Dear Cat & Fi: The One When I Pay my Coffee Forward

Dear Cat & Fi,

Hello there. So it’s Saturday night, I’m watching ‘Smack the Pony’ (more specifically this hilarious pisstake of All Saints they did) and it’s the second of the ‘Dear Cat & Fi’ blogs that I’m writing to you. I’ve made it to a second one so I think that deserves a little round of applause *goes to take bow, modestly* doesn’t it? Ah, thank you, you’re too kind. Anyhoo. Must focus on this week’s blog. But seriously, I’m glad you both liked the blog last week and the fact you both liked it means I can continue on with this little way of keeping in touch with you both.

So this week. It’s been a bloody warm one hasn’t it? Which has led me to realise that I hate one very specific thing about this weather in particular. Yes, I want to talk about possibly the worst summer based insect ever. Thunderbugs.

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No. Not the crap, one hit wonder girl group from off of the 90’s. (What was it with my brief flirtation as a 9 year old with rubbish girl groups who played instruments? Particularly ones with song lyrics such as the following: ‘Cause we’ll be, you’ll see / We’ll be friends forever / Like Thelma and Louise’). Although they were rubbish as well for very different reasons. No. I’m talking the little tiny insects that, the second you step outside into slightly muggier weather, are all over you like a particularly rape-y/slutty (delete adjective as applicable) pervert in a low grade nightclub.

If they’re not flying into your eyes and blinding you temporarily, thus making it impossible to walk, they’re in your hair. If they’re not in your hair and constantly making you feel dirty, they’re all over your clothes. And if they’re not all over your clothes, meaning you’re constantly swiping yourself as if you are smacking a particularly petulant small child, they’re flying into your mouth and leaving a horrible slightly acrid buggy taste on your tongue. Just why and who invented them? Do they have a purpose other than to irritate the life out of us when we’re hot and bothered as it is? DO THEY?!

I do know, Cat, that you in particular weren’t fond of them either. I also know there’s probably worse insects to be confronted with at the height of summer (wasps, I am looking at you. Well not directly at you per se but let’s just say you won’t be getting a Christmas card from me). But it just makes me long for when it’ll eventually get cooler and they’ll bugger off to Abu Dhabi or somewhere less muggy.

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In less irritating, buggy news, my absolute hero Joanna Lumley was back on the telly this week with her new series ‘Transiberian Adventure’ on ITV. I think it’s safe to say all us MacGregors love her from of course, playing Patsy in Ab Fab, and also with the wonderful stuff she did for the Gurkhas. But I equally love her travel shows she does – the BBC one she did tracing down the Northern Lights in Trondheim a few years ago was just magical. She’s like an incredibly more glamorous Michael Palin. This new series is basically her taking a trip through the Asiatics via a Transiberian railway, starting in Hong Kong and eventually finishing up in Moscow.

The second episode is on tomorrow night at 9pm, and the first episode is on ITV Player at the moment. Last week she’d got as far as Mongolia and seeing a lesser charted section of the Great Wall of China. Anyway, it’s a thing I bring up because that night, after seeing the episode, she was in my dream, and I proceeded to tell her that I was pursuing a career in writing and wanted to make a success of it, to which her reply in that deliciously soft, RP voice of hers was ‘Well darling, it’s definitely something you should keep up, you obviously have a great talent for it. And do send me some when its finished darling.’ And when I woke up I was like, ‘Yes, Joanna Lumley. I will keep writing. And I WILL send you some when its finished.’ Hopefully once my kid’s series is finished I can get her cast as one of the voices for the characters. She did a brilliant Ermintrude in that dreadful Magic Roundabout remake they did if I remember correctly.

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And also this week, I changed up the coffee sachets I have for work (good word, sachet. As I sashay up to the sachet) as, although I was a Nescafe boy for a good few years, too many changes to a formerly good recipe officially made me go off them in favour of Kenco, whose cappuccinos are far nicer and also, as it turns out, helping me to be a bit more ethical in my choices of food and drink. I suppose we all take for granted a bit that things like tea and coffee are just there in our day to day lives, and that we forget they are harvested and exported from a country where their standard of life is a million miles away from anything we experience.

Hence why I’ve signed up to Kenco’s new Rewards Club. Each product you buy of theirs has a code you can enter on your account on their website, which rewards you 10 points. And as your total builds up, you can either redeem the points in exchange for some average looking mugs or tea towels, OR you can do what I’m gonna do and redeem them towards projects they’re sponsoring in countries that harvest their coffee beans. Projects such as building local schools to help kids of the farmers get a good education, or install pumps in areas that might not have access to safe, clean drinking water, stuff we all take for granted so readily but that could really change the lives of those who deserve a fair return for what they offer us.

So that’s all that’s been happening this week. Cat – I am posting my birthday card to the bro in law either tomorrow or Monday. I shall get and write it after I’ve finished this. Fi – I shall ring you one night this week so speak to you then, Patricia Nelson ha.

Until next week, in the words of Doon MacKichan on Smack the Pony, I’m a beautiful lady with long golden hair, and HUUUGGE BREASTS.

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Luv-oo, Alex

x x

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#CrazyStupidBook: Giovanna Fletcher – ‘Dream a Little Dream’

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So the eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed I’ve not blogged as much or been doing things of the such fun blogging nature for a good few weeks now – last week excepted, and there’s a new ‘Dear Cat & Fi’ coming a bit later. That’s because life’s been a bit hectic and not such fun but rest assured the fun recommences right here right now – starting with a long overdue review of the new book from one Mrs Giovanna Fletcher.

Readers will remember that I reviewed her first book ‘Billy & Me’ earlier on in the year (which she then RT’ed and Tweeted me to say thank you for after. No pressure this time, Gi, if you’re reading this *wink wink, nudge nudge etc*) and that in between that book and this new one, there was a small Christmas novella bringing us up to speed on Sophie and Billy and all the clan in Rosefont Hill, and her second novel, ‘You’re the One That I Want’. I wasn’t so keen on that one, even though I could see where the angle was coming from writing it from multiple points of view with the main characters in the love triangle arc of that novel.

So with a lot of expectation and hope, I came to her new book. ‘Dream a Little Dream’ tells the story of Sarah, a normal twenty-something city girl who seems to have hit a bit of a rut in her life – stuck at a dead end PA job for many years to the narcissistic (nay unhygenic) head of a leading TV production company with no chance of promotion, a constant disappointment to her very middle class mother (I was instantly picturing something along the lines of Patricia Hodge as Penny from Miranda) and, perhaps worst of all, staying friends with her ex-boyfriend Dan whilst keeping a brave face on in front of the woman he left Sarah for – known for the duration of the novel as ‘Perfect Lexie’.

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Still. There is one purple patch in Sarah’s life. Namely, that of her dream world when she goes to sleep at night, where she keeps having romantic encounters with a man she was vaguely acquainted with in her uni days called Brett Last. The more intense (and at some points raunchy) these dreams get, the more frustrated she feels trying to pinpoint where he was from. Or more to the point, trying to work out what these dreams are telling her and why this man of her dreams isn’t in her life for real. What then follows, as someone from the ideas development branch of the company she works at hands in their notice, is the recruitment and arrival of the actual Brett Last into her office, as she struggles to balance the real Brett with the dream one.

One strength that has played a huge attraction for me in previous novels of Giovanna’s is her ability to build an entire world in her writing for the reader – she has such a way with words that you feel like you connect with her characters, their environments and the situations they find themselves in instantly. And it really works to the advantage of ‘Dream a Little Dream’, where she writes not just in Sarah’s normal day to day life but also in her dreamscapes. Hence why you find yourself laughing yet totally believing the insanity of the notion that Dermot O’Leary serves Sarah a caffe latte in his full suit-and-tie garb off the riverboat cafe she passes on her way to work, or that Jamie Oliver is a concierge into a hotel she’s trying to enter whilst pushing a pram.

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There’s a small subplot involving Sarah and Brett that brings them together when she’s asked by her boss to shadow on the programme development team, that sees her pitching an idea for a new travel series with the working title ‘Grannies Go Gap’, which would see elderly ladies or men whisked off on a trip of a lifetime to the Great Wall of China or the Niagara Falls or similar destination. Her description in particular of their potential guinea pig for the show, 86 year old Ethel, and the little life she leads that is a million miles away from Sarah’s was so vivid and familiar because I’m sure we’ve all known an Ethel at one point in our life.

Same likewise, that we’ve all known a fairly wang ex-boyfriend or girlfriend like Dan, and an unbelievably smug new other half of your ex like Perfect Lexie. And an overbearing mum like Sarah’s. It’s this that makes you get behind Sarah’s struggle instantly, and really championing her however pony the road ahead looks as the book progresses, and the end is built up to in a really interesting way but is very satisfying ultimately. I especially liked the small references – one in the dreamscape, the other in real life – to both Gi’s other half Tom Fletcher and to Billy Buskin from her first novel. I just felt they added a really nice quirky touch to the novel.

