Hipster Heaven: The Colours of East London

1-142Welcome to my exploration of East London through a lens. It’s like the Colours of the Wind, but with fewer Native Americans and more graffiti! A LOT MORE graffiti. In fact, looking back through my photos of this day, I think there’s about a 80% ratio of graffiti photos as opposed to anything else! Sorry about that. What can I say? East London knows how to do street art! I mean, look at Anna in the above photo. It’s like she was made for angel wings and rainbow clouds!

1-137About a month ago, Anna and I met up one rainy Sunday to explore the perilous urban jungle that is East London. (And I mean perilous. Just look at the size of their wild hedgehogs!)

1-140Now I confess that, other than a few forays into Brick Lane and one night out in Shoreditch, I have never really explored East London. Call me old-fashioned but I quite like central London, complete with all the tourist trappings! East London, to me, seemed the mecca of bushy beard wearing, pretentious book reading, independent coffee shop frequenting hipsters. Yes, I know that makes me sound like such a middle-aged woman! (As if the trip to dog shows, National Trust properties and open garden weekends weren’t enough of an indicator!) However, I was impressed by the sights and sounds we encountered, and had to share them with you too!

1-283I really loved this saying – it seems to me to be so true of relationships, especially once they become long-term and you spend more time with them than anyone else. That person who is your best friend and the other half of you is also that one person you can’t escape from, and whom you have to be able to tolerate above all else. It’s a fine line to balance, and this saying just encapsulates that in a nutshell.

1-225For the new tourist, East London is still relatively untouched, and well worth the journey out east to explore one of the more authentic areas of touristy/residential London cohabiting side by side.

1-212It was a grey and rainy Sunday morning, which could have made it a rubbish morning’s traipsing. But Anna and I sought out some colour through the gloom, and discovered just how vibrant this up and coming area of London really is. 1-Target Tree and Storm Trooper-001 Round every corner there was something new and unusual to explore and, in my case, snap a photo of! My poor camera was glad for the end of the day and a chance to rest (and probably never wants to see graffiti again!)

1-146I loved this little square. I wish all the estates in South London surrounded a mini park and a bandstand, if nothing else so we could relax in green space and pretend to be as posh as those private squares in Bloomsbury and South Kensington.

1-1911-159Columbia Road Flower Market is somewhere I kept seeing mentioned on endless blogging feeds and Instagram accounts, and I felt I ought to join the tradition. Having found us a Sunday free, we navigated the sodden streets and soon stumbled across this riot of colour.

1-1571-174In case you hadn’t worked it out from reading this blog by now, I have this thing with flowers…

1-1841-178With plants and flowers lining the streets from side to side, we had to shuffle down the road crammed in with so many other people. If you’re claustrophobic, it might not be ideal for you! But it’s worth the queuing in my opinion – the flowers are gorgeous and the rainbow of colours brought some brightness to our day.

1-193(Scary secateur-wielding graffiti lady liked the Columbia Road Flower Market too…)

1-281From here we went to our first Vintage Kilo Sale, in the same hall where I’d seen a friend of Ben’s in her inaugural boxing match the week or so before. I’ll cover our Vintage Kilo experience separately, so I’ll skip ahead to what we did afterwards.

1-242Anna and I trekked back from the hall to Brick Lane, a half hour or so journey, but on heeled boots this were pretty much the death of my feet. I hobbled most of the way there, and couldn’t have been more glad to find myself at our lunch venue.

1-259The Book Club is a Shoreditch hang out off the main high street that a quick Google search directed me to a day or so before.

1-2691-275They were also splashing out on colours too, with a fun jungle theme in residence covering the expanse of bright white walls.

1-2631-2791-264Anna and I took a seat below the low-hanging canopies of leaves and vines and admired the gorgeous prints on the walls. I would now really love a jungle-themed room just like this one! Maybe my current living room – on the second floor and at tree branch level – would pull it off? If not then a future children’s playroom would be the ideal candidate for this theme!

1-270For our brunch lunch, I ordered the pesto, scrambled eggs, toasted brown sour dough, roasted cherry tomatoes and scrambled eggs, and Anna ordered the avocado with lime & red pepper flakes on toasted brown sour dough & watercress salad with added bacon. It was good stuff, and much-needed to fill the void. Sorry about the poor picture quality, but we were in a hurry to inhale our food! I may also have treated myself to their Very Cherry Jerry cocktail, made up of Sailor Jerry’s and Disaronno with Coke…it was the weekend, after all!

1-309After that we decided we attempted to brave Brick Lane, but being a Sunday it was rammed, and neither Anna or I had the patience for it. So we conceded defeat and hopped on the first bus from Liverpool St back to our comfort zone of central London, to the Strand and Covent Garden, where we whiled away the rest of the afternoon.

1-317And when your normal stomping ground boasts views like this, can you blame us for making a detour over there having had our fill of Hipsterville? But I have to admit, after our colourful Sunday’s wandering, my camera and I will be venturing east again soon!

1-241Have you visited the wilds of East London before? Have you, too, got an unhealthy obssession with graffiti? Have you got any hidden hipster gems? Whatever it is, I want to hear it!

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Things That Made Me Smile #20

016Hello! Boy am I glad that this week is over! It’s had some good moments, but it’s been so long! Six days of work later and I am finally free for three glorious days! I don’t intend to do a massive amount with these days, though Ben has a surprise trip planned for us this afternoon! Also, don’t those stocks look lovely alongside the pouffe of gorgeousness? They smell wonderful too, and were only £4 from Sainsburys – bargain!

So, the things that made me smile last week are as follows:

005– Brunch in Brixton with old schoolfriends Helen and Zoe. We only get the chance to catch up once a month or so when our schedules all sync up (thank you, shift work!), but we always find that we can chat away for hours about the little goings on in our lives. My brunch was the divine scrambled egg with nduja on sourdough and accompanied by a mimosa – it was Sunday brunch, after all! We talked jobs, friends, and weddings. Helen’s big day is on 8th August, and we were talking dresses, gift lists and honeymoons.

022– Dancing to the Cat Empire with Ben on Sunday night. We went to see this laid-back Aussie band perform at the Royal Albert Hall, and they gave us an incredibly lively set, complete with a rainbow of strobe lights. There was such a party vibe to the hall, and I’ll never say no to dancing with my boy! It was also my first visit to the Royal Albert Hall, and I am now even more in love with the place than I was from seeing the outside. Hopefully we’ll get to go back soon!

106– Jurassic World. I know this photo featured in last week’s post, but I love it so any excuse to roll it out again is good by me! It also sums up my favourite aspect of the film: BATTLE RAPTORS. Alongside the other highlights: Dino theme park. BATTLE RAPTORS. Bryce Dallas Howard outrunning a T-Rex by sprinting in heels. BATTLE RAPTORS! The film has a suitbaly new, fresh feel to it, but it also pays homage to Jurassic Park in a respectful, not actually tacky, way. It is an epic film, and you should definitely see it. And I definitely now want my own pack of battle raptors I could be the Alpha over, Chris Pratt style.

IMG_8130– Making the most of Yo Sushi’s Blue Monday deal. At £2.75 a dish, we gorged ourselves on gyoza and salmon maki and chicken katsu and salmon firecracker rice. It was delicious! I think you can see by the stack of blue dishes that we had a good time! And I also got to try the Ramune Soda (top left). With a taste like bubblegum and complete with a marble rolling about in the top compartment to preserve the fizz, it was an utterly surreal drink! But it became surprisingly moreish as I drank more of it.

048– Going for my first run in a month. I’ve been feeling so guilty about not getting out there, so the chance to stretch my legs and make the first step towards getting back in shape felt good! I ached the day after, and it was a little more hard-going than it had been, but as with all my runs, I got home feeling virtuous. It’s also important for another reason entirely, but that will be revealed over the next week. Stay tuned…

001– Saturday morning’s sunrise. This was taken at around 04:40, when the pinks, purples and golds of the sunrise were starting to diffuse across the sky. I love sunrises and sunsets, and particularly when I’m working through the night, it’s so wonderfully heartening to see the sun emerge with the dawn. I also would have loved to be on that plane, jetting off to exotic climes and getting to watch London waking up as a bonus. Perfect 🙂

005– Summer rainstorms. We had a belter of a day on Saturday, with filthy grey skies looming overhead all day. You know when the clouds are so thick that they make the sky go dark? Yep, those. And then the heavens opened and we had several hours – count them, hours, of pouring rain. I tried to take photos, but it didn’t quite capture the sheer scale of it. Also, am I the only one who loves the sound of summer rain pounding down? I could quite happily curl up on the sofa with the windows open, watching the storm and listening to it rage, smelling the fresh scent that storms and rains always bring with them, safe and dry indoors.

025– Having a massive clothing clearout. My drawers were sagging under the weight of so many clothes, and I knew that there were far too many in there that I never wear anymore. I had recently read an article in Grazia about a woman who, following a break up, essentially sold off everything she owned beside a capsule wardrobe, some books and an actual wardrobe. While I could never do anything quite so drastic as that, I did fancy having a clear out and making my wardrobe more streamlined. I brought everything out into the living room during a Bridget Jones marathon with Jon, and blitzed my wardrobe. I have currently got 28 items ready to send to the charity shop (via my mother), and still have four dresses to decide what to do with. I was ruthless, and it actually felt really good! Now to exercise enough self-restraint not to refill my drawers with the same number of clothes again…

What things have made you smile in the last week?

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13. Still Alice by Lisa Genova

039My 52 Books Challenge is finally picking up pace – this was another one-day job during the week, and I’m so glad to have finally read it! Now, before I go any further I do have a confession to make. I may have seen the film for this one first, before reading the book… It’s like a cardinal sin, isn’t it? I really wanted to go and see Still Alice when it was out in cinemas, but it never happened, and I had put myself on a two month book buying ban in March so I wasn’t able to buy the book until we were away in America. Turns out it costs $16 dollars in the US (16?!), rather than about the £4 or so I paid on Amazon in the UK. So I waited, and the film happened to be one of our in-flight entertainment options on the way back from the US. I watched it, loved it, and as soon as we returned to the UK the book was mine! Anyway…

Dr Alice Howland is a professor of linguistics at Harvard University. She and her husband John live not far from campus, have three grown up children and a bustling academic and social life. Alice prides herself on her intellect and her memory skills. However, when she starts having bouts of forgetfulness, including getting lost in the middle of Harvard Square while out for a run, she pays a visit to her doctor to try and get to the bottom of it. But the symptoms she believed to be menopausal are soon revealed to be something much worse. Alice has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Age 50 and in the prime of her life, Alice suddenly has to come to terms with losing one of her most prized possessions: her mind and her intelligence, as every day becomes a struggle to hold on to who she is, to be able to say that she is still Alice.

I really enjoyed Still Alice. Alzheimer’s is a disease we typically associate with the oldest members of society, and to address it all, let alone in someone younger and extremely mentally capable, is a brave choice on the part of author Lisa Genova. It is a difficult read at times, and incredibly moving. It presents you with moral dilemmas left, right and centre: what would you do if your loved one was diagnosed? Would you stick by them no matter what? How would you cope? And even more so, how would you cope if you were diagnosed at such an early age? How would you cope with the frustrations of losing your faculties, one by one, but having periods of lucidity when you realise and remember what’s happening to you? Would you even want to keep living when you knew what the outcome would be?

You will think about all this and more reading Still Alice. It is a heartbreaking story, but such an important one to tell. The characters are all so relatable in their varied personalities and reactions. And although you felt for Alice’s family, she was the one who truly got to me. I felt for her so much – I pride myself on having at least some intelligence, although nothing to her standard – and I would hate to lose that. Your mind is such a key part of your personality, and without it how could you define yourself? How could you still be yourself without the thought process, memories, words and expressions which are unique to you?

I hate to admit it, but I think enjoyed the film of Still Alice more than the book. I found it a little difficult to focus on the book on the day I read it, and having the actors’ faces in my mind helped me to concentrate on each character properly. I also think, having now read the book, that the film did an excellent job capturing the essence of the story, all the most important facets, and turning them into film footage. If you can’t be bothered to read the book (though I strongly recommend that you do), then watch the film. I’m not at all surprised that Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice Howland!

Still Alice is not a story that can have a happy ending – as well all know, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. But it is a story that will make you count your blessings once you’ve read it, and will help you to live each and every moment to the full. We only get one life – we need to make the absolute most of the years we are fortunate enough to enjoy.

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Open Garden Squares Weekend

OGSWWarning: This post will be very flower and foliage heavy! Those with hayfever may want to have their anti-histamines at the ready!

Last weekend, I joined my mum and Tony for what is slowly becoming an annual tradition for us (alongside the Discover Dogs show) – the Open Garden Squares Weekend in London. This is the third year in a row I have trekked across London’s many and varied hidden green spaces, and for the third time the weather has been distinctly un-June like. grey skies, gloom and spits of rain are not what the doctor ordered! However, it was very pretty, and I thought I’d share some photos of the day with you to encourage those among you with any horticultural interest to pay a visit next year!

1-028Held every June over the Trooping the Colour Weekend, Open Garden Squares Weekend is a good value for money experience. You pay £12 for a weekend ticket on the door (or £10 in advance), and then you can visit any of the gardens across the weekend. There are dozens of them all across London, from inner to outer boroughs, and the guide book included with your ticket tells you a little bit about them all. It is also divided up into different areas so you can plan your visit by location or by specific gardens.

1-005We mostly stuck to Bloomsbury in Central London, but our first stop was closer to my neck of the woods: the Jamyang Buddhist Centre. A peaceful little garden tucked away from the main roads on the site of the old Kennington Courthouse, you can still see some of the original architecture, such as bars on the window and the facade on the front entrance. The exercise yard has been converted into a little green space, complete with gleaming Buddha.

1-0331-0261-0081-0221-003We stopped for lunch here courtesy of the Jamyang Cafe, and feasted on a veggie lunch of pea, asparagus and courgette risotto with three types of assorted salad. This included potatoes that I swear had been flavoured with lavender! So random, and it took some getting used to, but the risotto was pretty good.

1-040We stuck mostly to gardens in Bloomsbury for the rest of the afternoon. We saw leafy squares surrounded by majestic townhouses…

1-0351-0431-048Secluded courtyards…

1-120…And Japanese-inspired roof gardens (belonging to SOAS University) within a stone’s throw of one of my old uni libraries.

1-0951-093Oh Senate House, you symbol of research, stress, essays and exams! It cuts a pretty imposing figure, doesn’t it?

1-0631-0661-076I wasn’t planning to share this at all until I spent Sunday morning catching up with old schoolfriends, Helen and Zoe, over brunch in Brixton. We were talking about what we’d done with our weekends, and when I told them about the gardens I was a little embarassed, expecting them both to laugh at me for being so middle-aged. Shows what I know. They both then said they’d always meant to go too, and I knew I could relax! It’s one of the best things about having friends you’ve known for so long. Even with time apart following our own lives and interests, it seems we still have a great deal more in common when it comes down to it!

1-1161-083The two below are from a children’s nursery garden close to Great Ormond Street Hospital. It is like a little paradise – if I had gone to this nursery as a girl that would have been my life made! I mean, what other playgrounds have hamocks and wigwams on hand to help fuel your imagination and take you on exotic adventures?

1-1461-155I love discovering hidden parts of London, and I particularly enjoy the Open Garden Squares Weekend because it allows you to be nosy and explore those parts of London you wouldn’t normally have access to. There is also something about all these gardens that is so peaceful. I could have happily curled up with a picnic blanket and a book in any of them and whiled away an afternoon enjoying the sort of peace and tranquility you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else in London.

1-139 I couldn’t resist a little bathroom selfie, in what must be one of the brightest and leafiest bathrooms I’ve ever been to! This was at the October Gallery, home to the little courtyard with the scarlet bench and window frames above. It was one of my favourites of the afternoon, and I loved that they had managed to create a little haven, despite being surrounded by office buildings on all sides.

1-031With such hidden gems around every corner, the Open Garden Squares Weekend will most certainly be making a return appearance in my calendar – I’m just praying for sunshine next year!

Have you ever been to the Open Garden Squares Weekend? What were you favourite gardens?

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12. The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

1-004My book for this week is the summer hit The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. I’m signed up to Sunny Sweet Pea’s Bloggers Book Club, but as yet have been unable to participate in the chats due to work schedules. So seeing this on the June/July list was the perfect excuse to treat myself! And when I started reading this, something happened which hasn’t occurred for a good few years now. I read it from cover to cover through in one day.

Yep, that’s right. This book draws you in and won’t let go. I quickly became caught up in the story, and found myself tearing through it on the journey home from Kent, followed by a binge reading session in the park on my return to Camberwell. Now I am a fast reader, but over 300 pages in a day is still impressive! I haven’t read something that fast since I devoured the second and third Hunger Games books (each of which also took about a day)

The Girl On The Train is told from the viewpoint of Rachel, a woman in her mid-30s whose life has fallen apart since the breakdown of her marriage several years ago. She was already on the downward slide into alcoholism as her marriage disintegrated, but at the point at which we see her she is at her lowest, stumbling through and measuring time between being drunk, hungover or alcohol withdrawn.

184Every day Rachel catches the same train, and every day it stops at a signal outside a particular house on a quiet, suburban street overlooking the train line. And the gorgeous young couple she sees there quickly take on lives of their own inside Rachel’s head. She calls them Jess and Jason, and imagines what their lives are like – a little form of escapism from the downward spiral that is her own life. But one day she sees something that changes everything, and decides that she has to take action. Rachel makes the leap from observer to participant in Jess and Jason’s lives, and the consequences of her actions consume and overwhelm them all.

I can’t really say much more about the book without ruining the plot, but it is a fascinating read and draws you in right from the start with all the unanswered questions posed. A lot of people have said that Rachel is an unreliable narrator, but I think this is slightly misleading. It isn’t that she sets out to deceive the reader, more that her alcoholism makes those around her doubt her credibility. Even she cannot trust herself to know what she has seen, said and done. Which of course adds to the mystery, as Rachel struggles to piece back together memories of a crucial night and fights to rediscover sobriety.

The characters are all incredibly flawed, and I admit I found it difficult to warm to anyone. Rachel wallows in self-pity and allows her addiction to run her life, and I really only felt like she redeemed herself in my eyes towards the end of the book. However, the story is a powerful, no holds barred description of alcohol addiction, and the lows it can make a person sink to, and this adds a gritty extra dimension of interest beyond the lives of Rachel’s Jess and Jason.

I guessed the overall villain of the story before the end (there are several in their own ways, but we’re talking the most serious one here), but this was only because it got to a point where all other avenues had been exinguished, and it was the only logical option remaining. You won’t, however, be bored when reading this book. I was hooked, and found it so unputdownable (I’m sure that’s a real word!) that I had to retreat to the park to enjoy the sunshine and finish it on the afternoon I got home from Kent.

The Girl On The Train is one of the closest parallels the UK has to the Gone Girl style of thriller fiction, and puts a spin on British sleepy suburbia that will have you thinking twice. So next time you’re on the train pay attention to those around you, and what secrets they may be hiding in plain sight. And if you live at the side of a railway line, look up every now and then when a train goes by. You never know who may be watching you…

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Bend It Like Beckham at The Phoenix Theatre

109You know what this means…yep, it’s time for another theatre date with Anna! Last Friday evening we headed for the Phoenix Theatre to check out the West End’s latest musical offering! But not before we’d made a detour through the main concourse of Waterloo Station. You see, a week before Ben and I had been here on our way to Date Night, and we happened to pass this mysterious-looking crate…193The ‘InGen’ logo is the big clue here…
Anyway, there had since been a break out, and now the crate looks like this!

106Yep, this is the Raptor Pack, and it was all a big promotion for Jurassic World – meet #JurassicWaterloo! Also, just FYI, Jurassic World is awesome, and I highly recommend you see it. If nothing else for how adorable the Raptors are and how unbelievable (but epic) Bryce Dallas Howard’s sprinting in heels is!

We wandered through central to Soho, where we grabbed a quick and delicious dinner at Tuk Tuk, one of my favourite London noodle bars. Sadly the food was wolfed down so quickly that I had no time to stop and photograph it – we had a show to catch!

As you probably know, Bend It Like Beckham started life as a film, hitting our screens in 2001 and catapulting its stars (Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley and Joanathan Rhys Meyers) to fame (and igniting a nation’s love for Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Or was that just me…?) I have loved the film ever since I first saw it, and it remains one of my favourites to this day. It’s funny, romantic and feel-good, and it actually serves as an encouragement for woman to play football! I swear it’s part of the reason why I took up football at university. See below for the evidence…

KCL WFCThat’s me, second from right on the top row, circa 2009. KCL for life!

Jess Bhamra is an 18 year old girl who idolises David Beckham and loves football more than anything else. She’s just finished her A-Levels and has her final summer of freedom ahead before uni. But her sister Pinky is getting married and her traditional Sikh parents are determined that she will now grow up and become a nice, demure young woman and a top-rate solicitor. But when Jess meets Jules, a footballer for the Hounslow Harriers women’s team, she glimpses a very different future for herself. And with the encouragement of Jules – and handsome coach Joe – Jess dares to dream that she could make it as a professional footballer. That is, until her family find out…

1-005I was intrigued to see how the producers would be able to pull off a very physical performance within the confines of the stage. I mean, there are a lot of footballs and ball skills involved in the story – it’s slightly pivotal! – and without booting a ball into the audience I wondered how they would work around this. It turns out, they managed it very well! Characters went to kick the ball only to be stopped, or the ball was on a wire, or it was a football-shaped ball of light bouncing round the stage. It was all very clever. I never cease to be amazed at the ingenious techniques used in the theatre to combat the constraints of a stage.

The attention to detail was all very clever too. Even the stage curtain had a part to play, covered in a massive paisley design with all sorts of little intricacies detailed onto it – cups of tea, bowls of curry, footballs, and all sorts of items of Anglo-Indian crossover, woven into the paisley so you wouldn’t even notice from a distance. It was beautiful.

I liked all the characters – they made you laugh, they frustrated you, they all had their unique hang ups and quirks. The main three are obviously Jess, Jules and Joe. Their characters are true to form, but I think I’m too used to the film characters, as I preferred them. But I cannot fault any of the cast for their hard work and dedication, and as an audience we all laughed a lot. I really liked the character of Jules’s mum and Tony, Jess’s best friend, and her sister Pinky. Her parents too, struggling to stick to the traditions they grew up with and the modern, western world they have brought up their daughters in. The cast seemed to have quite a few family and friends in the audience judging by the whooping and cheering at the end during the curtain call, which made for a really lovely atmosphere!

As for the songs, unfortunately they didn’t really make much of an impression on me other than UB2, a song sung in Southall Market on a Saturday morning. The rest I’m afraid failed to stick with me afterwards. But I would put that down to it being a new show – it’s only been open for a month. I also really liked the song sang by Jess and her mother and Jules and her mother – that was almost enough to provoke a few tears!

As with all productions that come from somewhere else – book to film, or in this case film to musical – there are always going to be comparisons. I think that, overall, my love for the film placed me at a disadvantage for enjoying the musical. It just couldn’t quite measure up to my favourite. But if you are coming to it fresh, having never seen the film or not having loved the film, I think you’ll really enjoy this. It’s clever, the cast are awesome, and you will leave with that feel-good factor inside. But it somehow just missed the spot a little for me.

111This horse mystified me until I re-watched the film the next morning, and discovered that it is one of the means by which a Sikh groom can make his way to temple on his wedding day. I think the other is elephants, but I think they’re slightly harder to come by in Southall these days!

Bend It Like Beckham is a lot of fun, and it is so important to see a more diversified range of West End performances taking centre stage these days. I think my love for the film just held sway a bit too much, but it is a colourful and bright and funny and uplifting performance, and the perfect summer night’s entertainment.

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11. Women Warriors: Stories From The Thin Blue Line by John M. Wills

IMG_8131My 52 Books Challenge is slowly creeping along! I actually have two other reviews fcoming your way soon, thanks to a sudden breakthrough with speed reading, so keep an eye out for those up soon! Today, however, a slight departure from my usual reading material.

Women Warriors was one of only two books that I treated myself to when visiting America (The other was The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco, which I reviewed a few weeks ago). Ben and I found this at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Museum in Washington on our penultimate day in the U.S. It is an anthology of true short stories from a variety of women involved in law enforcement in some way across America. It looks at the funny, tragic, dangerous and downright bizarre anecdotes from some extraordinary women. Their truly colourful careers span every state and approximately forty years in the process.

The true crime market is saturated with male accounts of the job described as ‘the thin blue line’, and often they are presented in an ultra-macho format to appeal more to male readers (think The Sweeney meets Kojak). So the idea of reading about the perspective of female police officers really appealed to me. Our time in America taught Ben and I that, by comparison to the UK police force, American cops are far tougher and way more badass than our bobbies on the beat. This is in large part due to the issue of American nationalism and identity – the sheer volume of people and the right to bear arms which means anyone could be carrying a gun. Being a police officer anywhere in the world is a dangerous job, but in America this definitely feels more extreme; and there is a real sense that an officer can walk out the door in the morning and not know if they will return to their family in the evening.

Taking all that into consideration, the US police force still presents challenges for women who choose to follow this career path; in particular, the task of establishing themselves and earning the respect of their male colleagues. I have a great deal of respect for all the women whose stories are contained within this book. America is a vast, vast country, and I think that for these women to be chosen specifically to share their stories they must be pretty special! And once you read their extraordinary tales I think you may agree with me…

This book looks at several different sections of law enforcement across the US: Patrol Officers, Dispatchers, Investigators and Chaplains. This ensures that you cover the whole spectrum of American law enforcement, and how women play a part in it. You will find a story for every emotion, and some will stick with you longer than others. It’s easy to dip in and out of the book, as the stories are all quite short and aren’t linked to each other, so it works for the reader who is strappped for time or has a short attention span!

You will read about an officer in Alaska tasked to chase away some bears which had been unwittingly holding a hotel of people hostage. You will read about a K9 officer and the strength of the bond with her dog (so moving!). You will read about an officer who was herself a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her father for years before finding the courage to escape him.

I think one of the most powerful stories in the collection was that of a radio dispatcher trying desperately to keep calm and continue to do her job whilst she can hear her husband, a police officer, on another channel involved in a gun battle. Imagine sitting at your desk at work and knowing that your loved one was involved in a fight for their lives, that you might hear the sounds of them getting injured or dying right there in that moment. But all you can do is sit still, listening to the commentary on their fight and not being able to do anything about it. All you can do is sit still and try to carry on with your job, and keep it together while trusting that they can hold it together and come home to you.

One of the other hugely moving stories was from an officer who travelled from Chicago, where she worked, back to her home city of New York in the wake of 9/11, to help out at Ground Zero in the rescue and salvage missions. It’s a harrowing read, describing the toll it took on the workers, the devastation they saw and the illnesses that remained long after they left the site. It’s so sad, but at the same time uplifting in a sense when you think of what it tells you about the human spirit.

This may not be your cup of tea if you have no interest in law enforcement and stories which talk about the best and the worst of people, but if you do read it I promise you will read about some remarkable women, and it will be an eye-opening experience.

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