Sunday, 9 September 2018

My Indian Adventure

Last month I was lucky enough to travel to India on business.  It's the first such trip I've taken with any job and I was really nervous when I found out I would be going, but it turned out to be an amazing experience.  There are loads of little details that I don't want to forget so I thought I'd sit down and write a good old fashioned diary post.  Fair warning, this could be quite a long one, so if you're interested maybe go grab a cuppa before you sit down to read!

Let's start right at the beginning.  On Saturday 11th August I hopped on a train down to the big smoke, where I would be staying overnight to fly from Heathrow the following day with a colleague from London.  It was a bit like blind date as we'd never met before!  Luckily, she's absolutely lovely, and we had a great chat over dinner that night in the hotel.

We had to be at the airport for 6am the next day to check in for our flight.  Our final destination was Ahmedabad in the northern state of Gujurat, India, but our journey was in two parts - London to Doha (Qatar) where we had a short layover then on to Ahmedabad from there.  Doha airport is the biggest I've ever seen, to the extent that we had to get on a train from one end to the other to find our gate for the next flight.  Really expensive as well - £9 for a large Toblerone at Duty Free!

The flights were great, I would definitely recommend travelling with Qatar Airways.  The food was good and both flights had entertainment screens, even though the second leg was on a small plane (one aisle with three seats on either side).  On the first flight I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri which I found hilarious not because of the story but because they had blanked out all the swear words in case of any underage passengers.  The characters said shoot, gosh darn, and fudge all the way through.  If you've seen it you'll know it's quite a curse-heavy film!  So whilst I'm sure it's not intended to be that funny, it kept me entertained nonetheless 😂

After travelling for nearly 13 hours we finally landed in Ahmedabad.  Going through passport control and making our way out of the airport was an experience - there were people literally pressed up against the glass outside to get a look at the two of us!  It was also absolutely jam packed which we were both really surprised at as it was nearly 3am local time when we landed.  It was later explained to us that no matter what time it is, in India a person's whole family will more than likely come to meet them at the airport when they land.  Parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, children, nieces, nephews... It's not uncommon for whole minibuses full of family to come and collect someone, which I think is really lovely.

We were met at the airport by a colleague from our international office who gave us a bunch of flowers each(!) and accompanied us to the hotel.  We were staying at the Courtyard by Marriott which was so amazing, but more on that a bit later.  The drive from the airport to the hotel was something of a culture shock.  It was around a 20 minute journey and in that time we must have passed at least a hundred stray dogs, and cows everywhere.  In the middle of the road, even.  It would become a running joke by the end of the week as to who would be the first to spot a cow every day on the drive to the office.  We later learned that all the cows are owned and tagged, but they are so intelligent their owners let them out in the day to roam and graze (thereby feeding themselves) and they are able to find their own way home at night time!

Welcome to India
By the time we were all checked in it was nearly 4am on Monday 13th August, local time.  We would be picked up at lunchtime for the drive to the office so it was time to get some sleep, in the biggest and comfiest bed I've ever seen.  There was also another bunch of flowers waiting in my enormous room, and a welcome note from housekeeping.  So far, I definitely felt welcome in India.

We were picked up later that day to go to the office, along with a few other people.  There were people arriving and leaving all the time from different companies but there were usually about 6 of us each day.  We were collected most days by our driver at around 12:15pm as India is 4.5 hours ahead and the team in our international office work from around midday, to coincide with our working day in the UK.  I got used to it by the end of the week but that first journey to work was an experience in itself!  The general rule for traffic seemed to be if your vehicle will fit, go for it.  Hell, go for it even if it won't fit!  The cows will move, right? 😅 Of course a really common form of transport in India is the Tuk Tuk so it was really fun to see them everywhere too.  My colleague Katie was even lucky enough to have a Tuk Tuk ride after I had left which I'm pretty upset I missed!  Next time... The noise from the traffic was something else too.  The car horns are constant all through the day and night (but luckily we couldn't really hear them in the hotel).

It was on the journey to and from the office that we could really appreciate how far from home we were.  The city of Ahmedabad is a real mixture of old and new - on one corner you'd have a modern white apartment building with wrought-iron balconies, the next what I would describe as flat-pack buildings.  The contrast between rich and poor was quite apparent too, we did unfortunately see many beggars and street children which was quite upsetting, especially on the occasions where we stopped at traffic lights and they would be trying to get our attention at the windows of the minibus.  It definitely gave me pause for thought.

