Fine, thanks 2 of 25 #ReadwithRD

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*Please note, while I will try not to put spoilers in here, due to the nature of the story set up and the multiple twists, there might be references to story points which may become more relevant later on in the novel. I’ll try to point these out beforehand too!*

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  She has a nice job, a nice flat and a nice routine in Glasgow.  Except she isn’t fine, of course. Early on and just after we meet Eleanor, she reveals that her routine includes buying multiple bottles of vodka on a Friday evening and drinking them all over the weekend. This is at odds with her external demeanour -she wears sensible shoes and a jerkin, she prides herself on having a bus pass and certainly never partakes in any idle gossip chit chat.

This is precisely what is fascinating about the character. She is at once many layered and entirely believable. Her self perception is absolutely at zero – she doesn’t understand why people don’t like being told that they’re wrong, or that she can’t stand the vacuous discussion on the Christmas party. In a nutshell, she’s not very nice. One day her computer breaks and she calls the helpdesk, and someone comes to fix it. This brief encounter leads to a series of events where we get to see the real Eleanor, peeled away like all the layers of an onion.

We are introduced to her social worker, her mother, the man who owns the corner shop – all through her own eyes. With the benefit of being independent though, we can see that she is not completely fine and actually, the other people in her life know that too. Deep down, so does she.

*spoliers but not very specific ones* At times it is a hard read, and I would say that the author has done some research into PTSD and coping mechanisms for terrible events and disasters. It’s absolutely worth the time though – I really enjoyed getting to know not just Eleanor, but the rest of the people in that world too.

I am looking forward to seeing what Gail Honeyman writes  next, and who she introduces to the world! Given that this novel won the 2018 Costa Debut Novel award, I think it’ll be a good one!

 

Thanks to Harper Collins for letting me read an advance copy through Netgalley – all opinions are my own, of course!

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Merry Christmas! 1of25 #ReadwithRD

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So, it’s January and I’m doing a Christmas book review. Just think of it like I’m super organised.

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Jeanette Winterson’s “Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days” is a beautiful book, first and foremost. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but it’s hard not to when it’s so aesthetically pleasing. Cloth-bound in navy and adorned with silver filigree type illustrations front and back, it’s a joy to read. The only slight niggle I have is that I kept looking for the non existent ribbon – it feels like it should have a navy blue or even navy and silver plaited ribbon bookmark.

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Luckily, the contents deliver on the promises the cover holds, and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s set out as a short story anthology, interspersed with recipes. The theme is Christmas, but the topics Winterson covers extends to giving thanks for all you have, remembering those who are lost to you and how to make the most delicious gravlax.

 

Christmas stories, especially short ones, have a tradition of being ghost stories, or murder mysteries. Something about the eternal gloom of a Winter’s day, or maybe the ethereal mist if Victorian London, evokes a feeling of unease and a look to the past. What is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, after all, if it’s not a ghost story? (Minor spoilers ahead, although I am pretty sure you all know what the ending is by now) Scrooge spends the time, real or imagined, reliving his past snubs and bad behaviour before coming to the realisation that it is not too late to change, that redemption is available to all. Even him.

 

Winterson’s stories tell tales of wedding day brides getting revenge, long dead murder victims getting peace and Christmas sceptics finding festive cheer. I think I share a lot of the same outlook as she does – not a Christian believer but happy to buy in and engage with the notion that the 12 days are about spending time with friends and family, those that love us and care for us, and that we love and care for in return – God or no God. There is a story that tells the story of the Nativity through the eyes of the hapless donkey, which is beautifully written. Another story is a first person narrative where the sex is unclear – something that dawned on me about halfway through as a clever, unassuming way to play with conventions.

12 days open book

Interspersed with these short stories are the recipes. Not just straight recipes, and in some cases, not really recipes at all – they’re more like anecdotes from her life. Afternoons making marmalade with Ruth Rendell, and a tradition of making Christmas pudding with her Mum even though their relationship was strained in later life.  It reinforces the idea, the theme, of Christmas being a time to reflect on times gone past, on people in your life (and no longer) and almost a promise to yourself for the year ahead.

 

While I might not be about to make all of the recipes in the book, I look forward to re-reading them and the stories next December. Maybe earlier, if I need a reminder to be grateful and focus on the promises I set for myself this year.

 

 

 

 

A fork in the road

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Well, isn’t this a surprise. Well, not really. I have to warn you, this is a rip roaring self pitying read – I’m posting it up here to share with you all in the hope that it resonates with someone to show that you are not alone. Any advice welcomed too, of course.

I have not been very good at updating this blog of mine lately – real life is getting in the way. In all honesty though, I have been ashamed. I have not been running very much at all, and when I have, I have run in bad faith.  What I mean is,  I have struggled to run for fun. I’m so hung up on the numbers on the watch – the speed, the pace, the miles, the heart rate, that I forget that I am supposed to enjoy doing it.  Even worse, I have been fixated on other people’s numbers, and while I am pleased for them to achieve PBs and ultras and everything else, I have a stab of jealousy when they do. Especially when we used to be the same pace. When I used to be faster. When I remember them starting on their running journey, and I encouraged them along.

I know what I would say to others in the same situation as me. I have said it. The numbers don’t matter, you’re getting out there and that’s what counts. Don’t compare yourself to others – and that includes you from four years ago. You do what you can on the day. But the truth is, I am resentful and frustrate and annoyed that all the training in the world doesn’t seem to make a difference for me and it makes all the difference to someone else. Last year I did the Hanson marathon method for Rotterdam in my nth attempt at a sub four. Training went reasonably well until I got a chest infection, but in reality, even then, it was fine. But my head wasn’t right and on the day, it leaked away like sand through your fingers. Four months of 5am starts and six days a week of running. 10 mile mid week runs. For a time which was at that point, my personal worst on the road. Don’t worry though, I managed to get a new personal worst in Chicago in October, hoorah. That was after another chest infection. Lucky me.  I know, I know, pity party for one, over here, bring the tequila.

So I feel like I am now at a crossroads. I am supposed to be training for Helsinki marathon in May and haven’t really started to.  I think, if I can be completely honest (again) – I’m afraid to. What’s the point? I’m just going to choke on race day anyway. And even if I could train, my asthma is a constant presence now so it feels like there is always something sitting in my chest, day and night. I have to take two antihistamines and a pretty strong steroid inhaler every day, one which is affecting my vocal cords so I lose my voice if I speak for long periods of time.

So my choice seems to be: go all in or not. I know I need to shake off this bad faith, I know I’m not being fair to myself or my friends and family by being so bad tempered. I just seem to have this constant mantra in my head, a drumbeat of “It’s not fair It’s not fair itsnotfair notfair notfairnotfair” I think I need to suck it up. But I feel like I have done that, so many times before. I don’t have the emotional energy or strength. Every run is not a triumph. Every run is a repeat of the slow plod the day or week or month before. I am getting slower, not matter what I do. I have tried high volume and low volume and rest and slow runs and heart rate runs. Strength training and protein diets and no dairy diets. Different trainers and morning and night and fasted.

All of this and I feel I am running out of time. Every cycle is a waste of youth, a waste of my physical peak.

The bottom line is that I know what I need to do, I’m afraid that if I do it, it still won’t work and I will still be slower than I want to be, slower than I have been.  So maybe I don’t concentrate on speed. Ha. Even if I could ignore it, I couldn’t. What else do you see apart fro the time it takes you to do a run? Maybe I take each mile as It comes and don’t worry about it. But what if I don’t push myself at all and that’s the reason I’m getting slower – I’m not improving because I’m kidding myself that I am pushing myself?

It’s really complex and the struggle is 90% mental. I know it is. I just feel like my mental energy battery is so low, and I’m not sure how to refill it. I am doing yoga every day, and have done this year – it’s making me feel stronger but it’s not running. It’s a means to making me faster, although I do find it’s also a really good way of bringing me some peace, too. Noticing the incremental gains is satisfying – I can now almost touch my heels to the floor in Downward Dog. I can plank without thinking about how hard it is (although I am ashamed of the little belly pouch and wobbly thighs I have). I know the balance poses are not far away – I’d love to do crow but that hasn’t flown since I was in a class. I don’t think I am confident enough, not at the moment.

Okay. So maybe I need to be patient, be kind and see what happens. I do think I need to see what my training plan is doing though – three weeks in and I’m not sure I’ve hit any of the sessions yet. Maybe I’ll do four runs a week not five, and I’ll make sure I schedule yoga tine in too.

So no goals this year, not like last year. I did get two of the goals last year – both of my parkrun goals, woohoo.

My main aim is to re-locate the joy of running. I will see if I can run offroad, no agenda, no time, no distance in mind. Maybe I’ll also see about sorting out my head and getting rid of the negativity. Running should not be this complicated. Lace up, get out.

What do you think?