Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

Tulips from the garden.
Washing drying on the line.
Sun shining.
All three things happening at once.
Has spring finally sprung?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Shanghai (via the iPhone)

So, I got fed up waiting for myself to download photos of our trip to Shanghai from the actual real-life camera, and I'm just going to have to write a blog post based solely round the photos I took on the iPhone. Perhaps at a later date I'll do a post with better/'proper' photos, but for now may I present Shanghai via the iPhone...

The holiday (well, it was a holiday for me and a business trip for hubby) began when we got to Manchester airport (having left DC with his grandparents in Wigan) and settled in for a coffee at Costa; then it was a short hop down to Heathrow (I'm pretty sure the aeroplane barely had time to get off the ground before we had landed again, but in the few minutes where the wheels did actually leave terra firma we were served a drink and a snack - not that any one had time to let their hot drinks cool before they were being collected up again, but that's not the point); once at Heathrow we had three hours to kill so we made our way to Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food and settled in for the duration - yum, that's Eggs Benedict (except with smoked salmon) for yours truly and a full English for hubby. We settled in so nicely that we ended up having to run for the plane; yes, that's right, we had a three-hour layover and still nearly missed our flight; plus I even managed to leave my coat behind and had to wait til we flew back to the UK to collect it. I know, even I find myself amazing sometimes,
After an uneventful ten-hour flight (watched Argo [excellent] and Hope Springs [dreadful]), we landed in Shanghai. Immigration and customs were a breeze, thankfully, and we were soon striding out through the terminal looking for the Maglev Station. We had considered getting a taxi to our hotel if we felt completely cream-crackered, but on arrival the adrenaline was coursing through our veins and we decided to give one of the world's fastest trains a try instead.
Within minutes we were at the end of the line at which point we picked up a taxi to take us to our hotel as we weren't in the mood to tackle the underground system.

We checked in to the hotel, went up to our room and promptly collapsed for three hours. And even after three hours it was a struggle to wake up and drag ourselves out of bed, but we knew we had to or else our body clocks would be all over the place (or even more over the place than they already were.) It was probably about 4pm (local time) by the time we ventured out onto the streets of the Pudong district of Shanghai and our destination was the largest shopping mall in China (as luck would have it within walking distance of the hotel.) What? You think I went all that way for the culture? Ha. You don't know me at all.

I took the proper camera out to capture our first glimpses of Shanghai, so you won't be getting any of those shots here, instead you'll have to make do with my rubbish iPhone photos and a lot of droning on.

Happily for me, the first place we stumbled on when entering the Super Brand mall was Starbucks - yeehaw; look at me, grinning like a jetlagged fool.
And so, with latte in hand, we took on some more of the mall (but not all of it - 13 floors and 250,000 square meters is a bit much, even for me.) Once we had tired of shopping (window shopping for the most part, highstreet/high end shopping in China is not cheap!) we headed for Din Tai Fung which was recommended in a guide book as a great place for steamed xiao long bao (buns/dumplings which are a speciality of the region.) And we weren't disappointed, Firstly, the restaurant has a great location at the very back (or front?) of the mall, overlooking the Huangpu River and across to the historic Bund, and secondly, the food was great - especially the pork dumplings.

Both photos from the Din Tai Fung website
By this time we were starting to flag, so it was time to head back to the hotel (via Starbucks, for a mocha.)

The next day (Monday), international businessman had to get up early and head off for his meeting; I had also intended getting up early and heading out to explore, but somehow that didn't happen and it was after 11am by the time I dragged myself out of the very comfortable bed.

It was a lovely spring day - beautiful blue skies, some warmth in the sun but still a hint of coolness/freshness in the air. My first stop was Costa in the IFC mall. I settled in with a latte, a guide book and my book club book, The Thread by Victoria Hislop (as already discussed here.)
It was a very popular spot and great for people-watching which, when twinned with coffee-drinking, has to be up there in my top ten (five, even?) of things to do. I'm nosey, so sue me.

