The art of stopping

It’s been a while since I posted and here’s why.

I’ve been on holiday.

Again? the regular readers among you might say.

Yes I know. So far this year I’ve been to York, Edinburgh and Oxford, spending a few days in each and discovering lots of lovely things to see and do.

But this was a different sort of holiday. It was a holiday with the sole purpose of stopping.

It’s been fifteen years since I learnt how to stop. Until then, I thought holidays were for doing – visiting new places, seeing new things, eating new food and learning new stuff. They weren’t for stopping. I couldn’t understand why people didn’t fill their time off with loads of stuff to do. But in 2003, after a fraught and exhausting year – and bolstered by a redundancy payout – I fled to a resort on Koh Samui for ten days.

For the first few days, I did little more than park myself on a sun-bed and alternate between reading, dozing and gazing absent-mindedly out to sea. My mind started to empty and my body stilled. By day three, something unusual had started to emerge – boredom.

I am an inquisitive person. I love ideas and learning and I’m always off to meet new people, listen to new ideas and think about all of the ‘what-ifs’ in life. As a result I’m rarely bored. But for the first time in my life I could not summon the energy to deal with anything new. Just the thought of exploring beyond the hotel felt completely overwhelming. So I stayed where I was, wrapped in the island’s pre-monsoonal September lethargy, mentally antsy but too tired to do anything about it.

By day five, stripped of all but the most essential social contact and stimulation, I slipped quietly into this feeling of incredible peace. My mind stopped chattering quite so loudly, the tension melted from my limbs and shoulders and I started to notice things. The warm breeze brushing my skin as I lay on the lounger. The sand crunching between my toes as I walked towards the sea foam rippling along the shore. The water sluicing through my hair as I plunged under and then broke back through the surface, tasting the salt on my lips.

Everything felt still and serene. Boredom had given way. Suddenly I understood – this was stopping, this was why those people did what they did – and for the remaining five days, I slept like a child – long, deep and restorative – for the first time in my adult life.

And so this holiday – some fifteen years later and one of many since – was about stopping, finding some stillness and surrendering to my favourite things – the feeling of sun on my skin, lots and lots of reading and some epic sleeping. No going out. No ‘discovering’ the city. Actively avoiding any engagement with those people who assume that being on your own means you’re up for a chat. Nothing remotely effortful or stimulating. Just me and my trusty Kindle.

I spent eight days and eight night in Muscat, or more specifically at the Grand Millennium Hotel in Muscat.

After a seven hour flight from London, during which I managed to watch the entire season of Big Little Lies (indulgence number one – done!), I checked into the hotel, unpacked my cabin bag – after all bikinis, sarongs, a pair of flip flops and a few things to wear to breakfast and dinner do not take up much room – and headed to the rooftop pool.

Panorama from rooftop pool 1

I spent every day there…

Muscat poolside

I read. A lot. I caught up on two issues of New Scientist magazine, lingered among the pages of the latest issue of 1843 and devoured seven books.

Muscat books

Each day I snoozed, ate lunch by the pool and went for a few gentle swims with the call to prayer wailing soulfully across the city in the background at midday and then again around mid-afternoon.

Late afternoon, feeling sun-kissed and sublimely relaxed, I returned to my room to shower, check emails, post (smugly, I must admit) on social media and linger for a while over the view.

Muscat sunsets

Dinner was either at the Taybat buffet (there was lots of variety so it was easy – and effortless! – to eat six of the eight dinners here) or at its a la carte seafood restaurant.

Muscat Fish Restaurant

Essentially it was about lots of delicious food with some happy Kindle-time between courses…and no alcohol. (The hotel is ‘dry’.)

When I got back to my room, I’d jump into the big comfy bed…

King Room 1

…and watch a couple of episodes of my ‘downloaded from Netflix’ box set, Thirteen Reasons Why. (I recently read the book – both it and the TV series were great!)

When that was all over – sooner than anticipated due to some profligate binge-watching – I then moved on to discover just how addictive US series Elementary – starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui – could be.

I did this for eight days and eight nights.

And then early on Sunday morning, I headed back to the airport for my flight home.

Muscat going home

It’s taken me a few days to feel hungry and sleepy at the right times again (Muscat is three hours ahead of London so I’ve been waking up at 5am) but I can safely say that the stopping has worked. I feel super alert, completely rejuvenated and full of energy – ready to tackle whatever’s coming next.

Here’s also hoping I’ve soaked up enough vitamin D to ward off any feelings of SAD-ness over the winter months…

En route to Christmas

I am currently sitting on the couch at my sister’s place in Melbourne. It’s been a hot day and the night is balmy and warm meaning that we have every possible window and door open in an effort to catch the breeze. It’s my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under for a family Christmas, it’s day number two and with Christmas Day looking like a scorcher, I couldn’t be much further away from the chill of a London winter.

It’s a long way so as is my usual habit, I paused for a week on the way through to soak up some sun, read lots of books and enjoy some amazing food. This time the pause was in Hua Hin in Thailand at the gorgeous Anantara Resort.

I had a room overlooking the pool…

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After a ‘busy’ day poolside, I would spend a couple of hours curled up on this comfortable couch before heading out for dinner.

…and there was a lovely message from Dow, my room housekeeper, on my pillow every evening.

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Speaking of locals, there were elephants everywhere – this cutie was my favourite…

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A welcoming hello at the entrance, just one of the Elephant Parade installation scattered throughout the grounds.

…and Alex, the resident blue and green macaw, was a colourful sight around the resort.

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Apparently Alex is bi-lingual (English and Thai in case you were wondering)

All up nature was at her best whether big and breathtaking…

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View from the beach bar at the Anantara Hua Hin resort…it’s a tough life for some.

…small and delicate…

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There are orchids of all sorts everywhere. I passed this one every day on the way to breakfast.

…or there for just a moment.

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This water lily had blossomed overnight so I got this shot on the way to breakfast in the morning – the flower had drooped by mid afternoon and was gone by the evening.

The food was delicious..

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A traditional Thai appetiser. Take a leaf and add a bit of everything – peanuts, dried shrimp, dried coconut, shallot, garlic, lime, chilli and palm sugar paste. Wrap up the little parcel and pop it in your mouth. Delicious!

…and the cocktails many and varied across the balmy evenings…

…but in the main, I lay by the pool – cooling off with a dip in the water every so often – and read.

I devoured four magazines (two Vanity Fair and one each of Raconteur and The Economist’s 1843) and five books: Emma Donoghue’s absorbing The Wonder, Jeffrey Archer’s sixth in The Clifton Chronicles (Cometh the Hour) and the eighth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (The Empty Throne), a light and fluffy Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the utterly gripping How I Lost You from Jenny Blackhurst. I was also halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings when I left.

It was such a blissfully solitary and self-indulgent week. Reading is my favourite thing to do and is exactly what I book the holiday for (as well as a much-needed dose of sun). It also stands me in good stead for the next phase of my trip – a little me-time before the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the inevitable flurry of activity with family and friends.

Which brings me back to where I started – a balmy night in the Melbourne suburbs on the night before Christmas. So before I embark on the various opporunities for festive cheer scheduled in the days ahead, all that remains for me to do is wish you a happy holiday season however and wherever you are spending it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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.

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?

My Village Is An Onion…

Today I sat down in front of my computer, coffee in hand, to meander happily through cyber-space. This is a Sunday thing, a sacred fragment of me-time and a pleasure I rarely feel guilty about. While I try to keep up with it all during the week on my commute, there’s something about the big screen and multiple tabs that makes a Sunday trawl more delightful than flicking between windows on my phone and keeping half an ear out for my station announcement.

You see this is my village, or a large part of it anyway. Scrolling back through Facebook updates and tweets often uncovers a delightful surprise from a friend or loved one that may have passed me by in the busy-ness of the week. And checking out what my fellow bloggers have had to say – and perhaps leaving them with a thought or two of my own – is like peeling back layers of an onion. At different times, in different ways, each reveals something new, a different dimension that in my mind’s eye, I had not imagined.

Today, I clicked on one of my Gidday faves, Adventures in Expatland. Linda is an American, living in The Hague with her family, who is forging new paths for herself as a writer and ‘go to’ person on the highs, lows and in-betweens of expat life. She’s featured a few times on Gidday from the UK before and today, she’s here again for two very special reasons:

…she’s received the Versatile Blogger Award (And deservedly so. Good onya, mate!)

and

…she’s nominated me for one.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!
(That’s an excited squeal for you newcomers to Gidday)

The Versatile Blogger Award is a peer acknowledgement and apart from getting to put the little Versatile Blogger logo on my blog, I get to share with you 7 things about myself as well as another 15 of my favourite versatile virtuosos. As this post is already getting on a bit, let’s just get cracking…

The Seven Wonders of the world Kym

  • My birthday is August 1st (which most of you probably know via the sleeps to go posts). My point is this – it’s the Horse’s Birthday.
  • I was actually due to ‘arrive’ on this here planet on the day ‘The Eagle’ landed and man set foot on the moon – 20th July 1969. I’ve not been late since.
  • If you’ve been reading Gidday for a while you probably know that Dad is Dutch but did I ever tell you that on my Mum’s side we are descended from Bernadette Devlin, the youngest woman to be elected to British Parliament?
  • I jumped out of a perfectly good plane somewhere near Bendigo, Victoria in 2003. Note: I was strapped to the front of a burly skydiving instructor.
  • I was blonde (and I mean Annie Lennox blonde) for about 18 months. This happened to coincide with Lil Chicky’s wedding so my bleached barnet is preserved for all eternity.
  • I received a scholarship from The Order of the Rechabites at age 13 and received my Alliance Francaise certificate at age 14. I drink and don’t speak French. Cest la vie.
  • I played the role of Frenchy in our High School production of Grease. I wore a pink wig as Teen Angel (our Maths teacher Mr Smith) crooned ‘Beauty School Dropout’ at me.

