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.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

My Absence in Photos

Spring Starbucks cups. Spring blooms. Heatwave lunchtimes in the fountains at Millennium Point. Returning to uni with work.
2 for 1 cocktails at Gas Street Social. Churros at Cau. Breakfast at Tiffany's. Hotel du Vin Sunday lunch.
Tiny profiteroles at Hotel du Vin. Camden Lock market. Cocktails in teacups at Simmons Bar Soho. First time Chipotle.
Wall art and amazing (and massively filling) pancakes at Blighty Coffee in Finsbury Park.

Being dragged to a James concert with my parents & discovering Jack Savoretti. The Palace of Westminster from the River Thames for my brother 21st. Cocktails at Cau.

It feels like forever since I've written anything here, so apologies. Sometimes life is just too busy to even stop and reflect on what is going on. I can't quite believe we're in June already (six months into 2016 already-what is happening?) and the next weeks could bring some pretty exciting/scary news so maybe cross your fingers for me.


Thursday, 28 April 2016

Why You Should Vote in the Local Elections

If you’ve picked up a paper or watched the news or just spent some time on social media you’ll be very aware that this year is an election year. 

Whilst much of the coverage has focused on either the US Primaries, the London mayoral election or the EU referendum; May 5th is the day of local elections across the country. Here’s a few reasons why voting on the 5th is a good idea:

Councils are more than bins & potholes
I promise! Councils look after a lot more than you might expect; this includes care services for the elderly, services that people struggling with addiction, sexual health services, how where you live approaches environmental issues, libraries…the list goes on. If you have any opinions about any of those things, you should vote on May 5th

Councils are going to get more power
The government is really keen on devolution, or giving local areas the chance to design their own solutions to problems. This means it’s super important that you get your voice heard so that your local council looks the way you want it to.

Local elections are used to measure how well the government is doing
Local elections are generally used as a yard stick to see how well people think the government and opposition parties are doing in terms of selling their policies to the general public. Therefore if you have a message that you want to send the main political parties, this is a great way to do it.

Councillors are a lot more hands-on than MPs
Generally speaking, local councillors have a lot more contact with their constituents than MPs as they don’t have to spend lots of time in London. This means it’s a lot easier to raise issues with them, and your answers will be tailored to your local area, as opposed to national policies.

Voting is just important 
Every election cycle there is normally some high-profile person that feels the need to bang the drum about how the entire political system is flawed and that people just shouldn’t vote (looking at you Russell Brand). But by not voting you send a signal to your politicians that you don’t care and therefore they shouldn’t attempt to design policy with you in mind. By turning up to vote, even if you spoil your ballot, you're showing that you are here and care and want your voice to be heard.

I was totally supposed to publish this post before the registration deadline (#deadlaptopproblems) so hopefully you're all registered, if not you can still register for the EU referendum here. You can check your local council's website to find out about local councillors in your area. 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Thoughts On: Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of my all-time favourite films. It's just one of those films that is just such a relaxing, easy, aesthetically-pleasing watch and obviously iconically stars Audery Hepburn; who is one of my absolute favourites. So getting tickets to see the play adaptation starring Pixie Lott for Christmas had me fairly excited.

Richard Greenberg's adaptation follows more from the Truman Capote novella rather than the film, meaning that the ending and certain other plot points vary quite dramatically from the much-loved film. For those who have no idea what the story is, the play follows Fred (Matt Barber), an aspiring writer who moves to New York and ends up residing in the same apartment block as the mysterious and charming Holly Golightly (Pixie Lott) and becomes entirely enraptured with her life.

Holly is at once charming and manipulative, funny and cruel and Lott handles all aspects of her character wonderfully; especially considering this is her stage acting debut. You also get to hear snippets of her lovely singing voice, although the songs included in the play are kept pretty short.

I didn't love how heavily Greenberg learned on narration as a device (it really slowed the pace down) but Barber's ability to monologue was pretty amazing. There were also scene stealing appearances from Naomi Cranston as Holly's frenemy Mag and Bob the Cat (seriously adorable). Nikolai Foster's direction also requires a lot of doubling by the ensemble, and there was a particularly impressive turn by Tim Frances as Holly's rich intended Rusty Trawler and an Editor that Fred desperately wants to impress.

It's a really just nice, light night out at the theatre and Matthew Wright's costume designs are lovely too. Just, like the film, it's nothing especially ground-breaking.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is on tour across the country starring Pixie Lott, Emily Atack or Georgia May Foote until November; and on in London starring Lott from June. Details here.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Clicklist #16

Some more things that I've read recently that I enjoy. Perhaps save these until the weekend if, like me, you're looking at a forecast of SNOW on Saturday.

