Tuesday, 2 January 2018

A year of mystery, murder, and stories fit for television

January has arrived, and a new year begun. 2018, the year of freedom, we've decided, as my Masters is finished and the Knowledge complete. I've decided not to make any New Year's resolutions as such this year, as I really don't know what the year might hold. But in retrospect, I'm pleased to say that amidst the madness of a dissertation year, I did generally manage to uphold last year's resolution of making more time for myself.

And in the spirit of such a resolution, I read a fair few books. Upon scrolling through my Instagram the other day as 2017 came to a close, I realised that I have definitely found my passion when it comes to reading; mystery, murder, and more often than not, the combination of the two. I've really enjoyed most of the books that I've read this year, and if I haven't enjoyed them, I haven't read them. Literature Review aside, these are my 2017 reads:

The year was topped-and-tailed by my new favourite thing; cats solving murder mysteries! I mean, what's not to love? The Death of Downton Tabby was my introduction to Mandy Morton's Number 2 Feline Detective Agency, and it was the purrfect (excuse me) mix of fun, furry, gripping, and ever so slightly dark in places. Brilliant images were conjured in my mind of cats drinking beers, riding motorcycles, and enjoying fish and chips in a festival tent, to name a few. I'm currently reading another of Hettie and Tilly's adventures, The Ghost of Christmas Paws, which I'm also thoroughly enjoying, six chapters in.



From something a little light-hearted to something less so, I moved on to Morse. Addicted to Endeavour on ITV, I've always wanted to read one of Colin Dexter's novels, so I started at the start with Last Bus to Woodstock. Writing about this now, it feels so long ago that I actually read it, but I do know that I'd want to go to bed just to get into another chapter, which I always see as a good sign!


Murder has a Motive by Francis Duncan was first published in 1947. It was an easy-going read, and perhaps felt a little tame after Morse, but it had its share of tense moments and certainly was full of character and charm in the form of Mordecai Tremaine, the amateur sleuth, and its quaint setting of the village of Dalmering.


2016 was generally a year of disappointing books, as I'm ashamed to say that I judged far too many by their covers. One book that I did thoroughly enjoy, however, was my first Agatha Christie, Murder is Easy. I've always shied away from Agatha Christie, fearing that I've seen so many televised hat I'd recognise and remember the murderer all too easily. Pleased that this wasn't the case with her first book, again, I went back to the start, and chose The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Hercule Poirot's debut case. Admittedly, as time went on, the story was all too familiar, but I couldn't remember precise details, and liked having clues to follow, even if I did keep getting thrown off the scent.


At Easter I journeyed home, and upon my arrival was greeted by a pile of new books on my bedside table. In the murderous groove at this point, I went for Death of an Avid Reader by Frances Brody. While the characters (monkey included) in this story were both relatable and likeable, I seem to remember that it all felt rather drawn out, and not quite action-packed enough for me. Nevertheless, I didn't put it down because it still quenched a little of my penchant for mystery.


I requested another Agatha Christie for my birthday. I admit, this time I was swayed by a pretty front cover, and specifically asked for the Crime Club edition of Sparkling Cyanide. Shorter than the others, this one had less action, but I liked the way it gave small glimpses into the lives of each character, bringing the reader closer to them, messing with emotions, as you began to hope that certain people weren't the murderer!


Summer came and I finally took a break from deceit and betrayal, in the form of My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell. I absolutely adore The Durrells and have wanted to read the book ever since the series began, so I was pleased to find The Corfu Trilogy for my summer reading pleasure. As I look back to the last time I reviewed some books, I praised Penguin's Little Black Classics for their optimum handbag size. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for this one, so despite its content, it possibly wasn't the best choice for going away. My goodness, though, was it good for escapism. The way Gerald Durrell writes is mesmerisingly (apparently not a word) beautiful, and definitely had me wanting to visit Corfu in the 1930s. Turns out it's a lot more expensive now, and I suppose wouldn't be quite as idyllic, so I went to Ibiza instead.


As I write this, I realise that my reading habits in fact took two turns; the second was clearly, books which have been adapted for TV series. Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale was terrifyingly brilliant, and had me wanting to re-read the book. So I did. As we'd watched, I'd been frustrated that I couldn't remember to what extent events onscreen over-lapped with events in the book, so it was interesting to go back and re-visit. Having had limited success in trying to read The Blind Assassin, I was concerned that I wouldn't get back into Margaret Atwood's writing, but I was hooked, once again.


Perfectly timed once again, I finished The Handmaid's Tale on the train to Norwich, where I happened to be visiting one of my book-wormish friends (a compliment, I assure you). Rifling through her shelves, she found me City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte, aka writing duo Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch which I can only describe by saying that it's unlike anything I've ever read before (there was still some murder to keep me happy though). Still fairly hefty, I was so hooked that it came with me on my holiday to Ibiza, and I barely put it down the whole time. Apparently there is a second instalment, which I hope to track down in 2018.


Another from the pile on my bedside at home, The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain had an air of Amélie about it, which I loved. Yet another setting which had me wanting to visit, the story was set in Paris, and, while no one was murdered (as such), had plenty of mystery to keep me captivated. 



Aside from Magnus Flyte's The City of Lost Dreams, and an unexpected Christmas present in the form of Krysten Ritter's Bonfire, there's currently nothing on my 'must read' list for 2018, so please, recommendations welcome!

Friday, 22 December 2017

The most wonderful time of the year

I don't know if it's age or life, but it's taken me a long time to feel Christmassy this year. Nevertheless, I'm there now, and loving it.

Yesterday took me on my annual Christmas Tree Crawl, and this year I was joined by friends, so hopefully looked a little less odd.

Armed with a list almost literally as long as my arm, we began the day at the Southbank, admiring (again) the Tatty Devine trees lining the terrace outside the Southbank Centre. Gorgeously garish, my favourite has to be the one adorned with their Gin bottle design. Cable ties preventing the dawn of a new tradition (no of course I wouldn't dream of stealing), we moved on to the next item on our list.


The Fortnum's tree at Somerset House is always a firm favourite, so we took a detour through the courtyard, and into the Fortnum's Arcade, before heading on to the Savoy. This year's tree was more traditional than the last, but I did like the addition of stylish reindeer outside as we approached.



Having made my list so long ago, I couldn't quite remember the draw of several new locations, so the tree at One Aldwych was a very pleasant surprise. A theatre theme, the tree itself was a deep pink tutu-esque netting, and it was hung with musical notes, treble clefs, instruments, and lots of clockwork. Set in the middle of the hotel bar, we were fortunate that those enjoying a drink didn't mind our stopping to ogle.


A lunch stop called, and we opted for festive pizza at Pizza Express, our second of the season.
Just before lunch, we had attempted a visit to the London Coliseum to see their pointe shoe tree, but, like last year, we were met with hoards of matinée-goers, and didn't feel that 'we'd like to see your tree' would go down very well as a means of getting in. Upon leaving Pizza Express, however, the hoards were inside enjoying their afternoon performance of The Nutcracker, so we tried again, and although met with some suspicion, were eventually allowed in if we promised not to be too long.


In search of Claridges, we walked along many a light-lined street, and were glad to be further from the growing crowds. This year, we were treated to an upside down tree, and lots of little ones of the same design hung about, too.



The final two trees were conveniently on our route back to Underground stations. I'm not really sure I understood the tree outside of the Connaught this year, but it was pretty all the same. I especially liked the angel on the top (although, I decided, less so if it said 'Mum' like I suddenly noticed it might). Annabel's as always had a brightly coloured display, and the lights at Stella McCartney were fun, too.


Now on my way home to one of the best Christmas trees of all (I might be slightly biased, it's true)..

Monday, 20 November 2017

Actual baths in Bath

Not quite the right kind of tired to fall asleep on the train, I thought I'd do a little writing.
My visits to Bath have become more frequent of late and it's been really lovely to familiarise myself more and more with the city.

This weekend I was visiting for what turned out to be an incredibly civilised and very lovely Hen party. Upon my arrival on Friday evening I was very proud to find my way to our accommodation with very little assistance from Google Maps... or at least the way to the street where our accommodation was. Busy trying to break into totally the wrong apartment building, I was suddenly 'halloo'-ed from across the street by two ladies armed with luggage like myself. Realising they were Mother and Aunty of the bride, we joined forces and together with a bridesmaid who we also found along the way, managed to let ourselves in to the right building where we eagerly awaited the arrival of two more bridesmaids and the bride herself.

