Changing Things Up?

Afternoon. If you came in via the front page, you will have noticed I’ve tidied up a bit. I’ve been feeling off colour and came home from work early yesterday to curl up and sleep for a few days, because I either have a bad cold that makes me tired or I’m badly tired and have caught a cold. I wasn’t reckoning on my inability to sit still for more than a couple of hours, though, so I thought I’d play about on here. Technically I’m less than a foot away from my bed, so I’m going to count it as convalescence.

I’ve fancied a change for a while, but I’ve been getting general change vibes, which is not that helpful. Do I want to cut my hair? Should I spray paint my car? Would I benefit from a different type of pillow? My subconscious isn’t telling me, so my conscious (hi) has decided to try changing a bit of everything to see what sticks. So far I’ve just done this site, but I’m thinking of revamping the Francesca’s Words branding – the world is so bleak that black and white seems less chic and more depressing these days – and committing to a regular Pilates class. Something to get my insides balancing with my outsides and all that… I’ve also, finally, published the first of a three part story on my story blog that is slightly different from anything else I’ve ever done, but also completely in line with everything I’ve ever tried to do. The next part will be online next week as I want them all to go online this side of Christmas, which is ridiculously soon.

The Sea Witch's Revenge Part I
Look I even did a little header pic GO READ IT’S A GOOD ONE

I’m not sure what else to change up without committing hugely to something I might regret – I like the idea of spray painting the Mini, but its current shade of red is actually very nice to look at, you know – so I’m taking ideas. Go and read my story (here is the link again cough cough) then tell me: what do you do when you need a change? Do you book a holiday and get a new hair colour or just ride it out? Have you ever done anything ridiculous just to make life a bit more interesting? You can guarantee I’ll read and reply to comments, because I’m not feeling up to much else.

Sleeper Bus Hell and Hanoi, Vietnam

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but for the latter part of the trip I took diazepam on every journey. This was because of the night bus journey from Hue to Hanoi. I should have known it would be shit – I mean, to an anxious traveller with an anxious bladder, all Vietnamese bus journeys are shit. I should have known it would the travelling equivalent of post-dodgy-curry diarrhoea when the bus was so late that hostel staff noticed…

Our driver was a smoker, which I don’t usually mind, except this one smoked while he drove and an air conditioning unit was right above my sleeper bunk, so all the smoke got regurgitated from his lungs and went shoooom up my nostrils. For nine hours minus a couple of toilet stops. Maxim could normally sleep on the buses, but the best I ever seemed to manage was a nap while I tried not to think about needing a wee. On this particular journey the air was so dry that my throat was like sandpaper, but you can never be sure when the driver will stop, so I sipped a bottle of water nervously until a local kid in the bunk next to me asked in broken English if he could have some because did I mention the smoke

As we neared Hanoi it transpired that Maxim was not sleeping but was in almost unbearable pain from also needing a wee. We pegged it out the bus and grabbed the nearest cab, which proceeded to take us on the scenic route around Hanoi. By the way, it was 2am. I tried not to think about all the times I’ve been the one with horrific bladder problems as I let the cabbie short change me and followed Maxim into our hostel, where the concierge was napping at his desk and several other travellers were collapsed on sofas because check in wasn’t until midday. I do remember a local lady, at around five, taking live fish from a bucket directly opposite the hostel and beheading and gutting them in the same way I make my morning coffee. I didn’t film it, because I don’t want anyone filming my morning coffee, but I suppose Game of Thrones isn’t that gross once you’ve heard live animals professionally decapitated.

I think we were in the Old Quarter of Hanoi – all narrow, windy streets a bit like London or York except with ten thousand more street food vendors selling pho. We didn’t actually stay in Hanoi that long, because our visas were running out – I would have loved to see the old prison, where John McCain was held, and Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Then again, I’ve seen a lot of prisons in South East Asia. If you’re ever in Hanoi, though, you must do the following:

  • Take a walking tour! We did from our hostel – Hanoi is too crowded to travel anywhere by anything larger than a bike or on foot and there is so much to see, it’s one of those places where you need eight pairs of eyes

Hanoi Old Quarter in Vietnam

  • If you like eggs and coffee, visit Giang Cafe. They invented egg coffee. I unfortunately could not partake but Maxim, who enjoys both coffee and eggs, reported that it tastes a bit like dessert

egg coffee in Giang Cafe, Hanoi, Vietnam

  • Go to the post office. Okay so this is probably me being weirdly charmed by post offices, but a post office is such a normal place, it’s perfect for seeing regular people do everyday things. A local girl helped her grandpa with his letters then helped him into a cab, which took me back to all the times we helped my grandmother in and out of cars on days out. Sometimes, when you spend every day doing something new, you need to go and do something normal.
  • Visit St Joseph’s Cathedral. I believe the site was once a temple, and the whole wrecking-sacred-buildings-to-replace-them-with-other-sacred-buildings thing makes me grind my teeth, but props to the architect because the building itself is spectacular. We mooched in and the smell hit me. I don’t do churches, god or any form of spiritual enlightenment as a matter of principle, but the church smelt like… home. Like England. I was suddenly back in church as a semi-cynical eight year old singing hymns with my mum. Don’t look at me like that, I’m allowed to like the smell of childhood.

We took a trip from Hanoi into Ha Long Bay, but that’s a blog for another day. Have you ever walked into somewhere and smelt childhood?

Read, If You Like: They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera

Sometimes you read a book you weren’t expecting to be anything other than a book, and then it turns into a small piece of your rib cage. I am very pleased for this to have happened with an author I had only vaguely heard of, because now I can devour the rest of his books at breakneck speed and if they are as good as this one, I may need to add a rib or two.

They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera (2017)

Read, if you like…

  • Death (the title is not a metaphor, and that is not a spoiler; I’m mentioning this first because I am aware not everyone has come to terms with their own mortality and if you haven’t you should this book is possibly not the one for you, although you will probably get the most out of it)
  • New York, but not the touristy bits
  • Diverse novels in less of a stock character way and more of a ‘oh, I guess this ticks several diversity boxes but I didn’t notice because the characters were too busy being REAL LIFE PEOPLE THAT I COULD PRACTICALLY SMELL’ way
  • Fiction that is futuristic insofar as it is more like a story about facts we haven’t invented yet
  • Pushbikes
  • Being arty on Instagram
  • That feeling you get when you finish a novel that’s a bit like missing a step
  • That feeling you get when you’re in a crowd at a concert singing along with several hundred other people you’ll never see again
  • Waterfalls
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera UK edition on a map background
The map background is indicative of themes within the narrative etc etc and coincidentally the only thing I could find that halfway complemented the orange-yellow-iridescent blue look

You can get They Both Die at the End from all good libraries and bookshops.

How Not To Run An Etsy Shop (Or Your Life) | Part One of Many, Probably

Embarrassing story time, people. Almost too embarrassing for the Internet, actually, but I don’t have anything else as remotely entertaining to talk about, so make a cup of tea and bask in my idiocy…

A bit of back story: I’ve been working on my Etsy every day for the last few weeks, including evenings and weekends, because I’ve had some headaches with bugs on the site and I’ve been ordering stock in for people and planning for an Etsy Made Local Christmas market in Chelmsford in a couple of weeks. Oh, and I’m planning for that Black Friday-Cyber Monday migraine-inducing online shopping behemoth. I also went down to Brighton last week to see my brother and I knew I had to place an order for a variety of Christmas cards (a totally new item for me, from a new supplier) before I went, so I ended up placing the order on the Saturday before I travelled down. I got the invoice while I was in Brighton and paid straight away – very entrepreneurial, ten points to Francesca for remembering her iPad and bank info – and voila they arrived today!

Today’s quality was already hanging in the balance because I was taking endless Christmas product photos, on not a lot of sleep, and had one of those to-do list that doesn’t end, like one of those snakes that eats its own tail. I had also had absolutely no contact from the supplier, except for a delivery time, since I placed the order – despite phoning them up and leaving a message like it’s 2003 – so there was an element of ‘did I pay this invoice or have I wired my money into thin air?’ Anyway. The cards arrived. The delivery man was nice.

Back story to the back story: I’ve had really bad luck with suppliers in the past. Items have arrived damaged or not at all, usually when I’ve needed them for an event. So before I opened the parcel I ran through the worst case scenario: that my designs had come out badly and the cards themselves were damaged.

I opened the parcel.

