Saturday, May 12, 2018

Eurovision 2018

It's my favourite time of year. Eurovision is here and with it, the most bizarre staging, costumes, songs and nonsense you're likely to see all year. It's quite an event and Rants is here to take you through it, piece by sparkly piece.

Cue Graham Norton and the Eurovision theme. Let's go...

A nice classy opening from Lisbon with their traditional Fado songs.

1. Ukraine
Fresh from filming the sequel to What we do in the Shadows, please welcome Mr Vampiro. He just rose out of a coffin, which doubles as a piano. He sired all the backing vocalists and then here he is playing on his coffin piano. Ahhhh, the steps are on fire. Call 999 or whatever the number is in Portugal. Those fire balls could take someone's eyes out. Oh wait, does that explain the one creepy contact's a glass eye.

2. Spain
Three notes on the piano and I already can't cope. His voice is bad, kinda like a cartoon. Did he swallow a kid? Graham mentioned it might be saccharine but really...vomit! Everywhere! Oh look at us we're so in love. Blurgh. We get it, you're shagging.

So many thighs and crotches on display and a shit tonne of attitude. Has a good beat and she has a great voice, as well as pink hair. She put it out there and that was honestly very good.

4. Lithuania
She needs to sing a bit better, especially on the low notes. It's way too sickly sweet, I feel like I'm choking on cheap perfume. Bringing your husband on stage: gross!

5. Austria
Extra in the Hunger Games? Divergent? He definitely just stepped out of a dystopian YA film franchise. Great voice though. Wait for it, oh yes, there it is, the high pitched ball squeezing bit.

6. Estonia
She's freakin' opera Elsa. She's going to break into Let it Go. A great set of lungs and a ridiculously high voice, but I don't have much else to say.

7. Norway
This song is terrible. It sounds a bit Will Smith/90s throwback. The lyrics are shit. The dancers are shit. I'd be ashamed if I had to sing something like that. How can you show your face at work on Monday?

8. Portugal
Pink hair number 2. A cute song and voice, but it became a bit background to our ongoing cheeseboard. I liked the ending when both women sang together. I fear it may be forgotten.

9. UK
We toasted to Terry Wogan with our Port that we bought in Lisbon last year.
Well done Surie. The crowd seemed to be loving it.
WTF just happened? I question the security of this place. He just took her freakin' microphone.
What a professional. She got on with it. Well done love.
According to twitter, Nigella is outraged at what just happened and the fact that no one has mentioned it.

10. Serbia
He owns those women. Someone help them escape. There's a wizard on a plinth with a recorder. It's a bit Game of Thrones meets Gladiator.

11. Germany
That's quite a head of hair. And a nice voice but it's a bit too schmaltzy for my taste. The graphics are making my eyes roll. Though I think at the end he was definitely trying to hypnotise the audience into voting for him.

12. Albania
A surprisingly good voice. Bit of a rock power ballad going on here. Costumes seem a tad over the top, a bit leathery and fetishy. But I like the Darkness style ending.

13. France
(Another actual couple) A bit sci-fi costume wise. They could have been extras in the new Star Wars except for the red trainers. Fine but not my cup of tea.

14. Czech Republic
Oh no, what just happened? He's trying to be Bruno Mars but he looks like Urkel. I did appreciate the choreography with a backpack. Who knew? It was very YA, very teen, and they had a lot of fun. A shout out to my friend Charlotte who loved the braces and immediately messaged me saying Czech Republic to win!

I saw these guys during the flag ceremony and had high hopes. The Vikings have landed. I thought they were going to be super metal, however, it was just Westlife stomping around wearing black, having grown long hair and beards.

16. Australia
I think she caught the netball and can only pivot on one foot. This will do well but it's not for me. She's trying to pretend she actually has a dance routine and is not winging it.

17. Finland
Great voice and costume. Bit of upside down singing. Lots of hand choreography. I think her four dancers are from Dr Evil's lair. She got a bit pitchy at the end but it was pretty entertaining.

18. Bulgaria
Starts with Bulgarian Will I Am. It's a bit intense and bro-tastic, but they are totally diverse and they brought a Lady Gaga lookalike with them. Some great voices. This was a good song.

19. Moldova
Opening and closing doors. It felt like something out of the Ikea catalogue. Oh my, he was taking her from behind. Love triangle in primary colours. Terrifying.

20. Sweden
Stop gyrating you Beiber wannabe. This was gross and made me pull my face in disgust. Eww. Just eww.

21. Hungary
LOVE! INSTANT LOVE! Yes! A metal group. Yes.
Energy. Anger. Aggression. Barefoot and screaming. Fire everywhere. And they're having a lovely time. What is not to love?

22. Israel
The bar in the postcard they showed, we went to and had incredible cocktails. I almost choked on my port, screaming at the TV. Anyhoo, this is spectacular. She needs to win. She made some remarkable sounds and of course acted like a chicken.

23. The Netherlands
It's all gone country. How Dutch. It's a good song but it doesn't have a chance of winning. It's too American, not Eurovision. Oh, the dancers have gone crazy. They're having a fit.

24. Ireland
This was very cute. Great voices. Very simple. Dancers acting out a same sex romance. Yes! I hope this does well. One of the only ballads I could cope with.

25. Cyprus
That costume does not look comfortable. Do the sequins chafe?
Sorry to break it to you, but you're not Beyonce. Your voice is not secure and there are no backing vocals, just everyone singing in unison, because her voice is weak.

26. Italy
It was a bit intense. Very political and serious. He's just shouting. Not my favourite Italian entry and a bit of a weird one to finish on.

Well, I have to say there were a few gems but it was all in all a little disappointing this year. And it was a shame that our girl had to cope with a stage invasion. But having just seen the final result, Israel have done it. A true testament to Eurovision. Well done, Netta. You absolute legend.

I feel like I haven't been as funny this year, but then you can only comment on what you see and there were perhaps one too many ballads and normal pop songs this year and not enough grannies churning butter whilst ice skaters lurk behind you wearing ski masks. I mean, come on Eurovision. We need the nonsense and the absolute monstrosities. Anyhoo we are done for another year.

This is Rants signing off....


Thursday, April 19, 2018

High Waisted Jeans, Multi Sport Championships and Other Distractions

Hey there. It's been a while. I'd apologise, but I've been busy. Busy attempting to compile submissions of my latest novel. Busy watching too much Commonwealth Games. Busy writing emails that largely go unread. Busy eating chocolate and putting on weight. You know? Busy!

Yesterday I got on the Overground train, where there isn't really a crazy rush hour, so it's quite pleasant when you have to take it in what would otherwise be construed as rush hour. And a stop after me, a young woman got on, probably in her mid to late twenties. I moved aside to let her past me - and my giant backpack on wheels that I have to cart all my instruments around in - and she just brushed past this guy stood on the other side of the carriage from me. Just a light brush, nothing really. And anyone travelling in London on any form of transport expects more than a light brush past from their fellow commuters. But he was instantly enraged and he physically shoved her away and told her to fuck off and just stay away from him. The entire carriage turned towards him but he held his ground and she shrank away, though she did say back that she hadn't done anything.

I asked if she was alright and she was gently carried off by other passengers to stand in a 'safer' part of the train, away from the massive man who could probably crush most of us with his bare hands. Not joking. The guy was super tall and built like a brick wall. And he continued to mutter to himself about not touching him, and just staying away from him.

And believe me, we were. This huge arc of space opened up around him, which is difficult to achieve on an 8.30 train, even if it's not usually crazy full. Every single woman in the carriage, which was around eighty percent of the carriage, had their eyes on him. If he had made another move, I think at least ten of us would have jumped on him and scratched his eyes out. They looked primed and ready to go. It's certainly one way to bring a bunch of strangers together.

And at every subsequent stop, there was a communal intake of breath - will he be getting off here and then we can relax? - which had to be let out because he stayed on almost as long as I did. I can honestly say there were a lot of us reading books, but we had one eye on the guy the entire time. Losing yourself in the narrative was not an option.

Eventually, he started collecting his stuff to leave, and he must have felt the hatred in the eyes that glared at him. He must have been feeling that all along the journey, and he started making his way into the other side of the carriage. Again, all eyes followed. And I saw his head bobbing between people and then a hand raised for a high five. He had gone back to the woman and apologised to her.
And then he got off the train and we let out our collective breath knowing that the threat was gone.

The apology doesn't get him off the hook. Not in my eyes. I mean, how many times will he do it again? And it could be worse. So much worse. What if that person had been elderly? What if the person had fallen down? What if the person had been pregnant? What if the person had been a child or teenager? However, the fact that he even went over to apologise to her was certainly not something I had expected. Though, perhaps the force of a hundred or so eyes staring you down the entire journey could physically move you to do something?

So there you go. Never a dull moment...

Now, I need to vent about high waist jeans. They are uncomfortable as fuck! If you sit down in them, they shove themselves, button first, into your stomach reserves. And just try eating in them, you'll wish you were in your pyjamas. I'm telling you. All my jeans have always sat on the hip and have been wide leg or flared - I still shun the skinny and always will. However, the only flared jeans you can get now are high waist and super uncomfortable. I long for the early 00s again, when jeans were fabulous.

And I know the chocolate eating doesn't help, but they make me feel confined and give me really bad trapped wind. Yes, I said it. They're uncomfortable and restrictive and it's such a shame because I bought two pairs. I do really like the way they look but I feel like I'll have to lose half a stone to be able to wear them remotely comfortably, and only when stood up. They are a standing jean. most definitely. Most of the time if I'm sat down the button is open. At the cinema, in the house, the button is open. Well, in the house I often give up and go and put on comfy trousers or pyjama bottoms.

I really wouldn't have coped with the time of corsets would I? I like to be able to breath and move and sit and walk and eat comfortably. I hate feeling squashed or restrained. Ah well, with this nice weather, I'll more like be in my shorts and they're super comfy. Hooray!

I miss the Commonwealth Games, though on the other hand, I'm glad it's over, because there were way too many distractions. If it wasn't the first five days of Gymnastics, then it was the next five days of Athletics. And if it wasn't either of those, then it was Netball and Beach Volleyball and Hockey and Swimming and Diving - really, where do they put their willies in those teeny shorts? - and if you're really procrastinating, you'll even get involved in the Lawn Bowls. Yes, there I said it. I became involved in the Lawn Bowls. Don't judge me. I just love a multi sport championship, clearly even more than writing my synopses. Well obviously. I freakin' hate writing synopses. And the fact that every agent wants a different length is just about killing me. I have to make four different synopses and I have yet to write one. Yay!

And so, I sit here and write this blog - yet another distraction, but a welcome one - whilst men in high- vis vests stomp by my window, on the fifth floor, because of the annoying scaffolding that will be up until September. My view is blocked. The sunlight is blocked and they have put some weird blue netting up, which is great in that no one can get in from the outside, but it also completely warps the view and the reality of the sky outside. And they drill and they stomp and they sometimes sing, and they peer in through the windows, but I can't always have them closed. I need some natural light.

