Sunday, 10 July 2016

The Holiday Diaries: Moraira, Spain

This past week since I came back from holiday has been long and looking at these photos has me itching to jump on the next plane to Alicante and go back to the warm and chilled shores of Moraira.

Moraira is a marina town on the Costa Blanca, about 45 minutes away from Alicante. Despite its closeness to the fairly built-up tourist spots of Benidorm and Calpe, it's incredibly unspoilt and a really peaceful place to spend a week away from the turmoil that was the week of Brexit in the UK. It's a place my family and I have visited fairly regularly since I was about 8, so it feels like a really true home away from home for us.

Our 'home from home', the villa we stayed in; the view down to El Portet; coffee at El Cafeti de la Mar; fountains in Moraira
What We Did
When we weren't just chilling out by the pool, we headed to...

Moraira Beach: A really sandy, quite popular beach. You can hire sun loungers & umbrellas if you don't fancy dragging your own down to the beach with you; if you like water activities you can do anything from hiring a pedalo to playing on the weird inflatable activity thing. There's also a nice cafe on the beach itself, which sells my fave frozen lemon drinks which I'm kind of addicted to.

El Portet Beach: My personal favourite. Not as big as Moraira, but the sea is almost still. You have to walk for ages before it gets deep enough to swim in, and you can spot fish and all sorts in the sea too. It's served by two cafes, the one further down is the better one if you fancy a quick toastie or sandwich and drink whilst you're there (they've also got a lovely cat). 

Altea: On a day that was supposed to be overcast and then turned out to be pretty scorchio, we visited the nearby town of Altea. It has a really beautiful old church at the centre of its raised old town and a really nice seafront packed with bars and restaurants. It's also got great shopping and markets (where you can get 10 churros for about 2euros).
The view down to El Portet beach; the view across to Calpe from El Portet; Moriara beach; that lemon drink <3

Where We Ate/Drank
Del Pescador, Calle Mar 33: This place has bizarrely sniffy reviews on TripAdvisor which I find totally confusing. We liked it here so much we went twice (and we've been loads before). A really traditional Spanish restaurant, we first had the Menu of the Day (which was amazing value) and second time around we had a paella. The service has never not been great when we've been; a lot of the reviews seem to suggest that the staff don't understand English which is just plain wrong (though it obviously helps if you can at least speak a touch of Spanish) I really recommend it for actual authentic food.

Pulcinella, Avda de la Paz 14: It feels a bit weird to be including an Italian restaurant on a list of restaurants in Spain but this is so. good. Amazingly fresh pasta, pizzas that look great and some amazing anti-pasti (the beef tartare with tuna is incredible). Plus their deserts are great, as is the service.

Vista Ifach, Castillo 11: This is a long-time family favourite. A traditionally Spanish restuarant (though it's diversifying into pizza & pasta now) with really great sea-food. Plus it has the best pan y aioli anywhere.

Gelateria Venezia, Calle de Mar: Another place we've been going forever. Amazingly tasty and good value ice-cream in a million different flavours or sundaes. The coffee is good if you are wrong and don't enjoy ice-cream.

Xambel Bar, Calle Castillo 16: This is a great place for a pre-dinner drink where you can watch the world go by. They also do great tapas if you fancy that.

El Cafeti de la Mar, Calle Castillo 30: We popped into this cafe for a breakfast treat on our first day. You can't go wrong with a toasted croissant or sandwich AND the coffee here comes complete with a shot of Advocaat and cream. At 11am. Wonderful.

Fishy Fishy, Kristalmar 30F: I do feel a tiny bit bad for including a Fish & Chips restaurant, but this was pretty much better than a lot of chippies back home. I had a Thai-style fishcake which was delicious and super fresh too. The portions are quite generous as a warning.

Altea church; me on our last night rocking some freckles; Vista Ifach dinner; Geleteria Venetia ice-cream

If someone could throw me a couple hundred Euros so I can head back I would be there again in a heartbeat.

Extra Notes
We flew from East Midlands Airport to Alicante, with Ryanair and returned with Jet2. Most British airports fly into Alicante which is about a 45 minute drive. Valencia is another option but a tad further away.

We hired a care from Goldcar (Moraira isn't brilliantly served by public transport), which was great aside from the two back passenger seats mysteriously missing seatbelts (?)

Our villa is owned by a couple who are selling up this year (sobsobsob), you can find plenty in the area and there are a couple of hotels in Moraira town itself too.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

A Month in Books: June

Having spent many months moaning about feeling pretty underwhelmed by my reading experiences; this month, perhaps aided by the fact that I was on holiday and just wanting to avoid the disaster of the ~real world~ I am finally back on track with my Goodreads goal and really ploughed through the following (and really enjoyed most of them).

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide (trans. Eric Selland, 2014, Picador)
The Guest Cat is a quiet novella which explores the lives of a middle-aged couple living in a quiet corner of a Japanese town. They live next door to a young family and their ageing landlords, and one day the family’s cat enters their garden and soon their home. The presence of the cat brings a new routine to the couple’s lives, bringing them closer together and closer to their neighbours.
 This isn’t a book in which anything particularly happens. At all. Hiraide’s descriptions, as translated by Eric Selland, are lovely and the sense of place throughout the novel was really great. As a cat lover, I did also obviously like the way in which the relationship between the characters and the cat was written. However, I wouldn’t say it was anything particularly revelatory and unless you are a real cat lover (or really enjoy Japanese fiction), I wouldn’t necessarily rush out and read it.

David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits & the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell  (2011, Penguin)
I really enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s writing, and his new podcast is just as good. He is great at bringing to life case studies and teasing out an overall message. If Outliers (my personal favourite by him) was slightly depressing in its acknowledgement of how many people succeed due to a very unique set of experiences, then David & Goliath explores how normal, ‘little’ people can really stick up to power.
Gladwell’s writing is as good as always, but I will admit that David & Goliath hasn’t really stuck with me as much as his previous works. Without a quick Google, the only studies that I really remembered were the well-known historical ones (the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama; the popular movement against the curfew in Northern Ireland during The Troubles). However, a brief Google did remind of the amazing story of Emil J. Freireich and his incredible work on attempting to find a cure for leukaemia, and whether that was linked to childhood trauma. 
I did find the theme links in this work a little less effective as they have been in previous books, but it’s definitely worth a read if you’re new to Gladwell or an existing fan.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951, Virago)
Daphne du Maurier is one of my all-time favourite writers, but the last book I read by her (Hungry Hill) was not in any way a favourite of mine so I was definitely slightly apprehensive going into this. However, I needn’t have worried as My Cousin Rachel is really good. 
Philip has lived in rural Cornwall with his committed bachelor uncle Ambrose since the death of his parents. One winter, Ambrose travels to Italy for his health and suddenly appears to fall in love and marries his distant cousin Rachel. Philip is overcome with jealousy, which is compounded when Ambrose suddenly dies and Rachel has disappeared. However, when she appears in Cornwall, all of Philip’s previous ideas of her are thrown upside down.
The novel is told from Philip’s perspective, who is a tough character to really like, and who is an incredibly unreliable narrator as he ignores advice from practically everyone else in his life. 
Du Maurier’s writing is excellent, with the opening sentence just setting the scene almost as well as the famous one from Rebecca. Her sense of place is, as always, excellent. Du Maurier is always wonderful at evoking her beloved Cornwall, but the parts of the novel set in Italy also felt excellently stifling.
My Cousin Rachel is almost like a 20th century Gone Girl, where you’re constantly torn between seeing Rachel as a grief-stricken woman desperate to win over the beloved relative of her dead husband, or as a manipulative gold-digger who may well have had a hand in Ambrose’s death. I really recommend this. 

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015, Chatto & Windus)
Despite Anne Tyler being quite a prolific author, and this being one of her last books (apparently), I’d never actually heard of her until this novel was nominated for the Man Booker last year. A Spool of Blue Thread is the sprawling story of the Whiteshanks over many different generations (which is basically one of my favourite things to read).
It’s summer and Red & Abby Whiteshank, the current patriarch and matriarch of the family, are aging and their family is trying to get them to accept more help than they perhaps think they need. This means that their children; brusque Amanda, often-overlooked Jeanie, prodigal son Stem and somewhat flaky Denny, all descend on the house and the family’s history is unpicked.
A Spool of Blue Thread is at times moving, at times funny and at certain points pretty shocking. The overall feel is like a lovely meander through a family history on a hot summer’s day and if you’re looking for a book to compliment your summer this is a really great one. I’m definitely going to be checking Anne Tyler’s backlist. 

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild (2015, Bloomsbury)
I really, really enjoyed this. The Improbability of Love came to my attention as a fairly improbable (lol) inclusion on the Bailey’s Prize shortlist.
The title comes from the name of a painting which is at the centre of the story, which opens with its auction to a variety of wealthy and ridiculous people. However, the narrative really kicks off some six months earlier when the broke and heart-broken Annie finds it in a junk shop as a gift for a potential love interest. This sends her suddenly into the art world as it begins to appear that this painting may well have a rich and dark history.
Rothschild just brilliantly draws sympathetic, and not so sympathetic characters, from Annie and her alcoholic mother, to the truly ridiculous movers and shakers in the art world. The plot also moves really well between crazy goings-on in London to exploring some of the truly dark periods of history, and the lengths that people can go to protect themselves. A particularly great technique that Rothschild uses is having the painting itself narrate certain passages, giving a really great insight into the historical importance of art.
The Improbability of Love is a really fun read, which has made me want to visit an art gallery like tomorrow, and I’m so hoping it gets some kind of BBC mini-series adaptation because the novel is just crying out for it. 

Sweet Caress by William Boyd (2015, Bloomsbury)
I picked up Sweet Caress after running out of things to read on holiday and my Brexit-blues making me not too keen to read Owen Jones' The Establishment. It's the fictional autobiography of Amory Clay, a woman who becomes a photographer against the backdrop of the major events of the 20th century. Her work, and her love affairs, take her through London, Germany & New York in the 1930s & 1940s; Paris in the post-war years, back to England and (in my favourite part of the novel) to Vietnam. 
Boyd is excellent at weaving history into his novels, and I really liked the insights into the seedy world of pre-Nazi Germany, the Blackshirt riots in the UK and as mentioned previously, the madness of the Vietnam War.
Against this, Amory deals with more 'normal' life events; strife with family and lovers. Whilst I did find her relationships with her parents, uncle and siblings really interesting and nuanced, I never really found myself caring too much about her romantic relationships. This may well be the point, as Amory's life really shines outside of her private world, but as much of the novel is devoted to her feelings towards various men it did detract a tad from this. I did also find a couple of the plot points a tad convenient or unnecessary; but Boyd is a really solid writer and this is a really interesting insight into being a news photographer (and sent me down a wormhole of looking up the photographers mentioned in the novel who are real).


Monday, 4 July 2016

(Belated) Thoughts On: Birmingham Royal Ballet's Shakespeare Triple Bill

A couple of weeks ago, I made my likely final visit to Birmingham Hippodrome for a while (more on this soon) to see the final show in Birmingham Royal Ballet's season in Brum until October. As part of Shakespeare's 400th year, BRB presented their Shakespeare Triple Bill, made up of Wink, 'he Moor's Pavane and The Shakespeare Suite.

The evening began with a new piece choreographed by Jessica Lang called Wink. This is a dance piece inspired by Shakespeare's many sonnets and set to music by Jakub Ciupinski. Whilst I wasn't entirely sold on the dancers moving the set pieces (designed by Mimi Lien), which felt a tad random, this was an otherwise really great new piece. The sonnets were really sensitively chosen and fitted the score beautifully and Peter Tiegen's lighting really added to the overall impact. The dancing throughout was incredibly strong, and featured some really great male partnering between Brandon Lawrence and Lewis Turner. Lawrence was really the star of this piece, doing some great solo dancing to almost music-less sonnets and is definitely someone to watch.

The next part of the evening was a mounting of Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane. This is what really attracted me to the evening as Othello is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays  and this piece is based on the central plot of that piece. Stripped back to just four performers, Limon uses the pavane style of dance and ballet style steps to tell the story. All four dancers were great; Tyrone Singleton coolly imposing as The Moor, Delia Mathews seems to just glide across the stage as his wife and then Iain Mackay & Elisha Willis (dancing some of her final performances with the company) as the scheming and more sexual couple really added the edge to the piece.  

The highlight of the evening was David Bintley's Shakespeare Suite based on the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. This presents the numerous dysfunctional relationships that various Shakespearean characters have with each other (or in the case of Hamlet, with himself). Really, the entire company is fantastic in this. Angela Paul and Lachlan Monaghan as the duelling Katherine & Petruchio on their wedding day; the darkly sexy Celine Gittens as Lady Macbeth manipulating Iain Mackay's Macbeth into committing murder and Laura Purkiss and Kit Holder as the drunk/giddy Titiana and Bottom were all just fantastic. As Hamlet, Mathias Dingman bought a really acrobatic swagger to the piece, but literally everyone was brilliant in this at times dark (especially the presentation of Othello) but also laugh-out-loud funny piece.

My delay in getting this up means that the run at the Hippodrome has ended. However, you can catch Wink & The Moors Pavane alongside Frederick Ashton's adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Salford & Plymouth (info here) from September and this Triple Bill again in London from October (info here).

Thought I'm going to be sad not be a walk away from their home, I'm definitely going to be trying to get to see the new Bintley-choreographed production of The Tempest, at my new home in London.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Clicklist #17

This week has been really exhausting and, if you hadn't pick up on it in my last post, I haven't been feeling my most fabulous either.

However, powering through the 90-odd YouTube videos that I've missed out on is making me feel a bit perkier, so if the past week has you down & the weather's doing a very poor impression of June, then here's a bunch of stuff that should hopefully perk you up a little.

From the Blogosphere 

Bryony's guide to spending 36 Hours in the Netherlands

Emma Gannon's 60 Small(ish) Things That Make Me Happy. Also her awesome podcast.

19 of the Biggest Shocks About Growing Up. Hannah's blog is always just so good.

Joy on what inspires her about her best friends just made me feel really warm inside.

I loved Meg's photos of  her trip to Barcelona.

From Around the Internet

If you're not already subscribed to Dolly Alderton's newsletter, you really should be

The same goes for the Two Bossy Dames newsletter

The latest episode of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast from the United State of Women Summit

The Guilty Feminist podcast on Worth with Sarah Millican, I love this. (Also thank you Julia for the reccomendation)

This Tony Award special Carpool Karaoke, just makes me beam

See also the opening of the Tony Awards (am a bit gutted that all the other performances seem to have been taken off YouTube though, if you can find The Color Purple that's worth a watch too)

I feel like I include Jess' vlogs every time YouTube does their standard 'vlogging months' but I do just love her videos.

I've also been really enjoying Amelia Liana's vlogs this month, her editing is super crisp (and I'd kill for her wardrobe)

Then, if you like a tongue-in-cheek approach, Adrian Bliss is back, this time he's travelling to Vidcon.

And that's it! 

Let's all be a little kinder than we have to be over the next week.
And please, please vote on the 23rd June if you're in the UK.

Friday, 17 June 2016


Back in 2008, like many (many) people I was totally absorbed by the US Presidential election. 

The Democratic candidate spoke about change like it was a thing that could really happen, and seeing stadiums full of people totally absorbed in this idea that there was real hope for the future.

Some years later, I'm sat with an International Relations & Politics degree in an office of local councillors because it seemed like the way that I could help make a really positive change on people's lives.

Despite three years of learning about an awful lot of grim politics and international events, I stuck by the idea that fundamentally, people are inherently good. That we can work together we can tackle issues that are far too complex for one person to deal with alone. That the ideologies that drive us apart can be defeated.

Yet over the past few weeks my faith in people being generally good has been tested.

When the current Republican candidate for president, who once insisted that the current president must actually be African because he's black, wants to keep people of different races (Mexicans)  & religions (Muslims) out of the US. 

And these ideas are not met with condemnation, but stadiums full of cheering people who are filled with hate towards people they barely know.

When a London Mayoral campaign is run on the idea that all Muslims must vaguely know some kind of extremist.

