Well, it's not a title that will be appearing as a new release on bookshelves any time soon. An e-mail came this week that delivered an electronic slap on the wrist and left me a little bemused. It appeared that the book club I belong was comprised of reading delinquents and had been found wanting by two members who were by far intellectually gifted than the rest of us. Now I'm used to being on the library's most wanted list for fines (my face will be 'Wanted' posters around the borough soon...) Often this is because I have more than one book on the go and either the renewal reminder goes to junk mail or I renew it and neglect to write down the next due date. To my dismay, the most recent fine was due to August's book club choice, which was also the cause of discord in the group. I had a gut feeling this book would be trouble...
The book for August was We Need to Talk About Kevin. Even from the title, this doesn't seem like a summer reading choice (or anytime of year, personally). A title can say a lot about a book- many are catching and interesting (for book nerds like me, Gary Dexter's Why Not Catch-22 and Title Deeds are interesting reads). This book seemed like it would be good for discussion though- after all, there were even reading group notes at the back. It turned out to be a lemon and I couldn't bring myself to even finish it. I flat out don't believe in persevering with a book if I'm genuinely not enjoying. Judge away book snobs, but I read for enjoyment. This doesn't mean that I always read happy books, but I read expecting to learn something and have a feeling of fulfilment. Kevin was flat out depressing.
The e-mail that came (with a great sense of brevity) from two members of group was sent between meetings to the overall group administrator with the rest of us cc'd in. This is a pet peeve to begin with - when there's an issue to be brought up, have the backbone to say it directly. It was made very clear that they were disappointed that quite a few members didn't finish the book, which made for a poor discussion (even though it was made clear that those of us who didn't finish didn't mind the ending being 'spoiled'). As a book club, we were apparently not vigourous enough readers! My sympathies to the next group that they join...
To balance this out, I read a fantastic book last week and can safely recommend it many times over: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. It is the author's first book and I can see myself reading her work for a long time if it keeps up this same quality. The story is relevant, funny and realistic, and the characters have both faults and redeeming qualities. There is just as much to discuss here as with Kevin, and no need for a strong pick-me up after each chapter!
Speaking of pick-me ups, the descent into grey and damp winter has been held off this week with high summer temperatures and lots of sun. There are still apples and pears in the fridge to remind me that it's autumn, but today's walk up to Hampstead Heath was all sun, shorts, pub lunch and ice cream. A great weekend to be out in the sun with the camera. The nature of preserving is to make things last, and surely the last bit of summer can wait just one more week, right?
PS- So often the generosity of creative people and bloggers continues to amaze me (especially in the face of petty behaviour and poor communication els. I came across some lovely DIY mini bunting templates that are a great party/baking decoration. See the links section!
Out at the pub yesterday and there had been an afternoon wedding reception just before us. This cup really struck me - it looks so much like mugs at my Gran's apartment!
Unusually beautiful October in London
A piece of Narnia
It's definitely autumn now and so I'm tucked in away from the rain writing this with a cup of tea to hand while I also rack my brains (and search engines) for things to do with apples (there may be a chutney experiment soon). We had an early start to Sunday and went for a good walk (and shameless puppy gawking session) at the nearby Lido followed by Sunday lunch with Mum. It's now time to settle in for some more autumn harvesting. By the end of the evening there should be another few batches of applesauce and a chocolate courgette (zucchini) cake (or two... or three).
I'm resigning myself to soon pulling out the heavier duvet and testing the central heating, but I refuse to start seriously thinking about Christmas quite yet. I say 'seriously' thinking about the season because there are a few things that have crossed my mind. Having managed to jar several preserves, albeit with a very healthy dose of caution, I've decided to bring back a flavour of summer in a couple of months. I'm planning on making some of the summer strawberry harvest in strawberry and champagne jam for Christmas packages. I've also thought a bit about decorating the house, as it will be our first Christmas spent in our little nest (we were away last year). That said, is it really necessary to be advertising for booking Christmas parties, doing displays of Christmas decorations, and advertising tree lots when most people haven't retired their shorts and sandals yet??
I'm looking forward pulling out some of my favourite slow cooking recipes as the days get shorter. I'm also looking forward to trying some new things, aided by the food processor that is making it's way to us as we speak. The processor has been a saga in that we've been waiting for it to be available in the nearby department store for nearly a year. It was finally available on Friday and I gleefully arranged delivery for this weekend- much to the amusement of my fiancee's mate (apparently not so exciting for the men present for dinner). Instead of receiving the processor on Saturday morning, I had an e-mail saying that the order was cancelled. Not a particularly happy bunny, I rang their customer service. While's there's no processor, it's hardly the end of the world and they did refund me straightaway so we could order another. It's only a processor, but it's also a great tool for gathering people together to share a meal and I appreciate good customer service. Win win, just with a minor delay. Stories of soup triumph/disaster to follow...
Off to find some more uses for apples and get the house warmed up with a chocolate spice cake, but just a bit of a salute to blogs first. There are as many blogs around as there are kind readers (thank you!). I hadn't fully realised just how many there were until I started reading the blogs and 'non-blogs' of friends. My eyes were opened again when I started wedding planning. There is a lot of kindness out there and an obvious need to create an online community and share knowledge and experience. Kindess exists in many, many forms - here are the results of a very quick little experiment (according to Google).
No. of wedding blogs: About 82,700,000 results (found in 23 seconds)
No. of fashion blogs: About 165,000,000 results (found in 23 seconds)
No. of food blogs: About 975,000,000 results (found in 25 seconds)
No. of sports blogs: About 1,550,000,000 results (found in 22 seconds)
I've also got to slide in a little mention for a blog that I've started reading a few weeks ago. I may not be a sports fan, but I'm sure a fan of the author!
PS.... Harvest time- what does one large marrow make?? 3 variations of chocolate courgette/zucchini/marrow cake!
No, I promise I won't write the War and Peace of blogs (at least I'll try not too) despite having had a wee hiatus. Instead, I'll try to condense some holiday & travel thoughts (not too difficult... much of my holiday involved my noise firmly planted in a book) and post a couple of favourite hol.
Until two weeks ago, I had forgotten that 5:30am on Sunday existed (blissfully). Thankfully, the journey to the airport was made much nicer by a very kind and understanding mother-in-law-to-be also getting up at 5:30 to drive us to the airport and make sure we hadn't left our passports at home. The check-in process was smooth, especially compared to the Christmas debacle (the only time I can remember the Salvation Army parked outside an airport), and even involved a Heathrow employee with a sense of humour (will the wonders of travel never cease?!)
Just a couple of quick observations about air travel (* a small disclaimer here, having one foot on more than one continent, I appreciate the general convenience of flying but do have one or two little pet peeves)
1) Airports are singularly timeless spaces. With little access to natural light in the lounge, 6:00am could easily be mistaken for any other time of day. The queue at Starbuck's never really gets smaller and Kurt Geiger's stiletto heels are on sale at the shop next to the Duty Free (I won't argue with chocolate samples though, regardless of time of day) when most people's internal clocks would have them roaming about the house in fuzzy slippers (moccassins, in the case of this household).
2) Disorganised travelers do my brain in. When there are no less than 5 signs asking you to have your boarding card ready, why are there still people fumbling around in their bags for them? (Heathrow's gone a little bonkers on new signage since we were there last... Not that this is a bad thing when it comes to the security area)
3) The more I travel, the less I want to travel with technology. My laptop was tucked away for the holidays and Blackberry was stowed for travel (and rather permanently for the holiday, as it turns out I brought the wrong charger...). The draft of this blog was written the old-fashioned way, pen on cute notepaper embellished with Monique Duval's poetry. The only technology that really came into play on the trip was my camera (as evidenced below):
The kind of sunset worth waiting all week for
It was a summer of gorgeous butterflies and crafting
While we hermitted at the camp throughout the holiday and didn't venture out for a lot of activity, we did share some great visits with friends and family, read a few books (and have now become hooked on both Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mystery series and the idea of an e-reader), planned a lot of our wedding and had a great and unexpected moments: an unexpected and delightful visit with my best friend, sharing meals with family, a phone call from the Yukon and a fun note from a life-long friend.
The end of the holiday coincided with the recent riots in London. Thanks to phone calls from the UK, we heard about the initial riot in Tottenham and then a couple of days later heard more about the extended looting and rioting (a good thing to know before coming into town and seeing it on the news!) Most importantly, our family and friends in the UK were safe, and also our house was fine. By the time we touched down at Heathrow again, there were 16,000 officers in London alone to keep a lid on things and the worst had passed. Reading accounts of the looting and violence was incredibly sad and makes a person realise how pointless and without cause it was (way to %#$^ in your own backyards rioters- you should be identified and made to apologise to the people in your community that you hurt). At the end of the day, there was no point made and it was mainly hard-working small business owners affected. Time to evaluate how to communicate the impact of the rioting to the twats responsible, methinks. Jail time may not teach them much, but being made to rebuilt the shops of the owners whose businesses were destroyed may actually teach some respect for property and hard work.
There were lots of shocking images of burning and destroyed buildings in the media, especially in the aftermath. While it's important to inform people of current events, I can't see how re-hashing images of violence and destruction in the days following (in case you missed any of the 24 live coverage on the internet and TV...) does anything except reinforce attention-mongering vandals' bad behaviour. Congratulations to the bloggers, responsible social network users and news outlets that spent their time bringing to light stories about rallying communities and leaders in positive action.
This Sunday (all is calm on the London front now) was also riotous, but in a very good sense. One Man, Two Guvnors at the National Theatre is an absolutely hilarious adaptation of an 18th century Italian Commedia dell'Arte. There's a certain etqiuette laughing in public- first, polite laughter suitable for sophisticated and witty dry humour and then there's the Fawlty Towers-esque, clever and colloquial humour that today had me crying because I was laughing so hard. Well worth seeing, especially if it is shown in cinemas via NT Live. After a good dinner at our favourite local haunt, it was home to blog, write a few notes (I found Sock Monkey cards on Friday!) and get ready for our first full week back into the routine. Tomorrow's dance class is bound to be of the painful variety...
Ok, so I often use this space to vent about the people and the behaviours that have bothered me over the week. Maybe it's because it's a lazy Sunday morning with a library trip pending, maybe it's the fact that it's a Harry Potter weekend (Deathly Hallows Part 1 last night, Part 2 tonight- stupid excited!), but there weren't too many behaviours to make my manners spidey sense tingle.
Especially as we approach holidays and the quiet lake looms ahead of me, there are a few aspects of big city life that drive me up the wall.
1. Leaning on horns in a traffic queue- always so helpful
2. One person with a wheelie case weaving and taking up the entire pavement
3. The guy who stepped on my foot (in sandals!) in a shop the other day and started looking around like "Who? Me?" Yeah, you!
These are the things that you come to expect in London because of the population density and constant influx of visitors. Besides, it helps us to appreciate kind human gestures and the occasional quiet oasis when we come across them.
Speaking of things to appreciate...
1. Google+. I can't claim to be any sort of leading tech expert- I usually lag a bit behind things (late joining Facebook, etc). However, I got an invitation to join the other day and when I was muddling around the site yesterday trying to make it work, all of a sudden there was my dear, dear, dear friend and her incredibly sweet and good natured boy. What a lift to see the face of someone who is far away, but always close to you!
2. Hitting the nail on the head... or in this case, driving the screw into the wall.
One of my fiancé's Irish aunties came to our casa a couple of weeks ago for a really lovely dinner. She's a joy to visit with and I could sit and listen to her Irish lilt for hours. Along with her great company, she brought us this lovely picture from Wild Goose Gallery in Dublin. Talk about hitting the nail on the head; on the back of the frame is "Two people destined to meet will do so, apparently by chance, at precisely the right moment." Enough said!
3. A well-written opinion column... and not just because I happen to agree with it!
"My shallow affair with Twitter", Harry Eyres' topic of choice for The Slow Lane in last week's weekend FT was passionate about real communication and fought against giving up community for individuality. As with so many trends, there are pros and cons. If someone is using Twitter, it means they want to share with others (that said, I'm not really worried about what colour socks X is wearing or if Y is having a different breakfast cereal). Also, Twitter has played a role in bringing people together for political rallies and reassuring loved ones when disasters have struck. Overall though, it is a worrying trend. If we really care about connecting with others, shouldn't we think about dialogue and not updates, and how best to say something instead of how to fit it into x number of characters? Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Google+. All of these tools have huge value in helping people to connect- I'm with Mr. Eyres on this one though. They are tools and shouldn't control and limit how we communicate.
4. On that theme, and speaking of themes... Having had slipped in a cheeky little rant there about selfish communication, I should balance things out by giving some props (is that still what the cool kids say?) to Whisker Graphics, via Etsy. Whitney Beard, a wonderfully creative designer, creates printable and editable templates and sends them as PDFs so that clients can let their imaginations run wild with the content. A set of her recipe cards, customised for a super reasonable price (and also with no carbon footprint!), are now to going to kick start my project of transferring lists of recipe links to cards and actually using them. I love this design and want to share her lovely work, so the folders and recipe cards are also going to become fun wedding invitation packages (invitations, rsvp cards and part of the eco-friendly favours). Thank you, Whitney!
So life is all about balance, right? This is just a short post, but I thought I would blow off some steam about office e-mail no-nos and balance it by mentioning a few highlights of the week.
The following does not constitute a letter or email:
- single words, i.e. 'news??' I'm always tempted to reply in the same fashion to drive a point home. How many people would accept 'none' as an appropriate response when you e-mail a company? Very few, you say? Agreed- follow the golden rule and write to someone as you would want to be responded to in turn.
- a blank space above a forwarded e-mail. My inner office communications devil also makes me want to return these to the sendor with a sweet notes asking if perhaps they pressed send before finishing their message. Catty, I know...
- anything without a salutation. Even a simple 'hello' will do, how difficult is that?
- my favourite of the week... An email written entirely like this!! Really? This person is clearly convinced that I am a) not a good reader or b) can only see text covered in a BIG yellow block.
Ok- hissy fit over. Now for a few brilliant moments/things from the weeks gone by.
- going to a Jewish wedding and hearing the beautiful verses and blessings sung. This was a totally new experience for me and a very enriching one because I felt such a sense of togetherness and community. Mazel tov!
- finishing 'Favourite of the Gods' by Sybille Bedford. This was bittersweet, as it always is when you finish a book that is beautifully written. One of the best moments with the book was sitting on the train reading the author's introduction and thinking 'Oh yes, this is going to be good'. So it was :)
- seeing an old friend. Thank goodness for technology when people are flung, albeit by their own design, all over the world (see? Not a complete curmudgeon when it comes to IT). We connected over Skype (and got disconnected frequently!) for over two hours. Not all of the news was great, but it was real.
- stumbling onto a new project. I have to admit, there are some well-intentioned and half completed projects gathering dust in the garage. One is a recipe book for my mother-in-law. The procrastinating isn't due to a lack of recipes, it's my horrible handwriting! I was trawling around Etsy (a favourite source of project inspiration and materials. See the links section for others) and I came across printable recipe cards. The lightbulb when on and suddenly the recipe book was back on track, I could send my aunt a legible recipe along with her thank you card and wedding invitations were sorted. All in one fell swoop!
So there we go - the good, bad and just plain ugly, but the good is stronger than both the bad and the ugly.