Sunday, 19 June 2016

day 65: a town like Alice

I don't read anywhere near as much as I used to, but a few weeks ago I was running a bit early to meet someone so I popped into the library to see what they had to offer. I spent ages trying to decide; how are you supposed to know what to choose when there is so much to choose from?! Plus a book is a big time investment, after many years of forcing myself through books I didn't really enjoy I am very cautious about what I give my time to. I ended up consulting The List, that is the BBC's top 200 books. I was working through these a few years ago, but since got lazy with it. I think I've managed about half of the first 100, not sure about the full 200. Anyway, I went back to this for some inspiration.

I ended up settling for A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute. I think the fact that it's got a strong female protagonist really appealed to me, as an adult female myself. The story is told by a Mr Noel Strachan, but is about the extraordinary life of Jean Paget; her experiences as a prisoner of war in Malaya, her incredible strong will to make lives better, and her plight to find her love.

I found the writing very easy to read. I might sound like a bit of an imbecile (I'm actually quite good at English as a subject) but I like books that have a quite straightforward writing style. I prefer to concentrate on the plot rather than having to make a conscious effort to understand the language. There was no over description, no long passages of irrelevant information (or whole chapters about the history of the sewers like I found in Les Miserables), and the pace was just right. From the start I found this book difficult to put down once I started reading it.

It was also a bit of a treat that my hometown of Southampton was mentioned so much. Jean Paget had lived in Bassett, a suburb of the city and an area that I am quite familiar with having lived in the city my whole life. The actual address, No 17 St Ronans Road, doesn't exist. I don't know if it never existed or if it was blitzed in the war (would Shute have used a real address?), but the detail about the city is still interesting.

Honestly, this book made me want to be a better person. It made me wish I were more like Jean Paget. She is not an unrealistic character, just an extraordinary one, and I believe that we could all learn something from her character and her plight to build a town like Alice.
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Wednesday, 15 June 2016

day 61 - inside my house

I'm spending a lot of time inside my house this week. More precisely, inside my bedroom. Surprisingly this isn't due to any laziness on my part, it's actually because The Men are here doing home improvements, so we need to keep the cat beans cooped up out the way. It would be cruel for the cats and dangerous for my belongings if I left them alone in my bedroom, so here I am cat sitting. 

At the moment, there are holes in the bathroom wall and exposed brickwork. They only came to do some tiling and some painting, but LITERALLY A PLANT was growing behind the tiles, which is what was forcing them away from the walls. So instead of just taking off the old tiles and replacing with new, The Men have to had strip back loads of the plaster. It's kinda odd being able to see the bricks of this old house from the inside. It also smells really earthy in there, and I'm rather worried about slugs popping in for a wee visit. They are not welcome here. 

I'm trying to think of some fun activities to do whilst cooped up inside a single room of the house. I suppose there's actually quite a lot:

- reading
- playing Stardew Valley
- blogging
- general writing stuff
- reddit
- catch up on Game of Thrones 
- Netflix
- napping
- some small yoga
- drawing and colouring
- daydreaming

are just a few things I can think of. 

Despite the many activities of solitude, I am super looking forward to all this work being finished. It's  a super good job I've got this time off work or I dunno what we could have really done. Poor Smudge is having a nervous time :( 

I'm gonna try get some pictures of the carnage later, but right now The Men are working so I shan't disturb. 

Edit: here are some pictures of quite what I mean:

you can see bricks

the hole and the window

more holes

the naked pipe corner

This is the process of the problems being sorted, so I suppose it's okay that this is all happening. We'll have a nice fresh bathroom in a couple of weeks. 

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Monday, 13 June 2016

day 58 - download part 3: mud is everywhere

Sunday - the day of the hangover

Inevitably on Sunday we felt like arse.

I really wanted to see Shinedown but we missed them :(  I have loved them since 2003 when hardly anyone here had heard of them, and seeing them being successful enough now to be playing on the main stage at Download made me feel really proud. They're my babies and I love them. 

We got to the arena just in time to hear The Diary of Jane by Breaking Benjamin. We had wanted to see their whole set but we dilly dallied too much with the taking stuff to the car. 

I forgot how much I like Billy Talent, so I'm really glad we saw them, despite not really having the energy to move very much.

Disturbed covered The Sound of Silence, which gave me feels and was by far my favourite song of the whole festival. I'm always super impressed when a singer of a metal band is actually a really good singer in general. That probably sounds silly because singing is literally their job and they get paid a lot of money to do it, but it is a whole other style of singing so it surprises me nonetheless. Turns out their version of the song has been around for a while and you should definitely listen to it.  I don't know much of their stuff past the Ten Thousand Fists album, but I still really enjoyed them. 

To be honest, and I am ready to be hated for this, I didn't think much of Iron Maiden. I had a brief Iron Maiden phase when I was a teenager, but I think I actually like the really cool artwork associated with them more than I like their music. I'm not one for insane guitar solos really. I mean, I can appreciate the technical ability and stuff, but I don't think I want to spend time actually listening to it. Also their lead singer (I feel like I should know his name, but I do not) reminded me of a dad when he first came on stage. It was weird watching this strange dad man rocking out to thousands of people. He did de-dad a little bit as time went on, but I still found the whole thing a bit cringey. Sorry.

It was quite evident that on the last night everyone had given up, The toilets were mega gross. I know portaloos at festivals are rarely nice, but this was something else. There were PILES coming over the top of many of them, so we gave up on that idea and went back to nature's ways instead. Lots of the lights weren't on, so everywhere was even darker than usual, which made everything even more difficult in the terrible mud. 

so many tents
Goodbye, tentland

I had a most excellent time, but I am very glad to be back in civilisation where there is minimal mud and maximum bed comfort. 
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Saturday, 11 June 2016

day 57 - download part 2: blowout

Saturday - the day of the wee jobby 

Saturday was the blowout day. We started drinking on the way to the arena and didn't really stop until bed time, so much of it is a bit of a blur. From what I remember I had a good time.

us at download

 I actually was brave did a stint in the mosh pit at Anti Flag since they filled me with drunken rage about the government and stuff. I forgot how good they are. 

I'd never heard Tesseract before, but I liked them so much that I'm listening to them while writing this post. The lead matey has a really nice voice and it made me have feelings.

Deftones were good. Another band I've not listened to for ages. Download is really just a huge culmination of my fave bands from my teenage years and maybe early twenties. So much nostalgia. 

I don't actually remember much of Black Sabbath, but I do remember calling my mum and insisting I told my step dad that Ozzy was right there and that he should be jealous. 

My main memory of Saturday night is of meeting up with some dudes that Faffy knows from a previous Download, who just so happened to be from Scotland. I spent the rest of the night shouting about WEE JOBBIES, since I once had an incident with a wee jobby... (down south a "jobby" generally refers to a thingemyob or what whatdyoucallit, whereas up north it means a poo. This got confusing once when I sent an email to someone at work referencing the "jobby". They were northern.)

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Friday, 10 June 2016

day 56 - download festival part 1: the sun and the rain

If I were to sum up Download 2016 in three words it would be mud, nachos, and rain.

We arrived on Wednesday with a view to getting a good pitch and the most camping for our money. Turns out this was a very good idea, as the pitch we got was still miles from anything, and would have been even more miles from anything had we rocked up on Thursday. 

It became quickly evident that this year's Thing Everyone Shouts was "HOLD THE DOOOOOOR!" which is a Game of Thrones reference that I do not yet understand, and will not spend any time thinking about because I don't appreciate spoilers. 

Here is our nest before it got grass and mud in it: 

inside the cosy tent

Thursday was sunny, so we drank and chilled out with our neighbours. They were very nice chaps, though they didn't stay our neighbours for very long because some other guys pitched their tents in our garden. To be fair, the space was massive so we kinda expected it. I was chuffed as nuts because I won cards against humanity. I also didn't get a sun burn despite being ginger and especially susceptible to being set on fire by the sun, and using sun cream that was a couple of years out of date. The answer, it seems, is to shelter beneath a big ol' pashmina for most of the day. 

Friday - the day of the rain

in which I am very wet

I was preoccupied for most of Friday with the peril of hypothermia, since this was the day the rains came and I got drenched pretty much as soon as we got to the arena. When I checked the weather it said 3% precipitation, so I got over confident and let the rain just kinda happen, until I was so bloody cold I couldn't actually catch my breath, and I realised that maybe the rain might also have a weekend ticket to the festival. I got my poncho out, but it was too late. I didn't die of hypothermia though so I guess everything turned out okay.

We saw Alien Ant Farm, Killswitch Engage, and Korn, all of which are bands that I know and love a couple of their most famous songs, but am not so familiar with the rest of their music. 

Rammstein were definitely in the top three bands I have ever seen live, if not the best. They are known for putting on amazing shows with FIRE, and they did not disappoint. The pyrotechnics were welcome seeing as I was still pretty chilly and damp, as well as you know, just being damn awesome. 

Oh my god the NACHOS. I wish I had a picture, my words are not going to do justice to how amazing the nacho bowl was. To put it simply, the nachos were inside an edible bowl made of a tortilla, and topped with all the best nacho things. It was HUGE and AMAZING and horribly unhealthy.

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Friday, 20 May 2016

day 35 - a story about my hair

I'll be honest, I am not a person who cares substantially about their appearance. I don't use much makeup, I don't really follow fashion, I don't have a skincare regime. As long as I look presentable I'm generally fine. My hair, however, has posed a conundrum for as long as I can remember. I have very thick, frizz prone hair, which is under no circumstances the kind of hair that you can just... leave. I need to look after my hair in one way or another otherwise I look like a complete pratt. 

A couple of years ago I got to a stage where my hair was optimal. After years of straightening and hair abuse, I finally decided to go au naturelle. I gave up my hair straighteners, and for the most part my hair dryer too. And I ended up loving it.

Here it is, my thick, wavy mane:

For some reason, after a year and a half of not really needing to straighten my hair, I suddenly decided earlier this year that I needed to again. I did it, and I was like "WHY DID I EVER STOP?!" 

Well, the many reasons I gave up my straighteners are becoming apparent again right now. Once you start, you get into a vicious cycle of needing to straighten, since your hair goes frizzy and horrible, which needs taming with HEAT. Then the heat further damages it... and so on. I wish I had never started straightening every day again. I forgot how much damage it can really do. At the moment, I have some annoying bits that won't even fit in my ponytail because it must've been so damaged the hair broke off when I tried to tie it up. I am so sad. 

Right now, I am sat here with my hair covered in coconut oil in the hope that this "miracle cure" will help me out. I've heard a lot about coconut oil, but never bought any until I found it reduced to £1.50 in my local Tesco. I don't want to be at the mercy of my hair anymore, I want to be free from this hair prison I have made for myself. Apparently there are many uses for coconut oil, for both your insides and outsides. Uses for hair alone vary from deep conditioning to frizz management. I have decided to try deep conditioning, where you scoop up some of the coconut oil and warm it in your hands, then rub it all over your hair. Having never used coconut oil before at first I thought it was too super solid, but it actually melts very quickly in the palm of your hand. I need to leave this on for one to two hours now. You're supposed to cover with a shower cap, but I don't have one so it's just kinda sitting there. 

I will let you know this goes...

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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

day 33 - C25K is AWESOME

I have recently started running.

Why? Why on Earth would a person put themselves through this willingly?

Well. I am a very unfit person, determined to get to a healthy weight again. I LOVE food. Food is delicious, food is a hobby, food is life. I have tried many times and many different ways of losing weight through dieting over the years, but none have worked for me in the long term. The best method I found was Slimming World. I actually lost  a couple of stone a few years ago on Slimming World, but then I got a desk job and promptly piled it all back on, and more. The plan is great, but I found I could only really gel with it once for long enough to lose weight without going to group, and I am a penny pincher extraordinaire at the moment so I cannot justify £5 a week (doesn't sound like much, but it adds up). Besides, I love baking and this is very restricted on SW. It can be fun to play around with recipes, creating low syn treats, but there is only so much fun I can have with eggs and sweetener. Sorry. Anyway, my point is, I struggle with restricting my diet. I can eat healthier most of the time, but I wanted to try a different approach: exercise.

I am determined to become one of those people that actually enjoys running. I used to work with people who would make time most days to go running because they loved it, and I have been assured that after a certain point I will too. If I can get fit, lose weight, and not have to restrict my diet (within reason), I am going to be incredibly pleased.

I also want to prove to myself that I can actually do a thing and stick to a thing. Historically I am bad at that.

This is where couch to 5k comes in. It's a 9 week plan which builds  you up week by week, starting with a series of one minute runs, all the way up to being able to run 5k. The plan is specifically designed for people like me; unfit, overweight, self-confessed potato. I have the app from Change4Life, which is a bunch of podcasts which tell you when to start and stop running, and full of helpful tips. I highly recommend it. You can even listen to music at the same time cause it dims the music automatically while the podcast is talking.

I have tried the plan before, but I always managed to make excuses to give up. My main excuse was "I don't have the time". Well, now I have plenty of time so any excuse I'd have to come up with now would be super weak, So weak, even my laziest self would see through it.

I'll be honest, at first it does seem insurmountable. I thought how can someone like me, someone who struggles to run for even a minute, ever expect to be able to run 5k?! Well. I just completed day 1 of week 4. I ran for three minutes, then five minutes, twice, with intervals of walking.

I ran for five minutes. 

I ran for a total of sixteen minutes.

After only three weeks, I have gone from struggling to run for a minute, to being able to run for five straight minutes. More importantly I actually enjoyed it. To people with any real level of fitness this will probably seem silly, but to me it is so significant. I believe that in five more weeks I will be able to run 5k. And I will feel like I have achieved the impossible.

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Saturday, 14 May 2016

day 29 - eurovision!!!!

Eurovision is the first of the three main events of the year, the other two being Halloween and Christmas. One of the big highlights of the year is the annual Eurovision party. We've done a few parties over the years, and I believe that other than the obvious song contest itself and the people you're with, there are three main things that every Eurovision party needs:


Obviously the main theme of it all is cheesy European music, but to be more specific, the theme this year was Sweden since they were hosting. Guests wore blue and yellow, food was from Sweden (IKEA, actually, but same difference), and the Swedish flag hung proudly from the wall. 

Here is my dress that I made for the occasion: 

I realise that I can also wear this dress next year because it matches the colours of Ukraine too :) 


Swedish food! It is the best! Also very easy get hold of seeing as many of us actually work for IKEA and we are very local to the store. We had GIANT CRISPBREAD, cheese, salmon, more salmon but rolled up in flatbreads with mustard and dill sauce, Maribou chocolate, and homemade princess cake. 

It won't be so easy next year with the theme of Ukraine, but according to Wiki they do have many tasty foods that we can try. Drinks wise, the main spirit is apparently moonshine though, so I think we'll give that one a miss. 


The obligatory Eurovision drinking game! Guaranteed to get everyone very, very drunk. We do one set of rules for during, and another set of rules for the results. This year, the rules were:


Drink every time:
- the word "love" or "heart" is mentioned
- there's a change of language during a performance
- Australia!
- a political statement is made
- wind or fire


Choose your favourite and drink:
- one sip for 1 - 7 points
- 2 sips for 8 points
- 3 sips for 10 points
- 4 sips for 12 points
- everytime they are in the lead
- down your drink if your favourite wins!

We all drink when the UK:
- get nil points
- gets 8, 10 or 12 points
- is in last place
- is in top 5

Inevitably those who chose Ukraine as favourite were a little tiddly by the end.

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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

day 18 - chocolate orange cake

I've done more baking! I've made a deal with myself that if I'm going to have sweet treats, they need to be things I've baked for myself. Then I can bake and hopefully still be healthy and lose some weight. 

This time I used an old recipe from a Good Food magazine. I don't even know which year it's from because in an attempt to trim down the amount of stuff I have taking up space, I've cut out all the recipes I like the look of from my magazines. Saved loads of space, I highly recommend getting a recipe folder and putting all your favourite recipes into sections to save space and make finding things to make a lot easier (paperchase do a whole load of really nice ones).

Anyway, I made a chocolate and orange cake with Louise. It was supposed to be like a big jaffa cake but we left out the jelly bit, since Tesco didn't have any gelatine or vegetarian equivalent. We just did the orange sponge and the chocolate topping. The recipe can be found online here.

It was so easy, one of those where all the ingredients go into the bowl at the same time and then you just whisk them all together. It's supposed to be "a bit of a challenge", which I suppose must refer mainly to the orange bit, which we didn't make. The choccy topping was really easy too. All we had to do was heat the cream then pour it over the chocolate and leave it to melt. We were sceptical about doing it that way, but it really does work. 

We started eating it before the chocolate had set properly, but it was still super delicious. The chocolate dripped down the side of the slice a bit, which if anything made it even better. 

I think I need to figure out how to be better at food photography. I'm pretty abysmal at the moment. All I want to do is eat the food to be honest. 

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Saturday, 30 April 2016

day15 - being healthy

I have been on a downward spiral for a loooong time now with health and fitness. There was a period of time before I left home that I was super fit (by my standards) because I cycled all the time, ate quite healthy, walked long distances all the time among other things. Then I left home and the unhealthiness began. I moved into the city centre, so I don't walk anywhere near as much as I did 7 years ago. And I've been able to choose my own food for a long time too. I think one of my biggest downfalls was realising that I can order takeaway WHENEVER I WANT. I have pushed that one to its limits. 

So, I have decided to become fit and healthy again. I have made this decision dozens, if not hundreds of times over the last few years, with varying success, but always ended up back where I started. I've just started couch to 5k for maybe the fourth time in my life, the difference being this time I actually have the time to do it. I don't need to squeeze it in before work, or sacrifice sleep. I've just done day two and I feel amazing already. I feel great that I've actually bothered to start it again, and that I've managed two days. Sounds silly, but to me it's significant and that's what matters. 

I'm also eating better. No more takeaways, not that I can afford them anymore anyway seeing as I don't have an income for the next six months. It's easier because it's "salad weather", and spring is a time for renewal anyway. No better time than to try and change bad habits.

Here is what I threw together for lunch:

The veg is just some sweet potato, fine beans, and posh broccoli that I needed to use up. The pepper is the delicious and interesting bit. Here's how I made it:

preheat the oven to like, 220 degrees (I actually forgot to do this, but next time I will). boiled *some* pearl barley (I never measure, and always do too much) with a veggie stock cube. While that was doing its thing in the pan, I chopped up a spring onion, some parsley, some olives, and three cherry tomatoes, and popped in a bowl with a crushed clove of garlic. When the pearl barley was ready I drained it and mixed it in with the chopped up stuff, then stirred in a small handful of grated cheddar.

Then I cut the top off a pepper, pulled out the seeds and the pithy bit, and filled it with the pearl barley mixture. Then popped it in the oven for about 20 mins. I put mine in an empty ramekin to make him stand up, else they tend to topple over and all the guts spill out. 

I actually ended up with double the amount of pearl barley mixture to what I needed, so I stuffed a second pepper I had spare and put it in the fridge for tomorrow.

I made this up out of things that just needed using up, but it was actually very tasty. It was quite strong on the garlic, but I love garlic so that was okay for me. I would say that if anyone else wanted to give it a go, maybe use less garlic if you're not quite the enthusiast I am. 

I love food. 

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