Thursday, 19 January 2017

Lala Land: Nostalgia and Nationalism


This week I decided to face Blue Monday head-on and have a self-indulgent evening at the cinema watching La La Land. It was a lovely night, and its true to say the score from the film is still stuck with me 48 hours later. Watching the film has made me quite excited to see Los Angeles in real life in a few months time. I liked the nods to 'Singing in the Rain' and old school cinema; like 500 days of Summer, a romantic-comedy with a few plot-twists is enough for a Monday night's entertainment.

That said whilst I enjoyed it; for me it wasn't a knock-out, world-changer of a movie. Introducing multiple styles of narration at the end for the 'alternative future' epilogue sequence didn't fit the style of the film; and similarly the flying sequence at the Observatory was a bit weird. For me, the film was too long, lagging at about the 90 minute mark; and some of Sebastian's dialogue and actions made me feel a bit uncomfortable - he's a modern man with 50's values, in places.

Mine is a minority opinion among the chosen audience, Millennial women; the majority of whom do seem to think it is the best thing to hit the big screen in a long time. This got me thinking about why a film that channels so much old-fashioned nostalgia - for 'pure' jazz, 50's musicals, old-fashioned romance and pursuit of the dream goes down so well; I think it has a lot to do with the rise of nationalism and the fear of the future for Millennials.

There is a lot of fear going about right now in English speaking countries - the threat of terrorism, the rise of the far-right, concern about the erosion of human rights. With all this at stake it becomes politic to create a national identity from what might be a disparate whole, to bring 'us' together, so we can be different from 'them'.

In the Victorian era they looked to King Alfred the Great, and Elizabeth I as common ancestors, 'grandparents to us all'. They are not, and were not our common ancestors, but their statues started popping up everywhere as 'people we could all get behind'. The Saxons themselves looked to gods to combine the disparate lineages of their various kings into one genealogy. The writing of the Wagner cycle in the 1800's strikingly coincides with the creation of Modern Germany as one nation from many principalities; and was then celebrated by, to invoke Godwin's law, Nazi Germans in their rise to power.

I am not arguing that La la Land is propaganda, but I think there is a lot about La la Land that says, 'here is some harmless shared culture we can all get behind; located in a time and place you recognise'. I remain unconvinced that is a reasonable premise. The only person of colour to be given a major role is John Legend; and he plays a sell-out musician trying to persuade Sebastian to give up on the 'purity' of jazz. There is also a bit too much mansplaining from Seb to Mia for my liking. Maybe it is not such a harmless shared culture after all?

According to Strauss-Howe theory Millennials are civic heroes. I recognise this in me and my friends; primarily we are educated, Guardian reading people, we want to save the world one veg box at a time, with organic milk, in our hipster lattes. We are environmentally and socially conscious beings; keen that our money is invested ethically, and that there will be a world for the next generation to grow up in. But the nature of that world seems uncertain; and so there is a swing towards tradition, more people are getting married and looking to put down solid roots in their communities, investing in local projects often with only socio-ethical incentives. Part of this is due to the context we have grown up in, and part of it is due to the world we face; its big and scary, and not necessarily how we would have made it given half the chance.

La la land is not the only film offering Millennials a warm fluffy nostalgia blanket harking back to a kinder past; have you noticed how many Disney remakes have been released lately, and more to come with  Beauty and the Beast due to be released later this year? These films offer reassurance and solace to those of us facing adult challenges, who grew up with the original releases in the 90's when our only concerns were how to steal the popcorn from our friends and siblings.

Just to be clear...
If La La Land made you smile, if you enjoyed the romance of it all, if you forgot to worry about all your grown-up concerns for 2 hours, me too! I think I will still be humming along to the score into next week. But please, don't just enjoy the cosiness of La La Land, continue to fight for whatever passion project is in your heart; especially if it promotes inclusivity, and inter-generational kindnesses in an increasingly polarised world.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Team Yellow: Hufflepuff and Liberal Democrats

Well friends, it is official - in both the political and wizarding world, I am Team Yellow; I have done the Pottermore quiz so it must be true. Seeing as one of my school nicknames was 'Bec the Red' for my famously left of centre views, this may come as a surprise to some. This result would have surprised the Adventurous Wilkinson of just 5 years ago though, who would have said Gryffindor and its associated hues were the colour of choice in both domains - I even have the jogging bottoms to prove it!

Dear Rebecca Citizen

My first forays into the world of politics (beyond my own front-door) occurred when ODEON built a cinema on top of a park in our town centre. My 8-year old self was very concerned as to where all the retail workers would now be able to spend their lunch breaks so I wrote to the council about it and signed the letter - Rebecca, Citizen - because I was a precocious little whatsit! The council worker who replied pointed out that there was another park town workers could relax in, but did genuinely believe my surname was citizen.  Since then I have sent other letters to governmental people and offices regarding; building a bypass over the grave of a Saxon king, provision for rough sleepers in Central Manchester and most recently the way asylum seekers are treated at interview. I believe in writing letters, and offering innovative solutions if you have any.

Loyal. Patient. Fair

You might have seen the facebook wraps on people's profile pictures recently declaring their Harry Potter House. When I took the test on Pottermore a few months ago I was sure I would come out as 'Gryffindor: Courage. Bravery. Determination'. I was so shocked to come out 'Hufflepuff: Loyal. Patient. Fair'; not least as I model myself in part on Dick King-Smith's Sophie (who is 'small and very determined') but also because Hufflepuffs seemed a bit dim, and peripheral in the Harry Potter Universe -  I am certainly centre stage of my own narrative!                                                                                     That said now Newt Scamander's day has come, perhaps the Hufflepuff star is in ascendance. If Hufflepuffs are 'loyal. patient.fair' I suppose there are worse things to be; I am not all that patient but I am a loyal friend, and fierce about justice which on a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea I concede could be defined as 'fair'.

Liberal Democrat

I am not one for facebook debates about politics, I rarely even share petitions - its just not my thing. I find confrontation uncomfortable and would much rather have a reasoned discussion one-to-one with you; preferably with some cake present. But as I mentioned, I have joined the Lib Dems. As someone from a Labour background, and a student during the infamous 'tuition fees' election choosing Team Yellow might come as a surprise but for what its worth, here is why I made the leap and joined.

1. Crying in the wilderness has its place, but so does working inside political systems.
2. The positive influence the Lib Dems had whilst sharing power has become increasingly apparent to me since 2015.
3. Lib Dems have a genuinely democratic approach to creating policy. Any member can table a motion, it gets debated and then voted on. If the motion passes that member's policy becomes Lib Dem policy.
4. Sometimes small can be beautiful (and efficient) ;)
5. For parliament to thrive you need credible opposition, not infighting factions. 
6. My values are most in-line with an inclusive, liberal party.

Have you considered taking political action of some kind recently? If yes what was the catalyst that moved you to take action? Do you prefer to work outside the system, through lobbying and protest, or within the party system, why? And finally, were you sorted into a wizarding house that surprised you? How have you dealt with that? Can I still wear my Gryffindor jogging bottoms? Thanks.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Mallorca: croissants, cathedrals and sunshine

Its Autumn so its obviously time for another trip for some Spanish sun. I left my house at 5am to spend some time in my favourite sunny place, Mallorca.

I made the most of the fact my host was busy in the day to do lots of touristing. I visit the Museum of Mallorca and pondered why Santa Lucia held a box with eyes in and why John the Baptist looked like a rasta. Next up on this cultural tour is the Arab Baths - there's not much to actually see here; but there are some nice gardens to soak up some vitamin D.

Garden at the Arab Baths

I found some lunch and 'ate the view' it always amazes me how beautiful even the water bottles are here. Whilst wondering around after lunch I fell into a bookshop. This is a frequent threat to my productivity but being on holiday I did not hold up much resistance. The English Bookshop in Palma is a truly unique experience; run by an eccentric Englishman who will offer you a side of conspiracy theory with your sale. He seems to actually live amongst the three floors of bookshop encased in an old fashioned house if the bathroom and hand-drawn nudes in the basement beside Russian history are anything to go by. I bought two leather bound books, Vanity Fair and some old stories about Cambridgeshire.

This time my trip was punctuated by lighthouses and pastry-stops. I was introduced to Lluis Perez' phenomenal pastries and we had the conversation yet again about carob and whether it made a more suitable horse treat than warm mash, apples or sugar lumps. On the light-house front we took trips to the north to Pollencia and Cap de Formentor via the Arab Medieval walled-town of Alcudia. And a hike to Cap de Cala Figuera in the south. Both picturesque in their own ways.

Cap de Formentor

Cap de Cala Figuera

I visited Palma Cathedral for the first time this year. The treasury was of some interest and the main cathedral was a peaceful space. I enjoyed the way the light played upon the organ.

This year was also a first for independent bus travel. I am amazed at how technology has improved such that in a foreign land you can board a bus and get where you want to go - if you pronounce it right - and all along you can see your exact location. I traveled from the airport by bus and also to and from the aquarium and felt very accomplished.

Finally, I know you're dying to know, yes I did have my annual ice cream - this time in November and tasted so good - the weather was unseasonably mild even for Mallorca. I also enjoyed a lazy afternoon at the beach once I had explained to the beach combing massage lady that no, I didn't want her to touch me and no, I didn't want a massage! Talk about a miscommunication!

Ice cream
Reading at the beach

Needless to say I hope to return and discover even more of this beautiful island.

Romanian Adventure with my Dad

In August, Dad and I embarked on one of our joint-ventures. I love to explore new places and he loves heritage railways, we travel to places that cater to both our needs (see for reference - Poznan, Vienna etc.) this time we got out of the boat one step further and went to Romania.

Iași (yash)

We arrived in the intellectual city of Iași in the early afternoon. We caught a cab to the city centre and immediately realised how much further our money would go than in England. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Trajan and I enjoyed feeling really posh and like I was in a Wes Anderson film at the same time. Iași is a pretty place to spend time; it has some modern buildings but many gothic buildings, and a town-hall that looks like it is out of Disney. We found people to be very courteous in this university-town.

Riding old school trams
Rural life in Suceava region and beyond

The following day our hosts (my London house-mates) came to pick us up and we began the long drive to Vicovu. We passed many horse and cart pairs harvesting hay. In rural Romania people are very self-sufficient. Most families have reclaimed land since communism and use it to produce the freshest of produce. Whilst we were there we ate fresh tomatoes, quails eggs, local chicken, aubergines, even ice-cream. I watched Dad visibly relax in the Romanian world; people still believe in fixing broken machines there, and respecting their elders.  We were really touched to meet the parents of our friends who were also our neighbours; we overcame language barriers partly through a book about trains, and the common purpose of fixing a chicken-feeder.

Dads fixing the chicken feeder

Heritage Rail, Salt Mine and local heritage

If you like industrial history there is oceans to get stuck into in the area. Dad's motivation on coming to Romania was to visit the Mocanita la Moldovita - it is famous with his friends even in England. Dad helped the guys fuel the engine, lapped up the ride too and from and even got a cab ride on the way home.The guys were so impressed by Dad's enthusiasm and help they even gave him the mobile number of the Austrian who set it all up! I mainly took in all the views including these slightly risky looking bridges.

Bucovina Rail


There are other adventures to have. We spent a morning down the salt mine at Mina Cacita-Suceava; the caves have been used to store cheese and mushrooms, play football matches and even as an underground ballroom!

Underground ballroom
Suceava has some gems to visit too. We went to the Bucovina Village Museum - where they have brought 30 houses from across the region and centuries to one place. You can tour them and learn more about the history of the region. I learned lots, but remain terrifying of the mourning house complete with wailing statues. My personal highlight of the trip was a late night trip to the Castle of Stefan - we had it all to ourselves and there was minimal interruption from little plaques explaining what everything us. Castles at night-time can be magical!

so much magic

The area of Suceava is famed for its UNESCO protected monasteries, we visited a few. It is certainly true that some of them have beautiful painted walls but the experience of these spaces was possibly the most alien of all our time in Romania. Neither Dad nor I have had much exposure to Eastern Orthodox practice and it felt unfamiliar. That said, I bought a beautiful hand-painted icon of Jesus at one of the monasteries, he is installed above my bed and was the inspiration for a lot of my bedroom design.

A first class rail journey?

There are not many opportunities to experience first class rail travel in my English life. So when the opportunity arose to cross Romania in a first class sleeper coach we jumped at the chance. The majority of the trip felt like a really luxurious trip into the past. That is until about 7am the following morning when the train came to a halt. After 2 hours of sitting still there was a bang on the door and the guard said 'You English need to leave'. We were so scared of what was going on; descending the carriage Dad fell to the track and I watched our whole trip flash before my eyes, we eventually boarded a standard class train, via absolutely everywhere, and Dad stood for 45 mins til a seat became available. We eventually learned where we were through my GPS and what the problem was, localised flooding as evident from the window. We did get to Bucharest eventually but we did also reward ourselves with a McDonalds. 

Our impressive cabin
Flooding the railways


We spent our last 48 hours before the journey home in Bucharest. To be honest I think we were spoiled by Iași and Suceava, in that we found Bucharest to be noisy and a bit too 'lively' for us. For dinner we went to Caru cu bere - the inside is a finely painted beer hall with live musicians and everything, but we were happy to cut the queues and sit outside. With full bellies we fell asleep and the next day flew home.

Gara de Nord

A jaunt to West Cumbria

Sometimes you just have to pack up your bags and go on an adventure. On this occasion in high Summer I made the most of living substantially closer to the Lake District than I ever have before and checked in to Muncaster Castle for three nights. Yes, you did hear me right, I became a princess for a few days.

Muncaster Castle
Alright, you don't actually stay in the castle but in the old stables, that said the breakfast is fit for royalty and you get to explore all 77 acres of its grounds once all the tourists have gone home. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting watching all the birds, reading my book and drinking cups of tea beside the castle cannons.

Muncaster Castle

Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway
Being my father's daughter if there is a heritage railway to ride you will find me on it. The engines and coaches are in miniature and the station serves ice-cream. If that is not enough to tempt you, at the other end at Eskdale you will find rural walks and waterfalls! I felt very accomplished climbing to see those.

Tenacity and Waterfalls

Bathhouses and Pepper Pots
Western Cumbria, where the mountains meet the sea, is a place that oozes history fused with natural landscape - an obvious choice for me. I climbed a hill to the 'Pepper Pot' the historic site of a beacon now featuring an odd structure formally known as Stainton Tower. I got very close to the beacon itself, but was deterred from the final push by this gathering of cattle. Despite bearing a name meaning 'heifer' I was not equal to taking them on (more on this later) and settled for a gorgeous view and the opportunity to take arty shots with my bag.

When cattle were 'the enemy'

The following day I took the coastal road down to the ruins of some Roman baths. The colours I saw inspired the theme for my library at home. I can quite see that if you were a soldier a long way from home, the view out the window of the rolling waves whilst you strigle-d your way to cleanliness, would have been quite something. On my way back up the hill toward the castle I met a cow - this time safely behind a fence. So I took the opportunity to sing her a full verse of 'I'm still standing' and then had steak for tea...I like to think I won that battle 2-1.


Furness Abbey
On the way home from the Lakes I popped in on a couple of sites of historical interest. I went to the church at Gosforth which has the Gosforth Cross (massive, so much bigger than the pictures), the fisherman's stone and several hog-backs in pristine condition. Then I drove on to Furness Abbey - in the early Medieval Period the people who lived at Furness were some of the most powerful people in the northern world. This is a strange concept to people in the North West who seem to associate Barrow in Furness with dilapidation and despair.

Gosforth Cross
Gosforth hogbacks

At Furness I bought among other things - an Ordinance Survey of Ancient Britain. I really am going to become like my Dad from now on; arranging tea breaks on long journeys around how many sites of interest I can find!

Furness Abbey

I'm baaaack!

Hello Everybody!

A long time ago (nearly two years in fact!) I used to keep a regular blog here. It all began when I was writing my MA Dissertation and all the fascinating thoughts and feelings wouldn't fit into the paragraphs. In this post I'll do my best to catch you up on all the developments; mainly geographical.

When you last saw me here I was living in London in a lovely little place near Hampstead Heath; it was so gorgeous that every year upwards of 250 visitors would come and look in one weekend. Loving worshipping with the St Lukes Community and I was halfway through a near year-long challenge not to leave the country. If you knew me during my previous blogging life you'll have known how difficult I found that. But I did save some money and go on several interesting UK holidays to Wiveliscombe, and Woodbridge.
The Wivey Washer!
Then I broke my 'abroad-ban' and went to Hamburg. That was a great adventure involving driving a hire car the wrong way down a dual-carriageway, a row-boat on the Alster, and nipping up to Hedeby re-enactment village. More here.

Messing about on the Alster

The next big change was I moved city; with one bag and two people's phone numbers I boarded the train to Manchester. This was a seismic shift for me at the time and very much a tale of God's goodness. More on that here.

Aware that Manchester was cold and wet, I booked a trip to perpetual Summer in Mallorca with one of my best friends. More on that here.


 Jan - June 2016 I enjoyed renting a house in Sale, owning a car, learning to play roller derby and hosting various people in Manchester. I was best woman at a wedding up the OXO Tower in London which was very special. I did take a brief trip to the Isle of Man in search of Vikings in February, and I was not disappointed - more here.

Maps and a guide published in 1917

In July I took a brief break to the West Lake District; it was a really restful time, I stayed in a castle and visited Furness Abbey on the way home. More here.

In August Dad and I went off on one of our adventures to Romania - we did a mixture of independent exploring and being well looked after by my old housemates. This one includes heritage steam railways and travelling 1st class sleeper across country. More here.

Romanian City Life, Iasi
Romanian Countryside

In September I bought my first house. Its a 2-bed Edwardian terrace and needs a lot of love and care. As I write some lovely gentlemen are installing a wood-burner to my 'adventure lounge'. I have this thing about a fire being the heart of a house. And looking forward to hearing the heart-beat soon. I have become a bit of a house-bore so I can't promise some of that won't over-spill here.

At the end of October I went back to Mallorca and enjoyed ice-cream in November - it wasn't incongruous at all. More here.

Then in December I was a bridesmaid at a wedding in Cambridge and it was a bit strange being back in central Cambridge after so long away but a lovely weekend surrounded by good friends.

And that just about gets us to now. I have been doing a lot of thinking and discussing of late with my many pen-pals, online friends and real-life-in-person friends and it just seemed like a good time to revive this blog. So if you're new - you are welcome, and if you're an old friend - welcome back!

The Isle of Man: Vikings and sunsets

I had to be in Bristol by 9am on Monday so I thought, why not go via the Isle of Man? Like many of my other adventures this particular trip was motivated by Viking-hunting and involves an adventure with a hire car.

The first thing that surprised me was the plane I flew on. It was a tiny little thing, holding maybe 50 passengers and boy did it make a racket! Yes I know, a bit like someone else you know! I was not prepared and turned my music up full-volume in an attempt to screen out the noise.

For this trip I stayed at an AirBnB. The listing was for a crofters cottage, but as I was staying alone the host suggested I stay at their house which used to be a school. When I landed on the Isle of Man it was dark and  I was in a hire car - when will I learn?! Unfortunately rather than having a postcode to plug into the sat-nav I only had some printed off directions which relied on being able to see the landmarks. You know the sort - 'turn left at the white pub, if you hit the sea you've gone too far!'. Honestly, its a minor miracle I made it - and in a Nissan Micra the clutch for which was difficult to find!

My hosts were really excellent though. They made me a flask of tea every morning and let me borrow their Ordnance Survey Map for exploring. They even set me up with a chance to meet an academic hero at a classical concert. The event began with a rousing rendition of the Manx national anthem - I was like a fish out of water.

A cup of tea atop Snaefell

When you have a kooky interest sometimes a sat-nav just will not cut the mustard! One day I went looking for a Viking ship burial which was on a random promontory near the coast; it was literally turn down the road marked 'quarry' and look for sign-posts.

What is the postcode for this?

Abbeys, castles and museums
Even in the off season the Isle of Man has plenty to do. There were lots of familiar sites from my days as a student. It was amazing to me to sit in the ruins of Rushen Abbey, walk the ramparts at Castle Rushen (Peel was shut) and to see the Jurby cross in person complete with raven and symbols of Ragnarok.

The Manx are really on top of their museums; I found both the Manx Museum and the House of Manannan were good quality museums, although the latter is not for you if you are phobic of statues. The Manx Museum was, for me, the one redeeming feature of Douglas which is a tired seaside town.

