Introducing The Crayon Files

I’m Caron Eastgate Dann, a writer, journalist and academic based in Melbourne, Australia. This blog investigates rediscovery, from old books to childhood hobbies, from discussing favourite recipes to travelling back to favourite destinations. It’s not a nostalgic trip down a clichéd memory lane, however: rather, it will discuss how aspects of the past can be very much part of the present and can be integrated with new media and 21st-century ideas. I started thinking about this a few years ago when a technician was doing some work on my computer system. I asked if I needed a new modem, because the one I had was quite old. “Actually, it’s fine,” he said. “Not everything old has to be thrown away”.

If you’d like to know where the title The Crayon Files comes from, find out here.

Bats, Vampires, and What We Do in the Shadows

Dusk, and the screen is soon to be lowered at Shadow Electric. Then the bats come out, hundreds of them, flying overhead. Unfortunately, it was too dark by then to get an image. Picture: ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

Dusk, and the screen is soon to be lowered at Shadow Electric. Then the bats come out, hundreds of them, flying overhead. Unfortunately, it was too dark by then to get an image. Picture: ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

As dusk was turning to night around 9pm, the screen was lowered and lit up. At the same moment, hundreds of bats filled the inky sky above the outdoor cinema.
Apparently, this happens every night at Shadow Electric Outdoor Cinema and Bar at the old Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, Australia. But the bats seemed double spooky on this particular night, because the film we had come to see was the New Zealand vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows.
Spooky, funny and ironic—the bats AND the movie.
Directed by Taika Waititi (Boy) and Jemaine “Flight of the Conchords” Clement, who also star in it, the film has received rave reviews and has been acclaimed at international festivals.
If you don’t already know, What We Do in the Shadows is about a group of vampires who share an apartment (“flat” in NZ talk) in Wellington. Rather than on plot, the film relies on its quirky hilarity and the juxtaposition of characters from classic European horror removed to far-off suburban NZ.
It’s not often I laugh aloud at a film at all, let alone from start to finish. But barely a minute of this 90-minute film went by when I didn’t LOL. It has a Pythonesque quality in that its comedy comes from a combination of clever lines, strangely lovable characters and utterly ridiculous slapstick.

One of my favourite lines is when the vampires, out for a night on the town, come across a gang of their arch enemies, the werewolves. Riled by the vampires, the werewolves utter some expletives, but are quickly reprimanded by their leader and agree with him not to swear: “We’re werewolves, not swear-wolves”, is their mantra.

I can hardly be said to be an objective observer, however, since the main reason I went to the film is because one of my oldest, dearest friends has a role in it. The New Zealand actor Yvette Parsons plays a witch MC at the masquerade ball towards the end of the film. It was exciting to see her up there on the big screen, and to hear the rest of the audience laughing uproariously, like me, at her comedic performance.
What We Do in the Shadows premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the US last year, and was named best comedy of the year by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian in November. Read his review here.
The film opens in Japan this week, and the producers are hoping to have it released in the US also. Good luck to them! There’s more on the film on their hilarious Facebook page.

On Safari

The lamb platter at Safari Restaurant, Ascot Vale: perfect comfort food. Picture by Kenny Weir, Consider the Sauce

The lamb platter at Safari Restaurant, Ascot Vale: perfect comfort food. Picture by Kenny Weir at  Consider the Sauce

It’s a lazy, hazy new year’s day public holiday in Melbourne when most restaurants outside the tourist areas are closed, but you want to go out to lunch with a preference for African food.
So who do you call?
Luckily, one of my friends and former journalism colleagues, Kenny Weir, is now one of Melbourne’s top food bloggers. In Consider the Sauce (CTS), he and his son Bennie cover Melbourne’s west in all its foodie vibrancy and diversity.
My husband, Gordon, and I were keen to sample some of the delights we’ve been reading about in CTS all this time. We live in Melbourne’s south-east, so it’s a long trek across town that we don’t make very often. Today, though, we cross the dreaded Westgate Bridge without a hassle, it being a public holiday and middle of the day when all those who are travelling out of town to the coast have already done so.
Kenny and Bennie know just the place to satisfy my craving for African food: Safari Restaurant, serving Somalian fare, at 159 Union St, Ascot Vale. The CTS team has been here many a time, and has even given the restaurant an award. You can read reviews of Safari Restaurant on Consider the Sauce here and here.
“I hope you didn’t eat much breakfast,” Kenny says. “Be prepared…”

