Shelf Life – Give a girl a book, she’ll read for a day. Give a girl a library and she’ll read forever

Rejoice Readers, for I have good tidings – Spring has finally Sprung! It is upon us in all it’s majesty and I for one am immensely grateful. The clocks have changed, the days are longer and if I hear one more person threaten me with another terribly named weather front, I will pitch an absolute fit. I have tasted sunshine and felt the soft summer zephyr on my face and I will be damned if I’m going to let the promise of another snowy weekend dampen my cheer.

To fully welcome the season (and bite my thumb at any lingering wintery atmospheric conditions) I’ve commissioned a lovely spring wreath to festoon my front door curtsey of the almost not quite but soon to be sister in law. TMM and I regularly drive past an adorable little house that really pulls all the stops out for year round seasonal displays and I’ve been completely bewitched by their practice of having a beautifully topical wreath always viewable. Last October, they had the most spectacular tea tray sized one made up of stunning coloured miniature pumpkins that must have weighed and absolute ton. At Christmas they had a lovely simplistic arrangement of driftwood and currently they’ve got one made up of beautifully painted pastel eggs. In my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided we’re going to up our game and give them a run for their money. TMM’s sister has been attending a flower arranging course over the past few months, and paired with her fashion design University degree, it’s done me very well. I’m expecting great things from her for the rest of the year. My house is going to look freakin’ fabulous.

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Look how pretty!

We’re not doing too badly on the inside of the house either. TMM hasn’t quite fully got into his fitness groove but now that things are a bit tidier, he’s back onto his daily yoga routine (Bucky is incredibly interested in this and likes to help in his own, incredibly unhelpful, way). I have done absolutely nothing to improve my fitness (because I am forever destined to be a potato wedge and will definitely be one of the first to go when the zombie apocalypse finally happens upon us) but project wise it’s all going quite smashingly. Over the weekend I managed to get a bit of a stomp on with the wedding place settings I’ve been tasked with for TMM’s brother’s wedding. Admittedly I have had them for a few weeks, but I’m finally on the home stretch now and am hoping to have them finished by Saturday, with 3 weeks to spare. After that, I’ve got a couple of personal requests from my best Woo for her yoga studio-cum-delightfully decorated bedroom and then I should be completely up-to-date with my commissions. I’ve still got plans for our living room (TMM shudders) but once the craft corner is re-vamped and everything is stocked in delightfully decorated and sensibly labelled boxes (FINALLY, says Woo, who has been far more involved in our house that she ever thought she would be), it’s going to be a dream.

A huge chunk of the work is done now that the bookshelves are finally finished (TMM breathes a huge sigh of relief) and as promised, please find a picture of them in situ. I’m pretty chuffed with how they’ve turned out and the amount of space they’ve given us is actually a little ridiculous. I think we’ve both been a little panicked at how much room on there is (bookshelf number 5 in the corner has two completely empty shelves!) and TMM has demanded an immediate trip to the nearest bookshop and is chomping at the bit to start stocking up. I don’t think he actually has any idea of what books he wants to buy, but that’s never stopped him before. It’s more the prospect of having them there, ready and waiting, that he needs. I think he’s quite taken with the ides of an “anti-library” (a term I learnt from an article my dad pointed me to – please see the link below**) and the notion of being surrounded by so many unread books; the constant and steady reminder that there is an infinite amount of knowledge and experience available and the never-ending strive for personal improvement through learning (Or, I dunno, he just looks the look of it). I, on the other hand, am slightly panicked to know that I will probably never be able to read all of the books we will own in our lifetime and more often than not find comfort in picking up a well thumbed old favourite in favour of something new, because I aim for contentment rather than excitement. Still there’s a safety in unread books in that there is always something there to interest, engage and teach me, so whatever our reasoning, our library can continue to flourish.

These new bookshelves have also meant that we’ve been able to slightly categorise the books we already have (because we’re geeks with mental health issues and we can’t help try and identify patterns) and helped me flesh out a blog idea that TMM suggested a few weeks ago. He sent me a snapshot of a couple of questions that someone had asked regarding their favourite books, and whilst we were restacking, I couldn’t help but start to answer them for myself…

(I do warn you now, the answers get a tad incestuous because 1) I cannot ever just pick one answer to a question and 2) a lot of the things I love about one book overlap with the rest, which is why I love them in the first place, but I promise I’ll try not to repeat myself too much).

So, because it’s best to go big or go home, I’ve started with the hardest question. Favourite book of all time. And just to be annoying, I’m not going to answer it, because this is a stupid question. Seriously, who can pick a favourite book? It’s impossible. Anybody who can categorically chose one book to hold esteemed above all others is clearly an alien or an android and shouldn’t be trusted.

Ironically perhaps, considering my anger at the previous question, I have actually pinpointed a Favourite Series, though it is a bit of an extraneous question really, because all of the books mentioned (with the notable exception) are favourites of mine. Still, I can’t let a book post go by and not mention Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. I have gushed about these so much I have managed to make at least 4 other people read them (3 bought their own versions, the other was bought them as a Christmas present along with the threat of death if he didn’t read them). A series that comes with 6 novels (so far), a novella, a couple of short online stories, an audio book, additional comics and the one fantastic rap by Doc Brown is something that deserves commendation. The fact the actual stories are pretty fab doesn’t hurt either.

The next question is slightly easier, though not much because I literally cry at everything. A book that made you cry – let’s be honest. It would probably be easier to find one I haven’t teared up at. I mean, I’ve cried at lots of books. Sometimes I just cry because I love them that much, but I think the one that stands out for making me actually ugly cry is The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. The whole Northern Lights trilogy is stunningly moving and evocative, but I’m pretty sure I started crying about two chapters in and didn’t stop until about three days after I’d finished. Between losing favourite characters, having to endure biblical wars and ending on bittersweet endings to relationships you were convinced would survive, it’s a bit of heartbreaker.

