Conversations About The Weather Part One - In Which We Plan a Trip to Barometer World in Devon. Via Scotland.
It started when I decided I wanted to go to Barometer world.
I love barometers. There is one in my hallway. It doesn't work, and always forecasts rain, which is pretty pessimistic. But then again, being an anxious depressive, it's probably quite fitting that my barometer always thinks the worst is going to happen.
My friend Katie gave me a book for Christmas called Bollocks to Alton Towers - Uncommonly British Days Out. It contains suggestions for trips to places as varied as The British Lawnmower Museum and Mad Jack's Sugar Loaf, which is a large, stone conical structure in a field in the middle of the Sussex countryside (I went there. It is just a big cone. That's literally it). I was drawn to Barometer World because in the book it sounds like a genuinely original place to visit. The book details how it's not a museum but instead an exhibition and workshop, and how the owner explained to the authors all about barometers and gave them a tour. I thought 'this is somewhere worth going. I can learn about barometers. I can become a barometer EXPERT! Maybe I can even find out why my own barometer never predicts summer!' So I began to plan a road trip down to Devon, where Barometer World is located, and next I needed someone to come with me.
I wrote a status on Facebook. It said 'I want to go to Barometer World. Who will come with me?' It got a lot of responses of the type that makes you wonder why people bother replying at all. 'What?' 'Barometer World, what is that?' 'You've made that up' etc. Then my friend Erica wrote 'I'll come!' and just like that, a road trip was born.
The thing with Erica is, when she says she will come with me on journeys I have decided to do on a whim, she means it. In 2012 I read an article in Cosmopolitan Magazine, which was based purely on the fact that cowboy boots were In that season. It was about Nashville in Tennessee, and all the great things you can do there. Mostly the things it listed that you can do there were 'buy cowboy boots' and 'remember to pack your checked shirt - also very Now!' But I was intrigued because I was feeling pretty depressed at the time and country music is always so cheery in the face of Very Bad Things Happening. So I decided I was going to go there, and then hire a car and drive down to Memphis to visit Graceland because now THERE'S a pilgrimage. And Erica was the one who did not dismiss my idea as totally insane, and came with me. And we had a GREAT time!
We planned and embarked upon a 3 week road trip along Route 66 in 2014 and next year Erica is coming storm chasing with me in Tornado Alley, because she recognised the greatness of this idea (and possibly is denying the dangers of being swept up into a Twister). And when I floated this quite frankly bizarre notion, she jumped at the chance to see a room full of what the book describes as 'wall-mounted Michael Fish''s. And so we sat down, and began to plan.
Somewhere along the way, we worked out that if we took a couple of extra days off work and extended our trip a fraction, we could also take in south Wales, and visit Dylan Thomas's favourite town. Because that was something Erica wanted to do. So we factored that in, and then someone mentioned Loch Ness, and before you know it, our modest day out to Barometer World had turned into an 8 day tour of Britain which would see us travelling to the Scottish Highlands via a tiny village in Northumberland called Once Brewed (or Twice Brewed, depending on which direction you approach it from), then down to the Lake District and from there to south Wales. And from there, finally, to Devon, to take in the original point of the trip. What can I say? It had got out of hand quite quickly. We decided we would drive, because my newish car - The Stag Beetle (because it is large and black, and my last car, which was small and black was called 'The Cockroach'. Look, this is really a story for another time) - was aching for a good old fashioned road trip. Our friend Mandy gently asked us if we were sure we weren't being slightly too ambitious. And we laughed. Because travelling all over the UK and visiting 5 National Parks in 8 days is not at all ridiculous! Right? Right??!
At some point, in between finding a hotel in Grange-Over-Sands that had a pool and was within our price range (the holy grail! Hooray!) and wondering aloud if we should spend 2 nights in The Highlands just to make it absolutely Worth It - I realised it might be quite a good idea to check the web site for Barometer World.
And this is how we came to discover that Barometer World is a private collection that is only open by appointment. Something that Bollocks to Alton Towers completely fails to mention. Thanks guys! I e-mailed them and the owner, Philip, messaged me back to say that they might be able to open on the day we were passing through, but I should get in touch again nearer the time as there was a chance they would be shut to attend a family event that week.
And now it is a week to go until our giant road trip and I am at this present time waiting to hear back about whether or not the original purpose of our trip will take place. Or if we will be replacing the lofty heights of barometers with trying to spot the Loch Ness Monster. We leave on Saturday at 5am. Wish us luck and most of all - wish us BAROMETERS!
All photos Copyright Christina Owen 2016.
Climbing a Mountain in a Rainstorm in Wales, and All That It Signifies (Hint: Life is a Bit Like Climbing a Mountain in a Rainstorm)
'THIS IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL!' the mountain leader is yelling somewhere to my right. I nod and hope I am not required to say anything in response. I am too busy putting one foot in front of the other and concentrating on not dying. We are halfway up Mount Snowdon, it is 3am, and the reason he is yelling is because the wind is hammering itself so heavily against our bodies that it is all we can do to not get knocked off our feet and blown into Ireland, which incidentally, you can see on a clear day from the top of Snowdon.
Tonight, when we eventually get to the summit, I will not be able to see more than an arm's length in front of my face. In fact, it will be so foggy at the top of this relatively tiny mountain in north Wales that I will squat down on the path and do a wee only feet away from the rest of my walking party. And it won't matter, because they won't be able to see me. The alternative is holding on for the next 3 hours as we try not to get swept away by a river that was once a path. For months leading up to this climb I had rose-tinted visions of myself, rosy cheeked and bright eyed, triumphantly arriving at the top of my Welsh Everest as the sun rose, lighting the glorious hills spread out below me so that I might gaze down on all humankind, bathed in this warm morning glow, as I reflected on all that I had achieved in the last 4 hours, and the last 5 months. And the last forever.
Of course, real life is not like that, and my moonlight mountain climb was not like that. On the ascent, the wind did it's best to hurl us off a cliff and on the descent sideways hail burned my face and my walking shoes became lakes of rancid mountain water. My knees cried out in agony as I forced them to steady me against the slippery rocks that had become our way back to safety. And when I arrived back at base camp there was not a part of me that was dry, and I looked like I had recently fallen into a ravine.
The whole time I had not seen a single gorgeous view - just a few shivering sheep and the light from my head torch falling on the craggy ground in front of me. And rain. So much rain. The week leading up to this was glorious sunshine and the week following it would see temperatures rising to the high 20's and skies as blue as your hat. But here, on this night, it was freezing, apocalyptic and there were times when I wanted to give up and not move another inch until the weather improved and the helicopter came to get me. But it's not supposed to be easy, is it? I guess if that climb had been a lovely stroll up a big hill on a balmy summers eve then it would have been fine, just fine. But not as satisfying, and less of an achievement. Is that like life? Is it going to be more satisfying in the end because it is not easy? I don't know. But at the point where I heard my mountain leader utter those words - 'this is good for the soul' I knew he was right, because despite being convinced we were all going to be killed by adverse weather, I'd still rather have been there than curled up in a warm, dry bed.
I know people who have travelled to Africa and Asia and spent 3 days trekking up peaks that make Snowdon look like a hillock. Those people are excellent and amazing and I wish I could do that but the truth is that while physically I could, I'm not sure my brain could deal with everything involved. Just travelling to our base camp at the foot of Snowdon (a large tent in a wet field) turned me into a wibbling mess. So much so that when they served us huge slabs of chocolate cake in preparation for our Quite Long Walk Up The Equivalent of 369 Flights of Stairs In a Wind Tunnel, I couldn't eat mine. But when I look at it objectively and in relation to the rest of my life (and nobody else's) - it turns out that I may as well have trekked across the Andes. Because 5 months ago I was too scared to leave my house. And now I was getting ready to climb up things! In the dark! In the rain! Wearing really unflattering headgear! And 5 hours later I managed it, even if we nearly did get turned back because the batteries in the radios went dead and our mountain leaders, despite putting on a brave front, were actually pretty terrified of the weather conditions we were ascending high things in. It's one thing to make it out of doors when you are in the middle of spiralling Anxiety, but quite another to travel 300 miles away from home to zip up a mac and go on an actual adventure. And I did that. I did that in a HURRICANE (okay, I'm starting to blow the story out of proportion now. But it really was very windy indeed). And guess what?! After doing all that AT NIGHT and then coming down the mountain in the gathering dim light of a very foggy, grey, rainy morning, I STILL got sunburnt on my forehead. Mountain weather is so weird.
But before I start getting too self-congratulatory and smug - I know it wasn't all that really. Everyone is fighting a really hard battle every day. And mine was just a really bizarre physical incarnation of a mental struggle - one that I could manipulate into words for the purposes of a blog post later on. And the added dimension that we were walking up Snowdon to raise money for a cancer charity makes it even stupider to start patting myself vigorously on the back. Nothing any of us went through that night was as bad as cancer can be. But after it was all over there was a little part of me that thought 'well, you see, so you CAN do things. So stop telling yourself you can't. Now get in a warm bath before you get pneumonia'. And that was pretty sweet.
The other reason I don't want to get too smug is because I know it could all have been different. Anxiety may be all in the mind but guess what? IT'S ALL IN THE MIND. It ebbs and flows and it never really 100% goes away. If I had been having a bad time in my life right then, when I was supposed to be climbing a mountain, I would have cancelled the trip and stayed in my safe zone, which would probably have been my bed in London, quaking gently and persistently. I'm no hero, and you can't overcome things just like that. I was there because I was having a relatively GOOD period in the life of my brain and I was able to do what I did. Also, I have a working set of legs, for which I feel incredibly grateful. But the point is, I guess, that the next time I find myself unable to go to Tesco to get milk because of that impending sense of dread that I can't explain, I can remind myself of this experience, and hopefully it will help, if only a little bit. I can add it to the bank of Good Things to help me fight the war against the Bad Things that hide in the corners of my head.
If you too would like to climb a mountain but aren't sure how, here is a Beginner's Guide, by Me:
1.) Pick a little one to begin with. Wales has some little ones and also the Lake District in England. I mean, they are still pretty big. But not as big as those ones in Nepal and that Matterhorn one (can't remember where that is).
2.) Do not go when it is dark. You won't be able to see anything. Although actually, maybe this is a good thing. Looking down and seeing a sheer drop might put you off.
3.) For the love of all that is good and beautiful, do NOT go up a mountain when it is hailing sideways. That is no fun. If it starts hailing sideways, retreat to the nearest cafe for a scone and a cup of tea instead.
Oh and if you make it up Snowdon can you please tell me what it looks like because I've still got no idea. Thanks :)
I hadn't been back to see the vast expanses of lavender for a couple of years, but it's getting towards the end of the season and I don't want to miss the sea of purple completely. I love bright colours and like the thousands of tourists who visit Mayfield Lavender Farm every summer, I had to lie in the middle of it and take pictures, and try to make them not look generic.
Which is impossible because I fear I am not that creative, and there are just so MANY people with cameras nowadays, all searching for the most Instagrammable picture they can get. I won't flatter myself by pretending that I am unique. I have already checked on Instagram today. There are hundreds of pictures that perfectly mirror my own. But it doesn't matter because each photo is so pretty.
Here is the Sea of Purple through my (Nikon 50mm) lens:-
Purple is my favourite colour, and lavender is one of my favourite scents. It reminds me of my Nanny, whose house smelled of it - she hung lavender bags on each of her coat hangers. I guess it's rubbed off on me, (literally?) - because now I hang lavender bags everywhere in my own house and I've even invested in a hanging basket full of French lavender. I often come home to find fat bumble bees playing in it.
But if you want that sweet, gentle scent to almost overpower you, you need to hit the lavender big leagues. A field full of rows upon rows of strands upon strands of tiny purple flowers is perfect. Next door there's a cafe where you can drink lavender flavoured Earl Grey and a shop where you can buy bunches of lavender to take home.
Dan checked us in to our destination on Facebook and one of his friends asked 'what is there to do apart from stare at lavender?' A valid question, and one I can answer by giving a step by step guide to How To Behave Upon Entering The Sea of Purple:
-Run into field armed with seven cameras.
-Run up and down the rows of lavender squealing and stopping intermittently to take photos.
-Look up and realise you are surrounded by approximately ninety five gazillion people all doing the same thing.
- Lay down in the lavender and gaze at the sky, through a canopy of purple fronds.
- Realise you are lying on a stinging nettle. Get up. Ankle now covered in large white bumps, gently throbbing.
- Determinedly ignore ankle, take more photos, make person you are with stand in a series of ridiculous and unnatural poses so you can take photos of them.
- Take a break to play Pokemon Go. Catch a cartoon worm.
- Find a big red phone box in middle of field. Surrounded by people. Get annoyed because a photo of a red phone box in a Sea of Purple is not as cool when there is a queue of tourists lining up to pose next to it.
-Attempt to take photos of phone box without getting anyone else in the frame. Fail because fields are heaving with people.
- Go to cafe and consume snacks laced with lavender. Find them oddly enjoyable.
- Laugh at families who have dressed their toddlers in white tutus so they can take artful photographs of them playing in the sea of purple, to print off and hang on the wall, failing to remember that toddlers are TODDLERS and therefore are covered in mud and chocolate despite having only left safety of car three minutes ago.
- Try to take more photos. Slowly come to realise that yours WILL look just like everybody else's and this is inevitable. Take photos anyway because they are PRETTY.
-Take camera away from face long enough to breathe in and enjoy this beautiful day in the country, and the lovely sights and smell that surrounds you. And the sound of a thousand bees, humming in perfect harmony.
Mayfield Lavender is open this year until 14th September. You can go any day between 9am-6pm, and entry is £1 per person. They hold a photo competition every year, visit their web site for more details.
'The fire blazing in her dark and injured heart seemed to glow around her like a flame'
- The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald
My friend Lianne got in touch the other day telling me she wanted to sell my photography for me on a web site she had co-founded called The Beautiful & The Damned, which champions cool Indie artwork by British artists. I was flattered that she thought my photographs are artwork, or that they are cool, but sceptical about...well, whether my photographs are artwork or whether they are cool. I promised I would think about it. The thought of submitting some of my work was scary - what if it wasn't good enough? But I had a look through my collection and picked out some prints that I like. Who knows, maybe other people will like them too?
The Beautiful & The Damned is an art collective started up by a group of ladies who clearly love beautiful, alternative artwork and want the rest of the world to be able to access the stunning work of the awesome artists they have come across. This sort of community is one of my favourite types - sharing great finds. They also have access to a kick-ass printer by all accounts, so they can not only collect all the artists that they love in one place, they can print the work of these artists pretty damn professionally too. I can see this site gaining a cult following, not unlike another of my favourite galleries that collects together the work of certain indie/alternative artists - The Flood Gallery (based in Greenwich, south London). So to be a part of it would make me very happy!
I also love the nod to the 1922 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Beautiful & The Damned calls to mind loveliness, but also futility. And flapper dresses. And who doesn't want all of that in their lives?
Luckily, after I had collected together some of my pictures of things that I have seen and loved over the years, and sent them off, I got a response from Lynsey, one of the founders of the site, saying they LOVED my work and even wanted to see some more of what I have to offer - particularly photos of my cross stitch (which I'm not good at photographing, but I'm practising...). She sent me a link to the 2 photographs of mine that had already been uploaded to the site, and when I clicked on it I was blown away! To me, they are just my photos. But give them to someone who sees them with new eyes and...wow! Both the photographs feature pink cherry blossom heavily. The Beautiful & The Damned have termed them 'Sakura' prints, which means 'cherry blossom' in Japan, and suddenly they take on a whole new lease of life and even look a bit magical. I'm so pleased with them. And so excited that I kind of want to jump up and down a little bit...
All of this just goes to show, of course, that sometimes you need to reset your eyes and your brain and look at something differently. Futility can become beauty after all. And hooray for community, in all it's forms! And - how soon can I get to Japan to photograph more Sakura?
Shop The Beautiful & The Damned for fantastic Indie art to put on your walls here. Or on your mugs, or your phone, or your body...
The Doughnut Dilemma or 'How I Learnt To Leave The House and Save a Sugary Snack From Getting Rained On
When going through a difficult time, brain wise, things that previously seemed easy suddenly seem unthinkable. Walking feels like wading through butter, for example. I recently had one of these 'difficult times' and even though no zombie apocalypse was apparent, and no rivers of blood were forming in the streets, and cake had not been outlawed, I suddenly found myself unable to leave the house without another person. Why? Not sure. The thought of it made me unbearably anxious. So I holed myself up in the house and waited for people to be available to escort me to the supermarket. It seemed so pathetic to me. This carried on for a week, and then it marched straight on into a second week, without any thought at all for the inconvenience it was causing. I laughed when I remembered that I had started a travel blog at some previous point in my life. Because how could I travel when just opening the front door to put the recycling out was now beyond contemplation?
And so, suddenly it was Tuesday of that second week, and it was raining on and off. I was holed up on the sofa, where I had created a refuge for myself among 27 cushions, one of which is shaped like a poo. Even that didn't cheer me up (a sign that things really had gone south). I hadn't moved from that sofa for oh, about 18 hours I'd say. I checked my phone. My friend Sig had just left me a message telling me that he had, within the last 10 minutes, been round to see if I was okay, but had had no answer at the door. The second part of the message informed me that he had brought me doughnuts, and one of them had pink icing on it. And that in the absence of any door-answering that might have occurred, he had left said doughnuts outside for me and I should retrieve and enjoy them at my convenience. I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
I found it strange to read that he had been at the door, because our doorbell sounds like a gameshow buzzer, in other words, it demands to be heard. And I had been jumping out of my skin and running for cover underneath the dining room table every time it had rung for the last fortnight. Actually, to be honest, I hadn't answered the front door at all since I got made to watch Luther on Netflix last winter and realised that in some parallel universes, answering the front door equals getting stabbed in the stomach by a man in a clown mask. So the truth is that Sig would have been left out there in the rain whether I had heard the doorbell or not. But I hadn't heard it. Which put the whereabouts of my doughnuts into serious question, and I really wanted those doughnuts. I wanted to see my friend too, but that ship had evidently sailed, and anyway, I hadn't had a wash or got dressed to any standard that would be acceptable in company. The doughnuts, in the 30 seconds since I had read the message, had become my goal for the afternoon, and I had to solve this mystery. The doorbell had not rung so did it then follow that the doughnuts were not outside my house at all? There was only one way to find out, and I had been resolutely ignoring that for longer than a completely sane person ought to. Just the thought of opening the door made my heart beat faster. But it was raining really quite hard now, and I hadn't had lunch. To rescue the (possibly mythical) doughnuts was fast morphing into my most important goal since last Wednesday, when I had successfully made my own breakfast and felt like I had won an Olympic silver medal. Well, this would be my gold.
Don't get me wrong, I felt bad that Sig had tried to come and check on me and hadn't had any luck. I messaged him to convey this sentiment once the whole adventure was over. It sounds stupid, but I didn't want to let him down by failing to find the nice thing he had brought for me. So I fixed my whole attention on the front door, which is accessible in my house by walking downstairs and into the hallway. On the other side of the door is the street. We have no front garden. Open the door at the wrong moment, and you risk colliding with a dog walker. I listened for sounds of life, but all I heard was the pounding of rain on the pavement. Carefully, I reached out, turned the door knob so that the latch clicked, and inched the door open. I poked my head out into the street. No doughnuts. Disappointment and panic began to well up. But no! I must not give up now. I turned my head to the left, and then to the right. And there, no more than 10 feet away from me, neatly wrapped in cellophane and sitting outside my neighbours' front door, was a doughnut shaped blob. 10 feet away! It felt like a marathon to me. Not so much physically, because I have legs and I know how to use them, and I am able to use them. I am very lucky in that sense. But brain-ally speaking, this was more than I had handled on my own for a while now.
