Sunday, 28 September 2014

Sardines and ping pong and trouble getting in the sea

Our adventurous eating knows no bounds! Today's lunch was sardines bought fresh from
Waiting for the tide at La Flotte 
the local market which we griddled and served up with toasted slices of our home-baked bread. I don't think the fish were caught by any of the boats pictured in La Flotte harbour though. They are all completely stranded by the lack of tide which was a pretty odd sight.

Yesterday afternoon saw the opening of our new Table Tennis set packaging and we played two games, both of which Dave won. My best score was 13 to his 21 so not a complete whitewash. Today we have played two lots of three games, one this morning and one this afternoon. Dave was still totally triumphant but my best score has crept up to 15! We also played our first games of boule with the fab set I bought at St Wilfrid's. Now this game I can win! We played 14 ends and I won 9 to 5.

We didn't go back to the beach swimming today as it wasn't so hot as yesterday. After having got myself into a bit of a tizz trying to get into the sea yesterday, perhaps this is for the best. There is a stony strip of sand at the tideline of the Plage Les Gollandieres so my footing was unsteady and a strong wave knocked me over. This wouldn't have been a major problem except that it was followed by a half dozen similar, each timed to not allow me to get up and further out in time to avoid them. Exasperating! Once past the breaking waves, it is easy and fun to bob with them, but the first few feet need careful timing. When leaving the beach car park, we saw a car with a new-to-us country letter on its numberplate: OC. Most cars here are F and there's a smattering of GB, D and NL, but we'd never seen OC before. Any ideas? We tried to think of countries all the drive home and eventually had to give up and Google it. It's not a country after all. OC is the unofficial lettering for the Occitane region of France!

St Martin is the next small town along from La Flotte. It is perhaps even more picturesque ( and it's harbour has water in it!) and has an incredible proportion of expensive clothes shops compared to any other products. We wandered around for a couple of hours this afternoon. Practically all the houses are whitewashed with their doors and window shutters in similar shades of green or blue. The overall effect is of perfect tranquillity but I wondered if homeowners only have certain proscribed colours from which they can choose? I liked one particular type of shutter latch in the shape of a behatted woman. It reminds me of the dolls that Nana used to stitch to the tops of knitted loo roll covers. Does anyone still knit, or even have, them? Dave treated us to a gorgeous ice cream each at La Martiniere, a shop claiming to be in the top five ice cream makers in France. Big claims indeed but certainly justified. Dave had a scoop of cherry and a scoop of pear flavours, and I had pistachio and coconut. The pistachio was much smoother and richer than the Sheringham one.

Got to go now. Sunday night is Deadwood night and we need to find out if William is ok ... !

Ile de Re shutter latch 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

In One Person by John Irving / Kissing In Manhattan by David Schickler / Take Me To The Castle by F C Malby

In One PersonIn One Person by John Irving
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've just finished my second of two back-to-back five-star reads! Not only was Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood fantastic but so was In One Person and, coincidentally, both books had similarities in their stories while also being completely different. Both are first-person narratives of growing up despite influential people around.

In One Person does tick a good selection of 'John Irving novel' boxes: New Hampshire, boarding school, sexuality, and wrestling. There's rather a lot of wrestling! However, although these common factors were included, I was completely hooked by the story of William Dean's life from very early in the book and had to force myself to set it aside periodically so as not to be bereft of that world too quickly. I loved the style and flow of the writing, the repetition of italics indicating the importance of visible gender, the claustrophobia of the closed school environment set against the expanse and possibilities of 'Europe', and the desperately sad series of epilogues that made up the last portion of the novel, each building up emotionally and persuasively.

Irving discusses a number of other novels and plays, several of which I already knew but a key few that I had overlooked. I'm going to be adding those to my Goodreads list now before I forget, just so I can understand all of In One Person before it fades from my memory.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

Kissing in ManhattanKissing in Manhattan by David Schickler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've just read Kissing In Manhattan for at least the third time as there's something about the story collection that completely appeals to me. I'm not sure whether to describe it as linked short stories or whether the book is more a novel. Certainly there is some repetition of description as if it was originally intended as separate stories or to be serialised.

The characters are generally all odd in one way or another. My favourite is probably James Branch who is quiet, shy and spends time talking to the elevator in his building, The Preemption, to which all the characters have some connection. His housemate, Patrick, is fantastically psychologically damaged which makes for interesting reading! I've seen other reviews describing Kissing In Manhattan as misogynistic but I don't agree as the main female characters are better balanced and stronger than their male counterparts. Throughout, the humour is dark and sexy and I love how the overall story arc advances via different viewpoints. Perhaps the only thing lacking for me is a story starring Sender.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

Take Me to the CastleTake Me to the Castle by F.C. Malby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I discovered F C Malby via Twitter and was interested to read her book set in the new Czech Republic at the time of its transition from Communism as this is a country and period that I don't know much about.
Our heroine, Jana, is a young Czech woman whose father died struggling against the former regime. Jana has absorbed his belief in democracy but is unable to adjust to the speed and breadth of the changes sweeping her homeland. This is a fascinating situation for a character to find themselves in and I was disappointed that it was not fully explored. Instead the main angle of the novel is Jana trying to decide which of two potential suitors she wants to begin a relationship with.
I enjoyed the descriptions of Prague and this is now definitely a city I would like to visit one day. The more rural Letovice was also easy to picture and it would have been nice to have learned more about it.
I was frustrated by the extensive repetition of both Jana's and Lukas' thoughts, especially when they were used in lieu of direct conversation that would have advanced the plot more successfully. At one point, Jana demands to know why Lukas betrayed her father, yet as soon as he begins to speak, she decides she won't listen after all and we read yet more meandering thoughts. I found this quite infuriating and was also disappointed that the story I really wanted to learn - that of Tatinek and Lukas - only ever played second fiddle to a traditional triangular romance that I don't think was convincing.
I think Take Me To The Castle is a reasonable read and I passed a pleasant couple of sunny afternoons with it, but it wasn't completely satisfying.

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Friday, 26 September 2014

Walking forest and dunes on Ile de Re

One of the weirdest sights on our forest and dunes walk yesterday was many diddy 'snail
Snail tree on Ile de Re 
trees' just like the ones pictured. I'm sure the tiny snails were resting and feeding on the plants, but it looked just like they were growing there! We wanted to walk from our current home, Camping La Grainetiere near La Flotte, to the beach and discovered a circular route that took us through shady pine woods, out to the shores of the Atlantic, and then back through more trees. The area is called Les Evieres. Within the woods are dozens of fenced off gardens, each with a shed-like structure and a flat grassed area. Some also have brick barbecues and a couple had caravans parked on them, but they seemed more of temporary places for extended family to get together than permanent residence areas. It was fun to spot them half hidden among the trees and, perhaps if we had walked on a weekend, we might even have seen the owners.

La Grainetiere is a fab campsite with a mix of touring pitches and static homes. There is an indoor heated swimming pool with a retractable roof, a library room, and a games area. It's less than a half hour stroll in to town too. The wifi is free, albeit still slower than dial-up. Sadly no tennis court, but there is table tennis so we splashed out on a 6 euro table tennis set at the Intermarche this morning. We're yet to open the packaging though because we went swimming this afternoon instead. Plage Les Gollandieres has wide sandy beaches with more stones than at Carnac and bigger waves, but the water is just as warm and, a plus for me, it stays shallow for a long way out so I can swim confidently.

Dave has been for a couple of rides on his bicycle. Ile de Re is just perfect for cyclists as it's practically flat and there are dedicated cycle routes everywhere. I got to try out a hireable tricycle today for a few minutes. However, my cycling nerve has definitely vanished again. I did feel stable on the trike but it was a nightmare to steer so after a few minutes of failing to ride around the campsite entrance I gave up. It was sweet of the guy to let me try it out, but I guess a trike won't be the answer. The roads are much safer if I'm on foot!

Yesterday was a Very Special Day as it was Davey's Birfdee! Hugs and thanks to all who sent greetings. Instead of the (superb, we have heard) Carrie Elkin gig which we would have attended had we still been in Sussex, we treated ourselves to a few other delights instead. Lunch of delicious locally smoked haddock from a little fishmongers in La Flotte was eaten with freshly baked bread from our breadmaker. We're getting to use all our extra kitchen gadgets so it was definitely worth bringing them. An unexpectedly successful new purchase is the Folding Drainer suggested by our friend Lye Kin. The flat drainer that came with Bailey was useless as stuff didn't dry in the heap it necessitated. I heartily recommend all Bailey Orion owners invest in a foldy one instead!

Birthday dinner was at an Italian restaurant off the harbour front in La Flotte. Dave almost managed to finish a Four Seasons pizza with more topping than we'd ever seen before, and I had a delicate Fusilli Fleurs de Courgette which had a beautiful creamy flavour and seemed simple, but I know I'd never get it quite the same at home. We walked back to the car along a promenade that had been strung with fairy lights and was quite magical!

La Flotte promenade 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Steamed salmon with pistachio pesto recipe

Dave does a delicious salmon with pesto recipe which he cooks in the griddle pan with
Steaming salmon with lettuce 
white wine and serves with pasta. I saw a different version with similar flavours in the Steaming! by Annette Yates book. She makes her own pesto. I don't! The steaming was a lovely way to cook the salmon which left it with a delicate flavour and perfect texture.

Salmon fillet portions
Large lettuce leaves to cover base of steamer tray
Pesto (SuperU had a pistachio pesto which looked, and is, very tasty with a stronger nut flavour than a pine nut pesto, but any one would be fine)

Lay the lettuce leaves in a single layer across the steamer base and partly up the sides. Lay the salmon on the lettuce.
Put 1 tbsp of pesto per person into a small steamable pot on the second steamer tier and close the lid.

Steam until the fish is cooked though. Yates said ten minutes but our thicker fillets took closer to twenty.

Serve with the hot pesto spooned over the salmon. We had ours with new potatoes and the nice green beans we got from the Carnac market. Apparently the lettuce is also edible still but ours was now pretty wilted so I didn't serve it up.

This is a quick, easy recipe and particularly good for caravan cooking as our compact Russell Hobbs Compact Steamer is only 400w.


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Carnac market and triathlon and visiting Auray

Sunday morning was a busy one for us. We took a stroll into Carnac town centre for their market and were very impressed with not only the quantity but also the quality of the stalls. There was chic clothing, plants, general oddments, loads of food, and practically no tat at all! As we had promised ourselves, we got stuck into shopping and came away with a heavy rucksack full of food including two types of chorizo-type sausage and lots of veg - salad, potatoes, gorgeous tomatoes, very fine green beans - plus fresh bread.

A couple of the stallholders were wearing the same style of hat as in the bottom photo of this post. Do you know who the man is? Juan Lorca Garcia has been suggested but I'm not sure.

After all that talking and mostly in our bestest French, we took a moment to sit with a coffee and were lucky enough to be right by the route as the cycling part of the Carnac triathlon zoomed past. The field was already pretty strung out after their swim leg and we were just at the top of a hill so some looked pretty tired already.

Dimanche matin a été très occupée pour nous. Nous avons pris une promenade dans le centre ville de Carnac pour leur marché. Nous avons été très impressionnés avec la quantité et aussi la qualité des stalles. Il y avait des vêtements chics, des plantes, démodées générales, charges de nourriture et pratiquement aucun détritus. Comme nous avons promis de nous-mêmes, nous avons fait beaucoup de shopping et sont repartis avec un lourd sac à dos plein de nourriture. Nous avons achete deux sortes des saucisses chorizo et beaucoup des legumes - pommes de terres, tomates magnifiques, haricots vertes et du pain frais.

Un couple des marchands portaient le même style de chapeau comme sur la photo en bas de ce post. Savez-vous qui est l'homme? Juan Lorca Garcia a ete propose mais je ne suis pas sur.

After toute que parler et surtout dans nos meilleurs Francais, nous avons pris un moment pour s'asseoir avec un cafe. Nous avons été assez chanceux pour être sur la route de triathlon de Carnac comme les cyclistes montaient au-delà. Le domaine était déjà assez égrènent après leur patte natatoire et nous étions juste en haut d’une colline, donc certains avait l’air assez fatigué déjà.

