South Bank

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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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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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It has been such a crazy fortnight. I can barely catch my breath and focus on one single memory, as I’ve crammed so much in that I’m still reeling. First up, I had a wedding back home in Yorkshire for my friend Jenny. It was the most magical setting I’ve ever been to, the ceremony took place in the ruins of Bolton Abbey with the rolling hills of the dales creating a dramatic backdrop. I LOVE her husband (he bought me Ghostbusters 2 on DVD, which means he has a piece of my heart for the rest of time) so it was a privilege to witness them starting their happily ever after together. Nick also made the perfect dashing date, and even got up on the dance floor! Jenny was such a gracious bride, and I nearly fell over when she informed me that the gingerbread “brides” on their baked-goods table at the reception were ones she had just “whipped up” that morning? The anti-Bridezilla.

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Wedding-season continued last week, as I boarded a flight to Belfast for another friends Pauline & Andrew’s wedding. Again it was an honour to be invited to her hometown for a really intimate celebration with friends and family. I arrived as a bit of a gooseberry, knowing no-one except the couple, and left with a phone full of phone numbers of new friends and promises to visit soon. In one of the best wedding-guests treats I’ve ever heard of, to transport us from the church to the reception venue, Pauline had hired a Belfast City Tour Bus! We got a bespoke tour of the Titanic Quarter, which despite visiting Belfast more times than I can count on my hands, I have never actually been to. The reception was so much fun and felt so personal; with the first dance being to drum n bass! I spent a little over 24 hours in total in Belfast and am already itching to go back to explore some more. In the precious time I did have, I met up with two of my all-time favourite blogging babes Claire aka French for Cupcake and Sarah aka Sarah Kane. We’ve all known each other for nearly a decade from our early internet days on Livejournal through to Twitter now, and nothing could beat getting to give them a proper hug and chat face to face over a coffee.

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On my flight home I was sat between James Nesbitt (!) and the tour manager for Leftfield, which made for an interesting conversation as we juddered through some stomach churning clouds. I had a huge rush of emotions and excitement as we bumped back down into Heathrow, as the next time I step foot on a plane it will be a one-way journey to Venezuela and the start of an entirely new chapter in my life! Talking of which… my new travel blog home is:

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Make sure you either email subscribe to get my updates direct to your inbox (fill in your details on the right hand bar) or add my blog to your Bloglovin’, reader, bookmarks or favourites to follow the adventure. I am a total travel newbie (and a bit of a princess) so it should be amusing rather than envy-inducing, I promise. We are hoping that with Nick’s male/travel fiend Vs my female/travel rookie perspectives on everything we experience – we will be offering something new to a pretty saturated travel blog market. Thanks to Katie who designed our Wes-tastic map-alicious chunk of the internet. Also, if you like what you see, please please share the blog. Tweet about it, send it to your friends, add it to your blogroll or links. We really want to provide an honest review of some incredible parts of the world and to do that we need as much exposure as possible.

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Amongst my gallivanting around to weddings, I also had my final two weeks in my current job. It’s been handover hell, with loads of my brain to download and things to check off to ensure there is a smooth transition as a new-me hasn’t been hired yet. I’ve had a farewell night out with my gal Kate (she is off to Canada soon so misses my last London week, another case of sad bad timing) where we strolled South Bank, ate everything in Wahaca, then shared a two-pint glass of “Twisted Zombie” which apparently has 12 ingredients and needs a specially trained mixologist to make. I think 90% of the ingredients were spirits judging by our precarious stagger over the Millennium bridge afterwards.

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Last night I had my final farewell to Craig. We sat in the window of Thirst in Soho, it was a super humid night and a weird silvery mist was settled all around us. We drank “silly hour”£5 cocktails (including one that we both agreed tasted like “Christmas gone wrong”) then we headed to Archer Street via Tesco for one for the road aka cocktail in a can, which was ridiculous as we were only walking one block so then had to lurk in an alley way downing them. Real classy! If you ever go out in London and haven’t been to Archer Street then you’re missing out. It’s swanky looking, but don’t let appearances deceive you. This place is fromage through and through. The music isn’t just 90s, it’s song after song that makes you gasp and say I REMEMBER THIS whilst simultaneously discovering you know every word to every lyrics. Highlights were definitely No Scrubs, Shine… shine like a star oooh shining so bright like the star that you are…, shake shake shake senora and Quit Playin’ Games With My Heart. The reason I really love it there though is that no one is pretentious. You look around and are greeted with a sea of smiling cheery cheeks as everyone indulges in their own tipsy nostalgia trip. No scowl or head-to-toe judgement looks here. We roamed through the night falling into bed at 2am and this morning we hugged in the pouring rain and now the next time I see Craig will be in Guatemala in 2014… Um, eek.

