The Revelations, Erik Hoel 5/5
An 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.
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(This review previously appeared on my past blog, One Empty Shelf. Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book).
The Dictator’s Muse, Nigel Farndale 4/5
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.
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(This review previously appeared on my past blog, One Empty Shelf. Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book).
The leaves are beginning to drift downwards from the trees, the days are shortening and the light settles into that familiar golden glow typical of October. As the season shifts, I like to bring a little of that autumn feeling into the cottage. I feel best surrounded by a natural, understated look, a few bits here and there rather than a big change of decor – I don’t have that many items, and I like to keep the same things year to year, switching them around as the months go by. Using natural autumn decor is kind of like free shopping – most of these items can be found in woodlands, hedgerows and in your own garden.
When I say items, I mostly mean the collection of twigs, cones, seeds and so on I seem to have wombled from my ramblings through the year. To bring a few of these indoors is comforting, keeping the cottage in tune with the changing energy of the season, keeping the heartbeat of the house in time with that of the earth. The faded browns of dried flowers and seed-heads mirror the colours of the leaves outside. I add a candle or two and my decoration change is done.
For an instant autumn feel, there are many natural things that are easy to collect. Conkers, of course, but also fir and pine cones, grasses, different coloured leaves to hang on thread from the windows, pebbles, twigs, seasonal veg, logs, the last of the flowers. This year I have Allium seed heads – most are two years old now and are still going strong. We left them to go to seed after flowering, then brought them in to dry out properly.
I also have a large pine cone from a reservoir walk over 5 years ago, and some honesty seed heads which have turned out brilliantly. Again, the Honesty has been a small labour of love – it takes two years to flower, grown from seed (I love the seeds from Higgeldy Garden), but this year was flowering year! After flowering, the seed-heads have dried well and look beautiful, shining ghostly white in the light. We had purple and white flowers and the stems reflect those colours. The purple makes an especially beautiful contrast against the translucent seed heads.
On recent walks I’ve collected some grasses to make small ‘pieces of places’ and a small posy of bog cotton and dried grass reminds me of a trip to the moors as the colours were just starting to change in early September. Collecting natural bits and bobs makes me feel more connected to the place in which I live, bringing evidence of the changing seasons into my home.
As well as this, you could collect twigs with seasonal berries (check they’re not poisonous first!) to make a display, or consider hanging ornaments from windfall branches. Filling glass jars with acorns or conkers makes a lovely display, and settling into the season by making jams, syrups, pies and more with the abundance that can be found in hedgerows this season. Always be mindful of who or what else is relying on the free decorations and food available – only take what you can use, leave enough for the local wildlife and for other foragers, too.
I hope there have been some useful tips here, I’d love to hear your seasonal decorating ideas too. Have you collected decoration from outdoors before?
Have a lovely, autumnal week (or spring week if you’re in the Southern hemisphere!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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! 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 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 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!
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!
What else does a day need when you have coffee cake? Here’s my favourite recipe, from the no-longer-there/now something else Cegin Llynnon tea rooms in Anglesey.
My little recipe book advises it was created by the proprietor Dilys Hughes, so thank you Dilys for many years of amazing coffee cakes. All in old school ounces, so you may need your conversion heads on. An ounce is 28 grams, apparently.
6 oz sieved self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
6 oz soft margarine
6 oz caster sugar
2 oz walnuts
1 tbsp instant coffee
1 dessertspoon hot water
2 oz butter
4 oz icing sugar
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp hot water
2 oz icing sugar
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tbsp hot water
Walnut halves to decorate
Pre-heat your oven to Gas 3, 170C. Lightly grease two 7″ sandwich tins and line the base with greaseproof (I use cake release and don’t bother with the lining!)
Dissolve the instant coffee in the hot water, then place all ingredients in a mixing bowl, including coffee mixture. Beat well to creamy dropping consistency. Divide between the tins and bake for 25-35 mins until spongy. Leave to cool a moment in the tins, then turn out onto a rack to cool properly.
Buttercream – again, dissolve the coffee in the hot water. Cream butter until soft, then gradually beat in sugar and add coffee liquid. Beat well then use to sandwich cake layers together.
Topping – you guessed it, dissolve coffee in the water. Place icing sugar in a bowl then gradually add coffee mixture until the consistency of thick cream. Spread over cake and sprinkle your walnut halves on top.
Notes: I usually make 1.5 times the topping as the original is a bit stingy with the quantity! I also put more instant coffee into pretty much all of the stages as I love a strong coffee taste. Definitely remember to sieve the flour, it makes a big difference. Cake also freezes pretty well, if there’s any left…! Coffee beans in photos for hashtag aesthetic purposes only. Although you can munch on them whilst making the cake, of course 😉
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.
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.