Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mother's Day

Ganesh blessing my travel beads.
Let's hope the Remover of Obstacles looks
favourably upon my trip.

Just got back from seeing Mum and Merrick in Banbury. Went back to The Old Auctioneer for a full Sunday roast. It really is a lovely place, and they gave her chocolates and a red rose! How sweet was that?

Mum and Merrick

It was a good day, but the clocks had changed (spring forward, fall back), and combined with a grand total of no sleep that night, I'm surprised I didn't nod off at the wheel. Judging by the amount of roadkill I passed, several others had. I counted twelve pheasants, two badgers, and a squirrel in half a mile!

It's a little known poaching rule in the UK that if you hit a pheasant you can't stop and take it home, but the next driver can. The idea being that if you hit a live bird, it's poaching, but if you pick up roadkill it's just... well, economic. If you hit one by accident, it's clearly not poaching, but if you stop to pick it up someone might claim you deliberately hit it and you'd have to prove you didn't.

I've already devoted far too much time to this topic.

It was a rather emotional outing. The last time I'll see Mum 'n' Merrick before jetting off, and it was also the last outing for Kitty, my beloved car. I have nowhere else to go before Laos, no more visits to make.

It was a gloriously sunny day, and England is so perfectly bucolic at this time of year: roads overgrown with leafing trees dappling the tarmac with light, rolling hills, sheep, horses, daffodils, and pheasants scratching at the rich earth (when not being run over by speeding convertibles).

I stopped off at Rollright on the way home. A place that means even more to me than Tinkinswood. Where I first fell in love, met my beautiful friend Paul, danced nekkid and wild round a bonfire at midnight to the sound of good heathen drumming. Lost my heart and my soul to the people I met there so many years ago.  

The Whispering Knights

King Stone

Long Compton Panoramic from King Stone
Read the Legend
(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

Just a word to the wise. As you enter the main gate to the circle, you'll see a patch of grass to the left. There used to be a hut there. It burned down some years back (though how is a bit of a mystery, given it was built of stone...) and was removed. There is now a path leading into the woods behind where the hut used to stand. For some reason, people have always been fascinated by that space, even when the hut was standing. The reason it is so green, is because it's the site of the old latrines. Bears - and humans - really do, in the woods.

If you're feeling strange energies back there, it's probably the ghost of something unmentionable.

Anyway, got home and began the sad task of clearing out Kitty. 

As readers of this blog will know - I love my car. 

We have a special relationship. Paul uses the fact that so many people talk to their cars as a sign that animism is still alive and suppressed in the Western psyche. I fully admit it. I'm nuts about my car. I didn't think I could ever love again after my Puma lost a fight with a lorry and an estate on the M6, but Kittie was there to pick up the pieces and put them back together. We've been everywhere together: Poland and back, Scotland and Belgium many times, on ferries, along A roads, across the Severn Bridge... 

An ex repeatedly offered me more than I'd paid to sell her to him. 

I dumped him and kept Kitty.

I think, when you find a car you really love driving, it's sort of like the whole Jack Sparrow pirate ship thing. It's not just wheels, an exhaust and transmission. That's what a car needs. But what a car is - is freedom. 

Freedom has accrued over the past couple of years. I was amazed at the amount of junk I found on the back seat alone: a body warmer, two trilbies (one burgundy, one pinstriped), a riding hat, a pair of electric-blue chaps (hmm, fashionable), a bin liner, two maps of the UK and a wheel pump.

The saddest part was taking down her charm. It sort of felt like disowning her. But I don't know how long I'm going to be gone, and if you don't treat the leather on the pendant, it starts to go mouldy. Don't think anyone would appreciate pulling down the blind to get coated in green powder. 

I'm sorry Dawkins, I read and fully understood The God Delusion. I've worked conscientiously over the past years to replace superstition with Humanism, but at the end of the day, it's very hard to shake off where you come from. It's not just a set of beliefs, it's an entire community of people that go with those beliefs. I think if I fully let go, the world would be a little less colourful. Call that a failing, it is, but for now it's my failing and I'm happy to embrace it.

