30/12/14 - Allow me to reintroduce myself.

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Long time no see, old blog pals.  I readily admit that I have been particularly terrible at keeping up with this little corner of the Internet recently, but life has been more than a little mental.  (Like it's the first time you've all heard that one...) There have been some pretty big and exciting things going on and, particularly with the festive period, I've been run off my feet which has left me a bit shattered of late.  But things are looking to become a little calmer in the New Year - or at least, I'll be busy with fun blog-worthy things rather than with rubbish work things that no one wants to read about. 

2014 has been a year of big changes and, although anyone who knows me well will know that that I'm not exactly great at dealing with change, I've had an absolutely incredible twelve months...actually, most of that incredibleness has manifested in the last six months.  When I think back to the Hannah of this time last year, I'm amazed by how much I've developed.  And this blog has developed with me; not only did it get a total makeover and a new URL, I'm now intent on using this website as a means of collecting my creative writing as well as lifestyle/food/book-blogging...you may have noticed the addition of a new 'Portfolio' tab, that's what that is.  And that brings me to my New Year's resolution, which is really the point of this post.

09/10/14 - Urban Decay does Pulp Fiction

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My film knowledge is severely lacking, almost anyone who knows me can tell you that. I'm a big fan of rewatching the same silly films multiple times rather than opening myself to new experiences or trying some of the classics.  I think it's because the majority of the time I spend watching films is as a form of background noise or when I've had a long day and want to watch something familiar and easy.  I'm also a big avoider of hype and if someone is too enthusiastic about a film, I'm liable to give it a miss.  This has never been much of a problem, but it does mean that I miss out on some cinematic gems.  Recently, though, my horizons have started widening and the first film that really changed my perspective was Pulp Fiction.  As soon as I started raving about it to people, the response was largely, "You've seriously only just seen Pulp Fiction?!"  Obviously it's a classic, everybody knows that.  And rightly so.  It's brilliant.  If you've not seen it, get on it.

12/09/14 - Short Story: The Journey To Buxton

     “Is this seat taken?”
     The man was oblivious to my voice for a moment, and then he caught a glimpse of me looming over him in the corner of his eye and his head jerked up.  He tugged one of his headphones from his ear and turned his eyes quizzically up to me.

11/09/14 - Short Story: Twenty Twenty

     Some relationships are doomed from the outset.  Most will come to an end at some point, whether it’s a crashing tempestuous finale or a pathetic little fizzle.  It’s only that lucky handful that last for any significant time, and a tiny percentage of those are actually permanent arrangements. 

10/09/14 - Mondrian and his Studios at Tate Liverpool

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Even if you don't consciously know the name Piet Mondrian or his importance to the world of twentieth century abstract art, you'll undoubtedly be familiar with some of his work.  His style is so distinctive that you can't fail to recognise it and his influences stretch far beyond the art world.  I've suddenly started noticing Mondrian everywhere.  A billboard displaying a car advert caught my eye with its black lines and primary coloured blocks, as did Katy Perry's video for her new song 'This Is How We Do'.  He's everywhere, which just goes to show how vital his work is even seventy years after his death.

03/09/14 - Monthly Reads: August

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I read a lot...not as much as I used to, but still a considerable amount.  Sometimes I read things that maybe aren't quite worthy of an entire review post of their own, but that I still want to share with the world.  Sometimes I might want to write an entire review of something but just know that I'll never get around to it.  So I've decided to give you a little rundown of everything I've read recently in handy bite-sized chunks...this might be a bit of a cop-out, but at least I get a chance to have a little chat about them all.

29/07/14 - Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

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You absolutely can't beat a typical British seaside holiday.  I'm talking paddling in the freezing cold sea, eating chips in the car while rain lashes the windows, and wasting a small fortune in two pence coins at the arcades.  You come away with sand in your shoes, a touch of unexpected sunburn, a stomach full of too much candyfloss and ice cream...but with a big smile on your face.

15/07/14 - 'The Boss Of It All' at the Soho Theatre

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A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be contacted with the opportunity to attend the press night of a new play at the Soho Theatre down in London and of course I jumped at the chance!  It wasn't just the draw of free tickets that tempted me (although obviously that never hurts), but the chance to get to see something totally different and something I probably wouldn't have even known about otherwise.  I was particularly interested in the idea of seeing a new adaptation of such an unusual work, and this is something that New Perspectives as a theatre company are known for.

