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...

Sunday, 26 June 2016

50 Things That Make Me Happy

Coming hot on the heels of Orlando and Jo Cox's assassination, the referendum results on Friday left me feeling utter despair and sadness. As a post-Brexit tonic, Kezzie and Jennifer both wrote happy lists to remind themselves of the things that aren't shit. Their posts reminded me of a wonderful one Gaelle wrote a couple of months ago about 50 things that make her happy, which I had promised to do myself. Would I, in my depressed state, be able to I think of 50 things that make me happy? Turns out yes, I could.
1. Thomas. I can't even begin to explain how happy this guy makes me. I think I'm going to keep him.

2. Aspall cider. A cold pint of Aspall on a hot day (or any day really) = bliss.

3. That we are getting a cat next weekend. Her name is Missy and she is the sweetest, stroppiest cat in the shelter, therefore perfect for sweet Thomas and stroppy me!

4. Cheese. It's why I can't be vegan. Baked Camembert, grilled halloumi, runny Brie on crackers.... hmmmm cheese.

5. Fresh bed linen. Is there any feeling better then climbing into a bed made with fresh linen.

6. Music. But especially the feeling when a song you really love is played out of nowhere.

7. Laundry drying on the washing line. Especially the first day of the year it's warm/dry enough to do so.

8. Sunshine. It really does make everything better.
9. The feeling of getting into my own bed after a few days away. Bed rules.

10. The last mile of the drive to my mum's house. I've lived away from home for 20 years, and I still feel so happy as I come off the motorway to see her.

11. Teen comedy films from the 90s & 00s. Bring It On. Clueless. 10 Things I Hate About You. She's The Man. Pitch Perfect. You can take your award-winners and your Scorsese films, I'm really only interested if it's 90 minutes long and set in a high school/college.

12. Shopping. Socialist in the Tweets, Capitalist in the streets, that's me. I know it's not a great thing to base happiness on, but I really do like shopping.

13. Swimming. Although I do not love post-swimming hair.
14. Fresh flowers. Having them in the house always makes me smile.

15. Zine making. I'm so glad I returned to zines after a ten year break, the process is so therapeutic for me and I love creating something outside of this blog.

16. Earl Grey tea and a slice of cake. Because cake.

17. A pub with an open fire. There's little better in winter than to find a cosy pub with a roaring fire.

18. Getting post. Any post really, but surprise parcels especially.

19. Our house. I've loved it since the first time I came to view it almost eight years ago.

20. Buying gifts for people. I think I enjoy it more than receiving gifts.
21. Internet friends. Illustrated above with Becca, Elle and Laura but the list is looooooooong. I love the support and encouragement that Twitter and Instagram, particularly, inspire, and I have had so many good times with people I've met IRL after first meeting them online.

22. Our log burning stove. There's little better than having the stove lit on a cold winter's afternoon.

23. Being inside when it's raining heavily outside. Preferably curled up in a window with a book and a blanket.

24. Summer. This summer we've had rather more of 23. than of 8, but I live in hope we'll get some 'proper' summer weather soon. I love all the seasons for different reasons, but I am always infinitely happier and more content when it's warm and sunny.

25. New books. Old books. Any books. Goes without saying.

26. TV shows about dance. I still haven't got over the cancellation of the UK version of So You Think You Can Dance. My latest obsession is Dance Moms, which is terrible in a great way.
27. Being in a new place. I was going to say 'Travel' but actually I'm starting to hate the actual travelling bit, thanks to a combination of anxiety and things having gone very wrong our last couple of trips. But once I get to the place I'm going, I love it. There's something hugely relaxing about being somewhere new.

28. Listening to Andrew WK on a Friday night. Party Hard is my start-the-weekend anthem.

29. Pottering in the garden. Or just looking at my garden. At the moment it's a profusion of blooms and I love it.

30. Prosecco. Always.

31. The perfect charity shop find. Is there anything better than finding a hidden gem for 99p? It doesn't happen often (Leicester charity shops are both crap and expensive) but when it does...

32. Musicals. And songs from the musicals. My favourite is Rent but I love pretty much all of them.

33. Tote bags. Want me to love you forever? Give me a great tote bag. My latest acquisitions are a cream Salford Zine Library tote and a black Powell's Books bag brought back for me from Portland, Oregon by my brother.
34. Street art. And taking pictures of it, like the Instagram cliche I am.

35. Much Ado About Nothing. I'm not a total Shakespeare junkie like some English teachers I know, but this play is just wonderful. The Kenneth Branagh film version is a sun-drenched wonder of a comedy and never fails to cheer me up.

36. The lightbulb moment when a student just 'gets' it. I had a tutoring session with a student on Friday and to see her completely 'get' the poems we were discussing made me so happy.

37. My vintage quilt. Found in a junk shop in Lancashire, it's been gracing my bed ever since.

38. Winning an eBay auction. Those last few seconds are a rush, let's face it.

39. Sitting in the sun with a good book. My happy place.

40. Stripes. I counted yesterday - I now have 7 striped tops, 1 striped jumper and 2 striped dresses. And you know what? I still think I need more.

41. Tattoos. Getting them. Looking at other people's. Planning new ones.
42. Being with my family. Spread out across three continents, the maternal side of my family are huge and we rarely have a chance to see each other separately, let alone all together. So any time with cousins, aunts, uncles, is oh so precious to me.

43. Pictures & prints. Our walls are covered, and yet I still always want more.

44. Pipers cheese & onion crisps. So cheesy, so good.

45. Walking. Walking briskly somewhere while listening to music relaxes me, I should do it a lot more often than I do.

46. Having candles lit on a dark evening. So hygge.

47. Polka dots. Obvs.

48. Necklaces. I have SO many, yet only ever wear the same few.

49. Squeezing spots. I know it's super gross, but it's so satisfying.

50. Christmas. Thomas calls me 'Elf' because I can get a little hysterical about my Christmas love.

What makes you happy?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

What I Wore: On A Sunny Dutch Day

* Black t-shirt: H&M * Floral skirt: thrifted * Sandals: Saltwater via Office
* Necklace: Mungo & Jemima  * Sunglasses: New Look *
* 'Badass feminist killjoy' tote bag: by Glitterbugbean, bought at Sheffield zine fair *

It's been almost a year since I last did an outfit post. When I was beginning to get disillusioned with my old blog, they were the first thing to go. Also, a lot of what I wear in winter is super boring: summer outfits are much more blogable.

When we were in Nijmegen last weekend, we were lucky enough to have glorious sunshine, which meant my extensive collection of skirts were able to have an airing. This floral beauty was a steal from a local charity shop: I rarely, if ever, wear pinks and peaches so I initially left it behind, but after continuing to think about it for a week I went back to the shop and lo and behold, it was still there waiting for me. 

I teamed the bold print with a plain black t-shirt, black sandals (these Saltwater sandals are SO comfortable) and a pendant necklace I bought in Cape Town this spring. The star of the outfit, though, turned out to be my bag, which garnered compliments (and attempts to steal it) all day!

Monday, 13 June 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Museum Of You*
Carys Bray
Rating: *****
Clover, 12, is using her summer holidays to create a museum all about the mother she never knew. Meanwhile, her dad (Darren) is entirely focused on ensuring Clover is happy, even if that means suppressing his own grief, which is nevertheless manifested in his inability to throw anything away: it is from the hoarded mass of objects that fill their spare bedroom that Clover is gathering her exhibits. It seems counter-intuitive that a book steeped in grief, loss and guilt should be so filled with light and joy, but The Museum Of You is. Full of witty observations that demonstrate Bray's astute eye for the tiny yet important details of our lives, the malapropisms of Clover and Darren's next door neighbour are a particular delight; what might have felt trite and over-done in the hands of a less skilled author here made me laugh out loud. It's simply a delight to read: profound, moving, deeply sad and heartbreaking yet enormously uplifting. My book of the summer and quite possibly of 2016.

Between The World & Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Rating: *****
Toni Morrison called Between The World And Me, "essential reading" while a review on Kirkus said it, "might have been titled Black Lives Matter." Taking the form of a letter from Coates to his teenage son, it's both a memoir and a meditation on the history of American state violence against black bodies. A tough but important read, Between The World And Me is an impassioned and rightfully angry book, pervaded with a sense of his fear for his son, a young black man in a country where young black men are feared, incarcerated, violated, killed.

When Breath Becomes Air*
Paul Kalanithi
Rating: ****
When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of neuro-surgeon Paul Kalanithi who, months before finally qualifying and after a glittering academic career that included a first degree in English Literature from Stanford, to a Masters at Cambridge followed by a medical degree at Yale, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. It's a quick read but enormously moving, with Kalanithi writing fluently and beautifully about living and dying. He is concerned, mostly, with mortality: first that of his patients, and then his own. And the afterword, by his wife Lucy, left me a weeping, sobbing mess on the Eurostar, to the confusion of other passengers.

Murder Most Unladylike
Robin Stevens
Rating: ****
Take a pinch of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers books, add a dash of Agatha Christie, take away the egregious racism of both, and you have the Murder Most Unladylike series. Our heroines are schoolgirls Daisy Wells (who fancies herself as Sherlock Holmes, emotional detachment and all) and Hazel Wong, daughter of an Anglophile Chinese businessman. When Hazel stumbles upon the body of a teacher at Deepdean, their boarding school - a body which, the alarm having been raised, mysteriously disappears - the game is afoot and the girls get to detecting. Further books so far in the series find them working to solve murders at Daisy's family home (a huge country pile, naturally), on the Orient Express, and then back at Deepdean. These are the book equivalent of curling up under a blanket with a hot chocolate on a cold day: deeply comforting and satisfying.

Dear Amy*
Helen Callaghan
Rating: ***
Dear Amy borrows heavily from others of the psychological thriller genre, but crafts that which is borrowed into something new and unique. The trope of the unreliable narrator, used to great effect in The Girl On The Train, at first seemed a bit tired, but a few plot twists later and the fact that we can't trust protagonist Margot's perception of events becomes more exciting. As often happens with psychological thrillers, there are quite a few moments when I was shouting at the page. "What are you doing?!" but there's a kind of logic to Margot's actions that is often lacking in other narratives. And the autumnal Cambridge setting adds enormously to the atmosphere of the book, providing a creeping sense of unease amongst the dreaming spires.

Midnight Crossroad
Charlaine Harris
Rating: ****
When internet psychic Manfred Bernado moves to the sleepy town of Midnight, Texas, he quickly learns that all is not as it seems with the inhabitants (as you would expect from a book by the author of the True Blood books). I can't say much more about the Midnight Crossroad series, which so far consists of three books, without giving away plot spoilers. Suffice it to say that I loved the books and fell head over heels with Midnight and those who live there. If you enjoy gentle human drama with a touch of the supernatural, I'm confident you'll enjoy them too.

Julia Serano
Rating: ****
Sub-titled 'Making Feminist & Queer Movements More Inclusive', Excluded is a riposte to all the trans-exclusionary radical 'feminists' out there who seek to exclude, endanger and dehumanise trans women. Serano is an evolutionary biologist, so the chapters dealing with the science of gender are particularly strong and have given me plenty of ammunition for debate. She also has a lot to say about bi-phobia and femme-phobia within queer communities, which as a femme, bi-identified queer woman resonated with me.

Girls Will Be Girls
Emer O'Toole
Rating: ***
Through a mixture of memoir and academic analysis, O'Toole looks at how women perform, and are expected to perform, gender. Much of what she has to say will be familiar to anyone who's read more widely on gender, feminist theory and sociology, but she has a way with words that makes the journey enjoyable and worthwhile, nevertheless. However, it was interesting to read Girls Will Be Girls immediately after Excluded because it brought home to me how poor O'Toole is on intersectionality, and particularly trans issues. While she tries to talk generally about women, she is almost always focused on her own personal experience as a white, cis, able-bodied woman. Admittedly, Girls Will Be Girls is very explicitly rooted in the personal, and anecdotes about her own experiences form the basis of the book. However, to fail to recognise her privilege or to at least admit, "hey, not every woman is like me," just isn't good enough in 2016.

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