May 2016
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Review: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, Mary Beard

SPQRI am fortunate enough to have visited, and fallen in love with, Rome. It isn’t called The Eternal City for nothing; it’s layers upon layers of history, untold secrets still hiding underneath every building that stands there, where every turn could lead you to something ancient. The Pantheon is my favourite example, as you walk along twisty streets until suddenly, you stand in a plaza with an architectural feat looming above you. Actually magical. So worth a visit, and I find myself often longing for a repeat so I can walk those streets again.

Anyway, huge history nerd that I am, I couldn’t resist SPQR for long. When I don’t know much about a time period, one of my favourite ways to get into it is by reading a mammoth work of history first, then narrowing down into areas that specifically interest me. I feel like everyone must know bits and pieces about Rome, but putting it together in a coherent story is what’s beyond me. Mary Beard’s colossal new work on Rome is probably one of the best of this type that I’ve read. It focuses on just ancient Rome, and of course when I say “just”, it fails to encompass the enormous amount of information that Beard had to draw upon and cover, as parts of this period in history are better documented than others. It looks the period from the rise of Rome, and examines those founding myths, up to the republic and then the rise of imperial Rome, ending in 212 AD.

Beard looks at the history of ancient Rome in three ways; first, by drawing upon sources and telling us what happened, then by questioning what “traditional” sources and later interpretations have told us, and finally by analysing how people outside fame and records might have lived. I love this approach because it’s still narratively interesting, taking us mostly chronologically through Roman history, but it questions and toys with the sources that exist rather than presenting history as fact. History isn’t fact, and it shouldn’t be presented as such; so much of what we have especially in this period comes from a single source somewhere, and often a biased one, and which has been changed and misinterpreted as time goes by. Too much popular history (that I’ve read, anyway) simply tells a narrative without thinking about the sources behind that narrative and whether we can trust them or not. Beard clears away these cobwebs, as much as she can anyway, and gives us a great picture of what the republic of Rome might have been like. She’s impartial, she’s clear, she’s compelling, whether she’s discussing Nero or women in Rome or terrorism (because yes, Romans had terrorism too).

This is absolutely a book I’d recommend to anyone who is seeking to learn a little bit more about this period in history.

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On Turning 30 & Growing Up

tssbadge1I turned 30 earlier this year and, whether I feel much different or not, it is a milestone that’s made me introspective. Turning 30 means being a real adult, at least in my mind, even though it hasn’t actually heralded any life changes. It would be a lie to say that sometimes I didn’t wish I was still 20 and living with my friends at college. I could never overstate how much I loved school and learning – and how much I miss it. What strikes me most about this particular age is how much I have grown up and changed over the last decade, how much I am not that girl any more. I might not actually feel like an adult most of the time, but occasionally it strikes me that I really am.

I have an example. This week was my company’s whole team meeting, where nearly 170 people get into one room (it’s a cinema, so it’s big enough for everyone) and various senior people in the company tell everyone about company performance, updates, and some of the cool stuff we’re doing. This time round, I was one of those senior people. I had to stand up in front of that many people and tell them what had happened in the world of SEO in the last six months. If you had known me when I was 21, or 24, or probably even 27, I’d never have managed it. Oh, I’d have done it – I have spoken before in front of groups, but never particularly well, and I really hate it. This time, though? This time I knew what I was saying. I was still terrified, but for the first time in my life I had knowledge and confidence to go up there and speak well. I wasn’t sure I was going to, but I did (or at least, that’s what everyone says). And I am so pleased with myself, even though to others this may not seem like a big deal, because I know how far I’ve come to be able to do that. I have been so shy and quiet for so many years of my life, and still am most of the time, that what I am now capable of truly astounds me. I’m the girl who never spoke up in class. I’m the girl who lurks and decides not to say anything, for fear of criticism. I’m the girl who doesn’t know how to start a conversation, who hates parties and networking and socialising unless I know someone to anchor me. I’m a wallflower. I often wonder how I ever found myself in a job, in a *career*, where most of what I do relies on talking to and influencing people. Being good at SEO and being good at managing, influencing and representing a team of SEOs are very different things. While I still definitely have a long way to go at my job, and I am plagued with doubt and uncertainty and frustrations most of the time, I feel like I’m on the way to being better. All I can do is try to be better. Yes, someone else may have done a better job than I’ve been able to. Someone else might have done it differently. But maybe I wasn’t a bad choice for this role. Maybe I can do this. Will my doubts go away? No, of course not. Will I look at other people and think they would have been the best choice? Yes, I still will. But I need to hold on to this feeling when I am overwhelmed, when I’m sure everything is all wrong.

And will I still be nervous getting up in front of all those people in six months’ time, assuming I again get the opportunity? Of course. I might be different on the outside, but inside I’m still so very shy.

So, now that I’ve popped out from the woodwork, what else have I been up to in the last few months?:

  • Gaming. I tend to go through hobby phases, and I’m in a gaming phase at the moment. I’ve been playing a lot of a game called Stardew Valley, where you are a farmer attempting to revive your grandfather’s farm, alongside making friends with villagers, mining, fishing, and a few other tasks. It’ll sound familiar if you’ve ever played any of the Harvest Moon series of games, but it’s grounded more firmly in the real world (as much as a game like this can be). It’s so much fun, I’d highly recommend it. Before that, I played The Witcher and I’m partway through The Witcher 2, in an attempt to get to The Witcher 3.
  • Just yesterday I crocheted for the first time in months to make this little turtle (hobby phases, like I said):

turtle

  • We spent Easter weekend in a gypsy wagon in Cumbria. The weather didn’t work in our favor at all, but we had a lovely log fire, some castles nearby, and I took a lot of pictures of daffodils:IMG_0759 (Copy) IMG_0881 (Copy)
  • And, of course, I’ve still been reading. That’s one thing I never stop doing. I’ve still been enjoying the freedom to re-read that comes with not blogging; I just read The Raven Cycle over again by Maggie Stiefvater and loved all of it so much, now that it’s finished. My other favorite I’ve read so far is Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which was everything I’ve ever wanted in a book. And the surprise of the year for me so far has been Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith / J.K. Rowling – I am not sure why I chose to pick it up, but I did, and I’ve been barely restraining myself from inhaling the next two ever since. I think it’s the way Rowling draws characters. I’m not normally a mystery person, but I loved that one.

That’s it from me for today – happy May, everyone!

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