2020 Has Not Been Completely Shit and Here is Definitive Proof

You heard me. I’d normally consider doing the Indifferent Ignorance awards, but I don’t feel like dedicating time to ignorant people… they are the reason I spent Christmas Day in tier 4. I’m also mindful that it’s important to count our blessings, not our curses, so in this post I’m going to share some of my favourite entertainment and arts discoveries of the year, plus a few personal/family highlights.

Things that blessed my ears in 2020

  • Lauv’s record, which I bought a copy of back in February or so, and kind of became the sound track to early lockdown.
  • Tim Minchin’s record. It’s… not his usual stuff. Some of the songs are sharp and sarcastic, but if you’re looking for more black comedy-philosophy, this album will disappoint. It’s mostly about how much he loves his wife and children. I cried.
  • The news my friend Tatchiana applied for a Master’s degree. MY FRIENDS ARE SO CLEVER YOU GUYS. I don’t even fully understand the topic she’s researching.
  • The Umbrella Academy put a soundtrack out and:
Klaus Hargreeves dancing in a liquor store
from Giphy
  • As well as re-entering the world of academia, Tatchiana introduced me to the Magnus Archives podcast and I guess I’m a fan of horror stories now? I’m kind of late to the party because it’s been running for years and finishes in 2021, but if you like a) creepy stories with the odd god that’s gross and really clever moment, b) short stories that slowly merge into one overarching Story and c) office politics, you’re in for a good time. (Aside: I realised partway through that Martin really reminds me of Arthur from Cabin Pressure. The programmes have nothing in common except that they’re audio, but I can’t unhear it. I don’t know if there’s a Venn diagram of Magnus Archives/Cabin Pressure listeners but if there is: do you hear it too?)

Things that blessed my eyeballs in 2020

  • I finally got around to reading the Noughts and Crosses series (or most of the series? There seems to be more books than I realised), and it is Very Worth the Hype. So’s the TV show.
  • I also got round to Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. It’s very long and a horror novel – this is a theme – both of which usually put me off, but I really got into it. Brilliant last page too.
  • Bill Bailey in Strictly Come Dancing.
  • The news that my cousin and her boyfriend bought a house! A whole entire property in this economy. Epic.
  • Real Life Money by Clare Seal. It’s a memoir-advice book by the lady who runs the My Frugal Year Instagram, and it’s really interesting. If you’re at all into finance, money management and/or consumerism, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I don’t usually love memoirs, or advice-y novels, but this one is non-preachy, well researched and quite important in these uncertain times.
Real Life Money, book by Clare Seal
  • If you want to buy any of these books, by the way, I have a Bookshop account. Every purchase made through my little page earns me one fifth of a penny or suchlike. Am I being shameless? Um yeah, I don’t have a regular job as of Christmas Eve. I’m also on Goodreads if you want to see what else I’m reading and chat about books. One upside of lockdown was spending so much time reading and I am already planning my reading list for next year. So many books, so little time! Speaking of books, the prettiest thing I saw this year was:
  • My book coverrrrrrr. Also, you know, seeing the book available to purchase. I wasn’t sure it was going to be released this year – or ever – and I’m a tiny bit proud of the work that went into it. Not bad going for someone who spent their A Levels wearing a wrist brace and their early-mid twenties dealing with chronic pain, crippling anxiety and on-again-off-again depression, huh.
blue and white illustrated cover of 'The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories of Unlikley Heroes' by Francesca Burke, including stars, a large dragon, a skull, moon, swords, a rabbit and a tower
Cover by Nell from Instagram. Click here for book-related joy/info

Things that blessed my ears and my eyeballs in 2020

  • The second series of The Umbrella Academy. I love it. I love it so much. It has everything I want out of TV, plus a Baby Pogo. TRULY WE ARE BLESSED.
  • Videos by A Small Wardrobe on YouTube (I talk more about Patricia’s channel and learning about minimalism here).
  • Videos by Annie, who posts as the Green Witch on YouTube. Sometimes the algorithm suggests videos that you didn’t know you needed. Annie has a witchy YouTube and a nature-y YouTube. They are both very peaceful. Taking 10 minutes to watch calm, nature-y has turned out to be quite good for my brain.
  • In the same vein, I’m thoroughly enjoying videos by The Cottage Fairy.
  • Olive and Mabel.
  • Schitt’s Creek. I know I know, I was late to that too. I cannot recommend a more soul-warming programme. Other TV I’m brilliantly late to: Derry Girls, Nighty Night, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Ghosts.

