In defence of “nice”

Last weekend I took the train down to Birmingham and something nice happened. Not exciting, or especially interesting, just nice.

I used to be a frequent train traveller – you know pre-pandemic when we did stuff all the time without thinking about it. I am intimately familiar with the entire length of the West Coast Main Line all the way from Glasgow to London. Strangely, Birmingham isn’t particularly easy to reach from Glasgow so this particular journey involved multiple changes as well as the usual minor delays.

Ordinarily, once on board a train I sit back, put my earphones in and listen to music, read a book or perhaps try to do some work. This time I was all prepared for the 5 hours each way with my phone, earbuds, book and laptop. But then something strange and unusual happened. I got talking to my fellow passengers.

Not just the usual “Hi, how are you?”, “Where are you off to?” “Ah that’s nice.” We are British and polite after all. No, this time I had proper, extended conversations with multiple people on multiple trains. In fact I spent all of 10 minutes on my laptop, didn’t put my earphones in at all or read a single word of my book during the combined 10 hours of travelling.

Why did this happen? I’m honestly not sure. The delays, other train cancellations and imminent strikes certainly provided some fuel for discussion. The weather, obviously, a 30 degree heatwave had been predicted for that day which only came to fruition in half of the country. Perhaps it was the novelty of travelling and being among people again. For me this was the first long train journey I had done since early March 2020.

But all that could have just been the usual small talk, snippets of interaction before the earphones go back in, the book gets picked up again or the eyes gaze back down at the phone. People actually seemed more keen to talk, chat and converse. They were receptive to communication, not just grunting one word answers then getting back to minding their own business. Questions were asked and answered, willingly and easily, followed up on and supplemented.

The great thing about cross country trains is that you get all sorts of passengers. There were families, couples, solo travellers and even a dog. We were Scottish, English, European, Asian and South African. We were young, we were old. And for the duration of our journeys, we were friends.

An older man going to visit his daughter in Liverpool. A couple returning from a day trip to Blackpool where it unfortunately wasn’t anywhere near 30 degrees. A man coming back from his brother’s stag do. Another couple (and dog) travelling from London to Scotland about to rent a campervan and tour around for a week. Some I didn’t find out where find out where they were from or where they were going to but I did hear their views on sheep farming, mosquitoes and the RNLI.

Despite our apparent differences, it’s amazing how there’s always something that can be found in common with strangers. (More on that here) One of the men also worked in interpreting. A woman and I laughed together about how our kids freak out if there’s the tiniest of flies in the house. The merits of various Scottish football stadia was discussed with another man. It doesn’t take much to scratch scratch the surface to find some commonality, that thing that makes you go, “yes, I know!” or “hey, me too!”.

As much as I love listening to music and reading a good book, these conversations with strangers helped pass the time and made it rather enjoyable. There may have been no life changing event – I didn’t lock eyes with someone across the table and instantly fall in love – well except for Bimba the Cavapoo. I didn’t meet anyone who offered me a fantastic job or who will change my life in any way but for those few hours each day these people did make my life a little bit more interesting and pleasant.

It was nice. There’s a lot to be said for nice.

Difficult Women – Helen Lewis at the Aye Write Festival, Mitchell Library Glasgow, 20th May 2022

I would say I’m a pretty Difficult Woman. I’m sure most of you who know me would agree. Luckily, this has gone from being an insult to a badge of honour, in no small part due to Helen Lewis‘ book of that name. “Difficult Women, A History of Feminism in 11 Fights” is pretty much what it says it is. Political and legislative change in British history told through the stories of the women who made it happen. What makes Lewis’ book different from a textbook or a pop social history book is that she delves deeper into the lives, beliefs and actions of the women, discussing their shortcomings as well as their victories, their flaws as well as their virtues. I read it earlier this year and when I saw that she was due to appear as part of the “Aye Write” book festival in Glasgow (can we just take a moment to appreciate the genius of that name?) I decided to go along and hear her speak about it.

Unfortunately the friend I was due to go with had to cancel last minute due to illness, so I headed in on my own. I tried to time my entrance to arrive just at the start so I wouldn’t have to mingle or look too much like a lonely loser. It was all going well until a staff member sent me to the wrong event, I had to navigate back up the various floors and sections of the labyrinthine Mitchell Library and ended up getting to the door just as Helen Lewis was being introduced. My attempts to subtly take a seat in the back row while quietly taking off my coat were thwarted by a steward who asked, “Are you here on your own?” and requested that I move to make room for others who might arrive later. Others, presumably, with friends or partners who would want to sit together while I, Nora No-mates was just in the way. There should be a dating type app for folk who want to go to these events on their own. Maybe I’ll invent it and capitalise on my loneliness (more on that here), lemons and lemonade and all that. Anyway, I digress…

It was an interview-type affair with the host asking a series of questions which Lewis answered at length, often straying from the topic of the question or referring to other relevant matters so it felt more like a solo talk than an interview. The questions provided some structure but they weren’t strictly necessary as Lewis has a lot to say on a lot of issues and I’m sure we would all have been happy to just listen to whatever she wanted to discuss.

Helen Lewis speaks as she writes – direct, to the point and with well-researched facts liberally strewn throughout. She is eloquent and quick and funny. She writes in the kind of style that I aspire to, in fact listening to her made me almost regret not pursuing journalism as a career as I once aimed to. Ironically it was sexism and insane competition in the profession that put me off back then, but that is history without any fights. I wasn’t a fully-fledged Difficult Woman back then.

After an interesting and entertaining 45 minutes or so, it was opened up to the audience to ask a few questions. Sadly the event only lasted an hour, we could easily have gone for twice that I’m sure. Afterwards the author was at a table selling books and signing them so I queued up, purchased a paperback copy and waited my turn. I got the book signed with a personal dedication which was nice, and had a brief chat with Lewis. I told her that I already had a copy on kindle, but that I wanted a one on a shelf in my house so that my kids might pick it up one day and have a browse. We had a brief chat about the importance of teenagers today knowing about feminism, then it was time to go.

I do worry about the future of feminism. My eldest is coming up for 13 and while that age group do seem to have a strong sense of justice and equality, there is a feeling among them that feminism is a fight that has been won already. They see it as something that is part of history, not relevant to their present or future. I can see why – when I was at school girls had to wear skirts, we were segregated in PE into hockey for girls and football for boys and only girls got taught sewing. My kids won’t experience that, thankfully. They have LGBT+ clubs and gender-neutral toilets and all their tv programmes have an ethnically diverse cast. Yet the world still won’t treat them equally or fairly. They are going to need feminism and perhaps feminism will need them. The way things are going in the world just now we need as many Difficult Women as possible, not just creating hashtags and participating in social media campaigns but in protecting our legislative and constitutional rights. I hope that in 50 or 100 years time there are 11 more, in fact 50 more fights to write another book about. I hope feminism moves us all forward, that our young people take up the reigns and do revolutionary, amazing things with it.

There were several other events on in the Library and as I made my way out I saw a pile of Val McDermid’s new book on a table. I remembered that I’d bought it a wee while ago and made a mental note to read it asap. Then I saw the actual Val McDermid sitting at a table signing her book. As much as I would have loved to meet her I’m not sure she would have waited for me to run home to fetch my copy. I could have chanced my arm and asked her to sign Difficult Women, I’m sure she’d be delighted to be in the Difficult Women club. All the best ones are.

I’ve been learning Gaelic on Duolingo…but should I?

We are regular visitors to the Highlands of Scotland. After one recent trip, my eldest child expressed an interest in learning Gaelic. It turns out that Duolingo is fairly popular among her schoolfriends, so she asked if she could give it a try. This particular child gives lots of things a try and either gives up very quickly or gets very, very, extremely interested in the subject. It turned out that learning Gaelic on Duolingo was one that stuck. She practiced diligently every night, loudly and repeatedly. I had fun guessing what she was saying. Some I guessed from context, some are similar to Scots, some similar to Swedish. At first she got annoyed at me, this was her thing. Then she decided it would be good to have someone to practice with, so I was challenged to stop guessing and start learning.

Like many people living in Scotland, I’d picked up a bit of Gaelic over the years. My dad is a big Runrig fan so we spent many a car journey listening to songs in Gaelic. I could reel them off phonetically but had little idea of their meanings. We did attempt to learn when I was younger, we got some tapes and videos of the BBC series “Can Seo”. We didn’t last long, and if you watch the videos, you’ll see why…. Later there was an STV series “Speaking Our Language”. I think we tried to follow that too but with limited success. Some of those clips have been incorporated into the website for the current initiative “Learn Gaelic”. At some point in the 1990s a 5 minute news segment in Gaelic was tacked on after the main Scottish tv news, so we all learned the words for “Good afternoon” and “good evening” and “today” but not much else.

