Thursday, 30 May 2013

Starry Night- Tupac Shakur

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Starry Night
Dedicated in Memory of Vincent Van Gogh

a creative heart, obsessed with satisfying
This dormant and uncaring society
u have given them the stars at night
and u have given them Bountiful Bouquets of Sunflowers
But 4 u there is only contempt
and though you pour yourself into that frame
and present it so proudly
this world could not accept your masterpieces
from the heart

So on that starry night
u gave 2 us and
u took away from us
the one thing we never acknowledged
  your life

-Tupac Shakur

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The convoy sailed to deliver that cargo, not to rescue drowning sailors

"shipwrecked men would drift behind and disappear on the vast sea. The last trace of them would be the red distress lights on their life jackets. They were the lucky ones. As their body temperatures dropped, they'd drift into sleep, and then death [...] The red lights glowed on for a while longer [...] Knud Erik stood on the bridge, his hands on the wheel, and sailed into a whole poppy field of red distress lights [...] He'd heard the frantic pummelling against the ship when the life-jacketed survivors drifted alongside and desperately tried to push off so not to be caught by the screw propeller. The ship's wake foamed red with blood from the severed body parts"

- Carsten Jensen, We, the Drowned     

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Wimpole- Library

The library and book room at Wimpole is pretty impressive. At lots of the National Trust properties the libraries are quite dark and musty- not that I mind that- but at Wimpole it is unexpectedly light and airy. I could imagine reading there without suffering from eye strain.

They are currently cleaning the Library and with over 10,000 books it's a massive task, it's going to take over two years! Each book is individually caressed with a brush made from pony hair to remove dust, it is done by volunteers with some guidance from experts. I was surprised to learn they handle the books with bare hands, but apparently cotton gloves are too rough and can scratch away miniature leather particles.
this house steward was kind enough to give a talk about the book cleaning process. 
Some of the books will take even longer to restore, as nearly 259 of them were damaged by a leaking roof. They will be methodically washed, dried and repaired by experts to remove the mould and tide marks. It's going to take over 2 years and £300,000, luckily the cost is covered by an insurance claim.

Very Beauty and the Beast

Monday, 27 May 2013

Wimpole Estate & Farm- Grounds and Gardens

To make the most of the sunshine and a national holiday, today we visited Wimpole Estate and Farm. it is a National Trust property just outside Cambridge.

Wimpole Estate and Farm, Cambridge, National Trust, England Visit, grass, building, old sunshine, day trip, bank holiday
The back of the main house at Wimpole. 

 It seemed lots of other families had the same bright idea, as the grounds were full of people happily munching picnics and laying on the grass soaking up the sun.

 We took our own picnic with us, Though there is a team rooms,  a restaurant and an ice ream van at the property.  I  had a sandwich of feta, green pesto and sun-dried tomatoes on spelt bread. Spelt bread is a good alternative if you are wheat/gluten intolerant by the way.  I took along my current book, Tupac Shakur- The Rose that Grew from Concrete.  I should be putting up a review in the next couple of days. 
picnic, England, rug, sandwich, Tupac, poetry, reading in sunshine
A very British Picnic- sandwiches, crisps and gangster rap
 If you forget to bring a book with you to Wimpole and fancy having a read whilst lounging on the grass, There is a well stocked second hand bookshop. It has a bit of everything, books on local history and contemporary classics such as Being Jordan by Katie Price.   

National trust, Wimpole Estate, UK, England, visit, day trip, money box, book shop, second hand
They're very trusting at the National Trust 

National trust, Wimpole Estate, UK, England, visit, day trip, book shop, second hand

Outside I saw some very Game of Thrones-esque statues. My sister rolled her eyes when I mentioned this, I seem to be relating everything to the series at the moment.  

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The stag of House Baratheon - Ours is the Fury 

Everyone at work now thinks I'm a massive geek, as I happened to mention that I like to loiter on Game of Thrones/ A Song of Ice and Fire forums and discuss conspiracy theories about Jon Snow's parentage (my bet's on Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen).   
National trust, Wimpole Estate, UK, England, visit, day trip, stag, house Baratheon, game of thrones, statue, Lion, Lannister, hear us roar, song of ice and fire  GoT, house sigil, coat of arms
The Lion of House Lannister- Hear us Roar!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Lady of the Hundred Dresses

Before I pack it away, I wanted to show the birthday card my mum got me:-

A card that looks like a library book- very cool in my opinion. Perfect for a fashionable reader, this card can be purchased at Waterstone's. Apparently, The Lady of the Hundred Dresses is an actual book, I might have to try and track down a copy.   

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


Ok, not strictly relevant to the premise of the blog, but I went to Lisbon a couple of weeks ago and thought some people might be interested in seeing some pictures of my travels (or may be not?). So here are some highlights:-

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sun setting over Lsibon, taken from Castelo de Sao Jorge
 We timed it just right we we vistited Castelo de Sao Jorge, the sun was setting and there was hardly anyone else there. The lights of the town were starting to turn on and it was peaceful and atmospheric. You can scramble all over the walls and battlement, with no regard to the health & safety restrictions that would be imposed in England. Lisbon is really hilly, and it can be a trek to get up to the castle, we got lost several times, but the view is worth it.

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tiles on a residential building in Lisbon
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bookshop in Alfama

The above bookshop is typical of the buildings in the region, many of them were covered in geometric tiles. Portugal has been hit hard by the recession, a lot of the buildings were dilapidated, but it gives the place a shabby charm.

There is also tons of graffiti in Lsibon, I liked the artistic or political art, I wan't keen at all on the tagging. People's homes and national monuments were tagged, and it made the buildings look careworn and abandoned.
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street art in Lisbon 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Currently Reading- We, The Drowned

I bought We, The Drowned for my holiday, I didn't get much chance to actually read it though as my week was so full on. I've made some progress now, I'm about half way through, so hopefully a full review will be up in a couple of weeks (it's a pretty long book).

I hope you appreciate the picture, it took me forever to learn to make those paper boats, but I suppose I've learnt a new skill! 

The book cover is really striking, I like how the stylised sea forms a porthole around the ship. 
Carsten Jensen- We, The Drowned
 If you're going on holiday to somewhere with a port or history of seafaring I'd recommend you pick this up. Or, if you're interested in Denmark, this would be a good read, as the story is located in a small Danish coastal town. 

The conch had a melody for everyone who listened to it

"For the young, the conch sang of longing for distant shores; for the old it sang of absence and sorrow. It had a song for the young and another one for the old, one for the men and one for the women, and the women's song was always the same, as monotonous as the beating of the waves against the beach: loss loss." 
- Carsten Jensen, We, The Drowned

Saturday, 18 May 2013

"I was the only non-American in our group, but I suspected my Pakistaniness was invisible, cloaked by my suit, by my expense account, and - most of all - by my companions" 
- Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist 

Mohsin Hamid- The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Coincidently a friend at work lent me Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist just as the new film has been released. It's a slim book, so it wouldn't take you long to read, if you want to quickly race through before watching the film.

Plot: Over a single evening in Lahore, Changez narrates his story to a shadowy, hostile figure. He recounts his hopeful aspirations on graduating from Princeton, his budding romance with an American girl and his gradual disenchantment and rejection of the Western values and corporate success.

I really enjoyed the The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It was more subtle and complex than I had expected. Post 9/11 there has been a plethora on books and films, demonising Islam and before I read this, I did think it would be another one dimensional story about jihadism. However, Changez disillusionment with the American dream and his later involvement with politics in Pakistan seems realistic. His values and direction develops gradually, and are a reaction to personal events and international political policies.  

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Bateman's, Home of Rudyard Kipling

I renewed my membership to the National Trust today and visited Bateman's, the former home of Rudyard Kipling.

 Kipling was a prolific poet and author, some of his most famous works include The Jungle Book, Kim and Just So Stories. He enjoyed enormous critical success, became an international celebrity and was one of the first authors to earn a million.

 At uni I studied Kim, the basic plot is a young Irish orphan living in India befriends a Buddhist Lama and is recruited into espionage by the British rulers. It's a while since I read it,  but I remember finding the descriptions of a British lad growing up in India interesting, as my family has links to the country. The views on colonialism and casual racism are a product of the time. The novel was written when the empire was a point of pride, but nowadays sentiments in the novel make uncomfortable reading. A selection of Kipling's works can be bought at the gift shop of the property.

Fittingly for the family home of an author, there are loads of books dotted about and Kipling's desk, where he did a lot of his writing, is nicely chaotic and cluttered with various mementoes from his travels. Have a look after the jump for more pictures:-

Rudyard's study

Saturday, 11 May 2013

"Libraries have had their day"

I stumbled on an article today on The Guardian website, it was published in February, but I disagree so strongly I felt compelled to write a post. You can read the article here, but the basic gist is that Terry Deary, author of the Horrible History series, argues that libraries are a drain on council budgets and are detrimental to the book industry. Deary is quoted as saying;
 "We can't give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment."    
To be honest he comes across in the article as very money grabbing, his main issue with libraries seems to be that he isn't given enough royalties when people check out his books from a library, authors are given 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed. I agree that authors should receive a decent percentage of royalties for their intellectual property, and Deary does still receive financial compensation for library loans, so I don't understand his complaint. Besides it's not like he's some starving author holed up in garret, struggling to write as his body shakes from consumption, unable to eat due to the wicked Public Lending Right Scheme limiting his earnings, he has sold over 25 million books in over 40 languages.

I believe passionately that literature should be accessible to everyone and libraries are vital in achieving this. When I was growing up my family was on a low income, buying books was rare treat even though we were all keen readers. My mum, two sisters and me are all massive Harry Potter fans, we had one copy of the book that we shared between the four of us using a  timer to make sure everyone got a fair go. Having more than one copy per household seemed like a huge luxury, that was not available to us.

We're always coming up with new names for one another

"A nickname's a way of stating that no one belongs to himself. You're ours now, it says: we've rechristened you. We know more about you than you know about yourself. We've looked at you and seen more of you than you'll catch in the mirror"
-Carsten Jensen, We, The Drowned 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Gifts for Tea Drinkers

Following on from my post from yesterday, and because I'am undoubtedly still in birthday mode I have a few suggestions of what to buy for the big tea drinker in your life:-

It would be lovely to take that special person out for afternoon tea. A lot of the famous hotels in London do this, but I'm sure you'd be able to find somewhere local. Most places you need to book in advance and some offer gift vouchers. It is a quintessentially British activity and would be a real treat. Tea at The Ritz ranges in price from £47- 67 per person.

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picture credit: The Ritz website 
Or, if you budget is restricted, why not host a fancy tea yourself? The Ritz is certainly out of my price range.  Scones and sandwiches are easy to make and I'm sure the birthday girl/boy will appreciate your efforts.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Presents for readers

Today is my birthday (yay!), and as I will be jollying around Lisbon this is a scheduled post of suggestions for presents for bibliophiles:-

How about a good book? hahaha pretty obvious, but why not? If you're stuck for ideas, have a look at my recent reviews and see what I did/didn't enjoy. Another useful place to look is goodreads which has a massive archive of reviews. Alternatively go out there and get some human contact, your local bookseller will have loads of recommendations. 
Currently on my wishlist are:-
image from
  1. The People of Forever are not Afraid- Shani Boianjiu. A coming of age novel about young women doing their national service in Israel 
  2.  We, The Drowned- Carsten Jensen. A literary voyage about a crew of Danish sailors in 1848 
  3. The Lost Books of the Odyssey-Zachary Mason. Continuing my current hobby for Greek epics. 
  4. Far From the Tree- Andrew Solomon. Non-fiction, examining genetics and parenting     
Ok if a book is too obvious or you're not sure what the person you're buying for has read, I have plenty of other suggestions after the cut....

Sunday, 5 May 2013

We Need to Talk About Kevin & Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

It's been a busy couple of weeks, I've been settling into my new job and have had my wisdom teeth removed so I haven't been motivated to tackle The White Man's Burden  as I intended. Instead I re-read some of my old favourites whilst lying of the sofa whinging and recovery from my dental surgery.

First up We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver. This novel won the Orange Prize in 2005 and garnered a lot of attention and praise. It is a compelling examination of parental responsibility in the aftermath of a school shooting. Told in a series of letters to her estranged husband, Eva recounts the story of Kevin's upbringing and considers the warning signs that lead him to kill his classmates.It is a disturbing read.

 Eva is ambiguously both painfully honest and unreliable at as narrator. She is open about her failings as a mother but also seems overly suspicious of her son from birth, and views his every action, such as his reluctance to breastfeed, as a personal affront and an act of aggression.
we need to talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver, review, paperback, bookcover, little boy, creepy, disturbed, school shooting,

The novel is a complex character study, while Eva reflects and self examines, the reader is encouraged  to question what leads to tragedies such as school shootings. There is not a neat answer, which is a good this about this novel, Kevin's actions are not explained away be a physiological imbalance or the result of a neglected childhood, nor is he simply evil.

The second book I read on my bed of pain was Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire. I love love love when contemporary authors subvert and embellish fairy tales and folk lore. It's my favourite genre, and Maguire is really talent at it. I've mentioned his Wicked  quadrilogy before on this blog.

Maguire takes the well known Cinderella story and sets it in seventeenth century Holland, a captivating hybrid of fairytale and historical fiction. The heroine is Iris, a plain stepsister of renown beauty Clara, she is smart, generous and very unlike the nasty, spiteful, ugly sister from the traditional tale. The novel explores the themes of beauty, artistic representation and transformation.

confessions of an ugly stepsister, review, Cinderella, Gregory Maguire, pumpkin carriage, book cover, pretty, illustration, mouse, fairytale, modern

Another major consideration is the concept of 'sisterhood'. Iris, Ruth and Clara are step-siblings and are therefore rivals and allies. Women and girls had a tough time of it in the seventeenth century and Margarethe (the step/mother) quote "women must collaborate or perish" is interesting as it invokes the idea of a global sisterhood. Although hypocritical Margarethe is herself  ruthless and backstabbing when it comes to other females.

Fittingly for a novel about aesthetics, this book is beautiful. Each chapter is preceded by a full page illustration. The typography is delicate and old fashion, but still easy to read.
confessions of an ugly stepsister, review, Cinderella, Gregory Maguire, pumpkin carriage, book cover, pretty, illustration, mouse, fairytale, modern, windmill, Holland

Two very different books. Have you read them? Which one is your favourite?

women must collaborate

"women must collaborate or perish"
- Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister 

He isn't the man he was

"He isn't the man he was. He's hardly a man at all- just a collection of bodily habits, eating, breathing, relieving himself, muttering in his sleep. Don't you see how he's been reduced to nothing" 
- Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Mr. Dial grinned

"Mr. Dial grinned. His small teeth, his wide-set eyes and his bulging forehead- plus his habit of looking at the class in profile, rather than straight on- gave him the slight aspect of an unfriendly dolphin'
-Donna Tartt, The Little Friend