Book Review: The Summer Job, by Lizzy Dent

…He pushes the door open, but instead of showing me in, he pops my suitcase just inside and pulls the door shut. ‘Couldn’t grow a Pinot in this wind-chill, eh?’

I stutter, then scramble for a quick reply. ‘Yes. Certainly it needs to be warmer. Except when there’s a frost. You also sometimes need a frost.’ He’s staring at me, so obviously I continue my verbal drivel. ‘For the grapes, because sometimes they need frost. To make the wine, er, better.’

The Summer Job

Birdy has arrived at a luxury hotel on the Isle of Skye ready to take up her role as their new sommelier. Except she has no clue about wines. The hotel is expecting Birdy’s best friend, Heather, who has decided at the last minute to follow a man to Italy and not take up the position. Birdy, with nowhere to stay now Heather is out of the country, decides that she will impersonate her friend at the hotel… because, how hard can it be to learn about wines?

The plan up until now – if you could call it a plan – was a crash course with my brand-new copy of Wine for Newbies, and Sir google, as my tutors later this evening. Surface knowledge. A bluffable amount. Enough to blag my way through the summer at a crappy hotel in the middle of nowhere. Only, the crusty, ramshackle shithole Scottish hotel has not materialised, and instead I find myself in a fine-dining, luxury boutique property. This place is in need of a world-class sommelier to decipher the brand-new twenty-page wine list. Which I am definitely not.

The Summer Job

Birdy quickly realises that she is out of her depth, but she also quickly falls in love with the place and the other people working there and doesn’t want to let them down. Birdy has had a troubled upbringing, dealing with her father’s alcoholism, and at the hotel Loch Dorn she begins to find her feet and understand what it means to be part of something. The only problem is: they all think she is Heather.

Not only that, Birdy has arrived at a crucial time at Loch Dorn as they are getting to re-launch after a complete overhaul of the interior and menu (including hiring a Michelin star chef), and a lot is riding on this summer. Birdy has to work hard to learn about wine and step into the shoes that Heather would have easily filled. But it’s a constant battle for Birdy against her lack of self-belief and the feeling that she has never been able to get going in life. Can she finally find her passion and feel she’s good at something?

In the acknowledgements, Lizzy Dent describes The Summer Job as a love letter to Scottish hospitality and it really is. There are lots of scrumptious references to venison and red win jus, scallops and whisky, and the joyous role food can play in bringing people together.

‘I love the intensity of service. The creativity of working with food. But when it comes down to it, it’s that one dish. Everything that’s on that plate, from the sea salt to the squid ink, has taken time to get to that point. Someone’s alarm went off at four a.m. to go out on the boats. The weather was just right. Someone else had to know the perfect soil… And I get to transform it. Take its perfect natural state and warm it, or pickle it, or dry it, you know? And sometimes I barely touch it. I kiss it with the pan and season it. Whatever. And the I plate it. And even though they’re perfect strangers, cooking that meal for them is one of the most intimate things you can do…’

The Summer Job

This book should come with a warning that it will make you hungry. And want a glass of wine.

I loved this book – it’s funny and poignant. It also has some brilliant characters in it: from Birdy, who I was rooting for the entire time in the hope that she could pull it off and stop being so hard on herself. To James, the chef, and Roxy the waitress. Lizzy Dent really paints a picture of all the different guests too as they come in to be served: one guest, for example, “has all the bombastic confidence of a woman schooled at Fettes College, with winter holidays in Lech – swathed in cashmere and drowning in entitlement.”

I also read this book to get myself in the mood for my holiday to the Isle of Skye – and it did just that! All the descriptions of the landscape, the beauty of the loch and the brightness made me so eager to go.

James once told me the name was Norse: Ski meaning cloud and Ey meaning Island. Cloud Island, owing to the mist that often clings to its saw-toothed mountains. When I came here with James the first time, that certainly fitted, but today everything is that heart-lifting, soul-cleansing summer blue. The blue of joy and hope. Sunshine and laughter.

The Summer Job

Get me to Portree so that I can sit on the pier with my newspaper-wrapped fish and chips!

Reasons Why I Love Solo Travel

Hopefully when this post is published, I will be off on my first solo adventure in years: I’m going island hopping in Scotland! I’ll be visiting the Isles of Mull, Skye and Iona, which are all completely new to me. I’m hoping I see some puffins, some gorgeous blue sea and maybe even a little bit of sunshine.

