Thursday, 28 February 2013

Geek Girl (Holly Smale)

Baby Pip (my very own Geek Girl?)
" “My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek.”

Harriet Manners knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. She knows that bats always turn left when exiting a cave and that peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite.

But she doesn’t know why nobody at school seems to like her.

So when Harriet is spotted by a top model agent, she grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her best friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of impossibly handsome model Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

Veering from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, Harriet begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did.

As her old life starts to fall apart, will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?
Geek Girl was one of the reasons that I got to thinking about Young Adult fiction/literature last night. I pre-ordered this book last autumn sometime and it arrived last week, although it's official release date is today. What's that you say? A timely post? Anyhow.
You might have realised I love young adult fiction and, within that, strong female (teenage) characters. It was whilst I was reading Geek Girl that I realised that Harriet Manners is the first teenage character I've encountered who has a mobile (and who lives in this current decade - what *is* it that we are calling it - the 2010s?). This makes Harriet different from any character in any YA book that I've ever read and, I think, why I found it harder to relate to her.
That's not to say I didn't like or even love the book, I did. It's funny, and fast paced and well written and not too predictable. It's just that I can't get over the fact that I didn't recognise Harriet and it made me feel old and out of touch. And also made me a little worried for it will be like when Pip is a teenager. And Harriet's nemesis, Alexa, didn't even seem to be using social media to help enforce Harriet's status as a geek. Goodness knows what she'd have achieved if she did. 
I found Harriet an interesting protagonist. On the one hand, I could see my teenage acquaintances in parts of her, although, strangely, not myself. I wasn't enough of a geek to be a geek and whilst I had friends, no best friend like Harriet. Neither pretty or ugly, I don't think I stood out particularly at school. On the other, as is often the case with teen things these days (don't I sound so like a grandmother) I often can't understand why a character struggles and so on, when it seems they have all the required attributes. That said, she was quite self obsessed - maybe that was the problem!
In the end, I liked that Geek Girl wasn't a simple geek to chic story - there was a lot more to it than that. Complicated relationships that all teenagers suffer; parents, friends, boys. Harriet's 'big moment' didn't really mean anything after all. Or did it? There is a sequel to come, after all.
This was not a sponsored post. I bought my own copy. That said, in the interests of full disclosure, the author is a friend of mine. She didn't ask me to review it; she doesn't even know that I am. What she (hopefully) does know is that if I didn't like it, I would say it and I certainly wouldn't post a review here.

Young Adult Literature with female characters

Whilst reading reviews of something else, I came across a sad statement. It said "It made me jealous of today’s teens who get such high quality literature written for them (it was a leap straight from Sweet Valley High to Jilly Cooper in my day)" Whilst I cannot be sure if we were teenagers at the same time (I was 13 in 1995) I rather felt for the author of a blog who writes about female authors that she seemed to have lacked so much in terms of teenage female role models or specifically young adult literature about female characters. Not that there is anything wrong with SVH or Jilly Cooper. I think I own almost every SVH ever written and just bought all the most recent ebooks as well. 

I read avidly as a teenager and this statement made me try and think back to those books that I loved in those early teenage years. It also doesn't hurt that it's world book day on Friday.

Starting this post was like opening Pandora's box. The more I thought about it, the more books I could remember. This post will go on forever, so I am limiting it and I think it will have to be a reoccuring series. Add your favourites in the comments if you want.

My all time favourite was Rose, in A Little Love Song (Michelle Magorian). That's a book I still re-read to this day and such is my love for this book that my friend arranged for Michelle Magorian to sign a copy of this book for Pip. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, A Little Love Song is one summer of Rose's life as an evacuee, arriving a schoolgirl, leaving a strong confident woman. She gave me hope that I too would fall in love, but also that I didn't need to. And that I didn't need to change to be grown up and accepted; that by being myself, I'd be ok.

Nancy Blackett in the Swallows and Amazons series (Arthur Ransome) is my longest standing girl crush on a female character. I was 7 when I first read Swallows and Amazons and always wanted to be Nancy. She was a pirate, a sailor, independent, self reliant and the ring leader of all the Swallows and Amazons adventures. She could do everything that John could do, but was also a girl. I dressed up as Nancy Blackett for world book day when I was 10. Nancy is described by Sara Maitland as a childhood role model "who transcended the restriction of femininity without succumbing to the lure of male-identification" and a "hero who had all the characteristics necessary for the job; who lived between the countries of the material and the imaginary" (I realise that Susan does fall neatly into female gender stereotyping in many ways but also without Susan, none of the adventures would ever have gone ahead. Susan knew that the parental figures did not care so much for adventure but did care that one of them could be relied on to ensure everyone went to bed, ate meals and washed. All expeditions require a cook and organiser and in Ransome's case, this happened to be Susan).

Sadie Jackson in Twelfth Day of July (Puffin Teenage Fiction) and the rest of the 'Kevin and Sadie' series (Joan Lingard). Sadie lives in Belfast and is a protestant; she meets and falls in love with Kevin, a catholic. The series follows their relationship from Belfast, London and Liverpool and did a really good job of educating me about the Irish troubles. Sadie was pretty much everything I wasn't as a teenager and I think that's why I found her so fascinating. She wasn't going to let life in Belfast stop her from living; she was sassy and courageous and followed her heart rather than her father's instructions. We read The Twelfth Day of July in the third form perhaps, as part of our English coursework and I then sought out every other book in the series in the library. Partly, I suspect, because the relationship between Kevin and Sadie was at the core of the series and, much like now, I love a good romance. But there was far more to it than that.

Alex in the Alex series (Tessa Duder). Alex was a New Zealand swimming school girl with serious talent, training for and then competing at the 1960 Rome Olympics."I have always known that in another life I was-or will be-a dolphin. I am a pink human, caught in a net of ambition and years of hard work. In a few minutes I will dive into artificially turquoise water waiting at my feet. A minute later I'll either be ecstatic or a failure." (Alex in In Lane Three, Alex Archer). I was reminded of the Alex books when watching the Olympics last summer and have been trying to track them down again to re-read (I didn't own any of them and had to rely on the school library).

Liz in In spite of all terror (Hestor Burton). I could write reams on this book (and did, in my dissertation). Liz  lives with her aunt and her family in East London poverty before being evacuated to Oxfordshire and a relatively wealthy family who really wanted a boy. She is geeky, determined and self sufficient and in the end, she and the family she is evacuated to find peace united in their grief. A common theme to my favourite books was strong female teenagers finding themselves set to a background of war and, as part of that, falling in love. Liz and Ben's love is not graphic like Rose and Alec's is, in A Little Love Song. That was written in the 1990s and shows (in a good way). Liz meanwhile remains in the late 1960s and although younger and chaster, I still wanted to be like Liz and to find but not depend on a man like Ben.

Victoria in Vicarage Family: A Biography of Myself (Noel Streatfeild), Laura in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, most of the books by Judy Blume, the list is endless. I'm not quite sure where children's literature becomes young adult literature in some places and indeed I think the boundary can be quite blurred but basically anything aimed at 10/12 years to 18 years must be a rough definition.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

life lately... London Fashion Weekend

just before I succumbed to a nasty bout of what turned out to be tonsillitis and had to essentially retire to bed for four days, I did manage one outing...

London Fashion Weekend is the commercial shopping little sister to the industry show that is London Fashion Week. I say little sister, but sometimes I'm not convinced they are that close. Cousins maybe. I tried explaining how divorced they are to Marto, but he said, clothes, London, same venue, same week. How far apart can they be? Anyway, Pip and I headed down on Friday afternoon to check the place out, courtesy of Propercorn (who make my favourite Sweet & Salty Popcorn) along with my friend Miss L. Sadly our tickets didn't include either a goody bag or entrance to the catwalk events, which was rather a shame, so we wondered around the shopping instead. Pip and I had fun posing with the diet coke hunk, pouting in the Benefit photo booth (and getting a sample of their new mascara to see just what Jo sees in it - I will report back) and eating free yogurt. Maybe it's because I don't have much spare cash, or because my tastes have changed, or because I had a baby with me, but I actually found the show a little disappointing. Whilst Somerset House *is* a beautiful venue, it also has a lot of doorways, which isn't always the most pleasant in a crowd. I also felt that the selection of designers was tired and that they were selling any old stock, rather than this season's wares. It also felt very cliquey and full of people looking like they'd dresses in an effort to be shot for a street style blog photo. Rather false, perhaps. That said, I enjoyed my eyebrow wax and the coffee and chorizo I ate at Fernando & Wells and Somerset House is just stunning.

Propercorn sent me 2 tickets and a bag of my favourite popcorn after I won a competition on their twitter feed. This is not a sponsored post as such although details of my sponsorship policy can be found here 

Photo taken by the Benefit photo booth but I paid for my own eyebrow wax.