Lars von Trier is a name that, despite not being much of a movie buff, I was aware of when I read it in the first email.  I knew that he is generally known for making pretty controversial and challenging films, and the press release told me that The Boss of it All is considered to be the most accessible of his works and certainly his only comedy.  This was really all I had to go on.  I did buy the DVD of von Trier's 2006 film previously to seeing the stage production but didn't get around to watching it until afterwards.  While normally I'm a fan of accessing the original source material before diving into the adaptations, I don't think my experience was at all diminished by having very little prior knowledge before sitting down in the theatre.

08/07/14 - Some Ramblings on Inspiration

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Inspiration is an odd thing.  It can appear at the most unexpected of moments and be gone again just as quickly.  Sometimes it's fleeting and barely lasts long enough for you to scribble down whatever idea has popped into your head, and sometimes it sticks around for a few days.  The latter can be even more frustrating than the former, especially if - like me - you have a fairly full-on job.  I have days where all I want to do is hole away with one of my hundreds of notebooks and a vat of coffee, but unfortunately real life beckons and when I finally find that I have some time to myself, the moment has passed and inspiration's skipped off into the ether again with no indication of when it might return.  It's a sneaky devil, that inspiration.

A lack of inspiration is just one of the many excuses I make for not blogging as frequently as I intend to.  Others include the fact that I work a lot, I don't have the Internet at home, my laptop is really slow, my camera isn't great...the list goes on and on.  But I've decided that I'm done making excuses.  I look on blogging as sort of an unpaid second job and, like any job, I need to work at it but apparently I'm not as good at self-motivation as I thought. I have always worked best with deadlines.  Even though I'm a terrible procrastinator and always push myself right up until the very end of the deadline period before actually doing anything, having a time limit on things means I'm more inclined to actually do them.  But if I'm setting my own deadlines, I have the ability to change and extend them for as long as I want without actually achieving anything.  All I really need is someone to challenge me.  Someone to give me a kick up the bum, someone who won't let me get away with the same old lame excuses and instead will stand over me and say, "But why haven't you done a blog post for nearly a month?"  And it's looking like I've found that person.  It can be difficult to force myself to write when I'm not really feeling it, especially since it's a very solitary occupation.  It's nice to have someone there who inspires me to work that little bit harder.  

My current blogging headquarters, complete with coffee and carbs
to keep me on track.  Such a cliche.
I have a very distinct memory of reading a quote in which a writer (in my head, it was Sylvia Plath) said they write much better when they're unhappy, but that of course they'd rather be happy than a great writer.  However, the Internet seems to have utterly no record of any such quote so I can't put it in here and I certainly can't correctly credit it.  In terms of creative writing, I would agree with that.  I've written reams of angsty poems and short stories when I've been in the depths of despair (none of them any good, I hasten to add), but I struggle to get my fiction head on when I'm contented.  However, blogging is a different matter.  When I'm not happy, I have no motivation to go out and do things worth writing about.  And when I'm happy and I actually do things, it can be tough to find time to write up all my adventures.  This is the quandry I've been in recently; I've hardly written anything at all for a really long time because I'm happy.  Really really happy.  Everything in my life seems to have fallen perfectly into place and it's been a bit of whirlwind but one that I'm more than okay with being swept along in.  Of course, no one's life is perfect but even the rubbish bits don't seem so bad when everything else is going so well.  I refuse to let one or two little niggles overwhelm the good stuff, and not writing has been one of those niggles.  So this is my vow to solve that problem.  More frequent blog posts, possibly even on some kind of fixed schedule, even when I don't feel like it.  I will make time.  I will fight through the blogger's block and the slow creativity days.

I've always written this blog because I wanted to and not because I ever expected anyone else to read it.  Yet I sometimes second-guess myself and worry that no one will be interested in the things I'm posting.  I need to get out of that habit.  Sylvia Plath said that "the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt" (I definitely stumbled across that quote whilst desperately trying to find the other one I mentioned) and she was absolutely right.  If I actually am writing for myself, as I say I am, then what does it matter if no one else cares?  Hence this blog post.  This could just as easily gone into a private diary entry and never seen the light of day, but I am confident that at least one person out there in the world will feel exactly the same way I do.  And even if they don't, this blog is my corner of the Internet and sometimes, I don't want to write a book review or a food post.  Sometimes, I just want to write.

I have been Hannah.  This has been a very rambly post.  The next one will be much more cohesive, I promise.

15/06/14 - Hull End of Year Ball 2014

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you’ll know how I feel about Hull.  I don’t know if everyone feels this kind of connection to their university city or if I’m just lucky but every time I catch a glimpse of that big beautiful bridge over the Humber, I feel like I’m coming home.  All the terrible rumours you’ve heard about Hull being a bit of a hellhole are…only partly true.  It has dodgy areas, but so does everywhere.  It’s actually a wonderful place with so much going on and it’s the cheapest place in the country to live so it’s amazing for students.  If Hull was a slightly bigger city or there were more interesting job opportunities there, I would’ve been happy to stay after graduation but alas, the best thing about it is probably the university.  It was the university, the place I called home for the best three years of my life, that dragged me back last weekend.  As an awful lot of my friends are graduating in the summer, this year’s End Of Year Ball was a chance for a big group of us to be together again for one last time.  And everyone knows that I struggle to pass on an opportunity to get glammed up.  It was really nice to get the chance at a third EOYB since I didn't go to my second year one - you can read about the amazing time I had last year right here.

Despite an utterly hellish journey that involved getting to the halfway point of my journey after the time I should’ve reached my destination, climbing aboard the world’s most rickety rail replacement bus and finally arriving at one in the morning, the weekend was certainly worth the effort.  Saturday dawned miserable and wet, and there was much debate over whether it was worth attempting to do anything with our hair if it was just going to get rained on.  Thankfully by the time the evening’s preparations were fully underway, the sun had peeked out and from that point onwards the weather was pretty glorious.

It was a wonderful night.  Everyone was dressed to the nines and it was brilliant to catch up with a lot of people I hadn't seen for ages.  Hours of laughter ensued as we sipped fizzy wine and danced until our feet were sore.  Somewhere between the dodgems and the chocolate fountain, it suddenly occurred to me that this would almost certainly be my last act as an honorary student.  It’s been the best part of a year since I graduated, but having so many friends still at university is a great way to have a little foray back to the good old days several times a year.  You get all the best parts of the student lifestyle without the library all-nighters, essay deadlines and Pot Noodle diets.  I’m definitely going to miss having weekends where I get to pretend that I don’t have real world concerns like council tax, but maybe it’s time for me to become a proper grown-up.  And although the prospect of that is a little terrifying, I was able to push the thought aside to enjoy one last night with some of my favourite people in the world.  At least they’ll all now be joining me and we can take the next steps into the adult world together – bleurgh, cheesy!

Naturally Sunday morning featured the obligatory carb-heavy brunch and a dissection of the previous evening.  I didn’t get any photos of it unfortunately, but we ate at one of my favourite spots along Newland Avenue in the heart of the student area in Hull.  Normally Tofts is my favourite cocktail spot but they also do cracking bistro-y type food for those mildly hungover mornings when cocktails just are not on the menu.  We devoured endless glasses of juice, gorged ourselves on all kinds of bread, potato and grease, and chattered non-stop until I suddenly realised that I needed to dash off to catch the train home.  The briefest of goodbyes as I hopped aboard the bus into town didn’t seem like nearly enough to round off such an amazing weekend, so I of course took a cheeky bridge snap out of the train window which I’ve set as the wallpaper on my phone to induce some nostalgia every time I check for new text messages.

And now it's back to the daily grind of work...being an adult isn't quite all its cracked up to be, especially after having one last studenty weekend!

02/06/14 - Home Sweet Home!

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I've been living alone for more than two whole weeks now and it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't even thought to mention it on here.  If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you're probably already aware of this fact but I thought that such a momentous change in my life probably warranted its own blog post!  I thought I'd throw in a little before-and-after feature to give you a little insight into my humble abode.  It's come a lot further since I took these photos; my walls are looking a bit fuller now, some of the pictures have been moved around, I've acquired a rug and some shelves...but I'm sure you'll get to see those at some point if you're particularly interested.

Yes, I'm a grown woman who has a Miffy toy on her bed.  And what?

After living with my parents for most of my life, then moving to university halls, then into a house of six before returning to my parents after graduation, it's quite nice to have some space which is exclusively mine.  Work has been hectic and I've been keeping myself busy, so I've barely spent any time by myself...eventually the day will come when I suddenly sit down and realise that it's just me rattling around in this two bedroom flat.  I'm mostly settled in now and it's so handy being within walking distance of where I work rather than having to catch two trains there and two trains back...which of course means no more moaning about my commute, so everybody wins!

The new-found independence is a treat, even if it is a little strange adjusting to it.  It's great to be able to watch what I want on the television, I love that cereal has become an acceptable evening meal, and there's no one to tell me that playing the ukulele at eleven pm is a bad idea.  However, the downside is that the piles of washing up I leave by the sink actually stay there until I do something about it and there's no one to make me a cup of coffee of a morning.  I'm coping somehow and I've not found myself being too lonely yet, which was my main concern about moving into my own place.  I've actually enjoyed the peace and quiet after some busy days at work!

