Hi! I'm Nick Murdoch. Most people come here for the tiffin recipe. I can't blame them.
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The main thing I did in May was visiting Vienna to attend PyDays Wien with katzenfabrik, and I finally got to meet up with my friend Gil after 12 years of knowing her online! After Vienna I took a short trip to Bratislava which was great. I also beat The Fourth Samurai escape room with my family in Bristol for my brother's birthday.Vienna
Vienna was as pretty as I remembered it from 2012 when I visited it with Emily. Gil was kindly letting me stay in the spare room of her apartment there and it was so nice to finally spend some time with her and her partner.
PyDays was good; it was being hosted for free as part of Linuxwochen Österreich and there were some good talks; in no particular order:
* Python for Social Good
* Python in Game Development
* Humanising Coders
* Unsafe at Any Speed (Rae's talk!)
The food was good; they also had cake!
In the evening Gil made us homemade hummus for dinner, which was delicious. I've been rather into chickpeas since then; I've even started rehydrating and cooking my own.
On Sunday the three of us went to Schönbrunn palace and it was really nice to hang out with them both. I'd been to Schönbrunn before but I don't remember doing the hedge mazes last time, and I also climbed a thing.
After Schönbrunn we got oddly-flavoured ice-cream from Eis Greissler. I had Pistachio Salt+Nutmeg.Bratislava
I believe this was the first time I've visited a country entirely on my own, so yay for that!
Getting to Bratislava from Vienna was super easy; they're only an hour apart by train and the ticket was only around €15. It also included that day's travel on Bratislava's public transport, which turned out to be really convenient.
Bratislava's main train station is well-connected for public transport (trams and buses galore) but terribly labelled for non-locals. Fortunately I knew which bus I was supposed to be getting and it was easy enough to find the waiting area for it. I went straight to the UFO tower on SNP Bridge.
Finding the entrance was somewhat tricky, but after getting to the top there were fantastic views of the city and Danube.
On the UFO side of the bridge was the shopping centre I had to go through to find the tower entrance, and a large communist-era suburb. Czechoslovakia, as it was then, was never part of the Soviet Union, but the architecture was very similar.
Visiting Pripyat in Ukraine last year clearly has had an effect on me; every time I see this sort of architecture my mind fills with what-ifs.
Below the outside viewing deck at the top of the tower is a restaurant. I had been warned by tourist sights it was expensive but I had decided to treat myself. The place was empty and the waiter, seeing my appearance (camping rucksack and all) decided to show me the menu before offering me a seat. It *was* exquisitely expensive so I ordered just a starter, which was tiny but (a) delicious and (b) came with a buttload of bread so I could fill myself up on that. I decided to get a drink and dessert too which were both amazing.
I caught the bus back across the bridge and went for a wander in the old town.
It was very pretty and very tiny; easily doable in a few hours (just as well, because that's what I had allocated for exploring the town).
I checked into my hotel and then went back out again, catching the bus as close to the TV Tower as one can get; about a 45 minute walk away. The walk was well worth doing though, as it goes through a wonderful forested national park.
The TV tower itself was rather disappointing: there was no viewing platform; rather a bar on one floor and a restaurant on another, both of which had rather dirty windows to look out of. The bar was, however, deserted, so I was able to get a good look around without having to lean over people at the tables around the edge.
Continuing my accidental habit of visiting places when everything is closed, I found the cable car that would drop me off further down the hill to be under maintenance, so I took a different route down the hill towards the hospital where my phone told me there were also buses. This turned out to be a great route, and the little wooden lookout tower I found in a picnic area clearing had much better views.
As sunset approached, I visited Bratislava Castle on the edge of town, which was much prettier -- and much larger -- than I'd expected.
I had dinner outside in a restaurant in town (mushroom risotto) where a nearby busker was covering Daft Punk on an acoustic guitar and somehow making it work.Slovakian castle ruins
I'd booked a tour of the Carpathian Castle Ruins the next day (would recommend). I love a good ruin and unfortunately only had time for the shorter version of the trip where we saw two ruins. (Something for next time, then!) These were built circa the 13th Century and there were some more great hikes through rural Slovakian woodland to get to each one, at the top of their respective hills.
I happened to be the only person in my tour (the guide said it was the first time it had run this year) though it was a public holiday (well done me), so the ruins were a little more busy with Slovakian visitors than usual.
The views were fantastic, as was the walk up to each ruin, with the scent of wild garlic in the air (I could take or leave the hornet's nest we hurried past on the way back down from the second ruin, though!)
After getting dropped back in town, I had time for an ice cream before deciphering a public transport sales machine (photo from here; basically: coins only, Slovak language only) with help from the internet.
The airport was a lovely tiny one, and I got a RyanAir flight from there to Birmingham, where I caught a train to Bristol where Emily picked me up. RyanAir has a terrible reputation but my fears were unfounded on this trip; I think the reason most people dislike them is that they actually enforce their baggage rules which, frankly, is amazing. I'd paid for overhead baggage and the overhead lockers were not crammed and none of my stuff in my backpack was getting shunted around by other people. I'd also used the check-in-as-late-as-possible trick (admittedly not great if not travelling solo) to snag a better than average seat; I got the extra-legroom emergency exit seat!
I challenged myself to write four short stories (1,500 words or more) in four weeks during April, and managed it pretty well. I also managed an edit on all of them, and I'm going to be putting them online shotly; I've already put the first one up on FictionPress (here!) and I've also created flexography as the main place to post them in as I'm not sure about FictionPress yet.
