Anglea’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

The full title is Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir of a Childhood. The name is a big giveaway as to the type of book it is, it’s an autobiography focusing on Frank’s upbringing.

Frank was an Irish-American teacher and later author. For this book alone he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996.

The book is written from the perspective of Frank’s younger self – Frankie. When you start reading Angela’s Ashes you embark on a journey with Frankie through his childhood, everything is experienced through his eyes. The reader learns the story at the same pace as he experiences life so you become fully emersed in his childhood. 

Despite his upbringing being so tragic, Frankie is always able to see the funny side of life. His wit shines through and although he faced adversity during his childhood, it was not always sad. It is this cheery approach that stops you dead in your tracks, whenever as the reader you become close to pitying Frankie. His comic words always turn these feelings on their head and force the reader instead to root for his escape from poverty.

His flippant comments will make you laugh such as “What’s the use in having a Grandma who won’t go blind and get a government radio?”

Frankie honestly explains the confusions and misconceptions faced by a child when growing up, that often need adult explanation and clarification to be understood. These are the errors that often cause you to cringe on reflection as a grown adult.

The book moves through the whole of Frankie’s childhood and accompanies him as he takes his first few steps into adulthood. Exploring the ramifications on his upbringing of his fathers’ alcoholism and resulting family  poverty. It explores many themes such as love, loss and the desire for self-improvement.

Frank leaves no detail out when explaining the plight of the downtrodden in Limerick. As a result the book is extremely depressing. This obsession with detail makes the book hard to get into in the beginning, yet after chapter 10 it becomes difficult to put down.

Frankie sees only positivity in adversity and even points out “a happy childhood is hardly worth you while.” With a strong message that kindness can be found everywhere – even in the deepest of poverty, a sense of unity can be found even if people are only brought together by their struggles. The McCourt’s took solace in the fact that someone somewhere was worse off than them.

The story does come to an abrupt end, leaving the reader wanting more, yet this comes in the shape of his second book ‘Tis. I am yet to follow the story on and read this one, but it is firmly in my to be read pile. Angela’s Ashes was made into a film in  1990, which I also need to watch.

This book is certainly a memorable one and really made me appreciate the privilege of my childhood. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in poverty or loves a story about an underdog!

Have you read either of these books or watched the film? Let me know in the comments.

Return to Island Paradise: The Azores

Last month I did something pretty unheard of for me when it comes to travel – I returned to somewhere I have been before!

I love to visit new places and for me when I go somewhere I don’t like to sit still for long. Don’t get me wrong I can lounge on a beach for an afternoon, especially if a good book is involved, but another activity has to take place at some point that day be it a walk, sport, sightseeing, etc.

For this reason, I don’t often see the point in going back to somewhere as I have most likely done all of the activities I intended to do when I was there.

I loved the Azores last time I went, so much so I wrote two posts on it – the first on the hotel, food and drink, and the second on what there is to do there! Again I had a fabulous time there and thought I’d update you on the different things I got up to.


As with last time the Azores were chosen as my dad was already there with work and could meet my mum and I afterwards for a holiday.

Transport:

We took the four-hour flight with RyanAir from Stanstead Airport to Ponta Delgada on a Saturday (the only day for direct flights with them), costing around £230 per person. Unlike last time, we had a wide choice of airports and airlines to fly with. The flight was easy and I love that RyanAir allows 2 pieces of hand luggage, perfect as we were only taking one hold case between us.

Stanstead is fast becoming one of my favourite airports as it is nearby, really well connected and I find the airport itself is hassle free.

One thing that annoyed me with RyanAir was we had already paid for priority boarding at about £8, yet as we approached the gate people were trying to sell it to us for £5 – fine. However when we got to the gate the priority boarding has already boarded, luckily we were let in the queue, but had we bought it for £5 it would have been a rip off as we never would have gotten to use it.

Accommodation:

Unfortunately the hotel we stayed in last time was fully booked so we chose one nearby, the São Miguel Park. There were three main criteria to our hotel: location – Ponta Delgada (the main town), an indoor pool (as the weather is unpredictable) and free wifi (which is not often included in hotels out there!).

Overall our hotel was lovely and did exactly what we wanted. As my dad was not supposed to be staying with us overnight we chose a family room, luckily we did as his plans changed and he had to fly out and meet us later in the trip! The room and the balcony were huge with a fantastic view over the city and the Atlantic Ocean. The bathroom was a little dated, but the shower was incredible.


My only bugbear with the hotel was breakfast, which was included in the price. I could not fault the amount there was to choose from and was able eat enough to tide me over until well past lunch time. However, whenever we went down to the restaurant for it the staff were always clearing the tables for dinner, we even tried getting there just after it opened and it was the same.

This made us feel very awkward and as if we were not supposed to be there, especially when the only breakfast tables left for the three of us to sit on were set for two! We never tried dinner at the hotel as we felt they may be setting the tables for breakfast around us.

At the start of the trip here was a lot of rain so the indoor pool was a lifesaver.

Food & Drink:

As I mentioned last time the food there is really reasonable and is mainly steak and seafood, both of which are to die for.

One of my favourite foods is squid, but it is hard to find in the UK and when you do it is often very expensive and not all that tasty. Squid is on offer in most restaurants in São Miguel, for around €10 so I was in heaven. Alternating each night between steak and squid!


We visited a couple of our favourite restaurants from last time;

The Yacht Club – which was as exceptional as before, my mum and dad had Earth & Sea which is veal and langoustines on a skewer (a popular way to serve meat there) all to die for and I had squid which was fantastic.

Casa da Rosa – our favourite from last time disappointed us, the service was not all that quick, to the extent the couple behind us walked out. The wine they recommended was beautiful but the menu and the food were not as good as we remembered.

We also tried a couple of new restaurants, the one that stands out the most to me is Rotas do Vinho. We popped in for dinner one night thinking it was a restaurant, but in fact it’s a wine bar that does food on the side. Something we would not have known, had we not looked on TripAdvisor afterwards. The food here was incredible, so good we went back two nights in a row!

The first time we had limpets (a local delicacy – they taste a bit like muscles) to start followed by steak, pork belly and pineapple on a skewer. Both were to die for, I wish you could get limpets over here. Paired with a beautiful red wine from the Alentejo region called Gambo Zinos.


The second time we went for chorizo and langoustines to start followed by the skewer for my parents and squid in pesto for myself, it was the best I have ever had. This was paired with a wine from the Dão wine region, I forget the name. For desert we had pineapple and port, I tried Madeira wine for the first time and had a big hangover in the morning.  Both times dinner was al little over €100, which is very good going considering the quality of what we had! A firm new favourite.


My parents and I are partial to sharing a bottle of wine or three and the wine while we away did not disappoint on price or quality. A good bottle of wine in a restaurant is about €12-€18 and this is by no means the cheapest. In the supermarket, you could pick up a bottle of wine for as little as €1.20! I found a new favourite red while I was away – a merlot & cabernet sauvignon called Faria’s Vinyard from the island of Pico. Available in most restaurants and only €3.39 in the supermarket! Let me know if you ever spot this anywhere.

Activities:

The first few days with my mum were very chilled we went on walks read our books and just caught up with one another. My dad was having none of this, as soon as he arrived it was hands to action stations, every day needed a plan and an activity!

Quad Biking:

We went with ANC Moto Rent for half a day to see Sete Cidades one of the volcanic calderias on the island, which was beautiful. Last time we went it was misty so we saw nothing – this can happen quite often up there and it does get chilly. When up there you can also see the famous Monte Palace Hotel, which is derelict but is a tourist attraction in itself, with an interesting tale. The ride was great fun we saw some other breathtaking scenery, we went off-roading and stopped in a cafe for a coffee and a snack. This was quite expensive at €56 per quad bike, but taxis and tours up there can cost a lot too. If you do go I recommend you rent there coats for €2 each as they do save your clothes from the dust and it can get a bit nippy. A shout out must go to our guide Vera who was very informative and attentive.

Whale Watching:

This was one of the things we didn’t do last time we went, I have been very fortunate to see whales and dolphins in the wild a lot as a child. Plus last time we were on the island we went swimming with dolphins in the wild – an incredible experience I cannot recommend highly enough. I’d heard a rumour while on the island that a blue whale was in the area and naturally I wanted to go and see this incredible mammal.

The company we went with Futurismo were thought to be the best on the island, they recommended we went in the morning as typically they see more whales then. Frustratingly due to the wild nature of the animals and the need to not disturb them, I saw the back end of a fairly unentertaining fin whale from about 20 metres away. He wasn’t playing ball and clearly did not want to perform the Seaworld special show to music I had planned in my head and quite rightly so seen as we were disturbing him on his way to breakfast!

