Inspired by: Women of the future

Back in 1986, when Whitney Houston sang about children being our future, I paid little attention. It was the year I turned 17 and I was busy casting off the shackles of childhood. As far as I was concerned, the future was all about me and what I was going to be in it.

It took thirty years and the words of another powerhouse woman, Miriam González Durántez, before I got the point: I may be the ‘now’ but the future is in the hands of those much younger and specifically those who inhabit our education system. Whilst I’m not interested in being a school teacher, Miriam’s words made me see that there was another way to contribute.

In the weeks that followed, I signed up for Inspiring the Future, an initiative connecting schools with the world of work and before long I was involved as a business volunteer with the Barnet Business and Education Partnership. For the last year, I’ve been in secondary schools supporting programs like presentation skills, interview skills and how to make the most of work experience that help students prepare for life ‘beyond school’. Participating in this way has been really motivating. It’s also got me thinking about how we prepare young adults to tackle life’s challenges outside their academic curriculum.

What other things can we do to help them to be resilient, resourceful and responsible in their adult life?

Earlier this year, I returned to the Inspiring the Future website to tick an additional box flagging my interest in being a school governor. I didn’t know that this would be the right thing for me but I knew I felt passionately about the contribution to be made and wanted to explore this further. In the words of change leadership guru Deborah Rowland (who I met in March)…

” …having set up these initial conditions for emergence, you have to let the change come towards you, not go chasing it.”

Still Moving: How to Lead Mindful Change by Deborah Rowland

…so I ticked the box and went on with life, continuing to explore a range of other interesting opportunities that had been emerging.

On June 4th, I attended the TEDx London conference and among the lineup of inspiring speakers was Teach First’s Executive Director of Delivery Ndidi Okezie who spoke about ending educational inequality and creating a world where all children have an “equalising educational experience”. Okezie spoke of feeling overwhelmed by the scale of change required but insisted that “a change must come”. Did you know that the proportion of UK children who go on to attend Oxbridge is roughly 1:20 but in poorer schools that this opportunity falls to 1:1,500? Teach First has over 10,000 ambassadors in schools creating equal educational experiences for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.

As I listened to Okezie speak, I was taken back to my school years where a couple of teachers were particularly instrumental in helping me navigate the path to adulthood. Back then I was preparing to take flight into a world that, despite my insistence to the contrary, I didn’t really know much about. I was embarking on a new phase – just as I am now. I jotted a few notes down as the talk came to a close, thinking that they might come in useful at some point. One of the things life has taught me is that you never know which pieces of the puzzle might eventually come together.

And how timely this was. Less than a month later, I joined the Board of Governors for a local secondary school, becoming part of their Educational Standards Committee and also the link-governor for the school’s performing arts curriculum.

Needless to say there’s a lot to learn and a lot of work to be done. But I’m really looking forward to working with this team of passionate and committed governors and teachers. I’m also excited about ensuring that the student community – these women of the future – are equipped and empowered for the adventure ahead.

I’m stunned by how quickly these pieces fell into place.

I once heard it said that when you take responsibility for your own happiness, life shows up as a gift. I drew deeply on my reserves of resilience and resourcefulness as I struggled to build a new life in London over 13 years ago. And after last year’s work changes, I decided to take some time to explore how I wanted the next stage of my life to look. Whilst the full picture is still emerging, I’m feeling happy, fulfilled and excited to be on the brink of new possibilities.

So I feel passionately about encouraging the development of these qualities through my role as a Governor:

  • Resilience – in the face of life’s challenges;
  • Resourcefulness – in spite of what might stand in the way;
  • Responsibility – for stewarding themselves and the world through tumultuous times and inspiring the generations to follow to be the authors of their own success, whatever that may be.

Three more R’s to supplement the three – reading, [w]riting, and [a]rithmetic – that began their education over a dozen years ago.

My life is undeniably the sum of all of the people and experiences that have left their mark on me and it was another speaker from the TEDx London conference in June – a bloke from the world of policing and forensics no less – that captured this perfectly:

“Every contact leaves a trace.” John Sutherland

Here’s to leaving a positive and worthwhile mark on the generations to follow.

Think Fantastic Try Hope

Inspiration forms part of the window display of the Fendi store in New Bond Street, London (June 2017)

2017: My mid-year book report

We are now in the last week of July and life has become unbelievably full with the relaxed, undulating pace from earlier in the year all but gone. The great news is that I’m still squeezing reading into every nook and cranny that I can, so much so that I am already on the cusp of hitting my book target for the year…in July.  So I figured now was a good time for a mid-year review of this year’s literary adventures.

In January I set myself the target of reading sixty books in 2017…well by the end of June I had read fifty. I’m pleased to report that I have finished everything I’ve read, so there hasn’t yet been a book tainted with the ignominy of a Gidday 1-star rating. And I’ve only had three 2-star ratings (this is essentially a nod to finishing something that I’ve dragged myself through so slightly better than a 1-star). If you are any good at maths, you’ll have worked out by now that I have read 47 enjoyable-or-better books this year – that’s 94% and a cracking strike rate!

