Wonder – A Movie Review

There are pros and cons to going to the cinema alone. Pros : You can sit wherever you like without anyone complaining about eye strain, and you don’t have to feel bad about not sharing your pick & mix. Cons : There’s nobody to discuss the film with on the way home. 

Watching approximately one new film a fortnight, that’s a lot of pent up opinions swimming round in my head, so it occurred that I could use this blog to let them out. If you enjoy this first one let me know in comments and I’ll make it a semi-regular thing 🙂 

Based on the 2012 bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio (which is now at the top of my reading list), Wonder is directed by Stephen Chobsky, known for the similarly uplifting Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I’ve never thought it fair where Child actors are listed second to their Adult colleagues, despite being the undoubted star, so in this review I’ll let you know that Jacob Tremblay (11) steals the show. albeit supported beautifully and believably by Julia Roberts & Owen Wilson, amongst others. The young Noah Jupe that plays Jack Will is particularly good.

The story is that of Auggie Pullman, a 10 year old living with a genetic facial disfigurement, who is starting a mainstream school for the first time in 5th grade. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that the road is not smooth for him, but it’s the way the story is told that makes this film engaging and sensitive, where it could have been twee. Whilst Auggie is the central character, the film takes time out to get to know those closest to him – cleverly filling in some back stories and allowing the viewer to know why each of them acts the way they do, towards Auggie and each other.

Set in New York City over the course of a full school year, the cinematography is pleasant without being particularly attention-grabbing, and I enjoyed the visual addition of a few fun elements of Auggie’s imagination here and there, that served us to remind the audience that despite his grown-up experiences, he’s really just a 10 year old boy.

I won’t go into the details of the story as I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the film if you haven’t seen it, but what resonated with me most was the consistent message of kindness overcoming adversity and fear, and that bullying attitudes come from nuture, not nature. Kindness is important to me; it costs nothing, it can mean everything, and it makes the world a better place. ‘Wonder’ celebrates kindness, love and compassion in a way I’ve rarely seen in other films, whilst still managing to be largely light-hearted and easy to watch, with some well-placed chuckles along the way.

I don’t think anyone could watch this movie without questioning whether they are always as non-judgemental and accepting as they should be or could be, but I also left the cinema feeling uplifted and optimistic, despite a few tears crowding my eyes.

Best Quote : ‘When Given The Choice Between Being Right Or Being Kind, Choose Kind’

Soundtrack Highlight : We’re Going To Be Friends – The White Stripes

See It or Skip It : See It

Trailer

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One Night in Romania

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Now whilst I happen to think that a little insanity keeps life interesting, the old guy had a point.

We can’t expect to stick tight to the same old routines and have anything change. Change is what I need for the coming New Year, and I know that I won’t find it in my comfort zone.

This is how I found myself last night, somewhat apprehensively shrugging off my lounge wear and Sunday blues, and glamming up to attend a Gala Dinner in celebration of Romania’s National Holiday. An odd destination you might think, for someone who has never been to the country and doesn’t speak the language, but with several good friends hailing from there and keen to share their culture with me, then why not?

I won’t pretend I wasn’t a little intimidated by being one of only around 6 non Romanian speakers in a room of almost 200 people, but my worries were unfounded. We were welcomed warmly, translated for patiently, and encouraged to begin proceedings with shot of Tuica, or traditional Firewater. I’m still not convinced it’s a good idea to drink that BEFORE dinner, but when in Romania….

Everyone I spoke with was particularly keen to know if I was enjoying the food. This was my first experience of a traditional Romanian meal and whilst there’s a little more vinegar involved than my British palate is used to, YES YES YES. I could eat sorici (pork rinds) all day, and I’m sure you’ll agree there is very little not to love about deep fried cheese. Unfortunately for Andreea, this now means I’m going to be tapping her up to cook for me on a regular basis. Sorry BAE, you only have yourself to blame 😉

Aside from the food, the biggest notable culture difference between a Romanian party and the British gatherings I’m used to is the music & dancing. I’ve attended so many weddings and dinners where the dance floor stays empty until everyone is wasted and/or the DJ plays Beyonce, so it was refreshing and fun to have the dancing begin in earnest right after the appetizers. Young and old, Male & Female, everyone was up and joining in. With no fancy moves required, and no danger of being left dancing on your own, just take the hands of the friend or stranger on each side and let yourself be carried along with it. With such a friendly & inclusive atmosphere it would have been rude not to get fully involved; I mean if you haven’t danced in a circle to a live saxophone instrumental of Despacito, have you even danced at all? My poor feet are regretting quite so much exuberance today though; note to self – comfier shoes required next time.

All in all I had a wonderful time, met some fun & interesting new people, and feel quite privileged to have been invited to share such a special evening with my Romanian friends. It was a bit of a lesson in accepting invitations when they come my way, making the effort to do something a bit different from the norm, and seeing where it might lead me. After all, if you never try then you’ll never know. Roll on whatever 2018 has to offer me.

 

 

 

 

The Soundtrack To My Life…

‘Always missing people that I shouldn’t be missing, sometimes you gotta burn some bridges just to create some distance’

I must have listened to the song that contains the above lyrics hundreds of times since I first heard it, and I can now quote it word for word. It’s one of those tunes that comes along every now and again, just at the right time, and mirrors your thoughts so precisely that it may as well have been written for you personally.

There’s been a few of those in my life. Ooh La by the Kooks is one of them, and Somebody That I Used To Know by Goyte is another. And then there’s New Rules by Dua Lipa, which was the anthem of Summer for me & my girls this year, and never fails to make me smile (largely because none of us are particularly good at following the aforementioned New Rules).

Whilst I’d never claim to be any kind of music buff, I enjoy the fact that a particular track can transport you instantly into a memory, good or bad, or alter your mood instantaneously. A few bars into Neighbourhood by Space and I’m 15 again, travelling to Spain by coach with my school friends, and Can’t Help Falling In Love by Elvis breaks my heart, no matter where or when I hear it. If I need to perk up my mood on the way to work or a night out, I have a Spotify playlist for that specific purpose. If Macklemore’s Can’t Hold Us fails to lift my spirits, you’d better call a coroner.

Whilst I’ve always had a few ‘trigger’ tracks that remind me of times past, it hasn’t been until the past year or two that I’ve found myself almost unable to manage without music. In the past I’d rather have spent an evening watching trashy TV, and my drive to work was mostly Channel 103 adverts, but now I rarely go more than a few hours without being plugged into some playlist or other. I’m not going to lie, part of the purchase decision when it came to my new car was that I could stream Spotify through the stereo (for reference, volume 30 is perfect for drowning out an anxious mind and making sure I can only think about the music, and the road ahead).

Can you think of any other medium on earth that can have such an immediate and pronounced effect on human emotions, memory and mood? It’s quite fascinating when you stop for a second and mull it over. A few notes thrown together in the right way with a few words can reduce us helplessly to tears, or tears of joy, without necessarily even understanding why (You Look Wonderful Tonight has always made me emotional, despite having absolutely zero personal connection to it).

I’ve discovered some great new (and not so new) artists and tracks this year, some through friends, others through the wonders of Spotify and Youtube algorithms, and look foward to continuing to seek out the songs that will eventually contribute to the soundtrack of my little life.

Comment with one song that’s had a profound effect on you. I’d love to hear it.

 

 

 

 

Stuff all the Stuff

Firstly an apology; it’s over 2 months since I last posted! I’ve had a bit of a mind block, and since this blog is purely for fun I try not to pressure myself to write when I’m not in the mood. But anyway readers (both of you) I’m sorry.

