Bookish thoughts: my May reading wrap up

I love getting lost in a good book. In fact, in May’s 31 days, I got lost in 6 books. So, I decided to pen a few thoughts on each of these books. If you’re in the mood for some reading recommendations, then keep reading!

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert 

It’s 1940 and Vivian Morris has been kicked out of Vassar College and been sent to live with her arty aunt Peg in New York. While she lends a hand at her aunt’s theatre company, she meets an array of colourful characters from actors to showgirls and back to script writers, Vivian meets them all. Now, aged 95, Vivian reflects on her whirlwind time in the Big Apple and how it shaped her life.

Gilbert’s X novel is a rip roaring success. The glamour, the hedonism, and the characters are intoxicating. Gilbert’s light-hearted prose is reminiscent of a warm hug. This is thanks to the novel’s narrative structure, the entirety of which is written as a letter from Vivian to a younger woman.

At the very beginning of the novel, Vivian sees a world (on the brink or already at war) through rose-tinted spectacles. She’s a 19-year-old girl living frivolously on her parent’s allowance. In the big apple, she discovers her sex, desire and want. She meets many a male suitor but soon her casual hook ups become her downfall. For the latter half of the novel, Vivian must repair her reputation and fix the pieces of her broken life.

The novel itself is certainly split into two halves, a factor that I lived. As a reader, you’re there at the heigh of her fun and during her demise. Her demise is a feminist issue. Her love life is judged by those around her and when the couple are shamed, she’s the one to suffer the consequences – not her male partner. As a young girl, she’s swept up in the loss of her life. But as a older narrator, she’s aware of the injustice.

This book will make you think, feel and question the world around you.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre

It’s hailed as the greatest spy novel of all time and it’s easy to see why. It’s fast-paced, quick moving and simply hypnotising. From the very first page, I was hooked. I’m typing carefully because I don’t want to let the spy secrets slip. If you’ve never read a spy novel before, this one is the gateway. I’ve got my eyes firmly set on Le Carre’s back catalogue.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

I’ve already reviewed Swing Time, so read all my thoughts here. If you’re new to Smith’s writing, then I’d recommend starting with Swing Time. The characters are compelling and real. There’s a deep sense of authenticity to their lives, which kept me turning the page.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

At the very start of the year, I set myself a few reading goals. One of them was to read some Virginia Woolf. I spend a lot of my time reading contemporary fiction and felt like I was missing out on some classics. I’d never read any Woolf before and knew this needed to be rectified. So, for Christmas my mum bought me some of Woolf’s works. With a few books to chose from, I wasn’t sure where to start. But then, I found this handy article from Penguin that guides readers through an author’s back catalogue. So, I followed their advice and went with Mrs Dalloway.

The plot of the novel is simple, Clarissa Dalloway is throwing a party. The novel takes place over the course of one day, and builds up towards the party. The novel is written through the perspective of several characters, which gives the reader a great deal of insight into this small section of society. While the literary devices should be heralded, I just didn’t get on with the novel myself. I found it slow to move and sluggish. I realise its meant to be lazy and free but I felt impatient. I wanted more action and less inner monologues. While it wasn’t my cup of tea, I can completely understand why others adore Mrs Dalloway. That being said, I’m not giving up on Woolf! I will be following that Penguin guide and reading To the Lighthouse next.

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

I’m a big of Atwood, her philosophy, her writing tips and of course her works of literature. Atwood’s second novel is part-detective and part-psychological thriller. We fellow an unnamed narrator as she drives with her boyfriend and another couple to her father’s cabin. Her father has mysteriously disappeared and our narrator goes on a quest to find him. As she arrives at her father’s remote cabin in Canada, she begins her search for clues. However, her sanity slowly starts to unravel in the wilderness. She is confronted by her past and her present relationship with her boyfriend Joe. As our narrator grows more erratic, more questions need to be answered. There is a mystery to be solved but you start second guessing our narrator. Is she unreliable? Insane? Or, justified? Atwood’s brilliant storytelling is rich. It’s filled with insights into marriage, contemporary life and womanhood.

What books did you all read in May?

Let me know in the comments!

 

Books I want & why

UPDATE: I have cancelled my Troubled Blood pre-order. I don’t think this needs any further explanation.

Is there a better sound than the thud of a book on the doormat as it’s launched through a letterbox on the day of its release?

…I didn’t think so.

Recently, I’ve been a bit pre-order friendly when it comes to books. Normally, I’ll ask for newly-released books for my birthday from friends and family, but this is no normal year. So, instead of sticking to the status quo, I’ve gone full-blown bookworm and bought these books myself. I’ve told myself it’s fine to pre-order all the books and bankrupt myself because pre-ordering books is a great way to support authors you love and bookshops you miss. But let’s be honest, I just want them in my clammy little mitts.

Without any further adieu, here are the books I’ve ordered and more importantly, WHY.

Olive by Emma Gannon

UK Release date: 23/7/2020

I first came across Emma’s blog Girl Lost in the City several years ago and as her internet fame grew, I followed her across platforms. She’s the host of the world famous podcast Ctrl Alt Delete and a champion for flexible working. She’s already published 2 books in the non-fiction genre. The first is a memoir all about how she grew up online. The second is the Multi-Hyphen Method – a modern day take on a portfolio career.

Olive, however, is her first work of fiction and immediately caught my eye when she announced its publication a little while ago. The novel follows a young women called Olive who is at a crossroads in her life. As her friends start to get married and become mothers, Olive questions her own choices. The blurb really struck a cord with me on a personal level.

I’m 26 and I’m not entirely sure what the next ten years have in store, and it seems like Olive is at a similar. It seems like juncture. I’m not sure about you, but when I’m at a loss, I turn to books for an answer. And while this won’t tell me what to do, it will give me an insight into the lives of other women and they choices they’ve made.

