Saturday, December 31, 2011

What I read in 2011

Taunting the Dead by Mel Sherratt
Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After by many talented writers!
Daughters-in-law by Joanna Trollope
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath*
The Association of Foreign Spouses by Marilyn Heward Mills
Hens Dancing by Raffaella Barker
Home for Christmas by Cally Taylor
The Devil's Music by Jane Rusbridge
Disgrace by J M Coetzee
The Extra Large Medium by Helen Slavin
Tender by Mark Illis
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Write To Be Published by Nicola Morgan
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday*
The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah
TigerLily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell
Hurry Up and Wait by Isabel Ashdown
Below Stairs by Margaret Powell
A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French
Bombsites and Lollipops by Jacky Hyams
The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown
When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
And The Band Played On by Christopher Ward
West End Girls by Barbara Tate
Getting Away With It by Julie Cohen
The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons
The Art of Losing by Rebecca Connell
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
The London Train by Tessa Hadley
Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson
Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones*
Janice Gentle Gets Sexy by Mavis Cheek
Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido
Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan
Naked by David Sedaris*
Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
Mathematics of Love by Emma Darwin
Bestseller by Alessandro Gallenzi
Told in Silence by Rebecca Connell
Days of Grace by Catherine Hall
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay*
Everything We Ever Wanted by Sara Shepard
Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown
The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale
Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen*
You Don't Have to be Good by Sabrina Broadbent
Crow Stone by Jenni Mills
Not So Perfect by Nik Perring
Mousetrapped: A Year and a Bit in Orlando by Catherine Ryan Howard
Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Ghost Lover by Gillian Greenwood
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams

*Book Club choices

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This year's Christmas Creatures

I told you here how my Dad has made the children of the family Christmas Creatures for some 38 years. To call them 'Blue Peter style' might be accurate one year and totally inaccurate - possibly insulting - the next. (The dinosaur on the bottom right was made using a newly acquired piece of equipment that cut polystyrene - heated wire, I'm guessing.) The Creatures had to contain some kind of cavity in which tiny presents were hidden. The creatures would be placed under the tree on Christmas Eve though I have at least one memory of them appearing, smelling of paint, on Christmas morning. For most of these years Dad was a senior consultant at a local hospital; quite how he got them made each year is beyond me. We often had guests at Christmas or there were children of close friends that Dad wanted to make them for; some years I think Dad made around six or seven Creatures.

Dad was poorly with nearly-pneumonia back in November. I began to worry that he might be worrying about the Christmas Creatures... After careful negotiations - I really didn't want him to feel I was taking it away from him - I offered to make them this year. Dad was very pleased but said it wasn't just this year's nearly-pneumonia but also his worsening gout, which he has badly in his hands, that made them too difficult now.

I was tasked with taking them over.

It felt only right that I should honour my Dad with all the making he has done for us over the last years. I made four 'dolls' and here they are:

(This year I cheated slightly with the cavity idea. The cavity is the filing cabinet, not full of medical records, but little gifts, sort of stocking style...)


Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day boxes

I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday time. We started yesterday in a rather wonderful reversal of the last 14 or so years: we had to drag the man child, Son, from his bed at 8.30am to open his stocking; I told him flat that it was revenge for the real crack of dawn starts to so many recent Christmases... Our day consisted of stockings, Christmas creatures, present opening, food, Luther series 2 and skyping family.

Clever Husband knows how much I love boxes and two of my gifts came in such beautiful boxes that I consider them presents in their own right. I am easily pleased...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in Bangkok

A great deal of effort goes into decorating for Christmas in Bangkok. Of course it's all about getting us to spend our money but I love wandering about to check out the decorations.

Top left: supercool steel tree, outside Emporium (my favourite)
Top middle: Teddy bears, inside Centralworld
Top right: 2D snowmen, outside Eight, Thong Lor
Middle left: gargantuan tree, outside Terminal 21
Middle middle: tinselly pandas, inside Emporium
Middle right: lifesize reindeer, inside Central Chitlom
Bottom from left: tree, Kasikorn bank, Thong Lor
Bottom second from left: gargantuan tree inside Centralworld
Bottom third from left: cardboard cutouts, strangely stylish, inside Siam Paragon
Bottom right: 3D tree outside Amarin

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When do you open your presents?

When Husband was growing up, his family adopted the Christmas customs of their close friends who were Danish.  They had a special meal on Christmas Eve and then they opened their presents.

It was nice when we were ‘going out’ because I could spend the evening of the 24th with his family and at the crack of dawn on 25th I could hare around the M25 and arrive at my own home and I hadn’t missed anything because my family don’t open presents until after lunch on Christmas Day. (Realistically this could be as late as 3 or 4pm…)

When we got married we spent our early Christmas doing the same thing. I’m sure all parties were delighted there was no ‘them and us’ going on.

