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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

What happens under the fancy chandelier, stays under the fancy chandelier: a tale of pale dresses, periods, and female friendship.


Hi you.

A little context ...

When the events I've written about here first happened to me my initial thought was "Well now, there's a part of my holiday I won't be blogging about!".  And I thought I meant it. I did at the time I suppose.

And then ... because I'd ruled it out, and because I can be quite contrary, and because I quite often change my mind about my fears once I've spoken them out loud ... the idea just got lodged in my brain. I kept thinking "Y'know ... if this moment was powerful enough to make you decide against sharing it ... maybe it's exactly the thing you should be writing about."

Maybe it'll unlock a few stories from others, raise a few 'me too!'s, make someone reading it feel it isn't just them who things like that happen to. (Seriously, if there's a bigger goal in my life I haven't found it yet. It's apparently what I'm here for.)

And so my initial reaction of 'don't say it' became a red rag rag to a bull.

Pun intended.

Now, one year on, here it is.

*TMI WARNING*: if you'd prefer not to read about me discussing:

  • [a] periods 
  • and [b] yet a-bloody-gain that time I went to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet ... (frankly I don't know which will be worse for you) ...
... then simply click away now, move on down the road, and you and I can catch up in another blog post at another time. 

Still here? OK then ... here we go ... 





When I went to Monkey World, in Dorset, I almost went blind with excitement. True story.

I was 30 at the time.

OK, so maybe that strange disc of light in my eye, blocking my vision for a week, was just an especially tenacious, and strangely timed, migraine … but still. Whatever it was it happened while I was visiting the famous ape rescue centre, an experience I’d looked forward to for months.

This is not that story.

No. Rather I offer it as context, as a way to demonstrate how, when it comes to reacting inappropriately to an occasion I’ve been eagerly anticipating, my body has previous form.

Because this is the story of how - the day I was going to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet - my body decided to offer me an additional accompaniment to seeing one of my favourite actors in my favourite role: the gift of an unexpected period.

Oh body. You had one job.

And while you may have left almost a decade in between your earlier primate inspired opening salvo and this bloody coup d’├ętat, I've got to give you credit for your innate nay, Shakespearean, sense of dramatic timing.

But at least the appearance of this ‘gift’- in the toilets of the Tate Modern art gallery (no Jackson Pollock jokes please) - explained the dizziness I’d been feeling for the previous couple of days.

Until that point I’d been putting it down to the headiness of being a naive North Easterner set loose in the Big Smoke for a few days. A North Easterner with a front row ticket to the biggest show in town in her clammy little hand. (OK, so it was the front row of the upper circle from where I couldn’t see all of stage and where, admittedly, the altitude was slightly thinner, but a front row seat with an unobscured view of Benny’s sweat and tears as he recited some of my most beloved lines in all of the English language, is still a front row seat.)

And no wonder I'd felt so at home in the dimly lit womblike magnificence of the Tate’s dedicated ‘Rothko room’ surrounded as it is on all sides by the artist’s huge deep red, maroon, and black paintings.
The Mark Rothko 'Seagram Murals' 
The explanatory notes to the exhibition read: “Mark Rothko saw these paintings as objects of contemplation demanding the viewer’s complete absorption”. And my uterus clearly took this as a call to action.

So there I was, in a Tate Modern toilet cubicle ...
Genuine Tate Modern #bathroomselfie
... facing up to the inescapable fact that in a matter of hours, when the curtain went up on Cumberbatch, I’d have to sit in one spot for several hours (it's Shakespeare's longest play!) wearing  the dress I’d picked out so carefully beforehand, hoping that the only bodily fluids I’d be leaking on it would be tears. (Yes I cried. Of course I cried.) Unlike the majority of the play's characters would my lovely dress come out of this alive?

My lovely dress. My lovely vintage dress. My lovely off white vintage dress.

The dress, waiting for me expectantly back in the hotel room.

Today body? Really?

I didn’t need to panic straight away though, I’m a grown woman and this wasn’t my first time at the menstruation rodeo (is that a thing? I bet it is a thing somewhere. Imagine.) and I had some emergency tampons in my bag. I always do; tampons (‘cos you just never know), tissues (need you ask?), biscuits (‘cos: biscuits) and a pen and paper (‘cos when things like this happen you know I’ll be writing it all down).

But I had only come prepared with the ‘Light’ variety and quite frankly, for the sake of the dress and my dignity, I’d have much preferred to have had the back-up of the ‘Whoah there these will suck so much moisture out of you you’d better have a drink handy’ sort.

But life doesn’t always check what kind of sanitary protection you’re packing before it gives you bloody lemons, does it ladies?

I suppose I could have gone out and bought something more reassuringly absorbent but we didn’t have a great deal of time to go wandering. We needed to eat, go back to the hotel, shower and change and then find the theatre - on the other side of the city - which neither I nor James had ever been to before. Plus, truth be told, I hadn’t the first idea about where one would go to buy such dreary essentials in London.

I mean, I was only in town for a total of around 70 hours yet I could have told you a dozen places on the South bank where you could pick up organic rhubarb juice or anything you could ask for served up in a brioche bun but I wouldn’t have known where to begin to track down anything practical. (Is there such a thing as a pack of Regular tampons and a pint of semi-skimmed in all of the capital?)

So I just made do with what I had and I refused to change my wardrobe plans. (If that doesn’t tell you about my dedication to wearing the right thing for the right occasion then nothing will.) And I headed to the Barbican in the clothes I’d always intended.

And you can forget about carefree teenagers rollerblading in white shorts; what those feminine hygiene advertisers really ought to be filming is a stubborn woman who’s had her outfit picked out for weeks, speed-walking, in wedges, across London in a light drizzle, who gets to the theatre on time, all while successfully not bleeding on a stone-coloured 1970s vintage dress.

Because Hamlet doesn’t stop when your period starts.
I know, I look so relaxed don't I? 

Long story short … everything behaved as it should, including Benny C, and there was no untoward gushing (don’t). Which was just as well really as I had an eagle-eyed usher sitting inches away from me throughout, facing into the audience, to prevent anyone taking photos of the stage (you might remember this post where I talked all about it)  So if I had bled on the upholstery the chances of me casually sneaking out afterwards would have been very slim.

Right then, so now we’ve got Hamlet cleanly out of the way let’s leap to the next morning, where I’d arranged to meet up with Kirsty, the loveliest of longtime best friends but who, until that morning, I’d only ever spoken to online. Again, I had my outfit planned in advance, and again – as it was yet another light coloured dress - it was biologically inappropriate. (One look at my wardrobe choices could tell you I really hadn’t been anticipating being anywhere near any blood at that particular moment in time).
Me, in the frock, on the way to meet Kirsty.
Here again I decided not to change my outfit plans; not least because as we’d never met in ‘real life’ before, I’d told her to keep a look out beneath the London Eye for someone wearing a white dress with black pinstripes.

If you’re going to be unromantic about it, yes, we did have each other’s phone numbers, and yes I could have phoned her to warn her of the change, but I generally don’t make a massacre of my clothing and so I thought I’d be OK, that there was no real need to be extra careful by dressing head to toe in black.

It would be fine sticking with the white dress. Wouldn't it?

After more criss-crossing of London, chatting, taking photos, visiting an exhibition at Royal Academy, all while wearing white, (those advertisers were missing another trick) we settled in Fortnum & Mason’s ice cream parlour – because if anything is going to seal this momentous meeting-in-real-life stage of our friendship it was eating expensive ice cream together.

Although, apparently, there was an even greater friendship testing moment still to come.

On a visit to the Fortnum & Mason's toilets – which contained a glittering, glinting, chandelier, #poshestloosever - it turned out that I seriously and swiftly needed to change my protection (and no, that doesn't mean I needed a new bodyguard. Although Bodyform? Maybe.).

And also possibly, if a little belatedly, I could have done with a reassessment of my dress choice. Without going into graphic detail, there had been a mere hair’s breadth between where I’d halted the situation and where it could soon have ended up. ie: on the back of my dress.

So I got myself straight, sorted ‘things’ out and headed back out beneath the fancy chandelier where I was then faced with a decision as to whether or not to say something truly, bloodily, corporeal that could test our hitherto virtual friendship:
  • Do I say something about my near-miss? 
  • Do I break into this day of delightful culture and violet-petal ice-cream sundaes with some casual menstruation chat? 
  • Do I ask her to keep a look out through the rest of the day for further thrills and spills? Because while I doubted it would have ended up as something akin to that scene in Carrie … , I could have easily come away from the situation looking like I’d sat on, and crushed to death, an unfortunate mouse.
And, because I’m a grown up, and because I couldn't live with the possibility that I’d end up walking around the country’s capitol with a blood stain on my airy summer linen, I decided that I would say something. Surely a small mortification in an extremely posh shop was better than the leaky alternative? And so I announced:

“I’ve had a bit of an incident … the kind you don’t want to have while you’re wearing a white dress.” And without hesitation Kirsty turned to me and asked:

“Are you alright?”

