Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

A byline picture

August 6, 2018

Can you send me a byline picture of yourself please?

The question, via email, oughtn’t to have inspired panic. We were, however, holidaying with some friends in a French Airbnb sans WiFi, travelling back from a trip to Tours where I had dispatched husband and kids and had eventually found a café avec WiFi to respond to last-minute edits for my piece about micro-libraries, which was in the FT Weekend magazine this Saturday. (Link here – I really hope you like it. If you are stumped by the paywall, you can register with the FT for free and get 3 free articles a month.)

I rather enjoyed asking around for wee fee, because it sounds so daft in French, although laptops in French cafés seemed to be extremely not done. The only thing that resulted in a more bewildered expression was when I handed over a reusable cup at a motorway branch of Paul. Do you want water? Or milk for the children? asked the lady, utterly thrown when I said, no, just my double espresso please. Evidently, in France coffee is something to be enjoyed, à table, sans distraction. Or, those of you more in the know, please correct me.

Tours was only half an hour away from our Airbnb, in theory. This was without reckoning on the inevitability of my directing us the wrong way down a motorway. I am not very good at following Google Maps and this particular error happened several times during our trip to France. Understandably the husband had a sense of humour failure about it. Vita too. Nothing, thank god, that an enormous food market could not cure.

So when this email about the byline picture pinged on the drive back, while the children were squabbling over newly purchased unicorn balloons and we were listening to Stephen Fry read Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile for the umpteenth time and I was busy assuring the husband that this really was the right road to take, I instantly thought oh hell: how can I return to WiFi and, moreover, what byline picture? While I have written for various newspapers and magazines, I haven’t yet been called upon for a picture of myself. Would it need to be one of those funny ones where the writer seems to be magically cut out and floating in the text? Help!

Buy yourself some time, I told myself, and asked the picture ed if she could wait till Monday, when I’d be back from France. Then I instantly texted a more experienced journalist friend Is a byline photo the same as a headshot? She responded in the affirmative.

The husband grunted in annoyance when I asked if he might take a photo of my head once we were home. ‘You should get one done professionally.’

Oh how I would like to get one done professionally, but how on earth could I do this, when on Monday – the day I had to send it – I would be looking after the children, and we wouldn’t be back in England until Saturday night. He agreed to have a go, rather grudgingly.

Sunday evening, children in bed, thoughts turned to the week ahead.

‘Could we do my headshot now?’ I ask.

‘Why didn’t you say anything before? We need to do it in the daylight.’

‘But it’s still light.’

‘It’s not the right light. It’ll have to wait till tomorrow.’

Monday morning. Ezra is up at 5am, still on France time. I get up. The husband pulls a pillow over his head and rolls over. At 7am, Vita awakes, and I summon the husband. We sit around the kitchen table bemoaning the lack of fresh baguette and croissants and French butter.

‘Shall we do the headshot now then?’

‘I have to be at work by 8,’ he says.

It is 7.15, which gives us just under half an hour. I attempt to retreat upstairs to get dressed, brush hair and apply make-up, but am followed by Ezra, who is so unused to seeing me apply make-up that he is enraged when I don’t let him have squeeze my tinted moisturiser, or paint with my mascara wand. We return screaming.

Ezra is placed in his highchair with a pancake. Vita says she doesn’t like pancakes, and only wants a marmalade sandwich. (Thanks, Paddington.) I slip into the bathroom and try to remove a streak of marmalade from my hair and wish, fervently, that I had found the time over the past year to get it cut.

There is a moment of quiet, as I stand against the wall of my office and the husband aims his phone at me. (The camera has not been charged.) ‘Look over my right shoulder,’ he says. ‘Now look somewhere else. No not like that.’

‘I hate this,’ I say, pointlessly.

‘I know,’ he says. ‘It’s awful.’

Vita appears wielding a pineapple. ‘What are you doing, Mum?’

‘Trying not to look silly,’ I say as I scroll through the first bunch of terrible photographs feeling increasingly old and haggard.

We try again.

‘I don’t think I should be smiling, but then what should I do?’

‘Try to think of something that makes you really angry,’ the husband instructs.

I picture people throwing plastic bottles into the bin and getting books from Amazon instead of a bookshop.

‘Why does Mum look so cross?’ Vita asks. ‘When can I eat the pineapple?’ Ezra starts roaring from his high chair. Our five minutes are up.

There are a couple of photos that seem passable, and I email one off with a hopeful Is this ok? The husband departs. The pineapple is cut.

A few hours later, I’m pushing the children on swings when my phone pings: Yes – thanks so much.

Oh, I think, if only you knew.

Emily Rhodes byline


A tiny holiday post

July 31, 2013

EmilyBooks is in France for a few days, hence the lack of a post on Monday.

Yet I thought I’d interrupt the silence to show you the lovely little library that sits by the path here, down to the river.

A little French library

Isn’t it heavenly?

A little French library 2

Could you imagine if we Anglais adorned our paths with a bench with a view and a selection of books to peruse? Fine literary inspiration indeed…

And look what was waiting for me further down the path:

A bicycle with flowers

Books, flowers and bicycles – three of my favourite things.

Emilybooks will be back as usual on Monday.

South from Granada

September 14, 2011

I feel very remiss in not having posted anything for over two weeks. The suspense from last time’s Emily Game cliffhanger question must have become near unbearable! The answer is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, thanks to Saleem’s magical power.

This blog hiatus has been thanks to the happy circumstance of having been in a Spanish villa with friends, and without internet. The villa is in a beautiful part of Andalucía, on the outskirts of a national park. We lazed by the swimming pool looking out at a magnificent hilly backdrop, occasionally spotting a stag in the distance, or an eagle soaring overhead. The garden was planted with thick bushes of rosemary and lavender, so the smell – especially after the sprinklers played their 1.30am trick of turning themselves on for a while and getting us and everything else very wet – was intoxicating. As was the vast amount of sherry that we drank, from as soon as we awoke till when we went to bed.

We all swiftly began to ignore our phones, which soon lay abandoned in our bedrooms, and this, coupled with the fact that we were several miles from even a village, meant that we felt wonderfully cut off from the outside world. There was no need to stress about anything – I was released from the worries of work and wedding planning and everything else. We spent most of the week with no idea what time it was. (Until that moment at the end of the day, when climbing into bed and hunting for my phone to try and switch it off. Then it was a bit of a shock to see that it was four or five o’clock. I blame that on the rum and anis that we started drinking after dinner, by which time the day’s sherry supplies were usually exhausted.)

This trip to Spain was in many ways the perfect opportunity to take my own advice and read something Spain-related – see this piece here for the Spectator. Indeed I was flattered and thrilled to see that some friends had done exactly that and brought with them all three of the books that I’d recommended for reading in Spain. (Luckily they enjoyed them.)

I brought with me South from Granada by Gerald Brenan, which is a very good book. Essentially Brenan moved to a tiny Andalucian village in 1920 and spent several years there. The book is a very personal study of the Andalucian way of life, such as the villagers’ beliefs and customs, interspersed with accounts of visits made by various members of the Bloomsbury crew. Brenan’s account of Lytton Strachey’s visit is my favourite. Lytton’s frail and delicate constitution makes for a rather tiresome trip, and Brenan’s description is peppered with sentences like this:

He sat there silent and bearded, showing no signs of enthusiasm.

At the end of the chapter, Brenan mentions his relief at Lytton’s departure, followed by:

And he must have been even more relieved at making his escape. When, three years later, Leonard and Virginia Woolf were preparing to come out and stay with me, he advised them strongly against attempting it, declaring in his high-pitched voice that it was ‘death’.

I definitely enjoy reading about someone else’s experiences of the place where I am. For instance, Brenan’s observation that the women of his village used ‘bushes of rosemary, thyme, and lavender’ for their cooking fuel, cast a new light on the rosemary and lavender bushes in the garden. And here is his description of sharing a meal of salt cod and rice:

There were no plates. Each man, keeping his hat firmly on his head in the manner of a Spanish grandee asserting his equality to everyone present and to come, chose his section of the bowl, and after inviting myself and the others to do the same, dipped his spoon in it with great formality and began to eat. He continued eating till the partition that divided his section from his neighbour’s had worn thin, when he laid down his spoon and, as soon as the others had done so too, got up and washed it at the pitcher and returned it to the faja or red-flannel waistband where he usually carried it.

I can’t pretend that this didn’t give me some ideas for how to eat our own meals, especially as one of them was an immense and delicious paella, in a gigantic pan which needed to be carried by a minimum of two people. But, aware of the risk of turning meal-times into prolonged versions of The Chocolate Game, I didn’t suggest it. Instead, we just occasionally put some rosemary branches on the barbecue.

But, sadly, this is the moment when I have to confess to something a little shameful.

I find it very hard to read when I’m on holiday.

I know this is terrible! I feel like a fraud.

Summer holidays are the time when most people find it easiest to read. June, July and August see the bookshop filled with customers buying stacks of paperbacks to read on the beach, or by a pool, or in a villa. And I – I who recommend all these books, I who have written about how important it is to read relevant books while holidaying abroad – I find it very very difficult to do it.


Usually, at home in London, I read at least a book a week. I read as often as possible – in my lunchbreak, in the evenings, on my days off. If it’s a book to which I’m particularly addicted, I might even sacrifice cycling to and from work in order to get the extra tube commute time to spend a bit longer with the book. Why is it that on holiday, when all I do is laze around, I find it so hard to concentrate?

After giving it much thought, I have decided that it boils down to being on holiday with friends. I know that over the past few years a vogue has arisen for thinking of reading as something of a social activity. This is the age of book clubs and reading groups. And yes, for sure, I love to talk to people about books. But reading – the actual process of reading the words on the page – surely has to remain a solitary activity. It simply isn’t feasible to expect to be able to read with lots of friends.

Lazing by the pool all day with friends seems to me more of a blissful opportunity to natter, rather than to impose the solitude of reading. And, inevitably, even if one does try to read, some people will start to natter, and gosh it is so incredibly difficult not to listen to their conversation and to resist the urge to join in. Maybe, just maybe, if I were reading something like Harry Potter, I might be able to close my ears. But, frankly, lyrical and fascinating though he may be, Gerald Brenan doesn’t cut it.

So I was rather ashamed to find myself at the end of the week, barely half-way through the book. I made a bit of headway on the aeroplane, but, frankly, as I’d only had three hours sleep the night before, it was hard to persuade myself that the time wasn’t better spent with closed eyes. And then I found myself back in cold, windy London with half a book about Andalucia left on my hands.

I returned from holiday to enter an incredibly busy and intense period of work, for which I had to work from 7.30am till 10pm, three days in a row. There was usually a break in the afternoon for a couple of hours, for which I’d wander, semi-catatonic, up to Hampstead Heath, search for a relatively-sheltered spot, try to tuck my hair out of the wind and try to read for a little while.

Then I discovered that there is only one thing worse than reading about England while one’s on holiday abroad … and that’s reading about somewhere abroad – hot, rural and remote – when in England, back from one’s holiday.

Hampstead Heath is usually one of my favourite spots. But, over the past few days, it has just seemed cold and autumnal, strangely busy and bustly in comparison to the empty landscape of Andalucia. The trees were wrong, the smells weren’t right, my smoked-salmon bagel was no more than a poor imitation of boquerones.

So now reading South from Granada is an exercise in nostalgia. I read it and can’t help but remember the blissful escape of last week – the heat of the Spanish sun, the sweet taste of sherry, the company of friends – and long to return. This is not helpful in the slightest, when I have to accept the fact that the holiday is over and real life must begin again.

Oh well, only another seventy pages to go. I think the next book I read had better be related to Hampstead Heath …


July 12, 2010

Having spent a couple of days in Florence’s nostalgia and searing heat, I am now happily stationed in a pretty villa in the Tuscan hills, surrounded by undulating shades of green.

While I am here, I will be taking part in an epic game of Cluedo.

Now this isn’t the Cluedo that immediately springs to mind – the board game involving Mrs White in the Library with the Lead Piping. This is a far more devious game.

In this Cluedo, everybody writes down an object which can be found somewhere in the villa or nearby – a weapon – and also a location, again in the villa or nearby. Then we all draw slips of paper out of various hats – the name of someone else here, a weapon and a location. Over the week’s holiday it is our mission to murder that person in that location using that weapon.

Now, luckily, I won’t actually have to club someone over the head with a bottle of sun lotion under the sun umbrella until they die. To kill somebody, one has to get them to take hold of the object, in the correct location. So, I might need to make a certain person eat spaghetti in the shower, or take a nail file into the swimming pool, or carry a book into the rosemary bush … Then I just need to shout ‘Die die die’, and I will have succeeded in my mission. I would then take on their assassination task and continue until there is only one survivor.

At first glance this might have no more literary resonance than an overambitious murder mystery novel. The scene is set – a group of friends in luxurious isolation in Tuscany – but rather than one sinister murder, there are a spate of them, and several different perpetrators.

There are, indeed, several red herrings – essential to any murder mystery worth its salt. Whenever anyone asks anyone else to pass them anything, eyebrows are raised, breath is held – is it really ok to pick up the blueberry jam or will that moment of holding it, while seated at the breakfast table, be the death of you? The seemingly innocent, ‘Let’s go for a wander into town,’ becomes thick with the insinuation of being lured into the correct location, especially if you set off carrying an incongruous object – ‘would you mind carrying this onion for me?’ Twitchy paranoia is quick to take hold.

So yes, it is a little bit like reading an Agatha Christie. A murder is going to take place and one’s eyes are peeled for clues, so much so that it is easy to be taken in by red herrings, to treat every slightly suspicious circumstance as a serious threat. The air is filled with expectation – when’s it going to happen, who’s going to die first, who’s going to be the most canny killer?

But it’s also a bit like writing a story.

You see, you have picked up three pieces of paper, which provide the very rudiments of plot. And somehow, you have to engineer everything to make that situation a likely one. A narrative must be constructed to plausibly conclude with that person in that place holding that object.

It has to be a convincing narrative. If you were to just suddenly ask someone to carry a bowl of spaghetti into the shower they’d never do it. They’d be too suspicious. So, over the next few days, you need to weave the background – the back story. Perhaps you might place a bet with the victim that food tastes completely different depending on where it’s eaten. Or, you might try to get them to eat pizza in the pool first – as a decoy – so that spaghetti in the shower seems like a natural successor.

It needs to be convincing and it needs to be subtle. The victim can’t know what you’re planning on doing to them, just as, when writing, whatever’s going to happen can’t be too obvious. And all the better if something intriguing happens along the way. I suppose, even if you failed to get them to eat spaghetti in the shower, it would be quite a jolly Bildungsroman to seem them eat pizza in the pool, tiramisu on the roof of the car and garlic bread while doing a handstand.

So we’re all here, idling around a swimming pool, spinning our own fictions. One person is suggesting to everyone that it would be a good idea to go into town, and to take a Frisbee along. Another person is suggesting a walk in the hills, with a pot of coffee. And someone else is trying to get a certain person to go and see what’s poking out from behind the rose bush.

I suppose the only problem is that everyone is weaving their own story and so, of course, they get tangled together. Everyone has a different main character, a different objective, conflicting narrative arcs. It is getting rather knotted and messy.

What we need is some kind of omniscient narrator to create a masterly web of intrigue, drawing out particular threads at different times, knotting strands together to make mini climaxes, letting something hang free when our attention should be elsewhere.

Instead, the week will be spent with everyone trying to engineer very peculiar situations indeed. And everyone doing it at once. Brits abroad … I wonder what the neighbouring Italians will think.