Last thing. And I know I complain about this every time a friend of mine has a kid, but the card situation and the gender being determined by blue and pink has to stop! I liked lots of cards but they were specifically for a baby boy, just because they had elements of blue on them, and my friends have just had a girl. Now, we all know my hatred for the colour pink, but this just fuels it. And so, I had to search for a card with other colours, different wording and eventually found one with a big yellow sun that said: Welcome Little One. Is that so hard? Thank you Caroline Gardner, courtesy of Paperchase.

Alas, I must go. Parent emails will not write themselves, though I would bloody love if it they did. And then I must Synopsisise - I'm just make words up now - because they certainly don't write themselves either.

Thanks for reading.
Enjoy the sunshine.


Friday, January 26, 2018

More Tales from the Underground

Hello Readers. How is January treating you? I know it can be a sucker punch of a month, when you're already feeling a little larger than usual after the Christmas celebrations, and tired of the rain and cold, and stupid storms with ridiculous names - which I guess they give them in order to humanise them, and then you have a name to yell as you shout to the skies and curse them for all eternity. And that return to work or study or school is like going out into said, absurdly named storm, wearing only underwear, but still, the year has to start somewhere, right?

In this rant I'd like to tell you about two things that happened on the tube this week. I am using the tube and trains a lot more than I used to do, and thankfully, the 46 bus less and less. We all know how I feel about that stringy turd of a bus route.

And so, I'll start with the annoying thing that happened to me yesterday. I was sat reading my Italian Short Stories for Intermediate Readers book - oh yes, I'm intermediate now. Whoop. Though I still have to underline a lot of words and circle things in a WTF does that mean sort of way - when two women sat either side of me and as the train moved off, they both encroached on me with their elbows, taking over both arm rests and caging me in. I'm not sure how they expected me to make myself any smaller. It was like I wasn't even there. Rude.

I tried to fight back, silently, by rearranging myself and trying to fan out my elbows a bit, but the territory had been staked. I mean, I expect this from men, but women of the world, I thought we were together in solidarity. I thought we looked out for one another. If you start this, then there's no escape. I will be forever trapped between other people's elbows. Though I can't really ask women to stop this because men do it all the time and I'm all about equality. But hey, stop it! All of you. I need space too.

And then to the wonderful thing that happened on Wednesday. I was reading my Sylvia Plath Letters Home book, though it's more of a brick, and some guy taps me on the shoulder and gestures for me to take out my ear buds. I oblige and then we have a lovely conversation about the book and about Plath and how incredible she was, and how young, and how tragic it was. And people say nobody talks to each other in London and we hate strangers and we all keep to ourselves and it's unfriendly and a hostile place to live. And I say, bugger off.

Yes, people mainly keep to themselves, but that could be for any number of reasons and when you do have these moments with complete strangers, bonding over a pair of incredible shoes, or a haircut that you think is gorgeous and you just have to tell the person, or you notice someone reading a book by an author you love, or you see someone writing sheet music whilst sat on the floor of the train and you want to comment, then these moments become even more special.

Thank you book guy. And please everyone, watch those elbows. I have as much right to arm rests as you do.

Just a short one today. Thanks for reading.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Year of Running: 2017

This blog was supposed to be written over the Christmas break in between Italian feasts and northern delights, but unfortunately it didn't happen.

For those of you that don't know, 2017 was a big fundraising year for me. I set myself a challenge to run ten x ten kilometre runs over the course of the year, with the extra challenge of getting under ten hours time for the lot. As always my fundraising was for the wonderful Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Charity. And I was hoping to make around £300 towards the incredible work they do there, transforming lives through music.

I had finished 2016 with a new PB of 57.02 and was desperate to continue my fast streak, and so my first run of the year was a chilly Saturday morning in Victoria Park and it turns out I run quite fast when it's cold but calm.

Race 1: Victoria Park Saturday 14th January 2017: The One Where I got a PB!

With my musical socks, skirt and scarf on, and a banner on my back explaining my fundraising goals, I set off wearing number 1333 for my first run of the year. Sadly, my charity t-shirt was hidden underneath the long sleeved layer I had to wear as it was a trifle cold that morning. But I was wearing it.

And so, with no kilometre markers, only mile markers, and a three lap course, I set off feeling confident and just wanting to get under the hour. As I passed the mile markers, I realised I was actually going quite fast and tried to keep up the pace. This was the run where I actually realised that 10 km is not 6 miles, it's actually 6.2 miles - I know, I've done a lot of these races and should have noticed that sooner, but when you deal with kilometre markers then you just don't question it. And so, I actually passed through 6 miles at about 54 minutes, not realising that I had another 0.2 of a mile to go. Anyhoo, I crossed the line in 56.18, smashing my previous PB and making a great start to the challenge.

1 race down, 9 to go and currently 3.42 under time. Whoop!

With my medal and banana at the finish. Happy Helen.

Race 2: Lee Valley Velopark Saturday 25th February 2017: The One That Broke Me

I knew this race would be tough, as I had run the Velopark mile before as part of the Newham Anniversary Run, which runs every year in July to mark the anniversary of the 2012 Olympic games. There are a lot of ups and downs and it would be six laps of the same mile course, with those extra 0.2 of a mile at the beginning.

What I hadn't factored in was that we were being visited by various storms that week. I think it was the tail end of Doris and the beginning of Ewan, which made an already tough course, even tougher. And the only flat, straight bit, had the wind pushing against you. This run was not fun. I was not  happy. The least said, the better.

