Wednesday, 31 July 2013

July reads

I spent much of July with The Boy, either travelling or at home, and I tend not to read a great deal when we're together.  Hence the relative paucity of books this month: just four (and one of them is still unfinished).

1. I picked up The Snowman from the book swap shelf at work as I love a good crime novel but hadn't read anything by Jo Nesbo before.  I really liked the dark and sinister atmosphere of the book, about a serial killer stalking women as winter falls in Oslo.

2. Walking Home tells the story of poet Simon Armitage's journey along the Pennine Way a couple of years ago.  As both a walker and a Yorkshirewoman, it was a great read.

3. The Boy very bravely bought me some books for my birthday (generally, no-one dares try to find something I don't already own) and 23 Shades Of Black is the first one I've read.  Nothing to do with that book, by the way; it's a hardboiled detective thriller with political overtones, set in New York in the 1980s.

4. I am late to the party on this one, I know, but oh my god A Game Of Thrones is so fucking good!  I got a sample on my Kindle after being recommended the books for the zillionth time by a colleague, and within a couple of pages I'd already downloaded the whole novel.  I haven't quite finished it yet - I find myself reading it in quite a tentative way, because the one thing I know from media coverage is that George R.R. Martin likes to kill people off - but am head over heels in love with the characters, the intrigue, and the brilliant descriptions.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Seen & heard: July


1. 2. & 3. The Before... trilogy (BEWARE - SPOILERS AHEAD!)

At the start of July, I wrote about watching the first two films in the trilogy, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, here.  And a couple of weeks ago I went to see the final film, Before Midnight.

I desperately wanted to love it like I love the first two films, but I actually kind of hated it.  Here's why...

The film finds the Jesse and Celine on holiday in Greece, nine years after meeting in Paris (a meeting from which Jesse, we gather, never returned home to his then-wife and son).  It is clear much has changed for them in nine years: they now have twin daughters, Celine is having something of a career crisis, Jesse is struggling with being apart from his now-teenage son.  But the first section of the film - a two-hander between Jesse and Celine, in classic Before... style, which takes place in the car while their daughters sleep in the back - is light and funny while also acknowledging these difficulties.  If the film had maintained this tone, all would have been well.

The other scene I loved, a long single-shot walk through the picturesque fields and villages as they make their way to a hotel, was again classic Before..., with lots of conversational diversions and musings on love and ageing: in short, exactly what I had expected from the film.

It's when they get to the hotel that everything goes wrong and they begin to argue.  The extremely long (almost a quarter of the whole film's running time) and traumatic fight culminates in Celine telling Jesse she doesn't love him anymore and walking out.  And *smash*, that's the sound of millions of Before... fans having their hearts broken.

It's not the end of the film, but it may as well have been.  The last ten minutes barely paper over the cracks of the argument.  Yes, I get it: every couple argues.  No couple, regardless of the fairy-tale story of their meeting, is perfect.  But the fight - inarguably authentically acted - never felt authentic to their characters.  We do not expect to see Jesse repeatedly tell Celine she is "crazy", nor see Celine bitch and whine in a way that leaves you with little sympathy for her. 

Before Midnight systematically and completely destroys the romance of the other films. I felt betrayed, as a viewer who has followed Jesse and Celine's romance from twenty-somethings in Vienna to thirty-somethings reconnecting in Paris, to be faced with this cynical and depressing view of adult relationships. I get that Linklater, Delpy and Hawke probably wanted to comment on the way children, mortgages, ex-wives, jobs... all the accoutrements of modern life impact on a relationship, but I found it badly handled and jarring. 

This just wasn't the right film for brutal reality: the first two films are such lovely, hopeful, romantic fables, and to end on this note felt false.  Or maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic who can't handle the truth of real relationships?  I'd love to know what you thought of Before Midnight, if you've seen it.

4. Monsters University was another let-down I'm afraid.  I love Monsters Inc and it's an end-of-term staple at school, so I've seen it more times than I'd like to count, but this prequel lacked something, namely comedy.