When a Mayor of a capital city claims that the President is anti-Brexit because he has natural 'anti-English sentiment' due to his Kenyan heritage.

When a former Mayor claims that Hitler was a Zionist. 

When a man can shoot dead 49 people because of who they love & despite this loss of life there are politicians in the US who refuse to see the logic in tightening gun laws.

When a campaign can literally borrow from Nazi propaganda in order to win an election.

When Jox Cox MP can be shot in the street for doing her job.

It's really hard to keep believing that there is any light in any of this. I'm tired of politics and I'm tired of a referendum that has done nothing but bring out the complete worst in people. 

I hope that if anything comes from the senseless murder of a politician who seemed to genuinely care about her constituents, the wider community and vulnerable people across the world is that it gives us time to consider where we're headed. And what happens when we allow hate & fear to dominate our discourse, rather than hope & change.

Far more eloquent people:

Monday, 6 June 2016

Two Months in Books: April-May

This is a bit of a bumper post; whilst I spent a lot of April still struggling through a reading slump, by the end of May I found myself very much back in the reading zone. Whilst I'm still a little bit behind on my reading challenge, I'm very much hoping that June will get me back on track.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (2012, Allison & Busby)
Bitter Greens starts with the story of Charlotte Rose de la Force, a real woman in the court of the Sun King at Versailles, who is not a beauty but is known for being massively witty. An unfortunate circumstance sees her abandoned to a nunnery where she comes across the story of Margherita, a young girl in a world that sounds an awful lot like that of Rapunzel.
I really loved the parts of the book that focused on the retelling of Rapunzel, both from the perspective of Margherita and the witch herself. The world of Renaissance Venice and Italy came so brilliantly to life in these passages, and the way the narrative is tweaked is really interesting. The emphasis on staying young and beautiful and powerful; and the destructive impact of love on some women, was brilliant.
I wasn't so into the story of Charlotte Rose, a lot of that part of the novel felt like a bit of an info-dump. Whilst the stories of the Huguenots and the poor position of women in French society at the time were really interesting; Charlotte certainly, I couldn’t help but feel that this could have almost been a biography by itself as it did just tend to feel like an entirely separate story.

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (trans. Lucia Graves, 2013, Weidenfeld & Nicolson) 
I was really looking forward to reading this, as Zafon is one of my favourite authors and I thought this could be the book to break me out of my reading slump. However, I think it just made me very aware that me and Zafon's young adult novels just do not get on.
The novel is set in post-war Barcelona, where one day 15-year-old Oscar stumbles upon a stunning house and meets Marina, who lives there with her reclusive father. They witness an intriguing ritual together, which leads them to discovering a dark mystery from years before.
I felt like the tone of Marina was a tad all over the place; the main mystery plot was really dark and felt like something that could be found in his adult novels but as it was told from Oscar's perspective there was a weird humour there that frequently felt out of place. Also similarly to his previous young adult works, I had real problems around how Marina's entire existence was just to look sexually appealing  to Oscar (he is literally described as liking his lips over her). I'm hoping that I'll get on better with his next adult novel.

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis (2014, Penguin)

I picked up Flash Boys ages ago, I think from Smiths when I was looking for another book for a deal and it sounded vaguely interesting.
It's a look at the increasing popularity of something called high-frequency trading within investment banks, where banks essentially make a bunch of money at the expense of the actual investors who trust them to make the right decisions for them. It follows a bit of an eccentric mix of Wall Street staff, led by Brad Katsuyama who decide to set up a morally fair stock exchange.
Michael Lewis' writing style is really engaging, even when the topic isn't necessarily action-packed and the 'characters' if you can call real people that were completely fascinating. From Brad, who fell into Wall Street with Royal Bank of Canada and hated the attitude found on trading floors elsewhere; to one of his colleague's who considers it something of a weakness that he was emotionally impacted by 9/11.
The only downside for me was that I felt that Lewis expected a level of understanding of the financial system that I just didn't have, which meant that there were numerous mentions of jargon that I just didn't understand, and there were minimal notes. This is a shame, because I think with that additional layer of understanding I would have gotten a lot more out of this.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003, Bloomsbury)
I think I've come to The Kite Runner in a bit of a roundabout way compared to most readers, in that this is the last of Hosseini's novels that I've got to read; despite its massive success.
The novel is the story of Amir, who as a 12-year-old witnesses a horrific attack on his best friend Hassan; an event which tears the two apart and sends ripples down the years of Amir's life.
As with all of Hosseini's novels, The Kite Runner is great at shedding light on historical events in Afghanistan; I was particularly interested in the parts of the novel about the Hazara people. Amir and his father's flight from Afghanistan was also a really interesting, if pretty horrendous, read-especially in light of the ongoing refugee crisis.
However, I was a bit disappointed with some aspects of the novel. I missed the multi perspectives that Hosseini frequently uses, and I felt that the characters just weren't as developed and interesting as the characters in his more recent works (especially And the Mountains Echoed). It felt like a lot of Amir's problems just sort of fell into that ~son seeking father's approval~ trope, which is one that I am just a little tired of. I also found that some of the plot 'twists' could be seen a mile off  which was a shame.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (2014, Hodder & Stoughton) 

I was a little dubious of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet at first, because the type of sci fi I enjoy tends to fall into 'speculative' or 'dystopian' brackets, not spaceships and aliens. However, after loads of hype online, a couple of award nominations and being stuck in a reading slump-I figured that this would be a good book to pick up.
The novel follows the crew of the spaceship Wayfarer, who are a tunnelling ship, meaning they punch holes in the galaxy to travel through. The novel's action really kicks off with them being given the mission to travel to a planet which the galaxy has an uneasy alliance with in a galactic war. 
Chambers divides her attention between all the members of the crew. From Ashby, the captain who loves his crew; to Corbin, in charge of the fuel and who definitely doesn't seem that friendly and Rosemary, a new arrival as a ship's clerk who appears to be running away from a mysterious past. This means every member of the crew is fascinatingly drawn and feels very real; even if they have scales.
I am just seriously in awe of the sheer imagination that must be contained within Chambers' mind. There are numerous different species and planets that the characters visit, all of whom have their own characteristics, specialisms and ways of life. As a bit of a 'hard' sci fi newb I did occasionally find it difficult to remember which species was which, but I can't help but just be dazzled by the amount of thought that must have gone into this. 
The plot was a fairly typical action-adventure, which would make a hugely entertaining film, but it kept me reading and definitely bust me out of the reading slump that I'd been languishing in.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (2013, Doubleday)

This book is just a whole load of fun. Nick decides to take his new girlfriend Rachel to his best friend from his childhood's wedding in Singapore; but what Rachel doesn't know is that this is The wedding of Chinese society, and Nick actually comes from the Young family, a hugely famous and admired dynasty ruled over by Eleanor, a pretty terrifying matriarch.
Think Gossip Girl but set in China; super over-the-top and trashy, but a lot of fun.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (2015, Twenty7)

I really surprised myself by how much I really enjoyed this book. The novel opens with Sofia being newly single after breaking of an engagement with a man who wanted to live in a house with a 'hole in the wall' into his parents home. Whilst working in book marketing, she finds herself accidentally pitching and writing a book on Muslim dating; forcing her to through herself into the world of online dating. All this is happening against the backdrop of her nosy family, younger sister getting married and her friends also all struggling with their own romantic entanglements.
This has been described as a Muslim Bridget Jones's Diary which is pretty accurate. Sofia is funny and doesn't always make the best decisions but you do ultimately root for her to succeed. Indeed, all the characters are really well drawn; Sofia's main love interests are all pretty unique, as are her friends and family. None of the characters felt like cardboard cutouts, which is really refreshing in this genre.
The element of this novel which obviously gains attention is the fact the majority of the characters are Muslim. What I really liked about this is that whilst their faith is really important to them, Malik doesn't treat the book like a lesson in Islam. Where she does touch on the issues facing Muslims in our society she does it either through humour (Sofia's response to being called a terrorist on the tube) or in a gently touching way (there's a moment outside a gay nightclub which made me a tiny bit emotional).
I stormed through this book in about one sitting on the train; and I'm very excited to see that Malik is working on sequels.