Humanity. To be, humane.

Growing up, I was always quite a sensitive person. Worrying about people’s feelings and keen to ensure that those who were different or vulnerable were given equal treatment and included in activities. My social awareness was very limited at the time, given my age.

But I can distinctly recall that my feelings and thoughts at that time were not of an anti-bullying nature, but a wider sense of wondering why people were being singled out or referred to in a particular way simply because of a particular ‘trait’ (I use this term because the word ‘different’ may get cumbersome and repetitive). I was lucky to go through school without bullying being an issue; the popular kids mixed with the geeks who mixed with the sporty ones. We were an exemplary year group. But kids are not without their faults and many would throw around terms without really thinking about what the word/phrase truly meant and without meaning to be malicious or hurtful in any way. And often the name-calling wasn’t about someone else on the playground, it was a way of referring to other people in society; celebrities, the neighbour, etc. Phrases that I’m sure if I named them many of today’s youngsters would not know what I’m talking about as they probably use different terminology now.

Fast forward 15 or so years and my early to mid twenties were very different. I became quite judgemental – not about the vulnerable but about everyone else. I was still in the process of becoming socially aware and hadn’t quite worked out that people are shaped by their early life and experiences but that environmental factors also play a huge part. I was unduly angry by people who did not want, nor try, to better themselves but thought they were entitled to something automatically. I went through a period of several years wondering how some people had managed to mess up their lives so catastrophically – without having the information to hand to entitle me to even make that judgement about someone else.

The biggest factor in my way of thinking was my emotional detachment. I can’t pinpoint when this happened exactly, but I believe it was in the early years of university. As part of my training, I was exposed to a number of harrowing situations; domestic violence, extreme violence, death, non-accidental injuries to children. Pictures of this kind became ‘normal’. I had to be able to block out my own feelings in order to be able to act and advise objectively.

So I emotionally blocked out everything – to the point where I would see someone at face value only rather than putting myself in their shoes. An elderly person. A young person. The vulnerable. The homeless. To me, there was a reason and thus a cure for everything. You just had to find it.

I’m pleased to say that I have grown up a lot since then, though I think it is less about maturity and more about becoming aware of the world around you and having to actively try to imagine myself in someone else’s place emotionally, rather than it coming so easy like when I was younger.

The last 6 months have been a turning point for me. Whilst I no longer do care work, it has taken a long time for me to switch on my feelings – and it was only then that I realised I had turned them off in the first place. The little things in life have helped me to see that.

In sharp focus at the moment is the treatment of the homeless as a wider social issue. I work in a city which has the most funding developmentally outside of London. I love working here, it is a wonderful city, but it also has one of the worst homelessness problems I have ever witnessed. I see the same three people on my 4-minute walk between the train station and the office. Day in, day out, sun, rain and snow. Being moved on by the police from a doorway and having to roll up their bedding. Being on a street corner but told they ‘can’t’ be there. And that’s when I started to analyse my own behaviour (and of course, that of everyone else).home1

Because we walk by, don’t we? The vast majority do anyway. Pretend he/she isn’t there – not that they don’t exist as a person, but that they are not homeless as we are lead to believe. Keep your head down – if we don’t make eye contact then we won’t feel as bad. Can you hear them ask for some pennies, or a hot drink? Walk on by like you didn’t. Yet, the homeless always thank us anyway, even though we have done nothing to deserve it.

I always think as I’m walking along, ‘oh, maybe I could buy him a hot drink’, or if I was already holding food or drink I would give it to them. But I haven’t. I haven’t even gone out of my way to drop more than a few pennies into a hat.

Why? Homelessness is not an infection. It is a social disease, but not contagious. Are the few pennies/pounds in my pocket going to make me more happy than if I donated them to someone else? Someone who is probably in dire need of them.

I am deeply ashamed.

And in the same vein I am saddened for all those who, like me, can’t see what is in front of them.

I do not know what the long-term answer is. The cure. I don’t even know if there is one. I know that these issues are both due to individual circumstances but also part of a wider political and social issue. I am not educated in these matters. But maybe I don’t need to be. Maybe, what’s important is doing ‘my bit’. Stopping to gift what I can from my purse, offering a drink. Heck – buying a drink in anticipation that I will see that same chap I usually see further down the road.

I would like to think I am a kind person in all areas of my life, but maybe its time for more than that. Kindness is an act, a gesture. Being humane is way of thinking.

Definition: having or showing compassion or benevolence.

Its time for that. Realisation is but the first step.

And its not just the homeless. I need to extend this way of thinking to all areas of my life. Little acts of kindness that can help us go a long way.

My 30th Year Bucket List

In exactly one year I reach the grand old age of 30. Three – zero. Three decades on this planet. When my mother turned 30 she had a mini mental breakdown and was in a bad mood pretty much for the whole year apparently.

I don’t plan on sulking about my age, though I am somewhat surprised that it has come round so fast.

I, like most people I’m sure, have a busy year ahead. But I figured that in my ‘30th year’ and whilst I can still say I’m only 29, that I should set myself a series of mini-goals. And 30 of them seemed the most apt number.

So here goes, here are 30 things I hope to do/achieve before I turn the big 3-0!

  1. Go inter-railing around Europe
  2. Eat multi-coloured macaroons
  3. Make an olive loaf of bread
  4. Do a head/forearm stand
  5. Wear red lipstick
  6. Knit a blanket/throw
  7. Complete all 7 seasons of Game of Thrones
  8. Visit America
  9. Get toned/fit
  10. Go surfing
  11. Lay in a hammock without falling out
  12. Single-handedly design my new kitchen (for a house I don’t yet have, but probably with a little help from pinterest)
  13. Eat at a Michelin star restaurant
  14. Be a nicer person (i.e. less bloody judgmental)
  15. Get a dog
  16. Get a lob (a ‘long bob’ for those not in the know)
  17. Get to and maintain a weight of 10’3
  18. Host Christmas
  19. Enjoy a Sunday brunch out
  20. Have a candle-lit bubble bath
  21. Go bungee-jumping
  22. Get a VW Transporter van #vanlife
  23. Grow vegetables in my new glass greenhouse (wow, this does sound grown up)
  24. Complete the Three Peaks Challenge (though maybe not in 24 hours)
  25. Complete Final Fantasy 15 on PS4 (I am still a teenager at heart)
  26. Finish the cushions I’ve been sewing for c. 3 years
  27. Drink more leaf tea
  28. Have a massage
  29. Be in Thailand, or an equally exotic country, on my 30th birthday itself 🙂
  30. Spend every single day treasuring my Sam

Reading back through my list, there seems to be a good balance between challenging myself to achieve something, and enjoying the simple pleasures in life.

I’m going to make this year a year to remember!

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Book club: The Girls by Emma Cline

Imagine being in a desert, the beads of day-old sweat clinging to your body, inching down your back and dampening your clothes. The heat rising from the dirt, causing a haze over the horizon even though it’s only mid-morning. Your hair slightly matted, dirt and sand under your fingernails. Your throat dry, croaking.

That is what The Girls instantly brings to my mind. Not an image, but a feeling of being parched and withered from the sun. Slightly dirty, sweaty and breathless.

The Girls is set in 1960’s America, a fiction based around the cult formed by Charles Manson and the Tate-LaBianca murders. It is both a coming of age story and a horrifying tale of psychological vulnerability. The novel centers around Evie, a young girl whom is hoodwinked by the glamour of freedom, fuelled by an ideology of sex and drugs.

But it is not quite the tale you’d expect from a naive teenager, aching to be accepted. Her fixation is not with the cult leader, but one of his associates, Suzanne. At first I thought Evie’s obsession lay in her wish to be loved by her family, wanted by her friends and, like every teenager, to be desirable by her peers. Ultimately, I thought Evie was just an ignorant selfish teenager like many others; having arguments with her parents, not doing chores round the house, finding a reason to rebel.

Evie’s obsession with Suzanne deepens quite rapidly. At first it seems like a sexual awakening but you have to read between the lines; it is much more than that. Evie relies on Suzanne – without Suzanne she would not have been accepted into the group in the first place let alone achieve a high place within it. She yearns to be like Suzanne in every possible way, to gain praise from her and each touch is like a prize in itself.

The Girls brilliantly depicts how a seemingly ordinary teenager could so easily succumb to such a way of life. Whilst the grooming is clear throughout the novel, it is gradual to the reader due to the way the narrative is structured; jumping from present day and back again with recollections interspersed throughout. The brain-washing seems to be of Evie’s own doing though – if I am even allowed to say that. She recognises from the outset all that is wrong with the group on the face if it; the rotten environment, the unwashed bodies and clothes, the ‘tangy breath’ and children roaming wild across a rubbish-strewn site. She sees first hand the poverty they are living in, the crimes they must commit to maintain their existence, but she makes excuses for it. By the closing chapters Evie is accepting of it; she judges a newly found friend for seeing what the group’s situations really is – dire – and dismisses him in case his association rubs off on her.

Evie is of course a fictional character but her ‘experiences’ have been watered down somewhat. Perhaps so as to gain the reader’s sympathy, or perhaps Cline was worried that some may be unable to finish her work if it was too dark and true to the actual events.

I have ignored until now the other character in this book, not Suzanne but the cult leader Russell who is fashioned on Charles Manson himself. Whilst the real Manson was extremely manipulative and used his followers to commit all manner of sins, as well as physically, sexually and psychologically assaulting them himself, Russell does not have that harshness, and that is something that I think I lacking in the novel. The novel concludes with several murders, committed by Suzanne and other followers, but their desire and vacant acceptance of their instructions by Russell has not had time to manifest in the reader. In short, I felt the murders themselves to come out of nowhere and lacked any foundation. This may have been Cline’s intention all along so that the reader was side-tracked by Evie’s wanton desire and fixations but at some level I would have preferred to have had Evie observe Russell’s treatment of the others in a more stark and violent manner so as to understand Suzanne et al’s motivation for committing the crimes they did. I, of course, do have an imagination and can fill in the blanks for myself, but when a novel is based around true events I feel it is for Cline to bring the shock factor and show readers what is must have been like in that cult.

Overall, The Girls is beautifully written and really instills feelings of teenage curiosity, hope, frustration and obsession in the reader which makes it a real page-turner.

Long or LOB?

I thought it only right that my second post of 2018 should be about something meaningful and deep. So naturally my thoughts turned to my hair and I pondered once again whether I should get it cut.

I first cut my hair off when I was 18 years old at college. It was the most drastic cut I’ve ever had; my hair was cut from waist to my jaw.mine7

Since then I’ve cut my hair off two or three times, mostly to my shoulders though often I cut it an inch above a few weeks later. Inevitably I then grow my hair as long as I can bear it before cutting it again, typically 2 or so years later. Its got to the point where I can tell what year it is by how long my hair is.

My hair is now the longest its been since I was 18. I’ve just had 2 ½ inches cut and its still super long.

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In previous years it would all be off by now, but for some reason this time around I’m more hesitant. I keep thinking I’ll award myself with a hair cut if I achieve something, maybe if I keep at my ideal weight for 1 year, or if I work at getting fit and healthy for a few months, or once we’ve moved house. The real reason I haven’t cut it off yet is because I know its more than just taking a pair of scissors to my hair. I have to learn how to style it and that is part of the problem. My straighteners haven’t been turned on for over 5 years and I barely know the difference between a mousse and hairspray. I think I probably knew more when I was younger than I do now. That, or I’m just more judgemental, like a perfectionist now. Funny that, seeing as I often think that I look like I’ve been dragged through a bush backwards but do nothing about it.

I look at girls with long hair and it looks lovely. Flowing, wavy, hair that blows in the breeze. Not knotty like mine, hanging over my shoulders with no purpose or style in sight.

Then I look at the girls with shoulder-length lobs (long bobs), and I wish I had hair like that.

Cut – an synonym for style in my book. I keep thinking that if I did cut my hair once more that I would instantly look like that. Then I remember that nobody’s hair looks like that naturally and I’d need tons of product to give it any volume, plus a 6-month course in how to use a curling wand.

I have yet to make up my mind, though I know deep down I will most likely cut my hair and grow it again in the next few years until I get to an age where long hair looks silly, or its too thin and lank and looks awful.

If anyone has any tips or tricks to style any type of hair that only takes 5 minutes to do, I would be grateful! It might make the difference to whether I cut it or keep it.

Blogging goals for 2018

I figured I’d start 2018 how I mean to go on. I’ve not had my blog very long and in that time I’ve definitely neglected it, sometimes for weeks on end, and then I go through phases of posting frequently. I’ve always wanted to have a ‘fluid’ blog containing posts about meaningful topics and events in my life, rather than just random page-filling babble. I’ve wanted to give readers an insight into the important aspects of my life and things I enjoy doing, as well as having a balanced take with the stresses and strains that is part and parcel of my routine too.

I acknowledged to myself yesterday that I hadn’t posted much at all in November or December and after some thought (and a few bevvies last night) I realised that stress and anxiety are bars to my blog. I’m a bit of an introvert and have to quietly deal with the issues facing me before I can think about anything else; be it hobbies, health and fitness or blogging.

I want to make a real effort to post more frequently in 2018, but I may need a bit of help from technology.

Now, I’m a bit of a techno-phobe. I don’t know if that is the right word actually, but I simply hate technology. If I could I’d throw my ‘phone in the canal and go back to telegrams and carrier pigeon. But to blog I need some tech and my home laptop (admittedly, nearly 6/7 years old now), is not quite up to the job. That, and I just don’t have the time to sit down and type most evenings which has definitely had a knock-on effect on my blog.

So I’ve come up with a solution – which involves a bit of sales shopping hahaha – and I’ve decided to buy a small laptop that I can use on my 2 hour commute each day. Light-weight and portable and a good use of my travel time, I really hope it helps me to become more of a regular blogger and that I will be able to optimise my blog in the coming months. I think I’m going to grab a cup of tea and order it now before I think about the cost too much(!)

I hope that you will see and read a lot more from me in 2018 and it’d be great to hear from you guys too with any tips you can offer me!

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Happy New Year.

My 5-day simple pre-Christmas Detox

What is it about the magic of Christmas that makes you excited? The fairy lights? The chance to spend some quality time with your nearest and dearest? Or perhaps the turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pud, chocolates, and the never-ending finger buffet?

It doesn’t matter what it is, most foods makes me feel uncomfortable (unless its cheese because, lets be honest, there’s no such thing as too much cheese). And whilst its inevitable that I’ll put a couple of pounds on over Christmas, its the bloating that I hate. And its not just over Christmas itself, I primarily feel bloated in the lead up to it.

My weakness is bread and all manner of bread-related food. I could eat a whole loaf in a day if I let myself. But unfortunately, whilst I have learnt to eat bread in moderation (I have two slices of toast each morning), it still makes my feel bloated, even the wholewheat seeded variety.

Having a calm tummy makes my day so much better and I’ve learnt over the years a few tips and tricks to enable me to have an enjoyable festive season. Please note that this is in no way a diet, I’ve just learnt to be in tune with my body and its needs. I’m lactose intolerant and have to substitute some foods – my post about it covers some of that – so I have quite an awareness of food generally.

I’ve discovered that just 5 days are enough to help me feel better, and the changes to my everyday life are tiny. No green juices or gym memberships here!

  1. Drinking lemon with hot water each evening. Lemons contain calcium, potassium and vitamin C and helps both digestion and your colon.
  2. Walking more. Taking the steps instead of the escalator at the train station.
  3. Reducing my bread intake. Not all carbohydrates, just bread.
  4. Eating more vegetables. I already eat plenty of red peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, garlic, squash and leaves, but I feel much better for adding a few stems of broccoli here and there – it goes a long way. Bananas and ginger specifically help to reduce bloating. Try spiralizing vegetables to get them into your diet – courgetti with your spaghetti!
  5. Getting more sleep. Everybody needs more rest but so many people over look it. Take time to look after yourself.

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    These are some of my favourite fruits and vegetables

These are simple steps for me, and don’t involve drastic changes to my life or habits. I try to live by them but ordinary life does get in the way sometimes. A positive outlook and an awareness of what you are doing – eating, sleeping, moving, etc, – all helps. So far, on the 4th day of December, I am feeling quite well and have no bloating issues yet.

Finding motivation within

Staying motivated to achieve a particular goal can be hard; whether its to lose some weight, get fit, eat well, read more, make time for others, the list goes on.

We put so much pressure on ourselves these days. Our working hours are longer then ever, we face difficult commutes and to top it all off we still have to do the more mundane tasks like bathing, washing, getting the kids to bed and finding time to eat. Its a wonder many of us can find the time to fit in any hobbies during the weekdays. I’m sure we all feel that we could do with an extra hour or two in the day sometimes.

I don’t think it helps when we switch on to social media and see idealised lives and images. Sure the quotes and captions are designed to be inspirational, but when I’m stuck in a rut I struggle to see a way out and being confronted with motivational images and captions makes me sink even further; comparing myself to those who clearly have far more time on their hands to work for their beach body.

I go through many phases in the course of the year, each and every year. I, like many others, feel the need to eat well and healthier at the beginning of the New Year, and to try and become fitter. A general push towards wellness and having a healthy balanced lifestyle. Usually, though I’m motivated following the Christmas splurge, January is actually a hard month for me because its my birthday and one of the busiest months of the year at work. Then its February and I hate that month – rainy and miserable – I really don’t want to have to trek to the gym!

But despite struggling to fit it in and having to traipse up town in the rain, I am always pleased when I fit a work out in or make a healthy choice (as opposed to a Greg’s sausage roll!)motivation quote1

I was very happy earlier this year in July when I achieved my weight-loss goal just in time for my holiday. I’d been trying to lead a healthy lifestyle since the previous August, but really stepped it up a gear in January. Unfortunately, once we returned from holiday I lost all my motivation to work out, though I did continue to try to eat healthily to maintain my weight. By September I’d cancelled my membership altogether.

And thats the point when I realised where motivation came from. It comes from within. Not from buying the latest gadget to help you achieve your goal, or from being jealous of those who are achieving their goals and trying to emanate them. Its finding something you love so you can stick with it.

Then, it dawned on me that whilst I have always wanted to be active in some way, running was just no longer comfortable for me (I have ligament problems) and that instead of doing it half-arsed I should find something else. Something that still allows me to feel like my muscles are moving, but without putting so much strain on my body.

This month, I started taking yoga and Pilates classes, one of each a week. And I have never been so excited to go to class before! Pilates satisfies my desire to try and be toned and to build up core strength using only my own body weight, and yoga helps me stretch and to improve my (apparently non-existent) flexibility. I feel the stretch and pull after each class and even in a short couple of weeks I’m noticing improvements. I can safely say, I am enjoying myself keeping active in a way that is sustainable.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about motivation, why it ebbs and flows and why some people barely seem to suffer at all. Yes, you need a positive attitude and a support network would be ideal, but I believe it comes down to this:

  1. To look forward to reaching your goal but being content with the journey it takes to get there. It may be a long road, but the journey is just as important as the destination.
  2. Little and often. You don’t have to completely change your life in order to achieve something. You just need to make one little change, and try and practice that everyday. Don’t feel bad if you eat a pizza after promising yourself it will be another salad for dinner. Accept it, and move on. The whole day is not lost just because of one decision. Get back up and start again!
  3. You might feel uncomfortable now, but being happy in your skin knowing you are doing what you can do, at your own pace, should bring you some peace and comfort.

motivation quote2We’re heading in to the Christmas season now and its going to be so tempting to indulge in chocolate and all manner of sweet and savoury goodies, but a little bit of awareness goes a long way. I’ve decided not to deny myself any treats, but to not overeat either. I’ve found over the last few months that the key to maintaining my weight whilst not working out is to enjoy the naughtiness but know that I don’t need to eat a whole tin of Celebrations to feel enjoyment.

Lets say positive to avoid the age-old January detox next year!motivation

 

An Introverted Perspective

For much of my young life I was quiet; hearing all but saying very little. I wasn’t loud or boisterous and hated being the centre of attention. Instead, I was softly-spoken, and would prefer to take myself off to a quiet corner to read.

Whether academically or socially, I struggled in large groups. I was a bit of a sponge and could soak up what everyone else was contributing, but felt uneasy giving my two penny’s worth.

