10 Great Books to Read!

I love reading; immersing myself in a good book, I can get obsessive.

I’m not one for just reading literary prize worthy books though, I do also enjoy dipping into everyday, entertaining books where you can suspend belief, dream a little and just relax.

For me, the mark of a great book, apart from well-written and engaging words, is the ability for it to surprise me, to marvel in clever observations and complex characters, to make me laugh out loud or simply to feel a sense of bereavement when it comes to an end.

I have lots of favourite books, including children’s books, but I list here ten that I have enjoyed reading more than once, with cracked spines to prove it!

I know, that’s 11 books, but there are just too many good ones.

I am currently reading the epic A Game of Thrones series. Fantasy is a totally new genre for me, and I admit I was a bit reluctant at first. But I am glued to the pages due to the sheer, entertaining fantasy of it all and the wonderfully complex cast of characters to love or hate! I only hope that George R.R. Martin writes the next book soon.

Do you have any recommendations for a great book? I don’t want to miss out!


Me vs Glacier

I find myself setting the pace for a group of ten people as we ascend the mighty Franz Josef glacier, of over 3,500 metres. How did that happen?

Me? I’m not known for my athletic ability or tolerance. I was always one of the last to make it back from a cross-country run at school. Swimming, yes. A little bit of aerobics now and then, yes. I’ve even got a nice tennis racket somewhere.

But not climbing up an ice mountain, which takes six hours, an ice pick and a set of crampons to just get to the middle. (Did I mention I had a touch of flu?)

However, if you find yourself in New Zealand, travelling by campervan around the islands, and a shiny new husband who’s panting to go bungee jumping, zip-lining across gorges and black water rafting in pitch black caves, glacier trekking seemed like the most appealing option (though I did do a spot of zip-lining and jet-boating later on which was brilliant!)

So there we were, booked on to trek up a mountain. In the booking office we had to agree that we met the required level of fitness (I’m sure I must have lied), and be shown the height of the ice steps we would have to ascend, and how we must lift one foot over the other in a relentless sequence to ensure safety. (Ice steps turn out to be like a Stairmaster on steroids without an off button).

I felt scared in the queue waiting for the bus that takes us to the very edge of the old river bed, that in itself would take us over an hour to cross.

Everyone in the group is jolly and joking to begin with but this soon ebbs off when we eventually reach the huge, iron grey rocks at the base of the glacier which we would need to climb first before we hit any ice. Everyone is strangely quiet while we attach our crampons.

This is the beginning of my test of endurance. I manage to clamber up the base rocks, and once we are on the ice our guide stops and asks us to put up our hand if we want to take it slow. Stupidly I put my hand up, notions of ‘Wait for me!’ on my mind. I am rewarded with a place at the head of a single line, just behind the guide, who assures me that being at the front I can now set the pace for the group.

I am not sure of the logic to this. In theory I can see how it is meant to work, but in reality? I felt the pressure of ten fit and eager climbers behind me with every single step of the way, up and back down again.

I have to be utterly honest and confess to not really enjoying this experience while it was actually happening. I was in real pain after a couple of hours in. Climbing for over six hours with only a short break for food, muscles burning and trembling with the exertion, concentration and self-preservation (there were some nasty crevasses you could slip down if you put a foot wrong, which would take you deep within the glacier, never to be seen again!)

I was physically exhausted by the end. Climbing down was just as hard and I had to chop up the descent into achievable goals. If I didn’t, I would have collapsed on the ice and waved everyone on with a gasp of ‘Save yourselves. I need to sleep.’

There was one hair-raising but amusing moment however, when my husband decided to show off and try a bit of ice-caving but got stuck in the middle. My sense of humour was restored fleetingly just for a moment, but only once he came out the other end after a few scary minutes proudly brandishing a bloody knee. Not exactly ‘127 hours’.

Reaching the base of the glacier only meant another hour of scrambling over rocks to get back to the forest floor and that lovely bus. I managed to fall over at this point, legs finally giving way!

But in retrospect I can revel in the sheer, blinding beauty of the ice, the whiteness all around, the uniform blue of the sky in contrast, the views of the old river bed below. Of the sparkling ice stairs that zigzagged up and up, the tunnels we crept through, the achievement of it, for me.

Touching the void? No, of course not. But it was my very own personal endurance test, which to this day, I am still amazed I achieved.

(…and later, the hot shower, roaring fire, bottle of rioja and plate of nachos I had back at base camp made me smile again, even if I couldn’t walk the next day!)


Looks a doddle!

Altered Images: ‘Shiver Me Timbers!’

'Shiver me timbers!'

I took this photo at a local harbourside festival. It’s actually a crop of the original, which was of the whole boat, taken from a distance. When I zoomed in to look at the tiny pirate more closely I realised that he seemed to be looking directly at the camera. Though he couldn’t have been, as I was just another person in a crowd of many. Spooky! To let him have his moment, I had a little fun with photoshop to create this image.

“The phrase ‘Shiver my Timbers’ is based on real nautical slang and is a reference to the timbers, which are the wooden support frames of a sailing ship. In heavy seas, ships would be lifted up and pounded down so hard as to “shiver” the timbers, startling the sailors.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiver_my_timbers

All images Copyright SR Parker

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wonder


'First time I saw a butterfly'


I love autumn!

I know it’s a farewell to summer, but it’s also a welcome to many wonderful things.

For me these things include the smell of bonfires; a crisp blue day kicking up leaves in a park; wrapping up in warm clothes and furry boots; cooking comforting winter meals like goulash and sausage & mash; and the anticipation of winter festivals like Halloween and Christmas.

My very favourite thing though is not strictly related to the outdoors, more of an excuse really. It is to sit in front of a roaring fire, to curl up on the sofa cradling some mulled wine and to sit suspended in that warm, peaceful moment.

Most of all autumn is about the trees. The amazing transformation of the leaves; from green to yellow, from gold to red. Until they fall to the ground creating a russet carpet for us to kick through.

There is a charming children’s song from the 1880’s which celebrates autumn:

“Come said the wind to
the leaves one day.
Come o’re the meadows
and we will play.
Put on your dresses
scarlet and gold.
For summer is gone
and the days grow cold.”

One of the best places to go, to witness the magical beauty of trees during autumn (apart from a quick trip to New England or Canada!), is Westonbirt Arboretum in England, UK.

I took the few photographs included here at Westonbirt back in November 2008. It was amazing, so many colours and textures, the trees putting on their best show of the year!

You can see more of these photos, captured in a special Blurb book I created as a Christmas present for family and friends that year. (Click here to take a peek!).

What do you think of autumn?