The Food Wars by Walden Bello

When I was reading this book I read half the chapter focusing on agrofuels and the next morning there was one of the companies mentioned with a sponsored advert on my twitter feed. Was it there before or did I just notice it because of my awareness around the topic? Or is there some greater capitalist conspiracy of them getting into your mind? I’ll let you decide that answer but what I do know is that at 07:10 on a Tuesday morning it really narked me off.

As well as discussing agrofuel The Food Wars also covers poverty, agrobusiness, imports, exports, the general food industry and the political groups that try to impact on food production and ‘stability’. Walden Bello sprung into action to write this book when the 2008 financial crisis hit and got supported by his employers, colleagues and those that are also in this area of expertise to power ahead and highlight how the food industry and food prices both partly led to the crisis but also how they would be impacted by that financial crisis and any others that would follow. If you haven’t read about these topics before this book is easy enough to get into and understand but if you feel daunted by the concept I’d certainly start with something like Food for Beginners as, whilst it focuses specifically on the issues on the African continent, it mentions several of the topics and policies included in more depth in Bello’s book.

The book is split up into seven chapters that all focus on different topics but are able to reference things and places mentioned in previous chapters as well to allow for integration and further understanding by the reader. Despite this, each chapter could easily be read as a standalone for extra information on a certain area of the food industry or a specific country. Personally, I find non-fiction books that find ways to weave and transition topics from one chapter to another to be the most enjoyable and understandable to read because it really helps for the arguments of certain sections to get into your head instead of you reading it and moving on to something completely different two lines later.

Book by Walden Bello

The first chapter acts as an introduction to the way Bello will be approaching the contents in his book and gives an explanation as to what he will be meaning when referring to peasants and different social and political groups in the food chain. The later chapters focus on different types of production in countries like Mexico, The Philippines and China before discussing agrofuel and concluding with what needs to be done going forward and what may happen if nothing is done to overturn the status quo. It’s a traditional style for a book but the flow from one to the next is beautiful and whilst it allows the reader to easily glide from one to the next the way it is written brings about a level of conscious stirring and challenges too.

Whilst each chapter tells a different story as to what happened to each country the results are the same; restructuring plans and financial plans put in place by external sources has caused them to go from net exporters with surplus food in storage to being overall importers of food and instead exporting things like cut flowers that the farmers and lowest income groups cannot survive on. The plans to make these changes, largely from the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the IMF, were done to ‘help’ the countries to bring down their debt, decrease public spending and agriculture initiatives and wait for the private sector to climb in but in all three cases it ignored the peasants need for food and a countries need for back up supplies. The only people that have benefited from these restructuring methods seems to be big business and multi-millionaires; it is another example of capitalists attacking the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable in society by bullying those that are meant to protect them.

All of this feeds into the sixth chapter, regarding agrofuel, and how countries that are now already starved of resources and reserves are being encouraged to grow things that can be used as a fuel replacement. These products are not food that is going to waste or already being produced where the conversion into fuel wont have an impact on the food consumer of the world; they are having to hack at rainforests, destroy land not usually used for agriculture and are using things like corn to make these ‘better’ fuel alternatives. It is clear that they are not better for the food consumer or for the environment but again to big business with the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson entering the agrofuel sector.

Throughout the book Bello also refers to a number of other academics and professionals that look in depth at certain regions and countries struggling with the food crisis and quotes them to increase the reputability of Bello’s claims and statements. At times though it can feel like he is over-quoting the same people but when you take a careful look at the citations and see where all his facts and statements are coming from you can see that this is far from the case (you need to be the sort of person that has the patience to flick from page to the back of the book to check every single citation though and when there’s a lot of them that involves some dedication).

The final chapter, whilst also looking to the future and figuring out what might happen next, provides three short case studies of people that did something specific for the movement; suicide, time in prison and the creators of powerful movements. It gives the reader a deeper understanding of the level of crisis that people are finding themselves in whilst providing additional information on some countries not mentioned that much throughout the book. by the time you get to the last chapter you feel slightly numb as a reader because of the realisation of just how awful everything is so the case studies don’t quite have the same punch that they might if you read them out of context but they do pump you up to want to read about the next steps in this almighty battle.

As Bello is based in the US and, like most markets, the US is overlord in the food market the book only touches upon the EU and the UK. It shows that there is mild resistance to things like agrofuel in the EU but that they still want to create targets, lease land and get involved in anything that gives them economic and political clout. This attitude has continued to prove to be dangerous and governments have pushed ahead with new initiatives that do little for the environment on a real level, benefit people inside or outside the EU or to help with the financial crisis of the late 2000’s or to prevent the one likely to happen in the upcoming months or years. At the end of the book there is a great sense of need to sit down and think about what the country you live in is doing in terms of food exports and imports, is it fuelling the agribusiness trade, is the energy it really wants to promote clean and what is happening to the workers? It doesn’t take you look to scratch the surface and realise that almost every country is to blame for this food war. But the real food war is the big business vs the rest and that’s exactly how they want it to be.

Whilst this book comes in at less than 200 pages it did take me some time to read, not helped by me being in hospital in the meantime, and it is one of those books where you do need some time to process each sub-section and chapter properly. I found it to be an accessible read, as somebody without a specialism in economics or the global food markets, and a great summary of the topics covered. It has given me enough confidence to pick up a book that goes into the food situation of one specific country more and know that I will have enough knowledge to be able to understand not only the content but some of the organisations, groups and reports that they are likely to refer to.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your interpretation of it in the comments below. Otherwise you can follow me on Goodreads or Instagram to see what my current reads are.

Africa by Richard Dowden

This book spent so long on my to be read stack, I’m talking maybe five years, and whilst I really wanted to get stuck in and find out everything it had to say I was also a little bit intimidated by it. Over the years I’ve learned to not be so scared by a book and to instead acknowledge that such a feeling means I have something to actually learn from it and struggling over words, concepts, etc doesn’t make it a bad thing but rather shows that it needs to be read in an attempt to be, even just a smidgen, less ignorant than before.

I’d like to say that I’m not ignorant about things like agribusiness in Africa, claims of corruption and how empires have a lot to answer for but compared to people that live through the experiences, properly study countries in Sub-Saharan Africa or have some other claim on being able to look into everything in depth I am ignorant. Like so many people I live in my own bubble, focus on the things that the media easily accessible to me talks about, I follow specific things on social media and everything else that is happening in the world completely falls out of my sphere of knowledge.

In an attempt to be mildly less ignorant, not able to comment on things but to just be more aware when such conversations do arise, I spent a large amount of time gathering up various books on ‘Africa’ from the recent past to the older periods and have finally started to read them. Africa by Richard Dowden seemed like as good a place to start as any though, even with his varying personal experiences over many years, I felt a little uncomfortable with it being yet another tale of the sub-continent told by a white person originating from a colonising nation but with a foreword by writer Chinua Achebe I figured it couldn’t be wholly awful or he wouldn’t have put his name in it.

Paperback cover of Africa

There are things in this book that I already knew or had a rough insight into before I started to read through the chapters but it provided a more careful view with statistics, quotes and all that other good stuff as well as descriptions of what Richard had seen and recollections of conversations whilst on the ground trying to navigate all the complex situations in front of him. Each chapter shows as a reminder that journalists often have to choose one story to focus on and once they go one way, hoping it to be the right path, there is little room for them to be able to see the other side of the story as well and how that can result in having to make assumptions to fill in the gaps or accepting the numbing story you have in your head is the only one available to putting into words.

