Sunday Salon: Taking a break

The Sunday Salon

A week after getting home from a fortnight in France, it doesn’t quite feel like I never had a holiday at all, but the holiday relaxation is certainly fading fast.

As I mentioned while I was away, I didn’t get much reading done on holiday. I don’t know if that was because the books I read weren’t very absorbing, or because I was distracted by holiday stuff (Places to see! People to spend time with!) or because I’ve given myself too much reading that had to get done this year and not enough reading for fun, so that relaxing on holiday meant doing less reading. Whichever it was, I was disappointed to have only read a book and a half in two weeks. But since coming home I’ve powered through two and half books, all of which have pulled me right in and been a delight. So was it the choice of books after all, or did I need a reading break?

What about you? Do you ever need a break from reading? Does it worry you when it happens?

One of the good things about being home is that we can throw ourselves into the life of the city again. Friday night I went to see a production of Macbeth at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre. It was innovative, using electronic music and other modern effects to heavily cut the running time and really concentrate on the themes of madness, ambition and guilt. It was strange, intense and moving. Kudos to Filter theatre company for such a bold adaptation.

I’m going to get back to reading now. Maybe I can make it three books in a week!

Sunday Salon: En vacances

The Sunday Salon

This week we’ve been on holiday in Normandy with friends. Weather’s been, er, iffy but we managed to grab a couple of afternoons in the pool/on the trampoline (I love that the gîte has a trampoline!) in-between road trips. I have somehow read only half a book, despite plenty of suitable reading weather, but with 13 other people providing distractions I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised.

We figured we couldn’t come to Normandy without taking in some of the World War Two sites. We stopped by Omaha Beach and the war cemetery at Bayeux, which was on reflection a bit sad and serious for the hottest day of the week and I was near tears many times during the day, but I’m glad I went.

We also visited Fougères, which boasts the largest medieval castle in Europe and also has links to many famous writers. I really enjoyed the Circuit Litteraire. I’m not sure I enjoyed the climb to the top of the bell tower – the staircase was tall, steep and open so you could see how far there was to fall!

There have been plenty of other visits, plus barbecues, drinking, playing pool, playing in the pool and just generally having fun with friends we don’t get to see nearly enough of the rest of the year.

Also, yesterday Tim and I celebrated 12 years together. In many ways it felt appropriate to celebrate while on holiday with friends who have known us since the start of our relationship. I wonder where we’ll celebrate 24 years?

Sunday Salon: A literary pilgrimage

The Sunday Salon

This weekend during a trip to London to visit my friend H, we randomly decided to visit Highgate Cemetery. I had no idea who was buried there, I just thought it would be a historically interesting place to visit. So imagine my surprise at finding it was such a rich trove of literary history.

We went on a tour while we were there, which I’m really glad we did as it added lots of interesting details about Victorian superstitions and fashions as well as stories about colourful characters who are mostly now forgotten. Though of course there were sad stories as well. (The giant tomb built by Julius Beer, owner of The Observer, for his eight-year-old daughter is a heartbreaking symbol of grief.)

Writers buried at Highgate include Douglas Adams (which was probably the grave I was most moved to see), Beryl Bainbridge, George Eliot, John Galsworthy, Stella Gibbons, Radclyffe Hall, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who shares a grave not only with his sister but also with his wife Lizzy Siddell), Anthony Shaffer, plus Karl Marx might arguably be called a writer (along with his many other titles). There’s also Charles Dickens’ wife Catherine, Julian Barnes’ wife Pat Kavanagh and William Foyle, co-founder of the Foyles chain of bookshops.

Untitled Untitled

But of course even without the famous names, a cemetery is a rich trove of stories. Whether it’s just an interesting name, or a detail in an inscription, or a place and date of death, or two apparently unrelated people buried together, there are so many stories, real or that you can invent. Which is why I’ve always liked walking around cemeteries.

Untitled Highgate ramble

Sunday Salon: Guess it’s autumn now

The Sunday Salon

I have so many things to write about today! This should probably be four different blog posts but I am too busy/rubbish for that, so here we go.

