Food for Thought – 5 tasty little tidbits you might not know

Happy Summer folks. We are now officially past the longest day and apparently supposed to be enjoying one of the hottest summers on records….which I’m sure is just around the corner.

Anyway, I’ve decided to take a slight diversion for this week’s blog. We’ve recently spent a lot of time listening to the QI Elves – a group of the researchers for QI who have a weekly podcast entitled “No Such Thing as a Fish” where they present their four favourite (and usually bizarre) facts of the week. So inspired, I have put together a little listicle of my own favourite facts – though they’ve all ended up revolving around food (which says a lot) – to share and educate you all.

I would like to present these with the disclaimer that it’s all pretty much off TV, the internet or radio 4, so take what truthfulness you will. Without further ado – here goes:

1)      These are not the bananas you’re looking for…

I read the first one these facts in a tumblr post about Captain America I think (because I am a giant nerd). In it, there was a discussion thread about how confused Steve Rogers would be by the taste of bananas in the 21st Century *side note – for those not in the know, Steve Rogers is a young American during the second world war who is turned into a super solider and then accidentally frozen only to be awakened in the modern day*. Obviously this confused the heck out of me – what banana based mystery was this? Never one to be daunted by the dark recesses of what the internet holds, I delved in head first to find out what was going on. It turns out that the bananas we know and love today are not the bananas enjoyed by our predecessors during the 20th century – Say whaaaaat?

Originally, the bananas that were commonly cultivated and sold worldwide were a breed classified as a Gros Michal (literally translating as “Fat Michael” or “Big Mike” to his friends) – a squatter, much brighter and stronger tasting variety more similar to its plantain brethren. However due to the Great Banana Plague (or Panama disease) of the 1950’s, the Gros Michal breed was almost completely wiped out and no longer sustainable (oh no!). The continued high demand for bananas was not to be stopped though, and this led to the introduction of a new, more hardy and durable type of banana…the Cavendish! Now, most of the bananas we enjoy today are of this Cavendish variety, and indeed it is the most popular breed world wide. However I am sure you will have either thought (or heard someone say) how most banana flavoured things (think those foam sweets or banana milkshakes) don’t taste very banana-ry. This is because the extract used to flavour them is based of the original Gros Michal rather than the Cavendish; meaning when you’re eating or drinking these products, you’re actually closer to tasting the original bananas that you are if you eat an actual banana! Mind – BLOWN!


2)      Attack of the (Banana) Clones (who knew bananas and Star Wars linked so well?)

So you might actually be surprised to learn (or not, because I do love these facts) this isn’t the only banana fact I have. Those little buggers are chocked full of history.

My second fact goes back to the introduction of the Cavendish banana to the United Kingdom. One of the first shipments ever created were brought over to England actually cultivated in the greenhouses of Chatsworth House. Now, whilst Chatsworth doesn’t seem like a typical birthing point for a global banana industry – nearly every banana eaten in the western hemisphere is directly descended from one of the plants grown there (freaking science man!) 

The reason for this is that commercially cultivated bananas are propagated through “vegetative reproduction” rather than sexual reproduction (you can tell by their lack of seeds) – which means they are sterile and each new banana plant has to be taken as a cutting from a currently existing tree and planted manually. Basically, each of the Cavendish bananas are actually classed as clones and are genetically identical to the original source banana (that is some next level sh*t right there). This has been done to quite a few fruits and veg, but not on quite such a dramatic scale. Whilst this makes cultivating the plants easier, it does hold quite a high level of risk – if a fungus (such as the Panama disease which is slowly encroaching again) infects one plant, the banana have no chance of naturally evolving a defense and will be practically wiped out. BANANA-DRAMA!

3)      Jelly is basically a coma patient

I have never trusted jelly. A bold statement you might think, but I’ve always thought there’s something very unnatural about it. I will give most foods a chance, but texture can be a big no-no for me, and anything that wibbles in my mouth so aggressively is not going to stay there very long.

Well, it turns out that jelly moves in such a fashion it could actually be classed as alive (and so I feel validated in my intense distrust). Experiments have been done in which jelly’s have been hooked up to electroencephalographs (EEG machines) and have responded very much as a healthy human brain would. (I’m not too sure why these experiments have been done, but I like it none-the-less).

It turns out that the jelly picks up and responds to particular signals within the room (such as the vibrations of the machine it’s plugged into, people moving, even telephones ringing) and does so in such a strength that it exhibits alpha rhythms which mimic that of a human brain when a person is awake but has their eyes closed. In fact, based on EEG results alone, jelly qualifies as “alive”. (Cue mad scientists shouting “it’s allliiiivvvvveeeeee!” whilst jelly monsters lurch about awkwardly).

This has actually had quite a serious impact on the validity of EEGs being used as a sole measurement of response. (Huzzah for real life applications of silly science!) It is possible that, like jelly, the brains of certain coma patients might actually just be mirroring outside stimuli even though they are no longer technically classed as responsive. A positive response may not mean a patient is alive, and similarly a negative response does not necessarily mean they are dead.