Having each chapter focus on place, rather than a specific problem such as poverty or corruption, really helped to get an understanding of each of the countries in a more compact and digestible way. Discovering that one issue led to or was caused by another issue helped for there to be a mental timeline in the head rather than you having to pull different chapters together to figure out a coherent path. It did feel like at moments a couple of bits were repetitive but it also allowed for there to be a feeling of connectivity between the places, despite how very different each one is, because of the colonialism, brutal regimes and sudden independence that they have faced for decades and centuries into the past. If you don’t come out of each chapter acknowledging how awful empires are and how horrific capitalism is for long term sustainability and health of millions of people across the globe then I really fear for your soul (or rather the hollow black hole in place of where your soul should be) come judgement day.

The honesty of Dowden throughout the book is sort of refreshing. He acknowledges how uncomfortable he felt entering certain places and them either treating him like a god or with great suspicion (though the later is a far more correct approach by those he visited) and the mixture of bewilderment and disappointment that Coca-Cola seemed to have made its way into every village that he seemed to visit. There is nothing wrong with a drink making its way in as such but rather that the drink comes from sugar bought at an astoundingly low price due to the interference of empire, IMF, World Bank and WTO and then gets imported back in at a eye-popping high price that is marketed as a great gift to the people. These are the people that are being the most exploited by capitalist and poor economic policy whilst also trying to fit into the images they see of other nations with people slurping on Coca-Cola and collecting a bunch of tat. These are the people that capitalists claim will be most hurt under socialism but when they have nothing to lose due to the way agribusiness, the green revolution and existing financial powers continue to pinch them and every part of their livelihoods it seems impossible to imagine how they could be hurt any more than at present.

But as well as focusing on the ‘hard facts’ of the situation Dowden takes some time to look at the people that he meets and tries to become an analyst of emotions, actions and responses to suggest why some of the suggestions coming from external sources cannot work. These interpretations are based on his time spent with people and he does take the time to have an insight, something people imposing plans and restrictions seem to have overlooked doing and it makes for no surprise that their ideas have not integrated with the people or the governments, but when he enters a place or situation as a white journalist from one of the colonising countries it is hard to know whether the people are acting the way that they always would or if they are putting a different face on and reacting in different ways. This is not to say Dowden’s ponderings on attitudes are automatically wrong or that he hasn’t done enough silent observing from a backseat to piece together the puzzle but there are considerations that we need to remember before fully accepting his narrative of attitudes.

Africa is a good starting point as a piece of literature to understand some of the difficulties Sub-Saharan countries, the people, the governments and the economists are facing. It provides a range of angles and helps to broaden the readers considerations from just the typical thoughts and arguments but doesn’t go in as hard against Western society and capitalism as it could. This allows for you to understand the basics before going into the world of reading more news articles, seeking out different media or attempting to read a book that further delves into one particular country. If you have studied colonialism and the impact that it had on now (rightly) independent states you might find some of this to be obvious reading or go “ow yes, I remember reading about that” but it could still be useful as a refresher book to allow you to remember the basics.

Have you read anything on these topics that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments below. Follow my on Goodreads to see what I’m reading right now or like my book Instagram for more book related chat.

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

Like so many people, I have a personal appreciation for the NHS. The services, care and dedication that people in the NHS gave to me, and many of my family members and friends, from birth to now shaped me a lot and are amongst the many reasons I wanted to get my current job in the NHS as it feels like a real chance to make a difference in somebody’s life (even when they might not realise it or even realise I exist as a backroom admin person).

But whilst we all have appreciation and stories of joy to tell there are also endless stories that tell of heartbreak, feeling let down and staff members that say they are overwhelmed. Funding isn’t enough, grants for those training have been slashed, people on wards are put into the deep end solo and computer systems can lead to costly delays. Despite all that, people still work round the clock to keep the machine ticking and people go into outrage at the idea of such a valued institution disappearing.

We hear about all the problems and how challenging it can be at times, from third hand sources on TV or in the news, but rarely are we braced with a first hand experience that doesn’t try to sugarcoat the edges or make it out to be a complete nightmare. This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay changes that and lets the layman into the real life of doing the hospital rounds as a doctor for years on end. It is a painful account but it is very much needed for people to pause and reflect what needs to be done to make the service work better, more effectively and safely for both patients and employees alike.

Book by Adam Kay

Adam put the book together based on his diary entries whilst working in a hospital, something recommended to go towards development and as a guide in case anything out of the ordinary should happen so it can be referred back to at a later date, and naturally chose the ones that would stand out the most to an audience in terms of amusement or bewilderment. At the start of each chapter, the start of a new placement, he gives a bit of a description as to the environment he was in, the impact on his relationship and where it means he effectively is in the junior doctor ranks before reaching the level of consultant. This little inclusion of extra detail helps to show just how long the journey is to stopping being deemed a ‘junior doctor’ despite the amount of years experience quickly racking up but also helps to remind readers that whilst doctors do hugely lengthy shifts they also have dreams, desires and a life outside of the hospital that often is at risk of being neglected because of the extraordinary work pressures they are under; it provides an insight into the daily life of doctors but also helps to remind the reader to try and cut them some slack when there are delays or they seem to be rushing from one place to another because this isn’t how they would want it to be either.

Since leaving the path of becoming a doctor, after an event that comes to light right at the very end of the book, Adam has entered comedy writing and his name can be found on the credits of a lot of TV shows, including Mrs Brown’s Boys, and joins the ranks of the likes of Jo Brand that left the NHS for something a lot more lighthearted and risk-free. Reading the book and the diary entries it is clear to see why such a transition seemed so natural as the writing style is naturally witty and there are points where you cannot help but laugh at the situations he found himself in; it’s impossible not to laugh at somebody’s misfortune of having a kinder egg plastic shell up their vag when it’s written in such a ‘here we go again’ way. But of course looking at it from the outside it could easily be seen how dealing with such things is really frustrating to a doctor because their workload is already overwhelming and dealing with such a ridiculous, but funny, incident could have an impact on another patient’s life or well-being.

It really is a mixture of funny and heartbreaking, as the title suggests it honestly does hurt, it shows how the lack of reasonable structure and lack of support for people progressing through medical professions is lacking and how we are losing many incredible people from the sector as a result. This book is well worth a read for the content alone but also for the way it will make you reevaluate everything you thought you knew about the NHS.

Happier Thinking by Lana Grace Riva*

This book, Happier Thinking, was sent to me by Lana herself, after reaching out to me via email to discuss if it would be something that interested me. If it is something that is of interest to you it is available to purchase on Amazon to purchase in paperback or download on the kindle if having all your books in the palm of your hand, providing discretion from fellow commuters, is more your style. There’s often an undercurrent of mental health chat flowing through my blog, social media and daily life chats and I was interested to find out what tips or tricks might be included in this book or, despite the author experiencing darker days herself, if it would come across as one of those ‘just get on with it’ style write ups.

Something that might be represented under the category ‘self-help’ book makes me incredibly nervous. There’s a risk of it telling you that something you have spent your life doing is wrong, that you need to sweep everything out of your closet and start again or that all the people in your life are irresponsible for letting you get this way and can’t really care about you. Luckily this 50 page book does none of those things and instead makes you feel at ease with a written format that feels like a friend is offering you a few tools to get out of your current place but willingly acknowledging that the ladder might work better for you than the rope, or vice versa, in climbing out of the hole you’ve found yourself in.

Before I talk more specifically about the contents of the book I just wanted to quickly highlight that the colour of the book cover is wonderful. Blue can sometimes feel like quite a cold and harsh colour that brings my mood down a notch but this turquoise tone of blue feels peaceful and tranquil in a way that allows you to look at it and feel confident about stepping into it like dipping your feet into the sea for the first time on holiday.

Book by Lana Riva

Lana describes this book by saying, via the description, “changing how you think is possible. I wasn’t always so sure that was true until I experienced it myself, but I know now we don’t have to just accept unhappiness. Not always anyway. This book is my collection of tips and suggestions that have helped me achieve happier thinking. It’s sort of a gym for my mind. I’d love to tell you it was easier than the real gym but well… it’s not really. It takes time, effort, and practice but it’s absolutely well worth the rewards” and this snippet of her viewpoint makes it really clear that this isn’t some quick fix book to happiness and seeing rainbows everywhere. Right at the very start Lana also points out that she isn’t trained in any area of psychology or mental health and that everything mentioned is just her own perspective and techniques that have helped her in the past; this is not a one size fits all sort of book and it isn’t intended to be either.

Some of the tips, tricks and thoughts in this book may sound really obvious to you or you are able to sit there and say you already do that but to another person it could be a complete revelation so when that happens it doesn’t mean the book will be completely pointless to you or you already know it all so there is no need to carry on. Even if you do happen to know all these things, if you are reading this book you are seeking some kind of further happiness in your life, and it could well serve as a reminder of things and put you back on track with some habits that work for you.

For me I know making lists work regarding big tasks that need completing and putting them in a priority order, I know jotting down something good that has happened during the course of the day will help me to look back and feel more positive in the future and that trying to find a positive in a negative or remembering that the negative isn’t a sign of the whole day to come really works for me. There are some other things in the book that I had heard about doing but didn’t feel was right for me and then there was some tips I had never thought of before and felt that I could try to include them in my life. It’s nothing ground-breaking but it does help you put one foot in front of the other.

It is a simple book and whilst short you can either whizz through it all or read one tip/chapter at a time and try to implement each one for a period of time to see what does or doesn’t work for you before adding another thing into your mental thinking routine; sometimes trying to make too many changes or have too many ideas in our head at once can be overwhelming so feel comfortable with taking it steady and at your own pace to make sure you get the most out of Lana’s words.

I found the book to be a really useful read and it is something that I will pop my head back into now and again to remind myself of a different approach for a certain situation or even just to remind myself that I’m not alone with struggling regards something specific and that it’s okay to need to step make or attempt to make a change on a certain mental concept.

*Whilst this book was sent to me to review, all thoughts and opinions are my own, truthful and not in any way influenced by the kindness of the author for reaching out to me. They did not specifically ask for a blog post on the book but I am doing one to expand on my initial thoughts that I provided on Goodreads.

Changing Gears

Sometimes living life in the fast lane or on the harder setting is beneficial. Occasionally it means we reap greater rewards and people are more likely to comment on the amount of work or effort we put in. Sometimes though it goes unrewarded, unnoticed and just puts us into harms way for a situation in the future.

For a long time I was keen to be living and working my way through those more challenging routes as I believed it was one of the only ways to feel successful, like a job well done and to get recognition but it all came at having a price to pay. Simply, it would be like going into a store and getting the most expensive glorious apple. It tasted absolutely amazing but it meant I could only afford one apple instead of three and as a result I wasn’t feeling fulfilled or well rounded for a sustainable period of time. I’d insist on pushing myself to do a task or to get it completed within a certain time frame but that resulted in me being unable to carry out anything else and forcing myself to focus on the success of one thing rather than dwelling on the failure of a number of other things. Ultimately it caused short term pride and glee but long term it left me feeling pretty empty and disappointed in myself and all those good achievements sort of felt like they were getting swept under the carpet by the darkness of my mind.

It wasn’t until somebody told me to stop constantly living life on the hard setting that I realised I even was. The harder setting had become the default and doing anything else seemed a pretty impossible and scary prospect; isn’t it just me and the way that my brain is programmed to live life? Is there even a way to change those settings? I had no idea if it would be possible but I knew that I needed to at least make a serious attempt to switch up the level and see what happened. It sounded terrifying and like I was about to get lost trying to navigate a stinky swamp but it actually turned out to be a lot easier than I expected.

Why had I even ended up living on the harder setting constantly? The need to prove the school bullies wrong? The desire to do my parents proud? The social expectations to achieve certain things in certain periods of time? Did it only happen after I dropped out of university for the second time and didn’t want to let myself down at failing at anything I decided to do ever again? Does the autism and the fixations on certain things as a result impair my judgement as to what is important and safe to do? As long I can acknowledge the problem does it even really matter?

The first thing I needed to do to make it even remotely possible to change gears was to let go of guilt, the fear of letting people down, the fear of having to extend my own goals and dreams by a few months or years. Part of the guilt was not getting stuff done quickly or not achieving a certain number of tasks and it was hard to remind myself that taking longer or going slower didn’t mean not doing something at all but rather just making sure I would be able to bounce from one thing to another and still get everything done to a high standard and safely.

This applies to Labour Conference in Liverpool. Tomorrow I was originally scheduled to be getting on a coach and heading up there to represent my Constituency Labour Party (CLP) as a youth delegate but I was selected back in June when my physical and mental health was in a hugely different place to what it is now. Accepting that it wasn’t a good idea for me to go obviously created a huge amount of guilt; my partner has to go anyway, it cost the CLP money and potentially took the chance away from somebody else (though nobody else had nominated themselves before the meeting) but I had to banish away that guilt and accept that pulling out was the best thing for me. It doesn’t mean I’ll never go to Liverpool or that I’ll never end up going to conference as there will be plenty more opportunities to do both but I’m just being sensible and deciding to put those ideas in the slow/easy lane for a while and reach them at a later point in time. I even managed to battle my ongoing anxiety by emailing the people I needed to inform and then ringing them up for a refund and did it without feeling guilty about having to explain why because not getting it done would make it all more complicated and feeling guilty about it wouldn’t achieve anything useful.

A few other worries were also causing me to try and live in the hard lane as well; I thought my new employer had gone off the idea of hiring me and was ghosting me. It caused me to apply for a number of jobs that I might want to do in the future but would be really full on and difficult to balance and get through in the short term. These other jobs did excite me but it would involve living on a harder faster setting than I could perhaps realistically handle before burn out. As a result when my employer got in touch to say that HR had just made an error and that everything is now in motion for me to start I accepted that it would be the sensible decision to follow that job, go at a more medium pace and give myself a couple of years to just sit, think and be settled before jumping into any rash decision making. There is guilt about pulling out of other interviews but I really need to accept that feeling comfortable and taking time in careers isn’t a bad thing at all. I’ve fallen into the bad job trap before by applying for things that would push me too far or wouldn’t give me a shred of internal joy and that didn’t end well so this time around I’ve learned my mistake of being in the fast lane of employment and would much rather take the scenic route to figure out the nicest journey to take to get to my destination.

And whenever it gets a little bit challenging or I start to feel resentment at myself for taking things a little easier and slower I just need to remind myself that it makes for a more sustainable life, burnout will be significantly reduced, it will make me a nicer person to be around and that ultimately I should be doing things in a way that suits me and not at what suits other people’s timelines or expectations. I take getting married and having kids in the slow lane, some people don’t and that’s okay, and the same can apply to the politics, professional and business situations that I find myself in as well. Switching my attitude with this and a few other things recently has had a huge impact and people have taken the time to comment on what a changed person I have become. I seem less harsh, more settled and happier and they are all things I’ve not heard said to me in a really long time so it’s more than worth it for the smiles those comments alone bring.

I’m tired of going so quickly that it drains me out but more than that I’m tired of going so quickly that I never really pause to acknowledge or soak up what I have actually achieved and that needs to change. It shouldn’t reach the stage of panic, disillusion and fear that I take an overdose the weekend before my partner’s sister’s graduation (yes, that happened, now you know, let’s never speak of it again – unless you’re my therapist then maybe).

Have you made changes to the pace you live your life recently? How do you manage in stopping yourself becoming overwhelmed by everything you want to achieve? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason

Earlier in September I mentioned in another book review about how I found myself accidentally reading a book from the end of a series rather than following them in order as a result of getting it cheaply in a charity shop. I found myself doing the same when it came to picking up and reading Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason as it’s actually the ninth(!), if you exclude one that was written as a prequel as number zero, book in the series because clearly I don’t pay enough attention to that section of a book where it says “also by this author”.

Luckily I managed to get away with it being later in the series, though I am sure there are some references that I completely missed as a result of not reading the earlier books. When doing additional book sorting at the political building, where I found this book, I spotted the eighth book in this series so I grabbed that one as well and will hopefully get around to reading it soon. Perhaps the rest were in the stacks and I just didn’t pay enough attention but the other books, including the one that is coming out soon, are currently sitting on my Amazon wishlist.

paperback copy of Strange Shores

When you start reading Strange Shores it becomes obvious that the lead character is struggling with some internal demons; he finds himself going to the place where he grew up and stays in a now derelict house on an uncomfortable floor before running to his car and turning the heating on in the morning to get some feeling back to his extremities. It turns out to be a bit of a representation of his guilt over something that happened in the past, something he couldn’t have really done anything to change despite all those what ifs in his head, and those demons come out to play in his desperation to find the answers to a different, but at a glance similar, story that unravels in front of him.

His search to find the truth about what happened to a woman one day when there was a terrible snowstorm overwhelms him and it becomes his fascination. It makes no sense to him how her body was never found when there was an active search for soldiers happening at the same time in the exact same area and eventually he finds out why. He uses his career of being a police officer in the city to connect together each piece of the story but it also causes some tensions amongst those he speaks with, to the point of getting threatened to be shot, as they feel under investigation and that anything they say could cause them to be incriminated in the tale of tragedy.

The way that the story combines emotions, routine, the past and so many different uncomfortable truths makes for a really captivating and powerful story. When there was a moment of heartbreaking realisation, a feeling of sadness or despair coming from the characters it really leapt off the page and as a reader I felt touched by every single conversation that was going on; the internal chats and flashbacks about the lead characters brothers fate, the old man struggling to accept what happened to his sweetheart and people around the town taking these stories as nothing more than legend.

I really enjoyed reading this book with the way the story was brought together by the author through such a carefully constructed writing style and clearly developing on the content provided in previous books to bring in a sense of intimacy with the lead character. This book is a superb example of why Indridason is regarded as such an excellent writer in the genre. This is a series I would strongly recommend but of course try to start at the beginning so you don’t find yourself having to backtrack and learn about everything in a different way at a later date.

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The Vineyard, Wrotham

Tuesday 11th September 2018 was such an incredible day that filled me with an overwhelming amount of pride and joy; I got to see my partner’s sister, who I first met just before her 13th birthday, graduate with a 1st Class Honours in FRTV & Drama from CCCU. It’s not my place to tell her story but I think she’d agree it was a hell of a rollercoaster and making it into that cathedral was a long road so seeing her not only graduate but with such extraordinary grades absolutely blew me away.

After wandering around Canterbury for the day, from one location to the other, we spent some time unwinding before heading to The Vineyard in Wrotham. In fact, I valued the day so much and knew the restaurant was slightly on the fancier side that I wanted to feel comfortable and fresh by switching up my outfit (apart from on a cruise, I’ve never worn two outfits during a day event). To allow for a more relaxed evening we got a taxi to and from The Vineyard with Express Cabs and, as somebody that used to work in the taxi/chauffeur industry, was delighted when both journeys had relatively new Mercedes-Benz Viano’s (though the second one had the less sophisticated layout of all the seats facing forward instead of towards each other).

The bar at The Vineyard

The appearance of the restaurant, with its traditional cottage feeling from the outside, was very traditional and classy on the inside. Walking through the main entrance, a couple of standard sized doors with a small porch in between, we were greeted by a very friendly staff member that asked if we would like to sit at the bar with drinks and look at the menu or head straight to our table. On choosing to sit in the bar area the provided a bowl of large green pitted olives and also one of peanuts for us to nibble on whilst selecting our food and sipping away at our first drinks of the evening. It’s refreshing to encounter a restaurant that is chilled out enough to let you sit at the bar in a more relaxed style, even place your order from the menu, before heading off to the formal dining room. Not only does it improve your experience as a dinner arriving but also helps to stop the eating area being a place of hustle and bustle for other diners already seated at a table.

As well as getting greeted by a friendly face and positive attitude we also encountered a warming and traditional style bar with wooden panels, glasses hanging from the ceiling and alcohol bottles neatly placed on display in the background instead of getting covered up. To add a touch of personality to the bar, and connecting it to The Vineyard name, they had a large metal plate on the slanted wall, covering up the stairs behind it, with a grape design that fitted in well with the existing colour scheme but gave it an added layer of design and helped to break up the wooden panels a little bit.

Hot starter in oval dish

Where the day was so hectic and on the go sensible food eating sort of went out of the window so by the evening I was certainly ready to sit down and enjoy a meal. Despite the desire to eat food I wasn’t at the point of being so hungry that anything would do or beyond the point of eating; I was ready and excited for food but could have waited a little while longer if needs be. The menu was lengthy and full of a number of delightful items that left us all contemplating between having this or that for a little while.

Eventually I managed to reach a decision and went with the avocado and mushroom for starter. It’s a lot more complex than you might imagine it would be as it was sliced avocado with a large mushroom underneath served with béchamel sauce, topped with stilton cheese and baked in the the oven. There is something about the dish that sounds a little unusual and I think it’s linked to the way that we normally have avocado cold and perhaps just on top or on the side of a hot dish but it isn’t usually within the heat itself but it really worked. The combination of all the flavours and ingredients made it wonderfully creamy in both taste and texture whilst also having a lovely depth of blue cheese and herby flavours to compliment the natural avocado and mushroom flavours and to offset the richness of the béchamel sauce. This is a dish that I would go for again in the future if I spotted it on the menu and nothing new was shouting out to me and if I was feeling fancy and happened to be hosting a dinner party even something I would attempt to recreate myself.

Veal medallions

Veal medallion with sides

After a short pause the main meals were brought to the table, after various glasses and cutlery that was no longer needed was removed from the table, this included all the main dishes and the various sides of vegetables and sauteed potatoes that we had opted for on the side. As always when you have vegetables to share we all went for a smaller amount on our plates to begin with and then at the end of the meal I ate a huge amount of additional veg just to feel more nutritionally satisfied (it worked).

There were so many main dishes that I hadn’t tried in the past but they at least contained a main ingredient, a type of meat or fish, that I had experienced before. Feeling on the brave side though, and wanting to try something new given how the day was about creating wonderful memories and sharing a fantastic moment, I decided to try out the veal medallion dish. Veal is something that I have never eaten before but have heard great things about it, especially in medallion form where it is so thin, and it was absolutely divine as the meat just melted in the mouth. The sauce was a creamy marsala sauce which provided an added depth and velvet feel to the meat but complimented it well without overpowering the gentle softness of the veal. The potatoes were so crispy and well cooked as well that it made me wish I could successfully cook all my potatoes like that at home and the vegetables were cooked to a good level of not being crunchy but not reaching that point of mushy either. This is a dish that I wish I could each everyday of the week and it is something that has encouraged me to consider veal and veal based dishes in the future.

Meg and Dan at St Augustine's

The meal, atmosphere and restaurant was really wonderful. Perhaps it felt even more wonderful than other restaurants because of the celebratory feel and special day that was connected to it. I can’t quite describe, however many times I try, just how proud I am of her, how much of an honour it was to be able to enjoy the day with her and to be there as her life changes from student to mama-to-be.

Would highly recommend the restaurant as the food is great, the decor is wonderful and the staff are super friendly and thoughtful as well.