Saturday began at a leisurely pace with a breakfast of pastries, jam on toast, and orange juice. Fuelled for the day, we ventured out to the Roman Baths. Despite my more frequent visits to Bath, I have still somehow managed to avoid the city's most famous attraction, so was glad for a chance to go.
I do feel as though Bath is a place where in certain places particularly you can almost filter out modern life and vividly imagine figures of the past wandering about or clattering through the streets in something horse-drawn.




A spot of culture was followed by Nepalese food, the admiration of architecture at the Royal Crescent, and a pub stop before we headed back to the apartment to add a bit of sparkle for the evening.

We ate at the Roman Bath Kitchens, and filled with smoked duck and blue cheese gnocchi we then made for the Canary Gin Bar which was well-located just round the corner from where we were staying. Here we enjoyed a plethora of gin cocktails and I drank a twist on the more classic G&T.
Today I have been revelling in the friendliness of seemingly every shop assistant and waiter or waitress. With a couple of hours to spare between the bride's departure and a catch up with a good friend, I managed to tick off a fair few items on Santa's shopping list!


A stop at the Georgian Tearooms was a welcome break. Enjoyed a brie and cranberry baguette and 'tea for the brave' while festive jazz played in the background.

Although I'm running on very little sleep, I return feeling full of festive spirit and ready for countdowns to begin!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Half Term wandering

When asked how I would be spending my half term, the answer was the same, 'sleeping.' And sleep I have done. But amongst the many lie-ins and no alarm mornings, I have also kept myself entertained with many wanders both in and out of London and it's these wanders I thought I'd ramble about on my final evening of the holiday.

A change of music loaded onto my phone, I went for my first wander on Monday. Kicking up the carpets of leaves courtesy of Storm Brian, the air finally felt a little less Wintry and a little more Autumnal. The pursuit of somewhere new took me via familiar territory as I cut through Woodberry Wetlands and wandered around the reservoir there, exchanging pleasantries with other visitors, and keeping one eye out for exotic bird life.



Allens Gardens was my destination and when I eventually found it down a dodgy-looking alleyway (of course), its ivy covered archways and maze-like box gave it a Secret Garden-esque feel. I sat a while, watching the comings and goings of families there and decided that as gardens go, this one was as back-gardeny as I've seen in London. If home was a high-rise, it would be a good space to be near to, especially as a child. 



A few days later, my next wander took me to Greenwich. The hour-long journey was absolutely worth it as I then spent a good hour basking in the sunshine on a bench over-looking what is now one of my favourite views of the city. As I sat, there were a few people coming and going, but otherwise it was just been me and the view, and it was a good one. You know life is busy when you can sit in one attitude for an entire hour without it feeling like much time has passed at all, and as you move on, you're not even sure where your mind has been the whole time. I just kept thinking, 'I'm not in a rush.' and wherever I'm admiring it from, the London skyline could keep me occupied for a lifetime.




Walking boots were required for my final wander of the half term. I escaped London for a couple of days and took to the hills of Derbyshire with my Aunty and cousin as guides. After a hearty breakfast, we set off across field, along canal and through woodland with many up and down hill struggles along the way. Sheep, horses, and plenty of ducks. There was certainly plenty of nature to entertain, and all in glorious Autumnal sunshine. While my previous wanders had been time for self-indulgence and reflection, it was nice to spend this one nattering (often rather breathlessly), catching up on time gone by.






I sit now with a banana cake in the oven, candles lit, pizza ordered, trying to surround myself with happy thoughts and vibes ready for the return to work in the morning. They say a Sunday well spent brings a week of content; well I'm hoping that a week of days that have felt like Sundays should tide me over for a while at least.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Exmoor

This time last week, we were walking Pepper around the farmland surrounding our Bed and Breakfast and it was glorious. Today, I'm waiting for the washing machine to stop so I can go to the gym for the first time in at least a month (naughty). Officially a weekend back to routine.

Last Saturday was a very special birthday, so I whisked one man and his dog away for a weekend in Exmoor. Friday night we made the long drive down from London, which involved plenty of motorway driving and some slightly precarious dark, narrow, and windy roads.

