Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I read in 2013

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Benedict's Brother by Tricia Walker
The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday
The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday
The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers by Paul Torday
Light Shining in the Forest by Paul Torday
The Twins by Saskia Sarginson
Something Beginning With by Sarah Salway
House of Silence by Linda Gillard
Stoner by John Williams*
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards
The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
Summer of '76 by Isabel Ashdown
Carol by Patricia Highsmith
Diary of a Provincial Lesbian by VG Lee
Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Dearest Rose by Rowan Coleman
Build a Man by Talli Roland
What The Grown-Ups Were Doing by Michele Hanson
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
The Silver Locket by Margaret James
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Light Years (Cazalet Chronicles 1) by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Catching the Sun by Tony Parsons
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
White Cargo by Felicity Kendal
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada*
The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
Restless by William Boyd
The Knot by Mark Watson
Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest
My Future Husband by Karen Clarke
Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd
My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary by Rae Earl
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Winter Games by Rachel Johnson
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins*
You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane
Jubilee by Shelley Harris
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

*Book Club choices

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday's Window: a little bit of drama

I love love love these. I'm not sure of my facts because they were taken a few months ago and I didn't label them but I think they were in the Siam Centre. (If anyone knows differently, please let me know and I will happily credit them.)

I love the drama and the sense of the macabre they've created by playing with illusion. (Do you see the half hat?) It's that dolls with scary faces thing (Magic, anyone?) They terrify me and make me laugh in equal measure. 

Monday, September 09, 2013

A little bit of family history

I was five weeks old when we moved to Kent. My parents bought a house on the edge of the village. It was a big place, divided into two and on the other side there was a farm. On the farm they had a goat who’d just had twins - a male and female - and John the farmer offered the boy goat to my brother as a pet.  My brother asked our Dad who said, "ask your Mum"; so he asked Mum and she said "No". John the farmer said "what a pity; I shall have to kill it." So we had a goat.

This was when my parents first met the local vet who became a good friend, which is miraculous really because he informed my Mum that she would have to assist him in both de-horning and castrating our new pet. Ugh! Our new pet was called Rubin because bilirubin is the stuff that makes your blood red. (Billy Rubin, get it?)

Dad, my brother and Rubin, early 70s
He had a nice warm hut to sleep in at night and a long bull chain from which we tethered him everyday so that he could eat the garden. A year later we moved and the garden at the new house was around 2 acres and had been empty for years so Rubin had a grand time eating down an enormous amount of overgrowth. Some new people moved into a shop in the centre of the village and asked if they could borrow Rubin to eat down their overgrown garden.  My parents agreed but the shop had no back entrance so he had to be taken him through the shop! They managed this without any accidents (or health and safety issues) but unfortunately Rubin must have seen the enormous pile of cardboard boxes on his way through and he spent two happy days eating those rather than the weeds.

When my parents first got him he was tiny.  My Mum says he was ‘like a long legged puppy dog - really charming - but he seemed to grow minute by minute and in the end he was the size of a pony.’ He was already of considerable size by the time we moved to the new house. It was ten days before Christmas when we moved. My Mum was irritated to be told that she and my brother had to walk the goat the mile and a half to the new house because Dad had to dismantle Rubin's hut and re-erect it in the new garden so that he had somewhere nice and warm to sleep.  They walked him round in pouring rain; Rubin stopped every five yards to eat somebody's hedge or a bush or to rip the bark off some juicy looking young tree.  At this rate it was a slow and nightmarish journey and Mum was fast losing her sense of humour. It wasn’t helped when, still a long way from the new house, a passing car slowed down, wound down his window to ask, “which way to the manger?”

If it’s anthropomorphizing to say that Rubin had a wicked sense of humour himself, then I’ll just have to go with the fact that our family memories of him make it look so. He chewed up a much loved monkey puppet of my sister's which she only just managed to yank out of his mouth before it disappeared inside.  Another day, when she bent down in the garden to pick something up – I think it might have been his food - he eyed her rear, put down his head and dashed towards her, butting her bottom with such strength that she left the ground, sailed through the air before landing with a start on her feet.  My Granny always wore an apron; Granny swore blind that Rubin would only try and eat it when it was a floral one, which none of us ever believed. So it was a surprise that during a childhood birthday party (we were 8 or 9, I suppose) he took a great liking to my friend C's flowery new dress and started to eat it. As the pretty flowery fabric disappeared further into his mouth she began to have hysterics, convinced that he was going to eat her.

