I normally add a quote to the beginning of each post that sums up or enhances my writing. However, I’m going to use my monthly recaps as an opportunity to sum up the month – be it the mood, the weather, my feelings… Anything really. One of my highlights this month was attending the TEDx Women’s Conference. It was so inspiring! This month’s quote is therefore from one of my favourite speakers of the day.
‘Every time we find hope, we know that there is the potential to turn fears to fierce.’ – Brita Fernandez Schmidt.
Back in January, I announced I was going to start monthly recaps on my blog. If you missed last month’s, you can find it here. November has felt busy. I managed to pack in a flying weekend back in Wales, an awards ceremony, a conference and the usual fun I have with my friends here in London. Now it’s a descent into December, the steady tread towards Christmas and the blur of gatherings, parties and meet-ups that precede the Main Day.
- Fireworks at Alexandra Palace. Myself and a group of friends kicked off November and celebrated Bonfire Night by trekking north to Alexandra Palace for their annual firework display. Despite massive crowds, which stressed me out somewhat and took away a bit of the enjoyment, I thoroughly enjoyed the laser and firework display, all set to a fantastic soundtrack. Afterwards, we drank mulled wine before heading home. Whilst I can’t say I would go to this far north to see these fireworks again, the outing did remind me how much I like firework displays and the official start to the downward slide towards Christmas.
- TEDx Women’s Conference. I left this conference feeling inspired and determined to make a difference. The speakers were, with only one exception, all fantastic. I went along not really sure what to expect and came away with some new thoughts, some new idols and a great book recommendation (yet to be finished, hence why it is not listed as a Book of the Month). TED‘s tag line is ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ and I definitely came away from this event feeling motivated to continue spreading the word of the speakers I’d heard, and to get my own voice heard. It’s pretty hard not to feel motivated when one of the speakers is an eleven year old boy, addressing an audience of 300 on feminism and how to teach it to the next generation! My two personal favourite speakers were Arwa Damon, a senior war correspondent for CNN, who spoke passionately about refugees and the plight of our fellow humans in war zones. She launched a non-profit, The International Network for Aid, Relief, and Assistance (INARA), in 2014. It supports medical care and provides treatment for children who may otherwise fall through the cracks and go unassisted. Directly after Arwa came Brita Fernandez Schmidt, who talked about ‘finding our fierce’. It was a powerful talk, moving me to consider my own happiness and to think about what makes me happy and gives me my power for good. That book recommendation? Brita gave it, and it is ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz. As I’ve read it, I’ve found myself nodding along to each sentence, just as I did whilst Brita was speaking. Arwa and Brita are both inspiring, powerful women working to do good in the world. If you ever get the chance to go to a TED talk, I would one hundred percent recommend it!
- A flying visit back to Wales for beer festival. This trip was a long time coming. J, A, P and I drove back to Wales for a quick weekend away. We arrived on Friday evening for dinner with my parents and spent a lovely day driving around Elan Valley and having a pub lunch on Saturday. On Saturday evening, we went into Llanwrtyd to experience beer festival and after a really fun night out, we headed back to London on the Sunday nursing varying degrees of hangover / tiredness. I loved taking my friends back home with me. I loved them meeting my parents and my Welsh friends, and I loved showing everything off to them. It was a fantastic weekend back in the homeland.
- The wonderful JustGiving awards. This is one of my favourite nights of the year, and 2017 did not disappoint! The nominated fundraisers, crowdfunders and charities are always inspirational and often have deeply moving stories and reasons behind why they started their fundraising journey. It was wonderful to meet so many amazing people and get them all under one roof to celebrate each and every one of them. Throw in a great dinner, some free wine and a photo booth and you have the makings of a night to be remembered! My favourite moment? All the silly photos in the booth – I have strips of pictures now that make me smile every time I look at them. My work friends and colleagues are awesome! I love seeing everyone dressed up too. We are a casually dressed office normally, so it makes a nice change to see the guys in suits and all the women in dresses or jumpsuits, with heels on! What a great night!
- A perfect Sunday. And all completely unplanned, well, mostly. It started well. I woke up, completely naturally, after a good twelve hour uninterrupted sleep, at 10am. I lay back and chilled for a while as there wasn’t any rush to get up. At 11am, I made coffee and a veggie sausage and mushroom bap. I took my time showering and watched a couple of Big Bang Theory episodes. At 2pm, I left the flat and walked from home to Kensington, via Vauxhall, Pimlico, Victoria, Belgravia and Knightsbridge. It was a chilly but sunny autumnal day, perfect for a long walk with my music and my thoughts. At the Natural History Museum, I ate a slice of chocolate cake and then headed into the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which as usual, blew my mind. I go to this exhibition every year if I can, and it is always a triumph. The images are incredible, telling fascinating stories about the natural world we live in. I was moved nearly to tears by a collection of images on the illegal trading of rhino horn. I smiled at some of the wonderful animal portraits where bald eagles, chimpanzees and elephants gazed directly into the photograher’s lens. I bought several postcards depicting my favourite images and then wandered through Hintz Hall and outside past the ice rink to catch the tube home. Once back, I cooked a delicious cheesy risotto and watched Blue Planet II. It was just the best Sunday I’ve had in ages, and I couldn’t help but feel extremely smug!
- My first haircut in eighteen months. The last time I had a haircut, I was sitting in a ger in Mongolia, the darkness pierced only by three candles, and a woman who worked as a hairdresser in a fancy New York salon cut my hair with a pair of office scissors by head-torchlight. It’s a story to be remembered, not least because I hadn’t washed my hair for nearly a week (grim, I know!). This time, I went to the salon in my office building in central London, had a quick five minute chat about what I wanted and bish, bash, bosh, fifty minutes or so later I emerged with a fresh cut and blow dry. It was a more enjoyable experience than I’d anticipated, although somewhat less memorable than the candle-lit ger in Mongolia.
- A spur-of-the-moment trip up to the Sky Garden. After meeting J for lunch, I wandered back towards Monument with a sense that I didn’t really fancy heading home just yet. This was my last annual leave day of 2017, why not do something with it… On a whim, I checked the Sky Garden website to see if there were any tickets available to go up in the next hour and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was one to go up in the next half hour! I quickly booked it, strolled around the area for twenty minutes or so and then ascended thirty-five floors and found myself in the Sky Garden, with a birds eye view over London. I spent about half an hour wandering around, taking photos and enjoying the views over the city.
- A lot of driving. Going back to Wales for the weekend was wonderful, but it involved a lot of driving – not least the 5-6 hour journey there and the 5-6 hour journey back! Next time I drive back to Wales, I will definitely ensure I put someone else’s name on the insurance policy so that I don’t have to do all the driving myself, and can grab a break if and when I need to.
Posts This Month
- Reasons to Return. This post outlines some of the key reasons I’d like to return to some of the places around the world I’ve already visited, from kayaking in the wilderness in New Zealand to catching a train through Morocco.
- A Guide to Travelling Independently in Jordan. When I visited Jordan, I found the guide book we were using unhelpful in terms of planning our trip around the country. So, I’ve written my own guide on how to visit this amazing country completely independently. No tour needed!
- Two Tales from the Blue Pearl. Two short stories from Chefchaouen – where I meet Abdul and experience the breaking of the Ramadan fast.
- Going Back to Wales. A short reflective post on going back to my home country, how it makes me feel and why I will always love Wales, no matter what.
Film of the Month
Murder on the Orient Express. I love this Agatha Christie book, not least because it satisfies my inner train geek as it is largely set on board the mystical and intriguing Orient Express. This famous train line used to run from Istanbul to Paris and was a showcase of luxury travel in a time when travel was often viewed as a dusty, dirty experience merely aimed to get you from A to B.
This film has a strong line up of famous names, including Johnny Depp and Dame Judi Dench. Kenneth Brannagh directs and plays Poirot, the lead character. The great Belgian detective boards the Orient Express to have a rest, but finds himself soon thrown into the middle of a strange case, where nothing seems to make sense and everybody on board the train is a suspect…
If you’ve not seen the film or read the book (I would highly recommend both), then I will not spoil the ‘who dunnit’, but needless to say the new film is well worth a watch. It’s very styalised, reminding me of Baz Luhrmann’s films such as Moulin Rouge! or The Great Gatsby, or the Wes Anderson movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. So, if you enjoyed any of those films, and you love a good murder mystery, or you love trains like me, then this is the perfect film for you!
Audio Book of the Month
How Not To Fall In Love, Actually by Catherine Bennetto. I downloaded this audio book without any great expectations, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself wholly drawn into the plot. Bennetto writes extremely well, and the main characters are fantastic. There are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout the book and the narrator, Rosie Jones, reads very well. So much so, that the very next book I downloaded on Audible was another narrated by her!
Emma, the main character, is loveable and endearing, and her whacky family and wonderful friends give the whole plot a level of complexity that I often wish I could write into my own stories when I write fiction. It is, ultimately, a love story and the ending is to be somewhat expected, although no less enjoyed. So, if you love an easy-going read with great characters and a strong storyline (with a bit of love and laughter thrown in for good measure), this is the audio book for you! I enjoyed it so much I recommended it to my sister as something light-hearted to listen to after a busy day studying such depressing topics as nuclear wars and genocide in her Masters degree, and she has been thoroughly enjoying the book herself as a result!
Instagram Pictures of the Month
My photos this month were taken mainly in London and Wales, with a couple of throwback shots to Jordan and to New Zealand.
I choose these three images based on which got the most likes on Instagram and then tell the story behind the picture. Disclaimer: They are not necessarily my favourite photos!
The Sky is the Limit, 20 Fenchurch Street (better known as the Walkie Talkie building), London. I actually took this photo a while ago, during a Sunday walk around The City. However, I only got around to posting it in November and it quickly garnered a lot of likes on Instagram. I always view Sundays as my day, even if I make plans to meet up with others. I always try to get some of my own time in, to do what I want and relax, having usually had a busy week behind me and with a busy one usually ahead. The City is one of my favourite places to wander on a Sunday – without all the bankers and office workers there, it’s quiet and relaxed, with just a handful of tourists wandering the streets taking photos. The architecture fascinates me – a blend of old and new, thrown up against one another, fighting for space and yet somehow all working together to create a mosaical history right before your eyes. I love how the Walkie Talkie (loved and loathed in equal measure by many) reflects the sky so beautifully in this picture. The sky really is the limit!
Autumn at the Dams, Elan Valley, Wales. I hadn’t been to Elan Valley in years, so it was wonderful to visit in November with J, A and P in tow. Whilst the day was pretty grey, damp and cold, we made the most of it and drove the loop around the dams, descending back into Rhayader as the light was beginning to fade. The last of the autumn colour still clung to the trees in a vain effort to brighten up the day. Here and there, patches of larches threw up golden orange hues that glowed like jewels amongst the murky grey and dull greens of late autumnal Wales. Now and again, we pulled the car over and got out to take a closer look at the dams and explore a little way off the road. At Craig Goch dam, we strolled along the road under a black umbrella and took selfies with the hills and the dam as our backdrop. Back in Rhayader afterwards, we headed to the nearest pub and ate dinner as the day turned to night, and then drove home in the dark to get ready for a night out at Llanwrtyd Beer Fest.
Here’s What I Did Three Years Ago, Milford Sound, New Zealand. Wow. Milford Sound was three whole years ago?! Time is going by way too fast. I have waxed lyrical about Milford Sound in the past on my blog. It is a place that deserves all the superlatives it gets, and then some. I posted this throwback image because I literally couldn’t believe it had been three years since I was here when I saw it pop up on my Facebook newsfeed. I have plans to return to New Zealand in 2018 and cannot wait to get back onto the South Island. This time, it’s a priority for me to return to Milford Sound and then visit Doubtful Sound for the very first time – Milford’s bigger, quieter and more elusive cousin… It’s exciting to think what Instagram photos I’ll be throwing up in 2018!!