Birthday Bonanza

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Well that’s it folks, I have officially joined the 27 club. My birthday has come and gone and I am now firmly in the realm of “being responsible” and definitely no longer young enough to accidentally commit a crime but still avoid jail time (which is an irrational but very specific fear I have. My mother has promised that if, god forbid, I should end up embroiled in an accidental life of crime and sent to the Big House, she’ll come bail me out with a file baked in a cake and a Thelma and Louise style getaway – hopefully sans the cliff dive – but I’d rather just try and avoid the whole thing altogether if possible). As I pointed out to a colleague, if I were a rock star I could totally die now and join the hallowed halls of the Forever 27, though thankfully I’m boring as sin and highly unlikely to shuffle off this mortal coil through excessive drug use or car vs. tree related incidents. I’m pretty much planning on seeing this year out in the same style as the old one.

As always though, I’ve had an excellent birthday haul so kudos to all who we’re involved. You’ve all done very well and should give yourselves a nice pat on the back. Admittedly, I may or may have not started opening some presents on the previous Monday, but I did have to go to the dentist and gifts were coming through the letter box with tempting regularity, so I don’t really see how I can be blamed for getting carried away. Also, I’m a grown up now, and can open my presents whenever I please, so there. I would like to thank my dad and his lovely lady friend for their promptly posted and delightful gifts which made me smile after having to go and be super brave with hygiene specialists.

I also had to open some presents early when we went to see TMM’s clan (because I wouldn’t see them on the day and it would have been rude not to show my gratitude) and as per they excelled themselves present-wise (not to rub it in but I am 100% their favourite child, soz not soz). I got not only a yummy tea, but also a fancy box of Ferrero Rocher (TMM successfully demonstrated how he’s been unhealthily influenced by my family by not being able to help quoting “you’rr spoiling us ambassador” every time I offer him one), charming gin related paraphernalia, bath bombs, summer wreath kits, a puppy fuss (the last one now since all the puppies have gone to their new home and not one of those homes was mine, boo hiss) and a snotty kiss off beautiful baby Thea.

My work colleagues also did extremely well, but to be honest I didn’t give them much option as I had very handily provided a laminated and regularly updated daily countdown from around the 163 day mark. Whilst the Friday wasn’t the most enjoyable of days (stupid busy work), the gift giving was top notch and the presents were smashing. Some of you may have already seen Leroy the Llama mug, who is now my designated tea vessel of choice, though he provides much hilarity when he pokes my eye every time I get near to the bottom of my brew. I also got Sydney Sloth the phone holder who has helped with finger cramp, and a selection of others joys including but not limited to; a lovely framed print of a flamingo among pigeons, fancy neon coloured booze (my favourite kind) and some rather gorgeous lilies that proved themselves to be almost fatal to some old dear on the bus home. I also got two books from my boss (who requested a special shout out, so word to her) that give the definitions of lots of weird and wonderful words that have had us in fits of laughter when we probably should have been busier doing what we’re paid for. We have educated ourselves though, and have some excellent new words to add to our vocabularies, such as “Kinabra – the Greek word for the stank of a billy goat” (please note, the italics are a direct quotation) and “Kakopyge – someone who has ugly buttocks” (pg. 136 of The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Words by George Stone Saussy the 3rd). Sadly none of us have managed to shoehorn them into a telephone call yet, but we’ll keep trying.

Look at my beautiful things. LOOK AT THEM.

TMM did his level best to spoil me rotten whilst adhering to the proviso he wasn’t to get me much. He not only made me pancakes in bed, he didn’t make me move until about 3 o’clock and then treated me to a new Lush face mask, some Primark jeans, a showing of Deadpool 2 (with Ben and Jerries’ ice-cream!) and a lovely Starbucks lunch. (This in itself was fun because I had hibiscus iced tea which is simultaneously the most hipsterish thing EVER and the tastiest drink I’ve had in a long time. The lovely Barista lady was a complete doll too, and did my a nice little happy birthday message and got my name right (though the more I look the more it looks like Eleanour, but still the first bit is right and that’s what usually throws people). I also got taken to the stage version of Thoroughly Modern Millie which was excellent (if questionably racist in sections) and have consequently spent the last two days fake tap dancing around the house, saying “oh terrif” with unnecessary amounts of enthusiasm and telling TMM how thoroughly modern I am. Admittedly, he’s been doing pretty much the same thing as he is definitely a modern woman, so its worked out well.

