• Bookshelf

    Book Review: The Dictator’s Muse

    The Dictator’s Muse, Nigel Farndale 4/5

    The Dictator's Muse by Nigel Farndale - Penguin Books Australia

    The Dictator’s Muse is set during the Berlin Olympics of the 1930’s. Hitler is taking power and the book focuses on Leni Riefenstahl, a film-maker popular with the Third Reich, whom Hitler has requested capture the Olympics.

    Competing in the Olympics is British athlete Kim Newlands. Along with his socialite girlfriend Connie, he joins the Blackshirts, who sponsor him to compete. Alun Pryce is a communist set on infiltrating the Blackshirts. Acting undercover, he finds his way into Kim and Connie’s lives, and the three become inextricably intertwined, a relationship built on lies and misdirection with heart-wrenching consequences.

    As the three arrive at the Olympics and meet Leni, the story unfurls. Leni is moving in dangerous circles, and the writing is suspenseful and gripping, showing us the knife-edge that Leni is balancing on in her relationship with the Third Reich and Hitler himself. In the present day, Sigrun Meier is attempting to piece together Leni’s life and work. Via her investigations, we discover what happened to the Leni’s film of the unknown athlete at the Olympics, and also what happened to Alun, Connie and Kim.

    The ending seemed a little far-fetched and convenient for me, and I felt that the author could have delved into Leni Riefenstahl’s relationship with the Third Reich further, as well as the history of the Blackshirts and those who worked against them – as someone with little knowledge of this period in time, I felt as though the political factions took somewhat of a backseat to the characters and their stories and would have appreciated more background on what each group represented.

    The characters themselves are excellently portrayed, however, and this is what makes the book such a great read. I was gripped by this book, more than I expected. It is a subject area I know little about and this book has piqued my interest, I really want to find out more about Leni Riefenstahl and her relationship with the Nazis, as well as the events surrounding the Berlin Olympics and the athletes competing.

    I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting a thrilling, intense read.

    Buy this book here:

    Amazon
    Wordery
    Bookshop.org

    These are not affiliate links 🙂

    (This review previously appeared on my past blog, One Empty Shelf. Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book).

  • Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: South by Babak Lakghomi

    SOUTH BY BABAK LAKGHOMI, 5/5

    From the publisher: “South is a haunting and hallucinatory reimagination of life in a world under totalitarianism, and an individual’s quest for truth, agency, and understanding.

    B, a journalist, travels to the South of an unnamed desert country for a mysterious mission to write a report about the recent strikes on an offshore oil rig. From the beginning of his trip, he is faced with a cruel and broken landscape of drought and decay, superstitious believers of evil winds and spirits, and corrupt entities focused on manipulation and censorship. As he tries to defend himself against his unknown enemies, we learn about his father’s disappearance, his fading love with his wife, and his encounter with an unknown woman. A puzzle-like novel about totalitarianism, surveillance, alienation, and guilt that questions the forces that control us.”

    Book cover of South by Babak Lakghomi.

    South is a novel that has taken me a while to process – the bleak, blunt prose is divisive and initially hard to get along with, but since I’ve finished it, my mind has filled in more and more layers. I think it needs time to digest, and it’s a novel I will definitely return to.

    This dystopian story follows B, as he goes undercover to join the crew of an oil rig. The world is stark, grey and jarring. It is almost our world, yet it is not. B’s mission to write a report about recent strikes on the rig slowly falls apart, and in doing so, reveals more details about B’s past, his father’s mysterious disappearance and his relationship. As the novel unwinds, so does the structure of B’s life – the surveillance and authoritarianism of this dystopian world packs a punch against a hazy, dreamlike background.

    The writing is minimal and almost harsh, with Lakghomi eschewing details that initially I wished were present. I finished the novel feeling confused and almost empty – a feeling which, on reflection, echoes the style of writing well, and is not necessarily negative. Lakghomi conjours the feeling of a world that is not just teetering on the brink of something dark but has stepped over the precipice and is now in free fall. There is a creeping, insidious sense of dystopia that lodges itself in your mind and really makes you think. It is a haunting and somewhat uncomfortable read, but that is what makes it great.

    South is published on 12th September 2023.
    Dundurn Press (Canada, available 15th Aug 2023)

    Thank you #Netgalley for the ARC of this novel!


     

  • Adventures,  Blog,  Bookshelf,  Miscellany

    A Box of Maps and Time-Travelling

    I love old maps. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the lure of a seemingly quieter time, an expanse of fields and greenery. I’m fascinated by comparing old and new maps, to see what’s changed, names of roads hinting at old structures and pathways.

    Luckily our local second-hand bookshop always has a great pile of maps and local history leaflets and booklets and I can’t go in without a few of them finding their way into my possession – I try not to visit often!

    There’s just something about maps – obviously the old book/map smell and feel, but something more, something magical about looking at that record of human existence in a place, of how the land rises and falls and how we ride along with it. Sometimes changing the face of that land, sometimes the land reclaiming those once wild spaces back, footprints fading back to earth. It’s all there, in folded paper, in contour lines, funny symbols and dotted pathways.

    a cardboard box containing numerous maps. I wrote 'maps and other interesting things' on the front of the box.

    four old maps displayed on a stone flag. Three are bartholemew's maps (one of North Wales, one of Wharfedale) and one is and old material ordnance survey map of the peak district.

    I have an old cardboard box where I keep maps and other interesting ephemera. It’s a treat on a rainy afternoon to reach up to the high shelf, grab the box and pick out anything that catches my eye. I have a few favourites – the old material Ordnance Survey map of the Peak District, with the map separated and individually glued into place. A pamphlet on the M62, full of interesting titbits with which to gleefully regale your travelling companions as you whizz along at 70mph, Scammonden Dam blurring past the windows. Waterproof tracking guides to stick in a pocket when venturing for a snowy walk, following the pid-pad of footprints that are usually invisible.

    Three pamphlets: the yorkshire pudding almanac, the trans-pennine motorway, and i-spy wild flowers are held in a fan in front of some grass and a stone wall in the background.

    Two small waterproof leaflets on tracking wild animal prints, lying on a stone flag. One is open on 'badger prints'.

    I lose myself in layers of time, tracing fingers over footpaths that fade into fields, hedges that turn into housing estate boundaries. We were given an old map of our area as a housewarming gift, that had a tantalising ‘x’ in biro. Needless to say, an adventure was afoot.

    We navigated only by the old map, travelling in a time-bubble of 70 years ago. Watching present-day people driving by, it really felt as if we were time travellers. We were only occasionally surprised by the odd new dual carriageway or dead end that had appeared in the intervening decades. We grumbled at these intruders, turned around, and carried on on the old roads. What would be at the ‘x’?

    Eventually we arrived at an inconspicuous corner, populated with a few trees and surrounded by farmland. Would there be riches, buried just below the surface? Archaeological artefacts? Did something important happen here, many years ago? As the car doors clunked shut behind us, we stood in the silence and looked around.

    We’d come entirely unprepared, and scuffed around under the trees for a while with our feet, avoiding crisp packets and pop bottles. This area was decidedly unromantic, and we felt very much back in the present day the more we scrabbled around. Suddenly, a glint caught our eyes… could this be it?

    Parting the long grass, half concealed in mud, we pulled out a thick, clear glass bottle, possibly an old milk or pop bottle with ‘Laws’ on the side. What a treasure! The map spoke true to us, there was indeed buried treasure at the ‘x’! Full of joy, we headed homewards, again on the old roads, our find safely nestled in the footwell. It is now used as a candle holder, along with other old bottles – I love the look of the melted wax as it builds up over the years. It is as much a treasure now as when we found it.

    Thee vintage bottles now used as candle holders with melted wax dribbled down the bottle sides. The clear glass bottle in the post is in the centre, with a blue wine bottle on the left and a grolsch beer bottle on the right. All three bottles have half-burnt orange candles in and are in front of a white wall.

    I’d fully recommend navigating via old maps. I find it takes me away from the present day, back to a time without motorways, which only occasionally pop up to surprise you where you least expect it. It’s even more of a treat when navigating to a point of interest that is now decidedly built up, but still exists in the ‘real world’, as it were. It’s like finding a treasure all over again. And of course, finding an old map with an ‘x’ on it fuels anyone’s imagination, and treasure can be anything you want it to be. Put your own ‘x’s. Find your own treasure! Or, hide some beforehand and take the family.

    I find having a box of maps brings immense joy. Similarly-minded people will pop round for a cup of tea and find the same delight leafing through a collection of maps. Annotated maps are even better – our Iceland map is full of campsite reviews, exciting iceberg finds and locations where the showers are free – it brings back great memories to spend a nice half hour or so reliving our road trip round Route 1. Another of my favourite maps is one I got as a present a few years ago – a map of the rude place names in the UK which always leaves me in fits of giggles every time I look at it. I have added a picture below for your viewing pleasure. I think Bell End is my fave! Although Cockstubbles is a close second.

    A section of a map of rude place names in the UK - notable ones are Bell End, Willey and Butthole.

    I love this box of interesting things. Spending a few quiet moments leafing through is one of life’s joys, especially as you can then go outside and actually find yourself in the places you’ve just looked at. Planning adventures to interesting looking places and features, finding out what used to be built down the road, or just wandering from map to map following a road. Picking up a pamphlet of local history or something interesting about nature and settling down with a brew and a biscuit. A box of interesting things is a must. What would you put in yours?

    An old map of the Peak District with the insignia of King George on the cover. The map is made of material, and has a watercolour of a lake and hills on the front.

    FOlded oout material map of the peak district. Each map section is individually cut and placed on the material.

    Top view of a box of maps with my hand leafing through them.

  • Blog,  Garden Projects,  Wild Garden

    Greenhouse Clear Out and Tidy

    I’ve been putting off clearing out the greenhouse for months. Actually months is a lie, it must be at least a year and possibly (probably) even more. But last weekend, the great greenhouse clear out and tidy finally happened, so I thought I’d take a few photos to document it along the way.

    I must say, I did hardly any of the actual clearing out (or putting back in), that job was valiantly undertaken by Mr GF, who bravely wrangled the resident huge angry spiders to a new home (round the corner of the house). I don’t mind a distant spid, but when they’re massive and waving their hairy legs at you in rage after being ousted from their favourite tea-towel I come over all wibbly.

    Here’s a few shameful before pictures. Over the last few months/years, the organisation I had at the beginning went to pot and I ended up just shoving everything wherever it would fit. I’m terrible for keeping garden bits to ‘make something out of’ in the future, which almost never actually happens. This time we unearthed a hessian sack, two empty compost bags, an entire bucket full of plastic bottles cut in half (no idea), a couple of glass windows, endless seed trays and pots, a jar containing a marble and a bit of wire (also no idea) and handfuls of wooden coffee stirrers liberated to write plant names on (we kept those!). Originally I had some baskets and drawers found in charity shops for all the bits, organised in themes, but the bottom drawers had become spider hotels and I had avoided them ever since.

    a messy greenhouse filled with plant pots, old tomato plants, buckets, a barbeque and other garden equipment all piled in a mess inside.

    A messy greenhouse filled with garden items. There is a marble bench with a tray of earth on and a geranium. Everywhere else is piled with plant pots, buckets, and a small green barbeque. Inside a messy greenhouse to the left of the door. There are old mini greenhouse shelves piled with plant pots, a large white bucket, a small green barbeque, a chicken wire ghost torso, and bits of pallet used to balance plants on. The cobbled floor can just be glimpsed at the front. The greenhouse is held together with masking and duct tape between the panels.

    We decided the best way to go about it would be to remove everything, then jig around as we needed before replacing everything that we wanted to go back in. Mr. GF removed and I wiped plant pots, organised tubs, cleaned tools and once everything was out, washed down the whole inside of the greenhouse with warm water and a good squirt of Dr. Bronners. We ripped off any tired masking tape and duct tape, but left the bits that were still sticking the panels together effectively – I’ve found this is the best way to stop the panels disappearing down the valley in the winter winds. I’ve taped the inside and outside and yes, it looks terrible, but it works!

    A empty greenhouse with a cobbled floor and a pallet bench at the rear. Bits of tape hold the panels in place. A water sprayer can be seen through the front panel.

    You may have realised by now that this isn’t going to be an amazing transformation! Definitely no bunting here. Our greenhouse is pretty functional and is never going to be one of those Instagram-perfect glass houses with a sofa in and fairy lights! It’s full of worms, mud and spiders, and it leaks water through the roof moss into an old mushroom tray. I think if we had a posh greenhouse it would just blow away in the wind anyway so there’s no point!

    Anyway, back to the job in hand. After Mr GF had cleared everything out, there was loads more room to move around. After whirling around inside for a bit in excitement, we decided to move the big pallet shelves to the side and keep one of the old sets of grey shelves (you can spot them in one of the photos above), but remove everything else. The shelves were really useful – originally part of those small stand-up greenhouses with see through plastic covers. I’d found them years ago in the Wilkos sale for £2 each and after a few years use the plastic had given up, but the shelves are still in great condition.

    A quick sweep up and it was time to move around! Luckily, the pallet shelves and the grey shelves were the perfect fit for one side of the greenhouse.

    view inside a greenhouse looking to the left. A large set of two shelves made from pallets stands to the side of the greenhouse. There is a cobbled floor. Outside the greenhouse is a green washing up bowl full of dirty soapy water.

