Moving forward | Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

Hey folks, I hope you’ve all had an amazing Christmas and New Year. If not merry, I hope it was at least peaceful.

I thought I’d start 2017 on a positive note by reflecting on the past year and all the things I’m thankful for. Now I’ll be honest, I’m not a naturally optimistic person. I can be a right grumpy bint at times. But I’m trying to, as they say; look on the bright side of life. After all, negativity only leads to bitterness and however wronged you may feel at times, believe me life is far too short for bitterness.

2016 has been a fairly uneventful year for me. There have been ups and downs but for the most part it’s been significantly better than previous years. It’s the little, seemingly insignificant things that I’m most grateful for.

To put it bluntly, my twisted body is a bit of a bastard and does not allow me the support I need to function fully. However, it’s dainty and lightweight, making me easy to chuck around, which I am regularly. For this I am fortunate as my petite stature allows greater and easier mobility. Had I followed my 6’4” older brother for height, life would undoubtedly have been far more difficult practically speaking.

Apart from a cold in June just before my week-long holiday to Spain, I haven’t been worryingly ill since summer 2015. During that period I spent over 8 weeks sat in an armchair in the living room, unable to go to bed or lie down due to a severe chest infection and subsequent pleurisy. I was a mess! From the beginning of May to the end of July I didn’t leave the house once, except for a trip to the hospital for tests. But let’s not dwell on that upsetting and difficult time…

The trip to Salou in Spain, was a much needed retreat from the monotony of everyday life. I holidayed with my parents, which obviously isn’t the dream, but fortunately we have a great relationship and so we muddled along nicely. It’s rare that I travel since I find it so difficult with the severity of my disability; therefore the sun, sea and sand was all the more appreciated.

Although we have our inevitable squabbles, my family are the best I could wish for. However, through talking with others in a similar position, I’m increasingly aware of those with disabilities who do not have the support of relatives. Consequently, they may feel lonely, isolated and unloved. Without family members to rely on, they are dependent on paid assistants to provide their personal care. Though I do employ two PAs myself, my parents remain for now at least my primary caregivers. A small, tight-knit family, we laugh a lot and perhaps most importantly we are comfortable in each other’s company. It’s only when I consider how different life could have been had I been born to different parents, that I realise just how lucky I am.

In spring 2016 I hired a new PA after my carer of eight years had to leave for personal reasons. As many of you will empathise, the recruitment process can be a stressful one. Adapting to yet another stranger providing your personal care is uncomfortable and unnatural but thankfully for me this particular transition was relatively trouble free. I won’t lie, it took a while to adjust and establish a new routine that worked for us both, but we get on well and she fits into our household effortlessly.

On the topic of family, ours would not be complete without our aging black Labrador, Millie. I have never known life without a pet. At one point we had four dogs and two cats living with us. Yes it was a little chaotic at times but always the best kind of chaos. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

Millie turned thirteen on Friday 30th December and is now depicting all the signs of senescence. Currently our only pet, she has been with us from birth since her mother, a golden Labrador, also lived with us. A great comfort especially in times of distress and frustration, I will be distraught when we do lose her. I’m therefore extremely thankful that she is still with us, as she is an invaluable source of company and happiness.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge my blog. It’s a relatively new venture, having only begun in October. But to my surprise and delight, I’m already reaping so many rewards. I have been introduced to people from all over the world who empathise with my thoughts, feelings and experiences regarding life with muscular dystrophy. I have also received positive feedback from complete strangers which has thoroughly boosted my confidence and determination.

I’ll admit I was at first somewhat reluctant to attempt blogging and spent several months debating whether I should. It was only the persistent encouragement from friends that convinced me to finally give it a go. And so it is to all my friends, both old and new, that I owe my final thanks of the year. I hope these alliances will continue to strengthen throughout 2017 and that I may meet more likeminded individuals. Here’s to the New Year…

Signing off for Christmas

Hey folks,

Well, Christmas Day is now only a week away. Blimey, where has the time gone? I always think that the count down to Christmas is far more exciting than the day itself which can sometimes be a bit of an anti-climax. So this year I’m determined to savour every minute and get as much out of the festivities as I possibly can.

As always my holiday will be spent at home with family, of which there are few of us. My two older brothers will be here on Christmas Eve so I daresay most of our time will be spent watching films (The Snowman, anyone?) and making ourselves sick on Quality Street. Christmas Day will then be a small affair, just the five of us – my parents, my oldest brother, Nan and me. Oh, and the dog! These days we have dinner after the Queen’s speech (obligatory viewing for the elders) and then open our presents.

All my gifts are bought and wrapped and scattered about the house, hidden in various hiding places. All I need to do is remember where they are. 😕 Inevitably at least one stray present makes an appearance days after the event.

Our Christmas tree is up…

…and our homemade wreath adorns our front door. I hope it’s appreciated since I burnt my bloody fingers on the glue gun whilst making it. Do not underestimate the power of the glue gun, people!

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And here’s the completed wreath

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What do you reckon? Not bad for a first effort if I do say so myself. I’m just hoping we don’t have any torrential rain or high winds as I can imagine mini frosted apples and slices of orange dropping off and battering visitors in the face as they approach. Not the best festive welcome but let’s see what happens, eh.

Film recommendations: 

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There are so many great Christmas films to get you in the festive mood (there are also some pretty shocking ones out there too). But where do you start? Some people want comedy, others have kids to consider and therefore need a family friendly option. Some want tradition and then there are those who would like to see something more thoughtful and dramatic.

A few of my favourites include Home Alone (1990), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Elf (2003), and The Family Stone (2005).

I’ve tried to cater for everyone here although obviously we all have our own go-to Christmas movies. For those of you who haven’t seen any of my recommendations, maybe start with Elf which is a charming and cleverly witty family film about Buddy, an elf played by the irrepressible Will Ferrell. A good choice to keep the kids entertained now that school has ended, this non-stop comedy is both sweet and slapstick at times. I’m 28 and I still love this one!

My next choice is another hugely popular family friendly festive film about a young boy mistakenly left home alone when his family fly to Paris for the holidays. Macaulay Culkin was at his prime here, offering a highly entertaining and endearing performance that more than matched his established co-stars (Catherine O’Hara, John Heard and Goodfellas Joe Pesci). With plenty of comedy, capers and action, Home Alone will excite and enchant both young and old.

Who hasn’t seen A Muppet Christmas Carol, seriously? What is there to say about this one. Charles Dickens classic story is invigorated and enhanced by the Muppets unique blend of humour and musicality. With the addition of England’s very own Michael Caine who is perfectly cast as Ebenezer Scrooge, this is a must see come Christmas Eve.

My final suggestion is less well known though possibly my personal favourite of the four mentioned. The Family Stone is a heartfelt comedy-drama about a modern-day ecclectic American family who reunite for the festive period. One for the grown ups, Id advise settling down with a glass of wine to watch this one before bed. I’m not overly sentimental but admittedly this movie always makes me shed a few tears. But don’t be put off, there’s also plenty of laugh out loud moments throughout. The ‘Christmas message’ is, in my opinion, subtly yet effectively delivered. Frankly I could watch this at any time of year since it’s simply a good drama about the trials and tribulations of family life.


Well, that’s all for now folks. I’ll be back in the new year with part 2 of my winter edit, and for those of you who’re interested I’ll post about my experience with a suprapubic catheter (I haven’t forgotten).

Wherever you are and whatever your plans, I wish you all a very happy and healthy Christmas and New Year!

The winter edit: Part 1

5 tips to keep warm this winter

Winter is well and truly here and so too is the frosty weather. British winters can be long, dark and unforgiving.

To help you make the most of the season ahead, I bring you part 1 of my winter edit – advice, tips and tricks to ward off the chill.


1. Chilblains:

Because I am unable to weight bear, I suffer from poor circulation making my feet permanently cold. I have what can only be described as corpse feet – purple and puffy! I have tried all sorts of remedies over the years to treat recurrent chilblains but I’ve found the best to be Gehwol Fusskraft Red cream (available on Amazon). I slather it on generously before putting on a pair of thick woolly socks, and find my feet are subtly but noticeably warmed and chilblains are kept at bay.

  • A good alternative to the Gehwol Fusskraft Red cream is the Pink Peppermint foot lotion by Lush, which works similarly to stimulate circulation. If going out on a cold day I’ll sometimes rub this into my hands to fend off frosty fingers.
  • In terms of footwear, you can’t beat (in my humble opinion) a pair of shearling lined boots *ahem, Ugg dupes* They may not be the height of sophistication, but they do the job and they’re ridiculously comfortable. I can imagine all the guys out there are thinking this is one for the ladies, but there is a good selection of shearling lined winter boots out there for men too.

2. Layering:

We all know it’s best to layer clothing when cold. However, this is not so easy to do when you’re a wheelchair user. Getting dressed at all is a daily battle for me so having to struggle with more than one top fills me with dread. So my advice put simply; if you can layer, do. If like me you can’t, keep reading…

I live in leggings as they’re stretchy and comfortable. You can buy leggings everywhere and anywhere these days but I favour Marks and Spencer heatgen thermals. There are socks, tights, vests, long sleeved tops and of course the leggings I love. Again if you’re able to, I recommend wearing these items under your usual attire for added insulation. But they’re ideal to wear alone too. M&S also feature a men’s thermal underwear range.

A great alternative to M&S is the Uniqlo Heattech range for men, women and children. This extensive selection is it is competitively priced, practical and fashionable. Definitely check this one out!

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  • I swear by scarves. They’re so easy to throw around to protect against the winter chill. They come in so many fabrics, sizes, colours and styles. Invest in a thick woollen scarf big enough to wrap around your body like a poncho or use as a blanket over your legs. I sometimes do this if I’m home alone as I can’t manage sleeves myself.
  • Wear a woollen hat when going out in cold weather as heat escapes from our heads.
  • Gloves aren’t just for outdoors. If you suffer from cold hands, try wearing a fingerless pair when indoors which allow you the freedom to continue with your daily tasks. If it’s a particularly frosty day and I need to go out, I will layer woolly gloves over a fingerless pair. You could also purchase some USB heated gloves online.

  • Throughout the coldest months, ensure you use several bed sheets as this traps heat in far better than having one thick blanket. It’s also much easier to turn and reposition yourself with a few thinner cotton sheets over you than one heavy blanket. *I’ve mentioned it before but for those of you who struggle with turning in bed, I highly recommend investing in a satin fitted sheet.

3. Fabric:

When trying to keep warm it’s worth considering where you are and what you’re doing as this will determine which fabrics to opt for.

  • Natural fibres such as wool, cotton and silk are more insulating since they trap heat. So lightweight silky pyjamas will not only keep you snug at night, they will also help you manoeuvre more easily. Cotton is hypoallergenic, breathable and good for layering but not advisable in wet weather as it is also highly absorbent. Wool too absorbs moisture though due to its structure, water cannot enter the interior fibre. Therefore, even when soaking wet the air pockets inside the woollen fibres prevent you from losing heat. 100% wool is best as blends are less insulating.
  • The synthetic fabric polyester is good when out on a windy day. It’s durable, lightweight and can be made to any thickness. A polyester coat or jacket is a must. And why not snuggle up in bed with a polyester fleece mattress topper, available from Amazon.

4. Food:

  • Swap your morning cereal for warming porridge oats. Add a little cinnamon as it stimulates circulation thereby raising body temperature. Cinnamon spice is also full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which will protect you from winter viruses.

  • Opt for soup over sandwiches. Include iron rich foods, garlic, onions, spices and orange vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato and squash.
  • Whole grains, nuts and nut butters are great insulating snacks.
  • The dark days and cold weather can make us lethargic. Many of us lack the energy to cook after a busy day. So to prepare for the week ahead, make yourself plenty of warming hearty meals like stews, broths, casserole and chilli, then freeze. When you then come home in the evening, all you need do is reheat and enjoy. You’ll be warmed through in no time.
  • Hot drinks are a winter essential. I drink a lot of herbal teas, especially lemon and ginger as these ingredients are great for flushing out the system and warding off coughs and colds. When on a long journey take a flask of hot coffee or tea with you to stay warm and hydrated.

5. Home heating:

It’s important to maintain a warm and consistent temperature in your home throughout the winter. Exposing yourself to extreme and varied temperatures can leave you vulnerable to ill health and infection. Government guidelines advise heating our living rooms to 21C (70F).

Most of us now have central heating which can even be controlled from our mobile phones. My family home is primarily heated by a wood burner which warms the whole house. However, I cannot prepare and light the fire myself due to my disability. I therefore store a fan heater in my bedroom which is simply operated by the flick of a switch. There are many different electric heaters now on the market. Here’s a budget option and a higher end option for you.

You could also pre-heat your bed with an electric blanket or a hot water bottle so that it’s nice and toasty for you to get into at night.

Honourable mentions:

  • Invest in a high tog duvet for frost nights.
  • For a quick fix, blast yourself with the hairdryer for instant heat
  • Heating pads and microwaveable heat pack
  • Reusable hand gel warmers (I have these)
  • Microwaveable slippers/USB foot warmer
  • Check out the complete care shop for a variety of warming aids
  • Enjoy a cosy night in front of the fire with a milky hot chocolate – my favourite is Galaxy or Aero – and a big bowl of homemade cinnamon popcorn!

Life Update & Thanks

Hey folks, hope you’re all happy & well. Sorry to begin on a negative note. I won’t sugar coat – the past couple of weeks for me have been pretty shitty. In that time I’ve seen a urology nurse specialist, a continence nurse specialist, and a urology consultant. I’ve chased GPs on the telephone, attended a pre-operative assessment, and on Friday I had surgery under general anaesthetic. So, todays message will be brief as I’m not feeling entirely human right now. No photos either I’m afraid, as I currently look like the Crypt Keeper, and trust me no one wants to see that!

It has also been a sad time due to a family bereavement; two days before my birthday, a relative, aged just 15, died from neurofibromatosis type 1. This is a very rare and little-known condition. My knowledge of it is limited, and so I refer you to this website if you wish to learn more.

Furthermore, two days after my birthday is the anniversary of my Nans death. So, all things considered, sadly I have not yet felt inclined to enter into the festive spirit. But I will now make the effort to try. Mum has already decorated our home both inside and out with lights and wreaths. Yesterday she and Dad put the tree up – a real one as always. You can’t beat a real tree (IMO)!

To end more positively, I’d like to say thank you for the overwhelming response to my last post: My life with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. I hoped, but honestly never expected anyone to read it, let alone relate and respond to it. The feedback I have received, particularly on Facebook, has been so kind and supportive. Your response has given me the much needed confidence to continue blogging. So, I thank you all, sincerely.

M.I.A

Hey there folks, hope you’re all well. Just a quick check-in today to apologise for my recent absence. I had intended to upload a number of blog posts over the past fortnight, but as often happens, life has taken over of late.

But fear not readers (of which there are thousands, I’m sure). I have a list of topics ready to enthrall you with over the coming months. I can sense your overwhelming excitement already!

On the off there is someone out there reading this, dare I ask if there’s anything inparticular you’d like me to discuss here on my blog? I’m open to all suggestions.

Signing off for now. Be back soon guys & gals…

Armistice Day | Time to remember and reflect…

9/11/2016 ~ US Election Result: Trump triumphs over Clinton. A day many would rather forget!

11/11/1918 ~ A day we must never forget.


Today is 11th November 2016 ~ Armistice Day

It has now been 98 years since the brave soldiers of The Great War lay down their arms for the last time along the western front. Almost a century past, but now and always we will remember and give thanks for their selflessness, heroism and sacrifice.

On the 11th November 1918 the guns fell silent, and finally, four long years of fighting came to an end. The Armistice of Compiègne led to six more months of negotiations which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles, effectively concluding the First World War.

Sadly, conflict continues to rage on around the globe, with many lives lost every day to war.

Today, we should all take time to commemorate servicemen and women, past and present. It is our moral duty to show appreciation for all who have fought for our protection, for peace, stability and liberty.


9/11/2016 ~ Trump Triumphs

This week we enter a period of unprecedented political turmoil; a time of uncertainty, instability and division.

Of course, I’m (begrudgingly) referring to the newly elected President of the USA – Donald Trump. I have debated whether or not to acknowledge his recent victory on my blog, since it is such a divisive issue.

However, being a woman with a physical disability, I feel compelled to comment on his offensive attitude towards minority groups throughout his controversial campaign. On a personal note, I find it shocking and unnerving that a bigoted, misogynistic, ableist, racist, xenophobic, ignorant narcissist can acquire such popularity and power!

Although it’s true that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Trump is headed to the Whitehouse in January 2017, due to the arguably flawed Electoral College system.

The fact is, Trump achieved marginal wins in several large states, meaning that, like it or not, he will be the 45th President of the United States of America. We must now accept and respect the result and unite in an organised and peaceful manner, in order to move forward with positive intentions.

Violence and disorder has already broken out in America following the news of Trump’s success. People are wreaking havoc, causing damage and fighting each other in angry desperation. The widespread fear and distress is understandable, but nothing positive can be achieved from hostility.


1914 ~ Christmas Eve Ceasefire

Even in times of war, humanity will prevail and divisions can be broken down. The Christmas truce of 1914 demonstrates how opposing forces put aside their differences, if only temporarily.

On Christmas Eve, a ceasefire along the western front saw British and German troops greet each other in no-man’s land to exchange pleasantries, take photos, play football and bury their dead before returning to their trenches.

Armistice Day football match at Dale Barracks between german soldiers and Royal Welsh fusiliers to remember the famous Christmas Day truce between germany and Britain PCH

So, on this, Armistice Day, please look to and learn from the past, and move forward with love, positivity, unity and the best intentions.

A decision has been made, like it or not; Trump will be the President of the United States. We can’t and shouldn’t fight this decision. We need to offer support, goodwill and compassion to all. One day at a time.

Flu Jab: Get Yours Today!

Well, it’s upon us again; Flu season is here. Every year my family and I get the Influenza vaccination, which is free of charge here in the UK, courtesy of the NHS.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the Flu jab to protect myself through the harsh winter months. It’s important that not only I am vaccinated, but that those closest to me are too. My immune system is much weaker than average, and my condition makes it considerably more difficult to overcome respiratory infections. For me, a common cold can quickly develop into something much more serious. It’s therefore very important that I am not unnecessarily exposed to the Flu virus.

As I have aged, my declining respiratory function has become the most concerning symptom of my disability. Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy causes muscle degeneration and scoliosis. Not only are my lungs squashed and unable to expand as they should, the muscles that make them force air in and out are slowly wasting away.

Over the years, I have fought recurrent chest infections, several bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and an acute pneumothorax (collapsed lung), requiring a chest drain. Many long, drawn-out days have been spent in hospital trying to overcome serious complications resulting from respiratory viruses.

For this reason, I implore and encourage you all to go and get the Flu shot. It takes no time at all and I promise you, it’s completely painless. There are fables floating around that will attempt to make you believe the Flu jab can give you the Flu. This is not the case at all. Yes, the vaccine does contain a small dose of the inactive virus. This triggers antibodies, which within two weeks will protect you, if and when you’re exposed to seasonal Flu.

Like all viruses, there are various strains of Influenza which change annually. For this reason, it is essential to ensure you are vaccinated every year.

I visited my local pharmacy, without appointment, a few weeks ago to get my free vaccination. If you haven’t already, please don’t delay. Go and get yours NOW!

For more information on the Influenza vaccine visit the NHS web page here.

Farewell October

Just a quick post today. As promised here are this years pumpkins. Unlikely to win any awards, granted, but not too shabby I reckon. They’ll do for me anyway.

Not one to put anything to waste, I thought I’d try my hand at making spiced pumpkin soup for the second time. The first and last attempt was a few years back, and so I decided it was about time to give it another go.

All you need to do is dice the pumpkin flesh into small pieces, chuck in a saucepan with a drizzle of oil and reduce down on a medium heat. Once softened, add onion, tomato purée, spices of your choice (no more than half a teaspoon) and a little double cream. Heat through, season to taste and blend for a smooth texture.

Do excuse the ice cream pot folks. This is going home with my brother so that he can warm it up for his supper. What a wonderful sister I am!

As suggested in my previous post, I chose to simply roast the pumpkin seeds for 20 minutes. Served in a snack bowl for a light bite on Halloween night, you can’t go wrong with this easy treat.

Admittedly I’m not looking forward to the dark days and frosty nights that winter will surely bring. The invigorating colours of autumn will be greatly missed, as will the mild temperatures we’ve experienced of late. Nevertheless, embrace it and face it I say, after all it’s headed our way.

Will you be sad to wave goodbye to October, or are you counting down the days to Christmas now that Halloween is almost over for another year?

Halloween is on the way…

I love Halloween, always have always will. I can’t explain exactly why I love it so much, after all nothing particularly exciting happens. I guess it just appeals to my inner child. Either that or it’s my curious fascination with the macabre! I’ve never attended a themed party nor have I been trick or treating as a kid. My parents are quite conservative and so wouldn’t allow myself or my brothers to go “bothering people for treats”.

As an adult I’m more of a ‘cosy night in’ type anyway, so my ideal Hallows’ eve involves cosying up in front of a wood burning fire with a hot chocolate, a scary film and the lights out. Wild eh!

Black dog in place of a black cat?

I must admit I really don’t scare easily. I find most horror films predictable and silly rather than spooky. I can honestly say I’ve never watched a film that has genuinely frightened me. However, when channel flicking one night, by chance I caught one that made a memorable impression…

Film recommendation:

Saw (2004) Dir. James Wan

This is the first film by Aussie duo James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Whannell. On a minimal budget they made this really clever and creative film that has spawned a whole franchise.

The basic plot sees Oncologist Lawrence (Cary Elwes) and photographer Adam (Whannell) wake up in a filthy, dilapidated bathroom, both chained to pipes at opposite sides of the room. Between them lies the corpse of a man who holds in his hands a revolver and a cassette player. The two men soon realise that they’re only way of escape is to play along with the game set by the sadistic ‘Jigsaw’ killer.

Personally I wouldn’t bother with any of the sequels; as you would imagine they’re rather unimaginative and repetitive. However, the original Saw has a simple but great premise and a shocking concluding twist that will leave you gripped to your seat.

*Tip* if you have the patience to sit through a whole movie commentary, I thoroughly recommend you check this one out. An informative and animated discussion including impressions and plenty of laughs; you will see this psychological horror film from a whole new perspective.

Family Film:

Hocus Pocus (1993) Dir. Kenny Ortega

If you’re looking for a fun family film, you can’t beat this classic starring Bette Midler. Although it’s been over 20 years since it was made, it hasn’t dated and is still just as enjoyable as it was on its initial release. Midler, Kathy Najimy (Sister Act) and Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker, as the three witches are the standout attraction. Jam-packed with music, magic, adventure and plenty of laughs; both young and old will revel in the delights of this Disney experience.

Pumpkins:

If nothing else, you’ve got to carve a pumpkin for Halloween! It’s something simple you can do, especially with children, to partake in the seasonal celebrations. It’s fun, messy, creative and cost effective. To me it’s the first thing I associate with Halloween and as such my family and I carve one every year. We always intend put the removed flesh to good use, though we rarely do. My brother and I did make pumpkin soup a couple of years back which seemed to go down well!

Other pumpkin recipes you might want to consider include, of course, traditional pumpkin pie, as well as muffins, smoothies and even ice cream. A member of the squash family, you can also dice it into chunks and roast or bake it. You could use it in curry, casserole and risotto or carve out smaller pumpkins and stuff them with whatever you fancy; a slight variation on stuffed bell peppers.

And don’t forget the seeds! Pumpkin seeds are highly nutritious, containing iron, heart healthy magnesium, copper, manganese, protein, antioxidants and zinc for immune support. Naturally high in fibre and omega-3 oils, they’re hugely beneficial and easy to incorporate into your diet. Roast for 20 minutes for a quick and easy snack on the go, sprinkle over salads, porridge and muesli. You could add a few to your cakes, flapjacks and stews for extra crunch, make some pumpkin seed loaf, or you could simply blend until smooth for your very own pumpkin seed butter.

So when you’re eagerly carving away, please don’t cast aside the gift that’s inside. Proven to help the heart, liver and the immune system, these little seeds also act as an anti-inflammatory, a sedative for a good night’s sleep, and an insulin regulator. Essential for men and women, they have been found to promote prostate health and suppress menopausal symptoms. See, Halloween can actually be good for you!

I’ve not yet bought this years pumpkin so once it’s carved and ready for display, I’ll post some pictures for you. Every year I attempt a different design but for the moment I’m undecided which way to go. I warn you in advance though, limit your expectations (I can sense the excitement already). As previously mentioned, I have a muscle wasting condition and so must work within my means. I’ll not be producing anything too adventurous.

I’d love to hear all about your Halloween plans. Do you enjoy it as much as me or are you the type to shut the curtains and ignore the trick or treaters tapping at your door?

The Girl on the Train: British book vs. American adaptation

I’ve always been a movie buff, a regular cinema goer, and although I enjoy a good book every now and then, I’m not a big reader. Every year I encourage myself to read more, keep the mind active. After all reading’s good for you, right? But alas, it never materialises. It’s so much easier and less time-consuming to watch the film adaptation; two hours allows you to absorb the whole plot plus a musical score. You don’t get scores and soundtracks in books do you! Nevertheless, my conscience continues to creep up on me; that sensible voice at the back of my mind telling me to read. ‘Stop procrastinating, stop playing on your mobile phone, stop browsing Amazon for gadgets and gizmos you don’t need. Just read a book, a whole book’.

It was only when I caught the trailer for the recently released film, The Girl on the Train, that I suddenly decided I would read the best seller before allowing myself to see the much anticipated film. A good incentive I thought; I love films and was instantly grabbed by the look of this one. Therefore, Paula Hawkins novel might be a good place to start me on the track to regular reading.

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

girl-on-train-book-photo
Plot: Hawkins psychological thriller is narrated by three women: the eponymous Girl, 32 year-old Rachel Watson; Megan and Anna. Rachel is a reckless alcoholic who divorced Tom following his affair with the beautiful Anna, whom he later married and fathered a daughter with. The new Watsons now live in the house he once shared with Rachel, while she is forced to rent a room in the home of her friend Cathy. Every day Rachel takes the train from Ashbury to London, claiming she’s commuting for work when, unbeknownst to Cathy, she lost her job due to her excessive drinking. Her days, like her commute, represent the typical monotony of life as an alcoholic. A dependence on gin and tonic in particular leads to blackouts, aggression, injury and memory loss.

Rachel’s daily journey passes Blenheim road in Witney where she lived with Tom, offering her a passengers’ insight into his new life. Seemingly obsessed with her former husband, she continually harasses him and Anna to the extreme; calling and even visiting their residence unannounced. A few houses down from the Watsons, live Megan and Scott Hipwell, an attractive young couple on whom Rachel becomes fixated. She watches them from the train and invents for herself an idealised version of their life, investing in them, in their love for each other and in their perfect marriage. So when Rachel sees Megan kissing a man other than her husband, her illusion is shattered. Angry and disappointed, she spends the night binging, then wakes in a bloody and bruised state with no memory of the night before.

It soon transpires that Megan Hipwell is missing, and having seen Rachel drunkenly stumbling around the area on the night in question, Anna reports her to the police. Rachel denies any knowledge of Megan yet feels instinctively that she is somehow involved, and so she conducts a self-led investigation. She later decides to report having witnessed Megan with the unidentified man, suggesting they were having an affair and that he must therefore be involved in her disappearance. She meddles further, contacting and lying to Scott about having known Megan, and learning that the man in question is Kamal Abdic, Megan’s therapist.

Disturbed by her blackout and intent on piecing together the series of events surrounding what evolves to be a murder; Rachel finds a much needed purpose. It emerges that Megan was pregnant at the time of her death, though neither Scott nor Kamal are the father. Anna, despondent at the persistence of Rachel’s presence and harassment, begins to question Tom’s reluctance to report his ex-wife to the police. She uncovers a spare mobile phone belonging to Megan and realises that her husband, like Kamal, had also been having an affair with her.

Increasingly able to certify her own memories, Rachel not only unveils facts about the night of Megan’s disappearance, but also about her former life with Tom. A skilled manipulator, he had blindsided Rachel for years, causing her to believe his accusations and blame herself. When unable to conceive, he betrayed her by sleeping with Anna, and then proceeded to cheat on Anna with Megan who became pregnant with his child. Rachel seeks to warn Anna at the family home, but Tom returns and a violent confrontation ensues, the result of which sees both Rachel and Anna participate in Tom’s death.

We learn that what Rachel had seen that night in her drunken stupor was Megan getting into Tom’s car. Thinking initially that it was Anna and not Megan, due to their uncanny resemblance, Rachel called after her and incurred her injuries when Tom approached and attacked her. Following this, the car drove away to obscure woodland where Megan informed Tom of her pregnancy. Unable to pressure her into pursuing an abortion, Tom murdered and hurriedly buried her in a shallow grave.

My thoughts: A first person narrative told from the point of view of three interwoven women, I personally found the novel a fairly easy read. Each chapter is voiced by Rachel, Anna or Megan, and as such the perspective changes considerably, along with the dates; posing the only minor challenge for the reader. The pace at times was for me a little slow and drawn out, mainly throughout Rachel’s chapters, though this serves to represent the drudgery of her purposeless existence. She’s a divorced, unemployed, alcoholic and like her pointless daily commute into London, her life is headed nowhere. However, the pace and tension picked up substantially in the final third of the book. A dark and dramatic conclusion rooted in the realms of reality will maintain your attention and keep you enthralled to the last.

A heavily character driven plot, every individual we meet is flawed and hard to really care about. I sympathized with Rachel’s downfall; her life having disintegrated following a failed IVF attempt and her husband’s affair. After Tom marries the much more beautiful Anna with whom he has a daughter, Rachel completely lets herself go. Reason enough to reach for the bottle, or in this case a can of gin and tonic. But as her obsession with Megan’s case unfolds, her increasingly extreme actions stem from pure desperation and loneliness. Her erratic behaviour and confused recollections cause both she and the reader to suspect that she could be the killer. Nonetheless, I have to admit that by just over half way through, I correctly judged that Tom was the guilty party. Though by no means apparent, it appeared to me that any of the other characters would have been too obvious.

Inevitable comparisons have been made with its recent predecessor, American author Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Though understandable, The Girl on the Train, or more accurately the woman on the train, is a much less sensationalised psychological thriller. Furthermore, it is a thoroughly British psychological thriller touching on themes such as voyeurism, addiction, the psyche and even Feminism. This consideration regarding the novel’s ‘Britishness’ brings me to its newly released screen adaptation.

Directed by the American Tate Taylor, the film starring British actress Emily Blunt is significantly set in New York as opposed to London. Blunt as Rachel travels the Hudson line to Manhattan, and leafy Westchester takes the place of the Victorian town of Witney. We see our anti-heroine drinking in Grand Centrals iconic Oyster Bar rather than raiding an off license for pre-mixed cans of gin and tonic, as in the novel. Even Central Park is featured, specifically the Untermeyer Fountain and its sculpture of three dancing maidens; a physical representation of the three female voices. Consequently, the stop-start nature of London’s rail works and the sense of hustle and bustle is lost in the films glossy New York scenery. Whereas I had envisaged a grittier, greyer world more reminiscent of ITV’s Broadchurch; Tate Taylor’s reimagining presents a moodier, broodier, more sexualised James Patterson vibe.

The characters in the film are underdeveloped and their traits and actions are never fully explored. There’s far too much ‘Hollywood’ posing and as a result they lack dimension, humanity and are less sympathetic than Hawkins’ inventions. I think had I not read the book first I would have struggled to follow and comprehend the events as depicted on the screen since so much detail has been casually brushed over. For example, Megan’s dead brother Ben whom she loved dearly and made future plans with, is briefly mentioned only once.

As much as I love Emily Blunt, she is a far cry from Hawkins’ creation. She certainly doesn’t have the physicality to portray an overweight, bloated, lacklustre binge drinker and as Hawkins herself says, she is far too beautiful. Nevertheless, she retains her English accent, presumably to hark back to the story’s original setting. Then again, perhaps it was just easier than adopting the Manhattan drawl? That aside, Blunt gives her all and offers a convincing portrayal of a woman on the edge. Hers is by far the standout performance. For the most part, all characters are well cast though some such as Edgar Ramirez who plays Kamal Abdic are somewhat underused.

Overall, I’d recommend saving your money on a cinema ticket. While it’s worth a watch, I feel this was a missed opportunity. Had the filmmakers followed Hawkins lead more closely in terms of tone, setting and character focus, it could have received the same applause as David Fincher’s Gone Girl. By all means indulge in the novel, you won’t be disappointed. If like Rachel, you are a daily commuter, maybe even consider reading it on the train for added effect.