I love travelling by myself. Of course, I would never say no to a family trip or a holiday with my partner or friends, but there is something magical about waking up in a completely new place by yourself. It feels brave and a little wild.

Phuket

Of course, it can seem scary when you’re considering whether or not to do it. I know when I first told my parents that I was off to India on my own they maybe weren’t best pleased. But I don’t think I have had any scary experiences whilst travelling alone – I’ve always been careful (no dark alleys at night, kept an eye on my belongings and kept in touch with home, that sort of thing) and that’s not to say that there isn’t danger out there, it’s just not everywhere. I really believe that travelling alone is something everyone should experience at least once in their life.

So, if you are thinking about it and just need that extra little push to book that solo trip, let me tell you some of the reasons why I love it.

First, you won’t be lonely: people will always talk to you. You can be as alone or as sociable as you want on a solo trip. Sometimes you might want to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you at the bar, and sometimes you will just want to sit in peace and catch up on your travel diary with a drink. It’s completely up to you. If someone tries to talk to you and you’re not into it, do as you would at home and be polite but firm about shutting the conversation down. Same when trying to start a conversation – don’t take it personally if they don’t want to be chatty but in my experience most people will talk back if you try. I once ended up sharing a table with a family in New Orleans due to lack of seats in the restaurant. They ordered a platter of oysters and shared them with me while they told me all about their family history and their trip to New Orleans. I even got some recommendations for things to do while I was there. I also find that travelling alone makes me take more interest in people around me which is also great if, like me, you love a good ol’ people watch.

New Orleans

Two, you get to do what you want. Let me say that again with emphasis: you get to do what YOU want. It’s probably made me a terrible person to travel with now, to be honest, because I can forget that sometimes travelling with others can be about compromise and missing out on seeing the things you want to because you are doing what your friend wants to do instead. And that’s not a terrible thing, for example, on a trip to Belfast I went to the Titanic Museum because my friend really wanted to go and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. At the end of the day, you’re still away from home doing something different. But once you start planning your own itineraries around the things that you want to do, without having to worry about others, it is so freeing.

Northern Ireland roadtrip (I’ll write a post about this one day!)

Three, restaurants can normally squeeze in that one extra person somewhere (and you can feel smug about queue hopping). I remember there was an amazing place in Phuket that always had a huge queue outside but I never had to wait long because they could find me a little solo spot for me.

Phuket

Four, you will come back from a solo trip feeling different. Your confidence will have changed. It might feel subtle but once you’ve been away somewhere new and had to navigate that on your own, rock up at a hostel on your own, go and find somewhere to eat on your own, you’ll have a new-found resource of confidence. Believe me, I sometimes say to myself things like: if you can do something like go to Cambodia or India by yourself, you can do this work meeting. Your friends will be so inspired by you and your new found energy.

Five, you’ll have fun. You’re by yourself doing what you want to do, eating at the places you’ve had bookmarked on Instagram, chatting away when you want, and having some time to yourself when you want. How can you not have fun? You’re seeing the world (however close to home you may or may not go), on your terms.

So, be brave and book that trip! I hope you have a fantastic time.

Book Review: Pretending, by Holly Bourne

TW: sexual assault

Here’s the thing: I really don’t understand why love has been so hard for me. I’m pretty. I’m smart. I have a goodish job. I have friends. I have hobbies. I am funny. I am self-actualized. I dress well. I don’t have particularly high standards. I am not expecting to be rescued. I am realistic about what relationships are like. I know they take work. I know nobody is perfect, let alone myself. I know I have to ‘put myself out there’ and I have been doing that. I am a good conversationalist. I am happy on my own. I am.

But, like, I still want a relationship.

I really want a relationship.

Pretending

April is trying to find a boyfriend – someone she can come home to, make dinner with and cuddle on the couch and watch Dawson’s Creek with. She feels that she gets a few dates into something and then it always goes wrong: she asks too many questions, comes across too keen and scares him away, or she makes a suggestion he doesn’t like. Every time she is left feeling upset and alone. April creates a picture in her head of what she believes is every man’s ideal woman: Gretel. Gretel knows how to play it cool, she knows the right things to say in every situation, how to keep a guy interested. With this in mind, April creates a dating profile for herself as Gretel and meets Joshua, who seems to love the new woman he has found. The book follows April as she gets deeper into getting to know a man who doesn’t know who she really is, and what it feels like for her to be the person in control.

