A quick review...

Goodness me it’s grim up North [by up North I mean here, where I am, which is significantly more north than where some people are.] It’s freezing. Although warmer than last week. Last week i was sat at mey desk in several layers, one of which was a Fat Face hoody and another of which was a snowboarding standard bodywarmer. I was  also wearing sheepskin lined boots and gloves, had the heating on 5 and a fan heater pointed right at me and I was still unbelievably cold. Last Thursday night I babysat for Daisy, I bet I was there for all of 4 hours and  I still had to de-ice my car before I could go home. Nothing about any of this is fine.

Speaking of Daisy she gets cuter by the minute. Last week we played with the camera. I really wanted a photo of the two of us; a nice smiling picture of me and my niece would be lovely on my office wall. Daisy was having none of it. To her it was all a big game, let's see how many funny faces I can make Auntie Jo pull: ‘say cheese Daze,’ ‘show Auntie Jo your prettiest smile Daisy,’ ‘like this Daisy *I smile* see, you do it’ ‘Daisy, smile.’ I think out of about 12 pictures I got one where we're both smiling.  Then yesterday we met up with some other friends with small children at a farm. Daisy had a donkey ride. Two donkey rides actually and it was the cutest thing because she's so small and she was sat there bouncing up and down on this donkey [his name was Patch] all 'giddy up, giddy up.' Adorable.


In April 2011 Helen and I fell in love with Major Pettigrew. If you haven’t read the story of the retired Major and his friendship with his Pakistani neighbour, Mrs Ali, gorgeously detailed in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, then I suggest you rectify that post haste.

This December I fell in love with Harold Fry.

Helen hasn’t read about Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage just yet, but I know when she does she’ll fall in love with him too. I challenge anybody who doesn’t have a heart of stone to not read this book and come away just feeling better.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry tells the story of 65 year old Harold, distanced from his wife and having not heard from his son in 20 years, he’s recently retired and he’s at a bit of a loose end when one day he gets a letter from an old colleague and friend, Queenie. She’s sick, dying of cancer and she wanted Harold to know; the letter is her goodbye. Harold scribbles a hasty [and what he feels somewhat lacking] response and heads out to post it, reaches the post box and just keeps going. He needs to save Queenie, he needs her to not give up, he needs something tangible to focus on and somehow the belief that his walking from Devon, to Queenie in Berwick on Tweed will save Queenie’s life becomes it. He walks and he walks and he walks, in his boat shoes, to save the life of a woman he used to know and it’s the most wonderful, touching, real story. It made me laugh and it made me ache and it made me believe too. I rooted for Harold all the way: I wanted it to work, I wanted him to make it, for Queenie, for himself.

Reading this felt a little like huddling under a favorite blanket on a winter day but as well as that, this book is a lesson. It’s undeniably emotional and sentimental but not tooth-rottingly so, and it’s a story about  human nature I guess, about love and loss, friendship, kindness and self-value. This is a glorious book, and I am so so glad I took this walk with Harold Fry. I feel better because of it.

[Apparently Jim Broadbent reads the audiobook. I bet he’s the perfect Harold….]

we may not have it all together but together we have it all...


[uhn-der-steyt-muhnt, uhn-der-steyt-]


the act or an instance of understating, or representing in a weak or restrained way that is not borne out by the facts:


My boy loves Christmas. This is an understatement.

Things you should probably know about my boyfriend: he’s an adorable brand of crazy.

Let me give you an example or two here. He loves Sherlock Holmes. Like, loves. He’s more old school though, where I am [for obvious reasons pertaining to the attractiveness of RDJ] all about the Guy Ritchie films, he likes the books. And Jeremy Brett – although he did devour Sherlock  and is quite taken with the Cumberbatch. 
He’s kind of a Sherlock Holmes fanboy, really.
Which brings me to the point. Have you been watching Elementary [and if not, you need to rethink your life choices because Johnny Lee Miller is hot] – a modern day take on Sherlock Holmes with Johnny as Sherlock and the fabulous Lucy Liu as Watson, set in New York? It’s amazing. And Ian loves it. As in he actually made these funny little noises in the back of his throat when we watched the first episode and does a little sofa jig whenever we watch it and gets ridiculously excited at all the little nods to ACD, like, that one time when Sherlock wore a t-shirt with some kind of bee print on and he practically fell of the sofa in excitement. He loves it. He also [I suspect and he would mostly deny] has a bit of a boy crush on Johnny Lee Miller. In one episode Holmes was texting Watson but was trying to save time by using acronyms. Like OMG but for every word. Ian adopted that habit for like a week. I almost went insane. You would too if  'what would you like for tea, I'm home early so I'll cook.'  became 'WWYLFT? IHESIC.' And then another time Sherlock started doing some weird ass kind of squats. A couple of days later Ian could barely walk, turns out he’s been doing these squats at every available moment  ‘and Jo, they actually work!

My boyfriend is Sherlock Holmes, as portrayed by Johnny Lee Miller. Or at least, he is in his head. And you can’t even care because he’s just so damn adorable when he’s excited.

Which brings us to Christmas. 

He loves Christmas, ‘like, more than my birthday’ and he gets all bouncy and grins this face splitting grin that’s all teeth and wide eyes and he sings Santa Baby really loud and drinks more Bailey’s than is perhaps good for his health.

And insists on a real tree.

Even though we live in a terraced house and have no money.

Tueaday night we went tree shopping. I had my eye on a reasonable sized little tree, all bright green and you know, cheap. Ian fell in love with some kind of tree giant. The Hagrid of Christmas trees. All big and bushy and ‘Jo, look how beautiful it is.’
‘It’s massive’ I told him, ‘it’s never going to fit in our lounge.’
‘It will.’
‘It won’t.’
‘It will.’
‘It won’t.’
And then he did the grin, and a bit of a jump and ‘pleeeeease, I love Christmas so much and I love this tree and I will never be happy again if we can’t have it.’ 

Jesus. Never happy again, like I wanted that on my conscience. So we bought the tree and hauled it home, with me wedged against the window of the car and him still grinning as he patted it gently before starting up the engine. ‘Hello Mr Christmas Tree.’

Answer me, please: how has this become my life??

Guess what.

The tree didn’t fit. Or at least it fit, but only if we moved all our other furniture out of the way. Ian surveyed it. I swallowed down my ‘I told you so.’ He looked at me, said, ‘Oh fuck.’
And I couldn’t help it, ‘I TOLD YOU SO.’
And then he laughed, this deep proper belly laugh, ‘but look how lovely it is.’

I wanted to be mad, because God, it was insane, this massive too expensive tree that was too big for our house but he’s putting on Christmas Crooners and thinking he’s Frank freaking Sinatra and hacking at it with the secateurs and all I could do was roll my eyes and go and cook, telling him crossly to think about what he’d done and looking away before he could see me smile. Which just made him laugh more, ‘it’s such a lovely tree. Look what I’ve done.’

So there’s half the tree in a pile by the door and the rest, the tree that’s not been hacked away, pushed against the wall and half hanging over the sofa and Ian singing Twelve Days of Christmas and drinking his Bailey’s and having a minor breakdown because he has a mild case of OCD and ‘I can’t remember where this decoration went.’
‘Doesn’t matter, put it somewhere else then.’
‘It needs to go in the right place.’
‘There is no right place; just put it where it looks nice. It looks nice there.’
‘It doesn’t GO THERE. It has to go in the right place. I AM NOT HAVING A NICE TIME RIGHT NOW.’

And I’m just curled up on the sofa watching him and laughing and trying to help but not really and I had an epiphany; I thought, this, this right here is what matters. I have been so stressed about Christmas lately and it’s all for nothing because Tuesday night with Ian being like some kind of puppy dog with all his excitement and the pretty decorations – and we buy something new every year so when we trim up it kind of tells our story – and our too big tree and my Pop-Up copy of The Night Before Christmas, that’s what it’s all about and it just made really realise that it doesn’t even matter how hard times seem to be, how there’s not enough time and not enough money and so much seeming to be not-quite-right; it made me so so grateful for the memories I have and the memories I have still to make and the people I get to share my life with, even if one of those is a Sherlock Holmes wannabe who’s spacial awareness goes out of the window when confronted with a pretty tree. 

I really really am the luckiest.

in which i post a delayed film review

It's about a year I think, since I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, [you can read my review here if you missed it at the time] and it's a book I still find myself thinking about lots so I approached the film adaptation with a little trepidation. I've had my heart broken too many times I think, by books I love being turned into films and never quite measuring up [The Golden Compass, I'm looking at you for a start] and I actually toyed with not going to see Perks because the book is so good, and I was just so scared and I have maybe been known to get a little ragey just once before. The problem with Perks was that the book blew me away, and it's still so raw and so real in my head, how was that ever going to be transposed onto the big screen; how could anybody ever do it justice?

They did do it justice.

In actuality, the film far exceeded my expectations. It was just so good, so good. It made my chest tight and it made me smile and it made me tear up in the same way that the book did - a lot of this has to be because Chbosky was so heavily involved; I had a little chuckle during the opening credits, his name just kept appearing on the screen over and over and over again, it felt almost like a one man show and I'm glad because nobody knows and loves these characters and this story like he does, I'm so so glad he kept such a tight hold on his babies because he made it work.  A lot of the time I get annoyed because due to the nature of the beast, when you're adapating a book for screen, things have to change: things are cut and things are re-ordered and it's never ever the same but here it felt right, like, we were essentially told the same perfect story just in a slightly different way, like it was designed work with the book. Does that even make sense? I am on a caffeine high today. Probably not.

Also? Genius casting is genius.

Logan Lerman was perfect as Charlie, like actually perfect; he played that part so perfectly and I just wanted to hug him and never ever let him go. He was just like the Charlie in my head which is quite the achievement and, because Lerman pitched every line perfectly, nothing was over played, nothing was too much or not quite right, he just was, and some of the subtleties to his performance, particuarly towards the end were so powerful that they hurt. Alongside that, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson were equally believable as Patrick and Sam and God, some of the moments they shared on screen with Lerman were just so beautiful; the acting in this film was incredible, so much was said in little gestures and facial expressions -the way they look at Charlie sometimes was almost too much. Ezra Miller was amazing as Patrick, his pain was so raw all of the time and yet he still managed to steal the scenes with his comic timing; funny funny funny. Miller really got under the skin of Patrick, who I adored in the book and to watch him gradually fall apart, it was hurty.

And then Emma. I came away from the cinema unsure if she was my Sam, probably because I'd gone into it expecting to make comparisons to Harry Potter and it took a while to get out of that headspace, but I take it all back because I've pondered over this and I've gone over and over it and I've thought about it and you know what, I actually cannot imagine anyone else in that part, I just can't. And if nothing else she's proved she's so much more than Hermione Granger.  In Perks Emma is so far away from beng Hermione that she's not even a speck on the horizon. I guess there's always a worry, a danger, becoming so well known for playing such an adored character at such a young age that you'll be typecast, that for Emma she'd always be Hermione. Not gonna happen. What she's done here is put herself out there as one of the great talents of her generation, we have some phenomenal Bristish actresses and I think it's safe to say Emma Watson can count herself among them [side note:  she's so beautiful, like breathtakingly so.]

All in all, I loved this film, really loved it. I can't wait for the DVD.

Things denied, things untold, things hidden and disguised.

Friday, Friday, Friday. Hurray and also hurrah. Tomorrow is the the start of another long weekend; the boy and I are off down to Brighton for four days to stop with Mark and Emma. It will be a lovely [cheap] weekend of reading on the sofa and walking on the seafront and eating lots of home-cooked food and watching fireworks and also some horse-racing, so I'm told.=. We've not seen Mark and Em since June and I'm really looking forward to it. Stopping with them is a little like a home from home in a way, which is always nice. There's no expectations and I'm pretty sure I'll spend Sunday mooching around in my PJ's eating Sugar Puffs like I did last time I was there. It's just like being at home except there's two cats instead of one and the house is nicer and the garden bigger and of course Mark and Emma are there being all delightful. I can't wait.

Before then though is the rest of today! I'm off to see my Granny in a little while which will be nice as her holiday and my holiday means I've not seen her for 3 weeks so I'm looking forward to a cup of tea and a chat and then tonight I plan to be indoors. We have some TV to watch, I don't know quite what, but something and I'll watch whilst making Christmas presents - this weeks homemade gifts involve buttons!  Exciting.

AND!!! Starbucks Red Cups are back. Dance with me?

In bookish news, this week I read The Casual Vacancy. Would I be lying if I said it was one of the most anticipated titles of the year? Maybe. There was a massive stand full of books in Sainsbury's though and Amazon sent me about 72 million emails so I'm going to say people somewhere were expecting other people to anticipate it.

I wasn't sure how I felt when I first heard that J.K. Rowling was writing another book and not only was it not the history of the Marauders but it wasn'y even remotely connected to Harry Potter. I'm not going to lie - I do not think J.K Rowling is the greatest writer that ever lived. I love Harry Potter, everybody who knows me loves that. I love the books, I know them inside out, I am grateful to Jo for writing them, I think they should be required reading for every child in the world but I don't think Jo Rowling is the greatest writer in the world [hush, don't hate me. I still love her]; she could write in Harry's world forever and I would read it forever, but something else, something totally and utterly different? I wondered how that would work out and actually, I was nervous for her because God, can you even imagine the weight of the pressure that comes of releasing anything following the success of Harry Potter - so much pressure to succeed because everything else she's done is just adored and at the same time so many people, watching, rubbing their hands together and waiting to see her fail. *gulp*  rather her than me.
I think she made the right desecion taking the step away from children's literature for that very reason; anything she wrote in that genre would be judged - harshly - against Harry Potter, she'd have to produce something incredible to stand half a chance of measuring up. At least with The Casual Vacancy whilst people will always compare it to Harry Potter, the comparisons are harder to make.

First impressions? In fact, earlier than first impressions, so impressions based on the information I had before I even had a copy of the book? I wasn't sure I was going to like it. If Jo's name wasn't on the cover then I wouldn't have picked it up and that's a fact; the blurb would not have drawn me in - a book about small town politics doesn't sound like the most exciting read. I read this book purely because it said J.K. Rowling on the cover; Jo drew me in, the fact that I had to see what she could do and I kind of liked that because I had no idea what to expect, no clue. I was pleasantly surprised, actually, because I actually really liked it.

It's a funny thing to say, I suppose, but it felt familiar reading this book. I mean, the characters, the setting, the story, all of it was brand new and yet somehow it felt a little like settling down with an old friend; whilst there are no wizards and no magic and no Hogwarts in the world of The Casual Vacancy but instead council estates and drug addicts and pompous middle aged men and small town politics there's something about it, which I guess can only be Jo that comes through and it made it easy and comfortable to read, perhaps because like Harry Potter, in The Casual Vacancy's characters are at the heart of the story and Rowling does well with characters. It's a book about class and about society and what at first seems like just a simple story about the complexeties of a relatively small group of people - all of whom had their own distinct voice, well done Jo - soon grips you with unexpected melodrama, and twists that leave you gasping and an ending that is shocking but very well executed. Once it got it's claws in, this book wouldn't let me go, I had to keep reading - meaning I am stupid tired this morning - and I'm really very glad I did.

J.K. Rowling has proven here that she isn't just a one trick pony, that she can do more than just Harry Potter and I certainly won't be as nervous about picking up her next offering.

'it's the choosing that's important, isn't it?'

This week [or at least, today] I am a happy blogger, basking in the memory of my hot tub holiday this past weekend. Anglesey, a wooden lodge with private jetty and hot tub and some of my favourite people. I'm pretty sure it doesn't get much better than that. We had the nicest of times: walks on the beach and butterfly houses and the zoo and steam trains and films and lazy mornings and drinking gin in the hot tub and sardines and lots of giggling.

And lots of reading.

I finished The Subtle Knife, which well, the thing about Pullman is he is obviously a 'very good writer' - I know this because somehow I had forgotten all about the high levels of hurty in the His Dark Materials trilogy  and was totally focussed how beautiful they are, I was excited to reread because THESE BOOKS ARE SO BEAUTIFUL and then was stabbed in the chest all over again by the hurty. And now? How do I feel now, after finishing book 2? I feel like I love those books so much because they're so beautiful and I am scared to reread The Amber Spyglass because the other two have reminded me that that one hurts the most.

Then, I read The Giver by Lois Lowry.

I'd heard of this but never read it and was nudged in its direction by Jen. I loved it; I literally could not put it down, to the extent that I was making breakfast for the boys on Sunday morning and was reading whilst cooking sausages and frying eggs, with a tear in my eye. I loves me a good dystopia, that's no secret and this, whilst being a YA novel and whilst trying to trick you in the beginning into think it's a utopia, is what I would call a good dystopia.

Jonas lives in a perfect world where everything is tightly controlled, tightly monitored, carefully watched and on the surface, faultless. In Jonas's world there is no war or fear or pain but on the flipside there is no love, no joy. There is only Sameness. In Jonas's world there are no choices; your spouse, your children, your place in the community, all of it is chosen for you and you never even think to question the lot that you are given; why would you, when your life is perfect and you have all you could ever want or need? However, when Jonas turns twelve, everything changes. Jonas meets The Giver and is forced to question everything and everybody he thought he knew and so, along with Jonas we find ourselves asking whether in order to get rid of the suffering in the world do you also have to lose all that makes life livable, all that is good? If the only way to stop evil is to also stop love, is there any point; is it worth it? What is our purpose, what is choice; what would our life be like without purpose and without choice; can you have the good if you don't have the bad and is that bad so bad that it makes the good a worthwhile sacrifice; can you miss what you never knew; are there any benefits to Sameness?

The obvious comparisons to draw here given what I've read of late are to The Hunger Games - young adults, dystopian future, etc. Those books aren't the same as this one, but in the way that The Hunger Games are not the best written books ever but grab your interest and hold it, so does The Giver. It makes you think and I like that in a book. I like to be forced to think, to question, to look at what I have and to appreicate it that little bit more and to a degree this book does all of thise things.
There are disturbing and complex themes in this book that Lowry does not shy away from. I applaud her for that - this book is going to hit its target audience smack bang in the chest, it's going to make them feel, it's going to make them hurt, it's going to make them think and whilst it's no Handmaid's, no 1984, it can hardly be expected to be and for what it is, it's good.  The concept is clever and well executed, the characters well rounded and each with their own clear voice and above all it really highlights the whole issue surrounding banned books; it's kind of ironic really that a book that at it's very core is about the importance of choice should be a book that found itself on the banned books list, thus taking away the choice to read it.  This is not a happy-ever-after walk in the park feel good novel, it's not, but I'm really glad I read it.