Category Archives: Travel

Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….

Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….
Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….


Amazing the number of people who want to be writers. Or will be, anyway, once they have a bit of time. I imagine it’s almost the same number as want to run a pub or cafe. Although I could never understand that one. Perhaps it was too many waitress and barmaid jobs as a teenager.


A bookshop though… now you are talking! Or at least that was my dream until I read Shaun Bythell’s diary of being a bookseller in Wigtown, Scotland’s book town.

Admittedly some days sounded idyllic…

nature writing

But then you’ve got the customers….


Not to mention the staff..


I loved this book – it was funny, interesting, more warm that I think the author was hoping for, but…. it didn’t make me want to be a bookseller. Ho hum. You can buy the book in all sorts of places, of course, but of course, I’d recommend you buy it from Shaun himself here. You don’t have to go there, they have modern things such as the internet in bookshops now, and once you get the book delivered,  you can read all about the Wigtown post office too. Gems all.

And if it doesn’t convince you that running a bookshop is harder than it looks, all that sitting round and reading, well you can always run a bookshop in Wigtown for a holiday thanks to the enterprising Open Book scheme.

As for me, it’s back to the drawing board…


Sports(woman) Sunday

Sports(woman) Sunday
Sports(woman) Sunday

Look at this blog go …. all organised and snappy with the days of the week. FIrst of all there is a regular Friday writing exercise, and now a weekly Sports(woman) Sunday. This gives me the chance to talk more about women and sport, look at the opportunities and praise the wonderful. And there are so so so many. As always I’m doing this mostly for me – the chance to find out more and keep information in one place, but hopefully there will be something for others too. Let me know what sports work for you, or otherwise. Let me know your successes and hopes. And stories. But first of all – WALKING WOMEN!


Now, as you might notice from  the dates in the poster above, the special Women Walking event as part of Somerset House’s Utopia 2016 festival, is nearly over but there are still things you can do, walking women you can follow, and inspiration to be taken. After all, here’s the quote used in the publicity:

The invisibility of women in what appears as a canon of walking is conspicuous; where they are included, it is often as an ‘exception’ to an unstated norm, represented by a single chapter in a book or even a footnote. Heddon and Turner (2012) ‘Walking Women: Shifting the Tales and Scales of Mobility’ Contemporay Theatre Review, Vol. 22(2), 2012, p. 225

I couldn’t resist that. When I went along to the exhibition, I tried out Jennie Savage‘s recorded walk – leaving Somerset House to follow her instructions through the headphones (turn left, now next right etc etc)IMG_1211

Listening to Jennie’s observations of a very different walk while carrying out my own was a strange experience. Apart from refusing to turn right, turn right, because that would have taken me into the Thames….


…rather than being distracting, the dual narrative – Jennie’s and my own on the ground –  meant I noticed things I might not otherwise. First of all there was the tribe of other walkers – on every level.


And then I started to make connections in the walk, mapping it if you like. For example, I came across this statue I’d never noticed before, perhaps because while I have walked these paths so many times before – it’s always been with a purpose. And if I’m honest, I’m usually late for that purpose so rushing.


A fascinating man, W T Stead. I looked him up when I got home, and boy, is there a novel to be written about him! Not just professionally – although, apparently, ‘He was influential in demonstrating how the press could be used to influence public opinion and government policy, and advocated “Government by Journalism“.[4] He was also well known for his reportage on child welfare, social legislation and reformation of England’s criminal codes.’ But he also died on the Titanic, was obsessed by spiritualism, and knew much about the ‘dark underbelly’ of Victorian times. This plaque is a replica of one in New York.

But this information was all found out by letting my fingers ‘walk’ on the internet afterwards. On my actual walk, turn left, thinking about journalists, I also noticed these…


So much news, so many empty boxes – funnily enough just at the moment, Jennie was talking through my headphones about passing a newsagents. And then back at Somerset House to return my headphones, paying a little more attention about where I was walking, I started thinking about how many people had climbed down these stairs to mark and smooth them so…


Some of you may recognise them as the Stamp Stairs. I’ve gone up and down them many times, but not really looked at their history. And hey, this is where all newspapers in Britain had to be ‘stamped’ to indicate that the correct tax had been paid. So all newspapers in the country had to be brought to Somerset House to be individually stamped here until 1855, when the duty on newspapers was removed.



News, news, news. Amazing what you pick up from walking. BUT… why walking women and not just walking?

I find this fascinating – this Canadian report of a discussion of the difficulties and challenges in planning a gendered city  shows some of the reasons. After all, a ‘streetwalker’ might be an historic term, but it is telling one. Because there’s no doubt that men and women experience walking in any space – city or countryside – in very different ways, and to be honest, much of the current literature is about men walking.

A major inspiration for me is the writer and walker, Linda Cracknell. She knows how to walk – read her books! Recently on Facebook, she talked about women walking and camping on their own, with particular reference to a wonderful experience she had had. Oh, I replied, I’d love to have the courage to do that. And so apparently did many other women. So Linda wrote this beautiful piece giving advice about just how and why women can become more adventurous solo walkers:

Going solo

So that’s something for me in the future. But in the meantime, I might follow another of the great ideas (from Amy Sharrocks) in the Walking Women event – to buy a bus ticket and see where I go, and then walk back…


And I’ve ordered this book… I promise it is not just for the ‘Chip Walk’ although….


Pippi Longstocking and me – a week of kayaking and camping in Sweden

Pippi Longstocking and me – a week of kayaking and camping in Sweden
Pippi Longstocking and me – a week of kayaking and camping in Sweden


I COULD have spent the last week glued to the radio and twitter, head swerving left and right as the badnewsgoodnewswhatthehellisthatnews rushed in, but instead we’d booked a week away camping on the uninhabited islands in the Saint Anna archipelago in Sweden. It’s hard to imagine somewhere further away from day to day life.


There’s no rule of trespass in Sweden, so we could camp wherever we kayaked to. Just find an island, lift our kayak up on to the rocks and find a flat enough spot to put up our tent. Magic.


We’re not completely brave – or foolhardy – though. We travelled with the excellent adventure company, Do the North, who organised all the equipment for us and know the archipelago well. The company was started by Thomas (a Swede) and Sam (a New Zealander) who had been flatmates in London together, and then thirteen years ago, Thomas organised a trip round the islands for Sam and the other flatmates. It was such a success they thought they would set up a business aimed at allowing others to have the same experience. What I loved most about the whole thing is that it’s based on common sense more than rules, schedules and what you ‘should’ do. Here’s Thomas (or his hand) before he set us off to explore all the islands on the archipelago we could visit, more than a thousand…


And here’s me trying to work out just how much luggage I’d brought could be fitted into a kayak… what do you mean I can’t take my new blue glittery handbag…


And that really was it. By three o’clock in the afternoon, they’d waved us off and we were on the water. On our own. Civilisation left far behind, compass ahoy, and, er, rain ahoy too! Luckily it didn’t last long, and by evening the two of us were watching this view instead of Andrea Leadsom or any politician really.


The joy of going through an organisation like Do the North is that while you are out in the world, you aren’t exactly roughing it. Is it possible to fall in love with a tent? Because I did. Look at its little red heart above beating away.

And look at the cooking equipment we got… I’ve put the grater next to my hat so you can see how sweet it is. Funnily enough we didn’t use the measuring spoons as no baking was done…


However luckily the food was normal sized because we got hungryhungryhungry.


And the joy of finding the right spot, opening a can of beer and lighting a fire…


and then watching the sunsets… oh the sunsets….

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But wait! Is that another politician washing their hands of the mess they’ve created before drifting off in the sunset…


Of course it wasn’t all wonderful. Although there may be over 1,000 islands, we found that not all were suitable to camp on – needing both rocks to pull the kayak up on AND somewhere to camp. Sometimes we only found this out when we were exhausted and ready to get on to solid ground. Any solid ground. And then there was the fact that it’s practically impossible to navigate without getting lost at least once an hour, and to be honest, the only real kayaking we’d done is a half-day guided tour last year. Sometimes it was a good thing that the muttering from the front of the kayak couldn’t have been heard in the back. But then we came across beautiful things like this  and oh, I LOVE NATURE…


Then I got bitten on the cheek by an insect in the night and, you know, f***ing nature. But mostly lovely lovely nature…. because this is as close as it gets to rush hour out there…


And the joy of not washing and no mirrors and no emails and no deadlines and …. breathe…


Just taking the time to capture all those miracles I might otherwise have missed but would be going on without me anyway. I can’t tell you the privilege I felt in being here…


So yes, it was all a bit Pippi Longstocking, although luckily there were no pirates. BUT here’s a description of Pippi (with my emphasis in bold):

Nine-year-old Pippi is unconventional, assertive, and has superhuman strength, being able to lift her horse one-handed. She is playful and unpredictable. She frequently makes fun of unreasonable adult attitudes, especially when displayed by pompous and condescending adults. Pippi’s anger is reserved for the most extreme cases, such as when a man ill-treats his horse.


I can’t think of a better role model right now. Something to keep with me, this week after we sadly pulled up the kayak (not quite one-handed) on our last day to get the bus home…. I miss it all already.


Ten photographs I didn’t take …

Ten photographs I didn’t take …

I’ve just come back from Paris. I’d love to show you my photographs, but I tend to take gardens these days (although do go here to see some Parisian gardens if you’re interested!) Besides it was raining so hard that Paris looked a bit like a once beautiful woman on a VERY off-day. Here’s the Seine…


But that’s not to say Paris didn’t weave its magic on us. So here are the photographs I would have taken…

  1. Just before the church service starts, a woman ask a business-suited tourist to move from the front. She listens to him talk before putting her arm round him, and then she leads him to a seat next to her.
  2. One of the busiest restaurants, if queues are a sign, is the Vegan Burger Cafe – I remember when it was impossible to get a good vegetarian meal in Paris.
  3. Peonies everywhere. And roses. But oh the peonies.
  4. All the small fat Frenchmen being fawned over by tall beautiful much younger women. There were so many that this would have to be a collage. Perhaps with questionmarks. What could they possibly see in each other?
  5. A white fluffy dog doing its business right outside the Hermes main front door, and the look of panic in its owner’s face.
  6. The Chinese girl dancing down the street swinging a huge carrier bag and smiling so hard everybody stopped to smile with her. She was finally in Paris!
  7. A tree floating down the Seine.
  8. At the Pompidou Centre the girl in front of us in the queue edges slowly backwards, inch by inch, until she finds shelter under our umbrella.
  9. We stop for a cavalcade of official cars and police motorbikes. Whistles everywhere. And there’s a bespectacled man hunched over in the back of an official car. Is it Hollande? Not sure. Who cares, we’ll say it is.
  10. A very old battered Fiat 500 swerves up to the entrance of Le Bristol Hotel with panache. A beautiful woman leaps out and hands her keys to the doorman with as much confidence as if it was a Maserati. He looks surprised, and laughs.

What photographs haven’t you taken recently?

Emotional Hotspots

Emotional Hotspots

Memory has a strange way of often hitting you when you’re not expecting it.


I have a little theory about the memory muscle, and it makes me wonder how many writers might be either only children, or youngest. Or at least not the oldest child, because it’s the younger ones who watch, look out for danger, and need to take note. The oldest just forge ahead – doing things.

It’s like Sartre’s comment, live or write.


Maybe my feeling about place and memory is the same as music. It’s been well documented how often music takes us straight back to a heightened emotional state, so we will cry for a lost love (even after years of realising how we’ve escaped something rather awful) when we hear the record we listened to again and again every time we cried ourselves to sleep in our teenage bedrooms. And Proust of course has written beautifully about how the taste of a madeleine brings back so many memories.


Equally I’m always amazed at how I map places through the emotional moments they hold for me. Recently I walked round Ely, the town I spent six years at boarding school, with my daughter. She saw just a street but I was ‘seeing’ so many of the boys I had snogged in various corners that she had to beg me to stop telling her about it! But for a thirteen year old, forget the Cathedral, that was my real version of the city.


Not just the boys though. Spotting the butchers where my best friend Nicky and I used to go in to order ‘two hot sausage rolls’ when we couldn’t eat the school food made me stop and gasp.


And then there was the wall I was looking at when I ‘borrowed’ someone’s glasses and suddenly realised what it was like to see. Every brick. Every amazing brick. What had I been missing? How long had I been short sighted and not realised? And what if I wasn’t thick, but just couldn’t see the board or the books like everyone else? Look, just an ordinary wall to everyone else but, friends, this is the wall that changed my life…


The house where we’d go and eat breakfast sometimes with a cathedral verger and his wife, the organ loft where I once drank cider with the organist during evensong, the cherub whose cheek I used to rub for luck before exams, and then this spot, just coming out of Cherry Hill where I first realised how much my body responded to seasons. I stood in the exact spot where I had been so completely staggered by the joyfulness of spring coming that I’d wanted to sing – no, shout – out loud, the sun has got its hat on and is coming out to play. THIS SPOT (below)! Now decades later, I could still felt my heart lift at the memory…


And of course the beauty of these jumble of memories is that they come as they want, trivial next to life-changing. Happy next to sad. There’s no hierarchy in memories, and the joy of returning to a place I’ve known in the past is how well they had been held for me – just waiting until I returned to leap out and  hit me.

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In my head I call them emotional hotspots, but I think they should really be hot emotional spots because they don’t need plaques or anything – they are more like those machines that can seek out heat hidden deep underground. And, sorry daughter, of course that includes my first ‘snogs’, but you’re right, they probably don’t need broadcasting!