Picture Perfect Polaroids #16

Hey Loves!

It’s been a while since I posted a photo I’ve taken and today, as the sun is shining, this feels like as good a time as any.

As part of our allowed daily exercise, I’ve taken a walk around my local park. It’s really beautiful as the flowers are starting to bloom, the ducks are pairing off and there’s this sense of new life all around. There really is beauty in the lockdown.

I hope you all like it!

Keep in touch all. Don’t forget to see the beauty in everything around you. It’s there and it’s flourishing.

Big love all xx

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Filed under Hull, Photography, Picture Perfect Polaroids, Places, Seasons, UK

Reading Challenge 2020: Wilding – Isabella Tree

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Hey Lovelies!

Happy May 1st. Part of me is really shocked that it is May and another part of me feels like each day is becoming a blur. One thing I do take comfort in is that each day that passes means that we are a day closer to our old sense of normality. We’ve all embraced the new normal but I for one would really like to see my family some time soon!

The book for this month came at just the right time. The theme for the Reading Challenge for April was: Focus on a story of nature and / or the spring season. You can remind yourself of the theme for each month in my earlier post: here. One thing that is a constant is that time is passing and that brings with it the beauty of the natural world around us which seems to be excelling at the moment. Wilding is the perfect book for this season.

Wilding

What’s it all about?

Told through the eyes of Charlie and Isabella, two young farmers who are breaking convention and challenging the norm with regard to their land. The book is fascinating and rich with depth and detail. Charlie and Isabella are working hard on their farm, investing in the latest technology, intensively farming every possible part of the land to maximise productivity because, truth be told, their land isn’t good farmland for cash crops. Even with subsidies, they are struggling to make it work. Determined and ambitious, two qualities they both epitomize, the writing is very much on the wall for them.

Set in the heart of the south of England, the farm is stunningly beautiful. It’s criss-crossed with roads and public footpaths. There is an abandoned castle on the land and it has been in their family for hundreds of years. It’s more than a commercial enterprise, it is part of them and part of the surrounding community. But, it is dying. The land is exhausted, the yields are just not there. Even the ancient oaks are dying.

The narrative opens with Ted Green, a former custodian of royal oaks at Windsor Great Parks. He can see the illness in these proud old men and women of Knepp estate. They have seen kings and queens come and go, half a millennium of history has passed them. The civil war passed by, maybe they provided shade to weary soldiers on the march. As the world wars shook Britain, they heard bi planes pass overhead followed by Spitfires and Lancasters. The land around them was ploughed to answer the call to ‘Dig for Victory’, to feed a nation that would starve without it. But this is the death knell.

“The majority of a tree’s roots are found in the top 12 inches and are vulnerable to ploughing and compaction…delicate mycorrhizae (fine hair like filaments that attach themselves to roots and create a vast network) are destroyed by the churning blades of ploughs and are highly susceptible to agricultural chemicals.”

This is the first time either of them had realised the cost to the land of farming and it is completely shocking. They decided to make a change. They decide to re-wild the land. To return it nature and let go and the ‘land management’ they have been brought up revere. The sheer scope of what then occurs is beyond description in a review. The thrilling rebirth that takes place. They re-introduce some ‘wild’ species to the land. Old English Longhorn cattle, fallow deer, Exmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs. These are not farmed, they are left to be wild within the confines of the land. Nature is very much going to do its own thing.

The effect on the land is startling. As the agricultural chemicals drain away, the browsing, grazing and rooting animals transform the landscape in a few short years. They discover how the different animals compliment each other, grass that the ponies can’t metabolise is perfect for the long horns. The pigs churn up the soil and leave a perfect habit behind them for all sorts of invertebrates which in turn attract birds and then raptors. The eco system is transforming at a rate far beyond anything they had anticipated. Change was in front of them and it was a success!

“We were dismayed at first to observe their (the pigs) capacity for damage, particularly in the wet. But the land’s ability to regenerate was equally astonishing and in the growing season it was only a matter of days before a patchwork of pioneer plants would appear.”

The book progresses chronologically but each chapter tends to focus on a particular element of the wilding process. It could be birdlife, the grazing animals or butterflies. They encounter significant opposition from the surrounding residents, some of whom are aghast at the neat farmland becoming wild and unkept. Whilst I have some sympathy for this, we do all judge things on how they look at least some of the time, but it was a case of perseverance. They refuse to back down. There is a resurgence in the wild life, the rebirth of the land and the huge increase in biodiversity, some of which is now extremely rare and threatened. It goes beyond their expectations and everyone else’s it seems.

“Interviewed anonymously, a cross-section of local villagers vented their anger… I love wildlife, I love the countryside. But it’s turning into quite a mess… a fair old mess really. I don’t believe in this scheme, not in the south-east of England.”

The gradual revealing of the symbiotic relationship between the different elements of nature is beguiling. One Jay can plant 750 acorns in one summer. The tangled thorny scrub that it likes to plant in provides the perfect nursery to stop the oak sapling being eaten by the browsing cattle that keep the scrub in check. The cracked and dry clay by the side of the river provides a habit for endangered insects that need exactly those cracks to nest in. The utter connectedness of all of us, our total dependence on these natural processes shines though this book. It’s personally given me a grounding that I so desperately need right now in times of great uncertainty.

I’ve never understood the real meaning of organic, never realised the difference it might be making to me and us all to be eating intensively farmed meat, cereal and vegetables. This book lifts the veil on a past which is more connected and much, much, more healthy. Darker, yes, less controlled and dominated, but ultimately more productive, more beneficial for all of us. From the fungi that live in the soil, the painted lady butterflies and nightingales, through to the majestic raptors that glide above us dependent on the whole connected chain of life below them.

“If the beat of a single butterfly’s wings can raise a hurricane on the other side of the world, one wonders, what might tens of thousands do in your own backyard?”

This is a book that is full of hope, full of wonder at the resilience of nature but it sounds a warning note at the end. The turtle dove, once common in England, is critically endangered. Knepp is the only part of the country where numbers are growing but it is too little too late. We cannot run the risk of losing another beautiful thing from our landscape due to our own actions again. History repeats…

“As we skirt the blackthorn thickets with an ear out for turtle doves Charlie and I count mixed blessings. The joy at hearing the bird here, and hearing it now is counterbalanced by the sands of time charging down to that single pinprick of loss. The turtle dove is a reminder that Knepp is an island, only a tiny scrap of the carpet – powerless, on its own, to save a species on a trajectory to extinction.”