I love language and learning languages. Over the years I’ve done a bit of French, Spanish, Japanese, Swedish and British Sign Language – I now work as a BSL/English Interpreter. I suppose if I was going to learn another language it should be Gaelic, being a language native to my country. However I’ve never really felt that Gaelic was rightfully “my” language. I grew up in Dundee, in the north east of Scotland. If Gaelic was ever spoken in the region it was a very long time ago indeed. My heritage is firmly rooted in that area, none of my ancestors hailing from much further afield than Perthshire or Fife. Gaelic was never part of my background or culture, it was a Highland/north-west Scotland thing but not a Dundonian thing.

It is, of course, a Scottish thing though and the Scottish Government have been making efforts in recent years to revive and revitalise the language across the whole country. Child1 and I are not alone in our learning – recently Duolingo clocked up over 1 million users on their Scots Gaelic course, although most live in North America there are a good portion of learners here in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Is it any good though? If anyone were to tell me they were learning British Sign Language from an app or a website I would vigorously recommend that they get themselves along to a class lead by a qualified Deaf Tutor. An app or online course, no matter how well designed, can’t give anywhere near the same experience as learning in person from a native speaker, especially one who can teach about the culture and usage of the language as well as the vocabulary and grammar.

Duolingo rather notoriously teaches using weird and wonderful phrases – some excellent examples can be found here and here . All 1 million of us going through the course are learning the same phrases in the same order, and can therefore only converse about certain limited topics. If we were to find ourselves in the Highlands or Islands among actual Gaelic speakers I suspect we wouldn’t get very far and they would be somewhat concerned with our preoccupation with pigs and Irn Bru. Despite my many highland travels, I’ve only come across real Gaelic spoken by real Gaelic speakers “in the wild” once – about 25 years ago on a holiday to the Outer Hebrides. I’m certain very few of us 1 million would understand a word any locals might utter.

It all reminds me of the brilliant Eddie Izzard sketch about learning French – please do yourself a favour and watch it here, I’ll wait. I fear my only hope of practicing my new found skills would be to travel to Stornoway with a frog, 9 kittens, some herring, a bonnet and and an unfortunate friend named Iain. I may not be able to hold a conversation with locals but any fellow app users and I can all collectively give thanks that Una is wearing underpants.

It is entirely possible to go through the course without uttering a single word in the language you are learning. You are encouraged to speak along and repeat but there is no voice detection part of the process that has you say the phrases to check if you are picking them up correctly. If you are physically able to, speaking the words and forming the new sounds yourself allows you to really pick up on the difference between “an” and “ann”, to feel how accented vowels are different from unaccented and to wonder how on earth “ard” requires you to produce a “sh” and a “t” sound. You also get the great pleasure of saying the beautifully rhythmic first long phrase learned – “Cò ris a tha an t-side coltach an-diugh?” (What is the weather like today) which my daughter askes me with great relish at every opportunity. We try out phrases with each other and on the rare occasion where a phrase we have learned actually fits an everyday situation we take advantage. We got a few strange looks at the local farm when we both yelled, “Tha mi a’ cluinntinn gobhar!” (I am hearing a goat). Anyone learning via the app alone may not have that opportunity to practice with others. Why do we learn languages if not to communicate with others? There needs to be a communal, social, shared experience aspect to language learning and practice. If immersion isn’t possible then real world interaction should be sought out. Will I ever get the chance to converse with a native Gaelic speaker? Who knows. Will they be interested in yet another person blethering on about how many kittens they have or whether or not Morag has a jacket on? Unlikely.

Despite these shortcomings, credit has to be given to Duolingo for making language learning fun. The gamification of the process does add to the appeal. My daughter loves looking at her stats and charting her progress, earning the gems and trophies for various milestones. There is a sense of achievement in getting these rewards and it undoubtedly spurs you on to unlock the next topic or complete the month’s challenge.

So whilst I may not hail from a Gaelic-speaking area I do think there is merit in Scots from all places having some knowledge of Gaelic. It is a challenging but interesting language to learn and I would hate to see it further decline in Scotland or only be continued by the enthusiasm of the diaspora. Duolingo and the like aren’t ideal conduits for teaching language but it is the only method so far that has engaged me to any extent and surely some of the 1 million online users will decide to pursue their studies more formally and find a place within the Gaelic community. I’m not sure how long my daughter and I will stick at it, but for now we are having fun and learning something new and that is never a bad thing.

