Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 in books

The other day, the Boyfriend caught me doing something I'd managed to keep hidden for the past 6 months, out of embarrassment really and a desire not to be seen as a complete weirdo. 

The conversation went something like this:
"What's that?"
"Umm. Have you fed the cats?"
"Yes, an hour ago. What are you doing?"
"Ahh. What would you like to do today?"
"It's Wednesday, I'm going to work. Seriously, what is that?"
"So it is. I'd better get dressed then!"
"Quit stalling and just tell me what you're up to. Is that your diary?"

Now reader, there is a diary but this was not it and I had no other conversational blind alley to lead him down. It was time to 'fess up to some serious nerdiness. 

"No, it's my reading diary."
"Your what??"
"My, umm, reading diary."

And right there and then, I saw my status as the Not-Nerdy one of the relationship disintegrate and a new level of Equal-Nerd was achieved. Which is all to the good, obviously. Yes, it is true, I keep a reading diary and have done for the past 5 years. It wasn't my original idea, but something I read (ironically, I forget where) someone else did to keep track of all the books she had read each year. "That's a good idea," I thought to myself as I realised I'd made it through 2013 and could only remember the handful of books that stuck in my head. "That will stop me standing at the library, book in hand, desperately trying to work out of I've already read it or not." Something that happened on a frequent basis. 

So I started one in the January of 2014 and I haven't stopped yet. It reveals things about a person, this reading diary lark, but I'll let you decide what this year's reveals about me...

January: How to be Right by James O'Brien, Take Courage by Samantha Ellis, The Unfortunates by Laurie Graham, Altered States by Anita Brooker, Cash - the Autobiography by Johnny Cash, Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore, Peril at End House by Agatha Christie, The Black Tower by PD James, Third Girl by Agatha Christie

February: biography of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham, Bigger than Hitler Better than Christ by Rik Mayall, Night Watch by Terry Pratchett, An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollop, Unpleasantness at the Bellona by Dorothy Sayers, Lord Peter Views the Body by DS

March: Not That Sort of Girl by Mary Wesley, Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte, Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson, Diary of a Nobody by the Grossmiths, Crap Lyrics by Johnny Sharp, The Belting Inheritance by Julian Symons, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre, Patrick Leigh Fermor biography by Artemis Cooper

April: To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine, All That Remains by Sue Black, Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Almost Everything by Annie Lamott, Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

May: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, The Private Patient by PD James, Have Mercy on us All by Fred Vargas, Wash this Blood Clean from my Hands by FV, Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh, An Uncertain Place by FV, Ghost Riders of the Orderbec by FV

June: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Aunt Margaret's Lover by Mavis Cheek, No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym, Playback by Raymond Chandler, The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker, Gilead by Marilynn Robinson, Room with a View by EM Forster

July: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Nicotine by Nell Zink

August: Grow Your Own Vegetables by Joy Larkham, Goodbye to all That by Robert Graves, When all is Said by Anne Griffin, Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant by TP, 100 Graves to Visit Before you Die by Anne Treveman

September: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, Cargo of Eagles by Margery Allingham, How Not to be a Boy by Robert Webb, Regeneration by Pat Barker, Wise Children by Angela Carter, This Poison will Remain by Fred Vargas, Proof by Dick Francis

October: Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Blythell, Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell, Bearmouth by Liz Hyder, Misogynies by Joan Smith, Death is now my Neighbour by Colin Dexter, Death at the Chase by Michael Innes, the Rising Tide by Molly Keane, the Jewel that was Ours by Colin Dexter, Educated by Tara Westover, Call for the Dead by John le Carre

November: Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett, Best Man to Die, the Veiled One and Unkindness of Ravens by Ruth Rendell, One Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinka Braithwaite, That's me in the Corner by Andrew Collins, I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell, the Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford, Between Friends by Kathleen Rowntree

December: the Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Ghostland by Edward Parnell, the Ghost Child by Eowyn Ivey, the Crow Trap by Anne Cleeves, Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym, Character Breakdown by Zawe Ashton, the Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly, Peaky Blinders: the real story by Carl Chinn, Love of Country by Madeline Bunting

My favourites are marked with links to reviews (I always make an additional list of favourites too; my god, I am a super nerd). Some are rereads, more are new reads. If I was a proper book blogger, I'd do reviews of them but then I'd have no time for reading, so no. The only one I'm tempted to review is Bearmouth by my friend, Liz Hyder, because it's such a breathtaking, tour de force that I think all young adults (and old ones) should read it. It's extraordinary, with a unique, captivating voice, and a plot that sends shivers down your spine. Her research is played lightly, no heavy handed moralising here, just a story that carries you down into the earth and then back up into the light. Read it, goddamit.

