Girls Gone Mild: Morocco Edition

Another Girls Gone Mild trip? Yes! And who better to grab some winter sun than my Manchester-girl-about-town, Red. Frankly, she took no convincing at all, her only objection to a suggested weekend was ‘not Russia’. Fine. As it goes, another friend was headed that way with her fella the following weekend so was able to give me the low-down over lunch recently. But I digress. Red spied some flights for £100 and we were on our way. I’m going to put it out there: I was not sure at first about Morocco as a travel destination. It conjured images of dirty streets, annoying market traders and people making a grab for anything that looked expensive or fleshy (or, in my case, both). I needn’t have worried. This is what Marrakech is really like. Come take a walk through this photo montage.

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Starting with the airport. Reasonably modern and gorgeous on the outside. Chaos inside, but better than some airports (I’m looking at you, Chambery) that I have passed through.

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What was I saying about annoying market traders? Oh yes. I turned briefly to purchase some juice on the first morning only to find that in the 20 seconds it took me to buy my drink that Red had been accosted by a henna ‘artist’ decorating her with a temporary tattoo. Claiming it was for free, Red reluctantly gave her hand, then found herself in a haggle. In the end she lost 200 Dirham (about £14) and gained an arm covered in low-grade poo-like henna. It took nearly an hour for this to dry and the results were shoddy. But it didn’t stop there.

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We allowed ourselves to be dragged into a government run (sure, sure) shop selling the fabled Argan oil. This is particular to Morocco and according to the woman in the lab coat in the shop cures everything from malaria to stretch-marks. The sell is done in a shop of coloured powders, which is distracting and curious – I’m convinced it’s ground up chalk (clue: no labels on anything) and buy the bare minimum to make my escape before I can be tempted by ‘free gifts’.

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But it’s not all souks and shady shops. There is a lot of belly dancing going on. Remarkable given the usual dress-code on the streets (uncovered shoulders attract a bit of unwelcome attention). This woman was by far my favourite: if you can dance with a tray of candles and tea strapped to your head, you must be good. Do not try this at home.

Marrakech also has a crap-load of good architecture. You can wander about admiring the tiles like a DIY enthusiast in a Homebase store for days.

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This was in Ben Youssef Medusa – hint: don’t pay the extra 10 Dirham for the museum. It doesn’t exist.

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And a bunch of mosques that you can’t enter since you are an infidel. Fair enough.

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But the tiling is still superb.

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There are a bunch of palaces too to stroll about in peace. Most of them are ruins of their former glory, but still good to check out. This is El Badi Palace.

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And tiny doorways that make you feel like a giant.

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One of the Very Best Things about hanging out in Marrakech is the night time scene. Grab a spot above the central market (Jemaa el-Fnaa) and watch it come to life as the sun goes down. Lots of music, snake charmers, entertainment and it feels all remarkably safe since no one is drunk.

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Koutoubia Mosque is also worth a look (again, from the outside, we’re infidels) and serves as a useful point for getting your bearings since it is the tallest thing in the city and can be seen from most places.

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What trip to northern Africa would be complete without a camel ride, eh? Yeah, box ticked though I have to say that Red was way less than convinced than I was about doing it. I told her it was just a weird shaped horse. That didn’t work, she’s not fond of horses either. But she was convinced when we found it was literally the only way we could see this attraction which she had dragged us to; the Palmeria – an area of palm tress set against the back-drop of the Atlas Mountains.

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Eventually she got into it, her docile gestating camel called Shakira might have helped. I on the other hand had an energetic Mulberry shoe-eating beast called Michael.

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An entrance (one of many) to the souks. This is where you can buy (in my case) genuine fake Hermes belts, scarves and hand-painted plates. Or (in Red’s case) decorative metal-bottomed curly toed shoes and wizard outfits. I’m the practical one, obviously.

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More tile work, and a more accurate depiction of how mediocre of height I really am.

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Our accommodation choices in Marrakech were abundant. Unlike some other bloggers who are paid to swan about swishing their big dresses in fancy places like Mamounia, I was self-funded. But that doesn’t mean I bunked down in a hostel. My idea of roughing it is slow room service, after all. I chose Villa Makassar, located in the Kasbah (I swear I almost chose it on this basis alone) it was the perfect mix of Art Deco, luxury and ‘keeping it real’.

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Oh who am I kidding – this kind of sweet carb loading breakfast is in no way ‘keeping it real’. I seriously suggest starting the day this way every day though. Cake, pancakes, and chocolate things. What I don’t have a picture of is the Hammam. Not sure what one is? Google it before you book it, is my top tip. Crib notes: you get scrubbed to within an inch of your life naked, by a stranger. If you have booked this experience with a friend, they will scrub you in the same room. One at a time. The person not being scrubbed will lie there in awkward steamy silence. Be sure you have agreed this in advance and/or you are REALLY good friends. That aside, it’s a fabulous scrub and I’ve never felt cleaner.

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During the day I overloaded on fresh orange juice. These stalls are all around the market square. A glass of the the cold nectar will set you back the equivalent of 35p, so you can see why I vitamin C’d myself into a coma.

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I highly recommend eating as much Moroccan food as you can get your hands on, especially this: some kind of skewered chicken thing. Menus are typically in french and arabic, so clue up on a few words (I chose francais, obviously) before you go to make things easier. It will keep you fuelled to go out exploring.

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This is Menara Gardens. I’m posting this to save you the bother of going. This is essentially it. The ‘gardens’ are a bunch of olive trees in the dirt with poor families picnicking on the dirt in the shade of the trees.

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You can also go stork stalking. These things nest in one of the palaces. One swooped me silently gliding from behind. As you will know from the previous post, this was not a sign of anything other than a giant bird curious about my blonde barnet.

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Ben Youssef again. Still totally worth the comparatively pricey 50 Dirham entrance (£3.50).

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Taxi! Yes, you can grab a cab to go anywhere you like for less than you think, but probably more than what locals pay. Some cabs will only take three people though, so if there are four of you, choose the cab first and don’t let them talk you into getting two cabs. And don’t then find a four-person cab and try to switch like we did (Red and I were sharing with two other British girls who were going the same way) because it will start a massive argument.

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And that’s pretty much it, Morocco’s capital is safer than I thought, cheaper (once I got the hang of how to haggle) and I was able to fend off the pleas of souk traders with better french than I thought possible. It was also more relaxing than I gave it credit for, and far more interesting.

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It did have the dusty chaotic ramshackle streets but these seemed more charming than I thought they would be. This is the one our fabulous hotel was on. Don’t judge a property by its front door. Or a country by your own pre-conceptions.

Posted in Friends, Travel | 8 Comments

What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting

I’ve been debating posting anything on this topic for a long time. Almost a year now. I’m not even sure why. What I’m about to post is hardly ground-breaking territory and it certainly isn’t going to earn me a Pulitzer. It’s been sitting in my draft folder for a year but in light of repeated failures and my ability to get over them, I’m posting it. Stop here if you are likely to be upset by the topic of miscarriage and fertility issues. Keep reading if you want to hear about someone else’s experience.

March 2014
As you all know, I have been running a lot. I’ve run nearly 500 miles. I have been training for the Paris Marathon, but I will not see myself on the starting line. This is unfortunate in some ways, not least because I really wanted to run through the city of love, smashing it with a sub-4 hour finishing time. I even learnt some rudimental francais so I could shout obscenities at locals who were in my way.

But plans change. I got up the duff. Yes, really.

Trust me, I have less idea than a teenager on alcopops how it actually happened. But it did. I think The Husband did most of the work. Short of that whole Jesus fable, this is the most improbable impregnation you could imagine, thanks mostly to that cervical cancer episode that saw me disposing of some key infrastructure down there in the ol’ lady-land.

On learning this somewhat personally earth-shattering-but-in-reality-quite-everyday news, my first thought was of the marathon. Would I still run it? Is it even safe?

Devoid of any pregnancy symptoms and many weeks off consulting a medical professional, I continued my training. Fuck it. I can do this. On that first day I eyed the telling pink lines that I believed would alter my future forever, I ran a personal best 5km, then finished tenth in a 20km race on the weekend. Because like the denial of the cancer diagnosis, I didn’t truly believe that I was with child. Or more accurately, zygote. I ran to prove to myself I was fine.

On the runs I did, my thoughts turned to everything else I had booked and planned within the next five months, which is when I feasibly thought I could still carry on as normal, given my medical prognosis for undertaking the creation of life. Oh shit. I was going to drag this poor unborn fucker to the ends of the earth – from Australia to as close as I could get to the north pole. But it was the marathon that occupied my thoughts most.

Quickly I did some basic maths in my head. I would be about 14 weeks come marathon day. I googled frantically to find a general consensus on the topic, or more accurately, to give me permission from complete internet strangers to run it. Turns out that running is not only not harmful, but quite beneficial. So it was game on. This foetus was going to do a marathon. It might slow me down and stop me accepting the wine and soft cheese at the 38km mark (or maybe not), but I was going to haul it over the line. Yeah!

I hit the pavements. Training continued in full denial that this was anything but a) achievable, or b) a good idea. That was of course, until I saw sense and queried my oncologist. Despite explaining I have been running over 30 miles a week he gave a firm no. Like a ‘don’t even ask a second time’ no. I was devastated but not entirely surprised. I had to cease running effective immediately since lack of aforementioned intimate infrastructure made me the equivalent of carrying triplets. Besides, he had me legs akimbo in the stirrups. I was not in a position to argue. Quick check of the vitals (the baby’s not mine) showed everything was dandy.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be pregnant. Happier than you would imagine for someone with zero maternal instinct. After all, I had been trying for over a year without success. I started this running lark to ease the regular disappointment that came with crap skills in spawning. But still. Just when I thought I really would complete a marathon, it was taken away.

Oh I know, my disappointment was utterly selfish. Judge me if you want. I have. Putting personal goals ahead of someone’s potential survival rubs off as a teensy bit selfish, no? But when the realisation sank in that I had already achieved something as unlikely as me finishing a sub-4hour marathon, I assure you I laughed at myself for even thinking of attempting it. I had forgotten that the marathon training was meant to be a distraction. A mental sedative to smooth the harsh corners of jealousy when others confirmed their pregnancies. A way to do something (albeit temporary but) just as awesome with my body.

—–

And that’s where this blog post initially ended, with a promise not to be all Hallmark-ish and a plea for a decent name. But sadly, the story took an unfortunate turn and the joyous 12 week scan we were expecting turned into a tear-filled hair-patting it’ll-be-alright experience. Like apparently 20% of women who get pregnant, I lost the baby. I’m reassured it was no one’s fault (though this is cold comfort when I felt it was my responsibility to grow it) and I was given the permission to try again.

So I did, and I got pregnant shortly after the operation to remove the first attempt. That’s the thing, when you are fundamentally altered internally, even the disposal means major work. Annoying, but there you go. If there is anything I like about myself, it’s my joy of refining process to increase efficiency, which I did – the second attempt was even more short-lived than the first. After that I gave it a rest and focussed on running again. I clocked up 26 half marathons in what can only be described honestly as a massive over-compensation. Also, a big fuck you to my body. I ran until I hurt so bad that my feet went on strike. They are still bruised, months later.

And then, shortly after Christmas, I got pregnant. Again. This time, I didn’t run at all, since some people who will not be named suggested openly that perhaps ‘all that running’ was less than beneficial for gestation. Though I had signed up for the Marrakech half marathon it didn’t cross my mind this time to run it. I fed myself well, took medical advice seriously and rolled up for the 12 week scan, sceptical, but with a little hope.

And again, it was no dice. But this time, I didn’t cry. Not at first, at least. I apologised to the ultrasound technician for wasting her time (how very British of me) and booked in for the removal. I’m getting used to this – my fifth general anaesthetic in less than 3 years – I do love a good sleep. I even carried on with work meetings (ironically, at hospitals) until I was admitted. Sure, there have been tears – I’m not a freaking robot – but I have found that making lists of things I can do now that I am not expecting have been the most useful strategy for avoiding wallowing in self-pity. That, and having my closest friends console me not with advice, but with a simple ‘that really sucks, sorry’.

So, here it is, what to expect when I am not expecting this year:
* sky diving
* mandolin lessons
* a trip to Greenland
* run the Svalbard half marathon (or Iceland Midnight Sun Half)
* become a tree surgeon
* learn to fly
* purchase a cello

Feel free to add suggestions.

Posted in Up The Duff | 14 Comments

Fool Britannia

Riddle me this:
The Husband’s shaving brush holds a Royal Warrant. ‘By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen’ it says.

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What’s she shaving?

Posted in Fool Britannia, random shit, UK Life | 2 Comments

The One When Worlds Collide

If you’ve moved around a little bit or have different and separate social circles like me, you might occasionally have weird dreams in which the people in the far corners of your life seemingly know each other yet haven’t met in your waking life. I regularly open my eyes in the morning having dreamed that a high school friend in Australia is a close friend of a work colleague in the UK. It can be disturbing.

So I don’t make matters any better when I get a visitor from back home and introduce them for real.
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L-R: Lady Red von Tutu, The Nutbag, me, Skippy.
I better lay off the cheese for a bit.

Posted in Friends, Those Antipodeans, UK Life | Leave a comment

Girls Gone Mild: New York Edition

So I popped over to New York again. I do that very occasionally. I like to remind myself what good customer service and free refills feel like. And unremarkably, Melba is up for it – that girl sure is insatiable for a holiday. I felt bad that she slogged it halfway across the earth to meet up, but she didn’t seem to mind. Besides, she brought company in the form of her south-of-the-border friend, Vicky (not her real name, obviously).

As usual, and I say ‘usual’ but we’ve only met up in NYC once before, Melba made all the restaurant bookings, leaving me to suggest a few things about town to amuse ourselves. I mostly failed even at that, but here’s a few highlights of what we got up to..

New York is one of those places you can just wander. So we did a fair bit of that. Along the High Line (an old railway line above street level converted into a park) we strolled, chatting and snapping pictures of whatever we thought was vaguely interesting.

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Like this. It might be graffiti or an ad campaign, but who knows or cares.

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We ate lots. And not all haute cuisine, either. Sometimes you just need the burgery carb and sugar goodness of a Shake Shack burger. Good news is they have opened in London so Nutbag, if you are reading, we are going here when you arrive.

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This being end of November, the festive spirit was underway and the Salvation Army (Salvos) were out in bell ringing force. This pair danced their socks off and earned every dollar.

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Rockefeller of course was proper festive too, and I wouldn’t be a tourist without a quick peek.

It was pretty cold during our visit and I wondered how my little wallaby friends would cope. I heard only the occasional whimper about it being a ‘bit fresh’, probably because their mouths were frozen shut. Both of them had the opportunity to see snow falling for the very first time. (Not joking, they’d never seen it.)

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Melba decided that to combat the arctic conditions, she needed a hat. And selected this fine beauty of a cranium hugging woolly number. For hours we heard about how this hat was the envy of the city. And how awesome it therefore made her. More on that later.

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Like I said, things got festive. We walked everywhere. The hat came with us. It paraded down fifth avenue.

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It posed in front of Radio City Music Hall. But then… disaster at The Plaza!

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It would seem that Melba’s ginormous woolly hat trend caught on a little too fast for her liking…

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But I knew just where to take her to lift her spirits.

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Birthday and Christmas gift sorted for Melba.

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A holiday wouldn’t be a holiday without a little jog about town, now would it? So I got up early on Sunday morning, intending on getting a subway to Central Park and re-enact half the New York jogging scenes I’ve ever watched. But alas, I was thwarted by a lack of both trains and patience. So I ran from Canal Street to Central Park. Through Times Square, past the Empire State Building and a lot of other famous shit. And when I got to Central Park, I felt pretty good. So I ran around it. And when I did that, I intended on getting a train back downtown. But I still felt really good. So I ran back downtown. 13.5 miles all up, which is actually about the entire length of Manhattan.

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What else did we see? Stuff like this. Which of course had a busker doing John Lennon songs on continual loop.

And that’s what happens when you have no other plans in life and access to credit: awesome shit.

Thanks as always Melba (and Vicky). See you in the Southern Hemisphere soon.

Posted in Christmas, Friends, Those Antipodeans, Travel | 2 Comments

Where’s Vegemite?

Spent the afternoon walking up a hill to this Cheshire point of interest. Anyone want to have a stab where it is?
TNA: I hope this is suitably challenging for you. Remember, no Google help!
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Posted in Cheshire Life, UK Life, Where's Vegemite | 9 Comments

Pavlov? It Rings a Bell.

After years of wondering where The Dog came from, I think I finally found The Dog’s real family. Or at least one of them.

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Just me or is that a pretty good match for a possible relative?

Aussies and Kiwis alike will of course recognise this from the popular Toyota ad of the 90’s and given that it was filmed in New Zealand, it’s unlikely The Dog shares any actual genes, but still.

For the rest of you, here’s the ad in full for your enjoyment.

Posted in Cheshire Dogs Home, The Dog | Leave a comment

Compulsory Christmas Fun

For the first time in MANY years, I find myself in an office-based role around the festive season. Which is nice in some ways – particularly for someone who’s sceptical about celebrating the birth of a baby whose parents weren’t even trying to get knocked up. But whatever.

Here in the UK there are a hundred and one office traditions surrounding the holiday season. In my place of employment, a competition to see who can jam the most Christmas tat in their ‘pod’ has been tense. Every day more and more tinsel has been draped over photocopiers and strung from meeting room lights. An admin team upped the ante with a full on flashing-light fire-exit-blocking nativity scene but in the end a selection of life size inflatable Santas stuck in chimneys nailed a win for the HR team. And it doesn’t stop there; the constant yo-sushi-like stream of fruit cake in the kitchen has made me feel ill for weeks. Then of course there is ‘gift hidden in the office each day and a not very cryptic clue that gets sent out’ so people can waste time hunting for what is unsurprisingly a pound-shop box of chocolates. And how could I forget the ‘bring your kids in for Santas Grotto’ event that means if you haven’t spawned you get to work the afternoon like a mug while your breeding colleagues swap vomit-and-poo stories for a few hours and coo over their offspring.

Luckily I managed to avoid most of this, even the secret santa tradition of buying someone you don’t know something they don’t want. I also dodged the mince pies (zero consumed, thank you) but as a line manager, I have a certain responsibility to ‘get in on the fun’ so as not to appear a total grinch. Morale, innit?

So when a subordinate decides that they are going to be an even bigger bah-humbug than me, well, that just won’t do.
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So, I wrapped his fucking desk. Including the bunch of bananas on it.

Posted in Christmas, UK Life, Work | 6 Comments

Lessons in Loving a Dog #453

Take your Dog On Holiday.

Before you say it. I do love The Dog too much. But, given I’m watching a trashy show about Obsessive Christmas People (this woman loves gingerbread so much she actually lives in a gingerbread house and smokes – amongst other things presumably – ginger from her 70-odd kilogram stash of it) then relatively speaking, booking a holiday purely for The Dog’s enjoyment doesn’t seem too extreme.
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But point taken, we do love The Dog an unnatural or perhaps underserved amount. So, this year we packed the car and headed for Wales.
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Last year our Welsh holiday ended abruptly after finding mice running rife, so it was with a slight trepidation that I entered this year’s abode.

Eagle-eyed and ready to get the hell out of Dodge I sent the The Husband up to inspect kitchen (Key Mouse Zone) while I explored the rest of our 18th century Swedish-decorated longhouse.
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I needn’t have worried, it was indeed rodent-free. Thank fuck.

So what is there to do in a remote and distinctly wifi-less part of Wales? Not much. And that’s what made it pretty awesome. I know I’ve not blogged for a while, but trust me, I’ve been online. A lot. Mostly for work. Sometimes also on Twitter and usually on Facebook. I feel over-connected sometimes. My greatest stress in life is keeping all my devices charged and responding to the one that is beeping the loudest. It’s exhausting.

So I like to switch off and get out in the outdoors, despite the typical Welsh November weather (i.e. monsoonal rain, hail and sleet) and test out whatever I have bought from Rapha lately.

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I can highly recommend this waterproof jacket, by the way. It triumphed in whatever Wales had to offer in the cycle from Bryncir and Caenarfon and back.

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On nicer days we took The Dog to the beach, because that’s his Most Favourite Thing. I’d heard about a place called Abersoch. It seems that most of Cheshire take their sprogs to this place (unfortunately, even in November) and these gorgeous little beach huts were rammed with whatever crap doesn’t fit in the shed back in Wilmslow.

I’m not a beach snob, but having grown up in Australia, I’m accustomed to a decent quality of beach, even if in reality I hate salt water and rarely sunbathe. So, Abersoch left me wanting.

Fortunately Wales does have some nice beaches, not overrun with the Barbour and Hunter boot crowd.

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Here’s my tip: if you ever find yourself in North Wales, grab some Welsh cakes, head to Harlech Beach and wander the open sands.
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Just don’t tell anyone from Wilmslow…

Posted in The Dog, Travel, Wales | 1 Comment

Happy Dog-mas

The Dog set a new personal record in destroying what we gave him this year.
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Sure, he looks grateful for the gift, right?

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But he’s more efficient than a WAG sniffing out a cashed-up footballer.

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The gingerbread chew toy lasted about 2 and a half minutes. Good boy.

Posted in Cheshire Dogs Home, Cheshire Life, Christmas, The Dog | Leave a comment

Ocadone For The Year

I don’t blame people for getting festive at this time of year. But I fear that the product labelling team at Ocado have knocked off a little early.
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Yes it is fruit, I know. But this is barely better than just putting a vague ‘food of some kind’ label on.

Lazy.

Posted in Food, random shit | 2 Comments

Conwy Half Marathon

Last official race of the year for me and it was back to Conwy where it all began. I really enjoyed this course the first time and looked forward to attempting the climb around the Great Orme a second time. I was mentally insane prepared, even if the previous 24 half marathons this year have knocked it out of my feet.

I loaded my running shit in the car, drove the hour and half over to north Wales and found that although I’d arrived in plenty of time, the car parks were full. It seems this race has gotten a lot more popular. I drove around the streets of Conwy swearing at myself and eventually found a park on a street half a mile from the start area. Up a giant hill. Never mind.
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I head to the start down by the castle.

Baggage Drop area was utter chaos. I was lucky enough to get towards the front and be handed a tag to attach to my bag and throw it on the growing heap of bags. Other racers just had to abandon their bags as the number of tags ran out and hope they’d get their stuff back afterwards.

If I thought the Bag Drop situation was insufficient, then the toilets were worse. Massive queues of nervous runners meant that I was hovering when the start gun went off. One girl (more competitive than I am) quit the queue a few minutes earlier and used the men’s urinals. I don’t even want to imagine it, given she didn’t have a she-wee. I wasn’t as bothered though, I only go off chip time anyway and besides, I’d driven 90 minutes, there was no chance I could hold it in for another 2 hours.

The course itself varied from last year’s. No longer did we have a flat beach section after the start, but an undulating street course before the climb. Shame. I liked the beach section. Perhaps they had to change it due to the larger field this year. Anyway, things were going okay. I felt fine. Nostalgic even that this was capping off a great year of running.

However, three miles in my right foot felt uncomfortable. With good reason. The familiar feeling of a blister coming on made me question how well I’d strapped my foot up.
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Not well, it turns out. Yes folks, this is the painful reality of frequent long distance running and shoes that don’t suit your running style perfectly.

And that’s when I decided to just finish, no matter what. I stopped at the top of the climb and took on water. I wasn’t going to beat last year’s time and it didn’t matter.

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By the time I got back to the finish area, plodding back over the bridge passing the 13 mile marker, I was done. Really done. Finishing time was 1:53:55 which is a couple of minutes slower than last year. But like I said, I was done for the year.