But when we had children and had one or two Christmases on our own, we had to negotiate.

So I told Husband, “I’m NOT opening my presents on Christmas Eve; that’s just crazy.” Poor Husband.

We have a special Christmas Eve meal (his tradition) which starts the festivities off early (my family might still be shopping for gifts at this point) and we have a table present (his tradition.) We do the altogether more average present opening after breakfast on the 25th (more my tradition.) We have the Christmas Creatures (my tradition.)

One of the customs I have willingly adopted from Husband’s upbringing is the family Christmas game. They had a new board game each year and yesterday I went out and bought ours:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Culture clash?

I have to confess that my heart sank a bit when I heard that Ikea was opening in Bangkok. I wondered, what would be the point of living in a different country if everything in it were the same as everywhere else?

But it’s also true that I’d grumbled when I couldn’t find the right plastic clip things to seal bags – the ones where the hinge didn’t ping open when I’d squidged too much plastic inside - (Why is it that all the big ones disappear but not the little ones?) And hadn’t I, a few years back, whined all the way to Wembley’s Ikea to purchase those cheap, but really good, scissors in packs of three for next to nothing. It had seemed so necessary at the time: I simply must drive forty miles to get three packs of scissors or my life in Bangkok really won’t be worth living *in a Celia Johnson accent…*

In the end Ikea’s opening at the beginning of November was something of a damp squib; it’s thunder stolen by the floods. I’d been evacuated so I’ve no idea if there was the kind of hysteria prompted by the opening of Uniqlo or Krispy Kreme doughnuts but I suspect not.

I was intrigued by the difference in cultures too. Thailand is proud of its service culture; but hadn’t my experience of Wembley’s Ikea been a bit different? Hadn’t they carefully cultivated a snarl-in-welcome and a not-giving-a-tossness about customers? In a land where I don’t even need to go to the bar to get a drink, would they leave me to clear my own table after my Swedish meatballs? (Not that we shouldn’t…) Would I understand anything? Would the labels be just in Thai and Swedish? With product names like ‘obskropt’ would it matter?

I’ve been meaning to go. You can always do with more plastic clips, right? And long-term readers will know that one of my personal mottos is that ‘one can never have too many pairs of scissors.’ Last week, after a crack of dawn meeting at school and with no other plans, I decided I’d go…

These were my findings:

·  I could have been in Wembley

· The staff, though scarce, do care about the customer

· After six years of Thai food, Swedish meatballs are disgusting

· The girl in the restaurant couldn’t bear for me to have to put away my own tray

· The scissors; where were the scissors?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The eclipse and string bags of nuts

Sorry to Facebook friends who will have seen this already but this is an (irrelevant to the post) picture of last night’s eclipse that I took from one of our balconies.

Husband is back from his jolly to the UK. (He went to meet up with old friends from university. He caught up with a mixture of old friends some of whom he hasn’t seen in years but could I get a sensible word out of him about any of them? ‘How’s So and so?’ I asked and in typical man fashion, I’d get ‘Yeah, they’re good.’ SEVENTEEN years he hasn’t seen some of them….)

Now that he's home it feels like the proper run up to Christmas. I still have some elf work to do but since I’m not innovating it shouldn’t take as long as the previous ones. Hopefully I can do it before the kids break up from school next Friday. Husband is compiling a list of food in consultation with Delia Smith. Living overseas where imported goods cost so much more, we have to make choices about what is and isn’t essential to our Christmas fare. A string of nuts is essential to Husband so when I spotted them in Villa supermarket I picked them up and put them in my basket. Then I noticed the price: about 700 Baht… That’s £14.50 by today’s exchange rate.

£14.50? For a bag of mixed nuts?

Well, obviously I put them back on the shelf. They could be the embodiment of the Husband’s Christmas but I’m not paying that for them. Instead I sent an email to him in the UK and told him if he wanted a string bag of nuts (!) he jolly well had to bring them back with him. So frightened was he that he wouldn’t have any nuts to crack open in front of the seasonal TV he went a bit overboard:

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Christmas party

This is what I'm doing today: Christmas partying in the tropics.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Today feels like the first day of the week because yesterday in Thailand was a bank holiday. Tomorrow the children are doing Monday at school instead of a Wednesday because they’ve missed more Mondays - due to flooding - than any other day.

I'm confused. Perhaps it’s happened because of my unscheduled month in the UK but I’ve been feeling weird since I got back. I can’t still be jet lagged but I am definitely discombobulated.

Still, in order to draw a veil over my strange feeling and so that Husband doesn’t grumble about my lack of blogging while he’s in the UK, I thought I’d put start blogging the Christmas trees that are appearing around Bangkok.

This tree is outside Siam Discovery. I love their trees because they're often recycled but this year it feels especially right because they look like snowflakes. (There's a close up too so you can see what it's made of. )