One Small Step for a Craft Potato…

Avid readers of my blog (and indeed pretty much anyone who actually knows me) will be very much aware of what a big fan I am of “chillaxing’”. In fact, this very weekend I chilled to the max and it was excellent. TMM was out for most of the day on Saturday, getting Hans von Manshaft MOT’ed (he passed, hurray!) and meeting up with old friends and left me to my own devices. I did intend to do a lot of cleaning and real person stuff, like laundry and taxes. In reality I read LOTS and ate my own body weight in pancakes, which possibly did not quite achieve all that I had hoped. This really isn’t to be unexpected though. Partly this is because I love to take a casual relaxation day, and my god am I lazy. My life is made up of 50% slobbing and 50% complaining about not being able to slob. (This isn’t to say I am not plagued by anxiety fuelled guilt trips worrying about all the things I should be doing, but I’ve come to realise that if the book is good, the bed is comfy and the chocolate snacks are plentiful, you can really block out those negative thoughts for a while).

The other reason is that whilst TMM isn’t around, I have the sneaking suspicion that I forgot how to human. I’m mildly concerned that I’m not actually a person at all, but instead am a soft squishy marshmallow in disguise and I’ve gotten lost in the real world with TMM as my carer/guide. I really feel this should concern me, but mainly it means that when left unsupervised, I just dance manically around the house in my pjs to early 00s soft rock like I’m Cameron Diaz in basically every film she’s in.

Ultimately though, it meant not much was actually done on Saturday but I was in a rather cheery mood when TMM returned.

Buck equally understands the necessity of doing nothing. We were very calm together.

It’s at this juncture that an issues arises though. Although I revel in my laziness (I really am just too good at doing nothing), it does mean I spend a lot of time lying on the floor looking at the ceiling and being conflicted about my complete lack of motivation to do anything. A rather disproportionate chunk of my life is spent being disappointed at the fact that I am not the Xena: Warrior Princess I want to be and nowhere near enough time is actually spent doing something to change it. I like to blame most of this on my anxiety but it’s a cop out really. I want to learn kickboxing SO BADLY, but nobody can actually help me do anything about it until I make the effort and sulking about how difficult I find it isn’t going to win me any shiny big kickboxing trophies.  (Though, if there is some gentle yet serious martial arts guru wants to take me under their muscly wing and teach me mad self-protection skills whilst ignoring my horribly awkward attempts at conversation and not making me interact with any other person, that would be grand. Basically I want Vin Diesel to adopt me.) It harks back to my un-resolution idea though – small yet positive steps. I spend a so much time rehashing the same thing over again, but little actions towards a bigger goal are better than no actions at all. It’s a bit pathetic in some respects, but in others it actually means I can aim to achieve something without stressing out or having to give up my fantastical lazing abilities.

To that end,  I made TMM spend £40 in Lesbian Craft on Sunday in preparation for Christmas (though admittedly the decoupage festive stag head was a luxury we didn’t necessarily need, but by god we wanted it). *Side note – Lesbian Craft is the affectionate nickname we gave to Hobby Craft a few years a go. There was a period where we went there quite regularly, and it was always filled with happy looking lesbian couples in their mid 40s looking for projects. TMM and I fit right in).

Let me explain my thought process for you here. Christmas is 20% magic and 406% preparation. Now, the festive season doesn’t hold quite as much magic for me as it used to (what with family being spread far and wide and me being enough of a grown up to actually try and get people useful presents rather than adorable yet completely awful craft projects). This means that in order to fully squeeze all the joy I can from the season, I have to avoid all the pitfalls and stress inducing panics by making sure that I am ready when it comes around.

It started when someone at work mentioned how she had already started preparing her kids presents (using my Amazon Prime I might add) and although I initially mocked her, the more I thought about her levels of preparation, the more I realised this could assist me. Small steps now lead to more boxes full of wrapped presents before the decorations are even out in the shops and less hours spent traipsing round the Boots 3 for 2 sale in the first week of December with baskets full of gifts nobody wants.

To that end, I’ve start the annual Charismas Present Spread Sheet for 2017, listing every person who needs a present and what ideas I have for them. There’s a colour scheme (white for nothing or a possible idea, yellow for half done (e.g. ordered/partly made), green for complete, and blue for wrapped) though I’ve taken off the costing column this time around, because that upsets me and means I spend far too much time scrabbling through receipts and calculating things instead of enjoying the nature of just giving.

