Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Recent Reads #4

Sometimes you have to read several unsatisfying books before you come across something that you're really absorbed in. I hate not finishing a book, so if I'm not that fussed about something I'm reading, I just tend to read it slowly, get in a rut about it and then resent having to read it. But then you read something that reminds you why you love reading, and it's all better again. So here's what I've read recently: the good and not-so-good. 

The Dust That Falls from Dreams - Louis de Bernières
This was my first Louis de Bernières novel, and I fear that it may be my last. I totally sped-read it prior to seeing him talk about the book at the Kew Literary Festival last month, and hoped that learning about his inspirations and hearing him read the book would make me like it...but it just didn't. For a start, I really didn't like his writing style: it was almost too jovial for too long, and I felt like I was reading the novel in a farcical tone. The novel is set in Eltham, Kent in 1902 and follows the life of Rosie, her sisters and their neighbours. Very quickly the novel jumps from the trivialities of the London suburbs to those of the Western Front, and we follow how Rosie manages her love triangle and devastating wartime. So, on the surface, it sounds really good and I really wanted it to be. I thought the overall message about building a new world and being hopeful amongst an environment experiencing chaos and devastation was a really good one, especially how it paralleled the love story and post-war Britain. Other than that, I really struggled to engage with it: I didn't like the characters, the style of writing and felt like the plot had lots of potential which just didn't deliver. Definitely not my cup of tea! 
1 / 5

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
To begin with, I need to make the point that this is a very 'technically' clever novel. There are lots of characters whose lives we are told about in substantial detail, and a narrative which constantly crosses barriers of space and time. I often found myself thinking 'wait, who is this again?' and 'I thought they were dead, where are we now?' - so, although an intelligently manipulated novel, it was a confusing one. The novel centres around Ursula, a character who experiences the most tragic and bleak events...but Atkinson offers her the chance to live her life again and again (hence the confusion). This opportunity forces the reader to deal with these questions too: would you take a second chance at life? What would change? Would you be able to save the world, and the people you love? It's profound, definitely, and I appreciated it for that. It wasn't the commuting read that I expected it to be, and as most of Atkinson's other novels are, but it was interesting. I can't say I loved it, because I didn't - but I did appreciate it. 
3 / 5

Strange Weather in Tokyo - Hiromi Kawakami
This book isn't something I'd ever pick up in a bookshop, but I'm so glad I read it. I borrowed it from Simon who'd chosen it as part of the Mr B's Bookshop Reading Spa in the summer, and was hooked from the beginning. It's a really short novel, I read it in under 2 hours, but I felt like it was a really interesting, sensual introduction to Japanese culture and a captivating, observational read. I can't really give a plot summary because very little actually happens, but we follow the lives of two lonely individuals who meet, and connect, in unusual circumstances. The whole book is written in such a removed way that you, paradoxically, want to find out more about the characters but equally don't really care about them. The experience of reading the novel was like a pass the parcel: there's something new on each level, and you're getting deeper and deeper into their lives. I felt really sad to finish this book, really wanting more, but also appreciating that it worked perfectly existing in this very simple, neat little pocket. I'd highly recommend this - a very calming, insightful read leaving you feeling disconnected from everyone and everything in it. 
4 / 5

Monday, 26 October 2015


“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another:
"What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . ."”
- C.S Lewis 

Last week started perfectly well and ended positively awfully - for no real reason. I woke up on Friday in one of those moods that you think you'll never escape: when you're miserable, bored, whiney and thoroughly unpleasant to anyone unfortunate enough to come across you. It really sucked. 

But then came the weekend. Ok, that didn't start particularly well either...but then it was wonderful. And that's because I have wonderful friends. Moving houses, new houses, work, holidays, LIFE had meant that we hadn't spent much time together in ages and a catch up was well overdue. Soon an afternoon 'watching the rugby' became pumpkin carving, cooking (and consuming) inordinate amounts of veggie chilli and jelly (dairy free puddings ftw), beers and snowballs, horror films, and a SLEEPOVER. And that wasn't even the end: an extra hour in bed, bacon and jam sandwiches, trip to the farm, autumnal countryside walk, Sunday roast. It was literally the dream weekend. 

This weekend made me so happy and so thankful that I have such amazing, hilarious people around me: friends who compare farting habits; friends with whom I can offer boob pain support - it's actually your diaphragm, who knew; friends who will sing the Tracy Beaker theme tune with me of a Sunday morning; and friends who I want to buy and live on a farm with. Having such a fun weekend made me super keen to plan in more weekends together, day trips, dinners, Netflix and chill (before it meant sex) - and suddenly it became 'what are you doing for Halloween? Bonfire Night? New Year? When can we go fancy dress shopping? Can we plan this weekend in December?' It's just too exciting. 

