Tuesday, 8 May 2018

My railcard's last hurrah

By some form of miracle, the weather this May bank holiday has not been at all bad. Floaty skirts have been a theme as I've enjoyed an afternoon tea, brunch, a picnic, and an impromptu trip to the seaside.

Whitstable's been on my list for a while; although after our Dungeness experience, I was a little hesitant. However, following recommendations from friends and family, I booked two tickets for myself and Emily to head down to the coast for an afternoon of sun, sea, and sand (somewhere beneath the pebbles).

Only around an hour and a quarter out of St Pancras, it wasn't long until we spied the sea from the train window. Wishful thinking led us to hope that most fellow passengers would be going on to Margate, but in fact plenty alighted with us and together we trooped towards Whitstable Harbour.

The Great British Seaside revival is real. The harbour and seafront were bustling, so valiantly we walked on with the intention of getting away from the crowds. It took a while, but the beach did eventually quieten down. The only downside to this was that it also ran out of food and drink options. Not wanting to appear too defeatist, we looped back, walking this time along the quiet backstreets as opposed to along the seafront.

Queues wherever we went, we decided that we would have to stop being so stubborn, and joined one to order chips (and a crab sandwich for me, whitebait for Emily) and beer; all local, of course.
We perched on a wall by the quay, thoroughly enjoying our food, drink, and people watching. Suitably stuffed, we took our drinks for a walk back to the quieter end of the beach.

Here we sat for the rest of the afternoon, basking in the sun. We got as far as a toe dip in the sea, but my gosh was it a cold shock! So, despite thinking that we would be bold and go for a full dip.. we didn't.

Early evening came and a short walk took us back to the station. This time the platform was even busier than before and the train that pulled up was already rammed with people who had been further afield to find their patch of seaside.

First impressions of Whitstable were good. If I can handle the full fare, I'm sure I'll return one day in the middle of the summer holidays when hopefully it won't be quite so teeming with tourists..

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Thailand: Ko Lanta, Phuket & back to Bangkok

It wasn't strictly half-way through, but I'm going to call the islands the second part of our adventure, because they were so different to where we began. After visiting Chiang Mai, we made our way to Ko Lanta for some sun, sea, and sand.

Our taxi arrived at 5am to take us to Chiang Mai airport. A packed breakfast from the hotel of bread and butter, croissants, a boiled egg (as you do), green fluffy cakes, and a carton of orange juice perked us up a little (even if we did then have to abandon some of it in a moment of panic when met with airport security much sooner than expected). Yet again, Air Asia was quick and easy, and we were soon at Krabi airport.

I know I'm very easily amused, but I don't think I'll ever tire of being met at airports by men holding signs with my name on them.. In the comfort of yet another wonderfully air conditioned taxi, we made our way to Ko Lanta. On the drive we passed innumerable 'palm farms', as I decided they must be, not so dissimilar to the tree-lined roads of Norfolk (only perhaps a little more exotic).

A short ferry crossing took us onto the island and in no time we had arrived to another welcome fruit juice, accompanied this time with a cold flannel to combat the heat. Truly not backpacking, our hotel, Crown Lanta Resort & Spa was in the most beautiful setting; up in the hills with panoramic views of the sea, and its own private beaches. We'd booked ourselves into a pool access room which meant just that; straight out of bed and into the pool with but a few steps. Not even unpacked yet, as we waited for our bags to be brought to the room, we sat on the edge for a little taster dip.

Our room was actually at the bottom of the hill, so getting anywhere meant climbing a long series of steps, or if well timed, hopping on a glorified golf buggy to save our legs. What felt in the heat like hours later, we made it to the beach-side terrace where I indulged in a club sandwich (holiday classic, thanks Sam) and we shared a jug of beer. It wasn't long before I was racing down the steps to actually walk on sand and wade out to sea. We whiled away the rest of the day on the beach, before moving to the hotel's Reggae Bar for a fire show, and sunset over the water, and then into town for food.