Soup to start: delicious, despite its ordinary looks. Picture by Kenny Weir at Consider the Sauce

Soup to start: delicious, despite its ordinary looks. Picture by Kenny Weir at Consider the Sauce

Kenny orders a platter of food to share, but before it turns up, we’re served bowls of aromatic broth. They don’t look like much: a brownish liquid with a few herbs and skerricks of vegetable and flecks of lamb. But the taste! Meaty, peppery, lemony, totally delicious.
As Bennie says, “Sometimes, we come here just for the soup.”
I found a recipe for a similar “lamb soup for the soul” (fuud ari) at Xawaash Somali Food Blog, here.
Anyway, next up is our heaped platter of rice, spaghetti, lamb, vegetables and salad. As soon as I see it, I know I will love it.
This is comfort food, immediately recognisable the world over, just as are, say, spaghetti bolognaise, macaroni cheese, chilli con carne, hainanese chicken rice, Indian butter chicken or Thai massaman curry.
It’s that irresistible combination of protein and carbs that we humans seem to be predisposed towards. I didn’t expect spaghetti, but should have, of course, Somalia being a former colony of Italy.
So, we have succulent slow-cooked spiced lamb on the bone; julienned carrot, onion and a few other vegetables; crisp various salad leaves round the side; and beneath, al dente spaghetti that is rather bland but is an excellent foil for the rest of the flavoursome food; and superb rice that has been steamed in stock and herbs. There are two sauces on the side: a hot red chilli one and a green herb-based one, both sensational.

Safari Restaurant at Ascot Vale. Picture by Gordon Dann

Safari Restaurant at Ascot Vale. Picture by Gordon Dann

It’s simple fare served unpretentiously, and even though it’s a huge platter, we consume it all.
Somalian food is traditionally eaten with the hands from the centre platter, and most—but not all—of the other guests are eating in this way. We opt for plates and cutlery, however, and the staff are happy to bring them.
We’re also given carafes of Vimto, a fruit cordial which refreshes the palate between mouthfuls of lamb, rice and spaghetti.
The bill comes to a total of only $48 for the four of us (we actually ordered the platter for three, which was plenty for four). Now, $12 a person for lunch at a restaurant is a bargain in Melbourne. As a comparison, at the uni campus where I teach, I pay up to $14 for an ordinary sandwich and a coffee.
The four of us have already made another foodies’ lunch plan to meet half-way between our respective suburbs in the not-too-distant future. Good food at a bargain price, the company of old friends and summer in Melbourne—what could be better?

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,100 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

It’s how many days till Christmas? Nooooooooo!

My place settings at the Christmas table have names attached to baubles, which I reuse each year.

My place settings at the Christmas table have names attached to baubles, which I reuse each year.

For the first time, we actually went shopping on Boxing Day this year. For my friends in the US and other countries where they don’t have Boxing Day, that’s December 26. It is a national holiday and traditionally the time of post-Christmas sales (when retailers get rid of all the rubbish they couldn’t sell at inflated prices before Christmas).

However, we went to only one shop on Boxing Day, and it was for my husband to buy me a pre-approved present for my birthday, which is coming up soon. More about that in January.

Anyway, the shopping centre carpark was even more congested than it had been leading up to Christmas. It always astounds me that after the consumerist excesses of Christmas, people are still eager to acquire more stuff.

In the shop we went to, I saw people buying up huge baskets and trolleys-full of junk…for next Christmas. Themed serviettes, tree decorations, cards, wrapping paper and the like. I felt a pang of pity for them, actually, as if they have nothing else to look forward to except next Christmas, yet most of them will be under such financial stress that they have to buy stuff for December 2015 in December 2014 when it’s on sale.

Yesterday morning, fittingly, there was an interview on the radio with a woman who helps people de-clutter their houses. That is, get rid of the excess stuff. I remarked to my husband what a ‘first-world problem’ that was: having too much stuff, when most of the world doesn’t have enough.
I thought of all those useless baubles: the tinsel, the discarded cards, the wrapping paper, the table centrepieces. Imagine how many millions of dollars people spend on these every year. Do you really need a plastic reindeer and fake snow in a country where it’s summer at Christmas time and reindeer belong to countries across the other side of the world?

Not to mention the heaps of gifts that are unappreciated—and also the reason many people go to shopping centres on Boxing Day, to return stuff they didn’t like. Other unwanted gifts are just put in the back of a wardrobe, to be trotted out when the giver visits. Some are even re-gifted, of course.

I’m lucky: I seem to always get great presents that are things I want or can use productively. But I know lots of people don’t.

How about this idea? Instead of running around buying loads of presents for family members, everyone in the group draws a name out of a hat and buys one good present for that person. Each person provides a list of things they would like to a pre-determined amount. Result: you have to buy only one present; that present will be exactly what the person wants.

The world's loneliest egg timer: stuffed in a cracker, then left behind on Christmas day.

The world’s loneliest egg timer: stuffed in a cracker, then left behind on Christmas day.

Here’s an ironic tale to finish: this year, I spent $50 on a box of 6 extra-special Christmas crackers (Americans, you can see what these are here). This is because I usually spend about $20 and the prizes are all rubbish, and most people discreetly leave them behind when they depart.

The prizes inside my super crackers were indeed much better than normal…but one guest still left his prize behind. It was an electronic egg timer. Cute, but superfluous, nevertheless.

The art of science or, the science of art

 

Rainforest Walk at Monash University, Clayton campus, Melbourne. The artful rainforest gardens demonstrate a mix of art and science.

Rainforest Walk at Monash University, Clayton campus, Melbourne. The artful rainforest gardens demonstrate a mix of art and science.

I was walking through the science faculty’s section of my university campus the other day, impressed with a state-of-the-art new building and renovated classrooms with their “collaborative learning hubs”— round tables for tutorials with connections for charging electronic devices, and even laptops provided.

It’s so far away from the arts building, in both distance and facilities, it’s like a separate world.

It seems whenever I hear talk of a “clever country” in Australia or calls for more money for research, they’re talking only about the sciences.

I wonder how we got to this point in which our society so deeply divides arts from sciences, and “arts people” from “science people”, even at school. After all, sciences developed from arts, from those with the imagination and bravery and tenacity to investigate the world and how it works.

It seems to me that investigating the world and how it works is also the work of artists. In great artists, I see scientific qualities, and in great scientists, highly developed artistic qualities, too.

Leonardo Da Vinci, artist AND scientist, had it right. In art he found science, and in science, he found art. He appreciated the qualities in both and understood that the line between them was a blurry one, if it existed at all.

piano-tunerIn reality, beyond stereotyped media and ideology-fuelled governments, there are many artist-scientists. I was reminded of this recently when reading the novel The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason (Picador 2002). The novel, inspired by a true story, takes place in the 1880s and is set in the remote highlands of the Shan States of Myanmar (then Burma). A British piano tuner is employed by the War Office to travel there from dreary London to tune the piano of an eccentric British officer. Apart from being a wonderful adventure story, the novel is interesting in that its author, Mason, was a medical student at the time of publication. He had completed a bachelor’s degree in biology at Harvard, and had written much of the novel while working for a year along the Thai-Myanmar border on malaria research . I googled Mason and found that he went on to specialise in psychiatry, but is still writing fiction. He’s combining both careers effectively, as this recent event shows.

Other artist-scientists who come to mind are the Australian writer Colleen McCullough, who studied neurophysiology and worked in research and teaching at Yale University in the US; and the great British crime writer Agatha Christie, who was a qualified apothecary assistant.

And in our cultural life, various practices are a mixture of art and science. Think of gardening and cooking, for example.