Monday, 18 February 2013

life lately... places I have been in London this week

Church of St Bartholomew the Great (2)

St Bartholomew the Great Cloister Cafe, Farringdon I haven't been back to St Bartholomew the Great for years. It was in 2006 that I was a member of the London Lawyer's Chorus and sang in Songs of Praise which was filmed at St Barts. Last week, I took the baby down to Farringdon for a wander round and to check out a pub that a friend was thinking of applying for a job at. After a lunch of 'sliders' in a rather non-baby friendly pub with good music (I think I've been away from the pub scene too long - these appear to be a 'thing') I ended up pushing open the heavy doors of St Barts and heading into the peaceful serenity of the cloisters. The coffee wasn't bad (not brilliant, but I've had worse) the staff friendly and the location, stunning. Again, not the most baby friendly place I've ever been, but they were very welcoming to her, and I could imagine without a baby whiling away a few hours reading and thinking.

Well & Bucket pub

Well and Bucket pub, 143 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch - An old Shoreditch pub which is being re-opened by Barworks (no website yet for the pub). I went along to the opening night with a friend (and without the baby, obviously) and enjoyed a couple of margaritas in the basement cocktail bar. I say a couple, but it could have been three. And don't mention the glass of prosecco I drank in the outside smoking area whilst discussing all manner of things with some people we met when it started raining and we all huddled together under the sheltered parts. Obviously it was hard to tell from the opening night whether it will be a success but the place had been nicely done up and the drinks were good. I am told that they will have sliders on their menu come opening. See, sliders really do seem to be a thing.

Juergen Teller

Juergen Teller at the ICA. Juergen Teller is a contemporary photographer and the exhibition 'Woo!' at the ICA is a look through his fashion and commercial work from the 1990s onwards. I love the ICA and how it makes me feel like a little part of the art world, just by drinking coffee in the cafe, as if these sorts of things can be absorbed like osmosis. I especially enjoy people watching and the ICA is an excellent place, full of arty types having important meetings and people admiring the exhibitions. It doesn't feel touristy like some of the larger galleries. I took the baby and met up with one of my favourite ladies (who has finally moved to London) and we enjoyed a mixture of discussing the photographs and watching Pip crawl around the galleries. The image above is one of my favourites from the exhibition, not least because I find it really hard to imagine that those legs really do belong to Victoria Beckham. Teller's work spans the beautiful to the really hard to look at - an uncomfortable use of nudity for nudity sake, rather than for beauty. His own naked form features heavily in the images, often in an interloping sort of way - and the sign on the wall of the gallery could better have read "some images DO NOT feature adult nudity" (and in some cases, I wish they hadn't. I could have done without seeing a 10 foot high full frontal of Vivienne Westwood - not that I can't see his point between the dichotomy of age, beauty and sexuality- it was just one of those photos where I didn't need to see so much of it to get the point). It was a fascinating exhibition and one which I would recommend. I especially liked the way that it challenges the perception of beauty and fashion. And who knew that the Marc Jacobs campaigns pushed that perception so far - these were not images I had seen in Vogue. I must be reading the wrong magazines. (ICA, until 17 March)

Photo credits:
Cloisters cafe from here | Well and Bucket from here | Juergen Teller via here

Sunday, 17 February 2013

life locally... Chriskitch, Muswell Hill

Rare is the day when both Marto and I both separately decide that we want to visit the same cafe on the same day. Independently we had both discovered Chriskitch last week and waited until the weekend so that we could go together. I was keen to try the coffee and cake and admire the vintage furniture; Marto told me that he came across the cafe on the wine forum he frequents and was excited that a chef who had worked with Gordon Ramsey and Alain Ducasse was serving food just down the road from us.

We were not disappointed. We started with cake. Lemon pound cake, to be exact. It was beautiful. I had a nice latte, Marto a mint tea. We were sat at a huge butchers block with vintage school chairs, in the enormous front window, full of light. Under foot, vintage floorboards from a factory in Islington. There were newspapers. (although we had the baby with us, so reading was impossible. but it would have been a lovely place to read, sans bebe). Sugar cubes in vintage tins.

