Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Wishes

I want to wish all my followers and any readers alike a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I will be spending the rest of Christmas with family before heading over to Northern Ireland for a few weeks to be with my Jonathan. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful family and friends, I think that's probably what I'm most thankful for this year. (I'll do a full review on 2013 and my hopes and goals for 2014 when I come back mid-Jan)

We have my younger sister and my 2 year old niece staying with us this Christmas and already I've been touched with the magic that is Christmas through a child's eyes. I cannot wait to see her expression tomorrow morning!

I've been busy this Christmas Eve as well! I spent all afternoon and evening slaving away in the kitchen. I've not been well the last few weeks and I really wasn't feeling festive but that time baking goodies and trying some new things out really set the mood for me. I've managed to steam my Christmas pudding, make some fresh cranberry sauce, prepare my veggie pie for dinner tomorrow, make my first attempt at nut brittle (burnt the sugar a bit so its a little smokey but I kind of like it!) as well as baking my yearly tradition of shortbread and mince pies. All food being vegan, as this is my first vegan Christmas! I was vegetarian last year before I went fully vegan on the first of Jan 2013. All I have left for me to do tomorrow is put the pie in to bake, steam the pudding for two more hours and whip up some vegan yorkshire puddings! Yummy!

I really hope you have a wonderful time and you get to spend some down time with loved ones, especially those who are having hard times at the moment for whatever reason. :)

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Top Ten Albums of 2013

2013 has been a good year for music fans, with several legends returning to the industry and some new talent managing to path their own way onto the airwaves and into our mp3’s. (I assume I’m not the only owner of an iPhone who still uses an iPod/other mp3 player here?!) I found this list really hard to pick after setting myself the challenge of only picking my top ten, though I couldn’t resist adding some special mentions as there really has been some corking albums this year that I don’t think my Spotify and youtube has seen so much use! With technological advances within the music industry with recording and how to play/use instruments I really feel like we’re entering a new age of music and I’m hoping that some new bands make the cut in 2014 and grace us with their beats. I’ve probably missed a few albums off my final top albums list as I’m going on memory of the last year (and thankyou google for making sure I got the right year, has it really been well over a year since The XX’s Coexist already?!). 

Arctic Monkeys - AM

Back in 2006 when the Arctic Monkeys skyrocketed to fame in the British music scene I hated them. They were too popular and my angsty, teenage hipsterisms didn’t allow me to even listen to anything they wrote for years. Bar ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ which, let’s be honest, anyone in my generation who doesn’t know the lyrics and start dancing at the opening beats has been hiding under a rock! By 2009 I was forced by my ex to give them a chance and so I finally listened to their discography all the way through and I was as hooked as all my friends were years earlier. With AM I feel they’ve taken a different route, it feels a little old school and sexy. I fell in love with the opening bars to ‘Do I Wanna Know’ when the single was released and was counting down the weeks during the summer until the albums release this Autumn. Not only the Arctic Monkeys back, but they’re back with a bang! 


Daughter - If You Leave

This is only one of two new bands who have reached my top ten list, but Daughter deserve to be here. I first discovered them when iTunes had their single ‘Human’ as their single of the week (a really great way to discover new bands and get a free single) and I loved the gentle, folksy feel to their music and Elena Tonra’s vocals are memorizing and comforting. The songwriting is excellent and catchy with lyrics such as ‘and if you are in love, then you are the lucky one. ‘Cause most of us are bitter over someone, setting fire to our insides for fun to distract our hearts from ever missing them’ fueling many tumblr lyric posts. That aside, the raw emotional feeling behind the songwriting is perfectly accompanied with the whimsical music supplied by Igor Haefeli and Remi Aquilella. I’m really looking forward to what this band delivers in the future. 


London Grammar - If You Wait

This is the only other album that has made my top ten that’s a new band. I’d heard of London Grammar down the grapevine but it wasn’t until iTunes had their single ‘Shyer’ as single of the week that I actually paid much attention. I was blown away with the single, Hannah Reid’s almost ethereal voice is not only memorable but a sound of beauty. The album suits my taste excellently reminding me of The XX, Bat for Lashes and Florence and the Machine but holding out on their own. This is perfect chill out music and music you smile when listening too. London Grammar are on my list of bands I want to try and see live and I’ll be looking for nearby gigs with eager anticipation. They also featured on the track ‘Help Me Loose My Mind’ for Disclosure, who feature on my ‘special mentions’ list. This is a young band and I’m hoping one who manages to stay around for a while but for now I’ll keep this album ready to play when necessary. 


Stereophonics - Graffiti on the Train

I saw Stereophonics in March with my boyfriend and his Mum, though it was my second time after seeing them at the 2009 Isle of Wight Festival it felt more intimate being at the sold out Belfast Waterfront set. Their new album had been released a few days before and I hadn’t really had time to listen to it so I was quite excited to see how a band who’s been with us from the nineties has managed to make their music sell a decade and a half after their debut album release. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they didn’t need to change much their original format still working. Fueled with Kelly Jones gravelly, iconic voice and sing along anthems such as ‘Indian Summer’ this might not be a groundbreaking album but it’s on this list because they still have it. 


Foals - Holy Fire

Another band I discovered in my late teenage years thanks to my ex’s friend. ‘Antidotes’ was one of my first year of uni albums and I still listen to it regularly. I wasn’t the biggest fan of their second album ‘Total Life Forever’ but ‘Holy Fire’ has restored my love and faith.  It might just be me but I feel like the album grows into itself the more you play it and I really feel they learnt from their previous two albums to make this one standout. The energy is infectious and I’ve caught myself putting it on when I need something energetic - like when doing boring jobs like cleaning - to keep me upbeat. I feel like it’s more laid back than their previous work and may be a sign of where the band is going, just following the music rather than trying to control it. Any alternative, electronia fans need this album in their collection, as well as really all their albums to date. 