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It’s nearly Eleanor, so we’re definitely accepting it as a win.

*Speaking of, if anybody missed our Eurovision dress up last week on my Instagram last week, you really need to go and have a look. TMM went as Conchita (the winner a few years ago, with the amazing eye makeup and perfectly sculpted beard), and I have to say I have never been more proud of my make up abilities. TMM is a pretty hunky looking chap, it can’t be denied, but I literally don’t think I’ve ever seen a more attractive woman. His cheekbones take highlight like a champ and I found myself staring dreamily at his profile whilst the light glinted of them. It was like Xena Warrior Princess with chest hair. I couldn’t even bring myself to be annoyed at how pretty he looked, because I was too busy being deeply in love with his beautifully shadowed eyes and cow-like eyelashes.

Team were as good as they always are and newest edition Yoga Martin BBQ’d like a master (I’m pretty sure the BBQ was planned anyway, but I’m just going to assume it was in honour of my birthday and give him my birthday kudos blessing like the magnanimous delight I am). Turns out I am now all about barbequed fish like you would not believe and having it three times in two weeks is really as good as you could want it to be. There was much hilarity with axe throwing (which I definitely not good at), archery (which I watched from the side-lines shouting out helpful safety tips), air rifle shooting (which I enjoyed but hit absolutely nothing with) and I left with twice the amount I’d birthday cake I’d arrived with, a delightful doodle book/wonderfully pleasing coloured pencils and a date to walk with llamas in June (YASSSSSSS).

In true Indian wedding style (the perks of having a far flung family) the celebrations will continue throughout the week, and I know I’ve still got a My Hermes (family couriers of choice) parcel on its way from dearest Neens. We’ve also planned a trip to visit Mother and the rest of the Welsh Massive at the weekend too, though admittedly Hans the Devil Chariot is still beeping endlessly so we might be slightly frazzled (read – murderous) by the time we get there. It’s definitely worth it though, because I have siblings to squeeze, cousins to cuddle and a game of Cards Against Humanity or two to enjoy.

Now before I sign off, I thought I’d just leave you with some fun facts and notable events from my date of birth (other than the obvious *twirls*) that might help you in a pub quiz one day.

1) 1536 – The Execution of Anne Boleyn (cheery)

2) 1885 – 1st mass production of shoes by Jan Matzeliger in Lynn, Massachusetts (this fact pleases me immensely and I’m not sure why)

3) 1897 – Oscar Wilde released from Reading Gaol (Reading as in the place, not the act, which confused me more than it should have done for a minute)

4) 1928 – 51 frogs enter 1st annual “Frog Jumping Jubilee” in Angel’s Camp, California (I mean, why not)

5) 1939 – Birth of James Fox (phwoar)

6) 1948 – birth of Grace Jones (who terrifies me ever so slightly)

7) 1962 – Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday, Mr President” to John F Kennedy (My Mother did a great rendition of this down the phone to on my birthday)

8) 2018 – Meghan and Harry get married (you might have seen it mentioned briefly on the news)

9) 2161 – Syzygy: 8 of 9 planets aligned on same side of sun (something to look forward to)

I hope you all get at least one of those stuck in your head for next year in honour of me. TTFN.

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The Art of Obsession

 

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So I learnt another new word last week (strap in kids, it’s time for some education). It’s rather self explanatory and not really the most exciting of terms, but I stumbled across it whilst blindly surfing (the web, not the sea – that would be silly) and had to do a mental double take at how accurate it was.

Hyperfixation – the act, process or result of fixating or becoming fixated on something; a persistent concentration. A mania, obsession, preoccupation.

I mean, come on. That is literally my entire personality down to a tee. I live to become weirdly obsessed with the most ridiculous things and drive myself into some kind of uncontrollable frenzy just for the hell of it. It’s a very specific definition though, and simply describes itself in a way I don’t think I had really appreciated before. To clarify – hyperfixation is, as the name suggests, a highly compounded version of an interest or hobby. It’s more than simply liking something, it’s taking your positive feeling and concentrating it to the nth degree. It’s a complete and utter submersion into a song, a book, a character, an idea; an almost overwhelming desire to drown yourself in something that is a mere triviality in the grand scheme of the world.

