Sunday, 21 August 2011

Solo book club

I've had a busy week travelling, but one that also gave me a lot of time on planes and trains to do some more reading. Here are the three I've devoured in that time...

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua - this is OUTSTANDING. Amy Chua is a law professor at Yale University and this memoir discusses her decision to raise her children using the "Chinese Method". For instance, she does not let them go to sleepovers, act in the school play, or get any grade lower than an A. At all. She drills piano and violin practice with them for at least three hours every day and makes sure they grow up speaking Mandarin (even though she doesn't). She raises them in the Jewish faith, even though her Jewish husband is non-practising. It's shocking and extreme, but she writes with such wit and a hint of self-parody that makes this book easy to eat up - and think about for a good while afterwards. Although the premise is simple - her method is controversial and she expects criticism - it's hard to dislike her. Her arguments cover everything from ethnicity and "Western values" to identity and self-belief. The book made me question what hard work is, where motivation comes from and the value of ambition - and whether or not everyone would benefit from a bit of tiger mother mentality!

The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell - I picked this up in Singapore Airport thinking it would be a bit of harmless fluff. Well, it turns out that the worse a book is, the longer it takes to read. Remember how I talked about disappointments? This was one of them. Candace Bushnell created Sex and the City (in book form), which remains one of my favourite TV shows to this day, and here she writes about one of the characters as a teen. Any fan of the series would be interested in reading this prequel, I don't doubt. But it's just terrible. Bushnell rolls out every cliché in the book, making Carrie completely unrecognisable to those who have watched the show. Even the details don't work; there is no continuity, no charm, none of the wit and intelligence of the screen version. The blurb even uses the words "coming of age". Barf. It's devoid of humour, love and characters you can relate to. A complete waste of everyone's time. The second SATC movie was bad enough, so let's just leave things as they are and remember the show as the classic it was, hmm?

A Paper Life by Tatum O'Neal - a random choice yes, but this actress, who was married to John McEnroe and remains the youngest-ever Oscar winner, is oddly fascinating. It's not exactly a ground-breaking memoir (drug addiction, check, horrid parents, check, growing up too fast in Hollywood, check) but it suffices and is, ostensibly at least, very honest.

PS. I know it's wrong, but I still think John McEnroe is really hot. That should surprise nobody.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Brisbane, Queensland


Hands down the most boring city I've ever visited. No culture, no identity, nothing. A river, some buildings, some shops, some lights, a good library, that's it. Sorry if I've offended anyone who lives there (? - pretty sure this blog's readership isn't that wide).

So dull I fell asleep for three hours in the hostel lounge. In the middle of the afternoon.



Surfers "Paradise", Queensland

I think we've all had days on which we've been disappointed. For Dave, it was the day The A-Team got cancelled. I was particularly gutted when I found out Father Christmas wasn't real. Fi was super down when Ross Kemp left EastEnders, Hannah has never gotten over the end of My So-Called Life and Woodie is devo'd everytime Fi turns on the TV to watch Kendra. So we've all had our fair share.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, my next stop after Byron Bay was Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, in which I'd only planned to spend one night just to check it out, look around and relax. On the bus there the driver announces, as we enter Queensland from New South Wales, that Castlemaine XXXX beer is absolutelythebee'skneesandeveryonedrinksithere. Great. When the most noticeable thing about somewhere is the type of (shit) beer drunk in the region, you know you're not on to a winner. (Side note: I was trying to think about what drink the UK could be described as/famous for and I've settled for a Blue WKD or, if you're feeling flush, a Cheeky Vimto).

I'd also been told by numerous people that Surfer's Paradise is "totally like Miami or Vegas".

Well, I've been to both, and it's NOTHING like either. NOTHING. It's more like Blackpool. In fact, it's less fun than Blackpool, because when you go there you can at least have a possible brush with death.

I yawned at the skyline

Rolled my eyes at the beach

But I loved this

The thing that was starting to occur to me about Australia is how - and I don't mean this unkindly - prehistoric it all seems. It's just not advanced in the way we take for granted at home, whether that means the internet, the buildings, the general culture... there's just very little of anything. For instance, if you go into a book or music store, there is a) hardly any local material and b) the stuff from elsewhere is thin on the ground and hugely overpriced. I don't really understand why, but I did a little research and it looks like Surfers has only been an actual town for the past 80-odd years. 80 years. That's NOTHING. That means when my Nana was born, it didn't even exist. It's made me look at England's history and culture in a completely different way. Not that I'm using my Nana as the benchmark for whether a culture is old or new, but you catch my drift. (Side note: She is awesome though. I think she's like 85 but doesn't look it at all. She's super classy, had a cat called Piglet - best cat name ever - and loves horror movies. I love her.)

So... as you can tell by now, I was a bit disappointed with Surfers Paradise. It was grey, concrete and tacky. It was also raining heavily, so I put on my awesome little flowery rain mac (thanks mum!) and went for a quick walk. This is when disappointment #2 came in... I'd swapped some music with someone in my room and was really looking forward to listening to Adele's first album, given her second was so good. Guess what? It was rubbish.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Mile-o-meter #3

It's August 16th and I am truly overwhelmed by how much I've seen and done in three months. Let's have a look at how far I've travelled...

Manchester to London: 200 (all figures are approximate - well, according to Google Maps)
London to New York: 3,400
New York to Baltimore: 185
Baltimore to Miami: 1,200
Miami to Charlotte: 750
Charlotte to Los Angeles: 2,450
Los Angeles to Seattle: 1,140
Seattle to Summerland, Canada: 330
Summerland to Whistler: 300
Whistler to Vancouver: 80
Vancouver to Seattle: 155
Seattle to Los Angeles: 1,140
Los Angeles to San Diego: 120
San Diego to Las Vegas: 320
Las Vegas to Los Angeles: 270
Los Angeles to Santa Barbara: 100
Santa Barbara to San Francisco: 325
Total: 12,465 miles
San Francisco to Oakland and back: 32
San Francisco to Los Angeles: 344
Los Angeles to Sydney: 7,500
Sydney to Byron Bay: 450
Byron Bay to Surfers Paradise: 56
Surfers Paradise to Brisbane: 50
Brisbane to Noosa: 87
Noosa to Fraser Island and back: Approx. 120 miles
Noosa to Rainbow Beach: 86
Rainbow Beach to 1770: 224
1770 to Airlie Beach: 439
Airlie Beach to Townsville: 171
Townsville to Magnetic Island and back: 10
Townsville to Mission Beach: 149
Mission Beach to Cairns: 86
Cairns to Sydney (by air): 1,512
Sydney to Denpasar, Bali: 2,873
Denpasar to Singapore: 1,050
Singapore to Kuala Lumpur: 191

Total: 27,895 miles

I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Toodles (yawn)

Byron Bay, New South Wales

So a 12-hour bus ride, while suffering from a bad cold, gets me to Byron Bay, home to Australia's most easterly point and... drum roll please... famous residents such as OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN. WOW. It's still really nippy in Australia and I'm not loving it. Imagine my delight when the girl in the bunk next to me decides to bring a guy back for the night? That's sarcasm, by the way.

The whole thing lasted four excruciating minutes, preceded by her saying "how the f*** did I get so drunk?". What a classy lady. And what a boy of dubious morals. She also banged her head on the bunk bed ladder halfway through. Halfway through the four minutes, that is, not halfway up the ladder. I guess they just assumed everyone was asleep. The next morning, before I checked out early, he told me all about his exciting career plans, which involve "doing that fruit picking thing in Australia so I can stay for another year". And to think, ladies and gentlemen, that students now have to pay a whopping £9,000 per year so that they can graduate and then hit the heady heights of a banana plantation.

Enough of the bile. But Australia's pretty odd in that it attracts A LOT of young Brits who basically drink their way up the east coast. That, to me, isn't travelling. Anyone can book a plane ticket and a bus pass, buy some boxed wine (nicknamed goon in Oz, it's a badge of pride if you can survive a goon hangover. Mine was pretty horrendous, I have to admit. But then again the boxes are 4.4 litres. Who needs 4.4 litres of wine?). I therefore realised I'd have to be pretty careful about the kind of hostels I stayed in, because some were specifically full of people who were still clearly getting excited about drinking without mummy and daddy around, while others were chilled and fun.

Speaking of which, I stayed at another hostel for the next three nights in Byron Bay, and it was really good. The hostel was kind of open plan, with a great communal area, so after meeting some people we generally just hung out. I later discovered that someone who I thought was really cool was convinced I had merely "tolerated them". It must have been that complete bitch stare my friends tell me I've got - looks like it's my default setting...

In Byron Bay, I have to admit, I didn't do a whole lot. It's a cute little beach town and entirely pleasant on the eyes. Walking up to the lighthouse also provided some great views, but because I was a little on the poorly side I just took it easy and relaxed. There is a place lots of people go nearby called Nimbin, which is like a hippy town in which you can eat "special" cookies (I'll leave you to guess why they're special). I didn't go, but apparently it's pretty good fun.

Here's the view from halfway up the lighthouse path:


And here's the lighthouse (obviously):

Gorgeous views:

And on the beach:



Saturday, 13 August 2011

Solo book club

Hostels are pretty neat in that there is usually a shelf of books from which you can exchange something you've already read. Here is a list of what I've eaten up so far, in case you have read them, or were thinking of doing so. Comments/abuse welcome! I'll add to it as I read more.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld - Described as "The Secret History meets The OC". I can assure you it is similar to neither. It really irritates me when book jackets make crude comparisons, especially when they're utter hogwash. The Secret History is one of my favourite books and this one doesn't deserve the comparison. Boring, contrived and just plain lazy writing made this a mis-step for me.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson - I'm late on the bandwagon with these books but having now read the first two, I get why they're so popular. You can devour them in a couple of sittings. Ideal beach reads, if not slightly graphic for my taste. By the end of the second, you have to suspend your belief a wee bit too much for them to become classics - and I'm going to controversially say now that I think they've only really become so popular because the author died unexpectedly and he's therefore been made into some sort of literary legend - but I'm looking forward to reading the third and final instalment.

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson - See above.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - yes it's about a 60-something-year-old who lusts after an 11-year-old, no it's not entirely pleasant, but it's a classic for a reason and it's a tough one to read. I enjoyed it, but purely from a (kill me now, I don't mean to sound super-pretentious) literary perspective.

My Life in France by Julia Child - only my sister will know why this American chef makes me laugh! This book chronicles her move to Paris and adventures learning the art of cooking the finest French food. It's a very positive, if not slightly patchy account, but makes your mouth water with every meal she describes. The book is easy to digest (pun absolutely intended) and also serves as a sweet love story.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - as with most Booker Prize nominees, this is light on humour and heavy on - note the inverted commas - "meaning". A love story with a touch of the gothic and a few pretentious hints here and there, it plods along quite nicely but never really gets going. I have a feeling my enjoyment - or potential enjoyment - of it was ruined by the fact Keira Knightley's face was plastered all over the book jacket. It's been described as "a dystopian science-fiction thriller" which, in my view, is grossly exaggerating its excitement level. I also hear the phrase "dystopian hell" used to describe a lot of things (albeit by myself, in my head, and I'm usually referring to the gym or the waiting room at the doctors' surgery), so it means little to nothing when a book critic wheels it out.

God Bless America by Piers Morgan - I don't usually like people whose faces remind me of overcooked meat (Harry Redknapp is an exception, no I don't fancy him by the way) but this is a very funny account of the ex-tabloid editor's attempt to crack the States and, if you've read The Insider, a good conclusion following his sacking.

Next on the list: Why Men Marry Bitches and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

If you have any recommendations, let me know!


Bondi Beach, New South Wales


I don't know if I was just in a generally blah mood but something about Australia so far just wasn't checking the boxes for me. So, I took a short bus ride to Bondi Beach, a cute town about eight kilometres from the centre of Sydney. I realise now there are more activities and places to go in and around Sydney than I chose to visit. But I only had a few days so I thought Bondi Beach would be worth a look.

View Larger Map

It wasn't. I'm glad I didn't miss out on going, but it's nothing special. I face the wrath of many Australia-lovers when I say this, but I just didn't see the attraction. There weren't even any hot surfers around. Now, remember that I've visited Australia during its winter. This means yes, it's sunny, but it's also nippy as hell and not nearly warm enough to sunbathe.

The beach itself is pretty picturesque, but the little town is surprisingly run-down and completely uninspiring. I have a feeling that it's one of those places in which you could have a really fun time and you'd therefore love it, but I had a stroll around and was back on the bus about an hour later. (Sidenote: I finally had a bit of time in Australia to catch up on my reading. I've written a separate post on those I have read and what I thought of them, if you're interested).

One thing I did like, however, was the artwork on the walls and steps next to the beach. This was my favourite:


There was some awesome graffiti and some touching murals dedicated to the Aussies caught up in the Bali bomb (Bali is a big Aussie holiday spot).






I also spotted what I think was another Banksy, but I can't be certain it was real.


Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why Australia wasn't OHMYGODLIKESUPERAMAZING thus far? Don't get me wrong, it's pleasant enough, but I can think of at least 50 places I've enjoyed more. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken the opportunity to visit Melbourne - but I can go back and do that another time!


Friday, 5 August 2011

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


So... yes it's been a while since I blogged, primarily because the internet costs an absolute arm and a leg in Australia and I'd rather Skype and catch up with friends than bore you all! I also realised today than it's been three months since I left work, which is pretty strange. I find myself internally proofreading everything I read, so you can imagine how disappointed I was to find TWO typos in the new book I bought (which is A Wayward Angel: The Full Story of the Hell's Angels, in case you're interested).

Sydney. What can I say? Not much. It's okay. It's genuinely just okay. Lovely sights to see, a bustling yet surprisingly small city centre, but it didn't thrill me. Maybe I missed something crucial. I'm not sure. Nothing spectacular. The opera house looks just like it does on pictures. The bridge and harbour are fairly awesome, but it's just... meh. I don't know whether it was jet lag or tired eyes from seeing and doing so much on my trip so far, but I didn't fall in love with it. I bought some newspapers to read and they were really quite dull. Nobody can use apostrophes properly. Everybody has an odd fascination with pies... kangaroo pies, chicken pies, vegetable pies, anything as long as it's in a pie.



What else did I do in Sydney? Walked round the Botanical Gardens. Met up with some ex-colleagues who are now working here and we had a really lovely time catching up. Another night, much-missed friend Kaitlyn (now also working in Oz but is Canadian and lived in the UK for three years) and I ate chocolate fondue then got slightly tipsy on two glasses of wine (not quite sure how that happened) and sat by the harbour talking about when we used to work on the same editorial team. You'd be surprised how animated we can get talking about press releases. It was really great to see her.



I promise I won't leave it three weeks between posts this time...