Dear Cat & Fi: The One Where I Feel Autumnal

Dear Cat & Fi,

Hello to you both. I am writing this blog to you whilst feeling a little bit sleepy so if I yawn at any point, or nod off, then just shake me awake. Or bribe me with coffee, whatever is easier for you both. So…I did promise in the last blog to you both that I had something new I’d been doing as part of my health kick to write to you both about, however, I haven’t had the time to do said thing this last week and a bit but rest assured I will do this week so more on that, as they say, in next week’s edition.

So what can I write about instead? Well. Autumn is here, so that’s a decent enough starting point for me. Autumn is, without question, my favourite time of the year. Always has been. Even though it has it’s fair few amount of cons – less sunshine, back to work and school etc etc, there is plenty about it which I do love. Exhibit A, when everywhere starts looking like this:

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Exhibit B, when I can start dressing like this again:

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(OK, maybe without the Shoreditch hipster beard, but still.)

And Exhibit C, when you can start eating stuff like this again:

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Mmm. Mmm. MMMM. Nothing says ‘autumn is here’ quite like the smell and making of a homemade apple or fruit crumble, as was the case two weekends ago when Mum baked the one you see above, and Chez Mac was immediately filled with that delicious, comforting autumn exclusive smell that crumble seems to emanate. I must admit, even when I was at uni I’d always make a crumble the first or second weekend I was back from the summer and it was only once I’d baked it that it felt like autumn for me.

So what else has been happening in my world? Well, Uncle Bruce and Bev dropped by to see us all yesterday (he’s 70 today, so happy birthday Bruce if you’re reading this), and we took them to Branocs Tree Hungry Horse and treated them to lunch. Although it was more brunch in my case as I had an all day breakfast on account of the fact I didn’t get up until 10am yesterday morning. Lazy thing I am etc. It was really yummy though, and really good to see them and catch up anyway, so that was a nice afternoon spent.

And today I was meant to be getting my new Kindle Fire 6. About a week ago, I traded in my old one, not that there was anything wrong with it, mind. It’s just that about a month ago, BBC iPlayer informed me they would stop offering me catch up downloads with my current model of Kindle Fire, so I had no choice but to trade it in at CeX. But my misery hasn’t ended there.

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I now have to wait till tomorrow after work to get it, as the Braintree store tried to palm me off today with the last one they had, which was a broken one returned by another customer. I’ll let you guess exactly where I told them to stick it but I wasn’t happy about it, and rest assured I got my money back and they’re getting a strongly worded MacGregor letter of force from us. It’s so shocking in this day and age that even reputed businesses like theirs think they can still get away with trying to fob their customers off with faulty goods.

So that’s what I’ve been up to this week…and I’m heading off for a much needed disco nap now. Cat – so proud to hear that Indi has now said her first word. Hopefully she can learn how to say ‘Uncle Croc’ before too much longer! Fi – I’ve been meaning to give you a much needed ring and I will do this week hun, hope you’re doing well Patricia Nelson 😉

Until next week, like Jay-Z, I am off to chill in the ghetto with my homies. Word etc.

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Luv-oo, Alex

x x

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Dear Cat & Fi: The One after #26in26

Dear Cat & Fi,

Hello there…sooowa. Been a while since the last blog to you both. And I feel like I have a lot to live up to after my last blog. No, not the X Factor review. The one before that. With the playlist? That one. *thumbs up* The trouble is is that, whilst doing #26in26 was lovely, and I had lots of lovely feedback on it, I feel like I accidentally outdid myself and it now means that anything that automatically follows it is going to look well…underwhelming by comparison.

So instead of trying to match it or better it, just for once, I’m not even gonna bother. So there won’t be any playlists simultaneously featuring Soul II Soul, James, 5ive and Girls Aloud on this particular blog. Hell no. And there definitely won’t be any montage pictures of me as a bubba vs. me now acting like a pillock on a Tube to the O2. Hell to the N-O. In short, this blog is gonna suck a little bit, but I’m just gonna embrace the suckiness and go with the flow just for this week.

So. Part of the reason why it’s taken me so long to write another blog to you both is because I was having what-I-call ‘laptop issues’. Namely with installing the new Windows 10 operating system on my humble and beloved machine. I’d got the OK from Village (or namely, Mike via Village) to install it when I had the pop up message thingy appear at the end of July. But to say I struggled with it would be the underestimation of the century.

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So on Friday night, when I came home, I thought, right, I’ll leave it on and installing overnight like Village suggested, so at least by the morning it’ll be finished and I can crack on with writing. Oh no. It was stuck at the same percentage of installation as I’d left it on overnight, and given I’d not had much sleep that night anyway, I just had a bit of a nervy-B and whinge to poor old Dad. Thankfully, Mike being the tech whizkid he is took it hand in yesterday for me and by evening it was returned to me with it all installed and all was right with the world again and I’m very grateful for his help. (Finley even helped him, bless him.)

And now that I have Windows 10 after that nightmare? Well (whispers it) it’s actually rather good. I wasn’t fond of the fact that Windows 8 had got rid of the old school Start Menu, so I’m pleased they’ve bought that back. I’m loving the iconography of it all as well, it’s much easier to navigate as well so yeah. I’d therefore recommend if you haven’t already installed it then DO IT as it is a VERY good operating system. Best one that Microsoft have done I’d say.

Moving onto slightly less tech-y news, I’ve decided to get myself on a health kick in the last couple of weeks. I guess over the last month or two I’ve had a look back at pictures of myself from recent times and realised I’m not in the best shape of my life and I wanna just eat a bit more sensibly and feel a bit better about myself again and just look a bit leaner and fitter. So I’m doing this in a couple of ways – one of which I’m going to blog about next week because I’m not starting it till tomorrow. The other is from planning my meals and just getting a lot more good stuff inside us.

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Avocados have become my go-to health food thing. Namely because they’re so versatile and are also all good fats so it saves us having to use much oil or margarine in cooking for things, like these poached eggs on wholemeal toast I did for brunch last weekend. Looks lishous doesn’t it? I’m also eating a lot of fruit, a lot of seeds and nuts, quite a bit of fish and chicken as well. There’s another breakfast based recipe I’ve been working on involving blueberries, but it needs a bit more fine tuning before I post it here. That should be in the next couple of days, fingers crossed so watch this space.

I had a lovely birthday actually, both before and in the days after it, even with Mairi’s hod foot I had such a enjoyable, relaxing time with her and the niece and nephew on the actual day, I also went out for dinner with Mum and Dad that night so even though it wasn’t quite all bells and whistles I still had a pretty awesome day, and sometimes that’s even nicer just having that quality family time.

The weekend right before my birthday, some of my #MursArmy ladies Laura, Daisy, Siobhan and Vicky were in town for V Festival (Olly was headlining on the MTV stage on the Saturday) and they invited me out to dinner on the Friday and got me a really lovely birthday card, which was so much fun, and I don’t think I’ve laughed as much in a long time on a night out, and it was good to see them all again as it’d been a while since the tour ended – this is a ‘squad’ shot we all took of us together at their hotel bar after.

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Me and some of my other friends in #MursArmy are all meeting up again soon for Olly’s signings he doing for his new book next month – more of which I’ll discuss in a future blog – so I can’t wait. It’s nice to know that even though we all live so far away, we have that connection and friendship between us all from a mutual interest or support of him and his music and that’s a beautiful thing indeed-y, and one of the things I love the most about being a fan.

So that’s kind of me up to speed for the last couple of weeks I guess. Cat – I’ll ring you a bit later tonight. Seen the new WhatsApp pics and can’t believe how much Indi is growing, clever girl for learning to crawl as well! Fi – thanks so much for my lovely email the other night, I’ll ring you too when I get a chance this week.

Until next week, in the words of Zippy, George and Bungle, I’m painting the whole world with a rainbow.

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Luv-oo, Alex

x x

#CrazyStupidTV: The X Factor (ITV)

‘The X Factor’, it’s fair to say, is a show with which I’ve had a notoriously on again-off again love affair. Much like Ross and Rachel, only without the girl from the copy place which yesterday, I took full responsibility for (and I make no apologies to anyone who doesn’t get that reference). At the start of this year, I’d just seen out my second consecutive autumn and winter’s Saturday night viewing firmly on Team Strictly over on the other side.

Then, this spring, a couple of things happened in quick succession which made me the most excited I’ve been for a new series of the show since the end of 2011. Firstly, my favourite fellow Essex lad done good, Mr Olly Murs and his TV wife (not to mention last year’s Strictly champ), the brilliant Caroline Flack were to be the new hosts following long standing anchor Dermot O’Leary’s decision to step down after 8 years on the show, thus reuniting them from their ‘Carolly’ glory days as hosts of its spin off show ‘The Xtra Factor’. And then came the news that notorious irrelevant area and seal clapper Louis Walsh had finally been given the heave-ho from the panel – way after time, but better late than never etc.

And then, at the end of June, came the news that in Louis’ now vacant place (and Mel B’s from last year), were Rita Ora (having jumped ship after one series on BBC One’s ‘The Voice’) and Radio 1 breakfast DJ, Nick Grimshaw, or Grimmy as he’s more commonly known. At time of writing, the first two episodes of the new series have now debuted over the Bank Holiday weekend just gone, with much focus and derision being doused on the fact it’s ratings were the lowest for a series opener since series 3 (the series that found Leona Lewis) in 2006.

But, taking the cold hard facts out the equation, the excitement and interest prior to this new series starting was – on the whole – largely satisfied for me. There’s been much talk all the way leading up to the start of this series that it wasn’t going to be quite so serious as some of the more recent ones had got. I was quite relieved about this, as this was part of the reason I switched off after the 2012 series. In fact, looking back on my old Tweets during that particular series the other day, I sounded like a man more riled by political injustice in a war torn country than by Louis Walsh bottling out of voting on a sing off decision and taking it to deadlock.

Not to mention my unusually large (and, with hindsight, ill advised) support of that series’ eventual winner, James Arthur, I decided that I myself, had in fact become rather wrapped up with treating it exclusively as a singing competition per se. The series that found Leona Lewis, was, in some ways, a bit of a mixed blessing. In the four series immediately after that one, Alexandra Burke, JLS, One Direction, Little Mix and, of course, Olly Murs were all found and all have gone on to enjoy worldwide smashing careers – some more so than others. But it then became an obsession to find the next worldwide sensation at all costs that the show took far too seriously in the years that followed, and which partly resulted in me switching off (except when Olly returned to the live shows to perform his then new singles, of course).

So, I’ve made a pact with myself this series: to watch it, but to take it, much like the show’s own new outlook (as evidenced in this hilarious trailer that ITV ran, Cheryl-bots, labcoats and all a month ago), much less seriously than before, and if anyone good comes up that I like, that’s an added bonus. And so far, my new approach to watching it has generated a very happy album on the whole. Case in point: episode one’s very first auditionee, 60 year old Susan, or ‘Techno Susan’ – so dubbed because of a tuneless but undeniably amusing rendition of 2 Unlimited’s ‘No Limit’ she did. It’s the sort of audition I would have derided for getting four yeses three years ago, but one which can you see why it’s been put through. Because it’s an entertainment show at heart. For very different reasons, Philippine based girl group 4th Power – who giggled, then exploded onto the stage with a note perfect and move perfect version of Jessie J and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Bang Bang’ were a hoot – and they are easily going to be ones to watch.

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Not to say of course, that the launch was without its sad moments – good and bad. Jon Goodey, Olly’s old bandmate in his pre-fame, wedding and club singing days as ‘The Small Town Blaggers’ (which Olly took full responsibility in accepting the naming of), uncomfortably and nervously auditioned on the first episode with covers of George Ezra’s ‘Budapest’ and OneRepublic’s ‘Counting Stars’. He was met with four no’s that were difficult to see him be given but were rightly done. As Rita pointed out, Jon can sing, but would now undoubtedly benefit from a year away to keep gigging and building his confidence up and establishing his own identity as an artist away from being Olly’s former bandmate. After all, Alexandra Burke won the thing on her second tryout – who’s to say Jon couldn’t next year?

Teeside mechanic Josh Daniel, who auditioned at the end of the second episode, did leave me a bit wobbly lipped and teary eyed, as he sang Labrinth’s ‘Jealous’ as a tribute to a close friend of his who’d died recently – which of course, had a big effect on Simon Cowell whose own mum had passed away just before auditions began filming in July. Sob stories are only a cliched part of a show such as ‘The X Factor’ if the performance fails to make you forget about all that. And it’s safe to say his audition more than made me forget about it as he focussed on the performance and sung it from his soul. You feel like he’d deliver week after week if he got through to the lives.

But what about the new presenting and judging lineup? Well, any doubts that Olly and Caroline couldn’t carry their cheeky, light hearted ‘will they won’t they’ banter from ‘The Xtra Factor’ over to the main show are (live shows permitting) largely unfounded. They’re not trying to be Dermot, hell they’re not even trying to be Ant and Dec as some keyboard heroes are trying to suggest. They’ve bought something fresh to the show, something fun that complements it’s suitably lighter new outlook. As was true when they were taken on in 2011, Simon obviously knows good chemistry when he sees it and, like Holly and Phil or Morecambe and Wise, they are just telly double act TV gold.

Rita and Grimmy were, I must confess, not my initial first choices for new judges. But the first episodes made me see that they actually do fit in rather well indeed. Even as someone who’s not Grimmy’s biggest fan, I find the criticism leveled at him ‘not being a singer’ baffling, particularly when Louis Walsh spent 11 years on the panel whilst not singing either. Even on the very first series of ‘Popstars’, there wasn’t anyone on the panel who sang. It’s only in recent years we seem to have become obsessed with having all singing and they-who-can-proveth-their-worth panels of judges on music based talent shows. Grimmy brings a bit of the ‘home viewer’ feel to the panel and its a new element that – so far – works.

Even Simon himself seems a lot more lighter and relaxed on this series. Of course, he’ll always have that element of wanting to find the next big thing and pound signs flashing in his eyes when he finds a golden auditionee, that’s just his nature, and to argue with it is to miss the point entirely. But it doesn’t seem like – and maybe this is because of his recently becoming a dad – the desire for the next Leona or 1D is as all consuming as it has been in other series. 11 years in and 12 series down the line, he has the air of a man who has seen it all and done it all, and who is now quite happy to go with the flow.

Of course, it’s hard to tell what a whole series is going to be like just on the first two audition episodes alone. For all I know, I may have given up in an angry Tweet vented paddy by mid-November or just be solely watching for Olly and Caroline, as was the case in 2012. But the signs so far are extremely promising and, though much may be made of those who’ve now switched off, if I’ve come back to it and given it another chance with an open mind after two years on the other side, that can surely only be a good thing and hopefully I’m not the only one. ‘The X Factor’ is, for me, feel good weekend viewing once again.

‘The X Factor’ audition episodes continue this Saturday at 8.15pm on ITV and on AXS TV in the US. The first two episodes are available for UK viewers to watch now on ITV Player.