I know every blogger and their dog seems to freak out come autumn; but there is a legitimate reason for that. Autumn is breathtaking! I can’t get enough of scrolling through my Bloglovin’ feed and snooping on page after page of burnt colours and leaf kicking and pumpkin carving and conkers and knitwear. In fact I am lapping it up even more obsessively than usual because last year I skipped town before Autumn hit and my A/W 2013 was spent in, well, sweltering tropical heat. This means I haven’t had an autumn since 2012 and that particular gruesome autumn was mostly spent in and out of hospital, and barely participating. Safe to say I have been refreshing the met-office weather app every day, waiting for temperatures to justify the wool tights, woolly jumpers and COATS (ahh lovely coats!) that have sat unloved and unworn for two years. I’m basically delirious because I just ordered my winter coat. What a big decision and one that I used the entire Daylight Savings hour to mull over with a cuppa.

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Whilst a fair amount of my autumnal adventures have included misty ramblings around and stomping about the leaf sodden streets; yesterday it was time to give my cold ears and nose a break and plan something of the cosier variety. After accidentally spending 3 weekends in a row away from London (a hen do, a wedding, our wedding planning!) I have been so giddy all week at the prospect of an entire weekend to do whatever I wanted. So yesterday I did my annual trip to brave the city centre for some perusing up Oxford Street, window shopping on South Molton Street and to spend some time shoving my nose up to the Selfridge’s Christmas window displays. I had wondered where would be good to grab some brunch or lunch and none of my usual haunts were taking my fancy. I wanted somewhere that felt a bit more special than just grabbing a bacon butty somewhere. I wanted somewhere that wouldn’t be heaving, with a queue out the door (I love you Breakfast Club, but you need to have about 100 more tables!) but that would still have a buzzy atmosphere.

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So, I have a (probably really silly) confession to make, and that is despite the fact I LOVE hotels – this was one of my first ever blog posts – and am aware that in London we are spoilt by the quality and quantity of them; I’ve never thought to head to a hotel restaurant for a meal, if I’m not staying at that hotel. In fact (and this is definitely silly) I wasn’t even sure you were allowed to go to one, if you weren’t staying. So, at the grand old age of 30, I can now share this valuable nugget of information – you are! In fact, it is encouraged! And it is such a great option for exactly my predicament of wanting somewhere to cosy up and while away a weekend in-between shops and scuttling about the streets.

With this new life lesson, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the delightful Fiona to the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill and their restaurant The Montagu to sample their new slant on traditional brunch; an Italian/New York influenced offering that is more of an experience than a meal. Oh, and did I mention it includes unlimited Bellinis? I am such a big fan of the holy Bellini that when I type it in my phone, Syri autocorrects it to caps lock and with three exclamation points which gives a clue as to how many times I must have written BELLINIS!!!

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We had barely stepped foot into The Montagu before a super friendly member of restaurant staff whisked us off by the elbows and toured us around the various treats that laid ahead of us. It was a little bit like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Delicious smells and heaving piles of gorgeous food covered almost every surface surrounding the dining tables. Oh and a lovely man was serenading us on guitar; playing some really haunting covers of blues, swing and jazz classics.

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The first stop-off was the deli counter. To take the edge off any shopping starvation you might have entered with; this is an open plan station packed with cured meets, carpaccio, a giant cheese board, every bread you could dream up and glass mason jars of aubergine, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and picky-bits… and you are left to go WILD. I really liked this element to the brunch because it gave the meal a relaxed, luxurious feeling where it was totally acceptable to eat a bit of deli stuff, then something else, then go grazing for more. There is also a salad bar, where the friendly fellows will whisk you up anything that takes your fancy. I went for a Cobb, because I like my cheese to green ratio on the less-healthy side!

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As we let our first course settle, we were given the exact amount of space to natter and chatter; but we never felt like we’d been forgotten about, as our attentive waiter was either bringing us square slices of piping hot pizza fresh out of the oven (yknow, just to tide us over through all that exhausting story swapping!) or expertly topping up our glasses.

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The main course (you have to love a brunch that has a main course) is a unique offering where we scampered over to a big marble breakfast-bar attached to a vast open plan kitchen, where you can hover around and choose between fresh pastas, pizzas, risotto, steak and salmon. The great thing about the kitchen being right there, is that you have talk to the chefs about what they recommend, you can choose exactly what ingredients you want and then, if you are nosey like me, you can watch them prepare it and try to pick up hints to turn you into a chef too. I had Conchiglie (pasta sea shells to me) with tomato sauce, basil and meatballs. There is something just other-worldly about proper Italian pasta cooked by someone who knows exactly what they are doing! It was actual melt-in-the-mouth good.

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Now anyone who knows me can imagine that despite troughing my way through all of this, I really had my mind and my eye on the prize. The pudding prize! As we entered the restaurant I had already clocked the staggering dessert tray and thought “well I just want everything on that”. Here is a small sample of the choices that faced me:

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After an excessive amount of umming and ahhing, I opted for a slice of NYC style baked cheesecake and a tiramisu; just to be equal opportunities and trying something traditional from both sides of the ocean. The cheesecake was quite simply the best cheesecake I have ever eaten in my life. The vanilla tang, the crunchy super-buttery base and the cake itself being the perfect gooey texture. I feel like I’ll never want to order a cheesecake anywhere else in my life because there is no way it can be that good. The tiramisu was dreamy too; I loved the way it was served in a class tumbler, it means all the boozy coffee liquid had pooled at the bottom and just gave it the most amazing potent flavour. I polished both off in record speed despite being so full already. The pudding belly is a totally different thing right?

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I couldn’t believe it when I realised we had been brunching for almost three hours. We had completely pushed the official brunch-time-limit and passed through lunch and almost into afternoon tea territory. The fact this could happen without even noticing is a testament to the staff and the brunch. I hadn’t known what to expect from brunch at a 5* hotel; and worried it could feel stuffy. Instead, I felt totally relaxed. I absolutely loved the mixture of food you could choose yourself and create exactly what your heart desired, versus the food that the expert chefs could whip up. It meant that the experience felt really special, and like I was made a real fuss of, but it also felt really welcoming and intimate. Everyone we came into contact with was genuinely friendly, chatty and completely focused on making the occasion as dazzling as possible.

I am already trying to look ahead at my calendar of when I can go again; as I only had the stomach-space to try about a quarter of the delicacies on offer. The Montagu Italian meets New York Champagne Brunch is £39 a head; and that includes the unlimited bellini/champagne top ups and as much munch as you can muster. The Montagu also do something amazingly called “Sex & The City Par-Tea” which says it all really. I desperately want to take Lol; as she knows every word of every episode so could entertain me whilst we ate shoe shaped biscuits, by doing a one-woman performance of seasons 1-6! Thank you so much to Fiona and the staff at The Hyatt Regency Churchill and The Montagu for hosting me and treating me to such a marvellous menu.

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On the way out, I mentioned how the cheesecake had been the best I had ever had in my life, and an incredibly generous chap boxed up THREE slices for me to take home and so Nick could try some, rather than have me just describe how amazing it was.

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Now I am back home and whilst it’s great to have an extra hour of weekending, I feel a bit distressed about why there isn’t someone here to constantly top up my glass with BELLINI!!!

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This time last year I sat down in an excruciatingly hot & sticky cyber cafe in a tiny Venezuelan coastal town and wrote the first blog entry of my travels over on Twentysomething Burnouts.  In the strange way that time meddles with the mind; it feels like just yesterday and a million years ago at the same time. The next six months are going to be jam-packed with this sort of anniversary; this time last year I was in trekking up Machu Picchu Mountain, this time last year I was sleeping in a hammock, this time last year I was on the Amazon river spotting pink river dolphins, this time last year I shared a bed with the worlds deadliest scorpion… and every single one makes me take stock of where my life was then… and where my life is now. I’m learning that this has its (obvious) pros and cons! Whilst I love thinking back to the once-in-a-lifetime trip and the incredible memories; I also feel like a hostage to the past at the same time, and don’t really wish to live in a fog of reflection and comparison until next March. I have so many important life-things to focus on in the present (dream job! wedding! new flat! London stuff!) but I can feel the clawing clutch of nostalgia and wistful “I wish I was back there” gloom settling on me almost every morning as I pack my backpack and set off for the daily work grind (despite the fact I adore my current daily grinding and it’s in here:

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which kind of helps)

Something to help banish those blues has been making the most of living in one of the best places on earth! Forget my trip of a lifetime, some people aspire to visit London just once and I get it on our doorstep every day. I have to have a word with myself occasionally and remind myself how lucky I am (even if my lungs aren’t; living in London = now asthmatic)

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I turned 30 in May, and for my birthday I’ve been spoilt rotten over the summer by family as I cashed in IOU’ed London based experience gifts (the best kind) and kept milking the celebrations as hard as possible! Firstly my sibling Meg took me for my first ever tasting menu. This is where you are treated to a 6-course meal and each course has a wine selected to match the food selection. My inability at Geography did hamper the start of the night. I had diligently googled The Don, and as I know it was south, which is basically all the same to this northern lass, I headed off to the address provided. It was only when I had caught two buses and walked about 20 minutes in brand new Lotta From Stockholm clogs (breaking in shoes that contain brand new leather AND hard-wood is not the one) that I rocked up to a restaurant that looked… well… a little sketchier than what I was expecting. And sure enough there are TWO The Don’s in London and I was at entirely the wrong one. Already late and now in a bit of a sweaty state; I did something I never ever do. I hailed a black cab and it zoomed me over Tower Bridge giving me a “wow I’m a real life Londoner” moment; and in mere moments I had a glass of chilled bubbles in my hand and could rest up my sore feet.

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Meg and I opted for the tasting menu at The Don; which was perfect in every way. The Don provided us with flawless food, impeccable service (polite and knowledgeable, but never stuffy or judgey) and a buzzy atmosphere where no one sat close enough to eavesdrop as our conversation got more scandalous as we drank more dessert wine! The absolute BEST bit of the night however was the cheese tray. More cultured readers may have experienced this delight before; but to me it was completely new. Basically at the end of your meal, a very smart cheese-expert wheels over a huge tray that is mounded up with about 50 cheeses. They are laid out from hard > soft, strong > mild. Oh and BLUE. Luckily these siblings share a passion for anything strong, sticky and stinky and loaded up our plates with everything that ticked that box. The waiter was happy to stand for about 20 minutes as we made our selection; patiently explaining where every cheese was from, how it was made and what was unique about it. We even tried one that had a line of charcoal running through it. Although every course was a taste sensation in its own right, I think I could probably have just eaten 6 courses of the holy cheese mountain.

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My next spoiling session was courtesy of my big sister Jess. As children we shared a bedroom and a unshakable love for My Little Pony’s. We tried to progress our toy pony love to real life horses, but sadly Bradford isn’t exactly big on wildlife. We managed to get to a couple of riding lessons in one summer holiday; but rather than scampering around with enchanted pastel coloured ponys, we were both a bit shocked when we were expected to clamber onto these stinky, snorty, huuuuge creatures. I have one really strong memory of forgetting to take a riding hat one time, and therefore being late because I had to go back and borrow someones, and by the time I arrived to the lesson there were no horses left. (On grown-up-person reflection, that seems like pretty bad planning) As a result they brought out the “naughty horse” who usually wasn’t trusted to have a rider. His name was Duke, he had a mohawk, he was about three times taller than me and it took him about 4 minutes between me saddling up to him chucking me off onto one of the jumps. Thanks Duke! Despite this sad story; both Jess and I have maintained a curious interest in horse riding and ever since we both moved to London have had “Horse Ride Around Hyde Park” firmly on our must do list.

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Because she’s a super smart cookie, Jess actually got organised and sorted this out for my 30th. We had to wait until the horses were back from summer holiday (!) so a recent autumnal Saturday we met in Hyde Park and headed off to find the Ross Nye Stables. The stables are tucked away down Bathurst Mews; an idyllic little collection of terraces where you suddenly feel like you are a million miles away from the sirens and hubub of central London. Now that I’ve ticked off a key must-do list item, I might just replace it with “Lurk around cute Mews more often”.

We were met by a friendly lady who pointed us in the direction of (super chic) riding boots and (less chic) hats. Jess was introduced to her gorgeous, placid horse and easily hopped on. I was introduced to my horse, the naughty one, and nearly fell right off the other side as I tried to graciously get on. We hadn’t been sure what to expect from our jaunt out, but had thought that as we had stated we were absolute beginners, that we’d get on a horse and then have someone just drag us about on a rope – a bit like riding a Donkey at Blackpool.

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What actually happened was that we both had a teacher who accompanied us on a horse next to us. Jess had a really chatty teacher about her own age. My teacher was 13 years old. (Are you spotting a theme?) My slight witheringness at her age quickly went out the window when the first thing we had to do with our horses was ride them out onto the MAIN ROAD to get to the park. Panic! Luckily my very capable teacher shouted instructions and occasionally reached over and gave my grumpy horse a nudge in the right direction. After successfully negotiating the road without any motorbikes, sudden car honking or anything else that might frighten the horses into doing something scary, we were in the park. I actually needn’t have worried about the road-scares, as it actually turned out my horse had one single phobia and that was… plastic bags! Totally rational! Luckily the litter collectors had been pretty over-zealous in the park that day, otherwise my joy-ride would have been over pretty quickly.

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I have a whole new respect for horse riders and pony people. I had always looked at anyone on a horse and thought; i could do that, just sit on the thing and it does all the work. WRONG. Actually even staying on a horse is pretty tricky! You have to hold the reins right, position your legs properly oh and tell the horse what to do using special secret signals. At first we had a pleasant stroll around; taking in the flame tinted autumn leaves, enjoying the cooling air and waving at the tourists taking photos. Then it was down to the hard work. In Hyde Park there are amazing horse-lanes that have existed since horse was the main form of transport in London. It was on these lanes that we learnt to trot, and canter. Jess was a natural, trotting away and looking elegant. I didn’t realise at first that you need to lift up and down out of the saddle in time with the horses movements. My first attempt at trotting just worked out to be me lifting up and down at exactly the opposite time to the horse and as a result I sat on a hot water bottle for about two days afterwards because of the damage I’d done to my poor glutes!

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I was full of enthusiasm though, if not talent, and soon we were hammering along and I was really enjoying the unusual feeling of moving that fast and that freely around the park. The lesson lasted an hour, and was so thorough. My teacher talked me through everything really patiently and answered all my inane questions such as how are police horses trained and how you can tell if the horse if miffed? I had imagined that Jess I would just be strolling slowly around the park swapping gossip and having a good natter, but we actually didn’t get to talk once. Luckily we’d had a good lunch and chat time first.

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After braving the main road again, and then scampering back into the mews, my legs turned to jelly trying to get off the horse. I hadn’t realised how every muscle in my body had been tense and active in the riding and I basically melted into a pool of ouch and relief that we had survived. It was such an amazing experience and so much better than I’d expected. It was really special to have that one on one teaching and to get to basically be riding independently from the off. We felt so proud of what we’d achieved and I definitely feel like getting straight back on the horse (ho ho) but maybe somewhere a little less public next time.

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I was recently tagged my my long-term blog buddy Laura (of Make Do and Mend) in the 11 Things round-robin blog post. I haven’t posted anything like this since I very first started my blog a whole seven years ago, so I think it’s a fortuitous time to share a few secret facts and feelings.

Step one of 11 Things, is to list 11 random facts about yourself. I have such a wealth of weird and wonderful facts about me that I live for this type of question! It especially seems to crop up when I start new jobs and in the introductory email sent round the company, they want to say something additional to just my name, job titles, CV history etc. and I never know which fact to pick; as you’ll see… some are stranger than others!

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1. I still have all my baby teeth (except the top front two.) I never got a second set, which means my baby teeth were never pushed out. This means, once my baby teeth fall out, I will either have to have big gaps or hope to win the lottery; as every replacement tooth costs in the region of £3k for an implant. I’m a freak of nature and my childhood dentist had an x-ray of my teeth on his Wall of Fame! No one can predict how long they will last, as they shouldn’t have lasted until now, but I try not to sweat about it. In the scheme of things that you could have wrong, this is just a vanity issue really. I mean, if they ALL fall out, you can blend cheeseburgers right?

2. My middle name is Jean, which I used to dislike but now that old lady names are fashionable again I have a new appreciation for it. It does however give me the initials BJ; which wasn’t ideal at high school.

3. The chubbiest part of my body is my KNEES. Which is funny because they are the bees-knees, ho ho. I used to hate them and wouldn’t be caught dead getting them out on display (I lived in jeans or black tights) but these days I care so much less about worrying about what other people think of them. The fact Nick finds them cute helped with that a lot too!

4. I plan to turn Vegetarian in the next five years, because it’s what my 96 year old Gran holds responsible for her hulk-strength health. She stopped eating meat some time in her 30s; so I’ll enjoy a few more steaks first.

5. I did competitive synchronised swimming for my city and county until I was 13; when unfortunately I discovered things like boys and music. At the time it was mortally uncool, so I never told my friends from school that I did it and made up excuses for missing social events when I was actually training or competing. I’m happy to see that nowadays it’s viewed as an Olympic level sport and treated with so much heart; because it is seriously gruelling stuff. When I competed we could do solo routines where we selected our own songs and I once performed to a medley of Ace of Base, East 17 and Snap! – The Power. Sadly synchro swimmers these days aren’t allowed to chose their own tunes!

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6. I have amazing family who inspire me constantly. We are all very strong individual characters, but have remained fiercely close as adults. I have my mum, my dad, a big sister, a little brother and a sibling who identifies as non-binary gender. They wrote an amazing article about it here which I would implore everyone to read.

7. My favourite book is The Great Gatsby. I read it at least once a year and it breaks my heart every time, despite me knowing it word for word.

8. Until last year, I thought that aeroplane pilots worked out how to get to their destination using vision (e.g: “Look! the Eiffel Tower! We must be close to Paris”) I realise now this is monumentally stupid but sometimes I excel myself at a lack of general smarts.

9. For a long strentch of my life the only two celebrities I had met were Richard Whitely and Jeremy Beadle. And look what happened to them (shortly after). My sister used to want to “set me” on Jim Davidson.

10. Dynamo tried to kiss me when I was 17. He’s a really lovely guy and although I squirmed away (I reckon he gets a few better offers these days though ey?) it’s so heart-warming to see how successful he; as he definitely deserves it.

11. I used to be a nervous flier, because I only did my first flight when I was 18 so just wasn’t used to it (and probably because I thought pilots were following landmarks, hmm…) but now it’s one of my favourite bits of any holiday. I love everything about the Care Bear cloud views, the movies, the no one bothering you and the serenity of being so freakishly high in the sky.

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The second stage of 11 Things is to answer 11 questions set by Laura. So here goes:

1. If you could recommend one great book you read in the last year what would it be?
I just finished an incredible debut novel by Jessie Burton called The Miniaturist. For me it had definite shades of Kate Morton Sarah Waters and Angela Carter “The Bloody Chamber”-ness to it (and these authors are all favourites of mine). As someone with tiny desires to be an author one day, the fact that someone could create something this accomplished, intricate and compelling at their first attempt is completely daunting and impressive! I rarely splash out on hardback copies of books; but the design on this jacket is so beautiful, and the book so perfect, that I’d highly recommend it.

2. What job did you aspire to as a child?
Like many children who grew up watching way too much telly in the 90s I was obsessed with being a forensic scientist (blame Mulder & Scully!) which I find hilarious now because I am so squeamish that I could barely look at my own Frankenstein stitches after surgery, so the prospect of grizzly crime scenes being my day job would not be a good fit. The fact that sciences were my worst subject at school soon shattered the dream anyhow!

3. Who was your first crush (famous or not)?
Wow Laura, you have unknowingly touched on quite a sore spot of mine! But since you asked, maybe it’s time to make the horrifyingly cringy facts public knowledge. My first crush was… Colonel Sanders. Yup, the KFC man. I can’t imagine what it was that struck me about him, but as a toddler when we passed the signs I used to point at him and say I was “going to marry that man”. At least I’d have always been well fed.

4. What song makes you super happy when it comes in the radio?
TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me. It just never fails to get me dancing and has an impossible amount of happy, nostalgic early-twenties happy footed memories attached to it.

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5. What really gets your goat?
I guess it’s a good sign that I really have to think hard about it. I try not to get riled by much these days! I think my biggest bug bear is bullying of any kind. As much as I adore Twitter; it seems to bring out that cliquey, bitchy side in some people (celebs included; Ricky Gervais has been a recent “block / mute”) and sometimes I absolutely despair at what people think is cool/acceptable on there. I shudder at the thought of that type of interaction existing when I was in school; kids are cruel enough in person without layers of anonymity to hide behind.

6. What is your favourite dish to cook?
I have a speciality called “Northern Fried Chicken” (and I swear this isn’t related to my childhood crush living on into my adult years!) where I cook chicken goujons that are coated in a special secret batter, which I couldn’t possibly reveal!, and a ton of butter. I serve them with sweet potato wedges and corn on the cob, slathered in the hottest sauce I can find (currently a Belizean bottle from our travels) It’s super easy but seems to be a crowd pleaser; plus helps me push my hot sauce obsession onto anyone who’s visiting.

7. Do you have a skill no one else can do?
I don’t know! Being from Yorkshire I do a pretty good “you know nothin’ Jon Snow” impression? I’m also dead good at hook a duck but don’t get much opportunity to show that off.

8. Who’s your current favourite comedian?
Don’t hate me but I’m so out of the comedy loop and just not that into it. I like comedy TV shows however and recently discovered Broad City which if you haven’t seen, you need to stop reading this and go watch now now now.

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9. Do you collect anything?
Kirby grips. I leave a trail of them like breadcrumbs in a fairytale! I also collect Starbucks mugs from cities Nick & I visit together. We have New York, London, Stockholm and Lima. I’m not even a Starbucks fan but these city-specific mugs are the perfect size and with really neat artwork. However! They just got discontinued… So it will remain a small but perfectly formed collection.

10. What is you favourite way to spend a Sunday?
I love to LIE IN, have some morning cuddles and lazing about with Nick, then a cup of tea and some reading in bed. The sign of a GOOD Sunday for me is if I don’t change out of my PJs; but this takes the type of organisation (e.g getting food in the day before, not making plans to see anyone etc) that I usually lack. If I do venture out, I love a big ramble over the heath and visiting the doggy swimming pool because I don’t have a dog so have to lurk on other peoples.

11. What one thing do you love about your hometown?
It’s the underdog of the UK! No one ever has nice things to say about Bradford in general and in the media. But this attitude completely unites Bradfordians in a sort of “we know it’s a bit rubbish, but it’s OURS” mentality that I never experience anywhere else. The sense of community is fierce. Also, it’s really not rubbish. It has a world of amazingness to offer anyone brave enough to visit!

Thanks again Laura for tagging me. I really enjoyed this quizzing!

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Every year, my dearest magical friend Craig and I have our annual day trip to the seaside.This year, as we both turned 30, we decided to ramp up the activity a little and go away for a day and a NIGHT! This meant we could travel a little further afield, and so we chose to zoom off to Norfolk. We both crawled out of heavy busy work weeks, and were in need of coffees the size of our heads at the thought of the long journey stretching out ahead of us. I picked up a car picnic of cherries, crisps and fizzy percy pig tails and soon our zip car (named Charlize!) was heading the right way from London. The journey took about 3 hours; mainly because the one road that takes you in and out of Norwich is currently being expanded. That’s great news for future visitors, but less great for people who want to drive down it now and its single carriage is packed with road works AND slow moving tractors. We also hit the tail-end of hurricane Bertha, which made for some tricksy driving conditions.

We stuck to our California road-trip specialist subjects (Craig driving, Me navigating) but this time my role extended to passing him water and also pouring crisps into his crotch (!) so he could chow down and keep one hand on the wheel. Some things you really can only do with close friends, and this is one of them. There was a reason we chose Norfolk, and that’s because it’s where Nick & I are getting married next year. Craig is (among other very exciting roles) chief of decoration, as I really don’t have the first clue and he made his music-festival-30th look so chic. So our first stop for the night was my Gran’s house, in order for Craig to recce the venue and start making some plots and plans. As soon as my Norfolk-based family hear there might be fresh meat in the vicinity, they flock down, so Craig spent the first night having an official “induction” which involved a frantic card game of Racing Demon with my cousin, aunt, uncles and gran. At 95, my gran still thrashed all 3 generations of us.

After an epic sleep (there’s definitely something in that Norfolk air) we started the day in the best possible way. Home-made ginger cake for breakfast, followed by a lesson on the spinning wheel, which Craig previously thought only existed in fairy tales.

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Then it was time to take a scamper around the grounds where Nick and I will be getting married. I won’t include too many photos because, well no-one wants too much of a spoiler before the big day surely. The sun was shining and the flora and fauna were in fine form; we’d be so lucky to get a day like that. I picked an apple that was as big as my entire face, and I reckon will be enough to fill a pie. There’s something so enchanting about this place!

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After another slice of cake, and an hour or two of my gran telling us incredible childhood and war stories; it was painful to tear ourselves away but we really did have to get a wriggle on and do what we came to do… see the sea! Also, thanks to Craig for being my stylist for the weekend. I had stupidly forgotten a spare tee-shirt so he kindly leant me his I <3 LA one which fitted a little too perfectly and is currently being held hostage. Not quite sure I am ready to give it back! The drive from Norwich to Cromer took about an hour. My gran was born in Cromer, therefore it’s a place I visited tons as a child but haven’t been to since my teens. I stuck to tradition, and we parked on the road my gran was born on (which is also handily free parking; therefore more money for tat from the tourist shops). I had a good peer at the house where my life-idol came into the world, the original name “Yerbury” is still etched into the gate, which is also my mum’s middle name in honour of it.

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Our first effort to fully de-Londonify ourselves was to head out towards Over Strand, where the beach is nestled next to miles of wild scrub. I love that Cromer has shingles and pebbles, but also soft sand and rock pools. We walked as far as we could see, stopping to scavenge for shells and to hunt for anemone. It was amazing how quickly we left the chaos of the town centre behind and were soon alone with the lapping sea and ramshackle abandoned beach huts.

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I don’t know how we manage it, but every year our day trip takes place in a different month and a different day, but whatever the weather forecast (usually beefy thunderclouds or remains of hurricane) we get tropical temperatures. As we stared out to sea, I felt the most at peace since I came home from travelling. You don’t need to get on a plane to find that sunny sweet spot when we get summers like this. The one thing I haven’t missed about UK beach offerings though, is these pests. Creepy wormy weirdos!

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After a good dose of salty air and stomping around, we headed back to dry land to explore the pier. Cromer is the only pier in the UK to still have a regular Pier Show, although we weren’t organised enough to catch it. We also discovered that the thing to do at Cromer pier is to go crabbing! Every inch of pier-side was packed with families who were hanging fishing rope off the edge, with bacon on the end to tempt crabs into the nets. The unlucky crabs are then collected in a bucket in order to show off to everyone else how many have been snagged. I wasn’t sure what the point was, so asked a local man who recoiled in horror when I asked if he ate them (Cromer is famous for it’s crab!) but these were just little nippers and he told me they catch them for fun, but they are all chucked back in the sea at the end of the day.