Johnny Marr - The Messenger 

I’m a big Smiths fan, I have been since my teenage years when Morrissey’s crooning voice and Marr’s unrivaled guitar skills voiced my inner emotions. Although I’ve never ‘got on’ with Morrissey finding alot of his opinions bigoted and self righteous I’ve always loved Johnny Marr, and have followed his several other projects with other bands over the years. When I saw on NME that he was releasing his own album I was pumped, I’d never really heard him sing and here was one of the forerunners of The Smiths, back and dare I say it sexier than ever? It took me a few listens for me to get The Messenger, it took me that long as I had to get rid of my expectations that it would sound like The Smiths; or even like Morrissey’s solo work. It doesn’t, it feels fresh and experienced and I love that. I’m so happy this album has came out while I’m in my early twenties, I feel like I can appreciate the mature vibe more after having The Smiths as part of my life for so long. 


My Bloody Valentine -  M B V

Any fan of Lost In Translation will know of the band ‘My Bloody Valentine’ a Dublin foursome whose iconic track ‘Sometimes’ is played during the taxi ride after the karaoke scene. So, I was pretty late coming onto the scene (they formed in 1987) and by the time I’d heard of the band they had already broken up. Yet, all was not lost with their reunion in 2007! It’s been years in the making, including work from the nineties, but finally MBV was released this year and fans of the band, new and old, were not to be disappointed. The dream pop, ambient with just a hint of post-punk band I eagerly searched out back in 2005, after first watching Lost in Translation, were back and this is another ‘comeback’ album to make my top ten. One of the reasons I really like this band is that they’re happy to experiment with sound and to me each track and each album is something special. They’re already working on a fourth studio album so I’m already excited for the future of this band. 


David Bowie - The Next Day

How could any top album list of 2013 be complete without mentioning the return of the Godlike musical genius that is David Bowie? After turning into a recluse and making few public appearances since his heart problems in 2004 the announcement on his 66th birthday that he was releasing a new album caused a media storm. I remember finding out that day on Twitter and along with other Bowie fans I listened to the ‘Where Are We Now’ religiously. Upon listening to the album on it’s release in March I’ll admit I wasn’t as blown away as I expected. I think this album suffered from the mass hype surrounding it and although it’s good it’s not like some of Bowie’s classic albums. Maybe it’s his age or maybe it’s just me but I did feel like a spark was missing. I would love to see him preform this album live but he insists he will never tour again - and given his age I don’t blame him due to all the mental and physical stress causes. 


John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

I’m a little ashamed to know that until last year I’d never heard of John Grant. It wasn’t until my boyfriend put his album on while we were sat in his room that I realised what I was missing. His Queen of Denmark debut album alone was fantastic and I was doubtful he could master that again, I was so wrong. With Pale Green Ghosts he brings more of an electronia theme and has several collaborations other artists. His music is personal and to date he’s one of my favourite ‘confessional’ songwriters being able to allow me to listen to an hour of him hating on his ex without me wanting to scream at him to ‘get over it’, Taylor Swift and Adele take note! I think overall I prefer Queen of Denmark, and I’d suggest that to a new listener but Pale Green Ghosts still comes out on top for me. 


Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork

Told you my list was full of classic bands who have made a comeback! Queens of the Stone Age were part of my teenage angst years but they’ve grown with me and as I’ve got older I’ve appreciated their unique style in the rock genre. I really enjoyed the collaborative work Josh Somme did with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones with Them Crooked Vultures.  But seriously, there just isn’t a band like them and I can’t see one appearing they really are in a class of their own. With ...Like Clockwork Dave Grohl makes a return on drums after Joey Castillo left the band, but really I’m not complaining with Grohl being one of my all time favourite drummers! The album has the seduction I felt has been missing since Songs for The Deaf but also brims with that classic, grungy rock fans love. Again, another band I really want to see live and I’m hoping good things will keep coming for another decade, at least! 


Special mentions to: 

The Stokes - Comedown Machine
The National - Trouble Will Find Me
Noah and the Whale - Heart of Now
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito
Vampire Weekend - Vampires of the City
The Flaming Lips - The Terror
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
Birdy - Wings
Boards of Canada - Tomorrow’s Harvest 
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
She and Him - Volume 3 
Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
Disclosure - Settle

Arcade Fire - Reflektor
HAIM - Days Are Gone

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Memory Lives On : Cats 2013 UK Tour

So, last night I was walking through a rather drizzly dull Bristol city centre with my Mum in a sparkly black dress. We were already full of food from Wagamamas and as we passed faceless commuters rushing to catch their bus home we were on our way to the Bristol Hippodrome. Why? To fulfil a 16 year old dream I've had, to see the musical Cats live on stage! 

Selfie before we left. 
Walking through those miserable, cold streets I felt like a firework I haven't felt such intense excitement in a long time I felt like I was going to explode into bright colours, or something equally dramatic

I should probably start with the beginning of this story, the time I was first introduced to the effulgent poems from T S Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats'. I was in primary school and my teacher at the time (who happened to be an old theatre actor himself) read some of the poems in english class. I was in awe and immediately went to the town library to get the book out to read myself. In the end I think it turned into the book I rented from the library the most, every few months I got it again. It was the same year that my teacher invited me to join the theatre company he ran with his wife. I ended up spending alot of my youth in that company, 'Break-A-Leg' joining both the acting and dance classes for years. This was my first exposure to Cats the Musical. We preformed 'Macavity' as part of a Cabaret performance when I was 7 and that was when my Mum bought the film version on VHS, as it happened to also come out that year. 