5. We went to see Byzantium in Nijmegen, on a search for air-conditioning in 32c heat.  The Boy LOVED it, whereas I was a bit more 'meh'.  Saoirse Ronan and Sam Riley put in amazing performances, but the whole thing was a bit too B-Movie and schlocky for me.  If that's your bag, though, you'll love it.

6. The Paperboy was easily the most disturbing thing I've seen in a long time.  Incredible performances by the whole cast, but especially David Oyelowo, providing a bit of welcome comic relief in his role as a journalist, who together with his writing partner (Matthew McConaughey) is researching a possible miscarriage of justice, and John Cusack's terrifying redneck who has been convicted of the murder they are looking into.  Fantastically shot and compulsive viewing, but horrifying in so many ways.


Arctic Monkeys' Do I Wanna Know? is my new jam.  I am so into their new, grungier sound (also heard on last year's single R U Mine?) and am very much looking forward to the new album, out in the UK on September 9th.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Adventures in Brussels part 2: Comic strip trail

My favourite thing to see in Brussels was the comic strip trail, which my kind friend Kate had alerted me to in a long and detailed email about what to see and do in the city.
The trail is made up of more than fifty comic murals painted onto the sides of buildings and takes you through some of the more hidden corners of the city centre.  Many famous comic artists are from or linked to Brussels - most famously Herge of Tintin fame - and there is a good comic strip museum in the town too, but I liked the adventure of discovering the murals while wandering the streets and seeing the sights. 
Appropriately, this Tintin fire escape mural was my favourite, but I loved the fireworks one too.  In fact, they were all fascinating.  I particularly liked how the murals interacted with their environment (for example, the fire escape leading down from a tall building).  I think the bottom one is just random graffitti rather than actually being part of the trail, but I liked it anyway.


Adventures in Brussels

After an epic ten day trip which took me to Brussels and then all over the Netherlands, I'm finally back at my kitchen table with a camera full of photographs to show you, so prepare to be bombarded with posts over the next few days!
Last Friday eleven of us set off for Brussels for my best friend's hen do.  Myself and the other bridesmaid, Steph, had had a blast organising it and were pleased that everything went swimmingly (well, apart from the small matter of me inadvertantly locking three other girls out of the apartment on the first night). 

Start as you mean to go on: champagne on the Eurostar (unintentionally blurry photograph, which I love because it's a good representation of our states of mind for much of the weekend!).

Looking confused by the Mannekin Pis in Brussels. The bride-to-be, Cara, is the one in the centre, going "what the fuck?". I am on the left in stripes (photo taken by Steph).

Pretty confetti in the Grand Place (below), where we wandered around in awe at the stunning buildings and thanked god we were not one of the other handful of hen parties, all of whom were going the full 'fancy dress and humiliate the bride' hog.

Awesome street art outside a record store.  I loved the stencilled song lyrics.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


I've only been back in the UK for two days, and I leave again tomorrow, but I have packed a lot in to my paltry 48+ hours...

SEEING... my teacher friends for a long, lazy lunch in Lesley's back garden.  It was heavenly to sit in the shade drinking cold juice, eating good food, and laughing a lot (especially as four of the seven of those present left our school for pastures new last week, which is very sad).  We also did a book and magazine swap to give us some reading material for our hols: genius idea!

READING... the new issue of Crafty magazine, which I got on a 3 issues for a fiver deal.  I'm not completely sold on it yet, but am interested to receive the next one to see if I like it more.  Also 23 Shades Of Black (nothing to do with that book, I swear!), which was a birthday gift from The Boy.  Very brave to buy me a book - usually no-one dares - but I really like it so far.

WATCHING... two films in one day yesterday, which is unheard of for me (two films in one month is good going!).  I saw Before Midnight in the afternoon, went to do some shopping, then met a friend for Monsters University in the evening.  I have to admit to being disappointed by both of them, but especially the latter.