What have you enjoyed in 2020? You’re allowed to say banana bread and Netflix. You’re allowed to say ‘realising that the friend I checked in with during lockdown never checked in with me, and now I am disengaging.’ You’re allowed to say ‘not having a big, overwhelming Christmas.’ What are you planning for new year’s eve?

GIF of David from 'Schitt's Creek' saying 'I plan on popping a pill, crying a bit and falling asleep early.'

Jut kidding, mostly. I’ll probably have a bath, pour a wee drink, watch the clock to ensure this hellscape actually ends, and get my beauty sleep. I’ve got things to do in 2021! Nothing ostentatious, of course. My plans are mostly to read a lot and maybe bake some more banana bread. But I may as well do them on a full night’s sleep, especially as there is literally nowhere to go. I’ll talk more about that (my plans, not tier bloody 4) in my next post. Probably.

Look after yourselves and happy new year!

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Tim Minchin at the Cliffs ft. Indie Friday

Afternoon! I am fed up with organising envelopes and mythology-inspired greetings cards, so I thought I’d pop in. Happy Black Friday! Wait, that’s not what I mean. I mean, please buy from independent retailers this Christmassy season (and especially today, which many smart people are calling Indie Friday in a bid to cut through the Black Friday shite). I don’t want people to feel like they can only buy from independent retailers (yes, hello, Aldi’s gift and alcohol sections, I have been pillaging you since October), but I guarantee that the bosses in Aldi don’t feel a sense of personal achievement and glow both internally and externally when you buy a tote bag. Have I ever mentioned you can purchase reasonably priced tote bags, along with reasonably priced prints, pencils and the aforementioned cards from my Folksy shop?

I am still on Etsy, but I promote my Folksy shop more because a) it’s based in Sheffield and run by about three people, b) it’s a very friendly site with seriously high quality arts and crafts, and c) as it is a British company, the fees I pay actually go back into the British economy. So everyone wins when you buy something on Folksy!

I really ought to get to the post box while it’s still light so, as I cannot remember if there was supposed to be a point to this post alongside the SHOP SMAAALLLLL messaging, I’d better go and find my scarf.

Oh, wait, yes there is: I got to see Tim Minchin perform last night – in my actual town, nonetheless – and am pleased to report that, like a good cheese, Tim has improved with age. So has the Cheese song. Honestly can’t remember the last time I could feel my face from smiling. If the world needs anything at the moment – other than you lot buying from indie retailers hint hint – it is a good laugh and a rant on algorithms and confirmation bias. Like all good shows, I have a singular, shitty picture:

empty stage Tim Minchin Cliffs Pavilion

Side note: this man sold out the Cliffs Pavilion three nights running. Southend-on-Sea’s Cliffs Pavilion. Southend-on-Sea, where residents enjoyed Brexit campaign leaflets about how pro-leave they all were. Southend-on-Sea, where I did not really think LGBT people were allowed to live until I finally saw some when I was in my teens. Southend-on-Sea, that hub of lefty liberalism. Maybe the times are changing, or maybe people are more willing than I thought to travel to places that aren’t London for their south east-based atheism-tinged-fuck-Trump-sciencey-sprinkling of West-End-hit-Matlida-musical comedy.

Either way, I have a lovely post-show hangover. Right, post box!

I Spent 10 Minutes Trying to Title This and Couldn’t So Um Here Are 2 ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ GIFs and a Brief Mention of Income Tax

I Spent 10 Minutes Trying to Title This and Couldn’t So Um Here Are 2 ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ GIFs and a Brief Mention of Income Tax

Shhh, don’t tell anyone you saw me. I’ve blocked my emails from my phone for the Easter Weekend, so I am officially off the grid. Ish. I am supposed to be recovering from a monster cold I had last week and catching up with course work, but I’ve actually gone shopping, reorganised my Etsy cupboard and had a medium nap. HAPPY JESUS WEEKEND!

Tim Minchin as Judas, Jesus Christ Superstar, footshuffle gif
from lisce.tumblr.com

I love Easter, mostly because it’s the only weekend other than Christmas when I can eat more than I check my emails without thinking I’m losing business, but it’s also got that new year feel to it, because the new tax year is next week. I love the new tax year. It’s a fresh start! An opportunity to make more money and to remind HMRC that I am a valued member of society. Well not really because I earn a fraction of the acceptable wage for most adult humans, so I’m not eligible for income tax, but next year might be the year!

