My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece

Every so often I read a book that just gets to me somehow. In 2010 it was Never Let Me Go, in 2011, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Recently it was My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher, a debut novel about a family torn apart by grief, told from the point of view of 10 year old Jamie.

Jamie was 5 when his older sister, Rose, was killed in a terrorist attack in London 5 years earlier and he knows he’s supposed to be sad that she’s dead but he kind of isn’t, really. He’s sad that his Mum has left for a chap she met at grief counselling and he’s sad that his other sister, Rose’s twin, is sad and going off the rails a bit and he’s sad that his Dad is so lost in his grief for Rose that he has all but forgotten his other two children but Jamie doesn’t really remember Rose all that well.
Just before what would have been Rose’s 15th birthday, Jamie’s dad uproots Jamie and Jas and takes them to the Lake District for a ‘fresh start’ which is actually code for ‘a place where there are no Muslims.’  He places Rose’s ashes on the mantelpiece in the new house and continues to drink himself into oblivion. Meanwhile, Jamie waits desperately for his Mother to return home and tries to settle in at his new school, where he thinks the fact that nobody knows about his dead sister is a blessing and so doesn’t say a word, befriending a Muslim girl and trying to ignore the bullies.

This is a beautifully written book, and paints a heartbreaking picture of a family torn apart by grief and of a little boy trying to figure out how the world works. 
Jamie’s father is racist beyond belief, blaming the Muslim religion as a whole for the death of his daughter but Jamie never takes sides – his sister was killed in a terrorist attack, the end and I love that about him, about children in general. His developing friendship with the Muslim girl at school, his slow realisation that not all Muslims fit in the box his Father tries to place them in and his guilt at becoming friends with a Muslim at all are incredibly powerful; the scenes where Jamie visits his friend Sunya at home and realizes she has more of a family life than he does despite her religious beliefs, his guilt later when learning about the ten commandments and trying to relate them to his friendship with Sunya and the responsibilty he feels towards his father and the eventual showdown between Sunya’s parents and Jamie’s Dad left me feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach; Pitcher’s storytelling is so simple but so effective.

This book sounds depressing. I am aware of that. It’s really not, though. It’s sad, of course it is and there is a scene where Jamie eventually figures out what loss is all about and why Rose’s death affected everybody so deeply that you will need a pack of tissues for, but it’s also uplifting and funny and so so lovely; so lovely in parts that it brought a lump to my throat. It carries an important message as well: please don’t judge people based on the colour of their skin or who they choose to pray too because people are so much more than that. Muslims might have killed Jamie’s sister, but a Muslim kind of saved Jamie’s life too – it’s what’s on the inside of a person that counts and that is such an important message right now. The word Muslim shouldn’t make you turn the other way, or stiffen up, you shouldn’t look suspiciously at that guy on the train just because his skin is dark and he’s carrying a rucksack. People need to be more like Jamie, they need to be open to life and to love and to not let their prejudices stand in their way.

How to be a fangirl, aged 28

This is the story of how I proved I still have fangirlish tendencies.

That should serve as a warning for what is to come in this blog post and I make no apologies.

If you know me, or if you read this blog on a regular basis, then you will be aware of my love for Glee. It's my current tv obsession, which makes me sound like a screaming teenage fangirl, which I kind of am - except I'm almost 30.

It's a weekly fixture in our house, Glee. Ian rolls his eyes but he watches every episode with me and has a crush on Rachel Berry and says I remind him of Sugar Motta. And me? I love Kurt. & Blaine.  Oh, especially Blaine.

Spoilers. Spoilersspoilers. Feel free to read no further....

In last week's episode, aptly titled 'Big Brother' we met Blaine's older brother.


Let me tell you something: the Anderson family look like they walked right off an Abercrombie billboard. I'm not even kidding. These are two men very fortunate in face - I'm talking Fiennes brothers levels of hot.
And very fortunate in voice.
And together enough to leave me flailing around and eternally grateful for Sky+ - I got my money's worth out of the rewind/replay function when I watched the episode, that's for sure.
Because Blainers and his dreamboat brother [and yes, I did just use the term dreamboat in actual real life, watch the episode, you'll understand] sang my current favourite song: Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know. I love that song. I downloaded it from ITunes after the first time I heard it, have listened to it pretty much constantly since then and told Ian WEEKS ago how well I thought it would suit Darren Criss's voice and that I thought they should do it on Glee and lo and behold they did. And it was amazing.

The whole episode was really really good actually and it reminded me a little of old Glee in that it broke my heart a little and it made me laugh so hard [which after the week I've had is quite the achievement!]

We had beautiful Blainers and his hot brother and the DuranDuran mash-up and Kurt [generally, as a person, always Kurt] with his crush on his boyfriend's brother:
'Blaine, your brother is the most good looking man in North America.

'Oh no, Blaine, you have to, you're both so handsome and good.'  
Chris Colfer should win awards for his facial expressions, he is such a scene stealer.

We had Fighter and Blaine's naked back [cue audible intake of breath followed by 'oh dear that's my boyfriend sat right there.']
We had Cooper's 'lesson' which was the funniest thing Glee has done in a while, I think, and some really touching scenes between other characters which were lovely but which I don't want to spoil.
All of it was Glee magic but the addition of STIUTK made it for me. I thought Cough Syrup from the week before was fabulous but wow, that song made me happyhappyhappy and I loved the character development we got for Blaine; I always love the more character focussed episodes of Glee, I loved this one more because it was Blaine-centric, I'll admit that, but the whole back story to his relationship with Cooper, the way it explained so much about things we've seen of Blaine in the past, the continuity [which isn't always Glee's strong point, let's be honest] all just worked really well and left me feeling rather pleased.

The bar has been set with this episode and they'll do well if they ever manage to beat it, especially since recent Glee has never quite matched up to the standards it set with its first season.

Anyway, yes. That was a nice time. In other news this week has been up and down. It was my Grandpa's funeral on Tuesday which was, well, sad. Really sad. I am not going to dwell on it though because I have spent far too much time in the past week and a half being sad and Grandpa wouldn't like it and oh my goodness nobody wants to read about it.

Let's focus on the ups.

We [we being me, Helen and our respective Mums] saw Phantom of the Opera last Saturday in Manchester which was quite possibly the most amazing thing I have ever seen on a stage. Seriously, wowzer. So so good.
The guy who took the part of the Phantom [John Owen-Jones if you wondered] was absolutely incredible. I actually didn't think it was possible to sound that good in real life. I had goosebumps. And I kept forgetting to breathe. I was just sat, jaw dropped, totally astounded. Helen was sat in front of me and she kept turning round to look at me with this massive smile on her face, she said at the end when I was just all wowwowwow, 'I just knew exactly what your face would be doing.' Ha. [That girl is so amazing. I would not have gotten through this last week, or in fact the last decade of my life, without her and her ability to make me smile even at the worst of times. I am lucky to have you, Helen.]
So, Phantom is my new favourite musical in all the world and I still can't get over how good it was. I would like to see it again please. We went for food afterwards and our Mums were suitably amusing, as ever and it was generally just a nice time.

Tomorrow is more MotherDaughterQT as we have tickets to go and see Strictly's Vincent & Flavia in Midnight Tango. Again, excited. There will be dancing and chatting and eating and coffee and shopping and probably more amusing Mum stories. I am looking forward to it.

I shall do a book post next week, I promise. This has not been a very bookish blog of late and I apologise for that.

And now if you excuse me I'm off to pencil in a time rewatch Glee again and to download the Glee version of STIUTK to my phone because I need it like I need air and to email Helen and ask her if she loves Blaine yet because seriously, that shower scene, and to continue to be a [very old] fangirl.

If you need me, I'll be somewhere watching this episode in HD. On a very. large. screen.

PS. I love this. Look at Cooper and Blaine being all hot. Look at Kurt in the background, stealing the scene. Ha. 

Love you, Grandpa

Today the world lost a great man.

My grandpa.

I think most people probably think their grandparents are wonderful, my Grandpa really was. So many of my childhood memories are tied up in my Grandparents; in family holidays and day trips and school holidays spent playing hide and seek in their big farmhouse and so many of them, particularly from the first 8 or 9 years of my life are tied up in my Grandpa.
I remember the way he smelt, of cigarette smoke and outdoors and of home; I remember the way his arms would fold around me as I clambered onto his lap, the way his whiskers tickled my face as he kissed me; I remember squealing with laughter as he scraped his beard across my face, chin pie; I remember how he'd always greet me with a 'well then Josephine, what's new' and how his eyes crinkled as he smiled; I remember how he'd always fall asleep and how we'd all fall about laughing til he opened one eye 'I'm not asleep, I'm just resting my eyes'; I remember sing-alongs on long car journeys; I remember his scrambled eggs; I remember my hand in his slightly calloused one; I remember the way him and my Granny would bounce off one another telling stories of my Mum's childhood, how those stories always made me laugh; I remember him telling jokes, his comic timing making even the worst Christmas cracker joke funny; I remember New Year's parties and how he'd kid us we couldn't leave until the massive feast had been finished; I remember pulling on my wellies to follow wherever he went; I remember his patience; I remember thinking right up until now that he was the cleverest wisest man I ever met, and the bravest. I remember loving him so much when I was small that I felt my heart would burst and feeling so lucky now as an adult for having him for as long as I did; I remember visiting him in hospital two weeks ago and him squeezing my hand and telling me he loved me and how even then when he was so weak how he still seemed so strong; I remember him chatting with Ian and how I felt so proud.

It doesn't seem real somehow, to think that he's gone, that I'll never hear him laugh, or smile as him and my Granny griped at each other in the way you only can after a lifetime of love, or talk to him about his life before I was even born, it doesn't seem real that he's gone and yet it hurts so much, I know what he'd say to me though, if he could. He'd smile and he'd say 'Chin up' and I'd smile through my tears, so that's what I'll do.

Chin up, he's just resting his eyes.