After the best breakfast yet (the selection was huge), we were ready for another day of beach. This time we ventured beyond the hotel and settled on Long Beach (which, it turned out, really was very long) on the West coast of the island for a spot of sunbathing, swimming, and more indulgence. 

A spot of Google-ing had told us that there was an animal welfare centre nearby, and as soon as Steven heard that they were on the look-out for dog walkers, it was happening. We'd read that the dog walking took place between specific hours when the heat wasn't so intense, so we made our way in time for the afternoon slot. We began our visit in Kitty City, where I got swarmed by kittens intrigued by my beach bag and flip flops, before heading into the kennels where we got the chance to walk a puppy, Olive, on an integration walk with a group of other dogs and walkers.

Having taken a tuk tuk to the centre, the driver had decided to stick around ready to take us to our next destination. We refused at first, but giving in relatively quickly, we were glad that we had when we realised how far we would have actually had to walk (darn our British stubbornness). He dropped us further along Long Beach, at Phra Ae Beach where we enjoyed another sunset; this time with added bonfires, and a small naked boy who wanted to play.. 

As we left the beach to head back to the hotel, low and behold, 'our' tuk tuk driver was still hanging around, so we took full advantage and hopped in in search of food. We ate at Fat Monkey, or Ling Uan where I enjoyed a slightly festive tasting cocktail, and we received a complimentary bamboo straw. Our final stop before the return to our hotel was Dive Bar, which turned out to be an excellent spot for people and dog watching.

Our final day in Lanta was spent exploring further afield. We booked a driver through the hotel and he took us around for the day. Clearly embracing the tuk tuk life, we requested an open-back vehicle instead of air conditioning, which turned out to be a great choice for being able to see what was around us.

I hadn't realised that many of Thailand's islands have their own mangrove forests, but they do. So our first stop was to one of these. We were offered, but declined, a boat tour, and instead took to the boardwalk for a while before feeling slightly uneasy about monkeys (we saw one and he moved fast), and buzzy, bitey things (we'd forgotten our bug spray on this particular occasion), turning back. 

The next stop was Lanta Old Town. Seemingly a small strip of quaint shops and restaurants on the East Coast of the island, we stopped for lunch with a view that took my breath away. The haze of heat over the most still, turquoise water was truly something special. I could have quite happily spent the rest of the day just admiring it. We walked a little way after food, along the pier, and back again, but it was the heat of the day at this point, so we were soon ready to move on.

The final stop was another beach; this one on the Southern coast of the island. Bamboo Beach was another quiet spot as Phra Ae had been, and the sea, clear of rocks, was very pleasant for a dip in the late afternoon.

After several ridiculously early mornings for flights, we decided to take our journey to Phuket at a more leisurely pace. Check-out was at noon, so I took full advantage of our pool, and the sunshine, before we finally headed off to catch the ferry at Saladan Pier.

A super simple journey brought us right to our next hotel, and to a waiting Clair, also now on her holidays. Already moving into the evening by the time we'd got our bearings (it really does get light far too early in Thailand), we walked along from the hotel to find food (of course). Re-energised, we made our way to the beach where we could at least hear the sea, waves crashing, even if we couldn't quite see it in the darkness. From a safe distance, we browsed the market stalls lining the seafront. 

Back at the hotel, we were treated to our night's entertainment by a one-man band and his slightly glitchy laptop. Maps and leaflets laid out on the table, we made a plan of action for the next few days.

Had an unexpected additional guest in our room...

When on the coast, go to the beach. After a Thai version of an English fry-up which came in a frying pan with hot dog sausages and some mystery green leaves (it was not Spinach), our first full day was a beach day. The heat was intense, so most of the day was spent in the fetal position trying to keep all limbs in the shade and if not in the shade, we were making mad dashes down to the sea across the burning sand. By the evening, sunset from the water was pretty special.

Our second day was spent on a speedboat exploring islands around Phuket. An early taxi pick-up meant that there was no time for breakfast. Clair and I definitely got to the verge of hangry, but were incredibly happy to discover that there was a complimentary breakfast buffet at the marina. Our plates were filled.

