Setting the tone

This morning I was lying in bed listening to the radio. English TV presenter Davina McCall was being interviewed and she mentioned that she ‘loves a new year’, that it was a time of ‘getting on with it’ after the world winding down over the Christmas period. I found myself nodding in agreement from beneath the duvet.

There is something insistent about a new year, isn’t there?

Wherever I am at this time of year, whether Down Under with family in Melbourne or at home here in London, I like to give a nod to the year just gone. This time around I’ve been enormously grateful for the time and space that my end-of-2016 redundancy has given me. 2017 has turned into something of a watershed year. It’s been a year during which I wondered how a life without a job – and the structure that a job brings – might look. It’s certainly been a year of reflecting and exploring what I’m passionate about.

And the first of these is reading.

Yes I’ve been indulging my passion for the written word, reading like a mad thing and finishing the year with 118 books under my belt. At the same time, I’ve tried to challenge myself by reading more widely and I’ve tackled books that have been confronting, uplifting and gripping. Some have been boring, some have been surprising. But for the most part, they took me to new places, immersed me in new stories and left me curious, inspired and hungry for more.

Then there’s learning.

I’ve introduced myself to the world of MOOCs, embarking on the first structured learning I’ve had in over 25 years. I relished the return to economics and development – a subject I loved at high school – and dived into the untested waters of democracy and development in Africa and an introduction to philosophy. It inspired me, taught me, challenged me and frustrated me. What I didn’t expect to learn is that I have a better capacity for self-discipline that I thought.

I’m also passionate about making a difference. Regular readers might remember that in June, I took on my first non-executive director role by becoming a school governor – answering a personal calling to support and guide the young people who will live in the environment/society we are leaving in our wake.

I’ve also been travelling, exploring places like York, Edinburgh and Muscat (Oman) for the first time as well as revisiting old haunts – Oxford and Canterbury in the UK and then Paris with Lil Chicky in November. And on the home-front, I’ve shone some light into a few culinary black spots and added some new made-by-me staples to the Gidday pantry.

That’s not a bad year. It has certainly been a busy and stimulating one so like everyone, I enjoyed the luscious slow-down of the pre-New Year week. But once I could see January on the horizon, just like Davina I was itching to get stuck in again.

So it’s time to tackle 2018.

I’ve already added a new batch-recipe staple to my culinary repertoire – a delicious chicken bhuna curry – courtesy of a pre-new year visit to the Waitrose Cookery School.

bhuna curry montage

Left: The version I produced under supervision (with some sticky rice and made-by-Kym chapati); Right: The batch made at home was an absolute treat. The three leftover portions froze beautifully and kept me well-fed for a week.

I’ll be continuing to expand my aesthetic horizons this year and am off to the V&A Museum next Tuesday. What’s new about that? I hear you say. Well, I’ll be off with my brand spanking new V&A Museum membership – a Christmas present from Mum – tucked safely in my pocket.

VAM membership pack

The membership pack was almost as much fun to open as the promise of free exhibitions and other membership perks!

On the reading front, I’ve signed up to read 70 books for the year on Goodreads – including something from all 50 themes on the PopSugar Reading Challenge 2018  list – and am looking forward to some unexpected gems from my V&A Book Group. And after a few years of donating, I’ve finally made the acquaintance of the bookshelf at my local charity shop.

Book stack

I loved Byatt’s The Children’s Book (a V&A Book Group read from last year) so was chuffed to find Possession on the shelf. Grenville and Amis are authors I’ve never read and let’s face it, at less than £1.50 per book, I can afford to explore some new literary horizons.

I’ve also taken my first steps towards being a property investor, attending a 3-day strategy builder course last weekend, booking in for some courses on Buy-To-Let and Multiple-Occupancy over the coming months and getting stuck in with some research.

And of course my governor activity will continue in earnest as we embed last year’s initiatives and embark on some exciting new projects in 2018.

So with all of this setting the tone for the year ahead, I’ve bought some new stationery…


Setting the (b)right tone for the year

Isn’t it lovely?


It’s going to be a bright and shiny 2018 peeps – I can feel it already!

Sacred places

Christmas is done for another year and we are coming to the end of that strange hiatus before the new year begins and life gets going in earnest again.

It has been four years since I spent a Christmas at home and flying solo meant that I could plan a completely selfish day, with absolutely no-one to please but myself. The day was filled with favourites: foodie treats (croissants – check, duck-fat roasted potatoes – check, Pat’s mango fruitcake – check), chats with loved ones Down Under and some Singin’ in the Rain (so full of joy and well, Gene Kelly peeps, what’s not to like *sigh*). There was also a luscious stretch of comfy-couch reading and some seasonal happy telly in the form of the Strictly Come Dancing and Great British Bake-off Christmas specials.

This year, the big day also fell smack-bang in the middle of a marvellous six days cocooned at home. I spent many glorious hours snuggled under a cosy throw catching up on movies I’d meant to see and snacking on cheese and home-made fruitcake (not together). And there was plenty of time to indulge in my favourite thing to do – reading. As far as I am concerned, there’s nothing like losing yourself in a good book and for six days, I found myself utterly engrossed in a tale of adventure, mysticism and history – From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple.

From the Holy Mountain

When From the Holy Mountain was published twenty years ago in 1997, I had just started travelling. Egypt had been a passion of mine since I was 14 years old, so much so that a career as an archaeologist had held quite some allure. Unlike others I knew who’d set off post-Uni to backpack around Europe, I went to work, saved my pennies and splashed it all on an escorted group tour through Egypt.

Over two mind-blowing weeks, our tour group travelled between Luxor and Aswan listening to stories of ancient rituals and dynasties, wandering through temples and bazaars and scrutinising endless statues and heiroglyphics. We then returned to Cairo for a couple of days and early one morning four of us took a camel ride up through the dusty streets and around the great stone peaks of the world’s most famous tombs, the mighty Pyramids of Giza.

The next day our bus made a stop there on the way back from Memphis and when our guide mentioned that we’d have enough time to go inside, I jumped at the chance. To my astonishment, the rest of the group elected to stay by the bus taking photos so I joined the file of tourists entering the shaded entrance and climbed determinedly up the stone ramp to the inner chamber.

After fifteen minutes the corridor narrowed until it was only wide enough for one person to pass through. I waited patiently until it was my turn to ‘duck-walk’ under the couple of metres of low ceiling-ed passage before the chamber. I stood, stretched my legs gratefully and moved away from the entrance to let a waiting group leave. As the last person crouched into the low space behind me, their exit stemmed the incoming flow of visitors for a couple of minutes and I was left alone in the chamber. In the dim light, a broken sarcophagus hunched darkly to my right as I gazed upwards to the chamber roof soaring above me. My skin prickled and I stood awestruck by the stillness, by the silence and by the sheer moment of standing under something built 4,500 years ago.

Had I read Dalrymple’s tale back then, I would probably have wanted to spend much longer and venture much further afield than my two weeks allowed. Twenty years later, the part of the world he writes about in From the Holy Mountain fascinates me. It was home to the grand and glittering Byzantium, an empire that stretched from Greece and through Constantinople (now Istanbul), crossing the Bosphorus into the vastness of eastern Turkey, turning south through Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine and finally swinging west across the Sinai Desert into Egypt.

Following in the footsteps of two 6th century monks, Dalrymple’s memoir took me on a five month pilgrimage from Mt Athos in Greece to the Great Kharga Oasis in Upper Egypt. His historic references and stories – taken from accounts of John Mochos and Sophronius’ journey – added a fascinating richness but more than that, Dalrymple’s vivid prose brought to life the distinctive landscapes and peoples he encountered along the way. Scattering these amongst his own discussions, interviews and reflections created this wonderful sense of being alongside him as he travelled. This was his pilgrimage, a chance to slake his obsession with the monks’ journey he had read about years before – and it reminded me of mine taken in the shadow of a 13 year love affair with Egypt all those years ago (albeit mine being much shorter than his).

I stayed buried in Dalrymple’s story of civil wars, displaced peoples and sacred places for almost a week, the memories of my first adventure flooding back and the itch to travel welling inside me. I felt like I was on a wonderful journey and that my life was richer for having read this book. As I closed the final page and added this extraordinary travel memoir to my literary favourites, I made myself a couple of resolutions – to learn more about these ancient worlds and to get Dalrymple’s In Xanadu onto my to-read list.

So here’s to a 2018 full of sacred places to discover and new worlds to explore – have yourselves a happy new year peeps!