We did see some common dolphin, which despite having seen them copious times before when we lived in Gibraltar were still pretty mesmerising. This cost €55 per person, so quite expensive. I overheard people on the plane who tried other boats to more success and less cost, so I’d recommend shopping around.

Hire Car:

Last time we did not have a hire car, which was a large oversight on our part. It was not that expensive at €80 for four days. It made getting around much easier, especially as my parents were moving inland once I left for the next two days of their trip.

Terra Nostra Thermal Pool:

I love this place, it’s set in the botanical gardens and is a real hidden paradise withing paradise itself! They are thermal pools heated from the volcanoes. Don’t be put off by the brown colour of the main pool this is due to the iron that is dissolved in it. The second pool is much clearer but is a lot smaller and quite shallow. They are both refreshing at between 35-40 degrees centigrade and are a perfect place to spend an afternoon, especially if it is raining. Plus your skin feels super soft after even if you do look like you’ve had a proper Essex spray tan until you shower. Just make sure you were a black costume to avoid looking like you have had an accident. It costs €5 each for entry and €5 for towel hire, you get €3 back on return – this is much easier than messing around getting your own towel dirty!


Arruda Pineapple Plantation:

The Azores used to be famous for pineapples and they were one of their main exports up until World War Two, it’s a cool place to visit. Plus they also have a great gift shop selling all sorts, the scarves there are beautiful and hand woven. A steal at €15, I bought three this time, I also bought some pearl bracelets at €14 and my dad bought a pineapple root so he can try and grow one at home!

Anything else wish I’d done while I was there?:

  • The natural thermal pools set inside a rainforest, I remember how beautiful they were last time.
  • Swam in the sea or even dipped my toes in.
  • I’d definitely wish I’d seen some of the other islands.
  • Finally, I wish I had visited Lagoa do Fogo a crater lake often called the Fire Lake, this was one of my favourite sights in the world.

Overall:

I cannot recommend this hidden gem of the Atlantic Ocean enough, especially if you want to get away from it all without a long haul flight. The people are really friendly the beer, wine and food are cheap, the accommodation is good and the views are utterly breathtaking. There is something for everyone, whether you’re a beach babe, hiker, thrill seeker or want to do a bit of everything. I’ve been twice and can’t wait to go back again in a few years and for someone who never likes to re-visit places that’s really something! The one thing to be aware of is the unpredictability of the weather, when it rains in the Azores it hammers it down so always take a raincoat with you. That said we had a pretty rainy first few days, yet I still managed to get sunburnt as once the rain clears it is glorious sunshine.

Have you ever been to the Azores? Are you thinking of visiting São Miguel Island?

Head & Shoulders 3 Action Formula Shampoo Review

A few months ago now I took part in a Super Savvy Me project to use, share and review Head and Shoulders 3 Action Formula Shampoo. I was super busy at the time and in the end I fell behind with the project, hence why it has taken me until now to review it!


The bottle I received lasted me and my boyfriend about a month – pretty good going considering Jonny likes to use about triple the amount of any other human!

In the Past:

I’ve used Head & Shoulders in the past, but more as a treatment than my regular shampoo. It’s always done the job whenever I’ve had dandruff, but I found my hair looked pretty dull. Something I was not willing to forgo, so much so that last time I had dandruff I took to trying a “home remedy”.

Rinsing my hair with alcoholic mouthwash after shampooing, in an effort to clean my scalp of whatever was causing the issue. This worked and after a few weeks my hair was back to normal and remained shiny throughout thanks to my normal shampoo. However there were two main problems with doing this 1. it burnt my scalp nd 2. it was quite difficult to apply.

Head & Shoulders 3 Action Formula Shampoo:

This new shampoo from Head & Shoulders is built on the premise that 4 our of 5 of us have been missing big part of washing our hair – our scalp! I am inclined to agree with them, I never thought of the skin that makes up my scalp when choosing a shampoo.

(This image is taken from the Savvy Circle Members, Insider Info: New Head & Shoulders 3Action Formula Guide, page 8)

I have a regular routine for all my other skin, so why should my scalp be any different? Head & Shoulders has “micro zinc technology” to allow for both the removal of dandruff and serious lather. It leaves hair clean, protected and moisturised in just one product, making it super easy to look after your scalp.

Pros:

  • The product did make my hair feel super clean
  • It moisturised my hair so well I did not need to used conditioner afterwards
  • It smelt incredible!
  • It lathered up in my hair like no other shampoo I’ve used before

Cons:

  • It did make my scalp sting a bit

Where can I find this?

I’ve had a snoop around over the past few days and this shampoos can be found in Boots, Superdrug as well as large local supermarkets, for between £3-£5.

My Overall view:

All in all, I liked using this product and though it will not become my go to shampoo, I like knowing that as soon as I get the first signs of dandruff I can reach for this and I won’t have to compromise on style. No more mouthwash for me. I’d definitely recommend this product to anyone I know who is currently suffering from dandruff.

Other people’s thoughts:

As per the Super Savvy Me agreement I gave the tester bottles and some other bits and pieces to some friends, colleagues and relatives. I thought I’d add in a couple of their views too:

My mum: “I loved the smell of this shampoo and although I don’t suffer from dandruff myself I do have a sensitive scalp so it was great to know this shampoo could take care of it easily.”

My friend: “It smells so nice and left my hair super shiny!”

My boyfriend: “It was a lot friesher than previous Head & Shoulders I have tried. I don’t tend to suffer from dandruff that much, but I do think this shampoo helped to prevent it.”

The main question to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to use this product is Are you looking for quick and easy dandruff and scalp care without compromising on shine?

If yes then this is for you, it’s a quick and easy solution to your dandruff, without having to settle for loss of shine. It is also perfect if you simply want to give you give your scalp the treatment it deserves, without the hassle of using multiple products.

What do you do when you get dandruff? Also, I’m trying out a new format for my reviews, let me know what you think of it?

Country Music Tours I’m Looking Forward To

Nothing beats hearing music live, especially from your favourite artists. Unfortunately for country music lovers like myself this can prove more difficult, especially as many artists are based across the pond!

However due to the increasing awareness and interest in country music over here, from events such as Country 2 Country and artists like Taylor Swift crossing over into mainstream music. More and more artists are adding UK locations to their tours, yippee!
I have short listed of some of my favourites that I want to attend, below (sadly my bank balance is not too excited about this!). Most of the dates listed are for London, as this is where I will be seeing them. I have included the ticket price for each one just to give you a rough idea, these may not be accurate at the time of reading as I researched this post at the end of April 2017.

  
May: 

Ward Thomas are playing at the Shepherds Bush Empire O2 academy on 10 May 2017 of £20. I wanted to go on the 6th May 2017 as they are playing at the O2 Academy in Oxford – any excuse for me to go back, plus ticked are only £16.50 there, but I’m on holiday. It’s a hard life! I’d love to see them I love live again, as I adore there new album Cartwheels my especially Carry You Home and Guilty Flowers. I love the sense of fun you get from listening to one of their songs. I’m absolutely gutted that I can’t go to either date, for now I’ll just have to settle for belting them out in the shower! 

Kelsea Ballerini is at London Under the Bridge on the 11th May 2017 and tickers are the bargain price of £12. Sadly I can’t go as I’m still away, but if I was not then I would definitely go. I love her song Peter Pan it reminds me of a dear friend of mine and my boyfriend always sings Dibs at me! 

Sheryl Crow is playing at the Shepherds Bush Empire O2 Academy on 19th May 2017. I’ve been a fan of her for a while now introduced to her music by my parents, but I had no idea she was a country singer until about a year ago. I find her music is easy listening especially when I can’t decide if I want to listen to country music or just pop! Tickets are priced at £35, I won’t be going as I only found out about her tour this week! 

Striking matches are at London Borderline on the 28th May 2017 tickets are only £16.50. I love this Nashville duo’s sound, but I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why. I’d heard about the pair a while back, but I had never listened to there music and now I can’t think why not. They are so easy to listen to perfect for when I am just pottering around the flat.

June: 

Kiefer Sutherland is taking to the stage at the Islington Assembly on the 22nd June 2017. I never even knew he was a country singer until I started researching for this post. I love him in Designated Survivor and I now love his earthy/gravelly voice. It’s really refreshing when I’m looking for some alternative country to listen to, I can’t believe I’d never heard of him before. My current favourites are Can’t Stay Away and Not Enough Whiskey. Tickets are on sale at £25, I haven’t decided if I want to go to this one yet, I’ll see how much longer he stays on my playlist for.

August:

Miranda Lambert is playing at the London Apollo on the 23rd August 2017. I’d love to go and see her play live as I am a big fan of her songs and her incredibility to inject fun in to some of life’s hardest times. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to go though as tickets start at £45 and what with all the other artists I want to go and see my budget is currently saying no! So we’ll see what happens.

Maddie & Tae are coming to play at KOKO in London on the 24th august 2017. I adore these two and the waves they are making in the country music world especially with there track Girl in a Country Song. They inject such fun into their music that I cannot wait, I’m defiantly going to pop over to Camden to see these two lovely ladies, especially at £19.50. I may even drag my boyfriend over! 

October: 

Little Big Town are playing at the Royal Albert Hall on the 5th October 2017. I saw these guys at the Shepherds Bush Empire O2 Academy in 2015 and loved them, in fact it was after seeing them that I had the courage to set up this blog! Hopefully I will get to go see these guys on there new tour for old time sake and to hear Girl Crush sung live, tickets are starting at £27.50.

November:

Thomas Rhett is going to be in at the London Roundhouse on the 10th November 2017. I absolutely love hhis new song Craving You ft. Maren Morris! Not to mention Die a Happy Man and Crash and Burn, which I have loved for a while now. As the son of country music’s Rhett Atkins, his music was always going to be good. Tickets are priced at £25 so I think I am going to get myself one!

Maren Morris is coming to the UK! She’s playing at the Shepherds Bush Empire O2 Academy on the 15th November 2017. I literally cannot wait this girl has been on my playlists every day for about the last year. I love all of her tracks especially My Church and 80s Mercedes! My boyfriend has bought us tickets to go and see her, mainly I think because he knew I would go on and on about this tour for the next 6 months if not. Tickets are only £19.50 what a bargain to see this woman who has been taking country music by storm over the last year.

I’m sure this list will grow as more and more artists announce tours. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter who you’re most looking forward to and who you like to see play live? 

My Milan Mini-Break

If you follow me on twitter you’d have seen that I have just come back from 4 days in Milan. Here’s what I thought of the city that is famous for Fashion!

I only took about 3 weeks to plan this trip, my mum and a family friend were going so Jonny and I just tagged along, because winter sun, cheap flights and Italy what is not to like?

Transport:

I (Jonny flew out on the evening flight, I hadn’t lost him!) flew with Ryanair from Stanstead to Milan Bergamo Airport. When I first saw the flights they were only £28, but by the time my boyfriend faffed around they had g0ne up to £88. So naturally I was a little pissed I’d missed out on the bargain! Once in Milan I  simply hopped on the coach that was leaving the soonest from outside the terminal, it was only €5 (N.B. check the electronic boards as they will all say they leave next and even then they may not leave on time). I walked the 45 minutes to our hotel, not realising how simple the underground was to use.

Over the few days we were there we mainly walked, however it is worth looking at using the underground, especially at night. It’s only  €1.50 per journey or you can buy a 24/48 hour ticket for €4.50 and €8.25 respectively – allowing you unlimited travel on all forms of public transport in Milan. CityMapper was great for working out the quickest way to get around the city. I only used the underground, however I helped my mum and her friend book a few overground train tickets before I left, this was super easy – the machines can all be used in English and a lovely conductor also explained how to register the tickets, in the yellow machines, on the platforms.

On my way back I caught the bus from outside Milan Centrale Station, these leave every 20 minutes or so during the day, I’m not sure how often at night. Again they were only €5, everyone will tell you theirs is leaving first, but in reality they leave when they are full. Ordinarily, I’m terrible for time keeping, but when an airport is involved I have to build in lots of contingency time.

Accomodation: B&B Hotel Milano Censio Garibaldi

We were super lazy and simply went along with the 3 star hotel my mum and her friend had booked. They got it for the bargain price of £35 per night plus €3/night city tax on one of the comparison websites (I forget the one, I know #BadBlogger). We were not so lucky, however a little research and a search around found it was cheaper on the hotel’s own website. We paid €172 in total, everywhere else was over €185. Small but nonetheless a saving.

I have to be honest at £50 a night I was not expecting much from this hotel, but the room was fantastic. I could not fault it, it was just what we needed; clean, bright and comfortable (so comfortable I fell asleep fo 6 hours on arrival). There were no frills, but the wifi was free and the staff were very attentive and kind. Even the toilet roll had paper wrapped around it! I would compare the room to a Premier Inn in the UK.  The location was not as central as I would have chosen, however we were right opposite a metro station and could get to town in under 15 minutes or walk it in around 35 minutes.

Food & Drink:

One of the main selling points for me with Italy is the fantastic food I love pasta, gnocchi and pizza. The first night I ate alone as the others had not arrived yet, I wandered the city with absolutely no aim but to enjoy Milan and waste time. I stumbled across a lovely pizzeria near the centrale station and ate a delicious Italian sausage pizza washed down with a Peroni!

The others arrived to a messy scene. I was being followed by a man and was only made aware of this by a kind local restaurant owner, who I’d chatted to earlier that day. He told me to wait inside and the man would pass in 5 minutes. He did not leave so while the restaurant owners used some force to remove him from the area, my mum and her friend arrived and with my boyfriend just moments away it seemed sensible to use this as a meeting point. We grabbed a few beers and a few more, the weary travellers some food. Well we all nearly died when the bill came in at €235 – it turns out it had been €13 a pint, but seen as we had seen the force they used earlier and they had rescued me. We decided it was probably best to pay it.

The second night we ate at a restaurant called La Cantina Del Giannone it was incredible. We knew it was ging to be good as it is rated 22/6,558 restaurants in Milan. We had the Beef Tartare and Mozerella with ham to share for a starter and I had Il Filetto alla Rossini – filet steak topped with foie gras for main. The others had pudding’s I had a coffee and wine! Our waiter helped us with the wine choice and found us one that was not on the menu for €25, which was sublime. For all that it still only came to about €180, I was blown over, I’d consider flying to Milan if the flights were still cheap in the future just to dine there!

As was to be expected the all the food was incredible, including this spaghetti carbonara I had overlooking the Sforza Castle.

I cannot help but mention how insanely good the coffee was in Milan, even at the gate to my flight I had to stop off for a final one before I left.

Activities & Culture:

As I said earlier I had not really explored Milan too much before everyone got there as I had been sleeping and the night had not been the best impression of what Milan had to offer. First thing the next day we headed to the Cimitero Monumentale di Milano as our hotel was just the next street along. This place was incredible, the memorials ranged from a simple plaque on a wall to a whole monument – with everyone seemingly wanting to outdo one another!

Next was the Duomo di Milano – the cathedral in the centre, it is breathtaking the detail is incredible. Queues to go inside can be very large and it is recommended you book fast track tickets, but there is still a long wait for these, so we didn’t bother. Milan on the weekends is not what I would describe as a relaxing break – there are lots of pickpockets and street traders about, so you have to constantly be on the look out for trouble (this is especially rife around the cathedral). Next door is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – one of the oldest shopping malls in the world and a sight to behold it really allows you to get a feel for this city of fashion.

Finally we visited the Sforza Castle this was beautiful and absolutely steeped in history and bloodshed, the sheer size of it gives you and idea of the power that came from occupying this vast fortress. There are many beautiful frescoes were plastered over in order to convert it from a palatial residence to a military barracks. It is free to enter and use the outside space, there are other special exhibitions to explore. Unfortunately we did not have time to take a look at them on our whistle stop tour!

We also took a brief trip up to see the San Siro Stadium at Jonny’s request. Other than that there was nothing too memorable we got up to, as there simply wasn’t time due to the short time we were there and staggered return flights. We did do a lot of walking and taking in the slower and calmer Italian way of life.

Overview:

Despite all of Milan’s stresses and woe’s I am glad I went, it was an experience in itself. I won’t be hurrying back to Milan, but I do want to go and do Modena, Verona, the lakes and St. Moritz, which are all a stones throw away. So maybe I’ll go back in passing. I did notice a dramatic decrease in pickpockets and street vendors during the week, so maybe it is worse on the weekends when people come in for city breaks, I don’t know. What I will say is the hotel was fantastic and I will certainly be considering them for any other trips I plan. All in all, I think the most important lesson I learnt was to plan ahead and do your research, that way you won’t be as disappointed when your unsubstantiated assumptions don’t come true!

Let me know in the comments if you have ever been to Milan and what you thought of it? Or if you are planning to go, what you are looking forward to doing?

An Ordinary Soldier

I read this book a while back (August/September time) and it has been on my list of posts to write ever since, so please forgive me if I miss a few bits out or am inaccurate in any way, I’m desperately trying to remember the key parts.

After having studied history for 3 year I love to read first-hand accounts of practically anything, but in particular abut the military. Normally I stick with the Royal Navy, but I thought I’d branch out on this one!

This is just the kind of book I would have read while writing a completely unrelated essay at uni and (because I’m a major geek), afterwards I would set myself the challenge of working it into my current essay. So without the opportunity to do that, I thought I’d write a little review.

 Firstly throughout this book the author, Doug is incredibly modest, he’s assertive as would be expected of any Army officer, yet with a refreshing reserve that what he did was simply his job. His humility can be seen before you’ve even opened the book, from the unassuming title An Ordinary Soldier. Equally on the front cover you can see this book will be about someone rather extraordinary, as Beattie holds the post-nominal letters MC, a third-level military decoration.

Beattie’s account is admirable, he’s not afraid to be judged by the reader, taking you on a journey through all the major turning points in his life that led to his presence in Garmsir. He doesn’t attempt to justify his actions and decisions too much, instead trusts that the reader can connect together the information they’ve been given and make their mind up on him as a leader and a soldier.

A few pages before the end Beattie sets the story straight, when he drops the modesty for the first time and tells the reader that whatever you may think of him, when called upon he was brave and did his duty:

“Did I get everything right? Perhaps not. Did I break some rules? Probably yes, But at least I made my choices. In the heart of the battle, when I was consumed by fear, when all I wanted to do was turn away, I made my choices and I got the job done.”

I think this is an important statement for Beattie to make, for a society so quick to judge the actions made by members of our armed forces and often forgetful of the life-or-death situations they are deployed in. Doug’s simply requesting that the reader remembers each soldier lives with their own battle scars, without others scrutinisng their actions.

I did find this book hard going at points and even a little dull, but my mind was changed in the last chapter when it becomes apparent that Beattie didn’t write this book to be praised for what he did. He wrote this book for his family, to explain the unexplainable and because the action of writing healed him, which in turn helped return him to the father and husband that his family needed.

I would recommend this book if you want something interesting to dip in and out of, without having to worry about losing your place.

Have you read this book or any other about the war in Afghanistan? Have you ever read a book and thought you didn’t like it until you finished?

10 Best Things About being A Student

There are many negative things about being a student… the essays, having no money, the housemate dramas amongst many others. However, all in all, I loved it and thought it was the best 3 years of my life. So for those of you suffering from the 18-month hump, 3rd year blues or even just a bad hangover here are some of the best things about being a student, that you’ll miss when like me you have to grow up and pretend to be an adult who has their shit together.

  1. All the free time – there is so much time and it is all your own to use how you see fit, whether that is doing 12 hours a day in the library or like me, a couple in the library then 3-4 dedicated to Netflix and the rest of the time in the pub!
  2. The learning – I loved my course and all the things I learned, my main problem was I couldn’t stop doing the reading so never left myself enough time to do the writing.
  3. The people you meet – I met the most amazing people whilst at uni, from the slightly creepy guy you always see on a night out, who you’re sure graduated 3 years ago to the amazing friends who will always get you home even if they have to throw you over their shoulder to do it!
  4. The independence – You are for the most part totally independent. Even if you have housemates who are almost a surrogate family, they do not need to be informed of your daily whereabouts, especially if it has no effect on them.
  5. Having no money – no one expects you to get a massive round in or ever eat healthily, as you can simply claim “I have no money!” or “I’m a student!” and no one will ever ask you again.
  6. The student loan – the relief of having someone deposit some money in your bank account to ease the classic student poverty. So for one week you can take a break from the 18p noodles and pasta, maybe even treat yourself to a ready meal.
  7. The interest-free overdraft – when times are hard and you realise in week 3 your student loan is only going to last until Tuesday next week. You have a buffer before you are thrust back into the humdrum of taking packed lunches and a flask to the library, instead of your current baller wandering around with your Starbucks cup and a bagel!
  8. The discount – Nearly everywhere you go you can whack out the student card and receive 10% off. While claiming to your mates you hardly every use it owing to the embarrassing photo taken on your first day at uni after the most amazing summer where you really “found” yourself.
  9. Those free student cheeseburgers at MaccyD’s – no explanation necessary.
  10. Hungover days – knowing you can go hard on a night out without the consequences of sitting at your desk the next day staring at a screen trying desperately not to chunder and look like you’ve got a grip on everything. Instead, you can dedicate a whole day to Netflix and your duvet justifying to yourself that it’s for the greater good. As you didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything, but meet for a survivors breakfast and a debrief of the events at deliberately scheduled for 14:00 when you might actually start to feel human again!