Once on the boat, our first stop was Khai Island which was a surreal experience, almost scarily busy with tourists. I assume that in the past, Khai Island was uninhabited. Now it's home to a daily influx of tourist boats and covered in huts selling food, drink, and souvenirs. Having walked most of the way around , we found a patch of sand near the water, and spent our time there just taking it all in.

At this point we were feeling rather guilty for adding to the tourist footprint, so some solace came in the fact that we didn't actually stop at the famous Monkey Beach, but just sailed by on our way to Phi Phi Don where we stopped for another buffet lunch, and a dip in the sea away from the crowds.

The boat continued on to a bay where Clair and Steven partook in some snorkelling for a while, and I acted as camera-woman. Our final stop then was Maya Bay, due to close in a matter of weeks to give the sea-life some rest from tourist abuse. The sand here was the most gorgeous sand we experienced in Thailand; so soft and light. We bathed in sun, and sea, before it was time to head back to the boat for the choppy ride back to Phuket.

After a full day of sun exposure, we thought we'd treat ourselves to a late night aloe vera full body massage. Full of sea air, and that floating feeling, we definitely slept well.

With an evening flight back to Bangkok, we still had a whole day left. We'd considered following the pattern of our previous destinations, and exploring the wider vicinity, but upon the realisation that this was the last of our sea and beach time, we abandoned all urges for exploration and headed back to the beach. Not before, of course, another big breakfast. This time, we indulged in a 'Viking Breakfast' which offered the usual eggs and bacon, with additional ham, and cheese. It was too good. 

This time, in a bid to keep cool while at the same time making the most of the Vitamin D before our impending return to cold and grey, I wandered along the shoreline; people watching, rescuing flip flops, and admiring a quieter beach on a Tuesday as opposed to the Sunday before.

It was good to be back in Bangkok without jet lag. Our hotel, Mövenpick Hotel, was beautifully elegant, and felt a real treat for our final few days. Again, there was welcome juice (the tastiest yet and I'm not even sure what it was.. I got 'Thai herbs' from the receptionist), and after spending a couple of nights above Phuket's night fish market, it was incredibly peaceful, too, despite being in the city.

Another lovely breakfast at Roast set us up well for the day. Felt very at home as we popped into H&M for some sunglasses and 'appropriate footwear' before heading on the Sky Train to another pier to catch a river boat. Hop on, hop off, has never felt more accurate. At each 'stop' it really was a race against time to make the jetty before the boat went on its merry way. 

We began and ended our day at Wat Arun; a beautiful ceramic-covered temple on the riverside. Later, we over-looked it from a restaurant on the other side as the sun set. A special beginning and ending to the day. Other stops included The Grand Palace which was teeming with umbrella-wielding, shouty tourists, and another temple, Wat Pho, which was much more calm and peaceful.

Sadness all round as we reached our final day in Bangkok, and waved goodbye to Thailand. Having been so busy almost every day of our stay, we were ready to flop by this point, so we didn't go too far. After a final breakfast (another excellent one. The sausage was a highlight, this time) at Chu Chocolate Bar and Cafe, we headed to The Golden Mount for a view over the city.

The rest of the day was spent by the hotel's rooftop pool from which we eventually tore ourselves away for a final dinner together at Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant supporting social development programmes. Back at the room, we shared a few more beers, and said our goodbyes (not before Clair raided our hotel freebies). It was another early night in preparation for another early morning and a full day of flying back home. 

It's interesting that Thailand has never really appealed to me over other places, because I'm really glad we went. We had the most fantastic two weeks, full of new experiences and adventure, and it really is a lovely place to be. One day, I'm sure I'll go back, and I'll definitely be back in another part of Asia in the near future I hope, now I've had a taster..

