Saturday, 11 October 2014

My Trip To Florence

I have had this post sitting in my drafts for ages, so have no idea when I forgot to press publish- oops!

I recently (ish) went to Florence, and of course, took my camera with me. Although in the end, I didn't take a huge number of photos. When I went to Paris, I pretty much saw the city through my camera lens, so this time, I wanted to actually take Florence in, rather than focusing on getting pictures of everything. I liked it better that way.

A gorgeous sunset from the Ponte Vecchio

A street by the Arno

#selfie!!! haha

The Duomo from Giotto's bell tower

Florence from up high (wish I had a wide angle lens...)

My main man, Dave

Another gorgeous sunset over the river

Florence from Palazzo Michelangelo

The most amazing eyes I've ever seen on a cat

Wallpaper envy

A freak hailstorm on the last day

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Holiday Reading List- Florence Edition

After taking a bit of a self prescribed blog break- I'm back and I've got some book recommendations- both to read and to avoid like the plague (no prizes for guessing which of the novels below I'm talking about there...)

I recently came back from a little break in Florence (post coming soon), and got stuck into a few novels whilst I was there. Since I had to fly to Pisa, and then get the coach to Florence, I had plenty of time to read, which is a blessing, and has made me realise that I need to spend less time watching RuPaul's Drag Race videos on youtube and more time reading. 

(In case you were wondering, my favourite Ru song is Glamazon and my favourite Queen is Miss Alyssa Edwards...but that's for another blog post.)

Anyway...

Holiday 2014 Reading Recommendations
4 books in 5 days. Pretty good going
I've stacked the books in order of my own personal enjoyment in the photo. So, let's start with the best:

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

The Night Watch is one of my favourite types of novel: female driven, set in the 1940s and desperately beautiful. It's set in London during World War II and is upsetting, but conversely uplifting in a strange way. Waters is a fantastically evocative writer and is fantastic at capturing moments. She makes me want to be a better writer. Stunning. 10/10 would recommend to anyone.

(I just googled it and I had no idea that there was a Night Watch BBC series- with Anna Maxwell Martin as Kay! I am going to have to get my mitts on that.)

Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas

This book was a random grab and go at the airport that actually turned out to be rather good. I really enjoyed Dangerous Boys. It was a quick read- I think I finished it in about 3 hours, and that was 3 hours well spent. It had a slight air of fan fiction to it, but that's by no means an insult. Dangerous Boys is about a bored girl in middle America who meets a set of brothers who completely change her life. You can be the judge of whether it was for the better or not.

A little disturbing, but thought provoking. I would recommend this as a solid beach read, or for teenagers.

The Martian- Andy Weir


Another one I bought at Gatwick- the Martian is about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars by accident, and the various attempts to get him home safely. Being a fan of the stranded genre, especially Castaway (Wiiiiiiiiiiilsooooooon) I decided to give it a go. It wasn't my usual sort of thing, but it was enjoyable. Weir managed to keep it interesting, and guessing as to whether he would make it, which is quite a feat!

No spoilers, but I found the ending a little anti-climatic, and therefore a little disappointing, but that probably says more about me than the book...

Inferno by Dan Brown


Is it acceptable to just put the poo emoji here? I didn't think it was possible for a book to be worse than the Da Vinci Code, but Inferno makes the Da Vinci Code look like Murakami.

I bought it because I was in Florence and thought (mistakenly) that since Inferno was set in Florence it would be interesting. Nope. Instead, Dan Brown recycles all his old tricks (anagrams, conjecture as fact, the ever-irritating Robert Langdon's stupid Mickey Mouse watch), but without the, dare I say it, charm of the Da Vinci Code. 

Avoid like the plague. 

So, there we have it. Have you read any of these books? What did you think?


Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Understudy by David Nicholls Review

This week's novel is David Nicholls' book, The Understudy. I've read Starter for Ten (hilarious) and One Day (loved Emma, hated Dexter, hated the ending), so I thought I should read and review the Understudy, just so I can say I have read Nicholl's complete works.

The Understudy David Nicholls Review
The Understudy chilling with the travel books

The Understudy: Plot


Stephen C. McQueen is an understudy to the famous and handsome Josh Harper. Stephen is a bit of a loser; he's divorced, lives in a fridge-less bed-sit and can only get jobs as a singing squirrel. Josh invites Stephen to a party he is holding, where Stephen meets Nora, Josh's wife and everything gets  a little bit complicated from there.