My hope is that, if I can aim to have half the presents finished by November, there won’t be the annual panic induced crying fest and hysterical over buying of tat. Instead, there will be a sedate pacing of spending and wrapping (which will all be done by TMM, because I’m sure we all remember last year’s wrapping fiasco), and by the time it actually comes around to December, it will just be the finishing touches that need to be sorted. I also want to try and make a lot of presents this year (ignoring the bit before where I mentioned about how I’m trying to be helpful and not just provide people with useless craft tat), because I A) enjoy craft and get a bit upset sometimes when it’s not for a purpose, B) want to try and get rid of some of the craft stock piles I’ve built up over the years (again, let’s ignore the bit where I made TMM spend £40 in Hobby Craft) and C) am desperately trying to save money because if I want to be a real boy with a house and a husband of my very own, I’m going to need to tone down the reckless spending a bit and aim to save my wages instead.

Once again, I seem to have waffled upon the theme of self-improvement – you’d think I’d stop talking about it and actually do something, wouldn’t you…

 

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Wedding Bells and Wintery Hells

Considering Autumn doesn’t technically start until the end of September, I am feeling the strong urge to go into hibernation at the moment. It seems as though someone has flicked a switch and the long evenings I was so enjoying have been turned off. Now it’s dark before bedtime and every day is gloomy and grey. I’ve already had to break out some of the emergency blankets and I’m currently trying to pool the funds to buy a new pair of winter boots – the pumps just aren’t going to cut it in this rain. Somewhat petulantly (you may have noticed) I don’t do well in the cold. Very much like how people get “hangry” (hungry -> angry), my mood is affected by the weather; I’m “Cangry”. It’s like hangry only based on temperature.

All that being said, The Man Muffin has taken me out on a lovely walk this weekend which was only partly inspired by the bribe of fruit picking. Whilst I might complain about most things from September onwards, I am a big fan of blackberries and I can happily spend hours fighting of brambles and staining my fingers for a fruit bounty. This time round I managed to fill a tub (which previous held spicy lentils apparently) with some rather juicy blackberries and a few elderberries (bit of variety) and got just enough to make a smashing little crumble for Sunday night. TMM has his handy dandy camera bag too and we spent a good three hours adventuring through the undergrowth and having fights with cleavers (I excel at the “surprise cluster bomb cleaver attack”) before heading home and watching approximately 6 hours of Parks and Recreation whilst sewing, which in my opinion was a day well spent.

Winnie the pooh

Here I am doing my best Winnie the Pooh impression

The highlight of last week though was clearly TMM’s sister’s wedding. It was absolutely stunning and I cried at every possible opportunity (including but not limited to; the bride walking in, the vows, the couple walking out, the speeches and the dances). It did raise some minor concerns on how I’m ever actually going to make it through my own ceremony, but TMM promised he’d still take me ever if I was a snotty mess by the time I make it to the vicar, which is rather swell of him.

TMM was also given the rather daunting task of controlling the music during the ceremony, though it’s alright because he smashed it and even got a little round of applause. He makes me terribly proud sometimes. He was also on Chief Child Herder watch for a majority of the day and regardless of what he says, he’s actually pretty good at kiddie wrangling. Unlike me, he draws them in with his giggle causing abilities and comfortable arms. I mainly panic when faced with anyone under the age of 10, which both children and babies can sense, and then everybody gets a bit fraught and tearful. (Admittedly, I also panic with anyone over the age of 10 but we’re all a bit better at hiding our tears by that age.) That being said, they were all completely adorable, resplendent in their little dresses and tiny bow ties, and TMM definitely earner his “Best Uncle” badge.

The little ones were not the only well dressed party goers though – everyone pulled it out of the bag. I do always love a good dress up (note – not the shopping for the dressing up; that I passionately hate) and I felt rather fancy in my new dress and heels (with matching nail polish as carefully selected by TMM). Sadly I wasn’t able to find the giant Grace Kelly I desperately wanted (it is my dream to wear an obnoxiously large yet classy hat to a wedding) but TMM’s mum wore an excellent hat and carried that fancy headgear baton with pride. The day itself was absolutely beautiful as well, both in content and style. Jen had done most of the decorations herself and they were completely stunning (hopefully she’s kept most of them so we can steal them when it gets to our turn), and the food was fabulous – lots of tasty shredded meats in various shapes and an excellent crème brulee. Considering there was a drama with the venue (the initial venue called Jen on her birthday to reveal the great news that they were shutting down and wouldn’t be able to host the day) the new setting was absolutely gorgeous. We even managed to book a room for the pair of us (the shower was freaking amazing) which mean we could stay late into the night. Poor TMM developed a bit of a stinking headache (a combination of pre-hangover, new glasses and over-excitement) but he made it to midnight and I’m immensely proud of him.

Stupidly, at no point did we actually take a single photo of the pair of us (together or separately) throughout the whole day, so we’re waiting for TMM’s brother (who was photographer) to release the pictures to see if we actually looked presentable or not. Fingers crossed we scrubbed up well.

Baby Wrangler

Baby Wrangler Extraordinaire.

In honour of the day, I thought I’d do a bit of research and tried to find some of the weirdest wedding facts I could (as you do):

  • Seemingly, weddings are a bit of a breeding ground for evil spirits and a huge number of the traditions we know today stem from attempts to protect the bride from nefarious plots. For example, having bridesmaids in matching dresses dates back from the Roman tradition of “matching maids” where the bridesmaids were all required to dress identically to the bride to tray and confuse any demons attempting to curse the couple (no doubt confusing pretty much everyone else in the process). Similarly, carrying the bride over the threshold, wearing a veil and strewing the aisle with confetti and petals all originated as ways of combating any evil spirits with dastardly designs on the day.
  • The Danish took this one step further (like the daring bastards they are) and there is apparently a custom there of cross dressing during wedding – the bride and groom swap outfits. I’m assuming any naughty demon intent on causing havoc takes one look a groom in a meringue and decides things are already strange enough. I also think it makes a pretty great theme overall – if all your guests come dresses as each other, I cam imagine the drunken pictures are rather fabulous.
  • Positioning plays a crucial part in ritual as well – possibly one of my favourite facts is how the bride is always supposed to stand on the left of the groom. This means the groom’s right hand is free throughout the ceremony to fight off any other suitors who might be laying claim without impediment. I can’t help but imagine the scene in Muppet Treasure Island where Kermit is fighting Long John Silver. (I was hoping to find a clip of this, but apparently nobody on Youtube finds it as hilarious as me).
  • The term “best man” has a delightfully improper background as well. Supposedly, this term comes from a time when grooms were encouraged to kidnap their future brides and run off with them. Marauding bands of men would arrange and conduct these abductions and the friend of the groom who has particularly excelled at the snatching would be awarded the status of best man. It all sounds a bit Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to me – which whilst be a great musical is NOT a life lesson to be emulated. However, whilst I am glad this practice is no longer acceptable, I do have to admit to thoroughly enjoying a rousing chorus of “Sobbin’ Women”.
  • A much more romantic customer is to do with the positioning of the rings. It would appear that engagement and wedding rings are worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it was once though that finger contained the “vena amori” or vein of love; a vein that lead directly to the heart. Awwwwww.

A final bonus point (just for TMM) is that Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” is the most requested piece of music to be played during the ceremony. He’ll be pleased with this because it’s one of his go-to tunes, but if this is what I’m going to be walking down the aisle to he’ll definitely have to stand by his word of marrying me no matter how much of a crying mess I am…

 

 

 

The Art of Surviving – The How To Guide Nobody Asked For

Now this takes a slightly different direction than most of my previous blogs, but it’s been sitting in my draft pile for a while now and it’s about time it got an airing. Strap in folks, it’s going to get emotional.

I have to say this post isn’t quite as chipper as some of my previous offerings because I’ve found myself struggling this weekend. After somehow managing to develop a rather vicious but brief head cold, I sneezed and snotted and coughed my way violently through my two days of weekly freedom and spent nearly the whole time lying in bed with a damp flannel over my eyes feeling truly rotten. Waking up on Monday morning with a large blister on my lip was particularly hellish and after enduring a hefty nose bleed curtsey of a loosened mucus plug (sexy) and consequently missing my bus, I have to say I’ve been feeling pretty damn low.