From the Blogosphere

Rose's Nutella Martinis. Nutella. Martinis.

Amy's style is constantly en pointe, here's her week in outfits from her holiday in the Maldives which is definitely on my list of places to visit. Also I'd like summer to hurry up and get here.

How to start your post-grad life when you already feel behind. This is the article I wish I'd had when I first graduated.

Smitten Kitchen's Eggs in Purgatory.

Around the Internet
"To engender empathy and create a world using only words is the closet thing we have to magic"
Lin-Manuel Miranda's By the Book profile is wonderful. My version is a lot less eloquent.

The Panama Papers is one of the biggest international news stories of the week and is totally fascinating. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists coverage is really interactive and a very interesting insight into the lives of the crazy rich and powerful.

Women Slipping Out of Embraces in Western Art History

I found this response to Amy Schumer calling out Glamour magazine for calling her plus-sized an interesting perspective.

An eating disorder recovery cookbook 

This really cool long-read on Uggs, and how they refuse to die (My Ugg slippers are the best things I've ever owned. They're hot water bottles for your feet <3)

Tavi Gevinson and my boyf Ben Whishaw are co-starring in the Broadway production of The Crucible, and you can hear Tavi interview Ben here.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

On My Mind: The Grand Budapest Hotel

I know I'm so behind the times but The Grand Budapest Hotel is now on UK Netflix and I watched and fell in love.

The visually fun scenes and costumes.

The slightly bonkers story.

I just sat there for the film's entire running time with a massive smile on my face and wondering why it took me quite so long to get on board with Wes Anderson.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Top 5: More Podcasts To Listen To

I've done a podcast recommendation post before, but I listen to so many, and their popularity just seems to keep increasing; so I figured it was a good time to chat about some more of my favourites.

If you're female and on the internet you've probably already heard of CYG; but if you haven't its essentially a chat between best friends Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow. They chat about everything from the Kardashians and US politics to periods; and are pretty amazing career ladies in their own right (Ann's newsletter is really worth subscribing too here). They also interview awesome ladies like Tavi Gevinson, Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton's campaign head Huma Abedin. 

The New Statesman is one of my favourite places for political journalism; it tends to be left-leaning but covers both national and international issues with opinion pieces across the political spectrum. The podcast is led by Helen Lewis, Stephen Bush and George Eaton, and they discuss current goings-on in UK politics and beyond. It's a really great way of staying updated with current affairs and getting a bit of interesting analysis on them too.

Also produced by The New Statesman, this is a show fronted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz that focuses on all things pop culture. From television shows to music and books, Caroline and Anna just discuss current popular items and the things that they enjoy without any kind of guilt. 

Another Round is a Buzzfeed-produced podcast presented by Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu. They discuss a range of issues around race (which is really insightful for someone who has not experienced any kind of race stereotypes), and also interview a range of really interesting people including Hamilton composer, star & the internet's current crush Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Bahraini human rights campaigner Maryam Al-Khawaja and current Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Despite the depth of the issues covered, this is also laugh out loud funny.

This is a new podcast, but I'm including it because it just makes me so happy. I love The West Wing for all its flaws; it's such an engaging and smart show and I wish that politics was half as optimistic as the way its portrayed by Sorkin. This new podcast is basically a commentary on each episode of the show and is presented by journalist/megafan Hrishikesh Hirway and Joshua Malina, who starred on the show. I just love an excuse to revisit my love for this show; and I'm just hoping that UK Netflix will start streaming it again soon.

Apologies for the formatting nightmare on this post, who knows what Blogger is up to at the minute!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The New York Times By the Book Tag

This tag has been circulating on the BookTube having been started by Marie Berg and the questions were just pretty interesting, and I hunted down the New York Times columns which were really interesting so I figured I'd share my answers here.

1) What book is on your nightstand right now?
At the minute, I have Why Nations Fail by James Robinson & Daron Acemoglu which I’m currently on pause in my reading as whilst the contents are really interesting, the writing is a tad unengaging and I'm finding that I need to be reading something engaging after work. Then there's Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth which is kind of a retelling of the Rapunzel story, so far it's okay; still mostly scene setting. Then I've also got a couple of magazines, Glamour as its one of the only 'women's magazine's' that I can read without feeling rubbish and then The New Statesman.
2) What was the last truly great book that you read?
‘Great’ is such a massive word! I would say that the last ‘five star’ book I read was So You’ve Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson which I thought was just brilliant, and prior to that was probably Animal Farm by George Orwell which is such a skilled satire. Or maybe even Quiet by Susan Cain which was so important in terms of helping me feel good about my personality but is maybe not the best-written book? Who knows-all three are definitely worth a read!

3) If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be? And what would you want to know?
Argh I don’t know, I tend to avoid meeting authors because I literally don’t know what I would say to them. I’d love to just get all the biting gossip on the Bloomsbury set from Virginia Woolf or talk to Daphne du Maurier about Cornwall or even just meet Harper Lee to find out what was going on about the Go Set a Watchman drama.

4) What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
Whilst this might not be such a surprise now, I have a lot of musical theatre related books floating around. Including both of Stephen Sondheim’s lyric collections/memoirs and a Broadway yearbook. It’s a real love.

5) How do you organise your personal library?
I don’t! Sorry internet.

6) What book have you always meant to read but haven't? Anything you feel embarrassed to have never read?
There are a lot of books languishing on my TBR shelf, some of which I’ve literally had for about five years which I’m definitely embarrassed not to have read them.

7) Disappointing, overrated & just not good: what book did you feel like you were supposed to like but didn't? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I’d say the last book I was really disappointed not to like was probably The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, because I so wanted to like it. Aside from Why Nations Fail, the last book I gave up on was Nobody Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July, which was just a little too quirky for me.

8) What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?
I read all sorts of things, anything that just has an interesting premise really sucks me in. I do like multiple narratives and a sprawling time period. And stories with a bit of a gothic vibe.

9) If you could require the president/prime minister to read one book, what would it be? I don’t feel like I’ve read enough important, message books that I feel like political leaders could really learn from, but perhaps We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie because I am tired of male politicians just not getting it at all.
10) What do you plan to read next?
I think Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is up next, he’s a favourite author of mine so I’m excited.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Top 5: Musicals I Missed

I recently discovered that on the Spotify app you can get yourself a one week free trial of Premium, without having to input any card details, which is the best kind of free trial. Whilst I have been using some of it to catch up on the ~current chart trends~, during the Hamilton hype I realised that I've gotten woefully behind the times on an art form that I normally was very on-top of.
Here's a selection of cast recordings that I recommend you check out; they're all on Spotify or iTunes.

Evita (2012 Broadway Revival)

Music & Lyrics:
Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
Starring: Elena Roger, Ricky Martin, Michael Cerveris, Max von Essen & Rachel Potter
Evita is one of my favourite musicals, so really this is a bit of a cheat entry. I've loved the show for ages, since watching the Madonna/Antonio Banderas film version. It's the story of Eva Peron, who rose from being a nobody to being the wife of Juan Peron, who was the 'President' (in as much as you can be in a pretty authoritarian regime) of Argentina, and who died relatively young (not a spoiler as the show opens with her funeral).
This cast recording does have a special place in my heart as Elena Roger starred in the stage version of the show which I saw for my 13th birthday back in 2006. This is a really full recording of the show, and whilst Roger's vocals are maybe an acquired taste (she's actually Argentinian which does add an air of authenticity); Lloyd Webber & Rice are both on such great form in this show with really great Latin-inflected songs and some incredibly biting lyrics. Michael Cerveris is really good as Peron (especially in Dice are Rolling) and Ricky Martin (yes, that Ricky Martin) is actually surprisingly good too.
Must Listen Tracks: THE WHOLE SCORE (and then watch the Madonna/Antonio Banderas/Jonathan Pryce film and join me in hoping for a revival because it's been TEN YEARS GUYS PLEASE). "Oh What a Circus" for scene setting, "The Money Kept Rolling Out (And In)"/"The Art of the Possible" for the political angle, "You Must Love Me" for just being a really beautiful song

Hands on a Hardbody (2013 Broadway Production)

Music & Lyrics: 
Trey Anastasio & Amanda Green
Starring: Hunter Foster, Dale Soules, William Youmans, Jacob Ming-Trent, Keith Carradine, Mary Gordan Murray, Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, Jim Newman, Allison Case, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Keala Settle, David Larsen, Scott Wakefield, Connie Ray & Jon Rua
Hands on a Hardbody was a pretty definitive flop when it opened on Broadway, running for just 28 performances. However, Anastasio & Green's country-infused score is really good, so I'm not entirely sure why this couldn't find an audience. It's based on a documentary that tells the real story of poor people in Texas who compete to win a truck by literally having to stand outside with their hand on it, and the last person standing wins. It's definitely one of those way too strange to be made-up premises!
All the cast get their own moments to really shine vocally, and it's just something a little different (also for Hamilton fans, Jon Rua aka Charles Lee pops up here).
Must Listen Tracks: "My Problem Right There", "Stronger", "Joy of the Lord"