EATING... yummy but naughty cheeseburger after a weekend of vegan food in Maceondia, plus tons of Greek salad and fruit at lunch today, which sorta makes up for the burger?

DRINKING... cider, what else?!  After cycling into Leicester in the midday heat yesterday, my pint disappeared in ultra-quick time.

WEARING... my amazing new 'Reading is sexy' t-shirt, which was a birthday gift from my brother.  I bought some lovely new clothes yesterday, too, and am looking forward to wearing them in Brussels.

PACKING... my bags for a hen weekend in Brussels followed by a week in Nijmegen with The Boy.  My suitcase and awesome polka dot bag are mostly full of sunscreen, insect repellent, anti-histamines and talcum powder.  I love summer, but summer does not love me.

What have you been up to lately?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


I can't quite put into words the experiences of the past few days.  Macedonia is a fascinating country, stunningly beautiful.  It reminded me a bit of South Africa, in both terrain and in the levels of visible poverty contrasting with visible wealth.  We were there to celebrate the wedding of one of The Boy's closest friends, and so on top of the disorienting experience of being in a foreign country, I was also surrounded by people speaking a language (Dutch) that I don't understand. 

There are so many photographs that would help me to describe the experience but that I did not take (because time, or circumstance, or just not wanting to feel like a rude tourist sticking a camera in someone's face prevented it)...
... the roadside stalls piled high with watermelons, fresh from the fields;
... the peasant farmers riding horse and cart being overtaken by BMWs and Audis;
... goats being driven along the quiet country lanes;
... the mountains looming above us as we drove along a terrifyingly steep and winding road;
... the hotel we stayed at, redolent of a former-Communist hostel, the opposite of luxury, and long lazy days of sitting in the shade to try and cool down, before the party began again in the evening.

I did manage to take some photographs, though. 

The wedding took place in the forest, a wonderful setting with a rushing stream, cool glades in which to sit, long tables laden with food and drink, a traditional Maceondian brass band folllowing the bride and groom around (first two photographs are thanks to Thomas, who generally manages to get much better pictures than I do!).

The traditional Cyrillic script of Macedonian.  I love seeing Coke bottles - that most capitalist symbol of globalisation - from around the world.

After a weekend in rural south-east Macedonia we spent Monday in Skopje, the capital city.  What a strange contrast this was.  The Boy described the experience of being in the main square after our time in Bansko as, "like going from District 12 to The Capitol" (one for the Hunger Games geeks there!), and he was precisely right.  The square is stuffed full of insanely overblown statues and fountains commemorating Macedonian heroes such as Alexander the Great.  Chic cafes and restaurants line the square, selling Western food and drink to designer-clad Skopjans.
Further from the centre, the city resembles a much hotter and poorer Berlin: crumbling Communist-era concrete buildings, graffitti and, bizarrely, red London buses, which I failed to get a photo of. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Packing my bags

Photo via weheartit

With Leicestershire schools breaking up for the summer holidays on Friday, I am once again packing my bags for a summer of adventures.

Summer 2011 took me to America, where I traversed the country by train and had all sorts of wonderful experiences in the Pacific Northwest.  Summer 2012 found me in South Africa, which was brilliant but exhausting!  The plan for 2013 was to stay at home and enjoy some r&r time here in Leicester.  Things haven't quite worked out that way...

My escapades begin with a five day trip to Macedonia, to celebrate the wedding of a friend of The Boy.  I'm both excited and nervous about this trip.  Nervous because I don't know The Boy's friends terribly well (what with him living in another country) and I find new social groups daunting at the best of times.  Also, Macedonia is a bit of an unknown quantity and, as far as travelling and tourism is concerned, it's definitely off the beaten track.  But I am sure it will be an interesting and enjoyable weekend (and very hot, if forecasts are correct).

After a mere two days back at home, I'll be jetting (well, Eurostar-ing) off to Brussels for my best friend's hen weekend.  As one of the bridesmaids, I have all sorts of organisational responsibilities for this... ones which I'm not entirely sure I will live up to!

Rather handily, Brussels is but a train ride away from Nijmegen so, while the rest of the hens come back to the UK, next Sunday I'll go and visit The Boy for a week.  I can't wait!  After that visit we will only have five more weeks of long distance before he returns to Leicester: hooray!

The rest of my summer is going to be spent darting between Leeds, Norfolk, Bristol, Honiton, Chester, Manchester, London and Leicester... my poor car is going to take a beating, but it will be brilliant to visit friends and family, go on short breaks with friends, celebrate Cara and Dan's wedding in Devon, and spend even more time with The Boy.  The fact that we're already a couple who 'does' weddings together is a little scary - and a lot wonderful - to me.

So I'll say goodbye now and will return (hopefully with lots of lovely photographs and tales to tell) at the end of July.  Have a great start to your summer everyone!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Seen: Before Sunrise/Before Sunset

In preparation for the release of Before Midnight, the final film in the Before- trilogy, The Boy and I spent Sunday afternoon at our local indie cinema, watching a double bill of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

I'm a massive Richard Linklater fan (Dazed & ConfusedSchool Of Rock!  What's not to love?!) and adore the Before... films, but it was The Boy's first viewing of them.  I was a little nervous - what if he didn't like them? - but of course he loved them too and, even better, agrees with me that the second one is the best.

For the uninitiated, Before Sunrise introduces Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), two students who meet on a train to Vienna and spend one wonderful night together wandering the streets, before parting with an agreement to meet up in six months time.  In Before Sunset, the two are reunited nine years later at a book reading that Jesse is giving in Paris.  It's a funnier, sadder film about lost opportunities and the small disappointments of growing older. 

Watching the two films (made, and set, nine years apart) back-to-back as a double bill gave a whole new perspective to Jesse and Celine's love story - the heartbreak they felt at not meeting up as planned was intensified having just watched them fall in love - and I now can't wait to see Before Midnight, which finds the two, another nine years down the line, married (yay!) and on holiday in Greece.

Thursday, 4 July 2013


Photo via weheartit

Where do you belong? 

Is 'home' the house you grew up in, or the place you live now?  Is it the town of your birth, or the city you moved to as an adult? 

I started thinking about belonging recently when, in response to a Facebook post, my friend Kirsty wrote, "you're Northern despite the posh voice."  I've never really seen myself as Northern or Southern but Kirsty is Northern through-and-through, so if she said I was too - my thinking went - maybe I am?

Because I've never felt that I really belonged anywhere, and I've never been sure where to call home.

I was born in Bristol, moved to the Oxfordshire countryside as a baby, then on to Bradford at the age of six.  At eighteen I came to Leicester for university and, although I've largely stayed put here for the last seventeen years, I've lived in fourteen different houses during that time. Putting down roots is not something I seem to be very good at.

I think it's partly the inevitable result of being the child of immigrants.  My parents moved to the UK from South Africa in 1977, to escape the violence that threatened to become an every-day part of life (in part due to the fact that my grandpa was a prominent anti-apartheid activist, and there are only so many times you can have shots fired through your window by the security services before you decide to pack up and leave).

I grew up in a house that was visibly 'other': African print textiles and pictures on the walls, rows of books, and parents with strange accents were far from standard in the lower middle class district of Bradford that we lived in.  My family did not share the culture of those around us, nor did my parents have any of the same reference points that the parents of my friends had (television was not allowed in South Africa until shortly before they left; The Beatles were also banned).  In my school, it was unusual to have cousins who lived in the next town along; having family who lived in Canada, America, South Africa was beyond the pale.

But am I South African?  Well, no.  I wasn't born there but, as I reflected during a trip to South Africa last summer, "When I came [here] in 2001, it was on a search for identity.  Eleven years later and rather older and wiser, I know that this isn't where I belong although, like many children of immigrants, I have never felt wholly British either. I suppose that when your grandfather is part of the history of a country - when he becomes an exhibit in a museum, no less - then that country becomes part of you."  So many cultural norms and cues are alien to me because of growing up as the child of immigrants; Britishness is not something that comes naturally to me.

If my nationality is difficult to pin down, my sense of regional belonging is even more impossible.  I have certainly never felt any connection to my birthplace, Bristol, having only been back twice, briefly, since I was 3 months old.  Perhaps if we had stayed in Oxfordshire I would have felt a tie to that area - and to the South in general - but the move to Bradford cut those ties, yet failed to establish new ones. 

A common language, a shared way of speaking, is an essential part of belonging (it's in this that I understand, even if I dislike, the rightwing rhetoric around immigrants learning English).  When we moved to Bradford it quickly became clear that I did not speak the 'right' way, and I summarily failed to ever acquire much of a Yorkshire accent in the twelve years I resided there (preferring, in that contrary way of children, to continue being bullied for sounding "posh" than to amend the way I spoke).  If I don't speak the 'language', am I still Northern?  I've always assumed that the answer has to be "no".

I've now lived in Leicester longer than I've lived anywhere, but I could never claim (or want!) to belong here; to call this city my home.  Again, language plays a part.  Not only the accent but the dialect terms are alien to me (funnily enough, dialect is where I do 'become' Northern - to me, an alleyway will always be a snicket; a person in a mood will always "have a cob on").   In addition, despite living here for almost my entire adult life, I've spent much of that time trying to leave.  Leicester is emphatically not the place I belong, and, ironically, the longer I stay here, the more of a tie I feel to Yorkshire and the North. 

A straw poll on Facebook revealed that I'm not the only adult to have a confused sense of belonging.  Among those who have left home and moved to a new city or town, there was debate about where 'home' really was.  I say that I am "going home" when I'm visiting my mum's house in Leeds, although this is not the house that I grew up in, and not the house I dream about when I dream of home..  But home is also my own house, a place that I have finally settled after all those years of moving around, and where I have lived for almost five years.

And ultimately, I have started to wonder: does belonging matter?  There is a value in being 'other', in having a heritage that is unusual, and in growing up in a family which has so many interesting stories to tell.  I love the fact that I can quickly switch codes, speaking in Yorkshire dialect one minute and sounding like a bit of a posho the next.  I have finally realised that I might be lucky to feel an approximation of home in so many different places - South Africa, England; Yorkshire, Leicester - rather than have only one place that is 'mine'.  As to where the future takes me; perhaps one day I will find a place that I can finally call home.  But for now, I am happy the way things are.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Seen & heard: June


I've seen hardly any films this month; but as I've also not read a great deal I really don't know what I spent the time doing!  I suppose two weekends with family and a week camping knocked me off my usual watching and reading schedule.

1. Kenneth Brannagh's 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing is another of my favourites, so Joss Whedon's new film was always going to have some work to do to live up to it. It didn't quite succeed, but Shakespeare's funniest play is always a joy to watch and the sparkling dialogue of Beatrice and Benedick was very well done here. Filmed over the course of one weekend, in Whedon's own house, in black and white, it belies it's low budget roots as an accomplished and very enjoyable two hours.

2. I wanted to introduce The Boy to one of my favourite films, The Station Agent, so we watched it together at the start of June. When loner and train buff Finn (Peter Dinklage) inherits a disused station, he finds his self-imposed isolation encroached upon by his new neighbours. The film manages to be both heart-warming and bleak at the same time, and is well worth a watch if you've never seen it (or indeed, if you have).

3. I also went to see the Leicester Amateur Operatic Society's performance of The Wedding Singer (yep, the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore film has been adapted for the stage).  We're lucky in Leicester to have such a good amateur society; they really are about as good as you can get without watching professionals, and I loved the show.  If you have a local performing society near you, do try and support them.


I'm totally head over heels for this new single by American 'chillwave' artist Washed Out.  Called It All Feels Right, it's the most gloriously drowsy, summery slice of pop music.  Enjoy!