Monday, 3 December 2012

Great News!

I realize that I have been suspiciously silent for the last month and, believe me, I have taken care of the self-chastisement. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

In my defense, I have been extraordinarily busy. It must be said, that some of what has taken me away from "Finding Home" has been fun: an out of town guest, cultural outings and lots of reading, but much of it has been coursework, teaching, editing and other work.

Much of my time has been taken up with editing the blog www.NoDeadWhiteMen.wordpress.com, which has been exciting, but a steep learning curve. I didn't realize just how much time running a blog for which I only had to create minimal content would take. I am tempted to claim that it would be easier to just do it myself. Unfortunately, that wouldn't do much to create or maintain a writing community. Also, it wouldn't be quite as satisfying. After a couple of crazy weeks I think I am in good shape for the holidays, though, so I'm looking forward to taking a couple of weeks off and making the most of the "schedule a post" function! I think the post that went live today is one of my favourites. It's a list of recommended reading from the MFAs for fun, holiday reads. It just proves that we're not stuck in ivory towers or little, dark writing hovels. You can have a look here: Holiday read ideas. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!

I do have fantastic news today, though, as I have promised in the title to this entry. Many of you may not even remember the panic I have been in about my UK driving test and how put-out I have been at having to re-test after just over a decade of being a fully licensed driver. To say that I have been in a snit for the past year to year and a half is an understatement. I have made life miserable for anyone willing to listen to me whine about my nerves and apprehension (if you missed out on this delightful chapter of my life, not to worry. For the earlier entries on my driving test saga see Part 1 - applying for a license and Part 2 - the zoo of London roads).

So what's the good news? I hear you ask.

Well, I did it. I passed the test! All that worry? As usual, it was all for naught. I did fine on my reverse around a corner, on my emergency stop and I even checked my mirrors enough (which is roughly all the time according to the DSA - so often, I'm surprised UK drivers have time left over to look out the front windshield). Watch out, England, I'm a fully licensed driver, now!

I'm afraid you'll have to wait for the rest of my November, but I will promise you an account of meeting an amazing author. Canadians, listen up, you're going to love this one!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Scaredy-Cat's Ode to Halloween

Despite the fact that London has been damp, chilly and miserable for almost two weeks and my feet are little blocks of ice even with big socks and rubber soled slippers nothing can dampen my spirits today. Why? Well because it's Halloween and I love Halloween. An unnatural love perhaps for someone my age, with no kids and who is so easily terrified that I have to change the channel when an advertisement for a horror film comes on. I am just full of contradictions like that (it's what makes me so intriguing, mysterious and marvelous to be around - except when I'm whimpering during the jumpy-out bits of CSI).

I wonder if it all comes from my obsession with fiction. Halloween is a night (or a week) when everyone gets to transform into something other than what they are. I love all the gypsies, pirates, hippies, nurses, vampires - no doubt we'll see a 'trampire' or two this year -, zombies, ghosts and dead brides that suddenly appear on the streets. I especially love it when people come up with really funky out-there costumes. The last year we lived in the US a little girl on our street dressed up as Betsy Ross. You don't know who that is? She made the first American flag. Now that's out-of-the-box thinking. This year, a cousin of mine made a tank costume. It's incredible; full camouflage and all. He looks just like a tank when he's in a heap on the ground, but standing up it doesn't turn into a tank-shaped backpack, he becomes a transformer. Joy for all us children of the 80s. Regardless of anything else, he won't have to worry about being confused with the 5 other Supermen at the pub tonight.
We're a talented family - best costume. Ever.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Loving a London Fog

For the past few days London has been filled with a damp, thick fog and I, for one, have been loving it. Walking through streets lined with terraces houses, catching a glimpse of a famous landmark through the shifting, cloudy air, crossing the Thames enveloped in mysterious mists. It's all very dramatic and plays into my more melancholy, self-indulgent and melodramatic sides. It must be difficult to think of me as melodramatic, but there it is. I've been curling up with books, writing things that will no doubt turn out to be more angsty and forced than dark and intriguing, and there has been a veritable run on hot chocolate in our house.

Amidst all my Jack-the-Ripper-dreaming I have also been thinking about how this is the first time in a year and a half that I have seen a true, honest-to-goodness London fog. Not just a morning mist or a hazy day, but a fog thick enough to require fog lights on cars, one that disrupts flights at Heathrow and one that settles in for the long haul. Except I haven't seen a London fog. I've just seen a fog in London. Less exciting all together, until I started Google-ing "London fog." Oh, the magic of Google search and Wikipedia, is there any better way to while away a couple of hours on a Wednesday evening when you ought to be getting on with real work? I think not.
Can you spot Battersea Power Station? You might know it from Pink Floyd.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Christmas already?

Being originally Irish, I don't generally feel much culture shock after moving from the US to the UK. Driving on the left, the all important difference between asking for a 'ride' and getting a 'lift' home, the belief that a cup of tea can cure most ills, all this I can handle fairly deftly. What does my head in, though, is the Christmas mania of this country.

Maybe it's because I live in London and it's nothing if not commercial, but I still think that October is too early for Christmas. No one needs a three-month Christmas season - that's a full quarter of the year being bombarded by McV****'s seasonal biscuit tins. I'm not a big celebrator of American Thanksgiving. (you can read here what I was saying about it last year, though I might be coming 'round to the American way, slowly, year by year) I think gratitude is a lovely reason for a holiday, but its glorification of the forced colonization of North America and mass murder of Native Americans, sits a little uneasy with me. Perhaps if I'm completely honest, though, it's mainly because my family isn't American and national holidays really come from your familial culture, not the country where you live.

