Ireland, March 2013

March 15, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Posted in books, food, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Restaurant review, travel, Waterstones | Leave a comment
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Ireland: land of leprechauns, Guinness, potatoes and poetry. Well, yes, but, as any Father Ted fans will know, ‘Der’s more to Ireland dan dis’.

The main purpose of my trip was to meet my great nephew, Jamie, who was born in Co Louth in January. However, I also wanted to see more of the North, as having been to Dublin seven times, I was getting slightly bored of it (sorry, Dubbers).

Originally, as I cherish my time alone, I was going independently, but my dad came with me in the end (I’m nearly thirty, but he still worries). We hired a car at the airport and stayed at the rather expensive Bewley’s Hotel, five minutes from the airport. It was nice, but frankly not worth the money.

The next day, we set off about ten for Drogheda, a rather boring town which, nonetheless, has the historically significant River Boyne flowing through it, named, of course, after the battle. Its saving grace has to be its proximity to Newgrance, the Irish Stonehenge, if you like, and a surprisingly nice shopping centre (within which lies a rather lovely Waterstones).

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After I met the lovely chap above, Dad and I made our way to Belfast. After checking into the IBIS Castle St (more central and better value than Bewley’s), Dad chilled in our room and I made my way into the town, where I looked up the newly refitted Waterstones on Fountain St and was interviewed by BBC Radio Belfast.

That night, having been recommended Home on Donegall Sq for a good meal, but not being able to get in (always a good sign), we went to Coco on Linenhall St instead. The decor was fabulous – my favourite piece of art depicted a cigarette packet with the words, ‘Religion can seriously harm you and others around you’. Usefully, the food was even better: Dad had beetroot risotto and I had chicken liver parfait to start, then we both had shoulder of lamb, which was divine.

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After breakfast on Tuesday, we drove to the Giant’s Causeway. It was freezing at the very north of the country, but worth it to see the amazing stones, which really are hexagonal. The visitors’ centre, rebuilt and redesigned in 2012, was impressive too. Dad enjoyed seafood chowder and I wolfed down soda bread pizza.

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Back in Belfast, after an afternoon of reading, we headed to Salt Bistro in the Cathedral Quarter. Unfortunately, my meal was disappointing: the bread served was unsuited to my tapenade and hummus starter, and my thai vegetable curry also contained mussels and prawns, which the waitress suggested I had ordered.

On Wednesday morning, after a delicious breakfast of berry and cinnamon scones and sweetened cream in Avoca on Arthur St, we headed south again. Dad fancied seafood in Howth, but as time was getting on, we headed through Dublin Bay to Dalkey. Again, our food was pretty ordinary, but not a bad end to another lovely stay in Ireland.

So, do I prefer Belfast or Dublin? It’s got to be Belfast!

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Syrup Tins

May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Book Signing, books, food, History, Recipe | 2 Comments
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I have a incessantly sweet tooth. When I am stressed, I wander down to Waitrose for fizzy strawberry laces, sucking the sugar off each one until my tongue is sore. I’m much the same with chocolate raisins, letting the outsides melt in my mouth until only the shrivelled raisin remains. And do you remember Pop Cakes from The Magic Faraway Tree? I was so disappointed to discover that they were entirely fictitious.

So you can imagine how excited I am that the authors of The Sugar Girls, Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi, are coming to my shop, Waterstones Tenterden, to do a signing. The book has been extraordinarily successful and there have been calls to turn it into a Call the Midwife style miniseries.

I’m planning a window display largely dependant on Tate & Lyle tins, so if you can send me any empty golden syrup or black treacle ones, I’d be enormously grateful. Recipes using either of those would be wonderful too. Email me at amysmith500@hotmail.com and we’ll sort something out.

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Five Minutes Peace

April 7, 2012 at 6:19 am | Posted in books, Childhood, Children, insomnia, Literature, London | 2 Comments
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Blog, I have neglected you. This ends now. I did do well by you in January, but now you lie abandoned in the great internet orphanage/Battersea Dogs’ Home/some other appalling metaphorical place of forsakenment. (Apologies for the antiquated word: but it is rather fitting considering yesterday’s date).

I woke suddenly this morning about five after having a recurring nightmare (I won’t share details, but it involves murder). Too restless to sleep again, I read some blog posts by this lady and this one too. Both made me realise how much I missed writing up my own adventures.

I’ve not had a laptop for ages since my brother ‘borrowed’ mine (hey, at least my diary is password protected), and although I’m hoping to get one, I rather like this funny little QWERTY IPhone keyboard. Sure, the screen is somewhat ambitiously tiny for my shortsightedness, but that’s part of the fun (or something).

The silence this morning is so delicious. I can hear nothing whatsoever apart from, well, that slight buzz of soundlessness you get when you are somewhere very still. Here comes The Desiderata bit (apologies for the link to THAT website, but it was that or businessballs.com…). So much of our lives are consumed by busyness that sometimes we forget how easy it can be to find quietness in the midst of madness. Get up an hour earlier (not easy when you’re knackered, I know), or take ten minutes out of your lunch break to find peace (not of the inner or world variety, just peace, pure and simple). Where I work in Tenterden, it’s amazing how quickly I can find silence just a few minutes after walking out of my shop, even on the high street. You seem to enter a whole new universe which runs in parallel to the craziness of the usual world. The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago in Richmond: a friend and I were en route to a lovely pub, and the further we walked up the hill, leaving the bustle and Bugaboos of the main town behind, the more the soft sounds of nature descended. You have to walk up this hill at least once in your life: the views are absolutely amazing. Plus perving on the abodes of the rich and famous is such an enriching activity.

There’s something so wonderfully expectant about a Saturday, particularly when it is very early and still (not, I should add, when you are rolling out of bed, dry-tongued and hungover). When I am up very early on my favourite day of the week, I always think back to walking over Kew Bridge as the sun comes up, or of sitting outside Waterstones Thanet as a probational bookseller, and reading the terrible eponymous book.

That’s all for now. Je Reviens, as Rebecca’s boat said. And remember: go placidly, folks…

Are you goin’ to Tenterden Book Fair?

February 25, 2012 at 8:04 am | Posted in books, Literature | Leave a comment
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I have very fond memories of Tenterden Book Fair, although my memory is undecided as to when I first went there – some time during university? Before then? Anyway, like parties, I was always going for more than the Book Fair itself. I was going for Waitrose; I was going for the magnificent journey through the Kent countryside, which takes in an isolated house surrounded by poplar trees; I was going for the independent gift shops. I was going to feel posh, basically.

And the meatloaf. Oh, the meatloaf. After browsing round the stalls, it would be time for a cup of tea served from a Brown Betty pot, and a slice of meatloaf smothered in gravy and accompanied by mash and greens. It was as if I’d stumbled into an HE Bates novel.

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My favourite purchase is a signed Iris Murdoch, which is in storage at the moment, but I also found this beauty at the Book Fair one day:

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I’m with you on the printed word, Jonathan Franzen

February 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Posted in books, Ebooks | 1 Comment
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It’s probably snobbery, to be honest, which makes me prefer the book to the ebook.  For me, the desire to possess the very newest form of technology (i.e. the Kindle, in this case) strikes me as a petit bourgeois, Del Boy desire, and yet I fully acknowledge that this is an unattractive and hypocritical point of view, as I am lying here writing this on my IPhone. But I’ve never understood parents who allow their children to have televisions in their room from a very young age, nor my brother-in-law’s desire to own as many giant plasma screens as possible.  I’m positive I could live without a television, and indeed did so when I lived in Berlin for a year.

But I digress.  Like Henry Porter in the Observer, I don’t think that ‘the printed word [is] the guardian of all democratic values’.  It’s an aesthetic appreciation of the printed book which makes me value it far more than I ever would an ebook ( even the word itself kills a little something in me).  But it is precisely this widespread aesthetic appreciation of the hard copy which has seen vinyl remain so popular.  After all, there is nothing quite like the crackle at the beginning of a song played on 12″, or the turn of a page of a book.  And would it have had the same effect if my English teacher at Eton had hurled his Kindle across the room instead of a paperback, when he demonstrated Roland Barthes’ ‘author is dead’ theory?

I have had a lovely, lovely weekend…

February 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Posted in books | 2 Comments
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…because I met my dear friend in a pub in Kew yesterday afternoon, had a lovely conversation with him which led to dinner at Pizza Express, followed by watching Pyscho back at his.  It has also been very lovely because I just met the wonderful writer Jacqueline Wilson at an event at which I was working at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.  This was all rounded off, naturally, with a gin and tonic.  What a great start to my week off.

P-p-p-p-pick up some lovely Penguin proofs and people…

February 2, 2012 at 8:24 am | Posted in books, Literature, Penguin, Reading | Leave a comment
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Last night I spent a wonderful evening at Penguin Towers.  The view from the 10th floor was beautiful – the Oxo Tower and even the National Theatre look stunning at night – and I had a wonderful time speaking to authors as diverse as Alain de Botton, Phil Earle, Ben Masters and Robert Macfarlane.  I came away with some brillliant literary booty too:

1) Daughters by Elizabeth Buchan

2) Noughties by the precocious, but not pretentious, Ben Masters

3) The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

4) Time Riders by Alex Scarrow

5) The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane

6) Into the Valley of Death by A L Berridge

7) Some lovely Penguin notebooks.

My only regret was not speaking to the editor of Vogue about making her tea and coffee until the end of time, just to be near the mothership of that hallowed publication…

The Birdsong backlash begins…

January 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Posted in books, History, love, relationships, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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It was inevitable, really.  Most critics have praised the BBC’s Birdsong production, so one grumpy old man journalist had to fight popular opinion, didn’t he?  It’s like Harry Potter and the Twilight Saga: many people will hate them simply because so many people love them.

So what, exactly, was David Aaronovitch’s problem with the production? Well, for starters, there were too many posh people, apparently.  Let’s not forget that ‘Other classes took leading roles in the First World War’.  Except no one’s forgetting, David: what about the character of Firebrace? Not exactly a toff, is he?

His second issue is with the fact that there are lots of ‘lingering glances’ and ‘slowly melting eyes’ before the love affair between Stephen and Isabelle begins.  What’s the matter, David? Do you need the actors to enunciate what they’re feeling every five minutes?  Can’t you decipher what is being implied? Poor David.  You’ve obviously not seen Lost In Translation.

He also questions whether Wraysford ‘would […] really be thinking of his Grand Meaulnes time with the heroine before final curtain down’. Do any of us really know what we’re going to be thinking just before we bite the bullet? I’d like to think I’ll be thinking of the people I’ve loved, and – stop reading now if you’re a prude – I may even recall a time I slept with one of them.  Sex is a massive part of life, David: deal with it.

I also disagree with his argument that casting directors are only scouting for pretty boys now.  Redmayne is a really talented actor who can convey more meaning in a glance than many can in a soliloquy.

Finally, ‘if I were a woman enjoying passive oral congress’ with Eddie Redmayne, I’d be grinning like a lush in a winebar. Face facts, Mr Aaronovitch: you’re wrong about this Birdsong.

Chick lit? Sick lit, more like…

January 23, 2012 at 7:32 am | Posted in books, Literature, technology | 2 Comments
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I’ve just read a fabulous article by Helen Rumbelow about the decline of chick lit on Times Online (it’s so freshly pressed that no Google result exists for it yet).  The way we read is clearly changing, and it is obviously no longer acceptable to female readers to be targeted in a patronising and divisive fashion. WH Smith would’ve cheerfully continued to have a section labelled Women’s Fiction, had two offended young women not complained about it.

What I found most interesting about the article was the male chicklit authors suggesting that men rather than women formed the greater part of their readership. Moreover, the invention of the ereader has enabled these men to read these chick lit novels in secrecy, safe in the knowledge that no city boy will laugh at their reading matter on the Tube. One massive disadvantage the ereader creates, however, is a loss of community in the act of reading. If you can’t tell what a stranger’s reading, how can you ask them if it’s any good?

Who invents these street names?

January 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Posted in books, street names | Leave a comment
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There is a new housing estate in Deal called Out-Downs. Seriously? Would Acacia Drive or Hyacinth Avenue or Crocus Walk have been so bad? This street name reminds me of Out-With in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Not a great association.

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