First up, Tim went on a work trip away for two weeks, which is the longest we’ve been apart in years. Rubbish. But he’s home again now and he brought me back some very lovely book-related gifts. And an opossum finger puppet. Because, well, why not? And yes, there is a Kindle in that little pile of goodies. I haven’t really used it much yet so we’ll come back to that another time.

Presents from that Tim

Yesterday was the launch of the Books Are My Bag campaign, which aims to encourage people to go to their local bookshop. Tim and I joined in the fun by going to each of our favourite Bristol bookshops. For Tim, that would be Excelsior! Comics, for me it’s Foyles. Interestingly, the comic shop wasn’t decked out with orange bunting and Books Are My Bag posters, which made me wonder whether this is a general comic bookshop thing, that they don’t consider themselves, or don’t think other people consider them, to be bookshops? I’m a customer of both but perhaps I’m unusual in that?

Anyway, Foyles was indeed decked out with Books Are My Bag bunting and posters aplenty. And the campaign gave me a great excuse to buy a couple of books I’ve wanted for ages, plus I got a free tote bag and entry into a prize draw to win cool book stuff. I do hope the campaign drew in some new or more occasional customers and not just regulars like me.

Books are my bag

Today we went to the zoo. The temperature seems to have dropped quite a bit this week, which is fine by me (I’m not the best with hot weather) and can actually make the zoo more fun too. For one thing there’s fewer people there. But also, for every animal that curls up and hides from the cold…

Keep warm

…there’s another that loves the cooler weather and is suddenly way more active.

At play

And I do love me a penguin.

How have your weeks been? Did you join the bookshop party for Books Are My Bag yesterday?

Sunday Salon: Mooching

The Sunday Salon

I don’t know about you, but some weekends I just need to switch off and relax. But how I relax might mean different things at different times. For instance, I had planned to spend this weekend reading solidly, maybe even treat it like a read-a-thon with goals and a little stack of pre-selected books. But when the weekend rolled around I found that I needed something else. So I have read for maybe an hour or two total, but I have slept a lot, eaten good food, watched TV and films, listened to music, sat outside in the sunshine, laughed with friends and with Tim. And now I feel rejuvenated.

How do you relax? Do you need different types of down time?

Incidentally, this week is Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, so there’s been a lot of this:


Plus the roar of various stunt planes overhead, the pounding bass of the music every evening, fireworks that we can just about see over the rooftops. It’s one of the things I love about this city.

And now that my brain is back online, I have a backlog of reviews to write, not to mention another Graham Greene book to read for Simon of Savidge Reads’ wonderful challenge Greene for Gran, in which he encouraged us all to read some Graham Greene in honour of his recently departed grandmother, as Greene was her favourite author. It’s such a lovely idea and great to be reminded how brilliant Greene was.

What are you up to this weekend? Have you rediscovered any authors lately?

Sunday Salon: Women on banknotes? Oh my.

The Sunday Salon

So there’s been a bit of controversy lately about women on UK banknotes, or rather the lack of them. It began in April when the Bank of England announced that from 2016, Winston Churchill will replace Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note. This caused a bit of an upset because Fry is currently the only woman on any of the four UK banknotes. In fact, the announcement led people to take a look at the full list of figures ever featured on our banknotes and notice that women have always had pretty low representation. Which started a whole equal representation campaign.

Following this campaign, this week the Bank of England announced that the next £10 note will feature Jane Austen (also in 2016). So that’s alright then, isn’t it? They’ve picked a historically significant woman, and a writer to boot. I should be thrilled!

The thing is, Jane Austen is not the woman I would have chosen. She’s not even the writer I would have chosen and I’d probably have leaned toward woman scientist over woman writer, to be honest. Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Dorothy Hodgkin – they all have a much stronger case for how much they contributed to the betterment of society and as role models than Jane Austen, surely?

But that’s not to say that literature can’t contribute to society. Clearly I don’t believe that. Perhaps it’s because I’m not an Austen fan, but she’s just never seemed particularly revolutionary to me. She was a woman, yes, and that in itself was unusual for the time. But that can’t be enough to make her an admirable figure. She wrote about a very narrow section of society. I hate to repeat the trope that she only wrote about money and marriage, but there is something in that accusation.

