The best of Friends

I know this might sound strange but I'm not good at TV. I'm the person in the office who has to say 'No, sorry' whenever someone asks 'Did you watch [insert hugely popular, everyone's-talking-about-it TV show here] last night?' While I love films and binging on the occasional box-set, I can go for days (or sometimes weeks) without even thinking of turning the TV on. However, there are certain TV shows that I love, and I don't think I will ever get tired of. Friends is one of those TV shows: almost 10 years since the final episode aired and I can still spend an evening (or an entire weekend) watching back-to-back episodes. On Sunday (tired and a little hungover after a friend's wedding the night before) I decided to rekindle my love affair by digging out the complete box-set - but, with so many episodes to choose from, which episodes do I always end up watching (again and again)?

Series 1
The One With The East German Laundry Detergent

I love the beginning of Friends: back before they have good jobs, steady relationships or any real idea what they're supposed to be doing (I'm 24, so I guess it's not hard to guess why I like early Friends so much...) I like "The One with the East German Laundry Detergent" because we get to see the beginning of "Ross and Rachel" and Rachel starting to shed her spoiled little rich girl persona (I still want to cheer when she stands up to the mean woman at the laundromat). I also love how dorky and awkward Ross is in this episode: panicking about what his laundry detergent says about him so he picks Ćœberweiss - 'It's new, it's German, it's extra tough!' 

Series 2
The One With The Prom Video

There are so many good episodes in this series ("The One Where Eddie Won't Go" and "The One Where Old Yeller Dies" are personal favourites), but "The One With The Prom Video" has to be my pick for Series 2. You might have guessed that I'm a bit of a cheerleader for the Ross and Rachel relationship so I can't help but go all gooey over this episode. From Phoebe's classic 'She's your lobster' line to glimpses into their awkward teenage phases (complete with big noses, bad eighties dresses and puppy fat), this episode stands out from the rest. What Friends fan doesn't love seeing Ross and Rachel's first kiss after she finds out he was going to take her to her senior prom (in his dad's suit)? 

Series 3
The One Where No One's Ready

I pretty much love this episode for the scene where Joey puts on all of Chandler's clothes to get Chandler back for hiding his underwear - 'Look at me, I'm Chandler, could I be wearing any more clothes?' There's also Phoebe covering a hummus stain on her dress using a Christmas ribbon; Monica accidentally overwriting the outgoing message on Richard's answering machine ('... listen I did something kind of crazy tonight, um, maybe I'm getting my period or something... ') and Ross almost drinking a glass of chicken fat to show Rachel how sorry he is for shouting at her ('You were gonna drink the fat!')

Series 4
The One With The Dirty Girl

While I was tempted to pick a London episode for Series 4, I couldn't resist "The One With The Dirty Girl". I'm a bit OCD when it comes to cleanliness so I think my reaction would match the absolute horror on Ross's face when he walks into his date's dirty apartment. I don't think I could have kissed someone who lived like that though - especially not after accidentally pushing my hands into a wet patch of black goo (chocolate, tar, melted liquorice?!)

Series 5
The One With Ross's Sandwich

I can't promise I wouldn't react like Ross again if I found out someone had eaten my Thanksgiving sandwich (c'mon, his sandwich, complete with The Moist Maker, sounds amazing - and I'm vegetarian!). This episode also makes me eternally grateful that no one like Phoebe was in any of my English tutorials: fed up with Rachel  not reading any of the books set by their literature class, she tells Rachel that there are robots in Jane Eyre (and Rachel believes her, and discusses it with the tutor, in length). Fed up of covering up Chandler and Monica's relationship from the rest of the gang, and being accused of being a pervert in the process, Joey tells everyone Monica is obsessed with him after they slept together in London ('I'm Monica. I'm disgusting. I stalk guys and keep their underpants').

Series 6
The One With Unagi

Ah, salmon skin roll. If Twitter had existed when Friends was on TV, I think #unagi would have trended. This episode is also when Joey hires another actor, Carl, as his identical twin, which I think might be one of my favourite storylines in the entire show. I don't know if it's just because the whole idea is so ridiculous, but when Carl saunters into Chandler and Monica's apartment, pretending to be Joey, and helps himself to food out of their fridge, I can't help but laugh out loud (a lot).

Series 7
The One With All The Cheesecakes

If a big box of cheesecake was delivered to your house, would you send it back? Be honest! I basically love this episode for how greedy Rachel and Chandler are, and how ridiculous their excuses are for stealing cake from their neighbour. I wish I could say I didn't love this episode simply because of how much I see myself in Rachel and Chandler, but when Chandler says 'I'm full, and yet I know if I stop eating this, I'll regret it', I know I've found a kindred spirit.

Series 8
The One with Monica's Boots

Monica promises that she'll wear her really expensive (but beautiful) boots all the time to justify the expense - but they hurt like hell. Yep. Been there. As someone who has had piggy backs and shuffled home from parties in her boyfriend's shoes (he had socks on, it's fine...), I feel Monica's pain (sometimes literally).

Series 9
The One Where Monica Sings

I have a big soft spot for Monica (I actually have a big soft spot for Courtney Cox in general) and I love that she's crazy enough to keep singing karaoke - even after she finds out the crowd is only cheering because they can see through her shirt. Joey also ends up with some pretty scary looking eyebrows ('It's like a baby caterpillar chasing its mama!')

Series 10 
The One With Phoebe's Wedding

I didn't pick the final episode because it is so sad (when Rachel shows up at Ross's apartment and says 'I got off the plane', I want to cry like a baby). I picked "The One With Phoebe's Wedding" because I love that, after everything she's been through, Phoebe gets a happy ending. I know that Phoebe and Mike aren't as long running a couple as Ross and Rachel, but I also have a pretty big soft spot for them too (and yay for Paul Rudd!)

What are your favourite Friends episodes? I'd love to know how mine compare. By the way, it was so difficult to find images for this post, but I guess that's what I get for only liking TV shows that are a decade old...

Volunteering for the Scottish SPCA

I have volunteered with various charities since university, and, while I'm happy to have helped various different causes, animal charities are particularly dear to me. I'm lucky that my parents like animals, so I always had pets growing up: when I was really little we lived with my grandparents on their farm (which I like to think means I can count chickens and pigs among my first pets), and my parents are complete cat obsessives, so there was always a cat or two padding around the house. The first pet that was really "mine" was Lucky, my Syrian hamster: I remember coming home from primary school one day and my mum had bought me Lucky as a surprise - she really lived up to her namesake and lived for years, even making the trip back to Northern Ireland with us several years in a row (where she would spent three weeks running on her wheel for hours every night, much to my gran's delight...). Lucky was the beginning of a succession of various pets, including goldfish, cats, rabbits, a guinea pig, a dog and so many more hamsters - all leading up to today, where me and Sam own two guinea pigs, Daisy and Cotton (we own pets together - it must be serious!).

Scottish SPCA
As well as a lifetime of owning pets (a lifetime of cuddles, scratches, sawdust, dog walks, smelly cat food, bites, changing fish tank water, finding hair on everything I own, hearing various squeaks/meows/barks when I get home, and always having a little furry companion on the couch), I have always been interested in animal welfare. I held my first animal fundraiser when I was still in primary school: I persuaded my friends to donate old toys, games and books, filled up my friend's parents' garage with tables covered in donations, put together a raffle, and made posters to advertise, which our local pet store stuck up. Tada! Okay, so we almost exclusively sold the donations to other kids from the neighbourhood and we only made around £20 (but that was big bucks in primary school!), but I'm still proud of  our little fundraiser. We donated the money to Cats Protection and my interest in helping animal charities had officially begun. 