With Christmas on the horizon and the frenzy of commercialism ramping up, I’ve been thinking recently about why we need so much STUFF. It’s been on my mind since we have had to undertake the difficult job of clearing out my Gran & Grandad’s house now they have both passed away. Maybe it’s because she grew up in the post war era and didn’t have a lot of material possessions, or maybe it was just a character trait, but my Gran loved stuff. Don’t get me wrong she wasn’t a hoarder, we don’t have to shuffle sideways into the house through a maze of yellow newspapers and empty tin cans, but she had a lot of things. Stacks of CDs and DVDs still in their cellophane wrappers, never touched, and cabinets full of of ornaments; not valuable nor particularly sentimental, just collected for the sake of collecting. In more recent years jewellery became her thing, largely bought from shopping channels, mostly costume and the majority of it never worn.

The job of shedding all this is difficult, particularly for my Mum who is at the front line of it. It feels heartless to just pack it all up and ship it to the charity shop, but we need to keep in mind that it wasn’t even sentimental to them, never mind to us. We’ve already safely removed those few bits & pieces that mean something.

Knowing how much hard work this is for Mum, it surprised me when she text me today and noted that if there was nothing particular I want for Christmas she would ‘just get you some bits to unwrap’. Loosely translated – Some stuff.

I really really hope that this post doesn’t make me sound ungrateful, as that’s not at all my intention. I have received some wonderful gifts from friends and family, that I cherish. In fact I treasure any gift that has been selected for me with love and thoughtfulness, no matter what it is. But like all of us, I’ve also received some rubbish, in the form of items that have been given for the sake of giving something, without thought, care or imagination, which then languish in the back of a cupboard until eventually, off they go to the car boot or the Hospice shop. My ex-Mother in Law was so adept at giving terrible presents, I started to suspect she was doing it on purpose.

This doesn’t just apply to gifts though, I’m also very guilty of buying things that I don’t need, aren’t useful, and only serve to add clutter to my life and my home. Things that had I walked away from for 10 minutes, I’d never have gone back for. This is the aspect of materialism and commercialism that I dislike the most, despite frequently falling into the trap of. Buying and having for the sake of it, not for want or need or any particular enjoyment. Especially when so many people have nothing. It grates me, and never more so at this time of year when we’re all pressured by Black Friday, Christmas and the January Sales to BUY MORE THINGS.

After the mission my Mum is undertaking to clear out the overstuffed house, and a very dear friend having had the same difficult experience this year after losing her Dad, I’m making my New Years resolution early, and it’s to ditch some of the junk I’ve already started accumulating, and then cut down on the material things that I buy for myself and for others. I won’t necessarily spend less than I do now, but I hope to spend better.

It’s a fact that I’ve always favoured gifting something useful or use-able, but from now, unless the recipient has something they particularly want or need, I’m going to try and stick exclusively to gifts that are either ‘do-able’ or consumable. Maybe afternoon tea, tickets to something fun or a voucher for a nights babysitting. A candle can be used, appreciated and then discarded without guilt. So can a bottle of their favourite wine or perfume, a lipstick from their favourite brand, or those jeans they tried on last weekend. A good book or a magazine subscription can be read, enjoyed and then passed on. This doesn’t mean I won’t put the same amount of thought or care into selecting something for someone special, in fact I hope it makes me more mindful and creative. We’ll see.

 

So Mum, I’m looking forward to getting manicures together at Christmas, and if you’d like to catch a Matinee at the Playhouse, it’s my treat x

 

 

 

 

Catching some Zzzzzs at the Zoo

This weekend I fulfilled a dream I’ve had since 2012 when Jersey Zoo, formerly Durrell Wildlife, opened their Wildlife Camp, offering the opportunity to stay a night, or a week if you fancy, on the grounds of this wonderful place.

Wildlife Camp this might be, but ‘roughing it’ it is certainly not. Each self contained spacious yurt is sturdy, carpeted and contains real beds. No sleeping bags or ground sheets are required here. Each unit also has its own private bathroom and equipped kitchen right next door, with everything down to a corkscrew supplied (thankfully, as we forgot ours!). This is Glamping with a capital Glam.


I’d heard only good things from friends who had been lucky enough to stay already, so having an animal loving friend visiting from Australia seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it for ourselves.