I’m not going to patronise you all…

Earlier this week one of my favourite bands, The Airborne Toxic Event, announced they were launching a new platform on a subscription basis to allow fans special access to some of their output. For a monthly fee, members get unreleased tracks, members-only shows, VIP access to gigs, videos of concerts, contact with the band etc. Lead singer Mikel Jollett put out a video explaining their reasoning behind the move. In it, he makes a lot of very valid and persuasive points, delivered eloquently and passionately, about how the music industry is changing, the importance of the band’s relationship with its fans and their search for new ways to connect with us.

Aside from logistical questions about how access to in-person shows would work for those of us not US-based and the practicalities of livestreams scheduled for 5pm PST, which is 1am UK time, I’m struggling with the whole concept of payment for access.

I have no problem with the general idea of crowdfunding, or the Patreon type model. I know it can work well for creatives and fans alike. Spotify notoriously pay artists shockingly little for streaming their music, and other platforms aren’t much better. I pay for a Spotify account but I always try to support bands I listen to on there in other ways, especially if they are smaller or newish and haven’t got a massive record deal. I personally have signed up to Patreon and support a couple of smaller-scale musicians and have subscribed to a podcast to get extra content. I’m also a subscriber to Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women project which I strongly believe in. Today, on International Women’s Day, that kind of action is more meaningful and productive than posting some soon-forgotten social media meme. I also like the Bandcamp model of accessing music, where you can buy direct from the artists who get to keep more of the funds for themselves. Some have a “pay what you can” arrangement which allows fans to contribute according to their means. I like that there are these new and innovative ways to access and own content that artists produce that are less reliant on big corporations and offer more control to those who create the work.

The Airborne Toxic Event have been a firm favourite of mine for over 10 years, and exactly as Mikel says in his video, from the first time I heard them, I felt an instant connection to the music, the lyrics, the storytelling and the *vibe* of the band in general that ran deep. I absolutely understand why a band, especially a band like this would opt for such a venture. My instinct was to say yes, sign me up! And yet…I have reservations about the whole idea.

I’ve never had a large amount of disposable income. I put myself through 4 years of university then a Masters. In London. I worked in the voluntary sector for years, then in education. I gave up my salaried job to go freelance in a new career then 6 months later the pandemic hit. I have 2 kids and have been a single parent for the last 7 years. I’ve worked hard my whole life but have never had much spare cash at the end of the month. I don’t go out much, don’t drink or smoke or get frequent take-aways. I’m pretty frugal but the one thing I would happily spend any spare money on is music, whether that be buying albums, concert tickets or merchandise. But these are one-off expenses and if I was a bit skint I would buy the album but not the ticket, or the ticket but not a t-shirt. When you have limited funds you make judgments about which albums or gig tickets to buy. This can be more frequent in good times and something you sacrifice in hard times. The subscription model asks for a regular monthly payment, or an annual fee (often discounted compared to monthly but obviously a significantly larger amount in one go). This is quite a commitment. Each individual band might only ask for ~£10. Ok, so I’m a fan of TATE so I hand over my £10. But what if other bands I like adopt similar models? Then it’s another £10, then another £10 and before I know it there’s a financial commitment of £50 to £100 a month, which is just not feasible on my budget and nowhere near what I would have spent on music related things before. Does that mean I’m any less of a fan of those bands that I can’t afford to patronise? Not at all. Any less committed to supporting the band? Absolutely not. But it does mean that I’ve been priced out of offering my support and have become a 2nd class fan, while only those with the financial means get the privilege of higher-status super-fan.

It’s this idea of there being segregation among fans that doesn’t sit right with me. Those who can afford it get top tier access while those who can’t, miss out. The one good thing about going to gigs was that we were all in it together. Fans from all backgrounds could come together, put differences aside and enjoy the collective experience of being fans of the same band. Now with VIP access, early access, special areas, backstage passes etc for the select few, a 2-tier fandom has been created for the haves and the have-nots, separated by disposable income levels and not according to loyalty or enthusiasm.

Covid hit us all hard, and as we were locked down, staying at home and wanting to be entertained, most musicians and other performers were unable to make any kind of living. Furlough schemes often didn’t apply to them and as venues shut down, some of them for good, those in the creative industries were left without a living or a lifeline. Understandably, many have looked to these alternative means to earn an income. However, at a time when food prices are rising, energy prices are rising at an alarming rate, covid is still having an effect and we still don’t know the economic impact of the war between Russia and Ukraine, we are living in very uncertain times. Asking fans to make a regular commitment is, I think, asking too much.

So how do we square this? Musicians, bands and artists need to make a living in difficult times. They want to keep creating and sharing their work with fans. But if playing live, touring and international travel is going to continue to be affected by covid and/or war (ffs this is seriously a thing) in the coming months and years, they need to find a way to get that connection with fans back, as Mikel said. Fans want that connection too. We want to see our favourite bands perform, either live or recorded. We want them to create new music and be creatively fulfilled. We want them to continue to earn a living from their craft and we want to support them. I’m sure no band sets up such a subscription scheme with the aim of excluding a portion of their fandom, but they inevitably will. I’m sure they think that as long as some of their output is available in the traditional way that fans are still being served. However it really feels to me as though this is only going to create a system that is inherently unequal and unfair. The best music, live experiences and access to bands will end up behind a paywall and that is a very sad prospect indeed.

And don’t get me started on NFTs…

Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour, Glasgow Hydro, 6th February 2022

In the never ending hellstorm that is living in the UK at the moment, we all need moments of levity and escape. For us, on Sunday afternoon that took the shape of the Strictly Come Dancing live tour.

A quick wikipedia search suggests that the first series I properly watched was in 2012, meaning there’s been a good 10 years of Strictly in my life. My eldest child was very into it from a young age, and just as their interest waned the younger one became a fan – such is the life when your kids have a 4 year age gap. Even so, we continued to watch it as a family every year. Some series and contestants/pairings have been more memorable than others. The most recent series was a particularly good one, which prompted me to buy tickets for the tour for the first time. Both my kids and myself were drawn into the stories, the highs and lows, the drama and the glamour. It is good old-fashioned family entertainment. We don’t tend to watch things like that, we’ve never as a family watched Britain’s Got Talent or I’m a Celebrity or anything starring Ant & Dec. When the kids can agree to watch the same thing, they prefer movies or David Attenborough type programmes but generally have very different tastes. Even if we don’t always get to watch Strictly live, because they spend every 2nd weekend with their dad, there’s still something nice and wholesome about sitting down each week to watch something that’s full of joy, positivity and about trying your best at something and having fun, even if you’ve never done it before and you have 2 left feet. Or only 1 foot. Who cares, get all dressed up and shimmy your troubles away.

These past 2 years have robbed us of any feelings of excited anticipation. We haven’t been able to look forward to anything due to the constant threat of more restrictions, positive tests, cancellations. Every time I made tentative plans with my kids I always had to give them the speech about nothing being certain, things might change, we just don’t know. It was the same for this. I told them about the Strictly show just a few weeks ago and it was sad to see them stifle any excitement they would normally have displayed. When Omicron reared its head I expected this tour to be postponed but restrictions on indoor gatherings were lifted here recently. We took the recommended precautions, of course. I was pleased to see the vast majority of people also wearing masks and the venue had the air conditioning turned up to the max, to the point where I thought the air flow might blow me down on to the dance floor.

As usual when kids are involved, we were running a bit late, but made it to the Hydro just in time, only to find that doors hadn’t actually opened an hour before as planned and everyone was waiting in massive queues in the freezing cold outside. We joined the back of one line and thankfully things soon got moving. We found our seats just as the lights went down and the iconic music struck up. 

The Strictly dance floor in full swing

The set featured many, many glitterballs, the familiar curving stairs rising up either side with the 3 judges chairs in the middle. We had Shirley, Craig in a kilt, the return of Bruno. Sadly no Anton or Motsi. Janette Manrara was the host in a series of increasingly sparkly outfits. The format was similar to the tv series, with couples taking turns to perform dances, short chats with Janette afterwards, then judges comments. There were some group dances interspersed throughout. I for one could have done without the interviews after every dance. They all said pretty much the same thing – it’s great to be in Glasgow (cue cheers), I love dancing with my partner, it’s great to be on the tour etc etc. There were, however, some very funny moments and exchanges between Janette, the dancers and the judges. I’m not sure to what extent they were scripted and thus same for every show, but they were funny nevertheless.

At one point during the 2nd half the judges had us up on our feet and tried, with varying success, to get us all to follow them in a wee routine. The less said about our shimmies the better I think…

We got to vote for our favourites via text (up to 10 times at 25p a go) and a winner was declared at the end, although I think we all knew who it would be before anyone even stepped foot on the dance floor.

