Bookshop dates

I truly believe in finding and appreciating the small things that make every day just that little bit more beautiful or happier. This can be the smell of something delicious baking in the oven, a few peaceful moments to enjoy a cup of tea in the morning, or spending some time in a bookshop packed full with more books than I could ever read. My boyfriend and I often arrange to meet in town after work, for a bookshop date. Nothing works better to cheer up an ordinary day and add a bit of magic to everyday routine.

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We are very lucky to have many delightful bookshops in Oxford, but Blackwell’s is my favourite for our bookshop dates. It first opened in 1879 and it hosts more than 125,000 books spread over four floors. Doesn’t that sound dreamy? There is really something for everyone here. I usually navigate to the modern fiction section (I love to read the little cards with staff recommendations to discover new gems), while my boyfriend tries to find a worthy follow-up to Edmund Crispin’s novels in the crime section (does anyone have any suggestions?), which is starting to seem like an impossible task. We find each other again at the poetry corner or, unsurprisingly for anyone who knows us, by the P.G. Wodehouse shelves.

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Then, we head downstairs to the Norrington room which boasts 3 miles of books! Because we are nerds, we tend to spend quite a bit of time in the maths, physics and computing section. I really like their selection of popular science books (great gifts for friends who ask me “so, what did you do your PhD in?”). No visit is complete without a browse of the travel shelves. This feeds our wanderlust and has often inspired our travels.

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I am usually not able to resist the lovely and quirky stationery bits and bobs. Inevitably, Alice in Wonderland notecards or a new notebook with a floral cover will find their way into my purchases. I love the feeling I get when I leave the bookshop with my new books. I think it’s the potential that they’ll introduce me to new worlds, new ideas, and new favourite people (fictional or otherwise) that does it. Buying books is up there with buying new shoes on the happiness scale, I reckon.


‘When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.’
— Desiderius Erasmus


These bookshop dates really do put a smile on my face and they are such a lovely activity. There’s always a book that will spark a memory or an idea and lead to real conversation that veers away from work and little daily struggles. We end up returning home feeling optimistic (because if all else fails, at least we will be well-read) and refreshed. On a dull Tuesday this is all I can really ask for.

Summer moments

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August is here and there is an almost imperceptible change in the air. Blushing apples in the orchard, blackberries ripening on the hedgerows, busy squirrels in the garden,  a chill in the early mornings. Autumn is discreetly placing its calling cards all around us. There will still be warm and sunny days (I hope!), but autumn is waiting backstage for summer to finish its dance.

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This makes me want to hold on to summer, squeeze in all my favourite summer activities, and cherish those special summer moments.

  1. Incredibly green canopies and dappled warm light in the forest. These are moments filled with gratitude. Seeing the sunlight dance with the leaves always makes me feel that everything is as it should be.
  2. Rotund bumble bees on lavender plants. We owe the bees so much and we must do our best to save them, so it fills me with joy to see them visit our garden.
  3. Wearing my favourite summer dresses that come out year after year. And on a related note, dresses with pockets! Like revisiting old friends.
  4. Cats napping in the shady parts of the garden. I love observing the habits and rhythms of the neighbourhood cats. On hot and stuffy days it seemed snoozing and stretching were the most important things. I think I’d really like that too!
  5. Warm evening walks around the neighbourhood. No need to take a jumper! There’s always something pretty growing in a neighbour’s garden, a wandering cat to be stroked, a sparrow singing from a tree branch.
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  7. Everything about elderflower. Foraging, making cordial, and then enjoying a refreshing drink. I picked some elderflower in June and made a few bottles of cordial. It’s such a refreshing drink, to me it’s the essence of summer.
  8. Long, yellow grass moving in the breeze. I always think nothing can compare to the spring wildflowers but I must admit that there is magic in the air when the meadows put on their golden summer robes.
  9. Thunderstorms. We were out for a short walk the other day when, as if out of nowhere, dark clouds gathered and it was like someone turned off the light. Running for cover when those first, fat drops started to fall, thunder roaring up ahead, I could help but laugh. I felt very alive in that moment and I guess, happy too.

I’d love it if you’d share some of your favourite summer moments and activities with me.

May

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May arrived and the trees lining our street donned their new, bright green dresses. The fresh leaves are amazingly, improbably green. I see it happen, I notice it get greener every day. And yet, there comes a day when I’m cycling home in the early evening and I turn on our street and the greenness takes my breath away. How lovely it is. It is only by a series of random and completely unplanned events that I’ve found myself living here. I am grateful for it every day.

In other news, there is now a swan family, with six fuzzy cygnets, living on the canal. And a mama duck with near a dozen fluffy ducklings at the pond. As if I needed more motivation to go out for walks.

When the sun is out, all I want to do is be outside. When it’s raining, I don’t complain much, I just think of all the wildflowers in the meadows that are thankful for the drink. How easy it is to be content in the spring!

Magic hour

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Mornings in our kitchen are entirely magic.

It’s the perfect time and place to sip the first cup of coffee of the day while watching the sky change from dark blue to magenta to pink on frosty winter mornings.

To dream, make plans and write lists while the first sun rays fall on the kitchen table.

To cook big breakfasts while dancing to Bob Dylan.

To linger after breakfast on the weekend, with a pot of tea and good conversation.

To read a book while the neighbours’ cat naps on the sunny patches on the floor.

It’s magic.

April

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Hello April!

I feel like the last few weeks went by in a blossom-induced haze. Every day I notice more trees blooming, their branches heavy with myriads of magical, dreamy puffs of colour. Standing underneath the cherry tree at the corner of my road and looking up has been a gloriously calming, spirit-lifting activity. The magnolia season is here, all too brief but lovely and cherished.

The hedgerows along my running route are coming to life too. Among the blossom and the budding leaves I can spot blackbirds, robins, wrens, and blue tits all going about their business and signing their songs.

In our garden, impossibly rotund bumblebees have made their appearance and the damson tree is blossoming into tiny, white flowers. It creates the loveliest dappled light at mid-morning. With everything stirring to life, we are busy too. We’ve got our seeds and pots ready; we’ll be planting our windowsill herbs and flowers this weekend. Our thyme has survived winter and it’s already thriving; it feels good to have a head start.

The springtime transformation of my world amazes me. This year, it also coincides with a time of change in my life too.  With lots of things up in the air, I’m reading books, listening to podcasts, and drawing inspiration from everything, trying to figure stuff out. Nature’s seemingly effortless transformation as the days grow longer has been helping me stay calm, keep anxiety away, and be positive. After all, if what appeared to be lifeless in the dark, frozen days of winter can now burst into life and beauty, surely I can find my way to grow and bloom too?