 

More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran

UK release date: 03/09/2020

Caitlin Moran is a true hero of mine. I met her a few months ago – read my post about all that here. Back then, her kind words gave me the nudge I needed to keep the writing momentum going (I was flapping about jobs and getting rejected A LOT).

She is a renowned journalist and novelist and is a woman – who I think – has a highly amusing answer for everything. A decade ago she published the instantly successful How to be a Woman. By the sounds of things, More Than a Woman is a sequel of sorts. It’s answering all those questions and dilemmas that women in their forties may come across.

While I’m only 26, I still want to read Moran’s wise words. I don’t think advice and books can be realistically divided into ages, everyone experiences life differently. I think books are open for all to take what they will from them, and dive back into them if they ever need their pages again. While any advice I can glean from Moran will be warmly welcomed, I simply can’t wait to laugh until my sides hurt as Moran’s anecdotes once again.

Troubled blood by Robert Galbraith

UK release date: 15/09/2020

This is the fifth instalment in this thrilling crime series. Readers will continue following private detective Comoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacot, as they solve yet another crime. Not much has been said about the plot of this novel and you may think me a fool for ordering something I know little about. But I have enjoyed the previous four books. I read the previous Strike novel Lethal White in a few days last August when I was holidaying with friends in Spain last year.

I love the plot twists, the character relationships, the red herrings, the writing, the confusion and the page turning which ensues. These novels not only seek to uncover the perpetrator of a crime, they also intertwine the main characters personal lives and family roots perfectly.

UPDATE: MY PRE-ORDER OF TROUBLED BLOOD HAS BEEN CANCELLED.

Just Like You by Nick Hornby

UK release date 17/09/2020

For those who are unaware, Nick Hornby is the acclaimed writer behind one of my favourite books About a Boy. I lap up anything he writes – whether it be in a book or on screen and his new novel will be no different. Just Like You is all about falling maddeningly in love with someone who is not like you in the slightest. Nick Hornby writes about love so very well. His writing style is easy, warm and just like receiving a reassuring hug.

 

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

UK release date: 15/10/2020

Dolly Alderton is the author of the best-selling memoir Everything I know About Love. She’s a journalist, a prolific podcaster and now a novelist. Ghosts is Alderton’s first work of fiction. In this novel, we follow the life of Nina Dean. She’s a successful food writer with a loyal online following. But her life is in tatters. She’s struggling to date online and is ghosted by those she does interact with. Her dad is grappling with dementia, her mum dreams of a mid-life makeover, and her friendships are slipping through her fingers.

Alderton has been hailed a millennial voice and from that short synopsis it’s clear to see why. She understands, and has written widely about, the perils of online dating, so the character comes from a place of authenticity. There’s also factors outside the characters love life at play including her family and friendships – all the dynamics are there.

So those are the books that arriving onto my doorstep this summer and autumn. Let me know which books you’ve preordering and are dying to read.

 

 

Book review: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

At the start of the year, I wanted to diversify my reading. I’m an obsessive reader who gets into readings ruts and will re-read from the same genre until the end of time. I know this about myself, so I wanted to challenge my own cliches and broaden my reading horizon.

A few authors – who I’ve never read before – sprang to mind. One such author was Zadie Smith. I simply adore contemporary fiction and probably read way too much of the genre. But I wanted to read an author’s back catalogue who my friends and other bookworms have already lapped up. Enter: Swing Time.

 

Swing Time is set in London, New York and West Africa. The novel itself follows the lives of two brown girls from Willesden who dream of being dancers. However, only one of them has the talent to truly make it on stage: Tracey. While our other unamed narrator finds herself moving further than she could have ever imagined.

The novel is really story of these characters and their friendship. At the start they are drawn together by the colour of their skin (they’re the only brown girls at their dance school) and it’s this passion for dance that the two bond over. We see their childhood develop through the lens of the unamed narrator. Tracey is boisterous, sexual and dominant in the friendship from a very young age. While the other narrator, in my opinion, is much more reserved.

As they grow into teens, their lives take different paths and they see less and less of each other. Our narrator studies Tracey’s life from afar. At times jealous of Tracey’s dancing on stage, while at other stages she’s simply curious. Then as they move into their adult lives, the narrator’s watching becomes less physical and more virtual. She refreshes Tracey’s Facebook page and follows her profile on online forums. As our narrator begins to age, there’s a distinct feeling that her social life is stuck in the past with a young Tracey on their housing estates.

That being said, our protagonist is drawn to confident, strong and talkative women. First there is her mother. While she isn’t very maternal, in the loving and hugging sense, she’s constantly on the picket line protesting, gaining qualifications and voicing her opinions. Her dominant nature is the first that our narrator encounters. Then, there’s Tracey. Then, comes along her employer, the international pop superstar Aimee. Aimee is another whirlwind in herself. She finds listening to others difficult and shuns those who attempt to confront her and any deluded decision making. Finally, there is Hawa. She’s less in your face than the others, but she is talkative and chatty. These four women are all happy with how their life has panned out. Growth in a wider sense doesn’t come naturally to any of them. Their interests are the same as their childhood selves and for some don’t their ambitions extend beyond geographical boundaries or any wealth.

At one time or another, these relationships must come to an end. And it’s towards the end of a novel where the core theme of the book reaches a triumphant crescendo. Friendship. A friendship that spans decades, moves across time zones, jobs and judgements. Family is who you chose for our characters, it’s not just genetics. It’s this notion that Smith articulates beautifully with her lengthy passages of prose.

If you want a novel with a deliciously rich writing style, features music and films that will leave you longing for a film adaption with a great score, and will make you question your own friendships, then pick up Swing Time. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

My top five brunch spots in London

I love brunch. I love its humble beginnings. Its lazy Sunday mornings filled with buttery scrambled eggs on toast and smeared avocado on rye bread. It is the start of a relaxing day. At home, you’ll find me pouring over the Sunday supplements while sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

But when I’m out and about, Brunch takes on a slightly more grand affair. If I’m at a cafe ordering the mid-morning meal it’s because I’m about to have a sumptuous catch up with a good group of friends. It then because a meal that I’m willing to spent a bit more on because, for me, it’s no longer food, it’s time spent with good friends.

Each time we agree to meet for brunch, hours are spent pouring over the internet and Whatsapping suggestions. I scrutinise the menu in a vain attempt to predict what food I may want to eat in a few weeks time. And, thanks to my military precision I’ve never felt dissatisfied.

So, to save you, my lucky reader, from the same internet deep dive, I’ve popped my thoughts of my five favourite brunch spots below.

 

Duck & Waffle 

The first restaurant to feature on my brunch list is Duck & Waffle. This skyline restaurant first opened its 24/7 doors in 2011. Diners enter through a private entrance on 110 Bishopsgate, one of London’s tallest buildings. After speaking to a doorman, you’re directed to a lift which takes you 230 metres into London’s skyline.

Before you pop down to Bishopsgate, I would highly recommend booking a table (especially if you’re trying to seat a large number). Table reservations open around one month in advance, so if you have a date in mind, try to think 4 weeks ahead. However, your painstaking plan will pay off once you’ve taken your seat near one of floor to ceiling windows.

I went here for a very early breakfast on my 26th birthday. I’d perused the menu before and knew exactly what I wanted to order: the caramelised banana waffle (£13). The bananas were soft and the waffles were the perfect blend of tough and doughy. I loved opting for a sweet breakfast when I’m out, for me ice-cream before noon is the ultimate treat. To accompany our breakfasts, we each had a coffee and a freshly squeezed glass of orange. While I was tempted by a breakfast cocktail, I was slightly put off by the price – maybe next time I’ll save enough coppers for a morning mimosa.

Spiritland 

 

Just around the corner from London Kings Cross is Spiritland. What first attracted me to this brunch destination was its low prices and close proximity to the station I commute through five days a week.

The Kings Cross branch is home to an enormous sound system, which has a unique musical programme. If your a music lover, this sound system will make you drool.

We went on a rainy Saturday morning back in January after an early morning tour around the British Museum. As we entered, the low level lighting made both me and the table feel instantly chic.

I ordered a glass of OJ, while I pondered over the breakfast selection. Dining out as a vegetarian can get a little repetitive, but I wolfed down my avocado, lemon and chillis on toast (£7.50). This is on the cheaper end of my brunch choices and is situated in near the Coal Drops Yard, which is home to lots of interesting independent shops. You can certainly work up an appetite wandering around the vintage rails, and for me Spiritland is the perfect place to head!

Redemption Bar 

 

For my third pick, I’ve chosen Redemption Bar. Located in three of London’s trendiest suburbs, Redemption Bar serves up vegan, sugar-free and wheat-free food. This micro-chain was founded in 2014 and aims to make socialising healthy. Before we went round the Christian Dior exhibition at the V&A last year, myself and two friends headed to the Notting Hill Branch for a much-needed catch up.

Once again, it was the sweet treats that caught my eye when I ordered the: very berry pancakes (£11.95). These buckwheat American pancakes are topped with coconut yoghurt, berries, walnuts and apple slices. While this isn’t as obviously indulgent as my other brunch choices, it still felt treelike – to me, American pancakes always do!

It’s really worth pouring over this menu, there are lots of sumptuous choices to choose from, each with an ingredient or two that will surely peak anyone’s interest. In total, I spent around £20 on this brunch (including a tip). And, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to go back to, the menu alone is inspiration enough on how to revamp your home cooked Sunday brunch choices. While we had booked a table for three, on the day the restaurant was fairly quiet so I can imagine that small groups are seated fairly quickly.

Farm Girl 

When I first moved to London a few years ago, Farm Girl was high on my list of brunch spots to visit. Farm Girl’s roots lie in Melbourne. It’s founders, Rose Mann and Anthony Hood, wanted to bring vibrant brunches to England’s capital. Arguably, Farm Girl pioneered the idea of an Instagrammable lunch with their hearty plates and nutritious ingredients. This Instagram presence is most certainly what caught my eye.

My friend and I headed over to Farm Girl’s Notting Hill branch. En route to Farm Girl, we snapped pic after pic of ourselves outside the areas most photographic of homes. I’m grateful to say that the majority of these pictures never saw the light of day!

Once we were at Farm Girl, we found ourselves at the back of a rather long queue. It seemed as though we’d underestimate it’s social media standing and other people’s weekend plans! I’d definitely try to book a table in the future. We were eventually seated in the outside courtyard, it was a little nippy but we were given blankets to keep ourselves warm.

It’s the details that were my favourite touches. The cucumber water on the table, the slightly chipped tables and the very attentive waiters. I settled on Shakshuka and a Rose Latte. While I can’t find the prices online, I know I wouldn’t have paid more than £20 for both. I’ve got my eye on the Soho branch for a takeaway coffee for my next visit.

Beany Green

I’ve been to Venice and I grew up in Birmingham – another city dominated by canals, and now I’ve finally been to Little Venice. Located just a few minutes away from Paddington Station on foot, Beany Green is another top-notch Brunch spot. In fact, it’s even been hailed as the best brunch in Little Venice.

Once again we’d booked a table ahead of our trip around the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A. As I entered, I fell head over heels for the decor. I popped myself down on a pink velvet chair and waited for my friends to arrive. And once they did, I knew exactly what I wanted to order: the healthy start (£12.70). And indeed it was, packed full of greens, including broccoli and avocado this brunch left me feeling both full and virtuous. I also treated myself to a chai latte and drank plenty of water – it was a scorcher of a day.

Once again, we’d booked a table and I’d recommend booking ahead of your arrival. The restaurant was busy and bustling with customers comfortably packed into every nook and cranny. Personally, I loved the lively atmosphere and will definitely be returning at some point.

So, there you have it – my five favourite brunch locations in London. I definitely have my eye on one or two that I’ll be making a beeline for straight after this lockdown has been lifted! Let me know if you have any fave brunch spots that you think I should check out on my next trip to the old smoke!

Thanks for reading!

Ciao for now,

Hope

xx

Two days in literary Oxford

Ciao a tutti! 

Come Stai? 

It’s been a while since I dropped new travel content onto the site. I could sit here and type countless excuses for my lack of updating, excuses that you’ve all heard before on countless different platforms all the time, but I won’t excuse myself. Instead, I want to dive into another travel chapter with you all.

I’ve delved back through my travel diaries to provide fresh content. Hopefully, my nostalgic ramblings will be as fun to read as they have been to write…

 

To inspire a book 

//Day one//

Shortly before the UK entered a coronavirus-induced lockdown, I managed to squeeze in one small trip to Oxford. 

Located in central southern England, Oxford is a city whose history is permanently intertwined with its prestigious university. But it wasn’t the oolitic limestone buildings that drew me to one of England’s tourist hotspots, oh no. I was embarking on a literary trail. The ‘city of dreaming spires,’ has inspired many famous novelists including: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein and Evenlyn Waugh – just to name a few. Like them, I too wanted to wander around the cobbled streets and drink in the city of inspiration.  

I arrived into Oxford via a train after visiting a friend in Cheltenham. I can’t drive so the majority of my travel plans are mapped out via public transport routes. I normally book my train tickets in advance and always with my 26-30 railcard. If you’re travelling on a budget, these are two easy tricks that can instantly lower the cost of your holiday.

Oxford’s tiny little train station is a 10-minute walk away from the centre’s offerings. It was late afternoon by the time I arrived, so instead of rushing to a museum or darting into Oxford’s Covered Market, I navigated my way through the city’s centre and out the other side to find my Airbnb. I had picked a little studio apartment in the Cowley area, which was a happy accident considering this is Oxford’s foodie distract! 

I had originally picked my little airbnb because of its good reviews, price and short walk from the city centre (about 15 to 20 minutes). A two-night stay for two people had set me back £200 (£100 per person). But we had the place to ourselves and it was clean and comfortable with all the amenities that we needed. My host had even left some chocolate and wine, so while I planned my evening, I indulged in those treats.

Then, with my backpack well and truly dumped, I headed to a nearby pub, the Cape of Good Hope (apt – much?), for a well-deserved pint. By now, it was around 5pm and my day of navigating Britain’s rail network had left me feeling famished, so it was time to for food. 

As I sipped on my pint, I searched restaurant reviews on my phone. When I travel now, I’m eager to step away from the High Street restaurant chains in favour of local independents. And by sheer chance, Cowley was filled with the best. 

I decided to try and nab a table at Kazbar. A Spanish and Moroccan tapas bar on Cowley Road. I arrived minutes after the doors opened, and was seated straight away. Inside, the decor is souq like with north African lanterns dotted around the space and mosaic tables. 

It’s an atmosphere where I immediately felt calm and as I relaxed into the cushions, I poured over the drinks menu. Without hesitation I ordered a large glass of Tinto – a drink I first sipped while on holiday in Islantilla last year. While I pondered over the mains, I ordered some olives, hummus, black olive tapenade and bread to snack on. Then, an array of tapas dishes arrived. I was too busy stuffing my face to grab a picture, but I can promise you this: the food was mouth watering. I even had to order myself another cocktail. This time an Aperol Spritz. 

For me, this meal was a decadent experience and one that I’d been saving for – I didn’t want money, or lack thereof, to scupper a relaxing break. For two people (including a 10% tip), this cost £70, so £35.00 per person. While this is more than I’d spend on groceries in a week, it was a treat and we did have a few drinks here before we headed back to the Airbnb to hit the hay. 

 

To Inspire a book 

//Day two//

We left the Airbnb early, to make the most of our only full day in Oxford. On today’s agenda: Oxford’s literary hotspots. Our first stop? An eerily quiet Covered Market. This market features in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Series. In Pullman’s book, his main character Lyra Belacqua is often found wandering around the market. In Lyra’s world, it sells fish, bread and other perishables. While the market wasn’t busy and bustling when I went to visit (as I’d pictured it in my head), it was nice to walk around without becoming part of a crowd. It meant I could browse the stalls at my leisure. And, from a little independent shop, I picked up a postcard to send to my grandad.

After I wandered in Lyra’s boots long enough, I headed across to the first museum of the day: Oxford’s Ashmolean. This museum was first founded in 1683 after Elias Ashmole gifted his collection to the university. As a result, it became Britain’s first public museum and the world’s first university museum. It’s worth spending some time wandering around this museum. The history of Elias Ashmole in itself is interesting and the museum contains a few objects of note including: a Stradivarius. For me, any antiquity collection is always of interest but museums are ever so personal, so head to collections you’ll find interesting. I picked up a museum map for the low price of £1. I always try to grab a museum map, not only does it give me a sense of orientation but it’s a nice memento for my scrapbook too.

Once you’ve had your fill of Egyptian artefacts, then I’d recommend a mid-morning stop at the museum’s rooftop restaurant. It boasts beautiful views of the university’s 38 colleges (for similar views head to the very top of Oxford’s shopping centre). Here, we halved a large slice of chocolate cake, while we guzzled on coffee. The coffee and cakes cost around £5 per person and the museum is free for all to enter.

Not content with visiting just one museum, I headed to two more museums after I did a spot of book shopping in some bookshops. I picked up two books while in my literary haven: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and Homer’s Odessy.

With my bag sufficiently weighed down with books, I head to Oxford’s Museum of Natural History. This museum was founded in 1860 and is home to many world famous highlights including the Oxford Dodo. Personally, I loved the dinosaur skeletons that were on display. 

A second museum adjoins to this one, The Pitt Rivers museum. As we entered through its double doors, I shivered. It’s cluttered display cases and stuffed shelves reminded me of the Gyptians from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Series. I think it was the boats on the far while, that reminded me of Pullman’s water-faring characters.

I spent several hours wandering around these museum, both of which were free to enter. As I left the museum, I donated £5 and made sure to Gift Aid my donations. Whenever I’m a tourist in the UK, I’m extremely grateful that the majority of the museums are free to enter and my little trip to Oxford was a reminder that I should donate where I can. Otherwise, others won’t be able to enjoy these museums as I have in years to come. 

By now, it was the middle of the afternoon and I’d certainly worked up a hunger. So, I decided to head to a literary haven: the Eagle and Child. This little pub is where Tolkien and Lewis used to convene to talk about their writing. Here, I sampled some local ales and ordered a fish pie off the menu (they’re renowned for their pies). As I sipped on my second pint, I felt inspired to pick up my pen once more.

To Inspire a book

//Day Three//

There was one final tourist attraction that I wanted to pop into before my train home: Oxford’s Botanical Gardens. After I’d checked out of the Airbnb and was weighed down by my backpacks, I set out for my final slice of site seeing.

There was a drizzle in the air, but that didn’t deter my enthusiasm to visit Will and Lyra’s bench from the His Dark Materials Series. As the gates of the gardens opened, I bought a ticket (around £5 entry) and made a beeline for this last literary treasure. After a small photoshoot on the bench, I wandered around the rest of the gardens and off into the Greenhouses.

In the summer, I could imagine myself basking in the sun with a picnic, a book and notebook as I spent an afternoon people watching. But on this dreary Sunday, I was better off inside the confines of a coffee shop before I jumped on my train home.

Oxford truly is a book lover’s dream. While I couldn’t cram every site, restaurant and pub into my small trip, I fell in love with what I did get to see. Hopefully, I’ll return to the city in the summer for a second trip – where beer gardens and another literary trail will feature prominently!

 

Thanks for reading!

And Ciao for now

Hope

xx

Disclaimer: I went on this trip a few weeks before the UK announced its lockdown. I am safely typing this post from the comfort of my own home!

When solidarity becomes unity

A family narrative through the act of reading

I love books. I love their crisp white pages, that weirdly aromatic new-book smell and the etchings of black ink. I love their yellow sun-kissed edges, the cracks in the spine, and the well thumbed through corners.

I can’t exactly remember when I started loving these inanimate objects. Nor, can I remember when I started ascribing each one with their own narrative. But I know my family had something to do with this affection.

Possibly, it started in the form of gifts from my mum and granddad (who I fondly call Gramps). For my 9th birthday, Gramps gave me seven pastel coloured hardback editions of the Chronicles of Narnia. They came neatly stored in a blue box that was ornately adorned with famous characters

I’ve always been drawn to fictional characters

from the series.

Straight away, I launched into The Magician’s Nephew. This was my first slice of literary knowledge, and superiority radiated from me. Suddenly, I knew that this was the first book in the series and not the more commonly known, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This series made me feel almost superior and helped to inflate my childhood ego infinitely. In that I became ‘the book is much better than the film’ person.

 

The first few pages

At primary school, I considered myself a good reader – it could have been the badges awarded to me at the end of term. Or, it could have been the teachers running around the school haphazardly trying to find me books. But, intrinsically, I just knew I was good at it.

Sometimes, at break time, I used to sit in the quiet area of the playground on a brown wooden bench and reread my battered copy of The Story of Tracy Beaker. Another time, I spent a week hauling Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince around the playground where I would sit on a concrete step just off the football pitch with my nose buried deep into the book’s corners. Even at this young age, I set myself a challenge to read 100 pages a day, on several days I would exceed this goal partly because my dad had read the spoilers in the paper and partly because I wanted to find out the ending on JK’s terms.

I suppose, it was from that point onwards that reading became me – I read because that’s who I was – the reader.

Cocooning covers

As I merrily flipped page after page under the glow of my dimly-lit heart-shaped lamp, I realised it wasn’t about intellectual superiority in the slightest, it was about my comfort because those pages made me feel safe.

No moment may be a truer representation of this than when my dad had a stroke. At the time, I was 13 and forever wearing a bright yellow Animal top underneath a pair of dark denim dungarees. Regardless of the get-up, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had just been published and it was within this tomb that my head became a little clearer as I was whisked away on Harry’s final school year. I reread the books constantly, losing myself inside the instant protection of Hogwarts as it drowned out the harsh realities of the world.

Healing Harry Potter helps sooth

That summer, my mum divided her time between visiting my dad at the hospital and taking us on the never-ending 35 bus loop to Birmingham Central Library.

Twelve years ago, the library wasn’t the colossal icon on Birmingham’s skyline. Instead, it was a concrete labyrinth of brutalist architecture that sat adjacent to Birmingham Museum and Art gallery just off Chamberlain Square. Inside those blocks, with mama Brotherton and my four siblings, I felt safe. For, I was surrounded by books and their stories.

When my mum was a child, she too used to go the library all the time. A hobby that was actioned by her father, Reginald Gardner, (Gramps to me) long before I was a blip on the horizon.

