Poor old January can be known to be a bit of a drudgey month at the best of times, but this year it felt like it’s shades of blue were hanging low over everyone. Cold wintery days although full of quiet beauty can at times drag you down when you’re feeling low, let alone when there’s a global pandemic on but, just like spring that is promising it’s sunshine close around the corner, there’s the beginning of a small light of hope at the end of this long old covid tunnel. The other day when I felt a little weatherworn by the relentlessness that was January, a small thought popped into my head and I started thinking about all of the things that made some of the grey days a little cheerier. And so I’ve collected together 10 bits and bobs from last month that made a difference to my day in hope that they might also bring you a little time-out and entertainment from this bizarre old year of lockdowns.
The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside by Jessica Ryn
If there’s one book to bring hope from 2020 into this grey time we’ve all found ourselves in, I’d put a copy of The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside (that’s “Brightside one word”) at the very top of the pile!
Set on the coast of Dover over a summer we meet Dawn who is homeless, a little lost but whose heart is as big as the English coastline itself. After a somewhat unconventional interview Dawn finds herself under the roof of St Judes – Dover’s lifeline and accommodation for the homeless. Under the management of 20-something Grace and her assistant manager and ex-resident Peter, Grace spends every day helping her residences patch their lives back together again, supporting them and ultimately getting them on the road to employment, self-sufficiency and in a home that they can call their own. However as you can imagine under ever increasing pressures and long waiting lists, things at St Judes don’t go without a bump or two in the road and with money cuts surrounding them the oasis of help that it provides seems to be on the rocks, but with community, kindness, hard work, a fair bit of tea and a little bit of hope, new resident Dawn still believes that lives can turn around for the better even in the darkest of times.
The multitude of themes that are covered in this book are a testament to the power of brilliant writing and the author wonderfully executes empathy, wisdom and humour as well as venturing into the human experience from many walks of life. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where homelessness is the central topic and it left me realising just how important it is that awareness about homelessness is continually spoken about, especially in these hard times of a pandemic. It reminds us with humility the hardships that people who are homeless go through every day and night, and most importantly it reminds us that we must never forget that every person without a home is a human being with a life and story of their own, not just a number or a ‘lost cause’ to simply walk by without a thought. We’re all part of a community and it’s our job to look out for one another, in every small and big way that we can.
Full to the brim with charisma and written with such humour, heart and entertainment there wasn’t a page that I didn’t love! I went back to listening to the audiobook the same day as finishing it as I just couldn’t get Dawn, Grace and the residence of St Judes out of my head. Dawn in particular bought life to gloomy days with her quirkiness, kindness and outlook on life – she’s a real unique character and it’s hard to leave the pages of this book without her affections rubbing off on you!
There’s just something about baking that makes the day a little bit more fun and a little bit less serious. It’s almost impossible not to feel some sense of achievement and a lightening of spirits when you bake something from scratch, even if it does come out a bit wonky! So the other week when my mum and I passed by a bakery and saw all of the delicious looking food, it got us both wanting to combine two of our favourite things – baking and elevenses. And for me nothing says elevenses quite like a mug of hot tea and a yummy iced bun, so we searched for a recipe and attempted to channel our inner Mary Berry. We’d never made iced buns before and they took a little time to do but they were certainly worth the wait! I’ll leave the recipe we used from the Good Housekeeping website here in case you get a hankering for iced buns too!
Little Voice, Apple Original
I discovered this series during the week between Christmas and New Years and I eked it out as long as I could as I enjoyed it so much! It gave me an escape to a pre-covid world in the hustling bustling city of summertime New York. Our main character Bess is a young musician trying to find her place in the world as a successful artist as well as holding down several jobs, support her father and autistic brother Louis, navigate the choppy seas of adulting and endeavouring not loose heart to a world that keeps showing her it’s less than beautiful side to life. But despite the struggles she faces she has her dog, her unconditional and at times unconventional support of her family and friends and always her music to help make sense of the world around her. Bess as a character is quietly strong and is a rock to the people around her and although she doesn’t get everything right all the time I think she reflects the strength, kindness and hard work that the world is always in need of seeing.
With all the characters having their own unique challenges, the series humbly covers lots of different subjects and builds a community of stories that feels effortlessly realistic and equally important, but not without good measures of humour and moments of beauty to refresh us along the way.
Inspired by the life of the shows songwriter and executive producer Sara Bareilles, Little Voice is uplifting, mindful, funny and atmospheric. It’s beautifully shot and the background of the continuous rhythm of the ever-evolving city that is New York bought a little bit of life to lockdown blues. This love letter to music is one that I’m going to be re-watching many times to come!
[I’ve left one of my favourite songs from the series at the bottom of the page called ‘Dear Hope’. It’s beautiful and I think is pretty much sums up how a lot of us are feeling right now.]
Greg Williams Candid Photography Skills
Among my family and friends I’m known for never being very far away from a camera. Whether its taking photos of nature, wildlife, family, friends or scenery I love capturing moments and memories – I think it’s a trait that both of my Grandfathers passed down to me! For years now I’ve been wanting to take a photography course but with work and life commitments I’ve never gotten round to it, so when I saw an advert for Greg Williams Candid Photography Skills at a really reasonable price I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It’s perfect for beginners like me and with lots of short videos explaining aspects of photography like exposure, lighting, content and how to interact with your subjects. Greg Williams makes learning how to take better photographs easy, accessible and fun, and it’s all done without the expense of needing anything but your phone or SLR camera – it’s been the perfect place to start!
[If you’d like to check the course out click here to take you to the website to find out more.]
Birdwatching – Redwings
Last week I noticed a little flock of birds that I hadn’t seen before in the garden, and after some searching I discovered that these little feathered friends in the garden were Redwings – a migrating bird that visit the UK in winter after their time generally spent in Iceland or Scandinavia throughout autumn. Redwings are part of the thrush family and are mainly brown in colour with speckles alongside their cream bellies, they have some red plumage under their wings and have a characteristic white stripe near their eyes. Normally found in fields and hedgerows it was quite a special sight to see them in the garden as they normally only visit gardens when it’s snowy. The birds will soon migrate onwards to northern territories to spend their spring but it’s been lovely to be able to spend time with them before they spread their wings again.
Murder on the Orient Express
I’ve shamefully only just recently read my first Agatha Christie during the second UK lockdown, but since then over the last month I’ve watched two different versions of movie adaptations of this book. I really liked the 2010 David Suchet one as it felt like it really caught the atmosphere of the story and really, can you get a better Poirot? The more recent 2017 Kenneth Branagh version however, despite it’s great cinematography and costumes just didn’t do it for me. The story felt too changed and as if they were trying too hard to be glamorous for it to be faithful to the original story; saying that it was a real treat to experience the Orient Express in a cinematic way and see two different imaginings of this classic tale. Now I’ve just to watch the original 1974 Sidney Lumet production starring Albert Finney to complete the trio of adaptations. I’ve been told by my bookseller friend it’s the best of all three, so I can’t wait to watch it and see what it’s like!
Learning the Piano
It’s been years since I last played the piano but I’ve been wanting to pick it up again recently and although it’s going slowly I’m so enjoying learning how to play again. I’ve found it’s a really good way to loose myself in something that isn’t doom and gloom and I love the challenge of working out something that seems impossible at the beginning but bit by bit something akin to music slowly occurs out the tangle of squiggly notes in front of me and all of a sudden things start to make sense. Plus there’s always the added bonus of my dog enjoying to sit near by when I’m practicing…and sometimes insisting on playing a few notes herself!
[I was very lucky to get 3 months free with the app FlowKey and have found it so helpful! If you’re thinking of learning the piano I’d definitely recommend looking into it too, it makes learning a whole lot easier!]
I’ve never been good at keeping a diary but I do love handwriting which I know probably sounds a bit odd, but for some reason I find it calming and if I ever have a pen or pencil in my hand and some form of paper nearby, it will inevitably be doodled or written on. So when I got a lovely notebook for Christmas with the planets illustrated on the front of it, I wanted to use it for something worthy but I knew that I’m no good at journaling so instead I decided to write bits and pieces including song lyrics, quotes and favourite parts of books instead to combine my love of words and handwriting. I know it’s geeky and a little niche, but having something super simple like this that I can take anywhere, brings me a little bit of calm in choppy seas.
How have I not discovered this before? And who knew that watching people watching TV would be so entertaining?! Celebrity Gogglebox has become mine and my mum’s kitchen programme whilst we cook dinner and it’s had us in fits of laughter every time and at the moment the more laughter the better I say!
Here We Are, Apple Original
Here We Are is a short movie adaptation of the Oliver Jeffers picture book that goes by the same name and is a perfect little time-out for when the world is feeling a bit too overwhelming. Set in a city, we meet a young family of three setting out for the day to celebrate Earth Day, but although mum and dad are planning to spend the day outside in the park, their son Finn has different ideas in mind. With his head constantly full of questions about the world he’s so in awe of, Finn wants to know everything and with the Museum of Everything on their doorstep he’s itching to make another visit to his favourite place. But sometimes as he discovers, you need to experience the outside world to better understand not just the big things, but the little things too.
Full of wonder, kindness, acceptance and understanding, this beautiful adaption makes you feel a little less lost, a little more at home and a little more connected to our rocky home called Earth. It’s a great getaway not just for little ones but for big kids as well!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks blog and that you’re keeping well. Make sure to take care of yourself during these tougher times and if you can, give yourself a little time out to do something you enjoy even if it’s as simple as a sitting down with a cup of tea and your favourite biscuit. I’ve left a link to a song from Little Voice called ‘Dear Hope’ just below. I hope it brings you a little comfort if you’re feeling a little low. Take care and I look forward to writing another blog soon! In the mean time you can find me over on Instagram @viewsfromabookshop
Leaving any bookstore is hard…especially on a day in January, when the wind is blowing, the ice is treacherous, and the books inside seem to gather together in colourful warmth.Jane Smiley
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