The trouble is I find it very easy to fall into melancholia but so much harder to crawl back out. I always find that when you feel physically drawn it can’t help but bleed over into your head and all those mental barriers you built start to crumble slightly. I get so frustrated at myself for how easily I slip into wretchedness which in itself only serves to spiral into a rather pathetic self-pity party. To that end, I’ve made a small self-help guide in an attempt to combat this. Mostly, it is a selfish endeavour – something that I can do rather than just talking myself down in a public toilet, but I like to hope it that if it can help me, it might also be of assistance to someone else too.

(Please note – it is important to understand that I am in no way medically trained. Everything above and below is completely based on my own experiences and should not be taken as gospel.)

How To Survive Being Yourself


I always think things like this should start with a promise – a cure or something to look forward to, but it’s not really the case here. You cannot escape your own psyche. Your (perceived) weaknesses are inbuilt and ingrained, and you will never be able to run from them completely. It sucks, but that’s just how it is. Instead, it is important to try to learn to manage yourself – which I admit does sound like a load of hippy guff, but if you can’t be in charge of yourself you really can’t expect anybody else to be.

You will not be able to avoid all situations that make you anxious or sad or panicked or depressed. No matter how long you spend trying to come up with reasons you can’t do it or can’t go; hoping to be struck down by some bug, actually researching how you can injure yourself safely, praying for some kind of worldwide disaster – it is pretty much a given none of these things will give you the out you’re looking for. The events/situations will still come around and you will have to be involved. Now, people say that exposure is the key to limit anxiety and fear, but if I’m brutally honest that doesn’t feel like the case for me. I understand the concept and logically it is sound of reasoning. Trouble is, most people’s anxiety are by definition illogical and just because you do something over and over doesn’t make it any less scary. I’ve been in a job where I have to use the phone for 6 years now, and yet I still get the same gut wrenching fear every damn time I have to pick it up. Maybe I’m being a negative Nellie (perks of the illness), but just because I’m better at hiding the fear and driving through it, doesn’t mean the emotional repercussions get any less. This has turned into a rather sour diatribe which is not what I intended, but I think it’s important to define exactly what “coping” is. It’s not being cured, it is surviving as best you can and being proud of yourself for that.

There are certain things you can do to make surviving easier though; that can help you combat your issues before, during and after the trigger situations and can eventually (and hopefully) become so second nature it doesn’t seem quite as hard to scrabble for your defences every time.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Distractions.

Do not wallow – it doesn’t help, I can promise you this. The more you think about it, the more it will just balloon it further into something you can’t beat. I am a big fan of trying to break things down, find explanations or reasons and generally just over think things to death. Surprisingly, this constant re-evaluation doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Rather than providing you with tiny bite size chunks of anxiety that you can look at, assess and then move on from, each thought only glues itself to each emotion and before you know it you’re dealing with some kind of giant transformer of negativity (AnxietyPrime if you will) with handy new attachments that you have thought up and armed it with. The answer manages to be fantastically simple and aching hard all at the same time.

Stop it. Stop reassessing how you feel, stop going over the problem again and again, just stop thinking.

I know – easier said than done right? I feel like a prat just typing this because I know how damn difficult it is to tell yourself to shut up and to avoid the potholes that lurk around every situation. But I’ve come to realise that in an attempt to train myself I’m cultivating self-distraction into an art form. There are certain things that can be done to lure your brain away from the damaging issues and combat the fear before it even starts.

Before you go into your situation, find something to divert yourself for as long as you can. Heavy metal music, a favourite book, meditation, incessant humming, bingeing episodes of trashy TV or kitten video – whatever it is that drowns out your thoughts, do it. Do it for as long as you can until your time is up and then go into your thing slightly less panicked than you might have previously been. Once you’ve done whatever it was you had to do (and come out of the other side), take an hour or so to congratulate yourself. Don’t focus on how badly it went, or how terrified you felt. Just accept that it’s over, give yourself a pat on the back for making it through and then go and do something that will make you feel better and help you forget.

*Side Note* Don’t be a dick about it though. If you’re already low, don’t pick music that you know makes you sob. If you’re overwhelmed with rage, watching Donald Trump interviews won’t help. Plenty of times I’ve felt awful and have listened to sad Norah Jones songs on repeat – guess what, it only made me cry harder. Make sure to distract yourself with things that change your mood rather than compound it.  I’ve spent as long as physically possible listening to Big Band Swing music and watching The Halcyon (a wonderful ITV series about a hotel in the 1940s) this weekend and whilst it makes me ache knowing that I really have been born in the wrong time period, I couldn’t help but smile.


A Support Network.

Tell someone. Be it your mum, dad, sibling, best friend, pet, invisible pal. Whoever it is, just share your fears. The more you spread around your fear, the more it will dissipate and sometimes you need someone to either tell you that you’re not being an idiot or just give you a hug. Don’t be ashamed of your fear, and don’t let it tell you you’re not worth sympathy or love. You are so much more than you know and there will be somebody out there who will be happy to tell you that until it sticks.


Self – belief.

This is possibly the hardest one, but you have to try to have some faith in yourself. It’s likely you’ve been in this position before (if you’re like me, you find yourself in these positions all the bloody time) in which case you have empirical proof that you have survived. You might not have been happy or healthy, but you made it through and by god that’s something to be proud of. Alternatively, it might be an entirely new situation, but if you’ve managed this far, it’s more than likely you’ll manage again. Now, I’m not saying you have to throw yourself a little parade with balloons and trombones (though if you can DEFINITELY do that) because I know how hard it is to have that confidence, but at least let there be a small corner of your mind that is rooting for you. Everything else will be dragging you down and telling you how hard it is and how likely you are to fail or break or collapse, but make there be one bit of you that is a cheerleader. Even if it’s 5 minutes in the mirror every day just telling yourself you can do it. You might not believe it, but at least you’ll know you’ve done it and that can be the start you need.


Stay healthy and hygienic.

I know how sometimes it can get to the point where all you can do is lie down and ache, but not looking after yourself is not going to help. The thought of eating might make you feel queasy but starving yourself will only make it worse, and becoming a stinky little hobo is no good to anyone. Admittedly, I don’t always think that it makes you feel as good as the guides say, but getting up, having a smoothie, a shower and a walk around the garden before going back to your pit of despair can at least make you feel a bit more like a human and a bit less like a sad blob.

 


 

Just do it.

I hate this one, I really do, but sometimes it’s easier to just do the thing that scares you before you let it build into something out of your control. If it’s something that has to be done, putting it off will only serve to make the whole horrible status quo last longer than it needs to, and putting it off won’t make it any less terrifying. If something has gone wrong; if you need to speak to someone about something; if there is a task that only you can do, the only way you can make a change is to go into it with your head held high (and your palms sweating like billy-o) and just brazen it the fuck out. It might be okay, or it might be horrendous, but at least it will be done with and it’s one less thing you have to fight.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The trouble is that even as I write these points I am falling into the very beartraps I’m talking about combating. I’ve been putting off ringing the doctors for about a week not, and not wallowing is practically an impossibility for me. That is the nature of the beast though. Sometimes you know the solution but can’t quite reach it, but that doesn’t mean you are a failure.  You must remember that your illness does not define you – it is not your fault and you did not ask for it. Still, you cannot escape it and it is folly to try.

Some days it will seem surprisingly easy and then some days something will throw a spanner in the works and you’ll be hanging on by a thread, but it is important to remember through it all that everything will pass. Every situation will end, every feeling will change and no matter how helpless we think we are – we are the masters of our own fate.

Just do what you can do. That is all anyone can ask.

 

Confessions of a Serial Storyteller…

Bonjourno dear readers, I hope we are all well and contented on this fine Tuesday?

Not to be overdramatic but I’m definitely dying. I’ve somehow managed to damage my shoulder and after three days of wincing and sulking and wearing a heat pack like a security blanket, it’s obviously getting close to the end. I’m going to have another bath tonight (which will make two in two days – unheard of as I am not a big fan of a bath AT ALL) and watch an episode of Due South like a big water slug in the hope it will loosen up the knot and allow my to actually mobilise again.

In other news, I have struggled a bit with inspiration for a post this week – I am loathed to post a the same kind of thing week in and week out. Most blog “How To Guides” state categorically that you have to find a ‘niche’ in the market and stick to it – apparently people don’t like it when their bloggers try and go for a bit of variety. I, however, think that sounds a bit like B*S*. Whilst my life is obviously an endless rave and the most exciting thing ever, I can’t help but feel like most people aren’t going to care that much about what I do on a daily basis. Instead, I’d like to flit between topics, like a delightful little hummingbird amongst the flowers. Why limit myself to the same old thing when I can do posts on my favourite books, intriguing facts and hilarious life anecdotes?  To that end, my blog has resembled a drunk gently lurching from subject to subject over the past few months, but who am I to fight the creative urge? Admittedly, if anybody is particularly offended (or indeed has any suggestions on topics/mediums they’d like me to cover) I am all internet based ears.

This week, it was suggested by a pal that I look to do a short story. Now, as I may have previously mentioned (I definitely have) I am often drowning in stories, one liners, hilarious character descriptions and the like. Most of them never really go anywhere, but I suppose it’s time to share a couple of them with the big wide world. Neither of these two are particularly long (handy I suppose, seeing as they’re short stories) and both are prompt based. A lot of what I write springs from someone else’s idea (yay for “homage”!) and gives me a springboard to bounce my thoughts off. I’m not sure if it counts as original work when the spark comes from someone else, but where they end up is usually somewhere all of my own creation so I’m not too fussed.

The first story is a little snippet based on an artist called Chiara Bautista and her gorgeous work. I don’t even know where I first saw her stuff (probably Pinterest) but I’ve now followed a couple of her social media sites and the art she produces is amazing. It’s hard not to be inspired by them really…

The Moon and Her Night Sky

She is made of pure white. Her skin, her hair, her eyes, her blood – they are all the same brilliant sheen. She sits cross legged against the darkness and glows, marred only by the shadow that flows across her body as the month moves on. A thin crescent of grey curves around her hips and grows to a full cloak shrouding her for days at a time, but soon it slips away and leaves her radiant against the darkness again.

He is made up of dark swirling colours and a midnight pelt. Sometimes he is small enough that he can walk by her side, her hand resting gently on his head and her pale fingers slipping into the rough fur on his crown. Sometimes he is big enough that she can ride upon his back, hunched low down over his neck with her face buried into the gap between his ears as they speed across the Earth. Mostly though, he stands next to her on two legs, his hinged knees pushing him forward, his hunched back allowing him to tilt his head close to hers so he can hear her whispers.

They travel together, moving forward endlessly.

Aren’t they just sublime?

~

Story the second comes from two sources – a Hall and Oates song (I mean why not) and a silhouette of a woman smoking that I can remember vividly but can’t find for the life of me. It must be about 7 years old now and has moved through 3 phones, two memory sticks and one scrap piece of paper glued into a notebook.

I Can’t Go For That

She stares at him, her heavy lidded eyes slatted and a thin tendril of smoke rising lazily from her pursed lips. He swallows as she crosses her legs, a flash of pale skin drawing his eye.

“Well?”

He blinks, trying to gather his scattered thoughts. Running a finger between his neck and his increasingly constricting collar, he tries to remember why it was he’d decided to say no in the first place.

“I-I can’t,” he stutters, hating the weak tremor he can hear in his own voice.

She raises a carefully shaped eyebrow and rests the unlit cigarette on the glass ashtray set on the table next to her. She leans forward and it takes all of his rapidly declining self control not to let his eyes flick down.

“It’s not that difficult. It’s practically a joyride compared to some of the other things”.

He licks his dry lips nervously and shakes his head.

“No. Not this time. Not this.”

Her head tilts to one side and her tongue darts out from between her perfectly white teeth and devastatingly red lips..

“You said you’d do anything.”

“Almost anything”.

She laughs and leans back, another cloudy wisp of smoke curling past her lips.

“So this is where you draw the line?”

He nods, a sharp jerk of the head. She smirks and it terrifies him.

“Well, there’s still time”

He shivers as he feels the tell-tale whisper against the back of his neck.

“There’s only so much a man can attach to his soul.”

hall and oate

I mean – how can you not be inspired by these fine figures of masculinity? Look at the HAIR!

~

So there you have it. Some tiny little snapshots into my Notes function on my phone. Two down – only another 57 to go…

Easy Like Sunday Morning…

Happy July the 4th dear readers! Thankfully this Independence Day has gone without the need for Will Smith to punch any aliens in the face (though there is still time) so I’d class it as a success. I’ve been lured in by Aldi’s Americana/Happy Canada Day range and bought more maple syrup and mac&cheese than is strictly healthy, and I’m hoping my little American pals are enjoying fireworks, fluffy pancakes and cheap watery beer with a patriotic fervour this evening.