As he got older, although reasonably fit, he did have the occasional medical emergency (it was hardly surprising, given his diet of floral fabrics…) There was one terribly hot summer when Rubin got very poorly.  Dad diagnosed heat stroke and he and my brother hosed him down. Granny, who was devoted to Rubin, insisted on getting the on duty vet - on a bank holiday Monday - he looked at the goat, and ‘yes, yes,’ he said, ‘it was definitely heat stroke and that was the right treatment and that will be £40 if you please.’ (This was early 70s and a vast amount of money.)

My Dad was away from home during Rubin’s final illness. It was again very hot but he wasn't suffering sunstroke this time.  We were all worried sick about him and tried to make him comfortable.  G, a good friend and neighbour turned up with a pony trailer in which she had half a dozen large bales of straw for us to assemble a comfortable bedroom around him so that he was protected from the sun and could stay out all night in the cool. We kept a vigil by his bedside but it was getting late and my sister and I had school the next day. Eventually Mum persuaded us to come in for a bath and we left Granny sitting out watching him, feeding him sips of water. At about 9 o'clock, after our bath, we reappeared in the kitchen to say goodnight and Granny walked in and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, but he's died". Everybody burst into tears. I couldn’t remember a time without Rubin and so my sister and I were inconsolable.  Granny and Mum treated their shock with scotch and my sister and I didn’t get to bed until 11 o clock.

The trouble was the weather was baking hot and we had a large corpse on the lawn.  It was obviously a health risk to leave him there, so the following morning Mum had to get the local building firm in with a digger, to dig a big hole and to lift his heavy weight into the grave. He's buried next to the compost heap and lots of lovely things (the technical term) grow on top of him.

Rubin lived to be nine years old but he continues to live on in our family myth. If ever anyone requests friends to come and stay, the answer is usually ‘yes, I think the goat’s hut is free.’

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Wednesday's Window: Lacoste

Wednesday’s Window is one of my favourite posts. I have stopped and photographed shop windows for years without quite realising what they could be: a week after week blog post, of course! There are going to be some old and out of date ones coming up (so you’ll no longer be able to see them live) because even when I’m not blogging, I don’t stop taking pics of gorgeous, clever, interesting windows. I’m just drawn to them.

Back in June I had a date with some friends in the newly refurbished Siam Centre to eat cake and afterwards, I wandered about. This, as a window, wasn’t particularly impressive because I had to get up close to spot it; but as an installation inside the shop, I loved it. It’s from Lacoste and they very kindly – though I’m sure I wasn’t meant to – allowed me to take some pictures inside.

From the outside, these crocodiles were so beautifully crisp looking that I thought they were metallic but they are actually made of good quality card with a high gloss finish.

And I have to confess, I’m actually quite freaked out by the pile of crocs by the door. (My children will sigh and huff and roll their eyes, given that these are paper crocodiles in childish colours; but what is sculpture or art for if it isn’t to move us in some way? Yes, children, I am still too terrified to watch Jurassic Park; yes, I know that the dinosaurs can’t possibly be real but I go in prepared to believe.) It’s the way that these guys have clambered over each other to get to whatever it is they want that makes me unsettled, which is I think a reminiscence of  the behaviour I saw years ago at one of Bangkok’s crocodile farms.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Taxi tales

I think it's perfectly normal to issue a tiny prayer every time I get into a Bangkok taxi. And that's not even when the taxi has answered my wave by swerving towards me over two lanes. In that circumstance, I'll offer up a pretty big prayer.

There is no 'Knowledge' here. I think if you want to be a taxi driver, you probably just apply to the 'taxi permit' office, pay your baht, and off you go. Sometimes we have such awful, hideous journeys and we stagger out of the car, astonished we didn't die on the way." Did you give him a tip?" I ask my husband. "Yes," he says, "I told him to change his break pads." Still, it's amazing how quickly you adapt. I'm quite shocked when I discover a seat belt AND a plug! Usually there's a seat belt but no plug; the plug gets sucked through the join in the seat and the backrest, never to be retrieved and after a run in with a GIGANTIC cockroach, yomping towards me on the backseat recently, I'm NOT putting my hand in there. 

And we don't have a car. We don't really need a car because we live in the middle of Bangkok, near to the skytrain and underground trains which are strictly limited in the ground they cover in Bangkok… still, the taxis are plentiful...