When I was growing up, my mother always used to say, "The problem with Thanksgiving is that it's too close to Christmas. Who wants two turkeys in a month?" For many years, I agreed and thought that the Canadians had it right, celebrating Thanksgiving in October. That gives a comfortable ten week break between the birds. Then I moved to England.
It can't be time for this guy, yet...can it?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Loserville - Get Your Geek on

If you commute in London you've seen the signs for the new musical, Loserville. The advertising campaign has been big and effective. The posters are photos of a cast member leaping through the abyss of a stark, white background and then, of course the usual claims to being the best musical ever. A couple of weeks ago friend of mine got a deal on tickets and asked if I wanted to go with her.

"They say it's the next great British musical, so it must be good."

At that, my inner cynic reared her ugly head. "They're hardly going to call it 'the next perfectly mediocre British musical', are they?"

But, seeing as I've yet to meet the musical that I didn't enjoy I was all in for what the advertising compared to Glee and The Big Bang Theory. The next great British musical about nerds? I'm in.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Not the shrew I knew

In August of this year my taller half spoke words that can only be described as magic to the ears of a literature nut who took every Shakespeare class available at her university:

"I was thinking of getting tickets to the Globe. Do you want to see The Taming of the Shrew or Richard III?"

Insert moment of Shakespearean drama: Which child do I love more? I love thee both! etc. etc.

As the other half is not quite the Shakespeare fan that I am, we went for the comedy. A raucous but definitively uncomfortable evening followed last Monday night.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Why Ireland Is Better Than The US In Sports

Or Why The Medal Table Tells Us Nothing

An insane claim! Obviously, Sinead knows nothing about sports. Fair enough, I don't know much, but my calculator skills are amazing and thus I make this claim. In the past six weeks, Ireland has taught the world a very important lesson:

That Ireland is a sports powerhouse.

Olympic rings at the London 2012 Olympic Park
I know, I see you scratching your heads in confusion thinking, Yeah, Katie Taylor won gold...but that's about it... No. That's not even the half of it. Firstly, I must admit that this post is very much inspired by the work of my dad and brother who ran a couple of numbers and discovered that, per capita, Ireland is pretty much the best sporting nation in the world. OK, fair enough, that's probably not true, but Ireland is kicking the USA's from here to Stratford.

The US topped the Olympic medal board with a whopping 46 gold medals, 29 silver and 29 bronze, whereas Ireland came in at a respectable, but not so stunning 41st place with 1 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals. No competition, right? Wrong. Big competition.

Ireland has a population of somewhere in the region of 4.5 million people while the US has 311.6 million people. This means that actually the US should be winning way more medals, even before we take into account the amount of money that the US spends on developing and supporting athletes that Ireland doesn't. Ireland won 1 gold medal for every 4.5 million people, while the US only won 1 gold for every 6.77 million inhabitants. The superiority of Irish athletes really shows when we get to bronze medalists, though. Ireland only needs 1.5 million people to produce a bronze medalist, while the US needs over 10 million to choose from.

With all the medals Ireland has won in the Paralympics (8 gold, 3 silver and 5 bronze) I'm sure our athletes will once again prove that they are a mightier team than the Chinese at the top of the leader board. I'll let you know once I've run the numbers.

So, while I don't think we should necessarily be fielding a basketball team and expecting to run roughshod all over the Americans in 2016, I think Irish people should be proud to come from a great sporting nation. We might not top the leader boards, but we do produce world class athletes from a much smaller population than the big countries. Let them battle it out for the top spot on a suspiciously calculated medal board, we'll just continue to take pride in excellence.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Shortlisted for Arts/Culture

That's right, dear readers. This little blog has actually made the shortlist of Blog Award Ireland's Best Arts/Culture Blog. I'm so thrilled to be in some excellent company. Check out the great blogs that Irish writers have created here.


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Who Goes to Norwich?

A couple of weeks ago I was having a drink with a friend and she asked what the taller half and I were up to for the weekend.

"We're going to Norwich."

"Norwich? Who goes to Norwich?"

"Um, we do?"

"But why?"

This was followed by the expected awkward moment while I tallied up the time and money we were planning to spend on our obviously ill-advised trip and she presumably thought something along the lines of Oops, that came out wrong. I followed up with some of my most eloquent reasoning, mumbling something about secondhand bookshops and the University of East Anglia. Then capped it all off with, "Oh! And they have a castle, too! I think."

She just smiled the smile of a local who has heard a very silly idea from a foreigner and, the next morning, we caught a train to Norwich.

Well, Norwich was great! And here's what we considered the highlights...

Norwich River & the riverside path

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

5 Things About Vienna the Guidebooks Won't Tell You

I have always been a believer that holidays are best when you go somewhere new. Why go back to someplace you've already been? There are so many places to experience. Real travellers keep seeking new destinations. Don't they?

Well, I'm ready to revise that statement. In fact, I'm ready to revise a lot of my so-called firm beliefs about travelling. I think this says as much about travelling as it does about me, but for today, I'm going to focus on why Vienna is definitely worth another look. The other half and I loved it when we were there in 2007 and recently, we got an invite from dear friends of ours from Toronto to meet them there for the weekend. We were a bit worried we'd be crashing their holiday given that we'd already seen the highlights of the city. Of course, we hadn't even scratched the surface of Vienna.

Here's what I reckon we missed the first time around.
Octopi graffiti doesn't generally make the hop on - hop off bus tour

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Beckham (Olympic) Legacy


In an exciting development, I am thrilled to introduce you all to the very talented Lisa Davison today. She has been as swept up with the Olympics as I have, but has an interesting take on it all. I hope you all enjoy her guest post today. If you do, check her out on Twitter @LisaJaneDavison . If you'd like a taste of her excellent fiction, you can get your hands on her very creative prose response to Wendy Cope's 'After the Lunch' as part of the Ripple 2012 Anthology. And now, on to her Olympic ruminations.

