Reasons to embrace the arts

Reasons Why You Should Embrace the Arts

The older I’ve become, the more I’ve grown to appreciate the value of the arts and realise the significant effects they have on me.

Annual trip to the Ballet

For the last fifteen years, the Russian State ballet of Siberia has included our town in its extensive tour every February. The first year that I noticed an advert for it, I mentioned it to my sister suggesting it as a possible birthday present for our mother. She agreed so we booked tickets, not really sure what to expect as we had never attended a ballet before and we weren’t sure if we would really enjoy it.

We were pleasantly surprised. By chance, our tickets were down in the stalls close to the front, where the large orchestra is positioned. Sitting so close to the orchestra and their moving Tchaichovsky instrumentals, while we watched the incredibly graceful, expressive ballet dancers acting out their story on stage was mesmerising. Since then, my mother and I haven’t missed one and they all have a similar impact on us.

Other shows on offer locally…

The same local theatre offers a good range of visiting performers and we have been fortunate to have enjoyed shows ranging from the west end Cats show, Irish Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, The Sound of Music, as well as Abba and Queen tribute bands. Varied, but all thoroughly enjoyable in their own way.

The benefits of attending live theatre

Somehow, opening the mind to different types of performances has a mind-broadening effect and gives a sense of fulfilment. Sure, that’s just my subjective opinion, but interestingly Science Daily reported a few years ago that attending live theatre increased tolerance and empathy as found in a group of students who took part in the research. Tolerance and empathy are attributes that seem to be in increasingly short supply these days, so perhaps all schools should aim to take students to watch plays or ballets from a young age.

The benefits of listening to classical music

Certain types of music move me in a similar way. All through my childhood and adolescence, I grew up in a home hearing classical music several times a week as both my parents were fans. To be honest, I didn’t much care for it at the time, finding it dull and overly formal compared to my preferred pop and rock music.

Yet now, I can’t deny that it somehow has a profound effect on me. I don’t listen to it all the time, but if in need of a little inspiration then classical music helps me find it. I find it awe-inspiring that some of the complex pieces were composed hundreds of years ago. I also find it has a calming effect on me and it seems I am not alone in feeling this way. The Readers Digest published an article featuring 10 Wondrous things that happen to your body when you listen to classical music. Amongst those were feeling more relaxed and productive. More than enough reasons to persuade anyone to give it a try. For a complete beginner’s introduction, I recommend either tuning in to a classical radio station such as Classic FM, or search YouTube for ‘best classical music mix’ or similar.

A classical Italian experience

Some years ago, my husband and I toured Italy one summer, visiting several of the major cities. While we were staying in Rome, we were taking a stroll after dinner one evening and soon after tossing the obligatory coin into the beautiful Trevi fountains, happened to stumble across a large piazza where a classical music concert was about to be performed. Chairs had been set up in rows, many of them already taken but there were still some free seats, and after a friendly lady explained that it was a free performance for the public, we sat down. It’s difficult to fully describe the atmosphere as we sat there in the moonlit, balmy July evening, with the loud, passionate sounds of of Vivaldi and Verdi echoing all around us in that historic piazza. A romantic, special evening to remember for ever.

Foreign Language Films

World cinema is another way of broadening my mind. Through my local library (as well as a small independent cinema that shows many foreign films) I have been able to access many foreign films in different languages. The ones in French and Italian have the additional bonus of helping me brush up my language skills but I have enjoyed subtitled films and series in many different languages. It’s surprising just how many countries have thriving film industries, even if they are relatively small-scale. Watching them, even if they are fictional, gives a fascinating glimpse into life in different countries.

Do you spend much time seeking out the arts in your life? I would be interested to hear which ones appeal to you the most.

How to spend less on your food or grocery shopping

How to Spend less on your Food or Grocery Shopping

Just a few years ago, our grocery bill used to be below the average spend for a family of our size. Gradually though, our grocery spends have crept up frighteningly fast.

Ok, some of the increase can be attributed to to the increase in the number of people we have in our household and the corresponding spends on nappies, fruit, snacks etc. But if I’m honest, we have become a bit lazy and allowed convenience foods to sneak into the trolley far more than they ever used to and those convenience foods obviously cost more. We don’t buy a ridiculous number of takeaways, but even these have been happening more frequently than they used to.

There’s no excuse for this really, other than perhaps for a few months when our youngest was a newborn and I was recovering from surgery. Bad habits snuck in and products that we bought as a one-off due to a promotional price became regular purchases at the standard price.

Anyway, it’s time to rectify the situation. Here are the steps I intend to follow:

Carry out a stock take 

Our freezer is pretty full right now. I need to grab a pen and paper and jot down everything contained within the drawers of it. There is quite a bit of meat and fish I suspect, plus some Quorn (a meat substitute that is vegetarian but we like despite being omnivores ourselves).

Our cupboards also contain a fair amount of canned vegetables, beans, packets of couscous and rice.

Meal plan

I need to sit down and plan which meals can be put together from the freezer and cupboard ingredients. To be honest, I suspect there are quite a few! Hopefully this will have a positive effect on our grocery bill for the next month as we eat out of the freezer and cupboards so buy less new stuff.

Although I usually meal plan a whole week, the dinners for different days often get switched around depending on what we feel like eating or if unexpected events crop up.

Use the slow cooker (AKA crockpots)

I have been a fan of slow cookers ever since buying our first one in 2004, the year that I first moved in with my now-husband. They are wonderful for several reasons.

Firstly, you can bung in all your ingredients first thing in the morning, or even the night before if you like (just refrigerate the ceramic pot overnight to keep chilled if you do so). Switch it on before you leave the house, then return from work at the end of the day to the scent of a delicious, cooked meal ready to tuck into. What could be better?

Secondly, slow cookers are economical because they use a similar amount of energy to a light bulb. They can be used to cook cheaper cuts of meat which, due to the lengthy cooking time, turn from tough to tender and meat literally falls off the bone.

Lastly, the nature of one-pot cooking means less clearing up to do after dinner. That can only be a good thing in my book!

Try out new recipes 

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. Yet we seem to eat the same meals over and over again. So, I intend to flick through some of the books and mark the most appealing recipes to try. There are lots I still intend to try in my newest purchase, 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver. It makes sense that if I use fewer ingredients in a recipe (as long as they aren’t ridiculously expensive ones, such as caviar and saffron ;)) the cost will hopefully be brought down, too.

Let’s hope that following these steps results in us saving money, eating more healthily and enjoying our food more.

How about you? Do you have any tips to share on reducing your grocery bill? I would love to hear them.

Review of a novel set in modern-day Paris: ‘These Dividing Walls’ by Fran Cooper

As well as being interested in social history as per this post and how women lived in the past, I am equally fascinated by how other women live in the the present day in other countries. When I heard about the debut novel ‘These Dividing Walls’ by Fran Cooper which tracks the lives of ordinary people living and working in modern-day  Paris, during one long, hot summer, I knew I had to read it.

It didn’t disappoint. The main downside was that there wasn’t an overly intricate plot, what it essentially was is a character study of a number of ‘ordinary’ people living in an apartment building on the corner of two streets in the 5th arrondissement. However, this was fine by me, as I’m not a huge fan of complicated plots anyway, I often prefer to be able to enjoy a book at a simpler level. It is a topical read, for France in particular but also for other Western societies.

The residents of the building are very different from one another and all have their struggles to face, from loneliness, depression, grief, unemployment to prejudice. The characters were mostly very believable and easy to empathise with, even if some were unpleasant and frustrating. There are quite a lot of characters and I found it a little bit challenging to follow them all (probably not helped that they obviously had unfamiliar French names) to begin with, but was glad that I stuck with it past the first couple of chapters.

The heatwave affecting Paris during the summer that the book is set in acts as a metaphor for the simmering political tensions that eventually reach breaking point.This may sound negative, and there is some tragedy within the story but there is also also healing and inspiration. It certainly wasn’t all about political issues either, as the personal issues affecting individual characters are explored and mostly resolved by the end.

I thought that the author had a real skill for descriptive prose, and for other Francophiles it is a treat to take in the detailed descriptions of the city of Paris and reminded me of many of the things I love about France. Admittedly it is different from the superficial impression that tourists may gain from short visits, but I found it all the more fascinating to be given a glimpse into the lives of inhabitants who make up the real Paris and to see what constitutes everyday life for them.

The (albeit English) author clearly had a good knowledge of the real Paris so I imagine she may have spent time living there, and I hope that she will write other novels set there too.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reading about real life in (slightly gritty) modern-day Paris. Let me know what you think if you give it a read!


A review of the French film ‘Untouchable’

Not everyone can face watching films and TV programmes produced in a foreign language with English subtitles. My husband is one of those people, whereas I have to say that I really enjoy them. Somehow, hearing the foreign language, as well as different architecture and visual cultural details feels a little exotic and almost transports me there. How about you?

We don’t have Netflix or any other film subscription service in our home, but our county’s library service has a pretty decent stock in the World Cinema section.

It was in the local library that I stumbled across this French film ’Untouchable’, (which also seems to be known as ‘Intouchables’) recently.

Untouchable French movie image

It was actually made a few years ago, in 2011. Based on a true story, it follows a budding friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic called Philippe and his carer, an ex-con. The ex-con, Driss, doesn’t really want the job and even steals a Faberge egg during the job interview, but in time the two men find that they have things in common and are able to help each other in life.

Another character is played by Audrey Fleurot, who I recognised from the gritty French crime series ‘Spiral’ (or Engrenages was the original French title). Whenever I’ve seen her, Audrey always presents as the epitome of the chic, stylish French woman and I liked observing her different outfits.

In places the film is heartbreakingly sad, in other places hilariously funny. All in all, a very uplifting watch and I would recommend it to anyone who can tolerate watching subtitled films.

As it happens, a quick google has just revealed that a US remake of the film is currently underway, by Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston. To be honest, I don’t think I will be seeking that one out to watch in the future as I’ve generally been disappointed by English language remakes of continental European films. For example with ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ I preferred the original Swedish version, even though the US remake wasn’t particularly bad, while the US remake of the Danish ‘The Killing’ series wasn’t a patch on the Danish version. Often, the original version just can’t be beaten!

Do you have any favourite foreign language films you can recommend? I’m always pleased to discover new favourites.

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