“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” Ray Bradbury

Portico Library Manchester

Portico Library, Manchester

My love affair with libraries started more than 35 years ago when my parents first took me to our local library and registered me there. To a child who read voraciously this was a gift that kept on giving. To know that I could walk up to the shelves, pick up a book, any book, and hand it over to the nice librarian to have my card stamped and take it home with me to read was intoxicating. On each visit I always checked out the maximum quantity of five and there were times, in the school holidays, when my parents would have to take me twice a week to keep up with my reading demands.

Looking back with an adult’s eyes, I don’t think it was a particularly attractive library, with its fluorescent strip lighting and cheap shelving. But it was beautiful to me.  I felt a thrill every time I crossed the tiled floor of the foyer in the Victorian municipal building where the library was housed, walking past the librarian’s desk to the children’s section where I would choose my next reading adventures with more care than I applied to any other decision I made at that age.

Then I moved away, to university to read English Literature and Language where (in that pre-digital age) a library once again became the centre of my life. I haunted the book stacks there, working my way through bound copies of Blackwood’s Magazines to find contemporary reviews of Victorian novels, reading up on literary theories and criticism and generally enjoying the fact that I could read for many hours a day and call it ‘work’.

Once I started paid work (for a publisher, you may be noticing a theme developing here!) I didn’t visit libraries for a while. I was earning so could afford to buy books (particularly with my publisher discount!). Then my husband and I moved to Australia and the local library became a lifeline once more while I was looking for work; free books to read, somewhere to while away the hours between interviews, free Internet access, a book group where I could meet people.

But the most significant library to me was the one I joined when we moved to Raleigh NC in the US. When we first arrived my husband started his job straight away, but I couldn’t work to start with as I had to wait to be allocated a social security number (which took six months in total, long story). This meant that I was six months without a bank account, a state drivers license, a job. In other words not many ways to fill my days. Luckily there was an amazing library only a 15-minute cycle away, at Cameron Village. This place saved my sanity. The library felt so welcoming, the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and it had a truly amazing array of books over two levels. |i went there two, maybe three times a week.And it hosted so many book groups! I joined four, yes four, book groups. Meaning that I got to meet up with people who were as passionate about reading as I was every single week. And was introduced to books I would never have picked up if not for them.

After moving back to Melbourne (and rejoining my local library!) and living there for a few years, we finally moved back to the UK but to Cheshire not my native Oxfordshire. So once again, I was in an unfamiliar town where I didn’t know anyone and I was freelancing from home therefore not meeting anyone through work. So what did I do? You guessed it. Joined the local library. And I have also been working my way around the amazing libraries that Manchester has to offer: Central Library, John Ryland’s Library, Portico Library, and Chetham’s Library (oldest public library in the English-speaking world), to name but a few.

Okay, so I am not sure how to end this article as really I just wanted to witter on about my love of libraries and didn’t really have an end point planned when I started this. So why don’t I finish by saying that if libraries aren’t used, they disappear.

Visit your local library. Support your local library. Love your local library.

 

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Staying healthy on safari trips

img_0454You have saved up, booked the safari trip of your dreams, arrived at your destination and then two days later you get sick. I’m not saying that safari trips are inherently more likely to make you unwell, but just by virtue of being in a new environment your system will probably be affected and there are a lot of bugs that can bite and make you sick. So it makes sense to minimise the risk.

Do your research
Consult reputable websites and/or your local travel clinic to confirm which vaccinations you should have, and also make sure that you get them in the right timeframe (either together or spaced, depending on the advice). Don’t leave your booking at the travel clinic to the last minute!

Don’t get bitten!
Recent research has shown that malaria-carrying mosquitos are mainly active between dusk and dawn. So it’s important to be vigilant in the evenings and early mornings as well as during the day. Wear long tops/shirts/trousers/skirts/dresses when out in the evening and long sleeves. Apply insect repellent regularly and don’t forget the back of your neck and lower back; you may think you are covered but when sitting down your top may ride up. In fact, to make sure you’re protected it’s best to apply your insect repellent before you get dressed. Means you get less on your clothes and you can make sure that you are covering yourself properly. Oh, and wash your hands immediately after applying. You do NOT want to transfer it from your hands to your eyes/mouth/etc.!

