Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Card 2012

Christmas decorations are minimalist at my place again this year. As my modern house doesn't possess a fireplace (panic! How will Santa get in?) poinsettia petals and candles have to create the fireside feeling. They're doing a reasonable job.

2012 has been an interesting year. Having my first novel, Park Life, out led to lots of opportunities and it's been lovely to get so much positive feedback. Looking ahead to 2013 I'm planning to finish my novel in progress - at the moment it needs a lot of work!

For now though, the Christmas break is here. Cue food, drink and festivities. Seasons greetings to you and yours and here's to health and happiness in 2013.

K x

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Postcard from the city

'Mister Volder goes to the City' is a surreal short story by Ben Pacey. A man arrives in a new place and tries to build a life there assisted by a talking dog with a cough which might improve if it smoked fewer cigarettes. The story is also the inspiration behind an exhibition currently on at the mac in Birmingham. There's a short film which gave me the disoriented feeling of arriving in a new place, copies of the story to read, a model city and, best of all, postcards!

These postcards invite their readers to create their own Mr Volder story. That's my 'The Birds'-inspired one posted above. You can see more at their postcard blog and there's a running display as part of the exhibition.

The combination of postcards and stories was almost guaranteed to appeal to me. Why not try it? Head down to the mac, buy a coffee and take a seat. It'll be a nice day out in the city. Unless any small dogs speak to you...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Postcard from Westonbirt

I have a fondness for autumn based purely on its colours. A crisp winter day has its merits, but tends to be cold. Spring has flowers, but can also be damp, and summer is never as hot and sunny as I'd like it to be. Autumn makes a feature out of its downside: the year may be getting colder but there's one final blaze of glory before nature's done for the year.

Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire is a great place to see the changing colours. They have collections of acers which look their best as the leaves turn.

I  might have soaked up enough colour to get me through the dark days of winter. I certainly over-indulged on the cake at their cafe. That should keep me warm. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Postcard from book club

I haven't got on well with book clubs in the past. Too frequently having to read books I didn't enjoy or listen to people who like the sound of their own voice despite having nothing relevant to say had put me off. But when I heard Waterstones on New Street in Birmingham were putting together a group to judge the longlist for The Guardian's First Book Award, I was tempted to have another go.

One reason was the fact the award covers non-fiction, and poetry as well as fiction and the thought of reading well beyond my usual, safe choices appealed. Another reason was an assumption that all the books might be good by virtue of being on the longlist. These things are subjective but, despite that assumption, I quickly ran into one of my problems - I had to read books I didn't enjoy. At all.

It was intense - 11 books in 8 weeks and weekly meetings to collate our opinions. A good challenge for a writer looking to improve her critical reading though. And, here's the real highlight, the other members of the group were great. We didn't always agree, but that was part of the joy of it because we never fell out and had many laughs along the way.

The Guardian will announce the final shortlist based on input from ours and 3 other groups soon but here's my personal pick (and issues - while the point is that these are first books, ie the author has room to grow, none of them got unreserved praise from me):
The China Factory by Mary Costello - moving, tender, beautifully expressed short stories (but there's little light to temper the shade in the collection so I don't recommend reading it in one go and the male characters didn't always ring true to me)
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers - intense observations from the front line (but this one split our group - some didn't rate it)
Absolution by Patrick Flanery - by far the most accomplished and satisfying read of the list (but perhaps too clever for its own good - it makes the reader work hard for the story).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Postcard by hand

What you'll also know is that I sometimes experience confusion about where apostrophes should be!

Philip Henser article

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Postcard from Manchester

That title's misleading. I did spend two days in Manchester recently, but I mostly saw the Midland Hotel. After the restrained elegance of Hardwick Hall on my previous postcard, pulling up in front of this fa├žade could only cause culture shock.

It's striking, no doubt about that. And the interiors have style and variety of which modern hotels can only dream. It has stories too - Mr Rolls met Mr Royce there and look how well that turned out.

You can hear the 'but', can't you? I like to explore any place I visit, get a feel for it, find something out, not just see a hotel. So Manchester: I'm sorry, I missed you - the difficulties of travelling for work. The conference I attended just wasn't postcard material.

However, autumn is coming and I am plotting a trip to see some colours. I also have a few events for Park Life coming up. You can see details of those here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Postcard from Hardwick Hall

The scale of the windows at Hardwick Hall impressed me with their bling, but they must have been even more stunning in the sixteenth century. The entire house seems more glass than stone with a light and feminine feel to its construction all the way up to the filigree-fine ornamentation on the roof. This is a building dressed to impress.

Things get even less macho indoors with soft furnishings the main feature rather than paintings or furniture. And I loved the administrative triumph of the drawer-lined audit room. I almost wanted to live at Hardwick. I just suspect those huge windows of draughtiness.

The Hall couldn't be described as domestic in scale, but it's not stately or defensive. It's just beautiful.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Postcard from Stratford

This is Stratford-upon-Avon rather than the Olympic one, and things are rather more genteel. No lycra-clad exertion required and no records to beat - more likely that you'll bump into someone clad in Elizabethan finery declaiming iambic pentameter. And the worst of the traffic jams are on the water.

You might have expected me to post pictures of the Shakespeare houses or other picturesque sights but while there I went to an exhibition which made me look at things in a different way. 'Of all the people in all the world...', an installation by Stan's Cafe, used grains of rice to represent the individuals behind statistics in a way which made me fully appreciate what they meant. I work with numbers, but no graph or percentage score ever made me think as hard as this did.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Postcard from Moseley Old Hall

Complicated and labour-intensive gardening does not appeal to me. Here's what does: weathered brick enclosing a walled orchard, a lavender-lined path busy with bees, tea, and cake. This path led to a cafe serving delicious scones. Almost perfect. The quite large drawback is the M54 - makes it easy to get there but provides a constant soundtrack of tyre on tarmac.

Moseley Old Hall makes a big deal out of the fact Charles II hid there for two nights. They obviously hadn't got the cafe sorted back then or I'm sure he'd have stayed longer.

The property used to be a farm so the orchard is in keeping and the stables and other buildings have been put into service with shop, exhibition space etc. But they've done some gardening in what would have been the farm yard. Complicated, labour-intensive knot gardening. Those seventeenth century folk had no idea how to relax.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Postcard from The Voyage

A great big ship isn't what you expect to see in the middle of a land-locked city such as Birmingham. But a big ship is what we've had for the past weekend, albeit a fake one designed as a stage for a dance, music and light show. And it was great.

Not just seeing a ship docked against the Town Hall, but the entire show which included the excitement of a launch, the sadness of separation (with projected love letters as shown above), the tragedy of shipwreck and a joyous arrival. And it was free!

Apparently it was something to do with London 2012 but that makes so little sense I'm going to ignore it. I want to go on a Voyage again and I don't care who pays.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Postcard from the Jubilee

Britain has a problem. Not only because someone is bothering to dress this poor statue up for any excuse; not only because of the weather/performance at Eurovision/government/etc, but because of this: the word 'bostin'' has dropped out of common parlance.

As I was wondering whether to take this photo of the bull's Jubilee outfit given that a passing bird had removed what may have remained of his dignity with that white smear on his forehead, a couple stopped to read the sign placed by his rump. It's advertising the shopping centre's contributions to the summer of celebrations across Britain. They've branded this the 'Bostin British Summer'.

One of the pair said, (in an English accent, though not West Midlands) 'What's 'bostin'?'

I can't blame him. It's Brummie slang you don't hear used much even in Brum.

I don't really mind the Jubilee bunting overkill, the Olympic endurance event or anything else that's making 2012 the summer to supposedly end all summers. I just can't help thinking Britain would be a nicer place if it were Bostin rather than trying to be Great.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Postcard from Rio

Rio's a huge city. There's loads to do. But in Zona Sul it's all about how little you can do and the best place for that is the beach.

Choose your patch of sand carefully though: each lifeguard 'poste' has its own sub-culture. I'm a long way from being trendy, and you know I'm also lazy, so it's a good job my nearest 'poste' was 11: family-friendly, so less pressure to look good.

No matter which poste you choose though, the soundtrack is the same: shouts of 'Olha o Globo!' from passing vendors. I don't know which food group Biscoito Globo fall within. They seem to be made of crunchy air and are either salted or sweet. The texture is like no biscuit you ever tasted and I'm convinced they have no calorific value. There's no need to inform me if you know otherwise.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Postcard from Iguazu

I've gone for the Spanish spelling of Iguazu Falls because, even though I was on holiday in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, I took this photo on the Argentinian side of the river. The actual border crossing is on a far less exciting concrete bridge some way downstream of the Falls and involves officials, bureaucracy and queues. On the river, nature sweeps all that aside and just says, 'I'm coming though'.

When you stand at the end of the walkway to the edge of the largest of the falls you can't be anything but impressed. The noise is overwhelming, the drop alarming and, even though you're experiencing only the tiny fraction of water which rises as spray, you're drenched. There isn't really any need for the health and safety signs which, thanks to the Brazilians employing a comedy translator, read 'Do not overtake the bannisters'.

The language doesn't matter. You only need one word: wow.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Postcard from the United Nations

This scale-replica of a UN office in Geneva came to Birmingham as part of Fierce Festival. It was a delight to see the chosen dachshunds taking their seats as representatives of various countries and likely that they managed to achieve as much in their 'meeting' as any UN council does. They certainly behaved well. Only a few tried to escape and their media coverage was overwhelmingly positive. Perhaps the world really should go to the dogs.

Can't say I was impressed by the entrepreneurial fast food vendor who'd set up stall to sell hot dogs next to the gathering though...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Postcard from the wood

I can't say I'd noticed this particular tree, until it was gone. It stood on the bank of the River Rea and I've walked past several times recently without noticing there was any kind of problem with it. That might be because I've actually been on 'kingfisher watch' hoping for a repeat of the sighting I had a week or so ago, or it might be a case of not seeing the tree for the woods.

When daffodils are blooming, birds are tweeting and other trees are coming into blossom or bud it was sad to see the exposed interior of this tree. I tried to count the rings but lost my way after a considerable number of years above my own age.

The cut surface will soon weather and the stump will be a great home for fungus and insect life, I'm sure. It was just sad today, with the potential of spring in the air, to see something come to an end.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Postcard from World Book Day

It is a truth universally acknowledged that sitting in the sun with a cup of tea, a biscuit and a good book is hard to beat. Which is why I'm sharing this picture of my Kindle (which allows me to pretend I was reading Jane Austen when I was actually reading something else, as well as having a screen you can read in the glare of the sun) and book seat (allows me to have tea in one hand and biscuit in the other while still reading).

If you don't have a book seat, you really should. The Kindle doesn't test the seat's full capabilities. It comes into its own when asked to hold a real book - you know, those ones with thick spines and small print which can feel like a feat of physical endurance to read - while you sit back and relax. Don't panic - they do come in colours other than pink.

Happy World Book Day. Hope you manage a reading break too. Biscuits are optional, but you'd be a fool not to.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Postcard from Croome

Splat marks on a frozen lake can only mean some poor duck chose not to believe its eyes and tried to land anyway. I can only imagine what a nasty surprise that must have been. The snow may have been melting but there was a chill emanating from the ice.

I'm not surprised the ducks were tempted though. The lake is a 'Capability' Brown construction - designed for admiration and to entice. Which Croome does, even in such cold conditions. The 1940s tea room is slightly alarming though. It's housed in the sick quarters of the former RAF base on the site. I was just glad they hadn't decided to extend the wartime theme to ration the butter and sugar in the recipes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Postcard from the treetops

One advantage of living on a hillside is the view of the sky. The only time I like cold weather is when it's sunny as well; and when planes leave interesting vapour trails perfectly framed in my roof light then winter doesn't seem so bad.

The temperature is in deep freeze at the moment. The forecast is for a warmer tomorrow, but that means clouds and rain as well. Boo. I wonder where the plane which veered to the right was going? It's heading south, so the destination may have been warmer than Birmingham...