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Advice, Ramblings

Exciting news….

So, I have some exciting news, I’ve just started a new job. And not just any job; my perfect job. I am now Staff Writer at History Revealed, part of Immediate Media. I’ve spent years trying to get work placements at their magazines and have even started a distance learning journalism course to improve my chances and I’m so thrilled it’s paid off. As I say in my blog, it’s always been my aim to be a writer and history is something I’ve always been passionate about. I was the one at school that actually enjoyed learning about dates and kings and queens where some of my schoolmates couldn’t have looked more bored. I love wandering around castles and museums; I would annoy my family on holidays by trying to get us to visit as many historical and heritage locations as possible. This could mean a few more historical themed posts which I hope you’ll enjoy reading. If anyone’s interested in History Revealed, check it out here. I’ve written many articles for Milkround and other sites about persevering in the job search and can now testify that it works. If you’re still struggling to get into your dream career, don’t give up. Keep showing initiative by contacting companies and individuals you’d like to work for to ask for advice. If anyone wants to get into writing/publishing, feel free to contact me by commenting for some tailored advice. It’s been a short post today but I will be back soon once I’ve settled into my new role x

Book Reviews

Don’t You Forget About Me

I loved Don’t You Forget About Me so much. I’ve read a few of Mhairi McFarlane’s books before – and I’ve reserved two at the library to take on my upcoming holiday. She has this amazing ability to make each situation feel real as well as hilarious. This story tells the tale of Georgina – a nearly 30-year-old woman stuck in a rut. Due to personal circumstances, she quit university and stumbles in and out of disaster jobs for the next ten years. Her family is concerned with where she’s ended up and a disaster with her love-life makes her reevaluate some things. We learn that Georgina had an intense relationship with her first love at sixth-form but the flashback at the beginning leaves the story unfinished – how and why did the relationship end? Flash-forward and she’s forced to come face to face with him again, though not all is as it seems. We gradually learn that Georgina has suffered some traumas throughout her life and has to face up to her past. A subplot of the novel deals with Georgina coming to terms with a personal bereavement, and as I have personal experience with this, I found the way McFarlane talked about it spot-on; it really gave me some food for thought. There were a number of times that I properly laughed at loud with this book – it always happens when I’m on a packed train – and I encourage anyone to give it a go. It’s a hilarious and thoughtful story about first love and second chances. The fact that the title is a reference to one of my favourite 80s songs – and a regular mainstay at Ultimate Power – only made me love it more.

 

 

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Ramblings

Helping the Homeless in Bristol

 

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I walk past this sleeping bag every day on my way to work and it’s becoming a more common sight

Homelessness across Britain has dramatically risen over the last few years and the city of Bristol is no different. People begging and sleeping on the streets is now a common sight in the city.

Homelessness charity Shelter recently reported that homelessness across the whole of Britain is increasing year on year with 320,000 people reported homeless in 2018. This is an increase of more than 13,000 compared to 2017. Bristol’s recent official rough sleeper count recorded 82 people living on the streets – this is four less than last year but this doesn’t account for those sleeping in unsafe buildings, vehicles or sofa-surfing.

There any many misconceptions surrounding the homeless, with assumptions sometimes made that those on the streets have brought their situation on themselves through addiction. While some rough sleepers do suffer from substance abuse, this cannot be said for all.

One man on the street that I spoke to, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was simply a case of losing his job and not being able to pay the “crippling” rents. Many of the homeless have moved to the area with a limited support network and so have no-one to turn to when they get into difficulty. Rising rents and a lack of affordable housing are some of the main issues that have contributed to the rising levels of homelessness in Bristol – the average house price is £300,000 with rents regularly pushing £1,000 a month.

I recently visited Help Bristol’s Homeless in Bedminster where founder Jasper Thompson is converting shipping containers into accommodation for the homeless. Bristol philanthropist Jasper, who works as a bodyguard in his spare time, has been developing an innovative way to help.

The charity, which was founded in 2017, renovates shipping containers to turn them into accommodation for the homeless. The site on Malago Road currently has seven people living on site who help maintain the containers, while rebuilding their lives. Thompson believes that providing people with a roof over their heads is the first step to helping the homeless .

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Some of the containers at Help Bristol’s Homeless

The containers, some of which are donated and others bought via fundraising, have been fitted out and look indistinguishable from the inside with a fully equipped kitchen, shower, toilet facilities and a bed. Those who live on site all help out with the refit with tradespeople offering electrical and plumbing services for free.

I spoke to Rob Earnshaw who has been living on the site since it opened in 2017 and now helps manage the site as well as doing the cooking. He became homeless after a combination of mental breakdowns and heavy drinking and calls the project “affirming” and “diversional therapy” from the situation he’s in. Earnshaw now intends to continue helping others with the night bus the charity is using to help get people off the street. The double-decker bus has been fitted with beds for 12 people and will allow users to access the toilet, shower and breakfast facilities at Malago Road. More information about the charity can be found here.

Below is a quick interview with Jasper Thompson.

 

Book Reviews

Oh my god, what a complete Aisling!

I absolutely loved this book by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen. It tells the story of 28-year-old Aisling, a small town girl at heart, who tries to survive in the big smoke of Dublin.

She is hilarious and as so many reviews have said, if you don’t know a girl like Aisling, it’s probably because you are one. I could see so much of myself in her – being a smallish-town girl myself with some Irish blood in me. Aisling is so sensible – the kind of girl that will always take a jacket with her (that sounds familiar to me) and definitely wouldn’t ever get a parking fine. I even had a Forever Friends duvet just like her. She gets herself into hilarious situations that had me laughing out loud on the train.  She’s such an endearing character that you’ll learn to love – an Irish Bridget Jones for the 21st century.

Anyone who has grown up in the country and moved to a big city will recognise the characters in Aisling’s hometown and remember the struggles as you try and shake off the country girl habits. Having a lot of Irish family meant that I understood a lot of the jokes and slang but I’m not going to lie, I did need to look up a few, but I now feel confident that I can speak the lingo the next time I visit the Emerald Isle. I can’t wait to read the sequel – there’s also talk of a film – as this was a hilarious and heart-warming read.

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

Book Reviews

One Day in December

Don’t worry; this isn’t a winter or Christmas blog post. It just so happens that my next book review is a story that features some key moments in December, hence the photo choice. I absolutely fell in love with this book by Josie Silver. I read it every second I could on the train and on my lunch-break, desperate to get to the end and find out what happened. It’s the story of Laurie who falls in love at first sight – something she never believed in – and spends a year desperate to find her mysterious man. She finally finds him, although not in the way she expects to.

I constantly had my heart in my mouth throughout. I am a true romantic at heart so I was willing Laurie and Jack to get together, though I will not reveal if they did. The book does have a sense of One Day by David Nicholls about it as you follow the characters for nearly ten years and as One Day is one of my favourite books, you’ll hear no complaint from me.

The characters felt so real to me and every near miss that they had made perfect sense, though it does make you want to shout at them sometimes to get their act together. That first glance is so realistic and at the same time feels like something out of a classic movie. I really look forward to reading more by Josie Silver and if you love love stories, I highly recommend this book.

Apologies for my sporadic blog posts at the moment and thanks so much for sticking with me.

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Things I noticed watching Friends again in 2018

Really interesting points about re-watching Friends from a modern perspective.

Jenny in Neverland

You’re probably aware of the fact that hit American TV show F.R.I.E.N.D.S (that took me so long to type omg) was added to Netflix at the beginning of this year. Everywhere you looked, people were shouting it from the rooftops. Netflix users were finally being graced with one of the most loved shows to ever be made. It took me a good few months to finally get around to start watching it again; just through being too busy and having too many other shows on the go. But in May, I finally did it. I committed, once again, to 10 glorious seasons of Friends (I cba with that again). And when I started watching it again, I was certainly surprised at what thoughts popped up. 

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Ramblings

An increasingly Big issue…

A few weeks ago I did something I’m ashamed to say I’ve never done before. I bought a copy of the Big Issue. Now I don’t want this post to become preachy but over the past few years, homelessness is a subject that’s become more evident and important to me.

Over the last few years, I’ve worked in two city centres where I’ve witnessed a staggering increase in the number of homeless people. In my small seaside town, people living on the street were a rarity during my childhood, but this has increased too. The number of homeless people across the UK has increased dramatically with homeless charity Shelter reporting last year that one in every 200 people in the UK was homeless.

The Big Issue

In the past, I’ve been guilty, as I’m sure many of us have, at ignoring people begging and Big Issue sellers. As a child or young woman on their own I have felt at times intimidated and would rather walk on the other side of the road or ignore someone than engage, in case of the very small chance, that someone gets aggressive. There’s also the thought that many of us have about where any money we give somebody might be spent? Is it going on cigarettes or to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction? The Big Issue helps any of its vendors who have an addiction but does stress that, contrary to popular belief, not all suffer addictions.