When I left school for college I really came out of my shell. I wasn’t much louder but I began to be able to express my opinion. In part, and certainly with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that this had a lot to do with becoming acquainted with a much larger group of friends than I had been used to at school. Becoming ‘myself’ outside of college really helped my education; I had undervalued how much my own opinion could shape my learning and help me to understand and improve.

I’ve been working full-time for a number of years now and I’ve felt myself change. I’ve progressed and attained more than I could have imagined since I left school, but in some ways I’ve also regressed. It was only when I first started this blog that I realised how limited my vocabulary had become as result of my legal training. And I lamented that loss. I had excelled in English at school, both in literature and language, and was ashamed at how narrow my vocabulary had become in only a few short years.

I started this blog for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to have a forum in which to air my thoughts so that they are not all jumbled up in my head. Though, in truth, I am still struggling to commit to ‘paper’ what it is that I really want to say. I’m hoping that with each post I will be able to express myself further. And that leads me to my second reason; to improve on my writing skills and explore the wonderful world that is the English language.

A by-product of this blog has been a rediscovery of my love of reading. I’d lost so many years to just reading legal textbooks that in the limited down time I had I needed something light to occupy myself with, and beginning a long, complex story with heightened emotions felt draining at that time. With each novel I complete I not only feel my mind expanding, but I feel happier for it.

I will always have a love of the English language and I hope that this blog will help me to build on my communication skills.

Now that my opinion is out it is hard to reign it back in sometimes and I’m learning a whole new skill now: tact! But I guess I wouldn’t be a good litigator without a bit of a bite!

Book club: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

If you’ve never read a ghost story, or have been extremely sceptical about this genre then this is the novel for you. Its not a bump-in-the-night, jump-out-of-your-skin kind of ghost story, but rather a chill that slowly creeps over your skin with every page turn. A blend of Nordic folklore with hints of Greek mythology, Dark Matter is a powerful spine-tingling thriller that put me on the edge of my seat.

The plot

Set in the late 30’s, working-class Jack jumps at the chance of escaping a pre-war Britain and can’t believe his luck when he is invited to participate in an Arctic research expedition as a wireless operator. The ill-fated group set out for Gruhuken, a fictitious snow-bound island in the vicinity of Svalbard, Norway with a team of huskys, crates of equipment and hope.

Despite the disguised warnings and with the beginnings of trepidation in the air, the group start to realise that all is not as it seems in the Arctic. Daylight becomes a thing of the past and the endless nights starts to increase the groups’ uneasiness. Jack sees a figure by the hut, but quickly dismisses it until he is out taking readings later one afternoon. I felt the skin on the back of my neck prick when I realised that Jack suspects he is not alone; a scraping, a dragging echoing around the Arctic waste. A wet head rises from the water. Intent. Dread. Jack makes a break for it back to the hut. Did he actually see it? Is it real or a trick of the light, or, worse, a trick of his mind?

Before long, Jack is alone as the other characters leave for the mainland. Staying in a routine Jack tries to keep the horrors of his mind at bay. But it nags at him. The isolation of the bleak Arctic stillness permeating every pore. A thud. Is the bear pole moving? The creeping dread. And again the figure, malevolence radiating out from it. Ghosts can’t open doors, can they?

As Jack’s paranoia climbs to new heights, he realises the figure is in the room with him. Stumbling around he tries to get outside, to get away from it. He forgets his boots and before long realises his fate: he will die in the Arctic wilderness. Whether from the figure or the extreme conditions, Jack will not last long…

Jack

Jack is not a particularly likeable character. Paver’s style of writing in the first half of the book made me feel as though I was running through the story, from the meeting in London to arriving at Gruhuken the short sentences did not help to build up Jack’s personality. If anything, it emphasised his bitterness and short temperament, despite other characters commenting on his visibly calm facade at times.

But whilst I did not feel that Jack himself was endearing, his declining mental state was excellently portrayed by Paver. The worry and anxiety in the face of being alone on Gruhuken for the rest of the winter, Jack tries to keep in a routine but seemingly cannot hide his fear from those he communicates with. His fall into dispair, without being able to recognise it himself, and his hopelessness is resounding. His downward spiral stalled only by his new-found love of Isaak, one of the huskys whom he previously despised, really helped the reader understand the true sense of Jack’s loneliness and his need for some sort of interaction.

Gruhuken

Paver created Gruhuken from her memories of travelling around Spitsbergen and, I must say, that does give me some relief! Knowing that the figure dwells in a fictional place does help me to sleep at night to say the least.

Paver is brilliant at setting the scene; her description of the lessening daylight, the stillness and never-ending wastelands of the Arctic archipelago are so life like I felt as though I was suffering through the same ordeal myself. The words Paver uses really installed a wariness in me; his cabin little bigger than a coffin, all helping to create an intense atmosphere.

Like adverts and films, most novels have an abundance of dialogue. You notice if one ad is silent and moody. Dark Matter is no different. The novel is written in a journalistic style with the reader only having access to Jack’s thoughts; the plot centred around his observations and anxieties with little conversation helping to aid the story along. Its not a style I usually enjoy, but the descriptions and depictions of the Arctic wilderness and one man’s impending sense of doom make this book un-put-downable.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And if you have any recommendations of other ghost stories I could try, do let me know!

Cosy country walks and baked goods: it must be Autumn

The crisp clear mornings, the crunch of leaves underfoot and the coolness in the air – it must be bobble hat and mittens time again!

Autumn is truly my favourite time of year. I think spring and summer walks are really over-rated. I don’t want to trek for miles getting all hot and bothered when I could be kicking back with an iced lolly. For me, autumn and winter are much better times of year to be outside hiking and appreciating the countryside. I absolutely love seeing the change of seasons, and none is more magical then the beginning of autumn. Look at all the lovely gold, orange and copper tones:IMG_2775

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We are lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country. These photos were taken at Badbury Woods on the Oxfordshire border where you can enjoy many walks through the woods and across the fields.

The nights are drawing in quite quickly now. Its twilight by 4pm and dark by 5pm. I must admit – I love the early nights. I don’t feel guilty coming home, getting into my pjs and having a hot cup of tea in front of the telly. Soon, we will have a log burner and I can’t wait!

When we came in today I felt a bit of baking was needed. Now the house smells of doughy sweetness and Earl Grey; perfect, right?IMG_2787

Biscuit time

To make my super simple basic biscuit you’ll only need the following:

500g flour

150g caster sugar

250g butter

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp milk

To make biscuit-y goodness:

  1. Mix together the flour, butter and sugar. Using your fingers, rub it together until it forms a consistency similar to breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the vanilla extract and milk and mix some more.
  3. Lightly flour a surface and roll on the mixture to about 5mm thickness.
  4. Cut out your shapes and place on a non-stick baking tray.
  5. Bake for between 12-15 minutes at 180 degrees. I prefer to turn it to up 200g for the last couple of minutes as I prefer them slightly more golden, but its up to you.

Enjoy with a brew! A perfect quick treat.

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Deep-fill steak and mushroom pie

I’ve only made a few pies in my time, despite my overwhelming love of pie, and those have always been made using the go-to cheater’s guide to pastry: Jus’ roll. But this time, I thought I’d have a go myself.

I was aiming for puff pastry but I’m quite heavy handed so it turned into some form of shortcrust pastry. Either way, it was damned delicious and I’m never buying pre-fab pastry again.IMG_2739

To make my deep-fill pie, you will need:

225g plain flour

1/4 teaspoon of salt

250g salted butter (you could use unsalted, but why would you?)

150ml of cold water

Diced beef

Mushrooms, sliced

Beef stock

Making the pastry

  1. Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl then put in the fridge for a few minutes.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes, then add to the flour and mix until coated.
  3. Pour over the water slowly and mix together. It should form a rough dough. Place on a surface and form into a sausage shape, without kneading it. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  4. Once chilled, lightly flour a surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle shape. You are now going to make a square out of a rectangle; fold one-third of the pastry into the middle, then last third into the middle. Press down at the edges.
  5. Now roll out again, and fold, twice more. Place in the fridge for an hour.

The filling

  1. Whilst the pastry is in the fridge, brown the beef on a high heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, finely sliced, and stir.
  3. Finally, add some beef stock and remove from the heat.

