Posts Tagged ‘New Year’

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Kew’s gardens.

January 4, 2013

After a fine New Year’s Eve party and a bracing New Year’s Day walk (and post-walk viewing of The Princess and the Frog), the 2nd of January was the day Toby and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Before Christmas, Toby’s eagle eyes had spotted an offer for the 12 Days of Christmas at Kew, which basically consisted of free tickets to the gardens. And so off we went! Although it was a cloudy and drizzly day, there was plenty to see and we had a fabulous time (I must be growing up / getting old, because visiting a place like this for 3 hours would have been my idea of hell only a couple of years ago). There were various intriguing sculptures:

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Conservatories filled with tropical plants and palm trees, desert environments and tanks with marine life:

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A part dedicated to alpine plants (with some very pretty narcissi) and a Japanese garden area similar to the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:

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Some beautiful temples scattered around (dedicated to a lucky Princess Augusta), an impressive lake, and some intriguing statues:

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As the rain came down more persistently, we walked through more of the park area, along an avenue lined with thimble-shaped bushes, and to a Japanese pagoda.

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This is where the pictures end, but there was more! We came across an overpriced café/restaurant which I am sure served lovely food and drink but at more than I was willing to spend when out for a day in a park. And if we’d gone there for free, I think I would have felt even more aggrieved had we already paid to get in and then had to pay more to sustain ourselves along the way! There was a stinky compost heap, and located near that, the most terrifying part of the day: the Treetop Walkway. So it looks lovely on the website – take my advice and stick to viewing the pictures here. Because once you’ve climbed four floors’ worth of see-through metal mesh stairs, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths (up until this point in my life, I was able to tolerate heights, but I’ve evidently developed a fear of them) and begun to walk round (the walkway is a large oval-shape), you realise that IT MOVES. The fucking walkway SWAYS. I am using caps because that is how much it freaked me out. I held on to the wooden banister and started to walk round more quickly, keeping my eyes looking at the (on that day, murky) canopy of trees to distract myself from: the fact that the walkway seemed to be held up by nothing more than sparse metal trees, the swaying which appeared to be becoming more violent, and the mesh floor through which one could see the ground far below. Toby was a few feet behind me and suddenly called to me that he felt sick and had to go back down; I gauged that despite feeling like the terror had been unremitting for at least 10 minutes, I was less than a third of the way around the walkway and so I decided to practically run with him back to the lift and get down and off the thing sharpish. Even while we waited for the lift, I could feel the structure moving.

I never saw or heard a giant crash or collapsing of the structure, and so I presume that everything was fine and that the Treetop Walkway is indeed meant to sway (perhaps it gives one a more vivid experience of what it’s like to be a tree). The view is fantastic, as you can see on the link in the above paragraph. But if you even think you aren’t a fan of heights, take my advice and stick to the website experience: don’t go up there, because it’s terrifying to anyone with nerves of less than steel.

And with that, we decided to say goodbye to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It is a truly fantastic experience and well worth seeing once – I’d happily go back again next year if we can get free tickets again. Although it feels very “cultural” and its visitors were largely comprised of families trying to entertain their children before they go back to school and elderly National Trust devotees, it was wonderful to do and see something different, and to be wowed by the feats and ingenuity of nature. The aquarium-style exhibits were wonderful, and the conservatories are numerous and really immerse one in a tropical environment. And of course, that Treetop Walkway is an unforgettable experience 😉 It’s definitely worth a visit!

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fortissimo.

July 15, 2012

This week has not been the kindest. I’ve been scared, depressed, challenged and exhausted. Scared that in September, I might no longer have a job; depressed that if I didn’t find a source of income within the next two days, that I might have to move back to Bristol (which isn’t terrible in itself, but would feel like a massive step backwards and super-frustrating when I am due to move in with Toby in a couple of months); challenged to step outside of my boundaries and comfort zone, and apply for jobs once again; exhausted by the emotional rollercoaster of all the above! Toby was away in Manchester for two days, so I didn’t have as many cuddles to keep me going as I normally would; although I feel that perhaps his absence was a good thing because otherwise I might have vented to him a little too much!

The reason why I chose the title “fortissimo” for this blog, is that it has a double meaning: normally, we think of the musical term, where it means to play very loudly, as if at the height of a crescendo. But it also means “very strong”, and this perhaps is the theme of the week I’ve had. In the blog I wrote last week, I wrote about wanting to feel more vibrant as a result of the summer weather, but I also want to feel super-strong. Vibrant and powerful in a range of ways. Fortissimo, if you will.

I had people yell at me over the phone at the start of the week; I knew I was not in the wrong in each siutation, but considering the circumstances they were in, I understood that they were distressed. However, the way I felt after they took their frustrations out on me was proof that I am still very much in the process of developing a thick skin.  Two years ago, coming out of the QCG at UWE, I felt somewhat invincible: I had a wonderful new boyfriend, a fantastic new best friend, I’d just landed my first proper full-time job and my body was still banging (I am hoping that my healthier summer focus will help me get back to this state). I also felt confident – that I could really go out and get anything I wanted, and do anything I put my mind to. I think that I have / one has always been able to do this, but not without a certain sense of self-doubt on the inside. That year, the sense of self-doubt turned into a sense of self-belief. As I look at myself this week, I realise that that sense of self-belief has disappeared somewhat – and I want it back. I have to be stronger, more confident and less deterred by what others may say or do or think.

It looks more certain now that my job is in fact not in jeopardy, but I also feel that (due to changes at work which I don’t really feel I can talk about in the public domain) my sense of security is far from unshakeable. I won’t be totally reassured until I’m holding my contract in my hand (which apparently should happen on Monday afternoon), but it’s an improvement on the uncertainty I’ve been going through recently. Part-time work during school and university excluded, the longest I’ve stayed at a job is one year; this position was the one where I initially hoped (even without realising it) that I would break that pattern. I wanted something on my CV that showed I had commitment to a role. In feeling forced to look elsewhere, I confronted a sense of fatigue at completing yet more job applications (most, if not all of which I won’t hear anything back from – nothing personal, just the way it works), but also some questions (raised also by the article I read in Glamour recently): by not constantly challenging myself to go for higher positions, promotions, jobs where I would (for example) have to travel abroad sometimes, am I really challenging myself? There is a lot to be said for being safe and being based in one city – it makes life easy, and it means that once the working day is done, my life is my own and I can spend it with my partner and my friends. It’s a lovely sense of security (there’s that word again!); but at 26, I should still be challenging myself and shooting for the moon, right? And what’s more important – something on a piece of paper that shows I’m loyal to an employer, or an attitude and confidence that shows I am loyal and committed to my own development and achievements?

It’s a change to my thinking that I’ve tried to get my head around before, but only partly succeeded: we feel a misplaced sense of loyalty to our employers, because they pay us for what we do and provide us with financial security. However, we are the ones earning the money, learning new skills constantly, and we should be less afraid to confidently negotiate positions and salaries as we see fit: if you don’t try, you don’t get! If employers don’t want to pay for our services, they don’t feel bad in saying goodbye; why should I feel guilty in looking around at what other options might be available to me, in case something better comes along? A professional relationship should work two ways.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel comforted by the fact that I probably won’t lose my job, because it makes things easier and more stable for me and Toby moving in together in the Autumn and being able to put a deposit down on a new flat, but I’ve been forced to think that while we are young, we should be confident and assertive in going for opportunities that present themselves, and in creating opportunities where none are immediately evident. Sometimes one is lucky, other times one must make his/her own luck. So contract or not, I’m going to keep an eye on what jobs come up (both internal and external), so that I’m ready to apply for something better that takes my fancy.