Since starting my new job, I’ve started chatting to the Big Issue vendor near my office and he really brightens up my day. Instead of just shouting “Big Issue” like so many do, he simply wishes you a good morning and to have a lovely day. Considering my commute can be very stressful with people pushing, not acknowledging you and being generally anti-social, this is a welcome change. I always wish him a good day back and have on a few occasions now bought the magazine from him.

I didn’t know a lot about the magazine beforehand but it’s actually a really interesting read with some well-written features, as well as real stories about people who have pulled themselves out of homelessness. For those unfamiliar, each vendor has to be either homeless or very close to being so and they pay £1.25 per issue which they then sell on for £2.50.

Misconceptions

The misconceptions about homelessness are vast. It’s assumed that the majority are addicts or they must have done something bad to be kicked out of their accommodation or family home. After reading many examples of how people become homeless, it’s actually a lot closer to happening to some of us than we think. I’m lucky that I have a steady job, a home I can afford and a support network of family and friends who would be there if anything went wrong. Some people have no family or friends to fall back on, so if they’re struggling with employment and then can’t afford their rent, it’s very easy for it all to fall apart. Bereavement, redundancy and illness can all cause this.

A few tips on what to do if you see a homeless person:

  • Firstly, if you’re concerned about a rough sleeper, particularly if it’s extremely warm or cold outside, contact StreetLink who can put them in contact with support services
  • Talk to them. Even if it’s just a hello or if you feel more confident, have chat, find out if there’s anything you can do to help that won’t put you out of pocket. We’re all human and capable of making mistakes at the end of the day
  • Rather than giving money, why not grab them a bottle of water, a coffee or a sandwich
  • Buy the Big Issue off an official vendor and most importantly, take it. It’s a business, not a charity and they want you to take and read it. If you want to find out more, visit it here

If you’re still cynical about where your money might be going, at the end of the day £2.50 can’t do a lot of harm, but it could do a bit of good.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

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Questions still unanswered over the fate of Bath library

 

Controversy surrounding the proposed changes to Bath Central library has led to the council putting plans of a shared use of the building on hold. Their original plan of relocation was met with criticism so it was decided to merge other council services with the library, without holding a public consultation.  This has now been put on hold due to budget concerns. A statement released by the council commented: ‘The council remains committed to a library at the Podium in Bath and its successful wider Modern Libraries programme of capital investment to secure the future of the library service in Bath and North East Somerset.’

In December 2016, Bath and North East Somerset Council were planning to move the library from its current location in the Podium alongside Waitrose to Lewis House, where other council offices are.  By January 2017, hundreds of people had signed a petition and prominent authors including Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell had shown their support to keep the library where it is. Film director Ken Loach became involved and commented at a protest in 2017 that moving the library, which is a ‘big feature in the centre of Bath’ was a ‘bad sign’.

The new plans involved the council’s One Stop Shop services, based in Lewis House, to move in alongside the library. This is the first point of call for residents who need to contact the council for issues ranging for benefits and council housing to disputes and recycling. A similar approach has been taken at the library in Keynsham, though many staff members as well as the public had voiced concerns. With libraries in decline across Britain, regular users were concerned that Bath will join the list of places without access to a professionally-run library. One of Bath’s library branches, Weston, has been taken over by volunteers after it was threatened with closure.

Originally, the intended move of Bath Central library was planned without consulting the public. An ex-library assistant, who wishes to remain anonymous, commented that the council have been planning a lot of changes to the library service which normally the public would be consulted about and asked for feedback.

It has been suggested by opposition members within the city council that the proposed merger had sidestepped normal planning procedures and gave the public no chance to comment. Lib Dem Councillor Richard Samuel said to SomersetLive: ‘The Conservatives appear willing to use any means necessary to avoid public scrutiny, including bypassing the normal planning process. This is a shameless attempt to avoid having to face objectors in a public meeting.’ However, cabinet member Councillor Karen Warrington called these claims ‘deliberately misleading’ and the council has argued that as the proposals did not constitute a change of use, a certificate of lawfulness is all that would be required to bring the One Stop Shop into the Podium, rather than full planning permission.

It’s been revealed by the anonymous library worker that a controversial lone-working policy had been suggested as a way of cutting costs. This would have seen the smaller branch at Moorland Road operate with just one member of staff rather than two. This caused great alarm amongst the staff, especially as concerns were harshly dismissed as ‘trivial’ by senior managers. “On a daily basis in this busy city-centre library, we deal with multiple violent incidents and aggressive members of the public. A colleague of mine spoke to a senior manager regarding their concerns about lone-working and the response given was that ‘the police lone-work’. We are not trained police-officers but library assistants.”

