allochthonous: (then you can tell if it's summer)
There is such a back-to-school feel about September. Even when the weather is lovely, you feel you should be cracking out the boots and opaque tights.

But! September is also Great British Bake-Off time, aka the highlight of the televisual calendar. Even better, the gospel is spreading and this year courtesy of Youtube, there is also the Great Australian Bake-Off (I think I love Dan Lepard and Kerry Vincent even more than Paul and Mary on the original), Heel Holland Bakt, Hela Sverige bakar and Den Store Bagedyst (it almost impossible to watch a Danish TV programme without trying to guess whodunnit. My money's on Annemette). Upside-down cake panic is universal to any language, and I love seeing what other countries pick for their technical bakes. I may be a little obsessed.

What are you reading now?

Nearly done with A Place of Greater Safety, which I have been enjoying, although it could have used an editor (I find it tricky to judge book length on kindle, but I think in hard copy it runs to nearly 900 pages, which, no book needs to be that long (are you listening, George R R Martin?). Mantel sure does enjoy writing lengthy books about doomed lawyers, doesn't she? You can really see the beginnings of Thomas Cromwell in Danton, although Cromwell is much more sympathetic, even when doing awful things. I am not too fussed about the fact that everyone is going to end this book headless (OK, maybe I am sad for Camille and Lucille), but I am actively dreading the end of Cromwell #3.

What have you just finished reading?

My holiday fluff of choice was The Girl King, a cheerfully swashbuckling retelling of the early life of Queen Tamar, national icon and all-round Good Thing, who presided over Georgia's medieval golden age. The focus on the romance with her second husband is a bit silly (she probably thought about other things, occasionally), but as a whole it rattles along, and Shota Rustaveli turns up as palace steward, thus ticking all the boxes for Famous Medieval Georgians.

I also read Mansfield Park for the first time since I was eighteen, and liked it a lot more than I remembered. It's more difficult to relate to, I think, than some of the other Austens, because of the extent to which the reader is invited to join in the moral outrage about adultery and, erm, amateur theatricals, and the assumption that anyone involved in this or who doesn't express the correct sentiments of disgust towards these things is A Flawed Person and almost as bad as the participants themselves, which is obviously a little peculiar to modern sensibilities. That said, I had a good deal more respect for Fanny this time round; yes, she's far more passive than other Austen heroines, but it takes a huge amount of strength to consistently refuse Henry Crawford in the face of all her relatives' desires, and even though Edmund is a terrible prig, she doesn't strike me as the kind of person who is bothered by that, so while they won't have as much fun as Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, they'll probably do OK.

Oh, and Snow, which is the Pamuk one is obliged to read if one is visiting Kars. I didn't like it very much (except for the bits about the local politics), and was delighted Ipek decided not to go off with Ka in the end, because no one deserves that. Fortunately the real Kars was short on black-clad, whiney, man-child poets and military coups so that was a relief.Maybe they only happen in winter.

What will you read next?

Ugh, whither Temeraire #8? No UK publication date for either the kindle or hard copy, but fortunately I have a conference coming up with US colleagues who I think I can probably suborn to bring me a copy. Otherwise, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush was on sale on Amazon, and deserves a reread.

allochthonous: (then you can tell if it's summer)
Home sweet washing machine. I had a gorgeous time in Turkey, of which more anon, but there was rather too much getting up at the crack of dawn to hike or catch buses for it to have been 100 per cent relaxing, and the lovely green landscape of the Black Sea region is brought about by an incredibly humid climate that leaves your clothes slightly damp at all times. Fortunately this weekend I have nothing to do except sleep, cook, and catch up with the Great British Bake Off (sure the highlight of the televisual calendar). I'm thrilled that it's squash season again; living on seasonal produce is a pain in February, but a joy in September, and everything is so abundant, that my giant weekly veg shop cost all of 2 Euro. Pumpkin and ginger soup for lunch, ratatouille for dinner.

I was saddened to come back to the news that Seamus Heaney had died. Like everyone else in the country. I studied this greatest hits at school; Digging and Blackberry-Picking were lovely, but Act of Union was the one that really stuck with me; it was the the first time I'd really encountered political poetry and I remember it really startling me when I read it. I've really enjoyed reading through the tributes online and finding out people's favourites of his work, lots of which is unfamiliar to me. Scaffolding is mine.


Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure the planks won't slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tightly bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job's done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
allochthonous: (Default)
The enthusiasm with which the electricity company here will cut you off if you fail to pay even 0.5 Lari (about 20p) of your bill (not even electricity; water. Apparently you can't cut off the latter, but the former is dead easy) never fails to impress me. This is about the third time I've been caught out, and I am lurking in a cafe until 5pm when the electricity, and hence, internet, might be back.

What are you reading now?

Frustrated as I was by The Magicians (see below), I am having a reread of The Secret History, which is also about an obnoxious college clique, but more interestingly so.

What have you just finished reading?

Broken Homes, which is Rivers of London #4, and I managed to zoom through it the day it came out. As usual for this series, I loved the characters and enjoyed the book perfectly well, but I have trouble, now I've finished, recalling exactly what happened. The problem is that I am much more interested in the backstory - I want to know what happened in Ettersberg, dammit! - and the pacing generally tends to be a bit off. I did like seeing more of Abigail, and Nightingale in action, but I would either like Aaronovitch to get a move on with his Big Series Arc Mystery, or just give us a book about Nightingale's WW2 exploits.

As for the ending... )

Also, The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, which is billed as a grownup Harry Potter, which apparently means that everyone involved has to be thoroughly unlikeable and self-absorbed and think about breasts all the time, because this is more realistic or something? I actually liked the worldbuilding, and learning magic at college level makes way more sense than at secondary school (the lack of basic maths and science in Hogwarts students' lives bothered me), but could not get on with Quentin at all, which was a shame as he was the only person with any development. Plus, you know Hermione Granger would kick the arse of every single one of the Physical Kids.

What will you read next?

I really did like the worldbuilding in The Magicians, despite everything else, so I will probably hit up the sequel at some point. I also picked up A Discovery of Witches and a book involving Troy and Nazis at the bookswap last night, so I should be set for a while.

allochthonous: (the great outdoors)
A question for the ages: why do all Georgian mini-marts carry a minimum of six different brands of tomato paste, but you have to go to the international supermarkets to get actual tinned tomatoes? Although, now that I think about it, this is no doubt down to the fact that I could have bought actual fresh tomatoes instead. Lateral thinking is not my strong point.

Back from a gorgeous long weekend rafting in Racha, which is full of beautiful, rolling, densely-forested hills with low clouds and the occasional patch cleared for some grape vines, and pigs sleeping peacefully at bus stops. Owing to some unseasonable rain, the rapids were rather more interesting than I think had been anticipated, but we ended up with the same number of people we started out with which I understand is the general goal of these kinds of expeditions, and those of us that fell out of the boat got pulled back in pretty promptly, and there was plenty of wine and vodka (although not in the boat itself), so a good time was had by all. Plus I reacquainted myself with one of my favourite sound in the world (raindrops on the rood of your tent) and one of my least favourite sensations in the world (the growing dampness around your toes as said raindrops permeate smoothly through the not-wholly-waterproof walls of your tent).

Now I come back from 72 internet-free hours to the less-than-surprising news of an England batting collapse (good to see the natural order of things reasserting itself) and the to me, anyway, thoroughly surprising new of a new Doctor. I am of the camp which would rather not see a female Doctor while Moffat is in charge, and while I would have liked to see and actor of colur for a change, I do think Capaldi is an excellent choicek: he's a superb actor, and his age should mix up the Doctor-companion vibe a bit (I bloody well hope, anyway). My main concern is less with him than with Clara, who I've never really got a handle on. Last season she was a Sassy Plot Device whose sole purpose was to save the Doctor; it would be nice to get a tad more characterisation this year.
allochthonous: (the great outdoors)
Kitchen view!
Shiny new apartment is now shiny new apartment with added internet! Still no wifi so I am constantly tripping over fifteen metres of cable, but it is double the speed of the office internet, so I'm not complaining too much. I am (almost) at the top of a hill steep enough that the road sort of dissolves into tiny narrow stairways through people's back gardens full of stray cats and vines and fig and pomegranate trees which makes nipping back when you realise halfway to work that you've forgotten your colleague's birthday present a bit of a pain. The view's worth it, though, and there's enough of a breeze up here that even I, drizzle-loving miserabalist that I am, can dispense with air conditioning. I still have not established a) how to correctly pronounce the name of my street or, more pertinently b) what name the street actually goes by among taxi drivers, which I am pretty sure differs from the one on the map, so for the moment I am getting an awful lot of exercise, and perfecting my Russian debating skills.

This weekend I am going rafting, which is not an activity I have indulged in since I was eighteen, which was *gulp* ten years That is not a good thought. What has disturbed me even more than the inevitable passage of time is the discovery that I have somehow manged to come to Georgia so poorly-equipped that I have neither a sleeping bag, Swiss army knife or headtorch. Eighteen-year-old me would not have been so lax. Still, there will be mountains and old churches and excellent barbeques as well as white water, so I suspect a good time will be had by all. Must remember to pack wine though.
allochthonous: (Default)
The most productive thing to come out of my trip to Germany was a bag of brown sugar. I made kanelbullar this morning for the office breakfast meeting and they were epic (plus only need an hour total of rising time, so entirely possible to whip them up the morning of without having to keep traditional bakers' hours). Having not eaten much else today, I am now on stiff G&T #2 of the day (the bottle of Hendricks was the second most productive thing to come out of said trip) which may or may not make my landlady's visit this evening easier. I have yet to determine the ideal blood alcohol content for improved foreign language ability.

What are you reading now?

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar which I found via a link from [personal profile] newredshoes . Beautifully, beautifully written (Samatar is best known for her poetry, and it shows) but if the plot doesn't start coalescing soon, all the stunning descriptive writing in the world isn't going to save it.

What have you just finished reading?

The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis, which has been on my list since forever. I enjoyed it a great deal, and was surprised to find when I finished it that it was the best part of six hundred pages (I read it on the kindle) but didn't love it the way that I know some people do. There was plenty to like: the relationship between Kivrin and Dunworthy was great, and Dunworthy's fretting about Kivrin were very nicely done, the time travel logistics were dealt with in a sensible way but without too much technobabble (and although the future-set scenes were a litlle dated (wot no mobiles? Kivrin's recorder was a whole 2.5 GB?), it wasn't that noticeable), Roche and the Ashencote family were fantastic. But the ending was a little too abrupt to be satisfying, and Gilchrist was such an pantomime villain that there wasn't a whole lot of tension there. Plus the constant references to cholera, which didn't exist outside the Indian subcontinent until the nineteenth century. That bugged me rather more than it should've.

What will you read next?

Schedule cleared for Broken Homes, aka Rivers of London #4, which is out tomorrow. Despite my best efforts I have yet to find a series that makes me so homesick and so happy at the same time. Peter and Leslie fighting crime and loving London while being snarky, awesome and magical is not getting old for me any time soon.
allochthonous: (spirit)
Orthodox priests and protestors attacking a tiny rally in Tbilisi held to celebrate International Day Against Homphobia and promote gay rights.

Last year's rally to celebrate IDAHO was the first time any kind of public gay rights rally had been held in Georgia, and was broken up by religious and ultra-nationalist counter-protestors. This year, the IDAHO opponests weren't going to let them get that far: the rally was abandoned before it started and participants had to be bussed to safety by police after thousands of people accompanied by Orthodox priests occupied the proposed site of the rally and attacked anyone they believed to be associated with it,

Video footage shows some thugs apparently chanting the Lord's Prayer as they attack the demonstrators; others are content with the more prosaic "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!". Some of the protestors are bearing stinging nettles, for their curative properties, to "beat the gays" with.

This very powerful post by a gay rights supporter details some of the threats received by the IDAHO rally participants in the days leading up to the event and emphasises just how brave you need to be to publicly align yourself with this cause (she also has a good post about her experience of the IDAHO rally last year). Public attitudes towards homosexuality in the Caucasus in general are not what you would call enlightened: a 2009 survey suggested that 92% of Georgians believe that homosexuality is totally unacceptable. This infographic about the experience of LBGT people in Georgia seems to bear out that statistic, but I have difficulty believing that the majority of people in the country would agree with this kind of violence. Maybe they would. It's incredibly hard to reconcile the hospitality and generosity I've experienced here with these images.

It is true the Georgian government generally makes the right noises about LBGT rights (got to tick those EU boxes!) and legislation is fairly enlightened in Georgia compared to some of its neighbours (it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation) I suspect that this kind of legislation is upheld on a rather casual basis. The prime minister (whose repeatedly-stated opinion on the subject is the philiosophical but not perhaps hugely proactive "people will get used to it") has just released a statement saying that the perpetrators will be "dealt with according to the law", and whether that happens will be a pretty good indication of the way things are going under the new government (mind you, the law itself has a few questions to answer here; the police didn't exactly cover themselves in glory).
allochthonous: (i cannot rest from travel)
I am always pleased when I return home after a few weeks away to find that my flat hasn't been burgled because I failed to lock the door, burned down because I pressed the wrong buttons on the boiler, or flooded because I didn't turn the tap off in bathroom. I feel this is a sign I have achieved functional personhood. Tbilisi, I've missed you and your wine and dumplings. And your perfect spring weather.

Not that I have been partcularly short of the latter, as with impeccable timing I caught what was possibly the only sunny week London is likely to get all year, and I have also spent the last four days in Rome. I'm not really sure what to say about Rome except that I loved it in a way I didn't think I could love any touristy European city, and from the moment the taxi from the airport entered the centro storico I have been wondering just how creative I would need to be with my CV to get a job at the FAO or WFP which are based there (God bless the UN for putting something somewhere which isn't Geneva, which I'm sure has its merits, but I do not think I would want to live there). Suddenly I understand why people get funny about Italy.

I went with my parents which was lovely: my mother used to live there, and it was where she and Dad met for the first time, so they know the city quite well. We spent a lot of time meandering around their old haunts: they got to bicker peacefully about whether it was this or that coffee shop where they had coffee for the first time and who drove her tiny Fiat better and I got to boggle at the sheer quantity of history that it is possible to cram into one place, appreciate that St Peter's is possibly the tackiest thing ever, and wonder why Rome can carry off baroque so much better than Vienna can (sorry Vienna. You have better cakes, and I admire your devotion to skeletons in boxes.), while we all applied ourselves diligently to our search for the best gelato, averaging three a day (lemon and basil from Corona on Largo di Torre Argentina was the winner, with cinnamon rice pudding a close second. I kept trying pine nut variations, but never found one I really liked).

Anway, fantasy job applications or not it is definitely a place I will come back to, and may have to move one of my sisters there if I don't manage it (I'm sure they wouldn't mind too much). In the meantime, I may need to swear off pizza and pasta for a week or six.

Hamlet, RSC

May. 5th, 2013 12:09 pm
allochthonous: (then you can tell if it's summer)
London in three consecutive sunny days shocker! Honestly, this is the loveliest spring I can remember in London for years. If only it holds out for the bank holiday. I am sitting in the garden painting my nails and trying not to get cat hair stuck to them, which is tricky, since Oscar has decided the bowl of yoghurt and raspberries I am eating must be the most delicious thing ever and refuses to be rebuffed. I have a friend's wedding this afternoon, at which there should be many people I have not seen in months and lots of booze, which is always a good combination.

The other day I headed up to Stratford (upon-Avon, not the one with the Westfield and the Olympic park) with my mother to see the new RSC Hamlet. I hadn't been for years (in fact, possibly not since Historiesfest '08) and I wanted to check out the new theatre; plus, I am a Jonathan Slinger fangirl and will watch him in anything, even Hamlet. The theatre was lovely and felt agreeably like the Courtyard, of which I have so many fond memories, and the atrium was decorated with old props and costumes, including an excellent bear which I was sorry to find out hadn't actually been in A Winter's Tale.

Hamlet ) 

Right, time to get outdoors for a bit, then just time to catch up on last night's Doctor Who before the wedding.
allochthonous: (london)
Tbilisi was particularly lovely yesterday, and I was all set for a whinge about having to leave a place where it was 27 degrees and sunny and springlike to return to the, but then it turned out that I was going somewhere where the conditions are very similar. I seem to have caught London during its two-week spring, and it is absolutely gorgeous. This morning I had eggs with posh bacon (you can get most stuff in Tbilisi, but bacon is strangely absent) and Ethiopian coffee and got on my bike and cycled into town (something I really miss) and the weather was glorious and I remembered how much I love this town.

What are you reading now?

China Miéville's Kraken. Few authors are as hit-and-miss for me as Miéville: I loved The City and the City and Embassytown, enjoyed most of Un Lun Dun and found Perdido Street Station almost unreadable. He is hugely original and creates surreal, disturbing images that stick in your mind like no other author, but his prose can be far too much of a good thing at times. So far,  Kraken is falling firmly into the "enjoy, but not love" category, which is fine. It has made me want to visit the Natural History Museum, though.

What have you just finished reading?

In my ongoing quest to find the best of the London-based urban fantasy/supernatural detective/whatever genre, I picked up London Falling, by Paul Cornell. A bit of a disappointment really: the first half was hampered by an unnecesary need to keep arbitrary things about each character a mystery, and so there was an awful lot of confusion for very limited payoff. Things picked up a bit once the magic turned up, but none of the characters did much for me (four POV characters is too many) and it just took itself so seriously - I would've expected a novel by a Doctor Who writer to have at least a touch of humour. Plot wasn't bad though, and in fact the epilogue piqued my interest much more than anything else, enough that I will probably take a look at book two when it comes out. Ben Aaronovitch still winning this genre by a mile, though.

What will you read next?

My parents are reorganising their bookshelves, so probably a reread of one of the many long-buried books they keep on turning up. I found a whole pile of those Geoffrey Trease kids' historical novels yesterdays; I particularly remember liking Cue for Treason which (I think) had a girl dressing up as a boy to run away and join a group of players and then discovers a lot against Queen Elizabeth and meets Shakespeare? Or something? Those were some great books.

allochthonous: (Default)
In the week I've been gone, all the leaves have come out and Tbilisi has become bright green. I had a great time in Ethiopia doing lots of interesting work things, but it's very nice to be back somewhere with a good internet connection and where it's not 32 C in the shade and where drinking the tap water is not considered an extreme sport (hardship missions: I am not cut out for them).

What are you reading  now?

Midnight Mayor, which is book two of Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift series. These are yet more of my London Supernatural Detective crack, quite good fun and set in an eerie, Un Lun Dun-esque London. Full points for originality of the hero's magic source (the blue electric angels are either genius or batshit, I can't work out which) which is unusual in this genre, but so far there seem to be rather more breathless things-go-boom action set pieces than plot which make things difficult to follow. I am spending an awful lot of this book mentally imploring Matthew to stop running around so much and just once, go to bed early and get a decent night's sleep.

What have you finished reading?

I spent a lot of time on planes and in cars the past ten days, so I finally read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and OK FINE they are brilliant, despite the occasionally confusing narrative voice and tha fact that every second person is called Thomas. I enjoyed Wolf Hall more, possibly because I've read far more about the downfall of Anne Boleyn than the early days of that particular crisis. But I love Mantel's characters, and the decision to focus on Cromwell is genius: his sheer competence is so thoroughly appealing (I love a good manipulative bastard). Good portrayals too of Anne (gets demonised or idolised far too often) and More (who I have never liked), and a good attempt at making Henry's constantly-shifting personal and political allegiances seem understandable, if not necessarily rational. Mantel does what the best historical novelists do, which is to use the reader's knowledge of history to heighten the tension, not decrease it: knowing the fate of every main character did nothing to spoil my fun as I was enjoying the journey far too much. One thing I didn't know was  the significance of Wolf Hall itself, and when we finally find out who lives there (not until about 80% of the way through, as far as I remember) it was a lovely "oh.... oh" moment.

I recommended the books to a Dutch friend who doesn't know the history of that period at all (but loves a good historical novel), and I wonder if that will make them tricky to understand or even better? I can't imagine reading them without at least knowing that we were only on wife #1 of six and that we had the split from Rome and many, many rolling heads to look forward to, but maybe that would make them even more exciting? We'll see.

What will you read next?

After all that Literature, I have my eye on a hilariously terrible-looking romance I picked up at the local English book-swap meeting. The cover has acres of heaving bosom and ripped shirt. I think Sheikhs might be involved.
allochthonous: (then you can tell if it's summer)
The Guardian has many issues, but I am fond of its willingness to take the piss out of itself (and its readers). Grab a pair of Guardian goggles for that immersive liberal experience!

I think the mini-Monbiot is my favourite. No rainbow trout for you!

ETA For some reason I can't embed from the Guardian site, so Youtube it is! Sorry, Graun.
allochthonous: (Default)
This weekend's mission - source all of the ingredients (or reasonable substitutions) for hot cross buns - has been successful, and I have Dan Lepard's recipe on the go. I can't stop picking at the dough, even though they still have another hour and a half left to rise, which I think can only be a good sign. Lazy day today with coffee, laptop, dark chocolate and new Doctor Who, with aforementioned buns to look forward to later on. Conveniently, tomorrow I switch from my old contract (Georgian public holidays) to a new one (Dutch public holidays), so Monday's a day off too. If I wake up early enough, I might go and have a look at the Stalin museum in Gori, although apparently they've taken down the massive statue there, which is a shame.

Although it isn't exactly tropical, it is bright and reasonably sunny here, the almond blossom is out, and spring is generally doing a reasonable impression of having sprung. I am glad for every reason to be two thousand miles away from the 100-year winter, which BBC World is getting enormously excited about. I find some of the reports very difficult to watch: the farmers with no insurance who have lost three-quarters of their lambing ewes under snowdrift, spending days and nights walking over their land trying to find living sheep to rescue. Five years of mild winters and early springs have apparently encouraged famers to let their ewes lamb outdoors, which backfired badly this year; interestingly, the melting arctic sea ice seems to be responsible for the greater extremes, both of warmth and cold, so this probably won't be a one-off. Even though I know academically that climate change is ongoing (hell, it's my job) and happening now, and has a strong link to the increase in extreme weather (hell, "how do we help people cope better with more uncertain and extreme weather?" is the question behind most of what I do at work), it's never not unsettling to be confronted with what it actually looks like.

So anyway, northern Europeans, I hope you warm up soon (please get it sorted before the end of April, as I don't want to have to bring back all my winter clothes with me when I visit). Now to go and pipe some flour and water crosses.
allochthonous: (Default)
Good things: it is a beautiful day, I have tickets for David Tennant in Richard II (DO WANT), Jude Law in Henry V (...not sure if want? I am taking a friend to see it as she is desparate to see a H5 in the theatre and this is the first one up, but Law annoys me as an actor, although I haven't actually seen him on stage, so he might be fine. Still, should be interesting) in December, and, oh yes, I get a day in ISTANBUL en route to Ethiopia in ten days' time. I have never been to Turkey before, so I am massively excited (it does put paid to my long-standing dream to see Istanbul for the first time from the sea, but I suppose I can make my peace with that). I am also trying to entice my family over to Rome for a long weekend in May. Sometimes having no direct flights home is a bonus.

What are you reading now?

Firebrand, by Ankaret Wells - swashbuckling steampunky goodness. Airships? Of course there's airships. I am crossing my fingers for sky pirates.

What have you just finished reading?

Thicker than Water, the fourth Felix Castor novel. I liked this series quite a bit at the beginning, but I am slightly over Fix's manpain and the way he acts like a total ass to anyone who tries to help him. Seriously, you're fighting some unspecified Big Bad of Supreme Evilness, you take all the help you can get (Buffy would have had a few sharp words for him). I will probably read number five just to see how the arc resolves, but eh. It's possible to write a good supernatural mystery with less angst, you know.

What will you read next?

I keep saying Wolf Hall, but now I actually have it on my kindle, so there's no excuse. I have a lot of flights and hanging around in airports over the next two weeks so maybe it will stick.
allochthonous: (Default)
“…and as for the husband, neither the Royal Geographical Society’s list in their ‘Hints to Travellers,’ nor Messrs. Silver, in their elaborate lists of articles necessary for a traveller in tropical climates, make mention of husbands.” – Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa

Happy International Women’s Day, one and all! Being as it was originally instituted to celebrate the contribution of Soviet women to “communistic construction” and commemorates the day in 1917 when Russian women went on strike for “bread and peace”, precipitating the revolution, it is a day off here, which is most civilised. I am celebrating with bread (well, a croissant is close enough) and peace (a long lie-in) of my own, and by dusting off my blog with the pictures, which is definitely due a resurrection.

A rundown of Tbilisi’s myriad charms will have to wait, however; since today is all about celebrating impressive women (communistic and otherwise), I want to talk about a particular hero of mine, the explorer and ethnographer Mary Kingsley. Being someone who is fond of getting to interesting places whenever possible, and inevitably doing so while being a) alone and b) female, a state of affairs that still raises the occasional eyebrow, I have long admired the Victorian ladies who upped sticks and headed with enthusiasm for the farthest corner of empire and beyond, often on the most tenuous of excuses, at a time when a woman alone faced considerably more difficulties than the odd amorous taxi driver. They wrote books with excellent titles like A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, and had unsubtle between-the-lines affairs with all sorts of interesting characters and in general lived a life full of excitement and incident, at a time when this was considered somewhat less than decorous. The considerably less intrepid nature of my own excursions notwithstanding, it is sometimes comforting to know that whatever slightly idiotic situation I may have gotten myself into, someone else has got out of much worse, often while wearing long petticoats and a corset, and Mary Kingsley is particularly useful for this.

Reasons why Mary Kingsley is the greatest )

Travels in West Africa is available for free as an ebook all over the place (for example, here and here), and I thoroughly recommend it, because it contains some fantastic writing. While I am unlikely to ever head up a Gabonese river in a canoe or, frankly, engage in any kind of similar activities even in a more congenial climate, Mary Kingsley is my inspiration in situations when I am losing my nerve, sense of humour and occasionally, both. Because in the end, if she could do it in a good thick skirt, I really have no excuse.
allochthonous: (Default)
Great developments in that I now have a) a flat; b) an internet connections; and c) a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and ready supply of tonic. This means that I can work from home (the office internet connection is appalling) with a G&T to hand while BBC World on the telly enthuses to me about the mating behaviour of the pandas at Edinburgh zoo.

What are you reading now?

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson (which is, incidentally, available for 20p on Kindle at the moment) in which Allan Karlsson dreads his centennial birthday party at the old people's home so much he makes a break for it and ends up on the run from the law with a band of accomplices and an elephant, while we learn about his thoroughly eventful life. I haven't got very far yet, but I am glad to report that the comparisons between Allan and Forrest Gump I have seen are entirely wrong: Allan is a highly-intelligent explosives expert and also the book does not want to make me punch things the way that movie does.

What have you just finished reading?

From a recommendation on [ profile] spectralbovine 's LJ, I burned through 14 by Peter Clines in a day. SB describes it as "Lost in book form if the Island were an apartment building and the characters were ordinary people instead of people with overly complicated tragic backstories" which is about right: a man moves into an apartment, and mystery upon mystery piles up as he and the other tenants try and work out what the hell is up with the building. It's best read unspoiled, and I would absolutely recommend it as a fun, pageturny mystery; that said, I did think t it took a turn for the daft by the end (but my patience with the kind of genre it turned into is not that great in the first place).

What will you read next?

I have sworn off my current crack (London-set supernatural detective stories, which is apparently a whole genre, now) for a while, and so will try and read something that takes me more than a day or two to get through. Wolf Hall's size always put me off a bit, but maybe if I get it on Kindle it will be psychologically less intimidating?
allochthonous: (we make the golden journey)
A meme for a Friday afternoon from [ profile] khalinche.

Cake )

Creme de cassis )

Climate change )

Climbing )

Camels )

The Caucasus )

Camping )

Central Asia )

Cartography )

Cavafy )

So many of these are food and drink-related, and it doesn't even include coffee and chocolate. Let me know if you'd like a letter!
allochthonous: (gin o'clock)
Lovely weekend in Norwich with my Cam housemates celebrating Burns Night on Friday (the sound of six people of a wide variety of non-Scottish backgrounds each attempting a verse of "Ode to a Haggis" will stay with me for a while; we had vegetarian haggis and very nice it was too) and Christmas dinner 2.0 on Saturday with an outrageously good nut roast, which I didn't think was possible. It was festively snowy on Saturday with enough for a snowman; by Sunday the rain overnight had cleared it all away and East Anglia was looking practically spring-like from the train home. I have also discovered that I might actually like whisky, which if true would give me a whole new interest in life . Our in-house whisky connoisseur produced a bottle of Talisker and one of Laphroaig, neither of which meant anything to me but both of which were orders of magnitude more interesting than the terrible stuff I used to drink at uni. The peatiness gives it a certain kumis-like quality which given my love-hate relationship with the stuff is not altogether a bad thing. Must experiment further.

Something I've seen in several places on my flist: A month of letters. The idea is that every posting day during February you mail something: a postcard, letter, newspaper clipping, whatever. I think it's a lovely idea and any other time I would be entirely up for it as I love letter-writing, but Feb is looking insanely busy for me at the moment so I'm not sure whether I'd be able to keep it up. Might give it a shot anyway.

Alarming (yet also pretty awesome) weather picture of the day: sea snow at Alexandra Headland in Australia (which turns out to be just down the road from where my great aunt lives, go figure). What with the recent heat waves  (new colours on the maps!) and the flooding in Brisbane, poor old Australia is really taking a pounding at the moment.
allochthonous: (i cannot rest from travel)
Lack of information on the job front (I know where I'm going, just not when or what I'll be doing when I get there is making me very bad company. Three people in the last couple of days have asked if I'm OK because I seem really distracted; mainly when they ask this I'm mentally calculating what is the shortest amount of time in which I can pack up all my life and head for the hills and did I order the next six months' worth of contact lenses yet (answer: no.). I am supposed to find out for sure one way or another tomorrow, but it is frustrating not to know.

OK, so *deep breaths* good things. I have been to the dentist and don't have to return for another two years (having seen what my mum has had to endure over the years, I will never be able to thank my dad enough for passing on the Good Teeth gene); I have climbed a lot this week and managed another 6A today (and also fell repeatedly off three 5s, so you can't have everything I suppose); I found a cashmere sweater and a Monsoon dress in a charity shop for under twenty quid for the two of them; David Tennant is going to be in Richard II at the RSC this winter AND they seem to be doing the other history plays as well. 

What are you reading now?

This Cold Heaven by Greta Ehrlich, in which she describes a number of trips she made to Greenland over several years, including a winter season she spent there. I will do a proper review of this at some point because it is fantastic - lyrical, poetic and full of absolutely fascinating stuff about the history and culture of the Inuit. Greenland still one of the strangest and most beautiful places I've been, and one day I would love to do a winter visit. A plan is germinating of heading back there with a couple of friends this summer to walk the Arctic Circle trail which will be ten years since I visited (Christ, I left school nearly ten years ago? When did I get so OLD?) and this book is making me want to leave immediately.

What have you finished reading?

I was staying at a friend's place, and picked up an Enid Blyton which I hadn't read - one of the St Clare's books I think? - and blew through it in a couple of hours. I couldn't get enough of those when I was about nine, but I was horrified on the reread about how awful all the girlsare to each other. Why did I ever think I would've liked to go to St Clare's or Malory Towers? I would have been mocked, sent to Coventry and made to play extra lacrosse.

What will you read next?

I found Crossing Places: Journeys among the Armenians in the Oxfam bookshop the other day so I might give that a go. Bread and Ashes is still looking at me accusingly, but it is hardback and quite big, so not very comfortable to read in bed.

Right, I am off do to my fifteen minutes of Memrise Russian and look at climbing harnesses.
allochthonous: (the great outdoors)
STILL NO CONTRACT. But the snow is snowing vigorously and I have high hopes that some of my friends will be having snow days so we can schedule a snowball fight this afternoon. At heart I am still a six-year-old when it comes to the white stuff.

In the meantime, I can't get enough of the #upgoerfive trend on twitter. Inspired by xkcd's Up-Goer Five in which Randal Monroe describes a Saturn V rocket using only the thousand (whoops, ten hundred) most commonly-used words in English, people are now describing what they do using the same ten hundred words. Most interesting are the scientists' (this one by a someone who's researching Titan is great) but it's actually surpisingly difficult even for those of us with slightly more prosaic jobs. Trying to do mine without climate, weather, disaster or sea is tricky, but it does bring a certain clarity (think I used the word "change" enough?).

The world is getting warmer and this means lots of things are changing. Some places are getting hotter and some colder, and some are getting more rain and some less. All these changes can make living in these places harder. I help people work out how they can change the way they live and the way they do things so that they can live in a world where things change more quickly and there may be less food and water. This is sometimes hard because we don't know exactly how and when things will change, but it is important because everyone in the world will feel these changes and will have to learn how to live and do things in a different way.

Anyway, there is a text editor here where you can try your own. Would love to see what people come up with (especially [personal profile] particle_person...).

ETA There's a good collection by scientists here - thinking boxes and space buses abound.


allochthonous: (Default)

April 2015



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