The next choice made me cry too, but I hardly think it’s surprising. Naming a book that changed your life is possibly an obviously answer for anyone that knows me (and probably even for people that don’t). If anyone ever has to do a Mastermind episode on my life (it could happen!), Harry Potter will definitely come up. That series has had an actually ridiculous impact on my life. I cried, I laughed, I went to midnight opening sales and I bonded with my sister more than you’d ever think over those seven books. That story affected a generation of people world wide and I’m pretty sure it would be the answer to this question for more than just myself

To be honest, Harry Potter could probably answer nearly every one of these questions, including this next one. A book you always return to. Being who I am, I spend a lot of time retuning to books, because I fully adhere to the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it”. Still, there are a couple of choices that I could easily pick from a line up to fit every eventuality in my life. One in particular is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Originally my sister’s (let’s be honest, most of these are), the copy of this that I have on my shelf is discoloured, crumpled, ripped in places and absolutely adored. It’s like a security blanket, a best friend and a diary rolled into one. It’s so embroiled in my life that each chapter reminds me of another time I read it; of a mood or memory or specific moment, and yet every time I pick it up, it’s a completely new experience.

The next question provides a bit of a U-turn and I’m almost ashamed to admit my answer. Worst book you’ve ever read. I am a tad sickened by this, but happy to give this title to Fifty Shades of Grey. Good god, could there ever be anything to beat that pile of badly researched, awfully written corrosive a-grade shite? No. No there could not. Unless Donald Trump rolled around on an ink pad and pressed himself against a piece of paper and published it. I can remember being sat in the bath reading a bootlegged copy of the second one on kindle (because like hell was I going to give any money to that cause) and absolutely raging, so much so that TMM threatened to confiscate it. Annoyingly, I had to read the whole series because I needed to know how truly awful it was, and let me tell you, that is a period of my life I will never be able to get back.

Conversely, my next answer brings nothing but sunshine and smiles to my life. Favourite childhood book. I naughtily have two answers here, but I read a lot as a child so you can excuse me. The first, Danny Fox by David Thomson, is a smaller yet perfectly formed trilogy that holds a place very dear to my heart. My wonderful Neens graciously allowed me to take possession of the family copies (dog eared, torn and adored) and they have prime place on the new shelf. Baby’s first crush (the Sailor), first feminist role model (the Princess) and first requested Christmas present (a Fox), they shaped my personality more than I think anyone could have expected. The second is The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley and is possibly one of the most quoted works in my family (except maybe Blazing Saddles). A beautiful, funny, charming and perfectly imagined story, it’s something I would recommend that every parent read with their child.

Which leads on very nicely to the next question – A book you would recommend. Once again, I’ve slightly cheated here because I have two. They’re both books that I’ve shouted from the rooftops about though, and as my poor book club WhatsApp group will attest to, I have shouted about them a lot. The first you may recognise from previous blog posts – My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Seriously, I cannot say enough about this book to make you understand how much you have to read it. It is summer joy wrapped up in one beautifully envisioned bundle and it’s as enjoyable to read now as it was when my Neens used to read it to us of an evening time when we were little. The second is the first of a trilogy (read all three. Do it) – The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist. A decadently rich, wildly careening adventure full of erotic alchemy and gothic horror, it could not be more different to my previous recommendation but is by no means any less worthy of a look.

Now, as you may have guessed, nearly all of my answers for these are affected in some way by my family. I have been surrounded from birth by people who emboldened me to read everything I could find; who taught my to embrace my ability to devour the written word and who shared their own preferences and paramours that allowed me to find my own. The final question; Favourite Author, is a bit of a toughie, but I think there could really only ever be one answer. I can remember being absolutely fascinated by the artwork on the front covers the filled my father’s bookshelves as a tiny dot, and then being equally enthralled by the stories within as I got older and was encouraged to read them for myself. And I remember being so heartbroken that I cried like a baby when I learnt that he’d died. Terry Pratchett was a true artist who created a world so bold and bright that it will stand the test of time. His characters, his mythologies, even his turns of phrase are each as individual and irreplaceable as something can be and I am more than happy to lay down my fealty at the foot of his swivel chair.

So we come to the end of this week’s lesson. I hope you’ve all enjoyed this little peek into my library (and do please share any of your own answers because I do have some shelves that need filling).

Before I go though, I’d like to leave you with this final thought – A good book makes you want to discover more, to immerse yourself in that world and find out everything you can. It should leave you hungry, frustrated and immeasurably improved.

** https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/why-you-should-stop-feeling-bad-about-all-those-books-you-buy-dont-read.html_

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No Money, Limited Space and Knee Deep in Promises and Projects. The Perfect Time to Start Something New…right?

Hello my little sprouts!
I hope all is well in your little corners of the world? I trust you’re all as pleased as I am at the blooming of daffodils and crocuses that are springing up all along the pavements, and that you’re starting to tentatively put away those big winter jumpers and look hopefully at short sleeved t-shirts. Admittedly, the sudden spells of snow and somewhat biting winds that have been battering at the flowers are making it a tad difficult to commit to that summer wardrobe, but I’m maintaining a firm air of positivity. I have also been the busiest of all the bees the past few days and this post comes to you from a much needed and wonderfully relaxing bath. Fernando the somewhat poorly balanced rubber flamingo has been providing some excellent moral support (as has TMM who is currently prostrate on the bathroom floor using the toilet roll as a pillow and reading).

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I’ve balanced him artfully on my knee for this pic, because left to his own devices, he just floats around sideways with his beak underwater.

