More from Malta: Church Stuff & More Church Stuff Plus I Figure Out That Thomas Cook is Not the Same Guy Who ‘Discovered’ America

My brother left a couple of things at home when he went back to uni over the weekend: a computer cable and a cold. Not one that’s bad enough to lie on the sofa declaring total uselessness, but bad enough that I would like to do that.

I promised more Malta photos, so here we go:

wristbone of St Paul in Valletta

This is St Paul’s wrist bone, apparently. It lives in St Paul’s Shipwreck Church in Valletta (not to be confused with St John’s Co Cathedral or St Paul’s Pro Cathedral, which are both also in Valletta). I can’t tell you how much I was hoping it would move as I looked at it and extend a golden middle finger.

Caravaggio portrait in Valletta

This is a Caravaggio painting, in St John’s Co Cathedral. I can’t remember what it’s called, nor the name of the other, much larger one that also lives in the cathedral. I don’t know what I’m looking at, art-wise, but Caravaggio’s paintings did make all the others in the cathedral look like they were done by small  children. Caravaggio was a member of the Knights of Malta for a bit – I think he got expelled for swashbucking and murder – but they got some cool paintings out of it so all’s well that ends well. Except for the murder victims.

Door Sign Reading 'Shalom' in Sliema Malta

Houses in Malta have names as well as/instead of numbers and this was my favourite. Other contenders: Joan d’Arc and America (a whole street had American-inspired street names, turned out the embassy was down the road I think).

Jesus and Mary painting in Gozo

I trotted around half a dozen cool museums in Gozo’s Citadel, because you pay something like 10 euros and get entrance to a bunch of places. One of them was a museum of Christian paintings and I shit you not, every Jesus had the face of a middle aged man. Cute lil chubby baby from the neck down, sensible accountant from the neck up.

In the time it’s taken to put this post together I’ve eaten half a pot of salsa, so I’m pleased to announce that my airways are clearer and that I will probably be suffering a digestive complaint in half an hour. You win some you lose some ahhahaaa.

RIGHT. ONTO OTHER BUSINESS.

First of all, can I just say that until today I thought that Thomas Cook (the man who started the late travel company) was the same man who explored then-unknown lands and got killed by angry local Hawaiians in the 18th century. I’m never sure how I feel about the ‘explorers’ of yore who went around invading places and enslaving local people, and I dunno if James Cook (explorer) was a slave-y explorer or just someone who liked going to new places.

Ah. I just figured out that the slave-y explorer I was thinking of was Christopher Columbus. James Cook was a completely different person. I THOUGHT I WAS WELL READ HOW DID I CONFLATE CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS WITH A DERBYSHIRE BUSINESSMAN.

This is a good opportunity to segue into my next item: I’m researching a new potential project and have put together a survey about it. If you have 3-5 minutes and have recently felt frustrated and/or hopeless when consuming the news, I’d appreciate your input. It’s completely anonymous and will let me know if my idea is worth pursuing. Clearly I need some help with my general knowledge, so please do take a minute to help me out…

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Malta ft. Gozo ft. Lace Doilies

Hello from Sliema, Malta! I booked a holiday about five days after Fred died, because I think international travel is a better solution for emotional turmoil than drugs, and so far so good.

Malta is very beautiful, although to be completely honest I’m not in love with Sliema – it’s a bit too concrete-and-cranes for my liking, although the transport links are fantastic and it’s a thousand times cleaner than Southend. I’m writing this in a restaurant on Sliema sea front, one of those that could be picked up and put down anywhere in the Mediterranean and not look out of place. Aerosmith is playing, the football is on, the menu is entirely English language and suitable for people who want to eat the same way abroad as they do in the UK. I can’t complain, though: most Maltese food is pasta plus pasta plus pasta, which is still off limits to me.

I’m completely knackered this evening because I took a bus up to northern Malta this morning and caught the boat to Gozo, via Comino, then spent another thousand years forty minutes on a bus then used the hottest part of the day to wander around Gozo’s Citadel. I always seem to exercise more on holiday than at home (got lost in Valetta the other day and probably walked about six miles, door to door) so could I have another holiday, please.

GozoView over ruins at Gozo Citadel

Francesca in Gozo
I’ve just noticed that I bought that top in Thailand, the shorts in Vietnam and the hat in Zante. Probably better for the environment to buy cheap clothes from South East Asia when I’m in South East Asia than to order them off Boho or somewhere and have them delivered to England?

