Today is the longest day of the year, and goddamn, England, you’re doing a good job. My glasses are sliding down my face and both dogs have been hairy, panting puddles of exhaustion for days but SUMMER IS HEERRRRREEEE! A bunch of my friends are back from uni – they’re even graduating and getting firsts and things, it’s very grown up – I am naturally awake before eight am, which never happens in winter, and I’m ready for my summer holiday.
Wait, not that last bit. I had my summer holiday in January. According to my mental maths, I will have the money for my next holiday in several summers’ time. But with the weather this glorious, who even needs other cultures. I mean, I can’t afford to explore England either, but let’s overlook that in the spirit of summer.
Operation Instagrammable Bedroom is creeping along; I have some art on the walls, which are painted brilliant white specifically so I can display as much art as will fit, and I’ve wired up my stereo. I can’t find the radio aerial, so I am Today Programme-less for a while, but my neighbours are having their roof done so I can listen to that instead. I’ve colour-coordinated my wardrobe and banished my blankets and winter PJs to a box under the bed, so I am feeling incredibly smug organised. My order for 100 tote bags arrived this morning, and they are also going to live under the bed – I was slightly nonplussed when I realised that unlike notebooks and postcards, bags take up space – so it’s possible the blankets will have to find somewhere else to live. Still, as long as they’re somewhere other than my bed, and as long as I don’t need winceyette jammies until September, WHO CARES.
I suppose I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t link you the tote bags in question (free UK postage until the end of the month and a free print with the next 10 orders, UK and international, you’re welcome) and show you all what they look like so tah dahhhh:
I can’t even remember when I first had the idea for them, and I’m very pleased with the design and the quality (I mean, you can really carry a lot of textbooks). So storage aside, I’m quite proud and I hope you guys like them! (All profits will go into my holiday fund, HINT HINT.)
I have to go and reapply my deodorant – maybe I should just have another shower – so I will see you on Saturday for another Read, If You Like… in the mean time, if anyone has any tips for locating aerials, let me know.
As you read this I’m probably staring at my newly-carpeted bedroom, sighing in happiness and planning the perfect way to display my MCR CDs. Operation Instagramable Bedroom will be in full swing, ladies and gents, and there will be fairy lights. Anyway, this week’s Read, If you Like… is something I’ve had on my shelf for a good decade. The cover wasn’t interesting enough to pull me in, but it’s a Puffin Modern Classic so I thought it was one I should probably read at some point to score literary brownie points. I ended up enjoying it way more than I thought I would, so well done Puffin.
The Midnight Fox, by Betsy Byars (1968)
Read, If You Like…
Something you can finish in an evening
Snapshots of Deep Southern ’60s life
An author who doesn’t patronise the children she writes for either linguistically or socially
Retrospective storytelling (there might be another term for this? The main character is looking back, like To Kill a Mockingbird which I am assuming you have read)
Stories about families
The afterword in my edition points out that Betsy Byars has written a male main character whom small boys will ‘tolerate’ because the plot isn’t particularly packed with action; I have a good gut feeling that boys, when left to their own devices, do not give a shit, but I like the notion that Byars decided to write a male hero who doesn’t fit Ye Olde Gender Sterotypes. That could explain why the novel is a Puffin Modern Classic with its own afterword.
I’m not sure what I’ll review next week because I’ve not read anything new lately – my books have been in cupboards behind clothes and handbags and other books, and a bed covered in boxes has been in front of the cupboards, so I’ve been reading an old edition of The Economist… as fascinating as the rise of Bitcoin is, I might have to review something I’ve read loads of times, or pop down the library. Any suggestions?
Afternoon. Apologies for being a bit quiet – I was sick last week (actually physically sick for the first time in years god I hate vomiting) and the house looks worse than it did when moved in. When we moved, we plonked stuff down with the understanding that we would decorate later. Now we are decorating, our stuff has to go into rooms that still contain their normal stuff and to cut a long story short I am sleeping on a mattress in the dining room next to two snoring dogs.
The end is nigh, though, and I am getting excited about the fun bit: moving in. My new room is painted plain white so I can hang up all my prints and pretend I live in an art gallery, and I’m getting my own office space. Technically it’s a space in a built-in wardrobe where the boiler used to be and it is barely five feet in width, but it’s a space. I am considering painting the walls, partly so when I move the new owners can marvel at how pedantic the previous occupier was, and I have been frequenting Pinterest for the best ways to fit a desk into a cupboard. Surprisingly, little offices aren’t just for those lacking in space – I’ve seen some beautiful, Instagram-pornography-esque offices clearly installed by someone who wanted a beautiful, Instagram-pornography-esque office.
I’m considering plagiarising those ideas and adding some floating shelves, getting a clip-on lamp and possibly braving a trip to IKEA to turn their kitchenware equipment into an elaborate pen pot stand. I haven’t decided on a colour scheme – you’d better believe there will be a colour scheme – but I am considering investing in a set of wireless speakers and enough paper trays for my entire Francesca’s Words envelope collection.
There’s a bit to do before I get to actually buying any of these things (apparently carpets and net curtains are basic requirements) so while I am still in Pinterest mode, let me know: what are your home decoration tips? Have you ever done up a space as small as an ex-boiler cupboard? What do you think of rose gold and pink as a theme? Help me out here, I can’t afford to buy a pen pot from IKEA only to find it messes with my Instagram ambitions.
I feel like Calamity Jane this week. Is Calamity Jane the one who’s really clumsy? I might be thinking of someone else. Calamity Jane’s the one in the musical? Anyway, the watchword is ‘calamity’. I burnt my wrist on a oven tray last Friday and it bubbled up into one of those blisters that you really want to touch, then I wore a pair of Doc Martens that I’ve only half worn in and shredded the backs of my ankles. We’ve been moving things in and out of different rooms because we’re getting new carpets, so everything I own is in the wrong place, and every time I tread on a cushion or a stray CD, I think I’ve trodden on a dog. I have also trodden on a dog.
So, Calamity Jane. I test-drove a new car the other day (well, an old car. And old new car) and I haven’t driven in weeks and everything felt different and god that’s reverse gear please don’t let me hit a curb or a person. I can’t remember if I’ve ever told the Saga of Me Learning to Drive – it’s going to take an entire blog and possibly a gin and tonic – but the long and short of it is, I recently decided that I required a vehicular fresh start. I probably also require CBT, but that’s for the Saga. In the way these things usually go, I went from ‘casually looking at cars that would suit me’ last week to ‘signing off on a car I think suits me’ yesterday. It took me approximately six weeks to decide to go to Asia, and three months to settle on which hair colour I wanted, so I feel slightly shell shocked. What if I didn’t ask all the questions I should have at the dealer? What if I didn’t need a new car and just needed CBT? Where do you get CBT? Why is this all happening before I have a guaranteed annual income?
Realistically I could be interning for the next six months, so that last question is more a philosophical one I ponder in the shower. I’m also really fortunate that I have time to look for a car and move things out of different rooms and nurse my bubbly blister – if I had to be out of the house by eight am every weekday, I wouldn’t even have been cooking something that required an oven tray. All I have to do to get the most out of my unemployment is not look at my bank balance. Or leave the house for any activity that might result in a change to my bank balance.
I really ought to get on with something on my to do list… options include writing a bunch of emails, organising everything that’s currently in a desk and will have to be in a box, sorting out car insurance and checking my social media plan for Etsy.
Oh, and ‘not engaging with idiots on Facebook who keep posting passive aggressive anti-Islam bullshit next to a bad graphic of a poppy’. I need to be out of the house by eight am every day if I’m ever going to be exhausted enough to completely ignore those fuckers.
His eyes are the colour of the ocean, or midnight, or brilliant saffron, or blazing ruby. His skin is either chalky white, like the undead we suspect he might be, or the beautiful, ethnically ambiguous ‘heavily tanned’.
His grades are always top of the class, but we’ve never seen him study. He’d never be seen in a gym, but when you catch a glimpse of his stomach muscles, you have to sit down. He’s a punk street racer, a shy nerd, an outsider who just moved here. He’s softly spoken, but he’s angry, his eyes blaze.
He has a younger sister in our class, or a best friend we know from Biology. He owns a motorbike or sports car usually unavailable to financially-dependent seventeen-year-olds. He’s always seventeen. His parents are never around – in fact, he’s probably damaged from various childhood traumas. Not that you’d notice on a day to day level.
He had a girlfriend – also beautiful and sophisticated – but things ended when he met you. He’s got a past, and you’re getting dragged into it… but you can’t seem to back away. He’s charming, he’s brilliant, he’s in love with you.
Wait, not you.
He’s in love with the main character in the YA novel you’ve been reading. Or the YA novel you read a few years ago. Or the YA novel you haven’t picked up yet. He’s a pale imitation of Mr Darcy or Heathcliff, and he seems to have the same traits as the author’s husband or childhood crush. He’s a bundle of contradictions (or a bundle of whatever the author wants in a man, which is often the same thing). He’s the least-changing, most-perfectly-formed character in the book, and his hair usually smells wonderful.
He’s Brooding YA Hero, and he’s fucking boring.
Thankfully, there’s something out there to help you cope with this genre-wide plethora of unrealistic manliness, and it’s a Twitter page. I actually found it on Tumblr, where someone had screen-printed some highlights. Like these:
My love interest has spent 200 pages telling me I'm annoying and a jerk. On page 201, she will declare her undying love for me.
I’m telling you all this because I recently joined #BroodyBFF, the official street team for old Blazing Eyes Perfect Abs. Essentially it means I get to take the piss a bit more in challenges like this post, and I do it in the company of other readers and writers who’ve seen just enough of brooding YA heroes to know they absolutely cannot take any more.
Unless the main character looks like us, in which case we’re there.
When Isobel gave me The Hitchiker’s Guide at Christmas in our newly-minted Secret Santa tradition, I thought it was because she’d heard me talk about how it was one of those books that I’d always wanted to read but hadn’t gotten around to (also on that list: War and Peace, most of Artemis Fowl, the Chilcot Report). It turns out that her university is on the cover.
That did not detract from my enjoyment of it.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1979)
Read, if you like…
Disappointing cups of tea
Space travel that’s less exciting than Han Solo in the Millenium Falcon but more exciting than actual space travel inevitably will be
Mentions of your home town, if your home town in Southend
The general unhappiness of council employees and/or petunias
I’m also on typing on my mobile and the spelling checker on here is appalling so I am one hundred per cent sure I’ve spelt appalling wrong.
Just go read this book regardless of whether your uni’s on the cover.
‘Don’t stay long in Da Nang,’ they said. ‘There’s only a bridge there,’ they said.
‘It’s half an hour from Hoi An,’ we said. ‘By Asian standards that’s about fourteen seconds. We are going to Da Nang.’ There’s also a train line that runs from Da Nang to Hue, our next stop, and everyone we met who had done the journey in the opposite direction raved about the views from the train.
One day I might elaborate on the fourteen-second journey from Hoi An, but for now let’s just say that it was the longest fourteen seconds of my life. Between our hostel in Hoi An and the one in Da Nang, I got lost, found the only cafe in Vietnam without Internet access, had my first ever moped ride and ate three Snickers bars and a pack of M&Ms. When I did arrive, I couldn’t work out if the shops and streets were closed because it was Sunday or if it was because everyone was right about the city being dead, but dinner was a packet of M&Ms and more Snickers (I haven’t eaten either since).
I woke up way too early on the first morning – well, at 8am, but it was one of the few days of the trip that I turned my alarm off and it was therefore too early – courtesy of a local school. There is no way you’d get away with a hostel full of grubby adults that close to a building full of children in the UK, but we were technically in a homestay. Our hosts had converted some rooms in their house into dorms, and a few others into classrooms for local children to learn English from volunteers. In another life, I’d have the temperament to volunteer to teach English, but in this life I grew up listening to My Chemical Romance and therefore say the word ‘fuck’ twelve times a day. Also, I was on holiday.
I went out for breakfast (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but Maxim is rarely awake before noon when left to his own devices) and I could not find a single place selling food. We had unwittingly stumbled into the least touristy part of Vietnam; Danang’s wide roads, tarmacked highways and looming office blocks could be part of any big city anywhere.
I found several cafes and bistros in our neighbourhood, but they only offered coffee and yogurt. If I’d been less exhausted and bewildered it would have been fun, but at the time I just wandered around thinking Surely local people eat out too? I still don’t know why this was the case in Da Nang but nowhere else in Vietnam, because I wasn’t after Western food (although there was a KFC), I just wanted to get rice porridge from somewhere that wasn’t a street vendor. SOMETIMES IN LIFE YOU NEED SEATS. After I caved in and got yogurt, which was served in a glass and pronounced ‘yourt’, I bought some home-brand Pringles and on-brand Dairylea triangles. Breakfast of champions, I told myself at the homestay, and the next day I bought cornflakes and borrowed a bowl from the kitchen. I should add that our hosts offered breakfast, but it was off limits. I felt like a dick with my Kellogg’s but IBS comes before everything, and at the time I hadn’t worked out that pho (rice noodle soup for those of you who have not experienced holy grail of noodle dishes) does not contain eggs.
It was Valentine’s Day while we were there, and one of our roommates, Alice, invited us to a coffee bar for the evening. I didn’t think ‘coffee’ and ‘evening’ went together either, BUT IT DOES. England, you are missing a trick. Stop closing your cafes at night and keep them open, with live music and some food, all night. People are sober and chilled out and very, very awake. I’m going to do an entire post on Vietnamese coffee one day – I miss it like I miss pho, the weather and not changing my own bed sheets. If you’re planning a trip to Da Nang and like to drink, relax – there’s a good Aussie bar down by the water front (which is where everything seemed to be, including non-Aussie bars and, um, restaurants. Possibly I should learn to read maps). I pushed the boat out and had a gin and tonic (I think it was my third of the trip; the other two were on Koh Rong when I hurt my foot and thought a $4 mixer was a better idea than weed), and my lasting memory of the evening is of an old white dude at the bar dancing with a local lady like he was in a sleazier version of Strictly. Now I come to think of it, I’ve seen him in Southend.
We also saw Da Nang’s crowning glory, a bridge. I know, I know, a bridge. Boring. Except this bridge is a dragon.
Sometime during our stay in Da Nang was the first time I walked along a street and felt normal. Backpacking is weird; staying in one place for no more than four days at a time is weird; South East Asia is weird. I love all those things, but it took until mid-February for it all to feel normal. Apparently Da Nang is considered to be one of the best places to live in Vietnam because of its infrastructure; there’s a free hospital, plenty of schools – I can attest to their productivity – and a good road system. People just get on with their normal, every day lives – which is the most comforting thing you can see when you only stay in one place for four days. Don’t pass up the chance to go.
This is the second in a series. Possibly I am onto a good thing here. It helps I can write them in ten minutes, but let’s not be picky…
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (2015)
Read, if you like:
Heroes versus villians
Male characters with beautiful flowing hair
Female characters who don’t have beautiful flowing hair
Comics (this one’s a dealbreaker; it started as a webcomic)
The illustrations in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl; Noelle Stevenson did those too
I don’t read a lot of comics, so shoutout to Ruby for giving me this a couple of Christmases ago. I’ve misplaced my library card so I’m making my way through the Shelves of Ignored Books in my room instead of just borrowing everything that sounds good (there is so much that sounds so gooooood). Be prepared for a mishmash of novels I’ve been too busy to read or novels with covers I don’t like. I started Oliver Twist this week – I managed to go 15 years in British education without ever studying Dickens, so my lazy Twitter-accustomed brain is struggling a bit – and I’m pretty sure there are some other total classics waiting to be discovered. The second Game of Thrones is a classic, yes?