When did we start making such strong divisions between science and arts, or even thinking that one field was “cleverer” than the other? In my last year of school, I studied English, German, history, geography and…chemistry. It took me a lot of insistence at school to be allowed to do chemistry, because it didn’t “fit” the rest of my course, but I wanted to have a science in there. When I was doing my bachelor of arts degree in the 1980s, you could still do a BA majoring in mathematics or psychology, interestingly. On the other hand, the engineering faculty was overwhelmingly male, as was the field of higher degrees in any of the sciences.  There’s a photograph of my mother in her PhD graduation day march with the other graduates in medical fields: she is the only female in the photo, yet it was the late 1980s.

In the 1980s, too, some vocational degrees started trying to introduce and acknowledge the validity of arts. For example, engineering students had at least one arts unit as part of their BE, albeit one specially adapted for them. Sadly, these arts units were the subject of scoffing and ridicule among engineering students of the time who had, they thought, more important things to do. I was told bluntly by one engineering student that “anyone” could do an arts degree, whereas an engineering degree was much more difficult.

This attitude remains, particularly in the press and in government circles. I think it’s time to revive the arts, to correct assumptions that arts subjects are easier than sciences, or are for people who aren’t good enough to get into science courses. I’d like to see the arts and science overlap much more.

And while it’s not impossible for an arts major to do a science unit or two, or even to do a double degree in some disciplines, it’s not common. But it should be encouraged. Why not a double-degree in physics and comparative literature, for example? French and chemistry? History and neuroscience? Or just cherry-picked electives for the sake of a rounded education. I don’t think it would hurt student doctors, for example, to do a couple of units of English literature, writing, art history, French or politics, say.

And me? I’d like to revisit high school mathematics and I’d like to learn physics.

A funny thing happened on the way to the garden…

The first lettuce from our own garden

The first lettuce from our own garden

All my adult life Ive steered clear of gardening. Despite my mother being a keen green-thumb and growing our own produce, such as potatoes, mint and parsley, when I was young, I’ve always thought it wasn’t my ‘thing’.

Then a funny thing happened. A few years ago, I started watching a half-hour Saturday evening TV show called Gardening Australia. I still wasn’t into gardening itself, but I began to appreciate the peace and beauty of home-grown plants, particularly, as I’m a bit of a foodie, the edible kind.

In April this year, we moved out of the city to a suburb that is almost rural, to a street in which people take gardening seriously. And although we’re in a townhouse with only a very small courtyard, we’ve started a garden.

We’ve got lettuces, radishes, sweet corn, tomatoes, garlic, chillis, herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, coriander, chives and more. My husband has even started a small and joyful flower garden in one corner.

Because I’ve been watching Gardening Australia attentively for so long, I’ve found that I’ve picked up quite a bit of gardening knowledge without realising it. Soil types and planting widths and watering tips: no longer are they useless information to me.

On Friday night, we had the first lettuce from our garden the star of a salad for dinner. Nothing ever tasted so good—bursting with flavour, nutty, buttery almost, and crunchy.

Lettuce2I teamed it with simple fare: tomatoes and multi-coloured capsicum (not our own, yet); and seared scallops and prawns with my hot butter-garlic-chilli-lemon pepper dressing on a bed of steamed basmati rice.

Best meal I’ve had in ages!

That book, that book…what was it?

The other day at work, some of the ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers were trying to think of the title of a great English-teaching text they remembered from the 1990s. It incorporated stick-figure drawings on flash card-like pages that were ring-bound.

There used to be a copy hanging round the old staff room, one said, but we had moved to a new building, and the little flash-card book had been forgotten (and had probably been thrown out). No one could remember the title or author.

It made me think of a book I had as a child to help me learn German. My father had visited Munich in Germany not long after the 1972 Olympics and had brought me back a poster for my wall. I was very young and thus didn’t know anything about the violence that had occurred there. But I had become entranced with teaching myself German (and went on to study it at high school and university).

The book I’m thinking of was a small paperback and it was part of a language series. It has long gone from my library, unfortunately. I also had a hardcover Berlitz book that I loved.

In my final year at school, I won a prize for German speaking from the Goethe Society. The prize was two lovely volumes of German fairy tales and songs. The song book was illustrated, with music, and I had it until recently. Now I can’t find it anywhere. I can only think that I must have given it away with a lot of others, in a fit of needing to make room in my bookcases. Why does it always seem that the book I give away is the very one I want not long after?

