Marathon Training: Trying not to trip up

Two consecutive injuries can ruin any training plan. After two weeks devoid of proper running I am extremely worried about the race in under  seven weeks time. Adding to my fears is the car journey I took yesterday afternoon. Let’s just say that 26.2 miles is a VERY long distance.

I may have reached a peak of 10.5miles before my first injury but I am now back down the same level I was at the start of training.

Is there any way I can run a marathon in October?

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REVIEWING: The Newsroom

Its raining slowly, the sky is white with clouds and there is nothing better to do on a bank holiday monday at the end of August than to catch up with all those TV series I missed. However, after finishing the disappointingly short, depressing – yet entertaining – third and final season of Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’ I am struggling to bite into any more episodes. I was more entertained by the first season, less by the second and virutally stopped listening by the third. Its repetition of the idea of “good news” became boring and was emphatically highlighted with the contrast to reality: the righteousness of these characters does not exist in a real work environment.

And we are shown this reality, taught this reality, have it shoved down our throats with monologue after monologue after monlogue. I grew increasingly tired of the same agrument because each and everytime the effort is fruitless. The reality will not change. People of the news industry, of any industry, are driven by profit alone. No one does anything for nothing because the establishment would simply use that one for their own gain until their heart stopped beating.

Perhaps this is a cynical message to take from a fictional and idealistic story, and I know I am writing my own monlogue right now. But the depressingly accurate message is in your own lap before you can register. The news, today and yesterday and from years ago, has been ignored by the vast majority and misconstrued by many. The result? We are charging towards chaos. We are socially, psychologically and physically toxic to ourselves and this world.

‘The Newsroom’ grips you with an exciting and fast paced plot (the script sometimes a little too fast to keep up) but then drags you back down to the real world before its finale. A handful of righteous characters may not be able rewrite history, but the purpose of the series is very clear.

River Cottage Summer Fair

At this time one week ago, I was packing up a tiny tent in Charmouth, Dorset, with my sister and preparing to travel 200miles back home. It has taken me all this time to get over the post-holiday blues and write down here some of the best parts.

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The trek to Dorset began with too much luggage. A 60L rucksack bursting with clothes and food, a huge hold-all of tent gear and sleeping bags, an extra rucksack with a camping cooker and gas cannisters… add onto that what my sister was carrying and we were like two Buckaroos! When we reached Waterloo station we grabbed two free (but tiny) cans of Coke from a stall in the station centre and just made it in time for to catch our train.
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Unfortunately, we did not have seats for long. As we approached Salisbury the train divided. Georgia, I and about 50 other passengers were crammed together into three small carriages. Yaay for the smell of urine and sweat!

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However unpleasant it was to sit outside the toilets, we did befriend a cute 6 year old girl called Rosy with her father. Feeding her a bag of Magic Stars and playing hide and seek made the journey pass quickly!

Many hours later, we arrived in Axminster and took the bus to the Newlands Holiday Park in Charmouth. The views there are STUNNING.

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We found out very soon that our decision to pitch a tent beneath a tree was very bad. Do earwigs have nests? When the next morning came, we found a few dozen wriggling earwigs poking around our bags. Eek!

But nothing could have dampened down spirits. We were off to visit River Cottage HQ…

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This beautiful pocket of the Dorset countryside is even more beautiful than you can witness on the TV. The purifying taste of the air, the glorious heat of the sun, the sound of sheep and cows from the fields… gorgeous, beyond compare.

We took a tractor ride down to River Cottage, gratefully climbing into the open windowed tractor with outward facing benches.

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It brought us to the sounds of a banjo and the rumble of chatter. Large white tents were scattered across the festival field and were filled with representatives of businesses, farmers, individuals with interesting crafts and foods, stalls for fresh orchard cider, homebaked pastries, handpainted crockery – many exciting and fascinating people to meet. One of whom happened to Tim himself, who kindly signed the book I bought ( Nooo, of course I didn’t just buy the book to talk to him! That would be silly…).

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In the middle of the day we were delighted to have a foraging tour with John Wright. One if the highlights here being the finding of meadowsweet – as a studying pharmacist this coumarin containing plant was fascinating.

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Our lunch was purchased from a stall wafting the delicious aroma of slow roasting pork and apples. It was only after wolfing down the food that we discovered the winner of Masterchef 2014,  Ping Coombes, had cooked it.

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With full bellies and huge smiles my sister and I enrolled on a pickling masterclass -with Pam the Jam! Pam Corbin is an elegant, intelligent lady with a warm aura. She inspired me to learn more about preserves and to begin making jams myself. We made some delicous cucumber pickle and each kept our own, meaning three jars each.

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Our day came to an end, watching the sun set over River Cottage HQ whilst listening to the strange music of Tankus the Henge. There were so many fantastic opportunities, so much we took with us, we will absolutely return there next year.

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Jammin’ in the Kitchen

Yesterday, for the very first time, I made jam. Blackberry and apple jam.

It is a magical process, such a simple recipe and with such delightful results – I’m sure any jam makers reading will agree that the moment of beholding your own jar of jam is very special. I will absolutely be making many more jams!

It all starts with a massive 1.5kg of preserving sugar, 750g of freshly picked and peeled apples, and 1kg of foraged ripe blackberries.

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After softening the fruit for around 30minutes in a large pan (read: cauldron) on medium heat, the sugar can then be dissovled and rapidly brought to a rolling boil.

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All the while stirring continuously, scraping at the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking and burning. This is such a beautiful and mysterious part. It feels a little like potion making.

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Eventually, after another half hour or so, and with careful checking of the bubbling mixture’s temperature, the pot is full of a rich red jam. The setting point should be checked – wrinkle test here! – and the thermometer reading at around 105 degrees Celsius.

Then its time to pot the jam. I used a large ladel and poured the steaming jam into some warmed jars. Although I managed to make an awful mess, it was very exciting.

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The final result was worth it! Some delicious jars of my very own jam…

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Marathon Training: Facing the Sun

I learnt an important lesson yesterday about when it is sensible to train – that is, NOT in this heat!

The temperatures have soared recently, reaching a humid 31C at one particular measurement. Whilst this has made for some excellent beach weather, it is absolutely awful for any form of training or exercise. The sun was beating down relentlessly, my eyes scrunched up behind my glasses, feet slowly cooking in my trainers.

Usually I like to take Dexter with me as I run around the park. But on this day, he was laying panting in the cool shade.

“It’s far too hot to make you run, Dexter.”

Dexter - hot and bothered!

Dexter – hot and bothered!

Now, I should have thought then that if it were too hot for Dexter to be outside, then surely it would be too hot for me also. Unfortunately this did not occur to me at the time.

I set off for a long jog under the baking sun, through the beautiful park. One lap around – roughly 3 miles – and I found myself extremely thirsty, sweaty, tired, nauseous and struggling to breath.

I stopped and sat beneath a tree, trying to push away the dizziness. As a pharmacy student, I recognised the symptoms of heat exhaustion and after sitting and cooling down for 10 minutes I slowly walked back home to drink a few pints of water.

It was stupid. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious but can be sensibly avoided. From this point onward, all of my training sessions throughout the summer will take place in the early hours of the morning or in the cool late evening. This includes the additional strength building exercises and interval training. There’s a time and place to push yourself, and it is not in the sun!

Push ups, anyone?

Push ups, anyone?

Dinner time!

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Preparing a quick, tasty meal of vegetarian bolognaise. For this meal I used the following ingredients:

1 pack of Quorn mince
2 peppers (green and red)
1 can of tomatoes
6 medium chestnut mushrooms
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 fresh tomato (vine ripened for its fragrant aroma)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pinch of smoked paprika
-served with boiled spaghetti

As I was quite tired, I chose this recipe as it is very quick and easy to make.

1. When all of the vegetables have been chopped, they are all added to the pan to slowly cook amongst the garlic cloves.

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2. The tinned tomatoes are then added and the sauce is left to simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Pour around 2 thirds of the sauce into a separate, deep bowl – careful! Its very hot! – and then blended. The sauce can be as smooth as you prefer.

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4. Pour the blended sauce back into the pot, and then add the Quorn mince. Cook for around 12 minutes.

5. Serve with spaghetti.

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This dish is quick, healthy and delicious. I particularly love a good homemade spaghetti bolognaise shared with my family.

Cook Me Quick: Spicy Prawn Curry

Ingredients:
500g Cooked Prawns – marinate for an hour or more in lemon juice and a little chopped chilli
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 green pepper, sliced into squares
1 red chilli, finely chopped – with seeds if you like it extra hot!
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon tamarind paste (optional)
3cm root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons sweetcorn
400g canned tomatoes
200ml coconut milk

1. In a large, nonstick frying pan heat up the oil and fry on a low heat the chopped onions. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli and cook until the onion is nearly see through.

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2. Add the tumeric to the onions, stiring them thoroughly. Then add the tamarind paste – this provides a sweet and tangy flavour to the onions.

3. To the pan, add the chopped green peppers and allow to cook at a medium heat for roughly 5 minutes.

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4. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, sweet corn and then add the curry powder. Simmer for 10 minutes before adding coconut milk.

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5. Add the prawns and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. If the sauce is too thin, sprinkle in a little cornflour whilst rapidly stirring.

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Cooked prawns marinating in lemon juice and chilli

6. Serve with freshly boiled rice or warm naan bread.

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Timing : 10mins preparation, 25mins cooking

Pet Diaries: BooBoo’s Baby Jumpers

As a dog mummy, I am very sentimental about all the cute moments and silly things my little babies do. This includes holding onto old toys, collars, bowls, name tags and in this case jumpers.

Sleepy BooBoo in his first jumper

Sleepy BooBoo in his first jumper

BooBoo was only tiny when he arrived into our home last winter. His short puppy fur barely a fuzz over his small body, and quite underweight from poor care in his early life. Worrying so much about protecting him from the cold, I immediately rushed out and purchased a little woolly jumper for him.

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As it was close to Christmas time, absolutely every item available was printed and labelled with commercialised festivity. I wrapped BooBoo up in that powder blue, snowman jumper – probably intended for someone’s pampered Chihuahua – and fell so completely in love with his naughty schoolboy look that I also bought the Santa one too.

Dexter and BooBoo

Dexter and BooBoo

Within a couple of months, spring arrived. BooBoo outgrew his puppy jumpers and started sprouting a few hairs of his adult coat. I carefully folded and kept safely each of his tiny jumpers. Now, at 10 months old and weighing an enormous 48kg, I don’t think he’ll need one this year!

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A Review of ‘The Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer

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I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.

The Shock of the Fall is a breath-taking debut novel that intertwines the threads of grief, guilt and mental health with the powerful voice of Matt Holmes, a nineteen year old boy suffering from schizophrenia. It is no surprise that it won the Costa prize for best first novel! With beautiful clarity Filer brings to life the narrator within the very first sentence.

“I should say that I am not a nice person.”

Every word of the novel is precisely chosen and carefully constructs the inner universe of Mathew’s mind. We are welcomed into his thoughts, his flaws, his understated acts of kindness, and observe the chaos that slowly takes hold of his life. Filer has cleverly positioned every chapter, piece of dialogue, revelation of plot, to masterfully portray an unravelling psyche and the ever-looming sense of guilt-ridden grief. The Shock of the Fall is a work of stunning skill.

My illness knows everything I know.

Filer thrusts upon you a sense of helplessness, anger, resignation – our role as reader is to realise the societal failures with respect to mental health. These failures, the cracks within the healthcare system and attitude of individuals which entrap the characters of this novel, are reflections of the shameful treatment that is begrudgingly offered to so many today.

And yet, despite the harrowing undertones of mental illness, kitted together with grief, Filer manages to coax out a laugh with his humorous language. Matt’s wit in the face of his own illness peels back the layers of tragedy to show perhaps the one constant light within the novel: the strength of humanity’s spirit.

Not making excuses, but I am a schizophrenic

Beautifully haunting and with refreshingly unique characterisation, I am tempted to reread The Shock of the Fall. There are too few novels which discuss the consequences of mental illness and its treatment, and certainly none with such finesse.

SCORE: 9/10
RECOMMEND: Yes!

A Review of ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

I really wish I could give a better review for a novel I should have been able to relate to. Rowell paints a portrait of a socially withdrawn young girl – Cath – who is absorbed in a world of fanfiction, entering the jungle of university with her twin sister, a passion for writing… This could be me! I thought.

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You’re not the ugly one… You’re just the Clark Kent

Disappointingly, Rowell’s portrait of a protagonist is nothing more than a finger-painting, smeared across a train wreck of tearfully boring plot. I may have been more forgiving of the frustratingly poor quality of writing had the author not thrown Cath out as a scholarship student on a Fiction Writing course. Perhaps this was intended to create an intelligent female lead? Instead, it works to reveal her stupidity, immaturity and naivety. For example, in one chapter Cath argues with her Professor about plagiarism after submitting a piece of fanfiction writing for grading. Her pitiful “I just don’t think you understand” might provoke a little sympathy for her embarrassment, and yet such a monumental error would surely not have been made by a supposed genius. To drive in the nail of embarrassment and contradiction a little further, the consecutive chapters following read more like a string of pathetic excuses rather than intelligent arguments for the celebration of fanfiction.

Do you really expect an elderly English professor to be down with gay Simon Snow fanfiction?

The fetishisation of a homosexual relationship by the use of fanfiction as a awkward foreplay is demeaning to LGBTQA individuals. And yet aside from these long scenes mashing together two stories, the romance is pitifully absent.

Rowell’s disjointed, repetitive writing style stalls the movement of the story on every page. Even the chapters are interrupted with snippets of the focal fandom: Simon Snow novels – a cheap reflection of Harry Potter. No conversation between characters is allowed to progress far without Cath’s outbursts of rudeness that are excused as social anxiety or the traits of being “a weirdo”. Overall the topic of mental health is roughly approached and poorly dealt with. Rowell throws in the father’s mental instability like an afterthought halfway through and fails to represent his condition accurately or with empathy.

Dad? Call me.”
“It’s Cath again. Call me.”
“Dad. Call me. Or call Wren. No, call me.

As a light read, Fangirl is a forgettable novel with predictable plotline and irritating, dislikeable characters. The scattering of sarcastic humour reads like a Tumblr dashboard, with just as much youthful angst and directionless written outpouring. Its only saving grace is the inside illustration of characters, these kept me occupied as I struggled to reach the end.

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SCORE: 2/10
RECOMMEND: Reading some fanfiction to find better quality stories.