‘Dream a Little Dream’ is undoubtedly one of the best, escapist and feel good novels you’ll read all year – and three books into her career as an author, is more than proof enough that Gi has established herself as a real romantic, witty writing force to be reckoned with. Long may it continue.

Dear Cat & Fi: The One Where I Get a New Favourite Band

Dear Cat & Fi,

Hello! Your little bro Alex here. I thought today’s blog post could potentially be the start of something new. Obviously, both of you, my twin sisters, live miles away from me now and I may not get to touch base with you both as much as I’d like to – some of this my own fault, because I’m rubbish at responding to texts straight away or remembering to ring – but one thing I do do brilliantly is write, so I felt why not use my blog as a means to keep base with you both. Maybe it may even inspire you to start blogging yourselves, and it can be like one big cocoon o’blogging fun. I digress.

So this week’s been a bit of an interesting week. It started pleasantly enough – I met up with my long time bro Simon Miles for a coffee after work on Monday as it was his birthday on Tuesday. So in light of that fact I utilised it as the perfect excuse to get us each one of these and pass it off as an early birthday cake:

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Yum yum yum. What you’re seeing above is an Eton Mess traybake which Costa are selling at the moment for the summer months and, considering that we all know I wasn’t much of a dried fruit man growing up, the dried strawberries in this slice of heaven are actually quite the bomb. And Simon thought so too so happy days all round.

What wasn’t so good, and really came out of nowhere was me suddenly obtaining the sore throat from hell on Monday evening. I had this recently as well but basically I had it for about two days along with a thumping earache and headache and was then perfectly fine again by Thursday. Very odd indeed, but proof there’s nothing endless bottles of water and cups of tea can’t do. See also: sprinkling cinammon on everything in sight which, according to mum is good for sore throats. So I learnt something new from my episode of freak illness if nothing else.

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On a more pleasant note, I have a new favourite band. Watching the 20th anniversary TFI Friday episode on Channel 4 recently (which has just been green lighted for a new full run in the autumn – YAY) I saw this new band that you see above called Years and Years performing. Well, they were new to me anyway because it turns out they’re not new to everyone else. Such is the price I pay for being a Radio 2 listener nowadays and not down with ‘da yoof’. They were the BBC Sound of 2015 winners at the start of the year – a poll which I always thought was reserved for boring and/or cringey twatbuckets like Jessie J and/or Sam Smith.

Years and Years are happily not twatbuckets, and are actually pretty tops. Their music is gloriously, wonderfully poppy, but not in a cheesy way. Their first single ‘King’ was at number 1 for a month in March and their new single, ‘Shine’, was the song they performed on TFI Friday and I’ve had it pretty much on loop this last month, to the point where I think it’s pretty much my single of the year now bar Marlon Roudette’s ‘When the Beat Drops Out’. It’s all wistful and dreamy and generally lovely. I’m probably going to ask Village for their album ‘Communion’ for my birthday I think.

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And finally…as you both know, I am a big lover of funny animals on the internet, and they don’t come any funnier than one of my recent discoveries. Crusoe, otherwise known as the ‘Celebrity Dachshund’ is a big thing all over YouTube and Instagram. The first video I saw was of Crusoe and his other unidentified Dachshund buddy dressed as New York cops and robbers. I showed it to Helen and Village and they both thought it was hilarious.

Helen then informed me today there was a new one which has been doing the rounds of Crusoe and chum again, this time dressed as the Minions from the ‘Despicable Me’ films (which, thanks to countless viewings with Mia and Fin, I have become addicted to. Another reason why being an uncle is the best excuse for watching kid’s films EVER). Along with the video of Tom Fletcher and his son Buzz laughing at dandelions, they are now my go-to feel-good funny things on the internet piece.

Anyhoo, I think that’s about it this week. Cat – thanks for the new pictures of Indi you WhatsApp-ed to me yesterday, can’t believe how quickly she’s growing up bless her! Give her a big Uncle Alex kiss and cuddle from me *MWAH*

Fi – glad your gift card I sent you has come of use to you hun. There’s something I’ll want to tell you about on next week’s blog but that’ll have to wait until then given I’ve not started it but a hint: it’ll be what I call SUCH FUN 😉

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And on that note I’m off to get things started with a cuppa.

Until next week, in the words of Alanis Morissette, I’ve got one hand in my pocket, and the other one is drinking a mug of tea.

Luv-oo, Alex

x x