The elusive Takin

I’m going to Bhutan for 4 nights at the end of August while I’m in Nepal. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go and it makes sense to do it now instead of as a special trip; it’s just an hour’s flight from Kathmandu to Paro. Unless you’re an Indian citizen you’re not able to travel independently in Bhutan, so I’ve been in touch with a travel agent who is busily sorting out flights, visa and hotels for me. I am really looking forward to my trip!

The takin is the national animal of Bhutan, and I really hope I get to see one, although that is highly unlikely. According to Wikipedia, the takin, also known as the cattle chamois or gnu goat, is a goat-antelope (sounds like nobody is quite sure WHAT it is!). But one thing I know is that it’s cute, and if I had a garden, if it wasn’t an endangered species, and if Franco probably wouldn’t get annoyed, I would bring a couple back. Not sure I quite like this bit so much though ‘Rather than localised scent glands, the takin has an oily, strong-smelling substance secreted over the whole body’ (Wikipedia). Hmmm, maybe I’ll take a bottle of shower gel with me, just in case I bump into one (literally). Apparently they’re rather tasty, but I couldn’t eat anything that I wanted to hug. Just a photo of the elusive beast would be good…


The Golden Takin (courtesy of Wikipedia)

What I’m reading: ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ Haruki Murakami

I am an avid fan of military history (I am fascinated by Napoleon but at least I don’t think I AM him…) but as I haven’t read any fiction for a while I decided to treat myself to the most recent Murakami novel. I am a big fan of his writing (both the fiction and also his book about the sarin attack, ‘Underground’) but I was disappointed by the last, pedestrian novel (IQ84) so I’ve been eagerly awaiting Tsukuru Tazaki. I started reading it on Wednesday night and got two-thirds of the way through – going to work the next day was not easy because I just wanted to stay at home with a lot of cups of tea and finish it. It’s not ‘Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’, which has got to be one of his best novels (in my opinion, the best), but it’s entertaining. The book has the usual cast of odd characters, with strange events (and, of course, beautifully shaped ears…), weird sexual encounters, music and cooking. Tsukuru and his five friends were super close until he left to go to university in Tokyo. When he returned home during the holidays they collectively ignored him; after many phone calls, one of them finally told him to leave them alone. He spends the rest of the book finding out why, in part so that he can lay the past to rest and reassure his new girlfriend that he is no longer haunted by it. It certainly does keep you turning the pages. I know some people have been disappointed by the denouement; the loose ends aren’t all tied up neatly, but I personally think that’s a good thing. All in all it was a good read and I enjoyed it.

Meet my little furry friend

We adopted Elvis the degu (octodon degus if you’re a Latin aficionado…) just after we bought our flat in July 2013. Degus normally live in pairs, but according to the man in the pet shop Elvis has to live alone. I’m not quite sure why, but we think he was probably the runt of his litter, as he is smaller than most degus I’ve had the privilege of meeting, and also has a nip out of one of his ears, so no doubt he had a traumatic upbringing! He came to live with us and right away it became apparent that we had one issue – books. Now, we read a lot, and we have a lot of books (I’m not a fan of those new-fangled kindle things. I spend all day at work staring at a screen – why would I want to do that in my own time?!?! Apart from when I’m writing blogs obviously…) Elvis has a thing about old books in particular. I think he must love the smell and, more importantly, taste of these particular books. He has munched my old and decrepit Penguin copy of Anna Karenina (it wasn’t in great condition BEFORE Elvis, but that isn’t quite the point).


Elvis also has the strange habit of attacking feet when the owner of the feet is on the phone. I wonder if he is able to hear the other person’s voice and so gets confused and feels threatened. He dashes toward one of the feet and goes in for a quick nip, before running away as quickly as possible. If it wasn’t quite so painful it would be funny. He does seem to have a mild foot fetish in general actually. It’s the first thing he visits if you’re sitting on the floor. Maybe they’re the most fragrant bit of the body in his opinion…! Elvis, the little happy chap, loves snoozing in his hammock (yes, hammock). I thought it was a bit odd at first too but he absolutely loves it. So much so in fact that we have two hammocks, so that while one is being washed the other one can be snoozed in. Unfortunately I can’t get a photo of him in the hammock though, because as soon as he sees the camera coming toward him, he jumps out. Another photo of him will have to do!

The first go

For weeks now one of my friends has been nagging me to start writing a blog. I’m having a bit of an interesting year (in both the usual and ‘English’ sense of the word), and I enjoy writing (in fact I do it for a living), and so I thought why not. Now I’ve started I’m not sure whether anyone’s going to want to read a word I write, but there’s only one way to find out.

So far this year I’ve managed to go on my usual annual trip to Nepal (in March, narrowly missing the Turkish Airlines crash, which meant we lost a week of our holiday), visit Rome (fascination with Roman buildings and history), get married (in May, for the second time!) and be accepted on the MSc Control of Infectious Diseases course at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – I still can’t quite believe the last one, even though I have the official letter at home. The course starts at the end of September, 5 days before my 39th birthday, and so I’m leaving my medical writing/editing job on the 30th July. During the 2 months between then and the start of the course I’m going to sit in a cottage in Somerset for 3 days and read and think, and go back to Nepal for 18 days (also hoping to get to Bhutan for a few days during that time). In my spare(!) time I run a crafts business with my mum, importing (mostly) fairtrade goods from Nepal to sell at local markets, which is one of the many reasons we go over every year.

I live in Brentford (not Brentwood!!) in a flat full of books and pictures and stuff I’ve brought back from travelling. Luckily there is also some space for my husband, and my degu Elvis. We don’t have a TV, which leaves more space for books.

Unbelievably, that’s the first mention of books. Books are one of the reasons that I get up in the morning – another is travelling. Both are incredibly important to me. As is super-hot curry, and a nice glass of Shiraz, or two. However, I am not a fan of cooking (or washing up!) so I prefer to go out and eat. This is easy round us, as there are lots of good restaurants nearby, although we usually end up in one of two of them. Creatures of habit, definitely.