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By this point in the day we both had a hive-mind desire for one thing, and one thing only. A GIANT fish (and chips). We found somewhere called the No.1 Fish & Chips, so we figured that must be the best in town and we were not disappointed. We tucked into the feast whilst gazing back out to sea and with sand between our toes; which I swear improves the taste by 80% at least. It’s so special when you have a friendship that never suffers an awkward silence. Even after spending 36 hours together back-to-back, we were nattering none stop. It feels like we never run out of conversation, I guess because we are at that age were lots of big life things are happening; which need endless analysis – in between chip mouthfuls.

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After a doze in the sunshine and a stop off at the amusements and funfair, it was time to bid Cromer farewell. I was tempted by the teacups but have learnt from sickly experience that swirly-round-&-round rides do not mix well with having just eaten a giant fish dish. This has definitely been one of my favourite day trips of all time; as the town and beach were just the right amount of buzzy Vs busy; and there seemed to be an infectious good mood in the air. Almost everyone we passed smiled, said hi or just looked happy with life. This is something that is sorely missing from the London rat race sometimes! This, coupled with my gran’s endless wise sage advice and life lessons, left us both really inspired and feeling zen as we headed back to the M11. I say this every year, but I really need to do this more often. A day at the seaside felt as good as a holiday.

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If you’ve never visited Norfolk, I highly recommend it. And if you have, but never went to Cromer, then do that too! Just remember to pack your sunglasses.

Read all about or previous day trips here:

2013: Rye & Camber Sands

2012: Reculver

2011: Isle of Purbeck

2010: Eastbourne

 

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Gosh, after claiming that this time around my London life would be different; inspired by my zen travel times, where yoga and plenty of time to contemplate was a regular feature in my life… crikey have I been busy! I think it’s slightly impossible to press the pause button when living in the big smoke. Especially in the summer! I zoom off to work and when I escape into the sunshine at the end of the day, I can’t wait to take a walk by the river, or go meet friends that I’ve been missing and just really enjoy being completely plonked back into the thick of it. There’s always somewhere new to go, something nice to eat and some bubbles to be drunk. It’s so hard to say no! Those shaky reverse-culture-shock stuttery days have long passed and I’m nose-diving super speed into London living, part 2. That’s not to say it’s all been this way; on the odd night that I do come straight home, I have dissolved into a drooly sleeping mess by 8.30pm (still oh so light outside! childhood me would be outraged that this has become a desirable thing!) because I am still suffering massively from new-girl brain drain.

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When I am at home, I am so happy. It’s lovely to finally have a bit of London that is just ours! As much as we have loved previous house mates, after staying in a different hostel every night for 7 months, it was time to have some privacy. Our flat has really exceeded expectations. Sure it’s fun-size, but it still has everything we need, and plenty of sneak space for hiding junk you don’t want out on display. It’s the third floor flat in a converted terrace, so it feels a little like we are living in a treehouse. Our views are pretty much 90% sky, which is lovely, and every time a big truck or lorry passes a rattle passes through. At first I felt like I was about to topple out, but now I’ve got used to them I quite like the daily mini earthquakes! It’s strange to think this time last year I was working in Cannes, with the unknown of travelling and this mammoth life change all ahead of me.

Anyway! What has been keeping me such a busy Bee? Well one thing I have to share, is that a couple of weeks ago one of my loveliest friends Oli celebrated his birthday by inviting a gang of us to the Barbican. We took part in tour that was based around the Barbicans’ Brutalist Architecture. I confess, before rocking up, I had to do a quick Google of “what the heck is brutalist architecture” (read: am I going to have pain inflicted on me during the tour) and the quick answer is no. Brutalism was a fragmented movement in architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, perhaps as a post-war reaction to some of the frivolity in the architecture of the 30s/40s. Brutalism isn’t as bleak as it sounds; it just reflects the lack of bells and whistles in the look of these buildings. They are very functional, often with a dominance of concrete and rather than hiding them; the architects express in the external elevations the functions, people-flows and general bits that are usually kept hidden. Some famous examples are Park Hill in Sheffield, Western City Gate in Belgrade and the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington.

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We totally lucked out with the weather for our tour. It was warm enough to lig about in the cold for two hours (you definitely get your moneys worth on this excursion) and the sky treated us to pinky, golden, magic hour hues for the whole time. It was as if the Barbican was really putting on a show of just how beautiful it can be. Our tour guide was a super enthusiastic Irish academic, who wore an amazing batman cape-like coat and stomped around in big clompy heels, whilst blowing our minds with facts, figures and LOTS of secrets. The first thing she was keen to inform us, is that there is a misconception that the Barbican was created as a council housing estate (something I certainly thought was true). The architects who created the Barbican did work previously on a council estate just up the road, but the Barbican certainly wasn’t built as one. In fact, it was built to attract city-types and yuppies! As during the time it was built, there was a huge housing crisis and a demand for more professional housing close to the centre of London. That isn’t to say it didn’t serve the community though; there was a YMCA, a library, a girls school and a church within the estate.

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In my head, I wondered how much more there would be to learn, as I naively thought that in my 7 years a Londoner “I’ve been to the Barbican loads of times”. I’ve actually only really visited the Arts Centre, and briefly scuttled to and from the tube station. What I hadn’t realised what how vast the Barbican estate is. Our wise-owl tour guide told us to start thinking of it less as a building, and more as a town. It houses over 4000 people; which is actually half of the City of London’s population. We started off taking a good look at the bit EVERYONE knows about… the famous towers. They are so dizzyingly magnificent up-close; no matter how you feel about the marmite aesthetic. At the time of being built, they were the tallest building in Europe. Something I found remarkable, is that despite having slightly different heights (2 towers are 43 floors, 1 is 44 floors) they are identical in every other way. When you view them from the ground, this fact seems impossible! They all look totally different angles, directions and shapes. Our guide informed us that the architects did this on purpose, and it’s one of the most amazing feats of the architecture.

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Something that was instantly noticeable on the tour was the quiet. Sitting smack in the centre of London, surrounded by chaotic rush hour hustle and bustle, at most parts of the Barbican all there was to hear was peace and tranquillity. This is another feat of design; with the architects focussing on sound-proofing the Barbican by building it raised high above the streets and noise. This also gives more opportunity for light and views to trickle in to every bit of the estate. We trailed around the nooks and crannies of the residential areas, and peered enviously at the secret gardens and secluded jungle-like patches that are nestled between the buildings. These are private so we couldn’t go in (I need to make friends with a Barbican resident stat) but our guide assured us that they are so sprawling that once inside, you feel like you could be in the middle of Hampstead heath!

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This is an original map from when the Barbican was first built, and it lists the Museum of London as “building in progress”! I think the map is an example of one of the key perks of paying for a guided tour, as this is something you could so easily march past without paying the slightest bit of attention to. I have previously thought the rather dingy subway style tunnels around the Barbican were quite intimidating, but our tour guide laughed that off, claiming there has never been a street-crime on the Barbican estate so it’s safer than basically anywhere else in London. I need to remember to head there next time I’m drunkenly staggering about after a night out. (What am I saying, I am 30 now, and definitely don’t partake in those shenanigans anymore!) Something I found quite sad as we walked around this incredible chunk of London history; is over half of the flats look un-lived in. Curtains closed, blank window faces, ghost town exterior (I think we saw 2 residents, max). Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t empty and up for grabs – sadly – they are just second homes. They are city crash pads or a novelty piece of real estate. I guess that’s actually in-line with the market they were initially aimed at, but I found it quite sad that they don’t get sold to the tenants who’d love every second of the experience but aren’t necessarily the wealthiest.

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I’m sure the question on your lips is… Is the Barbican Brutalist (!) and the answer is well, no, not exactly. See that photo above? After using concrete on the whole estate, which is dead easy, the nuts architects then decided they wanted to add the texture that you can see in this close-up. So, they created that texture using a hand held machine. Yup, on every millimetre (even the high bits!) of this sprawling monster of a creation. Pretty fiddly really, and not quite in line with the anti-ornate simplicity of Brutalism. And now you know! At the end of the tour, raring for more and not wanting to leave, we were snuck into a very secret plant room. This was the most exciting bit, as we headed deeper into the Barbican underbelly. Down in the dank dingy darkness, we could see a patch of wall where the architects sampled different looks for the finish of the building. Fun fact: they gave serious thought to covering the whole lot in white marble! You can still see the sample of it there today.

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I can’t recommend this tour highly enough. Versions of this tour run on a pretty regular basis all year round; you can book your tickets here.

And now for something completely different! Saturday 7th June had been a date engrained on my brain for a pretty long time. Whilst I was travelling, someone I missed horrifically was my gal pal and bridesmaid extraordinare Kate aka Kasia Basia. Epic emails were exchanged, attempted Skype calls melted into frustrating pixels and darth vadar voices, and we generally pined a lot for each other. When Craig came over to meet us in Guatemala he bought me a letter from Kate, and inside was a IOU note saying she had bought us tickets for Arcade Fire in June. At the time, sat in a sticky sweaty Guatemalan hostel and off the back of 5 months of living in the wild, my brain could barely process the information. Gigs? Was that something I did? I was so disconnected from my “old life” and found the whole thing almost impossible to imagine. All I remember thinking was “I’ll have to travel up to Brighton for that” (when in reality I had a 20 min tube journey home). Anyway home we came and the date rolled around, and it had extra special meaning given that it was so loaded with travel memories and was a really special celebration of being back together. So special, I had to wear my new Twin Peaks nerd dream tee-shirt.

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The gig had a whole other layer of nostalgia, as it was at Earls Court which is due for demolition in the probably not too distant future. Gigs there tend to be a bit pricey, so realistically Arcade Fire is the last time I’ll step foot in there. Emotions were riding high! The support was stellar; Lorde and a DJ set by 2 Many DJs, who were joined on stage by an amazing human mirror ball man.

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I last saw Arcade Fire on the Neon Bible tour in 2007, the gig was at Alexandra Palace, it was pouring with rain and I trecked all the way there from Streatham. I knew they were fantastic, and liked them enough, but in the past 7 years they really have taken on a pretty iconic position in my favourite-music charts. Every album so perfectly encapsulates the time of my life it was released. I was so happy to be there with Kate who I know feels exactly the same. I had been apprehensive about the gig for two reasons. The first was that it was in such a mega dega venue, and we’d be sharing the gig with over thousands upon thousands of other people. I quite like to be near the front and in the heart of the action at gigs, but I knew that wouldn’t be an option here (as we were too busy tucking into pizza and chugging wine and nattering to bother queuing for early entry). I also thought I might get a bit irritated by annoying crowd etiquette ignorers and hooligans. Secondly; (shhh) I don’t exactly love the new album. In fact, I pretty much don’t like. So there was that…

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Luckily, my fears were unfounded. From the first beat of the first track, Kate and I were completely in our own world of Arcade Fire joy. We carved out a decent sized dance floor, marked it with our empty pint glasses (top gig tip) and then bounced about madly, arms slung around each other and crooning along every lyric. It’s such an exhilarating experience when you see a band you truly love. The memories attached to each song seemed so much stronger and more powerful live, than when I listen to them on my commute or during a bedroom private disco (everyone has those, right?). Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) reminds me of Lol so much. I was lucky enough to have a best friend who worked at Virgin Megastore (RIP) and therefore we got into every weird, eclectic and obscure band that came along thanks to her work discount and impeccable taste. Before Arcade Fire had really got out, I can remember really clearly going to an indie night at Stylus (Leeds Uni student union) and the DJ playing it early on in the night. Lol and I raced onto the dance floor, which is sunken below the bar and therefore everyone was looking down on us as we danced completely alone and like absolute idiots! Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) reminds me of my uni boyfriend, who lived on the other side of Hyde Park to me and was on my course, so our pretty short relationship was a constant haze of walking to campus or walking to and from each others houses. I don’t know why but I have such a strong memory of walking through the park one time, wading in inches of thick snow, and stupidly wearing converse with no socks (my teen brain had somehow decided socks were not sexy? I guess?) and I was listening to this song. So my feet basically half froze off, and even now I still get chill-blanes every winter and it’s all because of that one fateful day. This is the weird way my brain works, and every time I hear Tunnels I think about him and Hyde Park and snow and frosty feet.

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When they played Ready To Start Kate and I held clammy hands, and spun around, and generally existed in a shiny twinkly perfect world of me-and-her for those 3 minutes. The good part was that even when they played the new songs that I’m not so keen on, there was incredible stage production and dancers and light shows and it made it all fit seamlessly in with the older stuff. It was hot in there, so hot that you could basically see the steam rising off the writhing dancey bodies around us. When they ended on Crown of Love (of course) the room exploded into a burst of glitter ticker tape. Which was as magical as you’d expect! Look at beautiful Kate’s happy-face-happy-place.

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All in all, it was one of the best gigs of my life. Thanks so much to my Kate date, for making it the best London night since I moved back. It really reminded me just how on top of the world and super human a good gig can make you feel. I definitely need to stop being scared off by the cost and eat beans on toast in order to go to a few more shows this year. That’s just a taste of the new news for now, I still need to write a double whammy about Craig and I’s 30th celebrations which involve life size emojis, wobble chops (!) and Nick dressing as the goblin king from Labyrinth. Yup…

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What kind of chump writes an entire emotional blog post about leaving London and then err… stays in London? This one! So here I go, embarking on London living the sequel. I think a big part of why we became fixated on moving to Brighton was that we didn’t want to feel like we’d just come back from 7 months of life-altering travel just to return to the same old same old. It felt like London would just suck us back in and somehow dissolve all the perspective we’d gained through seeing so many developing countries and shiny new cultures. Obviously this was quite an extreme reaction, and I think it was mostly due to the fact that as we were counting down to leave London we were at the ends of our tethers with manic jobs, crazy commutes and no money to enjoy any of the sparklier city offerings. Living off crumbs and working all hours is bound to get you glum, wherever you are living, but we started to completely associate that feeling with London specifically. Once we had put a few thousand miles between us and the big smoke, the things we loved and missed started to trickle back in. I explained in my last blog how our flat hunt in Brighton had failed pretty spectacularly, and also at that point how I had been for a first interview at a place I have always dreamt of working. Well, another interview and a gruelling presentation later and I got the job! What a birthday present! I’m now the Digital Marketing Manager at Penguin Books. More about my return to the ratrace later, but once I knew I bagged this role and Nick had also lucked out with a job at a production company he likes, all signs were pointing to a return to London. Both of us commuting to Brighton would have cost £4.5k EACH a year. So heck forget the signs, with a wedding to save for there was no way on earth we could justify that outgoing and both suspected the fresh sea air might not quite be enough to balance out the grate of a 2 hour+ daily commute and having no pennies.

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So, it was time to find a flat. After living out of backpacks and a different bed every night for the best part of a year, just having somewhere to call our own was a glorious concept. We got stuck into the black hole of house hunting, which in London at the moment is a whole new breed of cut throat, and one sunny evening we turned up to view a property in Kentish Town. We weren’t expecting much as we sat swinging our feet on the wall and squinting curiously up at the flat. The only thing in its favour is that it’s about 5 minutes away from Camden Town Brewery Bar aka our favourite London watering hole. We were joking as we walked up the stairs that however dank and dumpy it was, we’d take it anyway, and just spend all our time drinking beer down the road. Then we walked in and… fell in love! It’s a dinky little flat but perfectly formed, with lots of lovely little luxuries such as space in the kitchen for a table & chairs, a bath huge enough to fit the BFG in it and tons of nooks & crannies for storage. We moved in over the bank holiday, with the help of Craig and Phil. It was a soggy affair, and slightly hindered by the fact we kept celebrating and getting accidentally drunk, which doesn’t aid the tedious task of unpacking your whole life. After 3 days of slogging away, it’s now almost finished with just the fun stuff left like what to hang on the walls and how to categorise our book shelf (Nick votes genre, I vote in rainbow colour order).

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It’s been so amazing waking up in my own bed, surrounded by my own stuff and having a base. It helps that I am absolutely ADORING my new job too. My new colleagues are brilliant (their interests include: ukulele, hula hooping, knitting, mac & cheese AND Katy Perry) which makes such a huge difference, as any job can be dreamtime on paper but when you spend so many hours in close proximity to people then it’s massively beneficial if you have shared interests and can be real-life chum too. My role is super exciting, and involves reading books for overtime, which obviously is not an issue. Oh and the canteen does a jacket spud & beans for a quid! Which is almost as exciting and life-changing as everything else. So all in all, London life: Part 2 is feeling really exciting so far. Obviously I will still get disgruntled when I find myself on the tube during signal failure and other London-specials, but mainly I feel like this is a completely different chapter in my life (and I’m 30 now don’t cha know!) and has just as much to offer me as if I had upped sticks to the seaside or decided to stay living on an island in the Caribbean sea forever.

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Although I want to lodge a formal complaint about what has happened to the cats at the Art Deco beaut Carreras Cigarette Factory (/Greater London House) in my absence. Does anyone know why they have been blobbified?

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Gosh I feel like my blog lately is just getting bogged down with life-updates. Hopefully now that I am planning to quit doing anything life-changing for a while, I can get back to talking about cheeseburgers and Yorkshire tea and new frocks. Bear with me! Something I think it’s fitting to quickly shoehorn in, given my new job, is a few of my best recent reads, that I am itching to get more people to read so that I can compare notes:

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan. I can’t actually remember where I first heard about this collection of short stories; I think perhaps it was recommended on Amazon or Goodreads because The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is one of my favourite books. For once, that’s a very fitting comparison and an accurate if you like that you’ll probably like this pick. The twenty stories of lust, longing, fantasy and magic intertwine recognisable elements and characters from traditional fairytales twisted with a refreshing take on the morals, locations and endings. Other stories are entirely new, modern fairytales I suppose, which get under your skin and creep back into your mind as you drift off to sleep; in the same way you might have been haunted by Red Riding hood’s wolf or Hansel and Gretel’s captor. Something I admired most about this book was Kirsty’s approach to gender and sexuality. Relationships between men, women, witches, coin-operated boys, stags… are dealt with depth, intimacy and heart. I’d love to see a shift in mainstream fiction to approaching similar issues in this way. I’d highly recommend this collection of stories, even if you aren’t usually a short story fan. I found myself absolutely captivated from the first line of delicate, descriptive prose and am already looking forward to curling up with it for a re-read.

