Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Showing Off WA's Little Creatures

This beer piece was written for Perth tourist guide, PerthWalkabout, when I was still living in Perth and could pop to the Little Creatures brewery whenever I wanted. I miss those days sometimes...

Little Creatures has been in the news recently as it has been taken over by Lion, who brew and distribute other Australian beers including Tooheys, XXXX, Hahn and James Boag. Will the Little Creatures thrive in Lions stable? Only time, and lots of taste-testing, will tell.

If you’ve ever taken time out on holidays to send a postcard home just to make people jealous, you’ll understand the appeal of the Little Creatures Brewery.

Just 30 minutes drive from Perth, the Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle is one of those places that you take out of state visitors to just so you can show off how wonderful life is in WA. You lead them into the brewery, and gesture at the beer hall and the sun-drenched decking with its glorious ocean backdrop in a dismissive way as their jaw drops. 

Image courtesy of Little Creatures Brewing.
“What, this little old place?” you say nonchalantly as the visitors turn first green from envy and then slightly pink from sitting out at the benches in the warm afternoon sun. And that’s before they’ve even had a beer.

The name "Little Creatures" does not refer to some gang of wonderful beer-brewing elves who make magical beer, no matter what Perthites might tell you after your fourth glass. It was inspired by a song lyric from the Talking Heads album called Little Creatures and refers to the live yeast cells that turn the sugars in malt wort into alcohol. The brewery is right on the water, built on the shell of an old boat yard in Fremantle (which had also been as a crocodile farm) and was opened in the summer of 2000/2001.


It became an instant favourite and has turned a lot of heads since then. They have won a number of Australian International Beer Awards, including Champion International Brewery and Champion Australasian Brewery in 2002, and the American style Pale Ale has picked up several accolades of its own, including Champion Ale (2002, 2007) and Champion Bottled Ale (2001). If you’re looking to make your visitors even more jealous, let them try a glass of this crisp citrus-y and slightly bitter beer. It’s preservative and additive free, so you can drink deep of this lager without worrying (too much) about a sore head in the morning.

For those of you who aren’t lager fans my Perth friend insists that their amber ale, Rogers, is the only way to go. Being called Roger, I think he may be just a little biased but there is no doubt that it’s a darn fine tipple whatever you call it. Light with a citrus hint at first, it changes mid-taste to a deliciously nutty brew with a hint of caramel that is still clean and easy to drink. Perhaps a little too easy to drink. It’s not named after my mate Roger but two other local brewers - Roger Bailey and Roger Bussell - and it’s an excellent tribute tastefully done.


Of course, it’s not just about the beer. (It’s not?) The brewery also does some truly excellent food, including some really excellent pizzas that set off the beers (back to the beers again, sorry) wonderfully. Their food is delicious – they’ve also opened a dining hall in Melbourne so you can sample a taste of it there, and are also building another brewery in Geelong, and their beer is available all over the country.

But only WA is lucky enough to have the full brewery experience available right on their doorstep, so we can go there whenever we want. Don’t forget to remind visitors about that. Not that you're trying to rub it in or anything.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Feral-ly Delicious - The Best Breweries in WA



At one Australian company I worked for, we needed to buy the perfect gift for a big client. The Managing Director had a great idea - we would buy them a six-pack of Swan lager, which the client loved. The only issues were:
  1. we were in Sydney;
  2. the beer was in Perth, 4000 miles away (same distance as London to Tehran for the sake of comparison); and
  3. the visitor was German, and now safely at home with his bratwurst and weiƟbier.
Feral Sunset, from Flickr/Anthony Georgeff
We couldn't find a drop of Swan in Sydney and due to various licensing laws you can't just post alcohol from WA to New South Wales. We had to bribe a member of our staff who was in Perth - on holidays - to take a cab from Perth airport and buy some, and bring it in their clicking hand-luggage on the plane.

So, between the cost of the beer (plus another six pack for the Director, who was using this as an excuse to get some himself), the taxi fares, a small bribe for the buyer (which was also a six-pack of Swan lager), and the secure wrapping and courier to Europe, I reckon those bottles came in at around $25 a pop each. Expensive, but - given the delighted reaction from the German when he received them - worth it.

This round-about story is my way of sharing with you a simple truth – everyone knows that Western Australia does some of the planet's best beers. The Germans are no slouches in this area themselves, and they recognise a great brew when they drink it (or indeed, wrapped in approximately 40 square kilometres of bubble wrap). If you make it to WA, you have access to the fruits of some of Australia’s best breweries. It would be a crime not to partake in a tipple or two.

Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Everyone knows about the big guns, such as Little Creatures and the Old Brewery, but also deserving of a mention – and multiple visits - is Feral Brewing in the Swan Valley, which brings both dry Aussie wit (its slogan is “undomesticated but sophisticated”) and a wide variety of excellent beers to the market.

My favourites are the Hop Hog, an American-style IPA with strong and sharp beer with a dry finish, or the Belgian style Feral White, which comes laced with coriander and orange peel. Fantapants is another winner, and not just because I'm a wannabe redhead, but because the contrast between the initial sweetness and lingering sharpness has you going back asking, “Did I really taste that?” right until the bottom of the glass. 

Drivers can enjoy a glass of the Mild Child, which weighing at just 3.5% alcohol by volume, and would be well advised to steer clear of the English-style barleywine Razorback and the jet black Russian Imperial Stout called Boris, which at 10.0% and 11.5% respectively will have you barred from your car.

You don’t have to drive to the brewery, of course, as you can catch the ferals at many pubs and bottle shops in both Perth and further afield, including in NSW. But really, why pass up a perfectly good excuse to go there?


This was originally written for WA site, Perthwalkabout, but I worried you people might not be drinking enough beer so here you go. :D


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Perfectly suited - making "casual" office work

Ripped jeans, micro-minis, offensive t-shirt slogans and far too much cleavage on display (from either gender) - researching my recent piece for Executive PA magazine brought me plenty of information on how office casual dress-codes can work, and how they can go horribly, horribly wrong...
 

Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoody, Tim Cook continues Steve Jobs's casually dressed CEO tradition, and Sir Richard Branson is rarely out of denim. While the office maxim is "copy the boss", what if they start dressing down? 

Are CEOs really ditching the suit and, if so, should you? What with company leaders in jeans, increasing informality in many industries and the omnipresent casual Friday, it looks like business wear is going out of fashion.

But how casual is too casual? One office found itself writing endless guides to clarify what business casual code means. "We had juniors in mini-skirts and new hires in ripped jeans and thongs," says their MD's PA. "We ended up with a three-page guide - with pictures - before we decided to just stop casual Fridays."


Another PA rapidly tired of seeing too much cleavage - from a male manager,
who usually left his shirt open to the third button...


 
See the whole piece at in the issue at Executive PA online, page 60.

I had a blast researching this one, even if it did uncover a few memories of office-workers and my own outfits best left forgotten. What's your ultimate "oh no, they didn't" office-wear story?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Today in MX, I tell a million Australians how I got stuck in a vending machine.

This was published in MX, Australia's free daily newspaper, and yes, it did actually happen. Not in my current job, thankfully, but back when I was back-packing: working by day, drinking like a fish by night...

Stick Your Job

I’m tired and cranky and falling over when I try to put on my trousers. Not really an ideal state to go to work in.

Drinking with friends until 4am always seems like a great idea at the time. Not so much the next day, and even less when you have to work. So, what’s good for exhaustion and hangovers? Caffeine’s always good - for everything. But unfortunately the killer hangover means coffee is not an option. The mere thought of it makes me feel sick.

So, I decide I can probably handle a cup of tea. Tea has anti-toxidants or anti-oxidents or something. I'm unsure which, but I am figuring that it will either kill the toxic stuff (good) or the oxygen in my system (bad, but at least I'll be too dead to be hungover).

Picking up my MP3 player, I head to the kitchen to make myself a nice cuppa. Humming along happily, I realize that my player has hit the South Park bit, and Chef is starting his thing.

Oh, I love Chocolate Salty Balls. I start singing along with music on my headphones.

One cup of tea is made, and due to my total lack of depth perception (always tricky when you are hungover) I fill it far too full. I’m feeling peckish and decide to head over to the snack machine to get a nice bag of cheese and onion crisps.

Darn, I have nowhere to put my tea down. It keeps spilling burning liquid over my hand and soaking my trousers. Well, the quicker I get the crisps...

I put the cash in the machine and hit buttons and the spin-y thing spins and ... oh dear. It hasn’t gone quite far enough. The bloody crisps are teetering indecisively there on the edge like acrophobic on a bungee platform.

I prod the machine. Nothing. I rattle the machine. My tea spills. I’m getting annoyed now, and interspersing my humming along with my player with threats.

“Gimme the crisps… Chocolate Salty Balls… Gimme them!”

No joy. I look at the machine. I figure, if I stick my hand into the slot, I might be able to wiggle...

Ow! It bites me. The drawer falls forward and nips my skin, giving me a long thin bruise. It looks like a lovebite from a tape-worm. This is so not worth it. But it is. I need those crisps.

“Crisps. Criiiiiiiiiisps. Crispy crispy. Come to me...”

I figure, if I tilt the machine back a little, it should hold the door open so I don’t get injured again. If I can just get my hand into the slot...

Oh nuts. My sleeve is caught. Now I can’t get in or out without ripping my top. This is ridiculous.

Not actually the image I wanted at work.
…suck on my… GIMME THE CRISPS… salty balls let my sleeve go and suck ‘em…

Okay. If I kneel, and keep my hand level so the tea doesn’t spill, I can push the base of the machine to a tilt angle. Then I can move my shoulder right, which means the top should slide OFF the hook and then if I move left I should be able to get the crisps down. Then if I just give the machine a little push and a jerk, I should be able...

So, to summate, I am crouching underneath a teetering snack machine, with an overflowing cup of tea in one hand and the other firmly stuck in the machine itself, looking like I have a bathroom accident as I alternate between cursing, cajoling and singing about my chocolate salty balls...

...and that's when I realise that my boss is standing behind me.

Never. Drinking. Again.

And this time, I mean it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Get Out of F*cking Bed - cross-posted from my Boomerang Blog

I posted  last year about the expletive-laden bedtime book that leaked as a pirated PDF and sold more than 100,000 copies in pre-orders, “Go the F**k to Sleep“.

The brainchild of  novelist and toddler parent, Adam Mansbach, this book contrasts sweet nursery rhymes about animals and heart-warming illustrations by Ricardo Cortes with the exhausted profanity of a parent who is clearly hitting the end of their tether trying to establish a sleeping routine.

One mate said she found the book very funny but she’d like to see a version for the parents of teenage kids who, far from sleeping too little, can’t be hauled out of bed in the mornings without the aid of a forklift and twenty bottles of Coke. “Parents of teenagers who are still up and wandering around the kitchen at 1am, and then like dead logs when you attempt to drag them out of bed for school in the morning, would certainly love to see this book redone for teenagers.”

So I took a shot at it. For those of you who want to read such things (and don't read beyond this point if you would rather not see a LOT of swearing) I give you “Get Out of F***ing Bed”.

This is what I came up with, but I’m sure there are plenty of talented poets out there who can add their own experiences and stick them in a nifty rhyme. Feel free to compose your own verses, and leave them in the comments for people giggle at. Lots of strong language lies ahead, if that’s not your thing, please don’t read on past this point!


Get Out of F**king Bed

Your breakfast is on the table
And there’s fresh tea in your cup.
We’re leaving in 10 minutes
Why aren’t you fucking up?

The morning has dawned bright and new
And the sun shines in blue skies.
Your alarm went off, I heard it blare
Don’t tell me fucking lies.

The rain has washed the night away and
The breeze is fresh and cool.
If you were making toast at 1am
You can get your ass to school.

A brand new day is waiting.
It’s time to raise your head.
No, you haven’t got a temperature;
Get out of fucking bed.

The postman smiles as he does his rounds
And the joggers are getting fit.
No, your teacher won’t be late today.
Get up, stop talking shit.

Birds sing joyfully in the trees
And we need to be afar.
We have to work to buy your food.
Get into the fucking car.

For teenagers are bloody expensive
And their mums and dads need their pay
Don’t look so surprised that we have to leave the house
When it happens every fucking day.


This is an entry from my Boomerang Books blog, you can find this post (and lots of other ones with a bit far swearing) at their website. It's updated about twice weekly, and I don't generally cross-post to here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sticking your nose in - when it's a good thing

Darling Harbour - nice, but not for swimming. (WikiCommons:Adam.J.W.C)
So, today's adventure involved P (aka He Who Married Me Last Month) and I pulling some poor (probably) drunk and very distressed girl out of Darling Harbour's waters about 30m away from 2 buses full of people who sat and watched.

We were at Star City Wharf sitting on a tour bus, one of two packed with people, and saw a girl walk across the road and jump neatly into the water. We couldn't see into the water but we could see all the surrounding wharves. Some nearby people (friends?) came over and pointed and laughed, and a jogger stopped, said something and ran on. No one threw in the nearby life buoy. We figured she was okay and doing something stupid and would be out soon. Her friends(?) stayed there, pointing and giggling, but it became apparent they were really, really out of it - falling down drunk, probably.

A couple of minutes later she hadn't emerged and we decided to take a look and just at this point the buses decided they were revving up to  go. P went over and looked down into the water and found her severely distressed and crying and clinging to a grip at the edge. The gap between the water level and the wharves was about 3-4 feet - too far for someone to get out on their own steam, and there were no steps.

P had to guide her to swim around to a lower spot where we - and a nearby security guard who had come out of Star City to look at what was happening - managed to haul her the few feet from the water and on to dry land. She was cold to touch, and throwing up a little water (the water there is pretty filthy from boats) and when we got her out she just collasped and wheezed on the wharf, too incoherent to answer questions. Another guard came over to help and we left her there with them, after calling the police (our tour bus driver was getting pretty angst-y at this point - I'm not sure he spotted her jumping in and as far as he was concerned we were holding up things).

Afterwards a few people on the bus asked us what had happened and it now sounds like she may have been trying to get away from the two people following her. She had no hand bag, no jewelery; it was 8am and she was still in nice night out clothes.

I'm aware that tweeting it after may have made it sound more heroic than it was (sorry lads!). All we did was help lift a girl from the water and make sure that she was in safe hands after. The police haven't called back so as far as we know, she is fine. I am also aware that I should have probably specified that everything was okay after as you lot are all nice people who worry about stuff like this, going on the responses I got.

Which is a bit different to the responses that she got today. Whether she jumped in for fun, for a bet, as something worse, whatever; it may have started harmless but within a few minutes she was clearly in trouble and two buses nearly drove off and left her. The Bystander effect - or Genovese syndrome  - suggests that as the numbers of bystanders increase in an emergency, the less likely it is that someone will offer help. "This happens because as the number of bystanders increases, any given bystander is less likely to notice the incident, less likely to interpret the incident as a problem,and less likely to assume responsibility for taking action."

I am convinced the bystander effect should be taught in schools (along with Milgram's electric shock experiment, but that's a story for another day). I figure most of you know this already but please remember, if a situation is going bad and there are lot of people looking at it, that doesn't mean anyone is actually doing anything to make it better. Be that squeaky, meddling, nosey wheel. Sometimes you'll feel like a complete tool but when it's needed, it's really needed.

And, on a side note, P's weight lifting skillz are seriously good. :D

Monday, August 13, 2012

For those of you here via my Fat Chick's Guide to the Couch to 5k here's a bit of an update on my running - the program did get me there without exploding my prostate or patella, and I can particularly recommend making sure you have good shoes and cooling clothes to back you up if you decide to go for it. I'm normally doing 5kms jogs/runs these days.

Weddings! Now being blamed for my lack of fitness!
Well, I say normally but what with Sydney's inclement winter (yes, 10C or 50F can feel cold, stop laughing) and my recent wedding I haven't been hitting the road as often or as hard as normal. The spirit is willing but the flesh, frankly, has got used to drinking hot chocolate on the couch when the rain starts. Which means I have picked a pretty bad time to be emboldened by the lack of exploding body parts and to enter the 9km Sydney Running Festival Bridge Run in mid September.

This will be a bit of a challenge. I have never broken the 7km mark and that was on a treadmill. I'm not a fan of hill-running, and the course has several steepish ones. I am, at best, a plodder and Sydney's runners are notoriously fast and impatient. And it's at 9am in the morning when I am normally doing my much celebrated stoned-tree-sloth impersonation and the only running involved normally is that of a nice hot shower before coffee. In short, this is not in my comfort zone by several kilometres or hours.

So I am viewing this race as a wonderful way to focus the mind on getting fit, in much the same way suddenly needing to escape charging bull is an excellent opportunity to work on my sprinting speed and hurdling.

Watch this space. :D

Monday, July 30, 2012

Creature comforts at work

Would you like your office to go to the dogs? My piece on pet-friendly workplaces for Executive PA magazine  makes no bones about the many benefits of bringing man's best friend to the workplace.

 
We're not barking up the wrong tree - dog friendly offices have higher employee satisfaction and an edge in recruiting staff, according to a surveys, and studies have found that working teams who had a dog had ranked higher on qualities of trust, team cohesion, and intimacy than dog-less teams. 

Dogged persistence may be needed to persuade the doubters but the offices I interviewed felt their pet-friendly policy made them top dogs when it came to workplace enjoyment. Maybe more companies should paws for thought and let every dog have its (work) day.


I will stop with the terrible dog puns now, I promise. Here's an excerpt, for more see the magazine on the website (pages 64/65) or drop me an email.


Who let the dogs in? 

Office dog Bronte hard at work
Why should your business allow pets at work? David Lawrence, Managing Director of The Web Showroom and owner of office dog Bronte (pictured), suggests some ways to appeal to your boss from a business perspective.
  • It engages people - from contractors blogging about Bronte to ice-breaking conversations with new clients, an office dog always gets people talking.
  • A recruiting edge - potential staff almost all say they’d love to work for a company with an office dog when they see Bronte at the interview.
  • Dog owners are happier at work and spend less time worrying about what is going on at home, particularly if they need to work late.
  • Forget smoke breaks - having an office dog allows people to take mini breaks to pat the dog, and most people get a feeling of wellbeing out of interacting with the dog. And the dog loves it too!

Would you like to take your dog to work? Would your workplace ever allow it? Let the magazine know by emailing editor@executivepa.com.au with “Office Dog” in the subject line.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Publishing news and Sydney's brews

When it comes to beer, I wrote the book. Well, a chapter anyway - I recently wrote the 8 page chapter on Sydney’s best beers, numerous breweries and what to do when you're not drinking beer for the Ultimate Beer Guide (Aus and NZ).

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer and write books about ponies. When I was in college I wanted to be a writer and drink beer. Now I am (technically) an adult I still want to be a writer. Beer and ponies are optional but encouraged.

I’ve accepted writing involves a lot less ponies and beer and a lot more work than I had originally thought, but occasionally you get a dream assignment. If you flick to page 42 of the Ultimate Beer Guide, you’ll find my guide to brewing in Sydney.

It took two months and far too many hangovers to research and write and I am looking forward to seeing if the ATO will accept receipts from pubs as tax-deductible. When I was writing this piece, I found 5 craft breweries I never knew about within 30 minutes of my house. Sydney really has a lot of beer.

The Guide aims to give beer-loving visitors the low-down wherever they find themselves in Australia and New Zealand, covering 33 destinations, every currently open brewery and brew-pub  and listing over 1200 beers and ciders.

ISBN : 9780646553597

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Enemies in the office (Executive PA Magazine, July 2011)

This piece on office friendships, workplace bullying and how to cope when good  working relationships go bad was an interesting piece to cover. I was only able to include a few of the stories I was told but - from the amount of responses I received to one simple tweet asking for people with experience of office bullying - it certainly appears this is an issue that many people deal with on a day to day basis.  You can find the full issue of the magazine on their website where you can see the full piece, or email me if you would like to see more. 


A study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 35% of people have either been or are being intimidated in their workplace. Sophie* found this out the hard way when she was promoted over her former friend, Jenny. “Jenny became not just my enemy but an outright bully. She complained that it wasn't fair because I'd gotten all these lucky breaks and opportunities. She couldn’t see that the harder I had worked the luckier I had got.” 

Office friendships can make - or break - your career, so how do you make them work for you? Sadhbh Warren investigates.

No one wants to be the office wallflower, but there’s no denying that friendships at work can be a minefield. Just ask Anna*, an EA who quit her dream role. Her hard-earned promotion became a daily hell when a former friend turned on her. Harassed for confidential information over coffee, ostracized from social events and bad-mouthed over the water-cooler, she ended up leaving her “perfect job” for a fresh start elsewhere.

Anna’s story ended badly, but you can be professional and still enjoy your co-workers’ company. Genuine friendships are a career asset and being promoted doesn’t mean leaving your network of friends behind – provided you have built the right relationship in the first place.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Second Rule of Book Club... is don't pick a lemon.

“Hey, did you finish that book I gave you?”

“…um. No, not yet.”

“That’s okay, I won’t spoil the ending for you. Are you enjoying it?”

“…um. No. Not really. I don’t think I’ll finish it.”

Ouch. It’s a trivial thing but I always feel bad when someone doesn’t like a book I gave them, especially if I thought that they were a dead-cert to click with it. First comes denial – “Are you sure you are reading the right book?” That’s usually followed by the urge to defend the book (“Have you read the bit with the zombie space monkey butlers? Like, really read it? Twice?”), followed by the sheepish realisation that I got my friend’s reading taste completely wrong and probably wasted several hours of their time and they’d like me to stop going on about it now, please.

I’ll admit to a touch of neurosis on this one but I think most people would agree that when you recommend something, you really hope that people will like it and it can be disappointing when they don’t. So choosing the next read for a book club meet is particularly fraught with difficulty. If you gift a book to a friend and they are not a fan, at least you only have to have that awkward conversation once and quickly. If you recommend completely the wrong book for your book club, you’ve not only forced ten people to sit through something they hated but now you have to talk about it. For about two hours. With snacks.

So, the second rule of book club has got to be that you need to pick a good book. But what makes a good book?

Clearly this – along with deciding the rules of a book club generally - is a contentious subject. People have plenty to say. Googling “book club rules” brings up 148,000,000 results (whereas Man Booker Prize brings up just 1,830,000 results). Adding “Oprah” to that search string gets you about 17,100,000 results, so it looks like one in eight people discussing book clubs on the internet is talking about Oprah’s take on it (and for every eight Oprah fans, there is one person discussing the Man Booker Prize).

With that many hits you’d imagine Oprah’s recommendations for book clubs would be pure reading gold.  Her picks from the last decade are:
I have to admit, I’m skeptical. There's one there - Pillars of the Earth – that I enjoyed, because Pillars is really just a soap opera in medieval cathedral form. There’s another few I would like to read. But there’s at least 3 that if someone gave me as book club read would have me setting the zombie space monkey butlers on them. I won’t name names for all the ones I find less than inspiring, other than saying the person who gave me Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now is still picking virtual poop from their hair.

But what do you think? Are these the sort of books you want to read? What would be your ideal book club pick? Is this list a good one or would you rather read about the zombie space monkey butlers?

Friday, March 30, 2012

The first rule of book club is...

…bring a bottle of wine, apparently. I’m not sure what the rest of the rules are – this is my first ever book club – but everyone was very clear about the wine.

Despite a lifetime of loving books and reading books and obsessing about books and occasionally fresking people about by thrusting books at them shouting, “Take this! You must read it!” (and then calling them to check if they are), I have never been to a book club. I’m not sure how this has happened; I love talking about books and I love drinking booze, and apparently book clubs exist to combine the two, but somehow I have missed out. So when a mate recently suggested a book-club meet in Sydney, I was eager to jump in. Many of the book clubs I have seen seem to exclusively deal with fiction so I was chuffed when I spotted a non-fiction book under the possible reads, and even more chuffed when people said the non-fiction one sounded ideal. (It’s nice to know I am not alone in my real-life read loving ways.)

The book we chose is Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which created no small amount of  controversary on its release in 2011. This was at least partially fuelled by a Wall Street Journal publishing an exerpt from the book with the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” which suffered, apparently, from the same problem as the book did – many readers completely missed what Chua claims is irony and self-deprecating humour implicit in the title and believed that Chua was bombastically advocating the superiority of a very strict and ethnically defined approach to parenting.

To be fair, it’s easy to see how this could happen; although Chua describes her book as a self-depreciating memoir, anecdotes such as the “Little White Donkey” one, where Chua describes how she got her  unwilling younger daughter to learn a very difficult piano piece by threatening no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for years, and the donation of her dollhouse to the Salvation Army don’t exactly evoke an image of a self-depreciating but loving Mum so much as  a harpy on the rampage. And Chua seems delighted to horrify her audience by emphasising the excesses of her approach and her opinion of other methods of raising children.

“Some might think that the American sports parent is an analog to the  Chinese mother. This is so wrong. Unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes that (1)  schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your  children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you  must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever  disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the  teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be  permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and  (7) that medal must be gold.”

Unlike the over-achieving and occasionally terrifying Chua I have just done the basics for tonight’s book club meet. I have read the Battle Hymn, and a little extra in the form of looking up a few reviews and interviews with Chua (I’m not sure if you get extra points for that, or if you get accused of cheating), and asked the organiser what else is required and will happen on the night. Wine drinking, apparently. Lots of it.

I’ve even ended up looking up the normal conventions for book clubs, finding this set of 6 rules from some bloke called Nick, who has declared himself “Official Book Club Rule Master of the Universe”. (My mental image of a book club Master of the Universe has a librarian in a He-Man style-outfit, somewhat like Conan the Librarian. I am not sure if this is what he was going for.) His rules are helpful in that they specify munchie types (chips are bad as they crunch, apparently, and accidentally picking a terrible book means you have to provide a good dessert or snack to make up for it!), unhelpful in that he suggests cleaning toilets more throughly and slightly worrying in that he is very clear that ”what happens in Book Club STAYS in Book Club”.

…which begs the question, what is going to happen in book club? Do I need to be nervous? Should I have brought a mask in case we end up out burgling book-store or will we be reclining on cushions, dicussing literature, while nubile assistants peel grapes for us? Should I be expecting lively conversation or structured questions? Should I bring my beret, in order to look like a more serious reader? I can always dig my old reading glasses out – as they’re slightly the wrong prescription these days they give me a rather ferocious-looking squint and can be some help if I go for the Conan the Librarian look.

And, hey, if that doesn’t work, at least I know my bottle of wine is good.