Pie time!

  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to fit your pie dish.
  2. Line your pie dish, leaving enough pastry for the lid.
  3. Add your filing. As I left my beef quite dry and made up some quick, thick gravy using granules and poured a little on top. If you have a wet mix, don’t do add any more gravy/water.
  4. Finish your pie by folding the pastry over at the edges and seal with some milk.
  5. Bake for approx. 30 minutes at 180-200 degrees.

Enjoy!!IMG_2741

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Book club: The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

Set in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, The Tea Planter’s Wife is an intriguing story of a young newlywed woman who leaves the comforts of her home in England to live with her new husband, the owner of a tea plantation.

Jefferies paints a charming picture of Ceylon; a revitalising mix of humidity and exotic wildlife, whilst capturing the political tumult facing the Tamils and the colonials at that time. The story is set in the 1920’s and 1930’s at the beginning of political strife and revolution; the novel depicts the rising anger with the British as well as the hopelessness they felt due to the reliance they had on their income and their reluctance to place their job in jeopardy.

The main character, Gwen, is quite a simple character, unquestioning of her surroundings for the most part and overly trusting of  her husband – whom she barely knows at the start of the novel. The relationship between husband and wife, never mind men and women as whole, was significantly different back then. Women were the homemakers, not permitted to meddle in their husband’s business affairs, so the reader has quite an insight into the somewhat mundane life of the ‘wife’.

Soon Gwen is thinking about providing her husband, Lawrence, with children as she is expected to do. To her delight she is soon pregnant with twins and that is when the plot of this novel really starts to take shape. Gwen gives birth to two children, but one is white-skinned and one is dark-skinned. The remainder of the novel emotionally depicts Gwen’s maternal struggle with giving one child away, the secret she keeps from her husband for over 7 years and the coming together of husband and wife as equals in the wake of a new world following the crash of ’29.

The other two main characters, Lawrence and his sister Verity, are quite opposing in nature. Lawrence is calm, a business man but with deep familial ties to Ceylon and cares for Gwen deeply, in his own way. He is all-observing, tall and strong-willed but his personality never really shines through. He is aloof and could be developed more as a character and particularly his work on the plantation and his care of the workers.

Verity is a complex character and having finished the novel I still don’t feel that I entirely understand her composition; selfish and sly, argumentative and vengeful, her reasons for acting the way she does are never fully explored and she is a constant source of mystery – and frustration!

My heroine of the story by far is Gwen’s servant and nanny. A native to Ceylon, she has worked for the family for decades and helps to settle Gwen in to life in the country. She has a life of servitude, but I found myself hoping that she would somehow escape those confines and speak out about all that she had witnessed over the years, even though I knew in reality no person would have put their job at risk in such a way. Whilst her knowledge of what had gone before Gwen (no spoilers – sorry!) would undoubtedly have changed the course of the story, she is nonetheless an endearing character and a constant throughout the book.

However, the novel is not without its flaws. There are a couple of unfinished endings and questionable events, especially in the final chapters. It seemed a little as though Jefferies was trying to wrap the book up as soon as possible after the main plot had concluded, but it didn’t quite all add up. In particular, Gwen dwells about Savi, a male character, throughout the novel and the reader is lead to believe he is a charming yet unsavoury character. But then, as if by magic, she just starts talking to him again after all those years. It seems a little unbelievable at times.

However, the style of this book is excellent and there is a sufficient amount of both substance and depth to each of the characters to bring them to life. I found myself becoming tearful at one point (I read on the train during my commute each day and had to hurriedly wipe away a stray tear!) and if a novel can make me, un-emotional and cold-hearted, shed a tear, then it must be worth a read.

At its heart, The Tea Planter’s Wife is a love story, both romantic and platonic but interwoven with themes of racism and colonialism.

The author

Jefferies was born in Malaysia and lived there until she was 9 years old before moving to England. She only began writing in her 60’s and travelled to Sri Lanka to help give some realism to her book. The places Jefferies refers to are a mix of real-life places and fictional ones, based on a several locations amalgamated together.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this novel as much as I did – let me know your thoughts should you decide to read it!