Or it might just mean prove that jelly is an alien life force sent to freak me the hell out. I think we all know what the real fact is here.

4)      Mushrooms will not play the game

We’ve all been on long road trips or camping and played endless games of “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral”. Well, thanks to this fun fact, you can now annoy the hell out of everyone by picking something which fits into none of those categories! The humble mushroom is indeed humble no longer, but actually strutting out all on it’s own.

Typically labelled as a vegetable, the mushroom actually falls under the “fungi” category (insert awful joke here) which is actually much closer to animals than plants and technically is a separate kingdom altogether.

{Side note, there are actually 5 “kingdoms”; Bacteria (Monera), Eucaryotes (Prostista – a catch all for anything as yet not specified as any of the others), Fungus (Fungi), Plants (Plantae) and Animals (Animalia). Bonus fact ftw}.

Mushrooms do actually grow like plants, but contain no chlorophyll and don’t perform photosynthesis. Instead, they get their energy and nutrients from non-living organic matter – meaning they break down and “eat” dead or decaying organisms (limited to but not excluding, compost, dead animals and even human feet!) – basically like little zombies.

They follow a very similar evolutionary path to animals but grow from spores, rather than seeds, and a single mushroom can drop up to 16 billion in it’s life time.

They’ve also been proven to grow bigger than any plant or animal – often with individual heads growing out from one giant organism that is spread out underground. Indeed, most of the work goes on away from prying eyes; the living body is a web of tiny little filaments that grows under soil and can be as small as a single ant or cover acres (some can even expand up to half a mile a day). It’s from this that the “fruit” (the puffballs or caps that we see) grows from, leaving the main body hidden and unknown.

Mushrooms – actually magic and more than slightly terrifying…

 

#FungusAmongUs

 5)      Let’s Avo cuddle

The last but certainly not the least fact, is that I have discovered that Avocados are scientifically proven to be the most adorable of all the foods. Seen as the Aztec symbol of love and fertility – often seen as so sexually potent virgins were banned from eating them. This belief is though to have sprung from the appearance of the fruit (THEY LOOK LIKE TESTICLES!) and the fact they typically grow in pairs on the tree, like little berry buddies. They are also only able to partially self-pollinate due to the fact the female and male flowers open and close at different times, and most avocado trees require other avocados trees to be close by in order to grow (awww). Basically, they are the panda of the fruit world.

Excitingly, the avocado evolved alongside the Pleistocene Mega fauna (basically GIANT F*CK OFF ANIMALS) such as giant sloths and armadillos in order to facilitate seed dispersal through poops – which is why the seed is so big. However, once the mega fauna died out, it is only due to human intervention that the avocado escaped extinction. Bless their little green hearts. 

The most commonly consumed variety of avocado today; the “Hass” is quite nails though. Each fruit is directly descended from a single mother tree, which was cultivated by a Californian postie named Rudolph Hass. Unaware of what he was actually growing, he soon patented the tree (incidentally the first US patent placed on a tree) which outlived him by 50 years, finally dying of root rot in 2002 (the tree – not the postman). The avocado is now one of the most popular fruits worldwide and loved by health nuts and hipsters alike.

 

And there we have it. Just 5 little snippets of the things my brain finds fascinating. I hope you enjoyed and please let me know if you have any other food facts, because, let’s face it, I will totally be intrigued by them.

Something to write home about…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Look how profesh this Bookstgram Front Page is!

 

 

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!

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monty

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

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

Fully Booked – A weekend of being busy and bookish

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

Cupboard

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

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

Babies

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

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

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

PRE-BOOK REVIEW

5 books I am most looking forward to reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book list

But first, let me take a #shelfie…

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

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

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

 

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

Bonjourno my little buttercups!

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

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

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

Shelfies

Books! Everywhere! Drowning in #shelfies

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

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

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

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

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

Teambonfire

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Aphelion.

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

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

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

Lackadaisy.png

Just a little scribble

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

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

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

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

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

Film

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

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

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

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

Hello, My Name is Eleanor and I am an Addict

Well, the bank holiday may be over, but some of the Easter joy remains. I’ve still got chocolate eggs coming out of my ears (never something to be sniffed at) and I had a lovely few days off, though I am waiting on my Easter pants (I’m looking at you, daddy dearest). It’s a Harding tradition that every year the Easter bunny brings my sister and I a chocolate egg or two and new Primark knickers. Some people find it weird, but they just don’t understand – I wait with thinly veiled excitement every time. I am now of the age where I have to buy myself boring and work-appropriate underwear (yay for black and seamless) but there’s a part of me that still longs for boy pants with pugs on or a fetching flamingo print.

Overall though, I’ve had a delightful few days. Admittedly I spent Friday slobbing about reading in bed and then feeling guilty for not tidying (though I did to 2 laundry loads!), but then we travelled down to deepest not so dark Wales to see my madre. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a tasty tea and about 3 inches of ankle (Mother has taken to wearing Mr B’s jeans, regardless of the fact they don’t fit her, but it did give us all a giggle). There was much chatting and eating of chocolate and fudge hot cross buns (the best breakfast product ever invented – I dare you to try them and say otherwise). I also put us to work in the garden (I don’t think poor Ross was expecting it and my mum did try to convince us we didn’t need to do it) and we did some odd jobs. Ross built a lovely little border wall whilst Mother chopped wood with gay abandon, but I think I got the best deal – I got to use the leaf blower to clean out the green house. I spent far too long making my own sound effects and blowing things about in a whirlwind so I could pretend I was in the Crystal Maze. I also got to use an oscillating drill whilst making some potato planters (thank you for the idea Facebook) which caused much hysteria too. Everything got sorted eventually though and then we all had a thoroughly deserved rest. We spent the evening enjoying another Hello Fresh meal (I mean, I might take a lot of unnecessary stuff when I visit my mum, but I do also take tea so I’m not all bad) and watching Night at the Museum 2. We had all of the lolz (well, Mother and I did, TMM fell asleep) and spent the rest of the weekend quoting it at each other and bursting into snorts of laughter.

leaf blower.jpg

Pic – me doing my best Ghostbusters impression “Don’t cross the streams!”

After returning home (I only got a bit teary in the car on the way home, I’m definitely growing up) our last day of freedom was a tale of two halves.  The first half of Monday was spent leisurely traipsing around Keele Woods wandering through the lovely blue bell field. Slight side note here – this does make me laugh because the blue bells are all over the university prospectus and website (big selling point), but the patch itself is quite hidden and out of the way so I’d be surprised if 10% of students ever make it there. I can’t say I mind too much though, it’s a lovely space to be without other people cluttering up the place.

In the afternoon I made Ross take me to watch the new Fast and Furious film using one of our free tickets. I mean, I think he enjoyed it nearly as much as I did, but it was definitely my choice. I’m not sure if you’d have noticed, but I am pretty much ALL OVER F&F at the moment. Considering I hadn’t watched any of them before this month, I’ve now seen them all at least twice and am convinced it is my life’s true purpose to be a street racer (ignoring my lack of ability and the fact that Hans von Manschaft the Passat can barely make it past 40mph at the moment, never mind drift) but I think it’s worth dreaming about. It harks fondly back to my younger days when I had high hopes about being an ice road trucker in Canada and various bedroom walls plastered in printed out pictures of tractor cab fronted American trucks.

Now, you may have started to cotton on that I seem to have a rather obsessive personality. In the last few blog posts, there have been little clues leading towards the fact that I find myself becoming attached to things like a small child to a favourite teddy bear. This has been happening ever since I can remember. My sister will testify to having to listen to PG Wodehouse tapes on repeat for weeks at a time (much to her dismay) and it’s definitely not something that has improved with age. This year alone, I’ve had emotionally fraught turmoil over Due South, The Watch Maker on Filigree Street and now Fast and Furious. Last year can be split into the saga of my Captain America love, and what is now known as the “Lewis Era”. I mean, technically that isn’t even officially over, if only because I have refused to watch the last episode (that way I don’t have to admit that it’s finished for good, because I can’t bear to think there will never be a new one). I couldn’t even say where it comes from; one minute I’m just going along all casually and then BAM – I’ve got a love for a character/plot point/theme tune that cannot be denied and I will spend the next 3-4 weeks being a complete loser over it.

It’s exactly the same with songs and books too. You just try telling me “they’re not real” when I have to time reading books down to the minute so I know I can be in bed and go straight to sleep after finishing one, rather than being in the middle of work and having a mini breakdown about the fact I will never get to experience that particular story with fresh eyes again. (Let’s not even talk about if a character dies, it’s not worth the tears).

book hangover

 Pic – that little man is me. My hair even does that. (Image Credit does not go to me – I’m not actually sure who it belongs to, but whoever they are, they get me)

It does cause some slight ructions between me and TMM, but only on a small scale. Typically he is very supportive of my weirdness, but we do have a bit of a conflict of interests when it comes to a series. With TV, I like to binge dramatically, whereas Ross gets upset when there’s too much plot (because he is a wrong’un). I also get very catty over how he reads, because he apparently thinks it’s appropriate to stop reading a book half way through and start another one, or just stop a series and go onto something else (this is because he is a dirty book slag). I on the other hand, have never put a book down without finishing it and if I’m reading a series, I must read them all. In order. From the beginning. Every time. There are some series that have 10 or 11 books in that I will read from the start every time a new one is released. It’s gotten to the point now when I won’t start certain things because I know I won’t be able to cope with finishing them. In fact, I think I embody the exact opposite of the phrase “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. At this stage, I think my only hope for curing each obsession is just to continually get another one.

Overall though, it’s (mostly) harmless and does just mean I know a ridiculous amount about a random selection of topics that are of no use except in pub quizzes. I’ve heard it said though that obsession is just another term for dedication, and surely there are worse things to be stuck on?

…Right?