23 September 2009

Morocco begins...

The sea is always such a shock when you fly, suddenly there’s a massive line through the landscape and a sold grey-blue surface like burred steel. Flew over the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands – the sea was rough around their Cornish-like coast. I could see the straight, sleek line of the French coast running away South-East. Another sizeable island with a scalloped north coast and a hot-fat fried pancake south coast, then an expanse of water dusted with white peaks like eraser rubbings. Next we crossed the Brest Peninsular of France, past a bay with a couple of hundred boats all moored in neat curving lines, mirroring the mainland. Over Spain, opaque cloud like a snow drift ended abruptly over the Pyrenees, some cloud pouring down the side of the mountains. I saw long lakes carved between mountains, sandy beige tracks webbing over ridges like contour lines. One lake resembled a woman’s figure with a full skirt and cinched waist, triangular arms and distorted head. Remote roads zig-zagged and chicaned across the moleskin brown countryside giving some hills a terraced appearance. Wind farms added to the relief of deeply veined rock then the ground became red. I saw what looked like a deep rift snaking out of a lake and running to meet another deep valley like a geographical t-juntion. The water came more clearly into view as it wound west and towards our flight path. At an oxbow curve there was a bridge and dam spanning the river. I saw a motorway junction like a treble clef. The land soon began to break up as the river dramatically expanded and peninsulars of land splayed out into the water in soft rounded shapes like the fronds of a fern. The ground gave the impression of rusty brown and sandy mottling like a tie-dyed cloth, then suddenly the southern Portugese coastline came into view and I began to get very excited at seeing the coastline of a new continent. Africa!

So began my journal of Morocco but now I have to do some college work so it will just have to wait!

4 September 2009


All photos from this trip can be seen on my facebook pages. This is just the travel journal as it was written each day.

Thursday 13 August

Got off work an hour early to get the train to Gatwick just before 6pm. I am now very much sold on Yotel as a chain. The d├ęcor is very stylish, the lighting ambient, the corridors have a pleasing purple-pink glow and the place could have been designed by Apple. The bed is large for a single and is rather like a top bunk but in a recess half the way up the wall with a curved box edging. The sheet glass doors to the bathroom and wall to wall mirrors are immaculate and have an agreeable look of a white iPod with its clean lines and rounded corners.

I had every intention of getting a really early night but ‘Mock the Week’ was on TV, followed by Clive Anderson hosting a funny, political programme and then I needed to shower and straighten my hair! Tomorrow is a 5am wake up call.

Friday 14 August

Arrived in Rome at 10:15 and met up with Margaret and Marianne a little after 1. We got a taxi to the apartment that has a gorgeous leafy courtyard with banana plants. We heaved our cases up four storeys and fell into a lovely cool apartment. It's a lovely space with an open plan upstairs. We headed out and wandered all the afternoon and evening. Saw St Peter's Square, the castle, bridges over the Tiber... Had my first carb hit in 3 weeks with a huge chocolate and yoghurt ice cream. It was ridiculously good. Later we ate at a little cafe down a side street and I had really good roast chicken and salad. Enjoyed getting a feel for the city. The weather was blisteringly hot with an occasional breeze. Had a few minutes at an internet cafe then went back via a grocery store for showers. Margaret and I sat and chatted in the garden while Marianne went in to shower. We chatted about ideas for the rest of the week - looks like I may get a lifetime's dream fulfilled by visiting Capri - then headed for bed.

Saturday 15 August

The day started well and ended well. We finally got moving about 1pm after sleeping in til 12. Found a lovely market just down the road and I bought a dress for 15 euros. By the end of the day Marianne and I had shared a bottle of Branciforti red Sicilian wine which was excellent. In between I reckon we must have easily walked 10 miles and my feet were killing me. Saw lots of stuff that had just closed (!); Pantheon and Colosseum. Great to see (outside) of Colisseum at dusk. Saw innumerable white edifices. Place Venezia was very cool. Walked up steps and had good views. Ate gelato (pineapple, white chocolate), walked along the Tiber in the evening where there were tents erected as makeshift bars and restaurants. We saw the Trevi Fountain in the day which was superb. Drank so much water from street side taps because of the heat. I enjoyed putting my feet under the freezing water and filling up my bottle over and over again. Temperatures must have been mid 30's at least. Saw Bernini's elephant, looked through crack in door at Pantheon as we had gotten there after 1pm. Big national holiday today so many places shut - seems it's traditional for Romans to leave the city today. Finally travelled back to apartment on the metro. I showered back at apartment and ate 2 boiled eggs while Margaret and Marianne went for something to eat. They ordered pizza and ended up with some vile warm bread and cheese combo.

Sunday 16 August

First thing, well about half ten, Marianne and Margaret went for a run. After, we headed out for the beach. It was a fabulous day. Weather was incredible - again. Really hot and clear blue skies. We had a short stop at ?Orista Antico because Marianne had been told that was the right place - it wasn't but I had a great latte there! Got the next train to the end of the line. Just as we are getting out, there's a bus about to leave - I assume it's taking us to the beach and so leg it to get on. M&M follow. Once the doors shut and we are pulling away, Marianne asks; 'Where is this bus going?' and Margaret and I said together; 'Back to Rome'. We thought it was hilarious. We laughed so hard - only made funnier by the fact that the bus is rammed with people. Anyway, we got of a couple of stops later and ended up on a private beach, were met by Joanna, one of the owners, charged 2 euros each and shown where to buy drinks etc. We ran as fast as we could across boiling sand to pitch our spot and stayed there for hours. The sea was warm, they had shower blocks and toilets you didn't have to pay for, a couple of places to buy eats and drinks. It was pretty crowded but I loved it. Read some more of 'The Gum Thief' and had a freckle explosion. Was in and out of the sea loads. My feet don't hurt anymore after yesterday. The beach closed around 7:30 and we headed back to Rome. It was a long wait on the train before it left and it seemed like a much longer journey back into the city than it had been getting out there. On the way back there was this quirky looking guy - either an intellectual or a little unhinged - it's a fine line (!) - anyway, he was clearly listening to everything we were saying. So we forced him to have his picture taken with Margaret - it's a holiday tradition. He looked pretty astonished at first but then had this look of excited bewilderment - it was rather sweet! Margaret later said; 'Thank goodness primal fear never stops me. I have to tell you I was ready to run. He was a crazy wide eyed man with a lit cigarette in his hand' It really was a very funny moment. Back in the city and hunger hit. At this point I had eaten 2 eggs all day.We went into a kebab shop and I had chicken and salad - then blew it next door with yoghurt and bacio gelato. So good to get back in and shower off the sun tan lotion, sand and salt. Another event I was reminded of by Marianne was 'the guy with his foot in the door'! This man tried to get on the bus back from the beach but there wasn't enough space. We weren't even going to fight that one. All of him bar his foot made it out of the bus before the doors shut and the bus pulled away! This poor guy was shouting, hopping on one leg and hammering on the door of the bus. He made it but we all thought we were about to see something catastrophic.

Monday 17 August

Well I thought yesterday was good. Wow. Today we went to Capri for the day and I realised a dream of getting to the island which is the last resting place of Graham Green and holiday haunt of Iris Murdoch! It was truly stunning. It took us approximately 5 hours either end of the day to get there - metro to 'Termini', train to Naples, bust to port and hydrofoil to the island - but it was well worth it. The town climbs up the mountain from the port under a faultless blue sky and barricaded on either side by sheer craggy rocks that tower hundreds of metres above the sea. The town has a dipping, curved skyline of white houses and other buildings. The sea is incredibly clean and green/blue - particularly as it breaks onto the rocks. No sooner had we stepped off the hydrofoil than we saw boat trips round the island advertised so we got on immediately as it was about to set off. Everything about the trip was stunning - the cliffs, pitted by the sea and worn into caves all along sea level, the tiny coves with people diving off their boats into turquoise water, the architecture of the landscape with rocky arches, holes through vast rocks that boats could fit through and the clarity of water so clean you could see huge rocks on the sea bed many metres below the hull of the boat. I was longing to submerge myself. After the trip we walked round part of the town by the port, had gelato (Milka white chocolate - probably even surpassing lemon meringue flavoured ice cream in Venice!), bought bits and pieces (I found a lovely metal lizard). M&M wandered a bit more and I borrowed Marianne's costume and swam in the sea for ten minutes before catching the hydrofoil back to Napoli. Spent the rest of the evening getting home!

Tuesday 18 August

Today didn't start well for me as the bank wouldn't give me money and I couldn't get through to arrange a transfer. It all worked out in the end but it took most of the morning and I was horribly embarrassed. We stopped by the Trevi Fountain again as it was close by 2 churches we wanted to see and we needed to kill some time before they opened. The first one we went to was truly macabre. It had a crypt of several vaulted rooms decorated with thousands of human bones and full skeletons. Marianne, as an anatomy and physiology teacher was so excited to be there, Margaret was deeply moved by it and had to leave before we did. I was impressed by the visual impact but had questions about the morality of making chandeliers and grim reaper sickles out of human remains. A really memorable visit. Then we went on to the church I wanted to visit - ?Santa Maria della Vittoria - as it had the Bernini sculpture I wrote about in my M.A dissertation; The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. It was another dream realised for me. After that we went on to the Colosseum - this time while it was open! It was incredibly hot but well worth the effort and 12 euros. Chilling to see where they kept the animals and gladiators. Sobering to remember the christians who were martyred there. There was an interesting little expo there about Vespasian and the Flavian dynasty. Headed down towards Place Venezia for something to eat. Sat and ate chicken salad at the same place we had take out from earlier in the week. We each got a gelato at various stages of the journey home. In the evening we sat sharing most embarrassing stories. Have read half of Marianne's Hemingway book this holiday; 'Garden of Eden'.

Wednesday 19 August

Started earlier today than other days and headed first for the Pantheon. Saw the tomb of Raffael with flying, bronze birds above and the huge circular aperture that has previously acted as a sundial. We then went to St. Peter's Basilica and queued for about an hour before realising that the Vatican Museums took in their last visitors at 3:30 (2 hours time) and then skipped the queue. It became apparent that we could still get inside the church and that was free. We all went to go in but they were not being consistent with the dress code and Marianne was barred entry even though her shorts were several inches longer than other people who were allowed entry. This riled all of us and Margaret and I went round very quickly and took a stack of photos then left. We then went to the Vatican Museums. I don't think I have been to any museum so extensive. We decided to walk through to the Sistine Chapel and look at other exhibits on the way back once we had seen what we really needed to. It was just as well because the walk to get to the sistine was miles worth of corridor from the entrance. The room was dimmer than the others and packed with people but as with much on this trip, worth the traipse. After the museums, we just needed to eat. We went into a supermarket and I offered to cook. I made chicken stuffed with pesto and cheese, wrapped in speck with green salad and Prosecco. We read for a bit and I did the girls nails with funky designs of ladybirds for Margaret and dandelion heads for Marianne. We went ou tfor our final gelato and I had 'yoghurt with honey and pine nuts' and 'nutella'. It was the best we'd had in rome. We came back, packed and read.

Thursday 20 August

Alarm off at 6. Fabio the taxi at 7. Flight at 11. Great break away.

9 August 2009

Brighton rocks

Elaine and I had a day down in Brighton yesterday. Just decided to go away the day before and amazingly we had probably the best day's weather we've had this summer!

Spent the first 2-3 hours on the beach which explains why i am now mostly bright red. I'd thrown my costume in just in case and of course I couldn't resist the sea once I was there. Just the best feeling to be swimming in cold water on a boiling hot day.

We then headed for The Lanes and got some lunch. Sat in the shade just to be sure our limbs didn't end up as charcoal. I had a passable crayfish salad and a glass of Pinot Grigio but the leaves were sat in a pool of juice. They asked at the end if everything had been ok so I pointed out that I'd had to mop up loads of water from the salad and I got a free glass of wine!
I couldn't find the area of The Lanes that I remembered from last time which had stacks of quirky antique shops and, more importantly, second hand book shops but we did go into some interesting boutiques and I have another lizard to add to my collection now.

We came across a fun gallery with hollow paper towers hanging from the ceiling. I didn't entirely 'get' it
but they looked beautiful and must have taken months to put together!
After wandering round a bunch of groovy little shops we headed back to the beach and came across some live music on the front. A big crowd of people cheering and dancing to 'Insomnia'. We had another short stint paddling and caught the train home.

My last trip to Brighton had been for work so it was great to be able to spend the whole day there and not once have to think about profit margins and how to sell things to people who don't have enough money to buy them.

Today it is just as hot but without the sea I can barely stand the heat. A very fab day.

2 August 2009

mini adventure

me and the dogbert en route for adventure
So, the rain stopped long enough for Alimal and me to put up my modest little affair of a tent.

2 hours.

with help.

This tent didn't come with instructions so we had to fall back on our impeccable logical thinking, rational explanations and ultimately 2 blokes from a nearby tent.

Thought they deserved some recognition for their effort! Mind you we had been working on it for about an hour and a half before they offered to help! Once they'd finished one of them commented about the size of that they knew where to come for their evening's entertainment, then added, I feel somewhat unnecessarily, that we'd offered quite some entertainment already!

Now I knew it was an 8 berth tent before leaving but
with clouds threatening and no
instructions I rapidly became aware that this parachute sized piece of material was going to be a monster. We dubbed it the marquee.

We had a great evening eating a French paced meal with one mess tin over a single stove.


Balsamic tomato and red pepper salad served with homegrown,
freshly cut basil and mint.

First Course

Prime sausage and onions

Second Course

Fried eggs with runny centres

All served with an excelled Ogio red.

Service compris.

Spent the evening playing 'would you rather', finishing off the wine and catching up on how we are both doing.

The night, for me, was equally 'entertaining'. At 1 am, Monty needed to get up and go out. At 4 am, Monty needed to get up and go out. At some time after that he started throwing up in the inside of my pod. It looked like carnage in the morning but the clever chap had done most of it on his bedroll so that just went in the bin!

Breakfast was something of an event. Having bought way too much to eat in one evening we set up the barbeque and had chicken kebabs, salmon steaks and sea salt, asparagus and the last egg.
I think everyone should start their day like this.
Taking down the tent was a doddle so we bundled it all up, threw it in the car and made it to church (some of us with more mud on our legs than others) for 10:45.

24 July 2009

unexpected fun

Had a tap-tap-tap on the door this evening when the rain was bucketing down and found Lainey drenched to the skin coming to see if I was ok after she had called my phone and not heard back from me! Gave her a towel, dry clothes, dinner, watched Palin in South America and played Trivial Pursuits. A fun, spontaneous evening.

23 July 2009

white horse

i most certainly did not drink several large glasses of cinsault and get home and find the room spinning. that would be ridiculous. how dare you.

17 July 2009

dragon breath

...and tonight I ate the hard work that went into making the chick pea chilli. I'm within a couple of mouthfuls of spontaneously combusting.

15 July 2009

Zeds & 'Peckers

sorry if you were expecting something else ;)

Surely it's not normal, even in this heat, to come in most every evening from work and sleep for between 1 and 2 hours? Woken up by Surfina coming in to say hello and Adnan bringing me a handful of raw chickpeas - I'd never seen them before! They are pistachio green and fuzzy all over and you can eat them raw. They taste rather like peas out of the pod.

Walked Monty for 40 minutes or so and saw 4 green woodpeckers dipping and yaffling over the river. They were stunning in the bright early evening glare and close enough to see the red on their heads. Bumped into the usual selection of known dog walkers.

14 July 2009

The Hangover

A fairly predictable film with a cliched premise that managed to have a reasonable helping of funny moments to make it - if not exactly worth every penny - then at least a moderately harmless diversion.

12 July 2009

a little of what you fancy

Add an hour to the clock and a musical education from Carla Bruni to Lebanese shisha via heavy rain and you have a similarly fuzzy idea of what my evening looked like as I have.

7 July 2009

living vicariously

This evening I sat and indulged myself in the finer things of life. A chinese take-away and 3 hours of Palin. Have had 'Full Circle' on my shelf for quite a while before getting it down and it is gripping. His mix of absolutely English, comic and explorer make him an impeccable ambassador for Blighty.
Of course, watching him only serves to lengthen my 'must go to' list which is doomed never to be completed.
Current musts are;

* Japan in spring bloom
* A tour of west coast America
* Trans-Siberian railway
* The remaining countries in Europe I haven't yet visited
* St Petersburg
* Egypt

By the end of the year I will have been to 15 European countries and added another continent to the list.

...which reminds me, I have innoculations at 8:30 tomorrow morning for Latvia. MUSTN'T forget.

6 July 2009

couldn't get this bally photo to save after rotating butwhat a cutie eh? this is me holding Dave. he rocks. completely get why c.n is probably spending every waking moment gazing into his little round eyes...although you'd have thought we would have learnt our lesson spending time with reptiles. so far Dave hasn't tried getting us to eat forbidden fruit.

my heart belongs to dave

This is Dave. He's a Chinese Water Dragon and I wish he were mine. He's very cool. He has millions of tiny scales all different colours and Catherine is lucky enough to own him.

3 July 2009

...and other 16 year old, scholarly pursuits

It was hot and sticky. Motivation was low. There were 3 women with an overgrown sense of childish rebellion. So we decided to mess with the manager's head. A & C were in their office with the door open. I walked past the manager in reception, went out the back door and round to A & C's office. They then closed their door to indicate that they were in a private meeting. I climbed in the window. A climbed out of the window. A then went round the back and in through reception to join the meeting I was having with C. The manager was well and truly confused.

"I thought you were in there...?"

" No it's J & C in here."

Opens door to show us sitting in the office, deep in conversation.

gcse english oral exam

Wish I'd paid more attention to myself when I talked about the thing what does the wotsit with the er... you know those little things. My GCSE english oral exam was about hayfever and how it affects your ...immune system?? cells?? Really can't remember - bringing on a scary 'Flowers for Algernon' moment. Anyway it produces some kind of reaction at a very basic level that has nothing to do with pollen tickling your nasal hairs and subsequently makes me want to cut my nose off with scissors, scratch my eyes with barbeque skewers and wrap my toothbrush with sandpaper just to reach that itch at the back of my throat. Only irritated more by the fact that this is the first night in ages when I've wanted to pull the duvet cover over me before going to bed rather than pouring myself onto the top of the bed weighing up how long it will take science to create an ability for humans to turn cold-blooded in the summer. As opposed to at the drop of a hat.

2 July 2009

3 happy moments in my week

It's just a sunflower but this sunflower was given to me by the next door neighbour when it was just a stem and two tiny leaves. This is a sunflower in a garden that has no beds but I've turned my front step into a little forest and it shouts look at me I'm gorgeous. The sunflower happens to be one of my good friends favourite flowers and this one gave me an excuse to text her a picture of to brighten her day. It's just a sunflower but it made me disproportionately happy when I left the house for work to see it's outer petals first peeling open.

I walk my dog, Monty, every evening in the same place but since we've had this really hot weather it's been so much more of a pleasure. One day this last week my friend Elaine joined me to tell me some good news and we paddled. Monty used to be really frightened of the water but with the encouragement of some other dogs he's been getting braver in the water and I love this snap of him balancing on a log and Elaine pretending to kiss him! These silly moments in random half hours need celebrating.

Earlier this week I had a text from a friend saying; 'You'll love the market outside m&s' so after my meeting I headed down and there was stall after stall of Tunisian goods. Even a stall selling red shoes! Uncanny how well my friends know me. I have a growing tug towards the Arab states of North Africa so I couldn't resist these hand painted tiles of doorways. Just a touch symbolic! At least three of them are ajar. And of course, looking at them reminds me of my upcoming trip to Morocco at the end of August.

Pinchmill Islands

Went to a very cool place with my learners today: Pinchmill Islands near Sharnbrook. It's a series of islands in the river connected by bridges in places.

The water can be shallow and still, knee deep in weeds, still pools deep enough to swim in and fast running currents that the light bounces off so you can't see where you're putting your feet for paddling. We got the chicken, kebabs and prawns cooking
on the barbeque and the brave ones waded in - some getting wetter than planned!

Can't show pictures of learners obviously so here are a couple of snaps to give you an idea of what the place is like. Arun is back on the team and is here immortalised hitching up his britches! The river is teeming with fish - I thought maybe chubb but i'm no expert. Particularly enjoyed just letting the young people talk today. Sometimes a day with no formal structure is the best for developing relationship, finding out about the issues they are facing and getting to know them better. Loved watching two guys get to hang out together for the first time - neither of whom you'd imagine ever giving each other the time of day in mainstream school but a camera fired them both up and got them talking. I love this job!

1 July 2009

Persepolis 2.0

If you haven't already read the first two graphic novels called Persepolis, I urge you to. They are excellent, accessible and important. In brief it's about growing up, emigrating and returning to Iran. Written autobiographically by Marjane Satrapi, I can't think of a better way to spend a few quid or if you're feeling really tight and live nearby, I'll lend you mine.

Just received this today persepolis http://www.spreadpersepolis...about Iran's post-election uprising. If you've been awake you'll have noticed what's been going on recently. This piece of work is based on and inspired by Satrapi's original work. Dated from June this year, you can't get more hot off the press, up to date, relevant art.

28 June 2009


The Park

26 June 2009

visual history continued

summer drinks

stroked a tapir at linton zoo
gave gifts to friends

22 June 2009

a bunch of stuff wot i did

Went to a charity gig on Saturday night which was actually a whole heap of fun and I danced like a lunatic most of the night. Shame I can't stay permanently tipsy.

Bought the t-shirt.

Saw a lump of tree. Thought it looked cool. Took pic. Here you go, don't say i never give you nuffink.

Took the work guys out for the day to Stoke Bruerne, which wasn't too shabby.

Saw a bunch of trees some place i liked the look of so took a pic. reminded me of 'koktobel'

Sat toasting marshmallows over a fire pit at a friends house while the bananas and chocolate melted in their skins on the hot bricks.

Went to Coventry to look around the uni with a mate to check out some courses for her.

21 June 2009

i just opened my cd back up of my 50,000 word novel and it says it's a blank disc. i'm not panicking yet but of course i needed that back up given that the paper version went up in flames...

18 June 2009

ice cubes?

One black rucksac full of home grown spinach plus a bit of butter and condiments then HEY PRESTO! - spinach ice cubes!!

16 June 2009

15 June 2009

does anyone actually read this?