But it was more than that. In those 3 words she wasn’t just asking if I was OK, she was asking “Have you got what you need?”, she was asking “Can I do anything? Can I help you out?”

And – as tests of friendships go – her response was quite the clincher in fact, I consider our Molly Hooper and Sherlock moment (well, I would, wouldn’t I?). But, seriously, bear with me, in Season 2 Ep 3, The Reichenbach Falls episode Sherlock, knowing he’s got to get himself out of a tricky situation, goes to see Molly and says - (no, not “Molly I’ve just leaked blood everywhere, help!” but ...) “I think I’m going to die”.

And – just like Kirsty did to me – Molly responds immediately with “What do you need?”.



That’s a true friend right? And I – and my light coloured dresses - consider myself fortunate to have found myself a friend in the Molly Hooper mould.

 Another woman defiantly wearing a white frock. Portrait of  'Marguerite Kelsey' by Meredith Frampton, Tate Modern. 

  • Someone who understands.
  • Someone who is totally there for you in the moment and who doesn’t ask too many awkward follow-up questions! 
  • Someone who keeps my secret and even comes up with the perfect euphemistic title for the whole situation which we both still use when referring to the 'incident': ‘What happens under the fancy chandelier stays under the fancy chandelier’!
  • She’s even someone who – despite having kept it to herself for a year – has now stuck with me when I decided that – you know what? – even though it's still awkward I actually quite fancy sharing the entire story with all and sundry online! Her encouraging reaction when I told hr made me think that maybe other people would like to hear it too. 

And it's during moments like those I've shared today where female friendship and solidarity means so much. Because this kind event between women doesn’t get talked about very often in public even though it's happening all the time. All. The. Time. 

Everywhere. 

Always (no pun intended).

At any given moment there’s someone in light coloured clothing worrying that she’s carrying around with her the potential for public embarrassment, and – if she’s lucky like I was – she too will have a Kirsty or a Molly who, in an unflinching instant, will offer her support.

Someone who – in the face of unpredictable bodily functions - has got her back.

Someone who she can rely on to always be on red alert. Literally.

Someone who will be prepared to act as her wing woman.

Or, maybe in this instance, ...  her ‘with wings’ woman. (Couldn't resist. Forgive me.)


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I usually say feel free to join in the conversation in the comments or catch me on social media ... but in this case, don't feel obliged. If you're anything like me, maybe it'll take you a year to get around to feeling brave enough! Whatever. I'm sure I'll be around to chat somewhere online in 2017!

But if you do feel happy sharing any similarly life-affirming female friendship tales to tell, then you're very welcome to.

This was scary to put out there. I hope it finds the audience it was intended for.

Julie

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Is life too short to eat a surprise trout? A fishy meditation on adult responsibilities.



“Are you sure this is cod?” I asked, already doubtful of its true nature. It was Easter weekend and we’d eaten all the lamb and chocolate we could, and should, feasibly digest so we made the mature decision to have something lighter for tea. Which is how a so-called ‘cod’of mysterious origins came to be defrosting by the sink.

Its origins were open to debate as neither James nor I had bought it. James had brought it home but he couldn’t even remember if it was something someone had caught themselves then passed on to (or off on) him or if it was one of the random fish he occasionally returns home with after visiting his parents. Although quite what it is about him that makes any number of people feel they need to offer him donations of fish I’m not too sure; perhaps he was a performing seal in a past life?

Either way this creature had been wrapped in a carrier bag and buried in the bottom of our freezer for months, during which it had developed a rigor-mortis curl as if one day, while minding its own business, it had been frozen on the spot while curving its dappled body around an eddy.

But was it a cod? I’d hoped so, it’s white flesh offering a cleansing freshness after all that rich Easter fayre. And yet as it finally began to soften, after many hours defrosting on the draining board, I began to have my doubts.

“It can’t be cod” I said, prodding it with the back of a spoon not wanting to transfer the metallic, penny-like, tang of fish skin on to my own. “It can’t be cod because look, its flesh is pink. It must be salmon.”

