Monday, 21 August 2017

A Short Break In Wales

As we're still waiting for our wedding photographs to be ready, I thought I'd start at the end: with our post-wedding trip to Wales. Unfortunately, we were both in the opening stages of the virus that's been kicking my ass for the past couple of weeks, so it wasn't quite the romantic mini-break we'd envisaged. Rather less champagne-on-the-veranda and more catarrh-on-the-sofa, but we still had a lovely time.

We started off with a night in Hay-On-Wye, Wales' official book town and somewhere I always enjoy visiting. We'd booked into Radnor House B&B and would heartily recommend it: a reasonable price for an insanely luxurious room in the centre of Hay, and the most incredible breakfast (French toast for me, a vegan fry-up for Thomas).
We spent some time on Thursday afternoon and again on Friday morning pootling around the town, popping into all of the (many) bookshops and picking up some bargains. I usually visit Hay during the festival, and it's always nice to see the town a little calmer and quieter (albeit lacking the exciting buzz of festival time). 

Having struggled to find vegan options for Thomas on Thursday, it was a relief to stumble upon the marvellous vintage shop/independent makers' marketplace/vegetarian cafe/venue space at The Old Electric Shop. Fully fed and watered, we set off to drive to our final destination on the west coast of Wales.
A three hour drive later and we were in Aberporth. I'd read about Wendy, the vintage train carriage-cum-holiday let located on the cliffs at Aberporth clifftop years ago on Gemma's blog and had bookmarked it because I knew train-mad Thomas would love it. By some strange quirk of fate, the usually fully-booked carriage happened to have two nights free the weekend after the wedding: it was meant to be!
Wendy was just as charming as I'd expected, full of cute vintage details that had Thomas fantasising about living in a train carriage full-time (two days later and the reality of being a 6'4" man in a small space had sunk in and he wasn't so keen!).

After a week of rain, Saturday dawned bright and sunny and we took advantage of the weather to walk the coastal path - which runs directly in front of Wendy - to the nearby village of Tresaith for lunch at The Ship Inn. The coast of west Wales is just stunning, reminiscent of Cornwall at its finest (although with significantly fewer crowds), and the stretch from Aberporth to Tresaith shows it off at its finest. After a pint or two, we retreated back to Wendy and spent the afternoon reading some of our Hay book haul, log burner lit for extra cosiness.

It was a lovely few days away and just what we needed after the wedding. And although it's a shame neither of us were well, it does give us a good excuse for another honeymoon!

Friday, 18 August 2017

What I've Been Reading Recently

July and the start of August haven't been great for reading: in July I was mostly incredibly busy and stressed with wedding and family stuff, and almost immediately after the wedding I fell ill and still haven't properly recovered. As a result, I've mostly been rereading for comfort - lots of Miss Marple mysteries and the whole Georgia Nicholson series - with a small sprinkling of new release thrillers and dystopias.

Fever*
Deon Meyer
Rating: ****
When I was at school we read Z For Zachariah and I was completely absorbed by its presentation of not just the dramatic events, but also the minutia of daily life and survival after a nuclear incident. Fever provides something of the same reading experience, dealing as it does with the establishment - by narrator Nico Storm's father, Willem - of a new settlement in the South African Karoo desert following a disastrous global pandemic. There is a refreshing focus on the mundane realities of survival, from planting crops and building irrigation systems to producing diesel from sunflower oil. The challenges of not just scraping by, but building a successful community, are made clear to the reader without the narrative ever feeling bogged down with detail. Excitement is provided by the regular incursions by groups of piratical raiders on motorbikes known as the KTM, and the battle scenes have a harrowing realism. Meanwhile, tension is derived from the fact that reader, from the first few pages of the book, knows that we are building to the murder of Willem Storm. Meyer is best known as a writer of Cape Town-set police procedural thrillers (which are, in my opinion, criminally under-read outside of his native South Africa) but this departure into dystopian post-apocalypse fiction is hugely absorbing, combining Meyer's knack for characterisation with his ability to pile on the narrative tension.

