June Round up

Well, here we are six months into the year and wow has this been one of those months. Firstly, we had the General Election, or as I like to say, the day Theresa May scored a phenomenal own goal, we had all the ups and downs of the fall out of the election and then the tragedy of Grenfell and all that went with it. I don’t really know what to say, other than I hope that this is the thing that puts an end to profits before people. There were some fun moments in a month of uncertainty and anger though, like getting to see George Ezra debut some of his new material and hanging out with some old friends. I also did a big scary thing this month – I handed in my notice! By the time you guys read this it will be the start of July and I will no longer be working as a journalist, instead I’ll have moved into marketing at a new company, I’m very scared, but as I’m constantly told, if things don’t scare you, they aren’t worth doing.  Guess we’ll find out how that’s all going in the next one of these!

What I read this month:

Hag-seed – Margaret Atwood
With the Handmaid’s Tale being on TV at the moment, I was looking into getting some extra Atwood in my life. I’d been interested in reading this ever since I saw Sanne over on Books and Quills talking about this and a few other Shakespeare retellings which were released a little while ago, so when I spotted it at the library, I chucked it onto my pile. This is the retelling of the Tempest, which isn’t one I’ve read before, I would like to track that down at some point so I can compare the two and of course, I want more of the Hogarth Shakespeare collection in my life!

Free at last, the diaries 1991- 2001 – Tony Benn
I’ve always admired the work of Tony Benn and this was a gift from my grandad many moons ago that has sat on my shelf for way too long, (I’m not allowing myself to let my bookshelf get untidy, so I must read everything on it that I haven’t read and give away the ones I won’t read again before I am allowed to go anywhere near a bookshop.) so  I figured I’d give this a read while the election campaign was going on. It really is a  fascinating read and I wish I’d started it sooner, also that I had more of Benn’s diaries sat on my shelf to work though. This was interesting from a political point of view in the sense that I learned a lot about a period of politics I didn’t know a lot about before and also got to see life in the commons, which I’d not come across before. There was of course the shade thrown at New Labour and hearing about the various things going on in Benn’s life which were also very engaging. I would be interested to read more books on socialism – anyone read Bernie Sanders’ book? Any good? – before moving on to other ideologies!

Release – Patrick Ness
I love Patrick Ness. Like, really love him. I think he might be my favourite author, I think I’ve read pretty much all the Patrick Ness available now and  I have loved all of them and this was no exception. This was recommended to me by Amazon, so of course, I downloaded it. Their one click buy thing is really quite dangerous and doesn’t help with my plan to read everything on my bookshelf and tidy it up. Anyway, this is loosely inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (which I’ve read) and Judy Blume’s Forever (which I’ve not), Mrs Dalloway is a stream of conscious type novel that takes place over the course of one day and while Release takes place over the course of one day, it isn’t stream of conscious and has slightly connected story intertwining with the main story, I don’t know if that’s the Forever aspect, but what I do know is that this book was amazing and I would do a review, but its so incredible I am kind of lost for words!

Speaking out: Lessons in life and politics – Ed Balls
From Tony Benn to Ed Balls, I figured I might as well work my way through the whole of the Labour party. I’ve enjoyed Ed Balls as a public figure (who doesn’t love Ed Balls Day and his rendition of Gangnam Style?) but I didn’t know all that much about him and having read about the political landscape in the nineties and early noughties, I thought I’d learn about more recent times when I saw this at the library (again, not helping myself with the tidying of the bookshelf). While this was an interesting insight into life in politics, especially about how the civil service and the treasury worked, there were a few moments that had me despairing. I don’t know if it was the way the stories were presented, but I think I preferred the more intimate nature of Benn’s book tbh.

I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
I think this should be required reading, like seriously, jesus christ, not only because Malala is an incredibly inspirational and intelligent young woman who has a lot of wonderful things to say about education and women’s rights to it, but because if, like me, you are a Brit, it is very easy to be ignorant to the world around you – it isn’t in the best interests of the people in charge for you to know too much about other cultures and this was so interesting learning about Pakistan and the different people who live there and its culture. It was also fascinating to learn about someone who had first hand experience of their religion being hijacked by extremists and living in close quarters to people who felt that way. I have many thoughts about this, so I wrote a whole thing, check it out.

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp – Eva Rice
Ok, so at the end of the month, I stopped pratting about at the library and on my kindle and started reading the stuff I had laying around on my shelf. Go me. I feel like I’ve had this book on my shelf forever, I picked it up in a discount book store because the cover is pretty and from the blurb, I expected the tale of a vicar’s daughter breaking into the music industry in the sixties and finally feeling equal to her older sister. Well, over half way through this book and she still hadn’t sung in front of anyone, let alone made it out of childhood. I just found the whole thing dragged on with lots of unnecessary stories, when what I was there for was the shock of suddenly being in a whole new world. The people of goodreads seem to love it and while the atmosphere of the novel is great, I just… I don’t get it. It couldn’t decide what the main story arc was or who the main character is and it really didn’t need to be as long as it is, the story could have been told better in fewer pages with less of the meandering about. The only misinterpretation of Tara Jupp I could see was whoever designed the cover and wrote the blurb, because they clearly didn’t read the book first. It isn’t a bad book, it is just very slow. Too slow for what the blurb promises. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d recommend my grandmother.

Handle with Care – Jodi Picoult
I don’t think I’ve read any Jodi Picoult before this, but I’ve always meant to. Which is probably why I picked this up and then left it gathering dust on my shelf for ever. I remember buying this. I was 20 and I’d picked it up in a charity shop before going to work at my shop job because it was a Thursday night shift and I’d forgotten my kindle charger. I am 28 now. I’ve had it that long and not managed to finish it, until now. It was interesting to read about Willow and her life because I’ve never come across anyone with OI before, but I had the same problem with this as I did with Me Before You in that it made me feel a bit… icky about the way that able bodied authors are portraying disabled people.

Films I watched this month:
You may have noticed if you follow me on twitter, have been keeping up with my Film reviews in 10 tweets or less posts or this video, that I really like films and that I spend a lot of time watching them, so here are all the films (some new, some rewatches) that graced my television this month!

  • Insurgent
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover
    I read the book what feels like a lifetime ago and I spotted that two versions of the film were on Netflix, so I whiled away a Sunday checking out the BBC adaptation.
  • The Propaganda Game
  • American Beauty
  • Under the Sun
  • Amazing Spider Man 2

TV I watched his month:

  • House of Cards
  • Handmaid’s Tale
  • Doctor Who
  • Pretty Little Liars
    Now I feel like I need to rewatch the entire thing because seriously, wtf happened?
  • iZombie
    THAT FINALE THOUGH!!

My favourite Instagram posts this month:

live broadcasting rn from a field

A post shared by leah-marie smith (@leeeeeeeeah) on

❤️💛💚💙💜

A post shared by leah-marie smith (@leeeeeeeeah) on

the end of an era

A post shared by leah-marie smith (@leeeeeeeeah) on

Had a little going away party at work because I’m well… going away to another job! Getting my P45 and watching other people come in to interview for my position has been SUPER WEIRD.

What I did on YouTube this month:

What I loved on YouTube this month:

While the election is over now, I have the mention this video from LukeisnotSexy, James Corden spent the day working at Harrods which I’m sure was way more fun than actually working at Harrods, Louise Pentland made a very special announcement and her video telling her friends made me cry a bit! This video from Dan(iel) Howell was a bit too real tbh but I’m listing it anyway. Anthony Padilla has left Smosh and gone solo, his return to YouTube as just himself was very funny. Finally, Jack and Dean’s latest sketch was very on point.

Double feature: political biographies

Hello there, been a while since I either had enough thoughts to warrant opening this window or felt obliged to, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a little out of practice. I am about to do a thing I’ve seen other bloggers do, but not something I’ve ever done myself. Apart from refer to myself as a blogger of course. Do people actually do that or is that like a thing that grown ups say? Anyway, I see on my subs that people like to take two similar books and do mini reviews in one, so I’m going to do that. Because originality.

*edit* mini review? lol.

Anyway, if you’ve been here before (hello! thanks for sticking around) you’ll know that I kind of set myself a goal to read more non fiction because I was in a bit of a fiction rut and well, the most accessible form of non fiction is biographies, so I’ve decided to start with those. And then I thought I’d make it difficult for myself by reading biographies of a political nature and, if you’ve been keeping up with my goodreads, I read two recently from two politicians that belong to the same party, but had very different political ideologies, so I thought I’d do a little discussion. Because why not.

Firstly, for any non Brits who might be reading or just anyone with a social life, who are these people?

In the Red corner we have Tony Benn, aka Anthony Neil Wedgeworth Benn, a titled gentleman who joined the Labour party as a socialist and was one of the countries longest serving MPs who tried to renounce his title so he could continue to fight for worker’s rights. He became a bit problematic for the Labour party at times because he was very sceptical about the direction of New Labour and wanted the party to continue to work with unions and stay firmly on the left. He also claimed the basement of the House of Commons as his own and would hang dedications to some of his favourite people there. As you do. He was an influential public figure who, while never making it to the front benches, did an awful lot of work during his time in parliament and wrote a number of books, one of which, Free At Last, a collection of his diaries from ’91 to ’01, I read recently.

In the slightly less Red corner, we have Ed Balls. Aka… erm… Ed Balls. Though not aristocratic, he was a fairly middle class, left leaning chap who came from a Labour supporting family and after going to Oxford and Harvard, joined the Labour party and worked in the civil service before working alongside Gordon Brown in the Treasury and then head of the Children’s Department and Shadow Chancellor. I also recently read a book by him, the newer version of his autobiography, which has added bits about his time on a reality TV show. He is also one half of the countries first ever MP marriage, his wife is also a prominent Labour politician. Unlike Benn, who survived many a general election, Balls served two terms and lost his seat in 2015  and has since become more famous for his rendition of Gangnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing and for the creation of Ed Balls Day, where we in Britain spend a day celebrating the fact that he once accidentally tweeted his own name.

Yes. If you’d ever gotten the notion that Brits are a bit daft, you’re absolutely right, we are.

It is also worth noting that Ed Balls served as part of the New Labour government that Tony Benn disliked so much and was around for much more of the modern stuff that was going on. His political career was working alongside Ed Milliband (yes he of bacon sandwich and then radio 2 fame), Gordon Brown (Scottish prime minister with a glass eye)  and Tony Blair (the long serving prime minister who kicked off the Iraq war), whereas Tony Benn’s dealings with Ed Milliband was because he was friendly with his dad and had Ed come in and do some work experience with him. (He refers to him as one of his original TEABAGS which is an acronym for the kids who would come in and work in the Benn archive, not whatever you were thinking.)

So, two very different people, but members of the same party and books of a similar subject. Let the discussions commence.

Out of the two people, Ed Balls is the one I remember most in parliament, as I was actually old enough to do politics when he was hanging around the commons, but Benn is the one that I knew (prior to reading these)  the most about because my grandad was also doing stuff with the unions, so it was a name that I’d heard a lot, but this is the first book of his I’ve read.

Both political memoirs were interesting, Benn’s historically as there was also mention of the Irish troubles and the Iraq war and a whole manner of other things that I am too young to remember and Balls’ because of the amount of anecdotes set during his time in the civil service or just generally while working in the Treasury or as an adviser to higher party members. To me being a massive nerd, both were fascinating glimpses at life in the House of Commons. Though we all know that the civil servants are the ones really running the country, I had no idea just how much is going on in those offices, I would say though, somewhere that Balls’ book slipped for me was the fact that I am not particularly numerically fluent and he spends a lot of time in the Treasury and talking about working for the Financial Times and other such stuff that went right over my head. Tony Benn’s book I found to be more warm and chatty and a more intimate picture of his day to day life, though it is worth mentioning that the book was a collection of his diary entries, he eventually published about sixty years worth of diary entries. Ed Balls’ book was more like structured essays around the themes of lessons he’d learned during his time in the public eye, so although anecdotal and revealing, the chapters didn’t feel as open as they did reading Tony Benn’s book, though certainly if you wanted to read something without having any prior knowledge, Ed Balls’ book would be a better place to start because stuff is actually explained as part of the text.

What is particularly interesting was learning about other political figures from these two men’s perspectives.
From Tony Benn you see Ed Milliband painted as the son of his friend who did a bit of work experience for him and was always seen as a nice young chap, who had ever so slightly disappointed him by choosing to work for someone Benn had little time for. From Ed Balls, you see him first as a close friend and then at very best, a work colleague. From Tony Benn, you see Jeremy Corbyn as being a upstanding member of the community, from Ed Balls you see him as the destroyer of the Labour Party. Both of them had similar complex thoughts about Tony Blair. But then Benn hated the idea of New Labour and Balls worked with Gordon Brown, so not much surprise there. What was surprising and quite nice to see was that while in PMQs and on TV, Labour and Tory were at each other’s throats, when it came to working for the country and generally getting stuff done, there as a bit of camaraderie. Benn had a civil, bordering on friendly relationship with both John Major and Ted Heath, whereas Balls actually entrusted George Osborne to look after his children. I doubt this is interesting to anyone but me, but the level of differences in opinion between these two people who have given their lives to one political party is just super fascinating to me. The idea that one party can hold so many different factions of people who, although having fundamentally opposing views, can still commit to the same ends. Both of them want the party to succeed, both of them care about the people who put them in that position, both of them care about the continuation of the health service and education, Benn wants these things achieved by socialist means and Balls by centralist. SO INTERESTING.

It was also interesting to see how much politics has changed over the course of these two people’s lives and how things like social media have influenced both voters and politicians. Twitter didn’t even really exist through most of Tony Benn’s time in parliament, yet Ed Balls is arguably more well known for being viral on social media than he was for his time in politics. I certainly knew of him more for Ed Balls Day and being on TV than for his work in government. Sorry about that Ed, but I feel more informed now I’ve read your book!

So there we are, some rambly thoughts about two different political biographies in an overlapping time frame, but by members of the same party. I think I’d like to read about more political figures, I did spot Ken Clarke’s book when I was at the library, so maybe I’ll venture into the Blue Corner next time I’m perusing the shelf and of course, I am always open to recommendations from you guys!

Like I was going to leave this post without linking you to an actual man that actually served in government doing a rendition of Gangnam Style on live TV.