I think we can all agree that the last ten months have been relentlessly weird, frequently upsetting, and pretty fucking exhausting. (excuse my language.) Inevitably, we’ve been locked down for a third time here in the UK and although it’s scary – weirdly, I’m finding this one scarier than the ones before – it’s for the best.
*closes eyes, tries to think only of sunshine and rainbows and baskets filled with kittens*
To get me through lockdown part three, I’m trying to remind myself of some of the things that helped me feel better during the first. And top of the “feel better” list is my sister (she deserves a medal for putting up with me) and, specifically, all the weird conversations we had over jigsaw puzzles back in March and April. When I was feeling organised, which wasn’t very often woops, I kept a note of some of the stranger snippets we (somehow) came up with and rereading them brought a much needed smile to my face.
Here are a few of the random things we said during Lockdown: The Original…
on homemade wine. ‘It definitely warms the oesophagus.’
on women’s troubles. ‘I felt like a fat dragon yesterday. Today I feel great.’
on not wanting to be distracted from completing a puzzle section. ‘Wait! Fish assembly is going on here!’
on Frida Kahlo puzzles. ‘The monobrow piece is going to be the best one to find.’
on puzzling in general. ‘With that section I just sort of jabbed pieces at it and hoped for the best.’
on memories. ‘Ah, the great crumble debacle of 2019.’
on panic buying. ‘I just felt like we needed a cauliflower in the house.’
on mangoes. ‘This is Mildred the mango tree.’
on death. ‘I accidentally murdered Mildred.’
on redemption. ‘My avocado is coming up! That slightly heals the pain of losing Mildred.’
on tough love. ‘I’ll stop mocking you when you start singing in tune.’
The next few weeks will be tough – just thinking that this will last until at least the middle of February makes my heart sink so, so low – but I am really looking forward to finding out what nonsense Sarah and I will come up with over a fresh round of puzzles…
What’s bringing a smile to your face this January? What are your happy (or, happyish) original lockdown memories? Have you got any tips/plans for this one?
Well, what a year. There’s so, so much I want to say about it, but also nothing left I have the heart or energy to say. All I know is that I’m really, really tired and I’m looking forward to sunnier times ahead.
Reading – as always – has kept me sane this year.
These are five of my highlights.
the mermaid of black conch by Monique Roffey. Normally, I can’t pick a definitive book favourite – but this is the year of normal going out the window and I can safely say I have a favourite read from the passed twelve months. I thought that The Mermaid of Black Conch was beautiful and strange and utterly bewitching.
one hundred years of solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. This book is the definition of weird and wonderful. It’s a force of nature and, at first, I wasn’t sure that I could survive its unrelenting madness – but its madness is magical and sparkling and brilliant and it was unputdownable once I was in the zone.
the salt path by Raynor Winn. This book follows the emotional and geographical ups and downs of the author and her husband’s trek along the South West Coast Path after they are made homeless. It’s a raw account of hitting rock bottom and rebuilding a life from what’s left. And, if you’re anything like me, it’ll give you seriously ithcy feet as you read it…
mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. I got lost in the sludgy Thames mud from the safety of my sofa with this delightful and treasure-filled book. Maiklem shines a light on the secretive world of mudlarks and on the hidden histories of London found within the objects they unearth. It was quirky and unendingly interesting.
Can you tell from the recent radio silence here that I may have suffered from a bit of a reading slump?
May have meaning 100%, absolutely, definitely.
I was in one of those moods that made it impossible to settle on a genre/author/subject/book length; one of those moods where my mind fluttered from thing to thing, worry to worry, upsetting news story to upsetting news story, chore to chore, sparkly idea to sparkly idea – all without really getting anywhere.
But respite from this brain fog came – not a moment too soon – in the form of a wonderful, mysterious, and labyrinthine hardback from Susanna Clarke (author of the equally wonderful, mysterious, and labyrinthine Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).
‘I almost forgot to breathe. For a moment I had an inkling of what it might be like if instead of two people in the world there were thousands.’
Piranesi – our peculiar, fastidious, and naïve, but utterly charming, protagonist – inhabits a world of strange and deadly tides, avant-garde statues, warped time, confusing omens, complex corridor mazes, and mindboggling rooms. He lives alone in this bizarre world, with only weekly(ish) meetings from an elusive man known simply as “The Other” to keep him company. He is uneasily content with his fragmented universe – but everything Piranesi thinks he knows about life, everything he religiously catalogues in his journals, everything he thinks keeps him safe, is thrown into disarray by the arrival of “16”.
I thought it was a beautiful book. Every page was infused with a quiet melancholy and delicately twisted mystery that haunted me not only as I was reading it, but inbetween readings too. And emotions that follow you around and play on your mind between reads are always a good sign with a book.
If you loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, you’ll love Piranesi. I think too, even though they’re very different, Piranesi would make a great gateway book for anyone who is intrigued by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell but is daunted by the prospect of committing to 1000 pages (god knows, I was).
And if you’re just a little ol’ book blogger in the middle of a two month long reading slump? Well, it’s the sort of book that’ll fix that too.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that 2020 has been all about revelling in the little wins. It’s been about celebrating the tiny nice things that have oiled the news-rusted cogs of each day. Sometimes, it’s simply been clinging on to delicate rays of light at the end of unexpected tunnels. And lockdown 2.0 in the middle of a rainy English autumn has only heightened that need (for me, at least) to find the good in the often bad and sometimes ugly.
This post is in honour of some of those random little things that have been my delicate rays of light.
In no particular order, they are…
watercolour clouds. Fluffy, wispy, and wavy; low, heavy, and menacing; in pretty purples, peachy oranges, pastel pinks, shining golds, glittering silvers, and grumpy greys. Clouds at this time of year certainly know how to keep us all guessing what their next moves will be. Which isn’t always ideal, but it is often nice to look at.
jumpers. I love summer, but being reunited with my jumper collection makes my heart ridiculously happy. I just love wrapping up in oversized knitwear, snug as a bug. If you need me anytime in the next six months, you’ll find me hiding in a cocoon of wool.
singing Fleetwood Mac around the house. My family and neighbours might not appreciate me doing this, but I appreciate me doing it so there. Songs to be particularly careful of when they start to play include: Isn’t It Midnight (my favourite), Gypsy, and – of course – Everywhere. Tbh though, no Fleetwood Mac song is safe from my vocal butchery.
bake off. Ah god, the Great British Bake Off brings so much joy to my 2020 wearied soul. It’s comfort TV at its absolute best. Although, did anyone else find watching all the bakers mess up the making of brownies during chocolate week worryingly distressing? FREEZER JUICE! *suppresses eye twitch* Freezer. Juice. I just can’t. *cries*
fresh sheets. Clean sheet day is my favourite day of the week. I love being snuggly, I love being squeaky clean – the match is made in heaven. Sweet dreams are made of this.
watching hair tutorials gone wrong on YouTube. I lay the blame for this obsession entirely at Brad Mondo’s door. It’s such a waste of time, but I can’t seem to stop and I kinda don’t want to stop. It is worryingly addictive witnessing people melt off their hair with bleach, and it somehow makes the worries of the world melt away too…
new music. Old favourites keep my soul cosy, but new finds keep my ears happy. I’m one of those annoying people who has no preferred genre, I just like what I like when I hear it and I don’t think internet algorithms and cookies know quite what to do with me. I’ve been on a new finds roll recently, and one of the tracks from this roll is Loom by Olafur Arnalds and Bonobo. I love it. And how b.e.a.utiful is this video?!
old photos. I love the nostalgia, I love the embarrassment, I love seeing how much clothes/hairstyles/make-up/tech has changed, I love the little stories behind each one… I can’t get enough. And they don’t even have to be my old photos. Vintage/antique photographs make me wonder about lives I’ll most likely never know anything about, and are great for inspiring story ideas.
chocolate. Chocolate makes pretty much every list post I write, which is probably a sign that I need some serious help… but I don’t actually want to recover from this addiction so there. *sticks out chocolate coated tongue*
putting on socks fresh from the radiator. I cannot recommend this enough. It is SUCH a toasty warm feeling and makes for VERY happy feet. If there’s only one thing that you take away from this list, let radiator socks be it.
reflections. One of the few good things about rain is that it makes great puddles, and great puddles make great reflections. And I love a great reflection. What can I say?
eBay. Lockdowns and the reduced opening hours of a lot of local charity shops have made second-hand shopping sprees rare for me this year, but eBay has been a great substitute fix. Which leads me onto…
dressing up. Lockdown boredom has resulted in me reaching to my wardrobe to brighten up quieter days on (a lot) more than one occasion. Sure, sometimes the visual results of my “pick the sparkliest, floweriest clothes I can find” attitude are questionable but it makes me happy so I’m not really fussed if I offensively clash a pattern or two.
wild time. Spending time in nature makes painful days bearable, and already good days even better. Most of my favourite memories from this year involve blue skies, trees, the sea, and/or flowers in some way. And although autumn and winter make outside time a little more tricky, it’s nothing a good piece of knitwear and a hot chocolate can’t fix.
boooooooks. I’m not even going to explain this one. My love will never die. ❤
So, those are a few of the very random things that have been seeing me through the harder moments of autumn 2020. How about you? I’d love to know what little things have been bringing you joy in all of this year’s strangeness…
My mum found this old photo of my brothers and I the other day and I can’t get it out of my head. It makes me smile. It makes me full of memories. It makes me miss dungarees, even though I’m not the one wearing them in the pic. It makes me embarrassed (I mean, who thought a pudding bowl hair cut on an already super round face was a good idea? How could you, Mum?!). It makes me wonder what dramatic events were unfolding in the story to provoke such an anxious expression from me (clearly it was a nail-biter). It makes me wonder what dramatic events were unfolding in real life that resulted in all the family (minus Dad) gathered around a book for a photo. It makes me grateful that I grew up with parents who took the time to read to, and make up stories on the spot for, me and my siblings. It makes me realise books have been my world, forever. And it makes me realise that I wouldn’t want it any other way, forever.
I always seem to go AWOL from blogging at this time of year, but this year I actually have good reasons for letting the digital tumbleweed take over. The last few weeks have been a blur of happenings, a lot of highs, a few lows, and a mish mash of wonderful adventures. I’ve had some much needed time off work to laze about under shiny autumn skies; I got a beautiful new sister-in-law on one of the sunniest, happiest, smiliest days ever; I finally got to catch up with one of my best friends on her new to me, but old to her, home turf in Plymouth; and I spent some nights in a field beside the sea with old friends reading, laughing, getting smoky clothes, getting cold, listening to waves, and watching shooting stars.
It’s been the best. But my blogging AWOL days are over for another year, I promise.
This little book was meant to be a kind of filler read, an inbetween, a papery breather before a deeper dive into the book sea – but it became so much more.
I know that I overuse this word when it comes to books, but this one deserves it…
It was b.e.a.utiful.
It’s 158 pages of gut-wrenching honesty that spans life and death and all the messiness between. It’s about so much more than the author’s journey to become a doctor (although that would be more than enough) – it’s about love, loss, learning, what it feels like to realise a dream, what it feels like to sleepwalk into a waking nightmare, unsustainable pressures, broken working environments, the NHS, burnout, and the process of building yourself back up again.
‘Breaking is accumulative. We collect small episodes of despair and unhappiness, our own Kodak moments, and we carry them with us until their weight becomes too much to bear and we fracture under the burden. Mending is the same. The more often we witness small moments of compassion, the more humanity we see; and the more likely we are to be able to mend ourselves and the quicker we are to heal.’
It’s filled with pain and exhaustion and despair, but it’s filled with happiness and hope and wonder too.
Normally, I’m a pretty picky reader. If a book hasn’t hooked me by about the fifty page mark (and that’s if I’m feeling really generous, yikes), it’ll be out on its ear and unlikely to be given a second chance to redeem itself.
Recently, though, something weird seems to have happened to me and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about the development.
I’ve ploughed on through two books (who shall remain nameless) that I wasn’t partlicularly enjoying. I refused to give up on them until I made it to their very ends. I stubbornly kept turning their pages. I kept telling myself that things would get better and fall into place. I kept feeling FOMO (of what I don’t actually know) flood my veins each time I considered DNFing them.
One book felt worth the struggle, but only just. The other really, really didn’t.
And these reading experiences have left my reader’s heart and my bookish insticts confused and shaken. I’m not used to feeling unsure about whether to stick books out. Reading decisions are one of the only things in my life I don’t tend to overthink and it’s weirdly unsettling to have that confidence disrupted.
Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’ll shake up my entrenched reading habits and force me to grow and change in unexpected ways. Maybe it means I need to challenge myself.
Maybe it’s just overthinking.
I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
• How do you decide when to stop reading a book? • Have you ever regretted sticking with a book? • Have you ever been thankful you didn’t give up on one? • Do you find changes to your reading habits disruptive in unexpected ways? •
Who knew shopping for a new moisturiser could be so emotionally stressful?
There are so many dramatic, confidence-coroding words to wade through. Defying. Minimising. Reduce the signs of. Fight the signs of. Repair. Fix. SOS. Anti-wrinkle. Anti-ageing.
The lines of my body and the lines of yours are the storylines of our lives – and I’m so, so tired of being made to feel like I have to fight the signs that I’m actually a living, breathing human who’s lucky to be growing older, and maybe even growing wiser, every day. I’m tired of the impending sense of fleshy doom companies drip feed me from all angles. Tired of heart-deep skin worries. Tired of filters specifically designed to “beautify” and hide “flaws” and distort features; filters that mess with the insides as well as the outsides of our heads. I’m tired of airbrushing. And I’m tired of chasing unattainable, ever-changing perfection.
No cream, no balm, no serum, no filter can substitute for the storylines of a life well-lived.
These are some of my body’s lines…
Little cardboard cuts scratched across my fingers and forearms – the bane of supermarket workers the world over. Palm lines that hold my future and my past, or maybe they don’t, who knows? Teeny, tiny fingerprint lines, all mine. Spidery blue lines just below my skin – beating, flowing, rushing lifelines. Hairband lines – most days one found on my right wrist, some days one found right round my tresses, the ugly ghost of a ponytail. Centre parting line, something I have always, and will always, refuse to change no matter what hairdressers say. Anklet lines, my inner bohemian/hippie/magpie released. Bracelet lines painted against my pulse. Watch strap lines telling fleshy time. Tan lines, pale moon-white skin versus slightly less pale and freckle flecked skin. Sometimes, fake tan streaks. Occasionally, wonky eyeliner. Most days, lipstick smudges. Sock lines dug into my calves. Worry lines etched deep on my forehead, maybe even carved down into my skull, from years of not knowing how to let anxieties go. Smile lines that crinkle by my lips, always ready and waiting to make an appearance, from years of knowing the best family and friends. Teary mascara streaks across my face when it all gets too much. Bra strap lines that dent my shoulders and stretch across my back. Uncomfortable underwire lines that trace up to my armpits. White dashes on my fingernails and jagged, broken lines of varnish. Burn lines, guilt infused. Bleary red veins that creep and crawl in the whites of my eyes after too little sleep, bleary red pillowcase creases that thread across my cheek bones after too much. Stretch marks, silver tiger prints blooming on my thighs, my hips, my breasts. Bikini line, ahem. Crinkles above, below, behind my knees. Little lines on my ears from earphone wires. Face mask lines on my nose, something new to get used to. Mini crosshatched lines tattooed to my hands and knees from my yoga mat. Muscle lines – be careful, I’m stronger than I look. Big lines from chair edges pressed into the backs of my thighs. Lines of book page edges printed to the fleshy bit below my thumb. Necklines – higher, lower, what will people think, why do I even care? Jean seam lines, waistband lines, cuff lines.Careless ink lines slashed across my hands. The whisper of crow’s feet lines beside my eyes, memories of laughter.
These are a few of my reading highlights from the last few weeks…
between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a raw, heartfelt, and compelling letter by the author to his son on the subject of race in America. Not only does it lay bare the sustained experiences of racism most black Americans face in their lives, it also unpicks the idea of the American dream itself. It’s a beautifully written, brutally honest, and insightful book.
‘You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable… The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.’
rebeccaby Daphne du Maurier. I ordered a copy of Rebecca from the library just before lockdown, and finally got my hands on a copy earlier this month (yay for libraries re-opening!). I found it just as twisted and gothic and haunting and suspenseful as My Cousin Rachel – although I did find it infuriating to have such an aloof main character (she’s never even named) despite appreciating that this detachment was a deliberate (and, granted, effective) narrative tool. It’s a classic for a reason, so I won’t bore you with more of my analysis – basically, if you read it it’ll mess with your mind and keep you on your emotional toes.
‘He would never love me because of Rebecca. She was in the house still… she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall… and in the garden, and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage. Her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs.’
the salt path by Raynor Winn. Weirdly, I started The Salt Path last year but returned it to my TBR pile for another try when I didn’t get into it as much as I’d expected to. And I’m so glad I saved it for future reading, because when I picked it up again last month I clicked with it instantly. The book follows Raynor and her husband, Moth, on the physical and emotional ups and downs as they walk the South West Coast Path in England after they’re made homeless and as Moth struggles with the effects of a debilitating illness. It’s a raw account of hitting life’s rock bottom and rebuilding from what’s left. Be careful, though – it’ll make you want to go for a really, really, really long walk.
my sister, the serial killerby Oyinkan Braithwaite. Every now and again, I read a book that I just want to press into the hands of every passer-by I see and shout dramatically: “read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets!”. My Sister, the Serial Killer is one of those books. I’d seen it all over instagram and the book blogosphere for aaages, but was nervous a book about a serial killing sister would be too macabre for me. Turns out, I was totally wrong. I loved it. The story itself is simple but addictive, the characters are lovable if a bit morally adrift, and the tone is incredibly witty despite the dark subject matter. Read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets.
‘Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.’
• Have you read any of these? • What did you make of them? • What have you been reading recently? •