The salads tempted us. A perfectly roasted chicken leg, drizzled with a teeny bit of oil and sprinkled with salt, to serve. A plate of a gorgeous selection of salads, as pretty on the plate as in the mouth. My favourite was leeks, peas, broccoli and samphire but they were all delicious. The chicken leg served with roasted vegetables. Mouthful after mouthful of sweet roasted garlic, pulled out of it's skin, crunchy slightly bitter almost charred lemon and chili falling apart and off the stalk. Roasted red onion. Better even than Marto cooks at home, and that is saying something. It has to be a good restaurant these days for the food to be better than we eat at home.

And then a pudding. How could you not when the owner comes over to discuss the food and recommends the treacle tart to finish. A macchiato and a little bit of chocolate torte with it for Marto (courtesy of Chris, the owner, because as he put it, "you've got to have a little bit chocolate with a macchiato").
7a Tetherdown, Muswell Hill

Monday, 4 February 2013

Yoga, Ballet (and Sweaty Betty)

A Sweaty Betty boutique recently opened just down the road from us. Aside from being one of the few places that makes sports kit that I actually want to wear, I really like their approach to supporting women and the community by running free sports classes. Did you know that? I didn't until I went in when I wanted a swimming costume that I could actually swim in. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the kit not only looks good but also works. Since then I've bought a swimming hat, yoga leggings, yoga bra and yoga vest.

I have done a vinyasa flow yoga class for the past two weeks and almost don't want to tell people about it, because it's first come first served for the places. I hadn't ever fully thought about the fact that yoga is first and foremost about your mind, with the body a pleasing by-product, but the teacher of these classes is great at reminding us. And never before have I needed so much an hour a week to myself, conscious of only my breathing and movement from one position to another. Three classes in (I did another class with the same teacher at the weekend) and the movements already seem more familiar. Interestingly, it seemed harder today. Maybe because I'm more tired.

This month, Sweaty Betty has teamed up with Barrecore to run a month of free classes called Meet me at the barre. As a lover of both ballet and yoga, I can't wait to try this out, although I suspect it will be more exercise than I am used to. I was really excited to see that Sweaty Betty are teaming up with interesting new classes that women are interested in taking, rather than simply pushing a tired format of classes. They also have a new range of ballet/dance clothes in store, which I was pleased about, as I really struggled to find a ballet leotard which fitted my post natal boobs.

This post contains affiliate links although this post was drafted prior to accepting Sweaty Betty as an affiliate. You can read about my affiliate policy here.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Cowshed (and introducing affiliates...)

if you read this on the actual website, as opposed to in an RSS feed, you might have noticed some affiliate images appearing in my right hand side bar. following my decision not to return to my previous job at the end of my maternity leave, I have been attempting to supplement my (non) income through my blog. 

the reality for you the reader is an occasional sponsored post - which I was already doing and you can read about my policy here and my reasoning here - although I do not limit the source of the sponsored posts - and affiliate links.

the companies that I choose to feature using affiliate links are companies that I like and would recommend regardless. basically, I may make a small commission if a product is purchased through the blog. you, the reader, never pay more for a product through an affiliate link.

in order to ensure absolute transparency - and to share products that I like - I am attempting to introduce each new affiliate link. you will see the banner and a link under the 'affiliate' tab in the right hand side bar, which will indicate which companies I have an affiliate relationship with. I find it annoying when other blogs, particularly ones with quite large readership, frequently include links to all sorts of products without being clear whether they are being paid or what the financial relationship is. this is my effort to make sure that I am clear with my readers.

which is where this post about Cowshed comes in. these products are among my very favourite toiletries and I have written before about my love and I am pleased that they are now an affiliate of PF & DR. some of my favourite products are the Organic Facial Oils by Cowshed and the Maternity and Baby at Cowshed. Pip has the entire range of Baby Cow Organics at Cowshed products which she (and we) love too.

I should also add, they do Free Delivery on orders over £55 and they always include a Free Gift with all Cowshed orders. The packaging is eco friendly and the black and white graphic boxes make useful storage (just in case anyone is in to boxes and wrapping as much as I am...)

Saturday, 2 February 2013

on watership down...

we went for a family walk to watership down today, in the beautiful bright clear winter sun. we were with my parents and they very kindly lent me their camera to practice taking some photographs. here are a few that I liked. (I don't really know how to use the camera very well, so bear with me!)

we walked along past a wood and up across the down to an iron age fort. we stopped at the top briefly but it the wind was too chilly to stay for long, so we turned round and retraced our footsteps, our shadows lengthening across the hillside.

(all photos by me - except the pilon and the wheat field at the bottom, which my Dad took, but I liked)