A noble art…

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lin-yutang-life-quoteJust thought I’d do an apologetic post to explain my lack of blogging recently. Unfortunately life is getting in the way of my travel writing aspirations as I’m back completing my final year of University. As my followers will know, finishing my degree is number one on the list of things to do in order to achieve my goal of travelling the world with my little girl. So I hope you’ll be patient and continue to follow my blog even though the volume of posts may dip somewhat over the coming months. Single parenthood and university are a bit unforgiving when it comes to the pleasures in life like writing away on WordPress. I’ve also just started working for my favourite local charity so that has swallowed a bit more of my time leaving even less for writing. However, it will definitely all be worth it in a few months when I stand in the famous Bute Halls and graduate!

As soon as I get some guilt free time to sit and do some travel writing (so time I shouldn’t be spending writing my dissertation, reading up on contemporary ethics or doing the housework!) I’ve got some lovely posts planned. I recently went to see the stunning fairy sculptures at Trentham Gardens near Stoke On Trent so I have some great info on that and also on the fabulous Monkey Forest just next door. This is a smaller version of Monkey World in Dorset but it’s a great family day out in that area. I also have a ‘past travels’ post planned on a visit to Australia that happened a long time ago now. Although it was really the first ‘proper’ trip I ever took so it’s definitely a landmark in my travelling life!

Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to all the people who read my blog and have supported me this far in my dreams. Watch this space for a post very soon featuring some utterly gorgeous fairy sculptures :)

Daily Quote!

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Originally posted on Optimistic Kid:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – Albert Einstein

Albert Eistein

Have an amazing day! 

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Written/Reviewed: Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

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So I’ve just finished the epic novel Shantaram. I put off reading this time and again because of its size. At 933 pages it overwhelmed me and it gathered dust on the shelf. A friend’s Mum lent it to me and told me how amazing and inspirational it was but it took me about 5 years to get round to actually opening it. I’m really not kidding when I say I was 100% committed and completely hooked within about 20 pages. It’s one of the most beautifully written and descriptive books I’ve ever read – I’m a big reader too so this isn’t said lightly.

If you’ve not heard about Shantaram then this is the description on the back:

A novel of high adventure, great storytelling and moral purpose, based on an extraordinary true story of eight years in the Bombay underworld.

‘In the early 80s, Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he established a free health clinic and also joined the mafia, working as a money launderer, forger and street soldier. He found time to learn Hindi and Marathi, fall in love, and spend time being worked over in an Indian jail. Then, in case anyone thought he was slacking, he acted in Bollywood and fought with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan . . . Amazingly, Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions. It’s a profound tribute to his willpower . . . At once a high-kicking, eye-gouging adventure, a love saga and a savage yet tenderly lyrical fugitive vision.’ Time Out

It’s actually a very well known book, even renowned. Although saying that, I hadn’t heard of it when it was given to me. I quote 2think the fact it’s partly a true story (or at least based on some of Robert’s experiences) has made it infamous in certain circles. The author has been interviewed and is now well known on the media circuit. I didn’t know any of this though when I opened it. This book doesn’t just transport you to India, it literally submerges you violently into a world so foreign (to me) it was a culture shock. I could smell the smells, tastes the tastes and I almost immediately identified with and became invested in the characters. In fact it’s some of the best character development I’ve ever seen. It takes an immense talent to translate that to readers. I craved a cup of chai every time I read it, to the point I’ve now looked up recipes and learnt how to make my own proper hot, milky, sweet chai on the stove from scratch. I felt lonely in my flat because of the detail given to me of the communities and people in the slums of Bombay.

I was genuinely distressed at certain parts, one particular part really upset me for quite some time and it’s one of the quote 3books that has made me cry. It was also wise beyond belief. There was so much spirituality and knowledge within those pages! I wanted to write down some amazing sentence every 20 pages or so and share it on social media. It hasn’t surprised me that since finishing I’ve discovered that lots of people do exactly that, which is why this post is illustrated with some quotes from this book. It made me want to have lived in that time, in that place, despite some of the awful things that were occurring. I now more than ever want to travel to India at some point in my life. Although I feel this will maybe be something I do in my later years (I’m not sure, it depends on lots of factors coming together to do it sooner, but it is now higher up on my list).

