Archives mensuelles : août 2013

First impressions of Stockholm

Arrived in Stockholm a few hours ago. It’s my second proper time in the city and third visit to Sweden, though it’s been about six years. I’m here for a water conference, and suitably it was raining so hard, the pilot had to abort his first attempt at landing because of visibility problems. The city is much as I remember it – the footwear stands out – Swedish men in sports trainers, the women in boots. There are a surprising number of sushi restaurants – I guess that despite the distance from Japan there’s a common affinity for raw fish that brings the two cultures together. The city is smart – beautiful over a considerable distance from the city centre. It would seem to be a pleasant place to live – folks seem stylish and sporty – but I hear the weather, winter darkness, income taxes and living expenses are a turn-off.

Time lapse in Dubai, first attempt

I’ve been a long time getting around to it, but last night I finally shot my first time lapse in Dubai. I have a great location (my apartment) so there’s not really an excuse. I picked up a cheap tripod a few months back on a second hand site, so I’ve got all I need. So here’s the first attempt…

TL Arch tower1

There’s definitely lots of room for improvement – the night scenes have noise, the shutter should be dragged (to blur the car lines and get that feel of movement), there’s plenty of flicker (because the camera is on automatic). But hopefully with each attempt I’ll get the hang of things. My goal is to have a collection of time lapse shots in a video by the end of the year, ideally with a piece of music composed by myself.

Driving over mangoes

Just finished a book I’d wanted to read for many years – Chris Stewart’s Driving over lemons. I remember reading a review in the Sunday Times many many years back, and since being published it became a huge success, spawning several sequels. Following on from an earlier generation of books with A Year in Provenance, it charts the first few years of a young English family buying a subsistence farm in remote southern Spain.

As an aspiring aspiring writer, you read these books looking for the sorts of things that give clues to its success. And the book was as you might expect – well written and easy to read, full of (British) humour and with a light touch. Chris comes across as bashful and disarming and you follow his adventure in southern Spain – many no doubt going through the dreams they themselves have but will probably never act upon. Both books triggered a wave of ‘moving to France/Spain’ television series in Britain and I remember at some points a decade ago finding almost wall-to-wall programmes of this sort.

Like many, I occasionally have dreams of upping sticks for some rural humble idyll. In my case, it would be my former home Ivory Coast. For that I draw a number of lessons from the experience and the book;

– there’s a large readership for these sorts of radical lifestyle change books, though no doubt as in many parts of publishing, far more books fail than succeed. Readers want to be able to connect with the experience – the adventure and the romantic nature of the enterprise, and meet characters. Although the book found a worldwide audience, it grew first with a British audience because it was about a British family leaving Britain for new, romantic pastures. Probably harder to achieve in rural Ivory Coast where people have few romantic notions of the country or reference points. You would certainly have an adventure – that’s what is so attractive about daily life in West Africa.

– such successful adventures usually work where the people making them actually already have a good skillset for the activity, even if in the writing and the story-telling this is marginalised to make us feel like ‘it could be us’ doing the same thing. In this case, Chris comes to the project with two decades of farming experience and rather good Spanish skills. The only time he really mentions Spanish is near the start of the book where he makes self-deprecating remarks about his own abilities, though the book wouldn’t have been possible without a strong grasp of the language. Many of us who might dream of such projects (myself included) have virtually zero farming or indeed handiwork skills. While a previous generation may have known about basic plumbing and how to set a door, we have few such practical skills.

– A farming adventure along these lines now, or particularly in a decade (when I might do such a thing), would perhaps be rather different in the ‘spreading the message’ part. One could imagine a blog being integral to such an enterprise. Perhaps you could even self-publish everything – from the book to a television series (aka River cottage tv show). You could make the films yourself, publish on your own Youtube channel, and take it from there.


At the end of the Kindle version of the book there’s an interview with the author. He ends saying…

« I don’t think there’s anything better you can do in the middle of your life than to pick it up and shake it around a bit. Do something different, live somewhere different, talk another language. All that keeps your destiny on the move and keeps your brain from becoming addled. »

A new start…

I’ve been blogging elsewhere for several years, but it’s time for a fresh start. This will be more personnel than what I’ve written before, and more eclectic. Common themes will be Ivory Coast/Cote d’Ivoire, lifestyle strategies, random personal thoughts. Hope you enjoy, and I hope it doesn’t get too narcissistic.

A bit about me – I’m a journalist in my early 30s with strong links to Ivory Coast, among other countries. I currently live in Dubai.