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December 2011

Miracle on Regent Street by Ali Harris

Miracle on Regent Street by Ali HarrisHow fitting that my last fictional feast of 2011 should be a festive tale, and a birthday present from a good friend. Miracle on Regent Street is a warm and wonderful book, perfect for Christmas time.

I wonder if I’d have enjoyed it quite as much if I’d read it over the summer… but I didn’t, and it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Christmas is, generally, a feel good time of year and leading lady Evie Taylor’s story – working to save the store she’s loved for so many years from closure – is just that. Evie has the whole of December to make something of herself, to find herself, to act on her talents and be noticed. And saving the store she visited with her parents as a child is just an added bonus.

To book started badly for me when Evie, the book’s 27-year-old narrator,  described cars as vehicles. No one I know refers to cars as vehicles and I thought to myself, “oh, one of those books trying to be all literary” but while the book is a tad wordy and I did have to skim through some of the detail, I still loved it. And aside from the “vehicles” incident the prose turned out to be more romantic that unnecessarily formal.

I fell in love with Hardy’s, the traditional and longstanding retail store in which much of the novel is based – shabby, unloved and struggling to find a place in a modern world, straddling stylish old, and sparkling new.

And I empathised with Evie’s story too, pinning her hopes and her life on a boyfriend of the past, wasting her best years and feeling utterly lost,  craving the happiness and seemingly perfect life of her older sister.

There are a lot of characters in this book and I confess to not always being sure who was who, but ths could have been because of the skimming I did in places. But, for the most part, I liked them; at least those in the book long enough to be liked. Evie’s brother in law Will barely made an appearance and her two brothers Noah and Jonah flitted in and out in a flash and I’m not sure they added anything to the story.

Despite it’s wordiness and Evie’s irritating habit of running out on sticky situations, I really enjoyed the story, the characters and the Christmas theme. I loved the bringing together of old and new, characters of all ages and the strange place that straddles an old world and new world, a kind of “nowhere” that Evie seemed to have found herself in.

Ali Harris’ love for vintage clothing – and there’s a list of her favourite haunts in the back of the book – shines through in this enchanting festive tale. You possibly won’t be so enamoured if you’re reading it on a sunbed, put pick it up in November and you’ll have reached The End well before Santa arrives.

Robyn’s rating 7/10

Posted: December 2011

An end of year Wordle: 2011 in words

I was thinking of doing a ‘review of the year’ type blog post but decided an end of year Wordle would be much more fun. I launched this blog (a Robyn’s Nest 2.0 if you will) in January 2011 so it’s practically 365 days of me and my thoughts of the year gone by… the fact it also resembles a Christmas tree (albeit lying on its side) is also a nice festive nod to the time of year.
So, no big surprises there but odd that the word ‘mulled’  should make an appearance as it’s not one I think I’ve used more than once or twice this year. Hey ho.

One word I could use to help describe the year gone by is ‘change’ and that doesn’t make an appearance because there have been some negative changes this past year and I tend to prefer to blog on a positive note when possible. There’s enough doom and gloom in this world, flick on the news if you don’t believe me. Don’t get me wrong, I usually relish change but this year has been akin to a rollercoaster losing it’s battle with gravity. And 2011 had a lot to live up to when 2010 was so utterly awesome.

But 2012, I have decided, will be awesome too. You know why? Because I’m going to grab it by the horns and make it so. I have a plan in my head – and it involves a few changes, mind – but they’re going to (hopefully) be controlled by me.

I mention this most years but it’s all about quality over quantity and many of us – me at the top of the list – are guilty of taking too much on; and therefore enjoying all the many things we do do a little less. In 2012 I’m making some cutbacks, listing everything I do – sport, hobbies, study, socialising, work etc – and prioritising. And there won’t be room for everything so some of it will have to go. And that’s okay. For example, is my writing more important to me than sport? Well, I’d usually say they’re equal but if I ever want to make a mark with writing, the sport may have to take a back seat, not forever, but for 2012 at least. We’ll see.

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed my MA so far and if I want to make a success of that – and I do – then other things will have to shuffle off the ‘to do’ list.

So, while the plan for me currently sits inside my head, it’s certainly brewing and I’m hoping to make 2012 a quality year. The death of Steve Jobs this year and THAT speech, serves as a reminder to us all that life is for living. And I, for one, don’t want my headstone to read ‘Death by unexpressed creativity’.

So, on that note peeps, happy New Year to you all. And if you’re struggling to know what to do with 2012, and you’re a planner like I am, then get making a list. Here’s a start… some things for me to focus on in 2012

1) Journalism – get interviewing, get writing, get producing, get that MA

2) Writing – get blogging, get reviewing, get that work in progress novel finished

3) In the kitchen – I ain’t talking cleaning here, I’m talking baking!

4) Quality time – with my friends, with my family and with my doggy

5) Flower power – this is an easy one, fresh flowers are a great way to lift a room and your spirits and I’m planning on filling all those empty vases this year

6) Wardrobe wonders – out with the old, in with the unworn. I’ve had a major clear out and my wardrobe is still heaving with lovely things I never wear… 2012’s going to change that

Review of the year: 2011 in blog posts

It was a new year, new blog as I moved from Robyn’s Nest 1.0 to Robyn’s Nest 2.0 in January, plus a report on my December 2010 wedding and honeymoon in pictures (yeah, I know, snore zzzz) plus a quandary over real books versus eBooks.

February was less about romance and more about making a complete dick of myself with the After Eight Game. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.

Stand out stories in March include THAT pen in the knickers story (funny) and Ralphie’s run in with a non-friendly Alsatian (not funny at all).

In April I attended and reported on the Journalism in a Social Media World Conference and get embroiled in the great cream tea debate following a glorious trip to Bude.

In May my lovely hubby celebrated one year as a freelancer – which is going well as we haven’t had to move out of home and into a shed – and in June I saw what a Saturday morning looks like at 7am, shock horor.

In July myself and my writer buddy Tracy Buchanan (please see pen in knickers story above) attended the Inspire and Mentor: how to get published evening, organised by Marie Claire magazine and I reflected on my mid-year resolution to expand my literary horizons. Who knew there was more than crime fiction out there?! Oh, and I also had a taste of Milton Keynes nightlife, aged 31, which gave me flashbacks from when I was 20. And that’s not a good thing.

In August I tried to split my personal self and professional self in two with different Twitter accounts, and failed. I’m all mixed up and can’t be two interesting people, just one semi (or possibly not) interesting person.

In September I rediscovered why I hate nightclubs, had this hair disaster and started a Masters when I don’t even have a degree. Busy month!

A spoon, a blow torch and a network of editors, the story of, was reported on in October after a trip oop north to Preston, as well as the lack of fiction in my diet.

In November I begged and pleaded for people to take a look at my MA work in progress project Ralphie.co.uk and fell off my chair in shock to discover my husband had spent £50 on eggnog lattes.

And in December I reported on my Tarzan and Jane anniversary experience with husband RPats and shared with you the best ever recipe for mulled wine. Ever.

*Note to self: need to have a more interesting 2012!*

The best ever recipe for mulled wine

Homemade mulled wineToday’s my birthday and as much as I love receiving, this year I’m giving something to you. Actually, I’m stealing something and giving it to you because this is my mum’s recipe for mulled wine. It’s bloody good and pretty much all I drink at Chrimbo. As the years have gone on I’ve certainly lost my boozy tendancies but this mulled wine… well, it’s simply marvellous.

Ingredients…
(and measurements are dead rough btw, I make it slightly differently each time. Bung it cookery is what my mum would call it)

  • One and a half bottles (medium sized) of ginger ale (low calorie if you want to compensate for all the sugar)
  • 3oz brown sugar
  • Two large oranges
  • Cloves
  • Three cinnamon sticks
  • Two tablespoons of mixed spice
  • One bottle of red wine
  • One glass of ginger wine or brandy or whisky (I’ve listed these in order of my personal preferences)

The process…

  • Stick the oranges with several cloves and set aside
  • In a large pan, slowly heat the red wine, ginger ale and ginger wine with the cinnamon sticks
  • Stir in the mixed spice and sugar and continue to heat
  • Slice the oranges into rough segments (cloves included) and add
  • Serve it up and enjoy!

I like my mulled wine pretty damn hot so I drink it out of a large mug but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to have it warm and from a glass. Whatever your preference, enjoy it, it’s lush. And play around with the ingredients, you just can’t go wrong with this.

The Memory Game by Nicci French

The Memory Game by Nicci FrenchOh jeez, was I craving some fiction. After three solid months with my head in course books for my MA in Online Journalism – as interesting as they are – I was positively salivating for a reading experience that would take me out of the armchair and on a literary journey.

And so I travelled to the shire (Shropshire, where I grew up) and then to London, the two settings of The Memory Game by Nicci French, a husband and wife literary team who’d been recommended to me by a friend. And this particular book, I think, had been reviewed in the Daily Mail’s books section and sounded good.

I’m not 100 per cent sure if it was the greatness of the story and its characters or my self-inflicted fiction fast that made me consume this novel in just four days, but I couldn’t put it down.

I lapped up the eccentricities of the Martello family and the protagonist Jane Martello who I never really grew to like or dislike. And in my mind I tried to unravel the mystery of who killed Natalie Martello, back in 1969 when she was just 16.

It was always going to be a member of the family ‘what done it’, of that I was sure. But which one? And in the back of my mind I think I always knew who it would be, so it wasn’t entirely unpredictable in that sense. But the last few chapters I raced through, as frustrated as Jane was as she tried to recall her memories of that day in 1969, the family party, and the things she’d recalled in therapy. Could she rely on them?

The book was slow to start as it painted, in a literary way, the life of Jane Martello and her mid-life crisis that not even she could put into words; her search for meaning in her muddled life and the truth behind her good friend’s disappearance. And I confess to skimming some of the detail. I’m not a paintings on wall and hair colours kinda girl, I’m a just get on and investigate the murder kinda girl.

But the ending made up for the slow start and while I wasn’t terribly surprised when the killer was revealed, that was okay. I’ll defo be jumping head first into another Nicci French sometime soon and boy oh boy do I love my fiction; I think much of Christmas may be spent hiding under a book or two.

 

Robyn’s rating: 8/10

Posted: December 2011

One anniversary, two people, a treehouse and a very posh restaurant…

The 5th December 2010 was bang on perfect and the same day one year later was going to be hard to beat. Let’s face it, wedding days are pretty special. But our first anniversary was blooming marvelous.

The walls around us were made of wood and we bathed in a copper bath for two before pulling on our Sunday best (or Monday in this case) and trekking across a muddy field, arm in arm, the wind in our hair, torch in hand; our only light against the black of night. As we reached the old country house, a dark shadow appeared and opened the car door with a creak, guiding us in. And away we went, down winding roads, sliding around corners as a frost began to take hold.

Harptree Court treehouseAs we reached our destination, warm smiles greeted us, the glow of Christmas lights and festive decorations and a very comfortable sofa. We’d just travelled from the treehouse at Harptree Court (which gets a great write up in The Guardian) to The Priory in Bath for dinner. The treehouse was my idea but full credit goes to hubby for planning the meal out – I had no idea until we’d arrived where we were even going and he’s usually rubbish at keeping secrets! I was so hungry a Macdonalds would have done but this had to be the best meal I have ever tasted. We plumped for executive chef Michael Caines’ signature tasting menu… scallops, pate, seabass, beef, cheese, sorbet and fruit salad and a chocolate dessert, followed by anniversary-themed petit fours and a fair bit of wine. Between the eating we sere served by really helpful and attentive staff, not snooty and in your face, just friendly and informative and genuinely interested in which was our favourite course. To be honest, they were all amazing but the pate and beef were probably top. Lush!

Petit fours at The PrioryThe sommelier was fantasticly passionate about his wine and helped us try some new ones, not intimidating with his knowledge and passion and not snooty about my lack of refinement when it comes to fine wine either. His lessons in wine were enjoyable. And the chap who served us our cheese course had a genuine glint of excitement in his eyes when we asked for his recommendations. Masterchef winner Sam Moody is the head chef at The Priory and between him and Michael Caines, they produce some food to be very proud off. There was literally a party in my mouth that night!

After the meal – which lasted over three hours! – we headed back to the treehouse, the perfect tonic to a busy existence. It boasts all mod cons as well as a character copper bath, heated flooring, a much needed hot water bottle , log burner, and a huge helping of Linda’s homemade lemon cake which is to DIE for. The torch was much needed, we’d have been sleeping in a wet field without it, but that added to the experience and isolation of our three-day retreat. Harptree Court is nestled in tranquility between Bath and Bristol, near to Chew Valley Lake, and it’s a pretty drive to the Park and Ride which took us to Bath’s Christmas markets, Harptree Court Treehousehugging the town’s Abbey and luring visitors to its core with the smell of mulled wine, cheese and chutneys.

On our second night at the treehouse we braved the dark and wet again and strolled around 200 metres to the local pub, the Waldegrave Arms, where we were met with smiles, cosy Christmas lights and music and a good home-cooked festive menu. And as we wandererd home, our bellies filled with roast turkey and beef stew, we saw the local phone box filled with novels. Locals use the box to house their book swap shcmee – what a lovey idea.

Linda and Charles run Harptree Court and welcome people into their home like old friends. At 10am check out time, Charles was there with the 4×4 to help us take our luggage across the field to the car and we left feeling utterly relaxed and smug. Our first anniversary was everything we’d hoped it to be and more, and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer place to spend it.