At the literary-love end of the scale, I have awarded Gidday 5-star ratings to eleven books so far.

2017 HY 5-star montage

These have been across a mix of genres and include returns to some of my favourite writers. Australia is represented twice in this list with Liane Moriarty’s un-put-down-able Big Little Lies (now a HBO series) and Matthew Reilly’s addictive thriller, The Great Zoo of China. I’ve embarked on #2’s in two trilogies with the gripping dystopian tale Insurgent from Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and the poignant split-time novel, Sepulchre, in Kate Mosse’s Languedoc trilogy. And while I enjoyed Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard when it was released a few years back, Black Water, set in the hills of Bali, absolutely blew me away.

I’ve also loved discovering new authors. The exploration of friendship in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay left me feeling incredibly moved while Robin Sloan had me turning pages voraciously to unravel the mysteries of Mr Penumbra and his 24-hour bookstore.

Non-fiction made its debut amongst the 5-star reads this year. I attended the launch of Deborah Rowland’s Still Moving [free book disclaimer here] and really enjoyed exploring her insights into leadership and change. Mark Stevenson’s talk at the howto: academy about people doing things differently was fascinating and prompted me to buy the book. And I loved Peter Frankopan’s new history of the silk roads – it even yielded a family connection.

So the first half of the year has been fabulously bookish, my attendance at the V&A Museum‘s bi-monthly book group continues and June’s Emerald Street Literary Festival was again a highlight of the year so far. In fact, July has yielded two more 5-star reads neither of which I would have chosen had it not been for these events. I got a free copy of Morgan McCarthy’s The House of Birds at the Emerald Street Literary Festival and Maria Duenas’ The Seamstress is our next V&A Book Group read.

july17 5star montage

With the back half of the year off to an impressive start, I’m hoping the months ahead yield lots of lush literary adventures. In the meantime, that brings me to the end of my first half-year highlights so I hope that you’ve found something that inspires you to bury your nose in a book. If not, there are another twenty-two 4-star and fourteen 3-star reviews available on Goodreads or Amazon if you want to fossick about further for something I’ve read/reviewed that might take your fancy.

Remember, in the words of Lemony Snicket “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” (Horseradish).

As far as I’m concerned that’s an excellent mantra to live by.

Happy reading!

ps…and don’t forget there are only six sleeps to go peeps – I wonder what amazing books I will discover once I’m 48?

 

Pastures new: Blackberries and plums

Here we are in July. That means we are into the second half of the year. Can you believe it? Time is just flying by.

This month began in earnest with visit from Down Under in the form of my stepmum, B. Originally from Kent, B emigrated as a young adult and built a life in Australia before meeting and marrying Dad over thirty years ago. So at far-too-early o’clock on July 3rd, I collected her at Heathrow Arrivals and brought her back to Gidday HQ for a few days of rest and recuperation.

To pass the time we spent a few hours at the Museum of London and a day playing tourist on one of London’s Hop-On-Hop-Off buses – as well as eating some delicious ice-cream in Green Park – before deciding to do some exploring closer to home. Dad and B are committed geocachers and B was keen to add a London badge to their treasure-hunting travails. The geocaching app told us there were two caches near Gidday HQ so with the sun shining hotly overhead, we set off.

The first was a relatively easy find in Victoria Park just a five minute walk away. The GPS on B’s phone pinpointed the approximate location and the clues led us straight to the cache itself. Bingo!

Bev - Victoria Park Jul17

All smiles after finding B’s first London geocache nearby

Inspired by our success, we decided to head to another cache a little further away. We made our way down Long Lane to where the North Circular passed overhead and followed an unassuming footpath up to the right behind the row of houses.

This is how I found out about Long Lane Pasture.

Long Lane Pasture is a meadow in the middle of North London suburbia that is chock full of local flora and fauna. It covers 2.6 hectares running parallel to the busy North Circular on one side, the Underground’s Northern Line along its south-westerly border and a host of allotments to the north-west.

LLP Map

We entered via the gate located at the south-east corner and wandered along the grassy paths. We passed blackberry bushes and plum trees swathed heavily in almost-ripe fruit, trees cast their intermittent shade on our shoulders and butterflies flitted busily between the wildflowers ignoring, or simply oblivious to, our passage. The busy North Circular Road faded from our minds as we immersed ourselves in this wonderful patch of nature busily getting on with ‘its business’.

Long Lane Pasture

LLP Redcurrants and plums

With exception of a short period during World War II, Long Lane Pasture has remained uncultivated since 1912 when the Mayor of Barnet planted an oak tree here to commemorate it as a recreational community space. In the early 1980’s it was closed to the public because of proposed roadworks and the meadow lay unattended until 1999 when the Council decided to sell the land for housing development. This prompted a public campaign to keep the pasture as a green space and the Council’s decision was finally overturned in 2006.

The Long Lane Pasture Trust was formed to replace the pressure group originally set up to prevent houses being built on the land. The Trust was first granted a licence to access the land in 2005 and then in the following year, was granted a 25-year lease to protect, restore and manage the Pasture, safeguarding the land for the benefit of the community. In 2012/2013, Long Lane Pasture was awarded a Community Green Flag for high quality management of public green spaces, one of only 43 awarded across London at the time.

For two hours each Saturday morning volunteers gather at the pasture to help maintain the meadow – weeding, trimming, mowing and clearing rubbish (shame on those who leave it!) – and also support school visits and special event days.

We grew more and more delighted by the minute as we wandered around with one eye on the GPS (after all we had a geocache to find) whilst drinking in everything around us. We found some shade beneath the leafy drapery of a gorgeous willow tree at the far end of the Pasture and spent ten minutes or so wallowing in this welcome respite from the heat. Then it was on with finding the geocache before heading back out into the sun.

Under the willow tree (LLP)

Feeling absolutely thrilled to have discovered the Pasture, that evening I jumped on-line and registered as a supporter. I’ve also put the annual blackberry picking event – just three weeks away – in my calendar. Mmmmmm I do love blackberries.

So this unexpected adventure has reminded me that delightful things happen when you venture off your regularly beaten path – and it doesn’t need to be very far off either. It has me wondering what other delightful surprises are just waiting to be discovered…

ps…speaking of delightful surprises, the birthday countdown continues in earnest with just 17 sleeps to go. This in itself is not surprising if you know me at all but it would be uncharitable of me not to remind you of how much I love to be surprised and delighted – *hint* *nudge* *wink* and all that…

Edinburgh: Inside and out

The story so far: Inspired by the success of my trip to York in March, at the beginning of June I was off to Edinburgh for another mid-week staycation. I had heard many good things so I was looking forward to discovering what all the fuss was about. So on a busy Monday morning, I got myself to London’s King’s Cross station and settled in for the four and a half hour train journey to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station.

This post is the last of three and captures three of my favourite Edinburgh moments.

I checked into my guesthouse and decided to walk back into town (about 35 minutes) to stretch my legs after the long train journey. The sun shone warmly overhead as I headed out and I was thoroughly enjoying the chance to get my bearings for the next three days. However it wasn’t long before a fierce deluge appeared out of nowhere. I tried to ‘walk it out’ for about ten minutes but it was a two steps forward three steps back situation – my natural pragmatism took hold and I took shelter in a bus stop until the rain lessened about 20 minutes later.

I found my way up to Calton Hill – a stream of rainwater gushing down the steps leading off the Princes Street entrance – and as I reached the top, the rain finally stopped and I was rewarded with some fabulous views.

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It was fantastic to walk around and I gulped deep breaths of rain-fresh air as I soaked up (pardon the pun) the spectacular scenery. I stood quietly for a few moments as I reached the top and as I looked out across Edinburgh to its Castle in the distance, I decided that this was the perfect way to begin my stay.

The next morning I woke to rain – lots of it – and with the weather forecast suggesting that it wouldn’t let up anytime soon, I caught the bus into town and headed for the Royal Mile. Having walked the Canongate section the day prior, I headed up in the direction of the castle determined not to let the dismal weather stymie my meandering plans. But the tower of St Giles’ Cathedral beckoned and it seemed the perfect opportunity to have a peek and dry off a little.

As I walked in, I shook the beads of rain from my jacket and sighed with relief at the respite from the deluge outside. Then I looked up and gasped…

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The space was calm and filled with permutations of light and shade, bold arches and exquisite stained glass. I paid £2 for a photo permit and strolled for over an hour, taking it all in before taking a pew and a few moments for some quiet reflection. St Giles’ Cathedral was both a surprise and a joy to discover – a beautiful space for the eyes and a beautiful place for the soul.

My final highlight took me underneath the city to Mary King’s Close. The hour-long tour travelled down below the Royal Exchange and through a warren of old lanes and rooms that were originally narrow streets (known as closes) lined with storied tenement houses. Simon the Bailiff’s story-telling painted some pretty vivid pictures of life in the 17th century and his tales – which included a ghost or two – made each stop along the tour dramatic and engaging.

The tour ended on a 17th century street – the real Mary King’s Close of the attraction name. It’s a steep, cobbled alley with old buildings stretching up overhead and no natural light. Photographs were not permitted on the tour for security reasons – Scotland’s Royal Exchange complex is located directly above – but in all honesty, I suspect I wouldn’t have been able to do it justice.

The Real Mary King’s Close experience allows you to stand in the old and, in most cases, dimly-lit rooms and closes while your guide weaves stories of 17th century life around you. Here’s a tip: If you are keen to do this, book a few days in advance – I had to book on Tuesday morning in order to snaffle this slot on the Thursday morning tour (before I left that same afternoon). I was so pleased not to have missed out on this fascinating hour beneath the cobblestones.

And with that, this Gidday from the UK armchair tour comes to a close.

Edinburgh is a wonderful city – friendly and welcoming, and filled with such a diverse range of things to do (as diverse as the weather) that it was easy to fill my three days there. People – whether servers, tour guides or attraction staff – chatted amiably, nothing was ever too much trouble and right down to the taxi-driver who took me to the guesthouse on arrival, they were all filled with hints and tips about getting the most out of my stay. And I was never rushed – I lingered over meals / coffee and cake regularly, working out what to do next or just reading on my kindle, and I never felt pressured to leave the moment I’d finished eating.

So if you are looking for an eclectic and easy-going city break, I’d thoroughly recommend Edinburgh. Just be sure to pack your wet weather gear and keep a sense of adventure and humour handy – come rain or shine!


If you missed the first two and are interesting in reading about my entire visit, here are the other posts in my armchair tour of Edinburgh:

Edinburgh: A royal trifecta (the first one)

Edinburgh: Literary liaisons (the second one)

Edinburgh: Literary liaisons

The story so far: Inspired by the success of my trip to York in March, at the beginning of June I was off for another mid-week staycation, this time to Edinburgh. I had heard many good things about visiting the city and was looking forward to a few days exploring. After boarding at London’s King’s Cross station on a busy Monday morning, my seamless and comfortable train journey to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station took just under four and a half hours.

This post is the second of three and is designed to be an armchair tour of my brush with Edinburgh’s literary fraternity. Those of you that know me even a little will know that I love to read and there are a host of literary links in Edinburgh from Sir Walter Scott, J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Arthur Conan-Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Robert Burns (he of Burns night) – right through to modern masters like Ian Rankin (Inspector Rebus), Alexander McCall Smith (the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter).

Sir Walter Scott is a big deal here – he wrote Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, neither of which I have read, but there were quotes everywhere in the train station and when I emerged onto Princes Street, there was a stonking great monument to the bloke just down the road.

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You’ll also find Scott at The Writers’ Museum – along with two other Scottish wordsmiths – Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson – and on my last day I spent about an hour here admiring the personal effects, checking out the photos and reading about the lives of these famous men.

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After three days in Edinburgh, I hadn’t found very much that paid tribute to another well-known literary Scot – Arthur Conan-Doyle who invented one of the world’s most famous detectives, Sherlock Holmes. Luckily Allan Foster’s Book Lovers’ Walking Tour plugged that gap and at one o’clock we met outside the museum and ventured off into yet another downpour.

Heading to the south side of the city, we entered Conan-Doyle territory with a couple of stops at the College of Surgeons – where as a student, he found the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes in Joseph Bell – and his local drinking hole, Rutherford’s Bar. The bar was also a favourite of Robert Louis Stevenson and the restaurant that occupies the building now is called The Hispaniola in a nod to Stevenson’s most famous novel, Treasure Island.

Conan Doyle

Photograph of Conan-Doyle at The Hispaniola Restaurant in Drummond Street

It was an interesting, behind-the-scenes sort of 90 minutes and pretty easy walking in spite of the weather. Allan’s knowledge covered so much more than I would have discovered on my own so I’d recommend this walk if you are even remotely bookish.

There are also quite a few eateries with literary links in Edinburgh and I particularly enjoyed The Queens Arms in Frederick Street (New Town) and the Deacon’s House Cafe off the Royal Mile in the Old Town. I also visited The Elephant House whose claim to fame was as the ‘birthplace of Harry Potter’, it being claimed that J.K. Rowling used to frequent the cafe when she was writing the books. It was well-appointed and spacious but I was underwhelmed by the service and food.

So that was the extent of my literary goings on in Scotland’s capital. My next, and final, Edinburgh post will shine a light on three of my favourite staycation moments. But if you’re coming along, you’d best bring your brolly


If you are interesting in reading about my entire visit, here are the other posts in my armchair tour of Edinburgh:

Edinburgh: Inside and out (the next – and last – one)

Edinburgh: A royal trifecta (the first one)

 

Edinburgh: A royal trifecta

After the success of my trip to York in March, I indulged in another mid-week staycation at the beginning of June, this time to Edinburgh. I had been twice before – an airport-customer meeting-back to the airport affair on both occasions – and had heard many good things about visiting the city itself. It was definitely time to explore further afield so I got onto a train at King Cross station in London for the four and a half hour journey north to Edinburgh.

This post is the first of three and is designed to be an armchair tour of my foray into Edinburgh’s royal associations. The city has a lot of royal connections – think Mary Queen of Scots, James VI of Scotland/I of England and Robert the Bruce – and aside from meandering up and down the Royal Mile, there are essentially three ways to doff your cap to royal Edinburgh.

Day one of my staycation dawned and after a damp morning wandering along the Royal Mile, I was off to Edinburgh Castle. The previous evening I’d had the brilliant idea of booking a skip-the-line ticket with a castle walking tour to avoid waiting around. Well as I mentioned earlier it was raining – I mean REALLY raining with fat wet drops that teemed down relentlessly – and this had clearly put a dampener on people’s plans. It turned out there was no line to skip.

However the walking tour was worth it, chock full of lively tales about Edinburgh, the castle itself and some of its key protagonists. Our guide also took some time to explain to us why Braveheart (the Mel Gibson movie) and the stereotype of the kilt-wearing, haggis-eating Scot were both wildly inaccurate – obviously a sore point. In any case on such a wet day, having someone knowledgeable to shepherd you around and tell you stories about the various points of interest was far more efficient than trying to stay dry whilst reading about them at each of their locations around the castle. And there were plenty of stories and things to see…

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I particularly liked going through the Prison of War and loved the views from around the castle which, despite the weather, were spectacular. The formal tour part went for just under two hours and I spent another hour looking around so you’d probably need to allow half a day for this visit. And don’t be put off by the rain – this is Scotland and it’s not green for nothing so a) it would be silly (and potentially pointless) to wait for better weather and b) a smart staycationer always packs enough layers to accommodate all weathers.

Speaking of weather, it was significantly improved the following day with bright blue sky and pleasant sunshine (who knew!) so I spent the morning down in Leith on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. The entrance was inside a large shopping centre and it felt a bit odd to be looking for a rather big boat by walking through the shops. But the signage was easy to follow and once there, I had a really enjoyable couple of hours.

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Whether you’re a royalist or not, this was a fantastic opportunity to see how everyone lived on board – including the crew – as well as the huge number of people and jobs involved in the smooth running of the ship. It took me just over 90 minutes to wander around and look at everything before deciding to head up to the restaurant  where I enjoyed a bowl of cullen skink and a fresh fruit scone with jam and cream.

The sun continued to beam brightly overhead so I decided to get on a bus, head back to Edinburgh’s Old Town and spend the afternoon at Holyrood Palace. It’s the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland as well as the old home of Mary Queen of Scots so there’s a lot of history here. There were also some awesome abbey ruins and a sprawl of beautiful gardens around the palace with views of Arthur’s Seat. I settled for a while on a sun-drenched bench to enjoy the peace and quiet, admire the views and ‘take the air’.

I couldn’t taken photos inside the Palace (for preservation reasons) but I took loads of snaps in the gardens and abbey ruins…

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This visit wasn’t part of my original to-do list but I’m so glad that I went. I took a great deal of pleasure in the range of things available – beautiful gardens, awesome architecture and shed-loads of history. I also upgraded my ticket to see the exhibition in The Queens Gallery – at first glance, Maria Merian’s Butterflies may not have seemed my thing but the more I wandered, the more fascinating and exquisitely drawn I found it.

So this brings us to the end of royal Edinburgh gidday-style. Next up I’ll be indulging my bookish inclinations with trawl through literary Edinburgh – feel free to tag along if you fancy.


If you are interesting in reading about my entire visit, here are the other posts in my armchair tour of Edinburgh:

Edinburgh: Literary liaisons (the next one)

Edinburgh: Inside and out (the last one)

Spreading the word[s]

Acknowledgement is a lovely thing. When I started blogging in 2008, the first post I sent out into the blogosphere was intended for my family, a way for me to share the moments of my expat life with those across the other side of the world.  But I got two comments – some kind words of support and encouragement – and suddenly a whole world opened up. 626 posts and nine years later I still wonder at you all – in a marvellously nice way that is. That you actually want to read my warblings on life is humbling and I am grateful for every time you visit and leave your mark whether it’s by following, liking, leaving a comment or just hanging out incognito.

Earlier this week I popped into Gidday from the UK ‘s back office to follow up on a few email notifications. I had a few comments to reply to and I wanted to return any post ‘likes’ by having a nosey around the latest posts of those very likers. Anyway, I got a lovely surprise. A nod from new Gidday-er, Rupali who blogs over at Full of Dreams, who had nominated me for a Unique Blogger Award.

UBA landscape

Acknowledgement never gets old (even after 626 posts) so Rupali, thank you.

Rupali’s blog is full of dreams – her dreams – and the masthead says it all…

“A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.”

Her posts capture moments and explore how the smallest things can change one’s day and make a difference. You can pop over, have a squiz and say gidday here

Rupali’s also asked me three questions…

  1. What is the best thing about writing that you love? It’s definitely the ability to relive a moment through writing about it.
  2. Name one of the blogs from your collection that you love and why? Memories of Nanjing because it captures a memory, a moment of unspoken acknowledgement in the most unexpected place. Even when I read it just now, I could still feel the thick warmth of the night air on the back of my neck and see the flowers appearing beneath her fingers.
  3. What do you prefer more, Reading or Writing? Oh dear, it’s reading. I’m a bit addicted…

Rupali finishes each post by admonishing us to ‘never lose that smile’. Well if you’ve been following Gidday from the UK for a while, you’ll know how I feel about creating moments of joy. So I’m sending this award on its way in the hopes of paying a little joy forward…

10 blogs that I love are:

  1. Chaotic Shapes
  2. Black.Bunched.Mass.Mom.
  3. Trash on the Monocacy
  4. Perking the Pansies
  5. Expat Edna
  6. lemanshots
  7. My One Beautiful Thing
  8. Pelky Sisters
  9. Are You Happy?
  10. Flirting with the Globe

Bloggers, your mission, should you choose to accept it (otherwise known as the rules for this award)…

  • Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
  • Answer my 3 questions:
    • What was your first ever blog post about? Don’t pretty it up peeps, mine was about turtles.
    • If you weren’t blogging/reading this blog right now, what would – or should – you be doing? The list is long…but probably eating.
    • Name one of the blogs from your collection that you love and why?  I am stealing this question from Rupali because it made me smile the most.
  • In the spirit of sharing smiles and moments of joy, nominate 8-13 bloggers for the same award.
  • And ask them 3 questions of your own.

Seriously peeps, acknowledgement is so good for the soul and we can all find a little time to give a nod to someone who brings something beautiful, thoughtful, joyful to our day.

So please share the bloggers that you love and keep spreading the word[s].

Counting down

I was fossicking about on Facebook this morning when Licensed-To-Grill (Mum’s partner) mentioned that I had been unusually silent. He didn’t mean generally – I always have plenty to say and share – but he was pointing to one thing in particular. So this post is designed to address that gap, to fill the space that has been created, ironically enough, as a result of my busy-ness.

There are 38 sleeps to go until my birthday.

My sister, Lil Chicky, and I love a countdown. I mean what’s not to love about a Christmas countdown, (especially when you are smugly/annoyingly organised like me)? And every second Christmas I’m usually heading back Down Under so there’s the additional excitement of seeing loved ones again and enjoying a stretch of warm weather smack bang in the middle of a London winter.

Yep, that’s a pretty great thing to count down to.

But what about the birthday countdown?

Mum, Lil Chicky and I moved to Melbourne when I was ten which put us a plane trip away from a lot of our family. It also meant that the usual day-to-day experiences of girls growing into teenagers were not available to them. As a result, a couple of times a year, Mum would find herself fielding a host of ‘what would she like?’ requests as our birthdays approached. Being a family that doesn’t do ‘here’s some money, buy what you like’, we would be asked for a ‘birthday list’.

As I got older – and I mean into my 20s, 30s and *ahem* 40s – I started to have a bit of fun with this by dropping it into regular conversation. Things like ‘Oooh I’m excited, only 38 sleeps to go!’ or ‘Did you know there are only 37 shopping days until my birthday?’. It gets a laugh but it also does something else.

Remember how excited you used to get about your birthday when you were a kid? (And if you can’t remember that far back, just check out any kids aged up to the age of ten with an impending birthday in your vicinity.) Well, this silliness creates a huge dose of childish excitement…in me. I absolutely love it. I don’t know about you but I reckon we could all use a bit more childish joy in life.

On the practical side, I still supply a birthday list each year that gets built in the weeks leading up to my big day. (I like Amazon Wishlist as I can build it as I think of things – instead of in one go – and I can restrict the list access so it’s not public.)  I treat it as a way of showcasing things I’m currently interested in so loved ones can either purchase directly from it (instead of shipping stuff from Australia) or be inspired by it. Books feature a lot, jewellery gets a regular look in and every so often there’ll be something a bit more random like a fancy lampshade I’ve fallen in love with, a funky kindle case or a pretty summer dressing gown.

But every year I am reminded of the power I have to generate my own joyful moments. And to remember that the day I came into the world was a gift and will always be worth celebrating.

There are 38 sleeps to go peeps.

And I AM excited.I'm excited

 

Favourite things: Book chat

This time last year, I spent a couple of hours reading – and sheltering – inside a large marquee at the Royal Geographic Society for the inaugural Emerald Street Literary Festival. In spite of the damp and dreary weather, I had a lovely time – so much so that as soon as I saw the promotion for this year’s event, I snapped up some earlybird tickets.

In stark contrast, yesterday’s sun cast its benevolent warmth over the RGS marquee as it fizzed with London’s literati enjoying Festival number two. The rooms and theatres played host to author panels, discussions on themes like race, travel writing and witchcraft, and freebies. The Map Room had an Aperol Spritz waiting for each attendee and in the marquee, Headline Publishing were offering a choice of one of six paperbacks for those who’d booked multiple sessions – like me.

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My free book – The House of Birds – thanks to Headline Publishing

After checking out the lay of the land and collecting my book, I headed to the theatre for the first of the four sessions I’d booked for the afternoon. Here’s how it all went down.

1. Why do we love to talk about books?

The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced this week and this panel was the last of the Prize’s official events. It comprised Kate Mosse – author, Prize co-founder and honorary director – Naomi Alderman – winner of this year’s Prize with The Power (it’s a great read) – and Ayobami Adebayo – whose first novel, Stay With Me, was on this year’s short-list. The trio took to the stage to chat about their own reading and writing and to explore the question: Why do we love to talk about books?

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L to R: Naomi Alderman, Ayobami Adebayo and Kate Mosse

Over the next 45 minutes, these three authors talked about their writing, the rollercoaster of confidence that comes with it and whether/what they actually read when they are writing something. (For each it depended on the draft number but the general consensus was don’t read the same genre as you are writing.)  There was also a really interesting discussion on criticism and I liked the way that Naomi answered this: There’s enormous value in paid-for constructive criticism, ignore the ‘abuse’ at the other end of the spectrum and remember that reader reviews e.g. Goodreads, Amazon etc. are ‘not really for us [the authors]’ but rather for other readers. Ayobami also loved that she’d discovered the mute conversation option on Twitter.

And what about the question at hand – why do we love talking about books? Well, Naomi likened it to finding this amazing new cafe and then telling everyone they should go. She also shared an observation about the personal affront you feel when someone doesn’t really love a book that you did. The chat about this swayed from jokes about ‘we can’t be friends any more’ (Ayobami) and the overwhelming urge to defend and re-sell [them] on your choice of reading material to feeling utterly shocked and deflated (Naomi). Haven’t we all been there!

2. Telling true stories: Explaining narrative journalism

This was a fascinating peek into the world of long-form journalism with Clare Longrigg, deputy editor of The Guardian’s Long Read, and Sophie Elmhirst, a journalist who’s written pieces for The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar and The Guardian (just to name a few.)

They chatted first about the difference between a long read and a longer celebrity profile – Sophie particularly talked about the greater amount of time invested in a long read piece to explore whatever the subject matter is (and she’s written on everything from water to Robin Wright). When a person is the subject of her article, she tries to see them at home or do something with them, and also talks to others in that world to get a range of angles to draw from. She mentioned that it’s often the innocuous thing that someone says that breathes life into the piece. For example, did you know that when Richard Dawkins‘ can’t sleep, he goes through the alphabet and assigns mammals to each letter? Well thanks to Sophie, you do now.

3. Essex Girls, Serpents and Writing a Best Seller

Sarah Perry‘s second novel, The Essex Serpent, was on the Prize shortlist in 2016 but at the time, I thought it sounded too primly Victorian to be my cup of tea. How wrong I was on both counts – it was far from prim and I absolutely loved it. So to hear Perry chat with Lucy Mangan – I have been a fan of Mangan’s column in Stylist magazine for a while – was something I was really looking forward to.

I was completely charmed by Sarah. She talked about her unorthodox upbringing, the way she has always like her eccentricity, her curious mind that ‘needed nourishment’ and her drive to explore themes in her writing to make it a worthwhile pursuit.

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Lucy Mangan (L) listens as Sarah Perry (R) reads from The Essex Serpent

Sarah spoke about exploring different sorts of love in her writing – except romantic love. She professed to being bored by exploring this as a writer and as a reader in light of her own smooth path to love and marriage – “I just found a nice man and married him.” She also talked about how her first novel, After Me Comes The Flood was published: After 19 rejection letters, her agent left the firm…and became her publisher.

Sarah’s passion, curiosity and unusual viewpoint made for a delightful 45 minutes – she’s interested in so much and for me, it’s what made her so interesting to listen to.

4. Emerald Street Presents Robin Dalton

I had never heard of Robin Dalton before the festival but she’s 96, grew up in Australia before moving to London in 1946 and has been a literary agent, TV personality, film producer and spy for the Thai government so I figured that it had to be interesting. She was promoting her memoir, One Leg Over, and read a few pages to get things started…

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Kat Poole (L) listens as Robin Dalton (R) reads from One Leg Over

She spoke of her gallivanting during the war years and her lack of ‘ambition’, preferring to live in the moment and see what happened from that rather than making any plans. And she’s had some moments – her society divorce kicked war from the front pages and her reading included anecdotes of time spent with the likes of John F Kennedy and Noel Coward.

Robin also told us that the eyebrow-raising title of the book was not intended to be salacious but rather, it captures a moment – the moment when she’s getting out of the bath, has managed to get one leg over the side and thinks to herself “that’s one leg over”.

So that was the formal part of the day. In between I found a lovely wodge of time to read – in the marquee over lunch and then later in a quiet sunny spot on the steps with a deliciously large slice of coffee and walnut cake – and indulge in a chat or two with some of my fellow bookworms.

Books, cake and glorious sunshine – what a great way to spend a Saturday!

The meaning of stuff

Lately I’ve been thinking about stuff.

Just over thirteen years ago I packed my stuff into a half container and had it shipped across the world. A year later, when I finally moved into a tiny flat in South West London, I can still remember how thrilled I was to have my stuff all around me again. I remember filling the drawers of my beautiful wooden sideboard with games, crockery and assorted bits and pieces and ripping into the box marked CDs to plug into some much-missed Aussie favourites. It felt like Christmas and a birthday all rolled into one.

