La Bella Venezia

Yesterday we returned from a week in Venice. Yes, that’s right, a full week in the place most people visit for two or three days at most, pausing only long enough to tick off the main sites (Rialto, St. Mark’s Square) and do the main tourist attractions (gondola ride, selfie in front of the Bridge of Sighs). But if you take the time to spend longer than the average tourist in this amazing place, you will really reap the benefits.

Besides being beautiful, with its labyrinth of canals, colourful buildings, lively squares and narrow passageways, Venice is steeped in history. One only has to stick their head into the stunning Frari Church or Scuolo Grande di San Rocco to get a flavour of what the city has to offer. And it doesn’t stop there. The different areas all have their own unique charm, from San Polo (where we rented a lovely Airbnb property and found a gorgeous sandwich shop/bar which we frequented for a beer and glass of Prosecco most evenings) to Castello (where we returned to a wonderful restaurant near to the famous Arsenale – former ship yard and armoury – where we dined on our honeymoon last year) to the Jewish Ghetto and Giudecca, which both have a completely different, but no less charming, vibe compared to the other parts of the city.

This year, the Venice Biennale festival includes modern art, with a huge display of artworks to explore in both the Arsenale and Giardini. A two day ticket costs only 25 Euros, which is well worth the money. There are also a huge number of other galleries and exhibitions (both permanent and temporary, to coincide with the Biennale) running across the city, including new exhibitions by Damien Hirst and David Hockney (neither of which we saw, sadly, as we ran out of time).

And then there is the beach. On my previous two trips to Venice, both less than three days in duration, I didn’t make it as far as the Lido. But with a few days more we were able to hop on the Vaporetto (water bus) and make the half hour journey on two occasions. It’s not the best beach in the world, and it is very busy during the summer, but there are still plenty of sun beds and umbrellas available to rent and it offers respite from the searing heat and busy streets in the city, when sightseeing gets too much.

I need not linger on the food (it goes without saying Italian food is divine); suffice to say if seafood and ice cream are your bag, you will not be disappointed in Venice. I’m pretty sure I’ve come back at least half a stone heavier, but I don’t regret a moment of it!

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Confessions of a Grunt Worker

It’s been a shitty week where work’s concerned.Honestly, there’s been so much fire fighting that at times I’ve thought I’d switched careers to the emergency services. Everything that could have gone wrong did (and as it’s only Thursday, that doesn’t bode well for tomorrow…).

But today really took the biscuit. After working hard for weeks on a strategic plan and investor presentation for a client meeting next week (losing another potentially lucrative and much needed new business opportunity as a result), this afternoon they unceremoniously cancelled the meeting.

Then, to rub salt into the wound, on a call with my director and two senior policy people, one of our global VPs referred to my (Senior Consultant) role as being a “grunt worker” (one online definition of which, for those not in the know, is ‘an American idiom that denotes menial, laborious and unappreciated work’. Well, he got the unappreciated part right at least).

In an attempt to cheer myself up I bought a grossly overpriced hand-dipped mini salted caramel and chocolate ice cream from the Pierre Marcolini chocolate shop – only to spill it all down myself when I was ten feet away from the shop, meaning I had to walk the twenty minutes home with sticky hands, looking (and no doubt smelling) like a rather posh vagrant.

Oh well, I guess sometimes in life you just have to roll with the punches. One sliding ice cream at a time…

grunt-work

Don’t be S.A.D

Much as we may hate to admit it the signs are becoming increasingly harder to ignore; daylight hours are waning, the sun is slowly starting to retreat out of our reach and there’s a desperate aura surrounding the pavement drinkers that says that they know their outdoor drinking days are numbered. In the words of my beloved Game of Thrones (the most amazing TV series since 24, for those of you who may not be familiar with it and have clearly been living beneath a rock for the past year): Winter is coming.

It’s not as if we can bemoan the lack of decent summer weather this year, though as a nation of moaners I’m sure many people will. After last year’s wash out the past few weeks have been almost entirely pleasant – we’ve even had a mini heat wave for goodness’ sake! (Bless). You can’t say fairer than that, eh? And so as the nights draw in we must accept the fact that no matter how well the weather gods treat us, the summer season will never feel long enough.

There will never be enough days spent languishing bare-legged and brown-skinned in the park, or sipping cocktails on a rooftop at the many pop-up bars that spring up like rabbits as soon as there’s a hint of summer blooms scenting the air. We will never eat enough ice cream (FACT), nor spend enough time building sandcastles on British beaches like we did when we were five years old. We will never have our fill of wandering by the river on a hazy summer’s eve as the sun starts its unhurried journey towards the horizon, pulling a veil of pink across the sky.

