Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Fight the terrorists with crotch grabs!

NS November 17th, 2010

People are going apeshit in the US about these new pat-down procedures at airports. Apparently, airline passengers are faced with a choice of full body scanner (where an anonymous person in a room somewhere can see under your clothes — big deal!) or a rather thorough pat-down that includes much groping and patting of various damp and dark places on the body.

I am really not bothered about being scanned or patted-down. I’d prefer not to have to do either but seeing as they are a ‘necessary evil’ for the time being, I’m really not fussed which method they use. This is what we must go through as a result of the Bush Years, folks. It’s your own damn moronic faults. You made your GOP-lined bed and now you are being molested on it. Ain’t life grand?

I’ll be in the US in just a couple weeks and will be entering 6 or 7 different airports. I may get to second base several times while I’m away! At least I’ll be getting some action while separated from NH.

Independence Day

NS July 5th, 2010

I picked up my bag, kissed my sleeping husband on the cheek and slipped out of the silent house just before 7am. The children were still at their grandparents’ house, there for an overnight stay. No teary goodbyes, no last-minute reminders to NH, no prying of clinging fingers from my legs.

Fresh air and sunshine hit me full in the face and I smiled to myself as I walked towards the station. I would not be returning for 36 hours.

At 1pm (after an unexpected and expensive taxi ride from Hereford) I arrived in Hay-on-Wye, a small village-like town just over the border into Wales, home to nearly 40 second-hand and independent bookshops.

I browsed, I walked, I bought, I read. I had lunch at a table outside a cafe and watched a local parade of children dressed in outfits representing cultures from all over the globe in honour of the World Cup. I had many coffees and a scrumptious ice cream. I dined alone at a gourmet gastropub that evening and listened to the conversations in that wonderful lilting Welsh accent all around me as I pretended to read my book. I read in bed until my eyes were heavy (which was relatively early) and had a full 8 hours sleep, uninterrupted. It was bliss.

And the books. Oh, the books! I couldn’t get enough of them. Second-hand book shops are my biggest love after my family. The musty, ancient, knowing smell, the haphazard organisation, the creaking wooden floors and the wise, silent, grey-haired proprietor watching over his or her precious wares — I love every single aspect of it. If I’d had a car or a pack mule with me, I’d have bought way more than I did. As it was, I had to settle for 3 small paperbacks (one on my current fascination with Marxism, one volume of obscure poetry and one children’s book for Noble Girl) and 1 hardback pregnancy and birth book to add to the collection I am trying to amass so I can lend books to my doula clients.

Visiting a second-hand book shop is like going to see old friends.

In addition to only running three buses a day, which was a bit of a shock to this London girl, the town of Hay is trusting.

It was such a positive, uplifting experience, being in a small, close-knit community again. In fact, the only bit of negativity I ran across the entire weekend was this childish scrap of cruelty tucked between two books.

Poor Jessica Smith. Sounds like she knows a right bitch, with poor grammar and spelling to boot.

On the journey home, which took a little over 7 hours on a Sunday, I met a couple travelling around the UK on their honeymoon. They were from the States too so I wished them a happy Independence Day, seeing as it was the 4th of July. They asked where I was headed and, not lying, I said ‘back down to London’. They assumed I was a fellow travelling tourist and I didn’t correct them. For just a small part one journey, I did feel like a lone tourist, visiting places and spaces in my head I hadn’t explored in a very, very long time.

I put my headphones back on and slid down in my seat, watching the rain lash the windows and sheep frolick in the green hills. I closed my eyes and smiled, needing nothing and no one needing me for just a few hours more.

Happy Independence Day indeed.

Exciting news and a free smell

NS April 14th, 2010

I have a few items of exciting news to share. Well, they’re exciting to me. You? You’ll most likely yawn and say ‘Is that all? This woman needs to get out more.’ And to that I would say you’re right but avoid saying that to my face, especially if I’ve been drinking red wine or whiskey. I’m a pacifist in theory but we all know how theories pan out in practice. Like that communism one that was supposed to make all the world one, big, happy, altruistic family but instead led to people queueing up for miles to get their hands on a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese, extra onion and pickle, in Red Square. Need I say more?


Exciting item #1: Inspired by Gappy’s post, with accompanying photographs, about her trip to Hay-on-Wye, I’ve booked myself in for a train ride and overnight stay there, a few days after my birthday this summer. I’ve been dreaming of going away on my own just to read and relax and I knew right away that this would be the perfect place to do that. Second-hand book stores in which there are comfy chairs to sit and cats to stroke? I’m sold.

Exciting item #2: I’ve booked into a doula training course for the end of May. After I’ve completed the course I have to attend four births to become fully qualified. I’ve already got one lined up in August (a good friend’s) but need to find three more. If you, or anyone you know, are due this summer and live in the South West London or Surrey area, and are looking for an inexpensive doula, do let me know! I’m quite excited about this new career path, really. Not only will I get to help women with something I’m passionate about but I can earn a more reliable income from home which will take some of the pressure off of needing my writing to become a paid venture right away. A win-win situation, really! Besides which, I think I’ll be good at it and enjoy it.

Exciting item #3: I’ve entered into the Race for Life to benefit Cancer Research UK, in which I will run 5k a the end of July in Clapham. Me. A woman who has never been a runner and hasn’t done any form of exercise (other than walking loads and chasing the children) for a good four years. I’ve been getting up at 6am and running twice a week (and once or twice at the weekend) for a couple weeks now. I’m feeling good about it. If you’re so inclined to want to sponsor me (thus blackmailing me giving me more motivation), there is a button on my sidebar that will take you to my sponsorship page. Watch out, Clapham! There will a woman huffing and puffing her way through your streets and commons come July 31st, and she will likely be tripping over her shoelaces as she Tweets about it at the same time.

Exciting item #4: My first guest post, in which I give my thoughts on the term ‘mummy blogger/blogging’  is up at Gappy’s ‘Single Parenthood. Tales from the front-line’ blog. In five years of blogging I have never been asked to do a guest post so I was very excited and flattered to be invited into someone else’s space, especially by Gappy whom I greatly admire and like immensely. She’s a real talent and a new blogger so if you haven’t already got her on your list of must-reads, go check her out!

And finally, a sniff. I’ve managed to capture my favourite smell (line-dried sheets) and convert it to HTML. If you move your mouse rapidly over the blank space below, the scent should release itself. You’ll probably have to lean in quite close and give your screen a good sniff but it’s there, I promise.



Lovely, isn’t it?

Photo credit

Maybe tomorrow, the good lord will take you away

NS October 6th, 2009


While driving in the car the other day, I put in a classic rock mixed cd that I made a few years ago and skipped forward to the third track — “Dream On” by Aerosmith, circa 1973 (song and lyrics here).

As I belted out the lyrics and slapped my palms on the steering wheel in time to the riffs, rocking out in a big way, I realised that the children had been silent for a couple minutes. Knowing that silence is very rarely a good thing, I sat up a little higher in my seat and strained to get a glimpse of TNC in my rearview mirror. She had a face like thunder and was looking very cross indeed. I turned the music down a notch and asked her very breezily, “What’s wrong, muffin?”

“Stop singing, Mummy! You can’t sing.”

“Oh yes, I can. I’m a wonderful singer!”

“No! You’re not. No more singing.”

“What, you mean like this? (cue more crazed rocking out)

“Noooooo! Stop it this minute, Mummy.”

…sing for the laughter, sing for the tear. Sing with me, if it’s just for today…

“Aaagggh! Stop, Mummy, stop! This song is not for Mummies, it’s for children.”

“It’s for children, is it?”

“Yes. Children and babies.”

“Honey, this song was recorded before you or I were even alive, but at least I grew up listening to it. This is called Classic Rock and it is the greatest music in the whole, wide world. And this particular song is…”

“No! Be quiet! Only for children and babies, I said! Not mummies or daddies. You can’t sing it, only I can.”

“Go on then, let’s hear it. I’ll be thrilled if  you know the words to Steven Tyler’s masterpiece from Aerosmith’s debut album, before all of the scarf and mic stand-tossing, big hair, and videos where the camera goes inside his  mouth, which is just creepy, frankly.”

stony silence from the backseat

“That’s what I thought. Now, up next is ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ by Joni Mitchell. You’re going to love that one. Mummy will be singing in a very high voice and then doing a funny little laugh at the end. Prepare yourself, ’cause I ain’t dialin’ it down for no one, including you, Little Miss.”

She didn’t speak again until we arrived at our destination. Which was kind of nice, you know?

Still, I’m not sure if I’m instilling a love of this music into her, or if I’m driving her straight into the arms of emo pop, or whatever the hell kind of music kids listen to now (I’m not even stuck on my generation’s music, but on that of my parents’ — what hope is there for me keeping up with the new crap coming out these days)?

No, I will always love my classic rock and sing it very loudly in the car and the kids will just have to start wearing earplugs and perhaps masks so their friends don’t recognise them when they get older and I’m gyrating wildly to “Paint It Black” at a red light, frothing slightly at the mouth.

This is a fun bit of parenting, I have to say. I like it.

War, as viewed from a canoe

NS July 23rd, 2009

Have you ever accidentally witnessed something so achingly beautiful and touching that it haunts your dreams? Have you ever felt honoured to simply have been there when someone else did something so small but so raw that you could almost feel their pain, or joy, or grief?

In the summer of 2001, The Noble Husband and I went on a week-long holiday to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Situated on a stunning piece of coast of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia was just becoming a more popular tourist destination after the Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian wars that raged throughout the 90s. We spent a relaxing few days in a small town across the bay from the main city, clocking in a lot of time on the beach or reading under the shady trees and dining together in the evenings.

We decided to do a day trip that we saw advertised at the hotel we were staying in. It involved taking a coach on a scenic route through Croatia, over the border into Bosnia and then canoeing down a river. Up for some adventure and fresh air, we eagerly signed up.

During the coach ride I remember the tour guide telling us a bit more about the war and what it had done to the area and its people. She said tourism was increasing now and things were being rebuilt but that the people hadn’t recovered yet. Hardly surprising, given the genocide and mass rape campaigns that took place. The mood on the coach was somber as we crossed over the border.

Along the roadside we began to see piles of rocks, some with white crosses perched atop them. Wilted flowers lay alongside many of these rock piles. The tour guide explained that these marked spots where local people and solidiers had been slain. One crumbling pile of stones was anchored by a ratty, worn teddy bear with a deflated red balloon tied to its neck. Even it had no motivation to float.

Once we were past the checkpoints and before we headed down to the river, we stopped in a small village to refuel and stretch our legs. We were warned not to go into any local bars and to stick to the shop attached to the petrol station, where the meagre few tourists were catered for. I imagined big, dusty men whose eyes had seen horrors humans should never witness sweating into their beers and simultaneously being encouraged and disgusted by the tourists outside, ready to go on a boat tour of their misery.

I paddled half-heartedly once we were in the river and discovered that I was not a natural canoeist. TNH and I spent a lot of time tangled up in trees alongside the riverbank, swearing and arguing while trying to take in the “scenery.” The land is beautiful, no doubt, but seeing entire families living in one room houses held together with a few nails and a prayer, washing clothes in the river and picking berries, didn’t feel scenic to me. It made me incredibly sad instead.

At one point the guide told us that there was a waterfall coming up, one that we would be going over (it wasn’t a very large drop). He said that the local children would undoubtedly be there, waiting to see if we had anything to offer. He came round to each canoe and gave us a couple fistfuls of candy each. I looked down at the metallic wrappers glinting in my blistered and splintered hands and couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. I felt like such an interloper, a fraud. What the hell was I doing on VACATION in this place? Why hadn’t I paid more attention to the world when this war was going on? The extraordinay privilege of my upbringing and geographical location hit me square between the eyes. And boy, did it sting.

As we approached the waterfall, I saw a few dark heads bob into sight and heard the unmistakable sound of children shouting. I have no idea what they were saying but they ran alongside us with their arms outstretched, laughing and calling out as the slightly wet candy rained down on them, the afternoon sun capturing perfectly their innocence. I wanted to jump out of my canoe and swim to them, take them in my arms and promise them the moon and stars. Instead, I gave them all I had to show that I cared: a smile and reciprocated laughter.

Their mothers watched from the shore, hands shielding their eyes from the glare as they balanced laundry baskets and babies on their hips. Their eyes did not smile. What use would candy be to them, or their children after it had been gobbled up? The world as they knew it had been eaten alive and left empty; shiny wrappers couldn’t fool them.

After the canoe trip had finished and we’d had lunch on the bank, we were allowed to explore the area we now found ourselves in. Most of the people we had come with opted to sit in the shade and drink beer after buying souvenirs from the gift shop. We were told there were some ruins to explore, and a salt flat. We had a quick look at the latter and then started the hike up to the top of the large, tree-covered hill to see what we could see. We took in the view, read some plaques and after a few pictures and some somber reflection, started to make our way down.

TNH had gone ahead to have a look at something that had caught his eye but I stood looking at the bombed, crumbling, centuries-old cathedral and imagined what it had seen in all the years it had withstood mankind’s hypocrisy; building and creating and nurturing things but then knocking them down and strangling the life out of them, again and again. I ran my hand along the rough edges of the wall and rubbed the grit between my palms. I swore to myself that I would never forget these people, this tragedy, this place. It was the beginning of my political awakening, my awareness of and sympathy to human suffering and my anger and indignation toward those who perpetrate it.

It would lead me to study international relations and European politics when I return to university the following winter. It would lead to my interest in NGO aid for women, as I searched for ways I could help, in some tiny way, the tens of thousdands of girls and women who had been systemically raped and used as pawns of war. This, in turn, would lead to my invigorated interest in feminism, something I am absolutely 100% passionate about today. So to say that this holiday had an effect on me is to say the very, very least.

But that isn’t the haunting, beautiful moment I was speaking of in the beginning of this post. None of that was about me, I was merely having a privilege epiphany on a forest-laden hill. No, the real moment occured when, as I stood there with my thoughts and emotions bashing into one another inside my head, I heard something coming from inside the cathedral’s walls. It was music! I strained to make out where it was coming from and tried peering into some of the charred holes left in the battered brick, but all I saw was rubble. I circled around to the other side and noticed a door slightly ajar. A heavy rock prevented it from closing and revealed a gap just wide enough for my face.

At the front of the cathedral, before the altar and at a piano covered in a thick layer of dust and sorrow, sat a raven-haired woman with her back arched over the instrument, her feet pumping the pedals and her fingers flying over the ivory keys. She played alternately softly, then angrily, but always speedily. Something about it was urgent and so raw, like her fingers couldn’t keep up with her heart.

She wore a plain brown dress and her hair was tied into a tight bun. A strand of it escaped and loitered lazily on her forehead, pressed there by the heat of the sun and her emotions. She didn’t notice my presence and I didn’t dare breathe. I knew I should leave her to her moment, all alone, but I felt rooted to the spot. I thought, this is what it must be like to witness a miracle, or a child being born, or a person taking their last breath: you don’t feel worthy of being there, just so grateful that you are.

When the song ended, the woman stood up, looked down at the piano for several moments and then genuflected before the cross. Then she sat back down on the bench, closed the piano’s lid and lay her head on it.

At that point, I left. To keep watching felt too much like an invasion of privacy, even though she must’ve known that there were tourists rooting around up there. She was so oblivious to anyone and anything else that I doubt she’d have even noticed. I still wonder who she was playing that song for. A murdered husband? A lost child? A sister who will never be the same after enduring unspeakable horrors? God? Or maybe it was a song for us, the tourists come to view her pain. Perhaps unable to speak English or knowing she’d be punished in some form if she tried to speak to us about what happened there, her only way to communicate with us may have been through music. Softly explaining how life was before it ended, and then angrily asking us how we let it happen, and why.

I’ll never know how war happens. I’ll never know why. But I know that I will always hate it and fight it and wish to banish it. And if ever I should doubt why peace matters, I will reach into my memory bank and call forth the raven-haired woman who bared her soul amongst the rubble of our undoing.

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