Monday, 25 February 2013

Bookworm: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

After just a few days of reading it, I’ve now finished The Psychopath Test – my first taster of the offerings of Jon Ronson.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this book, you may be led to believe I’ve just a read a book in order to decide how mentally stable I am. Although this may well be useful, alas this has not been the case! No, I’d heard a few mutterings from people I know about this book being quite a good read and the cover always grabs me. So off it went onto my GoodReads and Kindle to read/download list.

Contrary to its title, this book is not a way to test yourself or others. The story follows Jon Ronson on a journey of discovery – meeting and researching various people linked to the ‘madness industry’. Whether that be psychiatrists, psychologists, prison guards, mental health workers, ‘psychopaths’ themselves and more.

He does make reference, quite frequently, to a list of credentials by a man name Bob Hare. The so-called Psychopath Test provides a list of points which people may/may not suffer from and how many apply (and to what extent) in turn determines if they should be labelled a ‘psychopath’ or not.

Having never heard Ronson’s work before, I found I was a fan of his writing style – the book is gripping and his narrative combines a good mix of factual descriptions, investigation and humour.

Some parts turned my stomach reading about acts certain people had carried out and at times you switch from laughing out loud to how ridiculous some of these tests/experiments are to genuine fear at how easy it may well be to be labelled a psychopath and find yourself stuck in one of these institutions.

I guess I found the ending a little undone, but then that is the case – there is no real answer as to who is right or wrong really. Yes we need ways to help those in need with real health problems, yet we can end up in a society obsessed with labelling and simply locking up those that are not fitting the norms expected.

It was so nice to read a non-fiction book which included stories of experiences and also offered facts and references to documents/publications on the subject matter. There was such a nice mix and balance I really did find I constantly wanted to keep reading.

Good points
Something different
Great writing style
Good mix

Not so great
Can get the feeling there’s lots of talking and ideas/suggestions flown around but not many conclusions

Overall, I would recommend this book as something a bit different to your typical read. I am tempted to try other offerings from Jon Ronson now as a result too.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Bookworm: The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

I faintly remember seeing this book in a review somewhere and people recommending it as an original ghost tale.

This caught my attention as something a bit different to what I'd normally read so I was keen to download it.

I noted the book was only a couple of hundred pages in size, the same as the last book I read. I expected to finish this book quickly again.

Not this time.

It actually took me quite a few days to read this fictional tale.

Reason being? This book was hard to read.

No it wasn't complicated subject matter, it wasn't written in too highbrow a style.

No, I just found it boring.

This book failed to grab my attention. As I always do I stuck with it, just in case it got better.

Unfortunately not. I didn't like any of the characters, I found the story unbelievable and boring.

Good points
Tries to offer something different

Not so great
Boring storyline
Unrealistic/don't buy into the ghost idea
All characters seem to have negative aspects, so didn't like them/relate to them
Odd ending

Overall this book was a real let down for me, I was expecting much more. There wasn't really anything that I could pinpoint and say I enjoyed. By all means give it a go, but in my view you'll probably find it a waste of time...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Bookworm: Wise & Otherwise A Salute to Life by Sudha Murty

Sometimes you read a book and it offers something different, perhaps you may not normally have chosen it, but in some way it changes you.

Recently I was sent three books from India, from a colleague/friend of mine who works in our company offices out there and who like me shares a love of writing and reading.

I'm not lying when I say it was one of the nicest surprises and most genuine of gifts I've been given.

I've still got two books to read, but the first one to capture my attention was this one Wise & Otherwise.

When I saw it offered a selection of short stories I had mixed feelings. Often books filled with numerous short tales annoy me, I feel I can't get into them and as I'm enjoying the tale it ends. On the other hand I hadn't read anything from Indian authors, or in fact been to India, so I wondered if it would be a good start to give me more insight into the country/the writer.

Sudha Murty runs a foundation supporting those less fortunate financially and has a background in Computer Science. She was born in 1950 and has written many pieces and won a number of awards.

This book was actually first published in 2002 (why did I not discover it before??) and is split into 51 chapters (1 was added in a more recent edition) - each one only a few pages long and describing an incident experienced by the author, non fictional.

This lady has a great way with words, each chapter provides an interesting snippet and reflects Murty's views.

Showcasing people from all walks of life, good and bad behaviour, nice and sad stories, I found the book addictive reading. I started reading it Monday morning on my commute into work and by lunchtime today I had finished it (reading on the way to and from work, on my lunch break and before I went to sleep briefly).

I also found as with other books (say for instance Eat Pray Love), this book had a message - well many in fact - and I found it started to change my views in just these few short days.

I feel I have a better understanding of India, of human behaviour in general and ways to view my own approach on life/outlook.

Good points
Addictive reading
Easy to read
Thought provoking

Not so great
Sometimes I found there were references to India terms I did not understand (most of the time I just Googled them though)
At times Murty can come close to potentially appearing a tad self-righteous in some tales

Overall I throughly enjoyed this book and I know it's one I'll keep and refer back to throughout life, even moreso knowing the kindhearted way in which I came to be aware of it.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Breaking through the barrier

Monday morning – snowing outside, cold when getting up, a whole week of work ahead. And for me…weigh in day.

This Monday I was hopeful, but very nervous. On weighing myself last week I found I had got back down to my lowest weight I’d managed to achieve (back in 2010 and 2012), but I’ve never been able to get any lower. I was really hoping I could try and achieve some sort of additional loss and break this barrier in front of me.

Last week I had two ‘bad’ days, Thursday and Sunday, where I consumed alcohol and ate fattening food. Due to different hours at work I also didn’t go to my usual spinning classes and so instead I ended up doing four days of my workout DVD and 1 day where I went spinning on the Saturday only.

I must admit I was starting to feel a bit smaller and I’d received a few compliments from various people on how slim I was looking, but I was still worried what Monday would bring.

This morning I got up and crept onto the scales and I was ecstatic (sounds extreme, but it’s true!) I’d lost two pounds in weight, making a total of 6lbs lost since the start of this year. And more importantly for me this meant I had crossed that bridge – I’d broken through the barrier of the same old weight and beaten it by two pounds.

It’s funny how little things like that can affect you, but I found it put me in such a good mood and I feel really re-energised to carry on exercising and eating healthily and pushing myself to get to an even better weight. It’s also proved to me I can achieve a balance of enjoying myself and having ‘treats’ and still losing weight by being ‘good’ on other days. This is something I’ve often found very hard.

I’ve also learnt to relax a bit more about watching what I eat and trying new things.

As you know this year I’ve been trying to do more, which I’ve achieved through various cultural events and visits and I feel I’m also changing in my attitudes to things too. I’m looking at things in a new light and approaching things differently. Trying to see things how they can help me/improve my life, rather than worrying and focussing on the down sides and how it might not be right for me/might not work out.

The result? I’m feeling great and very positive about things. How long this lasts who knows – perhaps I’m just on a high on discovering new things I like and achieving some goals, but for now I’m just going to enjoy it and not worry about when it may end that’s for sure…

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Bookworm: The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

Over the last week or so I've been reading The Guilty One - my fifth book so far in 2013.

I've just finished it, laying in bed on a lazy Sunday, with the grey skies and cold and wet outside my window. The view outside aptly matches my mood.

This book has left me feeling down, a result I believe somewhat intended by the author.

Ballantyne's fictional tale features young, accused murderer Sebastian and troubled, confused solicitor Daniel.

The story alternates each chapter between the present day court case and Daniel's life as an adult and the past when Daniel was growing up.

Having a troubled childhood Daniel relates to young Sebastian and his odd ways/not so simple background, but is he trying to save this boy in a bid to settle issues with his own past?

It takes the whole book to cover the court case, I of course won't reveal the outcome or the ending.

The book packs some punchy shocks to the reader and often left me feeling uncomfortable - vivid descriptions of how the victim Ben's body was found and what had been done to it. Although I found the strong descriptions and details from the expert characters helped add to the authenticity of the story.

The title itself is a clever one - suggesting someone is guilty, but who? As you read on in the book it becomes clear many of the characters in this tale are guilty of something.

What I found hard to overcome at first was the fact the name of the murdered little boy matched that of a nephew/son of some people I know and it chilled me reading that name on the page.

In addition, you can't help but build comparisons between The Guilty One and the real life story of James Bulger, which again I found tough as it's a story that has upset and angered me over the years.

Good points
Gripping storyline
Strong characters
Powerful impact on the reader

Not so great
Some things felt left unfinished
The story can bring you down, it's not pleasant subject matter
At the end you may find yourself feeling frustrated and emotionally a tad drained

Overall I would recommend this book as one to read. Although I'm not sure those with children would find it comfortable reading...

Friday, 8 February 2013

Always a first time for everything

Earlier this week I experienced two firsts – my first visit to an art gallery and my first visit to the opera. Yes, yet again I've been out and about trying to participate in things a bit more cultured!

My experience was somewhat mixed. I’d already got the opera booked up from a while back – having purchased ‘cheaper’ tickets in the upper circle to a condensed and English version of La Traviata. As it so happened I was owed some time at work and so I decided to use it on the afternoon to make the most of my day.

So myself and my boyfriend met for a quick lunch and then headed off to the Whitechapel Art Gallery – literally 5 minutes’ walk from my office. The gallery is another amazing free offering from our capital and has a variety of different areas exhibiting various artists, which obviously vary and change over weeks/months.

We got to see the likes of Gerard Byrne , Lucy Cash , the Collection Sandretto Re Rebaudengo , Giuseppe Penone and archives of Aspen Magazine

After spending around 90 minutes in the gallery we both came out feeling pretty much the same – ‘I don’t get it’. I think we can safely say conceptual art is not for me and my boyfriend. However, not to be put off I think next time we shall venture to the Tate Modern or similar to see some more standard art – photos, paintings etc and not random video clips and unclear messages.

Saying that I still enjoyed the visit and was glad I gave it a go and there were parts of Cash’s work and Penone’s that I admired.

As we still had some time spare (and we seemed intent on wearing ourselves out!) we then had a quick search online and saw the Royal London Hospital Museum wasn’t far either and was also free! So off we went.

I thoroughly enjoyed this small but item-packed building. Both of us really felt we learnt a lot about the hospital and healthcare in the East End of London throughout the years. I thought the wall at the end showcasing key and memorable nurses from past to more recent days was also a lovely touch. We only had 45 minutes until the museum closed, but this allowed us enough time to peruse the displays and watch a snippet of one of the informative videos (surprise surprise my boyfriend chose to view the one on the ‘elephant man’!)

By this point we were getting pretty tired and so decided to venture closer to our evening venue and go and enjoy some drinks and dinner. A couple of hours later we emerged from the chain Mexican restaurant absolutely stuffed to the brim and headed off to the London Coliseum (seems my favourite place to be this year!) to go and take our seats for the opera.

This two hour, no interval display was put on by the English National Opera and although we were right at the back of the Upper Circle we had a nice view from our seats. When booking it said we’d have no view of the surtitles (which it turned out there weren’t any), but I said to my boyfriend it wouldn’t matter since the singing was in English. Hm…

To summarise, the theatre was absolutely boiling and upstairs they kept letting latecomers in throughout the whole performance which was pretty off-putting – as were the constant coughers and some man who made very odd noises throughout.

However, to focus on the show itself. Again, I’m not sure if I am a fan of the opera or not. I guess we were expecting a rather more detailed set than there was and I expected to understand more of what was being sung. I had purchased a programme before the show started and tried to have a quick read through of what the story entailed, but it wasn’t until we were on the tube home that I finally got to grips with what we’d just watched if I’m honest.

So what did I learn? Well, the lead who played Violetta was an amazing singer and I thought she performed very well, as did the man performing as Alfredo. The talent could not be denied. However, I’d like to try opera again, but this time see it in Italian (if we can’t understand it in English anyway we might as well see it in the language it’s typically played in) and I’d also sit closer to the stage – whether in the stalls or nearer the front of the dress circle. I’ll also read up more thoroughly on the story outline beforehand. I found I was surprised I found it easier in ballet to tell what was going on through mime and dance moves, than being in an opera and watching people moving and singing.

This is the first time in my cultural experiences venture that I’ve not loved what I’ve seen (the ballet, theatre plays, the costume exhibition), so I admit I was a bit sad that I didn’t come away loving the experience. However, obviously you can’t like everything and before I give up on opera and art I’m going to try different variations first.

So the story this time is to be continued…

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Why I love Hornchurch

Over my life I’ve lived in a grand total of two areas – and both in the same county! Hornchurch where I started life and live now and Colchester where I studied at University and lived for three years (even that was only during term time!)

Don’t get me wrong I love to travel and see new places – whether that’s here or abroad (but if it’s hot I’m bound to prefer it!) However, when it comes to where I live, I guess I am quite fond of where I’m from.

This Friday I spent an afternoon/evening with my Mum and Auntie (we’re trying to do more ‘girlie’ things the three of us) and it really made me think of how I enjoy having Hornchurch right there with all it has to offer.

In particular, the numerous amount of restaurants and our lovely Queen’s Theatre.

Right on my doorstep I can choose from an array of eateries – those from London I know this will seem a given but from a smaller Essex town I think we get a good deal. Chains, non-chains, pubs, bars, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Turkish, American, Mexican, fast food, English, cafes, the list goes on. There’s something for everyone and for a range of budgets.

This is also the case with the theatre – I can remember going to this place as child to see children’s plays and pantomimes. Now I’m older I’ve seen a number of plays, none of which have ever failed to impress me. Yes it’s a local theatre, small in size and with small-scale sets, but the acting is always strong and the prices aren’t horrendous.

If you fancy a bit of culture not too far from home and at a good price, it’s ideal.

Take for instance this year. As we all know I’m trying to enjoy new things and become a bit more cultured. I’ve already enjoyed amazing ballets, fascinating exhibitions and this week I’m set to see my first opera – all in London. I also decided to try local too.

I’ve booked up four shows at the Queen’s Theatre and they even do a great deal (Jump the Q) where you can get all three shows for just £45 (so £15 a ticket to see a play). The three this season are a mix of comedy and drama and are put on by regular production company ‘cut to the chase’.

In addition, I’ve booked something a little less cultured but what is set to be lots of fun(?!) – Puppetry of the Penis. I’ve already seen ‘Busting Out’ and ‘Vagina Monologues’ at this local attraction, so I’m sure this latest offering will be just as entertaining!

On Friday after enjoying the first play – A Passionate Woman – I happened to notice a flyer on our way out. I was shocked, but pleasantly surprised – to see the theatre was showing ballet, in fact the Moscow Ballet in their production of CoppĂ©lia. Of course I’ve already roped all my family in – it’s showing on the Easter bank holiday – so me, my boyfriend, my parents and my Auntie are all going to enjoy something a bit different this Easter Monday and go to watch the ballet. I can’t wait, especially how intimate it will be in such a small venue.

Again, the tickets were £25 this time, a great price for ballet!

I know this blog probably sounds like some forced publicity stunt/PR – and I apologise if this is all a little cheesy. But I have really noticed lately how lucky we are to have such good facilities on our doorstep like this and thought it was worth a mention!

And as for our cheap cinema (Premiere in Romford, just £4 a ticket for any film) and the fact they’re opening a local gallery, don’t even get me started!

Merry Melican

Oh dear. I have been bad, really bad. I’ve not written a blog post for 6 days and I can see my posts have been pretty sparse of late. I apologise (or maybe you should be thankful, depending on how you feel about my blog!)

To be fair if you’ve read my last blog post you’ll see I’ve been quite a busy bee in January so maybe cut me some slack this time. I’ll try to keep on top of my blogging in future.

This week has started – fingers crossed – fairly well. I woke up yesterday to find I’d lost another 1lb in weight, so all my Christmas weight is now gone. Then I came into work and got showered with compliments on my new hairstyle (I’ve gone back to a shorter do again). I had a busy but productive (and fairly stress-free) day at work and then did my workout DVD and for once didn’t feel quite so appalled with the reflection in the mirror before me in my workout gear!

So all in all it’s going well.

I have felt generally quite chirpy the last few days (I just know I am so going to jinx my mood and working days by typing this!) and I can’t help but notice a connection between my mood and a certain behavioural change this weekend.

Yes ‘Dry January’ ended – you know the charity event I was doing for Alcohol Concern, a rather poor turnout on the donation front unfortunately but hey there’ still time if you’re feeling bad… COME ON DON'T BE TIGHT

The month of January I felt great – alert, no hangovers, healthy, more energetic in exercise. I was however quite grumpy – something I put down to the fact work has been horrendously busy and I have about 2-3 times the workload I’m meant to right now. However, on Friday 1st February I was allowed to drink again, something I admit I was actually quite nervous about (those who know me well try not to burst out laughing at this ludicrous idea!)

On Friday night I had a few large glasses of wine and a Chang beer (well I was in a Thai restaurant, I had to!) and a meal out. Saturday night, again I had a big meal out and also consumed some alcohol (half a bottle of Pinot and an espresso martini if you’re interested).

The result? Erm…I didn’t get absolutely hammered on suddenly drinking booze, I didn’t have a hangover the next day and I didn’t feel sick. In fact, my weight loss was getting quite slow, this week after having alcohol on the weekend I lost weight again!

My conclusion? Well that wine is the miracle cure of course! As for my mood I’ve been a much happier little bunny, which can only be a good thing (something I’m sure my boyfriend and work colleagues will agree with!)

Oh dear, Alcohol Concern will cringe reading this. Not all is lost! On a more serious note I actually feel doing this month of no drinking has changed my perspective on alcohol, I no longer associate it as something that definitely has to be connected with a meal, an evening out, visits to entertainment venues. I’m not so up for going out ‘on a big one’ and chucking all sorts of drink down my neck because ‘it’s fun’. No, I think I’ve finally learnt (at the ripe old age of 30) that actually drink can be enjoyed in moderation and it’s actually more pleasant that way. To compliment some good food, as an accompaniment to a good conversation/catching up with friends, refreshing served chilled and crisp and not half warm from a discount deal bottle of wine in a cheap-brand pub.

My fears of being put off alcohol for good by not partaking in any for 31 days have been – thankfully – proven wrong. I still like my wine (and cocktails) but I’ll just be drinking them a little more responsibly from now on thank you very much.