December reading round-up

Christmas bokeh

Well I hope you’ve all had a few days off work and eaten far too much and maybe even found some time to escape into a quiet corner and read. I didn’t get much reading done over Christmas because, as predicted, meeting my newest niece was quite the distraction! Plus it was good to spend some time with my family and old friends, as well as just enjoying being back in the beautiful Forest of Dean for a week.

Having a cuddle with my niece.
Having a cuddle with my niece.

Tomorrow I’ll write a round-up of my year in reading, but for now here’s what I read in December. You’ll notice it’s significantly less than the number of books I was given for Christmas 🙂

Christmas bookses

Books
All is Fair by Emma Newman (review here)

Other Colours by Orhan Pamuk (review here)

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

And as I’m writing this a day early, I’m hoping I will have finished Paradises by Iosi Havilio by midnight tomorrow!

Short stories
“Xingu” by Edith Wharton (Selected Shorts podcast)

“How to relax while broadcasting” by James Thurber (Selected Shorts podcast)

“The topaz cufflinks mystery” by James Thurber (Selected Shorts podcast)

“A ride with Olympy” by James Thurber (Selected Shorts podcast)

“Macbeth murder mystery” by James Thurber (Selected Shorts podcast)

“The secret life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber (Selected Shorts podcast)

“The babysitter” by Jane Yolen (Selected Shorts podcast)

“The pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury (Selected Shorts podcast)

“The wood duck” by James Thurber (Selected Shorts podcast)

“Here we are” by Dorothy Parker (Selected Shorts podcast)

“Just a little one” by Dorothy Parker (Selected Shorts podcast)

“The waltz” by Dorothy Parker (Selected Shorts podcast)

There’s a bit of a pattern to my short stories this month, I notice! This was a particularly good bunch, I thought.

 

Happy New Year, all.

Holiday catch-up

I have finally finished my first sweep through the holiday photos, so I thought I’d write a few tidbits about our trip to Sicily while the memories are fresh and the remnants of having thoroughly chilled out for a week are just about detectable.

We picked Sicily for two reasons: we like Italy (great food, great wine, great art, lovely people) and one of the ways to get there is via a train that goes on a boat! Guess how we travelled! Sadly we only had a week off work so we couldn’t sensibly do the whole journey by train (we did that four years ago to Florence and I can highly recommend it) but we were able to fly from our local airport to Rome and then catch the sleeper train to Sicily. It’s pretty basic as sleepers go – no dining car (we felt like royalty when we dined on the sleeper train from Paris to Florence, it was seriously classy) – but I still love the experience of falling asleep to the chug of the train, peeking behind the window blind at the lights of the towns and cities as you rumble past. The service arrives at the ferry port at a slightly unsociable 6am, which may be why Tim and I were almost alone up on the decks of the ferry (you can choose to stay on the train or get out for the half-hour crossing) but I feel my overexcited inability to stay asleep paid off as watching the sun rise as we pulled in to Messina harbour was pretty special.

Welcome to Sicily

The rest of the train journey was pretty beautiful: the sea on one side of us and Mount Etna on the other. Sicily really is gorgeous. Thankfully that includes Siracusa, where we stayed for a week of relaxing, eating good food and ogling fancy millionaires’ yachts, enjoying the warm sunshine and sea air.

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We stayed on the island of Ortigia, which is the historic district of Siracusa and it’s exactly what that suggests: old narrow streets, lots of churches and pavement cafes, largely pedestrianised, well looked after. The rest of the city doesn’t have so much to recommend it, but we did venture out to the Archaeological Park to look at the remains of the Greek ampitheatre and other ancient ruins.

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I swam in the Med for the first time in my life. And we spent a couple of evenings sat in a bar on the harbourside just watching the sun set. Man, I’m jealous of two-weeks-ago-me right now.

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On the way home, we had a half-day in Rome so we had a walk around the Roman Forums and Colosseum. Frankly the former were more impressive, but that might be the combination of crowds of people around the Colosseum, our camera battery dying just before we reached the Colosseum and the skies getting distinctly grey at that point.

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One thing Rome does have going for it is an absolutely giant bookshop in the Termini train station. In fact Italy in general seems to have a lot of bookshops still, which was nice to see.

Okay, that’s enough reminiscing. I miss holiday. If you want to see more of my holiday snaps, I am gradually adding to them to a set on Flickr.

Now the question is, do I carry on learning Italian using the Duolinguo app (which to be honest I think increased my confidence much more than my ability!) or pick a new language to learn a smattering of? (This question is also known as the Now That Holiday Is Over Where Shall I Plan To Go Next Syndrome.)

Holiday in pictures

I have been meaning to blog about our very lovely holiday in Cornwall for a week now, but getting back to real life has been super busy. So here are a few nuggets and some photos. Hope you’re all enjoying lovely weather wherever you are.