The Fellowship of Fifteen

Ham Life
Local lad Matthew blogs about living in London, camera always at the ready.
The Vegemite Wife
Fellow Aussie somewhere up north who blogs with irony, humour and originality.
Perking The Pansies
One half of ‘absurd’ gay couple trying their luck in secular Turkey. He (Jack) wrote a book about it.
Lost in Cheeseland
An American in Paris. A recent addition to the blog roll.
Happy Homemaker UK
The name says it all. A pleasure to dip into.
4 Kids, 20 Suitcases and a Beagle
Another fellow Aussie living in Qatar. Always frank, often poignant.
The Displaced Nation
A group of cyber friends gathering yarns from global travellers everywhere. Confession: I am a Libby groupie.
Spies, Lies And Pies
Writer Charlie Wade leaves stories, book snippets and occasional ‘old man’ rants here.
AdBroad
She calls herself the oldest working writer in advertising. I call her brilliant.
In Search Of A Life Less Ordinary
Expat Brit exploring life in ‘The Lucky Country’.
The New Australian
Another Expat Brit in Oz finding much to write home about.
Postcards – The Blog
Published and proud. Celebrating a decade in The Downs.
And Here We Are
Fresh off the boat from Bavaria. Another recent addition to the blogroll.
A Big Life
An Aussie in Germany. We from Down Under get around you know.
Ladaisi
A twenty-something artist living in Denmark. My little dash of creative juice.

To put my thoughts out there on Gidday From The UK is an amazing experience.To be acknowledged by my one of my virtual village absolutely rocks. Hope you stop and visit them for a while.

Gidday! It’s Me…

I collected my photos tonight…it’s been a long wait since mid July (another exercise in patience for little ol’ moi!) but at the risk of being narcissistic, I think it’s been worth it. 

I wanted to choose some (of the nine I bought) to share here but I’m finding it really hard to pick my faves. This is not good.  I get unbelievably bored with the state of ‘being indecisive’ and to be honest, if I dither too much longer this post will not go up tonight and you’ll all have to wait even longer – and let’s face it, waiting sucks. So without further ado, here’s today’s top three:

Down to business – the one for LinkedIn
A bit of 007 fun
A smiley, happy me

If you want to check out all nine, click here and you’ll whip across to my flckr album quick as you like.  In the meantime, I’m off to update my Facebook profile with this one:



Colourful, free and ready for a new chapter.


Staycation…The First Day

Today is the first ‘real’ day of my little stay-at-home holiday (yesterday was a Bank Holiday here in the UK so everyone else had a day off too – which makes it feel a little less like it’s my holiday.)  I had not specifically planned to post about it but I’ve had such a brilliant afternoon, I just had to brag about it share it with you all.

It started with a routine dentist appointment. I got the usual tut-tutting around my general lack of flossing, a bit of a clean and polish and that was it for another year.  I grant you, nothing really exciting to report.  But wait, it gets better.

Next it was a visit to the Oxfam bookshop, one of my favourite things to do.  I cannot believe that I lived here for over 6 years and only discovered this little gem about 6 months ago. I have not bought a new book since and my new-found attachment to this trove of glorious treasures has merely fuelled the little voice in my head that suggests that I would never get the same unabashed joy from a KindleToday the cunning plan was to drop off a bag of books that I’d read (I am a big fan of recycling the literary love) and have just a quick fossick before grabbing a spot of lunch and seeing a movie. 

Well, it was a longer fossick than anticipated and I came out with another half a dozen to add to my bookshelf.  But the best bit was a couple that have been on my ‘list to read’ for quite a while. First there’s Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy – I loved my first read of his, The Big Picture, so much so that I resolved to read more of his stuff (see Book 5. in my 50 Book Challenge). And there was also Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell, highly recommended by several literary-ily addicted friends and a Man Booker Prize Winner. I left Oxfam feeling like I had discovered the Universe (or at least a small planet).

The rest of my afternoon was spent with teenage babe-in-the-woods, Hanna.  I cannot remember the last time I went to the movies on my own (probably over six years ago which was the last time I was single) but it’s such a joyfully selfish and indulgent thing to do.  I loved the movie and the girl who plays the lead is just brilliant/stunning. 

I emerged from the darkened cinema to a day turned all bright and sunshine-y so I polished off a fab afternoon with a spot of reading at home in the sunshine.

So that was my perfect, perfect Day 1 and I can’t wait to see what Day 2 will bring!

A Guilty Secret…

I have a confession to make.

(Yes another one – you get real value on this blog!)

After many years of living here in the UK, the thing I love to dip back into most, particularly on a damp Bank Holiday afternoon like this one is an episode of Neighbours.

I mean, what’s not to like about that laid-back never-rainy life in a cul-de-sac? (Which technically should not be called a Street but rather, a Court – actually it is a Court in real life, Pin Oak Court to be exact.)  It really signals a day off for me – whether it be on holidays or with a sick note in hand, to be best enjoyed from my super comfy vantage point under the green blanket on the couch in between other bastions of daytime telly, Loose Women and 60 Minute Makeover.

So today’s late afternoon downpour had me rescuing the half-dry laundry and settling down to some cosy couch-based entertainment.  Bliss!

What will I do for the rest of my week off?