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I can’t lie, I’m feeling pretty weird right now. I’ve quit my job and I’m teetering on the edge of the biggest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I keep getting these waves of being about to cry, followed by a huge sense of freedom (such as deleting my work email from my phone FOREVER) and everything in between; rattles of nerves, cold sweat night panics, bursts of excitement, delirious happy… On Monday I go back to Yorkshire for a whole week of family and friend time which I think it just what I need to stop being quite so nutty. 

I think from then I need to focus more on writing and content for TwentySomething Burnouts. You may notice a dwindle over here, so just make sure you subscribe over there and then you won’t miss anything.

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I haven’t really been able to appreciate living in one of the most exciting cities in, well, the world for a while now. London is a hard city to be in when you aren’t firing on all cylinders. Work stress grates you, break-ups are tougher and illness leaves you a weakling crying on the tube because there are never any seats and your insides hurt! Everywhere is geographically SO far from each other and when you do travel you are forced to instantly encounter thousands of people, most of whom are in the selfish commuter zone; both of these factors make London tough when you aren’t on sparkling form.

When I came back to London after two weeks in Yorkshire re-cooping (the longest I’ve ever been away!) I just couldn’t seem to adapt to the rat race. I suddenly felt like I was drowning on the tube as it shuttled me around in the dark, I felt anxious even contemplating rush hours and my body & brain felt constantly battered. Coming back to London after Christmas it’s a world of difference! And that feels so nice. I’ve been really throwing myself back into London life, even waking up every day at 6.30am to go spinning or swimming (how long will that last!) and feeling like I’m making the absolute most of every moment.

Last week I was meeting friends in Fleet Street so I snuck away from my desk on the dot of 6pm and gave myself an hour to stroll down, along Drury Lane and through Covent Garden down towards The Strand, passing the bells of St Clements (and then getting the nursery rhyme in my head for over a week and realising I know non of the words). It was a perfect London evening (not raining – miracle!) and fog clung to everything making me feel like I was in a Victorian crime novel. I snapped away like a tourist and fell well and truly back in love with my version of London. We went for dinner at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese which if you haven’t visited, you need to add the the list. You step through the tiny crooked alley way and onto the sawdust spattered stone floor, and you literally step back in time. The pub (under different names) has existed since 1536, was then burnt down in the great fire of London, and rebuilt after; and remains pretty much untouched aside from stuff like electricity. It’s really worth getting a feed here as well as the (Timothy Taylor – yes!) ale, as the food is traditional and perfect for a winters day. Particularly the vast array of proper sponge puddings with custard.

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This weekend my cousin and his American wife were flitting through the city, so we met at a Twelfth Night celebration on South Bank. The event was a good old fashioned Wassail which I only learnt about on the day and wish had been part of my local communities tradition growing up… but there aren’t many apple trees in Bradford. There was a parade in amazing costumes (note the man dressed as a TREE), a play, wassail singing and then free story-telling down at The George (London’s only remaining galleried coaching Inn, apparently) where we piled in and drank too much cider (well it is tradition) listening to spooky stories about a giant rat hounding a scrooge like character which has been haunting me late into the night since. It was lovely to experience something that felt so local and traditional, in somewhere that is usually so bustling with experiences from other cultures.

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Finally, this week the London Underground turned 150 years old. Blimey! Having rekindled my adoration for the tube (it’s the only time I get peace & quiet and some mega reading done) I was very disappointed that there was not a single slice of birthday cake going around. In fact there really wasn’t any special treatment on the tubes. Party poppers? Streamers? At least a comedy announcement by the driver… But no. I did really enjoy perusing the Guardians history of the tube poster article though. I also happened to spot a rogue/potentially guerilla TFL sign on the same day. Do you think it’s real, or one of these fakes?

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