My favourite films of 2016

As a devout member of the Wittertainment church (Hi Jason), I thought it was only right to do a brief round up of all the films I’ve seen and fallen in love with this year – from the mainstream to the smaller, less noticeable stuff that you might have missed.

Alongside these choices, there were loads of other movies released in 2016 that I just haven’t got round to seeing yet – namely, ZootropolisGhostbustersHigh RiseI, Daniel BlakeSon of Saul, and Nocturnal Animals.

I’m also going to see Moana on Saturday and Rogue One on Monday (YAY) – both of which I imagine would be ranked highly on my list were I writing it at a later date. That said, this blog has already suffered without new content for almost two months, so best crack on.

 

A United Kingdom

This biographical tale has a fascinating political backdrop that conspires to break apart an interracial marriage in a post-war world. I love Rosamund Pike in absolutely everything she’s in, but it was David Oyelowo who really blew me away in his role as Seretse Kharma, the black chief-in-waiting of Bechuanaland who dares to fall in love with a white woman from South London.

There’s one incredible, almost tear-jerking scene in which Seretse appeals to his tribe, asking them to consider what it means to separate a husband and wife simply because one is black and one is white – emphasising that by ‘giving in’ to racist regimes and pressures from the British Government and South Africa, they are accepting segregation rather than fighting for equality. I found this film incredibly moving and powerful, and I encourage everybody to see it.

 

Arrival

The plot of Arrival follows Amy Adams, a linguist who is sought out by the American military to assist in translating alien communications. I had very few expectations when I sat down to watch this film – I had heard it was better than The Accountant (which I had originally planned to see that day) – and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t at all disappointed.

Aside from finding the time-jumps slightly confusing (probably my own fault for being slow, not necessarily the film’s), Arrival was absolutely mesmerising. The big ‘reveal’ of the aliens played out especially well and was handled far better than as is usually the case in other sci-fi movies. The score is equally eerie and haunting, and actually stays with you even after the film has finished. Finally, Amy Adams is GREAT and definitely deserves to pick up a few awards for this come February.

 

Sing Street

If you know and love John Carney’s Once and Begin Again, you will LOVE Sing Street. In fact, even if you don’t know John Carney’s back catalogue, you will LOVE Sing Street. This 80s-tastic coming-of-age flick follows the tale of Conor, a 14-year-old Irish kid who starts a band to impress a girl. The soundtrack is magnificent – you’ll hear the likes of Duran Duran, The Cure and Spandau Ballet, and there’s plenty of catchy original music featured, too. All in all it’s just an incredibly uplifting film, and I challenge you not to fall in love with Eamon (pictured far right), the musical maestro/bunny collector who I think is the true hero of this piece.

The Jungle Book

Like many, I won’t deny feeling ever so slightly nervous upon hearing that The Jungle Book was being remade, but Jon Favreau’s adaption was genuinely very enjoyable.

Despite the star-studded cast, it’s actually the young lead, Neel Sethi, who totally steals the show as Mowgli. It’s also no surprise that the stunning visual effects has led to The Jungle Bookreceiving high praise from critics, and they really are outstanding. The only thing that left me less than convinced was Christopher Walken’s ‘King Louie’ and his rendition of ‘I Wanna Be Like You (oo oo)’. Bit weird. Other than that, a great film.

 

The BFG

I went to see The BFG with an eight-year-old who didn’t know the story at all, so it was especially enjoyable seeing her reaction to this film. Spielberg clearly pulled out all the stops when it came to creating the visual elements of his latest flick – particularly during the dream-catching sequences in and Sophie’s visit to the ‘dream tree’.

But what really impressed me the most was the chemistry and bond between Mark Rylance’s ‘BFG’ and Ruby Barnhill’s ‘Sophie’ – there was clearly a real friendship there and they gelled together perfectly.

This film was a true delight, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it again.

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Learning to embrace my ridiculousness

Recently, I had a job interview at Hearst Magazines – the big shots in the publishing world – at their London offices near Carnaby Street. I had arrived early and was waiting nervously in reception, but it wasn’t long before the lady interviewing me arrived downstairs and introduced herself – let’s call her Jessica*.

To get upstairs to the main office, you needed to scan an employee pass and go through a turnstile – Jessica of course already had hers to hand, and wandered through before noticing that I had no way of doing the same. To let me through, she leant forward to scan her card again, but then pushed the bars on the turnstile forward so quickly that I barely had the chance to squeeze one leg past, let alone two.

I now had the metal bar on the turnstile uncomfortably positioned in between my legs and half way up my dress, and I was straddling the damn thing like I was on a seesaw. The interview hadn’t even bloody started yet and here I was getting over-friendly with the furniture. Clinging onto my dignity like a hapless MP caught toying with things one shouldn’t, I hopped backwards onto the leg on the correct side of the turnstile, and attempted to lift my other leg over the metal bar without crashing spectacularly to the floor. I succeeded, but not without elegantly falling into a baffled Jessica, who was stood behind me, and three other random people who could hardly believe what was happening. Feeling very warm and flustered, I muttered something about making an interesting first impression, but Jessica just smiled. In case you were wondering, I didn’t get the job.

*Jessica wasn’t her real name, but she was genuinely lovely

I’d like to imagine that this was just an unfortunate one-off, a complete anomaly, but admittedly I am a ridiculous person, and ridiculous things happen to me on an almost daily basis. The kind of idiot who has “only that could happen to you” repeated to me each time I recall an occasion which I said or did something stupid. Like the time I tripped over and spilled a cup of coffee all over an old man’s crotch on my first day in my first job as a waitress. Or the time I went grass sledging with my brother’s Scout group, rocketed off the edge of the track and landed head-first into a bog. Or even that time my dress accidentally fell down inside the Sistine Chapel, where the exposure of bare shoulders and knees is banned. (Luckily the security guards failed to notice, but I will probably be going to hell now).

I almost wish I could say that it was all on purpose – a way to get a reaction or a bit of a giggle – but really I just make terrible decisions that more often than not have bizarre and unfortunate consequences. Sometimes (as we all do at one time or another) I wish I was the kind of girl who was a bit more normal, and a bit less of an idiot, and wouldn’t have to worry about making a tit of herself when it isn’t exactly appropriate.

But wouldn’t the world be dull without a bit of foolishness? God I think so, and wasn’t it Marilyn Monroe who once said that “it’s better be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring”? So even though my friends and family may wince at my clownish behaviour, in this season of starting a-new I figured I might as well just embrace my ridiculousness, and style it out for as long as I can manage. After all, being a clumsy idiot sure as hell keeps life entertaining, and is a pretty handy ice-breaker, too… maybe just don’t save it for your next job interview.

La La Land: A modern-day Singin’ in the Rain

I think I was about sixteen when I first saw Singin’ in the Rain. It was probably a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I remember being stuck indoors on my own, lonely and bored with a mountain of ironing to do. Ten minutes into the film I actually had to stop ironing and sit down, worried that I was inevitably going to burn a hole in something because I just couldn’t keep my eyes off the TV screen. When it had finished, it left me with such an indescribable warm and fuzzy feeling that I immediately went online and bought the DVD, and watched it again when it arrived in the post a few days later. It’s been my favourite film ever since.

I watch a lot of movies, and often I’ll experience that amazing warm and fuzzy feeling as I once did that rainy Sunday afternoon, but none more so than when I went to see La La Land last Tuesday. I’d had my eye on it for a few months having read about it in an upcoming releases blog sometime last summer, and had even attempted to buy tickets to see it at the London Film Festival in November, but unfortunately they sold out in seconds.

Since its release, it has received overwhelming praise from audiences and critics from across the world, scooping up a whopping seven awards at the Golden Globes – more than any other film ever. It has also received 11 Academy Award nominations, and has been hailed by many as the best movie of the year so far.

