Canterbury tales: mid July 2017

One thing I’d like to be better at is taking time to remember the positive, tiny things that make a difference in every day life: the things that get me laughing in the morning or thinking ‘huzzah!’ when I get in from work. So, this week’s good things are…

Getting on top of health issues

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From ‘Moominland Midwinter’ by Tove Jansson. Sometimes I am the anxious Moomin, looking down rather than up at the sky

My week started on a bit of a wobbly note, when I rushed out the door to work on Monday morning and forgot to take any of my medication before leaving. I got diagnosed with asthma last year, and it’s slowly been getting worse after an inappropriately-timed June cold. 5 minutes into being outside, I started really feeling the effects of not taking my preventer. Chris has been urging me to reschedule the review I was supposed to have in February, so I managed to get an appointment the same day and lo! I now have a new, stronger inhaler along with a peak flow meter and more backup relievers.

I’ve also been in a bit of a mental health low point lately, and it started to get on top of me this week. The fun game I have to battle now is that I’ve only got one more counselling session left and I’m really scared of falling back to where I was. But I took some steps to try and make things better and things turned around pretty quickly. At least I know the symptoms – and triggers – now.

Hastings and Rye

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Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

When your First-World-War-historian partner gets called to go on TV at the last minute, sometimes it’s fun to tag along. Which is how I found myself on Hastings Pier at 10am on a weekend. I hadn’t visited Hastings in many years, but it was worth it for the brief pier soujourn and coffee stop alone; plus, the early start meant we had lots of time to go on to other adventures in nearby Rye! Rye is such a gorgeous little town, with historic houses and churches around literally every corner along with so many cafes you could eat cream teas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’ve been taking a bit of time this year to explore around Kent/Sussex more, and I’d love to go back to Rye when it’s properly sunny and explore the harbour and countryside further.

Homemade pizza

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Still on my spend-very-little kick (the weekend’s coffee out was a real treat), one of the habits I’m finding hardest to kick is takeaway food. I was exhausted on Wednesday and really, really wanted pizza…but we compromised and made our own pizzas from scratch/the bread maker on Thursday. It turned out to be a great call; I used up veggies for toppings, but splurged on some goats’ cheese to give it a lift. Plus, we got four pizzas out of one portion of dough – so dinner for two nights! Definitely a win.

Continuing MA work

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Having finally finished the cataloguing module that lost the fight between me and the busy job, I’m onto social sciences research methods and determined to get it done a lot more quickly. I’ve been skimming the module this week and although I don’t think it’ll go down as the most interesting course in the MA, it’s getting me to think about research through different eyes which can only be a good thing.

This week I’m delivering my first ever conference paper at a symposium in Leeds, continuing watching Master of None obsessively (it’s SO GOOD) and eagerly anticipating/plotting the arrival of lots of friends next weekend!

How was your week? What’s been bringing you joy?

2015 in review

Can you believe 2015 is practically over already? I certainly can’t. Each year seems to whizz by in a flash of very-very-busy, planning for big important things and chaos when life inevitably throws a curveball to keep you on your toes once in a while.

I didn’t think I’d done much this year, but when I started going through photos, I realised that yep, 2015 was big. 2015’s the year I sort of became an adult; I nested into a happy home, reviewed my priorities more and shifted them when I didn’t like the look of stuff, started caring less about what others think of me. I’m grateful for my health, and even more so that my friends and family survived the year mostly intact. I took an interest in areas of work that looked fun, pushed my boundaries a bit and tried to maintain strong friendships.

I’m not for a second saying that 2015 didn’t have its challenges; I simply prefer not to write about them publicly, because I tend to focus on the negative by default and forget to celebrate the positive. So for balance’s sake, 2015 also brought the return of some annoying mental health issues I thought I’d dealt with, a long-term body-image-and-food problem, a continuation of my inability to handle personal finances, and some bad health stuff for friends. None of the minor health complaints I did suffer from were fully resolved due to the NHS in Sussex being a bit rubbish, and I’m still completely useless at being able to be on time for anything.

But. I’m here. You’re here. This is good, so let’s continue:

January

January started with a whimsical decision to buy a board game, Dino Race, from the best board game shop ever in Oxford. It set the tone for 2015: nearly all of our socialising has revolved around board games in some form, and who doesn’t love rescuing dinosaurs from an exploding volcano? Board game evenings are also excellent for a) rubbish weather and b) maintaining a social life whilst spending little. Excellent fun 😀

Dino Race
January also saw the start of MA Madness, as I manically attempted to get two massive dull assignments in before the March Study School Deadline. Farewell, time! Farewell, sanity! Farewell, ability to talk about anything other than business plans and hypothetical management scenarios! Grr.

