Friday, 23 September 2016

A Wedding Planning Update

When you're planning a wedding - whether it be the most traditional, big-white-gown-and-stately-home event or, as Thomas and I have taken to describing ours, an anarcho-punk/feminist leifdesfeestje* - you quickly learn that other people have A Lot Of Thoughts And Opinions about weddings.

And this despite that fact that we've been incredibly lucky that our families, who are thrilled that we're making this commitment (albeit non-legal) to each other, genuinely couldn't be less interested in dictating to us exactly how we should go about it. Our friends, too, have been very accepting of and excited about the direction in which we've chosen to take our wedding: namely, a ceremony officiated by a good friend of ours, with all the readings and speeches and vows one would associate with a wedding but without the legal bit, followed by a three course vegan meal and piss-up in our favourite pub.

But still the questions come...

Are you having a theme? Err, aside from love and commitment? No. 

A seating plan? No. 

Best man and bridesmaids? Well, my little nieces aside (who I couldn't in good conscience deny the chance to put on a pretty dress and call themselves bridesmaids), no. 

Hen and stag dos? Probably not, although Th
omas has expressed a preference to go on a "nature walk" for his stag do. I kid you not.

Changing your name? Erm, have you even met me? Hell no!

As our friends and family have quickly realised, the answer to pretty much any question about the wedding is, "No, we're not bothering with that."

And then, the why.

I'm crafty, creative, details oriented and a micro-manager: all the ingredients for a bridezilla, a wife-to-be hand-stitching favours for a year before the ceremony and obsessing over every element. So it's as strange and surprising to me as it is to those who know me well that, when it comes to our wedding, I honestly couldn't care less.

What is important to me is this: that some of my family from overseas are able to be there; that Thomas's friends from the Netherlands come; that our UK-based friends and family are in full attendance; and that we have an occasion full of fun, laughter and love, while lacking in the patriarchal traditions that are so intrinsically entwined with wedding ceremonies. Oh, and I'd like a pretty twirly dress that doesn't cost ££££ (this last has at least already been achieved, with a £16 bargain dress of my dreams).

So there aren't going to be most of the usual trappings of a wedding. Instead we're crafting something that is completely, totally us. Our ceremony is explicitly political, from the readings we've chosen to the promises and vows we will make. It might seem a strange choice but politics - especially feminist and anarchist politics - are intrinsic to our relationship. They are what we first bonded over and are what we both value so much in each other. We have, in our four years together, both politicised the other: me pushing Thomas towards a queer, intersectional, trans-inclusive feminism and introducing him to fat activism; he, coming from an anarchist punk scene in the Netherlands that is extremely active in pro-refugee activism, pushing me to be more radical in my politics and less tolerant of middle-way liberalism. We could no more separate politics from our wedding day than we could from our lives.

And so, an anarcho-punk/feminist liefdesfeestje it is. On 31st July 2017 I will wear my pretty, twirly, £16 dress and Thomas - fresh from his nature walk (insert eye roll emoji) - will be suited and booted, and we'll make our vows in the most beautiful building in Leicester, in front of the people we love most. We'll listen to the music that's special to us**, drink Prosecco and cider, eat heaps of vegan food***, and be merry. I really cannot wait.

*Dutch for love party, which we avoid because in English it sounds like we're hosting an orgy.

** Generously, I have offered Thomas a 35 minute slot on the playlist for his terrible 80s MOR, while I get to choose the rest of the music.

*** See, we both have priorities: mine is music, so I get to pick; his is food, so he gets to make it all vegan.

Monday, 12 September 2016

How We Got A Fancy New Kitchen On A Tiny Budget

When I bought this house eight years ago I, like most first time buyers, stretched myself financially in order to do so. As a result, doing anything to it beyond painting a few walls was out of the question, so I resigned myself to living with a kitchen I hated. From the grey laminate worktops to the torn lino floor and cheap metal sink, this was no-one's idea of a dream kitchen.

So how did it go from this...
... to this?  Read on...
1. Don't try and do it all at once. We just didn't have the funds to do all of the work at the same time, so we prioritised. First up, two years ago, we replaced the horrible lino with slate-effect tiles and, at the same time, repainted the walls, added chalkboard paint to the door, made new blinds and put up some shelves: all small changes and cheap, too, but they made the room much more liveable while we saved for phase two.

2. Ask yourself: do I need a whole new kitchen? The cost of new units was prohibitive but we realised that replacing the whole kitchen wasn't actually necessary. By replacing just the worktops and sink, the whole kitchen has been revitalised. If you want a more drastic makeover, you can replace cupboard doors, paint the existing doors, or - as I did when I first moved in - just replace the handles. Think, also, about using open storage: our shelves, teamed with a wall-mounted pan rack, mean that the majority of our pots, plates and dry goods are out on display and easy to access, leaving the limited cupboard space for the ingredients and equipment we use the least.

3. Can you keep any existing appliances to save cash? I love the original 60s freestanding oven and hob that was in the house when I bought it, so there was no need to buy a new one: having new worktop & tile surrounding it is enough to completely change the look. Likewise, our existing fridge-freezer & washing machine are both still going strong and, as we weren't redesigning the layout, could stay put and save us £100s. 

4. Do it yourself and, where you can't, utilise the expertise friends & family. We were incredibly lucky to have my good friend Abby on board to help us out with this makeover. Abby is a PE teacher by trade but has done three house renovation projects of her own and absolutely loves big DIY jobs (weird, I know). She was more than happy to give up some of her time - paid, of course, but at mates rates rather than full market price - to do the jobs we couldn't manage, like... well, pretty much everything! Abby installed the worktops and the sink and also did the tiling (although I got her to teach me how to tile so that, come the next project, I can have a crack at it myself).

5. Know where to find a bargain. Abby's advice was once again invaluable for us: because she's done so many renovations, she knows where to source affordable yet good quality materials. She pointed me in the direction of Wickes for our worktops where, thanks to a discount event, two 3m lengths of solid beech worktop set us back just £130, and Homebase, who had the white metro tiles we wanted on special offer. Do you know someone in the building trade who can give you tips on where to find what you need at a good price, or have any friends or family recently completed a big project? If so: ask them where to shop.

6. If in doubt, chuck it in a jar. Finally, open shelving may be a cheap storage solution but if that's where most of your dry goods are kept, it could easily look messy. I spent £25 on glass jars in Ikea, bought a labelmaker from eBay, and hey presto! We have well organised, neat rows of food instead of half empty packets shoved into the back of a cupboard. Although I have to say that making labels for lentils, roiboos tea and udon noodles is about the most middle class thing I've ever done.
We spent just over £500 on this second phase of the makeover, which included all materials - worktops, new sink and mixer tap, tiles, shelving timber, brackets, and jars - plus labour. And the result is nothing short of amazing, turning a dingy space into one of my favourite rooms in the house: light, bright, airy and modern.

* Beech workstops: Wickes
* Reginox ceramic sink: Amazon * Mixer tap: Amazon
* Shelving timber & brackets: B&Q * Korken jars: IKEA
* Orla Kiely coffee jar: Douwe Egbert's Ltd edition *
* Freda white leaf jars: Habitat * Utensil rail with hooks: IKEA *
* Screw The Patriarchy print: Redbubble *
* Quotation chopping board: handmade by Abby *

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The Buyer's Archive: August

Since February last year, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part, which usually includes Elise, HazelKezzieDonnaLucy and Charlotte.

Last August I spent a whopping £206.75 on twelve items. Of what I bought, some have become wardrobe essentials - the burgundy H&M cardigan, the polka dot jumper, and the striped Gap tee especially - while others - the Emily & Fin dress, the polka dot charity shopped dress, and the bird print skater skirt - have already been donated or re-sold. I haven't worn the Saltwater sandals as much as I expected, but that's mainly because until the last few weeks, summer weather has been in short supply.

My spending was a lot lower this year; however my addiction to stripes shows no signs of abating any time soon, with three new additions to my collection.

Burgundy cord skirt, Dorothy Perkins £16.75 (with 25% discount)
The black denim skirt I got from Primark last month has already become a wardrobe staple, so I'd been on the look out for with a similar fit (priority: pockets) in a different fabric or colour. This Dotty Ps cord skirt hit the mark perfectly, and as they're currently having one of their many discount events, it wasn't too expensive either.