It’s true that winter creeps up like a thief, wrapping its cloak of darkness around our shoulders almost before we know what is going on. But lest we complain about the changing of the seasons we should remember the positives that each season brings. Winter may be cold and dark but it also offers cosy nights in pubs drinking mulled wine, and even cosier nights in sipping on hot chocolate. It also boasts the accolade of being the festive season, which brings families together and puts delicious food on the table. So you see, it shouldn’t be feared but rather embraced.

The changing of the seasons is Mother Nature’s way of showing us just how wonderful this world we live in really is. Granted, the seasons in this country tend to be particularly harsh, but if it was always summer and never winter would we really appreciate the summer as much as we do? What would we have to grumble about then?

Lazy days

I can’t believe it’s Thursday already-it’s true what they say about time passing quickly when you’re having fun. Holidays are such an important opportunity to unwind and recuperate from the stressors of “real” life. They give the body and mind a much needed break and a chance to more fully live in and appreciate the present moment. 

 
Holidays are also often a time when we throw caution to the wind and overindulge ourselves, and nowhere is that easier to do than Italy, where there’s gelato, wine and pizza at virtually every turn.
 
Yesterday we had a lazy morning before visiting one of my favourite places in Florence-the covered market. Under its vast roof lie a multitude of delicious foodstuffs. But what I love even more than the food are the cheerful vendors. It always helps to bring my Italian flooding back when I attempt to engage in pigeon Italian conversation with them, selecting cured meats and cheeses. 
 
After buying ingredients for dinner we walked over the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge to Santo Spirito square, where my favourite restaurant in all of Florence is located-Il Borgo Antico. After dreaming of their legendary white pizza for 8 years I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint, and afterwards we took a traditional Italian gelato to accompany a post-lunch laze in the stunning Boboli Gardens in the grounds of the Pitti Palace.
 
In the evening we prepared a four course feast and dined on the roof of our gorgeous apartment, which is so centrally located the Duomo is virtually within touching distance. There’s something magical about being located so high up above this bustling city, being able to look out across the tops of the buildings and have a bird’s eye view. Being back here after so many years is more than just a pleasure-it’s a thrill.

“The icing on the turd” / Support network special

My group of friends from university is rather unconventional. Ever since those fateful first few days, thirteen (has it been so long?!) years ago we’ve had an odd method of supporting one another through hard times. We call it the “Support Network,” though each of us is fully aware of the irony of that title. Essentially how it works is that when something goes wrong in one of our lives the rest of us take the piss relentlessly until we see the funny side (please note that we are selective in what we deem to be an event worthy of humour – general misfortune is fair game, break ups generally so and deaths absolutely never. We aren’t completely inhumane).

Yesterday a few of the old gang got together again in London. Having foolishly believed the weather forecast we’d made plans befitting of a glorious summer’s day; a stroll around Greenwich in the sunshine. Unfortunately this plan was not to be, since the heavens opened at 4pm and torrential rain poured down for several hours. Undeterred (well, mildly deterred), we ventured over to Greenwich despite the disappointing conditions but, after finding that it wasn’t all that fun to walk around knee deep in puddles, we duly ensconced ourselves in the nearest pub. From there we sank some pints, ate some pies and headed into London Bridge for beers, card games and karaoke.

When today dawned beautifully bright and clear, we hastily made plans to revisit Greenwich, this time certain that the sun would shine and all would go to plan. We’d start, we reasoned, with a trip on the cable car from North Greenwich, then head over to Greenwich Village afterwards. And so a plan was borne, and we assembled our merry gang at North Greenwich tube and headed over to the cable car base station. After queuing for twenty minutes to purchase tickets we went through the barriers and queued up for a car, excited about our imminent flight over London in clear skies. But it was not to be, for as we reached the very front of the queue and were but inches from our car, the staff told us regrettably high winds meant it would have to stop. Dejected and incredulous we trooped back down the stairs and through the ticket barrier and headed to the ticket window to ask for our money back. No such luck; we would, we were told, have to call the number on the back of our Oyster cards to file a claim.

In an attempt to salvage the afternoon we walked over to the pier and purchased tickets for the boat to Greenwich Village, realising too late that the next boat was not due to depart for 30 minutes. After what seemed like an eternity we boarded the boat and reached our destination, disembarking beneath the impressive Cutty Sark and all agreeing things were looking up. After a short stroll we saw a sign for the ‘best sausage rolls in the world’ – a claim we felt duty bound to verify. We sought out the shop in question and requested five of these world-class sausage rolls – and were informed they only had four left. Feeling slightly short changed we purchased and shared all four, then walked across the road into the park.

Spotting a sign for ice cream we ventured inside a shop and joined yet another queue, confident that when we reached the front there’d be a plethora of delicious flavours to choose from. Again it was not to be, for there were only two flavours left; strawberry (my least favourite ice cream flavour) and pear sorbet (who eats pear sorbet? Well, nobody by the look of it seeing as it was all that was left). We grudgingly settled for strawberry and walked back outside – by which time fat grey clouds were rolling in and obscuring the sun. As we walked up the hill to Greenwich Observatory holding our ice creams rain drops flecked our cheeks like little warnings to turn back – which is exactly what we should have done, given that we reached the top only to find we’d missed the last entry to the Observatory by 15 minutes and couldn’t go in. It was at this point that Frank remarked, “Well, that’s just the icing on the turd” – a fine phrase that perfectly encapsulated the mood of the moment.

We finished the day with a pint by the river, taking in the last of the sun and both reminiscing over and revelling in our own misfortune. By the end of it we were hysterical with laughter, as we always are when we’re together.

Another Support Network Special – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way 🙂

You had me at first click

There are more ways for a man to meet his demise than one might think. The first time Johnny Barker picked up a camera he couldn’t have known he was setting in motion a chain of events that would ultimately lead to his.

July 1981. Great British Summertime is in full swing, and eight year old Johnny is sitting on the wall outside his terraced house in his grey flannel shorts, watching as his mother, sister and a cacophony of other female relatives and neighbours prepare for the annual street party.

“Come on Johnny,” his sister Sally scolds as she simultaneously pulls a string of brightly coloured bunting out of the front door and sets off down the road. Johnny watches open-mouthed as the bunting keeps on coming out of the front door as if by magic, until Auntie Pauline appears at the other end of it and delivers a well-aimed kick to Johnny’s behind as she passes by.

“Oh good Lord, Pauline!” Johnny’s mother exclaims, running back into the house with the enthusiasm of an athlete. “I’ve clean forgot about the trifle!”

Johnny slides off his perch and scuffs his shoe against the wall, loosening some pebbles which tumble in a mini avalanche onto the Tarmac beneath. He shoves his hands into his pockets and sighs.

“What’s wrong with you boy?” Auntie Pauline asks with a less than playful cuff around Johnny’s ear. Not a slight woman, the body weight behind the gesture almost sends him flying, and an expression somewhere between shock and satisfaction briefly registers on the old woman’s pinched face.

“Nowt,” Johnny says with a shrug, “besides being having ‘owt to do.” He dodges yet another swipe and half skips, half runs down the road to his friend Terry’s house.

Two hours later and the street party’s in full swing, with crackly music blaring from Tom Warner’s old wireless radio. The scotch eggs, sausages and cucumber sandwiches have all but been devoured and the small children are tucking into the jelly and ice cream.

Distracted by the sight of an unfamiliar man in their midst, Johnny pushes his plate to one side. The man sidles up beside him and gives him a wink. He is wearing a long cream mac that is completely at odds with the warmth of the day, and in his hand he holds the biggest camera Johnny has ever seen.

“You like this?” asks the man, his mouth widening into a crooked grin. Johnny nods, and the man holds the camera out in front of him like a prize. “Why don’t you have a go at taking a picture with it?”

Johnny gulps and looks down at the camera. He takes it from the man and gingerly removes the lens cap. Holding it to his face he squints and looks through the viewfinder, pointing the camera into the crowd of people.

And then he sees her. She is sitting at the far end of the table, her hair in blonde pigtails tied with red ribbon. She is wearing a blue gingham dress with a lace collar, and a smudge of her mother’s red lipstick stains her lips pink.

As I said at the beginning of this story, there are more ways for a man to meet his demise than one might think. And that day when he set eyes on Jenny Warner, somewhere deep down in his subconscious, Johnny knew he had met his.

Image

I couldn’t think of a better shot than this to accompany this post. It’s one of my favourite pictures from my travels, taken of me and my boyfriend (before he was my boyfriend!) on the beach in Borneo. Looking at it makes me very happy.