First return to Cambridgeshire

In a month or so we’ll be heading back to Ely and Cambridge so it’s probably quite fitting that I’ve just found this from last year:

I’ve learnt to never go Christmas shopping in a city I like. Now you may think that this is surely a ridiculous statement and that, if you must go Christmas shopping then doing it somewhere you like will obviously make it a more pleasant experience. In that, you’d be wrong.

I first need to point out that I quite enjoy Christmas shopping. I love giving presents and the whole process of choosing the right sort of gift for people I love and care about is one of my favourite things regardless of the occasion. (I have little patience with obligatory Christmas presents so if you’ve received something from me it’s generally a good indication that I like you. It’s at least an indication that somebody I love very much seems quite attached to you). I also love Cambridge as a city and have spent a lot of time exploring its little shops and cafes etc.

So it was an obvious choice then, to combine a trip in December to this city that I like very much with the necessary and generally enjoyable task of Christmas shopping. It would be a visit to the city I already know but with added festivity and loveliness. Brilliant idea!

Except… I didn’t actually get to enjoy the added festivity and loveliness. I was too cross at not being able to enjoy the familiar elements of the city I like so much due to all the extra people and their intensely stressed rushing about the place. Add to that things like opening times being silly because it was a Sunday, the little place on Mill Rd. where we planned to have lunch not being quite what it was a year ago and my missing the last carousel ride on Parker’s Piece (a Christmas favourite of mine); the afternoon did not go well.

As always though, Cambridge managed to redeem itself; my wife promised a visit to Toppings (my favourite book shop) the next day and we escaped the mad shopping crowds by popping into the Arts Picture House to see Bridge of Spies. A thoroughly enjoyable film in an excellent cinema which, it pains me to admit, I’d never seen a film in before despite having lived in Cambridge for nigh on two years (and had a drink in the bar a couple of times).

Now that I have I can’t sing its praises enough. It’s beautiful! The aforementioned bar is welcoming, the ticket prices are good and the staff so friendly that instead of paying full price for our tickets we were talked into an annual student membership (despite pointing out that we now live in Wales) because signing up for that gave us 2 for 1 tickets, free popcorn, a free shot of whiskey (an odd freebie but one we very much appreciated after a cold afternoon shopping) and worked out cheaper than paying the standard ticket price. Needless to say, we can’t wait to go back.

But I’m digressing terribly. I’m definitely supposed to be writing about a  book and so I shall. One f the books I brought with me to Cambridge was Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. I’ve been meaning to read this for far too long and what prompted my finally picking it up was reading (and subsequently watching) A Walk in the Woods by the same author while stuck inside during a crazy storm in Portugal but that’s a whole other story.

Notes from a Small Island is a marvellous journey and lots of it by train which resonated with me as much of my British geography has been accumulated through long train journeys across the country. But my main reason for recommending it (which I do and will to anyone who asks and many who don’t) is that it’s genuinely, honestly funny.

The voice is direct and a bit grouchy at times but I like that and it’s not at all misplaced. There’s very little playing for laughs and no sense of attack. Just accurate observation that rings so true it’s hilarious. I think it helps that there’s also a sense of genuine fondness for the subject matter. So I’m very glad I’ve finally read this. Bill Bryson is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and I’m looking forward to enjoying many more of his offerings.

Lessons from 2015

December 2015

  • January: The right company makes sunrises even better.
  • February: Giving feels good.
  • March: We never stop learning about each other.
  • April: Home is where my wife is.
  • May: Politics affects everything.
  • June: It’s never too late and I can do it if I try.
  • July: My wife is quite wonderful.
  • August: The smallest things can make me smile.
  • September: Families are wonderful, resilient and important.
  • October: I don’t have to do things in the order that I plan to; in fact, sometimes it’s better if I don’t.
  • November: Babies learn to do amazing things, even when you’re not watching.
  • December: I should never go Christmas shopping in a city that I like (Christmas markets don’t count).

Bonus: I can’t write at work!

“Never forget where you are.” That’s one of the first things I was told when I started teaching classes in the prison. Initially, the warning seemed absurd; if you’ve ever been in one of these places, you know that you can no more forget where you are than you could if you were to suddenly […]

via It’s Always Plan B — rmgosselin

Thank you Mrs Toksvig

As a treat for my birthday (a few months ago now) I received a small cash gift specifically intended for spending at one of my favourite bookshops Toppings, Ely. A fabulous, little place; three storeys with the most wonderful view of Ely cathedral, a warm welcome and an invitation to get lost amongst the shelves for as long as you’d like. I love the place and, as always, found it impossible to come away with just the one new book so, it’s taken me a while to get around to reading them all and I’m still not quite there yet. One of my favourite’s so far has been Valentine Grey by Sandi Toksvig.

Now, I have to begin by admitting a little bias here. I’m quite a big fan. What with her satirical comedy on the radio, her non-fiction writing, and her recent entry into British politics I can’t help but admire her. But until recently I hadn’t read any of her fiction.

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You’ll be glad to know that she doesn’t disappoint. Valentine Grey is a thoroughly engaging story. It begins slowly and with many other writers I would have struggled with the first few, London bound chapters. Not so here. Toksvig’s keen sense of observation and her directness with language took me with her characters; all of them. They’re well defined and coloured by the author’s careful wit. She has a talent for very simply describing aspects of character and society clearly, even those that many might think were best left alone. She seems to be interested in everything and you can tell. But, nothing’s overdone in the way I’m probably overdoing my attempt to describe it.

It’s a wonderful book. I highly recommend it. I’ll certainly be sampling a little more of her fiction beginning with Whistling for the Elephants which is waiting on my bookshelf. I’m already excited at the prospect and at the variety of options for the book to follow so, thank you Mrs Toksvig.

My passport to the world…

This is just a short post and it isn’t really anything to do with books. Though, in some ways it has everything to do with books and so, here we go… You might be wondering why I was in need of comfort reading recently. Equally you may not but, I feel like celebrating and the two things are linked so do celebrate with me.

I finally (after nearly a decade which seems a foolishly long time to be considering something) enrolled on a CELTA course in April of this year. Not the crazy, single month of pressure and self loathing I’ve watched others put themselves through but a three month, part time course that felt like it might still, quite easily, take over my life.

I was afraid that the course would simply be a means to an end; an exercise in jumping through hoops that I didn’t quite fit through just to get that certificate; that passport to work, travel, education and experience. My ticket to the world… I’m not very good at jumping through hoops, at least, not the ones people often think are important. I quickly get bored with it. So, I put it off.

I was either very wrong or very lucky. Though there was some hoop jumping, I was sufficiently distracted by all of the interesting things that I learnt about to be distracted from it until absolutely necessary (bad for my time management but great for my engagement). This is largely, I’m sure, down to the fantastic team of tutors at ELTS (Swansea University) who delivered the course. And to them I say thank you.

Equal, if not more thanks is due to my wife. Without her support I wouldn’t have enrolled (cliche maybe but true). Without her, I wouldn’t have passed. I did. I passed. I really am a language teacher and I now have my passport to the world…

Comfort

We all need it sometimes. We all have those places and things that we retreat to that make us feel better or keep us from going a bit crazy. I’ve always done this; returned to familiar friends when I get busy, tired or nervous. Just like comfort food or cwtching up on the couch in pyjamas, with a blanket and a bear; comfort music and comfort reading has almost been my default and I know it’s not just me. During exams at school I had a friend who would reread the Discworld series from the very first book. She did this every year. it kept her calm (and I suspect, was the perfect procrastination tactic).

The past couple of years have been busy for me. I moved across the country, changed jobs, planned a wedding, studied university modules, sat exams, completed my CELTA, got another exciting job… Exciting as it is, it’s all a little much sometimes. But, at the beginning of all of this (as a ‘well done’ for getting the first exciting job), my wife gave me a present:

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Now, say what you will about Harry Potter and ‘grown ups’ reading ‘children’s books’, I’ve read them many times and find myself reading them again. Not just reading them, but enjoying them (it’s not just procrastination, honestly sweetheart)! JK Rowling has created a world to escape into that can also be shared. It’s a wonderful and now, wonderfully familiar story with nuanced characters and little details that make me smile or laugh whether I’m noticing them for the first time (which still happens occasionally) or remembering them from the last time I read them and they cheered my up / calmed me. I love it and I know I’m not the only one. My wife thinks I’m crazy but I’m sure that revisiting books that make you happy is a good thing.