I’m going to sit here as long as my laptop battery lasts, because the girls in my hostel dorm are really into closing the windows and putting the fan as far away from the bunks as possible. There are four of us and it’s about 25 degrees here even at night. The air is cooler outside, and I’m at that point where I’m one bead of sweat away from hoping they all die in their sleep, so after the battery goes I will probably walk to a gelato place. There are millions of gelato places here. I had ‘Maltese flavour’ ice cream a couple of days ago, which I am still trying to figure out the ingredients of. I don’t want to Google it! Pistashios? Currents? Something Christmassy.

Tomorrow is my last day, so I am going shopping in Valletta. I don’t have any need for artisan glass, which is one of the main products here, and to be honest with you, if I buy another doily I will transform into my grandmother, but… lace is big here. And my grandmother was half Maltese, which explains why all the lace doilies I’ve seen look familiar. I also have two Maltese crosses to my name so I think that leaves… a shitty Chinese bracelet or henna tattoo. Kidding! I’ll come back with something lace, something with a cross on and realistically some olive soap. I actually already bought some from a little shop called The Soap Cafe, which is part of a Sliema independent shop co operative thing called Souvenirs That Don’t Suck, but another couple of nights in that dorm room and I’m going to need it.

I’m honestly dead on my feet so possibly I will skip the gelato and go back to my hostel – maybe I’m so tired I won’t actually notice how stuffy it is? I have a full day of getting lost in Valletta tomorrow, so I need my energy. The city is a fantastic rabbit warren of hilly roads and hidden walkways, it’s brilliant for stumbling on little places by accident. It’s a bit of a faff in terms of finding your way to the ferry port though, because Valletta actually juts out into the sea and there are two ports and look I thought I had the right one and an hour later I gave up on the road signs, used my phone and stumbled across a whole new bit of city.

Right. Gelato. See you in England!

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai (watch out, watch out, there’s an incredibly cute set of elephant pictures about)

I started this post on 25th March 2017, when I got back from the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Then I fell asleep, hung out in Chiang Mai and Pai for a few days, tootled off to Bangkok and flew back to Heathrow what a mistake so this post has spent the last two-plus years as a list of bullet points. But today is International Elephant Day, apparently, so here are some elephants.

an elephant in Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, eating watermelon

According to my bullet points, elephants consume 10% of their body weight each day. They can have many teeth in their lifetime (sets of teeth, presumably), and their lifespan in the same as humans’.

elephants in nature park behind a fence

I visited the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai as it it was the only one I could find without a single bad review. The elephants who live there are rescued from illegal logging or circuses; there are no fences; the elephants are pretty much allowed to do what they like. Some ‘sanctuaries’ that have rescued elephants from circuses or the like will employ the same methods of control (prodding them with hooks to get them to behave) and allow visitors to ride them, which apparently is bad for their backs.

None of that happens at the Elephant Nature Park. Our guide (whose name I did not record, my bad) explained that they only tempt the elephants with food, and if they aren’t interested then whatever, man, do you want to get trampled by an elephant? I am paraphrasing. Our group had fed an old lady elephant (who refused any food she didn’t like) and we trotted down a trail some distance away from another elephant. Our guide just said, ‘he’s not into people. We’ll leave him,’ and ta daa off we went.

elephant next to trees at Elephant Nature Park Thailand

elephant with leaves in its trunk

Fun fact: African elephants and Asian elephants are completely different species. I dunno which one Dumbo was because I only saw that film once, when I was maybe four, and it made me cry so much I’ve refused to go near it since. I have a feeling the picture book version I had did the same. Interestingly (thanks bullet points), if an elephant is kicking and moving its head back and forth, you’re seeing signs of neurosis, ie it’s gone mad. If you’ve seen an elephant in a circus or ridden one, it’s been broken as a young elephant in a process called ‘crushing’. They are tied with ropes and unable to move at all, prodded with nails or burnt until they can obey basic commands. Some zoos and circuses train the elephant to ‘draw’ with a paintbrush and sell the ‘art’ to tourists.

Gross.

elephant near river at Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai
I think this is the elephant who doesn’t do people. I WONDER WHY.

As part of the day, visitors get to help wash the elephants! They are well up for a bath, although it’s a bit more like throwing paint at a wall than it is helping someone wash their hair.

girl throwing water over elephant in river

Sometimes the humans missed the elephants and got each other… those knobbly bits on their heads denote age, if I remember correctly. We got the opportunity to pat the elephants too, if they liked people. I was not absolutely convinced it’s a good idea but, reader, it was. They’re all hairy!

girl next to elephant in Chiang Mai

You have to approach them from the front so they can see you.

Also, elephants like scratching posts. They enjoy dirt baths. They are incredibly, ridiculously, cute.

baby elephant with leaves in trunk

elephants playing in dirt mountain, Chiang Mai

I mentioned that the park didn’t really do fences. At one point a herd of water buffalo came wandering through and our guide just said something like, ‘oh, they’ve come in from the other side of the mountain.’ A few of the stray dogs who hang out there barked. The elephants did not take notice.

water buffalo and stray dog in Elephant Nature Park

My final bullet point is that the elephants may have hip or foot problems from logging (don’t we have machines to do that for us now?) so they can add that to their list of problems, which already includes ‘being used in bullshit circuses’ and ‘being killed for their ivory because for some reason it is fashionable to have stuff made from elephant teeth’. They are also facing habitat loss, because who isn’t these days.

On the off chance you ever visit northern Thailand, I highly recommend you visit the Elephant Nature Park. It’s absolutely lovely… and I recall the buffet being very tasty.

Want to help the elephants on this fine International Elephant Day? And on every single other day? Here’s what you can do:

  • Never get on an elephant for a ride
  • Don’t visit a circus that uses animals
  • Don’t buy ivory, even if it’s ‘antique’. I can’t remember the name of the show but I once saw an Attenborough programme in which someone pointed out that although the UK has banned ‘new’ ivory, if it is considered ‘antique’ then it’s fair game to sell… too bad no one really knows if a bit of ivory is antique or not!
  • Buy elephant coffee (no it isn’t made from elephant dung, although elephants are very important ecologically, as they spread seeds through their dung)
  • Sponsor an elephant (it’s my birthday soon hint hint)

I loved visiting South East Asia, but there are relatively few places I would jump at the chance to go back to. The Elephant Nature Park is definitely one of them.

I’m never washing again and you shouldn’t either.

I just read an article about vagina steaming and I cannot unread it, so here you go. I understand the theory – I am a big fan of sticking my face over a bowl of hot water when I’ve got a cold – but I feel like a lot of people need to have a conversation with themselves about differing areas of skin on the human body. As in, one of those things is not like the other so don’t fucking steam it.

I had something to actually write about earlier, and I can’t even remember what it was. Climate change, I think. But I can’t form coherent thoughts any more because what on earth possesses people to steam their vaginas???

I have to think about something else. Um. I have an mild infection in one of my wisdom teeth. If left alone, I imagine the infected tooth probably looks a lot like a scalded vagina. GOD I CAN’T STOP.

It’s now been 15 minutes.

Send help.

I mean how do you even go to A&E with that sort of complaint? ‘Um yeah hi I decided to indulge in alternative medicine and I appear to have caused such severe damage I couldn’t sit down properly to drive here.’ ‘Yes ma’am don’t worry, take a seat.’ ‘No I really can’t.’

Honestly. People.

Cinderella uggghhh GIF

I’m going to have a bath. Oh god. Maybe not.

In which I went to YALC and so did that guy from Game of Thrones apparently

Attending YALC this year was a last minute decision, by which I mean I bought my ticket on the Wednesday and went on the Saturday. I thought it might be nice to visit as a reader, because it’s this heart-warming day of bookish people who are really friendly and polite talking about books with other bookish people who are friendly and polite. It’s also a great place to pick up books on the cheap without resorting to Amazon or ripping off any authors, which I think justifies the train fare and ticket entry. You also rub shoulders with those authors, who are also bookish and friendly and polite. Everyone is just… there for books. IT’S HEAVEN.

(Side note Jason Mamoa was there on Saturday. Not as a guest, apparently he just wandered through on the way to Comic Con downstairs. That is why you should go to YALC.)

I also went to do some work for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, and by work I mean ‘hand out some hastily-designed business cards to the cool indie publishing houses and sit in on the agents’ arena talks’. This was probably less successful, as a) even most indie publishers won’t take unsolicited manuscripts even if they did look up the project, and b) by putting the book on Patreon myself I might have accidentally harmed my chances of it getting picked up by an agent. It was really good to hear more about getting an agent from agents, because it highlighted what I could do if I were to pitch The Princess and the Dragon a second time around. Possibly I should have pitched it as YA, not middle grade, a thought that did not occur to me until I was doing the second big round of edits and realised that it’s not really a middle grade book. Possibly my cover letter could have been stronger. Possibly the agents I pitched to just didn’t, you know, vibe with my weird angry princess and her strangely Catalan-esque kingdom. It’s hard to know for sure when they’re too busy to provide feedback.

Basically, pitching to an agent is as soul destroying as applying for a job, except the process is even slower.

ew from sunshinethekatt.tumblr
(from Tumblr)

That being said, I learnt a lot and I met approximately 473638 different booksellers and agents and publicists. Everyone is so genuinely friendly that even if an agent says something you’re not happy to hear, like ‘the market is kind of saturated with fairy tale retellings’ or ‘if you re-pitch your book, you could just not mention your Patreon’, you don’t particularly mind. Even if I was writing The Princess and the Dragon before all those retellings came out and I’ve never even read any and even if I’ve put more effort into my Patreon than I did most of my GCSEs.  But let’s not dwell on that.

I  popped downstairs to Comic Con for a bit while I was there. It was way too hot and crowded but does have a very cool artists’ alley that’s also probably worth the ticket price. I met a handful of artists I would kill to commission Princess and the Dragon art from. There were a few cosplayers I would commission clothes from. The talent floating around these conventions is intense. If I were genuinely wealthy and needed some artwork made for my house or something, I’d just hang around Comic Con all weekend. Life goals, huh.

 

2016 Rang, It Wants Its ‘Shittest Year of the Decade’ Crown Back

Right, 2019, you need to get your act together. We’re approaching 2016 levels of fuckery and I’m starting to get suspicious and slightly paranoid. Fred had a seizure and died last week. When I stop having horrible flashbacks and feeling guilty for not doing more for him, I’ll probably feel philosophical about the circle of life and reflect on how he enjoyed 13 years of stealing food, leaping from second story windows and unwrapping Christmas presents… but I’m still in shock and I can’t believe two of my best friends died within six weeks of each other, so at present I want to run away to an island somewhere for several months.

This is definitely one of those years where a lot goes on, and we’re only half way through. I know people who are dealing with illnesses in the family, or illnesses of their own, or who generally have A Lot Going On. Don’t even get me started on how you switch on the news and it’s a barrage of the-UK-is-falling-apart-nuclear-war-might-happen-next-week-the-planet-is-dying-and-it’s-to-late-to-stop-it-by-the-way-Trump-might-get-a-second-term. I’m getting a bit paranoid that my grandmother’s going to have a fall, or an earthquake’s going to hit Zante when my family’s out there, or nuclear war might actually happen but the planet is actually dying so does it matter. I know this is a black hole way of thinking, so I also keep thinking, ‘let’s find an excuse for a huge party! Let’s go backpacking! Let’s put the whole of The Princess and the Dragon on the Internet for free! Let’s retrain in something useful like ecological management! Is ecological management even a thing?’

I don’t think ecological management is a thing. I think I’m thinking of those people who look after forests and lobby Parliament to ban single use plastic. Eco warrior? It’s too early for compound phrases. You know what I mean. Sometimes life forces you to put things into perspective.

What a cheerful post this was. Here are photos of Fred from a few years ago. He was  quite hard to photograph until he got elderly, because when he was younger he only had two modes: asleep and Doing Stuff. You’d aim for the picture on the left and get the picture on the right.

Legitimately the nosiest dog who has ever lived. I think I’m going to Google ‘ecological management’ now.

In which I’ve become an eco-warrior

Does anyone else do this thing about a week before they go on holiday where they look at their pre-holiday to do list and a piece of  their soul melts irreparably? I’m spending five days in Zante from Monday and I’ve never been more pleased with Past Francesca’s holiday-planning judgement, although if I’d known I was going to leave my weekend job sooner than I planned, I would have booked longer than five days. On the plus side, I don’t have to faff about with checked luggage.

Seriously though, I do not know why I thought I could, in the week before I go away, do the following:

  • a week of regular work plus work for the week I’m away because holiday pay is a foreign concept
  • organise my dad and my brother’s birthday presents because they both have big birthdays the week after I’m back and the gifts I’m making are going to be legendary if I actually pull them off except I forgot about an essential supply UNTIL THIS MORNING
  • wear in the fancy shoes I bought for the party they’re having the weekend I’m back
  • put together plans for a blog tour for The Princess and the Dragon
  • do my last ever shift at my weekend job (I was even thinking of asking my colleagues out for a drink woops there went the time)
  • get my nails and toenails done; a leisurely exercise that cannot be rushed and may require me to drive home in flip flops; a potentially strenuous activity given how much trouble I have operating a clutch
  • iron every piece of clothing I might possibly need when I’m home even though I guarantee I will need the same four items I wear every single week
  • epilate my leg hair

Something’s going to give. It’s going to be the leg hair. Not sorry.

I probably shouldn’t be so hard on myself for being knackered. The last time I had more than one consecutive day off was… March? I think it was when Brexit was about to happen then didn’t. Only having one ‘day off’ a week doesn’t bother me much (it’s not like I’m working at a desk 15 hours a time on the other days, I can take afternoons off to relax and stuff) but I have had a lot on my plate between then and now. I’ve taken on another client, one of my best friends died and yesterday a fly sat in my hair for about two hours. I shit you not, I was at my desk and thinking ‘god my curls are really spiky today, I can almost feel them moving’ and then I got up and what fell out of my hair? An insect.

I realised I’d knocked its leg off and felt bad because it was really woozy, so I fed it some leftover hot chocolate because I’ve been paying attention to 30 Days Wild and we need to look after our planet, thank you very much, and left it to sit on my orchid overnight. I didn’t realise that flies have giant schnozzles to hoover up liquid. This morning I put it on a leaf outside. Its wing was a bit damaged too so nature has probably taken its course by now.

Anyway, my point is that if I wasn’t mildly eccentric before I spent 10 minutes spoon-feeding a fly, I probably am now. Which takes me back to my question about melted souls. PLEASE GO AWAY, RESPONSIBILITIES. If you never hear from me again, I hired a boat in Zante and sailed to somewhere with no wifi.

You know, I’ve had that Pirates of the Caribbean gif set on my computer since Johnny Depp made good films. This blog is old, my dudes.

A Shitty Week ft. the Coolest Illustration I’ve Seen All Year and Probably Ever

Morning. Or, Morning! if you’re feeling perky. I was until I sat down and now it’s just like an earlier version of the two o’clock slump which is not how I was planning my day off.

I’m not sure how many regular/committed readers there are still here, but if you’ve been following my posts as they go out, I suppose there’s an elephant in the room. Well, small dog. Well, small dog no longer in the room. We had Donnie put to sleep the week before last. I know that not everyone is particularly bothered about their pets, but I am not one of those people. Not having him around is strange and horrible and I keep forgetting and looking for a second dog and I’m paranoid Fred is pining and it’s odd only feeding one dog and I miss how he used to bark at literally everything and snore with his eyes open. I don’t miss the last couple of days of his life when it became abundantly clear that he had had enough. A lot of people say they fell guilty for making the decision to end their pet’s life, but I think I couldn’t have lived with myself if we’d made him hang on any longer when he couldn’t really walk and didn’t want to eat anything.

But I’m more interested in remembering the snoring and the ridiculous woofing, so maybe animal euthanasia is a subject for another day.

A non-sequitur that’s actually absolutely relevant if you live inside my head (a non-non-sequitur?): the next chapter of The Prince in the Tower, from The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes is available to patrons today. It’s relevant because a) there’s a dog called Bean in The Prince in the Tower, named after Donnie. He used to do this dancing, jumping thing every time he was about to go for a walk or get fed, so I used to call him a jumping bean. Which became Bean and then Bean Sprout, then Sprout and honestly what is up with pet owners and nicknames. Anyway. Point b) is that I got to hang out with my friend Tatchiana the day before Donnie died and she gave me a very cool illustration from The Princess and the Dragon that was a huge bright spot in an appalling week. Spoiler alert there’s a dragon:

girl facing giant blue dragon in cave

So you guys who aren’t patrons need to become patrons so we can make an ebook from this story and I can commission more artwork because it is seriously the coolest, coolest thing seeing your story interpreted in someone else’s art! It’s very nice knowing that I can support someone else’s work at the same time as doing something fun and promotional for my own work. It feels very eco-system-y. (I am paying Tatchiana for the piece, although she wasn’t convinced I needed to which is very friend-y. When I am feeling less bereaved and more awake we should have a conversation about paying friends for work. It’s a lot like euthanasia in that no one wants to talk about it but we’d probably all be better off if we did. God what a sentence). Oh, I’m also paying Tatchiana using money from Patreon. From your investment in my fairytale. How cool is that? We’re starting to accrue enough to pay my proofreader, Maria, as well. THE PLAN IS WORKING.

You can find links to Tatchiana’s other work here and buy her coffee (please do!) here.

Right, I’ve got patron letters to write and some Etsy orders to package. See you soon.