Friday, 30 October 2015

And The Prize For Guy Who's Put Up With Me For 3 Years Goes To....

... this handsome fellow (seen here making me laugh so I snort cider out my nose, like the classy broad I am)!

Three years ago yesterday, the 29th October 2012, I met Thomas for the first time.

We'd been chatting online and he seemed pretty nice, so we arranged to meet for a drink. I almost cancelled, struck by anxiety and first date nerves, but instead I got on the bus and headed into town.

I found a table at the back of the pub (I'd arrived early, of course), got myself a pint, and sat and read while I waited. A few minutes later a man - who was much taller than I'd expected, bearded, and wearing a truly horrible green coat - came over and introduced himself as Thomas. As he walked to the bar to get himself a drink, I clearly remember one word flashing through my mind: "Finally."

The last three years have, hands down, been the best of my life. We've travelled and had adventures; we've hung out together, cosy and quiet, at home. But wherever we are and whatever we're doing, I always have the most fun with him. He is kind, patient and calm. He supports me entirely, and I him. We've been through a long distance relationship, periods of ill health, and the completion of his PhD, and we've come through all of it as strong as we ever were, if not more so. I know I'm biased, but I also think he's just about the cutest thing to walk the earth (yes, Thomas, even cuter than Ellen Page).

There's a Father John Misty song that we both love which has a line that goes, "Darling, I love you as you are when we're alone/I'd never try to change you." Although the rest of that song's lyrics are entirely apt, the second part of that line always makes us smile. I have tried to change him: the green jacket, for example, was quick to go, followed by a musical education to try and steer him away from an entirely Springsteen and Meatloaf-based diet (the fact we both love Father John Misty indicates I've succeeded here). And yes, I'm also guilty of encouraging the checked shirts and the longer beard. But his essence remains; the softly-spoken guy I first met three years ago. And he's changed me too: I'm a better, stronger, more confident person thanks to his love. 

I didn't get this post written and published last night because, well, we were celebrating rather than sitting at laptops! We spent our anniversary eating delicious pizza and making each other laugh, before going to the pub where we first met for a pint. It was perfectly 'us': a low key night doing our favourite things (eating & drinking!). 

Three years together, and many more to come. Here's to the future, dude!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

October Reads

1. All The Bright Places was one of those books that crept up on me. I didn't instantly fall for the main characters - Theodore and Violet, who meet on the ledge of their school's bell tower - and the narrative was quite slow going, but by the devastating end I was completely hooked. Examining suicide and mental health, it's not exactly a laugh-a-minute book, but it's definitely worth a read for fans of thoughtful YA fiction.

2. Solitaire is perhaps one of the most disappointing books I've read recently; disappointing because it had so much potential but ended up being so utterly crap. Sixth former Tori has a gay brother, friends she doesn't really like, and a new guy at school badgering her into spending time with him. Oh, and some mysterious organisation known as Solitaire, who are pulling pranks ranging from the silly to the dangerous at her school, and who seem to be in some way connected to Tori herself. The problem with Solitaire is that there's far too much going on. The story of Charlie, her brother, would be an interesting one to know more about - he's out at his all-boys school, going out with the rugby star, recovering from an eating disorder, and dealing with bullies - but it's all glossed over in favour of Tori's deeply boring rants. The problem with Tori is that she's just not that interesting: she hates everyone and everything, treats people horribly, is clearly plunging into a clinical depression (a fact which is never really addressed, even when she tries to jump off a roof) but still manages to be massively unsympathetic. We hear a lot about her blogging but that's never really relevant to the plot either. And as for the Solitaire 'mystery', that again turns out to be a bit of a red herring, plot-wise.

3. Beautiful Broken Things* follows Brighton best friends Caddy and Rosie, and what happens when new girl Suzanne breezes into their lives, bringing chaos and complications. I did enjoy this - Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne are all likeable and believable characters - but it felt just a tad too long and it failed to keep my attention for a while in the middle before picking up again at the end.

4. Smoke & Mirrors* is the second of Elly Griffiths' - better known for her Norfolk-set books about forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway  - series set in 1950s Brighton. Detective Inspector Stephens once again teams up with stage magician Mephisto to solve the murders of two young children, found buried under snow and surrounded by sweets in an eerie echo of Hansel & Gretel. The winter setting is atmospheric and the narrative more well-paced and tense than the first in the series.

5. Death Is A Welcome Guest is the second in Welsh's Plague Times series, the first part of which I read and loved last year. This second volume is not as enjoyable, perhaps because the main character - this time, we're following stand-up comedian Magnus as he tries to get from disease-stricken London to his childhood home on Shetland - isn't as sympathetic. The murder mystery element, introduced when Magnus takes refuge in a large house in the countryside, keeps the tension high but other than that it didn't grab me like the first book.

6. Whatever You Lovelike Doughty's recent - and superior - novel Apple Tree Yard, poses questions about revenge and the limits to which we will go when tested by tragic events. Single mum Laura is left reeling after the death, in a hit-and-run accident, of her beloved daughter Betty. Moving between flashbacks of Laura's marriage to Betty's dad, and the present day as she tries - and fails - to move past Betty's death, it's a gripping portrayal of grief and loss.

7. A Game For All The Family is, like all of Sophie Hannah's mystery novels, wildly ridiculous and unrealistic but also completely, utterly attention-grabbing and tense. I read it with a sense of fear and terror in my gut, whilst also rolling my eyes at the ludicrousness of it all.

8. Lotte, a Cold Case detective with the Dutch police, is still trying to recover from a traumatic past case when she's asked to help look into a 10-year-old murder case. When she discovers that her father, a retired cop, may have hidden evidence, she compromises her own position by hiding her relationship with him from the other investigators. A Cold Death In Amsterdam* was an atmospheric read, capturing the city in winter so well that I felt I was walking the streets of the Jordaan myself.

9. What to turn to on a chilly autumn Sunday, when the fire's blazing and I don't want a book that will make me have to think? Agatha Christie of course! Mrs McGinty's Dead is a mid-period Poirot, full of the wit typical of 'his' novels. I especially loved the appearance of the recurring character Ariadne Oliver, a writer of detective mysteries who Christie largely based on herself.

10. Enchanted April is the original 1920s books on which recent release Enchanted August (which I read and reviewed in June) was based. I loved the new one, so was keen to read Elizabeth van Arnem's version. Unfortunately, I think I was hampered by two things: first, reading such a sun-drenched book while sitting in a rainy Norfork cottage wasn't quite right, and second, so much of the joy of the plot relies on the element of surprise, which was obviously removed for me. I did enjoy it but I have to say that I preferred the updated version, which seemed to have more to get my teeth into as a reader.

11. The Bookshop That Floated Away is the story of journalist Sarah Henshaw's often doomed attempts to make a living from a bookshop based on a canal barge, and as a bookshop fanatic it made a pleasant and undemanding read.

12. How To Grow Up is billed as a memoir, but rather than straight autobiography it's more a series of short, often comical, essays each dealing with a specific area of Tea's life: from musings on fashion and style, to the hunt for a wedding venue, to coping with poverty. As with all Tea's writing, it sparkles with wit and life.

* These books were provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Life Lately

Lately, it's the simple things that are making me happy: a crackling fire, bread fresh from the oven slathered in butter, a massive cup of tea on a chilly afternoon. We've had the wood-burning stove lit for the first few times this autumn and Thomas has also got really into baking (I think it's the GBBO that's inspired him) so we have the most amazing fresh bread each weekend.

I feel like it's been a long time since I blogged properly. I spent most of the two weeks before half term feeling rotten with a cold and throat infection - yes, another one. You'd think after 10 years teaching I'd be immune to child germs, but no. And then we were away for five days last week. Five blissful, internet-free days in Norfolk, spent walking, eating, drinking, sleeping and reading. Once I've sorted through the photographs I'll blog properly about our holiday.

We came home from Norfolk a bit early because I started my new job on Thursday, eek! I felt weirdly calm about it all (which, considering my anxiety levels have been sky-high recently, is really amazing). I just sort of trusted that it would work out great, and it did. I absolutely love the job. I mean, I spend my whole day looking at, reading and talking about books. What's not to like?! From this week things will get crazy busy, though. I'm still teaching four days a week until Christmas, plus fitting in my fifteen hours a week at Willoughby. 

What else have I been up to? Well, at the start of the month my lil' brother got married, which was pretty amazing! Steph and Richard both looked radiant, just so happy and in love, and it really was the perfect day.

Meanwhile, this weekend has mostly been about three things: sleeping off a monster hangover from a night in the pub on Friday, listening to Joanna Newsom's new album on repeat (so good!), and visiting Becky and her gerbils. She took me to the most incredible 40s-themed cafe, The Larder, where we feasted on bubble & squeak and Eggs Benedict: perfect hangover fodder (the gerbils stayed at home).

And the next few weeks have lots in store: the start of my manic 60+ hours a week work schedule; a trip to Sheffield to see Father John Misty; a Joanna Newsom gig; a weekend in London to visit my best mate; some time with my mum... what a great start to the new half term.

Finally, in case you didn't see my post yesterday, the thrifty gift swap is back. Details of how to sign up are here.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Thrifty Christmas Gift Swap Is Back!

Original image source here

Last Christmas was the third year that I ran the Thrifty Christmas Gift Swap, and it was great to have lots of participants making, buying and thrifting cool gifts for each other.

Despite my hectic work schedule between now and Christmas I'd love to run it again, and only need a handful of participants to make it work. Crucially, you do not need to be a blogger to take part: last year was about a 50/50 split between bloggers and non-bloggers. So, if you're interested, have a gander at the rules below and then contact me on the email address below to sign up.  (And if you're a blogger or on Twitter, feel free to reblog or retweet this post to spread the word!)

The Rules
1. Send your name, address, blog address (if you have one) to by November 8th.
2. Include in your email as much detail about your likes and dislikes as possible, so your giver has a starting point.
3. Wait to receive the details of your swapee (to be sent out by November 10th).
4. Put together a box of bought, thrifted or handmade goodies that you think your recipient will love.  In previous years, gifts ranged from framed animation strips from the giftees favourite film, to Christmas mix CDs, to handmade brooches, to secondhand books. As a general rule, I'd limit yourself to around a £10 spend.
5. Pop your parcel in the post by December 10th (although try and be a bit more prompt if sending overseas).
6. Sit back and wait to receive your own box of delights from a mystery giver!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

A Date In Nottingham

This Tuesday marked my last day off before I plunge head first into a crazy schedule of working 60+ hours a week up to Christmas (well, I do have a few days off for half term, too, but then it gets really crazy). Wanting to make the most of it, rather than just lying around reading, as I often do on my Tuesdays off, Thomas and I hopped on a train to Nottingham for the afternoon.

It took me a long time to warm to Nottingham. Living in Leicester for the past 19 years, it's been a place I've visited pretty frequently but it was only when I met Laura and she showed me some of the hidden corners of the city that I started to really love it. Now I'd happily live there: it has more of a big-city-buzz to it than Leicester (or perhaps it's just that familiarity breeds contempt?). Regardless, we had a fab afternoon of vintage shopping, book buying and pizza eating: the perfect day off.

We started our afternoon in Hopkinsons, four floors of vintage gorgeousness just next to the railway station, and somewhere that's always worth a rummage. From there, we headed to purveyors of graphic novels and comic books, Page 45, and then Five Leaves, a radical and left-wing bookshop tucked away just off Long Row, where I found a really great book on import from the USA by trans activist and writer Julia Serano.

Das Kino was the real reason for our trip to Nottingham, though. Once Thomas got wind of the fact that this East German-themed ping-pong bar (trust me, as bizarre and hipster as that sounds, it actually works) offered vegan cheese on their stonebaked pizzas, a visit was inevitable. 

Luckily, the pizza met with his approval (not pictured is my equally delicious one topped with mozzarella) and a couple of pints later, we rolled out and wandered down to Hockley for a quick browse in Rough Trade before hopping on our train home. Cool street art will always catch my eye, but I particularly liked this community garden in a handcart.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

What I Bought: Ladybird Likes Goodie Bag

I've been furiously saving Ladybird Likes pieces onto my Etsy wishlist for years now. I first came across Zoe's wonderful jewellery designs when I was looking for a gift for my aunt, subsequently picked up a few goodies for myself at the Bust Craftacular last winter, before being given one of her banner necklaces for Christmas, which I wear a lot.

Zoe's had a rubbish year between one thing and another, and so to raise some cash she recently held a flash sale of goodie bags on Etsy. Having previously missed out on every flash sale she's ever held - despite setting phone reminders - I was determined not to let this chance go. Luckily, I got there just as the sale went live and snapped one up, conveniently forgetting that I'm just about the worst person ever to buy a goodie bag.

Why? Because I'm incorrigibly fussy: I like what I like and nothing else. This is why monthly subscription packages such as Birch Box or Lucky Box would be terrible for me. I don't like surprises and I have very narrow parameters for what I'll wear.

So how lucky am I that I loved a good proportion of my goodie bag!

To start with, the packaging was just amazing. Each item was tucked into an individual pouch, and the order came with some super cute postcards and a badge.

When I started opening the packages, first out was the cutest camera necklace, followed swiftly by a bird brooch. We all know how I feel about bird-print anything, so I was very happy. Next up was my favourite item: a gorgeous butterfly necklace. The colours on this are just stunning and it will be a great addition to my already huge collection of necklaces.

The only disappointment was, ironically enough, the item I'd most hoped to get. I love Ladybird Likes collar clips and had been pining over a pair of the heart-shaped ones for ages. But sadly, my collar clips came in the shape of pug dogs. I am emphatically not a dog person and so, although I know many people would love these, they're just not for me (if anyone is a dog person and would like to do a collar clip swap, hit me up in the comments. I'd like them to go to a good home!).

However, for a cost of just £25 I received well over £60 worth of items, so I'm extremely happy. At the time of writing there still seemed to be some Goodie Bags available on Etsy, so if you rush you might be able to grab one.

This is not a sponsored post. I just really love Ladybird Likes and I think independent designers and makers deserve our support.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Good Stuff: Links & Likes

I was really excited to be asked to be part of Suzy & Beth's new project. The Olive Fox is an awesome one-stop shop for style, discussion, culture and more. My first piece for them was on a topic very close to my heart: why #Shoutyourabortion is so important.

I'll definitely be borrowing some of Bee's 100 Book Blog Post Ideas.

Blogging has changed enormously in the past couple of years and it's easy to feel disenchanted with how mainstream and commercialised a lot of it has become, so I enjoyed Elizabeth's piece asking, Is There Any Point Blogging Anymore?

I loved Sarah's response to snobbish literary critics: Why You Should Read What You Want.

There was a great piece on the Suffragettes in the Guardian Review recently, ahead of the film's release. Well worth a read.

I took part in Alex's Blogging Good Read for September (and chose a stinker of a book - sorry about that Alex and Gemma!)

More book-related stuff: I loved this easy craft to make a jewellry holder out of a damaged book (plus I love Stevie's expletive-laden writing, it always makes me smile).

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Buyer's Archive: September

Earlier this year Elise started a series called The Buyer's Archive as a way to track her purchases from year to year and figure out which items had been worth it, and which had already found their way to the charity bag (Donna and Steff are also now taking part in the series). As reducing my spending is always a goal, I decided to give it a go too, and this is what I've spent my cash on this month...

Seasalt raincoat £79.95 (after £10 off code)
I bought a yellow mac from M&S just before our holiday this summer but wasn't ever totally happy with the lining on it. So it developing a faulty zip was a happy accident, enabling me to return it and buy the real object of my affections: this spectacular Seasalt raincoat with (what else?) stripy lining.

Dorothy Perkins skirt £19.20 (after 20% off code applied)
I've been ordering, trying on and returning 70s-style button-front skirts for the past eight months (I only wish I was exaggerating) and hadn't found one that a) fit and b) looked ok. So I was dead chuffed to find this one in Dorothy Perkins during one of their seemingly-permanent discount offers. I've chopped the bottom off (because I'm tiny, and I prefer short skirts) and it should now be a good autumn staple with tights, chunky Mary Janes and tucked-in tops.

La Redoute top £9 (with 50% discount code)
This top was so close to being completely perfect but alas, it's just a bit too short on me (and bearing in mind I'm only 5'2", that's quite an achievement). As a result, it gives me quite a significant VBO (visible belly outline), which is one body acceptance goal I haven't reached yet. If it hadn't been a mere £9 I'd probably have returned it, and considering black dye ran into the collar the first time I washed it, I still might, but... collar!

Every winter I bemoan the fact that I don't own a pair of boots and every winter, I fail to find a pair I can tolerate. I like these because they give me a much-needed couple of inches in height, while still being pretty comfortable. They'll look good with my many print dresses and if, just perhaps, I'm too old for them (I really think I might be) then sod that, I'll wear them anyway.

I'm getting to the point where I won't buy something unless I have a discount code. That, combined with some tricksy shopping mathematics (I'm deducting the £60 I was refunded by M&S from this month's total, because if I hadn't got that, I wouldn't have bought the Seasalt coat) gives me a grand total of £73.14 for September. Considering I usually go shopping crazy when the new season stuff hits the shops, that's not too bad.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Anniversary Season

It's anniversary season in our house at the moment. September marked two years since Thomas moved to Leicester, and in with me, and coming up later this month is both the third anniversary of our first date, and my seven year anniversary of buying my house.

I have such an appreciation of and love for my house at the moment. No matter how I feel about my teaching career right now, I will be forever grateful that it gave me the financial resources to buy this place.

Even after seven years it still makes my heart sing to come downstairs on a sunny Saturday morning and glimpse the sun streaming through the stained glass transom above the front door (made by my incredibly talented step-mother, Andrea - the glass panel, not the door!), or to sit peacefully in the living room, gazing contentedly at the shelves of books filling the alcoves.

I remember asking for advice on co-habiting when Thomas first moved back to the UK. I'd never lived with a partner before and was concerned that, after years on my own, I wouldn't adapt to sharing. But the last two years have been a dream and I count my blessings every day that I get to share my home and life with the most perfect partner.

So when Blossoming Gifts got in touch and offered me a bouquet to review, I jumped at the chance to get a bunch of flowers for my lovely boy. Their range of autumn flowers is just stunning but in the end I plumped for the Autumn Breeze bouquet, a mixture of roses, lilies, agapanthus and veronica. Arriving well packaged, the flowers were easy to arrange and lasted ages. The one thing that particularly impressed me about the website was that, unlike other online florists, they use images of the standard (i.e. cheaper) bouquets, rather than wowing you with the fancy option and then sending a smaller bunch. Our bouquet was a standard size (priced at £29.99) and absolutely packed with beautiful blooms, but they also do a range of bouquets under £20 which look equally fab.

I'll definitely be using Blossoming Gifts in future, and if you fancy surprising someone (or treating yourself), they've kindly provided me with a 33% off discount code. Just enter BGIFTS33 at check-out to receive your discount off all products apart from the Flowers By Post range.

* I received a free bouquet from Blossoming Gifts in exchange for an honest review.