A diamond mine of Friday Fun

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that there is an event of national – nay, international – significance taking place this weekend. At the very least (if you’re British) you’re on the verge of a four day weekend, which is bound to have captured your attention. I speak, of course, of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

You may remember my confession during the Royal Wedding shenanigans last year, of my conflicted emotions at such times. I may be the daughter of two republicans, but yet I’m a massive fan of London when bedecked with bunting. This year, the conflict has been resolved for me as another significant diamond anniversary is taking place this weekend – that of my mother’s birth. I find it deeply ironic (and pleasing) that this republican’s significant birthdays are always celebrated by our monarch declaring a public holiday. It’s exceptionally useful. So I’m off to Belfast on Sunday (after a wedding in Birmingham tomorrow, this weekend is beyond complicated) where red, white and blue bunting means something completely different, and there will be no flotillas. No matter, I have it on great authority that there will be an abundance of cake.

Few marketing tie-ins have been produced to celebrate my mother’s birth, but fortunately, many have been produced to commemorate our monarch acceding the throne. Here’s a collection of some of my favourites, just in time for you to go out and stock up in advance of the festivities…

Firstly, the oh-so-slightly inappropriate tie-ins. I’m sure the Queen is delighted that Marks & Spencer have decided celebrate her jubilee with appropriately themed pants and hosiery. Confession: I actually bought two pairs of the jubilee pants, but they were simply red/blue with white spots – I didn’t buy the ones with little crowns on. However, the crown ones were significantly more tasteful than pants with the Queen’s face on (not from M&S I hasten to add!):

Those are the M&S ones on the left. The ones on the right are from here.

Obviously, M&S has a massive range of jubilee tat – from pants and hosiery, to duvet covers, to cupcakes and, of course, biscuit tins. This is the one I’m lusting after, probably because it doesn’t actually feature much jubilee related art, but lots of lovely London images:

Sadly, this year’s Cath Kidston collection is rather corgi-heavy and pastelly, however, would you like a skirt bearing the image of 100’s of guardsmen? I rather think I would!

You might be wondering how best to celebrate the occasion – is there a local street party? Will you brave the London crowds? Or, will you simply stay home and order pizza? If you go for the latter, fear not, you can celebrate the jubilee with pizza too!

Thank Pizza Hut for this calorie-fest.

Oh, and you can accompany your pizza with jubilee themed crisps too:

There’s a whole host of goodness out there. If you want to browse more, I recommend this article from The New Statesman and this week’s Style List from Stylist Magazine. Finally, I leave you with the almost obligatory musical Friday moment – a collaboration between two of my favourite singing men (Gary Barlow and Gareth Malone) and the Commonwealth. Not going to lie, it gives me goosebumps every time and I may have nearly cried once. Don’t judge me.

A deserving, if dubious, honour

The British have an odd Christmas tradition. For some reason, massive importance is attached to the song that achieves number 1 status in the charts during the week before Christmas Day. I really don’t get it – especially when you look at the list of songs that have acquired this honour and realise just how much dross it includes (I offer you Exhibit A: Mr Blobby and Exhibit B: Bob the Builder.) 
When thinking about this post, I was fairly sure that I’d only ever contributed to one Christmas number 1 (and even then, when I say ‘I’, I mean my sister bought the tape from Woolworths) – that being the Christmas classic Stay Another Day by East 17. (It is Christmassy because the band wore fur edged parkas in the video and there’s some nice tubular bell work, and that is all.) However, looking at the list reminded me that I’d also bought the 20th anniversary recreation of Do They Know It’s Christmas (don’t judge – my Godson was born they day they recorded it and I was feeling sentimental). Anyway, the point to this post is that I think I’ve probably just bought this year’s too…
No, not Dominick The Donkey (though it has been a Christmas highlight for several years and I was tempted), but the Military Wives singing Wherever You Are. If you’d told me a month ago that I’d do this, I wouldn’t have believed you.
If you’re reading this on the blog itself, on the right-hand sidebar you’ll find a list of my most popular posts. Number 1, by a long way, is a four year old post about Gareth Malone, specifically, the amusing ways in which people had googled him, resulting in their landing upon my original blog about his second TV series. Every time he reappears on our screens my stats spike – in fact this has become almost my default way of discovering what he’s up to (well, that and his Twitter feed). For a little while this blog was almost the top entry if you googled his name – terrifying. Anyway, as much as I dislike what he does for my stats, I do love him and his work. Watching him bring people together in singing is utterly inspiring and I think his passion for community singing is infectious.

