Book Review – The First of Many…

You know you’re in for a good couple of days when it’s not even Wednesday and you’re already 236% done with the week, don’t you?

The last few days have gone by in rather a blur; work being as horribly worky as it possibly can be, and the weekend being spent stripping the dressing room (say hello to another two boxes for charity and one more bin bag) and being unaccountably grumpy. There was a rather spectacular highlight in the viewing of the new Wonder Woman, which was far better than I hoped for and has meant that my crush on Gal Gadot has escalated to disturbing heights. I even got a bit emotional watching the Amazonian fight scenes at the beginning and spent the half an hour after the film finished trying to convince TMM that I had to take some martial arts classes immediately otherwise I would die (thankfully, I think that urge has slightly fallen by the wayside in favour of slobbing on the couch and eating my own body weight in birthday chocolate, but I can still dream).

 I mean, just look at her for Pete’s sake!

There was a slight concern I wouldn’t even manage to get a blog done this week (SHOCK HORROR), but TMM has been most persuasive and due to the fact he actually went out and bought props to use for my first book review, I couldn’t really let him down. To that end, I have done a review of Number 1 on my “Books to Read” list – “Nigel – My Family and Other Dogs” by Monty Don. It is my first review, so please be gentle with me!

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This Sunday I finished Nigel, slouching on the couch wrapped in a blanket with drooping eyelids. I realised quite early on that it’s a book that requires no urgency or effort and consequently it’s seen me through a stressful week at work, one half hour lunch break of soothing garden chatter at a time. 

As previously mentioned, I am not a huge reader of biographies, though I can be persuaded now and then if they’re told through the mask of a storyteller and liberally sprinkled with hilarious anecdotes (see works by David Niven and Gerald Durrell, which can surely only be classed as semi-biographical by the most lenient of reviewers). 

Whilst Monty Don writes in a way that is perhaps not as raffish or charming as those mentioned above, there is a strong, self assured voice that appeals non-the less. It is almost impossible to read it without hearing him speaking directly to you, and I definitely believe it would benefit massively from having an audio book version. There is still definitely a slight tongue in cheek tone to some of the things he writes though that can’t help but bring a smile to your face, and there is the line “my mother thought, with some reason, that I was immature, feckless and impoverished” which is basically everything I’m looking for in a person.

Nigel, (the star of the show) is spoken about regularly with a kind of cheerful exasperation; he is clearly the hero of the piece and very much his own dog. A terribly handsome Golden Retriever, he is quite confidently aware of his own worth and the relationship between Monty and him is more of a symbiotic bond rather than an owner and pet. Their breakfast routine, beautifully detailed, puts me in mind of a kind of Holmes and Watson scene – set against a quintessentially British backdrop. He does not anthropomorphise Nigel and treat him like a child as pet owners are often want to do, but rather allows the dog’s own character to shine through. He is easy living and embraces  all elements of the gardens he lives in and the TV crew that inhabit them during filming times; more than willing to be centre stage or re-film shots time and time again in true film star style. He manages, without seeming cliché, to embody some rather poignant life lessons that are described quite simply; dogs do not look back or forward, but live purely in the moment. If there is a ball to be chased, a fresh pea pod to be crunched or a puddle to be splashed in, he is as content as can be. Whilst he by no means the only dog that has been welcomed by the Don family, but he is definitely the man of the moment.

The rest of the content focuses on certain key events in the author’s life, as seen through the lens of the dogs that occupied those periods and the gardens they lived in. Somewhat atypically, the narrative doesn’t follow a chronological timeline, but instead weaves in and out; dropping onto certain episodes centred around a particular four legged friend. It does leave you feeling as though you’re flicking through a beloved and slightly worn photo album; stopping to look at random dog-eared snapshots with worn away scribbles on the back. There is a completeness to each story arc through, and though it may not be in the same chapter, you learn about the introduction and subsequent departure of every beloved pet. Monty Don has a very fixed view on not only how one should build a relationship with a dog, but also the huge affect it has on it’s owner’s life, and this includes the unhappy way in which they leave. The last few chapters of the book focus on the deaths of some the dogs, and whilst they are quite heart rending, there’s also an almost holistically and robustly healthy attitude to the way they are described. Very much as each section of his garden has a life cycle that blossoms and withers, so do the dogs.

