If You Can’t Sleep, Learn Something

March 5, 2013 at 1:40 am | Posted in cooking, food, History, insomnia, internet, Ireland, Maps, Northern Ireland, Recipe | Leave a comment
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So. I can’t sleep. A fairly common problem for me, exacerbated by flu, a child with an unpredictable sleeping pattern and an overactive mind. So I decided that instead of aimlessly tweeting, I might take advantage of my insomnia and learn something. This is what I have learned:

1) The six counties of Northern Ireland;
2) The largest county of the Republic of Ireland;
3) The perceived difference between a Loyalist and a Unionist;
4) When the Act of Union was;
5) The 10 best Irish history books;
6) The 10 best Irish novels;
7) The recipe for an authentic spaghetti bolognese.

So, food & history: these are the things which keep me awake at night.

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Please Tell Me You’ve Heard of Stalin?

August 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Posted in History, men, relationships, Teaching | 4 Comments
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My friend Tania and I used to perform something called the Nietzsche Test when on a first date. Basically, if you hadn’t heard of the great Nihilist, we weren’t interested. Well, it looks as if I’m going to have to rename it the Stalin Test.

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Have you seen this man? (Last spotted circa 1999 in a GCSE textbook, I imagine.) Not in the flesh, obviously, but you know who he is, don’t you? Because, dear reader, there are people out there who have NO IDEA. The conversation which follows illustrates this fact:

Ignorant Man: I saw you walking towards the beach and thought you were going skinny dipping! Guffaws.  An embarrassing silence ensues.

Ignorant Man: So, what do you do then?

Me: I work in a bookshop.

Ignorant Man: And what’s your five year plan?

Me: I’m not Stalin.

Ignorant Man: Who’s Stalin?

Me: You know, Stalin? Stalin the DICTATOR?

Shaking my head in disgust, I stumble off into the sunset to drink onion-flavoured gin. You don’t even want to know what that tastes like.

How has this happened? How are there people out there who can name every Big Brother contestant ever but have never heard of a 20th century dictator responsible for millions of deaths? Yes, I had a brilliant History teacher whose method of demonstrating Blitzkrieg I have never forgotten (after explaining its characteristics, he asked us to use a board pen to show what it would have looked like: kinetic, visual & aural learning simultaneously, PGCE students). Stalin’s Five Year Plan didn’t exactly thrill me, but I would be appalled if I had no idea who he was.

We are becoming stupider by the day.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Syrup Tins

May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Book Signing, books, food, History, Recipe | 2 Comments
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I have a incessantly sweet tooth. When I am stressed, I wander down to Waitrose for fizzy strawberry laces, sucking the sugar off each one until my tongue is sore. I’m much the same with chocolate raisins, letting the outsides melt in my mouth until only the shrivelled raisin remains. And do you remember Pop Cakes from The Magic Faraway Tree? I was so disappointed to discover that they were entirely fictitious.

So you can imagine how excited I am that the authors of The Sugar Girls, Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi, are coming to my shop, Waterstones Tenterden, to do a signing. The book has been extraordinarily successful and there have been calls to turn it into a Call the Midwife style miniseries.

I’m planning a window display largely dependant on Tate & Lyle tins, so if you can send me any empty golden syrup or black treacle ones, I’d be enormously grateful. Recipes using either of those would be wonderful too. Email me at amysmith500@hotmail.com and we’ll sort something out.

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Goodbye, lovely ugly towers…

January 26, 2012 at 8:52 am | Posted in History | Leave a comment
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Thanet District Council have voted to demolish ‘one of east Kent’s most iconic landmarks’ (according to the East Kent Mercury), the Richborough cooling towers.

The Mercury says that the towers are ‘an unsightly blight on the countryside’ to some people, whereas other locals have nicknamed the towers the Three Sisters or the Salt and Pepper Pots.

I will miss the towers; I pass them everyday on my way to work, and cannot imagine a towerless landscape.

The Birdsong backlash begins…

January 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Posted in books, History, love, relationships, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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It was inevitable, really.  Most critics have praised the BBC’s Birdsong production, so one grumpy old man journalist had to fight popular opinion, didn’t he?  It’s like Harry Potter and the Twilight Saga: many people will hate them simply because so many people love them.

So what, exactly, was David Aaronovitch’s problem with the production? Well, for starters, there were too many posh people, apparently.  Let’s not forget that ‘Other classes took leading roles in the First World War’.  Except no one’s forgetting, David: what about the character of Firebrace? Not exactly a toff, is he?

His second issue is with the fact that there are lots of ‘lingering glances’ and ‘slowly melting eyes’ before the love affair between Stephen and Isabelle begins.  What’s the matter, David? Do you need the actors to enunciate what they’re feeling every five minutes?  Can’t you decipher what is being implied? Poor David.  You’ve obviously not seen Lost In Translation.

He also questions whether Wraysford ‘would […] really be thinking of his Grand Meaulnes time with the heroine before final curtain down’. Do any of us really know what we’re going to be thinking just before we bite the bullet? I’d like to think I’ll be thinking of the people I’ve loved, and – stop reading now if you’re a prude – I may even recall a time I slept with one of them.  Sex is a massive part of life, David: deal with it.

I also disagree with his argument that casting directors are only scouting for pretty boys now.  Redmayne is a really talented actor who can convey more meaning in a glance than many can in a soliloquy.

Finally, ‘if I were a woman enjoying passive oral congress’ with Eddie Redmayne, I’d be grinning like a lush in a winebar. Face facts, Mr Aaronovitch: you’re wrong about this Birdsong.

Holocaust Tourism

January 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Posted in History, Holocaust, The History Boys, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Poland is trying to make Wolf’s Lair, one of Hitler’s Eastern European dwellings, a tourist destination. Concentration camps and other more artistic memorials to the Holocaust are one thing, but one of Hitler’s houses is quite another.  Can you imagine trying to explain to your colleagues the origins of your boutique hotel?

In The History Boys, there is a scene in which holocaust tourism is debated.  Hector, the boys’ eccentric General Studies teacher, wonders what happens when students visit the camps: do they eat their lunches there? Do they take photos? And if so, are they smiling in the photos?

I’ve been thinking about all this after I read Richard Morrison’s column in Times 2 yesterday.  He mentions a noisy ice cream van inappropriately parked outside Mauthausen labour camp, and it reminded me of my visit to Dachau when I was sixteen. I found it completely bizarre and almost eerie that a man should choose to jog round the perimeter of a former concentration camp.

I can’t tell you what is appropriate behaviour at Auschwitz. But I can tell you what isn’t.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/richardmorrison/article3292109.ece

 

 

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