I literally don’t think I’ve ever read anything more legit (stolen from Tumblr)

I gently ricochet from one bizarre mania to another, barely giving myself time to get over the last one before diving in headfirst and with minimal care for my sanity. Poor TMM follows behind, absently picking up the random facts or thoughts that I spew out in my over-excitement and proving soft encouragement and careful distraction where he can.

I often think how strange it must look to an outsider; someone who has a healthy control over their own emotions and understands quite rationally that TV characters aren’t real and don’t need to be cried over, or that books end and that’s okay. They must look at me with their eyebrows raised and feel a gentle level of bemused condescension. There have been so many times that I’ve gotten into the car and rambled wildly on at TMM, telling him about a conversation I had at 10am with someone who happened to briefly mention something that I am currently “in to” and the internal explosion of excitement I had to tamp down in my pretence that I am normal and not a massive weirdo. Typically he smiles serenely and pats me on the knee and his silent acceptance of my complete nuttiness is very much appreciated. Usually though it just results in me harping on about this tiny interaction (which pretty much will have set my mood for the whole day) and I segue way off to chatter about something I saw on Instagram that links in some obscure way to my preoccupation of the hour.

They’re never fleeting things either, these obsessions. It might just be a flash of something, but each time I get sucked into whatever it is I’ve gotten sucked in to, it settles down in my psyche, digging out a comfy little niche for itself. Then, once I have gradually calmed myself down and moved onto something else, it still lurks in the background ready to spring into action when I least expect it. If I’m not prepared, I can stumble upon some kind of trigger and BAM, I’m stuck for days. Living For The City played on the radio the other day, and without even realising it, I was completely hijacked and I’ve not had anything else on what the past three days. Regardless of what I want to listen to, Stevie Wonder is now pretty much the only thing my brain will happily accept.

TMM finds it quite hilarious too, because I get very stressed about crossing the obsessional streams. If I can keep things separate, it makes it a lot easier, and it’s comforting if I can try and draw up a basic mental calendar – seeing potential triggers and preparing for them. For example, if I know another book in a particular series is due out, I can give myself time to read the pre-existing works (getting right into the groove of things) and meet the situation head on, avoiding anything that might try and distract me in the meantime. (The thought of reading a book out of sequence, or god forbid, picking up a book from somewhere completely different right in the middle of a series brings me out in hives. How people can flit between *looks at TMM very pointedly* is beyond me).

Getting caught up in two things at the same time is a horrible state of affairs, and I can’t help but feel like I’m betraying something if I swap before I’m ready to. Case in point for you – TMM wanted to watch some episodes of Lewis the other day. Now I love Lewis with an unhealthy passion, but the new Avengers film was coming out (not sure if I’d mentioned this?) and there was no way on earth I was going to come out of that unaffected. I couldn’t be expected to start Lewis (read, binge watch three seasons in an 14 hour period) become weirdly and uncomfortably obsessed with it and then just move onto Infinity Wars without so much as a howdoyoudo. Instead, I coerced TMM to take me to the cinema and then watch all of the old Captain America and Avengers films (in order) at the weekend. Admittedly he napped through most of them, but for those he didn’t escape, he was forced to listen to my endless commentary and excitable squeezing.

(It is perhaps important to note that I’ve previously had to limit my consumption of Lewis because my mental state wasn’t secure enough to deal with the fact my televisual comfort blanket was coming to a permanent end. I still haven’t quite come to terms with it (I categorically refuse to watch the last episode, because then I can just pretend it never finished).

…Does this sound mental? I’m pretty sure it sounds mental.

Though, after doing a bit of research on the whole notion of Hyperfixation, I did learn that is actually often seen as a coping mechanism for anxiety, which does make perfect sense. The thought process behind it is that hyperfixation allows you to narrow down all focus on one particular thing and block out anything else that may be out of your control. It limits your world to a singular thing and allows you to feel a sense of ownership and groundedness that might otherwise be unavailable to you. It might just be something small or seemingly stupid, but if it gives you a modicum of comfort when you need it, I really can’t bring myself to see it as a problem. Sure, it might be strange and admittedly half the time I think my obsessional leanings tend to exacerbate my issues rather than help them, but what the hey.