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Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway. Hawthorn and Child are policemen in the Met, dealing with the daily despair of London’s murky underworld. From the description, I had expected a cookie cutter police thriller, but I was SO wrong. For a start, this book has the most ambitious narrative structure I think I have ever experienced. It can be wildly frustrating, as each chapter is almost a stand alone short story in itself. After starting the book and desperately trying to log details, story archs and characters in my brain, only for each chapter to go off on another tangent, I stopped and started over again treating each chapter as it’s own independent snap shot. In fact the only link to each chapter is that it features Hawthorn or Child, although by the end you have learnt so much about them both throughout these individual scenarios. The book takes commitment and attention, due to the discord method of writing, but as a reader who tires of being spoon-fed obvious information; I really enjoyed the challenge. My only regret is that it’s sat on to-read shelf so long, as it was released to co-incide with the London 2012 Olympics (and with a story thread that ties directly in to them) and I think it would have been fantastic to read it whilst wrapped up in the sporting frenzy at the time.

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The Broken – Tamar Cohen. This up & coming author had somehow passed me by (maybe because I was out of the country!) until I read a brilliant interview over on Steph’s blog The Musings of a Human Magpie. The Broken introduces two couples whose lives are intertwined to the point of regular holidays, their daughters being best friends and doing pretty much everything together. That is until one of the couples, Sasha and Dan, break up. It’s a scenario that most people can relate to, having been friends with a couple and then being forced to take sides or attempt the impossible task of staying neutral. The still-together couple Hannah and Josh find themselves getting far too involved in the increasingly sinister dramatics of the separation, to the point that it starts to drive a wedge into their previously blissful marriage. This is a real can’t-put-down, reading-under-the-duvet-with-a-torch (or kindle light, but that doesn’t sound so exciting!) novel, which I devoured in a single day and night. The dynamics and intricacies of both happy and imploding relationships are written so accurately that you feel like you’ve experienced both during the course of the book. I have immediately downloaded another of Tamar’s back catalogue and am looking forward to working my through the previous 3 releases.

 

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This is it, my FIRST post of my thirties. How on earth did that happen? On Sunday, I woke up in the most remote part of Exmoor National Park, donned a dress covered in beetle & butterfly print and ate the biggest full English of my life, with extra fried bread. I was now 30 years old. When Nick had asked how I wanted to spend my birthday weekend, I think my requirements were pretty simple; somewhere wild where we can hike around, somewhere just us and somewhere I could eat a cream tea! He chose the most incredible little country house nestled amongst the hills of Dunkery Beacon and beneath one of the only dark sky patches in the UK (stars!) We will be writing about this trip as our first UK-Travel adventure over on Twentysomething Burnouts so I won’t spoil it here, and I don’t want to write about it here anyway because instead I want to write about ~feelings~.

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I had been warned by older relatives and friends about the pre 30 freak-out. I hated the way it was talked about with such inevitability and that from the moment I turned 29 last year the words on everyone’s lips were “ooh 30 next!”. At around this time I started to take stock of my life and the one area of my life I felt there were some pretty heady regrets was seeing the world (and the fact I hadn’t done it, basically). There were many reasons Nick & I decided to quit life and go to Latin America, but a secret one I kept tied up in my heart was that I felt I could perhaps dodge the freak-out bullet by facing head-on the one unsatisfactory area of my twenties, before 30 chased me down once and for all. For anyone else teetering on the late-twenties nearly-thirties gap, I would highly recommend this tactic. If you can use the big day as inspiration to take a look at the bits of your life you would ideally change beforehand, and then make steps to do this, there isn’t a whole lot left to be freaking out about!

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Lately I’d been so distracted with interviews, house hunting, catching up with long lost friends, shuttling around under ground and re-acclimatising with London-me, that I didn’t do very much of thinking “this is the last cup of tea of my twenties”, “this is the last time I wear this dress in my twenties”; the type of thoughts that might start to make your heart patter a little faster. I felt a bit super-hero-esque about this whole turning thirty thing. I kept trying to prod and pinch myself with little tests of if I felt weird about it yet… but I mostly felt excited at the prospect of getting to make an extra big fuss of celebrations more than anything else.

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And then it happened.

It was actually due to my plans for writing this blog post that things started to unravel. I wanted to post some old photos of me through the ages, and therefore knew I needed to have a dig around my storage boxes and bin liners. I found a tote bag that on the surface seemed to be filled with photos, and set about spilling the contents around me. Disappointment quickly stained my initial excitement as I realised all the photos were reasonably recent (mostly blurry drunk photos and Lol & I at various indie nights around Leeds). Having filtered through all the grins and gins and finding nothing from earlier than my twenties, I noticed the bag was still half full. I blindly dug around tombola style, pulling out scrap of paper after bank statement after ticket. I’m not sure why, but the rest of the bag was a mini time-capsule of 2006. I must have stuffed everything in there, before moving down to London, and thought I would sort it out at the other end. Five house moves and nearly eight years later, and that obviously never happened! It was so surreal to suddenly be face to face with my life back then and to every bit of paper trail that surrounded it.

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I dragged the bag to a shredder and sat reading every item before destroying it forever. Some parts were fascinating; like my revealing wage slips that showed how many hours I worked at a busy gig venue & bar but how pitifully I got paid. All my bank statements were just one more H&M splurge away from the bottom of my already-extended overdraft. There were cheque books (how quaint!), receipts for dates I don’t remember, an annoyed letter from my dad about my eating habits (which I had no recollection of) and endless ideas and plots and plans for short stories I never wrote, and maybe should. There was a doozy of a heart-wrench find in a letter from my ill-chosen university boyfriend, who had apparently staggered drunk into my work and had to be thrown out by my manager. Talk about dramatic, I don’t remember my life being so Hollyoaks like. It was three a4 pages of empty apologies and promises I had heard a million times. Safe to say, things didn’t last very long after that! Shredding that particular find felt extra satisfying.

I’m actually really happy that by some twist of fate, I ended up having to face up to some lurking ghosts of my past and the inevitable reflecting that comes along with switching decades. The feelings I felt most strongly were disconnect from that early twenties in-debt love-troubled bar-working dreamer. It felt almost like rummaging through someone else’s life. It was familiar, but mostly it was shocking how far removed I have come to be from that chunk of my life.

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The key learning I took from it is what I think it the NUMBER ONE difference between the twenties and thirties. Are you ready? In my twenties I thought I knew everything. I thought I had everything and everyone sussed out, I thought I was wise before my years (cringe) and I thought I had it pegged exactly how my life was going to pan out. In my thirties, the first thing I am happy to do is put my hand up and admit I have a LOT to learn. I certainly do not know everything, and that’s exciting to me. I don’t rush in making snap judgements anymore, or assuming I know what someone it about. I sit back, I take my time and I am happy to admit when I was wrong and have to go back to the drawing board (the big “lets move to Brighton” plan for example!)

Ever since turning 30 on Sunday I have felt an unusual sense of inner calm. I think I look a tiny bit wiser/have a new wrinkle. I feel so relieved to draw a permanent line in the sand between the me of my twenties and the me now, who has so much to look forward to. So far, being 30 is pretty excellent! And, because I am no longer twenty and paranoid about what people think of me, I will happily confess that I have practised saying “Hi I’m Bee and I am 30” in the mirror a few more times than is healthy and it feels… ok!

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Exactly one month ago today, I smushed my nose up against the window of my Air New Zealand LA > LDN flight and burst into tears, whilst also giddily jumping around in my seat, as the rolling green hills of England peeked up through the marshmallow clouds. I would never have predicted that the sight of a few fields would evoke this reaction in me; but having spent nearly 7 months out of the country and travelling hundreds of thousands of kilometres (whilst getting in all manner of scrapes) it was the feeling of finally being home. I won’t recap the whole trip here, as hopefully you were glued to Twentysomething Burnouts and know all about the time we shared a bed with the world’s most deadly scorpion or accidentally ended up in a teeny tiny 8-seater tin-can aeroplane with a 17 year old pilot, who spent the whole flight rummaging on the floor for a biro. No? No! Then you better head over there instead of reading these slightly melancholy post-travel-trauma ramblings! Those stories are far more fun!

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Despite spending the last 3 weeks of our adventure in California, and therefore slowly returning to civilised behaviour such as showering regularly, the culture-shock I have had since returning to the UK has been mammoth. Absolutely normal things that I’ve grown up my whole life with such as; flushing toilets, hot water, slippers, CHEESE, public transport with loos on them, PJs, tap water you can drink without dying etc. have been denied of me for so long, that it’s like they are shiny and new. It was absolutely surreal to return to Nick’s parents and unpack my handbag that had been left gathering dust in their attic for the duration of our trip. I opened my wallet and it had a vaguely fuzzy de-ja-vu familiarity, but it looked like it belonged to an entirely different person. Why on earth did I have SO many coffee shop loyalty cards?! At what point had I earnt enough salary to justify having a Liberty storecard? There was also a distractedly half read book of short stories, The Returned boxset that we had watched all but 2 episodes of before leaving and a tick-list of chores for our “Last day in the UK”! All my hopes and fears and excitement about the unknown trip of a lifetime were festering in that handbag, and now I was back. And it was totally over.