From my notebook
The other option is a motorbike; a motorbike taxi. These congregate at specified points every few hundred yards: at busy junctions or at the ends of sky train routes and they are tempting because they can weave through the Bangkok traffic. (Oh dear, I sense a theme.) It's hot here; walking can be unpleasant and if you are Thai you can perch delicately sidesaddle on the back of a bike and get there much, much quicker. But if you're farang (Foreigner) and scared like me, you sit like a man, legs each side. Fares are fixed although there seems to be the inevitable Thai rate and farang rate. In our early years I took a few bikes down our soi... (Don't tell my Mum!) It was a small road, two way but only one lane on each side. I have to tell you, it was quite exciting. It contravened everything I'd been programmed to believe. I'd heard tales from my Dad of young men who clutter up the orthopedic wards having come off their motorbikes. He theorized that there was a direct correlation between the higher the engine size, the shorter their life expectancy. (He really, bless him, didn't like motorcyclists and used to propose the use of shoulder-height piano wire outside the house as they raced up and down the 30 mile limit.) One day I couldn't get a taxi and took a motorbike up a different soi on my way to the chiropractor. I underestimated how much faster that road was than my tiny soi (it was Ekkamai, for any Bangkokians reading this) and it had at least three lanes in each direction. Terrifying. We flew. And then screech to halt as the traffic would slow and we'd weave over to another lane. Sometimes we'd be unable to get up between the vehicles and we'd find a dropped kerb and mount the pavement. There's always this awful dilemma of whether to allow my long farang legs to be kneecapped or whether to grip this strange Thai man tightly between my thighs.

Anyway, I came to my senses after that trip up Ekkamai. I was a Mum; there are no leathers, no helmets even. Then one day I got a call saying someone I knew had come off a bike on her way home; would I visit her in hospital? And that was the end of my foray into motorbike taxis.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"One is Royally Excited"

The laptop and I are confused.

I am definitely over the jetlag - I'm not as intimately connected to 5am as I was a week ago - but the laptop is still on Bangkok time. When I published the last post on Tuesday evening, the laptop thought it was Wednesday and duly published under that day... and I lost my slot for this Wednesday Window.

Perhaps we could call it  a 'Friday Photo' or perhaps it doesn't much matter; after my long absence, being able to write anything here is a bonus.

This window, courtesy of Liberty London, made me chuckle. I'm not particularly 'royally excited' myself but I'm tickled at the idea of the Queen being 'Great-Nanny' or 'Great-Granny' in the intimate surroundings of her palace. I can't see her being anything other than the Queen we see in public. I can't imagine what life is like inside That Family but I hope very much that things have changed over the last fifteen years. My excitement - if I have any - is to see history made, if the royal baby is a girl, I'm excited to see a first born girl will be heir over a younger brother. Just as it should be....

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What else I've been doing...

Back in January/February, my friend Sharon mentioned to me that she was doing the Moonwalk in June, in Iceland and asked if I’d consider helping her decorate her bra.

I knew of the Moonwalk – not the Michael Jackson version - Walk the Walk, a nighttime, marathon length charity walk that raised money for breast cancer charities. Some friends of mine had done in London some years before I moved to Bangkok so I knew two things about it: that it’s pretty tough and that the (mostly) women entrants were expected to decorate their bras to wear on display.

Sharon’s Moonwalk was happening in Iceland so she wanted something that reflected that destination. There was NO way I was going to refuse a commission like that. Sharon ordered a hot pink bra, I started sketching and then we set off together to Chinatown to buy sequins…

Over the following three weeks I sewed and sewed, sequin after sequin, followed by ribbon and here's how it looked:

First there was the design... followed by the planning.

Each sequin went on one by one. The silver ones were sewn onto silver fabric first, and then each snowflake went onto the bra.

I began to see sequins. I used the ribbon to turn the sports bra into something plunging and prettier...

More space. More sequins needed. There's no room for subtlety...

Finally, the fringing and then the TA-DAAAA: the finished bra.

Sharon raised £3400 for breast cancer charities. You can see her fundraising page here and more about the moonwalk here.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Mount Bromo (posted at last)

So the New Year plan was that we drive up to a viewpoint on Mount Penanjakan mountain to watch dawn rise over Mount Bromo, the best known volcano in East Java.

“Best known.” That should have been my clue.

First of all, though we had to eat our New Year eve meal at 6pm with the paediatric guests at our hotel, and then we had to get some sleep. Our guide told us he’d be back to pick us up at midnight.

However, around midnight when we went downstairs, there were about 300,000 people in the streets – well on our street - in cars, on motorbikes and on foot; shouting, singing, waving those football noise things. Solid gridlock. The noise was unbelievable.

We’ll skip over the anxiety this induced. As midnight came and went, the crowds began to dissipate and eventually our van arrived and we set off.  As I lay back on my reclining seat I imagined what an awe inspiring and momentous personal experience this was going to be.