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 8.20.10 AMThere are websites that can help you identify books whose titles and authors you’ve forgotten. One is What Was that Book? Many of the postings on that are novels people read as children and half-remembered.

And what do you know? Today, I did a search for my German Through Pictures book and found it straight away! It was by I. A. Richards, I. Schmidt Mackey, W. F. Mackey and Christine Gibson. Itwas first published in 1953, though mine was a 1972 edition. Amazingly, I found a blog post  which reproduced some pages from German Through Pictures here. Thanks, Mary Caple from Montreal!

I could also buy the book via Amazon, priced from $7.92-$221.95, depending on quality and collectibility, if I wanted.

I think we should bring back the  series, as it’s so easy to learn from. There was also a French version—and perhaps there were other languages available, too.

Oh, and if anyone remembers the ring-bound English flash-card book with the stick-figure drawings, please let me know!

 

Book review: The Dressmaker’s Daughter, by Kate Llewellyn

GetPageImage.aspxIn a media-soaked world obsessed with lifestyles of the rich and famous, we are in danger of forgetting that the most intriguing stories are those of so-called “ordinary” people.

I believe that every life is extraordinary, but it takes a real story teller to write it down in a way that is exciting, yet which readers can identify with.

This is what Kate Llewellyn does in her autobiography The Dressmaker’s Daughter: a memoir (Pymble: Fourth Estate). From the beginning, I could hardly put this book down. And yet, I’ve had it since it was published in 2008, sitting in the bookcase, waiting for me. I bought it at a writer’s festival where Llewellyn was speaking, and I was so fascinated by her that I bought her book of memoirs. Then I forgot to read it.

In 2008, I didn’t have an ereader, but I’m glad I have the hard copy. For a start, it has a lovely tactile cover, like a piece of lace festooned with a maroon ribbon and dressmaker’s pins holding up old photographs on front and back.

On the back cover is an enticing quotation: “The feel of the cold steel of her scissors clipping around my armpits felt dangerous and lovely. The cloth fell in slivers around my socks”.

Llewellyn was born in 1936 at Tumby Bay, on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. She started her adult life as a nurse, then married and went into the art gallery business with her husband, Richard Llewellyn. That sounds interesting enough, but add to that the fact that her husband had been paralysed by polio as a young man and was in a wheelchair, and you know their life together must have had extraordinary challenges.

Intriguingly though, in her matter-of-fact style, Llewellyn shows that at its essence, it is the story of two people and the path of their relationship, regardless of whether they are disabled or able-bodied. First is romance, then disapproval from many around her who think she is making a mistake in her choice of partner. They marry anyway, then there are children and the trials of making a living, Llewellyn’s mental illness and recovery, and, ultimately, the sad breakdown of the marriage. It’s not what you might expect: Llewellyn’s husband fell in love with someone else and ended it.

That is not the end of the story, though. After they divorced in 1972, Llewellyn went to university, graduating in 1978 at the age of 42 with a BA. While still a student, she became a poet and went on to write about 20 books, including non-fiction works on gardening and travel. Her path to becoming a writer is inspiring and shows we don’t know how good we might be at something until we try it.

One of my favourite parts of the book comes at the beginning, and is the evocative description of a hot summer at Tumby Bay in 1941, when “day after day it was forty degrees”:

“There were no angles except where the jetties joined the beach. Everything was curved and everything was bright. The light went on all day and the sun bore down, peeling our noses, bleaching our hair and, when we played in the sea in our bathers, turning the tops of our shoulders red. My brothers seldom wore shoes and everybody learnt to swim without being taught. One day, we could dog-paddle and the next we could swim.” (Llewellym 2008: 4).

This book is 427 pages, but when it ended, I wished it were twice as long. I think it’s because Llewellyn never gets bogged down in details. It is, rather, scenes from a life both ordinary and extraordinary, told in a simple, honest style. Llewellyn doesn’t big-note herself, but nor does she put on a self-deprecating or insincerely humble manner.

I highly recommend this book, particularly to those who are trying to write their own memoirs.

 

I would read anything you wrote…

FullSizeRenderUsually, when I’m looking for a new novel to read, I go by topic, setting and storyline. I might read some reviews from trusted sources, though they don’t necessarily sway me.

But there are just a few authors whose work I will read regardless of its plot. Just the byline is enough to get me in.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of some of my favourite authors right now, who have me at the mention of their name, and why I love their work:

Geraldine Brooks

This US-based Australian journalist-turned novelist and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize writes extraordinarily beautiful prose, meticulously researched but never slow or boring in its detail. She’s one of those writers who makes me sigh to myself and mutter, ‘Why would I ever bother to write’?

I can recommend March (2005), her story of the US Civil War experience of Mr March from the classic American children’s novel Little Women; and Year of Wonders (2001) set in the UK in 1666 during the bubonic plague.

Keith Donohue

When I read Donohue’s riveting novel The Stolen Child (2006), a modern take on the ancient tale of the changeling, I was astounded. For me, it was one of the most imaginative novels I had ever read. The story transports you to a parallel world where two realities can exist side by side.

His follow-up novel, Angels of Destruction (2009) is also intriguing, concerning the case of a child who turns up at a woman’s door claiming to be her daughter who went missing nine years before.

Angela Savage

OK, here’s a disclaimer: Savage is a friend of mine. But that’s not why I read her books. She and I got to know each other only after I started reading her novels and determined that I would read everything she wrote.

I’ve read and can recommend all three in her crime series featuring Jayne Keeny, PI, Behind the Night Bizarre (2006), The Half-Child (2010), and The Dying Beach (2013). If you like gritty crime thrillers with integrity, set in the fascinating culture of Thailand, these novels are for you.

Savage lived in South-East Asia herself for many years before returning to Australia, and this shows in her authentic descriptions. Her books are set in the near past, around the same time I was living in Thailand, so they’re of interest beyond their engaging plots, as well.

Paddy Richardson

I’ve discovered Richardson’s books this year, thanks to my blogosphere friend Margot Kinberg at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. Richardson comes from the same part of New Zealand’s South Island as I do (Dunedin), which is what first peaked my interest. Once you start one of her crime novels, I assure you that it is very difficult to put it down or to think of much else.

I can recommend her fabulous series with TV journalist Rebecca Thorne as the protagonist, the latest of which is Cross Fingers (2013). While set in the present, the book has Thorne researching a cold case during the tumultuous events in NZ during the 1981 tour of the South African rugby team, the Springboks. This writer has an uncanny ability to put pace into her narrative, and to take the reader to the scene.

Incidentally, you won’t find a picture of Richardson’s book cover above, because I’ve read her books on my Kindle. But such is her skill, the medium on which you are reading is immaterial, because you are soon immersed in the story.

Mitch Albom

I resisted reading Albom’s books for ages, because everyone was reading them and raving about them. But they were right. When I finally took the plunge, I found them to be real page-turners. The Five People You Meet in Heaven (1997) didn’t even sound like my sort of book, being a sort-of modern day twist on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. But it’s fabulous, believe me—just read it.

What I like also about Albom’s books is that they’re short and easy to read. You can finish one within a few nights of bedtime reading. Tuesdays with Morrie (2003), about a young man who has the opportunity to glean the wisdom of his former professor as he is dying, is extraordinarily wonderful, too.

Kate Morton

The big, meaty, atmospheric historical novels by this Australian novelist are set in the UK among the castles, ruins and family secrets of bygone eras. She manages to get me in from the very first page of each of her novels.

The Shifting Fog (2006) is set in two time zones, 1999 and 1924, which is a plot device that always intrigues me. The story concerns a film director who is making a film about the suicide of a poet at a manor house in 1924, and who discovers that a housemaid from the time is still alive. So the film maker travels from the US to the UK to interview the 98-year-old. The plot involves a perfect Edwardian summer, a shocking secret and its revelation.

Equally riveting is The Forgotten Garden (2008), concerning a young woman who inherits a cottage with a secret garden on the Cornish coast, and discovers a mystery concerning a missing girl from nearly a century before.

