Love, Nina

Love, Nina: Despatches from Family LifeLove, Nina: Despatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Love, Nina is a collection of letters written by the author to her sister in the 1980s. Nina is a nanny for the editor of the London Review of Books and the family lives in a very literary part of North London, Alan Bennett lives across the road and regularly pops in for supper. At first I was a bit “hmmm, what’s the point of this book?” but it did grow on me. It’s quite funny in parts and the family and all their friends sound lovely. I particularly liked Alan Bennett or Bennett as they call him, as he’s always around fixing things and just sounded generally so nice. I was still quite young in the 80s (I see the 90s as being more ‘my’ decade) but it was funny reading about Nina and co discovering all these things we’re so used to now, novel things like BLT sandwiches, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs. And also things that thankfully didn’t stay around like wet look hair mousse and really thick eyeliner. And it did stir some memories.

In the latter half of the book Nina becomes a student, studying literature at Thames Poly, so you get to meet a whole new crowd of people through her letters but you still see plenty of the North London literary crowd. In the end I grew quite fond of all of them and the book went from “why am I reading this?” to “I’m quite glad I did”.

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Wales 2015

We went to Wales for a week, so here’s a few photos –

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Wales 2015-24We went to Rhyl for the afternoon, the nearest beach to my dad’s (as Boy Lacer, although a lot better in cars is still not brilliant). I always categorise beaches as ‘natural beaches’ and ‘touristy beaches’ and I much prefer natural beaches. Rhyl is a touristy beach and to be honest is quite run down, which is a shame, as driving through it has some lovely old red brick buildings and it must have been lovely once. However the beach is nice, big and sandy. Wales 2015-23 The weather was not brilliant all week, although it never really is in North Wales. We’d gone from a quite warm London (although the last few days before we left were pretty rainy) to a place where jumpers were an automatic necessity and I’d wake up at night freezing cold. Anyway, we kept an eye on the weather forecast and we thought Saturday would be the best day, as for once no rain was forecast, hah hah hah. When we got there it bucketed down! We struggled to the sea front and sheltered under the shelter, which was not that sheltery really.

Wales 2015-46But we did go and get wet on the sand too. Wales 2015-4We then went to find a toilet whilst the kids played with the sand that had blown up behind the toilet block (hmmm), it was still bucketing down and we were pretty much the only people out and we were all keen to go back to my dad’s, except Boy Lacer wasn’t having any of it and wanted to stay a bit longer (probably because he didn’t want to get back in the car). So we went for a walk along the sea front, which is very concretey and we came across an aquarium, which was okay (I tend to feel sorry for the animals there, although they didn’t look mistreated).
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And by the time we came out again it had stopped raining! So well done Boy Lacer. We went back to the beach, which was still not exactly warm and still looking like it could rain at any time. Wales 2015-5

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Country fair

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Capture Real Life – week 28 – pets

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I’m cheating a little this week and jumping forward, as I don’t have a pet of my own but I had access to my dad’s this week. So this is my dad’s cat. The challenge was to capture your pet in a way that expressed it’s personality, well my dad’s cat is a little Welsh tiger, more comfortable out hunting than on someone’s lap (most of the time), you only really see him when he wants something. However he seems to quite like me, so we managed to grab some time on the sofa, with him looking his normal smug. But like I say, most of the time he’s in the garden or in a hedge somewhere.

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Two twenty minute skirts

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After making Girl Lacer a skirt to go with her Welsh costume earlier this year, she’s been on at me to make her some more. I had used the twenty minute skirt pattern from Whipstitch, which is as easy as pie, so I followed it again. The pattern or should I say tutorial really, says it goes up to size 12, Girl Lacer, although 11, is pretty tall for her age and fits size 13 in some shops, but she still fits this pattern ok, to be honest I think, as long as you use two panels instead of one, you could use the same principle for adults too.

Anyway, the skirt above was made with some novelty car fabric (I know you can’t really see it in the photo), that I bought ages ago thinking it would make a great skirt for me but I realised over time that it would look far better on Girl Lacer. Same goes for the second skirt below, which is made with a Liberty fabric.

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Taking Stock – July

Playing along with Meet Me At Mike’s Taking Stock

Making : pretty much all this month I’ve been working on a tapestry commission, so I haven’t done that much other crafting, although I have knitted a few squares of my mood blanket and over the last few days I’ve done a little bit of sewing and some crewel embroidery.


Cooking : hmm, it seems at the moment that either my craft mojo is switched on or my cooking mojo is and this month it’s been my craft mojo’s turn. I have cooked a bit though, I’m going through a deep love of lasagne at the moment and I love the book Thug Kitchen.

Drinking : coke zero and becks blue.

Reading: this was the month I fell in literary love with The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and having finished I’m now in book mourning. I am currently reading Love, Nina, which is a collection of letters written by the nanny of the London Review of Books editor and is a bit ‘what’s the point?’ and The Kind Worth Killing, which has that crucial something that Watchmaker had, missing. With Watchmaker I would swear blind that the two main characters, Thaniel and Mori exist, they’re real, whereas with The Kind Worth Killing, I’m struggling to get the motivation of the characters, so they don’t seem real.

Wanting: more money, yes I know it’s ‘shallow’.

Looking: this month I revisited V&A’s ‘What is Luxury?’ and ‘Shoes’ exhibitions, as I took the kids to see them and like me they liked Luxury and really disliked Shoes.

Playing: More Plants vs Zombies, although I’ve just downloaded Angry Birds 2 and that may distract me for a while.

Deciding: I had to make an absolutely massive decision this month, I was given two options for a surgery I’m having next month and the doctors made it clear which option they thought I should take but I’ve gone for the other option. There are pluses and minuses for both options and I hope I’ve made the right decision (although I can still change my mind up to the operation) but I think I will only possibly really know if I’ve made the right decision a long long time in the future.

Wishing: for some omnipresent know-it-all being (and I am not religious) to tell me the right decision 

Enjoying: having some space.

Waiting: for my operation date.

Liking: the fruit cake I’ve just made.

Wondering: about my career options as usual.

Loving: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Pondering: future options.

Considering: my workload.

Buying: books for Boy Lacer and lots of clothes for both kids, they grow too darn fast.

Watching: Humans (I haven’t watched the final episode yet, so no spoilers!), I wasn’t too sure about it at the beginning of the series but it’s got so good now.

Hoping: for a smooth ride.

Marvelling: at the amazing time Girl Lacer had at her primary school and how lucky we’ve been for her to progress right through from nursery to year 6 there. At her leavers assembly the lovely teachers did a video montage of photos of the kids from nursery to present day and it was *gulp* very emotional.

Cringing: at baking a cake in my dad’s oven and melted butter leaking out of the tin and then when my dad went to use the oven, smoking the place out (I did warn him and apologise profusely).

Needing: a magic housework fairy.

Questioning: my decision.

Smelling: fruit cake and smoking butter.

Wearing: my new bright yellow Converses! I normally go for red or blue Converses as I like my Converses classic but when out buying a new pair, I saw the bright yellow pair and instead of going “ugh they won’t go with anything” I thought “you know what they’ll go with EVERYTHING” and you know what, I think I was right.


Following: @natasha_pulley (the genius behind The Watchmaker of Filigree Street), @humansofny (a brilliant photographer who posts portraits of New Yorkers and snippets of information about them, although he’s currently in Pakistan) and @NASANewHorizons (for the Pluto fly past, although the account is pretty quiet now).

Noticing: what a lovely young lady Girl Lacer is growing into (most of the time).

Knowing: she’ll have a great time at secondary school.

Thinking: I really need to be fitter.

Admiring: the lovely teachers at my kids primary school.

Sorting: laundry.

Getting: a new washer – drier hopefully.

Bookmarking: my last three favourites on Twitter were 

Coveting: really expensive designer washer – driers (that won’t happen).

Disliking: weather that doesn’t dry clothes fast enough on the line.

Opening: Twitter far too often.

Giggling: at The Now Show.

Feeling: overwhelmed.

Snacking: Graze snack boxes.

Helping: with the last of my duties as a parent rep.

Hearing: more Spotify playlists, I like the latest app update.

On the menu – creamy peanut slaw


Another delicious Thug Kitchen recipe, instead of the usual mayo, there’s a creamy, spicy peanut dressing. It has sriracha sauce in it, a sauce I’ve never heard of before but it’s in a lot of recipes in Thug Kitchen. I did manage to find a selection on Ocado but the cool looking stuff with the nicely designed bottles, similar to the ones in the book are expensive and full of E numbers, whereas good old Heinz with its unglamorous packaging was cheaper and had no chemical nasties, so yay Heinz, tasted and smelt good too.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree StreetThe Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh I absolutely loved this book! Set in the 1800s, at a time when rogue nationalists are just moving on from lobbing bombs through windows and onto setting bombs with clockwork and at a time when medieval London still hasn’t been destroyed by the Blitz, it tells the story of Thaniel, a telegraph operator in Whitehall and Mori, a Japanese watchmaker. Thaniel’s life is pretty boring when one day a beautiful watch is left in his room and someone does the washing up. Thaniel puzzles over who left the watch when one day it comes to life and saves him from a terrorist’s bomb. Thaniel follows a clue to Filigree Street where he meets Mori in a little medieval house and ends up living there.

I was in complete literary love with Mori, who is definitely up there with another older gentleman character I love, Hobie from The Goldfinch, although Mori is more complex with a definite possibility of being a bit of an anti-hero. Like Hobie, Mori lives in a beautiful house, is creative with his hands (Hobie restores antique furniture, Mori creates almost magical clockwork creatures), he knows his way round a kitchen, with a plate of freshly baked scones and some green tea and he takes in waifs and strays. (As a side note I also love another minor male character, a bluff home office official who does embroidery to calm down).

As well as covering the changes in bomb technology, the book also covers the struggle for suffrage, synesthesia,the development of the tube, changing attitudes in Japan, scientific opinions at the time, Gilbert and Sullivan, probability and what sounds like the rather lovely Japanese show village in Hyde Park. I’m missing so much out of this review because one of the joys of this book is the discovery at the plot unfolds but read it, I’d recommend to everyone, it’s beautifully written, with some wonderful dialogue, it describes some potentially tricky concepts really well and it is just totally immersive, I felt like I was in that little house in Filigree Street too. I could easily see this book being adapted for TV, a graphic novelisation would be good too.

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Capture Real Life – week 25 – my favourite spot at home



My challenge this week on Capture Real Life in 52 weeks was to take a photograph each day on my favourite room in the house (I forgot to take a photo on Wednesday, so there’s two photos on Sunday). My favourite room in the house is my bedroom, as not only is it my bedroom but it’s also my office, my studio and often (quite sadly really) where I eat too. I found it quite tricky to photograph this week because not only is it all those things and probably to be honest because it is all those things, the room is a complete pig sty at the moment and no one wants a photo of that! So all the photos are avoiding the wall under my window which is where all the junk is.

Anyway, my photo for Monday shows me in bed having a lay in because it’s the start of the school summer holidays. I’m laying at an angle across the whole bed because Mr. Lacer got up to go to work hours ago. The duvet, which I’m rather proud of, is new, bought recently in the John Lewis sale for a bargain price. It’s made of jersey, so is incredibly soft and comfortable against the skin, since putting it on the bed it’s been quite hard to pry the kids off it sometimes.



Another thing I like about the room is the lamp shade and I probably spend more time laying on my back staring up at it than I’d care to admit. It was bought from John Lewis (again) after we refurbished the flat, they don’t sell it any more, I checked, otherwise I’d link to their website. The lamp shade feels almost magical to me in a way, as the tree branches you see on it are printed inside the lamp shade, not on the outside, they only show on the outside when the light is on (or if you’re laying on your back staring up at it). Normally, when the light is not on, you just see a plain wooden print. The fact that it seems almost magical to me, shows that I’m obviously easily impressed by really really simple things but it does almost distract from the nappy brown stains also on our bedroom ceiling (almost I say, almost) which are thanks to our bloody upstairs neighbours and their love for cowboy plumbers (grits teeth).



This is what my bed looks like on a pretty average day, my laptop is open, my bags and wallet from shopping earlier still there where I dumped them, post, diary, things I’ve shifted in a desperate search to find something (I’m always having a desperate search to find something).



A ‘studio’ day.



This is officially not the most practical bed in the world, specially in a small bedroom but I always wanted this bed from Ikea and we’ve had it quite a few years now. We’ve been talking about getting rid of it but it probably won’t happen now until we swap rooms with the kids in about a year. Until then I will appreciate the shadows it throws onto the wall at night.




A couple of months or so ago I had a massive KonMari inspired reorganisation of the bedroom and it was looking sooo good but as part of the reorganisation I had temporarily shifted some boxes of paperwork into the living room and well they couldn’t stay there forever, so they came back in and they were like a junk magnet. The boxes of paperwork are still there, desperately needing sorting but you can’t even see them now, so much stuff is piled on top. Anyway, the above photos are two small areas that have sort of survived, one of my shelves with fabric all neatly rolled and the side of my ‘me’ decorated new bookcase I bought for the reorganisation. Knowing that my surgeries were coming up, I had this dream of recuperating in this very tidy, mother-in-law proof bedroom and it’s not going to happen now, I’ve just been so busy recently.

50 Books, yay!

50 challenge

I’m not quite sure what has happened this year, in an average year I read thirty odd books, maybe into the low forties if I’ve been quite good at reading that year. I’ve always wanted to get to the mythical 50 books in a year mark but I’ve never really got close, so to succeed in my 2015 reading challenge of fifty books before even the end of July is well, a bit gob smacking.

I think my attitude towards reading has changed quite a lot this year, which has probably had quite a lot to do with it. I used to have a bit of a ‘bad habit’ of trying to read ‘worthy’ books, I was choosing a lot of books because I thought I should read them not because I actually thought it would be fun. This year, with the exception of The Luminaries, which I actually started reading in 2014 and really struggled with, I have been very much reading for fun. Particularly fun this year (so far), has been working my way through all of Stuart MacBride’s back catalogue, I was reading one of those every few days earlier this year and his back catalogue is quite big. I also went back to reading other author’s crime novels, reigniting an interest in crime novels I first had in my twenties and although I have found some series I want to read more of and some series I think I’ll give a miss, I’ve moved on from ‘traditional’ crime novels for a bit, I’m going to save them for when I can devote time to completing a book every few days again!

I think the most important thing with me and reading these days though is that reading is most definitely an escape, I’ve found I particularly like books with big casts of characters, as I like the camaraderie between them and I like books which take me to another time or to a place I’ve never been.

I feel like I want to set myself another goal now, for the rest of 2015. I’m going to see if I can read, I think, one hundred books in total this year. I don’t think it’s going to happen because after all, if I were to, I’m already behind schedule, but then again I have a lot of surgery to recover from in the latter half of this year and there’s whole series of books I’ve been saving for my recovery time, so you never know (I think it’s more likely going to be 90 odd, if I’m lucky).