Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Story of My Skin | Hidradenitis Suppuritiva

If you're squeamish about body parts and illnesses this probably isn't the blog post for you; I'll see you on Saturday for the usual lighthearted content. I'm scared as I write this. This isn't something I really talk about with anyone except medical professionals or anyone who might be about to see me naked, but I have a rare skin condition called hidradenitis. Please note, this post is VERY long, covering ten years of my experience with the disease. It's here to raise awareness, and I hope you at least read a little, as it's so frequently undiagnosed.


Oldham Street Manchester
I don't have the confidence to post a photograph of my scars or cysts here, so here's a picture of me on an early Sunday morning in the Northern Quarter. I hope you'll forgive me for not sharing what my body looks like on the internet.

Hidradenitis Explained

Technically it's hidradenitis suppuritiva (HS), or acne inversa, which I do not recommend google image searching. It's probably an auto-immune disease and causes me pain on an almost daily basis. The reason I'm talking about this today is because it's frequently undiagnosed and is more common for women. HS has links to Crohn's disease, hormonal disorders, hirsutism and pilonidal sinuses, but honestly, nobody really has any clue as to the cause, and even worse: there's no cure. It is thought to affect about 1% of people, but this is likely inaccurate, in part because it primarily affects the areas underneath the bust, the groin and armpits, and people are understandably reluctant to show a doctor their fanny. It causes painful abscesses which are prone to bleeding and leaking pus. It's embarrassing, can have a serious impact on self-confidence and has been linked to depression. HS is a chronic disease; some people may find that it becomes inactive over time but it can return at any point. 

HS is in no way dangerous to your health, meaning it's not exactly top priority for research, but in the worst cases it can eventually become debilitating. On my worst days, I can't walk for pain and have to stay at home, although this usually passes within 24 hours. It definitely had an effect on my mental health when I was younger, and still does today; I didn't have sex until I was 23 because I was terrified of rejection because of it. I've been very lucky, with understanding boyfriends who half the time didn't even notice, but whenever I do really look at my scars and lesions I'm likely to have a bit of a breakdown. 

Describing A Flare-Up

I thought the easiest way to explain might be to describe what happens when I have a flare-up. I always have some cysts present that cause mild pain when walking or wearing a bra, depending on where they are. The majority will eventually die down on their own, but at least once a month I get a really bad one. The bad ones look like a boil: red, shiny and a large bump. The worst ones for me are usually around my groin. It will sit there for a few days, sore but not excruciating, and I'll keep an eye on it praying it will go away on its own, and then one morning I'll wake up in agony.

It will be incredibly sore to the touch, to the extent that I can't even wear knickers without crying. On these days I'll take a sick day from work or ask to work from home, and I'll make sure I have a hot bath. This helps bring all of the gunk to the surface, and if I do this it will often burst with gentle pressure. Applying that pressure is genuinely the most painful thing I've ever experienced, but once the abscess bursts it rapidly feels better. There will be a whole mess of blood and pus and you'll probably end up wadding some loo roll and holding it there for a while, but it will generally feel loads better almost immediately. That whole process will take about three hours, but in the days before I do my level best to prevent flare-ups I can sense coming. I'll talk about managing HS a bit more below, so keep reading for that. 

My Diagnosis

I was very lucky in that I was diagnosed early, at just 15. An early diagnosis really helps, as I've been managing my HS as well as I can for ten years and it's likely that it would have been much further along than it currently is. I would say that if you suspect you have hidradenitis, go to your doctor as soon as you can and ask for a referral to a dermatologist. My doctor listened and referred me straight away, but when I've talked to others about it in the past they've fobbed me off, saying it's just ingrown hairs, that I just need to wash better, that it's a normal part of puberty and similar bullshit. BE PERSISTENT. I was diagnosed almost immediately by the dermatologist with hidradenitis, and actually understanding what it is can be a huge relief.

I first noticed small, hard, pea-sized lumps in my armpits and around my groin while in high school. They would appear, then disappear after a week or so. I ignored them for a while, but eventually, I mentioned them to my mother who took me to the doctor ASAP. Our initial worry was breast cancer, as lumps in the armpits are one of the common signs. Hidradenitis is a hell of a lot better than breast cancer, but it's still not great. 

Hidradenitis might be hereditary but no one is certain. My Mum doesn't have it and my Dad is dead, but my Mum remembers him having similar lesions although not as severe, so it seems likely that it was genetic for me. At 17, I developed a pilonidal sinus just above my bum, which is linked to HS but is often caused by other factors. It's basically where two tiny hair follicles form a tube, and it can become infected very easily, often by something like a hair becoming trapped inside. For me, it was likely just caused by my hidradenitis, but it's also common for particularly hairy men, a description I don't fit. I had a few that just went away on their own, but on my 17th birthday, I had a very bad one. It burst on its own, leaving me with a pretty major wound, and I had to have minor surgery to "scoop" out the bit of my body that was prone to them, so I have a scar just above my bum. I tell people it's from when I tried to grow a tail.

The later stages of hidradenitis are much worse than those tiny lumps I had as a teenager. I now have large amounts of scarring around my groin, armpits and under my bust, and my abscesses are painful and omnipresent. I was prepared for it, aware of how the disease may change and develop over the years. However, if you have no idea what's going on, I can imagine it being pretty scary. Considering the number of doctors I've had to teach about HS, rather than the other way around, it would be even worse if you didn't know what was happening.

Managing Hidradenitis

Managing hidradenitis is a bit of a losing battle, as you're never going to get rid of it entirely; however, you can help by avoiding things that can aggravate the condition. Breathable fabrics help, as excessive sweating has been linked to the disease: it's frequently inflamed sweat glands that swell up into cysts. I've also found that using spray-on antiperspirant rather than a roll-on helps for my armpits, as there isn't a solid layer of cream or something blocking the pores and glands. I use a standard Mitchum one if you want a specific recommendation.

I've already mentioned hot baths helping with flare-ups, but they're also a good thing to do if you have the condition in general. It may sound crazy, but a capful of Dettol in your bath can also help. There is a link to some bacteria with HS, but it's not really the kind of thing you can control. It can aggravate existing cysts, so it can be worth doing, especially if you think a flare-up is imminent. It's not exactly a luxurious Lush bath and you'll smell like Dettol until you shower, but I do find it helps.

You'll likely be prescribed an antiseptic wash, which I've generally found to be useless, but some people find it helpful. If you have eczema or are prone to dermatitis don't let them give you Hibiscrub, as it can dry out the skin; there are others that won't aggravate you.

Avoiding shaving areas like your armpits can help, although it's entirely possible you won't even be able to properly shave there if you have active lesions. 

Embrace sleeping nude! Or at least wear loose, cotton pyjamas. Giving your skin every chance to breathe and recover will really help, plus sometimes abscesses will be too sore to touch and you'll just have to sleep naked and hope the fire alarm doesn't go off.

Being overweight can exacerbate the disease, so losing any excess weight can help. This is the one thing I've never managed to do, but for the first time in my life, after experiencing several months without symptoms (keep reading for how that happened), I'm motivated to lose weight for the sake of my health.

Types of Treatment

I've already said that there's no cure for hidradenitis, and that's definitely the case, but there are a few different treatments that you may be prescribed depending on the severity. There are a few different scales used to describe the stages of the illness; Wikipedia has the best description of them. I currently fall under the moderate, or stage two category, but when I was first diagnosed I was stage one, or mild.


Antibiotics

When I was first diagnosed I was given various antibiotics, mostly tetracyclines. I've had most antibiotics going and have generally had no adverse reaction to them, aside from Doxycycline which makes me throw up without fail. You may be put on a six-month course of antibiotics, which admittedly didn't do a great deal for me, and isn't sustainable as the bacteria may become resistant and cause them to stop working. Antibiotics only treat the bacteria that can cause infections, not the root cause of the disease; essentially, you're only treating the symptom, not the cause. 

I've found that when you can tell a flare-up is coming, it can be useful to take a short course of antibiotics, as it can help bring it under control and seems to reduce the severity, and sometimes helps avoid the awful oh-god-I-can't-walk stage. However, you have to act fast, however, as at least in my case you can only tell a few days beforehand if you're going to have a bad one, and sometimes not at all. I've moved around a lot since going to university, and it's generally involved me registering at a new doctor's and being forced to make an appointment to bully persuade the doctor to give me a repeat prescription for an antibiotic I know works for me. This means I can go to a pharmacy at basically any time and request a two-week course, and if they don't have it in stock there and then it will usually be in by the next day if you go to Boots or Superdrug. For a long time, this was the best way for me to manage and treat my HS, but after ten years of being put on antibiotics and taking regular short courses, they seem to be less effective. I can't tell if this is truly because the bacteria have become resistant, or because my HS is just more severe.