Now, before you start thinking this book is all romance and comedy, believe me, it isn’t. The first line of the book is “I hate men.” April was raped by an ex-boyfriend leaving her traumatised and unable to trust men or herself. In the book, she beats herself up because she believes she lets her trauma ruin new relationships and she should be easier to get on with, cooler and happier. She is also unable to trust men and is angry at the power balance where they always have the upper hand.

I hate men because they’re so lacking in exhaustion from not constantly feeling in danger. They walk with this general easiness, like they’ve earned it, rather than taking a moment to examine their luck that they’re not terrified of violent rape whenever they leave the house.

I hate men because they only ever want you for the idea of you – all the good, sexy bits and not the messy, traumatised bits. Bits that are traumatised BECAUSE OF MEN.

Pretending

As the book progresses, April recognises that she needs help and starts to look for other women to talk to about what happened. It’s such a powerful look at the impact of sexual assault and trauma.

The book is brilliant. It says what so many of us are thinking right now as women in society. Its angry and full of rage that we can’t walk down streets alone at night without worrying and that men sometimes don’t understand this and dismiss it as untrue.

I started reading this book last year but didn’t enjoy how uncomfortable it made me. But I knew I had to read it, so it went on the bookshelf for when the time felt right. Fast forward to this week and I picked it up again and couldn’t put it down. It’s so furious and engrossing, it says so many important things that we need to be discussing, and it is still very funny. It might not be for everyone due to the subject matter, but if you can, I really do recommend this book and then go tell others to read it too.

Book Review: Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, by Bess Kalb

I could tell this girl she’d marry the love of her life in a year. She’d leave the tenement in Brooklyn and see Cairo and Tuscany and China and Switzerland and Greece and Gaza and Paris – Paris more times than she could count. She’d visit her mother’s village in Belarus (then part of Russia), the village her mother fled when she was thirteen years old, and that night she’d order a Kir Royale at the hotel bar. She’d have two worshipful sons and one daughter.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me

I saw this book on Nigella Lawson’s Instagram page: “I loved this book more than I can say,” she wrote, “I first bought it as an e-book and adored it so much, I got it as an audiobook. Then I listened to it (twice) and loved it, if possible, even more. So then I ordered it in hardback (and got a few as presents while I was about it) and am excitedly impatient to read it again.” When Nigella gives a book a review like that, you buy the book.

And I’m so glad I did.

Written in her grandmother’s voice, Bess Kalb writes a memoir that spans the generations: this is a book about brave, adventurous and strong-minded women. We learn about Rose, Bess’ great-grandmother who arrived in New York after escaping from the pogroms of Belarus, about her mother, Robbie, who rebelled against Bess’ grandmother (Bobby) and left home to travel through Europe, and we learn about Bess leaving to go to San Francisco to find her own place in the world. Told through a mixture of her grandmother’s stories (it is as if she is sat opposite you telling them), transcripts of voicemails that Bess had saved from Bobby, and telephone conversations between the two of them. I haven’t read a memoir that is so full of warmth and humour, and where life (the joy and the sadness) fizzes throughout every page.

‘I love you. I Love you. I love you.’ Three times. Never enough.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me

Bobby is a character and her voice and attitude come through so strongly in her narration of events. She argues with her family, she fixes them, drops everything to fly to the other side of the world to be there for them, she cares for them and she makes mistakes around them. Bobby also provides advice on everything from dress buying (“Bessie, if you try on a dress and you don’t immediately want to parade outside the dressing room and show it off to everyone in the store, take it off and forget it ever existed”), to where to live (not San Francisco), and what to eat. There were so many moments in the book that I laughed out loud. I also completely lost it at the end of the book and cried, a lot.

The story of how Rose travelled from Belarus to New York is so powerfully written – the details of the journey are told vividly but yet there is little time to be sad. The awful conditions of the journey got her to New York, but then she had to continue moving forwards. Rose worked hard to make a life for her children, giving birth on the dining room table (so as not to ruin her bed linen), and finding a nickel to go to the movies. The book is poignant and uplifting, where even the hardest of events are told with an sense of humour and hope.

If the earth is cracking behind your feet, you go forward. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me

I also enjoyed reading about Bess’ mother whose life was also full of adventure and rebellion throughout her childhood and journey through medical school. The book so beautifully writes about how families don’t always get on and sometimes it’s hard to find common ground.

