Book Review Maeve Binchy This Year it will be Different

I bought this for pennies in a church book sale. Maeve Binchy seems to be a bestselling author so I thought I would see what she is about. The book is a group of short stories on the theme of Christmas. I was expecting heart warming and fuzzy but this is not what they were. The stories were sharply observed, dealing with the hypocrisies of middle class families in the festive season. There were straying banker husbands, lonely schoolteachers, ungrateful children and snooty grandmothers. The stories were very samey, stereotypical and frankly tiresome. I noticed there were no straying wives, only husbands with good jobs. Dull.

Diet Diary

I have been trying for months to lose my last 5 kg of extra weight most of which seems to be belly fat. I have had no success. I just keep losing a few pounds and then gaining it back. So this week I have decided to get serious. I thought if I blog about it I will be motivated not to cheat.
Day One Monday
On waking mug of hot water with slice of lemon. This is good for rehydration.
Yoga 40 minutes Sun salutations. Back bends.
Breakfast 300 g of black grapes with large dollop of alpro soy vanilla yogurt.
Black coffee
Exercise: twenty minutes jogging outside
Lunch: plain baked potato with drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and half a packet of baby leaf salad.
Decaf coffee
Snack: Decaf coffee
Dinner: roasted beetroot soup with dollop of alpro soy yogurt. Two bowls.
Decaf coffee.
That’s it. Comes in at around a thousand calories.
I am trying to be vegan and gluten and sugar free as much as possible. The vegetables are all organic from our local box scheme.
I would describe my mood as medium and I didn’t feel very energetic. Let’s see what the scales say tomorrow. This morning I was 55 kg.
Wish me luck.

Day 2 Tuesday
Disaster strikes.
Hitting the scales this morning I am 54.9 kg. Hardly any loss. I am disappointed after the hard work of yesterday. I realise my alpro soy vanilla yogurt has sugar in it. No wonder I am addicted to it. This is a salutary warning to always read labels. I am resolving to be added sugar free from now on.
Breakfast: hand knitted muesli: oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almond flakes and raisins. Served with unsweetened almond milk.
Water with slice of lemon.
Black coffee.
Lunch: two dark rye ryvitas with vegan Mayo, tomato and quorn beef slices
Decaf coffee
Snack: two pieces vegan dark chocolate. Oops! Tea
Dinner: aloo saag (spinach and potato curry). Orange juice.
Decaf coffee
Drank lots of water.
Exercise: 70 mins yoga, 15 mins weightlifting

About 1200 calories.
I ate a bit more than I meant today but pretty healthy choices so quite pleased. The curry I made for dinner was gorgeous. I am a real sucker for Indian food. Muesli is very calorific but full of healthy fats so good for setting you up for a long day.
My legs are aching from all the yoga I did but it felt good.
Mood: good
Energy: medium
Let’s see what the scales say tomorrow.

Day 3 Wednesday

Success! Scales say 54.6 kg so I am very pleased. Just have to keep the downward momentum.
Reflecting on yesterday I found it hard to avoid gluten. It was in my rye ryvitas so I have thrown them out as well as the vanilla yogurt. I also had sugar in the chocolate. Quorn has egg in it so is not vegan. Must have more willpower!
On waking I found there was virtually nothing in the house I could eat for breakfast. Never fear though the organic veg box delivery is due today.
Breakfast: two soy sausages, fried onions and sweet corn. Tiger Tiger gluten free tomato ketchup.
Water with slice of lemon.
Black coffee.
200 ml of fresh orange juice.
Sadly the sausages had gluten in them. Foiled again but I needed to use them up. I enjoyed breakfast and felt very satisfied.

70 mins yoga and meditation.

Lunch: 200 g of chickpeas with baby leaf salad, black grapes and balsamic vinegar. Decaf coffee.
Nothing forbidden in this meal!

Jogging: 20 mins
Walking: 30 mins

Dinner: Home made vegetable and lentil soup. Two bowls.

Vegan omega oil: one tablespoon.
About 1200 calories.

Healthy choices today. No cheats.
Mood: low to medium. Legs aching from yoga. Fairly lethargic.

Day 4 Thursday

Scales say 54.8 kg. Bit disappointed that I have gone up again and I thought I was so good yesterday. All I can think of to do is to lower the calories still further. There is sugar in the ketchup so that will have to go. I can cut down on the oil – no frying. Organic veg box has arrived so I have lots of choices of vegetables. My legs are still aching this morning.

Breakfast: spinach smoothie (spinach, almond milk, orange juice, peanut butter, vegan omega oil blend)
Black coffee

Exercise: yoga 70 mins
Weightlifting 15 mins

Snack: 30 g walnuts

Lunch: salad. Chickpeas with raw spinach, carrot, green beans, portobello mushroom and vegan mayonnaise.

Dinner: veggie chilli with brown rice
Two glasses of red wine.

Oh dear! Way over calories today. About 1400.
I thought I made healthy choices but I am way over on fat. I shouldn’t have had the vegan Mayo on my salad as it is very fatty. And I know…the wine, the wine! Oh well, try harder tomorrow.

Day Five Friday

The scales say 54.8 today so I am the same weight. I think the wine is to blame so must be good today.

Legs only slightly aching this morning.

Breakfast: hot water with lemon. Banana, plum, 35 g oatmeal, pumpkin seeds with unsweetened almond milk. Black coffee.

Lunch: roasted Moroccan vegetables with couscous, Boots fruit snack pack, Innocent smoothie: banana and strawberry. Unexpectedly lunching on the hoof today so Boots meal deal.

Dinner: veggie burger with large helping of green beans.

Exercise: 40 mins yoga, 30 mins walking.

About 1000 calories today. Pleased with my healthy choices. Did not manage as much exercise as I hoped due to work commitments. Really hard to be vegan and gluten free when out and about.

Day Six Saturday

Weight: 54.7 kg Tiny amount of weight loss.

Breakfast: banana, hot water with lemon

Exercise 30 mins aerobics, 30 mins walking.

Lunch: raw salad: spinach, red pepper, tomatoes, mushroom with haricot beans. Two tablespoons of peanut butter.
Black coffee.

Aduki bean vegan shepherds pie, peas, vegetarian gravy
Snacks: chocolates

About 1000 calories.

Healthy choices apart from cheating with the two chocolates. They were a gift though.

Day Seven Sunday

Scales say 54.7 kg. The same weight. I am feeling very sad that I have only lost 0.3 kg this week.

Breakfast: water with slice of lemon. Mexican veggie tofu scramble. Black coffee.

Late lunch: Tapas: patatas bravas, Greek salad, garlic mushrooms. Two glasses of red wine. Black coffee.

About 1000 calories.
Mood: low
Exercise: none. Rest day.
Reflections on the week

I was vegetarian and almost vegan. Contrary to popular belief the weight doesn’t simply drop when you become vegan. I only have a few pounds to lose but my body is not going to give up its weight easily. Next week calls for draconian measures: no wine, no nuts, oils, no chocolate, more exercise. I am going to concentrate on fresh raw fruit and vegetables and small portions.

Day 8 Monday

Weight : 54.7 kg No change.
Breakfast: banana
Lunch: raw salad: carrot, spinach, tomatoes, haricot beans, balsamic vinegar.
Dinner: miso soup with shitake mushrooms and watercress.
Exercise: 30 mins yoga, 15 mins weightlifting

I limited my caffeine to one drink.

Calories were drastically reduced today. Only 500 in total.

Tomorrow I am starting an elimination diet. I will be eating fruit and vegetables, avoiding gluten, soy and processed food. I will also be avoiding foods from the nightshade family: potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergine.

Day 9 Tuesday

Weight: 54.6 kg Tiny amount of weight loss.

Breakfast: quinoa with almond milk, blueberries and maple syrup.
This breakfast idea is from the Gwyneth Paltrow book It’s all good. Unusual idea for breakfast but I enjoyed it.

Lunch: avocado and mango salad with lime vinaigrette. Another Gwyneth Paltrow recipe. Delish.

Dinner: uh oh! Ate out at new casual restaurant in town and completely ruined the diet.
Tortilla chips and dips.
Halloumi burger with French fries.
Bellini and glass of white wine.
Why have I got no will power?

Exercise: 40 minutes yoga. Two hours walking.
Absolutely gorgeous day walking in the countryside. As close to paradise as it’s possible to get.

Day 10 Wednesday

Weight: 55.2 kg
Gained lots through cheat meal.
Back on the wagon today. Feel bad about my lack of will power. I have undone all of my good work earlier in the week.
Breakfast: porridge made with almond milk served with maple syrup. This was amazingly comforting and satisfying and filled me up for the whole morning.
Lunch: broccoli and arugula soup. This was another Gwyneth
Paltrow recipe. Simple and healthy. Tasted good.
Dinner: brown rice

Exercise: 70 minutes yoga, 15 minutes weight lifting

About 700 calories. Pleased with my healthy choices today. I was totally vegan and gluten free.
Mood: low

Day 11 Thursday

Weight: 54.8 kg Pleased with the loss from yesterday.
Breakfast: porridge made with oatmeal and brown rice drink with a teaspoon of ground flax seeds, a teaspoon of black roasted sesame seeds and maple syrup. Hot water with lemon.
Black coffee.
Lunch: mushroom soup two bowls. Gwyneth Paltrow recipe
Dinner: roasted beet, sweet potato with arugula salad. Apple cider vinaigrette dressing. This was a gorgeous meal.
Orange juice
Snack: handful of grapes
About 1200 calories.
Exercise: walking 30 mins
Felt tired and sleepy today for no apparent reason.

