Friday, 4 July 2014

No. 54 Have my nose pierced

I am a fairly impulsive person so it is surprising that it has taken me 34 years to get round to doing this. I first considered it when I was 16 and in love for the first time. My then boyfriend's ex-girlfriend was a bit of a role model - she was about 3 years older than me and had her own motorbike and I thought she was the last word in cool. Nearly as cool as Chrissie Hynde, who was my ultimate role model, and much nearer at hand for observation and emulation purposes. I spent many hours in my bf's family kitchen, smoking like a chimney and drinking industrial quantities of white wine, and chatting to his mother who was the first person I had ever met who had a book habit like mine. She was rich enough that she bought most of her books in hardback and the house was stuffed with book cases. At the time my bf was building a motorbike in the cellar (which was actually just a room off the kitchen passage and not subterranean at all) and once the bike moved out she converted the room into a library. I never regretted splitting up with him, but I have often mourned the fact that I never got to inherit her book collection. And one night she announced in outraged tones that she had seen my predecessor "and she had a BEAD in her nose."  And sure enough, when I next saw her, as well as the motorbike and the dyed streak in her hair she did indeed have a bead in her nose. I would have rushed out and had it done at once if I had any idea where to go. In our town everyone had their ears pierced by an elderly watch repairer, who just did lobes with gold sleepers. For some reason I felt it would be uncool to ask the ex's ex where she had it done, because I would have seemed impressed, which was the height of uncool. And so my nose remained un pierced.

I did think about it, on and off, for the next few years but not enough to actually go and get it done. But then I woke up one morning last week and decided the time had come. I have been in Edinburgh with Charlotte this week and I persuaded her that she would like her nose pierced too, to celebrate having told her work she will be leaving to become a midwife.  She was working in Musselburgh so I travelled over to meet her, because she had spotted a new tattoo and piercing place there but when we went in to ask if they offered nose piercing for the nervous it turned out they didn't have their piercing equipment yet. By this time it was getting late, but Charlotte remembered a tattoo place on Leith Walk which she had heard recommended so we hotfooted it there. They were actually about to close up for the night and initially said we were too late, but they obviously couldn't resist our little disappointed faces and agreed to pierce us.  I insisted on going first and was assured by the piercer and her assistant that it didn't really hurt - just stings a bit - over so quickly you will hardly notice the pain. I lay down and kept my eyes tight shut until it was over, giving myself a pep talk. "You can do this. You've had four children, and a tattoo, and root canal work. You'll be fine." It did hurt actually. It felt exactly like you would expect someone pushing a needle through your nostril to feel and it made my eyes water. A lot. But it was very quick and before I knew it, there was Charlotte in the chair having hers done too. She said it didn't hurt much. I am wondering if noses get tougher as they age.

And here it is. I love it. I think I will probably change to a ring one day, but for now I am happy with my little gemstone. Today it hardly hurts at all, just feels a bit stiff if I wrinkle my nose. Alas, I do not feel any cooler than I did yesterday.


Friday, 30 August 2013

No 16 - Take A Trip to The Achensee In Austria

This is probably one of my longest held ambitions - dating back as far as primary school when I first discovered Elinor Brent-Dyer's Chalet School stories. If you are unfamiliar with her work I don't suggest you wade in now; there are loads of the books (of increasingly diminishing quality) and most of the main characters are decidedly tiresome from an adult perspective. Just to give you a taste, the main character, Joey Bettany, begins the series as the frail younger sister of the founder and first headmistress of said school and ends it as the mother of 11 children (one set of triplets and two sets of twins plus stray singles) and guardian to an assortment of orphans. She is a respected writer, sings like an angel, swims like Rebecca Adlington, dispenses advice to all and sundry at the drop of a hat, and has the ability to adjust her clothing like a Frenchwoman (no, I never worked out what this means either). The singing is important because, in Chalet land, health is very important. The school is partnered by a TB sanatorium. Every female character worth her salt  (including Joey and her sister, the headmistress) marries a doctor, usually after they have been plucked from peril. There is a lot of peril - but it is ok, they either get rescued by one of these handy doctors or a kindly cowherd (but no one ever marries them). And, where medical science fails, singing to an invalid is an infallible cure for most known ailments.Also drinking milk and going to bed early. I may sound cynical, but for many of us who discovered the Chalet School in our formative years, these books are as addictive as crack and I retain an inexplicable passion for them to this day.

