Monthly Archives: November 2013

Ways to start work

  1. Make tea
  2. Source some kind of snack (twice as long if trying to be healthy)
  3. Sit down
  4. Adjust chair and screen
  5. Choose working music
  6. Roll up sleeves
  7. Take watch off
  8. Open document
  9. Check Facebook/emails
  10. Switch back to document
  11. Roll up sleeves further
  12. Choose more appropriate working music
  13. Adjust sitting position
  14. Roll up sleeves again
  15. Make joke about rolling up sleeves in own head
  16. Laugh and hold head in hands despairing about how everything becomes a way to avoid work and how unfunny internal jokes are
  17. Think of a great idea for a blog post
  18. Publish blog post
  19. Realise arms are too cold because of sleeve position
  20. Spend too long thinking about how to warm arms
  21. Write two sentences
  22. Get stuck trying to think of the one word that perfectly finishes this sentence
  23. Update word count with the 24 words added since starting
  24. Check for comments on blog post
  25. Move figure from left to centre of page
  26. Check Facebook/emails
  27. Look at the time and realise it’s far too late to actually do any work so give up and go home.

Expected thesis completion date: 2063

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas TreeAhh Christmas I love it. I love the cold weather, the huge jumpers and ridiculous scarves, the fact that it’s acceptable to drink hot chocolate all day long, the snow, the music and the endless streams of tinsel.

And of course the presents.

For the last few years my letter to Santa has mostly been a list of books I want and I sent off my yearly wish list just last week to the relevant authority. And then disaster struck.

Yesterday I finished reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles, (if ever there has been a more put upon woman in the history of literature I have yet to hear of her; poor, poor Tess) and on arriving home to pick up my next book I realised…….

THERE WAS NOTHING LEFT ON MY SHELF!!

Horror

“It’s ok,” I said to myself, “Tomorrow’s Saturday and (because the stupid Northern line isn’t running again) you have to go into Wimbledon so you can visit all the charity shops and pick something up.” Calmed I went to bed and had sweet dreams of the new books about to fall into my hands.

So this morning I sprang out of bed at the break of day… Alright I clawed my way out from beneath the blankets an hour after my alarm went off and eventually hauled myself up into a position where I could throw some clothes on and emerge glaring at the sun and giving off waves of “Don’t talk to me or I might eat you” (I’m not a morning person)… And headed for the shops.

It was when I was standing in Oxfam with an armful of books that I realised: I couldn’t remember what I’d asked for. Last year I requested Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson which a lovely relative dutifully bought, wrapped and shipped up to Preston for me to open. Which I did. About a week after buying my own copy. That was an accident but I had the awkward feeling that if I did it two years running, questions may be asked.

So I stood there paralysed with indecision until ultimately I came to the realisation that the book in my hands was almost definitely not on the list I sent off. But Mum, if you’re reading this, don’t buy me Lisey’s Story, I’ve got that one covered 😉

Santa list

90. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

On the RoadOn the Road is billed as an epic adventure story chronicling the travels of Sal Paradise and his motley assortment of friends back and forth across the North American continent. It’s a semi-autobiographical rendition of author Jack Kerouac’s experiences as part of the ‘Beat Generation’ and he has stated that the character of Sal is heavily based on himself while his good friend Neal Cassady was the inspiration for Dean Moriarty.

It’s taken me a while to write this review because I needed to work out how I feel about it before putting anything down on paper. When I first started reading it I was worried that it was going to be a bit ‘philosophical’ for my tastes. I put that in inverted commas because it’s not that I am averse to proper philosophy or a books with a political point, it’s just that I find young men who know very little about the world prattling on about rights and wrongs kind of annoying. I’ve read lots of books like this and had a fair number of conversations in real life along the same lines and it’s not something I relish.

However a couple of chapters in Sal leaves New York to head to San Francisco and things started to look up. I loved the description of his journey across the country; I’ve never been to America and if I’m honest it’s not a country that’s ever appealed to me and as a slightly cowardly person it’s highly unlikely that if I do I’ll choose to go hitchhiking from coast-to-coast. But when Sal was riding along on that flatbed truck with a bunch of other travellers sharing a bottle of whiskey and watching the miles pass by gave me a real yen to follow in his footsteps. The real strength of this book lies in those chapters for me, Kerouac made the call of the road tangible and he infected me with his love of travel. This feeling persisted throughout Sal’s stay in Denver, the people he met, the parties he went to and the mad things they all got up to kept me entertained and he kept the philosophising to a minimum. Actually I stayed with him through his stay in ‘Frisco and his romance with Terry who he meets on the bus to L.A. and ends up living with in a tent in her hometown. I liked Terry and I thought she and Sal made a good couple, she brought out the best in him but alas, like so much in this book, it was not to last. Eventually Sal decides he really does have to head back home to his aunt and so begins another cross-country journey.

I’m not going to spend any more time on the plot – all you really need to know is that Sal spends a heck of a lot of time wishing he was on the other coast and crossing the country by hitchhiking/jumping a train/driving or occasionally actually buying a bus ticket to get there.

The story is really about the characters and their endless pursuit of ‘kicks’, that uncertain quantity that will somehow make their lives worth living. There’s a large quantity of alcohol, quite a bit of drugs and a fair amount of sex involved in this pursuit which in 1957 was probably quite scandalous but I actually found it rather tame (if you want a scandalous amount of sex read Love in the Time of Cholera) by today’s standards.

It’s still hard to know what I think about this book, looking back now I feel quite sorry for Sal and his crew and the way they spent so much time and energy looking for something that they couldn’t quite identify but when I was actually reading it they annoyed the hell out of me. By the end of the book every time someone suggested taking a trip I sighed a little knowing exactly what was coming. It just all got a bit much for me. And I kept expecting Dean to have a mental breakdown or a heart attack or something, it was quite stressful if I’m honest, I can’t imagine what it was like to actually live that life.

Sal is enrolled in college for a large part of the book although unless he was studying how to travel 1,000s of miles and get incredibly drunk on no money at all, he didn’t seem to do an awful lot of studying and this started to grate on me. It wasn’t just the studying, Dean got married more times than I could count, had children and other responsibilities yet as soon as the notion occurred to him he’d jump in a car and leave all of them behind. Sal too kept leaving not only his school but the love of his life, his jobs, everything as soon as Dean called and it made me want to shout at them all. I just wanted them to calm down, grow up and face their responsibilities.

The book is about the quest to discover what life is about and the sense of confusion and yearning for fulfilment comes through loud and clear. Whether I would recommend it or not I’m still not sure but at some distance from actually reading it I can see why it deserves its place on the list. I may have got fed up of all the ‘jumping’ and ‘digging’ but I can appreciate that this book is the portrait of a generation and the fight they faced to make their own path through the world.

 

International Harry Potter covers

A bit of a random post this one. First I’d like to mention the changing colour of the background to my blog. You may have noticed that it’s no longer a pinkish-purple and is more of a pale yellow. This is because I looked at my homepage the other day and realised what it is that’s always made me feel uncomfortable about that colour. It reminds me of fruit-flavoured yoghurt. For reference, I don’t like fruit-flavoured yoghurt, I’m a bit of a purist about my fermented milk products. So I thought I’d go for a classy, grown-up kind of thing. If anyone’s got any thoughts please do let me know 🙂

Now to what actually inspired this post; this post on Buzzfeed which I discovered during my lunch break: International HP covers. It shows images of the Harry Potter covers used in 8 countries around the world (with the added bonus of both adult and child British covers) which I thought was fascinating. 

Aaages ago I wrote a post about my thoughts on the French version of HP & The Prisoner of Azkaban and several of the comments mentioned how nice it was to see different covers so I thought it was my responsibility to share this awesome post!

Harry Potter et le Prisonnier d'Azkaban vs Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter et le Prisonnier d’Azkaban vs Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Personally I prefer the British ones but that’s possibly got something to do with the fact that I grew up with them and all my associations are with those pictures. I also really like the Spanish and American ones and the Dutch ones are stunning. The French ones are a bit too cartoony for my taste except number 7 which is suitably moody. And I’m not sure I’d read the Danish ones, they look a bit too serious and like they’d be lengthy, hard to read legends than kids books.

But what is with the German Harry?! That face he’s pulling makes him look like a sarcastic librarian and the way he leans in from one corner is just odd. I’m afraid he makes me laugh more than anything else.

What are your thoughts on these covers? Are there any you especially like/dislike?

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

poppies

Today is Remembrance Sunday so I thought it a fitting time to post a review that I’ve been working on for a while now.

(For those not in the UK, the Sunday closest to the 11th November (Armistice Day) is a day marked by services to commemorate the sacrifices made by those who were a part of World War I and II.)

Recently I reread The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

The Diary of A Young GirlReading this book is a slightly surreal experience. On the one hand it reads like the diary of any teenage girl from anywhere in time or space. And on the other it is one of the most poignant pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered and a vitally important documentation of one of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen.

Anne Frank was 13 when she was forced to go into hiding with her family in Amsterdam. Some of the lucky few, they had managed to arrange rooms in a secret annexe at Otto Frank’s office where they, the van Daan* family and Mr Dussell* hoped to wait out the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. They’d even managed to squirrel away much of their furniture and belongings so that the annexe was a relatively comfortable hiding place. Taking her most treasured possession – her diary – with her, Anne prepared to wait until it was safe to be a Jew again.

Like any 13 year-old Anne’s principle complaint about her life is that nobody understands her. Her parents and sister are a tight-knit family unit whereas she is always on the outside, the forgotten one who no one really loves. Who didn’t say that at least once or twice during their adolescence? The early teenage years are a time of turmoil for all of us and much and the trials and tribulations of a normal adolescent are reflected in Anne’s diary. Apart from the issue of whether her family really love her there’s the worry that she’ll never find true love as well as the confusion and moodiness that are all part of puberty.

But this is not a normal adolescence and where it gets surreal is when Anne mentions the war. Tales of bombings on the other side of town, the reports of advancing British soldiers she hears on the radio or, most poignantly of all, the day she writes of watching some of Amsterdam’s remaining Jews being marched through the city.

The book is perfused with sadness and it is so painful to read of Anne’s hopes and dreams for a future that we all know she will never have but sometimes amid the family squabbles and lists of remaining foodstuffs it is easy to forget that a bloody war is raging around them. It’s a horrifying clash of the banal and the unheard of and the fact that these two scenes occur side-by-side is what gives Anne’s story its unique appeal, and makes it such a valuable tool for reminding us of the human cost of war.

*names were changed and differ depending on the version you read but these are the ones used in my copy.

 

The Liebster Award

I arrived home from my sojourn to Spain to discover a very exciting thing; Nicola over at View From A Walking Frame has kindly nominated me for the Liebster Award! Nicola’s blog is about living with Cerebal Palsy and her posts (which are far more regular than mine!) always manage to be inspiring, educational and often funny although, given her recent post about compliments she probably isn’t going to be very happy about me saying so. She’s also a regular commenter on my posts and it seems like we have a very similar taste in books, I’m pleased to say she’s another Peter Grant fan!

The Liebester Award

The award comes with a few rules the first of which being that you answer a few questions set by the awarder. So here goes:

What made you start your blog?

I started reading a lot when I moved to London and putting all my thoughts on the internet for people who want to read them seemed fairer than forcing my friends to listen to me ramble. Also people were starting to get a glazed look every time I started a sentence with “I just read…”

What do you enjoy most about blogging?

Comments! It’s great hearing from someone who has an opinion on something you’ve written, whether they agree with you or not and you guys are all so nice! Oh and I also love the stats page – seeing that map light up when someone from a new country clicks onto my blog.

Ain't it pretty?

Ain’t it pretty?

What was your favourite childhood toy?