However, his latest series had me conflicted – in fact, I didn’t begin watching it until it had finished. (I know that doesn’t make sense, but that’s the bonus of iPlayer.) This time he was working with military wives and it was the ‘military’ bit I had an issue with. Being a pacifist, I find the media’s obsession with the military difficult. I don’t believe that we ought to have troops in Afghanistan and I think that the waste of human life is atrocious. But, I read brilliant reviews of the show, so thought I’d give it a go. 
What I discovered was three hours of the most moving TV I’ve seen in a long time. Military life is by no means glamorous and those left behind by soldiers serving overseas have a miserable time – often left on bases miles away from their families, with little support. Moving bases regularly also makes it difficult to build any kind of community with the other families, even when you’re all going through the same hideous experience of having loved ones fighting in a war zone. The show captured this perfectly and I was moved to tears on more than one occasion. Think I’m a sap? [You’d probably be right.] What about this clip of the women and children welcoming the soldiers home:

Plus, the project also demonstrated just how transformative singing can be. Several of the women featured didn’t believe that they could sing, or that they had anything to offer to the choir – but through Gareth’s determination not to let them give up, and ensure they felt valued, they realised that they did have worth. Take Sam, for example (she’s the lady with the tattoos in the above video) – she was amongst a minority of wives who had previous choral experience, yet genuinely didn’t seem to believe that she had a voice worth hearing. Any time she sang on her own there was a flurry of apologies as she felt she was messing up, it was heartbreaking to watch. In an amazing triumph over adversity (nerves, low self-esteem and family illness) she came to sing the solo in the choir’s Royal Albert Hall performance – a performance that I defy anyone to sit through dry-eyed.

The song they sang had been written by Paul Mealor (he’s the John Rutter of the 21st century), based upon letters written between them and their husbands. It’s simply beautiful and in the best tradition of choral singing. Within minutes of the final programme finishing I was humming the melody to myself. Thus, when I discovered it was being released in time for Christmas Number 1 I was actually pleased – this song, more than almost any other (except the original Band Aid single) deserves the strange honour, and so does the lovely Gareth Malone. Yesterday’s mid-week chart had it at Number 1 and I suspect it will stay there, an excellent antidote to the dross of previous years.

Ten Thousand

Two years ago this month, after many months of teasing Abidemi for her obsessive stats watching, I installed analytics on my blog. Ever since, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with knowing who’s been reading, where they’re from and how they got here.

It leads to some interesting discoveries and results in many un-answered questions. Who are some of my regular visitors in the USA? Why do so many people find me by googling custard creams?
Anyway, this month doesn’t just mark my analytics’ second anniversary, it also saw me reach a landmark of 10,000 visitors. Yesterday morning I realised I was just three visitors away from the magic number, and by lunchtime I’d hit it.
I’d love to be able to tell you that #10,000 was a regular, even exactly who they are, but no. It was just another person who got to me by googling a certain reality TV star.
I daren’t mention his name. In February 2008 I wrote about the TV series ‘The Choir’. Simply by mentioning its frontman, I unleashed the power of google – I got hits from all over the place in the days that followed. As a result, I wrote another post about his stalkers, it amused me greatly but made the problem worse.
In the last 18 months, people have googled this person (I simply can’t speak his name again!) and reached me. As the TV show has travelled the world, so did my visitors – Korea, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel – you name it, it’s been shown there. I still find it hilarious that they have all googled him wanting to know whether he’s gay, single or married – no idea what the answer is to that question!
Last night series number three began and the trickle of visitors that had begun again last week cascaded into 500+ hits in 12 hours. Just goes to show, it’s never the logical things that get you noticed in the random world of the internet…

Gareth Malone’s stalkers

Poor Gareth Malone.

A couple of highly successful singing experiments, and half the world starts googling you.

I only know this thanks to my rather lovely analytics programme that tells me how people found my blog. Since I blogged about The Choir a couple of weeks ago, I’ve ended up with lots of visitors who’ve been referred here by google. Popular search terms have included:

“Does Gareth Malone have a wife?”
“Gareth Malone biography”
“Gareth Malone wikipedia”
“Gareth Malone hate site”
“Who is Gareth Malone getting married to?”
“Gareth Malone gay”
And my personal favourite: “Gareth Malone married or gay?”

I feel sorry for the poor guy. All he’s doing is going about his mission in life, and then all these weirdos get desperate for info on him! [Not to mention the weird people who write about him in blogs…]

Updated: With the advent of the third Choir series, even more people are googling the above terms and ending up here. I’ve done some research of my own and it turns out that Gareth has a great website. Oh, and if you’re still wondering whether he’s married or not, his biog reveals that he got married last year. Happy now?