The admiration and esteem he holds for each of the dogs is tangible, and whilst there are some sections that reflect the time periods they’re about (there was a comment about his father’s treatment of unwanted puppies that involved a sack and a bucket of water that did make me wince), you can tell the impact each separate one has had; be it Beaumont the Blackdog he got from Ranulph and Ginny Fiennes and his steadfast loyalty or Gretel, the twenty first birthday present that spent ten years accompanying him everywhere.

Very much like the Gerald Durrell book this takes its name from, there is an approach to the animals and the natural world that is imbibed with a warmth and heartfelt adoration. The relationship he has with his garden (which cannot be ignored considering his career) is that of a partner in crime rather than a proud creator. He talks about the management of it as an endless process; an on-going exercise that changes with the seasons, the requirement of the film crew and even his mental state. He describes the garden as though we all know it (which admittedly, if you avidly watch Gardener’s World you probably do), but rather than coming across as patronising or in a lecturing tone, it’s more of a shared consciousness. I know barely anything of plant names (Latin or otherwise) or how certain things should be done, but reading this I found  it’s pleasantly engaging

Overall, there is an integral warmth to this book this which must be experienced in kind to truly create the full effect; read outside on sunny days on a soft lawn, with eyes squinting against the sunlight. The nostalgia winds through the narrative but doesn’t overwhelm and it’s nicely complimented by Nigel, who gently trips through the whole book looking for tennis balls, colouring it golden and bringing forth visions of long lazy afternoons and abundantly green gardens.

Monty

Photo Credit – My very own Man Muffin. He’s getting so good at this now!

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Anyway, I’m one review down and it’s hump day tomorrow – things can only get better, right?

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

 

It’s my Birthday and I’ll buy Books if I want to

Bonjourno my little buttercups!

This week’s blog post comes to you straight from the elegant fingers of a recently matured, infinitely wiser and superbly organised 26 year old. Well, in all actuality it comes to you from the fingers of a 26 year old who is pretty much exactly the same as she was before, but I’m hoping the rest will follow on. I am now firmly ensconced in the bracket of 26-34 year olds, and I’m trying to remain steadfastly positive about this turn of events. Admittedly, I am now a bit upset that I am definitely too old to escape prison under the excuse of not having a clue what I’m doing – for some reason, I have a completely irrationally fear of ending up in jail. Up until now I was always able to hope that maybe I could just get my mum to come and explain the situation and bail me out. Now I’m going to have to rely totally on my ability to not be a massive criminal, or the ability of my mum to bake a file into a cake. Still, I am healthy and have the mental age of an over excitable 10 year old, so I reckon it could definitely be worse.

Anyhoo, I must apologise that I was unable to write a post last week extoling the virtues of leaving behind my 25th year, but mainly it was because I was too busy having fun. Sorry (not sorry). Instead, I will regale you with my adventures in a post-biographical fashion and allow you to live a vicarious birthday through my writings (because I am selfless like that). I must start this time round by saying that my people really pulled it out of the bag this year, and I received a heart warming 80+ messages wishing me well, which is always an encouraging start to a new life chapter. It’s always good to know that people will spend a minute out of their day to send you a little message and does wonders for self-esteem.

As for my birthday haul itself, I have to say it’s pretty spectacular and there shall be no need for me to go all Dudley Dursley on anyone’s behind. I am now the proud owner of 26 new books, curtsey of my dearest papa (who sent me the entire Rivers of London series which has been on my list for months) and Hay on Wye (who’s countless bookshops did fantastically well this time round). TMM and I have spent far too long arranging them in aesthetically pleasing tableaus in order to take hipster instagram photos and stroking them lovingly (and a little weirdly). I must admit, I am slightly sweaty at the thought of having so many things to read, but I am willing to suck it up and dive in head first #readordie.

Shelfies

Books! Everywhere! Drowning in #shelfies

I was also gifted some super fancy chocolates and lush soaps (because I am a super fancy lady now), a new laminator called Lexy (the girlfriend of my work laminator Larry), unicorn make up brushes (which are as magical as they sound), a personalised engraver (which will probably end up with a post all of it’s own) AND a delightful fur gilet which will now allow me to be a bear all year round (because one really can’t wear the full fur coat in the depths of August without passing out).

The week itself (because I did have a whole week off and I will fight anyone that tells me a week celebration is too long) was excellently spent. Admittedly, it did start out a bit rocky when I got out the shower on Saturday morning and thought I’d lost my engagement ring (cue an hour of sobbing brokenly whilst lying prostrate on the bed in a bath towel) but Ross did his best Hufflepuff impression and saved the day by finding it on the dressing room floor, and everything improved mightily from there. We spent the rest of the weekend visiting Mother and providing a bit of moral support and then rushed home to watch Eurovision on catch up (because I am apparently the world’s biggest fan and got a bit invested after watching both semi finals ). Tuesday was spent in Manchester, basically circling a 1 block radius in the Northern Quarter and offering patronage to all of the hipster cocktail/café bars before going to watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with a live orchestra at the MEN arena. It was pretty spectacular, and I particularly enjoyed the work of the drummer who had approximately two 5 minute sprees of action before spending the rest of the time twiddling his thumbs and nosing at everyone else. We cheered heartily, TMM spent a good ten minutes trying to explain the conductor’s obsession with the off-beat, and we’ve already researched to go again for the next one, so I think it was a definite success.

Wednesday was a very sensible day (boo hiss) that involved vacuuming and doing literally all of the laundry, but I also got to make scones in my Stitch onesie so it wasn’t too adulty, thank god. After that we went back down to Wales to visit further family members and I got to have a tasty lunch as well as play with some lovely little kittens, some lovely (if slightly more terrifying) chicks and one very adorable cousin. We will actually have to try and go down for more than a flying visit soon, rather than just turning up on Neen’s doorstep, inviting everyone without forewarning her and drinking her out of house and home. Still, she takes it like a trooper and a good time was had by all.

A little birthday montage including: some cocktail shots, a Harry Potter screen (unfortunately it was too dark to see the actual orchestra, doh!) and some lovely flowers from Mother’s garden.

The birthday itself (and the weekend following) found me being whisked away by the team to a beautiful Yurt just outside of Hay on Wye full of delightful fairy lights and comfy beds (though no plug sockets which did cause a little consternation). We spent most of the first day buying as many books as we humanly could (interspersed with breaks for tea and welsh rarebit) before I was surprised with a trip to the GORGEOUS little cinema in Richard Booth’s Bookstore to watch The Finest (which made me cry horribly, but in a good way). The next day heralded another delightful little surprise in the form of a canal boat tour of the Brecon water ways (because we are 90 and we literally don’t care) before there was much napping and copious drinking. It was, I suppose, not the way your typical mid 20-ite would choose to celebrate their birthday, but I have to say it did me rather well! Overall, I was spoilt excellently and have absolutely nothing to be sniffy about. Admittedly, we probably can’t afford to do much for the next couple of weekends, but we do have more than enough books and chocolate to keep us entertained until the next birthday outing.

Teambonfire

Team Bonfire in the rain. We do look slightly like we’re a cannibalistic hobo commune living in the wild, but we’re harmless really. Honest.

The final, and completely unexpected denouement of the weekend was the return of the wily wander, Mikhail (our original cat)! As some of you may know, we picked Mikhail up from a cat rescue charity in the January of 2015 after YEARS of me moping around due to the lack of cat in my life. He was a scared little boy (coming from a house where his previous owner had sadly committed suicide) and within two weeks he had made for the hills through an absently left open window. We made posters and wandered the streets of our village for a month, but saw neither sight nor sound of him and eventually gave him up for lost. Fast forward a year and we get Bucky (who was much happier to just slob about and spent the first few weeks he was allowed out creeping back in after a couple of minutes and meowing for our love). Anyway, on the way home from the visiting my mother and just before visiting Molly, who is still in hospital but causing hilarity for all, Ross got a call from the local PDSA to say he’d been picked up. Turns out he’s been living by the local community centre since he made a run for it and flirting with the local bingo ladies, and was picked up by a concerned citizen who thought he was a girl and called him Friday (she also gave him a delightfully bedazzled pink collar which we have left on because he looks fabulous in it). He’s in quarantine at the moment in the back bedroom because unfortunately he’s got butt worms, but he’s been singing the songs of his people through the bedroom door with gay abandon and happily padding about making nests in the bedding. Bucky still hasn’t been introduced to him yet (though we’ve been furiously rubbing them with each other’s scent for hope of encouraging an easy introduction), but hopefully after his vet visit this week, we’ll be able to let him out. Mainly now, we just call him The Russian (or Sugar Fluff Butt when he’s giving me kisses), and we’re hoping he might be a little happier with us this time around.

The Russian, being tremendous in his collar, and bonus!bucky, being a slob.

Overall, I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a wonderful birthday week, especially when I know there are people who start to give up on birthdays the older the get. I am desperate to embrace the celebrations for as long and as loudly as I can, and it’s pretty handy I’ve got people who will do it with me.

 

May your May be as Marvellous as Mine

Isn’t May just the greatest? The sun is (occasionally) shining, the bank holidays are rife and my birthday is soon!!! Not that I’ve been given everyone daily updates on just how close it is (10 days)…Considering I’m 26, I think I may possibly be far too excited about birthdays. I was reading some blog inspiration posts and one of them suggested I do a wish list for my birthday. I’m not sure if I’m quite up for that this time around, but I promise I won’t let you forget it’s coming!

May Tulips

 “March winds and April showers bring forth May Flowers”

 In other news though, Hans von Manschaft has finally made it back from the doctors to drive once again after having his tubes cleaned and his looms replaced and who knows what else. There was a slight fear he may not recover, and I told TMM in no uncertain terms that if this is the case, he is not allowed to pick the next car. We will be buying either a tank, a smart car or a motorbike with a side car and he will be forbidden to put his cursed fingers over any of it. However, after much lamenting and poor Martin the Mechanic spending most of his evenings and free time on it, Hans was returned to us and we can now glide down the motorway at the recommended speed and not have to worry about any slight inclines hindering our progression.

Now that a new car is off the table (touch ALL OF THE WOOD), it appears my desperation to save has slightly taken a back seat. Last weekend I was convinced we were going to have to spend all our savings and we were going to be put even further behind our schedule of getting a house, a wedding and more pets (meaning we then went and bought a £30 Chinese because we were sad). However we were saved from having to dig deep into the gold hoard, which of course meant I then went and had a hair cut, new glasses and a new(ish) phone. Clearly I do not understand the concept of being frugal at all. However I do look fabulous so there is that.

Going along with my stylish new lady haircut, I’ve been trying to continue in the vein of being a bit more grown up. I’ve still been exercising (though somewhat more sporadically). I even researched and did my own personalised circuit routine (and laminated it!) though Jesus Christ does it make my thighs hurt like an absolute b*tch! I better end up with legs like Wonder Woman by summer. I also cleaned the kitchen to within an inch of it’s life last weekend. I mean, there were different sponges, various vacuum attachments and every spray bottle of cleaning fluid I could find. I do feel a little sorry for the neighbours who had to put up with my flinging open the windows and singing along to some early 2000s classics like Sum 41 at the top of my voice whilst scrubbing various sides down, but by the time I was finished it was almost sparkling. Admittedly, it probably took a little longer than it should have done, because I really do DESPISE cleaning and had to take regular five minute breaks to lie on the floor and wail a bit. Depressingly, the oven is already splattered with food again (seriously, wtf man? It’s a vicious cycle of never ending mess. How do people cope?!) but I’m trying to view it in a Budd-istic fashion as a metaphor for the circle of life. Or something like that anyway. It’s either that or cry.

We’ve also had a little bit more free time recently as poor Molly has had to go in to hospital. She’s had another fall (as old people do. Notice, once you’re over 60, you don’t fall over, you “have a fall”) which is her second in two months and when Ross went round last Monday, he found her mostly non-responsive and a little delirious. The ambulance was called she was pronounced severely dehydrated and suffering from an infection and she must have been feeling awful because she didn’t even flirt with the paramedics. Usually she’s all over medial professionals like a rash – she once slapped a nurse’s arse and asked us if we thought she could become a lesbian, and she’s tried to kidnap more than a couple of visiting doctors. It’s such a shame because she’d been feeling a lot better recently and was so happy – partly due to her snazzy new hair cut I think. Anyway she went straight into the hospital and since then we’ve had sporadic updates on her progress (apparently she was due to have a liver scan – though if they can even find it they’ll be lucky. I’m pretty sure it’s just a pickled little whiskey-soaked prune by now) so we’re going to go and do a drive by this evening to see if she’s back in. Hopefully she’ll have been released for terrorising the staff and be back to her arm chair and Benji dog before she knows it.

However, this does mean that we’ve had no time limit on our activities this weekend for the first time in a few years, so we decided to go for a nice long drive down to Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. This way, TMM got to hammer the car (we actually got over 70 miles an hour. It was like being in a rocket), and we got to utilise our National Trust cards a little further afield. The Abbey itself was absolutely glorious, even if Ross was a bit miffed because we somehow managed to miss the one day of summer in Stoke and hit all of the drizzle). We’ve been binge watching Vikings recently too (an awesome program full of superbly attractive people, excellent hair styles and gratuitous use of axes), so we were already in a suitably historically mind-set – Ross had to stop me from pillaging the National Trust shop in true barbarian fashion and annoyingly said I wasn’t allowed to shave a tonsure on his head (such a spoilsport).  

We discovered that Fountains Abbey was set up by 13 monks who’d been expelled after some disputes in the early 10th century and were basically adopted by the Archbishop of York and allowed to set up a new Abbey. They seemed like a pretty rough and ready lot and were excellently self sufficient – and I mean who doesn’t love a rebellious monk? The Abbey sits alongside Fountains Hall (which we didn’t actually get chance to go and see) and it sprawls fantastically alongside the River. I’ve got a bit of a thing about old buildings – I always feel slightly overwhelmed by them and though I’m not a believer in auras and things like that, I can’t help but try to imagine the stories of the lives of the people there. I got a little bit melancholic this time too, looking at the great halls. I anthropomorphise everything, and I felt a little bit heartbroken at the prospect of such a magnificent building having lost it’s true purpose; from having once been filled to the rafters with Gregorian chants and religious fervour to being a tourist attraction. That being said, there was still a quiet splendour about it and we enjoyed poking around every nook and cranny and trying to imagine what it must have been like in its prime.

 Fountain Abbey

 Me doing my best monk impression. Demure and understated as always.

We also had a turn around the Studley Royal Water Gardens which were created by John Aislabie (a disbanded Politician who moved next door to the Abbey and thought he might as well set himself up some fancy buildings and gardens from which to view the Fountains land). It’s got ornamental lakes, mini temples, follies and a selection of hidden little lookouts and that whilst beautiful in it’s own right, I found it oddly narcissistic and almost gratuitous sitting next to the hulling ruins of the Abbey. Still, we enjoyed sauntering round and watching a rather large swan display his dominance by fluttering his HUGE wings at various screaming small children. There were also a couple of rather posh statues, one of which was a naked man apparently taunting a tortoise with a sausage. We were all a little bemused by that, but that’s seemingly what those old politicians liked. Overall though it was an excellent day and I would definitely recommend it for anyone.

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 But what’s the message?

I think we’re becoming quite regular on the National Trust scene now, and we might have a couple of other little day trips out planned next week, because it’s my BIRTHDAY WEEK (HURRAY) in case you’d forgotten. People keep trying to tell me that having a whole week of celebration is overkill, but they’re idiots and I don’t need their negativity in my life. I think a week is the prefect amount of time and means I can do my visitations and treat the whole thing like an Indian wedding. I categorically refuse to work on the day of my birth as it is and haven’t since I was old enough to skive (I only had to do that once, thank god because I’m such a nervous rebel), and I’m not about to start now. I’m excited because this means that not only can I have some proper lie-ins (TMM and I have wildly differing opinions of what constitutes a lie-in. He thinks 10am is late enough whereas I know that it doesn’t count unless you’re still in bed by lunch time), I get to do a little camping in the homeland, see various family folk, go and see the first Harry Potter film with a live orchestra AND get a weekend trip to Hay on Wye with the team. We were hoping to go abroad because I am desperate for sun, but we’re all skint and some of us (JON) haven’t sorted our passports. Still, I sharn’t be at work so I’m definitely not complaining. I am looking forward terribly to welcoming in my 26th year with a restrained and classy bang.

Photo Credit – @r_h_pendebury 

“Words, words. They’re all we have to go on”

So I learnt a new word the other day. Listening to No Such Thing as a Fish (a regular podcast featuring some of the QI elves sharing their favourite – and mostly hilarious – facts of the week) at about 1 in the morning whilst drifting off, a word broke through my sleepy daze and left me with a warm feeling in the language centre of my brain.

