Thursday, 30 April 2009

A Map to Lulworth Cove

After Stonehenge we headed to the beach given that it was such a gorgeous sunny day. Unfortunately, my husband doesn't really believe in maps. And he won't ask directions. So we spent nearly 2 hours driving around in circles in Dorset looking for Lulworth Cove. The good news is it was worth it. The bad news is we could have driven straight there if he'd just referenced a map and spent quite a bit more time on the beach. As it was everyons's nerves were frazzled and my mother looked like a pretzel all tangled up in the back seat with the children.

Once we got her straightened out though we taught her how to act like a Brit on the beach! Sandy biscuits and the ever present threat of rain and/or darkness did not dampen our spirits.

Lulworth Cove is on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset on the southwest coast of England. Amazing fossils of numerous prehistoric creatures continue to be found here. And there is no end to the surprises of the rock pools!

Bailey loved it most of all!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

I read this book all wrong. I read it thinking it was just a novel. And when I finished it I had no idea what had happened or what it was about. But you can't read this novel that way. And I wish I had known this before I started reading it because now that I know what I know I am going to have to read it all over again.

Changez is from Pakistan and honours his family by winning a scholarship to Harvard University. Upon graduating he is offered the top place at the premier management consultancy, Underwood Sampson. He excels by living and breathing his work. He falls in love with a woman, Erica, who does not, cannot reciprocate his love due to her history.

And then 9/11 happens and Changez's love affairs with America and Erica end. His place in the society abruptly and subtly morphs into something much more sinister.

Reviews I have read indicate this book is metaphor for the US and the changes that have happened there since 9/11.

The book is entirely told in the first person. You never hear the voice of the American Changez is speaking to. You have no idea how they met or what brought them together. You don't know if Changez is good or bad and you don't know if the American is good or bad. The allegory works perfectly.

Hamid is originally from Lahore. He attended Princeton and worked briefly for a management consultancy in America. He now lives in London. One wonders how much of this is autobiographical.

Book Group Verdict: This was the second selection of the Waterstone's book group and probably my favourite of the two. More people read this book than the other I think largely because it was much shorter and took no more than a few days to get through it. It's not one of those books that you "like". It just makes you think. Which definitely means I recommend it. Thinking is good. As a result of the book group I increased my understanding of the content and will definitely re-read.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller

I liked this book. And then I hated this book. And then I liked this book.

Meri & Nathan move in next door to Delia & Tom. Tom is never around and by being exceedingly nosy, Meri discovers why. Meri is unhappy in her marriage for no good reason and wishes she was more like Delia. She betrays Delia in the most invasive way not once but twice despite Delia's attempts to be her friend.

Meri is a reprehensible character right up until the end of the book. I hated her whingeing, whining ways but she redeems herself somewhat in the last chapter. Delia is an understandable but sad picture of what it meant to be the wife of a successful senator with a roving eye in the 1960s. Tom is a pathetic, weak, vile man. You never really get to know Nathan. He skirts around the fringes of the novel without having an impact on any of the story.

The beginning reads like a mystery but this isn't really a mystery. Tom is having affairs. everyone knows he is. The middle irritated me so much I almost stopped reading. Why do women have to be portrayed as so weak. The ending was a complete surprise and I loved it because of the way it socks you in the gut. Meri did what?

This is not a pleasant story. I don't like what it says about woman and their relationships with each other. I don't like what is says about motherhood and our relationships with our children. But just because I don't like it doesn't mean it isn't true.

I recommend reading this book only if you have a strong stomach and aren't particularly emotionally fragile. If you are looking for a happy, uplifting read, look elsewhere.

Monday, 27 April 2009


Besides jetting (or training) off to Paris we also did some sightseeing a bit closer to home.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Paris 2009

I remember the very first time I went to Paris. I walked out of Gare du Nord and asked my travelling companion to pinch me. I asked her to do it again as we approached the Eiffel Tower. My love affair with Paris has never died. Although with a new family of 2 toddlers it isn't really the first choice of holiday destinations, my obsession with Paris had cooled.

My mother had never been to Paris and it was definitely on her bucket list of things to do in her lifetime. It seemed a logical conclusion then that after a few days at Disneyland we would move on over to the City of Lights.

And so we made our way to Paris via the RER (train). As we began the walk to our hotel I realised that one of the streets we were walking down was clearly a red light district as I hurried the children past the doors of establishments with women in their lingerie lounging about. Luckily the children didn't even notice. Well, not that first night anyway. Seb did ask a few nights later why those women always had their pajamas on and I left Marc to answer that one.

We checked in and once mom got over the shock of there not being an elevator in the hotel we set off for the short walk up to Sacre Coeur for the breath taking view. We had dinner at a lovely (if a little touristy) restaurant and sighed at Paris by night.

We fit in the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe the next day. We caught some staggering performances by street musicians.

We found an excellent guide to 12 Renaissance masters to help the children (and us) navigate the Louvre. The children loved looking for dogs and parrots and various assorted oddities in the paintings.

We enjoyed the sweet delights of Angelina's on the rue de Rivoli and watched a street protest of teachers. what is Paris without a protest march?

We savoured the culinary delights at the Grizzli Cafe as they tolerated our atrocious attempts at mastering the French language.

The children ran around the Pompidou Centre whilst we sat at an outdoor cafe drinking beers and cafe au lait (not together).

We only got grandma trapped in a turnstile once (which left a hideous bruise) and knocked her glasses off her face once (another wee bruise). Marc and I got off a metro without grandma and the children only once so we must try harder to lose them next time.

On the way home we met a mad French woman (who face painted Abigail) and a lovely Italian couple whilst we enjoyed some seriously smelly French cheese and baguette.

A trip full of a lifetime of memories!

The Girl With a Dragon Tatoo by Steig Larsson

I'm not much into the conspiracy theories. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe Marilyn had few too many drinks and pills and just wasn't all that happy. But I am not convinced that Steig Larsson is really dead.

Larsson is the author of The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. This book is the first in a trilogy which Larsson delivered to his publisher and then promptly died "under suspicious circumstances". I knew this before I started reading the book and didn't really give it a second thought.

And then I read the book and now I am convinced it is all a conspiracy. Because the book makes you think everything is a conspiracy.

A journalist has been convicted of libel and forced to resign his position as editor of his own magazine. The patriarch of a wealthy family brings him in to find a family member who mysteriously disappeared 40 years ago. A young, troubled beautiful goth is going to help solve the mystery.

To say anymore would spoil the wonderful suspense.

Set in Sweden, the novel is chocker full of Scandanavian details. Mikael Blomqvist is the hero and an immensely likable character but he's not perfect. Lisbeth Salander is quite simply one of my favourite fictional characters I've ever discovered.

Whilst I saw some twists coming, the ending will shock and awe you. The writing pulls you along at a Grisham pace and the translation is very well done. Don't concern yourself too much with the Swedish place names; it doesn't really matter and has no material outcome to the story. Also, don't be frightened off by the size of the book. You read it so quickly you forget how long it is.

I had to keep track of all the characters being introduced on a separate sheet of paper particularly in the first several chapters. It is a big family and there is a lot going on.

So I am hoping that Larsson couldn't possibly be dead. He delivered these 3 perfectly formed novels (his first) and then disappeared off the face of the earth. Don't tell me I've only got 3 books of his to read. I don't believe it. Not for 1 second.

The second book has been published but only in hardback. Bring on the paperback!

Book Group Verdict: This was the first of one of two choices by my Waterstone's book group which just started last month. This is a serious(ish) book group. We talked about the books and everyone reads at least one of the books. The people who read this selection agreed that the first 100 pages or so jump around a bit and is a bit difficult to follow. Most agreed it was a fabulous start to the trilogy. Only one person didn't enjoy it but I couldn't quite understand her reasons.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Disneyland 2009

I have finally found some time (or stopped running about at 100 mph) long enough to get some photos from our trip to Disneyland loaded for all to enjoy. We had a great time!

Abigail was so excited so just bounced up and down all day and night. Sebastian was really into riding the rides. Except for Big Thunder Mountain which we accidentally took both children on (in the last 2 cars) with not a single adult realising until it was too late just what a big scary rollercoaster it is. I think I might have put them off riding roller coasters for the rest of their lives.

My favourite part of the day was the parade. The first day we didn't quite know what to expect and didn't have very good seats. But the second day we knew what we were doing and had fabulous seats.

Abigail's favourite was Small World. She must have went round 10 times. She would get to the end and immediately want to go again. That song played over and over in my head for days.

Sebastian's favourite was a tie between Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear Laser. Star tours was an amazing outer space flight simulation. I just pretended I was Princess Leia and kept looking out for Hans Solo. Marc and Sebastian were really good at the laser game but my other, abigail and I were hopeless. The boys were scoring in the 5 digits whilst we were just happy to score above 2000.

Marc's favourite was the Big Thunder Mountain despite the fact that Abigail was frightened to death and Sebastian was white as a ghost.

Mom says she was just happy to be anywhere with us.

The weather was divine. Sunshine and blue skies graced us every day. Who would have thought I would need to bring sun block and that we didn't need our winter coats?


An amazing gift in a much needed time.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Journey to France

I'm not even sure where to I'll start at the very beginning.

Once upon a wait that will take too much time. OK, I will stick to the highlights and some low lights.

Day 1

We set off in a taxi from home to Heathrow Terminal 5 with a plan to catch the underground there to St Panscras station in London where we were due to hop on the EuroStar bound for Paris. We managed to pack gear for 3 adults and 2 children in 2 large suitcases, very large. Then we had the assorted camera bag, handbags, briefcases (with laptops and required reading, Abigail's Dora the Explorer pull along and Sebastian's elephant backpack with Nintendo DS lite bits and bobs. Not as light as I would have hoped but the best we could manage for a 6 day trip.

We reached Gare du Nord and bought what we thought were the appropriate tickets to Marnee de Vallee (the end of the line and location of the famed Disneyland). After an hour tube journey out to the back of beyond Paris we had just the final leg to go. We got to the gates, put in our tickets and it wouldn't let us out. We had purchased the wrong tickets. It was late on Sunday night and the station was abandoned. Marc pushed the red button fro assistance and the gate opened and he and the children went through. My mother made a mad dash for it and only made it halfway. The gates closed and trapped her. I began frantically pushing the red assistance button and the french went right out of my head as I was trying to explain that my mother was trapped, my husband and children were on the other side of the gate and we didn't have the right ticket.

As if by magic the gates opened again, releasing my mother and allowing me to pass through. Phew!

We stood on the street looking round the ghost town that was the location of our hotel. We were staying at the Adagio Apartments off the Disneyland Park and it would appear that no one cared. After several increasingly frantic moments my mother hailed us a small taxi. We crammed in the luggage and ourselves and after just 5 minutes we were relieved of an extortionate fee for the taxi but hey, we were at our humble abode for the next 3 days.

We grabbed a bit to eat in the shopping precinct next door and settled in for the excitement of Disneyland Paris tomorrow!