Sinéad

***

As the warm glow of the Olympic Games continues to pulse and talk of capturing that fuzzy feeling on a more permanent basis buzzes around politicians and media, something about all this has started to bother me: David Beckham.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Olympic Hangover

It's all over. No more Olympics. The medals have been won, the tears have been shed and the BBC has set it all to a never ending soundtrack of Chariots of Fire. We saw Jessica Ennis, the showjumping team, Mo Farrah, Sir Chris Hoy and over 20 other athletes win gold medals while Victoria Pendleton, Christine Ohorougu, Rebecca Adlington and over 30 other athletes won silver or bronze medals. Wow. That's a lot of medals for Team GB. Over 65, in fact. Were there any left for other countries?
You probably can't see, but, I promise, it's Jessica Ennis.
Well, from the way the BBC covered it, no. In fact, the way it's been reported, it seems like the only reason for the other countries being here at all was to lose to Team GB.

What's Your Favourite Post?

Dear Readers,

Today I have very exciting news: This little blog is up for several awards from Blog Awards Ireland! I need your help, though. You see, I have been nominated in the Best Blog Post category, but I have to narrow it down to one post to submit for final consideration. This is where you, my loyal readers, come in:

Tell me which post you liked the most!

It can be serious, funny, somewhere in between, travel, current events, arts etc. Just anything you enjoyed reading, but it has to have been published before August of this year. Nothing after 31 July 2012. You can see my older posts by clicking on the archive links on the right-hand side of this page.

I can't even describe how much it would mean to me to have your input on this one! So please let me know what you think. You can use the comments box on any post, email me, tweet me, Facebook me, whatever way is best for you. Just let me know ASAP as I have to submit this post this Friday morning.

Thank you all for the help and let me know if you have any questions!

Your faithful blogger,
Sinéad


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Fear of Breathing

Last week the other half and I went to a fascinating play at the lovely Finborough Theatre by Earl's Court in London. And firstly, I must say what a great location the Finborough is. Intimate doesn't even begin to describe it. Tucked away above a wine bar in a residential neighborhood, the theatre is a blackbox with (as I discovered this visit) moveable seating. When I first visited the Finborough to see Don Juan Comes Back from the War a couple of months ago, the seats were positioned on three sides of the stage, but for The Fear of Breathing, it was a more traditional set-up. The stage and creative teams really use the unique space, nestled in the tip of a corner building to amazing effect and with limited seating, you're never more than a few rows back from the action.

The Fear of Breathing brings to life the current war in Syria, but in an amazing creative twist, this production bridges traditional drama and new journalism. In fact, this play has no playwright. It has an editor. Zoe Lafferty has cut together real interviews with people on the Syrian frontlines that she conducted along with Ruth Sherlock and Paul Wood. The result is a visceral, intense experience of a current event told in the verbatim words of the people living it today.
The Fear of Breathing - Finborough Theatre.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

An Olympic Effort

As we wandered through the Olympic park in yesterday's afternoon sunshine (I know, awesome, right?) the other half and I were stopped by a man from a US radio station. He asked us the following question:

"The US basketball team beat Nigeria by 83 points last night do you think that was in the spirit of the Olympics?"

My very kind, polite and infinitely fair other half said, "Well, you never want to humiliate anyone, but I think you still have to play your best."

How balanced, how fair, how well-spoken on the fly. I, on the other hand, blurted out, "Well, it's better than not trying at badminton."

So what does it mean to embody the Olympic spirit? Do tactics have a place? Does mercy? With the benefit of a little time to think it over, I think I have some slightly less flippant thoughts on the matter today.

Olympic flame, symbol of all that the games represent...and hidden in the stadium

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

New Publication

Short one for now, as am knee deep in revisions of a section of what one day might be part of that elusive/illusive book. But, really, there's nothing like a little shameless self-promotion at 11am on a Wednesday morning.

My short story, Hot Heat Love, is in print this morning in What the Dickens? literary magazine. You can get it for free online at wtd-magazine.com or spring for the e-reader edition on Amazon. The magazine is 100 pages of literary and artistic interpretation of the theme "sunflowers". My story is slightly less cheerful than some of the other interpretations, which must say something about me.

Hope you enjoy and I'd love to hear your feedback!





Amazon.com - $2.41 USD



Amazon.co.uk - £1.53

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A (plus) is for Angelica

As you all know. I am currently consumed with Olympic excitement (saw a clatter of top athletes yesterday...whetting your appetite for another day's update), but today belongs to the very talented Iain Broome and his debut novel, A is for Angelica, which launches tomorrow in ebook format and in September in paperback.

Iain's debut novel is an extraordinary look into the day to day life of Gordon, a man struggling to cope under enormous pressure at home. His wife is very ill and Gordon suddenly finds himself as her primary caretaker in what should be the prime of their lives. He feels isolated from his neighbors about whom he keeps meticulous notes, compiled as he secretly watches their every move. Gordon is at once a character that made me feel profoundly uncomfortable, sad and then laugh aloud. Broome quietly weaves a complex picture of Gordon's past and present through the tiniest and most mundane of details.

When I first sat down to read the novel on a Saturday morning, the writing style reminded me of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and I worried that the material would be a rehash of Haddon's brilliant book and that the voice would be difficult to penetrate. Then it was Sunday and I had devoured the book. I can't tell you exactly where that time went. No I can. I spent it behind Gordon's curtains, watching his neighbors, reveling in their quirkiness and thoroughly enjoying Gordon's entirely unreliable narration.

Lest you all think that this is a comedic book, I should be clear that it's not, although Broome has a wickedly dark sense of humor that did have me laughing out loud on a couple of occasions. This book also had me in tears in several places. Broome perfectly captures the intense, frustrating and helpless experience of being a loved-one's carer. His descriptions of Gordon's daily life are detailed, truthful and handled with both humor and compassion.

This novel is a "slow burn", no wild twists or real surprises. Just a meticulous character study of a man whose life is crumbling and so is struggling to create order in his life and to make human connections as he becomes ever more reclusive.

I really connected with this book and with Gordon because I have known people close to me who have found themselves in similar situations to Gordon, but I do wonder if readers without a similar experience would find it as powerful. Perhaps the only flaw, if there is one, is that A is for Angelica is too truthful and too specific to a particular experience. For me though, it was touching, cathartic and completely engrossing - a weekend very well spent.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Catching Olympic Fever

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with sports. I love playing sports, but I'm generally mediocre at best. I love going to sports events live, but generally hate watching them on television. When it comes to the Olympics, I love the sports, I love the international celebration, but I hate the corporate nonsense. I've never lived in an Olympic city before, but it seems particularly bad here in London. All sorts of things have been banned in order to protect the corporate sponsors of the games (I won't say who they are, but they're not necessarily well-known for promoting good health or active lifestyles). Local businesses aren't allowed to use any advertising containing "2012", "London", "Olympics", the Olympic rings and the list goes on. I'm not upset about the IOC protecting their name, their brand, their logos, but 2012? Really? It's the bloody year. London? It's still the name of the city where I live. Surely if we all agreed to stop using "London" all these tourists would get even more lost than they already are.

All that said, political rant over, I went to see the Olympic torch relay...three times. Two of those times were unintentional, but I did wait for an hour to see it on Thursday morning. When it finally came by it was actually pretty cool, though it pains me to say that. I was all set to write a post about the silly hype surrounding this glorified candle. Instead, I have to tell you that it was really nice to see and got me in the Olympic spirit for sure.
Crowds waiting for the torch on Gresham Street

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Sights and Gardens of Seville

Lest you all think that all we did was munch on tapas in Seville, we didn't we also enjoyed what has been called the most beautiful city in Spain. It's gorgeous. Soaring Moorish architecture, orange trees lining the streets (where did you thing Seville oranges came from?) and lots of pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets. We had a wonderful, if scorchingly hot, three-ish days wandering around the city. It's infinitely walkable and all the street side cafes make for amazing people watching. But you know all about the food and drink from this post and about the people watching we did from this one, so I'll spare you the repetition. Instead, I'll tell you all about the life of Seville, which it has in abundance. Just not in the late afternoon, when the tourists are the only people silly enough to be dragging themselves around in the blistering heat.
Seville from la Giralda


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Sustenance in Seville

So, as you know, we went to Spain at the end of June and it was, I can officially confirm, fantastico! Dublin airport being the booming metropolis of international travel that it is, we couldn't get a flight direct to Seville, so we headed off to Malaga instead. The drive from Malaga to Seville, though, is actually quite lovely, lots of sunflowers and a couple of enormous bull-shaped cutouts. By enormous, I mean at least as high as a multistory house. What purpose they serve other than to go on postcards is unclear, but it is an entertaining diversion on a long drive. 

Slightly - but only slightly - less entertaining than shouting, Look! A gigantic bull cutout! was watching the field of sunflowers go by. As we drove through the afternoon, we passed acres upon acres of these cheerful yellow flowers and every single flower was facing the same direction, like armies of happiness. Our shocking lack of botanical knowledge left us scratching our heads as to the reason for this. But fear not, dear reader, I have looked it up for you. The kind folks at Indiana University have a nice little page that explains it all. You can have a look at it here and even enjoy a time lapse video on heliotropism (that's fancy talk for following the sun). The short version is that young sunflowers follow the sun, keeping their blooms facing it all day and then returning to the east in the evening, but once they mature, their stalks harden and their blooms face eastward all the time.

I know this may disappoint some of you, but that was pretty much it for the botanical portion of our trip, from there we went on to architecture, history, bull fighting and, of course, food. Part one? Oh, lets start with food this time.
Squid Ink Paella

Monday, 16 July 2012

Checking in with Father Ted


Now I'm sure you're all massive bodhran fans so you also know all about Craiceann. What's that you say? You have no idea what I'm on about and suspect that I might be making up words? Ah, well, ye uninitiated, I'm not. I write all of this in seriousness, but with a pinch of divilment.

The bodhran (pronounced "BOUGH-rawn") is the traditional drum of Ireland. It's made by stretching goatskin over a round wooden frame. The musician then strikes the drum with a stick - which come in ever increasing varieties - while using his or her other hand to control the tone and timbre by moving it on the back of the skin. The best players can create entire songs with just the drum, hitting a wide range of notes and creating a depth of sound that is incredible from such a simple instrument.

And every year the little Gaeltacht island of Inis Oírr hosts a week-long celebration of this instrument called Craiceann. Using the tried and true method of judging an event by it's motto, this is clearly a winner. How can you go wrong with a tagline like "Lock up your goats"?
Seisún at Tigh Ruairí's

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

What time of the year is that? Why the time of maple leaves and seas of red, of course: Canada Day!

To all my dedicated Canadian readers, I hope you had a very, very lovely day filled with Tim-bits, maple syrup and politeness. Now my non-Canadian readers are probably scratching their heads at the first of those wishes. Allow me to reassure you that, along with Rush and Mike Myers, Tim-bits are one of Canada's finest exports. Delicious little bites of donut. Allow me to recommend highly the amazing sour cream glazed variety. They are two nibbles - I like to make them last - of pure joy.
Tim Hortons Timbits courtesy of their website

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Snitches and Broomsticks and House Elves - Oh My!

So the time has come. The time has come when I talk about London's newest tourist craze. The latest addition to London's over-priced, over-hyped tourist circuit.

When I started reading J. K. Rowling's boy wizard series almost 15 years ago I remember saying to a friend of mine that the dual magical/muggle world would make for a brilliant theme park. Now, all these years later, there is a theme park in Florida and close enough to one (minus the rides) just outside of London.

I am, of course, talking about The Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour. Cue the screams of Potter maniacs, who, you should know, are not all under 30. Under 30? You say. That seems fairly old. It's a kids' movie. And yes, I grant you, Harry Potter is for kids, but those of us who read the books before they were a world-wide sensation are *shock! horror!* getting awfully close to 30 these days. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was first published in 1996, meaning that children of the 80s were at prime Potter age.
Staircase to Dumbledore's office

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Icelandic Vittles

At the end of our first full day in Iceland, we came up against the dilemma that all travelers must face eventually: where to eat dinner. I am certain that this causes the breakdown of many a traveling partnership. Someone wants Italian and the other reckons they can eat pizza anywhere - why not embrace the local culture and tradition? Why not, indeed.

The answer from the oh, so very helpful woman at the front desk of our hotel? You know Icelandic food is traditionally disgusting, right? Putrefied shark and things?

The Pearl

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Truth About the Blue Lagoon

We reserved day two of our trip for the quintessential Iceland experience. I speak, of course, of the Blue Lagoon. Famed hot springs and must-do, unmissable activity when in Iceland. We had the ultimate relaxing day there, floating around in the very hot water, so hot as to be uncomfortable in some places, getting a floating massage and enjoying the moonscape.
Now, I promised you a shocking truth about the Blue Lagoon and I do not intend to disappoint you, dear reader. Iceland owes its dramatic landscape to the fact that it is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and a hot spot of geological activity. This means that over 90% of the energy used in Iceland is green geothermal energy. The naturally hot water from the earth is pumped through power plants where it warms clean water for use in homes and businesses and creates electricity. When the water has gone through the Svartsengi energy plant just south of Reykjavik it goes...
Photo courtesy of www.bluelagoon.com

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

QE - Who?

This weekend, as London went bananas for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, we made a break for it. Saturday evening we hopped a plane and took off for Reykjavik, Iceland. Ooooh. How exotic. How exciting. Yes, yes it was. We had a fantastic long weekend and I, in no way, feel like I missed out by not seeing the floating security show of the Queen's flotilla.

In full disclosure, I must admit that Union Jack bunting hung from our balcony this weekend. Oh, the shame. A very enthusiastic woman came to the door one evening when I was out and convinced my laid back husband to let her hang it. Why on earth he let an unknown royalist into our home is beyond me, but being new to the neighbourhood and out of town for the festivities I decided to take a deep breath and let it go. Never did I think I would face a dilemma of whether to keep unsolicited Union Jack bunting on display. But I did and I think I may have failed that nationalist test. I flew the flag of my homeland's former occupiers. Perhaps I should fly the Irish flag from now on in an act of patriotic penitence. I did take great pleasure in throwing the bunting in the trash today, though, so perhaps that redeems me somewhat. When in Rome and all that crap.

I found Iceland less rife with moral and political quandaries.
The original geyser, Geysir

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Love, Love, Love

I will refrain from the obvious puns about Mike Bartlett's play, Love, Love, Love, now on at The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, but it was really excellent! Continuing on my mad theatre run, it was another girls night out at a play. And people say the young only drink to excess and watch too much television.

I read Bartlett's Earthquakes in London earlier this year and it blew my mind. The intricacy of the plots and snappy dialogue was irresistible and I am so sorry not to have seen it performed, because I really want to see that set! Is an overcrowded, overflowing, decadent stage a set designers dream or nightmare - perhaps a little of both? If anyone ever hears of this being performed, please tell me immediately. But I digress, because this post is about Love, Love, Love.

Picture from www.RoyalCourtTheatre.com, click for link to site

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Hay Fever on the Brain

No, not allergies, but the entertaining Noel Coward play of the same name. This farcical romp through a night in the life of a well-to-do, artistic family and their unfortunate house guests was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The Bliss matriarch, former actress, but always theatrical mother, Judith, leads her novelist husband, nude painting son and outspoken daughter through a night filled with high drama at the expense of the guests each family member has invited down for the weekend.
Image from www.HayFeverLondon.com click to go to site.

Monday, 28 May 2012

There's Joy in the Air and a Song in Your Heart

Oh, yes, my loyal (and not so loyal) readers, it's that wonderful time of the year again. It's Eurovision! A celebration of pure joy, silly dance moves, suspect lyrics and all that is good in the world. Oh, Eurovision, you are the twinkle in my eye.

Unlike others, I am not here to complain that Sweden won (again) with a rather dull song with really weird posing instead of dancing. Look, Waterloo it wasn't, but who cares? I'm not even here to complain that all Ireland (the winning-est country ever - no lie) could field was Jedward for the the second year running. I am here to celebrate. To sing the praises of what can only be described as one of the most entertaining nights on television. A competition that makes Jedward look normal, calm and ordinary or at least slightly less insane can only provide lots of entertainment.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Posh

This time a week ago I was sitting on the sidewalk outside the Duke of York's Theatre on St. Martin's Lane in central London. It was an hour and a half until the box office opened. I was wearing my winter coat with mittens and earmuffs on standby.

Today is a very different day. To begin with, it is hot in London! Shorts, skirts, t-shirts and sunscreen are the order of the day. Love it. That, however, will be another post. One which I will relish writing, but today is about Posh, my new theatre love.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Digital Angst

I've been on Twitter for all of a month and I think I have a problem. I have discovered that I actually care how many followers I have. Do I care who's tweeting me or whether people are interested what I have to tweet? No, I am obsessed with the number of followers I have. No, strike that, I don't care how many followers I have (1 or even 0 would be fine), I just care that some people have stopped following me. That's right: unfollowed me.

Stopped following me? Why? What have I done wrong? What have I failed to do? It's beginning to sound like a good self-flagellating prayer, but my guilty confusion is somewhere near what Sister Maureen used to make me feel about not going to church every Sunday. Out of hand? Oh, I think so.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Happy National Flash Fiction Day!

Woo hoo! It's National Flash Fiction Day! A day to celebrate the short and sweet. My granny always said, "Good goods come in small packages." (We tend toward the short side) And she's right. Some of the best stories come in at under 500 words.

So, here's my little contribution to the day. Albeit, perhaps not my best, but my other half reckons it's one of my odder pieces, so that will have to do. So here it is, celebrating both the beauty of getting to the point and oddity, my own 264 little words:

Sunday, 13 May 2012

An Old Liar

That's what I am: an old and boring liar.

First, I am a liar because only a mere three days ago I wrote complaining about water waste and drought conditions. Only two days ago it was announced that we are no longer in drought. Indeed. I stand by my water waste statements, even if we are not officially in drought. Also, here in London, at least, the hose pipe ban is still in effect. As near as I can tell, in my neighbourhood, this only affects the Park Plaza, who for some reason has an inexplicable need to pour obscene amounts of water all over the sidewalk at the back of their hotel in the name of cleaning it. An excellent use of water, no doubt. The rest of us don't even have gardens, never mind hose pipes.

However, all of that is a complaint for another day. Joy to you, I know you were concerned that you might miss out on another ecologically driven rant. Just to keep you on the edge of your seat: I have a little number on recycling up my sleeve, so stay tuned.

Today, though, today is my shamefaced admission that I am getting not only getting older but old (and boring). Last night I found myself at a 28th birthday party surrounded by people both older and younger than I in a chain pub in central London. As I took the Tube to this lovely event I thought to myself how downright brilliant I looked in my tea length white skirt, sparkly flats and black top with just a hint of bondage in its metal eyelets and black ties. Yep, I even had my hair highlighted for the first time there a couple of weeks ago and I was feeling pretty smart. Hot, even.

When I arrived, a young, 23-year-old friend of mine complimented by outfit saying, "I love your dress. It's so casual!"

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Springing Forward

By now, most of you will know my almost utter obsession with the coming longer days. I am so excited to say that we are officially in daylight savings time. Last month we "sprung forward" and I am loving it.

Living in London is fantastic. It's hard to believe that we're almost hear a full year, now. It has just flown by, due in no small part to the amazing weather that I have tracked in this blog. Naturally, I am excepting the entire month of April, which was the rainiest since records began. I wasn't in London for most of April and since we had lovely weather in Ireland, I am counting that instead. At the beginning of April, London instituted a hosepipe ban because we were in drought and even after all this rain, it would appear we're still in drought.

Shocking. How can that be? You read on quizzically. Well (ready yourself for an environmental rant, here), it's because all this lovely rain can't find its way into the ground because there's too much concrete and tarmacadam creating runoff. The rain falls and go straight into London's over worked Victorian aged sewers.

This amazed me as London has so many parks and is renowned for its green space. Hyde Park, Greenwich (I thought the entire borough was a park!), Kensington Gardens, Green Park, Regents Park, St. James's Park and the infinite number of private gardens in the ritzy neighbourhoods. Surely that would be earth to soak up a bit of rain? Nope. No it isn't.

There's also all this talk about allotments here, which is twice as interesting. People sign up to waiting lists, which can be years long, to get the use of a little plot of land to grow plants outdoors. So why all the bricked over patios? If all the terraced houses in London took up the stone in their little back gardens, imagine how much more earth would be exposed. I'm no environmental expert, but it seems to me that there are a couple of issues that would be easy enough fix and might make a difference to the water shortage.

Boston gets far less rain than London, but we only ever had droughts in the heart of the hottest driest summers - unlike any weather ever seen here. So why does Boston only have droughts in extreme weather, but London has had one beginning in late spring for the past two years running? Of course, I'm sure that the amount of rain actually falling from the sky has at least a minor role, but there are a couple of controllable factors, too.

As I've said, a little more appreciation of personal green space that's actually earth based, not just in pots and planters might not go astray. Get those fingers dirty!

But, how about conservation? Everywhere in Boston, you seen water saving measures; low flow shower heads (no, no compromise in how it feels, just as powerful), low flow toilets, aerators on all the taps (they mix air with the water so you use less) and eco-friendly appliances. Now more enthusiastic people like me also go in for dual flush toilets and rainwater barrels, but perhaps the most effective method of conservation is the good old water meter.

My North American readers are probably now looking quizzically at their computers screens, but, indeed, not everyone has water meters here. I should clarify that I do mean ordinary city homes, here, not country homes with their own wells. We haven't had a water meter in either of the flats we've lived in in London. We pay a water bill, but it's a flat rate, not based on the amount we use. The system practically encourages people to use as much water as possible. If you don't, you're not getting your value for money.

I want to propose what will no doubt be a controversial idea: Water meters for all. You use it, you buy it. See how fast sales of water saving devices increase when people have to pay for all those little droplets. Not to be soon, I fear.

Instead, London will build bigger sewer pipes, dump more into the Thames and look out the door at the rain bouncing off their bricked over patios while they fill their watering cans at the sink for the indoor potted plants.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Cheer for Artistic Success

Even if it's not yours.

Have we all forgotten what we learned in playschool/Montessori/kindergarten?
  • If you haven't anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all
  • Be a good sport
  • Be a good friend
Sound simple? I reckon so too. So then why do people in the literary world seem so intent on ripping one another to pieces?

Any success in art is a success for all artists. Art is a struggle for anyone in a time of drastic budget cuts across the world. We are facing a time when children are being taught fewer art classes and have less time to spend on figuring out who they are as individuals, never mind how to express that artistically. I think we should be cheering the latest book release, the latest prize winner, the latest success of any description.

Last summer Tea Obreht was named the most recent winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction. Instead of  rejoicing at the success of a woman who was born in the strife of the war in the Balkans, the literary world turned her into the whipping girl for American MFA programs. It's hardly her fault if MFA programs are churning out less than stellar graduates. She didn't get the prize because she had an MFA, she got it because she wrote a good novel.

Now, I am not saying that literary books should not be subject to criticism, of course. In fact, I didn't really like The Tiger's Wife. I thought it wasn't as strong in the framing narrative as it could have been and was a little bit superficial on the war. Look at what I've said: "wasn't as strong...as it could have been," "a little bit". These are minor points. She did a beautiful job of weaving legend with her main narrative and she captures a sense of history through place extraordinarily well. Her narrative is superbly layered and the novel is very well structured.

Anyway, who cares whether I liked it or not. The question is: is it good literature? And the answer is: yes.

I'm not sure when personal opinion became so important, but in this digital age when everyone can broadcast their opinion to the world (i.e. Me. Here.), I'm here to argue for thoughtful, critical debate, not ad hominem attacks. Thorough critical analysis enhances the literary world. We should, of course, be engaging with the books we read and thinking about their construction, themes, ideas, whatever interests you. But it does the literary community no favours when we tear ourselves down from within.

There is a saying in Boston (I've heard this come from the Wampanoag tribe who are the Native Americans indigenous to the area, but don't know that for a fact) that if you have a bucket full of crabs there will be one or two who figure out how to climb up and get one claw over the edge. As soon as the other crabs see one getting out, though, they pull him or her back down so that no one gets anywhere.

If someone is having literary success. I say, hooray! More power to you. How did you do it? What advice do you have? Oh...and I just happen to have this writing sample...would you mind giving me some constructive criticism?

If Tea Obreht crossed my path, you can bet I'd be asking for her advice. Maybe she'll think I'm rubbish, but hopefully, she has come criticism that takes me one step closer to the Orange. Or even just an agent!

Watch out for crabs in a bucket. We're all just headed toward the sunshine.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Incredible Disappearing Act of the British Book

It's no secret that I'm a bit book crazy. My parents said they could bring me anywhere as a child and not worry because I'd always find something to read; books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, instruction manuals. If it had words, you could guarantee I'd read it. My favourite gifts have always been books (and cuddly toys, but that's another post). This past Christmas the husband and I had a bit of a disagreement about the appropriateness of books as gifts for kids. Our little niece is four-years-old, very bright and loves stories. We have to travel a fair distance to see them, so I thought that books would be an excellent gift. She likes them, they're easy to transport and if we get her one she already has, it's easy for Mum to re-gift. Vetoed.

My other half - who is, I should say, also a reader - maintained that there's nothing like a gift. "A proper gift" he called it. As in a toy, not a boring book. Well I want to say that a book is better than a toy any day. A good book is not just a physical thing, it's an entire world, it's a future, it's a integral part of a childhood, it's  filled with possibilities.

I can't even guess at the number of hours I spent with my childhood neighbours playing "Olden Days". It was a very involved game of make-believe that sprung directly from the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When I was at university in Montreal, Canada I saw maple syrup being poured on fresh snow to make candy. It brought me back to the moment I first read about that in Little House in a Big Wood. In an instant, I relived the joy that I felt reading that book over a decade before. I didn't love maple syrup candy, but I loved that moment. What would that moment have been without the book? Nothing.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was, in fact, the writer that made me want to be a writer. I remember saying to my dad that no one would ever be interested in what I'd write because my life was boring compared to hers. He said, "It's not what happens to you, it's the story you tell. Laura's life was ordinary to her, too." Turns out, Dad was right.
The four books I brought when we moved to England. Not to worry, though, the rest are safely stored away, waiting for more shelf space!

The BBC recently did a piece on books in Britain where they reported that 1 in 5 children has never been given a book as a present. It makes me so sad that 20% of British children have never had the joy of curling up on a cold and miserable Christmas day with a new book that whisks them away to a world so different to their own. According to the report, in 2005, 1 in every 10 children said they had no book at home. By 2011, this number had skyrocketed to 1 in 3. They said that this translate to almost 4,000,000, that's right, four million children without a single book in their home.

I can't even imagine not having a single book in a house. I grew up in houses filled with books and around adults who discussed, recommended and traded books all the time. We used to read together. Well, Mom and I would read; Dad would put on his glasses, take out something to read and then fall asleep, but it wasn't TV that brought us together, it was books. This, in a family, where most of us are dyslexic. My parent made sure that no one missed out on the joy that reading and books could bring.

There's an awful lot of talk these days about print books vs. e-books and I want to weigh in on this debate, finally. My take is: I don't care how kids read as long as they do. You, like me, love print books? Love the feel, the smell the actually physicality of the book? Well read a print book. You're attached to your laptop, smartphone, iPad etc? Go to town on e-books then! Who cares as long as you're reading?

I know a young man who is dyslexic and struggled to learn to read as a child. His parents read to him constantly, even while he jumped up and down, swung off his bunkbeds and generally did everything but sit and listen quietly. When his classmates were learning to read Berenstein Bear books, he was scribbling on pieces of paper while Mom read Harry Potter in the background. When his friends started to read Roald Dahl, he read comics like Beano and anything with a fart joke or explosion. No matter what he was reading, his parents encouraged it. They understood that nine-year-olds don't need to read the classics, they need to develop a life long love of reading. He devoured Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events (which his mother hated, but never told him) and a fairly poorly written series about feral housecats. At about eleven he suddenly made the transition to adult literature. Today, in his mid teens, he's well able for the classics and anything school throws his way. In the last year he's read Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games trilogy and Native Son. Not a bad list for a kid who was once diagnosed as "illiterate."

So I say, give books! Give books to all the kids in your life. Give them not what you think they ought to be reading, but what they'll love to read. They love cartoons? Give them comic books. They love horses? Give them the first book of any number of horsey series. Never mind what the book is, as long as they enjoy it. Give them the gift of other worlds and imagination. You never know, you might end up with a dyslexic author in your family, too.

What did my niece get for Christmas? Well, she got a book, but she sure did love the jewelry box and silver handbag that we brought, too.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Snowmageddon!

Last weekend England got snow. Real, white, falling from the sky snow. Here in London we got an entire inch.

My little plants covered in snow, yes, those are crocuses already blooming!

Naturally, the country shut down.

It was the funniest weekend I've had in ages. From about Tuesday on, the news was filled with warnings about the enormous snow storm headed our way on Saturday. Then on Saturday morning, almost 12 hours before the first flake fell they were cancelling flights out of London for Sunday. They were predicting that the snow would end by Sunday morning. Yes, that's 24 hours in advance of the actual flights when they were expecting 2-4 inches.

The news was chockablock with "Get Ready for the Snow!!!" stories. The BBC ran one piece where they recommended that drivers have the following "essentials" in the boot of their car in case they broke down in snowy or icy conditions. The three things they recommend?
1. Extra layers to keep you warm
2. Maybe water or snacks
3. Definitely, above all else, do not leave home without the all important and life saving...flask of hot tea.

Oh, how painfully English. Apparently, a shovel for digging your car out of a snow bank, salt for melting ice under your wheels or a torch (flashlight) to see in the dark are all completely optional and not nearly as important as tea.

Having lived in the US northeast (so sad, Patriots, so sad) and Canada I'm fairly well immune to snow and winter weather. On Saturday evening I was tempted to ring up BBC London and let the meteorologists know that they could stop worrying, it was too warm for us to get all the snow they were predicting. It didn't even smell like snow, though that may be due in part to the pollution problem in this city (why it's not getting some of the Olympic flack that Beijing did seems a little unfair, but that's another story). It was just too warm for a big fluffy accumulation.

Sideways shot of people with umbrellas in the height of Snowmageddon

So we got one wet inch in London and the Tube suffered major delays. Now, why the underground trains were affected by a little snow was unclear, but they were. In truth, this country really can't handle snow. All that being said, I should mention that some areas reported as much as 6 inches overnight. OK, Yorkshire, 6 inches is a pretty fair dumping overnight! But, London, you're just a bit wimpy. Have a look over at the continent where they're having some serious winter weather.

All in all, it was a very entertaining weekend, a lovely time to curl up with a good book (Vladimir Nabokov's memoir, Speak, Memory) and a mug of hot chocolate. The occasional look at the Brits going by in the snow with umbrellas was always good for a giggle - a resourceful nation who can always find a use for an umbrella.

Friday, 27 January 2012

One Glorious Hour

Hello all. I hope you all had a lovely year end/beginning break. I know I did. It was made all the better by a wonderful, fantastic, amazing hour today. The hour that the sun streamed through our front windows and filled the living room with its warm, delicious rays. I just sat, closed my eyes and was happy.

There really is nothing like sunshine in the midst of a northern European winter. The days are short, dark and grey. A damp, miserable day. I say this, of course, after a rather warm winter so far. I'm not at all ungrateful for this, mind you, I'm just extremely appreciative of the sun. I am not, though, the sun worshiper that many of my compatriots are. This rather unhealthy obsession with the sun is evidenced by the hordes of Irish who head to the Mediterranean and other warm climates every year. It needs to be said that they flock to these locations year round as the weather is almost certainly better regardless of season.

Brits have a similar magnetic attraction to these sun baked, sandy beaches, jetting off to Egypt, the various Costas of Spain and any number of Mediterranean islands offering package deals and cheap booze. They have all sorts of television programs about these sunny destinations; buy a home there, buy a holiday home there, go to drink copiously and make a fool of yourself, parents sneakily watch their children drinking copiously and making fools out of everyone, and any other variation of the aforementioned. It's fun in the sun.

Competing with these exotic locales is Jersey, "The warmest place in the British Isles." Really? That's the slogan you're going with? For those of you who haven't heard about this tiny island, it's just off the Normandy coast of northern France.  Yep, in the English Channel. Anyone ever crossed the English Channel by boat? I have. Several times. And I can guarantee you that the weather is often miserable and not much better than on "mainland" England. They refer to the Channel Islands as islands of this island. A dubious distinction, if you ask me, but I suppose it's essential because otherwise the UK would have to admit that they have been successfully invaded since 1066. Instead, the Channel Islands are not part of the UK, but instead are British Crown Dependencies and so everyone pretends that the German invasion and several year occupation of both Guernsey and Jersey doesn't count.

Point being that Jersey is not so far from Brighton as to make it a sunny beach destination. Sure, it's close to France, but it's close to the cold north coast, not the Riviera. "The warmest place in the British Isles" is, quite frankly, a bit of a backhanded compliment. For next year I suggest they really go for it with "Jersey, it's warmer than Siberia."

Needless to say, we haven't booked our holiday there quite yet, but I am enjoying my own little patch of sunlight. My day-by-day seasonal tracking of the sun is an inherited obsession. My Granny had the same fascination with the lengthening of the days. Every afternoon from December 22nd through June 21st she would look up at the twilight sky and say, "The days are getting longer, now. Isn't it lovely?" Everyday, the same thing, as though it was a wonderful surprise she had never expected.

While I have always shared her love of the days lengthening, today was the first day that I found that moment of pure joy. For the last two months we have only gotten 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight into our flat, but today, oh today! Today we had a solid hour. The sun is finally high enough in the sky to clear the significantly taller building across the street from us for a full hour. I actually exclaimed out loud, when it didn't disappear behind the edifice. Some might say a little crazy, I say celebrating a family tradition.

So bring on the longer days. Bring on more sunshine hours, even if it's cloudy. Bring on spring.

Granny never really talked about the length of the day after summer. Shortening days weren't of much interest. I guess we just have sunny outlooks.