You may be wondering what this has to do with my trip to the Achensee. Well, the first dozen or so of the books are set at the fictitious Tiern See in the Austrian Tirol in a little village called Briesau. There is lots and lots of detail, which eventually enabled clever readers to identify their real life counterparts. Ever since I discovered that Briesau is really Pertisau I have hankered to go there, hence the inclusion of this trip on my Bucket List. And so, when it came to choosing a holiday to mark my half-century, there was really no competition. And although Philip is immune to the charms of the Chalet School he is very keen on doing strenuous things in the great outdoors, so he didn't take much persuading.

We flew to Salzburg on the 21st August at silly o'clock - although Charlotte had, once again, nobly offered to chauffeur us. However, the early start meant we arrived in Pertisau in time for a (latish) lunch. I was ridiculously excited for my first view of the Tiern See (oh all right then, the Achensee) and by the time we had checked into the Hotel Post - recommended by several people, but mainly chosen by me because it actually appears in the books - I was almost overcome by the view from our balcony. Seriously, I had a big lump in my throat.

It looked exactly how I had always imagined it. The photo doesn't do justice to the colour of the lake which is a dark turquoise, crystal clear, and supposedly clean enough to drink. The hotel was excellent  and our room was huge and just on the second floor, which meant not too many stairs to negotiate after the gargantuan meals. As well as great food, good accommodation and a fab location, it also had a "wellness suite" with free sauna, jacuzzi, pools etc. plus a range of spa treatments.

We bought an Erlebnis Card, costing just under £50 each, which gave us 7 days access to the local boats, buses, cable cars, train and museums, and we definitely got our money's worth.It didn't take us long to realise we would be consuming thousands of calories per day, making a spot of damage limitation essential. It turned out to be an energetic holiday.

That first afternoon we took the Karwendel cable car to have a little mosey around higher up. I am not entirely comfortable with heights, but it wasn't too terrifying and I did eventually manage to open my eyes and enjoy the view, although I retained an iron grip on my seat. The next day I was even braver and went up the Rofanseilbahn - a bigger, scarier cable car although I was so hemmed in by fellow travellers that I couldn't actually see the view. We did one of the most popular hikes in the area - to the Dalfaz-Alm. It was an amazing walk, with spectacular views and although the local tourist board rated it as "easy" it was pretty vertiginous in sections (later in the week we did some "moderately difficult" walks which I didn't find as alarming). I was also very excited to meet cows wearing real cow bells.

The west side of the lake is only accessible by footpath, and it is another gorgeous walk. I was particularly keen to do this one as it features in the books on several occasions, being famous for a landmark called the Dripping Rock. I was therefore very excited to be dripped on by the Dripping Rock, although the tin roof erected to stop the drips eroding the path isn't exactly picturesque.
This was one of the paths marked "moderately difficult" as the path is narrow and is a sheer drop to the lake. I think my level of vertigo largely depends on how dangerous things feel - up on the Dalfaz Alm I was convinced I would plummet to certain death if I fell off, whereas here the prospect of falling into the lake didn't seem too terrifying. We spent most days alternately walking and using the big lake boats, but on the Saturday we decided to borrow some of the free bikes from the hotel and explore slightly further afield. I haven't ridden a bike for yonks so I was a little trepidacious but it appears that it is just like riding a bike, and after wobbling round the car park for about five minutes and trying to remember what gears are actually for, I was well away and it was so much fun that I am going to try and carry on at home. I was a touch saddle sore by the end of the day, although a swim in the lake helped. The water temperature is famously bracing, but we swam at the shallow Seespitz end and having holidayed extensively in the UK I can report it is no colder than the average bucket and spade seaside.

 That night the weather took a turn for the worse, so we spent Sunday visiting a museum and taking a trip on the little mountain railway which has been running since 188-something and has apparently never broken down. It was once a vital means of transport for locals and visitors alike, bringing people and goods up to area but now it is a  tourist attraction and hugely popular. The one downside is the fact that it travels down to Jenbach, which is not much of a place. There are a couple of Chalet School associations but Philip was pretty unimpressed. Good cakes at the station were a bonus, although we were surprised that the cafe had no restriction on smokers - surprising how quickly we have grown to take non-smoking indoors for granted.The little train was fab though.

On Monday we climbed an actual mountain called the Feil-kopf. We didn't make it right to the top because, in best Elinor Brent-Dyer tradition the cloud started to descend, and we felt it would be unwise to rely on a passing doctor or herder coming to our rescue, even though I assured Philip that we would be offered respite and smoky milk and a bed of hay in a mountain hut.  We had done all the difficult bit though, so I still felt very impressed with myself. And we did meet an extremely cute goat.
For our last full day we went to Innsbruck, which was gorgeous. We saw the House with Golden Roof and the Hofkirche with its amazing statues (including some by Durer) and ate Sacher-torte at the Sacher Cafe. I thought it was a touch underwhelming compared to my own Devil's Food Cake (she sa modestly) but not bad. The architecture was lovely and, even though it was August, the crowds were surprisingly small.

And then it was all over. There are lots of other places to visit on my Official List, but I will be very sad if I don't manage a return visit to the Achensee before I am 60. Even without the Chalet School connection it would still have been an amazing holiday. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

No 31 - Celebrate Our Silver Wedding Anniversary


So, it was 25 years ago this week that Philip and I tied the knot and on Monday we had a grand day out to celebrate. Our proper Silver Wedding treat is a holiday next week (of which more will follow as it is also one of my Things To Do) but of course we had to do something special to mark the actual day.

We are both greedy people so what the Dandy and the Beano always referred to as "a slap up meal" was the obvious choice. We had heard good things about Paul Kitching's 21212 and it turned out to be the  perfect venue for a romantic celebration. But first of all we rattled our way up to Edinburgh on the bus and forced our way through the festival crowds on the Bridges and down to Royal Terrace for a pre-lunch stroll to work up an appetite. There are some very lovely flats on Royal Terrace and I do enjoy a good nose into people's houses - I got a severe case of Library Envy outside the flat with a book lined study with proper library steps and enjoyed peering into the mini basement gardens which featured everything from proper plants in pots to artificial grass. And then it was time to eat.

It is a gorgeous Georgian townhouse - very traditional on the outside, but some nice contemporary quirks within. The dining room was beautifully stylish - we were next to one another on a very comfortable upholstered seat , separated by a bolster shaped cushion, at a table for two, which gave  a feeling of intimacy. The tables are all round the edge of the room, and there is an open kitchen at one end, although there is a glass screen so there is no noise. Although there were 8 people working in a not-very-large space we were really impressed by their calmness; no Gordon Ramsey shouty sweariness for Mr Kitching. The staff were even more impressive than their surroundings - so friendly and welcoming. There was a card wishing us a happy anniversary on our table and the waitress won my heart by saying "We were worrying that we'd got the wrong table when we saw you; you look far too young to have been married for 25 years." The maitresse d' came up and said , "She wasn't joking - there really was a bit of panic!" I bet they say that to all the anniversary girls, but even so we were flattered.

And the food was amazing. The sort of food where there is something new to discover with every forkful. After the hugest ever green Spanish olives and tiny cornichons we both had to go for the same starter. Although we always try to choose different dishes when we are eating out (because I always want to taste EVERYTHING - and 21212 is brilliant for this because the menu is tiny) we made an exception with this because it sounded so good. It was a nugget of salmon, mackerel and haddock with baby vegetables and beads of pasta like giant couscous but softer, all with a hint of smokiness. It was topped with crispy wafers of beetroot and parmesan, and a scattering of cashew nuts. On the side was a little dish of a savoury custard with red pepper, flecked with caviar. And it was yummy. For our main course I had slow cooked chicken which was the most juicy, succulent chicken I have ever tasted, which came with little discs of haggis and black pudding and sausage, oyster mushrooms, cubes of baked egg, and  crunchy caramelised apple and sage in a lettuce sauce. The only remotely duff note was a little circle of rather soggy puff pastry . Philip had sea bass with spiced prawns accompanied  broad beans, aubergine, celeriac and hazelnuts in a light creamy seafood sauce. He said he could have done without the hazelnuts but everything else was fabulous. There was a lot of ecstatic moaning, and urging one another to try delectable little morsels. Philip had the cheese course next which was ginormous - a plate with about 10-12 different cheeses which ranged from the familiar (Manchego and Doddington's Admiral Collingwood, which we used to sell) to the new to us - and sadly I have failed to retain a single name. There was a selection of biscuits, some home made (my favourite was like a big varnished Dorito) with water biscuits and crackers, and dried fruits. And even though it was just Philip who had ordered it I was given a knife, plate and dried fruit too, which was just as well as there was far too much for one person, even one as devoted to cheese as my husband. And then it was my dessert, which again helpfully arrived with two spoons and I grudgingly allowed him a share because it was our anniversary after all.
The trough contained a layer of cherry and chocolate compote, topped with crème brulee, a cherry and a little chunk of a nutty kind of fridge biscuit. The purple "string" was chewy and intensely cherry flavoured. There was a piece of chocolate on the side and then the glass pot contained a warm honey foam with fudgy chocolate at the bottom, with a cinder toffee wafer. I am drooling at the memory of it.

If you are looking for a special place to eat in Edinburgh I really recommend 21212; it isn't wildly expensive either for the Michelin-starred standard of cooking - two courses at a midweek lunch starts from £20. As I said the menu is tiny - hence the name (2 starters, 1 soup, 2 mains, 1 cheese, 2 puds) so I would check if you are veggie, or have food allergies. It was friendly and relaxed enough to be truly enjoyable, but posh enough to feel like a proper treat.

The rest of the day was lovely too. We moseyed along Rose Street and had a drink sitting outside a pub in the sunshine, with Ian Rankin and an unidentified literary chap sitting beside us. If you know me in real life you may be aware that I am constitutionally incapable of recognising well known people (I once thought Sally Gunnell was an old school friend because her face looked so familiar) so Philip had to explain who it was, but then I thoroughly enjoyed eavesdropping on their bookish gossip. We went to the Book Festival in Charlotte Square to lounge in their stylish deckchairs and meet Polly (our oldest daughter by five minutes) for her tea break. We had made vague plans to go to a Festival event but in the end we decided to have a final drink in the Café Royal before catching the bus to the Park and Ride from where Charlotte  (Polly's twin) had nobly volunteered to chauffeur us home in comfort. At home she had flowers waiting, and we had a glass of fizz with her and the boys to round off our wonderful day.

It was great to have a day just to talk, and laugh, and remember and celebrate being us - and to be glad that after 25 years we still love being together.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Oooh it gets dark .....

Well, I can now tick Wuthering Heights off the book list and blimming glad I am to have finished it. My reasons for neglecting to read it back in the Upper Fifth are now lost in the mists of time but I daresay it had something to do with the total unpleasantness of all the characters, who appear not to have a redeeming feature between them. What I do remember is getting very muddled by the relationships and wishing I had some sort of family tree to help sort them out, what with all the women being called Cathy and all the men's names beginning with H (OK, I am exaggerating slightly but only a bit).

I actually had high hopes for this book; there are some on the list I am really rather dreading but I quite looked forward to this one. It started promisingly enough and I was actually quite gripped for the first few chapters, but it soon wore off once I realised how unsympathetic they all were. Not only did the characters lead miserable existences, but there were also hanged? hung? puppies and tortured kittens and it was all unremittingly grim. I had vaguely thought of Wuthering Heights as a love story, probably because of the Kate Bush song, or a dim memory of an ancient film version. But it isn't a love story at all - it's about vengeance and cruelty, and from a modern perspective it feels too melodramatic and unbelievable . I don't mind a villain, in general, but I prefer a bit of swashbuckle or the merest hint of humour to offset violence and viciousness. There really wasn't much I liked about it - except perhaps the houses and the moorland setting and the small glimpses of domestic life.

