Ditching the lbs (or not)

blackbirdsThis isn’t easy to write, actually. It’s a bit like taking my clothes off in the High Street – embarrassing to say the least. The thing is that, having publicly announced I had set myself the goal of losing 50lbs this year, I haven’t lost a single lb. Not one measly ounce. In fact, I’ve gained weight. Lots of tiny ounces which have added up to a wobbly tummy, double chin and tight jeans.

I have just written a review for my blog of the last book I read – it’s called ‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’. In the novel the main character, Rose, can taste within the food she eats, the feelings of the person who prepared it. Her mother’s home-made lemon cake tastes of sadness and unfulfilment. The concept made me think about what my family would taste if my emotions were served up with their lunch? My baking would taste of shame. Four-and-twenty black moods baked in a pie, and when the pie was opened, the girl began to cry. Losing weight and then gaining it again, the yo-yo dieting, makes me feel so awful about myself in front of others, that I want to hide away.

Eating, food, sugar, seem to me to be my addictions. If I were an alcoholic, a drug abuser or smoker, the poisons would be killing me. Put like that, I really have no choice but to conquer my demons. I have no doubt that I will succeed in losing weight and keeping it off, because I will keep trying.

But for the moment, I need to stop hating myself. After 35 years of self-loathing, I plan to give myself a break. It’s my birthday soon, my friends are coming over, my family are planning, and I’ve had my hair cut. I’m going to buy a new outfit, smile and be gorgeous. I’m well aware of my own failings, but just for a few days, I am not going to let my worth be measured by the shape of my body.

birthday meHappy Birthday – to me!


Film No 7 (2014) : Before Sunrise

Before sunriseA close friend whose opinions I value very highly, took a look at my blog so far and suggested that I should add more of the quirky details of my film viewing, such as who I was with and what flavour crisps we ate.

So, this week I visited a friend so that we could enjoy a film together as part of my 50:50 project. We ate salted mixed nuts and a box of Monty Bojangles Ginger Truffles which were reduced to £1.50 in Waitrose. We also had a glass of  white wine which I think, to be honest, might have been sitting open in the fridge for too long.truffles

We watched a 1995 movie starring Ethan Hawke, called ‘Before Sunrise’. Two young travellers meet on a train and decide to spend a night together in Vienna before going their separate ways. They pass the time walking, talking, sharing confidences, sometimes snacking and eventually kissing. He is somewhat arrogant, she has a stereotypically French lisp to her English. Both are gauche, seemingly victims of love at first sight, but fumbling to overcome their initial awkwardness. Hawke is intensely irritating, all mouth and trousers. Celine (played by Julie Delpy) spouts feminist theory and wears a very droopy dress. The plot is skimpy and the film made me think of an ‘A’ level Drama project.

My friend fell asleep with the cat on her lap. Luckily she doesn’t snore.

I watched the rest of the film on my own, surreptitiously sneaking in a couple of games of ‘Candy Crush’ on my phone.

Film No 6 (2014) : Captain Phillips

capt phillipsWatching the BAFTAs inspired me to catch up with some recent award winners – Captain Phillips’ actor Barkhad Abdi was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role as Muse, the young leader of a group of Somali pirates.

The film is based on the true story of an American commercial cargo ship boarded by pirates whilst navigating between Djibouti and Mombasa. The pirates are desperate, but young, volatile and disorganised. Their composure deteriorates throughout the kidnapping; they turn on each other in violent outbursts. When they capture Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) in the ship’s lifeboat as they try to flee, the American Navy mobilises its considerable forces in an attempt to save him and end the stand-off with his captives.

Although I sensed that there must be a positive outcome for Phillips, it was by no means a given. The traumatised captain at the end of the movie is testament to the shocking experiences he has undergone and there are no winners. The film is a grim reminder of the downside of globalisation, with the divisions it creates.

It’s a tense thriller with a fair amount of violence. I find it hard to believe that this film has a 12 certificate – to my mind, it is adult viewing.

Book No 8 (2014) : Oh dear Silvia

silviaSilvia Shute is in a coma following a fall from a balcony. She is being cared for in hospital by a compassionate nurse (Winnie) and is visited in turn by her husband, daughter, sister, best friend and cleaner! In an attempt to encourage Silvia to regain consciousness, her visitors talk to her, trying to unlock her becalmed mind. It is through their one-sided conversations with the silent Mrs Shute, that the plot is revealed. Each visitor to Suite 5 has a unique and distinct voice, some of which are strongly reminiscent of Dawn French, comedienne. The individual revelations of Silvia’s companions gradually weave together into something altogether much darker than the quirky accents and idiosyncrasies initially suggest. It’s a carefully crafted book, surprising in its complexity.

The reviewers of this book describe it as ‘utterly hilarious’, ‘darkly humorous’ etc. Whilst it undoubtedly made me laugh, the sub-texts of tangled relationships, betrayal, hurt and confusion, made me feel uneasy about laughing at all.

Incidentally, I am not a big fan of audiobooks myself, but I think this is one which would work well, especially with Dawn herself reading some of the parts. Maybe a long-car-journey gift?

Book No 7 (2014) : The Impressionist

impressionistSweeping Indian novels are a passion of mine – I cut my teeth on ‘The Far Pavilions’ when I was about 14 and swore for years afterwards that I would name my son ‘Ashton’ after the lead character! Well, that didn’t happen, but I have enjoyed many Indian sagas since then.
The Impressionist’ by Hari Kunzru, is the story of Pran Nath, born as the result of a fleeting union between an English officer and an Indian beauty. Circumstances see him ousted from his privileged home and catapulted into a series of lives from a male prostitute to a place at Oxford. He encounters characters from all walks of life, most of whom appear to be indifferent to him, and with whom he rarely forms any mutually meaningful attachments. Pran/Rukshana/WhiteBoy/Pretty Bobby and Jonathan Bridgeman (Pran’s various personae) are all ‘dodgy’ characters, drawn to the seedier side of life, quick to exploit opportunities. But Pran is essentially a blank canvas, a chameleon soaking up the hues of his surroundings, using the pale colour of his skin to his advantage. His quest to find his place in the world is at times violent, amusing and thrilling.
It’s not a quick read and the pace seems to slow, leaving the conclusion somehow unfulfilling. At times I was enthralled by the book, but towards the end found my concentration waning. Despite it having been critically acclaimed, ‘The Impressionist’ is not a novel that I particularly enjoyed.

Film No 5 (2014) : The Boat that Rocked

boat that rockedRichard Curtis, writer and director of ‘The Boat that Rocked’ has many claims to movie success: I first fell in love with John Hannah as the heartbroken lover in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’! ‘The Boat that Rocked’ is not widely acclaimed as being one of Curtis’ better movies, but it’s still a fun film.
It has an impressive cast list including; Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans and the now sadly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman. ‘Radio Rock’ is a pirate station, anchored in the North Sea and broadcasting non-stop 60s pop to a nation which listens somewhat guiltily to its forbidden pleasures. Back on the mainland the officials, led by Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), are trying to close down the subversive station.
Having been expelled from school Carl (Tom Sturridge), is welcomed on board by his godfather – Radio Rock’s director Quentin (Nighy) and he joins the team of DJs as they drink, smoke, lark about, womanise – oh, and play music. The film starts slowly, but culminates in some action-packed scenes as the station faces ruin. As you’d expect, ‘The Boat that Rocked’ has a fantastic toe-tapping soundtrack and a generally feel-good factor, with some great comedic performances.

Book No 6 (2014) : Life after Life

life after lifeI’d been waiting ages for this to come out in paperback and finally got my hands on it thanks to the dwindling but sufficient funds on my Christmas ‘Waterstones’ Gift Card. I have nothing against hardbacks; other than they are cumbersome to hold, won’t fit in my handbag and take up too much space on my shelves!

Atkinson’s last four works have featured Scottish detective Jackson Brodie and combine a wry sense of humour with a contemporary  setting and plot lines. ‘Life after Life’ has the trademark observational humour but most of the story takes place between 1910 and the end of WW2. Ursula is born to parents Sylvie and Hugh at the start of the book, but fails to take her first breath. Presumably realising that this inauspicious beginning would not herald much of a story, Atkinson unfurls a careful plot which sees Ursula born again, at the same time and place, into the same family. This time she lives a little longer, but before long the darkness falls and she begins her life cycle again. There is no explanation of how this happens, but to get the best from the novel, I discovered it was easiest just to accept that it does! With each incarnation, although the central characters in Ursula’s life remain the same, her circumstances and experiences vary. The novel begins and ends with the same scene, where Ursula (with the benefit of hindsight) has the chance to completely change the course of European history.

It’s a fascinating premise, how differently we might all lead our lives if we had more than one opportunity to get it right. The prose is warm, artfully observed and at times very funny, at others very touching. More than one of Ursula’s deaths moved me to tears, and the scenes set in London during the bombings are vividly recounted. Yet somehow the book is lacking. At just over 600 pages, it feels overly long, and the cyclical nature of Ursula’s life necessitates reading the same scenarios several times. Obviously! Many of the reader reviews of the book have expressed the same sentiment – ‘I usually love Kate Atkinson , but …’ which sums up my view of ‘Life after Life’.

Of course, in my next lifetime, I may choose to feel differently about it.

Book No 5 (2014) : Painter of Silence

painter of silenceThis novel was described so eloquently by a friend at our last village Book Group meeting, that I swiped it out of her hands there and then! Written by Georgina Harding, ‘Painter of Silence’ was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2012 – although it did lose out to Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’.

Augustus and Safta are raised together in Romania. He is the son of the cook, she is the daughter of the house at Poiana. They share an unbreakable bond, made all the more poignant by the fact that whilst Augustus is a talented artist, he is profoundly deaf and never acquires language. He watches quietly, observes the behaviour and senses the mood of others, although the world is frequently a bewildering place for him. Safta and Augustus are separated by the outbreak of WW2 and the invasion of the Russian armies, but they are reunited when Augustus seeks her out at the hospital where she has enlisted as a nurse. Through the medium of his drawings and mini figurines, Augustus draws upon his memories to portray to Safta the story of his life and the fate of her pre-War lover. The ending is both surprising and satisfying.

It’s a beautifully atmospheric book, underlining the importance of place and suffused throughout with Safta’s gentle care for Augustus. I recommend it.