You know that feeling when you walk out the door without a book?
Nicole Scherzinger does, it’s probably why her and Lewis Hamilton aren’t together anymore.
“Nicky, did you remember to pack War and Peace?”
“Oh for Christ’s sake Nicole, you had one job to do, one! What am I supposed to read now? Thomas Hardy?”
(That’s totally what caused their countless break ups and getting back togethers. I mean what else could a pop star and racing car driver possibly talk about?)
It’s no secret I like a good book. I like the escapism they provide, the ability to make you conjure an image in the mind that can vary incredibly from person to person. It’s a testament to the human mind that we can read a bunch of random symbols on a page and turn it into pure emotion. It’s equally a testament to incredibly skilled writers that the reader can be taken on a journey and laugh, cry or even be deceived by the story before them and yet, despite the abuse, the reader carries on to find themselves begging for more when the tale is complete. I refer to this feeling as a ‘book hangover’, when you finish a novel but feel empty inside. Unable to come to terms with the end of a good book.
My recent read, Gone Girl, was one recent example of a book hangover. Without spoiling the book and/or film (NB I have not seen the film yet, but am quite sure it’s terrible vs the book – they always are), Gone Girl is a gripping thriller involving the disappearance of Amy Elliot Dunne. A whodunit with countless twists and turns. A book worthy of anyone’s time.
That said, I think a sizeable chunk of my present book hangover can be attributed to all the locations I read this one particular novel. Now I likes my tea and coffee and I likes my intellectual style. For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamt of being sat in a stylish coffee shop and a handsome male swooping in and saying ‘Orwell, nice. What do you think of the book so far?’ instead of ‘is this seat taken?’ which is what I usually get. Hopelessly romantic ambitions aside, a good coffee shop with the right music and buzz is the best place the read a book. Fact.
One wash out weekend I basically went from coffee shop to coffee shop to read my book. (‘Oh look, its stopped raining’ *goes outside* ‘ah damn, its started again. Oh no, I’ll have to find another coffee shop to read in. The horror!’) What started as a one ‘look at me, I’m so intellectual!’ Instagram post turned into a mini series, a documentary of all the locations I read this one book. Aside from the plot of the novel itself, I now look back on these carefully posed photographs and think of the stories behind the locations. Those mini tales of no consequence or interest that form the back bone of daily human interaction.
Below are these said photos, complete with a slight description of the location. In taking and stylising these photos I learnt a bit about my tastes, how I like to relax and also that Gone Girl looks great in every filter. Show off.
Work, Swindon. I started and read a lot of Gone Girl in the break out space at work. This particular day I was in a good mood because I’d used a £2.50 Benugo voucher and the space was empty enough for me to take a picture without many people seeing. This area of the office houses a lot of meetings and discussions, I often hear fragments of interesting conversations causing me to lose my place mid paragraph. I wonder what people think of me reading in such a corporate environment. This is also the only photo which didn’t have a filter applied.
Coffee #1, Swindon. This is my favourite coffee shop in Swindon. Upstairs it has a lot of space and never feels busy, perfect for reading and writing. Just out of shot (North West) a young couple were smooching on the sofa and spent the whole time I was there very much loved up, opposite (far right) a date was taking place and straight in front of me (where the Barista is) an older couple were reading the papers. To see three different relationship stages in a small area was charming.
Caffé Nero, Bath Spa. I’d just arrived in the city on a Sunday morning and it was raining hard and steady. It was around 10:30am and none of the shops were open so I headed to a favourite haunt. The only seat available upstairs was a large sofa so I reluctantly took that. 30 minutes later an older man came and claimed another sofa that had been freed up and took possession of all the surrounding chairs for a upcoming group. Two friends, also awaiting a party, scrambled to get seats together around a table for two. A lady who’d sat in the corner eventually left and I claimed her armchair. The two friends turned around, having moved a number of seats, and saw my large, vacant, sofa. I apologised and invited them to claim my old space, which they readily grabbed. The older party discussed walking and the changing layout of Bath, the younger chatted about dating and studies. An interesting mix.
Waterstones, Bath Spa. On the same day as the above photo, I dived into a bookshop to avoid the rain and happily discovered this place on the first floor. The area had largely been taken up by groups of young men with sci-fi t-shirts and beards, playing fantasy board games with excitement. I wondered if this was something they did regularly here and how they found a location with enough space to accommodate them for lengthy periods. It made me think that their gaming and my reading made us actually quite similar in that regard.
Home, Swindon. I’d just got back in from a two day Excel training course and felt shattered due to an information overload. I put on my oversized hoodie and felt relieved to have the option to read something which didn’t contain formulas.
Harbour, Bristol. I’d always wanted to go into a wine bar by myself, to defy the British stereotype that ‘it is ok for a man to hang out in a bar alone, but for a woman it’s weird.’ I’d never had the courage to do it, especially somewhere I didn’t know. I’d spent the day hanging out in Bristol with a friend and felt really good about life. Having missed my train I had some time to kill, so I ventured down to the harbour. Deciding it was now or never, I went into a bar (not my first choice, but everywhere was packed) and sat on a window ledge stool, between a large party of students and a first date-in-progress. I read my book for about 20 minutes before heading off. I felt so empowered that, on a Saturday night in a busy bar in a city I barely knew, I’d been able to do that. It wasn’t necessarily the action itself, but knowing I could perform the action by myself. I walked out with my head high and the eyes of numerous men on my back (including the man on his date).
Home (bed), Swindon. By this stage I only had forty pages left to go so was thinking ahead to my next read. I was in bed, blinking off the sleep dust from my eyes and lolling around the duvet covers. On each of my bedside tables are piles of books, I had to carefully pull novels out of each tower to avoid the entire stack falling over. I placed a selection to my right, pulled the covers up and finished reading Gone Girl. Once I closed the orange cover I sighed, made myself a tea, and quickly disregarded a number of my earlier shortlist selection. A Clockwork Orange felt too challenging to deal with whist suffering from a book hangover. I couldn’t make a finial decision, but left it at TBC between a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, or a children’s classic that I’d never have considered reading had I not spotted it in a charity shop.
A room full of bits and pieces and accumulated knick-knacks gathered over the course of two years. All telling the story of Alice Bennett, the Alice Bennett Installation if you like. Small, full of rubbish and severely lacking in suitable storage. A room unable to decide whether it wanted to rival Tracey Emin or desperately try and avoid it.
As the house sale on the property next door started drawing to its intended close, I realised I was actually going to have to tidy up and clear all my stuff out. And this wasn’t something that a bottle of Windowlene and a couple of Peter Gabriel songs could solve, it was going to involve brutal woman power and an acceptance that, indeed, my room was full of shizz.
The timing for this wasn’t great, I was in the process of re-establishing my love of porridge and the supermarket had a sale on. Plus the shared kitchen gave me no space for storing foodstuffs (see – There’s Some Weird Shizz in My Cupboard) so I started the process of cleaning my room by with piling a load of oat sachets chocolate bars and varying alcohols and taking a photo of it for Instagram, obviously.
Then it all got too much and I wrote a blog article about something else.
Several days later, after consuming a sizeable amount of ‘the pile’, I remembered why I’d piled it in the first place. I got cracking with the tidy up.
It was a painful process. Because I’d achieve a mini-milestone of clearing one patch of floor space…
…to turn around and see this behind me:
That’s what hurt me most. Having to empty drawers and boxes that had previously hidden so much but now spewed everywhere. As you can probably tell, my room was tiny in the shared house, the double bed sandwiched into the small space the only way it possibly could.
The clean went on. Thanking the God’s for a decent metabolism and reasonably priced gym membership, one evening I wriggled under the low bed to pull out all the hidden ‘gems’ that had spent years in the shadows. Forget Blue Planet, my under-bed had some weirder things than the deepest depths of the Antarctic Ocean.
But it also had a couple of bottles of wine so I was prepared to overlook some of the other things I found under there.
I learnt a lot about myself when cleaning up that space. For example, I’m a closet hoarder who’s in denial. I had enough plastic bags to fill a tanker.
But then I realised I was British so quickly laid to rest my concerns. I wasn’t weird, just normal. In the same way I had been unable to throw away a handbag I like so mended it with a safety pin as a short term solution. Five million handbags later, I found it at the bottom of my wardrobe.
A week or so later (yes, that long) I was starting to see progress in the big tidy up.
I was quickly becoming numb to the difficulty of throwing stuff out. Either an item was literally falling apart or I was lazy and wanted future me in her massive house to store it. Clearing out items was as black and white as that.
When it came to my wardrobe door however I was forced to make more brutal decisions.
In rentals (or at least mine) blu tac is the substance of Satan, pretty much all landlords don’t want it anywhere near their magnolia walls. In place of that, the thin door was my only place to tac up things which meant something to me. A pin board-come-scrap-book of information and pictures that summed me up. New job cards, renters info from the Telegraph, a sassy postcard from M&S, it was, well, me. And now I had to take it all down and be a big girl for a change. Renters and school girls can do this sort of thing, homeowners with matching furniture sets and themed wallpapers couldn’t. The odd item got put to one side (sassy postcard, check!) but most of it ended up in the bin.
When the drawers were finally emptied and the shizz (well, most of) was in a black bin sack there remained little for me to do than slog over the worn down dirty mess that was the carpet. The landlord had bestowed on us a Henry hoover to enable us to keep the house tidy. Now, Alice, I hear you cry, what could possibly be wrong with that? Hurrah for landlords! Well, before you think my previous landlord was a saint…
Three storey townhouses with heavy, hose-based, Henry’s do not mix.
Never expect tenants to buy hoover bags, especially when most do not know what they are.
No hoover will revive a cheap, well trodden, carpet that hasn’t been replaced since the property was built fifteen years ago. None.
I spent hours on my hands and knees trying to suck up every bit of dirt the machine could just about manage. I knew at the time it was a joke, trying to remove a strand of hair from the dirty beige pile. At the end of it I was so exhausted that I think I lost it a bit. On a Saturday night, a Saturday night, I put this on my Instagram:
I mean seriously.
Once that was done all that was left was to wait. Until the house sale was completed a lot of items remained bagged up in assorted suitcases donated by family and random shopping bags. It looked like I was about to go to some far flung country, about to jet off somewhere new, but in the meantime I had to sit and wait it out while messages pinged in from solicitors and I scrabbled around the square of floor to complete important documents. Like I was waiting for my plane to depart.
After the sale had completed on my house I started moving items over, often taking a heavy case down to flights of stairs, across, up another two flights of stairs, then dumping the contents in a cold, empty bedroom. Then back down and up, fill up the case again and repeat. Then do the same with kitchenware and foodstuffs and you have the makings of a very drawn out, tiring, house move. My housemates would watch me carrying out the unorthodox house move in silence, whether they thought I was crazy or not mattered little to either of us.
On the last night I packed up my case with the last of the few items of clothing and put out what else remained on the bedside table.
The boiled down essentials of Alice Bennett, all laid out on one tiny rectangle. At first I was a little bit emotional, then I felt a bit let down by the basicness. Only I would rate the presence of Sudocrem and a lemon pip higher than books or make up. What scenario would cause me to urgently need Sudocrem and a lemon pip I do not know.
The duvet and bedding got carried round to the house bright and early the next day, alongside the final case of clothes which this time got left unopened in the bedroom. Into one of my many plastic bags I scooped up the bedside table contents and checked the tiny room for the millionth time. I knew that it would be clear and I also knew that living next door it would be a breeze to collect things should anything have been missed off, but it still didn’t stop me checking again.
Ironically, now the room was clear of junk and shizz it looked much bigger, I realised why I’d taken it on in the first place (well, cheap rent and location were the main reasons, but still).
I placed my bedroom door key on the bedside and with a final long look and a sigh, walked out with the latch off so that the newer housemates could peer in after I’d gone. I slipped out the front door and posted the key back through the brass-coloured letter box. Done.
There was a room.
A room full of bits and pieces and knick-knacks accumulated over the course of two years. A room which told the story of a kooky girl who hailed from Gloucestershire (or was it Hampshire or Warwickshire?) who worked in a solid job, with solid interests, yet always aspired to be more. She moved out of the busy house share and into her own home next door. Why? Because we all thought she was mental.
This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view all articles in the series (so far) click here.
There are streaks on the old coffee mug. Lines of paling foam which dribble down the tarnished china, coving all but the crackled logo of its home and owner.