The Save Bath Library Campaign has amassed a huge following on social media and Mary English,  founder of the campaign and Secretary of Friends of Bath Podium Library,  commented about the original plans to move the library: “The library has worked very well since the 1990s, everyone is happy with it…why can’t it stay the way it is? I have no idea why the council isn’t listening to the residents.”

A former manager of the library, Andy Halliday, commented: “The Podium offers great floor space, a wide variety of books, a super exhibition room and a great children’s area which was redesigned after long consultation with the users. I think it’s a backward step which is detrimental to our city centre library and the culture of the city. Having to reduce the service will be harmful to learning for so many people. “

Many questions are now left unanswered with no clue as to if or when the planned merger will happen – the council has still not provided successful examples of this scenario working within another authority.

Below follows a brief interview with a regular user of Bath Central Library and Sports Studies student, Samuel James, aged 26.

Book Reviews

The Cursed Wife

The Elizabethan thriller The Cursed Wife by Pamela Hartshorne is a change of direction from my usual genre. With the historical setting, I couldn’t resist. It tells the story of Mary and Cat as we slowly uncover their past and understand why their lives are irreconcilably intertwined. The theme of Mary being cursed follows her throughout the novel and is tied to the doll she keeps with her; this doll seems to have powers of its own and changes its expression to foreshadow events, a subtle but terrifying addition.

The trouble that Mary finds herself in is mostly not her fault and you really for her as she struggles to keep her perfect life together. It’s a story of self-fulfilling prophecy. The ending is at once heart-breaking yet undeniable; it also leaves the story open for a potential sequel. Cat is a character I find myself disliking the whole way through; I couldn’t find any redeemable qualities in her but could understand her situation at times.

The story is told from the perspective of the two women and it’s a great insight to see their different takes on the same event. If you like historical fiction and thrillers, I’d definitely recommend this book. Buy The Cursed Wife here.

Photo by Mitch Rosen on Unsplash

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Book Reviews

The Trick to Time Review

I recently read The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal, if I could sum this book up in a few words it would be that it is an incredibly moving story and at times heartbreaking. Using a parallel timeline, we follow Mona on the eve of her 60th birthday as she reflects on her past. She runs a doll shop and also helps women cope with tragic losses; something she’s too familiar with. Some may dislike reading two timelines at once but I personally enjoyed it and find that each event complements another. It also shows the power of the story as I was willing younger Mona’s path to change even though I knew the eventual outcome.  There is a twist at the end of the book which took me by surprise which I’m sure was the aim.  There’s the reoccurring theme of missed chances throughout the novel with the story of Bridie back in Ireland and Mona’s potential suitor Karl. It’s a very thought-provoking novel and I feel it deals with the subject of loss very well. Setting part of it during the IRA bombing in Birmingham was a good touch, highlighting how Irish immigrants during this time in Britain would have felt. I would definitely recommend this book but would be wary as it does deal with the loss of children.

Photo by Aaron Kato on Unsplash

Book Reviews

Review of On The House

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So here’s my first book review and it’s a positive one with a unique publisher. On the House by Helen Maskew was published last year by Unbound, a crowdfunding publisher that allows authors to raise money by talking to readers and sharing ideas. If enough people are interested in the idea, they can help contribute. I recently went to a talk at my town’s first Literary Festival and heard some great writers talk about their experiences. Even though they have all had success, they still explained how it’s such a demanding job. You can’t write one book and hope to retire with riches. Starting out you have to be able to work at the same time while facing rejection. So Unbound is great concept that I hope will continue. Onto the book.

On The House is thoroughly researched and well written social commentary on the hardships faced by everyday people in Victorian England. The novel starts with Edgar, the local landowner who becomes embroiled in the nearby workhouse. He slowly starts to see that not all is as it seems. He already dislikes the hypocrisy of his class and becomes a champion for social justice.  For a history lover like me, it was a joy to read as I could tell how much work had gone into making the novel as accurate as possible. This leads me to the only criticism that those unfamiliar or disinterested in the topic might struggle to enjoy or fully grasp the conext.  I loved the references to Charles Dickens as well as the Peterloo massacre which had a poignant connection to the unfair social system of the time.

With hindsight now we know the welfare laws weren’t fair or humane, unfortunately, something that still goes on today. There was an unexpected gruesome section that was a stark but enjoyable contrast to the rest of the story. The story came to a satisfactory ending which gave hope in a bleak time. I believe this is a planned trilogy and I look forward to reading more of these enjoyable blends of social commentary and a gripping whodunit.

Click on the book cover below to get the ebook from Amazon.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash