Every Book has a Million Stories

You know that feeling when you walk out the door without a book?

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Nicole Scherzinger does, it’s probably why her and Lewis Hamilton aren’t together anymore.

“Nicky, did you remember to pack War and Peace?”

“Urm…”

“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.

Enjoy.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Reading at home
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.

 

Wine Bar Reading
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).

 

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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.

 

 

Every book has a million stories.

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Line!

Evoking emotion in me is like filling a massive man-made dam. You keep pushing and pushing to go further, to fill it higher, until suddenly the walls break and water goes everywhere. Many lives and friendships lost, terrible mess, nightmare insurance claim.

Problem is I often don’t know when to stop. It’s like the world is challenging me to tip toe over the thick red boundary, to see the signs and ignore the warnings. To step over “the line”.

Within our family we’re pretty good at keeping each other in check. A slip of the tongue and down the phone you’ll hear me dryly saying “line! Line!” As if I’m  voicing a submarine siren or hitting a desk buzzer. I used to mimic the action, that was until people in public places started expressing concern that I was having a some kind of seizure.

“Line! Line! Line!”

Outside of family there’s no such restriction on what I say. Now obviously I never say anything offensive or plain stupid, I’m not Donald Trump, but that doesn’t stop me saying things that are a bit kooky and classically Alice. A throwaway comment that develops into a very strange trail of thought, carrying on and on until I look up and realise that, at best, no one is listening or, at worst, I get “a look” which says it all; “must remove from LinkedIn.”

Only recently have I discovered that I’m not alone in evoking stupid thoughts. Someone at work is equally resilient to being unable to locate the line. At first I thought “oh my God, another one exists! Yay!” now I’m thinking “oh my God, how does this end? Will the world implode if we share one pun too many?”

I’ll spare you the full detailed story that has developed between us because honestly it’s pretty weird (I know, even by my standards). This fictional life started with an innocent accidental wave on Facebook – 30 minutes later and it had become all kinds of Mighty Boosh.

To make matters worse, the colourful (and ongoing) contents were inadvertently brought from the safe confines of social media and into the office today. You can only imagine the looks (or non-looks) the pair of us were getting. I may have discovered the older, more ‘out there’ version of me, but I’m also discovering why “you can never have too much of a bad thing” isn’t a common saying amongst sensible people. The banter is wonderful, but the confused looks and hole-digging explanations? Hmm, that’s harder to put up with on a day-to-day.

Where is my conversation controller, my stupid stopper, my tame talker? Where is my internal, one word, monologue when I need it the most?

“Line! Line! Line!”

 

Written in response to the WordPress prompt Evoke

8. Swapping Solicitors for Social Media: Impatient Sellers

With the mortgage in place and all the relevant forms filled in, my solicitors were deployed.

For cost sake, said legal representatives were located nowhere near Swindon, but their website and documentation reliably informed me they had a small office in Suffolk. The price I paid was so low I never questioned my solicitors’ insistence on email and postal communication and in return they didn’t spit in my envelope for paying them peanuts and putting Swindon-based solicitors out of business.

The next day I strolled down to the nearby pillar post box and posted off the initial fee. “Lovely county Suffolk,” I thought, “shame about all the Londoners though.”

For the best part of a month there was little more for me to do. My energies became more engulfed with buying, collecting and, in Mum’s case, painting furniture from around the region and storing it in the furniture warehouse (alias, my parent’s garden room extension).

Meanwhile, at work, people were beginning to realise why I’d been so stressed of late. Although I’d frequently commented on “looking at houses” or “difficulties with the bank”, many colleagues had wrongly assumed I was moving into a new rental property. Given my age and martial status I can hardly say I was that surprised by the confusion, in fact I was more taken aback by the ripple effect my purchase had on these same people.

Suddenly I was the Martin Lewis of home buying, everyone had a question to ask and apparently I was the girl to give advice. The hints and tips recited beside boiling kettles and in toilet queues was little more than a blended mix of common sense and random statistics from The Telegraph, and yet that was enough. I was the Marmite of the organisation, people respected me or envied my very guts. And slowly, oh so slowly, habits of those around me began to change. People stopped buying coffee, packed lunches started making a comeback, and a night in with a made-from-scratch lasagne became the ultimate date night experience. All subtle signs of people putting money to one side for an unspecified goal.

“What have I created?” I thought.

Apart from changing the psychology of my fellow workforce, up until February life was blissful (well, compared to the fiasco with BankUK*).

I suppose I was a bit naïve to think the sellers would let the house sale proceed on my terms. Throughout the entire mortgage drama there had been not a word from either of the two solicitors to suggest concern, so I guess I assumed that with things moving at a normal pace I shouldn’t have the cause to be concerned.

On February 14th 2017 the tenants of the house formally moved out. I knew this because a) They told me this when I met them to discuss buying furniture (of which I bought none) and b) I saw the van on their drive that very evening as I walked back from food shopping. The tenant had wanted me to buy his wares to avoid use of a van, which made me watching him struggle with an oversized pine bed particularly awkward. Unable to commit my vocal cords, I made somewhat awkward eye contact and mouthed “hi” in the winter darkness before scuttling into the house next door and telling myself I was not to go out again that evening.

On February 15th the chasing began. My solicitors informed me that the sellers’ Swindon solicitors were constantly asking for updates at request of their client. This was frustrating my people in Suffolk because they were not being paid enough to care or give five minute updates to first-time sellers who weren’t clients. I thanked them for letting me know and assured them that I’d see any documentation was returned promptly upon receipt and funds were moved into place ready for exchange.

To save boring legal and financial jargon, the planned exchange date fell through. The fault was not down to myself, nor my solicitors, not even the sellers, but due to incorrectly submitted documentation from my old friends BankUK.

I called Katie* to inquire as to the hold up.

“We sent both sets of documentation through, your solicitors should have read them and used the right one.”

“But why wasn’t it made clear?”

“They were sent both the first and second versions because of the difficulties we faced with your application before. If they’d read the figures correctly…”

I was already impatient. “I can’t believe this. At the final hurdle BankUK have messed up. Look, whatever documentation my people have got it’s wrong. They need a different form to either of the two you sent them. If the exchange falls through again the whole house sale might fall through. You can understand why I’m a bit frustrated, no?”

“We are aware of this Miss Bennett and looking into it now. I’ll remind you to watch the tone of your voice on the phone.”

“For Christ’s sake” I said as I hung up the phone.

I never spoke to Katie again.

I cursed under my breath but hoped that the sellers would accept the revised date and understand there was nothing anyone could do until Thursday, two days later.

That was when the seller’s fiancée crossed the line.

Before this situation had kicked off I’d met them very briefly to check out the white goods which were being included in the sale. From that I learnt the house belonged to the man and he and his soon to be wife were buying a new build on the edge of Swindon. In turn they learn my first name and I lived next door. In the world we live in that’s all she needed.

I don’t know how, but she found me. Of all the millions of Alices on Facebook she found my profile that evening and, in blatant convention of legal process and regulation, she sent me a direct message.

“Hi Alice, My solicitors have just told me we are not going to be able to exchange today due to BankUK not being in a position to go forward…We’ve been advised by our sellers that they are very reluctant to continue with the sale to us if the completion date is affected, consequently if they pull out we will have to too. Many Thanks.”

I was stunned. Was she seriously threatening me to pull out on the entire sale, over Facebook? She wasn’t even the owner of the property.

Eventually, after fully processing what I’d read I wrote back a response with the help of my parents down the phone. I sent it thinking it would be the end of it, but no the messages came in thick and fast from her, pouring her heart out with the added threat of turning at any point and making her partner put the property back on the market again. After all I’d been through and money already sunk in, I couldn’t bear the pain of living in the shared house next door, forever watching people go in and out of my ‘could have been’ home. I’d had enough, I ratted them up to my solicitor and under their instruction ignored all of the messages sent from thereon.

