Book Review: 60 Lovers to Make and Do

60 Lovers to Make & Do, by Sophie Herxheimer, is a collection of metaphorical contemporary love stories – vignettes written in playful poetry. They are presented with associated artwork in collage format which are a delight to explore. Each subject is introduced by their occupation. These women make use of whatever objects are to hand to create their ideal lover. Of course, lovers rarely turn out to be ideal. As in more conventional relationships, some of the pairings work and many do not.

Each poem is short but neatly conveys the complexities of living with a lover – the unexpected turns such alliances can take.

The desire to find a compatible lover is the driving force behind the creative activity. Subjects make the paramour they believe they want but cannot then control what has become a sentient being.

Some of the lovers turn out to harbour interests that were not predicted. The relationships are, very much, reflections of more conventional encounters.

There are a variety of reasons why certain relationships do not last. The bespoke creations turn out to be as varied as those met in other ways.

I mentioned the artwork that accompanies the poems. These collages are cut from a range of sources and it is fun to try to work out connections. They mostly depict the lovers as cutouts and pose them alongside the gap left from their removal.

There are also cut out words and phrases put together to add a further layer of interest.

As well as the poems – the occupations – the index lists the items needed to make the lovers detailed. This was a quirky addition that amused me.

The collection is entertaining throughout but raises serious issues about desire, control and expectation. A distinctive collection of art and poetry that is well worth perusing.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Henningham Family Press.

Book Review: Waiting for Doggo

10383126_4590375453478_8707610428197777267_n

Waiting for Doggo, by Mark B. Mills, is an entertaining and enjoyable tale about a man and a dog who have each lost the love of their life and ended up with each other. It is a story of loss and redemption but is in no way cloying. It has humour and insight without feeling contrived, pokes gentle fun at the eccentricities and foibles of many differing subcultures in modern society without putting them down. It is a book about a rather ugly dog who enriches the lives of those around him simply by being a dog.

In some ways the story reminded me of some of the better, earlier offerings from the likes of David Nicholls and Nick Hornby. Unlike these though, Waiting for Doggo does not rely on male posturing. The protagonist, Dan, is not portrayed as put upon, frustrated or hard done by. He drifts through life dealing with things as they happen. Despite the best efforts of his family and friends, he remains true to himself.

It is a shame that all of the women in the story are described as beautiful. Doggo is not a good looking dog yet this does not matter, it is what he is inside that counts. It would have been refreshing to have had a similar approach to Dan’s love interests.

That aside though, this is not intended to be a serious critique of modern societies prejudices, but rather a feel good tale about a little dog who is a fine judge of character and seems to know how to get what he wants. In order to gain access for Doggo in various settings, Dan refers to him as a mental health companion dog, which strikes me as an excellent job description for many people’s pets. The book is full of such apparently effortless yet thoughtful asides. It is also full of easy humour and affability.

The story is as inexplicably captivating as Doggo, introducing believable characters and gently absorbing plot lines. Throughout it all the little dog imparts his doggy wisdom as he gobbles up choc drops and responds to kindnesses offered. I loved this book and would recommend it to everyone, dog lover or not. I suspect that anyone who reads it will feel just a little bit wistful that they do not have a Doggo of their own.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.

Sisters

This week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop has the theme: Sibling Rivalry

You can steal me and use me as your own

We were ‘the girls’. Adults would muse over what the girls would like to do, or if the girls could be taken along. We shared a bedroom at home, sometimes a bed when on holiday. Whatever clothes my sister was given, I would be wearing a couple of years later. In the eyes of the world we were a unit, yet in so many ways we were poles apart.

Growing up my sister was the one I looked up to, literally. She was tall and slim whereas I was short and dumpy. She had this wonderful, long, blond hair that I loved to brush and plait when we were little. I kept my hair short for much of my childhood as I ran around trying to be a boy. At school I could go and sit with my sister and her friends when I felt lonely, or spend time with them in the playground. If I wanted to go some place then my mother would allow it so long as my sister went along to look out for me. She was the sensible, reliable one. She was my friend.

I believe I irritated her a great deal. When she was given a particular type of doll, I would want one too. If she called her doll Susie then I would call mine Susan; if she named her doll Katherine then I would name mine Kathy. When our grandmother knitted a set of baby soft clothes for my sister’s brand new, baby doll I was so cross and jealous that our mother had to ask for a set to be made for my baby doll too. My sister told me that my doll had an ugly face compared to her’s. She was right.

My sister guarded her close friends. When I dared to play with one, and wrote about her as my friend in a diary, my sister was incensed. C was her friend not mine, and I was so stupid that I couldn’t even spell Diary (I had written Dairy on the notebook cover). I was teased about this for a long time. I didn’t dare to seek out C as a playmate again, and I stopped keeping a diary.

Our shared bedroom was an issue when we fell out. We would draw a line down the middle that the other may not cross. This meant that I could not get to the toybox and she could not get to the door. When our much older brother went away to university my sister moved into his room during term time. She adored our brother and relished sleeping amongst his things. It was the first time either of us experienced privacy.

Looking back at how we grew up in our parent’s home, there was so much that we didn’t notice about each other’s lives. So self absorbed were we, so possessive of our right to secrecy in certain matters, that we shared the same space yet did not notice the major issues that the other was facing. So many important things were never discussed.

When my sister reached her teens she became interested in fashion and looking good whereas I was generally happy to continue to dress in her hand me downs. The only items that I did not enjoy wearing were the shoes she grew out of. One memorable year I was teased at school and given the nickname Swanky Shoes because of a pair of shiny, black heels that she had passed on. I hated those shoes but had no others to wear.

We had very different personalities and aspirations. My sister was careful and private, especially with her relationships. I appeared more lively and open, resulting in many clashes with my mother. In my eyes my sister and mother were close whereas I was at odds with the person my mother wanted me to be.

When my parents started to go on holiday without us, my sister would take charge of the house. On one such night I was out with a group of friends. With no parental curfew in place we returned home late and my friends asked if they could crash on the floor downstairs until morning. This was the first time that I remember my sister ever bringing a boyfriend back to the house. The unexpected bodies on the lounge floor put paid to any plans she may have had; I think that night she could happily have throttled me.

These irritations and clashes though were moments in a relationship that provided me with a rock that I knew I could rely on. My sister never condemned my behaviour or appeared disappointed in me as my mother was wont to do. She comforted and encouraged me, flattered and praised me when I needed to know that I was okay.

I guess our sibling rivalry was low key. There were plenty of petty jealousies but we were too different to aspire to be the other. I would love to know what she would write about me.

IMG_3138   IMG_3140

Whereas my elegant sister could pose attractively on a rock, I had to jump up beside a statue and display my inner dork when a camera was produced.

To read the other great posts in this Blog Hop, click on the link below

Teddy Bear

I collect teddy bears. I have always had a soft spot for cuddly toys and this developed into a collection when my husband bought me a small bear, who I named Edward Gainsborough, a year or so after we got married. This delightful little companion joined my childhood bear, a few family bears that I rescued from a dusty, lonely life spent in my parent’s attic, and a number of cheaper, plush bears that I had picked up in my travels through life over the preceding years.

Before our children were born, in the days when tax rules did not make having a company car with fuel included a prohibitively expensive perk, my husband and I used to drive around Cotswold villages on free weekends visiting specialist teddy bear shops. Here I would find adorable bears who were eager to come home with me, along with accessories to make a teddy’s life more fun. I decorated one of our bedrooms and put up shelves to allow my growing collection to be displayed. A few visitors to our house thought that I was creating a nursery; at the time, children were not a part of our plans.

When my husband and I went on one of our many walks, we would enjoy taking a break at a convenient teashop. I got into the habit of bringing Edward along to share our tea and cake. He would also accompany us on picnics, travelling in the wicker hamper we kept in the boot of the car. I would photograph him and smile to myself at the looks passing strangers would give us for our unconventional behaviour.

When the children were born my focus changed and we had less time to devote to such amusing pastimes. I was still very fond of my teddy bears though. Each child was given a Steiff bear for their first birthday to ensure that they had a furry friend to guard them and chase away the monsters that lurk in the dark corners of bedrooms. Edward always sleeps by my bed at night, wherever I am staying.

968790_607923469227422_1760338328_n

It took quite a few years to get to the point where going out did not demand that I carry a large bag full of nappies, snacks, juice and amusing distractions for the children. Once we got through this stage though, Edward once again started to accompany us on days away. I loved the fact that we were all quite happy to be seen out and about carrying a small bear, posing with him at famous landmarks and photographing him on his adventures. We certainly got some strange looks from those around us, but seemed to raise smiles from strangers with our antics, which can’t be a bad thing.

I probably have a couple of dozen teddy bears in my collection. The room that was decorated for them did eventually become our nursery so they were moved to alternative locations around our home. I am tempted to buy bears wherever I go but try hard to contain such desires. Occasionally, of course, I will give in and treat myself.

This summer I picked up a lovely little fellow from a shop in Hampshire called Bear It In Mind. The ladies running this business repair and restore toys as well as selling their signature ‘Bartie’ alongside other British made teddies. They made Edward and I very welcome and treated my passion as perfectly normal.

999410_640901669262935_1180949705_n

Edward meets the original Bartie Bristle at Bear it in Mind.

I have grown used to having my predilection for travelling with my little bear, and photographing him wherever I go, treated kindly. I do not consider it particularly childish but accept that it is eccentric. How boring life would be though if we could not act the way we wish; if every action had to be judged on it’s compliance with cool conventionality. Showing a little love to a small, stuffed toy; conferring him with feelings and a personality; none of this causes harm to anyone else and gives me amusement and pleasure.

Teddy bears are non judgemental, comforting companions. It is my view that the world would be a better place if the same could be said for more humans.

Growing up

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I used to have so many plans, dreams and aspirations. Mostly though, I wanted to be free. I wanted to be able to phone my friends without my mother worrying about the cost of the phone call; to stay up all night to finish my book and then sleep through the next day to recover; to come home as late as I chose from a night out without worrying those who cared about me. I wanted to live my life by my rules without anyone else complaining about the choices I made.

When I left my parent’s home and moved into my flat I experienced living alone for the first time and did all of the things I had hoped for. Independence was heady and fun but also lonely at times. I am so glad that I had the experience of total freedom for those few years though as it helped me deal with the inevitable compromises that had to be made when I chose to get married and was sharing a house again. Love can last a lifetime but that initial euphoria of being in love can struggle to exist alongside day to day living. Knowing that I had been lonely living alone helped me to put minor irritations in perspective; to accept the choices that I had made.

I wanted to have children and adore being a mother. I launched myself into the role and it has been the key feature of my life and decision making for the past seventeen years. I have only recently realised how much I have allowed what is me to be swallowed up by the person that I thought I should be. I have spent so long pouring all of my energy into being the good wife and the good mother that I have lost sight of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Of course, I still wish to be a good wife and a good mother, but I sometimes think that I have become a caricature of these things. I suspect that my husband and children would find me a lot more interesting if I could cast off the shackles of the role society has persuaded me I should be aiming for and went back to being myself. Looking at the people that they have become, I think that my family would still like me.

I find it hard to verbalise the change I am trying to engineer; I want evolution rather than revolution. It is still the small things that make me feel caged: the wish to stay up late without my husband making me feel guilty; the ability to talk to my children as equals rather than nagging them about things that are really not so important; spending my time reading a book or surfing the net when my husband is working hard at something constructive without feeling that I should be undertaking some useful task too. I have imposed so many unnecessary standards on myself and then wonder why my personal sacrifices are not appreciated. It is only I who have made me the way I have become.

When I was a teenager I felt like a prisoner in my parent’s home. I knew that I was loved and that staying there was the only way that I could achieve the goals I had; I needed to gain qualifications if I was to earn the money that I needed to be free. Now I feel like a prisoner in the home that I have helped to create. I know that I have built the walls myself and that nobody forced me to do so. I need to work out what I want to be now; I need to grow again.

389887_1787172535157_1442311323_n

The cost of a night out is going up

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. My husband and I celebrated by going out for a lovely meal at a local restaurant. The children were fed at home and then left to sort out their busy evenings for themselves. I felt a bit guilty about this; so much of my life has been spent trying to be the best parent that I can. Sometimes though, we just have to take our adult time and make the kids cope. It is important for them to understand that, although we are happy to support them, we too have lives to lead.

I had a lovely evening and came home feeling happy and relaxed, much later than I would normally stay out, especially on a week night. Today I am paying the price for that. It would seem that, as I get older, the cost of a night out is going up. I barely know what to do with myself today I am so tired; it feels as though my very bones ache. It is hard to believe that I could once stay out half the night and still bounce into work the next day. I know that there are plenty of people my age and older who can still party the night away and get by. Whatever the reason, I am not one of them.

As I lie here trying to rest and recuperate, I am thinking back to those younger days when a night out such as I enjoyed last night would have seemed tame. My husband and I were never wild, party animals, but we enjoyed our share of socialising and had a good group of friends. Many of these lovely people came to our wedding, and we still keep in touch. Our big day was planned as a chance to celebrate with those we enjoyed spending time with; we didn’t see the need to provide our large, extended families, who we rarely saw and many of whom we would barely recognise, with a get together. Selfishly perhaps, we did it the way we wanted.

After the excitement of our engagement had abated and we started discussing the next step, it was decided that we could do the whole white wedding in a church thing, but not necessarily follow too many of the other traditions. I saw no need to wait too long to do the deed; not for us a lengthy engagement of several years. I wanted a chance of decent weather which ruled out the approaching winter, but I didn’t want to be a June bride; too twee for me. We opted for May 1st as we liked the links to summer festivals and workers rights. It also fell on a Friday in the year we got married which made booking venues and services a whole lot easier.

I liked the idea of dressing up in a white wedding dress, but was reluctant to pay a large amount of money for something that I would wear once. Luckily for me, my sister-in-law still had her wedding dress, it fitted me and she was willing to let me wear it. She was my bridesmaid and wore a dress worn by one of her own bridesmaids. Friends leant me a veil, head dress and a hooped underskirt so I just had to buy shoes which I hoped I would be able to wear again. My husband bought a good suit as this seemed a more worthwhile investment; he still has it all these years later.

My talented parents-in-law made the wedding cake and the bouquets. I bought the invitations at a local stationers and hand wrote them. A friend recorded the event on video although we did use a professional photographer for the stills. We also hired one wedding car with my brother-in-law decorating his black car with ribbons to provide a second. I did my own hair and make up. All of these little details provided the setting but did not seem hugely important. What was important was that we were getting married!

We wanted a fairly small ‘do’ so limited invitations to close family and friends. In the end we provided a sit down meal at a good hotel for about forty guests. It was a lovely day, made all the more so I think because I was not worrying about everything being just right. The whole thing was put together with so much help from others and nothing had to particularly match. Looking back, the only thing that I would change would be to rein in the photographer who took too long getting his shots. It is hard enough finding time at a wedding to talk to all the people who make the effort to attend without having to spend what felt like hours posing in organised groups. I would have preferred more informality.

As each anniversary has gone by, my husband and I have made the effort to celebrate. Some years we have gone away for a night, on other years we have marked the occasion with a simple take away meal at home. In many ways my husband is more romantic than me and will make more of an effort to ensure that the occasion is special. It was he who insisted that we go out last night and I am glad that he did, even if I am suffering for it today.

Life can have as many special occasions as we choose to celebrate. I may need longer to recover from a night out than I once did, but if I lived too carefully then I would not be generating more happy memories to look back on. Agreeing to marry my husband was the best decision that I ever made and our wedding, however selfishly planned, was as happy an occasion as I could wish for. As each anniversary passes I am reminded of how lucky I am that he continues to put up with me. The cost of a night out with him may be going up, but it is still a price that is well worth paying.

P1010350