Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

My travel preparations

I thought I had preparing for a trip - whether big or small - down to a fine art, but on my recent month long visit to Canada in September, I forgot to pack a couple of things. This is so unlike me, I was pretty annoyed with myself. I know you can pick up most items in another Western country (and in most other countries too, although it might take you a little longer to find what you need), but I'm used to being super organised. I guess I just got complacent!

Here's an insight into my preparation checklist:

1) What does the Foreign Office Advice website say about my intended destination/s?

2) Is my passport in date?

3) Do I need visas?

4) Is my travel insurance in date? If I'm travelling to Europe, is my European Health Insurance Card in date?

5) Do I need any of my own medication? I have stand by pills for Vertigo for example.

6) Are my vaccinations up-to-date? Do I need any new jabs? Check Fit for travel website. Book in with the travel clinic if necessary. Do I need anti-malarial medication? Get private prescription for Malerone.

7) What flights are available? How will my ticket be issued? Can I check in online 24 hours before departure?

8) How am I getting to the airport? Can I book my RailAir ticket / taxi now?

9) Can I get the currency in the UK before travel? If yes, check Travelex, Post Office and Marks and Spencer to compare rates.

10) Do I need to pre book hotels?

11) Do I need to pre book any activities?

12) How should I divvy up my spending money - airport transfers, other transport, meals, excursions... Do I take a mixture of cash and cards? Are ATMs available? Do they charge a horrific percentage?

13) What apps do I need to download on my phone? Should I get a local sim card?

14) I get my luggage out at this point, lay it out in the spare bedroom and start dumping stuff in and around it as and when I think of something to pack... Does it fit the airline requirements?

15) Check on clothes / shoes / toiletries / camera gear / travel adapter / lock / money belt / any techy equipment / chargers / books / journal / credit and debit cards / travel money cards / first aid kit...

16) Take photocopies of your passport page, flight tickets, visas and travel insurance and leave with loved ones. Give them a rough idea of your itinerary too and where you'll be, when.

17) Am I making my own way to the hotel once I land at my destination? Explore transport options.

18) Start packing, going through every item - do I really need it? Have I missed anything? Am I carrying anything that could be banned?

19) Once packed, two final things I do - fill out luggage tags and attach them and lock my main suitcase


Thursday, 17 December 2015

Smart tips for eating free on the road

I never really thought about this until I had to travel on a budget, but filling up on food at these obvious opportunities will help you to keep your money in your pocket and spend it on fun experiences and activities instead. Win Win!

1) Book hotels with breakfast included and then eat until you're stuffed - and then go back for more to take away.

2) Visit local events like farmer's markets or street markets where they often have free wares to sample.

3) Wherever there's free bread at a restaurant, load up on it.

4) Grocery stores can be a great place for free samples especially in the bigger cities.

5) Check out the local magazine / paper you get in your room at the hotel to see what offers restaurants have in the area.

6) Book on tours and activities that have a free meal included. These can be really good like a beach barbecue where the food is plenty, or a buffet lunch in a restaurant - more opportunities for "takeaway"!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

What travel does to you

Would I be standing on top of an active volcano, ready to ride down it, wearing an orange jumpsuit and sitting on a piece of plywood in my everyday life? Well... No! Of course not. This is a great example of what travel does to you - it takes you outside of your comfort zone and makes you more open to new experiences.

The normal every day is routine: Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat. There is nothing risky here. You don't take impulsive opportunities and rationality wins the day. But when you travel, it's time to be free and adventurous. I've got to the point now where the whole thing is second nature. I switch off normal me and switch on travel me. When you're globetrotting, there's no time for insecurities. You've got too many other things to think about and too many other things to enjoy and immerse yourself in.

The confidence that comes from travel gives you an edge. You'll never be short of a conversation starter. But, whilst you're travelling, you're open to meeting new people, forging friendships, taking risks, you relax into the journey and experience and stop worrying about the little things.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Strand and Southbank

I've been practicing with the iPhone 6S's Live Photos feature. More work needed... I think it'd be great for action shots... but for now, here's some LPs of London's Strand and Southbank.



Thursday, 26 November 2015

Digital library lending

Interesting to see that Americans still like to borrow a printed book from a library, rather than a digital version. I have to admit to carrying my Kindle Fire HD everywhere I go now. It takes the boredom out of waiting rooms, that's for sure. I still have boxes of paperbacks to read though. I will never get bored of the feel of a real book.

Here's the stats from the Publishers Weekly survey:

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Beautiful libraries

Check out these beautiful libraries around the world!

Like Gary Mclaren, I spent a huge proportion of my childhood and teen years in our local library and in the school library. I would often have 10 books on the go at once. Ah, Life was so much simpler then...

Thursday, 19 November 2015


Something to ponder on this Thursday morning...

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. HERMAN MELVILLE

I've been watching a lot of detective shows recently and besides the great story lines and trying to figure out whodunnit, the one thing I've noticed is that all the leading Chief Inspectors stick their necks out to get to the heart of the murder case/s. They put themselves, their reputation, their life and their career on the line when they get a hunch. Most of the time they get away with it (of course, this is fictional television) and it leaves me with the feeling that to get anywhere, you need to be gutsy. You need to push the boundaries. Dare to go where no man or woman has gone before kind of stuff.

Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and try new things with your writing. Be a leader, not a follower.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Literary coffee

I really like this! Which coffee would you choose to kick start your day?


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Live photos on iPhone 6S

Woo hoo I have finally upgraded my iPhone 4S to the 6S and I can't wait to shoot some live photos - whatever these may be....

Apparently the 6S camera has a new feature which is the ability to shoot a "Live Photo" - a mix between a still image, an animated GIF and a proper video. It captures the moment before and immediately after you take the pic in Apple's camera app. You then view the photo as normal in the Camera Roll and press down on it. 3D Touch (whatever that is...) brings it to life.

I will have to try this! I'm also interested to see if the camera is a lot better than the 4S. I'm hoping so.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Boy Next Door


I found this book up in my mum's loft. It's the first ever Enid Blyton story I read. After this one, I was hooked and it became my mission to read all of The Famous Five and The Secret Seven books. Whilst we were at school, my mum used to visit the local library for us and bring me home four at a time. Children were only allowed four pink tickets and we renewed our books or swapped for something else every couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Down to Margate!

I was in Margate in Kent on Saturday celebrating my Great Uncle's 95th birthday. We hadn't visited for 5 years, so it was interesting to see the redevelopment along the beachfront. Also, the funfair Dreamland closed its gates in 2005 and re-opened 10 years later this year after an 18 million pound restoration. A lovely day was had soaking up the last rays of summer.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Lake Windermere

Envy time again, as my mum and her friend visited Lake Windermere in the Lake District. Windermere is the largest natural lake in England, being ten and a half miles long and 219 feet deep. They also took in the market town of Kendal (a favourite of Nella Last)  and Lancaster, and the following day on the long drive back home, Molden and the gateway to the magnificent Yorkshire Dales, Skipton.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Castle Howard

They hadn't enjoyed Carlisle Castle as much as they'd hoped, so they went in search of another castle and visited the much more impressive Castle Howard, said to be Yorkshire's finest stately home and gardens. And it didn't disappoint! Only 15 miles north of York, Castle Howard is a private residence, the home of the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for more than 300 years.

Sadly no pics though - think they were having too much of a good time!

Monday, 26 October 2015


Time to head to the ancient capital of the county - York. Here they visited a Victorian museum and came across these gems...

Friday, 23 October 2015

Complication Neurosis

Following on from my post on Wednesday; the funny poem I wrote when I first started working at the Post Office, here's another amusing P O related post.

A regular customer of mine handed me a very funny book "Golden Oddlies" by Paul Jennings around the time of my second Christmas stint. As you can imagine, it was pretty manic, but the Chapter "Psychological Grading" gave me great cause for comfort - and chuckles.

"Golden Oddlies" is the best of Jennings "Oddly Enough" column that he wrote for the Observer. If you've ever worked in a Post Office, stood in a Post Office queue, or worked in Customer Service, you will relate to his musings...