If nothing else, most people know that I love any excuse to buy home decor-y things and of course a new flat warrants at least one trip to IKEA!  In my opinion, there's very little better than wandering around all those beautiful showrooms with the intention of buying a single piece of furniture before coming away with a car full of little bits and pieces you didn't know you needed until you saw them and a stomach full of insanely cheap Swedish food and free coffee refills.  That's my idea of bliss and I don't care if it's a bit sad...

So there you have it!  If you're interested in seeing any more home-type posts, just let me know in the comments!

26/05/14 - Jonathan Yeo at the Lowry

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If you've been reading my blog for a little while, you'll know that I occasionally dip my toes into the art world.  I just love the experience of wandering between paintings, trying to convince myself and those around me that I actually know what I'm talking about...it's something that I wish I did more of because every time I do, I come away feeling invigorated and inspired.  Last Thursday evening was no different.  My friend Jenny and I attended the opening of an exhibition of Jonathan Yeo's portraits at the Lowry in Salford.  For anyone who doesn't know, Jonathon Yeo is one of Britain's leading portrait artists and is best known for his renderings of very familiar faces which include actors and politicians.  This particular exhibition, which is on tour from the National Portrait Gallery, features some of his most famous subjects - from Kevin Spacey in the role of Richard III to Tony Blair, with a new portrait of the incredible actress Maxine Peake.

After a stroll around the exhibition and actually managing to intelligently discuss the contrasting styles in the portraits, we gathered to hear Jonathan Yeo discussing his work with Tim Marlow and special guest, actor Charlie Condou.  The moment they started speaking, I instantly regretted not bringing a notebook - I normally carry one everywhere but we went to the exhibition straight from work and everything was just that bit too hectic for me to remember something so basic.  In the hour long conversation, they covered so much ground including the experience of painting versus being the subject of a portrait, the nature of 'celebrity', a fascinating exploration of Yeo's political artwork, and how the development of technology and the rise of the selfie has changed the way we view portraiture.  It was so inspiring to watch these three incredibly articulate men giving a real insight into the artistic process as well as discussing its connection to our wider society, and there were numerous brilliants comments that I wish I'd had the common sense to write down verbatim so that I could put them in here. 

After the talk, we were lucky enough to grab a moment with Charlie Condou for a brief chat.  If it hadn't been for his Twitter, we wouldn't have known the event was even happening and it would have been such a shame to miss out on such a fantastic evening.  Charlie was utterly lovely, so friendly and accommodating, and even agreed to a quick photo before he had to dash off.  Unfortunately, Jonathan Yeo was also in a hurry so we weren't able to speak to him at all which was a shame as I would've loved an opportunity to pick his brain a little further!

Excuse the slightly low quality image...good old phone cameras!
Thanks to Jenny for using her phone to take this photo,
as mine would've turned out much worse.
Jenny and I had an incredible evening, and were particularly amazed by the fact that we were actually able to coherently discuss the art in front of us with some level of confidence.  We both admitted that occasionally we feel like we don't 'get' art and are therefore nowhere near qualified to formulate opinions on it, which I think is a real shame.  I particularly came away with my mind filled with questions about what sitting for a portrait might bring out in me.  There was a section of the discussion where the process of portrait painting was discussed and what really struck me was the element of exploration, stripping away the front that people naturally present to the world and digging down into the deeper layers of humanity that we - intentionally or otherwise - hide.  I'd be absolutely fascinated to see what layers of myself would be stripped back in that process and whether a portrait of me would look anything like how I like to imagine myself.  One of the most notable things about the development of recent technology is that we all have instantaneous access to images of ourselves and the ability to pick the most flattering few to share with everyone else.  I cringe to think of the number of selfies I take on my phone before I have one that I deem acceptable for public consumption.  The idea of a portrait seems so much more permanent and that alone instills it with some kind of importance that has been otherwise detracted from the process of viewing images of ourselves.  On top of that, I personally find any kind of art incredibly impressive because it's something I just have absolutely zero skill in!  

If you're in the Manchester area or are willing to travel to see some incredible art, I highly recommend that you do so.  The exhibition is open until 29th June and you can find more information about it here.  The Lowry is a fantastic facility, so it's worth a visit anyway!

Do you feel that you understand art enough to appreciate it fully?  And does that affect the way that you view it?  Let me know in the comments!