Was it Mungojerrie? Or Rumplteazer?
I was entranced. Ever since that day I vowed to see Cats live one day no matter what. With the same theatre group I went on to dance and sing in various Cats acts, though sadly never the whole musical. My love was sealed.

Magical Mr Mistoffelees!
A few months ago I was casually browsing our local theatre, the Bristol Hippodrome, for performances (I went to see the comedian, Bill Bailey, for the second time in September) and there were those iconic yellow cat eyes staring back at me. I looked at performance dates and immediately ran downstairs to my Mum to ask if she wanted to go as part of her 50th birthday presents from me. I actually squealed one the booking was confirmed and ever since I've had excitement building, I've read my copy of OPBoPC so many times I almost know it word from word! And last night, was the night!

Outfit I wore. Forest Green Blazer, Sparkly Black cut Out Dress and Floral Tights.
I could hardly sit still as we took our seats (great seats in the Grand Circle) and viewing the junkyard set I was practically buzzing! The lights dimmed and the music began to swell and I could feel tears pricking, here I finally was 16 years later fulfilling the dream of a theatre lover. 

View from our seats!
The performance itself was flawless, in all honesty I'm still in awe of the dedication of the cast and crew to bringing the world of the Jellicle Cats to life. The singing and dance routines were flawless and I loved the little quirks of personality the actors have brought to the characters. I know the songs so well I was miming along with the cast totally enthralled. 

Grisabella The Glamour Cat.
I don't think a smile left my face the whole time. I can't even pick out a standout performance, everyone was so perfectly cast and really gave their performance, no matter how small all their dedication. The special effects were in time and spot on, the live orchestra gave the music flair and made the performance even more magical. I feel like I'm running out of adjectives to really describe my experience but it was unreal. I've been to many fantastic theatre productions before but this one meant so much to be I don't think I could fault it if I tried! I extend all my thanks and admiration for all the cast and crew who have worked to make this tour as special as it has been. Thankyou for fulfilling my dream and going beyond all my expectations; I'm still spellbound!

Demeter, Bombalurina and Jennylorum.
Cats is a show that has it all; memorable musical hits, beautiful ballet and gymnastic inspired dance routines, feline acting and pizazz! Faithful to the original poetry Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic score leaves you feeling breathless and wanting more; wanting to explore this mysterious world of the cats further. This is a show that I recommend to anyone, even people who do not enjoy the theatre because you will love this show. I'm hoping they do another UK tour in a few years so I can take my niece as she would be equally enthralled as I was as a young child.


Remaining tickets for this UK/Europe tour can be found here.
Images bar my own are all from the current UK/Europe Tour and found on the official Cat's website found here.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Northern Ireland Adventures: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Northern Irish countryside is beautiful. 

It's been a while but I'm back with a new instalment to my Northern Ireland Adventures series.

Me in what was a dressmakers house from the early 20th century.

It was back in mid August that Jonathan woke me one Sunday morning to tell me we were going to the Folk and Transport museum for the afternoon. It's been on my list of places to visit as we pass it regularly travelling between Bangor and Belfast so I was pretty excited! The museum is in two parts and to get to the other you have to cross a bridge to the other side. 

Victorian Pharmacy.

We decided to start with the folk part of the museum and we had the chance to look around their buildings, all from around Northern Ireland and depicting a range of periods from the late 18th century until the early 20th century. You start with a urban setting with several buildings from Ballycultra including a school, bank and shops. 

Ballycultra residential street.

As it was a Sunday it was quiet and not all the demonstrations were open which was a shame but I still enjoyed walking around these buildings taking in the musky smell of old wood and the places were practically tingling with history. As a huge history buff being able to walk into places like this, places that actually hold so much history literally takes my breath away. I feel privileged to generally live in a society that treasures its heritage. 

Me exploring an Orange Order hall.

Moving on from the urban area we explored the 60 acres which hold rural buildings including farmhouses, a blacksmith, an Orange Order hall and watermills. Walking along the dirt paths really helped with the atmosphere of the place as well as the various farm animals - including a HUGE bull we nicknamed Thor!


 We also got to meet some horses, donkeys, chickens and a sow with her newborn piglets! Being a big animal lover this really enhanced the atmosphere for me as you were able to go right up to the animals to say hi. It was also great for children, who may never meet animals like this in their day to day life. 

Making friends with the local horses. 

It was a bit of a trek but it being an overcast day meant we didn't get too hot and I managed the walk with my walking problems. I liked how everything was spread out so you could try and get a feel for the isolation these villages would have been in apart from trips to market towns. 

A widows single roomed cottage which she lived in so her son's family could have the farmhouse.

Most of the buildings were either working buildings like farms or watermills or were small lodgings that normal families would occupy. This really is a museum that celebrates the normal person. 

Once we made it back to the car we crossed over to the transport museum. This museum is in two parts with a short walk between each building. The first building we entered included the steam train collection. Ireland, like the rest of the UK were able to access the railway transport system very early in its development. Although routes were smaller than those on Britain they were vital in the development of Ireland's economy and trade position. Goods and people could travel the country with ease and speed opening up a new world to the everyday person. I enjoyed being able to climb aboard some of the trains and carriages as well as all the old posters and train time logs. 


We moved from the trains upstairs to enjoy their Titanic exhibition. Before the opening of the Titanic Museum last year in Belfast this used to be the only place to see artefacts and glean information about the doomed ship which was built in the Belfast shipyards. Despite going in thinking I knew alot about the ship I learned several new things and we enjoyed the interactive rivet game (Jonathan beat me!). The exhibition was on the small size, just one room, and it's made me more excited to eventually visit the Titanic Museum. It really is one of those events in history that's able to grasp your imagination full force. Downstairs held the museums collection of cars, including a DeLoren and an authentic 1960's bright orange Beetle. 
Action shot of Jonathan playing the rivet game!
Moving to the second part of the Transport Museum revealed the aviation history, this part of the museum felt a little neglected and lacked the detail of the previous building. I enjoyed seeing the various horse drawn carriages and cabs but there was little in this museum to really grab anyones attention in my opinion. Luckily it was almost closing so it was a good thing we didn't stay too long there. This, for me, was the only downfall for the museum and some serious thought and vision needs to be applied to that part, of course though I appreciate money for museums is a huge issue and funding changes requires alot of donations and government funding. However, it's something I can look forward to seeing in the future. 

Exploring the carriages.

I'm really looking forward to our next adventure, not sure where we'll be exploring next but it's sure to be fun!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The good ol' Hockey game, is the best game you can name!

It was a cold, wet December evening in 2011 when my boyfriend bought me to The Odyssey Arena in Belfast. I was there to witness my first ever ice hockey game, the Belfast Giants taking on the Dundee Stars. Being from the UK apart from hearing and knowing briefly about the sport it was a whole new world to me. Here, we're constantly bombarded with football, cricket and rugby none of which really grabbed me imagination and pulled me into the game. As a high school student I played in my schools netball and field hockey teams (winning a county bronze medal in the latter) and that was pretty much my general experience of sport. My Dad and Granddad are into football and some other sports, I owned a Birmingham FC shirt but honestly, I never classed myself as a sports fan. Until that fateful day in December. 

My boyfriend, Jonathan, was already a dedicated fan of the Giants and I went along worried I wouldn't enjoy the game he is so passionate about. Within the first few minutes I was hooked. With the General Manager ex-Giant Todd Kelman warming the crowd up and really making newcomers like myself feel at home I was ready to see what the fuss was about. 

Hockey is fast. Hockey is brutal. Hockey is unforgiving. Hockey is an amazing game. The talent these guys possess amazed me, the violence of the game left me fired up and by the end of the game I was shouting and cheering with everyone else in the crowd! I left wanting to go straight back, it was the same exhilaration I feel about a live gig; that electricity. I felt like an addict wanting nothing more but to hear that puck being shot across the ice. 

Our view from every game.

The Belfast Giants are one of the younger teams that form the Elite Ice Hockey League in the UK. Honestly, I didn't even know the UK had any ice hockey leagues! Compared with the standards in Europe we are not top but during championships over the last decade in particular we have improved our world seeding year on year. More people are starting to know and fall in love with the game, I now understand why sports fans hate the off season so much! The Giants have had former NHL'ers, European stars and some of the best British players don their teal jerseys; they are a force to be reckoned with. My first season 2011/12 we won the league. I got to watch us win at home and be a part of the celebrations, the pride I felt was unknown to me not being a sports fan before. 

Jonathan bought me my first jersey this Valentines Day just past with my favourite player, the Northern Irish Graeme Walton's name on the back. He's now since retired (yes, I am still sad) but I wear his jersey with pride. I almost started crying when he got it me, the sport has come to mean so much to me that I keep in touch with the forums, talk to anyone and everyone about it and even have my own fantasy team battling it out! I've even branched out to the top league in the world, the NHL, supporting the Philadelphia Flyers. I am in one word hooked. 

Wally! <3
It's hard being in England when my team play over in Northern Ireland. The nearest place I could see them play is when they take on the Cardiff Devils in Cardiff, and that's an hour and a half train or car ride and I have health concerns. My first game for the 2013/14 season will be next month when I'm in Northern Ireland and we take on the Sheffield Steelers. As one of our main rivals I cannot wait for that clash! Hockey cheers me up, it gives me something to focus my energies on and it makes my Northern Irish trips even more special. 

My gratitude though goes out to the Giants themselves, and not just the players. Every single person who works as part of their team has worked hard not just to showcase hockey but to create an enjoyable night out - for all ages. Of course the players are the heart of the team and they put their all into every game, and it shows. Their dedication (especially after a bad situation last season) has shone through recently. I am proud to call myself a Belfast Giants fan and I am so thankful for Jonathan (and his Mum) for taking me to that game that December evening (and every game since!).

The guy I have to thank for bringing hockey into my life. :)

 Anyone wanting to check out the game itself please go to the Elite League website to find your local team and details. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Northern Ireland Adventures : Mount Stewart House

Hey, sorry for the lack of posts been busy back in Northern Ireland with Jonathan having more adventures. One of the places we visited was the National Trust run Mount Stewart House and Gardens just outside Newtownards. 

Hidden behind the tree line as you drive alongside Strangford Loch is the beautiful 18th century house and gardens owned by the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry. The house is now run by the National Trust for six months of the year and is still occupied by the family for the other six. The family were important in past politics between Great Britain and Ireland which are reflected in the vast collection inside the house. 

The exterior of the house, wish I could transport myself back to it's creation and see the everyday runnings of the property.  