It’s very much a kind of madness though (that’s made pretty clear by the kind of words used to define it; “mania”, “obsession”, “fetish”) but I suppose it embodies the notion of fighting fire with fire – overcoming an insecurity or anxiety you can’t deal with by smothering it with one you can. It might sound childish, and there might be those that judge you for being absorbed in something silly like, oh, I don’t know, superheroes (me, it’s me, I’m obsessed with superheroes at the moment), but sometimes the news is horrible and the world is shameful and I just need to imagine Captain America punching Trump in the face in justifiable outrage. If it’s a form of insanity, it’s one I can to some degree control, and I’d much rather be preoccupied with Steven Roger’s star spangled and American flag clad butt than anything my anxiety-ridden brain can come up with. Wouldn’t you?

PS – for those of you unsure about whether or not you’d choose to pick the butt – I advise you to google it.

I Have Walked 500 Miles

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*A little note before we start – Today’s post is sponsored by Levels by Avicii which I have been listening to on repeat since Monday and BuckMiester, the world’s most passive aggressive cat. He is currently sitting unashamedly brimming with rage by the foot of the armchair I had to kick him out of in order to be able to plug in my laptop, giving me shifty side eyes and throwing “hella shade” whilst simultaneously refusing to move out of stroking distance. Just because he’s miffed doesn’t mean he’s going to do himself out of a good fussing.*

The Time Line of out current relationship. Disgusted bat pose > accusing eyes > grudgingly allowance of neck tickles.

In general though, I’m pleased to say things are looking up. Regarding my weekly weather update that I have appear to have been unthinkingly giving you all, (and which I’m sure you’re all terribly invested in) I’m happy to say we had a whole three (3) days of summer over the weekend. Saturday was, in fact, so warm that I sat on our front wall for most of the morning chatting to TMM’s mum whilst he and his dad tinkered with Hans. I then proceeded to go through a further two (2) outfit changes to ensure I was baring as much skin to the sun as was safe and socially acceptable to do so. Whilst this pleasant weather unfortunately didn’t last (I am writing this post interspersed with sad, sepia moments of me staring forlornly out of a rain soaked window) I have been promised by various news sites to expect some more nice weather as soon as May, so that’s something at least.

Speaking of Hans (the devil’s chariot as I have unkindly christened him), you’ll be glad to know he is now up and running again, though he is still very much for the rope. I have made the executive decision that, whilst I don’t drive, I deserve to be driven in comfort and it’s time for a new car. Poor TMM has been swept along without consent and whilst I think perhaps he would have been fine to keep Hans or look at another second hand car, he’s coming to terms with the security and sensibleness of getting something that, if not brand new, at least comes with a warrantee. We’ve been looking into the various routes on how to do so without bankrupting ourselves, feeling very grown up all the while, and even have what could loosely be termed as a “plan of action” regarding the whole shebang. Thankfully we’ve got a rather good network of supportive parents, mechanically minded friends and neighbours with an obsession for cars and hopefully between the lot of us, we’ll manage to go into summer in a car likely to make it across country for our various road trips, rather than leaving us stranded in the middle of a busy road (which has happened to us on more that one occasion. Let me tell you, you haven’t known awkward British embarrassment until you’ve broken down at a set of traffic lights or on a steep hill off a roundabout and had to be pushed out of the way of angry honking motorists).

Our lack of car has meant our weekend has been rather sedate though, for want of a better word. It’s weird to think that there was a point in my life when I didn’t have ready access to a car and yet managed to fill my weekends with ease. Now, there has been a slight and irrational undercurrent of confinement and I think both TMM and I have felt at a bit of a loose end. We tidied, we lazed and we watched most of the London Marathon with twin expressions of amazement and slight panic – I can’t even comprehend how people can do something like that. It simultaneously seemed to be one of the longest weekends of doing nothing whilst being over in the blink of the proverbial. The biggest thing we achieved (just behind fixing Hans and just ahead finishing my most recent upcycling project) was walking to visit our Pet Old Lady Molly and take Benji, the World’s Most Ridiculous Dog out for his daily jaunt.
You might have thought after watching a literal f*ckton of people push themselves to the limit of physical endurance on one of the hottest days of the year would have motivated and encouraged me to take to such an endeavour with vigour. If that is the case, I think perhaps you don’t know me quite as well as you thought. In the car, the whole event takes roughly 40 minutes from start to finish (and 30 minutes of that is spent helping shake Molly into her trousers and discussing the sad lack of corporal punishment in today’s society – her opinion, not mine). Without the car, it takes 700 hours apparently. It’s strange because when I was younger, I used to love going hiking with my family. We had official walking boots, matching cagoules (literally the coolest) and every walk typically ended with me threatening to cry if I had to give up the stick I had inevitably adopted along the way to be my designated hiking staff. These days, I have the boots, an actual hiking stick with a handy camera on the end and a partner who is desperate to explore and yet the love for walking has gone. Admittedly (and if I am being honest with myself) it wasn’t quite as awful as I’m making out, and it was nice to get a bit of fresh air and smash my step target three days in a row for the first time ever, but I definitely don’t think I’m going to be signing up for any marathons any time soon.

(I would like to reiterate this statement pointedly to my best Woo. Not only is she generally insistent that I join her in all kinds of hideously active hobbies, she is now threatening to fake her own death after I stupidly shared my absent-minded musings that if she died I would have to run a marathon in her honour as it’s on her bucket list.)

Through all of our trekking cross country and confused carless wanderings though, the highlight of my weekend was going to see My Dad Wrote a Porno live on Friday night. For those of you not in the know, this title might seem a little alarming (as well it should) but I definitely recommend it to ALL. It’s a free podcast feature Alice Levine (of Radio 1 fame) and her friends, Jamie and James (cute but slightly confusing) and does exactly what it says on the tin. Jamie is “fortunate” (note my use of sarcastic quotations here) enough to have a father who decided, somewhat rashly I think, to give writing erotic literature a go, and did so with what can only be described as relish. As any good millennial would do, Jamie told all of his friends and decided to do a weekly podcast in which he reads it out loud, in all of its graphic detail, and then proceeds to completely tear it apart for #bants. It’s pleasing on so many levels; including but not limited to the way that poor Jamie is constantly reminded of his personal shame, the vigour in which he approaches the various accents (and boy are there many) and the very relatable way that both Alice and James absolutely corpse about the place with laughter after practically every sentence. It’s unknown if Rocky Flintstone (the nom-de-plume given to Jamie’s dad/the author of this fabulous fiasco) is particularly satirical in his choices or just completely unknowing about how a women’s genitalia works, but either way it’s great for a giggle.


Pre Porno stage – you can just about see the top of the heads of the absolute granny legends who took up half a row

The live show consisted of a reading of the “lost chapter” of one of the Belinda Blinks novels (of which there are, somewhat alarmingly, many) and included various references to hilarious in-jokes, a short yet extremely comedic lecture on the positioning of a women’s cervix (it makes sense as to why this is very much needed when you listen to the podcast, I swear) and some truly terrifying audience participation (which may or may not be exactly what you’re thinking).

However, in an unseen and rather heart-breaking turn of events, poor TMM, who had been looking forward to the show for months, was too poorly to go (cue much sulking on all of our parts). In his honour I refused to enjoy myself too much and when I got home we binged a couple of episodes of the podcast (interspersed with my retelling of the best bits from the show) to cheer him up. He is mostly recovered now thankfully, and we’ve been girding our loins with glee for the new series of the podcast, which is due out in a couple of weeks. Just enough time for all of you Porno virgins to catch up…

This weekend brings the promise of car shopping (hooray), hopefully a new fridge (we did call the landlord like typical grownups and he did the typical landlord thing of fiddling with it, humming and saying he’d get back to us) and at least one (read – 76) cinema trips to watch the new Avengers film – which I am dangerously excited about. I am so excited I almost don’t want to go and see it because I don’t know if my gentle geek heart can take what it’s going to dish out, but TMM has promised to stand by me and not walk away in embarrassment even if I ugly cry (this will undoubtedly happen). The good news is that Mother is continuing to allow me to oversee her education of the Marvel universe (how grudgingly I can’t tell over WhatsApp, but she is providing thoughtful commentary so I’m feeling confident) and this means that even if (when) TMM gets bored of me wanting to see Avenger – Infinity Wars for the millionth time, I will at least get one more viewing with her (soz not soz MotherBear).