And it got me thinking: how awesome are friends? I think it's so easy to get totally wrapped up in your own life that you forget about all the great people you have around you, and don't always make as much time for them as you should. It made me think that we should all, myself especially, take some time out to get back in touch with our friends, find out how they're doing, what they're up to, go for dinner with them because that's what friends do, right? It's made me think about all the great times I've had with friends with whom I've not spoken to for years, and made me want to message them RIGHT NOW to reminisce and work out how we can have all that fun again. It's made me want to have a sleepover, on the world's snazziest blow up air bed, every night. 

Thank you friends, for being my friends, and for reminding me that best friends are the best. 

Friday, 16 October 2015

For the weekend...

When Simon asked if I wanted to go and see Fightstar with him, my response was 'I LOVE Busted!' Turns out they're not the same. I've had a week of intense listening, and I'm now pretty psyched to see them tomorrow...even though they're not Busted.

So here's a song for you all, for the weekend. 

Never Change - Fightstar. X


Friday, 9 October 2015

For the weekend...

A long weekend away, plunging back into university life and a bout of vertigo - it's been a strange week. And when things get weird, I usually curl up in bed with a cup of tea and read F Scott Fitzgerald. Naturally. 

This time I turned to Tender is the Night, both because I think it's his best and I was wishing I was in the sunny South of France. I can never help but skip pages and turn to my favourite bits in this book, and I think this quote tops it. 

Happy weekend 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A weekend in Oxfordshire

Simon's birthday called for one of our (belated) birthday trips: a weekend in Oxfordshire. We set off in the sunshine, in our ironically sporty hire car to the village of Long Wittenham in South Oxfordshire. I'd booked for us to stay in a total Air B&B gem, a studio barn conversion in the most lovely, peaceful countryside surroundings - where we enjoyed our little picnic right on the Thames. We sat, watching all the boats go past, and some ducks try and eat some apples, soaking up the sunshine and deciding what to do with our weekend. Since neither of us were familiar with the area, we decided to go and have a little explore of the village meeting some friendly cats, dogs and thirsty cows drinking from the river on the way! After having only been there a couple of hours, we felt very at home and so far away from London. Before dinner, we thought we'd have a drive round some of the neighbouring villages and stumbled across The Earth Trust at Wittenham Clumps - a nature reserve with awesome views. More lovely cows, hot air balloon spotting and wandering later, we headed off to dinner at a local pub, The Bear. We enjoyed some great pub food, watched the rugby match with some disappointed locals before venturing back to the barn to snuggle up in bed!  It was really sad to leave the following morning, particularly since we'd had such a nice day and I was worried the rest of the weekend wouldn't live up to it. But alas we had to, and we drove on towards Oxford. 

We arrived at, what was supposed to be, the highlight of the weekend: Nina the Narrowboat. Unfortunately it wasn't quite as special, cosy or memorable as I'd expected, but we were still right in the centre of Oxford and headed straight off to see what we could find! We bimbled through Christ Church Meadow, into the centre of Oxford, where we were surrounded by students moving into their colleges for the year. I was really glad we went a little bit out of season, because I think we saw the more idyllic Oxford, full of locals and students, rather than the summertime tourist-dominated city. There's so much to do in Oxford that we almost had option paralysis and, instead, just spent a few hours walking around the city, getting our bearings and seeing all the things we could do. There's something really exciting and removed about being surrounded by the beautiful, traditional architecture, navigating tiny cobbled streets and gargoyle spotting on the buildings! A couple of people had suggested we take a walk down the canals towards Jericho, an area of Oxford neither of us had ever visited, so we decided we'd do that spotting all the other narrow boats on the way. We ended up in what I'm pretty sure the resident alcoholic deemed 'the best pub in Oxford' just in time for the rugby, which was made all the more exciting being surrounded by some enthusiastic Irish and Italians! We finished our evening walking the entire stretch of Oxford (and back again!) in search of a restaurant, chowing down, before heading back to our slightly chilly boat. 

The next morning was a bit of a camping experience: woken by the heavy rain, we made our morning tea and coffee on the gas stove alongside our instant pots of porridge! Sitting out on the boat, we watched all the rowers go past on their early morning training sessions, and fed all the ducks the crusts of bread we had leftover! Sitting on a damp seat under a leaky cover in the pouring rain, it wasn't quite the narrow boat experience I'd imagined but it was a unique one nonetheless! Another day of more exploring and a token visit to Blackwell's was had before we headed up, back to the relative warmth, dryness and showers of London! 

It wasn't the weekend I'd imagined, and was a bit of a mixed bag, but it was mostly really fun. The beginning was a hundred times better than I anticipated, with lovely weather, lovely food and lovely countryside, and the end was slightly disappointing. But, it was nice to get away for the weekend, spend some time together and do some exploring. Happy Birthday Simon - here's to a less soggy birthday treat next year!


Friday, 2 October 2015

For the weekend...

A week of dissertation work has inevitably become a week of looking at anything and everything the internet has to offer. This was my favourite from the week:

Photographing young couples in bed around the world

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