Tuesday, 29 April 2014

On driving and Monument Valley: America 2014; Part 2

When I told people that I would be driving in America they invariably thought I had mental problems. I can see their point, after all I’d only just re-learned to drive in the last year after not having driven since the day I’d passed my test 13 years before and I still don’t own a car over here. In fact I’ve only driven 3 times on the motorway since re-learning.

I swept everyone’s concerns aside…

Until about a week before we went on holiday and I suddenly realized what I was proposing to do. The first leg of our road trip was around 300 miles from Phoenix up to Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border. Not a little pootle round the streets.

I was going to be driving on the wrong side of the road. On the wrong side of the car. On strange roads. With different rules. And I was the only one responsible for driving because The Person can’t drive.

We were almost definitely going to die.

I do have a whole post that I could, and probably will, write about driving in America as opposed to driving in the UK but I guess that ultimately driving is driving, no matter what side of the car or road you’re on.

Our trip out of Phoenix went as smoothly as could be. We enjoyed the changing landscape which went from cacti to forests of pine trees to red rocks to completely empty barren moonscapes which caused me major feelings of anxiety. I began to have images flashing through my head of The Person and I stranded in the middle of nowhere with condors feasting upon our flesh.

Some of those roads were pretty lonely let me tell you. It is impossible to get that feeling of expansion in the UK because it’s just not big enough, there are too many of us on this little island. But out in the middle of Arizona where there’s nothing but nature out there and no other cars on the road you start to feel ever so slightly insignificant.

Especially when you realize that you are literally the only person on the road.

How do you know that? Because America is the land of the Ridiculously Straight Road. As in straight ahead of you until you can see no more. As in you don’t really need to touch the steering wheel. As in you turn on to the freeway and the sat nav says to you “Continue on the current road for 160 miles. Then, turn left.” As in, it’s ever so slightly dangerous to forget that you’re driving and let your concentration wander…

Back to the story.

As I said, our first day of road tripping was taking us out to Monument Valley and was the tourist destination that I had picked out when we first started planning our trip. I was determined to go and see it because it was so iconic but then I started to worry because, you know, it’s so iconic.

I had visions of us turning up and going “Oh yeah, it looks just like it does when you get glimpses of it behind Kim and Kanye on that motorbike”.*

This was not helped by the fact that as we got closer to Monument Valley we also drove in to a pretty intense wind that was making driving a little less fun and the view a lot more obscured by sand.

Like, a lot.

When we eventually pulled into the car park I got out of the car, keen to stretch my legs and immediately had my sunglasses whipped off my face by the 50mph winds. I was definitely beginning to regret my decision.

We were staying in The View Hotel which is the only hotel based in Monument Valley. Only three storeys high, all the rooms face out into the Valley offering amazing views and for a very small amount extra you can choose a room on the top floor which allows you to look out on to the stars in the evening with no balcony from the room above obscuring your view.

I’d read all this on the website and thought “Yeah, ok, brilliant, sign me up.”

But no amount of reading and no amount of seeing pictures of Monument Valley prepared me for the actual view that greeted us when we stepped out on to our balcony…

Even that photo isn’t doing it justice.

We decided to get up to see the sun rise over the Valley. Fortunately for me no alarm clock was needed as I was still having issues adjusting to the time difference and was finding myself wide awake at around 5am each morning. I waited and waited as quietly as I could until I thought it was acceptable to start pushing and pulling on The Person to wake up and see the magical sunrise.

Hey guess what? When the sun hasn’t risen in Monument Valley in March it is fricking freezing. Like actual freezing. Phoenix might be there all smug in its 30 degree heat but up there on the border it is no joke. We wrapped ourselves in blankets that kept giving us electric shocks and tried and failed to operate the coffee machine in the room [side note: no hotel room in America has a kettle, they have fancy coffee makers. Not that it matters because half the time they don’t give you teabags. WHAT?!] and sat there freezing our behinds off as the sun slowly rose. It was beautiful. It really was. 

But mostly it was cold.

We thought about taking a tour right into the Valley. It is possible to drive around but it recommends taking 4 wheel drive cars and I wasn’t about to risk Chad, our rental car that I’d already grown close to, and, much as I’ve spoken about how awesome it is to see – you know, sometimes a rock is a rock is a rock. Plus it would have taken the best part of another day and we had the next day of our road trip to get ahead of us….

[To be continued…]

*Don't know what I'm on about. Go and watch this video. It's so awful it's brilliant. No. Wait. It's just awful.

Monday, 21 April 2014


I know that I need to continue my American Tale at some point (it involves me road-tripping around Arizona and not an adventure seeking mouse unfortunately) but I'm finding it very difficult to get motivated to write these blog posts at the moment. I'm very neglectful and I'm not really sure why.

I took my break from blogging and came back because I definitely felt like I wanted to but for some reason, no matter how many ideas and random words and phrases come bubbling to my mind, getting those out of my fingertips and on to the keyboard is just not happening.

I've decided to ease the pressure off and going for the easiest of easiest posts - one involving photos and one liners.

So. What has been happening lately?

L-R [1] Reading in bed; [2] Accidental flowers; [3] Afternoon drinking; [4] Hungover shopping

Easter has been the perfect blend of time to relax and time to have fun. I do feel like I've spent the past four days or so either drunk or hungover, which I'll be honest with you, is perfectly ok with me.

[1] Festivities for me began on Thursday night, going out for drinks with some work people. Good Friday started off well for me, which basically consists of reading in bed and drinking tea. There's something about reading in bed which feels incredibly decadent to me. No Ferrero Rocher needed thank you - mug of tea and some pages to turn is all I need.

[4] However...whilst hungover I committed the greatest of sins....I went shopping. Big mistake. I needed to get food so sloped off to Tesco to see what I could find. All I needed was lunch, instead I came home with - a candle, a can of Coke, Nivea face-wash, two small packs of sushi, Moroccan cous cous salad, chocolate pretzels, pack of six hot cross buns, sausage roll, massive bag of crisps, a top.

I'm still not entirely sure what happened in there, it's all a blur. Still I got enough food for the rest of the Bank Holiday weekend and the top is nice...

[2] The Person and I headed off to Nottingham on Saturday to spend the night with some friends. I dutifully bought flowers to give to our hosts (my mother would be so proud) which I actually forgot to take with me so we now how some lovely flowers for the house. Winner.

[3] Saturday was the perfect kind of day of afternoon drinking, followed by dinner out and more drinking. Relaxed and happy and laid back. I had some of the strongest cider of my life at The Crafty Crow. Kopparberg it was not.

L-R [5] Spooning gerbils; [6] Amazing reading; [7] Dog walking; [8] Creme Egg bonanza

[5] The gerbils have been as cute as always but lately I've been able to take some megacute (I just invented a word!) photos of them. They have a cottage that they normally sleep in but decided not to bother for a while, instead choosing to make a toilet roll nest in the corner of the gerbilarium. This meant I could take photos of them sleeping. Gerbils sleep on top of one another, entwined around one another, curled up on top of one another, and as this picture shows, spooning each other. Darn their cute little furry heads.

[6] This book is amazing. You should read it. That's all I'll say.

[7] I was on dog and nephew sitting duty. I took Rosie for a walk and we came upon some cows. These cows were initially at the other end of the field and came practically running to this end to stand staring at her. I wasn't sure if they were afraid of her or curious about her but I do know that I still have a healthy fear of cows.

[8] My work is super fun sometimes. Case in point, I get asked to buy everyone Creme Eggs for Easter. People love it when that happens. I am the Candy Lady.

L-R [9] Middle class snacking; [10] The walk towards Wembley; [11] Match in play; [12] Final score

[9], [10], [11] & [12] Luckiest most randomest break ever. I managed to get hold of tickets to the FA Cup Semi Final match at Wembley between Hull City and Sheffield United. Yes they were corporate tickets - boo hiss etc etc. But it was literally impossible to get tickets any other way so I'll take what I'm given and enjoy my non-segregated area of non-football louts thank you very much.

On the train down to London we were very much out of place. Amidst football fans drinking cans of Carlsberg I sat being the very most middle class football fan there was, drinking cocktails from a tin and eating my Graze brownie. Boom.

It was a stressful match. What should have been a fairly easy game for Hull City, as they are two Leagues above Sheffield United, they made incredibly difficult for themselves, going 1-0 down, then equalising, then allowing Sheffield United to score again less than two minutes later, before immediately going into half time. 

Thankfully the half time break was used for head pulling together and Hull City came out the winners. It is not often that I'll get the chance to go to Wembley to watch Hull City and see an eight goal game. It was absolutely amazing, unreal and I can't believe I got to go.

Now need to figure out how to get tickets to the FA Cup Final where Hull City will face Arsenal....


So there you have it. What have I been doing lately? In summary:

- Gerbils
- Dogs
- Drinking
- Eating
- Reading
- Football

Not bad, my friends, not bad at all.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Of planes and baseball - America 2014; Part 1

I've got to tell you. You need to brace yourselves for quite a few posts about America. I mean I could try and condense into one or two.....but I'm not going to.

Consider yourselves forewarned.

Let us start at the beginning.

As I mentioned in my last post, the turnaround from engagement to wedding was kind of fast. Knowing me and the kind of person that I am you may think that I would have been all over the planning of it.

I was not.