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Although it was back to earth with a bump, our first week was at least buffered with a dreamy jet-lag haze. We toured the country visiting our parents and immediate family, getting spoilt rotten and being treated like royalty. I enjoyed eating everything I saw; all the food we’d obsessed about being reunited with whilst tucking into South American delicacies such as a broth complete with floating chicken claw, the thing that directly translated as “soup of the beast” or the myriad of mystery meats we consumed. And then… the victory lap was over, and we found ourselves back in London. I was outraged. Where the hell was my hammock? Why wasn’t I drinking a pina colada at 2pm? We were both having trouble sleeping. I’d wake up on an hourly basis, sweaty and bemused in the pitch blackness, my mind buzzing with anxiety over what country was next on the itinerary and where the bus station was… only to slowly realise I was in Golders Green, not Guatemala. Mornings rolled around, and instead of excitedly questioning each other on what rainforest we could scramble through today or where the Rough Guide reckons we could find a decent breakfast for under a dollar… the sinking realisation crept in that we needed jobs, we needed money and we needed to find a home. These things are way less fun.

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I would be lying if I said it was easy. Heck this is my little corner of the internet and why lie? It’s been absolutely horrid. We’ve spent 7 months in some of the most dangerous and pressured situations in the world, and been cool cucumbers. Back in same-old-same-old familiar London, we were fraying at the edges. The fact is, we have seen things and experienced things that have made us different people to the ones that left London last. I guess that means slotting right back in as if nothing happened, isn’t an option! We caught a train to Brighton, in the hope of flat hunting, only for me to be waylaid by a stomach bug, realise I have a phobia of those mutant massive seagulls, and to be messed around something chronic by estate agents. We skulked back to London with our priorities shifted; how about trying to get jobs before we house hunt. Let’s cope with one mega-dega life thing at a time… and let’s try the one that gives us money, rather than takes it away.

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After living out of 35litre backpacks forever, I seem to now have an aversion to stuff. We’ve both only unpacked about two outfits each, which hang forlornly in an empty wardrobe probably thinking hey where are all my dress-pals? Why do they have to live in a bin liner now! As this blog is testament to, I used to dress with obsessive precision in twin-sets and accessories, but now I just can’t face the amount of choice required to dress myself in the morning if there isn’t just a choice of this OR that. Maybe I’ll become one of those freaky aspirational capsule wardrobe types you read about in women’s magazine? (I’m saying this as someone who hasn’t stepped foot into H&M, Zara or Topshop yet. Who am I kidding.) I’m sure anyone who has ever moved house can empathise how rough life is when everything is in storage / boxes. I momentarily forgot this when I went for my first post-travel haircut (there were actual dreadlocks forming) and had a super chic snazzy do that needs daily blow drying and an hour with the straighteners. If only I could find the box that contains my hair dryer… or straighteners!

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Weeks in, and we’re appreciating some parts of being back in the big smoke. Our friends have been incredible, rallying round and doing nice things like cooking us dinner, buying us coffees and letting us watch Game of Thrones at their house. Yknow, the life essentials! We also had a much needed London-tourist day on Wednesday. We both had first interviews for jobs we really want in the morning. I had left before Nick, so when we met up on The Strand later we cracked up upon realising that we had dressed identically for our interviews! We were both wearing his-n-hers beige macs with black shiny brogues.

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In our uniform; we marched over the Thames, stopped for a Wahaca burrito on the South Bank, checked out the skate park demo, saw some nice new street art and then tottered over the bridge to the British Museum for an afternoon of Ancient Egyptians and Medieval British bits. There is something so soothing about the museum. One of the things Nick and I bonded over when we first met, is that when we both moved to London penniless and brand new, we would both come to the museum after work (separately, we were still 5 years off meeting!) and spend hours roaming around in the last hour of the opening, as the gallery staff start to politely shoo you out. I’d come to the museum and sit surrounded by these incredible artefacts and give myself pep talks. Seven years on and it still has that welcoming, everythings-going-to-be-ok… ok? vibe for me when I visit!

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And this weekend I did the thing to make you appreciate London the most… leaving it! Nick was in Berlin on a stag do (a four day one, which I think is a little intense!) so I came to my most precious Norfolk getaway, and timed it to catch my Gran and Mum at the same time. On the Saturday my aunt drove us out to Overstrand, a coastal village about 20 minutes from Cromer. We picked up fresh dressed crab which we devoured for picnic lunch, and then marched out onto the beach. Despite the blistering winds and chilly temperatures, I felt so proudly British to join the families who were stubbornly paddling, sitting in deck chairs or attempting Frisbee regardless. A family favourite tradition of ours is to hunt out balemites amongst the flint and the pebbles. They are rare little fossils, but there is a treasure trove of them to be found if you peek hard enough. We clambered up past the coastal path where, during the bad winter storms, every beach hut between Overstrand and Cromer was whisked into the sea!

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I’m not sure if it was the sea air, the brisk wind or being surrounded by my family, but by the time we got home and I crawled into bed (all toasty because my gran still remembers to put an electric blanket on for me a few hours before bedtime!) I then slept for eleven hours and when I woke up I felt settled for the first time since we got back.

Oh yeah! In other bee-life news you may have missed if you haven’t followed the travel tales, I am now engaged! It happened like this and I am very lucky indeed. On Sunday morning I woke up and my mum had bought me my first Bridal magazine instead of an Easter egg. Does this mean I am officially a grown up?!

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I am not sure what will happen next. Where we’ll live, where I’ll work or what gallivanting I will be blogging about here. But please bear with me, and in the meantime I turn 30 in two weeks (agh!) so I will be sure to be getting up to a few antics to celebrate this most grand of old ages. Over on Twentysomething Burnouts we will also be finishing up the last of our California exploration, and a few other behind the scenes bits, so that blog is far from over!

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I’m going to end the post with some lyrics from a song that has meant a lot to me recently. Whilst travelling I just had an iPod shuffle that had to entertain and occupy me on every 10, 20 and 30 hour bus journey, every sleepless night, every long flight. I kept it permanently on the shuffle function and despite it getting drenched on our dramatic Colombia > Panama boat-mare, it is still going strong. On the penultimate day of our travels, I turned the shuffle function off, and decided to play the ipod from start to finish (we had a long Megabus ride from San Fran to Los Angeles). The first song that came on was one I had NO idea was on there, and that the shuffle function hadn’t played once in the whole seven months! It was like winning the lottery. A whole new song out of 331 that I had heard hundreds of times each! It is by a very talented man who releases under the name Adem, and it’s called Everything You Need. The lyrics really felt appropriate at the time I discovered it, driving through the California dust bowl, and have been really comforting since we got home.

You severed your ties
Left us all behind
You said all your goodbyes
To everything you need

You severed your ties
Re-forge them… make it right
Come back with open eyes
To everything you need

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I just couldn’t do it you guys. I was going to take a break from my beloved little nook of the internet for my whole 6 month trip, but then I realised that would mean I couldn’t write my annual resolutions post and that sent me into a spiral. So you still need to follow my travel tales here at TwentySomething Burnouts (and while you are being kind, please vote for us here in the UK Blog Awards!) but I couldnt resist just one post.

Back in January 2013 I tapped out my resolutions here. I then did a recap post in March, tracking how well I had done at actually achieving any of them. I was so happy to kiss goodbye to 2012, aka the worst year of my entire life, that my resolutions were especially important and more of a mantra that this year would be different. In a desperate desire to control my life again, I just knew that I had to take some big steps to ensure 2013 didnt batter and bruise me in the same way. Lets see how I got on…

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2013 Resolutions

01. Read 51 books: Smashed it! I actually read 70 books in 2013. Obviously travelling spiked the number I could rattle through, without pesky things like fulltime work getting in the way. I would say it has also been my very favourite year for books. There were some incredible releases this year, plus through pure fortune I discovered new authors and books that have been floating around for years but only captured my attention this year. This led to some obsessive compulsive back-catalogue consumption. In particular two authors Erik Larson and Jon Krakauer set my imagination alight. I downloaded The Devil In The White City as my big flight-to-Venezuela treat and it instantly became my number one read of the year. Larson has invented an entirely new way of learning about social history and his writing is instantly captivating. Everything he writes is fact (entirely proving the phrase about fact being stranger than fiction) but it never vears towards being dry, even when in books like Thunderstruck he charts the rise of Marconi, the inventor of wireless communication, which if I am honest… I would never ever expect to find interesting. In The Garden of Beasts was actually my favourite of his, as I often think there is very little left to depict about World War 2 yet here Larson has cast a whole new light on the events of 1933 by telling the story through the perspective of William E. Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, and his socialite daughter Martha. Larson quotes all his references and notes at the back of each book, sometimes running up to 50 pages of information, but I become so captivated by his writing that I hang on every word and there are often extra tidbits of information lurking at the very end to reward us fact-geeks.