I really felt an affinity with the experiences that Roberts had (fictional or otherwise. Partly because I’ve had a totally mad life myself, and I’ve also felt that desolation and desperation in the past. But also because that’s how Roberts writes, he draws you in and makes you live every day with him. There are very few writers who can create the world that he’s created. I will forever maintain that if you don’t read the things those people write for you then you’re missing something in life. I can’t recommend this enough to people. It’s a fabulous book about the complexity of life in Bombay at that time, a testament to human strength, love, endurance and another 50 cliched things people say. But it does this without ever becoming a cliche. I just loved it and I was sad but also strangely relieved when I finished it. I was sad because I felt like those people had really entered my life and had intertwined with mine. But I was relieved because that book was emotionally draining, it put me through the mill. I lived a life whilst reading it. That has happened to me before but usually with series, never before has an author done that in just one book.

A friend of mine raised an issue with me whilst I was reading it. He was convinced that it was just too mad, that what shantaramRoberts claimed just couldn’t be true because it was so outlandish. He was also angry because he felt that Roberts gained a lot of fame and attention from the story and because he wasn’t convinced in its truth he thinks this is fraudulent in some way. My life has been crazy enough for me to know that true life really is way stranger than fiction so I had no issue believing Roberts. In fact I can more than believe it. But more importantly I actually don’t think it matters. If Roberts has made all that up as a piece of fiction then F***! I think I might be more impressed… the writing style and content is so good I guess I don’t care if I’ve been duped. Maybe the mystery is part of it. Roberts himself says he “structured the created narrative to read like fiction but feel like fact. I wanted the novel to have the page-turning drive of a work of fiction but to be informed by such a powerful stream of real experience that it had the authentic feel of fact.” He states clearly it’s a novel though.

There’s various disputed facts from different people, I think the best route is to just look at this book as a novel. A work of fiction inspired by someone’s life over a number of years. Some of it may be how he wanted his life to go rather than how it did actually go (at least according to some Indian sources). The debate rages as to where the lines of fact and fiction are drawn and I’m pulled in different directions on how I feel about it. Putting that aside though it is an incredibly well written book and definitely one of the most accomplished displays of character development/creation I’ve ever seen. Some of the wisest words I’ve read are written in works of fiction and many are now added to that list from ‘Shantaram’.

Featured Blogger: Titania of Backpacks and Baby Grows

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backpacksandbabygrows:

My interview with Samantha from Samantha Enroute!

Originally posted on Samantha En Route:

This week we get to chat with Titania of Backpacks and Baby Grows!

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Writing 101: Size Matters

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kids-drawing http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-home/

My home at 12 years old was the same home I had from being 8 weeks old until I was nearly 16. It was a normal detached house, on a normal estate, in a normal village. In fact it was uncomfortably ‘normal’ and very middle class. Inside was everything you would look for. But the living room was too tidy, engulfed with an uncomfortable atmosphere. Somebody was always in trouble, so a frosty silence greeted visitors with fake warmth, (if there were any visitors that is). Searching further you would find a dining room. If it were a mealtime you would most likely find us either silent or arguing. Or more accurately being shouted at. The kitchen was small but functional, a walk in larder hid food we weren’t allowed to eat. There was a utility room where the cats slept, the only ones unmoved by the unbearable atmosphere everyone else had to endure; including the person who created it.

A playroom was next, filled with toys and opening out into the garden. There was a piano and a violin and even a computer (unusual in the 1980s when my dad bought it). It sounds like the perfect playroom except I remember it being used as a punishment. We would be banished there if we were no longer wanted in the rest of the house. The garden had to be played in, in a correct manner. No digging, throwing, running, shouting. I do have happy memories though of me and my Dad playing French cricket until dusk and me and my sister playing swing ball. Spinning a tennis ball round and round a pole. Hitting harder and harder, wondering whether one time the ball would just fly off into the farmer’s fields behind us. In reality that ball was unable to escape its tether any more than we could.

The farmer’s fields over looked our strange, sad home. The cows used to gather round, mooing at me in serious contemplation if I stood at the end of the garden for more than a few minutes. Curiosity getting the better of them. Munching, munching, munching. Staring with wise eyes that looked blank. There was a small, cold toilet downstairs. I hated that toilet! The seat was so cold in winter I would perch with reluctance so as to delay the inevitable icy sting. I still hate that toilet and it’s still cold, even in summer. If I were the type I’d think it had it’s own resident ghost. Up the stairs, I was shouted at for running my fingers along the wall as I ran up or down, shouted at for thumping my feet, or for switching the light on in. Apparently the ‘click’ was obtuse in itself and our arrogance in assuming we needed light irritated our Mum beyond belief. We were mostly shouted at for nothing at all really.

