Monthly Archives: January 2012

Someplace like home

Someplace like home

 An Austrian building with elaborate frames painted around each window

The Tirol is very much like Switzerland, where I grew up, and the French Alps which I’ve visited regularly. The mountains, the language, the currency are all familiar. That makes the travelling a lot easier, and it means that it feels a bit like I’m home.

It’s a mixed bag though: I’m in a new country but I’m not out of my comfort zone. And that excitement, that good stress, is one of the things I like about travelling.

Fortunately, Austria isn’t exactly Switzerland – speaking German, rather than French was a shock to the system. And seeing the elaborate decorations on many of the old buildings was different and lovely.

Austria: half a goal complete

Austria: half a goal complete

The sky is bright blue, there's a clear, snow-covered mountain in the distance and in the foreground a river flows under a wooden bridge. Everything is covered with snow: it's an idyllic Alpine scene.

I had some internet problems this week which prevented me from posting anything. The problems were entirely due to being in Austria, so I don’t mind too much.

I mentioned that one of my goals for this year is to visit two new-to-me countries, and I very much enjoyed the first half of it. We spent the week in Neustift, in the Tirol. It’s a ski resort about 40 minutes from Innsbruck. It’s also incredibly beautiful so I’m going to show you photos of the landscape and buildings over the course of this week.

This first shot is in Neustift itself, looking down the valley. Somewhere off behind those mountains is Innsbruck, which we’ll get to later in the week!

Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes

Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes

I bought Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes in the Kindle sale for 99p because someone described it as a modern Enid Blyton. I wasn’t disappointed and enjoyed a rolicking good yarn.

Like Blyton novels, Frozen features chipper kids from a bygone age having a jolly adventure with few parental figures around and plenty of peril to foil. Unlike Blyton novels, it’s set in the present day – two kids from now have found a time capsule with two children from 1956 in it, cryogenically frozen by their scientist father and accidentally left for fifty-some years.

Together, the four set out to get some answers – what happend to the scientist-father? Why didn’t he ever come back? What happened to his research? Who can they trust? The story is a fun adventure, light and easy to read and rattles along at a good pace.

Unlike Blyton novels, Frozen is overtly anti-sexist and anti-racist. These views are voiced by the modern children in response to comments made by 1950s kids, so it makes sense that they’re not sophisticated arguments on gender discrimination and the wrongs of colonialism. But it is nice to see a kids’ book explicitly saying, in much the sort of awkward language I remember from my own school days, that it’s just Not Right So Stop It.

I enjoyed the book a lot – I devoured it in a couple sittings on the tube and think it’s a good choice for most kids.

A change of pace

A change of pace

Two hot air balloons on the ground, one (blue, left side) ready to take off, the other (orange, right side) half inflated, caught at the moment when the canvas is just lifting up off the ground

So last year, this blog was mostly about travelling. This year, I think it’s going to be mostly about reading. I’m spending – as I keep telling anyone who I think might listen – a lot of time on public transport.

Train travel really limits what you can do for those hours. I like doing nothing – I love lazy Sundays in the park or a winter lie-in when it’s cold – but I like doing it on my own terms. And in comfort. And not at 7:15 AM.

Instead, I’m reading a lot. And playing a lot of strange little games on my phone, but I have less to say about that.

Unsurprisingly, I’m really, really glad I have an ereader with a 3G connection. In the year I’ve had it (a Kindle) I’ve only run out of book twice: once when I didn’t bother to check the battery level before heading off on a trans-Atlantic flight (but I was able to charge it at the airport, phew) and once when something glitched and it didn’t charge.

This is a pretty good record – with dead tree books I used to run out all the time. I remember sitting in Geneva airport for nine hours once, waiting for a flight which kept being delayed by 20 more minutes. By the time we got home, everyone had read everything we could get our hands on, we’d invented two new games (played with receipts and bus tickets) and fallen out almost irrevocably, simply for something to do.

Situations like that make an avid reader paranoid – and do terrible things to the weight of your hand luggage.

Luckily, the Kindle, and its buy-a-book-anywhere 3G, combined with Project Gutenberg and all the classics it hosts for free, those days are over and my hand luggage is, well, portable again.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not still a little paranoid – that’s why I’ve got a Kindle app on my phone. And I always carry my knitting. Just in case, right?

New Year, New Goals

New Year, New Goals

A neat pile of clear plastic boxes with yarn in, 5 about 40L and 7 smaller (1-15L) ones. It's a lot of yarn

That is a lot of yarn, even by the standards of this inveterate knitter. This photo is out of date by one medium size box (gone) and one large box (yarn gone, now full of spinning fibre and handspun). It’s a goal-in-progress.

I make goals and set myself targets throughout the year. I also drop goals and abandon targets throughout the year, so you might wonder why I’m bothering to celebrate the new year with another round of lists and yardsticks.

My life is quite flexible and interesting (rather than predictable and comfortable) and I like it that way. It stays that way in part because I keep making goals to change things, try things and visit new places but that also means that my goals can quickly become out of date. For example, there seemed no point in trying to complete my 2010 goal of ‘visit 10 new restaurants/eateries in Bath’ after we moved 160 miles away.

Last year’s goals: some highlights
My goals (not all made at the beginning of January) included: get a job (done!), visit friends in the USA (tick) and try pilates (several times).

At New Year’s, I focus on marathon goals rather than sprints. I like the round completeness of trying to accomplish something in a calendar year. Two I succeeded at this year were: knit up 100 balls of yarn and not reading 200 books in 2011.

The first was about using things I have. I really like yarn. I really like knitting. This mostly results in me buying a lot of yarn, but this year I wanted to knit a lot of yarn, without feeling like a failure if I bought some along the way. In the end, I knit up 17 more balls of yarn than I acquired, and gave some away, too.

The second was about stepping away from old goals. The first year I kept track of all the books I read was 2003 and I read 200 books that year (that’s a lot, I know. I read a lot, and quickly and plenty of kids books and trashy romances which round the numbers out) and that set the standard for all the following years. In 2010, hitting 200 books was a struggle and it wasn’t fun. Instead of reminding me to finish the books I’d started, the goal encouraged me to skip books I really wanted to read because they were too long. Goal fail.

So in 2011 I aimed to not read 200 books. I didn’t and it was lovely. I read some really thick, trashy novels and struggled through fascinating but dense non-fiction. Goal success, in every way.

This year’s goals
I’ve listed things I want to do, in exactly the way that self-help articles tell you to avoid. They’re all vague and lofty. Under each heading, I’ve got a couple of concrete goals and I’ll add more as the year goes on. Here are a few of them, condensed somewhat.

Have less stuff Knit up more balls of yarn that I acquire. Read or get rid of all my unread dead-tree books. Clear out some of the junk I’ve left at my parent’s place.

Travel lots Visit two new-to-me countries. Explore London, now I work there. Go to a museum in Cambridge.

Keep happy & healthy Try something new every month. Do what the doctor/physio orders. Spend more time with my favourite people.

Taking the time to write these lists and this post remind me that there are a lot of things I’m looking forward to doing in 2012. All in, I think it’s going to be a really good year. I hope it rocks for you, too.

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Until 6 January 2012, Temeraire is available for just 99p to UK Kindle users and anyone with a free Kindle app and the ability to buy stuff from the Kindle shop. Books 2 & 3 in the series are also under £2 at time of writing. This is an affiliate link.

Is it any good?
It’s brilliant. I’ve bought three copies of this book, which is probably the best review I can give you. I highly recommend it.

What’s it about?
The main characters are a captain in Nelson’s navy, Will Laurence, and a dragon called Temeraire. It’s set during the Napoleonic wars – except they’ve been reimagined. Every nation involved has an aerial corps, made up of dragons and their crews.

Dragons often star in the worst sort of sword-and-sorcery books, and historical fiction is hard enough to get right when the author isn’t changing the course of major events by introducing fantastic creatures with excellent combat skills into the mix so I understand why people are sceptical about this series.

In this case, the dragons are handled well and so is the history. There’s no magic to further complicate things, and when characters do things which didn’t actually happen, they stay done. This means that over the course of the books, the history which is related diverges further and further from the one you can read about in history books. At the same time, it still stays true to the period.

More than just white dudes
As the author is writing about the navy in early 19th century, there aren’t any women in the ships crews (historically accurate). However, when it comes to the dragons crews that’s not the case, and society reacts to these female soldiers in a historically plausible way. (I am trying not to give away any spoilers so that’s as far as I’m going to go.)

That this is worth mentioning is a shame, but while many adventure and SF books seem to forget that women could even fight or work in the space stations of the future, Novik has managed to find a plausible role for women in an environment where it would have been easy to argue that historical accuracy forbade it.

The British navy and air corps is almost exclusively white and British, however (again trying to avoid spoilers) the later books have a broader focus, and I think the treatment of people of colour and other cultures is fairly good – better than many other books I’ve read, particularly in the SF genre.

Will I like it?
If you’ve ever daydreamed about flying a dragon or running away to sea, if you like well-developed not-here worlds, if you like books which are hard to categorize, then I think you will.