Spending so much time at home at the moment has made me realise how much stuff I have. Most of this original shipment is still with me and my years here – and a move to a bigger flat five and a half years ago – has seen me accumulate more.

What has struck me is how it runs my life. Last week, I spent almost three hours re-staining my 5-year-old outdoor setting. It was not a fun experience and as a mucky pup, I managed to get the wood stain in all sorts of places it wasn’t meant to be. But it’s a big job that’s been ticked off the list and I’m really pleased with how it looks. Until I have to do it again…

Outdoor setting freshly stained

Almost 3 hours of work and it looks great. But I know I’ll have to do it again…and again.

I saw Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, interviewed earlier in the year. It was clear that he’d been considering this as well.

“We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us.” 

His point was this. Before we caught on to the idea of cultivating more wheat than we needed, we hunted and gathered only as much food as we could eat, following and staying where the food source took us. Wheat had us stop and settle, invest time and energy and resources – including the building of fences and the shovelling of sh*t – to preserve and protect it. His question is ‘do we really think we are running the show?’

My question is now, ‘has my outdoor setting domesticated me?’

Stuff is everywhere. And here in London you cannot travel far without coming across a testament to it – a museum. And it’s been in visiting some of the smaller ones recently that has got me thinking about what stuff means and why preserve it.

In the last couple of months, I’ve visited the home of wealthy industrialist, Frank Green in York, the Hampstead home of Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna and the home of architect and collector Sir John Soane in London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields. For me, these personal collections of antiquities, curiosities and everyday items created a much greater sense of the person’s story and time. I was especially fascinated to learn that:

  • Sir John Soane was such an avid collector that he bought the sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharoah Seti I (1303 – 1290 BC) when the British Museum ran out of money after it had secured the controversial Elgin Marbles.
  • Sigmund Freud was so attached to his stuff that he refashioned the study he had in Vienna in his new home in London, including THAT couch.
Freud Museum montage

Freud lived at Bergasse, 19 in Vienna for 47 years. Before he fled to London in 1938, he had his rooms in Vienna photographed with a view to recreating them in his new home.

Without stuff, how would we get a sense of what has happened before or what life was like? And yet the physical stuff is not the whole picture.

I attended a breakfast seminar in April which addressed the question of stuff. There was a lot of talk about decluttering, connoisseurship and the trend towards spending on experiences rather than things. Research shows that the Millennial generation in particular (born between the early 80’s and the late 90’s) are tending to share and access stuff versus owning it. Perhaps this is a conscious choice about being unencumbered and financial enough to travel, attend events, concerts and festivals, eat out and, as one media pundit noted, ‘drink their £4 coffees’.

The digital discussions around music (iTunes), streaming services (Netflix/Amazon Prime) and e-books were also interesting and in the face of their continued growth, the non-digital experiences associated with all three industries are being revisited. Vinyl has become the choice of the cool connoisseur. Cinemas are providing VIP services and collaborating with live event providers eg. theatre, opera, ballet and even the annual TED Conference, to expand their audience and revenue opportunities. And books? Well, e-book share is highest in the US, having grown to 25% since 2009, yet only 7% of people state that they will read only e-books in the future. (Source: PWC – The future of e-books 2016). That seems to me to be a gap for stuff to fill…

Here at Gidday HQ, the past few months have been chequered with bi-weekly trips to the charity shop as I’ve been weeding stuff out of cupboards, drawers and wardrobes. In the words of Steve Howard, CEO of global stuff purveyor IKEA…

If we look on a global basis, in the west I’d say we’ve probably hit peak stuff.” 

…and my cupboards probably agree. But with IKEA’s sales up 4.8%, their expansion into new markets going strong and the opening of their IKEA Museum in 2016, I’d say ‘I don’t think so’.

Consider this. How often have you been trapped shopped in the IKEA Market Hall and found yourself putting a funky new toilet roll holder (that you had to have) onto the checkout conveyor next to the matching-colander-and-spatula-set (that will be very handy) and yet-another-bag of 100 tea light candles (because we might’ve run out)? And who doesn’t love a Billy bookshelf – the home for books (and most likely other stuff) that ‘loves to grow’?

No. We like stuff. We like the stories stuff tells us about ourselves – how much or little of it we have, what it all means about us. And we like to check out other people’s stuff – in museums, on social media, on the bus – and decide what we think it means about them.

So to my mind, our relationship with stuff is still going strong and digitisation is just encouraging us to get more and more of it. Case in point: My Kindle currently holds 70+ books, about what I would normally read in a year. (I also have a bookshelf full of ‘proper’ books.)

But in our world of curated content and social media profiles, the tangible and/or visible stuff only tells part of our story. I wonder what the people who will populate the centuries ahead will imagine about us based on this – the visible/tangible stuff we leave behind? I’m not talking about the impact on the environment – that’s a question that could fill several blog posts – but about the minutiae of our daily lives.

And actually, come to think of it, what will the people, the ones who will be buying my pre-loved items from the local op-shop, think about me!?