April reading list

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The Stranger Diaries, Ellie Griffiths

This is the first part of The Postscript Murders. A teacher at a secondary school is murdered. The school is the site of an earlier mysterious death. The novel opens with a short ghost story that the protagonist Clare is teaching in a creative writing class. It’s a fairly competent murder mystery, though I didn’t like it as much as The Postscript Murders.

The Box in the Woods, Maureen Johnson

This is the fourth novel in Johnson’s Stevie Bell series. The action moves away from Ellingham Academy, which is a good things because there is only so much murder that can happen at one school before it begins to sound unrealistic that the school would still be open. I enjoyed this standalone mystery set in a camp in a small town.

Mary Jane, Jessica Anya Blau

The story of a young teen from a very straightlaced family who gets a job babysitting at the home of a very unusual family and spends the summer hanging out with their rock-star friends. The whole thing was very charming, but I did feel like the Cone’s exploited MJ, who ended up cleaning, organising their house and cooking them dinner. Ocassionally, they would tell her they would do the dishes. The trade-off was supposed to be the freedom she got there, but I don’t know. Still, enjoyed it.

Lady in the Lake, Laura Lippman

I almost gave up on this novel because of the intro – I’ve realised I don’t like the second person narrative voice – but, in true Lippman style, it is a fabulous read. The narrative voice shifts between different characters – a ghost, waitress, baseball player – adding different perspective on the events, but I liked Maddie best, a woman who decided to reinvent her life, and become a reporter. This novel made me want to write, even if I wondered if I’m like the John Dillard character, who reads his own writing and knows it’s not good enough. If the actual wasn’t good enough, it’s also the story of how Tess Monoghan’s father met her mother.

Alas, I have finished Lippman’s entire oeuvre, apart from the short stories, and will actually have to wait for her to write something new.

The Crossing Places, Ellie Griffiths

Since I liked Griffths’ writing style, so I decided to try her Ruth Galloway series, and I’m pleased to say it really worked for me. Ruth is an archaeologist who specialises in bones. She’s called in when some bones are found by the police, and gets involved in a case about missing children. Ruth’s defining qualities are that she is fat, lives alone in one of three cottages in a desolate salt marsh and has parents who are born-again Christians while she is a determined atheist. There’s a fair bit about Britain’s Stone AgeIron Age/Roman history, and a hot detective of few words. What’s not to like.

Ariadne, Jenny Saint

Liked, but not loved it. There was less of developing Ariadne as a person and more of narrativising the myth. Theseus becomes the villain, while in Dionysius’ telling the Gods are petty and humans worthy of love. I got a clearer picture of Dionysius and Ariadne’s sister Phaedra than the titular character, though I guess she was always a milquetoast so there’s only so much one could do with her. Why Ariadne would love Dionysius is clearer than why he would love her. The novel sets up a Acontrast between Ariadne and Phaedra, the former choosing a housewifely existence, the latter finding motherhood deeply unsatisfying. In the end, I did learn new aspects of the myth, so there’s that.

The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris

The nuances of being a coloured person in a white workplace are really well conveyed here. Nella is all about the rage at microaggressions, and sincerely welcomes “the other black girl”, until she began to suspect that girl was sabotaging her.

Again, the intro almost put me off. I was sure this was going to descend into horror. Instead, it went into crazy conspiracy territory, kind of like American Spy.

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

I’m not a short story person, but the writing is so profound here, and the stories are interconnected by fleeting glimpses of Olive, in those stories that she is not the main character, that I came through sated (and wanting more) on the other side.

Basically, it’s the secret lives of older couples, their loves and their griefs, at the centre of which stands this woman who viewed from the outside can be quite an asshole, but is just so blatantly herself and also sometimes redeems herself so spectacularly, that you end up loving her.

There was this one story in particular, when Olive’s son decided to move away that brought home to me most spectacularly how my own mother-in-law must be feeling.

The Janus Stone, Ellie Griffiths

Love the curmudgeonly Nelson, love solitary Ruth. Love the unearthing of stories and history.

I did wonder how many stories about finding bones can be written that I would want to read, and after book two, I think any number would do.

Trying to ration these so I don’t read them all at once, to the exclusion of family and sleep, and then have nothing else to look forward to.

Beast, Judith Ivory

My thoughts on the chick lit blog.

New normal

Actually choosing to work from home. Partly because inertia tipped over into habit. Partly because I save money on travel and food. Partly because desk and door to shut makes it easier. Partly because not rushing to office means more time for morning routine and more time with family at night. Perhaps the office has even slightly lost its allure.

RAT tests. Who would have thought we would become adept at sticking a bud into one’s nostrils or those of one’s children, swirling it around in liquid and then waiting for a line on a test, like taking a pregnancy test, but everyday.

Bridgerton Season 2 how do I hate you

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Let me count the ways.

