The Tale of Three Errands

Afternoon! Today I had probably my most advanced day of adulthood so far, to the point where I feel like it actually deserves to be spoken about even though, in true adult fashion, it was boring as hell.

First of all, I drove to Halfords because I needed – wait for it – windscreen wipers and car wash soap! I don’t think the outside of the Mini has been washed since I bought it, basically because I have previously been too nervous a driver to take a trip to Halfords – a full 15 minutes away from my home – by myself and I am too cheap to go down the car wash. But I was heading that way, so I took the initiative. I also bought a giant cartoon sponge, a large bucket and one of those windscreen chip repair kits because those Autoglass chip repair ads, ironically, inspire me to smash something. I’ll use your service when your radio commercial doesn’t make me want to crash my car into the nearest lamp post, mates.

Then I took a detour off London Road, which if you are not from Southend is the longest, most traffic light-populated two lanes to exist in the town. It goes on for bloody miles and there are 8,000 shops and showrooms and Places of Interest that I can only vaguely keep track of when I’m not navigating the traffic lights. Halfords is down there. So was everything else I needed to do today. Anyway, the detour. Francesca’s Words is doing the Youth Market at Leigh Community Centre in July and I had to drop off a deposit. I should add here that unless I’m going to work I have my satnav in the car, even if I kind of know where I’m going, because it calms me down. This morning in a fit of idiocy I wiped the British map from its system and had to get the app on my phone instead, which is way less acceptable to glance at when you’re navigating the one way system in Leigh. I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW COMPLICATED IT WAS TO TAKE THE DETOUR. I looked at a map yesterday and thought ‘I barely need a satnav, it’s a four second detour!’ Nope. I arrived shaking. Leigh was built about a century before they invented the automobile. But my deposit got paid, so I got back on London Road and headed on to my most adult appointment of the day…

… a contact lens check. My eyes are fine, thanks for asking. I nearly didn’t get there though because I got stuck in another one way system. The satnav app yelled at me four a full five minutes, which was bullshit because I actually already knew where I was going so I ignored the instructions, but then it turned out I didn’t actually know how to get to the car park I was aiming for so I ended up in a supermarket car park with about 500 elderly people. Did some shopping. Almost lost the Mini on the way back. It was hidden behind some sort of people carrier. I will never voluntarily shop anywhere with more than six aisles.

Thelma and Louise car driving off cliff gif

But it gets more adult, dear reader, because while I was in Halfords my phone rang and it was a work thing and I consciously thought, ‘I wish they weren’t playing Kaiser Chiefs so loudly, it’s rather a distraction.’

Just buy me carpet slippers and an electric blanket for my birthday, cheers.

Coincidentally, later on I’m going to rediscover my twenties by going down the pub with my friends on a work night. I’ll probably order a tonic with extra tonic.

10 Things I Can Tell You About Dragonnovel

I’ve been working on my book most of the morning and I started writing a quick update for my patrons, but there are only two of those currently and one is a close relation, so I thought I might as well share it here. The text is still a bit too draft-y for me to share any substantial paragraphs in case I change them further along, but I realise I’ve been telling everyone I’ve been writing a book and refusing to say anything else, which is not conducive to people’s support of said book. So here are ten things I can confirm about dragonnovel!

  • I recently Googled ‘constitutional monarchy’ for fact-checking
  • Someone wears a pink dress
  • The book passes the Bechdel Test (I mean I’m at 17k words, the text should be able to pass a driving test by now)
  • Stained glass windows feature heavily
  • There is definitely a dragon
  • I have counted one (1) joke about a hangover
  • I have counted two-three (2-3) jokes about posh people
  • One paragraph includes the word ‘cerulean’
  • I think I might have borrowed UKIP’s policies for a plot point
  • A girl rows a boat

And, as a bonus:

  • The dragon is not a metaphor.

As another bonus: this spectacular cave formation and cerulean sea in Zante is what I was thinking of when I wrote the scene with the girl rowing a boat:

Light rock arch over vivid blue sea at Blue Caves, Zakynthos, Greece

I was aiming to get the final draft done before I go backpacking in the Ionian islands this August, but I think I might have to bring the trip forward. You know, for research.

If any of that picqued your interest, you can have a character named after your good self and read actual snippets of the story by supporting me on Patreon. Literally pledge a dollar and boom, a character bears your name. Or someone else’s name, I’m happy to leave that up to you. I’m basically offering you immortality. For about 74p! Cheaper than a past-it’s-best-before-date bagel.

Can you tell I’ve been editing?!

Royal Wedding Retrospective

So I was watching the Royal Wedding earlier and thinking about how much has changed since William and Kate got married (please come back, Obama) and I was sure I wrote a blog post that day. It turns out I did, but I’m not link it to you because my writing style back then made absolutely no sense. None. I think I was going for some sort of teen-narrated family sitcom or something. I was rude about Eugenie’s hat. I mean, I was rude about her hat today as well, but I was such a dick back then! If someone from the Internet had looked up ‘entitled white girl with a strong sense of her own opinions’, this site would have come up.

At least part of that sentence has changed.

So I suppose if I’m ever famous, someone will probably trawl this blog to find all 15-year-old me’s badly-phrased skeletons and then drag me on Twitter. It’s tempting to go back over all those posts and dissect them. I mean, it’s good to go back over old posts for SEO purposes but I feel like there’s a discussion to be had on the Internet generally about personal growth. So many minor celebrities have their homophobic jokes from 2009 dusted off and are suddenly ‘cancelled’, but it’s not as though the people doing the cancelling were born making civil rights speeches. We’re supposed to grow as people.

Gerard Way shrug gif
from sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com

Anyway. I liked the Royal Wedding. It’s always nice to see a ginger marry well. I’m knackered and got distracted by at least two Facebook posts between the last full stop and ‘I’m’ so I should probably go to bed. I’m procrastinating because tomorrow the news will be back to being five headlines of horror with a quick mention that summer’s on the way. But I finished my Open University course last week, so I can concentrate on finishing dragonnovel before Prince George gets married. Have I mentioned you can have a character in dragonnovel named after you? I really enjoyed my course, but it will be nice to focus on something else for a bit. Speaking of royal weddings, actually, there might be a hint of royalty in the story somewhere. Maybe. You’ll have to help fund it to seeeee….

Read, If You Like: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

Full disclosure: I was sent this book by the lovely Nina Douglas, a PR aficionado  I met at YALC a couple of years ago. I used to be a bit uppity about accepting books and things for reviews, but then I decided that a) this blog is a hobby, b) reading is a hobby so, c) LET’S READ EVERYTHING. Also, I’m not exactly the sort of blogger to shy away from blatant honesty just because I got a product for free.

Second full disclosure: I first started reading this book in January. If I had realised that writing a book was going to make it much harder to sit down and read books, I may have started dragonnovel. I suppose I have a reason to hurry up and finish it, ha. Anyway, I really struggled to get into A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars. I could blame the first person narrative, which is not my favourite narrative, or the general writing style which I found hard to follow on occasion, but to be honest I think if I had taken book to a beach holiday and read it in a day, I would have enjoyed it much more. My bad. I need to finish dragonnovel and go on holiday immediately. Right, the review:

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe (2017)

Read, if you like…

  • Circuses
  • First person narrative
  • Ghosts
  • Ghanaian folklore
  • Beautiful book covers. I mean, look at that embossed gold type. I want to frame it
  • Spain
  • Books that aren’t all about white people doing the same white people things you’ve read about in 80 other books
  • Stories about people trafficking, but not like on the news
  • So, humanised stories about people trafficking. Stories where people have names and ambitions and family members and that sort of thing
  • Magic
  • Really shady adults
  • The sort of family you choose for yourself
  • Birds
  • Precocious teenagers
  • POC and LGBT rep, but not in a way that swallows up the whole book. This is a book with people of colour and LGBT people, in the same way as it’s a book with magic and ghosts and circuses. It’s there, but it isn’t preachy and it isn’t tokenism. WE NEED MORE OF THESE BOOKS PLEASE AUTHORS. AGENTS, PLEASE SIGN MORE AUTHORS WHO ARE WRITING THESE BOOKS. THANKS.

No seriously I wasn’t kidding about the cover. I would usually go for some sort of background for #bookstagram goals but no adornment is necessary:

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe cover on white background

I saw online that the novel isn’t available on the US, but I’m not sure if that’s still true (or if it ever was true) so if you want to read it, I reckon you should either hit up Google or ask Ms Badoe about stockists on Twitter.

Tubing & Chocolate Bars in Vang Vieng, Laos

How do I describe Vang Vieng, Laos? Well, it’s the one with the Friends bars. The one with the tubing. The one with the famous nightlife that got toned down a few years ago because backpackers kept accidentally dying. I’m going to be honest with you, reader, in case you’re a discerning tourist who neither drinks heavily nor enjoys Friends: you don’t absolutely need to visit Vang Vieng unless you really want to go tubing or have enough money to do an eco-tour type trip.

A brief bit of history: Vang Vieng had an infamous toxic party scene in the late 1990s and 2000s, because someone had the idea to rent old tyre tubes to backpackers who could spend a couple of hours floating on them down Nam Song, the Song River. Backpackers were well into the tubing, so a bunch of bars opened up along the riverbank for them to get sloshed and high while they took a break from bobbing along the fairly shallow but fairly speedy river. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to accidentally drown in fairly shallow but fairly speedy water, especially when you are wasted and especially when you have fallen from a shitty zipwire or dodgy rope swing. So in 2012, after pressure from a bunch of foreign ambassadors who were tired of dealing with the families of accidentally dead backpackers, Vang Vieng cleaned up its act. Most of the riverside bars are abandoned and there are signs in hostels saying ‘OI MATE IF YOU’RE CAUGHT WITH MARIJUANA THIS HOSTEL IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR 6 MILLION KIP FINE.’

6 million kip, by the way, is about $60. In Lao terms, 6 million kip is a shittonne of money. People still do all the drugs and booze, just quietly.

So, we went to Vang Vieng to go tubing. Well, I went tubing. Maxim got ill and didn’t, although he did have a pair of shoes stolen. I went tubing by myself and it was nice for the first 45 minutes, when I was being all zen and thinking cool thoughts – the landscape, like all of South East Asia, is breathtaking – but then I needed a wee and my waterproof bag was not as waterproof as advertised and dickbag tourists on kayaks kept splashing me then I almost got swept away by a feisty little current that showed its face about four metres from the part of the river where you’re supposed to get out. I watched one lady float on past, and I have always wondered what happened to her. Apparently the river empties into a reservoir, so at least she didn’t end up in the South China Sea.

So, if you’re not into the tubing, you’ll have to go for the eco tour stuff. I was too poor to, but according to The Guardian there are villas and farmhouse rooms to be rented, stunning treks to be undertaken lots of fancy food to eat.

It sounds like I’m bashing Vang Vieng: if you’re into tubing, it’s a must-visit! Unusually, I actually had a good time chilling out, writing to you guys and hanging out with people – there was this Aussie guy Travis who explained the intricacies of the Australian car industry, and a French guy, Pierre, who I will one day write into a book. I have a feeling Pierre is still in Vang Vieng right now, sleeping off moonshine and cursing at every other word.

The nicest thing about Laos for me was how quiet it is compared to Thailand or Vietnam: we saw the same two Canadian blokes in Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. An American guy from our hostel in Luang Prabang turned up in a cafe in Phonsavan. So did a Finnish guy. There is no fork option at the dinner table, only chopsticks and a little spoon, and the night is black as pitch.

