Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Blog every day in May...?

I signed up for Rosalilium's 'Blog Every Day In May' challenge with some trepidation.  I do feel that I need to regain my blogging mojo - my drafts folder is full of half-written posts that I can't seem to knock into shape - but I'm not convinced that blogging every day is the answer. 

Towards the end of 2012 I suddenly got a lot busier (two words - The Boy) and, as a result, started blogging a lot less.  But weirdly, I think the quality of my posts really improved once I began writing once or twice a week rather than feeling the pressure to post more often, and I have gained more new readers and followers in the past four months than I had in the previous two years of blogging.

I'm also not at all sure that I will be able to meet the challenge.  I'm away a lot in May (that 'B' word again!), plus it's a crazy month at work - with Year 6 SATs exams, lots of extra-curricular stuff to plan, and getting my Year 9 classes through their transition to GCSE - and fitting writing around that is going to be tough.

So, if I'm not convinced I'll manage it, why am I giving it a go?  Well, it sounds like a fun thing to take part in, and many of the topics that Elizabeth has come up with for the challenge have got me thinking.  I've already decided that if it gets to the point where I'm not enjoying it anymore, I'll give up.  But in the meantime, prepare for your Facebook, Twitter, and Bloglovin feeds to be jammed with posts from me!

Monday, 29 April 2013

April reads

Wow, I read a lot this month!  Still not quite as much as I would like, but a huge improvement on previous months.


1. I can't recommend Girls To The Front enough.  It's a heartfelt, passionate and beautifully written account of the genesis of Riot Grrrl, focusing on the Olympia and Washington DC scenes but encompassing the stories of girls and women from all over the USA.  If you are at all interested in the 90s, in feminism, or in music history, then this is a great read.

2. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Jeaneatte Winterson's autobiography, was this month's book group pick and I'm looking forward to discussing it in the pub tomorrow evening.  I loved this beautifully written, poetic account of Winterson's childhood and her adult struggles with her past and her adoption.  As much a paean to the power of literature to change lives as an autobiography, I especially enjoyed her musings on working class identity, the changing face of the North, and feminism. 


3. Jennifer Weiner's novels are a cut above the usual 'chick lit' (urgh, what a horrible term that is) and deserve better than this horrible, fluffy cover.  Fly Away Home is the story of three women - senator's wife Sylvie and her daughters Lizzie and Diana - and how they cope when their lives all take courses they couldn't have predicted.

4. Another month, another Sookie Stackhouse novel.  I'd already read Deadlocked, and even though it's not the best in the series, these books are always good for a quick read.

5. The one novel that I read this month which could be considered 'worthy' literature, Life After Life has been praised to the rafters in the reviews pages and nominated for the Women's Prize (formerly the Orange Prize).  The conceit - of a baby who is reborn again and again, getting chance after chance at life - was an interesting one, and there were some wonderful touches of humour to be derived from Ursula's situation (I loved the chapters in which she kept on trying to avoid catching - and dying from - the Spanish flu in 1918).  I did feel my attention waver somewhat towards the end, but it's nevertheless a brilliant read which made me think about the effect that seemingly tiny actions can have on our lives.

6. Dying Fall is Griffiths' fifth novel featuring forensic archeologist Ruth Galloway.  I think it suffered somewhat for moving the action from her usual Norfolk to Lancashire, but it was a good page-turner with a typically far-fetched solution.

7. Dead Water wasn't one of Cleeves best; I found myself reading more out of duty to finish than any compulsion to find out whodunnit.

8. I didn't enjoy White Bones, a murder mystery set in Ireland, at all (and considering some of the trash I consider a good read, that's really saying something!).  Overly gory, ludicrously plotted; the only saving grace was the convincing characterisation.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Seen & heard: April


Not a film-watching month, April. I've not had the TV on very much as I've been in a reading mood: lots of early nights under the duvet with a good book, and fewer evenings spent on the sofa. But the two films I did see I really liked, and they have the lovely Jason Segel in common...

1. Jeff, Who Lives At Home was sweetly funny and diverting.  Jeff - played by Segel - leaves the house he shares with his mother to run an errand, and ends up on an often ill-fated quest to discover his destiny. 

