Monday, 15 January 2018

Need to Refuel? You Need Biscuits and Books...

I'm not really into New Year's resolutions. I am more than capable of showcasing my discarded plans and failed attempts at behaviour change any time of the year. No need to make a song and dance about it come January. That seems to be adding an insult to the injury of taking down the decs and eating wilted greens and steamed dust for the rest of the month. However, there are a few decisions I made several New Years ago, that stuck. Three life rules that have managed to transcend the usual pattern of one week of effort then fifty-one of failure. And what are they? Well let me tell you! 

1. I never click on a Daily Fail link.
2. I only ever leave the house in shoes I can walk in. 
3. I make sure I have a book on the go all the time.

I bought these for R and
S's wedding in 2011.
 I wore them for about 20 mins.
The first time I've ditched
wedding shoes before the
The first two life rules are fairly obvious. I won't show digital (or paper, for that matter) support of views I find abhorrent. My life is all the better for actively avoiding hate-filled bile masquerading as fact. And I've also spent too many nights out walking like a just-born giraffe to waste any more time and money on silly shoes. Since a three-month bout of sciatica last year, I am eternally welded to my trainers. If it means I enter mid-life with 'eccentric dress sense' I don't care. Walking comfortably is not to be taken for granted. 

Sexy? Not a bit.
Comfy? Oh yeaaahhhh.
And then there are books. I do try to keep the always-reading-something resolution going throughout the year. I really do. And it is true that you can't write if you don't read. Reading is the fuel that fires the pen, or something. So I try to read all the time. But then there are times when I don't. If I'm in full writing flow, I worry I'll subconsciously ape the author I am reading. I tend to avoid books in the same genre as the one I'm working on and go for something completely different. But when I'm not in the writing-from-scratch stage, I can go wild. I can read anyone and anything and refuel that pen once again. 

And so over Christmas I caught up with some books I had been waiting to read. I haven't added these to the Reading List tab above, purely because they have all been read in the past couple of weeks. I'll add to that as my reading becomes more sporadic again. But in the interest of sharing, and with a mix of fiction and non-fiction, here's what has kept me busy since mid-December.

This makes me tingle just to think about it. A murder mystery, set in the days before Christmas, in Iceland! What's not to love? At just 215 pages, it was the perfect easy read before Christmas. I had a day off on 18th December and so took myself and this book to a coffee shop to soak up the creepily bleak and atmospheric Icelandic thriller with a large cup of tea. Now I need to forget what happens and read it again at the same time next year.

I never watched Bake Off (I know, I know, it's marvellous, I just don't like being judgy about food) but there are many reasons to love John Whaite aside from his winning baking from back in the day. His last book - Perfect Plates in Five Ingredients - revolutionised my cooking. No mean feat considering how many hours a day I devote to thinking about what I put in my mouth. (Stop it!) His next book was a Christmas present and is just as perfect. Focusing on comfort food, it breaks down into enticing chapters such as  Something Cheesy, Something Spicy and Something Pillowy. His recipes are never fussy and always easy to replicate. This book will contribute to the food I cook and eat at weekends, where the delayed gratification of comfort eating will make it all the more mouth-watering.

I tend to avoid being political on this blog. Sure, I bang on about sexism and the evils of gender stereotyping but I don't mention party politics much. I don't want to alienate anyone first of all, nor feel the need to defend or critique specific party political positions as they arise. And yet when it comes to the US election of 2016, between two very different parties with two very different candidates, there are no grey areas. I can't be even-handed or balanced on here. I am happy to state I was and still am gutted the result went the way it did and I'm watching the subsequent and ongoing investigations with great interest until wrongs are righted. So it's no surprise that Clinton's book detailing the election campaign and her eventual loss is right up my street. What I was surprised at is how accessible it is. As much as I doubt her politician's barriers ever truly come down, there is a sense of honesty and at times vulnerability running through her recounts that makes me really like her. I'm not sure she goes as far as baring her soul, but she certainly shares a lot of insight into the fairly unique position she holds in public life. Like Jess Phillips' Everywoman, it also acts as a call to arms for women to speak out and not be silenced. A really enjoyable, and at times funny book that lifts the lid on recent events with a refreshingly candid take.

The power of social media is fascinating. It seems in order to nab me as a customer, all you have to do is live tweet during Eurovision. That's what Scandikitchen did a few years ago. I followed them on Twitter and started to use their online food shop. Then I visited their actual shop when I was last in London. For Christmas I got their cookbook, as well as a hamper of Scandinavian food and drink. All because they enjoy Eurovision as much as me. It's a marketing strategy all businesses should consider. Scandikitchen, the book, is marvellous. Whereas I'll be saving John Whaite's comfort food for lazy weekends, the food in here is perfect for every day fuel. The section on open sandwiches is glorious. You think all you need to do is leave the top slice off a cheese and ham butty? Think again. These are works of art that masquerade as lunch any day of the week. Let's get stuck in!

I love what Robert Harris does. Or at least what he gives the impression of doing. I think he decides he is going to write a new thriller. So he looks at the history books and chooses a nice juicy time from the past. Then he does a shed load of research, learns about the ins and outs of the period, and creates a page-turning-historical-edge-of-your-seat thriller that both entertains and informs in equal measure. It's really quite clever. Because of Harris I know loads (no really, LOADS) about Russian gulags, the Vatican, code breaking in World War II and now 1938 and the talks between Chamberlain and Hitler prior to the outbreak of war the following year. To be fully transparent, I have to say I've not finished this yet. It's my last book-present to read and I only started it a few days ago. But I know once I sit down and get on with it I will love it like I loved all his others. This is because Harris does what he does very well. It's solid story telling and it's gripping right to the end. And my new Mastermind specialist subject will be Hitler and Chamberlain, even though I won't be completely sure which events are historically accurate and which are made up for the purposes of a jolly romp. Hey ho.

And now that I've written this week's blog, I'm going to put my lap top away, pick up Munich and crack on. That pen needs refuelling once again. And with a mug of tea and a load of biscuits, so do I.

Have a lovely week, folks. 

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