Showing posts with label Oxford. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oxford. Show all posts

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

When to take the Christmas tree down

It’s my first post of 2013 and time to look forward. Actually I threw caution to the wind this morning and was rash enough to tell my local radio station (live on air!) that my twin ambitions for the year are to complete my new novel and to learn to speak fluent French.

But before I could get started on either, there was the thorny question of when to take down the Christmas tree. And even more pertinently, what the hell to do with it after that. I don’t get as fed up with the Christmas tree as my mum used to. She always put hers up early and by Boxing Day was bored of it. By dawn on December 26 she’d dismantled the whole thing, baubles, stars, fairy and all, and stuffed it outside.

This Christmas, our tree lasted till New Year’s Day, when it looked such a sorry sight that it simply had to go.

Stumped for ideas about where to take it I scanned the council website. The recycling page came up trumps, listing a plethora of collection points across the city. They are open for the first two weeks of January and best of all, the trees get recycled into woodchip to use in Oxford’s parks.

My husband nobly said he’d take the tree to our nearest site on foot and set off in the chilly afternoon air. But for some reason he was gone an awfully long time.

“Was there a problem?” I asked when he finally arrived back.

He grinned. “No,” he said. “But I went twice.”

“Er, why?”

“Because we never got round to taking last year’s Christmas tree. So I walked back and dragged that along too.”

He got some very strange looks as he hauled the tree, completely brown and with a few dead sticks attached, through the streets of Oxford. A man selling copies of The Big Issue did a double take when he saw it. “Is that this year’s tree?” he asked. “You should go and get your money back.” 

PS. My picture shows a flooded Port Meadow on Christmas Day.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bike fever at House With No Name

Bike fever has hit House With No Name with a vengeance. The bike rack on the car grows more sophisticated by the day, the house is full of giant tubs of carbohydrate protein and my son’s bought a bike computer that maps everything from time and speed to altitude and heart rate.

But most surprising of all is that his obsession is catching. His dad took him to Oxford’s brilliant Beeline Bicycles to buy a puncture repair kit and came home with a ton of cycling gear. For himself. Next, my daughter declared she was going to cycle to the boulangerie every morning to buy croissants so her bike was duly strapped to the roof too.

A few days later they all embarked on their first bike ride together. First up was a speedy lesson on bike cleats, then they were off. Actually they had to walk the first bit of the way, terrified that the weed-infested bumpy track might damage their precious tyres. The next-door neighbours looked stunned at the sight of les Anglais trooping down to the road in their garish Lycra and bike helmets.

My husband and daughter sensibly chose shorter routes but my son returned two and a half hours later, dripping in sweat and beaming. He’d done a round trip over the hills, cycled up a mountain my old 2CV would struggle with and got back just in time for a carb-loaded supper.  

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Tour de France and other biking matters

School’s out for my teenage son, who’s finished his scary exams and plans to spend the next six weeks on his bike. His new obsession has coincided neatly with the Tour de France so when he’s not on the road, he’s glued to Bradley Wiggins on the TV.

Every morning he appears in the kitchen, clad in his Lycra cycling gear. He fills a couple of water bottles, stuffs some flapjacks in his pockets, grabs his helmet and cycling shoes and then he’s off. If I’m lucky he’ll give me a vague idea of where he’s going and how many miles he’s planning but that’s about it.

The truth is that I’m a bit torn about his new hobby. It’s fantastic that he’s out in the fresh air every day getting tons of exercise. But he got cut up by a car in Oxford the other day (he clocked the driver’s idiocy so managed to duck out of her way at the last minute) and being a natural born worrier, I can’t help fretting.

Mind you, another plus is that he’s getting to know the countryside like the back of his hand. He hasn’t got a swanky GPS or data roaming on his phone so he tries to memorise his routes before he sets off. But his memory occasionally lets him down. Cue a phone call on Sunday afternoon saying “can you look at the map for me? I think I’ve gone the wrong way. I’m just the other side of High Wycombe.”

PS. When you’re taking the scenic route rather than the motorway, High Wycombe is a good 35 miles from Oxford…

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)

Monday, 2 July 2012

Boy on a bike

Selfridge’s, Cos, Space NK, The Hambledon in Winchester – just a few of my favourite shops. But I reckon the emporium I’m going to be frequenting more than any other this summer is Beeline Bicycles in Oxford’s Cowley Road.

After years of being obsessed with BMX bikes and mountain bikes, my teenage son has now taken up road biking. And as always, he never does anything by halves.

But before he got pedalling we had to track down his dad’s 20-year-old road bike – a mission that involved driving halfway across a massive disused airbase in the middle of rural Oxfordshire. Our aim? To hunt down the storage container where the bike's been languishing for years. With rows of derelict buildings, pot-holed runways and security guards, the base looked like something out of an Anthony Horowitz novel. We were pretty sure that if we took a wrong turn, we’d never be seen again.

It took us a few attempts to find it, but finally the removal boss wheeled a retro-looking pink and yellow road bike into his office. My son looked appalled at the girly colours but perked up no end when he realised the bike was rideable.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Beeline to get him kitted out with pedals, cleats, shoes, bike helmet (as opposed to the tin lid he uses for dirt jumping), water bottles and a ton of Lycra. As he inspected the new kit, the dynamic leader of the local cycling club arrived and nodded approvingly at the bike. “That’s the kind of bike I started out on,” he said. “We go out cycling every Saturday morning. Why don’t you join us?”

My son nodded with alacrity, making a mental note of the time and place. “And your mum can come along too,” he added. My son’s face was a picture. It was plain what he was thinking. Biking and mums do not go together.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Afternoon tea at the Old Parsonage in Oxford

It was my birthday yesterday and the last day of my son’s exams – so what better way to celebrate than afternoon tea in Oxford?

And what better place to choose than the Old Parsonage? One of the best-known hotels in Oxford, it’s housed in a pretty 17th century building and boasts a shady stone terrace that’s just perfect for afternoon tea. No wonder the place is so popular with newly-graduated students. There were loads of them there yesterday, resplendent in their mortar boards and gowns, taking tea with their proud parents.

The three of us went for broke and chose what the Old Parsonage calls its “very high tea.” Actually, it was a “very big tea” – a mix of smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches (with their crusts cut off of course), scones and cream and divine-looking cakes, all washed down by a special blend of tea named after the Old Parsonage. We tucked in with alacrity, although we couldn’t quite manage the cakes. “No problem,” said the charming waiter. He hurried inside and reappeared a few minutes later with the cakes packed into neat brown boxes.

At £16.95 a head, afternoon tea at the Old Parsonage wasn’t exactly cheap but it was a special occasion after all. Not only that, we were so full by the time we got home that none of us could possibly manage supper later on. And even better, we’ve got these luscious cakes (below) to look forward to for tea today…

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The coffee shop conquerors

It wouldn’t have been my top priority as an academic study but two US professors have put “coffee shop conquerors” under the spotlight. You know, the customers who sit in Costa and Starbucks for hours on end, tapping away at their laptops, hogging tables designed for four and glaring at people who politely ask “is this chair taken?” Or in US academic-speak, “communicate to other customers that intrusion is not welcome.” 

The professors’ report claims that thanks to the free WiFi on offer in most coffee shops, more and more workers are using them as satellite offices. They spread their papers across tables, talk loudly on mobile phones and pore over their MacBooks as if their lives depended on it. They send out subliminal messages saying “don’t interrupt me, I’m a very busy person,” and worse still, they make a single skinny latte last all afternoon.

It’s a trend that’s prevalent in the UK as well as the US – though in Oxford right now you’re more likely to stumble across bleary-eyed students revising for exams than budding entrepreneurs in sharply cut business suits.

Actually, on the subject of coffee shops, the thing that most irritates me is the decision by Starbucks to try and learn their customers’ names. I’m all for being friendly but as long as I get a decent flat white coffee and some peace and quiet to read my book I don’t care what the staff in my local Starbucks call me.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Ian Rankin at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival

The sun’s shining, the blossom’s out and one of my favourite literary events of the year is underway.

The Oxford Literary Festival always attracts a galaxy of writing superstars and this year is no exception. Last night I hurried down to Christ Church to hear bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin in action. He was there to talk about The Impossible Dead, the second in his gripping new series featuring Inspector Malcolm Fox, a cop who investigates other cops. But he also spoke about Inspector Rebus’s retirement, his view that “a cop is a good tool for dissecting society” and his long abandoned PhD on the novels of Muriel Spark.

Like me, several members of the audience did a double-take when they walked into the grandly-named Master’s Garden Marquee. Ian Rankin was already ensconced onstage but instead of looking at notes he was busy filming us lot. The reason, he explained later on, was that Alan Yentob is featuring him in a forthcoming edition of BBC2’s Imagine series and has given him a video camera to capture his writing life. Considering that novelists spend most of their time shut away by themselves, Rankin reckoned that a film of him out and about in Oxford would make more interesting footage.

Tantalisingly, Rankin waved around the first draft of his new novel, due out in November. The contents are so top secret, he said, that he’s not even allowed to reveal the title yet. But he lessened the blow by giving us a different exclusive. He read an extract from a short story set in 1930s America, the first draft of which he’d finished the night before. “I loved doing it,” he said. “I didn’t realise what fun it was writing American PI (private investigator) stuff.”

Other revelations along the way included the fact that he chose the name Rebus because it means puzzle – after all, if Inspector Morse’s name is inspired by a code, why shouldn’t Rebus come from a puzzle? He revealed that his new protagonist, Malcolm Fox, is far more like him than Rebus. “I like writing about his family – his dad and his sister,” said Rankin. “And Fox is open to seeing Edinburgh as a beautiful city whereas Rebus sees it as a series of crime scenes.” Most telling of all, Rankin admitted that he feels a sense of unfinished business about characters like Rebus, his sidekick Siobhan and the notorious Edinburgh gangster Cafferty. Does that mean they might one day reappear in his work? Like millions of Rankin fans, I do hope so.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Getting dressed for breakfast

The world is divided into those who get dressed for breakfast and those who don’t.

A few years back I remember reading a story about students at an Oxford college being ordered to dress properly for breakfast. Apparently – shock, horror – the undergraduates had been turning up for their morning brew and cornflakes wearing skimpy nighties and no dressing gowns. Some appeared clad only in bath towels, prompting the dean to send out stern letters asking them to “dress appropriately.”

The dean’s words would be like water off a duck’s back as far as my lot are concerned. I can’t speak in the mornings till I’ve made myself a strong cup of Earl Grey so I certainly couldn’t cope with getting dressed first – or heaven forbid, putting on any make-up. And my children are pretty much the same. In fact my night owl daughter would quite happily drift around all day in her pyjamas (non-matching of course) while our former neighbours were perfectly used to seeing my son bouncing on the trampoline at dawn in his PJs.

My husband, however, is the complete opposite. He wandered into the kitchen this morning looking immaculate in a charcoal suit and pristine shirt (no tie, he says he’s never wearing one again) and stared in astonishment at the motley crew slumped at the table. And yes, by motley crew, I mean the rest of us!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The first picnic of the year

We’ve got a bit of a thing about picnics in our family. My mum was so evangelical about them that we used to picnic in all seasons and in all weathers. From rain-lashed, windswept beaches to sunlit Dorset fields, she chose picnic spots with an expert eye and reckoned that food always tasted better when you ate it outside.

Sometimes she’d unload a wicker hamper, old patchwork tablecloth, china plates and glasses from the back of her bright green 2CV and lay it all out on the grass. Other times she’d manage to stuff a whole picnic into the capacious pockets of her blue InWear coat. My husband still talks about the time, soon after he first met her, when we decided to walk to the beach at the lost village of Tyneham (above). As we sat on the pebbly shore, gazing at the boats tacking back and forth, she promptly produced hot cheese and tomato rolls, seasoned with mustard and wrapped in tin foil, and a flask of coffee for four out of her pockets.

And now, all these years later, my children are just as enthusiastic about picnics as my mum. So when we woke yesterday to discover that the grey skies and freezing temperatures had miraculously disappeared, they suggested an impromptu picnic. We hurriedly assembled a lunch of soup, rolls, cake and coffee and strolled down the road to Oxford’s lovely University Parks.

We walked to the middle of the park, stopping to admire the spring crocuses and snowdrops and passing dog walkers, Lycra-clad runners and parents with babies in prams. We chose a picnic spot near the river and marvelled how even in the middle of a bustling city, you can still be on your own. Then we glanced to our left. On a pitch in the distance, two teams, one sporting pale blue, the other navy blue, were charging around at top speed. Hundreds of cheering spectators seemed to have materialised from nowhere and a little marquee was selling T-shirts and hoodies. We looked again and burst out laughing. I don’t quite know how we’d managed it, but we were right in the middle of the annual Oxford v Cambridge mixed lacrosse varsity match. Did you know such a thing existed? No, me neither.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Why this year's snowfall made me sad

We were walking along St Giles when the first snowflakes fell. With temperatures below zero and our feet turning to blocks of ice, the snow had been threatening to arrive all day – and finally it had. With a vengeance.

My teenage son took one look and immediately walked faster, keen to get back to the warmth of home and the excitement of his Xbox. I felt a bit sad. This was the first time snow hadn’t made him leap up and down in excitement. Up until a year ago he’d take one look outside and think “sledges, snowmen, snowball fights with the boys next door.” Before I knew it, he’d be grabbing a jumble of clothes (no coat of course) and would be frantically unlocking the back door, desperate to hurl himself into the wintery world outside.

He’d be as happy as Larry all day. He’d get through four changes of clothes (all those snowballs), build a snowman taller than himself and rootle about in the garden shed for the sledge my mother gave him. I remember the year he came back inside at the end of the day, soaked to the skin, exhausted and beaming with happiness. He then rushed upstairs to post a cheery message on Facebook. “Yay, no school,” he wrote. “Thank you snow.”

But now he’s 17 he’s not interested in a paltry few inches of snow. It might make the dreaming spires of Oxford look even more beautiful, but he needs several feet of the stuff to play in. He wants to leap off mountains and do scary twirls in the air on a snowboard. Sadly, our current frosting of snow just doesn’t cut the mustard as far as he's concerned.

PS. My husband times his work trips to the Far East impeccably. While I’m gingerly picking my way along the icy Oxford pavements in my grippiest shoes and wondering whether I can get the car out, he’s on a flight halfway across the world. Next stop – Kuala Lumpur. Temperature – 25 degrees C.

Image: Oxford snow by tevjanphotos, Oxford Light

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Why I moved from the city to the country - and back to the city

My daughter was a year old when I got obsessed with the idea of moving to the country. We lived in Camberwell, south London, at the time and even though I loved the house, with its pocket-handkerchief garden and scruffy Georgian facade, I hated the traffic and noise.

In the space of a few weeks, one neighbour was mugged in the next alley-way and another had her bag snatched while her two small children looked on. One night I glanced out of the back window to see flames soaring 20 feet into the night sky. Joyriders had stolen a car down the road and set it on fire next to our fence.

Then out of the blue my husband was offered a new job in Blackpool. Within weeks we’d let our house and rented a farmhouse in the wilds of rural Lancashire. Our friends thought we’d gone completely mad. The way most of them reacted you’d have thought we were emigrating to Siberia, not 200 miles up the M6.

But it turned out to be the very best thing. Downham is one of the loveliest villages in the country. It looks like something out of a picture book – complete with pub, church, post office, stream with ducks, even a nursery school. What more could you ask for? We were entranced by the clear air, stunning views and hearty walks up majestic Pendle Hill.

My son was born in Lancashire (and still supports Blackburn Rovers in fact) and I’m sure the lifestyle there, playing on his bike and swinging on a rubber tyre hanging from a huge oak tree near the house, gave him a lifelong passion for outdoor pursuits. When a friend came up from Manchester with her young son she marvelled at the way he hared off down the field. “I’ve never seen him run that far before,” she said. “At home I always have his hand clamped in mine. I’m terrified to let him out of my sight.”

But sadly, after a few years of living up north, we had to move south for work. With the children growing up fast, the idea of living round the corner from schools and shops seemed oddly appealing. So we decided to have a change and moved to Oxford – where even now, the novelty of being able to walk out of the house at all hours to buy bread, coffee and a bottle of Pinot Grigio still hasn’t quite worn off.

PS: My husband's finally succombed to the inevitable and bought reading glasses. I helped him choose a chic tortoiseshell pair in David Clulow and texted a picture to our daughter. "Are you trying to make him look like Bill Nighy?" she texted back. Hmm, she's got a point. Since Bill Nighy's my number one pin-up, I think I probably am.

Picture of Downham: Lancashire County Council

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Oxford - my favourite city

I’ve got a serious moving house habit. One that dates back to my childhood, when my father was in the RAF and we moved houses (sometimes countries) every year. I was always the new girl at school – the Billy No Mates who didn’t have a clue who to give my dinner money to or where to hang my PE bag.

It's a habit that's stuck. We’ve moved house an embarrassing 12 times in the last 25 years, and just like me, my children have been to a ridiculous number of schools. Friends who still use antiquated address books grumble that our page is a mess of crossings-out and ask why we can’t stay in one place for a while.

But now we live in Oxford, we might just do that. Samuel Johnson wrote that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” and I feel the same about Oxford. One of the most beguiling cities in the world, it’s got everything – fine architecture, breathtaking views and a reputation for academic excellence second to none.

It’s a city that’s always been associated with creativity, ideas and innovation. The best-known architects of their age designed some of the country’s most inspiring buildings here – from Sir Christopher Wren’s magnificent Sheldonian Theatre (above) to James Gibbs’s Radcliffe Camera, a domed library built to house medical and scientific books. Oxford has also inspired some of our greatest writers. Lewis Carroll, creator of Alice in Wonderland, was a mathematics don at Christ Church, the Inklings, a group of writers that included CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein, used to discuss their work in the Eagle and Child pub in St Giles and Matthew Arnold immortalised the city’s “dreaming spires.”

Oxford is renowned for doing things first. It boasts the UK’s oldest botanic garden, as well as the exquisitely-restored Ashmolean, the first public museum in the world. William Morris launched the UK’s first mass-produced car here in the 1920s and it was at Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary in 1941 that penicillin was first used on a patient, founding the science of antibiotics.

The city’s moved with the times too. Once renowned for its Brideshead Revisited image, it’s probably just as famous these days for Inspector Morse and BMW’s stylish Mini, which is manufactured at the company’s Cowley plant.

Perhaps the best thing about Oxford is the passion it inspires in tourists and residents alike. Crime doyenne PD James said that “the air buzzes with intellectual argument and laughter.” What more could you ask of a city?

My favourite restaurant - Quod, 92-94 High Street, Oxford.
My favourite cinema - Phoenix Picturehouse, 57 Walton Street, Oxford.
My favourite pub - The Trout, Godstow Road, Wolvercote, Oxford.
My favourite bookshop - Blackwell's, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford.
My favourite place for coffee - The Grand Cafe, 84 High Street, Oxford.
My favourite walk - A stroll through University Parks or across Port Meadow.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Working from home, Brora and memories of Lancashire

Sitting in my study watching the Oxford traffic trundle past my window (above), I yearn to work in a sleek sky-scraper, with a state-of-the-art coffee machine, decent photocopier and the buzz of working alongside other people. There are lots of brilliant things about working from home – no commuting, no boss breathing down my neck and, until my children turned into ultra-independent teenagers, no last-minute panics when they were off school.

But I hate the solitude, the people who assume that just because you’re at home you’re lolling around doing nothing all day and in the winter months, the cold. Even though it’s only September, I’ve been so freezing this week that I’ve already started wearing my cosy Brora fingerless gloves in my office every day.

Even so, it’s nothing compared to the three years we spent living in a draughty farmhouse in the wilds of Lancashire. Our north-facing house was perched on the side of a hill and all we could see were fields and sheep. It was stunning but even in summer the temperature was always a few degrees lower than anywhere else. I frequently set off to collect my daughter from school wrapped in a thick coat and scarf to find everyone else basking in bright sunshine. The gales that whistled round the side of the house sounded like someone was being murdered and had to be heard to be believed. The sheep had to be stark, raving desperate to venture as far as the field next to us.

The house, which we rented from an aristocratic landowner, didn’t have any central heating at all so we had to light open fires all year round. We got through so much coal that Mr Wilkinson, the tough, no-nonsense driver who battled the wind, rain and snow to deliver our fuel, declared we were his very best customers. When I rang one Christmas to order yet more coal, I asked his wife how much we’d need to see us through until the New Year. “Tell her a wagon-load,” chuckled Mr Wilkinson from the background.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The day that changed their lives

The sense of excitement in Oxford on Wednesday afternoon was palpable.

Police in fluorescent jackets lined St Aldate’s, a helicopter hovered overhead and an acrobat walked across a tight rope on Cornmarket. Oh yes, and just down the road at Christ Church, Michelle Obama was encouraging a generation of schoolgirls to aim high and achieve their potential.

The First Lady’s connection with girls from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College in Islington dates back two years. She first visited the school in 2009 and stayed in touch afterwards, an impressive feat in itself considering her whirlwind, and worldwide, schedule. This time round she met 37 girls from the school during their day-trip to Oxford to learn about the university experience and higher education. After meeting academics, talking to students and visiting Oxford landmarks like the Bodleian Library and Sheldonian Theatre (pictured above), the teenagers rounded the day off by filing into the dining hall at Christ Church (now famed as the Hogwarts dining room in the Harry Potter films) to hear Michelle Obama speak to them.

As she recalled her own path from a modest Chicago background to studying at Princeton, she told them: “I realised that if I worked hard enough I could do just as well as anyone else. I realised that success is not about the background you’re from. It’s about the confidence that you have and the effort you’re willing to invest.”

Michelle Obama was inspiring, wise and warm. She answered the girls’ questions – from how long before the US has a female President to how to pick a good husband – and gave each of them a heartfelt hug. As one 15 year old wrote in The Times afterwards: “My name is Aneesah Siddiqui. If I hadn’t met Michelle Obama, you would probably have never heard it. But now – watch this space!”

After an hour and a bit, the police stopped the traffic once more, the First Lady’s cavalcade swept past in a flash and the First Lady, resplendent in white, smiled and waved from the window. The crowd waved back and seconds later the centre of Oxford looked the same again. But girls listening to Michelle Obama that afternoon will remember it as the day that changed their lives.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Vast skies and searing heat

Amazingly, it’s nearly 30 years since Barbara Trapido's first novel, Brother of the More Famous Jack, was published to huge acclaim. Since then she’s produced just six more.

But trust me, her latest, Sex and Stravinsky, is well worth the wait.

At first glance, Oxford headteacher Caroline Silver is one of those annoying women who’s clever, beautiful and selfless. She’s an amazing cook, makes her own clothes (for goodness sake!) and even transforms an old double-decker bus into a family home for husband Josh and their ballet-obsessed daughter Zoe. Poor Zoe provides a memorable comic interlude when she’s forced to endure the French exchange trip from hell.

But Caroline’s life is far from perfect. She’s saddled with a ghastly mother (Josh dubs her “the witch woman”) who favours Caroline’s self-centred sister, derides her efforts to please and bleeds her dry.

Meanwhile in South Africa, Josh Silver’s first love has problems of her own. Hattie Thomas is a children’s author who spends her days writing in the minimalist house designed by her forceful architect husband. Their sulky teenage daughter wishes her mother would “literally drop dead,” there’s a mysterious new lodger in the cottage at the end of the garden and Hattie's dissolute brother has vanished off the face of the earth.

The novel steps up a gear when the narrative switches to South Africa, where Trapido was born and brought up. Her account of Josh’s adoption by two generous-hearted human rights activists is deeply moving, while her description of the vast South African skies and searing heat made me want to leap straight on a plane to Cape Town. It's a dazzling read.

Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido is published by Bloomsbury at £7.99.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...