Like a skeleton key

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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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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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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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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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