Tag Archives: travel

Dear Scotland

The River Ness. If I were that way inclined, I would say
The River Ness. If I were that way inclined, I would say “#nofilter”, but that makes me feel a bit sick

Dear Scotland,

I love you.  You know that, don’t you?  I always have.  Ever since we first met, on a windswept and sulk-filled family holiday in 1999, you have amazed me.

I learned to ride my bike that year, do you remember?  My parents dragged the family up to a self-catered cottage for the Autumn half-term holiday.  It was a ramshackle building in the middle of a country estate, and an outlandish decision that baffled all of us at the time.  It was cold and miserable and the sheep had worryingly intelligent eyes, and I remember all of us desperately trying to find stuff to do.  I was ten years old, and I’d never learned to ride a bike.  You gave me the opportunity.

My hands kept going numb – either because I was cold, or because I thought that having a vice-like grip on the handlebars would help – and I was scared.  Every time I fell off, crashed into a tree or scraped my hands on the stones, I got back up and looked down the track.  I thought that stretch of road would go on forever.  There was always more space for me to practise.  I could learn; I could get better.  And I did.

You bring out that side of me, you see.  The hard-working, screw-you-adversity, I-am-the-master-of-my-fate side.  Remember the first time I did the Edinburgh Fringe?  Wowee.  What a hectic month that was.  You gave me an enormous challenge and I rose to it, because I knew you were worth the effort.  Every year since then, the Fringe has been a welcome whirlwind, and every year I take away something new.  Hey – remember last year when I fell in love with climbing after going up Arthur’s Seat?  Bizarre, wasn’t it?  But that’s why we work so well: you can always surprise me.

Besides, you always seem to know what’s best for me.  For example, the complete lack of phone signal makes me appreciate my surroundings, which is great when I’m visiting my friends in Inverness.  Instead of worrying about emails and bills and responsibilities in London, I get to relax and spend time with some of my favourite people on the planet.  This weekend was great, by the way.  Thanks for being so sunny and gorgeous.

I wish that we could spend more time together, but despite how much fun we always have, I’ve got to stick with London.  At least for now.  But thank you for always being there for me.  Thank you for being such a great home for my little brother and sister.  Thank you for being unapologetic, full of bizarre people, chilly, beautiful and – unlike everywhere within spitting distance of London – reasonably priced.

Love,

Vicki

Sisterly Wisdomousness

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Happy Friday, dear reader!  I hope that your weekend plans are coming together nicely.

Just like the leaves on trees and Nick Clegg’s policies, our relationships change.  (Cheap shot, I know, but I’m still really angry about the student fees thing.)  My relationship with my oldest sister, for instance, has changed a lot since we were children.  When we were younger she was very good at bossing us around with the impenetrable “Because I’m older than you” justification.  It’s very difficult to counter that one, as it turns out.  And it never stops being true.

Don’t get me wrong: she is and has always been a brilliant big sister.  Now that we are adults, our relationship has changed to become a very close friendship, which is lovely.  She doesn’t tell me what to do anymore, but she does have some very sage advice and ingenious ideas.

My sister has taught me loads of lessons over the years, most of the time without even realising it.  She taught me not to take myself too seriously, and to laugh at myself when I’ve done something stupid.  She taught me the value of being adventurous (standard telephone conversation: “I’m bored.  I think I’ll go to Burma”) and taking an interest in the wider world.  She taught me that it’s ok not to be a “proper” adult, and that you can find happiness in places you didn’t expect.  She is also very good at seeing things from an older, wiser perspective, and using the five extra years she’s got on me to help me see things differently.  In that respect, I’m never going to catch up.  (Because of time and physics and stuff, but also because she’s just very wise.)

In the interests of Christmas spirit, human kindness and practical living, here is a snippet of sisterly wisdom:

  • Don’t buy a piece of clothing unless you’re in love with it
    I think we’ve all picked something up in a shop and thought “meh, it’ll do”, or “it’s not perfect, but I just need something to wear for x event”.  We should not be doing this, for two very key reasons: firstly, it’s a waste of money.  Secondly, it’s a waste of confidence.  If you build up a wardrobe over months and years which contains a whole load of “meh” items, you will never feel your best, no matter what you wear.  Your wardrobe should be full of things that make you look and feel great.
  • Fakemas
    Very simple concept: have a fake Christmas day with your friends.  Food, presents, silly hats, the lot.  My sister claims to have invented the term “Fakemas” for this, and if you think she’s wrong then by all means take it up with her.  I wish you luck.
  • A wise man/woman wees when s/he can
    Another fairly straightforward piece of advice, ensuring that you are never caught short at an inopportune moment.
  • It’s all about the roast potatoes
    Roast potatoes are the heart of a good Sunday roast.  Get them right, and everything else will fall into place.  This is especially important if you have vegetarians at your dinner table, because they can hardly be expected to get excited about a properly-roasted chicken, can they?  Exactly.

Have a glorious Friday and a superlatively relaxing weekend.

There And Back Again

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Hello, lovely reader.  How are you doing?  

I have now returned from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, exhausted and a bit bemused, but very happy.  I also feel more than usually hobbitish: I took something important to a faraway land; my friends were all there but a lot of us had to do our own thing (and wear different costumes); I climbed a massive hill, and I have even returned to a flat called Bag End.  Elijah Wood, eat your heart out.

Coming home after a big adventure is always tricky, even though there are always people and home comforts we miss on our travels.  It’s tricky because of two things: firstly, once we’re back the adventure starts to fade and feel like either a distant memory or a seriously elaborate daydream, and secondly because we feel like we’ve gone backwards.  Weird, isn’t it?  

For example, I’ve spent two years working on Chris is Dead, and a year working towards this specific production.  There have been countless emails, dozens of meetings, hundreds of rehearsals and a lot of rewrites.  The show went down really well at the Fringe: we had great audiences and lots of nice feedback, and we all had a blast performing it.  So why do I now feel like coming home is taking a step backwards?  Is it just because Jon and I sat in backwards-facing seats on the train yesterday?

Seriously, though – the big experiences in our lives make huge impressions on us, partly because they are important, but also because they are transitory.  When our eye-opening adventures are over we are understandably confused and a bit shell-shocked.  The trick is to appreciate what was good about the experience, but has to be transitory in order to always be a good thing in our minds.  For instance, I love being on the Royal Mile for two or three weeks of madness every year, but that would become hell for everyone if it carried on indefinitely.  Think Alfred Hitchcock but with flyers instead of birds.

The other trick is to find the things that aren’t transitory about your experience, and keep hold of them.  Whether they are physical objects (tour hoodies, photographs, souvenirs and suchlike) or nebulous ideas (a sense of well-being, a feeling of achievement, increased confidence etc.), there is always something from our transitory times that we get to keep.  In my case, this year I made new friends and reconnected with some very dear old ones, so I will hopefully be keeping hold of them for a while.

Last but not least, make sure you have something nice to come home to when your travels or adventures are over.  I will be spending today with the glorious Laura Lexx, so that’s me completely sorted.

Have a beautiful day.  Make sure you have some vitamins and drink lots of water.

“Find a happy place, find a happy place!!”

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Good morrow, fair reader!  How fares the world with thee today?

Ahem.  Anyway, today I’d like to talk to you about happy places, and the different forms they take.  We all have literal locations that we love, but we also have mental go-to places that put us in a better mood.  Here are a few examples of the best happy places.  I hope that you have at least one of each of these:

The Happy Place of the Past
Isn’t it weird that when someone asks you to think of a song, every tune you’ve ever heard goes straight out of your head?  It’s the same when we’re asked to remember a time we felt truly happy.  That’s not to say that we’ve never been happy, but that the pressure of recollecting our bliss on demand is a little too much to deal with.  When we are at leisure to consider, we can all think of a period in our lives that brought us real joy.  Whether it’s a childhood era, an irresponsible summer in adolescence or an eye-opening travel experience, each of us has a memory that can bring back a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings.

The Happy Place that’s a Person
Sentimentality alert – our loved ones are also our happy places.  Whether it’s a partner, a family member or a best friend, the right person can immediately transport you away from your woes and worries into a place that only you two know about.  When we talk about real love, isn’t that what we actually mean?  The people we love don’t have to be perfect, or entirely compatible with our every personality aspect, or even physically present – they just have to represent a safe and happy place. Keane know what I’m talking about.

The Happy Place that Never Lets You Down
Some places make us happy time after time.  Lots of my friends have theatres that they always enjoy visiting, or pubs that always deliver a great night out.  Especially when we feel lost in general, or when life is confusing and annoying us, it’s a great thing to know that there is somewhere we can go that will always make us feel better.  If you’re stuck for ideas (and you happen to be in Richmond), I would like to recommend The Farmery, which I have visited three times in the last week.  I’m not even a tiny bit embarrassed about that.  Their frozen yoghurt is seriously tasty.

The Happy Place that’s a Good Old-Fashioned Metaphor
Whether it’s a memory, an idea or a vague daydream, we all have a handy bit of our brain that allows us to transcend the humdrum and the horrible.  We might not like to publicly admit the exact nature of our personal happy place, but it’s very healthy and helpful for us to have them.  Heck, have more than one.  Have as many as you like.  As long as you daydream in moderation, there is no limit to the places your mind can take you.

The Happy Place that’s Yet to Come
This might be a literal location – for example, I really want to visit Egypt one day – or it might be an ambition that you hold dear.  Either way, the best days of your life might not be ahead of you (although I sincerely hope that they are), but there is definitely happiness of some kind waiting for us one day.  If we keep working towards what we want and where we want to be, we can take comfort from the fact that we will always be moving closer to another, exciting happy place.

Have a glorious Wednesday.  May the place you are in be extremely happy.

Jack Sparrow Knows His Stuff

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Good morning, you fabulous creature!  How’s your bank holiday weekend treating you so far?

Today I’d like to talk to you about something that I think worries all of us: timing.  It’s the secret of good comedy, good cooking and a happy social life, and sometimes it completely eludes us.

It might surprise you to learn that I very much enjoy the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, even though Keira Knightley features quite heavily in it.  (My only explanation for this anomaly is that she spends most of the film being slapped by pirates or made to walk the plank, so maybe that’s why I’m ok with it.)  Anyway, despite being pretty infuriating, Jack Sparrow is an incredibly compelling character – which is probably helped by the fact that he’s portrayed by the wonderful Johnny Depp – who came out with a line that I think we could all learn from: “Wait for the opportune moment.”

I think that a lot of us live in fear of timing things badly.  We hate to miss out on anything, and the idea of a lost opportunity is horrifying.  In many cases we are just plain impatient.  Friends as young as twenty-two talk to me about not wanting to have regrets on their death bed, which is understandable (if a little morbid at their age).  That’s why we sometimes stay out longer than we mean to, or go to that party that we know we won’t enjoy.  It’s why we apply for all kinds of jobs, regardless of whether they’re the right ones, and why we travel all over the world.  We want to know everything, see everything and miss out on nothing.  That’s a lot to ask of ourselves.

Of course we should take opportunities, but I think that we should take them out of joy and optimism rather than fear of regret.  Grabbing everything that comes your way can be incredibly rewarding, but it might not leave you much time to stop and appreciate where you are.

We don’t have to do everything right now.  We don’t have to achieve all of our life goals right this second, and we don’t need to have done everything we ever wanted to do by the end of the week.  Watch this – Bill Bailey knows what I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely think that you should pursue your passion, go to the places you’re curious about and live life to the full, but don’t worry so much.  What’s the point of rushing around taking all of life’s chances if you’re not stopping to enjoy them?

Take it from someone who has a history of rushing into doing and saying things at the wrong moment: you’ve got time.  Wait for the opportune moment.  If you think you’ve missed one, don’t panic.  There will be another one along very soon.

Have a brilliant Saturday!  Maybe treat yourself to the posh coffee today.  Why not?  You deserve it.

Stuff I’m Definitely Going to Teach My Kids

Hello, reader!  I hope you know that by getting this far on a Monday you are a champion.  Mondays are rubbish, and you are clearly owning this one already.  Good for you.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about stuff we the mid-twenties team are too old to do now, and my house mate Ash wrote a brilliant response about stuff she knows she shouldn’t do, but still does: take a look at it here.  Ash and I both have birthdays around the corner, which could explain why we have ageing and childhood on our minds.  As Ash points out in her blog post, when you’re younger your birthdays are milestones of opportunity – you can drive now, you can drink now, you can drink in America now – but as the milestones go by you start to look back and see what you can’t (or shouldn’t) do anymore.

It might seem a bit rich for two girls in their mid-twenties to make grand, tragic statements about the perils of ageing, so my apologies to anyone who thinks that we’re drama queens.  I can only defend us by saying that a) we are so recently past the last “good” milestone that we are still adjusting to the idea of birthdays being bad, and b) we are drama queens.  We have our own tiaras and everything.

Today I have decided to take a more positive approach about this loss-of-childhood thing: I have thought about what kind of childhood I will want my kids to have, and what kind of lessons I most want them to learn.

1) How to Bake
My mum is wonderful for many reasons, but I think one of my favourite things about her is that she taught us all how to bake.  I can whip up a sponge cake in half an hour (including cooking time.  That’s right.  Don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me) because many years ago my mum took the time to show me, and to have fun with her daughter as well as teach her a great life skill.  Baking is one of the few loopholes that allows grown-ups to behave like kids: you can make a mess, you can make incredibly unhealthy but yummy food, and you can decorate the crap out of said food with glitter and icing.
Baking also results in being able to feed people nice things.  It’s probably the Irish genes coming through, but I love making people birthday cakes, biscuits and what have you.  Ash (who is, if anything, even more obsessed with baking than I am) would agree with me that one of the greatest joys in life is giving people cake.  Such a simple activity results in so much joy.  I want my children to have fun learning to bake, and to spend the rest of their lives using that skill to make themselves and other people happy.

2) Creativity is a Super Power
Speaking of my mum and baking, I have to take this opportunity to say that the woman makes INCREDIBLE cakes.  Kids’ cakes, wedding cakes, beautiful cupcakes arranged in a weird tower thingy: you name it, she can do it.  Look at these:600133_10151800790980083_1127455735_n photo (5)646_112469255082_353_n

The woman made a DINOSAUR CAKE, for crying out loud.  That is the closest thing to a super power that anyone could have, in my opinion.  She passed her amazing artistic abilities down to us in varying degrees, but the most active artist among us is my brother, who paints stuff like this:

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It makes me sick that he can paint so well, and I can’t even draw stick people.  These are just two examples of the kind of creativity that makes my jaw drop, but my life is full of people who excel at singing, acting, writing, dancing and all manner of other things.  I want my children to understand that having a creative outlet is a wonderful thing that allows you to process all kinds of thoughts, emotions and impulses, and that creativity in others is something to love and respect.  Which leads me neatly onto my next lesson…

3) Respect
This is a big one, and it covers all sorts of things.  If I ever have a daughter, I want her to respect herself.  I want her to ignore global media’s insistence that women are supposed to be as thin, tall and beautiful as possible.  If I have a son, I want him to respect himself too.  I want him to shun masculine stereotypes and just be himself, not what society tells him to be.  I want my kids to respect their family, their friends and their colleagues.  I hope that my children will understand from an early age that it is not acceptable to take their stress out on other people, and that every person they meet deserves to be spoken to politely and listened to attentively.  They will say “please” and “thank you”, they will not judge others based on race, religion, sexual preference or appearance, and I’ll be damned if they ever do the unthinkable and jump a queue.

4) Learning is for Life, not just for Christmas
My family is full of people who learn like it’s going out of fashion.  As far as I’m concerned, my maternal grandfather knew everything there was to know, and he instilled a passion in me for knowledge and understanding.  Similarly, I have absolutely no idea how my dad’s head can contain all of the information that it does, or how he has had the time to acquire so much knowledge.  My eldest sister is passionate about travel, and she loves exploring far-away places and learning about their cultures.  This also ties in with my genetic predisposition to read everything I can, which I sincerely hope my children inherit.  Life is a long and fascinating process of discovery, and I want my kids to love learning.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but wanting to understand the world we live in is a wonderful trait, and I prefer dogs to cats anyway.

5) Passion
If my genes are anything to go by, my children will be stubborn, impulsive and in all likelihood addicted to coffee by the time they’re sixteen.  They will probably be very sociable and prone to excessive sarcasm.  That’s all fine.  They will also, I hope, have dreams and ambitions.  I want them to have the commitment and energy to pursue their passions, and to encourage others to do the same.  I also want them to love people whole-heartedly, and to avoid the commitment-phobic, “we don’t want to put a label on it”, casual relationships that dominate my generation.  I don’t know how things will have changed in the dating world by the time my kids are of age to fancy people, but if they have the self-respect and ability to love that I want them to, then they will know better than to accept sub-standard relationships and undefined entanglements.  If that fails, then hopefully the future father of my children will have a shovel at the ready to discourage would-be unsuitable suitors.

There are loads of other little bits and pieces that I want to teach my children, such as how to ride a bicycle and where babies come from, but these five lessons represent my future parenting priorities.  I also realise that this blog has essentially been a vehicle for me to extol the virtues of my lovely family, but I don’t think that’s surprising given that they are the people who shaped my childhood.  I owe them a lot, and I can’t wait for my future children to meet them.

Have a cracking Monday!