Reading Books in my Thirties
As a child I used to read a lot: The Famous Five; Narnia; The Animals of Farthing Wood; most of Roald Dahl. I had a frequently-used library card and a badge picturing a tabby cat with the caption “curl up with a book”.
At some point during my teens I discovered the world of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and while there were some sections of that I didn’t dip into, I have read, I think, at least fifty EU novels, even the utterly terrible entries. Even during my twenties I found myself dipping back in when a new EU series had finished.
During my twenties it was Iain M Banks’ Culture novels, even though I increasingly stopped enjoying the series; Peter F Hamilton’s works, even though they were a heck of a struggle at times; Richard K Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, even though in hindsight I wasn’t even particularly enjoying them (unlikable main character, dystopian future)
So this is my pattern: I find something I like, and then I cling to it. When I ran out of familiar material during my twenties, I pretty much stopped reading.
I’ve had a couple of false restarts but I feel like I’m getting back into the habit of reading, particularly since picking up Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I’m extremely excited for her third book later this year and in the meantime I’ve been trying to find more material so I at least have something I want to read on my Kindle or in Audible at any given time.
A couple of things I’ve noticed is that I don’t care for gloomy or “gritty” worlds: I like some optimism. I also prefer likeable protagonists. I’m okay with new worlds/series as long as the world building is done organically; ie not just pages of lore (Peter F Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star springs to mind, though at least it was used well in Judas Unchained). I also don’t like the “fantasy English” used in some novels of that genre (I’m looking at you, Tolkien).
To that end, I’m looking for recommendations! I thought I’d put a summary of what I’ve read since hitting my thirties, with ratings from 1- to 3-stars, to try to triangulate what sort of thing I like.
The Hunger Games trilogy — Suzanne Collins (started reading Feb 2016) ★★★
I loved The Hunger Games; I think I’d watched just the first film before reading the trilogy and the writing style really worked for me. Katniss was a flawed character but still identifiable, and the actual prose wasn’t too heavy for me.
The Gate to Women’s Country — Sheri S. Tepper (Jul 2016) ★★★
I struggled to get into this book, being put off by the stage play dialogue in the beginning, but once the plot started developing I was hooked. The ending still gets me thinking even all this time later.
Stories of Your Life and Others — Ted Chiang (Dec 2016) ★☆☆
I read this before seeing Arrival, which is based on the main short story in this collection. Story of Your Life is about mid-way through, and by that time it was fairly clear what Chiang’s writing style was like: big what if ideas applied to a single person but, in my opinion, failing to have any emotional impact.
Mogworld — Yahtzee Croshaw (Jun 2017) ★★☆
I got the audio book of this, read by the author (though not at his characteristic breakneck speed). It’s got a lot of dry wit in it, and a good plotline that quickly opens up beyond the initial premise. I didn’t find myself caring about the main characters; I continued for the writing style and to see where the plot ended up. A little bit gross-out at times but mostly a good read.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry — Neil deGrasse Tyson (Aug 2017) ★☆☆
Non-fiction. Another audio book, again read by the author. It didn’t work for me; Tyson is clearly pushing a pro-science agenda here that doesn’t need to be there — I’ve already picked it up as a science book. It was, apart from that, well written, and he has a pleasant voice to listen to.
How Not To Be a Boy — Robert Webb (audio book; read by the author) (Sep 2017) ★★★
Non-fiction. Audio book, read by the author. I’d recommend the audio book specifically over the text version here; it’s Robert Webb after all: he knows how to deliver it. The book itself is funny, heartbreaking, informative, and wonderfully feminist: a break down of his life and how the patriarchy affected it, written in a very candid and relatable way.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet — Becky Chambers (Oct 2018) ★★★
A wonderful book. The main criticisms of it I’ve heard is that the plot doesn’t get going for quite a while, but the people and world the book introduces is done in such an enjoyable way; I don’t think the plot is the main part of the novel. It has more of a Firefly sense of many episodes of travelling around with lots of lovely characters.
A Closed and Common Orbit — Becky Chambers (Feb 2018) ★★★
Very different in style to Small Angry Planet; this one took two minor characters from the first book and dived into their history and current lives. The plot, despite jumping between two time periods, feels quite linear and even slow-paced, but once again, it’s a book you can just curl up with and absorb.
Leviathan Wakes — James S. A. Corey (Feb 2018) ★☆☆
Having raced through A Closed and Common Orbit I realised I was going to be without reading material on holiday, and I googled around for books similar to Small Angry Planet. One forum post suggested Leviathan Wakes so I picked it up. I have to say, I have no idea what the person in that forum was thinking. While they’re both set in space and feature a captain with a small crew, the tone and characters are miles apart. I couldn’t identify with either of the POV characters; there was gross-out body horror for no good reason; and the only two women, secondary characters, were victims and/or love interests. I finished it just to see where the authors were going with it, and was disappointed.
Children of Blood and Bone — Tomi Adeyemi (Mar 2018) ★★★
I’m currently reading this, and really enjoying it. The map at the start is off-putting (any time I see a book with one, I just think great, this book needs a reference guide) but actually the world building is done very naturally and the narrative is interesting from the first page. The main character is headstrong without being idiotic, and the plot so far is keeping me interested, though as of Chapter 26 it is stretching my suspension of disbelief a little.
So there we go. Have you read any of the above; what books would you recommend me? How do you find new books to read and stay in the habit of reading?