With this in mind you could say I was pretty excited to finally catch a screening, but I also entered the cinema with trepidation – with all the hype I could easily end up disappointed and underwhelmed.

Thankfully, I wasn’t – god I wasn’t. It was everything I had hoped it would be, and then some. As soon as the end credits rolled, I knew that I could quite easily watch it all again from start to finish. The music, the dancing, the acting, the costumes, the scenery, the ambience and tone, and sensational chemistry were all absolutely astounding, and I had instantly been taken back to that first time I watched Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor singing ‘Fit As A Fiddle’ in Singin’ in the Rain on that rainy Sunday afternoon.

Even though both films have different storylines and outcomes, they’re similar in that they tell tales of Hollywood romance within a Hollywood setting, and how the big and wonderful world of movies can affect a person’s behaviour and morals, and how this impacts those around them. Both movies are equally sharp and clean, not just in terms of their dialogue, but in each physical movement – the way the actors walk and interact with each other is all so carefully constructed and put together, and yet not in any way contrived or robotic.

Everything from the dancing (and even though Stone and Gosling haven’t a patch on Kelly and Reynolds, they aren’t meant to), to the look and feel of the films is so polished and breathtakingly beautiful – in particular, the scene on the hill where Mia and Sebastian, the leads in La La Land, dance with the backdrop of LA’s “magic hour”, as the sun sets on the Hollywood hills.

I’d never thought I’d find a movie that came close to Singin’ in the Rain, nor one that left me with that same level of warmth and fuzziness, and yet La La Land has achieved this and more. I have a feeling it’s a film that will stay with me for a very long time.

I’m ready to be a Londoner

My day today began with a thrilling trip to the local dentist, which meant I could stay in bed a little longer than usual this morning (bliss). My small lie-in meant I could leave the house a little later than usual, too – thrown back into the madness of my family’s morning routine when everyone is always in each other’s way, and the sound of the kettle boiling and the news blaring is supplemented with a constant banging on the bathroom door “to get a bloody move on.”

I usually leave the house as my family is waking up, at a merry 6.40am when the sun has just about risen and the day is brewing nicely. I’ve only been commuting to London for four months, having left my local job to work at a publishing company in Chelsea – which has meant that since January, I’ve been getting up at 5.45am every weekday to make the 7.02am train. I can’t say I’m getting used to it because I don’t think waking up early ever gets any easier, but with summer on the way it certainly feels a little less cruel.

Before I got this job, my morning routine consisted of waking up at 7.30am, hopping in the car at 8.20 and arriving at my snug little office by half past – a mere 10-minute journey, sometimes even less than that if the roads were clear, and a stark contrast from my just-under-two-hours commute into work these days.

Today as I left the house, there was already a bit of traffic and children were slowly making their way to school, but it all still seemed so quiet somehow. Walking down the road and making my way up the high street, I noticed a boy stood outside the bank, and recognised him as someone I once went to school with. As I wandered past the bus stop, there waited a girl who I had been to stage school with as a 10-year-old, in the theatre just around the corner. It’s sort of like that round here – everybody knows everybody.

 

“Are you working today?” my dentist asked as I sat down in the chair.

“Yeah.” I said, aware that I had about 40 minutes left to get my train.

“Where are you working now? Still by the pub?”

“Oh, no,” I told her. “I’m working in London now.”

 

And I couldn’t help but smile as I said it – because even then it didn’t feel quite real, like I was lying to her. Because working in an office in London was something grown-ups did – and I wasn’t one of those yet, surely?

I was in and out of the dentist in ten minutes, and upon arriving at the train station, I decided to buy myself a cup of tea.

“We don’t take card, I’m afraid.”

Oh, jesus. Of course. As much as I love it really, I forgot how backwards things could be around here.

I was in London by 9.40, and never more glad to be. I was off the train and on the tube within minutes, tapping my oyster card like it was the easiest thing in the world. The streets were buzzing – there was so much noise and so many people.

The nearby market was thriving and buskers busked, as cars beeped and engines roared. It felt so alive and brilliant, and I was almost relieved. I was in the greatest city, and everything was here.

For lunch, we’ll probably head out to the nearby Pret (it is payday after all), and maybe pop into a clothes shop or two if we’re feeling semi-comfortable with the state of our bank balances.

Sometimes we’ll take a walk through the back streets to South Kensington, where the enormous houses are ridiculous and beautiful, and the gardens are always freshly spruced. If it’s raining, I can stay in the office and eat the lunch I’ve brought from home, chat to my colleagues and maybe flick through the latest issue of Time Out or Stylist.

Once the day is over, I could easily pop on the underground to Oxford Circus and explore, or maybe to Leicester Square and catch one of the latest releases at the Prince Charles Cinema. Or maybe I’ll feel like taking a walk through Regent’s Park, or strolling down the quieter streets towards Victoria station.

As a small-town girl (forgive the Journey lyric), there’s so much more to see and do than I’ve ever been used to, which is why it sometimes feels a bit naff to go back to the hum-drum of a quiet suburbia. I think for the first time ever, I’m ready to be a Londoner, and I’m revelling in every minute of it.

On still living with mum and dad

I love my parents, but I won’t deny that living under their roof can be a challenge. Even as I type this, I can barely think straight because my Dad has been banging and crashing around with the hoover outside my bedroom door for the past fifteen minutes.  A regularity in most households – you might argue – but I still contend that no human other than my Dad is capable of making this much racket. With or without a hoover.

I moved back to my childhood home almost two and a half years ago after graduating from University, and I was happy to come back to my family, my school friends and my own cosy bed – I’d missed them. I’d consider myself quite lucky that I get on with my parents and my brothers as well as I do, so I wasn’t especially anxious or sad about living with them again – in fact I was quite looking forward to it.

But like many young adults who had, for three years, cherished the independence and freedom of student life, coming home to be told that eating breakfast cereal at 3 o’clock in the afternoon isnot acceptable was, to put it lightly, a bit of a shock to the system. A standard post-night-out hangover once treated with the remedy of a pyjama day, Disney movies, and pizza, was now being supplemented with pre-9am why-aren’t-you-out-of-bed-yet wake-up calls, household chores, and tutting. Not to mention the classic, ‘It was you that got yourself into that state, so you can expect no sympathy from me.’

Sometimes you end up feeling like you’re the only one floating on this boat waiting to be rescued by some kind of monetary miracle, but an article in The Guardian from last October reports that in fact a fifth of young adults are still living with their parents until the age of 26 (20% of these rent-free), with more and more millennials struggling to reach even the first step of the property ladder. It’s getting your head around the idea that you’re an actual grown-up with a job and responsibilities, but still ‘the little girl who lives at home’ that can be even more mind-boggling.

Don’t get me wrong, I love living with my Mum and Dad, and I’m truly grateful for everything they’ve done for me – from getting me through University, to supporting me when I didn’t have a job, to helping buy my first car. For now I pay rent and do my own washing, cook meals at least once a week and help with the housework. We have a system and for the most part, it works really well. And maybe that’s the secret – understanding that your parents are also adjusting and coming to terms with the fact their 23-year-old daughter is still getting under their feet. Maybe working out how you can contribute to their day-to-day and making their lives a little bit easier is actually the solution to achieving a stress-free and comfortable living situation.

I know that when I eventually move out, I’ll miss living with my parents – I’ll miss their company, the conversations, and their jokes (even the bad ones). I know it could be better, but I also know I should be incredibly thankful for what I’ve got. Living at home certainly isn’t the hellish bedlam that it’s made out to be – you just have to adjust, and make the best of what you have.

(P.s. Mum, Dad – if you’re reading this – love you! x)

Why I fell in love with writing letters

I’m not really sure of when it started, or how old I was – my guess is that it’s been about 20 years that my Uncle George and I have been regularly sending letters to each other by post. I know the details of his home address as well as my own, having written it line-by-line on the front of envelopes for as long as I can remember. Letters and postcards of all shapes and sizes – some of mine less exciting, but George’s always packed with fascinating stories and funny quips that would make me smile and picture him chuckling as if he were speaking to me face-to-face.

George is my Grandma’s uncle – he’s 93, he lives in East London, and he’s one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known. He’s sharp, witty, and charismatic, with a large circle of friends and family members that cherish both his kindness and generosity. In fact, the vast turn-out at his 90th birthday a few years ago was enough to tell anyone that George is a man who is greatly loved by so many.

I doubt I’d ever write letters if it weren’t for George, but it’s for him that I love writing. Even when I feel like I don’t have much to say and whatever I’ve chosen to babble about is a bit boring, he’s always been on the other end, his eyes on my words, reading intently.

I find there is so much substance and detail that you can pack into a letter – providing you have enough paper and ink in the printer – that you couldn’t possibly convey in just an email or text. And what I really love about letters is their longevity – keeping them to then dig them out again years later. Every letter that George has even written to me is kept inside in a large box buried within my wardrobe, and sometimes I’ll re-read them and reminisce over stories and experiences from years gone by. Requests to send photographs of my long hair for my Auntie Annie, George’s late wife, who apparently loved to keep track of such things (I would have been about eight or nine-years-old at the time). Announcements of passing exams, getting into University, jobs, ridiculous stories and stupid things I had done. From him – stories of trips, holidays, feeling poorly, but then feeling better, and muddling on through. Most of it good news we had to share, some of it bad, some of it truly tragic.

I stopped handwriting my letters to George a long time ago (postcards aside) but George still writes almost everything out by hand when he can. He’s an extraordinary calligraphist and on occasion he’s sent me work that I now have displayed on my bedroom wall.

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It breaks my heart that one day George and I won’t be able to write to each other any more, but perhaps I’ll still continue to write letters whenever I can, and for whoever will read them. And it will still be George I think of when I place the stamp onto the envelope, and seal it shut.

Learning to love my body shape

This week is #BodyHonestly Week at The Pool, and over the past few days female writers have been discussing the topic of body confidence and the idea that being thin means we’ll be happy. Much like the ethic of Dove’s ‘Love The Skin You’re In’ and Boots’ ‘Let’s Feel Good’,#BodyHonestly is all about us learning to love and accept our flaws – from those weird freckles and moles on our skin, to the rolls of fat on our tummies.

What I’ve loved about #BodyHonestly is that it makes point of the fact that it’s actually quite hard to suddenly start loving your imperfections, after years of staring at them in your reflection and wishing they didn’t exist. Daisy Buchanan’s ‘I don’t love my body everyday’ piece tells us that even when we try, on our bad days achieving this can seem practically impossible.

From ludicrous trends like the thigh gap challenge, to the size zero models we see on the catwalk, to the bitchy criticism we glance at in gossip magazines, we all know that there’s a lot of pressure on us ladies to always look good. Last month it was even reported by Dove in the The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report that in a survey of 10,000 women, 85% said they’d opt out of an important life event because they feel bad about the way they look.

You might say then that the growing presence of ‘inner beauty’ campaigns can only be a good thing, but I feel still like we’re not getting the whole picture. Because telling me to ‘love the skin I’m in’ still doesn’t really tell me anything, and or what I do with that when I’m staring at the fat on my arms and stomach that I hate so much, and the weird marks on my pale and bumpy skin. I just don’t know if I can learn to love my body like that every day.

My body and I have been on a lot of adventures together over the past ten years, and I’ve changed in more ways than I can probably count on one hand. I somewhat ballooned at University, as the stress from assignments had me pile on the pounds for comfort, and I watched my face become chubby and round. I had to buy new, bigger clothes, clutching onto any signs of body confidence that I had left, if any at all. Awkward exchanges when seeing old school acquaintances usually consisted of, ‘gosh, don’t you look different. I hardly recognised you’, when I’d rather we’d just agreed that I was fat now and be done with it.

I did lose that weight after graduating, with the help of diets, cycling everyday, and working at Costa (the barista’s equivalent of boot-camp that has you coming home smelling like coffee and sweat). I enjoy feeling healthier and fitting into size 12 clothes again, and I’ll admit that pieces of my body confidence are slowly starting to trickle back.

And while I will be forever thankful to Dove and Boots for celebrating real womenI’m more thankful to The Pool’s #BodyHonestly for reminding me that nobody feels 100% happy with their body 100% of the time. I may never be head-over-heels with my figure even in spite of trying. Maybe some of us just aren’t built like that, but sod it – I suppose we knew we were never perfect to begin with.

Florida

Back in January, my Mum’s cousin and her family asked me if I would be up for joining them on a holiday to Florida in August, and naturally I said ‘yes please!

My Mum’s side of the family and I are very similar and we’ve always got on really well, so I knew instantly that we’d have a blast. Unlike them I’d never been to America before (nor outside of Europe) so while I was excited, I was also a little bit apprehensive about travelling somewhere so far away and new. Recent news stories about Orlando hadn’t exactly filled me with confidence and frequent reminders to ‘stay away from alligators’ became almost enough convince me that I’d most certainly be eaten by one for breakfast.

But of course we had a fantastic couple of weeks and made so many amazing memories – here’s just a few highlights from our stateside trip. 🙂

Spoiler: food plays a big part in this blog post.

1. The villa

We stayed in a gorgeous six-bedroom villa Kissimmee, a city in central Florida and just south of Orlando, and our resort looked like a genuine housing estate with hundreds of almost-identical villas all lined up, row after row. We had a gorgeously warm pool and hot tub – one idyllic evening was spent outside in our swimming cozzies, drinking gin and sharing our funniest and most embarrassing stories. My second-cousin (Vicki) and I shared a princess room, which was really cosy and undoubtedly perfect for any girl that’s spent their childhood worshipping Disney heroines.

2.  CiCi’s Pizza

CiCi’s was one of our first ports of call after a long and exhausting flight, and the food was absolutely gorgeous (but very filling). The place served up an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet and appeared to churn out more food than the whole of Italy in one night. CiCi’s Pizza also had us questioning just how much grub we could shovel into our mouths before feeling as though we needed to be rolled out of the building. I didn’t get any photos unfortunately as I was too busy stuffing my face.

3. SeaWorld

A controversial one for sea animal-lovers (and yes, some shows were a little tough to watch), but SeaWorld did have some really great rollercoasters – not to mention their newest ride, Mako. We also got stuck in a penguin enclosure and my Auntie Jackie had to have firm words with an uncooperative jobsworth. A very fun day.

4. Islands of Adventure

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We visited this park on our third full day, and upon arrival I really was blown away just by how spectacular it was. There were so much colour and detail – almost as though you were really on a film set. My favourites rides were The Hulk and Spiderman, though the Dr Seuss bit was a good laugh, too. We also went on Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges and came out looking like drowned rats.

5. All the Harry Potter stuff

From Hogsmead in Islands of Adventure to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios, all the Harry Potter stuff was totally breathtaking – the attention-to-detail, the atmosphere, the music, the rides, and the performances – everything was fantastic. Vicki and I even shared a butterbeer, the taste of which was I was pleasantly surprised by. The Hogwarts Express was definitely a highlight, not to mention the Forbidden Journey ride.

6. Bahama Breeze

Almost one week in and we visited a gorgeous restaurant on International Drive that serves delicious food and cocktails, and has very charming waiters. That’s probably all you need to know.

7. Universal Studios

There were lots of amazing rides at Universal Studios – these being The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me, Rip Ride Rocket, plus the E.T. Adventure, in which you had to give your name before the start of the ride – Vicki hilariously spluttered ‘Ting Tong’, before receiving a very glum look from the operator who miserably informed her that this wouldn’t be on the system. In the evening we watched an amazing light show that was displayed on a waterfall and showed clips of loads of classic movies. Right up my street 🙂

8. Hollywood Studios (my favourite)

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Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Fantasia – I virtually died and went to heaven when I came here. Equally brilliant were the Tower of Terror (in which ghost whispering became a thing – don’t ask) and the Toy Story ride, the latter of which you had to earn points throughout and compete against the person sitting next to you. One massive highlight though (and even I’m surprised to be saying this), was the Frozen sing-a-long – a kind of mad pantomime, Carry On-esque chaos played out on stage, but truly fantastic. Oh, and I bought some Minnie ears. #win

9. Chevy’s Mexican

After the Fantasia fireworks at Hollywood Studios, we were all starving so made our way to Chevy’s for a slap-up-meal. We weren’t disappointed – the food there was superb, but the portion sizes were enormous and we left feeling like we’d eaten our body weight in fajitas.

10. Epcot

 

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Also part of our Disney weekend was Epcot, during which we all wore Middlesbrough FC shirts, aside from Abi (who is a Hull supporter), and got quite drunk. The day started with the Test Track ride and saw Vicki and I design probably the world’s ugliest car, followed by an amazing augmented reality ride called Soarin’. It was then on to the ‘Around the World’ part of the park, in which you visit a selection of different ‘countries’. Our plan was to get a drink in each one, the biggest highlight being in ‘Morocco’, in which I led a conga line through a crowd of total strangers, in front of a band playing traditional music. Five seconds later, the singer of said band was in the crowd and leading our conga line, then inviting us to become his backing dancers for the rest of the performance. Even now I’m not exactly sure why or how it happened. Our mad day was rounded off perfectly with the Epcot fireworks – undisputedly the best I’d seen all holiday.

11. Aquatica

Our days at Aquatica (a water park) were ideal ‘rest days’ because it meant we could just lounge on sunbeds with a book or float down the lazy river and avoid crashing into total strangers. The water rides there were lots of fun, too!

11. Cracker Barrell

Think old-school, Mama’s homemade recipes, passed-down-for-generations kind of food. This was also one of the few places we came across that served vegetables. Make of that what you will.

12. Disney Springs

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What used to be known as ‘Downtown Disney’ is now called Disney Springs, and it has lots of very cool shops and live music playing throughout the night. What I loved most was the scenery – it all just looked really beautiful.

13. Maggiano’s Little Italy

Our final night was spent at an Italian restaurant called Maggiano’s – also our last night together. The perfect way to end our holiday (with more food).

Of course it wouldn’t have been as fun and hilarious without the Lee family and the Askey family (the Asklees) there to entertain me throughout our holiday. Big thanks to them again for letting me come along – it was one of the most exciting and funny trips I’ve ever had. I wish we were all still there!

Photo credit: The lovely Jackie Lee xx

How not to make a chocolate mug cake

It was a Wednesday evening, and settling down to catch up on an episode of Bake Off, my sweet tooth had started to throb. The sight of Genoese sponge and chocolate ganache was almost always too much to bear during an episode of this beloved programme, and it wasn’t long before my mind began to drift, not to thoughts of dreamy Selasi and the fantasy of him baking cakes for me all day long, but the sweet treats lurking in my kitchen cupboards only metres away from my seat. I was already quite certain that there wouldn’t be much to satisfy these cravings (we hadn’t been for our weekly shop yet), but regardless I got up from the sofa in a quest for something sugary.

Alas, much like those of Old Mother Hubbard, the cupboards were bare. Still, there were bananas in the fruit bowl I could probably snack on, and perhaps a stale cereal bar if I really wanted to push the boat out – but no. I wanted to be wild and spontaneous. I decided it was time to make one of those mug cakes you often see featured in BuzzFeed listicles and student recipe books – demonstrably a lazy-person food designed for the can’t-be-arsed. How hard could it really be?

