Hobbits, Tolkien, Oxford and Writing

 

Tolkien sign

I decided to hot foot it over to Oxford for a dose of literary inspiration, where the Bodleian/Weston Library hosts the J.R.R. Tolkien exhibition until October. The Financial Times published a pre-exhibition review that tells it far better than I can – you can read it here.

Hobbit cover
Tolkien illustrated the cover to his now-famous book

Writers’ craft

But I learned some valuable ‘writers’ lessons from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings creator.

  1. Lord of the Rings, sequel to The Hobbit, took Tolkien a long twelve years to finish, ‘squeezing his writing into late nights’ after teaching and family activities.
  2. He pursued his creative endeavors (drawing, illustrations, writing) alongside his academic day job and family.
  3. But he had a ‘room of his own’ where he not only wrote his masterpieces but also met with his students, marked essays and carried out his professor duties. In addition, it was a hub for entertaining his children with evening stories.
  4. His illustrations are quite beautiful and complement his writing perfectly. How I wish I could draw! Never mind, at least I can work on my photography.
  5. Tolkien was actually quite an extrovert. He formed a writers’ group with his mates, which served as an excuse and a ‘safe space’ to down beers, and read their written stories to each other.
  6. Nonetheless, he had a literary best mate, CS Lewis.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth is at the Bodleian/Weston Library, Oxford

June 1- October 28 – tolkien.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Oxford's dreaming spires
Oxford’s dreaming spires
Trinity College, Oxford
Trinity College, Oxford

Tolkien illustration

 

 

Travels through Asia – dining in Kolkata

Kolkata Yauatcha

I had to visit the Michelin-starred Yauatcha in Kolkata’s high-end Quest Mall. Prices are around a third what you would pay at its twin/sister restaurant in London. Thoroughly enjoyed it, and still on the look-out wherever I go for the champagne/rose tea served there.

Special shout out also goes to the Bohemian Restaurant at 2/4, Old Ballygunge Place, 1st Lane, Kolkata. It’s a cab ride away from the mall. The menu includes enticing sounding dishes such as mutton and baby potatoes simmered with green mango and okra; prawn and crabmeat dumplings stewed in spicy Noler Gur reduction; jumbo prawns stewed with field grown herbs; mutton simmered with baby cabbage and fresh fennel served with steam rice and wilted greens; shall I continue? Main dishes are around 500 rupees (USD$8).

Kolkata Bohemian 2
The Bohemian restaurant. Kolkata, India
Kolkata Bohemian 3
Paraphernalia at The Bohemian restaurant.

Their home designed signature cocktails aren’t bad either, including the pictured Just Bohemian made up of Nolen Gur (Bengal date palm jaggery), ginger and dark rum. Cost around 230 rupees (USD$3.5). At this price, it’s tempting to go for more than one – but they are potent, you have been warned.

Kolkata Bohemian
The Bohemian

Travels through Asia

Miu's Coffee House, Hanoi, Old Quarter
Miu’s Coffee House. Hanoi, Vietnam

At the start of 2017 I said that I wanted to travel to Asia and Asia-Pacific that year. From May I got to work in reporting and public information for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (or, more simply, OCHA) in South Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh).

At the beginning of December and following these busy assignments I decided to make my way around India, Australia and Thailand for the first time visiting Kolkata, Sydney and Bangkok. Three weeks later I was back in London spending a lovely Christmas break with my 84-year-old Mum, my brother and his family.

Sydney breakfast
Sydney breakfast
Sydney Opera House.jpg
No prizes for guessing where this is
Bangkok night market 1
Bangkok night market
Bangkok boat
Bangkok

Then I hit the road again in the first week of 2018, taking in Phu Quoc, Ho Chi Min and Hanoi in Vietnam; Colombo and Galle in Sri Lanka; and Bali, Indonesia where I am now. It’s actually cheaper to be here than expensive London, whilst waiting for my next assignment, plus I get to miss all that city’s tiresome cold winter.

Acoustics bar, Hanoi, Old Quarter
Getting ready to perform at The Acoustics Bar. Hanoi, Vietnam

I like the song that blasts out from the Vietjet flight on landing in Vietnam (the link below will take you to the YouTube video).

 

Galle, Sri Lanka.jpg
Fishermen. Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle, Sri Lanka snake
Rather him than me. Galle, Sri Lanka

 

A funeral procession in Zadar, Indonesia
A funeral procession in Sanur, Indonesia

 

 

Breakfast in Kuta - tender buttermilk chicken, spinach and poached egg
Breakfast in Kuta, Indonesia – tender buttermilk chicken, spinach and poached egg

 

Work and Live Abroad – last word

A side note

You are going to have to exercise much courage and determination to jump over the appalling discrimination (especially sexism) and downright abuse that goes on in some companies and organisations, both at home and abroad.

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Fiverr image

Don’t let that stop you.

Ultimately, if harassment and bullying are endemic within an organisation or even industry, and there is just too much resistance to changing things (from both men and women), ask yourself whether it’s worth spending a professional lifetime banging your head against an intractable iron wall. You may decide that on principle it is, and fine, walls can come tumbling down eventually.

But okay too if you decide to move on to better things, for your own professional and personal well-being and integrity. As I previously said, there are always other options.

Additional resources for working abroad

Books

How to Travel Full-Time – Colin Wright

Rough Guides First Time Around the World

The Globetrotters Guide – Amanda Statham

GenXPat, The Young Professional’s Guide to Making a Successful Life Abroad –  Margaret Malewski

Preparing for Your Move Abroad – Rona Hart

Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job, Kill it in Your Career, Rock Social Media – Aliza Licht

Make It Happen: How to get Ahead and be Happy at Work – Dena Michelli

The $100 Start Up – Chris Guillebeau

Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg

 

Blogs and websites

Fast Company’s Digital Nomad’s Guide to Working from Anywhere

Travelling the World Solo – travellingtheworldsolo.com

Nomad List – nomadlist.com

Travel Noire – travelnoire.com

How to Become a Digital Nomad – webworktravel.com

Start With Your Why – Simon Sinek’s TED talk on getting to the heart of your motivation(s)

 

Ciao 2016

wimbledon-leaves

I spent a pleasant Boxing Day at one of my favourite walking spots in London: Wimbledon Common which is like a little forest haven hidden away in the corner of South London. Weather was on the mild side, made even more agreeable by the sun peeking out on numerous occasions.

wimbledon-walk
No, that’s not a squire on his country estate. It’s Wimbledon Common

Wimbledon Village is ‘quaint’: not only does it boast the Common, but there are boutique shops including Comptoir des Cotonniers, Cath Kidston, Jigsaw and Hobbs; restaurants and cafes; and smart pubs. I wasn’t alone in heading for this green space as there were quite a few families enjoying the Monday-that-felt-like-a-Sunday Boxing Day walkabout. But I didn’t mind. Here I could still disappear in private solitude and reflect on wherever my thoughts flew, including plans for the coming year. To quote William Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills…

Travel highlights of 2016 were Beirut, Lebanon; Amman, Jordan; and Zadar, Croatia. On my wish list for 2017 are Asia and Asia Pacific.

delicious-sea-bass-and-chips-in-beirut
Delicious sea bass fish and chips @ the Radisson Blu, Beirut

Music I’ve enjoyed this year (not necessarily produced in 2016):

Love+War (album) by Kwabs – I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but who cares?

Making Time and Mirrorwriting (albums) by Jamie Woon.

The Best of Earl Klugh – laid back lounge jazz and I love it.

Feel So Close (single) by Calvin Harris

Breaking the Rules (single) by Jack Savoretti – appeals to my adventurous side.

Rodrigo: Concerto de Aranjuez by Xuefei Yang

In Christ Alone (album) by Keith and Kristyn Getty

2016 Anthem – Fighter by Christina Aguilera

I’ve been reading a few books on writing this year and these included On Writing Well by William Zinsser; and Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clarke.

Work hubs for digital nomads in London – part one

the-larder

I stumbled upon The Larder (photo above) on a lucky rainy morning. En-route elsewhere, and scurrying away from a sudden downpour, this café caught my eye and I gratefully bagged a cosy corner seat.

What a find. Contemporary and airy, there’s a selection of decent wines and super fresh foods in this café/winebar/store. I decided to start the week on a healthy note, and enjoyed a lunch of sweet potato salad accompanied by a fruity deep red Merlot (in the interests of this review of course). The overhead music isn’t overpowering, the seats are comfortable, I had my corner and plug points for my laptop and gadgets, surrounded by stylish magazines to peruse. What more could a writer ask for on a slow, rainy Monday morning?

The Larder – 8 Pearson Square (near Oxford Circus tube)

There’s something about TimberYard in Soho that ticks nearly all the right co-working boxes for me. The biggest draw, however, is the ambience: people have their heads down, are diligently working. But there’s also such a cool, friendly vibe from the guy serving the coffee and cakes, to the visitors popping in for a meeting with colleagues, clients or contacts.

There are work desks to the side or lush sofas towards the back. There’s a meeting room downstairs. Because it’s a café specifically catering for freelancers, digital nomads and other business type people, there isn’t that feeling that you’ll be rushed out once you’ve downed your coffee. At the same, the delicious coffee aroma may well tempt you. Also, I like the selection of teas (mine was a tangerine ginger). After working here, wander around the buzzy Soho streets, peer through shop windows and people watch on an autumn or winter’s evening.

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Citizen M

Tucked away behind Tower Bridge tube (although there are other locations too), this is a trendy arty boutique hotel. A comfortable space to drink and work right in the heart of the City and near the River Thames.

citizen-m
Citizen M

It’s also within walking distance of the towering Sky Garden. If you are looking for a touristy break from work, enjoy London views from here – you’ll have to book your (free) slot and possibly still queue to get in, so don’t try this if you are in a hurry. But across the road from The Sky Garden is another good work spot with beautiful coffee, and that’s The New Black. Their Counter Culture coffee is all dark chocolate, almond and caramel.

the-new-black