January’s bucket list

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. My resolve tends to scatter across the year and is generally underpinned by my penchant for exploration and variety. However I do love moments, snatches of time when I am completely caught up – and sometimes out – by intense feeling, largely a mixture of delight, wonder, melancholy, outrage and curiosity. I carry this image of a bucket in my mind and I often imagine putting a particular moment into it. Somehow they all combine into a life that inspires me.

I was checking something in my calendar earlier and it occurred to me that while I share about particular experiences, I don’t often reflect on all of the things I’ve done. Fellow blogger, author and longtime Gidday follower Jack Scott commented recently “you do get about” so I thought that it would be interesting – for me anyway – to end each month this year by checking out what’s ended up ‘in the bucket’.

So here goes.

This month it all started with a new chapter in an old story and I absolutely loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I then moved into a Kenneth Brannagh double bill: All On Her Own, a maudlin 25 minute 3-stars-from-me soliloquy, and the hilarious 4-stars-from-me farce, Harlequinade.

A trip back in time with the Museum of London and a tour of an old Roman fort inspired my historic sensibilities so much that the Museum became a new Friend. Five days later I joined hundreds of women at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster to listen to the Women’s Equality Party and left non-plussed and suprisingly uninspired: lots of valid and important messages but the whole thing was a bit ‘rah rah’ for me.

A decidedly French tone emerged in the second half of the month with the NY MET’s performance of Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers and the National Theatre’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) being live streamed at the Phoenix Cinema just a ten minute bus ride away. When I was raving about the latter in the office the next day, I was informed by a young French colleague that the book continues to be part of the literature curriculum in French schools and is considered “a classic”. By the way, both productions were ‘magnifique’.

I’ve also read six books this month and rated three of them a mighty 5-stars, an excellent 50% hit rate. March Violets by Philip Kerr and A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute were my first dip into these respective writers and my return to Stephen King (and introduction to his criminal mastermind Mr Mercedes) was the recommendation of another Gidday follower, author Charlie Wade. (Thanks Charlie!)

In between all of this I embarked on some new cooking adventures with a foray into pastry (albeit frozen) as well as ‘cooking with beetroot’ and I managed catch up dinners with three different friends, one long overdue.

I also inadvertently fell across London’s Lumiere Festival on the face of the Abbey…

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…and delighted in the lighter mornings on my walk to work.

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Speaking of commuting, this gem really lifted my tube ride home one night.

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It also snowed…

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…and I celebrated twelve years in London.

So Jack was right and January was full to the brim with moments that were both planned and completely surprising. (And that’s doesn’t include what happens in my job.)

In any case, I’ve quite enjoyed this retrospective approach to bucket list-ing and am curious to see what reflecting on February might bring.

What would a look back at your January moments yield?

Let’s make it a good one

Here we are at New Year’s Eve again. The year’s gone by so quickly and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was trying to stay cool last New Year’s Eve Down Under. Time flies doesn’t it? And speaking of fun, I’ve managed quite a bit of it over the last 12 months.

After returning from my bi-annual pilgrimage to Melbourne (and a fab top-up visit from Lil Chicky) in January, travelling-for-work was much less frequent this year but I managed to find some cash and conquer some new frontiers. Ten days in Seattle with Seattle-A heralded my first trip to Canada, I spent four fabulous days in Stockholm at the start of August and then jetted off for a week of sun, sand and a whole swag of reading in Mauritius in November.

Speaking of reading, I smashed my book-a-week target by 25% (I read 65) and 8 of them got a Gidday 5-star rating (that’s 12.5%). I discovered Henning Mankell recently and will be reading more of his Kurt Wallander series next year. And while it doesn’t count in 2015’s quota, I am in the middle of my first Philip Kerr – March Violets with protagonist PI Bernard Gunther – and if things continue as they are, the new year looks set to start with another big fat 5 star rating. Awesome.

There have been many theatre outings over the year, Death of a Salesman being one that I studied at high school yet hadn’t seen and the most recent being Hangmen which featured a cracking ‘noir’ plot and really great characterisation. I’ve also been back to Sadlers Wells to be swept away by the Rambert Dance Company and transported to Spain at the opening of the London Flamenco Festival.

I’ve upped my Live Screening ante enjoying some new (well new to me) Shakespeare – Love’s Labors Lost, Othello and The Winters Tale – and several operas including my first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Mikado. Live Screening also delivered a theatre highlight – Man and Superman – and a new crush, Ralph Fiennes. When seeing his face alight with joy in taking the final bows, well I may have had a little weak-at-the-knees moment…okay maybe not so little.

I’m finishing the year with a two week staycation. Christmas was spent with friends in SE London and aside from an outing to Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral with another friend yesterday, I have just enjoyed being at home. I’ve still got five days off before I go back to work so plenty of time of time to complete my Christmas jigsaw puzzle, finish March Violets and catch up with friends for a little Star Wars, drinks and dinner.

It’s almost midnight here, Bryan Adams is rockin’ it out on the telly and before long, the crackle of fireworks will be heard overhead as those locally organised start the new year with a bang. All that remains is for me to wish you the very best for 2016…

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Let’s make it a good one.

Five star wordsmith-ery

Last time I posted I was settling into a week of beach and books on the beautiful island of Mauritius.

Reading is my favourite thing to do so while others g0t immersed in the smorgasbord of all-inclusive resort activities or booked in for day trips involving dolphins and catamarans, I found myself a spot on the beach and spent the days – whether basking in the sun or relaxing in the shade – reading. And I read all sorts of things – old favourites, Kindle daily deal finds and even an autobiography that I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while. It was the ultimate indulgence.

I always rate and review my reads – reviews from others help me to choose – and while I love to share an absolutely cracking read, I will also share when my experience is not so great. I don’t go into the detail of the story like most reviewers – I like to discover the story and its characters for myself. Instead I share the experience of reading it and how I’m left feeling at the end.

A lot of my reads rate 3 or 4 stars – I love reading, can be quite eclectic in my choices and like to think that I lean towards being magnanimous in my reviewing – although perhaps I’m not the best judge of this.

There are few that dip into 2-star territory (where I’m left feeling pretty dissatisfied) and even fewer 1-stars where I feel like I’ll never get back the hours I spent wading through the pages or just don’t finish. The latter is rare – I don’t ever want to be tempted to revisit a rubbish read by someone saying ‘oh but it got better in the end’.

And there are the 5-star reads. These are the ones that, when I read the final page, make me go wow. They leave me excited, reflective, profoundly moved and they are the ones I will get evangelical about, saying to whoever will listen ‘you must read this’.

2015 started well with 5 stars awarded in January to C.J. Sansom’s sixth in the Shardlake series, Lamentation. Since then, the wows have come in threes – March/April saw a trilogy of 5-star ratings awarded to The Girl on a Train, The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Labyrinth and then it was August before I was successively thrilled by The Devil’s Star, Far from the Madding Crowd and The Taxidermist’s Daughter.

Books 2015

I returned from Mauritius relaxed and happy, having soaked up a goodly dose of sunshine whilst devouring a book a day, six of which I gave 4-star ratings . But I felt like something was missing and when I thought about it, I realised what it was – a cracking 5-star read.

It’s been three months since The Taxidermist’s Daughter and by my calculations, it’s time to up the ante with a 5-star read again. I have a Kindle full of choices but what I’m really interested to hear is what you’d recommend. What’s taken your literary fancy of late? What have you read that has had you gripped, delighted, missing your train/tube/bus stop or staying up way too late because you just have to read one more chapter?

I would love to finish the year on a literary high so let me have it peeps – whose wordsmith-ery made you go wow this year?

A Single Story…

I had the enormous privilege of seeing Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie speak about her latest novel last week. I knew nothing about her except that she was Nigerian and that she had written a book I’d loved (Americanah 2014 #29 in The Book Nook). I left the event 90 minutes later inspired and wanting to know more.

Today I watched Chimimanda’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single StoryThroughout she talks about how limiting and how damaging a single story or viewpoint about a person can be, that it creates stereotypes that while not necessarily incorrect, are more often than not incomplete. That a single story creates presumption rather than openness, a potential wall of prejudice in our relationships with one another as human beings. She told of her own single stories, blown apart by having the opportunity to see things from a different perspective and also of the single stories about herself, experienced through the eyes of others.

It made me think more about single stories and one of the most extreme and damaging of all time – the Nazi ‘story’ about the Jews. Scary stuff.