Black striped knit top, Primark £4
Because it was £4, and it goes brilliantly with the skirt. And, ok, because stripes.

Blue striped Breton top, La Redoute £9.75 (with 25% discount)
Last month I got a blue striped top from Sainsburys, which I then managed to ruin with impressive speed. This is its replacement and will, I suspect, get lots of wear at work this autumn teamed with my new jeans.

Breton top, M&Co via LOROS charity shop £4
This might be my favourite and best-fitting Breton for a while, and a great replacement for my long-lamented favourite H&M Breton that I spilled a tomato-based pasta sauce down the front of. And, in my defence, on the day I got this I managed to resist buying a Fat Face striped top in another charity shop, so perhaps I'm finally learning to exercise restraint when it comes to stripes.

Black Jamie skinny jeans, Toshop via eBay £9.50
Oh how I love my Jamie jeans, so I was super excited to find a bargain pair with little wear on eBay.

Tan sandals, Dorothy Perkins £7 (in sale)
I bought these in July but forgot to add them to last month's Buyer's Archive.  They are SO comfortable and a great addition to my collection of tan sandals; I'm already kicking myself for not buying a second pair for next summer while they were still in stock.

All of which brings my August total to a pleasingly rounded £50 for six items. A much more palatable spend than last August's. My goal for September is to not buy any striped tops. Yep, you heard me: I'm going cold turkey on the Breton. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Life Lately

I've been pretty quiet on the blog front lately. Partly because I have the dreaded blogger's block: I keep sitting down to write and end up either staring blankly out of the window/at the cat or browsing Etsy for the nth time. But also because I've been busy (looking at this fluffy little face for upwards of five hours a day totally counts as busy, right?).

It's been strange to not have the summer off after eleven years of teaching. People keep asking me if I'm missing them and the honest answer is, "sort of." I mean, I'd love to have six weeks off, who wouldn't? But the truth is I don't need the holidays like I used to. When you work in a school you limp through the last couple of months of the academic year, desperate for a break, a chance to recuperate from the year just gone and prepare for the one about to begin. But my job now isn't so all-encompassing, exhausting and draining so there's no need for a long holiday to recover.

Not to be defeated by my lack of time off, I've nevertheless tried to make the most of my summer. I had a visit from my cousin, Mark, which was our first chance to spend quality time together since the 1990s (WHAT?!). My brother & his wife spent a weekend with us, which gave me a new appreciation for Leicester (or for the authentic Italian gelato from Gelato Village, anyway). Thomas and I took an awesome day trip to Nottingham for book shopping, cider supping, pizza eating and Ghostbusters watching, and I've had a mini bloggers meet-up with Laura, Elle & Becca. Sourdough bread was munched, Laura almost got taken out by a flying umbrella, and we poked around the new Delilah's Deli. Oh, and Thomas officially became a Dr, graduating with his PhD in a comically floppy hat.
I also spent an evening at Secret Cinema does Dirty Dancing. The set up was incredible, a mini Kellermans tucked away in East London. It was enormous fun to sit in the twilight, drinking cocktails and singing along with the film, and while the extras that justify the ticket price - dance lessons, mini golf and the rest - weren't particularly suited to a chronic non-joiner like me, that's my bad for buying a ticket in the first place, not theirs.

But honestly, a lot of my time has genuinely been taken up by hanging out with the cat. Missy has continued to settle well and although she still hasn't quite graduated to curling up on a lap or on our bed, she shows her affection in other ways - like bringing us her favourite toy (a small pink stuffed mouse), or following us from room to room to sit near us. However, I fear we are both becoming insufferable cat people. Talking endlessly about her, even to non-cat owners? Earnestly discussing her bowel movements when one of us gets home (often before even a "hello" has been exchanged)? Singing silly songs to her, swapping out the normal lyrics for ones about furry cats? I'm afraid Thomas and I are guilty of all of the above on an almost-daily basis. It was when I found myself telling a close friend who's just become a mum that, thanks to cat ownership, I now understand where parents are coming from that I realised I had a problem. So yep, crazy cat lady over here.

And now I'm looking forward to all sorts of awesome things in the next month or so: an overnight trip to Bristol this weekend, followed by a dash up the M1 to see another cousin who's staying with my mum in Bradford. A few days away for Thomas's 30th birthday (but shh, it's top secret). Then I have jury duty in September, promptly followed by a week in Crete and a chance - finally - to relax after an exhausting twelve months. And, hopefully, the return of my blogging mojo.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

I See You*
Clare Mackintosh
Rating: ****
Zoe is a harassed single mum commuting to a thankless clerical job in London, when one day she notices her photograph in a mysterious newspaper advert. The next day: same advert, different woman's photograph. Meanwhile, Kelly is a British Transport Police officer who (as is required by the genre) is troubled and in disgrace with her superiors. While we watch Zoe slowly unravel with the realisation that someone is watching her, Mackintosh does an excellent job of ramping up the tension as Kelly investigates a series of crimes seemingly related to the adverts. I especially enjoyed these chapters, which skewed more towards police procedural than psychological thriller. The author's experience in the police force shines through, making each character fully rounded and believable. As is generally the case with this brand of thriller, I found the ending required somewhat of a suspension of disbelief, but other than that Mackintosh has more than lived up to the promise of her gripping and prize-winning debut, I Let You Go.

The Loving Husband*
Christabel Kent
Rating: ***
Fran wakes up in her isolated Fens farmhouse to find her husband missing, his side of the bed empty. What follows is a tense thriller in which the reader if left, like Fran, not knowing who to trust. It's far from perfect - the police characters seem to come straight from bastard cop central casting, and the final denouement is rushed - but The Loving Husband cleverly toys with the reader, switching between past and present narratives and constantly wrong-footing you when you think you have it all figured out.
Am I Normal Yet?
How Hard Can Love Be? 
What's A Girl Gotta Do?
Holly Bourne
Rating: *****
Alex recommended that I read Holly Bourne's trilogy about three teenage girls navigating college, family, friendships, first love and feminism, and I'm really glad I gave them a try. The characters of Lottie, Amber and Evie are brilliantly obstreperous, totally loyal, and believable flawed, and this is YA with real heart and an explicitly feminist message. I spent the books willing them to come out of it all ok, whether 'it' was struggling with a relapse of OCD, working at an American summer camp while trying to come to terms with family issues, or dealing with online abuse and misogyny. How I wish I'd had books like these when I was a teen; instead, I'll have to content myself with pressing them upon every teenage girl of my acquaintance.

Thirteen Hours
7 Days
Deon Meyer
Rating: ****
Originally written in Afrikaans and then translated into English, Meyer's Benny Griessel series has been rightly critically lauded around the world. Griessel, in the way of all brilliant detectives, is a troubled soul and an alcoholic, an old dog being forced to learn new tricks in a world of cyber crime and affirmative action, and the books are packed full of insights into modern, post-apartheid South Africa.  However, the Cape Town setting is one of the main attractions for me, rather like Edinburgh is for Rebus fans, and there's a real pleasure in following Griessel along streets I know so well. The British editions come with a handy glossary at the back, fairly essential for anyone less familiar with Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans slang, but it's partly through this use of language that Meyer (and his brilliant translator) is able to communicate so much about the politics of the country. For example, there's a wonderful set-piece in 7 Days where an uppity police sergeant insists on speaking in Xhosa to a female Zulu detective; a subtle demonstration of the micro-aggressions a black woman still faces in the SAPS, while in Cobra the disappointments and corruption of the ANC government are put into a global context, with a British professor commenting of the multi-racial squad, "Well isn't this an advert for the Rainbow Nation."
Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride
Lucy Knisley
Rating: *****
Recommended to me by Laura, Something New - which follows the author's journey to a makeshift, homemade, entirely personal wedding - is one of the best graphic memoirs I've read. As Thomas and I are currently knee-deep in planning our own non-traditional, makeshift wedding the book felt very relevant, covering everything from international bridal traditions to the dreaded dress shopping and how she and her husband wrote their vows. Best of all were her reflections on bi-erasure and the unique tensions present when you are a queer feminist marrying a straight man, which really hit home for me. Accompanied by her beautifully inked drawings, this was an at times moving, at times amusing, always engrossing book.

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Note: none of the links in this post are affiliate links.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Buyer's Archive: July

Since February last year, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part, which usually includes Elise, HazelKezzieDonnaLucy and Charlotte.

In July 2015 I was preparing to go on holiday and so, as is often the case, I spent a lot: £159.38 to be precise. Shockingly, only three items of the seven that I bought last July are still in my wardrobe: I returned both the striped top and the yellow raincoat without wearing them; the Topshop shoes never actually fit me so I sold them, unworn, on eBay (at a loss); and the New Look sandals left my feet blistered and sore in Montreal last summer, so they went into the charity bag as soon as we got back. The star buy was the blue floral skirt, which cost me £2 from a charity shop, as I wore it frequently last summer and worn it again this summer. Meanwhile, the sale bargain Joy dress has so far done me two weddings and a graduation; it's my go-to "need to look smart and like an upstanding citizen" dress.

As for July 2016, I again bought quite a few pieces, and you may notice something of a pattern (no pun intended) developing...

Black denim skirt, Primark £8
I stalked this skirt for weeks, checking my local store regularly for a size 16. Finally, on a trip to Nottingham, I spotted one and pounced. Annoyingly, I think I could probably have done with an 18 but the 16 will do for now, while I keep my eyes open for a larger size.

White top with red stripes, New Look £8.99
Another striped top Janet? I hear you ask. Yes indeed. My job is surprisingly physical - lots of lugging around boxes of books, unpacking new stock, reaching high up on bookcases to grab titles I need - and so stretchy skinny jeans and a comfortable top are what's needed. Hence, I've spent a lot of time this month (as you will see) boosting my collection of striped tees. I bought this one as the stripes are a dark red instead of navy or black, which is a nice change.

Cats books tea t-shirt, Etsy £9 (but sort of free, really, as the original t-shirt was a gift & I saved the money made from that to buy this)
This is the best t-shirt ever, right?! If you follow me on Instagram you'll know that I got this months ago and it was too big. I sold it to Amy and kept the pennies in my Paypal account, but it took me ages to get around to ordering it again in a smaller size. It is made of the most gorgeously soft stretch jersey cotton, and I'm as yet undecided whether it's going to become my favourite slouch-around-the-house-with-pyjama-bottoms shirt, or one I actually wear outside.
Linen-mix striped t-shirt, H&M £12.99
I bought this one afternoon when I'd gone into town before meeting up with friends, and quickly discovered that it was far too hot for the long-sleeved t-shirt I had on. It's actually turned out to be a good buy, cool and airy to wear in those brief days we had of proper heat. But yeah, more stripes.

Swallow print blouse, Debenhams £11.40 (also mostly free)
When I bought my fatkini of dreams last month I got a £10 gift voucher for Debenhams as part of a promotion. I don't usually buy much from there but I'd had my eye on this swallow print top for a couple of months, and I pounced as soon as its price was reduced for a second time in the sale. It's been a great buy for work - teamed with black Toyshop jeans and a cardigan (our office is freezing even now) it's both comfortable and cute.
Navy blue striped top, Sainsburys £9
Ok, so this is where it starts to get ridiculous. Did I really buy four different striped tops in July? Yes, I'm afraid I did. This dark blue one (again, different from anything else in my collection so totally allowed, right?) is really comfortable on days like today when I was schlepping thousands of parcels out of our office and into delivery vans.

White striped t-shirt, Zara £5.99
My search for the perfect short-sleeved striped t-shirt for tucking-in purposes continues. This is a pretty good find actually; it might even be 'the one'. I bought this before the whole Zara being absolute dicks to indie artists thing blew up, BTW. I wouldn't be so quick to give them my hard-earned cash now.

My total spend for July was therefore £35.97 for the five items I paid for fully out of my own pocket, plus £20.40 for the Etsy tee and Debenhams top, giving a grand total of £55.97 and seven items.

Excitingly, I also bought my wedding dress last month, but there's no photograph of that for obvious reasons. I'm also excluding it, plus the two dresses I bought for my mini bridesmaids, from my total spend (although, at £16 for mine and £9 apiece for the girls', they wouldn't have bumped my total up too much).

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Weekend In Edinburgh

At the start of April (yes, this post is long overdue) Thomas and I visited Edinburgh for the weekend. We got the sleeper train up and were disgorged into a grey and rainy Edinburgh dawn. Luckily, our ace Airbnb hosts let us check into our Old Town apartment straight away. After a cheeky nap and some breakfast, we felt prepared to begin our exploration of the medieval side of the city, upon which my first reaction was.... "Why did no one tell me how beautiful Edinburgh is?!"
Ok, so it's famously beautiful, and Thomas has been trying to get me to visit ever since we met, but still... I was blindsided by just how lovely it was. The Old Town particularly is completely unlike any other place I've visited in the UK, instead feeling a lot more continental: Prague particularly sprung to mind, but there's also a hint of Amsterdam in the tall, narrow, gabled buildings. 

As is our wont, we spent an enormous amount of time diving into bookshops, and I have to hand it to Edinburgh, it does bookshops extremely well. From the narrow, dusty shelves packed with secondhand treasure at Armchair Books in the Old Town, to the chic Golden Hare Books, an absolute gem of a place in Stockbridge, we browsed them all. My favourite, though, was Word Power, hands down the best radical bookshop I've ever been in. I came out with teetering stacks of books - from non-fiction about fat activism to YA novels with trans and intersex protagonists, Word Power had it all.
In between buying books we sampled amazing vegan cuisine at Henderson's in the New Town, ate vegan sorbet from Mary's Milk Bar, climbed endless steps, walked through parks and up Calton Hill, and I had a cracking evening in the pub with the lovely Gwen (meeting internet people is just the best). Unfortunately, Thomas was recovering from a particularly unpleasant bout of flu so we had to take things easier than we'd perhaps otherwise have done. This meant no trip to Leith, no Arthur's Seat... oh well, we'll just have to go back soon. Post-Brexit, Thomas is plotting a move back to Scotland, so perhaps our next visit will be a more permanent one.

Monday, 11 July 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

Rivers Of London & Whispers Underground
Ben Aaronovitch
Rating: ***½ 
Being a fan of both urban fantasy and crime novels, I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to read Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers Of London series, but it took getting the books into stock at work to prod me into finally picking them up. They're far from perfect - at times the humour verges on the silly and puerile (I don't think, for instance, that the reader needs to always be told when Peter Grant, the protagonist, has an erection, and am also unsure why he apparently suffers from priapism more suited to a teenage boy), and they tread on some decidedly dodgy ground when it comes to race - but they're very readable, the combination of police procedural and magic being well handled and entertainingly written. 

Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler
Rating: ***
Anne Tyler's take on the oft-adapted The Taming Of The Shrew is a fresh and witty approach to Shakespeare's classic comedy. Moving the action to suburban Baltimore (of course), her Kate is a cynical and unfulfilled young woman with a father trying to marry her off to his research assistant, so said assistant can get a green card. Avoiding the more unsavoury aspects of the original - most notably the wife beating - and replacing them with gentle family rom-com scenes makes Vinegar Girl* an enjoyable if not especially challenging read.
Modern Lovers
Emma Straub
Rating: ****
Modern Loversis a terrifically enjoyable comedy of manners set in Brooklyn following the fortunes of a group of friends from college who now find themselves with college-aged children of their own. Not a great deal happens, in the sense that nothing enormously dramatic occurs (well, apart from an arrest, a fire and a couple of breakdowns), but the characters are enormously engaging and I was very much invested in the journeys they all go on, separately and together. This would make a great beach read for anyone looking for smart, funny writing that's a cut above the usual summer bestsellers.

Life Moves Pretty Fast
Hadley Freeman
Rating: ****
Life Moves Pretty Fast is a collection of essays - always funny, often poignant - about the great teen movies of the 1980s: Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty In Pink, etc. Subtitled 'The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies (And Why We Don't Learn Them From Movies Anymore)', each chapter looks at a different iconic film. From discussion with the stars, writers and directors, to personal anecdote, to looking at the changes to the Hollywood studio system that means such films couldn't be made now, Freeman dissects the movies that meant so much to her as a teen. My favourite chapter, predictably, was the one on Dirty Dancing, which focuses on the pro-choice message behind the film and ponders why abortion is a dirty word in mainstream movies today.

Scoot Over Skinny: The Fat Non-Fiction Anthology
ed. Donna Jarrell & Ira Sukrungruang
Rating: **

Oh, I had such high hopes for Scoot Over Skinny , which I picked up in a secondhand bookstore in Toronto last summer. An anthology of fat writers, writing about fat: it sounds great, right? Wrong. It started well and the first few essays, while not amazing, were pretty good. But then it went terribly wrong. The fat shame and fat hate included herein was depressing: there are pieces about bariatric surgery, about ‘hogging’ (a delightful practice wherein bros pick up, have sex with, and then shame fat women),  I suspect that actually many of the writers weren’t fat: David Sedaris is included, for one thing, and his piece about his sister, Amy, wearing a fat suit is just bizarre in its lack of relevance. The only thing that made me glad to read it was a superb essay by Sondra Solovay. “I cannot talk about fat politics without exploring race, sex, and other forms of discrimination…” she begins, before slaying with a completely on-point look at intersectionality and fat politics. I’ve made copies of this essay: the rest of the book will be swiftly donated.
The Woman In Cabin 10
Ruth Ware
Rating: **
I loved Ruth Ware's debut, In A Dark, Dark Wood, so had high hopes for The Woman In Cabin 10*. Unfortunately those high hopes weren't really met. Travel journalist Lo, traumatised by a violent break-in at home, leaps at the chance of reporting on the launch of a luxurious Scandinavian cruise. Stuck on the ship, with the wifi down ("teething problems"), the scene is set for a classic murder mystery. Sadly, despite the promising set-up, it all gets a bit overwrought and hysterical. Hinting at mental illness - a mention of past trauma here, a glimpse of medication there - has become a convenient short-cut to make your narrator both unreliable to the reader and to other characters, hence ramping up the tension as people refuse to believe what they say. Or so the theory goes, I suppose. Instead it comes across as lazy writing, and ableist to boot.

13 Minutes
Sarah Pinborough
Rating: ***½ 
13 Minutes* is an above-average psychological thriller for a YA audience which reminded me of Megan Abbott's books, if Abbott was from Lancashire instead of the USA. When Tasha, the most popular girl at school, is pulled from an icy river and revived, it begins a chain of events that lead to tragedy. Told through multiple first person narration - mainly Becca, Tasha's one-time best friend - but also Tasha herself, transcripts of counselling sessions, text messages and diary excerpts, the book slowly reveals its secrets, before pulling a bait-and-switch on the reader just when you think you have it all figured out.

The Fire Child
S K Tremayne
Rating: *
Warning, this review contains spoilers because this book is so bad I want to save you all from having to read it. As I said above in my review of The Woman In Cabin 10, I am seriously tired of lazy "is she mad/is it real?" plotting in psychological thrillers, and The Fire Childhas this in spades. The plot is ludicrous: woman is swept off her feet by a rich widow, marries him weeks later and is whisked to his palatial but past-its-best family home in an isolated valley in Cornwall. So far, so Du Maurier. Unfortunately, Tremayne is very much in the "tell, don't show" school of writing, so we are told that Rachel finds the house sinister, but not shown why that should be so. We're also told that she loves the house passionately (after a few weeks?) but again, not shown why. She constantly bangs on about wanting to 'heal' Jamie, her new stepson, but we're not shown any attempt from her to do so, apart from an ill-advised visit to a psychologist. As for her husband, events escalate ridiculously quickly - there's no sense of creeping menace, just BAM, he's a bad guy because we're told he is. All this and some shitty, lazy writing about poor areas of London (Rachel has 'escaped' from a 'terrible upbringing' being working class. It later transpires that some of it was pretty terrible, but the character talking about the escape doesn't know this at the time, it's literally just terrible because people wear high-vis vests and drink cheap larger). Truly, one of the worst books I've read in a while.

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Buyer's Archive: June

Since February last year I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending.

In June 2015 I spent a grand total of £39.98 on three things: a pair of sunglasses (worn constantly), a pair of chunky wooden-soled sandals (LOVE them but haven't worn them yet this summer) and a pair of polka dot shorts, which ended up in a charity bag unworn. What did June 2016 have in store (no pun intended) for me? I'll tell you one thing, I bought a lot more than just three items.