Hormonal Birth Control

If you're female you may be prescribed the pill, usually the combined pill. I was on this for both acne and HS at the end of high school and early sixth form. I was fine while using Marvelon, although I didn't find that it had any effect on my skin. However, my doctor switched me to Cilest during lower sixth, as Marvelon had a risk of causing blood clots, and it sent me LOOPY. I was a completely different person. I was angry, irrational and prone to bizarre mood swings. I screamed at my mother who I never argue with, wept at the slightest provocation and literally ran away from school when someone told me a friend fancied me because I saw him in the corridor. This happened within a week of taking the tablets, and it took us about two months to figure out that I wasn't just going through a late moody teenager phase. Within a week of stopping the medication I felt normal again, and haven't touched hormonal birth control since. I look back on that brief period with trepidation; I remember feeling like I couldn't control myself, lashing out at everything and everyone, both with words and physically. The personal statement I attempted to write for university back then is hilariously aggressive, with me asking the admissions coordinator "who the fuck they think they are" - fortunately at this point, my Mum stepped in and I didn't send it. I wrote a new one a week later which was much more reasonable.


Roaccutane

I also suffered with cystic acne, especially during university, and I was eventually given roaccutane by my dermatologist. I can tell you, with the amount of times I've seen a dermatologist over the years, living near Birmingham Hospital while at UoB was a real blessing. Roaccutane did absolute wonders for my acne and I will forever be grateful to it, but also seemed to clear up some of my hidradenitis - I no longer get cysts in my armpits. I have no idea why it only sorted my armpits, but I haven't had an abscess there since my second year of university, which was 2011/2012. It's not one of the recommended treatments for HS, but some people, including me, have seen an effect. It was a real blessing for me, as it finally meant that I could wear vest tops and strapless dresses in the summer. I still have some scarring, but that's improved substantially over the years without me doing anything.

More Antiobiotics

In October 2017, I was prescribed a new course of antibiotics. My hidradenitis has worsened in the last two years, and I realised that I hadn't seen a dermatologist about it since university. After a real struggle to just convince a particularly stubborn doctor to refer me, and then waiting more than six months for an appointment, I finally saw a doctor at Salford Royal Hospital. If you're in the North West and can get to Salford Royal, I highly recommend them for HS treatment. I was given a relatively new treatment: a combination of Rifampicin and Clindamycin, two pretty serious antibiotics, for a 12-week course. Within two weeks my HS was gone. I was genuinely confused when I realised that I hadn't been in pain for a week; I was used to being in at least some pain every day, and it was strange to realise that was what was missing. I knew something was different, but couldn't pin it down for a while. The only side effects I had were some mild diarrhoea, a few migraines and, hilariously, bright red sweat and urine, which was perfect for Halloween. Rifampicin is usually used to treat things like leprosy and meningitis, and Clindamycin is commonly used for severe infections. They were absolute wonders and god damn I wish I was still on them. I was in complete remission for the entirety of the course, but now that it's finished my HS is back in full force. Some people have lasting remission, but that doesn't seem to be the case for me. I've now been referred to a specialist HS clinic to see if they can put me back on the antibiotics, but doctors are generally hesitant about long courses of antibiotics for the reasons discussed above.

Immunosuppressants

The only other currently available treatment is Humira, which is an immunosuppressant. It's been proven effective for treating severe hidradenitis, and is the only treatment I don't have experience with. Humira blocks the production of TNF-alpha, the protein that is most clearly linked with HS. It's not for everyone, as immunosuppressants leave you vulnerable to other illnesses. You also have to inject yourself on a regular basis and it has a whole host of side effects, so it's only prescribed for severe HS. I may reach that point one day, but for now, I'm just pursuing a second course of Rifampicin and Clindamycin. 

Links

If you think you might have hidradenitis, your best bet is to see your doctor and ask for a dermatologist referral. The links below provide more information, and I'd recommend reading through them if you have HS or just think you might.

If you have any questions for me regarding HS, whether you think you might have it, if you want to ask about my experience or anything at all, my Twitter DMs are open, or you can email me at bramblingblog@gmail.com - I'll always listen. 


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Monday, 29 January 2018

Monday Medley #23

The last week has been good but busy, finally back at work properly after working from home for a week, meeting up with my bonkers family and discovering a new favourite coffee spot. I fell behind with my blogging (but then I say that every week), and am now desperately catching up! We're so close to the end of January and for all it seems to have lasted an age I'm not ready for 2018 to speed up.

