Happy telly

There has been much excitement at Gidday HQ today. Yes peeps, the ultimate in happy telly – the Great British Bake Off – is back. That’s ten whole weeks of signatures bakes, technical challenges and showstoppers to look forward to.

Yippee!!

So this afternoon I raced home from work, got two loads of washing on and with dinner done and dusted, I curled up on the comfy couch just in time to enjoy the opening sequence, the white peaks of the marquee sweeping into view amidst swathes of green and accompanied by the familiar tinkling of the GBBO theme tune.

Week one was Cake Week and the twelve contestants (I always think that thirteen i.e. a baker’s dozen, would be more appropriate) whipped – and in a lot of cases rewhipped – their way to a drizzle cake, produced a passable batch of Jaffa cakes and showcased the art of mirror glaze.

There were winners and grinners, triers and even a few fliers with Candice piffing her genoise sponge across the tent. The first Star Baker was announced and someone else’s spatula was despatched to the back of the GBBO cupboard. It seems that a nice weekend in the countryside (albeit a rainy one in what amounts to a big tent with nineteen strangers plus a film crew) and a judge’s nod to being one of the top twelve bakers in the nation pales quite a bit against the ignominy of being the first one to leave.

It’s probably a little early to be laying claim to my favourites but cool Selasi (could he be any more laid back?), pragmatic Jane and brave Benjamina were the ones that won my heart this week. How did they fare? Well there is a strict no spoilers policy here at Gidday from the UK so my lips are sealed. Unless of course there’s cake involved.

Speaking of cake, I pushed the boat out for a birthday bake earlier this month. A forage through the pages of my More Secrets From The Beechworth Bakery cookbook unearthed a recipe for Dutch Apple Cake so I set forth, wielding my spatula and turned out a veritable treat…

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My delicious Dutch Apple Cake: full of sugar and spice and all things nice and fattening!

…which was rapidly demolished by my workmates the next day.

Just when I was thinking my hips were safe again, there has been talk of an Office Bake Off. And next week the Great British Bake Off brings us Biscuit Week.

Hmmmm. Shame that.

Drunken monkeys and solar panels

I am a curious person. I’ve mentioned it before, this tendency to lose myself in the pursuit of interesting things. It becomes a bit like the proverbial rabbit hole as I follow some convoluted thread through not only my regular ‘haunts’ but also to new and inspiring sources that I inevitably add to my ‘follow’ list.

This week’s haul has been particularly rich in the ‘how interesting’ department so here are a few of the titbits I loved the most.

The smell before the storm

I love that smell just before a storm hits. It’s a really clean, slightly metallic smell that heralds the impending downpour. Well according to my regular dose of Mental Floss, that smell is caused by electrical charges that break down atoms which then reform into nitric oxide. This reacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere to create ozone which causes the ‘chlorine’ odour.

However, I question the chlorine claim. After all, I swim a couple of times a week and believe me, that pool smells like chlorine. Maybe a lifetime of swimming has made me less sensitized to ozone’s more fragrant charms. Or perhaps there’s something familiar and comforting being triggered in my brain. In any case, it was one more conundrum solved and led me to ponder whether more storms would help to fix the hole in the ozone layer.

The drunken monkey hypothesis

Flipboard is a great app that allows you to choose what types of articles you’d like to receive and I love dipping in and out during my commute. This week I found my way to a piece in Esquire that delved into the origins of alcohol consumption. It appears that this goes well beyond the human condition and was critical for our predecessors’ survival.

You see, while modern life finds us all looking for ways to reduce our caloric intake, our primate ancestors found feasting on over-ripe (and therefore fermenting) fruit an excellent way to get the energy needed to swing from tree to tree all day long. Add to that the need to survive by hunting and gathering enough to eat and you’ve got yourself the perfect excuse to booze all day, every day.

I wonder how much booze my fortnightly online grocery shopping would permit me. Not much I suspect.

The pyramid inside the mountain

Flipboard also led me to BBC Future piece on the ancient pyramid beneath a mountain – well, actually underneath a tiny hilltop church in Chohula in the Mexican highlands. The article reports that the pyramid is four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. I’ve been to Giza so I can only imagine how huge this one must be. Chohula was described by Cortez as “the most beautiful city outside Spain” and the BBC article reports that there are over 500 tunnels to be explored.

Mexico has been on my travel bucket list for some time but fell away as I started to read more about China and the Silk Roads cultures. However, an archaeologically-inspired visit would be an amazing thing to do. So much to do, so little time (and money).

*Sigh*

And last but not least…

The car that gives back

There’s been a lot in the press about self-driving cars and I had my first Tesla close up a couple of weeks ago at their showroom in a local shopping centre. While there was no test drive (or test no-drive as the case may be), I did think that the Model S was very nice indeed.

But Tesla are not just applying their energy breakthroughs in the automotive industry. Via this week’s Springwise newsletter, I learned that my very own hometown of Melbourne may have their first sustainable suburb in new development, YarraBend. Applying Tesla’s technology may mean energy reductions of up to 34% with the developers also suggesting significant decreases in water usage (43%) and landfill (80%).

Before I moved to London in 2004, I read about an initiative to place solar panels on the roof of Melbourne’s Victoria Market in an effort to power the surrounding suburbs. I felt a little swell of Aussie pride that Melbourne continues to champion ways to address some of our critical climactic challenges.

So there you have it – my top four commuting gems from this week. It’s certainly been a rich vein so I hope you found something here to pique your curiosity.

47: Some ups and downs

Since my last post, I’ve had a birthday – number 47 to be exact. As is my usual birthday habit, I decided to take a long weekend and explore somewhere new – the last few years I’ve been to Stockholm, Ghent, and Barcelona. This year, another adventure beckoned.

I have known Swiss-S for about 15 years – we worked together in Melbourne and have ridden the rollercoaster of expat life in London at overlapping points in time. A couple of years ago, I watched him exchange I-do’s with Prosecco-G in a small Belgian village and now they live in Geneva with rescue dog, R. At his 40th birthday drinks do earlier this year (Swiss-S that is, not R), we agreed to ‘make a plan’ so at a dark and excruciatingly early hour last Saturday, I boarded a plane for Geneva. Here’s how things went down.

After a quick trip from the airport on the Swiss-ly efficient and air-conditioned train (it’s about the only air-conditioned thing in Geneva), we had a hello ‘coffee and chat’ before Swiss-S and I wandered down to the lake.

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An aaaw-dorable local family takes a dip

Next we headed to the Old Town where we climbed the 150-odd steps to enjoy the views from the South Tower of St Peter’s Cathedral…

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View from the South Tower, St Peter’s Cathedral, Geneva

…and then climbed down and back up the North Tower to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.

We also visited the archaeological exhibition beneath the cathedral – I know it’s not for everyone but I’m fascinated by old stones and stuff.

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Old monk’s cell beneath St Peter’s Cathedral, Geneva – must have been a small monk.

After such exertion, it was time for a pick-me-up so we headed to a rooftop bar to check out the view again before heading further around the lake to pay homage to the Jet d’Eau with a dash along the old stone pier beneath its spray.

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Evening number one started out with a drinks cruise on the lake, a very pleasant way to enjoy the warm weather, clean air and magnificent views. Each ticket included two drinks and at first, we got a bit excited when we saw that cocktails were included.

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They may look harmless (as well as cheap) but after one, we realised that these were pure alcohol (there was no mixer included in that one glass!). Sensible Swiss-S purchased a bottle of something soft with our second round so we didn’t end up pie-eyed on pouches. It probably goes without saying that we were really ready for dinner by the time we disembarked.

Day two took an international turn with a trip into France to Chamonix. Our first order of business was a trip up, up, up the mountain (two cable cars and an elevator) to Aiguille du Midi to admire the panoramic views of Mont Blanc.

This is a picture of the information board showing the view from the lookout…

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…and this is what we saw.

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‘Limited’ visibility – don’t worry, we were warned when we bought our tickets.

Nevertheless, we rejoiced in the snow…

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It was actually snowing as we stood there – but it had to be done.

…stepped out into the void…

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You can just make out the cliff face beneath our feet. It must be super freaky when you can see everything below.

…and had a rather pleasant lunch at the highest restaurant in Europe.

In the afternoon we took the train up another mountain to see the glacier and visit the ice cave

Did I mention that there are 430 steps down to the ice caves? Oh yes, and that means 430 steps back up. After yesterday’s cathedral climb and a morning at altitude, we were completely done in when we finished here – a crepe and coffee pick-me-up was essential before the 90 minute drive home. Lucky for us we also found one of Prosecco-G’s mixed CDs to keep us entertained on the road.

Evening number two proved rather festive with a boozy barbecue at the apartment. And at midnight, my big day arrived with a ‘happy birthday’ and a few surprises from my fabulous hosts.

After all the food, fresh air and alcohol, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I slept very well that night.

August 1st is Switzerland’s National Day (nice of them to do this for my birthday, wouldn’t you say?) and with a festive feeling still in the air, we all piled into Prosecco-G’s Beetle and headed to a local winery for brunch. I had raclette (among other things) – it was delicious!

The afternoon was spent driving around the area, admiring the scenery and making the most of the warm sunny weather.

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Once back in town again, it was an ice-cream by the lake with Swiss-S and R to cap off a chokkas weekend. Then there was just enough time to pack, freshen up and head to the airport.

So that was my sensational Swiss celebration – full of fresh air, glorious scenery and plenty of laughs and good times with my fabulous friends. Not a bad way to birthday, I’d say.

Wonder what I’ll get up to next year?

Timing is everything

The last few weeks has seen my work life taking revised shape under our new owners. There have been calls and meetings with a variety of people as we work together to take next steps – confirming where documentation is available, discussing projects’ status and making a start on connecting the right people across the new organisation.

There’s also been the additional challenge of extracting both the knowledge from being in the business for five and a half years and what I’ve learnt in my role over the last two and a half years. You don’t realise how much you know and do in your job until you are asked to share it.

But just as things were getting on a roll, I was struck down with a stomach bug and have spent most of last week feeling unwell, sorry for myself and a bit frustrated.

My intention in sharing this is not to elicit sympathy (although any offered is always gratefully received). Rather it’s to set the scene for what happened next.

After a couple of especially unpleasant days, I’d managed to get myself to the doctor to confirm that it was just a bug and that it would pass. My first venture out in three days left me feeling shattered and I was just looking forward to lying down in the coolness of my flat again. As I opened the front door and prepared to step over the post, thinking I’d get to it later, I noticed a small yellow envelope on the door mat.

Intrigued, I picked it up and opened it to find a card inside.

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It was from Mum and had travelled all the way from Australia – with its poignant and perfectly worded message – to arrive on my door mat at the very moment I needed it.

It took me back to a post I wrote last year about what I like to call The Butterfly Principle – about being ready to emerge and take flight despite an uncertain future – and it reminded me to cut myself some slack and use this time to restore myself to full health. After all, when the next opportunity comes calling, I want to be ready to make the most of it. And as it’s not clear exactly what it will look like, I need to stay curious and energised as it takes shape.

Because quite frankly peeps, I’m rather feeling partial to something fabulous.

But wait, there’s more

On my last visit Down Under,  Dad & B introduced Lil Chicky and I to Geocaching. It’s a bit like orienteering which I used to participate in pretty begrudgingly on school camps and throughout my Brownie years. You use a GPS-enabled smartphone instead of a compass and a physical map (you know, of the paper variety) to find something i.e. a cache. It’s like a technological treasure hunt.

It’s quite enjoyable and great for getting you active and out in the fresh air. And it’s hugely addictive: The urge to be the first in your group to find ‘it’ means that as you get closer, the casual chatting dwindles and scanning every square centimeter of your environment in the hopes of cracking the clue takes precedence. Some caches are extremely well-camouflaged and it can take a combination of an eagle eye and a willingness to get your hands dirty and rummage around in the undergrowth to uncover one.

As with any addiction, there’s always ‘just one more’. Borne on by the thrill of finding the next one, it’s really easy to end up wandering much further afield than you intended. In continuing the family geocaching legacy back in London, after an afternoon spent geocaching around Dollis Park, we had a sweaty 40 minute fast walk trot back to the flat in time for Lil Chicky’s airport pickup – we made it with about ten minutes to spare.