It just seemed to creep up on me and became on of those things that you say to yourself "Oh that's after Christmas, I'll think about it then" - and then suddenly it's mid-February and you realise that you're going away in a few weeks and nothing is organised.

We had a vague idea of what we'd do when out in Arizona. We didn't want to be too under feet whilst American Boy and American Girl were in the lead up to the wedding and still at work and we wanted to take the opportunity to do a bit of road tripping when out there. Cue lots of list-making and looking things up on Google Maps and looking for accommodation and getting tips from anyone we could ask.about where to go.

One piece of advice I was offered was from someone who recommended that we upgrade our seats from Economy to Premium Economy for the flight. We were taking the direct flight from London Heathrow to Phoenix Sky Harbor which is over a 10 hour flight. So not a short flight. I listened to my friends and I thought "Nah. We'll be fine." - basically I'm a cheapskate.

The worst thing about being in economy is that they make you walk past the Business Class seats in a Bullseye "This is what you could have won" style. As I gave everyone richer than me deathstares I realised that there was a nagging noise in my ear. What was it? Oh it was the sound of a child. Screaming.

This child then went on to scream for what definitely felt like the next 10 hours.

It must have been awful for the parents. Terrible. There they were with a baby (who was actually silent) and a toddler on a 10 hour flight. No mean feat. But my god I wanted to hurt somebody. Shut. the child. up.

We ended up in the middle of the middle of the plane. The person next to me fell asleep as soon as we took off and stayed that way for the night 9 hours, the guy next to The Person did not move for the whole flight either (he didn't wee, how is that possible?!) so we weren't massively comfortable. About 5 hours in I eventually found a position that didn't cut off the circulation to one of my limbs and determined to stay in that position. When I then tried to stand up I realised one hip was about 5cm higher than the other.

By the end of the flight I didn't know whether to cry or cry. The Person had managed to get some sleep, I got nada.

(The child was still screaming when we went through immigration. I hoped they might not let them in to the country but sadly it wasn't to be.)


You know what you do when you go to Phoenix in March? You go to Spring Training baby.

Spring Training took me a while to get a hang of but basically a load of baseball teams from up where it is cold have parks that they have built in places where it is hot so they can come and do some practice! So the Chicago Cubs leave behind the freezingness and the snow and the horrible weather and come to the boiling hot Phoenix. I'll be honest, I'd rather practice in the snow than in 30 degree heat but I'm just crazy like that.

So you can be dedicated and go and sit in the boring stands or you can take a blanket, sit on the grass and get drunk and not really watch the baseball.

The other thing you do is eat a hot dog.

Here we experienced American hospitality at its best. When we went up to order our hot dogs they were just in the process of making some more. The guy who served us apologised about three times in the space of about 3 minutes that the hot dogs were not ready immediately.

I wanted to take him home with me. It's hard to imagine the same happening if you went up to order a Pukka Pie at the Emirates...

From the baseball it was on to drinking and then a little bit more drinking. More sitting in the sun and talking. A slightly anti-semitic moment in a bar. (Don't ask, I can't even go there.) Before ending the day on this rooftopAmerican Girl and I talking whilst American Boy and The Person ended up inexplicably inebriated, gesticulating wildly, silhouetted against the setting sun.

I decided a screaming child on a 10 hour flight was probably worth it.

(But you bet your backside we upgraded to Premium Economy seats for the way back.)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

On watching your best friend getting married...

You may have missed this because it kind of happened in the midst of my massive blog hiatus last year but America Girl and American Boy totally got engaged last summer.

They were going to be over in England for American Boy to attend a conference in Manchester and we said that we'd go for a little break in Corfu whilst they were over. We'd talked about a trip for our 30th birthdays anyway and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to get away and for them to tick another European country off their list - I actually think they're beating me in the number of places that they've been in Europe you know.

All was planned and in place and so I nearly died when American Boy e-mailed me saying that he was planning on proposing to American Girl - he needed to know some logistics about what we were doing when so he could plan his proposal.

My reaction was two-fold - so much excitement that I nearly vomited and absolute horror that I was going to have to keep this a secret for months. 

I coped with the latter emotion by telling as many people as feasibly possible that did not know either of them.

I'll never be a spy. No good at keeping secrets.

Their engagement story is not mine to tell but it was unique and personal and beautiful, even with a dead pigeon involved.

They got engaged the day before we flew to Corfu and the week we spent there was spattered with conversations about when the wedding might take place, who might be invited, where it would be, what it would look like etc etc.

Picture has no relevance - it's just to make you jealous.