2. When I was a very small child I loved The Muppet Show but was apparently terrified by the big muppet who lumbered on stage during the opening credits: I used to hide behind the sofa until he had gone.  I therefore adored the brilliant scene aping those credits in this modern reboot of The Muppets.  I'm a sucker for "Let's put on a show!"-type films at the best of times, and this is really a superlative example of the genre with a wonderful cast and some brilliant cameos (Feist!  Jack Black!  Dave Grohl!  Jim Parsons!).  The Oscar-winning music for the film was written by Flight Of The Conchords Bret McKenzie; I'm still humming Life's A Happy Song weeks later.


1. I finally bought a copy of last May's Beach House album, Bloom, and promptly became utterly obsessed with it.  A bit early 90s-Cocteau Twins, Bloom is a lushly beautiful album.

2. I heard Bleached's single, Next Stop, on Steve Lamacq's 6 Music show, and liked the Riot Grrrl-crossed with Californian pop sound.  The album, Ride Your Heart, is 38 minutes of lovely guitar music; it's what you'd get if you threw Belly, Haim and some 60s girl group records into a pot and stirred.

3. The final female-fronted group this month.  I've liked Dressy Bessy since hearing their  song If You Should Try To Kiss Her on the soundtrack to long-forgotten film But I'm A Cheerleader but their albums are near-impossible to buy in the UK.  I found their third, Electrified, in a record store in San Francisco almost two years ago but hadn't listened to it much until this month, when I became a bit obsessed with it.  Again (do you see a theme emerging here?) they wouldn't sound out of place in a mid-90s playlist; Electrified and Side 2 would both be very at home on an early Veruca Salt album.

Thursday, 25 April 2013


DREAMING about the wonderful weekend I had in Paris, and hoping that the time passes quickly between now and my next trip... going to the Netherlands for May Day weekend.

WISHING that work stresses would disappear... not likely, I know; stress is kind of par for the course when you're a teacher (and bloody Gove is not making things any easier with his relentless barrage of criticism and dumb ideas).  But still, I would sometimes like to have a job I could just walk away from at 5pm.

FEELING incredibly tired (see above!), which means I'm not going to the gym as much, which I think then makes me feel even worse.  It's a vicious circle but I am so worn out at the moment, all I want to do is sleep, read and eat.

BUYING really silly amounts of clothes, which I then proceed to send back when they turn out to fit weirdly/be badly made.  Damn you internet shopping!  I'm excitedly waiting to receive this lovely floral top in the post tomorrow, but am betting that it too turns out to be a disappointment.

WEARING layers, but still always being too hot (if I wear my coat) or too cold (when I leave it at home).  I find dressing for spring and autumn incredibly difficult: I'm much happier in either properly cold or properly hot weather.

EATING homemade guacamole (using this recipe, amended slightly as there's really no need for 3 avocados and 4 chillies, trust me).  Shop-bought guacamole tends not to be vegan, so The Boy and I have got into the habit of whipping up a batch whenever we make Mexican food.  And now I'm so obsessed with its chilli-y, lime-y deliciousness that I make it about once a week.

READING a lot; and not just trashy crime fiction, which makes a change!  I finally feel like I'm getting my reading mojo back after months of not doing much reading at all.  Although I still haven't started on this month's book for my reading group, and the meeting is on Tuesday... oops. 

WATCHING Happy Endings, as E4 are showing season 2 every night.  Other than that, though, not very much.  I'm finding my ability to concentrate on anything longer than 30 minutes is severely compromised at the moment.

MAKING not very much at all, because I'm completely lacking motivation, but I want to get started on my long 'to-do' list.  I'm wondering if another Week of Making is in order, to get myself back into creative mode.

PLANNING all sorts of wedding-related things (not my own, calm down!).  I am being bridesmaid for my best friend, Cara, in August, and am starting to get excited about it.  Of course, we also have the hen do (in Brussels) to think about, and my fellow bridesmaid and I are starting to plan some fun surprises for the bride.  And as if that's not enough, The Boy's friend and bandmate is getting married in July, so we are full of plans for the trip to Macedonia for his nuptials.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Paris on a budget

A sunny spring weekend in Paris with the boy I love?  That will do nicely, thank you.  We had a fabulous two days (the only 'problem' being that I was having such a good time I didn't take many photographs, hence the paucity of pictures to accompany this post), and best of all: it was very, very cheap.  Paris is renowned for being extremely pricey to visit, so how did we manage it on a tight budget?  Read on...

