This weekends book haul

Restaurant review – Bundobust Manchester

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After standing out in the cold for the women’s march the boyfriend and I headed over to a place I’ve been hearing a lot about called Bundobust. From the street it’s easy to miss nestled in between Subway and Max Spielman. Through a tiny doorway and down a set of stairs opens up in a huge cavern-like space below.  As we came down the stairs we weren’t sure whether we were supposed to wait to be seated or to just sit down and we noticed this was something of a regular occurrence as we watched others lingering around the entrance before finally just sitting down. I certainly think they could do with someone greeting customers as they come in and directing them to tables.

The decor on the walls had an underground station feel, a little bare, with rows of tables that encourage communal eating. Some people appeared to be just drinking whilst others were consuming little white tubs of food so we opted for the bar snacks.

Not being too familiar with a lot of the food on the menu we played it safe and opted for the okra fries that were coated in a chickpea batter, the onion Gobi bhaji bhaji consisting of onion, cauliflower and spinach with a lovely chutney underneath, the masala dosa which was a mini rice crepe filled with potato and onion dry fry and served with a lentil soup and coconut chutney. With that we also ordered the idli which were steamed rice dumplings and a portion of bhatura, a kind off Indian flatbread.  The boyfriend also ordered the house chai which ended up arriving after the food. By the time it cooled we were ready to leave.

My favourites from the selection we chose were the okra fries (it was the first time I’d tasted okra) and the Indian flatbread. The idli and the lentil soup were probably my least favourite. I couldn’t get use to the almost cake like consistency of the rice dumplings and the lentil soup had a little too much coriander in for my taste.

So if you’re simply looking for some quick snacking food with your drink this is great. Having said that, it could start to work out a little on the pricey side if you started to order more than one or two items (as we did). I suspect we over ordered but since we didn’t know what the portion sizes were going to be like and we were starving, we went a little mad and didn’t finish it all.

Eileen Myles at Waterstones in Deansgate Manchester – a night of readings

Before tonight I knew next to nothing about Eileen Myles. A week ago I’d happened to be browsing the stacks in Waterstones when I saw a poster advertising her appearance the following week in conjunction with the Manchester Literature Festival. What particularly attracted me to this event was its description of Eileen Myles as an avant-garde poet. So I doidwhat most people do these days when they want to learn more about someone, I Googled her. I found quotes from Maggie Nelson, who is hands down one of my favourite writers alive today, singing her praises so I decided to go along and see for myself. What an interesting night it was because I found Myles to be both incredibly funny and very engaging.

Before Myles arrived I sat reading Chelsea Girls which I selected from amongst her many published works. I have to be in the right mood to read poetry, I much prefer to hear it read aloud or performed like plays. When Myles arrived she started off by reading a story from Chelsea Girls and I was hooked. She has ‘cool’ written all over her. I say this as someone who doesn’t possess a single cool bone in her body.

Aside from Chelsea Girls she also read a number of poems, the first an untitled poem she said she wrote for a dancer she fancied to dance to. It starts with, “my lover’s pussy…” and continues in that vein. She chose to read this one tonight as a nod to American’s new pussy-grabbing President. Myles followed this up with the poems, ‘the mirror is my mother’, ‘sleepless’ and ‘a debate with a glove’.

My favourite part though was when she talked about her run for President in 1992 and she read from an acceptance speech she wrote had she won. This was apt in light of the failure of Hilary Clinton to win the Presidency. There was very much a political tone to the evening which I enjoyed, especially hearing first-hand an American’s perspective on what’s happening over there at the moment.

In the Q&A session afterwards Myles talked about Chelsea Girls and never wanting to write a memoir hence why she called it an autobiographical novel. She also revealed that the book was being turned into a screenplay which she’s writing and it will also include new stories that didn’t make it into the original book.

What was also interesting was that she talked about class and how a lot of writing dealt with the issue of class. How, when she started out, she didn’t know anyone who was a poet and that a poet’s studio is in there head. But she acknowledged how important it became to have a community of other poets in New York that formed part of the St Marks church poetry  scene where the likes of Alan Ginsberg hung out.

She said the performing and open mikes where a way for her to not only innovate but also to make money. Myles finished by saying that it was a great time to be a poet in the current political climate because you’ll find out in out time what resistance really means.

When asked about her influences she named the likes of Maggie Nelson, Kris Kraus, Dennis Cooper and Renee Gladman. Aside from Maggie Nelson, I’ve not heard of any of the others so I intend to look them up and start reading, that is once I’ve finished off reading Chelsea Girls.

Manchester’s Women’s March 2017

After stumbling out of the beer and cider festival we headed for the women’s march that was taking place in St Albert’s square. Admittedly my boyfriend and I were a little late to the party but we made it and showed our support.

I doubt anyone in the Western world could have missed the coverage of all the women’s marches that took place over the weekend around the world. Manchester’s was a fair-sized crowd and I think we must have missed the marching part of the march because when we got there, there was a lot of chanting and banner waving.

But I was proud to be there to show my solidarity with women across the globe but particularly those in America facing the prospective of four years under a Donald Trump Presidancy.

Manchester’s Beer & Cider Festival 2017

After a very busy weekend I thought I would share with you all what I’ve been up to. On Saturday, the boyfriend and I attended the Beer and Cider Festival in Manchester. The festival was being held in Manchester Central not far from the Bridgewater Hall and ran from the 19th-21st January. We arrived not long after the doors had opened by long enough to avoid the long line of people we saw waiting outside as we passed on the tram. This is the first time I’ve been to the festival and we had such as great time that we’ve planned to go again next year. We’ve also got our eye on the one in Stockport in June.

After we paid (we got £1 back when we showed our Metro link ticket) we were given the option of taking either a pint glass which you returned when you finished and were given £3.00 back (I may be wrong about whether it was £3 or £1 the boyfriend couldn’t remember, he’d had a few) or you can take a 1/2 pint glass which you get to keep.

The hall was filled with row upon row of tables moderately full when we first entered. However, as the photos above show, by the time we left the place was full. Around the outside snaked bars serving, I’m reliably informed, 165 different types of beers and ciders. I’m more of cider than a beer drinker so I made my way over to the cider bar. The ciders were ranked from 1 = very sweet to 5 = very dry. I like my cider sweet so I opted for what looked like the only number 1 on offer, the Morgan Sweet Cider from Westcroft in Somerset. The guy behind the bar told me that the ‘sweet’ in the name was because of the type of apple used, it just happened to also be sweet. Of all the ciders I went on to taste, this was by far my favourite. I also tried, amongst many, Three Cats from Derbyshire which was medium sweet as was the Waterloo Sunset Perry by Udders Orchard. Neither was to my taste.

The boyfriend sampled a rather scary sounding beer called Cryptic U.S.B at 6.9%, a cask conditioned beer. For only 1/2 a pint you were looking at £2.10(£1.40 for 1/3 ). Of all the beers he tried this one was by far the strongest and darkest, almost Guiness-like in colour with a toffee/treacly taste and smell. He followed it up with a Manchester Star Ale and one I think was simply named Manchester Ale (I was starting to lose track at this point).These were not only cheaper, the Manchester Ale was £1.00 for 1/3 but also less alcoholic.

Alongside the beer there was also a splattering of food stands including ones selling pies, burgers and cheese toasties.

If you’re a big beer and/or cider fan or just looking for a good day out (you have to be over 25 sorry), then I would strongly recommend this for next year. Can’t wait that long? Sign up to CAMRA and they’ll notify you of the other festivals taking place including the one I already mentioned in Stockport and in Bolton and Wigan to name but a few.

Book review – I am Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Viking

published 2016i-am-lucy-barton

Ever feel like you’re always the last one on the great book bandwagon? I do. For some time now I’ve heard the praises sung of Elizabeth Strout’s I am Lucy Barton that  I added it to my ‘to read’ pile for 2017 only to stumble across a copy at my local charity shop. I sat to read this with the intension of only reading a page or two and before I knew it I’d finished the whole thing.

From the writer of the Pulitzer prize-winning Oliver Kitteridge comes this tale of a relationship between a daughter and her mother. Lucy, the narrator, is reflecting back on the nine weeks she spent in a hospital in New York. From her bed she can see the Chrysler Building outside her window and we begin to learn why Lucy has ended up in hospital. But the why isn’t what’s really important. What is important is the visit she receives from her estranged mother. This wouldn’t ordinarily be an unusual event for most families but Lucy’s is different, as we quickly come to learn.

I am Lucy Barton is a novel about looking back. Not simply looking back on her time spent in hospital but back even further to her childhood, one of poverty and strained family relations. Unable to leave the hospital, and with her mother by her side refusing to leave or even sleep, Lucy is forced to confront the silences in her past. The irony being that narrator is now a writer and words are her currency. Yet faced with her mother’s sudden appearance Lucy struggles to find the words.Instead the two women gossip about the marriages of women they know, the underlying suggestion being that neither of their own is particularly successful. It’s in the talking about others lives that Lucy begins to truly reflect on her own. There’s her father’s alcoholism and the scars left behind from his experiences fighting the Nazis during World War Two. There’s her mother’s abuse and her failure to ever show real affection of tell her daughter that she loves her. There’s her relationship with a college professor and the connections she develops with a neighbour Jeremy and her highschool teacher.

One of the most illuminating parts of the novel for me was the relationship Lucy strikes up with the writer Sarah Payne. She meets her first in a department store and again in a creative writing class. Payne doesn’t recognise Lucy but her surname is apt because Sarah Payne is a woman who feels pain deeply as highlighted in the cat incident. She is one of the first people to see her a writer. The writing class allows her to feel for the first time, that she belongs and that her past, rather than something to run away from, is something she can embrace in her writing. She tells Lucy that “We only have one story.”

After reading the novel I came across a set of questions and topics for discussion on the author’s website (Elizabeth Strout online). Reading through the list, what seemed on first reading like a simple mother-daughter narrator became something far more complex. I went back and re-read the book with this list in mind. I’d urge you to do the same because it made me think again about what I’d just read. There were two in particular, the first being; “Lucy expresses great love for her doctor. How would you describe that love?”

All the relationships Lucy reflects upon are complicated ones including the one with her doctor. I have read some reviews that have questioned the mother-daughter relationship. But what Strout does well is to recognise that relationships in general are complex and the ones in this novel are no different. When I first read Lucy say she loved her doctor I had to do a double-take. Really? You’ve only known him for 5 minutes! But when I thought about their ‘relationship’ in the context of all the others in the novel, then this one begins to make sense. Growing up she was starved of both affection and recognition and the doctor gives her both in the only way he can.

If the story ha a weakness it’s when I consider question number 9, “What does living in New York City mean for Lucy? Do you think she feels at home in New York?” I felt as if the book was much stronger when it’s describing Lucy’s childhood hometown of Amgash, Illinois rather than New York. The city is being used as a point of comparison and where better than New York to use as a contrast. But I almost felt like any large city would have served just as well, the point being Lucy’s escape from somewhere that holds such painful memories.

The fact that it took me only two days to read shows that not only is it a quick read (if you’re looking for something that’s not going to take you months to read try this) and I say this as a slow reader but also an absorbing one. It was the emotional honesty of the book that kept me reading and why I gave it 4 starts.

4 stars

William Morris quote

I’ve always loved this quote by William Morris and it feels even more pertinent now that I’m in the middle of decorating my own home.

“Have nothing in your home that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

William Morris

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Book review – Charlotte Bronte: A Passionate Life by Lyndall Gordon

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Published 1995

Vintage

After watching the BBC One drama To Walk Invisible shown over Christmas and written by the enviably talented Sally Wainwright, I decided to pull off my shelf a book that’s been sitting there overlooked for some time. It’s a biography of the life of Charlotte Bronte by Lyndall Gordon, a book I found in a charity shop a few years ago. It’s only now that I’ve found the time (with the prompting of the fantastic BBC drama) to read it.

I should also mention that charity shops are my go-to place for books. Not only are they cheap (I buy so many) but I feel like I’m also doing my bit for charity and if you’re lucky enough to find a really good one, then the range of titles you come across can be a revelation. My particular favourite at the moment is the Oxfam in Manchester City Centre. The books are a little pricier than in most charity shops but the variety and condition tends to be better and I certainly don’t regret braving a wet afternoon for this little gem of a book.

What Lyndall Gordon has set out to do is to reimagine, “The usual view of Charlotte Bronte…as a figure of pathos in the shadow of tombstones” to someone who was “very much a survivor, a determinedly professional writer, impatient, sarcastic.” He shows how this is at odds with her public image, one that was cultivated after her death by the likes of her husband Arthur Bell Nicholls and the writer Elizabeth Gaskell, among many.

He states that he isn’t attempting, “A final truth about a life” but rather that, “The time has come to bring out the strength that turned loss to gain.” That for me is what Gordon’s book hinges on, showing how Charlotte Bronte was able to turn tragedy into something productive and imaginative. His intention, he adds, is to open up the gaps in her story with the help of her autobiographical fiction, to reveal a hidden life with, “Abundant creative energy”, as someone who wasn’t afraid to speak up got the socially obsure.

Gordon delves into what lies between the facts since many parts of her life were obscured by decisions taken after her death. He builds (he says) on the research of Winifred Gerin and Rebecca Fraser. Having read neither’s work, from the onset I decided to judge this work on it’s merits alone rather than where it fits into Bronte scholarship. I’m not a Bronte specialist, simple an avid reader of their work. What I wanted from this book was a fresh insight into Charlotte Bronte’s writing and life. I hoped it would bring another layer of meaning to my readings of her work and that is exactly what Lyndall Gordon has done.

This illuminating biography makes use of a wealth of Charlottes correspondence between those closest to her, correspondence that was either not used or withheld from Charlotte’s first biographer Elizabeth Gaskell. What they reveal is how these individuals, in tandem with a series of life-changing events, shaped her life and work and just as importantly, how closely the two were intertwined for Charlotte Bronte.

It also explores the questions that were of vital interest to Charlotte, questions such as, what is passion for a woman? How much she emerge from silence, raise her voice, pick up her pen?  As Gordon acknowledges, Charlotte was not as shrinking as she appeared and had the, “Courage to enter uncharted regions of women’s lives, to meet the shades who lived there, and find words for their existence.” She did this at a time when to do so would find her labelled as rebellious, unchristian or unwomanly.  Gordon describes her as, “The source of a new voice of truth that was to burst on Victorian society in the late 1840’s.”

Irrespective of whether you’re a Bronte fan or not this is a book that will appeal to all literature fans. What Gordon has attempted to do, with much success, is to dispel the myth of Charlotte Bronte as a lonely governess frequenting the moors and surrounded by the tombstones of loved ones. Instead, Gordon’s presents Charlotte Bronte as  much more of fiery character in the company of those closest to her whilst reserved and at times difficult around strangers.  Charlotte comes across less a victim and more a heroine fit for one of her own novels and at times this does feel like a reach. She’s even used as an influence on the Suffrage movement with Gordon arguing that, “She remains a speaker for the soul as for women. It could be said that she conferred a soul on the Cause which was then coming into being.” But there’s so much to recommend about this book that the unproven speculations (so much of her correspondence was destroyed) and questionable interpretations (in relation to the reasons for her marrying Arthur Bell Nicholls) can be overlooked in favour of a biography that attempts to offer fresh interpretations of her life and work, as a woman who only emerged fully in her novels.

4 stars

 

Simmy’s homemade leek and potato soup

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Let me say it loud and clear from the start, I am not the world’s greatest cook but now that I’m living with my boyfriend and I am cooking for the both of us, I need to expand my food repertoire.

Then on Sunday my boyfriend’s mum asked if I wanted any leeks and potatoes she’d won in a raffle but didn’t want so I thought I would try to make my own soup.

To the leeks and potatoes I added onions and carrots and I have to say it is absolutely delicious on a cold and wet day like today.

Try it yourself.

Serves 2 people.

Ingredients

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 medium onion
  • 200g of leeks
  • a teaspoon of garlic puree (or 1 glove of garlic)
  • olive oil
  • 200g of potatoes
  • 1 chicken stock cube (substitute a chicken stock cube for vegetable if you’re a  vegetarian)
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. peel and slice the carrots
  2. peel and roughly chop the onions
  3. cut the ends of the leeks, cut them in half lengthways and wash them thoroughly before slicing
  4. peel and slice the garlic if you’re using gloves otherwise miss this step
  5. place a large pan on a high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil (butter also works well)
  6. add all your carrots, leeks and onions along with the garlic glove/garlic puree and mix with a wooden spoon
  7. cook for 10 minutes with the lid askew until the vegetables are soft and translucent
  8. whilst these are cooking peel then dice your potatoes into even sized cubes
  9. put the stock cube into a jug and pour in 90 ml of boiling water and stir until the stock cube dissolves
  10. add the stock to the pan with the vegetables in
  11. add your potatoes then give the soup a stir and bring to the boil
  12. reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on
  13. finally remove the pan from the heat and when the contents has cooled slightly you can pulse until smooth with a hand blender

Book group read – The Marble Collector by Cecelia Ahern

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Cecelia Ahern’s The Marble Collector and me in my Christmas jumper

As my readers may know, I have recently moved to Manchester and part of the reason for creating this blog was to write about living here in the city and to share my interests with like-minded people.

Offline in the real world I have also been attempting the same thing and today I signed up for a reading group at my local library. The class runs on the first Tuesday of every month at 2.30 pm. The lovely librarian gave me the book the group will be reading next month,  Cecelia Ahern’s The Marble Collector. I have never read anything by Cecelia Ahern but I have seen the film P.S. I Love You based on the book of the same name so I am familiar with the genre of books she writes.

If I am honest it’s not a book I would have chosen myself and for that reason I am excited about reading this. I guess the whole point of reading groups, aside from meeting others who loves books just as much as you do, is to discover books and authors you would never have thought of choosing otherwise.

I will let you know how I get on in my first reading group next month but for now I am ready to delve into The Marble Collector.