Monthly Archives: December 2013

Charity Aid still vital in Philippines

Philippines-Typhoon-Haiyan_layout-large

After the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada my blog is most viewed in the Philippines.

I have donated to the Typhoon Haiyan fund before but recently I was able to contribute a little more. Thousands died and a staggering 11 million people were affected. The videos and photographs of the devastation were horrific.

Charities have helped 1.6 million so far but there is still a long road to recovery ahead. Of course the disaster also impacted on infrastructure – depriving millions of basic needs such as food and shelter. Some cities are still reliant on electricity from generators and many survivors are entirely dependent on aid.

Today I finally got round to it and gave £25. After Christmas and the holiday and with only a temporary job, I couldn’t afford to donate much but something is better than nothing. Just £25 can give water purification tablets to ten families for a month. I did this through The Disasters Emergency Committee website, a hub uniting all the major charities. The country remains crippled by foreign debt, with £8.8 billion to repay in 2014. So charities have a crucial role to play in helping the country back to its feet. Just a quarter of the $791 million (over £483 million) appealed for by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to cover needs over 12 months has been donated.

So when you’re sitting cosily by the (fake/real) fire with your (fake/real) tree, or having that turkey curry buffet, or just enjoying the holiday, spare a thought for the millions reliant on charity to supply food, clean water and shelter. Help continues to be needed even though the bright lights of the media have since moved on.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Charity

Istanbul Day 1 – Tokapi Palace

Kebab pizza

Kebab pizza

After the magnificence of the Haggia Sophia we refreshed ourselves with a visit to a traditional restaurant where we ate kebab main meals (when in Rome, or rather Istanbul!). I had it with the hot spiced apple tea again. It was sweet and revitalising and I couldn’t get enough of it. I then had a tea but I had to ask for milk – if you don’t they just serve it black! Every drink is also served with mounds of sugar cubes as well as having it added. After a while I began to appreciate the EU sugar limits.

Lamb kebab. Photos copyright literarylydi

Lamb kebab. All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

332

delicious cous cous salad

We then continued our tourist experience by buying up boxes and boxes of Turkish delight and nougat. Massive blocks of the stuff were chiselled off.  They had an array of colours and nuts, it was quite a display. The Turks are very fond of anything with nuts in. 342

346

We then went to the Tokapi Palace (Tokapur in Turkish pronunciation), where we marvelled at the variety of styles of 16th-17th century tiled walls.

375

We walked in ancient regal rooms with 16th century bronze and tile fire places. Odd things with pointy tops. Every so often there would be a little courtyard, sometimes with a fountain.

391

I got the impression the Turks were also very fond of these, which seemed logical given that Turkey is usually lovely and warm, unlike the bitter cold that day. I had forgotten gloves and I soon lost all feeling in my hands.

398

424

The best bit of the palace were the imperial treasures, which at one time only the royals could admire. I had never seen anything like it. Such a large amount of incredibly valuable precious-stones, gold and diamonds, all glistening and dazzling in two rooms, crammed together in a breathtaking display of opulence. There were bronze and ivory thrones from the 16th and 17th centuries, every inch dripping in rubies and emeralds. I asked my boyfriend whether I could have some ruby or emerald jewellery for Christmas. Even if we won the lottery I doubt that is possible, but one can dream. I was like a magpie in the dragon’s cave of the Hobbit. I had never seen anything like this before.

topkapipalacekasikcidiamond

The gold was highly polished and almost blinded you in its magnificence. The diamonds looked thoroughly transparent. These were the literal jewels in the crown of a vast and wealthy Empire that had at one point stretched all the way to “threaten the gates of Vienna”. Incredible given that they started off as a nomadic desert tribe. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photographs.

We saw the Harem where the Emperor’s many wives and the black Eunuchs that served them were housed. The quarters of the Eunuchs were the most modest rooms in the palace, quite small but still richly decorated with painted tiles.

380

We saw the religious artefacts (the Prophets beard, bits of the Kaa’ba in Mecca and so on). These were the busiest rooms and there was a hushed solemn silence throughout the crowd.

The Library of Ahmed 3rd was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

The Library of Ahmed The Third was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

We saw the library and as the sun went down we walked through the gardens to the edge of the palace. Here there was a viewing platform with a little seat. The city stretched away on the other side of the river. It was quiet and rather romantic and we took a picture against the sunset.

490

The building’s illuminating lights came on and after three hours touring this vast complex it was time to go, we were told the palace was closing.

470

I had enjoyed feeling like a princess and would have to make do with our “palace” hotel instead that night. As we walked out we saw that the place was guarded by armed soldiers. The Haggia Sophia looked even more dominating in its floodlit glory.

We walked back using the GPS on my boyfriends phone, winding around narrow dark streets, all the while passing burnt down houses standing as they were, dilapidated houses that surely were not safe to live in, disturbing alley cats scrabbling at the rubbish, some of them with infected eyes.

We crossed a railway and navigated for a while longer through the gloom – there were few street lights. Thankfully the streets were largely deserted and we finally made our way back to the hotel.

Leave a comment

December 26, 2013 · 2:45 pm

Overheard on the Bus – The “Drunk” and Disorderly

police-helmet

Last time I was on the bus I overheard drug addicts excitedly discussing their upcoming fix.

Tonight I was in for a treat again. I was sleepy and so was quite startled by the exceedingly loud tones of the exuberant rosy-cheeked teenager shouting at her gay friend at the back of the bus. She had black ringlets framing a small face, with bright brown eyes. She was very skinny and dressed in a white sleeveless blouse despite the cold. Her friend was short and skinny with styled hair falling into his face.  I didn’t dare look at her for too long, she was clearly volatile.

“I’M DRUNK!” She yelled. “I’ve had SIX SHOTS of JD and coke” [I wondered what sort of coke she was talking  about] AND YOU ONLY HAD ONE!!! YOU’RE SUCH A LIGHTWEIGHT YOU!” JDcan4

Her friend’s comments were mostly too quiet to hear. He was clearly embarrassed of her.

She said proudly: “I AM OFF…MA….TITS!! WE ARE GONNA GET ON IT TONAAT!” [tonight].  

Silence.

“I AM SO DRUNK! A’VE HAD SO MANY JD’s…

A NEED A WEE!!! BETTER CROSS ME LEGS.

I AM OFF MA TITS!!! AND I DON’T CARE! A DON’T CARE [A=I]

I started to get a bit fed up of this rowdy unhinged passenger. We pulled in at the main stop in town. People piled on and she got excited with the hustle and bustle. All these people to get attention from.

“I AM SOOOOOOOOO DRUUUUUUUNK!!! HAD SOOOO MANY JDs. TOO MANY. I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M THIS DRUUUUUUUUNK!! I AM F****** OFF MA TITS! F****** DRUUUUUUNK!

I rolled my eyes. Yep, we get it, you’re “drunk”!

IF ONE MORE PERSON GIVES ME A LOOK I AM GUNNA START. I AM JUST GONNA GET UP AND SMACK EM. A DON’T CARE”

Everyone staring quickly looked back the other way.

“THAT LADY IS A TRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAMP!! LOOK AT HER! WHAT A TRAMP.

Her hair is SO GREASY! EWWWWWWWWWRGGHHH IT’S LIKE A LAYER OF SLIIIIIIME!!

Have you seen it though? Her hair is SO GREASY!! BET SHE AIN’T WASHED HER HAIR IN WEEKS!! WEEKS!!! A WASH MA HAIR EVERY. DAY!!!

DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSGUSTING!!”

Had she run out of steam? Nope. She started shouting again at the top of her lungs.

“I ‘AV PROBATION TOMORROW AT 9.30 INT MORNIN. 9.30!! WHO GOES TO ANYTHING AT F****** 9.30 GETTY_W_102511_ArrestHandcuffed-300x168INT F****** MORNIN. I’m goin aat [out] tonight and I ain’t gonna be up in time. But a don’t care. A DON’T CARE!!! A TOLD THE B**** I AIN’T COMIN’. SHE CAN DO WHAT SHE LIIKES. A DON’T MIND IF A GO T’T LOCKER, FREE FOOD!!”

She cackled.

“A NEED A WEE! OO I COULD WEE RIGHT NAA [now] WHERE I’M SITTIN! WOULD GO ALL O’ER [over] SEATS! A’M TELLIN YOU THOUGH I NEED THE LOO. BEST CROSS ME LEGS I GUESS.

I AM SO DRUUUNK!!”

[oh, thought she’d forgotten about that. I preferred the probation talk. Maybe she’d enlighten us as to what it was for…]

“A HAD SOOOOOOOOO MAAAAANYY JDs!! Didn’t even KNOW A COULD DRINK SO MUUUCH!! A AM BLINDIN DRUUUNKKK.

CAN WE GET OFF THE BUS AN [and] START ON SOMEONE? PLEASE?

Please lets just get off the bus so I can start on someone. A WANNA START ON SOMEONE. NAA!!”

Everyone flinched.

“I DID IT BEFORE an I got in a right lorra trouble BUT SHE DESERVED IT, THE COW. A’D DO IT AGAIN, ANYTIIME! YOU JUST WAIT! You just wait.”

Ah, so that’s why she was on probation. Oh dear. Perhaps she’d add something else to her charge sheet tonight.

Her friend said: “Wait til we get to town luv.”

“OK, I’M STARTIN ON SOMEONE TONIGHT THOUGH. A NEED TO. SOMEONE’S GONNA GET IT.”

Maybe she felt she had something to prove, being so skinny and short.

“Maybe a’ll snort some coke first.”

“A’M DRRRUUUNK! AND A DON’T EVEN CAAAAAAAAARE. A’m gonna miss ma probation. I’ve missed it like, 12 times and she says if a miss it again I’m gonna court. SO WHAT!! A’LL TURN UP IN COURT AND SAY YEAH I COULDN’T BE ARSED TO GO TO MY PROBATION AND I’LL GO TO JAIL! SO WHATT!! A DON’T CAAAARE! FREE FOOD INNIT. HAHAHAHAHA. FREE. FOOD.

WILL YA COME AND VISIT MA? WILL YA?? EVERYONE CAN COME AN VISIT. There’s loads of flippin’ lesbos in there but I DON’T CARE! They can do what they want. HAHAHAHA A DON’T CAAAARE. A’M THAT DRUUUUUNK A’M OFF MA TITS!”

At least she’d stopped swearing. So she did care a little about what people thought of her. Which probably wasn’t a lot right now.

When she got off sighs of relief rang out all over the bus. A peel of laughter reverberated around where she’d been deafening commuters returning home after a long day at work.

“Terrible” a guy said, and everyone burst out laughing again.

She clearly enjoyed herself not just by getting drunk and going out on the town like a lot of people, but also by assaulting strangers just for the fun of it. I hoped the ladette didn’t commit further offences that night and that she did indeed attend her probation appointment, even though she probably would been hungover or genuinely drunk. Oh the youth of today…

4 Comments

Filed under Life of Lydia, Overheard on the Bus

Istanbul Day 1 – The Haggia Sophia

The next morning I awoke expecting sunshine and was dismayed to hear rain lashing against the window and a dull grey sky. Any photographs I was going to take would be ruined.

I must point out that this photo was taken at night, it wasn't this dark in the day.

The hotel chandelier. I must point out that this photo was taken at night, it wasn’t this dark in the day.

We went down for breakfast. I’d never seen such a selection. Pastries, fried eggs and bacon, deli meat, salad and cheese, cereals, yoghurts and dried fruit. I had some of this with delicious sweet Turkish tea, sipping it under the massive hotel chandelier which took centre stage, glistening even in the gloom.

059

We headed to the main attraction, the Hagghia Sophia, by way of the Byzantine Hippodrome. The history of it was incredible. The obelisks thankfully had a brief information plaque and were barricaded off. Other relics of a lost age have simply been left where they were dumped, abandoned ancient rubble in amongst the modern tram tracks on either side. The Turks do not seem very interested in the Byzantine history of their country. Apparently Prime Minister, Recep Tayipp Erdogan  even bemoaned the “clay pots” and “other stuff”, excavations of which delayed the building of a new underwater tunnel under the Bosphorous. We went on a boat tour of this river, but that is a story for another day.

053

The Hippodrome was a vast square and we were walking where horse-drawn chariots would have thundered down and around it for public entertainment. The obelisks looked like giant stone fingers reaching into the air, and each one had been carefully engraved. One was stolen from Greece and had hieroglyphics all the way up. Another had Byzantine sculptures on it (above left). Then there was randomly a broken bronze sort of sculpture next to them all. I wanted to know more about the history of these objects, as the plaques really just described what we were seeing. But my boyfriend was not a fan of audio guides.

We walked on to the Haggia Sophia (As I’ve said before, the Turks call it Aya Sofya and didn’t always understand if we said “Haggia Sofia”). We were dwarfed by this beautiful colossal structure. It looks like it couldn’t possibly have been built by humans as the scale is unbelievable. We went towards it past the fountains and trees framing it and it just kept on growing in size until I felt very small indeed.

Due to the weather the only decent photos of the Haggia Sophia were taken at night.

Due to the weather the only decent photos of the Haggia Sophia were taken at night.
All photos on this page copyright of Lydia (literarlydi). Please contact me if you wish to use them.

We queued for some time at the ticket office, but thankfully as it was December and a rainy overcast day, we didn’t have to wait long. The ticket price was very modest without a tour and it would have taken far too long to find out about the former church/mosque and museum as it is so steeped in history. Looking up minarets and domes went up into the sky as far as you could see.

087

As we entered we were engulfed. Entering through the vast doors a massive painted, columned, domed space opened out before us and took our breaths away. I got a crick in my neck trying to admire the central dome. It had Arabic script in massive gold linear script. Next to it in a marvellous fusion of religious art, was the Virgin Mary and child.

078

177

A zoom of the ceiling painting you can just see in the first picture of the Haggia Sophia interior above

All around the edge of the central dome, light flooded through from windows carved into the stone, framed by orange and green painted triangular tiles. There was a second level  almost touching the roof it seemed, with delicately carved viewing screens.

The floor was made up of slabs of marble, worn slightly from the worshippers and visitors over hundreds of years. In fact the main shell of the building is 2,500 years old, the first structure being built on the site around 500AD by a Roman emperor. There is a fantastic programme on the BBC at the moment: Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities which can tell you much more than I can about the history of Istanbul and buildings such as the Haggia Sophia. It really brings the past to life, and without virtual reconstruction scenes in a way which is really quite clever. Let me know if you watch it and what you thought of it. I found the narrator quite amusing with his ironed jeans and fancy sunhat at a jaunty angle.

All photos displayed on this page are copyright Lydia Benns.

The lights seem to float in the air. All photos displayed on this page are copyright of Lydia (literarylydi)

The main area of worship was dark on this cloudy winter day and this made it all the more atmospheric, the gold Islamic inscriptions illuminated by rows of hanging metal chandeliers. Of course they no longer held candles but odd electric lights in little individual glass jars. They seemed to hang by themselves as you could hardly see the thin chains in the gloom, stretching down right from the cavernous roof.

111

We then walked out of the doors and up to the royal viewing floor, the “upper gallery”. On doing so you really feel yourself following footsteps of the past as the beauty of the church dramatically disappears and you climb up a rough cobbled stone corridor weaving around and up with stone arching around you.Apparently this was part of a network of secret passageways enabling the Emperors and their families to go to the church/mosque without having to mingle with the commoners.

The Upper Gallery

The Upper Gallery (Copyright literarylydi)

Suddenly the cramped walkway opened out without warning into a grand open space, the high ceilings completely covered in painted and tiled patterns. This time you could not see the individual slabs of marble on the smooth shiny floor. There was so much history you could almost physically feel its presence in the building. There was even a bit of Viking graffiti reminding you of its age, vertical lines rudely etched into the viewing wall.

There were columns framing the space on the side towards the mosque, intricately patterned at the top. They were blackened up here with the soot from what must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of candles hovering above the floor below. Every inch of ceiling was carefully painted and the variety of colours and patterns was astounding. In places you could make out where Byzantine church crosses had been painted over after the building was converted (literally). I had never seen mosaics of such scale. The whitewash that had previously covered them had been removed and they glittered even now. The figures looked at you serenely from their lofty perches, exquisitely detailed and done with such care and attention, showing how even their creation was a kind of worship.

171

The view to the church below was an awe-inspiring sight. Watching the service from this height, royalty must have felt like Gods themselves.

I was in a dream-like daze in that superhuman structure. It is hard to believe it was built just 500 years after the supposed birth of Christ, without the impressive civil engineering technology we have today. I wondered how many slaves had died building it. The scaffolding must have been terrifying.

134

I don’t think I will ever see anything as beautiful or as incredible as the Haggia Sophia again. If you haven’t seen it yet you must experience it for yourself.

1 Comment

December 17, 2013 · 11:45 pm

The journey to Istanbul and our First Night

I hadn’t even thought about the train journey. But it was just my luck that there were gale-force winds. When I got to the station many trains were cancelled or delayed.

007

There were crowds of people staring at the boards in desperation, or anxiously chatting into their mobile phones. I assumed the worst, but scanning down I saw my train was at least running and only delayed by five minutes. I had set off at a perfectly respectable hour, 2pm. I even had time for a haircut and colour and had made the split decision to go brunette. I wasn’t sure of it, but the styling was good. By the time I got to London my train had been delayed by half an hour and my boyfriend had already had dinner.

When we got to the airport hotel I was suitably impressed; it was the sort that had Kettle Chips in the vending machine.

The next morning we were up at 7am which was easy enough. From there we drove to the cheap car park my boyfriend had booked online and then took a transfer bus the short distance to the airport. I hadn’t been to Gatwick before and was pleased with the variety of shops on offer. It wasn’t hard to choose where to have breakfast – Jamie Oliver had a restaurant there, which was a pleasant surprise. I expected only low-calorie options after his drive for healthy meals and so was astounded that a “full English” was on the menu. 019

After that I felt as heavy as my cabin bag, which luckily made it on to the plane with 0.2kg to spare for souvenirs on the way back.

We flew by Turkish Airlines and they were excellent, with complimentary Turkish Delight of course. I read my pocket guide book and phrase book and attempted to test my boyfriend, but he had no interest in it and said they’d speak English anyway. He was probably right but I wanted to make an effort. I then leafed through the book that had almost taken me over the 8kg limit: “Strolling Through Istanbul”, a fascinating guide book of the history and attractions of Istanbul. Unfortunately sometimes there was so much detail that I found myself reading the same paragraph multiple times. It all blurred into one literally as I found myself getting tired. 023 As we arrived four hours later, we flew low across the entire city. On emerging from the clouds we first passed long lines of hills illuminated purple in the sunset. Then as we got closer I caught glimpses of domes and minarets, even getting a picture of the Haggia Sophia (pronounced “Aya Sofya” in Turkish) and the suspension bridges criss-crossing the Bosphorous. It was magical.

031

View of Haggia Sophia from the plane. Originally a church and built around 500AD, it rises majestically into the air. From the ground its minarets appear to touch the clouds.

030

The Bosphorous

However we were brought sharply down to earth (and not just on the runway) when we tried to get out of the airport. It took us a while to find  the subway as there were not many signs until you had actually reached it. Then we assumed they would have ticket offices. No, there were only machines, and they didn’t take anything less than 10 Lira. This was a bit of a problem, we only had 100 Lira notes.

I sleepily suggested going back into the airport and buying something, at which my boyfriend pointed to the queue of disgruntled travellers waiting to get their bags through security. Oh of course. Well why didn’t we see if there were any shops in this large hall area then. We couldn’t see any nearby but I thought surely there would be some further along. Exasperated, we followed the sign for “buses”. This led to a car park with a couple of minivans parked up and guys sitting around smoking (almost everyone smokes in Istanbul).

So we headed back inside, with my boyfriend now thoroughly agitated and fed up. By this time we’d probably spent half an hour finding the place and wondering what to do, so my boyfriend finally decided to give my idea a chance and we went off in search of a shop. Sure enough, we found a “market shop” further down. We breathed a sigh of relief and bought refreshments. I got some sickly sweet cherry juice (I found most of their drinks are either too sweet or too bitter) and some watermelon chewing gum, what a novelty. We then spent some time trying to distinguish our route from the blurred map available and worked out that we’d need to buy a 3 Lira token for any number of stops in one direction. What a bargain compared to the tube in London!

My first impressions of Istanbul (formerly termed “Constantinople”) were that there were lots of mosques… 042

and stray cats… 039 It was heartbreaking seeing the poor mangy fluffy things scavenging in bins, some of them mere kittens. My boyfriend loved watching though them as he has a pet cat.

044

I was expecting a standard modern posh hotel. However when we got there it was more vintage posh, or at least had been once. There were signs that the place was a shadow of its former self and the decor was quite overpowering. Everything was gold or crimson, even the walls. My favourite part of it was the winding staircase all the way up, which made me feel like a princess. The roof terrace was also fantastic, offering views across the city. We just walked up there and it was deserted.

Our bed was a modest double but all in gold velvet, with “Palace” written slightly off to one side in the middle. When we went into the bathroom there was a hanging basket overflowing with freebies, from dental kits to fluorescent blue shampoos.

There was a spa in the basement and I proposed we relax from our airport ordeal with a massage. We went down to the reception, which consisted of a small bar. When we turned around there was a small swimming pool and some rooms behind it, presumably the steam room and sauna.

After five minutes or so a young blonde and a Chinese girl turned up and booked us in. I went for a Swedish and my boyfriend went for a “Medical” as he had a sore back. We were sent to two rooms with glass doors. Thankfully part of them were opaque. There we were covered with so much oil that after having every limb attended to we slid off the table and into our clothes a little too easily.

I discovered that the girl I thought was Chinese was actually from Uzbekistan and had emigrated to Turkey for a better life. She had come from a large family and had considered going to university in Uzbekistan but it had been too expensive, so she was now excitedly saving for hairdresser college. She said she preferred Turkey as it was cheaper and there was more to do. None of her family had joined her and had no plans to, and I thought she was rather brave, being just 21 years old.

Following that my boyfriend and I could hardly keep our eyes open and we stumbled upstairs in a happy sleepy daze.

Leave a comment

December 15, 2013 · 10:03 pm

Overheard on the Bus

It’s going to take a few days for me to charge my holiday camera and write about my incredible Istanbul adventure. I aim to do it for Sunday but I’m making no promises.

One of my favourite blogs “Stuff Heard On The Bus” frequently documents the random conversations you catch bits of during the daily commute. It’s always entertaining and off the wall so I thought I’d give it a go with the odd chat I overheard today…

There is a larger lady in front wearing a turquoise fleece. Thin glasses frame small eyes almost in the middle of her face. Her hair is glistening with a layer of sebum, it hasn’t seen shampoo or even dry shampoo for quite some time. Next to her sits a slim, slight young man with dark features, hollowed cheeks, a short beard and an impish grin. He’s wearing a sleeveless puffer jacket with a hoodie underneath.

He sings: “Ringing da bell, ringiiiing da beeeelll”

“Shussshhhhhh” she says, looking round at me. I look away.

“Look, aa can’t ‘elp it, you know what a’m like, a don’t av an off-switch. Anywe, a thought a was funny!” he sounds hurt.

She smiles and leans towards him, pinching his cheek: “You wahhhr” she says softly.[Yorkshire language. Translation =were, should be “was” but the grammar is incorrect]

We’re at a busy stop and students are piling onto the bus.

“ON CUM DE ANIMALS TWO BA TWO!!”

The passengers stare.

“Sssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh”

“Ssh yourself, ya can be really annoying you”

“Ye but no one wants to hear ya do they”

“How do YOU know?”

Silence.

She leans towards him again and says in a conspiratorial tone: “Soon we’ll be peelin. You’re peelin tonaht'”

[What were they peeling? vegetables? were they cooking dinner together? How romantic.]

“Peeling it, a peelin it” he sings triumphantly, moving a pack of multicoloured lighters into another bag and sticking a rolled up cigarette into his mouth.

“You’re not allowed to smoke it ya know”

“A know, I just like ta chew it, a like de taste”

Peelin it, a peelin it!”

His eyes widen and he bounces on the seat “Soon we’ll be peelin da foil off tha drugs!”

“SSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH don’t say thaaat” she looks round yet again.

They get off at the council flats and as they do I’m hit by a strong smell. I don’t know what it is but I don’t want to think about it as I put my head down into my scarf.

*                                      *                                     *

They were clearly so wrapped up in addiction they weren’t concerned with personal hygeine. It was sad and I felt sorry for them. Thank goodness I have never been caught up in a cycle of drug-taking, debt and despair. I can’t think of anything worse. For example, I’ve heard of heroin addicts who give up their own children to the drug and seen how painful that is.

It’s crazy how intensely these peoples’ lives revolve around their next fix. Drugs become their only subject of conversation, when they are going to take it, who will have it first and then who had the most, who used it all up, when and how they are going to get some more. Once they’ve tried a bit it becomes just a bit more and it’s a slippery slope.

Don’t bother with drugs folks, nothing beats a natural high (e.g endorphins, love) and being addicted to it won’t kill you.

Love

4 Comments

Filed under Advice, Life of Lydia

A night in Essex

018

Surprises always carry some element of risk. So when I headed off down to Essex I just had to cross my fingers and hope for the best. But that made it exciting.

It required careful planning and some subtle questions. I booked time off work and the ticket. Then I asked where to send a birthday card, and whether it would be ok if it arrived a day early. I was arriving then as I had plans on the Friday – my friend had booked time off work to visit me and as she lived in London had kindly agreed to make it a road trip. I knew which station was closest as I had visited my boyfriend before. Then I had to find out what sort of birthday cake he wanted. So I said I was going to buy him a cake slice after work, what sort did he want. He was home the weekend before, back from working down in Essex. We had a rather heated discussion with him saying he didn’t want me to buy anything and with me still trying to find out what he wanted. I probed further at Birmingham, when as chance would have it we walked past a Patisserie Valerie counter in the Bullring shopping mall. I had already decided this was the most suitable option. I had previously spotted the cafe whilst trying to locate Boots in both stations to get an urgent product for a friend. Instead of having a cake going off on the train journey down I could buy it fresh there. Perfect! I love Patisserie Valerie. It’s so pretty and tasty and the cakes are unlike anything else I have seen.

So once at St Pancras I walked over to Kings Cross as the cafe is larger there. I picked up the fruits of the forest tart which I had discovered was the ideal birthday dessert. I was a bit worried it would get squashed on the connecting tube journey but luckily it was fine and in good packaging. Five hours later I was at a station in the middle of nowhere. I tried to call my boyfriend and it went to voicemail. I paniced a little. Plan B had not been settled upon, as I knew where my boyfriend was staying and what time he finished work. So I text him and then read a book about walking through Istanbul. It recommended the Galeta Bridge for a view of the ancient buildings. I decided Plan B was waiting until 9pm when he would have finished work at the latest and then getting a £25 taxi. This would cost as much as the cheap advance fare down covering two trains and the tube, for what was a 40 minute bus journey.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw my boyfriend calling. He didn’t sound as delighted as I had hoped, but that was due to a 6am-6pm day. He assured me in the car that he was delighted and seemed surprised by the Patisserie Valerie bag. He said he had no idea what it was. He’d obviously forgotten our discussions on two occasions on the subject with the amount of 12 hour days he had worked.

025

We checked in to his lovely four star hotel and had a family room with two double beds. I looked forward to a good night’s sleep without the covers being pulled off me or being rolled into or trying to fit around a sleeping starfish. Like the Marriott the bathroom was all marble, with gold taps. They could have been cleaned a little better but after 027reading a microbiologist’s recommendations on hotels I knew that didn’t really matter, walking round in my flip flops. I was annoyed I’d forgotten antibacterial wipes which the article had said should be used for wiping down door handles and remotes. I’d checked it when I last stayed at the hotel when wondering whether to use the bath, and in the absence of a “chlorine bleach wipe” decided not to.

We went out to a Chinese restaurant, as the hotel’s restaurant menu is a bit limited. It looked like a former pub and had the words “Chinese, Thai and English cuisine” plastered on the front. The decor was lovely, all red Chinese lanterns. I chose the Thai menu and had a lovely creamy coconut and green curry soup with prawns and some rather 042interesting meat that tasted a little too slimy to be chicken. It was delicious though. Then I ordered pork sweet and sour. I imagined thin beef sirloin strips but instead I got fatty deep fried pork. I struggled through it as I didn’t want to cause a scene for my boyfriend’s birthday meal. An hour or two later I felt quite queasy- as I have IBS my digestion doesn’t cope well with fatty food. I made myself try a bit of the birthday tart – I wanted to see whether it was value for money. However it was just a biscuit base, some cream and some fruit. I was a bit disappointed but it looked great and my boyfriend enjoyed it. He saved some for work in his hotel fridge.

062066

When I settled down onto the bed once again I was disappointed that it was a firm mattress. This meant I couldn’t sleep. My boyfriend can sleep whenever he wants to, as long as he’s not too hot or cold. But I woke up every hour or so and in the morning awoke after a fitful sleep with a sore back. A double-blind study has confirmed this link. Jonny rushed off in the dead of night taking the tart for his colleagues to enjoy.

I now had the mission of getting to Edgware station. I had to take a bus in the middle of nowhere. Google said it was opposite the hotel but after walking around for some time I couldn’t see a stop. So I waited on the grass verge with cars whizzing past, one honking its horn at me. I started to feel a bit silly and wished I could hitch a lift. But miraculously the bus appeared from nowhere. The first one had not been until 9am, so I had told my friend the earliest I could arrive was midday. This meant we had more motorway traffic. I was the only person on the bus and told the driver to tell me when we got to the destination. I got off on a narrow country lane and walked round the corner to the next stop. Thankfully this time there was a bus shelter. No information though and I was unsure if I was on the right side of the road to do the next leg of the journey.

Then some old ladies turned up, all made up with bouffant dyed hair, talking about how they were going on holiday and how one of them had been exploring the local area with her free bus pass. It was a small village and they clearly knew everyone. I relaxed a bit when I heard one of them say that she was going to the station I was going to.

After winding round country lanes I queasily arrived at the station and felt proud of myself for getting there and saving £23.50 in the process. I did miss a train due to a typically slow bus but luckily the next train was delayed by a minute, arriving just a couple of minutes after my scheduled one. Then I took two tubes to complete the three hour journey. It was wonderful to make it to Edgware solely on public transport and to be able to plan with accuracy using transportdirect –  I had reliable times, maps and plenty of details.

069

My friend then drove us with her friend for five hours up to London. It was a Friday and traffic meant a stop-start 071ride. I ate chocolates as I watched the entertaining sight of a bus going backwards – it looked like it was being driven instead of towed. I also enjoyed a hot spiced apple drink with cinammon and star anise in Costa Coffee, my favourite drink.

I had a lovely time in Essex although next time I think I’ll order something different at the Chinese, or perhaps try pub food.

Leave a comment

Filed under Days out/nights out, Food, Life of Lydia