#Nov30

Usually today I’d be waxing lyrical about St Andrew’s Day. Not today. Today, something more prominent…the biggest industrial action we’ve seen in a great many years.

Whether you agree with striking or not – I don’t want to debate strike action today. I understand why people thought it was wrong for people to strike because of its affect on the community. I also understand why people did strike too. It’s not a decision people make lightly.

What I do think is our current government have treated your average public sector employee like CRAP. Yes, we’re in a recession. Yes, we need to try and deal with our deficit. But why exactly, are we picking on the public sector to do that?

It makes me really angry.

As a Christian, I try to have grace on people, but boy do David Cameron, George Osborne & Michael Gove test my ability to be gracious.

Here’s what makes me angry.

The average public sector wage is £28,000 apparently. But this of course takes all the ‘big kahunas’ at the top of the food chain. Some of them are to blame for the mess they’ve made of public sector services, and have been paid off to leave. The people who were doing a great job but been made redundant because of job cuts – not so lucky. 1/3 of the public sector earn below £21,000.

I’m in agreement with the retirement age increasing. We’re living longer, and it makes sense to do this.

I’m not agreement with making people pay more into their pension funds, work longer and get less than was agreed at the time when they entered into the Public Sector workforce.

A local Edinburgh councillor told me the ‘Pensions’ the public sector get are better than those in the Private Sector. Well, maybe they are – I think that’s very difficult to compare the whole of the public sector with the whole of the private sector. I will say that it’s likely that on average, those in Private Sector get paid much better than those in the Public Sector, and consequently should have more extra to contribute to their pension fund. Also the Public Sector workers don’t get ‘bonuses’. I’d also like to know where the good pensions are. I know a recently retired policeman and a recently retired doctor – both are having to do part-time jobs because their pension is not enough to live on.

I’m sick of the description of the public sector being a ‘burden on the taxpayer‘. Ok then. Let’s see how we all do if your house goes on fire and there’s no fire brigade to risk their life to rescue you and your property. No paramedics to call out when you have an accident or heart attack or your kid stops breathing because of an asthma attack or seizure. No nurses. No doctors. No physiotherapists. No teachers to educate your children while you work to pay the bills. No Community Education workers to engage young people into becoming a credit to their communities, or helping people become more literate or supporting them into becoming productive citizens. No social workers to help children and adults with learning disabilities or the elderly or helping find families for children in care. No one to help you get planning permission for your house. No one protecting the culture, treasures or buildings of your town or city. No one to help your kid cross busy roads safely on their way to and from school.

Do you know how much I earned when I worked as a Community Education Worker back in 2006/7? Approximately £16,500 per year. To run a community centre, manage 23 staff, develop a youth work programme and attend numerous community council and other community group and multi-partnership forum meetings. Even when I was ‘off work’ I had to respond to calls at 9 p.m. at night if something happened at one of the many youth groups we ran, or the street team work we did. A university degree was an essential requirement of that job.

I would have earned more, working less hours and needing only basic high school level qualifications if I’d been a Checkout assistant in Tesco or Sainsbury’s.

I also paid all my taxes. And contributed to my pension fund (because it comes out of my monthly salary just like it would in the private sector).

And I served the community.

I might add the a good chunk of the people I worked with were women and single parents. In fact, women account for 73% of the public sector workforce. And we already know that women on average earn a lot less than men.

What really angers me is that the public sector already had taken a hit, with lots of job cuts and budget cuts – and yet somehow they are expected to meet lots of government targets. Why should it be targeted again?

Meanwhile, the big bankers are getting crazy bonuses they don’t pay tax on despite the fact their employees further down the food chain are being made redundant. Sorry, if business is doing so badly you have to make people redundant, that is not a time to give yourself a bonus.

And if you’re in debt to the government, how is it you can earn a big chunk of money without paying tax on it?

How about the huge number of entrepreneurs and small business who avoid paying tax on earnings by getting people to pay them in cash?

Or the very rich who avoid paying tax and stamp duty on their mansions by putting their money into off-shore accounts?

From what I can tell, George Osborne is bringing back socio-economic class divide. He is making the poorer even more poorer, and letting the rich stay richer. And every week I have people coming into my centre for counselling because they need to terminate their pregnancy – not because they don’t want to be a parent, because they know they cannot afford to not work, but they can’t afford childcare so they can work. My friend who is a qualified nursery nurse only earned £50 a month by the time she paid for childcare for one child and commuting costs.

It kinda makes me want to go camp out in St Andrew’s Square. Or maybe down in Westminster…

For more posts/articles on the strike:

Making Memories blog  (Rebecca is an NHS nurse)

Polly Toynbee’s commentary on George Osborne’s Autumn Statement in Guardian

BBC News interview with Niamh Sweeney (a teacher)

BBC Article about Public v Private Sector pensions

Hilary Salt on why she is supporting the strike

Dominic Lawson’s comments on the strike action in the Independent

Apple & Raspberry Porridge

Since I first posted the ‘Apple & Strawberry Porridge’ recipe, I discovered that raspberries work much much better. Over the Autumn/Winter, I’ve been using frozen berries/summer fruits in place of the fresh berries. So I thought I’d repost this recipe with a few edits!

because we know bears love porridge…

It’s only right that I have a wee bit of Scottishism in grained in these recipes. But this one is the first one inspired by the  Hungry recipe book by Innocent. (By the way, if you are taking part in Bringing Sexy Back I totally recommend Hungry for helping you have healthier eating habits. They even have great tips in how to get the whole family involved – especially kids).

Ingredients (serves 1)

½ cup of oatmeal (rolled oats)

1 cup of apple juice (try to use pressed rather than concentrate)

1 cup water

1 cup raspberries (you can also use frozen berries as an option when they aren’t in season!)

Method

Put your oatmeal, apple juice and water in a saucepan.

Bring to the boil, stirring the mixture continuously.

Once you’ve brought it to the boil, leave to simmer on a low heat, stirring occasionally for approx. 8 minutes

While your porridge is simmering you can get out your fresh strawberries & give them a wee rinse and chop them up into bite-size pieces in between stirs. You might want to make a drink of your choice too (a wee bit herbal tea? coffee? orange juice?). **If you are using frozen berries – add them after about 3-4 minutes. It will probably turn your porridge pink!**

Once the porridge is done, pour into a bowl, add your raspberries, give it a wee stir and serve!

Obviously, please beware that when leaving your porridge to cool a little (because you don’t want it to burn your mouth), you should not leave it unsupervised. You just never know if Goldilocks might come in and eat it all up before you get a chance.

Or a bear for that matter…

Disclosure: I don’t ever recommend things for the sake of recommendation, but yes, I’m part of the Amazon Associates programme, so if you purchase the book through that link I may get a small percentage of the profit or something like that! But really, I don’t care how you buy it or where you buy it. I think it’s a great recipe book for anyone – the 2.4 kid family, the students, the semi-grown up marrieds or the singletons like me!

Two kinds of Christmassy angels…

Because I know the mascots in our centre our much beloved by some of my regular readers, know that they’ve taken their throne at the top of the teeny Christmas tree in the office. Next to the golden angel that I felt led to buy yesterday.

Two things to notice.

1. For some reason the gold angel looks pregnant, which we thought was kinda funny (you couldn’t tell this in the box)

2. I love the way they are kinda watching over us in the office. :) (FYI – the bookcase the golden angel is on top of is about 6ft in height).

Koala Friendly Mulled Wine

Koalas can’t drink wine. We koalas aren’t too upset because we’ve never been able to drink wine, so it we don’t know we’re missing out really. However, once a brunette koala got a little bit ill from drinking mulled wine that had actual real wine in it. She didn’t realise that mulled wine was made with…well, wine. Oops.

However, this Brunette Koala decided she wasn’t going to miss out anymore, and thought she’d do some experimenting to find an alternative one Christmas…

Ingredients:

600 ml red grape juice

400 ml cranberry & raspberry juice

1 orange

2 mulled spice sachets

200ml water

Method:

Pour your juice and the water into a saucepan. Add the mulled wine spice sachets.

Bring to almost to the boil (should be bubbling around the sides a bit), then keep at that temperature for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, rinse your orange, then cut into fine slices.

After 10 minutes, take out the mulled wine spice sachets, add the orange slices to garnish, and take off the heat.

And serve!!

