The Challenges of Iceland

‘Is this the bus to Hotel T10?’

‘No. This bus goes to Hafnafjörður Hotel. Get on it.’

‘So this is the right bus for Hotel T10?’

‘If I take your luggage and tell you to get on the bus, you get on the bus.’

This was our somewhat curt introduction to Rekjavik, Iceland. We rode to the unpronounceable hotel. No-one seemed to know where our bland-sounding hotel was. Turned out you could see it if you looked the right way.

It was a block. T10 was written in huge letters on its side. Fortunately, it was more attractive inside. It would do for the three days we had in the country. We wandered out to find somewhere to eat. There was little choice. We were in the suburbs, a bleak, flat area with no trees and no style. A Taco-style bar fed our needs.

Back in the hotel, we abandoned the television as it had three channels only, one in Icelandic, one in German and a cartoon channel. Perhaps we were in a black spot for reception.

Our plans for an early trip into Reykjavik the following day were hampered by it being Sunday. The first bus wasn’t until nearly 10am so we wandered around in the cold by the bus-stop. It would have been useful to have a bus timetable provided, to know in advance no change is given on buses and that there was a 50% reduction for seniors. A kindly American staying at our hotel paid for us and we reimbursed him later. An expensive ride otherwise.

Rekjavik was another, better world. A mixture of old and new buildings, trees, green areas and a decidedly more pleasant environment. We loved it. The modern, plain cathedral was beautiful and the Concert Hall a joy. Our guide, an opera singer, sang us an old Icelandic song in one of the corners just to show how good the acoustics were.

The Cathedral
The Cathedral
The magnificent Concert Hall
The magnificent Concert Hall

We had lunch in an excellent local restaurant called ‘Fish’. No prizes for guessing what we ate.

'Fish' restaurant

In the evening, we went on a Northern Lights Mystery Tour. The mystery was whether or not we’d see the Northern Lights. We set off in the rain with little hope. But we saw them – at around 1am. However, numerous people set up tripods and eagerly photographed moving clouds before the real thing appeared. (We were a bit smug as we’d seen the Lights before, in northern Norway!) It was a good display, worthy of the whoops of joy it generated and the extremely late night.

The following day, it really was Iceland. There was no snow in the hotel area but there was sheet ice. Crampons would have been useful to walk the short distance to the bus. I had visions of discovering how good A & E was in the local hospital. We were heading for a round trip to see some of the sights.

First we went to Pingvellir where the North American and European tectonic plates are separating at the Continental Divide. Serious geology! It’s also where the Declaration of Independence from Denmark was signed in 1944, an important place for the Icelandic. On to the waterfall, Gullfoss, where there was snow, ice and extreme wind. Staying upright was a challenge. Oh, for the crampons!

Gullfoss
Gullfoss

And then to the Geysir area. Steam was rising from the ground all around us. The original Geysir was not erupting but Strokkur spouts around every eight minutes, a cascade of warm water and small stones.  Impressive.

Strokkur erupting
Strokkur erupting

Luckily everyone speaks English. Icelandic is an odd Nordic language. It’s complicated and has its own rules, pronunciation, grammar – and a few additional letters. I hoped to understand a little as I speak Norwegian (badly), but apart from a few words I was lost.

It was a short, enjoyable Travel Zoo trip. Just a taster. A good way to get a feel for the country, an expensive place with friendly people (in spite of our initial impression!) I’d love to see more.

Advertisements

Pharmaceutical Journal review of A Taste of His Own Medicine

Protagonist exacts revenge in this fascinating pharmacy fiction title

The Pharmaceutical Journal8 FEB 2017By Andrew Haynes

A surprisingly good read featuring a pharmacist with an axe to grind against fellow students from her undergraduate days.

A taste of his own medicine, by Linda Fawke. Pp 264 Price £7.99. Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2016. ISBN 978 1 539695097

This is a debut novel by a retired industrial pharmacist. When asked to critique it, I was not expecting much, since I have, in the past, been generally underwhelmed by pharmacist fiction. But this time I was pleasantly surprised.

The novel’s central character, Kate, is a successful community pharmacist who has built up a small chain of pharmacies. Although now in her early 50s, she still harbours grievances from her time as an undergraduate. When invited to a 30-year reunion weekend, she decides to go along and wreak vengeance on those who had slighted her when they were students together.

The action cuts smoothly back and forth between events at the reunion and the incidents that bruised Kate as a student. Her complex personality gradually unfolds — and darkens — as the narrative progresses. Her vindictive schemes do not go entirely to plan, and the book has an unexpected ending that sets the scene for a planned sequel.

The blurb on the cover describes the novel as “darkly humorous”. It certainly has its dark moments, but I did not find much humour in it. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable read that held my attention to the end.

Unlike other pharmacist novels I have reviewed, this book has clearly gone through a proper proofreading process. Unless you are the sort of pedant who insists on “focused” rather than “focussed”, the novel is pretty much free from spelling and typographical errors, at least until the last few pages.

By the way, Fawke does not name Kate’s alma mater, but the description of the pharmacy department past and present reminded me of the University of Nottingham. An online check showed that the author is herself a Nottingham graduate, so presumably some of the plot — although I hope not the grimmer parts — is based on her own experience.

References:

A taste of his own medicine, by Linda Fawke. Pp 264 Price £7.99. Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2016. ISBN 978 1 539695097

 

Another review from Rosie Amber’s Review Team

A Review by E.L.Lindley:

 

A Taste of his own Medicine by Linda Fawke is a romance with a decidedly dark twist. The plot sees us crisscross from the 1970s to the present day and Fawke does a good job of drawing us in with her intriguing tale of revenge.

 

This is a novel with a lot to recommend, in particular Fawke’s attention to detail and the way she creates a vivid picture of university life in the early 70s. The main character Kate Shaw is a pharmacist and former member of the “class of 75” and Fawke cleverly constructs her story around Kate’s experience at university and the 30 year anniversary reunion of her class. Fawke effectively highlights how universities were changing and becoming more inclusive and accessible to people from lower socio-economic classes and all of the tensions that came with that.

 

Fawke also uses her eye for detail to create characters that we all recognise such as the tight-fisted scrounger, lecherous womaniser and pompous, self-aggrandizing oaf. My main stumbling block with the novel, however, is that the negative characters are relentless and there are no positive characters to offset them.

 

There’s no doubting that Fawke is a talented writer and she writes assuredly with total control over her story which is told almost exclusively in 3rd person narrative. There are a couple of paragraphs where Fawke switches to 1st person and although I understand her reasoning for this, for me it jarred with the rest of the story.

 

Kate Nash who drives the story is a 50 something successful workaholic with a string of pharmacies and enough money to afford an affluent lifestyle. This is in contrast to her humble beginnings when she was the first member of her family to go to university and her unworldliness is reflected in the fact that she’s shocked when she sees a gay couple and isn’t used to eating out or big city life. The diversity of university is a shock to Kate but instead of immersing herself into it she focuses totally on work. Essentially Kate is not a likeable character, dismissing other students as “a waste of space” and anything less than a First as failure.

 

We warm to Kate slightly when she begins a student romance with her polar opposite, the unreliable, easy going, part-time male model, Jonathan Carson. However, when the romance invariably doesn’t last, Kate seems to become totally unhinged. To such an extent that 30 years later, despite having been married for over 20 years, she is still harbouring a toxic grudge which goes on to encompass everyone else she feels did her wrong at university.

 

As I mentioned earlier, the main problem I had with the novel was the overwhelming set of unpleasantly selfish characters. There is no moral compass to give the self-destructive revenge plot any context. There are a couple of characters who initially seem to be positive and honest but by the end even they become embroiled in selfish, disloyal behaviour.

 

What for me might have made the characters easier to relate to would have been the use of 1st person and maybe multiple viewpoints. This might have helped give some humanity to the characters, particularly Kate, who I think the reader really needs to connect with in some way.

 

My favourite parts of the novel are the sections at the reunion which reflect all the humour and farce that tend to go hand in hand with these kinds of functions. There are lots of comic moments in Fawke’s description of the goings on and this did serve to detract from the unpleasantness of Kate’s behaviour.

 

All in all, I think if you like a dark romance and enjoy stories of revenge, scheming and intrigue then you will get a lot out of A Taste of his own Medicine. I suspect that I just didn’t connect with it in the way that other readers might. And, as always with reviews, it’s merely a personal response and I look forward to reading what other readers make of this well written tale of settling scores.

#BookReview A Taste of His Own Medicine by Linda Fawke #Tuesdaybookblog #RBRT 

Very happy with this independent review!

Ajoobacats Blog

I chose this book to read fromRosie Amber’s Book Review Team book list.

A tantalising thriller about the reunion of a group of pharmacology graduates who meet after thirty years, but Kate, a flying student who was once top of the class has revenge in mind for those who wronged her years ago. However, will revenge go to plan and will the secrets from student day emerge once again?

This book became more gripping as I read and ended on quite a cliff-hanger, what I really wasn’t expecting was how dark the characters are and how malevolent parts of this story was to read. I’m really hoping there’s a second book soon as I can’t wait to see how the story ends.

With twists turns and revelations galore there is rarely a dull moment in this page-turner.

Links To Book:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Goodreads

View original post

Lost in Padua

Getting lost is one of my skills. I’ve been practising it again.

We decided to go to Verona, Padua and Mantua, spending a few days in each, a break from a long period skiing in the French Alps. A couple of days before leaving, we discovered our Satnav doesn’t cover Italy. We also realised we’d left our map of Italy back in England. Never mind, Tony had printed off a mountain of instructions.

Verona, first on our trip, was okay. Well, it was more than okay, it was wonderful but from the navigation side of things, it was fine. We stayed in a central B & B and all we needed was a town plan which was easy to buy. A proper map of Italy appeared to be something no-one stocked.  So we decided we’d manage with common sense and Google maps. A mistake.

Three days later we set off to Padua. We were staying in the Euganean hills, at a vineyard called le Volpi (the Foxes). It looked idyllic and promised wine tastings. They were not expecting us until around five o’clock so we decided to have a look around the town centre. At this point we didn’t have a town plan and after several circuits of progressively narrower roads and two traffic violations (going the wrong way down a one-way street and then driving in a bus and taxi lane, neither a good idea), we headed back out of town. We found a car park, too far away to be of any use, and stopped to think.

An elderly gentleman was walking by and Tony asked him about parking. He spoke no English but we got the message across. After much arm waving and instructions to go left and then right and then straight on and then left, it became clear this wasn’t working.  The old man’s face brightened. He said he would come with us (my rusty Italian was good enough to understand that) and eagerly got into the front seat of the car. He took us with no problem to a convenient multi-storey carpark, shook our hands, wished us a good holiday and trotted off. I have no idea if he needed to be in the middle of Padua or not. The kindness of strangers!

Busy, beautiful Padua
Busy, beautiful Padua

At around half past four, we set off for the hills.

‘You’re navigating,’ Tony said. Words that fill me with terror.

It was going well until we reached the limit of our town plan. All I had then were Tony’s printed instructions which worked until we missed a turning. We knew we’d gone wrong but thought Google maps would help. They usually do but I think there was an element of operator error. (I was the operator.) A passing lady tried to help and we called in at a garage for advice. Neither got us on the right road. We phoned le Volpi and said we’d be late.  Five phone calls later, many verbal instructions and a degree of shame at how far we’d strayed from the right route, we arrived. The roads were winding and narrow. It was close to seven o’clock and dark. But our host was most welcoming and said it didn’t matter if we arrived late at the restaurant they’d booked for us. It was down narrower and even more winding roads. They were precise in the instructions they gave us to get there.

 

DSC00939
Le Volpi vineyard

The following day we discovered the correct, far quicker route. When we moved on to Mantua, the navigation was again easy as we stayed in the centre of town.

Tony is looking into an updated Satnav.

 

D is for…

 

Don’t get in my way. Don’t fight with your brother. Don’t jump in puddles. Don’t leave anything on your plate. Don’t make a mess. Don’t play in the street. Don’t get dirty. Don’t leave your toys everywhere. Don’t answer back.

Don’t fence me in.

Don’t read under the bedclothes. Don’t bounce on the bed. Don’t chew bubble-gum. Don’t say naughty words. Don’t pick your nose. Don’t scratch your bottom. Don’t run in the woods. Don’t climb trees. Don’t do anything dangerous. Don’t talk to strange men. Don’t give me that look.

Don’t eat the daisies.

Don’t stay out late. Don’t argue with me. Don’t bring that boy home. Don’t grow your hair long. Don’t paint your nails. Don’t wear tight skirts. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t embarrass me.

Don’t go breaking my heart.

Don’t diet. Don’t go to coffee-bars. Don’t go to pubs. Don’t plaster your face with make-up. Don’t waste your money. Don’t lie. Don’t keep secrets from me. Don’t believe everything your friends say.

Don’t let me be misunderstood.

Don’t read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink too much. Don’t behave like that in my house. Don’t disappoint me. Don’t give me that look.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

What happened to ‘Do’?

Do have a good time. Do bring all your friends home. Do be independent. Do take a few risks. Do discuss things with me. Do read widely. Do be positive. Do remember contraception. Do enjoy life. Do make your own mind up. Do be happy.

Even – Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid.

Don’t look back in anger.

Don’t think twice, it’s alright.

 

I found them later on.

Don’t stop me now.

A Right Knees-Up

Eight.

That’s the number of knee injuries I’ve had while skiing. You might say my knees are my Achilles’ heel.

It started back in the eighties in Norway, where we lived and learned to ski. I managed to remain injury-free in our first ski season in spite of various mishaps, such as falling off a drag lift and getting stranded on a closed black slope. I was less lucky in the second winter. I fell and twisted my knee. Nothing dramatic and, with difficulty, I skied down to the bottom of the slope. By the time we’d driven the four hours home, I couldn’t walk. A visit to the Medical Centre resulted in large amounts of fluid being drained from my balloon-like joint. When I asked what I’d done, I was told, ‘You fell and twisted your knee.’ Not much info there, then.

Later that season, we went to Voss on the west coast of Norway. My knee had recovered by this time and so had my confidence. We were racing down a series of rollers on a lovely piste, going straight from higher and higher up, no turning, taking off as we sailed over the bumps. Braver and braver; more and more foolhardy. I crashed. Both skis came off so I avoided any more twists but I landed on a knee.

‘Mummy, your face is bleeding!’

‘It’s my knee.’

‘But your face is bleeding!

Three anxious children stood around me. Sod my face, I thought, knowing something more serious had happened. The blood wagon arrived and ferried me down the mountain. It’s not a pleasant experience. Apart from the snow that’s thrown at you and the feeling you’ll fall out at every bend, people peer in to see if you’re still breathing.

I ended up spending two nights in hospital with a broken tibia. Voss is in the area where they speak ‘Ny norsk’ – ‘New Norwegian’. It’s different from the standard Norwegian I’d learned. But I struggled through – and even learned the word for a bedpan!

We returned to Oslo. Our house was up a steep winding path, a challenge on crutches in the snow. I remember hiding in the house, crying from sheer frustration, to be found by our youngest, Tim, aged seven. He was distraught; Mummies don’t cry.

Later on, I had a series of mishaps on ski slopes in France. As ‘camp-followers’ when Tim was ski racing, we skied in many resorts. There was the time one of the racers needed his rucksack at the start of the race and had left it behind. I offered to get it. Rushing along the narrow path to the start gate, I skied over the edge. As I fell and banged my knee, I remember shouting to my rescuer, ‘Get this rucksack to the start straight away!’

Then there was the time we attempted a steep, unprepared slope because the snow looked so good. I’ve never learned to ski powder properly and I certainly made a mess of this attempt. A twisting fall at slow speed, the worst sort; another ligament injury. And I know there was another twisted knee around the same time which kept me from the slopes, but my mind has blocked out the details!

I had a few undamaged years when my knees behaved themselves. But they are out to get me whenever they can. I was skiing alongside the piste in Couchevel, having yet another attempt at powder when I fell. Unharmed, I tried to pull my buried ski out of the snow. Click! I felt and heard my knee go. Another blood wagon ride, no more pleasant than the first time. More crutches. Ruptured ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). At least this time I found out what I’d done. I recovered quickly and skied again the same season.

I knew by now I had dodgy knees. If, in the course of normal activity, I twisted the right one, something moved in it and I had to click it back into place. Painful for me and anyone watching. And it could happen at any time. Then it happened while skiing. I didn’t even fall. My knee would not click back. Here we go again. Another blood wagon ride. This time a broken cartilage which required an operation to remove it. I asked the surgeon if I’d ski again.

‘You’ll ski again if you want to,’ he said.

Of course I did. The operated knee was great, the stronger of the two.

I’m writing this with an ice-pack on my other knee. A stupid fall getting off a chair lift where I lost all grip. Maybe I skied over someone’s ski tails, who knows. Anyway, that put paid to my other ACL. I can still ski using a knee brace.

I’ve got fairly empty knees now. Four injuries per knee. It’s amazing what you can manage without. But it has taught me a little caution as there must be a limit!