Still, they were my doughnuts! And I was hungry. And I didn't want my neighbour to suddenly come home and think they were for her. That would be a disaster! I went back in the house and gave myself a pep talk as I pulled on my boots. It is now or never! Noone is about! Rip off the plaster! You can do this! And then I flung the door wide open and raced to my goal. I grabbed the cellophane wrapped blob and raced back indoors, shutting the door and collapsing against it. I unwrapped the cellophane to find 2 perfectly preserved doughnuts, protected from the rain, and one with the promised pink icing! I felt so lucky. When you feel low, there is nothing quite like these little gestures, and knowing that people are rooting for you. If you know someone who is struggling, I recommend you bring them a doughnut immediately. Or write them a letter. Or send them a text. In a world where tiny things suddenly seem huge, a friendly text message can make more difference than you'd think.
It was only later on, as I was cleaning sticky pink icing off my hands, and my trousers, and the sofa, that I realised Sig had actually done more for me than he had intended. He hadn't just brought me a friendly gesture. By inadvertently leaving that gesture outside the wrong door, he had got me to leave the house. One small step for man, one huge leap for me. The fact that it turns out I am willing to face my fear and leave the house for doughnuts is kind of hilarious but not wholly unexpected.
I had a conversation the other week, with David, my younger but much taller brother.
My brother and I come from, we suspect, a line of depressives. And we are depressive. And sarcastic. Okay, back story over.
Slightly Worrying Conversation
I wish I could remember how it started, but I can't. All I can remember is trying to assert my belief that I am, in fact, not a sarcastic depressive, but instead full of joy.
'Look! Look at all the brightly coloured tattoos on my body!' I exclaimed (because positive people always 'exclaim' things), probably whilst throwing glitter in the air.
'Pfft' said my brother. 'That doesn't make you full of joy. You are not full of joy. You are like Funny Hat Day.'
And, being quite an enormous fan of The Simpsons, my heart sank.
Geeky Simpsons Episode Synopsis (With Quite a Lot of Detail Missed Out)
Funny Hat Day, for those who have no idea what's going on here, comes from an early episode of The Simpsons (season 4, to be absolutely specific) called Marge Gets a Job. In it, Marge goes to work at the Nuclear Power Plant, where Mr Burns falls in love with her and tries various things to win her affections. She notes that morale in the workplace is low, and the scene cuts to three employees, one of whom is drinking liquor, one of whom is crying into his hands and the last of whom is polishing a shotgun whilst giggling like a maniac. Mr Burns rectifies this by implementing 'Funny Hat Day' to cheer everyone up.
In the next scene, the three characters are still drinking, crying and plotting mass murder respectively. But now they are wearing brightly coloured and hilarious hats.
And suddenly I realised that I am Funny Hat Day. Incredibly depressive but brightly coloured.
The thought took a few days to get used to. But now I like it. I am Funny Hat Day. And that is completely okay. I still love brightly coloured stuff. I think we all need a distraction from the existentialist misery of the world and bright colours might just be It.
I also like hats.
I am sitting on a sofa in the middle of God's Own Junkyard, a sea of neon in north east London, drinking tea and eating cake. Behind my head, the words 'This Is It' flash in red. I am there with Roisi, a friend and talented writer, and we are having a conversation. So far, we have talked about meat shaming, how we wish we could have neon signs in our living rooms and the prospect of opening a gin palace (Mother's Ruin Gin Palace is occupying the unit next door and we have already been there for G&T's at 1pm). Now we are talking about blogging.
'I am going to start blogging again' says Roisi.
'Yes me too' I agree. 'I am going to start blogging again'.
'I mean, I AM going to start blogging again. When I get everything sorted, I will start doing it again'.
'Yes, I know, I think the same. I WILL get round to it. I AM going to start blogging again.'
I am not sure if this statement is true. I might not. I always feel like I want to do it, because I like writing and I have things to SAY, and what is the point of doing really fun stuff if I cannot then write about it? Or whatever.
But on the other hand, who really cares what I have to say? And is there much point? Will people think I'm stupid? Or self-indulgent? I never know, in the moments after hitting 'post', whether I have given too much of myself away by writing things about my life on the Internet. Maybe I do not want to blog. Maybe I am not going to start blogging again.
Roisi and I both used to write for a women's lifestyle webzine that was trying to get off the ground. It had potential, and there were some talented writers involved. It was owned by two female best friends who were all about being SASSY and COOL and DELIVERING GREAT CONTENT. Except they wouldn't pay us (not really a problem), let us use the blog to promote ourselves as writers (quite a bit of a problem - they wouldn't even let us put our Twitter handles on our posts) and they had a habit of ousting people who dared to give them constructive feedback or make suggestions for improvement. As a result, all their good writers left.
It left a void, because I enjoyed the writing part of it. I think Roisi felt the same way. I can't speak for her, but I'm worried that blogging for nobody but myself would seem silly and frivolous.
But here we were, in neon paradise (Roisi described the place as 'like Las Vegas except with less people shoving you out of the way and without losing all your money in a slot machine') which is exactly the sort of thing I like because BRIGHT COLOURS! And I had my camera to capture the neon paradise, and I travelled from Penge in south east London to get up here, on a TUBE TRAIN and everything, so - travel.
Travel and bright colours. That's what this is all about.
Maybe I could just blog in 5-sentences-at-a-time-or-less, with photographs and see if I like it. And it doesn't have to just be about travel and bright colours, it can be about all sorts of stuff. I am unsure what stuff, but we'll see.
Oh, also, I really hate the term 'blogging'. Can I call it something else, like 'writing crap down for all to see'?
I have tried to fill this survey in every year since about 2001 because I quite like it, even though some of the questions are stupid. I like going back over past years and seeing if my answers are the same now as they were then. Some of them aren't and some of them are EXACTLY the same, which is quite odd and also reassuring, as if reminding me that I am, in fact, the same person I have always been.
Here is 2015's offering.
 What did you do in 2015 that you have never done before?
Became a Godmother!
Moved in with a boy who doesn't suck
Lived in a hotel for 2 weeks (I didn't find Lenny Henry)
Went to Berlin. Ate a Currywurst.
Wore a yellow bridesmaids dress (I've worn a pink one and a white one but never a yellow one)
Organised THREE craft fairs! That's so many! Two is usually my limit. And will be my limit again in future years because three was confusing.
Got a job where I get my own room. Like a doctor! Except incredibly not at all like a doctor in any other way. Oh, there's an examination table. But that's it.
Worked on a fast response car, by my own self, and did not crash into a tree/kill anyone. It was stressful though. Also, the talking-to-yourself possibilities in a fast response car are quite high.
Drove onto a ferry, and off again. That was exciting. I love ferries.
Lived with above mentioned boy for longer than the last time I tried living with a boy. Hooray! We have not killed each other yet.
Went to Iceland. Numpty-ed about trying to photograph the Northern Lights, and failing, because even with my considerable photographic skills (ha) I am still no good at photographing the sky at night.
 Did you keep all of last years resolutions?
Having reviewed my New Year's Resolutions last night at dinner with Erica, during our AGM which happens every year between Christmas and New Year at a local Mexican Restaurant, I can tell you proudly that I DID keep all my resolutions, but this is only because I obeyed resolution number 5 and ordered something OTHER than the Mexican Paella this year. Otherwise it would only have been 4/5. Luckily I branched out and had a Buffalo Burger. It was dry. I should have listened to my gut instinct and broken the 5th resolution.
 Have you any resolutions for next year?
Yes I made 7. I am not going to write them here but I did write them down on our AGM sheet and Erica will keep it safe until this time next year, when we will review them and get upset because we did not keep them all. Oh though, one of them was that I am allowed to have the Paella again.
In the interest of this being a travel blog I will keep it somewhat relevant and reveal that another of the 7 resolutions is to go to Seattle. I would like to do that a lot. Partly because Frasier is one of my all time favourite television shows, partly because of Grey's Anatomy and partly because I'm secretly hoping that friendly vampires are real. I don't drink coffee so it's not because of that.
Oh and read more, write more, listen to more music. And go to more gigs.
 What countries did you visit?
Oh good, another travel related question! This blog is not a complete waste of time after all.
France (a lot)
I find it upsetting that this is the entire list. Fail. When I win the Lottery, the list will be longer.
 What would you like to have in 2016 that you didn't have in 2015?
-See above comment about the Lottery
-A car that isn't 17 years old and leaking, but then again, I genuinely don't know how I could bear to part with The Cockroach (1999 Nissan Micra, still good for an incredibly short road trip to Tesco and back)
-The feeling that I am doing some good in the world, because I'm not sure I am at the moment really.
 What date in 2015 will remain etched in your memory?
Erm. 3rd July, which was the day that Dan and I moved in together, although come to think of it, that date might be completely wrong.
And the day of Jenson's Christening which I think was in March but terribly, I cannot remember what date it was. I hope I am a better Godmother than I am a keeper of important dates.
 What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Oh yeah, that day way back in January, I think it was 10th January, when I had to do a fitness test as part of a job interview and one of the requirements was 10 press ups inside of 30 seconds, which was impossible because in all my practising I had only managed a press up and a half. Oh, and they had to be REAL press ups, none of this cross-legged, knees-on-the-floor nonsense. And we had to plank for a minute. It was really difficult and somehow I did it. When it came to the press ups, I did 10 in about 8 seconds which was ridiculous, and obviously an incredible feat of adrenaline because I couldn't move for about 4 days afterwards. And that night, Dan took me to a hotel that was a converted Oast House, and I was really excited because I love Oast Houses, but too exhausted to really express it in anything other than snoring. So this answers the 'what date is etched in your memory' question and also adds a bit to the 'what did you do in 2015 that you've never done before' question. Woo.
Also, buying Bayeux Tapestry napkins as a souvenir at the Bayeux Tapestry was quite a big achievement. I love odd souvenirs.
 What was your biggest failure?
I don't know what counts as a failure when you are 31. Am I a failure because I didn't get married, have children and buy a house yet? I don't feel like a failure for that. But I do wish I had done more extraordinary things. I don't know what counts as extraordinary. Actually, I think I've done okay.
 Did you suffer any illness or injury?
I suffered Depression sometimes but I always have that. I had a record high number of stomach bugs which I think is probably to do with the fact that I live with someone who works in a primary school. Or because I am not afraid to eat shellfish in restaurants.
IBS, which can go to hell by the way.
I have noticed more back pain than 5 years ago, please tell me it is NOT all downhill from here?
 What was the best thing you bought?
I know I'm supposed to say something really big and important but actually, I bought this purple dress in a charity shop and it's really good. I would wear it every day if I could. And my new slipper boots, which are purple tartan and remind me of 1995.
And my PS4. And everything I bought at every SE20 Craft Fair this year!
 Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
And everyone in his government who made a decision or you know, exists.
 Where did most of your money go?
Supermarket crap! I firmly believe that supermarket crap is responsible for most of the world's....well, not debt, but definitely not having any money. Think about it. How many times a week do you wander into a supermarket looking for cotton buds and you accidentally spend £26 on a bunch of stuff you found on sale in the homewares section, like jars? It gets worse when seasonal stock comes in. Yes, I did need 14 Trick or Treat buckets with pumpkin faces on.
 What did you get really really really excited about?
I don't know if excitement is the same as when you're a kid. I certainly don't get really glee-like about Christmas anymore, or feel the way I used to when it's time for Neighbours. But when we went to Iceland I got really excited at the start of every day about the things we were going to see. And we did see a lot of cool stuff to be fair. Exploding Geysers and black sand beaches and an ocean that tries to drown you when you aren't looking....
 What songs will always remind you of 2015?
The thing with songs is, you never know that it reminds you of a specific time until it's several years later and you hear it and you think 'wow, that really reminds me of that time.....'
 Compared to this time last year are you :
[A] Happier or
Happier in some ways, sadder in others. It evens out, anyway.
[B] Richer or poorer? Richer because this time last year I had no job.
 What do you wish you'd done less of?
Thinking 'oh great, I've got a free hour, think of all the things I can get done!' and then spending the whole time on Instagram, looking at photos of other people's lives and getting upset because it looks cooler than mine.
 How will you be spending Christmas?
I spent it in about 6 different places and then I fell asleep about 8pm in front of the television because I was exhausted. I'm really fun.
 Who was the best new person you met in 2015?
My friends Jacqui and Patrick at work, who I did my training course with.
There's probably other people too but I can't remember who I met when.
I met Dan's University friends in January which would have been cool except that I made a twat out of myself by walking into a door in front of a whole house party full of people, then stole someone's taxi and also their drugs. But I gave them away because I may be a thief but I'm a charitable thief (who doesn't do drugs).
 How many one night stands?
I've never been sure why this question is in this questionnaire.
 Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last
Again, a really stupid question.
 What was/were the best books you read?
Panther by David Owen! You should read it! It's really good! It's dedicated to me! Oh yeah, I had a book dedicated to me in 2015, so that's another thing I did that I've never done before. Although I didn't really have to do anything to get that to happen, except make a bit of a fuss.
 What was your greatest musical discovery?
I have not made any, which is sad, and I am going to make more time for music in 2016. Actually, that is going to be an extra resolution: make more time for music. And read more books. And write more.
 What did you want and get?
I really wanted to get the jobs I went for, and I did, so that was good. I also wanted secretly for ages and ages to live in my friend Katie's house because it's little but very cool. And now I do! Hooray! Don't worry, I didn't have to kill her, she moved out and rented it to me totally of her own accord.
 What did you want and not get?
To win the Lottery but I think I write this every year.
 What was your favourite film this year?
I didn't see that many films this year. I should add that to my resolution list too. Although I did try and watch every Oscar nominated film ahead of the Oscars. I ran out of time though. I liked Boyhood a lot, and Selma. Jurassic World was pretty good and Pitch Perfect 2 was rather amazing. I think the latter was probably the cinematic highlight of the year. Not Star Wars as everyone would have you believe. I am yet to see the Peanuts Movie. I saw the original Pitch Perfect for the first time in January and couldn't believe I had not discovered it before, so maybe that actually. And Frozen, which will probably be my favourite film every year from now on.
 What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
I was 31 and I was in Iceland, which was cool as I've never been in another country on my birthday before, except for Wales, which is a principality not a country (trivia). So I drove round Iceland in a bus and we ate bread that had been made in the ground using geothermal heat. And there was a lot of snow, and I stood in a divide between two continents. It was a good day.