Which was fine. Salmon’s fine. More than fine. Everything’s fine. So it’s not cod; it’s salmon. Swings and roundabouts. I like them both.

And yet ... once the not-cod had warmed up enough to become pliant to the blade, allowing James to decapitate it ready for roasting, I then began to lose faith in its salmonliness.


“Is it even salmon though?” I asked. “I don’t know if it is you know. Cut a bit off, microwave it and taste it”.

Which is when it turned out that the cod that was a salmon wasn’t even a salmon.

It was a trout.

And, frankly, neither of us much like trout.

So now what? As an adult what is the right thing to do in this situation? What would you do? Do you eat it because ‘waste not want not’? Or do you abandon it because ‘YOLO’?

That disappointing trout-confirming mouthful had suddenly presented a raw, oozing, fishy, conundrum: is life too short to eat a trout you weren’t expecting? (We’ve all asked that at some point in our lives haven’t we? Haven’t we?).

As an adult it's a tricky decision but when you’re younger everything is a bit more cut and dried. For a start you rarely have to decapitate your own food, in fact it’s positively discouraged.

As a child when you’re faced with a decision over whether or not you’re going to have to eat something you really don’t fancy - your thinking isn’t so woolly. Back then the situation would tend to resolve itself in one of two ways.

Unwanted 'trout' handling method 1: Refuse point blank to eat it.
  • With a Dietrich-esque turn of the head and a dictatorially defiant confidence you’d dig in your heels while writhing and wriggling to avoid the offending plate, fork, parental control. You’d boldly declare “I’m not eating that!”; which is a feat in itself through watertight sealed lips.
Or else …

Unwanted 'trout' handling method 2: You’d have to eat it. No arguments.
  • You’d begrudgingly eat it because your parents were the kind of people who’d simply insist that you did. "There are children in Africa who'd be grateful for that". End of story. And while you may have ended up hating the pair of them more than the food you were refusing to eat you’d at least get a story for your memoir out of it.
Either way, back then, the ultimate responsibility for that food, that decision, was above your pay grade:
  • If you had followed your parents’ instructions and ate it, it was gone, problem solved.
  • And if you didn’t then it got left on a plate where it became their problem. (Let’s face it, feeling guilty about the waste they probably ate it themselves on the way back to the kitchen and then felt like a human dustbin for the rest of the day. But at least they got a story for their memoir out if it.)
So what do I take from all this?

Adult life has a way of defrosting unwanted fish on your draining board leaving you to deal with it for yourself. 

And once a surprise fish is your problem, it’s always your problem.

Because what can you do?

If you don’t eat it - if you decide that ‘you know what? I’m just not forcing that down’ - you’re still left with a body to dispose of.
  • Of course, you could just throw it in the bin, done with, out of sight. Problem solved.
  • But who’s going to be the one reeling from the smell of rotten fish broadcasting from the wheelie bin at 7.30am on a cold wet Tuesday morning? Yep. You are.
Or maybe you could give it away?
  • But who do you know that would really welcome you handing off your problem fish on to them?
  • Unlike some other problems a friend can help out with, a surprise fish shared is not really a surprise fish halved.
Or you could simply ignore it.
  • Yeah. Try that. See how it goes. (Tip: You might get away with that better in January than July.)
  • Turn your back on it by all means, push it to the back of the fridge for a week if it gives you momentary respite but, as much as you’d like to, you are not going to be able to ignore it for long.
  • The more you ignore it, the more it will rot, its scent, the stench of indecision, a pungent reminder that is still exists.
Because in adult life you do end up having to swallow your fair share of surprise fish.

Handling, getting rid of, the unexpected trout, in whatever form that might take in your life, is now your responsibility. That trout isn’t really a trout (except when it isn’t a cod, or a salmon, because, in that case it most definitely, and disappointingly is a trout) – that trout is now all the things life throws at you.

People die and you have to deal with it.

Things break - ornaments, washing machines, relationships, hearts - and you have to deal with it.

Tyres burst, shelves fall, hopes fade and you have to deal with it.

That decision you’ve been putting off for years suddenly becomes unavoidable, and you have to deal with it.

That confession, that suppressed dream, that unspoken disappointment, that overdue credit card payment, that overdue conversation … that lump ..., life won’t let you go on ignoring them forever. They’re all going to stink out your fridge eventually.

And yet … and yet …

… maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle. Maybe I’ve overlooked the fact there are other things in life that you probably can get away with ignoring, or refusing, or turning away from. And maybe we don’t need to see everything through to the end.

We’ve heard the phrase “Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom” but what about to eat an unwanted trout?
  • What about to touch up your roots every 6 weeks? Or keep up with the fashion for whatever shaped eyebrows are on trend this month?
  • Isn’t life too short to turn down cake at a party, or to miss capturing the moment in a photo because you were embarrassed to whip out your camera?
  • And it’s definitely too short to bother pulling out the fridge to clean behind it, or to always try to win an argument, or to turn down the opportunity of a day trip just because it’s cold and rainy (apart from anything else, here in the UK if we always did that we’d hardly ever leave the house).
Maybe there are occasions when we can just paddle out and drop our dead fish out to sea without repercussions.

Maybe we can (should?) decide to stop wasting time eating a fish we don’t like, watching a film we can’t stand, or wading through another 467 pages of a book we should have just cut loose at page 10.

There's definitely something to be said for letting certain parts of life just swim away from us. 

And I guess one more responsibility of being an adult is in deciding what’s right for us; working out which trout we can put an early end to and those which we really need to see through to the fishy end.

Ultimately I wonder if it’s all a balancing act, that throughout life we’re all simply fluctuating between supporting Team: Just Eat the Damn Fish and Team: Life’s Too Short?

But as for the cod that wasn’t a salmon but was a trout; reader, I ate it.
  • Whipped out merely momentarily from beneath its smothering blanket of camouflaging parsley sauce; but I ate it.
  • Through gritted teeth; but I ate it.
  • And quickly. One of the best ways to deal with any life’s unwanted and unwarranted difficulties.
In this instance, to misquote Winston Churchill, it was a case of: ‘When you’re going through surprise trout ... keep going’.

Julie x

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So ... tell me ... have you lately found yourself in Team: Just Eat the Damn Fish OR Team: Life’s Too Short?

  • Have you had to face up to something and swallow it down?
  • Or have you cut something loose without regret? (A book, a TV show, a diet, a pattern of thinking?)

(Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences but without having to include all the personal details.)

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If you liked these philosophical meanderings you might also like:

Friday, 5 August 2016

Overheard: Let's hope the Olympians are better at Geography


It's been years since I shared an overheard here [although if you follow me on Twitter you'll be all up-to-date with what my ears have been eavesdropping on lately]. 

It hasn't been quite as long ago as the last Olympics, but it's not far off. So let me rectify that right now with (well, I was going to say "With something suitably Brazillian" ... but, I know you, you'd get the wrong idea. Deliberately.) ... with something suitably topical then ...

Overheard when? 1 May 2013
Overheard where? Boots the chemist. North East England

Two sales assistants were chatting about a third ... and this is how their global themed conversation went: 

Sales Assistant 1: "She thought Brazil was in Spain". 

After which Sales Assistant 2 paused before replying: "Well ... isn't it?"

Let's hope Team GB and the rest of the Olympians (I suppose it's only sporting) have had the foresight to flip through an atlas by now! 

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* Find collections of original vintage maps (pictured)  in my Etsy shop which is stocked full of all kinds of vintage materials to inspire brand new creativity. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: July

Hello hello.

Remember back in June where it appeared that I could only buy a new car if it pandered to my fondness for black and white clothing?  Well things developed even further during July ...

... and now I'll only visit historical buildings if they rock the monochrome look too ...
... this is actually Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire which was built in 1460:
And while yes, it was obligingly black and white and stripey ... we actually visited because, well, while we were on our annual city break in Lincoln I looked up 'things to do in Lincoln' ... and this was one of them.

But 1460!! 550+ years old and still opening its doors to visitors, that's pretty good going isn't it? In fact, the day we visited, they also had a local business breakfast conference running (we wandered into their refreshment area and were tempted to steal their muffins and bacon sandwiches ...) so it's by no means a dusty old wreck inside.

In fact it's all laid out how it would have been used originally -  here's the kitchen:
... where we learned about how smoke was drawn up and out of the roof, and also what a medieval fridge looked like:
 And we knew all this because we embraced the full touristy thing and listened to the guided tour on headphones, here we are wearing them while up on the roof:
BTW: we learned form the audio guide that, when Henry VIII dropped by for a visit in 1541, he was unable to climb the steps to the roof due to his chronic leg ulcers. So there you go.