14/05/14 - A Blast from the Past with McBUSTED

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If you're in the UK or have access to the Internet at all, you're probably aware of the phenomenon which is McBusted.  My Facebook feed has been full of people posting overexcited selfies wearing their tour T-shirts and raving about how amazing they are.  For anyone who was somehow missed out on this, McBusted are an amalgamation of the entirety of the band McFly and two thirds of the band Busted.  They're billed as the 'ultimate supergroup' and certainly the following that this hybrid has gained is incredibly impressive.

And although I've been trying to write dispassionately rather than outright raving from the start of this post, I can't deny that when I saw them perform on the televised Children In Need event last year I immediately went online and booked tickets.  Like, immediately.  Any long time readers of this blog may have noticed that I'm not really one for going to concerts - or should that be 'gigs'?  Which is the cooler one to say?  This shows how little I go to them.  I tend to favour the theatre over live music as a good 70% of my iPod consists of musical theatre soundtracks.  However, there are a select few that I make an exception for and this was always going to be one of them.

When I was a mere eleven-year-old whippersnapper, Busted were my absolute favourite band.  It would never have occurred to little Hannah that seeing them live was an option, and then they split up.  My chance was gone...or so I thought.  As soon as this tour was announced, I knew that I owed it to the little girl inside me to go.  I was never a huge McFly fan - not as much as I was a Busted fan anyway - but I own their first album and like a lot of their music.

Clearly more into the Busted than the Mc...
Unfortunately my photos of the evening are few and far between.  I brought along my camera but it turns out that if you buy a packet of 16 batteries from Poundland, there's a very slim chance of them actually working...so I was left with my phone camera which turned out to be a little less helpful than I'd hoped.  Despite that, I documented the evening the best that I could with the limited means available to me.

The whole experience was more magical than I could possibly have imagined.  All six are utter showmen and the entire performance had a non-stop level of energy that would have damn near killed me.  Just watching them sprint and leap around the stage was a little tiring, let alone factoring in the singing and instrument-playing they did at the same time.  It was clear that they were all just utterly loving what they were doing and the crowd couldn't help but be totally swept along with their enthusiasm.  If I had to describe the performance in a single word, I would undoubtedly choose 'fun'.  It seems simplistic and probably not strong enough to convey my true feelings but from the second they they exploded onto the stage, every single person in that arena was just having fun.  The staging was extraordinary, with quite a few impressive surprises.  It turns out I know the lyrics to every single song on the setlist which I was unreasonably proud of.  While I will admit that the show was probably a little heavier on the Busted than McFly (which is fine by me), there was a great mixture of songs including some covers which resulted in a fabulously varied show.  

Shockingly, the song that brought me the closest to being overwhelmed by nostalgia (and for 'nostalgia', also read 'emotion') was What I Go To School For.  Admittedly it's not exactly your typical tearjerker, but watching it performed live took me right back to being a slightly chubby child, endlessly watching the music channels in the hopes of catching the video - these were the days before on-demand television and YouTube - and doing those infamous Busted jumps around the living room.  After a decade of waiting, it just seemed a little too good to be true that I was actually seeing the song performed live.

I screamed and sang myself hoarse, even to the point where I got a little lightheaded at one point...but that wasn't going to stop me dancing and jumping until my legs ached.  It was also totally worth the dreadful cold I seem to have developed in the midst of all the excitement.  My evening wasn't even dampened by having a few issues getting home which led to me spending forty minutes sat in a 24-hour McDonalds, drafting this blog post on a napkin.  

Definitely how the pros do it.
I enjoyed the evening so much that I was this close to buying a ticket for their final performance in Liverpool two nights later.  However, I couldn't really afford it and as I mentioned earlier, I'm now suffering after enjoying myself so much.  If it had been feasible, I definitely would have gone again...once really doesn't feel like enough.  I've got my fingers firmly crossed for another tour or an album or just something to continue on this beautiful combination of musicians.

Are you one of the many people who saw McBusted?  Did you love it?  Let me know in the comments!

08/05/14 - 'The Secret History' by Donna Tartt

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It's been a while since I've done a proper book review on here and that's not for a lack of worthy reading material.  As anyone who has been following my progress on Goodreads will know, I am blazing my way through my '60 Books in 2014' challenge.  All the time spent waiting for or on trains has contributed to a huge increase in the amount of reading I get done.  Embarrassingly, the three years of my English degree were properly the years of my life that I read the least so this is proving to be a refreshing change and a lovely bonus of being a graduate.  The reason I haven't been consistently blogging about all the books I'm devouring is twofold: a) a lack of time in which to do so, and b) every book doesn't warrant a whole post of its own.  I'm currently toying with the idea of maybe doing a regular monthly feature, listing everything I've read while still reviewing particularly outstanding books on their own.  If that's something you think you might be interested in, please let me know in the comments!  Now, onto the matter in hand...