Not to be outdone, TMM and I have allowed positive motivation to flow through us and have royally kicked some butt this weekend. Admittedly, I think the credit should mostly lie with Ross, but I was happily along for the ride. TMM has set down a new “weekend routine for us” which aims to cater to both TMM’s uncontrollable urge to be doing things all the time and get up at god awful times in the morning as well as my desperate laziness. According to the new system, we are to have Action!Saturdays and Lazy!Sundays, which really do exactly what they say on the tin and hopefully mean we get the best of both worlds.

For our very first Action!Saturday, we went in with all guns blazing. Admittedly, the early get up was a slight struggle for me – TMM had to do his best puppy impression and kidnap the duvet before trying to wrangle me into a suitable outfit – but once I was out of bed we really went for it. After a quick nip to the shop for breakfast pancakes, we did a tour of some of the TMM clan; dropping off some money and a singular shoe at the parents (both related to the new catapult business TMM Senior has started rather excellently), and visiting his sister, her fella, their baby and the doggo. After suitable family bonding, we went on to Chirk Castle (YAY for the National Trust Membership) which was rather splendid and in full bloom.

As you can see, the gardens were looking pretty spectacular – and obviously we had to try all the period costumes (once the children had gone). We have now both decided that chainmail is a must for our summer wardrobe.  

After Chirk, we went to visit Molly (who is carrying on with a strength that only old ladies and mature cheeses possess) before returning home to have a chippie, bleach my hair and finally getting the bedroom gallery wall hung.

feature wall

There’s still a big gap in the middle – waiting for the perfect piece of tropical wallpaper, but at least everything else is up now, and I’m quite proud of those homemade hanging frames.

Lazy!Sunday started a little more my kind of speed – TMM went for boyish adventures around Rudyard Lake with his camera whilst I stayed in bed until midday and finished The Prince and the Zombie, Lumberjanes and two episodes of Due South. Which, whilst is not necessarily “active” is still very much “action”.

{Side bar! (to be shouted in the same way Gru shouts FREEZE RAY in the first Despicable Me) Both of those books are excellent.

  • The Prince and The Zombie – a fable interlacing Tibetian and Buddihist teachings. Not quite the eye-opening, world shattering magical book I thought it would be, but enjoyable none-the-less. I do have to say I was very much rooting for the zombie (which I think may have defeated the point) with his golden top half, silver bottom half and mane of turquoise. Boy could he spin a good yarn.
  • Lumberjanes (Volume 1). This one was literally as great as I hoped. Girl Scouts kicking butt, taking names and being SUPER SUPPORTIVE all the way through. I desperately want to go to a camp for Hardcore Lady Types and am going to be working towards my badges ASAP.

books

Look at those front covers? How could they be anything but excellent?

The rest of the day was lazily spent dying my hair and slobbing on the couch eating chocolate pillows, so a win all round I’d say. 

Blue to Blonde to Steel Amethyst (which is clearly my new My Little Pony name)

Bucky has also been doing his best to prove how action he is, bless his little furry bum. Last weekend he vanished for 3 days (cue much wailing and wallowing and resurgence of abandonment issues all over the place) but eventually turned up – swanning in and singing Catmaninov at the top of his tiny cat lungs. Anyway, owing to his desperation for fusses (be it by sitting on your back, watching you intently whilst you wee or just singing the songs of his people loudly whenever you move from his sightline) and his skinny little belly, we think he might have been stuck somewhere, rather than actively avoiding us. Either way, I think he felt our loss as deeply as his own and has since tried to buy his way back into the good books by bringing home and depositing two dead birds and a decapitated (and de-eared) rabbit in various positions around the house. Which, whilst the thought is appreciated, is something I could really do without. (I have forgone putting the pictures on here so as not to affect those of a gentle disposition).

We also spent a good half an hour last night trapped in the bedroom with a very scared and very much alive mouse, who’d obviously been brought in and then abandoned earlier in the day. Eventually we managed to capture it using a cereal bowl, the toilet brush holder and a piece of card before TMM unceremoniously flung it out of the front door.

Overall I have to say we haven’t done too badly. The sun still shines, the birds still sing and we’re getting one step closer to the ideal of travelling the world in a renovated van like little hipster hobos. One action based step at a time.

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