Sunday, 31 May 2015

I Didn't Blog Every Day In May....

Original image source here

... but that's ok. I knew I wouldn't. In fact, I also knew I didn't want to: my stress levels have been high lately, and adding in the pressure to blog wasn't going to help. So why did I give it a go, when I knew I'd - and even planned to - fail?

I've always enjoyed previous Blog Every Day In... challenges and, after a period of feeling like I was just barely keeping the blog ticking over, I knew that having an external motivation to write would be helpful in giving me back some of my blogging mojo. I knew, too, that although there was no need to stick to the planned topics (and in fact, I think I only managed to do so on nine of the seventeen days I blogged), they'd be useful in terms of inspiration.

And so it turned out. Although this #BEDM I've felt less of a sense of community as previously - down to the fact I just didn't have the time to reach out to other bloggers via commenting and Twitter as in previous years - it has still been a positive experience.

Liz published a great piece today about what she's learnt from taking part in #BEDM and I'd back up her assertions wholeheartedly. For me, though, what's most important about taking part in blogging challenges such as this one is accepting that sometimes I won't complete them. I have a busy job and a life crammed full of interests and activities: I can't be the perfect blogger, putting out great content 7 days a week. And that's ok.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

May Reads

1. Seth dies, heartbroken, dashed against the rocks off the coast of Oregon. And then he wakes up, and he's not in Oregon. Instead, he's somewhere vaguely familiar... I'm one of the few readers who wasn't taken by Patrick Ness's award-winning Chaos Walking trilogy, but attracted by the amazing cover of More Than This I decided to give his new novel ago. It's a fantastic mix of dystopian science fiction, mystery and teen romance, and well worth a read.

2. Neil Gaiman's first collection of short stories, Smoke & Mirrors, is a great favourite of mine so I was very much looking forward to his new collection, Trigger Warning. But although some of the stories captured my attention - the short but viscerally creepy tale of a man babysitting his girlfriend's little brother deserves particular mention - I found Gaiman largely going over old ground here. I'd maybe have enjoyed it more if I'd taken the stories one at a time, rather than ploughing through one after the other.

3. Apple Tree Yard is so good, posing all sorts of questions about the relationships between men and women and whether revenge is ever an excuse for terrible acts. Scientist Yvonne Carmichael has reached a comfortable middle age, happily married and successful in her career. However, a chance encounter at the Houses of Parliament will change her life. I can't say much more but I'd love to hear from you if you've read it - what did you think of the twist and the subsequent actions taken?

4. It's 1978, Jess is thirteen, and finding it tough being the daughter of the only Communist in Tamworth. Motherland** follows Jess and her mother, Eleanor, as they spend their summers in East Berlin on education courses, and try to bring the Communist message to their unreceptive neighbours in the West Midlands. Quietly amusing and somewhat reminiscent of Jonathan Coe's Midlands-based novels.

5. Wreathed in good reviews comparing it to I Capture The Castle and the novels of Nancy Mitford, I had high hopes for The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets***. Alas, my hopes were dashed: I found this novel a bit dull and utterly lacking the sparkle, quick wit and - above all - fantastic characterisation of ....Castle or The Pursuit Of Love. The title implies some intrigue around secrets, which I found sorely lacking, and I couldn't bring myself to care about the exploits of heroine Penelope nor her family living in their grand but decaying country house.

6. When lawyer Thora is employed by the parents of a man who has disappeared - together with his wife and twin daughters - from a luxury yacht, mystery piles upon mystery. The Silence Of The Sea effectively combines Thora's investigations with flashback chapters about what happened on the yacht, and the slightly supernatural elements work well. I found the solution a bit rushed at the end but, as always with Sigurdardottir's novels, enjoyed the insight into Icelandic society that the narrative provides.

7. I really liked Seth and Quinn, the main characters in 89 Walls*, and my sympathy with them made up for the fact that there are so many issues and topics crammed into a relatively short novel. As a result, important events seem to spring up out of nowhere, with little build-up or tension. The author has a lot to say about American politics, diplomacy and international relations (within the context of the end of the Cold War), and it's to her credit that this was actually pretty fascinating. I was particularly intrigued to read about the Republican Party before it got highjacked by fundamentalist Christians (with Quinn's father being both a card-carrying Republican and vehemently pro-choice, for example). I do feel the novel would have benefited from either a pruning of the issues tackled or expanding the narrative more so said issues could have been properly explored.

8. The Rise & Fall Of A Theatre Geekwas a sadly sub-standard YA romp following high school student and self-confesed theatre geek Justin as he completes an internship in New York City and dreams of Broadway stardom. I was drawn to this by the gay protagonist, and liked how this element was just one part of his character rather than being the whole issue of the novel, but unfortunately I otherwise found it all a bit silly and immature. Perhaps some YA novels are best read by their target audience only.