Tim Minchin as Judas Iscariot dancing
from licse.tumblr.com

I’ll stop with the Jesus Christ Superstar gifs now, but I want you to know that I don’t really want to.

Speaking of the new tax year, I’ve got a little end of year clear out/sale thing going on over at my Etsy – there’s 10% and 15% off almost everything. Out with the old and in with the new! If I have space for the new… which is why I’ve discounted the old. It’s also the last day of the month, so if you were thinking of pledging to my Patreon to help support dragonnovel, (becoming patron number three would be seen as highly auspicious in some cultures. Not mine, but some), today’s the last day to do it before April’s cycle starts.

I’ve run out of gifs, so I’m going to have a cup of tea and stare longingly at my Easter eggs. Because Easter Sunday is Peak Jesus Day and my mother always insists on upholding Christian tradition despite last going to church circa 2010, I can’t touch an Easter egg until Sunday morning. I have no idea why I can’t break that tradition, despite being a) 22.5 years old, b) an atheist and c) hungry, but there you go. Happy Easter!

Book Hangovers & Nine Hamlets

Good news: I’ve worked out how to live with a fucked keyboard. Bad news: I haven’t gotten off my arse to buy a new one. I did get off my arse when I got a text last weekend that my copy of The Raven King was in Waterstones – literally as I walked through the door after a day of working opposite my local Waterstones, half an hour before it closed. I haven’t physically run that much since year nine cross country, holy shit. Cue an evening of ignoring the universe and wondering who I can sell my soul to in order to write that well.

In short, I’m book hungover. I also missed this:

But I think Shakespeare would have approved of my forsaking him for a story, so thank u Internet for letting me see this later.

Could I buy all the Raven Cycle merchandise I can find and call it a business expense? Insofar as I have remembered how much I love books and how much I want to make books all the time. Maybe I could enter it under Misc: inspiration. If David Cameron can stash his cash in South America, surely I can buy a couple several t-shirts, some stickers and a handful of posters with my HMRC-approved cash?

Or maybe I will just go and reread the series and plot ways to absorb Stiefvater’s evil genius. The temptation to make a sacrifice joke here is potent.

 

Want a Christmas Present? feat. Rock ‘n’ Roll Xmas Videos

Never let it be said that I eschew Christmas traditions. It’s a tradition that I subject you to the world’s best Christmas music every year.

Okay and now I have a present for you guys. Yes, even you, person who stumbled across this on a weird tag. Those of you who come here sporadically might remember me talking about Headspace, the mediation app. I love doing Headspace; it’s the only time of day I get to feel smug that I’m looking after myself (and other people, because it’s helped me learn how to stay calm and clear my head). The app even has this cool feature where you get a little reward for completing a certain number of days – hit 20 days and you get a voucher to give to a friend for a month’s free use, that sort of thing. Problem is, I quite frequently forget to do a day here or there, so my counter goes back to one. I start up again, and when I next hit 20 days, a voucher hits my inbox.

I currently have seven of them.

So, my gift for you this year – other than the MCR video I’m about to list – is Headspace. If you want one of the month-free vouchers, leave a comment here saying happy Christmas/whatever you celebrate, and I’ll email you the access code. (Technical shit: all Headspace is free for 10 days, I have no idea how long the codes are valid but so far as I’m aware it’s forever, I can’t guarantee you’ll love meditating. Oh and there are only seven vouchers up for grabs, because I’m on a good streak at the moment. Gift open until 31st January.)

Oh, 2005. Merry Christmas!

Packing – Or Not – Some Bags

I always get a bit confused after a bank holiday – the joy of long weekend is kind of negated by not knowing what day it is for the rest of the week. So to make myself feel efficient in the face of uncertanity I’ve been adapting my Society6 and Etsy shops a little bit. Etsy will be completely digital after 30th September because I’m out of the UK for a month and posting physical items will be a bit tricky. Have a look at both sites to see if anything tickles your fancy.

Oh, Francesca, where are you going?

Eh nowhere special. Just Greece.

Just kidding.

From lisce.tumblr.com
From lisce.tumblr.com

I’m excited as my friends are to be going to university, which is to say slightly nervous but ready to make an important change to long term living arrangements.

There’s so much to do. Normally I pack two days before a trip maximum, but this time I have to think about the things I don’t want to be without for a month. Apart from the dogs (apparently they have to stay home, pfft), that’s mostly work stuff.

You know, my computer.

Which is a mishmash of ergonomic writing gear, a TV screen, an external hard drive and a small-but-still-sizeable PC tower. Apart from the keyboard and mouse none of that will fit in a suitcase or be physically transportable, which leaves me with a few options:

  1. Take my iPad and beforehand find an app or piece of tech that allows me to plug in the keyboard, mouse and hard drive
  2. Get a cheap-as netbook and plug in the keyboard, mouse and hard drive
  3. Just get a netbook and take the risk that by using a normal keyboard I won’t take ten steps back physio-wise
  4. Attempt all business from my phone.

Personally I favour option one because it doesn’t involve taking out a loan or wrecking my muscles. I suppose I could lug everything I normally use a thousand miles in a lot of bubble wrap, but that would involve paying EasyJet a billion quid for extra weight allowance and that’s not including clothes and stuff.

Hmmm.

Okay I’m off to move cardboard boxes out of my bedroom and maybe have a shower (I thought at 10:30am “I’ll do some work then have a shower.” It’s now 5:40pm). If anyone knows where I can get hold of Hermione’s beaded bag, let me know.

The Six O’Clock News: Keeping Up With Current Events

With the ever-changing nature of ‘current events’ and the complications of understanding it anyway, I thought the Israel-Palestine conflict (war? See, defining this shit is tough) would be a good topic to use to discuss ways to keep up with the news. All the cool kids are doing it, so listen up!

The Traditional Way: Newspapers and Magazines

Aw, print media. A declining medium and usually so full of editorially-biased bullshit that often it’s not worth going near anyway. We all know that tabloids aren’t worth even opening (I discovered a Daily Mail parody on Twitter the other day. It’s beautiful) but what about the broadsheets?

Well darlings, there are some good choices. The Guardian and Telegraph, traditionally a bit leftie and rightie respectively, have pretty decent articles which give a detailed explanation of a story, usually with some photos or maybe an infographic. I don’t usually get the Financial Times but I’ve heard it’s good too, as is The Times, if buying something owned by Rupert Murdoch doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies. Then there’s the Independent and its sister publication the i, which I loved to read at school because it’s really short and has super-duper-easy-to-digest articles. It’s also only 30p and available from Starbucks, so you can look smart while sipping a skinny mocha polkadot frappe. All the papers have websites too so you can read an article as many times as it takes for your blood pressure to return to normal!

That’s pretty much the extent of my paper knowledge and I encourage you to utilise your local library and have a read of whatever you can get your hands on – you’ll find your favourite style of writing pretty soon. One word of warning: even the news articles will contain bias. Not as much as a column – not as obviously much as a column, anyway – but differentiating between reported fact, the writer’s opinion and a senior management-based reference (like a journalist highly rating a film released on a company owned by the newspaper’s owner) is a fun and useful skill. One that Daily Mail readers are lacking above all others.

In terms of magazines, there is only one I read, though I read it more thoroughly than I do all papers: Private Eye. Edited by the dude who sits on the left in Have I Got News for You, it’s predominately satire but also has some serious reporting and its Street of Shame section calls out other newspapers’ crap. If I remember correctly, it was one of the few publications that picked up on Cyril Smith being a paedophile about 20 years before the Jimmy Savile scandal – I think they got sued over the allegations. They get sued a lot. The Economist is also useful if you want to get really intellectual – and the ads in the back are brilliant if you want to pretend you have a PhD.

The Family Debate Way: Television

Ah, the real Six O’Clock News. I love it. If you’re anything like me, couch-surfing wise, you start your channel-flicking marathons around the entertainment channels (Virgin Media 121) and go up to music (Kerrang! TV is 342) and maybe into films (avoid the porn channels just past them).

This is stupid.

Go straight to the good stuff: the plethora of news channels. BBC News 24 HD is 604 for me and it’s on all the time. So if you’re out at ten o’clock or eating at six you can keep in the loop! I’m assuming your family bought a huge massive mega TV broadband phone package deal, in which case you probably have access to CNN, Al Jazeera English, Euro News, BBC Parliament and if you’re unlucky FOX.

The good thing about TV news is that because they’re broadcasting to everybody, they have to explain everything. Hence why reporters go to whacky places or walk through green screened graphics – the information needs to be understandable to the average viewer. You’re not the average viewer because you’re a) reading this and b) you know that you can access CNN.

A downside to the TV is that because most non-24-hour slots are short, detail can be missed from a story, and some stories aren’t told at all. Syria is big news when there’s been a huge bombing or war crime, for example, but gets overtaken by the next big thing. The same thing happened in all areas of the mainstream media to #BringBackOurGirls and Flight MH370. Both are still missing, by the way.

 The Hands-Free Way: Radio

You know, the way they kept up with business in World War II. Radio is cool because you aren’t rendered immobile and you can listen while you’re in the car or doing boring stuff, like chores. BBC Radio 4 has a good broadcast in the morning, which I discovered completely accidentally when I was searching for a radio station without jingles or adverts for my morning alarm. I’ve also heard good things about the BBC World Service, which apparently has a worldwide following because it’s an alternative to propaganda-ridden state media.

The Hipster Way: Websites and Social Media

I should probably point out that I’m not entirely sure what a hipster is, although many of the people I’ve known who have declared themselves to be one have actually been twats. I’m not sure if that’s the point. Anyway, social media basically sparked the Arab Spring, because for the first time people had ways to communicate meet-ups and ideas quickly. So instead of using Twitter to hashtag how great your favourite band is to promote a crappy MTV contest, use it to keep up with a conflict or political situation as-it-happens. There was a Russian soldier who posted a picture of himself with Russian weapons inside Ukranian borders on Instagram, and Osama bin Laden’s house’s siege was posted about on Twitter as it occurred, which says it all. The people inside war zones are exactly the same as everyone else so you can see the actual stuff that’s going on. You don’t have to follow accounts if it bums you out, but searching a tag here and there makes you like well intelligent.

Word of warning: social media is the least moderated of all broadcasting platforms and there are just as many idiots posting political things as there are idiots posting pictures of themselves in their underwear or bitching about their boss. Take with a bucketful of salt and always use two sources to corroborate information, especially if it’s for a school thing. I once stumbled upon a Hammas-supporting website which bitched a lot about Israel and the stats I collected were totally the opposite to the ones we learnt in school. For quick info, use the BBC News app and for research, the CIA World Factbook has great profiles on each country – well, they would – and lists states numerically by how great their literacy rate or GDP is, amongst other things. The BBC also has great country profiles for getting a simple explanation and timeline of a country. This explains Kosovo perfectly, for example.

The Fun Way: Entertainment

Not going to lie, Tim Minchin taught me the background to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Then there’s Have I Got News for You, Russell Howard’s Good News, The Daily Show… the list  of programmes is endless. If you’re prepared to put up with some Hollywood gloss, films and books are useful. Some, like Shooting Dogs or books by Khaled Hosseini, don’t have gloss. They may make you cry noisy tears and expand your cynicism. But they’re actually really important because you’re more likely to empathise and understand the nuances of a situation through fiction than you are just by watching the news.

Documentaries are also excellent because it’s their job to make sense, tell the truth (again: apply salt) but keep hold of your attention. Plus your teachers will support the concept of watching them instead of doing a timed essay. Probably. Possibly.

Okay, I’m off to watch the diving at the Commonwealth Games and keep a tally of my parents’ homophobic comments regarding Tom Daley. Let me know if I’ve forgotten a supercool way to follow the news!

The Six O’Clock News: Some Old Commentary on New News

I’m not sure whether it’s heyfever, a cold, exhaustion or sheer utter relief that I’m not in school any more (or maybe all four) but my eyes hurt and I can’t really remember how to type so I decided that instead of the News we should share bullshit news stories that are almost too weird to believe.

Unfortunately after two years of minimal commenting I am aware that maybe two people will respond so here is a video with unlikely pertinence to the ISIS shit that’s currently going down which is actually too depressing for me to write about before my eyeballs fall out. So Tim can say some stuff!

If I remember correctly he follows up that sketch with the Pope Song… can’t remember if that has any baring on current events so I’m going to see the dogs and maybe complain about football.

I mean really, it’s a ball game. Even I know that you’re supposed to score goals and stuff…