    We made these pallet shelves out of some spare wood. They are just two half-pallets, one at either side, joined by a length of wood along the back. The ‘shelves’ are just planks of wood balanced into the spaces in the pallets, so we can move them around as we need. Sturdy and easy to disassemble if needed! After moving the shelves the greenhouse seemed much bigger, mainly as we can now get the the back of the greenhouse. It’s strange how just moving one thing can make it seem so much larger!

    After much tea, it was time to put everything back in. We cleared out anything expired, and donated the excess of plant pots to friends and to freecycle, keeping a few of each size. My pile of ‘projects that will never happen’ was sorted and recycled, although we kept the hessian coffee sack for future use – they’re great for hanging basket linings. I organised the baskets, using one for tools, one for garden twine etc, and one for plant food. Mr. GF has a basket for his carnivorous plant things too. We brought the geraniums in from the garden, and put back the physalis (we’ve had 3 so far from it this year and very delicious they are too!) and the avocado-or-mango (we can’t remember which).

    I have a wooden fruit tray from the local veg shop that I kept a variety of gardening related crap in, now it’s nice and organised! I balanced it on four pebbles to escape the water that leaks through the roof. And talking of that, I replaced the mushroom tray with a larger one, underneath where it leaks through the roof. There’s moss and it drips lovely filtered rainwater into the tray, which is then used to water the plants! I should probably fix it but I quite like it. The potting table is made from spare wood and the marble from our old fire surround!

    A greenhouse with a marble bench to the right inside. There are two white buckets containing bird food, and a small tray on the marble table.

    The two big tubs are where we keep the bird food. Nice and mouse-proof, and they keep everything dry as well. We hammered a nail in to hang the riddle from, and the bags of compost fit nicely under the bench once more!

    View inside a small old greenhouse. Grey metal shelves have clear plastic baskets on with gardening items in. There is a large set of wooden pallet shelves with geraniums on, and a red watering can on the floor.

    It’s been so nice to be able to actually get into the greenhouse now. It’s made such a difference clearing stuff out, and you know when you’ve been meaning to do something for ages then the relief you feel when you actually get round to it is immense. It’s a lovely little spot now and I’ve found myself popping in to talk to the geraniums, grab some bird food, or just perch on the edge of the pallet shelves and listen to the rain on the roof. I’m sure the spiders are moving back in as we speak, but it’s so much easier to find what I’m looking for now, and after getting rid of the excess mess my head is a lot clearer too. It’ll never win any Pinterest award for aesthetics but it’s an unapologetic working greenhouse, and now I can actually work in it, that’s more than enough for me.

    Happy gardening, all 🙂

    Greenhouse bench made from an old marble fire surround. On the bench is a mushroom tray used to catch water dripping from the roof, and a small wooden tray with coffee stirrers and garden shears in.

  • Bookshelf

    Book Review: The Revelations

    The Revelations, Erik Hoel 5/5

    The Revelations (Ebook) | ABRAMSAn intellectual soup of consciousness, genius and animal testing with a suspicious death thrown into the mix – The Revelations is hard to describe, but very, very good.

    After an intellectual breakdown of sorts whilst studying his previous PhD programme, Kierk is living in his car, having left the PhD programme. However, he has an offer of a place on a prestigious programme to study the nature of consciousness. Last minute, he decides to accept the place.

    I was expecting to dislike Kierk, but found him surprisingly likeable, along with the other students on the course. Following Kierk’s manic thought processes is great – there is a lot of discussion of consciousness theory which I found fascinating but not overbearing, and I enjoyed the lengths he puts himself through to push his mind to the next level.

    The sudden death of one of the students places the others under suspicion, along with an animal rights group that has been infiltrating the consciousness research facility. Along with fellow student Carmen, Kierk sets out to discover just what happened. The descriptions of the testing facility are very realistic and could be upsetting – I found myself clearly picturing the suffering these animals go through.

    I enjoyed the slightly disconcerting atmosphere of the book, toying with our idea of reality. The ending was sudden – and I think I’m going to go back and re-read it – I imagine there are more layers to this than I picked up on the first reading! Overall I really enjoyed it – a book that challenged me and really made me think.

    Buy this book here:

    Amazon
    Wordery
    Bookshop.org

    These are not affiliate links 🙂

    (This review previously appeared on my past blog, One Empty Shelf. Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book).

  • Blog,  Day to Day,  Home,  The Cottage

    Soul Flames: Fire Thoughts

    I watch the bright flames crackle and dance in the soft early morning gloom and fight the urge to take a photograph. To document somehow this feeling of warmth, this primal fire in an 1800’s house, the otherworldly in the mundane. But for who? To sit with experience just for myself is increasingly hard.