Rereading Lords and Ladies made me very because there will never be any more Nanny Ogg or Magrat Garlick and that makes me sadder than anything. I miss Terry Pratchett. 

Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle made me impatient and, at the end, bloody furious. What kind of an ending was that? Where was his editor? Creative writing courses have a lot to answer for. At least it didn't make me the same level of furious as Gone Girl did - I actually wrote "RUBBISH" in the margin of the diary next to that one. 

Judging by the level of crime reading in May, I was stressed out. Given that was a month before we moved house, it's not surprising. I always turn to fictional crime when real life gets stressy. At least I chose three queens of crime fiction to soothe my brain with. If you've never read Vargas, put her on your list.

And this is why I keep the diary. Looking back at it sparks memories, joy and sadness, irritation or relief at finally getting through a big text that I wasn't really interested in (Cash and Fermor biographies, I'm looking at you). And, occasionally, surprise: I did not enjoy Notes on a Nervous Planet, I bloody loved Ghostland. 

Character Breakdown is worth a special mention. Couldn't stop turning the pages on that one, jaw open in horror at what the acting profession demands of young women. 

Whatever, you've found yourself reading this year, I hope the pages kept turning, new worlds emerged and real life was a little better at the end of it. I now have a pile of books to keep me out of mischief for a few weeks...maybe. Happy new year!

PS: this isn't about numbers or showing off but about the very deep joy books bring me. I felt this needed reiterating as Andy Miller gets a lot of stick for how much he reads. His blog post explains how and why he does, as well as wondering at the mindset of people who get angry over a picture of books on a table. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

T'was the week before Christmas...

And all the creatures were stirring. Especially in the city. Popped into Marks and Spencers the other day to get myself a sandwich and was confronted by a sea of people panic-buying musical tins of biscuits, umpteen packets of festive Percy Pigs* and enough ham to sink battleships. No one apparently considering whether beleaguered relatives (also out panic buying novelty socks, festive jumpers and crackers filled with tiny screwdriver sets, blunt metal nail files and corkscrews apparently designed for mice) actually want the musical tins of biscuits. What will happen to them all after the contents have been eaten? Doesn't bear thinking about but I do wonder what archaeologists of the future will make of it all.

Our social calendar has been full to bursting recently with friend's parties, work parties, random gatherings and family birthdays. So much so it was a relief when one was cancelled last Sunday. Whilst sending my commiserations over their illness, it was all I could do not to whoop with joy. My Sunday was freed up for the first time in weeks! What to do, what to do?

Obviously, to do was to head to the allotment. Also for the first time in weeks thanks to rain/illness

Getting there I felt I should have been depressed at the sight of the site. Everything I've planted this year has rotted away; beaten down by the rain before they had chance to get past the seedling stage, or even sprout a shoot or two. Luckily, from the moment I got the site, I'd decided to treat it as an experiment and not get downhearted over failures. If you're coming from a position of knowing nothing and achieving nothing, it's easier to rise up from it.

And besides, this time of year exposes the colourful bones of the place, which is rather wonderful even without things growing as they should.

We didn't spend long there. Enough to hack back the brambles, finally stripped of fruit and leaves (see clump of wildness above), and dig over another of the beds so the frost and cold can do the work of breaking it down. I will admit that it was kind of disheartening to stand on the ground and hear the leaden squelch of mud underfoot. It's been so wet! Turning over the soil was like lifting a mini boulder with each forkful. I tell myself that means I'll soon have sculpted arms. Apparently this is A Thing all women should want. I merely want functional ones.  

Work is nearly done for the year - just one more day to go. Looking forward to the return in January as our new office will be completed and we'll be moving in. Today I spent a couple of hours painting the newly plastered walls. I paint fast but not well and with so much splash back, the only way I'd have been more covered in paint would be if I'd tipped the pot over me. Colleagues have had a good laugh at my expense. 

This year's gifts are a mix of brought and handmade, the latter involving pomegranate gin, my own boozy mincemeat and little chocolate & peanut butter cookies. Labels have been made for all of them, my personal favourite being for the gin. 

There were also hats for nieces and sisters (including the in law ones) but Thorcat has an obsession with wool - and I mean stare-at-me-while-I-knit-in-most-unnerving-and-unblinking-fashion obsession - and he managed to hook them out of their hiding place while I was at work, leaving himself free to slowly pick them apart with his claws. So there are no hats and I am most unimpressed. Also, slightly worried as he stares at me the same way when I twist my hair round my fingers. Am convinced I'm going to wake up one morning to find my scalp on the bedroom floor. We have adopted a psychopath.

Tomorrow night, we have our annual festive scrabble night, which is exactly like our normal scrabble night but with added mince pies, then my parents are over on Sunday to celebrate my Mum's birthday, even though she doesn't really celebrate it because it's so close to Christmas and we've already had 5 family birthdays in the last month, and our final bit of socialising is a night of Sharpe at a friends. Both she and the Boyfriend are shocked that I've never seen Sharpe (what's the point of something with Sean Bean in it if he doesn't die heroically?), so I'm being forced into it. Chilli has been promised to make me stay. 

There may well be a book post (I used to do these with my old blogs and I enjoyed them) before the end of the year but in the meantime, may your next week be festive in whichever way you prefer it to be. 

Merry Christmas!

*okay, that was just me

Friday, December 13, 2019

Right then

Here is a small piece of good news for today because, just, fucking hell.

In other news, I considering starting a Kickstarter to fund my fledgling sheep farm in rural Scotland/Norway but for now, I'm going to go pet my cats and hug my boyfriend tight. I know all things pass but right now, just, fucking hell...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Notes from the Peculiarosity

It's been a chaotic few weeks here at the Peculiarosity. Hospital stays, ill health, trips away, family and friends, weekends full to bursting and so on. Time for blogging has been limited and then limited further by my own health issues, which have a habit of draining the life and colour from everything. 

But I am feeling better (finally speaking to a doctor who said quite frankly "you must be really pissed off" - YES I AM - helped enormously) and this coincided with the swimming pool I go to on the way to work reopening. Oh bliss. That half an hour swimming in warm water, watching the reflection of the water on the ceiling, no phone for anyone to reach me's one of the most lovely parts of my day. 

And now, Christmas! I love this. Not for the presents (although I can't deny those help) but for the lights, the greenery brought inside, the food and the catching up with family and friends. I like receiving cards. I like the darkening mornings and afternoons. I even like the sound of the rain drumming against the windows...providing it's on a Sunday and I don't have to get up from under my nice warm duvet. 

This year, for the first time in 6 years, I even have a real tree, which we soaked in water for 2 hours before bringing it in, in the hope that'll help it retain the needles. The Christmas Diplodocus (how do you say it? Di-PLOD-ocus or Dip-loh-docus? I prefer the former) is at the top and the Christmas Stegasaurus is in the middle. I have a thing about dinosaurs. 

And now for 3 things that are rather marvellous:

The question of presents has arisen and I may have become a little overexcited when I idly googled "Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Christmas sweaters" and a whole new world of kitschy items featuring my favourite skeleton* appeared on my screen...The boyfriend has been gently steered in the direction of a hoody that I now know I really need for Christmas. 

This great little article on the winter blues and how to deal with them. "I stopped complaining about it getting cold and dark, I stopped dreading the arrival of snow." It's not telling you anything you don't already know, but sometimes you have to see it to know it.  

The Bonington Art Gallery in Nottingham have a great exhibition programme. I'm hoping to get to see this while I'm off work in December. 

Hoping to get back into the swing of blogging again, now mojo for all sorts of activities has returned. Just don't ask me about the allotment...

*Surely everyone has a favourite skeleton?

Weather Advisory Service

On the way home from the train the other day, I took a shortcut through the dripping allotment grounds, the grass and earth squelching under...