I dozed. The main roads turned into snaking mountainside roads. I think it took three or so hours and then we got out of our van into a little mountainside village rather like the one we’d gone to to view Merapi. Just like Thailand, where there are visitors, there are food and drink vendors and we stopped for a cup of something warm.

And visitors. Oh yes. Gone were my imaginings that we would be one of two or three groups of people, come to experience the spiritual moments of dawn on a mountainside. There were something like 300,000 people here too!

Still, it was amazing. Here are some highlights:

Outside our hotel at midnight. We weren't going anywhere... 
Here are the silhouettes of some of the 300,000 people joining us for our big spiritual moment! 

We fought our way to the front, and yes, it really was special. 
A wider view... 
Long distance...

The last bit of the journey: we drove across the caldera, trekked by pony (poor pony, I thought) and then climbed the steps you can see here, to peer into the smoking volcano. Unbelievable.

And here it is. I just had time to take this before being overcome with my first ever experience of vertigo.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Hello again

I keep coming here to my blog and looking at this old post; old and a bit sad because of its abrupt stop.

Even I didn’t know what I was doing. There I was in the middle of showing off pictures of our Indonesian volcano adventures when I interrupted it for a Wednesday Window (I mistyped that as Wednesday Wino – that would’ve been another kind of post ALTOGETHER) and then, well, wimper. Nothing. All left hanging.

So what happened?

Hmmm, well this is what stops me starting to blog again: not knowing what or if I should explain. And, if I do elucidate, just how do I go about it?

I don’t want to be all cryptic but nor do I want to blab away indiscreetly, embarrass my family and any readers who still might come… So unless I want to talk about it at a later date can I just say worry always impacts my creativity and it has been a stressful time?

But look, the Google’s reader thingy stops today or tomorrow and I don’t have an email subscription set up, so the reality is tea stains might not have any readers left…

The good thing about this is that I’ve pretty much always written tea stains for ME; so I’ve slung up some bunting in that British, slightly embarrassed to be trumpeting my return, and if anyone still comes and says hello, well, Hello back.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday's Window

We are interrupting posts from Indonesia for Wednesday's window which comes from Zen in Centralworld.

I love the silver elfy one and the colourful stripey one but I'm not a massive fan of the pink rabbit ears; I don't like the Playboy bunny girl connotations but here I've attempted to desexualise her with a head and shoulders shot.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A volcanic life in Indonesia

Driving up to Merapi, we saw lots of Indonesian life.

A peak at one flank of Merapi
We didn't see much of our first volcano: Merapi near Jogjakarta because it was rainy season and there was so much cloud cover. It made us a bit nervous; were we going to come on a volcano watching holiday and, er, not see any volcanoes? It was disappointing but actually didn't change the impact of the thing. Thousands of people still live and farm the flanks of Merapi and some of them were there to collect toll/entrance money and to sell souvenirs and fruit to any passing tourists. It was a sobering experience.

Merapi, meaning Mountain of Fire, is considered to be one of the most dangerous active volcanoes, (in Indonesia? The world? Claims vary...) famous for its pyroclastic flow (hot gas, ash and rocks that flows (like liquid) along the ground at up to 450 miles per hour. Pyroclastic flow reaches temperatures of 1000˚C, can move hundreds of kilometres and it can cross water. This phenomena is what happened at Pompeii.


It's last big eruption was 2010, 2006 before that... the next one is due, our guide told us, in 2014. Stupidest question of the week was definitely mine: I asked him if it was frightening living here under these volcanoes. I just don't think I could do it. He shrugged and said, 'it's our motherland.' I think, maybe, if you grow up with it, you learn to live with it.

After failing to see much of Merapi we visited the museum. They had a huge model of the volcano and if you pressed the button, it would erupt for you. I don't think I was alone in finding the earth tremors of this replica, terrifying for the shadowing of what it might really be like. We saw just what pyroclastic flow could do, stripping motorbikes of all soft fittings, leaving behind a metal skeleton. And I learned the different ways they are monitoring Merapi and his brothers in Indonesia. (I didn't learn any of this in school. I switched off that day because it didn't interest me. It's one of the many things I've understood about myself as an adult. I am lucky enough to realise NOW how fascinating it all is.) They use photography from both satellites and ground level (bulges are a comment early sign), seismic measurements, monitoring the fissures on the surface and monitoring the gases from the output. I may have forgotten other ones....

Unsurprisingly, there are strong spiritual beliefs about these volcanoes (Merapi and Mount Bromo, the one we did get to SEE at New Year) and the Javanese people still make offerings to them to keep them appeased. I think if I lived here, I would too; it couldn't do any harm, could it? But if you didn't...