American Psycho (Original London Production)

Music & Lyrics: Duncan Sheik
Starring: Matt Smith, Susannah Fielding, Jonathan Bailey, Ben Aldridge, Cassandra Compton, Hugh Skinner, Katie Brayben, Charlie Anson & Eugene McCoy
Yes, American Psycho-The Musical. Starring a former Doctor Who. I was definitely sceptical going into this album but was surprised by how much I actually liked it. It's score is very much based in the electronica pop from the 80s, and even features covers of In the Air Tonight and Don't You Want Me. It really hammers home the shallowness of the world that Patrick Bateman and his contemporaries live in. Matt Smith can really sing, and his spoken passages in this just sound so completely devoid of emotion it's definitely a little unsettling; as are some of the lyrics towards the end of the show as Bateman really descends into serial killer madness.
Must Listen Tracks: 'You are What You Wear', 'Not a Common Man', 'This is Not an Exit'

Pippin (2014 Broadway Revival)

Music & Lyrics:
Stephen Schwartz
Starring: Matthew James Scott, Patina Miller, Terrence Mann, Charlotte d'Amboise, Rachel Bay Jones & Andrea Martin
Despite loving Wicked and Schwartz's work for Disney, weirdly I'd never really decided to look at his other musical works. I'm not entirely sure what Pippin is actually about-I'm presuming there's a lot more going on off the record-but the songs are great. From the traditional 'I Want' songs (Matthew James Scott really knocking 'Corner of the Sky Out'), to a fab patter-song delivered by Terrence Mann and an ensemble that sounds incredible throughout. In a role traditionally played by a man, Patina Miller sounds great all the way through too. This was a production that was really lauded for its staging so it's great when this can transfer to a recording too.
This is probably more traditional musical sounding than the previous two shows but it's definitely still worth a listen.
Must Listen Tracks: "Corner of the Sky", "Simple Joys", "I Guess I'll Miss the Man"

Fun Home (2015 Broadway Production)

Music & Lyrics:
Lisa Kron & Jeanine Tesori
Starring: Beth Malone, Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn, Emily Skeggs, Sydney Lucas, Oscar Williams, Zell Morrow, Roberta Colindrez & Joel Perez
If Hamilton is this year's successful musical about an unlikely topic, Fun Home was last year's. Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel which explores her own coming out against the backdrop of her father's suicide and discovering that he too was gay.
Kron and Tesori were the first female duo to win a Tony Award for Best Score, and emotional heart of this story just punches all the way through the score; if that's emotional highs ('Ring of Keys' or 'Changing My Major) or lows (Judy Kuhn's heartbreaking 'Days and Days' and Michael Cerveris' [again-he's just really good] 'Edges of the World'). It's really worth a listen, and its message of self-acceptance is just really important.
Must Listen Tracks: "Ring of Keys", "Changing My Major", "Telephone Wire"

I'm definitely just scratching the surface of my musical theatre nerdery here, so there is definitely going to be more posts in this vein soon!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

In Review: March

If February was a month full of stuff happening outside of work, March was definitely a month that was pretty heavy in terms of work things, so I will admit to be fairly happy that this March is almost over; basically because (at least for now) April looks a tad bit lighter.

(Nepalese dumplings at Gurkha Square; Bread & Butter pudding at The Olive Branch)
However, March wasn't all work and no play. At the beginning of the month, on Mother's Day to be precise, I turned 23 (eek). I headed home for the weekend and it was super relaxing. I got to have baths (seriously, I never released how much I missed baths until I lived somewhere without one) and we went to basically my favourite restaurant back home: The Olive Branch. It's fairly fancy; but the cocktails are delicious and so is the food. We were also literally there for about three hours, if not longer, at at no point did the staff try and throw us out, so that was lovely.

As for the rest of the month; I did a training course that literally required me to do homework and exams again which felt completely weird (and I'm experiencing the nerves of waiting for results again which is not fun), and also enjoying the first signs of Spring. Getting to break out my trenchcoat and summery handbag felt great too. I also spent Easter solo, it kind of crept up on me as I was so busy at work but I did appreciate some lovely little gifts from my family-including that Easter Egg from Hotel Chocolat which was filled with more of their chocolates-amazing.

I'll admit that I have been a tad mopey this month for some reason; I think we can all just get a bit down when the weather has been unremittingly grim for months and we still have the central heating on in March. However, I think the events in Belgium, Turkey, Iraq and I'm sure many other places this month have really put things into perspective.

(Birmingham Peace Gardens)