Porter + Cole Manchester

READING

PRINT

As for books, I've recently really enjoyed Smoke by Dan Vyleta. I may do a full review of this at some point, but for now I'll just say that it's a good book, but the central concept is complex and not always well explained. Even so, I loved the Victorian setting and would very much like to know what happened after the climactic ending, but as far as I'm aware there's no sequel in the works.

DIGITAL

As for blogs this month, I've absolutely been loving lifestyle posts from some of my faves. Laila's post on following the path that scares you really resonated with me; I've occasionally been guilty of taking the safer route through life, but then equally have made some foolish decisions and thrown myself in at the deep end with varying results. I've started being safer as I get older and this post reminded me of the benefits of taking chances. 

Sammy's post on heteronormative travel opened my eyes a little more; it's not something I've ever had the misfortune to encounter, generally travelling alone, with friends or with family, so I can only imagine how uncomfortable misunderstandings can be, especially when there's a language barrier. 

I've mentioned Becky's blog several times in these Monday Medleys, and while I try and avoid repeating myself too regularly I couldn't not include her recent posts on jealousy in the blogging world. I really struggle with non-specific jealousy, feelings of inadequacy and just a touch of imposter syndrome, and this post was pretty much how I've been feeling for the last few months. Becky talks all about her stuggle with the green-eyed monster and the ways she combats it; there are definitely a few tips in there that I'll be reminding myself of whenever I have those moments of self doubt. 


That's the lot for this week, but I'll be back next Monday with all the things I've been loving in the week and sharing a little love for my favourite blogs. Until then, au revoir!


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Saturday, 27 January 2018

What I Learnt By Not Showering For Five Days

Hands up if you've ever had allergy patch tests done. It's bloody awful, right? I was diagnosed with contact dermatitis in February last year and after it never really went away, despite the liberal application of steroid ointment, almost twelve months later I was finally sent for allergy testing. The theory was that I might be allergic to something that was had been causing these flare-ups on my eyelid, neck, chest, arms and knees. As someone who has zero family history of allergies, including hay fever and asthma, we had absolutely no idea what it could be. Anyone who's had these tests will tell you what a ball ache they are, and it was no different for me. I had 120 lots of stickers stuck on my back and upper arms and told to under no circumstances get them wet. Each sticker contained a potential allergen, and it was possible I could react to any and all of them.

Northern Quarter Graffiti Art


Spoiler alert, I am allergic to nothing but potentially sensitive to everything. Basically, my skin is a big baby that needs a tonne of moisture but isn't medically allergic to anything. This means there isn't a specific thing I need to avoid, which might have been easier, I just have to be careful about pretty much everything. Despite this rather frustrating result, I still had to spend five days unable to wash my hair or much of my body. It was a real insight into the wonders of dry shampoo and the horrors of sponge baths, but I did learn a few things along the way.

Day two hair is the worst

I probably could have just about managed to wash my hair over the bath with the help of a bin bag, sellotape and my boyfriend, but since my hairdresser is always saying that I should wash my hair less anyway I figured I would try and tough it out. Turns out, not washing your hair is the worst. I woke up on the second day sweaty and greasy and despaired that I couldn't wash it immediately. I dampened my fringe and filled it with dry shampoo, but I still looked like crap for that whole day. I felt it too. However, by the time Wednesday rolled around, my hair actually looked better. I had been just as sweaty in the night and still had to wet my fringe to sort the quiff out, but the dry shampoo from the day before had given it the sort of volume you only see in adverts. A little more dry shampoo in my fringe and I had the best hair I'd had in months and I was loving it. This didn't last, as when I woke up on day three I think my dry shampoo was officially done with my oiliness and literally couldn't absorb any more oil. It was Greaseball City for the rest of the week. 

Working from home is the best

I've figured out how those beauty bloggers manage to only wash their hair once or twice a week. THEY WORK FROM HOME. If I'd gone to work looking like I did on Tuesday...well I couldn't have done. It's a hell of a lot easier to achieve that grungy, lived-in volume thing when you haven't moved from the sofa in the last two days and didn't spend half an hour on a sweaty tram with a load of strangers. Working from home gives you the time to perfect and tame your greasy yet somehow also frizzy mop, and even if your hair is misbehaving that day, who cares? 

You will bump into people at the worst times

No matter how hard you try, no matter how big a crowd you try and blend in with and despite the hat you've pulled down so hardly anyone can see your face, you will bump into someone you know. It was day two, I looked like crap, felt like crap and was on my way to another hospital appointment (unrelated to the allergy tests) and of course, my old boss happened to see me. I hadn't seen them for a while so we made awkward conversation on a tram platform for ten minutes while I explained why I wasn't at work and the whole time I wanted the ground to swallow me up. In truth, she probably didn't give my hair a second glance, roots hidden under a beret as they were. Even so, I was dying inside, and when I bumped into her AGAIN, two days later, I really did feel like someone was just trying to make my life difficult. 

This whole weekly hair washing thing probably could be done if I put my mind to it and didn't wash it for a month, allowing my hair to get used to being oily again. I can't exactly book a month off work though, and since I work in an office being visibly unclean isn't exactly encouraged. After this week though I'm much more likely to leave my hair an extra day or so between washes, though I'll probably leave that for on weekends. I don't know if I'll ever be able to recreate that day three hair of glorious volume, but until then, I have hats to hide those day-two roots.

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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The Promenade Deck

I was very lucky as a child to have regular holidays that allowed me travel all over Europe. After a pretty disastrous Butlins holiday my Mum booked herself, my brother and I onto a cruise around the Mediterranean in the hopes of having a holiday sans a falling down chalet and an invasion of Canadian Geese. We ended up going on at least one cruise for the next ten years of my life and I've now been on 17 cruise holidays, which is frankly bonkers. 



Cruising gave me my love for good food and dressing up, honed my love for travel and other cultures and made me fall in love with the sea. Cruising isn't for everyone, and I don't think it's right for me now; I want to explore places I visit more thoroughly than I can in a day and I'm aware of the environmental problems associated with cruising. However, as a child it was perfect; my brother and I ran wild and joined in with the kids' clubs, while my Mother lounged by the pools and was waited on hand on foot for a change. As a single mother to two rambunctious and very different children it was definitely what she deserved. My grandparents and some family friends often joined us and we'd all have a riot, going our own way while ashore or at sea then meeting for a formal dinner. I learnt the slightly more advanced table manners I take for granted, and my proclivity for chatting with every senior citizen and crew member I encountered probably explains why I get along better with people who are a lot older than me. These holidays massively shaped who I am as person in a way that I only realised while writing this post. This wasn't even what I wanted to write about today, I actually wanted to tell you about some of the happiest times in my life which were spent on these giant floating hotels, primarily on the Promenade Deck.

Sea days usually went like this. After a very large breakfast, usually involving a plate of sausages, hash browns and bean followed by a bowl of fruit and yoghurt, I'd head out onto the Promenade Deck with my Grandad to read. My Mum would probably already be by the pool and my Nan with her. My brother would likely be in the kids' club and raising hell, or else in the arcade shooting zombies. My Grandad would be safely installed on a reclining chair facing the sea, and I'd have settled into my book. After a hundred pages or so I'd decide to stretch my legs and go for a wander around the deck. One lap would turn into five, five would turn into ten and ten would turn into twenty until I was walking for miles. I'd walk and run in short bursts, occasionally leaping into the air in a vain attempt to reach the lifeboats suspended above the deck. At seven-years-old I never came close, and I still didn't at twenty-one. 



Walking the Promenade Deck became a ritual for me; whenever we were at sea I would do laps of the ship for at least half an hour, stopping to chat to the elderly people who tended to sit there. It was a quiet part of the ship with views of the sea and there were always friendly elderly people to chat to. They'd challenge me to do a lap as quickly as possible and I'd set off sprinting, accompanied by cheers as I legged it past their sun loungers. I was a rarity there; where other children generally kept to the kids' clubs I tended to hang out with the old people, hearing their stories when I stopped to say hello. I remember an old American man telling me about his time in Vietnam, an elderly lady telling me all about her extended family and bringing several photos the next day to show me. There was the lady who was a dolphin trainer as young woman, the lady who made munitions in WWII and her husband who delivered the post to the front lines. I met people from all walks of life, from people who had worked their way up from nothing to a woman who assured me she was a Baroness. I remember a lady crying quietly while I ran laps one time and stopping to ask why, in the innocent way only a child can. She told me all about her late husband and how much she missed him. I didn't really understand, but I remember holding her hand until her daughter came and they left together. I talked to people about what they were reading and where they were from, and it gave me insight into how other people lived now and in years gone by. I was precocious and friendly, and I befriended a lot of people very briefly. I enjoyed the snapshots of their lives they gave me, and I think they just enjoyed talking to someone who actually wanted to listen.

There were two elements for my love of walking the deck: talking to people and experiencing the sea. I say experiencing because it's nothing like standing on a beach or paddling in the shallows. I only learnt the word for it in university, but numinous pretty much sums it up: 
  1. denoting, being, or relating to a numendivine
  2. arousing spiritual or religious emotions
  3. mysterious or awe-inspiring.
I felt a very strong connection to the sea and the wind, standing at the rear of the ship with nothing but a fence between me and the whole of the Mediterranean. I've always loved windy days, and they're a permanent fixture while at sea. From talking to people this doesn't seem to be a universal phenomenon, but does anyone else get that little voice in their head telling them to jump? Standing on the edge of the ship, staring down into the churning waters below, I always thought about how it would feel to dive deep into the sea. I'd observe the ripples of the ship's passage smooth out and disappear into the distance, see dolphins leaping along by the prow and watch whales with wonderment. I often wondered what it would be like down in the depths. As a young child I was half convinced I was a selkie, a figure of Celtic folklore that takes the form of a woman but turns into a seal. It sounds bizarre writing this down, but walking the Promenade Deck, talking to old people and drinking in the sea air were some of my happiest moments in life. The photos in this post are from when I was about sixteen, and after dinner one night my Mother and I went for a walk on the deck. I, probably high on sugar from the several scoops of chocolate ice cream I'd probably had for dessert, took my heels off and ran several laps in my evening dress. You can tell how much fun I'm having. As much as cruises aren't for me anymore, I really miss the sea. I miss being in the middle of it, I miss the sense of smallness in me and the overwhelming sense that there are things out there that are bigger than me; the feeling that there's always somewhere new to sail to. 


I really enjoyed writing this post, reminiscing about some of the happiest moments of my life. I also loved my post about Wellington Harbour which is a similar memory. They're quite personal and almost difficult at times, as I struggle to convey the emotions of those moments in time. In my head I have a little series of posts like this planned, with over-arching theme of 'moments of joy'. That sounds a bit sappy to be the actual title, but it's what I'm writing about. Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. 


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Monday, 22 January 2018

Monday Medley #22

It's been a week of going to and from Salford Royal Hospital for allergy tests and dermatology appointments, which also forbade me from showering for five whole days. As a girl who showers every day it was pretty traumatic. I'm the sweaty sort, so flannel washes and an entire can of dry shampoo got me through it but the shower I had on Friday night was glorious. I'm never not showering again.

Manchester Northern Quarter in the snow
Got caught in some unexected snow while on my way to work in a coffee shop and I'll take any excuse for a photo!

I worked from home for the week as I also couldn't wear a bra (not good when you're a 32HH), yet somehow I didn't manage to find the time to read much in the way of blogs. I did pick out a few of my favourites from the blogs I tend to check on at least every few days which I know you'll enjoy.

READING

DIGITAL

First up is a post by Rachel all about writer's block. It's a pretty frank examination of the phenomenon and the effect it can have upon you. The post is well worth a read for anyone who writes, whatever form that may take, and I think you'll find it as insightful as I did.

I'm pretty bad at keeping plants alive in my current flat: it's just a little too dark for them. However, I still really want to grow more plants, and this little guide to growing an avocado tree from a seed is something that I definitely want to try some time soon.

Now for one of my favourite bloggers and one of my favourite cities, Vix Meldrew and Manchester. Manchester is where I call home and I love it, and Vix is one of the best and funniest bloggers out there. She recently visited Manchester for the weekend, and her take on my city was entertaining and fun to read about how it seems to someone who doesn't live here.

WATCHING

I watched The Shining for the first time on Friday night with my boyfriend; he had watched it before but I had somehow managed to avoid it my whole life, and although I'd seen screencaps of some of the most famous scenes I still didn't really know much about the plot. To sum up, I still need an escort if I need the loo in the middle of the night, requiring my boyfriend to double check the hallway and bathroom before I go anywhere. It was brilliant and I've been reading the TV Tropes for it obsessively all weekend. The lasting terror was worth it to watch such an intricate film.



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Saturday, 20 January 2018

Dissolution by CJ Sansom

I read Dissolution by CJ Sansom at the very end of 2017, and although it took me a little while to get into it, but by the time I was a third of the way through I was hooked and raced through the remainder. It's a classic murder mystery but set during the reign of Henry VIII; it follows Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer in the employ of Thomas Cromwell (not to be confused with Oliver Cromwell, the 17th Century Lord Protector) one of the King's closest advisors. 


Dissolution by CJ Sansom

Dissolution is set against the backdrop of the reformation of the church in England; if you're not up to speed on your history it's essentially when Henry decided he wanted a divorce and the Pope told him no, so he set up the Church of England with himself as the head so he could do what he liked. There's a lot more to it than that, such as corruption and perceived impiety in the Catholic church reinforcing his personal agenda, but the big thing for Dissolution was, as you might be able to guess, the dissolution of the monasteries. Essentially, all monasteries which didn't comply with the new holy order were forcibly shut down and the monks turfed out. When a commissioner sent to secure the surrender of a monastery is murdered, Cromwell sends Shardlake to figure out what's happened and finish the job. 

I often find crime novels pretty bland, and while I'm tooting my own horn when I say this, I almost always guess the perpetrator so they tend to lose some of the appeal. In this case, while my initial guess did turn out to be correct, the book threw enough spanners in the works and misled me enough that by the time the reveal came around I thought it was someone else. I appreciate any book that can successfully deceive the reader.

For all that this isn't my usual sort of book, I love the setting and the characters are interesting and fully nuanced. Shardlake is fascinating, striking a contrast with his belief in the good of the reformation and growing uncertainty over his place within it. His internal struggle goes unrecognised by himself for most of the book, and it's interesting reading between the lines to understand how he's really feeling. I'll definitely read more of the Shardlake novels as I thoroughly enjoyed Dissolution, and I'd recommend this to anyone. It's an easy read and well written, and I think it has a pretty broad appeal.


If you know of anything similar then give me a shout in the comments as I'm always on the look out for new books!



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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Things I Did In 2017

Ah, 2017. The global shit-storm made a nice contrast with my personal life which only got better as the year went on. I really struggle with remembering what I've actually done with my time, but one of the advantages of this blog is that it serves as a record of my thoughts, feelings and activities, which is partly why I might try and include more personal posts in 2018. For now, I wanted to reflect on some of the best times in 2017. I'll admit this is more for me than you, but I hope you'll indulge me.

Hot air balloon landing on the Dordogne, La Roque Gageac

Getting outside


I spent more time than ever just outside in 2017. I get caught in the internet black hole pretty easily, but living near a park and then moving in with my boyfriend has really helped things. When there was a park across the road, whenever I was feeling low or stifled I could go for a wander amongst the trees and would always feel my spirits lift. Now that I live in the city centre that's a little harder, but luckily my boyfriend and I are both prone to cabin fever (is that really lucky?) if we stay in too much, meaning that at least once a week we tend to go for a walk, either in the city at night or out to some of the greener spaces on weekend mornings. It really makes a difference for both of us, and just breathing in the fresh air and taking a moment to take notice of the world around us is one of our favourite things to do. We went on a few shorter trips to more rural areas throughout the year, such as Hebden Bridge in February and Haigh Hall in December. I want to do more of these day trips in 2018, but since I also want to do a few short city breaks they may not end up being a priority. 

Hebden Bridge in February

Travel with family

This wasn't something I set out to do, but travelling with family was something I did a fair amount of in 2017, especially with my brother. In May, I went to a tiny village in France with my extended family who I get along really well with. It was four days of excellent food, a little too much wine and drinking vodka while swimming in the Dordogne. It was a pretty fantastic time and I really want to go again. My brother and I also visited our family in Scotland in July and December, which is always a riot of card games, Pictionary and long walks on a beach with a fat dog.


The bridge over the Dordogne near Sarlat, France

Don't drink and swim folks
Don't drink and swim, folks


One thing that I almost can't believe happened is my brother moved to Japan for a year. I went with him to help smooth the transition, leaving for Osaka on the 31st of August. The ten days we spent there mostly consisted of my being ill, confusing locals with my patchy Japanese and general wonderment at how incredible a country Japan is. For all that Japan and visiting a new continent was amazing, it was made better for being with my brother. He's my best friend and we get along like a house on fire. I haven't seen him since I waved him off in Namba station, save for a hilarious Skype call on Christmas Day. One of the best days of the trip was when we were both quite ill and had to stay in the room all day, doing nothing but eat takeaway noodles and watch Japanese game shows without subtitles. We laughed more than ever despite our coughs and slight fevers, and we got very excited when an anime we recognised came on and we actually understood what was going on. I would love to go back this year before he leaves, but I'm not sure if it's financially feasible. We'll see!

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Moving in

October was a pretty big month for me as I moved to the city centre with my boyfriend. It hadn't even been a year when we moved, but having been friends for about ten years it feels like it's been a lot longer. I already had a pretty good idea what I was in for, although I think he's been surprised by a few things, such as the fact that I'm shocking at washing up, and we've had discussions about the correct way in which to hang clothes on an airer (we have very different systems but clearly mine is better) but in general I'm the happiest I've been since I became an adult. 


The Dordogne from La Roque Gageac

Made friends

This was the one thing I really wanted to do in 2017. I don't have many friends in Manchester, and moving back to my Mum's in the sticks to cry for six months in 2016 didn't help with maintaining the few connections I did have. Through reconnecting with my boyfriend I've made loads of new friends, but I really wanted to make some proper friends of my own in a way I haven't since I was at school. I got to know a girl at work and then became friends with another friend of hers. These two girls really made my 2017 wonderful, and I really hope that we can become even better friends. I'm immensely grateful to have them both in my life.


Dotonbori at night, Osaka
2017 was all about making connections; whether it was reconnecting with nature and myself while living alone again, spending time with extended family or really trying hard and making friends, the year was about people and places and the connections I made with them. I've really enjoyed writing this so I'll likely do something similarly retrospective in a year's time. That's all for now!


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Monday, 15 January 2018

Monday Medley #21

It's the 15th of January and when this goes up I'll be on my way to Salford Royal Hospital so they can stick a tonne of stickers on my back to try and figure out what I'm allergic to. I can't really shower for a week (gross) and more to the point I CAN'T WEAR A BRA. Anyone that knows me will be aware that my boobs are on the larger side so this is truly catastrophic. I'm pretty much housebound for five days while working from home, so this week should be entertaining...

Chetham's School of Music at night

The photo above was taken late on Saturday night on our way home from a night out with friends. My boyfriend and I were both a little tipsy but I felt cute in my outfit (new polka dot shirt and I was loving it) so we snapped a few photos by Chetham's School of Music. They're dark and blurry but I love them. This is one of the ones that's more in focus and features me trying to look poised by a fountain.

READING

DIGITAL

First up, blog posts! I have four favourite blog posts this week and they're all amazing. 

Chloe's post on blogging when your eventual goal isn't to be a full-time blogger really resonated with me and I freaking loved her outfit. She talks about the realities of working for yourself and the pressure to be a girl-boss. It's not something I'm aiming for; this blog is purely for my own enjoyment and any money I make from it is just a bonus.

A different Chloe now over on The Little Plum, where an open letter to fellow people-pleasers caught my eye. I'm a notorious people-pleaser to the point that I always end up sucked into negative and unequal relationships. It's something I've been working on for a long time, but this post really spoke to me. Chloe talks about the importance of being valued rather than liked, and that's definitely something I need to remind myself of quite frequently. I bookmarked this post to reread whenever I need a reminder that I need to put myself first and let that bullshit go. 

Now for a travel post! Iceland has always been on my list of places to go but never very near the top; Amy's posts on her stay in Iceland, especially this one in the southern part of the island, have seriously sold it to me. The photography is beautiful and Iceland sounds incredible; I'm seriously considering trying to convince my boyfriend to book a holiday there next winter.

Finally, Holly's post has the tongue-in-cheek title of 'How to Train Your Boyfriend' which earned a raised eyebrow from my other half when he saw what I was reading just now. It's really about how she takes her photographs and coaches her boyfriend to be able to take the shots she wants. There are lots of handy tips for making the most of your photos and I think I might have to send this to my boyfriend for a read.  

PRINT

As for books at the moment, I'm really trying hard this year to read more often. I finished reading Autumn by Ali Smith on Thursday and enjoyed it, even if it was a bit odd. It was described as the first 'post-Brexit' novel, and it follows an Art History lecturer as she reconnects and reminisces with the old man she befriended as a child. It's packed full of trains of thought and references to British pop art painters and the whole thing is very disjointed. It's won a great deal of critical acclaim, and maybe it's just too high concept for me but I felt like the disparate themes never really came together. 

WATCHING

As for TV, I'm still loving Hunted which is back on Channel 4. I'm sure it's not as realistic as they make it seem, but I do really fancy the idea of going on the run for a few weeks, although I'd probably be found really quickly as I'd just go to my Nan's house.

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