All British sociologists will welcome the Report of the Royal Commission for Psychological Grading in Busy Places, published this week for the Ministry of Development and Printing, for it represents the first real official attempt to cope with the problem in modern society of complication-neurosis.
This is a condition which can best be explained to the layman by actual examples. Let us imagine a suburban branch Post Office, with, say, six positions - Stamps, Savings, Money Orders, Position Closed, Pensions and Allowances, and Telegrams. An ordinary customer (in the sociologists' jargon, a neutral counter-unit, or N.C.U.) such as the reader or the writer of this article - a person, therefore, entirely free from complication-neurosis - goes in to buy a book of stamps. He is preceded in the queue by a complication-neurotic who, perhaps, wishes to send a parcel to the Virgin Isles, a possession of the U.S.A. The clerk looks dubious, then calls someone from an inner office with a glass door. They fetch down a big book - the Post Office Guide. They find the section on the Virgin Isles.
'Ah,' murmurs the First Clerk, 'Customs Declaration "A".'
They are not quite sure what this is, so they flip rather aimlessly through the pages until it occurs to Clerk Two to look up 'Customs' in the Index. They find it and Clerk One reads, in an unsure sort of voice, 'Two kinds of customs declaration form are in use, namely an adhesive form to be affixed to the parcel (mainly for Empire use), and a non-adhesive form (for most foreign countries). Two or more copies of the latter form may be required, see pp. 110-209.'
But pp. 110-209 are merely the alphabetical section covering the world's countries, containing the bit about the Virgin Isles where Clerk One started. We are in a vicious circle. But this is only the beginning. When they have finally decided about the Customs, Clerk Two says, 'What's in the parcel?'
'Well, it's a kind of model I made,' says the woman helplessly, 'and a few potatoes.'
'Potatoes, eh?' says Clerk One doubtfully. More page flicking, then, 'I'm afraid we can't accept it, ma'am.' For under 'Prohibited Articles' it says, for the Virgin Isles:

Letters, cotton seed, cotton and cotton seed products (except oil, manufactured cotton and cotton waste; see below); feathers and skins of wild birds (except ostrich feathers) unless for educational purposes; films or pictorial representations of prize fights; intoxicating liquors; potatoes...

And so on, while all the normal person or N.C.U. wants is this book of stamps. Not only Post Office are affected by the spread of complication-neurosis. Evidence submitted to the Commission shows that most of the people who want a simple second-class return to Birmingham in a hurry are preceded by the sort of man who wants to go on an obscure place in the Hebrides. He has voluminous inquiries about sailing tickets and seat places and insurance. His ticket, instead of being issued quickly with a metallic thump from a machine, has to be laboriously written out on a duplicate form with long footnotes about 'Messrs MacBrayne's Services'. In a bank, an N.C.U. who merely wishes to cash a cheque for £5, will be preceded by someone with a battered attache case full of little blue bags full of pennies and complicated company accounts.
The Commission's Report recommends a revolutionary technique of psychological grading, to be tried out experimentally at first in Post Offices.

We are in entire agreement with the experts who have given evidence (it says) that the present division of Post Offices into operational functions is arbitrary and inefficient. We therefore recommend a form of Psychological Grading. In a Six-Position Post Office two of the positions should be labelled 'SIMPLE'. The remaining four should be labelled 'COMPLICATED'. Counter units should be met at the door of the Post Office by a trained psychologist who by the answer given to some such question as 'Good morning sir (or madam); what do you require?' would be able to deduce the degree, if any, of complication-neurosis, and direct the counter-unit accordingly.

I need hardly point out the effect on our social life if the Report is acted upon. Normal people like the reader, or the writer, of this article will be able to pop quickly in and out of the Post Office, even at the busiest times. Complication-neurotics will have a special part of the Post Office all to themselves, screened off with trellis and artificial roses, there will be little tables where they can discuss their problems with fellow-spirits all day long over a cup of Post Office coffee.
The realignment of staff will mean an overall increase in Functionary Time (F.T.) without the corresponding increase in Functionary Units which sociologists previously thought this must involve. The Report, recognising the existing shortage of psychologists, outlines a scheme for Regional Training Colleges giving a special one-year course. In the Report's concluding words,

the initial expense should soon be repaid, since from Post Offices it is a short step to railway booking offices, banks, and shops. and we may therefore look forward confidently to an efficient rationalisation of the whole of our public life.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


Backward jumble
Random mumble
Cannot quit so...
Fudge it!

Details hidden
Lost in Help
Round and round
Makes me yelp

I only care
No change to spare
Everything equals
In zero sequels

Also fun
Is the dalliance
Makes for such
A lovely ambiance

Monday, 19 October 2015

Afternoon tea in Bath

On Saturday we were in Bath for a surprise for my Mum, taking afternoon tea at Bailbrook House Hotel. As you will see from the pictures, it was a feast accompanied by a selection of teas. Between us, we chose Elderflower Darjeeling and Smooth Caramel.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Haworth - Brontë country

Heading west - and this is where I get a little bit jealous - they spent the day in Haworth, Brontë country, which looks to be perfectly idyllic and somewhere I could see myself wandering around for hours, soaking it all up. Only one word of caution: Beware of the traffic wardens in the car parks. My mum and her friend came across a very hostile one, who was downright nasty just because their ticket flipped on the dashboard. He made them pay an on the spot fine of £90 and wouldn't even look at their ticket to confirm they had in fact purchased it. The whole experience really took the shine of what should have been a smashing visit.