House of Manannan

Natural beauty
The Isle of Man is beautiful. It is like Wales, if Wales were a rich, tax haven. Rolling hills, dramatic coast, the Calf of Man; all make for sensational scenery. One afternoon having seen the Jurby Cross I raced the sun to Niarbyl and watched the sunset. Watching the setting sun always puts things into perspective.


Speaking stones
Sometimes you don't have to go far from home to find people doing life and indeed heritage very differently. If you happen upon Maughold you would have thought its just a sleepy village without as much as a pub to its name. But take a closer look at the churchyard. In a three-walled hut in the grounds you will find 150+ fragments of crosses some of which are more than 1000 years old. And here's the clincher - you can touch them. No glass to mediate you and the experience of runes and pictures carved as monuments so many years ago. If carving is your thing, you really must visit before they all get put behind glass and monitored by CCTV.

On Sunday I drove the coastal road all the way back to the airport accompanied by David Bowie's greatest hits on the stereo. Boarding the plane I waved goodbye to the Isle of Man and was just about ready for the 9 o clock meeting.

Maughold Crosses

Mallorca: Looking for Katy T

It is no secret that I have developed quite a love on Mallorca; in my head it is the land of perpetual sunshine - my friend who lives there saw so little rain that as a 3 year old when drops of water fell from the sky he thought the sky was falling down!

Having spent a month in Manchester - infamous for rain - I took a long weekend away. It is like cheating on Autumn, rewinding to spend an extra weekend in Summer. I left the house in a scarf and coat and arrived in Palma sleeveless at 11pm!

Sierra Tramuntana

We had a superb weekend exploring the Sierra Tramuntana in my friends very old family car. Coughing up the hills and threatening to give up on every turn. We visited the picturesque village of Valldemossa that was home to St Catherine Thomas - affectionately known by me as Katy T. We ate Ensaimadas in the sunshine and took photos of gnarly old olive trees. We even drove to Soller for icecreams at the port.


En route to dinner with friends we happened upon a parade. And you'll never guess who it was for? Yup, Katy T. Mallorcans love a parade, although this one was far more sedate than the festival of Sant Joan which features beasts running at you with fire-spears and the such! At a friend's house I discovered the joys of Jungle Speed although my reactions were a bit slow by 2 am when we ambled home.

Ice cream at Soller

We spent the next day gently, a nap by the sea; and just like that it was time to wave dear friend goodbye and return to Manchester, which is starting to feel like home.

Beaches are for napping

Moving to Manchester: Behold I am doing a new thing

On the 25th of September I boarded the first train out of Westcliff station with 1 large bag of clothes, my knitting (its essential) and my work laptop. These are the fundamental things one needs to begin a new adventure. Lots of people told me I was crazy. And I'll admit as I left Euston in the dark(!) I thought they might be right.

Holding sleepy eyes open

I am a planner. I love a plan. But just one week before I caught the train my accommodation fell through. Sat sobbing on my friends couch I wondered, 'how on earth can this be the plan?'. But thanks to a mutual acquaintance I secured a bed for 5 nights with a really awesome and adventurous family.

First Impressions
My first impressions of Manchester weren't great. As anyone who has ever walked from Manchester Piccadilly to the centre can testify its not the best introduction to Manchester - now imagine carrying all your dearest possessions along with you and trying not to look like a target whilst consulting google maps. I went to Costa, bought a bacon sandwich and then caught a bus to Horton Road where a friend of a friend was looking for a lodger. I was plied with tea, sunshine and even offered a lift to my next stop: adventurous family in Levenshulme.

Adventurous Family
Let me paint the picture for you. I had not met them in person. We had exchanged a couple of facebook messages. Despite having two under 5's (and a secret third baby on the way) they text me their house alarm code and left their door key in a bright pink welly boot. Adventurous family were seriously cool; they had Orla Kiely style wall-paper in the dining room. When I arrived they were out enjoying a birthday walk for Adventurous Dad. The time had come for me for a nap on their sofa - shoes off naturally. I woke up to two curious girls peeking round the door-frame looking at me.

Adventurous Week
It was an adventurous first week in Manchester. I bought a bus pass and toured the wider city trying to get to grips with the amorphous city. I found the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, I was introduced to Trove cafe - which is like a little slice of Shoreditch in Levenshulme. I visited a church who prophesied over me some words which were so on-point; 'you have come seeking Green Pastures'. I walked adventure girl to school across a golf-course. I had an overpriced haircut - these things happen! And lo, on my 9th day I found the place I would lodge in Sale.

Sale is leafy, it is also a long way from my office on public transport. In my first weeks in the flat I was seriously doubting 'the plan' again; an hour and a half on trams each way to work seemed like a long time to travel 6 miles. What I didn't know then was that in a car it would take just 20 minutes (14 in the school holidays) and I would be travelling the opposite way to traffic at both ends of the day. Maybe there was a plan after all.

And what I had not counted on was wonder-housemate (WHM); she really was the unexpected boon of the move. At first glance we didn't have that much in common; our film tastes, and choice of leisure time remain wildly different. But WHM has some really excellent characteristics; she is brave and resilient, she is willing to listen even when she's tired (and an introvert), she is an excellent source of encouragement, toast and wine. WHM is also so generous. I was concerned when I moved in with a live-in landlord they would be really territorial but WHM happily shared the space as equals and was no trouble to have friends over. A real example for having my own lodgers.

WHM in flight

And so it turned out that there was a plan, and friends after all. Moving city is one of the things that has made me feel most alive in life. Like lone-travel++; it wasn't all plain sailing but there was definitely a plan.

Hamburg: Aug 15

As you know, I have been to Hamburg a couple of times with my Dad (see here) and then for a sex trafficking conference (see here). This time I was visiting a childhood friend who moved to Hamburg, and some pretty sweet Viking sites.

The trip began very adventurously with an hour and a half delay on picking up my hire car from the airport. It was my first time hiring a car abroad and I was nervous. The first thing I did was drive the car the wrong way down a dual carriageway. It was a super stressful experience, but I did eventually complete the trip from Bremen to Hamburg. I remain unconvinced that German motorways are all they are cracked up to be for speed; at no point on the holiday did I escape the Summer 'Staue' (queues)!

City Centre Fun
Hamburg being a harbour city there are many opportunities to discover the watery-environs. We hired a row-boat to explore the Alster and did plenty of messing about on the river, or should I say lake. For entertainment there is a great riverside bar on a re-purposed light-ship; we enjoyed a night of jazz music on board the Feuerschiff - at least there was a legitimate reason for the horizon to be moving!

Who left me in charge of an oar?!

Beyond Hamburg: Lübeck and Hedeby
One of the advantages of hiring a car is how much easier it is to explore the wider world beyond your immediate town; so I took day-trips from Hamburg to two other places: Lübeck and Hedeby.
Lübeck is a pretty Medieval town which really shone in the summer light. Big city gates, beautiful warehouses, and old winding streets. Lübeck is also famous for marzipan; they have been producing marzipan there since 1806 and there are several shops dedicated to the stuff in the town centre. On the way home the radio played David Gray's Babylon for the nth time!

Old school high street

The Viking trading settlement of Hedeby was founded in the 770's. It was the first town I ever studied whilst at Cambridge. And only 1 and a half hours from Hamburg. I had more driving stress on this journey, this time associated with parking. There were very few places to park; when I did find somewhere to park turned out it was for coaches only - I was driving a Fiat 500!

When I eventually parked safely Haithabu Re-enactment village it did not disappoint. Neither did the boar sausage and mash I had for lunch, very Viking! On the way home I stopped via Gottorf Castle and saw the Nydam clinker-boat in real life. This is something akin to being able to touch the shroud of Tutankhamen in my world!

Hedeby village
Wildboar and veg. Viking diet.

Clinker boat at Hedeby

And so on the last morning, I drove my car back to Bremen with plenty of time, and prayed they wouldn't charge me for the wing-mirror paint scratches. Trying to find somewhere to fuel up was quite a challenge in the unknown city; and I felt like Bremen and I already had car-related beef. Having dropped the car off I explored the city in the afternoon. I came across this group of street performers chanting '' and wearing all black. I was fairly sure these were Christians. I was trying to take a photo and the man in the photo engaged me in conversation. When I told him I was waiting for a flight he said 'perhaps you are waiting for Jesus!' and I prayed he wasn't prophetic!

Bremen town
Waiting for Jesus?