View from the hotel roof
When we arrived at the office, we took part in a small welcome ceremony where we had to light a candle and then our host applied a traditional red Bindi to our foreheads.  We were both given another bunch of flowers too, our third since arriving!

Then it was time to meet our team who were all lovely and made us feel very welcome.  It was so great getting to know them over the course of the week.  We were treated so well while we were there and they could not do enough for us.  Each of us was added to a Whatsapp group with Divya, the guest services host, who would text every day to take our order for lunch and this would be delivered to our desks.  Every hour or so a caterer would bring a fresh tray of bottled water and a cold can of Coke.  And then, the best example of how well they looked after us; on the first day in the office, one of the straps on my sandal broke.  I was so embarrassed especially because before our visit we had been given a guide to local customs which had told me that feet are considered unclean (I mean who really likes feet anyway, right?)
Long story short, it was noticed and the next thing I knew someone had been out and bought me a new pair of flip flops.  I was amazed.

There's a funny story to tell about lunch too.  On the first day Katie and I opted for chicken nuggets from McDonalds - it had been a long day of travelling the previous day and we both just wanted something we knew we'd like; adventurous eating could come later!  But when it arrived, we both had a total of 18 chicken nuggets each and chips.  Needless to say we couldn't finish our lunch that day so when we opted for the same on our last day, we asked for one box, still expecting a full meal... Nope, just one box of 6 nuggets each.  It made us laugh!

For the next week we worked in the international office getting to know our team and doing some training.  The office was really modern and when we were there it didn't feel much different to working at home.  Most days we were collected from the office at about 8pm.  One night we were treated to dinner at a local restaurant, and another we were taken to the mall to do some shopping, but most nights we went back to the hotel to eat and then pretty much head to bed or to relax in our rooms.  The food in the hotel restaurant was really good, the menu included western food and there was an Indian buffet as well so lots of choice which was good for me as I'm not a lover of spice.  However by the end of the week I had tried and loved some Indian food!

We were lucky enough to be there to experience the Independence Day celebrations on 15th August.  The previous evening the hotel posted notes under the doors of our rooms inviting us to a flag ceremony in the morning - on the roof!  This involved walking across metal vents like something out of Mission Impossible, to get to the terrace. The flag was hoisted and accompanied by some music and marching, then the National Anthem was sung whilst everyone saluted.  The office was decorated with flags too and everyone came to work in traditional dress.  There was a fashion show and competition in the afternoon for the best traditional dress, one prize for the women and one for the men which they asked us to judge.  It was really hard to choose a winner because everyone looked amazing, some of the saris in particular were absolutely stunning.  Luckily, we knew the day before that everyone would be dressed up and I was able to find an orange scarf in the hotel gift shop to wear so that I could join in.  Everyone was given little Indian flag pins to wear too including me and Katie.  If you know me you'll know how much I love little things like that; the perfect souvenir for the memory box.

Office decoration

Wearing orange for Independence Day
My week in the office went by so quickly and it was really sad to say goodbye to our team on my last day.  They were all so lovely and I'm really grateful that I was able to make those connections, that probably wouldn't have been the case if I'd been there as a tourist.  I hear from them almost every day in my job back home as well, so it's really nice to be able to put faces to the names.

Before I left we had group photos - I was not allowed to leave without taking a photo with each of them.  I felt a bit like a celebrity!  They had also bought presents for me and Katie, some amazing traditional jewellery, and I also received a present from the company which was a beautiful wooden trinket box.

That was the end of my working week, but my experience didn't end there.  As there were a few of us flying home that weekend we decided on our last night as a group to eat at the Indian restaurant in the hotel called Bayleaf.  I was a bit apprehensive but it was a m a z i n g. The chef was really good, he came out to take our order personally and in the end we didn't order from the menu at all.  He asked each of us individually what kind of things we like and how much spice we can handle, then suggested dishes for each of us to try and brought them out for us all to share.  I had butter chicken and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted.  Everything was absolutely delicious but the butter chicken was by far my favourite and I'm so glad I was brave and tried it.  The only trouble is that I may have been spoiled for any other Indian food from now on... if Chef Rahil from the Marriott didn't make it, I'm not interested!

The next day it was time for some sightseeing.  Divya kindly gave up her Saturday to take us out.  First we visited Adalaj Stepwell, a beautiful temple built in 1498.  The story goes that it was commissioned by the King for his Queen after she told him she would only accept his marriage proposal if he built her a temple.  Construction was stopped when she died at her request, as she didn't want it to be completed for anyone else.  The 7 workmen were also executed so that they couldn't replicate the work elsewhere - their tombs can actually be found on the top of the temple.  Apparently, the Queen took her own life by throwing herself into the well after the King found out she had been married and widowed before.  At that time in India only one marriage was allowed.  I love how she didn't tell him, but still made him build her something so fancy before she would get married!  It was really impressive to look at and I loved all the detailing, especially the little elephants.

Adalaj Stepwell

Adalaj Stepwell

Adalaj Stepwell
Next we stopped for some lunch at a restaurant in another hotel called The House of MG where we had what I can only decribe as Indian tapas.  Small spoonfuls of several dishes were served to us on a large brass plate, and we also had small dishes of various sauces on the side to dip naan in.  Again, all really tasty and surprisingly not too spicy.  While we were eating Divya explained to us that everything you eat in Gujurat will have some sweetness to it, as the Gujurati people believe that by adding sweetness to their food they are putting their heart into their cooking.

After lunch we visited the Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati which is where Mahatma Gandhi lived and worked between 1915 and 1930.  It's now been turned into a museum and there is a lot of information about Gandhi's life and work.  I think I had only seen pictures of Gandhi as an old man before, so it was interesting to learn about his upbringing and early life.  It's really peaceful there too, close to the river and also the only place we encountered that was free from the aforementioned traffic noise.  There are actually signs up along the road outside, asking that people do not use their car horns out of respect.

We were grateful to get back into the air conditioned taxi after walking around the Gandhi Ashram - as it was mostly outside we were feeling the heat.  Although not particularly sunny, the weather there was hot and very humid.  Back to the hotel we went, where I had a few hours to pack, eat dinner and have a sneaky nap before my flight home in the early hours of Sunday morning.

When this trip was first mentioned, I really wasn't sure that I could do it at all.  The thought of flying so far away without Paul or my family frankly terrified me, but I need to realise that I'm much more capable than I give myself credit for.  I really enjoyed my time there and I'm really hoping I get to go back soon - our team leader in the international office asks me whenever I speak to him when they can expect to see me again and I tell him I'm working on it!  Where else am I going to get my butter chicken fix?

Friday, 7 September 2018

What's on my library reservation list?

Another September, another shuffle around on the blog.  Doesn't look too different but isn't it strange what a change of font can do for your inspiration?  Thought you might be interested to know about some books I'm looking forward to reading over the next few months.  I'm well on track with my Goodreads goal so far and I've read some good stuff, but so far nothing jumps out at me as my favourite read of the year.  I'm hoping one of these might change that.

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

I was really hoping this one would become available before I went to India (more on that in another post!) It centres around an Indian-American family who have come together to celebrate a wedding, so I thought it might provide some cultural context for my trip but sadly I'm still on the waiting list.  I'm interested in the themes of balancing cultural tradition with a Western upbringing and I'm expecting quite a moving family story.  Really high hopes for this one as a debut novel as well.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

 'A masterful true crime account of the Golden State Killer - the elusive serial rapist turned murderer who terrorised California for over a decade - from Michelle McNamara, the gifted journalist who died tragically while investigating the case.'

True crime isn't normally my thing but this one has been getting a lot of good press.  I enjoy thrillers, so I thought why not give it a go?  Probably not one to read before bed though unless I want nightmares but a good contender for keeping me entertained on an upcoming long haul flight.  It's fascinating how someone could be so committed to solving a case like this plus I'm expecting it to be well-written given her background in journalism.

Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

I've tried a couple of Claire Fuller's books before and not finished them, but I can't remember what it was that made me put them down so I'm giving her writing one more go with this book.  It sounds a bit more thriller-esque than her previous stories, involving a woman who makes friends with the neighbours at her summer rental and discovers that she can spy on them through a hole in the bathroom floorboards.  I think it will be quite character driven and slow moving.  One of those 'is everything as it seems?' stories, it could potentially be quite a strange read so let's see if I finish this one.

 Motherhood by Sheila Heti

This is a novel centred around a woman's decision about whether or not to have children.  I've seen it described as a 'plotless novel' so I'm expecting more of a long discussion essay with some characterisation.  I'm most interested to see how the author examines the expectation that all women must want to be mothers, I think it will be quite thought-provoking. 

Also soon to be on the list as soon as the library gets copies (and I'm checking most days): Transcription by Kate Atkinson.  Why?  Well because it's Kate Atkinson.  Historical fiction by Kate Atkinson.  I already know it's going to be great.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

A note for Bloglovin followers...

I've made the decision to remove my blog from Bloglovin.  I've been suspicious of the platform for a while now since I seem to have been followed by so many 'bot' and follower boosting accounts.  This wouldn't have bothered me if not for the fact that you can't manage your blog followers as you can on Twitter or Instagram where you can easily remove someone.  Even to remove my blog I have to contact support so all in all, it makes me pull this face: 😕 and it's time to go.

If you'd still like to see my posts this is your heads up to bookmark or otherwise save my blog somewhere so you can still pop by!  I usually link to my posts on Twitter if you'd like to follow me there.  I've added a follow by email option to my sidebar as well.

Thanks for reading x

Monday, 2 April 2018

25 Thoughts on Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Gilmore Girls only came into my life around the time everyone started talking about the revival.  I'd heard about it before then but I'd only ever seen maybe the last few minutes of the odd episode while flicking through TV channels, but suddenly everyone was talking about it and a few of my friends told me they thought I would love it, so I decided to give it a go and around the time A Year in the Life became available on Netflix, I started right from the beginning.

My friends were so right.  It's been a long time since I have taken a TV show so to heart or got so involved with the characters but I loved it, so much.  I genuinely missed it when I got to the end.  I've only watched it through once so I won't be winning any trivia prizes or anything but it just gave me all the warm and fuzzies and was probably just exactly what I needed in a series when I started watching.  It took me through more than a few bad days and Stars Hollow was the perfect place to escape to, even the stressful times when I was annoyed at Lorelai for messing things up with Luke which culminated in me shouting 'fuck off Christopher!!!' at the TV.  As I said, I was very invested.
So, bereft as I was when I finished the original series, I was actually pretty nervous to watch A Year in the Life in case it burst my cosy Stars Hollow bubble.  I'd avoided spoilers but I knew there had been mixed opinions, some people even hated it, so it was after a few week's break and with a fair amount of trepidation that I sat down to watch this week.

I'm so relieved to say that, overall, I really enjoyed it.  Phew!

The rest of my thoughts aren't really coherent enough to be formed into paragraphs so I'm just going to chuck them at you in list form.   I think since the revival aired in 2016 I'm pretty safe on the spoiler front, but just in case consider this your fair warning.  Ok?  Let's go.
  1. First things first: Luke & Lorelai.  THANK GOD. I thought for sure she was going to mess it up again.  The only thing I really needed from the revival was confirmation that they lived happily ever after and it made me so happy.
  2. Side note: very happy Luke is still alive and running the diner, I had a minor panic in the first scene when Lorelai had coffee from Al's until I remembered about Al's Pancake World
  3. The new rules at Luke's.  'No man buns and no taking pictures of your food.'  Oh, Luke. 
  4. You could sense the bigger budget and everything had been a little bit Netflix-ed with higher definition and more sets but the characters were still the ones I loved.  Kirk was still running around town with his multiple jobs, Babette still interrupting Taylor at the town meetings in her husky voice.  Several times I chuckled at something familiar from a character.  They all look a little different (none more so than Zach) but other than that, it was like they just picked up where they left off.
  5. It did feel a bit like sometimes characters were just slotted in to get the fan reaction though?  Like Jackson and Mr Kim (!)
  6. The whole storyline of Richard's passing was so moving and done so well, I think they really did him justice.  The premise of the revival was all about change and the absence of the Gilmore family patriarch was a good frame for this.  The three of them at the funeral broke my heart, especially Emily but I thought it was nice that Richard still had so much of a presence.  He was always one of my favourites.
  7. Dean's scene was perfect.
  8. And Jess is still hot and also now a well-adjusted adult encouraging Rory to follow her passions?  I might have to switch allegiance.
  9. On the subject of Rory's boyfriends... I was hoping she might have grown out of sleeping with other people's partners? I don't think Logan is a bad guy (cheating aside), they were almost engaged and he definitely understands and supports Rory just as much as Jess does, but I wish they weren't both still cheating.  I know it had to be casual because she's kind of at a loose end, but still.
  10. I'm glad they don't pretend she isn't flawed though.  And that she doesn't get everything handed to her on a plate.
  11. And I'm also glad Rory's story arc was not all about which guy she would end up with.
  12. I missed Sookie so much, I needed so much more than the 10 minutes or so we got.  I know Melissa McCarthy is really famous now but you know, don't forget your roots.  It doesn't make sense to me that Sookie would leave to go on sabbatical when she hates letting other people in her kitchen and the Dragonfly was just as much her dream as Lorelai's.  I'm glad she was able to film something for the revival but I would have appreciated Melissa making a little more time in her schedule thank you very much.
  13. On the other hand, Sookie's absence made some room to explore Lorelai's relationship with Michel which was lovely, and he was on top form throughout.
  14. What happened to Sookie and Jackson's third baby?  Is it a boy or a girl?  Does it have a name?
  15. So glad there was so much Paris, I bloody love her, she's hilarious.
  16. I'm not a huge April fan and I'm glad she wasn't in it much.
  17. I would not pay to see the Stars Hollow musical.
  18. But I probably would use Ooober!
  19. I need to know who sent Emily the nasty letter on her birthday (although my money is on Trix).
  20. The development of Emily's character was so great, hers was probably the most interesting story arc, watching her come to terms with losing her husband and finally settle into something of a new life and routine for herself.  The scene where she calls out the DAR ladies was hilarious.  Kelly Bishop is fantastic.
  21. Loved Lorelai's whole Wild thing and how she didn't even end up going but got what she needed anyway.  Her calling Emily to tell her a favourite memory of Richard was so moving, it made me cry and it might have been my favourite part of the whole thing.
  22. I didn't need to see or hear from the Life and Death Brigade again, they were never my favourite people.  That whole scene bugged me firstly because I don't like when weird things happen in a show that otherwise has no magical or fantastical theme (like the sign on the flower shop changing, the talking crow), it just doesn't make sense.  Secondly, at 32 I'd have thought they would have outgrown those antics.
  23. Yay for talking fast and witty comments and not knowing how to hold a full coffee cup and sniffing the air for snow, I'm here for it all.
  24. I still 100% wish I lived in Stars Hollow.
  25. And finally... the last 4 words.  At first I rolled my eyes but really, it makes sense given that Gilmore Girls has always been a generational show.  I know that Amy Sherman Palladino planned to end on those words all along too so I'm glad she got the opportunity to, and it does bring everything nicely full circle.
I know I had so many more thoughts but these are the main ones.  Overall, I loved it.  I had some niggles but they were more to do with the plot, and I wasn't without these during the original series either - I never understood the Jason Styles thing?  And there are things that would have been on my wish list if the revival had been longer, a more fulfilling life for Lane being one of them.  But crucially, a Year in the Life hasn't taken anything away from my enjoyment of Gilmore Girls.  It *felt* the same to me and I'm so happy about it! Now to start series one again...

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Five Star Read Predictions

Alternative title: some books I'm on the reserve list for at the library that I'm super impatient for.

Five Star Reads prediction videos are some of my favourite to watch on BookTube.  I don't have a YouTube channel (hold the laughter at the thought of me doing anything of the sort) but I wanted to play too!  The idea is to pick books you're yet to read that you think will be worth 5 stars just from the blurb or what you know of the concept.  Here are three titles I already know I'm going to love.

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They're both wrong.

One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.  Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…

I love a thriller and Clare Mackintosh is one of my favourite crime authors.  I loved her first two books I Let You Go and I See You, they were both so smart and slick and exactly what I look for in a thriller that now I'll read anything she brings out.  I don't even necessarily need to know what it's about, but incidentally the blurb for her third novel sounds like it will be equally as good as the others!  I'm currently right at the top of the waiting list for this one and I've seen it in Waterstones this week, so fingers crossed the library gets their copies in soon.


The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open!
It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical.

Serious Nutcracker vibes. I am so excited for this one, I'd be reading it right now if I could; hopefully I'll get the email from the library any day now!  It sounds like a cross between The Night Circus, one of my favourites ever, and The Dollmaker of Krakow which quite recently stole my heart (I raved about it here if you are interested). Unlike The Dollmaker though, The Toymakers is an adult novel so I hope it's going to be a little bit darker.  Anything involving magic gets my bookworm senses tingling and this sounds so special, I think I'm going to love it and I'm already expecting to have to buy my own copy when I've given it back to the library...


The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasya doesn't mind - she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honour the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.  After Vasya's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasya's new stepmother forbids her family from honouring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasya is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.  And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasya's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.  As danger circles, Vasya must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed - this in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales.

As someone who enjoys fairy tales and folklore, this just sounds right up my street.  I've never read anything based on Russian folklore before but I love hearing stories from different cultures, and this sounds like perfect escapism.  Most of my best loved books have some element of fantasy and magic about them and I'm expecting a big serving of that from The Bear and the Nightingale.  It promises a vivid setting and a strong heroine too, which is always a plus.  I love that there are authors out there writing fairy tales for adults - I'll still happily read kid lit and middle grade to get my fix, but it's nice to be part of the target audience for this genre too.