When I saw that the Scottish SPCA wanted volunteers to do coin collections at Pets at Home stores across Scotland last weekend I signed up immediately and received my fundraising pack (with my tabard, collection tin, stickers and easy guide to fundraising enclosed) a few days later. While I've written marketing material and worked at events in the past, I'd never done a coin collection before - and, I have to admit, I was a little (a lot) nervous. I hate when charity workers ambush you on the street asking if you'll sign up to donate every month by direct debit and it's so awkward when a volunteer doing a coin collection blocks the door of the supermarket and if you don't have any change you look like a super tightwad. I wanted to raise as much money as I could, but I also didn't want to make shoppers feel really uncomfortable. I was happy then that standing near the door, smiling and saying "hello!" to everyone seemed to do the trick and no hard sell techniques were required! I would like to thank everyone who came over to donate some money - I know that most people are feeling the pinch right now, so it was wonderful to see how many people still wanted to give their hard-earned money to an amazing cause. 

I also particularly liked seeing how chuffed the kids (and some adults!) were with their Scottish SPCA stickers (a reward for being brave and "putting a pound in the girl's tin"). I volunteered for a little over four hours and raised £78.22 - I think I will pop another couple of pounds in before I take it to the bank to round the total up to an even £80. If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you can see a cheesy photo of me and my huge grin after taking part. It was a lovely feelgood way to spend a little part of my weekend, so I really recommend taking the plunge if you've ever considered doing a coin collection for your favourite charity before.

Scottish SPCA

About the Scottish SPCA 

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is Scotland's animal welfare charity.

Scottish SPCA inspectors and animal rescue officers save thousands of domestic, farm and wild animals from harm and danger every year, while the vets and staff in their wildlife rescue centre and animal rescue and rehoming centres look after, rehabilitate and rehome thousands more.

The Scottish SPCA run an animal welfare education programme in schools, communities and their largest centre. They also campaign for improved animal welfare standards.

As an animal welfare charity,  they receive no government or lottery funding and rely on public donations to continue their vital work rescuing and rehoming abused, abandoned and injured animals in Scotland.

The Scottish SPCA does not put healthy animals to sleep.

The Scottish SPCA is entirely separate from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and the USPCA (Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). The RSPCA operates in England and Wales only and the USPCA operates in Northern Ireland only. 

International Book Giving Day

Forget Valentine's Day (says the woman with the Valentine's Day wishlist...), tomorrow is International Book Giving Day!

International Book Giving Day is a day dedicated to getting new, used and borrowed books into the hands of as many children as possible. Did you know:

  • Most children in developing countries do not own books.
  • In the United Kingdom, one-third of children do not own books.
  • In the United States, two-thirds of children living in poverty do not own books.

To increase children's access to and enthusiasm for books, on February 14th volunteers are encouraged to give a book to a child - whether that's by giving a book to a little person in your family or friend circle; leaving a book in a waiting room for children to read; or donating a book to a local library, hospital or shelter.

If you don't have a children's book to donate tomorrow, there are charities that work year round to distribute used books to children in need internationally, such as Room to Read (international), Books for Africa (international), Book Aid International (international), The Book Bus (international), First Book (U.S.), Reading is Fundamental (U.S.), Reach Out and Read (U.S.), Pratham Books (India), Indigenous Literary Foundation (Australia), The Footpath Library (Australia), Nal'ibali (South Africa) and Duffy Books in Homes (New Zealand).

I think that International Book Giving Day is such a wonderful way to improve a child's life. I loved reading as a kid and I'm lucky enough that I can't imagine what it would have been like to not have access to books: it was always a pretty big thrill when The Book People rocked up to the school with their wonderful red book catalogues (I went to town circling books in those catalogues). Despite my evident lack of self-control when it came to books, I still had my favourites:

International Book Giving Day is an international holiday and last year was celebrated by
people in Australia, Canada, South Africa, France, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, the Philippines, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Brazil, Egypt, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Mexico, Macedonia, Malawi, Hungary, Malaysia, Israel, Denmark, Thailand, Indonesia, Jordan, China, Puerto Rico and Bulgaria.

If you would like to join in, the International Book Giving Day website has some ideas for how you can get involved.

Classic scones with butter & jam

Lazy Sundays just aren't the same without a bit of baking. I love tea and scones (I am eighty years old, don't you know?), but I've never baked any at home. Determined not to leave the house (it was one of those days) I thought I'd give them a bash this afternoon.

Classic scones with butter & jam*

350g self-raising flour, plus more for dusting
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
85g butter, cut into cubes
3 tbsp caster sugar
175ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
a squeeze of lemon juice
beaten egg, to glaze
jam and butter, to serve

1. Start by preheating your oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas mark 7. Pour the flour into a large bowl with the salt and baking powder then mix it with a spoon. Add the butter then rub in with your fingers until the mix looks like fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar.

2. Pour the milk into a jug and heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds until warm, but not hot. Add the vanilla extract and a squeeze of lemon juice to the milk, then set aside for a moment. Put a baking tray in the oven.

3. Make a well in the mixture then add the milk and combine it quickly with a knife. Scatter some flour onto your work surface and tip the dough out. Cover the dough and your hands with a little more flour then fold the dough over 2-3 times until it's a little smoother. Pat into a circle about 4cm deep.

4. Take a 5cm cutter (smooth-edged cutters tend to cut more cleanly, giving a better rise) and dip it into some flour. Cut out four scones. You'll probably need to press what's left of the dough back into a circle to cut out another four. Brush the tops with beaten egg then carefully place onto the hot baking tray.

5. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes until risen and golden on the top. While they're baking, stick the kettle on. Once baked to perfection, cut in half and (if you're anything like me)
 heap with butter* and jam. Eat four in a row.

Tada! Freshly baked scones! Okay, so they might not be as picture perfect as what Tesco will sell you, but you will get that nice warm fuzzy feeling because you made them at home.

* a tweaked recipe from the BBC GoodFood website.
* some people prefer clotted cream with their scones, but that's just not how I roll.

Valentine's Day wishlist

I know that some people don't like Valentine's Day and think it's really corny (or just another way for marketing companies to scam more money out of everyone), but I'm really looking forward to it. In amongst the cold and grey of January and February, it's nice to have a cheesy little day on the calendar to look forward to. Now that primary school is over and the pressure is off ("Should I buy him a card? What if he doesn't buy me one back?!"), Valentine's Day is just an excuse to stuff yourself full of chocolate, watch a romcom and treat yourself to something new (if it's pink or red, it doesn't count, it's Valentine's Day!)

1. I know that some people aren't fussed about cards, but I just don't think a present feels complete without one. I'm one of these people who keeps special cards tucked away in a box somewhere and likes pulling them out to look at years later (extra special points go to cards with little messages written inside). If you buy me a card with a cute animal on the front, it's pretty much guaranteed that I'll love it. I picked this adorable otter card because I read that otters hold hands when they sleep so they don't float away from each other - if that doesn't melt an icy anti-Valentine's Day heart, I don't know what will.

2. I didn't even know Lush did Valentine's Day themed stuff, but when I saw this Prince Charming shower gel I instantly fell in love (badum tish). I haven't smelled it yet, but if it's even close to how wonderful Snow Fairy is, I will definitely be won over (marshmallow, vanilla and pomegranate - yes please!)

3. What better tights to wear on Valentine's Day than ones with the Paris skyline on them? I might be spending next Friday in (a probably rainy) Glasgow, but in these tights I can bring a little sparkle from the city of lovers to Scotland.

4. I instantly thought of Valentine's Day when I saw this amazing red and white polka dot dress. Okay, so I also thought of Minnie Mouse, but why shouldn't she be my Valentine's Day style icon? Another cute fact for Valentine's Day: the voice actors that played Mickey and Minnie Mouse were actually married in real life.

5. I've never had any Stila makeup before but this Color Me Pretty compact is so cute it could persuade me to commit. The only trouble is I'd be scared of 'ruining' it by using it, so it might just have to sit on a shelf and look pretty. 

6. I bought Sam this adorable mixed tape USB stick for Valentine's Day a few years ago and it's still one of my favourite presents. I like that it has a bit of a retro vibe and the packaging can be decorated with little doodles and love hearts (if you're not afraid of a little soppiness with your presents.) It's nice to look back on the one I bought Sam and remember which bands we listened to on repeat when we first started going out (plenty of The Drums, and, not-so-romantic, The Smiths...)

7. I've never met a Vera Wang perfume that I didn't like. I've ran out of my second bottle of Lovestuck, my bottle of Princess is long gone, and I'm trying not to use Princess Night every single day to make the bottle last longer. I'm not very good at buying my own perfume (I tend to add it to my wishlists for birthdays and Christmases), but I could be tempted to treat myself to a bottle of Pink Princess for Valentine's Day.

8. This is a ladybird Love Bug for wrapping up bath bombs and body butters. It is ridiculously adorable. I don't think any other explanation is needed.

What I read in January

Looking for Alaska by John Green

“So this is how Noah felt. You wake up one morning and God has forgiven you and you walk around squinting all day because you’ve forgotten how sunlight feels warm and rough against your skin like a kiss on the cheek from your dad, and the whole world is brighter and cleaner than ever before, like central Alabama has been put in the washing machine for two weeks and cleaned with extra-superstrength detergent with colour brightener, and now the grass is greener and the bufriedos are crunchier.”

I received Looking for Alaska as a Christmas present after reading John Green’s other novel The Fault In Our Stars and loving it. Looking for Alaska opens as the protagonist, Miles Halter, leaves his childhood home in Florida to go to boarding school in Alabama for the first time. Miles makes friends with his roommate, Chip, and his friends, Alaska, Takumi and Lara, who also board at the school. The group quickly clash with the “Weekday Warriors”, a group of rich students who live locally to the school and go home on the weekends. Convinced that Chip and his friends are responsible for having one of their friends expelled last semester, the Weekday Warriors pull a dangerous prank on Miles during his first week at the school. This incites a prank war between the Weekday Warriors and Miles’ group of friends. As the weeks pass in a haze of drinking, smoking and killing time, Miles starts to fall for Alaska, but her feelings for him remain unclear – sometimes lively and open, other times mean and dismissive, Alaska remains an enigma until the end.

Looking for Alaska is a YA novel and I do think I would have loved it more if I was still a teenager. John Green explores the tensions of first relationships, which, as a twenty-something-year-old, feel like a lifetime ago. I would like to stress that Green doesn’t write ‘typical’ teen fiction and, while he does write about first kisses and losing your virginity, he writes about distinctly adult topics, like cancer, death and divorce. While I didn’t love Looking for Alaska as much as I loved The Fault In Our Stars, I did still really enjoy it. I think Green creates wonderfully quirky characters (who aren’t too quirky) who you, as the reader, really root for. I especially loved the tension caused by the prank war – I couldn’t stop turning the pages as the groups flirted with danger and expulsion. 

Rating: 4/5 

All the Little Guns Went Bang Bang Bang by Neil Mackay

“She leans over and kisses him again – this time on the cheek. He turns his face while her lips are still on him, and his mouth slides over her mouth; their stupid teeth clink. They taste metallic – like the iron in blood. They get up and hold hands, walking like that until they come to the gates of Shane’s Castle. When they catch sight of adults they break off holding hands and walk through the turnstile, back on the grey road, and set off in the direction of Antrim High Street. It’s a Tuesday afternoon in July – as quiet and calm and pleasant as could be, even though the history books show that all bad things happen on a Tuesday.”

All the Little Guns Went Bang Bang Bang follows Pearse Furlong and May-Belle Mulholland, two eleven-year-olds growing up in Antrim, Northern Ireland, in the early 1980s.  Pearse and May-Belle have little in common except a background of abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents. As the pair grow closer, their games become sinister, with theft, arson, torture and eventually murder all ahead. 

To start with, as a bit of a disclaimer, this book is dark. There are passages that genuinely made me feel nauseous and I wouldn’t recommend it if you have a sensitive disposition (I leant it to a friend, who had to stop reading after one particular incident). Despite being so dark, I still really enjoyed Mackay’s writing style – the violence felt necessary, never gratuitous, and he even manages to thread some humour through the story. While The Troubles are a backdrop to the story, the focus is on Pearse and May-Belle, so the book is never bogged down by politics. 

If you can stomach it, Pearse’s and May-Belle’s friendship will have you glued to the pages – as their friendship becomes more dangerous and starts to spiral out of control, you  will feel compelled to keep reading (even if it does mean missing your stop on the commute...) 

Rating: 5/5

Death of a Ladies’ Man by Alan Bissett

“Always introduce the topic of sex in a humorous manner. This plants an image in the mind of your seductee, allows her to visualise the two of you together, but is not threatening. You may then begin the process of massaging her inhibitions, over the course of the evening ratcheting up the images. By the end of the night you should both be talking absolute filth, allowing you to lead her comfortably into absolute filth. In her mind, it will be as though you've had it already. Brother, you are working it.”

Death of a Ladies’ Man tells the story of Charlie Bain, a high school English teacher who spends his evenings trawling Glasgow’s bars and nightclubs to find new women to sleep with. Sam warned me before I read this book that he didn’t think I’d like it because of Charlie (and some reviews I’ve read online have said that they stopped reading because they found Charlie so disgusting), but I actually didn’t hate Charlie anywhere near as much as I thought I would – sure, he’s sleazy and only-after-one-thing, but I actually felt sorry for him at the beginning of the book. He met and fell in love with his wife at university, but the relationship broke down and he’s divorced by the time he’s 26. I assumed he was (foolishly) trying to mend a broken heart by sleeping around, but, as the book gathers pace, how far Charlie will go for his own fulfilment becomes clear, and my sympathy definitely dried up. Charlie isn’t a nice guy, but I enjoyed reading about him – the book is dark, modern and it made me laugh out loud. But just a warning: there is a lot of sex in this book. I actually blushed in work reading it on my lunch break!

Rating: 5/5

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

“Tart. Bitch. Cheap slut. This woman who has taken the place of my mother. I stretch my hand out and bare my teeth in a smile.
‘Hallo, Valentina. How nice to meet you at last.’
Her hand in mine is cold, limp, no grip. The long fingernails are varnished in peach-pink pearlised nail-polish to match the lips. I see myself through her eyes – small, skinny, dark, no bust. Not a real woman. She smiles at Mike, a slow, wicked smile.
‘You like vodka?’
‘I’ve made a pot of tea,’ I say."

Two years after the death of her mother, Nadezhda’s father tells her that he has fallen in love with a beautiful Ukrainian woman half his age, and he is marrying her to help her move to England. Furious, Nadezhda enlists the help of her sister, Vera, who she hasn’t spoken to since their mother’s funeral, to help put a stop to the wedding. Together the sisters battle against Valentina, a glamorous gold-digger determined to achieve the Western lifestyle she’s been promised. I really enjoyed several aspects of this book (the snapshots of the family’s life back in Ukraine, the funny juxtaposition of liberal Nadezhda against her conservative sister), but Valentina is definitely the best part. Tacky, greedy and self-centred, she will lie, cheat and steal to stay in the country. While undisputedly a monster at times, I actually felt sorry for Valentina – never one-dimensional, she also seems lonely, naive and a little lost. I wasn’t sure about this book at first (and I did skip the passages about tractors...) but I really enjoyed reading about the dysfunctional Mayevskyj family, and I eventually couldn’t stop reading (if only to find out if Valentina gets her way in the end).

Rating: 4/5
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