‘I read everything,’ she exclaimed excitedly, when I asked her about her childhood reading habits. She regaled over her love of Stephen King. ‘Thrillers, I was all about thrillers,’ and she very much still is as my iPhone notes can attest to (I have her ‘books to get list’ saved on my phone).

However, during her days as a full-time housewife, mother and general matriarch, her reading waned – in part we were to blame – as a frantic house allows no moment for recreational downtime. ‘I was just too busy,’ she sighed longingly when I probed into her reading history further. Despite her own hobby being left by the way-side, on Saturdays, my mum would always bundle myself and my siblings out the door for a short stroll down to the home of borrowed books.

Pushing a pram and watching my younger siblings toddle on, we would begin our slow walk along of one Birmingham’s canal paths and across the green playing fields to King’s Norton Library.

My local library was also this instant vessel of safety. It wasn’t very large and didn’t house that many books. Nevertheless, I would pull the bound pages from this shelf and that, knowing that at least one would spark an interest. In the unlikely chance that that did not happen, I would go armed to the oval counter with a comprehensive list and try to order in a book that had been mentioned in one of my favourite glossy magazines – probably Girl Talk.

Swallows and Amazons’ my mum chimed in decisively when I asked about her favourite childhood novel. And, to my great shame, it isn’t a novel I have read. Why? Because, I found my parents’ reading recommendations suffocating. I felt trapped, rather than inspired.

Recommended reading

For that inspiration, I headed online instead. Videos on my dusty old YouTube channel, Overtheepage chronicle my early adult adventures with reading. I was a fangirl. And, for once, there seemed to be a cult following on something I knew plenty about.

 

A YouTube thumbnails from years gone by

The Booktube community was where I let my recommendation-barrier drop and I actually started to build friendships around reading. But, it took a while for these online encounters to manifest into in-real life experiences based on the books I loved. The important thing was that it had started.

Slowly, I began to recommend books to friends. I was in my final year of secondary school, and I would pull out copies of the Twilight saga, Noughts & Crosses, Looking for Alaska, The Princess Diaries, and The Hunger Games from my green canvas rucksack and pass them onto my friends during history.

Sharing books with my friends is a feat that I have maintained in my early twenties. For Christmas, I bought my childhood friends, Conversations with Friends. I was gifted Heartburn in the work secret Santa and have just lent Homegoing and Ponti out to my friends while borrowing Becoming and Normal People from them in return.

However, my relationship with my family and sharing books was still complex. I begrudged my younger sister for pinching House of Night and The Wolves of Mercy Falls books from my shelves. It was because reading was my safe haven. It was mine.

And then, I went to a book signing.

It was my mum who took me to my first ever book signing – of course. We had bought two tickets to hear Malorie Blackman talk about her latest novel, Boys Don’t Cry, but it was  Noughts & Crosses  that had peaked my interest.

At the talk, Malorie mentioned her favourite novel – The Colour Purple. After the signing, me and my mum headed home on the bus and when we arrived, she gave me a battered coffee-stained copy of The Colour Purple, and I began reading immediately.

It was when I was reading chapter four that I realised I should have been sharing these adventures all along, because here I was, inside that book. At some point, a younger me, had scrawled her name ‘HOPE’ in capital letters in pencil at the top of the chapter, an act of graffiti that my mum had never rubbed out. I finished The Colour Purple and recommended When Things Fall Apart to my mum.

I phoned my mum recently and her voice hummed over the speaker. ‘A book I would recommend to you,’ she kept repeating that line. On the other end, I could almost imagine her peering into the distance, squinting somewhat behind her bifocals as she thought.

‘Well whatever I recommend, you’ve probably already read,’ she confessed. At that, I challenged her. ‘You don’t know that,’ I teased. I knew what she would recommend – her favourite book. ‘Well, I suppose I would say To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ‘Well I’ll have to read it,’ I said.

Forever borrowing Gramps’ books

She wasn’t disappointed when I said I hadn’t read it. For a year, it had sat at the top of a pile of precariously stacked books during my master’s year in Cardiff. But, I couldn’t bring myself to read it – the pressure to enjoy this book was intense. But, it’s not anymore and I have just dipped into its pages for the first time.

Now, I live and breathe for sharing books with my family. Every visit to Gramps’, I pinch books from his living room shelves (it’s Hemmingway at the moment). For my mum, I save the books section of a popular weekend supplement for her to read, and always arrive with a book to lend in my floral backpack. And, for my sister, the not so secret book-pincher? I gave her Everything I Know About Love recently because every young woman should read it.

So, it’s not the physical attributes that made me love books, it’s about how they connect me to my friends, to my family, to other people, places and cultures.

Always meet your heroes

There were two holes in my tights, right on my thighs. They were those big holes, you know, the ones were the strings of fabric run across the tights gaping abyss.  They felt punk. It was perfect. Paired with my trusty Doc Martens, reflective gold skirt, black aviator jacket, red lipstick and a beret, I felt right, I felt authentic. Really though, I felt cool.

Inwardly, I knew I was trying to make a statement because I was set to meet my idol, Caitlin Moran.

If you’ve never heard of Caitlin Moran, then shame on you. But I am a big believer that it is never too late to learn.  So, go away and become enthralled in her writing style, her social commentary and her fearless defence of all that is sane. And, then pop on here for – well – some old fashioned fangirling.

All of Caitlin Moran’s overarching characteristics were bought to light in the first Thread Up talk on Thursday 10 October 2019. The talk I was going to inhale. Thread Up is a series of free talks, which seek to discuss Twitter and the conversations that communities are having on this social media platform. Thursday’s event was hosted by British DJ Alex Zane and held in the new Samsung KX Space at the Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross.

The stage has been set

As I entered the waiting area, a chic wooden floored area adorned with geometric rugs, plants and cosy arm chairs, there was a buzz in the air. I plonked myself down on the closest armchair and attempted to read the Nora Ephron essay collection that was stuffed into my bag. But, I couldn’t focus, my eyes kept darting around the room fixated on other loiterers and wondering what they loved about the beloved journalist.

The art of social media

At present, Caitlin Moran has over 800,000 followers on Twitter and is well placed to talk about how one platform has generated numerous conversations and discussions.

Caitlin’s monologue began with a sound statement regarding her feminism. Simply, she is one. And, she believes that one of the next waves of feminism will help to enrich the lives of men. This viewpoint was displayed outwardly in a viral Twitter discussion, which she started one year ago:

‘Men. Men of Twitter. What are the downsides of being a man?’

She then divided her findings into several sub themes. Some of which were amusing, while others were heartfelt and emotional.

Caitlin confronted gender inequalities

The amusing consisted of men longing for the soft scents of the woman’s bathroom. Some men believed it to be a hygienic utopia of perfumes, softening hand creams and piss-free floors. Others longed for a male version of the sacred sisterhood that is the ladies’ room of a night club. And, I have to agree, it’s where we women meet friends for life, brazenly compliment each other’s outfits, hair and makeup, where, if you’re crying, you’ll always be uplifted. I’m told that the same conditions don’t apply in the men’s room. Unfortunately.

While I laughed as this was all unpacked, other sub themes that emerged were much more harrowing. Just last night, I was able to meet my friends at a pub and off-load my feelings after a terrible week. Men, it seems, don’t have this outlet. Many men Tweeted Caitlin to say that their feelings get glossed over and they aren’t able to divulge to a friend if they are feeling low or blue. It is a well-known fact that Men are statistically more likely to commit suicide and maybe this is part of the reason.

Caitlin’s monologue ended to triumphant applause and then she launched straight into a discussion with Alex Zane. Questions regarding some of Caitlin’s most prolific Twitter moments as well as those of others. The most retweeted Tweet of all time? A billionaire in the East offering to give money to 10 people who retweeted his post. The quantity? A mere million. It’s popularity was therefore no mystery. The 60-minute talk only just scratched the service of this social media platform, but with more talks planned then maybe audiences will be able to delve further.

The meet-and-greet

After the talk, there was an opportunity to speak to Caitlin Moran and naturally, shaking, I joined the queue. It was the moment I had been waiting for and I was inexplicably nervous. I was the second person to meet her, this I found is a perk of going to events by yourself the ability to nip in quickly to the meet and greet queues.

She opened with a hug. It was warm and friendly just like her demeanour. I thanked her wholeheartedly for inspiring me to pursue a career in journalism. Growing up, journalism seemed achievable because Caitlin Moran made it accessible. She was flattered, I think. And encouraging. And it’s that encouragement that sometimes a fledgling journalist needs and a kiss on the cheek from their idol.

Disclaimer: This ticket was gifted to me by London Skint Mag.

Barcelona ~ Top 5 freebies

Ciao a tutti!

Come Stai?

I realise I have pretty much abandoned this blog over the summer, but my summer months have been filled with some exciting travel adventures – more on this to follow. However, I think the very essence of my blog is how to travel well, but on a budget. I don’t think travel should be for the privileged and the few, as a masters student I balance my lifestyle and my purse, whilst it’s not easy I’m beyond happy with my autumnal adventures (more on this too).

I’ve always set myself rather stringent budgets when travelling abroad. I think it’s very easy to get caught up in the notion that you’re on holiday, but money doesn’t certainly grow on trees and certainly does disappear when thrust carelessly onto the plastic. So, I thought I’d pick out my top 5 freebies for Barcelona.

Barcelona is a renowned as one of Europe’s most expensive tourist hot spots.  The large majority of Gaudi’s works cost around 20 euros entry upwards, pricey, but cultural musts. On our three day, ram packed trip to Barcelona we allowed ourselves to visit one ‘pricey,’ attractions per day, whilst the rest were freebies….so without further ado, here are my favourite freebies in Barcelona.

  1. Picasso Museum

Many European cities offer free entry into attractions on the first Sunday of the month and Barcelona is no exception. The Picasso museum in Barcelona is normally priced around the 7 euros mark. This price certainly doesn’t break the bank, but will help towards a cheeky tapas treat! The museum contains a plethora of Picasso’s earlier works and some of his rough sketches – with a few surprises towards the end. Every sunday, the Picasso Museum  offers free entry to tourists after 3 pm, but be sure to get there sharp, as there is a limited number of tickets available per hour. So arrive promptly and be prepared to queue if you want to delve into the past of Pablo Picasso!

 2. Park Guell

Park Guell is another one of Guadi’s finest works. Gaudi is famous for his love of nature and combining this passion into his artwork. Park Guell was originally designed to be enjoyed by the people of Barcelona, and to this day still is. It’s important to note that Park Guell has two parts, an inner and outer park. The outer park is completely free for public access.  This is the larger more extensive part of the park and has many hidden gems and smaller UNESCO attractions around every corner. Bring some snacks, as picnic benches are dotted around so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery.

However, it’s the inner part of the park that is of interest to most tourists. This part contains Gaudi’s statues and sculptures adorned with shards of mosaic ensuring their colours pop against the background of vegetation. But, this is the part of the park that costs, but is free at certain times of the day. The park is free to the public before 8am and after ____ so if you’re an early riser then by all means save yourself 8 euros and treat yourself to a pataas bravas for lunch – we certainly did.