You can see here what Merapi does look like without the cloud cover.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Crispy cracker, snack capital of the world

Our holiday, this Christmas, caused me much consternation; probably not as much as it caused Husband, who had to book it, but still enough for me to make a total arse of myself.

Husband proposed a trip during New Year to see volcanoes in Indonesia. I agreed but told him he would have to organize it. Time passed; I made silly creatures, hats and costumes and wondered if anything would get booked. People kept asking what our plans were. Sometimes I’d be vague (I had a permanent, slightly vague sense whenever questioned about our holiday but I thought it was because I’d passed the responsibility to Husband) and other times I’d wave aside the nauseous doubt and I’d say that Husband was meant to be booking something; we’d laugh. Maybe, I’d say, we wouldn’t get anything at this late notice but we hoped to be going to the Philippines. Daughter couldn’t remember where we were going either (I wonder where she gets THAT from) “Where are we going for New Year?” She’d text. “The Philippines” I’d say, feeling geographically knowledgeable. Eventually, Husband started sending tentative itineraries to me. And it was during this time that I had a brainwave. Maybe I could use the trip to pick up some millinery materials. The Philippines are where they make sinamay, a material made from banana fibre used to make hats. I began googling sinamay manufacturers hoping that I could tie a side trip into some of the places I’d seen on the travel agents’ details. It was odd how when I found a place that made sinamay, I could never find any of the names nearby of the places on our itinerary….

Of course, this idea of mine wasn't ever going to come off, given that I was talking about the Philippines and Husband was talking about Indonesia. *Sigh* One of my best friends in the UK lived (before I knew her) in both the Philippines and Indonesia. I’ve known for a long time now that I get these two places mixed up and no amount of map checking cleared it up for me. Both locations have amalgamated in my head as foreign archipelagoes *waves hand vaguely over to the left* down there somewhere and I’m doubly embarrassed now that I live in SE Asia because I’ve waved many a friend off from Bangkok to Indonesia, or maybe it was the Philippines….

Anyway, there we were; it was all finally booked and we were off. Yes, definitely to Indonesia: six flights in six days and two dawn starts. Crumbs.

Anyway, Indonesia was most charming. I glimpsed a life lived under the threat of active volcanoes. I peered down inside a smoking crater. I saw my boys wearing sarongs (Don’t panic, David Beckham, you’re quite safe) and yes, I have photographic evidence. Though their coffee seemed to contain generous quantities of volcanic ash, those lovely Indonesians also drank tea, which pleased me enormously. The food was delicious (mie goreng – fried noodles – ooh yum – and a spectacular clear soup, served with crackery crisp things.) In fact, though often spotted in Bangkok, Indonesia struck me as the crispy cracker, snack capital of the world (a choice of four, yes FOUR, crispy crackery snacks with breakfast!) Mostly commonly spotted where the prawn cracker type things, but other crackers in spirals, squares, circles and hula hoop shapes, were all over the place, made variously from rice, potato, tapioca starches. Awesome. 

We had an incredible trip; seeing the dawn of 2013 overlooking the crater of Mount Bromo. We saw Borobudur, a ninth century Buddhist temple; Prambanan, a ninth century Hindu temple, both UNESCO world heritage sites.

And I, finally, worked out the difference between Indonesia and the Philippines. 

Waving my hand vaguely over to the left

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Christmas Creatures 2012

The Christmas Creatures are a long held family tradition. My Dad has been making them for all the children (and guests and ‘hangers on’) for some 38 years. (You can see some examples from over the years here.) In conversation with my Dad just before Christmas, he told me that one year, what with cousins and extra small guests, he made sixteen of that Creature! SIXTEEN? And I stress about four!

Last year, my Dad handed the tradition over to me. This was my first one: intended as a testament and honour to my Dad’s years of Christmas Creature production. (He's a retired doctor.)

Here is this year’s creature:

Christmas Creatures have a cavity, into which tiny gifts, wrapped in tissue paper, are inserted. Of course, with a chicken... it really HAD to be an egg, right? (Found in Sampeng Lane, Chinatown.)

I have to confess that the design is not my own. I hope that this is not deemed cheating; rather I see it as utilizing the opportunities of the 21st century and once I had seen LiEr's truly brilliant pattern, nothing I could have done would have come close; this was everything I wanted the chicken creature to be. It was found here and purchased, as insurance, (here) in case time ran away with me. Time did run away with me; lion costumes and holly headpieces took up more than I anticipated and two of the creatures have to be sent ahead to the UK.