Why is this book so well regarded? I can, I suppose, imagine readers being intrigued by the plot or being attracted by the romance of the whole Bronte/Haworth story, but I really can't see it as a novel to inspire affection in the way that Jane Eyre (for example) does. For me, it became a slog - constantly checking the Kindle statistics to see how many minutes of reading I had left; oh, the relief when I realised the end was nigh. And even that was a disappointment, what with Heathcliff simply stopping eating and dying (sorry if this is a spoiler) instead of meeting a suitably gruesome end.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Oliver Twist

I have finished the first book on my list and can now stop feeling guilty about Oliver Twist. I no longer remember why I didn't read my o'level set books, but I didn't . I can only assume that I thought a working knowledge of the plot, based on the musical, would be sufficient. And even though I went on to read several of Dickens' other novels, and would include Great Expectations in my Desert Island Reads, I never got round to revisiting Oliver. So what did I think of it, after all these years? Well, I thought it was pretty good actually. The eponymous hero is bit of a drip, the casual anti-Semitism jars from a modern perspective and the coincidences are a bit of a stretch, but there are some wonderful scenes and some terrific characters. There's plenty of Dickensian squalor, lashings of Victorian sentiment and the plot is a pageturner, even though I knew what was going to happen. It also made me laugh out loud a few times - I always forget how funny Dickens is. I would have preferred a stickier end for the dastardly Noah Claypole  and it's a shame we don't find out what happens to the Artful Dodger after his  splendid court appearance ( and in my mind's eye he still looks EXACTLY like Jack Wild) but most of the characters get what they deserve. So - 1 down, 59 to go.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Official OSTTDBIS Book List

So, before the 17th August 2023 I am going to read the following books, and write a review of each one on here. I am still thinking about the order of reading but I may just work my way through the list to stop me cherrypicking and leaving myself all the ones I am least enthusiastic about. It shouldn't be too difficult; if I manage one a month it will only take 5 years. I am really looking forward to some of them, a bit dubious about others and dreading a couple, but I am hoping it will be an interesting experience.

Thank you to everyone who has made suggestions. I haven't been able to include all of them, mainly because of the one book per author limit, but even if they are not on the list I will still read them too. I am now considering a companion list of films I should see. Despite the list below I like to think I am reasonably well read but I cannot pretend to be well viewed. I'll be asking for suggestions soon.

1. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

2. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

3. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

4. Moll Flanders - Daniel Defoe

5. Zuleika Dobson - Max Beerbohm

6. The Heart of Midlothian - Walter Scott

7. Life of Pi - Yann Martel

8. Casino Royale - Ian Fleming

9. Barchester Towers - Anthony Trollope

10. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

11. The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann Radcliffe

12. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Bronte

13. The Dispossessed - Ursula le Guin

14. The Crow Road - Iain Banks

15. Baba Yaga Laid An Egg - Dubravka Ugresic

16. Ridley Walker - Russell Hoban

17.  Hawksmoor- Peter Ackroyd

18. What Was Lost - Catherine O'Flynn

19. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

20. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

21. The Summer Book - Tove Jansson

22. Dracula - Bram Stoker

23. Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett

24. Possession - AS Byatt

25. Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks

26. Tristram Shandy - Laurence Sterne

27. The Girl With the Pearl Earring - Tracey Chevalier

28. The Vicar of Wakefield - Oliver Goldsmith

29. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth

30. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

31. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray

32. Human Traces – Sebastian Faulkes

33. Two Serious Ladies – Jane Bowles

34. The Catcher in the Rye – J D Salinger

35. Evelina – Fanny Burney

36. Howards End – E M Forster

37. Anna of the Five Towns – Arnold Bennett

38. Mr Norris Changes Trains – Christopher Isherwood

39. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

40. Black and Blue – Ian Rankin

41. The Death of the Heart – Elizabeth Bowen

42. The Go Between - LP Hartley

43. Atonement – Ian McEwen

44. Beloved – Toni Morrison

45. A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain

46. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

47. The Thirty Nine Steps – John Buchan

48. To Kill A Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

49. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

50. The Daisy Chain – Charlotte M Yonge

51. Stalky and Co – Rudyard Kipling

52. Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

53. The Best of Everything – Rona Jaffe

54. My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin

55. The Edwardians – Vita Sackville-West

56. To Bed With Grand Music – Marghanita Laski

57. The Making of a Marchioness – Frances Hodgson Burnett

58. Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

59. The Bell – Iris Murdoch

60. Under the Greenwood Tree – Thomas Hardy





Saturday, 27 April 2013

debodiddley : The Official 60 Things To Do Before I'm 60 Blog

debodiddley : The Official 60 Things To Do Before I'm 60 Blog: The Official 60 Things To Do Before I'm 60  (OSTTDBIS) list is my version of a bucket list. It is still something of a work in progress ...