9. It took me about half of Say Goodbye*** to realise that I'd actually read it before, but luckily I'd forgotten a lot of the important twists and turns so still enjoyed it. Creepy and disturbing as hell, this is one of Gardner's FBI novels featuring Kimberly Quincy. Here, she's becomes dragged into an investigation into the disappearance of several sex workers from Atlanta: how are their possible murders linked to the shooting of a high school football star?

10. 11. & 12.
I was feeling quite run-down and tired by the end of the month, so ended up doing quite a bit of re-reading of comforting and easy reads: Adorkable, which I reviewed here, The List, which I talked about here, and Dancing In My Nuddy Pants, one of the extremely silly but extremely funny Georgia Nicolson series.

* These books were kindly provided for review by the publishers via Netgalley, but all opinions are entirely my own.
** This book was kindly provided for review by the Curtis Brown Book Group.
*** These books were sent to me by Alex as part of Char's Blogger Book Swap - thanks Alex!
Note: I do not use affiliate links in these posts, I just like to provide a non-Amazon source.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Photo An Hour: May 23rd

Up insanely early for a Saturday, but I was awake so *shrugs*. I decided to emulate Rebecca's sleepy selfie from last photo-an-hour. I have to admit that I cheated and brushed my fringe first, but the under-eye bags and blotchy cheeks make up for that.

Listening to 6Music while the kettle boiled. I danced around the kitchen to the new De La Soul & Nas track followed by Feist's 1,2,3,4, which I just love.

When Thomas and I began planning our wedding there was no proposal and no ring, but I did begin occasionally wearing my granny's engagement ring, which my mum gave me after my gran died in 2013. It's a stunning ring, although I still don't wear it all the time as I'm so scared of damaging or losing it (ridiculous really: my granny managed to keep it safe for 60+ years so I'm sure I can manage it too). Anyway, as I was going wedding dress shopping I decided to put it on for good luck.

The trip to the wedding dress shop was only meant to be a fun half term outing for me and my friends Emma and Leanne. But then I went and fell in love with a dress, oh dear. It's not at all what I'd imagined myself wearing, so it'll need some thought. The fact it's still in budget despite being a 'proper' wedding dress is rather encouraging (and no, it's not the tulle monstrosity in this picture, although I did also try that on for a laugh).

Shopping for craft supplies in The Works. One can never have too many ribbons.

Vintage fair fun at the Grand Hotel in Leicester. Lou Lou's Vintage Fair is reliably excellent, but although we ooh-ed over lots of lovely things, and I even tried a few bits on, we went away empty handed.

A cheeky Nando's* for lunch.
* Sorry

Record shopping in Rockaboom, although again I went away empty handed as the new Joanna Gruesome album wasn't in yet (I was very tempted to buy the new Sufjan Stevens on vinyl, even though I already own the CD, but managed to resist)

Home at last. This is my favourite time of year in my garden: the alliums are blooming, the bluebells are out, and the whole garden (well, the tiny raised bed in my mostly paved backyard) looks abundant and beautiful.

A cup of tea while I catch up with blog comments.

The choice was either clean the bathroom or read the new issue of Bust magazine. No contest really (although I did then go and clean the bathroom too).

Eek, just realised that I've got no Eurovision snacks in the house, so a last-minute dash to the corner shop to stock up is in order.

Annie often blogs about her amazing illustrated to-pack lists when she goes away, so I gave it a go for my up-coming trip to the Netherlands this week. Hmm, turns out I'm no artist, but I did find it surprisingly useful to visualise my clothes and how they work together when planning what to take.

Eurovision! I had so much fun, despite (or perhaps because of) being on my own with only Twitter and a heroic amount of takeaway pizza, cider and snacks.

I really, really needed a toilet break from Eurovision and stopped off to cut some fabric en route to the bathroom: I'm nothing if not a multi-tasker.

Reading in bed while I wait for the Eurovision results. Urgh, still so unhappy about the results (Serbia should have won it, and who was voting for homophobic Russia?!)

Thanks as always to Louisa and Jane for organising this, it's always fun!

Friday, 22 May 2015

What's In My Bag?

Rather than sharing what's in my bag I wanted to talk about my genius new essentials pouch.

I have three bags that I use on rotation depending on my outfit and how much extra stuff (books, camera, etc) I need to cart around on any given day, and transferring all my essentials from one to the other was a complete pain in the arse. With two chronic medical conditions, the last thing I need is to go out for the day and later find that my vital medication is in the bag I left at home.

And so my essentials pouch was created. I use a small canvas pouch from Alphabet Bags, which is the perfect size to fit all my pills and potions without taking up too much space in my bag. Into it goes...

1. Medication & first aid
Between chronic IBS, flare-ups of jaw pain and migraine, and hayfever and a cat allergy, the amount of tablets I may need on any given day is slightly ridiculous. Chucking them all in the pouch means I'm never caught short (provided I top them up regularly). Add in a plaster or two in case of blisters, and I'm all set.

