Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Girls' weekend in Edinburgh

Two weekends ago in Edinburgh, the city was bright and sunny in late autumn colours. 


In Princes Street gardens, above and below, carpeted with leaves, people were enjoying the sunshine ...


At the Scott memorial, a sea of Remembrance Day crosses and poppies marked the dead, from 1939-1945 in Europe through to Afghanistan and Iraq.



Older Daughter and I entertained ourselves with some girly shopping ... in Anthropologie I tried to persuade her that the fur hat and red glasses were just the thing for winter in Scotland, but she just rolled her eyes at me ...



... and took me instead to see her daily university haunts ...

stately McEwan Hall, where graduations and exams are held 

students' bicycles lined up outside the university library

Teviot Hall, above, and Old College, below, Edinburgh University's original site 


What a grand and lovely place to spend one's university days ...


At night there was some indulgent (what else are mums for?) eating out, in a city where one is spoiled for choice ...

looking in the window of a cosy pub

The High Kirk of St Giles looked full of mystery and drama in this grainy mobile phone snap, above ...
... while The Dome (below) in fashionable George Street, where we popped in for a drink, was looking extravagantly Christmassy already


Besides being chock-full of the friendliest people in the universe, Edinburgh has more restaurants per person than any other city in the UK. At The Outsider, Hotel du Vin, and Maison Bleue, we had some of the best food I've had in ages ...


The Christmas lights, the markets, funfair and ice-skating rink have since opened along Edinburgh's main streets, and I'm longing to go back. Now to plan another weekend ...




Thursday, 24 November 2011

Happy Amygdala


The Guardian last week, awash with dire and depressing news on the state of the British/European economy, also carried a short report on research on the brain activity of happy, positive people ... 
... when shown 'positive' images (such as kittens and  baskets of flowers), their amygdalas (that's a little nut-shaped bit deep in your temporal lobe) lit up like Christmas trees compared to less happy people, whose brains remained a black hole of gloom whether shown a kitten or a person being held up at gunpoint, or, presumably, an economic forecast. 




The cheerful people, they said, are not naively unaware or uncaring about bad events; it's just that they choose to respond to the positives where they find them. 

I don't have kittens or baskets of flowers, but I can offer an embarrassed, pathetic-looking seasonal mutt ...




... my Charlie, mortified at having his picture taken wearing ridiculous Halloween headgear ...




Aaaagh, no, not another one!






... and in alternative pose as Thanksgiving turkey


If you want to make your amygdala really happy, please go here to see how one New York pooch and his mates dress for the season, over at one of my favourite blogs, My Life by Buster.


A very Happy Thanksgiving weekend, to all who celebrate ...


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

November in England


How quickly one's perspective can change. For years living in the southern hemisphere, November meant lush spring-time, the near-end of the school and academic year and the promise of a long hot summer and beach holidays to look forward to. 


In Britain I'm already inured to a November that means early darkness and long nights as the clocks change, the reappearance of winter coats, gloves and boots, and autumn's colour (above and below, snapped early this month) already fading, as most trees are by now stark and leafless. 


It also means ... Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot ... We drove out to Cookham Dean Village in nearby Berkshire (see last year's post here) to celebrate the annual excuse for pyromania that is Bonfire Night in Britain ... 


... our little South African/Zambian party joining the crowds on the very English village green that was alight with fire-torches and sparklers, warming ourselves with hot mulled wine ...


The 'pyre' this year had the usual Guys of stuffed straw made by local school children, though it was larger and more solidly constructed than usual ...


The men from Health & Safety spent a tediously long time crawling around the inside, doing their checks, while the kids chanted 'make it burn!', before finally setting it alight 

snap, crackle, pop ...


... but apparently they didn't anticipate the effects of a strongish wind that quickly blasted the crowd with great gales of smoke and flying, burning ash causing mild chaos as we scattered for safety ... nice one, boys!


The usual fireworks completed the pyrotechnic extravaganza ...


video


While we made our way to a local pub for a post-sizzlefest dinner, younger daughter was getting into the spirit of things for a late Halloween party ...


La Bella with her dashing ragazzi Italiani !

November also means Remembrance Day in Britain, and this year it seems to have been a bigger event with a longer build-up than I've ever noticed before. 

In the first days of the month, tired early-morning commuters including myself were greeted at London's Marylebone station with the surprising sound of bagpipes ...




The poppy brigade was there in full force, as well as a handful of bearskin Grenadiers, a colourful scene I couldn't resist snapping with my phone camera 


And at 11.00 am on 11/11/11 (what a fabulous synchrony that day was), I happened to be driving past our local church green ... listening to silence on the car radio, as over most of the country ... and saw this going on ... 



I thought it such a very English scene, complete with light drizzle, and the  Norman church tower looming out of the mist.





... even the ubiquitous CCTV cameras - a reminder that we are always being watched in Britain.



Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Travel dreams: Blog party

This month's international blog event, which I've kindly been invited to participate in, has as its theme dreams and aspirations: we're asked to 'name the thing, person, place you've always wanted to experience but haven't (hmm, person? I could think of a few, but that would be a different kind of post); dream that money is no object; tell the world what you've always wanted to do or wish you could do ...'


It didn't take me too long to figure that since travel and reading are two of my most favourite things in life, and since each one inspires the other, there was plenty to go on. 


Masai Dreaming, by Justin Cartwright has me dreaming already of the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania ... I'm flying in on a biplane over the Great Rift Valley into the Serengeti plains ...





... for touch-down in a lodge on the edge of the crater with a view worthy of Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa ...





After that, Abdulrazak Gurnah's By the Sea might have me hopping onto the Pride of Africa luxury train bound for Dar es Salaam ...




for a side trip to Zanzibar, while I'm in the region, pourquoi pas ...




Then again, I might do exactly as Paul Theroux did in The Great Railway Bazaar ... set out one day from London's Victoria Station 'bent on boarding every eastbound train that chugged into sight' ...




For retro train glamour I couldn't go wrong with the Eastern & Oriental Express, from Chiang Mai, Thailand ... 




... to Singapore (I'm thinking Han Suyin's A Many Splendoured Thing, aren't you?) ...




via the Bridge over the River Kwai (Pierre Boulle), of course ...






Paul Theroux returned - eventually - on the Trans Siberian Express. So if, lets say, I ended up in Vladivostok ... 




I could in fact take the very same train on a 6000 mile journey across Siberia (plenty of time to take in Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) ...





... since it would take 19 days, covering a third of the planet ... 




... to St Petersburg, just to see what Tolstoy (Anna Karenina), Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment) and Pushkin (Eugene Onegin) were on about ...




... after which I might need a shot of vodka and a lie-down.

Did you notice that trains figured prominently in my dream travels? That's because I'm planning an actual trip this Christmas from London to ...


yes, you guessed it ...


... via Paris, Zurich and the Swiss Alps, by train. I'll be taking Graham Greene's The Third Man with me, of course, and hopefully seeing quite a lot of these ...



(Thank you Pinterest for all the pics. I hope some day to have my own ...).

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