The History

Mount Stewart, originally called Mount Pleasant,  was formed by the Stewart family in 1816. The estate itself was bought with money from the late Alexander Stewart (1699-1781) which came from the sales of textiles. Alexander's son, Robert Stewart, became the first Marquess of Londonderry and after his death in 1821 the property was left to his son, Robert Castlereagh, who became Britain's Foreign Secretary. The next owner of the house, Lord Castlereagh's half-brother Charles. Charles married twice and it was his second marriage to Lady Frances Ann Vane-Tempest that was vital to the families finances. She was a wealthy heiress and this promoted the refurbishment and enlargement of the newly renamed Mount Stewart. Controversially, £150,000 was spent on this refurbishment and yet only £30 was given by the family for famine relief during the Great Famine. 
The next 3 Marquess's of Londonderry did not live in the house and during the next several decades the house was neglected and came close to destroying the house.When the 7th Marquess, Charles, a Unionist, and his wife, Edith Chaplin came to inherit the house they bought with them a new lease of life. Edith's ancestral home was Dunrobin Castle in Scotland and this is where inspiration for the gardens came from. She is the one who redesigned and redecorated much of the interior that can be seen today. 
In 1957 the National Trust took over the gardens and in 1977 the Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of the 7th Marquess, gave the house and most the contents to the Trust. Lady Bury died in 2009 and was the last member to live in the house. The present estate is 98 acres and is fully run by the National Trust who are currently doing conservation and restoration work within the house. 

The beautiful lake which forms most of the grounds, one day I want to try and visit during the Autumn because those trees are going to be stunning!


We visited on a Sunday, which seems a great day to visit as the Wildlife Hut was also open and we got to learn more about the local wildlife who live around Stangford Loch and the Mount Stewart property. The best part was a pair of binoculars that were set up to spy on a group of fur seals resting in the middle of the rocks. I've never seen them in the wild before so this was a real treat for the animal lover in me. It was busy, but not crowded and we easily got on the house tour without booking. Sadly half the house is currently closed as it's all being refurbished and renovated but it was still a treat getting a glimpse into the families life. The study was a dream come true with all the beautiful hardback books and open fireplace and just so beautiful!
The gardens are equally beautiful, walking around the grounds takes less than an hour and I suggest comfortable shoes to walk in as the path is rural. The lake is stunning and even with several families around it was so quiet. I would have loved to have sat under a tree with one of my books and just relaxed. This is also one of the best places to spot the endangered red squirrel! We weren't lucky enough to glimpse any but I'm glad that they have little haven's like this and I know the National Trust will work hard at keeping their population stable. Walking around the more structured gardens for some reason made me feel like Mary Lennox, star of Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden'. I felt like each garden was leading into a new special place and I could imagine members of the family walking through past the beautiful flowers during the summer. Sadly, the Spanish garden was closed as it's being used as part of the set for the upcoming Dracula film but we're planning to visit again in a few years time to see the house so I'm sure we'll be able to enjoy it then. 

Jonathan caught in one of the stunning gardens. 

We had a beautiful afternoon and as usual the National Trust run a beautiful property to a high standard for all to enjoy. I really need to get myself National Trust membership soon though as paying £8 each place can get a little exhausting on the wallet!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Product Review ~ Mr Fox Cases

This is my first product review so don't be too harsh! 

My boyfriend bought me a kindle for my birthday, as an avid reader he thought it would be more suitable to all the travelling I do back and forth from Northern Ireland. I was a sceptic at first; I love how books feel in my hands, I adore the sound of turning pages and as someone who owns alot of secondhand books you just can't beat that old book smell! After a few days with my kindle I saw the benefits, I can travel with a whole library of books in just a tiny reader that fits in my bag or suitcase. Also, since my kindle is a ink based reader it doesn't leave my eyes sore after looking at screens for ages. 

So, with my new kindle I begun searching for a cute case to keep it safe and clean in my bag. As a vegan I didn't want one of the many leather cases on offer; I also wanted something really cute that suits my personality. This is where Mr Fox comes into the equation!

A few weeks before I got my kindle my iPhone case begun to crack and therefore I was in need of a new one. I only paid £2 for the hard case I had and it lasted me over a year, so I wasn't willing to spend alot. I was tempted by the silicon cases, I'm very clumsy and I drop my phone alot and I was informed this would be more suitable so off to eBay I went. Originally I was going to indulge my love of owls and buy a case with an owl on, but I couldn't find one I liked. So I searched for other favourite animals of mine, one of them being a fox and result! Not only did I find a cute fox case but it was silicon and very well priced at £6.09 including postage. I waited only a few days for my case to arrive and from the start I was in love. The case fits my phone like a glove, is very high quality, waterproof and not cumbersome. I can use the side buttons with ease and my charger still fits in without trouble. The casing was cute and I even kept the back cardboard for a future craft as it's so adorable! 

So, when looking for a kindle case I searched for Mr Fox again on eBay and lo and behold I found a matching kindle case in the right size for my e-reader! The case gives a cute fox design on a turquoise background and is made of strong cardboard (I think) and a canvas like material. This means that I can bend the case back making for easier reading. The kindle is fixed into place with orange elastic which is the same as what is used to keep the case closed. The case is lightweight, thin and slightly cushioned which makes it perfect for when I have to pop it into my suitcase or satchel bag. Again the product is high quality and exactly what I expected. The case was also very good value for money at £8.99 including postage. 

Overall, the Mr Fox brand is fantastically made, value for money and I recommend to anyone who needs a cute case themselves or a gift for a friend or family member. :) 

To buy any of these Mr Fox products click this link
The sellers I used are stars-aberystwyth  and from-then-to-now

Sunday, 14 July 2013

My Relationship with Books

I'm not one to like being dictated into what to do, what to say or believe but when I see lists of books, films, artwork or television shows that are classed as musts then I can't help but want to experience these cultural epochs. Today it was brought to my attention a list published by The Guardian of 1000 books you must read so of course I've sat and worked out how many I've read.
Total: 73

I was a little shocked at this, I generally consider myself well read than most people. (perks of chronic illness means lots of reading time) Alot of the books on the list are ones I either currently have in my 'to read' pile or are books I want to read as soon as I find them in second hand shops and/or are bought for me. I think as a result of this I've realised my taste in books varies alot: there were books I've read in each of the genres and for this I'm quite proud. I'm a girl who's hard to pin down, who has tastes in varied things and therefore experiences so many different kinds of books. I like books that have meaning, that can transport me to another reality, that stay with me long after I've read their words. Maybe in that sense I'm a bit of a book romanticist, but they truly are some of my most treasured possessions. 99% of the time I will read a book even if it's boring me in the optimistic hope that it'll get better. I'm the type of person who always has a book in her bag, who never travels without at least one literary companion. Now I have a kindle as well I can carry lots of books with me at once, though it'll never replace the comfort of the typed words, the grainy texture and smell of a book in my hands.