Final Thoughts

This book is a gem but it is so dense and thick with information, research, findings and results. I really enjoyed reading the characteristics of the animals that they get to see on a daily basis, the pigs being a particular favourite. Nature is thriving there and this is proof that it can continue to thrive if we just change what we do. It also reminded me that we shouldn’t judge based on how things look. At some stage, this project looked ‘messy’ to several onlookers, but look at the beauty it produced. The lasting effect means much more than the appearance.

Now it’s May, the theme of the reading challenge for this month is: Read a book about hope and growth. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. These categories seem to be fairly apt at the moment.

Big love all. Continue to stay safe.

xxx

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Filed under Book review, Nature, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

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Hello Lovelies!

Another week in lockdown has passed and I’m hopeful that we are finding our way around this new normal. I know I’ve said it before but I am grateful for the time to read and watch plenty! Today I want to share with you a hilarious read that I know you’ll all love just as much as I did.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary was everything that I needed it to be and more: funny, sensitive, full of hope and some really incredibly characters. I hope you love it!

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What’s it all about?

The novel opens with Tiffy looking around a grim, disgusting yet affordable flat in London with her friends Mo and Gerty. Her previous living arrangement is no longer available since Justin broke up with her, again. As an Assistant Editor of craft books earning below minimum wage means that Tiffy lacks options and opportunities currently. She is caught between a rock and a hard place, for sure. However, it doesn’t have to be this shabby flat. There is an interesting advert for a flat share of a different sort – the same flat, the same bed but at different hours in the day. Bottom line: it is affordable. Tiffy goes for it, knowing she doesn’t really have an option.

“You’d be sleeping with him, Tiffany! Everyone knows the first rule of flatsharing is don’t sleep with your flatmate.”

But who is the new flat mate? Leon, a palliative nurse who Tiffy has Facebook stalked and convinced herself that he doesn’t look like a murderer so it’s pretty much a done deal. Leon’s current girlfriend, Kay is unbelievably angry about this arrangement. She wants to take complete control so Leon never meets this girl. Communication is done through her with Leon seemingly being kept in the dark. Vetted and cleared, Tiffy moves herself and her copious amounts of stuff in. There’s clothes, blankets, crafting books EVERYWHERE. There’s barely any room left. However, Leon needs that extra £350 a month if he is going to help his brother Richie…

‘This woman owns more clothes than a respectably sized shop would stock. Has clearly not been able to manage with half of wardrobe I freed up for her, so has hung dresses on back of door, all along wall – from picture rail, actually quite resourceful – and over back of now-almost-invisible chair under window.’

The two settle into their new living routine with their specific hours in place. The two start to leave little notes for each other and thus a beautiful relationship is formed. Each leave baked goods and left over meals for each other. Tiffy notices a huge bag of scarves at the end of the bed. Not in a snoopy way. However, they could be really useful to Tiffy, especially with Katherin’s new crochet book release pending. The scarves are created by a patient at Leon’s work, Mr Prior, and produce some much needed revenue for Leon. One day at home, Richie calls his brother, only to hear Tiffy on the other end of the phone. It is here that we learn the story about Richie – he is in prison for armed robbery, a crime that he didn’t do. Naturally, Tiffy’s good nature means that she feels immediate empathy for him, something that Leon’s current girlfriend doesn’t embody. Tiffy wants to help and knows who to call.

‘The next morning I reread the letter in bed, the duvet pulled up around me like a nest. I’m all cold in my stomach, and my skin has gone kind of prickly. I want to cry for this man. I don’t know why this is hitting me so hard, but whatever it is, this letter has woken me up at half five on a Saturday morning. That is how much I cannot bear it. It is so unfair.’

Gerty agrees to look into Richie’s case for Tiffy but with no promises. Letters between them seem to reveal gaps in the evidence which become of interest to Gerty. There’s clearly something they can do to help Richie unlike his current solicitor. The kindness and support from Tiffy causes problems for Leon and Kay. Tensions reach a peak when she discloses that she does not believe that Richie is innocent. As a result, the pair split up. This is noticed immediately by Tiffy as Leon’s notes change. As of yet, the two haven’t met. After a boozy night with Justin making an appearance at a work party, Tiffy wakes up the following day with a horrific hangover and minutes to get ready to work. What this does mean, however, is Tiffy and Leon finally meet, naked in the shower…

‘In a sudden panic I swivel to look at myself in the mirror, wiping the condensation from its surface to reveal my pale, gaunt face. My lipstick has ingrained itself into the dry skin of my lips, and my eyeshadow and eyeliner have blurred into a black mess around each eye. I look like a toddler who’s attempted to use it’s mother’s make up.’

Following the initial awkwardness, the two resolve to move on and continue with their living arrangement. The past six months have flown by and their contract has now been extended by another six months. This means that there’s many more notes to be written and chocolate tiffin to be eaten. Richie still needs both of them and Gerty. Tiffy has numerous books that need editing. There’s plenty of unfinished business between the two of them. They decide to meet, properly this time, but Tiffy can’t seem to stop talking about Justin. He’s caused much more damage than she initially realised. What this does mean though is that Leon becomes the stereotypical knight in shining armour. The two are becoming closer but Justin still seems to have a hold on her.

‘There’s nothing like a man in a novelty T-shirt to brighten up your morning – especially when he’s holding a very promising paper bag with Patisserie Valerie written on the side.’

What is clear is that Tiffy and Leon are utterly adorable and they are liking each other more and more. With that comes a natural nervousness that they both have too. Just as Tiffy starts to relax into it, Justin makes an appearance at their flat. Leon sends him away but feels uneasy. He knows Tiffy enough to know that she wouldn’t have shared the information that he quoted. The two have commitments which mean they have a weekend where they are not together. Tiffy is away with work when a very outrageous thing happens. I won’t spoil it for you but it has the potential to ruin everything Tiffy and Leon currently have. However, Tiffy has some excellent friends that won’t let this happen. After some painful days, plenty of interference and some explaining it is resolved. Tiffy and Leon are now officially together. Yay! Richie is freed from prison and things seem to be settled. Tiffy was correct to think that Justin kept turning up where she was. She was absolutely right! He was being tipped off with her every move. The last visit from Justin is at the flat, but thankfully Richie and the police intercept it.

‘We inspect the door. He’s dented the wood with kicking, and chipped off chunks of paint with his fists. There’s blood too. Tiffy turns her head aside as she sees it. I wonder what it can possibly feel like, seeing that, after everything she’s been through. Knowing that she loved this man, and he loved her, in his way.’

The novel ends two years in the future where Tiffy and Leon are as loved up as ever. One evening after returning from work, Tiffy finds a note on the door. In it are a set of instructions for one last adventure together with the love of her life, Leon. The ending filled me with nothing but joy. It was JUST what we need right now.

“You are home… The bed, the flat… It was never home until you were there, Tiffy.”

Final Thoughts

This book was like a good hug. I appreciate the neat tied up ending, where each character has the ending they need and deserve. This book gave me everything I wanted. I laughed and I was desperate for Tiffy to break free from Justin. I SO wanted a happy ending and that was exactly what I got. Despite this, there are real issues being explored here, namely controlling relationships. Tiffy’s friends let her find out for herself whilst always being there for her. It took time for Tiffy to work out exactly what Justin was like. Leon was the perfect gentleman shown through his work, his love of his brother and his notes to Tiffy. I especially loved the use of post it messages in the novel – there’s nothing sweeter than a cute love note. I will definitely be reading the next book from O’Leary – after this, I have high expectations!

Stay safe all. Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Reading

Away With The Penguins – Hazel Prior

 

Hi Guys!

How are we all? I hope we’re all safe and well. I also hope that any keyworkers amongst us as taking the time to rest and recharge too. One thing I’m really appreciative of is the time I’ve now got because I’m working from home. It’s given me chance to catch up with you all and meet new fellow bloggers. I’ve also been working on the curriculum for my department for 2020/2021 which is exciting. I think we can all agree that we’d like to get back to a sense of normality. The new normal is a bit strange really!

Today I wanted to share with you a book I’ve recently read and absolutely loved. It’s a feel good read that I think we will all appreciate right now. Away with the Penguins is a funny, charming and utterly irresistible novel.

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What’s it all about? 

Set in Ayrshire, Scotland, the novel centres around the assertive and headstrong Veronica McCreedy. Eileen, her general helper, looks after Veronica’s huge house and undertakes day to day tasks at Veronica’s request. Veronica is not the easiest person to work for or spend time with, so there is an element of sympathy for Eileen here. Veronica loves Darjeeling tea, a wildlife documentary and collects litter from the beach. Despite her age, she trusts her memory because she knows she can recite Hamlet speeches. One evening she discovers her favourite TV show, Earth Matters, has ended. She stumbles across another programme: The Plight of Penguins. She only agrees to watch it because of the presenter, Robert Saddlebow. The programme will follow a different group of penguins each week. This week: emperors. Veronica is completely transfixed. She’s devastated that these beautiful animals are at risk of extinction and an idea starts to form in her head.

‘It is perhaps feasible that my demise might be useful in some way. Unless it is proved otherwise, I must work on the assumption that I have no blood ties at all. It would be pleasing if I could make some small difference to the planet. The more I think about it, the more I am attracted to the idea.’

Throughout the novel, there are entries from ‘Terry’s Penguin Blog’ which share facts and discoveries from the team of Scientists who are working in the Antarctic observing and monitoring the penguins. Sooty, an Adelie penguin, steals my heart for sure! We’re introduced to him in the first entry that features in the novel and I found myself immediately drawn to him.

‘…he’s almost entirely black. Just a few paler feathers in a patch under his chin. His mate, a normal black-and-whiter, was with him for the last four seasons. But where is she? Did she fail to get through the Antarctic winter? Was she eaten by a leopard seal? Or do we have a rare case of penguin infidelity? We’ll never know.’

The novel also features Patrick, a broken hearted, weed smoking, messed up young adult. He is the complete opposite to Veronica but amazingly he is her grandson. Veronica was under the impression that she had no living relatives but after a DNA investigation, Patrick turned out to be a blood relative. These two could not be more different from one another. However legal documentation confirms their blood line. This new knowledge of Patrick raises more questions than answers! Veronica writes to her grandson to inform him of her new knowledge and to arrange a meeting. We learn that Veronica had a son but had given him up as a baby.  With little notice, Veronica turns up on Patrick’s doorstep. Their meeting is anything but positive or heart warming.

‘How is it possible that this disgraceful, smeary, drug-befuddled creature could be my grandson? Doesn’t he know about the existence of soap and water? And his bedsit! I simply do not understand how anyone could live in this squalor.’

Following this, both parties appear quite disappointed. Naturally, neither like each other very much. Veronica decides that there is absolutely no way that Patrick is going to get her money. We learn that Veronica has a substantial amount of money, millions in fact. It is this that she wants to create a plan for the future for. The penguins then enter her mind, helped by a reminder in pencil on the mirror! Here, she creates a plan. She is going to use her money to help the penguins. However, before she commits she wants to see them and meet the scientists in Antarctica. Veronica isn’t someone that you can easily say no to. After a few emails between Veronica and Dietrich from the science team and a reluctance from Veronica to back down at all, flights and boats are all booked. Veronica is off to the Antarctic, waved off by Eileen and more surprisingly, Patrick.

“Mrs McCreedy is very set on the idea of going to see you and your penguins. I can’t change her mind, I’m afraid. She’s really quite independent and stubborn. When you meet her you’ll see. I’m sure everything will be fine.’

The team have other ideas though. Upon her arrival there is a mixture of warmth and worry and frank hostility from Mike. It is clear that Veronica has forced her way in and in their eyes, is very unprepared for the realities of what living in this climate is really like. Terry is the only one who embodies warmth at this stage. Surprisingly, a girl, but we finally have a face to match the blog entries we have been seeing within the narrative.  Aware of a boat leaving the island, they show Veronica around the camp and try and send her on her merry way. However, the walk back for Veronica proves more difficult than originally anticipated and she is late back. Therefore, she misses the boat and consequently has to stay there for three weeks. Veronica’s plan to remain there has worked! The team are not particularly happy about it though. Terry is the unsung heroine at this point.

‘”Come on, give her a bit longer, will you?” pleads Terry. “We can’t send her away yet. She’s only just arrived and – ”
“- And we already hate her,” says Mike.’

In the meantime, Veronica has sent a box to her grandson. It’s locked with the promise of the code coming at another time. Patrick, still fairly messed up by this new news and his break up, shoves it under the bed for another day. Back at camp, Veronica makes herself at home as best she can. Yet she finds herself quite emotional. She pushes that deep down and continues with her visit. She loves spending time with the penguins and learning their ways and characteristics. As time goes by, Patrick has this overwhelming niggle to check on his Granny V and read the emails from the science team and Eileen. Soon, he receives the code to open the box that was sent to him. Inside, it includes diaries from Veronica when she was younger. Her childhood, teenage years and the story of her son is revealed. Consequently, Patrick has completely thawed towards his grandmother and is even particularly fond of her. The emotions she displays in her diary entries, he feels with her. A bond between the two is finally formed.

“I’ll never be happy again. I’d give anything to be back there, stuck in yesterday for ever. How can I face anything? How can I go on? This happens to other people. Not me. God oh God.”

The bond between grandmother and grandson is also forming for Veronica, despite being thousands of miles away. When out observing the penguins, Terry probs and asks for more information about Veronica’s life. Gradually, over time her character does thaw and starts to divulge information to her. They discuss the war and Veronica finds again that she becomes increasingly emotional. The true identity of Patrick’s father is revealed: Giovanni who disappeared during the war. Yet, Veronica doesn’t stop thinking about him or lose memory of him. Naturally, she wonders where he is, if he survived, if he even thinks of her still. Like the penguins, Veronica is naturally curious. This in turn leads her to think about her grandson and why he is facing the problems he has. It is during this conversation that Veronica spots a bedraggled and lonely penguin. Her heart melts but it is the scientists policy to not get involved with nature. Veronica has another battle on her hands. The motherly instinct in her wants to help and save this penguin. After a heated discussion, Veronica wins and little baby penguin Patrick joins the fold.

‘Even more astonishing is the fact that my baby penguin seems to have taken a liking to me. If I lift him on to the bed he will crawl into the crook of my arm and press up against me. I am aware that any baby creature will seek something warm to cuddle up to, but I cannot help but be wholly delighted that the something, in this instance, is me.’

The friendship between Veronica and Terry strengthens. The two have plenty in common. I’d go as far as saying, Terry is very much a younger embodiment of Veronica. Veronica opens up about her son and what happened. I won’t ruin this for you but it is incredibly moving. As it happens, Veronica takes a turn for the worst and becomes desperately ill. Terry nurses her and spends time with her, as does the little penguin who because of Veronica’s hand rearing, is becoming stronger every day. It’s touch and go with Veronica. Patrick arrives to the scientists camp with more questions than answers. However, the overwhelming emotion he feels is concern. After all, he’s only just got his Granny V into his life and now he was at risk of losing her. Patrick gets renamed: Pip following the reading of Great Expectations by Dietrich. Over time, Veronica gains strength, Terry and Patrick become close and Pip is showing signs that he will be safe in the wild with the other penguins there.

‘I have ventured out to the rookery with the scientists, Patrick and Pip several times over the past two weeks. I am both joyous and emotional to observe how well my little chick gets on with his penguin mates. It may be my imagination, but I could swear he examines his human family in a new way, as if debating with himself whether we are massive, gangly penguins with strange markings.’

The novel ends with Veronica sponsoring Patrick so he can join the team of scientists and continue to be with Terry. Their relationship is clearly blossoming and neither party want to lose that. Also, Terry’s blog is going from strength to strength. The use of social media accurately showing the modern world. We have all seen how a good social media campaign can change things. Rather happily, I was pleased to see that Sooty and his partner were back together around the nest! Patrick and Veronica are close, cemented more by Terry. Most poignantly and arguably most importantly, we finally hear the voice of Giovanni as the novel closes. Veronica and us as a reader, get to hear the answers to those questions Veronica was asking earlier in the novel. I end with the feeling that that relationship could have continued to be a beautiful thing.

‘Veronica: true, headstrong and gloriously vivid. How she shines! No matter what life throws at her, she will defy the odds. Whatever she does, she will be extraordinary.’

Final Thoughts

Sometimes we all just need to read a book that feels like we are getting a good hug. For me, this was that book. I fell in love with Veronica’s character. Terry is such a beautiful girl too. I felt for Patrick and saw that the reason why he was so angry at the world was because he had many unanswered questions. The additional of penguins was just amazing. I thought it was incredibly clever to use the baby penguin for Veronica to try being a mother for. It showed us exactly what she would have been like for the child she wasn’t allowed to keep. I thoroughly loved this book for so many reasons. It came to me at the right time and I was completely carried away with it.

Stay safe everyone. Keep in touch.

Big love to you all. x

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Chocolate & Cherry Brownies

Hey Everyone!

Happy Saturday! It’s a sunny day which is always better I think! Now, would you believe me if I told you it was June 2015 when I last posted something about baking. I was shocked and appalled really. It’s half of the reason why I started my blog – books and bakes. Two great loves in my life. Also, where has that five years gone?! Well, during my time at home I’ve gravitated towards baking things again and I have to say, I’ve really enjoyed it.

Today I wanted to share with you my chocolate and cherry brownies. They’re a warm chocolatey delight. I hope you love them!

Ingredients
125g butter
225 light muscovardo sugar
50g cocoa powder
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
200g cherries – without the stones
50g milk chocolate
100g dark chocolate

 

Method
Firstly, preheat your oven to 180 degrees. We need to get that nice and hot so we have an easy bake. Then line a baking tin with parchment paper or tin foil. A 20cm tin is ideal but it just depends on the size you want your brownies.

On a low heat, melt the butter, sugar and dark chocolate in a pan. I find that it combines better if you keep stirring whilst on the heat. It also means it doesn’t burn the bottom of your pan.

Once melted, add the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and combine this wet and dry together. I stir in a circular motion, right to left and then up the middle so you’ve got an even mix. Add the eggs and repeat the stirring process until everything is combined.

Then add the cherries you have so lovingly halved and stoned along with the milk chocolate. Try and mix together so you’ve got a spread of cherry and chocolate.

Pour all the mixture into your lined tin. Smooth over the top for an even finish. Bake for 20 minutes initially, but it won’t need more than 25. You’re looking for a mix that is set but there’s still an element of gooeyness in the middle. Soft and squidgy is best.

Once baked, remove and leave to cool. If you can’t wait – enjoy! I prefer my brownies warmed too.

Just a little treat for Saturday. Hopefully there won’t be another almost five year gap in between this post and my next Baked Bits post.

Stay safe all. BL xx

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Reading Challenge 2020: The Call of the Wild – Jack London

Hello Lovelies!

I can’t believe it’s April already. I’m absolutely certain you’ll all be feeling fairly similar to me, that March lasted forever. However, like I said in my previous post, it’s getting lighter and the spring flowers are well and truly dazzling us. There are lots of positives – we just need to keep focused on the good rather than the bad.