There is so much love in this book, so much life. So much humour as well as grief. It’s such a powerful reminder to work hard and live life with joy: read books and visit art galleries, travel and see the world, talk to people to find out their stories. It reminds us to make the most of the time we have and make sure that those who matter know how much they are loved.  

Book Review: The Split, by Laura Kay

I had never been in my single bed with Emily. Her soft skin had never touched these sheets. I had never felt her hot breath on the back of my neck in the middle of the night within these four walls. I was transported to a land before Emily, to a place where she had never existed, where we had never existed. I didn’t feel hopeful or happy, but for the first time in twenty-four hours, I didn’t feel completely crushed.

The Split

Ally lives in London with her girlfriend, Emily. They live together on Emily’s boat with Emily’s cat, Malcolm. One day, Emily comes home to tell Ally that she wants to break-up and she’s going to stay with a work-friend for a few days. Devastated, Ally packs a bag of clothes, puts Malcolm in his carrier, and gets on a train to go and stay at her dad’s house in Sheffield.

By taking Malcolm, Ally hopes Emily will come and see her in Sheffield where they can be reunited when Emily realises that she has made a huge mistake. Emily is, of course, furious that Ally has taken her cat.

Back in Sheffield, Ally reconnects with a childhood friend called Jeremy who is also recovering from a break-up. Jeremy thinks he has seen a picture of his ex on Instagram training for the Sheffield half-marathon and manages to talk Ally into signing up for the race with him. Jeremy is also hoping that his ex-boyfriend will see him at the race and realise that he too has made a huge mistake.

This is a story about finding hope after heartbreak as we follow Ally and Jeremy’s race training (which includes meeting Jo, leader of the local running club), and their adjustments to lives that they hadn’t hoped or wished for. As Ally asks: “But what do you do when the right person for you decides you’re not the right person for them?”

The next twenty minutes were some of the slowest of my life. I hated both the stretches of running – pure, unadulterated pain – and the gentle walks during which my legs wobbled, and I could barely enjoy the relief of being able to breathe before taking off again.

The Split

Malcolm was obviously my favourite character, and stole every scene he was in, but I loved Ally from the first page and genuinely wish I could go for a pint (not a run) with her. I also thoroughly enjoyed all the references to cake and wine and Percy Pigs that were liberally plonked throughout the book whilst the characters were training for the half-marathon.

When we’d first signed up we’d shared the attitude that our future selves would be vastly different, enlightened beings and somehow able to pull running thirteen miles out of the bag like magic. As we approached the big day it became increasingly obvious that we were still the same sweaty lumps dragging ourselves around the streets every few days.

The Split

I thought this book was beautifully written with just the right amount of humour and tenderness. Ally’s sweet relationship with her father who is trying to help put her back together after Emily, but also how we sometimes return to our teenager habits when we are back staying with our parents. I thought Laura Kay wrote about a subject most of us have had to experience, being broken-up with, with such warmth and hope and I think this book would be a comfort to read if you were unlucky to be going through one at the time. Somehow, we mend and we survive.  

Recommendations for reading this book are: with a freshly made Nutella doughnut, a mug of steaming hot tea, to be enjoyed under the watchful eye of a very judgemental cat.

Book Review: The Shelf, by Helly Acton

Amy Wright is lying in bed, staring at herself in the mirror on the wall and counting her chins. Her long dark hair is curled up on top of her head like the chocolate doughnut she ate in secret yesterday and, if she squints, she could be a sumo wrestler. But Amy isn’t going to let a Fat Day spoil her mood. Not today. Instead, she blinks… and takes a mental snapshot of the best day of her life.

What Amy doesn’t realise is that the best day of her life will turn out to be the worst.

The Shelf

Amy is about to dumped on television by her (soon to be ex) boyfriend, Jamie. This is the man she thinks is about to whisk her off on a romantic holiday to propose, but who is actually taking her to a studio where the audience is ready and waiting. He has signed her up to The Shelf, a new TV show where the contestants will live in a house under 24-hour surveillance and compete to win a prize of one million pounds. Only in this show, the winner will also be given the title of ‘The Keeper’ by competing in challenges which demonstrate that they are willing to change their old ways in order to be better girlfriends and, one day, wives.

