Thursday, 25 June 2015

Recent Reads #1

My pledge to read a book a week during the summer has, thus far, been going pretty well. I finished my first book in 48 hours, the second in the next week, but the third was really slow... I've started off my summer primarily with Historical Fiction. Realising that my knowledge of history does not extend beyond the year 9 school syllabus (the Tudors, the Romans and WWI), I wanted to improve my knowledge whilst reading a good book. Since I mostly read books based on recommendation, I thought I'd do a little round up of what I've been reading, what I enjoyed...and what I didn't! 

The Innocent - Ian McEwan

He's not everyone's cup of tea, but I like Ian McEwan, and read this novel following a recommendation from my Mum and a promise that I find out something about the Cold War. Set in 1955 Berlin, The Innocent follows the story of Leonard, an engineer employed by the Americans to build the signals used to tap the Russians' conversations. Quickly, this responsibility becomes secondary, to both Leonard and the reader, as he falls in love with a German woman, Maria. The Innocent develops from a mere war story, to a tale of intensity, passion, betrayal and terror. I loved this book: the characters were honest and believable, the plot (and the twist) exacerbated by the harsh setting, and I was left feeling exhausted, like I'd been on a real emotional journey with Leonard. I'd definitely recommend The Innocent; since it's so short, it's perfect for a long train journey or a couple evenings before bed, a real page turner. 
4 / 5

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe - Bill Bryson

Another recommendation from my Mum, I read this in preparation for my Italian adventure in few weeks. Though arguably a little outdated now (written in 1991), this 'travelogue' follows Bryson's tour of Europe, visiting 14 countries. I always love reading other people's accounts of cities I've been to, just to see how their experience relates to mine. Bryson's accounts are solely his own: they reflect his personal experiences, and I enjoyed how they focused on precisely what he did and saw, rather than becoming a travel guide, and telling me facts about each place he visited. This was a great summer read for me, and got me all excited about going on holiday (except maybe to Florence...). The only thing is that I wish I'd picked it up years ago, since I'm sure Bryson's experience of Europe 23 years ago may be quite different to mine this summer. Overall, an easy, funny read, and something a bit different!
3.5 / 5

All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

This was slow. I started reading it a little while ago, got half way through, and just stopped because I was bored. I liked the idea, paralleling the stories of a blind, French girl and a German boy at a Nazi military school whose paths cross during the Second World War. Seeing the war through the perspective of a girl who couldn't see was really interesting, and there was some beautifully sensory writing. However, I just couldn't get into the German boy's story, and found myself wanting to flick through those sections to return to Marie-Laure's tale. There was too much chopping and changing between the stories to really become absorbed by a particular character or event, and it all just felt a bit half-hearted. Ultimately, it wasn't a bad story, nor was it badly written, it just didn't feel solid or finished enough for me. There was real potential, and that's why I forced myself to finish it, but I don't think it quite worked. 
2.5 / 5 

Please let me know what you've been reading, and if you have any recommendations for me! 


Sunday, 21 June 2015

Summer 'To-Do' List

Summer is my favourite time of the year. I love the sun, being outside, going on holiday and I always associate it with 'the summer holiday' - a long break from school/college/university. But what if this is my last summer holiday? After 16 years of at least 6-8 weeks off in the summer, to 4 months of freedom whilst at uni, being constrained to 4 weeks off A YEAR seems PREPOSTEROUS. So I've decided that I've got to make the most of it, not waste days...let alone weeks, and enjoy having my own time to do what I want (and secretly hope for a summer 2016 of graduate unemployment). 

Ordinarily, to make sure I do have a wonderful summer, I've made a 'to-do' list: 


During term time, I rarely make it through a novel. It's not because I don't have the time, it's just that the last thing I want to do after a day of reading academic papers, or staring at a screen, is read more. I also feel guilty when I'm reading for pleasure, neglecting the academic reading I should be doing. So, gradually, a pile of books builds itself up ready for the summer - and this summer, I'm going to try and read a book a week. On my list for the next few weeks are: The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins), A God in Ruins (Kate Atkinson) and The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood). Any recommendations would also be much appreciated! 

Spend 'proper' time with friends

For the last couple of years, my friends and I have been spread across the UK for most of the year. This allows for a quick coffee amongst all the family festivities at Christmas, a brunch in a revision break at Easter, and maybe even time for a whole afternoon together at some point over the summer, in between working, holidays etc. But this year I want to make sure I spend some more time with my friends; I really miss having my closest friends around me for large parts of the year, and I want to make sure we don't just have brief catch-ups and spend some 'proper' time together doing fun stuff! 

 Go on holiday

Summer doesn't really feel like summer until you've had a holiday! I think it's really important to spend time somewhere different, away from home and 'everyday life', to really have a break. This year I'm off to Italy for a couple of weeks, visiting Milan, Lake Como, Florence, Rome and Sicily - and I can't wait. I love going to new places, and I'm gradually compiling a list of all the things I want to do whilst I'm there. I can't wait to spend a few weeks in the sun with Simon and our lovely friends, exploring and relaxing. I also love a 'staycation'! There are so many beautiful places in the UK, and so much of it that I haven't seen. This summer I have weekends in Plymouth, Exeter, Wiltshire and a surprise trip for Simon's birthday to look forward to!

Try something new

It's so easy just to do the things you know are easy. I've been really guilty of this in the last 6 months, staying safely in my comfort zone, and not trying new things. But the summer is a time to make a change, and a time where you have fewer excuses not to. The first new thing I'm trying is pilates. I know I need to do some exercise, and I know the only way I'll consistently do it is if I book classes that I pay for, and therefore MUST go to. With a huge focus on breathing and connecting, as well as strengthening and toning, I think pilates is definitely a good starting point. 


