Wednesday 23 January 2013

Some things seem wrong

Some things just seem incongruous, at odds.

Like an African dog in the snow ...

My big boy, waking to London's first dusting of snow

Out of his element ... (what's this?) ... he does a little dance of joy.


Or a smiling baboon drinking coffee ...


He looked at me leaning out of the car window a couple of feet from him, seemed to smile, totally unconcerned by my presence, and carried on foraging in the dustbin ...


until he found his prize, the remains of coffee to go 


and sat down comfortably on the grass to drink it


Baboons are harmless to people but have become a nuisance in some places in Cape Town, because their natural habitat has been invaded, and because thoughtless tourists feed them, thus giving them a taste for human (junk) food.


Cheers. Coffee break over.


Leaving London under a blanket of snow one freezing night and arriving next morning to 28 degrees dazzling sunshine is also incongruous, but seems quite alright on the other hand.

Monday 14 January 2013

What (who) I'm reading now

Ever since I read my first Patrick Gale novel (Little Bits of Baby, 1989) I've loved his writing, but with his latest books he just seems to get better and better. 


Most memorable for me have been Friendly Fire (2005), a funny and tragic portrayal of adolescence in an English public school (whose ending had Daughter the Elder weeping inconsolably on a summer barging holiday in France) and Notes from an Exhibition (2007), about the emotional havoc wreaked by a troubled artist on her marriage and children (which had me briefly quite seriously considering becoming a Quaker. Do you sense a familial trait of becoming over-involved with books?).


His latest novel, A Perfectly Good Man, is set in Cornwall, a landscape Gale knows well (he lives in remote Lands End with his partner, a farmer). The perfectly good man of the title is Barnaby Johnson, a parish priest for a rural community ... not exactly a fashionable choice of hero, but Barnaby turns out to be far more interesting than one might imagine, and not immune to sin.

From a riveting and unsettling opening, the narrative zig zags backward and forward in time, focusing on individual histories (Barnaby, his wife, biological daughter and adopted Vietnamese son, significant  figures amongst his parishioners), but these are so skilfully woven together that it flows beautifully, his characters' souls laid bare as the plot gradually converges like the bits of a jigsaw slowly fitting together. There's a great authenticity to his characters and although this book is above all an easy and totally engaging read, Gale had me reflecting often on the ambiguity of that title, the nature of goodness and of faith.


Another book that has had that wonderful effect of transporting me heart and soul into a different reality is Fortunate, the latest novel by writer Elizabeth Wix, who is also the author of two of my favourite blogs, About New York and My Life by Buster



We meet Jane, the fortunate child who is at the heart of the story, at the beginning of the book as an older woman who finds herself in an unfamiliar Polish town, as she embarks on a search for traces of her birth mother. From here on, the narrative becomes the stories of two parallel lives in wartime Europe. Gisela, a young German woman, suffers unimaginable hardships and losses as the events of the war unfold. Meanwhile Ruth, in middle class, rural Kent, England, deals with day to day wartime privations and anxieties in the relative comfort of family and home. Wix’s skill as a writer is to make both women’s experiences equally absorbing while weaving the threads together so that their paths tantalisingly converge and diverge in unexpected ways.

The fact that the story is based on real events in Elizabeth Wix’s personal history makes it even more intriguing. But it’s her fluid and effortless writing that draws one in – I read this over successive late nights, unable to put it down.



Here is the lovely Elizabeth Wix (I had the pleasure of meeting her late last year, but did not take this photo) and you can find her book here. Read the first couple of pages and I guarantee you will be hooked. And right now I'm off to search for her other titles ...

Tuesday 1 January 2013

The year that was

In the early days of January I was still dreaming (and posting) about old world Vienna that we'd visited in the days before Christmas ...


In February there was a trip to iced-up but warm-hearted royal Copenhagen for a shot of schnapps and cool Danish design ...


March in London was weather suited only to grumpies in greatcoats ...


(though the Thames, Turner-esque, mustered a brave showing of early spring)


... and so we escaped to sunny Cape Town in April for a fix of African warmth and bounty ...


May brought a working trip to Mitteleuropa for a Prague Spring in the city of saints and angels ...


and June a jubilee weekend jaunt to Venice where high tides flooded San Marco square


Back in England the villages of the Cotswolds in June offered cowslips, roses and cream teas ...


and there was a summer opera in the rain ...



July in Paris was joyeuse around the fountains and gardens and cafés of Luxembourg and Palais Royal




de rive droite à rive gauche dans tous les décors 


while in the Dordogne, a short drive away, a chateau life was all too briefly mine.



and back home, London pulled off a spectacular Olympic show ...


In August there was the creative madness of the Fringe festival in Edinburgh



and back to work, September had in store a trip to Berlin, weighed down with history.



A mild
October brought rambles in the English countryside ...



and November spectacular late autumn displays ...



Edinburgh in early December was freezing and festive with Christmas lights and colour ...



but the close of the year has been at home, which is sometimes best of all ...


celebrating out (20th birthday dinner at the top of the Heron Tower with London shining brightly far below) and in (New Year's Eve fireworks on telly) ...


There have been some big downs along with the many ups, and personally I'm hoping for a year of change and new opportunities, and of course more travel. I wish all who pass by here a peaceful and happy 2013 in which hopes become reality

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