The Best Books I Read in 2018

According to Goodreads I read 127 books in 2018 (something which seemed implausible to a person on Twitter but it definitely happened!) so I thought I’d dust off the blog to write a round up of the ones which were particularly good. All the links in this post take you to Hive who work with independent bookshops around the UK to sell their products online – because Amazon get enough traffic quite frankly!

In no particular order:

1. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Why I loved it: Set partly in the present day and partly in China in the 50s, 60s, and 80s it tells the story of an extended family and the impact of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and the Tianaman Square protests on their lives. It’s also the story of Marie’s attempts to understand her father’s life and find her cousin Ai-Ming who disappeared in the mid 1990s. Marie’s narration interweaves with flashback scenes from the past in China which gradually reveal the truths Marie has been seeking. I found the story a little confusing at first but by the end I was completely absorbed. A beautiful, heart-rending piece of writing which taught me so much about modern Chinese history.

2. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane

Genre: Non-Fiction/Travel/Memoir

Why I loved it: This is a beautifully written book in which Macfarlane thinks deeply about paths, memory, and the ways in which landscape shapes us as humans. It’s been an absolute joy to read slowly and savour Macfarlane’s evocative descriptions and it’s made me think differently about walking and the landscapes around me.

3. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (trilogy) by Jenny Han

Genre: Young Adult/Romance

Why I loved it: I don’t think I’ve ever read a series of books which so acutely captured the intensity of teenage feelings – not just about romance but about family, friendship, and the future. The first book (which is also now a Netflix film) starts with Lara Jean, an introvert who writes letters to her crushes which she never sends but who has never had a boyfriend. Then the letters get sent and chaos (and romance) ensues. I loved the series’ portrayal of sisterhood and family almost as much as I loved Lara Jean’s romance with Peter Kavinsky. Definitely a series for reading curled up on the sofa on rainy Sunday afternoons!

4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Why I loved it: the characters that Ng writes are some of the best I’ve ever read – she writes nuanced, compelling, deeply flawed people and tells their stories in such a compelling way that you can’t help be completely absorbed by the story. Little Fires Everywhere ostensibly tells the story of two families – the Richardsons, long standing residents of the affluent suburb of Shaker Heights, and the Warrens, newcomers who become the Richardsons’ tenants. It also tells the story of a custody battle over a seemingly abandoned Chinese baby adopted by an affluent white couple and the cracks this creates in the seemingly perfect community. However at it’s heart it’s a story about mothers and daughters, and the contradictions and complications that these relationships can hold. I was completely absorbed by this book and find myself thinking about it still, months after I finished reading it.

5. Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves and the Will to Swim by Alexandra Heminsley

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Why I loved it: You know when you begin reading something and it’s like someone has been inside your head? That was very much the experience I had whilst reading this book. I’ve been struggling with open water swimming for a while and getting more and more dispirited – particularly after I ended up dropping out of a triathlon in 2017 because I completely freaked out in the swim. This book made me feel a bit more like those demons could be conquered. As in Heminsley’s previous book “Running Like a Girl” the book combines her personal journey, a relentlessly honest discussion of her experiences, and practical advice for would-be swimmers. A great read whether you aspire to take up swimming or not. Content warning for discussions of miscarriage, infertility and pregnancy.

6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Genre: Fantasy

Why I loved it: Children of Blood and Bone tells the story of three teenagers: Zélie, Amari and Inan whose lives are changed forever when they discover a way to return magic to their world. The story is inspired by Yoruban folklore but is also infused throughout with a real sense of the oppression and injustice faced by black people throughout history and across the world. Adeyemi’s characters fight for freedom and to create a better, more equal world – it’s powerful, painful, wonderful storytelling and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

7. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddartha Mukerjee

Genre: Non-Fiction, Science

Why I loved it: A long and fascinating read about the history of the discovery of the gene, the human genome, and what that may mean for the future of medicine and society. Mukerjee writes in a way that is accessible to non-experts (of which I am definitely one!) without ever being condescending and it’s probably been one of the most educational books I’ve ever read.

8. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Genre: Non-Fiction

Why I loved it: Eddo-Lodge writes so well that this book is a pleasure to read besides being one of the most important books I’ve ever read. So much is written about race and racism in an American context, which is valid and important, but I often feel that this can allow white British people to position themselves as somehow less racist than white Americans when this is generally not the case. Eddo-Lodge sets British white supremacy in context and delves into the ways in which it permeates British society today, from the overt racism of the BNP (including a jaw-dropping interview with Nick Griffin) to the insidious nature of the kind of white feminism which refuses to engage with structural racism. This book has made me think and will continue to make me think about my own whiteness, the structures of white supremacy that have benefited me, and the work I can do to dismantle those structures and challenge racist thinking particularly in white spaces. It’s a truly excellent book and one that every white person in Britain should read.

9. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Genre: Historical Fiction

Why I loved it: A rich, complex, intergenerational saga following the descendants of two estranged sisters from the Ghanaian Gold Coast. This book will stay with me for a long time, unpacking as it does the complexities of slavery, colonialism and racism and the long shadow they cast across the centuries, right down to the present day.

10. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

Genre: Non-Fiction, Collected Essays

Why I loved it: This book brings together essays from 21 black, Asian and minority ethnic British writers to explore the experiences of multiple generations of immigrants to the UK and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms. Honestly, if you haven’t already read this book, read this book! It’s such a fantastic, clever, honest collection of essays about the experiences of people of colour in the UK today. It should be on everyone’s bookshelf and at the front of everyone’s mind.

11. A Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Why I loved it: One of the most beautiful and evocative pieces of writing I’ve ever experienced. Part memoir, part history of the sheep farmers of the Lake District James Rebanks speaks honestly about the challenges of being a shepherd in a country that doesn’t value working people or traditional farming. He also shines a light on the people of the Lake District and their way of life, ancient long before the Lake District suddenly became a popular tourist destination. If you love the Lakes, as I do, this is a must read for the real lives of the people who have shaped the landscape you love and a much needed eye opener.

I try and review books as I read them on Goodreads so if you want more book opinions give me a follow over there. I also write a semi-regular newsletter at https://tinyletter.com/EmotionalWhiplash which includes book, podcast and TV recommendations (when I get around to writing them!) – please subscribe if you fancy hearing from me more often than once every 18 months…

Advertisements

Manchester 💔 

I went to bed last night with a post about election manifestos in my head. I woke up to the news that 22 people had been murdered at a pop concert at the Manchester Arena. There’ll be a time for politics but now isn’t that time. 

My first ever gig was at the MEN. It was a Boyzone concert and I was no older than 12, painfully uncool but incredibly, overwhelmingly excited to see a band I’d idolised for years. I still remember how it felt to be in the same room as my idols, to hear them play my favourite song, to want so much to be the sophisticated older girls who were also there. It absolutely breaks my heart that, last night, someone with unspeakable hate in their heart took an experience like that away from so many people. That children as young as 8 went to a pop concert and didn’t come home. 

Manchester is a home from home for me. I grew up 45 minutes away, I supported Man U, I listened to Oasis (when I’d outgrown Boyzone). When I was 18 and went away to university in the far wastes of the North East,Manchester Piccadilly station and the sound of mancunian accents always, always signalled that I was back home. It’s my cultural touchstone, perhaps as much part of my complicated identity as my Welshness. I’m heartbroken to see the city I love suffer. 

I have nothing to add to the analysis of what happened last night, nothing to say other than that this was a senseless act that should never have happened. Nothing to offer but grief and love to those affected and to the wonderful, resilient people of Manchester. 

When terrorist attacks like this happen you don’t have to look very far to find people using it as an excuse to further hatred and division. Fight back against people like this as much as you fight back against the hatred of terrorists. Live your life like a teenage girl going to her first gig, like every day might be your last. Life is a gift, even when the world is this dark, and living joyfully is the only way to win this battle. 

London Marathon 2017

I can’t quite believe I’m typing this but I actually did it – I ran a marathon! After months of training, at 10AM on Sunday I found myself standing on the start line of the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. I thought I’d write about the experience but it’s turned into a bit of an epic so you may want to grab a cuppa before you settle in to read it…

IMG_20170421_200059_743

This is the point at which it all felt real…

Getting to the Start Line

I was a nervous wreck for most of last week. Every single time I saw a countdown post or someone asked me about the marathon I basically had a miniature meltdown. I went into London on Thursday evening to collect my race number and pretty much nearly burst into tears every time I spoke to someone. Honestly, I’ve never been more scared of anything in my life. Then we got to London on Saturday and it’s like my fear just evaporated. I was in my favourite city in the world to run one of the world’s most iconic races. I was being inundated by messages of love and support as well as by donations – and all of a sudden, after being scared and lonely all the way through my training, I felt like I was actually going to be able to do this. I’d definitely recommend getting all of your freaking out done in the week before a big race because it meant that I somehow wasn’t nervous the night before!

Race day dawned far too early – I was up at 6.30am forcing myself to eat porridge and walking the three minutes to Charing Cross to catch a train to Blackheath. The train was busy with other runners but nowhere near as crowded as I expected and then I joined the procession of other competitors heading to the various start areas at Greenwich Park. I was on my own but the atmosphere was really friendly and I managed to stick to my plans for more food and drink before the start. I even managed to find the other runners from RJAH for a photograph which was impressive considering I’d not met any of them before! Then, after the obligatory portaloo queue, it was almost 10AM and time for the start. Or rather for the slow procession towards the start to begin – it was probably about 10.15 before I crossed the line.

IMG_20170423_095454_396

Start line selfie!

The Early Stages

Literally the only advice everyone gives you before a marathon is not to go off too fast. It’s easy to do when you’re rested and ready to go, particularly at a marathon like London which essentially has a downhill start! So that was my main focus for the first three miles – don’t sprint off, get into a rhythm, enjoy the atmosphere. There were crowds along the route from the first step across the line and, although everyone talks about the atmosphere in London, experiencing it was something else entirely. The sun was coming out, there was music playing at every other street corner, I was starting to settle into my running and realise what an amazing thing this was to be part of.

I’d read some good training advice from Martin Yelling on the London Marathon blog and I broke my race up into sections accordingly. Mile 1-3 were for settling in, the next milestone was Cutty Sark at around mile 6 where I was hoping to see some people from my running club. I focused on keeping a sensible pace, making sure I was hydrated and well-fuelled. I’d never seen Cutty Sark before so that was an awesome experience. I knew my parents and Andy were hoping to be at Rotherhithe which is around mile 9 so that was my next goal. Rotherhithe turned out to be surprisingly popular so, whilst my valiant support crew might have been there, I didn’t see them. I did however see an amazing sign that said “if Trump can run a country you can run a marathon” which made me laugh out loud like a crazy person. At mile 11 I heard someone calling my name with more than the usual level of enthusiasm and turned around to see Andy yelling and waving from the crowd. I was too far past to turn back and say hello properly but it was amazingly motivational to see him – although I did wonder where my parents had gone! Then all of a sudden we were speeding towards Tower Bridge and halfway. I knew the hardest part of the race was still to come but I was still really comfortable.

The Hard Miles

Everyone complains about having to come off Tower Bridge and seeing faster runners at around mile 21 going the other way but it didn’t bother me at all. Lots of other, much faster runners from my club were also competing so this was my only chance to see any of them on the course. This was at about 12.30 so the runners I was seeing were on for a time of around 3 hours – really amazing, speedy people! By some absolute miracle I managed to catch sight of Gaz, probably one of our club’s fastest runners, really close to the 3 hour finishing time pacer and gave him a huge cheer. Then I was past the switchback section and into Canary Wharf, passing my friend Duncan and some of the other members of the Huncote Harriers support crew at around mile 15. I also saw the 4.45 pacers from the Blue Start and wondered whether I might find Chris somewhere in the crowd but despite the fact we must have been really close he eluded me all race.

In training, mile 15 has always been where it’s started to get hard for me and London was no exception. My back began to feel really painful as did old niggles in my knee and upper thigh. I walked for a bit to eat something a bit more substantial than an energy gel and tried to stop for a loo break but ended up carrying on because the queue just wasn’t moving. It was at this point that I stopped ticking off miles and just went for a strategy of running for 5 minutes and walking for one. This was partly to keep myself moving forwards and partly because my Garmin had started to deviate from the course markers which made keeping track of where I was at quite the mental challenge! I’d heard that Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs were a supporterless desert but that wasn’t the case – the streets were still lined with crowds of people cheering us on. I eventually got my toilet break in at around mile 21, which lost me another couple of minutes but meant that I could carry on drinking as I ran which seemed a bit more crucial in the 19 degree heat.

FB_IMG_1492980355487

Chris and I at the finish!

Getting to the Finish

Somehow, almost without realising it, I was past mile 22 and past the furthest I’d ever run before. Whilst I wasn’t exactly enjoying myself – the pain in my legs and back had been joined by an entirely predictable soreness in my feet – I was still moving forward at a reasonably consistent pace. I’d hoped to see Andy and my parents again at around mile 21/22 though and was upset that I’d potentially missed them again. Then all of a sudden, just before the 23 mile marker (and just after I’d realised that I was running past the Tower of London for the second time) they magically appeared by the side of the road. This time I’d spotted them in time to run across and give them all a hug, whilst simultaneously bursting into tears. I’d spent so long avoiding thinking about how far I still had to go that I was genuinely surprised when they all said there was only 5km left to run. Suddenly the finish line seemed, if not in sight, at least within my reach.

Everything started to look more familiar now as I passed Old Billingsgate (location for many a work conference), ran through the underpass at Blackfriars (which was the only place on the course with no spectators) and up on to the Embankment. Two miles to go. The crowds had been loud all around the course but it was like someone had turned the volume up as people were packed along both sides of the course. I saw another runner taking a selfie at the side of the course and realised she was being interviewed by Colin Jackson which was a little bit surreal. Then I was at Embankment tube station and there was 1.2 miles to go. Another running club friend was cheering for me here which was amazing and I could see Big Ben getting closer with every step. This was really happening!

The last mile was incredible – from running past the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey into the wide boulevard of Birdcage Walk through yet bigger crowds. The trees of St James’ Park hid the finish line but the huge countdown signs made it feel tantalizingly close. 800M, 600M, 400M, then around the corner in front of Buckingham Palace and on to the Mall. 200M and I could see the finish line. 100M and I could sprint for the finish. I’d run a marathon, I’d run the best marathon in the world, and, best of all, now I could stop!!

20170423_163435

Finisher’s T-shirt and Medal

Final Thoughts

Running the London Marathon was honestly one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The sights are incredible, the support is absolutely unbelievable, and, despite some difficult bits, I found the race a lot easier than many of my training runs. It would have been amazing to have got a better time but I came in well under 5 hours (4.48) despite the crowded course and the unexpectedly warm weather. Training for this marathon has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and, as much as I enjoyed the race itself, it’s not an experience I’m looking to repeat!

I am however absolutely blown away by all the support I’ve had despite the fact that I’ve done nothing but moan about running since January. I’m so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing friends and family members – I absolutely promise to shut up about running for a while now! I’m also overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity – at the time of writing Chris and I have raised over £1250 for the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopedic Hospital! Which is the best thank you I can think of for the new hip that enabled my mum to walk around London all day on Sunday cheering me on without any pain.

My fundraising page is still open so if you haven’t donated yet and would like to please go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Claire-Edwards37 or text RJAH 77 £5 to 70070.

 

Training, Tapering, Panicking…

I think I’m probably worse at blogging than I am at marathon training which is saying something! I’m now 9 days away from standing on the start line of the 2017 London Marathon and I’m starting to really panic about whether I can do this.

Once I recovered from my back injury in February I did manage to get back to training pretty consistently. I managed to knock five minutes off my half marathon PB at the Village Bakery Wrexham Half Marathon in mid-February despite virtually two weeks off due to injury which was reassuring.

March’s training went well from the perspective of building up miles. I managed one 18 mile run, two twenty mile runs, and a twenty two mile epic around Rutland Water. I’ve been disappointed that I’ve never quite made it back to the consistent three runs a week rhythm that I had prior to getting injured though. A couple of bad colds, combined with increasing exhaustion from weekend long runs has meant that I’ve definitely done less training than I intended to. Apart from occasional yoga I’ve also really struggled to do much cross-training which has been a surprise – I thought my triathlon background would help with this but I seriously underestimated how much the long runs would take out of me.

I’m now in the final stage of my training – the taper! This, for any non-runners reading, is the two or three weeks before a major race where you start to cut back on your training in order to make sure you end up fresh and rested on race day. My first week of tapering did not go to plan at all – due to yet another cold and some family commitments I only did ten miles of the twenty five I had planned. There’s no time to make the distance up so all I can really do is panic about not being ready – which is possibly the worst situation to be in. I feel like I should be getting excited about running in one of the world’s most famous marathons but I just keep getting more and more scared. If anyone has any advice for a terrified first time marathon runner please let me know!

I’ve raised over £600 for the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital so far which is incredible. I’d really love to break the £1000 barrier if possible but at this stage every penny is like a motivational speech! If you can spare any money for a really great cause then please consider donating via my JustGiving page or by texting RJAH 77 £10 to 70070.

 

 

 

Harder Than You Think

I’m six weeks into my London Marathon training and it’s safe to say it’s been a mixed bag so far. I started out well enough at the start of January, coming off the back of some good training over Christmas which culminated in a nine mile trail run on New Year’s Eve. The first two weeks went well enough – I started running with a faster group at my running club sessions, my first long run went like a dream and I was generally feeling pretty good.

Then I had possibly the worst run I’ve ever had in the whole two years I’ve been running. It was 14 miles of pure awfulness from start to finish and nothing but sheer willpower kept me going. I’ve never experienced anything like it, every single step was hard and I felt utterly defeated once it was over.

The next two weeks were overshadowed by that experience. I hadn’t stretched properly once I got home so I spent the next few days in agony and just found every single run I did incredibly difficult. I did however manage to grind my way up to a massive 17 mile long run by the end of January which, whilst tough, put me pretty much right on track with where I wanted to be.

In total I ran 105 miles in my first four weeks of training and even managed to get in some cross-training, primarily through the Yoga with Adriene Yoga Revolution programme which is amazing!

The first two weeks of February have been somewhat less successful – to say the least! Last week coincided with my first big deadline in my new job which meant later nights than usual and less time for running. Last Saturday evening I fell down some stairs – an unfortunate combination of socks and wooden floors – which has resulted in a week with no running at all until today. I’m pretty confident I’m not suffering any permanent damage but I’m seeing a physio on Tuesday to get the all clear before I ramp up my training again.

What’s struck me most is how much harder it is to train for a marathon than I was expecting. The training I did for the half marathon I ran last year was (mostly) enjoyable and I assumed training for a marathon would be much the same. It hasn’t been so far – although it doesn’t help that at the moment the weather is pretty much permanently cold, wet, dark or icy which does rather suck the joy out of running around outside for hours on end.

I honestly think I might have just given up if I wasn’t running for something other than personal satisfaction. Running for three hours might be hard but it’s nothing compared to having to learn to walk again after having a hip replacement – which is what my mum has spent the past four months doing. Given the current state of NHS funding I’m also keen to do what I can to ensure that other people have access to the incredible world-class expertise and care offered by the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopedic Hospital.

If you can spare any money to contribute to my fundraising efforts and help me make it through the next ten weeks of training then please donate via my JustGiving page or by texting RJAH 77 and the amount you’d like to donate (£5, £10 etc) to 70070.

A Marathon Challenge

In just over five months I’ll be running the London Marathon – a daunting prospect given that I’m writing this whilst nursing a horrendous cold which means I barely feel able to run up the stairs!

I’ve always thought of the London Marathon as the pinnacle of achievement for a runner. This is no doubt influenced by a childhood punctuated by trips to London to watch my dad compete – he ran London four times, once in a pretty astonishing time of 3 hours and 1 minute. It was something other people did, real athletes not mere mortals like me. Even when I took up running a few years ago I didn’t ever contemplate running a marathon, let alone London!

Running is however, as any runner will tell you, incredibly addictive. Within the space of two years I’ve gone from struggling to run a mile to completing my first half marathon. I’ve even joined a running club and suddenly a marathon started to seem like something I might conceivably be able to do. Maybe. One day…

Knowing that my big brother had a London place for 2017 I put my name in the ballot way back in May. I knew that the chances of getting in were tiny so it wasn’t a real commitment. I then spent the summer training for my first half marathon, marvelling every time I managed to go a mile further than before. Suddenly, the prospect of running London seemed quite exciting – after all, if I could train to run 13 miles then surely I could train to run 26?

At the same time as I was debating how far I thought I could run my mum was facing major surgery. In 2015 she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and told she needed a hip replacement. After a year on the waiting list her operation was scheduled for October 2016. Luckily my parents live very close to one of the UK’s leading orthopaedic hospitals – the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital (RJAH) near Oswestry – which meant that, whilst the operation was a big deal, we could all be reassured that she was getting the best possible standard of treatment and care. The operation went well but the road to recovery is long and hard – something I know she finds incredibly frustrating. She’s written extensively about her operation and recovery on her blog which is very much worth a read.

Of course, after getting excited about the prospect of running London I didn’t get a place through the ballot. But I’m incredibly lucky as instead I have a charity place to run for RJAH. It’s a cause that’s close to my heart – not only has my mum had incredible treatment there but they’ve also in the past treated several other members of my family, allowing both my Dad and my Aunty Ann to continue to lead full and active lives. I live in constant fear of getting injured as running and triathlon are such a big part of my life. Knowing that world-class expertise in orthopaedics such as that found at RJAH is to be found relatively close to home makes that fear somewhat more manageable.

So I have a date with the London Marathon on the 23rd April 2017 for an extremely good cause – if you are able to support me in any way please consider donating to my fundraising page at:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Claire-Edwards37

Also, please do share both your marathon training and cold-banishing tips with me as I need both pretty badly at the moment!

Let’s Stay Together

It’ll be a surprise to virtually no-one that I’m voting to remain in the European Union today. I’ve been vocal in my intentions since long before this horrendous European Referendum campaign began and I make no pretensions to be anything other than pro-European. However, less than a decade ago I couldn’t have imagined describing myself as European. I was vehemently anti-EU and the arguments that the Leave campaign have repeatedly brought up about EU membership reducing the UK’s sovereignty and control over its own destiny are ones I made regularly. So what changed?

Put simply I was put in a position where I had no choice but to engage with the EU, to understand its policies and it’s processes. When I started my career a big part of my role revolved around understanding EU policies on business support, research and innovation; working on EU-funded projects; and writing bids for European funding. My instinctive antipathy for the EU was eroded over time by familiarity with how the EU worked and a deeper understanding of how the UK benefited from our membership. I don’t think that benefit is purely financial either – although you’ll be hard pressed to find a town in the UK that hasn’t benefited from EU money in some way given that the EU invests significantly in infrastructure, particularly in deprived parts of the UK, in a way that successive British governments have failed to do.

The benefits of the UK being a fully involved member of the EU far outweigh the financial though. Put simply we achieve far more through collaboration, cooperation and engagement than we would be able to as a country alone, even as an EEA member. As an EU member the UK influences policy in Brussels every day. Anyone arguing that we don’t do this enough should be looking at our shockingly low levels of engagement with European Parliament Elections – low turnout and low enthusiasm in these elections has produced a cohort of MEPs who don’t believe in the EU and don’t work to represent Britain’s best interests in Brussels. You simply cannot claim that the EU is undemocratic when as a country the UK overwhelmingly refuses to engage with the democratic processes that are already in place.

The ability to collaborate easily across borders, to operate businesses across national boundaries, to pool the knowledge of the best and brightest minds in Europe is, to my mind, the absolute best thing about the EU. Our universities and scientists are widely recognised as being world leading, the UK undoubtedly punches above its weight on all measures of scientific excellence. This is not an accident, UK science has always been at the forefront of discovery but I seriously doubt we could continue to retain this position in an increasingly globalised world without the scientific collaborations EU membership facilitates. Many of the UK’s major employers are European or global companies employing thousands upon thousands of people in this country because our EU membership facilitates access to the single market and because our research base is phenomenally successful at engaging with the European research and innovation base.

I don’t apologise for being pro-European, I’m not a reluctant European but I recognise that many are. And I’m not an idiot – the EU is not perfect by a long shot but then what organisation is? Big organisations require big bureaucracies to function whether they be governments or privately owned organisations. I used to be a small-state Conservative, I’m now a small-state Liberal Democrat – heavy-duty bureaucracy isn’t a thing I have a natural love for. The EU, certainly in terms of research funding has made efforts to reduce bureaucracy, but it certainly could and should be more efficient. But I don’t think an excess of bureaucracy is a surprise in an organisation the size of the EU and certainly not a reason to turn our backs on the European project.

I understand that the world is changing rapidly and that these changes are terrifying, particularly if you live in a community where high levels of immigration combined with savage cuts to public services have made life harder. The temptation to blame everything that’s bad in this country on strangers coming into your community is overwhelming and incredibly human – we’re hard-wired to see those we perceive as “other” as a threat. If immigration is your overwhelming concern I can see why you might consider voting to leave the EU and I accept that whatever I say about the benefits of EU membership is unlikely to change your mind.

But if you’re on the fence or unsure which way to vote please think about all that the European Union has achieved in the last half a century. Not least among these achievements is fact that we’ve seen over 7 decades of peace in a continent that was at war for over a thousand years. The UK was instrumental in setting up some of the core mechanisms that have created a peaceful Europe and I think turning our back on the close relationships we’ve developed over the past 70 years would be bad for the UK, bad for Europe, and bad for the world.