Travelling in miniature (and I don’t mean the toiletries)

Anyone who has ever travelled far from home will be familiar with the warm and fuzzy feeling that you get when you come back. They will also, I suspect, be familiar with the sense of longing that creeps up once you’ve been back for a while, and the tingly anticipation that accompanies the planning of new travels and the promise of fresh adventure. The travelling bug is cyclical, you see, and it is only by leaving and then returning to your place of comfort that you can appreciate both what you left behind and what you discovered while you were away. Or is it? If we were always free to roam the world at will and on a whim, would we become complacent about our situation? Or would we simply wake each day beneath a swaying palm, curl our toes into the sand as the sea softly lapped over them and appreciate each lazy second that ticked by and how fortunate we were to have such an existence?

After my travels in 2011 I remember vividly being in a taxi travelling over Vauxhall Bridge after a night out. The sun was beginning to rise, bathing all of London in a gorgeous sleepy morning haze, and I felt a rush of warmth towards this city I call home. It was a particularly lovely moment because it could so directly be contrasted with a rather less enjoyable moment several months before when, unable to bear the sweaty morning commute for a second longer, I snapped at someone on the tube, and subsequently realised that for my sanity and the safety and wellbeing of those around me it would be best if I went away for a while. And you know what? It worked a treat, and since returning almost two years ago I can honestly say I haven’t exchanged a cross word with a fellow commuter.

Unfortunately the opportunity to just take off for months at a time is not something the majority of people are able to do, and now I’m back in full time (well, as good as full time) employment I’m trying to find a way to satisfy my travelling cravings without actually going on a full blown travelling excursion. I had thought the answer was to plan a travelling trip in miniature. That is, to pick a far flung place, book a flight there and then spend two weeks travelling around. The problem, as I’m coming to find, is that when visiting far flung locations the flight alone costs the earth. But a bigger problem still is that half the joy of travelling is the ability to drift around without a firm plan, changing your mind and direction at the drop of a hat when the winds of adventure change. If you only have two weeks it’s not as easy to go where the wind takes you. You have to have some idea of where you’re going or you might just find you’ve wasted your whole trip queuing for bus tickets in some dead end town. In short, if you don’t plan, you risk spoiling the short time you have, and if you do, the experience will likely feel more like a package holiday tour than a genuine travelling experience. First world dilemma I know, but a dilemma nonetheless.

Maybe it’s just not feasible to travel in miniature, and the whole concept was just a pipe dream I constructed to make me feel less confined within the boundaries of my current situation. Perhaps I should admit defeat and book a package holiday to some nondescript Spanish resort, where the all you can eat buffet and watered down cocktails are included in the price and there’s a talent show each night for all the families. Or perhaps I should keep thinking until I find a solution, because otherwise I fear London won’t be this agreeable forever…

Escape to the country

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It may be rose tinted glasses syndrome that’s responsible for the long, unbroken childhood summers in that are forever etched in my memory, but I can’t help feeling the last few summers have been distinctly underwhelming here in this great country I call home-which is precisely why I’m squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of this one and have this weekend been down to Devon for a bit of country living in the August sunshine.

City living’s so fast paced it’s easy to get totally swept along with the tide and lose all semblance of tranquility. That’s why I love escaping every now and then to a place where the phone signal and electricity are intermittent and the pace of life considerably more sedate. Not sedate for the people who live here, perhaps, but certainly for those of us who are fortunate to be able to visit once in a while.

At first it’s quite a shock to the system being partially “offline” and adjusting to not having to check your watch every five minutes. But once you have adjusted it’s blissful going with the flow and spending time with nature instead of being constantly “plugged in” to one form of technology or other.

This weekend we’ve been to a village fete – where we spent ages trying to beat one another playing a simple game involving putting bits of pipe onto a board in the fastest time (take that Candy Crush) – and attended the obligatory post-event booze up in the local pub. We’ve also driven and walked through beautiful Devonshire countryside and sat down to a lovely roast pork dinner. If not exactly relaxing (we haven’t really stopped at any point to rest per se) it has at least been refreshing for our minds and bodies to take a break from the normal frenetic London lifestyle. Without the odd weekend like this I think I might go slightly mad, so long may they-and indeed this glorious and long-awaited summer-last.

 

Series hysteria (aka Goodbye old friend)

Tonight I’ve been invited to my best friends’ place to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones (for the second time) and have dinner. But this will not be just any dinner-oh no. This will be a dinner fit for a king-quite literally, since the daft/ingenious pair of them have decided to create a Game of Thrones-themed dinner. One is doing main course, the other dessert. The latter of which, I’ve been reliably informed, will be nothing short of a triumph if it goes to plan, but if it goes wrong – and here I quote aforementioned friend – “I’ll look a bit of a twat.”

We three are not alone in our hysteria for the historical drama that’s taken the country by storm. I myself came to the party rather late, but through sheer diligence and the downloading assistance of my boyfriend (himself watching for the second time) have managed to catch up on all three series in under a month (if only I were that productive in all the other aspects of my life. But I digress).

I’ll admit that TV dramas have taken a back seat in my life in recent years – the last time I got really excited about one was when 24 first came out, when I’m ashamed to admit I failed to attend a friend’s birthday party in order to complete a marathon viewing session of 12 back to back episodes – but if this one’s anything to go by I might just have to make some space in my life to fit them back in.

Why? Because a good TV series is like a good friend-you stay by its side in good times and bad, sharing the highs and commiserating over the lows. You look forward to seeing them and can’t bear the thought of being parted. Which is why the end of a series can feel like a death (especially if-shock, horror, it’s the FINAL series), and can leave you feeling quite bereft. Or, in some people’s cases, feeling inclined to do a spot of historical baking. I shall report back…

The runner

She closed the door behind her and began to run, her feet pounding the pavement with reassuring clarity. As every second passed she felt the muscles in her chest relax. She breathed air deep into her lungs and expelled it forcefully. In, out, in, out, as if she was on autopilot. He couldn’t hurt her here, the streets were her domain. They whispered all their secrets in her ears. They knew she was like them; sleepless, never alone and yet lonely beyond words.

Nobody knew what she was going through, she was too ashamed to admit it – sometimes even to herself. She’d known from that first time it would be silenced, swallowed somewhere deep within her like Jonah in the whale; too far down for her screams to ever find release. He’d apologised, of course, begged for forgiveness and wormed his way back into her affections. Like a maggot in the core of an apple he’d corroded her from the inside out. She still looked the same on the outside, but inside she was empty, a gaping, hollow chasm of pain and despair.

Still she ran, as the sky began to darken and fat rain drops plopped onto her cheeks and mingled with her tears. How could she leave him? Where would she go? He’d severed all her ties, there was nobody left to save her. Her bruised skin slid like water over the weary mountains of her bones. Each step sent shooting spears of pain up through her veins like bolts of lightning. But she didn’t care. She would run on, she knew that now. Until her body was as tired as her mind and she began to stumble on the cold, hard ground beneath her. Until the night turned into day and the birds began to sing their morning song. She would run on.

Escape to the country

This weekend I’ve opted out of London life, preferring instead to soak up the glorious sunshine in the sleepy Hampshire village of East Stratton. I’ll admit the weather’s been a stroke of luck; it wouldn’t have been quite as perfect if it had been grey and rainy, though still not that far off.

East Stratton is a picture postcard village, the kind of place the word idyllic was invented to describe. With beautifully restored thatched cottages, a village hall, church and quaint pub (where I’m staying tonight) opposite the village green it’s got pretty much everything a country village needs.

The pub is called the Northbrook Arms. As well as having all the trappings you’d expect from a country pub (including my particular weakness, a real fire) it has several guest bedrooms upstairs which are designed to a very high spec (think satin bed linen and mahogany furniture). It even has an old fashioned skittle alley located in one of the outbuildings, though I can’t say we’ve ventured in there yet (having been seduced by afternoon tea and a game of Scrabble sitting at the pub tables in the village green opposite).

In short, this place is the antithesis of the frenetic London lifestyle that we’ve come here to escape (albeit just for one night). It’s great to know that places like this exist right on our doorstep (East Stratton’s only an hour and a half’s drive out of London). I’ll definitely be reaping the rewards of this little break for some time to come.

 

 

People should smile more

As I write this I’m listening to a song by one of my favourite flame-haired gentlemen (besides my boyfriend, obviously): Newton Faulkner. It is entitled “People should smile more.” And as I listen I recall a slightly bizarre incident on the tube yesterday as I travelled home from work, in which I sat down opposite a strange-looking girl with a wide-eyed expression and wild frizzy hair. She was wearing an outfit that can only accurately be described as looking like an eighties wardrobe had thrown up on itself; a multi-coloured neon array of leggings, leg warmers, cable knits and a plethora of other materials whose name I couldn’t even hazard a guess at. But by far the strangest thing about her was her smile. It wasn’t any old smile – oh no. This was the smile of a crazy person; an unselfconscious, maniacal nod to every poor incarcerated loon across the land. And, most disconcertingly of all, this smile was aimed directly at me.

At first I thought perhaps I had some loo roll dangling from my shoe. Or, worse still, perhaps my skirt was tucked into my knickers and I’d walked the whole way from the office to the tube baring my bum to the world. But no, a quick scan of my outfit told me neither of these was a possibility. My eyes darted left to right, engaging in a weird tango with hers as I desperately tried to avoid her terrifying gaze. But the more I tried to look away the more I was drawn into the bizarre interaction. Suddenly our eyes locked, and I was at once both trapped and powerless. Her pupils dilated and her grin widened into the Joker’s from Batman (or at least that’s how it seemed to me as I cowered in my seat). Then, to my horror, she rose up from her seat like some kind of ghoul and leaned in towards me. Just as I thought I might pass out with fear she said four words to me. And then, just like that (and not unlike the devil in The Usual Suspects), she was gone.

What were those four sinister words? “I like your bag.”

Maybe people should smile more after all.

What better accompanying image could there be for this post than a recent snap of me and my two gorgeous best friends? Check out those megawatt smiles – cheese!