The Shires at The Water Rats

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see The Shires in London. Sitting on Twitter one evening, I saw that Bob Harris had tweeted a link to their UK tour, and I immediately took a look. Having ascertained that they were playing a London date, I booked tickets immediately. I didn’t even check that my friend Hannah was free to come, I just thought that I had to have tickets straightaway! As it turned out, Hannah was free as a bird, and we went along at the end of July.

We decided to have a day off work and spend the day in London first, and I took full advantage to go on a Book Bench quest! After we had seen all of the benches that we could find in the area, we were struggling to decide what to do, so we decided to head over the river and visit Tate Modern. I’ve been a couple of times before, but Hannah wasn’t sure that she had been, so in lieu of any other ideas, that’s what we did.

I can’t honestly say that I know an awful lot about modern art. I know what I like – Mondrian, Picasso, Matisse – but I get overwhelmed by most of the art on display at somewhere like Tate Modern. I prefer an exhibition of carefully curated pieces, rather than being left to my own devices to browse. But it was a fun afternoon, and it gave me the opportunity to trot out the anecdote that I visited before it was officially open (and before the Queen), back in 2000.


Look, I’m a bloger – I took a photo in Starbucks! I never, ever go in Starbucks. Not for moral reasons, just because I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t really enjoy paying over the odds for an average cup of tea. But we had some time to waste, so I had a cold drink (too much orange, in my opinion), and some fruit toast. I’m always happy to see jam from Tiptree on my plate!

I’ve never been to The Water Rats, but my friend V, who used to go to a lot of gigs in London, had told me that it was quite small. She wasn’t exaggerating; it’s a pub with a back room, and it wasn’t very big at all! It was also the hottest room in the entire world; seriously sweaty and disgusting!

Before The Shires played, they had two support acts. Gary Quinn and Frankie Davis are both country artists, and they played a few songs each. They were both amazing, and I’ve been listening to them on Spotify since I saw them! I really, really liked Frankie Davis, and I’m waiting patiently for her album to come out, as she sang a couple of songs that I thought were really good.

But of course, we were there to see The Shires, and they finally came on. The Shires are Crissie and Ben, and it should be noted that they are both beautiful people. But it’s their music that makes me love them, and I wasn’t at all disappointed; they sang their first single, Nashville Grey Skies, which I have been playing over and over and over for months! They did a really long set, and I think they must have sung most of the songs from their forthcoming album. Their latest single, Tonight, is another great one, and it’s being played all over Radio 2 at the moment! The crowd were divided in two (and Ben looked right at me when he divided – swoon), and both halves had to sing along to different parts. If you’re at all interested, some kindly soul has uploaded the performance to YouTube; I keep watching it because it’s so great!

I tried to take a few photos, but I had forgotten my camera, and sadly my phone wasn’t up to the job. After a couple of attempts, I gave it up as a bad job, and just decided to enjoy the music. I’m now (im)patiently waiting for The Shires to release their album; after hearing so much good stuff at the gig, I want to be able to listen to it over and over!

I bought a t-shirt while I was at the gig, because I had seen some other girls wearing them and was jealous! You can’t be a super-fan without a band tee! I have already worn it a few times, but I’ll definitely be wearing it in November, because I’m going to see The Shires again! This time they are doing a joint tour with Ward Thomas, who are another UK country music duo, and whose album I adore. I think there are still tickets available, and they are all over the country, so book some. You won’t be disappointed, I promise!

Photo an Hour #13

I almost completely forgot about Photo an Hour this month; it was only that I saw Louisa mention it on her blog that reminded me! I can always rely on Louisa!

I had no plans on Saturday, but I have found that they are the best days for Photo an Hour. It means that I don’t have to worry about remembering to take a photo throughout a busy day, and I also find that it means I find more interesting things to fill my time. I don’t want to take a photo of the same thing three times in a row, so I end up having a day where I’ve done lots of different things!


9am – My dad was going out, so I went with him, but I had some books reserved at the library, so I was on the doorstep waiting for them to open at 9am! I started Love, Nina in the car, at least for as long as possible until I started to feel sick.

10am – In the last couple of months, I have been scouring charity shops for vinyls (ever since I remembered that there is a record player that works in my house), and today was no different. This charity shop was clued up; they had some premium records that were quite expensive, but some were more in my price range at 99p. I did pick up one such record (actually, it was £1.99), but it’s almost too embarrassing to share. OK, it was an EastEnders singalong album from about 1986. I love it.


11am – I saw these on Facebook the other day, so when I spotted them in Tesco, I had to have one. Ultimately, I was a little disappointed. Obviously the Nutella is amazing, but the breadsticks are a little thin for my liking.

12pm – Heading home. It’s always hard to get a decent photo when travelling in the car, and I’m always conscious that I have taken very similar photos in the past!


1pm – I know that a Wotsit roll isn’t the most sophisticated or grown up lunch in the world, nor the healthiest. But sometimes you just need one, you know?

2pm – There is always a photo of me reading in the bath in my Photo an Hour posts! This time is no different, although my book (The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker) was accompanied by the Ward Thomas album this time. Both the book and the album are awesome.


3pm – Saturday was the start of the Premier League season, and while I don’t care about football half as much as I used to, I do like to check in and see what’s happening. Tottenham won, though again, I can’t get myself terribly worked up about it.

4pm – Playing some records. I started with my Glenn Miller record, which I love, and then moved on to the aforementioned EastEnders album.


5pm – I haven’t watched an awful lot of the European Athletics Championship, but I stuck it on for a while earlier, and saw Elidh Child getting her gold medal. Medal ceremonies always make me a bit emotional. I don’t know why!

6pm – Watching Pointless Celebrities. This often makes an appearance in my Photo an Hour posts too – I’m obviously a creature of habit!


7pm – My dad and I had the same independent thought about dinner; burritos! I do love a good burrito, they are probably my favourite when it comes to Mexican/Tex-Mex.

8pm – Once I worked out how to get my phone to download podcasts (the standard podcast app wasn’t working), I decided to find some new ones to download. As much as I obviously adore Wittertainment (especially since I have found an archive going back to 2005), I do like the opportunity to listen to something a little different from time to time. I’ve found a few things, but I wish there were more amazing British podcasts to listen to. If you know of any, let me know!

Not the most exciting day in the history of me, but a perfectly satisfactory one. Obviously I didn’t go to bed at 8 o’clock, but I always try to take an even number of photos, and I was starting to lose interest by this point! Taking another one would have meant taking another two, so I decided twelve was plenty.

As ever, i spread the word and asked people to join in with me.

♥ Louisa at Duck in a Dress joined in on Instagram and on her blog
♥ Kim joined in on Instagram
♥ Hannah joined in on Instagram
♥ Bev joined in on her blog
♥ Anna joined in on Twitter (though you can only see her photos if you follow her)
♥ Ang at Little Apple Tree joined in on Instagram

I do love doing Photo an Hour, but more than anything, I love to see people joining in. It’s so good to see what people are up to, whether they have exciting plans or they are just pottering around at home.

If you would like to join in with September’s Photo an Hour (September? Say what?!), it will take place on September 13th. I have tentative plans to do something rather exciting on that day, involving a book release and my number one favourite DJ, but it’s not set in stone at the moment, so we’ll see. Joining in is easy – take a photo every hour (set a reminder on your phone if you think you are likely to forget), upload it to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, and use the hashtag #photoanhour. If you don’t want to upload in real time, and would prefer to post your photos in a blog post, just send me the link and I’ll include you in my roundup.

Nine down, three to go of number ten of 32 Before 32 – Complete a Photo an Hour post monthly

Book Review ~ We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride

We Are Called to Rise weaves together the separate stories of three people living in Las Vegas. Luis, a soldier wounded in Iraq; Bashkim, an immigrant boy whose family is straddling the divide between Albania and the US; and Avis, a woman who finds herself alone after thirty years of marriage.

I read this book after it was announced as a Radio 2 Book Club choice last month. I thought it would be nice to try and read it in time for the discussion with the author on the show, so I downloaded it straightaway and got reading, but I got distracted by something else and ended up only finishing it at the start of this month.

We Are Called to Rise is a very, very good book. Although I wasn’t sure about it at first, after a while I got completely immersed in it. In the opening scene, we are introduced to Avis, a middle-aged woman with tragedy and loss in her past, but who has spent many years in a happy and loving marriage with a man who is just about to leave her. She is completely blindsided by it, especially given that he chooses to announce that he has fallen in love with another woman while she is naked, and planning to seduce him in order to reignite the spark in the marriage. Avis’ story is probably the least interesting of the book to me, and yet it is still compelling and sad. It’s an age old story really; being left by a husband who has found excitement and love with a younger woman.

Luis, the soldier, spends a large part of the book in Washington D.C., having been injured in Iraq but remembering nothing about how he sustained his injuries. It transpires that his injuries are self-inflicted, and he spends most of the novel coming to terms with what has happened to him. His story intersects quite early with that of Bashkim, the Albanian immigrant boy who is bright and loving, but is struggling at home due to his father’s issues.

The fulcrum of the novel is a tragedy that affects Bashkim and Avis, and Luis is also drawn quickly into the story. At various points throughout the novel, we are also treated to the viewpoint of Roberta, who works as a social worker in the city, and works hard to be an advocate on behalf of at-risk children. These characters are drawn together by this tragedy, throwing Bashkim’s and Avis’ lives into freefall, but also by their shared hometown. Las Vegas is painted in a very different way to how we usually see Sin City portrayed in popular culture. It’s hard to see past the Strip, the neon lights and the gambling, but there is suburban population who make their homes here. As a native, Laura McBride manages to show us this side of the city very well, and it’s an interesting change.

I didn’t expect to have such an emotional reaction to We Are Called to Rise. I cried hard, twice, and both times it was for Bashkim. He’s exceptionally well-written, eliciting sympathy from the reader from the very beginning, which slowly turns into admiration as the novel concludes. Each character is ‘called to rise’ at a time of crisis – the title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem:

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies–

We never know how high we are (1176) by Emily Dickinson

It ultimately ends up being a story of hope arising out of despair. We meet three characters at the worst points in their lives, and the joy of the novel is in watching them trying to build a good life out of a terrible situation. We Are Called to Rise is definitely recommended, but beware Bashkim. He will make you weep.

We Are Called to Rise
First published: July 2014
ISBN: 9781471132575
Simon & Schuster UK
Kindle eBook


Right now, I am mostly…

Enjoying : I try to go for a walk in the evenings I am at home, and right now the skies are beautiful. As far I am concerned the sunsets are the best thing about summer; the sun just seems to hang in the sky and make everything beautiful. I snapped this shot last week, taking advantage of the fact that it was peeking through the trees and silhouetting everything. My walks are, of course, soundtracked by Wittertainment.

Reading : I am slowly getting through The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – it’s almost unputdownable, but it’s so very, very long! It’s very good though, I just want to know how the story ends!

Fangirling : Strictly this should have gone into last week’s Mondaying roundup, but I completely forgot to include it! Last Sunday I tweeted Jason Isaacs, without any real hope of getting anything back, so imagine my delight when my phone beeped and this appeared on my screen. Cue much ridiculous-ness and hitting of my friend Jen, who was driving at the time. As the only man to have been in The West Wing and Harry Potter, I’m a pretty big fan, and so this is one of my favourite celebrity tweets of all time.

Highlighting : It’s kind of an awkward way to do it, but I’ve been highlighting lines from books this week. I was reading Order of the Phoenix a while ago, and I had forgotten how much I love the “-well, I’ll save it for parties, eh?” line that Fred says about Ron playing Quidditch. And then I was reading the aforementioned The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, and spotted this gem. “You don’t have to be a famous writer to be a good writer.” I might write this down and stick it on my wall.

Making : I’m right in the middle of an obsessive list-making phase. I’ve always been a big fan of lists, but right now I find myself making multiple lists of films that I haven’t seen and then working out which ones are available to me through Netflix. There’s a whole Excel spreadsheet with colour coding, and different worksheets, and it’s all very complex and totally and utterly satisfying. Sometimes I actually find the time to watch the films on the lists too.

Parlour Cafe – Creeksea

For months now, I’ve been hearing all about the Parlour Cafe in Creeksea, a tiny village near to where I live. It has been all over my Facebook feed from friends who have visited and said how delightful it is. I’ve been meaning to go, to check out what all the fuss was about, and then my cousin invited me to her birthday lunch, being held there, so I thought I’d write a quick post about how fabulous it is, even though I didn’t take as many photographs as I should have for a blog post!

Creeksea is located really near to Burnham-on-Crouch (it’s practically indistinguishable on the map), and the Parlour Cafe itself is located at Creeksea Place Barns. It’s in really pretty surroundings, tucked away in the countryside, and going on a really sunny day really helped to highlight how lovely it is.


The grounds are vast, so there is plenty of space for children to play, with plenty for them to do, including a table tennis table! Inside, the decor is lovely, with everything done in a distressed, vintage kind of way, and it just feels really homely and warm. As nice as it was to spend a sunny summer afternoon in there, I’m looking forward to going back when it’s cold and having a hot chocolate!

This time around, I had a chocolate milkshake, and very tasty it was too!

I love the map on the wall; if you are from somewhere a bit less local than me, you can take a flag and stick it in the map, and if you are from a country without a flag in it, you get a free coffee! As you can see, people have already visited from some far-flung places, including Iraq and Thailand!

A photo of the birthday girl and me – she’s also called Jane! She has certainly had a very exciting birthday week, she went for dinner at La Gavroche and met Michel Roux Jr himself!

In short, the Parlour Cafe is my new favourite haunt. I have plans to take all my friends there! They have a lovely food menu for breakfast, lunch and snacks (I can confirm that the chilli is delicious, and the wide selection of cakes that I sampled are divine!), and obviously a wide range of drinks to choose from. If you’re ever in east Essex, or find yourself on the banks of the River Crouch, you should definitely pay a visit to the Parlour Cafe!

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