England

Weekends are for…

1. Royal Wedding Parties

In spirit of last week’s post on all the negativity surrounding the royal wedding, nothing made me happier than being able to spend Friday glued to the radio, hearing of the hundreds of thousands who’d flocked to London to line the streets outside Buckingham palace, decked out with Union flags, wedding dresses and patriotic Daleks in the lead up to the event of the century. I can’t begin to describe the buzz in the air as I listened in on the outburst of national pride and excitement – despite being halfway across the world, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of your home country uniting in masses of support over such a joyous occasion. As soon as the clock hit four, I rushed home to finish our attempt at Prince William’s chocolate biscuit cake , deck the halls, lay out the spread and put on a party dress. Girlfriends arrived in style, and we spent the next six hours toasting, laughing, crying, and sitting in awe as we witnessed an historic occasion that will be talked about for generations.

Favourite moments? Prince William whispering to Kate how beautiful she looked. The nod to nature as the aisle of the stunning Westminster abbey was lined with a canopy of trees. The Bishop of London’s charismatic and powerful sermon which was composed perfectly, captivated hearts across the globe, and got major bonus points for quoting Chaucer. The music. My goodness, the music. The choral arrangements sounded like angels, and hearing Jerusalem (a patriotic, national treasure of a hymn) in full choral and orchestral arrangement ringing through the abbey, covering my arms in goosebumps and my cheeks in tears, making me positively proud to be British. Kate’s dad radiating with pride the whole day long. The human tide of support lining the mall, and Kate’s reaction to seeing it. And of course, Princess Beatrice winning the award for Most Ridiculous Hat in all of millinery history.

2.  Nerding Out

Sometimes there’s nothing better about being a fan of something than being able to share it fully with people just as passionate as you. A new season of Doctor Who is underway, and we gathered together to celebrate with a kickoff party. The wedding TARDIS made a welcome appearance, geeky t-shirts were worn with pride, and a major hand went to a die-hard friend who made us all Oreo  Dalek cake balls! The new season is excellent so far, and scarier than ever – just as it should be. Any fellow fans with thoughts on the major turn of events in episode two, thoughts are most definitely welcome!

 

3. Creating a New Space

We live in a two-bedroomed house, and with only two people, one of these rooms had inevitably turned into something that may as well have been visited by a Malon freighter. It had nothing on the walls, everything on the floor, and acted more as a storage locker for all the things that didn’t fit anywhere else in the house than an actual functioning room. When it got to the point where we could no longer remember if there had ever been a floor, we decided it was time to do something. After a few hours and cries of “Sweetie? I think I might be a hoarder…”, the closet was organised, the floor cleaned, and the paraphernalia sorted into several donation bags to go to the local Salvation Army. The room became a fresh slate – and a fresh opportunity. After scoring a few bargains on Kijiji, learning how to use power tools and spending an afternoon at Winners, our spare room is now a haven for reading, writing, and creativity. Fairy lights sit behind translucent cream drapes, candles occupy ornate decorations, and a vintage desk and antique nautical barometer are enough to make my inner history nerd rejoice! Now it’s finished, I adore retreating upstairs after a day at the office, slipping in some choral music, and reading by the candelight in our new space. 🙂

How did you spend the weekend?

Advertisements

A Royal Rant

This Friday marks an important date in the world’s calendar: the Royal Wedding. Now, some of you may be rolling your eyes and hovering your cursor over that red X, but I ask you to bear with me – this isn’t intended to be a gushy post of patriotism (okay, maybe a little), but to express why this event has – and rightfully deserves – captured the hearts of millions across the globe.  (Sidenote: isn’t this the most beautiful wedding image you’ve ever seen?)

Sadly, people’s reaction to my talking about the royal family usually tends to be one of apathy or of utter opposition.  I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard people say things like “why bother with a monarchy, they don’t do anything”, or even profess “hatred” toward people they don’t even know. In a way, the royal family seems to be met often in the same manner people talk about celebrities – they love to gossip, spread rumours, and thrive on stories that show them in a poor light. Just take a look at your local checkout stand, and you’ll see all sorts of defamatory headlines about pop stars or politicians, sold by the hundreds of thousands and making people throughout the world salivate. It’s awful, but it’s also a strangely intriguing behaviour – why do people try to tear down those in the spotlight without second thought to the fact that behind the magazine covers and paparazzi shots, these are real people with real feelings?

A couple of months ago I read a post from a wonderful writer.  It came following the Oscars, and really made me think:

It’s a night dedicated to people who love what they do, who pour their heart into their job at all hours of the day, and then get a bad reputation for it. They are the only people we don’t whisper about when we’re gossiping. Everyone else receives hushed voices, but for them, we gawk and squeal, and we forget that they’re someone else’s daughter or sister or son or husband. Someone else’s friends and families. They are real people with real passions. And each year, we expect more of them. We have the nerve to complain about the clothes they wear or the colour they dyed their hair. So many people in our world are guilty of the same indiscretions and yet we magnify their lives and their missteps and we forget that they stumble over all the issues that come with being human. We forget that they have to roll out of bed and go to work… that they’re real. They have big dreams, just like you and me.”

Prince William and Kate Middleton may not be movie stars, but they are real people who just so happened to be born into the public eye. They didn’t ask to be famous, they just happened to fall in love. And yet so many people in the world meet the mere mention of their names with an almost reflexive tone of scorn. Why do people do this to anyone in the spotlight? They’ll make judgment on people they don’t know, and spread rumous like wildfire without a second thought to bother questioning if there’s any truth behind them. They’ll jump on the bandwagon and spread criticism like the plague, without considering that the subjects of their scorn are real people with real feelings that can be hurt just like yours or mine.

To me, the Royal Wedding is a wonderful occasion. I love to celebrate anyone’s wedding, but there’s something special about something that only tends to happen once a generation. She’s intelligent, charming, and a beautiful role model and ambassador for England. He was raised by one of the most compassionate, caring mothers there ever was; his life was touched by tragedy and his grieving thrust across newspapers globally. Yet he faces the world with a positive attitude, does work in third-world countries, and has done a lot in his career to make the world a better place. Years ago, entire nations would rejoice at a royal event. People would hold parties and deck the streets and squeeze big groups into living rooms tightly around a little black and white television, celebrating the occasion, united and proud, happy for people that were synonymous with the country they loved so dearly.  There are still lots of people that do this – my heart gave a little leap when I saw the bunting decking the streets of London. But today, a large proportion of people seem quick to vocalise their apathy or distaste. They find reason for fault, create hateful Facebook groups, and the British security have to be out in full force thanks to the enormous range of threats to the royal family from protesters, terrorists, anarchists and anti-monarchists.

Do people really have nothing better to do with their lives than trying to take other people down?

It happens to a degree whenever somebody lands themselves in the spotlight. For every fifty people who’ll be happy for you, it seems certain that there’ll be five that will spread hate and gossip and try to rain on your parade.  A good friend of mine said it well when I last wrote about this sort of thing (after being targeted repeatedly by an Internet troll): “There’s always gonna be haters, and they only get more numerous and louder the more successful you become.”  Which is why I think it’s important to try to counter the negativity thrown carelessly about the world with kindness and support. Don’t join the bandwagon of gossip and rumours – if you don’t like something, keep quiet. Spreading hate isn’t going to do anything except make you look bad. If you’re in favour of something or someone, wear your support proudly on your sleeve. There’s enough pessimism and slander in the world already, and how are you going to feel at the end of your life when you look back and see that you chose to spend the time you were given actively trying to hurt others? Trying to tarnish reputations and ruin occasions of joy. I feel so strongly about this because I’ve been the subject of it, and I don’t want to live in a world where people are quicker to fuel the rumour mill than they are to stand up for somebody.

In two days, two good-hearted, loving people who just so happen to be under the microscope of millions across the planet, are going to celebrate their commitment to each other in a beautiful ceremony that will be talked about for years, at the heart of the country I’m proud to call home. If you have negative thoughts about the monarchy, please keep them to yourself and allow those who support them (as well as those directly involved) to have their day unhindered by hate. There is nothing worse than looking back on your once-in-a-lifetime day and remembering it for something other than the joyous celebration it deserves to be. Trust me. So, this Friday, I will be hanging my Union Jack, making the Royal Chocolate Biscuit Cake, donning fascinators and celebrating the Royal Wedding with my girlfriends as we wonder where on their journey the congratulatory cards we made for William and Kate might be. (Yes, we are secretly twelve years old. :)) 

Think for a second that whether you’re discussing a coworker or a celebrity, there are real people at the other end of your commentary. In this situation, there are real people with real feelings who’ve committed no crime other than falling in love, who would probably prefer an intimate celebration to a national event anyway.  And keep this in mind as you go about your day-to-day life, or your travels across the Internet. 