It also made me think about the single stories about me: each twist of my kaleidescope reveals a potential single story – laconic Aussie, 40-something woman, single lady, career woman, Dutch pragmatist just to name a few. Even so, the whole is so much more than just the sum of all of these.

Then there are my single stories about others and I began thinking about how this starts with our parents. We see them as Mum and Dad and then they become ‘people’ as we get more and more perspective about them. How my Dad went from the person I thought was my biggest critic to someone who was more proud of me than I ever knew. How my Mum continues to be one of the strongest and most inspiring women I know, rising to every challenge and finding strength of purpose again and again in making a difference. 

I was even thinking beyond people to my original single story about London and how every discovery I make about it both enriches my experience of living here and deepens my love for this amazing city. 

It made me think about my reading of Americanah as my first dip into ‘Nigeria’ and how much I loved it and took the story to heart. And how this was my single story until I saw Chimimanda speak both on Thursday night and today on her TED talk. 

And as I only read it three weeks ago, it made me think (not for the first time) that life has the ability to transform when you read.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

The Games People Play…

Not long ago, I succumbed to the hype and read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. The brief review I’d read of the movie release did enough to convince me that it was a premise I’d find interesting: the human condition and how far we are prepared to stretch our own moral truths to survive and, indeed, thrive.

And it was a great story, gritty and fast-paced. In fact, so absorbed was I that I forgot that the protagonist is only 16 years old. Her story is riveting as she grows to face an adult world of expectation well beyond her own experience in the impoverished District 12. 

But here’s what struck me most – the concept of the game.

The game is something that has grown to become part of our landscape with all the gadgets a heart might desire to make imagined worlds come to life. I remember the original Dungeons and Dragons and in my twenties, I got completely hooked on Riven and Myst thanks to a boyfriend of the time. Then life took me away from gaming until about eight years ago when a close association with a couple of teenagers (and another rather older “adolescent”) introduced me to The Sims, Runescape and World of Warcraft. And haven’t games all come a long way – so life-like. So real that the imagined and real worlds blur. And a player’s highest praise is that they can lose themselves and escape from reality.
Like all of those spectators in The Hunger Games.

But it’s not the first time I’ve found myself wondering about games of the people kind. As I read Collins’ tale, I was taken back over 20 years to another book, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. This tale follows a group of English school boys deserted on an island, their attempts at creating their own society to survive and the savage power plays that lead to  not only the deaths of Simon and Piggy, but also the “young gentlemen’s” rules by which they had always played.

At the end of the book, the boys are rescued but in reading those final pages, I couldn’t help wondering whether it had all been part of some big experiment by the adults. And in re-reading the book again after The Hunger Games, the parallels between the two “themes” seemed even more obvious – what does the veneer of society actually hide?

To my mind The Hunger Games reads like Lords of the Flies sexed up for the World of Warcraft generation. But maybe I’m reading too much into it. What do you think?

Do you think the games we play reveal something of the way we would like our future to be or more about our “deep, dark past”?

A Woman of Substance…Again!

Here I am in the closing hours of a very chilled bank holiday weekend. Having spent yesterday in complete and utter indolence, I had decided that today should feature something a little more productive. So I ventured out for a brisk 40 minute walk around the local park this morning…

…and that’s about all I’ve managed.

After being tempted by the final film in my current LoveFilm trio this morning (Inception, and by the way, it was absolutely brilliant) I kept the telly on in the background while I sat down to tap-tap-tap away. That’s when all my good intentions flew out of the window.

One of my favourite books as a teenager was Barbara Taylor-Bradford’s A Woman of Substance and guess what’s showing on the telly – the whole series from 1984, back to back.

So I’ve climbed to the Top of the World (in the book this is Ramsden Crags on the Yorkshire Moors) and I’m just flitting about at the opening of the new Harte’s department store in Leeds. I can’t wait for the rest of the adventure to unfold…again!

The Good Book…

Lately, the e-book has come in for a bit of schtick.

At the end of February, Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan said said ‘E-readers are representative of our mindless embrace of all that purports to be ‘progress”. Then a month later fellow blogger Russell Ward described the Kindle as ‘cold and calculating in its determination to deliver the electronic word seamlessly to you’.

Ouch!

Admittedly I was a slow convert, clinging on to both the physical and the ritual around my serious book habit. And I still love a good book shop browse. In fact last week I had an hour to kill before meeting A-used-to-be-down-the-hill and I spent it wandering through Foyles at St Pancras Station, perusing the latest dust jackets, dipping into travel guides (I’m off to Rome for a little city break soon) and flicking through the pages of Titanic-themed tomes in the special event section. Lovely stuff.

But the thought of finding more space in my already full bookshelf, packed with old theatre programs, illustrated coffee table books – for which I have no coffee table – and those volumes dubbed with ‘re-read me status’ or acquired in youthful nostalgia (my hard back Jane Austen set and the 7-book Chronicles of Narnia being a couple of these) before my Kindle conversion, holds little allure.

On the other hand my Kindle – christened Audrey for her stylish simplicity – goes everywhere with me. There is nothing cool or calculating about immersing myself in a few quick chapters while on the bus, waiting for a friend, in the boarding lounge and even before lights out at night. Audrey is always at the ready and the Kindle shop only a few clicks away. Apart from my favourites, both old and new, I’ve discovered authors I would never have come across and been able to support the burgeoning efforts of a couple of budding writers in my blogging circle – just check out 2011’s Book Nook numbers 51, 55a and 57.

Granted a Kindle is not the be all and end all. After all, there is nothing like a travel book for sitting on the plane, standing on a street corner in a new city or sipping espresso in a funky cafe, marking the places to be seen with folded corners and scribbled annotations and plotting my next adventure(s).

And I haven’t quite managed the conversion of my magazine or Saturday Times newspaper habit yet but let’s face it, the only way to conquer the Samurai Sudoku or the cryptic version of the Jumbo Crossword is curled up on my couch, pen in hand, steaming coffee at my elbow.

But villifying the Kindle and all its counterparts seems a little extreme. Like laptops, smartphones and iPods, the e-reader is just another symbol of our increasingly mobile lives and to my mind, something that encourages the consumption of the written word in every place or space. And that can only be a good thing.

Books still have their place in my life. But for me the power lies in the storytelling.

And I get to take that everywhere.

Turkish Delight…

Not a week has passed in this magnificent new year and already Gidday from the UK is bringing you delight from around the globe – Turkish Delight that is.

Jack Scott is a fellow expat – an Englishman in Turkey (Bodrum in fact) – and he’s written a book. His blog, Perking the Pansies is his catalogue of daily thoughts on the world of two gay men in foreign land – in turns thought-provoking and funny, always witty and honest. 

And now there’s the book…

This is not just a collection of blog posts. Rather Jack weaves the tale of the dichotomous life of an expat with poignancy and humour. The wondering where you belong, what ‘life’ to build and how to bridge the gap between life BE (Before Expat) and the unfamiliar ‘now’ remains as relevant to me now as eight years ago when I arrived in the UK and I look forward to finding out what happens next for Jack and Liam.

So without further ado, I am proud to present Gidday’s first guest for 2012, Jack Scott.

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Gidday from Turkey

Here on Gidday from the UK you’ll read about an Aussie girl’s life in Blighty and beyond, her thirst for reading and her need to scratch those itchy travelling feet. Her writing is eloquent, varied, fun and informative. I’ve always got along with Antipodeans. We share similar cultural roots and laugh at the same things, but our cousins Down Under aren’t afflicted with the same level of debilitating cynicism that stalks many Brits these days. I find this refreshing. To my eternal shame, I’ve never been to Oz. My partner, Liam, has. He loved it and wanted to stay. Forever. He even considered re-training as a hairdresser to gain enough points to emigrate (crimpers were in short supply at the time, apparently). From civil servant to coiffeur would have made a dramatic career change. He thought better of it when he realised it was a gay cliché too far. That was before he met me, of course.

When Gidday writes about London, it’s like a magical trip down memory lane for me. I enjoy our current lives as a wanton Lotus Eaters here in Turkey, but London Town is my home town and it’s where my heart is. I love Turkey but I’m in love with London. This ‘here and there’ tension is one of the recurring themes of my new book, Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey. Were we insane to sell up, chuck in the jobs and move lock, stock and barrel to a Muslim country? Well, we’re still here but it’s been a rocky road. When I was recently asked to sum up our time in Turkey, I struggled to paraphrase the complexity of our experiences and emotions: ‘misery and joy, bigotry and enlightenment, betrayal and loyalty, friendship, love, earthquakes, birth, adoption and a senseless murder.’ Life in the Smoke was never this eventful. You couldn’t make it up.


Thank you so much to Gidday for featuring Perking the Pansies on the Book Nook list. I’m in elevated company. If you like what you see, the book is available on paperback and Kindle at Amazon.co.ukand Amazon.com.
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ps…If you want to see what I thought, pop over to The Book Nook and check out No. 57. Alternatively, if you are looking for a veritable pantheon of praise, I and many others have spread the word on Amazon so you can click here for that.

Done and Dusted…Commuting Gems

This week, about 10 weeks ahead of schedule, I smashed the 50 Book Challenge.

That’s right peeps – I’ve read 50 books this year.

(Actually this morning it stands at 51 but who am I to quibble over such a detail?)

Along the way, I unearthed some real Commuting Gems, writers that will continue to feed my long and literary journey to and from work every day. Douglas Kennedy made the grade early – I have read three of his books this year – closely followed by slightly off-centre crime fiction from Chris Brookmyre (I’ve read two of his). More recently, I discovered the joys of Jonathan Frantzen, Jo Nesbo and Scott Mariani and have already started my next Ben Hope Adventure (Mariani’s protagonist).

I have also travelled far and wide from the comfort of my reading spot(s) – through the post ‘et tu Brutus?’ period of the Roman Empire (Colleen McCullough) and in a black cab across America with the incomparable everyman himself, Stephen Fry. I have immersed myself in the cultural melting pot of a Russian community in China with Kate Furnivall and stood in awe of the great and mighty Vesuvius with Robert Harris.

Let’s not forget the little bit of star-spotting l managed either. I rubbed literary shoulders with Sir Elton, Alistair Campbell, Billy Connelly, Jane Austen and young Queen Victoria!

The stalwarts of my literary days gone by were there too – Lionel Shriver, Michael Connelly and Dick Francis (although after three of the latter, I might say nay – neigh, geddit? – to a Francis horse-racing extravaganza for a while).

I’ve also dropped in on old favourites like Heathcliff & Cathy and Meg, Jo, Beth & Amy. I read about risk and danger, and about a girl who played with fire and then made things worse by kicking the hornet’s nest. 

I’ve even managed both a trip back to old Melbourne town (courtesy of Christos Tsiolkas) and a joyful celebration with fellow expat Bill Bryson, of the fabulous place I now call home.

Who knew that commuting four hours each day could bring such joy!

Not all was smooth sailing (or commuting if you prefer). Three made my ‘Disappointing’ List – number 6 from Margot Berwin, number 15 from David Gibbins and 39 from Dawn French. Not so marvellous. But 3 out of 50 (that’s just 6% says she, whipping out her trusty calculator to double check her mental maths) ain’t bad. And look at all of the things I have experienced and discovered.

So if you’ve been inspired at all by my bookish banging on, or are looking for some great reads to add to your own (e)bookshelf, you can see them all – along with what I thought of them – at The Book Nook which, in the spirit of encouraging readership and literacy, I will continue to update.

Happy reading peeps!

Kindle Women…Audrey’s Coming Out

Yippee!!  Hooray!!  It’s here at last!!

Last Thursday my wi-fi router arrived!

So on the weekend I mastered the shopping (no great surprise there) and downloading, and this week, my very best new toy has unequivocally joined the ranks of Gidday’s Commuting Gems.

The lovely Audrey has debuted by helping me while away the hours to and from work this week with that quintessential (and sentimental) favourite, Little Women.  Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy have laid bare their girlish hopes and dreams, their foolish follies and foibles all over again and have reminded me that, despite my aversion to the slightly religious under-tones, what a truly wonderful book this is.

And for 86p, I bought all four Louisa May Alcott stories: Little Women and Good Wives (the two-in-one that we all know and love), Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

I’m about four chapters into Good Wives and, given that I have read this several times since first reading it before I hit my teens, I am still marvelling at how much I am loving reading this again.

And I still well-up when old Mr Laurence gives Beth the piano…

…sniff…