We were warmly greeted on arrival by Al, who showed us to ‘Indri’ our home for the evening, before running through a tour of the facilities and safety briefing and leaving us to settle in.


The first job was to introduce ourselves to the neighbours. Now usually a group of noisy, excitable swingers wouldn’t be my first choice of camp mate, but I could make an exception when they are this cute. I’m talking of course about the Ring-tailed and Black & White Lemurs who reside just over the fence from camp, on the banks of aptly named Lemur lake.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing on our private sun deck watching them bounce, frolic and chatter just feet away. Not long after their feeding time we realised it was time for ours. Despite the kitchen offering plenty of scope to create a meal ourselves, this was a special occasion so we had booked into Cafe Firefly at the Zoo entrance for their Meze & BBQ special. I’d heard a lot about about this treat, but nothing prepared for how delicious it was going to be, and stunning value at £15 each. After stuffing our faces we walked/waddled back to our yurt by torchlight, and settled in for the night.


Al had earlier given us a lesson in how to use the wood burning stove that takes pride of place in each yurt, so with a September chill in the air we got stuck straight in. Matches, kindling and enough treated logs for one night are supplied, and more are available to buy on site if required.

With the fire roaring we tucked into a bottle of Malbec (thanks again to the corkscrew) and played an intense game of Durrell Monopoly. Snug as bugs inside, the atmosphere was only made cosier by distant thunder and the tip tap of rain on canvas. If only Elle & I were each other’s type this might have been the most romantic night of our lives.


Sensible girls as we are, we were tucked up in cloud soft beds by midnight, and slept like logs until the alarm call we’d been warned to expect in advance. Just before 7am the Lemurs collectively announced that the day had begun, and it was time to jump to it. Impossible to sleep through this cry (unless your name is Elle) thankfully their shouting only lasts a few seconds, and I was soon dozing again, but this time dreaming happily of African safaris.

Like a snooze function the Lemurs remind us that it’s morning around every half an hour, and at the 3rd call we relented and dragged ourselves up for coffee on the deck.

By 10am we had packed up, said a sad goodbye to our temporary home and set out  to explore the Zoo itself (more of which later).

Our night in the ‘wild’ is one that we won’t soon forget, and one that I’ll certainly repeat at the next opportunity. As a fan of unique and characterful accommodation this place shot straight into my all time top 5, and lucky for me it’s right around the corner from home.

Whether you are visiting Jersey or live here and are looking for a fun and unique weekend staycation then this girl highly recommends a night or 3 at Durrell Wildlife Camp. Thanks to Ashley, Al, Vicky and the team in Cafe Firefly for making it such a memorable occasion for us.

(This post is neither a promotion nor an ad. All expenses were paid personally and my opinion is unbiased)

From sloth to strava. A journey.

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A little over 18 months ago, I was a stereotypical couch potato. I had an expensive gym membership that I rarely used; and even when I did darken their door, the sweat was more likely to originate from the sauna than a session of squats.

I was one of those girls that would lament the state of my waistline and my thighs whilst sitting on the couch, and who would then spend 15 minutes on the treadmill before rewarding myself with a takeaway and 3 cans of cider.

ANY excuse was a good enough one to get out of exercise. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, work was stressful today, work was great today, I’m hungry, I have my period, I’ll have it tomorrow, It’s Friday, It’s Monday, I’ve forgotten a hair band, I already worked out once this week, the gym car park is too busy, I’ve used every one of them. And more besides.

I’m not sure exactly where the change started, I think it was a combination of things.

Firstly I discovered Parkrun. For those who haven’t heard of it, Parkrun is a completely free, volunteer run and corporate sponsored community 5km run that takes place every Saturday morning in locations all over the country. I can’t remember what first inspired me to give it a go, but completing that course amongst 200+ friendly runners, and not being last, was a high that I’d not experienced during exercise before. I walked a lot of it that first time, but I got round and didn’t die. It was a revelation.