It transpired that the real reason why the house sale almost fell through was so petty it was almost a joke. My sellers’ sellers didn’t want to pay another monthly repayment on their mortgage which would happen if the exchange was delayed by two days. The news came to me via phone after we finally exchanged. It was one of the few times I actually spoke with my solicitors.

“But if they relisted the property they’d have to make the payment anyway?” I questioned. Surely no one can be that stupid?

The speaker sighed. “Yep. You’d think someone would have told her that before she started shouting and getting your sellers into a state. I don’t know what game she was trying to play and we don’t know why it wasn’t handled better as opposed to scaring everyone in the chain. As for the Facebook messaging, well that’s taken us all aback.”

“I suppose it’s the world we live in right?”

“Where rules don’t apply because it’s social media and everyone thinks they can be a solicitor,” there was a slight pause, “I’ll send you the final invoice via email shortly. If you can pay it ASAP we can at least complete on the original date everyone agreed to, even if the exchange was delayed.”

 

I did all that was required by me, signed a few bits of paper, moved a few digital numbers from one place to another and then waited. And as if by legal magic I received an email saying I owned a house.

No big deal.

 

(Names marked * have been changed for the benefit of this article.)

This post is part of The First Time Buyer Diaries. To view the full series (so far) click here.

Things Are Going To Change Around Here

You’re lying on a beach, the warm Mediterranean sun kissing your sun cream-sheen body. There’s a Pina Colada in hand (it could be the second or third, but who’s counting anyway?) And you think to yourself, “yes, this is pure bliss”. Suddenly, out of nowhere…

“Things are going to change around here!”

You’re sat in an English beer garden in summer, holding a pint of ale that comes recommended by the landlord himself. There’s a gentle breeze flowing through your hair as you idly watch dog walkers stroll by. It could just as easily be Devon or as it could be Suffolk (but who’s reading the map anyway?) And you think to yourself, “can’t go far wrong”. Then…

“Things are going to change around here!”

You’re stood by a roaring fire, munching down on festive treats. Outside it’s dark and cold, but inside you worship only the primitive flames. The wine is pouring a plenty and the boxes of mince pies are never ending. You don’t care much for the brand (who’s checking the price tag anyway?) And you soon find yourself curling up into a ball and drifting off by the glowing embers. As your eyelids slowly lower, with loving family all around, you think to yourself “life doesn’t get much better than this.”…

“Things are going to change around here!”

***

All three of the above are, give or take a few juicy words, all scenarios I’ve shared in the company of my beloved Papa Bennett. It’s basically a family tradition, when you reach a sweet spot in life he will almost always cry out those seven words. “Things are going to change around here!”

Usually the statement will be followed by something that he feels is currently out of balance. These fall into two categories and you can usually pin point what he’s going to say and when he’ll say it down to a T. For example, Christmas time after eating four mince pies in one sitting = health, three days into a beach holiday = work balance. And every time we tell him “work less hours!” Or “eat less junk!” all we get is a look of horror. “I couldn’t possibly do that!” he says.

Papa Bennett aside, used in the right way the statement does have weighting to it. I think to myself, wouldn’t it be better to, instead of pledging resolutions at New Year, instead say TAGTCAH? (Does that read like a Lord of the Rings character? Or a nasty throat infection?)

Without going into the potted year of the Alice Bennett show, 2017 has been so unbelievably busy. New house, new car, new job (and everything else in between). I’ve dealt with busy builders, evil energy suppliers and a mortgage provider who tried to fob me off with a blank cheque. Swindon stays the same, sure, but everything else has changed.

What’s going to change around here in 2018? Well, things I hope for:

Life to calm down (at least the things I can control)
I received a Christmas card this year with the added note “hoping 2018 is just as thrilling as the one before!” Well no, no I really hope it isn’t. I’ve invested enough time and money on the power three (house, car, job) in the past year, I welcome a break!

Stop worrying over the little things.
Recently someone gave me a piece of written feedback. I highly paraphrase, but it went something like “you’re doing great, but you’ve seriously got to stop worrying and overanalysing everything.” (So I’m going to stop fussing so much over the little things.)

Learn how to read electronic messages.
…My knee jerk reaction to the above email was to heavily defend why I cared so much about my job. I reread heir comments a week later and realised that I’d completely misread what they were trying to say. They’d written the comment in good humour as part of a longer email as a gentle nudge to relax a little. And yet I latched onto one slightly negative thing. That was silly and I wish I could take it back and not given out the Alice Bennett sob story. So as a writer I also need to learn how to read (hah, how ironic).

Stop overanalysing emails. (See above.) Because colleagues will think it weird and will be scared that they’ll appear on blogs, like they’re working with some kind of corporate Taylor Swift.

Write something awesome
Like truly awesome

Grow nails, preferably by finding something/one as actual motivation.
Because nothing else is working and I hate my hands and want nails so bad. I’m thinking like The Rock or Channing Tatum as personal trainers, Richard Branson staring me down from the other side of the office, and/or a naggy Martin Freeman? Not fussy, whichever comes easiest to hand (eh, see what I did there? Pun Goddess.)

Be you Alice because when you’re not spilling coffee everywhere you pass off for a decent human being. And you need to damn well appreciate it more.

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(Also because Oscar Wilde’s people called. Turns out he’s already taken.)

So there’s my ‘things are going to change around here’ list for 2018. Comment below any of yours, in the meantime I’m off to take on the new year.

Lets do this.

Whatever Happened to Duffy?

So, the WordPress prompt of the day is ‘Mercy’ and when I think of mercy my natural reaction is to get on a podium and dance.

And to think, if I’d decided to study Politics I may have had a different reaction to the concept of mercy. A world where Alice is unmoved by the above song. What a sad world that would be.

It did however lead me to wonder: where is Duffy now? Where is Duffy, and Dido and Celine Dion and everyone with a D under five characters?

Well it transpires I wasn’t the first one to think this big question (about Duffy that is. No one seems to have a clue about Dido and I’m quite sure Celine is making plump middle aged women cry in Las Vagas still). Duffy wise, Digital Spy has already addressed this point.

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I didn’t even have to look hard for the article, on a Bing search (don’t judge, I’m too lazy to switch) it came up as second in results under the keyword “Duffy”.

The article paints a story that is heard all too often in the music industry. Too much fame, too quickly, leading to breakdowns and even firing her own publicity team. She went quiet and then fired off a batch of new singles in early 2017 following a break from music. I know, I was completely none-the-wiser either. (If you want the full article click here.)

So there you go. Who says you don’t learn stuff from this blog.

 

Written in response to the WordPress prompt of the day: Mercy

This Could Be the Best Homemade Video Since Charlie Bit My Finger…*

(* – no promises made)

What does one get a family member who has everything? More to the point, what does one get a family member when one has no money, no time and has a terrible habit of writing in the ‘one’ tense? That’s right, she makes a truly amazing video featuring Phil Collins (obviously).

It seemed such a good idea to make a video for lil bub Bennett’s birthday, but then in truth I think I may have really just wanted to pay tribute to Phil Collins and feed my middle age condition (the one where people are born liking The Archers and consider staying up to watch the BBC News at 10 to be a ‘crazy’ one. Yeah, that one.) Anyway, I thought the video would be a nice thing to do for her.

20 hours later…

Brain dead, caffeine overdosed and fed up of seeing my sister’s face more than my own, I finally created a masterpiece. “She better love this” I thought, before dashing into Lush the next day to buy a back up present. Safe thing too, when I first presented her with the gift she seemed less than amused at the offering.

“Right. Ok, well that’s a very nice memory stick Ali, thank you.”

“No you donut, it’s what’s on the stick.”

“Oh right!”

“Did you seriously think I’d give you a cheap USB stick for your birthday?”

*Silence*

“Just play the video.”

Luckily, she loved it. And now, for your viewing pleasure, I have added that same video here. Enjoy! (Well as much as you can given you know nothing of my family and it’s in-jokes…if nothing else watch it for Phil.)

 

 

Written in response to the WordPress prompt Dancing