Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Watched in 2009

This was an interesting exercise, as there isn't one place where I've recorded all the films I've seen in 2009. I had to look through notebooks, diaries and Excel spreadsheets, hunt for ticket stubs in pockets and handbags, and when all else failed, use my memory. This is the list I've come up with:

Watched on the big screen:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Informant!
The Ugly Truth
Eden is West
New Moon
The Proposal
Slumdog Millionnaire
The Reader
Confessions of a Shopaholic
In the Loop
Star Trek
Angels and Demons
My Life in Ruins
State of Play

Watched on DVD for the first time:

The Darjeeling Limited
Reservation Road
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Breakfast at Tiffany's
The Thomas Crown Affair (original)
Arizona Dream
Grand Torino
The Painted Veil
The Good Shepherd
Night at the Museum
Easy Virtue
Run, Fat Boy, Run
The Shawshank Redemption
Jersey Girl
Yes Man

My favourite new movie was without doubt The Reader, closely followed by Twilight, Eden is West and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of the chick flicks, The Proposal gets my thumbs up.

As for the films I watched on DVD, I liked Reservation Road, Changeling, The Painted Veil, The Shawshank Redemption and Easy Virtue.

The wooden spoons go to My Life in Ruins, which was laughably bad, and The Darjeeling Limited, which was unbearable. In fact, The Darjeeling Limited deserves special mention as the only film that I've not managed to watch to the end. As someone easily mesmerised by the moving image, this is quite an achievement.

In 2010, I'm looking forward to watching The Girl Who Played with Fire, Eclipse and Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part I (sequels, respectively, to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Twilight saga and the HP series), as well as Remember Me, for no other reason than I happened to see the trailer and liked it. The fact that Pierce Brosnan and Lena Olin are in it, is totally coincidental :-)

I'm looking for the movie equivalent of or If you know of any such websites, please leave a comment!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Read in 2009

I don't usually bother with past year reviews and new year resolutions, but I thought it'd be a good idea to put together a list of the books I've read and films I've watched over a certain period (in this case, 2009) for future reminiscing.

So, here are the books I've read between January and December 2009, grouped in three categories depending on the impression they made on me. Movies to follow.

Books I enjoyed very much and might read again sometime:

The Twilight Saga: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn and Midnight Sun - Stephenie Meyer
Chasing Daisy - Paige Toon
Millennium Trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire - Stieg Larsson
The Godmother - Carrie Adams
The Reader - Bernhard Schlink
Stephenie Plum series: Fearless Fourteen - Janet Evanovich
The Room of Lost Things - Stella Duffy

Books that I liked, but reading them once was enough:

Rumour Has It - Jill Mansell
In Death Series: Naked in Death and Glory in Death - Nora Roberts
This Charming Man - Marian Keyes
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
The Associate - John Grisham
Shame and Daughters of Shame - Jasvinder Sanghera

Books that I didn't like much or left unfinished:

One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed - Melissa Parente
Q & A - Vikas Swarup
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera
Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder
Shame on You - Clara Salaman
True Blood Series: Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas - Charlaine Harris

Do you ever wonder what it is that makes you like a book? Is it the quality of the writing, the believability of the characters, the excitement of the story, a combination of all three or something else entirely? If a book is part of a longer or ongoing story, does this make you more or less likely to want to read it?

Looking back at the books in my top list, I can remember the characters in each book very vividly, not just the main ones but the secondary ones too. I can remember what they looked like, what they behaved like and even some of their names, which is surprising as my memory for names is sieve-like at best. The storylines are an eclectic mix - romance, crime/thriller, chick-lit, literary fiction, comedy and mystery are all represented, so obviously I'm not loyal to one genre. The literary quality of the writing doesn't seem to be important either, otherwise Twilight wouldn't be in my top group, and Sophie's World wouldn't be in the bottom.

Interestingly enough, I seem to have got acquainted with a number of series for the first time this year - Twilight, Millennium, True Blood and In Death. Up until last year, the only series I was into were Stephanie Plum and Harry Potter. I guess my reading habits must be changing.

As for what 2010 might have in store, I'm looking forward to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (part 3 of the Millennium Trilogy coming out in paperback in April and not a day too soon), more books from the In Death series and last but by no means least, Finger Lickin' Fifteen, the next episode in the Stephanie Plum series. Roll on, 2010!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Guess who...

...went to work in black trousers and a navy-blue jacket yesterday?

Yep, it was me.

No, I wasn't making a fashion statement, just chose my outfit in a hurry during the hours of early morning semi-darkness. It appears that 8 Watt energy-saving light bulbs aren't much help when there's virtually no light coming in through the windows.

Yes, my colleagues noticed - all except Gina, who claimed she was colourblind (but I suspect she was just too kind to laugh). It was impossible to miss really. If you place black and navy side-by-side under fluorescent lights, you'll know what I mean.

I also had a massive toe hole on my ladder-resist tights. I guess the packet didn't make any claims regarding toe holes, just ladders.

At least I had matching shoes on, both in excellent condition (no visible scuffs, heels attached etc.).

I kept the jacket off and shoes on all day long, and thanked my lucky stars that those were the only mishaps of Day 3 in the office.

Day 4 went without a hitch. Maybe, hopefully, I'm getting the knack of it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Too eager or what?

For the next ten days or so I'll be temporarily joining the local workforce, which, you may remember, I left 11 months ago. I've not yet started looking for a proper job (I admit I'm enjoying life in the slow lane way too much) but occasionally a little bit of work comes my way, and I don't like to say no to some extra $$.

Today was supposed to be my first day.

What did I do yesterday morning? Why, I got up, showered, put on my power suit and went to work. Yep, you've guessed it, I got my dates mixed up and went in a day early.

This has got to be one of the most embarrassing things ever - it certainly makes my personal Top 10 of idiotic moments. I mean, I know some people are too early for appointments and stuff (BTW I hate these people) but whoever heard of reporting for work a day early?

Luckily, I was saved from total mortification by someone else's bad planning: the project I'm supposed to be helping with went majorly wrong yesterday morning and they needed all hands on deck. Just as well I turned up nice and early at 8:55 AM. I was welcomed with a puzzled look and a sigh of relief by my boss, and no one else stood still long enough to wonder what I was doing there. After all, who questions the presence of an extra lifeboat when they're sinking?

So, as of yesterday, I'm a worker, and the project is back on track.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A belated new year's eve party

You may recall that last Saturday we celebrated new year's eve... a few days late. Here is photographic evidence of a very enjoyable evening.

The Christmas decorations came out in force... We didn't have time to put up our XL Christmas tree, so we settled for our compact Greek Christmas boat, complete with a small army of Santas - because in Greece Santa comes on new year's eve, not Christmas day. The orangey thing with the tassel is a pomegranate. It symbolises prosperity for the coming year.

This is our drinks station. In case you're wondering, these weren't all the drinks we had. Everything that needed to be kept cold (white wine, rose wine, aquavit, beer and soft drinks) we left outside on the balcony, as it was colder outdoors than inside the fridge.

I bought the festive tablecloth and matching napkins and paper plates half price at the post-Xmas sale. There are definitely advantages to celebrating late :-)

Mini millionaire shortbread squares, mini cappuccino brownie bites and glazed cinnamon stars (zimtstern) were also half price.

Loops made the vasilopita, traditional Greek new year's cake with a hidden coin, to be cut and shared out amongst those present. He or she who finds the coin is supposed to enjoy good luck for the next 12 months.

We also had traditional English Christmas cake (half price), gingerbread Santas (BOGOF) and a selection of Greek "syrup sweets", like kantaifi, touloumba and ravani (not discounted).

Needless to say, we had a lot of food too. No one thought to take any pictures.

We ate, linked hands and did the Auld Lang Syne thing (no photos either), then we cut the vasilopita.

Manni found the coin in her piece and is now looking forward to a good 2010. The rest of us just ate cake.

As we weren't sure if the the vasilopita would turn out OK (neither Loops nor I had ever made one before) we'd ordered a new year cake from a bakery. This one we had for dessert.

Looking at these photos, you may jump to the conclusion that our new year's party was all about eating cake. We did however also have a lot of food and drink, and we danced a bit too. But yes, we ate a lot of cake. In fact, even though most guests took food and cake home with them (Chris and Owen even took a whole veggie pizza), and our neighbour Jenny came round again the next day to help us finish off the leftovers, there is still party food in the house.

Anyone care for a slice of Christmas cake? Or a mini sausage?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How many times...

...can a sane person listen to jingly music and the following recorded messages at 20 second intervals and not go crazy?

Due to high call volume, it is taking longer than expected to answer your call. Please continue to hold and your call will be answered as soon as possible.

Our agents are busy at present. You call is important to us and will be answered shortly.

I lasted 18 minutes. It's a new record as far as I'm concerned so I'm really proud of myself. Didn't have much success once I got through, but that's another story.

God, I hate Oyster.

I mean honestly, what do you answer to the question "how did you take the train"? Ermmm.... went to the station, waited on the platform for a train to arrive, and once the doors opened I hopped on? How else could anyone take the train??

For those not in the know, Oyster is the clever way our local transport chiefs have come up with for overcharging unsuspecting rail and bus passengers. You put money on a charge card that looks just like a credit card and you have to tap in and out every time you make a overland train journey so the correct amount for your fare can be deducted. Most train stations aren't gated, so it's up to you to remember to find a machine to tap on entering and exiting the station.

If there's a snow blizzard at the time you happen to be exiting your station and you're carrying a cake in a paper bag and no umbrella, chances are you'll forget to tap out. If you do, the system automatically charges you a penalty fare, which could, if your balance is low, mean that you're left with no money to pay your bus fare home.

In order to have the penalty fare reversed you have to call the Oyster helpline 24 hours after the incident (to allow their computers to catch up, because these machines were made in the 20th century and are staying there thank you very much). Once the 24 hours have passed and you try to ring, you're subjected to the jingly jangly music and recorded messages telling you how important your call is to them.

Well, if my call is so important to you, why don't you answer the bloody phone? Eh? And how about being able to help me once you do answer? That would have been nice.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Signs of the times

You know you're homesick...

...when you put up your Xmas decorations on 9th January to celebrate new year's eve again with your friends. The neighbours may think you're mad, but who cares.

You know you've had too much of the white stuff...

...when you see snow falling from the sky and your first thought is that people won't be able to come to your party if the roads ice over.

You know it's too cold...

...when you decide to store your cold drinks on the balcony rather than the fridge, and it works because the temperature on your balcony is way lower than that of your fridge.

Happy new year -- once more! If you're in the UK, make sure you wrap up warm. It looks like it's going to be another frosty night. Brrr.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Mushroom? I ask you!

This morning, as soon as I logged on to Facebook, I noticed that a number of my contacts had started talking in colours. At first I thought it was the latest fun thing -- "post your favourite colour" like "pick up your nearest book and post the third word on the 10th line on page 54" which was doing the rounds not that long ago.

Then, as the caffeine from the morning cuppa hit my brain, I noticed that some of the colours couldn't really be favourite colours at all. Sure, I have no trouble believing that Sal favours Emerald Green, but Eleni loving Baby Blue over and above any other hue or tone? No way. Plus, what sort of colour is Pink and White, unless of course you're a strawberry cheesecake?

So I emailed my friend Sal and asked her what was going on. And I stopped myself posting Barbie Pink until I got a reply from her.

As it turns out, women Facebook users are posting their bra colours on Facebook is an innovative way to promote breast cancer awareness. You can read all about it here.

All for a good cause, all the more reason to participate. Thinking back to what I'd put on earlier that morning, I realised that my bra was a weird grey/taupey colour (not from washing whites and coloureds together, I might add). So I figured I'd check the label to see what the colour's called. The label said: MUSHROOM.

I am now the only one amongst my friends who instead of posting a colour on her Facebook status bar, has posted a vegetable. Nice one, M&S!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Greek Epiphany carols

OK, this is a self-indulgent post, I'll admit it and give you fair warning.

Today is the Feast of Epiphany. If I were in Greece, I'd be having the day off, and kids would be knocking on my door all morning long to sing the Epiphany carols in exchange for money to buy presents.

Carol singing is an important holiday tradition in Greece. It takes place on Christmas eve, New Year's eve and on the Feast of Epiphany. I have many fond childhood memories of singing carols with my friends and using the money to buy presents for my parents or contribute towards my own Christmas present.

This picture, painted in the 1870's by Nikiforos Lytras, is the most well-known Greek painting with a Christmas theme and one of my personal favourites.

Since I'm in England at the moment, no one has turned up to sing on my doorstep, so I'm having to recreate the sounds of the day via the magic of YouTube. This is what the Epiphany carols would sound like (if a children's choir paid me a visit):

The lyrics roughly translate as follows:

Today is the day of light and enlightment
There is great joy and holy blessing

Our Lady the Blessed Mary
Is down by the Jordan River
She's carrying a harp, a candle she's holding
She's pleading with St. John

St. John, lord and Baptist,
Baptise me, make me a child of God
So I'll be able to ascend to heaven
To gather roses and incense

Good day, good day!
Good day to you, master and mistress!

Since this is an indulgent post, I could even close my eyes and imagine that a cute Cypriot singer turned up to sing for me. This is what he would be sounding like:

I think I know which version I prefer ;-)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The world's gone to pot

Today is the 12th Day of Christmas - the last day for decorations to be taken down, as Christmas celebrations traditionally end on Twelfth Night. So I guess, technically, in England it's still Christmas.

In Greece, the holiday season is going strong, culminating in the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January.

In Russia, most people haven't even celebrated Christmas, as the Russian Orthodox church still uses the Julian calendar, which has Christmas falling on 7th January.

In Spain, kids are waiting to open their Christmas presents tomorrow, during the Fiesta de Los Reyes Magos.

The Met Office is predicting snow all over the UK (up to 15 cm in places like Manchester and Ceredigion, Wales).


...supermarkets across the UK are selling Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies. You may be blissfully unawares, but it's only 88 days to Easter - that's a fact. If you don't start buying your chocolate eggs now, you may soon run out of time and have to endure (shock, horror) a chocolate-less Easter.

In case you think this is too weird to be true, I have photographic proof for you. Yes, I bought Easter chocolate on 5th January. Unbelievable but true.

In my defence, it was for a noble cause (i.e. blogging) - and I managed to resist the temptation of the buy-one-get-one-free packs of freshly baked hot cross buns.

Those Cadbury's Dairy Milk Caramel Bunnies are actually rather nice. Just saying.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Festive Athens

Happy new year 2010!

Syntagma Square in central Athens at 12 AM on 1/1/2010

When things go according to plan, hubby and I spend Christmas in England and New Year's in Greece, getting the best of both worlds. Christmas is the bigger celebration in England and a relative non-event in Greece. The opposite is true of new year's eve. This is why we try to see in the new year amongst our Greek family and friends, something we decided against this year (I don't know what we were thinking).

Unsurprisingly, we had a very boring new year's eve and an even more boring new year's day - it was so bad that I've promised myself never to spend new year's eve in England again, even if it means I fly out on the 31st December and back on the 1st January!

In case you're wondering why Christmas isn't celebrated much in Greece, this is because in the Eastern Christian (Orthodox) tradition, Christmas isn't considered to be the biggest religious celebration of the year. This position is claimed by Easter, on the basis that it's the ressurection of Christ, not His birth, that made a difference to humankind.

Even Epiphany, which falls on January 6, is considered to be a more important religious feast than Christmas. So from a celebratory point of view, Christmas heralds the start of the holiday season which culminates in Epiphany and has New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in its centre.

Add to this the fact that the Greek Santa Claus brings kids' presents on New Year's Eve rather than Christmas day, and you can see why the 31st December becomes the biggest party day of the year, for children and adults alike.

Preparations are slow before Christmas (no Santa chocolates appearing in Greek supermarkets in September, thank God) but the atmosphere between Christmas and new year is amazing. Everyone's out shopping for new year presents, but not with the same consumerist fervour you see in England. When we lived in Greece we used to go out and do all our shopping in just one day - none of this "147 Shopping Days To Christmas" malarkey that seems to send everyone in the UK in a frenzy round about October time.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that this morning I was feeling rather sorry for myself for not having spent any part of the holiday season in Greece. Then I logged on to Facebook and found that a friend of a friend had posted a load of beautiful photos taken in Athens during December. So here they are: instead of am extra-long new year's day tirade, I've made a photo-post instead.

All photos have been taken by Antonis Toutouzis, who has kindly given me permission to post them on my blog. Many thanks, Antoni, and a happy new year to you!