Thailand: Bangkok, Ayutthaya & Chiang Mai

Having averted a Bridget-Jones style prison sentence upon our arrival into Thailand, our first evening in Bangkok was spent consuming copius amounts of wine (or beer in Steven's case) and cuddling cats in Clair's apartment to recover before settling down for the night ready for a day trip to the city of Ayutthaya (apparently pronounced Ah-you-tee-ah) in celebration of my birthday.

What a view to wake up to..

We took an early train from Bangkok to make the most of the day, and opted for Third Class tickets which effectively cost us less than 50p for an hour and a half long journey. Having been kicked out of several people's seats (it was all very unclear), a combination of jet lag, a lack of food, heat of ridiculous proportions, a probable hangover, and the mere thought of having to stand for an hour and a half on a bustling train resulted in my rather nonchalantly being on the brink of fainting. The majority of the journey was therefore spent sitting in the aisle with my head between my legs, much to the displeasure of the many salespeople making their way up and down the train carriages.

Arriving into Ayutthaya (where we had to walk across the tracks to exit the station), we made straight for sustenance. After sitting in the stream of several fans to eat my first Pad Thai of the holiday, and drink a bottle of Coke, I felt much better. We decided to take a tuk tuk tour around the city, which would take us to several of the main temples for a reasonable price between three of us.

Home now, I'd like to find out more about the history of Ayutthaya. It was fascinating to imagine what the city was once like. Even the ruins of temples were impressive, and it was good to see that they are now well preserved, possibly in part thanks to the small entrance fee for each one (only the equivalent of £1 or so which felt very fair in contrast to London attractions). In the stifling heat, we were grateful to our tuk tuk driver for providing fans, and for giving us plenty of time to wander at each stop, all keen to take the day as slowly as possible.

Having learned our lesson from the outward journey, we decided to book seats for the return, and then waited for the arrival of our train in the same place that we'd begun our day, this time with a few cold beers. Back in Bangkok, we headed to W District where my birthday twin was already out celebrating with friends. Effectively an outdoor food-court and bar, there was plenty to choose from. We went for 'traditional' Thai grilled cheese sandwiches and more Singha.

The next morning was another early one, as we flew to Chiang Mai. Arriving early meant that we were able to make the most of our first day in the city, and our first impressions were pretty excellent. Having unpacked, we were quickly out to explore. A few doors along from our hotel we found a little cafe serving traditional Thai sausage fried rice, which we tried for less than £1 each. Tummies satisfied, we explored several of the city's own active Buddhist temples, enjoying a bottle (or three) of Singha at each pit-stop. 

As the evening approached, we realised that we'd arrived just in time for the Sunday walking market, which had almost a Camden Market feel about it as we walked along for a browse of the many stalls. With the crowds increasing, we were glad to find somewhere to hide out, and happened upon a hotel bar with live jazz and blues entertainment. We stayed a while, enjoying the music, food, drink, and people watching.

Grape juice, noodles and pastries for breakfast (it was all a very healthy affair), we were ready for another day of exploring. Having covered most of what lay inside the city walls on our first day, we ventured further afield to Wat Phra Doi Suthep and the Phuping (or Bhubing) Palace in the mountains just outside of the city.

Not quite brave enough to rent mopeds for windy up-hill driving, we opted for our own taxi driver who took us from one place to the next, waiting at each while we had time to explore. Benefits came in the form of air conditioning, questionable music choices, and conversation between.

Doi Suthep was very much like the temples in the city, although much busier, and with a view back over Chiang Mai making the walk up 309 steps totally worthwhile. Having not had any trouble in temples (aside from my being assaulted by a helpful ticket lady in Ayutthaya who felt my shorts could be worn a little longer...), we were surprised when Steven was denied entry to the Palace due to his shorts (we decided that perhaps they just couldn't handle his 'glow'). Once he was donning a pair of highly fetching floaty elephant trousers, however, we were ready to go. Here was much more peaceful, as the steps and pathways around the grounds led us past colourful borders, into tropical forest, and through glasshouses.

Back in Chiang Mai, we headed out for a late lunch and our first beer of the day. Having had our fill of food, beer, and people watching, we treated ourselves to our first Thai massage. After lots of walking over the past few days, we chose foot massages with two lovely ladies, Poo and Bum (pronounced Boom.. if that makes it any better) which left us feeling relaxed and ready for another evening of jazz; this time at the North Gate Jazz Co-Op. Who knew Chiang Mai would have such a good jazz scene?

Our third and final day in Chiang Mai was spent with elephants, and it was the best. Our day began in the back of a van loaded with other tourists from around the world (we represented America, Canada, Ireland, France, and England; a very newsworthy, international event in the case of tragedy, we all agreed as we hurled around blind corners on our way up to the jungle). 

Red ants averted (for me, at least; Steven and others got a few nasty nips up the legs), we trekked downhill into the sanctuary. The first sight of elephants as we rounded the final corner filled us all with great excitement. Bug spray and sun cream liberally applied, tribal tunics on, and armed with a handful or two of sugar cane, it was time to meet the herd. As we held out each piece of sugar cane, an inquisitive trunk would approach, and more often than not, take a piece simply to hold onto whilst chewing one from earlier. I was mesmerised.

Sugar cane soon gone, we moved on to a second herd for a while where two babies (the youngest 10 months) lived. By this point we all (humans and elephants) were glad of shade, and even more glad when lunch was announced. On a terrace over-looking where the first herd of elephants grazed, we enjoyed a buffet of traditional Thai dishes, and plenty of water, before dozing off for a while on floor cushions in the shade. 

The afternoon was wet, muddy, and a lot of fun. First we gave the elephants (and each other) a mud bath, then we all walked down to the river to rinse off. Lots of rain in previous days meant the water was incredibly brown, but it was still cool and did the job. It was clear that the elephants absolutely loved the river, as several of them completely submerged themselves in the water (one who was then not at all keen to leave) and had great fun rolling around together.

Dried off but still fairly mud-splattered, it was time to go. The journey back was a hot one, so we were glad to be back for a shower and air conditioning. With a super early flight the next morning, we made time for a final meal out with the added bonus of an unexpected parade passing while we ate (I'm still not entirely sure what it was for), before heading back to pack and get an early night before heading South for a few days...

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Walking in half term

... and seemingly through the seasons, too. I'm not entirely sure what moved me to walk every day this week, but once I started, I didn't want to stop. I've walked both old and new paths, and it's been a lovely way to relax, and to catch up with friends and family this half term.

Sunday's walk took myself and my oldest friend to the hilly climbs of Hampstead Heath. Sun shining in the morning, we were feeling optimistic. We met at the Tube station and wandered along through the houses, Olive's historical commentary detailing points of interest. From the residential streets we headed onto the heath itself, took a wrong turn or two, but somehow found our way to Kenwood House where we stopped for a well-deserved cup of tea, and a slice of cake in the setting sun. Shoes caked in mud, and a rosy colour to our cheeks (perhaps heightened by the sudden onset of hail out of nowhere while we trekked across an unknown section of heath without shelter), as we sat down on the train to take us home we decided it was an adventure worth having.

Monday's walk saw my return to Walthamstow Wetlands. Having taken the long way round on New Year's Day, I was pleased to show Georgie the actual way in. Coffee in hand, we took the scenic (but still short) route through Markfield Park, and along the canal to the Wetlands' entrance. Despite sunshine in the morning, by the time we were walking we were met with dramatic skies and gusts of wind strong enough to feel a little unsafe along the water's edge. The sun did make the occasional appearance, warming our backs as we walked and talked, but by the time we had walked around two of the reservoirs, we decided it was time to thaw out in the Ferry Boat.

Tuesday's walk took Steven, Pepper and myself much further afield. Swayed by Time Out's recommendations of beaches 'near' London, we set off in search of Dungeness... words can't quite describe the experience. The weather was not as pleasant as the last two days had been. The cold was deep set, and the wind was beyond strong. Grey skies, and the need for fast-paced window wipers did not fill us with a great deal of hope. Nevertheless, in true British stubborn style, we journeyed on to the coast. Even having read descriptions of Dungeness, I don't think we were quite prepared for just how surreal it actually was. It felt like Snettisham Beach (a familiar stretch of coast home in Norfolk) on steroids. Vast, over-looked by a huge power station, and dotted with fishermen's huts, difficult to tell whether inhabited or not. We drove for a while along the road leading past all of this, stopping eventually at a small parking area with a board detailing what wildlife could be found there. The wind at this point was so strong that it was whistling through the car, and literally shaking us all around. The look between us said it all, but Pepper needed to stretch her legs after the long drive, so Steven braved it. Opening the door, the wind whipped all around the car, tearing receipts and sugar sachets out into the open. No use chasing after them. I stayed firmly put while the madder of us tried their best to run along against the wind. The sight was sure an amusing one, and as they returned to the car, unable to face it any more, the tears streamed; mine from laughter, and Steven's from the sheer force of the wind. We decided to at least stay a while to eat a sandwich and have a drink. And once we'd actually taken our surroundings in a bit more, decided to go for one more attempt at a walk before moving on to somewhere that we hoped would be more sheltered. We managed a walk to the sea and back, which was long enough against the wind, the rain also battering us at this point. Safely back in the car, we ventured on to the more familiar territory of Camber Sands.
Still grey. Still windy. Still absolutely freezing. We parked up in the carpark by the beach, where there were two other vehicles this time, so we at least felt that we weren't completely alone, and headed out once more into the elements. The rain had subsided for a while, so we walked a bit further this time; out to the sea, and along to the sand dunes, before turning back to chase the sun. Watching Pepper skit back and forth across the sand, occasionally risking a paddle in pools around the groynes was definitely worth bracing the cold for. As much as I'd prefer a sunny day on the beach, there's something to be said for sea air at any time of the year.

Wednesday's walk was simply to the gym and back. And later along Oxford Street trying to beat the crowds to the good stuff in the M&S Valentine's selection. It was another cold day, so my walks were brisk, and with purpose.

Thursday's walk embraced the slight shift in weather. An actual day of sun took me on a new walk, around Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, with a promise of snowdrops. Suddenly it really was much more mild, and as Hanzel and I walked in the late afternoon, the sun cut low through the trees.

Friday's walk was a detour. The sun truly shining, and even the air feeling much warmer, I treated myself to a deviation around a new reservoir in the Walthamstow Wetlands. Through Markfield Park and along the canal again, this time I entered on the other side of the road, passing around the Engine House and on to unexplored lands. As a Chinook flew overhead upon my arrival, I knew I was onto a good thing. Basking in the sun, I ambled along past bird-watchers and families out to enjoy nature in an otherwise industrial, suburban area. Reaching the end of the reservoir, I came upon another tower, this one with the possibility of climbing, which always excites me. Looking out I could see as far as Canary Wharf in one direction, Alexandra Palace in another. Actually pausing my music for a moment, I appreciated instead the persistent call of birds; swans, Canada Geese, moorhens, coots, ducks, seagulls, and no doubt others that I can't name.

Saturday's walk was with cousins. One of my favourite things about having friends and family to visit is being able to introduce them to some of my own favourite places. At the same time, there's an element of pressure as you worry that your tastes are a little acquired, but needless to say, it's usually a success. We began with brunch, before an immediate return to the Wetlands (for a new discovery, it's definitely been a firm favourite spot already this year) where we took almost the exact same route as I had done alone the day before. Our next port of call was God's Own Junkyard, which was busier than ever before thanks to some event or another that was going on in the breweries nearby. Fortunately, we still found a seat in the Rolling Scones café and enjoyed refreshment in amongst the neon. We then found ourselves wandering along Brick Lane, browsing, buying, and admiring street art, all the way to Dishoom, where our journey ended with a feast and full stomachs.

Today's walk was another practical one. To the gym (where I hiked around Kauai, Hawaii), and home via the supermarket, where I picked up bits for my packed lunch and the return to work. Generally another grey day, it didn't feel too much of a waste to spend more of it inside. If the weather is picking up, though, I'll be doing a lot more walking not just on my days off, but on my working days too. Thank goodness for sunshine and a milder climate.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

A year of mystery, murder, and stories fit for television

January has arrived, and a new year begun. 2018, the year of freedom, we've decided, as my Masters is finished and the Knowledge complete. I've decided not to make any New Year's resolutions as such this year, as I really don't know what the year might hold. But in retrospect, I'm pleased to say that amidst the madness of a dissertation year, I did generally manage to uphold last year's resolution of making more time for myself.

And in the spirit of such a resolution, I read a fair few books. Upon scrolling through my Instagram the other day as 2017 came to a close, I realised that I have definitely found my passion when it comes to reading; mystery, murder, and more often than not, the combination of the two. I've really enjoyed most of the books that I've read this year, and if I haven't enjoyed them, I haven't read them. Literature Review aside, these are my 2017 reads:

The year was topped-and-tailed by my new favourite thing; cats solving murder mysteries! I mean, what's not to love? The Death of Downton Tabby was my introduction to Mandy Morton's Number 2 Feline Detective Agency, and it was the purrfect (excuse me) mix of fun, furry, gripping, and ever so slightly dark in places. Brilliant images were conjured in my mind of cats drinking beers, riding motorcycles, and enjoying fish and chips in a festival tent, to name a few. I'm currently reading another of Hettie and Tilly's adventures, The Ghost of Christmas Paws, which I'm also thoroughly enjoying, six chapters in.

From something a little light-hearted to something less so, I moved on to Morse. Addicted to Endeavour on ITV, I've always wanted to read one of Colin Dexter's novels, so I started at the start with Last Bus to Woodstock. Writing about this now, it feels so long ago that I actually read it, but I do know that I'd want to go to bed just to get into another chapter, which I always see as a good sign!

Murder has a Motive by Francis Duncan was first published in 1947. It was an easy-going read, and perhaps felt a little tame after Morse, but it had its share of tense moments and certainly was full of character and charm in the form of Mordecai Tremaine, the amateur sleuth, and its quaint setting of the village of Dalmering.

2016 was generally a year of disappointing books, as I'm ashamed to say that I judged far too many by their covers. One book that I did thoroughly enjoy, however, was my first Agatha Christie, Murder is Easy. I've always shied away from Agatha Christie, fearing that I've seen so many televised hat I'd recognise and remember the murderer all too easily. Pleased that this wasn't the case with her first book, again, I went back to the start, and chose The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Hercule Poirot's debut case. Admittedly, as time went on, the story was all too familiar, but I couldn't remember precise details, and liked having clues to follow, even if I did keep getting thrown off the scent.

At Easter I journeyed home, and upon my arrival was greeted by a pile of new books on my bedside table. In the murderous groove at this point, I went for Death of an Avid Reader by Frances Brody. While the characters (monkey included) in this story were both relatable and likeable, I seem to remember that it all felt rather drawn out, and not quite action-packed enough for me. Nevertheless, I didn't put it down because it still quenched a little of my penchant for mystery.

I requested another Agatha Christie for my birthday. I admit, this time I was swayed by a pretty front cover, and specifically asked for the Crime Club edition of Sparkling Cyanide. Shorter than the others, this one had less action, but I liked the way it gave small glimpses into the lives of each character, bringing the reader closer to them, messing with emotions, as you began to hope that certain people weren't the murderer!

Summer came and I finally took a break from deceit and betrayal, in the form of My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell. I absolutely adore The Durrells and have wanted to read the book ever since the series began, so I was pleased to find The Corfu Trilogy for my summer reading pleasure. As I look back to the last time I reviewed some books, I praised Penguin's Little Black Classics for their optimum handbag size. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for this one, so despite its content, it possibly wasn't the best choice for going away. My goodness, though, was it good for escapism. The way Gerald Durrell writes is mesmerisingly (apparently not a word) beautiful, and definitely had me wanting to visit Corfu in the 1930s. Turns out it's a lot more expensive now, and I suppose wouldn't be quite as idyllic, so I went to Ibiza instead.

As I write this, I realise that my reading habits in fact took two turns; the second was clearly, books which have been adapted for TV series. Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale was terrifyingly brilliant, and had me wanting to re-read the book. So I did. As we'd watched, I'd been frustrated that I couldn't remember to what extent events onscreen over-lapped with events in the book, so it was interesting to go back and re-visit. Having had limited success in trying to read The Blind Assassin, I was concerned that I wouldn't get back into Margaret Atwood's writing, but I was hooked, once again.

Perfectly timed once again, I finished The Handmaid's Tale on the train to Norwich, where I happened to be visiting one of my book-wormish friends (a compliment, I assure you). Rifling through her shelves, she found me City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte, aka writing duo Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch which I can only describe by saying that it's unlike anything I've ever read before (there was still some murder to keep me happy though). Still fairly hefty, I was so hooked that it came with me on my holiday to Ibiza, and I barely put it down the whole time. Apparently there is a second instalment, which I hope to track down in 2018.

Another from the pile on my bedside at home, The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain had an air of Amélie about it, which I loved. Yet another setting which had me wanting to visit, the story was set in Paris, and, while no one was murdered (as such), had plenty of mystery to keep me captivated. 

Aside from Magnus Flyte's The City of Lost Dreams, and an unexpected Christmas present in the form of Krysten Ritter's Bonfire, there's currently nothing on my 'must read' list for 2018, so please, recommendations welcome!

Friday, 22 December 2017

The most wonderful time of the year

I don't know if it's age or life, but it's taken me a long time to feel Christmassy this year. Nevertheless, I'm there now, and loving it.

Yesterday took me on my annual Christmas Tree Crawl, and this year I was joined by friends, so hopefully looked a little less odd.

Armed with a list almost literally as long as my arm, we began the day at the Southbank, admiring (again) the Tatty Devine trees lining the terrace outside the Southbank Centre. Gorgeously garish, my favourite has to be the one adorned with their Gin bottle design. Cable ties preventing the dawn of a new tradition (no of course I wouldn't dream of stealing), we moved on to the next item on our list.

The Fortnum's tree at Somerset House is always a firm favourite, so we took a detour through the courtyard, and into the Fortnum's Arcade, before heading on to the Savoy. This year's tree was more traditional than the last, but I did like the addition of stylish reindeer outside as we approached.

Having made my list so long ago, I couldn't quite remember the draw of several new locations, so the tree at One Aldwych was a very pleasant surprise. A theatre theme, the tree itself was a deep pink tutu-esque netting, and it was hung with musical notes, treble clefs, instruments, and lots of clockwork. Set in the middle of the hotel bar, we were fortunate that those enjoying a drink didn't mind our stopping to ogle.

A lunch stop called, and we opted for festive pizza at Pizza Express, our second of the season.
Just before lunch, we had attempted a visit to the London Coliseum to see their pointe shoe tree, but, like last year, we were met with hoards of matinée-goers, and didn't feel that 'we'd like to see your tree' would go down very well as a means of getting in. Upon leaving Pizza Express, however, the hoards were inside enjoying their afternoon performance of The Nutcracker, so we tried again, and although met with some suspicion, were eventually allowed in if we promised not to be too long.

In search of Claridges, we walked along many a light-lined street, and were glad to be further from the growing crowds. This year, we were treated to an upside down tree, and lots of little ones of the same design hung about, too.

The final two trees were conveniently on our route back to Underground stations. I'm not really sure I understood the tree outside of the Connaught this year, but it was pretty all the same. I especially liked the angel on the top (although, I decided, less so if it said 'Mum' like I suddenly noticed it might). Annabel's as always had a brightly coloured display, and the lights at Stella McCartney were fun, too.

Now on my way home to one of the best Christmas trees of all (I might be slightly biased, it's true)..