Today I wanted to share with you the book I read for March for my Reading Challenge. You can remind yourself of the themes for each month here. The focus for last month was: Try a book with a non human narrator. Well, this was a tad more tricky than I thought because I wanted to read something I’ve not read before. I decided on the short story, The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Google seemed to think it was a good choice anyway! Also, the day I picked it I saw an advert for the new film version. It was a clear sign! I hope you enjoy!

What’s it all about?

This short story opens in 1897 with Buck, a very powerful and strong 140 pound At Bernard/Scotch Collie mix dog. He’s living happily in California’s Santa Clara Valley as the pampered pet of Judge Miller and his family. When the judge is out of time, assistant gardener Manuel, needing money to pay off his many gambling debts, steals Buck and sells him to a complete stranger.

Buck is then shipped to Seattle where he is mistreated and starved. He lives in a crate and is living a miserable life there. Upon his release, Buck attacks his handler, the man in the red sweater. The man shows Buck kindness as soon as Buck stops attacking.

Shortly after that, Buck is sold again but this time to French-Canadian dispatchers from the Canadian government. Francois and Perrault then game Buck to Alaska where he is trained as a sled dog for the Klondike region of Canada. Buck’s teammates help teach him how to survive the brutally cold winter nights and what pack society is really like.

‘The ghostly winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of awakening life.’

A rivalry starts to develop between Buck and the pack’s lead dog, Spitz. He’s a gruesome and aggressive husky who enjoys being the alpha male. He’s none too happy to see Buck as the new arrival! Eventually, after quite a horrific fight, Buck kills Spitz. As a result, he then becomes the lead dog.

He was a killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survive.

When Francois and Perrault complete their round trip of the Yukon Trail (in record time!) and returns with their dispatches, they receive new orders from the government. They have to sell their sled team to a Scottish man who works in the mail service. The dogs have to make long journeys with lots of heavy loads that weigh them down. These deliveries are going to the mining communities.

It is whilst he is doing this that Buck seems to have memories of a canine ancestor who had a similar companion. He can’t quite put his finger on it. In the meantime, the animals become incredibly weary, exhausted and weak. The wheel dog, Dave, becomes terminally sick. Eventually, he is shot to end his misery and suffering.

They were not half living, or quarter living. They were simply so many bags of bones in which sparks of life fluttered faintly.

The mail carrier then has a problem – not enough dogs. He has to sell the remaining three, which include Buck to three stampeders from the American Southland. A vain and ignorant woman called Mercedes and her sheepish husband, Charles and her equally arrogant brother, Hal.

They lack any survival skills for the Northern wilderness and struggle to control the sled. The trio ignore helpful advice, their arrogance taking over, and ignore particular warnings about the dangerous spring melt. Mercedes gets told that her sled is much too heavy so she decides to remove crucial supplies for survival in favour of her fashion objects she treasures.

They foolishly create a team of fourteen dogs, believing that this will enable them to move faster. The dogs are over fed and overworked but then starved when the food runs low. Dogs start to die all around them leaving only five when they pull into White River.

From here, they meet John Thornton, a much more experienced outdoorsman who observes the dogs’ poor and weakened condition. The trio continue to ignore warnings, this time about crossing the ice. Exhausted, starving, and sensing continued danger ahead, Buck refuses. Hal beats him.

Thornton is completely disgusted by the treatment of Hal and cuts Buck free. The trio leave and cross the river with the four remaining dogs. Whilst they’re on it, the ice breaks and the dogs, humans, sled and items all fall into the river. Nothing and no one was saved.

Thornton takes the time to nurse Buck back to health. The relationship and bond that comes between the two is a beautiful thing. Buck saves him when he falls into a river. After Thornton takes him on trips to pan for gold, a bonanza king, named Mr Matthewson, wages Thornton on Bucks’s strength, health and devotion. Buck pulls a sled with a half ton load of flour, breaking it free form frozen ground and dragging it 100 yards, winning Thornton $1600 in gold dust. Naturally, he’s interested in buying Buck after he has seen what he can do, but Thornton refuses to sell him.

Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time.’

With his winnings, Thornton retires from debts but continues to search for gold with friends Pete and Hans – sledding Buck and six other dogs to search for a fabled Lost Cabin. Once they’ve located a suitcase gold find, the dogs have nothing left to do. Buck has more ancestor memories of being with the primitive man.

While Thornton and his two friends continue to pan for gold, Buck hears the call of the wild. He explored the wilderness and socialises with a Northwestern wolf from a nearby local pack. Buck does not join the wolves – he returns to the ever loyal, Thornton.

What he does do though, is repeatedly goes back and forth between Thornton and the pack in the wild. One day when he returns he finds that Hans, Pete and Thornton have all been murdered by Native American Yeehats. Buck is devastated and very, very angry. To avenge Thornton’s murder, Buck kills several natives. He realises he no longer has any human ties.

Buck goes off in search for his wild brother but stumbles across a rather angry and hostile wolf pack. He fights them and wins. It is then that he learns that the lone wolf he has socialised with is a pack member. Buck follows this pack into the forest and answers to the call of the wild.

As life goes on, the legend of Buck spreads among other Native Americans. Every year on the anniversary of the attack on the Yeehats, Buck returns to the former campsite where he was last with Thornton, Hans and Pete to mourn the loss of them. He leads the pack every winter to get vengeance on the Yeehats as he sings a song of the younger world.

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.

Final Thoughts

I found this a really interesting little story. I found myself loving Thornton and really admiring the relationship between the two. There are some really moving moments in this for different reasons. For me, a good book will challenge all emotions and this short story did just that.

Take care everyone and stay safe. At least we have time to read plenty at the moment and lose ourselves in a good book.

Lastly, the theme for April’s book is: Focus on a story of nature and/or the spring season. I’m proud of my organisation skills because I’ve got this book already! I’ve decided on Wilding – Isabella Tree.

Take care all. Big love xx

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Reading Challenge 2020: An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

Hello Loves!

I hope you’re all well and keeping safe and isolated. The world seems to be in a complete mess at the moment so I hope we can keep each other company and spread a little kindness and good books to read to keep us distracted and busy during this difficult time.

I wanted to share with you today the book I read for February for my reading challenge. You can catch up with my reading challenge here. The book I read for February was An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

What’s it about?

The focus for February was Read a book that tells the story of love: good, bad or otherwise. For the month of love I thought this was the perfect topic and this book the perfect fit. Oprah and Obama rate it so I had high hopes. I wasn’t disappointed! This was a great read, honest and truthful. I hope you love it as much as I do!

To start in Atlanta, the novel centres around Roy, a sales rep for a textbook company and Celestial, an artist specialising in custom made baby dolls. They’re newlyweds and ready to start their new lives together. After their first year of marriage, they decide to travel to Eloe in Louisiana. Roy’s parents live there and a visit is well overdue.

‘Marriage is between two people. There is no studio audience.’

They spend the night at the local Motel 6 where they argue after Roy tells Celestial that his father isn’t his biological father. In the middle of their fight, they usually take 15 minutes to cool off. During this time, Roy leaves their room and meets a woman around his mother’s age. She’s got a broken arm so he helps her to his room. Later that evening, the woman is raped and calls the police. She believes it’s Roy who has raped her. Roy is sent to jail. Whilst he awaits his trail, Celestial discovers that she is pregnant. The two decide that she should have an abortion because of their circumstances. At the trial, Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison.

For the first few years of Roy’s sentence, he and Celestial keep in touch regularly. However cracks do start to show when Roy gets frustrated at Celestial’s career as an artist. Her increasing popularity means the gaps between letters grow longer. There’s nothing Roy can do about this but wait.

‘A marriage is more than your heart, it is your life. And we are not sharing ours.’

It is also during this period that Roy discovers who his real father is – his cell mate, Walter. Roy informs Celestial with conflicting consequences. Sadly, during this period, Roy’s mother, Olive, dies.

‘But how you feel love and understand love are two different things.’

After three years, Celestial tells Roy that she no longer wants to be his wife. Roy naturally takes this quite badly and refuses communication with her for the next two years. During this time, Roy’s case gets overturned on an appeal basis. The local DA decides not to pursue the case and Roy optimistically reaches out to Celestial. There’s been no contact for two years BUT she hasn’t divorced him. In Roy’s eyes, this is a sign that there is still hope for their marriage.

Meanwhile, unbeknown to Roy, Celestial has fallen in love with another man. Andre. Her childhood friend, the one who has always been there. The night that Roy learns he will be a free man, Andre proposes and Celestial accepts. Despite feeling consumed with guilt, she knows that divorcing Roy and marrying Andre is the right thing to do. Her family also see this as a good decision too all apart from her father.

Roy is released from prison early and is collected by the man who has always been the father figure, Roy Senior. He’s well aware that Celestial has plans to have Andre pick him up, but Roy decides to leave for Atlanta just as Andre is leaving to collect him. This way, it ensures that he will have some alone time with his wife to talk to her.

‘There should be a word to for this, the way it feels to steal something that’s already yours.’

Before he leaves, Roy runs into a former classmate, Davina, who invites him over for dinner. She shows him compassion and attention. It’s been a while since Roy has had this level of intimacy also. The couple have sex and Roy knows it’s meaningful but his pull towards Atlanta is too strong.

Upon his arrival in Atlanta, Roy is surprised and relieved to learn that his key still works in the house. He surprises Celestial by being back home when she comes home from her doll shop. Roy tries to have sex with her, she’s fairly passive but asks if he has protection, which he does not.

‘A woman doesn’t always have a choice, not in a meaningful way. Sometimes there is a debt that must be paid, a comfort that she is obliged to provide, a safe passage that must be secured. Every one of us has lain down for a reason that was not love.’

The next day, Andre returns home and an argument all breaks out. Roy wants to know exactly what’s been going on whilst he was rotting away in prison for something he didn’t do. They fight on Celestial’s lawn. The police are called but Celestial managed to diffuse the situation. Finally, she returns to Roy to her house and the following morning tells Andre that she has to remain with him. That night, Roy confesses to Celestial about his night with Davina. Celestial has absolutely no reaction whatsoever. This tells Roy she truly no longer has any romantic feelings towards him. She is willing to have sex with him but Roy declines, saying he never has and never will be a rapist.

In the epilogue, Roy and Celestial exchange more letters, each informing the other of their lives. Celestial and Andre are going to have a baby but have no plans of marrying. Roy plans to marry Davina – the woman who saved him.

‘Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.”

Final Thoughts

I found this book to be a really compelling read. It was one of those where you really struggle to put it down because you become so invested in the characters, you have to know what happens. I do think the ending is perfect and accurate. I did feel incredibly sorry for Roy but prison and the length of time was a barrier they could not overcome. I think it was the perfect choice for February’s read!

Next month, March. The theme for March is: Try a book with a non human narrator. For this, I picked The Call of the Wild by Jack London. The main animal in this: dogs! Let’s see what this brings.

In the meantime I wish you all health and peace during such strange times. I’m here if you need to branch out. Take care everyone.

Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Books, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020

An Open Letter From A Teacher

Dear World,

On Monday afternoon, I huddled around my interactive whiteboard with two of my colleagues listening to our Prime Minister and his instructions about what on earth we are going to do now the whole world is facing a pandemic. 14 days of isolation if anyone in our household gets symptoms. The idea of social distancing and becoming more and more isolated from each other. I received texts that night from friends, basically saying, ‘see you later’ and ‘make sure you’ve got plenty in.’

It felt kind of distant from me. I saw it on the news of course and read about it in the media, but it wasn’t impacting me at that point. China, Italy, Spain, France. They’re all so far away from my door step. Maybe I just didn’t understand the severity of it. Or maybe I just didn’t want to. I look back to two days ago and remember thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got a job to do and that’s it really.’ I’ve done that but today it’s changed. If only doing my job was that simple.

We are living in incredibly difficult and strange times, there’s no doubt about it. The media is full of chat about the big C. Social media is full of it too. This is bordering on too much. It’s creating anxiety for everyone, especially when we consider the more vulnerable amongst us.

Two days later, we have an announcement that schools will be closing. For me, it’s about the students in front of me. They’ve worked so hard. We’ve changed their mindset, gave them hope and resilience. This is all very much a work in progress still. They are young people after all. But, today standing in front of my classes showed me that the young people are confused and scared. I’m just as worried and I don’t have any answers to make it better. I feel just as lost as they do. I keep saying, “It’s business as usual kids! Let’s do this!”

My team and I are still teaching normal English lessons. We have a curriculum to deliver, a curriculum I’m passionate about and have spent three years creating. Year 7 and 8 are reading non fiction, Year 9 are looking at a modern novel, Year 10 analysing unseen poetry and Year 11 focusing on preparing for their GCSE exams. I think now about the things we should be covering in the next few weeks, the incredible books we’d be reading and the writing styles we’d be experimenting with.

I’ve had emails from worried Year 11s who are self isolating desperate for work. How do I reply now? What on earth can I say to them? The announcement today means their Year 11 experience and their school days essentially end on Friday. There’s more questions than answers. The need to protect them, lioness like, stirs deep within me. I could cry.

Currently the emails are left unanswered because I just don’t know what to say. I have a class of Year 11 tomorrow. Who knows if they’ll have any motivation left to turn up. How do I know that I won’t just burst into tears when I see them? How can I safeguard their futures? More importantly, for those most vulnerable students, how do I know that they’ll be ok now, without the safety of our four walls around them? Questions. No answers.

Despite this turmoil, I’m really overwhelmed by people at the moment. The kindness in supporting the older generation at supermarkets. The camaraderie on the streets. Doing everything we can to help our colleagues in the NHS who are working tireless to keep people healthy and safe. We really are pulling together to support each other. I truly believe we show our best in times of great need. I knew this day would come where we would have to close. I just didn’t quite realise or process everything that meant. Teaching is my whole life. My students are everything.

Amongst this utter chaos and desperation, I’ll be on the ground tomorrow with my fellow colleagues, reassuring the students in my care. Despite the clichèd rollercoaster of emotions I feel, we have to be calm. Our young people are worried about their education, their families and their own health and well-being. It’s our job to reassure them. Likewise for my team who will be worried about their own families and friends.

To the rest of the world, stay safe. Talk to each other. Send messages. Read something you’ve always wanted to read. Visit open spaces and breathe in the spring air. Have we even noticed it’s getting lighter? Check in on those vulnerable people around you. Take up a new hobby. Do the jobs at home that we’ve been sat on for about three months. Regardless, we are all in this together. This. Will. Pass.

Yours faithfully,

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No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference – Greta Thunberg

Hey Lovelies!

We are in March already which I can’t believe at all. I feel like I blinked and missed February. I only managed to do one post which is fairly pathetic really! One thing I have noticed however, is that the daylight is hanging around a little bit longer and the mornings aren’t so dark which I do like! Anyway, I hope you’re all well and ready to welcome spring with open arms. I know for sure I am!

I wanted to review a small yet mighty book with you today. Based on the speeches of the iconic teenager, Greta Thunberg, No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference packs a punch and is a clear lesson to us all. We have to act now. Here goes!

What’s it all about?

This little, powerful book is a collection of the 17 year old, Greta Thunberg’s speeches about our world and the environment. These speeches were delivered to audiences at the UN, the World Economic Forum and the British Parliament as well as coming from her climate rallies. But who is Greta Thunberg?

You may recall back in 2018, a girl decided she would not go to school one day. Instead she started a strike for climate change outside the Swedish Parliament. Her actions and words sparked a whole movement, one that is growing with momentum daily, and caused a bit of a stir.

Her speeches all follow a similar pattern: focusing on the metaphor of a house on fire to represent our Earth, trusting in Science and what it has taught us over the years and how the current younger generation need the older generation to hear their voices to make a change before it is to late for them. She repeatedly refers to it as a ‘cry for help’.

“To all the politicians that ridicule us on social media, and have names and shamed me so that people tell me I am retarded, a bitch and a terrorist, and many other things.”

One thing I did learn from Greta’s speech from Parliament Square in London was that Greta has Asperger’s syndrome. For people with Asperger’s the world is very black and white. They struggle with the shades of grey in between. What these means about climate change is very simple. People are talking about it which is a start, but in Greta’s view, it’s now time for action. We each have a responsibility to make a difference for the future generations to be able to live in a world that is healthy.

“If the emissions have to stop, then we must stop the emissions. To me that is black or white. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilisation or we don’t.”

The voices of Greta’s generation know that there are scientific facts that we all need to listen and react to. There’s even solutions to these problems. It’s a lot acting to do something now to make that change. In typical teenage language, Greta says it is time to rebel, before it is much too late.

Arguably one of the most prolific speeches came from Davos in 2019, at the World Economic Forum. In this, Greta refers to the fact that ‘Our House Is On Fire’. By using the image of the house, which our world is for billions of people, it clearly should evoke a reaction from us all. Referencing back to her previous speech, Greta talks about how we have no option but to right the wrongs of the past and reduce our greenhouse emissions. It is the younger generation who are speaking out about this, but they need the other generations to do something.

“I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire.Because it is.”

Lastly, it is important to remember that she is still just a child. Yet the hate Greta faces daily in the media and on social media is absolutely abhorrent. What I admire is that she challenges this face on and rather than ridicule back, she provides us with old scientific facts, claims that have been made for years and years that no one seemed to want to listen to, or failed to understand the enormity around it. In that sense, she is a remarkable young woman.

“I am just a messenger, and yet I get all this hate. I am not saying anything new. I am just saying what scientists have repeatedly said for decades.”

Final Thoughts

Powerful, thoughtful and challenging. This little collection of speeches is only small in size, not gravitas. The followers Greta has is astonishing. It amazes me that people are still ready to challenge and criticise. Our recent weather here in England, with storm after storm, is a consequence of something. The fires in Australia that dominated our television screens, likewise. The criticism these young people face because they decide to strike instead of going to school is relentless. As a teacher, I think and ask myself: ‘They value their education so why are they missing it? They clearly feel that they have no other option.’

“We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.

I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me.”

Have a restful and thoughtful weekend all.

Big love xx

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Reading Challenge 2020: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

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Hey Lovelies!

I can’t believe we are deep into February which means I’ve survived my first half term as Head of Department. Also, I’m quite proud of my progress so far too because I’ve read 16 books so far this year which I think is pretty good. I’m waiting for the slump to hit me though. I did have high hopes for half term but I’ve spent most of it with a lingering cold and dodging the relentless rain. Regardless, I hope you’re all well and staying safe in this weather. I am looking forward to catching up with you all!

You may remember from a previous post that I created my own reading challenge for 2020 (click here for a recap) and today I wanted to share with you the book I read for January: Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys. This book completely took my breath away. It is exquisitely written, moving, powerful and evocative. Get yourselves a copy as soon as possible.

What’s it all about?

Firstly, the criteria for January was a tale that represents a new beginning. When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t really sure it fit the criteria but I continued because the book was just so bloody good. Regardless, this book absolutely represents the grit and determination of people wanting to survive in some of the cruelest places on earth. There’s love, kindness, compassion and hope, even when on the surface it appears to have completely gone.

The book is based on true historical events that took place following the expansion of the Soviet Union into the surrounding countries, prior to the Second World War. The novel starts in Lithuania, in the house of Lina. There’s a ominous boom at the door which brings fear and trepidation. Lina, her younger brother Jonas and her mother Elena are taken one night by the NKVD (a forerunner for the KGB) and placed on a goods train along with many other ‘criminals’. Their crime? Unknown. No court, no charge. Just a journey in a train with ‘thieves and prostitutes’ painted on the side. 

“Three NKVD officers had Mother encircled. ‘We need more time, we’ll be ready in the morning.’ ‘You have twenty minutes or you won’t live to see morning,’ said the officer. He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot. We were about to become cigarettes.”

Lina’s father is absent for this as he never returned home. At this stage we can only assume or guess why. Has he spoken out against Stalin?

From Lithuania the train travels into Siberia, a long cold, dangerous journey. Siberia does not sound like a place I’d ever want to be to be honest. Overcrowded, with no food or sanitation the cattle trucks soon become filthy and disease ridden. One by one the dead bodies begin to mount up.

Lina’s mother becomes a ray of hope amongst the devastation as she takes charge and tries to forge a purpose and unity from the scared, hungry and increasingly weak companions in their cattle truck. Her unflagging, unrelenting spirit drives them on. Lina loves to draw but in this desperate place all she can do is draw in the filth on the floor.

“I counted the people – forty-six packed in a cage on wheels, maybe a rolling coffin. I used my fingers to sketch the image in a layer of dirt on the floor near the front of the train car, wiping the drawings away and starting over, again and again.”

During this journey she meets Andrius and together they manage to make contact with people on some other trains heading into Siberia. They find Lani’s father, imprisoned on a different train but alive! He will escape, they will be together as a family again…

42 days of travelling in a cattle car and Lina arrives at Altai Labour Farm inside Siberia. They’ve had to travel with dead bodies, endure the taunting and brutality of their guards, even had a to shower in cold water with leering guards looking on.

Through all of this Lina’s mother has kept her safe, bribing guards with jewellery and money she had hidden in her clothing. For the moment however, the travelling was over. However, they were not greeted with warmth or kindness. Yet more hostility presented itself.

“ ‘What’s she saying?’ asked Jonas. ‘She says she has no room for filthy criminals,’ said Mother. The woman grabbed my hair and pulled it, yanking me towards the door to throw me out. Mother yelled and ripped the woman’s hand from my head, slapped her, and pushed her away. Jonas kicked her in the shin. The Altaian woman stared at us with angled black eyes.”

At this point the characters are forced now to work on a farm, given the bare minimum food to survive with their ration docked for any infringement of the rules, life gets worse and worse. (There is a clear link to the theme for this monthI promise!!)

The NKVD want them to sign a confession and agree to a sentence of 25 years, in return they will give them more food and permission to visit the nearby village. In an act of solidarity the prisoners refuse to sign, the only act of defiance they can muster.

Their solidarity does not last, (did it ever begin?) and the NKVD find some who will inform on the others, find some who will serve them in other even lesssavoury ways. The prisoners turn on each other, not knowing who to trust. Some sign, then more. They stop being a people and become a collection of individuals desperate to live one more day, desperate to find any ray of hope in order to survive. This was the key. Not living.Surviving.

“ ‘Mother, will there be potatoes for us tonight?” When we asked we were told we had to work to earn food. ‘If you worked for the NKVD, Mother, would they give you food?’ asked Jonas. ‘No my dear, they would give me empty promises,’ she replied, ‘which is worse than an empty belly.’”

 

Through all the brutality of the labour camp Lina continues to draw. This is a means of escape for the young girl, a sense of her old normal life. She manages to get paper and hides her drawings. She holds onto the dream of getting a message to her father, so he can come and rescue them.

Even though the prisoners are divided and manipulated by the NKVD, some sense of solidarity and humanity prevails. They celebrate birthdays, they find reasons to smile and sometimes they can help lift each other a little way out of the horror they are enduring. Illness comes, Jonas falls very ill. The NKVD refuse to feed him or provide a doctor. Elena manages again to protect her children, the fierce mother that she is. Amazingly, against all the odds, Jonas recovers.

Then, without warning, a number of them are selected. Herded again onto another train. Lina, Jonas and Elena are among those taken but Andrius is left behind. The journey leads them to a river and barges. They travel further and further north. Eventually they reach Trefimovsk, inside the Arctic circle. The conditions here make the farm seem like a luxury spa, freezing cold there are not even huts or shacks for shelter. The only buildings are for the guards, they are expected to build their own shelter from whatever is on the ground.

“It was completely uninhabited, not a single bush or tree, just barren dirt to a shore of endless water. We were surrounded by nothing but the polar tundra and the Laptev sea. ‘What you don’t like it? You think you are too good for this? Facist pig. Pigs sleep in the mud. Didn’t you know that?’ He moved closer to Mother. His corroded teeth protruded from under his top lip. ‘You pigs disgust me.’”

 

From here, life gets increasingly desperate. The prisoners are stick thin and fall ill easily. Elena’s indomitable spirit is finally crushed by the desperation of this place, by the brutality of their guards and most of all by the news that her husband has been shot. She slips into illness and her body slowly shuts down. Her only hope has been cruelty taken from her.

Winter comes and in this barren place on the edge of the world it is a terrible thing to endure. Especially when you are living in a makeshift shack with barely any food. The incrediable resilience of these wrongly accused people shines though. Desperate and down trodden though they are, the fact that they can still show compassion and still feel hope is remarkable.

The ending is a surprise for you! However, I will say it moved me to tears. It was the silent tears that you don’t even realise you’re spilling. That kind of emotion. So, in the words of the writer, I’ll end with this:

“Some wars are about bombing. For the people of the Baltics, this war was about believing. In 1991, after fifty years of brutal occupation, three Baltic countries regained their independence, peacefully and with dignity. They chose hope over hate, and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light.”

 

Final thoughts

This book is just incredible, in ever sense of the word. New beginnings were created by a sense of never ending hope for these people. The fact that it’s based on history means that I feel an overwhelming sense of loss when characters died, their pain was my pain and I desperately wanted them to survive. It’s the perfect book to start my reading challenge with.

February – Read a book that tells the story of love: good, bad or otherwise. For this I’ve chosen to read An American Marriage – Tayari Jones. I don’t know anything about it and I’ve not seen many reviews (haven’t looked to be fair!) so let’s see what this brings for the month of love! Obama and Oprah recommend it so that’s enough for me!

More to catch up on soon.

Big love to you all. Xx

 

 

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Filed under Book review, Historical Fiction, Reading, Reading Challenge 2020