Aphelion.

At the point of hearing  it, I was too busy repeating it to myself (pleased at the shape of how it fits in the mouth) to actually listen to the definition. Instead I made a note to google it in the morning, and spent the bus journey to work proceeded to discover it’s meaning:

‘Aphelion’ – the point in orbit where the celestial body is farthest from it’s focus. Coming from the Greek “apo” meaning “away, off, apart” and “helios” meaning “the Sun”. (Typically comes around July 4 for Earth).

I’m always interested in astronomical terms, having a secret hankering for all things space-related, but I just find there something immensely pleasing about that one specifically. It’s one of those words that hits the holy grail; is pleasing to say, lovely to look at and has a beautiful definition. I like to collect words like that; never sure what I’ll use them for, but happy to have them in my private internal dictionary. Another favourite is ‘Lackadaisical’ – lacking in enthusiasm and determination, carelessly lazy. I still remember first coming across this word a few years ago in relation to a web comic involving anthropomorphised cats in 1930’s America. Oddly perhaps, I can’t actually recall much about the comic itself, but the word just ticked all of my boxes, including the fact it describes me perfectly, and it’s just stuck with me ever since.

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Just a little scribble

I’ve always loved language, from the images it can evoke in the imagination to the joy of a perfectly calligraphised post card. Learning about the etymological history is something I will actually lose hours to, for no other purpose other than that I love a good origin story. Strangely, I’m mostly unfussed by history and I get annoyed by puzzles with no answers (god it annoys me if I can’t figure something out), but learning about the backgrounds and roots behind language fills me with joy. (I think that might partly be why I love TMM so much – his puns and word play are strong). I find myself attracted to books filled with ebullient verbosity and flowery descriptions, much preferring to use a thousand words to say one thing rather than try and save time by only using one. With so much available to use in the English language (well known for rifling through the pockets of all other languages and taking the best bits for itself), why stifle yourself to using something boring and conventional?

Admittedly, I say this and still end up sticking to the same old speech patterns (over-flowing with generalisational basatardisations and unnecessary vulgarities) but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate language in the mouth of someone else. A good play always allows for extravagant wordiness and fitting nicely in that vein, we went to watch Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (by Tom Stoppard) last week. A homage to the characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the script is fantastic and was delivered wonderfully. Admittedly, as with most Shakespearian styles, a lot of it washes over me unless I can spend days sat down deciphering each line – in both literal and often metaphorical meanings (again, something I enjoy doing far too much. I remember doing Twelfth Night and college and falling more in love with it during every seminar). However there were some particular lines that struck a resonance with me, both because of their poeticism and their deeper meanings.

“Uncertainty is the normal state. You’re nobody special”

This version was done by the National Theatre Live, so we were able to watch it streamed live from the Old Vic in London to our local cinema, and it wasn’t the first time we turned the corner into the screening to be confronted by a wall of pensioners and hipster looking older couples. NTL is an initiative set up by the Royal National Theatre which broadcasts live productions to cinemas globally, and so far it’s allowed us to watch Frankenstein (both versions involving Benefruit Cumbersnack and Johnny Lee Miller in the revolving roles (twice)), War Horse (literally all of the crying at wooden horse puppets) and Coriolanus (which was spectacular. I know I adore Tom Hiddlesbum anyway, but damn was he great in that. There were also some interviews before it started which allowed us to see  Tom’s process for getting into character and also spurred a month of obsessive listening to Holst – apparently Mars is excellent for embodying furious Roman soldiers).

This showing of R&G are Dead (or Gilbert and Hammerstein are Peaky as Ross kept calling it – his brain is a magical place) was superb. I knew a little about the story before going in if only because I remember Harding Major enjoying the 1991 film with Tim Roth and Gary Oldman. I’ve never actually seen it, but through sisterly bonding I absorbed the general gist. Anyway with neither of us having ever actually seeing or studying Hamlet, I think we may have been put at a slight disadvantage, but we’re clever kids and got the gist. We had a lovely little tea beforehand and discussed our knowledge (or lack thereof) before deciding to give it a quick google. Admittedly, that might have been a mistake after it was compared almost immediately to Waiting for Godot, which was something we stumbled upon watching last year and left feeling slightly cross eyed. However, the Wikipedia gave us plenty of new themes to look out for, including “existentialist tragicomedy” and “Meta theatre” (a term which we kept excitedly whispering to each other during salient points). Overall I spent about a good 57% not being too sure what was going on, but a couple of solid realisations hit me some time in the second half (I knew the ideas, but I didn’t know them until then, you know?) and I think next time we watch it I will be ready. On a purely physical basis though, the costumes were gorgeous and the casting was excellent. Considering that for a majority of the play it was just Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire on stage, they were incredibly engaging and entertaining, and had a brilliant chemistry the really struck a chord with me. Also there was some great hair (DR’s facial hair is really working for him). By the time it was over, we were in thoroughly high spirits and developed a strong desire to learn to play the Question Game.

Film

Obligatory cinema selfie, along with proof we went to watch culture. And had tea.

We also got to finally see the new version of Beauty and the Beast after a couple of aborted attempts (man that film sold out quickly) with the team this weekend. Considering I’ve never been a massive Disney fan (blasphemy, I know) I thoroughly enjoyed it. Visually, it was absolutely stunning and has firmly reminded me of how much I secretly love filigree and gold brocade on everything. The costumes and cinematography were intricately beautiful and Emma Watson once again rocked the bookish and sassy stock character whilst reaffirming my love of her button nose and freckles.

I do have to admit though (and I can already hear the gasps of horror) that I am still a little bit cautionary of the story as a whole. Is it really a tale as old as time? Should we be encouraging our young women to fall in love with strange beasts who keep them hostage and then have a catchy number about being friend zoned? I mean, sure he was hot, but I really don’t think Stockholm syndrome is the best start for a relationship. Then again, what’s a bit of bestiality among friends as long as we’re not letting children and people of gentle sensibilities in the southern states of America watch GAYITY?! (Not that I’m outraged by that or anything…) Anyway, I did still enjoy it and as expected, I felt pretty much the same about the transformation of the Beast as did when I watched the original cartoon – boys with long hair are all very well and good, but we would have all preferred if he’d kept the fur and the horns.

Saying that though, I do have a love for Dan Stevens (who was the Beast) and he was obviously on my mind, because I then proceeded to stay up far too late on Sunday night binge watching his new series Legion on NowTV. 6 episodes in and I still don’t have a clue what’s going on, but very much like R&G are Dead, I’m bloody loving it. I would like to give you a brief summery of what I’ve seen so far, but I considering my not-so-limited vocabulary, I really don’t have to words to describe it. It would appear that I’m all up for challenging myself mentally as well as physically this year…Who knew?

To Hip or Not to Hip? Is that the Question?

So I’ve started this week with freshly dyed hair again. The blue was starting to fade rather dramatically and my roots were coming through at a drastically unnecessary rate. I wouldn’t mind so much if I had a decent natural colour or even a nice big white mallen streak (which I am still holding out hope for) but unfortunately it’s a no go. I’ve got that bog standard mousey brown which is pretty much identical to when you mix all the paints together in the hope of creating a rainbow and instead get a sad muddy sludge. (Apologies if anyone actually happens to a) have that hair colour or b) like it. You probably look glorious with it. I just look like a drab Victorian peasant).

I have rebelled against the status quo as always though, and this time I’ve gone for a delightful mishmash of green shades; a summery selection of daffodil yellow, spring, apple and UV blue. TMM was excellent as always, frolicking about in his pants with the bleach brush and helpfully shaving the pattern on my under cut (before napping HARD). I was hoping for a kitty cat design, but he said he’s starting small and stuck to simple chevrons, and after the last incident (when I was left as bald as the proverbial) I suppose I can’t blame his caution.

Whilst doing my hair though and staring gormlessly into my own dye splattered reflection, I was led to pondering upon a deep philosophical dilemma – a generational query that has plagued millennials for a while now…

Is it hipster to have been hipster before hipster was cool?

Now I am firmly of the belief that as much as I laugh at the hipster culture, I am unapologetically ensconced within it. I may scoff, but I like an underground subway tiled, steam punk inspired cocktail bar as much as the next person, and I already own two Edison light bulbs. It’s definitely an undeniable fact as well that there are quite a few new additions to my lifestyle that could be laid at the feet of the hipster gods – having fruit and yoghurt for breakfast every morning in branded Kilner jars (because apparently we’re jar snobs) and spending our weekend making furniture from pallets that I like to describe by using vulgar terms like “bespoke” and “neo-vintage”.

