Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Life Lately

I've been pretty quiet on the blog front lately. Partly because I have the dreaded blogger's block: I keep sitting down to write and end up either staring blankly out of the window/at the cat or browsing Etsy for the nth time. But also because I've been busy (looking at this fluffy little face for upwards of five hours a day totally counts as busy, right?).

It's been strange to not have the summer off after eleven years of teaching. People keep asking me if I'm missing them and the honest answer is, "sort of." I mean, I'd love to have six weeks off, who wouldn't? But the truth is I don't need the holidays like I used to. When you work in a school you limp through the last couple of months of the academic year, desperate for a break, a chance to recuperate from the year just gone and prepare for the one about to begin. But my job now isn't so all-encompassing, exhausting and draining so there's no need for a long holiday to recover.

Not to be defeated by my lack of time off, I've nevertheless tried to make the most of my summer. I had a visit from my cousin, Mark, which was our first chance to spend quality time together since the 1990s (WHAT?!). My brother & his wife spent a weekend with us, which gave me a new appreciation for Leicester (or for the authentic Italian gelato from Gelato Village, anyway). Thomas and I took an awesome day trip to Nottingham for book shopping, cider supping, pizza eating and Ghostbusters watching, and I've had a mini bloggers meet-up with Laura, Elle & Becca. Sourdough bread was munched, Laura almost got taken out by a flying umbrella, and we poked around the new Delilah's Deli. Oh, and Thomas officially became a Dr, graduating with his PhD in a comically floppy hat.
I also spent an evening at Secret Cinema does Dirty Dancing. The set up was incredible, a mini Kellermans tucked away in East London. It was enormous fun to sit in the twilight, drinking cocktails and singing along with the film, and while the extras that justify the ticket price - dance lessons, mini golf and the rest - weren't particularly suited to a chronic non-joiner like me, that's my bad for buying a ticket in the first place, not theirs.

But honestly, a lot of my time has genuinely been taken up by hanging out with the cat. Missy has continued to settle well and although she still hasn't quite graduated to curling up on a lap or on our bed, she shows her affection in other ways - like bringing us her favourite toy (a small pink stuffed mouse), or following us from room to room to sit near us. However, I fear we are both becoming insufferable cat people. Talking endlessly about her, even to non-cat owners? Earnestly discussing her bowel movements when one of us gets home (often before even a "hello" has been exchanged)? Singing silly songs to her, swapping out the normal lyrics for ones about furry cats? I'm afraid Thomas and I are guilty of all of the above on an almost-daily basis. It was when I found myself telling a close friend who's just become a mum that, thanks to cat ownership, I now understand where parents are coming from that I realised I had a problem. So yep, crazy cat lady over here.

And now I'm looking forward to all sorts of awesome things in the next month or so: an overnight trip to Bristol this weekend, followed by a dash up the M1 to see another cousin who's staying with my mum in Bradford. A few days away for Thomas's 30th birthday (but shh, it's top secret). Then I have jury duty in September, promptly followed by a week in Crete and a chance - finally - to relax after an exhausting twelve months. And, hopefully, the return of my blogging mojo.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

What I've Been Reading Recently

I See You*
Clare Mackintosh
Rating: ****
Zoe is a harassed single mum commuting to a thankless clerical job in London, when one day she notices her photograph in a mysterious newspaper advert. The next day: same advert, different woman's photograph. Meanwhile, Kelly is a British Transport Police officer who (as is required by the genre) is troubled and in disgrace with her superiors. While we watch Zoe slowly unravel with the realisation that someone is watching her, Mackintosh does an excellent job of ramping up the tension as Kelly investigates a series of crimes seemingly related to the adverts. I especially enjoyed these chapters, which skewed more towards police procedural than psychological thriller. The author's experience in the police force shines through, making each character fully rounded and believable. As is generally the case with this brand of thriller, I found the ending required somewhat of a suspension of disbelief, but other than that Mackintosh has more than lived up to the promise of her gripping and prize-winning debut, I Let You Go.

The Loving Husband*
Christabel Kent
Rating: ***
Fran wakes up in her isolated Fens farmhouse to find her husband missing, his side of the bed empty. What follows is a tense thriller in which the reader if left, like Fran, not knowing who to trust. It's far from perfect - the police characters seem to come straight from bastard cop central casting, and the final denouement is rushed - but The Loving Husband cleverly toys with the reader, switching between past and present narratives and constantly wrong-footing you when you think you have it all figured out.
Am I Normal Yet?
How Hard Can Love Be? 
What's A Girl Gotta Do?
Holly Bourne
Rating: *****
Alex recommended that I read Holly Bourne's trilogy about three teenage girls navigating college, family, friendships, first love and feminism, and I'm really glad I gave them a try. The characters of Lottie, Amber and Evie are brilliantly obstreperous, totally loyal, and believable flawed, and this is YA with real heart and an explicitly feminist message. I spent the books willing them to come out of it all ok, whether 'it' was struggling with a relapse of OCD, working at an American summer camp while trying to come to terms with family issues, or dealing with online abuse and misogyny. How I wish I'd had books like these when I was a teen; instead, I'll have to content myself with pressing them upon every teenage girl of my acquaintance.