So which woman writer would I choose? Obviously she must be British and meet the other Bank of England criteria (which are currently under review, following the whole Churchill debacle). Well, I’m not the biggest George Eliot fan either (I loved Silas Marner, was less thrilled with Silly Novels by Lady Novelists and gave up on The Mill on the Floss – but that was a long time ago so please don’t judge me!) but she certainly seems to have covered a lot more of British society than Austen. I am a fan of Virginia Woolf and she was central to an artistic movement (Modernism), co-founded a publishing house (Hogarth Press) and contributed a lot to the growth of feminism. However, she might be considered too controversial for the Bank of England, between her bisexuality, depression and suicide. I hope not.

Which British female historical figures do you think deserve to be honoured on our banknotes? Do any novelists rank up there for you? Do you think this is even a debate that needs to happen or do you shy away from positive discrimination? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday Salon: the week of awesome

The Sunday Salon

I have been looking forward to this week for a long time, and though life threw a bit of a spanner in the works it still turned out pretty great.

The thing is that we had tickets to not one but two awesome events and our dear friends H and G were throwing a big party for their wedding anniversary. We were pretty excited. Then at the last minute Tim had to go away on a work trip Monday to Friday, missing the first two evenings of fun and being pretty jetlagged for the last one. However, I still got to have all the fun, just with a teensy bit of guilt about Tim missing out.

But what were these amazing events we had tickets to? Well, Thursday night I went to the first UK performance of Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band. Who were brilliant. Here is a terrible photo I took from up in the gods of the Colston Hall.

Copper Bottom Band

This group are possibly the most amazingly talented musicians I have ever seen perform. Hugh Laurie plays piano, sings (though not for all the songs) and acts as band leader. Which he of course does with humour and grace and loveliness. I had such a wonderful night. And I really badly want to go to New Orleans and hang out in jazz bars now.

Then Friday night I went to the first event on Neil Gaiman’s promotional tour for his new book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which actually comes out next week but attendees were able to buy the book early. It was held in Bath, hosted by Topping & Co Bookshop, although I can see why it wasn’t held in the bookshop itself as there were I’d guess a couple of thousand people there. Neil Gaiman has a lot of adoring fans. Understandably. He was charming, funny, intelligent and interesting, as you might expect, and clearly an old pro at this kind of thing. I don’t have any photos from the event itself (my friend T took some photos that she said I could have copies of but we have yet to co-ordinate on that) but here is what I came away with:

I met Neil Gaiman

I should add that we queued for two and a quarter hours for our brief meeting with Neil and narrowly missed our train home, so had to get a taxi but that just added to the adventure! And the queuing was fine because we had this great new book to read… My brother (who I gave Tim’s ticket to), T and I were all about halfway through the book by the time we got to the front of the queue and then a very nice lady offered us chocolate by way of apology for the long wait!

(I realise that I haven’t really said anything much about the interview Neil gave, mostly because I am rubbish and didn’t take any notes, but I will roll what I do remember into my review of the book. And if you want to know more, Gav of Gav Reads actually did take notes and blogged about the evening over here.)

And that was just the start of the weekend. I then headed to London, met up with Tim, very briefly checked out the new Alan Turing exhibition at the Science Museum, then went to H and G’s party, which was brilliant but I think I shall choose not to share any photos of drunken me on here. Suffice to say there was a lot of fun and then there were hangovers.

So…what have you all been up to?

Sunday Salon: Keeping busy

The Sunday Salon

I feel like I have done a lot of stuff in the last fortnight, possibly because today has been busy and isn’t over yet! But looking through my recent photos I actually do have some things to tell you all about.

Last Saturday I met up with my dear and lovely friend H in London and we went to the Natural History Museum, then to a super tasty meal at organic vegetarian Italian restaurant Amico Bio. However, I almost didn’t get to enjoy the meal because I managed to catch a touch of sunstroke despite it being only 15 °C with skies looking like this:


Last Sunday H and her husband introduced me to world of British basketball, which is not something I ever expected to be saying, but it was actually a lot of fun. It was the BBL Play-offs Final so there was a lot of spectacle and fun around the match itself. If all basketball is like that I am a total convert.


I had Monday off work so I treated myself to a trip to the British Library before heading back to Bristol. I went to the temporary crime fiction exhibition, which was fun but a bit small, and then spent hours browsing the Treasures of the British Library. That is one amazing room – First Folio Shakespeare, 1000-year-old manuscript of Beowulf, the Lindisfarne Gospels, two original copies of the Magna Carta, plus a bunch of gorgeous illuminated books from all over the world and author manuscripts from some of the greats from centuries ago up to the present day. Truly amazing. And free!

This weekend I’ve spent mostly cleaning and doing chores (including unloading three bookcases, moving them an inch to the left, and then reloading them – that was fun) but I also had a nice visit from my Mum. She came to run the Bristol 10k this morning, so earlier than I would usually be awake on a Sunday, I was out in the sunshine cheering on all the runners and trying to spot my Mum.

Run run run

That picture doesn’t make clear how lovely and warm and sunny it is here today. Mum and I certainly made the most of my having a garden this weekend (though after last week I made sure I was wearing a hat and suncream).

And tomorrow’s a bank holiday! Is it a holiday weekend where you are? What are you up to (holiday or not)? Happy Sunday!

Sunday Salon: Where does the time go?

The Sunday Salon

Three weekends ago I was patting myself on the back for having read four books in four days. Since then I have finished…drumroll please…one book. Granted, it was Crime and Punishment, but I started reading it in February so, err, yeah.

I have started reading two other books (Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt and The Books of Magic mini series by Neil Gaiman) and got another out from the library that I’m excited about (The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale) but I really feel I’ve had a bit of a fail on the finding/making time to read front. Do you ever have weeks or even months like that?

I have excuses of course. We’ve been doing some more work on the house (I know I’ve been saying that since we moved in three and a half years ago; it’s a project), which is time-consuming and only sometimes satisfying, but I keep going to look at the library (the room that’s nearest to being “finished”) and remind myself that it will be amazing when all of the house looks that good. Well, okay, it’ll never all look that good unless we line every room with books and I don’t have that many books. Not yet.

Electrically speaking

We’re also trying when possible to take advantage of the lovely spring weather that has finally arrived, especially if we can enjoy it with friends. Yesterday we took a boat trip around Bristol Harbour and then hung out in the park. After a few recent speed walks through the park en route to Screwfix it was nice to be the ones stopping and enjoying the park for once!

Sail away

So I was wondering: what do you do if you notice you’re not getting much time to read? Do you try to change something in your routine to make time? Do you put it down to the book you’re reading not being gripping enough and switch to something else? Or do you just ride it out? Any advice appreciated, because I do not like this pattern!

Sunday Salon: Easter read-a-thon anyone?

The Sunday Salon

Lately I seem to have spent a lot of my free time planning various holidays, which has got me thinking about what makes the perfect holiday. The thing is, my favourite way to relax is with a book, but when it comes to holidays I always want to go somewhere new, to see and learn new things, which tends not to leave masses of time for reading, or really relaxing.

If I could take longer holidays, of course that wouldn’t be a problem, we could go somewhere long enough to sightsee and have whole days off reading. But being average folks who can usually only take a week off work at a time, we’re trying to figure out where we can go with enough amenities so we have food choices and some culture, plus beautiful surroundings so that if we do take a few days to chill and read, we can call it enjoying the beauty around us. I’m thinking maybe lakeside?

But in case we do plump for an action-packed city break later in the year, I figure I should make the most of any empty weekends at home to do lots of reading from the comfort of my sofa. Now as it happens, over Easter I have six days off work and plans on only two of those days. And Tim’s busy for most of the weekend, so that leaves me a lot of free time.

Easter Read-a-thon with Nose in a book

Which gave me a brilliant idea – an Easter read-a-thon! Okay, it wasn’t strictly my own idea. The primary school I volunteer at once a week issued a challenge to the kids to read six books over the Easter holiday. Now, they have two weeks, whereas I have four days, but I still think I can meet the challenge. Anyone want to join me?

I’m not going to set any rules, this is strictly for fun. But if you want to join in, feel free to use my button and have a fun weekend of reading. I’ll blog later in the week with my choice of books to tackle.

Yay, Easter read-a-thon!

NB The button was made using a Creative Commons photo by Ian Britton/freefotouk and a bit of fiddling in Photoshop.