Or was I? Stay tuned.

Posted in Fitness, UK Life, Wales | 2 Comments

Why Britain Is Fat

I’m not going to lie, I get my groceries delivered from Ocado (Waitrose on wheels, effectively) so I rarely see the inside of a supermarket these days, but this weekend I was caught short had to venture in to Sainsbury’s to pick up some fruit and veg. Wading through a sea of carts and crying, sugared-up brats I found some peace and quiet in the fresh produce section where my heart sank a little.
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This, readers, is what the fruit section looks like in a regular-sized supermarket here in the UK. Yes, really. This pathetic, barren wasteland of a fruit and veg department. Maybe I’m reminiscing for the colourful and abundant displays of my homeland, a rainbow of natural treats jostling for prime position with colours brighter than an apre-ski bar in the 80s, but this left me sad and deeply concerned for the health of the British public. I don’t need my degree in marketing to tell you that people are attracted to bright colours or shiny, glossy wrappers. And I don’t need a second picture to show you how extensive the chocolate biscuit and confectionary selection was. No wonder 25% of Brits are obese. Not just overweight, obese.

So, after a dejected lap of the area, I scavenged some aging fair-trade bananas, a bag of questionable satsumas and vowed to log on to Ocado when I got home and book a delivery, pronto.

Posted in Food, Fool Britannia, UK Life | 16 Comments

Take The Weather With You

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Just remembered why I go abroad for vacations. This is the week I just had here in Britain on a ‘stay-cation’. Pictures up soon of the misadventure but feel free to guess where we went in the meanwhile.

Posted in Oh God Why?, Things That Shit Me, Travel, UK Life | 6 Comments

Gig Report: Nicole Atkins

Rainy miserable nights up north suck. No two ways about it. It gets dark up here by 4pm in winter and leaving the house seems like a major effort. There’s rarely much that entices you out during these months. Unless of course you’re in striking distance to Manchester which any half decent act will add to their tour schedule if they break the forcefield of the M25.

And so it was that on a gloomy wet Thursday evening with no inclination to get public transport that I found myself driving to the Northern Quarter. New Jersey songstress Nicole Atkins was playing a traditional type pub called Gullivers and I wasn’t going to miss it, despite The Husband being detained in London. Fortunately, (and this was unexpected) there is a decent and cheap car park directly opposite the pub. I feel like luck is on my side. I might even get a decent view of the gig (rare, given I’m fantastically average in height).

You may or may not remember, I wrote about her albums back in 2011, so trust me, I’ve been waiting a while.

Diet coke (I’m driving, remember) in hand and I climb some narrow stairs to the venue. It’s a smallish room and it’s not even close to being packed, though this is the break between the support and Nicole herself, people are clearly replenishing beverages. There’s even a spot up the front to the side unoccupied. This is like finding a spare seat on a packed tube that curiously nobody sees. Result!

Ms Atkins entered the room from behind us (there was no other actual way in) and begins her set standing in the middle of the crowd performing Neptune City. It feels intimate and unpretentious. She moves then to the stage and performs her set with gusto though it’s red hot on stage and she’s noticeably uncomfortable. Some creepy older guy at the front offers her a tissue. If there hadn’t been a hundred witnesses, I’d have wondered whether it was intended to be soaked with chloroform later. Nicole is terrifyingly great. Her back catalogue fairly represented; the songs reminding me of late nights and bad life choices I made in my earlier years with people I shouldn’t have slept with. It’s that kind of dark, sexy, blood and bruised heart feeling. The room gets hotter. She pushes through and delivers a perfect set that included Vultures, Maybe Tonight, a stunning rendition of The Tower and ends with her (as she started) in the middle of the room doing a version of The Big O’s ‘Crying‘.

Anyway, here’s the pictures from the gig to show the awesomeness of Nicole Atkins…
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See? I really did get a spot up the front!

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How she is not more famous I will never know. Far more artists have made it further with so much less talent. Secretly I’m pleased that it means I can still see her up close and personal. But still.

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