And the Mountains Echoed is a fabulous book. Days after finishing it I am still moved by the interwoven plot lines, and I keep thinking through the ‘what if’s’ of the characters. Khaled Hosseini is the master of a good yarn, and the king of drawing his characters with fast confident strokes – within a few paragraphs you don’t just get a feel for the personalities, you start caring for them. He ups the ante with his ability to turn the plot on just a few words; most of the time the story is shaped on the basis of lies served up as affectionate truths, or more sinister half-truths some of which play out over decades, which makes it all the more heart rending for the omniscient reader.By the end of the book we have traveled together to Afghanistan, Paris, Greece and California hopping decades and regimes without getting bogged down for a minute. You leave the book with a satisfying feeling that there are enough good people in the world to ensure that the truth will, eventually, set most of us free.
Imagine you are invited to a dinner party with a group of glamorous people who you know only by sight but find utterly intriguing. The women are beautiful but snooty, the men have florid complexions and are a little over-sunned and over-banked. Over the course of this evening you will listen intently to one anecdote after another, the locations for these stories reading like the cities on the side of a designer store carrier bag: New York, London, Paris, Barcelona, …..and Anglesey? Because here’s the thing – Grace Coddington is in many ways an outsider sitting right on the front row of the catwalk that is world of glossy magazines, and watches it all with the observance of someone who was not born into this world. Her breezy book reads just like the best dinner party story telling – revealing, intriguing, exclusive and memorable – and to quote Kenny Everett ‘All in the Best Possible Taste’.
Coddington grew up in a decaying hotel in North Wales; her family was at the poor end of an upper middle class family and lost out in family inheritances. But her beauty (and I would guess her wit) got her to London and into the world of modelling. After suffering a car accident which resulted in plastic surgery on her eye, and she transitioned to life behind the camera to enormous success, working as creative director at British Vogue, Calvin Klein and American Vogue.
If you saw The September Issue, or The Devil Wears Prada, or wondered how Princess Diana bloomed into a fashion forward icon, then “Grace” will unpeel the onion a few more layers and you’ll learn a lot more about how a magazine like Vogue has developed over the years.
I particularly enjoyed Coddington’s tales of her upbringing and the early days of modelling in London in the late 50’s and early 60’s when models were expected to do their own hair and make-up and would cart all of their tools and accessories around to every shoot. Her experience in the fashion world spans more than fifty years and reflects changing times and culture. Coddington uses the book to stick it to a few people like Eileen Ford who wrecked her eyebrows, but speaks very affectionately about difficult characters like Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld.
This is worth reading in the hardback edition as her pen illustrations are cute, and the book itself is beautifully designed and printed. Just what you would expect from someone as passionate about the details of art production.
Nine months of FitBit ownership and life has definitely changed. In fact I think it’s heralded one of the biggest changes in behavior in recent years as I have become very aware of my physical activity levels or lack thereof.
Strange things you do when you have a FitBit or other personal fitness device:
- Plunge into bushes and other shady spots when out running or hiking to see your screen to find out how many steps you’ve done.
- Check your FitBit during social events and meetings, perhaps this is replacing texting as the new distraction?
- Rummage around your bra strap to secure said FitBit, or to remove it for items one and two.
- Forget to take it off for airport security and end up having to submit to a pat down search.
- Walk vigorously round your living room to clock the final steps of the day to get to goal. I once did a thousand steps this way – it was odd but rewarding.
- Checking your overall dashboard online numerous times a day.
But the best thing of all is realizing the hard truth that a day at home shuttling between desk, sofa and kitchen table does not make for an active lifestyle. And that you don’t value steps that you take without the FitBit.
Hardest of all has been conquering the ‘active minutes’ goal (60 minutes in my case) which I have only managed to reach once in the last few months, and that was with my friend Graham who is a very fast walker. On a chilly December afternoon we tramped back and forth between Soho, Piccadilly and Westminster, admiring statues and monuments at high speed. Much easier has been reaching the ‘floors’ goals as I live at the top of a steep hill so any trip outside will log at least a floor or two. Also I’ve learned that a browse around the shops can clock up a lot of steps just as well as shivering down at the park. In fact I can now say that I am exercising, even while at Westfield.
I’d recommend the FitBit to just about anyone, you can tailor the daily goals to your own needs and it has removed all of the guess work from jogging and fitness sessions at the gym.
Right, I need to pace around my office a bit more I am behind on my daily goals.
First of all, the San Francisco Chronicle hit the nail on the head when it described Richard Curtis movies in general as “a reliable blend of clever banter and emotional manipulation” and it rightly gave the latest one, ‘About Time’, a positive review. When it’s out as a DVD, About Time will definitely be on the shelf at home as a comfort film. The best thing about this film is that the syrup has been dialed a long way back and the plot has a lot more spirit, avoiding the emotional overload of ‘Love Actually’, Continue reading