Day 12 Friday
Massive cheat day.
Three course meal and champagne at art gallery.
I am totally ashamed at my lack of willpower. I have undone all my good work.
Weight: 55.2 kg

So I need to be more ascetic. It is very difficult to maintain a diet and have a social life.
Time to get tough with myself.

Day 14 Sunday

Breakfast: hot water with lemon
Black coffee
Lunch: banana, decaf coffee
Dinner: broccoli and arugula soup
Exercise: two hour walk
Mood: medium
Calories: 250
Deliberately low calorie today to undo my weekend splurge.

Day 15 Monday

Weight: 54.5 kg
Lot of weight loss overnight. Very pleased. Proof very low calories works. It’s just not very enjoyable. Feel headachey and slightly ill.
Breakfast: porridge made with oatly. Sweetened with stevia.
Black coffee.
Snack: green tea
Exercise: 20 minutes yoga. 15 minutes weightlifting. 30 mins walk.
Lunch: fennel and apple soup
Decaf coffee
Dinner: salad: rocket, baby leaves, celery, cucumber. No dressing.
Glass of cloudy apple juice.
Calories: 500
Mood: medium

Day 16 Tuesday

Weight: 54 kg
Another good loss of half a kilo. Extreme low calories works.
Breakfast: porridge made with Oatly. Sweetened with Stevia.
Hot water with a slice of lime. Black coffee.
Lunch: Fennel and apple soup.
Green tea.
Dinner: salad: avocado, cucumber, celery, mushrooms, watercress with balsamic vinegar dressing.
Decaf coffee.
Exercise: 30 mins yoga.

Day 17 Wednesday

Weight: 53.5 kg
Half a kilo loss. Low calorie diet is working.
Breakfast: hot water with twist of lime.
Porridge with almond milk, sweetened with stevia. Orange juice.
Snack: black coffee
Lunch: stir fried spinach, mushrooms, spring onions and peas with ginger, chilli flakes and salt.
Dinner: out at Pizza Express. Garlic bread. Super food salad. One glass of chianti. Cheat meal but tried to stay reasonably healthy.
Snacks: appletizer, diet coke, coffee
Way over on calories today – about 1400.
Exercise: hour’s walk

Day 18 Thursday
Weight: 54 kg Paying for my cheat meal. Sigh.

Book Review The Light Between Oceans ML Stedman

I very much enjoyed this book. Tom is a lighthouse keeper on the island of Janus off the west coast of Australia. He is recently returned from the First World War. In spite of some psychological damage he is a good, strong man. He marries Isabel and takes her back to Janus where they live a happy though isolated life. Isabel’s tragedy is she has three miscarriages and her longing for a baby is killing her inside. One day a boat washes up on the island containing a dead man and a very much alive baby….
This book is beautifully written with exquisite descriptions of nature. It is deeply sad but with flashes of hope…much like life.

Book Review China Mieville Un-Lun-Dun

I did not enjoy this book. I have tried to like China Mieville. After all he is so trendy. He wears black. He is a Marxist. He works out. All very cool. He even teaches creative writing so you would expect his books to be good. I read The City and the City and I didn’t like it. This one is a children’s book but the theme is similar. There is a strange parallel London which can be travelled to by means of various portals. This London is where the old, unwanted things of London go. There is rubbish, bus conductors, smog and dead people. Two girls, one of whom is the chosen one, the Shwazzi, find their way to this other London where they meet a range of strange characters and do battle with monsters. The book is imaginative indeed. The fantasy world is grotesque with echoes of Alice in Wonderland. The writing is simple with mostly dialogue and short descriptions. The characters are undeveloped and uninteresting. I found it impossible to care about them. There seems a lack of warmth in the book. I wish I was cool enough to like China Mieville’s work but alas I am not.