The cards were fine. Correct quality, correct quantity. Except the Saturnalia design was wrong. I’d ordered the design in landscape, not portrait. My sample was in landscape. I photographed and listed it as landscape. These cards were… definitely portrait.

Saturnalia/Roman mythology-inspired Christmas card, green and grey on white card. Landscape.
The sample
Saturnalia/Roman mythology-inspired Christmas card, green and grey on white card. Portrait design.
The reality

That phrase ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ should really be ‘the minor inconvenience that gave the sole trader a nervous breakdown’ because I was bitterly disappointed. There’s no time to return them before Etsy Made Local! People are waiting on these cards! Okay technically no one had pre-ordered them, but what if they had? Am I doomed to select awkward suppliers until I bankrupt myself? Luckily I am obstinate determined so I took new photos and updated my listings, had a hot chocolate and waited until I’d calmed down to compose an email to the supplier expressing my disappointment in their service. Before I wrote it I did a quick check to confirm I hadn’t sent the design in portrait by accident.

I could not find the landscape version of the design on my computer.

I decided the pre-Black Friday stress was getting to me. I definitely designed a landscape version of the card. I had the identical design as a postcard last year. The sample I ordered was landscape. I designed it landscape.

Didn’t I?

It turns out, dear reader, that I did make a landscape version for the card company. It’s tucked away in my Etsy folder, no where near my other mythology design files. I also made a portrait version, ages ago, when I first played around with folded card designs.

I sent the wrong file. I spent at least fifteen minutes of my life mentally writing a strongly-worded complaint to a company that, lack of communication notwithstanding, has done its job. I was so exhausted and fed up that I ran through the scenario of retiring stationery lines entirely, and wondered what would happen if I didn’t do anything for Black Friday at all. I contemplated taking a holiday that weekend to somewhere with no computers.

Oops.

I’ve recovered from the ignominy of it all enough to tell you guys, because clearly I have potential to run a side blog called How Not To Run An Etsy Shop (Or Your Life), and I’m going to have a bath and chill out with my dogs and assume that the entire world will keep turning regardless of the orientation of some atheist Christmas cards. Oh and I’m going to remind you all to go to the Mythology Mayhem and Grumpy Greetings sections of my shop, where you will find several listings for quality, 100%-recycled-cardstock Christmas cards at very reasonable prices. UK postage is free, by the way, and orders over £10 internationally will ship free until 30th November.

And yeah, I’ve left the original landscape photos on the listing thumbnails for now. I like the added use of stamps and it was too dark to play around with the portrait ones this afternoon. I updated the listing info and called the mishap a ‘printing error’. ‘Human error’ is more accurate, but I’m going to cut myself some slack and stop working Saturdays as soon as Christmas is over. Only 41 sleeps til Santa you guys!

Pour me a gin and tonic.

Comfy Beds & Concubines: Hue, Vietnam

(Can I just say, that title is possibly my favourite in eight years of blogging.)

I really liked Hue, because our visit contained my favourite things: old buildings and comfortable dorm rooms. Our hostel was Wild West-themed and I’m not convinced white people should be appropriating Native American culture any more than we already have, but also we were in Vietnam and I’m not used to anyone other than white people appropriating culture. Is it appropriation the same as appreciation? No. Are they too easily confused in a world built on appropriation? Probably.

Anyway. The reviews on Hostelworld raved about the dorm’s beds and by that point in the trip I’d slept in a tent and on a wooden pallet with what seemed to be a yoga mat so I figured, as long as there’s clean sheets I’m happy.

I was so, so happy. The mattresses were squishy. Giant curtains and wooden separators shielded you from the universe. There was a little box with a key for your belongings as well as a locker. Almost like your bedroom at home, except with eleven other people in there!

Wall decorations in Why Not hostel in Hue in Vietnam
Remind me to change ‘coffee’ to ‘tea’ and ‘wine’ to ‘gin’ and make one of these for myself.

Moving on: Hue – pronounced ‘Hway’ – was once the capital of Vietnam and is complete with its own imperial city, aka walled citadel. Maxim and I took a guided tour which I probably should have recorded, because the notes I made on my phone are shite, but here’s what I can tell you with reasonable certainty:

Men wear make up

The 12th and penultimate emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, Khai Dinh, spent loads of time in Europe and when he died in 1925 his tomb – which is the size of an average block of houses – was built with a mix of European and Vietnamese styles, which is why it kind of looks like a cathedral from the Middle Ages. The inside of the tomb reminds me a bit of a church or a temple too. According to my notes, Khai Dinh enjoyed make up and was possibly gay. I have no idea if this had any bearing on his reign.

Men like sex

Onto the next emperor, Minh Mang. He has a serious Wikipedia page but according to my notes he may have had 600 concubines and had the moniker ‘strong at night’. Alternatively that may be another emperor. Presumably such a title is one many of them aimed to enjoy. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed wandering his tomb and highly recommend you also visit if you are in the area.

The Imperial City looks very… imperial

For some reason I have very few photos of the Imperial City, which is enormous and would probably make a good setting for something in Game of Thrones:

Imperial City in Hue Vietnam

I recall that a large portion of the buildings were bombed by B-52s in the American War, but I also have a feeling that one guided tour is not enough to get the full scope of somewhere with as much history as Hue. If anyone fancies sending me back…

We finished with a beautiful evening boat ride along the Perfume River and mooched about the shops for a bit. Hue is a really chilled out town and there are some lovely places in the town selling art and pottery and whatnot, and if I return with a suitcase I will be buying all the art. I seem to remember that Hugh Jackman had something to do with one of them. There was a photograph of him on the wall, anyway…

Riverboat view of the Perfume River, Hue, Vietnam

Next time in the SE Asia blogs: our horrific trip up to Hanoi! Keep an eye out for it, guys, it’ll make you think Southern Rail are the pinnacle of customer service.

Blog Like No One’s Reading… Wait

Did any of you read the post about book piracy I wrote last week? I’m proud of it, and not just because I worked hard to articulate what I was thinking. I wrote it on my 8th anniversary of joining WordPress, so it was a bit of a victory dance. I’ve been blogging longer than I was in secondary school you guys! I’d be lying if I sat back and basked in the glory of the milestone, though. Mostly I did what I’ve done every anniversary for the past four years or so: sucked in my breath, looked at my stats page and wondered how the hell my site was so much more popular when I wrote total bullshit. No, really. Look:

blog stats of the year

But then I looked properly at the visits vs views and noticed something I hadn’t paid attention to: in 2012 I had 16,000 views but it was the same people, coming back frequently. I’ve had more visitors since then and people seem to come and stay at a relatively steady rate. This was a huge revelation to me, because I’ve spent the last five years watching view rates go down and wondering why I even bother. There is nothing more depressing than shouting into a void, and it’s reflected in my writing: I was blogging about South East Asia pretty constantly until I got home and people (mostly offline, although there’s overlap) made disparaging remarks about my trip. If no one wants to hear me talk about the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, I thought, I won’t bother. I don’t, as I mentioned in the piracy post, get paid for this. I have things in my life that bring me more satisfaction than typing an 800-word post, adding alt text to some carefully selected images then posting it just for none of my subscribers open their emails.

But apparently blog traffic isn’t looking as bad as I thought it was. Which has got me thinking about what constitutes a reader. How many readers do I have? I’ve always judged it roughly by comments: when I follow a blog or person, I probably don’t reply to their every post, but I drop in with a comment or a retweet or the like every five posts or so. If someone comments on here every five posts – which works out as roughly one a month or thereabouts – I’m pretty chuffed and think of them as a reader. Bonus points if they follow any social media accounts!

But then the picture gets weird again, because comments fluctuate year-on-year. I can’t see a trend and some of the things I’ve really thought will get people talking just haven’t.

comment stats

Possibly I should discount the stats page completely and focus on producing great writing that people will like, but that comes back to comments again because most posts get zero comments (ones that like what I’ve said or ones that disagree), then once every few months one will get half a dozen. It’s tempting to make up some wacky opinions to get a response, but I don’t want to say weird shit for the sake of it.

This isn’t a cry for help: if I continue blogging for another eight years, it’ll be because I’ve got something to say. If I stop, it won’t be because I’ve gone more than five posts without a comment.

I normally end posts with a question – because then people will answer in a comment, geddit – but clearly that has been doing jack shit so I am just going to put this out there and try to be content that I’ve written a decent post. Happy Bonfire Night!