Les alignments of standing stones at Carnac 

I like the slim tower on
this Carnac town house 

Do you know this man?
Street art in Carnac 
Monday morning saw me still pretty lurgified (I'm feeling better now), so we waited until the afternoon for our visit to the nearby town of Auray. There are some very picturesque old buildings down on the riverside and, for motorhomers, a dedicated parking spot near the town centre. Historically, the castle has been there for a thousandish years and there are a series of placards detailing fighting against the English (as always) in the 1300s. Later, Benjamin Franklin even came to Auray to try and enlist French help in the War of Independence (yep, against us again!).

We took a wander along the riverbank looking at the moored boats, then set out up a cobbled hill which was practically all little boutique art shops on either side. Auray is proud of its artists and some of their work was even to our taste too! I saw a Sancho Panza that would perfectly complement the Don Quixote we saw in Valoria La Buena last year.

Lundi matin, j’étais toujours malade. (Je me sens mieux maintenant.) Nous avons attendu jusqu'a l'apres-midi pour notre visite a la ville voisine d'Auray. Il y a quelques bâtiments anciens très pittoresques sur le bord de la rivière, et pour les 'motorhomers' il y a une place de stationnement dédiée près du centre ville. Historiquement, le château a été là pendant mille ans et il y a une série de plaques-étiquettes détaillant les combats contre les anglais (comme toujours) dans les années 1300. Plus tard, Benjamin Franklin est venu à Auray pour tenter de faire appel à une aide Français dans la guerre d’indépendance (Oui, contre nous encore une fois!).

Nous avons erré le long de la berge en regardant les bateaux amarrés, puis se dirigea vers une colline pavée qui avait peu boutiques art des deux côtés. Auray est fier de ses artistes et certains de leurs travaux était encore à notre goût trop! J’ai vu une oeuvre de Sancho Panza qui complèteraient parfaitement le Don Quichotte dans Valoria La Buena, nous avons vu l’an dernier.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Torn From Troy by Patrick Bowman / Los Angeles Stories by Ry Cooder / Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

Torn from Troy by Patrick Bowman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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It goes without saying that Torn From Troy has a great storyline because it is adapted from one of the greatest ever adventure stories, Homer's Odyssey. However, author Patrick Bowman has cleverly reinvented the tale by telling from the point of view of a Trojan boy. Through his eyes, the all- conquering Greeks are not the typical heroes of legend, but brutal louts who have destroyed his home and his family. I enjoyed how this approach made even Odysseus appear real and human.

Torn From Troy is a YA novel and Bowman takes the opportunity to include lots of fascinating description of life in Troy, in the Greek siege camp, and on the boats. Obviously elements such as the Cyclops are fantasy, but nicely blended with factual information too so this book is also a history lesson that doesn't feel like learning!

My download was via AudioSYNC, published by Post Hypnotic Press. I know the same narrator has recorded the next two for them too and I hope they are available via Audible as I want to continue this journey.

Los Angeles Stories by Ry Cooder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I finished Los Angeles Stories on the St Malo ferry so was transported from a fortunately calm crossing of the English Channel to the down-at-heel city of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s. Ry Cooder is not only a wonderful musician but also a pretty good writer as these stories prove. There is a fantastic sense of the atmosphere and seediness of the city, the desperation and hope of the people. Each of this collection of short stories has a link to the others, whether it be a place or a character and it was fun to spot how they join together. I didn't understand all the stories however, and a few lost me part way through so I was reading them more for their evocative descriptions than for their plots. Others were simpler to follow. Perhaps have a more extensive knowledge of the music scene of the period would have helped? I did pick up on a number of references but am sure that I missed more than I spotted!

Overall, this is an interesting insight into a past time which puts the spotlight onto those who faded from view or who never made it big in the first place, the darker side of the city of dreams, and I enjoyed reading about the array of characters penned by Cooder. I wonder how many were actually real and how many purely imagined?

