Book Review – The First of Many…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monty

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

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

Fully Booked – A weekend of being busy and bookish

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

Cupboard

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

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

Babies

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

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

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

PRE-BOOK REVIEW

5 books I am most looking forward to reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book list

But first, let me take a #shelfie…

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

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

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

 

May your May be as Marvellous as Mine

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

May Tulips

 “March winds and April showers bring forth May Flowers”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Fountain Abbey

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

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

Tortiose.jpg

 But what’s the message?

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

Photo Credit – @r_h_pendebury 

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

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

Aphelion.

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

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

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

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.

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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).

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 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?

 

 

 

 

My Sunday Scene – Sunshine, Screws and Sanding

Now I must start today’s post with a little apology, as I have been somewhat remiss in my writerly duties recently and left you all sadly lacking in blog posts. I would like to be able to give you valid excuse for my absence; like how I was too busy fighting deadly ninja bears or coming up with a plan to end world hunger, but mainly I was a bit busy and lacking in any kind of inspirational spark. This week I will be much better though and keep you all thoroughly updated. You’ll no doubt be proud to hear that I’ve been continuing in my action plan of regular planking, cross training and watching Fast and Furious. My motivational work out wall has some new members (shout out to Vin Diesel’s tank top and Gal Gadot who is just repulsively perfect) and I feel their patiently encouraging stares as I sweat my way unhappily to fitness. We’re going to be taking on the Press Up Challenge next week (oh joy, oh rapture), though I think there might be a couple of false starts with that one. I can’t even remember the last time I tried a press up, and with my weirdly locking elbows there is the slight concern I might get into a position and then never be able to get out again. Still Ross assures me there is at least one wash board ab hiding somewhere in my noodly body, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep going until I can see it.

Motivation Wall.jpg The Motivation Wall. There are some bonus pictures round the fireplace and a lovely shirtless one of Captain America that is stuck to the inside of the kitchen cupboard door – providing motivation whilst preparing lunches 😀

Continuing in my action vibe, I’ve been very social this weekend. We had Granddad Pendlebury’s 80th birthday party on Friday night, and we were out until 1am (which was a shock to the system for both of us) having a jolly old time. Saturday was spent in Manchester for a friend’s birthday with a good rabble of people. We visited many lovely bars, had many lovely beverages and I spent a good hour or so deliberating the merits of selling body parts for money in order to fund my dream of becoming a stinkingly rich Contessa living on the coast somewhere. I often forget how much I miss Manchester and it’s nice to be reminded of what a lovely city it is now and then. Even though I was born and bred there, I still sometimes get a bit panicky about having to wander around with that many people (god I’m such a wimp), but after a little “What Would Stu Do” chat (curtsy of my ridiculously social dad), and a hipster pub or two, I’m back in the groove. We were home slightly earlier than the previous night (read about 9pm), but I still had to have a good 12 hour nap to recover for all the excitement.

I also branched out to carpentry as well this week. After replacing the diaphragm on the toilet (fyi – don’t google diaphragms on the work pc), and changing a tyre, I’m now convinced I’m the new improved Handy Andy and can turn my hand to pretty much any task. This time, I made the executive decision that we should make a coffee table from scratch. There were a selection of influences leading to this – mainly the fact that our original coffee table had a rather disturbing lean (one leg was making a desperate bid for freedom in an upsettingly creaky manner) and that Pinterest encouraged me to believe that hipster DIY is clearly a far superior choice to buying something. After much deliberating, we decided pallets were the way forward and I then spent the next three weeks bullying The Man Muffin to bring some home from work.

Cut to a few days later and I’m pinning things left, right and centre and bombarding my friend Em for guidance over what kind of drill I want and which make of electric sander will work best. She was very supportive and I am now the proud parent of a Black and Decker Mouse sander and a lovely blue driver drill (you can tell it was pay day, can’t you?). There were emails flying all over the place with various tutorials and pictures requesting TMM’s approval and the weekend was set aside (weather pending) for our creative endeavour.

The fun started when, possibly true to form, we got outside on the Sunday morning, tooled up and raring to go only to realise the pallets we actually had weren’t quite the same as the ones we imagined we had, and our original plan was gracefully thrown out of the window. Somewhat depressingly, most of the things Ross and I attempt start with four hundred years of planning and end up with a slapdash half an hour of panic and the table wasn’t really much different. Still though, I don’t think it came out too badly in the end. I spent about 2.5 hours sanding the pallets down (I had, quite literally, all of the fun with that – my hands went numb at one point and I had to be forcefully told to take a break), TMM did some lovely painting (and got it all over his nice new jeans *facepalm*) and then was a fun five minutes trying to match up wooden pegs with drilled holes that did not go anywhere near as smoothly as we imagined whilst Bucky serenaded us loudly (and unhelpfully) from the kitchen. We persevered though and everyone got to use the new drill, nobody cried and we now have a lovely new table (with wheels) and limited storage space (so we can’t continue to hoard crap) in pride of place.

 

Just look at the action going on right there. I’ve even got gloves

 Seeing as how we are now two pieces of furniture handmade up, I’ve (somewhat punch drunkenly) told TMM that from now on we can just make everything we need and live like Tom and Barbara in the Good Life. I’m not too sure that I’ve thought through the logistics of that particularly thoroughly, but I’ve got a pair of denim dungarees, a new tool belt on the way and a bucket load of gumption – so what can go wrong?

 

Dedicated Follower of the Fast, the Furious and the Fashionable

 

Now I would love to be able to start this post by telling you how I plough my own furrow and am unfettered by convention. I’d smugly say that I’m remain completely unaffected by the social perspective of beauty and am not driven by being particularly fashion conscious, but let’s face it; that would be a blatant lie. I am just as obsessed with how I look as the next person and spend far too long watching videos on how to get smoky eyes or the perfect hair curl (managed the hair maybe twice, still haven’t mastered the eye. Less sultry sex goddess, more hung-over panda). This weekend though I was taken over by the need for change – possibly brought on by my cheery desk daffodils and the one day of summer we had last week. Bearing in mind I’m not really in a position to dye my hair again (having only actually been blue for two weeks) I decided I might as well just go for a new style instead. Depressingly skint and embarrassed about going back to the hair dressers (I only went last month but don’t tell anyone), I figured I might as well just do it myself. 23 YouTube tutorials later and I’m standing in the bathroom in my pants, Henry Hoover on standby and shiny new hair cutting scissors in my hand.

I do have to say though, it went surprisingly well. It’s not the first time I’ve cut my own hair (and certainly won’t be the last) but I think it’s the first time I’ve gone at it with an actual “plan” and an idea of how I wanted it to look. Now, it wasn’t like I was cutting masses off, but there’s certainly something very liberating about slicing through nice big chunks of hair and feeling the weight lessen with each snip. I’m really in love with blunt bobs at the moment, but being as I’ve got curly cornflake hair, I wasn’t too concerned about making it razor sharp – mainly I went for a simple bob. I’ve taken it to just below chin level because I’m desperate to grow my layers out. I’m one of those people who goes to the hairdressers with plans, pictures and diagrams and then ends up saying (in a rather high pitched tone) “oh just a trim and yes I would love for you to cut my layers back in” and then just stare sadly at my own reflection cursing my social awkwardness. When you’re the one in charge though, it’s a little bit easier to be honest. Whilst I’ve not quite achieved a uniform level all the way round (I swear there are layers on top that just grow to about four inches completely horizontally and then laugh at me) but it’s definitely better now. Before I was rocking the sort of weird mushroom cloud look; where the smooth bottom layers lie flat again your neck and the top frizzy layers arrange themselves in some sort of unnecessary balloon affair, but now I’ve got more of a dandelion clock going on. Hopefully I can keep on top of this and trim it myself every few weeks – keeping the layers under control and the costs down. Boo yah!

Anyhoo, seeing as I had a free Friday evening in which to cut my hair, I thought I might as well go full out and sort everything out.

shave

Look at this arty hipster Barber’s kit – I totally trust me

 After spending twenty minutes looking at my new hair in every possible angle in the mirror and snipping individual hairs like some kind of poncy horticulturalist, there was a quick whip round with the hoover (much to the cat’s disgruntlement. He sat on the top stair and glared at me a bit before presenting his butt hole and vanishing off to find Ross – *more on the adventures of Bucky boy later), and I went for a shower. I am not ashamed to admit my showers are well known for their lengthiness – I am a firm believer of spending 5 minutes just slouching under the spray, at least 10 minutes trying to soap my hair up into a Mohawk and then another good 5 practising my Adele impression before I even start actually doing anything constructive. This one was no different, and by the time I actually got round to doing anything useful, I was already slightly pruney. I went in for a full body exfoliation though this time (admittedly with only one glove because I think TMM has adopted one as his own and who knows where that’s gone), and a complete hair conditioning treatment (curtsey of Redken – I’m pretty sure this stuff is made from unicorn tears and mermaid wee, because boy does it do some delightful things to my locks). I even shaved my legs, because summer is coming and I thought it time to get rid of the winter coat. This is not to say I haven’t shaved at all over the last few months, but man – who can be bothered keeping on top of that kind of job when nobody even sees them (except Ross, who is enough of a feminist not to give a damn). I treated myself to the “real man” shaving cream block as well, which I literally cannot recommend enough. Seriously, I have no idea why anybody bother’s using shaving foam in a can anymore. This stuff is the most long lasting, smoothest, great smelling stuff ever, and you get to apply it with a badger brush which has the added bonus of making me feel like a Victorian gentleman. I mean sure, it’s not actually mine, but TMM has the beard of a twelve year old (sorry love!) and has also stolen one of my exfoliating gloves – so tit for tat I say.

I then did nail painting and face masking and I even decided to start fake tanning again, because it really is time to get some colour back in the old girl. I’m not a massive follower of the generational habit of caking up with as much Mahogany Magic as possible, but I was getting slightly concerned that I was becoming translucent. Just a little coat (including my feet which for some reason made my dad hysterical when I told him – but you can’t have odd feet!) and I would now say I am the colour of a bowl of milk after you’ve eaten all the cornflakes, so that’s definitely a start.

Eventually I made it downstairs before TMM sent a rescue party and I spent the rest of the night slobbing about in my PJs watching the new Ghostbusters. {Side note: this is an excellent film and I will not hear a word said against it! I enjoyed it thoroughly and would recommend it to anyone.}

I have to say though that whilst I could never actually be arsed to do all the faffing about on a regular basis (I will shower and then I will moan about having to dry my hair and that will be it), it was nice to do everything all in one go and actually end the day looking like a real lady (even if I didn’t start it looking like one).

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Pic 2 – HAIR MONTAGE

 ~

 *As mentioned above, Bucky has been on form this weekend. Friday presented us with some kind of fluff massacre outside the bathroom door. Fur like a rabbit, shaped like a squirrel tail and lacking in any blood or gore whatsoever (though there was a little stripe of skin) we prodded and poked it for a few minutes before deciding whatever it was – it was no longer and binned the whole lot. On Saturday though, Bucky really upped his game and brought it his first live catch. Swanning in through the cat flap, he dropped a tiny little mouse in the hall, proudly made his presence known and then proceeded to be heartbroken when I grabbed him and Ross bundled up our little visitor and threw him outside through the cat flap. Sir Buckalot miaowed his way around the hall and kitchen looking for his new friend, sniffed a lot of things and then yowled sadly when he realised he had been deserted. Quarter of an hour or so later, he disappeared back out in a huff and we settled down to enjoy more Fast and Furious (WHICH I AM IN LOVE WITH. LIKE, LITERALLY. IN LOVE. I don’t feel I can clearly convey quite how much). Five minutes later however, he returned with Mr Mousey (we’re assuming the same one, but who knows)  and lay down in the hall, rubbing his face all over his little rodent friend (who was scrabbling about like the proverbial). The more we think about it, the more we’re starting to think Buck is perhaps more of a Lenny from Mice of Men rather than Hannibal Lector. All of the previous prizes he’s brought in have been dead, but not mauled or damaged in any way except the fatal puncture. We’re now pretty convinced he just wants to invite them in to sit with him and discuss the merits of wet vs. dry food and whether his tail looks fat when he wears his collar.

Anyway, Bucky continued to nuzzle his companion in a loving and slightly forceful way, completely ignoring Ross’ war cries of “finish it!” and in the confusion of trying to rescue the mouse from being hugged to death and Bucky’s plaintive cries intermingled with Vin Diesel’s gravelly undertones, we managed to lose the bloody rodent under the fridge. We did set out a “humane trap” (a wine bottle full of feta) to no avail and TMM spent most of the evening pulling out kickboards and staring into the dark depths under the cupboards. Nothing has been found yet, so we must hope the Great Mousedini has escaped to safer pastures.

Obviously Buck is refusing to be kept down though, as when we got home yesterday, it was to find a rather annoyed looking starling sitting by the sink chattering furiously. He was quickly directed to the window and released to the outside, unscathed and seemingly fine, but who know what surprises will await us tonight…

Please enjoy these photos for our deadly panther. On the left we can see him relaxing after a hard evening of lying on the bed by moving to lie on the couch, and on the right he’s wearing what we have affectionately named “the Mane of Shame”