There's something about arriving somewhere in the dark that I really like. Knowing that in the morning you'll awake to really see where you are. Needless to say, the setting of our Bed and Breakfast did not disappoint. We awoke to the sun peeping through the window of our top floor room, and looking out enjoyed the view of trees and rolling fields. The smell of bacon and toast wafted up from the kitchen downstairs. We were content.



A hearty breakfast enjoyed of lots of local produce including the best bacon I have ever tried, we took Pepper out for a much needed walk before heading back to the room to make a plan for the day. Only having two days to explore, we asked our hosts where would be best to try and see, and with their recommendations mapped out, we were off.

We first made our way to the Valley of Rocks. It was hard to decide whether the narrow and windy roads had been better in the dark and in our blissful unawareness, or whether they were better when we could see where we were going, but were also confronted with sheer drops frequently appearing on one side of the road or the other. Either way, pheasant dodging made for entertaining driving and the scenery was stunning. As we neared the coast, we passed through the moorland and were absolutely blown away by what surrounded us. Unspoiled hillside as far as the eye could see.


Having reached the Valley of Rocks, we stopped for tea and cake before heading off for a walk around the area. Pepper led the way, scrambling up one of the rocks. From the top we looked down to the sea and across to the Welsh coast. Back at the bottom again, we continued across to the next rock where goats were basking in the afternoon sun. Had she not been on her lead, I think we may have lost Pepper at this point as she was very keen to make new friends. Goat chasing evaded, we were onto our next destination.




It seemed that no matter where you were headed in Exmoor, you had to take the same roads. So despite apparently travelling in the opposite direction to reach our next stop, we drove along familiar routes, passing through a village where we'd almost stopped before. Given a second chance, we decided that we would stop, at Lynmouth, where we wandered along the river and down to the sea. Despite our best attempts, Pepper was not hugely convinced by the sea, but she did enjoy pattering across the rocks, all the same.




From Lynmouth, we continued our drive along the coast, and eventually found Porlock. The town itself was yet another sleepy one, so we continued on to the Weir where we hoped we might find some actual sand and more sea. Here I was reminded almost of the Norfolk coast as marshland met the sea, but apparently sandy beaches are not Exmoor's strength and after a hearty portion of sausage and chips, we were met with more rocky shore for our final walk of the day.



Sunday came, and we planned to make our way back to London gradually via a few more points of interest. We began our day at Dulverton, the village close by to our Bed and Breakfast, described as the 'gateway to Exmoor'. Armed with instructions for a circular walk heading out of the village and back in again, we made our way along the road from the carpark and into the nearby woods. I think it has to be said that I am not good at following written instructions. Give me a map or give me sign posts, but give me written instructions and I spend the whole time on edge, worrying that I've missed something or that they're out-dated and refer to paths or bridges no longer there. We had only paid for an hour of parking, and half an hour into our walk, still heading away from the village, I was not filled with great confidence. We comforted ourselves, however, in the hope that the traffic wardens of Dulverton might not be as fierce as those in London, and felt satisfied that we were at least not lost. Our walk was a pretty one, either way, and we did eventually make our way back to the car.



Tarr Steps, an ancient stone bridge crossing the River Barle was our next destination. It was raining by this point, in contrast to the sunshine of the day before, but this did not deter us as we were well equipped in our waterproof attire. We love a woodland walk at the best of times, but this has to be one of the loveliest we've had. The circular walk (clearly marked, thus successful this time) took us along a path which followed the river before eventually crossing it and coming back the other side. Torrents of water crashing against protruding rocks made for a very dramatic soundtrack, and as the path occasionally climbed up and back down the slopes of the bank, a very dramatic view, too.




Finally, we found some sand. Much of Exmoor certainly had an air of 'murderous' about it, and the beach at Dunster was no different. Grey expanse, with the tide so far away that even I wasn't going to be walking out to sea, met us as we pulled up to the seafront to park. Soft sand made for great entertainment as Pepper was truly weirded out by the sensation and experience of almost losing her paws, then somehow managing to retrieve them again. We walked some way out to sea, enough to get our feet wet where there were small rock pools, and back again along the sand, through the seaweed. Sea air, salty smells, sleepy all round, we were ready to admit that it was time for home.