A Miscellany

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The unthinkable has happened; despite feeling like a twelve year old inside, last weekend, I turned 30. This was a birthday I was not particularly looking forward to; I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the various existential crises that I had swirling around inside my head as the seemingly enormous figure loomed and I contemplated the failures of my lost youth. However, one week on, I can report that I am feeling absolutely fine, and no different to the 29 year old me whatsoever. I may have achieved precisely none of the goals the younger me had expected by the time I reached this grand old age, but my life has wandered down many different paths that the younger me never even imagined I would tread, and my dreams and ambitions have altered as I have rerouted myself on the map I had previously marked out.In my twenties, I had a lot of fun and I also experienced a lot of heartache. I made wonderful friends and said painful goodbyes to some old ones. I fell in love and out again, I moved countries, I tried different jobs until I was lucky enough to find my true vocation, I moved house more times than I dare to count, I travelled, I explored, I took risks, I rejoiced in my successes and I cried over my many failures. I learned how to do grown up things like unblock my own sink, fill in a tax return, bake bread, manage my finances, change nappies and look busy at work. I also learned the truly important stuff that you don’t really think about when you leave university and launch yourself into your twenties: that the things I was afraid of doing were not as frightening as failing to do them, that listening is more important than talking, that it’s far more rewarding to help someone else than push yourself forward, that happiness does not lie in money and status, that you can’t impose the expectations you have of yourself onto other people, that true friends really are worth their weight in gold. So, despite the fact that I don’t have an awful lot to show for myself other than an impressive collection of books and the half dead contents of a miniature greenhouse, I don’t think I’ve done too bad a job of my first three decades. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store as I tentatively paddle into the next one!

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In between attempting to keep myself from falling into an abyss of despair, I have been up to quite a lot over the past month or so. I had the great joy of visiting Hampton Court Palace for the first time, which is impossibly beautiful and full of so many delights that you could stay for a week and still not see everything. I loved the intricate details in the windows and mouldings that revealed the changing occupation of the rooms over the years, the melange of Tudor and Baroque architecture, the acres of gardens filled with a rainbow of tulips and daffodils, and the miles and miles of delicately wrought iron fencing that separates the gardens from the Thames, which flows rather lazily past as if it were a mere country brook. It’s magical, and highly recommended. Though, this was a description of my first visit; it wasn’t quite so magical a couple of weeks later, when I took my Year 8s on a school trip and lost three of them in the maze…

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I popped to Broadstairs for the day with some friends in order to celebrate my birthday last weekend; it’s such a wonderful little seaside resort, with a sheltered sandy beach, bracing cliff walks, a lively high street, plenty of excellent fish and chip shops, a brilliant 1950s ice cream parlour (Morelli’s), a great second hand book shop, glorious historic architecture, and more Charles Dickens themed pubs, shops and restaurants than you can shake a stick at. Dickens loved this town, and used it for inspiration for many of his novels: perched on the cliffs above the bay is the Bleak House; now a B&B, and the home of the woman who inspired Betsey Trotwood is now the Charles Dickens House Museum. The winding lanes and huddles of beautiful, historic homes make it easy to imagine what it must have been like in Dickens’ day, and it makes for a lovely day out from London: the high speed train from St Pancras gets you there in just an hour and a half.

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In literary news, now I am old I feel I can give up on books, and I found myself handing Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch back to the charity shop after getting to page 100 and still waiting for something to draw me in. I was so disappointed, because I loved The Little Stranger, but I was drowning in description and found myself not caring for any of the characters at all. I’ve returned to a trustier source, and am now reading The Years, which is the only Woolf novel I’ve not read. It too is full of description, but this description is different; it transports me to another plane, and I am adoring every minute of submerging my senses in the world of the Pargiter family as they journey through the 19th and 20th centuries. On my way home from work the other night, I popped into Foyles for a browse and came out with this gorgeously illustrated edition of Pride and Prejudice; Alice Pattullo, the illustrator, is a wonderful artist who I’ve been interested in for some time, and her drawings bring a wonderful whimsicality to the text. I already can’t wait to re-read it!

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I also want to apologise for blogging so sporadically these days; it is not intention, merely circumstantial. I am still attempting to write a book (aim: finish by 40), I started learning the piano just over a year ago and it has become a rather unhealthy obsession (I recently passed my first ever music exam – Grade 3 –  which I was more proud of than any other certificate I have ever received!) and I have very little time to read amidst the general whirl of work and socialising and other hobbies. But from now on I resolve to be better at coming here more often and sharing more of what I am doing. It’s been almost seven years since I started this blog, and it continues to be a source of great pleasure; I appreciate every single reader and I hope to give you more posts that are worth reading from now on! (Also, don’t forget that Simon at Stuck in a Book and I record a podcast every two weeks, where you can hear our rambling opinions on a variety of bookish topics – you can listen to the latest one here!).





  1. Belated birthday greetings, Rachel. I much preferred being a thirty-something to being a twenty-something, so hopefully your next decade will be even better than your last. When we are young we still think there will be enough time to read everything. Post-thirty we realise this was never going to be true and we stop feeling guilty about giving up on books. Thanks to you and Simon for the podcast. I am a fan. I think I have listened to every episode so far, though not yet the latest one.

    1. Thanks, David – that’s heartening to hear! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the podcast – Simon and I very much enjoy recording them and it’s a pleasure to hear that people actually like listening to our ramblings!

  2. Happy birthday. 30s are great as you settle in your own skin. Not feeling you have to finish books is just the start. You will feel liberated on many levels. I wish you a great 30s.

    We visited Hampton Court last year, and now after reading Wolf Hall, I have to go back and imagine the intrigue there through Cromwell’s eyes. Unfortunately I can’t see us flying to London for years.

    1. Thanks very much Lucinda! I am hearing many positive things about the benefits of the thirties from friends and colleagues and I am hoping I will find this to be true! I hope you’ll manage to make it over to Hampton Court at some point in the future – but there are lots of great videos online that go inside to help you imagine it in the meantime!

  3. Belated Happy 30th Birthday, Rachel. As always, I love your blog, so I’m delighted you will keep it up. I turned 50 last year and completed my PhD. Still have to write my book, but all good things take time. Like you, I’m counting my achievements to date, rather than dwelling on what I still have to do.

    I’ve listened to your podcasts with Simon. I do have one comment about the podcasts. You say the name and author of the book before you discuss it, but you don’t mention it again, and if I’m unfamiliar with the book or author and I become interested in what you’ve said about it, I have no way of remembering the reference. Perhaps at the end of the podcast, you could make a quick mention, such as “Today, we discussed …….”

    Next time I get to England, I must make a trip to Hampton Court Palace.

    1. Hi Gillian – thanks for your question about the podcasts. You’ll be pleased to know that, over at stuckinabook.com where the podcast is hosted, I type out all the books and authors we mention for that very reason 🙂 I know how frustrating it can be if I hear a book mentioned and want to get it, but then the moment has slipped by.

    2. Thanks very much Gillian! Congratulations on the PhD – what an achievement! There is definitely time for me yet, then 🙂 So glad you’re enjoying the podcast, and thanks to Simon for answering your question – poor Simon does all the podcast legwork and he does his best to get down all the books we mention every week.

  4. Happy belated birthday. I’m old enough to be your grandmother but still enjoy reading your blog. I was a young teacher once!

    Broadstairs IS a wonderfully time-warped place isn’t it? We’ve been to all the Dickens’ places there as well as most of the other ones around London, Portsmouth and Dover.

    1. Thanks very much, Jean! It’s amazing – I love it. Not yet gentrified to the point where it’s lost its charm. Much of the Kent coast is a jewel waiting to be discovered, and I must go to Romney Marsh again this summer to really feel in the midst of Dickens country!

  5. Happy Birthday! Twice your age, I am of the belief we get happier by the year as we let go of impossible expectations (and unenjoyable books). You already sound much wiser than my 30 year old self.

    Lovely post, good pics too. ‘Tea or Books?’ is a delight. You sound like you are having such fun, and you are not constantly banging on about new books, so it is pure pleasure.

    That illustrated Austen looks fab btw.

    1. That sounds very promising and makes turning thirty sound far more attractive – thank you! Do pleased you’re enjoying the podcast! We have such fun doing it so it’s a joy to know other people get pleasure from it too!

  6. Happy Birthday! As somebody here said, you sound so much wiser than me at that age. You really can be content with what you already achieved (and with the fact that you are able to take a step back and think about your life in such a remarkable way). Don’t let other people’s expectations or ideas how an ideal life should be lived interfere with the way you want to live your life. Don’t measure your “success” in those ways!
    As a piano teacher, I am delighted to hear you enjoy playing. It’s a wonderful way of escapism, isn’t it? Hope you continue to love it. And – grade 3 in one year, wow!!
    Looking forward to your book…

    1. Thanks very much Martina! I am loving the piano so much – it’s such a joy to just play and lose myself in the music. I’m working on Grade 5 stuff now, though…and finding it fiddly and frustrating, but I will get there! I wish I were as accomplished as I’m sure you are! You may be waiting some time for the book but you will all be the first to know when it is finished!!

  7. Glad to know you ctossed the line into your thirties without the world falling apart 🙂 sounds like yiu are very comfortable in your skin, with what you’ve achieved in life already and with some new interests in store. Sadly so many other people dont feel anywhere as fulfilled as you do so celebrate the feeling

  8. I went sky-diving on my 30th birthday. I wasn’t concerned about turning thirty at all, as a result, just worried about the parachute opening in time to break the fall.

    As several people above mentioned, being in your 30’s is much, much better than being in your 20’s. In almost every way. 😉

    1. Wow – I wish I’d been brave enough to do that on my birthday! I’m so glad to know this is a truth – makes old age much easier to manage 🙂

  9. Happy birthday, Rachel. When I think of the fuss I made about being 30 – and how happily I’d wind back the clock!

  10. Like Mary, I made a dreadful fuss turning 30. Happy to say that every subsequent birthday has been welcomed.

    You have come so far, done so much and your blog is always interesting.


  11. Happy Birthday to you! My own 30th anniversary passed few years ago in contemplating what this strange date means. I have relished your blog for about a year and a half and glad to know that there are another true book fan like myself. What I wish you is that the way you live would make you happy (which can’t be a constant state but how important to feel it occasionally) and also to fullfill all the aspirings on the routes you’ve chosen.

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