Never stop learning kids. Never stop learning.

Can you just make out from over my shoulder - no, not the ghost of a disgruntled Henry VIII - but the roofs of regular townhouses?

Because the strangest part about Gainsborough Old Hall is how, unlike most - if not all - the other stately homes I've ever seen, this is not seated in any grounds, no grand gardens surrounding it, no long drive to the front door. This is slap bang in the middle of a small town centre. Opposite a library. Across the road from regular houses. Imagine opening up your curtains to such history every morning.
 Oh and while we're on the subject of historic old buildings ...

We finally got to re-visit the Jew's House in Lincoln which dates back to the 12th Century: 
It's an interesting name isn't it? The Jew's House. And the explanation is as mundane as you might expect ... it belonged to a Jewish owner, as there was a Jewish quarter in medieval Lincoln.

We were pleased to re-visit it because - while it's been continually inhabited for over 800 years - it's now a beautiful restaurant of which we had fond memories from years ago. And while we've visited Lincoln almost each year since, the dates of our summer holidays have always seemed to coincide with theirs so they are usually closed when we're there. But not this time, so we booked up ASAP and as expected, enjoyed a really good meal there surrounded by such atmospheric walls. 

BTW: the name can take some clarification when you're not using it in face-to-face communication; like when you're sending someone the text message: 
  • "We're going to see if we can get into the Jew's House for tea. The Restaurant that is. Not just the house of an individual Jew."
  • To which came the reply: "Enjoy your tea. It's good to know you don't just choose people of random faiths and get them to cook for you!" 
Although ... for the record ... while we really don't make a habit force religious people to cook for us ... someone who James had been working with in July did share with him several boxes from their Eid feast and he and I ate it for tea. So ... mmmm ... we're not entirely off the hook ... 
We stayed in Lincoln for 5 nights, 6 days, and I took a mix and match monochrome wardrobe: 
 And, similarly to how in June someone complimented me on the skirt I'm wearing in the centre there, I wore the skirt on the right to a restaurant where the waitress offered me the delightful greeting of: "I love your skirt. It's the best thing I've seen all day". Who doesn't want to hear that? (BTW: it's an old one from TopShop.)

While in Lincoln ...

We visited several thousand poppies in the grounds of Lincoln Castle: 
This was the Poppies: Wave installation which once formed part of the the vast display of 888,246 poppies that were featured in the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red display at the Tower of London in 2014 - representing each of  the British/Colonial serviceman killed during WW1.

Certain elements of that huge memorial are now touring the country, which is how we came to visit this poignant site on a bright summer's morning ...
It was tricky to get a good photo as there were many visitors flocking towards it as soon as the gates opened.
 Considering the significance of the display I was a little surprised to find so many people making sure they were in the shot too; there was a lot of shuffling for a good spot and even shouts of "Take another one, I had my eyes shut". Most surprisingly was that these were not young people ... far from it ... I wanted to turn all full-on-Grandma on them and tell them to show some respect!

You can read more about the display, including the other locations it's touring to here.

I read 3 books this month:
That's a pretty low number for me this year, but,  books and me are in an open relationship right now: at the same time as reading 3 books beginning-to-end I've been dipping into several others at the same time.  (Goodness knows I've been chipping away at Thoreau's Walden for months - because it's a classic I'd like to say I've read - even though it's slow going.) The ones I did complete though were:

  • Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent (can't recommend this highly enough. It was a great read.)
  • Jessie Burton's The Muse 
  • and Jennie Erdal's The Missing Shade of Blue. 
As always, there's links to everything I've read on my 'Books Read in 2016' Pinterest board


3 months after that writing day ... I went back and gave it another go. 
You might remember how I wrote about spending the day at a writing retreat .. and how I didn't feel like reading my work aloud at the end ... and how I went home, had a crisis of confidence and cried! Well, the time rolled around and another day was organised ... and I hummed and haaahed about whether or not to give it a second chance; I could tell if I it was going to feel useful for personal growth ... or else like I was tormenting myself! Which is why I left my decision until the last minute and signed up only 2 days beforehand.

However ... I did go. And I was fine. And I not only wrote something during the day I read it to the group too. And I didn't die, or choke, or cry, or trip over my words. And, best of all ... the group seemed to enjoy it and some even asked for more.  Yay me!!

In another visit to an historical building ...

I visited Cragside, in Northumberland,the 1st home in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity: 
There was lots to enjoy here, the amazing interiors, the huge gardens ... the drive through the hilly grounds covered in ferns and bracken which felt exactly like being in Jurassic Park (there may or may not be any truth to the rumour that, in order to enhance this sensation, I found the theme tune online and broadcast it on my phone as we drove round ... )
And there were many wonderful photo opportunities too ...
But no dinosaurs.

And finally ...

When you like interesting old 'stuff' AND you've spent the last 6 years documenting your days with numbers ... how could you possibly miss out on this?

It's a vintage snooker score board (according to the tag) which I spotted it  one of the Hemswell antiques centres while on holiday (one of my favourite places to visit!!).

We didn't know where we'd put it, we hardly had room for it in the car, and it wasn't cheap ... and yet we liked it. So it came home with us and now we're clearing a spot for it on the dining room wall ... as soon as I redecorate (hopefully this will spur me along).

What would you use that blackboard section for? I was thinking less 'shopping list' and more quotes, noteable lines from books I'm currently reading, overheards ... I odn't know ... just fun stuff. Let me know your ideas! 

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So ... that was my July, or part of it at least. I didn't tell you about the cold I had at the start of the month which I thought might linger through my holiday (it didn't), or the brilliant exhibition I saw which made me - yet again - want to start my own collection of portraits (fabulous concept by mystery writer Frances Fyfield - Hannah, if you're reading, you'd have loved it too!). 

And now look!! Heere we are, ankle deep in August already ... let's hope the water doesn't get too chilly too soon. 

If you have a Month in Numbers post of your own - drop me a link when you leave me a 'hello' below and I'll swing by for a catch-up. 

I'll see you soon. 

Julie 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Are 'real' books your escape hatch? (Or are your bookshelves blocking your exit?)


Hi you. 

When was the last time you bought a book? Or, to be more precise, when was the last time you bought a real live book made of paper? You know the kind I mean: 
  • they're the ones you can easily flip through to find that amazing paragraph to bore entertain someone with; 
  • they're the ones you can easily bookmark using - hey, here's a novel idea - an actual bookmark ... or else anything else you have on hand. [Just tell me you're not a good-for-nothing corner-folder!!]
  • and they're the ones that come wrapped in exciting cover designs, and that never run low on power, and don't break when dropped from the bed when you fall asleep mid-sente....
Yeah. Those kind of books. Because, if you've bought one of those gems during 2016 then you're in part responsible for the rise in traditional book sales.

Yesterday, after lunch at my parents' my Dad read out a story from the newspaper detailing how  sales of traditional books rose during the first half of this year while ebook sales have seen their first drop since statistics on them started being kept.

"That's because of you!" Dad said to me. Although to be honest - as I mentioned on National Libraries Day- as, while I do read a lot, the majority of my fodder comes courtesy of a library or three. 

The majority. But not all. And Dad might have a point because I've already bought more books this year than in any recent times. So much so that a few months ago I moved a little vintage bookshelf on to our landing to hold part of my burgeoning personal library:
In recent weeks I've been tempted to start selling off some titles, maybe through Ebay, just to keep things flowing around here; to prevent some books just lodging, on the same spot, forever. Read once, never to be re-read; simply taking up space on my petite little shelf where space is at a premium.

But if I ever begin to feel like maybe I have too many books on there, at least I can say that at least my book collection hasn't quite blocked my doorway ... not like in this secondhand bookshop I recently visited: 
And it's not as if I've had to cut my door down its length and re-hinge it so you can both still use the door while keeping all of the books!
It reminds me of how Stephen King explains that he always has a book with him, another world to visit at the opening of a page, as he never knows when he'll need 'an escape hatch'.

I guess we all just need to make sure that, amid this 'real' book renaissance, all our metaphorical escape hatches don't block our actual exit!  

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To continue the theme ...
  • What was the last book you bought? Anything to recommend?
  • Where do you keep your books? Shelves? Piles? In front of doors that only Hobbits can squeeze through? 
Feel free to tag me in photos of your latest read or your shelves via social media.

*Can't be bothered going through the torment of leaving me a comment while on your phone? I don't blame you. Just say 'Hi' through a less cumbersome app instead: