Category Archives: Travel

My holiday according to Instagram

I went on a grown-up holiday, in which I stayed in a fancy hotel, ate 3 course dinners, visited heritage sites, and only played one round of dinosaur adventure golf.

I also took several photos, which display my love of castles and sky. Apparently the two things I really value in a photo.


I had a pretty charming time all round.

Jolly Holiday

I’m going on holiday today, and I could not be more excited.

The curse of having been a student for a solid 20 years of my life is that I’ve never really been on a “grown-up” holiday before. By which I mean I’m excited by the idea of going away for 3 days to a hotel where I don’t have to do the cooking, washing up, or cleaning.

Also I’m excited to not worry about how much it all costs, because that’s what it’s like now that I don’t live in my overdraft (oh! studenthood!).

I’m also excited to go and visit castles, and cathedrals, and museums. I somehow think I’ve left Boyfriend behind on that one.

What I’m saying is, I’m going on holiday.

For Jeannine

A little while back I wrote this post all about my grandfather and how influential and wonderful he is. Today is another very special day, for a very special person, and sadly I’m once again at the other end of the country in inconvenient ways, but I wanted to take a second to share everything I remember and love about Jeannine (my wonderful grandmother).

Jeannine is French. She likes to pretend she isn’t, by living in the UK (and other places that aren’t France) for a significant portion of her life, and by speaking perfect English, and by having various quirky English habits, but she can’t escape it. Two things I quickly learnt as a young child were that the French accent is pervasive and emphatic, and that if you’re an angry French lady there’s really no reason not to let the entire world know it – because they’ll probably end up doing what you want them to.

These are the experiences which helped me understand what it means to be a strong woman. Jeannine is the matriarch of our little family, but also of a much wider dynasty of crazy French folk who followed her lead and took up residence in various parts of the UK. She’s a trailblazer, and an icon. She came to live with my grandfather after the second world war, before moving to Borneo, Afghanistan, and numerous places in between. She learnt fluent English as well as  mastering bits of other languages – before I began my undergraduate degree I discovered she had learnt Farsi (which unfortunately didn’t help me at all in my dreams of Arabic language perfection).

She is an artist, and holidays when I was little were filled with sitting up in her studio or in the summerhouse at the back of the garden, throwing paint at pieces of paper and wishing I could create such delicate masterpieces as her paintings. She knitted, and I had a blue cardigan/dressing gown which I wore for years and years after I grew out of it. Alongside the paining and knitting there was tapestry and crochet, and all kinds of other creative pursuits which I keenly tried to imitate.

Later, when I was old enough to hold sensible conversations, we moved into chats across the breakfast table on every subject imaginable. I’ve taken lots of inspiration from her book choices, which are infinite but all somehow educational, meaning she now seems to have a knowledge of just about everything, from Indian colonial history to the Wimbledon Ladies’ finalists of the last 20 years.

And then there were (and are, because they are still there, being played with by her hoards of great-grandchildren) the games. Woofits “Happy Families”, pick-up-stix, snakes and ladders, and a funny little ludo set which retained its pieces like no board game I’ve ever seen. And a box of tiddlywinks, which I never quite mastered. We’d play for hours, graduating on to proper playing cards when we were a bit older. Bridge hasn’t grabbed my attention, but the range of other games I learnt did.

When I lived in Spain, only 3 short years ago, she even came to visit me. We walked around the Alhambra, saw all of the decorated displays, and by the end I was probably more tired than my grandmother. But then, like Geoff, she never liked being called grandmother because it made her feel old, and it is as if she has spent my whole life proving that point to me. She reads this blog, skypes her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and emailed me from her iPad to congratulate me on passing my Masters. I live in the hope that I’ll be so young when I’ve got great-grandchildren of my own.


Happy Birthday Jeannine!

Remote Access

There’s this video. It’s been around for a couple of years, and the words are taken from a great TED talk by Sherry Turkle called “Connected, but alone?”

It’s a great video, and you can find the whole talk here, but I don’t totally entirely agree with it for one single reason, which is one of my best friends. She’s not nearby right now which is annoying because I can’t have gym whinging sessions or spontaneous cake or watch her bizarre life first-hand, but it’s fine because she’s an amazing long-distance friend.

We met because she needed a SIM card. Prodigious fate already intending to signpost that we’d likely spend the majority of our friendship on either ends of a smartphone. We didn’t exactly instantly click, which I think is probably good because by the time I realised we were best friends, it was because I actually felt I knew her enough to know that we are ridiculously alike, while being fantastically different. I think on the  surface no-one would match us up as friends, but who cares about those people anyway?

She’s at a distance now, as I say (a vastly varying difference. Somewhere between 200 and 4,500 miles at any given moment), but it doesn’t feel that way because even though I sometimes forget to go to her, she’s always on the other end of a phone. I think Sherry Turkle is right – we tailor our personality via text and social media to suit our audience, and we don’t share our real selves, and then we feel lonely because the person getting attention isn’t us – but that’s not the case with my friend. With her, I’m happy to be completely honest (even if that means calling her up in tears after storming out of the house during a fight over nothing) and I’m happy to do that because I completely believe that she doesn’t mind. I think if the world were falling down around her ears she still wouldn’t think I was a burden, and that’s a pretty huge thing.

We wouldn’t have the privilege of this friendship without technology. I couldn’t send her snapchats of my double chins, and she couldn’t share videos about nothing, and we couldn’t participate so fully in each others’ lives, be it from 4 miles or 4,000. So being part of the network probably does make me feel lonely – I definitely think about every single message, every tweet, and definitely every blog post, and I tailor them so that they may not really reflect a true image of me – but without the network I wouldn’t have the support of a wonderful best friend, and that’s just a compromise I’m willing to make every day.

Where now?

There’s a great book by Diana Wynne Jones called Fire and Hemlock. I need to read it again because I still don’t really get it, but it’s definitely complex and fantastic and everything teen fiction should be. It has basically nothing in common with Twilight.

Anyway, in this book there is a house, with a garden, and in the garden there are two huge urns which depending on how you view them either say “Where Now”, “Nowhere”, Now Where” or “Now Here”. There’s a plot point involving them which may be a reference to the afterlife, but I never really got it, hence needing to re-read the book.

The concept of them is very reminiscent of how a lot of people seem to feel right now. It’s the end of term, end of some people’s degrees, start of summer, and it feels like time to begin new things. Except most people don’t really seem to know where they are going with it all. Some people feel like they are going nowhere. But the nice thing about nowhere is, it’s also Now, Here. Or from a different angle might be Where Now?

So I’m pushing on and thinking about where to go next. I’ve had some interesting conversations at work recently about the new directions that might take, and some exciting things are happening this year including a few more weddings of lovely people, other lovely people coming back into my life, and of course a whole host of new and exciting opportunities lined up on the horizon. I don’t really fully know where now, but I’m convinced it’s not nowhere, and as I’m here now I’m planning very much to enjoy it.

The proper answer to the question in the title, by the way, is Italy. I’m going to Italy. There will be photos. They will be terrible. TTFN.

For Geoff

This post is for Geoff. He is my grandfather, and today he is the magnificent age of 94.

Geoff is my grandfather, but I’ve never really called him Grandad, or Grandpa or anything like that. When I was younger he and my grandmother Jeannine told me they didn’t like being called that because it made them feel old. Now I’m a bit older myself I understand what they meant. These are two of the people with the youngest souls I know. I feel privileged that for 24 of my grandfather’s 94 years on Earth, I’ve been able to be part of his fantastic life.

When I was little I remember hiding behind the back of his chair in the sitting room of their house. He always kept a bowl of sweets on the table between him and my grandmother, with squares of dark chocolate, Rowtrees Fruit Pastels and liquorice allsorts. At the time I didn’t like dark chocolate, and I still don’t have a taste for liquorice, but Iove Fruit Pastels, and I used to steal them and then run giggling to behind the settee and eat them there. For years afterwards I bought him them as presents.

I also remember sitting at my grandparents house and eating tutti frutti ice cream. I don’t even know if it exists any more, but I used to go with Geoff to Somerfield whenever we visited and that was one of the staple things we’d buy. Half the time he’d completely forget his wallet and then I’d end up running to the car to fetch it for him as we were at the checkout. I remember one of the members of staff there eyeballing me oddly as I wandered out, aged about 8 with a set of car keys and a determined face.

The best thing about seeing Geoff is always his stories. He has had a tremendous life, and the way he paints a picture of his memories is something I’m sure all of my cousins look forward to as much as I do. He grew up in Cambridge, fought in the Second World War, married a wonderful French woman, got his degree from Cambridge University (by way of various scrapes and running tours of the city), and then travelled the whole world, with my Dad growing up in Borneo and the whole family remembering ridiculous car trips across practically the entire Asian continent.

His stories about Borneo are always the best stories. Just like any story, they morph slightly every time I hear them, and I’m not sure if I’m misremembering the last time or if Geoff is telling them differently. Regardless they are always full of detail and colour, and usually something silly or embarrassing that my Dad or Aunties did once upon a time when they were kids. I’m sure his infectious enthusiasm for the time he has spent abroad is part of the reason I have always been so fascinated with the wider world and it’s cultures. He’s certainly had a bit part to play in my love of languages – he was a teacher at my upper school years before I started there, teaching French and Spanish, and his degree was in Classics.

Another thing I think I’ve taken from Geoff is my love of singing. His father was a top amateur opera singer and performed some of the shows I’ve recently been involved in about 100 years ago. Geoff caught that musical gene and passed it on to all his children and grandchildren (and probably great-grandchildren, though I’m not sure we really know about that yet). I remember him and my Dad singing loudly at each other around the dining table, funny folk songs and whimsical little rhymes. He’s always been keenly interested in what I’m doing theatrically, and on my last visit, despite his ill health, sang me some of the lines he remembers from HMS Pinafore, which he performed when he was younger.

Finally, he is absolutely the driving force behind my desire to achieve academically. When I applied to Cambridge I applied because it was where he had studied. Every time I visit without fail he asks me what I am doing, tells me some new interesting word or fact which he has picked up, and we have meaningful discussions about politics, economics, and language. At times discussions with him become rowdy and he has absolutely never been one to shy from an argument (particularly at large family gatherings, and particularly with my Dad and his sisters). But every discussion is intelligent and provocative.

Essentially what I am trying to say is that my grandfather is one of the most fantastic of people. His energy and passion for life is something I’m sure my entire family would say is a key part of how we’ve all grown up.

Happy Birthday Geoff.


We joined the Navy…

…to see the world, and what did we see? We saw the sea.

Just a quick one today before I head to work. What is with people not thinking certain travel is interesting or fun? My lovely Mum used to sing us the above song when we were little, and to be honest I somewhat understand the frustration of planning to see the world and then just seeing water. Especially if you are on a boat. And get hideous motion sickness like I do.

But other than that isolated case, travel is good, and fun, and always interesting. This morning on the way back from the gym I heard a radio advert for something or other, in which they made out that getting a free trip to Siberia wasn’t a great prize. What? That is an amazing prize! Frankly, a free trip to anywhere is amazing, because everywhere has a history, a geography and a culture. Travel is only boring when you don’t allow yourself to have fun and discover new things.

Weekend Away

This weekend has been a slow one on the blog because I’ve been away visiting my lovely parents, who have just moved house. This was the second foray back into train travel of recent weeks, and it wasn’t a much more pleasant experience than the last time. I worry that when I took the train frequently maybe I was as obnoxious as all the other passengers…because really, you have to be a certain level of something if you’re willing to broadcast to an entire train of people that you are cheating on your wife. Which is what one gentleman (*ahem*) was doing.

However, trains aside, it was a fantastic time. We went down to Cambridge and watched “The Taming of the Shrew” in Homerton College gardens, as part of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. It was a bit rainy, but it’s a nice way to spend time, and we caught up with some family friends as well. Then it was back to explore the new house (which is luuuurvly) before a good night’s sleep. Sunday was reserved for a BBQ down in London, where again we had a lovely time. The weather held, my cousins food was brilliant and it was great to see all the family.

Finally, on the Monday my other Auntie and Uncle came to see the house, before I made my way home (on ANOTHER HIDEOUS TRAIN RIDE…but I’m over it). A lovely weekend was had all round, though not much blogging was done, and too much delicious food was eaten, which my waistline won’t thank me for. I’ll hopefully get back into the swing of things quickly now…but I have to admit having had a little break I’m already craving another holiday. Ah well.

My day out

So yesterday I went to Edinburgh for a day trip to see my friend, who is currently hanging out in Dundee at Dare to be Digital where she is making a game called Kuria which the world should be excited about.

I began my epic journey (for epic it was) at 5am, when the sun was just about rising and Leeds was blissfully silent. It was actually a lovely walk down to the train station and it really reminded me what I love about Leeds. I wish my phone took better pictures, because then maybe I’d have bothered with doing that. I didn’t, so on with the story.

So I reached the train station about 15 minutes early for my train and grabbed a coffee. All good. Then I went to wait on the platform along with my odd gaggle of travelling companions (because who is really taking a train at 6am on a Saturday morning. Mostly drunk people who didn’t bother finding somewhere to stay over from the night before, that’s who). We waited, and trains pulled up at other platforms, and we waited, and our train was 5 minutes late, and we waited, and no-one told us anything. Eventually, 15 minutes after our train should have arrived someone informed us there had been a lightening strike on the line and it was still at Huddersfield. By this point the drunks were sober, the rest of us had missed our connections, and we shuffled over to the funny little tin-can Northern Rail train which took us to York.

Having missed my connection I then had a while to potter about at York, during which time I was bounced between platforms and quietly followed around by a Korean family. Eventually the next train to Edinburgh came, and I found a seat surrounded by irritating Americans talking about “how weird it is that houses can have names instead of numbers here” and settled in. I eventually arrived in Edinburgh an hour and a half later than planned.


The day itself was absolutely lovely (if a little rainy). We visited the Camera Obscura, the Fudge Kitchen, walked all the way up and down the Royal Mile, visited the Museum of Edinburgh (which is weird, and mainly taken up with ceramics, but that’s fine). We had a lovely lunch at Under the Stairs and visited the Grassmarket, saw the Scott Memorial a bit through the fog and explored a cool installation about the brain and learning difficulties in a  park.

Then, I got on my train back. This journey was thankfully much less epic than the morning. I decided to travel in fancy first class which meant a comfy single seat, free wifi, free supper and copious amounts of tea (which I really needed). I finished reading The Prince of the Icemark which my lovely Mum gave me to read for a recent birthmas, and which I may review at some point. There were some loud Geordies who entertained me generally with their weird conversations about how they have more money than sense, and therefore frequently do things like go to the theatre, and if it’s good, buy tickets for the same show the next night.

My final train of the day was York to Leeds, and once again was an interesting experience. If you’ve ever been in York station at about 10pm on a Saturday night then you will understand when I say WOW. York needs to calm down, because it is not acting like the classy neighbour that Leeds thinks it is. My train finally arrived, and we puttered along, stopping every five minutes to pick up 17-year olds off for a night out in Leeds, until we came to Crossgates, where the train inexplicably stopped.

Now, the reason, as I later found out, is that a lady collapsed in the front carriage (I was in the back). She was taken away by an ambulance and I very sincerely hope that she’s ok, and the same to anyone travelling with her as it must be a really scary experience. However, we in the back carriage had no idea what was going on for 40 minutes, because the train guard had a complete inability to speak loudly over the tannoy. After the third announcement it was just frustrating to have no idea what was going on.

Eventually we made it to Leeds, where I watched the guard getting ripped into by a passenger who was far more angry than me. I made my way home across the lovely Saturday night scene of Leeds (far less lovable and enjoyable than the 5am scene). I made it home at almost bang on midnight, 19 hours after I’d left.

It was totally worth it, I had an amazing day, and everyone should read all about Team Insert Imagination and the awesome stuff they are doing up in Dundee.

Le Tour

Just a short one today. Reasons why Yorkshire is great…

So as everyone knows, the Tour de France had its Grand Départ from Leeds this weekend. I was watching coverage on the news this morning and a woman being interviewed was asked why she thought so many people had turned out to watch (it has been one of the most attended Départs ever). Her response made me giggle for two reasons…this is what she said:

It’ll never happen again in our lifetime

Why did it make me giggle, I hear you ask? Well, my reason is that she made that statement having just said how great it was that the Tour was in the UK. However, Wikipedia tells us:


So here are my two reasons to giggle. Firstly because I think it’s so fantastic that loads of people in Yorkshire (the antithesis of France, I think it’s fair to say) would be so keen to go stand on a hill and watch some madmen on bikes. That positive spirit is one of the reasons I love living in Yorkshire so much.

Secondly because London clearly is not anywhere near as good as the north if people have already forgotten that there has been a UK Grand Départ in their lifetime. Poor effort London.