 

3. Beach 

Now, it wouldn’t be a trip to the Mediterranean without a dip into Barcelona’s crystal  clear waters. Head to La Barceloneta, which is an edgy urban area juxtaposed with sumptuous seafood restaurants. Stroll along the sandy beach and find a perfect spot – preferably near a cocktail bar if that’s your thing. Ignore the street sellers if you’re not interested, but remember you can always haggle them down (my top tip: try before you buy with the mojitos). La Barceloneta is teeming with restaurants, but my personal favourite is Maka Maka – perfect for Vegans and Vegetarians too!

 

4. La Cathedral

Again, Barcelona’s history filled Cathedral is another attraction that is free at certain times of the day (normally before 8am, but check on the attractions website). The cathedral began its life in the 13th century and now 6 centuries later it’s complete and is the epitome of cultural and history in Barcelona. It goes beyond the funky architecture of Barcelona and is a quite simply a stunning amalgamation of history and art.

5. Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar 

This is arguably Barcelona’s most Gothic structure, so if that sort of architecture is your thing then this a must. The entire sanctuary is light and open, wrought with stone and even rivals some of Barcelona’s top attractions such as, La Cathedral and the Sagrada Familia. Enjoy every aspect of the Basilica and its historical structure. Be sure to avoid the Basilica at lunch times – when its closed and if your visit is spiritual head there at 7.30pm for mass. This was one of my favourite freebie attractions in Barcelona. There was a strong contrast between the Basilica and some of Gaudi’s famed attractions, this is a breath of fresh air and gives Barcelona another cultural depth.

 

I hope this short, but snappy list was helpful! Let me know if you have any other freebie favourites in Barcelona – I plan on returning very soon!

ciao for now,

Hope!

 

Rome Day Three

Day Three

 

Day three is what I like to call ‘leftover day.’ After, doing the Colosseum and the Vatican for the first two days, day three gave me time to look at some other bits Rome had to offer.

Today, from the Duke Hotel I decided to walk into the city as the national gallery was only a small walk away. After stopping off at the supermarket, (I would really recommend a bottle of Prosecco and a balcony evening, for a cheap but good night), then I continued on my merry way.

It was around 4 euros entry into the national gallery, which included some very famous pieces of artwork, such as Van gough, Monet,  Jackson Pollac, oil paintings and some very contemporary displays. The gallery itself took me about an hour or so to walk around, and at the end I stopped off in the cafe for my very first shot of espresso – which waked me up greatly after my tiring first two days.

From here I headed to the Villa Borghese, a tranquil park in the middle of Rome. It promises to take you away from the busy hustle and bustle of the historical centre. It was quiet and reclusive. A perfect break. In the Villa Borghese there are more museums, but instead I stumbled across a small lake which had row boats for hire on, so naturally I rowed. Needless to say I didn’t take to the helm for very long…..

After surviving my rowing experience I carried on, and decided to had to visit Rome’s iconic Spanish Steps, it was quite a walk, but thankfully souvenir stands and shops were dotted along the way, so I grabbed a geleto and shopped whilst staying on route. The Spanish steps, were again another site to behold. Instead of climbing them from the bottom upwards, I started at the top and worked my way down. The steps weren’t as high as I first anticipated, but going either up or down you’ll be amazed by the sheer beauty of it all.

From here I headed to the ‘Domus Area,’ which I had built up in my head to be a huge gladiatorial arena, alas I was sadly mistaken. The Domus Area turned out to be clumps of ruins dotted about a park. However, these ruins were originally Nero’s golden house and for a history buff like me it was great to know I’d been there, even if they weren’t as magnificent as I originally thought.

After this, I looped back around to the giant monument of Vittorio Emmanuel II, this was an attraction I had walked past many times, but hadn’t had time to venture in, so made a point of it today. The monument itself felt very sacred, you weren’t allowed to sit, drink, eat or take photos on various parts, a touch I thought showed a great deal of respect to the previous King.

Just around the corner from the monument was the Piazza Del Campidoglio, the square that Michelangelo Buonarroti designed, in the centre stands a noble horse and his rider, Marcus Aurelius, the statue in the square is in actual fact a remake, if you want to see the original it is being preserved inside the museum. I do recommend a visit.

My final destination on my very last day was the fountain of the four rivers, which when I eventually arrived here it was nightfall, and so experienced them in the twinkling moonlight. As, I stuck to my  budget quite well on the previous days, I decided to treat myself to slightly more expensive and oh so delicious restaurant, Gusto! But, there are plenty about so take your pick, go on its the last day treat yourself.

 

 

 

End of Holiday

Independent Birmingham – Java lounge

 

Ciao Ragazzi! Come stai?

Independent Birmingham is back for its second week running! Again, we are heading back to Mosely, but this time it’s to discuss Java Lounge. Last Sunday, my boyfriend and I decided we want to head out for an evening coffee, neither of us really fancied anything alcoholic, so we hopped on the number 50 bus and headed to Mosely. To my shock, Damascena was closed so we reconsidered and thought about heading to the Prince of Wales, which is a personal favourite of mine and where I had my 21st birthday. Walking up to it, we noticed the Java Lounge was open and it seemed ironically appropriate considering my boyfriend has just graduated his degree in computer programming.

We stepped inside to find a quaintly furnished coffee shop and immediately plumped for the red leather sofa in the window, which reminded me of the Gryffindor common room – without the fireplace. We order two speciality coffees (£3.10 each, whipped cream was an extra 30p). I ordered the mint choco, it was sweet and the mint flavour was the gift that just kept on giving. We sat back, relaxed and read the story of Java Lounge and its conception, which is mounted on a wall behind the counter. We were allowed to sit there in blissful harmony until a barista told us they were closing for the night (9pm on a Sunday night – I was impressed). Before we left, they asked if we had enjoyed our beverages, and indeed we had.

Food is also served here if you fancy a bite in a quaint, but yet coffee shop.

Ciao for now,

Hope