There were 4 bedrooms upstairs. My sister had the nice sunny front room. I was very envious of her bedroom. It seem so bright and warm, coloured with peaches and pink colours; then later with warm reds and turquoise stripes. More befitting of a style conscious teenager. My room was at the back of the house and was decorated blue. I had blue teddies with little butterflies on their noses. I loved that wallpaper, but the blue colour didn’t help in the colder room. I overlooked the back garden and as it was north facing, I didn’t get as much sunlight. I could watch the cows, but they never came to see me if I was in my bedroom so I had to just watch them from afar, scattered over the field in random patterns. My Mum’s room was at the back adjacent to mine. Memories are of a smoke filled room, door locked, TV always on. We weren’t welcome in there, it was the place we went to ask permission rather than somewhere we sought comfort and love. My Dad had a separate room because he had chronic insomnia. Something I found out only after he died, I found out more things about my Dad after his death than when he was alive. His room was even less welcoming. It was a bad tempered cave from which he rose when disturbed with grumpy coughing. The stale smell of sleep lingered in the air. The carpet was thick so there was a scraping sound when the door opened of wood dragging on carpet fibres. I never went in that room, not until I was an adult and it was no longer ‘his’ room.

The upstairs bathroom was the only vestige of peace, quiet and privacy. I used to read in the bath for hours. This was the only time of day when no one would bother me as a teenager. Although there wasn’t any actual privacy, all the doors upstairs had glass panels at the top, you could look through them if you stood on a chair. I later discovered our parents would just look through these if they wanted to know what we were doing. This has given me a long standing respect of the privacy of children. Children are not our property and they deserve the same right of privacy as adults, or at least the same show of respect. We should increase their right to privacy in direct proportion to their age in my opinion. No one ever knocked on our bedroom doors before entering. I despised this as a child and a teenager. It just proved that this wasn’t my home, but the house that belonged to my parents, which I happened to live in. It wasn’t somewhere I felt safe, comforted or loved. Even though the word love was tossed about as if somehow that was what mattered. How many times someone told you they loved you seemed to count more than any actual proof that they did.

I hate that house, it’s still there and my Mother still lives in it. I resent having to stay more than a couple of days. Even though it looks unrecognisable on the inside, it never fails to make me feel the same hopelessness I felt throughout my childhood. My mind shudders at the thought of having to return there, as if somehow it will grasp on to me and not let go this time.

Writing 101: Death to Adverbs. Gym Time

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Aldersgate-gym-floorhttp://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-adverbs/

The atmosphere is filled with pounding, fast breath. It’s humid but a cool slither of air hits me from the overhead conditioning. As I walk past intimidating machinery they blow condescending cold air at me. Daring me to try and operate them. A young guy in red and grey focuses dead ahead, legs up and down, up and down, up and down. Sweat glistens on his shaved head, dripping down his neck with an inconspicuous movement. Women sit up, crunch, back down, discipline in every painful pant. Looking to a future of health, toned flat stomachs and defined muscles. Grey haired old man, sweats on the treadmill, reaching for his water. I can’t tell whether he’s maintaining some level of fitness achieved in years gone by, or if he’s striving for something too late in life.

Strange foam mats beckon from the corners, posters on the walls. Instructing in a way only clear to those already in the know. Reading them screams out to everyone else your newbie status. Inspirational quotes painted on the wall; no doubt meant to boost motivation but instead they somehow sneer over us as we push ourselves through stitches and psychological walls. We should all be in the same club but glances and shy smiles are given and received quickly, in embarrassment from the corner of our eyes. We seem unsure of who the novices are and who the gym regulars are. The thought that it is only the muscled regulars who ‘really’ belong lingers in our minds. We buy the ‘proper’ clothes, clamouring to be one of them. Tanned, toned girl in the corner stares straight ahead, weights heaved, lunges, squats. All performed in ignorance of the surrounding jealousy.

I stand on the treadmill, headphones in, Pixies blare out and I run. Thoughts finally stop as I meditate on my own fitness. Run, breathe, sweat, run, breathe, run, running….

Writing 101: Give and Take

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letters-home2Here’s my submission for an earlier task this week. I tried to imagine what it would be like if 2 people visited parts of Britain or England and only saw either the very worst or very best of what it has to offer. How would it affect any of us if our experiences were polarised in this way? I then decided to do it in a letter format to fulfil the ‘twist’ on this task and have a dialogue between two people. I also tried to write in a more metaphorical, poetic style. I’m not sure why but I felt it would be interesting to make the metaphors do the sociological and philosophical work. It also seemed to fit nicely as I always think letter writing is an almost archaic skill these days and I wanted the style to reflect that. Have a look here for a full description of the task:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-dialogue/

Dear Alice,

I’ve visited England for the first time. I embarked on this much anticipated journey with hope and unrealised wonder. But Alice, that wonder will remain unrealised and can sit in the murky depths of crushing disappointment. The England of my imagination lies limply in my mind. Deflated by the reality that hit me. It exists only in novels and poems that witter on relentlessly about green and pleasant lands, ignoring the sucking grey that feasts on the minds of the young and despairing.

The deprivation, poverty and inequality gives birth to such awful circumstances. It degrades the very environment it thrives in. The places I visited left a hard, grey and devastatingly unhappy imprint on my skin. I sweated the depression that surrounded me and it left a dirty shameful slick of film all over me. Murder Mile and Shackleton Road produce anger and hatred that is played out in an eternally grainy and fractured film recovered from the 1930s. Brutally short lives spied through a Hobbesian lens. The young fight over the generational scraps abandoned on the crumbling roads. Instead of returning victorious they find themselves picking the bones of their own children, feasting on the flesh of their own lives.

I have seen those who are old at 30. Trudging through the grey stained idyllic green fields of Gleadless Valley. Wearily pushing middle aged babies in adorned and elaborate prams. Keeping safe another generation lovingly nurtured to feed this ravenous society. My travels lead me to Moss Side. Mancunian towers stand as sentries in a war of resources. Children build their identities, constructing their own femininities and masculinities from bricks of reality. Assimilating the pyramid hierarchy into their lives, except today Maslow is weeping.

My dear Alice, in some other possible world there exists a green and pleasant land but it is not the place that devoured my hope; before I wrenched myself from those stratified clutches of poverty. It smells like the rotten offcuts of consumerists, searching to find themselves in paper and gold. But all they find is the remains of those bones picked clean in oily desperation.

Don’t go Alice, it is not the England we read of in our childhood books.

It is lost, and so am I.

Yours truly,

Stephanie

Dear Stephanie,

I am left silenced by the despair I read in your letter. I cannot comprehend the cognitive dissonance created by the 2 worlds we seem to have visited. And there must be 2 whole worlds because the place you describe has no place in my England, the England I have just returned from. My England was a place of rolling majestic landscapes. Wordsworth was almost woven into the skies and the surrounding hills. Cottages written into existence by authors of years gone by. Pinter created the Hackney I was introduced to. The vibrancy of the lives that enrich the markets, the creativity that oozes and spills out of every crack and corner in this vast sprawling hub that is London. The people welcomed me with joy and experience. I was immediately incorporated into their own lives and stories. Fed with care on East End pie and mash. Forget ginger beer, it is eel liquor that soothes the souls of teenagers and the overworked in this city that never sleeps. Wooden benches guard their stories, absorbing all who sit on their soft plinths.

I saw community and intricate webs of lives supporting each other through good and bad. Surrounded by some of the most inspiring architecture. Stain Glass of the giants hangs in the forest, steel angels cast their eye. I dream of dolomite aggregated in St Helen’s expressing the thoughts of miners. Hope and levity shine through in blue skies and I feel the futures of the youth just brimming in the background. Waiting to be realised in the hands of older generations eager to manage what they perceive to be the eudaimon life. I visited the protective forests of this beautiful land and saw the rolling glistening beauty of Ullswater and Windermere. I climbed Ben Nevis and felt the immortality of Scottish highlands nourish my soul.

My dear Stephanie, I can only assume we visited different places. Or maybe we just saw them through different eyes? How can we have gone to the same country if what you describe is true? It has left me hollow just imagining the despair you’ve seen, written into the faces of everyone you met. Please instead remember the country of my own thoughts, forget the lives of those few and instead see only the good. No harm could come from only seeing the good…. Could it?

Much love to you my dear friend Stephanie,

From Alice