I will leave you here to ponder on your interest (or lack thereof) in dramatic superhero adventures/patriarchally written pornos and report back next week with further insight into my week and an updated weather report. Stay Classy San Diego.

Remembering to Forget or Forgetting to Remember?

So I found a new word the other day. I stumbled across it accidentally whilst trawling the internet for something else entirely, and was completely bewitched by it. I have a magpie like affinity for words and I like to hoard them like old stamps – collected and carefully pinned out for future reference. I love the fact that there is always a suitable word; no matter what the topic, object or situation. If you can’t think of one, it’s because you haven’t found it yet, not because it doesn’t exist. They are not always easy to find or remember, and sometimes they are in a completely different language; but they’re always there.

The English language is pretty handy for it though; it’s basically the thug of the language world. It waits on street corners and then takes other languages down back alley and rifles through their pockets for loose words. Our back catalogue is such a higgle-di-piggedly amalgamation of words we’ve begged, borrowed, or just plain bastardised, and you’ll struggle to find something who’s etymological root doesn’t start somewhere else in the world. We’re doing it even now – absorbing words like “hygge” (cosy and happy) and “lagom” (just the right amount) and slotting them seamlessly into our conversations as if we’ve always had them.

This particular word seemed to come just at the right time though and it’s lodged itself rather firmly in my psyche. It’s a welsh word, so perhaps I already feel a gentle affinity for it, and it perfectly crystallises a frame of mind that seems to be quite prevalent at the moment.

“Hiraeth – a longing for a home you can’t return to or never had”

Isn’t that just glorious? It’s so small and yet it evokes such vivid daydreams of lives you’ve never lived but wanted to, places you’ve never visited but imagined, times you’ve never experienced but feel like they might be where you truly belong. Especially at this time of year when things are just starting to bloom; delicate daffodils and sweet snowdrops are pushing their way up though dark dead earth, there seems to be a promise of something. For me, it’s the whisper of summer. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned, but winter is really the bane of my life. From an objective standpoint, I do understand the necessity (do you like the casual and patronising way I talk about it, as if I actually have any kind of say in the matter) and it’s true that without the opportunity for things to die back and rest, there can be no chance for new growth. I just really think it doesn’t need to be quite so looooonng. One, maybe two months tops should be sufficient, six is just taking the piss.

It does mean though that, in some twisted and definitely unhealthy strive to survive, I develop these long and complicated fantasies, full of desperate longing for summers that I’ve never actually experienced. It’s not as if previous summers I’ve had have ever been bad, but the ones I imagine are so much more involved – seeped in a kind of childish romanticism. You want an example? (TBH you’re getting one anyway, so tough if you answered no). I watched a film the other morning whilst wallowing in the bath called Call Me By Your Name. Whilst I can’t recommend it enough for its story (the blossoming of a relationship between 17 year old Elio and his father’s graduate student Oliver), acting (Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are actually ridiculous) and cinematographic excellence, it was the timeless shots of Italian countryside that got me right in the feels. Artlessly crumbling villas drenched in sunlight and shadow, winding roads leading nowhere and bracketed by fields of gently wavering golden crops, effortlessly beautifully chaotically stacked tables in the garden laden with fresh fruit and coffee at dusk. I felt practically sick I was do jealous. I’ve only been to Italy on a school trip, but watching that, it was as if there was an ache behind my ribcage for something that I knew should be mine. I’m not meant to be sitting in a terrace house in the middle of England working in recruitment. I’m supposed to be living in a secluded chalet tending to my home grown peach orchard.

CallMePoster

I’m not joking – I cannot recommend this film enough. 

Admittedly, I’m rather easily swept up with this kind of daydreaming. Whilst it’s not like I’ll get bored of wanting the above, it can evolve rapidly into needing instead to live in the Greek countryside following in the footsteps of Gerald Durrell (who’s Corfu Trilogy is something that everyone should read at least once in their lives, if not annually like I do) or run away to Canada and become a Mountie like in Due South. What I love about reading or watching good show; the opportunity to become completely absorbed in some other world, is possibly also the biggest problem.

That’s the trouble with imagination I think – it’s so easy to become disillusioned with what you’ve got and obsessed with what you want. There is nothing wrong with wanting more, but it’s important to not do it at the expense of those things you already have. Being able to settle yourself and understand how lucky you are is a skill I think many should have but few ever manage to properly cultivate. With it being so easy nowadays to see how great other people have it, or how easily you can be tricked into believing someone’s supposed paradise by a well filtered photo, it can be difficult to appreciate the luxuries and joys you have.

I often think memory offers the same kind of temptation as social media and fiction, or at least it does for me. Things always seem very cut and dry in my rose tinted memories. Sure there are some rather upsetting or embarrassing events that I’m pretty sure I blow out of proportion, but the ability to warp definitely goes both ways. I’ve got memories of things I’ve done that practically glow with ethereal light hum with angelic choirs. My time at Glastonbury is a pretty solid example of this. Now, I know that I spent those five days stuck in a paradox of hysteria and almost debilitating anxiety (you can practically see the terror in my eyes – I don’t do well with new things), but all I can ever remember is how great it was. The sunburn, the terror of having to interact with so many strangers, the lack of showers, food, sleep or anything other than red bull and vodka fades away every time I think about it and all I can do is gush about how fabulous it was. And it was, but not in the all encompassing way I glamorise.  I would go again in a heartbeat, but would I be sensible enough this time round to realise that most of the things that were bad the first time will be just as bad the second time? I mean, dancing in the rain at 3 in the morning to the Proclaimers might sound like a great thing (which it definitely was) but nobody remembers the almost soul destroying 4 hour drive home in a car full of annoyingly pretty and definitely judgemental strangers whilst wearing clothes so wet that my knickers had to be tumble-dried twice.

I’m actually reading a book at the moment (I am just too topical) where the titular character has a perfect memory. As in perfect. He remembers every single thing; every sight, sound, feeling and conversation he’s every had in stark clarity, and it’s startlingly heart-breaking. There’s a unavoidable philosophical thread that runs throughout the book, questioning if such a talent is a curse or a gift. Is it better to be able to remember something perfectly, without sugar-coating or warping it, or is it better to have imperfect recollections and the freedom to remember something differently each time? Perhaps it’s safer to be able to forget something terrible and not have to relive it in painful detail, but does it outweigh the ability to truthfully remember the best moments of your life?

It’s an obviously hypothetical debate, as I’m about 97% that such a memory doesn’t exist, but it has led me to ponder a lot on the bus in the mornings on the way to work. Would I prefer to remember my previous summers accurately and reveal in the reality of them, or to continue to get lost in my fantastical imaginings and try to combat the heartache of knowing they’re impossibly untrue?

“Nostalgia is a dirty liar that insists things were better than they seemed”

Michelle K., I Can’t Stop Questioning It.

Booksss

What IS it about those Crotchety Old Men?!

Happy Nearly Christmas my festive little Sprouts!

Once again I have to apologise (surprise surprise) for being a week behind on blogging (though it was touch and go whether or not I’d get this one posted). Fighting against Christmas colds, hangovers, present prep and the most ridiculous period of busyness at work (WTF? It’s Christmas? Go away!) has left me with very little time to call my own and even less to call blogging specific. Which is just rude really. Still, I am returned for now and will give you one last chapter before the festive season truly kicks in.

I did struggle a lot to think about what to blog this week. I think being so busy with everything else has just turned my brain to mush, rather than giving me inspiration on what to write about.  It’s been complete madness, but I hasten to add; an acceptable kind of madness. The kind that leaves you constantly achieving and with slight levels of hysteria, rather than the type that overwhelms you and makes you sit and stare at a wall for hours on end terrified of how much there is to do and how much you can’t do it.

Admittedly, I shouldn’t really make it sound so bad when it’s poor TMM who’s been in charge of the wrapping extravaganza that’s currently in progress in our living room. We now have practically every present (there are still one or two either in transit or waiting to be put together) and they are scattered in loose family piles all over the floor. I have mainly ensconced myself safely on the couch with a gold pen and the festive labels and left TMM to fight with the temperamental tape dispenser and countless rolls of seemingly sentient paper. He’s done very well over all (there’s only been one minor injury and two small huffs) but there’s still about 20% to go so who knows how the rest of this week could go down.

