Category Archives: Travel

Incredible Journeys

Because I am a bit of a fool I looked at Levison Wood’s book Incredible Journeys and decided it was one of those worthy, but slightly boring large, factual picture books. I.e. not for me. But I did that dutiful looking at it, nevertheless.

Good thing, too!

It actually seemed really rather nice. (Yes, thank you, Sam Brewster for the pictures.) And it was about exploring. Travelling. Learning about many people who had had visions and set about doing something.

For us old people there is less that is new, but for a reader who has not known about Edmund Hillary or Amelia Earhart or Captain Cook, this should be fun. Not to mention interesting. Actually, I’d never heard of Ibn Battuta. Have you?

It’s nicely written, and I’d like to think that there are many little future travellers and explorers who will enjoy this book. I kind of got the feeling I used to have with my beloved Junior Readers’ Digest (please don’t judge me! Or this excellent book) which I read and read until they almost fell apart. I hope children still do that, even with so much else available to them.

Levison Wood and Sam Brewster, Incredible Journeys

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The hottest defence

Yes, we did make it, to the year’s hottest defence. In the midst of a continental heatwave four of us from Scotland sweated our way through the kitchen duties and the astrophysical elements of Daughter’s PhD defence, in those woods on the outskirts of Geneva. Our two guests had not imagined anything like what they found…

Observatoire de Geneve

Dr Son was unable to make it, having some prior date with Daniel Hahn. Which is understandable. Dr Dodo was off to a dark corner of the US. We did, however, have the company of Cousin Riverside and Helen Grant, without whom we would most likely have ended up as two sad puddles on the Observatory floor. I don’t have words to describe how wonderful they were.

But I will obviously do so, anyway.

Serendipitously I had last year’s dress rehearsal to guide me, and as I cleverly managed to have knee issues on the day, I mostly directed the others from my spot in the kitchen, where our multitalented linguist Helen quickly grasped the finer details of the dishwasher instructions from the Observatory’s ‘dinner lady.’

Tables were shifted and food laid out. Riverside opened wine bottles, Helen threw streamers and I blew up the balloons. The Resident IT Consultant did much running and lifting. Daughter lined up her fan – the kind that blows cold air at you – plus her large bottle of Evian and her slides, and even remembered to change out of her ‘pyjamas’ before we trooped into the Aula to hear her talk on planets and stars.

Helen's PhD defence

45 minutes later, the 45 minutes for questions from the six-strong jury grew to over an hour, followed by a half hour of deliberation. We used the time for progressing the wine and nibbles, making sure nothing melted too much.

Helen's PhD defence

Helen's PhD defence

And then it was back to the Aula for the verdict, which was ‘très bien’ which is just as well, as there was no need for any rash action from me. Hands were shaken, the thank you speech was delivered, and so were countless – mostly Moomin – gifts. Unicorn slippers. (I waited until Dr Daughter came upstairs to hand over my flamingo…)

Helen's PhD defence

Helen's PhD defence

Wine was drunk, and much water, and the nibbles were nearly all eaten. There was even some haggis, which people enjoyed. (Presumably because they didn’t understand what it was.) There was chatting.

Eventually we – by which I mean the other three – cleared things away, and then we got into the car to go to Geneva for a post-doctoral dinner at Little India. Dr Daughter guided the Resident IT Consultant past all the roadworks, and then we hopped out, leaving Helen Grant to assist him with finding a parking space!

A very nice meal was had by all who came, including five sixths of the jury and those friends who had not decamped to see the solar eclipse in Chile.

Helen's PhD defence

After all this we were suitably tired. And, er, sweaty beyond belief.

Massive thanks to Helen Grant for doing photography duty as well. And to Riverside for being so calm and well organised.

Helen's PhD defence

(You have to admire their colour coordination!)

The Defence

This is one I wrote earlier. Fingers crossed I am doing what I am about to claim I am doing.

This is the day Daughter has her PhD defence, and I am in Switzerland for the express purpose of not understanding a thing she says, before serving the red wine.

It’s taken four years and several exoplanet discoveries. She has written lots of words about it, mostly in English, but as the university requires some kind of introduction in French – a language Daughter didn’t speak, at all – there is a bit of planetary stuff in French.

And in Swedish, proofread by me. It’s not easy editing words about that which you really know very little. It’s got pretty pictures, the colours of which I was allowed to have an opinion on. And I might get a mention in the acknowledgements, but you sort of expect that for having views on colours.

So, that’s me. Us, really. In the middle of the woods near the French border. I did a practice run last year.

Skål!

The 2019 EIBF launch

The launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme is the kind of event where when you squeeze past a couple of people to get to the Ladies, the people you squeeze past are Val McDermid and Jackie Kay. So you need to practise your best be cool at all times face, but I’ve got one of those. Except maybe when I arrived last night, and crawling (almost, anyway) up the stairs I came face to face with my EIBF boss Frances Sutton, and she was somewhat alarmed at my [lack of] Everest climbing skills. (I was carrying contraband, and it was very heavy.)

I arrived unfashionably early. But so did Mr and Mrs Brookmyre, whom I last saw four days ago as we left the Bloody Scotland launch ‘side by side.’ There was no avoiding Kirkland Ciccone and his selfie-taking mobile phone. But he was looking dapper, as everyone pointed out. I chatted to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Emily Dodd. There was a dog, too. Nice looking dog with very busy tail.

The proceedings were started by Allan Little, again, and it seems he’d promised not to cry this year, so he didn’t. He did mention it being D-Day and read a poem by A E Housman, and most of us didn’t cry.

This year the large tent will be the New York Times Main Theatre, as they are new sponsors, along with old-timers Baillie Gifford, and countless others. Also new this year will be live-streamed events from the Main Theatre, which sounds very exciting. We can, in effect, all be there.

EIBF launch 2019

As before, the triumvirate Nick Barley, Roland Gulliver and Janet Smyth presented ‘everything’ that will happen this August. As before, that’s far too much for me to mention here, so you need to look it up yourselves. Many big names will be appearing, as will many less well known people. My own experience is that most of these events will be worth going to, be they big or small. But, you know, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, former Prime Ministers, and a First Minister. Sheila Kanani. The new and old poet laureates. Konnie Huq, Malorie Blackman.

Finishing off with some Shetland poetry featuring a peat knife, it was time for more chat and more drinks. Eventually I even came across some vegetarian sushi (but I had my own sandwiches). Found out what Emily Dodd will be doing at the festival. Chatted to Kate Leiper. And then I lost Kirkie. Started walking to Haymarket for my train.

Phoned the Resident IT Consultant to ask where I was. Seems I made the mistake I almost made last year but didn’t, and this year I had come mapless, just to make my life more exciting. (Well, it’s not every day you turn 63.) Found Haymarket. Found Kirkie, too, on the train from Waverley. He didn’t know the way to Haymarket. But then it seems neither did I. He was sitting in a first class seat, but once I’d calmed down I remembered that those trains don’t have first class. It just looks like it.

So he didn’t get us thrown off the train, and it had been a first class kind of evening, and it didn’t even rain. It usually rains on June 6th.

Embarrassingly out-of-date. Or an antique?

Can’t remember what made me get the old atlas out. We were talking about something or other.

At some point in the mid-1960s Mother-of-witch bought a new atlas. It was about time. She’d had an absolutely ancient one for about 25 years or so. It was all brown and generally embarrassing. The old one, I mean.

I was very pleased with the new atlas, even if it wasn’t mine but hers. I could still study it. And study it I did. Aren’t atlases great?

It is now being held together with brown parcel tape, mostly due to excessive crossword-puzzling by Mother-of-witch. It was one of her reliable sources, so no wonder the spine died.

But last week we got out the old brown one. I think maybe we’d been talking about Berlin and train lines, and I felt that they could surely be found in the 19th edition, published in 1940?

Ancient atlas and holiday crime

It’s fascinating! The railways, yes, but also all the dated stuff from 1940, where they had simply over-printed some information from the 18th edition three years earlier. I’m guessing that school pupils understood about the changing maps of Europe right then.

And it’s no longer embarrassing. There’s so much to see and think about. Besides, it’s in far better condition!

And things keep a-changing

‘It was a bit chaotic,’ said the Resident IT Consultant when he returned with the milk and other early essentials. I heartlessly assumed he was just being useless at shopping, but it turned out the holiday ‘super’market was being rebuilt. Hence his difficulty in foraging for food, as well as finding the – temporary – way out again, once he’d paid.

Ankaret

So yes, change keeps a-coming at me. Some days later we popped over to the big opening of the shop, which was mostly finished, with only the one man still hammering away up on the roof. And there was cake after a long waffley speech by Master Koch, the owner, who – now that I think of it – is probably over fifty, but younger than his retired father.

Ankaret cake

It was the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday and Daughter decided to feed him salmon to celebrate, so off we went to Laxbutiken. Yes, yes, don’t worry. It, too, had changed. New furniture in the restaurant, and gorgeous new marble counters from which to choose your salmon.

Another thing that has changed is that Daughter can now drive her mother places. It’s really convenient. First we went to the optician’s. You’ll be pleased to hear he has not changed. Other than his computer system, which meant that he couldn’t take payment for Daughter’s new glasses, so she was able to walk out without paying. (I think on the hopeful understanding I’d be back with money some other day.)

From there we went to buy bread at the best baker’s in the world. When I showed them my membership card [ it’s a coop] they suddenly charged me less. Not being one to refuse such a thing, I said nothing. I suspect they have changed (yes, there is that word again) from annual dividend payments to an instant 10% off.

Walking through town we discovered the main square had been redesigned. And then came the sad sight of my old bookshop, which is no more.

We were invited to a friend’s house for tea and rhubarb pie. I was a bit surprised, as I didn’t remember her sea view. I mean, I knew she had one. Just not used to seeing it. This is what happens when hedges are trimmed.

Sea view

Money is forever a problem. The woman at the flea market looked at my offered two kronor coin and recoiled. Older than me, yes, but presumably a permanent resident, so should be used to the new coins by now. But I know what she was thinking; that I was handing over what looked like the 1 öre from our childhood. That’s how small small change has become.

You might recall I wondered how pay toilets would work after the big coin change. It’s now contactless. Very hygienic and all that. Except my only affordable – currency wise – credit card isn’t contactless. If your need is not too great, you read on and discover that chip and pin will also be tolerated, once the machine thing has had a little think. Some of them even still take coins…

But cash in general has become a problem. It’s not wanted. Many places are card only, or as with Riccardo’s Glass (that’s ice cream to you), you can swish. Except I can’t. I believe Son knows how to swish. I’ll have to investigate further. Anyway, Daughter paid for our ice cream and milk shake with, erm, cash. She said she had the correct change so just did. I suspect that maybe she simply dropped the money and exited, before they knew what had hit them. Or they are more versatile than they let on.

This time last year was hot. So hot we did nothing, and one day that was so hot I lost the will to live. This year I have to say that my padded jacket I wore all through winter has come in quite handy. It sort of averages out.

Holiday Bookwitch Towers has new neighbours. On two sides. I’m not quite sure how to deal with this, but the house opposite has gone from being the neighbourhood dump, to looking so great that it’s a pleasure to look out the window again, 35 years on. Not a moment too soon for this change.

The neighbour on the third side was given some coins, to pay for the life-saving midnight milk, and a bottle of whisky.

Luckily not all is change. Here is what we encountered in the ‘salmon car park.’ The only reason they almost fit is that the parking spaces are huge.

Dream cars

Affordable?

We went to a new-to-us charity shop this week, Daughter and I. It’s on the outskirts of our holiday town, and I only knew where, because it’s across the road from the designer furniture shop.

I had filed it away as being cheaper premises and easier parking. That was until I looked at who was buying. Apart from a few people looking for trendy second-hand bargains, the customers were immigrants. Recent immigrants, most likely, carefully examining the shoes to see if there was anything they liked, that fit and was reasonably priced [to them].

This made me think again, and I realised that these outskirts next to the motorway are just across a busy road from the town’s ‘ghetto.’ I don’t like calling it that, as the standards of the flats will be good Swedish 1960s, but you can’t get away from the fact that it’s where you expect the latest arrivals from other parts of the world to live.

As Daughter looked at furniture I did a quick recce to see what the shop’s layout was like, and I noticed a man, maybe in his thirties, obviously foreign, looking at necklaces over on the far wall.

I took in the exercise bikes, and the wine glasses and varying vintage furniture. They had lots of books, including a whole set of – seemingly unread – Denise Mina in translation, and a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke in the original.

While we looked at most of what the shop had to offer, the man continued studying the different necklaces. He was still there as we paid and left.

Unlike shoes, I’m fairly certain he didn’t need a necklace. It probably wasn’t for him. I’m guessing he wanted to buy someone a gift, and this was the prettiest and cheapest non-essential item he could manage. I was touched by the care he took in selecting his gift, and I hope he found something pretty and that she likes it.