Wednesday, 5 March 2014

leibster award: in which we ask intriguing things of each other

A few weeks ago the swashbuckling Sarah of Bookshelf Pirate – fellow St Andrews almuna, book worm and blogger – nominated me for a Liebster Award. As far as I can tell, it’s like a very interesting update of the chain letters you used to send in school, without the playground gossip and infighting, and a fun way to keep in touch long-distance! The rules are as follows.

1) Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
2) Answer their 10 questions.
3) Nominate your blogger friends and give them your own 10 questions.

Thanks Sarah for nominating me with such kind words! Here are my answers…

What flavour of tea defines you as a person?
The only type with any kind of personal resonance is good old-fashioned builder’s tea: Tetley with milk and two sugars. That’s the kind my Gran would give me with a slice of toasted white bread slathered in salty butter (Scottish Grandmothers, driving the obesity epidemic singlehandedly), as well as to my dog in a little bowl! The perfect antidote to cold, fever, drowsiness, jitters, shock, and homesickness, for me it’s the taste of comfort and familiarity.  I was roundly mocked on my first summer home after university for drinking  herb and mint teas “just like a student”. 

That said, green tea is becoming an addiction...

If you were to become a super villain, what would your one weakness be?
My weakness would be the ability to envision the world from everyone’s perspective, to the point of immobility. I’d have my prey captive, tied in chairs back-to-back with the saw/ laser/ steamroller approaching them, when they’d begin, “But Sophie, what you’ve got to remember is that from where I stand…” and before long I’d be second-guessing my villainous plans and sympathising so much that I’d have no chance but to press the big red stop button.

What is your favourite poem?
This is like trying to choose my favourite friend! So many poets spring to mind – Larkin, Ovid, Catullus, Rumi, Cummings, Bukowski, Neruda, Breton, Yeats, Duffy – so I’ll post one here from a poet I don’t know anything about, but love nevertheless. I think I found it on the back of a worksheet in high school and liked it ever since.

C Major

When he came down to the street after the rendezvous
the air was swirling with snow.
Winter had come
while they lay together.
The night shone white.
He walked quickly with joy.
The whole town was downhill.
The smiles passing by –
everyone was smiling behind turned-up collars.
It was free!
And all the question-marks began singing of god’s being.
So he thought.

A music broke out
and walked in the swirling snow
with long steps.
Everything on the way towards the note C.
A trembling compass directed at C.
One hour higher than the torments.
It was easy!
Behind turned-up collars everyone was smiling.
Tomas Transtromer

You can only eat the cuisine from one nation for an entire year. Which do you choose?

The beautiful goodness of tomato ramen

Right now I’ve got to say Japanese! Before coming here my knowledge only extended to sushi and sashimi, but now my favourites include nabe (a delicious kind of hotpot), shabu-shabu (thinly sliced meat and vegetables instantly cooked in boiling broth), tempura udon (battered king prawn with thick noodles in broth), tomato ramen (tomato broth with ramen, chicken, melted cheese and whatever else you fancy), okonomiyaki (omelette stuffed with layers of cabbage, bacon, shrimp, rice wafers and barbecue sauce), chicken nanban (fried chicken with tartar mayo), guidon, tonkatsu and oyakodon (all combinations of meat and egg over rice). That’s not to mention the sushi – which is cheaper, fresher and tastier here of course! Are you drooling yet?

Tempura udon for lunch at school

If you could live a happy and healthy life without ever needing to sleep again, would you give it up to save time? Or are you a contented bed bug?
I think I’d save it for weekends – I’d miss dreaming too much to give it up completely! I read a book once where a character savoured sleep so much that she could taste it, “like good bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich” and I can understand that perfectly! Plus it’s what happens either side of sleeping that’s interesting ;)

Rainbow fairy lights or white ones?
White for ambience and general classiness – but you’ve gotta break out the rainbow ones at Christmas.

Fairy lights galore!

Are you a good driver? Are you an honest judge of your own driving abilities? What do you family and friends have to say on the matter?
Much to my dismay, I’ve yet to take my driving test. It’s number one on the to-do list when I get home. In the mean time, I pride myself on being an excellent listener, chat partner, and music/ snack provider for my designated drivers.

Would you go into Outer Space if given the opportunity?
Absolutely. My plan is to wait till I’m old and it’s commercially available, like a bungee jump or deep sea dive. Then I’ll go see the sun rise on the earth and be jolted out of my old-person habits, assumptions and cynicisms. Plus if it goes disasterously wrong, I’m old anyway.

Do you prefer reading/ writing outdoors, in public spaces, or at home in the peace and quiet?
Reading is best done in peace, quiet and warmth: either in a sunny patch of a sheltered garden, or lying in front of an open fire. My favourite place to write, particularly poems, has got to be public transport – trains preferable, buses tolerable. You have just enough distraction to be stimulating rather than irritating, an end-point to motivate you, and a window of unused time to feel completely free and relaxed. Try it!

What’s the best book you read in the past year? Why do you recommend it?
Around this time last year I was writing my dissertation on media coverage of the Congo conflict, and reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver to try and enhance my knowledge. I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially if you’re interested in the region, colonialism or anthropology. It follows the family of an American Bible Belt missionary who move to a village in the Congo in 1959 just as it is transitioning into the post-colonial era. She can fool you into thinking you’re reading only about home or guilt or loss – hefty themes in themselves - when boom! You realise you’ve somehow acquired a far more nuanced understanding of power and oppression along the way. Aside from that, Kingsolver’s ability to inhabit the voices of all five women in the family as they age is extraordinary and utterly convincing (she displays this virtuosity in her other fantastic novel, The Lacuna, too). I’ll definitely be re-reading it soon.

And now I present my (12, not 10) questions for the next round of nominees! Johannah, Francesca,  Kayla, I like you and your writing very much and, if you have the time and the inclination, would love to know what you think.  Or, if you have only one or neither, no worries - just an invitation :) 
Sarah, I’d love to know your answers to my questions too in the comments section.  And that goes for anyone reading this post!  Or you could just answer a select few – whatever floats your boat.

  1. What is your earliest memory?
  2. If you could live in any period and place in the world, where and when would it be? You’d be the same person and your family, opportunities etc would be generally the same too. (When we played this at Christmas my uncles answered unequivocally and gloweringly, “Scotland in the days before the smoking ban.”)
  3. What would your last meal be?
  4. What’s your favourite book?
  5. Name eight people, dead or alive, fictional or real, who you’d invite to your ultimate dinner party.
  6. What is a law, custom, common assumption or norm you would change: why and how? (It can be as serious or as trivial as you like!)
  7. Describe your perfect day.
  8. What is something you have learned in the past year? (It can be a skill or specific interesting fact, but general realisations about yourself or the world are more fascinating).
  9. Name three qualities you most admire and three you most despise in a person.
  10. Which three places do you most want to go in the world?
  11. When do you feel most yourself?
  12. Name a skill/ ability you have and wish you didn’t, and one you don’t have and wish you did. And, one you do have and do enjoy or value, just to end things on a positive note! 


  1. What is your earliest memory?
    I remember lunch times with my sister, both of us sitting around a tiny little table on our tiny little chairs eating tinned soup from tiny little bowls. I "could have anything at [my] Nans"
    If you could live in any period and place in the world, where and when would it be?
    I was informed by Buzzfeed the recently that I was supposed to be born in Elizabethan England. I'm O.K. with this assuming, of course, that I would be a part of the aristocracy and sitting among the wealthy in the balconies watching Shakespeare's latest rather than the penny pits.
    What would your last meal be?
    A Sunday Dinner swamped in gravy, Christmas pudding and custard to follow and a glass (read bottle) of red.
    What’s your favourite book?
    "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky. For the beautiful imagery, the stunning writing and the feeling that we are all infinite.
    Name eight people, dead or alive, fictional or real, who you’d invite to your ultimate dinner party.
    Emma Thompson
    Sam Wannamaker
    Ian Mckellen
    Judi Dench
    Pete Postelthwaite
    Bill Murray
    Freddie Mercury
    Luke Nicklin (because I would have to have someone with which to share this momentous occasion!)

    What is a law, custom, common assumption or norm you would change: why and how?
    I’d change the common assumption that British food is terrible. More people need to be exposed to the delights of Shepherd’s Pie, Cornish pasty, roast dinner with all the trimming. I’m a vegetarian and even the veggie versions of these are delicious. Someone get the gravy ready please…
    Describe your perfect day.
    My perfect days are those I have spent discovering. From when I was 6 and I discovered my first “den” under the branches of an overgrown tree in a local beer garden to discovering at 16 the effects of cheap vodka. Onto 21 and discovering that days on the beach were by far my favourite way to spend time and finally to my 25 year old self discovering the steamy hells of Beppu in Japan. A day of adventures is a perfect day.
    What is something you have learned in the past year?
    I have learnt that nothing will be as difficult to overcome as a language barrier
    Name three qualities you most admire and three you most despise in a person.
    I admire
    Intelligence, individuality and the ability to make a good cup of tea
    I despise
    egocentricity, intolerance and the inability to say "thank you".

    Which three places do you most want to go in the world?
    Machu Picchu

    When do you feel most yourself?
    I feel most myself on a Friday afternoon; after finishing a week of work, with a whole weekend of plans to do something or nothing stretching out in front of me. Anything can happen!
    Name a skill/ ability you have and wish you didn’t, and one you don’t have and wish you did. And, one you do have and do enjoy or value...
    I wish I didn’t have the ability to retain useless bits of information and could use that part of my brain to remember useful pieces of information instead. (Although sometimes these nuggets do come in handy at a pub quiz)
    I wish I could play the piano. I’ve always wanted to, ever since I was very young and asked my Nan for a Keyboard for Christmas. (She delivered of course. Like I said I “could have anything at [my] Nan’s”)
    My greatest skill is my ability to have a go. Whether it's trying new food, a new craft, a new book, a new hobby; I'll have a go. If it doesn't work out, I wont have lost anything. (Perhaps a smidgen of dignity but who needs that?!)

    1. That just totally brightened up a slow afternoon at work!! Thanks for that Jo, I love your dinner party guest ideas :) Also... Thailand here we come ;)