Travel: Oxford

A collection of photos from this beautiful city.

BodleianArchRadcliffe Camera

GardenGraveyardNew

SpireMemorialChurch

LincolnVinesHarry Potter

Bonus points if anyone knows which film the place in the last picture was used as a location for!

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Top 7: Children’s Classics

1. ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L. M. Montgomery

I loved this lyrical story of a quirky red-headed orphan who is unwanted at first but soon wins everyone round with her adventurous nature and vivid imagination. I liked the fact that the story followed Anne’s life over several years; I got to see her develop as a person and became very attached to all the characters.

2. ‘Good Wives’ by Louisa May Alcott

Although this book’s predecessor, ‘Little Women’, is more famous, I actually preferred ‘Good Wives’. It was more dramatic, with the March girls all grown up, developing love lives and learning more about themselves. There were some very moving passages and the ending seemed more final and satisfying than that of ‘Little Women’.

3. ‘Just William’ by Richmal Crompton

I loved all the stories in the ‘Just William’ series. They are just as witty and pertinent now as the day they were written and they still make me laugh out loud, which is rare in a book. The audiobooks narrated by Martin Jarvis are also excellent – he captures the vibrant cast of characters perfectly.

4. ‘Ballet Shoes’ by Noel Streatfeild

I adored this story of three very different sisters trying to make their way through stage school whilst learning some important life lessons. The characters are quirky and lovable, and the BBC adaptation was my favourite film when I was younger.

5. ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This story is both a haunting mystery and a testament to the power to change. I loved the fact that, unusually, the heroine was rude and spoiled – as was her cousin, Colin – but visiting the secret garden made them both see the error of their ways. Again, the BBC adaptation of this is very good.

6. ‘The BFG’ by Roald Dahl

Of all Roald Dahl’s books, ‘The BFG’ has the most charm. I loved Roald Dahl’s funny, inventive wordplay and I thought the concept of capturing and delivering dreams was brilliant.

7. ‘First Term at Malory Towers’ by Enid Blyton

I enjoyed all the ‘Malory Towers’ and ‘St Clare’s’ stories but I chose this one because you can’t beat the first book, as the characters get to know the school, the teachers and each other. I liked Darrell because she was an imperfect heroine who didn’t always get things right but gradually learned to control herself as the book progressed.

So those are my favourite children’s classics – which are yours?

Poem: Forever Young

Here is the second poem that is being included in the anthology. I hope you enjoy it.

The church bells are ringing
The people flooding from their carriages
Through the sunny country to their pews
We’ll return home for Sunday dinner
Congratulating ourselves on surviving
Another of Rev Brown’s sermons
Pa will crack jokes that aren’t funny
Grandma will mutter in a corner
The little ones will go dancing
And we’re happy because we’re together.
Later we’ll chase the girls
Who wouldn’t kiss us for a hundred pounds
There’s tobacco in our lungs and lust in our eyes
As we go for walks in the moonlight
Kicking our feet through grass
Collapsing on our backs among the daisies
Feeling like this moment is infinite
And we’ll stay young forever.

The war bells are ringing
The soldiers flooding from the ferries
Across the mangled wasteland to their trenches
We’ll arrive in time for mouldy biscuits
Congratulating ourselves on surviving
Another day in Belgium
Jack will crack jokes that no one finds funny
Donald will gibber in a corner
Our minds will go dancing
Though we try to hold them together.
Later we’ll chase the girls
Who’ll sleep with us for ten shillings
There’s gas in our lungs and terror in our eyes
As we go for walks in the moonlight
Dragging our feet through sludge
Collapsing on our backs among the poppies
This moment is not infinite
But we’ll stay young forever.

Poem: Birkenau

Recently I was very excited to find out that two of my poems are going to be included in an anthology so I thought I would share the first one with you:

The sun smiles down
On a Van-Gogh meadow
Where people were once unpoured
From a train
Gasping for country air
And holding their loved ones close.
Where the trees whispered
And children made daisy chains
In the shade
Of blissful childish innocence.
Where one summer’s morning
Snow fell
And the sky burned
With the colours of autumn.
Where an orchestra played
Sweet, sad music
Until it was all over.
And now there is calm
The flowers falter in the breeze
Sunshine falls on the wretched
And the trees still whisper.

Article: Are you an introvert?

Inspired by Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet’

Are you happy in your own company? Do you prefer having a few close friends to spending time in large groups? Are you secretly glad when plans to meet up are cancelled?

If your answer to any of the above questions was yes, the chances are that you, like me, are an introvert. And you’re not alone: a third to a half of the people reading this will have secured the same result (probably more, since introverts usually prefer solitary activities such as reading).

For many people, the label ‘introvert’ is a negative thing. Introverts have a reputation for being shy, socially awkward and pessimistic, even though they are merely people who feel energised by spending time alone (extroverts, by contrast, are refreshed by being with people in large groups).

In today’s outgoing, in-your-face society, people are encouraged to lose their introversion and learn to become sociable, outspoken people, even if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. It’s an accepted thing. If you don’t like parties, you’re antisocial. If you don’t want to speak out in class, you’re shy and reticent. If your private life isn’t plastered across the internet, you’re not moving with the times.

Yet it has been proven that introversion is hardwired into our DNA. It’s as much a part of anyone as black hair or brown eyes or pale skin. So why should we have to change who we are?

It’s not as if introverts can’t be successful. Lady Gaga, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Christina Aguileira and Angelina Jolie are all examples of introverts who have succeeded in traditionally extroverted fields. By contrast, Barbra Streisand is an example of a shy extrovert; she has a famously bubbly personality but suffers from terrible stagefright. Introversion and shyness are by no means found hand-in-hand. You can be confident without being sociable, commanding without raising your voice. Introverts can enjoy acting and singing and public speaking as much as the next person – it’s just that afterwards they’ll want to spend some time alone or with a few close friends to recuperate.

It has been proven that introverts can have an advantage in business as well as showbusiness. They are self-motivated, think carefully about issues and are good at expressing themselves in writing. They are often more empathetic than extroverts because they spend a lot of time thinking and therefore understand what goes on in people’s minds. They are good decision-makers; where extroverts may jump in straightaway, introverts will be able to think things through clearly and calmly, without losing their temper.

So why do extroverts have the position of dominance in society? There’s no clear-cut answer. Many people believe that the rise of extroversion came with the rise of consumerism; whereas before people had just been required to get the work done, now they had to market the goods. As buying became more important, so did selling. Charismatic, loquacious people were needed to promote the wares of their company and rise to the top. From the 1920s, the consumer industry has grown and grown and now there’s no stopping it. Even in class, a pattern emerges: the loudest people often get the most attention, even if they have nothing particularly intelligent to say.

But what about before that? It seems hard to believe now, but the people who were seen as the greatest in society were the people who were quiet, serious and noble. Loud, gregarious people were often viewed as ‘silly’. A strong character and good virtues were more important than having an exuberant personality. Even today, many Eastern cultures favour calm, reflective types.

As someone who is told in almost every school report and parents’ evening that my work is fine but I need to ‘contribute more in class’, I find a great relief in the sense that I can still be successful without changing my quiet nature. I’m not saying that we don’t have to push ourselves out of our comfort zones at times; no introvert ever got anywhere without a bit of discomfort now and again.

Neither am I saying that there is anything wrong with being an extrovert. On the contrary, I believe that the mix of introverts and extroverts is one of the things which makes our world so rich and diverse. If everyone was quiet and unwilling to work together, the world would be disconnected and hostile. If everyone was loud and spoke over each other, no one would ever come to a solution. It is the equal balance of both that makes many industries, friendships and relationships so successful.

I would have not have reached this conclusion were it not for a book called Quiet by Susan Cain. It is a book that I would urge you to read, even if you only dip into a couple of chapters. It has encouraged me to question some of the things we take for granted in society, and most importantly, to embrace my quiet side.

Top 7: Books of the past year

When trying to decide on my top ten reads of the past year, I realised there were only seven I felt strongly about – I couldn’t make my mind up about the final three. Well, top tens are getting a little passé anyway, so here you are: alongside the seven wonders of the world, the seven dwarves, and the Secret Seven to name a few, I bring you my top seven favourite books of the past year!

1. ‘The Woodlanders’ by Thomas Hardy

I bought this book at a second-hand sale for the impressive sum of 1p and picked it up during my GCSEs, thinking it would be heavy going and therefore not too distracting from revision. How wrong I was! Though not one of Hardy’s better-known works, it is still beautifully written, romantic and evocative of an English country lifestyle that is no more, following the tangled lives and loves of four very different residents in the village of Little Hintock. And any book containing the phrase ‘frolicsome scrimmage‘ is worth reading for that reason alone.

2. ‘Body Double’ by Tess Gerritsen

I love a good thriller and the premise of this one was irresistible: a seasoned pathologist comes face-to-face with an identical copy of her own body in the lab. The plot was a bit far-fetched but full of surprises and kept me turning pages right the way through. Gerritsen is great at building believable characters and I loved the fact that the book followed the stories of various people: detective Jane Rizzoli, pathologist Maura Isles and kidnap victim Mattie Purvis, all of whom had their own demons to face.

3. ‘Us’ by David Nicholls

This book was both moving and laugh-out-loud funny as it chronicled biochemist Douglas Petersen’s disastrous attempts to win back the affections of his wife and son with a ‘Grand Tour’ around Europe. If you want to find out more about why I liked it so much, read my review here.

4. ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey

This book contained not one but two intriguing and beautifully interlinked mysteries: the whereabouts of the main character Maud’s friend Elizabeth and the disappearance of her sister over fifty years ago. In addition to this, the whole thing is narrated by Maud, who has dementia: a difficult subject, but one that was pulled off with tact and authenticity. It was sad, but thought-provoking, poignant and original: well worth a read.

5. ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy

A deserving Booker winner, this is a very moving book which tells the tragic story of a family in India who ‘tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how‘. The exotic setting was almost tangible and it was fascinating to immerse myself in a culture different from my own. I adored the quirky writing style and loved almost all of the characters.

6. ‘The Demons of Ghent’ by Helen Grant

This book is actually the second in the ‘Forbidden Spaces’ series, but works well as a standalone novel too. It continues the story of Veerle, who has escaped death once but now finds herself facing it again as a vicious killer stalks the rooftops of Ghent. ‘Demons’ contains everything I love about Helen Grant’s books: family drama, a compelling romance, a page-turning murder mystery and a beautiful and atmospheric setting. Her best so far!

7. ‘Death in Holy Orders’ by P.D. James

When the body of a student at St Anselm’s theological college is found, his father rejects the verdict of accidental death and asks Commander Adam Dalgliesh to investigate. This is a classic detective novel with a cocktail of interesting and well-drawn characters, in an atmospheric and deliciously creepy setting. Most of the characters had their dirty secrets and there were several surprising revelations. I couldn’t put it down!