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.

The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie

I wanted to read something light and funny while on holiday and picked up The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie, at the Red Cross Bookshop. I almost gave up on it within the first three chapters or so, because Laurie’s voice comes through very strongly (very strongly…), and it’s not entirely plausible for his main character. I’ve never met any ex-military, potential assassin types, but if I were to, I doubt very much whether ‘By golly!’ is a key part of their vocabulary. Still, I stuck with it, and I’m glad to have done so.

Despite the ‘By gollys’, the main character, Thomas Lang, is compelling – likeable, brave, honest and violent – a difficult combination to pull together, but Laurie has managed it here. The plot is big, dealing with high politics and corruption, but doing so in a way that is personal. The triumph here is that the conspiracy around which the plot rests, which I won’t go into to avoid spoilers, feels like it could actually happen in real life, and that is very scary.

Summer baking

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The weather has been truly diabolical today, not fit for man nor beast, but especially not flip flops. To make up for it, we had the oven on all afternoon. My contribution were these delectable chocolate snickerdoodles. I exchanged some of the butter for crunchy peanut butter, which gives them an additional richness, without a huge shift in calories. They’re particularly good if you replace some of the plain flour with spelt flour (say, a quarter), but I’m all out. Still, they help to ease the pain of a truly dreadful summer.

Holiday Mode

Two weeks of staycation ahead of me. I managed to clear shift my inbox to a to-do folder, submitted corrections for a book chapter and moved my in-tray to the ignore for 2 whole weeks pile. To say that I’m not yet feeling relaxed would be an understatement, despite a glass of wine and chocolate chip muffin. I hope that 2 weeks of fresh air, reading for pleasure and catching up with friends will rectify this.

I feel an addict’s itchy finger with my email though. I could just check it quickly, just to see… No!!! Step away from the iPad, hide the MacBook under a stack of novels and just relax…

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.

Jo Nesbo’s ‘Headhunters’

I’m a huge fan of Jo Nesbo’s. As a writer, he manages to deliver consistently excellent plots with deeply real characters and the kind of writing that both makes your heart race and leaves you spitting through your teeth with envy. There’s a scene in The Leopard where he’s trapped in a mountain cabin that’s been buried by an avalanche, and I swear my own breathing stopped, and I had to whip the duvet off to avoid the crushing claustrophobia that came over me. *That’s* good writing for you.

Headhunters is the first of Jo Nesbo’s books that I’ve read that hasn’t featured Harry Hole. I decided to put aside the rest of his books and take this one on face value. Having said that, it is not quite as good as the others, but I suspect that’s because you don’t have time to grow to love the characters. And, it has to be said, not a single character is loveable. But it is funny, and it is suspenseful, and it has to have the best outhouse scene since Slumdog Millionaire.

Roger Brown is a headhunter specialising in CEO-level jobs. He’s very good at what he does, which is a good thing, because he leads a very expensive lifestyle. His beautiful wife runs an art gallery, and in additional to providing the financial backing for this, he makes sure that he gives her a big house, a flash car, and everything her heart desires, except for the baby that she wants and he doesn’t.

Roger makes a good living, but it isn’t enough, so he has a sideline in art theft. It’s the combination of his day job and his night one that gets him into big trouble when an exciting prospect for an executive job is introduced to him by his wife at her gallery.

I’ll leave it there, as I don’t want to give away spoilers, but it is a cracking read. Nesbo has little time for the sort of high-octane, materialistic, yummy mummy, Range Rover driving, designer posers that his Oslo seems to be full of, and his Roger Brown is their king. There’s a scene where he’s trying to figure out the background of a man by guessing his aftershave. He’s sure it’s a particular brand. ‘Or something in that price range anyway.’ Little snippets of interior monologue like this help to build up a sense of a man who judges others solely by their net worth, and expects others to do the same to him. Everything that Rogers gets in the book, every horrible, painful, freaky thing,  you can imagine is what Nesbo would love to see happen to Oslo’s elite (of which he clearly also is…). It makes for a highly entertaining read, where the baddies all get their grotesque comeuppance (or at least most of them do), and there’s even a clever twist (or two, or three…). I’m still waiting patiently for the next Harry novel to be translated into English, but no one does crime as well as Nesbo, including here.

And he’s not half bad to look at, either.

First Weight Loss Goal Reached!

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I have 50 lbs to lose, but that’s a hell of a lot. Pass me the fries with a side of peanut butter amount to lose. So I’ve taken expert (ie, women’s magazines) advice and have broken it into smaller chunks with a treat for each goal achieved.

So…drum roll…for my first 5 lbs…which only took me 4 bloody weeks…I give you, my treat! My most perfect shade of Chanel nailpolish. Manicure tonight, with no side of peanut butter.