Anti-malarials
Modern anti-malarials are pretty good and there tend to be fewer side effects but I still found that I got a bit jittery when taking mine, and had a ‘funny tummy’. To minimise side effects you should not only take your anti-malarials at mealtimes but smack bang in the middle of eating. And be rigorous about taking them at the same time each day. Once I started taking mine in the middle of my breakfast, I felt a lot better each day. Oh and don’t forget to complete the course, most require you to continue for seven days after you get back from your trip so a repeating reminder with an aleart set on your smartphone is a good idea.

Anti-bacterial gel
I am not a germophobe but it is practical to carry a small bottle of this with you. Toilet facillities are well-maintained in most game parks and reserves but soap is not always freshly stocked. Also, when picnicking in your vehicle you need to be able to clean your hands before eating your lunch.

Sun protection
Even sitting in a vehicle you will still catch the sun, particularly if you are out on an all day game drive. Reapply SPF lotion (at least SPF15, preferably SPF30) every couple of hours, wear a hat (a burnt scalp is very sore!) and wear long sleeves.

Teeth brushing
No matter how hard I tried I always used to forget to use bottled water when brushing my teeth. Or, I would remember while brushing my teeth, then rinse my brush using the tap thereby negating all previous caution taken! So now I not only keep a bottle of water by the sink purely for teeth brushing but I also hang a flannel over the taps to remind me not to use them.

Medicines
As well as any medication you usually take make sure you pack plasters, antiseptic cream, painkillers, bite relief, antihistamines and painkillers.

Disclaimer:
Please note that this article is intended to provide suggestions only and does not replace professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any medication.

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Five tips to get the most out of your safari trip

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Safaris are magical; I have been on two safari holidays now, in Botswana and Zambia, and Tanzania. And both were incredible. But I think I enjoyed the second trip a little more than the first because I knew what to expect. 

And, let’s be honest, safari holidays are expensive. So you want to get the most out of the experience. So here are a few things to think about/prepare yourself for. 

  1. Ironically, game drives can be quite boring. There may be days when you won’t see many of the ‘big five’ or other mammals, but you will always see lots of birds including raptors and wading birds so it’s good to get interested in the birds you are seeing too. After an hour without seeing lions or elephants, it’s amazing how excited you can get over a sighting of a Lilac Breasted Roller!
  2. Learn a few words of the local language e.g. hello, thank you, please, goodbye. It’s not only courteous but common in lodges for visitors to greet the staff in their local language. 
  3. Remember to look up at night. We have forgotten what the night sky truly looks like, light pollution being what it is but the African night sky is a genuinely awe-inspiring sight. The memory of sitting out in the evening looking up at the stars while listening to a zebra munching away nearby and hippos grunting in the distance will stay with me forever.
  4. Pack well (see my article on packing) and follow luggage restrictions. Oh and pack ziplock bags. It can get pretty dusty out on safari and you don’t want dust getting into your smartphone, sunglasses case, etc.
  5. Be prepared. Lay out your clothes and pack your day pack the night before each game drives. Morning game drives can start pretty early and no-one is at their best at 5am! You don’t want to forget something because you weren’t fully awake.
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Pretty iconic? Pretty great!

Hands up, I don’t tend to read beauty books, beauty blog posts, in fact anything about beauty (although I am a fan of India Knight’s beauty articles for The Sunday Times’ Style magazine). However, this book was recommended to me and, as I am a sucker for a good-looking book (pun intended), I thought I would indulge myself.

And I am so glad I did. I came to Pretty Iconic: A Personal Look at the Beauty Products That Changed the World with absolutely no expectations; I had not read any of Sali Hughes‘s writing before (apologies to all you beauty fans out there, I refer you to my previous comment about not reading beauty stuff), and wasn’t sure what I would find.

What I found was an absolute gem of a book. Not only is Hughes incredibly informed and passionate about beauty products and very good at explaining why they do what they do, she is also knowledgeable about the products’ history and what inspired them to be created in the first place. And I really like her writing style.

I didn’t think that I have a lot of make-up and unguents on my bathroom shelf, so I was surprised tofind that I did in fact own, or have used in the past, many of the products that Hughes recommends in her book. And it was interesting to get a better understanding of ‘why’ a particular product works so well for me.

Split into sections: The Icons; The Nostalgics; The Gamechangers; The Rites of Passage; The Future Icons, there is something for everyone here. Some of Hughes’ anecdotes within The Nostalgics section made me laugh out loud. I am the same age as Hughes and experienced a similar beauty rite of passage to hers so her mentions of LouLou and AnaisAnais perfume (who doesn’t remember that extraordinary turquoise and merlot angular bottle?) and banana clips and scrunchies made me smile and cringe in equal measure. I was also pleased to see that I am not the only one to remember the joy of the Cosmetics-To-Go catalogue (now Lush).

There are over 200 products featured in this book; it’s designed to be picked up and flicked through, but it is so well-written and so interesting that I read it straight through practically in one sitting.

Even if you have no interest in beauty products, I promise that you will enjoy dipping into this book. It is well-written, informative, interesting, and beautifully designed. And for any woman born in the UK in the mid to late ’70s, it is a wonderful trip down memory lane. In fact, I’m off to track down some Papier Poudre sheets right now…

 

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Packing and clothing tips for a safari trip

img_0520When you think of a ‘safari wardrobe’, you probably have visions of people in head-to-toe khaki and that you need to shop at a safari outfitters store, but rest assured you don’t have to go out and buy a whole load of specialist clothes.

Pale (not white), earthy-tones cotton lightweight clothes that are comfortable to sit in for long periods of time are ideal. So before you hit the shops, go through your wardrobe with fresh eyes and collect up any suitable cotton tops, trousers, jumpers. Then work out what you need to get to supplement your haul.

Key pieces
There are some key items of clothing that you really do need for a safari trip:

  • Lightweight trousers
  • Shorts
  • Short sleeved tops/vests for layering
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Long sleeved tops
  • Cotton jumper for the cool evenings
  • Hat (with broad brim preferably)
  • Scarf

And no bright colours – you may be on holiday and it’s sunny and hot so you may think that your usual holiday clothes will be perfect, but don’t wear your bright Hawaiian shirts or neon-coloured exercise clothes. They really do scare the animals!

Luggage restrictions
Many safari trips have luggage weight restrictions. This is because you may need to take a few light plane trips and large, bulky suitcases won’t fit in the luggage compartments. As every kilo counts, I suggest that you work out how many days you will be on safari, how many additional outfits you need (for dinner, non-safari activites) and then collect it all up and lay everything out on the bed. Then, remove anything that requires an additonal item e.g. a sheer blouse that needs a specific tank top/bra, a pair of trousers that only ‘go’ with one pair of shoes, etc. and see what you are left with. Essentially you want all the clothing to be multi-purpose and interchangeable, the tops you pack are the right length/fit for the trousers and the shorts, the jumper fits over the tops, etc.  I tend to pick a narrow colour range and stick to it. Much easier on safari!

Packing
Because you will be cramming things into every part of your luggage, use small bags to separate out your underwear from your clothes, to pack your shoes in, for your chargers. In fact use bags for everything. Much quicker when packing and unpacking at lodges and you are less likely to leave something behind.

Don’t pack anti-malarials and any other medication you may need in your checked luggage; put it in your hand luggage. Ditto car keys/house keys.

Power up
Check what travel adapters are required and pack a couple. Take spare batteries for your camera, and a portable charger for your smartphone/ebook reader. Keep all chargers and leads in one small bag in your hand luggage and try to always use the one power socket wherever you stay, preferably near your bag. I have lost count of the number of times I have left chargers in power sockets when leaving accommodation.

Day pack for game drives
You will be out on game drives for long periods of time so it’s good to get a good day pack together. Your bag should contain eye drops (dust?!), antibacterial gel, tissues, SPF lotion, ziplock bags (have I mentioned the dust?!), binoculars, camera, spare batteries, water, notepad and pencil, scarf, hat, jumper, sunglasses.

 

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The Loney: Andrew Michael Hurley

 

andrew-michael-hurleyAward-winning author, Andrew Michael Hurley, spoke with Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, at the Gothic Manchester Festival 2016: The Gothic North, in the marvellously appropriate Historic Reading Room at The John Rylands Library to a full house yesterday evening.

This engaging conversation covered the landscape and writers that inspired Hurley when writing The Loney, Hurley’s approach to writing and some of the key themes that run through his novel. For those not lucky enough to attend, following are my notes on their conversation.

the-loneyIs there such a thing as ‘northern Gothic’ in literature? Well, if there is, The Loney is it.The Gothic enables a writer to approach the large existential questions such as faith and identity, in an interesting and different way and Hurley does this in The Loney. He explores the difficulties of those experiencing a crisis of faith, using a group of parishioners on their annual Easter pilgrimage to a lonely stretch of the northwest coast. Eerie, strange and haunting, the landscape is as much a character as the parishioners and their priest.  A deeply unsettling, haunting novel, The Loney has at its heart a tension, that between reason and unreason. There is an honesty in Gothic writing, specifically the honesty of arrogant narrators in Gothic; the narrators use their knowledge to combat the horror they are witnessing but there always comes a point when reason cannot comprehend what is happening, or explain it away, and they are overcome by the horror.

Hurley visited the Morecombe Bay area many times as a child, through all its seasons, and the loneliness of this area was one of his inspirations for The Loney. The northern landscape and the weather lends itself to the Gothic; its gloomy, glowering skies are quintessentially Gothic.

Hurley was brought up in the Catholic faith (although lost his faith some time ago); as a child he learnt from his religion that there is another world peopled with spirits, devils and angels. He found many of the tenets of his faith gory, such as transubstantiation, and consequently his novel is soaked in this religious imagery and fervour.

Writers that have inspired Hurley include Charles Maturin and Shirley Jackson. Hurley talked admiringly about the ‘elasticity’ in the worlds in Jackson’s novels; her realities are recognisable but she stretches that reality to something off kilter, not quite right, that acts to unsettle the reader.Some direct literary influences on The Loney include M R James’ Whistle and I’ll come to you, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (some of the novel is set in Whitby, another northern coastal area) and Daphne DuMaurier (Don’t Look Now, The Birds).

It’s very difficult to say any more about The Loney without spoiling it so all i will say is that you should read it! And good news, there is another novel on the way also set in rural Lancashire,in the Bowland Fells, focusing on a small farming community and its local folklore.

 

 

 

 

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What’s in a name? The Shakespeare Authorship Conference, Manchester 2016

title_page_william_shakespeares_first_folio_1623Every now and then I like to indulge my inner nerd and go to some sort of literary panel discussion or conference. So at the weekend I went to the Shakespeare Authorship Conference, held at the Manchester Central Library.

I should say upfront that I don’t really believe that there is some dark conspiracy to cover up the identity of ‘the real Shakespeare’; in fact, quite frankly I don’t care that much. What draws me time and time again are the plays themselves. Their language. Their wordplay. Their characters. That said, I do like a robust discussion about books and/or authors.

By virtue of it being a ‘Shakespeare Authorship Conference’, there was of course the upfront agreement that there IS a question about whether or not ‘William Shakspeare of Avon’ wrote the plays (obviously some in the academic world deny this question’s very existence).So the orthodox view wasn’t represented. But there were more than enough other theories expounded to keep the conversation flowing all day.

What I found most fascinating is the apparent lack of documentary evidence proving beyond doubt the authorship of the plays. I can see why so many alternative author and conspiracy theories abound; considering the author of the plays was a person of considerable literary ability, there are very few contemporaneous documentary references to Shakspeare. No letters survive, no diary entries, no annotated manuscripts (well not ones where the hand can be confidently attributed). Even his will does not mention his library (that you would assume he would own) or the manuscripts of his plays.

At the end of the conference I left knowing a lot more about the proposed alternative authorship contenders than I did before; I vaguely knew that some believe that the Earl of Oxford was the real author, or Christopher Marlowe, but I didn’t know about all the others. There really are a lot?! For those who are interested in learning more about the candidates,I suggest you check out the Shakespeare Authorship Trust site.

And I now know that I am not an ‘Oxfordian’ or someone who believes in a co-authorship or group theory. I think I may be a ‘sceptical Stratfordian’. But really, does it really matter? After all, what’s in a name?…

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