Study Desk of Doom

February

February heralded the return of one of my very best friends, Moosey, to the UK after two years living in Ecuador.  A reunion in London followed this month, where we braved M&M World for the first time! Who knew there was so much M&M merchandise? Or so many flavours of M&Ms?!

M&M world

Also in February: causing minor chaos in Brighton’s Lego shop and the continuation of MA madness. Many books, much pizza, little time for anything else.

March

In March, I went for my first eye test in about a gazillion twelve years, and rather wished I hadn’t: I’m short sighted, so things far away are blurry to me! Boo! Glasses awaited, and I still heartily believe that carrying them around in my bag will create an osmosis-like effect that’s just as good as wearing them on my face.

March also contained the arrival of a bread maker, enabling us to make magical pizza dough and healthier lunches. It also saw me complete my MA assignments and return to Aberystwyth to receive more work to do as reward. On the plus side, I got to see some glorious Welsh coastline and remember how much good being outside does for your soul – and, more importantly, I got to bake again! All hail the beginning of 2015’s sweet-toothed-adventures in brownie baking.

Aberystwyth

April

I spent April’s Easter break back in Oxfordshire with family, and once again fell in love with Oxford. Because let’s be honest, in Spring it trumps pretty much everywhere else in the UK. I also peeked into the gorgeous newly refitted Weston Library and stocked up on books from Blackwells for the year ahead. Perfection.

Beautiful Oxford

I made the most of Spring by stomping around Arundel one gloriously sunny afternoon; it’s such a beautiful town! April saw the arrival of Library Cat to my workplace, making tea breaks 1000 times cuter.

Library cat!

May

I felt the Oxfordshire appreciation big time this year, because I went back again twice in May. A particular highlight was a long cycle ride with the still-returned Moosey to Bampton, in the Cotswolds: it’s where some of the external village shots for Downton Abbey are filmed! We spent a magical lunchtime exploring the area and sneaking in the church as I indulged my inner Matthew-Mary fangirl.

Bampton

May wound up being one of the busiest months of the year, so gets three paragraphs here. I also modelled for the first time ever this month for Fresh, which sells beautiful clothes in Oxford’s Covered Market! Can you find me in the picture below?

Photo by Tony Hendon
Photo by Tony Hendon

When I wasn’t flouncing around outside in May, I finally got around to baking a victoria sponge cake (and very tasty it was), held an election party (which promptly turned doomy the minute the exit polls rolled in), caught up with long-lost friends, discovered Atomic Pizza in Oxford and celebrated Chris’ first ever book being published!

June

Realising that I had a lot of annual leave to take and not a great deal of time to take it in, Chris and I booked cheap flights to Berlin in June. He’s a WW1 historian, I love German and history is 50% of my undergrad degree; plus, lots of awesome people had said it was fun. The week we spent exploring the city this month turned out to be one of the happiest all year, as we both fell head over heels in love with the place. I’ll write about Berlin a lot more next year, but June was far and away a highlight.

Obligatory Berlin photo

Summer finally arrived in June, huzzah! This entailed eating a lot of ice cream on the beach, discovering that running outside and working out doesn’t always suck, baking more brownies and going to a Ceilidh for a friend’s mum’s birthday.  We also covered our living room doors in polaroid snaps to jazz the house up a bit.

Summer lunchtimes at work <3

July

The oft-beautiful weather spanned through into July, where one gorgeous day entailed a picnic in Bethnal Green, a visit to the fantastic V&A Museum of Childhood and playing card games on the lawns by Embankment. What luck to have such wonderful friends!

You know you're old when your childhood toys are in the museum...

July was the month where I discovered Smitten Kitchen’s salted caramel brownie recipe, which became my baking staple until about October. I got to use the roof terrace in our flat for the first time and spent a glorious afternoon sipping tea whilst studying outside and listening to Wimbledon tennis. I also explored Wantage and Cambridge again – and Chris got me a ukulele for our anniversary!

Studying + Wimbledon + roof terrace <3

August

In August, Chris’ big brother got married! It was the first major family event we’d been to since getting together two years ago, and was so much fun: a weekend away in the countryside, lots and lots of wine, make-up and pretty outfits – and a fantastic celebration!

August was another busy month socially, as friends from Mount Holyoke College visited and we went to Brighton Pride and explored Sussex’s gorgeous coastline. It was also Moosey’s birthday and a group of us went to Go Ape! in Bracknell. I’ve developed a real fear of heights lately and Go Ape put paid to most of those fears; after you’ve jumped up your seventh zipwire into either the ground or massive nets, suspended only by a couple of cables…you kind of can’t be scared anymore.

September

September is always a busy month for work, and 2015 was no exception. I started off the month ecstatically excited to receive a bursary to attend the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group conference in London. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Hidden Collections: Revealed’, which is exactly the area I want to go into work-wise. After three days of learning more about special collections, rare books and library projects than ever before I came out buzzing with ideas about where to go next!

Rare book from the Wellcome Library, London
Rare book from the Wellcome Library, London

September also heralded The Keep’s annual open day, where I helped to design Special Collections’ food-themed exhibition, the completion of a first aid at work qualification and my first ever baking commission. Huzzah! When I wasn’t wrapped up in work, I visited Tunbridge Wells with some friends, discovered an excellent local greengrocer and got to see Kate Rusby from a front row seat.

October

The end of October saw a second round of modelling for Fresh Clothing in Oxford; this time the fashion show was Halloween themed and I got to walk down the catwalk as the Corpse Bride! Amazing fun.

Chris celebrated his birthday in October, so we had a fab day out in London shopping and generally relaxing. I also hunted down the best red coat ever, mastered pretzel bread, and started relearning German on Duolingo.

Creepy spider is creepy

November

November was a much quieter month than the previous few, but with some wonderful catch ups with friends around my birthday. I feel very very grateful that I’ve got a core group of spread-out people who are always up for dinner and drinks in London – huzzah!

I went to Tunbridge Wells again in November to catch up with my cousin who I hadn’t seen for years, got a bit sheep-obsessed when playing Settlers of Catan, refused to leave my bear dressing gown and gave this blog a much-needed redesign.

December

December was such a busy month, and there are so many highlights it’s difficult to know where to start! Chris and I went back to Berlin, having decided that June’s week was not enough, and we fell in love with the city more than ever before. We stayed in the incredible Hotel Nhow, which was a real treat for us, and spent five days munching warm potatoes and bratwurst, sipping mulled wine, and feeling very festive indeed. We went to the Gendarmenmarkt three times. We’re already planning another trip to Berlin next year. It’s just too perfect.

Oh Berlin <3
Oh Berlin ❤

I also attended my first ever football match in December, watching gleefully (and noisily) as Liverpool won 6 – 1 over Southampton. Amazing! There were also many festive parties, including an excellent work Christmas meal, catching up with beloved friends over pizza at home, taking Dad to see the new Star Wars film, and spending Christmas Day itself cooking lots of food with incredible friends in Brighton.

I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings! What were your favourite moments of 2015?

On Paris

I originally posted this on Facebook, but it had such a friendly response I thought it should probably live on the blog too…

Cheryl Strayed quote

It’s really difficult to know what to feel or think after the events in Paris on Friday ; the first time I visited Paris (with two of my best friends) in 2005, we stayed in the 11th arrondissement very near where the attacks took place. It’s a beautiful area, peaceful and multicultural (well, so far as mostly-white central Paris can be), tree lined streets contrasting with the stone buildings. Paris is a city of contrasts, but for anyone who’s British it often feels like the first ‘properly foreign’ city you’ll visit, even though it’s only about two hours away from the UK. It’s pretty much impossible not to fall in love with some aspect of it; the musical tones of the metro, the architecture, Shakespeare and Company .

Canal St-Martin, Paris
Canal St-Martin, Paris

I keep returning to this quote from Cheryl Strayed: “love with a mindfully clear sense of purpose, even when it feels outrageous to do so.” And when I keep Paris in my thoughts, I hope we can all have the bravery to love in this manner; to be strong enough to push aside our desires to hate, to be scared, to close our physical and metaphorical borders, and look at how we want the world to be instead. They want us to be scared, they want us divided. We’ve got to be better, smarter and stronger than that. And we’ve got to love harder than that. (Even when it’s really not easy to do so.) Whilst remembering the victims, I also want to remember how, this weekend, social media came together to help Parisians needing a place of refuge, and how this morning people were queuing up to donate blood in French hospitals. Those acts of compassion and solidarity are how we’ve got to get through these dark times, not by closing the drawbridges and pointing fingers.


It’s easy to say this; I know very little about UK foreign policy, even less about France’s. I am not in a position to actively change things in any way; few of us are. But I’m going to try harder than ever to triumph love, compassion and understanding over hatred and fear, even when the world feels like a really scary place. I’m going to try to be braver. For Paris, for Beirut, for everyone who’s suffered as a result of terrorism. It’s not easy. But they don’t want us to love. So, love and compassion and tolerance have to win. There is so much brilliance and life in our society; let’s celebrate that rather than giving into fear and letting them change our society into one of intolerance and prejudice. ❤

B and Me, Disneyland Paris, 2007
B and Me, Disneyland Paris, 2007