I put everything into a basket. Her oil and her windscreen cleaner, all of her overseas bits and bobs: breathalysers, GB plate, spare bulbs and warning triangle. It's not much when you look at it, but it's there in case anybody wants to take her for a spin. 

I assume we'll be reunited on my return, but you can never predict the future. It would break my heart to sell her, but who knows, maybe I'll be giving that ex a call in a few months. 

Oh, and don't worry about Fred. She's got pride of place on top of the piano.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Ways to Waste Time


With just over two weeks to go before heading to Laos, I decided to go to the hairdresser today to get my annual trim.

I hate going to the hairdresser. I'm not a fan of making small-talk whilst strangers fondle my locks. I'm more of the Paul Bennett school of hairdressing: the rain washes it, the sun dries it, and occasionally I'll pick twigs out of it.

Still, it should now be easier to run a comb through when it's dripping with sweat in the Laotian heat, and I do still have just enough of it left to continue to function as a masked highway (or hairway) woman, so the day-job won't suffer too much. (Cue crude PhotoShop mockery, which only looks good when it's really, really small).

So, that's been fun.

Work's not so much fun. I was hoping to get most of it sewn up before leaving, but looks like I'll be taking it with me. I'm fortunate that I can do my job on the road, thanks to the wonder of internet, but it's stressing me out slightly. I keep swinging between 'must take on as much work as possible so that I have money for my travels' and 'don't want to take on any more work so that I can enjoy my travels.' Caught between the fear of running out of money, and the fear of running out of time.

Guess I can't really control any of that, so I may as well just plough on as usual and hope for some sort of middle ground. Wherever I end up, I'll have a credit card that can get me home in an emergency. What's to worry about? (Universe, do not answer that.)

Other things I've been doing to pass the time...

Fruit smoothies. I've discovered the joy of a hand blender. No need to use (or, more annoyingly, clean) the main blender, thus dirtying up the blender and the glass. Now I can just put everything straight in the glass and blend. The novelty is likely to take a while to wear off.

An Array of Leggings

I have shopped more in the past two weeks than the past two years. It's certainly been a challenge looking for summer clothes for Laos in winter, plus saving enough room for a couple of warm clothes for Kenya. I have no idea how long I'm going for, or what I'll need when I get to wherever it is I end up, but I have a suitcase the size of a small house, so hopefully it'll be okay. Especially now that I've discovered rolling (instead of folding) my clothes.

I wasn't at all convinced to begin with. I just couldn't understand how rolling could possibly be more spatially economic than folding. As illustrated:

40 comments from friends soon convinced me to give it a go.

ME: Oh my freakin' god. Everyone was SO right. Rolling saves a bundle of space! I'm shocked. I could smuggle an asylum seeker in that amount of extra space! I hereby reject science in favour of - ~magic~ 
SABRINA: That's basically how I reacted the first time I tried rolling haha 
ME: Plus it takes half the time. I've rolled all my tops, all my bottoms, and all my nighties together, and now I only have three things in my case. It's like there's an extra spacial dimension in there. 
LAETITIA: Can you smuggle me to Laos then? Much appreciated 
ME: Hell, sure, why not. I'll have to roll you though. 
LAETITIA: I am very bendy. Can you roll me together with your duty free giant Toblerone bar and bottle of gin? 
ME: Hmm. I sense that if I did that, I might unravel you at the other end to find you've performed a disappearing act of your own on those items... 
LAETITIA: well perfect then, you'll have even more free space in your neatly packed suitcase for souvenirs (or more gin) when you leave Laos. Sorted! 
ME: I am suspicious of this plan, but I was suspicious of rolling and I was proven wrong, so... okay.

As usual, I have been wasting a lot of time on Facebook.

One thing I am not so proud of... leggings.

I'll be the first to admit, I have absolute no sense of style. I admire it in others, but I've never managed to co-ordinate my underwear, yet alone an entire outfit. However, I do draw the line at leggings. These have never been, and will never be, fashionable.

So, how come I now own two pairs?

Well, Martine reckons it's the best way to survive the heat in Laos: leggings and long tops. 

When in Vientiane... *shrug*

Here's something else that isn't cool.

Asda, what were you thinking? Is this some sort of America 'let's jazz it up a bit' Walmart import? A square crumpet!? I mean, just - seriously. It flies in the face of all that is sane and rational.

Fuck it. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. It's almost as laughable as Nestlé being fair trade.

By the way, have you ever seen a tiger eating Martime? Seems there's nothing Big Cat Rescue won't do in the name of entertainment.

So, yeah. Spending the next couple of days packing my hard drive. Clothes are sorted, but you need to take a stash of your favourite movies and tunes. Always a few DVDs you can rely on in any situation, or during the inevitable traveller's meltdown. Got Bob on in the background whilst I'm working out what to put on my Kindle. 

Heading to Banbury next weekend for lunch with me mam, then nothing much to do until 10th. I've been oddly super-efficient: bags packed, clothes and meds bought, paperwork in order. Take-off is going to be brutal. Taking the night bus at 1:30am on 10th to get to the airport for 5:30am, check-in from around 7am. I'm hoping that by the time I get on the plane I'm going to be so completely knackered I'll just sleep the whole way to Bombay.

Right, better get back to it.

Whilst away:
learn to use PhotoShop!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Wombling Free

Well, after the recent road trip, I thought I'd try something a little more ambitious.

Guess now's as good a time as any to announce it.

Planning a trip to Laos to see Ruairí and Martine on 10 April, then heading on back to Africa.

For those who don't know the history, Ruairí and Martine are two friends from the Rwanda days, who got married this time last year and decided to move to Laos. Check the Ireland tab for our goodbyes last September.

Fairly excited as it'll be my first time in Asia, and I rock up just in time for Pii Mai, which is Laotian New Year. Apparently it involves a lot of water and coloured dye. I'm a little worried about the heat, going from a mild UK winter to 36c is going to be a bit of a shocker, but can't wait to see my friends again. 

Then on 7th May I'm headed from Laos over to Kenya to catch up with my friend K, who I know from the Armenia trip. She's very kindly offered to take me in for a few weeks until I find my feet. No real idea quite what I'm doing from there, but popping back to Rwanda to catch up with Jo, Pierre and wee Zuba is a strong possibility, as is Burundi, if it hasn't imploded by then. Or maybe somewhere completely different. Just going to hang out until I figure it out.

Had a nice day out in Gloucester with Mum last Monday whilst Merrick was at a conference nearby. Did lots of shopping, bought lots of clothes. I now have enough meds in my suitcase to stock a small pharmacy.

In a strange sense of history repeating itself, we went for a few pints at Café Rene, which is where I had leaving drinks before heading to Africa the first time. Then we relocated to a gorgeous little restaurant called Taste of Thai for a yummy meal and a bottle of very drinkable corbières.

Today I've just got back from visiting the lovely Mr. Matthews (of caving and giant fame) in Bristol. Went for salmon and crayfish burgers at Deco Lounge in Cotham, washed down with a couple of bottles of wine. We ended up the last people there, so smuggled the remainder of the bottle back with us, via a pit-stop for liquorish rizlas and Cadbury's cream eggs.

Stayed up chatting with Dan's housemate Steve until 3am, listening to his fascinating account of climbing Kilimanjaro with co-house-mate Matt. Finally answered my question: 'how did you go to the loo?' Which I won't repeat the answer to, as it was as cringeworthy as I'd always suspected. 

Daniel's one of my oldest friends. We were at BRIT together in '97, and he's just spent two years working in the 'real world' after returning from four years in Taiwan. Shortly after I land in Kenya, he's jumping a plane to Peru to work for a few months, ahead of relocating to Madrid. It's probably going to be quite some time before I see him again, but it makes me feel better just knowing he's out there in the world somewhere, as restless and curious as I am. Very excited to see where we bump into each other next.

So, that's my news at the moment. Think I'm meeting up with Mum again for a last meal before I go, but booking a night bus from Gloucester to Heathrow on 10th. Not got much else planned between now and then. Need to book in for my annual haircut, but most of my packing is already done, don't need to buy much else. I'll report more as and when it happens.

Time for an early night and some much-needed sleep.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


Whilst pilfering flower photos from M's camera yesterday, I stumbled across a couple of older photos of me and Dad. Thought I'd share, as there aren't many photos of people on this blog.

Think this was at Highnam in October, judging by what I'm wearing (isn't it fortuitous I'm vain enough to take a selfie ;) ). It's the obligatory squinting into the sunshine on a random bench shot, a version of which seems to be taken just about everywhere we go. 

I would definitely say the Burbidge genes (Mum's side) of the family were shining through that day. I think I look a lot like one of my mum's sisters.

Also found this shot, which was taken unawares on the same day. I don't tend to come out well in photos, but the best snaps tend to be when I'm not paying attention. I've never perfected my camera face, I always look frightened or annoyed when I'm forced to pose, but I really like this. It's sort of serene... and green.

Totally love this picture of Dad. (Sorry Dad for hijacking it and putting it on the internet!)

Also like this one of us outside a pub after Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2011, just having a chat, watching the world pass by.

This was taken on Boxing Day last year, up at Aira Force in the Lake District. It's me and my dad's sister, Jean. It looks as though we've had a row and we're not speaking to each other, except for the massive grin on Aunty Jean's face.

And finally, this one, taken yesterday at Batsford, photographing those flowers that looked as though they were made of wood. Another stealth snap, but I kinda like it. Lots more flowers to been seen under the flowers tab.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Batsford Arboretum

Having just got back from Wales, it seemed fitting to spend St. David's Day (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi) looking at daffodils. Went for a wander around Batsford Arboretum.


Although it's been the wettest winter on record, raining nonstop since October and drowning the inhabitants of Somerset, it's also been one of the mildest in a long time. There has been no snow, and temperatures have remained above freezing for the most part. Even when we visited Ullswater on Boxing Day the bulbs were starting to sprout. So it feels as though Spring has arrived early this year. It was so warm today that we sat outside to eat lunch!

Especially odd when you look back at last year, when we were snowed in.

The church door at Batsford reminds me of the Norman stone carvings at Quenington church, but they're too clean to be original.

Exquisite marble carvings. Apparently

Batsford Church, Gloucestershire 
Frances Elizabeth Mitford, donor of the church, d1866. Designed by William Burges, carved by Jacquet and Nicholls

There wasn't as much grandeur in the graveyard outside, which was fairly small and conformative.

Nice piece of circular calligraphy from the turn of the century.
'Preciouse gift beyond words - Benjamin, 29 April - 22 June 1999'

I thought originally that the name in the heart was 'Billy', but I played about with PhotoShop and discovered it's actually Kitty - the name of my car! This was carved in 1900. Strange to think that's 114 years ago.

There were a lot of flat graves here, many without headstones, and some with no identification at all. I liked the detail in the Celtic cross on this one. Nothing ostentatious, just neatly done.

There is often beauty in things no longer living...

The above seemed to be some sort of climbing hydrangea, its dead flowers looked as though they were carved from wood.

If I had a gothic garden, I would fill it with these.

Highnam also had a bridge just like this one.
I wonder if someone sells them job-lot to stately homes?

Hermit's Cave

The only drops of snow I've seen this year.

Who's this fella...


Love the shadow this tree casts.

Diwrnod yn hapus dewi sant!

A shadow of my former self.