This is really easy – she’s a beautiful white teddy called Min. Although, at almost 26 she’s starting to show her age a bit. She’s less white and more grey (who gives white things to a baby anyway?!), several outfits have fallen to pieces, her eyes have furled up and one of her ears is distinctly misshapen where I used to hold her up to see the TV. But she’s still the bestest friend a girl could have.

What was the first book you remember reading?

I vividly remember a book I had from school that was very dark red but with a silver spine. It was one of a set of reading books but I have no idea what it was called or what it was about. The reason I remember it so well is that it was from the shelves outside the year 2 classroom and it was when I first realised that I loved reading more than the average 6(ish)-year-old and that I was really good at it. Books I can actually name and remember reading include Charlotte’s Web, The Witches and Carrie’s War because they upset me so much (see this post on more of my childhood reading habits!

What was the first movie you saw as a child?

My memory’s really getting a work out today! I think it was probably something Disney, I remember one year our neighbour gave my brother and I videos of Bambi and Snow White. I also remember watching my mum’s tape of Fantasia which really freaked me out although I don’t remember why and I was a bit older by then.

What would your super power be?

Telekinesis. There’s no question about it. You know when you’re lying in bed but the light switch is on the other side of the room? Or when your cup of tea’s just out of reach? Or someone else has left the TV remote on the other sofa but you know the floor’s cold? Yeah well I wouldn’t. I’ve spent quite some time trying to develop a  telekinetic power but so far no luck. You’ll be the first to know when I do though, through a post I write while sitting six feet away from my computer.

Hot chocolate with cream or tea and biscuits?

Hmmm well generally I’d say tea and biscuits because there is no finer thing than a cup of tea but with winter coming on (not a GoT reference…) and as much as I love tea it’s not quite the same as getting home on a cold, wet day and curling up with a hot chocolate, a dry jumper and a good book. But I’ll swap the cream for marshmallows if that’s alright.

What is your favourite kind of music?

Until recently I would have said indie (The Killers, Maxïmo Park, Snow Patrol, that kind of thing) but I’ve just got really into country music – it started with Brad Paisley and then I discovered Thompson Square, Blake Shelton, Kid Rock, Emmylou Harris and Toby Keith and I’ve still only got a toe in the water really. But my favourite band ever is still The Airborne Toxic Event who have just released their third album and who you should definitely check out 😉

What was your favourite TV show as a kid?

The Magic Roundabout! It wasn’t on TV when I was a kid but we had a tape of it which miraculously survived the 100,000,000 times I watched it. Of TV actually from my generation then Thomas the Tank Engine (but not episode called The Flying Kipper, that one upset me every time). Or Postman Pat. Or Fireman Sam. They just don’t make kids TV like they used to.

What was the first movie you saw at the cinema?

My mum might disagree with this but the first one I remember seeing is probably Aladdin. Or is it The Lion King? I’m not sure actually but I’m certain it was Disney. In fact, come to think of it I can’t remember any non-Disney films from my childhood!

Now I’m supposed to nominate some other bloggers for the award and set them a list of questions as well but my brain is fried after all the questions so I’m just going to point out some other people I think are awesome and tell you to go and see them.

  • First, obviously you should check out Nicola’s blog for the reasons I mentioned above.
  • Storytime with Buffy. Buffy’s blog is full of book reviews with a strong sci-fi/fantasy tendency which I love! She also blogs about the trials and tribulations of novel writing which is always insightful and often something my thesis and I can relate to.
  • The Book Trail combines travel and books to show you where your favourite books are set. I love this idea because knowing exactly where characters have stood and what it is they’ve seen makes a book really come to life.
  • A blog I’ve recently discovered which is of quite niche interest is The Thesis Whisperer. As you may know I’m currently writing a PhD thesis and following a blog which contains posts about how soul-destroying this process is cheering. Misery loves company as they say!
  • Someone else I’ve recently discovered (this time via GoodReads) is Guy Portman. Guy posts interesting facts about authors (who was an alcoholic, who died poor etc.) and his travels.
  • Travels with the Trio – Karen and Ryan are travelling across Europe in search of locations from the Harry Potter series. I loved the Britain posts which had a lot of HP locations in them and I’m also enjoying the photography of all the more exotic places they’re visiting.
  • And last but not least, Books Speak Volumes. Leah blogs about her very eclectic reading habits and is always giving me new ideas for what to read next!

There are many other fantastic blogs out there but check these guys out for now and if you can think of anyone amazing who you think I should have a look out please let me know! (And if any of my nominees do want to answer a load of brain-scratching questions then I recommend the ones I just did to really get you dregding the memory!)

Where in the world I’ve been (Books on the Metro part II)

I’ve been pretty quiet of late I know, I’m going to be traditional and blame this on the insane amount of work I’ve been doing lately. I was procrastinating the other day and decided I’d look at all my old statuses and see how many of them were about work. It turns out most of them. Here’s a sample:

  • There’s nothing like digging through bins to find tubes you threw out yesterday to end a day.
  • When this much goes wrong before 9am you know it’s time to go back to bed
  • How to tell you’re back at work: it’s take three hours to print 10 pages and the highlight of the day is new tweezers

There’s always something fun going on when you work in a lab…

But actually it’s not all been work of late, I’ve just come back from a week in Madrid which was only half work. I went for a four day conference but I went four days earlier to experience the city.

It was fantastic, I went on a free walking tour round the city (with Sandemans, check them out if you’re doing any European travel), went on a tapas bar crawl, saw a private flamenco show and tried out my moves at a salsa night (they were terrible but it was fun!). Stupidly I left my camera at home but here are a few photos from my phone.

A library on the Metro

A library on the Metro

A street bookshop

A street bookshop

A flamenco group at our private show

A flamenco group at our private show

The ancient capital, Toledo

The ancient capital, Toledo

One of very few statues of Satan in the world

One of very few statues of Satan in the world

 

The Royal Palace of Madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid

The conference was really good as well – lots of exciting talks and a gala party catered by a 2 Michelin starred chef. Very fancy but not nearly enough food and it was all a little bit odd!

While I was out there I also did a little reading, believe it or not.

I took two books and despite the fact that I didn’t read on the journey to the airport (because I was running late and was terrified I was going to miss my plane) by the time I arrived in Spain I was already a quarter of the way through the first one.

JoylandI was reading Joyland the latest book from Stephen King. Set in 1973 it tells the story of Devin Jones who spends a summer working at a funfair in North Carolina in order to forget a lost love. Working there he gets caught up in solving the mystery of ‘The Funfair Killer’ one of whose victims is still haunting a ride at Joyland.

I raced through this book. Despite my best efforts to pace myself it had me gripped and I just had to keep reading. I had the identity of the killer figured out before Devin but that was ok, it was still full of twists and turns and the other story about Mike and Annie was more interesting for me anyway. Mike is a young boy who is dying of Duchenne muscular dystrophy which, incidentally several of the talks at the conference I was attending were about. Mike was only about 10 but today a boy with DMD can expect to live to around 25 and in the future, maybe gene therapy will extend that even further.

The RoadMy second book was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I bought this one principally because I’m currently reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac and I thought it was a funny match. Which is ironic because this was NOT a funny book. In a post-apocalyptic world an unnamed man and his son are travelling across America looking for food, safety, anything. The cause of the apocalypse is never revealed except it clearly involved some kind of fire and the entire book is suitably grim. It was hard going for a holiday read and to be honest I don’t feel like I got much out of it except the impression that if I was ever in an apocalypse I’d probably hope for a swift death rather than a drawn out survival with a shopping cart, a lighter and a handful of tinned goods. There were a few typographical things that bugged me about this book – mostly the sporadic use of apostrophes, they were rarely used in contractions although always used for possession. There were no speech marks used but although I wrote a post about how much that annoys me recently I didn’t struggle to follow conversation too often. Mostly because there wasn’t a lot of conversation and when it did happen it was pretty simple. The ending managed to touch me but on the whole it left me cold. Just like the characters in the book.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately, hopefully it won’t be too long before my next post!

To read Books on the Metro part I click here.