If someone passes on a rumour, question it rather than continue it. Stand by those you care about instead of keeping quiet while they’re under attack. Take a stand for positivity, and spread love in a world where it seems so easy to spread hate through text messages and cowardly anonymous comments. It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing, but it takes courage to stand up for what’s right. And on Friday, the decent thing is to show nothing but a spirit of congratulations, and allow the Prince and Princess-to-be to celebrate their love just like anyone else. Surely it can’t be too much to ask to allow them to have this one day?

Surfing on a Wave of Nostalgia for an Age Yet to Come

One of the biggest things I’m thankful for in this day and age is technology. While babysitting for a friend a couple of weeks ago, we were chatting as his wife was getting ready about how strange it is that we are getting to the point where people our age are now contributing to a new generation – one that will have access to technology from birth.  I remember, as a child, sitting next to the radio for hours (nothing’s changed there, then), cassette tape at the ready and my finger eagerly hovering over the play/record button, waiting for the chance to capture a favourite song. I remember when my parents brought home our first computer – I must have been about twelve or thirteen, and having absolutely no idea how web pages or e-mail worked. I remember a girl in my maths class being the first to get a CD burner, and being one of many kids who’d submit her a list of twenty songs… along with a five-dollar bill. I remember the days of Napster, and even though it took two hours to get a song, thinking it was the most amazing thing in the world. Don’t even get me started on the first time I was able to watch Doctor Who the same day it aired in the UK!  Heck, I remember how it felt three weeks ago when I got my first smart phone, being absolutely blown away by the fact that I could make my own ringtones, check Facebook, read blogs, watch videos, get directions and, best of all, stream live British radio which I could listen to on the go. It’s bizarre to think that my future children won’t experience any of these firsts – that they’ll have access to these things right from the get-go.

The reason this intrigued me was because recently, I found a collection of a whole load of television programmes I used to watch as a child. I burned them to a DVD, and set about introducing my husband to SuperTed, Gladiators and The Crystal Maze (why don’t game shows today involve adventure and strategy games against futuristic robots or in medieval dungeons??). When I first saw that these were even available, my husband said he hadn’t seen me as excited about anything as when I saw Sooty again, and I have to admit, I was ecstatic. 🙂 Now, I know I’m not the only one to cling to things that I enjoyed in my youth – parents across the world still play the records that were popular when they were young, grandparents do the same, and the mere mention of a popular eighties cartoon to many of my friends is almost enough to make them salivate. So what causes this phenomenon? Are we simply programmed to archive the memories of youth under a rose-tinted light?

I recently read about a study that came to the conclusion that “many 25-40 year olds don’t plan for the future because they prefer to reminisce about past times.” It showed the effect of nostalgia on current pop culture too, and the result is unmistakable: many movies, fashions, and music of late all have a significantly retro feel. Remakes of Star Trek took over the silver screen (huzzah!), children’s stories became box office hits, American Apparel lined high streets across the country with eighties-inspired gear like leggings, headbands and spandex, and the sound of new wave was born all over again. Now, as excellent as that all is, the more interesting question is that of why: why do the memories of a generation’s youth evoke such positive feelings – and why do we remember everything that filled it as being full of the best life had to offer? I think it probably has something to do with the fact that nostalgia, quite simply, makes us feel better.

I’m no psychological expert here, but my guess is that when our free time was unencumbered by chores, work, or bills, when we didn’t know anything of the world of world politics or international poverty, we had a happier and more carefree outlook on life – and that carefree outlook on life attaches itself to the memories of things that filled our youth, and thus we remember things perhaps more positively than they actually were. (Pulp’s Common People excluded – that song will remain epic regardless of generation!) According to that logic, when we re-watch a favourite childhood television programme or movie today and realise how dreadful it was (the Stargate film, anyone?), the disillusion should shatter, no? Apparently not. Today, even after watching the primitive eighties animation on YouTube, I get filled with a case of the warm fuzzies. Exposure to the things I watched while living the happy-go-lucky life of a child seems to evoke a sense of deja-vu of the mind, and consequently after said 5-minute cartoon, my thoughts are transported to a time when life was simpler and impressions were fresher  – and I end up feeling more positive.

It seems somewhat of a paradox that in the current technological age where a new model of iPad is out quicker than the entire lifespan of the Dreamcast, the Internet and range of ever-expanding TV channels are used widely to re-live experiences from the past. We watch all the programmes, films, and music videos we listened to when we were young, and the entertainment industry is capitalising on it, creating new versions of old favourites. We listen to a song we haven’t heard in twenty years and remember all the words, yet we can’t remember the phone number of someone we called last week. And the evolution of social networking sites have allowed us to get back in touch with people we knew ten or fifteen years ago – often, in the prime of our youth.

Yes, reliving things from the past can evoke positive emotions today. But on the flipside – if we remember things in a rosier hue than was perhaps real; do we run into the danger of stifling the possibility of new things, or worse, airbrushing our own personal history? If the entertainment industry is recycling old styles, shows, and trends, are we discouraging the potential for new ideas?  If the new wave and punk sounds of the late ’70s/early ’80s are being recycled twenty-five years later, then that bodes terribly for the future of music – in middle age, every radio station may be flooded with another wave of rap, auto-tune, and Ke-dollar sign-ha. By continually reminiscing about the “good old days”, is there ever going to be anything new? As well, the very essence of who we are as people is based on our accumulation of memories – if those memories are in fact distorted, then how can we look back on our life and say it was really what we think it was? Maybe I’m going off on too much of a sci-fi tangent, but the question fascinates me. I think it’s incresibly interesting how generation after generation latches onto the same period of their life and holds it in such high regard, and I’m interested to know why. Nostalgia can be a great thing – and though the consequences of reminiscence can evoke short-term positivity, I think there’s also a danger of overdoing retrospect. We may end up mentally re-writing our own existence, or hanging onto a rose-tinted past so tightly it suffocates any possibility of original thinking in the future.

What do you think? Why does each generation seem to latch onto the same period as “the good old days”? Are we conditioned to Photoshop our past to make us feel better in the present? And what effect is nostalgia going to have on the future of the entertainment industry? Lots of questions… I suppose I’m feeling rather pensive today. Pardon my ramble, but if you can’t do it on a personal blog, where can you… And bonus points for anyone who knows where the title of today’s post is from 🙂

New Marketing Strategy: Telling Your Customers to F*** Off

Firstly, I should start this story with a little background information. Some of you may remember a post from around Christmastime a couple of years ago (e-mail me for the password) regarding my family situation – my parents had separated a few years prior, and sadly, my relationship with my mother had subsequently dissolved. A few things happened throughout the years between us; things were said and tears were shed, and I spent a long time trying to maintain the relationship before finally, following lots of kind words and advice from the blogosphere, deciding to temporarily opt out – with the hopes that one day, we’d both be on the same page again. Going through Christmases, and especially wedding planning without my mum was hard – but something I’ve learned in recent years is that you can keep holding the door open, but one must make the choice intrinsically to walk through it. And now, I’m thrilled to tell you that since a few days before the wedding, she’s back in my life. In the grand scheme of things, holding onto past hurts isn’t going to pave the way for a positive future, and after receiving a lengthy letter composed of the words I’d always hoped to hear, I decided to let go, run back to that door, and welcome her in with open arms. The feeling was finally mutual, and we’ve been getting together every week or two for the last few months, talking for hours, sharing coffee, music, going shopping, and doing all the mother-daughter things I’ve been wishing for for such a long time. 🙂

So last week, I met her at Starbucks, and about two minutes into the conversation her eyes widened, and she excitedly exclaimed “I know what I was going to tell you!!” She proceeded to tell me how she’d just come from causing “a rumpus” in the local chemist’s. Oh dear, I thought, quietly counting my blessings I hadn’t been there. She’d been in a queue at the postal counter, when she noticed a big display over in the makeup aisle – a giant advertisement for a new mascara from L’Oréal Paris, displaying an attractive lady looking awfully happy about the fact that she was flipping her photographer off. My mum pulled out her phone, eager to show me the evidence she’d snapped, and my jaw hit the floor. There it was, in all its glory: The V-sign. And worse, the brand is holding a vlogging contest – entitled “Show Us Your V-Moment!”

Now, some of you may be wondering what the kerfuffle is all about. In England, flipping the V (with palm facing inward) is equivalent of giving someone the middle finger. The origin is said to have come from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt (1415), during the Hundred Years’ War. According to the story, the French claimed they would cut off the arrow-shooting fingers of all the English longbowmen after they’d won the battle, however, (naturally) the English came out victorious, and displayed the sign showing their two fingers intact as an insult to the French. Several headlines involving the Vs include a front-page tabloid proclaiming “Up Yours, Delors” with a large hand, flipping the Vs, superimposed over a Union Jack; a show-jumper being disqualified from competition over a televised V-sign at the judges; Liam Gallagher famously giving the Vs regularly to paparazzi; the opening credits of Buffy showing a British character insulting another character with the Vs; footballers being permanently banned from the national team, and comically, George Bush attempting to give the peace sign to a group of Australian farmers (where the sign means much the same as in the UK) – and instead telling them to f*** off.  Check out The Mirror‘s top ten celebrity V-flickers here.

My mother explained the significance to the lady at the postal counter, who immediately got on the phone to her manager, saying things like “customer complaining about a display with a profanity on it” and “yes, I think we should too…” before informing my mum they’d be pulling it from the shop floor. “It’s funny,” the clerk said, “L’Oréal’s a French company. Do you think they’re subtly sticking it to the Brits?”  My jaw, once again, came within grazing distance of the floor, and I quickly pulled out my phone to see if there was a European version of the ad. Sure enough, there was – with the palm facing the other way, displaying an innocent V for Victory. I couldn’t help but laugh, and we both decided that now we have different surnames, we could get away with writing in and complaining, and hoping for some free schwag!

What do you reckon? Are L’Oréal deliberately taking part in a less-than-subliminal advertising message – or is this a hilarious, innocent mistake? I feel bad for all the girls entering the contest – you might “become a YouTube star” for “showing your V”, but perhaps not quite for the reasons you were hoping.

I’m not asking you for money. I’m just asking you to think.

Friday is a massive day in the UK, and even though I’m thousands of miles away, I’m following along and trying to help as much as I can!  On the third Friday of March each year, known nationally as “Red Nose Day”, the entire country bands together to raise money in countless different ways to help impoverished or underprivileged people across the UK, and around the world.  Currently, Comic Relief is supporting projects across the world, including helping young people with mental health issues, including dealing with self-harm and suicidal thoughts; sexually exploited and trafficked young people, the elderly, those experiencing domestic or sexual abuse, local communities, and helping develop technology to better help people with disabilities. And that’s just at home. Internationally, Comic Relief is making enormous strides to help children living and working on the street, people affected by HIV and AIDS, women and girls, people affected by conflict, those living in slums, giving people access to education and healthcare, helping develop systems so communities can become self-sufficient, and protecting families from social injustice, abuse and neglect.

This may sound like I’m trying to ask you for a donation, but I’m not. Today I just want to write about this incredible cause, and just spread awareness of how big of a difference people can make if they really band together. If you’re not familiar with Comic Relief, allow me to explain: For a few weeks every March, absolutely everyone from the local postman to the nation’s favourite celebrity will be doing something to get involved in doing something to make this world a better place. Taxi drivers donate a day’s fares to the charity. Schools and workplaces have fundraisers across the country, and everyone joins in in “doing something funny for money.” Teachers lead classes of students in activities and contests; employees hold talent shows, shave their heads, walk around in costumes, run marathons, sit in baths full of baked beans, throw pies at bosses and even hold T-shirt relays, where branches of a company across the country take part in getting the shirt from one end of England to the other, having it ride all sorts of modes of transport with staff and taking in landmarks across the country.

Celebrities from all modes of entertainment get in on the action too, and raise hundreds of thousands in donations – 100% of which goes straight to changing countless lives throughout the world.  For the last few weeks, groups of celebs have given up all their creature comforts to experience life in one of the world’s most impoverished and unsanitary places – the Kibera slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. Almost 4,000 people joined in at the Royal Albert Hall to blast out Ride of the Valkyries on kazoos to break a Guiness World Record. Stars of stage and screen join together to create parodies of popular TV shows, and favourite TV programmes air short specials during which people can make a pledge to the charity.  A couple of years ago, a team of some of my favourites (including the nation’s favourite radio DJ, the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world, and the beautiful Cheryl Cole) went on a six-day trek to climb Kilimanjaro, experiencing freezing temperatures, exhaustion, and altitude sickness to raise money for malaria nets in Africa.  The six-part documentary was incredible, moving, and absolutely awe-inspiring, and I remember bawling as I watched them reach the summit, and find out they’d raised over 3.3 million pounds – over $5,000,000 through the climb alone.  This year, another team went on a hundred-kilometre trek in 100 degree heat across the desert – all in an effort to raise money for people living unimaginably tough lives in Africa and the UK. As I write, the aforementioned DJ is currently broadcasting live on  national radio for thirty-seven hours straight – they’re in the eighth hour, and are at 93 thousand pounds already.  [Update: 4:47 PM CST – at hour fifteen, they have a giant beacon of a building promoting the show towering over London, and are at a quarter of a million. Update: Thursday morning: hour THIRTY-TWO, and over £600,000 -that’s over a million dollars!!) Tomorrow night, there’ll be a TV marathon culminating celebrity activities, comedy specials, and a documentary on the desert trek, with the final amount announced to the nation on just how much they’ve done to help countless lives across the world.

It’s things like this that make me proud to be British. I wish Comic Relief could go international, and North America could build their own nation-wide team of events and activities designed to change the world. Where every TV show, radio station, and newspaper had coverage of all the things people were doing to raise money, The power of a team on this scale, where everybody is involved, is absolutely phenomenal, and though I’m not asking you to donate, I am just asking you to take a moment to think, just for a second, about how lucky you are. If you have Internet access and are simply able to read these words, you are blessed. If you don’t have to worry about dinner tonight, or if your home is going to be safe, you are blessed. If you have access to water, and working limbs, you are blessed. And just for a moment, I’d like you to reflect on the good things you really do have in your life right now. Maybe you don’t like your job, or maybe you had a fight with your boyfriend. Maybe you ran out of milk, or your laptop is broken. Maybe you missed the bus. But please, if just for a minute or two, think about the thousands of people elsewhere in the world, who are living in war-torn or impoverished countries. Who lost their vision, or a limb. Whose entire families have been taken away by a catastrophic natural disaster. Who can’t afford to provide for their children, or who die from disease leaving those children to fend for themselves, or who go home to be abused every night. If you feel moved enough to donate to Comic Relief, you can from anywhere in the world just by going here. We may not be living our ideal life, but we can count our blessings. We may not be in a position to donate, but we can spread awareness. And we may not be able to change the entire world, but we can make a dent, and go about our days with a spirit of gratitude, servanthood, and compassion.

History and Hauntings (Part Two of Two)

Continued from Tuesday’s post

So after a stunning (yet exhausting!) whirlwind trip to Madrid, I arrived back in Stevenage, a bit later than expected, since some genius managed to get his luggage on the plane and then couldn’t actually find the plane. Which resulted in missing the last bus back! But I eventually made it, and spent a bit more time with Nan, who distressingly, had had a pretty bad accident right before we’d walked in, and had injured herself severely, causing her to be laid up in bed the rest of the trip. In all her stubbornness she refused for us to call a doctor, but consented by Friday, when both a nurse and doctor visited and thankfully declared that though bruised and in a lot of pain, she hadn’t broken anything. It’s things like this that make it so incredibly difficult to be so far away, but my Dad is heading over within a few weeks, which will mean the world to her, and hopefully something can be done to help make sure she is as safe and comfortable as possible.

The next day, I visited some beautifully kept gardens at Hatfield House (where Elizabethan history began!), with another good friend, Shareen, and her boyfriend, who was great! We had afternoon tea and scones, Victoria Sponge (well worth the three pounds I put on in the last week), and talked travel, memories, and Extreme Ironing – a venture yet to come! That night, another one of my oldest friends, James, took us out to an historic little town just outside Stevenage, where we spent hours talking about everything and anything, learning about life in the military, reminiscing, laughing, and sharing hopes of the future. It still blows me away that someone I sat with in school over a decade ago, who I’ve only seen once or twice since, can still be so close and so comfortable to be around. Nights like that truly make me count my blessings.

The next day, we made way to Leeds, where I learned that booking train tickets in advance is crucial. Clearly I hadn’t; and discovered it was consequently going to cost about $200 to travel there and back! C’est la vie, I suppose – didn’t let it spoil the time I had with one of my oldest friends, who I’ve literally known since I was about nine or ten years old, and her fiancé, who was incredibly hospitable and such a laugh. After a night of dinner, exploring the city, cat cuddling and zombie fighting, he drove us into our final destination: York.  London may have a piece of my heart but I have to say York has a little part of my soul, too. It’s the most haunted city in the UK, and the sense of history that consumes you the second you cross the city’s walls is just awe-inspiring.  Surrounded on all sides, York’s streets are made of cobblestones that date back hundreds and hundreds of years. Lining them is an assortment of speciality shops, boutiques, and small pubs, one of which is built without foundations, giving rise to an inside full of warped nooks and twisted crannies with no regard to symmetry or balance at all. The walls were lined with newspaper clippings and framed ghost stories – the perfect place for a good English beer and a bite to eat on Friday the thirteenth! I squeezed the day dry, exploring the Dungeons, learning about Highwaymen, conspirators, plague and witchcraft, not to mention being scared witless as a group of us made our way through the dark. I walked a recreation of 10th century York and learned all sorts of Viking history, as well as the Shambles, an ancient street of mismatched buildings recorded as early as 1086, leading to Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral. I was led on an award-winning ghost tour where I laughed, cried, and was left wondering if I’d capture a glimpse of the plague girl abandoned by her parents, or the medieval army of ghosts. It was perfect.

I made my way back to Stevenage for a last goodbye with my Nan, a night with family friends in London, and onto the flight back – bags packed with sweets, souvenirs, and photographs, eyes heavy and jetlagged from a whirlwind of excitement, and hearts full of memories and contentment that would soon be making space for nostalgia and wanderlust.  Times like these may be few and far between, but the lifelong memories and friendships make them more than worth waiting for. This week, it’s back to work, back to reality, back to ROSE KITTEN, and back to catching up with all of you who I missed terribly! I took a look at my Reader, which is pretty close to 300 unread. Not going to lie – that’s a pretty scary number. So tell me all what you’ve been up to for the last two weeks – and I promise, I’ll get round to catching up on everything ASAP. 🙂  And as an ad said quite aptly on the plane:

Onto planning the next trip! I don’t think I’ll ever get the travel bug out of my system, not ever. Prague, Italy, more of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and India are all very much still on my list, and I have every intention of exploring every one inside out. One day…

Oh England, my Lionheart (Part One of Two)

Oh England, my Lionheart,
I’m in your garden, fading fast in your arms
Flapping umbrellas fill the lanes
My London Bridge in rain again
Oh England, my Lionheart
Peter Pan steals the kids in Kensington Park
You read me Shakespeare on the rolling Thames
That old river poet that never, ever ends
Our thumping hearts hold the ravens in,
And keep the tower from tumbling
Oh England, my Lionheart,
I don’t want to go

– Kate Bush

WARNING: This WAS going to be my longest post ever, and there was going to be a serious high five waiting for you if you made it all the way through – I did SO MUCH on this trip, I couldn’t leave anything out! However I think breaking it into more manageable pieces is probably for the best, so this is just part one. 🙂

It seems I’ve arrived back in one piece, and I cannot begin to describe how quickly the last two weeks seemed to pass. Or how mortified I was to have had to go back to work on extreme jet lag and a throat which may as well have been full of razorblades the morning after landing!  The trip was nothing short of breathtaking – visits with friends I’ve known over half my life; the feeling of pure belonging while roaming the streets of London by night, high on post-West End Musical awe and excitement while simultaneously thrilled at the feeling of sharing the grandeur of thousand year old monuments. Getting lost in a country not speaking the language and exploring another culture; seeing family and loved ones and moving on again in a whirlwind journey to the country’s most haunted city, full of gothic architecture, cobblestones, and ghosts. It was perfect, though all over far, far too fast.

The trip started in one of my favourite places in the world: London. I don’t know if you’ve ever been away from home before (though I suppose London is a train ride away from the place I should truly call home), but every time I see a reference to the city on Doctor Who, have BBC radio playing on a Friday morning at work, or hear another English accent, my ears perk up along with my heartbeat and I feel an enormous sense of longing to be back there again. Sweet and I arrived at our hotel, which was a stone’s throw from Big Ben, the London Eye, and all things iconic and dreadfully, wonderfully touristy. Which, after a brief nap, I threw myself into headfirst.

Initially, I went on my first international blogger meetup with the lovely Stephen Ko, where I overindulged in proper sausages, mash, and copious amounts of gravy. We then headed off to explore the city’s museums, which Stephen was kind enough to lead us to, though I must admit an hour’s sleep in over 24 hours didn’t make me the most brilliant of company! That night though, I must have got a second wind, and set off for what was certain to be a highlight: Wicked! I’d seen the show once a few years ago, and it was the best thing I’d ever seen, and once again, it was nothing short of gobsmacking. Dazzling costumes and special effects combined with incredible songwriting and world-class singers, and by the end of it, I was so thrilled with the evening ($12 for a drink aside – forgivable, since it was Pimm’s!) I decided to walk back through the streets of London by night. Illuminated monuments and landmarks were at every turn, and I arrived back, perhaps a hundred photographs later, and collapsed in a happy heap. Roaming London after dark should very well have been dangerous, so I hear, but I felt no sense of fear, only an incredible feeling of belonging. I must say a good part of my heart will forever lie in that city.

With the next day came my NEXT blogger meetup – brunch with Aly, who was absolutely lovely (she even left me with a little koala bear!). She took me to a favourite place of hers, where we talked for hours, feasted on pancakes, fruit and clotted cream, and discovered an amazing secret: our little table was in fact an old desk, and was the only one, it appeared, with a drawer. Aly opened it and found a secret stash of notes – on receipts, napkins, notepaper – little notes of love, hopes, appreciation and dreams, to which we of course added our own. It was quite remarkable, and made for quite the magical morning.

After moving on to Stevenage, my home town (as well as teen pregnancy and chav capital of England), I was shocked at its deterioration. The walk from the train station to my Nan’s should have been filled with little shops, friendly faces, a picturesque duck pond and flower gardens at every step. I’m not sure if it was a trick of the memory of youth, severe degradation, or a combination of both, but the streets I grew up on were no longer as I remembered. The pond was caged off; a rank quagmire of mud, shopping trolleys, and birds no longer able to swim. The shops had all closed down, and the streets were covered in rubbish and trodden-in gum. But I was going to see Nan. The last time I’d visited was two years ago, when she was still very much herself; in a sling, yes, but in good spirits and perfectly able to come out with us, to cook, and to hug. When I walked into her living room, I almost didn’t recognise her. She’d lost a lot of weight, as well as her glasses, and her hair had grown out, shining and white, making her look small, frail. She’d broken both shoulders, and was unable to extend her arms, and seemed consumed by the armchair which I’m certain hadn’t moved in years. But then she opened her mouth to speak, and then she was Nan again. Fiesty and opinionated as ever, and beyond thrilled to see me. Everything was okay once she spoke, and the next day we went out with her wheelchair, her first exposure to the outside world in two months. It meant so much to be able to do something for her.

That night we met up with Kier, one of my oldest friends in the world, for some drinks, pub food, and hours of talking and reminiscing. It felt wonderful to be able to share in his company again and I only wish the time didn’t have to be so fleeting, or the distance quite so far. We met again for a brief brunch later on in the trip, where he surprised me with a gift – a Star Trek bottle opener and a star ready for naming up there in the beautiful night sky. The thoughtfulness was incredible, and I must admit I shed a few tears on the way home that such good friends must be so far away.

I didn’t spend much time in one place – I only had nine days left of holiday time from work, and two of them were spent on the journey there and back, so I REALLY crammed everything in. Next day I headed off to Madrid, Spain – a city I’ve never seen. After a plane ride where I was sat in front of two of my least favourite things in the world (a seat-kicking, screaming baby), I arrived in the middle of siesta time, when everything shuts down for a few hours and people retire for a brief nap to energise for the night ahead. I hadn’t realised my hotel was in The Dodgy End, either, so the initial impression of deserted, streets covered in graffiti was slightly disappointing – until I asked reception what there was for evening entertainment, and was pointed to the Metro station, similar to London’s Underground, which took me to the heart of the nation’s capital.

Elegant, ornate building fronts combined with enormous billboards to envelop us in a city of culture. Nobody seemed to speak a word of English, but I’d been told of a hidden little Michelin Star restaurant, considered one of the “top 1,000 things to do before you die”, where I’d find fantastic food and see some of the world’s best flamenco dancers, which was supposedly a 10 minute walk from the train station. 10 minutes ended up being well over an hour, which had been filled with getting lost and exploring streets full of cathedrals, cityscapes and architecture (not to mention rather sore feet), but eventually, we found the Corral de la Morería, found my seat, and experienced a night of breathtaking entertainment. The next morning, I got up bright and early to visit the grand cathedral and the Palacio Real, where I was heartbroken to find I wasn’t allowed to take photos. A REAL PALACE, from the outside in, where I saw such elaborate decor – gold embellished walls, ceiling frescos, a dining hall which very well could’ve been a mile long, and the thrones upon which King and Queen sat only a few hundred years ago. It was remarkable, and I left thoroughly satiated in beauty, history and culture, before arriving back to a shocking and distressing surprise…

Going to stop here, as this marks about halfway – the rest to come on Thursday, along with stories of the most incredible, most haunted, most beautiful and one of the oldest cities in the world. Thanks for your patience 🙂