Rose Ayling-Ellis was the stand-out star of Strictly last year and the first deaf celebrity to take part. Strictly has always been ahead of the curve in terms of diversity. Jonnie Peacock was the first celebrity with a disability to join in 2017, followed by several other Paralympians and JJ Chalmers who was injured in Afghanistan. A professionals dance featured 2 male leads in 2019 and in 2020 the first same-sex female couple competed, although their stint was short-lived due to covid. The latest series had the first same-sex male partnership who made it all the way to the final. I knew of Rose from a couple of things she’s acted in but don’t watch Eastenders. Due to my job (I’m a sign language interpreter) I had a special interest in Rose’s participation and how Strictly would adapt to having a deaf competitor. The answer is they adapted very well indeed. There were sign language interpreters with Rose in training and on show nights, deaf awareness and BSL lessons were given to the cast and crew. Rose’s professional partner Giovanni obviously played a huge part in their success. Giovanni was the perfect pick for Rose, I remember when he was paired with Debbie McGee and rather than treating her like a novelty act he showed her nothing but respect and devised beautiful choreography that played to her strengths. with Debbie he often stepped back and let her dance alone, out front, be the focus (yeah I may have gone into a youtube wormhole, all in the name of research, obviously…) With Rose it was all about communicating through touch and body language, they became one unit. There’s a good article here on how he and Rose worked together. Rose is funny, warm and charming, Giovanni seemed to genuinely grow and learn from her and we all fell in love with them both. Their partnership and friendship was beautiful to watch, if you didn’t see their instagram videos you missed a treat, they were hilarious and I hope they manage to keep dancing together after the tour ends.

On the tour they performed their “couple’s choice” dance with it’s famous silent section and I held my breath throughout, as did most of the audience it seemed. Not a sound was heard from anyone in the near-capacity Hydro on that Sunday matinee which included a lot of children. We also saw their Tango, which in its own way I found just as moving. Intense, thoughtful and engaging, I could have watched them all day. Keeping with the theme of accessibility and inclusion, the tour had BSL interpreters at every single performance, rather than the usual 1 or 2, hopefully this is something they will continue after Rose’s involvement and other productions will learn from.   

Rose & Giovanni chatting with Janette after their tango, with BSL interpreter on the big screen

Unfortunately one of our favourite contestants from this year, John Whaite wasn’t performing that day due to illness and AJ was still suffering the effects of an injury picked up during the series so we were treated to seeing Maisie Smith from last year join with Kai. They were great but I was sad that Maisie wasn’t with her partner Gorka, but really only cos Gorka is one of my favourites.

A special mention has to be made of the live band and singers who were very impressive. Unlike on the telly, the singers came out on to the dance floor, became part of the performance, doing their own dance moves alongside the other performers. Particular credit to the drummer who had his moment of glory during a dance to “In the air tonight” and the singer who somehow managed to perform a flawless Kate Bush number while flat on her back on the floor.

There was Strictly merch on sale! Of course. J wanted to check it out and I was prepared for long queues and/or extortionate prices, but happily we found neither. Tshirts and hoodies were on sale at about the same rate you’d expect at a gig. J opted for a rainbow Strictly mug, S wasn’t interested, I think she was feeling a bit overwhelmed by this point and just wanted to get out.

Rainbow coloured Strictly Live mug

Unfortunately we weren’t to have a quick getaway, having parked in the notorious Hydro multistory car park, it took us over an hour of queueing to get out of the place. Thankfully it didn’t put a dampner on the afternoon, although the promise of a delivery from our favouite local pizza restaurant did help.

Both kids loved it, J immediately asked if we can go again next year. It is quite expensive, but if you are a Strictly fan it is definitely worth the money. You get to see your favourites (most of them) in action, they put on a proper show – with all the razzmatazz of the lights, flamethrower things and bucketloads of glitter and sparkles.

The whole Strictly Come Dancing operation is something to be treasured. At a time when the continued existence of the BBC is being threatened, it’s important to remember that, merch and 25p text votes aside, a programme full of uplifting positivity, inclusivity and representation and free from commercial interests and advertising could only be made by the BBC. They have created something magical, appealing to people of all ages that deliver important messages, open minds and be highly entertaining all at the same time. And if a deaf actor can discover a talent for dancing and lift a glitterball trophy, then who knows what the rest of us could achieve if only we take the chance to try.