Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Book review: The Heart Specialist, by Claire Holden Rothman

While I was interning at Oneworld, they had a big clear out before their 'Hen' party (a celebration of the UK publication of the immensely successful The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang). I rather took advantage of their offer to 'take whatever I wanted' and carried 14 books home.

The first book I decided to read was Holden Rothman's debut novel, The Heart Specialist...

The Heart Specialist

The novel is set at the turn of the 19th century in Canada. Agnes White, the protagonist, wants to follow in her father's footsteps and become a doctor, but her intelligence is deemed unwomanly and she faces opposition at every stage of her journey. As a character, she is determined and passionate - Agnes is somewhat of an anti-heroine through her ungainliness, plainness and general lack of adherence to social rules of what a woman should be. She is, however, very human, and desperately longs to be reunited with her father - he was accused of horrifically murdering his disabled sister and disappeared when Agnes was very young.

I felt that this novel was about human weakness as much as human strength - from Agnes' blindness to her colleague's affection, to her sister's mental illness, to her mentor's breakdown at the death of his son, The Heart Specialist is an ironic title; Agnes understands the most complicated heart disorders, but can't understand her own!

The novel has been criticised for reading too much like a biography, instead of fiction based on real life - Agnes is inspired by Maude Abbott, one of Canada's first female physicians. Yes, the text isn't littered with lengthy descriptions and emotional solloquies, but this was what made it consistent with Agnes' character - while she is prone to ill-timed fits of tears, she spends more time studying than pondering her confused emotions.

Agnes does become an accomplished doctor, but the absence of her father overshadows her personal and private life. Two mysteries remain unsolved during the novel - including whether her father was innocent of his crime - but as the book closes just after the end of World War One, it seems fitting that the confusion and cutting sense of loss felt in Europe seeps into Agnes' own life.

The Heart Specialist is a reflective account of the complexity of the human heart, both medically and emotionally. It was a gem I'm glad I picked up.

Monday, 28 April 2014

New PT Workout: #5

I have put on 1.5 inches around my waist. I blame Easter and filling my gluttonous mouth hole with chocolate every 5.2 seconds... But still, that's quite a feat in 2 weeks. Thankfully, my body fat hasn't increased but I'm still stuck at 19.64%. 

After accidentally missing my session last Tuesday, I was excited to start a new programme today. My Dad recently renamed Michelle, my trainer, 'The Smiling Assassin', which was highly appropriate after today's session. I still feel a bit delirious!

Warm-up: interval run, 10 mins

Circuit 1 - Lower Body (3 sets)
Walking lunges with 15kg barbell - 20 reps
Squats with 15kg barbell - 12 reps

Deadlift with 25kg barbell - 12 reps 

Leg extension 17.5kg - 12 reps 
Leg curl 15kg - 12 reps

Circuit 2 - Upper Body (3 sets)
DB bench press with 6kg - 12 reps
Single arm row with 9kg - 12 reps

Kettlebell snatch with 8kg - 10 reps
Lateral raises with 3 kg - 12 reps

Skull crushers with 4kg - 12 reps

Circuit 3 - Abs (3 sets)
The Matrix - 15 reps
Cross body crunches - 20 reps
Russian twist - 20 reps

Cool down, stretch, and collapse on floor.
Programme designed by Michelle Maxwell of

I have no doubt, now I've got my eating back into order, that I'll lose those sneaky 1.5 inches, especially as I'll be doing this plan 2-3 times a week. I said "I think I'm going to shit myself" about 5 times during the first circuit, as well as a certain profanity which rhymes with 'duck' about 700 times throughout. It was painful, but I really enjoyed knowing that I'd pushed myself as hard as I could during circuit 1 - we ran out of time so just did circuits 2 and 3 once.

As recommended by Michelle, I'm going to split the circuits into Upper and Lower days with abs on both. I'm hoping to do upper and abs on Thursday.

Wish me luck, as I'm not sure I'll be able to walk tomorrow... 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The True Story of St. George's Day

Once upon a time, in a land not very far away from France and Ireland, there lived a brave nation of people who had a slightly eccentric dress sense and a penchant for tea. Every April 23rd, however, they were forced to sacrifice a child from the village to a ferocious fire-breathing dragon.

During the oddly temperate April of 1089, on the morning of the 23rd, the King's daughter was chosen as the sacrifice. Even though he was really sad, he still didn't get off his bloody arse to fight the dragon and save his own child, so it was left to Georgina the Great to don her finest fighting gear, saddle up her noble steed Ernest the Excellent, and fight the big scary dragon.

Georgina rode at a gallop towards the spot where the King's daughter had been left to meet her grisly fate. Ernest had other ideas, however, and galloped past the abandoned maid (this was a time before vodka and clubs, remember) into the forest.

"Oi!" said his rider, tugging frantically at the reins and remembering a rather exciting cross country competition they had entered two years previously.

"OK OK, sorry about that. Just got a bit excited." said Ernest, slowing to a bouncy walk, which actually wasn't that slow at all.

He stopped suddenly and Georgina almost banged her nose on his neck. In a glade in the forest, green light casting spots on the ground, the dragon lay sleeping and snoring very loudly. 

"Bloody hell." said Ernest. Before Georgina had a chance to check whether she actually had wet herself, her noble steed wandered forward and biffed the dragon right on the nose.

The dragon jumped into the air with a shriek. "Christ! What the hell was that for?!" yelled the startled mythical beast, in a voice not dissimilar to the current monarch.

"Back beast! Back!" shouted Georgina, unsheathing the badminton racket (she couldn't find her sword when leaving the hut that morning) and waving it aimlessly in the air.

The dragon raised an eyebrow and sat down on a nearby log. "Hi. I'm Lucky."

Rather than being a rather serpenty-looking monster, the dragon had a large white face with one bright blue eye and one brown eye. Her scales shimmered in the sunlight, and Georgina noticed there were daisies plaited into the long mane which ran the length of Lucky's neck.

"Um... hello, I'm Georgina." she stepped forward to shake the dragon's surprisingly hoof-like paw. Instead of being leathery, it was baby-soft - the nails were a delicate shade of pink. "Are you... are you going to eat that girl out there?"

The dragon laughed so hard she accidentally set fire to a nearby branch. Georgina smiled despite being more confused than the time in Maths class when they were learning algebra. Ernest, meanwhile, was grazing on a rather luscious patch of grass. 

"I'm a vegetarian. Why do you think I live in the forest? There's lots of herbacious foods for me in here. I just let the people go... most of them move to the big village Londendon to find better work opportunities but some of them stay living in the forest. Every Sunday I cook a big meal and invite everyone." Lucky explained. 

After a lengthy chat, Georgina the Great persuaded Lucky the Dragon to come into the village and explain that she would prefer if the village offered her the largest apple they could find, rather than a person, every April 23rd. Once that whole debacle was resolved, Lucky returned to the forest, promising to keep in touch with Georgina and Ernest.

A recreation of events... yes, that is a dragon slipper.

That's the true story of St. George's Day!

PS - Happy World Book Day and Happy Birthday Shakespeare.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Lent is OVER!

Lent was sooo easy, I mean, I barely thought about chocolate or cheese at all. I think I could probably never eat it again. 


Lent officially finished yesterday, although I will admit I started eating chocolate on Saturday 12th... it was a very stressful time and to be quite honest, I proved I can abstain. I did last the full 6 weeks with cheese, however. 

The first four weeks, I was surprised at how much I missed cheese over chocolate. However, for the last two weeks, I started to really crave chocolate - this was probably because of all the adverts for Easter eggs and Lindt bunnies. After Easter, I will cut my chocolate down again and generally eat less cheese. 

Maxx, Christelle (Maxx's mum) and I went Easter shopping today (we're in France), and I thought my brother would like this poisson instead of an egg:

Maxx bought me this:

Buuuuut funnily enough it doesn't look like that anymore. I am starting to feel a bit sick so I think I may lay off chocolate the rest of today...

In other news, I HAVE A JOB! IN PUBLISHING! I'm the new Publishing Assistant at Health Press Limited and start on 6th May. I was offered the role on Wednesday, which meant Maxx and I could start our break in a celebratory mood. 

Happy Easter - Joyeuses Pâques - everyone!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Top 5: Ways To Deal With The Death Of A Beloved Pet

Before I start, this is not a depressing or miserable post. Even though I’m a bit of a Crying Christine at the moment, I’m not going to go all morose and start writing poetry about ravens and the misty eyes of death.

As you know by now, Lucky passed away on Saturday 5th April. I was out riding at the time and just missed the vet. You may also know that my family have 2 ex-racer greyhounds; these are not the first greyhounds we’ve had (I don’t like to say ‘owned’ as it isn’t accurate! They completely own us), but the 4th and 5th. Our first 3 sadly all died of bone cancer.

So, I feel I am qualified to offer advice on how to cope with the upsetting event of losing a beloved pet.

It’s perfectly acceptable to stand in Sainsbury’s vegetable aisle and weep over a carrot/dog bone/scratching post. Cry and feel angry and guilty and sad and lost, as long as you know these feelings are completely normal. Don’t suppress it. Let it all out – but maybe don’t shout at the same time, or people will think you’re a bit odd. Unless shouting helps you, in which case, crack on.

Talk about your pet
My Mum’s soulhound, Rio, died in 2011, and we still talk about him. All the time. We sign our Mother’s Day cards from him, he buys her her own birthday card, and we say the little Boofle dog hanging from Mum’s car mirror is him. I make special voices for all of our pets, and Rio obviously had a Brazilian accent, so when I talk with that voice we know it’s Rio speaking. It sounds mad (it is mad), and I spend more time talking in all my different pet voices than my own when I’m at home, but it makes us laugh and keeps all our deceased pets alive.

Don’t feel guilty over getting a new pet
You are not replacing him or her, and you will never will. But given how many pets are in need of a loving home, it seems silly to feel all lonely inside just because you think you need to wait a certain amount of time before getting a new pet. We hate having 1 hound – when my brother and I were born, my parents had 2 dogs, so only having 1 feels really empty. Greyhounds are always kept in pairs as well, so we adopted Claus (after Rio’s death) for Princess’s sake as well as ours.

Everything feels like utter bum after a bereavement (technical term – look it up). Just know that you can’t feel this bad forever – you’ll never feel happy that your pet died, but you’ll be able to look back on your memories together with fondness instead of sadness.

Spend time with (the right) people
At first, you’ll want to weep and wallow in private. You’ll probably have days where you wear the same pants twice and forget to wash your hair. But after a while, this isn’t healthy – and is kind of dirty. I seriously doubt your pet wants to look down from PetHeaven and watch you grieve all alone for days on end. Spend time with your closest friends and family – they’ll know how to cheer you up better than anybody, and may even remember some stories about your pet that you may have forgotten.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Guest Post: How Pip Got into Riding, by Mandy Jones

Here is a short story set many years ago, during what is known as Pre-Pony Times

My son, Gaz, had a rabbit whom I needed to buy hay for, so one day I gaily went off to Petsmart to buy said hay. Whilst I was queuing to pay, a stranger came up to me and said:

“Ooh, you don't want to pay that for your hay, come with me and I can sell you some for half the price and you’ll get a lot more.”

I should have said NO....... But I didn't! Off we went to her house - she mentioned horses, so I said that Pips’ Auntie was going to take her to horse riding lessons.

Big mistake!

“Well,” said the strange women, “I just so happen to have a little pony who needs a rider.”

I picked up Pip, who went off with Eileen to meet this pony. All I could hear were two batty females cooing over – what I considered to be – a very ugly pony.

“What's her name?” Pip asked.


This was followed by more cooing.

“Oh yes, I want to ride and look after her, she's so beautiful!” More cooing.

I explained, slightly baffled, “But I know NOTHING about horses…”

“Oh, it's easy!” said Eileen.

And there you have it – Lucky taught us so much and changed Pips’ life forever!

R.I.P Lucky Silver Dollar

Sunday, 6 April 2014

R.I.P: Lucky Silver Dollar, Dawn of Time - 5th April 2014

Just a brief post to say that my beautiful first pony, who I mentioned in my last Pony Tales, was sadly put down yesterday. She was 43 years old and had had a wonderful life. 

Posts might be a little sporadic over the next couple of weeks as I cry and laugh simultaneously about Lucky and the many things we got up to, from riding twice a day in summer to her opening Mum's rucksack and eating cookies out of it to her galloping me round a showjumping course.

I can't believe she's gone, and when I went up to say goodbye I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. As I know from losing three greyhounds to cancer, the only way to get through this is to think about the good times and celebrate Lucky's life. Because it truly was a remarkable one.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

March Round Up

Happy April Fool’s Day (although the time for jesting has now past). It’s my chest’s 3rd anniversary today as well – for those of you who didn’t know I had plastic surgery… now you do. I still believe it was an excellent decision and I’m very happy with my bosom.

March was an exciting month – lots of things happened, including the old Mump episode…

Some fantastic working opportunities have arisen, which I am incredibly grateful for - I’m set to have a very busy and exciting summer, with lots of teaching throughout and a two-week placement at Sweet & Maxwell (leading law publisher) in June. Nothing permanent in publishing yet, but at least the teaching is paid! Unfortunately I didn’t get the other job, but I was informed that my application was very strong and asked if I wanted to be put forward for another role – I said no as it isn’t the area I want to get into and feel I should stay focused.

I was sorely tempted to dye my hair dark brown after watching The Hunger Games (why did I not watch this before? It’s one of my favourite films now!), but then I wonder if I should go Ernest’s colour – strawberry blonde. I haven’t dyed it yet although my resistance is failing…

As we’re going to France in April, I’ve started practising my French more, but it’s very easy to lapse back into speaking English. When I’m working full-time I want to have private lessons again as I made such an improvement before. Maybe when I’m good enough I can write blog posts in French and English! I’ve considered taking a GCSE as something to aim for, but again, once I can commit to regular lessons I will think about this again.

SJ Competitions
My entry for a March dressage competition didn’t arrive, so we didn’t go out last month. I don’t think we did any SJ schooling, either! On the non-competition front, I’ve decided to move stables. This was not an easy decision and I thought about it for a good six weeks before even looking at another home for Ernest – however, I do feel I’ve made the right choice for both of us, and am now looking forward to moving. The owner of the new place has two Great Danes – one is 90kg. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned, but I bloody love dogs. So much.

The new stables are 3 miles from the house, so my plan is to run there once a week. As I said last month, I run and sprint during my warm ups for the gym, but I’m focused on weights at the moment. The April issue of Men’s Fitness has an excellent article on hybrid training – I’ve often heard lengthy runs can be detrimental to building muscle mass, but it seems that is not the case! Also, check out the guide to the latest road running shoes – I wrote it!

Body Fat
I don’t hold much hope of my body fat decreasing as I couldn’t work out for half the month. That said, I bought my first proper crop top from American Apparel last week – and if I say so myself, it looks pretty ab-ulous. I played badminton in it on Friday and it was really comfortable! I’m getting my body fat measured next Monday, so will post an update then.

New Country
We’re going to Berlin in June! We moved our holidays earlier as it’s between my teaching periods – I’m teaching April to May then July to September – so it’s a nice break after the first period and will allow me some rest before starting the next. I’m so excited. We’ve been looking at places to visit – there’s so much to see! As we’re going for a week, I suggested we each pick the top five places we’d like to go to. We made a flexible schedule for Rome last year and managed to see all-but-one of the attractions. I can’t wait to hang out with Maxx and explore a new place – I think it’s going to be quite poignant, as there are several memorials for the Holocaust victims which I’d like to pay my respects at.

How was your March? Are you enjoying the Spring flowers and lighter evenings as much as me? What do you want to achieve in April?