Bit of my new novel – Syria

Chapter 1

Pakistan 2014

My name is Molly. Molly Ryan. That’s me. Well that was me. I need to tell you my story. I need to write it all down, to get it off my chest. I think it will do me good. I can’t believe this has been my life. How strange it seems. How little I imagined what would happen to me back then. So here it is. I hope you understand. Who would have dreamed I would end up living here in Pakistan? I am writing this, sitting in the garden, with a breath taking view of the mountains spread out before me like a quilt. My twin boys are playing an impromptu rackety game of cricket on the lawn. I am sipping English tea and writing with an old fountain pen in my new notebook. I am in love with the thickness of the pages and the purple embossed design on the front. I am twirling the pink page marker ribbon between my fingers. So many memories are flooding in my mind, jostling to be heard. Where to begin? Well the beginning might be a good idea stupid.
Begin at the beginning.
Deep breath.
Here I go.

Please don’t judge me too harshly.

Manchester 2012

Cold rain.
It had rained all day.
The kind of rain that soaks you to the bones, that gets right into you and chills you, the kind that makes you shiver. It was the kind of rain that made me want to up sticks and go and live somewhere sunny: anywhere. One day, one day I would manage this. Leave Manchester behind. Become an export.
So what else was new in Manchester? It seemed to be always raining that year. Being me I had come out unprepared. I had no waterproof coat, no umbrella, no hat. The rain had saturated my dark red hair, flattening it to my head and was dribbling down my neck. I raised the collar of my battered black leather jacket ineffectually against the deluge.
‘I bet I look a right mess,’ I thought.
I couldn’t face the library feeling like this. It was going to be horrible, sitting there, steaming away in my soaked clothes. I needed to go home. No, I needed to drink something warm first. Grasping this thought I headed for the university coffee bar which was in the basement of a tower block on the University of Manchester campus. I was studying computer science. It was boring but I had high hopes my degree, if I ever got it, would stand me in good stead for a job, a ticket out of here. The coffee shop was not exactly pleasant but cheap and full of my own kind. It was safe and there wasn’t much chance of being chatted up by passing chancers trying their luck with me. I might bump into one of my fellow students to talk to, one of my so-called friends. Company would be good today. I made the lift before the doors shut. There were two young male students in there and an old steel haired lecturer who avoided my gaze. The boys eyed me up in that leering way some males of the species have about them. Cocky. I stared straight ahead and was relieved when the doors opened at basement level. Being in enclosed spaces with the opposite sex made me feel uncomfortable for no real reason. Nothing really bad had happened to me but I was wary. I had learned to look out for myself, to avoid gazes, to appear more confident than I felt. I had had to. I had grown up in this city, right in the centre, in Hulme, which until recently had been widely regarded as a no go area by most people. Now it was gentrifying, full of gay men in spick and span apartments who wanted to be close to the centre and the gay village they adored. It was changing. Everything was changing. Manchester was changing. I was changing.
At the counter I ordered a hot chocolate from the server and looked around for someone I knew. Thankfully, I spied Abigail sitting on her own staring into her mobile phone. Abigail, Abbie, was the closest I had to a real friend at university: Bessie mates.
Her face lightened when she saw me.
‘Molly, Oh my God you are here. You look SO wet. You have saved me from terminal boredom.’
I smiled back and pulled one of the orange plastic chairs from another table to sit on. I wiped away someone else’s muffin crumbs and collapsed onto it. I took a swig of the hot chocolate and felt grateful for the warm richness sliding down into me. It was just what I needed. I inhaled the pleasant smells around me: fresh coffee and baked goods.
‘So what’s new in Abbie world?’ I said.
‘Oh Molly, I’ve been so stupid AGAIN. You know how I really like Jack. Well I went to Rockworld, you know to see if he was there and like of course he wasn’t. So I just thought what the fuck let’s just get drunk so I did. So Jason was there. I mean, my God, I don’t even like Jason but I was like so drunk so of course I go back to his flat and all his mates are there in the living room drinking Jack Daniels and pretending they are Nirvana, Well, they are all losers so of course we go in the bedroom and I am SO drunk. So I’m lying there and he says to me he wants me to walk down his back with red heels on. He actually got these scarlet stilettos out of the wardrobe. I mean, really. So I actually did it. Can you believe? How much of an idiot am I? I mean that was the foreplay, we won’t talk about the main act because it really was NOT that memorable.’
She paused for breath and stroked her hair down waiting for my opinion, her hands fluttering around betraying her nervousness underneath the veneer of brash confidence.
I laughed but with affection. This was typical of Abbie. She was in deep love with Jack who already had a girlfriend but used her occasionally when the mood took him. He was a grade A user but I didn’t tell Abbie this. The way I saw it it was up to her what she did. I tried not to judge. Abbie was loud, sweet and full of fun but she had a neediness in her which men took advantage of. She was tall and thin with long frizzy hair that was almost blonde. She was always trying to straighten the frizziness out of it but the damp weather meant it always managed to outwit her and make a comeback.
‘Well at least you have learned you don’t like Jason. Just forget it and if you see him again ignore him. Anyway, if you didn’t like such shit music you wouldn’t end up in these situations. I mean, come on, Rockworld, it’s so passé. They are all meatheads with no manners. You need a better class of guy.’
‘A better class of guy? Like round here. Where exactly am I going to meet one of those?’ Abbie said.
She rolled her eyes for effect.
‘We could try the student union. It’s supposed to be okay on a Friday.’ I said.
‘You are not serious. The fucking student union. Come on! Nerd central,’ Abbie said.
I laughed again.
‘Don’t be so harsh. At least they’ve got prospects. Nice boys who’ll treat you like a lady,’ I said.
‘I don’t want to be treated like a lady. I want to be a crazy cool rock chick you know like what is she called? Courtney Love. That kind of thing. I am not into all that cheesy rubbish you dream about. All that hearts and flowers bullshit. It doesn’t exist Molly. This is it. This is what’s real. You have to take your good times where you can find them. Anyway, I love a real man, a grungy guy, all down and dirty,’ Abbie said.
I was saved from arguing by Abbie’s mobile phone ringing. I could tell by her panicked face it was some guy. She went into full flow, talking at one hundred miles an hour at the top of her voice. Everyone in the coffee bar would know Abbie’s business in ten seconds. Not that Abbie cared for anyone’s opinion. A few people looked over curiously but turned away again when they saw my frown.
I took advantage of the break in conversation to look around the room. It was pretty full, lots of people sheltering from the downpour. Some were talking, huddled conspiratorially in groups, others poring over laptops or phones, permanently plugged into cyber space. It seemed to me there was too much of this. They would miss the love of their life walking past while they were staring at a screen. Poor souls. There was a large group of Asian students in the corner who had managed to commandeer the only comfy sofas. I observed them with interest. I loved to watch people, to try to work out what they were like, to guess from their appearance what made them tick. There were equal numbers of boys and girls, all well dressed in the latest fashions, designer labels probably unless they were fake. I wasn’t very good at telling. I couldn’t afford designer labels and to be honest they didn’t really interest me. I tended to shop in charity shops or looked for bargains in the supermarkets. I like to think I had my own style: a little quirky. I had a knack of putting odd things together quite well so I didn’t look the same as everyone else. There was one girl who was beautiful. She had long sleek hair, almost black, and lots of make-up, kohl emphasising her wide eyes. She had a patterned scarf tied round her neck and a black leather jacket twinned with black jeans and long boots. Her nails were long and painted bright blue. I assumed they had been done at a nail bar, artificial. She was glamour personified, the exact opposite of me. I could just make out her accent as she talked which went with everything else about her, the long vowels of received pronunciation suggesting an expensive, private education. I felt myself recoil somewhere inside like an instinct.
‘I mean honestly. At my school we were always engaged in political debates. Everybody knew about politics. There was a very vibrant debating society. It is so important to be aware, don’t you think? What is wrong with these people?’ she said.
Everything about her exuded confidence as she sat leaning back on the sofa with her legs crossed and her arms stretched wide, gesticulating as she talked. My attention was drawn to the man she was addressing. My eyes widened as I looked at him. I had to admit he was probably the most attractive man I had ever seen in real life, not in a magazine. What was he doing in the basement coffee bar of the University of Manchester? Why wasn’t he doing a photo shoot on a beach in St Tropez or something? Why wasn’t he walking down a catwalk in Milan enclosed in an over-priced suit? I felt something contract in me deep down inside and a deep sense of longing overwhelmed me. I was in lust at first sight. He was dark skinned, a walnut brown, and very tall and thin, over six feet. I couldn’t see his eyes because he was wearing big sunglasses, even though he was indoors. He also had on a black t-shirt and skinny jeans with red Converse boots. His mouth was shaped into an impish smile as he listened to the girl opposite him. His hair was longish, slightly curling around his shoulders and his seated position was relaxed, with his legs spread wide. Like the girl he exuded confidence. I wondered if they were boyfriend and girlfriend. His eyes wandered away from the girl and he saw me watching him. Our eyes locked for a fraction of a second and then I frowned deliberately and looked away. I didn’t want him to think I liked him.
My gaze returned to Abbie who was smiling at me delightedly.
‘Aha, I SAW you. Looking at him. MOLLY! You do not want to get involved with him,’ she said.
‘What are you talking about? I don’t want to get involved with him. I just glanced over for goodness sake. Anyway, even if I did why would you say that? What’s wrong with him?’ I said.