Thirteen Hours
7 Days
Deon Meyer
Rating: ****
Originally written in Afrikaans and then translated into English, Meyer's Benny Griessel series has been rightly critically lauded around the world. Griessel, in the way of all brilliant detectives, is a troubled soul and an alcoholic, an old dog being forced to learn new tricks in a world of cyber crime and affirmative action, and the books are packed full of insights into modern, post-apartheid South Africa.  However, the Cape Town setting is one of the main attractions for me, rather like Edinburgh is for Rebus fans, and there's a real pleasure in following Griessel along streets I know so well. The British editions come with a handy glossary at the back, fairly essential for anyone less familiar with Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans slang, but it's partly through this use of language that Meyer (and his brilliant translator) is able to communicate so much about the politics of the country. For example, there's a wonderful set-piece in 7 Days where an uppity police sergeant insists on speaking in Xhosa to a female Zulu detective; a subtle demonstration of the micro-aggressions a black woman still faces in the SAPS, while in Cobra the disappointments and corruption of the ANC government are put into a global context, with a British professor commenting of the multi-racial squad, "Well isn't this an advert for the Rainbow Nation."
Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride
Lucy Knisley
Rating: *****
Recommended to me by Laura, Something New - which follows the author's journey to a makeshift, homemade, entirely personal wedding - is one of the best graphic memoirs I've read. As Thomas and I are currently knee-deep in planning our own non-traditional, makeshift wedding the book felt very relevant, covering everything from international bridal traditions to the dreaded dress shopping and how she and her husband wrote their vows. Best of all were her reflections on bi-erasure and the unique tensions present when you are a queer feminist marrying a straight man, which really hit home for me. Accompanied by her beautifully inked drawings, this was an at times moving, at times amusing, always engrossing book.

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Note: none of the links in this post are affiliate links.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Buyer's Archive: July

Since February last year, inspired by Elise's Buyer's Archive project, I've been keeping a record of all my clothing purchases in an effort to track what works and what doesn't and - in theory - cut down on my spending. Check out the #buyersarchive hashtag on Twitter/Instagram to see posts from everyone taking part, which usually includes Elise, HazelKezzieDonnaLucy and Charlotte.

In July 2015 I was preparing to go on holiday and so, as is often the case, I spent a lot: £159.38 to be precise. Shockingly, only three items of the seven that I bought last July are still in my wardrobe: I returned both the striped top and the yellow raincoat without wearing them; the Topshop shoes never actually fit me so I sold them, unworn, on eBay (at a loss); and the New Look sandals left my feet blistered and sore in Montreal last summer, so they went into the charity bag as soon as we got back. The star buy was the blue floral skirt, which cost me £2 from a charity shop, as I wore it frequently last summer and worn it again this summer. Meanwhile, the sale bargain Joy dress has so far done me two weddings and a graduation; it's my go-to "need to look smart and like an upstanding citizen" dress.

As for July 2016, I again bought quite a few pieces, and you may notice something of a pattern (no pun intended) developing...

Black denim skirt, Primark £8
I stalked this skirt for weeks, checking my local store regularly for a size 16. Finally, on a trip to Nottingham, I spotted one and pounced. Annoyingly, I think I could probably have done with an 18 but the 16 will do for now, while I keep my eyes open for a larger size.

White top with red stripes, New Look £8.99
Another striped top Janet? I hear you ask. Yes indeed. My job is surprisingly physical - lots of lugging around boxes of books, unpacking new stock, reaching high up on bookcases to grab titles I need - and so stretchy skinny jeans and a comfortable top are what's needed. Hence, I've spent a lot of time this month (as you will see) boosting my collection of striped tees. I bought this one as the stripes are a dark red instead of navy or black, which is a nice change.

Cats books tea t-shirt, Etsy £9 (but sort of free, really, as the original t-shirt was a gift & I saved the money made from that to buy this)
This is the best t-shirt ever, right?! If you follow me on Instagram you'll know that I got this months ago and it was too big. I sold it to Amy and kept the pennies in my Paypal account, but it took me ages to get around to ordering it again in a smaller size. It is made of the most gorgeously soft stretch jersey cotton, and I'm as yet undecided whether it's going to become my favourite slouch-around-the-house-with-pyjama-bottoms shirt, or one I actually wear outside.
Linen-mix striped t-shirt, H&M £12.99
I bought this one afternoon when I'd gone into town before meeting up with friends, and quickly discovered that it was far too hot for the long-sleeved t-shirt I had on. It's actually turned out to be a good buy, cool and airy to wear in those brief days we had of proper heat. But yeah, more stripes.

Swallow print blouse, Debenhams £11.40 (also mostly free)
When I bought my fatkini of dreams last month I got a £10 gift voucher for Debenhams as part of a promotion. I don't usually buy much from there but I'd had my eye on this swallow print top for a couple of months, and I pounced as soon as its price was reduced for a second time in the sale. It's been a great buy for work - teamed with black Toyshop jeans and a cardigan (our office is freezing even now) it's both comfortable and cute.
Navy blue striped top, Sainsburys £9
Ok, so this is where it starts to get ridiculous. Did I really buy four different striped tops in July? Yes, I'm afraid I did. This dark blue one (again, different from anything else in my collection so totally allowed, right?) is really comfortable on days like today when I was schlepping thousands of parcels out of our office and into delivery vans.

White striped t-shirt, Zara £5.99
My search for the perfect short-sleeved striped t-shirt for tucking-in purposes continues. This is a pretty good find actually; it might even be 'the one'. I bought this before the whole Zara being absolute dicks to indie artists thing blew up, BTW. I wouldn't be so quick to give them my hard-earned cash now.

My total spend for July was therefore £35.97 for the five items I paid for fully out of my own pocket, plus £20.40 for the Etsy tee and Debenhams top, giving a grand total of £55.97 and seven items.

Excitingly, I also bought my wedding dress last month, but there's no photograph of that for obvious reasons. I'm also excluding it, plus the two dresses I bought for my mini bridesmaids, from my total spend (although, at £16 for mine and £9 apiece for the girls', they wouldn't have bumped my total up too much).