Thursday, 30 June 2016

Meet Missy

This slightly out-of-focus shot is the perfect introduction to our new cat, Missy. It's blurry, because she never stops moving. It shows how tenacious she is, how determined to achieve what she wants (even when what she wants - for the blanket, which can't move because she's sitting on it, to move - is impossible). She's such a funny character and I already feel like I've known her for years, even thought she's been part of our family for less than 24 hours.

Thomas and I have been talking about getting our own cat pretty much since we met. We both love cats and have both lived with them before, although neither of us have been the owners of said cats. In the post-Brexit nightmare that was last weekend, we decided to visit the local RSPCA shelter to cheer ourselves up. And there we met Missy.

Because she's all-black and an adult (5 years old), the shelter had had trouble re-homing her; she'd been there for almost two months and was miserable, which she showed by acting out and being a right stroppy little madam. So we were prepared for a rocky start. Nothing, though, could have prepared us for how quickly she's settled in.

Within five minutes of arriving last night she'd come out from her hiding place (under the sofa) and begun to explore the living room. Within an hour she'd demanded, with loud miaows, to be let out of the room; off she went to explore upstairs. And, just three hours after we brought her home, she was curled up asleep at the end of our bed while we sat and read. She's eating well, coming to us to be stroked, and generally showing every sign of being a happy little cat.

It's been wonderful to see Missy - so reserved and so grumpy in the shelter - make herself at home, and I'm so glad that we decided to adopt her. Prepare yourselves for endless cat spam on social media...

Sunday, 26 June 2016

50 Things That Make Me Happy

Coming hot on the heels of Orlando and Jo Cox's assassination, the referendum results on Friday left me feeling utter despair and sadness. As a post-Brexit tonic, Kezzie and Jennifer both wrote happy lists to remind themselves of the things that aren't shit. Their posts reminded me of a wonderful one Gaelle wrote a couple of months ago about 50 things that make her happy, which I had promised to do myself. Would I, in my depressed state, be able to I think of 50 things that make me happy? Turns out yes, I could.
1. Thomas. I can't even begin to explain how happy this guy makes me. I think I'm going to keep him.

2. Aspall cider. A cold pint of Aspall on a hot day (or any day really) = bliss.

3. That we are getting a cat next weekend. Her name is Missy and she is the sweetest, stroppiest cat in the shelter, therefore perfect for sweet Thomas and stroppy me!

4. Cheese. It's why I can't be vegan. Baked Camembert, grilled halloumi, runny Brie on crackers.... hmmmm cheese.

5. Fresh bed linen. Is there any feeling better then climbing into a bed made with fresh linen.

6. Music. But especially the feeling when a song you really love is played out of nowhere.

7. Laundry drying on the washing line. Especially the first day of the year it's warm/dry enough to do so.

8. Sunshine. It really does make everything better.
9. The feeling of getting into my own bed after a few days away. Bed rules.

10. The last mile of the drive to my mum's house. I've lived away from home for 20 years, and I still feel so happy as I come off the motorway to see her.

11. Teen comedy films from the 90s & 00s. Bring It On. Clueless. 10 Things I Hate About You. She's The Man. Pitch Perfect. You can take your award-winners and your Scorsese films, I'm really only interested if it's 90 minutes long and set in a high school/college.

12. Shopping. Socialist in the Tweets, Capitalist in the streets, that's me. I know it's not a great thing to base happiness on, but I really do like shopping.

13. Swimming. Although I do not love post-swimming hair.
14. Fresh flowers. Having them in the house always makes me smile.

15. Zine making. I'm so glad I returned to zines after a ten year break, the process is so therapeutic for me and I love creating something outside of this blog.

16. Earl Grey tea and a slice of cake. Because cake.

17. A pub with an open fire. There's little better in winter than to find a cosy pub with a roaring fire.

18. Getting post. Any post really, but surprise parcels especially.

19. Our house. I've loved it since the first time I came to view it almost eight years ago.

20. Buying gifts for people. I think I enjoy it more than receiving gifts.
21. Internet friends. Illustrated above with Becca, Elle and Laura but the list is looooooooong. I love the support and encouragement that Twitter and Instagram, particularly, inspire, and I have had so many good times with people I've met IRL after first meeting them online.

22. Our log burning stove. There's little better than having the stove lit on a cold winter's afternoon.

23. Being inside when it's raining heavily outside. Preferably curled up in a window with a book and a blanket.

24. Summer. This summer we've had rather more of 23. than of 8, but I live in hope we'll get some 'proper' summer weather soon. I love all the seasons for different reasons, but I am always infinitely happier and more content when it's warm and sunny.

25. New books. Old books. Any books. Goes without saying.

26. TV shows about dance. I still haven't got over the cancellation of the UK version of So You Think You Can Dance. My latest obsession is Dance Moms, which is terrible in a great way.
27. Being in a new place. I was going to say 'Travel' but actually I'm starting to hate the actual travelling bit, thanks to a combination of anxiety and things having gone very wrong our last couple of trips. But once I get to the place I'm going, I love it. There's something hugely relaxing about being somewhere new.

28. Listening to Andrew WK on a Friday night. Party Hard is my start-the-weekend anthem.

29. Pottering in the garden. Or just looking at my garden. At the moment it's a profusion of blooms and I love it.

30. Prosecco. Always.

31. The perfect charity shop find. Is there anything better than finding a hidden gem for 99p? It doesn't happen often (Leicester charity shops are both crap and expensive) but when it does...

32. Musicals. And songs from the musicals. My favourite is Rent but I love pretty much all of them.

33. Tote bags. Want me to love you forever? Give me a great tote bag. My latest acquisitions are a cream Salford Zine Library tote and a black Powell's Books bag brought back for me from Portland, Oregon by my brother.
34. Street art. And taking pictures of it, like the Instagram cliche I am.

35. Much Ado About Nothing. I'm not a total Shakespeare junkie like some English teachers I know, but this play is just wonderful. The Kenneth Branagh film version is a sun-drenched wonder of a comedy and never fails to cheer me up.

36. The lightbulb moment when a student just 'gets' it. I had a tutoring session with a student on Friday and to see her completely 'get' the poems we were discussing made me so happy.

37. My vintage quilt. Found in a junk shop in Lancashire, it's been gracing my bed ever since.

38. Winning an eBay auction. Those last few seconds are a rush, let's face it.

39. Sitting in the sun with a good book. My happy place.

40. Stripes. I counted yesterday - I now have 7 striped tops, 1 striped jumper and 2 striped dresses. And you know what? I still think I need more.

41. Tattoos. Getting them. Looking at other people's. Planning new ones.
42. Being with my family. Spread out across three continents, the maternal side of my family are huge and we rarely have a chance to see each other separately, let alone all together. So any time with cousins, aunts, uncles, is oh so precious to me.

43. Pictures & prints. Our walls are covered, and yet I still always want more.

44. Pipers cheese & onion crisps. So cheesy, so good.

45. Walking. Walking briskly somewhere while listening to music relaxes me, I should do it a lot more often than I do.

46. Having candles lit on a dark evening. So hygge.

47. Polka dots. Obvs.

48. Necklaces. I have SO many, yet only ever wear the same few.

49. Squeezing spots. I know it's super gross, but it's so satisfying.

50. Christmas. Thomas calls me 'Elf' because I can get a little hysterical about my Christmas love.

What makes you happy?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

What I Wore: On A Sunny Dutch Day

* Black t-shirt: H&M * Floral skirt: thrifted * Sandals: Saltwater via Office
* Necklace: Mungo & Jemima  * Sunglasses: New Look *
* 'Badass feminist killjoy' tote bag: by Glitterbugbean, bought at Sheffield zine fair *

It's been almost a year since I last did an outfit post. When I was beginning to get disillusioned with my old blog, they were the first thing to go. Also, a lot of what I wear in winter is super boring: summer outfits are much more blogable.

When we were in Nijmegen last weekend, we were lucky enough to have glorious sunshine, which meant my extensive collection of skirts were able to have an airing. This floral beauty was a steal from a local charity shop: I rarely, if ever, wear pinks and peaches so I initially left it behind, but after continuing to think about it for a week I went back to the shop and lo and behold, it was still there waiting for me. 

I teamed the bold print with a plain black t-shirt, black sandals (these Saltwater sandals are SO comfortable) and a pendant necklace I bought in Cape Town this spring. The star of the outfit, though, turned out to be my bag, which garnered compliments (and attempts to steal it) all day!

Monday, 13 June 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Museum Of You*
Carys Bray
Rating: *****
Clover, 12, is using her summer holidays to create a museum all about the mother she never knew. Meanwhile, her dad (Darren) is entirely focused on ensuring Clover is happy, even if that means suppressing his own grief, which is nevertheless manifested in his inability to throw anything away: it is from the hoarded mass of objects that fill their spare bedroom that Clover is gathering her exhibits. It seems counter-intuitive that a book steeped in grief, loss and guilt should be so filled with light and joy, but The Museum Of You is. Full of witty observations that demonstrate Bray's astute eye for the tiny yet important details of our lives, the malapropisms of Clover and Darren's next door neighbour are a particular delight; what might have felt trite and over-done in the hands of a less skilled author here made me laugh out loud. It's simply a delight to read: profound, moving, deeply sad and heartbreaking yet enormously uplifting. My book of the summer and quite possibly of 2016.

Between The World & Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Rating: *****
Toni Morrison called Between The World And Me, "essential reading" while a review on Kirkus said it, "might have been titled Black Lives Matter." Taking the form of a letter from Coates to his teenage son, it's both a memoir and a meditation on the history of American state violence against black bodies. A tough but important read, Between The World And Me is an impassioned and rightfully angry book, pervaded with a sense of his fear for his son, a young black man in a country where young black men are feared, incarcerated, violated, killed.

When Breath Becomes Air*
Paul Kalanithi
Rating: ****
When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of neuro-surgeon Paul Kalanithi who, months before finally qualifying and after a glittering academic career that included a first degree in English Literature from Stanford, to a Masters at Cambridge followed by a medical degree at Yale, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. It's a quick read but enormously moving, with Kalanithi writing fluently and beautifully about living and dying. He is concerned, mostly, with mortality: first that of his patients, and then his own. And the afterword, by his wife Lucy, left me a weeping, sobbing mess on the Eurostar, to the confusion of other passengers.

Murder Most Unladylike
Robin Stevens
Rating: ****
Take a pinch of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers books, add a dash of Agatha Christie, take away the egregious racism of both, and you have the Murder Most Unladylike series. Our heroines are schoolgirls Daisy Wells (who fancies herself as Sherlock Holmes, emotional detachment and all) and Hazel Wong, daughter of an Anglophile Chinese businessman. When Hazel stumbles upon the body of a teacher at Deepdean, their boarding school - a body which, the alarm having been raised, mysteriously disappears - the game is afoot and the girls get to detecting. Further books so far in the series find them working to solve murders at Daisy's family home (a huge country pile, naturally), on the Orient Express, and then back at Deepdean. These are the book equivalent of curling up under a blanket with a hot chocolate on a cold day: deeply comforting and satisfying.

Dear Amy*
Helen Callaghan
Rating: ***
Dear Amy borrows heavily from others of the psychological thriller genre, but crafts that which is borrowed into something new and unique. The trope of the unreliable narrator, used to great effect in The Girl On The Train, at first seemed a bit tired, but a few plot twists later and the fact that we can't trust protagonist Margot's perception of events becomes more exciting. As often happens with psychological thrillers, there are quite a few moments when I was shouting at the page. "What are you doing?!" but there's a kind of logic to Margot's actions that is often lacking in other narratives. And the autumnal Cambridge setting adds enormously to the atmosphere of the book, providing a creeping sense of unease amongst the dreaming spires.

Midnight Crossroad
Charlaine Harris
Rating: ****
When internet psychic Manfred Bernado moves to the sleepy town of Midnight, Texas, he quickly learns that all is not as it seems with the inhabitants (as you would expect from a book by the author of the True Blood books). I can't say much more about the Midnight Crossroad series, which so far consists of three books, without giving away plot spoilers. Suffice it to say that I loved the books and fell head over heels with Midnight and those who live there. If you enjoy gentle human drama with a touch of the supernatural, I'm confident you'll enjoy them too.

Julia Serano
Rating: ****
Sub-titled 'Making Feminist & Queer Movements More Inclusive', Excluded is a riposte to all the trans-exclusionary radical 'feminists' out there who seek to exclude, endanger and dehumanise trans women. Serano is an evolutionary biologist, so the chapters dealing with the science of gender are particularly strong and have given me plenty of ammunition for debate. She also has a lot to say about bi-phobia and femme-phobia within queer communities, which as a femme, bi-identified queer woman resonated with me.

Girls Will Be Girls
Emer O'Toole
Rating: ***
Through a mixture of memoir and academic analysis, O'Toole looks at how women perform, and are expected to perform, gender. Much of what she has to say will be familiar to anyone who's read more widely on gender, feminist theory and sociology, but she has a way with words that makes the journey enjoyable and worthwhile, nevertheless. However, it was interesting to read Girls Will Be Girls immediately after Excluded because it brought home to me how poor O'Toole is on intersectionality, and particularly trans issues. While she tries to talk generally about women, she is almost always focused on her own personal experience as a white, cis, able-bodied woman. Admittedly, Girls Will Be Girls is very explicitly rooted in the personal, and anecdotes about her own experiences form the basis of the book. However, to fail to recognise her privilege or to at least admit, "hey, not every woman is like me," just isn't good enough in 2016.

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Welcome To Nijmegen

Nijmegen is a small city, pop. 160,000, in the east of the Netherlands. You're unlikely to have ever heard of it - I certainly hadn't until I met Thomas - but it's now one of my favourite places on earth.

I've been visiting Nijmegen regularly for the last three-and-a-half years, because this is where Thomas was living when we first met. For nine months we conducted a long distance relationship, and I got well acquainted with the Luton-Schiphol Easyjet route. And since Thomas moved to Leicester permanently we have continued to visit regularly to see friends. Yet until now I've never properly blogged about it.

Last week we went to visit again and I was determined to finally share my love for Nijmegen. So, camera in hand, I snapped my way around the city. Get ready for some grade-A, heavy-duty, travel brochure-worthy gushing, because I really do think it's that good.
The Netherlands is a pretty awesome place generally - friendly people, almost all of whom speak perfect English, great public transport, public spaces all clean and well-maintained in a way which makes you realise how crappy and broken the UK is - and Nijmegen is no exception to the rule.

The city centre isn't as devastatingly beautiful as some other Dutch cities, as much of the Medieval core was destroyed by Allied bombs during WWII (it's within miles of the border with Germany and the theory goes that the pilots either didn't know or didn't care that they weren't flying over a German city but a Dutch one). You also won't find the 'typical' Dutch landscape: the city is pretty hilly rather than pancake-flat, and doesn't have any canals. But, in my totally biased opinion, what remains, such as the main market square and the narrow alleys around the church, is full of character and charm.

Nijmegen has a vibrant arts and music scene, with festivals and events taking place near-daily (especially throughout summer - when we were there this past weekend, we had no fewer than four festivals to choose from, including a rock music festival and a festival of organ music, showing that the offerings are nothing if not varied). When it comes to food and drink I can recommend the Mexican food at Popocatepetl, the veggie/vegan cafe at De Klinker (part of the social centre and co-housing space that Thomas used to live in), the beautiful outdoor terrace at micro-brewery De Hemel, and the bars, independent businesses and street art of the HonigComplex. It's also only a 30 minute train ride to s'-Hertogenbosch (known colloquially as Den Bos), a picture-perfect Dutch city and the home of artist Hieronymus Bosch, which is well worth a trip.

However, the beautiful architecture, outdoor terraces and Mexican food can't completely explain why first Thomas, and then I, lost our hearts to Nijmegen. The key to that is in the thriving counter-culture of street art, bands, squat bars and activist groups. It's renowned for being one of the most left-wing cities in the Netherlands and, since the refugee crisis began, has mobilised to welcome Syrian and Eritrean refugees. You can't walk 100ft in the city without seeing one of these Migrants Welcome, Racism Not stickers, which make my heart sing.

Our trip last week was one of the best we've had. We stayed with a couple of wonderfully welcoming friends and were able to catch up with almost everyone else for lunches, picnics, or drinks.

On Saturday we walked a short way out of town to visit the SMKMRKT, taking place in an ex-industrial area overlooked by a decommissioned power plant and abandoned factory buildings. In this somewhat dystopian landscape an entire festival had sprung up. Bars, food trucks, an artist's market, live music... it felt like a tiny slice of East London (but without the hipster attitude) transplanted to this small city on the edge of Holland. Happily sipping cider and eating wood-fired pizza, we watched Het Brandt, the band Thomas used to play with and still some of his best friends.

As June 23rd creeps nearer, and with it the very real risk of Britain leaving the EU (and exposing itself as the kind of xenophobic, jingoistic, racist country I'm ashamed to call myself a citizen of), I become ever more keen to move elsewhere. And for me, Nijmegen remains top of the list of alternatives. I lost my heart to the place and the people the very first time I visited on New Year's Eve 2012, and would move there without a second thought. TLDR, I 💕 Nijmegen!