The colours of sea and sky were impressive. The British seaside rarely looks this…tropical.
Holiday seas

Typically, I had black and white film in my camera, but I got some nice shots with it.
Throwing shapes

We finally made it to the Eden Project, which is brilliant.
Bright flower Untitled

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And we generally chilled out with good friends and a great location.
Oh yeah

Astonishingly I didn’t entirely melt in the heat and I managed to read four books in a week! Which totally justifies my packing five books, even if one of the books I read was borrowed from the holiday home, right?

If you want to see more of my holiday photos, they are in a set on Flickr.

Happy July, folks.

A very Shakespeare holiday

Tim and I have just (well, yesterday) come back from a few days’ holiday in Stratford-upon-Avon. We just wanted to go somewhere pretty to relax and have a break, but you’d have to try pretty hard to go to Bard Country and not do any Shakespeare tourism at all. We pretty much gave in and absorbed all of the culture, and despite the freezing cold had a lovely time.

We saw not one but two RSC plays – The Winter’s Tale and The Orphan of Zhao, more of which later – and went to three of the properties run by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. And though I may have mocked the tourist-trap stylings of it all, there is something humbling about standing in the house where a great genius lived half his life.

Shakespeare's birthplace

On a previous holiday we spent some time in Père Lachaise Cemetary in Paris and I paid my respects at the graves of Oscar Wilde and Colette, among others. I have now added to this list of pilgrimages by visiting Shakespeare’s grave, in Holy Trinity Church.

A grave man

The town itself is pretty and though no doubt it’s prettier still in spring and summer, I was glad we had visited when we did after a taxi driver told us that the place was dead compared with how busy it gets from Easter onwards. It was far from empty.

Wintry river

Having had our fill of plays and history lessons, on our last day we went to the butterfly farm. It was pleasingly warm and full of little flying creatures, though disappointingly lacking in educational information (Bristol Zoo does spoil us). I took a lot of photos there.

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As always, I’ll add more photos to Flickr (mostly of butterflies, no doubt) over the next few weeks. Feel free to have a gander.

Holiday snaps

Last week Tim and I went on holiday to Pembrokeshire with some good friends and it was perfect. We had seaside, a pretty cottage to stay in, log fires, lots of board games to play and the random heatwave meant we had sunshine too, despite it being March.

The beaches were almost empty.
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I revisited a place that had a profound effect on me when I was younger (17, I think. I read Frankenstein for my A level English while sat on the cliffs outside).
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I fell in love with the fossa, an animal I had never even heard of before.
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And I milked a goat. It only stood in the bucket once, despite my hideously long nails.
Kate milks a goat

The rest of my photos were on film so they will follow soon. Keep an eye out on my Flickr photostream.

Something new every time

We like to go to the zoo. Specifically, Bristol Zoo, which just happens to be our local one. Handy that. It’s a particularly good one in terms of conservation and breeding programmes and all that. The enclosures are big enough and full of enough foliage and whatnot that the animals can pretty effectively hide from view, which some of them do more often than not (no aye ayes for us on the last 2 or 3 visits) but somehow we still managed to take almost 1000 photos there at the weekend. Yup. 1000. Of which I have so far identified about 20 good ones.

While we like to think we know our zoo pretty well and can find our way around and show visitors hidden treats, there is always something new to see/do/learn. This time we saw lion cubs, learned about gorillas and fed lorikeets. Which was all very cool.

The lorikeets know that visitors are bringing them food so they land all over you, eager to be closest when you reveal the pot of nectar. It’s a bizarre feeling, birds’ feet on your bare arm. The keeper shooed off the bird that landed on my Mum’s head. Sadly I didn’t get a photo of that because we foolishly all fed the birds at the same time. So my photos are of complete strangers feeding the lorikeets.

They are very pretty and reasonably gentle if slightly frantic birds. My best photos of the day were taken in the Bug House but I figured they might freak some of my readers out, seeing as it freaked me out a little editing them. Zooming in on a locust’s head to check if the eye or the mouth is in focus – it’s making the hairs rise on the back of my neck just thinking about it!

I’m gradually adding the selected photographic highlights to my Flickr photostream so if you’re interested and ready to be slightly unnerved by/speed quickly past the insect macros, take a peek.

Job done

Last year we had builders in to do various jobs and for longer than I was entirely happy about our dining room looked like this:

The builders' ready room

At new year, with the builders finally gone and the room freshly plastered, we were ready to start redecorating. We picked out colours,

And it begins

braved putting up wallpaper,

Progress

(Tim worked speedy fast for me)

Fast work

and started constructing my library.

Shelves up

In fact, a few months back we were mostly done and I blogged about my almost-finished library here. However, there were a few bits and pieces still to do. Between my sister’s wedding, my lupus flares and us generally wanting to have a life outside of DIY, it’s taken us a while, but today I can finally declare the library finished! And isn’t it beautiful?

Set

Detail