There are so many benefits to using Airbnb rather than booking a hotel or hostel room.  Not only was our third floor studio flat in Montmartre cheap (just £75 a night, which was less than a private room in a local youth hostel), but it oozed vintage Parisian charm.  You are really able to get a small taste of how the locals live when you are staying in someone's home, and we would never have stumbled across the slightly shabby but very hip Rue Muller - on the lower slopes of the Butte Montmartre and only a short climb from the Sacre Coeur - if we'd been staying in a hotel.
Total spend: £80 each, inc. Airbnb fees

I managed to pick up bargain advance train tickets to London, and used Avios (which I collect by exchanging my Tesco Clubcard points*) to book the Eurostar for just under £30.

Once in Paris, the weather was a great help with keeping costs down. Instead of taking the Metro constantly, we only used it for longer trips across the city and walked everywhere else, so we were able to get by with one carnet of tickets between the two of us for the whole weekend.
Total spend: £55 for return trains Leicester-Paris
€13.30 for two for a carnet of ten Metro tickets

Our food expenditure was incredibly low for various reasons.  Being able to buy groceries to cook at 'home' made a huge difference.  We used the Carrefour supermarket around the corner from the flat, and €25 bought us enough for two breakfasts and one dinner (including a bottle of champagne, because we were feeling fancy).

I can also heartily recommend Maoz, on the Left Bank, for a cheap, tasty, filling (and vegetarian) meal.  Their pitta stuffed with falafel and salad (they also offer optional hummus or aubergine, for an extra 50 cents), eaten in a sunny park overlooking the Seine, made a perfect lunch on Saturday.

On Sunday we fortuitously stumbled across an amazing bistro in the Canal St Martin area, Le Robinet d'Or.  Not only was it the height of urban industrial chic, but their brunch special was an absolute bargain by Parisian standards.  We both had plates piled high with pineapples, pancakes, potatoes and salad, plus a veggie wrap for him and a salmon steak for me.  Add to that a hot drink and freshly squeezed orange juice, plus a bread basket, and the €17 price tag seemed extremely reasonable, especially because the food was so utterly delicious and the service extremely friendly.
Total spend: approx. €52 each, for two breakfasts, two lunches, one home-cooked dinner, Saturday evening drinks, Sunday afternoon drinks, vegan cake, and one bottle of champagne

Saving money on sightseeing was a matter of luck for us.  The Boy and I had both been to Paris before, so we didn't have any burning desire to pay through the nose for attractions we'd already visited.  The weather was also glorious, enabling us to spend two days outside: rain might have driven us to pricey galleries and museums.  Instead we spent Saturday wandering the tourist-choked streets of the Ile de Cite and the Latin Quarter, admiring the Pantheon, the Sorbonne, Notre Dame Cathedral and the beautiful narrow streets of the Left Bank, without spending any money.

Paris's famed cemeteries are free of charge to visit and on a beautiful day like Sunday, Montparnasse Cemetery made a peaceful and relaxing place to walk and reflect.  We had intended to visit the Catacombs - which, with an €8 charge, would not have exactly broken the bank - but instead decided to go across to the Canal St Martin area, in the north-east, next to Gare de l'Est.  This hip corner of the city is very much a local area, and Sunday by the canal is a Parisian tradition.  The streets are closed to traffic and people gather to sit by the water or in the surrounding cafes and bars.  A perfect ending to a perfect weekend.
Total spend: nothing

* and which, after four years of collecting, have thus far yielded up a return flight to South Africa, a business class return to Amsterdam at New Years, and this trip to Paris. Seriously- the Clubcard/Avios scheme is totally worth it.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Record Store Day lust list

My current - ok, my permanent - Etsy obsession is prints and pictures.  Oh to have the money (and the wall space) to buy everything in my Favourites list!  I have to admit that if - with the hundreds of thousands of amazing options out there - you still default to a framed Ikea print on your wall, then I will judge you.  Stuck for inspiration?  How about one of these musical artworks, in honour of Saturday's Record Store Day.

This amazing The Queen Is Dead print combines two of my favourite things: music and books.  Also available for most of the other Smiths' albums, as well as Joy Division, Kraftwerk and others, but it's this one that's going to the top of my birthday list.  And it's just £12.50: bargain!

Personalised music lyrics prints. I can't quite decide what I would want - Rocket by Smashing Pumpkins maybe? - although it would definitely not be Lana del Rey, like this one.

I love all three of these Riot Grrrl prints, but my favourite has to be the, 'Riot not quiet' one. Revolution girl style now! 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Nice to meet you

I've been lucky enough to collect a lot of new readers and followers recently: hello everyone!  So I thought it might be a good idea to introduce myself to those who are new to the blog (with apologies for those who have been reading for a long time, or who know me IRL).

1. Do you have a middle name?
Elizabeth, which I have always liked a hell of a lot more than my actual given name.  All previous attempts to become 'Beth' or 'Lizzie' have ended in failure, sadly.

2. What is your job?
I'm an English teacher in a middle school, which is a bit of a cushy age: no GCSE pressure or coursework marking at the upper end; no having to toilet train kids or teach them to read at the younger end... just lots of nice kids (and a few rotters) in their fascinating and fun early teenage years.  I complain about my job a lot (and especially on days when I end up working 12+ hours), but I know I'm very lucky.

3. What is your dream job?
If money was no object, I'd be a permanent student; Manchester University's MA in Gender & Sexuality would be first on my list.

4. What do you look like?
I'm allergic to photographs of myself so you'll have to content yourselves with this description: big boobs, indie fringe, dyed red hair and permanently awkward expression.

5. How tall are you?
Well, I say that I'm 5'4". But I'm actually 5'3". Perhaps even a tad shorter. I have total body dysmorphia when it comes to height: in my mind, I'm a completely average height and some days I even feel tall. But... I'm really quite tiny; a fact I'm having to come to terms with as The Boy is well over six foot.

6. Who is your all-time favourite musician/band?
As I said in my recent music Q&A, Smashing Pumpkins are the band that have endured the past twenty years of music fandom.

7. What is your favourite song at the moment?
My guilty pop pleasure at the moment is Stay by Rihanna and I'm still massively into last year's Eurovision winner, Euphoria by Loreen.  Actual decent songs that I'm not ashamed to have on my iPod are Retrograde by James Blake, Next Stop by Bleached, and my biggest obsession at the moment: Other People by Beach House.

8. Do you participate in sports?
Until reading is designated an Olympic sport, no.  I go to the gym regularly and I walk a lot (at least five or six miles around town most weekends, as well as 'proper' hikes), but organised sports are not for me.

9. Favourite book?
Eek, that is impossible to answer!  Two recentish book Q&A's - one here and one on What Hannah Read - might go some way to listing favourites, but I could never narrow it down to one.  That'd be like choosing a favourite child.  But... if I was forced to narrow it down, it'd be Jane Austen's Persuasion for best classic novel, Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter Of Maladies for favourite short story collection, and Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller as my top novel in recent years, just edging out Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.

10. Favourite movie?
I did a movie Q&A on Louise's blog, which mentions all my favourites.  I think Dazed & Confused or The Station Agent take the number one spot though.

11. Favourite colour?
Blue - from baby blue to teal to navy, I love every shade.

12. Favourite perfume?
L'Occitane Ambre is amazing, but it doesn't last long on me (no perfume does, in fact. I think I have very pourous skin).

13. Favourite holiday?
Definitely my train journey across America in July/August 2011, which I blogged about at the time.

14. Favourite place?
Portland, Oregon. Everyone who knows me is no doubt sick of me harping on about it, but I fell so in love with this amazing, alternative, funky city in the Pacific Northwest. It breaks my heart a little every day I wake up anywhere but there. Otherwise, Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire for its independent shops and beautiful views (and proximity to my family).

15. What countries have you visited?
Erm *scratches head*... The Netherlands, Canada, USA, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Iceland, South Africa... I think that's it.  This year has been - and continues to be - a crazy ride of European trips.  By the end of the summer I will have been to The Netherlands five times, plus Germany, Macedonia, France and Belgium.

16. How do you think other people view you?
Difficult question!  I think people tend to think I'm clever - cleverer than I actually am, in fact, possibly in part because despite living in the North and then the Midlands for the past 28 years, I have a rather cut-glass accent.  I possibly come across as aloof and cold, when actually it's just crippling shyness combined with really low self-esteem.  And I know that those closest to me find my inability to talk about my feelings difficult to deal with; I can seem as if I am quite emotionally closed off.  On a more positive note, I think people also see me as adventurous and independent, well-read and creative.

17. What is your biggest regret?
I try to live without regrets as much as possible, because it seems like wasted energy. I'd rather concentrate on making better decisions in future than kicking myself for ones made in the past. That being said, though, I do kick myself for the years I wasted in my early twenties, pining away for an emotionally unavailable, idiot boy.

18. Which person gone from your life do you miss the most?
The people I've been friends with who have passed from my life for various reasons.  I've had a couple of 'friendship breakups' and, although it's definitely for the best that they ended, I miss those people often.
19. What is the most valuable piece of advice you have ever been given?
My mum told me to buy a house, which was a great piece of advice (the financial help she - and my dad - gave me in getting a deposit together didn't go amiss either!). 

20. What five things can you not leave the house without?
- Lip balm of some description - my current fave is Burt's Bees Pomegranate;
- My iPhone;
- A book (or, increasingly and to my great shame, my Kindle);
- A mini hairbrush to keep my recalcitrant fringe in place;
- A pair of earphones, to shut out the outside world and better allow me to retreat into my misanthropic shell.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Music Monday: music to workout to

Not so long ago I started going to the gym again on the regular.  Music plays a massive part in my workouts; without my iPod, there is no way I would push myself as hard as I do on the cross-trainer or exercise bike.  I'm a creature of habit when it comes to a gym playlist, and (with a few additions along the way) have had the same songs spurring me on to ever-greater speeds since I first signed up at a gym eight years ago.  So, my top ten songs to workout to are...

1. Brianstorm by Arctic Monkeys (many's a time I've almost done myself an injury by trying to keep the cross-trainer at the same speed as the song)
2. Have I Been A Fool by Jack Penate (or, in fact, any single from his debut album: Spit At Stars and Torn On The Platform are equally good)
3. Suffer For Fashion by Of Montreal
4. Tarantula by Pendulum (a rare non-indie song on the list, but great to run or row to)
5. Dismantle Me by The Distillers
6. Giddy Stratospheres by The Long Blondes
7. Cassius by Foals
8. The Bears Are Coming by Late Of The Pier
9. Now I'm All Over The Shop by Maximo Park (Apply Some Pressure works a treat too)
10. Bamarang by Skrillex

Friday, 12 April 2013

Independent spirit

At the end of 2012 there was widespread outrage at the revelations about tax avoidance by big companies.  For me, the inclusion of Amazon on the list was the straw that broke the camel's back.  I had long been concerned about their labour practices, and was never happy giving my hard earned cash to a corporate behemoth when I could have been supporting the little guys, but like many people I found their prices and the ease of ordering just too damn tempting.  The discovery that, despite £3bn sales in the UK in 2011, Amazon had paid not a penny in corporation tax was enough to finally get me to break the Amazon habit.

Buying from other online sources or from high street stores and independent shops has inevitably led to me spending more money, however the difference has been fairly neglible (not least because, without the seemingly endless Amazon Recommends list to browse through, I am less likely to keep adding things I don't really want - and certainly don't need - to my basket).  And I'd happily spend a bit more to get that smug, glowy feeling of knowing I'm occupying the moral high ground!

So now, with Record Store Day fast approaching, I thought the time was ripe to let you know about some genuine alternatives to Amazon.

Photo via weheartit

Fopp is, strictly speaking, not an independent retailer, having been acquired by HMV a few years back. No online store either, but if you're lucky enough to live in a city - including Cambridge, Nottingham, Bristol and Manchester - with a shop, then I am hugely jealous. They always have a massive range of CDs as well as DVDs and books, and most stock is at bargain prices. I'm a bit concerned as to what impact HMV's travails will have on the brand.

Record Store is, according to their website, run by music lovers for music lovers.  It is a great source for both dance and alternative music on CD or vinyl, and their prices are extremely competitive (I've just snapped up Tame Impala's second album for £5.99, just a few pence more than on Amazon).

Rough Trade, set up in 1976 and running as a record label and music retailer ever since, has bricks and mortar shops in London and an online presence.  Good for hard-to-find indie and rarities.

And in Leicester, Rockaboom - while a shadow of its former self - remains a great place for a browse of a weekend, and I often come away a few pounds lighter.   Their back catalogue stuff is particularly good value (usually just a fiver), and even new releases are rarely much more than Amazon.  I just wish their range was wider.

Photo via weheartit

Online, I now use The Book Depository for most of my literary needs.  They have low prices and free (and fast) delivery: Amazon who?

Powells is my favourite bookshop in the world, in my favourite city in the world.  They offer international shipping, low prices... and for me, the thrill of receiving a parcel from my darling Portland is second to none.

Of course, there still exist many excellent high street independents which need your support.  My local is Quinns in Market Harborough, which I always enjoy visiting.  Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath is high on my list of places to visit.  And although not an independent, I think Waterstones has really raised its game in recent years.

I would love to hear about your recommendations.  What are the good independent book or record shops near you?  Or have you discovered a great online source of entertainment?

Thursday, 11 April 2013

This summer, I want to...

Photo via weheartit

... pack a picnic and a bottle of fizz and go to the park with a gang of friends;
... watch the sunrise with the boy I love;
... go to a small local festival.  I'm currently tempted by Y Not (which is in Derbyshire, so local-ish); now I just need to convince my mates that they want to go too;
... tackle some of those books that I have been promising people I would read.  It is ridiculous, for instance, that I have never read To Kill A Mockingbird;
... visit the Huddersfield Food & Drink Festival with my mum and step-mum;
... put my new bike together and take it out for some rides along the canal;
... try not to wish the summer away... because The Boy moves back to Leicester at the start of September!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

What I did on my holidays

Only a few more days of the Easter holidays to go... it has been a weird (but good) break, not really like spring at all due to the weather.  The Boy arrives for a visit later this evening (eep - so excited!), so I have - unusually - been wishing away my days off, just wanting the time to hurry up so I can see him.
So what have I done on my holidays?  I've seen friends, read a lot, slept a lot, gone to the gym a lot, visited family.  I have baked and shopped (a slightly ridiculous amount, actually).  Gardened and cleaned (rather less than I have shopped).  Blogged and planned.  I also had a lovely day out in Nottingham with L, culminating in a visit to the Playhouse for a performance of I Was A Rat, a really wonderful play (based on the book by Phillip Pullman) full of music, dancing, comedy and just the right amount of sentimentality.

1. & 2. Extremely snowy walk in Denby Dale during a trip to Yorkshire to visit the family;
3. Raspberry cupcakes;
4. Tree with blossom and snow: just plain wrong.

5. Lovely new bed linen on my admittedly overly girly, pink bed;
6. I Was A Rat at Nottingham Playhouse (thanks to Laura, who sorted us out with free tickets for the press night);
7. The perfect afternoon during school holidays: a pint of cider in the pub, with a book about Riot Grrrl to while away the hours;
8. Gorgeous new brogues from Clarks, which I don't quite dare to wear outside for fear of ruining them.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

My new favourite shop

I went to Leamington Spa on my day off recently.  Although I don't think the town measures up to neighbouring Warwick or nearby Stratford-Upon-Avon, it does have a Bravissimo shop so a visit is needed every so often. 

However, on this trip I stumbled across an absolute gem of a store that I just had to tell you about. Berylune is the kind of place where you need nothing but want everything. I seriously could have bought the entire stock.

The interior of Berylune.  Washi tape, craft paper and Chupa Chups?!  My kind of shop

Look at these amazing rainbow satchels! 

I bought a few of these gorgeous homemade soaps to give as gifts; they were pleasingly cheap and smell amazing.

Being fairly short on funds (I had just spent fifty quid on bras, after all), I had to limit myself to the soap and this fab record sleeves colouring book but a return trip is very much in order ASAP.  And if Leamington is too far for you to travel, you can also buy online - yay!

All photographs from the Berylune website.