The Understudy: Best Bits


While it doesn't quite live up to its promise to be laugh out loud funny, some bits are quite amusing. The bit where Stephen steals Josh's Best Actor BAFTA is cringe-worthy, but funny. Stephen's daughter provides some comic relief as only children can when they're really embarrassed by their dad.

The Understudy is an easy read- the plot rattles along quickly and none of it drags. Nicholls is excellent at scene building and his dialogue is very convincing. 


The Understudy: Worst Bits


I hate to admit this, but I really disliked all of the characters. They were all irredeemably irritating in their own ways- Stephen was whiny and self-righteous, Josh pompous and Nora a manic pixie dream girl (this particular type of female character really riles me). I really didn't care about any of them either way and ambivalence is one of the worst emotions an author can provoke.

As for the humour, some of the jokes wear a little thin- especially the repeated comparison to the famous Steve McQueen. The phrase flogging a dead horse comes to mind... Then again, I'm sure he would get it all the time in real life, so it's probably quite realistic.


The Understudy: Fantasy Casting


The Understudy David Nicholls Fantasy Cast
My choices...Hollywood casting director here we come

Just for a laugh, here are my choices for who would play the main characters. Feel free to disagree, but it's just who I imagined when I was reading it:

Stephen: Ben Miller
Josh: Sam Claflin
Nora: Lena Headey

The Understudy: Final Review


Eh. Like Stephen's acting, it was ok, but not spectacular. It didn't "laugh out loud" as the cover promised, but I did finish the book. I personally think it's the worst of Nicholl's books, but being the worst of 3 is not necessarily terrible. If the characters had been a bit more sympathetic, then maybe I would have liked it more. By the end I was hoping for a repeat of the One Day ending, and that's not something that I would have ever thought I would hear myself say.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

New Obsession Alert: Phantom of the Opera

Ok everyone, I have a confession to make...deep breath now...I am obsessed with Phantom of the Opera.

Phew. It's good to get that out.

Now, this Phantom obsession. How did it even come about? I used to turn my nose up at Phantom (can you call it POTO?) and say that it was creepy and weird and boring and now I listen to the soundtrack on repeat and obsessively watch scenes on youtube over and over and over.

How times have changed.

Even as I type this I'm watching a DVD of the 25th anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Help me someone! The Phantom is indeed iiinsiiiiiiide my miiiiiiimd BA BA BA BA BAAAAAAA!!!! (Sorry...I just had to do that...)

Phantom Of The Opera London Her Majestys Theatre
I've never understood why they use this mask for the posters...

I think my obsession started when I heard All I Ask Of You on a Musicals compilation CD. I thought it was quite sweet (read: heartbreakingly romantic), so looked up where it was from and downloaded the rest of the POTO soundtrack. I must confess, I just can't stop myself from listening to it. I love how 80s it is, how creepy the Phantom is and I especially love how melodramatic it is. 

I do love a good drama queen and the Phantom is a perfect example. I mean, come on, he wears a fedora for goodness sake. I was half expecting him to proclaim himself a "nice guy" at one point, and mention how many times he's been upvoted on reddit... #TeamRaoul

Anyway.

I know this isn't cool to admit, but I like Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. Whatever. I'm not ashamed. I saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat for my 18th birthday (helloooo Lee Mead), my sister and I used to love Cats when we were younger (which incidentally is coming back  to the stage in December!!) and Evita is one of my favourite films.

Phantom Of The Opera London Her Majestys Theatre
I liked this stained glass Her Majesty's Theatre sign

I'd never seen Phantom, so it was a natural progression to watch it next. I was a little apprehensive to see it, because I thought that I would either love it or hate it. Thankfully, I loved it! I'd never been to Her Majesty's Theatre before and it's just as beautiful as all the other old London theatres.

The only downside to Her Majesty's Theatre was the seat that I had picked. The ticket said "restricted view" and usually I don't really pay much attention to those warnings. At most you usually have a slightly awkward side view of the stage, or cramped knees but they were not kidding at Her Maj. It is a VERY restricted view. In case you were wondering, I was sat in the Royal Circle, Seat F23.

Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre Restricted View
Stage? What stage? This is not an exaggeration

I know you're not allowed to take photos inside the auditorium, but this photo doesn't show the stage, just the massive pillar in your face. The upside is that you get a decent amount of legroom, but the downside is that you cannot see a thing. Thankfully, the very kind people next to me shuffled up so that I could actually see the stage. If I had remained in F23 I have the feeling that I would have hated Phantom of the Opera because there's no way you can enjoy a musical if you can't see the actors, no matter how much you like the songs.

Talking of the songs, I must admit, while the first half has some bangin' tunes (Music of the Night, Phantom of the Opera, Think Of Me, All I Ask Of You...), the second half is a little light on the bops. It's a toss up for my favourite, but at the moment it's still All I Ask Of You, but the classic Phantom of the Opera is creeping up on it. That being said, I'm starting to appreciate Point of No Return more these days. Maybe because it's especially creepy...

Phantom Of The Opera London Her Majestys Theatre
So creepy and possessive...everything you look for in a man, right?!

After seeing Phantom on stage, and to alleviate my thirst for POTO, I decided to watch the film. I  definitely preferred the stage version. Mainly because it was camper and Gerard Butler kind of annoys me. He wasn't weird enough for me, whereas on stage, you could definitely tell that the Phantom had some issues. "Fear can turn to love," errrr how about no?!

When I saw it, the Phantom, Christine and Raoul were all played by understudies because it was West End Live and I was at the matinee. The understudies were really going for it, which gave the performance some extra oomph. 

(On an unrelated understudy related note- I'm currently reading The Understudy by David Nicholls of One Day fame at the moment and it's...ok. I prefer Starter for Ten, but maybe it'll pick up later. The cover promises that I'll laugh out loud...at most I've mildly chuckled...Hmm.)

So, now I'm sitting watching the 25th Anniversary version at the Royal Albert Hall and thinking, well, I'm nearly Phantomed out. I've only got the book left to read,  unless I want to wade into the murky depths of fan fiction. Hmm..maybe I'll stick with the book for the official back story.

Phantom Of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall 25th Anniversary
I really need to get a hobby

Right, well I've rambled quite enough about Phantom of the Opera now. I think I need to take a deep breath and step away from the laptop. 

But, on a final note, if you haven't watched Antonio Banderas singing The Music of the Night, do yourself a favour and watch it now:



Hellooooo Antonio. Ahem. I read that Antonio Banderas was considered for the part of the Phantom and I am so disappointed that he didn't get it and Gerard Butler did (soz Gezza). Although, that did mean he was in Evita, so swings and roundabouts.

Right, that's enough of that now. Promise. This is the point of no return ;)

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Bunker Diary By Kevin Brooks Review

Do yourself a favour- stop what you're doing right now and go out and buy a copy of the Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks, which has just won the Carnegie Medal, and read it. You won't need the tv on, music in the background, frequent Candy Crush breaks, anything like that- you will just need this book. It is disturbing, tense and haunting in all the best ways.

You want bleak? I'll give you bleak
The Bunker Diary is a great twist on the group of x stranded in y genre that I so enjoy. I love Lord of the Flies and am more than a little obsessed with Lost (let's be honest though, that's mostly because of Sawyer...) I particularly enjoy the Criminal Minds episodes that feature people locked up somewhere, a psychopath their puppet master. 

This is pretty much what the Bunker Diary is- somebody ("He") abducts 6 people, puts them into a purpose built bunker and messes with their minds. The people in the bunker are very different- a nine year old girl, an estate agent, a management consultant, an elderly physicist, a junkie and the main character, a teenage runaway, Linus. The Bunker Diary is written by Linus, who documents his time in the bunker in a notebook left by Him.

The most distressing part of the novel for me was the suspense. The only communication the inhabitants have with the man who put them in the bunker is through the lift that rumbles up and down at regular (or irregular) intervals. What is, or isn't in there, dictates the mood of the prisoners. There's food (or an absence of it), a vicious doberman, newspaper clippings, and more. The lift is their only contact with the outside world and it's a very one-sided conversation.

As you can imagine, there's a lot of philosophising, resentment and tension. The psychology of the prisoners is deftly explored and still a lot is still left to your imagination- which I like. I hate when information is handed to the reader on a plate (show don't tell!), and I think Brooks strikes a good balance between believability of diarising and well, word vomit.

As for the ending, well, it was never going to be happy. I loved the fact that there is no resolution, no exposition. Spoiler Alert: it's pretty bleak. I don't want to give too much away, but rest assured if you're looking for happy, you won't find it here.

There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding The Bunker Diary, because it has just won an award for best children's novel. I wouldn't necessarily say it was suitable for children. Teenagers maybe, but children? Hmm... It's a bit, well, distressing. In fact, on the front of my cover there is a large sticker that reads: Not suitable for younger readers. Quite.

However, far be it from me to question the Carnegie judges, who awarded this novel first prize in the Carnegie Children's book awards as some of the press have. I can see where their issues lie, but it is such a gripping novel, I can see why it won. I haven't read any of the other Carnegie nominees, but I can't imagine that they'd be anything like The Bunker Diary.

I'd definitely recommend giving this a read and not being put off by the fact that it's billed as a children's book. Some teen fiction I have enjoyed, and some I just loathe, but this is quite adult, and also quite terrifying. If you like thrillers (which I do), you'll love the Bunker Diary. 

(Also, if you have read it- let me know. I really want to talk about the ending with someone!)

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Best Knitting & Crochet Stitch Holders To Use

Ah, stitch holders. The age old dilemma of what to use. There are a few stitch holder substitutes at your disposal when your pattern asks you to move your stitches onto a stitch holder. When I was a beginner, I didn't really know what a stitch holder was. However, it's not a misnomer, it does exactly what it says on the tin: it holds your stitches for you. 

Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
The usual suspects

You need to use stitch holders when the pattern dictates you to, for example if you're knitting a jumper, or a twisted headband. They're also useful if, like me, you get impatient and want to start another project, but need the needles from your current work. You could go and buy new ones, but it's much easier to put the stitches on a holder, put the project on hold, and come back to it later.
Here are a couple of options for different stitch holders to use for either crochet or knitting. You don't have to spend a lot of money and often the cheap alternatives (read: things you have lying around your house) are the best. 
Option One: An actual stitch holder

Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
A stitch holder
Pros: Easy to use and the stitches stay on. Very easy to slip the stitches back onto the needle, or knit from the stitch holder
Cons: I find these very easy to lose! Although that could just be me.
Option Two: A spare bit of contrasting wool
Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
A spare piece of wool
Pros: Inexpensive because you'll already have it hanging around
Cons: Difficult to get the stitches back on the needle and difficult to thread through in the first place if you don't have a darning needle

Option Three: A knitting needle or pencil
Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
A spare knitting needle
Pros: Easy to transfer the stitches and you'll definitely have some spare needles hanging around
Cons: If you're not careful, the stitches can slip off (I usually get around this by putting blu-tac on the ends) and if you're really not careful, you can confuse the held stitches for the working ones! Also depending on the length of the needle, it can get in the way
Option Four: String

Knitting Crochet Stitch Holder Alternatives
A piece of string
Pros: It's a cheap option
Cons: I actually really wouldn't recommend this. I tried it out for this blog post and it has the same problems as wool, but it tends to fall apart. Don't do it!
So, there we have it. Obviously, you can pretty much use anything you have lying around to hold the stitches on, for example pipe cleaners, garden twine, a necklace etc etc.
I'd recommend something sturdy and rigid, because it's easier to transfer the stitches back. Also something that ties, or closes so that there's no danger of the stitches falling off. That's just personal preference though! What do you use?

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Riverside Vegetaria Restaurant In Kingston

Last weekend, my grandparents and I took a stroll down the riverbank at Kingston to visit the Riverside Vegetaria. As the name suggests, they're a vegetarian restaurant and their food is brilliant! Riverside reminded me a lot of Crocus Cafe in Nottingham (which, incidentally, I should go back and visit because their pakoras are to die for). They serve simple vegetarian food with a lot of aubergine (good), chickpeas (excellent) and courgette (my current favourite). My grandparents are definitely meat and two veg people, so it was lovely of them to take me to a veggie restaurant, and they enjoyed it, so it must have been good!