Every now and then, a book comes along which is such a revelation that it's nigh on impossible to stop thinking about it once you've put it down and you can't help but want to talk about it to anyone who will listen.  Well, dear readers, you are now going to be subject to the gushing my friends and family have endured as The Secret History well and truly falls into this category.  I got it a few Christmases ago as the best book my mum had read that year and since then, I'd made several attempts to read it but found myself only really able to commit to the over six hundred pages in the knowledge that my daily train journeys would be ample time to plough through them.  I'm so glad that I made the effort because once I got into the plot, it was an absolute page-turner with an almost ridiculous number of twists and turns.  Every time you think you've just about got a handle on a character or a situation, something will happen to pull the carpet out from under your feet and the whole thing becomes even more mysterious than it was to start with.

It's a bit of a tough book to describe, but I'll give it my best shot.  It's a murder mystery without the whodunnit element - the first page tells us the who, the rest of the book is finding out the why.  It's unashamedly intellectual (which is something I personally adore) and more than a little dark as the story wears on.  The plot follows a select and unusual group of undergraduate Classics students at a small Vermont university, all of whom turn out to have hidden depths and dark secrets.  Our narrator, Richard, is a new student who is - reluctantly at first - admitted to the Greek-speaking inner circle.  This consists of four boys and one girl, all of whom hold themselves aloof from the rest of the student body and are taught exclusively by one professor.  Even though Richard and his new friends aren't exactly the most likeable group of characters, there's something about the deep flaws in their personalities and the way that damage holds them together as a group which is somehow...if not endearing, then at least alluring.  Despite knowing what awful people they are, there's something of the pseudo-intellectual in me that craves company like them.  They lead increasingly decadent lives, constantly in search of beauty and a sort of primitive freedom that they believe only the most civilised and educated of people can achieve.  They drift around the dreary and distinctly unromantic New England 1980s campus in a way which gives even the most sordid elements of their tale a slightly ethereal and hypnotic quality.  Tartt's writing is beautifully crisp and considered.  The detail of her descriptions is wonderfully evocative and has an odd beauty that is often in a stark contrast to the reality of what is being described.

Tumblr summed it up pretty well.
It's difficult to judge the morals of this book.  While a lot of the acts detailed are utterly reprehensible and often taboo in modern society, there is a certain level of detachment in the narration which leads the reader to merely observe rather than judging and condemning.  In some ways, it's reminiscent of Nabokov's Lolita, another book in which morally corrupt actions seem to be judged less harshly by readers than one might expect. The group seem to feel this same detachment from their own actions, almost as though they are merely characters in one of the Greek epics they spend so much time studying.  It's a fascinating journey into what humans might do when pushed to what they believe is the limit, although I won't pretend that the ways in which the characters react to certain situations are entirely realistic.

For some reason, The Secret History reminded me a little of Alan Bennett's The History Boys and, the film that I think of as its (inferior) American equivalent, Dead Poet's Society.  If you're not familiar with either of these, you can probably skip this paragraph as it won't mean much to you.  Take this time to make a note to go and watch them both, particularly The History Boys.  Seriously, do it.  The similarities are fairly sparse; both revolve around a small intellectual group who are led by an enigmatic maverick of a teacher who works outside the typical constraints of traditional education.  However, I found Tartt's creation of Julian Morrow to be a little less inspiring than the teachers in the other two.  We see much less of Julian and are instead left only with Richard's word for how brilliant he is, which leaves me wondering why exactly the students are quite so loyal to him.  Possibly a reread will help make this clearer, but for now I'm uncertain as to whether Julian is deliberately more enigmatic or whether this is an oversight of Tartt's.

I apologise for how wordy this post got at points...for some reason, I felt a little like I was plunging back into the world of academic essay writing rather than casual book blogging.  Perhaps reading about scholars has that effect on me!  If you're not intimidated by a fairly chunky novel and you fancy being drawn into the heart of a twisting and turning tale of murder and mythology, then you should certainly give this a go.  I accept that it won't be for everybody and it's received fairly mixed reviews since it was published in 1992, but the fact that people are still discovering it for the first time so many years later speaks very highly of it.

If you've read The Secret History or think that you might be interested, let me know in the comments!

30/04/14 - Exploring Liverpool: Lucha Libre

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I've been really busy with commuting and working recently (bet you didn't know that, did you?  Because I never mention it...I promise I'll stop whining about it soon!) so when I realised that the third part of this little series was well overdue, the chance to have a social life and chow down with one of my besties was exactly what I needed after a long Monday at work.

After a little wander up and down Bold Street in search of somewhere that took our fancy, Heather and I ended up settling on Lucha Libre.  Nestled just off the main street and right next to FACT, this little haven of Mexican street food is somewhere I'd heard a great deal about but never had the chance to experience myself.

The atmosphere inside is lovely; really relaxed with very friendly and approachable staff.  The decor is sort of quirky and nicely thematic, featuring among other things a wall of hot sauces with names like 'Muerte' which look absolutely terrifying.  Also, mega props to whoever created the playlist that was playing because there were some serious tunes on there!

Even the mirrors in the toilets warranted a photograph!

A quick perusal of the menu brought us straight to the cocktail list which is abundant with different varieties of margarita.  Now, while I may not be able to handle the Mexican spice, I am a tequila girl through and through.  An extensive selection of tequila-based drinks is guaranteed to set my heart aflutter and it took a really long time to choose which we wanted.  In the end I opted for a frozen pomegranate margarita, while Heather chose the tamarind flavour (£6).  Mine was very sweet and Heather's was nicely tangy, both were delicious and made even better by being served in those red cups you see in American movies about frat parties.  That was more exciting to me than it should have been.

Margaritas in hand, we could turn to the very serious business of choosing our food.  There was a lot of choice and it all sounded absolutely delightful, so it was really tough to narrow it down.  After much deliberation, we decided to share tiger prawns flambeed in tequila, caramelised in agave and lime syrup (£6.50) and a big old plate of the most incredible nacho-type things I have ever experienced.  Their actual name was chilaquiles and apparently it's something that people sometimes have for breakfast in Mexico?  Nachos for breakfast is something I am definitely on board with, especially when they're this good.  Tortilla chips with mild salsa, melted cheese, fresh coriander, jalapenos and...a fried egg on top?  Sounds bizarre but it totally worked (£7.50).

For my main dish, I went for a veggie burrito containing beetroot puree, sweet potato, roasted peppers, red onion, cherry tomatoes and goat's cheese (£6.75) and my word, it was good.  I was surprised by what sounded like typically Mediterranean-influenced ingredients, but there was a distinctly Mexican smokiness to the roasted vegetables and the goat's cheese added a really nice depth of flavour without being at all overwhelmed.  It's more like you can tell something else is going on but you can't really pinpoint what it is.  Heather ordered the tacos served with beer-battered white market fish, caper aioli, radish, cabbage and tamarind salsa (£5.50).  The fish was really gorgeous and flaky, and the other elements added a lovely combination of flavours and textures to the dish.

Alongside all this food, we decided to take a little risk.  As I mentioned before, tequila is clearly a major element of this particular restaurant and the menu has a whole section dedicated to all the different kinds.  Apparently, most meals in Mexico are accompanied by tequila in one form or another whether that is as a shot, in a cocktail or sipped with a little glass of what is called sangrita.  Despite both being fans of the concept of tequila slammers - personally, I really like the sense of camaraderie that comes from a group of people knocking back their shots and then simultaneously shuddering/wincing/groaning as they desperately attack a paltry sliver of lemon or lime - neither of us are exactly connoisseurs of  the spirit.  We decided to change that.  After asking our waitress for her recommendation and learning a little more about the different varieties, we braved the idea of sipping tequila the way some courageous souls sip whiskey.  Glasses of the Calle 23 Anejo (£4 a shot) were delivered to us along with fresh pineapple juice, coriander, mint and green chilli better known as green sangrita (50p a shot).  In all the different brands of tequila, there tend to be three varieties and the distinctions between them is in the aging process.  'Anejo' is the most heavily aged and this supposedly results in a much smoother flavour and a slightly deeper colour.  I won't pretend that I didn't still have to brace myself before each sip and that I didn't wrinkle my nose a little as the liquid burned its way down, but I have to admit that it's the first time I can say that I've actively enjoyed and properly appreciated the taste of tequila.  The sangrita was a great addition; the pineapple sweetness ramped up with the kick of chilli really offset the alcohol and was much more effective that sucking the living daylights out of a slice of lemon. Perhaps this first foray into the world of proper tequila will pave the way for a new interest in my life.  I can think of worse things to have as a hobby.

For once, we actually ordered just about the right amount of food rather than totally overstretching ourselves...see, we're learning!  Originally, we thought we were perfectly full and could forgo dessert...until we looked at the menu.  No way could we skip over a whole course when we looked at the options on offer and all for very reasonable prices.  We shared a key lime and hibiscus cheesecake (£3.50) which was utterly amazing.  The lime was perfectly sharp, the hibiscus added a gorgeous fragrant note and it was beautifully light - the perfect way to wrap up the meal.

Unfortunately, the quality of my photographs deteriorated over the course of the evening and that wasn't due to the tequila before anyone asks.  We arrived when the lights were still fairly bright in the early evening and as the night wore on, the lights were steadily lowered to that atmospheric level restaurants favour and bloggers hate.  After nattering for ages about everything under the sun, we settled the bill and headed for our favourite post-dinner port of call.  We can't stay away from Alma de Cuba for too long!

I would definitely head to Lucha Libre again in order to sample a wider selection of the menu.  According to their website, there's one in Manchester as well so if you fancied sampling their wares and you're not in Liverpool, you do have that option!

Where is your favourite place to go for Mexican?  Let me know in the comments, I'm always looking for new places to eat!

19/04/14 - A Very Special Birthday

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My entire life currently consists of sleep, trains, work and not a whole lot else.  My throat is raspy, my legs ache from spending hours running around, and I spend half my time being a little bit delirious...but I couldn't be happier.  Well, I could.  If I had a bit more blogging time on my hands, everything would be perfect.  I have a couple of things coming up that I can hopefully write about, but before that I of course wasn't going to miss the chance to share a little of what we got up to on my baby brother's eighteenth birthday.  It was actually over a week ago now, which shows how little spare time I have on my hands!

In what world is this something that's happening?  In my head, he'll always be a cheeky little scamp running around wearing his round Harry Potter-style glasses before they were cool and eating sand, but nope.  He's a fully-fledged adult now, heading off to university in September, and this required some serious celebration!  We headed to Jamie's Italian in Liverpool, the first time I've been since my own birthday last summer.  Yet again, I was impressed by the whole experience, although I will say that sitting inside meant that it was a little dark for those of us who wish to snap photos of every element of their meal.  I had to use the camera on my phone, as the flash on my little digital camera is a bit harsh when it comes to food photography.  Please excuse the slightly grainy images, I edited them up the best I possibly could!

We began the meal with a plank of various starters which included, among other things, some of the best mozzarella I have ever eaten and an absolutely beautiful bruschetta-type affair.  We also got a selection of bread and some delicious olives which were served with some gorgeous tapenade.  I'm a big fan of having a selection of starters to dip into, and it gave my brother's girlfriend a chance to sample a few things she probably wouldn't have ordered herself.

The buffalo mozzarella was just perfect.
When it came to ordering a main course, I was torn between having something I'd tried before or going down a new path.  Some cryptic negotiations with my father who "didn't want to sway my decision either way" led me to order the honeycomb cannelloni which I had last time, on the assumption that my other option was the one that he wanted and I'd therefore get to try both.  Turned out my second-guessing was entirely wrong, but at least I now know what I'll be having the next time I go!  The photo I took of my meal was utterly terrible, but you can see a much clearer picture here.  Fortunately it tasted much better than it looked on my phone and I would certainly recommend it, particularly to anyone who likes a bit of variety in their meals.  The pasta contains three different fillings (aubergine and sun-dried tomato; spinach and ricotta; pumpkin) and is served with a rich tomato sauce that doesn't overwhelm the rest of the dish.  Delish.

We also sampled, on something of a whim, some polenta chips served with rosemary salt and parmesan.  I am a massive advocate of polenta and these were fried to perfection, lovely and crunchy with that soft centre.

Unfortunately, none of us were really feeling up to dessert after an utterly delightful but incredibly filling meal.  However, of course, I am never one to pass up a cocktail course.  The cocktail menu is updated every year, with the results of a nationwide cocktail competition influencing which mixes the public get to enjoy.  That meant the gin and Earl Grey cocktail that I had last time was no longer available, a fact that I was mighty disappointed by.  But all is not lost, there are plenty of other fabulous options to choose from and it means there will be a bit of variety every time you go.  I had some kind of elderflower-and-prosecco-and-something-else concoction which was really lovely.

Overall, the meal was a roaring success.  We ate our fill of delicious food, and the staff were all very attentive and friendly.  Also, because my dad's a member of Jamie's Gold Club or whatever it's called, we got a sample of some tasty lemon and ricotta ravioli which was lovely and fresh. I'm a big fan of the between-courses treat!  And on top of it all, it was a fantastic opportunity to get dolled up...a nice change considering I only ever seem to wear my work uniform these days.

I'm wearing: H&M blazer, Miss Selfridge dress, New Look shoes, and the bag is the
clutch section of my Zara Combined City Bag.
Have you ever been to Jamie's Italian?  Let me know in the comments what you thought of it!