Another surprising development where I’ve really had to draw on some strength is in my cigarette consumption; somehow I’ve found myself promising Toby and a few other people that I will quit smoking in 2013. I’ve joked that this might be December 31st, but really, it is one of next year’s New Year’s resolutions. I’ve prided myself on my stubbornness, and I know that I will be able to do it; when reading Diana Ross’ biography, one of the things that stuck with me is her saying “I’m going to quit smoking one day without any whining or fuss, not like other people.” And that’s exactly what she did! I admire that single-minded determination to change one’s life without wavering even in the slightest. But when I told a couple of colleagues this plan of mine (they’re not colleagues I usually work with, because I certainly don’t want any kind of scrutiny in my office), they said “well, do you really want to quit? If you do, why wait? Start now.” I must admit that that thinking makes total sense, but while I am getting to the point where I truly do want to stop smoking, I still enjoy it somewhat that I’m not ready right now. However, after a Wednesday night out with Nick where we made a new Icelandic friend called Sigga (who smoked a lot, and I smoked with her), I woke up the next morning hungover and with a very husky throat. I really didn’t want to smoke, and I didn’t have a cigarette until 1pm that afternoon. I had a total of 4 that day (normally, I smoke between 8 and 10 cigarettes a day), and from then on, my colleagues’ words were echoing in my head. I really could quit sooner rather than later, and I’ve focused on reducing my cigarette consumption with the hope that I could stop. I don’t know what I will do at work, as I will still want my breaks every couple of hours (particularly considering I rarely take a proper lunch break), and there are social and time-killing benefits to smoking. But rather than a physical sense of addiction, the hardest challenge will be conquering the voice in my head that yells “CIGARETTE CIGARETTE CIGARETTE” when I become conscious that I haven’t had one that day. I had 7 cigarettes the following day, and today I bought a pack of menthols (rather than my usual Marlboro Reds), of which I have had 6. Menthols have a different taste and less nicotine, and my idea is to wean myself off cigarettes, or at least permanently reduce my consumption. As anyone who has tried to quit smoking before knows (I did quit once in the past after I came home from my year abroad in Spain, but I had only smoked for a couple of months, so it wasn’t really the same thing) I don’t know if I’m ready to completely quit and declare myself an ex-smoker, because sometimes I really enjoy it and I’m quite attached to having a cigarette with alcohol, or before I go to sleep. Plus, I feel like I would be betraying (there’s that word again!) Mike, or Toby’s colleagues who like to smoke, if I no longer want to smoke with them. I also believe that truly conquering one’s addiction to smoking, alcohol or whatever truly means that we can still do those things when we genuinely want to without feeling any compulsion. If I gave up smoking completely, I would still feel subjugated by my addiction if I felt a constant sense of fear to have a cigarette for the rest of my life, in case it opened up the floodgates and I couldn’t stop again. True mastery to me means that I am in total control of every cigarette I have, knowing that I can trust myself not to have another one if I don’t want to. At this standpoint, I can say that I feel ready to cut down my smoking by about half (and recapture my full vocal power and some extra spending power each month to boot). So I have also been gathering my strength to do that.

Living life to the full, being loud and proud, and being strong and confident is a daily work in progress. It’s not always easy, and we can’t do it 100% of the time – I fully accept this. But when I go through a shitty week like this one, I’m thankful for the support offered by my partner, friends and family, but I’m also encouraged to recapture my own confidence and desire to reach the stars. I have so many goals in life that I not only am working slowly towards achieving, but that I am fully capable of – but it’s easy to get worn down and distracted by the daily grind that we learn to settle for a little less and choose safety over excitement. As long as I have financial security, the love of my partner, family and friends, I can do anything I set my mind to. But it’s also important not to forget to actually set my mind to new ventures and projects, rather than the same old ish! I believe that this is what I mean by living “fortissimo”.

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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.

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2012, here we come!

December 30, 2011

The time has rolled around, once again, for my two standard end of year / new year posts. The first one is my own personal review of 2011, evaluating how I did with my aims for the year, and looking forward to 2012 and what I hope to achieve within the next 12 months. So, to recap, my aims for 2011 were:

1. Buy a car.
Tick! I not only bought a car, but I crashed it and then sold it 6 months later!  Driving was a major achievement for me, as it was 6 years in the making, and represented a triumph over my nerves and my previous failure (I have been a lucky person who generally didn’t have to deal with failure too much in life, up until I started learning to drive). But I also learned the hard way that it’s a big responsibility, that it comes with a whole trapping of expenses, and that while being able to drive is an asset and a liberation, living in London and not having to drive anywhere is also a blessing. When the public transport system is good, life is good. (Let me tell you, having gone home to Bristol for 6 days over the Christmas period, I immediately starting missing my car and how easy it made travelling from place to place. Bristol, step your public transport game up please!)

2. Get a job in London.

Tick! Although I miss the warmth and camaraderie of my colleagues in Cirencester (I yo-yoed about how much I enjoyed the job, but I became much happier and carefree once a certain colleague left), my new job in Notting Hill is a whole new challenge – I’m always busy, I’m never bored, and I am learning many new things. Plus, I am earning more!

