12 Lists of Christmas: The Best Bits of 2014

On New Year's Day last year I tweeted:

I'd say that this pretty much happened. I think maybe part of me had (naïvely) imagined that the crises were over for good. Obviously, they weren't, but I still think that overall this has been a really positive 12 months.

Here's what's been brilliant:

Travel. 2014 has taken me to eight different countries (Beth will be pleased to know that I counted Wales separately).

Work. This has continued to be a source of joy for me this year.

New opportunities. I've been making an effort to do something new every week, and 2014 has offered me so much in the way of exciting and interesting opportunities.

Gigs. I've been lucky enough to go to 10 gigs this year. The highlights include Franz Ferdinand, Less Than Jake and The Libertines, but Arcade Fire was definitely the best gig I went to (and one of the best I've ever been to).

Weddings. The summer of 2014 was the official start of wedding season, as my friends start to tie the knot. Three weddings in four weeks (in three different countries) was pretty exhausting, but I loved it. Cake, speeches, and my in-car wedding playlist...what's not to love?

This one might sound a bit weird: blips. Would I rather have been consistently well for the whole year? Of course. 100%. But, if the crises had to happen, then I'm glad they turned out the way they did. As often happens with these things, they cemented my trust in my partner and my friends. For a long time I found it hard to truly open up to people and trust them to help me, but this is definitely getting better. I'm so glad and so grateful for the wonderful people I have around me. 

I loved writing this post. Sometimes when you look back at a year the first bits that spring to mind are the difficult bits. Writing this has made me realise how much I have to be grateful for (and how even really terrible things can have silver linings).

Bring on 2015.

Penguin's #seasonsreadings Challenge [four]

It's the fourth and final edition of Penguin's #seasonsreadings book challenge (the first one- with a longer introduction- is here).

For someone I love When my cousin got married, she asked every guest to give them a book that they love, with a note written on the inside. I gave her The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It's a wonderful, rich book which follows the lives of Indian twins Estha and Rahel. The plot revolves around a tragic event which occurred several years before, when the twins' cousin visited from England. This is definitely a book I want to re-read soon (partly because I want to see if it's as good as I remember!).

Massive Tome Great Expectations. I studied Bleak House at uni, and although it was hard going at times I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. Since then I've read Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, and have genuinely enjoyed them all. I even find Dickens funny... What a loser.

Funny read The Timewaster Letters by Robin Cooper (who is in fact Robert Popper). This book is so, so funny. We're talking so funny that I can't read it in public because it makes me laugh so much that I can't breathe. It's a series of letters that Popper writes to various companies/MPs/associations with bizarre requests/suggestions (often complete with diagrams and updates on his fictional wife's bad ankle). That description probably doesn't make it sound that funny, but I promise you that it is!

Under the tree My Dad loves ferries. Not beautiful sailing ships, but passenger ferries and cargo ships. I don't know why either. Anyway I discovered to my surprise that he did not already have the Ferry and Cruise Yearbook 2014, so under the tree it went. It went down well... Beyond that, I can't really comment.

Well, that's the #seasonsreadings challenge over. I've loved writing it; I think I'm going to try and do a monthly book round up throughout 2015. You lucky things!

Penguin's #seasonsreadings Challenge [three]

This is the third, penultimate installment of Penguin's #seasonsreadings book challenge (the first one- with a longer introduction- is here).

I judged this by its cover White Teeth has one of those covers that's become a bit of a modern classic. I was definitely drawn to it when I saw it on the shelf about 13(!) years ago. In my opinion, the content lives up to the cover. Disappointingly, I don't think any of Zadie Smith's later books have quite lived up to her debut, but White Teeth is a must-read (and re-read).

Latest purchase The Red House was a recent charity shop find. Earlier this year, I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime at an NT Live screening, which reignited my interest in Mark Haddon. As with White Teeth, I'm always a bit wary of novels that succeed a brilliant debut, but I'm looking forward to giving this one a go.

Stocking filler I have a confession to make, and it might not go down well... When someone tells me a story that involves animal death, I get an uncontrollable urge to laugh. Yes, I'm a terrible person. This is (for obvious reasons) an idiosyncrasy that sticks in people's minds, so when The Book of Bunny Suicides came out, I received no less than three copies for Christmas, one of which partially filled that year's stocking! The following Christmas one of my friends even made me a t-shirt featuring one of my favourite bunny suicides (we were pretty poor that year and had recently discovered the wonders of iron-on transfer paper). In a nutshell, it's a series of cartoons that depict a bunny trying to end its life in increasingly inventive ways. Try it (unless you have a depressed pet rabbit).

Read at school Like everyone else who did English Lit GCSE circa 2000 and beyond, I read To Kill A Mockingbird. If you didn't, I bet you did Of Mice and Men, amiright? To be fair, they're both excellent books, and proof that encouraging teenagers to study high quality and engaging literature should be prioritised over studying books which are written by British authors (I'm looking at you, Gove). Anywho, this is a wonderful book. I want to be Atticus Finch when I grow up. 

Penguin's #seasonsreadings Challenge [two]

This is my second installment of Penguin's #seasonsreadings book challenge (the first one- with a longer introduction- is here).

Everyone should read: I used to always tell people to read Wuthering Heights, but no-one ever did (my boyfriend tried, and failed). An author I've discovered, and loved, a bit more recently is Khaled Hosseini. His books are set in Afghanistan (and a bit in the US). Although the novels describe events in single families, they also manage to explore years of history and culture. They're so, so gripping and engaging. I couldn't narrow it down to one of his books, so I've included two (rebellious): The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns (the books have similar themes but aren't part of a series).

Childhood favourite: This one was tricky. I love a lot of more 'classic' children's books, and lots of YA fiction, but I've decided to just go with my gut and pick a book that (when I was younger) I truly loved. Don't get me wrong, it's terribly written, but I absolutely love Mary-Anne Saves The Day (and, as is well-documented on this blog, all of the Babysitters Club Books). 

It's a mystery! I love a good crime thriller, so again there are many books I could have chosen. I've decided to go with one from my favourite crime writer, Val McDermid. The Torment of Others is the fourth book in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series, so although it's my favourite, it's probably not the best one to start off with. For McDermid newbies I'd recommend The Mermaids Singing.

This was a tough one, I could probably have chosen at least five books for each of these prompts! 

Lovely Links

I've probably stolen that title from someone. Soz. This post is a straightforward 'does what it says on the tin in the title' job. Without further ado, I present to you some of the blog posts I've enjoyed (fairly) recently.

This post from dailyworth.com about women who have both children and careers was really interesting. The author explains that she isn't trying to have it all; she considers herself an entrepreneur first and a working Mum second. She points out, quite correctly, that when working men say they have children, people understand that they can be a committed parent while still investing huge amounts of time and energy in their job. Women, on the other hand, are often harshly judged if they say that they prioritise their career. Obviously some people would prefer to put their parenting duties first. Either way, it must be incredibly liberating to decide that you're not going to bust a gut trying to do both perfectly.

If that's a bit heavy for you, then I thoroughly recommend this old Jim'll Fix It clip of a group of boys eating their packed lunch on a rollercoaster. I cried with laughter. (Don't worry, the clip doesn't feature Jimmy himself!)

I loved this inspirational post about people who achieved their dreams later in life. It reminds me of how Kathryn Stockett sent her hugely successful book 'The Help' to 60 publishers before it was accepted (there are lots of similar literary examples here).

This post is about a gay, Morman man who has been happily married to a woman for 10 years. When I first saw the title and clicked on the link I had a whole load of preconceptions and was ready to experience some good old self-righteous indignation. I actually reacted in a totally different way than I was anticipating. See what you think, it's an incredibly interesting read... 

12 Lists of Christmas: Three of My Favourite Christmas Songs

For me, a big part of getting into the Christmas spirit is listening to Christmassy music. Some of the videos might be a bit random but I struggled to find a simple way to embed just the audio in the post. My html skillz are clearly not what they could be.

Step Into Christmas - Elton John

I absolutely, unashamedly, love this song. I cannot sit still when I hear it. Video bonus: check out Elton's suit and massive tinted glasses. 

Come and Join the Celebration

The video above is a rock version (just found it on my youtube search- I am far too excited right now).

It wouldn't be Christmas without a carol, and this is my favourite (well, it's kind of a carol). This reminds me of school Christmas carol concerts, both the ones I went to as a child and the ones that I go to at work. Lots of warm fuzzy-ness. Here's the 'original'.

Swiss Colony Beef Log - Eric Cartman

I'm pretty sure that, with the exception of me and my brother, no-one has heard of this song. Probably because it was the b-side of the Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo single. I can't really explain my irrational love for this song, but it always makes me extremely happy, and once again, I have to dance to the end part. So much so that my brother and I made up a dance to it. YUP. Actually, it wasn't dissimilar to this.

What have we learned here? I love any song that makes me dance, and I was an incredibly cool 12 year old.

BRB, I'm off to listen to my Christmas playlist.

12 Lists of Christmas: The Bad Bits

I am probably one of the world's biggest Christmas fans, but even I am willing to admit that it's not all rainbows and butterflies (or, um, crackers and cake). So here's the not so great bits:

Financial pressure. This post on A Thrifty Mrs, about a couple who broke up because of the financial strain of Christmas, is so sad (and, I reckon, probably not that unusual). Luckily for me, my family and friends aren't the type to pile on the pressure with extravagant gifts, and it really saddens me that Christmas puts so many people under stress because of money. I know it's cheesy, but Christmas really should be all about the people you spend it with, not the money you spend on them.

Sparkly dresses. 'Tis the season of glittery, sequinned party dresses. I just don't understand why people feel the need to spend money on a dress that will probably only get worn twice. That said, I'm definitely no fashion blogger, so maybe I just don't get it!

Over-eating. I am one of life's eaters, and Christmas is a baaaaaaad time for this. To an extent it's fine, and probably one of my favourite aspects of the festive season. However, one year I did actually end up being physically sick because I'd eaten so much, so I do actually need to learn to reign it in a bit! [Just re-read that, realised it makes me sound a bit nuts. Probably fair.]

That's probably it. To be fair, I think I did quite well to think of three; I am a pretty die hard Christmas fan.

12 Lists of Christmas: 5 Terrible Christmas Jokes

I absolutely love a terrible, terrible joke. Even if you don't, humour me please, it's (nearly) Christmas.

Who's Santa's favourite singer?
Elf-is Presley!

What happened to the man who stole an advent calendar?
He got 25 days.

What does Santa get when he gets stuck in a chimney?

Who says 'oh, oh, oh' at Christmas?
Santa walking backwards!

How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza?
Deep pan, crisp and even.

Heh. Please, please comment with some more festive funnies. I can't get enough of them.

The only blogging advice you'll ever need [400th post].

There seem to be hundreds to 'how to blog' blog posts about at the moment, but I'm afraid to say that no-one knows as little (sorry, as much) about blogging as I do. 

Anyway, here's my hard-earned piece of blogging wisdom:

Set up a blog.
Post some stuff. Whatever stuff you want, it's your blog.
You are now a blogger.

Screw the rest of it.

P.S. 400 posts?! Liz: Proudly filling the internet up with shit since 2009.

P.P.S. I seem to have totally messed up the scheduling of this post. Says it all!

400? I'm coming over.

Penguin's #seasonsreadings Challenge [one]

Penguin are running a seasonal Book-a-Day challenge, so I thought I'd join in, given that I love both Christmas and reading. It's actually an Instagram thing (@penguinukbooks) but I'm going to do it on here so that I can explain my choices, rather than just posting the pictures. The idea of the challenge is that you're given a prompt for each day of December (up until the 25th) and asked to think of a book that corresponds to each one. I found some of the prompts a bit repetitive, so I'm going to chose my favourites... you're not the boss of me, Penguin! 

Here's the first installment:

Iconic first line: 'Marley was dead, to begin with.' I'm not sure if this is actually the best first line of a book that I've ever read, but it was one that popped into my head, and I think it's a good 'un. It's instantly engaging, and it shows that a well-placed comma can indeed be a beautiful thing. Also, it's festive... winning.

Last read: The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared. This had been on my 'to read' list for a while (it's a long list) and it didn't disappoint. Jonasson intermingles the story of Allan Karlsson's (somewhat eventful) life with the story of what happens on his 100th birthday. It's funny, surreal, and un-put-down-able. I recommend it.

On my Christmas list: Seeing as I've asked for tattoo money for Christmas, I had to refer to my Kindle wish list instead. Lots of people have recommended The Secret History to me over the years, so it'll soon be time to heed their advice and actually read it.

Quintessentially British: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Adrian's self-deprecation, neurosis and moaning strike me as somehow being quintessentially, realistically British. It's also quintessentially 80s, but that's beside the point; Townsend's descriptions of teenage angst are universal, so it doesn't really matter what decade it's set in. This book is guaranteed to make me laugh hysterically every time; my copy is falling to pieces because I've read it so many times. If you haven't read this already, you need to. Just writing this is making me want to go and re-read it now...

An insight into my 9 year old brain.

Once a year I get to make my favourite list (yes, I have a favourite list). This is the list of the Christmas presents I'm giving; clearly I am an incredibly kind and generous person (ahem). I am fanatical about adhering to tradition, especially at Christmas time, so I always write the list in the same red notebook. 

Look! It's so neat!
(It's an old one, real life chums!)

The best thing about this notebook is that I've had it for (gulp) about 20 years now, so it contains some stuff that I wrote when I was 9... This stuff is brilliant, it's basically a direct insight into my psychological make up. I present to you my 9 year old brain...

A request for a Ryan Giggs poster. You will notice that this is, in fact, a rough copy. Yes, I wrote rough copies in my own free time. Just in case I got graded? Probably.

A letter to my cousin (another rough copy). This is a nice indication of my sporting prowess. In the letter, I tell my cousin that I will be competing in the 'area sports day'; an event where kids from all the local primary schools met to compete and show off their sporting skills. Unfortunately, 'I am in the welly boot race'. Says it all. 

I love this. I think this must be from when I was about 10, and had just started reading The Babysitters' Club books. It's my attempt at fan fiction. To be fair, it's not really any worse than the actual BSC books.

This...is... I can't think of an adjective. Let's just say that anyone who's read this recently has creased up with laughter. I had written myself out a timetable. Not for homework or anything, just because I wanted to. It features items such as 'Kripton [sic] Factor', 'brush teeth' and 'watch Sooty while having tea'. Incredible. Is it a coincidence that I now work with children with autism? I think not...it must make me very empathetic towards them, or something!

Wow. I was one neurotic, obsessively organised, affirmation-needing child; essentially I was a (very) young Mark Corrigan. My overall conclusion? I was brilliant then, and I'm brilliant now. Hey, at least I've stayed true to myself!

Weekend Wanderlust: Barcelona

Barcelona: we've done the food and now it's time for the rest of it! 

I went to Barcelona back in 2008, and absolutely loved it. I was a bit worried that maybe I was looking back at the trip with rose-tinted glasses, and perhaps wouldn't find the city quite as incredible as I'd remembered. I needn't have worried.

Look how much I've changed! Oh, actually... 

One place that I particularly loved the first time around was La Pedrera, an apartment block designed by Gaudi. I hadn't done any research before visiting the first time, so I was amazed by the incredible rooftop when I emerged onto it. Pete hadn't been to La Pedrera before, so I was relieved that he enjoyed his first visit (and he felt it matched up to my incessant eulogising). 

Apart from a quick visit to the aquarium (I love aquariums)...

...we spent a lot of our time in Barcelona having a relaxed wander around. Here's some of what I deemed photo-worthy during our wanderings:

I'd definitely recommend Barcelona; it's such a fun, relaxed city and it was great to get a bit of winter (well, autumn) warmth.

We also managed to squeeze in a day trip to Montserrat, but more on that next week!

It's a (vaguely amusing) sign!

Weird things amuse me, and I like to record them for prosperity. Recently some hilarious (to me) signs have caught my eye:

'Screw you, Health Lottery, I'll display the poster where I want!'

Some days you just can't get rid of a dead animal?!

In the interests of balance, an intentionally amusing 'sign'. 
OK, it's pretty geeky, but I loved it. 

Eat Me: Barcelona Edition

We went to Barcelona during October half term so I've got a few loads of photos to post, but we'll start with the food. I am, and probably always will be, all about the food.

Probably the world's most photogenic food market. 
The 'fruit' in the top right hand corner is actually made from marzipan and cake.

Sexy, creamy, hot chocolate-y goodness.

This is incredibly sad (even by my standards) but one of my favourite things about travelling is buying and eating foreign sweets. I know, I know. I struck gold in Barcelona by finding what was essentially a shop full of pick and mix. Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, there were marshmallows in the shape of croissants, tennis balls, and full-size ice creams. Get in (my belly).

We ate some goooood dinners. There was also an incredible burger but I couldn't wait long enough to take a photo before tucking in! Let's just say that cranberry sauce and blue cheese are a surprisingly excellent burger-topping combo. 

Let the record state that I only ate two out of three of those croissants. 

12 Lists of Christmas: 4 Epic Christmas Films

Everyone loves a Christmas film, right? Well, no, but I do. So much so, that I can't narrow my choice down to just one. The festive season is an emotional roller coaster (kind of) so you've got to have a film for every mood. With that in mind, here's my personal favourites:

Best heart-warming Christmas singalong: The Muppets' Christmas Carol. This has already been on this year, to accompany the first of my present wrapping sessions. I love how they work a lot of the actual lines from the book into the dialogue, and I find it genuinely funny. It's not really the best performance of Michael Caine's career, but nothing's perfect. 

Most meaningful (for me) Christmas film: The Snowman. When I think of The Snowman, I immediately picture myself lying on fluffy rug in my grandparents' house in front of the fire, with a plate of turkey rolls and coleslaw, settling down to watch The Snowman on Christmas Day afternoon. I love the dancing scene, especially the snowman in the kilt... I don't know why. Must ask my therapist what she thinks (joking, that would be a waste of precious NHS resources).

The best worst Christmas film: Jingle All The Way. I love a terrible Arnie film (one day I'll wax lyrical on here about Hercules in New York) and this definitely fits the bill. That's all there is to say really; if you can appreciate it in a 'so bad it's good' kind of way, then it's an easy bit of festive comic relief.

My actual most favourite Christmas film ever: Santa Claus The Movie. I can't remember exactly when it started, but I've watched this film every Christmas Eve since I was a kid. Dudley Moore plays a blinder as an elf who leaves the North Pole after a disagreement with Santa, but my favourite part of the film is John Lithgow's performance as the evil CEO of a toy company. His enraged, 'For Frrrrreeeeeeeee?!' alone would probably be enough to put the film on this list. Admittedly, his (brilliant) performance in season four of Dexter has made me a little terrified of him, but that kind of adds to the effect.

Actually, has John Lithgow ever played the good guy? Genuine question, my film knowledge is terrible.

12 Lists of Christmas: 6 Pre-Christmas Things I'm Looking Forward To

It's back! The lists are back!

Christmas + lists = Liz's personal idea of heaven. That says an awful lot about me, and none of it's good... I know it's still November, but I love Christmas and I really need to try and stay positive at the moment. I figured a list of festive stuff might do the trick. For me, a lot of the joy of Christmas is in the build-up, so here's the stuff I'm looking forward to doing before the day* itself:

Wrapping presents in front of Christmas films.

Seeing London's Christmas lights.

Feeding the Christmas cake with brandy every couple of weeks. The cake is already paralytic.

Singing carols. I sing beautifully. Well, not exactly beautifully, but I'm very enthusiastic.

Baking (and eating) lots of Christmas-themed goodies.

Getting my Spotify Christmas playlist on. Loudly. Dancing to it. Badly. 

Right, now I just need to get sane enough to do all that. Wish me luck!

*By 'the day' I mean any one of the three Christmas Days that I will be having this year.

Giving up on goal setting.

This is a bit of a lengthy, personal post so bear with me.

As much as I try not to be, I am one of life's planners. I also get anxious about not having achieved enough.

Following your dreams and aiming for the moon is great, but it's stressing me out. Let me share a couple of things with you:

Firstly, I am writing this from my bed because anxiety means I am struggling to get out of it. One of the things that triggered this latest crisis is that in September I started a part-time masters. It turned out to be a 20 hours a week commitment (I also work 4 days a week). I thought this would be different to things I've tried to take on in the past, but it wasn't. It was too much. The thing that I had been planning on doing for two years hasn't worked out, and I don't have much left to aim for, career-wise. This is not quite as dismal as it  may seem; I am incredibly privileged because I do an interesting, important, joy-making, rewarding, life-affirming job. I'm just totally confused about what the long term plan might be.

Secondly, I'm going to tell you about my Mum. Specifically, about what my Mum would do if she won the lottery. She would buy a pet sheep and a hot tub. That's it. Those are her ambitions. My Mum is one of the most deeply contented people I know (unless of course it's all an act and she's about to run off with a 23 year old Greek bloke or something). Now, I am not my Mum; I am more ambitious, more curious about the world, and adopting her whole life wouldn't make me entirely happy. However, I would love to be as content as she is. She is happy, and she's is happy because she is truly appreciative of what she already has in her life.


I need to stop. Consolidate. Allow myself to relax and breathe and be amazing at what I'm already amazing at. I'm not going to chase anything new. My life is full of more than enough people, interests and challenges to keep me busy.

Resisting the urge to set goals and make plans is going to be flipping hard for me, but it needs to be done. I know that it's going to be good for me; I can feel the relief flooding through me just thinking about it.

P.S. I get the irony of planning not to plan. Good job I appreciate a nice bit of irony, really.

You're creating all the bubbles in life.

Stuff I love: cream teas, gigs, books, BUBBLES. 

Giant bubbles in Barcelona

Man, I really do love bubbles. They just photograph so nicely, and everyone always looks happy. Why wouldn't they be, they've got bubbles?!

Bubbles at Beth's Hen Do

Wedding bubbles!

Vern does not appear to share my love of bubbles. In fact, he looks quite concerned about the whole situation.

The only problem with bubbles is that, inevitably, they have to pop sometime (HOW PROFOUND!) Here's a couple of videos of them popping in style:

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (cake)!

How is it already time for my annual Christmas cake post?!

I've posted the full 'instructions' (and I use that term pretty loosely) here.

Obligatory cake sniffing and apron-selfie pics.

You'll be pleased to hear (read?) that I didn't forget the most important ingredient:

(My family thought that it was absolutely brilliant that I subjected them to Christmas songs in mid-October).

I'm pretty excited for the icing stage. I was really pleased with last year's effort, but I'm keen to try something new once again. I'm keeping an eye out on Pinterest for ideas...
First however, it's time to get feeding the cake with brandy. Once a fortnight for two months = drunk cake. Mmmmmm, drunk cake....

3 TV programmes that you just know are going to be awful.

Small Animal Hospital. I hate musicals and am indifferent to small animals, so the idea of John Barrowman telling me about injured furry things (heh) does not appeal. These sort of programmes have also now been ruined forever by creepy memories of Rolf Harris from his Animal Hospital days.

Life Is Toff. It's a bad sign when you have to Goggle a programme to find out if it's 'fact' or fiction. Cue endless, pointless and ill-informed social media debates about reverse snobbery.

The Nation's Favourite Queen Song. It'll be Bohemian Rhapsody. Next!

Unfortunately I have not made up any of these programmes. I could do much, much better (probably).

Good Stuff #9

Stuff wots been making me happy:


Pete did the big shop.

The product of half an hour's leaflet tearing.

Pretty (cup-strewn) carpet at Troxy, after The Horrors.

Sidmouth sea.