My family actually much preferred this non-alcoholic homemade alternative mulled wine to the normal stuff, and was a hit on Christmas Eve last year. The only annoying thing was that I’d only  bought one carton of the red grape & yumberry juice so we weren’t able to have any on Christmas Day. I haven’t been able to find Red grape & yumberry juice this year, so the red grape and cranberry/raspberry combo is my alternative. :)

London town adventures.

Priscilla advert I snapped whilst rushing to catch a train on the underground...

I had 1.5 days in London before heading up to Northampton for my work conference.

After checking out our apartment and saying farewell to Ruth at Paddington Station, I headed to North London where my host (and lift to the conference) works. I was super thankful that Paddington had a Body Shop, since I discovered a malteser moment in my toiletry packing. I’d managed to pack 2 travel bottles of conditioner instead of 1 shampoo 1 conditioner, and I’d also somehow left out my shower wash. The one I’d bought specifically in Boots the weekend before.

Way to go BK. 

My second malteser moment of the day was not quite catching the directions I’d been given. Scoffing at the idea of a bus when it was a 15 minute walk from the tube station, I marched on with my suitcase and wee rucksack. To realise after walking for 15 minutes that something wasn’t quite right. That something was I’d walked up the wrong street. A phone call to my host, and I had to walk back on myself and find the right road (thankfully parallel to the one I was on). 15 min walk became 30 mins.

And my jeans rubbed a nasty cut into my heel in the process.

Go me.

Third malteser moment came when I ended up having to work in their pregnancy centre, and realised while on the phone to an organisation leaving a message that I didn’t know the number of the centre to tell them the number to call back on.

Thank you God for wi-fi and google search.

Fourth malteser moment came when I tried to help a guy who had come in with his friend (neither spoke English) and because I tried to keep them from seeing another client in the building brought them into the office so I could use google translate to try and aid communication. One of them took the opportunity to steal my host’s iPhone which happened to be sitting out on the other desk.

I hope the police catch them.

And I’m thankful that my host had insurance and a datalock on her phone so it wasn’t too much of a disaster.

Still. Not cool.

On Friday I had the morning and early afternoon free, so I headed in to Central London on a honeybush tea mission. Only to arrive at the Twinings store to find said tea out of stock.

Are you freaking kidding me?!

I headed to Regent Street, where I went to Hamley’s in search of gifts. I spent way too long in the Sylvanian Family section (I was amused later to find my friend Nicola had written this post).

I wish people still bought me toys for Christmas.

And then I headed to South Kensington, where my London travel guide (a lil bit out of date now) told me I could find a branch of the Hummingbird Bakery. I’d never tried their cupcakes, but I’ve always liked their icing recipes, plus I wanted to buy some cakes for my host, her husband and son to say thank you for letting me stay (and sorry her phone got stolen on my watch).

Cakes looked yummy, but awkward to get a call from the police as I left the bakery…!

As I headed back East on the tube, I got a text from my friend Lisa, who told me she was on her lunch break and available to meet up. Annoyingly I had to wait to get up the stairs of Liverpool Street station to be able to get reception to find out where to meet her. Thankfully she was only 2 tube stops away, so I headed to St Paul’s to meet her for a drink (and food for me!) at Cafe Rouge.

Definitely the best part of my Friday. Miss you Lisa!!

It was also interesting to see the Occupy London camp. My first impression is that it is in a much more awkward location that the Edinburgh one, and louder. But more on that another day.

And then it was time to head back to North London again to pack up the car and head North.

I didn’t get lost. I did however have to stand on the tube the whole way and there was a delay at a station = lots more people able to get on our train = squashed and sweaty brunettekoala. Lovely.

We took our cupcakes, and wouldn’t you know we decided to stop at a service station on the M1 for a wee cup of tea and our cupcakes. When we came out 20 mins later there were huge tailbacks because a couple of miles up the road there had been an accident. We knew had it not been for our cupcake stop, we very easily could have been in the accident ourselves.

Clearly Hummingbird cupcakes have protective powers.

We pulled into the car park right next to my Scottish colleagues – my national partner in crime, Elizabeth, my local partner in crime, Sarah and one of the Dundee centre trustees. Greetings and hugs all around, and off we pondered to check in and get our name badges.

How’s that for perfect timing?

:)

WANTED: Guests for a blog party & participants in a blog carnival!

Yes. After the success of the September blog party, I decided that another party or 2 needed to be hosted.

I confess that a visit to Hamley’s got me inspired for Christmas. I make it a rule not to start celebrating Christmas until Advent begins on 1st December. But I did buy this Sylvanian Family Christmas tree set for my friend’s daughter because I thought it was cool. And I’ve just bought my christmas tree and fairy lights ready for next week. :)

Soooooo…. on the blog party front….

1. I’d love to do another St Andrew’s Day Blog Carnival over on my new blog which is all about Edinburgh and all things Scottish! The idea is that you post something relating to Scotland (or indeed St Andrew) on 30th November and I’ll link to it.

2. A Christmas Blog party. Already I have e-mailed some of my blogging friends (though some of you I haven’t been able to contact because I don’t have your e-mail address) to ask if they’d be up for this. People can post a cartoon, short video or max. 500 word post on something relating to Christmas. The posts will start appearing on 12th December through to 6th January here on Learning from Sophie. If you’d like to take part, leave a comment below so I can e-mail you back.

Are you up for this? :)

You can also help with the Christmas blog party by commenting with a word relating to Christmas below (some people have asked for a Sunday Scribbling style ‘prompt word’).

The day we met Alf…

 

We weren’t sure the day was ever going to come.

The day we would meet Alf Ray Meagher that is.

But it did.

At 8.30 a.m. me and my rolly suitcase & wee rucksack went down the brae as fast as we could to catch the Airlink bus to Waverley Station. It took forever for the bus to come, and forever to get through all the tramworks and traffic lights, but with time to grab a bottle of water, bag of crisps and some grapes at Boots I made it to my 9.30 a.m. train to London.

I sat next to two lovely ladies who I got chatting to (me? chat? I know it’s shocking, isn’t it?), and surprisingly we arrived at Kings Cross a few minutes early. Off I went to top up my Oyster card and navigate the London Underground to Bayswater where Ruth & I had booked an apartment. Apartment found (with free wi-fi – hurrah!) I dumped my stuff, changed into slightly smarter clothes and went to meet Ruth at Paddington. Back to Bayswater so Ruth could dump her stuff, and off we went to Leicester Square to meet Mike, Rebecca and Oli.

To say we were excited was a teeny weeny ickle bit of an understatement.

Off to Chinatown, and we got chinese food in a restaurant. At this point I would show you the picture of the receipt we got that I picked up to work out how much I owed to discover the whole thing was written in Chinese.

But I accidentally deleted off my camera.

Which means the embarrassment of the waiter coming over and seeing me take a picture of the receipt in Chinese was all for nothing (except the entertainment of Mike, Rebecca, Ruth & Oli who laughed a lot at me & the bemused waiter who probably didn’t know that it was all for blog storytelling).

Then we met my friend Mike and it was time to take our seats!!!! eeeee!!!!

The show was amazing. The costumes were brilliant. The script was hilarious. The choreography was just right in helping tell the story and matching the crazy costumes. The set was so well done. The only thing that let them down is that sometimes you couldn’t hear what they were singing. I’m not sure if it was the actors not having enough strength in their voice or an issue with the sound engineering.

As soon as the show finished we went straight to the Stage Door (though my friend said goodbye to us at this point) and waited anxiously for Ray Meagher. As did a huge group of New Zealanders who had been sitting behind us.

Doors opened. Security people poked their head out – our hopes rose as we thought the moment had come and….

out walked Cliff Richard.

Eh? What?

Very confusing (he must have been in the audience we think), but we did get a giggle seeing him running away (literally) from some people chasing him for an autograph.

Mitzi came out (or as I call him ‘Lachlan Fraser’ – yes, another Home & Away star starred in Priscilla too!) and looked disappointed that none of us Alf Stewart fans asked him for an autograph.

Then the moment….

He was super nice. We told him how we’d tried to come down last year. He thanked us for coming to see the show. He told us that Kate Ritchie (Sally) was doing well and how her Mum had been to see him the other week, and when I asked him how they’d written out Alf so he could come do Priscilla, he assured me that Alf was not going to jail again. (Phew!)

After that we got our picture beneath ‘the shoe’ and we headed for the tube station and parted ways. With ‘We met Alf!‘ being exclaimed every now and then.

I confess it took about 2 hours before I had calmed down (sorry Ruth!) and Rebecca let me use her phone where I did wake up my Mum just to tell her that Ray Meagher said ‘Hello’. Gotta love my Mum who answered the phone not with ‘Hello‘ but with ‘So, you met Alf then?’ (because who else would be phoning at 11 p.m. but her insane daughter).

So now we’ve crossed that off of our ‘bucket lists’. What next?

I’m thinking a trip to Summer Bay Palm Beach, Australia – don’t you? ;)

Work hard, Play hard, Rest hard

I think this picture of my new friend Sneaky (he’s the cat in the picture) is a good one for this post. Cats know the art of playing hard and resting hard (I’m not sure if cats work mind you).

I have now returned from my trip South of the border, having left East London yesterday afternoon and arrived back home just after 10 p.m. last night. I even survived having to use the toilet on the train (I really detest having to use toilets on planes and trains).

Chatting and catching up with folks at our conference in Northampton at the weekend, one of the HQ team asked me ‘Laura Anne is there anything you don’t do?

I guess to the folks looking in from the outside of my life, I must seem like a pretty busy person. I mean I co-manage a pregnancy resource centre part-time with my friend Sarah. I blog and tweet and facebook. I volunteer with a national charity that supports a network of pregnancy resource centres as well as running a national helpline. I volunteer with the Girlguiding Association at a local Guide unit. I am part of a local church congregation. I volunteer my time (and my vocal chords) with Powerpoint. I have a ton of friends who I try to keep up with as much as I can. My family make great material for soap operas which makes for an interesting life…

Yep, there is a lot in my life. Occasionally it can overwhelm me.

But the thing is, I have learned to do nothing more than what I am called to do. I have learned the art of saying ‘No’ – even when I’d love to do it.

They key to this is working hard to get the job done, to spend time enjoying life outside of work – whether it’s spending time in the pub with friends, going to a Zumba class or stalking soap stars, and to spend time resting.

Resting for me usually means not setting an alarm, staying in my pyjamas or ‘scaffs’ while my work & play clothes are washing in the machine and chilling out watching my favourite american TV dramas, comedy shows and eating well that day.

Sometimes in the busyness of life I can end up missing a chance to go to supermarket or sleeping in and not having time to make a proper breakfast before I rush out to get the bus to work or get home so late I end up popping a pizza in the oven or rather than making a healthier meal.

That’s why I’m strict on having a sabbath day each week. A day that rights the wrongs that happen along the way. A day that refreshes and replenishes my body, mind and soul. A day of no pressure. A day that is just for me, so that for the other 6 days I have more of myself to give to others.

Resting means I can actually get more done.

So that’s the mantra – work hard, play hard, rest hard. :)

Last night in London town

Sorry I have been AWOL for the last few days. I found Islington and got a few war wounds in the process. Some adventures occurred, and then it was off to Northampton.

I’m now BACK in London, staying in Plaistow this time (the East End, innit?) and tomorrow I head back to Scotland. :(

Stories will be told when I return, thoughts will be pondered and spraffed about as usual.

For now, I leave you a picture of my newest friend in London:

Back in London baby!

I don’t have the cable for my camera, so the full tales of this fine day shall be left until I return to Bonnie Scotland.

But we did get to fulfil our wish from last September. To meet up in London (though we were sad that Carolyn wasn’t with us), to have fun seeing the musical of Priscilla and to meet Ray Meagher (aka Alf). I was so preparing myself for something going wrong, and it didn’t. I also know if someone tries to mug me for my camera I will fight them!

So here is a wee web cam pic of me & Ruth in our rented out apartment trying to come down from our wejustgottomeetAlf! high.

Thank you Mike for getting our tickets and staking out Chinatown for us. Thank you Rebecca for organising our tickets and timings AND letting me borrow your phone so I could call my Mum to announce to her that I had indeed now met ‘Alf’. Thank you Ruth for being willing to be a cheapo with me. Thank you to other Mike for not disowning me as a friend for taking you to the campest musical on earth and rejecting language school socialising for hanging outside a stage door. Thank you to Oli for not running away screaming as you had never met me even online and tonight you probably saw me at my most insane.

From tomorrow I’ll return to be a sensible and reserved British citizen.

Or I’ll try. :)