Next week I'm getting 100 new paperbacks for £12, thanks to an advertisement in the local Sainsburys. I can't wait to sift through the titles and imagine what these books have seen before their life in a woman's attic (this makes me sad..). Some of the books are children's Enid Blyton's from the sixties and since my Mum sadly had to part with her copies I'm looking forward to reliving some beautiful childhood memories of sitting with my Mum's battered copies in the garden, or lying on my bed on rainy weekends filling my head with fantasy and adventure.

I wouldn't be who I am without books. Even from an early age the written word spoke to me, my Mum recalls times I got into trouble for refusing to leave book sections in shops. Being a bit of a loner in school with not many friends I sought comfort in books and would spend lunchtimes in the library huddled into a corner with a new favourite story. It wasn't just fiction, my Mum once inherited several huge encyclopaedias of science and I remember sitting in the hallway engrossed into the life of a star or learning about new and fantastic creatures I knew nothing about.

I guess my books are my faithful friends, I could never part with them as everyone I've read holds a part of my soul.

To see what I'm currently reading and reviews check out my Goodreeads account: Amy Maries.
I also post pictures of my latest purchases and what I'm reading on my instagram: missamykatherine

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Northern Ireland Advenutures: Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle, a hidden Northern Irish gem.

Driving along the Northern Irish north coast between Portrush and Portballintrae it's hard to not notice the looming ruins of a castle seeming to rise from the sea. Hanging on from the basalt cliff face it's although the castle is a part natural part human made structure. This is Dunluce Castle.

The History: 

View to the East when standing in the castle. I stood here watching the birdlife for several minutes totally absorbed in the atmosphere of the place.
In the 13th century when Richard Og de Burgh, the second Earl of the kingdom of Ulster, built the formidable structure rising up from the cliffs. However there is no documented ownership of the property until 1513 when the McQuillan family built two large drum towers (30ft diameter). The McQuillans had used Dunluce to build a stronghold while they were Lords of the local territory; known as 'the Route'. The McQuillans were the holders of Dunluce and 'The Route' until the mid-late 16th century when they were displaced by the MacDonalds.

View out one of the windows towards Portrush.

On the death of James MacDonald the Antrim Glens and the Route were taken by a younger brother, Sorley Boy MacDonnell. Sorley Boy improved the castle into a more traditional Scottish style and swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth I. The Route was important to the British Crown as it's part of the main trading routes between Scotland and Ireland, it also secured British rule with the MacDonnell's swearing their allegiance. Due to Sorley Boy's decisions his son Randal was made the 1st Earl of Antrim by King James I. 

Jonathan looking taller than the castle!

More improvements and changes were made to the castle during this time. when the Girona, a galleass from the Spanish Armada was wrecked nearby the cannon from the ship was installed into one of the gatehouses and the rest of the cargo sold to make money for more restoration work. During the 17th century part of the kitchen collapsed into the sea due to the castle being built on the cliff edge. After this the castle was abandoned over time. with the impoverishment of the MacDonnell's during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 the castle has deteriorated and parts taken for other buildings nearby. 

Dunluce Town: 

When Randal MacDonnell was in charge of Dunluce he began working on a town around the castle's grounds. Started around 1608 the town was eventually destroyed in 1641 during the Irish Uprising. In 2011 a major archaeological project has begun to find significant remains of the lost town. Finding's include the discovery of a complex street network built on a revolutionary grid system and indoor toilets in homes. To this date it's believed that 95% of the town is still to be discovered. 

Yay, tourist adventures!


Visiting now brings you to a small vistior centre with a modest visitor fee. Due to the small amount of funding and relience of volunteers the centre is small but well informed. The walls include a detailed history of the castle and an interactive video playing every few minutes gives a more visual history. Also provided to a visitor is audio guide which you can take with you as you explore the ruins. Dunluce was a small stronghold and access is by walking over a bridge. 

Access bridge, not for the faint hearted! I had a little panic as I'm scared of heights. ^^;

The actual castle has little in the way of information bar the audio guide, which I found informative and gave you the castle from the perspective of one of the past owners, workers or visitors. Included is a separate guide for children. The views from the castle are stunning, however disabled people will probably have trouble with the steps and uneven flooring. Luckily I visited on a quiet Friday afternoon and my boyfriend and I were some of the only visitors which made the experience more enjoyable for us, as we dislike crowds. I felt I was able to absorb the atmosphere more acutely and I will be following for more information of the archaeological finds from the lost town of Dunluce in the future. From someone who has studied heritage I was impressed with the castle, I understood they are working on a very limited budget and what they have achieved they should be pleased with, though there's always room for improvements! I'd like to see more to enchant children as I could imagine most typical children under 10 getting very bored very fast. But overall a very enjoyable experience of somewhere I knew nothing about. One of Northern Ireland's little gems.  

I honestly think ruins and anything that is touched by the passage of time are some of my favourite places. 


This is the first part of an ongoing series logging my adventures in Northern Ireland, where my boyfriend, Jonathan, lives. I'll put snippets of where we visit and share my thoughts of the place along with any local history or culture. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Hannibal - A Review

The main cast of NBC's new show, Hannibal. 

Ever since I was about fifteen years old and I first watched Silence of the Lambs, starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, I've been captivated by the character of Hannibal Lecter. I think at that age I was only just really beginning to understand intellectual and psychological evil and so the first character I found that embraced these ideas, Hannibal Lectoe, has never left me. Since watching that film I've read all the books based on Hannibal by Thomas Harris (bar Red Dragon cos I'm searching secondhand shops cos I want it in hardback) and my understanding has deepened into the mindset of this character and how he is an inspiration for other writers, psychologists and general people like me. In my third year of uni I had to do an textual analysis essay on 'evil' and the first thought in my head was Hannibal Lecter. I re-read Silence of the Lambs and then wrote an essay describing how Hannibal embodies the word 'evil' in his character. It was fun to work on, and I still have a list of books on my amazon wishlist which go further into the subject. 
Anthony Hopkins in his award winning performance as Hannibal Lecter

So when I heard about NBC's new show Hannibal my interest was immediately pipped. I have several tv shows I want to watch but as I travel to Northern Ireland for three weeks Wednesday I didn't want to start a show with several seasons as I won't have internet access there. Hannibal is only in its first season and so far only has 11 episodes, (2 more to air), I thought perfect! So yesterday evening with a cup of tea in hand I watched the first episode and I can tell you it's the best show I've watched this year so far! 

Hugh Dancy as FBI's Will Graham brings a new take on the character,.

The story is almost a prequel to Red Dragon, and explores the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and FBI Investigator Will Graham before the events depicted in Red Dragon. It's allowed a Hannibal fan to delve deeper into the psychiatry and understanding of this sociopath. It also gives the chance for the audience to understand Will Graham more, in the book he's alot more complex than shown in the films, I also like how he's put closer onto the autism spectrum, adding more definition and realism to the character. Hugh Dancy does an excellent job of making the character socially awkward but also likeable, it reminds me of Emily Deschanel as Dr Temperance Brennan in Bones but with a much darker twist. Mads Mikkelsen is equally well cast in the role of Hannibal, that almost knocks Anthony Hopkins award winning performance out the water. He's managed to, if at all possible, make Hannibal an even more intriguing character and fans of the series know he's a dangerous person to be involved with, a high-functioning sociopath with unusual eating habits. Overall the acting so far has been top notch and I couldn't have asked for a better cast in general which features some new names for me and some well known ones too. 

Mads Mikkelsen brings the sociapathic lover of mind games Hannibal Lecter back to life.

I think my favourite part about this series is how Bryan Fuller (previous work includes the tv show Heroes) has developed it into something really captivating. The style of the tv show, billed as psychological thriller, reminds me mostly of Hitchcock and Lynch (which after reading up I'm not the only person to draw these comparisons). Fuller has admitted as well he's highly influenced by Lynch's work which I think can mostly be seen in the cinematography and imagery, Graham's 'flashes' into a murderers mind being the biggest example reminiscent of Lynch's use of dreams and dreamlike imagery in his work. Yes, it has it's moments of gore and blood but it's done in such an artistic manner that it does almost seem dream like and highly stylised. 

Overall this is a fantastic series so far and you can tell I'm in love after only five episodes! I can't wait to see where Fuller takes us next in his journey of unveiling the Lecter-Graham relationship. I really think that Fuller has been able to take a well known and well loved series of books and films and turn them into something unique, artistic and thrilling. It's new ground for fans of the series, and despite some changes I think fans of the original books and the film series will be impressed. 


For anyone interested here's the short essay I wrote on Lecter.
It's a short essay and was a nightmare to write as I had to cut so much out! It was for a philosophy/cultural studies class to explain the context.

Textual Analysis: A Study Into The Evil of Dr Hannibal Lecter in Silence of The Lambs.

By: Amy Maries. 

One of the most horrifying and influential villains from twentieth century fiction is Thomas Harris’s, Dr Hannibal Lecter. His fame comes from a trilogy of Harris’s books where the sociopath, cannibalistic psychologist is often enlisted to aid the FBI with cases of serial murderers, including that of the second novel Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal is often described as an evil person and a monster; the horror novelist Steven King described Lecter as ‘the great fictional monster of our time’1, but if one examines Harris’s work further one can find parts of Lecter’s character that reinforce ideas from great philosophers of the past whose ideas have shaped how we view evil in terms or morality or psychology. 
Hannibal Lecter acknowledges the evil within him as intrinsic to his nature and part of who he is. When asked what caused him to murder and commit cannibalism by Clarice Starling he replies, 

‘Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism, Officer Starling. You’ve got everybody in moral dignity pants – nothing is ever anybody’s fault.’ (Harris, pg 21)

Immanuel Kant argues differently when he examines evil in his work, Radical Evil in Human Nature. Kant argues first by stating that ‘man is (by nature) either morally good or morally evil’ (Kant, 1960).  Kant argues that there are two types of evil, radical and diabolical evil. In Lecter’s case the idea of radical evil comes into play. This is the evil, which is described as being one of free choice an evil act of ones free will.  Lecter chooses to commit the crimes he does, the reasons for this are not important compared to the consequences the undeniable fact that he murders people and eats them is an act of his own free will. Kant argues that man has the choice, by nature to be ‘morally good or morally evil’ (Kant, 1960). Lecter has chosen to be morally evil and therefore faces the consequences of these actions, which in the novel means he is placed in Baltimore’s Prison for the Criminally Insane under the charge of Dr Chilton. Chilton has interesting things to say about Lecter and he is able to observe that Lecter is ‘a pure sociopath, that obviously what he is. But he’s impenetrable, much too sophisticated for the standard tests.’ (Harris, 1988) Unable to diagnose any mental illness that would directly affect Lecter’s free will and therefore whether the acts of evil he commits are done under his free will there leaves little objection to the fact that Lecter gave in to the darker side of human nature. 
This point of view is also argued in the realm of psychology with the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Freud, like Kant argues that humans are very much capable of evil acts and he relates this to his observations as a psychiatrist working during the events of the Second World War and the evil atrocities that occurred during that time period. Freud argued that our psyche is driven by two main desires, which he named the life drive and the death drive. The theory of the two drives was developed in Beyond The Pleasure Principle (Freud, 1920), and he argues that the two desires are constantly conflicting with each other. Freud looks at the relationship between pleasure and unpleasure to link to the two drives to explain them. This link can go deeper and look at the concepts of sadomasochism and masochism; this adds Lecter into the equation as in this sense although his crimes are not of a sexual nature he still shows some signs of being a sadist. He must derive pleasure from his evil acts or he would not commit them. When he attacks Officer pembry and boyle he enjoys the acts as he speaks to Pembry before he finally kills him and shows no disgust to the deaths or the manner of the deaths. Nor is it described later that he showed any disgust to the wearing of Pembry’s skin to escape in the ambulance. Therefore to be able to commit these crimes he must have derived some pleasure from the acts.  
Lecter is in control of his actions but he does derive pleasure from these actions, even though they seemingly have no physical effect, after the attacks on the officers although his pulse elevates to over one hundred they quickly slow back to normal.  Fuss argues that ‘Hannibal Lecter acts out the most instinctual and primitive of libidinal impulses coding him within the narrative as yet another dangerous pervert whose sexual desire is sublimated into compulsive acts of aggression identification’ (Fuss, 1995). He goes even further than this arguing that Lecter possesses ‘one of the most serious transgressions against the social prohibition separating the inedible from the edible; the human from the animal’ (Fuss 1995). Lecter is highly sophisticated in this, and generally only kills those he knows who deserve death or those who get in his way, the guards during his escape for example. This allows him to separate his possible victims as Fuss argues into animals and humans, he feels justified in his actions as that he could argue he is acting out the will of the life drive, his survival drive. However, he is giving into his own nature and his own inner aggression (which all of us possess) and acting out with the crimes of murder and cannibalism. 
Most argue that it is the cannibalism that is the defining act that makes Lecter an evil, monstrous person to the eyes of the readers and many critics. Cina and Perper argue that this is because by consuming his victims and occasionally serving them to others he is exercising the greatest control over them; he absorbs them completely in the act of eating them and therefore strips them of everything they have left, including their physical bodies (Cina and Perper 2010). He gives himself an ultimate feeling of power and satisfaction, he is able to take everything from a person, without any consciousness of guilt, and he enjoys his violent nature. It is unclear why Lecter begun committing acts of murder and cannibalism but it is understood in Red Dragon, Harris’s earlier novel, that his sister was murdered and consumed in Lithuania in 1944. Although this may have given the idea of cannibalism to Lecter it does not excuse his actions, as Kant and Freud argue he still had the conscious choice to make and he gave into moral evil and his aggressive subconscious. 
It is this motivation to kill those who stand in his way, his civility and self-control that defines Lecter as one of the most memorable villains in modern literature. Garrett argues that ‘we would like to imagine that people lose control and then do something horrible. But when Lecter escapes from prison by beating his guards to death, he does so deliberately, methodically, to the ever-so-civilised music of Bach’ (Garrett, 2007). Combined with his sociopath nature and his un-nerving ability to read people with direct precision, as he does to Clarice Starling on several occasions, it is no wonder that Lecter is seen as something from a nightmare. But his most unnerving trait is that he is human, he is not a supernatural being that is often related to the word evil, he is not the devil, he is a human being and that is the reality of the evil of the human psyche.  He is the image of what could happen to ourselves if we gave into what Freud would describe as our aggressive and violent desires, and it is this defeat that makes him able to commit evil acts.


  • Cina, SJ & Perper, JA. When Doctors Kill, Springer 2010, pg 195-6. 
  • Freud, S. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, from Penguin Freud Library 11: ON Metapsychology, The Theory of psychoanalysis, Penguin, 1964. Pg 269-339. 
  • Fuss, D. Identification Papers, Routledge, 1995, pg 96-7. 
  • Garrett, G. The Gospel According to Hollywood, Westminster John Knox Press, 2007, pg 71-2. 
  • Goodrich, J. “A Textual Analysis of Dr Hannibal Lecter’s Character and Motivations in Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs”, as printed in Szumsky, B. Dissecting Hannibal Lecter: essays on the novels of Thomas Harris, Mcfarland, 2008, pg 37-47. 
  • Hamilton, G & Jones, B. Encyclopaedia of American Popular Fiction, Infobase Publishing, 2009, pg 324-5. 
  • Harris, T. The Silence of the Lambs, Yazoo Inc, 1988. 
  • Hirschberg, J. Reflections of the Shadow: Creating Memorable Heros and Villians for Film and TV, Michael Wiese Productions, 2009, pg 91. 
  • Kant, E. Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone. Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1960. Pg 15-39.
  • King, S. ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’, New York Times Book Review, 13th June 1999. 
  • Morton, A, On Evil, Routledge, 2004. 
  • Svendsen, L & Pierce, KA, A Philosophy of Evil, Dalkey Archive Press, 2010, pg 22-3. 
  • Winder, R. ‘A Contemporary Dracula’, New Statesman, 21st June 1999.