Sunday, 31 January 2016

I read some books

In 2015, I made a resolution to read more. Since university and academic literature overload, reading for pleasure is something that definitely took a back seat for me. Not just because I didn't have the time but also because a break of 4 years meant that I wasn't even sure at 22 what I enjoyed and wanted to read. Speaking to friends who read lots firstly provided me with a list of recommendations but also with inspiration for myself and how to choose books to read. So the year of reading began. I've only managed about 8 or 9 books, some of which are incredibly thin (and one which remains unfinished), but nevertheless by my standards, I'd say that's a great start!

I've made my way through nostalgia, amusement, surreality, beauty, peace, mind-bends, murder, childhood and kitchen life. It's been a wonderful journey so I wanted to share!

The year began with a sort of Christmas present (we found it in a charity shop on a foray into town one morning in the holidays) from my Papa - Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson. In 2012 there was a documentary about Tove Jansson that we watched as a family and it completely renewed our love of Moomins and their wonderful world. Soon after the documentary, I sought out The Summer Book to read which I absolutely adored. It's a magical tale of a small girl and her grandmother who spend the summer together on a tiny island in Finland and it completely drew me into Tove Jansson's writing which is just all so beautiful! Unlike The Summer Book, Tales from Moominvalley is of course written for young readers but the language and the subjects (and the sweet little illustrations) are still so captivating! I wasn't expecting short stories in the book but that's what I got and actually, in the end I decided they were a good way to ease me in as it was easy enough to put down and get straight back into again. Adults and children alike, everyone should read some Moomintroll stories. I know I'll be returning to more and I'd love to share them with my class!

There was then an incredibly long pause while I tried for the second time to get back into Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin but try as I might, I still haven't managed to get through it all. It's a shame because The Handmaid's Tale is one of the only school texts I ever enjoyed and I really enjoyed it which is why I wanted to read some more by the same author. For one reason or another though, this one's just not for me and I think one problem was that, unlike a book full of short stories, it wasn't easy to get back into if I left it for a while. I still want to read some of her others though and I'm sure I must be able to find one I like.

So then before I knew it, the summer had rolled around and in a fit of I don't know what, I found myself in Foyle's making a rather extravagant purchase of several books. With a bag full, I wasn't really sure where to begin but I soon found myself lost in Jane Austen and a Penguin Little Black Classic containing short stories of drunks, poisoners, prison-breaks and taxi fare-dodgers written when she was a teenager to amuse her family. Jane Austen is another whose books I've never managed to read in their entirety. An enormous fan of the film adaptations from a young age, I've since tried them all but have never finished one. So again to read short stories was a lovely way to ease me in and I found myself giggling endlessly at her witty writing style. I think a 2016 mission has definitely got to be to give a novel another go.

From one Little Black Classic to another (one huge perk of their size is the ability to slot them into almost any handbag - I do wonder when I see people on the tube with books larger than bricks). This time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was going to read a whole book (be it an incredibly thin one) that wasn't broken into short stories. At this point I believed my reading abilities had progressed enough to commit myself to something a little more taxing so I turned my attention to Mary Kingsley's account of her explorations in Africa, A Hippo Banquet. Admittedly, it was peppered with old fashioned words that had me completely stumped but other than that, reading about the adventures of a Victorian female explorer was pretty special.

My Foyle's splurge had resulted in two new books by Tove Jansson so having finished another tiny book, I decided it was time to move on to something heftier. Travelling Light was another selection of short stories (which actually I wasn't expecting this time so was a little disappointed) and of course they were written again with such beauty and delicacy and I was transported through places and lives all too quickly. It all felt very grown up to be reading something by Tove Jansson actually meant for adults this time and although I had another I could have delved straight into, I decided, like a good side dish, to save it for later so it wouldn't all be over too soon (and actually partly because the front cover felt more wintry that summery. Don't judge me for my strangeness).

Having therefore run out of new purchases, it was time to return to the bookshop. At 80p each, Penguin's Little Black Classics are not only handbag friendly (I'm starting to sound like a sales rep), they're totally guilt free too because they are so cheap! So I found myself with another, this time by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Three short stories of mystery and disturbance, I was certainly intrigued.

Another gift from Papa (he's a man who loves to read) came next. It was a Daisy Dalrymple Mystery by Carola Dunn, Murder on the Flying Scotsman and it was my first venture into crime novels. I think in the end, this became my favourite read of the year because it was the one that I genuinely got really excited about going to bed to read or sitting in bed a little longer in the mornings at the weekend to read with my breakfast and Earl Grey. I'm not sure what made this book stand out above the rest but I have always loved a good murder mystery on TV and this was nothing short of those. Daisy Dalrymple was a fun character and there was nothing too scary for inducing nightmares of an evening yet the mystery did leave me in constant suspense. I liked that as the reader I could actually use clues to figure out 'whodunnit' and that it was perhaps the perfect balance between gripping and easy reading. Needless to say, I know what I'll now be receiving for every birthday and Christmas for the foreseeable future because it turns out there are a lot of Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries. It's also made me want to read an Agatha Christie so that's another added to the list for 2016.

A charity shop purchase of my own while at home, I found Allan Ahlberg's first book for adults, The Bucket. In my own childhood, Peepo and Each, Peach, Pear, Plum were two of my absolute favourite books not to mention the mischievous Burglar Bill and of course Funny Bones. I figure that anyone capable of writing truly high quality children's literature must be an interesting read for an adult too, so I had to have this book and it sure did not disappoint. From a teaching perspective it actually ended up being really fascinating too as tales of school were regaled but it was also really interesting with my own links to Birmingham and my love of the Black Country Museum when we visited a few years ago to hear how it was in the past. Interspersed with poems and excerpts from his children's stories, it was a really lovely read.

So finally, the book I finished just this week (hence why this post has waited until now. It's not that it's out-dated) was One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens. I can't actually remember when or why I bought it but it was another charity shop find and it was a long time ago. The great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens, Monica Dickens was by no means hard up but she decided to venture into the world of work and became a cook general in various households over the course of a year. Again this was a book that I did start reading when I first bought it (whenever that was) but never finished so it was a pleasure to be able to get more into it this time. It still took me a while but by no means because of content but definitely this time due to the presence again of academic reading as I embark on my Masters.

I will vow however, to not let academia take over this time. Reading for pleasure has turned out to be very good for me, particularly good for my sleep and as previously mentioned, I've really enjoyed my journey through so many stories whether real or of the imagination. It may not be a resolution again this year, but 2016 is definitely going to be another year of books, books and more books.

Sunday, 17 January 2016


Yesterday I finally paid a visit to a friend in Bath. I say finally, it's not actually taken me as long to get there as these visits usually do. I was last in Bath as a teenager with my family as we made our way back from a holiday to somewhere (I imagine it must have been the holiday to Dorset) and my memories of Bath then were not brilliant. That day, I was tired and miserable as teenagers usually are and as someone who was also living in the flatlands of Norfolk at that time, I was not impressed at having to walk up anything even slightly resembling a hill.

As the train pulled into the station yesterday morning, however, I realised how much I've grown in my appreciation of pretty much everything since my teenage years as I was absolutely astonished at Bath's beauty from the tracks. Hills are still scary but they sure do make places look even more striking!

Stepping onto the freezing cold platform, I did feel like I was stepping into a period drama in my fur, leather gloves and (can I call them) elegant boots. The hissing noise of the train as it sat in the platform followed by the slamming of carriage doors and the whistle being blown tipped of my transportation to another time, but not another place. I was almost expecting to be greeted by horse and cart... I'm so fanciful.

Whilst on the train I had made what I hoped was a relatively comprehensive list of things to do during the day. I knew that I wanted to return to things I had seen before in the hope that I would appreciate them more this time but I also wanted to do things we didn't get time for before as well as venturing to a pretty National Trust park I had spied online that very morning.

Armed with my list, we first wandered to the Royal Crescent, through The Circus, passing many other pieces of architectural interest along the way. A row of terraced houses standing in, well, a crescent with the greenest of grass below for residents only, it really is a place straight out of a Jane Austen novel. Despite the freezing cold, the sun was shining so we agreed I'd chosen a good day for a visit and it was in fact perfect weather for wandering. At this point, even my 'elegant boots' seemed appropriate too.

From the Royal Crescent, we wandered back towards the city centre for a cup of tea and to get our bearings. The café we chose was situated right on top of Pulteney Bridge where we enjoyed a pot of Earl Grey and the biggest and yummiest Rocky Road ever with a pretty view over the waters below. Here we looked up the Prior Park and Landscape Garden, a National Trust property which turned out to be a short half an hour walk from where we were. We endeavoured therefore to make our way there before lunch and while the sun was still shining.

A short walk feels an awful lot shorter when it's not uphill the entire way. I'm not complaining, honestly. But I definitely don't now feel at all compelled to join a gym this month. I've had my fill. When we arrived at the park, we were greeted by the most over-enthusiastic National Trust employee who was shocked that we, when under 26, were not members; she certainly had us questioning it but I've decided that National Trust membership requires a car and absolute commitment to make the most of it which I'm not entirely sure I would do. Maybe next year.

Once in the park, we were given the sweetest map in the guise of a scroll complete with 'wax' seal. Apparently starting at the top meant it was literally all down hill from then on, so we decided we'd made the right decision, even when we did see others who looked like they were heading to the same destination taking an alternative route much further down. Around we wandered and were almost instantly met with a very impressive view over the city. By now, the sun was shining less but fortunately it was still very clear and after our mission up the hill, we were also feeling a lot less cold.

Now downhill had sounded wonderful until I remembered what was on my feet. I think upon getting dressed in the morning I had thought to myself 'city  visit' and it was only when suddenly faced with slipping and sliding down icy and muddy paths that I was feeling a lot less elegant. Never one to be truly practically dressed, I made the best of it and remarkably survived the experience completely unscathed. 

The map led us through woodland and across a field full of enormous mounds apparently created by ants which was a pretty terrifying thought. We hoped that the fact they were frozen pretty solid meant that we would not be encountering any of these ants. As we came out of the woodland, there was a beautiful tree swing with the comfiest seat and sturdy ropes so of course we had to have a go for a while. There really is not much better than a swing! From above we could now see the bridge across the lake that had first drawn me to the garden in pictures online. So we made our way down.

Another filmic moment, I half expected Mr Darcy to suddenly appear or for Bingley to be pacing up and down in a flutter. Needless to say, there were no moments of passion shared on this particular day and instead we admired the ancient graffiti and the artistic placement of the bridge in relation to the mansion which stood tall on the hill above. It was a really wonderful construction.

As we made our way from the bridge to the exit, we were distracted by a sign to the Ice House which of course we had to investigate. They really do fascinate me, particularly as this one was so far away from the main house. It's a funny thing to imagine using one as your fridge with chunks of ice from the lake.

Leaving the park by the exit at the bottom rather than dragging ourselves back up the hill. we then found ourselves wandering past a 15th century church and so many beautiful houses before we were finally back in the city in time for some lunch. Our feet took a well deserved rest for a toastie and a lemonade and here we made plans for the afternoon. 

Top of my list was Bath Abbey so it was here that we decided to go next. It was suggested that we not only went inside but also took a tour of the towers which of course I was keen to do. Something wonderful about Bath is their Discovery Pass for local residents which means those that live in the city can make the most of the many attractions without having to bankrupt themselves. Take note, London.

Once in the Abbey, we booked onto the next tour which gave us plenty of time to warm up as we wandered around inside, admiring the ceiling and many unique crests on display in the stained glass windows. After the first hundred and something steps, we realised how cruel we were being to our legs and I feared a heart attack might strike me upon my return to London. Yet here I am writing this today so I guess I survived. Having woken up at 20 past 8 though and with it now being quarter to 1, I can safely say I have only moved from my bed in order to make two cups of a tea and a bowl of cereal and to visit the bathroom (not yet for a shower; I'm very much still in my pyjamas). 

The views from the top were worth the reward though as we first looked through a strange hole in the stone ceiling which was a mere 4 inches thick at the pews and unsuspecting people below. Climbing higher still, we were introduced to the bells and regaled with many stories of their terror. It's got to be a bit sad that I actually do find church bells quite so fascinating. I guess it's what comes from climbing so many towers about the place. The higher we climbed, the better the views became. Views of London sure are hard to beat but it was lovely to see a lack of cranes for a change!

I think we actually chose the perfect time to be on top of the Abbey because the sun began to set as we made our way back down. After being confronted with a half an hour wait at every restaurant we tried for lunch, we had decided that we'd manage something small then and booked ourselves a table for early evening before I had to catch my train home. We ended up eating at The Cosy Club which had a lovely vintage feel and provided us with very tasty food indeed. 

Time to go home and I was safe in the knowledge that I would sleep well! I'm pleased to have made some new memories in Bath although I never did blame the city for my being such a misery guts last time, I just didn't have the most pleasant recollection. It's a truly beautiful place and I hope to return perhaps in the summer months. Surely a spa experience is next on the list...

Sunday, 3 January 2016

2016 is here

Twas the night before the return to work and all through the flat, not a creature was stirring, not even a cat. Laura and Jess lay all snuggled up on the sofa denying the existence of Monday.

Yeah I lost the rhyme there, but I'm sure you get the message. Another Christmas holiday passed, another term looms. To be completely honest though, it's not the return to work that bothers me so much as the return to reality and the loss of escapism that Christmas provides; the unlimited feeling of happy inspired by music, lights, food, friends and family. The one holiday where I can do nothing particularly productive beyond laundry for two weeks and feel not a drop of guilt.

Anyway, it's not all doom and gloom. I'm writing again! It's a new year and that means... resolutions!

It was really funny earlier today when I read back over last year's resolution post and noticed a pattern emerging. Like last year, I haven't written in weeks as the lead up to Christmas and then Christmas itself was beyond hectic (in a good way of course) as always! I did want to try to catch up on some exciting events that have occurred in the last couple of months but then I always remember the 'post-card' idea of my blog and I have to stop myself.

So I shall go for a whistle stop list-esque type thing. Since Bruges there was... the weekend of Death Cab for Cutie then Nicola Benedetti then Liquicity which I believe truly sums up the diversity of my musical taste, I discovered what might now be my new favourite view of London from some enormous man-made hill in Rotherhithe, I finally made the visit to Peterborough to a dear friend, I got the opportunity to sing in the Union Chapel (pretty special) and ventured out of London again with choir to a sleepy village for a day of singing, Christmas exploded once again with new decorations and Cath Kidston mugs a-plenty (I might need a bigger tree next year), there was a Christmas shopping expedition and carols in Cambridge, I actually sent lots of Christmas cards all by myself like a real grown up, I went on a Christmas tree crawl (another crawl invention by me), Ma & Pa kindly whisked me away on a mini-cruise to Antwerp before taking me home which was glorious as always and there I stayed until a few days ago. Phewf.

Yet again, I'm pretty sure I'm repeating myself with this year's resolutions, just phrasing them in new ways but there we go, I still like to try and make a few.

1. Send occasional cards.

Now by this I don't mean occasionally send cards, I mean send them to recognise occasions such as birthdays, engagements, that sort of thing. I always love to receive cards myself (no hints there, honestly) and it's something I always say I'll get better at... then Facebook informs me it's someone's birthday and I'm typing away on there, I didn't send a card, and another year has passed. I figure Christmas cards (which even arrived on time, by the way) were a good start. So watch those letterboxes!

2. Be more adventurous with food.

Is it just me who suddenly notices boring routine when it comes to eating? Then when you try to think of meals past, you can't. Well yesterday, I made a list of every food item left in the kitchen after the Christmas period then I sat down with my pile of cookbooks (which until now I am ashamed to say have been pretty much unused) and got inspired. My delivery arrives tomorrow and most of it seems to consist of weird and wonderful spices that I can't even pronounce the name of. Let's see how this goes...

3. Look after myself.

Yes I know. I had this one last year just with a different title. But I really do need to! I managed to achieve my third resolution last year of spending money wisely and got myself a new and magical bed which I'm now sleeping very well in so I've pretty much got rest down. It's the other things now like eating better (see resolution number 2), actually exercising a bit (let's not get too carried away) and trying not to get another 12 week-long cold (which apparently I'd had this time last year, deep joy).

2015 was a lot of fun and I was actually quite sad to see it go. I can already tell 2016 is going to be busy but hopefully another year of fun? I guess if it is, I'll write about it.