My New Year's Resolution was to cook something new every week - and it was going really well until I had exams, and then went home and had someone else to cook for me. But I definitely want to get back into it. I find cooking, especially baking, really relaxing and rewarding. I love the instant gratification of making something and having the finished product so quickly. I also like looking after people, and feeding them seems to be a really fulfilling way of doing this. This summer I want to master some more tasty vegetarian dishes, Greek food and pastries! 

Go on adventures!

For me, 'adventuring' is about going to new places. They don't have to be far away, abroad, just somewhere you've never been before. I feel like Simon and I made it our goal last summer to go on as many adventures as we could, and I can't wait to do it again this year! There are so many places, even in both London and Sussex, that I've never been and I want to make sure I do visit them and appreciate the culture, history, nature that's right on my doorstep  Staycations, again, are a brilliant opportunity to explore new places and all they have to offer. 

Spend as much time outside as I can

Whether it's eating dinner on the patio, spending an afternoon reading in the garden, going for a walk, a day at the beach I want to spend sunny days outside! After months spent indoors, revising, doing exams, having the freedom just to go outside and do what I want and when I want is unreasonably liberating! Over this last week, I've been on some lovely countryside walks, had sunny picnics with friends, played games in Hyde Park, read my book in the garden, and it's just been great. Being outside always really lifts my mood, and makes me appreciate all the time and opportunities I have a whole lot more. 


Much to my envy, lots of my friends have summer birthdays. I love birthdays, and I always spend lots of time thinking about, making, buying and wrapping presents. This year is a bit of a double whammy, with lots of friends graduating, I'm finding more and more excuses to buy and make lots of little gifts! Simon's birthday is always the hardest, but also the most fun to plan! We go on birthday trips, so arranging several days of fun, as well as other little treats, is my favourite! I've also got lots of friends turning 21, so exciting celebrations (and associated gifts) are in order. 

Spending time with my family

The last couple of weeks mostly spent at home are the first extended period of time I've spent at home since last July/August. I didn't realise how much I'd missed being at home, and spending time with my family until I got back. Now my brother has finished his A Levels, I'm looking forward to hanging out with him. For us, summer is characterised by Uno tournaments in the garden on sunny afternoons. My mum is around much more, so I'm excited to spend some days chilling with her, as well as begging her to take me holiday clothes shopping! I always try and make an effort to spend a good amount of time with my grandma, and I'm looking forward to being back and close to her. 


Thursday, 11 June 2015

'I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me'

Do you ever feel like you're not really in control? Like you're living your life according to someone else's schedule? That you don't know what you're doing, and you don't know when you're doing it, and you're frustrated? Awesome. Me too. 

I've reached the seemingly boundless blessing that is the university summer holiday and, after months of coursework, revision, exams, post-trauma, anxiety, stress, work, I am finally free. It's a really great feeling. Well, at least it should be. I began my holidays already worried about the amount of dissertation preparation I needed to do over the summer, the job I was about to start, the volunteering I'd signed up for, alongside the fun things I actually wanted to do like see my friends, go on holiday, read, and sleep. I very quickly felt like I hadn't actually broken the cycle of stress, I'd just entered a new one. 

So last night I found myself, as usual, laying in bed worrying. Worrying about why I ached SO much from work on Monday night, how I was going to fit everything in that I wanted to and not be exhausted all the time, why I was so tired doing what lots of people do everyday and could manage fine, what was most important to me, and what was going to happen to the girls in Pretty Little Liars. And then I remembered something that I hadn't thought about in a long time: the lovely Linda Morgan's voice telling me to 'live the life I love'. I started to think about it all with a bit more perspective - about what I can manage, irrespective of what others do, and about what will make me happy at this very moment, and make sure I stay happy. I realised that I hadn't done anything for a long time for the sole purpose of it making me happy: it was because I felt like I should, that's what other people wanted me to do, I'd already agreed to it, or even that it should have made me happy but somehow didn't. I realised that I hadn't felt like I was in control of my own life, let alone my own happiness, and I wanted to change that now before it spiralled too far. I realised that, above all, my happiness was the most important thing to me right now. Because if I'm not happy in what should be one of the most carefree times in my life, what hope do I have for the future. 

And this realisation was a real turning point. I've decided to spend the next 6 weeks doing exactly what I want to do when I want to do it. I've done the stress thing and I know it doesn't work for me: I can't cope with it, and I end up the victim of 'invisible', 'psychosomatic' illnesses, and it's just not worth it. There are things that I know I need to do, like earn some money and do some work on my dissertation, but I'm going to do it when it suits me, to my timetable and no one else's. If I wake up feeling tired, anxious and unmotivated, I'm simply not going to make myself do what I don't want to do. I'm trying to focus on mindfulness, and taking control of my own life and my own happiness and I think the rest will sort itself out, because these things usually do. I feel like there's so much pressure to be seen as being busy, constantly proactive, all at the expense of doing things that make us happy, healthy and relaxed. 

In the words of Zadie Smith, 'I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me', and I'm going to work towards a better definition. I am going to regain control, and start doing things for me again. I'm not going to let my health and happiness pass me by for the sake of earning extra cash, havingng another thing to put on my CV, or wanting to appear the highest of flyers. I'm looking back on the last few months, not the happiest of times, and making sure the next months are better. Whether you thrive off being a busyness, or struggle with the obligations and exertion of everyday life, I hope you make time for yourself too. 

Write your own story, live the life you love, don't let anyone take it away from you. 

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