Made Up

Last Saturday evening I went to the first preview performance of Made Up at Birmingham Rep. I admit to having been more than a little nervous as I walked into the venue as I’ve seen, I think for the first time, a glimpse of the huge effort that goes into putting something of this scale on. The run at the Rep finishes with a performance on Saturday evening and from 24th May – 11th June, Stan’s Cafe are taking the production on a tour of venues in the North East (details here).

The reason I’ve witnessed so much of the process is that Emily has been commuting from our home in Derby to Birmingham during the development and rehearsal process. As I like to be surprised by the theatre I do go to see (that’s the same excuse I use for never having read any Shakespeare by the way), I’ve tried not to listen too much to the stories that have made their way back along the A38 to us, but it was hard not to get caught up a little.

Made Up ProgrammeThe play is a truly enjoyable 75 minutes that allows us to get to know more about the two characters and their back stories. Kate (played by Emily Holyoake) is a young film star and Sue (played by Alexis Tuttle) is her make-up artist. The contrasts between Kate and Sue’s professional personas and the people they are in their personal lives are played out, bracketed by some amazing transformations in Kate’s appearance through the real-time application of make-up. The staging is simple and so allows you to focus on the characters and the transformations, but it does make very effective use of live and pre-recorded video. Without wanting to give away too much, the ‘alien’ transformation is great comedy, with the ‘punk’ transformation being used to make some of the play’s strongest and most poignant statements.

Afterwards I really enjoyed meeting Emily’s fellow cast member, Alexis, as well as some of the production crew in the bar (but of course!). In particular, I felt completely ‘Made Up’ when an audience member approached Emily for an autograph – definitely a “proud father” moment.

A distinction in procrastination

Hello all – and please accept my apologies for being away from here for a little while. “No problem”, I can hear you all saying, “we understand that you’ve been working hard on your dissertation, reading research papers, collecting data and transcribing interviews, analysing it all and making astounding discoveries.”


Well, the truth is rather more prosaic I’m afraid.

Yes, I have been getting on with my dissertation and doing all of those good things, but possibly not with quite the vigour I really should be. That’s for this month I’ve been promising myself. Instead, I’ve been finding lots of ways to procrastinate, while telling myself that a bit of physical exertion is good for the analysis process, especially as I’m undertaking a qualitative (and largely inductive) approach to it.

My car has never been cleaner.

Clean carThe garage has never been tidier.

Empty garageI demolished a rotten shed that had stood by the side of my house for more than twenty years …

Shed site… and built a new one twice its size. I’ve named it Sheddy McShedface …

Sheddy McShedface… and filled it with all of the things that were in the garage that should have been in the old shed but wouldn’t fit.

Shed interiorI’ve even cut the grass (the elephant is called ‘Steve’ by the way).

Steve the elephantI think these are pretty impressive lengths to go to as far as procrastination is concerned. I’ve awarded myself a distinction, but you may be able to do better perhaps? Do let me know – it will help keep me away from Seale’s book on qualitative research for another evening if you do.


A version of this article was previously published at the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 8th May 2016.

My favourite possessions: a cereal bowl and mug

I can be a grumpy so and so. I can be even grumpier than usual in the mornings. The phrase “not a morning person” could have been invented with me in mind. I get particularly grumpy if two of my favourite possessions – an old cereal bowl and much newer Eeyore mug – aren’t available for my use. There’s a picture of these possessions below so that you can admire their awesomeness.

Favourite possessions - a cereal bowl and Eeyore mugThe cereal bowl is the last remaining of six identical ones that Jane and I acquired when we were married in nineteen eighty ei-was it really that long ago? It’s the ideal shape for a bowl of cornflakes. It’s not so deep that you accidentally overfill it with milk, making them go all soggy (I hate soggy cereal, apart from Weetabix, which I like to think of as a type of nourishing grey soup). It’s not so shallow that you end up with dry ones cutting your mouth to shreds. It’s perfect. It’s mine (if that’s all right with everyone else in my house of course). I would hate for it to be broken, but I expect that in an emergency I might just be able to pick one up from a well-known online auction site.