I hadn't even brought my phone with me to take a photograph, but a lovely fellow runner, pinned my fundraising message on my back and sent me this photo on twitter. Thank you for that.

However, with a time of 61.25. Boo! And extremely sore legs, this was definitely one to forget.

2 runs down, 8 to go and currently 2.17 under target.

Run 3: Hyde Park Sunday 26th March 2017: The One That Felt Really Tough

The only picture I have from this run is a professional photo that I bought afterwards. Usually I don't bother but look at me beating all those men. Ha ha. Anyway, you'll have to take my word for it. I was cold, I was tired and it felt much longer than two 5 km laps, but I made it in 58.36 and it was good to be back under the hour.


3 down, 7 to go and currently 3 minutes 41 under time.

Run 4: Peckham 10 km Saturday 6th May 2017: The One With That was Badly Organised

Oh dear this run was badly organised. From the mile long queues to be told your running number, only to then have to queue to pick up your physical number, to the quest to find which tree was the start line, this was an interesting one. No official timing, so I had my timing watch and some very inconsistent kilometre markers.

  Apparently this tree is the start line. Who knew?

Here's me on the sprint finish.
  And here's me and partner after finishing. I'm not going to lie to you, I prefer running alone. But on a day like that it was lovely to have someone to vent frustrations with and laugh it out.

4 down, 6 to go and currently 5.11 under time.

Race 5: Vitality 10,000 Green Park Monday 29th May 2017: The One Where I was Ill

I love the Vitality 10,000 run every Bank Holiday at the end of May. I run it every year regardless of whether I am fundraising. I love the course, which is fast and mostly flat. I love the big event feeling. And despite feeling terribly ill and knowing I probably shouldn't run, I did anyway. And I am so glad I did! Finishing in 58.27 without the ability to breathe through my nose, was definitely an achievement and of course I will be back there this year at my favourite run.

5 down, 5 to go and currently 6.44 under time. Half way!

Race 6: Turks Head 10 km Sunday 11th June 2017: The One That was Extremely Hot

I was supposed to run this race with a friend and then my partner, but due to illnesses and other reasons, I ran it alone. And they called it a fun run, but for me it was anything but fun, it was about times and the challenge and waiting minutes to cross foot bridges, and on one of the hottest days of the year so far, I found myself melting.

To finish with a time of 60.01 was actually quite impressive as I had to wait at various river bridge crossings and at times we were running in the roads dodging traffic and other runners as the pavements were super narrow. But it was definitely a change from the hyper organised Vitality run.

6 down, 4 to go and currently 6.43 under target.

Race 7: Newham Anniversary Run Sunday 2nd July 2017: The One Where I was Over the Moon

I have run this race four times out of the five it has been run, and I have always struggled due to the heat and that pesky mile in the Velopark, but this year I finally made it under an hour, and not just under an hour: 57.52. I was delighted! And we usually finish in the Olympic stadium by running 300 metres on the track, but as they were preparing for the Para World Athletics we instead sprinted the 100 metres. Usain Bolt eat your heart out.


7 down, 3 to go and currently 8.51 under time. Whoop!

Race 8: Lee Valley Velopark (Again) Saturday 30th September 2017: The One Where I Defeated the Velopark

Believe me, I did not want to brave the Velopark races again. It is an evil course and I still had the lingering memory of February's race in my mind. However, due to various weekend commitments, I had few other options and so I braved the Velopark for the second time.

This time I had a little sunshine and a bit of wind but no storms chasing me. And I smashed that course finishing in 57.13 which was my third fastest time ever at a 10 km. Yes! Yes! Yes!


8 down, 2 to go and currently 11.36 under time.

Race 9: Virtual Run Hampstead Heath: Sunday 22nd October 2017: The One Where I Smashed my PB

You might be thinking, virtual run? What? It was purchased for me by a friend for my birthday and I had to run in October and prove I had run a certain distance in order to claim the medal, which was a Nightmare Before Christmas themed medal with Jack Skellington on it. Cool or what? So I used a GPS timing watch and set off on Hampstead Heath, with no clear race path, and just kept going until we hit 10 km. (My partner was with me.)

I knew we had set off fast but I had no idea how fast until we completed just over 10 km in 55.32. Say what?!


9 down, 1 to go and currently 16.04 under target. Yes!

Normally, I would have run the Trick or Treat Halloween run as part of my challenge, however this year they changed it to a 5 km race. Boo! But anyhoo, I got a new PB at 5 km (26.02) after a night out - not too shabby - and here is a picture of me dressed as a pumpkin.


Race 10: Olympic Park Sunday 10th December 2017: The One Where it Snowed 

And so to the final race of the year and I was back at one of my favourite places in London: Olympic Park. This was the course I had run last year and gained a huge PB at, and so I was confident and also knew I had a lot of leeway with the time. However, I did not counter in the snow factor.

My feet were soggy throughout. The slush and wet floor was slippery, and even the tube failed us, so I only arrived five minutes before the start. I had just enough time to pin on my number and go. No warm up, no stretches. Eek.

It snowed the entire time and my feet were practically numb, but actually running in the snow was tough but fun. I had never run in the snow before and I even met an elf along the way who had a nice chat with me.

To finish in under an hour, in those conditions was a proud moment, and not only that, but the end of my challenge for the year. And I smashed it! Finishing that race in 58.43 meant that after 10 races, my culminated time was 9 hours 42 minutes 39 seconds, which was 17.21 under target.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

I would like to do a huge shout out to who are a fantastic race organising team and four of my ten charity runs were taken care of by them. They are fantastically run and always full of helpful, supportive volunteers. I love my banana after the race and all the great themed medals.

Also, a huge shout out to the Vitality 10,000 which is a wonderful run that I take part in every year. If you like a big race and want to feel part of something huge, then the course is flat and fast and so well organised. I love it.

Finally, I raised a whopping £354.94 for Nordoff-Robbins and would like to thank all my sponsors and friends who have supported me along the way. What a great year of running and I may be getting older, but I seem to be getting faster too. Bring on 2018!

Thank you for reading.

Rants (Helen)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017: A Year in Books

I finally stopped eating long enough to write my year in books, 2017 blog. It's been a great year of variety in terms of authors and genres. I had my first foray into graphic novels and almost completed a 52 point reading challenge - more on that later. As always, there is a mixture of kindle books, library books, borrowed and bought books. And without further ado, here it is, my year in books.

Books I read in January:
  1. The Monstrous Child - Francesca Simon (Reading Challenge: A book based on mythology.)
  2. Soulmates - Holly Borne (Kindle)
  3. The Winter Over - Matthew Iden (Kindle) (Reading Challenge: A book with one of the four seasons in the title.)
  4. Continents - Jim Crace
  5. The Devil's Larder - Jim Crace (Reading Challenge: A book about food.)
  6. Harvest - Jim Crace (Reading Challenge: A book with a red spine.)
  7. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein (Reading Challenge: A novel set during war time.)
  8. Holding up the Universe - Jennifer Niven (Reading Challenge: A bestseller from 2016.)
  9. Bridget Jones's Baby - The Diaries: Helen Fielding (Reading Challenge: A book with a title that's a character's name.)
  10. Mother MOTHER - Koren Zailckons (Reading Challenge: A book with a family-member term in the title.)
  11. Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion (Kindle) (Reading Challenge: The first book in a series you haven't read before.)
  12. Evelyn: After - Victoria Helen Stone (Reading Challenge: A book by an author who uses a pseudonym.)
As you can see January was a good reading month. For me it is a bleak month and so I usually over compensate by reading a shed load and escaping into as many worlds as I possibly can. It was also a good month for ticking off quite a few of the reading challenges and most of them by fluke. The winner of best book for this month goes to Holly Bourne and her YA book: Soulmates. I love this writer and for me she can do no wrong. 
Books I read in February
  1. The Cry of the Owl - Patricia Highsmith (Reading Challenge: A book you got from a used book sale.)
  2. The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
  3. The Children Act - Ian McEwan (Reading Challenge: A book from a genre/subgenre that you've never heard of - Religious and inspirational.)
  4. Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy - Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman (Reading Challenge: A book with multiple authors.)
  5. A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki (Reading Challenge: A book about a difficult topic.)
  6. Beautiful Broken Things - Sara Barnard (Kindle) 
  7. Fairytales of Gold - Alan Garner (Reading Challenge: A book you loved as a child.)
  8. The Radleys - Matt Haig (Reading Challenge: A book you've read before that never fails to make you laugh.)
February was also a good month for the reading challenge and for me it is usually even bleaker than January, so again, escapism is the key to survival. Leading the charge this month is Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, another YA wonder. 

Books I read in March
  1. Take the Key and Lock her up (Embassy Row #3) - Ally Carter 
  2. Cuckoo - Keren David
  3. Dead of Night - Michael Grant
  4. Wilderness Tips - Margaret Atwood (Reading Challenge: A book set in the wilderness.)
  5. Frog Music - Emma Donoghue
  6. The Ladybird Book of the Zombie Apocalypse
  7. Omicidio alla Modo - Cinzia Medaglia
  8. Hag-Seed - Margaret Atwood (Reading Challenge: A book that was a story within a story.)
  9. The Guilded Cage -Vic James
  10. Flawed - Celia Ahern (Kindle) 
  11. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (kindle) (Reading Challenge: A book mentioned in another book.)
  12. The Doll Funeral - Kate Hamer (Reading Challenge: A book set in two different time periods.)
  13. Omicidio in Paserella - Cinzia Medaglia
March was a good month for Italian short stories and novellas. I ticked off another few reading challenges and enjoyed a nice mix of adult and YA books. I chose Frog Music by Emma Donoghue as my top book of the month. Everything I have read by her, I have really enjoyed. She is a talented author and if you haven't checked her out yet, then I highly recommend you do. 

Books I read in April
  1. Is it Just me? - Miranda Hart (Reading Challenge: A bestseller from a genre you don't normally read.)
  2. We Were Liars - E.Lockhart (Reading Challenge: A book with an unreliable narrator.)
  3. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (Reading Challenge: A book with am eccentric character.)
  4. Black Light Express - Philip Reeve
  5. SAGA Volume 1 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Reading Challenge: A book with pictures.)
  6. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
  7. Fire Colour One - Jenny Valentine
  8. Boneshaker - Cherie Priest (Reading Challenge: A steampunk novel.)
  9. Italian Short Stories for Beginners Volume 2 - Olly Richards
I like the mix of books I read in April, from comedy/autobiography to steampunk, to treasured classics and more YA wonders. But the pinnacle of the month was my first delve into the world of graphic novels with SAGA Volume 1. The illustrations are incredible and whilst you get through each volume at the speed of light, you can't wait for the next one. Thank you to my friend for recommending I start there. The author/illustrator combination is amazing and long may they continue this saga. 

Books I read in May
  1. SAGA Volume 2 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  2. SAGA Volume 3 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  3. Black Moon - Kenneth Calhoun
  4. Release - Patrick Ness (Reading Challenge: A book written by someone you admire.)
  5. Charm and Strange - Stephanie Kuehn
  6. The House on Stone's Throw Island - Dan Poblocki
  7. Lost and Found - Brooke Davis (Reading Challenge: A book by an author from a country you've never visited.)
  8. How to be an Alien - Mikes and Bentley (Reading Challenge: A book you bought on a trip.)
  9. Saint Mazie - Jami Attenberg (Reading Challenge: A book about an interesting woman.)
  10. Lady Midnight (TDA #1) - Cassandra Clare (Re-read)
  11. Morte in Maratona - Cinzia Medaglia
  12. Lord of Shadows (TDA #2) - Cassandra Clare
May became my hardback-obsessive month. Six of the twelve titles were read in hard back (4-9 on the list) and I just really enjoyed reading them. I always take the paper cases off, which often reveals a very sexy hard cover. There is always an air of excitement surrounding a Cassandra Clare new release and she did not disappoint. And the same with Patrick Ness. You can imagine how giddy I was having both of their new releases this month. However, the top honours go to Lost and Found by Brooke Davis, which I found in the local book shop in Kentish Town, on sale, and I loved it. The characters are so unique and eccentric and there is so much emotional depth and humour in it. I deeply recommend this book. 

Books I read in June
  1. Jackdaw Summer - David Almond
  2. Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee
  3. The Power - Naomi Alderman (Reading Challenge: A book recommended by an author you love.)
  4. My Name is Leon - Kit de Waal (Reading Challenge: A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you.)
  5. Dolce Vita - A. De Guili and C.M Naddeo
  6. The Waves - Virginia Woolf
  7. Jacob's Room - Virginia Woolf
  8. Un Amore per la tua Cucina - Cinzia Medaglia
  9. Surfacing - Margaret Atwood
June was a really tough month for choosing a favourite book. David Almond is always up there and with Harper Lee's triumphant sequel and women taking over the world in The Power, it was tough, tough, tough. But eventually, I chose the lovely, lovely, Leon. This book is heart breaking and so beautifully written, you can't help but fall in love with Leon. Thank you Kit de Waal for creating him. He's a superstar!

Books I read in July
  1. Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation - Lynne Truss (Reading Challenge: A book with a subtitle.)
  2. The Beneath - S.C. Ransom
  3. Shadowmagic - John Lenahan (Reading Challenge: A book involving a mythical creature.)
  4. The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood
  5. Lady Killer (in Italian) - Joelle Jones and James. S. Rich
  6. The Stone Gods - Jeanette Winterson
  7. Heartbreak Hotel - Deborah Moggach (Reading challenge: A book set in a hotel.)
  8. Demon Dentist - David Walliams (Reading Challenge: A book with a cat on the cover.)
July saw me read my first David Walliams book, lent to me by the eight year old I pick up from school twice a week. He is also a voracious reader, which is nice. We have lots to talk about. It was a good month for the reading challenge and me improving my Italian. The winner of July was The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, lent to me by one of my favourite people on the planet. it's about women and relationships and it is classic Atwood. I love her. 

Books I read in August
  1. Gender Games - Juno Dawson
  2. Chasing the Stars - Malorie Blackman (Reading Challenge: A book by a person of colour.)
  3. The Graces - Laure Eve (Kindle)
  4. The One Memory of Flora Banks - Emily Barr (Kindle) (Reading Challenge: A book involving travel.)
  5. Caraval - Stephanie Garber (Kindle)
  6. The Adventures of the Princess and Mr Whipple - Patrick Rothfuss
I cheated this month. I chose a non-fiction favourite and a fiction favourite. It's my blog and I can do what I like. Gender Games by Juno Dawson is a book about gender and how it screws us up from birth. Not only should every parent and every expectant parent read it, but just all people should read it. Juno executes her tale with her usual northern charm and humour, and punctuates it with plenty of true stories from her rather interesting life. And Caraval is escapism at its best. I loved this fantasy world and would quite happily have leapt in and joined in the game. I look forward to more from Stephanie Garber.

Books I read in September
  1. Here's to you Rachel Robinson - Judy Blume
  2. Unconventional - Maggie Harcourt (Kindle)
  3. My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout
  4. How to Stop Time - Matt Haig (Reading Challenge: A book that takes place over a character's life span.)
  5. When Dimple met Rishi - Sandhya Menon (Kindle)
  6. When Mr Dog Bites - Brian Conaghan (Reading Challenge: A book by or about a person with a disability.)
  7. Sweetfreak - Sophia Mckenzie
  8. The Sun is Also a Star - Nicole Yoon (Kindle)
  9. Salem's Lot - Stephen King (Kindle)
I enjoyed my September reads. It was a great month of horror, love, and laughter. This was another tough month to decide on the best book, but due to the fact that you had to prise my kindle out of my hands in order to go to work, eat and/or sleep, the top honour goes to Maggie Harcourt. I could not put Unconventional down. The characters and the premise were so real and honest. I would quite happily have coexisted with them. I highly recommend this book. 

Books I read in October
  1. It Only Happens in the Movies - Holly Bourne (Kindle) (Reading Challenge: A book published in 2017.)
  2. Amiche per la Pelle (My first full length Italian novel. It took me months to get through it, but I persevered!) - Laila Wadia (Reading Challenge: A book about an immigrant or refugee.)
  3. Black Friday - Alex Kava (Reading Challenge: A book with a month or day of the week in the title.)
  4. The World's Worst Children - David Walliams
  5. Clockwork Prince (TID #2) - Cassandra Clare (Audiobook) (Reading Challenge: An audiobook.)
  6. Pride and Prejudice a Graphic Novel - Austen, Edginton, Deas
  7. Transparent - Natalie Whipple
  8. Under my Hat: Tales from the Cauldron - Edited by Jonathon Strahan
  9. SAGA Volume 4 - Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  10. The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
Ordinarily, on any given month, Holly Bourne would be likely to win best book, but the powerhouse that is Angie Thomas and her incredible novel: The Hate U Give, left everyone waiting in the wings. This book is powerful and real and necessary to the world. I am not giving anything away, you will have to read it to find out. But it is spectacular. 

Book I read in November
  1. IT - Stephen King (Kindle) (Reading Challenge: A book that's more than 800 pages.)
  2. Il Segreto di Julia - Cinzia Medaglia
  3. Halloween Party - Agatha Christie (Reading Challenge: A book set around a holiday other than Christmas.)
You may notice a distinct lack of titles in November and there are a couple of reasons for this. Number one being that IT is over one thousand pages long and takes a good while to read. Also, I was writing a novel myself for NaNoWriMo and had only thirty days to do so, which takes a lot of time and brain power. IT won the month, of course, not that it had much competition. But the level of detail in this book is extraordinary. Man, I would love to sit down with that chap. 

Books I read in December
  1. Our Kind of Traitor - John le Carre (Reading Challenge: An espionage thriller.)
  2. Railsea - China Mieville (Reading Challenge: A book recommended by a librarian.)
  3. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell (Reading Challenge: A book from a nonhuman perspective.)
  4. Reckless 3: The Golden Yarn - Cornelia Funke (Reading Challenge: A book that's been on your TBR list for way too long.)
  5. On Writers and Writing - Margaret Atwood (Reading Challenge: A book with career advice.)
  6. The Circle - Dave Eggers (Reading Challenge: A book that's becoming a movie in 2017.)
As you can see, December was all about trying to complete my reading challenge, which I almost did, but sadly I had one challenge I failed to complete, which was to read a book of letters. I have the book, which is letters from Sylvia Plath to her friends and family, but it is a large book with very small print and there was no way I could finish it before the end of the year. But still, 51/52 on the reading challenge and 105 books read altogether is not too shabby, 2017!
The final winner of the year is The Circle by Dave Eggers which is terrifyingly creepy and so realistic. It is also a film on Netflix, with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, so you should check it out, but not to be too cliche, the book is way better than the film. They cut out all the sex from the film too. So definitely read the book!

And that's it, my year in books, which due to a saving error in blogger, I've just had to write out most of it twice. Yay! I just love wasting hours of my life. I hope I have inspired or recommended a book to some of you, or maybe just entertained you enough for you to keep reading. And here's to the next year of reading. Let's hope we find new worlds to visit and new horrors to scare us and new voices to guide us. 

Thanks for reading this, now go and read a book. 


Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Good Ole Christmas Catch Up

Well Rant readers. It's almost the end of another year - seriously, how do we get through them so fast - and I realised I've been absent a lot this year. So, as it's Christmas - as if you could possibly escape the fact - I thought a good ole Christmas catch-up may suffice.

Now this is no ordinary catch-up, this is a Christmas catch-up. (Note how many times I've already said the word Christmas and then watch a couple of the shit Christmas films - apologies, I mean the 'festive favourites' on Netflix - and note how many times the word Christmas is thrown before other words, just so you know which holiday you're dealing with. For instance, it's a Christmas miracle, a Christmas photograph, a Christmas kiss, a Christmas piss, a Christmas get the point.)

And speaking of shit Christmas films, which we at Flat 19 are rather fond of, because of the schmaltzy, sickening, wholesome nonsense of it all, I have to say Netflix has got a few gems this year. And you'll start to notice the same actors appearing in them over again. Yes you, the guy who is also in Bitten. Ha ha. You're in at least two of them, probably more. You have to have a certain face to be able to pull off such sweet smelling tosh as this. But really, when you're putting up the decorations, or pottering about the house, or you have little to no brain capacity as it's the end of the year and you're done, then these types of films are perfect. No brain power required.

And I thought Netflix calling out the people who had re-watched the Christmas Prince film over and over, was hilarious! Though it made me realise they know how many times I've re-watched Season 1 of Riverdale. Ooops. Ah well. I'm not ashamed. And I'm sure some people will have watched it many more times than I have.

Anyhoo, enough about that, let me take you back a couple of months to Halloween. This year we had decided to do something big in London. I love Halloween. I love dressing up as something other than myself - that gets old! So, we booked a Halloween Ball at an old theatre and were promised entertainment and all sorts of immersive theatre and music and excitement. There were various rooms and it would be going on from 9pm until 4am. Now this was the Friday before Halloween and also the release date of Stranger Things 2. And so, I had no intention of getting there early, as I wanted at least two episodes before we left. And I got just that.

After some umming and ah-ing I settled on: gothic air hostess as my costume. And pleased with it, I was. I basically raided all my black and red wear including a corset and so many accessories from my more alternative days. And it went something like this:

I was thrilled with the wig, which I might add was purchased from the pound shop the previous year. Not too shabby for a quid. And so, after our two episodes of Stranger Things 2 and a nice dinner to counteract the inevitable alcohol, we set off, making a few friends along the way, most of whom couldn't understand why we were dressed up, as Halloween was still 4 days away. And we arrived to a queue and a lot of youth. They had made a great effort with the dressing of the venue and there was a huge space to dance, however, when we went to explore further, that's when we found the free breasts and unnecessary willies. Yes I am a prude, but really, the guy who's costume consisted of a chain around his willy..........what? I saw the same set of breasts too many times and there was a room where people were being massaged by the severed limbs of shop mannequins. Upstairs there was a feasting room where naked servants were feeding you by hand. We did not eat. These performers later came downstairs and danced in the caged with many a willy a flopping. Hooray for my myopic eyes.

And so, we concluded that a lot of work had gone into it and all the live music performances and the effort put in was great. There was even a room where you could lie in your coffin, choose a song for your funeral and then with headphones on, people could dance at your wake. Macabre but brilliant! But, the nudity was a bit much. The last thing you want to accidentally catch a hold of whilst dancing is someone else's genitals. Or is that just me?

And so, moving on to November, which was a busy month for old Rants here, I took on the challenge of NaNoWriMo. Those of you unfamiliar with this lengthy acronym, it means: National Novel Writing Month, and it is a worldwide challenge for people who want to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It's about discipline and making time to write and working towards a deadline, and having a goal and pushing yourself to create something without really having time to think decisions through. I completed the challenge once before in 2014 and was ready to hit back with a sequel to the first book, which meant a lot of re-reading and trying to remember what the crap had happened in the first book.

I wrote seat of my pants style, which means no planning, and it was much tougher than last time, as you actually had to have things make sense and correspond to the first book. You couldn't go off on too many a tangent otherwise you lost the overall framework - not that there was an overriding framework - and it was a lot of fun, but hard work. Not least of all because 3 of the weekends in November we were away, either at my parents, visiting the Giant's Causeway, or with friends on a boat trip.

Have ideas, will travel. And so NaNoWriMo 2017, became all about where are you going to write and how exactly are you going to fit it in and what mode of transport are you going to be on? Oh and I also had a week off work because I caught the dreaded flu and even writing for half an hour became too much as it completely drained me. So how I managed to complete it a day early with over 51,300 words, I'll never know, though I fear it was at the expense of my personal hygiene and my ability to look after myself or the flat.

At the time I channeled a little Dr Suess and came up with this:

Would you, at midnight on a delayed train?
Would you keep writing with the thump of the rain?
Would you, could you on an aeroplane?
Would you NaNoWriMo in the air, whilst turbulence bounced you everywhere?
Could you in an airport lounge whilst waiting for your plane to ground?
Would you, would you on a boat?
Would you write on a thing that floats?
Could you write on and on whilst past you swam the white, white swan?

And so we make it back to December and all the shit that comes with the last month of the year, whether it's family guilt trips or the stress of present buying, or the fact that the world is crumbling around us and the powers that be are still the powers that be, or you have sixty reports to write, or you're just sick of Christmas before it even begins, and that's where we find ourselves.

Does anyone else see someone - probably their other half or a friend - wrapping up and just think, no, stop, please, enough. I had to stop A from massacring some presents yesterday. I'm not fastidious about many things, but after years of lectures on the subject of wrapping, from my mum, who is much better than I am, I couldn't not say anything.

This year is an Italian Christmas followed by a Wigan second Christmas and New Year, so I have set myself very strict ground rules, to ensure I don't achieve full whale status by the end of 2017:

  • No bread with meals. It's not like they are short on carbs in Italy. 
  • No second helpings, not even of lasagne or tortellini in brodo. (This will be hard come the 25th. My resolve may weaken.
  • If I'm full, don't go beyond the level that is comfortable. 
  • Go for a run every other day. 
Well, I'd better skoot as it's almost lunchtime here. Wherever you are for the holidays, I wish you all joy and cheer. If Christmas is a bad time for you, then I wish you the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other and just see it through. It is actually only one day though the way it's thrown down our throats from August onward, you wouldn't think so. You can do it. You can get through it. 

Rants out for now. Thanks for the catch-up. 


Monday, October 2, 2017

Wouldn't it be nice.........?

Dear readers,

As we wake up to yet another incident of innocent people in terrifying, life-threatening situations, I pose these questions:
Wouldn't it be nice if, for once, we could wake up and not hear about a gunman shooting his way through Vegas, or Police brutality in Spain?
Wouldn't it be nice if acid attacks were put on hold and all bomb making would cease?
Wouldn't it be nice if no more vans or lorries were driven through crowds of innocent people?
Wouldn't it be nice if weapons were put down?
Wouldn't it be nice to not have the threat of nuclear war, due to a few egos and some cross continental dick wars?
Wouldn't it be nice to not have to hear the words President Donald Trump?
Wouldn't it be nice to not have to hear the word Brexit?
Wouldn't it be nice to have a day without murder, rape, abuse or violence?
Wouldn't it be nice to have a day without racism or sexism?
Wouldn't it be nice for women to be equals and for all cultures and traditions to respect and honour women?
Wouldn't it be nice to have no gang wars or Mafia or drug lords?
Wouldn't it be nice to have no assholes in powerful positions and to have governments that knew what the hell they were doing?
Adding to that, wouldn't it be nice to have some governments that actually gave two shits about their people and not themselves?
Wouldn't it be nice if all lives were seen as equal?
Wouldn't it be nice for people to have enough to eat and somewhere to sleep?
Wouldn't it be nice to feel safe and secure wherever you are in the World?
Wouldn't it be nice for the wars to end?
Wouldn't it be nice to be able to trust the people in power, as they make huge decisions about your lives?
Wouldn't it be nice to survive until the next day?