Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Serving winners

Congratulations to the two winners of the book Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison.  The lucky winners were:

Jon


and


Hayley

I hope you'll both enjoy reading the book as much as I did.  Thanks again to Penguin for supplying the books for this giveaway!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and look for a new giveaway soon!

Monday, January 23, 2012

It’s like a game of Jenga that's got out of hand

Poor Karl!  It's his misfortune that he attracted the attention of merry pranksters Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (the creative team behind "The Office").  Karl Pilkington was working as a radio producer for Ricky Gervais' radio program when his unique personality and unusual views of the world caused Gervais and Merchant to recognize his comic potential.    Because Karl is completely uninterested in life outside of his own little area, his "friends" decide to send him on a trip to the Seven Wonders of the World to "broaden his mind."  And so An Idiot Abroad was born.

The 2-disc set of the first series of An Idiot Abroad was released on Jan. 20.  If you haven't seen the series, you're in for a treat!  At the beginning of each of the travel episodes, Karl meets with Ricky and Stephen for an overview of what "wonder" he'll be visiting soon.  Karl remains singularly unimpressed.  His expression of bewilderment and lack of enthusiasm for any of the trips help to set the tone for the latest expedition.

Here is an overview of the wonders that Karl is going to visit, and his take on some of them:
video

The wonders visited include the Great Wall of China (re-named the "OK Wall of China" by Karl), the rock city of Petra, the Taj Mahal, Chichen Itza, the Great Pyramids, the Christ the Redeemer Statue, and Machu Picchu.  Although generally unexcited to be visiting such landmarks, Karl generally has to endure several unexpected surprises before getting to the wonder.  Here is a look at Karl getting some training in the martial arts:

video

Food is a constant source of anxiety during the trips.  In one memorable whinge, Karl wonders why the people in his host country "don't just eat normal food."  I would be interested to know how the Monster Munch that is packed for every trip manages to survive without being reduced to dust!

My favorite episode by far was the one where Karl travelled to Mexico.  Before being allowed to visit the wonder at Chichen Itza, he goes a few rounds with Mexican wrestlers, is invited by cowboys to ride a bull, harvests and eats some wasp larva, and goes on a fruitless search for the elusive Mexican Jumping Bean.  The most hilarious part of the entire series occurs when Karl is given the great honor of eating the worm from a bottle of tequila he's sharing with the cowboys.  After surviving meals of toad, goat eyes, and other disgusting things, the worm nearly does him in!

I really enjoyed watching Karl's experiences as An Idiot Abroad.  Whether you've endured similar culture shock as a traveller, or just want to laugh at Karl's pronouncements on the inexplicable oddities of other countries, you'll get a kick out of this series.  There is some bad language and a bit of nudity, so keep that in mind if you want to watch with younger or sensitive viewers!  Otherwise, prepare for a thoroughly enjoyable time as Karl is wrenched out of his comfort zone, Monster Much and toilet paper in hand!

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of An Idiot Abroad from BBC.

Final verdict for An Idiot Abroad: Five Gherkins, for allowing us to see the wonders of the world with the ever unenthusiastic Karl Pilkington

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two words you don't want to see together

While the title might be somewhat startling, the book Shit London: Snapshots of a City on the Edge by Patrick Dalton offers up an unusual selection of photos that serve to show the unique character (and sometimes unintentional humor) that can be found in the world's most interesting city.

A lifelong London resident, Patrick Dalton began taking digital photos of amusing or strange sights that he saw on his daily rambles through the city.  One day he realized that he had a massive collection of these images and decided to put them into a book for everyone to enjoy!  In the book's introduction, he laments the general "sameness" that is taking over streets across London -- the same shops and restaurants appearing over and over again have served to displace the family-owned and distinctive establishments that helped to give many areas of London their own unique flavor.  This book is an attempt to capture some of this flavor before it disappears entirely.

The lovely full-color photos are all identified with captions identifying the location where the photo was taken.  There are also some captions which add humor to already funny photos.  There are amusing shop names, graffiti, misspellings, and signs which, while amusing, probably don't get the sought-after response (such as several amusing signs directing people not to spit, to pick up after their dogs, to stop banging doors, etc.). 

One example from the book:



Apparently, some customers were taking the cover at its word . . .

The book is a very enjoyable romp through the more amusing aspects of daily life in London proving that humor is alive and well in the metropolis!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book from the Independent Publishers Group.

Final Verdict for Shit London Four Gherkins, for being an amusing look at life in the big city!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Serving my lady: giveaway!

The popularity of the program Downton Abbey shows that we are still fascinated with stately homes, along with the lives of the upper class and the servants who attended them.  An inside look into this fascinating world is given in the book  Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison.  First published in 1975, this is a lovely new edition of the book.

Rosina (known as Rose) was born into a poor Yorkshire family in 1899.  Her father was a stonemason and her mother worked as a laundry maid.  They lived on land owned by the Marquess of Ripon and worked for the family.  It is fascinating to read about Rose's early life and how difficult everything was -- from doing laundry to taking baths, everything was a complicated and back-breaking process.  Rose knew early on that she would be spending her life "in service" -- working as a maid for a wealthy family.  She did have some high aspirations, however:  she dreamed of travel.  Right away, she and her mother decided that she would attempt to get a job as a "lady's maid," assisting the lady or daughter of a stately house with dressing and other personal matters.  Her mother advised that if she started out as a kitchen or housemaid that she would never be able to move up, so Rose stayed on at school for an extra two years to learn French and also worked with a dressmaker to prepare for her future career.

Rose was quickly hired as a "young ladies' maid" at a large house in London.  She had never been outside her Yorkshire area before, but Rose described only excitement about taking the train to the big city.  After a few years, she changed employers and was able to travel even more.  It was during these many trips that she became acquainted with the Astor family, and their home at Cliveden.  Lady Nancy Astor took notice of Rose and decided that she wanted Rose to be her maid.  Already somewhat well-known for her outspokenness and demanding ways, Rose was reluctant to take the position.  She did, however, apply for the job as maid to Lady Astor's daughter, when she found out the salary paid much more than her current position.

Rose enjoyed her new position.  Her charge was an 18 year old girl who was pleasant enough and wasn't demanding like her mother.  As an attendant, Rose was able to travel with the family and was responsible for things like keeping the laundry clean, pressed and mended and keeping up with jewelry.  Whatever it was that attracted Lady Astor to Rose was still apparent, because before long, Lady Astor demanded that Rose become her maid instead.  Lady Astor got whatever she wanted, and this was no exception.

Lady Nancy Astor had been born in Virginia and was already a divorcee with a young son when she married fellow American expatriate Waldorf Astor.  She eventually became the first woman to serve in the House of Commons.  Due to her connections to politics and society, the Astor house was frequently visited by politicians, writers, members of the royal family and other well-known personalities.  As Lady Astor's maid, Rose was able to travel first-class, because she needed to be at "her lady's" beck and call.  She had no social life, because of the demands of her job, but the excitement and unpredictability of her duties left her fulfilled.

The majority of the book deals with Rose's observations about the spoiled and demanding Lady Astor.  Surprisingly, Rose was never hesitant to speak her mind and point out her employer's faults, if she felt it was warranted.  She was Lady Astor's maid for 35 years, so this frank quality must have been appreciated!  She still showed great admiration for her employer, particularly during the difficult war years, when they endured bombings and bomb shelters together. The years after the war seemed to be Rose's favorite.  She and Lady Astor travelled all over the world, and she was always given time to enjoy the places they visited.  She had achieved her lifelong ambition.

Thanks to Penguin Publishers, I have two copies of this fascinating book to give away!  To enter, just leave a comment stating what household position you would want to take if you were "in service." Leave your comment by Jan. 24.  I'll choose two winners at random.  Winners must respond by email within 48 hours or I'll draw a new winner.  This giveaway is open worldwide!  Be sure and leave your email in the comment so I'll have a way to contact you.  Good luck!

Disclaimer: I received the review and giveaway copies of the book from the publisher.