Secondly, I volunteered as a marshall for the 13km Durrell Challenge; a distance that I considered to be way beyond my capability. Let’s be honest, a lot of the motivation for volunteering was getting a glimpse of Henry Cavill (in addition to playing a small part in raising funds for Durrell) but by a stroke of luck I ended up handing out medals on the finish line, and found myself inspired by everyone that came over that line. From regular runners who were chuffed to have beaten their PB, to those who had only taken part to raise money and were just thrilled to have finished. These people were all shapes and sizes, all abilities, and it occurred to me that there was really no reason why I couldn’t be one of them. Almost a year to the day later, I crossed that line holding hands with one of my best friends, a few seconds over our target time of 90 minutes, and the euphoria and sense of achievement was something I’ll remember for a long time.

By the summer of 2016 I was becoming hooked. running regularly and attending several gym classes a week. I still find it better to run or work out in a crowd. I reached the stage that I was annoyed if a work commitment got in the way of a class, and finally began to see the results of my efforts in my body and general health – something I’d always been demotivated by when a half-arsed session on the cross-trainer once a week made no difference to my bingo wings. First my clothes got looser, then I started to fit into things I’d bought in haste, assuring myself it was only a fat day and they’d be ok tomorrow (they never were).

I started to eat better; when you’ve put the effort in physically, it becomes easier to want to avoid the rubbish that will undo it all. Don’t get me wrong I’m still very partial to a few beers, a cornish pasty and a very large bag of pick & mix, but generally not all in the same day anymore. Unless it’s the weekend.

This new lifestyle really came into it’s own at the end of last year, when my marriage unravelled and a black cloud settled over me. For the first time in my life I often felt that I didn’t just want to go for a run, I HAD to go. Turning up my playlist, pulling on my trainers and concentrating only on my breathing and heart rate as I ran along the sea front or through Jersey’s leafy country lanes was balm for my soul. I honestly believe that for a period of several months, I’d have struggled to keep my head above water without that kind of release. A bottle of red and a bar of dairy milk has it’s place in healing a broken heart (and don’t worry, I still resort to those at times) but it doesn’t raise your spirits and keep them raised in the same way as a decent work out. Of course the compliments received as others started to notice my new physique only served to help rebuild my shattered self-confidence.

Now I’m happier in life I’ve settled into a sensible gym & running routine. I’m far from the fittest person in the world but I can manage a steady 10km run without stopping and a HIIT class without throwing up and that’s just fine by me; I know now that if I decide to run that half marathon, or take part in the rowathon, I AM capable of achieving it through training and perseverance, and I’m ready and willing to take on my next challenge. That’s not something I ever really felt before.

I don’t feel the same desperate urge to work out as I did earlier in the year, but the habit hasn’t completely died. I know that when my mood starts to falter I have a guaranteed pick me up that will improve, rather than harm my health. Last week was a particular low point for a number of reasons, and come Friday night instead of reaching straight for the wine as the old me would have, I attended a boxing class, which left me invigorated, motivated and far less anxious than I was when I walked in. (Obviously there was wine afterwards; it was still Friday and I’m not a Nun).

The effect that exercise has had on my mental, as well as physical, well-being in the past 12 months has made me think a lot about how effective a treatment for some cases of depression it may be, as an alternative to popping pills. That’s something I’m now interested in learning more about, having witnessed friends be prescribed drugs that have had little discernible effect on their situation.

Looking back to the day I skipped the gym because I’d forgotten my socks (my flat, containing all my socks, is a 5 minute drive from the gym), I can barely believe I’m the same person. I know this is the cheesy tagline of many a ‘celebrity’ workout DVD, but honestly, if I can do it, anyone can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solitary Sundays

An unexpected side effect of my separation at the end of 2016 has been how much it has changed how I feel about different times of the year (Christmas has certainly lost some of it’s sparkle) and days of the week.

Sundays used to be one of the highlights of my week, second only to that wonderful Friday night feeling of freedom and promise.

Waking on a Sunday to a whole new day of possibility used to be bliss. The day was our oyster. Perhaps a lazy lie-in, or up and out early for breakfast by the beach. Sunny days held the possibility of adventure exploring our beautiful Island, happy hours passed at the beach or strolling around the zoo, always managing to find something new no matter how many times we’d visited before. Winter Sundays brought their own pleasures. Long pub lunches, visiting family, staying on the sofa and quarrelling over which film to watch next, or playing intense and often heated games of scrabble over one too many bottles of Rioja.

Perhaps I’m romanticising how it really was, in fact I’m almost sure I am. I’ve edited out those days we too hungover to function, or not speaking to each other, the tortuous afternoons we had to spend with his Mother, or when we spent so long procrastinating that we didn’t get anything done at all. But I do know that by and large, Sundays were good days.

Even before I settled down with my Ex, the day had historically been a day to catch up with friends here in Jersey, or with family before I arrived here. Generally involving a boozy afternoon and an exchange of the weekend’s gossip before we all took a couple of aspirin and got on with real life come Monday.

Something has changed in the intervening 8 years though. Those friends that I enjoyed so many Sunday sessions with have settled down themselves. Families, children, responsible jobs that don’t sit well with Monday hangovers. Those days have long gone.

Now, approaching a year on my own, most of my life has settled into new patterns. On weeknights I find it easy to keep myself busy. The gym, work events, getting together with friends for early dinners with the kids, I find myself relieved to have the occasional night with no plans. Weekend nights fill themselves; a whole new circle of wonderful friends have welcomed me into their arms and provided countless nights of  fun, dancing and laughter. Saturdays are also a breeze. When I’m not recovering from Friday night there are errands to run, chores to do and the almost inevitable round 2 night out to prepare for.

 

Sundays are where I fall down.

 

The earlier I wake, the harder it seems. The more hours stretch ahead before I can reasonably return to bed. Everything seems more difficult somehow. I don’t want to stay in the house all day, but I have to force myself to leave. Going out for a run or catching a movie is something I’d look forward to on any other day, but on a Sunday I have to talk myself into it, despite knowing full well that I’ll feel better for doing it. Of course there’s nothing to stop me heading to the beach, the zoo, a restaurant or any of the Island’s events, but on a day when I’m already feeling low, being surrounded by families and couples enjoying their day as I once would have is still too bitter a pill to swallow.

Sundays are the day of the week when the difference between my old life and my new one is most stark, and when it’s impossible to deny that I’m fundamentally alone here. That’s a fact that I can largely ignore at other times, at least until someone asks me to name an emergency contact.

My friends don’t dematerialize on Sundays of course, they’re still here and I know that they always make me welcome, but they are often tied up with their own families and for that I can’t possibly blame them. It’s exactly what I’d be doing in a parallel universe, and what I did do in fact for many years. On occasions that I do receive a Sunday invitation it’s not uncommon for me to turn it down, worried that I’d be imposing, or that I’d bring the atmosphere down with my mood.

After 13 years of living here I’ve become more than accustomed to my own family being a flight away and never gave it a second thought, but recently I’ve found myself feeling increasingly homesick on the Sabbath, wanting to be somewhere that I’m naturally a part of, where I’m not an outsider.

So the challenge I have now is to re-invent Sundays for myself. To shake off the self-fulfilling prophecy that the day will be  tough, because I think it will be tough. I’m going to be actively seeking a sports club or a special interest group to join, a charity that could make use of my spare time, or a new hobby that I can soak up some hours with. Perhaps all three.  I’ll try and document some of my experiences here on my blog. In the meantime I’m going to make plans to do something each Sunday, no matter how small, and make myself stick to them. Whether that’s planning the route and going for a long run, booking myself onto a tour or guided walk, or stocking up on trashy magazines and taking myself out for a picnic lunch.

I’m sorry that this post isn’t as chirpy as you might have come to expect, but I believe that in a time when we’re quick to edit our public lives to show only the enhanced and photo-shopped best bits, that it’s even more important to talk openly about those bits that aren’t so great. It’s ok to not be ok.