No Dominion
Louise Welsh
Rating: ****
Welsh's Plague Times trilogy has been a timely and inventive example of post-pandemic fiction, spreading the action across three books of varying tone: the first book in the series, A Lovely Way To Burn, was a masterful murder mystery-meets-disaster novel and introduced us to the character of glamorous TV presenter Stevie. The second, Death Is A Welcome Guest, followed stand-up comedian Magnus' attempts to get out of plague-hit London and to his home in childhood home of Orkney. No Dominion is the final book and opens ten years down the line, with Stevie and Magnus both on Orkney, where a settlement of survivors has been established with Stevie as president. The teenagers of the settlement, however, are getting antsy and difficult (as teenagers do), and when a group of new arrivals turn up, events are set in motion which mean Stevie and Magnus have to leave the islands and head to Glasgow. Essentially a dystopian road trip novel, No Dominion was grippingly brilliant and it was a real pleasure to be back with the characters of Stevie and Magnus. As is typical of the road trip genre, there's an episodic nature to it which I thoroughly enjoyed (with their encounters at the castle of Lord Ramsey being a particularly enjoyable episode, with what I assume was a deliberate take on Game Of Thrones as modern dystopia).

True Love At The Lonely Hearts Bookshop*
Annie Darling
Rating: **
Verity Love, our titular heroine, is a vicar's daughter. We know this because we are told it repeatedly, in lieu of providing her with an actual personality. She's also an introvert, something that we're again repeatedly told - with introversion presented here as a pathological condition unique to our heroine, instead of a way of being for approximately 50% of the population, Seriously, there's even a whole scene where she solemnly sits the hero down and explains this terrible affliction called introversion. She has a cat, likes Jane Austen, and is so much a romantic fiction stereotype that I wanted to scream. Anyway, one day she has a meet-cute with handsome architect Johnny which leads, inevitably, to a summer of being each other's dates at various weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, etc. Love, of course, ensues. As does boredom, on the part of the reader at least. Romance is not a genre I know particularly well but one author I do like and respect is Sarra Manning, so it was on her recommendation that I decided to read True Love At The Lonely Hearts Bookshop. After this experience, I think I'll accept that romance isn't my genre and move on.

The Good Daughter*
Karin Slaughter
Rating: ****
I'd been craving a properly involving, gripping thriller that wouldn't make me shout in frustration at ludicrous plot twists or grit my teeth at sympathetic depictions of police brutality, and The Good Daughter ticked all my boxes and then some. Slaughter's standalone novel, set in smalltown Georgia, is on the surface about two tragedies within the community - a family attacked 30 years ago by masked gunmen, and a subsequent school shooting in the present day - but it goes much deeper than that, asking challenging questions about guilt, complicity, family and trust. Refreshingly for a US crime novel, the town police are portrayed not as highly trained investigators who'll always save the day, but as bumbling at best and trigger-happy at worst, while the central characters are all entirely believable and utterly sympathetic.

* This title kindly provided for review by the publishers via NetGalley

Monday, 14 August 2017

I Have A Wedding Hangover

Our leftover confetti, as seen the next morning when we went to clear up

I have the hangover from hell: a wedding hangover.

Two weeks ago today was the day Thomas and I had spent the previous three years planning and now I'm looking around my house, empty at last of wedding supplies, and feeling a bit empty myself.

Because it turns out that all of those old cliches are true.

It will go by in a flash.

Enjoy every moment, it goes so fast.

It's the best day of your lives.

This last I had been especially resistant to in the run-up to the big event. "Best day of my life," I scoffed, "I like to think my life is more interesting than one in which participating in an ancient patriarchal ritual is the best day I ever experience."

Well, don't I have egg on my face. What I should have realised was that, for us, the ritual isn't what makes it the best day ever, but the people who came to participate in it.

I can't properly describe to you how beautiful it was when I looked around the room and saw my family, who'd travelled from five different countries, the Nijmegen gang who'd decamped to Leicester for the weekend, Thomas' Scottish friends & family, and my local pals, all gathered together to celebrate with us. It's humbling to be faced with such love and affection: people who care so much about our stupid selves that they travelled hundreds or thousands of miles to share in our joy.

I'm tearing up writing this, realising that never again will that strange, wonderful combination of people come together, never again will we get to experience such a special day. So my advice to anyone planning a wedding at the moment? It will go by in a flash, enjoy every moment. And it is the best day of your lives.

Note: many more wedding posts to come, don't worry! (She says, as if you're all so desperate to read more of me boring on about it. Well tough cos I'm gonna). But I'm really sick at the moment so it'll have to wait until I'm better.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Buyer's Archive: June

Since February 2015, 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. 

Apart from this post being extremely delayed, I actually didn't do too badly last month.

Denim skirt, Primark £7
I really can't explain why I bought yet another denim skirt: I think this is maybe my seventh? And not even black, like I wanted. It was a panic buy, a desperate grab at the only denim skirt near to my size (oh yeah it's also a size too big). Not my smartest ever buy, but I have worn it a few times, with a belt to prevent it falling down, so I'm trying to get my money's worth.

Grey marl t-shirt, Primark £2.50
Steff alerted me to the brilliance that is Primark's slouchy tees and I am so glad. This dark grey marl one is one of my buys of the summer: I wear it constantly, tucked into a variety of vintage midi skirts. This is a size 12 (and I am a size 16/18) so their size range would fit well into plus sizes.

Tote bag, Black Lodge Press £7.50 (bought with Etsy vouchers)
Isn't this just THE best bag you've ever seen? I've had Etsy vouchers burning a hole in my pocket since Christmas, but hadn't spied anything I really wanted to spend them on until I saw this on Black Lodge Press's Instagram feed.
Tan loafers, Clarks £25
I've worked my way through a variety of uncomfortable and ill-fitting tan loafers from fashion stores like Dorothy Perkins, and thought it was more than time I invested in a proper, leather pair. So I was thrilled to find the Griffin Milly loafers in the Clarks sale (they don't seem to be online anymore but they might still have them instore). Once autumn hits, I'll be wearing these non-stop with my skinny jeans.

I'm finding at the moment that either there aren't any clothes in the shops that interest me, or that I don't feel like I *need* new stuff, which is great. Could it be that my addiction to fast fashion and shopping is starting to wane? We'll see... But with six months of 2017 gone, I'm almost exactly on target to achieve my goal of spending only £600 on clothes, shoes and accessories.
But  June 2016 was a different story: I went on a real shopping spree and ended up spending a whopping £131.99. Of what I bought then, unfortunately nothing has been particularly well-worn with the exception of the ASOS T-bar shoes. I ended up having to sell the cat t-shirt because Missy hated it(!), and the turquoise midi skirt also got sold on. The polka dot skirt hasn't yet found its way into my regular wardrobe as I can't ever quite figure out what to wear it with. And I've found it hard to wean myself off my tote bag habit, so the Fjallraven rucksack - although a bargain - doesn't get used a huge amount. So yeah, overall not a terribly successful month of shopping.

Total for June: £42

Total so far for 2017: £291.69

Total this time last year: £334.63

Look out for the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to see the other bloggers taking part.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Photo An Hour: Saturday 15th July

I finally remembered to participate in Photo An Hour, after a few months of consistently forgetting, hooray! To be honest, when I woke up I felt like I wasn't going to bother with it but then I saw that Becks - who I was meeting later in the day - was taking part and it spurred me on to start taking my photos.
10am:
A shamefully late start to my day. I don't know why, but I am just so tired at the moment and feel like I could just sleep and sleep every morning. Anyway, finally up and I have a cup of tea and a bagel to fortify me for my trip to Nottingham.
11am:
Getting dressed. I really wanted to go to Weirdo Zine Fest in London today but train tickets from Leicester are ridiculously £££ and I just can't afford to go much anymore. Instead, I'm representing for zinesters with my brilliant new tote bag from Black Lodge Press: Make Zines/Destroy Fascism is a great slogan to live by.
Midday:
On the tram into Nottingham from the Park & Ride. I was meeting up with my friend Becks for the first time in months
1pm:
Can you believe I didn't know that there was a Sostrene Grene in Nottingham until today. Just loooook at all this beautiful yarn! And I don't even use yarn in any of my crafts. Never heard of Sostrene Grene? Imagine Tiger, but both cheaper and classier.
2pm:
Becks had heard about a super special secret bar hidden away in Hockley and was in the process of telling me about it when we literally stumbled upon it by accident (so maybe not so super secret after all). Inside was an incredible candle-lit space that reminded me of Budapest's ruin bars.
3pm:
Pizza time! I had a the garlic bread with cheese and it was amazing.
4pm:
My timings are a bit screwy here - at 4 I was actually driving home, so instead have this picture I took at about half 3 in the Sue Ryder Vintage shop. I can never resist a vintage typewriter.
5pm:
My vintage shopping haul. I've been after a pleated polka dot midi skirt for ages, so I was especially excited to find this one.
6pm:
Missy has shown to inclination to sit on laps since it got warm a month ago, so the fact that she plonked herself down on mine almost as soon as I sat down was very exciting. Never mind that it delayed dinner by a good hour, I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity for some quality cat time.
7pm:
I'm a real creature of habit, and Saturday evenings don't feel quite right without the following ingredients: the Funk & Soul Show on 6 Music, a glass of wine, the kitchen fairy lights lit, and something bubbling away on the stove.
8pm:
I'm feeling completely wiped out lately - underlying wedding planning stress maybe? - and last night I didn't feel capable of anything more intellectually demanding than a terrible comedy, so Role Models it was.

11pm:
Missed a couple of hours as we were finishing the film, but 11pm found me in bed with a book and about to turn off the light.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

I Will Not Be A Perfect Bride

I will not be a perfect bride and I will not have a perfect wedding.

I will be a size 18 bride, as I am a size 18 woman. I haven't slimmed for the wedding, haven't tried to turn myself into a different, smaller version of the person Thomas fell in love with. I understand why, in a society in which fat-shaming and diet culture are pervasive, many brides choose to diet. But I won't, I didn't. I will wear my double chins and my back fat and my stomach with pride. I will not be a perfect bride.

I will be a scarred bride. I am blemished and tattooed and scarred and I will not cover them with clothes or with make-up. I will wear the marks on my body because they are my history, each one bringing me closer to the person I am today, the person who Thomas knows and loves. I will not be a perfect bride.

I will be a bride with a chronic illness. I will be carefully attending to my medication regimen and diet in the next three weeks but, nevertheless, I will be a bride who needs the loo a lot on her wedding day. I will not be a perfect bride.

I will be a bride with as little anxiety as possible, which means that I will not have a perfect wedding. It will not be very Instagrammable, nor will it look like a Pinterest board. It will be simple and ramshackle and DIY. But it will also be silly and fun and oh-so-very 'us'.

Because while I will not be a perfect bride, I will be a very happy bride. I will be surrounded by family and friends, who are collectively travelling a total of 61,000 miles to be with us in Leicester. Every aspect of our day - from the reception venue to the cakes to the photographer - involves people we know and love. And, most importantly, I will be with my boy. The one who goes into another room to eat crisps because he knows I can't stand the noise. The one who took six weeks to kiss me when we started dating. The one who thinks my most annoying quirks are not just tolerable but actually cute. And while he won't be a perfect bridegroom, either, he will be - and is - perfect for me.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

One Year

Today marks one year since Thomas and I brought Missy home from the RSPCA.

It has been the most wonderful 12 months with her and, at the risk of sounding like a total cliché, neither of us can remember what life was like without her. Although we'd both lived with cats before, they'd always belonged to housemates which, it turns out, isn't the same thing at all.

Missy chose us, rather than the other way round. We went to the RSPCA a couple of days after Brexit, desperate to take our minds off the horror unfolding around us, and wandered around the cat section admiring puss after puss, completely baffled as to how we were meant to choose just one. And then a black cat with yellow eyes pushed herself up against the glass of her pen and 'rubbed' her head against my hand to say hello, and we were smitten.

Missy is mercurial. She is assertive. She can be very aloof and she can be very affectionate. She loves being brushed more than anything else (apart from perhaps Dreamies) and she loves to greet us when we come home from work. She will only sit on a lap if you first put a yellow cushion on said lap: no cushion, no lap snuggles from Missy. She'll hiss when displeased and occasionally strike out, but she's always careful not to use her claws on us. She's an awful wimp who makes a song and dance out of jumping onto a table, and will run away from other cats rather than confront them. She does, however, like to hunt flies. To our great disappointment, she's never shown any interest in boxes, nor in sitting in small and amusing places. Her happy place is the back garden, where she can nibble plants and watch insects to her hearts content. Most importantly, she is - as we tell her often - the best little cat in the world and we could not love her more.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

15 Facts About Me

Months and months ago Rachel tagged me in a post on Instagram challenging me to share a selfie and 10 random facts about myself. And then I totally forgot about it until Sarah wrote a post recently with her facts. I've done fact posts before but I know I always enjoy reading other people's, so here goes trying to think of 15 new facts about myself.

1. My favourite subject at school was drama and I usually took the lead role in the school plays and musicals.

2. Show tunes are my not-at-all-guilty pleasure. I love listening to the Elaine Paige show on Radio 2 on Sunday afternoons, and on long car journeys will blast the soundtracks to Wicked and Rent while singing along at the top of my voice.

3. I also have a fondness for grime and, despite the incongruity of a 30-something white woman bopping along to Stormzy in a Ford Ka, it's another of my favourite driving soundtracks.

4. Speaking of age, I turn 40 next June and I am not at all happy about it. It sounds like such an enormous milestone (frankly, it just sounds so old!). So yeah, there's lots of denial of the ageing process going on around here at the moment.

5. I was once on local television talking about zines. I was only 17 and it was about as awkward as "teenager interviewed on local Bradford cable channel" sounds.

6. My mum is deaf, so I have (rudimentary) BSL skills. However, as she lost her hearing in her 50s, none of us are exactly fluent.

7. I have multiple diagnoses - Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Pain Syndrome - that impact on my life in various ways. At the moment, I'm trying to figure out how to get through the wedding and start my MA course without a combination of the three causing havoc.

8. I don't particularly like chocolate, and especially not chocolate cake.

9. The best gig I've ever been to was Joanna Newsom at Manchester Palace Theatre in 2010, closely followed by Joanna Newsom at Manchester Albert Hall in 2015. Whenever I see her live I spend the entire time completely rapt, so I'd heartily recommend trying to bag tickets when she next tours.

10. I secretly quite enjoy supermarket shopping.

11. Before getting Missy, I'd never owned a pet. Nope, not even a goldfish when I was a child.

12. I have too many disgusting habits to name, but probably the most unappealing is picking dry skin off my feet and then chewing it. I know, I disgust me too.

13. I've never been afraid of going to the dentist but, until a few years ago, I had a phobia of going to the hairdressers.

14. I've lived in three cities as an adult - Bradford, Manchester and Leicester - the latter for 20 years. I will leave one day... maybe?

15. Things internet people have recognised me by when meeting in real life: my fringe, my Feminist Killjoy bag, my tattoo, my red hair and, on one memorable occasion, by boobs.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

To Gift List Or Not To Gift List? That Is The Question

Recently a lot of people have asked us about gift lists: Do we have one, and if not, what do we want? And it's turning out to be a thornier issue than we at first thought.

When we started planning the wedding, Thomas and I were absolutely adamant that we didn't want a traditional gift list; asking guests to first pay to travel (90% of guests are coming from outside of Leicester, with 50% of those travelling from overseas) and then to splash out on some fancy kitchen gadgets from John Lewis just didn't sit right with us. Unlike in times past, when a couple getting married would almost invariably be setting up home for the first time, Thomas and I have lived together for four years and we have pretty much everything we need. So, no gift list.

We did ponder asking for charitable donations in lieu of gifts (I was particularly keen to support the at-risk-of-closure Leicester Rape Crisis), or perhaps for Canadian dollars ahead of our planned trip next summer. But, again, we came back to the fact that asking people to cough up cash in addition to plane fares and hotel bills felt unfair. While some guests would, I am sure, be more than happy to contribute, we didn't want people to feel obliged.

As we count a huge number of talented artists amongst our friends and family, we next toyed with the idea of going with the classic mum line, "Anything you've made would be lovely." But then how would those without artistic skills (or with the skills but without time to commit to a project) feel? Again, we didn't want there to be a sense of obligation.

A few alternatives have been suggested by friends: an Etsy gift list, perhaps, or sharing our Amazon wishlists and getting books as wedding presents. In the end, though, we've gone with what's probably the least satisfactory solution from a guest's perspective - an embarrassed shrug and a muttered, "You don't need to get us anything," when asked. But we're still not entirely sure if this approach is the right one, or whether our attempts to ensure people don't feel obligated to give us something are just making it more complicated for guests who do want to give a present. So let me know: what do you think of wedding gift lists? 

Monday, 5 June 2017

Planning An Anxiety-Friendly Wedding

With just eight weeks to go, the wedding is at the forefront of my mind at the moment, so prepare for a few posts talking about it. Today's is prompted by something a couple of people have recently asked me: how I've dealt with managing my anxiety during wedding planning and how I think I'll cope on the day itself?

It was an interesting question to ponder, because in all honesty we didn't approach the planning from the perspective of making the wedding anxiety-friendly. However, once Thomas and I sat down to think about it, we quickly realised that almost all of the big decisions we've made during planning have been prompted by or related to making it a comfortable experience for us. We have - partly on purpose but mostly by accident - planned the perfect anxiety-friendly wedding.

So, what have we done to make our wedding anxiety-friendly? Here are a few things that have worked well for us.

Staying Local
When we first began talking about a wedding, I was adamant about one thing: I did not want to have it in Leicester. My love/hate relationship with the city I've called home for 20 years is a whole other post, but at the start of the planning process two years ago I was in a 'hate' phase. So we looked, in a vague and noncommittal way, at venue options from Bristol to Glasgow, Leeds to Warwickshire. But nothing felt right, or affordable, or easy.

And then, a brainwave. Where do we feel most comfortable? The Lansdowne pub here in Leicester. Which building do we both think is one of the most beautiful in England? The Guildhall here in Leicester.

Now, having booked both places, I'm very relieved we chose to be have our celebration here. I'm (luckily) very much in an 'I love Leicester' mood of late, and I'm so excited to show the city off to people from around the world who would otherwise have no reason to visit. More importantly, it has made the planning so much easier, compared with trying to pull off a big event in a city we're unfamiliar with. So you can keep your destination weddings: I'm happy to be having a local one.

Saying "No" To DIY
It would have been so very easy for me - creative, imaginative, crafty -  to become completely absorbed in a thousand DIY projects to make our wedding look Pinterest-perfect. I can imagine an alternate reality where we decided to decorate a barn or a marquee from scratch and I spent every evening for the past 12 months sobbing over table centrepieces and hand-sewn bunting.

Instead, we embarked on wedding planning with a strict "No DIY" policy. This was largely for budgetary reasons but also because we explicitly wanted a stripped-back, simple wedding: no favours (which inevitably get forgotten about and left on tables), no elaborate seating plans, no handcrafted centrepieces to fit a theme. In fact, no theme at all. This approach has meant that our energies have been concentrated on the few things - music, clothes, food - that are important to us, and has saved me many a sleepless night worrying about craft supplies.

Making Google Docs Our Best Friend
From guest lists, to keeping track of when people are arriving and where they're staying, to budget and to-do lists, everything is contained on one many-tabbed spreadsheet. And having it as a shared Google Doc means that we can both access it anywhere, any time. Having a 2am panic about unbooked hotel rooms? I can quickly check on my phone without getting out of bed. It's made it so much easier to share the planning and ensure that Thomas - against my instinct to be a complete control freak and drive myself to a breakdown - is able to do his fair share.

Saying "Yes" To Offers Of Help
Chiefly, financial help from my parents. Because, believe it or not, Janet Brown - Fiercely Feminist Independent Woman - is having a wedding almost entirely paid for by my mum and dad. And yeah, that's pretty fucking weird and something both Thomas and I struggled with and debated for a long time. Ultimately, though, we realised that turning down their incredibly generous offer to match the cash they'd given my brother and his wife for their 2015 wedding would have been foolhardy. Could we have paid for it all ourselves? Yes, by scrimping and saving these past two years, during which we were also constantly fretting about Thomas not having permanent employment. But our anxiety levels were immediately reduced the day we deposited those cheques and it's taken so much worry out of the planning process.

Of course, help hasn't only come in the form of money from my parents. So many friends have stepped up to help with everything from collecting jam jars for flowers, to volunteering assistance on the day, to lending cake stands. Knowing people who work in the wedding industry has also been hugely helpful, meaning we got our invitations, cakes, photographer and music all sorted either for free or at mate's rates.

If you're planning a wedding and someone offers to help, it's always worth considering it carefully -  I've heard nightmare stories of parents thinking that giving money entitles them to control over the guest list, for example - but if you're comfortable with what's on offer, I'd say go for it.

Planning Time Together On The Big Day
I appreciate that for many people, getting ready separately and seeing each other for the first time as one of you walks down the aisle is all part of the magic. But for Thomas and I, the worst thing we could imagine was being apart until the ceremony. There's a reason we're getting married, after all - he's my person, the one I want by my side when I'm feeling anxious or nervous - and so it felt completely counter-intuitive to be apart during the build-up.

Instead, we'll both spend the morning at a family brunch before returning to our hotel to get ready together. And when the time comes, we'll travel to the Guildhall together ready to meet and greet people as a team. Taking the decision to do away with tradition and spend the whole day together was an easy one to make, and I am so glad I'll have Thomas by my side for the whole experience.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A Buyer's Archive: May

Since February 2015, 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. 

This time last year I bought a pair of denim shorts that I later returned, a pair of sunglasses that broke just last week after lots of wear, a secondhand Topshop dress that I've sadly accepted just isn't my colour, and a basic black tee which I wear a lot, giving a total of £33.98. Could I beat that total this May? With a grand total of one clothing purchase, yes I could.
Vintage midi skirt, Sue Ryder Vintage £9
The Sue Ryder shop in Leicester is a great source of vintage goodies and I've picked up some brilliant retro fabric here over the years. It's rare, though, that I find clothes that fit me so I was excited to spot this button front midi skirt. I've already worn it a lot - with my denim jacket, tights and clumpy shoes when it was chillier, and with bare legs, sandals and a black t-shirt now the weather is better - so I reckon it will be a wardrobe staple in the months to come.