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Jon Krakauer is best known for Into The Wild. I had seen the movie, but for some criminal reason the book passed me by. It was by pure chance that on our Galapagos cruise, one of the other tourists left his copy of Into Thin Air which Nick snapped up and we both devoured within days. Into Thin Air depicts the 1996 Everest disaster, Krakauer was a member of an expedition party that made the summit on that fateful May day. It is incredibly well written and stirring, as Krakauer wrote it almost immediately after returning safely home… unlike many of the party members, including his guide. I think it had slightly extra impact for me, as I had just been travelling through the Andes and experienced altitude for the first time, hiking sometimes at distances over half the height of Everest. The familiar descriptions of the lack of oxygen, fuzzy head, speckled vision and waking in the night gasping struck a close chord. I also recommend Eiger Dreams, his more light-hearted collection of mountaineering short stories, which more often than not do not end in a successful summit bid. His likeable, self depricating tone make them really entertaining whether you know what a crampon is or not. Hmm I have written for half an hour and only covered books! I have missed writing about books! In short, my other 5* reads this year and books I highly recommend are: Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein, The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt, Misadventure in the Middle East – Henry Hemming, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce, The House at Riverton – Kate Morton, Night Film – Marishna Pessl (also the book I have forced most other people to read this year. Do it!) The Memories of Trees – F G Cottam, Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach, Rules of Civility – Amor Towles, The Other Typist – Suzanne Rindell, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson, Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie OFarrell, AND The Innocents – Francesca Segal. 

02. Learn to surf: Done & done!

03. Visit 3 countries (not including Europe) and 10 new cities: Well, I didnt quite manage 10 new cities but that has been blasted out of the water by the fact that I have visited 9 BRAND NEW countries! At the start of the year I imagined my travel would be limited to snatched city breaks. Instead, my whole existance soon because about life on the road and shiny new passport stamps.

04. Climb Snowdon: This didnt happen as my climbing buddy sort of vanished from my life. That was an unexpected sadness in 2013, and one I am still quite wounded by. I think at this twentysomething age, grown up life sneaks up sometimes and severs relationships that you took for granted, as peoples priorities and perspectives shift. It made me look extra hard at the other friendships I have, and really put effort into maintaining ties those precious people I can tell anything to, even when I am thousands of miles away.

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05. QUIT caffeine: Done… ish. In South America I thought I would constantly be tempted by amazing coffee, but the sad fact is that the best beans are exported to the US and Europe, and most locals LOVE Nescafe instant coffee! So it has been reasonably easy to keep up my quittage although when we have visited cafe plantations and on the odd tired occasion I have had proper coffee. The second we return home itll be back to my herby happy liquid life.

06. Finish knitting my scarf: Damn I forgot about this one, I guess this will be my resolution again this year. I started this scarf when I was in hospital, and I think I have a psychological block when it comes to restarting. Maybe I should buy some new needles and good ole alpaca wool and make an even better scarf!

07. Brush up my Spanish: Although night school plus fulltime work plus homework, which I inevitably left until Sunday night, was crushing at times I am so happy I learnt Spanish. It has been our lifeline during our travels, and helped us in some really sticky situations whilst also enabling me to communicate with locals. One bone of contention is that Spain-Spanish and South American Spanish is very different. Add to that each individual countries having slang, strong accents and local terms… sometimes I know I am saying something exactly right but it is met with stony silence. My confidence takes the odd battering, and I do sometimes resort to asking habla ingles? when I am tired but I will keep on keeping on, and once I am home I definitely plan to maintain the learning, even if it is just using the Duo Lingo app which I love. It is impossible to quit, as making the owl cry is TOO SAD.

08. Write half of the secret-project: Still can’t talk about this. But travels have changed it into something bigger and better.

09. Blog more than 2012: Definitely, I was a blogging whirlwind. I finally found myself blogging purely for the love of it and now the thought of ever stopping fills me with dread… even if it was only me reading back on it to jog my memory or re-live experiences (I do this all the time!) I would still do it.

09. Alter my work/life balance: Tick! I would recommend to every single person who reads this, that at some point you take a huge step back from your life and really examine how you are living it and what you want from it. It is cheesy, but life is SO precious and to be just existing day to day is such a waste. Don’t wait for something to shock you into making a change towards being happier. It doesnt need to be as drastic as travelling into the wilds with a tiny backpack, but even having a weekend to yourself to really work out your plans or moving town or starting a diary. Now that I am looking at my ’old’ life, I cannot believe some of the ways I was stretching and punishing myself on a daily basis. It is no wonder I got so poorly, and it is something that only time away to experience new things has allowed me to take in and make peace with and realise that once I am back in the UK, there are certain parts of my life that will not be the same.

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10. Be brave: I have been more scared, more times in the last 3 months than in my whole life! Over and over I have thought I cant do this and then, sure enough, I have. Scaling waterfalls, negotiating night buses out of sketchy depots, hiking the salt flats, living without makeup, having no hot water ever, getting in an 8 seater plane, surviving a trip to Ecuadorian A and E, trekking through the jungle past dinner plate sized spiders etc etc. The only way you can push your comfort zone is to just force yourself into the outer limits and learn from experience that you CAN do the things you are afraid of and… you will probably really enjoy them!

11. Get back in music: Could do better. I still dont understand what twerking is either.

12. STOP saying “Oh my God”: Considering I just nearly gave Nick a heart attack today by yelling this at the TV today (there was a scary advert where a man had his face cut off with an axe!) this is a definite dud.

13. Daily Records: I filled out my Q&A book every day this year until September, but then didnt want to lose it by bringing it away which means that it will be a weird half and half for a while, with 2015 being the first full year. The OCD in me finds this super annoying.

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2014 Resolutions

01. Read 52 books

02. Re-learn to drive. I passed my test first time when I was 17, then enjoyed a few years of driving round like a maniac with Lol and often dinking the car then attempting to blame my dad (sorry dad). I LOVED driving. I loved heading out alone at magic hour, with a ton of mix tapes, and drifting to a service station for hot chocolate and just waiting until the dark came and the lights twinkled to drive home. When I moved to London, driving immediately ceased and I am quite paranoid that in the past decade I have forgotten how to drive. Is this possible? Nick has taken me to a car park in his parents car and I could barely change gears. I will definitely be hiring a driving instructor in 2014 and wishing hard that my old skills come flooding back, and havent been replaced by all the useless animal facts and html code that has filled my brain since I was a girl racer.

03. Stay in touch with travel buddies: We have met some amazing friends from all over the world during our trip to South America, and the wonderful thing is we all have the travel passion in common so the relationships tend to breed more travel chat. I want to make sure I nurture these new contacts and dont let them drift once real life sets in. It helps that we are already making plans, for example we plan to meet our Dutch friends  for Oktoberfest in Munich, and Jordan and Skyler have invited us to spend Thanksgiving 2015 in the USA (and until then we will embark on a transatlantic craft beer postal exchange)

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04. Move to Brighton: Quite a biggie.

05. Eat more veggies: During my time away, I think I am definitely developing scurvy. Fruit and vegetables are SO hard to find, and not really served with menu del dias (the cheap daily meal options our budget stretches to). It has given me have a whole new appreciation for our access to healthy food in the UK and I cannot wait to be back and eating broccoli! courgetts! spinach!! GREENS! I am also so excited to move in with Nick and have my own kitchen. We enjoy cooking together and I hope we get a few recipe books as house warming gifts… in return for trying the dishes out on our friends of course.

06. Finish knitting my scarf: As if this will ever happen!

07. Start a project with my big sister Meg: I have had a big idea and one that I will, by hook or by crook, begin in 2014. It is quite sensitive and will take some guts, but I think this travelling lark has taught me that things are never unachievable and I hope this is the case. TBC!

08. See more of my friends and family: I have missed everyone SO much whilst I have been away and not very contactable. I cannot wait to do a big lap of honour around the UK catching up with everyone once I am home.

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09. Get Outdoorsy: Both Nick and I are loving the hiking, wild swimming and general outdoorsy freedom of our trip. We cannot wait to transfer this into our life back in the UK, where there are endless beautiful moors, heaths and downs to scamper about on. We are already daydreaming about packing a flask of something hot and a picnic, donning our trust walking boots, and heading out to explore at the weekend. Although, I think we are both in agreement that we might end our adventures in a nice B&B somewhere… A break from yucky plastic sheeted hostel beds or cold tent floors is definitely on the cards.

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09. Apply all the lessons I have learnt travelling to my life back home: I am not saying I am a different person, but I will certainly approach life differently, which is a very good thing! I have so many half baked and scribbled plots and plans to get cracking on.

10. Keep trying new things and pushing myself: AKA Do not retreat into the duvet with boxsets for the rest of the year!

11. Get back in music: Go to a festival, I missed that part of 2013.

12. STOP saying “Oh my God”: Must do this one this year.

13. Daily Records: This year I turn 30. I know its a bit pretentious but I am going to document it on Instagram with a photo a day, and my own cheesy hashtag. You can follow these here. 

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I am really excited about 2014, mainly because I have 3 more months of exploring the world… then I will be home and getting prepared to turn 30! And milking it with as many parties and glasses of bubbles as physically possible. A few of my close friends have got engaged recently, so there will be some more celebrating there too to make up for missing out. I think what I am most excited about is that I have NO idea what my life will look like this time next year. That is something that might have previously terrified me, but now I am just so impatient to get on and see more of the world, then move to Brighton and find all the nooks and crannies that will make it my new home, and most of all… enjoy waking up and falling asleep in my own HOME with my wonderful boyfriend bestfriend every day.

And maybe even get some CATS!

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