Each of the contestants is labelled by the ex-partner who has signed them up to the show and lied to get them there: Amy is labelled as desperate by Jamie. Lauren is easy, Jackie is selfish. Kathy is bitter, Hattie is labelled boring, and Gemma is distant. From the start, the show is humiliating and obnoxious in how it portrays the women to the public. But what the show creators don’t realise is how quickly the strong bonds between the women will form and it will underestimate just how the show will change them all for the better.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It’s very funny (it’s nominated for this years’ Comedy Women in Print Prize) but it also portrays with incredible, and sometimes heart-wrenching, accuracy the things women will put themselves through because of the self-belief that they are not good enough.

 ‘I’m thinking I want to have it all. But I know that having it all is impossible. I want to settle down, but I also want to travel. I want children, but I also want my freedom. The truth is, when I see babies, I don’t feel broody – I feel anxious. they are like little anchors. But I shouldn’t feel like that at my age, should I? how can I want a home and want to sleep in a tent on the edge of ravine? It’s like I’m two Amys. I have one foot on the plane and one foot on the runway, and I can’t work out what will fulfil me more…’

The Shelf

The men are predominantly awful and this book is for anyone who has ever ignored the red flags and continued to date someone knowing that it will ultimately end in disaster. It’s a fab book about finding the strength to write your own story and letting go of the pressure of thinking you have to walk down a certain path. It is about discovering what you want your life to be.

The Shelf would probably be best read on a plane to Thailand: book in one hand and a one-way ticket in the other.

Book Review: Still Life, by Sarah Winman

There are moments in life, so monumental and still, that the memory can never be retrieved without a catch to the throat or an interruption to the beat of the heart. Can never be retrieved without the rumbling disquiet of how close that moment came to not having happened at all.

Still Life

The book opens in Florence during World War Two. To the sound of bombs falling, two people meet one night and form a unique bond discussing the importance of art and the role it plays in the world. Ulysses and Evelyn. Ulysses is a young man from the West End, the son of a globe-maker, and Evelyn is an art-historian in her sixties who, on a trip to Florence in her twenties, met E.M. Forster in a pensione run by a cockney landlady. The impact they have on each other that night, and the influence of Italy, lasts them both a lifetime. Before he leaves Italy to return home, Ulysses saves the life of a suicidal man: an act that will have great repercussions later on in his own life.

When the War is over, Ulysses returns to London to work in a pub run by landlord and friend, Col. While he tries to decide what to do with his life now he’s home, he learns that his wife, Peg, had a child with an American soldier while he was away. But, having grown up together, Peg is his family and the bond between them is strong and Ulysses offers to help raise the child, Alys. Ulysses finds happiness and strength in Peg, Alys, Col, Piano Pete (the pub’s musician) and old friend Cressy, as well as Claude the pub parrot: they are his chosen family. But still he thinks of Florence and Evelyn.

Still Life as an epic that follows Ulysses for the next forty years and the lives of those who love and know him. It is full of the richness and beauty of life. Florentine sunsets drenched in wine. Lemon groves. Rich food with good friends, old and new. London smog and the smell of the inside of a pub. Fresh coffee straight from the pot. It’s about finding your place in the world and making happy memories with those you love. Saying yes to adventure and a life well lived. All the way through it is peppered with bistecca, passata, pepperoncino and La Dolce Vita.

I think it’s a country where things happen.

Things, Miss Skinner?

Love! she wanted to scream. Where love happens.

Yes, she said. Things.

Still Life

I loved this book. I thought it was epic in its coverage of four decades of life where each character was so beautifully brought to life on the page. All 436 pages. But it is a book where every word seems so perfectly placed to create such a rich and vivid story. Each of the characters were wonderful and full of quirks and individuality. Cress in his shorts. Col who dates women in alphabetical order of their names. Pete and his rags to riches to rags career. Sarah Winman threads in beautiful and joyful comments about each of them such as Claude quoting Shakespeare and Peg making an entrance to the pub that “was all MGM and the lion roared.”

How excited she felt, how invigorated. Adventure, the best medicine.

Still Life

I also really enjoyed the portrayal of female characters: with a masculine edge, imperfect and unmotherly in the traditional sense. Their passion for life and search for pleasure. Another gin, please. The book also talks about women in art and how they have been portrayed under the male gaze, exploring how women are taking back the feminine space.

It’s what we’ve always done. Left a mark on a cave, or on a page. Showing who we are, sharing our view of the world, the life we’re made to bear. Our turmoil is revealed in those painted faces – sometimes tenderly, sometimes grotesquely, but art becomes a mirror. All the symbolism and the paradox, ours to interpret.