 What one thing would have made your year more satisfying?
Oh come on, how can you ever know??
 How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?
'I really want to put on a vintage dress but instead I am going to wear tracksuit bottoms' or 'all my clothes are too small for me because I have got suddenly fat' or a combination of the two. They both resulted in wearing a lot of tracksuit bottoms anyway.
 What kept you sane?
Dan, but whether I kept him sane or not is another matter.
 Which celebrity did you fancy the most?
The guy who plays that Darth whatever guy in the new Star Wars film is kinda hot.
 Which political issue stirred you the most?
Every issue where public services got closed or cut and then same services got fined for not performing as well as they should be doing. Like chopping off someone's leg and then saying 'how dare you not be able to walk? Here, let me chop a bit more off!'
 Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned this year?
Sometimes it is okay to put clothes on without ironing them.
Berlin was a mixture of nu-rave and stilted stoicism. Past meets present. bleak history meets woooo let's go crazy. Next to Checkpoint Charlie there is a showroom for the Currywurst Museum, where you can buy a knitted Currywurst. And next to it going the other way is Trabiworld, where you can hire a Trabant that somebody has painted pink, and drive it around the city in a display of 'Hooray, I did not have to apply for this car and wait 17 years for it to arrive, before discovering it is made of cardboard!' defiance. Not really defiance actually, since you are allowed to do that in Berlin now. I think that a lot of Berlin is revelling in some sort of 'oh god, we're ALLOWED TO DO THIS NOW!' hangover that hasn't quite transformed into whatever it is the city is going to be now that it's not being covered in tanks and walls and things. One of the principle things I learned when I went there last month - the end half of 2015 - and went to the DDR Museum, which had been recommended to me by a friend as 'if you only go to one museum, go to that one' but actually turned out to deserve that cliche, was that the wall may have come down in 1990 or whenever, but it took longer than that to sort out the colossal mess that had been made of things. Reunifying Germany alone wasn't something that happened on a Tuesday before lunch. So I guess it wasn't surprising that 25 years later, things are all still a bit confusing there. And in the midst of all this confusion, a bunch of hipsters are throwing a party.
It is a bit confusing. There are neon stickers coating every lamppost and an abandoned Soviet-era theme park on the outskirts of the city has been opened up for the weekend - complete with the turning on of a Ferris wheel that is so old and unfit for purpose that it looks and sounds like something out of the Saw movies as it screeches to life - to host none other than a children's concert among the rotting fairground rides. Berlin has also chosen some unusual heroes. Currywurst (which looks worse than it tastes) is on every menu, even in those restaurants that have nothing to do with curry, or erm, wursts. The Ampelmann, which is the Berlin equivalent of our stop/go man at pedestrian crossings is so much of a hero that he has his own store. David Hasselhoff has signed his name on the inside of this shop, and I get so confused by all the devotion to a road symbol that I buy a tea towel and a pair of socks. And 2 fridge magnets. And a keyring.
Basically, Berlin doesn't really know what it is doing in life. It has made some mistakes and now it is trying to rectify the situation by making everything whimsical and fun. I don't really know what I'm doing in life either and so in celebration of this, I decided to make Berlin into DISCO BERLIN and here it is:
Having recently bought a new laptop and Photoshop Elements 13, I decided to make use of all the weird filters that come with it - the ones that make your photographs look supposedly like a painting and stuff. I don't know why anyone would want that but I think that my photos of this particularly place look better for not looking *quite* real. Maybe it's because my photos are terrible, or maybe it's just the nature of Berlin. Unreal is what I was going for anyway, in the absence of any better idea, and also because it seems to fit.
Most alarmingly whimsical about Berlin, or whimsically alarming maybe, was the presence of a showroom advertising The Currywurst Museum right opposite Checkpoint Charlie. Although really, what's more inappropriate - this, or hoards of American tourists eagerly photographing the spot where innocent people got shot at, essentially for attempting to cross the road? That's the part of Berlin that seems most unreal actually - imagining that stuff. Because that stuff happened not so long ago - in my lifetime. And I can't imagine anything quite so ridiculous as putting up a wall and telling a whole section of society that they cannot cross it. Probably needless to say, I didn't go visit the site of the old checkpoint, but I did learn pretty comprehensively about what happens to your mouth when you put a frankfurter covered in curry sauce and mustard powder in it.
I recently read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I liked it. It's the story of how a girl in the 90's decides to quit doing drugs and do a really long walk across deserts and mountains to absolve herself of her demons, or something. The story itself was fine, but now Cheryl Strayed is either my hero or my arch nemesis. I can't decide which. Because this book came out in like, 2012. And the journey took place in 1995. Which means that either she has a really great memory, made the whole thing up, or kept a really detailed journal.
Friday 27th February 2015
Thursday 17 May 2007
Friday 25th May 2007
All photographs on this page Copyright Christina Owen 2015