Photo Challenge: Atop

This week’s Photo Challenge is ‘Atop’.

I had trouble deciding which photo to post, as my favourites are generally all from the highest building or hill of wherever I’ve been – you can’t beat a nice view! I discovered this in Paris, when I realised how many stairs I was making my visitors climb. I remembered it climbing the many hills in Rome. Weirdly, after two-and-a-half years in London I still haven’t been to the Shard yet (well, the bar, but not the very top!), but can check off the Walkie-Talkie building, Tower Bridge, Monument, Primrose Hill and the view from the top of Greenwich Park.

For this post, here is a panorama from the Griffith Observatory in LA. (I still have the songs from La La Land going round in my head.) This was the day before I met my Trek group. Around 5000 miles from home, I had never travelled so far on my own before. (Although I still managed to meet a Scottish couple on the bus!) After months of feeling like I hadn’t been getting anywhere, literally going this far made it a surreal day.

If you click on the photo, you should be able to see a bigger version. I like all the contrasts in it: sand and greenery versus the city; hills and valleys; a grey cloud and blue skies.

LA panorama

Wonder

I really love this week’s Photo Challenge:

For this week’s challenge, show us something that surprised you on “the road taken.” It could be a heritage building in your city or town as seen from a new-to-you angle, a yummy meal on a road trip detour, or the penny you found on a casual stroll. […] This challenge is wide open — show us the excitement, surprise, wonder, or amazement of your “road taken.”

Trying to think of the situations where life has surprised me brings back a lot of good memories. It was difficult to decide whether to go with small, funny things – a somewhat amateur engraving of a face in ancient rock in Marseille, for example – or whether to go with a beautiful view. (I might have to turn more of my ideas into a longer post later.)

In the end, I decided to go with an awe-inspiring moment, and it’s hard to top one of the natural wonders of the world – the Grand Canyon. I was never really sure that seeing it was on the cards for me, as incredible as I thought it would be. My trip across the States was almost a rash decision, and I couldn’t believe I was going to experience so many of these places I’d only seen in films or read about in books.

When we arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park, our Trek America leader, Gin (she was simply the best), made us all put on blindfolds. She then made us hold hands so she could lead us (down steps and everything) towards a good viewing point. I can only imagine how ridiculous the eleven of us looked – in fact, I have some idea, as there were little bursts of laughter from people we couldn’t yet see.

When Gin was happy we were in the right place, she told us we could take off the blindfolds. She made sure we had the best possible first impression of one of the most incredible, unusual sights in the world. (She got a little round of applause for that from the others around us.)

This photo was the left-hand side of my initial view, and it’s one of my favourite photos I’ve taken. I think it’s because the lone person looks so tiny in the vastness, away out on this ledge. (They really shouldn’t have been out there, but I love this shot.)

Grand Canyon man

What I didn’t fully realise until going through my album just now was how much I had zoomed in. This was my actual perspective:

Grand Canyon

Now that is being tiny in the grand scheme of things.

Things I’ve learned since moving in

I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone, but on Monday it was six months since Adam and I moved in together. I meant to do an update after a month or so, so this is a lot late, but it’s a decent milestone to reflect. (‘Reflect’ meaning ‘list the mundanities of my new day-to-day’.)

Every place has its own quirks, and you can get used to most of them. For example, a half-giant must have put up the mirrors in our flat. I’m 5’7, and I can see my head and shoulders in one, my eyes and forehead in another, and genuinely can’t see in the third.

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This might be the weirdest picture I’ve ever taken, but see how high this mirror is?!

I finally understand the appeal of homeware.

I love plants. I kept a basil plant alive for four months. That is a new record for me, as it was previously around four days. I loved him, but it wasn’t enough. Now I have a succulent, which is supposed to be nearly impossible to kill. We also had daffodils grow unexpectedly in the window box, which was a nice surprise. (And it is sentences like that that make me feel old.)

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I can’t decide if it needs watered or not.

I have been reminded of just how many neighbours you have in a flat. The people next door don’t like each other very much. On the other hand, the people upstairs need a new bed. And someone in the block needs to smoke less weed.

I don’t wear 70% of my wardrobe. This is something I had always suspected, but after hanging up half of my clothes and hating them every time I opened the wardrobe, then keeping half in a suitcase that I didn’t unpack for five months, I realised I only wear about seven outfits on rotation.

I have a lot of stuff. After a month in the flat I announced, ‘We really need to get the rest of our stuff put away.’ Adam replied, ‘You mean you?’ And I was insulted. Then I thought about it, and realised it was indeed all my stuff.

heart-fairy-lights

There is a mysterious, imaginary ‘we’ that develops when you’re part of a co-habiting couple (as seen in the previous example), and I am not the only one who uses it. One morning, the day after I’d got home from a work trip, I was informed that, ‘We need to pour that milk away.’ I looked at the expiry date, which had been a few days prior, and asked why he hadn’t done it then. He said he was out that day. I said, ‘What about the day after?’ He sheepishly replied, ‘It was my birthday?’ Fortunately ‘we’ have not had to throw the milk out since.

Someone once told me that a good thing about living with boys is that they’ll take the bins out. I have had eleven male housemates over the course of house-sharing, and only one actually did his share of emptying the bins. It isn’t this one. (I feel bad leaving this bit in as this week he did take the bin out. For the fourth time.)

Cooking can be fun. Yes, I cook now. I still can’t believe it myself. If we only have a couple of hours when I get home and before Adam goes to work, then cooking together is actually a nice way to catch up on each other’s day.

paella

Finally, sleep envy is a very real thing.

Photo Challenge: A Good Match

I thought I would take part in this week’s Photo Challenge with a picture from my day trip to Canterbury the weekend before last. The theme is ‘A Good Match’, looking for pleasing pairings.

Instagram is full of interesting doors (my friend Charly has a lovely account called Travelling Doors) but I have so many photos of archways or gates. Perhaps I’m just nosy. My good match is the foreground of the image and the glimpse of what’s beyond the gate – I liked the similar shapes of the gate and the windows, and the tree in the middle.

This was taken at St Augustine’s Abbey. (I hope to write more about the trip soon!)

canterbury-gate

 

Itchy Feet

I had the day to myself today, so was looking forward to getting some blog posts written. Instead, I have spent six hours looking at weekend breaks near London, because I am starting to lose my mind.

This is the first place I have spent more than a year consecutively since I was twenty years old. For so many years, everything kept changing – flats, jobs, courses, countries – so this is the first time I’ve settled. However, the expectation of doing something different soon hasn’t gone away, a sort of hangover from school/uni days that everything changes come September. Since I have no plans to change the big things, I need to get some variety by doing new things and visiting new places. Even with the thousands of things London has to offer, it’s not the same as going somewhere else.

It is almost a year since I went to Dublin and the hen do in Marbella, and I am absolutely desperate to get away. (Going to Bologna and Frankfurt with work absolutely do not count as getting away. If you need to ask why, you have never been to a book fair; it is quite simply working long hours in a place that is not the office.)

Work is full-on until mid-April, so I don’t want to go on a ‘proper’ holiday as I won’t enjoy it fully, or I would be swanning around abroad right this second. Instead, I thought that simply going anywhere new would calm the travel craving. My boyfriend has a weekend off next week, so I’ve been looking at places near enough to get to after work on Friday. If I have no objections by tomorrow evening, I’m booking wherever I like. Or I’ll go myself!

As for the rest of the year, I thought I could turn a trip home into a little tour around the Highlands. I could take advantage of the Eurostar and practise my French again. Or it would be incredible to go to Iceland. Although I might also be coming around to sunny, relaxing holidays, so perhaps the unbelievably beautiful Santorini? Then again, I have wanted to visit Budapest for years now, and it is also gorgeous. Or…

My Politics

This blog recently turned four, but instead of going from strength to strength, the past year was my quietest yet.

I was all set to put up a hiatus post, as blogging was becoming an unnecessary pressure: I have trouble writing, I rarely publish what I do write, and much of what I end up posting doesn’t feel particularly sparkly.

I have a list of excuses as numerous as the people who didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but I suspect that part of my writer’s block has been trying to work out the best and fairest way to express my thoughts on some of the big political events of the past year.

What I’ve realised is that, when it comes to politics, I might be wasting time worrying about writing a perfectly referenced essay; most people are so set in their ways already – and a large number of people now disregard facts altogether.

I cannot even begin to mention all the issues of the past year, from anti-intellectualism to fake news, so instead I am going to list some of the things that I still believe after all this mess. These aren’t answers to the world’s problems, and they aren’t arguments, but when social media is a cesspit of negativity, it helps to think that many people still believe in treating others kindly.

I believe that many people are braver behind a computer screen and a fake profile picture than they would ever be in real life.

I believe in tolerance. I find it bizarre that this is now considered a negative attribute by millions, but accept that people might interpret the idea differently and have a difference of opinion. Who is to say what’s right or wrong? However…

…if you’re inciting hatred through racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia, then I am going to strongly disagree with what you say. (And I’ll wonder if reading Harry Potter might not help you be a little kinder.)

I truly believe that the more people read – perhaps specifically, the more fiction people read – the more empathy they have. Literature can also act as a warning. I have discussed my love of dystopian fiction in the past, but it seems like recent events are leading more and more people to it: sales of 1984 have increased by over 5000%.  The reasons might not be positive, but hopefully the fact that people are turning to books is a good sign.

Everybody on this planet has problems. However, if people have to leave their entire lives behind fleeing a war, perhaps you should consider that they’re worse off than you and need any help our governments can offer. If you are feeling helpless, this article has some suggestions on how you might be able to make a difference. It is written about the war in Syria, but many of the principles apply to other situations.

I think some people forget that we had exactly zero say over where we were born. Judging someone by the country that issued their passport is illogical if nothing else. (It is something else.)

In emergency situations, I am more than happy for my taxes to pay for a non-UK resident’s health treatment. I do not believe this should ever be called ‘health tourism’.

I am a feminist. I know some people disagree with the term, but I believe that it breaks down gender stereotypes that are as damaging to men as women. Women do not do their jobs any better simply because they stick on a pair of heels. Men should knit and cry if they so desire. (Related to that last article, we have to be a society in which people feel comfortable discussing their mental health. One in four people experience a mental health problem each year, and suicide is now the biggest cause of death in men under 45.)

I believe that people should have the right to decide what happens to their own bodies. Abortion is a hugely complicated issue, but for a majority of women this would be the single most difficult decision they would ever make. I am also of the opinion that, if this situation is one you will absolutely never be faced with, then you should not be in charge of policy affecting it.

These times are leading to some excellent creativity in protest signage. (If only those who use the word ‘snowflake’, the single most boring insult with a bandwagon hitched to it, could think of equally interesting jibes if nothing else. If you must name-call, exercise your linguistic capabilities like these Scots reacting to Trump’s Brexit gaffe. Warning: swearing, plus other fantastic vocabulary.)  [NB: I do not think name-calling is the most effective way to communicate with anybody, but I’d be lying if I said that article didn’t make me laugh.]

Finally, I don’t think politics is a win-or-lose situation; this isn’t The X Factor. (Although even with reality TV I don’t think fans of a contestant consider themselves the winners if they voted for the winner. Do they?!) A candidate might win a vote, but what have you or I won? Politics is an ongoing discussion and process.

Ten good things about today

Ten Good Things, 25.01.17

When real news is getting you down (and you have to specify the type of news you mean), it might help to take note of the good little things in an ordinary day.

  1. I got home on time, despite the trains being a mess. My train might have been cancelled, but there was one that was an hour delayed that was perfect timing. (For me, at least.)
  1. Hugs.
  1. Galaxy chocolate.
  1. Wine and cheese. (It is a day for all the food I like.)
  1. The cheese was only £1.60 for a whole round! (OK, this is becoming a very food-based post.
  1. It’s Burns Night, so there is poetry in Scots going about. (And I know I should be having haggis, neeps and tatties rather than French fare, but I like both. Perhaps later in the week!)
  1. Spending time with a friend.
  1. Watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
  1. This woman who donated a kidney to save her friend.
  1. This video: