An ode to the best-worst tv show in history

As I wind up the fourth season of Pretty Little Liars, furiously messaging my friend Clare updates via Twitter, I realise that my enjoyment of this show has truly evolved from casual show I watch when I don’t care about content quality to omg there is nothing more ridiculous than this wonderful show.

I came to Pretty Little Liars the same way that many other people I know did – someone told them there was a relatively good queer storyline. This holds true throughout the show, you’ll be pleased to read, though the love interests of Emily have a habit of disappearing for many episodes, whereas the boring straight boys linger in the background.

The premise of the show is a little bit Desperate Housewives – five frenemies pal around, one gets murdered, a year later the remaining four start receiving weird messages threatening to reveal their innermost secrets from the ominous “A”. But once you hit near the end of season one, where the writers end the pretence that this show has anything to do with the books, everything goes bonkers. I’ll try to avoid specific spoilers but you have to know what’s coming to appreciate the first season of relatively moderate lies and teenage dramas. There are masked parties on a steam train where people get murdered and shoved into boxes, there are confrontations on ski lifts, there are psychic women in instagram filtered towns, there are whole episodes dedicated to one of the characters having drug-induced dreams

The girls themselves are engaging characters that you go through phases of loving and loathing. We have type-A high achiever Spencer who is a walking teenage encyclopaedia in preppy clothing. We have the alternative Aria who writes things and lounges around on her bed covered in pillows a lot, having affairs with inappropriately aged men. We have swim-team star Emily who comes out as gay, struggles with homophobia, and is basically the best one. We have Hannah (the other blonde, the not-dead blonde) who likes fancy clothes and is a bit dim and shallow and to be honest I’m not quite sure how else to describe her; maybe loyal, some of the time? Finally we have Alison, the departed, who apparently had the whole town either wrapped around her finger or trying to kill her. The actress who plays her has the most seething delivery of cruel manipulative lines that make me shudder (she exists in flashbacks), yet you can’t help but love her like her four core pals do.

Emily you are so perfect stop doing that face

The show is by no means perfect. The dialogue is often laugh out loud hilarious. Evidently the writers on occasion have an end goal for a scene, and spend time using clunky dialogue to set up that final sharp line followed by a cut away. For instance there’s a whole weird bit where some of the characters are arguing in this strange way that references the Wizard of Oz just so Hannah can say “You should go to the Wizard and ask him for a heart”. A moment in one of the later episodes of season four had Aria saying “I have a finger you can use, and it’s not the nice kind”.

This, plus the ridiculous plot twists, make this show its own genre of horror-comedy-thriller. It’s high melodrama from the last few episodes of season one onwards as people start being implicated or potentially bumped off only to come back to life or have never been dead or have been hanging out in a psych ward or have been in a hotel that they weren’t at or they might have been but you cannot tell ever.

There are a few genuinely not okay bits – a few transphobic slurs aimed at one character in particular, by characters who are known to be bad, but this doesn’t forgive it.

A much less serious problem I had with the show is that I had white-male-character blindness, and ended up not realising significant plot points because I wasn’t sure which peripheral man had lied/died/kissed someone. In my defence they did change the actor for one of the male characters. Four seasons on, I think I’ve just about gotten it.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, give it a go. Get on Netflix and feel free to send me your updates as you descend into the Liars’ world of pure nonsense.

It started with a banana loaf

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 16.04.35This evening, I was struck by the sudden desire to mix, meld, cream and weigh. I thought about the hurriedly ripening bananas on my counter that usually make the base of my breakfast smoothies, and for the first time in a long, long time, I wanted to bake.

While the humble banana loaf isn’t a particularly outstanding bit of culinary work, it means something. It means, to me, that I’ve remembered baking.

Depression is a weird monster. It hoovers up the things you like so efficiently that you pretty much forget you even liked it in the first place. While my love of books persisted throughout, my love of baking just starved away into nothingness. I forgot that I would spend most weekends working out what I would make – whether it would be something new and exciting like challah bread, or perfecting my lavender earl grey cupcakes. Oh how I’ve missed those cupcakes.

I feel like someone just flicked a switch on in my brain, and all circuits are go. Long may it continue.

80 for 80, No.1: Rosie and the Priest – Giovanni Boccaccio

When the men were off somewhere, he would come visiting their wives more solicitously than any priest they’d ever had before…

dirty stories are a-brewing
dirty stories are a-brewing

Penguin’s Little Black Classics collections starts off with a collection of four short stories, or “bawdy tales” as the black cover blurb suggests. The stories are taken from Boccaccio’s The Decameron, translated by Peter Hainsworth.

These four tales are the first piece of writing by Boccaccio I’ve ever read. Our new pal Gio was an important fourteenth century Renaissance humanist Italian, whose poetry served as inspiration for a number of Chaucer’s work. So, a pretty good place to start!

As for the stories themselves, I genuinely enjoyed the first three. I read these tucked up in bed, drinking a cup of Pukka’s equivalent of Sleepy Time tea, winding down for the evening and looking forward to a bit of literary mischief.

Ricciardo da Chinzica loses his wife is about a judge who doesn’t bang his wife enough, Rosie and the Priest features a character called WILLY WELCOME and the first one Andreuccio da Perugia’s Neopolitan Adventures is about Andreuccio being incredibly unlucky.

Some mild spoilers ahead. The last one Patient Griselda is this weird story where a husband tests his wife’s patience by subjecting her to loads of cruelty which she just takes like “OKAYYY”, ending with him after about TWENTY YEARS going “a-hey I was joking all along, surprise here’s your child we took from you, now they’re an adult!”. My partner Tim, who actually read this book before me, got to the end of this story and went “well that was bullshit”. I think he summed our feelings up very succinctly. I think it’s more because we both instantly thought “bin all men, especially this one” rather than thought it wasn’t a good piece of writing.

So, I think 75% enjoyable is a pretty strong start for the first book. It’s made me want to read more Boccaccio, despite poor old Griselda’s glum fate.

Running Tally

I’m going to keep track of diversity in authors and literature throughout this. There may be a graph. Sorry.

Authors: Male

Type of literature: Short stories

What’s New Wednesday: Colour my life noir

Just a quick one to share with you all a seriously great little playlist I found this week.

I thrive on background noise and find silences harder to concentrate in as it replaces the space for my anxious thoughts. I find when I get really anxious, Rainy Mood in bed is the only thing that can bring me back to functioning. I suspect something of that is from spending a childhood in Wales and some of my working life in tropical countries – hearing rain when you are inside is terribly comforting to me.

But this week, I discovered that people have made playlists to go along with my beloved storm music. Pals, I bring you Rainy Mood + L.A. Noire Soundtrack.

For those who don’t know, L.A. Noire is a video game by the creative studio Rockstar who make Grand Theft Auto and one of my all-time favourite games Red Dead Redemption. The game focusses around cop Cole Phelps who literally has the face of Aaron Staten who plays Ken Cosgrove from Mad Men, in a creepily amazing bit of technology. The premise of the game and the soundtrack are amazing, but admittedly it gets a bit stale in the middle, though I still insist that people finish it because the last section is pretty good.

Anyway the point is, if you want to sit at your desk writing and pretend you work for a private investigation agency, where you smoke cigars on the job, and shoot bad guys, and are bitter about a personal crime that jaded you forever and drove you to obsessively never stop searching for the perp, then this is for you. 

80 for 80: a reading adventure in Little Black Classics

Sometimes, when you are stuck in a really good novel, you just want to dip into something else quickly. My usual go-to is a graphic novel as I tend to whizz through them relatively quickly. But I wanted to mix this up a little bit.

And that’s when I noticed Penguin had launched their 80 Little Black Classics in celebration of 80 years of Penguin. Upsettingly pleasing to the eye, each book is a taster of work from authors less known or rarer works by classic favourites. Each book has around 60 pages, and comes in at a very affordable 80p. All the books have no introduction, no background information, just the words alone. The books themselves are heavily weighted towards the 19th century and less than a quarter of them are written by women – I’m going to keep a running tally on the diversity as we go.

So I’m going to try and read every single one, and write about it here. Let me know which ones you’ve read and loved. Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 15.28.13

When in London: “Have you ever scratched a pig’s back?”

A childhood in North Wales surrounded by farmland has led me to have certain assumptions about the world, which are being challenged by my partner Tim. He of middle class suburban youth has had many experiences non-typical for me, such as being Captain of his private school’s shooting team  l o l l e.

But apparently many things I experienced are not shared by him, or it turns out many people I know. These life experiences that I assumed were part of everyone who lived near a field’s childhood include scratching a pig’s back, having an innate knowledge of what a badger smells like and recognising that pregnant cows walk in a particular manner. Since this original conversation, I have also learned that knowing not to let pregnant women near sheep afterbirth is not common childhood knowledge either.

So in order to give Tim a basic understanding of what I’m referencing half the time, while I chew on my piece of hay and refuse to rise until a cockerel has crowed, I decided to take Tim to a city farm.

Look how gleeful he is.
Look how gleeful he is.

After discussions with various pals about the wealth of city farms in London, we opted for Mudchute Farm. Mudchute Farm sits on the Isle of Dogs in a lovely little haven of grassland and trees, and is free to visit (though you can become an annual member for a £10 donation that goes towards keeping the animals safe and happy, or you can sponsor one of the animals). You can take along your own carrots or buy little bags of grass pellet feed to give to all the animals, but please please do not take bread as there are many signs stating this is not good for the animals and you wouldn’t believe how many people I saw flaunting this. If you see it, call it out, and keep the lovely donkeys safe.

So back to the pig scratching quest, which was achieved! I did point out to Tim that pigs can bite and this sow was a particularly muscley babe, so the first few scratches were done with great trepidation.

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He also fed a donkey grass for the first time just as two little girls both under the age of six were also experiencing their first snuffly hoover of grass. Their mother and myself looked on with pride as the three of them dashed up a hill to get nice juicy grass to feed to the grey donkey.

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My personal favourite was an inexplicably cordoned off sheep who loved being tickled behind the ears and really leaned into it.

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The train station (Mudchute on DLR) is rather close by. Accessibility may be an issue for those in wheelchairs if there has been heavy rain recently, but in the dry heat of the summer there should be no problems. There is a cafe by the riding school that does a decent range of meals, and if you need a quieter area to ponder and rest, I recommend the petting zoo behind the stables where there is a snoozy ferret and some bunnies.

I really enjoyed Mudchute as a perfect haven from city life – even if you can see Canary Wharf over the hill – helping you to forget that Monday morning conference call and remembering how green the city can be. Have you been to Mudchute? If you go soon, be sure to comment and send me a picture of you with your favourite farm animal.

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My Little Box: My Little Superbox – March

Continuing my desire to try new things, I have been investigating makeup ooooh. Growing up as a tomboy who rejected anything “girly” apart from drawing circles around my eyes in kohl eyeliner combined with dry eczema skin, I have very little experience with make up and other products. I had looked at the popular beauty boxes like Birchbox but admittedly had no idea what half of the products even were. I still kind of feel that way, so expect blogs where I try and guess if I’m using things right.

Last year, when the ~mists of depression~ were fully set in, one of my lovely pals Linka sent me a link to something she thought would cheer me up. That was My Little Box, and for full disclosure, I really love this company.

My Little Box started in Paris (as My Little Paris), offering a split between makeup and beauty products, and cool lifestyle stuff. I’ve had some really cool stuff over the last few months that I genuinely use regularly. I’ll do a post of all my favourite things I’ve gotten so far at some point so you can see the type of things you get over time (but you can also view the recent past boxes online here).

So onto this month! The theme was super girls which is right up my street. I get mine sent to my office (notice the coffee cup next to the washable keyboard), as at one time you got a little discount for it, but also it means that on days mid-month where I might feel absolutely terrible I can remember there might be some cool post waiting for me.

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The boxes are always immaculately presented and the box itself is so very useful – I have them stashed around the house for keeping things in like all my present decorating goodies, or an emergency feeling-like-poo box in my bedside table. The ribbons are really cute, and I’m not quite sure what to use them all for just yet,

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The stickers are really cute and awesome peppy superhero mantras, and if my main laptop wasn’t owned by my work it would be covered in these. Trying to decide what to put them on. Underneath the stickers is the usual My Little Box magazine which tends to have bits of info about the designer who curated the box, interviews with cool people, fashion photoshoots (in this case featuring my new fave clothes brand The White Pepper), and the odd how-to, which as a generally inept person I find very useful.20150316_094911

The rolled up material is a cute little t shirt – there were three different sets of words on, and this has grown on me as it is Space Jam themed, arguably the purveyor of the greatest website of all time. I will note however that the shirt is “one size” and as a size 12-14 it was a good slim fit on me. This does mean that any curvier babes might find this box to be pretty rubs value.

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Inside is the usual drawstring bag – these are usually different every month and again, are really useful for putting bits and bobs in. I have to travel for work a few times a year, and find these very useful for keeping all my products or cables all together. The products they provide tend to be one from their own brand and two or three from other well known brands, which may be full or travel sized.20150316_095043

This month brings a My Little Beauty Lip & Cheeks. This appears to be a blusher-lipstick all in one. I’ll be totally honest, I have n o i d e a how to use blusher without looking like a clown. While I’m not totally sure what to do with this, My Little Corner products have all been high quality and I’ve enjoyed using them all, so I have high hopes for it as just a handy little lipstick. It looks really nice and peachy on and I think it looks cute with my skin tone.

I hope you enjoy my nostrils
I hope you enjoy my nostrils

The hand and cream by Caudalie Paris smells like Parma Violets. My colleague Julie and I tried it out, agreeing it smelt nice, and doesn’t leave residue on your skin. I could smell it all day, which was really nice! It kept my hands nicely moisturised. You get a 30ml travel sized version, perfect for keeping in your bag or on your desk at work. At full size, 75ml, it costs £12.

The Kerastase Cristal Liste Lait Cristal hair conditioner would have been super useful to me about 6 months ago when I had really long hair, but I recently chopped it all off into a Ramona Flowers squiggle. I’m going to save it until after summer when (hopefully) some time in the sun and the sea might leave it needing some kindly treatment. In my box I got a 75ml bottle; a 200ml bottle retails for £18.50. A few months back they gave me a Kerastase hairspray which is so so very good that I’m going to invest in buying it when it runs out.

So, was this month worth it?

For me, yes. For other people, I could see how it might not be, especially if the shirt didn’t fit. I’m also really gutted that this is the first month that hasn’t featured one of Kanako’s nice illustration cards – I’ve been collecting them to put around my desk area in my office at home. I know the stickers are supposed to be the illustration treat but I’d really have liked something to frame I think. I love the shirt – the soft cotton is really comforting on my skin when I’m feeling hypersensitive. In terms of value for the beauty products alone, it was pretty good. I have a few things to stash in handbags or drawers for now or later, to keep me feeling fresh. So overall I recommend them as a fun treat arriving every month.

Subscription is £11 per month plus £3.95 postage.