This stuff is the absolute shit when it comes to dry and chapped lips, I have at least ten tubes of it stashed around the house.

3. Sunscreen
Always useful but even more so since I got my tattoo. I use factor 50 to protect it from fading in the sun, and in the summer I also carry a factor 30 tube for the rest of my exposed skin.

4. Handcream
I have horribly dry hands, so these tiny Cath Kidston handcreams (which come in packs of three) are perfect to pop into a small bag or pouch.

5. Earbuds
I am, at heart, a total misanthropist, so god forbid I forget my earbuds and have to walk around or sit on public transport without blocking out the noise of the world.

6. Random stuff
A spare tampon, a couple of hair grips, a breath mint or chewing gum... there's always a few bits of random but extremely useful stuff swimming around the bottom of the pouch.

Having everything together in one pouch means I can just grab my purse, mobile phone and the pouch and I'm good to go, instead of laboriously transferring stuff from one bag to another (or trying to keep all three bags topped up with essential supplies). I wouldn't be without it now. Is there anything else you think I'm missing from my essentials pouch?

Monday, 18 May 2015

On Books And Reading

Ah, how I love a good reading tag! I found this one on Viva Tramp months and months ago, and am only just now getting round to finishing it. Rather than tag anyone specific, feel free to use the questions yourself - I'd love to read everyone's answers.

Do you have a certain place at home for reading? 
I have places plural rather than one single reading spot: the huge, squishy armchair in our bedroom; on the sofa in the book-lined front room (this one's strictly for the summer: that room is bloody freezing!); on the sofa next to the woodburning stove in the living room; propped up in bed with mounds of pillows and snuggled under the duvet.

Where do you like to read?
I really, really love reading in the pub, either alone or with a companion. One of my greatest pleasures in life is a quiet pub with a pint of Aspalls cider, a packet of Piper's cheese crisps and a good novel in front of me.

Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Random piece of paper usually (or - I know, I'm sorry - turning the page down), although I'm trying to be better at using proper bookmarks.

Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter?

It depends on the book but generally I like to stop at the end of a chapter, otherwise it's just weird. I make an exception for crime novels, which usually have a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter meaning it's all too easy to think, "Just one more chapter..." and then wake up at 5am with the lights still on and a book stuck to my cheek.

Do you eat or drink while reading?

See above! The only thing better than a good book is a good book accompanied with something to sip and something to nibble.

E-reader or real book?
My preference will always be for a physical book, however my Kindle is pretty much essential kit for travelling now. I also find that some of the bargain downloads are too good to resist, so I do occasionally use it at home too.

Music or TV while reading?

Music, yes (but quietly, and it needs to be something I know very well so as not to get distracted). TV, not a chance.

One book at a time or several at once?

Usually just one at a time, although if I'm reading non-fiction I'll often have a novel on the go at the same time, for the evenings when a heavy literary biography or a feminist theorist just seem like too much to digest.

Reading at home or everywhere?
Anywhere and everywhere. Pubs, my desk at work, buses, planes, trains and automobiles.

Reading aloud or silently in your head?

I don't even like reading aloud at school, and it's pretty much part of the job description for an English teacher, so I'm not going to do it at home too.

Fiction or non-fiction?
I absolutely love good non-fiction, but it requires a level of concentration that the trashy crime novels I devour in term-time do not. I reckon I read about 10 fiction books for every non-fiction (and my TBR pile of non-fiction bears this out: it's about 5 times the size of the fiction pile), which is not a ratio I'm happy about.

Do you read ahead or skip pages?
Very rarely do I read ahead, and only if I'm reading a particularly tense or scary bit, or a book with characters I care deeply about. I don't really do tension - in real life but especially not in books or TV & film - so if I'm feeling anxious about an outcome, I'll sometimes sneak a peek.

Break the spine or keep it like new?

Absolutely I break the spine. A book's to be read, not kept pristine like a museum exhibit.

Do you write in your books?
Not since I was a very intense and serious teenager scribbling notes in the margins of - what else? - The Catcher In The Rye.

Favourite book?
Completely impossible to narrow down! Err, a few off the top of my head... Generation X, I Capture The Castle, The Secret History, Wolf Hall, Persuasion, All Points North, The Song Of Achilles, The Handmaid's Tale, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Prep, Longbourn, anything by feminist author Laurie Penny. The answer to this is constantly in flux, with new books being added (and, occasionally, a re-read of an old favourite showing how my tastes have changed).

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Finding My Style

An edited version of my Pinterest Spring/Summer Style board, where you can also find all the links & sources for these images

The title of this post is perhaps a tad misleading: I've always had a very defined sense of style - generally involving dresses, cardigans, collars, polka dots, stripes, and lots and lots of navy blue - so it's not that I needed to find a new style so much as I've recently wanted to be sure that said style was at least vaguely age-appropriate.

I turn 37 in June, which I am quite frankly terrified about. 40 comes ever closer and I don't understand how it crept up on me so damn fast (I swear I was just 22 a couple of years ago). Now the very human fact of ageing itself doesn't bother me too much; most of my fears are related to lifestyle and, particularly, fashion. Questions plague my mind, like can I still get away with dressing almost exclusively in H&M's Divided range? Should I really be wearing the same coat that every Year 9 girl at school also seems to own? Or is it time to give up the fashion ghost and start wearing stylish separates from White Stuff and Boden?

Now, considering I still get ID'd on a semi-regular basis, I'm relatively confident that dressing 'too young' isn't an issue for me yet. However, as much as I think it's important to wear what I damn well want, I have to agree with the fashion maxim that if you remember something from the first time round, you probably shouldn't be wearing it the second. With my usual shopping haunts such as Topshop and H&M crammed with 90s-inspired grunge fashions for the past year, this has been a hard lesson to learn. As much as I'm drawn to the little floral dresses and Docs look, I just can't bring myself to try them on. I fear the sight of mutton in the mirror.

But the more ladylike - and yes, perhaps more age-appropriate - catwalk trends, such as you might find at Zara, aren't really me either (I've been called a lot of things in my time, but ladylike is emphatically not one of them). What's a girl to do?

Instead of resorting to the Boden catalogue, I've been keeping my eye out for new fashion inspirations; women who put together outfits that catch my eye, which I can then try and emulate when I'm out shopping. To my not-so-great-surprise, as soon as I got pinning it became clear that stripes, brogues, polka dots and collars are all still very much what I want to be wearing. Throw in a midi skirt or two, add some brighter colours to my usual navy blue, and I think I've got this style thing sorted.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Is ASOS Premier worth it?

The #BEDM topic for today is Top Tips and for tomorrow it's Style & Fashion, so I thought I'd combine the two and turn my attention away from politics and to the more pressing issues of the day. Namely: is ASOS Premier worth it?

I buy a lot from ASOS (on average about two orders a month, although luckily most of it goes back after trying on, otherwise I'd be even more skint than I usually am) and so, when I was placing an order I needed urgently, it seemed worthwhile to take a punt on Premier membership.

What do you get?
For £9.99 a year, the ASOS Premier service (currently available in the UK, USA and Germany) offers three things:
- Unlimited next day delivery
- Occasional discount offers and early access to sales
- A monthly magazine

The next day delivery is obviously the most important part of the package. With ASOS free delivery generally taking between 4 and 8 days to arrive, the ability to order something in the evening and have it arrive the next morning is fantastic for impatient shoppers like me.

The membership offers were less important in terms of convincing me to join Premier, but in six months of membership I've already had at least eight pre-sale invitations or discount codes (for anything from 10% to 25% off). I'm not terribly bothered about access to pre-sale, but getting 25% off my shopping once in a while is a huge bonus.

Finally, the magazine is published ten times a year and although it would be of fairly limited interest if you're not into fashion and music, I find it entertaining enough for a half hour flick through over a cup of tea.

Is it worth it?
I joined last autumn and although I then spent four months on a spending ban I still feel like I've got my money's worth. If you'd be buying from ASOS anyway, the regular discount codes more than cover the £9.99 annual fee. And if, like me, you're horribly impatient, being able to order something at 7pm one day and have it arrive the next afternoon - without paying through the nose for express delivery - is brilliant. ASOS carry a huge range of high street brands, from Dr Martens to New Look, so being able to access next-day delivery (and regular discounts) on those brands is also a big selling point.

Personally I think that, at just £9.99 for a year, Premier is well worth it. I'll definitely be renewing my subscription when it comes up.

* This is not a sponsored post, I'm just a big fan of ASOS Premier! *

Monday, 11 May 2015

A Birthday Wishlist

The prompt for yesterday was 'Wishlist' and with my birthday coming up in June, I thought this was a good excuse to put together a birthday list.

First up (although not pictured), I'd be happy with anything from Modern Girl Blitz's Etsy shop: the Sylvia Plath typewriter brooch? Need. The 'Queer' button badge? Need. The 'Feminism Is Cool' banner temporary tattoo? NEED. But top of the list has to be the Riot Grrrl sweater clip set (although the Book Worm ones would be pretty cool too).

I think I first spied the Paperchase Meal Planner on Miss Pond's blog (or was it Miss Smidge?!), and it's exactly what we need to help organise our food shopping and dinners.

I drink Earl Grey tea by the bucket load, and my top choice of bag is the rather pricey Teapig bags.. Too expensive to be a regular feature of our grocery shopping, I'd love some as a birthday treat.

I still have a huge vinyl collection from my teens, plus a burgeoning recent collection of records Thomas and I have either bought or been gifted. So I need to address our lack of record player urgently, and how better than with this beautiful Crosley turntable from Urban Outfitters?

I love the Modcloth aesthetic and it kills me that they don't currently have an EU shipping hub, meaning that any order comes with a customs charge (it's not the charge I object to, which is often only a pound or two, but the hefty £8 Post Office fee on top) and is basically impossible to return. But of my, how I need this gingham dress in my life.

How perfect is this Riot Not Diet print from Etsy? I need it on my kitchen wall.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Five Ways In Which You Can Resist

I woke up this morning and thought for just a second that the past 24 hours had been an awful dream. No such luck. It turns out that the politics of selfishness, fear and austerity really did appeal to a majority in the UK.

I am desperately worried about the next five years. Worried for women, for mothers, for children. For teachers and doctors and nurses. Terrified for anyone who becomes unwell or loses their job, and for people with disabilities. Concerned about young people trying to get an education, find jobs and affordable places to live. There can be no doubt that with inequality having soared under the Coalition, with the families of half a million children relying on foodbanks in one of the world's richest countries, with the wealthiest citizens seeing that wealth increase while they dodge tax, the future looks bleak.

Right now, resistance is not futile: it's essential.

1. Don't just complain: do something
I'm massively guilty of this, thinking that having a right good moan on Twitter is somehow 'doing my bit' for the cause. Instead, engage with local politics and community issues. Seek out local charities which work with refugees, or volunteer at a foodbank. That old hippy saying, "Be the change you want to see in the world?" Never more true than now.

2. Get to know your MP.
Your MP is there to represent their constituents, which is you. Regardless of their (and your) political affiliation, you need to make sure they know your views on the issues that concern you, be that the NHS, the Human Rights Act or a possible EU referendum. Make a nuisance of yourself. Write, email, phone, visit their offices. With the Tory majority in parliament being slim, pressure on your local MP can contribute to key debates and votes going against the government.

3. Protest, protest, protest
Now, more than ever, we need to get out onto the streets and make our voices heard. I will be joining the march against austerity in London on June 20th, organised by the People's Assembly. Sisters Uncut campaign against the affects of austerity on women, specifically cuts to domestic violence services. People's March For The NHS have spread their campaign across England after first focusing on marches in London (and while London protests and marches are obviously useful in terms of political and media visibility, they aren't always easy for those of use who don't live close to the capital). And UK Uncut stage UK-wide acts of 'creative civil disobedience' to protest against austerity. So get involved: donate what you can to resistance groups, get involved with organising on a local level, show your support by turning up to their protests and events.

4. Join a political party and/or a trade union
We are much stronger collectively than individually, and this has never been more true than now. Unless the Labour Party undergoes a socialist revolution, I personally don't feel any political party represents my own views enough to join, but I'm an active member of my trade union. And thanks to Gwen, who reminded me about the Electoral Reform Society. If there's one thing this election has shown, it's that the our electoral system is broken: the ERS campaign for changes to the current First Past The Post system.

5. Use social media as a tool of solidarity
Finally, seek support and advice from the voices of those with whom you have solidarity. It's been pointed out frequently in the past day that Twitter and Facebook tend to act as echo chambers, in which our own views are repeated back to us, because we of course we generally choose to follow those with whom we share political views. However, while there is clearly a desperate need for those of us on the Left in the UK to engage with people who voted Tory, we also need to engage in some self-care. And for me, in the desperate sadness of the past 24 hours, that has included using Twitter as a tool of support, taking comfort from the fact that other people are feeling the same as me, and using that to mobilise and begin taking action.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Today I Mourn, Tomorrow We Fight

Today I have wept. I have mourned. I have feared for the lives of people in the UK.

Tomorrow, I regroup. I stop making excuses for my lack of activism. I stop using my anxiety as a reason not to march. I stop merely tweeting and start taking action.

With solidarity, with action, with resistance, we can come through this together and we can show the Tories that we will not lie down and let them destroy the NHS. That we will not allow them to dismantle the Human Rights Act. That they do not act in our name. That the vulnerable, the ill and those in need have our support. That immigration is not the enemy. That we do not buy their lies.

Tomorrow, we fight.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Home Sweet Home

What makes a house a home? For me, it's not the big pieces of furniture, nor the expensive electronics. Instead, it's the silly little tchotchkes that I've collected over the years, each one with a story to tell, that make our house into our home. Nothing here is worth very much in monetary terms, but the memories they hold are precious and worth more than money can buy.

When I look at these pictures I don't just see the objects, I see the stories too.

I see myself as a child, sitting on my mother's bed and counting out her necklaces and rings from her grandmother's jewellry box, admiring the shining pearls and rough turquoise stones. The jug sitting next to the box speaks to me of old friendships, the framed postcard beside that of new blogging ones.

I see Thomas and I on a weekend break in York, me with my eyes closed, hands outstretched, as he places the tiny fossil into my cupped palms.

