Friday, 19 December 2014

Photo an Hour l 14th December

Pitifully late with this month's Photo an Hour post. After being ill in Marrakech and then off work for a week, I've been having problems getting my act together and actually caring about doing anything. To be honest I'm giving myself a gold star for actually taking these photos.

This was Sunday 14th December...



10am - Late start for me, still in recovery mode after the kidney infection. Felt bad that the gerbils hadn't had a lot of exercise with me being away and being sick so I set up a mega cage extension into their playpen so they could come and play as they chose. They absolutely loved it and ended up being in there until about 2pm.

11am - Got around to finishing a book. This guy is a bit of a Marmite author, people seem to really like him or have a very visceral reaction to his books. I like him - his books are silly and easy to read and sometimes that is what you need. I wonder about his shelf life though, this book was very similar to his last one...

12pm - My guilty pleasure is absolutely, totally crap made-for-TV Christmas films. I'm not talking Elf, Polar Express, The Holiday, Love Actually here. I'm talking the kind of films you have never heard of, featuring actors you have never heard of with plotlines which are inconceivably easy to work out. I can't get enough of them.

1pm - Finally getting around to blogging, something which I have been completely remiss at lately.


2pm - In previous years I've been pretty good at making most of my Christmas cards. Not this year. I've been low on festive cheer but I gave myself a kick up the bum to make some cute crocheted Christmas tree cards to be given to the people I really like.

3pm - Round at my sister's so I got to see this little squishy face.

4pm - The downside of your sister being the boss? You get to spend a couple of hours of your Sunday sorting out vouchers to give people for a Christmas bonus. Yaaaaaaaay.

5pm - You can't tell from this picture but Rowan was literally sat on me, pushing me right against the arm of the sofa. She has absolutely no sense of personal space and I wouldn't have it any other way.


6pm - I stayed on at my sister's after dinner to help her with the Christmas tree. Having two teenage sons means that decorating the tree is kind of a lonely business for her. I on the other hand will leap at the opportunity to decorate a tree. Any tree.

7pm - And we didn't do too badly if I say so myself. Good bauble placement - I can't be doing with a sparsely decorated tree. And good distribution of lights. The more lights the merrier I say.


8pm - Back home where the washing up from the past *cough* days was awaiting me. It's pretty easy to let the washing up pile up when you're living on your own - you just keep taking plates out of the drawers until there aren't any left, or until there is no more workspace left to stack the dirty dishes. I know. I'm a terrible person.

9pm - In bed with a cup of tea and getting the last of my Christmas shopping done.

10pm - Ever late to a bandwagon. About 4 billion years ago, American Girl and Boy bought me Series 1 & 2 of 30 Rock. I loved it but just never got around to buying any more series. Over the past couple of weeks I rediscovered the box sets I did have and had to immediately buy Series 3 which is oh my goodness even funnier than the first two series. I've already order Series 4. Tune in next week for me discovering shows that everyone raved about 10 years previously...

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I feel like I can't thank Jane enough for hosting this year's Photo an Hour series. It's been surprisingly good fun and has got me blogging when I couldn't find anything else to blog about.

Louisa is taking up the Photo an Hour mantle for 2015 and has chosen the first date - Saturday 17 January - so get her blog bookmarked, get the date in your diary and get joining in. I love having a good old nosy at what people do during their weekends.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Bristolia

Probably the worst thing about being single are the weekends. During the week everything is pretty fine, I work probably a little later than I should so I don't spend a lot of time alone, but when I come home, I enjoy the time I have to myself.

Weekends are sucky. Weekends are when people in couples are enjoying the weekend being a couple. Saturday mornings break and I still stifle an internal sigh at the thought of two whole days of my own company stretching out before me.

I went to a lot of effort to book in things for the weekends after the break up, and finding myself in London for work on a Friday, I took the opportunity to pop over to Bristol for the weekend to see an old friend.


After being waved off by Paddington at none other than London Paddington Station I plonked my very hungover body down on the train and headed to hitherto uncharted territory.

A word to the un-initiated - Bristol on a hangover isn't the most fun ever. There are a lot of hills in that place. Hills and I do not get on and I was blissfully unaware of what was in store for me. Add to this the fact that my friend appeared determined to make me see every single sight possible in the remaining time we had left before the light disappeared.

Red wine hangover + hills = not a great tourist.

Tourist attractions visited included Cabot Tower - verdict: The spiral staircase might just kill you but the views once you get to the top really are worth it.



...And the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Verdict: Not as big as the Humber Bridge. Sorry. My expectations are high when it comes to suspension bridges. Although it does win points for being a damn sight older than the Humber Bridge.


...And The Downs. Verdict: Well worth a visit for the views over the Avon Gorge. Also an unnatural number of joggers/runners were there. I'm guessing because it's the only place that isn't on a flipping hill. It almost, almost made me want to start running again.


The rest of the weekend was spent visiting various drinking establishments - so many that I couldn't even begin to list or remember them.

All in all - a good introduction to Bristol. The company was....well, let's just say my judgement when it comes to certain people in my life is still seriously compromised...so I'm keen to re-visit again and maybe meet up with some people that I know are genuinely good people - Hayles? Kate? Jen?

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Marrakech

One of the up-sides to my job is the opportunity to travel to some fancy places, all expenses paid. It's a tricky concept to explain but basically - people want us to recommend hotels, destinations and activities to our clients for their next event so they take us away to show us said hotels, destinations and activities. All make sense?

These trips are few and far between and after a couple of years of working my bum off I was given the opportunity to go to Marrakech for a few days. How could I possibly say no?

I looked forward to it for a couple of months - I would never get an opportunity like this again to see a place so amazing and in pretty luxurious surroundings.

Unfortunately you're talking about me here. A trip to Marrakech was never going to be straightforward and life it seems has been determined to give me a thorough arse-kicking in the last quarter of this year.


It all started with a bout of cystitis in the days before I left. I followed a strict regimen of water, water, water, cranberry juice and water but was having trouble shifting it so the day before I travelled I went to the Drs and got some antibiotics.

That night I got a pain in my back. I quashed the voice in the back of my head that said it was my kidneys and decided I must have hurt my back again.

Thursday's travel down to Gatwick didn't go well - I felt more tired than I have ever felt in my life, the pain was unmistakably across my back in my kidneys and I was starting to get shivery and fevery.

I did what any sane person would do.

Forged ahead.

I was not letting this stop me. I had antibiotics and they would kick in soon. I would be fine.


To cut a long story short I got steadily worse and worse throughout the next two days. I was unable to join the rest of the group for any dinners, I couldn't eat any food, and I mostly wanted to die. Until eventually, at a restaurant in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains I started shaking so much that the group organisers decided enough was enough and I was going to hospital.

Where I stayed for the next day or so hooked up an IV drip.

Seriously. 

There aren't really words are there? I don't know why life hates me at the moment.


I did manage to see some sights despite wanting to curl up and die, including a walking tour of the medina, quadbiking in the middle of nowhere, a cheeky little ride on a camel and off-roading in a Jeep (which was exciting but did unfortunately make me feel like my kidneys were being shaken loose).









Unfortunately there was no bartering in the souks for me and the only money I spent was on a job lot of Argan Oil which should last me until the next time I go back to Marrakech for a do-over. I feel pretty smug about it - the amount of money some people pay for Argan Oil over here - bahaha in your faces, I spent hardly anything. BOOM.

One other good thing about Marrakech?

CATS.

Cats on cats on cats on cats on cats on cats on cats EVERYWHERE.

It was brilliant. And for the most part, cats in pretty good nick and not too grotty like street cats are in some other foreign countries. These felines are well fed let me tell you. The bad part about being in a group of people you don't know - you need to keep your crazy cat lady-ness under the radar. It didn't really work, within an hour people were pointing out cats to me, but it did mean I couldn't stop anywhere near as much as I wanted to to get pictures of said kitties.


I stayed in some beautiful places (hospital clinic aside) and although I'm almost definitely not going to ever stay in these places again, unless that incredibly rich man I'm waiting for walks into my life / lottery win comes off / mysterious benefactor appears, I am eternally grateful that I got the chance to experience both the Royal Palm Marrakech and the Riad les Jardins de la Medina. Not many people get that chance.

Nor do they get the chance to experience hospital in Marrakech - it's actually not that bad although you might want to brush up on your French and/or Arabic before you get admitted, okay?



All in all - I did the best I could. I kept going as long as possible and experienced as much as I was able, which I feel was spit in Life's Eye. You're going to try and mess with me life? Well you're going to have to take me down kicking and screaming.

So who's coming with me for Marrakech Round 2?

Monday, 1 December 2014

The train

I stood on the platform waiting for the delayed train with the hundreds of other people. Huddled together against the cold, like a colony of penguins, equally shielding each other from the worst of the cold, whilst never looking in any single person's direction.

As the train pulled in, we moved as one towards the doors, performing the same routine as on every other train platform across the UK; simultaneously trying to ram yourself through the door whilst still maintaining a terribly British sense of personal space.

We fought through the carriage, throwing ourselves down into the nearest seat, hurriedly shedding jackets and hats and scarfs and bags. Claiming the space as our own, casting glances at those who would be so bold to sit beside us.

Always moving as one yet always moving an individual.

We all sat in our own worlds, studiously ignoring those around us. Ensconced in books and phones, iPods and tablets. No-one looks up, no-one speaks.

I sat and wondered about them all. Keen to not think about my own thoughts that night I threw myself into imagining theirs.

I wondered what that girl was smiling about when she was looking at her phone - a message from a lover, a joke from a friend, embarrassing pictures from the night before, happy news from a relative.

I watched the two girls sat opposite me, whispering to one another so none of us could hear their conversation. It was a dissection of the night before, the scrolling through of a constant stream of messages - was she arguing with someone, or was there simply another person involved in the conversation, being filled in on the conversation happening on the train.

I looked at the guy next to me answering work emails and filling in cells on a spreadsheet. What was it that he did for a living? Was it what he always wanted to do, is it where he thought he'd see himself when he was a young boy?

I wondered where everyone was coming from and going to. A Sunday night could mean that everyone was going home after a weekend away, it could mean they were going away to start their working week. Where were they going to go once they got off the train? Would they be going home and what awaited them there - a house full of friends, a house full of family, a wife, a child, a pet, no-one at all?

They felt like they should be friends, I wanted to reach out to them all and ask them, find out about them. It felt like we should all be connected, all of us here on this delayed train. We all had that in common at least.

But I knew that I was alone. Alone on the train and alone in life. The only connection for me was going to be the next train I caught.

Out of the blue someone started playing a song out loud on their phone. Dancing Queen of all songs. There were mutterings, people turned around in their seats, people took out their earphones. And then it happened - we all caught each other's eyes. Some people rolled their eyes, others smiled, others out right laughed. We mimed the words at each other and danced in our seats. The girl put her phone down, something else momentarily funnier happening with us; the two girls stopped whispering and shook their heads laughing at each other and at the rest of us around; the guy left his spreadsheet alone for a moment, nodding his head along to Abba with the rest of us.

It happened. For a brief two minute period we were all connected. We looked each other in the eye and shared a moment.

And then the music stopped.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Somerset's Best Kept Secret

"When we're arranging for you to come and see us in November we'll try and time it for when there's a Carnival on."

I'll be honest, Dad says a lot of stuff that I don't really take in, but this was one of the few times that I actually stopped and listened. He didn't really seem able to explain it - kept talking about tractors and floats and lightbulbs and saying that I should look it up on You Tube.

I politely declined and put it to the back of my mind.

So when I arrived in Crewkerne on 7th November I was greeted with the news that the next day we would be going to the North Petherton Carnival.

I was still in the dark.

It wasn't until I discovered Louisa via that day's Photo an Hour hashtag on Twitter that things became a lot clearer.

I'll let you read her post about the origins but you basically need to know a couple of things:

- There are tractors pulling floats
- The floats are decorated up the wazoo in lightbulbs
- Some floats have insane hydraulics systems built into them
- It's bloody freezing
- It's absolutely amazing


First thing you need to know? You have to get there early. The roads in and out of North Petherton close by 5.30pm to prepare for the Carnival so if you want to go to the Carnival you have to go to the Carnival. You have to commit, which for us meant queueing on the M5 with the hazard lights on as the tailback went all the way down the sliproad and into the inside lane.


So you're in North Petherton. You're parked. It's 5.30pm. The Carnival isn't due to start until 7.00pm. What are you supposed to do?

The answer is go into the bowling club and drink some goddamn cider and shove a hot dog in your face. Obviously.

We were eager little beavers and made our way to stand on the side of the street at 6.45pm for the beginning of the Carnival. Kind of a mistake. This is where the insider info comes in useful and the next time I go to a Carnival I'll be well prepared. You need to bring with you:

Folding chairs
Thermos
Lots o' food
Blanket

For the Carnival did not reach us until 8.30pm. Trust me, standing on a dark street in the freezing cold,  in the dark, staring at a hedgerow for almost two hours does not happy campers make. I can make the best out of most situations, but I was starting to lose the will to live after a while. If I'd been sat on my bum under a blanket reading a book I'd have been grand though.


There is honestly, nothing that can prepare you for a Carnival. I'd looked at Louisa's photos and I had been forced to watch a couple of You Tube videos before we left but I still didn't get the huge scale of the floats that we're talking about.

I cannot even conceive how long it takes to put all of this together, I can only imagine the Carnival Clubs have started planning their themes for 2015 already. The carpentry alone but when I say hydraulics I mean hydraulics. These are big giant floats being pulled by tractors, with moving parts on them.

Dad had first heard about the Somerset Carnivals when talking to a local who told him a story about a Health & Safety officer being poached from one Carnival Club by another. I can now see why - this is a Health & Safety Officer's wet dream. Electricity? Massive floats? People on the sides of the streets? People singing and dancing flailing around on the floats? Did I mention the hydraulics?

Spot the tractor driver. Hint: It's not the guy in the top hat

I cannot even understand how I have never heard of this Carnival stuff before. There they are, banging on about cider all the time when Somerset should be banging on about this. Tek your Rio and shove it - this is Carnival British Style aka in the cold and dark. But with chippy vans so, you know, swings and roundabouts.


Carnival is so far up my street it's untrue. 

Bright lights? Check

Loud music to dance to? Check

Strangers acting and singing and dancing (and even more unbelievably, standing stock still in the Tableau Class - I don't even understand how they could do that.)? Check

Strangers standing on the street that you can talk to? Erm, check.


The whole thing lasted about an hour and a half or so and I was stood there with a gaping mouth like a complete moron for about 75% of it. The remaining 25% I was dancing and singing.

At the end of it all it was back to the car park and a surprisingly quick get away. I had visions of us being stuck there for hours but the road is opened in one direction only and we were on our way back home in no time at all. (With the heating in the car turned up as high as it would go.)


There isn't any more I can say, other than to urge you to maybe think about taking a little weekend trip down to Somerset in October/November 2015 to see it for yourself.

Trust me, you don't want to miss out on Somerset's best kept secret.

(Did I mention the hydraulics?)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Photo an Hour l 8th November

I am loving these Photo an Hour posts you know. It means I have a guaranteed topic to post about once a month - anything to save me from the horror of working out what I'm supposed to write about.

I was initially quite excited about the choice of the 8th November as I knew I was going to be away visiting my Dad in Somerset - a change of scenery is usually a good omen from some more interesting photos than when you're just twatting about at home - but unfortunately the heavens poured down upon us most of the day so you can expect a fairly crochet-laden post coming up.

Pop over to Is That You Darling to see others' posts and to find out the date of the next Photo an Hour day which will be in December. And remember you can also join in on Twitter and Instagram using #photoanhour

This was Saturday 8th November...


10am - A late start to the day with a little read in bed. Mrs Dalloway is November's Classic as part of my Not Really Resolutions - I purposely picked quite a thin one as I have been running a bit behind schedule lately!

11am - Ablutions time. Anyone else remember a day when just getting ready was a case of splashing your face with some water and being good to go? I'm not even a girly girl and I'm astonished at the amount of paraphernalia I seem to cart about with me, although that's mostly due to the fact that I don't empty anything out and just add more to the pile...

12.10pm - Rubbish weather? Can only mean one thing - time for crochet. But what on earth could it be that I'm making?

1.10pm - Lunchtime and a continuation of the absolutely god-awful weather



2.10pm - What am I making? A Father Christmas of course! Since swearing that I was going to make a job lot of them and sell them at Christmas I made three and then promptly made no more. It is time to get my bum in gear because these guys really don't take that long to work up. In fact this would have been completed much earlier if it wasn't for the fact that I had a complete brain malfunction and forgot to change back to red wool and merrily crocheted along for 6 rows of 42-odd stitches. Yaaaaaay.

3.15pm - Finished! I had no idea these guys worked up this quickly. Thank goodness for Photo an Hour, I would never have known that it takes roughly an hour to work up the bobble for Father Christmas' hat, his hat trim, his face, beard and moustache, attach all the above and sew on a little face. Good to know these things.

4.30pm - This is how I know I'm in the country. You go somewhere to buy dog food and outside they have what can only be described as a fuckton of carrots. It's an official measurement. For a second I thought that people in Somerset really liked their rabbits, before twigging that they're probably for horses.



5.25pm - You see this is why Photo an Hour is brilliant. There I was idly browsing through #photoanhour tweets when I came across Louisa who was talking about editing some Carnival photos. I couldn't believe it as I was on my way to the North Petherton Carnival, something I had never ever heard about until Dad piped up that it would be where we would be spending our evening. How very cool is that?! (Check out Louisa's post from last year which explains what exactly it is I'm talking about). Anyway. 5.25pm we were stuck in some immense carnival traffic trying to get off the M5 and into North Petherton before the road closed for the Carnival.

6.20pm - Officially trapped in North Petherton with time to kill before the Carnival started at 7pm there was nothing for it but to hunker down in the bowling club house with a hot dog and pint of cider.

7.35pm - One of my least favourite things is standing still in the cold. Be warned that going to a Carnival involves a lot of standing still in the cold. I was just thankful it wasn't wet as well. To keep warm I jumped about like an idiot in to the road to see if I could see the start of it. We had a long wait on our hands...

8.30pm - The first float! Hurrah. After an hour and a half of standing in the cold staring at a hedge this was a welcome sight. Little did I know what I was about to witness. It was absolutely mind boggling.


9.25pm - Honestly. When someone says you're going to see an illuminated float parade you don't really know what's in store for you. This was insane and will clearly have a post of its own once I've gone through the 4,000 pictures that I took and begun to compose my thoughts about it.

10.30pm - Back in the car and on the way home down the back roads

11.30pm - Back home feeling cold to our very bones and glad to be in the warmth. Max was also happy to see us but mostly sad that he had been abandoned for the evening.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Single gerbil parenting

I came incredibly close to not owning gerbils not long after the break up. I feel terrible about it now but I honestly could not even look at them in the days after he left. They were just a horrible reminder of how foolish I'd been, sat there like an idiot thinking I was in a happy little relationship with someone with our pets. I didn't get them out to play with them, I didn't really talk to them, all I could do was make sure they had food and were watered.

I live very close to a Pets at Home shop and went in and asked them about their adoption scheme - they have a little adoption corner in their shops where they have unwanted pets for sale - that's how close I came to not having them in my life anymore.

Ser Jorah Mormont

What an idiot.

One day, after another bout of crying I looked over and they were both stood on the top level of their cage looking at me. Obviously not out of any concern, I don't know that gerbils do empathy, they were probably hoping my presence meant a pumpkin seed was coming their way, but they just looked so darn cute and gerbilly and I realised that I couldn't take it out on them. It's not their fault that they were associated with that fucktard, how could I be mad at their little gerbil faces?

Tyrion Lannister

And so I threw myself into single gerbil parenting with gusto. I went to Pets at Home and instead of giving them up for adoption, I spent a small gerbil sized fortune buying them new and exciting things for their cage. And then I set up their gerbil playpen and left them playing in it whilst I went and cleaned out their cage.

I walked back into the living room to find Tyrion Lannister looking at me from the middle of the floor, most definitely not in his playpen. With admirable calm and grace I stuck down a huge tube on the floor (poster tubes have become my new saviour and the gerbil's favourite playpen toy) and he immediately ran into it. I deposited him back in his cage and went back out to collect the clean tank.

I came back in to find him running under the armchair.

I couldn't really fathom it as they had never escaped from the playpen before. They'd made it look as if they would think about it but never actually taken the plunge. I decided to sit down and keep an eye on him.

And when I see keep an eye, I mean keep an eye.

Over the next two weeks, whenever I took my eye off the playpen for a single second - maybe to pick up a cup of tea or reply to a text - this is what I would see upon turning back to the playpen...

Freedom!

He was on a mission.

It turns out that single gerbil parenting is no joke. I let them play on the sofa one day like I always have done. They jump about, they have a good time but they never ever ever get off the sofa. I left them there and went to pick up the mug of tea that I had left in the kitchen. I came back to find Ser Jorah Mormont staring at me from the floor. I still have absolutely no idea how he got down there.

I actually lost count of the number of times I had escaped gerbils on my hands in the 2 weeks after the break up. The good news is that I cared about so little at that point that I didn't get stressed about it at all. But it was clear that I needed help at some points so I now have a gerbil babysitter every couple of weeks for when I need to clean the tank. Someone from work comes and sits and watches them in the playpen, knocking them back in whenever an escape is on the cards whilst I can get on and properly clean their cage.

Scaling the heights of Mount Sofa

Obviously now I don't know what I would do without them. I talk to them every morning when they get up with me and have a bit of toast (yes I am being serious) and they're there to greet me whenever I come home from work. They've even helped me choose some of my interiors...

Lounge pants - Tesco / Gerbil - Model's Own

In short they have been my little saviours, the guys I wouldn't ever want to be without and quite frankly, who needs a man when you have a little face like this looking at you?


Zactly.