Reading with the Codebreakers at Bletchley Park

Located in a leafy section of Milton Keynes in England, Bletchley Park was the home of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) during World War II. In 1938, the mansion on the site and a lot of the surrounding acreage was planned for a housing estate but was instead purchased by Hugh Sinclair, head of the SIS. The purchase price was £6000, which Sinclair paid out of his own pocket.

The Mansion at Bletchley Park

79 years later, I got the chance to spend some time at Bletchley, seeing an incredibly under-recognised piece of history in all of its understated glory.

Hugh Sinclair thought Bletchley would be useful in the event of a war; it had good transport connections and it would be easier to keep secret because it was outside London. ‘Station X’ was kept secret long after the end of World War II, it staff bound by a fierce code of honour that prevented them sharing the secrets of their work, until 1974, when FW Winterbotham wrote The Ultra SecretWinterbotham has been a top ranking member of MI6 who reported directly to Hugh Sinclair- and though his knowledge of the actual codebreaking has been recognised as inaccurate and some of his account is blatantly incorrect, the story still captured the imagination of the public. In 1993, the site was opened as a museum.

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5 Bookshops You Need to Visit around Camden Town

I moved to London in 2015 and took up residence in Camden Town immediately. Camden has its moments of being a rampant cliché, but I absolutely adore it. It’s bookish and quirky, great for people-watching and generally fills me with positivity. It can be super busy and cloying- but nestled around the craziness are some of my favourite bookshops.

Since its inception, Camden Town has been built on the shoulders of independent people- but in the past few years, a lot of market land has been purchased by a wealthy private investor, which is causing concern for local businesses and workers. Below is a series of bookshops that support local people and community efforts- and every single one is absolutely worth the visit if you’re in the area and fancy a bit of community activism.

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Dear London: Books to Make your Heart Soar

It was about 10pm. My boyfriend was curled up next to me, dozing quietly. The street was quiet, the night was dark and the TV was on, but muted. My duvet was calling.

And then the newsflashes started. Metropolitan Police had closed off London Bridge. I snapped to full alertness and the details came through; another van, another terrorist attack on the city I’ve adopted as home. I shook my boyfriend awake and we watched the news for a while, texting friends and family, offering our spare room for some friends of ours who might need it. In London, you go on- regardless of what happens.

London Bridge was one event too many, one of too many in a row- too many, too quickly. The absolute horror of the Grenfell Tower fire just days later- and then the most recent hate crime perpetrated against the Muslim community at Finsbury Park. It’s a cumulative sadness that pushes against everything you believe in. Anger and helplessness slide into the crevices. We become jaded and worn.

The rest of this article can be seen on Book Riot.

Namaste on my Shelf: 7 Books Every Yoga Teacher Needs

Long before I started my yoga teacher training, I had started to collect books about yoga. This was partially because I love books (duh), but there were other reasons too. I was doing quite a lot of home practice because I was trying to get much better at poses that challenged me- and there was no guarantee that an instructor in a class would cover the poses I wanted to learn more about. On top of that, I didn’t want to just fling my body into the poses; at best, I’d be doing a passable impersonation- but at worst, I’d injure myself. The books gave me alignment pointers and gateway stages to hitting advanced poses.

Ever since I completed training and became an actual instructor, I’ve relied on my books more than ever before. I want students to feel safe with me- which means I have a responsibility to make my knowledge as wide as possible. The below is a series of books that I think all yoga teachers should have on the shelf- for reference, for inspiration and for a little bit of fun.

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The Pursuit of…. Dust

This post contains spoilers for the just-released excerpt from Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust. Be cautious!

When I was ten years old, an excerpt from Northern Lights was featured in a curriculum textbook. I was intrigued, and my class teacher told me that the book was right there in the school library if I wanted to read it. Read it? Pfft. I devoured it.

I was a vociferous reader. My parents never gave out to me when I came to the dinner table with a book in my hand; they allowed me to spill food down my front while I kept my eyes on the pages, which seems daft but in retrospect really did foster my love of books. I’m not great with a fork, but I can read in almost any situation.

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The Troubles: Books about Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom

I was born and raised in the Republic of Ireland- in Cork, about as far south as you can go. As a child, I saw the last remnants of the violence from the Troubles and as I grew up, I witnessed the creation of a peace process that has held for three decades. Ireland is green and pretty but it has a dark and complex history. We’re not all parties and bars.

In last year’s Brexit vote, 55% of those in Northern Ireland voted to Remain. At the time, the Scots received most airtime because 66% of them voted to stay in the EU; Northern Ireland was vastly forgotten. Mild questions were posed about the peace process and, more recently, talks of a hard border and the dismantling of the Good Friday Agreement have become more widespread. During Eurovision, a Conservative councillor sent a tweet promoting the placement of a hard border in Ireland, as punishment for Ireland not giving the UK Eurovision points. This is foolish, of course, but it does reflect a harsh reality; we are making decisions without understanding the reality of what they may mean.

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If you had told me that I would be slinging a backpack over my shoulders and heading alone to the south of Mexico to join a yoga and surfing retreat, I would have laughed at you. Flying to Mexico alone was the farthest from home I’d ever been by myself. I was terrified and I turned to the books to help the anxiety. As in all things, the stories always calm me down.

Sitting into my plane seat, I opened the book I was already midway through- Junk Raft by Marcus Eriksen- I certainly don’t read enough about conservation and environmental science. Eriksen’s story and warnings about plastic pollution jarred my brain and made me think hard about my own contribution. The book is due for release in July 2017- I’d recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the plastics industry and in ocean conservation.

Please visit Book Riot to read the rest of my Mexico diary!

Returning to the Fantasy Genre with a Darker Fairytale

I haven’t felt the proper tug of a fantasy series since The Wheel of Time ended. To be honest, I suspect the reluctance stemmed directly from the sheer length of that particular series- how could any new world compare to the sprawling depth of those 14 books? The final book of the series (A Memory of Light) was published in 2013 and I took a leave of absence from the genre- but as a fantasy lover, I knew it would come calling to me again some day. In the meantime, I haven’t read a single new fantasy series.

Sarah-J-Maas-A-Court-of-Thorns-and-Roses-195x300Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I picked up Sarah J Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses. I hadn’t heard any of the chatter about Maas’ books and only selected this because it showed up in my Amazon recommended list and my love of fantasy burst back into life. It was just what I needed on a rainy day in London.

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5 Upcoming Books by Women you Need on your TBR

Last year, I took it upon myself to finally cut down on reading white men. I know, white men are super interesting and all, and they write some great stuff, but I wanted more women in my reading- a lot more. I made myself a goal that at least 50% of all books I read in 2016 would be by women- and I succeeded. It made for a year full of essays, insights and some really amazing writing.

This year, I’m a little ahead of the curve and I’ve been gazing mysteriously into the future to see what female authors are offering later in 2017. This list will hopefully encourage us all to step up and check out some new names and faces.

Please visit Book Riot to read the list.

Travelling to Bitch Planet with Non-Compliance in My Heart

Sometimes- and I figure I’m not the only one who feels this way- you start reading a story and within two sentences, you know that it’s a winner. It fits your thinking like a glove and sticks in your head for hours.

I’m not a comics person. In my time, I’ve read the occasional longer graphic novel (MausMy Friend DahmerPalestine) but I’ve never settled into a series of comics- I’m not entirely sure why. I suspect it’s because I grew up in a small city with limited access to comics in a time when dial up was a thing and my parents allowed me 15 minutes online each night (ahhhhh, nostalgia!) Also, I’m incredibly impatient (more on this later, ironically).

My boyfriend- a fully grown comics aficionado, complete with armfuls of superhero tattoos- handed me a bundle of comics a few months ago and said “You’ll like these.” He had handed me eight issues of Bitch Planet, which has been discussed and recommended on this site (and many others), but I had missed them entirely. I read the lot in the space of a day and grab new ones from him when he picks them up.

Let me tell you, I am absolutely besotted.

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