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from Canada

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I've had Cat's Eye on my bookshelf for ages and have been saving it as I absolutely love Margaret Atwood books. We bought several at the same time and this is the last of them. Need to go searching out some more now!

Cat's Eye tells of the bullying relationship between two young girls in 1940s Toronto. I was fascinated by the wealth of detail given about life for children in this period, especially by how much of their school day was remarkably similar to mine in 1970s and 1980s Britain! There are several child and adult characters portrayed and all are wonderfully real people. Our heroine, Elaine, jumps back and forth in time as she revisits her childhood trying to discover what events back then define the person she is now. I particularly enjoyed reading this discovery even though some is quite harrowing. The authenticity of her experience makes the whole book feel more like reading a biography than a work of fiction. Such is the genius of Atwood!

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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Finally getting to Carnac and seeing lots and lots of stones

We've meant to visit the ancient standing stones alignments at Carnac for several years, but have always managed to distract ourselves with other beautiful areas of Brittany so not made it so far west. This year, we drove straight from St Malo - where we were practically first off the boat at some ridiculously early hour of the morning - and arrived at Camping Kerebus shortly after lunchtime on Thursday. It's a pleasant campsite with two areas for tourers and several statics in the middle. There's a tiny office and no shop as such, but the pitches are big enough and surrounded by trees so very shady. Sadly the wifi is pretty ropey - it's 1 euro for an hour and that gets a slow signal, even this late in the evening, and is the reason why this post isn't illustrated. I'll come back and add the photos when we get somewhere better for that!

The main attraction of Camping Kerebus is its proximity to the main Standing Stones site which is only about a ten minute stroll away. We made the effort to walk around the closest of them on the very first afternoon and were glad to have done so although I was a bit underwhelmed by the stones themselves. They're smaller than expected! However, our luck was in today, Saturday, as we had planned to walk further to the other clusters of stones and found special notices on several of the gates: 'Ouverture exceptionelle du site' courtesy of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux. What this meant was that for this very weekend we could actually walk right up among the stones rather than looking from a distance over fences and stone walls. The further we walked, the more incredible this area became. There are thousands of standing stones here, all in rows, and these rows were originally longer than the eye can see. Centuries of wear and damage have now resulted in gaps but we walked nearly an hour out today and still there were fields of stones! We also saw dolmen and a large menhir, named Le Geant, which I think will rival the largest Iberian one we saw near Antequera. I took a photo with Dave stood by it for scale so just need to compare the two when wifi permits! We've been reading up in the fascinating books lent to us by our friends Steve & Frances and it's incredible to imagine people 5000 years ago being right here creating this monument. If only we knew why!

Carnac also has long sandy beaches so we've been swimming in the sea on two afternoons already - and we've only been here for three. The sun is hot, the clouds are generally gone by late morning and the sea is pretty warm by sea standards. It's going to be tough to move on. Tomorrow, there is a market we would like to visit and also the annual Triathlon is taking place along the seafront with the cycling loop coming out as far as the campsite. Hopefully we can get close to the changeover area which we saw being set up this afternoon in readiness.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Rescuing a turkey and making a new flyscreen

One of the attractions here at Fairfields Farm is the opportunity to meet some of their
Friendly Kune Kune piglets 
animals and fowl. As well as a lovely pond with geese, the aforementioned ducks, and some coots/moorhens (we're not sure which), there is also a small fishing lake and between the two is a wide grass path with enclosures either side. We wandered along yesterday afternoon in the sunshine and saw various chickens, peacocks and turkeys, Pygmy goats, brown sheep, shetland ponies and a much bigger palomino pony, and Kune Kune pigs. These pigs are apparently a particularly friendly breed and we were delighted when three piglets came enthusiastically rushing over to meet us as we approached. They do have very wiry coats though so weren't very enticing to stroke and lost interest when they realised we had no food for them! We also saw a vividly striped dragonfly that stayed perfectly still long enough for Dave to get the great photo below.

My turkey rescue was of a young white feathered bird which had somehow managed to get out onto the path. It was anxiously running back and forth trying to get back through the wire, but without the ability, or perhaps the sense, to fly back over. Dave has previously kept chickens so knows the theory of catching birds! We slowly moved in from opposite sides and I managed to catch it and help it back over the fence. The episode reminded me of one time years ago when our cat had brought a starling in and let it go. The poor bird was hiding behind the toilet pedestal and I had to retrieve and lift it to the open bathroom window from which it flew away with a happy chirrup.

Also on an animal related note, I walked into Eastbourne yesterday - four-ish miles in about an hour and a quarter - partly for some last minute shopping and partly to see my friend Kerry's new shop. She has recently taken over a unit in the Enterprise Centre (behind Eastbourne station) and opened Grand Wagglys pet shop. There's lots of equipment and toys for dogs, cats and other pets. If you're passing, pop in and say hello!

C and H Fabrics was another stop off yesterday for some white velcro to complete my new homemade flyscreen for the door. I was inspired by one I saw on a nearby caravan when we stayed at Tavira in February. It was a curtain of pale chiffon-like material with glittering gold threads running through it which looked great as they caught the sun. Unfortunately, when I tried to get a similar fabric, it was surprisingly expensive and needed to be ordered in. I hadn't left enough time for that but was lucky to spot the right sized offcut of a Manhattan design net curtain for just £2! I've hemmed the two rough sides and sewn velcro along the top. The other side of the velcro is self-adhesive and is now stuck across Bailey's wall above the doorframe. The pack was £3.69 so we now have a flyscreen for the door for jyst £5.69 and a couple of hours' work. As the only one on the official Bailey parts website is nearly £200, I'm pretty pleased with that! It does need a bit more weight at the bottom so I might try and fing some nice beads in Spain and maybe embroider it with simple designs like the Indalo Man.

Vivid dragonfly 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A windy weekend in Westham

We're back down south again now having had just as good a journey back from Norfolk as
Optimistic ducks at Fairfields Farm campsite 
going up. Fortunately the traffic was fairly light everywhere except around the M25 but even there we kept moving at a good pace. I did forget to get into a middle lane for the Dartford bridge crossing so ended up on the far left, able to see exactly how high up we were, and not loving it at all. Gripping the steering wheel, looking only straight ahead and underbreath mantra chanting got us over safely. At least the bridge is considerably shorter than the road to Sopalmo.

Our current campsite for this week is Fairfields Farm, a nice green space with open pitches and a good little shop. We continued our Buy Local spree with some of their Pork, Apple and Cider burgers which went nicely with more of our Norfolk cabbage last night. On the (presumably) non-edible side, there is a flock of about a dozen ducks here that route march around all the pitches each morning, peering in doorways in the hope of sharing breakfasts! We have also seen a few pied wagtails and the obligatory seagull. Otherwise, not much in the way of wildlife worth observing - unless I include the slender guy on the next door pitch who was sunbathing naked for most of Saturday afternoon. He and his partner packed up and left this morning though so the remaining scenery is that much the poorer!

Dave and I went for a stroll that became a walk early yesterday evening. We avoided the cycle race earlier in the day as our friend Marta visited, (Hi Marta!). Walking through the Pevensey Castle grounds was interesting as the space looked so much smaller without all the Food and Wine Festival stalls of a couple of weekends ago. While I remember to mention it, we tried the Kush Cuisine spice blends I bought there. Chicken marinated in the Bajan Fish Spice for a few hours has a lovely rich flavour and isn't too chili hot for Dave. However, our hour-and-a-half wandering was seriously put to shame by the fantastic achievement of Dave's daughter, Carrie. She walked 30 miles in eleven hours along the Thames Path yesterday, all to raise money for The Eve Appeal. Well done Caz! If anyone else wants to make a donation to this important charity, her team's JustGiving page is here.

We're going to stay here until Wednesday when our boat sails to St Malo. The house sale is now completely completed and the final transfers all went far more smoothly than the previous few months - thank goodness. So we are now essentially rootless for a while which is an interesting thought to muse over. I'm still actually getting used to the idea but having the whole of driveable Europe open to us is tremendously exciting!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane / Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez / Laughing Policeman by Sjowall and Wahloo

The Red Badge of CourageThe Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Red Badge of Courage is the earliest dated book I received via this summer’s AudioSYNC programme. An American classic, it was first published in 1895 so is even before the first segment of theBookcrossing Decade Challenge I have joined on Goodreads. Young Henry Fleming has enlisted to fight in the America Civil War. Naïve to what awaits him, he flees during his first battle, finding himself among wounded men whom Henry sees as displaying their red badges of courage – their bloodstains. After being hit by one of his own side, Henry returns to his regiment where, believing his previous cowardice unnoticed, he seizes the flag when its bearer is killed. Suddenly brave beyond his experience, he leads through intense fighting, remaining unharmed. Red Badge of Courage is written in an impersonal fashion which I thought both helped and hindered its impact. By not particularly detailing people’s or places’ names, it can be a novel of any low-tech war, as relevant now as then and all across the globe. However, devices such as continually referring to Henry as ‘the youth’ made it difficult for me to really invest in his story and I found myself frequently drifting away from listening. I am also not sure whether Crane’s message was meant to turn readers on to or away from war. The descriptions of fighting and casualties are powerful, but our protagonist redeems himself by rushing headlong into battle, glorifying the bloodshed in order to 'become a man'.

Love in the Time of CholeraLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

I probably didn't pick the best time to start Love In The Time Of Cholera as we were in the last throes of moving house so its first few chapters had to compete for space in my mind. However once I was able to read without interruption, I was totally drawn into the story.

I love Marquez's beautiful emotive writing and can easily imagine Florentino through his many years of waiting. The locations are eloquently described too and the flawed characters are all real people, whether being naive, irritating or poignant. There are so many depictions of different loves in the novel that I wondered which came first, this or Florentino's imagined work. I have already downloaded another Marquez novel and look forward to discovering more of his writing.

The Laughing Policeman (Martin Beck #4)The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahloo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellently plotted police thriller by the Swedish duo of Sjowall and Wahloo. I discovered the Martin Beck series during last year's travels so it's appropriate to continue now with the fourth, The Laughing Policeman. I particularly appreciate the cast of characters and it's amazing to think that the dysfunctional detective began over forty years ago with these books. Stockholm almost becomes another character as descriptions of its streets and weather provide unusually vivid atmosphere. The cases aren't solved quickly either and the other important facet is the depictions of time passing which makes the whole novel feel realistic. Leads are as often misleading as helpful and I didn't see the ending coming until it had all but arrived.

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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Setting off in almost completely the wrong direction

After last winter's Big Adventure, we started out on this year's Even Bigger Adventure
View from cliffs above East Runton 
this week, even though there is still a day's work to do back at the house before we hand it over to its new owners and set off for good. We are currently at a nice campsite, Woodhill Park, up on the cliffs above the village of East Runton. Before the less geographically-challenged of you go rushing to your atlases to confirm your suspicions, yes we have gone north. East Runton is on the North Norfolk coast! We were somewhat surprised by the lack of physical security around the campsite as it doesn't have fences around it, but other than their own gate, the only other way in is on foot so I guess it's safe enough. We appreciated the opportunity of having a nose at two other sites the footpath traversed too!

Saturday afternoon we were treated to a great family lunch at my Dad's house and now we're visiting Dave's dad in Sheringham. I've been to the town a couple of times before and love the variety of little shops and cafes. Today we worked up an appetite by walking from East Runton into Sheringham along the cliffs and over the famous-in-Dave's-family Beeston Bump. It's about three miles each way and we walked back along the beach. The views out to sea are so pretty and there are wide sandy beaches all the way. The sea was mill-pond smooth today so it was hard to imagine the destructive power it does have along this coast. A hint at the wind's potential around here is indicated by the big offshore wind farm in the distance off the coast. We could see dozens of individual windmills in neat rows fading into the distance - the neat rows reminded me of the hammer army in The Wall.

We ate generously portioned veggie lunches at Mulberry followed by a stroll around the town and along the prom. Having unsuccessfully searched Hastings for pistachio ice cream a couple of weeks ago, we found it here - at the appropriately named Ice Cream Shop. Plus we indulged in a spot of Local Shopping which is something we plan to make much more of an effort to do in Spain this time around. Here we spotted packs of four stuffed lamb breast rounds at J & D Papworth farm shop for £2.55 and paired them with locally grown white cabbage from the greengrocers opposite. Dave remembered a good way to prepare the cabbage - shredded and pan cooked in a little butter with salt, pepper and herbs until it begins to go translucent.

We're heading back down south tomorrow all ready for a final day's intensive cleaning on Thursday. I'm looking forward to that part being finished!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Finally getting a completion date and being steamrollered by Medea

Yes, you read those first title words correctly! Dave got the eagerly anticipated phone call this afternoon - contracts were exchanged today and we complete a week on Friday. It's
Temporary TV stand! 
such a relief and so exciting to get an email at work with a whole row of smiley faces. I actually squeaked!

We gave up on hiring a van when the one we booked wasn't available after all and the others were much more expensive, especially the excess charges. How can these firms justify an £800 excess? So instead Dave has taken boxes to storage in the car. This Saturday we have the fun of trying to get his reclining chair in the boot, but fortunately there's already not much left here.

You might we wondering what we did to celebrate the Good News. Did we clink glasses or go for dinner? Nope. We went to see an ancient Greek tragedy and it was some of the most intense theatre ever. Tonight was the National Theatre's cinema broadcast of their first ever production of Medea. I had read reviews absolutely raving about Carrie Cracknell's production and Helen McCrory's performance and they were quite right. I loved the blend of traditional chorus with modern physical movement, the contemporary touches such as the family photo, and the sheer power of Medea's breakdown left me breathless. Simply superb.

We did go out for a meal last night by the way - fish and chips at the excellent Holiday Inn, just off the seafront in Eastbourne. It was one of the places we made sure to visit when we arrived back in the UK in April - not so very long ago.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope / War, Conflict and Resolution by Thacker and Gallagher / Black Butterfly by Mark Gatiss

The Soldier's WifeThe Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

I found The Soldier's Wife to be a disappointing novel by Joanna Trollope. I haven't read many of her books, but had reasonable expectations that unfortunately haven't been met.

Alexa is the frustrated soldier's wife of the title. Trapped in Army accommodation with young children and no job, the return of her husband, Dan, from Afghanistan triggers a crisis in her marriage. Alexa is unable to talk to Dan about wanting more from her life and he in turn is unable to ask about her obvious disappointment. We meet a number of relations and friends, all of whom also find communication practically impossible and this goes on for most of the book. For me, this made the characters unknowable so I didn't develop any attachment to them, merely irritation at their impasse.

I did finish the book, but found the rather abrupt and wimp-out ending unsatisfactory too. Trollope isn't an author I'll be rushing to read more from any time soon.

War, Conflict & ResolutionWar, Conflict and Resolution by Ryan Thacker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This flash fiction collection was inspired by remembrances of The Great War and independently published to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of its beginning. The short stories and poems range from imaginings of soldier's battle experiences to the poignant thoughts of a person charged with delivering the worst news to families back home. Other stories are told from the point of view of grandchildren trying to understand.

I discovered War, Conflict and Resolution via twitter as I follow one of the authors. It is a thought-provoking collection and well worth its minimal kindle price. There is a smattering of 'indie editor' errors - taught for taut, bare for bear - but this doesn't really detract from the emotion of the stories.

Black Butterfly (Lucifer Box, #3)Black Butterfly by Mark Gatiss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

Good but not great. Black Butterfly is the third of the Lucifer Box spy trilogy and now our ageing hero is in the time of the new Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately I think it is the time period, or lack of it, which lets Black Butterfly down. Gatiss still invents a wonderfully implausible plot, ridiculously named characters and splendid escapades. However, what made Vesuvius Club such a great read for me was its steampunky sense of period and the equivalent just doesn't come across in Black Butterfly. That said, I have still read the whole trilogy multiple times - praise indeed - and all three are fun, but they seem to fade along with Lucifer. Perhaps that's the point?

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