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Renovation – the boring bits

So we have finished our home renovations and I know that Ally has been keeping the blog updated with all the details. However I wanted to share some of the more practical behind the scenes stuff that will be helpful to anyone who is managing their own similar project. This post follows a massive instagram stories post which shows lots of before and after pictures of our project – if you are interested head over to Cherrysimpso on Instagram.

This is a long post so get a cuppa and enjoy.

Renovation – the boring bits

I am a qualified Architectural Technologist and have worked in the construction industry for many years working on everything from large factories to one off dwellings and small renovations. This helped us to get everything we needed prepared and ready for our builder and also to save money because we didn’t need to hire a design team or architect.

Some people are surprised that I prepared drawings and dealt with Building Control on our small project. However because walls were being removed and a wood burning stove being added it is very important to make sure you have all bases covered in terms of structural regulations and fire regulations. Get this wrong, or cut corners here and you might find you have trouble when you go to sell your house as you cant prove that the work has been carried out to the correct standard. Worst case scenario is that you home will not be safe.

1/ Choosing an architect / design team – A good architect will always come out and measure up your space rather than just use old drawings. (On the same theme, your flooring installer and your kitchen manufacturer should come out and take their own measurements.) Keep your eyes and ears open for local projects that look good and don’t be afraid to ask who their architect was. Word of mouth is still the best way to find your design team however a good website doesn’t do any harm. Just be aware that on websites some businesses share pictures which are computer generated mock ups rather than finished projects so make sure you see their work in the flesh.

2/ Contacting Building Control – I just called into their office (Building Control are a government agency so they are usually nearby) with a set of drawings and chatted to an available officer who was able to point out what needed extra attention and what was possible without making an application. They can advise you about other experts that you may have to contact – for example a structural engineer who can size your steel beams. Take their advice and use their contacts as this will make the process run more smoothly as the officer already has a relationship with them. The structural engineer company we used was M. A. McCloskey Ltd and I was extremely happy with their service and their sensible sizing. Bear in mind that both the structural engineer and Building Control application costs money.

3/ Finding a Builder – We found our building by asking for recommendation from Slemish Design Studio – they are local and do great work. They recommended AMD Services who also happened to have a renovation project just around the corner from our house. I kept an eye on the progress and called in at the house to chat to the workmen and was impressed with the detail and quality of the workmanship – so w went ahead and got in touch. We were delighted when he was happy to take on the job. Remember that a good builder tends to be a busy builder so if you know who you want persevere until they have time to look at your project. Don’t give up on them if they don’t call out on the same day you call.

4/ Knowing where to spend and where to save – We budgeted the large chunks of money for the tough stuff and the things that needed to last. So the construction work, flooring and kitchen were our main outlay. However we found that because our space was small we were able to save a little more than expected (hence the purchase of a boiler tap). We used Johanna Montgomery for our kitchen design – initially I was worried about the cost but we were very please when it turned out to be extremely reasonable and gave us the bespoke design that we wanted. The kitchen was of upmost importance because it is visible from all corners of our new space and as we have some little niggly design features to worry about, e.g. lower than average ceilings.

We saved money on furniture, fittings and finishes. Our copper light fittings were purchased from an Instagram ad (eek) and cost under £30 each, and lots of our furniture was picked up from sale sections and we have become quite handy with spray paint. The key to furnishing on a budget is to know what style and colours you are going for and snap up the bargains when you see them.

5/ Project managing your project – We didn’t move out of our house during the renovation which meant we were both around all the time which undoubtably helped us both to be on top of all the little jobs as they got done. It is essential to be on site when big deliveries arrive – e.g. kitchen worktops, to make sure they bring the correct thing and that it is suitably fitted before they leave. Also open big deliveries before the delivery men leave just incase the wrong thing was arrive. We found that twitter was a very useful tool when we had little emergencies and the customer service from Ikea (we were missing a bolt from a chair) and Dunnes Stores (product arrived was not the right colour) was excellent.

And finally – I am happy to help answer any queries or questions about our renovation or your project. Just drop us a line and hopefully i can point you in the right direction if you need professional help or its just asking about the terminology or technical issues you might have.

Non-crappy Valentines Day Gifts

Valentines Day gifts for her that won’t be in the bin by Monday.

Girl v’s Cancer Tit-tees

Brain child of Lauren Mahon who began Girl v’s Cancer after she was told she had cancer. At the age of 31 her life was dramatically altered and she shared her cancer treatment through social media as girlv’scancer.

These t-shirts, classily called the tit-tees, were born out of Laurens desire to raise money for charities with a caner focus. They cost just £28 each, 25 per cent of the proceeds is donated between four charities – Coppafeel!, Trekstock, Future Dreams and Look Good Feel Better.

Girl v’s Cancer Tit-tees.

A Reusable Bottle

Yip, I’m that boring but really – getting a reusable water bottle will make you feel epic and save the planet at the same time. Plastic bottles are not sustainable and plastics particles are literally everywhere now. Still not sure – google these words – north pacific gyre. 

& look how pretty they are!

Lululemon

Amazon

This was inspired by this blog post by Meg Wiggins.

Glossybox

A Glossybox is a monthly subscription which gets you mini and full versions of cult make up items and of the moment treats. 5 products will be posted through your letter box and each box costs £10, and the subscriptions are available in a 3,6 or 12 month plan. They often have great little products that you woudl normally find it hard to get your hands on.

This is a thoughtful gift for any make up lovers and it is especially sweet because its always a surprise when it drops through the letter box.

Glossybox Website.  Other subscriptions worth checking out Birchbox, Reading in Heels, Happiness Planners,

 

Choose Love Shop

We already have the t-shirts, and the sweat shirt – and if you are buying for someone who already has everything then you might want to take a look at the Choose Love shop.

A fully functioning shop – you buy things for refugees who don’t have the luxury. Gifts range from warm socks, life jackets, family accommodations, and a hot meal. A worthy cause which as been doing an excellent job. Your purchase (and any Gift Aid contribution) will be used to fund the purchase, transport and distribution of a similar item or service at one of the 80 projects we operate in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Serbia, Turkey and the UK. For example, if you donate £5 for meal ingredients, we can use this to provide fresh fruit, vegetables and dry food for a family in Greece via The Food Project. However, if a lot of people buy the same items in store, we will seek to even things up overall to continue to provide the full range of vital services our projects need. This means some of your donation could be used for a different item or service. Whatever happens, we promise that the full cost of your purchase will be used to fund humanitarian aid for refugees, and reach those they are intended to help within weeks.

Choose Love Shop 

& if you have to buy underwear –

make it Calvin Kleins

I just asked the husband if I’m allowed to mention pants on our blog – he said maybe. Soooooooo – No tacky reds, or scratchy flammable materials – with lounge wear being the new luxury it needs to be comfortable and classic. The Kardashians are currently wearing them so they must be trashy/sexy/on point. Here you go… – look how comfy they look!

Calvin Klein at asos

Or just make pancakes (i heart pancake 4eva).

Hello February – finally you are here

January is finally over and this year it feels like it lasted a lifetime. Thankfully I have not picked up several resolution which have been broken but focused on getting things that need to be done, done. It has been a busy and exciting new year and here are the things that got me through the month in one piece.

1/ Glossier balm dotcom – this was part of my Christmas gift. At first I thought that it was just another sticky lip balm but I was wrong. This is moisturising without being sticky and rich without being glossy. I also have kept it on the living room table meaning it is always on hand which means that I am using it loads. Whats the difference between balm dotcom and good old vaseline, or  my pawpaw balm? Glossier have developed a long lasting, paraben free, fragrance free, cruelty free product that woudl probably repurchase. I also picked up the Glossier Milky Jelly cleanser (awesome) and the Priming moisturiser (which smells wacky). Glossier Website.

2/ Aesop Resurrection Aromatique Hand – an old favourite, lasts for ages and smells amazing. This is probably our third one of these. If you are ever visiting a city with and Aesop store then make it a priority to call in. All stores are uniques and the architecture and design is always perfect. We visited the store in Edinburgh and Paris – no stores in Ireland yet. Aesop Website.

3/ Sheepskin Slippers – Yes please quite simply the snuggliest looking pair of slippers around. However limit them to household use only as I’m not sure that the soles will make it outside. Also they are deceptively chilly. But they are beautiful. I picked my pair up at Forage Somerset. Forage Somerset Website.

4/ Parenthood DVD – I don’t know if you remember the Bravermans from Parenthood which appeared on Channel 5 a long time ago. Well I watched it and then it disappeared. A few weeks ago I remembered the first series and heading online and found out the the 6 series boxset had just been released – get in my shopping bag! Currently being watch on rotation with The West Wing.

5/ Mini Hot water bottle – This is perfect size for a hot water bottle. Not too big – very little hot water is needed to fill it and it is perfect for heating up your feet on a chilly day. Very effective for working / blogging because it can be discreetly hidden away and you can get on with your work. I have yet to venture out with a hot water bottle but the snow and stormy weather has made me think about taking this out in the car with me. Do people do that?

6/ Osiris Glasses – Long time favourite of mine. These frames are the ones I wear all the time around the house. Recently I was bewitched by the new Balmain range sold by Specsavers. So much so that I was in and had a little try on of their range. I was particularly interested in the angular wireframes. However, I was gutted as they really didn’t suit me. But I really still love my Osiris frames. I had a little look online and they appear to be discontinued but I still recommend Specsavers for a wide range of great frames. My hint is to try the mens frames which are often have better shapes but in plainer colours.  Specsavers Website.

So we made it through January and I’m excited about a new month! Come on February.

Two local authors – Two must read books

It is only January and I have already enjoyed the work of two local authors who have produced two must read books.

One is a long awaited return from an Irish literary great, and the other is a memoir written by one of our more prolific, modern authors.

Fiction v’s Non-fiction – MacLaverty v’s O’Farrell

Bernard v’s Maggie – Midwinter Break v’s I am, I am, I am

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty is a slow moving, account of the demise of Gerry and Stella’s marriage. Written from both points of view the story reveals Gerry’s descent into alcoholism, and the ripples caused by a past traumatic event in Belfast. The story plays out against a back drop of current day Amsterdam (the midwinter break) and Northern Ireland during the troubles. Cue lots of little mentions and references which Northern Irelanders will love, and, because Gerry is a retired Architect enjoy the descriptions of Amsterdam buildings.

Two local authors - Two must read books

This is the authors fifth novel and it was 16 years in the making. The plot strolls purposefully forward with some comic moments, Gerry hiding his whisky bottles, and heart break, Stella realising her visit to Amsterdam hasn’t played out as she planned. The climax is tense and I was completely invested in finding out how it would end. MacLaverty uses this story about a couple to mirror our political situation – we have a traumatic past, we are still dealing with the ripples – will the ending be optimistic or a defeat? I hop e the net novel doesn’t take another 16 years, although if it does i’m sure it will be worth the wait.

On the otherhand

I am , I am, I am is the the latest book by Maggie O’Farrell. Full disclosure – I love Maggie O’Farrell and her writing so this woudl have to be terrible for me to dislike it – however I have only ever read her fiction and this is a memoir. A memoir which takes the form of short story style chapters all detailing moments where she was close to death. Whether an accident or medical problem O’Farrell’s near death experience amount to 17. So thats 17 chapters or drowning / close shaves / hospital nightmares which will not be appealing to all readers. I recommend taking some breaks and not devouring the book in one go to let yourself recover from the torment. Knowing that all the stories are true make is worse.

Two local authors - Two must read books

I love it when two local authors blow my mind with two very different books. What a great month for literature.

I know these books have majorly divided opinion – through chats at book club and on the old bookstagram, but I think you should pick them up. Both offer a Northern Ireland point of view, with eloquent writing.

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.

 


 

Buy Midwinter Break here.

Buy I am, I am, I am here.

Top books of 2017

In 2017 I read 53 books which averages out as being about one book per week. Quite incredibly I wasn’t intending to read so much this year but when I added up my reading list it was a satisfying number. How did I do it? Always have two books on the go, if you aren’t enjoying something put it down and read during the ad breaks on tv. Honestly – that’s it.

When considering my list I decided to offer my best recommendations from this year of reading. The books are a mixture of several different genres and subject matter. No spoilers below, just a list of books that you might want to consider adding to your TBR list.

Here we go….

The Handmaids Tale – Margaret Atwood. Undoubtably one of the most important stories to be unearthed in 2017. World politics, literature and the television binge culture culminated in the perfect moment for The Handmaids Tale by Atwood to be revived. Having been tipped off that the tv series, shown on Channel 4 earlier this year, was unmissable I quickly scrabbled to read the novel and it was rich reading. While the television production was wonderful the book, as always, was better. The television series fell foul to the all too common problem of having to leave the story open for a second series whereas the book provides the perfect ending. My favourite read of 2017.

Closely followed by Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier. This is a collection of short stories which are rich and deep and satisfying. Short Stories are a genre which I used to avoid with hatred but the more I read the more I appreciate the skill and clarity which is needed to construct a successful short story. This collection is possibly the best – haunting, atmospheric and unforgettable.

A couple of books which stood out from the rest this year include Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida. Both are written in their own unique prose and style and both focus on a young female protagonist. Here, however, the comparisons end. Conversations with Friends starkly chronicles an affair and the ripples it causes through a group of Dublin based friends. The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty unfolds from a bizarre descriptive story of a lost suitcase into a vivid, unsettling account of unbearable heartbreak. Both are clever, modern and worth picking up.

The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby does not need an introduction here – I have already devoted an entire blog post to it. All I will say is this – please read it. Also please enjoy the beautiful cover art.

A book which I bought by mistake was Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon. Gordon talks openly about her experience of mental illness and her ascent back into wellness. I found this to be a completely eye opening venture into depression and mental illness which has really helped me to empathise with others in a new way. A very encouraging yet down to earth book.

The final non fiction book which I want to make mention of is Hunger by Roxane Gay. This memoir was released, quoted and scrutinised well before I had the chance to read it. Yes, I knew what had happened to Gay before I read the text but it was worth picking up – just to hear this unique voice speak so eloquently about her difficult past. It is a quick read but it is harrowing – I suggest you do a quick google search and read around this before diving in – just so as to prepare yourself.

 

And finally three books which could all be categorised as ‘Christian’ books. One biography –  Emily Foremans We died before we came here was probably my biggest surprise this year. I enjoyed it, and recommended it to many. Again I have already written about it here.

Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson is a dense read and I felt like it was hard work. Work that was worth doing – focusing on the subject of Holiness. Not a leisurely fluffy book, but rewarding to read. And finally the last book I read this year was Dance Stand Run by Jess Connolly. The follow up to Wild and Free, which I also loved, my copy of Dance Stand Run has been underlined, dog eared and battered as I devoured it. As comforting as it is challenging many passages from Dance Stand Run will accompany me into the New year and beyond.

SO there to have it. Agree? Disagree? Please let me know what your favourite book was this year. Read more about the books I read here.

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.

Je T’aime – – #Me too

At the moment it seems like every day unveils a new story of male predators, victims of abuse and trigger warnings.

I have been silent up until now – I have been following the #MeToo hashtag where women, and men, all over the world are telling their personal stories of abuse – ranging from being groped and intimidated, to sexual abuse and rape. Joining together under the hashtag has provided some online solidarity for victims and abuse survivors — but it is difficult and uncomfortable reading.

At the moment I have a t-shirt hanging up on my wardrobe. It is from Topshop and is embroidered with the phrase “Je T’aime” – I love you in French. The picture is fitting for the stories I want to tell today. I was wearing this t-shirt when the stories of Louis CK hit our twitter feeds, reigniting the outrage bubbling against Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, Kevin Spacey and others. I am outraged – as, i’m sure, are you.


 

A few years ago my husband and I were travelling on a short flight from Ireland to the mainland. As we gathered up with other passengers in the airport lounge we met our fellow travellers. My husband is an observant person and, while I would rather stick my nose into a book, he is often found people watching. After a short time we realised that a stag do of about a dozen young men were waiting to get on to our flight. It was more than obvious that they had already started the party and several of them were well on their way to being drunk. They were loud, boisterous and we all silently prayed that our seats would be as far from them as possible. While waiting in the lounge my husband spotted a lone girl, approx age 17, travelling alone. Some of the young men in the stag party noticed her too. She had her earphones in and was stuck into a book and seemed oblivious to the revellers behind her. When it came to boarding time my husband and I, normally first in the queue hung back. He made me wait because he was watching what was happening, letting the stag party get on the plane and then stepping between them and the unaccompanied girl. We acted a a buffer between her and the drunk men and once we were on the plane and realised her seat was far from the lads we sat down.

The flight was fine, we were only bothered by the hostess getting buzzed a few (dozen) times by the stag party and some loud lairy behaviour. When getting off the flight my husband again placed himself between the men and the unaccompanied girl. At the baggage claim we lifted our suitcase and again hung back until the girl had lifted hers and exited after her. Again she was completely oblivious, we have never seen her again since, and the stag do disappeared into their awaiting minibus.

So what is the point of this story? It is one small example of how my husband and I were able to do a decent thing for a stranger. Our fellow traveller probably didn’t realise it, we didn’t have to say anything but we purposely kept and eye on her and made sure that she was safe at that moment in time.

My point is that many of us have done exactly the same thing. Amongst the stories of abuse, unwanted advances and attention I want to thank the men who have quietly and decently stepped in on my behalf:

Je T’aime:

  • Here’s to the guy who asked two drunk men to leave a shop that I was working in alone one evening.
  • Here’s to the man who took down all the nudie calendars and posters in a male dominated office before I began to work there as the first female in that workplace.
  • Here’s to the male colleague who didn’t take their break because a creepy regular customer had called in for a chat with me and they didn’t want me to be on my own.
  • Here’s to the male friend who stayed as I locked up the shop and walked me to my car, after a man had come in and asked for my number. After I politely declined to hand it over he lurked outside the shop until closing time.
  • Here’s to the colleague who intercepted phone calls from someone in the construction industry who took it upon himself to call me twice a week to ‘chat about my work’ and ‘invite me out to his building site’.
  • Here’s to the anonymous young man who sat with me, the only girl, in the AutoCAD computer room at uni and shielded me from a dozen of my male classmates who were watching a viral porn clip, on all their computers at once.
  • Here’s to the colleagues who rushed out to a site to address a problem with my project only to find out that there was never a problem. The person just wanted me to come out so that they could watch me ‘climb a ladder’.
  • Here’s to the guy who handed in his final coursework and waited until me and my friend were finished because he didn’t want us to have to walk back to halls at dark unaccompanied. He waited for five and a half hours.
  • HERE’S TO THE GUYS WHO HAVE DONE THE DECENT THING WITHOUT EXPECTING ANY REWARD.
  • TO THE GUYS WHO HAVE SILENTLY WATCHED OUT FOR WOMEN IN THEIR LIVES AND BEEN A BUFFER BETWEEN THEM AND OTHERS.
  • HERE’S TO THE GUYS WHO HAVE TOLD THEIR MATES TO “TONE IT DOWN”, THAT “THEY’VE HAD ENOUGH” AND THAT THEY SHOULD JUST “LEAVE HER ALONE”.

Here is to the decent men – one of which I am married to. Instead of telling a #Me Too story I want to give a shout out to the men in my life (some who I know and some who I don’t know) who are good and have been protective, thoughtful and decent to me. Je T’aime.  #JeTaime.

Tag a person in your life who has been decent to you – not because they need to be rewarded for doing the decent thing, but because the news at the moment is so dark. We need this. We need this in the same way that we need the Me Too hashtag. In the same way that we need to see justice for victims and punishment (rather than ‘treatment’ and ‘therapy’) for the abusers.

The Letter for the King – Tonke Dragt

Just for a second imagine that you have written a book. And that the book is a bestseller in your country. And that when the children who read it as a child start reading it to their children. And that it becomes so beloved that people start naming babies after the hero of the story. If you are a children’s author then that is the dream – that and a successful sequel. Welcome to the world of Tonke Dragt – true story.

In Belfast we have C.S. Lewis, the creator of Narnia, England has J.R Tolkien and all things Middle-earth and the Netherlands, they have Knights and wannabe knights courtesy of Tonke Dragt

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt was first translated into English by Pushkin Press in 2013. It was originally published in Netherlands in 1962 – so it only took 50ish years for us to take notice and translate it into English. Why did it take so long? Well I have absolutely no idea. The book was a massive success when originally published. It was accompanied by Dragt’s own drawings and came perfectly packaged as the ideal children’s tale. The medieval story was awarded the Granger of Griffels award in 2004 which celebrated it as the best book of the previous 50 years. It was only Dragt’s second novel and was followed by over ten more. She continued to write and draw until arthritis took over here limbs in 2007. Now, in her 80’s she is delighted, and bemused by our sudden interest in her work.

The Letter for the King is basically everything that a good bedtime story is made from

We have the noble knights, the young knights in training, a quest, some danger and even a love interest. The Kingdom is called Dagonaut, and we set off with a bunch of young teenage boys who are on the verge of becoming fully fledged knights. All that they have to do is stay over night in a small chapel in the centre of town. Tiuri is one of these young squires – on his night in the chapel he receives a desperate and urgent cry for help. Can Tiuri leave his ambitions to become a knight and take on this task? Or has he blown it all with one impulsive move?

So, the quest begins – and quite honestly I was hooked. As each page drew on I grew nervous – my biggest worry was that an unexplainable magic wand would be introduced, or a special life saving potion, a problems solving pixie – and there was a little tiny bit of mysticism. However as I read on I realised that this story is pure and simple. When Tiuri succeeds it is because of his character, his virtue and his valour.

A breath of fresh air

When trawling through modern children’s stories it can become predictable to see a hero wins the talent contest or get signed for his favourite football team. The Letter for the King has a satisfying storyline which pulls you along without the pitfalls of nonsensical magic, questionable motives or lazy story-telling. I recommend The Letter for the King to all ages – if you enjoy reading then try this.

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.

Nutshell – Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan has written a lot of books. Seventeen to date. It makes one wonder – Has he run out of stories to tell? Has he mined the depth of characters and their flaws? With Nutshell he answers defiantly. No one is safe, McEwan will tell you a good tale and it will be entertaining and uncomfortable all at the same time. In other words it will be wonderful.

Do not read this if pregnant

 

I feel guilty calling Nutshell wonderful, but it actually is. However please heed this one caution – do not read this if pregnant. Now that I have this off my chest we can proceed. You see Nutshell is narrated by a foetus, in its mothers womb. A foetus who has already developed a darkly wry sense of humour, and who has overheard everything going on in the life of his mother. Not a great mother in many respects. She enjoys a few drinks and is currently embroiled in an affair, with her husbands brother, and is not so subtly trying to claim ownership of his Georgian townhouse in London. What a wonderful place to start!

Nutshell - Ian McEwan

Our foetus is an entertaining narrator, even when things get a bit, mmm, physical. The mother likes listening to podcasts which give our foetus an interesting worldview. McEwan’s writing is claustrophobic and urgent, leaving the reading straining for a better understanding of exactly what is going on. All too quickly we are brought up to date with the illicit ploy between mother and her lover – to kill the husband. How very Shakespearian. We observe as the couple stumble and blunder through their murderous plans and as our narrator helplessly listens to the plan put into effect. A smoothie lover, an owl poet, a hat, the passports – so much vivid detail is given to fill out the story it is impossible not to want to know what happens.

The ending is simply perfect – if not inevitable

 

The writer has admitted that the concept for Nutshell is ‘irresistibly silly’ but a silly idea in the hands of a master makes for a unique novel. Coming in at under 200 pages it is the perfect remedy to a reading slump. I read this after trudging my way through a massive Irish family saga which basically was sad and boring so this was much needed. Quick, witty and wicked.

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.

The Optician of Lampedusa – Emma Jane Kirby

Last year an offshore patrol vessels was commissioned – Named after the Irish author Samuel Beckett this boat was dispatched from the Irish Naval Service and ended up tackling one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of our lifetime. But I’d bet I’m not the only person who has never heard of it before. I only found out when I started trawling through Emma Jane Kirby’s twitter profile.

The Optician of Lampedusa - Emma Jane Kirby

The Optician of Lampedusa – Emma Jane Kirby

In July Emma Jane Kirby was onboard the LE Samuel Beckett to talk about her book – The Optician of Lampedusa. It is fitting because LE Samuel Beckett has saved 4000 migrants – and saving migrants is the big topic tackled by this small book.

The Optician of Lampedusa is a short and difficult story following of a local unnamed optician on his weekend off. This weekend he decided to take his wife and friends out in his 10 person yacht from the coast of the small Italian island of Lampedusa. A holiday weekend. The unimaginable happens as the party are first on the scene when a boat sinks. The boat was no ordinary boat, it was an overloaded and unseaworthy vessel full of people desperate to escape from Libya to find asylum in Italy.

Emma Jane Kirby uses 120 pages to document the tragedy through the eyes of the optician and his companions. Out of over 400 people who were in the water the weekenders were able to help to save 47 people – risking their own lives and boats to get the people back safely to shore.

The Optician of Lampedusa - Emma Jane Kirby

Have I just spoiled the whole book?

No, the story does not stop with the gruelling rescue, you will wince as the optician attempts to turn back to save more of the drowning and you will be downcast as he tries to get updates on the people who he helped to save.

Emma Jane Kirby is a talented journalist, known best for her presence on BBC Radio 4. Her experience has made this true story accessible. I have one word for the challenge of this book – it makes the plight of displaced people unignorable. It makes their plight real and concrete and serious.

Unignorable. Moving. Serious.

Kirby faithfully retells a tragedy and prompts us to tackle the question – What would I do if it happened to me? Remember this is a true story, and it isn’t a one off. The true story is that the Lampedusa tragedy left 368 people dead. They optician of Lampedusa said “We saved 47 people that day, A hero would have saved them all.” The disaster is ongoing – read this book to have a small glimpse of what is happening to many people displaced by war and violence. Well done to Emma Jane Kirby for taking this story and making it readable and real.

More information:

Help Refugees

Oxfam

Barnabas Fund

Unicef

ASOS Choose Love 

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.

We died before we came here – Emily Foreman

“We died before we came here” is a memoir written by Emily Foreman. The setting is an undisclosed North African city, directly after the twin towers attacks. The purpose of their journey – to share their Christian faith with Muslims. Emily and her husband Stephen left their home in America with their young family to make new friendships and build a new life in a Muslim world.

I will not give away any spoilers here. I also recommend that you buy this book and read it – don’t read the back first. Here is a glimpse into this true story, which probably says more about the book than I ever could.

“Are we transferring fear to our new brothers and sisters by valuing security above the gospel and living a lifestyle of safety first? Nowhere in the message of Jesus Christ does fear have a place. Wouldn’t we be contaminating the message of Christ if we allow our own fear to dictate our level of obedience to God? It seems to me that we can’t encourage boldness unless we first exemplify it ourselves.” Emily Foreman

“When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji islands, the ship captain tried to turn him back, saying “You’ll lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among those savages.” To that Calvert replied, “We died before we came here.”

That’s my question for us again tonight. Are you dead yet? Dead to yourself, dead to your own desires, dead to fear? Are we alive in Christ? My desire is that when people see your life, when they see my life, they will see Christ, and Christ alone. Let us live our lives as if they weren’t our own lives. To truly be strangers in this world. To be aliens in this world. Our citizenship is in heaven.”  Stephen Foreman

Keep track of the books I am reading here at my bookish Instagram account – Books Northern Ireland.