2013 Review Thingo (thanks, again, to Shauna…)

Like last year, I’m mercilessly plagiarising from  Shauna Reid (see hers at http://www.shaunareid.com/2013/01/2012-review-thingo.html). It’s a great way to figure out where your year went right, and where it went not-so-right, and what to focus on for the year to come. 2013 was relentless, surprising and more than a little surreal, and I’m looking forward to 2014 being a bit less of each, thank you.

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?

I took over as head of a large research programme following the death of a friend. Very, very big shoes to fill, and I’ve spent much of this year trying to re-imagine something already wonderful that didn’t belong to me in a way that’s respectful and doesn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. I’ve been to new countries, sat in the Emirates lounge, spoke in front of a number of senior policy makers a number of times. Lots and lots of new things from a work perspective. From a home perspective…? Still no sky diving, still no international espionage. Still need to work on that.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next this year?

Um, still didn’t manage to write resolutions for last year, and with the chaos following A’s death, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. But this year, I’m making three big resolutions: 1) this blog, 2) getting healthier and 3) investing something beyond our pensions/the kids’ college funds.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My friend, Nick, had a little girl. Two dear friends had devastating miscarriages, though, and I feel their losses. I’m crocheting a blanket right now in the hopes that one of them will need it before 2014 is out.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

A, although I would never say I was very close to him. We were friends, though, and I’ve learned a great deal about him this year that I didn’t know before.

5. What countries did you visit?

USA, Australia, Singapore, India, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, UAE.

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked in this one?

Time to breathe and to reflect on everything that’s happened. I’d also like to write a book.

7. What dates from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

22nd November, when I was supposed to be in the States at my grandmother’s 90th birthday party but was instead at a policy event in Delhi, and then 30th November, when my family celebrated my grandmother’s birthday with me there.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Winning another new research contract, hiring several new colleagues (and, now, friends). Creating a ‘buzz’, from what I’ve been told. Getting promoted was pretty cool too.

9. What was your biggest failure?

One of my dearest friends lost his father in April, and I found out about it in November… My friendships have paid the dearest price for the relentlessness of this year. My children haven’t coped very well, either, with all of the travel, and nor has my long-suffering husband. Complaining about a colleague who was trying to undermine me behind his back, which is just as bad.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thankfully!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The perfect coffee table in a Red Cross shop for £30. And my kindle for off-line reading.

12. Where did most of your money go?

Interest and my children.

13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Almost everything to do with this new research programme, but especially the chance to work with the loveliest team ever. Going to Australia. My sister’s first book selling fantastically well. Getting an assistant. Really, really excited about the last one!

Watching my husband up on stage with Gabby Young and Other Animals at my kids’ first ever live show was pretty cool too. It was only for a few minutes, but it’s a memory we’ll have for a long, long time.

14. What song will always remind you of this year?

Hmm…I don’t feel like I’ve listened to a lot of new music this year. I’ve subscribed to Rdio, and I’ve been listening to a lot of older music. Lots of Eagles in my office.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?

Happier. Grateful. Blessed.

b) thinner or fatter?

Neither. I’m exactly the same as I was this time last year. Which is depressing and definitely needs to be remedied!

c) richer or poorer?

Richer, but only marginally. Need to get serious about saving.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing for pleasure. Spending time with friends. Being in the moment with my kids. Sex.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Up to a point, travelling. Too much of it all bunched together with no time to breathe.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

At home, as usual, and really chilled out.

19. Did you fall in love this year?


20. What was your favorite TV program?

Luther on Netflix and on flights. Borgen. The Vikings.

21. What was the best book you read?

Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. Susan Cain’s Quiet. Joyce Maynard’s The Good Daughters. Graham Alcott’s Productivity Ninja. Lily Baldwin’s To Bewitch a Highlander (shameless plug for my sister’s book!).

22. What was your favorite film of this year?

Watching Pacific Rim in Imax 3-D with my 9 year old son was a real experience. Like being hit with a wall of sound. ‘Did you enjoy that?’ I asked him. ‘Hmm…on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give that A MILLION!’.

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 41. I was in the States with my own family for the first time in a long time. My parents made a great dinner, and all of my siblings came over. I spent much of it consoling one of my brothers who has gone through a rough divorce though. Come si, comme sa.

24. What kept you sane?

Sauvignon blanc and cups of tea with good friends.

25. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

At the risk of sounding very shallow, Travis Fimmel from Vikings. Kind of hard not to growl a little bit when he’s on screen.

26. Who did you miss?

My sister. Always my sister.

27. Who was the best new person you met?

The manager of my new research programme, Heather. I’m not sure I could love her any more if she actually was my sister.


Far Away Park

This is one of my favourite places to come – the Cotswold Country Park, near Cirencester. From a former quarry to a beautiful lake, it is a perfect example of how the land can be reclaimed and turned into something beautiful and useful. Even on a bustling Bank Holiday weekend, there are still plenty of quiet corners to sit and listen to the birds and the sound of the water and just relax.

My son started calling it The Far Away Park years ago, when we first discovered it. To him, it was nothing more than the best ever park, with swimming and magical secret paths in the woods, but we couldn’t walk to it like we ordinarily do with parks. The Far Away Park. The name has stuck, despite the fact that he’s now more than old enough to find it on a map all by himself.

Having said this, I did like it better before it was taken over by new management. It used to be just simply the lake and paths, a couple of small playgrounds near the beaches, pedalos and a simple cafe. Now there are giant floating balls to run around in, at £5 for 5 minutes, the world’s most pathetic pitch and putt course, at £10 for a family of 4, and the annual pass has almost tripled in cost. Rather than being the place where we can get away from it all, it feels ever so slightly more like the sort of place from which we want to escape.

Yet there are still quiet corners for the family, and enough sand and water to keep the kids happily occupied for hours, and by declaring it a ‘pester-free zone’, we (mostly) avoid nagging about those stupid giant balls.

Cuteness Overdrive


There is a little girl, about 4 years old, in the coffee shop, singing Disney’s ‘Once Upon a Dream’, from Sleeping Beauty. She’s singing it loudly and clearly, with the barest hint of a Swedish accent to her English. I really should sign up my own kids for some language classes…


Working on a Sunday Morning

I don’t often have to work on a Sunday morning, nor do I often choose to. When I’m in the UK, Sunday mornings are for family. My son has swimming lessons, and some weeks the whole family will go swimming afterwards. We cook a nice lunch. We see my in-laws or our friends. We try to relax after a busy week and a Saturday running errands and doing chores. Sundays are, despite the general lack of Churchiness, sacred.

When I’m away, the rules change though. I didn’t really work much on Friday because I was travelling, and I have to get ready for a big meeting this week. Partners on a research project are flying in today, and I’ve promised to have words on a page that we can discuss. I don’t mind working on a Sunday like this, because I’m very privileged to being doing work like this in the first place.

Having said that, willingness and ableness are two very different things. Look at this sofa. Look at the antler chandelier filled with fairy lights. Look at the pillows. How on earth is a woman supposed to concentrate when this luscious cosiness is calling out to her!! Take your shoes off…sit on me…curl up with a book… put away the Macbook and come to me…

So I will shake the cobwebs out of my head and order another coffee. I’ll start to put some words on the page. I’ll send a couple of emails (which will earn me brownie points as, hellooo, working on a Sunday morning!). Then, when I’m done, if the sofa isn’t filled with blonde and beautiful Swedish undergraduates, I’ll kick off my shoes and curl up with my book.

Välkommen till min blogg!

My first post in a long time is written in a quiet corner near the back of Espresso House in Gothenburg, Sweden. 3,600 miles away from where I grew up, 600 miles away from my husband and children…just a quiet little corner near the toilets, just for me.

I’m lucky that – compared to most mothers, working or otherwise – I get to do this sort of thing. It’s actually the only time I really take for myself, when I travel for work, and I get to do it not infrequently. That’s ok really. I find that when I travel I have space in my head and in my schedule to actually stop and think about bigger picture things. Who am I? Where am I? No, seriously… I don’t recognise this woman! I slept in until 9:40am! I’ve done nothing all day but shop, drink chai and read a trashy novel. It’s like being 25 again, but with creakier knees and a muffin top.

I’m not sure yet what this blog will be like, and I’ve not really lived up to its title. I think I want to write about books, because I love to read and am starting to make more time for it again. I think I want to write about the world around me, which I have to take notice of for my work as an academic, but where my thoughts are usually punctuated with lots of ‘conversely, one might argue…’ or ‘if one were to…’. I want to whinge about feeling slightly exiled but revel in a life that lacks the constricting boundaries of my youth. We’ll see where this takes me, and if I can find an authentic voice here.