Friday Fun: The Flowers We Wish We Had

Look, just because I’m a rubbish gardener and don’t like being suburnt or buzzed by wasps while reading outdoors, doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate a beautiful garden, and the English cottage garden style which is so difficult to replicate without a lot of hard work…

Gateway to paradise, from RealHomes.com
Frith Lodge, Sussex. Lavender always a pleasure and delight to see, from My Design Chic.
Antique urns always present an interesting focal point, from ChezPluie.fr
I can never resist a secret path between the flower beds, from OC Signature Properties.
This one is open to the public, at least on occasion, from Amberley Open Gardens.
Blue heaven, from the aptly named Heaven’s Walk Blog.

Did you know, by the way, that there seems to be a trend for short filmed walks through gardens? Try The Flower World on Pinterest.

Six in Six 2021

I haven’t always been able to participate in this ‘halfway through the year’ round-up, but it’s one I always enjoy. Jo from The Book Jotter has been running this since 2012 and has a huge selection of categories to choose from. The idea is that you share some of the books you have read during the first six months, including perhaps those that haven’t had as much love and attention as they might have deserved. Some of the categories are bookish but not actual books, as you will see below.

Six new authors to me

I’ve been spoilt with new author discoveries this year, but here are six which really stuck in my mind (and which I therefore reviewed)

Caleb Azumah Nelson: Open Water

Raven Leilani: Luster

Hoda Barakat: Voices of the Lost

Elias Khoury: White Masks

Marian Engel: Bear – liked it so much that I then read another by her Lunatic Villas

Ioanna Karystiani: Back to Delphi

Six authors I have read before

At least three of these are among my favourite authors, so it’s no surprise that I’m always happy to have an excuse to read or reread them.

Dazai Osamu: A Shameful Life (new translation of No Longer Human)

Shirley Jackson: Hangsaman

Naguib Mahfouz: Palace Walk

Robert Seethaler: The Field

Arthur Schnitzler: Plays

Karel Capek: War with the Newts

Six books that have taken me on a journey

You know how much I love travelling through literature – this year, more than ever.

Mishima Yukio: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion – Kyoto, Japan

Alfonso Cruz: Kokoschka’s Doll – Dresden, Paris, Marrakesh

Gelu Diaconu: Sebastian – Bucharest past and present

Margie Orford: Gallow’s Hill – Cape Town

The Book of Cairo – self-explanatory

Nicola Upson: The Dead of Winter – St Michael’s Mount

Six books I have read but not reviewed

Quite a few of those have been read with a view to possible future translation for Corylus, so they are mostly Romanian crime fiction. The remaining two I enjoyed but was too busy at work to give them a full-length review:

Rodica Ojog-Brasoveanu: Cutia cu nasturi (The Box with Buttons)

Teodora Matei: Afaceri de familie (Family Affairs)

Tony Mott: Toamna se numara cadavrele (Count the Bodies in Autumn)

Lucian Dragos Bogdan: Panza de paianjen (Spiderweb)

Rebecca Bradley: Blood Stained – a new series set in Sheffield, by the author who is also the ‘instigator’ of our monthly Virtual Crime Book Club.

Allie Reynolds: Shiver – can never resist a book about skiing (or, in this case, snowboarding)

Six blogging events I enjoyed

These don’t all take place during the first six months of the year, but they are my favourite events throughout the year and I try to join them if I possibly can

6 Degrees of Separation – Kate at Books Are My Favourite and My Best monthly series of bookish links

January in Japan – Meredith at Dolce Bellezza – spending some time in Japan is always a pleasure and a privilege

#1936Club – April 2021 – the year might change, but twice a year we read books published in a particular year, and 1936 is one of my favourites in literature – the brain child of Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Women in Translation Month – August – simply the best – and still much needed – initiative by Meytal Radzinski, who blogs at Bibliobio.

Spanish and Portuguese Literature Month – July – hope to still be able to read and review at least one book for it this year – launched by Stu Jallen back in

German Lit Month – November – another that I cannot bear to miss – a coproduction between Caroline from Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy Siddal.

Six books that are great when self-isolating (escapist reads)

Escapism for me does not mean happy-clappy or romance, but simply books that will have me reading until late at night, no matter how tired I might feel. A good many of these also made me chuckle.

Isaka Kotaro: Bullet Train

John Boyne: The Echo Chamber

Stella Gibbons: The Swiss Summer

Simone Buchholz: Hotel Cartagena

Carol Shields: Mary Swan

Sergei Lebedev: Untraceable

Friday Fun: Country Homes in Ireland

I’ve discovered there are some beautiful country homes in Ireland as well that I might consider for my future reading/writing retreats… although they are somewhat more expensive than my beloved French chateau (and possibly slightly more rained upon?)

How about this little beauty, nestled among the hills in County Dublin? From MyHome.ie
This one in County Kildare has an indoor swimming pool – well, it would have to be indoors, wouldn’t it? From MyHome.ie
Needless to say, I much prefer a library, such as this mansion in Tipperary, from MyHome.ie
They all seem to have really endless grounds too, such as this one in County Wexford, also from MyHome.ie
Not all of them are for sale, you might have to be content to just visit some of them, converted into hotels, such as this one from the Irish Tourism Board.
This one reminds me of Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Powerscourt House in Enniskerry, from Home Stratosphere.

Friday Fun: Still in the Garden

Yay! Finally some time off for a week! I might even do a spot of emergency gardening (aka ‘keeping things under control’), but I doubt that my garden will ever look as pretty as the ones below, unless I bring a proper professional gardener in.

I have that slightly neglected flagstone look down pat though… From Southern Living.
What a dreamy little place for afternoon tea, from the Tumblr account of A Little Bit of Silliness.
I do have some roses in my garden, but it would be glorious if I could get them to trail around the door like this. From Gardenista.
Now that’s what I call a border. No lupins in my garden though, as they are poisonous for cats, but what a riot of colour, shapes and sizes! From Judy’s Cottage Garden.
Sitting and dining with friends until late… My dream life. From Dreieckchen on Pinterest.

Friday Fun: Who wants to read on the balcony?

Many of you have complained that reading outdoors has its downsides: creepy crawlies, hayfever, too much glare from the sun, the heat… So how about these balconies for a tolerable compromise? I should add that it’s a shame that not very many British homes have usable balconies, possibly because the weather is not that conducive to sitting outside to read and write… or else developers are trying to cut down on costs.

Not all balconies are strong enough to take large container plants, but when they do, the results are gorgeous. From shakemyblog.fr
Great to socialise, although I would demand plenty of quiet time for just me and my cat to read here, from Home Art Mania.
Some balconies are really an extra room, especially with such a dreamy view. From Home Art Mania.
Tropical look is what I adore, and this Brazilian designer is truly fantastic: IvaniKuboPaisagismo.br
It doesn’t have to be huge, as this inside/outside space in Paris demonstrates, from Gardenweb.com.
Even if there is no room to actually sit on the balcony, this charming flower arrangement is worth it. From Design Cafe.

Friday Fun: Vintage Cities

Having mentioned favourite countries and places in my last post, I thought I’d unearth some historical pictures of a few of my favourite cities. I’ve tried to acknowledge where I found them, but if those sites did not respect copyright issues, I may not have credited the correct place. What strikes me is that these European cities all look quite similar: I don’t know if it’s the grandiose architecture, or the black and white pictures. I’m sure it would be a different story if we looked at a different continent.

Bucharest in the 1930s, from RomaniaDacia.wordpress.com
London, Ludgate Hill in the early 1900s, from A London Inheritance.
Old Vienna, Kartner Ring, from Hip Postcard.
Lyon from the quay, late 19th century, Monovisions.
Berlin, Hallesches Tor, about 1890, from Monovisions.
Rocck’n’roll on the Quays of Paris, 1950, photo by Paul Almasy.

And now for something different…

I’m not normally a football fan, but I’ve been watching some of the Euros matches with my older son, who has been getting excited about major international football tournaments since 2010. He keeps asking me whom I support in games such as Netherlands vs. Austria (he assumed I’d support Austria, having spent most of my childhood there, but to my own surprise, I found myself in the Dutch camp, and I told him that was because my Dad and I would dress up in orange and cheer them on, way back in their glory days of Gullit, Rijkaard, Van Basten). I was very torn indeed when France played Germany, as I love both countries very much, having many friends there and having lived in both. [In the end, I sided with the Les Bleus, partly because Zoe the French cat was giving me very long, hard stares – and because I still knew most of the team from 2016, when we were still living in France.]

But – and I realise this might make me very unpopular, except I have the feeling the readers of my blog are not rabid football fans – I do not support the England team. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want them to do badly, but it’s not a matter of life and death and me automatically cheering for them against whoever they might play. Maybe if it had been a united British team, I could have got behind them, but I’m very fond of the Welsh team, and I care about the Scots as well. And if England plays against France, well…

So that got me wondering about my current conflicted feelings about Britain and living here.

It’s been almost exactly five years since I woke up, on my birthday of all days, to the news that the UK had voted for Brexit. Shortly before the referendum, I wrote about my disbelief that anyone would vote for more borders and barriers, and fall for meaningless jingoistic tubthumping, even when it goes against their own interests.

Unfortunately, that coincided with my reluctant but unavoidable return to the UK – a country that I had previously considered the closest thing to home, but one that I now struggled to recognise. Social media and a government bereft of any ideas other than blaming others (particularly foreigners) for their own incompetence has amplified the feeling of being a second-class citizen here.

To those who say: ‘Why are you still here, if you don’t like it?’, I could go into self-justification mode and list all the practical reasons.

  • When you get divorced, you don’t have as much choice of location as you might think, because if you have a joint custody of whatever percentage, you need to stay in the same country as your ex-husband.
  • Your children thought of themselves as English and wanted to do A Levels and go to British universities, in spite of living for many years abroad. (Interestingly enough, they have started being more proud of their diverse heritage and appreciate the rich culture of their ‘third’ country, France, much more in the last year or so)
  • The divorce court would be kinder to me about the financial settlement in the UK, or so I thought (that was not quite true).
  • It would be difficult to find a job in the Geneva region that paid well enough for me to raise the boys as a single mother, and if I had to move anyway, I might as well move back to the country where I had been paying into my pension for far longer and where the children spoke the language.

I could say all that and then smirk and add: ‘Anyway, I’m not sure I’ll be here for much longer…’

I could describe my well-meaning but far wealthier neighbours, several of them second-generation immigrants, who are devoted Tory voters and care immensely about the Royal Family down the road in Windsor Castle. How back in the days when we could go out, I had to turn down a number of Mums’ outings, birthday parties, posh taster suppers and spa days because I could not afford them (or because I prefer paying for theatre tickets or books instead). How my boys have stopped inviting their friends to our house, because they are embarrassed that my love for interior design does not match our actual interior design (at the very least, that sofa badly needs replacing). I whisper to myself at least once a week: ‘How many more years before the youngest goes off to university and I can sell the house and move out of Theresa May’s constituency?’

So I could play the victim, blow cold and sarcastic, or simply be all practical and clinical about things… but the truth is that British culture still feels like home, even if the country no longer does.

I wonder if this is the case for those who grew up in the former British colonies and went to school learning all about the Tudors, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Despite our very diverse backgrounds and nationalities, at the Vienna International School what we all had in common were Enid Blyton’s cream teas with lashings of ginger beer, Wordsworth’s daffodils and the music of Greensleeves. We ended up knowing more about the Victorians than we did about the history of our own countries – not necessarily a good thing – and the history that we learnt was of course schewed to the British interpretation of events.

Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to live, study and work in other countries as well, so I’ve been exposed to other histories, cultures and interpretations. (An opportunity that is now becoming more and more difficult for the next generation, sadly.) I can see the best and worst that each country has to offer and still love those that are close to my heart, while acknowledging their faults. But when my son scolds me for not supporting Austria more, I suppose what happens is that I remember the xenophobia I encountered there as a child. This is not done consciously: it’s taken me a lot of thought and analysis to come to this conclusion. It is a sudden involuntary tightening round my heart based on tiny past traumas that I didn’t even perceive as traumas at the time (I was a blithely unaware child). Can you imagine how much more this is the case with England, now that I am fully grown and aware?

I love Britain, but, like a loud-mouthed, self-absorbed, drunk and loutish teenager, it does make it very hard for me to hold onto my love at times.

This is the cliche image that instantly springs to mind when I think of England…

P.S. To return to football, I do like Marcus Rashford and Kalvin Phillips from the England squad though, both thoughtful and modest young footballers, who come from deprived backgrounds, raised by single mothers whom they visibly adore and respect.

Friday Fun: Back to Househunting in France

You all know my love of French chateaux – I think I may have featured almost every single one of them in past Friday Fun posts. But there are still beautiful houses left in France – the so-called ‘maisons de maitre’ (mansion, estate), which range from the modestly bourgeois to the magnificent. All of the below are for sale on the estate agents’ websites listed below.

  1. Normandy-type villa near Rouen, from Patrice Besse.

2. Classical style near Bordeaux, from Moulin.nl

3. This should be big enough for the entire family to come visit in Dordogne, from Anthouard Immobilier

4. I can never resist this fearful symmetry, in Lot et Garonne, from Legget Immobilier

5. This errs onto the chateau side of the spectrum, near Bernay, from Ivan Ballini Estates.

6. But I would be quietly content with this more modest endeavour, near Berry, from Terres & Demeures.

[I am not sure I will continue with Friday Fun though, as, in addition to it being resource hogging, this new formatting for the pictures and inability to add text directly is too much of a kerfaffle.]

Friday Fun: How to Read Outdoors

A couple of the readers commenting on last week’s post expressed some misgivings about reading indoors in fine weather, while others admitted they weren’t that keen on reading outdoors. Although in my youth I used to read outdoors (most notably when I was supposed to be looking after my grandmother’s animals – e.g. I read Anna Karenina in the cherry tree, stuffing myself with cherries and losing the cow in the process), I find the insects and the noise of other people’s mowers and barbecues put me off doing so nowadays. However, these gorgeous settings might make me change my mind.

Sadly, the WordPress block editor has decided not to allow me to add any text directly below the image, so I will have to produce a little bit of text in-between images. Can you just quit ‘improving’ things all the time, WordPress?

  1. Above: cosy reading and writing nook, from Decor Renewal.

2. Of course, it helps if you live in a forest. From Book Bub.

3. This is so bright, you might be able to even read here after sunset. From The Backyard Room.

4. If you’re an Italian prince and want the Rolls Royce of garden loungers, this one from Patio Productions should do the trick.

5. I struggle to read for a long time in a hammock, as my back starts aching, but it’s a lovely feel. From Better Homes and Gardens.

6. If all else fails, a garden bench in the shade will do as well. From The Garden Glove.

Friday Fun: Reading and Forgetting About the World

Everyone may be rushing to go outside and escape lockdown conditions, but there will always be some of us who don’t mind staying indoors and reading… especially in cosy reading nooks such as these.

I mean, you’re practically outdoors with this attick library, aren’t you? From Pinterest.
A more classical interpretation of the librar, but Il
A lamp, a ladder, a cushion for the back, this one is for a reading pro. From Design Swan.
From the cosy to the monumental – from Blender Artists.
I can only assume the bookshelves are somewhere close by, but this is a great seating arrangement for reading. From Architectural Digest.
Couldn’t resist this vintage little photo, which might very well be a representation of me reading back in the days when I cared less about my back.