Cat t-shirt, H&M £7.99 (not online)
LOOK at this t-shirt. It's amazing, right? The sad little cat looks so much like our new cat that I can't bear it. Unfortunately Missy had a huge freak-out when she saw this hanging on the wardrobe door, so I'm not sure whether I'll ever be able to wear it!

Polka dot skirt, C&A 7
It's a jersey skater skirt with polka dots, and it cost about £6. Of course I needed to buy it when we were in Nijmegen. Also, I love that C&A still exists in the Netherlands.

Fjallraven Kanken backpack, via eBay £40  
Because apparently I'm a total hipster cliche. I've had my eye on the Kanken bag for a while so when I saw this one going for a steal on eBay, I jumped into the auction at the last moment and nabbed it. Of course, the moment I did so I decided I'd rather have the yellow one. Typical.

Striped t-shirt, H&M £5 (not online)
I'd tried this on and rejected it when it was full price, but at £5 in the sale I can forgive its imperfections (mostly to do with weird shoulders).

Pleated skirt, Sue Ryder Vintage £9
I bought this on what feels like the last sunny day we had, when I popped up to Nottingham to meet Becky and Laura. Turquoise is my favourite summer colour and, if we ever get some nice weather again, I'll team it with a black t-shirt and the wooden sandals I bought last June.

Polka dot high-waist bikini bottoms, Yours £12
The matching bikini top to fit terribly - both too big and too small at the same time, which I wouldn't have thought possible until I put it on. But I adored these bikini bottoms, which I knew would make up half of the fatkini of my dreams, so I began a search for a plain black bikini top...

Black bikini top, Debenhams £26.50
Not willing to pay the ridiculous amounts charged for Bravissimo bikini tops, I took a punt on one from Debenhams. They only go up to a G cup, which is quite a few sizes smaller than my own bra size, but in a bikini that matters a lot less and this, from their own-brand range, fits perfectly well for its purpose; lounging by the pool with a book in one hand and a drink in the other.

T-bar shoes (not pictured), ASOS £14 with 30% discount code & Organic cotton striped top (not pictured), La Redoute £10.50
I forgot about both of these when taking pictures - oops. The shoes are exactly what I've been looking for (wish they did them in black, too, though) and the top... well, it's yet another long sleeved stripey top. You've seen plenty of them in Buyer's Archives!

All of which comes to a total of £131.99 for nine items. Not terrible, but not great either. However, with the exception of the pleated skirt (which so far has proven far too summery for our shitty June weather), they're all items I know I will get a ton of wear out of.

Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part, which usually includes Elise (of course), HazelKezzieDonnaLucy and Charlotte.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Meet Missy

This slightly out-of-focus shot is the perfect introduction to our new cat, Missy. It's blurry, because she never stops moving. It shows how tenacious she is, how determined to achieve what she wants (even when what she wants - for the blanket, which can't move because she's sitting on it, to move - is impossible). She's such a funny character and I already feel like I've known her for years, even thought she's been part of our family for less than 24 hours.

Thomas and I have been talking about getting our own cat pretty much since we met. We both love cats and have both lived with them before, although neither of us have been the owners of said cats. In the post-Brexit nightmare that was last weekend, we decided to visit the local RSPCA shelter to cheer ourselves up. And there we met Missy.

Because she's all-black and an adult (5 years old), the shelter had had trouble re-homing her; she'd been there for almost two months and was miserable, which she showed by acting out and being a right stroppy little madam. So we were prepared for a rocky start. Nothing, though, could have prepared us for how quickly she's settled in.

Within five minutes of arriving last night she'd come out from her hiding place (under the sofa) and begun to explore the living room. Within an hour she'd demanded, with loud miaows, to be let out of the room; off she went to explore upstairs. And, just three hours after we brought her home, she was curled up asleep at the end of our bed while we sat and read. She's eating well, coming to us to be stroked, and generally showing every sign of being a happy little cat.

It's been wonderful to see Missy - so reserved and so grumpy in the shelter - make herself at home, and I'm so glad that we decided to adopt her. Prepare yourselves for endless cat spam on social media...