The downside to the quiet was the provisions. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this, but Vietnam does not do cheese. There are Dairylea triangles and that is it. It does do American chocolate, though, and Kellogg’s. Thailand is full to the brim of 7-Elevens, which are full to the brim with overpriced Evian and Nature Valley bars. Cambodia had American chocolate, if I remember correctly. Laos’ food sticks in my mind for two reasons: one is the heavenly Indian food we had in Phonsavan and Vientiane. The other is that, although I remember seeing those Cadbury’s Dream bars for sale (remember them? In the Heroes boxes?), Lao chocolate is vile. I bought a locally-produced bar for the minivan from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, and it tasted like actual sawdust. I have never thrown away a chocolate bar before and hope never to again.

You live and learn, I guess.

Next up: Vientiane!

Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside…

This morning I saw Southend-on-Sea mentioned in not one but two legitimate news stories. In the first, Southend made a list of the UK’s most polluted towns and cities. But there’s a coast right there with a strong wind to blow away all the fumes! It’s not even as crowded as most cities! I hear you say. Have you ever sat in a mile of idling traffic on the A127 at rush hour? I respond. If you open a window your snot will turn black. Also, have you noticed the number of housing developments in the borough? There’s about half a cubic foot of air per person in some of those flats. 

The second story was worse: Southend has the lowest rate of pay in the UK. I kind of feel like that might be down to the fact there are only really two main industries, hospitality and public services, and neither of those are famous for paying any more then they are legally forced to. I would have added retail to that sentence, but Southend high street has more closed shops than it does open ones… I saw a link to a spoof article the other day about Southend being closed for good in 2020 and my first thought wasn’t ‘oh, a spoof!’ it was ‘they’re planning on waiting until 2020?’ Walking down the high street for some shopping is like braving a weed-tinged apocalypse.

I can’t find statistics to back this up, but I recently heard a rumour that Southend has the highest number of start ups in the UK, so I suppose there’s that. Obviously as soon as these innovative new enterprises get funding they will move to Hackney or Salford and spend the rest of their days telling people that they’re from ‘just outside London’, by which time Southend’s public parks and cemeteries will have been bulldozed to build luxury flats for commuters who have no other choice but to move to somewhere with high pollution levels and no high street, because every London borough will be full of empty houses registered to owners in Panama.

Has anyone thought of building flats on the end of Southend Pier? It would lessen the need to cross the QEII bridge into Kent everyday… Or perhaps we could apply for a change in housing regulations, so families could live in the beach huts on the seafront. I mean, it’s not as though Millennials need living rooms. Just chuck us in a shed on stilts and we’ll work out the rest…

I’m not generally a fan of Morrissey, but I’m going to leave this here – it’s a reminder of the good old days, when you could take a car into the centre of town without applying for a bank loan:

Are You Taller Than a Stone Jar? | Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars, Laos

Transcript of 1000 conversations I had when I told people I wanted to visit the Plain of Jars in Laos: ‘A plane of jars? Like an aeroplane full of jam jars?’ ‘Um, no. A valley full of ancient jars.’ ‘Oh. I’d like an aeroplane with jam jars.’

I read about the Plain of Jars in a book, and it was a pretty terrible book so I won’t waste your time by telling you what it’s called, but it piqued my interest so we took a trip out to the town of Phonsavan, which is my new reference for the phrase ‘in the middle of bloody nowhere’. The journey from Luang Prabang was long, dusty and included very few straight roads. Anyway, littered around Phonsavan are a couple of thousand stone jars. Some say they were used for burials. Some say they were big old wine containers. Some say aliens.

It’s probably not aliens.

 

If the giant dusty valley full of jars isn’t strange enough, the giant dusty valley is also full of craters. Look, there’s a jar… oh no it’s half a jar.

 

To cut a long story short, Phonsavan was carpet bombed during the Vietnam War. I mentioned in my post about Luang Prabang that Laos is the most bombed country in the world; that is essentially because there was a civil war there between 1963 and 1975 which was also a proxy war between America and Russia, hence the carpet bombing (both sides, which involved North Vietnam, South Vietnam, China, America and Thailand, plus the opposing Laos forces, wanted control of the Ho Chi Minh trail and Laotian pan handle. Wiki can explain it better than I can.) Literally nothing ever changes.