I see a joyful and emotional evening at the reception for my best friend's wedding. Having races to build our Lego favours, making my bridesmaid's speech and trembling with nerves, spinning on the dancefloor to Hole.

I see a bright September day, my mum and step-mum visiting my new flat. A clear recollection of the cold glass of white wine with lunch, then an afternoon of shopping and a printing block bought for the bookshelves.

I see a sunny winter's day in South Africa, a visit to a waterfall and then a shop filled with all manner of gorgeous objects. The instruction 'Make Something Beautiful' seemed like a good motto for life, so home it came with me.

Because I lived alone in this house for six years before Thomas moved in 18 months ago, it still tells my story more than his. But I love that we're starting to acquire things together, beginning to write the story of us through the things we have in our home. The globe is a memory of our trip to Hay-On-Wye, the chest of drawers a triumphant find in a local vintage shop on one of our Saturday wanders, the bass guitar a reminder to him that, although time isn't on his side at the moment, he will make music again.

It's all these things, and more, that make our house home, sweet home.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Good Stuff: Links & Likes

I have a semi-regular feature called Good Stuff, which highlights the blog posts and other internet loveliness I've enjoyed. So, for today's Blog Love theme, I thought I'd write about the stuff that's floated my boat recently.

Alice continues to post amazing writing of her own, but I also loved this link she provided recently: Why I Don't Believe In Dressing For My Body Type.

Anyone who's been following Sarah's pregnancy story couldn't help but be overjoyed at the news she'd given birth to Matilda on 21st April. Her birth story is awe-inspiring reading (and damn, that baby is cute).

While Sarah is on maternity leave from blogging, a few of us stepped in with guest posts. I wrote about how to get more real mail, Siobhan shared her story of relocating with no jobs in place, and I loved Elise's post about the benefits of being crafty.

As someone who really struggles to get halfway decent outfit pictures even in the privacy of my own home, these tips from Amber (via Becky) on how to take photographs in public should come in very handy.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll have heard about the Protein World 'Beach Body' controversy. The Escapologists Daughter was behind the first protests and wrote about what happened here and here. Of course, because we live in a shitty world, she's been inundated with criticism, insults and trolls ever since. She didn't need to answer them, but she chose to do so in a wonderful post: Stuff I'd Start Movements About. Honestly, I find the younger generation of feminists so inspiring in their willingness to take action when they see inequality.

I loved these beautiful portraits of LGBTQ folk.

Louisa put together a helpful list (with map) of the charity shops in Bath.

Bustle's collection of plus size women in lingerie is inspiring as fuck. Never let it be forgotten that just being confident about and happy with your fat body is a radical act.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

An Impromptu Trip To Bristol

As I mentioned in Saturday's post, we're having a pretty stressful time of late. A Friday evening discussion followed by a quick look at train prices and it was decided: two days in Bristol would be the tonic.

Thomas and I both love Bristol and we've now visited the city three times in as many years. Why? Probably because it offers all of our very favourite things: great cider, delicious vegan food, and plentiful shopping of the vintage and book variety. And this trip took in all of those and more.

Food- and drink-wise, we supped on cider at The Stables on the Waterfront and The Christmas Steps pub (located, you guessed it, at the foot of the Christmas Steps). Cafe Kino served up an ace vegan fried breakfast on Monday morning (all the better to soak up that cider), while community hub and bike shop/cafe Roll For The Soul always has amazing vegan and veggie options.

When not stuffing our faces we walked miles, spying colourful street art as we went and popping in and out of bookshops and vintage stores. I was fascinated to see Morris dancers performing on Corn Street, after a discussion with a Dutch friend about the English tradition (did you know that Morris dancing is closely linked to the workers rights movement through the May 1st traditions?). 

With blossom falling from the trees and alternating rain showers and glorious sunshine, it was the perfect spring getaway, and just what we needed.

Monday, 4 May 2015

My Guilty Pleasure Films

Honestly, most of the films I love qualify as 'guilty pleasures'. I am not, it's fair to say, a great cinephile. While some of my top watches - Before Sunset, Dazed & Confused, The Station Agent - might possibly appear on a critics best-of list, most of them are decidedly lower brow.

1. She's The Man
I mentioned this film on Friday but my love for it knows no bounds, hence I will bang on about it again! Based on Twelfth Night, high school soccer player Viola (played by Amanda Bynes) decides to disguise herself as brother Sebastian to infiltrate a rival team after her own school cuts the women's team. She's The Man passes the Bechdel Test many times over - the women talk about football a lot - plus it perfectly skewers a particular kind of performative masculinity. Amanda Bynes is the most wonderful physical comedian, making her present troubles all the more tragic for seeing what talent she has.

2. Get Over It
Another high school comedy loosely based on a Shakespeare play, this time A Midsummer Night's Dream, a performance of which the school is putting on. Features Sisqo (remember him?) playing at being a high school student when clearly well into his 20s, plus Kirsten Dunst at her finest.

3. Bring It On
And speaking of Dunst, Bring It On is just all kinds of wonderful. From the opening cheer scenes loaded with sexual innuendo to the spark and fizz of Eliza Dushku as the new girl on the cheerleading team, it's a true feel-good film. Commenting on racial inequalities within the school system and, again, acing the Bechdel Test, it's a guilty pleasure about which there's no need to feel guilty.

4. Pitch Perfect
Glee-esque musical numbers, Rebel Wilson's glorious comedic turn, Anna Kendrick luminous and brilliant as always. And, of course, it once again smashes the Bechdel Test. I love the story of competitive college acapella group the Barden Bellas. Yes, it's silly, yes, it has its gross-out moments, but it's guaranteed to put a huge smile on my face.

5. Saved
Another high school rom-com, this one executive produced by REM's Michael Stipe and featuring gay boyfriends, a wheelchair-bound Macauley Culkin in brilliantly sardonic form, teen pregnancy, and a 100ft statue of Jesus. Saved is an ace critique of the abstinence-promoting, gay-deprogramming kind of fundamentalist Christianity.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Not Good Enough

Lately, I have felt not good enough.

Not good enough at my job. Not a good enough friend. Not a good enough partner. Not a good enough daughter or sister or aunt. Not a good enough blogger.

Things have been shit, frankly. Not properly, things are genuinely bad in my life shit. But feeling completely exhausted and pissed off and grumpy shit. Feeling not good enough.

This year has been tough. My work has been demanding in ways I haven't experienced before. I have felt, so often, that I'm not doing a good enough job. Not in my teaching - weirdly, this year I have felt completely confident that I am really good at that - but in the other areas of responsibility I have in the school.

I'm a perfectionist. I like to be the best; like to have everything around me be lovely. I like to be in control. And work this year, and especially recently, has been decidedly unlovely and out of my control.

At the same time, I've been struggling with this blog. With all my energy going into work, I felt I was neglecting this space. Still posting a couple of times a week, sure, but they were all 'look at what I read/bought/did' posts, which are all well and good but I don't want my blog to be nothing but that. Amazing, challenging, horrifying things were happening in the world - #WeAreTheThey, riots in Baltimore, electioneering - and I wanted desperately to think and write about them but I just didn't have it in me to sit down and marshall my ideas. A tweet of 140 characters? I could manage that. A whole blog post? Nope.

Meanwhile, the question of what job T will have next year and where he'll be living continues to go unanswered. The uncertainty surrounding our lives, our finances, and our living arrangements is something both of us are struggling with. 

And while I stress and panic about all this and more, I've become increasingly bad at keeping up with the very basics of social interaction: replying to emails, keeping in touch with my family, writing letters. Gym-going has ceased (no doubt partly why I feel so rubbish) and I've been horrible company to T at home. 

As I write this, things do seem to be on the up. Whatever slump I found myself in, I'm slowly crawling out of it. So if you're one of the legions of people for whom I've not been a good enough friend, blogger, partner, colleague: I apologise, and sincerely hope that normal service will resume shortly.  

Why Travel Alone?

The prompt for today was 'Adventure', which, combined with something I read on Hazel's blog the other day, immediately made me think of the many adventures I've had whilst travelling solo.

I get why a lot of people never travel alone. Fear of boredom, fear of coping with new situations alone, and, as a woman, worries about safety, can all combine to make us scared of going solo. But if I - a shy, socially awkward and at times cripplingly anxious person - can travel extensively alone, then anyone can.

Lunch for one in Simonstown, South Africa, August 2012

1. Travelling alone means you get to set your own schedule
Feel like sleeping until midday despite the lovely weather? Or want to be up and out of the hotel by 8am to pound the pavements and see the sights? Want to stop for lunch only when you're hungry, instead of worrying about your partner's constant need for sustenance? If you're on your own, what you want, goes. No-one to coordinate plans with; no need to compromise. There's a beautiful liberation in not having to consider anyone else's needs for the duration of your trip, trust me.

2. Travelling alone means you can meet new people more easily...
My solo travel credentials include months spent backpacking across South Africa and America, plus lots of short breaks to European cities. Having travelled plenty with people, too, I can say with authority that it's so much easier to meet new people when you're alone. And, for me, getting to meet new people - whether it's chatting to locals in dive bars or meeting fellow travellers from around the world - is what travelling is all about. I personally found it helpful to do the majority of my solo travel in English-speaking countries, to ease communication while I was out and about. But regardless of where you're visiting, hostels are a great place to stay if you're going solo. As I get older, I tend to book private rooms rather than dorms (I'm too old for that shit), but even then, hostels always have communal lounges and kitchens, plus organised events - such as local walks or movie nights - which make meeting new people a doddle. And once you're out and about, people are much more likely to stop for a chat if you're on your own*. From getting gratis drinks from a bar-tender in Oregon, to being invited back to a house party in Cologne, to being taken to a sangoma (medicine man) ceremony in South Africa, all of the truly unique experiences I've had whilst travelling happened because I was alone and open to meeting new people.

* On this note, I have never once had a bad experience with unwanted attention while travelling. The first time I visited Southern Africa I took the precaution of wearing a ring on my engagement finger, but it really wasn't required. Truly, there are far more good, interesting, honest people out there than otherwise. What I'm saying, I guess, is don't expect the worst as a woman alone. 

The private rooms at Coffee Shack Backpackers, Coffee Bay, South Africa, July 2012

3. ... But you can also enjoy the solitude of bliss
Perhaps you have to be an introvert to get this, but my gosh... the perfect and beautiful state of waking on your own, falling asleep on your own, and choosing exactly when, and to whom, you want to utter a word in each waking moment that falls between the two.

Walking Amsterdam's canals, October 2012

4. Travelling alone means you get to do exactly what you, and only you, want
This is kind of linked to #1, but being a solo traveller means that your holiday is entirely your own, to do with what you will. I personally love to shop - even on a supposedly cultural short break, you're more likely to find me in the gallery shop than anywhere else in the museum - while a lot of my regular travel pals (boyfriend, brother, mother) are frankly bored by my appetite for twelve thrift stores in a row. Travelling alone means that if you want to shop, you shop. You feel like spending eight hours slowly walking the entire Rijksmuseum? That's cool too. The point is it's your trip, your rules; whether that's ancient archaeological sites, quiet beaches, art history, or (in my case) vintage fashion.

My reading spot under the arbor in Cintsa, South Africa, July 2012

5. Travelling alone means you can read a lot
Ok, so I accept that this particular selling point might be particular to a bibliophile such as me. But really, is there anything more relaxing than sitting in the sun - be it by the pool, at a pavement cafe, or on the beach - with a good book in which you can get totally lost? Now, I read quite a bit when on holiday with others (I choose my travel companions carefully, after all), but never do I get more reading done than when I'm on my own. Proper reading, too. Falling into the world of the book, becoming entirely absorbed by it... because there's no-one asking me to rub suntan lotion into their back or wanting to go for a walk.

Yosemite National Park, California, August 2011

6. Travelling alone is an opportunity to learn more about yourself
Being alone for an extended period of time, especially away from home and outside of your comfort zone, can push you to your limits. You may struggle, I'm not going to lie, but you'll also discover reserves of confidence and kick ass-ness that you perhaps didn't know were there. I'm really shy suffer from anxiety: here at home, I sometimes struggle to leave the house because I feel so anxious. Put into a different country, where I've paid a not inconsiderable amount of money and given up free time to be, I don't have the option to hide away. I've never experienced a solo trip that I couldn't handle or that made me unhappy. I always, even when I felt a bit lonely, coped. Loneliness when on the road is a chance at growth, an opportunity to be totally with and within yourself.

All of the photographs in this post were taken during one of my solo trips.

Friday, 1 May 2015

An Introduction

When life and work feel unmanageably busy and you're disillusioned with blogging, what's a girl to do? Why, sign up again to Blog Every Day In May: that's a sensible decision, right?! I already know there is no way, not a chance in hell, I'll manage to blog every single day, but I figured I'd give it a go and hopefully recover my blogging mojo in the process. I completed both #BEDM and #BEDN in 2013 and made so many great new blog friends that, even if I fail miserably, it seemed worth a try.

The topic today is 'Introduce Yourself' so, for both new readers and old, here a few things you may not know about me.

1. Although I'm now a teacher, my past jobs have included travel agent, barmaid, book seller, legal secretary, and club promoter.

2. My hair has been every colour from pink to blue but for the past few years I've settled on red. However, I'm a natural blonde under all the dye.

3. My absolute favourite place on earth is Portland, Oregon. With my bed running a very close second.

4. I read voraciously (I managed nineteen books in April). Check out my books tag to see some recent reviews.

5. I'm a body positive, queer, trans inclusionary, intersectional feminist.

6. My go-to film when I'm feeling sad is the high school cross-dressing soccer comedy She's The Man. It's not great cinema, granted, but it makes me very happy. I wish I could say my movie taste is more highbrow when I'm not miserable, but that would be a massive lie.

7. I have a weird aversion to tension: I can't watch anything vaguely scary or even something that's just dramatically tense. As a result, a lot of popular TV shows are out. Midsomer Murders is about as tense as I can handle. Strangely, tension in a book is fine.

8. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life? Easy: pizza.

9. My partner and I are childless by choice. I love working with kids, I just don't want any of our own. I wrote a bit about this here.

10. My mum is a lesbian; she came out when I was 15.