I felt simultaneously incredibly excited but also just a tiny bit sad. No, not for the reason that you think, but for the simple reason that this was my best friend getting married and, thanks to that stupid Atlantic Ocean and the fact that she lives on the wrong side* of the United States - I wouldn't be able to really help out that much with the planning of the wedding. Not the dress trying on or the table plans or, you know, just any of the stuff that you get to talk about when one of your most favourite people is about to walk down the aisle.

Thanks to the wonders of Skype, Pinterest and Facebook messaging I got to see how things progressed - and progress they did quickly. I'm used to 1-2 year engagements so I nearly fell off my chair when I found out that the wedding would be taking place about 9 months after we all returned from our Corfu holiday.

It was never a doubt in my mind what I would go. When I told people we knew when the wedding was they asked me "Oh, are you going?" and I would look at them as if they were slightly insane. There wouldn't have been anything on this planet that would have stopped me going.

I felt sad that I didn't get to take part in the Bridal Shower or Bachelorette party. Mostly because it meant I wouldn't get to do something that's on my list of Things I've Seen Time and Time Again in American TV and Movies. Did you know that a Bridal Shower and a Bachelorette Party are two different things? Not just a hen do? Anyway, much as I would have loved to have been a part - two trips to the US in a month was off the cards for me.

When we arrived in Phoenix I was overly keen to get involved in anything that might be 'helpful' to the wedding, but those guys were well planned, no matter how hard I tried I couldn't find anything to do to be useful. Up until the day before the wedding when I got to be super helpful and help make the flowers for the table centrepieces. Under the guidance of a professional I sat under the shade of their patio and tried to uncover my inner florist - sticking greenery and succulents into oasis until they eventually resembled something that looked pretty damn good.

I did ok at the wedding. For me. There was a point where I cried every time I looked at American Girl but I eventually got a hold of myself.

I would have done anything to have been more involved in their wedding day but nothing can compare to being able to be there when they did get married. Sat on the little white chairs on the grass, towards the end of a beautiful day, I couldn't believe that I was actually there, watching them get married. 

Sometimes it absolutely smacks you in the face how quickly life goes past. Oh I know we sit there and go "How is it April already?!" but I never really take in the actual speed of it.

How was it possible that it was eight and a half years that I went back to Manchester to do my MSc and met these two guys who were currently standing on the altar in front of me? Eight and a half years? It can't be possible. (In fact it can't be possible so much that I have spent about 20 minutes counting on fingers and paper and checking with The Person that it was in fact September 2005 that I went back to Manchester.)

It was something that I knew was going to happen and I knew I would watch one day. I knew these guys would get married, but here it actually was. Here is the actual day and I'm sat right here remembering. Remembering the year that we lived together in Manchester. Remembering that very first e-mail that I sent to American Girl once she was back in the US and I was living temporarily in Salford. Remembering all the e-mails and Facebook messages that have taken place since then. Remembering my trip over to the States in 2008 to see them. Remembering the time they came over the UK and it snowed and it snowed and it snowed. Remembering all the Skype calls. Remembering Corfu. And realising that now I get to remember their wedding day.

I could sit and be sad that I live in the stupid UK and she lives in the stupid US. I could sit and rage against the fact that there are no islands in the Atlantic Ocean that mean we could meet in the middle more often. I could sit and be sad that I couldn't be more involved in their wedding day. 


I could be overwhelmingly happy with all the things that I have got to experience. I could be overwhelmingly happy that I happened to have lucked out when I applied to stay in Halls and was thrown in with those two. I could be overwhelmingly happy that we have managed to keep a damn good friendship going for eight and a half years when we don't live anywhere near each other. Overwhelmingly happy that I have just got to witness my best friend getting married. 

There isn't anything that can beat that. 

Uncharacteristic cheese from me. Source from here

Except the discovery of an island in the middle of the Atlantic...just saying...

*The 'right' side of the United States would be somewhere like New York i.e as close to the UK as you can get. Not over in Arizona which is most definitely the wrong side.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A tentative return post

I should begin with the stock phrase that all rubbish bloggers like me trot out after an absence of posting...

"I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages, but....."

Well I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages but at least I left you with a brilliant post on the front page - gerbils eating pancakes anyone?

And I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages but I did get really busy because I kind of went on the trip of a lifetime to the US to see American Girl and American Boy get married.

And I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages but then work did a work explosion right in my face as soon as I got back and I couldn't even think about blogging.

And I'm sorry I haven't blogged for ages but then it was my birthday on Friday and I was too busy...just...having a birthday.

And then I thought that I really should blog again but not knowing where to start meant that I was a little bit paralysed.

So I thought I'd write a test post.

And you see, I'm so out of practice that instead of putting "write" in that last sentence I put "right". Jeeeeez.

I thought I test post might help me get back into the swing of things. That and a list.

And now I can't even remember how to finish a blog post.

(Picture of a gerbil?)