Monday, 30 April 2018

Monday Medley #34

Happy Monday everyone! I'm off for loads of blood tests today and I have to fast for them so naturally I'm starting the day starving. It's been a very social week with parties and gigs for several consecitive days, and I'm really craving some time in. I'm slightly appalled by the fact that tomorrow is MAY and we're five months into 2018 and I feel like I haven't done anything with my time. For not though, here are the best things I've been reading and watching in the last week of April.

Everything I've loved reading and watching in the last week of April


I was a little late to the party with Queer Eye but oh damn this show is amazing. I'm a little in love with most of the Fab 5 and got far too emotionally invested in every episode. It's a really lovely and heartwarming program that goes beyond most makeover shows, helping to improve self confidence and make a real difference to people's lives. It's frequently quite touching and I cried more than once. 


Amyleigh's post on asking where exactly our clothes come from is a brilliant one. She asks us to confront the reality of who made our clothes and what conditions they live and work in and participate in Fashion Revolution Week. I'm definitely guilty of turning a blind eye to the injustice inherent in the fashion world, so anything that reminds me to make ethical choices is brilliant as far as I'm concerned.

THIS POST CONTAINS KITTENS. If you haven't seen Helen's adorable kittens Tsuki and Matsu then you're seriously missing out as they're some of the most beautiful cats I've ever seen. She talks about their personalities and how they've changed in the last six months and, honestly, even if you don't care about that it's worth reading the post just for the pictures.

Antwerp has never really been on my radar, but Amy's post has changed that. This little Belgian city looks absolutely beautiful; she features some stunning locations and tonnes of tiny interesting boutiques and restaurants. It looks right up my street and I'm considering it for my next city break.

That's all for this week, hopefully you've found something new to watch or read that you'll love. TTFN!

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Friday, 27 April 2018

Brambling Books: April

Halloooo and welcome to a new little monthly series! I used to include my favourite books in my Monday Medleys, but I don't always finish a book every week as life often gets in the way. I am still trying to read lots, in part to attempt to meet my Goodreads challenge of 52 books this year, but also because when I make the time for it I feel calmer and more fulfilled in all areas of my life. I'm currently three books behind schedule but I think I can definitely catch up if I put my mind to it. 

Three books reviews in April including Zadie Smith, Lucy Hounsom and Ian Mortimer.

I wanted to talk to you all about the books I read this month and do a little mini-review of all of them so you can consider reading them if it's your kind of thing. There's a fair amount of variation in my April reads, covering fantasy YA, historical/time-travelling fiction and a novel, and they're all from Manchester City Library because I have no money after going to Amsterdam earlier this month. I didn't intend to put a tonne of links to other posts when I started writing this, but there you go! They're there if you fancy a read and should open in a new tab. Now, I'd best get on with these reviews...

Swing Time, Zadie Smith

Swing Time follows two girls growing up on a council estate in London in the 70s, and charts the narrator's (who is unnamed and I didn't even realise until it came to writing this review) journey from small beginnings to the glam of Hollywood and stardom, back to her roots. Her friendship formed through dance classes with a girl called Tracey evolves and shifts over time, with the two losing touch and periodically reconnecting, and the contrast of the two's choices and paths is mirrored in the social aspects of the novel. Smith is never critical of the individual, preferring instead to examine social constructs within America, the UK and West Africa. 

Featuring engaging, realistic characters and a well-structured plot I found this an enjoyable read. I think one of the key driving forces and most interesting aspects of the book was the different characters' approaches to life; where Aimee is a force of nature who expects life to go her way (as it generally does), she is also lacking in responsibility and is flight. The narrator is like a jellyfish, simply riding the waves of others' success and reaping some of the rewards without any real ambition and drive, in sharp contrast to her highly political Mother, whose failing is a lack of interest in the lives of those closest to her. Tracey is characterised by a spoilt yet abusive upbringing, and it tars and influences her future decisions in a negative way, yet ultimately it may be that she leads a happier life than the narrator who thinks herself better than Tracey.

