The Ivy – The Commoners Guide to Eating Posh

Blog Ivy

Picture, if you will, two weary travellers. Wandering aimlessly under the baking sun; their skin is pink, their limbs are heavy and their nerves a slightly frayed due to encroaching hunger that is unstated by the raspberries they had for breakfast in the car. Lost, they have been wandering Cambridge for hours, buffeted by the inordinate amount of school groups (curious, on a Saturday) and tourists who are rampaging the streets. There is also the gradual realisation the perhaps visiting a city where each attraction is hidden by large, unerring wooden doors bearing unapologetic slogans like “No Visitors, Only Students” or “£13 per person for entry” was possibly not the best choice of destination when their pockets are a little tighter than normal.

Eventually, after trudging past cafes, restaurants and eateries packed to the gills; after pressing their noses sadly against the windows and eyeing piled high plates of food on their way to other people; after being so dehydrated that they had resorted to threatening to spit in each other’s mouths to provide any kind of moisture, a metaphorical light appears on the horizon. Coming to a stop outside an unassuming dark green shop front to gently berate each other for having let it get to this stage, one gestures to the darkened doorway with only a slight hint of exasperation and says “what about here then?”

Up a step, they are greeted by a smart young lady in a starched white shirt behind an imposing lectern housing a computer screen. She stands just to the right of a sizable wooden door with an artful stained glass window and to her left hangs a rather dramatic deep red velvet curtain. She smiles candidly at our heroes before asking softly “reservation?”

“Err, table for two?” Is the somewhat querulous response. She narrows her eyes just a fraction and looks down at her computer screen. From somewhere behind her appears another lady, this one with added blazer, who whispers something quietly in her ear. It is here, dear reader, that our weary wanderers began to get the sneaking suspicion they had stumbled on something a little beyond their usual fare. Indeed, the internal warning sirens were sounding and a couple of sharp glances were shared between them as another lady appears off the street, pushes her way through and flippantly remarks over her shoulder to the door woman and friend as she slips through the door that she was there to meet people. The sliver of restaurant viewable for the brief second it took her to get through afford a mere flash of finery and the impression of chandeliers.

Suddenly the burgundy curtain swishes aside and a third lady appears; this one wearing a smart red dress and fancy heels. She smiles and inclines her head, before slipping behind the lectern, palming some menus and shepherding our duo through the door.

On the other side, they are met with a sight to behold. What they had originally expected to be a single room with a couple of tables turns out to be the size of a banquet hall and positively dripping with opulence. Beautifully tiled floors in dark blues and mustard yellows sit below dark wooden tables and walls artistically crammed with photos and paintings. Waiters and waitresses in full regalia (waistcoats and ties) move quietly and swiftly round with huge trays balanced precariously, and burly men in suits circle silently, smiling beautifully at guests.

The pair huddle together and hurry to follow their guide, nearly tripping each other as they stare, open mouthed at the two bars that could have stolen from a 1935 gin joint, resplendent with crystal glasses, mirrored fittings and bottle displays that could have easily doubled as a potions store. After what seems like an inordinate amount of time, they are invited to take a seat at a sweetly tucked away corner table. They fall somewhat chaotically onto the plush couches and take the proffered menus with only slightly trembling hands.

“Any water?” Asks the hostess. Our wanderers share panicked looks at being asked a question so promptly without any chance of preparation and after a moment of hesitation nod frantically.

“Still or Sparkling?” Is the next query which results in yet more overwrought looks, before the safer option of still is plumped for. Finally left to their own devices for the first time, our champions take a moment to properly absorb their surroundings; the salt and pepper shakers that appear to be made from gold and the casually placed wine bucket at every available corner before bursting into stifled giggles and muttered suggestions that they are definitely not posh enough to be where they are. They both suddenly hush when their server returns with a glass bottle of water that she carefully pours into the prepared glasses. As she walks away, there’s a flurry of panicked whispering regarding potential costs of bottled water vs dehydration. Turning to the menus, they hold hands tightly under the table in preparation of expenses. The mains cause a conjoined wince, and the wine list is discarded immediately, but the sandwiches are perused with interest.

By the time a new waiter appears; a swarthy man with curly dark hair and an intense unblinking stare, our duo are prepared to order. A pair of peach and elderflower lemonades are first, followed by an order for eggs benedict and a truffled chicken sandwich.

Here, dear reader, we must take a side bar to discuss the hereforto unknown wonders of truffled chicken. Initially unsure, I (for yes, the heroes you’ve shared this journey with your friendly neighbourhood Ebear and TMM) chose it under supervision and boy, was I rewarded. Two rounds of fried bread, chunks of perfectly tender and ridiculously tasty chicken, salad dressed in some kind of delightful dressing and pre salted chunky chips. The food of the gods.

By the time the meals arrive, our wanderers have settled enough to enjoy their environment and appreciate how it is to live like one of the rich and famous. Surrounded by fancy people with laughs like braying horses and neck scarves galore, they tuck into their food with relish.

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Sadly, small but unapologetic signs declared “No Photography Allowed”, but worry not. It did not stop our intrepid heroes who gladly broke the rules to take a sneaky photo of this super fancy knife with a silver fly on the handle (though it’s clear a life of covert observation is not on the cards considering how blurry this is).

Due to high hunger levels and a small yet undeniable fear someone was going to realise that our couple were 100% not posh enough to be there and kick them out, the plates were clean within a rather small timeframe. Due to unfortunately unexpected circumstances and somewhat limited funds, there was no time for desserts (though the delightful looking Rum Baba with Chantilly Cream was noted and will be enjoyed again in the future). However, before dropping the cash and hightailing it out of there as fast as their £10 Primark pumps would carry them, both our explorers braved the crowds of Cambridgites to visit the facilities.

Typically, I have to admit, I barely visit toilets in the outside world, because I have the bladder of a camel and a definite fear of being kidnapped. This time though, it was definitely worth the risk, if only for the apparent million mile walk (I still have no idea how this place actually fitted behind such a demure shop front) lined with beautiful botanical drawings. The full size wall mural of a tropical bird was much appreciated too (I tried to take a photo of this too, but was scuppered when someone suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs to stare at me judgingly).

The obligatory toilet selfie – it smelt freaking amazing in there.

Soon though our heroes emerged, blinking and slightly shell shocked, into the bright sunshine. Bellies full, pockets significantly lighter and lives enriched, they strode hand in hand, off towards the horizon.

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An Interlude from the Sunshine Library

So, in order to make up for my lack of post the other Thursday, TMM suggested I do another mini weekend bloglet. An exercise, he said, in allowing me to use up a little excess blog material that didn’t make it into last week’s offering as well as keeping up my word count. Not one to counter such a wise and logical argument, or deny him the chance to share super little teasers on his instagram story #socialmediapresence, I agreed, and what follows is just a peek into my personal library. It’s been a while since I’ve shared any reviews or book recommendations and I’d hate to leave you bereft.

The warm weather has actually been the perfect excuse to catch up on my reading. My refusal to sit inside for any length of time has limited my televisual intake and having lunch breaks out in the park have meant I’ve had time to just chow down on a couple of books that have been waiting patiently in my “to read” pile.

So far I’ve managed two books this week; “Early One Morning” by Virginia Baily (picked up from The Works for a couple of quid) and “The Hollow Tree” by James Brogden (from our last trip to Hay on Wye).

The first one I’ve been eyeing up for a while. It’s been on and off bookshelves, in and out of day bags and left on the bedside table for weeks, but I finally managed to make it past the cover on the trip to visit my Mother last weekend. It opened quite dramatically (WW2 Italy) with some Nazi involvement and the heart breaking rescue of a young jewish boy. The story itself was focused on the woman who rescued him, in flash forwards and flashbacks throughout her life, and a young girl in the 1970s who finds herself linked to the pair. Overall, I struggled a little with it, specifically the stylistic choice of flicking through time periods without identification as well as between characters, and I found myself becoming frustrated with the women themselves. However, I wonder if perhaps my disappoint was spurred more from the fact i went into it hoping for something different, rather than the fault of the author. Still, it kept me company for a lunch break and an evening of TMM watching tennis so I sharn’t be too put out.

On the other hand, “The Hollow Tree” was exactly what I thought it would be with some added supernatural elements and I am all about it. I went back and forth a few times before I picked this up in Richard Booth’s bookshop (or Heaven as it’s also known). We had intended to limit ourselves to one book per person at the time *spoiler* it didn’t last, and eventually I caved and bought it after lunch.

Inspired by a legend (which also led to an hour long wikipedia search) it follows a woman, herself involved in a tragic accident that results in amputation, who becomes embroiled in the horrifying tale of a woman trapped in an oak tree and left to die. It deals with death, danger and the discovery of a darker exsistence parallel to our own in a very engaging and provoking manner; and in such a way that I found myself desperate to get back to it each lunch break. There was also another book on the shelf by the same author which attracted me and by the time I’d gotten round to picking up the one I’d bought, I’d combined the blurbs a little and was a tad confused to find this one wasn’t the one with the mysterious children (“Helka’s Children” for those of you interested) as I’d originally thought. However, children not withstanding, it was just as thrilling as the recommendations on the front cover suggested (and I’ll definitely be investing in the other’s he’s written).

Now I was going to end this post by telling you all about a beautiful copy of “Rebecca” that i was going to start this morning, but in what might turn out to be the biggest betrayal of the century, it appears that instead of the book, I unknowingly bought a notebook made to look like a beautiful copy of “Rebecca” and I am wounded. Thankfully though, I’d ordered a spur of the moment purchase from Amazon, and as a salve for both my need to read and my pride, I’ve spent the afternoon reading “A Sky Painted Gold” by Laura Wood. Turns out , lazing around on the grass with a gin and tonic ice lolly, TMM looking delightfully sunkissed and dozey and a book set in the 1920s is apparantly just the cure I needed.

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.

Bank Holiday Bants

Well hello all – how are we this fine April’s Day? I hope we all enjoyed our bank holiday weekend?

I wonder, if like me, there was some slight gnashing of teeth and beating of bosoms on Monday night at the prospect of having to return to work? Was their perhaps some overdramatic sulking and wailing at having to set alarms and knowing that they actually had to be heeded rather than gleefully ignored? Anyone else weeping into their new orthopaedic neck cushions (Aldi’s finest) because they were unwilling to give up on the life of casual freedom and unstructured frivolity they’d carefully cultivated?

Just me?

(Side note – whilst you may smirk at my old lady neck support cushion, which admittedly is a hideous shade of off cream and does smell a little odd, you might want to bear in mind that my headaches have dissipated radically and I’m pretty sure I’ve slept so deeply the past few nights I might have actually been dead. Nurdees to you).

To be honest, we shouldn’t really be surprised at my possibly overdramatic reaction and the return to scheduled living. Whilst I don’t exactly hate my job, be warned that if you show me the tiniest bit of freedom, I’m chomping at the bit for a life of unemployed luxury. I am definitely a lady of leisure at heart. Still, despite the slight cloud on the horizon, my days weren’t spent entirely full of moping.

Admittedly, Friday didn’t go quite as energetically as initially hoped. I did have plans (such plans) as TMM was unfortunately not allowed the Friday off and I wanted to achieve lots in his absence. I didn’t. Instead, I painted a couple of storage boxes and watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (still an excellently trashy film) Mulan for the very first time (I got VERY BEHIND getting down to business to defeat Huns) and binged the entire first season of Marvels: Agent Carter (because Peggy Carter is life and I need to start preparing for the new Avengers film). TMM came home to find me very much as he’d left me, though I had at least made it downstairs onto the couch which is something to be proud of and definitely more than achieved on previous bank holidays spent on my own. (There was that one time he came home from work to find me in bed, in my pants, eating cold pasta out of a take out tub with my fingers. There has definitely been some personal growth since then).

Thankfully, TMM hadn’t expected too much from me and was happy enough that I’d put clothes on and managed to feed myself. He took me for a leisurely jaunt round the village to get me my daily requisite of fresh air and we finished the day by successfully making a fantastic chocolate Easter nest for my Padre.

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Look at this! It’s so fancy!

Saturday was a little more adventurous and we made it all the way to Manchester to visit dearest papa. He was dashing and dapper as always and we treated him to a light hipster lunch in a local café and a good natter. I came home with an excellent Easter haul, including chocolate eggs, pants (Harding Family Tradition – Easter Knickers. Everyone laughs but I swear to god Easter Kecks are one of the best annual customs) and a fantastic A4 framed portrait which now sits in pride of place on the new shelves. (TMM has decided in his wisdom that he wants to start a family gallery, so if you have any handy dandy painted portraits of yourselves, send them our way).

Family visiting continued on Sunday and we went for a rather spectacular Sunday Dinner at TMM’s sister. It’s a trait of the TMM family to prepare plates of food the size of the Himalayan mountain range and then demolish them like snakes unhinging their jaws whilst still maintaining excellent conversations and wrangling children/dogs with casual ease. (There’s still some contention amongst our friends as to whether anyone has ever actually seen TMM eat. We’re all pretty sure that we’ve seen the plate of food in front of him, and then an empty plate about 5 minutes later, but nobody knows what happens in the middle). It’s fascinating for me, one of nature’s slowest eaters (I’m basically a cow, I like to be constantly but leisurely chewing all the time) though it does inevitably mean I finish last and there’s usually something left on my plate because my stomach can’t cope with the amount of glorious chow that’s been presented to it. It’s the curses of being a weedy, lazy child in amongst a healthy and dangerously sporty crowd, but I don’t think they hold it against me. I held my own quite well this time though, and any lingering dismay at my failure to finish was quickly hidden under the chocolate cornflake cake the size of an oven tray absolutely drowning in mini eggs and maltster bunnies I made for pudding.

It also can’t be said I squandered the long weekend in my typically couch potato-y way. TMM was not to be dissuaded by the drizzling weather and over two days managed to make sure I got more day light than my poor pale, winter shrivelled body was prepared for. He’s got some ordinance survey maps of our local area on his phone and dragged me out to enjoy the beauty of nature with him. We walked for HOURS; literally a million steps (read: about 20,000) and to be brutally honest I’m surprised I survived. To be quite honest though (and don’t tell him this) I rather enjoyed myself and it was nice to get a bit of fresh air and do some exploring. I may have done a little whining and huffing, but it was only to be expected, and I think it would have confused us both if I’d gone for it whole heartedly.

We also tired our hand at a spot of geocaching (verb- to ferret around in hedge rows and fields looking for hidden treasures following maps and coordinate, or ‘treasure hunts for grown ups’) which was rather exciting, if a little damp, and spawned a new, slightly risqué game called “Geocache or Poo Bag?!” We had a 60% success rate, which considering it was our first and the fact most of them had been originally placed in 2014 is rather good I think. Admittedly, there weren’t quite as many super exciting treasures as I had hoped for (mainly there were pieces of paper with notes and such like from previous hunters), but we did rather enjoy ourselves. It’s also got TMM’s groove going and he’s already started following numerous different geochache instagram accounts (a lot of them look a tad more exciting than ours). Expect further updates as his passion develops…

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The secondary discovery of the walk; I promise I’m excited under all those layers.

Honestly though, I do have to admit that a lot of this really pales into insignificance because I got to play with puppies this weekend.

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PUPPY PILE

Oh. My. Lord. I mean, I love a puppy as much as the next girl, but good god were they cute. I have never actually been in the vicinity of such tiny pups before and it’s probably good because I was completely useless and unable to do really anything except fuss them and take a ridiculous amount of photos on my phone. I’ve been trying to convince TMM to let me have one (I was not above trying to hide one under my jumper on the way home) but he’s annoyingly sensible and keeps banding about weak excuses like “we have full time jobs and wouldn’t be home to look after it enough” and “we live in rented accommodation and aren’t allowed”. I’ve happily said I’ll give up work and hide the dog whenever the landlord turns up, but so far it’s not going in my favour.

Still, I am not to be dissuaded and I’ve decided that if I am not destined to be a proud puppy parent, I can at least pressure my mother into it. I basically managed to force a cat on her when I was 18 through a carefully constructed campaign of blanket social media cat coverage (emails that said “CAN I HAVE A KITTEN” 7 millions times on the hour, every hour), repetitive bullying and really annoying whining, so I’m pretty sure that I can recreate the conditions now.

To support my puppy petition, I’ve even made this handy and completely impartial pros and cons list to help her decide:

Pros
Great company – dogs have endless and undying love to give
Exercise – the dog can take her for walks along the local beaches and make sure she’s staying healthy and fit
Soft – they are so cuddly
Safety – the dog would protect her from any dangerous marauders who might have devious designs on her or her property
Socialising – everybody wants to pet a dog, so it’s a great way to make friends (and influence people)
Comfort – especially whilst her house is still in such disarray from the recent floods, the dog can provide a warm body and give her plenty of hugs and furry dog kissed.
Adorable – I mean, it’s a dog. Come on.

Cons
None. There are literally no cons. Puppies are great.

I mean, I can’t she how she can argue against this logically, rational and well thought out argument. Puppy anyone?

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.

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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

Welcome to 2018 – In with the old, in with the new and in with all the bits in between

What Ho Readers!

How are we all after the festive season? Stuffed full of good food and good cheer? Overjoyed at the gift haul? Back in work with pained grimace and gloomy face? I woke up this morning to a rather dramatic nose bleed (I think it was my brain rebelling at the pressure of having to be a real person again rather than a Christmas blob) and spent a good ten minutes wailing quietly into my pillow.

To be honest though, work itself hasn’t been that bad (not great, but it could have been worse I suppose), but having to wake up and leave my duvet nest before 10am has been absolutely hellish. It’s been absolutely and most unnecessarily pitch blank both in the morning and when I’ve left work and I am just Not About It. By the time I’ve actually built up any energy, it’s about 11am and when 5.30pm rolls around, I’ve lost it all again. Home time mainly results in me getting in, immediately changing into pyjamas and then sulkily doing a jigsaw until bed time. Any hope of doing anything vaguely constructive or helpful has been swiftly denied and if I’m honest you’re lucky your getting a blog post this week. (Gosh, what a little ray of sunshine I am). Anyway, to this end I have made the  business savvy and hopefully conducive decision to move my regular blog day to Thursday. This will hopefully give me more time to actually write and prepare each update and will give you all something to look forward to before the weekend. Bear with me though, and we’ll see how it goes…

In other and far less depressingly morose news, I am glad to let you all know that Christmas was a roaring success, even with a couple hiccups during the build up. The best (or possibly worst) issue we had was when, during the Great Wrap of 2017, gravy was accidentally spilt onto a beautiful hardback copy of a book we’d bought for my sister’s partner. After much hysteria, gravy dabbing and a narrowly avoided hissy fit (not me for once), we ordered a replacement. This would have been the end of it, but after a few days the new book turned up with a big sticky black mark on the front of it. Obviously I was not okay with this (cue my narrowly avoided hissy fit) and I wrote a sternly worded complaint email (inclusive of pictures because I am nothing if not thorough). There was a bit of back and forth – I didn’t get the vouchers I was angling for, and we finally agreed a new (un-besmirched) copy would be sent directly to the gift receiver. Imagine then my surprise when a day before Christmas a third copy unexpectedly turned up on my doorstep. Poor Jo from Blackwells Customer Service Department was as confused as I was and who knows if yet a forth copy is winding it’s way through the postal system even now. Still, we managed to get the clean copy to wear it needed to be on time and we do now have two spare/slightly sullied copies of the book for our own personal use. If anybody fancies a copy – do let me know.

Apart from that fun little interlude (and the one evening I spent in floods of tears, covered in cello tape and had to be sent to clean the bathroom in disgrace), everything went swimmingly and TMM and I ended up with an almost repulsive amount of presents. TMM even managed to keep nearly all of my presents a surprise (something he has previously been incapable of doing) and went far beyond the self imposed limit we’d given each other. Still, I’ll let him off because he also prepared a truly scrumptious Christmas dinner and has generally been rather fabulous for the whole period. (Admittedly, he was in bad books on Monday night after he burst in on me in the shower and sprayed a bottle of Cava everywhere like a nutter – I nearly died trying to get away without slipping all over the place, but I grudgingly forgave him before bedtime).

 Here’s just a little sample of our presents…Prepare for mention of the others in upcoming instalments

My Mother came up and spent a few days with us too over the holidays and was generally the best house guest we could have asked for. She came with us to visit TMM’s family on Christmas Eve (where she once again proved herself to be the best of all Baby Whisperers), took me on a road trip to see my dad/sister and respective partners, helped me clean the kitchen on the day after Boxing Day. She also spent a good twenty minutes helping me try and catch a vole that Bucky had thoughtfully brought in for us (cleverly named Malvoleio) which was fun for all. She was, in fact, so well behaved that we have deigned to grace her with our presence at her house next week as a reward. Hopefully a week without us will have given her time to recover and she’ll be willing to welcome us with open arms when we rock up at the weekend…

We also kept up the excellent tradition that we started last year of playing Cards Against Humanity with the family. There will still never be a greater pleasure in my life than seeing my Neens say “cheeky bum sex”. We involved my mother this time as well, which went much better than expected. She took to it like a duck to water and I don’t know whether this makes me proud or concerned. Either way, she’s started using it as a weapon against me; there was one particular card that caused much hysteria in the under 30’s but left everyone else looking at each other blankly, and she now likes to whisper it at inopportune moments, safe in the knowledge that she doesn’t know what it means but that it will inevitably cause me to spit out whatever I’m currently drinking. It definitely helped us clear out chests though and I don’t think I was the only one who woke up with rib ache from laughing too hard.

Pepe

Pepe the Cat sits disapprovingly in the pile of burnt cards. This was before he went and sat in the oven, which is a great new pastime of his.

Family once again went above and beyond on the present front and I am now the proud owner of a projector, a raccoon picture (the cutest of all things), a Slytherin sports bra, a microscopic camera (literally all of the close up pictures), a super snuggly blanket and a literal shit ton of other things (too numerous to list but all AMAZING). Two of the best presents we got were books (surprise surprise), including Dawn French’s DIY diary (which I have started with great enthusiasm) and The Almanac by Lia Leendertz; a gorgeous compendium of facts, ideas and seasonal suggestions for the coming year. This month we’re on the lookout for Redwings and TMM is going to get some seed potatoes to plant. It also suggested buying some blood oranges and making marmalade which we bastardised into making orange vodka (sue us) so we’re already feeling quite chipper about our progress.

However, do not take this as a sign that we have gone in for this “New Year, New Me” crap. Remember what we spoke about this time last year, class? January is not the time to be starting this resolation-ary bullsh*t. It’s dark, cold, depressing and I would much rather spend my time wallowing in my left over Christmas chocolate. Any resolutions I do choose to make will come into fruition some time around May when it’s sunnier and I’m able to take criticism and self judgement a little better. Still, I’m will not be too much of a Debbie Downer on any you who are foolhardy enough to start the New Year with serious life changes. If you are ready to start dieting after the Christmas Binge, have dreams of brand new shiny gym memberships or just fancy trying something a bit different, I wish you all the luck in the world from my sulky winter nest.

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.