So, yeah, craters. Most of the valley has been cleared of UXOs but I must say the added risk of accidental death added a certain level of interest to the trip. For scale, by the way, I’m about 5’1″:

girl next to stone jar
I’m not sure whether me or the stone come off worse in this comparison.

Giant jars aside, Phonsavan is pretty quiet but very beautiful. It’s fairly remote by today’s standards (no listings on HostelWorld!) so we kind of winged it and found a really nice guest house with hot water and open air sinks. I really think brushing your teeth in the great outdoors sets you up for a productive day or good night’s sleep, although it helps if the great outdoors is at a balmy 20 degrees.

 

Coincidentally, while I was in South East Asia my friend Maria was in Japan for university, and on the group chat one day we were talking about bathrooms (I think I was excited because we had hot water) and Maria sent us a photo of a public toilet in Japan, which had more buttons and nice little additions then I have seen on any toilet, ever. I shared this photo:

toilet in bathroom in Phonsavan guest house

Next time in the Occasional South East Asia Diaries: Vang Vieng!

In which I rant gently about Radio 4 and complete my transformation into salty old woman

Evening. Or, morning. It’s 12:33am, which is probably supposed to be the time 22 year-olds roll into a club or something, but I’m in bed listening to Radio 4. My mum has her friends round, so intermittent cackling and cursing is floating up the stairs, my room is really effing warm and my neighbours have one of those automatic garden lights that’s so bright I can see my entire bedroom with almost perfect clarity when it’s on, which is ALL THE TIME.

I made the mistake of necking a few gin and tonics earlier, which was fun when I was downstairs before the friends turned up but after they sat down to dinner and the cackling started, I realised that a) gin kind of just makes being alone in your bedroom on a Friday night while your mother entertains more heinously depressing and b) I can’t drive anywhere to alleviate said depression. Also, Avicci is dead and I just heard one of his songs on Radio 4. Nothing about that sentence suggests the existence of a benevolent god with humanity’s best interests at heart.

Thinking about it now, I clipped the Ford Focus on someone’s wing mirror this afternoon and hurt my hands writing this week, so all things considered I absolutely should have gone out tonight. Possibly to Southend Airport and on a flight somewhere far away. I keep waiting for the cackling to subside, but I always forget that these things get louder as they go on, and there was about 12 litres of wine in the kitchen earlier so between that and the garden light from hell I will probably get to sleep sometime next autumn. Even the late-night Facebook lurk has lost its shine: one gin makes it funny but after four all you can really think is ‘why am I associated with these people and their pathological desire to check in to an event no one cares they went to also what the fuck is up with friends tagging other friends in memes but not responding to my message from several days ago?’

Then again, I’m telling you all that I’m sitting in bed at five minutes to one in the morning with a group of post-menopausal women for a soundtrack and the beginnings of a mild hangover, so. HAPPY WEEKEND!

Radio 4 always plays the national anthem at 1am and whenever I hear it I assume the Queen has died. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, except one day the Queen will actually have died and I’ll probably assume it’s just time to swap to the Word Service or some shit. For some reason I get really anxious when I think about the Queen dying. I think because literally every human being on earth has heard of the Queen and most of them have access to social media. God, Piers Morgan’s going to be even worse than normal. The Mail is going to actually spontaneously combust. One or more of my mother’s downstairs friends will probably imply that no one born after 1970 has any real understanding of the monarchy and The Donald will be forced to admit that he doesn’t know what the word ‘ascension’ means. Then again, with a bit of luck Her Majesty will outlive him. Or North Korea will change their minds about nuclear disarmament and the world will end before the Queen can.

If the above paragraph doesn’t convey just how much I should go to sleep, nothing will. I think I might make an eye mask out of some pyjamas and ear plugs out of… ear plugs. Night!

Saturday evening update: they left at 1:30am. I got to sleep at about 3am ish and woke up at seven. Today was tough but I recovered by buying a new pair of Doc Martens and some Birkenstocks, necking a milkshake and procuring a chequered blazer. Highly recommended.