Still Life

This book would probably be best read whilst sat outside a café on the Piazza Santa Croce with a glass of good Italian wine and a steaming bowl of pasta alla Genovese. Sauce spattering the pages. A group of Italian widows chattering and knitting on the benches nearby. If you can’t get there, it’s just as good sat in the garden with a G&T and a packet of biscotti.

In defence of group travel

Yesterday I listened to an episode of the Women Who Travel podcast called ‘Remembering How to Solo Travel Again’ and in it they discussed going on a group tour. I have had some great past experiences on group tours but I know that some people are hesitant at the idea of it. This might be because they are worried about having to be around people constantly, or think that too much of it is planned out for you. Here is a post on why I love it so much.

I love solo travel: I think there’s nothing better than waking up in a new place on your own. It’s exciting and daunting but truly liberating. In the podcast, the hosts talked about how group travel can be a way to ease yourself back in to traveling solo in a social-sense as it’s the best of both worlds: you can hang out with the group but also take time by yourself when you need it. I’ve found this to be true. Look for a trip with free time scheduled in for you to explore at your own pace. I’ve really loved the free time to prioritise what it is that I want to see or just have time on my own in my room to nap or journal.

Also, I have met some brilliant people by joining a group. I met Lou in New Orleans, for example, at the hotel bar where we were both staying. I don’t often stray into hotel bars when I am travelling alone (I don’t know why but I just assume they are filled with people on business trips), but I could hear Lou’s Aussie accent from across the room animatedly talking about her travels in America, so I picked the seat next to her, said hi, and we kicked it off from there. We ended up getting martinis and hot dogs, because we had the most sophisticated palates that night.

Y’know that feeling when you just click with someone: you meet them and instantly feel like friends. Any awkwardness is replaced with laughter and your anecdotes somehow link up and involve each other and it feels as though you’ve known each other a long time. Your gut just knows it. Well, travel heightens that feeling: the giddy excitement of meeting a new friend who you feel like you’ve known forever. You pick out places to visit together oh, I think you’ll really like this place, it serves you favourite food, take selfies together, and talk about everything.

It turned out that Lou and I were travelling as part of the same group (run by Intrepid travel), driving across Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. When the tour started the next day (me, hungover), we met the three other people on our trip and our guide. We had so much fun on that trip: we ate and drank in diners across the South, danced our nights away to country music in honky-tonks in Nashville and bars on Beale street. We hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains, got stuck in traffic in Pigeon Forge (which was actually a lot more fun than it sounds!), visited Graceland, and ate so much bbq!

Catie, who I shared a room with, brought out my creative side. Together we wrote songs (a new for me) and plotted out an entire novel. You learn a lot from the people you meet along the way. Della, who I met in India, had been travelling for years collecting stories and passport stamp. The countries she had seen and the adventures she could tell you about: Peru, Thailand, Vietnam – I would just sit and listen to her advice about where to go and what to pack. I met Anna and Molly when we travelled across Australia from Darwin to Adelaide: they taught me to jump into bodies of water that I would normally avoid (hello, crocodiles) and how to love camping.

Then the tour ends and you go your separate ways. There’s a strange type of loss when the travelling ends and saying goodbye to the people you met only a few days or weeks ago. You know you probably won’t see these people, these good friends, again. Everyone has busy lives and you live on different sides of the globe. Sometimes, I still wonder about reaching out to the girls from Nashville or Australia to see if there is somewhere we could meet. But then, it was perfect the way it went.

There have been some groups where I haven’t connected with the other people as strongly. But that’s ok too, because you can wander off and do your own thing when there’s free time, or ask for other recommendations for places to eat or visit. You’re still somewhere new and exciting and that’s enough in itself.

I’ve sometimes got the impression from others that they think of group tours as a lazy way to travel. It is very easy: you get picked up from your hotel each morning (a hotel that you didn’t have to choose) after breakfast, and then get transported somewhere to see something fabulous. You can eat in places that come recommended by the guide. You can just sit back and relax. For anyone nervous about travelling across foreign countries by themselves because of the logistics of it, group travel is a great way to get you used to doing these things. Also, in these times, it’s probably not a bad thing to have a tour guide to help should travel plans have to change.

I have met some brilliant people and seen some awesome places without having the worry of planning transport and accommodation. So, go on group tours as a solo traveller! Opt to share a room – you never know who you will meet or the impact they will have on you.

Three-month review: Yoga

Three months of Luggage & Scribble! Who knew that I could commit to something for so long 😉

Normally with these monthly review posts I like to promote other women who have been inspiring me over the last few weeks, but this time I would actually like to promote a project that I have been working on myself! (I’ll also put the links to my two previous review posts below in case you are interested in reading them).

Later this year I will be starting my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training which I am feeling all kinds of nervous-excited about. I’m excited to be immersed in the study and practise of yoga but also nervous about what I will learn about myself along the way. I’ve been told that YTT is as much a discovery of yourself as it is the practise of yoga. I’m also nervous about the standing up in front of people and talking, that bit I’m very nervous about!

I’m also very excited about finally nailing when to use ‘practice’ and when to use ‘practise’ which I am sure will be covered in Lesson 1.

I have decided to set up a sister blog to this one called ‘Yoga & Scribble’ (the Evermore to my Folklore, if you will), which I will use like an online diary to chat about some of the things I have been thinking about, or picked up in a workshop, or to talk about some of the books I have found useful along the way. If you are interested in yoga or a YTT student, please do check it out.

Link to Yoga & Scribble: https://yogaandscribble.com/

Luggage & Scribble will of course be continuing (because I am having so much fun writing it), and as the world slowly starts to open up I have a few little trips planned that I am looking forward to typing up and sharing with you.

So, a short and sweet post today! I hope you all have fabulous weekends.

Namaste.

Link: https://luggageandscribble.travel.blog/2021/05/16/one-month-review/

Link: https://luggageandscribble.travel.blog/2021/06/16/two-month-review-women-who-travel/

Book Review: The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

The rains came hard in May that year – early, for the rainy season. Every time the rain came down, it sounded like thousands of gloved hands clapping. The daily downpour was a mixed blessing. With the rain, every man and woman felt an old, lingering, hard-to-dissolve guilt for past sins. The rain brought awkward memories and nourishment, together.

The Mermaid of Black Conch

David, a fisherman, waits for the early morning catch off the island of Black Conch: he sings and plays his guitar while he waits. Unbeknownst to him, his voice attracts a mermaid to the surface of the water. When he sees her feels his stomach tremble “with desire and fear and wonder because he knew what he’d seen.” Aycayia returns again another day when she hears his boat.

One day, she hears him as he follows a bigger boat carrying an American father and son out to sea to go fishing. The son’s hook gets caught in Aycayia’s throat and after a long struggle, they pull her up to the surface and drag her onto the boat. They view her as their catch and their property, and they decide that they will sell her back in America for a huge sum of money.

David, when he hears of her capture, runs to the dock where he finds her hanging upside down alongside the fish caught that day. He plans to put her back in the sea but, when he sees how hurt she is, he takes her to his home. In his bathtub her tail falls off and, after a few days, her legs come back. He watches as the sea seems to pour out from her. All the time, they watch each other and grow closer.

As the book continues we learn that she was a beautiful young woman from centuries ago who was cursed by jealous women in her village and banished her to a life of solitude in the sea. As she learns more about life on a land that is so different to where she lived in before, she begins to wonder if she may be free of the curse at last. She begins to form bonds with David and with Miss Rain and her son, Reggie, who live up on the hill in the old plantation mansion. The book explores the painful history of slavery in the Caribbean and the ramifications of it that were passed on down through the generations of those still living there.

White families still owned land like they used to and black men like him came and went, looking for the promised freedom of independent living. Besides, coming and going was the way of all these islands. Come and go. Mix up, move on. Leave seeds behind in the form of children; his grandfather, Darcus Baptiste had produced fifty-two.

The Mermaid of Black Conch

I loved this book, it dragged me in from the first page and I could not stop thinking about it. It is so rich with the Caribbean voice and the characters are so mournful and compelling: I was completely engrossed. It beautifully and painfully explores how women treat each other, and the relationship between people and nature: how some think they can own it and how powerful nature actually is.

Black Conch was a helluva place, Miss Rain often said, and the northern tip of the island was a special type of hell. Her earliest memory was of a low, incessant growl through the night, like thunder and bestial hunger mixed together, a growl that said I’m coming to shred you, but it was only the howler monkeys in the rainforest behind the house.

The Mermaid of Black Conch

This is not a fairy-tale. It is bloody and visceral, gruesome in parts and sublime in others. It is a stunning book that will get into your veins.