Total for May: £9

Total so far for 2017: £249.69

Total this time last year: £237.62

Look out for the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to see the other bloggers taking part.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

What I've Been Reading Recently

I have read some utterly brilliant books recently - prepare yourself for many 5 star reviews! - together with one absolute stinker, which is sometimes as much fun to write about as a great book. What are you reading at the moment? I'm currently enthralled by Kraken by China Mieville, after it was recommended to me by my brother, and although it's out of my comfort zone it's completely absorbing.

The Upside Of Unrequited*
Becky Albertalli
Rating: *****
Molly and her twin have always been best friends as well as sisters, but when Cassie meets the girl of her dreams and falls head over heels, Molly's suddenly left behind. It's not that she's never been in love - she has, 26 times - but it's always been unrequited. Luckily, Cassie has a cute friend, Will, who's showing an interest in Molly... so why can't she stop thinking about her nerdy co-worker Reid?

Albertalli's first novel, Simon Versus The Homo-Sapiens Agenda, is one of my favourite books ever and the one I'm most likely to press upon friends while shouting, "READ THIS!" so it's fair to say that anticipation was running high for The Upside Of Unrequited. But I absolutely loved this sweet, charming, funny romance. It's fantastically diverse and, best of all, Molly is the fat YA heroine of my dreams. What leaps off the page is that Albertalli knows teenagers - knows what makes them tick, knows the cadences of their speech - and, perhaps more importantly, likes them. Her characters are fully-rounded, interesting, flawed beings, with whom the reader cannot help falling in love. This book would have been so, so important to me when I was a teenager and I'm not too proud to admit that even now, I cried happy tears at seeing a fat girl (with lesbian moms! It me!) represented on the page. And for Simon... fans there's the added Easter Egg of a guest appearance by the man himself.

One Of Us Is Lying*
Karen McManus
Rating: *****
Five students enter detention, only four come out: the jock, the swot, the homecoming princess, and the rebel, leaving the much-disliked Simon Kelleher - the brains behind a devastatingly accurate school gossip app - dead. And so begins a police investigation that has the power to destroy all their lives and root out secrets they'd all prefer were kept buried.

One Of Us Is Lying is an absolutely brilliant read. Despite accurately guessing whodunnit at about 20% - I read a lot of thrillers and this is frequently an issue for me - I still felt compelled to keep reading. The characters of Cooper (jock), Bronwyn (swot), Addy (princess) and Nate (rebel) are so fully rounded that I was more than happy to go on this journey with them, despite knowing where we'd end up. Comparisons to The Breakfast Club are inevitable, but this is so very much more than that film: more complex, with more likeable characters, and with much greater tension and higher stakes.

The Pearl Thief*
Elizabeth Wein
Rating: *****
Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her grandparent's ancestral home for one last summer, after the death of her grandfather forces the sale of the house and land. This, together with the mysterious disappearance of the family pearls, followed closely by the discovery of a body in the river, leads Julie into a summer of self-discovery. Although The Pearl Thief is being marketed as a 1930s period mystery, in the vein of Agatha Christie, it's so much more than that. Yes, there's a mystery element, but it's less important than the exploration of topics as varied as burgeoning sexuality, disability, anti-traveller prejudice, and privilege. Julie - who could so easily come across as just another poor little rich girl - is instead winningly self-aware and willing to examine her own privilege, and the novel has a beautifully elegiac tone (the more so when you realise it's set in 1938 and that the shadows of war hang over all). A lovely book that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Sometimes I Lie
Alice Feeney
Rating: *
Amber, our narrator, is in hospital in a coma. We know this because she tells us immediately, along with two other salient facts: her husband doesn't love her anymore, and sometimes she lies. Sounds intriguing, right? Well, within the first 10 pages of Sometimes I Lie Amber had employed "rape" as a verb to describe something other than sexual assault, and used horribly derogatory language to describe a fat character, so it's fair to say I wasn't well-disposed towards it from the start and, unfortunately, it doesn't get any better. The plot - switching from Amber's hospital bed recollections of the days leading up to the accident that put her in a coma, to childhood diary entries - is utterly ridiculous and the only reason I read to the end instead of DNF-ing was because I was stuck on a train with nothing else to read. If you're in the market for a ludicrously far-fetched thriller, in which virtually every character is thoroughly unlikable and completely unbelievable, and with a laughably bad denouement, then maybe this is the book for you. It certainly wasn't for me.

The Lauras*
Sara Taylor
Rating: ****
Alex is 13 when Ma pulls them out of bed and into the car and embarking on a road trip across America, sometimes settling in one place for months at a time, at others staying briefly before moving on. The Lauras is so named for the girls and women from Ma's youth, which she spent in and out of foster care, and about whom Alex is regaled with tales. It is through these stories, told during their years on the road, that Alex learns to view Ma as more than just a mother but as a person too.

The novel has an episodic feel and, despite the potential for repetition inherent in the narrative moving from gritty motel to dusty road to gritty motel, each stop along their journey is beautifully drawn in immersive and lyrical prose. Neither Alex nor Ma have uncomplicated lives, and it's not a book that ties everything up in a neat bow at the end, but there was a sense of hope nonetheless. By far the best coming of age novel I've read in years.

Who Runs The World?
Virginia Bergin
Rating: ***
"They said that," he murmured, "They said you was lost without us."
"We are not lost," she said, calmly, "We are running the world."
Sixty years after a virus wiped out almost every man and boy on the planet, teenager River is being brought up in the Matriarchy, a place where war has ended, greed and violence not tolerated, and empathy is the prized quality in a person.

Who Runs The World? has a brilliant premise and it is, for the most part, well executed. Because it's a middle grade/YA novel it's not always as complex as, say, Naomi Alderman's equally feminist dystopian novel The Power. And as the pace picks up towards the end, things become over-complicated and under-explained. However, River is a great protagonist - well-rounded and sympathetic, although not always likeable - and the world that Bergin creates is entirely believable. A warning, though: it's impossible to read this without the Beyonce song cycling constantly through your head!

* This title kindly provided for review by the publishers via NetGalley

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Some Small Home Updates

You know when interiors magazine say, "You can jazz up a space with just new cushion covers!" and you think, "Yeah whatever, pull the other one." Turns out they're not lying. Something I've learnt since buying my home is how easy it is to update a room with comparatively tiny changes. 

Prior to moving to this house I'd lived in fourteen places in twelve years: I'd never really had the chance to get tired of a room or flat before it was time to move on. But I've stayed put for almost nine years, which is more than enough time to want to make changes, both big and small. We've just finished renovating our bathroom and I wrote about our kitchen on a budget last year, but it's the little updates that I enjoy the most and today I'm sharing some of them.
Living Room
Something I'm not crazy about in the living room is just how much brown wood there is. In an ideal world, I'd strip and paint the floorboards but just thinking about the dust and mess (and little cat prints on a freshly painted floor) makes me shudder. So I was lucky to find the perfect rug for the space, in simple shades of grey, from my favourite local homewares shop Harriman & Co.

As the living room is at the back of the house it can easily feel dark, so over the past 9 months or so I've collected sunshine yellow accessories to being a welcome pop of colour to the room. I picked up the yellow cushions from Habitat when they were having a discount event, the Hello Sunshine print is from Moonko in Sheffield, the retro-style yellow chair comes from My Furniture, and the vintage floral cushion cover (on grey chair) was from a local charity shop.

Total cost for this room's colourful new look? Chair, cushions and print all came to a total of £120. I've also re-used items where possible - "shop your home" as the fancy interiors bloggers call it - relocating a painted basket IKEA hack from our bedroom and the blue cushions (originally La Redoute) from the spare room, while my beautiful but broken 1960s typewriter sits happily in a corner with some of Thomas's vintage book collection.
Our Bedroom
Our room has always been a space that most reflects my tastes rather than both of ours; it was my pink-toned retreat for years before Thomas moved in and it's been slow to change. The addition of things specific to him - including the bear on a bike print, the custom portrait painted by Laura, and the (in-joke) All I Do Is Win embroidery - plus prints that he's chosen (such as the It's A Wonderful Life poster), and the introduction of teal and yellow as accent colours, are all my attempts to make it feel as much his space as mine.

The geometric cushion covers were a bargain £6 apiece from La Redoute, the Hello Sunshine cushion came from Tesco, while the battery operated string of ball lights are from Tiger and help to pull the different colours in the room together. At a cost of just £27, the room is now a light, bright, colourful space.