Showing posts with label London 2012. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London 2012. Show all posts

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

View of the Olympics from France - and David Walliams's new book

The south of France is usually heaving with UK visitors at this time of year. But in sun-baked Avignon I didn’t spot any British tourists at all (apart from us, that is). The newsagents’ stack of English newspapers looked untouched and there wasn't a whisper of an English accent at the historic Palais des Papes.

I suspect most people are at home glued to the Olympics. And come to think of it, maybe the French are too. 

Our neighbours at the House With No Name popped across the field to say hello yesterday and told us they’d been watching the Games avidly.

“What did you think of the opening ceremony?" my daughter asked them, wondering what on earth they’d made of Mr Bean, Mary Poppins, the Queen apparently parachuting out of a helicopter and hundreds of children jumping up and down on luminous hospital beds. Serge, our neighbour smiled benignly. ‘C’etait bon, mais très bizarre,’ he said.

Good, but strange. Hmmm. I reckon that just about sums it up.

PS. My review of David Walliams’s wonderful Gangsta Granny is one of the best-read House With No Name posts. So loads of readers will be thrilled to hear that Walliams’s fifth children’s novel will be published on September 19. Ratburger, illustrated by the inimitable Tony Ross, promises to be a treat. It’s the tale of a lonely little girl called Zoe and her ice cream loving father who battle to save Zoe’s newly adopted rat, Armitage, from the clutches of a villain called Burt. Walliams is the fastest growing children’s author in the UK and publisher HarperCollins describes his new story as “packed full of zest, jeopardy and classic Walliams wit.” Walliams himself says it’s his “scariest and funniest book yet.” Watch this space for a House With No Name review.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Even Kirsty Allsopp would be impressed

Seven years after trundling up the potholed track to view the House With No Name, we’ve just spent our second holiday there.

It’s far from luxurious but the place is definitely starting to feel like home. Take the attic. When we first climbed the steep stairs up to the top floor, one room was propped up with steel girders. Why? Because the walls were so dodgy they had to be pinned together. Literally.

The stunned notaire accompanying us kept muttering “tout à faire” as we stomped up and down. Another attic room was filled with a lifetime of rubbish, including a spooky-looking trunk covered in cobwebs. We never discovered what was inside - but at least it had gone by the time I signed on the dotted line.

Fast forward a few years and even though there’s so much work to do, the attic is now an oasis of calm. Well, by day at least. It’s slightly more raucous by night because the dormouse has crept back into the roof and scrabbles about like crazy in the early hours of the morning.

But to give an idea of the attic’s transformation, here’s what my daughter's room was like before…
And the picture at the top shows what it’s like now.

I reckon even Kirsty and Phil from Location, Location, Location would be impressed!

PS. “Why aren’t you at the Olympics?” asked the puzzled man at the garage as we filled up the car near Avignon. He blithely assumed that everyone from the UK is in London to watch the Games. But like countless others, I’ve spent hours online attempting to buy tickets and ended up with absolutely none. 

PPS. If you're keen to get into the Olympic spirit, my novella, Olympic Flames, is set at London 2012. It  follows a talented young showjumper desperate to win her first gold medal in front of her home crowd. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

The dormouse in the attic

Lines of Cypress trees silhouetted against a pink sky, fields of golden sunflowers, ancient farmhouses with their shutters closed to keep them cool.

Those were the sights that made my heart sing as we drove south through France earlier this month. With London gearing up for the Olympics we decided to escape the mayhem and head across the Channel instead. Not surprisingly, the French were far more preoccupied with the Tour de France than London 2012. Even in the local épicerie people were talking about “le gentleman Wiggins” and his amazing triumph.

When we arrived at the House With No Name after the ten-hour drive south it was almost midnight. But it was definitely like coming home – even though there was a wilderness of weeds and the broadband was up the creek.

We weren’t totally sure if the loir in the attic was back in residence or not. My daughter says she heard scrabbling in the roof in the middle of the night but didn't know whether it was real or she was dreaming.

The most surprising thing of all, though, was seeing the sun for the first time in months. As we sat on the terrace on the first morning we all blinked in bewilderment, a bit like loirs coming out of hibernation after winter. My son, who’s spent most of the summer so far cycling in the Oxfordshire wind and rain, was so stunned that he went straight out and bought his first-ever pair of sunglasses. 

Loir – a dormouse in French.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Boris Johnson booms out Olympic travel advice

My daughter nearly jumped out of her skin as the familiar voice boomed out across the packed concourse at London’s St Pancras station.

“Hi folks. This is the Mayor here. This is the greatest moment in the life of London for 50 years. We are welcoming more than a million people a day to our city. There is going to be huge pressure on the transport network. Don’t get caught out…”

Queuing to collect her Eurostar ticket to Paris, she couldn’t for the life of her think why Boris Johnson had suddenly popped up there. A group of French travellers in front of her looked completely mystified, while my daughter half expected the blond-haired bombshell to appear in person, racing through the station in cycling shorts and trailing an Olympic banner behind him.

It was only when she got back that she realised what the Big Brother-like voice was all about. For the next few weeks there’s going to be a Boris alert at all major stations – to help commuters plan their journeys during the Olympics.

I don’t know about you but I suspect Boris might carry on his chatty bulletins after the Games are over.

It’ll be “hi folks. I wouldn’t use the Circle Line this morning. It’s absolutely chocker,” or “hi folks. Avoid Oxford Street like the plague. It’s a complete dog’s dinner tonight…”

What do you think?

PS. A big thank you to Rosanna Morley for the picture of Tower Bridge by night, complete with the Olympic rings. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

Friday book review - Cox by Kate Lace

My desk is piled high with review books right now. But there’s one particular novel that catches everyone’s attention. It’s Cox, Kate Lace’s latest book, which as well as the saucy title has an even saucier cover and strapline. Most important of all though, it’s a cracking story that deserves to fly off the shelves.

Fabulous magazine wittily called the book “Jilly Cooper in a boat,” and it’s the perfect description. If you like Cooper’s Riders, then you’ll love this tale of two rival rowers battling for a place in the London 2012 team.

One is the dark, brooding Dan (my favourite) while the other is the rich, arrogant Rollo (who I suspect Kate Lace secretly prefers). The pair went to the same posh school, though Dan’s mum was the dinner lady, while Rollo’s parents own a Downton Abbey-like pile with a tree-lined drive, lake, stables and scores of ancestral portraits. Dan and Rollo both won coveted places at Oxford, are both brilliant rowers and are now in fierce competition on the river too (though Rollo has a few dirty tricks up his sleeve to foil Dan).

Just to complicate matters further, they’re both keen on the same girl – Amy, a petite physiotherapist who works at Oxford’s John Radcliffe hospital and is a rowing cox in her spare time. Misunderstandings galore, Lycra-clad men, thrilling races and loads of steamy sex scenes (starting on page one) make for a fun summer read – or to quote Fabulous again, an “oar-some” one.

Cox by Kate Lace (Arrow, £6.99)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

David Beckham's top ten tourist tips

David Beckham would be the last person to claim that culture is his speciality.

But with London 2012 fast approaching, the list of top ten places to visit in the UK he has compiled for tourism agency VisitBritain is lacklustre to say the least. Despite having a host of cultural treats to choose from, he unimaginatively suggests taking a tour of Buckingham Palace, eating at Tony Lane’s Pie & Mash shop in London’s East End, taking the kids to Thorpe Park and playing a round of golf at St Andrews.

Could you come up with a better list for this summer's visitors? I've given it a go and here are my top ten suggestions:
  1. Take a tour of the newly restored Cutty Sark (and explore Greenwich afterwards).
  2. Buy a bunch of flowers at the Columbia Road flower market in Bethnal Green.
  3. Visit the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern (and admire the views across the Thames to the City too).
  4. Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
  5. See Tower Bridge rise up (it happens about 1,000 times a year and you can check times on the Tower Bridge website).
  6. Take afternoon tea at the Ritz (the prettiest restaurant in London).
  7. Listen to a free lunchtime concert at St Martin-in-the Fields in Trafalgar Square.
  8. Go and see a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
  9. Have lunch at the Porthminster Café in St Ives. It looks out across the sea and you can pop into the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden afterwards).
  10. Walk up Catbells in the Lake District. It’s a bracing climb but the stunning views across Derwentwater are worth it when you get to the top. 

PS. If you’re looking for a present for a girl who adores trying new beauty products then a subscription to GlossyBox could be just the ticket. It’s such a smart idea. You sign up, pay £10 per month (plus p&p) and you receive a chic box containing a selection of five luxury beauty samples from exclusive brands and tips, offers and tricks about beauty and style. I received the April box (above) and it was a real treat. It included an Inika Cosmetics organic eyeliner, a divine peppermint-scented Ayuuri bodywash, Figs & Rouge lip balm and more besides. The June box looks even better, with MeMeMe nail varnish, a mini mascara by Yves Rocher and a pair of precision tweezers.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Download Olympic Flames for free!

The crowd roared with delight as the chestnut stallion soared gracefully through the air. The fence was more than one and a half metres high, but the rider and horse made the jump look effortless. When the duo touched the ground on the other side, there was a swell of applause from the spectators packed into the stand. The rider, resplendent in a navy blue show jacket and skin-tight white breeches, ignored it all, set on taking the next thirteen jumps with similar ease.

Jack Stone’s jaw tensed as he watched. Stylish, brave and fast - this was a competitor he was going to have to go hell for leather to beat.

Up until now, he’d reckoned he stood a good chance of a gold medal. After all, the American showjumping team had won the last two Olympic titles. Not only that, they had left nothing to chance in their preparations for London 2012. They had been training in the US for months on end, and had only flown into London a week ago. But watching riders of this quality made him uneasy. Only for a second, though – Jack wasn’t the type to be racked by self-doubt. But even so, he felt a flicker of irritation that when it came to technique and speed, the European teams so often had the edge.

These are the opening paragraphs of my new ebook, Olympic Flames. If you’d like to read more you can download the novella for free on Amazon on May 23 and 24. I’d love to know what you think!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Olympic Flames - a novel about show jumping, London 2012 and old flames

My first novel took nine months to write and another year to publish. How times have changed. I’ve just written my first ebook and a week after the publishers gave it the thumbs-up it was available for download on Amazon, iTunes and more.

I loved every minute of writing Olympic Flames. A novella, it’s set in the world of showjumping (or jumping, as it’s called at the Olympics) and is the story of Mimi Carter, the youngest member of the British jumping team for London 2012. Mimi is a brilliant rider who’s had to claw her way to the top. She’s desperate to win an Olympic gold medal in front of her home crowd, but when an enigmatic old flame arrives back on the scene, can she put her feelings to one side and realise her dream?

That’s the essence of the story so I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

I had a few childhood riding lessons when my family lived in Epsom (just down the road from the Derby racecourse in fact) and I was completely useless. But in the past couple of months I’ve become gripped by the equestrian world.  Did you know, for instance, that the three equestrian disciplines - jumping, dressage and eventing - are the only Olympic sports where men and women compete against each other on equal terms? That the Olympic equestrian events will take place in Greenwich Park, right next to the elegant stone façade of the National Maritime Museum? And that the temporary stables will be home to 200 horses for the duration of the Olympics?  

I never thought I’d say this but I’ve become so engrossed that I can’t wait to see the Olympic equestrian events on TV. At this rate I’m going to end up booking my first riding lesson in years…

Olympic Flames by Emma Lee-Potter (Endeavour Press, £1.99)

Thursday, 19 April 2012

London 2012 - and a day out in Greenwich

With London 2012 less than 100 days away now, there’s a real buzz in the capital. After the Orange Prize shortlist breakfast on Tuesday I hared across east London to spend the day with my student daughter in Greenwich. When we hopped off the Docklands Light Railway train the very first thing we spotted was the newly restored Cutty Sark, which reopens next week after a £50 million transformation. The 143-year-old tea clipper, due to be unveiled by the Queen on April 25, has been lifted 11 feet off the ground and looks utterly breathtaking.

Then we walked through the rain-soaked streets to the Old Naval College and suddenly stumbled on an extraordinary scene.  Piled up behind a giant stone elephant was a massive and incongruous mound of old wood, furniture and sundry rubbish. It looked like an art installation by an up and coming Brit Artist but it turned out that we were in the middle of a  film set. When I asked a grumpy man in a fluorescent jacket he told me they were filming a scene from Les Miserables the following day.

Next it was on to Greenwich Park, where even more preparations were taking place. Not for a film this time, but for the London 2012 equestrian events. An area of the park, right next to the elegant stone façade of the National Maritime Museum, is being transformed into the arena where the show jumping and dressage events will be staged. Talk about a showstopper of a location. You can see Canary Wharf to the north and the historic Royal Observatory to the south. But then again, the 200 Olympic riders will probably have other things to concentrate on than the stupendous views.

Like thousands of others I applied for countless tickets for London 2012 (I really wanted to take my bike mad son to a cycling event) and got precisely none. So up until this week I felt distinctly underwhelmed about the Olympics. But after spending the day in east London and seeing the amazing transformation taking place, I’ve changed my mind. It’s exciting all right…

Friday, 13 April 2012

Friday book review - The Bumper Book of London by Becky Jones & Clare Lewis

The biggest treat when I was little was a trip to London to stay with my mum’s great friend Sally. At the time Sally was editor of She magazine and lived in a top floor flat in Stafford Terrace, just off Kensington High Street.

In the evenings we listened to Daydream Believer by The Monkees (RIP Davy Jones) and learned a mad card game called Spit that we still play to this day.

But during the daytime Sally always had an action-packed itinerary planned. She encouraged me and my sister to run round the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens and race up the tube escalators at top speed (full of energy and pzazz, she didn’t believe in just standing there doing nothing). She took us to the Tower of London, Madame Tussauds and Kew Gardens, to cool shops like Biba and Mr Freedom and was furious if we ever said anything was boring. “It’s only boring if you make it boring,” she’d retort.

London is the most brilliant place for children, and if you’re looking for ideas about where to go, The Bumper Book of London is the perfect guide. Written by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis and subtitled “everything you need to know about London and more,” it’s stuffed full of history, folklore, funny street names, the modern skyline, London lingo, the best free and fun things to do, the best places to buy sweets, ice creams and toys, recipes, songs and much much more. I particularly liked the lists of children’s stories set in London – from Madeline in London by Ludwig Bemelmans to Mary Poppins by PL Travers and Beverly Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth. 

For children (and adults) who love random facts, there are plenty to chew over. Thanks to the book, my favourite new discoveries are that all black cabs have a turning circle of only eight metres because of the narrow roundabout at the entrance to the Savoy Hotel, that the sphinxes at the base of Cleopatra’s Needle are positioned the wrong way round and that the London 2012 Velodrome has been nicknamed the Pringle – because it’s the same shape as the crisp.

The Bumper Book of London by Becky Jones and Clare Lewis (Frances Lincoln, £9.99)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Wearing a uniform - for school, work and London 2012

There are loads of arguments in favour of school uniforms. Headteachers say they help to maintain discipline, encourage pupils to focus on their schoolwork and build a sense of loyalty and belonging. Parents reckon they’re cheaper than forking out for everyday clothes and mean fewer battles in the mornings.

But even so, I’m not keen on them at all. I’ve rarely seen anyone look chic in a school uniform and some are downright dreadful. As a teenager at a (very strict) girls’ school I wore a St Trinian’s style navy pinafore, blazer, tie, beige socks and grey felt hat with a badge on the front. We had to wear black shoes outdoors and brown shoes indoors. The outfit put me off uniforms for life – which is partly why my son now goes to a school where he can wear what he likes.

Despite my antipathy towards school uniforms, I can understand the need for them in some professions – the armed forces, police, transport staff and airline pilots just for starters. And I can see that insisting the 70,000 volunteers and 6,000 staff at the London 2012 Olympics are in uniform is a sensible idea. After all, they’ll need to look smart, efficient and easy to spot in the crowd.

But given that London has more talented fashion designers than any other city on the planet, creating a super-stylish uniform should have been a piece of cake. Vivienne Westwood, Sarah Burton (creative director of Alexander McQueen), Stella McCartney, Erdem, Betty Jackson – the list of fantastic designers is as long as your arm. Surely one of them would be perfect to dream up the Olympic uniform?

But no, the job of designing uniforms for 2012 “games makers” and “technical officials” has been a collaboration between the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, adidas and Next. And I'm sorry, but the result is hideous. The games maker version consists of a purple polyester jacket with red collar and cuffs and beige trousers, while the technical officials will be clad in blue jackets with turquoise piping – not quite so bad, but nearly.

What do you think?

Image: London 2012
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