his people. When they are told that she is dead, even though she is standing there, hale and hearty, the cannot believe that she is still alive as that would contradict the word of the spiritual leader. There is interesting discourse amongst the clanspersons- they believed that an evil spirit was standing in front of them- pretending to be Ayla to lull them away from their beliefs. However, as she returns later on, they accept her existence- why because her curse was only temporary. She was dead and can still return. It is also interesting on the role of females and gender in general. Men hunt, Women cook. Women cannot see sacred ceremonies in case they taint them, now the women of the clan accept this role easily, they are female and this what you do.
Alya doesn’t fit this mould, As a Cro Magnon she is more intelligent and inquisitive, pushing the boundaries at each opportunity. I’m never sure if it was because she was more intelligent that she chose not to be cowed or if she had had more positive female role models in her years before entering the clan. Alas her growth in stature and obviously ability to do things that before only men had- she was allowed to be the ‘woman who hunts’, did not seem to have any positive affect on the roles of the women around her, they still continued on in the same path, perhaps signifying the inherent differences between the two species. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all, but take it for what it is, a fable with some very strong background information. The real question is- would I read the others, probably yes, but only if they explore different areas of prehistory.
Walnut and Mushroom Soup Common wisdom says that you can separate people out into two easy factions- those who like dogs, and those who like cats. Well that may be so, but personally, I?ve always relied on a further distinction, those who like mushroom soup to be white, delicate and creamy and those who prefer it to be like an industrial tank- thick, dark and flavoursome. I fall into the latter camp- while I enjoy the occasional creamy mushroom soup, it isn't what I want of a winter evening and this recipe will provide a hearty feast. I tend to make a smallish amount at a time- maybe a pint or so as I feel that whenever I make more it is less successful, unlike many soups it never improves overnight and should be eaten after it's made Ingredients- (for about a pint of soup) 8-10 large mushrooms,(I use button ones, but any type would be suitable) 1 teaspoon marmite/yeast extract 1-3 cloves of garlic 1 vegetable stock cube- or an equivalent amount of Bullion A handful of Parsley A Handful of Walnuts. Half an onion. Butter First thing to do is to chop the mushrooms- they will be blended so it's a good idea to do them relatively small. Cook them in a pot with some butter for around 5 minutes. When they are cooked remove them and put them in a bowl. Chop the half onion and the desired amount of garlic, remembering that the smaller you cut the garlic the more powerful the flavour. Cook these in the remnants of the butter which you cooked the mushrooms in. Only cook for a few minutes, you want them to be soft, not particularly browned. When they appear to be ready put around 1 to 1 and a half pints of water in- and turn the heat up to encourage it to boil. Place either a vegetable stock cube or some bullion into the water and stir it in. The take a teaspoon of marmite/yeast extract and add that to the stock. Stir it well so you don't have blobs of marmite. Continu
e cooking for around 5-7 minutes so allow the stock to reduce. Chop the walnuts into relatively small pieces and add them and the chopped mushrooms to the stock. Keep a few of the mushrooms spare to garnish at the end. Cook for a further 5 minutes on high. Then blend until relatively smooth. Add some chopped parsley and serve. Very nice for a winters evening
Violence, Football, Football Casuals, Edinburgh, Aids, Schemes, Drugs, Alcohol, Sex. Jumble them up together and you will come out with an Irvine Welsh book. I can't really call them ‘Novels’ as so few of the ideas are novel. I used to really like his stuff; I enjoyed Trainspotting and Marabou Stork Nightmares immensely and was vaguely impressed by his short stories. This all stopped when I read filth and was horrified by it. Not in a ' Oh that's terrible’ way, but more in a 'what is the literary value of this’ way. I swore never to read his books again, but I read good reviews of Glue and after seeing in on sale for a fiver- was unfortunately tempted. It's a big book and follows the fortunes/misfortunes of four people from Edinburgh. We see them at three points in their life, when they are around 14/15. When they are 25(ish) and when they are 35(ish). There is a little prequel giving some information about the respective families and their past- it gives some neat pointers as we often forget that the maligned housing schemes of today were actually desirable soon after they were built. The initial purpose was to re house people from 'the inner city slums' and although the homes soon fell into disrepair the initial idea was good, and hopes of the prospective tenants were high. The story centres round 4 young men. They are of similar characters to most of Welsh’s male characters and their lives centre around drink, petty crime, football violence and sex. The book has very few female characters, and as usual they are sketchily drawn. The few female characters are pretty one dimensional and only there for the gratification of the males. I accept that there are characters such as the ones Welsh draws in every city but I find the constant rehashing of the same themes and ideas quite frustrating. I suppose that everybody has a story to tell, but I did not find the 4 characters particularly interesting or be
guiling. I also find the book pretty unbelievable at times- perhaps the average persons life story is not particularly interesting, but a lot of the instances and situations are particularly unlikely. I may have had a sheltered childhood but I found the sexual liaisons of the 15 year olds quite astounding and when I read of 15 year old have sexual relations with 12 year olds outside clubs/pubs that they have no problems getting into I am a little disbelieving. Welsh spends him time painting unpleasant scenes in unpleasant schemes, and although life can be rough I would prefer it if he diversified a little. Maybe he does it to let the average reader realise how harsh life can be in some areas, but what it does is dehumanises and lumps everybody together. Each character tells part of the story from his character so we get quite interesting perspectives of each personality from another point of view. The four main characters are Andrew Gallacher, Terry Lawson, Carl Ewart and Billy Birrell. Lawson is the ‘jack the lad’ working on juice lorries while the other boys are still at school. Birrell is sporty- and fledgling footballer and boxer. Carl has an interest in music and the other boy is not so well defined. This component of the book finishes when Gallacher is imprisoned for his part in football violence. The second portion of the book is a snap shot of their life at 25, Ewart and Birrell are progressing into careers as boxers and DJ's respectively , while they others are in unemployed and having occasional forays into fatherhood. Gally has been imprisoned twice, the second time for unintentional violence to his daughter. It is made clear that he is not a violent man- just frustrated and unfortunate trip to the Octoberfest in Germany is planned - again unrealistic how could this trip have been afforded? The meet some Germans through Carl’s musical interest and end up staying in their home- a large house
which is soon due to be sold. Final component of the book is when they are in their mid 30's. Carl is a famous musician and DJ, Birrell is a successful Businessman and Lawson is portrayed as an immature 'loser' still living at his parental home. Gally is dead of a suspected suicide and since then their social interaction with each other is limited. The illness and subsequent hospitalisation of Ewart’s father brings them all together again when, as per usual in one of Welsh's books there is an explosive finale where lots of loose ends are tied up. As usual cleverly done, but I don't think anything new is really said. I didn't see much insight in the book and I won’t read any of his other stuff. It’s most irritating in being so unrealistic, sad to say, but in a set up like that these boys are not going to be millionaires, they will not be successful businessmen- their background, accent, criminal records and lack of education would play against them too much. I don’t mind a little lack of realism in literature, but there comes a point where it becomes ridiculous and glue was that sticky spot ( I’d imagine the title refers to sticking together like glue).
Krups are famed for their coffee makers and I would be surprised if you did not get a decent cup of coffee out of any of their coffee machines. They vary in price from the basic entry models at around £70 to more complex machines costing hundreds of pounds. Now, I like a good cup of coffee to the extent of being happy to pay a fair amount for it- but there comes a point where, for me it isn't sensible to pay any more. For me that comes at about £50, so I had thought that a Krups one was out of my price range. Fortunately I espied a bargain, a local shop, Cash Generator was doing these Bravo Plus models, but 'graded' for £50. Now cash generator is a glorified pawn shop- where people sell their unwanted goods, I don't think that type of business is particularly moral and am not happy taking advantage of other people distress to get a bargain. For that reason I wouldn't buy anything second hand there. But graded goods are fine. Maybe the box is a bit scruffy, but the contents are fine. I checked out on dealtime.co.uk and it seems that this particular maker would cost about £70 elsewhere. Curry's do them So, it is a expresso maker with a foamer to allow you to froth milk for cappuccino. It makes up to four cups of expresso and you have the choice of decanting into cups, or using the provided glass pourer. Probably suitable for one or two people as you have to let it cool down a but before using it again. The quality of the expresso depends on the pressure that the water is pushed through at. This isn't a pump machine, a Krups pump machine will be 15 bars- similar to a machine in a special coffee house, and this one forces the water through at around 3 bars. Better than the average machine but not top notch. As an aside, I wonder if you are slightly paying for the name as a 3 bar one from another company might not cost as much. But as this is the only machine I have tried, and it was £20 less than retail price
, I can't really comment. The coffee is excellent and easy to make. Basically you pour the water in the back- add the coffee to the nozzle and away you go. There are marks on the nozzle dependant on whether you want two or four cups. It takes about 2 minutes to brew and then the coffee spurts out the front. As it come out, you can froth your milk for the cappuccino. The nozzle is very easy to clean as the coffee is so compressed and dry as the water has been forced through it. So you just give it a shake and it comes out. I have also noted that, if after your expresso jolt, you want a normal cup of coffee, you can just bung a whole mugful of water in the back, use the remainder of the expresso and you get a full mug of normal coffee as well. It makes a pretty terrifying noise when it is making it and there is usually a fair amount of steam about. My one concern is not knowing when the machine is empty, and being concerned that I am continuing to boil on the equivalent of an empty kettle. It's fine for adults, but a child could get a nasty fright/burn, especially if they were playing with the steaming arm. All in all, for me, it's an excellent investment and well worth the money. I even think it's worth the full price. Makes good expresso, cappuccino and looks pretty good on your worktop.
The Others is a rare breed, a contemporary horror which is actually chilling. It is set in a large, rambling manor house in Jersey at the end of the second world war. Nicole Kidman plays a young mother, caring for her two children while waiting for her husband to return from the war. The children are brought up in a strict environment, having to learn the bible and being punished when seen as wrong. There are regular inferences to something bad happening in the past, 'when mummy went mad', but we are given no clue to what the actual event was- although we can form a link between that and the fact that all the servants had left the home overnight. The house is dark and dusty the children are described as being hypersensitive to light, so to protect them all curtains must be kept drawn wherever they are. Each door must be closed and locked before another is opened and these constantly clanging doors give a very oppressive feel. Nicole Kidman plays a woman hanging on by a thread extremely well and the children are very expressive and impressive. Three mysterious servants appear to replace the ones that left and fill the necessary roles within the house. There is a young mute girl, and older Irish woman and a man. The woman is the spokesperson and they all claim to have worked in the house in earlier years and know the environment well. The girl Anne, is claiming to see the ghost of a young boy, 'Victor' and is regularly scaring her younger brother Nicolas, mother is displeased at these references towards ghosts and punishes the girl for an over active imagination. However as the film progresses, the mother comes to believe her daughter as the strange noises in an almost empty house are not understandable in any other way. The three servants throw a spanner in the works- firstly trying to shield the mother from the fact that there are 'Others' in their home whilst agreeing with the girl. The acceleration of ghostly event
s in the film increases and at the peak of this the mother goes of to the main village to gain the assistance from the local priest, at this point the husband (Christopher Eccelson appears in the fog- back from the war and planning a final visit to his family before going off to the front. He visits briefly- staying in bed, generally uncommunicative, except when an incident with the mother and daughter causes him to find out about the earlier unexplained madness incident. After this he leaves, in the night. The film climaxes when the children awake to find all the curtains removed from the house, the mother hysterically running round trying to protect them from the invading light, it is from this point that the mysteries of the film start to be explained and we come to a very clever twist, which although I had a few suspicions I did not suspect the true ending at all. This is a very well acted film - a story of suspense from start to end, where there are very few points where you jump. Even if people disbelieve in ghosts etc, it is still scary as it can be looked upon as a young, stressed mother, slowly going mad in isolation from the world. The sound affects are excellent, an occasional noise in a generally quiet environment making a large impact in the gloomy 1940's home.
I don't believe it's all bad- few if any things are,but I was surprised to I read a thing in the newspaper last week saying that the average person in the UK spends 27 hours per week watching TV. Now, with all averages that means there is a large spread of data, but when it comes down to it I find the idea that the average person is spending almost 4 hours a day watching television pretty horrific. Now I do know that most people don't have all consuming hobbies such as oil painting or rally driving, but even watching the best TV is still a form of whiling away your life. Regardless of how good a programme is I doubt that anybody will lie on their deathbed bemoaning the fact that they missed, Walking with Dinosaurs. So what's good about it? Undoubtedly there are excellent programmes, intelligent documentaries, humorous shows and good educational problems for children. There is a fair amount of dross too, but that does not particularly bother me, sometimes we all like to stare and vegetate . There even is an argument for quiz shows- OK they can be irritating and I don't like the money/prize obsession but I have picked up a few bits of information from them. My big problem with this excessive TV watching is that it's almost completely passive. I accept that what with digital TV it looks like that their will be ways to interact, but in general in seems that you accept what is shown to you. It's non participate , you observe, but do not join in. I don't really think that is a healthy way to spend your life- we all need to interact with other people, and we practice and learn how to do it well. I know all the urban myths about children being brought up in front of the telly and am sure it must happen, to a certain extent. How do these children learn to interact with their peers. How do adults hone their social skills when they spend so much time in a non interactive environment? Use the TV for what it
is, a thing to enjoy, but not to the extent of all others. I enjoy certain programs, but I never stay in for anything- and I never tape anything, it just isn;t worth it, I can develop more as a person by social interaction rather than staring at life through a box
Rent or buy is always the big question, especially relevant in these fraught economic times. So what should you do? In general it depends on your own personal circumstances, but I hope to give a few pointers to concentrate you on whether you wish to make that jump into huge debt or not. I am going to aim this purely at people who are in the position to choose - so if you are on benefit you may have a whole new set of rental issues with which to deal . One thing to bear in mind. This obsession with buying as soon as you can is a British thing. I doesn't happen in the rest of Europe. It all started to kick off around 20 years ago when banks were allowed to give mortgages, it used to be building societies only, the gender imbalance changed and women could easily get mortgages ( not always easy , most women used to stay at home till they were married), and thirdly the 'right to buy' legislation of the Thatcher government that encouraged people to buy their council homes at heavily discounted prices. So people in Britain tend to say ' Buy, don't rent, everybody else is doing it- fit in and be normal'. But is it a good idea., does it improve the country? There is an ethos that a nation of homeowners makes a strong economy but in Scandinavia- arguably the highest standard of living in Europe nobody considers buying till the are in their 30's at least.. It hasn't harmed their economy. So history lesson over- If you rent you are freer, you can in theory move more easily and you are not making an investment in an area. However, everybody has their favourite lost deposit story and , in my experience you are likely to have problems in getting your deposit back. I even went to the extent of sending legal letters to my ex landlord, but when it comes down to it, it is your word against theirs. So you can't really move every six months- as you could be losing £3/400 every time. That lost deposit adds to your ren
t too. You may think you are paying £300 a month for 6 months, but if you lose your deposit and only stay for 6 months you are actually paying £350. Repairs are done for you, so even though you are losing money by paying rent for no long term gain, you are sheltered from repair costs, you don't have to worry about property values, although if the value of the property goes down you are unlikely to find that your rent correspondingly decreases. The rent can be cheaper that a mortgage, but you might find that your £400 a month would not buy you a house in the area you rent in, especially so if you are sharing, sharing rental costs could give you a much nicer living environment than you get could from the mortgage that you could afford alone. If you have problems with your neighbours you can move- if they are really difficult( and they too rent) you are relying on your landlord to do something about it- and if they are paying regular money, they may be quite happy to sit back and take it. Yes, you can complain and move , but most new landlords want a reference and if you give the old landlord hassle you may not get one. So be warned. So, the rental market is fraught with pitfalls, is the buying market better? Where do you live? Scots and English laws are very different- and it is generally thought of as easier to buy in Scotland. No gazumping (people accept your bid and then give the house to someone who offers more later), no chains (I'll buy your if someone buys mine?etc). No leasehold either. It's a lot simpler and, in my opinion as an exiled Scot- a lot better. So to buy- most lenders want a deposit, it increases the mortgage choice. So you need 5% of your proposed purchase up front. Lawyers fees, survey fees, stamp duty (if house costs over 60K). It's a lot of outlays- you will have to set up a fair amount of saving before you do it- and it is likely to wipe out a lot of any saving you do have. You will
now be liable for all repairs to your house. The value may go up, it may go down. If it goes up and you think you are making a profit, think again, everything else has gone up too- so unless you are relocating from the south of England to the Highlands of Scotland you are unlikely to make anything. Oh yes ,and prices might go down too, and it seems they are at present. So you could end up paying for a mortgage on a property that isn't worth what you are paying. I hear horror stories of people stuck in unsaleable property, which they bought when house prices were high. Be careful, be very careful. Mortgages are complex too, there are many different types, and you can find yourself locked into a high deal when lower ones are available, however at present the rates are low- and from what I read likely to go lower. So if you get a relatively good deal now- it might lower a bit, but not so much that you will be kicking yourself. Both sectors have strengths and although I have always rented up 'til now, I think that in the next 6 months or so is a good time to buy- by then we will know what is really happening to property prices and you can probably get a relatively cheap fixed mortgage which will protect you for a while. Just bear in mind that the rental sector is there- and it's not always good to buy, it seems that that attitude is plugged into a lot of people from day one of their life. Even if you never buy and are transient all your life, what's wrong with that? When it comes down to it, you can't take it with you.