Friday, 7 March 2014

A Little Indulgent Reflection...

If you'll excuse me everybody, I am just going to allow myself a little self-indulgent reflection on the last five years. Deep, I know- but I have to do it sometimes, or I'm worried that a lot of memories will get lost. I know I'll always have this faithful blog to remind me of the good times, but still...sometimes you need to see it written out in front of you.

Five years ago...I was bookselling at Waterstones, saving for my first big trip to Australia.




Four years ago...I was waitressing in Melbourne, saving for my first big trip to Asia.




Three years ago...I was riding on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam.





Two years ago...I was teaching primary school children in Fiji.




One year ago...I was about to start a new career entirely as a travel agent with Flight Centre.

....and here I am now.

When I look at the black-and-white facts in front of me, it's clear to me that this is not what I expected five years ago. Any 'five-year-plans' I had made were blown out of the water after meeting Patrick, and staying in Australia a while.

Just because I've become less of a 'planner' about my everyday life, it doesn't mean that I have lost sight of my ultimate plan. That goal of mine- to get novel/poems of mine published- is still such a burning desire, and actually burns brighter every day. This has been my dream since I was five years old- cheesy, but true. I will get there- I have to get there- I just need to be patient and persistent. Oh, and I actually need to write some more.

I guess what I'm trying to say- to myself, as much as everybody else- is that aiming for dreams is good (make sure the Dream Snatcher does not take them away), but also plans should be flexible. Life is about two things- being happy, and being challenged everyday. Often these things go hand in hand, but it is important to remember that this is what life should be about. We should never feel like we are in a rut, going along just because we feel like we have to. We need to do exactly what we want to do (without hurting anybody along the way, of course)- or at least start on the path of doing so, if we can't get there yet. See the positive side in every 'obstacle' in your life- you may see it as a stepping stone in five years time.

Right, that's enough deep thought for me. Time for a cider on this sunny Friday afternoon!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship With London

I must confess, as a Londoner born and bred (well, sort of), I tend to have a love-hate relationship with my home city. Some days when I commuted, when I looked around at all the depressed faces on a Monday morning, getting tetchy about jumping the queues for the tube or stopping for a second on the escalator, London pressed down on me and brought any other worries bubbling to the fore.

I've always battled with trying not to let this taint my love for everything that London offers. Opportunities, history, music, theatre, art, shopping, sports, markets- just pure, unadulterated VARIETY. I truly believe that you can never be bored in London. Granted, with little money your options are limited- but there are still dozens of activities to keep you occupied, if you are open to a little 'wandering'. 

On that note, I have realised that I am happiest in London when I am simply wandering around (or running), and simply soaking up its ambience. The best way to see this is to pretend you are a tourist...to keep seeing London through fresh eyes.

I want to celebrate the five best things about our new part of London- Southwark. This area was never really on our radar, and I was worried it was going to be a bit too 'corporate' and soulless...but that could not be further from the truth!

  1. THE OLD VIC (AND YOUNG VIC)- On an eventless Saturday night, a partially inebriated Patrick and I decided to go and see a play at one of London's oldest and most famous theatres. With 1 minute before the performance was due to begin, we also managed to get half price stall seats! We went to see an updated version of 'Fortune's Fool', a Russian play written in 1848 by the Russian playwright Turgenev. In the first half of this play, we are introduced to a newly wed aristocratic couple who return to the wife's inherited country estate, and learn of an old gentleman who has lived there for 30 years. After a shocking ending to the first half, the second half sees a more touching ambience, as all the characters try to cope with the unexpected news they have just heard- as well as cope with the odious next-door-neighbour. A great impromptu evening, and a lovely theatre!
  2. THE RING- When we wandered in here, we just thought this was a cool local pub with American feel about it. All the boxing photos around just seemed to be a nice touch; it was only when we read up about it that we realised the birth place of modern boxing was in the site opposite, where Southwark underground station now stands. As well as pretty unique history, this pub probably does some of the best hot dogs in town- and some pretty decent nacho's too (even Patrick thinks so!)
  3. MESON DON FELIPE-  a great tapas restaurant that looks very understated from the outside, but is bustling almost every day of the week inside
  4. MAD HATTER HOTEL- Ever since Patrick sampled a steak-and-guinness pie in Melbourne, he has beem finding for a similarly-perfect meat pie here- and sadly has not found any that compared. The pub attached to this hotel- which actually feels more like a hotel attached to a pub, with the well-established feel of the drinking joint- always seems quieter than the other pubs around, so is a great place to retreat after a long and stressful day!
  5. BLACKFRIARS WINE BAR- Situated under one of the bridge archways, this is not your average pretentious city bar; it is locally owned, and does great pizzas and nachos!
We've only been here a few weeks, so hopefully there is much more to discover. We may have seen an ugly side to this city this week, with the miserable weather and tube strikes- but I am determined to keep feeling the love for London.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

REVIEW- GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn




So, as normal, I am a little late on the bandwagon...Gone Girl was the top-selling paperback while I was working for Waterstones back in 2012. With this one, I had heard such wildly mixed reviews, from 'I hated the book so much that I threw it across the room in disgust' to 'You won't be able to put it down!', that I just had to get my own opinion on this psychological thriller.

Nick and Amy, a beautiful all-American couple, are getting ready to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. However, it all goes horribly wrong when Nick arrives home to find his wife missing. As the police delve deeper into the case, and the reader also gets access to Amy's detailed diary, it seems not all was right with this seemingly idyllic marriage. As a result, Nick soon turns from being the pitied husband to main suspect. We follow him as he is quickly swept into a whirlwind of accusation, desperately trying to claw himself out and prove his innocence.

Here I would like to open a debate- can you enjoy a book if you do not like either of the protagonists? I always assumed not- how can you invest personal interest if you do not care about what happens to them? However, Flynn has changed my mind- neither Nick nor Amy are likeable, but they are both hugely charismatic. They were not characters that solely lived and breathed on the pages; they seemed to have lingering thoughts and secrets way beyond this story.

For me, the last line of a book can make or break a book; the final impression is everything. Flynn did not disappoint with the last chapter here- chillingly unexpected. After finishing, I joined online debates about the ending- opinion seemed very mixed, and my own thoughts actually evolved upon reflection. I love endings that linger in my mind, as I wonder how else it could have ended, ultimately understanding that the author's chosen ending is more brilliant than any normal, anticipated finale.

Psychological thrillers are not usually my thing- but this one was cleverly written, without being too obvious about it. Halfway through, I thought I had the story all wrapped up...how wrong could I have been?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Adventures of Sophie And Mr. Cheval


Inspired by and dedicated to Sophie Martz

One day, Sophie Marie's best pal,
The purple horse Mr. Cheval,
Came up to Sophie feeling glum-
'What's the matter, my old chum?'
Said Sophie- poor Mr Cheval sighed,
Opened his mouth- and then he cried.
This confused Sophie Marie-
'Mr. Cheval, what can it be?'
Her friend opened his mouth once more,
Pointed to it, then cried like before.
'Mr Cheval, have you lost your 'neigh'?
Oh- if you had, you wouldn't say!'
Mr. Cheval quickly shook his head,
Tried to 'neigh'- a BAAAA came out instead!
'Oh NO!' said Sophie, 'just like a sheep!
Just like the ones that help me sleep!
Poor Mr. Cheval, what can we do?
Just WHO can help a horse like you?'
Her purple friend made no reply
And looked again like he may cry
Before Sophie said 'I have an idea!
I have a friend who's very dear-
The wisest bird I've ever known-
I wonder to which tree he's flown?'
Can YOU guess, just WHO, just WHO-
Young Sophie took Mr. Cheval to?
That's right! The wise Mr Hibou,
An owl who loved 'Peekaboo'-
Though he was smart and funny and kind
He was always so hard to find!
But Sophie knew that Mr Hibou
Would at least have the SLIGHTEST clue
What happened to Mr. Cheval's neigh
And help him find it in some way!
'I think I know where he may be,
Mr Cheval, please come with me!'
So off they went to Arbre Wood-
Luckily, Sophie was quite good
At playing the game 'Peekaboo!'
As soon as they heard 'WHO WHO, WHO WHO',
They knew Mr. Hibou was near
'Is that my friend SOPHIE I hear?'
Mr. Hibou came swooping down
And landed right on Sophie's crown.
'There you are, Mr. Hibou,
Oh, we are very glad to see you!
We found out earlier on today
That Mr. Cheval has lost his neigh
And now BAAAS like a sheep- but why?'
Mr. Cheval began to cry
'Poor purple horse!' said Mr. Hibou
'This is so strange- at half past two
Mr. Mouton came to visit me,
The sheep was as sad as could be
When I asked 'Why are you sad today?'
He opened his mouth and replied 'NEEEEIGH!
It seems you each have the other's voice-
That leaves us with no other choice
We must go to Mr Mouton right now
And swap back- though I'm not sure how!'
'Let's go!' said Sophie, 'It's getting late
And Maman serves dinner at eight!'
So the owl, the horse and Sophie Marie
Walked (and flew) for a field or three,
Sophie cried Mr. Mouton's name,
But all these sheep looked just  the same-
Then, Sophie Marie heard a NEEEEEIGH
As a black sheep came their way!
'Mr Mouton!' said Mr. Hibou,
'This horse must swap voices with you-
Though we're not too sure how, of course...'
'Neeigh?' said the sheep, 'Baaa!' said the horse.
Mr Hibou said, 'It's not quite clear...'
Sophie said 'I have an idea!
Let each one sing their own song,
Mr. Hibou, let's sing along!
Let's start with Mr. Mouton's ditty-
'Baa Baa Black Sheep'- it's very pretty!
Mr. Cheval, wait for the next tune
Or you'll be BAAA-ing until next June!'
So Sophie, the sheep and Mr. Sibou
Sang the song- you can sing too!

'Baa Baa Black Sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full,
One for the master
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane!'

Now, Mr Cheval, it's time for you,
I know the song that we should do-
Old Macdonald is a great song-
Let's sing it now (pssst, sing along!)

'Old Macdonald had a farm,
E-i-e-i-o,
And on that farm he had a horse
E-i-e-i-o,
With a NEIGH NEIGH here
And a NEIGH NEIGH there,
Here a NEIGH,
There a NEIGH,
Everywhere a NEIGH NEIGH,
Old Macdonald had a farm,
E-i-e-i-o!'

Once each animal had sung their song,
They waited…and it was not long
Before Mr. Cheval gave a great 'NEEEIGH'
And Mr Mouton's 'BAAAd'- hooray!
'Well done, Sophie!' said Mr Hibou,
'What would have down without you?'
'We're a team, Mr Hibou!
Time for a game of 'Peekaboo!'
So, the four of them played all day-
Mr. Cheval was so happy to 'neigh',
They'd made a new friend in Mr. Mouton-
It just shows how much is fixed by song.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

My 2014, As Spoken by Stephen Fry...

My New Year's Resolution this year is going to be...to not set resolutions. Sound crazy? I'll let the ever-inspirational and wise Stephen Fry explain.

Stephen Fry: What I Wish I Had Known When I Was 18.


Let's see how a plan-aholic such as myself can cope with this. I'm already itching to write a list of goals...

Friday, 3 January 2014

A Hot-Tubbin', Boot-Campin', Hockey-Watchin' Christmas in Phoenix...

2014 already, hey? How quickly did that creep up on us?! I suppose that's because Santa brought me TWO Christmas Days this year, Smith-style and Martz-style...I must have been a good girl in 2013!

My Christmas week in Phoenix seemed to fly by- but I certainly made the most of it, packing it full with...

- Exercise!

I went to my first U.S exercise class...and nearly died. In a good way! This would be an amazing class, if I had any shred of fitness!! This was closely followed by my first Christmas Day boot camp, courtesy of Miss Natalie Martz. No ordinary boot camp for us; there was an American segment (football lunges), a Canadian segment (maple tree squats), and of course a Christmas segment. In the latter, I particularly enjoyed the 'turkey dance''s sound effects- wish I had taken a video! Creative exercise is definitely the best kind!

- Enjoying the hot tub!

Pretty much every waking moment (when I wasn't eating or becoming increasingly disturbed by Gone Girl) was spent in here. Literally, what could be better than relaxing in a steaming hot tub, squinting in the sunshine and looking out to the wild, cactus-filled Arizona desert?

- Eating!

We may have started the holiday with no wings at Toronto Airport (Patrick was not a happy Canadian bunny), but we soon made up for it with countless treats in the next week. Spanish tapas, two seafood towers (promptly demolished!), EPIC steak, cabbage rolls, bacon brussel sprouts, Jamie Oliver's orange and proscuitto Christmas salad, Patrick's ol' fave Italian sausage spaghetti...I should probably stop there, this is turning into a shopping list. Oh, and Patrick got his wing-fix at the golf club! There, I've finished now. Wait- quick mention to Sabine's delicious rum cake...I literally could have eaten the whole thing. And the campfire smores, of course. (The reason I'm embarking on no-carbs January suddenly becomes clear!)

- Endless fun with Sophie!

The last time I saw this lovely little girl was when she was born...suffice to say, she's grown a tad in the last year and a half. She's a smart cookie who loves to climb pretty much everything, and has a particular fondness for 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' (don't we all?). Her 'Peekaboo' skills are also impeccable! I'm looking forward to her own personal nursery rhyme concert next time we meet!

- Exciting sports...

...both played and watched! The boys took part in a four-day golfing tournament- it was team B and P Martz against team A Martz-Gilmore, with the former taking the trophy (of $50). Then there was our ping-pong tournament, where Mr. Evan Gilmore got his own back on Patrick with a 21-18 win. I have to mention the close call between Colleen and Danielle (Sabine's mum) as well- 21-18, pretty impressive! 

I was much better at being a spectator, howling with the fans (literally howling) at the Phoenix Coyotes- San Jose Sharks hockey match. Our buddies Boedker and Erkman-Larsson were playing (who we met a few years ago)- I almost didn't recognise the latter without a box on his head! With a hot pretzel in one hand, and a Coors Light in the other, this was probably one of my most American moments. North American sporting events have a very different atmosphere to football (soccer) matches- presents thrown into the crowd in every ad break, both teams' fans dispersed randomly in the crowd. Watching the spectacle around me, as well as the game, is part of the excitement!

*************

So, I was very lucky to be invited to such a lovely place- thanks again Bob and Colleen for such a fabulous week, and for everybody who I celebrated with along the way! I didn't take too many photos, but the few I took are below (plus one I stole from Sabine)...

Natalie, Sophie, Sabine, moi and Caroline
 
Seafood tower!

Photo from the Phoenix- Toronto plane.

Friday, 6 December 2013

'Tis The Season To Get Reading....

Christmas is not just a time to devour turkey, chocolate, and pretty much everything- I love the time it gives you to get stuck into a book. Recently, I've rediscovered my love of reading- but have been too lax in my reviewing. In no particular order, here are my 4 top reads for the festive season...

AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED- KHALED HOSSEINI



Following up two brilliant books like 'The Kite Runner' and 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' was always going to be a challenge- but Hosseini has certainly managed it with this touching novel. A love story of multiple dimensions- a servant with his master's wife, a master with an unexpected love interest- and between a brother and his long-lost sister, you'll find yourself yearning for reunions of all sorts. Hosseini really does have a beautiful story-telling manner- the way the stories all subtly intertwine brings a gratifying unity to the novel. One that you will slowly fall in love with!

THE DIVERGENT TRILOGY- VERONICA ROTH



I'm counting these all as one because- trust me- you'll have to read one after the other. If you loved Hunger Games, you won't be able to resist these; Tris, the female protagonist of these novels is just as inspirational, strong and likable as Katniss. The worlds that these two girls inhabit are very different indeed.

In the Divergent novels, a world exists where everybody is born into a 'Faction'. These factions each champion a favourable quality in society- bravery, selflessness, truth, kindness and knowledge. When the faction members turn sixteen, they have to decide whether to stay in the faction they were born into- or to move to one more suitable, and risk losing touch with their family forever. Tris is one such teenager- and the decision she makes does not only impact her life, but ultimately the whole system. I can't say anymore without spoiling anything- just read these books, become emotionally invested in Tris and the world around her, and you will be unable to forget these books in a hurry.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS- JOHN GREEN



When I worked at Waterstones, everybody was raving about this teenage book- so typically, in my stubborn fashion, I left it well alone until a year later. I read this book straight after the Divergent series; in hindsight, nothing was ever going to compare to that. Sixteen-year-old Hazel was certainly a great narrator, providing a fresh outlook on teenage cancer. Gus, Hazel's love interest from the cancer support group she attends, is a fanciable hunk with a difference- handsome, sporty, yet with an atypically quirky wit.

Comedy interspersed with tragedy is always an especially poignant combination; though a few conversations within the novel felt a little forced, on the whole the characters interacted with each other very naturally. Green may not have a particularly distinctive writing style, but he does come up with some beauties of lines, like when Hazel describes how she "fell in love the way [she] fell asleep- slowly, then all at once." With such linguistic gems, and a conclusion that you will not see coming, this book is definitely worth a read.

THE UNIVERSE VERSUS ALEX WOODS- GAVIN EXTENCE



I always love discovering debut novels- it's great reading something from a completely fresh perspective. With this novel, that certainly applies to the author himself, and his protagonist- the quirky, smart, socially awkward Alex Woods. We meet Alex as he is about to drive back into the UK after a trip to Europe...and just happens to have a heap of a marijuana in the glove compartment. Oh, and an urn on the passenger seat. The reader, and of course the police, are quick to make assumptions about this strange boy who seems too cool and calm, and certainly not having an 'epileptic seisure' like he claims. In an attempt to explain himself, Alex starts telling his own story, from the pinnacle moment his life took a strange turn. I won't spoil the surprise; all I will say is that it is, quite literally, out of this world...

This story is by no means just about Alex- the wonderfully cranky Mr. Peterson will endear himself to you, whether you start off liking him or not. His and Alex's unlikely friendship is one that brings out the best in them both, and takes them both to places neither of them imagined. Alex's mother is also a kooky delight, as is edgy Ellie.

Outer space, a moody pensioner, an underdog becoming the hero of his own story, and ultimately a serious moral question; Extence's writing hits all sorts of notes, together making a harmony of a novel.