Image of the front cover of the book The Bed and Breakfast Star with the wording book review at the top left corner and becbec.uk at the bottom right corner.

The Bed and Breakfast Star by Jacqueline Wilson is a childhood book that still provides an impact to me, years after I first read it. Unlike Vicky Angel and The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Bed and Breakfast Star is what I consider Jacqueline Wilson’s less well known books.

The story is about Elsa, a ten year girl who ends up living in a bed and breakfast hotel after her family becomes homeless. She details her life from her Dad not being in her life to Mack becoming her step-dad. The arrival of Pippa and Hank her half sister and brother and her dreams of becoming an comedian.

Reading the book again as a 27 year old compared to a 12 year old at the time, I was really surprised at the number of hard hitting topics the book covers – homelessness, violence (her stepdad smacked her whenever she was being naughty), truancy, family separation, benefits and the impact of drink and gambling. Although you could see that her mother loved her, I don’t think Elsa’s mum was the best. Her mother struggled to get out of bed some days (in her situation you could completely see why) and really relied on Elsa too much to look after Pippa and Hank which isn’t Elsa’s role and to her detriment meant that Elsa didn’t go to school. You could see, however, why her mother fell apart, anyone would in that situation.

For those children that are going through similar issues it must have been a comfort to know that they are not the only one and that other children go through situations like this as well. For children like myself at the time, who had a warm bed and a roof over my head which wasn’t going to be taken away from me. My only grumbles was sharing a room with my sister (which was rare for children of the 90’s to do), which looking back was so stupid and short sighted of me.

As an adult, you do realise that it is likely Elsa isn’t going to have a happy ending and Jacqueline Wilson doesn’t give her one as that isn’t always the reality for those in Elsa’s situation. This is what I like about Jacqueline Wilson and why her books have done so well as she isn’t afraid to tackle real life topics which to be honest at that time most other authors didn’t for that age group. Jacqueline Wilson interweaves these topics through the first person narrative. To me this was ideal as you got to experience for a short while what it is like to be Elsa and I feel has more impact than if it was written in third person.

Finally, the illustrations by Nick Sharratt are awesome as usual. I completely forgot most, if not all of Jacqueline Wilson’s book’s are illustrated inside as well so it was a little extra treat and complemented the book as well.

Have you read The Bed and Breakfast Star? What is your favourite Jacqueline Wilson book?

Collage showing pictures of Nashville.

When I was over in Florida, I decided that it would be a good idea to squeeze a two day trip to Nashville. I have wanted to visit the home of country music since the famous show Nashville and knew this would be one of the only chances in a while for me.

Where I stayed

I stayed in this apartment in this block of flats. It reminded me of an AirBNB but we booked through booking.com. It was about a fifteen minute walk away from Lower Broadway (where the Honkey Tonks are) so was ideal. We wasn’t really looking for an apartment, it was just the cheapest option. The way the decor was set out was really cute and felt very ‘Nashville’.

Image showing a bed in an apartment in Nashville.
Bathroom sink in Nashville.

What I did

The first thing on my list was visiting the Honky Tonk strip on Lower Broadway. The Honky Tonks have music blasting out pretty much every evening. Even on a Sunday where we went, pretty much every bar was open even though it was December and freezing. I went to Robert’s Western World (the Honkey Tonk with the red boot out front), which I wanted to go too after seeing the bar on Pinterest.

Image of a band playing in Robert's Western World, Nashville.

I went on a Sunday where they had a live band playing covers. The food, was reasonably priced, which I was surprised about as I thought being in an tourist area, the prices will stack up and the atmosphere was great.

Jacks Bar-B-Que sign outside the bar in Nashville.
Image of the Honkey Tonks in Nashville.

John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge

Afterwards we headed towards the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. It is a famous bridge in Nashville that is on all of the Music City promo. You don’t get a great view of the Nashville skyline that I thought you would at night. Mainly because the bridge wasn’t high up. But considering myself and James were turned away from the Honkey Tonks because James had a rucksack with him as he keeps the DSLR camera in it. Probably short sighted of us because usually if you brought a bag in a club in the UK you would leave it in the cloak room of the club. But they didn’t have cloak rooms here so we were not admitted. So keep that in mind.

Image of the Nashville cityscape at night.
The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge at night.

Johnny Cash Museum

Saturday was crazy busy with my time being filled with going to the Ryman Auditorium, Grand Ole Opry and the Jonny Cash Museum. The Johnny Cash Museum (situated just off Lower Broadway) was the first stop and it was even better then I imagined. It had so much Johnny Cash stuff from vinyls to clothing to grammy awards… I was amazed about how much Johnny Cash accomplished in his life, the Walk the Line movie didn’t do him enough justice! For $20 it was reasonably priced and a must see for Johnny Cash and country music lovers.

Guitar and speaker in the Johnny Cash Museum.
Johnny Cash poster.

Image of the GooGoo shop in Nashville.

Across the street from the Johnny Cash Museum is the GooGoo shop. GooGoo’s were first created in Nashville in 1912 and is famous because it is thought to be considered the first combinational chocolate bar. The bar contains marshmallow nougat, caramel, roasted peanuts covered with chocolate. I found out about GooGoo’s on Pinterest, when I was looking for places to eat in Nashville so naturally I had to find one to try.

Ryman Auditorium

Ryman Auditorium Stage.

After the museum I headed off to the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman Auditorium has a fascinating history, because the history is so fascinating, I have provided a brief outline below but visit the Ryman site for more detail.

The Ryman started life out as a church created by Thomas Ryman, a prominent businessman in Nashville. The church was originally called the Union Gospel Tabernacle but when Thomas died, the church was renamed in his honour. In the 1920’s Lula Naff, a Nashville Show Promotor, leased the building and ran events for the place which as the place grew in popularity attracted many famous performers such as Katharine Hepburn.

The Grand Ole Opry which was then a radio show was broadcast live from the Ryman from 1943 until the show outgrew the building and moved into its current home in 1970. Due to losing The Grand Ole Opry, The Ryman went into disrepair and in 1990 was facing demolition but eventually the community orchestrated to save it. Today as well as a museum it still serves as a music venue.

I originally brought the ticket just because it was a package deal and I really under appreciated how important the Ryman’s contribution to the musical fabric of Nashville. The tour was self guided, which I was fine with with lots of exhibits going through the performers at The Ryman.

In the afternoon we made our way over to The Grand Ole Opry stopping at the Gaylord Hotel first. The hotel includes boutique shops all within what is essentially a greenhouse full of plants and water features.

Gaylord Hotel.

I wasn’t feeling my best that day, so wasn’t sure if it was that but I was disappointed with the hotel. I thought it would have a lot more shops inside. But it was essentially just walking in a big greenhouse.

Image of the inside of the Gaylord Hotel.

Grand Ole Opry

Image of the inside of the Grand Ole Opry.

The Grand Ole Opry is the home of country music and arguably the most famous music venue in Tennessee. A little bit of history about the Grand Ole Opry, it started out as a radio station called the WSM Barn Dance on the fith floor of the National Life and Accident Company. As audiences for the live show increased, the show outgrew its studios and moved to various places (one of them being the Ryman as I mentioned earlier) before moving to its current venue today.

We were lucky enough that we visited during the season where the Opry shows are performed over at the Ryman (during the winter months the Grand Ole Opry shows move over to the Ryman). Which meant we were able to go to the backstage and see the dressing rooms. The tour covers in general the star entrance to the Opry, and going on the stage and walk around the venue. The tour was around forty minutes long – which doesn’t seem long but it was long enough and very informative.

The Listening Cafe

We couldn’t get tickets for The Bluebird Cafe, which was one place that we really wanted to go to. Instead for the evening, my partner got tickets for The Listening Cafe and their Song Suffragettes night.

I am so glad he got the tickets, the aim of the Song Suffragettes is to let new, upcoming female singer song writers in Nashville play. It seems to have stemmed from a Bill Board article on their website which says just three of the top 25 artists on the Bill Board Country music chart was women and they want to play a part in creating opportunities to change this. We had a lovely evening listening to some very talented ladies: Hannah Bethel, Molly Brown and Jenna Paulette. The food I found was really good and reasonably priced as well. I didn’t like the selection of alcoholic drinks. I do prefer fruit ciders and cocktails but Nashville is a place you really go for beers, I found.

Singers with their guitars on stage at The Listening Room Cafe.

Capitol Hill and Victory Park

Outside bell.

On our last morning before the airport beckoned us back to Orlando. My partner and I decided to go for a run. We love running and I do feel running on holiday is a great way to see places that you may not see on the usual tourist routes. I ran a lovely little route which covered Capitol Hill and Victory Park.

Bridge.

So that is what I did in Nashville. Have you been to Nashville? Are there any places you would recommend?

When I travelled to Costa Rica back in January, I was impressed by the dedication the government had to being environmentally friendly. Costa Rica is leading in terms of eco tourism and the whole country this year was powered by renewable energy. Incredible, especially, since Costa Rica’s GDP is far lower than many countries. Having visited Tourtugero, the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges and the Cloud Forest in Monteverde and seeing all of the beautiful wildlife I made a pact that myself that I would make a conscious effort to be more environmentally friendly when I got back to the UK. I also have a Geography degree and my dissertation was focused on if being environmentally friendly was important to university students. Therefore I should practice what I preach!

Back in the rainy West Midlands the reality is different but I still had a mission of making a difference. You may want to sit with a cuppa for this one! Here are my attempts at making a difference.

Starting at home with the everyday task of washing your hands

BioD Hand Wash

I have been keen on using more environmentally friendly cleaning products as I do think about the amount of chemicals that run through the drains and the damage this causes. My first foray in this is hand wash from Bio-D. My biggest peeve with being sustainable is that it can be costly. Considering hand wash at Aldi is less than a pound it can be hard to justify spending lots of money on hand wash. I had a google around and found Bio-D. I like Bio-D’s mission statement which is ‘We believe it is possible to have effective, natural, safe cleaning products that don’t cost the earth. You have nothing to lose, our world has everything to gain. There products seemed to be good value so I gave their hand wash a go.

I purchased two bottles of the unscented version off the Natural Collection site, which is slowly becoming a site I do a lot of shopping at. Bio-D claim that there hand washes do not contain Phosphates, E.D.T.A, Enzymes Optical Brighteners, Chlorine Bleaches, Petroleum-derived Additives, Chemical Plasticisers, Formaldehyde, Glycerin or Glycerine, Lanolin, Sodium Tallowate, Synthetic Dyes, Synthetic Perfumes and Titanium Dioxide. Essentially nasty chemicals. The packaging is 100% recyclable as well – bonus!

The hand wash did the job and I felt was very good value as both have lasted absolutely ages.

Kitchen Cleaning spray

Tesco EcoActive Spray

Next on my hit list was cutting the amount of chemicals I use to clean my kitchen. I got the Tesco Eco Active Spray  as it was in the sale. The pink grapefruit smells amazing, the ingredients are plant-based and non-toxic. The bottle is made with up 45% reusable plastic and is 100% recyclable packaging and has the EU eco label. Its great that I can get this from Tesco, therefore not having to purchase from a different site and contributing more to my carbon footprint.

Soap nuts – an alternative to washing powder?

Soapnuts

Normal – everyday washing powder contains lots of nasty chemicals and thinking about it, do you really want that on your skin? When I found Soap Nuts by ecozone from the Natural Collection site I was interested but skeptical. There are meant to be enough nuts for 330 washes making that about 3p per wash and four nuts in a cotton bag lasts four washes – bargain! There are naturally and sustainably sourced – another bonus in my book. My scepticism The cotton bag is reusable however the nuts are contained within a plastic bag on the inside.

My scepticism came from at first seeing the nuts and I wasn’t sure how clean they will keep my clothes but I have had soap nuts for about six months now and they are good. I find that they do clean the clothes well. They don’t leave a smell if you don’t use fabric conditioner. Its not a bad smell, like if your clothes haven’t been cleaned but I do like my clothes to smell nice.

Hair care

Again, I was concerned about the amount of chemicals that I put in my hair and consequently drain down the pipes. I chose Faith in Nature shampoo’s in Rose and Neroli and Grapefruit and Orange. Faith in Nature claim to be free from Parabens and SLS, Vegan and Cruelty-Free and 99% Natural Origin. If you like or expecting a soapy lather – don’t expect it from this shampoo, but I think it is because the chemicals make it into a lather and we are conditioned to expect this!

I did find the shampoo made my hair dry, to be fair it did coincide with me going to the pool – ALOT more. But I found once I switched back to my usual shampoo the dryness ceased – even with my regular pool visits. So I don’t think I will use Faith in Nature again.

Periods!

I remember going on a school trip to Glasgow and we were in a museum (cannot remember for the life of me which one it was! I was reading something that said they had dredge part of a river and found a strata of condoms and sanitary pads, a strata! Sanitary pads are made of a bunch of plastic which away from the environment can irritate the skin. Not good, I switched to Natracare and found them to be a lot better than the standard pads and tampons you can get in the shops. I have used both and found them to be really effective. They decompose so won’t damage the environment. They are reasonably priced and you can use them once which satisfy those that may not want to use mooncups or reusable tampons and sanitary pads. I just make sure I put in a order regularly enough as I have had to buy shop ones when I have ran out.

Shopping

Bookshelf full of books

I do buy second hand clothes however struggle so much in charity shops. Being a common size I find it hard to find nice clothes second hand. I am not committed to the cause to the extent that I am willing to compromise on wearing clothes I want to wear. I got very interested in ethical and sustainable clothes. Having watched documentaries on Netflix such as The True Cost I wanted to see if I could make a difference.

BUT I found the clothes in charity shops again to not to be to my taste and I wasn’t keen on the style of a lot of ethically produced clothes. I feel that the clothes I do buy even though they are from the high street I use until they are fallen apart, I repair or pass them on either online selling or to a charity shop. I purchase off ebay clothes that are factory seconds, second hand or ex-season which is better than them being thrown away or burnt to protect the brand like Burberry did but obviously I appreciate purchasing online adds to the carbon footprint.

I have always given to charity shops or sold online as well. I don’t purchase according to ‘the latest in fashion’ well not often anyway. So I feel although I am not buying ‘ethically’ I am not being wasteful either.

Away from clothes I love reading books and pretty much always got my books from either the library, charity shops or swapping with mates. I have set up a sort of book club with my friend so we swap books quite often and I purchase a lot of board games second hand.

Eating and drinking

I tried to go veggie, it didn’t work!

Let me explain, again influenced by my sister who is a full blown vegan and watching numerous documentaries on Twitter I changed my milk to a nut version, cheese to a vegan version and quorn meat. Other than the quorn meat I haven’t stuck by the others.

Reducing plastic

I have always been good with plastic bags, we have tonnes of reusable bags we use for our weekly shopping, I have loads of bottles I use to refill with water and I don’t use straws that often. I make my own lunch most days for work and reuse plastic tupperware boxes (I have some stretching back years) and even gave the ones I was not using away. I need to cut down on using plastic freezer/food bags. I tend to use these over my lunch boxes if something is leaking (such as pineapple juice). I am not sure on what the best solution for this is yet. I have looked at beeswax paper but I don’t think it is quite right. I shall have to see.

So you can see I have a long way to go!

Are you making steps to be environmentally friendly? Let me know your steps below.

Using social media scheduling tools image

Taking your blog to the next level means that you need to use a social media scheduling platform. A social media scheduling platform is a programme that you use to write your posts in advance for them to publish on the social media networks of your choosing. It is beneficial because:

  • You can write posts and schedule posts for them to come out at the time of your choosing
  • You can continue to advertise your blog, even when you are doing something else
  • You can schedule posts so it hits a different time zone, perfect for building a foreign audience
  • You will be keeping a consistent presence on social media, important if you want to take your blog to the next level.

So with that in mind, what social media scheduling platforms are there for you to use and what are the pros and cons of each?

Hootsuite

  • You can have all the main social media accounts
  • You can set an auto schedule where Hootsuite will pick a time where it thinks most people look at your twitter timeline and then schedule your post at that time
  • It does have a mobile app, but in experience I prefer using the desktop version
  • You can have multiple streams showing your home feed, tweets, even hashtags
  • You can use their link shorter to shorten hyperlinks

Cons

  • You can only schedule 30 posts on the free version

Tweetdeck

Pros

  • Completely free to use
  • You can schedule as many tweets as you want

Cons

  • Only available to schedule tweets so not helpful if you want to schedule things on more than one platform

Buffer

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Again you can schedule different networks
  • It pulls images so you can pick which image you want to schedule

Cons

  • You can only schedule 10 posts per platform before having to pay

Tailwind

Pros

  • You can easily pick which pins you want to repin
  • Approved by Pinterest, so you haven’t got the danger of your account being suspended
  • Lots of stats available for you to look at

Cons

  • It may just be me, but I found it quite difficult to use – there is almost too much that I didn’t know where to start.

There are the four main ones. In my previous marketing roles I have used the paid version of Hootsuite which did the job fine. I did have a dabble in Buffer when the Hootsuite contract was coming up for renewal but didn’t see the reason to swap. For any blog posts I tend to use a mixture of Hootsuite and tweetdeck.

What do you use?

Book that I hated

I love reading books and spend a small fortune in Amazon and charity shops purchasing books. However some books I have purchased often end up being real disappointments. Since I take my unwanted books to the charity shop, I delved back in my amazon purchases to see which books ended up being disappointments.

Contest – Matthew Reilly

Synopsis: The New York State Library becomes an arena for Dr Stephen Swain and daughter Holly where Dr Stephen Swain is competing for his life. 

I loved Ice Station and Hell Island so when I was looking for a book to take with me on holiday Contest seemed like the perfect answer. Matthew Reilly’s books are know for being over exaggerating. Ice Station and Hell Island are two but they were kind of believable, Contest was just so ridiculous from the start with. As soon as I was reading about alien creatures that speak to humans, I just couldn’t read the rest of the book. If you are into fantasy it may be one for you.

The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman

Synopsis (from Amazon): Born into a brothel, Ruth’s future looks bleak until she catches the eye of Mr. Dryer. A rich Bristol merchant and enthusiast of the ring, he trains gutsy Ruth as a puglist. Soon she rules the blood-spattered sawdust at the infamous Hatchet Inn.

The Fair Fight will take you from a filthy brothel to the finest houses in the town, from the world of street-fighters to the world of champions. Alive with the smells and the sounds of the streets, it is a raucous, intoxicating tale of courage, reinvention and fighting your way to the top.

A historical fictional novel about female boxers really appealed to me as I read a five star review about it in an magazine. But the book was just such a slow burner that I got fed up and gave up half way through. I found it confusing and didn’t want to spend the time finding out what was going on.

Generation X: Tales for an accelerated culture – Douglas Coupland

Synopsis (from Amazon): Andy, Dag and Claire have been handed a society beyond their means. Twentysomethings, brought up with divorce, Watergate and Three Mile Island, and scarred by the 80s fallout of yuppies, recession, crack and Ronald Reagan, they represent the new generation- Generation X. 
Fiercely suspicious of being lumped together as an advertiser’s target market, they have quit dreary careers and cut themselves adrift in the California desert. Unsure of their futures, they immerse themselves in a regime of heavy drinking and working in no future McJobs in the service industry.
Underemployed, overeducated and intensely private and unpredictable, they have nowhere to direct their anger, no one to assuage their fears, and no culture to replace their anomie. So they tell stories: disturbingly funny tales that reveal their barricaded inner world. A world populated with dead TV shows, ‘Elvis moments’ and semi-disposible Swedish furniture.

For those of you reading that know me personally, this does sound like a book that would be right up my street, especially its relevance with today’s society. I found it a choir to get through, quite self indulgent and boring.

Kill All Enemies – Melvin Burgess

Synopsis (from Amazon): 

Everyone says fourteen-year-old BILLIE is nothing but trouble. A fighter. A danger to her family and friends.
But her care worker sees someone different.

Her classmate ROB is big, strong; he can take care of himself and his brother.
But his violent stepdad sees someone to humiliate.

And CHRIS is struggling at school; he just doesn’t want to be there.
But his dad sees a useless no-hoper.

Billie, Rob and Chris each have a story to tell. But there are two sides to every story, and the question is . . . who do you believe?

I had read Junk and absolutely loved it, so when I googled searched more of Melvin Burgess’ books this one appealed to me. But when I had purchased it, I was disappointed, I found the book never got quite going for me.

Becoming: Sex, Second Chances and Figuring Out who the hell I am – Laura Williams

Synopsis (from Amazon): 

When the man Laura Jane Williams thought she’d wed dumped her and married her friend, she was devastated. Empty. Drinking too much, sleeping around, and moving from place-to-place in a refusal to put down roots, she tried to fill the void – the gaping hole – that heartbreak had left behind. She wanted control. To grab life by the balls. To live boldly. But, she rapidly learned it wasn’t that simple.

Resolving that life couldn’t go on as it was – that the backlog of men and sadness that haunted her would not define her – Laura declared a year-long vow of celibacy, ultimately finding herself in a Riviera convent as she slowly put pieces of herself back together.

An honest exploration of a young woman’s soul and a road trip through Italy, America, Paris and… Derby, BECOMING is a book that makes you laugh and makes you cry, but most of all? It makes you realise that even when the going gets tough, no one is really f*cking up like they think they are.

This book, again, I had brought due to a review I read in Cosmo I think. I wanted to like this book, I really did, but found it just too self indulgent. I have to expect that, it is a memoir and what happened to her was truly awful but it was too much for me. A lot of people go through a lot worse and don’t travel around, they have to get on with it. It just wanted her to get over it!

That’s it for now! What books have you read which you were disappointed with?

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