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Archive for September 2016

Reading ‘Mount!’ in Hargeisa

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Hargeisa traffic.

A photo posted by Jessica Gregson (@clotidian) on Sep 26, 2016 at 5:25am PDT

The book: Mount!, by Jilly Cooper

The place: Hargeisa, Somaliland


The first Jilly Cooper book I ever read was Polo, back when I was 13 or 14, on trip with my parents: I’d run out of my own books, my mum had just read Polo, I was entranced by the rather saucy cover, and my (wonderfully permissive) mother lent it to me. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say that it was a revelation, but I did almost immediately go back and read Riders and Rivals, the two books preceding Polo in the series; when I was 15 and went on a three-month student exchange to Germany, way before the age of the Kindle, I very, very carefully selected the three books that would give me the best bang for my buck in terms of page-count and emotional pay-off, and Rivals was one of the three. (The other two, if I remember correctly, were Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, and Robert Harris’s Fatherland, which is a rather disconcerting glimpse into the heart and soul of 15-year-old Jess.)

All of which is to say that I have been a devoted Jilly Cooper fan for about twenty-five years now; I have read the entirety of The Rutshire Chronicles (though, oddly, none of her other books), and so Mount! was one of my most hotly anticipated books of 2016. (The other, Tana French’s The Trespasser, came out at almost exactly the same time, and they were both magically delivered to my Kindle on the same day: Jess of 1991 would be astounded at the extent to which the future has conformed to her most heartfelt wishes.) I’m about halfway through it now, and it is exactly what I hoped it to be: lots of lavishly-described shagging, a multitude of terrible/brilliant puns, and a cast of charmingly vile and ridiculously glamorous characters, some old and some new. I don’t know how I would feel about Jilly Cooper’s writing if I were coming to it fresh as an adult, and there are certain aspects of it that I just have to put firmly out of my mind (the wall-to-wall Toryism and mockery of the left; the rampant lack of political correctness; the fact that the delectable and irresistible Rupert Campbell-Black is modelled on someone who looks like this) but as a long-time fan, it has all the comfort value of a warm bath or clean sheets or some similarly domestic metaphor.

And actually one of the nicest things about Jilly Cooper’s writing is something that I haven’t really thought about before, perhaps because I didn’t need it so much: it makes the UK, and particularly England, seem rather appealing. Not from a social perspective, of course – quite the opposite – but the way that Cooper lovingly describes the English landscape has gone some way to thawing my frozen and Brexhausted heart. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alienated from and despairing about my country as I have over the past few months, and I have found myself asking myself why I choose to live somewhere so antithetical to my values – the fact that I live in Scotland does help, but I am still English by background, and so it’s nice to be reminded, by way of Jilly Cooper’s rhapsodic paeans to the English countryside, why I chose to move back in the first place, twenty years ago.

Hard to imagine a landscape more different than where I am now, though it did at least rain yesterday…

I bless the rains down in Africaaaaaaa

A photo posted by Jessica Gregson (@clotidian) on Sep 25, 2016 at 5:42am PDT



Written by Jess

September 26, 2016 at 1:14 pm

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Reading ‘The Sixth Watch’ in Charles De Gaulle

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The book: The Sixth Watch, Sergei Lukyanenko

The place: Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris (for the next two hours or so, anyway)


No need for yet another airport photo, really, especially as I am wall-eyed with tiredness after three hours of sleep and possibly the most stressful check-in process ever experienced (still in the queue for bag drop twenty minutes before my flight was due to depart, along with many other disgruntled fellow passengers: thanks Air France at Heathrow), so instead I refer you to the above photograph, taken in early December 2011 from the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Until that point I’d almost entirely used my Kindle for free Project Gutenberg downloads, but for some reason, while actually in the Hermitage, I was overwhelmed with avarice and took advantage of Amazon’s then-very-generous provision of free 3G access worldwide to purchase and download the first three Night Watch books. I enjoy the series very much, despite an extremely dubious Scottish setting in one of the books, and Lukyanenko’s rather touching habit of writing books that are definitely, totally, 100% for real the final book in the series … and then cracking and writing another a few years later.


August was a particularly peripatetic month: Comoros to Kenya to the UK (Glasgow, London, South Wales, as ever) to Greece, Bulgaria and Romania for an epic and over-ambitious road-trip with a friend. Highlights of the trip included getting our hire-car clamped and towed in two separate incidents in two separate Bulgarian cities on the same day, and accomplishing a number of travel goals: two new European capitals (Sofia and Bucharest – the latter, in particular, is criminally underrated), and two places on my Travel  Bucket List (monasteries in Meteora and Bucovina).


Diporto Agoras, Athens: the first of many amazing meals.


Meteora, which has been on my List since I first visited Greece in 1997.


Sofia by night (arty shot, courtesy of just getting a replacement charger for my Proper Camera and no longer being dependent on phone photos).


Another amazing meal, at Manastirska Magernitza in Sofia. (Also the most extensive and bonkers menu I have ever seen.)


Veliko Tarnovo, where our time was sadly constrained owing to having to get our car out of chokey.


Bucharest Old Town by night. (Many of my photos are night shots, owing to our great difficulty in ever leaving places.)


Caru’ cu Bere, Bucharest, where we had both dinner and lunch, because it was that good.


It’s only been a week, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve already forgotten which monastery this was: I think Suceavita, but it could also be Moldovita. Travel fail.


Brilliantly spooky cemetery in Arbore.


Every other day of the trip was blazing sunshine, but pretty much as soon as we entered Transylvania it was all creeping mists and sinister pine forests and (probably, invisible in the mist) vampire-filled castles.


Cluj-Napoca, journey’s end, and temporary home of an old friend I hadn’t seen since Juba, who fed me tripe soup and Cluj cabbage and walked with me for 12km around the town, catching Pokemon.

Written by Jess

September 8, 2016 at 10:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized