Category Archives: Days out/nights out

My first spot of bouldering

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I am only working half-days this week as I am about to start a new job.

So far in my afternoons off I have been shopping, watched the Christopher Robin film and eaten out.

Yesterday I tried bouldering for the first time. It is surprisingly harder than climbing with ropes. You have to hold your weight up with your arms at times and climb down once you are at the summit, if you can.

I wanted to do climbing with an automatic belay, but unfortunately my demonstration was too rocky. I had forgotten how to put a harness on, so I was not allowed.

i managed to do the easiest route, but that was hard enough. Those are the blue chunks you can see on the picture. After an hour, my limbs were aching and I was tired. Climbing is a full-body workout and tones you all over. It is also good for stretching out you back if you get backache. I watched an instructor nimbly demonstrate with ease, bulging biceps and incredible flexibility as she flung herself around hugging the fake rock.

The session was only £8 as I still get student rate. It was £10 standard price.

Some use bouldering as therapy and you could even get it prescribed by a doctor. This could be because it allowed you to concentrate solely on your route, the location of your hands and feet and your next move. It was akin to mindfulness.

I then went to netball and we won the match. It was a great feeling because we fought so hard for it. I had the advantage, as my opponent was smaller and slower.

Get down to your local bouldering rock and have a go!

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Life of Lydia, Sport, Uncategorized

The Picturesque Pyrenees

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There is something sublime about walking in the mountains.

Once you get up there, that is.

It was a long, hot ascent to the summit. The summer heat made our clothes stick to us as we stumbled up the winding fir tree forest path. The unforgiving ascent seemed endless.

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At one point, the path disappeared and we were launched into ferns.

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Another path had eroded partly off the mountain, and we had to lean into it to avoid sliding off.

But it was all worth it when we spotted a Griffin vulture soar out of the clouds, low above us. It flew serenely on the thermals, surveying us scrambling about on the peak.

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A brightly coloured patchwork of alpine flowers decorated the ground and the mountains in the distance were blue and green. You felt like all the city stress was slipping away down the slopes as you inhaled the fresh air and became absorbed in sounds of nature.

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One day we had a wild swim. The water was not particularly cold. The lake was encircled by pine trees and reflected the blue sky like a mirror. When we stood on the bottom, little fish came and nibbled at the dead skin on our feet. A complimentary pedicure.

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We walked away from the heat of the valley and up into the Pyrenees over two days, each route lasting around 7 hours. We walked slowly on GR tracks – French for big walk, taking plenty of photographs of the breathtaking scenery. We were staying near the picturesque French village of Seix, where we saw an impressive firework and kayak flare display for their festival.

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When we got down, hot, sticky and weary, we enjoyed tasty French food, full of flavour. Even their tinned beans were perfectly edible.

Our Air B’n’B host had friends round one night. They shared pineapple-infused rum with us from La Reunion, an island that is a French colony, and invited us to go on a traditional morning walk up a mountain with them. They were meeting the Spanish at 9am at the summit border. The French were bringing cheese and the Spanish were bringing wine!

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September 4, 2018 · 2:57 am

Fountains Abbey

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As soon as you walk down the hill, the tower emerges in all its glory. Then you see the columns and arches soaring into the sky.

Fountains Abbey is a skeleton of its former glory, yet one of the best preserved ruins in Britain. You need to spend all day in this UNESCO World Heritage site in Ripon.

After admiring the ruins you can explore the 18th and 19th century follies in the landscaped grounds.

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The abbey was built in 1132, the result of a religious divide amongst monks in York.

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You could ring the bell of the mill that ran here until 1927.

The small group that settled here were more conservative, believing that Benedictine monks should live more closely to the rules laid down by the Bible.

Eking out a living on the verge of starvation, they sold wool to pay for their upkeep.

The Abbey would not have survived without France. Money and supplies were sent over from there when they joined the Cistercian Order. They lived in silence, suffering cold temperatures with only brief respite at the fire.

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They suffered from the Plague and finally from Henry VIII’s pillaging. He sold it to a nobleman in the 1500s, after arranging for the roof to be removed and sold.

In the 19th century it fell into ruin before being restored, which is still an ongoing project.

It costs £1,000,000 to run each year with the combined forces of The National Trust and English Heritage.

To discover more about its history, visit this WordPress page.

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August 31, 2018 · 7:01 pm

Housemate Heaven

Moving out of my parents’ house was the best decision I ever made.

I have now settled in to my new abode. The rent is reasonable at £375 a month. For that I pink-new-home-cards-simple-new-house-classic-ideas-wonderful-sample-animal-love-spread-doorget the run of the whole house, next day service on any repairs, a TV with two channels, all bills included and the perfect housemate.

Helen is my age, a lovely, bubbly, tidy, respectful and relaxed tenant with shoulder-length dark brown hair and blue eyes. She works at a local hospital organising heart operations, but she aspires to work in PR.

She should really be a counsellor, she is so good at listening. Her brother is a psychiatrist so it must run in the family. She will patiently listen to any drivel I spout and look like she is interested. We both like rugby, drum and bass (minus illicit substances) and watching crap on TV (First Dates). That was until my boyfriend “fixed” it. We lost Channel 4 and 5 and now we just have BBC 1 and 2.

Repairs are done very quickly. The landlord’s mum has provided a brand new toaster the day after the old one blew the electrics. I thought I would need to replace the fuse but thankfully it was as easy as switching it back on (thanks Google and the flashlight on my phone). She also does all the washing up and the dishwasher whenever she pops round (once every couple of weeks).  What more could you want?

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Credit: Chic On A Shoestring

Well there is one thing, a washing machine that you can use on any setting. Currently it only works on 40 degrees, delicate cycle and a quick spin. But I am being fussy. The household appliances are a strange combination of 80’s retro (literally from that decade if not older) and brand new, with the “replace it when it’s broken” philosophy. The dishwasher is safe enough but put the washing machine on the wrong setting and you get water all over the floor when you open it. Without a mop it took about an hour to sponge it all up…

But it is a sanctuary of peace and positivity here. No nagging from my mother (which was constant and actually caused headaches), just freedom. I can do no wrong in Helen’s eyes except when I half finish chores (a bad habit).

I have yet to use the complimentary garden herbs – rosemary and lemon thyme. I cooked a meal for Helen the first Friday. I got a discounted pork shoulder joint (only £3.50) and roasted it for an hour with white wine and potatoes. It was delicious if I may say so myself.

The landlord is about my age, chatty and excitable with dark brown curly hair and bright eyes. She is a primary school teacher who lives in Bristol. Her parents help her manage the house they helped her buy (worth about £250,000 with a mortgage of just over £500 a month). They hoped she would stay in in the city but she went about four hours away to live with a boyfriend. That did not work out and she ended up staying there because she enjoyed the school she was teaching in.

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Credit: Cardiff Caerdidi Tours courtesy of TripAdvisor.

I spent some quality time with her this weekend. She is also interested in rugby because her father was in a local team. Unfortunately rugby is a risky sport and he broke his ankle, shattering the bones in his leg. He never played again but kept it in his life by being the Chairman of the club and the ticketing association. We watched the Cardiff Blues lose narrowly to Munster (Ireland). I also went round the castle in Cardiff (Wales) and the National Museum. Apparently there isn’t much else to do in Cardiff.

In other news I failed my automatic driving test for the second time. I failed the first one in February and the second one two days ago. The first time was because I had not had enough practice at parallel parking on a hill and was so shaken up after doing it correctly that I tried to get closer to the kerb. I forgot to put the car back into forward gear and then turned the wheel the wrong way, reversing out into the road without looking. I also got three minors (for going 40 in a 60 on undulating hills, for not being far enough into the middle of the road when turning right and for not looking ahead through the window before setting off).

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Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second time I was nearly back at the test centre (at that stage I had passed) when I lost concentration and thought it would only be a minor if I followed a van round a parked car. The man in the car opposite was livid, gesticulating wildly. Of course it was a major – I should have waited. I got 7 minors including speeding (30 instead of 20), steering (not passing the wheel through my hands correctly) and going through an amber traffic light instead of stopping. If you are preparing for the test please click on this link for some advice.

As for my accommodation, it will probably be sold in a year or so but for now I am more than happy with it.

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Update and Stanage Sunshine

Hello readers,

Apologies for taking a whole year out of blogging.

Time blurred by packing and planning for a 5 week tour of New Zealand (via Singapore) in November last year.

To get the best experience you need to take least several weeks off work and have a couple of grand saved. We went in December which is the height of their summer and you can then use the bank holidays to minimise the impact on annual leave.

We stayed at Air BnB houses to save on accommodation costs. We got recommendations from friendly locals who were warm and welcoming. Tourism is big business in New Zealand and there is so much to see and do.

I caught up with everything and shivered my way through the winter, mostly hibernating in my bedroom in a onesie.

In Spring I was catching up with family and I turned another year older. I am sorry to say that I am now in the last year of my twenties.

I have had a lovely summer holiday sunbathing, cycling, canoeing, visiting castles and medieval villages and seeing the Tour de France whizz by in a little village of around 1,000 people an hour south of Toulouse. When I got back I reconnected with an old friend and enjoyed getting to know local folk by joining a walking and jogging group. The jogging group is fun and friendly but is on hold while I rehearse for a work carol concert. I am also still enjoying netball twice a week and I have recently switched from driving lessons in a car with gears to one without. After over two years trying I am hoping that taking the gears out of the equation will get me to test stage again, like I was in the summer before my skills hit the brakes. Since I got even busier it has been hard to find time to blog.

The last few weekends have been incredible. I’ve been to Anglesey, Wales, a really scenic spot which again I would highly recommend, and much cheaper than the tropical paradise holiday as far away as you can fly (32 hours non-stop or you can make it more bearable with a stopover).

I’ve been to a festival in London and even got sunburnt in late September and I’ve been on a weekend away with the walking group to Stour Valley, Suffolk, exploring the coastline there at Orford Ness, the island that the Ministry of Defence used to test bombs and detonators – so it was important to stick to the path. It is now owned by The National Trust, a nature and heritage conservation charity which was founded in 1884 when Octavia Hill, a social reformer, was asked to help preserve Sayes Court garden in south east London. In 1885, Octavia raised public awareness of railway developments threatening the Lake District. This collaboration led to the foundation of The National Trust for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Natural Beauty, to hold land and buildings in perpetuity “for ever, for everyone”.

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Octavia Hill, social reformer

Today it has over 3.4 million members and it is currently seeking to ensure that Britain’s coastline is maintained. There was a map at Orford Ness showing how the project was doing. It is about half complete.

I am not a National Trust member but I often visit their land, stately homes and cafes. I am a member of the Ramblers Association, a charity whose goal is to ensure that routes and places people go walking are maintained and enjoyed.

I also enjoyed a walk across Essex farmland on the group’s weekend away, with friendly horses and cows and alongside a Wind in the Willows river with rowing boats sliding by, admiring thatched cottages.

I’ll post the highlights along with more current events.

I made my first apple crumble of the Autumn season today with apples from the garden. An easy dessert but so tasty and warming, it was lovely. I used oats, brown sugar and a light dusting of cinnamon for the topping and I got a good crisp finish with that.

These photos are the best I can do with a camera phone as I can take ages when I have my proper camera with me, but here is what I have been up to this weekend:

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I like country walks in the nearby Peak District. It is such a privilege to live so close to such beautiful scenery and wild nature. It was peaceful on Stanage Edge today, with a slight breeze and occasional sunshine. The sky was reflected in the rippling pools of standing water. Stanage is a beauty spot, a long gritstone edge popular with climbers, ramblers, fell runners and mountain bikers. You can walk along the top for miles and the views of the surrounding hills and valleys are incredible, especially when the sun illuminates all the bright colours of the landscape which inspires local artists.

We walked to Stanage Pole -a replica of a boundary marker that divided Sheffield, South Yorkshire with the High Peak, Derbyshire.

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My First Stadium Rugby Matches

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First we saw England at Twickenham. What a disappointment. To get the best seats we had to shell out £315 each. Luckily we won our “bid” for them. The cheapest tickets for the final are over £400.

Despite this expense, we only ended up in the middle of the side, meaning that players were too far away when at one end of the circle. I had envisaged being on the same level as the players, but apparently those seats are even more expensive.

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That knee injury that gave England a yellow card.

The other irritation was the stop/start nature of play. As soon as we had got back into things the whistle blew again and we re-started. So frustrating to watch. It wasn’t fun for players either I imagine.

Then the game was stopped for two injuries – Wales players being taken off on stretcher boards (concussion and shoulder dislocation).

It was dismal. Nothing really happened with the ball slowly going back and forth and lots of penalties. Then finally Wales defeated us. I got bored of hearing “Swing low, sweet chariot” (haven’t we got anything else?)

Our view was good when the players were near our side. This is without zoom.

Our view was good when the players were near our side. This is without zoom.

There wasn’t really a team spirit in our area, no one said hi, they were all individuals. There was a girl screeching in my ear for most of it. At least she was enjoying it more than me.

I couldn’t even focus on taking a nice photograph as my zoom couldn’t function from that far away. But at least there wasn’t much chanting or cheering going on, it was quite dignified. We even sat politely next to Wales fans without doing more than the odd scowl.

On the train home we had a sing off including such delights as the chariot song versus “you can shove your f****** chariot up your ass, you can shove your f****** chariot up your ass” and other more civilised songs such as “Land of Our Fathers” and something about pilgrims.

At least the Welsh had more interesting songs and better voices.

We had a nightmare getting back in London – our straightforward way home was blocked by a wall of fans and police so we had to go the wrong way back to our hotel using night buses and trains. It took us at least an hour for a 40 minute journey.

Then we travelled up to Newcastle to see New Zealand versus Tonga. I’m also a New Zealand national (technically – I have a child’s passport and have never lived there more than six months).

The beauty of it being a country other than the United Kingdom meant that the roads were clear, traffic was not a problem. I worried that there wouldn’t be many fans but the stadium was at full capacity. Most Brits seemed to like the underdog (well, England was/is) and were cheering for them.

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The All Blacks were completely different. For a start the Haka is great to watch and the war cries add to the experience. They had an impressive dance off with Tonga and they won that too. I have been taught the Haka by a Maori chief in their tribal hut, part of the tourist experience in Rotorua. It was originally a war dance completed at the start of battle, to scare away evil spirits and to intimidate the enemy. They also have charms called Tikis which are supposed to scare spirits away. When I came back to England I got a prize in PE for pulling a Haka war face for a dance. It was the scariest expression.

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They thrashed Tonga and there were hardly any whistles. They just got on with it, looking solid and competent in contrast to the dozy Brits.

Dan Carter was fantastic as always, kicking many a try. Sadly these are his last matches before retirement.

We had a better position for half the price, or at least it seemed so but maybe it was just because the game was more engrossing. It was again in the middle but this time at the back so we had a better view of the pitch.

The Kiwis were really friendly. The couple behind us got talking and it emerged that one of them, Russ, was the manager of the supermarket where my grandma shops in Auckland! He said that when we visit I was to let him know when she was in and he would surprise her with a tannoy announcement.

Russ from Auckland.

Russ from Auckland.

They were part of an official rugby tour group and gave me their free water and All Blacks cap.

There wasn’t much alcoholic drink on offer – it was all from the sponsors so there was a choice of beer and cider. Luckily we were sitting by the only TV screen in the stadium so if I missed a try I could see it in slow motion on that.

The match was riveting as the play went quickly both ways. There were some true sprinters and passes were generally flawless with a few slips which were quickly picked up again. A highlight was when Nonu charged, dreadlocks swinging as he was undefended down a quarter of the pitch right at the edge. The crowd roared and he touched down. Fantastic to watch. It was also a moment in history for him as the match earned him his 100th cap – marked by an actual cap for playing 100 international games. His talent was clearly visible as he streaked down the pitch.

Copyright Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Copyright Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

One “fan” tried a different kind of streaking. He was caught and pushed roughly off the pitch as the crowd booed. Perhaps he was the anti-social lout I’d seen mooning people earlier.

There was a yellow card for both New Zealand and Tonga when they did a high tackle – lifting a player up and jerking their legs up so they fell. But they accepted it with good grace.

The crowd were fantastic. There was a warm friendly atmosphere, with Mexican waves rippling around the stadium. It looked so spectacular that I missed a try admiring it. My family in New Zealand all support the All Blacks – they’re a key part of the culture and people are proud to support them. They lead the world rankings at the moment after all, just in front of their arch rivals Australia. England are a puny 10 and Tonga are 14. I felt sorry for them watching them get well and truly beaten, but they put up a good fight.

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Afterwards they even brought their children onto the pitch and signed autographs. There was euphoria this time rather than the glum silence of the England defeat, with smiles all round. But the fans didn’t act like this was a victory – they are used 20151009_203506[1]to seeing the All Blacks triumph in a flash of tight tackles and tribal tattoos. 20151009_211454[1]

Try 2

Try 2

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Try 1

Try 1

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The Tongan player sent to the “sin bin” (a yellow card means players have to sit out for 10 minutes). He did a high tackle, lifting someone off the ground by their knees.

A fluke try - the ball slipped off their feet but with their quick reactions the All Black player picked it up and touched down.

A fluke try – the ball slipped off their feet but with their quick reactions the All Black player picked it up and touched down.

The All Blacks captain congratulates Nonu on his 100th match.

The All Blacks captain congratulates Nonu on his 100th match. In his hand is the cap he receives as an award. Nonu teared up as he thanked his family.

The end of the match.

The end of the match.

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What a run! One of the most amazing tries – a straight sprint up the edge.

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October 10, 2015 · 7:17 pm

My First “Airbnb” Experience

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For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

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I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

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She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

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The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

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The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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