    A fire burns brightly in a wood burner. A metal grate contains a large triangular shaped log with bright orange flames all around it.

    This fire and me, we regard each other. Ancient connection, speaking to a part of me long forgotten, cells and sparks of millennia that I cannot put a name to. It is safety and danger, food and destruction. And mesmerising, always.

    New flames settle with me, the fire burning well, and I struggle to write as my eyes are drawn to flame. The space between each flickering tongue. The dark charred wood a case of shadow. As flames die down the fire whispers “feed me”, and I do, entranced, as we are one, the house fading as soul and flame dance together somewhere deep in memory.

    A cat slinks in and by fire she is tiny panther, orange reflected infinitely in huge dark eyes, and this panther flops down and melts into the floor, those wide eyes now closed in dreams of last night’s mouse hunt. The fire shifts in the grate and flames lick over a new surface, flaring and settling again. There is ebb and flow even in this.

    The flames sing to me, to slow, to let go, to remember truths greater than myself. Orange glow, not harsh blue light. To peel away the layers of this world and let the flames devour them, leaving us as one, small fire, small human, and something bigger than us both.

    A dark picture of a black cast iron log burner, doors open, with a fire burning inside. There are a mixture of small twigs and larger logs, with the flames burning a bright white.

  • Blog,  Home,  In the Kitchen,  The Cottage

    Our Yorkshire Cottage Kitchen – Low Cost Decor

    This post contains affiliate links, marked *.

    Welcome to our Yorkshire cottage kitchen – the place where cake and tea and coffee and biscuits lurk! Hoorah. You’ll need some slippers as the tiled floor is freezing, the walls are insulated with actual rubble and one single old duvet stuffed under a windowsill, and the sun only shines through the window for approximately 2 months of the year… but it’s homely, welcoming, and today I’m going to chat through how we did it – including how much it cost!

    It’s important to us to use as much secondhand stuff as we can. Having previously worked in charity

    retail for a good few years it really opened my eyes to the sheer amount of amazing, perfectly good stuff that is thrown away every single day. Most of our furniture is from charity shops, freecycle and eBay (and most of my clothes, too) and we try and repair things as best we can. With this in mind, and on a very tight budget, we decided to make over the kitchen a little to fit more with our style.

    So firstly, we enter through this small door! Mr. GF has to duck everytime. It was originally dark brown woodstain like pretty much everything when we moved in, so we painted it blue and put the window in too to let some light in as the kitchen is very dark. I painted the frame white too (of course it was brown!). I love this door but have no idea why it is so small!

    The conservatory tiles are the original ones from when we moved in, we haven’t had either the budget or the motivation to do anything about them yet. They’re fine, not quite to our taste but not entirely offensive, so they’re staying for now.

    Back to the kitchen!

    We bought the table with the house and I love it. We wood-burned our names and the date we moved in onto it so it feels special! It’s a good size for the room although we have no idea how the previous owners managed to get it through the door…maybe they built it in situ?!

    One wooden chair is from my childhood home and the rest are from Oxfam (£5 each!). On that note, the Le Creusset kettle is also from Oxfam, as is the enamel breadbin.

    When we moved in, there was a gorgeous Rayburn tucked in the chimney breast that also heated the hot water. However, it proved so expensive to run that we decided to change the oven. Luckily we were able to give it away to a good home, and even more luckily, found this beautiful blue Rangemaster on Freecycle! We were able to snap it up and bring it home, and after a VERY good clean we had it professionally installed (this is a must due to legalities!) across on the other side of the kitchen.

    We had to buy a new cover for the back as it was missing and not legal, but this was cheaper than I expected (I think about £25?) direct from Rangemaster. We also bought an extractor which was on sale. Whilst the gas fitters were here we had the old gas pipes sealed off in the chimney area. After one too many times bumping our heads we decided to turn the chimney space into a pantry/larder instead.

    We reduced the amount of cupboards when we re-did everything, so having this space to keep dry goods, baking supplies and tins in is so helpful. The curtains (terribly sewn by myself) also hide the microwave. We just have wire racking inside and a few baskets. The spice cupboard to the left was here when we moved in, of course, again it was stained dark brown! Many coats of paint later it’s now cream-ish and full of lovely smelling spices.

    The clothes airer is so useful – one of the iron hangers was snapped when we moved in. Luckily a friend had some spare so we did a barter exchange. I can’t believe it but yes, again, the original wood slats were stained dark brown (!!) resulting in every bit of washing absorbing a nice dark brown line across it… so we replaced the wood as well. We are going to strip the beams too, one day, but after doing the same in the living room we still haven’t quite recovered from the ordeal. So it may be a few more years!

    Fairy lights, Wharfdale speakers and blue glass net float all from charity shops!

    We re-did all the cupboards as the old ones were really small, old, and starting to fall to bits. We got the actual cupboards from a place on eBay that sells B&Q returns and damaged stock and luckily just the boxes were damaged so we got a bargain! The oak doors were very kindly given to us by my lovely cousin who was redoing their kitchen. I’ve contemplated painting them but really like the bare wood so am sticking with it. I’ve seen lots of kitchen units and doors on freecycle over the years so it’s worth keeping an eye out. There are also companies that do new fronts for IKEA cupboard units so that might be a cheaper option to refresh, rather than buying new units.

    The splashback behind the oven and around the worktops is made from reclaimed roofing slates which were pretty cheap and look great. We varnished them once in place, so they’re easy to scrub clean. The total cost for all the slates came in at £20, plus another £15 for grout and adhesive – I can’t quite remember the exact adhesive we used but it was similar to this
    Evo-Stik adhesive and grout*.
    The wooden cupboard on the wall houses the electrics and is made out of old pallet wood by DIY maestro Mr. GF. Talking of pallet wood, all the windowsills are also made from old pallets! It’s doing the windowsills in this house that you realise why it’s so cold.

    These kitchen ones have just a huge gaping space underneath, with some convenient holes in the wall that go straight outside. No insulation at all (the rest of the house has none either, just rubble in between the thick stone walls!). We had an old duvet so stuffed that in to try and stop the wind whistling through, and jammed the worst holes up with expanding foam.

    I had always dreamed of having a Belfast sink, and we managed to get ours from ‘Bargain Corner’ at IKEA for less than half the price of a new one. This cost us £40 as we also had a £20 voucher! I think it is an IKEA Domsjo, which has apparently been discontinued now, which is sad. (I had a look on Amazon and this looks like quite a similar Belfast Sink* that seems to have good reviews). Mr. GF made some legs for it from metal poles, and again I used my awful sewing skills to make a curtain to hide underneath (washing powder and spiders!).

    I love the old tiled floor even though it is freezing and shatters anything you drop on it. I get tempted by all the beautiful shiny kitchens you see on social media but I just really like that we’ve managed to make a quality, homely space that’s unique. Using lots of old bits of wood and pallets to turn into shelves, cupboards and windowsills gives it quite an organic feel – again I like colour but I think really I prefer the natural wood with all its knots and grain.

    Lastly, here’s our coffee station – not much second hand here except the Krups grinder from eBay (you can find a similar Krups Coffee Grinder on Amazon* but definitely look for a second hand one, you can get some good bargains!) and the shelving made from old planks. Fun fact – the top one is straight when you put a spirit level on, but looks wonky…optical illusion! Or too much coffee, maybe. 😉 Again, the tiles are roofing slates.

    We painted this whole wall in shiny copper paint in a fit of excitement and I love it. It really warms this cold, dark room up. I’m not sure metallics are so ‘cool’ any more but I don’t care. It makes all the wood look nice and really goes quite well with the white and grey of the other walls. We used Crown Metallic Paint in Copper*. The walls themselves are very wonky and the metallic shows up all the lumps and bumps which actually I quite like, it gives areas of shadow and light where you’re least expecting!

    Total costs.
    In total, the kitchen cost £845 for absolutely everything. That includes £200 for tradesmen, all the petrol to drive to collect bits and bobs, all the fixtures, paint, and fittings (including to change the hot water heater over). It even includes paint brushes! The most expensive thing was the Saljan worktop which we got new from IKEA and cost £150, followed by the cupboards which cost £140 in total, for 8 units (1 corner one) and a wine rack!

    Well that’s really everything for the kitchen, I think. I’m sure I’ll think of other things as soon as I put this post live but hey ho. Have you refreshed a room on a budget? What’s the best thing you’ve found on freecycle or second hand? I’d love to hear!

    -Sal-


    *As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not cost you any extra, but means that if you make a purchase after following the link, I earn a small commission that helps to keep the blog going! You can find out more about my use of affiliate links here.

  • Blog,  Day to Day

    My mind is full

    My mind is full, and it’s ok. I learnt recently from a lecturer that they weren’t able to read any fiction books during their doctorate, because their mind was full of information for their studies. It made me think about how I’ve struggled to get back into reading for pleasure, struggled to get into doing anything, really, for the last year or so. After beating myself up for this repeated failure to get anything done, I’ve realised that’s probably happening to me, too. The reason isn’t because I’m useless, as my brain keeps helpfully suggesting. It’s because my mind is full.

    A bare tree in London with neon rope lights wound through the branches

    When I say full, I don’t mean full of knowledge, although I wish that was the case. My memory keeps hold of any given fact for approximately 3 seconds before chucking it over its shoulder and moving on to something more shiny. Instead, my mind is grinding away in the background, forging connections and figuring things out when I’m not paying attention. I feel like I’m not doing a lot, and it’s true, I’m not – but my mind is there, munching through information for me, until suddenly I wake up and am able to add some more words to my word count, analyse some more numbers, put something across in a way that finally makes sense.

    Figuring out how to work with my brain, not against it, is a whole new ball game. I’m trying to comprehend this newly discovered neurodiversity, understand how I process information (or not) and divert the tempting feeling of regret into something more powerful. I’m nearly 40 and it’s the first time I feel like I might be tentatively trying to make friends with my mind. It’s there, always full of a million things, seeing infinite connections and possibilities every hour of every day. It’s exhausting – but also exhilarating. How do I work alongside it?

    I’m finally working out why I can’t remember anything that happened in the last few hours, days or weeks. Why I’ve spent three years learning a subject and can’t remember even the most basic facts about it, but I know every boyband lyric from two decades ago. Why my mind is empty yet crammed full at the same time.

    The constant bit of a song or two on loop, the half-formed images that constantly replace each other, the quote from a tv show that plays round and round, the chattering, the lightening-quick overview of any problem and a million and one solutions, the big thinking and infinite ideas, but no clue how to actually start anything. Constantly losing things, but picking up on almost imperceptible information about a situation. White-hot anger and the deepest joys. It’s all still settling with me – yet I feel a kind of peace, too.

    I know now that I can feed it some complex problem, forget about it, and a few weeks later, my brain will have figured it out by itself. I’ll wake up one day and suddenly, I’ll be able to do The Thing that just recently was absolutely impossible. I trust that I will be able to produce work absolute last-minute that will be, if not perfect, to a decent standard, without having to draft and re-draft and re-draft. I try not to feel bad that I have to follow the whims of my brain – if it’s not into something, then it’s absolutely impossible to force it. Funny old thing.

    But brains aren’t infinite as much they feel it. It’s just recently I’ve realised just how much I’m asking mine to do. No wonder I come home and zone out watching youtube, scrolling, or floating away to the deep wub of drum and bass. That little lump of grey matter is munching through universes in the background. Studying for a PhD has upped the game, and I almost physically feel the limits. No wonder I find it hard to get anything started for this blog, much as I want to. My brain’s already pre-occupied and working full pelt.

    So, I’m going to try and cut my brain-friend some slack. I’ve spent 40 years at war with it, really, when it didn’t deserve it at all – it was just a little different from the norm. Of course it was.

    In those 40 years, my mind has never been empty. I never realised that you could think of nothing, or even just one thing at a time. It’s been like a 40-year rave inside my head and I’ve been like the spoilsports that call the cops and try and shut it down.

    I think it’s time to learn to dance alongside it, finally, although I think I’ll also need to make sure there’s a chill-out room, too…!

     

     

     

  • Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

    The Square of Sevens Book Review 5/5

    From the publisher:

    “Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s The Square of Sevens is an epic and sweeping novel set in Georgian high society, a dazzling story offering up mystery, intrigue, heartbreak, and audacious twists.

    My father had spelt it out to me. Choice was a luxury I couldn’t afford. This is your story, Red. You must tell it well . . .

    A girl known only as Red, the daughter of a Cornish fortune-teller, travels with her father making a living predicting fortunes using the ancient method: the Square of Sevens. When her father suddenly dies, Red becomes the ward of a gentleman scholar.

    Now raised as a lady amidst the Georgian splendour of Bath, her fortune-telling is a delight to high society. But she cannot ignore the questions that gnaw at her soul: who was her mother? How did she die? And who are the mysterious enemies her father was always terrified would find him?

    The pursuit of these mysteries takes her from Cornwall and Bath to London and Devon, from the rough ribaldry of the Bartholomew Fair to the grand houses of two of the most powerful families in England. And while Red’s quest brings her the possibility of great reward, it also leads into her grave danger . . .”

    Although The Square of Sevens is a long read, I loved every minute of it. I’m a big fan of Laura Shepherd-Robinson and this novel is another great read. A riotous ride through the 1700’s, we follow narrator Red and her journey through the highs and lows of society, plying her trade as a cartomancer. 

    The Square of Sevens book cover. A wooden box lined with a red cloth, divided into three compartments at the bottom. The compartments contain a fossil, a deck of cards, and a blue speckled egg.Previously travelling with her father, reading cards, Red becomes a ward of the wealthy Mr Antrobus after her father passes away. Red’s skills in cartomancy bring her to the high society of Bath, where she uncovers information about her family that starts her on a quest to uncover the truth. As I read on, I got the feeling that there was something else at play – things are not always as they seem!

    The story moves location often, covering Devon, Cornwall, London and Bath. As the layers of the characters were peeled back, the plot thickens and I found myself grasped by who, or what was going to surprise me next. A particular highlight were the characters and dark secrets of ‘Leighfindell’ – an endless trove of gossip and potentially ruinous family affairs – as events pick up pace, the huge manor house was an excellent backdrop for it all to play out.

    I loved Red as a narrator and was truly invested in the journey – every chapter brings further levels to the story and there are both wonderful and odious characters galore, which I loved! I was gripped – it’s a real page-turner. The ending was an absolute surprise to me – I think I actually gasped out loud. Brilliantly researched and full of colour, vibrancy, twists and turns, I fully recommend this as a chunky holiday read or a book to fully escape into. Loved it!

    The Square of Sevens is published on 22nd June 2023.

    Thank you #Netgalley for the ARC of this novel!

    Previous Book Review: South by Baback Lakghomi


     

  • Blog,  Bookshelf

    Book Review: Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward

    Looking Glass Sound Book Review 4/5

    From the publisher: “Writers are monsters. We eat everything we see… In a windswept cottage overlooking the sea, Wilder Harlow begins the last book he will ever write. It is the story of his childhood companions and the shadowy figure of the Daggerman, who stalked the New England town where they spent their summers. Of a horror that has followed Wilder through the decades. And of Sky, Wilder’s one-time friend, who stole his unfinished memoir and turned it into a lurid bestselling novel, The Sound and the Dagger. This book will be Wilder’s revenge on Sky, who betrayed his trust and died without ever telling him why. But as he writes, Wilder begins to find notes written in Sky’s signature green ink, and events in his manuscript start to chime eerily with the present. Is Sky haunting him? And who is the dark-haired woman drowning in the cove, whom no one else can see? No longer able to trust his own eyes, Wilder feels his grip on reality slipping. And he begins to fear that this will not only be his last book, but the last thing he ever does. Discover the new dark thriller from the bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street.”

    A book that you will want to read in one sitting – page-turning, addictive, and thoroughly unsettling.

    Wilder’s parents inherit a cottage in laid back Whistler Bay. Spending a summer there, he meets Harper and Nat, building a close friendship over the following months – set against the unsettling background of local legends, specifically a killer named the Daggerman. What seems to start as an idyllic teenage summer starts to become something more, and events come to a head with a gruesome discovery. Years later, Wilder returns to Whistler Bay to complete his book about the events of that summer, and to make sense of the events that changed his life. However, things were not – are not – what they seemed.

    This truly is a book of two halves. I was drawn further and further into the story, but towards the end I was wondering just what was going on! Safe to say, nothing is as it seemed – I absolutely did not see the end coming, at all. The story flits between timelines and characters, giving an uneasy feel which is apt, but makes for a confusing read. I’m still not too sure what actually happened in the build up to the final revelation, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that – I love a storyline with twists and turns, however this one left me spinning! I’d have liked to spend more time with the events towards the end of the book – maybe a slower reveal, as the final fast pace was a contrast to the slow build up. I wanted more richness, I wanted to explore the events further, I wanted to understand and spend time in those delicious dark details.

    This is my first Catriona Ward book, and from reading other reviews the twists and turns seem to be a hallmark of Ward’s style – I’m so tempted to re-read and get a better purchase on the events that transpired in Whistler Bay. One thing is for sure though – it’s quite dark and very, very twisty, although I wouldn’t call it a horror. I honestly found the last few chapters hard to follow, but I also enjoyed the rollercoaster ride that had me thinking “did that actually just happen?!” at multiple points – I loved the way the story suddenly seemed to drop off a cliff and transform into something altogether more sinister, but it was very close to the line of possibly being too twisty for me – I’m still undecided. Although it’s made me want to seek out more books by Catriona Ward, so that can only be a good thing!

    Looking Glass Sound was published on 20th April 2023.

    Thank you to Netgalley from the ARC of this novel!

    Previous book review: The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

     

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