On a different afternoon, after a lengthy search Lil Chicky and I finally found the much-sought-after cache in a North London park…by torchlight (another of the smartphone’s many advantages). I would just like to pause here and point out that it was January in London and the sun disappears early and fast at that time of year. It also meant we found ourselves locked in said park. The good news is that after a helpful tip from a couple of passers-by, we did manage to squeeze out around one of the more loosely-chained gates and caught the bus home…because we’d walked so much further than we’d planned.

I can only imagine that Pokemon Go is a bit like this…magnified. For those who don’t know, people use their smartphones to track virtual quarry – Pokemon – located at poke stops (which can be pretty much anywhere). Since its launch on iOS this week, the news has been full of the mayhem created by hundreds converging on particular poke stops to capture rare and valuable Pokemon species. (Check out this footage from The Telegraph in Washington, USA).

You may well laugh – I did – but it appears that we are a society of hunters and collectors, always searching for something and once acquired, moving quickly on to the next thing.

This is not new: Our most popular and enduring narratives are all based on the search for something, be they myths, legends, fairy tales or real-life chronicles. History and philosophy are full of stories about the quest for territory, for power, for peace, for love, for truth – and the satisfaction of acquiring ‘it’ in the end.

So the whole Pokemon Go thing has me wondering, in a chicken-and-egg kind of way, is humankind hard-wired for dissatisfaction or is it an innate competitiveness that drives us to search for more?  Which comes first? And is survival of the fittest – fittest being defined as those who best master the tenets deemed most valuable at any given period in time – a result of nature or nurture?

What do you think?

Will we ever have enough or will we always be caught up in the search for something more?

Inspired by: Girl power

Last week I attended Ancient Worlds, a conversation-slash-debate between historians Bettany Hughes and and Michael Scott at the Royal Institute of Great Britain. It was an hour and a half of expert perspectives and audience questions on the state of politics and its relationship with the ‘truths’ about history that we think we know.

One of the things that particularly piqued my interest was Dr Scott’s mention of OECD’s PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment. This is designed to sit outside the boundaries of school curricula to determine how well the world is preparing the next generation of 15-year-olds for global citizenship. Whilst I’m not a fan of the current levels of academic testing particularly in early school years, I do think that something that takes a global view – both a omnipresent look and a cross-cultural sampling – is important. I was also encouraged by the website’s claim that the tests are

“designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.”

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a similarly forward-looking approach at a local secondary school. Presentation Matters! was a half day programme for more than 200 Year 9 students designed to help them articulate their ideas and present themselves in life – from addressing larger groups and performing well in job interviews right through to talking with friends and peers.

In groups of 4-5 , the students were asked to come up with a two minute presentation aimed at Year 6 students and their parents to inspire them to attend the school. There were a couple of formal talks on presentation structure, content and delivery but in between, the girls were despatched to compile, practice and present their story – in a Semi-Final round – in their form groups. The best group – voted by their peers – went into the Final which meant presenting to all of the Year 9 students, teachers…and us.

I was one of 21 business volunteers who worked with the form groups coaching, encouraging and keeping things to time. I’ve worked with adults in this capacity before but never teenagers and I found the prospect of working with the 27 teenage girls in the form, let alone the 200-odd in the wider group, just a little terrifying. (Seriously, my props to teachers!) And whilst I wouldn’t say that I felt entirely comfortable at any point, our little team of three muddled our way through the morning and managed to conduct a Semi-Final with a) everyone in the form presenting and b) to a pretty good standard. (Boast Note: We worked with the form group that produced the winning team presentation in the Final. Not that I’m at all competitive…)

Back in the hall, in watching the seven finalists, I was struck by what an amazing opportunity this was for these young women. And they responded in kind – showing both great courage in presenting in front of such a large group and commitment to doing it well – with some pretty impressive presentations. It seems that despite the absence of political leadership over the last few weeks, the willingness to step forward, to give your best and to represent others lives on.

Girlpower past and present

London’s nod to girl power past and present: (left) Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – leader of the suffragette movement – at the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament and (right) the Memorial to Amy Winehouse –  a unique female voice in modern times – at Camden Lock Market

I was also struck by the generous (and rather raucous) encouragement from all of the girls – there was a real sense of camaraderie, even girl power, in the room and I just loved the fact that I’d gotten the opportunity to play a small part in it all.

So on an historic morning in June – when, through democratic process, the nation charged government with the task of leaving the European Union – I felt inspired. Perhaps we need to give the next generation some credit as a pretty capable set of hands in which to place the future, whatever it may hold.

June: The stages of life

June brings us up to the half way point of the year so it’s time for the interval, the intermission, the half-time break. So what’s been going on in the closing stages of the first half? Plenty as it turns out.

The headlines have been all about the referendum – the lead up and the fall-out – and we are still waiting to see who will step up to the mark and lead Britain into this next stage of our history. Attending a panel discussion hosted by The Guardian entitled ‘What will the world look like in 2025’ yielded little in the way of answers other than in this world where nothing seems to last, getting skilled in the art of managing uncertainty is a smart thing to do. And while all of this was going on, a new stage closer to home came to pass with a change of ownership at work and new management marking the occasion with a rather delicious cake to welcome us to the fold. I like them already.

This month I also started volunteering again and spent a morning at one of the local secondary schools…with more than 200 fourteen year old girls taking to the stage. This definitely took me out of my comfort zone and at the same time, left me feeling really inspired. More on this in a later post.

I was also delighted with another discovery of the stage variety this month: The Invisible Hand, a play running at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. I even managed to get a little education on high finance as I watched high-flying banker Nick Bright, kidnapped by Pakistani militants, use his knowledge of how money works to stay alive. The cast of four were outstanding and combined with the compelling plot, I found the whole production both gripping and thought-provoking. However it finished at the Tricycle – itself a great find – on July 2nd, otherwise I’d encourage you to book your ticket but you should definitely keep an eye out for another run of this.

Staying with theatre exploits, I enjoyed a couple of previously live-screened plays in the comfort of my local cinema this month. The dark and broody staging of the RSC’s latest production of Hamlet was as one would expect but was also elevated by its militant Africa backdrop as well as by an extraordinary performance from 25-year-old Paapa Essiedu in the lead role.

At the other end of the spectrum, I spent a light-hearted evening with Oscar Wilde’s cast of pretentious yet lovable characters in The Importance of Being Earnest. David Suchet – you may know him as the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in many an Agatha Christie whodunnit – sashayed around the stage as the inimitable Lady Bracknell and with witty repartee and oodles of innuendo, it was a very entertaining couple of hours indeed.

I also spent a hour or so wandering in between various stages of Undressed. No not me personally. It’s an exhibition on the history of underwear at the V&A running until March next year. Seeing some of those teeny tiny corsets up there on their podiums made me feel quite Amazonian in stature and also rather glad that I live in an age where I can dress in relative comfort and not have to worship at the altar of society’s [size 6] ideal. The blokes are not exempt from a little vanity either – there were quite a few examples of ahem, shapewear (not to mention that my ‘mens enhancing underwear uk’ google search yielded more than 76,000 results).

But without a doubt, this month’s highlight was The Battle of the Big Bands at Cadogan Hall. The Jazz Repertory Company recreated the famous 1938 battle on the stage at Carnegie Hall, a musical masterclass between the established Benny Goodman and the up-and-coming Glenn Miller. Compere cum clarinet maestro Pete Long (he was absolutely awesome and fairly made that clarinet talk) brought this great rivalry and the eventual changing of the guard to life with his savvy storytelling. With all of my favourites on offer – Sing Sing Sing, Little Brown Jug and In The Mood – the whole night was just brilliant, foot-tapping fun and In The Mood was definitely how I felt going home on the tube.

That, my dear Gidday-ers, was June and as the curtain falls and June takes its bow – having been fun and full of plenty – I’m already off treading the boards into July…

What’s that? An encore you say? Well okay – here are a couple of my commuting gems from Victoria Embankment, the site of many of the Thames’ old landing stages

Have yourselves a fabulous July peeps.

[Exit stage left]

Shining on a rainy night

Well here we are in July and embarking on the second half of the year. Can you believe it? Where did the first half of 2016 go?

In Britain, we’re also a third of the way through Summer. This year we’re yet to hit the sweltering heights of last year’s temperatures but we have had a goodly swathe of low to mid twenties days (that’s in Celsius of course) which have been the perfect excuse for lunches in the park and lolling about on the patio.

But over the last few weeks, the weather has become somewhat schizophrenic – full of yoyo-ing temperatures and dry days fractured in the blink of an eye with intense, heavy downpours. Just this morning, I wandered over to Homebase in the warmer-than-expected sunshine (I was thinking that I may have over-egged my outfit) only to emerge 15 minutes later to big fat drops of teeming rain (and feeling smug grateful that I had my umbrella). Five minutes on, the sun had emerged again. And it was a repeat affair this afternoon. I was ready for it though and dashed outside in time to rescue the washing.

There is something about this rain that reminds me of living in Melbourne. It’s mercurial and torrential and insistent. There’s no polite drizzle but rather a spate of sudden downpours that overflow drains and splash up from the pavement to dampen bare legs and trouser hems. And there’s that peculiar, distinctly rainy smell just as the heavens open that lingers a little once it’s over.

Yesterday was the first of the month and therefore time to turn to a new page on my wall calendar. It – the calendar I mean – was a Christmas present from Mum (& Co) and contains a series of black and white images taken by Aussie photographer Matt Irwin. His pictures capture the Melbourne beyond the postcards – they celebrate her moodiness, her light and her spirit. With the gentle touch of his camera lens, he shows me the Melbourne I love.

July’s page shows a couple huddled beneath the curves of their umbrella as they stroll past the National Gallery on St Kilda Road, the wet pavement glistening beneath their feet.

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It’s Melbourne, shining on a rainy night. It was perfect, I thought.

And I smiled.

A heavy heart

As you’ve probably noticed, the last few weeks in the UK have been full of the debate between Bremain and Brexit. Even in the aftermath of Friday’s announcement – that the UK had voted to leave the EU – the caterwauling on both sides has continued, the Prime Minister has resigned and no-one seems particularly keen to lead the UK into this next stage of its history. Not even the victorious Brexit camp.

But in the background of all of this, I’ve been dealing with a separation of my own. You see, the company I’ve been working for over the last five and a half years is being bought by one of our competitors and by this time next week, it will no longer exist.

It’s been a very long process – almost a year and a half – so it’s not a shock and work have been enormously supportive throughout, despite not being in the ‘driver’s seat’ so to speak. And different people are being affected in different ways: Some will continue on in their current jobs whilst others will move to take on opportunities in the ‘new’ company. Then there are those who will leave.

This is the case for the majority of people who work in the office where I am based. By the end of next week, there will be significantly fewer of us at our desks – working handovers or waiting to transition to new roles and/or locations over the coming months. The farewells have already started to trickle in as have the packing of desks into boxes to be despatched to whatever new location awaits them.

The office will feel like a very different place.

I’ve felt largely philosophical about all of the ups and downs over the last 18 months. After all I quite like change, I’ve been through corporate changes like this before and I try to take a pragmatic approach, focusing on the things I can affect and exercising a little compassion for myself when the going gets tough (although I often need a little reminder about the compassion bit). The chance to create what’s next is both exciting and scary in equal measure – I’ve been talking to all sorts of people about different paths I might take and some opportunities to learn which has helped to keep me energised and curious over such a long time of feeling like life is ‘on hold’.

Yet in the last week, my equilibrium has been shaken by the prospect that the community with whom I spend a large proportion of my life will disappear. Yes, that is what will happen on Friday. People that I see every day, that I chat with over lunch or at the photocopier, those who I have come to know better through facing this period of uncertainty together – will simply stop coming to the office. And I know that I’ll move on, I’ll keep some friendships going and it will all be a period that I look back on with fondness and a sense of camaraderie.

But in the meantime, the goodbyes will be tough….but also a pause for me to acknowledge what’s been before setting out on what’s next. So while I’m going into next week feeling excited about the future, it will be with a heavy heart and I’ll be reminding myself to be kind, to celebrate and to look for a few moments of joy to get me through…

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Yesterday’s moment of joy: Street art under the Kilburn Underground Station railway bridge

…so feel free to send any such moments you may find this week in this direction.

An anthology of literary ladies

I love to read and those of you who know me even remotely will know this. As a little girl, I went everywhere with a book under one arm (and my favourite doll Cindy-Lou under the other) and whenever we went into ‘town’ (that was Brisbane in Australia peeps), Mum would let me choose one new book to bring home with me. Little Golden Books like The Poky Little Puppy, Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (and the one where he comes back) and the Meg and Mog series were among my pre-school favourites.

I’ve been doing reading challenges on goodreads over the last few years, essentially setting a target number of books to read each year. I start with the minimum of a book a week with a little extra added for my book-and-beach holidays where the rate can rise to as much as a book a day.

This year, I’ve set a similar target but in an effort to explore new genres, have also signed up for another challenge – to read 40 of these books across different themes: Themes like a book set in your home state, a dystopian novel and a novel with a protagonist who has your occupation. (This last one has me a bit stumped so if anyone knows of a book where the protagonist works in marketing, let me know!)

So far I’ve read twelve from the list of themes (out of the 29 books read so far this year) and loved East of Eden (a classic from the 20th century), A Town Like Alice (a book that takes place on an island), The Lake House (a book with over 600 pages) and Ferney (a book recommended by a family member).

I also love author interviews. Not just the authors I know and/or love like Jo Nesbo, Kate Mosse, Robert Harris and Chimamanda Adichie but also ones I haven’t read like Howard Jacobson or ones whose stories I’ve preferred on the big screen rather than on the page like Helen Fielding (she of Bridget Jones fame).

So yesterday’s inaugural Emerald Street Literary Festival was right up my street. Held in the Royal Geographical Society buildings in South Kensington, the £20 ticket offered three ‘events’, a free drink on arrival and a rather gorgeous outdoor marquee to while away the time in between.

I started my afternoon with the Jessie Burton interview (she wrote The Miniaturist – read it, it’s fabulous) and loved her vivacious and self-deprecating take on changing careers to become a writer.  Her new book, The Muse, is out at the end of this month. I can’t wait.

I had two hours to kill before my next event. I had thought I might dash down the road to the V&A to wander through the Jewellery Gallery (which I’ve wanted to linger over since being marched through by security en route to an evening talk last year). Instead, I spent an entirely pleasant time in the marquee reading (The Book Thief – moving and lovely despite the grim themes) and chatting with the three other ladies sitting at the table about who we’d seen at the festival and what we’d read.

My second event was upstairs in the Library Room with Scarlett Thomas. I’ve not read any of her books but have recently downloaded her latest novel, The Seed Collectors so this was a great opportunity to listen to her chat about all sorts of things.

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The Library Room at the Royal Geographic Society. I still get a bit weak-kneed at the thought of a room lined with books despite my Kindle love.

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Scarlett Thomas (right) chats with Alex Peake-Thompson

Unlike Burton, Thomas is more established in her writing career and I found her refreshingly down to earth as she spoke of her books being borne of the collection of things that she’s interested in at the time – She referred to The Seed Collectors as her ‘Biology’ book. In her reading a few passages from it, she’s moved it up my list into ‘read next’ status. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit neatly into any of my goodreads challenge categories…oh well.

And finally, it was a return to the theatre to hear from Maggie O’Farrell. I’ve read Instructions for a Heatwave and rated it 4-stars so I was interested to hear O’Farrell talk about her latest (and 7th) novel, This Must Be The Place. Her website promotes the book as being about “who we become as we search for our place in the world” which really struck a chord and listening to her talk about some of the characters and the editing process as she developed the story was fascinating. Even better, there were no spoilers so that’s another one on the “to read” list.

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Maggie O’Farrell reading from This Must Be The Place

After this luscious literary afternoon, I walked back to the tube station full of new things to read and inspired to keep writing (or tap-tap-tapping away as is the case right now). All three authors I saw spoke about the first step being just finishing the d***ed book – word by word, paragraph by paragraph – and the many, many times they wrote snippets on the tube and in the car (in all sorts of places really) which have ended up either in their novels or inspiring some other piece of writing.

And I was left with this thought: who knows what yours truly might end up cobbling together one day…