I mean, we own all of those things. Not even pretentiously.

The thing is though, I was doing a lot of these long before it was cool. Big framed Jarvis Cocker glasses and rainbow hair have been part of my life since the early 2000s, and even though my blog is a relatively new addition, my need to offer DIY self help advice through rousing motivational speeches and/or Facebook messages is a lifelong past time. Whilst there are many of aspects of this particular fad that I love, I love them because I want to, not because pinterest encouraged me to. Men with beards have been a fascination of mine ever since I was a tiny tot (seriously I had such crushes on Wolf from Gladiators and Worf from Star Trek because of the amount of fantastic hair on show) and I will happily stare lovingly at anyone in trouser braces, regardless of age, gender or how creepy it makes me look.

I think the trouble stems from the fact I’ve always been a bit of an oddball. I am unaccountably shy, but desperate to be noticed and I will wear what I like and damn the consequences. I remember having a pixie cut in high school, knowing full well it would lead to bullying (and that REALLY awkward moment when the prefect in the girl’s toilets thought I was a boy and shouted at me) but it was still worth it. (Super healthy hair, no time spent faffing about in the morning and I totally looked like an adorable fairy – just ask my mum). Dying it was something I was DESPERATE to do, and after a few years of sensible (read boring) school appropriate hair, I got my mum and sister to dye it the most vivid pink we could find. I could never go back to normal hair now, and I laugh in the face of anyone who tells me I have to. When I started this hair based vanity project, only weird punks in inner city Manchester or arty kinds on TV had rainbow locks. Now, it’s all the hipster rage to have a flash on colour or an ombred pastel do. I’m not sure how many people see it as such an integral part of who they are, but I for sure know that I do it not because of the impact it has on other people (though that is pretty awesome), but because of the impact it has on me. It does help that both my sister and dad have had bright hair in the past, and my Neens has purple hair right now (a more hip and happening septuagenarian there has never been) and I WILL tell people that the bright coloured hair runs in our family DNA just to watch the confusion blossom on their faces.

Whilst my “style” (or possibly lack thereof) lends itself to this hipster curve, I hate to say it wasn’t really that intentional. The way I look, just like my annoyingly nerdy personality, are elements of me that have been around long before hipsters were. I’ve always been a complete sci-fi/fantasy nerd and been involved in more than one argument with someone who thought that just because I was a girl I wouldn’t have any clue about Farscape or the characterisation of Jean Grey. The good thing about this social movement is that it’s much more acceptable now to be weird and I really can’t say that’s a bad thing. We might laugh at the notion of the “hipster”, but what’s wrong with making these things something to be proud of? I like that there’s pop-up organic cafes popping up all over the place, and that playing the accordion whilst wearing herringbone trousers is the “done” thing. It’s not hurting anyone and it’s definitely one of my preferred movements (surely it’s better than the tight pony tails, shell suits and choreographed dance routines of the 90s?)

Who knew though, that I would eventually fit into the “IT” crowd? I still remember looking in a mirror a few years ago and being shocked by the fact I looked just how I wanted myself to look when I was a little girl dreaming of growing up. I mean, I would have maybe liked more tattoos and less mental issues, but I always knew how I wanted to end up, and it’s quite rewarding to know that there’s a huge chunk of my generation who thought it was a pretty cool place to end up too.

Of course there’s still a kind of soft cultural mockery directed towards hipsters, just like there is with every generational fad, and it’s completely understandable. It is pretty hilarious that moustache waxing and banjo playing are encouraged, and it’s a little bit weird how much of my instagram feed is filled with artfully displayed avocado based meals and hilariously depressing cat memes. Whilst I poke fun though, it would hypocritical of me to fight against the label. I’ve spent today wearing non-ironic dungarees and writing a ridiculously verbose post-modernistic hipster-ception commentary blog post. I am just as much to blame as anyone else, but I can’t say I really mind. Fads will come and go, and even though I might be cool now, I can bet you a dollar I won’t be in a few years. The real question though is, does it  matter? Will I care that in the future my colourful hair, my love of space and my inordinately large stack of country CDs will be laughed at rather than lorded?

Will I boot.

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