Music and dance, particularly from the time of Old Hollywood, runs throughout the novel as a central extended metaphor, tying in perfectly with each character and theme, and I learnt a great deal about a subject I never had much interest in, but I now feel a desire to watch a lot of black and white films featuring Fred Astaire or Jeni Le Gon. Overall, I enjoyed this book but wasn't blown away by it. It's an interesting examination of differing social constructs and life philosophies, and I'd recommend it if you're into that sort of thing. 


Heartland and Firestorm, Lucy Hounsom 

I read the first in Lucy Hounsom's trilogy, Starborn, last month, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I couldn't get hold the second novel physcially but Manchester Library has a digital service as well, meaning I had access to a version I could read on my laptop. I did, however, manage to find a copy of Firestorm which I was quite pleased about as it was only published last month.

As much as I enjoyed continuing the story of Kyndra and her travels in Acre and Rairam, and loved learning more about the internal conflicts that come with being Starborn, I found the books a bit flat. The first book simmered with discovery and fresh writing around a not-too-original idea, but the second and third books struggled. The most interesting aspect for me was the way in which the more Kyndra uses her gifts the more removed she becomes from her humanity, leading to a struggle between her desire to help those she loves and her increasing apathy as she does so.

The second book was carried by the success of the first but the ending was truly dire, with bizarre revelations cheapening the successes of the story. Firestorm has a different problem: the plot is boring. It reads like Hounsom had a really great idea for a character and world which she explored in Starborn but didn't have a fully fleshed out long-term plot. I'd recommend Starborn, but I honestly wouldn't bother with the sequels; the purchase links below are for Starborn.


The Outcasts of Time, Ian Mortimer

This is the first book by Ian Mortimer I've read but I've been aware of his time traveler's guides for a while after buying my brother one for Christmas years ago. That was non-fiction but The Outcasts of Time is one of his fiction novels. It follows two brothers, a stonemason and a merchant, who are both infected during the Black Death. They make a deal with a mysterious figure, either the Devil or an Angel, and are told they have six days to live. Rather than spend their final days with their families, thus dooming them to the same fate, they choose to spend their remaining days doing good. The catch is that each day will be ninety-nine years from the previous day. 
The brothers travel through the reign of Henry VIII, the English Civil War and up to WWII. They experience tiny snapshots of life in different eras, often overwhelming, and learn a great deal about humanity, society and the line between good and evil. I think this was actually the best book I read this week, despite how renowned Zadie Smith is.
As a student of history I enjoyed the accurate little windows into different time periods, but the character of John, the stonemason, carries the book.He drifts away from his faith and loses hope in humanity and any chance of meeting his family in heaven, and ultimately reaches a new realisation about who he is and the effect his actions have upon others. This is well worth a read if you're interested in history even casually, but I can imagine that someone who really enjoys it would get more from this book.


Hopefully you enjoyed these reviews as Brambling Books will be returning in May. Let me know if you've read any of these or if you think you might!

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Three books reviews in April including Zadie Smith, Lucy Hounsom and Ian Mortimer.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Kook in Keukenhof

On our very last day in Amsterdam it was supposed to rain and we were flying back home in the evening, resulting in this somewhat inappropriate all black outfit that made me feel a little bit kooky or like a beatnik. I had a very cute yellow outfit all planned out for blog photo purposes and it just didn't happen; the weather forecast was for rain all day so I dressed in warmer clothes and thought I'd make the best of it, only for it to be the warmest day of the trip. The Keukenhof Gardens was one of the things I was really excited about in the run-up to the holiday, having read about it in lots of blogs and been blown away by some of the photos. The reality was a little different.

Keukenhof Gardens Tulips

I should really know by now that creative angles and editing can make a place look very different to reality, and the many photos of bloggers and Instagrammers stood in front of neat fields striped with vibrant colours is completely inaccurate. If you want actual fields of flowers you'll have to head out into the surrounding farmland, while Keukenhof itself is truly a garden.

Keukenhof Gardens

Keukenhof Gardens Daffodils

What I mean by that is that Keukenhof is a structured garden; it's flat, like most of the Netherlands, which I never thought of as an issue but I found that it really made a difference to my enjoyment of the area. My favourite kinds of parks have trees and enclosed zones, small wooded areas and variations in the landscape. As beautiful as the gardens are, they're crowded, and the flatness of the land means no matter where you look there are people. As someone who tends to get a little frustrated by large crowds, this made the experience much less enjoyable.

Keukenhof Gardens
Keukenhof Gardens

We intended to go to the Keukenhof Gardens early one morning, but after realising how much of a pain getting the bus to the airport then get another bus to the gardens would be, we combined it with our flight home. After checking out of our hotel and a last wander around the Museum Quarter, we hopped on the bus to the airport which was covered as part of the Combi tickets we had bought ahead of time. We stored our luggage for a few euros at the airport before catching the bus to Keukenhof, again covered by our tickets. It doesn't take particularly long, half an hour at most, and was a pleasant ride as we saw some of the Dutch countryside, including some spectacular flower fields and a few classic windmills. When I undoubtedly return to Amsterdam I'd definitely like to get out of the city a little and see more of the rural Netherlands.

Keukenhof Gardens
Keukenhof Gardens

Manicured flower beds and trickling streams abound, along with the occasional creepy sculpture, but actually taking a photo without an abundance of tourists is difficult. Even finding a moment to pause and take in the beauty of the gardens is nigh impossible, as you can easily get swept up in a tide of old ladies in wheelchairs and pushing zimmers, or have to dodge a gaggle of families all pushing prams. I bear no ill will towards anyone else who would want to visit these stunning gardens, but it felt like it wasn't really laid out as well as it could be. 

Keukenhof Gardens

Ultimately, we didn't hang around very long. The stress of trying to take photos really shows in the few we managed to take with my face in them, and we didn't honestly have a great time. Had we got there very early in the morning or late at night perhaps things would have been different, but I doubt the gardens are ever very quiet.

I would only really recommend the Keukenhof Gardens if you like open plan gardens and don't get frustrated when stuck behind slow walkers. There's no denying that it's beautiful, but I prefer my gardens wilder and more organic. I want more trees and something a little less tame, and it just wasn't my thing. If you do decide to go I'd get there as early as possible and be prepared for crowds nonetheless.

Have you visited the Keukenhof Gardens and did your experience differ from mine?

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Monday, 23 April 2018

Monday Medley #33

It's Monday and the heatwave is older, my pale pins are safely sequestered beneath trousers again and I appear to be appreciating alliteration today. As always, these are my favourite things I've been reading and watching in the last week.

Pink bicycle in Amsterdam


Has anyone else really been enjoying Cunk on Britain? As someone who has actually studied history I might not be expected to enjoy the complete irreverence shown in these mockumentaries, but I just love them. You can clearly see Charlie Brooker's hand in it, but it's really just very funny.


My brother is currently in Japan and loving life and I'm seriously missing it. Casey's post about visiting during cherry blossom season has reinvigorated my desire to return, especially in the Spring. She gives several great tips for specifically visiting in Spring as it's the busiest, but arguably most beautiful, time of year. Definitely worth a read if you considering visiting this stunning country.

Vix is one of those bloggers that just writes brilliantly and there's no denying it. She's overwhelmingly relatable and always hilarious, and her post about talking behind people's backs is no exception. Vix talks about how she took a long time to learn her lesson, and I appreciate how frankly she speaks about the bad habit she had for a long time. It's something I've definitely done my fair share of talking behind people's back's and it's something I've tried to curb over the years but I think we're all guilty of it occasionally.

I've really missed Becky's blog lately and it was a joy to see her most recent blog post pop up on Bloglovin'. She talks about what blogging means for her these days, about how it gives her purpose on quiet days but is no longer her greatest hobby. However, she has a renewed enthusiasm and sense of purpose for her blog and I can't wait to see what she has planned for the next few weeks as her content is always well-written, insightful and interesting. You should definitely check her out.

Hope you all have a great week and I'll be back next Monday with another round up of the best bits from your favourite bloggers.

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Friday, 20 April 2018

Four Favourite Places In Amsterdam

And so begins the deluge of Amsterdam content. I figured I'd kick things off by talking about my absolute favourite places in the city and sharing why I loved them so much. No doubt there are hundreds of incredible things to see and do that I didn't get chance for, but these were the best things I saw and did in April in Amsterdam.

Nine Streets

I first learned of the Nine Streets in the Jordaan from Nicole Parise's brilliant blog post on the area, and unsurprisingly I loved the whole area. We spent a lot of time wandering up and down the canals, slightly lost, just enjoying popping our heads into the tiny independent shops and perusing various menus. We had a light lunch there, which I wouldn't really reocmmend as everywhere is pretty pricey. It was at its most enchanting at night, when the low bridges are lit with fairy lights to warn narrow boats.

Crooked houses in Amsterdam
Alleys in Amsterdam
Nine Streets Jordaan Amsterdam


We almost didn't go to the Foodhallen; it was a little out of our way and not close to any of the big tourist attractions or shopping areas, but I'm so so glad we took the time to go. We followed google maps down the usual canal paths and between the leaning houses and ended up somewhere rather different to what we'd seen of Amsterdam so far. It seemed more like how the locals lived; there didn't seem to be any tourists apart from ourselves and it was a lot more low key and normal compared to the city centre. Rather than the high end boutiques, Bulldog coffee shops and musuems, there were more ordinary off licenses and supermarkets, and it seemed more like the Amsterdam you'd experience if you lived there. 

The Foodhallen is a giant covered market, reminding me of Mackie Mayor in Manchester but bigger. It contains a few independent shops and craft areas, but the majority of the building is taken up by a food market which had some of the best food we ate in our time there. The cuisines ranged from bao to curries to pizzas. We had pulled pork rolls and they were incredible, and we were so hungry that I didn't even get chance to take a picture before I wolfed it down (this is why I'll never be a food blogger). Despite being a little out of the way, I can't recommend the Foodhallen any more and you should definitely visit.

Foodhallen Amsterdam
Foodhallen Amsterdam
Foodhallen Amsterdam
Foodhallen Amsterdam


We stayed at Hotel La Boheme which is just off Leidseplein, one of the main squares. It was an ideal location for us, within walking distance of the Musuem Quarter and the Jordaan, but with easy public transport links by bus or tram. I fell in love with this area on our very first night; after dumping our bags in our room we went for a wander around the square and then down by the canals. The atmosphere was raucous and boisterous in the main square, but two minutes away by the water it was quiet and serene. On the square or on the roads leading from it are countless bakeries, bars and restaurants, making finding something to eat when you're still half asleep very easy. 

Leidseplein Amsterdam at night
Leidseplein Amsterdam
Leidseplein Amsterdam

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum was top of my list of things to do in Amsterdam. I've always loved his art since first learning about it during primary school; I think it's the vivid colours and swirling shapes that I enjoy the most. There's a great deal of powerful emotion in his work, in a way that I think many other painters don't capture.

I was surprised to find that the collection is housed in a modern building, as modern architecture seems to be rare in central Amsterdam. I particularly enjoyed the current exhibit examining the influence of Japanese artists such as Hokusai on Van Gogh's work. I love Hokusai's work, so getting the opportunity to see pieces such as The Wave Off Kanagawa alongside Almond Blossom was amazing. If you're into art I'd really recommend it. They're pretty strict about photography so I only have two photos from inside, one in front of a replica of sunflowers in which I look very excited, and another which is bizarrely distorted because we panicked upon realising that we weren't supposed to be taking photos.

Van Gogh Museum

Have you visited any of these places in Amsterdam?

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Four Favourite Places in Amsterdam

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Divination and Decisions

I'd hesitate to call it a trend, but there's been a definite increase in interest in all things mystical in the blogosphere. Tarot cards and horoscopes in particular seem to be enjoying a resurgence, as bloggers far and wide invest in professional card readings and birth chart analysis. As to where this newfound spiritualism has sprung from, I'm at a loss.

Using tarot cards to make decisions

For the record, I am a pretty serious sceptic about pretty much everything, but I do enjoy horoscopes and the like in an idle way, and I intend no disrespect to anyone who believes in witchcraft. My personal belief is that rather than truly telling the future, they can help guide you in making decisions; the meaning we attribute to the symbols and words is more important than the the actual fortune or horoscope. When faced with a problem or uncertainties, tarot cards are one of the things I turn to to help me move past them.

I remember well when I was given my pack of tarot cards and a book to interpret them. I would have been about eleven or twelve, and I was visiting my grandparents in Scotland for the Halloween half term; whenever we visited we'd get a gift, and this time mine was tarot cards. I was very into all things fantasy at the time, and I always used to read the horoscopes in the local paper with my Gran and we'd laugh about them whenever it would be something completely inaccurate, such as the time we were both supposed to become pregnant in the next few months. That was likely the thought behind the gift, and I became really absorbed in the book and cards for several months. 

I always take my cards and the book with me when I move house, slipping it in with the piles of books that litter every surface. It's rare that I use the cards to help answer a question, but I usually reach an answer that tells me what I already know deep down but haven't yet acknowledged. I find them helpful in times of confusion or indecision, but in truth I don't really believe in a mystical element. I keep an open mind, and am prepared to accept evidence of the mystical or supernatural, but for me this is really just a method for uncovering what I really want deep down; a more complex version of flipping a coin and seeing how you feel about it. I really love my cards, and I depend on the comfort they bring me in difficult times.

Have you ever had a tarot card reading or tried it yourself?

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Using tarot cards to make decisions

Monday, 16 April 2018

Monday Medley #32

Literally all I've been talking about of late on the blog and on Twitter has been my trip to Amsterdam, my first holiday of 2018, and when this goes live it will sadly be over! No doubt there will be an excess of Netherlands-centric content over the next couple of months, but I'm a little sad to be writing this ahead of time knowing it will already be over. My boyfriend and I intend to make the most of it, seeing as much as we can while also getting some much-needed chill time. For now though, these are the things I've loved watching and reading in the last week!

Manchester Library and Town Hall Mosaic Tiles


The second season of A Series of Unfortunate Events recently went live on Netflix, and since I loved the books as a child I figured I'd give it a watch. I enjoyed the first series but thought it had some problems with tone which have continued into the second one. It can't decide if it wants to be dark or funny, and unfortunately doesn't quite strike the right balance. It plays some of the absurdities too straight and they fall flat, and Neil Patrick Harris' Olaf cycles between a bumbling opportunist and a true malevolent force, and it doesn't quite work, in my opinion. I am enjoying the expansion on the world and the secrets that were left so vague in the book; I remember being very confused by the whole situation when reading it so it's good that it's being made clearer in the show. I'll no doubt watch the third series and the show is a major improvement over the film, but I don't think it's amazing or a perfect adaptation.


I really struggle with slowing down, often taking on too much at once and ending up stressed and in a complete tizz as I feel my life sliding out of control. I've made progress of late by taking up painting by numbers, but I'm also taking some tips from Sophie's Slow Living Challenge, in which she tries to slow down over the next twelve weeks, and week one was all about making things with her hands. The post reminded me of my own childhood, doing cross stitch with my Nan and finding it really relaxing. I'm really looking forward to seeing how Sophie gets on with this challenge as it sounds like it's going to be really rewarding and relaxing.

There are so many blog posts and articles on the phenomenon of self care, and they're mostly fluff pieces recommending taking a bath and how it magically fixes all of your problems. Helen's post is far from a waste of words; instead she talks about confronting problems head on, and making the choices that are best for you in the long term, rather than fulfilling an immediate craving or desire that ultimately leaves you feeling crappy. It's well worth a read and extremely refreshing to have no-bullshit take on self care.

Sticking with the theme of self care, I really enjoyed Abbey's post on how she recharges physically and mentally. Her writing is always upbeat and positive, and this post is no exception, as she recommends catching up on sleep if you've been neglecting it, making time to properly stretch out with some yoga and going for a run to take your mind off life's difficulties. Definitely one to read if you're feeling a little overwhelmed. 

I absolutely loved Robyn's post about embracing her body. She talks about her struggle with self confidence and insecurity, and how she's moving past that. She's wearing something she normally wouldn't wear and I have to say she looks incredible. 

Despite the inevitable post-holiday blues, I'm really looking forward to the next week and the month ahead as I'm feeling really inspired to create content. Hope you're all having a great Monday!

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Friday, 13 April 2018

Creativity (By Numbers)

A week or so ago I was wandering around Fred Aldous, a Manchester icon that you should 100% visit if you're in the city or just fancy buying a bizarre plaster cast of someone's hand or 10,000 sheets of coloured paper, and I spotted the scraper foils I used to love as a child. If you're not familiar with them, it's basically a sheet of black card with silver or gold underneath and you gradually scrape away a pattern printed on the black to reveal the colour underneath; my Mum still has one of silver seahorses I did for her birthday when I was about twelve. Sitting next to them were several paint by numbers kits and similar guided artistic kits of kids. Long story short, I bought a paint by numbers set and it's the best thing ever.

Paint by numbers as an adult

Despite being aimed at children, it actually reminds me a great deal of the adult colouring books that were all the rage a few years ago. I had one of them back then, and used it a bit but my felt tips kept drying up so I abandoned it. Painting on the other hand, is much more exciting. I have teeny-tiny pots of colour coded colours that occasionally I have to mix and it's all very thrilling. I realise that to anyone who frequently partakes in any real artistic pursuits I sound like a complete buffoon, but I really am thoroughly enjoying it.

It's the complete antithesis of art, and isn't at all creative, but that's not why I bought it. Rather than being an expression of a feeling or thought in the way art is, it's a removal of it. I can tune out while painting, searching for every tiny instance of the number five, while my paint brush, dipped in green, hovers above the canvas. It's an exercise in relaxation and one I've been really enjoying. Sitting by the kitchen window with the light streaming in the early afternoon, some music playing in the background as I paint fields in three different shades of green: it's bliss. In many ways I find it similar to meditation; my hand moves almost automatically and my mind is focused on a single digit, meaning there's very little room for my thoughts to wander.

Sure, my hand cramps up and I've got blue paint on the wall, but I'm loving it. I also feel an odd sense of shame about it; I have a friend who is an accomplished artist and illustrator, and as much as I endeavour not to compare myself to anyone, the difference in our abilities is glaring. The pinnacle of my artistic achievement was a grotesque teapot in the shape of an elephant's head that I made in Year 9 Art. I'm not artistic but I am creative; in the gifted and talented school scheme I was classed as gifted but not talented, which I remember being outraged by. Ultimately, I can't compared myself to anyone or I'll go mad. I enjoy painting but don't have the idea or skill to execute it well, so paint by numbers is a perfect fit. 

If you're looking for a new way to relax, or just like playing with paint but don't have any actual artistic talent, I'd recommend it. Has anyone else found structured art like this relaxing? And who else still has things like scraper foils on display in their childhood homes?

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