Now what could possibly have kept you so hectic this weekend you ask, slightly dreading the answer. Well let me tell you, I reply, my somewhat manic grin making your concern completely founded.
As you probably already are aware, I have a penchant for getting these grand ideas, fixating wildly on them and then starting production at the most inopportune times. This month’s somewhat poorly timed venture was a casual re-haul of the living room. It started somewhat innocuously, as these things often do, with a casual remark made by an unassuming work colleague in regards to a lovely little hexagon shelf on the Primark Instagram. Such a small, harmless gesture you might think. Just one friend showing another some nice yet completely banal household items. Nothing that could cause any issues there surely? Well let me tell you, that is most certainly not the case. Within two hours, I’d mentally changed the entire layout of our living room (and the number of bookshelves, because why have just 3 bookshelves when you could have 6??), all to accommodate one simple £6 shelf.
Of course, it then transpired that these shelves could not be found locally for love nor money (or even slightly further afield when I made my dad go hunting around Manchester too) but by that point it was too late. The damage was done, the Ikea website was loaded in three different internet tabs on my phone and my dreams were rapidly expanding far quicker than my purse was able to keep up with.
Poor TMM, who has learnt to take this sort of situation in his stride, allows my flights of fancy and has proven nothing but supportable (even through my customary and somewhat non surprising mini breakdown at the weekend). He promised to take me to Ikea, look at countless Pinterest boards and nod where appropriate whilst I rabbited on about colour schemes, layouts and paint prices. Admittedly, there was a slight hitch or two (broken car exhausts) that threatened to derail me, but my creativity is made of sterner stuff. After being encouraged to purchase the slightly cheaper and somewhat more suitable bookshelves instead of the glorious corner curving, dangerously expensive set I originally had my eye on, I ordered three (2 big, one skinny) shelves of finest Billy MDF and a couple of storage boxes directly from the Ikea website. Now, I do still feel slightly cheated that I didn’t get meatballs or the chance to ride round on the trolley, which is literally a highlight of my life next to going to the car wash. Last time we went, small children were left gobsmacked as I rode astride a rolled up mattress and pushed round the warehouse at high speed. However, whilst my Ikea fix was to remain unsated, it did mean that my early Friday finish could be spent buying the correct painting equipment. It also gave me the opportunity to have a complete spur of the moment switcharoo regarding the paint scheme and we could pick up a sweet little build it yourself green house for TMM’s growing bucket garden. It meant as well that we had the sensible option of removing all the books, bits and bobs and fill up the cwtch in preparation for the delivery on Saturday morning.

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Before the carnage but after the first haul – it is not always this messy, I promise you.

And deliver on Saturday morning they did, I can tell you! Not having many large scale items delivered, we’ve rarely had to deal with the dreaded delivery slot drama, where they give you a helpful 7 hour window and then proceed to turn up three days later. Our slot was narrowed between 7am and 11am, and no points for guessing what time they appeared. They even called at 6.30am to confirm delivery, though it didn’t really do any good because I immediately and unthinkingly declined, believing it to be a completely unnecessary alarm. However, that put TMM on red alert and he was dressed and ready to receive by 6.50am. Within 20 minutes, two adorable looking chaps (Bobble Hat and Beardie) in high viz and the worlds biggest lorry (or at least that’s what it looked like compared to our tiny dead end of a road) were outside, unloading boxes galore and watching with rather bemused yet thankful expressions as TMM carried them all easily into the house. I saw this all from my vantage point under the duvet, peering out of the bedroom window like some kind of hermit crab. I am completely useless with strangers, early mornings or heavy objects and it was decided to be best for all if I just stayed safely out of the way. Beardie was apparently most concerned to make sure we had a good building playlist and Bobble Hat nearly spotted me owlishly peeping out through the window, and by 7.45 everything was in and ready for construction, which was a rather novel experience. Usually our Ikea trips happen late afternoon and we’re building dining room tables at 11pm at night. To have half the battle already won before breakfast time is pretty encouraging.
I eventually deigned to move downstairs at about 9am and we had a chill morning eating oatcakes with TMM’s parents who’d come to help fix Hans von Manschaft (the car) and take TMM out for a walk and some good photo opportunities. I, in the meantime, managed to mostly successfully construct a greenhouse in gale force winds and snow flurries (much to the amusement of the chap from next door who was moving stuff round and was only noticed by myself after I’d said the C word several times and pretended to use the cover as a parachute). I then constructed a half width bookshelf for the bedroom and primed half of one of the big ones before TMM made it home. Definitely one of my more industrious days.
Sunday was spent in a haze of priming, painting in plum and carefully positioning.IT became abundantly clear that I am in desperate need of a workshop (or a tad more self control when it comes to DIY) when I got to the point of having completely taken over the green house and the living room with deconstructed slabs of furniture all over the place. There was also a rather heart-stopping moment halfway through the first coat of the colour paint (after two coats of primer because I will make this shit look good) when we (read I) started to regret all of my choices. The beautifully red wine colour I had been envisioning seemed to be more of a lurid shade of fuchsia and I was furiously calculating if I could nip out and get a time of the dark green I’d originally planned. TMM was terribly sensible though and suggested that multiple coats would improve the look of the thing and then took me out to town to take my mind of it. After returning from a soothing cinema trip to see the new Tomb Raider (enjoyable, but room for improvement in upcoming chapters, 3 stars) he was proven right and the whole situation seemed much better.

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I had been hoping to show you some pictures of the garishly pink shelves and Buck’s adorable yet badly placed paw print, but I accidentally deleted the photos. So instead, here’s Bucky just helpfully sat right in the way giving me a disapproving stare.

Except, that is, for poor Bucky. Due to the toxic nature of the paint (and the fact he’d managed to sneak in and leave a incriminating paw print on one shelf) he was banned from the living room and spent the night with his nose pressed against the living room door, pathetically singing us the sad songs of his people.
Monday (and my final day of holiday allowance) was for final coats and explorative walks – TMM was going slightly stir crazy and was, I think, concerned at my lack of vitamin D and exposure to daylight. We racked up an impressive 10000+ steps on my third day of being awake and out of bed before 9.30am. It was around 7.30pm (who knew how long the days could be?!) before I had my customary strop when there was the inevitable hiccup during construction (I shouted, got hugged, sulked, got shouted at, nearly cried, got passively aggressively encouraged and finally came to my senses) and we got the frames up with minimal injury. I think I may have partly been upset about having to go back to work and give up my free and carefree lifestyle so carefully cultivated in that long weekend, but who knows. I also, rather annoyingly, did have to give up on my design plans for the backboards in favour of sensibility and peace of mind, but I’ve still got a couple of ideas up my sleeve for embellishment (WILL YOU NEVER LEARN, I hear the Greek chorus cry from the side-lines).
Tuesday morning saw me up even earlier than normal to get the final coat on everything and after a mildly harrowing day at work, we got the backboards hammered into place, the shelves on and the touch ups touched up. The colours look rather splendid and after a complimentary coat of wax I think they’re going to be a bit of alright. Unfortunately I haven’t had time too refill them in a carelessly yet totally artful fashion, but rest assured you’ll have photos next week to show the outcome. Overall I reckon its going to be an improvement and is going to allow us at least two more justifiable trips to Waterstones so I’m taking the whole endeavour as a victory.
Now, about those other 3 bookshelves that need painting….
(And in answer to your question, I still haven’t got that bloody Primark shelf.)

Second Rule of Cwtch Club – No Shoes in the Cwtch. Or dirty paws. (Looking at you here Bucky)

Well, we’re still massively in the swing of repurposing the spare room and I have to say our winter project is coming along rather swimmingly. The daybed is in situ now; pride of place with its to size mattress cushions, soft cream jersey bedding (because I am now so bourgeois that I will only accept jersey bed sheets to touch my skin) and adorable tartan blanket. All we’re waiting on is a scatter cushion or two (which TMM is against because he says he’ll just throw them off anyway, but I feel it would just complete the look). I’ve still got some GIANT wool waiting to be used, so I might try and whip up a sneaky little cushion cover one night this week whilst he’s not looking. We also managed to finish the TV cabinet which was slightly trickier that anticipated. We had to buy new brown paint to cover the water damage from last weekend, then new cream paint to do the inside sections because I felt brown all over was a bit too heavy, and then we had to move the whole painting operation into the kitchen because it kept threatening to rain. This obviously  meant that trying to do ANYTHING became immediately a million times harder to do, as our kitchen is somewhat reminiscent of ship’s galley – NARROW. Indeed, whilst we do seem to have an excess of rooms in our little house, every last one of them (except the uneasily cold/dark living room) is tiny. Making sweet and sour for lunch was a very delicate operation and somewhat suggestive of a circus gymnastic act. Bucky found the whole thing hilarious and pretended to rub again the wet corners of the cabinet repeatedly just to watch us freak out. Still, by Sunday evening, it was dry enough to move upstairs and is now happily in place. We’ve stocked it adorably with a couple of our favourite books and some thematic knickknacks and the lap top is sitting comfortable on top with the speakers. I’m still a little unsure of the overall colour (because why be content with a project when you can always be slightly unsure of your choices) but I’m think a little rug/a couple of doilies/an artful placing of frames will help distract and it will blend pleasingly into the rest of the room.

Don’t worry, I have plans to hide the wires and TMM has designs on an old camera to fill the gap next to his Le Carre.

TMM also spent Saturday spontaneously making a bench, which I have to say was rather splendid of him. He looks manly and yet adorable in his specifically work related overalls and I find it very pleasing to see a man wearing the correct outfit for the job at hand (rather than wearing his nice clothes and then looking at me sheepishly when there’s paint splatters and holes everywhere).  There was a slight injury involving a nail and a couple of moments of deep breathing and hammer clenching when some bits didn’t quite match up, but all in all it looks very swell – especially considering he had no plan and proceed to mainly freehand everything like an absolute maverick. The really good thing is that it’s handy enough that it can be either extra seating for when we have guests (because for some reasons we seem to think we’re overwhelmed with visitors even though we both hate people), a little coffee table for down the side of the couch, a handy new cat sear (because Bucky cannot let new furniture go un-sat on, god forbid) and got rid of the spare pallet in a functional yet stylish way. We’re getting rather good at this up-cycling malarkey, and it’s only a matter of time before we try something really adventurous like a 7 foot bookshelf or a garden swing.

        

Such grace, such magnificence. Such simplistic rustic beauty. The bench is alright too 😉

Now that those bits are sorted, the majority of the work is done. (I’ve been forced to admit that my original plan was perhaps a little ambitious and trying to shoehorn a coffee table in there as well might be slightly impossible. Instead, I’m thinking a couple of little upturned baskets on either side will do for drinks holders and not take away from the already limited leg space). All that’s left now is the all important trinket placement and minor decoration. We’ve got lamps in nearly every corner (and a clever mirror placement) to make sure the room is cosy yet still visible and we treated ourselves to some little fairy light purely because we could. (Idea for Fairy Light Place Linda – perhaps round the curtain pole rather than the shelf?) There’s a couple of casual Buddhas scattered around the place (because we do seem to have a multitude of Buddhas) and Hamish the Stag Head is safely stuck on the wall keeping a watchful eye on things.

We’ve also got a couple of small fake succulents because I am ALL OVER that particular band wagon. They’ve gone in the adorable mini Ikea greenhouse on the window sill that until very recently held a large number of fake toy lizards (unsure as to why if I’m honest) along with a tiny stone owl and couple of tea cups because why not? I am hoping to get some more of varying sizes (again, all fake because I can’t take the commitment to keeping a plant alive and the inevitable heartbreak that follows when it dies horrifically) and I’ve got BIG plans from some fake trailing ivy I’ve ordered off Amazon.

It looks a little like a kind of stylish Swedish nativity scene but there we go.

My main concern however is the inbuilt shelf. Initially, this held great potential for me and I was overwhelmed with the ideas of what I could do with it. However, now it’s come time for something to actually be done, I am really struggling. To actually do anything that looks good. Annoyingly, it’s just a little too deep to hold the frames I’d put aside to go on it, but I feel awkward bringing them to the front and leaving all that space behind them. I have spent far too much time researching ideas, but things that work well in Pinterest don’t seem to transfer over will into my actual life. It becomes clearer every day that whilst I am very creative, I actually have very little originality. Give me something that needs redoing or all the pieces of a pattern and you’ll get excellence. Ask me to do something of my own merit and I will struggle – plagued with self doubt and critical thoughts. Now this doesn’t bode particularly well for the Cwtch shelf or further interior designing endeavours, but if you need criminal forgery, I could definitely be your girl. Still, all is not lost and there I am hopeful we’ll figure out the right amount of shelf to tat ratio. As a final touch, we’ve also got a selection of vintage travel postcards that we’re hoping to stick up in clusters around the room (because we honestly can’t stick to one theme if our lives depended on it) which will hopefully “bring it all together” or whatever it is the say on Grand Designs.

Overall, it’s been a success and whilst we’ve spent slightly more than initially planned (what we didn’t spend on furniture we’re definitely going to waste on all the little bits and bobs) I am terribly proud of what we achieved. Especially with the dark nights and the Christmas stress, it’s the perfect little space to hide away and do nothing but watch scandi-noir thrillers and drink Baileys (which is basically all we do now). I am beginning to panic slightly about the number of social events on the horizon (one thing I definitely am not about) but at least I’ve got somewhere to retire too when it all gets too much.

Anyhoo, I must now be off to enjoy said Cwtch, but stay tuned for next week as I’m hoping to have another hilarious blog post for you. It’s the Christmas Village Faye or “Marche de Noel” this weekend and Molly’s got a hankering to go (even though she doesn’t understand the name and thinks it’s strange, foreign and unnecessary). No doubt there will be politically incorrect insults abound; the vicar will get called fat at least twice and we’ll all go home with 78 jars of home jam. Oh joy oh rapture.

First Rule of Cwtch Club – Nobody enter Cwtch Club (except me. And maybe TMM)

I feel I’ve made a bit of a faux par this month – celebrating my ability to keep a blog going for a whole year and then not actually writing a post the very next week. Annoyingly, I seemed to be lacking in inspiration and motivation, though that really isn’t a valid excuse for a writer. The joy of writing is that if you write enough chaff, you will eventually find some wheat and then it’s just a matter of culling the crap. But alas, I had no go last Tuesday and consequently the world remained blogless. Still, I am returned now with plenty of content so we’ll just chalk up last week’s failings to experience and carry on regardless.

This week (or should I say last week), TMM and I started a new project – partly due to necessity and partly because I really think with do life better when we’ve got something to focus on. We’re very lucky to have a spare room at home, though before people start thinking it’s because we live in a mansion, I’d like to point out that it’s because we actually live in a normal house with a multitude of tiny rooms. We have a “dressing room” purely because we can’t fit anything other than a bed in the main bedroom, and the spare room is less of an extra bedroom (which I can attest to quite strongly after having to cram everything we owned in it for the first 8 months of living in the house) and more of a store room with a window.  However, I do not mean to sound ungrateful and the variety of odd sized living spaces does mean I get to spread my craft around liberally rather than having to try and bulk it all in one specific place.

Anyway, for most of this year, the spare room has housed a ratty old mattress covered in cat fur , a rather upsetting amount of cobwebs and a couple of sewing machines. Mainly we have just pulled the door to and tried to ignore it, because why fix a problem when you can hide it? But no more, I cry! After minimal debate and maximum enthusiasm, we’ve decided we’re going to repurpose it into the “Hygge Cwtch” (basic translation – cosy cubbyhole) – because why jump on just one multicultural décor based bandwagon when you could jump on two? As winter is coming in and consequently our heating bill is about to rocket dramatically (I don’t do well in the cold), we’ve come to the conclusion that moving our evenings to a smaller, cosier, warmer and easier-to-light room is really the only (and most eco firnedly) option. We’re going to use the spare room as a mini living room and the downstairs as somewhere to eat and entertain – at least that’s what we’re aiming for…

Before doing anything sensible though, like drawing up a list of costings, proper requirements or measurements, I obviously created a new Pinterest board and pinned crucial items such as fake plants and pleasing colour schemes (cream/pale grey/latte for anyone who’s interested). I also spent FAR too long drawing up plans of how I wanted the room to look – all of which are completely null and void because how big I think to room is and how big the room actually is differ wildly. Still I had a lot of fun pretending to be Alan Titchmarsh from GroundForce.

plan

Please enjoy my professional and highly accurate diagram

Now, as we have stupidly decided we’re going to take on this new, not insignificantly sized project a month before Christmas when we have no money, time or daylight, we’re working to quite a restricted timeline. Our outside activities (including but not limited to furious sanding and painting) which would have happily been done after work in the summer now can only be completed in a 4 hour window on the weekend between bouts of rain and darkness. Regardless of that though, I feel we’ve achieved quite a lot this weekend and am terribly proud of us. Considering we only decided what we were planning to do at the beginning of the month, the day bed (which was the biggest concern) is already practically finished. TMM deftly managed to liberate three full sized pallets from his place of work, and I spent Saturday happily wrapped in every jumper I own, sanding away to my heart’s content. I was forced to take a Wilko’s break to pick up some new paint, purely because TMM says that sanding for two hours straight is detrimental to my health (spoil sport), but before the daylight faded we had two smooth and painted pallets drying up against the wall.

TMM hard at work priming like a pro and me doing my best bank robber impression – protect eyes, nose and mouth. Remember Kids – Health and safety is paramount when doing DIY!

We have also repurposed one of the hideous mini MDF bookshelves from downstairs to be the new TV stand (with bonus room for adorable trinkets) though that wasn’t dealt with quite as successfully. We sanded, primed and tried to paint one coat, but due to unnecessary rainfall and unfortunate placement of protective tarpaulin, most of the paint was removed and some slight water damage was suffered. Still, nothing was irrevocably harmed and the item in question is currently chilling by the backdoor, recovering from the experience and providing endless amusement to the cat. In the meantime, TMM has masses of fun hacking the old mattress into usable chunks with a breadknife and we’ve now got spare clumps of foam all over the place waiting to go to the tip. Hopefully, weather permitting on Saturday, I’ll be able to repaint and finish the new TV stand whilst TMM gets rid of all the excess crap and then on Sunday we’ll be able to start putting things in place and focusing on the little bits (which is clearly my favourite part). I’ve already added two fake trailing ivy plants and a couple of succulents to my amazon basket, and TMM has a lovely paper mache stag head in cream in bronze that he’s itching to hang in pride of place above the telly. (It allows him to live out his taxidermy dreams without me actually having to have stuffed animals all over the place – ignoring the Squirrel Guardians of Doom that sit on the mantelpiece downstairs giving me evils). I’m quite proud of us too, because the two main pieces of furniture have cost us a grand total of £27.97 (wood stain, paint and bedding), which means I can spend at least another £20 on accoutrements from IKEA and not feel too bad about it. I’ve already got my eye on a SUPER soft blanket and a fox shaped light in a bell jar which will go perfectly.

cwtch

Here we can see a mostly completed day bed – minus super soft cotton sheets, a dismembered mattress and an artfully placed stag head. Not bad for a day’s work!

Overall, by December, the Cwtch should be fully stocked, operational and ready to enjoy during the final stress fuelled push towards Christmas. Which is good, because I feel like I need an encouraging boost at this stage. The Christmas Present Tracker isn’t filling up with successful green boxes as quickly as I’d hoped and I’m having to fight off the rising tide of panic that’s approaching. Though, we’ve got two days off in November (well TMM has 3 but whatever) and as I said to TMM, Christmas is going to get DONE son. I want to go into December with only wrapping, labels and little sweet bundles left on the to-do list – Positive Mental Attitude people! At least I’m coping better than I was two weeks ago, when I was all for cancelling the whole season and spending the festive weekend in bed sulking massively. The older I get (and the more people move around) that harder I find Christmas. I mostly blame work (if I didn’t have to work at all, I could happily spend weeks travelling around leisurely and bestowing gifts happily), but mainly I think I’m just slowly transforming into the Grinch. Still, if I can achieve a new room under budget and within two weeks, I can definitely beat Christmas. 

Something to write home about…

So over the last few days a lot of politics has occurred and once again nobody really has a clue what’s going on, which doesn’t really make much of a difference to how everything usually is. Still, record numbers of young people went out to vote so it can’t be all bad. I remain mostly detached from the situation (I research, I vote, I still despair), but I am now at least a little less cynical towards the voting public. The fact that UKIP have no seats has instilled a small light of faith within my soul.

On a slightly more personal note, we’ve had new flooring in the bathroom(s) and finally the dreaded carpet is no more. HOORAY! I can now leave the shower and not have to cringe at the feel of shag-pile under my wet toes. I have smooth, stylish linoleum to look forward to after my next shower, and I’ve also realised (somewhat sadly) it means that cleaning will be much easier. Everything will be delightful and wipe clean and  I will actually be able to remove splodges of escaped hair dye rather than trying to smush it about and sighing exasperatedly. This is just another step towards my big house cleaning overhaul and I have to say, considering how much I hate it, we’re not doing too badly. The upstairs is nearly done now (still got the back room and the jewellery to do, and we also need to rearrange the bathroom(s) after the flooring) but I’m feeling V POSITIVE. LOOK HOW POSITIVE I AM (so positive). TMM I think is feeling slightly less positive due to my rather hysterical mania, but he’ll be happy enough once it’s done I’m sure. I’m also in full swing with the bedroom gallery wall I’ve recently decided I desperately need in order to compliment my upcycled bedside cabinets. One giant tropical print (+ homemade frame) is just waiting for hooks, and I’ve got 5 smaller prints (frames to be sanded) on their way. Hopefully everything will be in place by next week’s post and you’ll be able to see my new paradise for yourselves.


 New Floor. Check out that artful slate design. Though it would have been nice if the fitter had at least pretended to clean up after himself.

 In other news, you may have noticed our new Instagram account too (because we have been flogging that horse like there’s no tomorrow) @curiousreads. For those of you who haven’t (a bit rude), we’ve decided to join the hipster masses and make our own “bookstagram” – an instagram account that allows us to display our deep love of books through my English Degree and TMM’s pretty decent photography. In order to get our “social media presence” out there, TMM has had a bee in his bonnet and has not allowed me to rest on my laurels. I’ve been churning out reviews left, right and centre, and we’ve even roped in some friends to provide some guest opinions too.

Now that the first week is done with, I’m allowed to calm down a bit and we’re going to aim for 1-2 reviews a week, rather than 1-2 a day. Half the work is already done in that TMM has already got an excellent stock of photos prepared, and we’ve put together a rather repulsive number of stock #s that can be copied and pasted onto each post to draw in the punters. However, this does mean that, somewhat peevishly, I’m left to cobble together some thoughts to match the books that we can get out there. 

I sound somewhat bitter about this and I honestly don’t mean to. I love writing. I mean I really LOVE it. I have over 50 notes on my phone – a technological advancement from the countless number of notebooks that are still scattered over 3 houses (mine and my respective parents’) and it is rare I go through a week without writing something. Admittedly that sounds a bit better than it is – in no way am I the Ernest Hemingway of my day. I might have hundreds upon thousands of ideas but getting them on paper (electronic or otherwise) can sometimes prove a little tricky. I like to think that my strengths lie in the quality and not quantity of the work. Not to toot my own trumpet, but I’m great at short snippets. Single lines pop into my head that suggest a novels’ worth of hilarious content. Whole plot arcs spring, fully formed if not at all fleshed out, to the forefront of my mind and beg to be marked down. Characters for stories I don’t have, or stories for character’s that don’t belong to me sit patiently, waiting to be allowed to do something rather than just hang about in the dark waiting room of my mind drinking lukewarm tea and flicking through outdated magazines.

To succinctly put it, I’m great at writing single scenes, completely in detail (often with stage directions and everything) that have no place or setting, and just float about, popping up now and again just to remind me not to forget them.

Now, whilst it can be quite annoying for me, and is really starting to take up too much room in people’s cupboards and my phone’s memory, it has never been a huge problem. I’ll never be a great novelist, but I might eventually get around to publishing something small. I am happy in the, possibly somewhat fatalistic notion, that there’s no rush and I’ll get there eventually.

However now that I’m being but to the test, I’ve realised that the trouble with the whole situation is having to do what I do to a deadline. Writing to a time constraint (be it mine or someone else’s) isn’t the greatest, but I think that’s more due to my natural butterfly like nature of fluttering around rather than a lack of ability. Typically, the urge to write (which is strong within me) arises at the most inopportune moments or places; just as I’m about to drop off to sleep, in the back of a car late at night, walking home from work. However, the moment I try and set myself down to write something with intent and purpose, my brain is immediately blank and all that can be found within is bubbles bouncing around like an early 2000s windows screen saver. When you’ve promised to update a weekly blog though, or agreed to provide numerous book reviews, this isn’t really acceptable.

I am fighting to combat this though; another one of my #NotAResolutions. This very blog has been good encouragement to try and break this sporadic writing habit, instead forcing me to write something once a week (no matter how much like garbage it is). This new bookstagram is hopefully going to be another useful technique – if I can write a 20-30 word review on command, I’m almost half way to being able to write a full length novel! Sometimes, admittedly, the whole process does still find me sat on the kitchen floor staring at my phone with a rather ferocious frown, muttering petulantly about “how it’s just like homework and I’m a grown up I shouldn’t have homework anymore”, but I think I’m getting better. Like most habits, repetition is key, and If I can (mostly) keep a weekly blog going, I can definitely do an bookstagram. Honest.

 

Look how profesh this Bookstgram Front Page is!

 

 

Fully Booked – A weekend of being busy and bookish

Happy Tuesday to one and all! I hope you enjoyed the Bank Holiday and aren’t too upset to be returned to your original schedule. I have been repulsively productive this weekend (I think I might have had a mini breakdown) and completely blitzed the en-suite and the bedroom. I vacuumed ceilings with various attachments, I washed curtains, I found bank statements from 2007 (why?!) and threw out two bags of rubbish. Poor Ross was drafted into assist with the bedroom, but I did treat him to a Primark shop and take him to watch the new Guardians of the Galaxy in a cinema with reclining seats (say whaaaaaat), so he really can’t complain too much. I also spent yesterday making stencils with my new laminator (Lexy) and painting tropical patterns all over our bedroom cabinets, because who doesn’t want jungle chic in their bedroom?

Cupboard

Getting closer to becoming a Wild Thornberry one stencil at a time

We also had some good news in the arrival of nephew numero uno, Stanley Andrew Darby Pendlebury (weighing in at a tiny 6.02). There have been some adorable pictures and even though he was super early, everyone is doing fine. We’re going to visit him later this evening, so prepare for more photos. In the meantime, please enjoy this gem:

Babies

Sister Robyn looking adorably perplexed to see her new brother in situ.

I also spent a majority of yesterday listening to The Red Necklace as read by Tom Hiddleston, which I have to say is just delightful. I haven’t really done that many audiobooks (ignoring my fascination with PG Wodehouse tapes at bedtime) but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the superbly talented accents of Mr Hiddlescake whilst doing my afternoon DIY.  I definitely think I might have to find some more to enjoy, especially whilst doing my craft projects. In the meantime though, I’ve got my HUGE list of new books to get through, and in honour of that I’ve decided to do a Pre Book Review for you all to enjoy (you’re welcome).

Ten books. Ten pre-reading opinions. Ten further posts seeing if they lived up to my expectations. Boom. Say hello to a million blog posts about my massive book lust. I mean, let’s face it, there’s another 21 books that I’ve not even mentioned that I’ll want to review as well…you might want to strap in.

PRE-BOOK REVIEW

5 books I am most looking forward to reading:

1)      Nigel – My family and other dogs by Monty DonI love Monty Don. Like love him. It’s my fascination with Kevin Whately (Detective Inspector Lewis) all over again. I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something about slightly saggy tired looking old English men that really works for me – it’s like some kind of soothing fascination. I will happily lose hours to Gardener’s World and watching Monty potter around with a complete lack of urgency and a following of adorable doggos. My adoration only really started last year, though I have been aware of him for a while, but it has blossomed rather fantastically. I think it partly helps that I have one memory that really sticks with me of watching RHS flower show one year with the family and hearing Robin ask what his last name was – because she though his first name was Montydon. It left us all in hysterics and still brings a smile to my face whenever I see him.  Now typically I am not too interested in biographies, but I’m willing to waver that for dear Monty. The fact that he’s played on a Gerald Durrell title only adds to the joy, as the Corfu Trilogy (starting with My Family and Other Animals) is one of my favourites and anything that plays homage to it can’t be bad. I’m expecting great things from this book, and I hope I shall be able to tell you it delivered.

2)      Rivers of London Series by Ben AaronovitchI read the first one these a few years ago and remember being completely engrossed by it. The basic premise is something I can always get behind – Urban Fantasy according to wikipedia, and this was so engagingly written I think I flew through it in about two days. The plot focused on a young police officer who (amongst plenty of other things) has to search for and stop some unknown entity who is turning people into twisted murderous versions of Punch and Judy. Now I despise Punch and Judy with an unequalled passion; there is literally nothing about the puppet show that works for me at all and I will go on a rant about them if required. Still I think that element added another level of grotesque fascination to my reading, so I’ll be interested to see if Mr Aaronovitch can maintain the attraction in the later books. The covers alone are pretty pleasing too, so I have high hopes.

3)      LumberJanes (a comic)I can’t actually remember what introduced me to this originally. It was probably a Buzzfeed article, but it made such an impression I ordered it directly afterwards. I still haven’t had chance to look at it though, and it’s been sat on my “To Read” shelf for about 3 months now. It is set around a summer camp for “Hardcore Lady Types” and five scouts of varying levels of awesome – it’s basically everything I’m looking for in life. It’s had excellent reviews and has been described as both accessible and girl friendly in a typically male dominated medium, so I am prepared for it to jump right to the top of my favourite comic list. I’m hoping to be able to pick this up pretty soon, and it won’t take me very long to read so I shall provide a post review asap.

4)      Catch 22 by Joseph HellerI remember really enjoying the film when I saw it a couple of years ago (I think I could totally forge passports in a bathtub) but I’d never really thought too much about the book. Whilst in Hay on Wye though, it was one of those books that seemed to pop up in every shop and after hearing Woo talk about wanting a copy, I felt slightly overwhelmed by the urge to give it a go. It’s a pleasingly weighty copy, so it’s one I’ll probably save for a holiday or a week off, but I’m looking forward to it and I’m hoping that it will please me as much as the film (even if I have committed the heinous sin of watching something before reading it’s primary source).

 5)      The Prince and the Zombie by Tenzin WangmoI found this one on a tucked away on a shelf in a corridor in another Hay bookshop. It was one of those ones that just caught my eye whilst I was reviewing something else and I almost didn’t look at it properly. It drew me back though and I’d turned to pick it up before I’d fully made it into the other room. The blurb speaks of a young prince sent to capture a zombie endowed with magical powers and the difficulties he faces in overcoming the zombie’s powers and completing his task. There was something about it that really appealed to me, but I still don’t really know exactly what. I think I’m secretly hoping this might be my magical book (because every good heroine starts her story with a magical book that leads her to adventures galore) so we shall have to see…

5 books with the most attractive covers – they always say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but who really isn’t drawn to a book with an interesting cover?

1)      Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la MareThis is one of those books that you look at, then double look at, then put back but keep in the back of your mind and proceed see in every shop you go in afterwards. I almost didn’t get a copy, but thankfully the choice was made for me and I was bought it as a birthday present. It’s a little startling in it’s title and it’s cover is pleasing in it’s simplicity – hopefully the story will follow through.

2)      Mister Memory by Marcus SedgewickTMM picked this one up and gave it to me with the tagline “this one looks pretty. Buy it if you like it”. So I did. The woman behind the till spoke about how beautiful the cover was too, so it really had to be on this list.

3)      The Virgin Cure by Ami McKayI’m always drawn to books with Victorian style fonts and this one was no different. I mean, this book looks like it’s going to have it all – sex, violence, kick ass Victorian ladies. What’s not to love?

4)      The Dark Secret of Josephine by Dennis Wheatley – We actually got this one from a pub in Warrington about three years ago. We were on a day out drinking with a friend and we’d gone into a pub that had shelves of books behind the seating area in true hipster fashion. Anyway, I can’t be presented with a bookshelf and not look at them, and this one stuck out with a elegant blood red leather covering and neat gold lettering. So I nudged and wheedled and prodded and did my best puppy dog eyes and eventually TMM went to the bar and after some smooth negotiating and a bit of a bemused bartender, we got two books for £7. Nice.

5)      Welcome to the Night Vale Joseph Fink & Jeffrey CranorI have been meaning to listen to the podcast for ages, but the cover of the book drew me in and I purchased it before I ever got round to the audio book. I’m a bit torn as to whether I should read it first or listen to the audio version, so I might just end up doing both at the same time and fully immersing myself on weekend.

So that’s my top ten , but I’ve got high hopes for all of them. I’m about half way through Monty’s now and going strong, so you should start to see my post reviews coming through soon. Until then, try not to miss me too much.

Book list

But first, let me take a #shelfie…

In Order: (top row L-R) The Prince and the Zombie by Tenzin Wangmo, The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch, The Dark Secret of Josephine by Dennis Wheatley; Nigel; My family and other dogs by Monty Don

(bottom row L-R) Welcome to the Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la Mare, Dead Interviews edited by Dan Crewe, The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay, The Mill Girls by Tracy Johnson, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgewick, Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, The Franchises Affair by Josephine Tey, Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes, LumberJanes by Stevenson/Ellis/Watters/Allen

(Not Pictured) The Eyre Affair Series by Jasper Fforde; The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins; The Empress of Ireland by Christopher Robbins