Book Review – The First of Many…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will I boot.

dungarees

You come to me on this, the week after the weekend of my engagement…

So perhaps somewhat ironically after last week’s blog lambasting the Valentine tradition, this post comes to you straight from the fingers of a now officially betrothed lady! It is quite likely that you haven’t actually seen anything about this turn of events because we definitely haven’t plastered it all over Facebook like the social media slags that we are. We have been terribly coy and understated about the whole affair really.

I have to say though, the response to our announcement has been delightful and a little overwhelming. It’s rather heart-warming to know that so many people are invested and encouraging of our relationship, and the amount of champagne gifts we have received is awesome (even if Ross says they are too posh to make French Onion Soup out of and has moved them onto the bookshelf out of my reach).

As to the engagement itself – it was superb. Considering I typically shy away from most situations involving public displays of affection and show most of my love for Ross through creative insults, I have to say it went rather swimmingly. Admittedly, it was perhaps not quite the magical mystery proposal that Man Muffin might have been hoping for (sadly there is a chap that will never be able to join the secret services. I don’t even need to ask him anything and he’s spilling all his secrets like a bag of rice with a hole in the bottom), but I honestly think that might have been a bit better for us. I was already riding on the crest of the hysteria wave, and if I hadn’t known what was waiting at the end, I probably wouldn’t have made it. As it was I’d already endured the rushed panic of “oh god what if I say the wrong thing” and had to be threatened with a good slapping by the Woo-ster before I could calm down.

hagrid

Ross, or Hagrid as he is now affectionately known.

Preparation-wise though, I do have to hand it to the big softie; he pulled out all the stops. He always promised me a treasure hunt, and boy did he deliver spectacularly. There was nearly a slight mix up with the timings (my hair cut finished earlier than expected and my handlers had to cancel some breakfast dates to get me on time) but by 12pm I was delivered safely to the car park outside my old Uni digs; a cello-taped envelope clutched in my sweaty hand bearing the strictest instructions to remain unopened until otherwise instructed. When I was finally given the nod, the contents were revealed to be a selection of smaller numbered envelopes each containing a photo of the pair of us (looking pretty fly throughout our 7 year relationship, I can tell you), and beautifully handwritten clues guiding me to various locations around campus.

Now I do have to say that whilst the clues were each expertly crafted, I was about as useful as a chocolate teapot and had to be nudged in the right direction a few times by my trusty support team (big gay shout out to Sarah and Jon) who were equally as hysterical as I was, but thoroughly enjoying their responsibilities. There was a lot of time spent shouting “ON THIS, THE DAY OF MY ENGAGEMENT” at unsuspecting passers by in the style of the Godfather, but we did actually keep to the plan. We visited the bar where Ross and I first met, old accommodations, the library, the observatory and had a lovely little walk around the woods (because even though I knew where the clue led, I have all the directional sense of a jelly and was never actually going to get us all the way there without incident) before coming to the end outside of Keele Hall. After a serious nudging in the right direction and a hurried semaphore conversation as Jon directed Ross to hide behind a bush, I rounded the corner to be presented with a huge bouquet of flowers and a rather pink faced Man Muffin.

We proceeded to stand about half a mile apart dithering whilst he awkwardly shrugged and said “so, do you maybe wanna…” and I thrust my hand at him with a shrill squeaking sound. Cue much snogging, opening of bucks fizz and hilarious photos.

MONTAGE!!!!!!

Now I do have to say before I sign off for the week that I really don’t think I’m any different. People keep asking how it feels to be engaged, and if I’m perfectly frank it feels very much like not being engaged, only now I have to remember to put my ring back on after a shower. Though honestly, I really don’t think there’s much Ross and I could do to change our relationship – we might both be useless at life, but we’re pretty much just right for each other.

Hearts and Crafts – The Cross Stitch Edition

Today’s post brings us to the wonderful world of Craft (please note the use of a capital “C” – denoting what a Serious Business this is).  

With Christmas marching steadily and commercially closer (in case you couldn’t tell by the sudden influx of tinny sounding festive tunes and naff decorations in all the shops) I thought I could use this time to share some of the festive craft staples that I wheel out on a yearly basis. My creative arsenal contains a wide variety of craft weaponry that I will be happy to share with you all as the days draw in. Together, we will plumb the depths of darkest wool cupboard and discuss the muscular merits of GIANT knitting, or perhaps go on a delightful adventure to discover just how many weird and wonderful ways you can fold a piece of paper. Truly, there are so many projects I have turned my hand to (with varying degrees of success) that my poor Neens is running out of room to house all the embroidery swatches and origami pinecones that I have gifted to her. Seriously, she has more homemade craft than any supportive grandma could ever want.

At the moment however, I’m fully in the swing of a cross stitch groove. There’s something so satisfying about the little in and out motion of the needle (minus the occasional finger stab), and the slight rasp of cotton as it pulls through the aida. I don’t care what anyone says, embroidery is one of the most enjoyable hobbies out there and I will fight you if you disagree.

This time round, I’m working on one or two pieces that I can’t share due to the Santa Secrecy Act of 2016 (omg Christmas secrets!), but I’ve started a couple of little background projects just to keep me ticking over whilst I plan my next present. Over the weekend, I whipped up a little bee/hexagon design which I found immensely soothing. Repetitive patterns have the joyful benefits of being both very simple to do and always looking snazzy. You can spice them up with a gradation of colour or just leave them classically simple, but they’re also going to work.

 beedone

Bee-gun. (Images courtesy of the Man Muffin, who is thoroughly into the photography lark)

beegun

Bee-done! (I am so so sorry for the awful puns. Please enjoy a picture of my cat as an apology)

Cross stitch also has the convenience of being something you can put down, leave for 3 years and then pick up as easily as if you never stopped. I’ve got tons of half done designs of hot air balloons and flamingos and the like just waiting for a rainy afternoon and a good film to be finished. To be honest, the main problem I have, like any true craft addict, is having too many ideas and not enough room. In fact I’ve got a couple of old faithfuls that I’ve done over the years that sit in my craft box (read – huge set of drawers) who are all dressed up with no place to go. *Hint*– if you have a supportive grandma lacking some cross-stitch this year, now is the time to let me know…you could be prepared for anything this Christmas with some super cute cross stitch! *wink wink*

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into the craft sphere I inhabit on a daily basis, and are prepared for the mountains of tutorials and gratuitous displays I have still to go.

 Speak to you soon my little Christmas Puddings

 

 

My Pet Old Lady (and friends) Volume 1

As promised, here lies the first of many instalments updating the world of the adventures and exploits of our dearest pet old lady, Miss Molly.

For those of you not in the know (or those who’d enjoy a refresher course), Molly is a superb old lady who lives in the next village along from us. Born and bred in Keele, she has lived there (and in houses each within a 3 mile radius of each other) for all of her 92 years. Thanks to a chance set of circumstances including but not limited to; a pair of starving students, a regular pub goer and the promise of ready money, we were introduced to her as potential dog walkers. Just to set the scene for you – this was four years ago and we’ve seen her pretty much every day since.

Living alone as she does (Molly has had the greatest misfortune of being able to find a husband but not keep him. Such are the issues of not marrying until you’re 60 and then trying to cram 3 little old men into the marital home in quick succession) Molly’s only companion is Benji; a ginger collie dog with the physical capabilities of a leper but the mental personality of a hyperactive child. As deaf as Molly herself and on a diet that consists mostly of stupidly expensive dog pouches mixed in with leftovers and whiskey, he is a ridiculous specimen of canine-hood. With no record of how old he was or where he came from, Molly picked him up from a local kennels and named him in honour of her previous doggie companion – a chocolate lab called Benji who’s cremated ashes reside in a box somewhere in the spare room.

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Please enjoy this incredibly rare picture of the lesser spotted Benji not losing his sh*t because there’s someone looking at him.

To sum him up succinctly though – he is complete mental, mucky to a fault and horribly aggressive when the mood takes him and as such his personality matches Molly to a tee; he is her soul mate in every way. As old as she is though (and as ageless as he is) she cannot walk him, much to her chagrin, and this means that Benji requires a chaperone to take him on a daily jaunt down the lane, come rain, shine or torrential hailstorm. This role includes such highlights as making sure to NEVER take him off his lead (being deaf and mental, he is prone to run off in any direction and not be seen for days at a time), stopping him from savaging any furry passers by (many a time we have received bemused looks as we’ve hoisted him into our arms and carried him resolutely like a growling yelping carpet down the road) and trying to scoop up distressingly liquid poops (that’s the whiskey diet for you – shout out to Ross for never backing down when faced with the truly noxious creations that come from that dog’s butt). We are the latest in a long line of locals/students to take up the mantle and we have done so with much aplomb.

However, as much we mutter under our breathes about the pair of them or share sidelong glances with each other before getting out of the car in a manner similar to a condemned man walking to the gallows, it can’t be denied they’ve provided plenty of fuel for the literary fire. As trying as they can sometimes be, they’ve both got hearts of gold hidden beneath their wrinkly, pickled exteriors.

I’ll shall leave you now with that pleasant introduction (and somewhat terrifying mental image), but worry not! This disastrous duo will play recurring roles throughout the blog – a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead for the modern ages if you will. Expect more news around early December time…the Christmas Fair approaches.

And so it begins. Again.

Image result for beginning again

How many times can one person start a blog, you might ask?

Surely there should be some kind of limit; a law that stops the cluttering up of the internet with the inane ramblings of yet another English graduate desperate to start a lucrative career as a world famous “blogger”.

However, as I sit here trying to come up with yet another pithy introductory post, it would appear no such limit exists. Four abandoned blogs and countless dismissed drafts later, I’m back at the gate with a dream in my heart and hopefully enough staying power to actually commit this time.

I would like to say that I will endeavour to post only well-written, poignant and topical articles about state of our social and political climate or the struggles facing feminism in the twenty-first century. To be honest though, it is more likely to be 87% of me sharing my thoughts on hilarious cat videos or the joys or hair dying and limited attention paid to any real world issues. Still, every little helps, or so Molly (my pet old lady) keeps telling me. (Expect more on her later)

Anyway, I have always been encouraged to keep things like this brief and so I will sign off here, hopefully leaving you wanting more and not gently shaking your head with a kind of saddened disappointment.

Until next time, mon petit chou

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