Alexander McCall Smith

One of the world’s most prolific authors, I first came across McCall Smith when I read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998), set in Gabarone, Botswana. There are now at least 15 in the series, of which I’ve read 12, and they are all delightful, particularly for their wonderful titles, including The Kalahari Typing School for Men and Tea Time for the Traditionally Built (a bit of an in-joke for readers). The series concerns the wonderful Precious Ramotswe, who sets up a PI agency with a small inheritance from her father.

The stories have been called ‘gentle’ and ‘delightful’, and that they are. However, I think they are deceptively simple: McCall Smith deals with some of the harshest and most difficult problems affecting the world today, and his novels always make me think. I’ve also read and loved several of his other series, including the Isabel Dalhousie, Professor Dr von Igelfeld and 44 Scotland St series (of which The Importance of Being Seven, pictured, is one), and have enjoyed them all. But No. 1 is his best.

How thrilled I was to discover that Ursula Bischoff, the writer who translated my own novel The Occidentals into German, was also McCall Smith’s translator for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

 

I have to read a lot for work, so for recreational reading, I have time for only about 20 books a year (sometimes more, depending on my workload). So, everything I read has to engage me, because reading time is so precious.

Trick question: What is Coca-Cola?

'Dear Mr Job Thank you for applying to be a burger flipper at our restaurant chain. The standard of applicants was very high and, unfortunately, you have been unsuccessful at this time. However, we will keep your details on file and contact you should a suitable position arise.'

‘Dear Mr Job
Thank you for applying to be a burger flipper at our restaurant chain. The standard of applicants was very high and, unfortunately, you have been unsuccessful at this time. However, we will keep your details on file and contact you should a suitable position arise.’

You know when you go to a job interview, and the interviewer asks you a seemingly simple question, but it turns out the correct answer is not the obvious one?

I read such a story on one of my favourite news websites, RocketNews24, the other day that inspired this blog post.

The story was about an applicant for a job at McDonald’s. During the interview, the teenager was asked, ‘What kind of place do you think McDonald’s is?’.

He answered, ‘It’s a place where people eat hamburgers’.

He knew he’d made a major error when the interviewer looked at him witheringly and replied, ‘It’s a place where people are raised’.

The interview was over and, needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

Now, knowing how tough it is out there to get a job these days, I thought I’d help out by doing some research and providing the right answers to similar questions should you find yourself applying at one of the following top companies.

I’ve taken the answers for these hypothetical interviewers’ questions from advertising, blurbs and mission statements on the companies’ own websites. Good luck with your search!

Interview at Coca-Cola Amatil

Interviewer: What is Coca-Cola?

Applicant: A high-sugar fizzy drink or an artificially sweetened fizzy drink, depending on which type you buy.

Interviewer: No! At Coca-Cola, we’re in the business of spreading smiles and opening happiness every day all across the world.

 

Interview at PepsiCo

Interviewer: What is Gatorade?

Applicant: A high-sugar energy-boosting drink.

Interviewer: NO! It fuels the best and the best of the future. It is a product that will help you work harder, for longer; scientifically proven since 1965.

 

Interview at Google Inc

Interviewer: What is Google?

Applicant: A search engine.

Interviewer: No! Google is a company that understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.

 

Interview at Cadbury Ltd

Interviewer: What is Cadbury?

Applicant: A brand of chocolate, most famously dairy milk chocolate.

Interviewer: No! chocolate means different things to different people at different times, but most importantly, Chocolate is Cadbury, with a passionate commitment to making everyone feel happy.

 

Interview at Yum! Brands Inc

Interviewer: What is KFC?

Applicant: A place where people go to eat fried chicken.

Interviewer: Most definitely not! It’s a place that knows its responsibility goes beyond ensuring great-tasting, high-quality food. It is a place that aims to make a positive difference to the communities where it works, the wider environment and, of course, to the lives of its employees.

 

Interview at Wesfarmers

Interviewer: What is Coles?

Applicant: A place where people go to buy groceries.

Interviewer: No! It’s a place that is dedicated to giving Aussie families the products they need for a happy, healthy home life, at prices they can afford.