You’ve seen pictures of these cute cupcake delights – perfectly rounded sponge molded to the shape of your favourite coffee cup, and if you’re really instragamable you’ll probably chuck a couple of strawberries or cherries on the top with just a sprinkle of icing sugar. If you really nail it, yours might turn into something a little like this:

 

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After googling a recipe I started to throw in the ingredients, knowing full well I was adding too much but it had been a long and difficult day, and dividing everything up into smaller measurements seemed like far too much work for a task that was supposed to be piss-easy. I was also starving and Mary Bezza had already been sat patiently on pause in the living room for 10 minutes at least, poised and waiting to judge a scone or something of that kind.

My mug sat in the microwave for two minutes while I hurried around clearing up the small amount of carnage I had created – flour is messy as hell – and before long the little beeper beeped and the cake was ready to eat.

Nothing could quite prepare me for the monstrosity that met my eyes as I opened that microwave door. The mixture was bubbling and erupting furiously from the inside of the mug like some kind of crazed cake volcano on drugs. Having just cleaned up the mess from making the damn thing, this gloopy chocolate goo was now pouring all over the work surfaces and onto the floor, sticking to every fucking thing in its path in an attempt to turn this already disastrous episode into a culinary experience from hell.

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Finally taking a bite into my chocolate-based freak-of-nature I discovered it didn’t even taste very nice, and placing my spoon down I marched back to the kitchen – this time leaving Paul Hollywood on pause (no bad thing I suppose) – and slowly dumped the contents of the mug into the bin, wishing that past-me had just picked the fucking bananas.

Sometimes lazy-person-food really can be too much for the truly lazy.

Yes, the world still needs feminism in 2016

We’ve now come to the end of International Women’s Day 2016, and I’ve found it really uplifting to scroll through social media today and witness so many women and men discussing the f wordnot as something to be ridiculed or chastised, but hailed and celebrated in a truly fantastic way.

I’m going to keep this short and sweet given that I’ve written about #IWD twice on my blog already (you can read those posts here and here), but I did want to write a little bit about something I stumbled across this evening on Twitter – a quiz that asks ‘How many laws did you break today [just because you’re a woman]?’ – I got seven: some of these because I went to work, and didn’t tell a man where I was going before I left the house this morning. Oh, and I wore trousers. How fucking scandalous.

It got me to thinking about those women that still don’t really get the whole feminism thing – why we have an International Women’s Day, what the fuss is all about. Aren’t we all basically equal in our society now? Sure, we’re paid less and still get a bit of ‘ooer, nice bum in that skirt’ – but apparently that’s just the way things are, and we simply need to “get over it”.

These are the issues we women face within our society (and yes, I do think they’re important), but that is kind of the whole point – they’re issues we face merely within our own society. To say that feminism isn’t necessary, a waste of time, just an excuse to whine a bit about periods and harmless catcalling, is a massive disrespect to those women in the world that need feminismmore than ever. Those women that endure the horrors of FGM, those that are forced into marriage when they’re still children, those that are beaten and raped and then shunned or evenprosecuted for having sex with a man that isn’t their husband. What about these women? Who’s going to fight for them, if not feminists?

We have to remember that feminism isn’t just about the gender pay gap, size zero models and the abolition of Page 3. These are just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s a shit load of other issues around the rest of the world that we still have to fight for – if we chip away at the stuff at the bottom of the pile, maybe the more crucial issues above will start to crumble.

There’s not much I can say to a woman who claims she doesn’t need feminism or #IWD in her life, but there are women in the world that do, and they’re still desperately clinging onto the hope that they one day may be seen as equal. Take the quiz that tells you how many laws you broke today just because you were born with a vagina – you might just be shocked by what you find.