Once I was fully caffeinated I headed into the mall; most of the shops were of little interest (clothes, shoes, handbags, all of the designer variety and all out of my price league [and, more likely, size range], however down in the depths was a supermarket - now this was more like it. Does anyone else take great pleasure in wandering round supermarkets/food shops when they're overseas? I love seeing whether it's possible to get food from 'home' when abroad, just on the off-chance that I was marooned/seconded/offered a bazillion pounds to stay. And I love finding new foods that you can't get at home. Luckily, Shanghai will suit very nicely if we ever have to live there. There are chocolates for me:
jellies for hubby
and DC's favourite biscuits (although at c.£3.50 a pack they might have to be rationed.)
Other essentials are also available.
After discovering that the major food groups were covered, I made my way to the nearest subway station, negotiated a ticket-buying machine and found my way to the platform. Luckily, the subway system in Shanghai is very easy to use; nearly all station names are written in English (as well as Chinese, obviously); all announcements are given in English (ditto Chinese) and the ticket machines also have an English page. And it's cheap, at approximately 30p per ride; not to mention sparkly and clean - come on, London, you've got a lot of catching up to do.
And a few minutes later I was on the other side of the river and wandering along Nanjing Road.

And what luck, just about lunchtime I stumbled across...
The Food Hall left me in no doubt that Shanghai is definitely a place I could call home (for a short while, at least.)
And, for the beginning of March, the weather wasn't too shabby either.
Before long it was time for me to jump back on the subway and head back across the river.
The Jin Mao TV Tower.
The IFC Mall.
Downtown Pudong district.

The view from our hotel room across the Huangpu River at night.

And during the day.

And that is where the photos from my iPhone end; there are more/better ones on the camera that I will definitely get round to downloading some time soon. The photos I took of the historic buildings along the Bund (former head office of HSBC, etc) are worth a look, if nothing else!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Giveaway Winner!

Firstly - Happy St George's Day! Yes, the feast day of the patron saint of England, little celebrated over here, except today when we'll celebrate with a giveaway winner! So, my giveaway involved guessing how many books from this little stash I'd actually got round to reading since buying them in December 2010. You could have had a sneaky look in my 'What Did I Read in..' side bar and you may have come up with the answer (or at least a guess in the right direction.)

Alternatively you could have picked a number between 0-18 and you would definitely have been in with a chance of getting in right. As it was, of the four guesses, all were wrong! However, I'm a kind and caring blogger, so I put all four names in the 'hat' (aka hubby's hand) and got DC to draw one out.

Drum roll...
 Action shot...
And the winner is...
Top Chelsea Girl!


Please get in touch with your address and let me know whether you would like a book from the cozy or non-cozy bookcase. Oh, and in case you're curious, I've actually read two of the books, both by Betty Hechtman: Dead Men Don't Crochet and Knit One, Kill Two.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Winner Takes It All!

I mentioned a couple of posts back that I was lucky enough to win a giveaway over at Jay's blog (My Family and Other Cricketers).

Yesterday, when I was up in my attic office, I heard a weightly 'thunk' as the postman delivered the mail. I skipped down the stairs (or, more likely, lumbered) and there on the mat was a boring-looking letter and an interesting-looking parcel. I picked up the parcel and gave it a squeeze while carrying it through to the kitchen - something soft and something hard in the same envelope. What had I bought from eBay that would match such a description? Nothing that I could remember. What had we left behind at Grandma & Grandad's the last time we visited? Nothing; and the writing wasn't Grandma's anyway. Who was a bit late remembering DC's birthday? Well, I'll mention no names, but suffice to say it wasn't from them either, and so DC's birthday remains forgotten by some.

So, I excitedly opened the envelope and found these lovely little packages, neatly wrapped, along with a postcard of the Norfolk Broads - and that's when it clicked - this was my giveaway prize!
I hurriedly tore into the wrapping paper and found not just the two books that Jay had mentioned in her giveaway post, but also some fabulous-smelling lavender (which my Mum pounced on when she came round later in the afternoon, so I may let her have some, if I'm feeling like a kind and generous daughter) and some matching napkins.
 And when I'd finished unwrapping everything and was about to pop the paper in the recycling bin, I noticed this little tag which had been attached to the Boggle book - oops, looks like I wasn't the only one who was supposed to partake in the gift-opening! Sorry, DC, but Mummy got there first...
Thank you so much, Jay, for your very generous giveaway.

Don't foget, I also have a giveaway at the moment - I think I'll pull the names from the hat over the weekend, so you still have time to comment/guess the number of books I've read - it's a couple of posts ago, so have a look!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Book Review No.7

It's another cozy, so look away now if you're not a cozy kind of reader. However, I promise that my next two book reviews are of the non-cozy variety, being two Book Club books, back-to-back. May I present If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle. If nothing else, you've got to love a cozy title; whoever thinks them up deserves a prize.

I read the first in this series a little while ago and I wasn't overly impressed; however, as is my way, I'd already bought a couple more in the same series so thought I would give the second one a chance.

The story goes something like this: Brooklyn Wainwright is a book binder, she's attending the Edinburgh Book Fair and bumps into an ex of hers who asks her to look after an old book of (unknown) poems by Robbie Burns which may or may not be a fake and which may or may not bring shame on the Royal Family. Pages later and the ex is dead, bumped off in mysterious circumstances. Several more deaths follow, plus a kidnap of sorts, brake-tampering during a car journey to the famous Roslyn Chapel, a break-in in Brooklyn's hotel room and various other mishaps and misfortunes. And there's a bit of romance going on with Brooklyn and her beau Derek Stone, a British security officer.

Things started badly when on page nine our heroine "slammed a pound note" on the shop counter; my first splutterings were thus: 'since when have pound notes been legal tender in the UK?', but I decided to do a little investigating before condemning the author and it seems that they are still issued in Scotland (by the Royal Bank of Scotland)  in very small quantities, but I do wonder just how likely it would be that a visitor who had only just arrived from the USA would have a £1 note; I've been to Scotland several times and have never seen one (they were withdrawn from circulation in 1988 in the rest of the UK and replaced with £1 coins.) I wonder whether the author has ever been to Scotland (or any other parts of the UK) or whether her research on what the people and places are like was done via the internet? Also, apparently, when you are in a pub on the Royal Mile the barman comes to your table to take your drinks order. Ha. Not likely, love. Unless, perhaps, you happen to be in a pub where you're also eating, but even then you often place your order at the bar. There were several other moments like these in the book which left me saying, 'No, we don't do that' or 'That would never happen', which was frustrating to say the least.

Then there was the supposed 'kidnap' in which Brooklyn is bundled into a taxi with a doctor and two other chaps who turn out to be very civil. And let's not forget the bit where the brakes on the hire car go kaput and Brooklyn, friends and family (oh, did I forget to mention that her mum and dad flew in from their hippy commune in California for a little holiday?) end up in a haystack in the middle of a farmer's field.

Oh, and the ongoing romance with Commander Derek Stone is annoying and sappy to say the least.

Are you getting the feeling that I didn't much care for this book? Well, you'd be right. I should have given up after the first in the series, but I'm a sucker for cozy crimes and wanted to give it another chance. Bit of a bummer that I've got the next two books in the series in my unread bookcase. Ebay, here they come.

If you are looking to read a cozy crime book, I really wouldn't recommend this one, or the the first one from this series (Homicide in Harcover); there are much better books/series out there.

PS - The giveaway I mentioned in my last blog post is still up and running - have a look and leave a comment/guess!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Unread Books; and a Giveaway!

I love reading, as you may have gathered. I have a penchant for cozy crime since it tends not to tax my somewhat befuddled and cottonwool-filled head, but I also read books from other genres and belong to a book club that meets once a month.

When DC was born, a friend commented to hubby (who is also an avid reader) and I that we wouldn't get the chance to read a book for another ten years; I am extremely happy that we have been able to prove that friend (very) wrong. Even if it's just a couple of pages of a book before falling into a deep, deep sleep at bedtime or a moment snatched while DC plays with his toys, then I will read something (and magazines count) every.single.day. One of my most anticipated pleasures about our recent trip to Shanghai was the amount of time I would have to read - forget the sightseeing, get your book out. I took nine magazines and three books, for a six-day trip... The thinking about and then choosing of the books from the un-read bookcases was almost as wonderous as actually reading them.

And talking of un-read books, I come to the point of this particular blog post. I commented to hubby just yesterday as I opened the doors of my cozy crime un-read bookcase to squeeze in two more books that had just arrived, courtesy of eBay, that I was running out of room in there. (Incidentally, one of the doors fell off, but I don't think this is as a result of being over-full.) Hubby's suggestion was that I stop buying books. Say wha'? Well, actually it's a sensible suggestion and one I have considered, during my more lucid moments, so I may take it on board, for the time being at least.

The cozy crime un-read bookcase currently looks like this:

And the non-cozy crime un-read bookcase looks like this:

I was glancing back through my blog the other day and came across this photo of some cozies I'd bought when we were in New York back in December 2010. And this was what prompted this post. I thought to myself 'Self, how many of those books have you actually read?'

And after 2 years and 4 months of owning them, the answer is... Well, what do you think? Leave me your guess in the comments section and I'll send a book from my unread bookcases (cozy or non-cozy, you decide - let me know along with your guess) to the person who guesses correctly. If more than one of you get it right I'll either send books to all the correct guessers (like I'm expecting lots of responses here!), or draw a name out of a hat, depending on how many books I can bear to part with! I'm happy to send anywhere in the world, so feel free to leave a guess if you live further afield than the end of my street. PS, even if you've never commented before, please don't be shy - the more, the merrier!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Holiday Snaps. Part IV. Tampa Zoo and Legoland Florida, Mostly.

Yes, I know we went on holiday about 5 months ago, but I realised I haven't finished boring the pants off you with all of my lovely snaps yet. Please feel free to skip this post because, let's be honest, other people's holiday photos aren't that interesting, are they?

When last we left off, it was Black Friday Eve and hubby & I had just witnessed the kind of shopping that should really only occur when that rag the Daily Mail has a headline that reads "All Shops To Close. For Ever.", or similar. Or else it's the kind of shopping I will do if Waitrose ever start stocking these beauties:
Hints were dropped that one of these would make a wonderful birthday cake for a certain someone (ie me), but unfortunately we were due to fly to NYC on my actual birthday and I'm not sure the ice cream would have travelled that well.
Anyway, back to the holiday. Sunday we drove down to Tampa as hubby was off to see the American Football (Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Some Other Team [clearly I took a lot of notice]); we dropped hubby off near the stadium then Granny, DC and I negotiated the unknown streets of Tampa and eventually found our way to the zoo (by way of a 7-11 to ask for directions.)

Here's DC making friends with a Komodo Dragon; fear not, it's only a statue.
The animals at the zoo, however, were merley a sideshow when compared to what DC would consider the main event -  a rollercoaster. We rode it six times in a row. Yes, six times. No sooner had we clambered off, than DC would be asking if we could get back on. Several times, when there was no one else waiting, we simply stayed on board and waited for the roastercoaster (that's what DC calls them) to start up again. It took bribery, in the form of an ice cream, to finally tempt DC away. And then I took him to the wallaby enclosure in an attempt to show him what zoos are really about - not interested. Jeesh; why do we bother?!
After so much time was spent on the rollercoaster and then eating ice creams, we barely had time to see the rest of the zoo and practically route-marched past the elephants, giraffes, flamingos, crocodiles, etc, etc as we headed back to the car and drove off to find hubby.

After the rollercoaster, DC's second favourite part of the day came when we stopped on the way back to the villa at Cracker Barrel. He requested pancakes and bacon for dinner (with an extra side of bacon - he's all about the meat.) The blob on the side of the plate that looks like ice cream is actually butter - it's a cholesterol-lover's dream!
The following day, bright and sunny as most are in Florida, we headed for the not-long-open Legoland.
With the blue skies and sunshine, we needed reminding that it was November and Christmas was fast-approaching.
The large area with models of various US cities was fascinating; lots of moving parts, music, spraying water, etc. Enough to keep DC amused while we adults oooh-ed and ahh-ed at the intricacy of it all.
San Francisco.

Washington DC, complete with marching band.
Family portrait.
Safari ride.
Life-sized lions.
Life-sized giraffe.
Rollercoaster. I think we rode this one four times (you can just make out hubby waving at the back); it may have been more, but there were other rollercaosters at the park that we also rode several times. DC really is quite the coaster king.
And since it was Legoland, there was quite a lot of this to be done. Not sure who enjoyed it more.

Oh, and there was a pirate show to be watched.
All in all, it was quite a tiring day.

Later that evening, I escaped to a bookshop; I was quite bemused by the number of magazines dedicated to guns and knives.
And I finished off a lovely day with a spoonful, or two, of this luscious stuff.