Chasing the Sun: book review and giveaway

I’m a bit of a book snob. When I was asked to review Katy Colins’ Chasing the Sun I thought, ooo, ‘fluff’ and quickly filed it under ‘books other people like to read’. But then I stopped and considered what I’d read most recently, or in fact had not read. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – abandoned. Sorry Brontë (Anne), I’m sure an exciting climax was coming (I’ll never know) but did it require such a preamble? And apologies to E.M. Delafield: your Diary of a Provincial Lady was lovely – very funny – but just didn’t do it for this lady.

Suddenly Chasing the Sun (Colins’ fourth novel featuring the character Georgia Green) seemed really appealing. Well, slap it with a label and call it Chick Lit, but it was the start of the school holidays and did I really want something heavy to offset a day of sibling warfare?

Chasing the Sun was everything I wanted it to be: absorbing, funny, a book to forgo sleep for. Says the publisher’s blurb:

“Georgia Green is on the conveyor belt to happiness. Live-in boyfriend, perfect career and great friends, it seems like Georgia is only a Tiffany box away from her happily ever after. But when she arrives in Australia for her best friend’s wedding and is faced with the bridezilla from hell, she starts to realise that she might not want the cookie-cutter ending she thought.”

If you enjoy Bridget Jones then you’ll love this book, complete with its awkward moments (“I’m not pregnant!” I shouted, wishing that he would stop that. “I’m just fat!” I wailed). Katy Colins is also a travel blogger (www.notwedordead.com) and, if you so dared, I reckon you could even use the book as a travel guide to Australia. (I googled the ‘Big Things of Australia’ but sadly couldn’t find the home of the ‘well-known willie’. Snigger.) The author’s eye for locations adds the extra something that makes the book stand out from standard girl/boy/do they/don’t they fare. Chasing the Sun is most definitely a page turner and it’s always a rare pleasure to find a book like that. Proper indulgence. Dive into this rather than the paddling pool and you may just make it through the school holidays.

Chasing the Sun by Katy Colins, HQ (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), paperback, £7.99, published 27th July 2017.

WIN!

If you fancy ditching your Dostoevsky and hurling your Hemingway this summer, I have just the giveaway for you. For your chance to win a copy of Chasing the Sun please just leave a comment below telling me where your ideal holiday destination is. Easy as that. One lucky winner will be chosen at random at 5pm on Tuesday 22nd August 2017. Entries from the UK only. Good luck!

A newbie’s guide to being owned by a cat

black and white cat

After finally relenting to the kids’ pleas, our cat arrived 6 weeks ago (2 weeks before the kids lost interest in it). I’m not a cat or dog person or indeed an any kind of animal person (with the exception of sloths perhaps, I like them) so it has been quite a learning curve. As I blow yet another cat hair off my keyboard – it might have been the one that was stuck between my front teeth earlier but it’s definitely the one I’ll find in my lunch later – here’s what the past 6 weeks have taught me …

Mad cat lady = inevitable

You may snigger at ‘cat people’, those singletons who share their lives and beds with their feline fur babies. You may yawn and wonder how many variations of a cat looking cute whilst licking its genitals someone could possibly post on social media without finding their friend list empty. Believe me, I was the same. Then you get a cat and suddenly you find some stranger has been posting photos of your pet on your Instagram and Facebook accounts and that stranger is YOU.

Really, it happens that quickly. One day you’re a normal person, the next day you’re a cat person (or, as a proper aficionado would say, a cat’s person). You know that such activity will pigeonhole you as someone to avoid, but you just can’t help yourself. You can barely remember how much you used to hate next door’s cat for sh*tting in your garden, the darling little ball of fuzz. Stroking your pussy becomes something you talk about shamelessly, suffixing the conversation with “Gosh, I’ve turned into a mad cat lady already” just in case it stops the other person from backing away from you slowly.

With cats, the parallels with parenting a human being are endless (and not just their fascination with watching you on the toilet) …

Poo

Cat poo in the garden used to make me want to gag. But your own cat’s poo? Smells like roses. Remember how wiping your own children’s bums is completely acceptable but you’d still never touch the faeces of a stranger?

If you get a moggy, I thoroughly recommend clumping litter. For those not in the know, the fine gravel basically sticks to poo and wee enabling you to conveniently lift it out with a scoop in neat little chunks. At its most satisfying it equates to panning for gold. Dig your scoop in, pull it out and give it a little shake to get rid of the loose litter and then see if you’ve got treasure!

By mistakenly feeding our cat squirty cream, I’ve discovered clumping litter works a treat on cat diarrhoea too. When my 6-year-old ‘mistakenly’ fed our cat squirty cream for a second chuffing time, I also discovered that Vanish stain remover can remove a one-and-a-half-foot long cat skid mark from a white duvet cover. And from beige carpet. Fortunately, a white leather Eames lounger is wipe clean.

Cats’ a*ses in places and faces

Cats are supposedly regal, dignified animals, yet they parade their behinds as proudly as a Bulbous Big Butted Baboon. Our feline friends do not deign to use their tail to preserve their modesty. (It doesn’t even help that my cat’s butt looks like a little sleeping baby owl.) Get used to butts waved in your face, butts on your head while you’re sleeping, butts on the worktop, butts on your Lucienne Day cushions. “Remember meeee?” whines the pack of Dettol wipes, just when you thought you’d passed through that stage of parenting.

Mind you, if our cat hadn’t presented his a*se to me I wouldn’t have noticed his issue with follow-through during the most recent squirty cream-gate. I wouldn’t have been able to chase him with a tissue and – casting aside any dignity I had left – wipe his bottom before he found some pale-coloured home furnishings to s(h)it on.

Should you get a cat?

If the quantity of social media likes and shares you get are no longer sufficient to boost your self-esteem, then a cat can fix that. There’s nothing quite like the ongoing battle to win the love of a cat and all hopes being dashed when it farts in your face as it jumps off your lap.

Why questioning Trump’s mental health has set us back years

Trump mental health

Psychiatrists in the US are questioning Donald Trump’s mental and emotional stability. By doing so they have broken a long-standing rule that experts shouldn’t ‘diagnose’ someone – including a public figure – unless they have evaluated them in person. They certainly shouldn’t announce it in public. It’s the latest big gun to be rolled out to attack a controversial president, but it is in danger of setting perceptions of mental health back several years.

Campaigners have long been trying to break the taboo surrounding mental health issues. Most people suffer problems with varying degrees at some point in their lives. After all, who and what is ‘normal’? In reality, struggles with mental health are the norm and the challenge has been to stop it being defined as ‘sick’, ‘peculiar’ or ‘mad’. We seemed to be getting there and then along came Trump.

A clown. A madman. A DANGEROUS madman. A power-crazed narcissist unfit to run a country. It’s very easy to call someone you don’t like names. But with this latest onslaught on Trump comes the label of ‘mental illness’. Labels are very neat and stick easily. They’re also very convenient for applying not just to one person but to a large group of people – the process of tarring with the same unsubtle brush. If you suffer from mental health issues then you’re now as ‘bonkers’ as Trump. You shouldn’t be trusted because you are unhinged. You might not be President of the United States but are you sure you can handle the responsibility of your desk job? Should your employers be worried? Maybe you should be sacked.

The trouble is that Trump has never had the world’s sympathy or affection. If Barack Obama had been perceived as displaying signs of mental illness then would it have been treated sensitively? I suspect so. If a man like Obama could suffer then anyone could – it’s normal and we could all have opened up about our own struggles without fear of judgement. But if Trump is now the poster boy of poor mental health then for god’s sake keep your mouth shut or you’ll be carted off with him.

I have no sympathy for Trump. He’s a disaster as a President because he’s not a politician. This is not about feeling sorry for him. What this is about is witnessing the giant leap backwards as psychiatrists and the media sling mental illness at someone as an insult, as a way to bring them down.

The worst thing US psychiatrists have done is not to break with their principles – it’s to forget their responsibility to everyone who suffers from mental issues to not perpetuate the stigma. And that is far more unethical.

So long hygge, hello lagom!

Hygge

Hold on to your woolly hats, there’s another trend on its way from our friends in Scandinavia. Conveniently, it arrives to coincide with everyone worrying about how to carry off cosy hygge when the weather warms up. Now there’s no need to sweat out the summer in furry blankets with your hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot chocolate. Out with the (c)old, in with the new. Say hello to lagom.

Translated from the Swedish, lagom means ‘just the right amount’. Not too much, not too little. It’s all about balance, self-restraint and living simply and sustainably. Clever people in the know describe it as a way of living, compared to hygge which is about creating and feeling moments in time. Lagom may be an easier, more universal concept to grasp than its snuggly, subjective counterpart. One person’s experience of hygge as they pull on woolly socks might be another person’s itchy, rash-inducing nightmare.

If you’ve bought into hygge (and I mean literally bought into – Scandi chic adds pounds to the price of any product), then how can you embrace lagom without breaking the bank? Here are some straightforward steps to help bring lagom into your life simply by de-hyggering the sh*t out of it.

Blankets

You won’t need faux reindeer skins in the summer and, let’s face it, hygge will have made a Brexit by next winter so don’t even bother storing them. Embrace sustainable lagom living and limit your impact on the environment. If you can’t turn your unwanted blankets into costumes for school Viking history days then – fleas permitting – your local cats’ home willingly accept them. (Forget the Danes, we all know that cats really invented hygge – let’s give it back to them.)

Nordic deer / moose / reindeer

Put anything with antlers out to pasture. If you can’t manage that then at least take the fairy lights off their horns. Think simple – these magnificent beasts were not created to bear the weight of the Blackpool illuminations. And remember, Christmas decorations are for Christmas, not just for life.

Quality time with friends

Ah, hygge, the ‘art of creating intimacy’. Throughout 2016 you have welcomed your friends into your home to sit on your white-washed wooden bench and share your expensive hot chocolate. If they’re not as middle class as you or tend to follow their own path rather than buy into expensive trends then they may not have returned the favour. Now’s the time to get your own back. Lagom is about moderation, so if your guests outstay their welcome then go ahead, tell them that you’ve had ‘just enough’ of them. It may mean setting aside your self-restraint but it will make everyone happy.

Candles

Burn them! Burn them all! When every candle is gone they will no longer drain precious oxygen and the equilibrium of the atmosphere in your home will be restored.

Be comforted – some things won’t change

Whether you go Swedish with lagom or Danish with hygge, you are without doubt destined for great happiness (although where was hygge when Hamlet needed it?). It seems that all our troubles can be solved with a dash of Scandi. Thankfully, lagom presents precisely the same opportunities to be smug as hygge did. You’re just doing it in a less wintery way.

Of course, as with hygge inspired products, you can also expect to pay over the odds for anything giving off a mere hint of lagom. Warning: following a trend of moderation can be expensive and involve a lot of indulgent props if you want to do it right and really impress your friends. There’s just about the right amount of irony in that.

What not to wear when travelling

airport

Airports are wonderful places for people watching. Where is everyone going? Why are they going there? Story after story can be imagined, nothing is impossible. But there is one thing that knocks me out of my reverie and invokes the letters W, T and F:

Airport fashion crime.

As I often say in my head to the person tramping tourist trails in stilettos: What were you thinking? What was going through your mind when you decided that was the most appropriate thing to wear?

This is what not to wear to the airport (I saw someone wearing very similar treating the VIP lounge like it really was somewhere for VIPs rather than just normal airport space with less chance of finding a seat):

airport-fashion-1

Here is what I wear to travel in (and by extension of that I assume what most normal Earth dwellers wear):

scarecrow

There are a number of reasons I can’t/won’t go to the airport dressed like a fashionista:

1.   I save all my nice stuff for the actual holiday

I don’t have enough on fleek outfits to waste them on a glorified bus journey. Anything decent I do have is safely packed away in the suitcase in a plastic bag (in case any toiletries leak). I will choose wisely during the holiday when the appropriate time is for those items to appear – too soon and they may not be clean if a more fitting occasion arises. Sometimes those clothes don’t even see the light of day such is my desire to keep them spick and span, ready for if royalty should unexpectedly join my package holiday.

2. The K-Factor

Kids. It’s hard enough to keep yourself clean when you’re safely across the other side of a table from them, but levered into a space the size of the monk’s suitcase? Not a chance. The last flight we took, my husband settled his warm derrière on a Malteser that had rolled across from our 5-year-old in the next seat. You can imagine what that looked like when he stood up.

That’s the low end of the scale. If you’re unlucky your child might pee on your lap or fail to hit the 2cm x 2cm gap that forms the opening of an airplane sick bag. That’s really unlucky – but also highly likely – so best not to be in Versace.

3. Spillages in the course of going about your everyday business

“The harder you try to keep something clean, the more likely you are to destroy it” (Messrs Muscle and Sheen, 2003). To give you an example: In a bid to take my tray from the stewardess in a safe fashion – ie using two hands – I once placed a bottle of drink between my thighs for safekeeping. As I manoeuvred the tray, an elaborate and unexpected muscle sequence occurred that caused my thighs to contract and squeeze the contents of the bottle onto my crotch. Turns out the blankets you get on planes aren’t that absorbent. Result: looking like I’d peed my pants and the walk of shame to the toilets. But silver linings, folks! At least I wasn’t in a white silk dress and a black thong.

4. Is it so bad to just want to be comfortable?

Whilst some people may be happy to sit through a 13-hour flight with their leopard skin leggings riding up their crack, I’m content to forgo a mile-high wedgie in favour of some old-fashioned comfort. I may even slip off my shoes (or at least loosen my laces). If my family would let me I’d wear my granny slippers as I traversed the globe:

slippers

Life’s too short to be retrieving your stiletto heel from an airport travellator (nope, it’s not a catwalk). Your designer bag may look awesome on the crook of your arm, but are you able to fit all the sh*t in there that you need? I’m rocking my rucksack, baby, with its stink from years of sweaty trainers. And when I do get a foil dish of scolding hot unidentifiable airline food in my lap, I’ll have had plenty of space in my hand luggage to stuff a spare pair of cheap joggers. If I’m really lucky they’ll even be clean.