Their Menu is the same all year round, but with some variations on a blackboard. I opted for the Courgette, Mushroom and Lentil bake and it was so creamy and delicious. Really, I should have gone for something a bit less calorific, but you know, #YOLO!!!!! (I'm kidding...at least I hope I am...) My grandparents went for the veggie lasagne and the Caribbean casserole and there were three empty plates at the end of the meal. We all had the sharing platter to start, which was delicious. The highlight was mushrooms cooked in a tomato sauce, which were so plump and juicy. I must work out which spices they put in because it was perfection. A fruit crumble for pudding rounded the meal off and I was one happy bunny.

I'd recommend the Riverside Vegetaria for meat eaters and veggies alike. There's not a huge amount of variation in the dishes, but I suppose that's so they can serve you faster. My only real complaint was that the waiter was a man of few words, and by few I mean 'ok.' And that was it. Maybe we caught him in a bad mood. He could have been a huge Spain fan. Who knows?!

We also went for a wander down the waterfront and I took some pictures, which you can peruse below if you care to. I'd like to walk the whole way to Hampton Court one day, but maybe when it's not so muggy. Those were some angry, overcast clouds!

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames
Bridge Over the River Thames

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Boats
House Boats aplenty!

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Red Flower Boxes
I do like a pretty red flower box

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Path
I almost felt like I was on holiday

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Swans
The swans were going mental for scraps of bread!

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Please Don't Feed The Birds
Oh the irony....

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames House Boats
If you keep walking, you get to Hampton Court

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Crazy House Boats
These people had really gone to town with the decorations

KIngston Riverside Walk River Thames Riverside Vegetaria Restaurant
The Riverside Vegetaria restaurant on, you guessed it, the riverside

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Crystal Palace Football Cake Baking Fail!

I have decided that my new arch nemesis is food colouring. Why oh why does it never turn out the colour that it is on the packet?! 

For Father's Day, my brother and I always make my Dad a cake based on one of his favourite things. Last year it was David Bowie, and this year, in the spirit of the World Cup, we made it football themed- a football on the outside, with red and blue stripes on the inside for his favourite team- Crystal Palace (Power 2 da Pulis!)

It was all going well- the batter was coming along nicely- all we had to do was add the food colouring. We'd bought the Dr Oetker Food Colourings from Tesco and a word of warning: DO NOT BUY THESE! As you can see from below, they did not turn our batter "Bright Red' and 'Sky Blue'-  instead they turned it magenta and turquoise. Not quite the colours Crystal Palace play in...

The cake itself tasted pretty good and I was happy with the way I put the fondant icing on. I mean, the pentagons could have been a bit more pentagony, but aside from that, the rest was good. Except for the stupid food colouring. I've since done some research online and apparently the gel ones are the best.

...sigh... 

There's always next year!

Crystal Palace Football Cake
A pastel coloured Palace

Crystal Palace Football Cake
Tumblr Palace, non?

David Bowie Cake
Note the different sized pupils on our David Bowie cake- detail

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Staunton Country Park, Hampshire

Last weekend I went down to Hampshire to visit a good friend. We went for a picnic (which I unfortunately didn't take a picture of but let's just say it was pretty substantial haha) in Staunton country park. The park is part of a country house, but we didn't go to the house, just the (free) park and lake. It was a glorious day, with beautiful blue skies and lots of sunshine. But with lots of sunshine come lots of kids. And screaming. And dogs. 

It did calm down a bit after a while, but the landscape is not quite so idyllic when there are families shouting and screaming... But the English countryside always pulls through.

I took quite a few photos, but have managed to whittle them down. The bright light made taking photos a little difficult, but I think I got my camera on the right settings in the end. I tried to underexpose the shots a bit to compensate for the light. No idea if that's what you're supposed to do, but it seemed to work!

The lake looks alright here, but that's because the screeching children are out of shot

I love wild flowers

The sunlight was so pretty

There was a lot of walking involved!

A creepy old door covered in ivy

The old stable block

Bizarre carved wooden statues

A lovely cowering statue...

A flower crown for the car!

What a stunning sunset- it reminds me of Hercules

A nice hobbity bridge

The English countryside is a beaut

Just chilling with nature like Wordsworth, yo.