The ceramic piece has been washed a lot over its five vintage years, too many times to count. Half a decade of rich coffee and change. The changing of customers, of staff, of interior, the coffee mug has seen it all. And yet the humble object has remained immutable throughout. Sat above in pristine whiteness, looking down at the clientele one minute, lowered to the table with a soiling of fouling brown the next. Wash, stack, use, wash, stack, use. No one expects more of it than that. But now the cracks in the logo are beginning to show, it’s white youth has become tanned by the pseudo Mediterranean paintings that hang on the walls.
“The roads, they lead to Roma” mutters the old Barista as she passes the aged ceramic to a colleague. She says that a lot nowadays, either out of habit or misinterpretation. The fresh-faced coffee within the old mug takes the Barista’s comment all too literally however as it makes a break for freedom. It suddenly pours itself over the edge and, within seconds, brown streaks are wandering the side of the mug like the great Egyptian Nile, starting as a mass of foam, splitting into separate lines of individuality. The unsuccessful delta columns stop mid way, the successful ones pool on the thin napkin at the base. Regards of how hard each strand has tried, the liquid’s efforts have resulted in nothing but a sticky trail across the mug.
“They really must put less sugar in these things,” a disgruntled consumer complains as they place the old mug on one of the newer tables. “Or at the very least stop over filling the cups.”
Another drop of brown stops short of the mug’s base.
“I agree,” her companion replies, “the staff here really do nothing to help themselves. I’ll go and ask for a fresh one, you shouldn’t get your hands sticky over something so trivial.”
The companion waves flamboyantly at the old Barista behind the bar, as if the employee were blind and he were crippled. In no particular hurry she lowers the box of protein bar refills and meanders to the small table.
The customer points at the offending object. “Deal with it.”
Without emotion or word (for the staff here either cannot or will not speak the customer tongue) the Barista scoops the streaked mug and swiftly empties its contents down the drain. As she stares down the plughole stands of greasy black hair fall out of her loose bun for the third time that day, perhaps the only thing that remains of the rebellious nature that characterised former youth and beauty. That disobedient streak which took her away from there to here. There, she was a smart and charming girl who had everything going for her, here she avoids the stares of her English masters and the attractive panini delivery man. Even he is too good for her here. A fresh personality ground down to little more than six characters. “I clean”, mumbled as she scuttles past the grumpy man in the tight shirt. She quickly twists the hair strands behind her ear as she dashes away. “I’ll cut it tonight” she thinks to herself.
Throughout all this the old mug hangs off the bony finger without comment. Of all the changes the ceramic has seen, hers has been the greatest and least unnoticed. The human glances down at the crackled lines and thinks the same of the object as they both dive into the back room.
In the dull light of a kitchen that scrapes hygienic regulation, the streaked mug is ceremonially dumped into a vat of industrial foam, alongside numerous others that are stacked on the side. Under gentle washing the streaks on the old mug slowly begin to disappear, revealing in their place dark tan lines and chips stained with pale lipstick (or that’s what the Barista hopes). Dirt and age that no amount of washing will remove. The manager’s instructions are clear though: There’s logo, there’s use.
At this moment the mug turns in the bowl and lifts its fading logo to peer up into the droopy eyes of the Barista, as if were trying to convey a message or a plea. Outside there continues the crashes and bangs, the shouts and grinds of the daily, but yet in the backroom of nowhere, for just one moment, these two objects share a unexplainable connection. The sentient being nods at the weary object in what she considers to be mutual understanding, and drives the mug hard under the murky water with pale, delicate, hands and a scouring pad.
The old mug has never been seen on the high shelf since.
In the RSC’s recent production of Titus Andronicus all the foulest deeds of mankind come to roast. Murder, affair, execution, rape and even cannibalism are unashamedly showcased in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. As I found myself watching execution after execution I found it hard to believe that this play could have possibly been penned by the same great man who also wrote about fairies dancing in the wood and young lovers coming together in merry song.
Titus Andronicus, a great general who has fought greatly and lost much, returns to Rome to much praise from his family and supporters. However the decision to refuse his nomination for the throne, coupled with his backing of the weak Saturninus for emperor, starts a chain of uncontainable blood and devastation for all sides. Formerly persecuted by Titus, the empress Tamora and her lover Aaron sees to the destruction of the general by inflicting increasingly gory and brutal punishments on his family. As the bodies started to pile up on stage, I was left on the edge of my seat, wondering not who will survive, but how will they die.
This recent adaptation of the Roman-based play is set in the 21st Century. In the opening scene, actors in hoodies climb the fences and cry out of injustice as Rome continues to crumble, only to be swiftly beaten down by highly-clad police officers. In my comfy seat with cool air conditioning, I was witnessing a society falling apart right in front of me, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop the pain and misery. It’s that feeling of helplessness, that visualising of a dystopian future that is more relatable now than ever before and that sadness that what you’re seeing on stage is happening around the world as I type this very review. The language changes, but the darkness of human nature always prevails.
This classical play is attributed with a suburb acting cast, headed with David Troughton, Hannah Morris, Patrick Dury and Nia Gwynne. I cried with Titus as he cradled the head of his son, felt rage at the sight of his raped daughter and felt a sick, twisted joy from witnessing the execution of the perpetrators. For once in my life my very British emotions and civil nature were reduced to their base, primitive, level. I was hooked from the very start until the very end.
Forget notions of concealed knives under armpits and melodramatic deaths, in the space of three hours there you will be forced to absorb some of the most difficult of moral and emotional scenarios known to man. The stage will be covered in more than just the spit of the actors. You’ll witness the closest thing to a real-life public execution, scenes of female empowerment which you’ll loathe and outright racism that you cannot shout out against. Leave your political correctness in the clock room, this is an Elizabethan play like no other. More blood please!
Reason #8587839 why the English language is so hard to learn – Savor
a) Savor is American.
b) Savour is the exact same word spelt differently (and correctly might I add) in British English (i.e. English, English).
c) Savour is too close to the Jesus Christ the Saviour, for my liking (especially when robed men go about and start including bread in the same conversation).
And that was another episode of “Look, All I’m Sayin’…” next week we’ll start the first of a special ten part special into how every element of following phrase should never have slipped through the net:
“No way did you knowing read a trashy colored book called ‘from Reading to Rubbish’! I saw someone reading that too. It was whilst I was on the see saw in the park with the poor car parking. You might as well pour your pounds down the drain with that one, but then no one reads anymore anyway. If I had it my way I’d do a ‘U’ turn on policy preventing pupils from using their pupils on lunch break, and let their creativity break loose by buying books in bimonthly sales, or else we might as well say bye-bye to the future.”
Written in response to the WordPress Prompt of the day: Savor
To the vast majority of people it represents just another book. Priced at £16.99, to my parents it probably represents an overpriced, emotional blackmail purchase, but to me it will always represent something far more significant. Unknown at the time (and for many years afterwards), this represents a key cornerstone in my life so far. For in this thick little book is my first ever published piece of writing.
Back when I was thirteen years old my English teacher got the class to write mini S.A.G.A.S (short, adventurous, gripping amusing, stories), short pieces of writing no longer than fifty words in length. At the time we were suitably hyped up by the prospect that the top students would get their work published in a book. My teacher’s words had the same effect on me as a child on blue Smarties (I was that sort of kid). Rising to the challenge, I poured out tens of short pieces in quick succession. While my peers scratched their heads over content, I found the greatest difficulty was knowing when to stop. Fifty words in which to write a complete, self-contained, passage is actually quite hard. In the end I selected the piece of work I felt best reflected who I was and my writing style (it was also the piece that my teacher chose to read out to the class. Take that Will Townsend!)
Unfortunately what our teacher had failed to tell us was that being selected to appear in the book wasn’t quite the big achievement originally billed up to be. It turned out that every submission made it to print, so long as their parents were prepared to stump up the money to buy the book in advance. Barring one girl, everyone in my class got a mention in the publication (even Will Townsend). Of course at thirteen this didn’t stop me being dead chuffed that something I’d written had achieved a degree of recognition. It meant that someone had seen value in my work. The fact that I still own this book in a state of near mint condition says it all.
Flicking back through the pages of Mini S.A.G.A.S. all these years later I still feel the same way as I did then, that for a thirteen year old my entry is by far the best. It’s certainly the most cohesive and unique of my class and regional peers (oh yay, yet another entry about a crush). And, although it would take another eight years to get me into proper writing, I like to think getting a little piece of my mind published sowed the seeds of creativity. If there was a prologue to my blog’s creation this would be it.
(And the best bit? You’ll never know what it was.)