Then there’s my Eeyore mug. That’s wonderful too, as it takes about a gallon of coffee to fill it (I exaggerate, but only a little) and I need all of that stimulation in a morning to make me feel half human and perhaps a little less grumpy.

Mel, our esteemed editor-in-chief over at Post40Bloggers, has observed that “you take your life in your hands for instance if you use [his] special cereal bowl and/or his Eeyore mug“.

I hope you now all understand why.


This post was inspired by the 90th Post40Bloggers writing prompt to write about something that you are attached to, and the gin and tonic consumed at our recent editorial meeting.

The Damned United at Derby Theatre

Last Saturday night I saw Red Ladder Theatre Company’s production of The Damned United at Derby Theatre. The play has been adapted from David Peace’s 2006 novel by Anders Lustgarten. You know that you’re probably going to be impressed by a play when the attention to detail starts before you enter the auditorium. The Match Day Magazine and Programme echoes the style of the publications sold at football grounds in the 70s, even down to the lettered list of matches to write the half-time scores against. As a Derby native, I particularly enjoyed that the programme listed the honours won by the Rams between 1968 and 1972, the era of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, even if this reverie was slightly spoiled by the programme also listing the later achievements of Clough at another East Midlands team.

The Damned United Programme, Script and Tickets   Probably the first thing to note about the play is that it is a lot closer in spirit to (and the “industrial” language of) the novel than the film that starred Michael Sheen in 2009. This makes the play a darker and more intense experience – and a more interesting one, too. Brian Clough’s character, inner thoughts and relationship with Peter Taylor are centre stage, with the brooding presence of Don Revie passing judgement on him from the surrounding screens.

Andrew Lancel gives a well-paced and believable performance as Clough. His efforts are particularly impressive as he’s on stage for most of the 90 minutes without a break. Tony Bell is equally impressive as Taylor and the chemistry between them works well. Like the book, the action switches between the triumphs the pair shared together at Derby and the agonies suffered by Clough at Leeds, where Taylor had refused to join him after the pair had resigned from Derby. The supporting cast of John Graham Davies (Longson, Owen & Bolton), Tom Lorcan (McKenzie), Tony Turner (Kirkland & Cussins) and the ensemble players all help to keep the story moving along at a cracking pace.

The death of Clough’s mother, “The end of anything good. The beginning of everything bad.”, signals Derby’s exit from the European Cup at the hands of Juventus and an allegedly bent referee, with Clough’s bluff being called by the Derby board when they accept his resignation. In the Leeds timeline, the death acts to foreshadow the players’ revolt and Clough being shown the exit.

The play ends with the re-creation of the infamous Yorkshire Television showdown after Clough’s sacking. This is a particularly elegant piece of staging and powerfully done, with Lancel’s Clough interacting directly with the cleverly cut archive footage of Revie.

It’s by far the best production I’ve seen on this stage since the days of the old Derby Playhouse. The run finishes on April 16th, so there’s not much time left, but if you can get a ticket, go and see it. You won’t be disappointed.

The lost art of the end of the roll photograph

One of the lost arts of the digital age is the end of the roll photograph. These were the pictures taken, almost at random, so that a film could be developed before the significance of the events captured in the earlier frames was forgotten. These are some of my favourite examples from my father’s archives.


Market Cross Malmesbury 1951The market cross in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, taken in summer 1951. This is on the end of a roll of film that features a holiday in Devon, so this must have been the stopping point on the way back top the Midlands. The woman on the right hand side of the photograph doesn’t look as if she’s having a very good day.

Haste ye back to ScotlandTaken at some point in the mid-1950s as the last photograph from a holiday in Scotland, this end of the roll photograph was presumably a heartfelt wish. It was certainly a popular destination when we went on holiday as a family in the 1970s.

Hanging basket 1983A random photograph of the hanging basket outside our house from 1983. Looking at the angle of the picture I can only assume that it was taken from halfway up a step-ladder!

GNU 706NAnd finally, also from the end of a roll of film shot in 1983 a rear view of my first car that I don’t remember ever having seen before I scanned the negative yesterday evening. Complete with a Radio Derby car sticker from the era before the BBC insisted on imposing a boring corporate brand uniformity across all their local radio stations and a fluffy toy owl on the parcel shelf.

Which leads me to ask a question every bit as random as these end of the roll photographs are. Has anyone ever used a parcel shelf in a car for putting parcels on? No, I thought not.

6 things my pilot research interview taught me

I’ve now completed my pilot research interview, transcribed the resulting audio and conducted a very brief analysis of the data. These are six of the more important things the pilot has taught me.

  • I was accurate at estimating how long the interview would take. I recorded just over 46 minutes of audio, having initially estimated 45-60 minutes. This is good as, if the interview had gone on for longer, it would have become too difficult for me and the interviewee to concentrate.
  • When listening back to the audio, it became apparent that some of the questions I asked were too long, too rambling, and in some cases were confusing, because I was asking for 2 or 3 things at the same time. A bit like that last sentence really. I’ve gone back through my interview schedule and revised the questions into what I hope are shorter, pithier and better phrased questions that will be easier for my participants to answer.
  • I was reasonably accurate at predicting how long an interview takes to transcribe. My original expectation was around an hour’s effort to transcribe between 5 and 7 minutes of speech. That turned out to be about right. Just as importantly, I’ve now discovered that it’s much easier to transcribe an interview if I don’t interrupt too often and try not to speak over my interviewee.
  • I was able to gather data that suggests I’ll be able to answer my research question. Hurrah! However, I’ve also realised that some of the questions I asked can be replaced by ones which more closely align to it. My supervisor agrees, so I’ve submitted a revised interview schedule that I believe will work better.
  • I have no shortage of willing participants. However, scheduling an interview is a little trickier than I first anticipated. Having a ‘plan B’ is useful when real life means that a participant can’t make it at short notice.
  • Qualitative studies produce lots of rich data and there isn’t enough time in the day to be able to analyse it from every possible angle. Having a well-defined set of methodological tools to start the analysis from is definitely useful, but to get the best out of the data you need to go beyond them – or at least, I need to use them in more depth than I did on the pilot interview data.

Oh, and number seven – never do a piece of qualitative research without piloting it! I’m certain that without the pilot session I would have ended up with poorer data to analyse in respect of my research question and the job of transcribing it would have become much harder. My golden rule (and note) from last time therefore still applies:

Ssshhh!If you’ve conducted a research interview, what’s your formula for success?


A version of this article was previously published at the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 6th April 2016.

Caterham highs and lymphoma lows

I’ve had a strange week. Last Friday started well enough. I went over to the Caterham dealer at Donnington Park and test drove a 270 SV. I was grinning like an idiot all the way around the route. It was definitely the most enjoyable road car that I’ve ever driven. I was hooked. I sat down in the showroom. I drank coffee. I ignored the nagging voice in my head that was telling me a car price list with paint, windscreen, doors and assembly on it as optional extras can’t possibly be a good thing. I ordered one. My flexible friend has never had to be quite so flexible.

For the avoidance of doubt, I feel that I ought to add that I’ve bought a full-sized Caterham 7, not the toy version illustrated above. Although it looks very cool too. My car will be a similar colour though, once the optional paint has been applied of course. Fortunately “Brum” (as my newly ordered car has already been named by my beauty blogger daughter) won’t be arriving until I’ve just about finished my MSc, so it won’t be distracting me from the many hours of transcription and analysis I need to do for my dissertation, not to mention writing it all up between now and mid-September. The other good thing that’s happened this week was getting a good mark on my final module assignment, so if I’m not motivated to finish the MSc now I suppose I never will be.

However, the lymphoma beast seems to be rearing its ugly little head. I’ve never felt so physically tired as I have done this past week and the enlarged lymph nodes in my neck are throbbing constantly. Unusually for me I felt so out of sorts this morning that I decided to work from home. It’s probably a good thing that I did as I needed to sleep for a little while this afternoon to get through the day. Blergh.

I make that two highs to one low this week (even if the lymphoma low has hung around since Sunday), so I’m still winning on points.

An alcohol-free Lent

Now that it’s Easter Sunday, I feel that I can safely talk about my alcohol-free Lent. I had my last glass of wine on Tuesday 9th February and not a drop of the stuff has passed my lips since then. I was expecting it to be difficult, but with the exception of Mothering Sunday when the four of us went out for dinner at the excellent Masa restaurant in Derby (ironically enough in a converted Wesley Chapel) I haven’t really missed it. This comes as something of a surprise. In other years I’ve always needed to call on the tradition of not counting Sundays as being part of Lent.

Part of my avoidance strategy has been to make sure that I’ve always had an alternative to wine at home. While the Co-op’s no added sugar dandelion and burdock is excellent, there’s only so much of it I can drink at once, rather like diet colas. So sparkling water and various cordials have also been on hand. Even so, I’m not sure I would have made it unscathed if I hadn’t remembered that alcohol-free lagers are available. I’ve always dismissed them, as the ones that were available 30+ years ago were invariably disgusting. However, as with so many things in the twenty-first century, the Germans have come to the rescue.

I can thoroughly recommend Bitburger Drive, although I haven’t managed to find it in a local supermarket. In fact, the only place where I did manage to purchase a couple of bottles this Lent was at the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Virginia Water. Bitburger alcohol free lagerSo the main staple of my alcohol-free beer drinking during Lent has been Beck’s Blue. I even drank it a few evenings ago when I’d been given a free bottle of red wine to go with my meal in the Holiday Inn in Darlington (I live a jet-setting life!!). That bottle made its way back down the A1 with me and is currently sitting in the wine cellar chez Holyoake (aka the cupboard under the stairs).

Becks BlueMy  local Co-op sells it too. But for some reason, they challenge you to prove your age when you buy it (the alcohol content is stated as being less than 0.05% by volume), but don’t bother if you buy Shandy Bass (alcohol content stated as being less than 0.5% by volume – 10 times as potent). A brief twitter exchange with them didn’t shed too much light as to why, except that Beck’s Blue apparently looks like it’s alcohol, whereas presumably Shandy Bass doesn’t. I’d have thought the big red triangle was equally suggestive of booze as the shape of the Beck’s Blue bottle.

Go figure, as they say in America.

Six things needed for a research interview

On Monday I will start to feel like a ‘proper’ researcher. That’s because I’ve reached the stage in my dissertation when I can conduct a pilot interview. The aim of piloting the interview is to make sure that the questions I’m asking can be understood by the actual group of participants I’ll be working with in April and that the answers to the questions generate data which can be analysed in such a way that it helps me to address my research question.

Interview KitThe picture shows the things that I’ll be taking along to the pilot interview session I’ve arranged. The items are:

  • A participant consent form. This is vital, as without it being signed by the participant to signal that they’re giving me their informed consent to take part in the research, I’d be breaking the ethical code of conduct of both the university and the British Psychological Society.
  • Briefing notes and my interview question guide. Before I start the interview, I need to let my participants know a little of what I’ll be asking them about. So that the interview doesn’t turn into some kind of unstructured chat, I have the key questions linked to the research models that I’m trying to test, written in a table form for me to refer to throughout the session.
  • A participant information sheet. This is so that my interviewees will be able to understand what will happen next in the research process (transcription, checking and analysis), how they can get in contact with me again if they have concerns, and to remind them of their right to withdraw their data up until the point at which I’ve conducted the analysis.
  • Pens to write some brief notes with during the interview. These notes will help me to quickly find parts of the interview that strike me as being particularly important, as well as being able to record other aspects of what happens during each session that can’t be retrieved from an audio recording alone.
  • My trusty digital voice recorder. This is purpose-built for the job and produces extremely good quality audio – essential for the transcription process. It’s also easy to transfer recordings from it onto my encrypted laptop and then wipe its entire memory – essential for protecting participant privacy. I’ve tested it again this morning, making sure that the batteries are up to scratch and that I also have spares – just in case, you understand.

The hardest part for me during the interviews will be to do more listening than talking. I’m expected to talk a lot (some would say far too much) for my day job, so I’m going to be taking this little note along with me too.

Ssshhh!A version of this article was previously published at the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 19th March 2016.

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