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The worrying thing is, this is 3 days in and it actually looks much better than it did…

You’ve got to find coping mechanisms from the Christmas Chaos how you can though, and I’ve mainly found respite by going on a reading bender these last couple of weeks. TMM set me onto Jo Nesbo, a Scandinavian crime/thriller writer who he’s been trying to convince me to read for a while (he’s regretting that now I can tell you). Very much in my typical fashion, I started reading with the intention of just finishing one book and seeing how I felt but ended up desperately bingeing the entire series and am now 9 books in and devastatingly obsessed.  Typically I shy away from particularly graphic scandi noir crime thrillers so I’m actually quite surprised how obsessed I’ve become with these. I nearly had palpitations watching Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and we’ve had to limit my viewing of The Tunnel to one episode every few days because I get so panicked about the high levels of peril. These books (based on the Harry Hole series – those of you who’ve been paying attention will have seen the recent film “The Snowman” with Michael Fassbender which is based on a book in the middle of the series) are really no different and have started to get particularly violent – The Leopard (the next one to the Snowman) is particularly gruesome and there’s interviews I’ve read with the author in which he’s stated that even he thinks he might have gone slightly too far. Still, I’ve found them so addictive I’ve been unable to stop. Poor TMM has had to put up with my ranting and mild stresses throughout the last few weeks and has done so graciously, even when I made him buy a second copy of one book so we could read them at the same time, overtook him on the series and spoilered him for character deaths.

This, in fact, is one particular bugbear I have with Mr Nesbo. Like JK Rowling and the writers of Spooks, he belongs to that school of writer who aims for “realism” in his books and thinks you can achieve this by killing of main characters. I would like to set the record straight once and for all – this is not on. Mainly, I choose to read because I am looking for a distraction from real life. I want something that takes me away from my own world and submerges me in another, full of adventure and excitement that I want but am too lazy and awkward to actually aim for. What I do not want is sadness and death of characters that I have become attached to. I especially do not want it to happen MORE THAN THREE TIMES! Seriously, it’s a good job Nesbo isn’t on Twitter otherwise he would have had as a severe and unapologetic diatribe as I could have sufficiently written in 218 characters. I’m not reading for the heartache of reality. I’m reading to escape all that, and if you could stop killing off all my favourite characters in cruel and unusual ways, I’d very much appreciate it!

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Just a little light reading

The main attraction for me though, as I once again am slightly embarrassed to admit, is my love of crotchety old men. I don’t know what is about them but every single time they become one of my favourite characters. Harry Hole is, admittedly, a little young for my typical type (at the fair age of only 48) but his sarcastic outlook, inability to not do the right thing (much to his chagrin) and heavy mental and physical scarring pretty much fit the bill. It’s like my inexplicable but uncontrollable love for Lewis (TV show) all over again. Give me an aged, wrinkly, bitter old copper over a youthful heroic type any day of the week. I’d rather Samuel Vimes than Batman, Robbie Lewis over Peter Parker and pretty much any of the old cast members from any of the Star Treks (in real life or as their characters) than the sexy new young’uns. It’s definitely starting to become a bit of a problem though, and it was only compounded last night when we went to see the new Star Wars (which was excellent) and I spent the whole time being shamelessly in love with grumpy old Luke Skywalker. I mean, Oscar Isaacs is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but why would I fancy his reckless and flippant Poe Dameron when Luke is in the background growling about everything and letting his beard flow magnificently in the wind? It’s not that my fascination is gender specific either. There are some truly excellent female characters in this new addition to the franchise and whilst I love them all, how can I focus on them when you’ve got Leia stomping around slapping people all over the place like a cantankerous little ewok? Those Skywalker siblings are the definition of “great hair, don’t care” and I would happily watch a 3 hour film of them just doing their thing, minus all the dramatic and political plot arcs.

It’s not like it’s a general fancy either. I may be odd but I am particularly in my strangeness. It can’t be just any type of cranky crinkle and just nasty old meanies are no good – I want good intentioned but world weary grouches; grizzled with just a hint of sarcastic charm and preferably a bonus young sidekick they can continually gripe at. I’ve tried to reason it away and diagnose it but there’s just no hope. It might be peculiar but it’s just how I am and if nothing else it surely bodes well for TMM. I mean, if I love him now in the flush of youth, I am going to just adore him when he’s 70.

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.

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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?

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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:

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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