3. Move to London.

Tick! As you know, I am now living in my own little studio flat in Earl’s Court, which is pricey but very conveniently located for transport (bus stop and tube station outside my front door), and also only a 15 minute walk from Toby’s place.

4. Stay with Toby and make sure that our relationship grows even stronger!

Tick! I love my baby and I realised early on in 2011 that the 100+ miles gap between the two of us wasn’t going to be feasible. We missed each other all the time, and although I may have ended up in London anyway (I’m a city boy at heart), he was the driving force between the transformation in my life and career that has occurred this year.

5. Buy a new microphone and record a new album.

Nope. The microphone never happened. I have recorded some new material (and written even more), but I am hoping that the album will be complete next year.

6. Pay off my credit card and student overdraft.

Sort of. I am debt-free, apart from my student overdraft and my student loan. My car ended up being a big drain on my finances, and moving to London required every penny I had. Plus, I did have a wonderful holiday to Seville with Toby in July, which I wouldn’t have traded for anything but did further delay me paying off my student overdraft. But with my first couple of pay checks, I paid my parents and Nonna back for the money they lent me to settle myself in London, I paid off my credit card, and sorted myself out financially. The student overdraft is my primary financial focus for 2012.

So I guess 4.5 out of 6 is not bad at all! I seem to have more success when I write my yearly aims down, so here goes for 2012:

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Toby is a fantastic cook, but I want to learn to make healthy, interesting meals so that I can return the favour from time to time, and enrich my own skill-set and repertoire. Tonight, Toby’s housemates Michael and Naomi have made some very yummy sushi, so that is one thing I shall aim to make; I also enjoyed watching the British Bake-Off and am tempted by the idea of whipping up my own lemon tart!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

I’m not quite as svelte as I was this time last year. I have got into the habit of having desserts, of snacking unnecessarily from time to time, and from cooking quite simple dishes (similar to how I was at university). This is all fine, but I am going to moderate myself a bit and cut down on takeaways from Dominos, Pizza Hut and Jasmine Garden.

3. Move in with Toby.

I would like the two of us to move in together; it feels like the logical next step for our relationship, but we both need to be at ease with it and it also needs to be an affordable and convenient location. Moving in will happen when it happens, but I’m just putting this wish out there in the universe and perhaps in 12 months’ time, I will be able to tick this one off the list! 🙂

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

See above. This year I have really improved at budgeting and restraining myself from impulsive / extravagant purchases; therefore, I am determined to pay off at least £200 a month. So even if I don’t pay the whole thing off by the end of the year, I will have made a sizeable dent in it! Fingers crossed!

5. Learn Italian

Ok, let’s get this done once and for all. I am half-Italian, therefore it will not only be easy (especially having studied French and Spanish) to learn Italian, but it will be culturally enriching and give me a new understanding of my own heritage. Work have offered to pay for / subsidise an Italian course for me, but my initial plan of attack will be to buy an Italian novel, an Italian dictionary (and possibly an Italian grammar book), and keep a pen and paper by me as I read – and just have at it.

6. Learn to sew

Because I feel somewhat babyish whenever I have holes or rips in my clothes, and I have to take them to Toby’s to fix. I presume that sewing is a relatively simple skill, and therefore I should learn to do it and allow myself to be self-sufficient when it comes to repairing my belongings.

7. Finish my new album

This year will be the year! I am over halfway. Keep your eyes and ears peeled!

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Having moved to London, I was unable to carry all of my DVDs and CDs with me. I would need a truck. Obviously, I have my computer, my iPod, and I was able to take quite a few of my DVDs here; but I have realised that I don’t really need most of the physical copies that I own. So I will sell them, give them away, and go digital. I will open myself up to buying things on iTunes much more (believe it or not, B.Slade’s album Diesel that I bought a couple of months ago was the very first album I bought on iTunes!), and perhaps I might need an extra external hard drive. But I am willing to embrace the digital age (only a few years late!), and also make it much easier for myself to move flats and houses as I go.

Wish me luck, and have a Happy New Year! x

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making faces. (aims for 2011)

December 26, 2010

Hannah and I have come up with a new phrase: “making faces” = “making money”. It comes from a quote by some movie character or rapper – I really don’t remember who, but Hannah picked it up. Apparently, having “big faces” means that you are rich (I guess from the faces which are on money notes). By extension, “small faces” must mean small amount of money, and thus “making faces” must be making or earning money. I imagine “making faces” to be said to the tune of Usher’s “Trading Places”. My head is a funny place.

Anyways, in my pursuit of making faces, I have decided to clear out my room and I’m selling 90 or so CDs, and about 30 DVDs that I really have no use for anymore. What’s more, I have bundled up my old Playstation 2, leads, controllers and games as I haven’t touched them in nearly 2 years (since I got my PS3) and I might as well gain the extra space and some money at the same time.  As I am now saving up for a car, every little will help so why not make some faces and some spaces at the same time?

Talking of which, as I somehow accomplished all of my aims for 2010 (boyfriend, driving, job), let’s make my list of aims for 2011! Here goes:

1. Buy a car.

2. Get a job in London.

3. Move to London.

4. Stay with Toby and make sure that our relationship grows even stronger!

5. Buy a new microphone and record a new album.

6. Pay off my credit card and student overdraft.

There. That should keep me going for a while! And although this year I have more goals than last year, I feel confident that I can achieve them all and if anything, my success this year has only made me optimistic that next year will be even more momentous! I am sure that it will have its setbacks but as Happenstance dictates, it’s not what happens but how you capitalise on unforeseen circumstances and make strides towards your goals that really counts. I proved this year that I can do well, and next year is going to be better! I hope that you all had a very Merry Christmas and I wish you all a fantastic 2011.  Let’s do this! xxx

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Sugababes – Sweet 7. (album review)

February 7, 2010

Sweet 7 marks the 7th album from the Sugababes, and the first album from the newest incarnation of the group, consisting now of Heidi Range, Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen.  Furore of no original members remaining aside, Sweet 7 evidences a complete glossy polishing of the group’s sound that started upon Mutya’s departure after Taller In More Ways, one of the group’s best albums.  Sweet 7 is full of pounding clubby pop uptempos, with a couple of ballads at the end to slow down the pace.  For the most part (the piece-of-trash “Thank You For The Heartbreak” aside), these are well-written, catchy pop songs with a couple of pleasant surprises along the way.  “Wear My Kiss” and “About A Girl” are smashes-in-waiting that don’t deserve to fare badly on the charts just because of bad feeling towards the group’s revolving-door lineup.  “No More You” sounds like a Stargate production in the vein of Beyoncé’s smash “Irreplaceable”, and standout “She’s A Mess” has some hilarious lyrics (“drinking bottle after bottle after bottle…” / “Everybody go mad, everybody go psycho!”) and multiple hooks, plus an irresistible instrumental coda that keeps you dancing and pressing repeat.  This track sounds as if it could be addressed to Ke$ha, dissing trashtastic, classless girls everywhere (perhaps Amelle has reformed her drunken antics and girl-bashing self?) who just live to party and get drunk.

The ballads that close the album feel a bit tacked-on, and could have been better incorporated into the sequence of the album as a whole, but “Crash & Burn” and particularly “Little Miss Perfect” are well-sung efforts that offer a nice change of pace from the mostly relentless 4/4 beats of the disc.  Sunny acoustic-led track “Sweet & Amazing” offers a lyrical insight on optimism and getting what you want out of life; the message is nice and appreciated, but the lyrics themselves come across as trite and banal.  Still, the overall vibe of the song is endearing. Perhaps “Sweet & Amazing” and “Little Miss Perfect” are also answers to those who have criticised the group for ousting last founding member Keisha Buchanan, stating in not so many words that the group had to do what it had to do to survive and to maintain a healthy inter-member relationship.  Who knows – but these songs at least give a little bit of meat for fans and listeners to bite into.