  1. The absolute lack of chemistry between Jonathan Bailey’s Viscount Anthony Bridgerton and Simone Ashley’s Kate Sharma. I had no problem with the casting. Bailey is hot. Extending Season 1’s decision to cast actors of different races, Season 2 had two actors in Indian descent playing the main roles of Kate and Edwina Sharma. I was looking forward to the pairing for Bailey and Ashley. Unfortunately, for reasons of script, direction, or the actors’ inability to act ( Anthony was fine in Season 1 and Simone Ashley seemed to be able to act in Sex Education, then again she just needed to be aloof there), they just didn’t click. It was fine when Anthony and Kate had to hate each other, but when they had to convey any kind of passion, it came across as frankly hammy. I blame the director.
    Look, I have read all the Bridgerton novels, and The Viscount Who Love Me, the second book in the series, featuring Viscount Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sheffield, is my favourite. I loved the tension between Anthony and Kate, which despite both their best efforts, develops into love. So their on screen rendition really let me down.
  2. The completely senseless script. In the novels, the motivations of the characters make sense. Anthony’s strong sense of duty, and the trauma he experienced after his father’s death, is fully explained. Also, the book does not drag on the tension between Anthony and Kate until the very end, and therefore had no need to create nonsensical plot points to fill the time. Anthony and Kate marry midway, but in the grand tradition of Regency/historical romance, Anthony is determined to hold on to his control and not love his wife. The rest of the novel is about how they overcome this, and Anthony succumbs to the full extent of his feelings. Now, this was also the case in The Duke and I (albeit due to a different obstacle), so maybe Shonda Rhimes didn’t want to repeat it, but the result is an over-extension of Anthony and Kate resisting each other, made worse by their non-existent chemistry.
    Instead we have Queen Charlotte arbitrarily deeming Edwina Sharma her diamond (in the novels, the diamond is someone who emerges by a sort of social consensus/Lady Whistledown’s decree). Then we have the rift between the Sharma girls’ mother and her parents because she married beneath her, which is poorly explained, as is also the whole deal Kate made with her grandparents, Kate’s insistence that she will go back to India (women didn’t just travel alone in that day, and where would she go when he closest relations are here), Lady Danbury’s interference (it’s unclear whether she is on Kate’s side or not. In the novels, she’s a very perceptive character). Why Lady Danbury is sponsoring the Sharma girls and why the queen, who is a stickler for tradition, would pick Edwina as a diamond given her less-than-impeccable background was lost on me. Why did the Sharmas and the Danbury’s think they should throw a ball and pretend everything is fine? Admittedly, I was quite bored while watching the series, so answers to all these questions were provided and I just glazed past them.
  3. The rift between Kate and Edwina. In the TV series, Edwina falls in love with Anthony, though she barely knows him (but okay, he is hot and wealthy and titled), and she is very angry with Kate for what she sees as a betrayal. This is a believable reaction, but Charitra Chandran’s tearful accusations began to annoy me and she came across as self-centered by the end. Also, while Kate and Edwina said all the right things to each other, they too seemed kind of stilted (or maybe it was just the stupid accent – see below). In the novels, their affection appears genuine, and they never have a rift. Edwina never really had deep feelings for Anthony, she was going through the motions because she felt that was what she needed to do for her family. Also, the nautanki of Edwina running out of her own wedding was not very believable. In the novel, there is incontrovertible proof that Kate and Anthony were deeply attracted to each other and their marriage becomes, by the social conventions of the day, inevitable. In the TV series, Edwina realises during her wedding that Kate and Anthony have feelings for each other based on them fumbling over the ring. In that day, or any day for that matter, a woman ditching a man at the altar was a big deal and I doubt a woman would risk the social scandal and the personal loss on the basis of a suspicion.
  4. Kate and Edwina’s accents. I had no problem with Kate and Edwina being played by actors of Indian descent, but their accents were ridiculous. There was this scene early on in which they spoke to each other in private, and were I guess supposed to be using Indian accents, only they came across like Appu from the Simpsons. Both Simone Ashley and Charitra Chandran are British, so it’s unclear why they sounded like they were faking both their British and Indian accents. There’s also the issue of them saying “didi” which is a north Indian term, and then “appa” which is south Indian.
    There has also been criticism of the series completely ignoring the topic of colonialism. It might be nice if this was addressed, but then it opens a Pandora’s box of so many things that need to be addressed, starting with the fact that black and brown members of society would have faced racism.
    My understanding is Bridgerton is leaning away from racial authenticity or reversing the long history of white actors playing different ethnicities. That is fine by me. In which case, they should have avoided leaning into the Sharma’s Indian background, since they didn’t do the same for the Duke of Hastings or Lady Danbury’s characters in Season 1.
  5. The sidelining of Newton. Kate’s affection for her dog, his bad behaviour and the antipathy Anthony feels towards him are a big part of the novel. I was happy to new Newton was included as a character in the TV series, but apart from the occasional woof in the first episode, he was largely ignored (the real Newton would have never stood for that).
  6. Historical inaccuracies. There’s vast disparities across historical romances about what was socially allowed behavior. In the Bridgerton novels, a mere kiss or even being found alone with a man could condemn you to matrimony whether you want it or not (this was the case with The Duke and I/Season 1). In Mary Balogh’s books, couples are often having sex before marriage, even in the outdoors. So fine, there’s no consensus. But in the Bridgerton universe, if a kiss can mean risk everything, would characters have sex in a pagoda in the gardens when anyone could have stumbled on them? Would women wander around in their nightgowns? Would men visit women in their bedrooms unchaperoned? Would a man whose sister has been exposed in Lady Whistledown’s pamphlet race after a woman he has conflicted feelings for?
  7. Eloise Bridgerton. A lot of people seem to like Claudia Jessie’s portrayal of Eloise, the misfit sister who chafes at Regency conventions, but I disagree. Eloise increasingly comes across as unhinged.
  8. The absence of the duke. Rege-Jean Page’s portrayal of the Duke of Hastings was pioneering television in many ways. If anyone had reservations about a black man playing the duke, they melted away in the face of his fiery hot performance. Which means his absence was sorely felt. I get that the actor was unwilling to play a side part, but surely they could have thrown money at the problem, or coopted another hot black actor to stand in. The explanation for his absence over eight episodes, when Daphne is very much present, sounded pretty suspicious, especially since in Season 1, their rift was much noticed and commented on by the ton and their close family.

Did I like anything? It was pretty, a visual feast for the eyes as every. And I loved Queen Charlotte – glad to hear she’s getting her own show.

Why I did surgery for endometriosis

So, the surgery.

As readers of this blog know, my period has been the bane of my existence since almost as long as I’ve had it. Growing up, in a household of those of the female persuasion, including our cocker spaniel, no one but me had had pain during their period. I still remember the first time I curled up with pain on the bed – it wasn’t my first period, but quite early one – and my mother and grandmother hovering worriedly.

They had heard of this, but not experienced it – they didn’t even know a hot water bottle would help; I think I learnt about it through a sex education video. My elder sister’s period was so painless she sometimes stained her skirt without realising it.

Many of my friends had painful periods. Our very kind GP prescribed Meftal; my friends and I discussed it as a wonder drug.

In my 30s, I noticed spotting even after my period stopped. I was in Hong Kong, and looked up the list of gynaecologists on my insurance panel. I picked a female one and made an appointment. She did a sonogram, told me I had a 6 inch chocolate cyst on my ovary and needed surgery. I was flabbergasted. “Is is cancer?” I asked. “No,” she said, but didn’t explain further. She became the archetype for me of the kind of reticent doctor that I would later know to avoid.

Google gave me some more information (a chocolate cyst is like a boil filled with thick blood, non cancerous), but I decided to see another doctor. This guy was the opposite of the first doctor. He informed me that I likely had endometriosis. “Do you have painful periods?” he asked. “Isn’t that normal?” I asked back. “Er, no,” he said, the first time anyone had uttered such a thing in my hearing. He took almost 30 minutes to explain endometriosis to me and explained why I needed surgery. One of the issues, apart from pain, is that such a cyst could cause infertility.

I discussed the situation with my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law who is a gynaeocologist in India. She is also a yoga practitioner. She advised me to do a set of yoga exercises and take an ayurvedic pill for six months. If the situation didn’t improve, I could do surgery. I did some of my own research and modified my diet. Within a few months I was pregnant.

The cyst situation seemed to have resolved itself, but that was over a decade ago. In between then and now, I made an attempt to address my heavy and painful periods by trying the contraceptive pill. It did not agree with me, and I stopped it.

I have now come to recognise the nagging pain my right side, as a possible cyst. Now in addition to period pain for about two days, I have pain in my right side mid-cycle (during ovulation) for a couple of days.

Last year, my gynaecologist confirmed that I had a cyst on my right ovary, but didn’t think it was large enough to warrant surgery. Since I didn’t want to go on the pill, he recommended I try getting fitted with the Mirena coil, which releases the hormone locally, and can help with endometriosis. It wouldn’t make the cyst go away, but it would prevent it from growing further.

I decided to do it, then after a conversation with friends, decided against it. I was afraid that the hormone would still make me sick. [One of my realisations from this saga is that friends sometimes say things because they feel they need to say something. Even I do this. But you need to make up your mind of your own. And then stick with your decision.]

In recent months, I noticed the ovulation pain getting worse. I figured it was a cyst, and decided to ignore it. Omicron hit Hong Kong and I wasn’t keen on seeing a gynaecologist. There was nagging pain in my right side almost constantly. I called my gynaecologist only to find that he had retired.

For two periods, I noticed that a couple of days into my period a new pain, one that I associated with ovulation, would start and go on for another seven days. It was bad enough for me to need a hot water bottle some days. I resisted taking painkillers because I was already taking painkillers one day every month during my period.

Finally, when the pain began stopping me from exercising, I decided to bite the bullet and see a doctor. Back to the list of gynacs on my insurance list. I called one and got voicemail. I called the other doctor in my former gynac’s practice, a woman I had seen once but did not particularly like. I miraculously got an appointment the same day.

She confirmed I had a mid-sized cyst. She paused. It was like I was supposed to tell her what to do – another of those reticent doctors. I waited. I have learnt that it is not my job to fill a silence – especially in the doctor’s office. She said I could take painkillers. Or I could do surgery. Or I could take the pill. I told her I did not want to take the pill. She did not say what I should do. I asked about the coil. “That could help,” she said, and we decided to do that.

Later, I thought about the fact that while the coil would prevent the cyst getting larger (hopefully), it would not do away with it. And it was the cyst that was causing the pain. This doctor did not seem to be the type to really have a discussion of my options. Getting information from her was like pulling teeth.

I called another doctor and made an appointment. He thought I should do surgery and then put in the coil. He didn’t see the point of putting in the coil without cleaning out the uterus first. The surgery would be laproscopic, but require two weeks to recover. He wanted me to do it as soon as possible, before my next period.

Look, I got the feeling he was rushing me. But I had been thinking about this for 10 years. I’d have to do it some time. I wanted to schedule the surgery in early April when I had a week of leave but I’d need a week after anyway. There was no ideal time to take leave.

In the meantime, there was a chance the cyst could burst in between and be painful and cause complications. It might not also.

I discussed it with my boss and he was supportive about me taking leave as soon as I needed it. It required a colleague to give up some of his leave and I felt really guilty.

I should have been stressed about the surgery, but I was stressed about admin. First about squaring the leave at work. Then about getting insurance clearance – V has excellent insurance coverage so this is not something I usually need to worry about, but unfortunately, the first clinic had put int he request for the coil, and now the second one would put in the request for the operation plus the coil. I had only a few days to clear this up. I called the first clinic to tell them to cancel the coil request (which was awkward). Finally, the insurance company called up to clarify and they were cooperative.

Every night I would wake up with some worry or the other. Would the insurance get cleared? Would I get a private room (which I’m entitled to)? Should I even be doing this at all? Would I pass the Covid test on the day?

The day of the surgery dawned cold and windy. I had been booked into arguably Hong Kong’s best (and most expensive) private hospital on The Peak. V had had surgery for his ankle there. I remember a room with a sea view and a room service menu. I kept calling it “the hotel”.

On the ride up there, V and I joked that it felt like we were going to another country for a vacation. As we ascended in the cab, the air was thick with fog and we passed the bungalows and low rise buildings housing the very rich. We joked about the rarified air.

At the hotel hospital, we were directed to a cluster of tents to be tested for Covid. While the weather had been pleasant in our neighbourhood, up on The Peak it was windy and cold. We were not dressed warmly enough. The antigen test took 20 minutes to clear, but I had to do a rapid test. Here’s where it got ridiculous. While V was free to go and sit in the hospital reception after his test, I had to take a PCR test and wait – wait for it – two hours on a plastic chair in the tent for my test result.

There is absolutely no logic to this. Remember, I was not severely ill, but what if I had been old and infirm? Sitting in a plastic chair for two hours would be no joke.

Moreover, the tents had started to rattle and water leak in. Admin from the hospital and workers were milling about worriedly. And still, I, the patient, was sitting there. The whole situation reminded me of that period in February in Hong Kong when elderly Covid patients were shivering outside public hospitals in the cold.

But this was not a public hospital. It is an extremely expensive private hospital. This is an extremely expensive hospital. Also, I was a patient in a private room, where the fees for every treatment from the anesthetist to the medication would be at least doubled.

V told me to just tell them I was leaving and leave. But the nurses refused to let me go. I got tired of V grumbling and told him to just got sit in the hospital.

Finally, someone saw the stupidity of the (shameless) husband of the patient sitting in the warm and comfortable reception while the patient shivered inside a ricketty wet tent and they took me into the hospital.

After that, everything was as it should be. The admission process was smooth once the PCR result came in. I was scheduled for surgery at 11, and the result came in at 10.15. I was up in my room by about 11, and the operation theatre was ready for me. Pee, change and I was off. My nurse told me she was on her fourth coil and loved it.

I was pleasantly surprised that I felt relatively good after surgery. I had had a spinal anaesthesia during my C-section and Nene had been under general anaesthesia when he broke his arm. I remember we were not allowed to eat for hours. But here, they encouraged me to drink water and eat if I felt okay. I held off eating until the nurse told me I needed to eat. I ate a baked potato. For dinner though I ate truffle pasta. I was able to get off the bed and pee within hours. I dozed during the day and slept fairly well at night

The next day, the doctor thought I looked great, but asked me to stay another night (insurance in Hong Kong covers two nights of hospitalisation, so hospitals tend to use it. But I also felt that I should not fight hospital care) I was able to sit in the balcony -yes, the room had a balcony – and admire the sea view. I could have a shower (again, being able to have a shower so quickly after surgery is not something I expected). I was super careful not to get my stomach wet, but a week later when I changed the bandages I realised they were really water-proof.

That day though I began to feel incredible gas in my stomach and had a stomach upset. I felt it might be the painkillers, and feared it was the Mirena coil (that Google told me could cause these symptoms). I ran a slight temperature at night (according to one thermometer, according to another, I was fine) The doctor was not worried.

I was discharged the next morning. The pain was barely there so I stopped taking the painkillers. But my stomach was really gassy and uncomfortable. My doctor had not given me an anti acidity pill so I took my own. That helped.

I had been skeptical about needing two weeks of leave, especially the day after surgery when I felt fairly good, but on day 3 I developed a fever. It burned off overnight, but I spent the next two days sleeping … a lot. I would wake up, eat breakfast and go back to sleep. I was nap again in the afternoon. I was in bed by 9pm.

I got my period a few days later. The doctor told me to expect it to be light, and it was. But six days into my period, I was still seeing bright red blood. The doctor had asked me to go for a check up two weeks after surgery, but 10 days later. He said everything looked good and I could expect bleeding because of the coil for a while.

More than two weeks later, I am still bleeding. I feel fine mostly when I’m home, but even a short walk tires me. Again, I’m surprised, because I did not see this as major surgery. A friend said her friend who had this surgery took four weeks to be back to normal. So the doctors do know what they are talking about.

In the weeks leading up to the surgery, we had kept the kids home due to Covid, until they were vaccinated. After they were vaccinated, I wanted to them wait a couple of weeks so that the effect kicked in. And then, because of my surgery, we all stayed home to ensure we didn’t get Covid and throw the whole plan out of whack.

I was impressed at how I had adapted to this life, which had driven me mad in our last bout of lockdown. We played a lot of boardgames. We went on walks.

I have been pretty much at home since the surgery. Last week, I went to the park downstairs and the grocery store. I went out to lunch nearby. I had to rest after all these forays.

Recently, I realised I have reached my limit. The kids have been on vacation last week, but I can’t really go anywhere with them. Nene thankfully has friends to play with downstairs, but Mimi’s one pal has gone to India. They are bored a lot, and so am I. I am losing my mind slightly. Starting work again next week might be a good thing.

I lost some weight during surgery. I really liked seeing my cheekbones. Alas, once I started eating better, my cheekbones are less in evidence. My appetite hasn’t completely recovered though, so I’m trying to go with eating less. And I’ve cut out sugar. The thing I miss most is not my daily dose of chocolate but sugar in my tea (Note: Earl Grey tastes like soap water without sugar).

A week after my surgery, my mum had surgery in India. Again, I was not able to be with her. Had I not had surgery, I could have tried to go down. Thankfully, Hong Kong’s quarantine has reduced to two weeks and the flight ban to India lifted. But getting there and back is still a logistical nightmare.

My mum has had chronic urinary tract infection for years. She had surgery to lift up her bladder four years ago but the problem recurred. She is on antibiotics almost all the time. No doctor has been able to find a solution. She tries every home remedy anyone suggests.

Finally, she saw a uro-gynaecologist who felt her uterus has prolapsed, putting pressure on her bladder. He suggested a hysterectomy and pulling up the bladder. Fingers crossed it works.

My dad had to stay with my hospital for three nights and she’s been super uncomfortable at home since. But she’s getting better. She experienced much of what I did, but more intensely – feeling great right after surgery, the stomach discomfort and gas, tiredness, and she still has pain.

Let’s just say it’s been quite a month. It’s too early to say all this has been worth it for me. I didn’t have to think about the cost of surgery or the coil because I am well covered by insurance.

But I do think that we need to stop accepting period pain – and other “feminine” complaints as just part of the course of life. We need to push for solutions from our own doctors but also from the medical research community. We need to stop fearing the solutions, but give them a fair shot. Menstrual problems are underresearched. Period leave is an idea that is still controversial in workplaces. Menstrual products are taxed as luxuries. In many countries, including India, women do not even have access to these products, and are using rags during their periods.

There is so much that needs to be done.

March reading list

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The Summer Queen, Elizabeth Chadwick
The Winter Crown, Elizabeth Chadwick
The Autumn Throne, Elizabeth Chadwick

I had been feeling a hankering for an Eleanor of Aquitaine novel, and I came upon Elizabeth Chadwick’s series. Turned out I had stumbled upon a new historical author I could take to.

Chadwick’s series starts when Eleanor is a girl, raised to inherit and rule a duchy, about to the married to Louis of France so that her courtiers do not fight over her hand in order to gain her lands. I liked that the relationship between Louis and Eleanor has some attraction from the start, even though it later unravelled.

I had always wondered how Louis let Eleanor go, and imagined a grand romance with Henry. Chadwick straddles a more nuanced line on this. She describes the gradual falling of Louis into religious fanaticism, and his estrangement from Eleanor. Because they were only able to have daughters, there was a political reason for an annulment. (Thus, Henry VIII wanting an annulment from Catherine was not as egregious as it as been portrayed, seeing that there was plenty of precedent for it).

Eleanor’s union with Henry is also portrayed as political, with a convenient dash of passion. It is made clear that Henry is ambitious and wants Eleanor’s lands, and Eleanor realises that she will not be able to hold them on her own; she must marry. That there is attraction between them helps, and this also sounds historically plausible considering that they had a stream of children.

Chadwick has made it clear that while Eleanor is always described as woman ahead of her time, she was writing her as a woman constrained by her time. And this comes through very clearly. For one, just the sheer number of pregnancies, and the fact that Eleanor had to move away from her lands to England, would have constrained her.

Chadwick proposes these constraints, the fact that Eleanor expected her marriage to Henry to be a partnership, one in which she had sovreignity over her lands, while Henry was a man of his times, and one who did not like to share authority (which then became a problem with his sons) as main cause of the rift between her and Henry.

There were so many echoes in this historical period and the Tudor one. Thomas Beckett seemed to be like Cardinal Woseley and Thomas Cromwell rolled into one, a man who purported that he would do everything for the king, and then fell out of favour. Henry also fell in love with another woman and wanted to set Eleanor aside, but he could not, because she refused but also because he could not risk losing her land.

I always wondered how Eleanor could conspire with her sons against her husband, but again, Chadwick builds up the context to this.

An Heiress’ Guide to Deception and Desire, Manda Collins

Read my thoughts here.

A Rogue by any other Name, Sarah Maclean

One Good Earl deserves another, Sarah Maclean

Read my thoughts here.

To Have and to Hold, Patricia Gaffney
To Love and to Cherish, Patricia Gaffney
Forever and Ever, Patricia Gaffney

I really loved this series. My thoughts here.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, E Lockhart

OMG I loved this. Boarding school plus teen girl ass plus feminism.

This is to the tone of book I have been yearning for, light and ironic, at a time when I find myself surrounded by earnestness.

Frankie wants to be liked, she wants to be popular, but she also wants power, real power, and she is the real deal – an offroader.

In the end, I don’t think I can be like Frankie, but I like how she does her by doing and not by talking, and that she can like pretty things and doesn’t keep ranting.

Game On, Janet Evanovich

Yes, the Stephanie Plum series is getting repetitive, and did we really need a third man (Diesel) in the mix, but somehow this one worked for me. The mystery had a slightly new angle – nerds and hackers – and Grandma Mazur was her usual self, not a philosopher queen, and Stephanie’s mum took to the zen of knitting A Thing. I’m still firmly in Team Morelli (and Bob, obv).

The Vixen, Francine Prose

I felt like I need to read something literary and more serious than pulp fiction, so I picked this because I thought something set in the publishing industry might be more easily digestible.

I should have expected that a novel that starts with the execution of two Jews for being communist spies (the Rosenbergs) during the McCarthy era would be more than a mere publishing lark.

Simon, the Havard grad from the wrong side of the tracks, over qualified for life as he wants to study ancient Norse myths. He loves his parents but there is a distance between them. Then he lands a job in a publishing firm, through the intervention of his uncle, a dream break, but then he is asked to work on a novel that is a twisted parody of what happens to the Rosenbergs. What should he do? What would you do?

Every time I started to get bored, there was a new twist. It turns out lovely in the end, we are presented with commercial fiction outlaws, the revenge of the copyeditors.

The Captive Queen, Alison Weir

This is another take on Eleanor of Aquitaine. Weir used to be my go-to Tudor writer, but I haven’t been so into her last few offerings. And this one quite annoyed me. She really leaned into the “Eleanor the slut who was gagging for sex with Henry” trope. I appreciated that in Chadwick’s telling, while the relationship between Eleanor and her formidable mother in law Matilda wasn’t exactly cozy, there was a grudging respect between them. Weir, however, chooses to play up their animosity. She also plays up the rivalry between Beckett and Eleanor.

Other than that most of the major events and her take on them are similar to Chadwick’s but Chadwick offered a more nuanced version of events. One thing that was missing in Chadwick’s version, and that I appreciated that Weir included, was the whole troubadour courtly tradition.

The Postscript Murders, Elly Griffits

Murder in a small town, or in this case, a retirement community. An Indian female detective and the racial politics that come with that. A murder in the publishing industry.

There is a major character who is Ukrainian and it was quite disconcerting reading about the war in Ukraine, the Donbas, Crimea, and prisoner exchanges at this time (though this novel was written some time ago).

The solution to the mystery, I thought, was a bit of a cop-out as it hinged on CCTV footage, but overall, it was an enjoyable read with well defined characters, including some of the victims.

Quiet in her Bones, Nalini Singh

I thought a mystery featuring a wealthy Indian family in New Zealand would be interesting, but I’m beginning to find it a bit lazy that writers are just having their protagonists be authors. There are many twists and turns here, but overall, I felt the novel was a bit like the candy Aarav kept eating. It gives you a rush, then nothing.

We Were Liars, E Lockhart

I loved the Frankie Landau Banks book so much, I was excited to read this but it was not what I was expecting. Also, not the idea book to be reading when recovering from surgery.

The Lost Village, Camilla Sten

Also, not the kind of book to be reading while recovering from surgery. I expected something quiet, cold, Nordic and procedural. What I got was a Swedish Blair witch project.

Dream Girl, Laura Lippman

Ouff, another novel with an author protagonist set in the publishing industry. The first half read like a Martin Amis novel. The second half took a complete macabre turn. Briefly, I was cheered when Tess Monaghan, the protagonist of Lippman’s famous series, made an appearance, but alas it was not to be. Lippman is as skilled as ever, but this might be my least favourite of her offerings.

Truly Devious, Maureen Johnson

The Vanishing Stair, Maureen Johnson

The Hand on the Wall, Maureen Johnson

Maybe I should just stick to reading YA. This is a YA + boarding school + detective series, possibly a perfect combo. The protagonist, Stevie Bell, is a true crime afficionado, who is admitted to the exclusive Ellingham Academy, a non-traditional school for gifted kids. Each of the kids at the academy have a “thing” – Stevie’s friend Nate has written a bestselling fantasy novel, her other bestie Janelle is into building machines. Apart from the outstanding education, Stevie wants to be at Ellingham because it is the site of an unsolved crime. In the 1930s, the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped. While the body of the wife was found, the daughter’s never was. While Stevie wants to solve this mystery from the past, in the present, a fellow student is murdered. Across three books, both these mysteries are solved. Loved this series, and will go on to read the rest.

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt

For someone who likes boarding school stories, I am probably the one person in the world who is not a fan of Tartt’s The Secret History. I have a problem for too-cool-for-school kids. One might argue that Stevie et al are similar, but the difference is their humility. Tartt’s Secret History kids are so full of themselves, and they don’t seem that clever for all that. Okay, I will stop ranting about The Secret History now.

I did enjoy The Goldfinch, but The Little Friend is probably my favourite Tartt novel. Set in the South, it starts with a murder – a young boy is found hanging from a tree. The novel then takes up ten years later, following the boy’s plucky sister Harriet, who was a baby at the time of his death, and his older sister Allison, who probably witnessed the murder but has repressed it, drifting through life ever since in a cloud of depression. Harriet takes it upon herself to avenge her brother’s murder as a sort of summer project. More than the actual murder though, it’s a portrait of a family – or two families rather, from different sides of the track – including Harriet’s formidable great aunts.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Tara Jenkins Reid

I started this novel on the day of the Oscars, and Slapgate, and it was the perfect atmospheric read. It also convinced me that nothing in Hollywood is as it seems. An ageing film icons recounts her life story to a young journalist, which seems like a cop-out narrative device, but it works. Evelyn Hugo’s life is sufficiently riveting. I disliked that the big question was “who was the love of your life?”. A renowned actress surely has more to her life than who she loved most, even if she did have seven husbands, but the answer to the question is sufficiently interesting.

Oscar 2022 red carpet faves

I’ve just had surgery (for endometriosis, which I’ll write about at some point; for now, since it’s Endometriosis Awareness Month, know that if your periods are heavy and painful, this is NOT normal and popping pain meds are not necessarily the only solution) so I was unaware it was the Oscars until Slapgate popped up on my newsfeed, and as with every year, I started feasting on the frocks.

But first, here’s my take on Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. There’s probably more to it than meets the eye but it was inexcusable. It was assault and I’m surprised Smith was allowed to sit through the ceremony and then collect his award, leave alone get a standing ovation. I do not think the joke about Jada Pinckett-Smith was that bad, and even if it was I do not think it warranted assaulting someone. I do not think Smith needed to “stand up” for his wife in this way; rather it strikes me as toxic masculinity as Pinkett-Smith is perfectly capable of standing up for herself. Someone also pointed out that it’s unlikely Smith would have slapped a white man, like Ricky Gervaise, who has also been pretty on the line in previous years. Every year, jokes are made about the age of the women Leonardo di Caprio dates – he takes it in good spirit although these are getting old. Personally, I do not like these roasts at award ceremonies in particular, but if you attend, you’re fair game. Smith apologised, but he also chose to go to the Vanity Fair after party and that doesn’t look very repentant to me.

Ok, that said, I thought there were lots lots of excellent looks this year.

Best of the best

Kristen Stewart swag. Nuff said.

Wanted to quibble but couldn’t

Goddess Zendaya reigns again. This is an homage to Sharon Stone’s white shirt and gunmetal skirt at an Oscar’s past, and also to Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction, which was marking its 25th anniversary. Thurman also wore a shirt/skirt ensemble but Zendaya did it better.

Chartreuse queens

Beyoncé
H.E.R

Made me gasp

Megan Thee Stallion

Oh man

Everyone is going on about Timothee Chamulet’s lack of shirt but Kodi Smit-McPhee‘s buttoned up look wins for me

Fierce AF

Jada Pinckett-Smith is anything but a punchline in this ensemble

Spring is in the air

Saniyya Sidney
Demi Singleton

The more I look at it, the more I like it

Naomi Scott

Women in black

Sophia Carson brings the glam
Never thought I’d like something featurijg bra cuplets, but Kate Hudson makes this work.
Everyone but me loves to hate the Kardashians. Kendall was on point here.
I don’t actually love this dress. But Penelope Cruz is working it such that I keep staring at it.

A rose by any other name

Kirsten Dunst isn’t reinventing the wheel with this gown, but the whole look is perfect

Which were your Oscar faves? And what did you think about the Will Smith episode?

What’s been happening

Well, same ol’ same ol’. We are still in lockdown mode, cases are plateauing but they’re still in five digits, so it’s going to be a while until restrictions ease. Now that we’ve reached this peak, what will it take to ease up on restrictions? Can the powers that be really expect us to hit zero?

The kids got their first jab. It helped a lot that there was pressure from the school so Mimi’s goody two shoes avatar was triggered into wanting the jab even though her out of control avatar was going “no siree!”. Mimi did of course do some drama at the last minute – unfortunately the nurse had to refill the form because her birth certificate name and passport name do not match because her father’s name on his own passport is upside down and io course he wouldn’t do the simple thing and let the kids have my last name but I digress – which meant Mimi had one whole extra minute to contemplate the excrutiating pain that a needle going into her body might entail. The nurse shouted at her and I also told her off because enough already. Life has worse in store for you than 20 seconds of life-preserving pain.

They were rewarded with a giant sausage each from 7-11.

Mimi spent two days hopping around because her leg hurt so bad – they give the jab on the thigh for kids. Even Nene was limping so it must have been bad but by day two it was wearing off, not that Mimi would let you know it.

Earlier that week, the mom of the friend Nene had been playing with revealed that they had all had Covid. She had earlier told me their maid had got it which was why she had kept the friend at home and that the friend had fever but tested negative. Then the day she tells me she’s sending her kid down again she tells me she had Covid too and is really sketchy on whether the kid had it and who tested negative when.

V who had been against sending them throughout said we should keep them home until at least a week after vaccination so we’ve had the joy of their “I’m bored” presence 24/7. Saving grace is that they still have online school unlike poor local school kids who are on an advanced “summer holiday” so the government can use their school premises for pointless mass testing which doesn’t look like it’s going to happen after all.

For the past month or so I’ve had nagging pain in my right side that I’ve been steadfastly ignoring on the assumption that it’s a an ovarian cyst, except that for the past 10 days the pain was ever-present and frankly bad enough that after a run/long walk I had to lie down with a hot water bottle. Preventing me from seeing a doctor were the Covid case numbers and the fact that my gynac has retired so I’d have to go through the frustration of sitting through the insurance list and finding a new person who would actually listen.

I caved and went to a so-so woman who I had seen before. Yes, it’s a chocolate cyst, mid-sized so not enough to warrant a surgery recommendation off the bat but frankly it’s causing me more pain than the one I had in the past that was double the size. The annoying thought is that the difference is that I now am fatter and my paunch pulls down on that very area but I am in no mood to diet and the bloody cyst is inhibiting my ability to exercise, especially crunches.

We settled on trying the Mirena coil , which earlier gynac had recommended and which I resisted because I am convinced that anything hormonal will make me nauseous.

The trip to the gynac was my first into town for oh I dunno how long and omg I felt so refreshed. Look, Central is pretty dead but still there is the odd well dressed person about and fancy shops to peer into and the general sense of capitalist and consumerist utopia that clearly is just the stimulus my dulled senses need.

Digression: the other day I had Coke – in a coffee mug to camouflage it like I’m an alcoholic – and after the kids went on about “How come you get to have Coke?”. [“Because I’m an adult NOOBS,” I thought but did not say. “And this is one of the small consolations of being grown up.”] Mimi said, “Okay, she’s depressed, let her.” And I marvelled at the perceptiveness of this pint-sized dynamo.

Some people need to go back to nature to feel refreshed, but I need to be amid steel towers and pretty people. I do find nature refreshing ocassionally, but I don’t think I can spend extended periods there, in the way that I can amid the buzz of the city. I would go mad in a natural paradise.

We did in fact hike up the mountain trail near our apartment. Did I feel refreshed? Well, not in the sense that I felt when I went into Central, when my nerve endings were tingling. But to be fair, I was hardly at my fittest, and focussing on staying alive as I trudged up 500 steep steps and then some, took away from my admiration of verdant beauty.

Then on the way down we heard a strange sound and there was a massive boar about 20 metres away down the path staring at us. We froze, the boar grunted, took off – thankfully up a side path and away from us. We inched past it in dead silence. Later, we reviewed what we might have done if the boar had charged at us, and my only solution was to throw food at it.

Because, you know, throwing food at the problem is my general modus operandi.

Omicron blues

After months of zero Covid, the Omicron wave has hit Hong Kong in earnest, and we are seeing a daily per capita death rate that’s the highest in the world, mostly unvaccinated elderly people, but shockingly four young children too. After two years, the sheer deluge of cases has forced the government to abandon, in practice if not officially, the quarantining in government facilities of close contacts and even Covid-positive patients that they counted on to keep us Covid free.

But because of the climate of fear created over two years, people are rushing to hospital anyway, and the public health care system (the private health care system refuses to treat Covid patients), already short-staffed, is stretched beyond capacity.

Since January 10, we’ve been working from home, schools went online, and as the whole world gets back to normal, we’ve in high alert mode. Our main worry at the moment is that the kids aren’t vaccinated yet. The government only opened vaccination for kids in February, and since we didn’t rush to book right away, we only got a booking in March.

It’s strange how the brain adapts. Last year, a 100 cases would have had us in a state of fear, now we hear of a 100 deaths and about 50,000 cases a day. That said, the case numbers at least were to be expected; the death rate less so, but not entirely unsurprising given our elderly unvaccinated population.

We tend to go for a walk every morning, and the ocassionally grocery run, and that’s it. There has been talk of a lockdown, which seems really unnecessary when most people are staying in anyway, and I actually started googling schools in Bangalore, until sanity prevailed.

This shall pass in Hong Kong and kids will go back to school, while in India face-to-face classes are only just starting and whether they will continue is up in the air. If I’m going stir crazy here, I’ll go even more nuts if I’m stuck in India working from home, the kids starting new school online, and no idea what the household help situation will be.

The problem with Hong Kong is that there seems to be no end in sight to the border controls and masking restrictions. The latter are not the worst, because as the Covid situation continues people become more relaxed about masking, but the border controls mean that I haven’t seen my parents for two years now.

If I didn’t have kids, I might have chosen to go to India, and dealt with being stuck there. But I am not willing to quarantine for two weeks or more with kids, even if I were to risk the lottery that is getting a flight and hotel booking to return.

At some point, I will have to consider making a trip alone – right now V is considering it because to be fair his parents are older and sicker – but when it comes down to it, I’m not sure I actually want to be separated from my kids for three to six months, which is what it has become for some people who went to India.

This is the first time in the two years of the pandemic that I have stopped the kids from going to the playground. Nene still goes some days, but I prefer them not to. For a week when I was really scared by the news of child deaths, and the weather was cold and rainy, they drove me mad at home fighting, screaming, and kicking a ball around.

My saving grace has been:

  1. Romantic novels
  2. Chocolate
  3. Board games
  4. Cooking with the kids: Yes, really. I, the most reluctant cook in the world, have taken to making something with the kids every weekend. It works because I can only do the simplest recipes. The kids enjoy it as an activity. Mimi has even taken to googling recipes and making things like mug cakes with varying success. It would help if we had an oven.
  5. Having a bigger apartment and a room with a desk to work out of
  6. Sunday Zoom call with my parents and sister
  7. Sunday lunch ordered in

February reading list

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The Legacy, Elle Kennedy

This is one of those fun reunion books of the characters from the Off Campus series, but I got pretty bored reading about these perfect looking people with their perfect relationships with one tiny problem blown up into a huge insecurity.

The Bombay Prince, Sujatha Massey

The last book (hopefully so far) in the Perveen Mistry series, featuring a female detective in India’s pre-independence era. Set in Bombay, this novel takes us right into the heart of the freedom struggle, and clashes in loyalty for wealthy Indian family.

The Matrix, Lauren Groff

I chose this novel because of my fascination with Eleanor of Aquitaine, but she is very unfavourably portrayed and barely present, though she hovers over the novels.

A book about nuns in the 12th century, how could it enthrall one? But it does. Marie de France, a shadowy historical figure, is uprooted from her place on the fringes of Eleanor’s court and installed in a nunnery as the prioress. She has no vocation, her great obsession, even love, is Eleanor.

But after one attempt at escape, in which she writes a book of lais, short narrative poems in eight-syllable versus, she sets her sights on the abbey, which is sinking in poverty and starvation. She turns around the abbeys fortune, and as she grows in her power, so does her faith.

Forty per cent into the novel, I kind of lost steam, especially when Marie began to have delusions of grandeur. I’m on board with the queer nuns theme, but even that carried me so far.

The Hathaway series, Lisa Kleypas

I loved Kleypas’ wallflower series, so I embarked on this one (six books), and largely enjoyed it. My thoughts here.

Captive Hearts series, Grace Burrowes

Burrowes’ writing reminded me somewhat of Georgette Heyer’s novels – not as much snappy dialogue though – in terms of its more old fashioned style and (relatively, for a historical romance), gentle pace. My thoughts here.

Sunburn, Laura Lipmann

In an attempt to read something other than a romance novel, I turned to an old faithful. Lipmann seems to be on a trip of developing unlikeable characters that you are still invested. And she manages to this very well. Still, this was not a book to lift the spirits during the pandemic.

Winter Olympics – Kamila Valieva, women’s and pairs figure skating

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In the team figure skating competition, 15-year-old Kamila Valieva made history becoming the first woman to land a quad jump in the Olympics. Her final score of 90.18 was 15 points ahead of second-best competitor, and she helped the Russian Olympic Committee team (so called because Russia itself was banned from competing in the Olympics until the end of 2022 for running a state-sponsored doping programme) to take gold.

Watching Valieva’s programme, it was impossible not to be awestruck. Russia has increasingly gravitated towards female skaters who do lots of power jumps, but Valieva brings a lyricism to her performance.

However, later that day, the World Anti-Doping Agency was notified that a banned substance – later revealed to be trimetazidine, a heart medication known to increase endurance – and by rule she should have been banned. What was puzzling was that the sample had been submitted to a lab in Sweden – because Russia is not longer allowed to conduct its own tests – on December 25, and the results only came back six weeks later, when Valieva had already begun her Olympic campaign.

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) initially suspended Valieva. Because of this the medal ceremony for the team event was postponed. But Rusada lifted the suspension.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and International Skating Union (ISU) challenged this, and the case went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport which ruled that Valieva should be allowed to compete. Its reasoning was that because of her age, she might only receive a reprimand not a suspension if found guilty (which then begs the question if coaches might specifically prey on minors), and because the delay was not her fault (fair point).

Many skaters were upset that she was allowed to compete in the individual competition. She was expected to take gold, which meant that the other athletes on the podium wouldn’t get a medal ceremony at the games.

In the short programme, Valieva was impressive, and yet she was not herself. She fell during her triple axel and scored the lowest she has all season, though she was still way ahead of the pack. I had seen a flawless performance of this programme during the team event, and yet, she brought a pathos to this performance that moved me.

She came into the free skate competition as the favourite to win gold, with a storm brewing around her. And remember, this is a 15-year-old.

The women’s competition was expected to be a clean sweep for the Russians, with Valieva, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova taking gold, silver and bronze. All three are young, and train at the same skating school run by Eteri Tutberidze, who has been criticised for pushing young skaters – younger female athletes are able to perform high-scoring feats quad jumps – who then bow out of the sport early (e.g. Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova, who won silver and gold at the 2018 Winter Games. More on them later).

There were so many goosebump moments among the top 10 in the women’s free skate. Georgia’s Anastasiia Gubanova was balletic. Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx made some errors but her performance was the most memorable for me, with music and movements that were unusual. My favourite female performer of these games was Japan’s Higuchi Wakaba whose performance in the short programme in both the team and individual event was ethereal. Her free skate programme was set to the Lion King, and while I didn’t love it, I admired how she did something completely different from her short programme.

Higuchi became just the fifth woman in Olympic history to land a triple axel

And then we came to the top four. Trusova had planned five quads, performing to Cruella (some have said the choice was music was in reference to her coach, who she split from and then returned to). I found her programme unpleasant to watch, the skating equivalent of ‘wham, bam, no thank you ma’am’. The choreography was entirely sacrificed to the high-scoring jumps, all of which she did not land but which earned her a huge score nevertheless.

She was followed by Japan’s Kaori Sakomoto skating to a feminist “No More Fight Left in Me”, offering a masterclass in how skating at the highest level can be more than the amazing feat of rotating more times in the air.

Then came the reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova. Described as a fighter, Shcherbakova nailed two quads and six triples in her programme, and managed to retain some artistry in between. There was one unforgettable facial expression change when the music changes from pathos to joy, for example. Shcherbakova is super thin and it amazes me that she can perform some of the jumps that she does, until I realised that being thin is an advantage here.

And finally, there was Valieva, who was really putting on a brave face. Her entire programme was painful to watch and by the end I had tears in my eyes. It was heartbreaking to watch this girl fall on jumps she had landed with elan over and over again in the past. It was terrible to watch her fighting to finish as the soundtrack (appropriately?) of Bolero marched on. It was painful to watch her break down at the end. And to see her coach semi-berate her when she came off the rink (“why did you let it go, explain to me, why, why did you stop fighting?” she apparently asked. Honestly), because it was clear she would not even make bronze.

Trusova was distraught that she had not won gold – again – and Shcherbakova, who frankly deserved to win, cut a lonesome figure.

The whole thing reminded me of the last Olympics (except in reverse) in which Medvedeva was expected to win but Zagitova pipped her to it by doing her jumps in the back end of her programme. Medvedeva, the more lyrical skater, sobbed on camera.

The debate between power versus artistry reminds me of a similar debate in gymnastics. Here, it is the Russians who criticise the Americans – amid Simone Biles’ dominance – of sacrificing grace to power, a critique some say is racist. So I guess I should just shut up about artistry in performance, since I clearly don’t have a problem with Biles’ style of gymnastics.

Both Medvedeva and Zagitova were in Beijing rooting for Valieva from the stands, and looked devastated by how her skate played out. Medvedeva had words of encouragement for all three Russian girls, which Valieva in particular should take to heart. This should not be the end for her.

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The drama surrounding the women’s event should not take away from the spectacular showing that was the pairs event. In the short skate, every single of the last five teams was so on point that the judges would have to be quibbling in choosing between them.

The American pair of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, the only out non-binary athlete in the Winter Olympics, skating to The White Crow, was basically art.

In the top three, world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov delivered a flawless programme. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov basically embodied the myth of Galatea and Pygmalion. Sui Wenjing and Han Cong moved at such an exhilarating tempo that I basically held my breath throughout.

So the final podium was anyone’s guess. A single error could cost a team a medal because the standard was just that high. The free skate, a longer more tiring programme, did see some errors. I could see that the Russians really wanted it, but in the end, Sui and Han landed a well deserved win.

Blasphemously, I think I preferred all the short skate programmes. If you can watch any of them, I highly recommend it.

Did you watch the figure skating? Who were your favourites?