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.

A Capital Evening…

Last night I went to see an interview with John Lanchester, author of Gidday From The UK’s Book Nook entry Capital (#6 in 2013).

Lanchester, while sounding as English as they come (to my ear anyway) was born in Germany and spent his early years in Hong Kong before being educated in England. He has bridged the literary leap from journalist to author via what might appear to be a rather convoluted crossing: writing obituaries, reporting on the football, editing books, contributing to The New Yorker and becoming deputy editor of the London Review of books. I think it’s safe to say he comes from the ‘broad church’ school of writing.

John Lanchester
image source: www.faber.co.uk

And he can really write. I loved Capital – what Lanchester calls his Big Fat London Novel – especially the minutae of the residents in and visitors to a reasonably affluent suburban street not so far from where I used to live, so I was really looking forward to this chat with the Guardian Book Club’s John Mullan.

The interview was fascinating and the hour was crammed with glimpses into the mind of this interesting and engaging writer and when I left, two of his quotes especially stood out for me.

The first is London is a city that the world presses on. 

This is a feeling that I’ve tried to capture so many times when asked – as people do when you are Australian – what are you doing here? The best I’ve been able to come up with is that London is in the ‘centre’ of things and that Australia feels incredibly isolated and ‘out of things’ by comparison (mind you, this is not always a bad thing). The rush of being in the centre of the world’s issues is addictive and as these simple words left Lanchester’s lips, I felt the voice in my head say emphatically, ‘yes that’s exactly it.’

The second quote referred to the 2011 Census (which Lanchester mentions several times over the hour – obviously one of his own addictions!). 45% of the London population classes their ethnicity as White British. That means that White British are in the minority in London.

With such a large multi-cultural population, I’ve always felt quite a distinct and unusual dichotomy between the newness and ferocity of the immigrants and the resigned apathy inherent in London’s incumbents. Lanchester talked about the range of non-London characters in the book and how they provide a fresh set of eyes and opinions on what others might either see as ordinary or may not even notice at all.

He particularly talked about his Polish builder (a mere visitor in the fabric of this extraordinarily everyday street) and this character’s amazement at seeing the extreme drunken-ness around the edges of Clapham Common, a way he’s never seen people (particularly girls) behave back in Poland.

This is something I try to do. Not the extreme drunken-ness (oh you naughty Gidday-ers!) I mean to have that fresh-eyed view. Being present to the extraordinarily everyday moments: an historic snippet in an unexpected location or a beautiful burst of sky on my early morning commute or some stunning architecture dappled with London light. And then there are those moments of human-ness – sometimes in an exuberant child or a cache of voluble friends, at other times a glimpse of a soul bathed in poignant solitary-ness.

His responses to the questions from the audience were every bit as interesting and all too soon, the event came to a end and I was left inspired to read more of this fantastic writer’s work.

Yes, I’ve become a fan.

Lanchester’s pragmatic empathy in talking about his vast range of characters and his deep love of this unique and multi-cultural pressure cooker called London have definitely earned him a spot on this immigrant’s reading radar.

Another Rainy Sunday…

I can’t quite believe that I’ve been back five weeks. The days have flown by and it feels like much longer since I sat under that hot blue sky and felt the fierce Australian sun on my shoulders. Particularly since I have been rugged up at home this weekend keeping the chilly grey dampness outside well at bay.

This afternoon I’ve been watching Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I’ve seen snippets of it before but have never sat and watched the whole thing through. What an amazing movie – kind of like Beaches and Thelma and Louise (enduring female friendship flicks) combined with The Help and To Kill A Mockingbird (for commentary on racial injustice). If you haven’t seen these films, I’ll let you google them for yourself to avoid this sentence getting a little ‘link-crazy’. 

The four leading ladies are extraordinary and I can only surmise that there was some stiff competition during the 1992 awards season for while Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates received nominations at the Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes, the ‘Whistle Stop Cafe’ trophy cabinet remained strangely empty.

Rear: Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker
Front: Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy

There are times when I still find it difficult to believe that the era of black oppression and the Klu Klux Klan actually existed. But then prejudice is still prejudice no matter what the ‘colour’ and I think about Sarah’s Key (which I saw recently at my beloved Phoenix as part of Holocaust Memorial Day) a film that tells the story of the 13,000 Jews rounded up by the French authorities in Paris in 1942 for transportation to Auschwitz and my visit last September to the old ghetto areas of Krakow and the camp itself.

And then I think about the recent ‘burkha debate’ that has reared its rather unattractive head in various institutions of ‘learning’ across Europe and of a recent book I read called The Cypress Tree (the Book Nook 2013 #3) by Israeli-born journalist Kamin Mohammadi and it seems to me we’ve not come so very far at all.

Anyway, the final credits rolled and I found myself wondering why I’d never watched this movie before. And it strengthened one of my ‘resolutions’ (for want of a better word – I don’t really do resolutions) to branch out from my traditional favourites and to watch some older, unseen films when the comfy couch beckons again on another rainy Sunday afternoon.

A Little Tinkering…

Well peeps it’s been a cosy, curled-up-indoors kind of Sunday here at Gidday HQ. I’ve done chores (well, some), read a little, sorted some pics I took in London yesterday, had a chat with Mum and carried out a little virtual redecorating. Yes, in the spirit of trying out new stuff and beginning a shiny new chapter, I have been tinkering away to give Gidday From The UK a bit of a lift. 

This year is about new horizons for me, whatever they turn out to be, so I wanted a ‘eyes up’, skyward theme. But I also like the relaxed feel of Gidday – a bit like I’ve invited you over for a cuppa and a chat – and didn’t want to morph into something that just wasn’t…well, me. So I’ve decided to use a picture of my very own street in Fabulous Finchley as the backdrop to all things Gidday.

Taken from the footpath right outside my front door

The last year has also seen me out and about a bit and I’m quite chuffed about this new notoriety. And I wanted to acknowledge the generosity of my fellow adventurers in the blogosphere for saying nice stuff about Gidday and for some especially brave souls, letting me loose on their patch to witter on about stuff.  So I’ve added a new page, Going Walkabout.

Gidday has played host to some Special Guests this year too. I love the variety it brings to the Gidday journey and so am putting this out there now – if you’d like me to write a guest post for you on…erm…something, I am completely up for it.

Speaking of putting stuff out there, I told you yesterday about another new page, Mind The Gap! designed to capture all that’s sublime and ridiculous about charting one’s course through the Queen’s English in Blighty. Please feel free to contribute your stories – the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned (and thanks to Michelloui for her LOL tale of #expatfail on yesterday’s post).

The Book Nook (previously the 50 Book Challenge until I got to 50) will remain at large and in the last few months has featured the scribblings of two of you, Charlie Wade with The Bailout (No. 51) and Jack Scott with Perking The Pansies: Jack and Liam Move To Turkey (No. 57).

No doubt there’s more to come and not just from Jack and Charlie. You (well some of you anyway) seem to like my mini-reviews so I’ll keep ’em coming for 2012.

As for the rest, we’ll see what transpires as the year progresses. I already anticipate much travelling and a fair amount of fossicking in old London Town so some new themes may emerge on this front. In addition, the new Gidday HQ offers many opportunities not available in my previous super-small abode. I can see a few soirees of the outdoor variety taking place on the sizeable patio/in the grassy bit of the garden (which may or may not overshadow any future baking exploits). And let’s not forget that Gidday HQ is guest-ready – Mum will be here in just 37 sleeps.

And speaking of Mum, she’s is a stickler for manners that one – I may never meet HRH but Mum is comforted by the fact I at least know how to behave well. So thank you for all your reading, laughing, scoffing, following and commenting. Let me assure you every one of your comments is eagerly opened as I make my daily commute to and from work. This is the place where I put little old me on the page – whatever that may be at the time – and being cheered, supported and surprised by your feedback can really transform an often lacklustre commute.

That’s it for now so I hope you enjoy Gidday From The UK’s new duds. I look forward to more exciting travels through the blogosphere with you and if you are ever actually in London and fancy a face-to-face with an irreverent Aussie sheila, just let me know.

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!