However, Keisha’s absence is gaping for two major reasons.  One: anyone who has heard the original Sweet 7 sampler with Keisha’s vocals knows just how much better “Get Sexy” and “Miss Everything” sounded before.  This is largely a production error: the intro on “Get Sexy” no longer grabs the listener with any vocals; Jade Ewen’s voice on “Miss Everything” is unnecessarily auto-tuned within an inch of its life, and the modulations on her voice are at least double that of Heidi’s and Amelle’s, which seems illogical considering that Jade Ewen is far and away the best vocalist in the new incarnation of the group.  Indeed, the new rendition of “Wait For You” places Jade front and centre, and her vocals particularly in the second verse are nothing short of thrilling. Technically, she might be the best vocalist the Sugababes have ever had, and it is almost a shame that she sacrificed her solo career to be part of the group; especially when the re-produced songs make little effort to blend her vocals with Heidi and Amelle’s.  Through no fault of Jade’s own, at times her vocals stick out like a sore thumb, not just because she outclasses her fellow members at nearly every turn, but because the vocal mixing appears to have been carried out by an orang-utan.  This seems to be a running theme with the Sugababes, as Amelle’s vocals on tracks such as “Red Dress” sounded nothing short of harsh, but with newer songs came a more subtle, blended approach to the production.  Hopefully future albums will exhibit the same approach.

Two: as hinted at in the introduction to this review, the Sugababes’ new music is extremely polished, but it has lost nearly all semblance of any originality the group had.  Songs such as “Overload”, “New Year”, “Round Round” and “Situations Heavy” sounded unique to the group, as if they could be sung by nobody else.  The shout-out of “RedOne!” at the start of “About A Girl” might as well be changed to “We’ve used Lady GaGa’s producer, please love our single too!”; “Thank You For The Heartbreak” could be sung just as easily (and probably better) by the Sugababes’ biggest rivals Girls Aloud; “Miss Everything”, while a ridiculously catchy song, features Sean Kingston in an unnecessary attempt to pander to the American market.  “Crash & Burn” sounds like something Chris Brown could sing and in fact did sing on his mediocre Graffiti track “Crawl”.  Only towards the end of the album on quirky tracks such as “Give It To Me Now” does a shade of the Sugababes’ original spunky personality creep in. I’m a believer that when the group lost Mutya Buena, they lost what made the Sugababes that irresistible combination of street, edge and class.  Even looking at the album and single covers from Sweet 7 (not to mention the horrendous video for “About A Girl”), the Sugababes are posing in skimpy outfits and pouting like their lives depend on it.  In the old days, their individuality stood out; perhaps in a loss of confidence, the group now looks and sounds desperate to fit in, which is a shame as they used to lead the pack, and with a strong set of well-written tracks on Sweet 7, they don’t need to resort to such pedestrian tactics.  In trying to be edgy and stand out, the Sugababes have lost their sense of individuality and ironically end up blending in with your average girl group or classless female singer.

So, what to make of Sweet 7?  It’s balanced heavily towards the uptempo, but most of its songs do succeed and the album is a fun listen with a few standout cuts.  Jade Ewen is a thrilling addition to the group, and were the vocal production a little better, her voice would elevate the material to stellar status.  The ballads are serviceable for the most part, and in my opinion there is only one unlistenable song on the disc (putting the album ahead of Change and Catfights And Spotlights).  However, it’s a shame that the Sugababes have lost that spark and class that set them apart from the rest of the pack.  In trying to compete with the rest of the shallow, faceless current pop music scene – regardless of who now comprises the group – the Sugababes have automatically lowered themselves to the level of their peers, and that is sad because they could have made a great album instead of a solid but unexceptional one.

h1

regret.

January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!  Here’s to the next decade!  Last night I went to Panache with Hannah and Alex to dance the night away.  And I certainly did! The music was generally very good (though it did prove just how dire music is at the moment, since the older hits from the earlier part of the decade, and even hits in the past 3 or 4 years stand head and shoulders above most of what is released today), and we all seemed to enjoy ourselves.  We bumped into a couple of people we knew from school, and I generally ended up feeling very old (I am 24, the others were all 20 or 21) but it was a nice impromptu reunion with people whom I actually didn’t despise at school (generally, the idea of a school reunion fills me with dread and revulsion).

However, on my journey home from Hannah’s house today, I was thinking about some things that I need to get a grip on.  After the afternoon’s passed and I’ve relaxed at home, these things don’t seem quite as urgent as they did at the time, but I still think it’d be good to write them down just so that I have a record of what I was thinking (or wasn’t, as the case may be).  I know that when we went to the club, I looked good and I felt good, and I had drunk some but I wasn’t smashed.  However, by the end of the night, I was embarrassingly off my face.  I remember being aware of it, not being able to focus my eyes, coordinate my limbs (my dancing, usually pretty decent, had deteriorated into a bit of a joke) and slumping in the seating area while Hannah brought me water.  In the taxi home, it was only shame and finance that stopped me from vomiting all over the back seat (motion sickness really gets to me when I’m drunk – I know that it’s motion sickness because as soon as I get out of the car, I’m fine – and I wasn’t sick at all that night nor in the morning.  It’s happened before when I first met Mike and we went to the student bar and then he drove me home – I wasn’t sick then and I wasn’t about to start now).  I wasn’t going to have to pay £70 for the privilege of being sick in a moving vehicle, and I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by not being able to control my own basic bodily functions.  But it was a close one!  Somehow I managed to wake up and not feel hungover – a small miracle, but also not really the point.

I also drank so much that although I was perfectly happy and I didn’t do anything embarrassing, I sorta did behave flirtatiously with one guy who was dancing up against me and vice versa (it was all unwitting but funny) – but more seriously, I ended up slightly coming onto one of the people we bumped into from my old school later in that evening.  After a while, I gave up which was a really good move, because in the morning I just was like “OMG WHAT was I thinking?” The guy is ok, but somewhat immature and really not that attractive.  It would have purely been because he was there, and because to try and take my mind off Mike, I would be distracting myself by whoring myself out to other people.  As has been proven over this Christmas break, that’s not the way to go.  I’m worth much more than random forced encounters, and I’m certainly worth much more than lowering myself to the standards of any average-looking person. And Mike is better than that, and it’s sorta a disgrace to try and replace what he means to me with the first random who shows an interest.  Plus, I get frustrated at the fact that I have to make effort and chase these people – why isn’t anyone chasing me?  I like how I look more than I ever did before, so why is it suddenly so difficult to find someone?  I’m in Gucci, Armani, Prada – most guys my age don’t know what those even are.  And I guess I answered my own question – I try to be solid gold on the outside as well as on the inside (I know that I have a good heart) but I try too hard and it goes unappreciated, and I forget my earlier wisdom of being ice king and not easily won.  Overall I’m glad that nothing happened, and I’m mortified that I even entertained the thought.  I thought about giving up alcohol, but that would never happen; lo and behold, I appear to be staying over at Mike’s on Monday night, so drinking will definitely happen then anyway!

Alcohol also makes me (as it did during the Christmas party a few weeks ago; although last night I was about 3 times as drunk) seem to run off in random directions.  Hannah and Tess went missing during one period of the evening, and I spent half an hour pushing through people in the club in an effort to find them – it turned out they had gone to the kebab van without telling anyone!  Then I ended up helping a girl who was in tears, had acquired another girl’s phone but had lost her own, and needed a lift from her friend but didn’t know where to meet him.  I was out of the club wandering around Broadmead for half an hour with this girl who clung to me tighter than a starfish on a rock, who was using my phone (luckily I’m on contract so it was fine) and smoking my cigarette – she was appreciative, but it’s not something I would ever have taken the time to do had I been sober!  And I hazard a guess that if she had been sober, she wouldn’t have been in that situation anyway 😉  The moral of this post seems to be that alcohol is messy!  And it is.  But I suppose that compared to what could have happened, it was all pretty harmless.  I did have a good time, and I didn’t do anything wrong or bad.  We got there and back in one piece, I wasn’t sick anywhere, I didn’t embarrass myself (as far as I’m aware) at Hannah’s house in front of her parents, and I don’t appear to have lost anything vital.

But the reason why I wanted to write this post was to say more than “don’t drink too much or you may act like a twat”.  Everyone knows that.  I just wanted to say that although it’s not a complete excuse, alcohol made me forget myself.  It made me forget my own sense of dignity, which I nearly compromised by being sick, by pulling someone below my station and ultimately, by forgetting that I am worth more.  I guess I’m disappointed in myself because I felt and acted weak last night, and I should be strong – most of the time, I am strong.  But last night, I forgot that a meaningless encounter won’t hold a candle to a strong friendship and infatuation with a close friend; I forgot that I am a good person inside as well as on the outside, and I shouldn’t settle.  I deserve more, so why did I entertain settling for less?  That’s my first regret of 2010 (I start early!), but I hope that it’s something I can do something about. 🙂