Category: travel

Catnip, Marmite, and Whittaker’s Chocolate

Catnip, Marmite, and Whittaker’s Chocolate

It’s short story time, so head on over to this week’s offering here, or read on for some background, and a ramble about the things we miss when we move away.

I’m sure my nana had those glasses.

One of the things that you don’t think about, when you’re eighteen and heading out into the world, is that not everywhere will have Marmite. Not New Zealand Marmite, anyway, and as I’ve discussed at length before, any other form is nothing but a treacle-coloured imitation. Whittaker’s chocolate, for some strange reason, is another product that has failed to travel. Inconceivable, really, when you consider they’re just giant slabs of chocolately bliss.

These days, it’s not such an issue – you have all these delivery companies that will happily post you everything you might miss from home, even if you’re weird and like pineapple lumps and burger rings (seriously, I tried those when I moved back to Australia for a while – they’re awful. Evidently teenage me had no taste). This was not the case when I originally left New Zealand, so for a while there my every trip back ended with me dragging an almost-but-not-quite overweight bag through the airport, laden with supplies to last me until the next trip. The first time I went back after being away for probably six years, I discovered 1.2kg jars of Marmite. 1.2kg. Oh yes.

They taste of dust and sadness. What were you thinking, teenage me?

I’m not quite such a hoarder these days, partly because it’s easier to order things on-line than to hope your bag of chocolate and Marmite doesn’t get either squished or left in the sun, and partly because things start tasting different. I don’t know if Whittaker’s has changed its recipe, or if I just remember it differently, but ever since food hygiene was invented and they actually started to wrap their bars, it doesn’t taste the same. It’s still the best chocolate around, but I’m not quite so obsessive over it.

However. Layla is one of those cats that isn’t fussed about catnip, in the normal course of things. Yeah, she’ll have a snuffle of the leaves, but it doesn’t send her silly. And then we discovered a certain brand of Australian catnip.

Gold. Yes it is.

This particular brand is some crazy strain that Layla likes a lot. As in, rubbing it all over her face while crying in delight a lot. And she’s destroyed all the toys that we brought back with us, so I figure this trip my luggage on the way home will consist of Marmite, Tim-Tams (biscuits of joy), and as many of that particular brand of catnip toys as I can find. Which, on reflection, might look a little weird coming through the airport.

“Anything to declare, ma’am?”

“Ah – cat toys, yeast spread, and sugary snacks?”

It’ll be worth it, though.

Read The Smuggler now!

How about you? What do you miss when you’re away from home? Anything you remember loving as a kid that now doesn’t taste the same?

Happiness is Australian catnip.
It’s Not About The Journey

It’s Not About The Journey

Is that – that’s not straight, is it?

By the time you read this, I will be slumped over a cup of tea, deliriously jetlagged, in Australia. Or I’ll be asleep or something. I don’t know, I get the time zones mixed up. But whatever the details, I will be over there, which requires thirty-odd hours on planes and in airports, and I’ll be cursing myself yet again for not stretching the trip by making a stopover halfway, or at least getting a heavy-duty prescription from a helpful doctor.

Once upon a time, when I was a small person… Okay, not that long ago, but when I was younger, at least, all travel was ridiculously exciting. Airports were full of shops to explore, and people to watch, and even flights were amazing, because you get little meals, with mini cheeses, and biscuits, and cute little sachets of salt and pepper, and socks! They give you socks! Not with the meal, obviously. After. Although some of the airline meals I’ve had could’ve been improved by being served with socks.

Ah, the innocence of youth.

Or something, I don’t think I was very innocent. I read far too much to stay innocent for long. But travel really was much more exciting. That whole, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” made complete sense.

Yeah, okay, but not all flights are this nice, okay?

Now – interminable queues. Held up in security because I always choose the line where the person in front has seven sorts of electronic devices, twelve half-finished bottles of water, a dog and a metal arm. Overpriced, under-flavoured meals in soulless airport cafes that are styled to look like street cafes, and why would you bother because you’re overlooking a waiting lounge full of delayed backpackers sleeping on bags and humphing businessmen. Vegetarian in-flight meals that consist of mouldy-looking peas and lukewarm rice. Someone’s child kicking me in the back for seven hours, and someone with terrible BO falling asleep on my shoulder (I’m not making any of these up)(Okay, maybe the metal arm).

Allow me to welcome you to the world of the grumpy old woman traveller (GOWT. Has a ring to it, no?).

Seriously, whoever said it was about the journey, not the destination, hasn’t been held on the tarmac for three hours at the start of a fifteen hour flight, knowing you’re not going to make your next connection, or the one after that, and wondering if you’ll be given a hotel or end up sleeping on the airport benches. They have not had small twin boys sat next to them on a long-haul flight while mum sat in an entirely different row, ignoring the fact that her children were drinking their bodyweight in coke from the free trolley and jumping on the increasingly irate but painfully over-polite woman trapped in the window seat (”They’re just excited,” she told me when we landed. Yeah, sugar shots for eight hours will do that to you). And they certainly haven’t sat through 27 hours of flights and airports with a steadily worsening kidney infection.

Yes, alright, that’s nice too. But Im making a point here, okay?

When you’re talking air travel, it is most certainly not about the journey (this may be different if you’re in business or first class, and if anyone would like to provide me with an upgrade so I can test this theory, I’d be happy to accept. For research, obviously).

Whinge, whinge. Well, don’t do it then. And don’t complain, most people don’t get to travel so much.

I know. And I love it. I do. I hate airports, and I hate flying, and I hate airline food, but I love travel. So I do it. Because the destination – ah, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Somewhere familiar, where you know the feel of the sun and the smell of the earth, or so exotic that you’re bewildered and delightedly, intoxicatingly, lost in colours and scents and noise. Somewhere that makes you feel you’ve no right to ever be stressed again, or somewhere that awakens inspiration and quickens the heart.

Going home as a tourist. It’s pretty fun.

I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere I hated. I’ve been places I’ve been ready to leave when the time came, and places that almost made me misplace my plane ticket. I’ve gone home as a tourist and called new places home, because they fit my skin so perfectly. I’ve been an adventurer in places just the next village over from me, and found the familiar halfway around the world. Travel’s what you make of it. It’s not limited to planes and trains and exotic locales, which is all good. With every flight I can feel my tolerance withering and the GOWT growing.

But the thing about travel, it that it renews. Not for everyone – I know for some that it’s more stress than it is joy. But you not only get to peek at other lives (even if it is just in the next town over), you come home and look at your own place anew again. You bring back ideas, and tacky souvenirs, and sand from the beach and dust from the streets, and somehow that makes our own place better. It makes it more home.

I’m lucky. I travel a lot, and for every flying horror stories, I have half a dozen stories of the adventure at the end that more than make up for it. So, for all my whinging, it’s worth it. Bring on the airport queues.

Although the next time I end up trapped by small children, I’m bribing the cabin crew to get me out.

How about you – any travel horror stories – or happy stories – to share?

Although, this is my preferred mode of travel. Just with more wind, because this is pretty, but…
7 Mildly Interesting Things

7 Mildly Interesting Things

A mysterious looking island, because it’s prettier than an award, anyway.

The wonderful A.S. Akkalon nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award, which is both very nice of her and very confusing as I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to be versatile at. Writing about cats, dragons and cake with equal enthusiasm, perhaps?

Oh, wait – there are details.

“The Versatile Bloggers Award is an award given by bloggers to other bloggers whom they believe deserve recognition for their high quality standard of writing, uniqueness of content, passion and love displayed throughout the site, and amazing photos.”

I think it’s possible that she may have me confused with someone else, especially on the amazing photos bit (although Layla-cat is terribly photogenic). But I’m just going to take it and thank her very much, smile graciously and refuse to give it back, ever.

The rules of the award are that I must thank A.S. Akkalon (thank you again, lovely hat-wearer!), link to her blog (which is funny, clever, and you should read it now. Well, after you read mine), then nominate up to 10 other bloggers, link to their sites and inform them. You’ll find those talented people at the bottom of the post.

Finally, I need to tell you seven things you don’t know about me. I decided to ask Twitter about this, because it is, after all, the font of all knowledge, and my favourite muse after Layla. And thanks to the wonderful people on there, here are seven things you may or may not know about me.

I must have been banned from reading for the photo.

1. When/Why did you first become interested in writing? What was your first story about? – Michelle Winkler
I actually can’t really remember. I was an absolute bookworm as a kid, to the extent that I used to sleep with books under my pillow in the belief that the stories would seep into my dreams. I was also an only child, growing up on a boat, so spent a lot of time telling stories to myself, and having Adventures, either on my own or with a battalion of stuffed toys. Writing was just an extension of those stories, I think. My first clear memory of writing was when my correspondence schooling hadn’t arrived, so I decided that writing a book of short stories would cover most of the missed lessons. I was probably about eight, and they were ghost stories. Which I illustrated. Naturally. And no, even if I find them again, I’m not showing you.

The bits that take the time.

2. Why are you a #turtlewriter? – DrewMichaelsWrites
#Turtlewriters, for those of you that don’t know, is a wonderfully supportive twitter group for those of us that aren’t exactly speedy at churning out the words. For the record, I can actually be pretty speedy. I’ve been known to have a 10,000 word day (okay, it was a really long day), and writing a 5,000-plus word short story in one sitting isn’t that uncommon for me. But it’s all the stuff around it that makes me a #turtlewriter. I tend to let ideas sit for a while before I start digging them up, and it can take me a few attempts before the story starts to sit right on the page. With a short story, once it’s ready to be written I might not have an awful lot of editing to do. For a longer work, however, things are not so simple. I’m a pantser, so what I end up with at the finish may not be anything like I had intended. Which means going back to the beginning and starting over again, after which the end may have changed. And while the middle’s looking okay, because the end changed the beginning is once more out of kilter. So back I go and try again. Now the beginning and the ending are solid, but the middle’s all upside down. Back again, only to find the ending’s impossible now I’ve re-written the middle, and now I don’t like the beginning anyway, so…

You get the picture. And yes, I’ve tried outlining. That’s kind of hilarious in its own right.

3. Which fictional character (not your own) would you like to be? Would you have acted differently? – John B and Rosetta Yorke
Ugh. I don’t know why I chose this one, because it’s really hard. Except two people asked it, so it must be important, right? Right. So – I would be Little My from the Moomintroll series by Tove Jansson, because she does exactly what she wants, says exactly what she thinks, and is small enough to float around a flooded theatre in Moominmama’s sewing basket, using needles as weapons on anyone unwary enough to approach her. (I may have made the needle bit up, it’s a long time since I read them). And the only thing I’d do differently is to be a little bit less direct in the offering of opinions.

Vavau, Tonga. Pretty idyllic, really.

4. Billy Owens Jr, A.S. Akkalon and Tamara R. Bower all asked about the places I’ve travelled to and lived in, plus what it’s like to be a pirate.
I’ve lived almost three-quarters of my life, and all my adult life, out of New Zealand (although I AM still a kiwi, and if anyone says different I’ll force-feed them Marmite). In that time, the longest I’ve spent in one country is three years, although that may be stretching it a bit – I’m not sure I ever actually made it that long. This is all entirely accidental – I took a gap year after my first year at uni, went to work in a dive shop in Tonga, and somehow kept falling from one job into the next. Best job – either diving in Tonga (while it’s very unspoiled still, in those days we were the only dive operators. Plus humpback whales mate and calve there, so we got to swim with them pretty regularly), or teaching sailing in Greece, because Greece and sailing and being 21. Worst job – either working in a commercial kitchen in Greece with a stereotypical screaming, pot-throwing head chef, or certain parts of working on a superyacht (i.e. the parts where I was the smallest member of the deck crew and had to crawl into the bilges to sponge out stale water riddled with weird bugs that gave me sores on my legs for a month).

It’s all fun and games till someone starts vomiting.

Most incredible experience – either the aforementioned swimming with whales, or a perfectly moonless night in the Bay of Biscay, sailing downwind on a delivery with dolphins covered in phosphorescence playing across the bows. Worst experience – probably in the Caribbean, cleaning an absolute lake of seasick vomit off a bunk, two walls and the floor while everyone else was on deck having a fantastic sail, including the vomiter. Scariest experience – being on the bridge in a superyacht with a steel superstructure, doing a crossing to Barbados in the middle of a massive lightening storm. Which is also up there with most incredible. I can’t name a favourite place, because I love all of them for different reasons. Same with worst place – they all had certain things that weren’t great, but I didn’t hate any of them.

And I can’t tell you about being a pirate, because I might incriminate myself.

Mmm. Not actually brownies, because I didn’t have a photo. But still.

5. Favourite meal and favourite dessert? – Sandra.
This ties into Anna’s question about what my last meal would be – although hers was preceded by asking how I’d kill someone, and what I’d do with the body (I’d get the cat to knock a hairdryer into the bath, then add piranhas once the power was off. Obviously.).

This is really hard, because I like food. A lot. But probably veggies on the barbecue – red onions, aubergines, corn, red peppers, courgettes and baby gem lettuce. Take them off, chop roughly, and toss with homemade veggie ceasar dressing, then eat immediately with warm fresh bread and butter. I could eat that every day and not get bored. Dessert? Brownies, nice gooey ones that are barely cooked in the middle.

Now I’m hungry. Hang on while I go get some chocolate.

6. If you could be an instant expert at anything, what would it be, and why (not writing)? – M.L. Moos
I feel the exclusion of writing is kind of unfair. Okay – I would be an expert at not being distracted, so my every glance at wikipedia to check a minor sub-sub-plot fact wouldn’t turn into an hour-long trawl that ends up on the eating habits of elderly female gnu. And so I’d actually stop checking twitter every time I get stuck on a tricky sentence, resulting in falling down the rabbithole of the #cats and #amwriting hashtags. (Have you tried that? Cats! Writery cats!)

Don’t mess with the penguin.

7. A penguin wearing a trilby walks through the door. What does it say? – KitchenCounterAuthor
“Evenin’. I’m lookin’ for a penguin. About so high, black and white, flippers to die for and webbing on her feet like you never seen. She been through here?”

You apologise, admitting that one penguin looks much like another.

The penguin slides his hat off, fixing you with one narrowed yellow eye. “Seriously?” He looks around, as if playing to an audience. “You believe this?” he asks the invisible watchers, then re-seats his hat, shaking his head in disappointment. “Learn some manners before someone learns you them,” he says, surprisingly threatening for a small aquatic bird.

As he leaves, he takes a sardine from the display. You don’t stop him. Some birds are nothing but trouble.

Super bonus question: What do you do with a drunken sailor, and are there sea monsters that deal with those? – A.S. Akkalon and Anna
Yes, there are sea monsters, but they normally like sober sailors. Which is why the sailors are drunk. Didn’t we watch a movie about this?

And that’s it for me. Thanks again A.S. Akkalon for the nomination! Now, The Recipe Collector, AJ Watt, Billy Owens Jr, Lisa Sell and Debbie Jinks – tell us your secrets!*
*Only if you want to, of course.

And ask away if you’d like to know anything else!

An Unexpected Edinburgh

An Unexpected Edinburgh

Yes, it is technically short story week. But it’s my blog and I can change things if I want.

Okay, truthfully? I’m behind again on my short stories, and although I have three written and one half written, I’m not entirely happy with any of them.

Plus, Edinburgh.

If you’re on social media with me (hi!) you might have noticed that the SO and I went to Edinburgh for a long weekend, where we encountered rather non-Scottish weather, lots of good food, and plenty of bookshops. I knew it was going to be a good trip before we even got to the hotel, as on the way I spotted a man in a kilt, a castle (I thought – turned out it was a historic building set in large grounds that was being converted from a school for the deaf into apartments. But still), then another man in a kilt, all on a Thursday midnight. This, I felt, was the sort of city I could get behind. And it was just as wonderful as that first glimpse promised, so I’m going to swap out story week to bore you share a few things we did and have an excuse to use some of the approximately 723 photos I took.

First glimpse of Edinburgh from Calton Hill on the first morning.

5 Literary-ish Things:

View of the castle from halfway up.

1. Scott Monument. The biggest monument to a writer anywhere in the world, this was the second thing we did in the city. The first was “look at this path going up the hill by the hotel. Let’s see where it goes”, which turned out to be Calton Hill (more on that later). We were up and out early – we’re pretty useless at planning days, so we headed from Calton Hill down into town with nothing much in mind other than looking for food. Having spied the spire of the monument from the hill (“It looks like something out of Mordor,” the SO said, which was a little harsh, but actually fairly accurate), we went to gawp. It’s impressive enough from below, all gargoyles and fanciful spires, and it was just opening as we arrived. Tour with no other tourists? Yep. It’s cheap to get in (£5), and it’s deceptive – looking from the outside, you think well, I can get up to the first level, that’ll be nice. But no – you can climb all 287 steps, as the walls get tighter and the roof gets lower, until you finally have to wriggle out sideways onto the top balcony, with spectacular views all across the city. Not recommended if you don’t like stairs or tight spaces, and definitely take it easy on the way down (all that round and round on the spiral staircase gets a bit dizzying), but it was probably my favourite sight in the city.



Nicely creepy inscription above the door, too.

2. The Writer’s Museum: Obviously. Tucked down an alleyway off the Royal Mile, surrounded by flagstones carved with quotes from famous Scottish writers, and a completely beautiful little house. Rather than being cold and a little sterile, Lady Stair’s House is full of warm colours and personal memorabilia of the three writers it commemorates – Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns. And the main room, which houses a little shop, is so inviting I wanted to curl up in a chair and read for a bit. As I couldn’t do that, I bought a book called a Bestiary of Scottish Beasties. Because it’s research, people. Research.





3. Scotland Street:

Scotland Street little free library. Perfect.

Of all Alexander McCall Smith’s series of novels, the 44 Scotland Street series is my favourite (although I haven’t read any Corduroy Mansions yet – I did acquire one while in Edinburgh, though…). It’s whimsical, charming, funny and philosophical by turns, and I fell in love with the characters the first time I read Espresso Tales. So although I didn’t go searching for Scotland Street, when I spotted Drummond Place (where Angus lives with his glass-eyed dog Cyril), I knew it had to be close. And I can report that it really must be a lovely street, because it has a little free library, and at the end of the street is a park that used to house Victorian exercise machines such as the Great Sea Serpent. Which is wonderful in its own right.


A bag of books. Oops.

4. Bookshops: The City of Literature, quite rightly, has so many bookshops that it has a bookshop trail and an app. Fortunately or unfortunately, the app’s only available for iPhones, so we had to make do with a list we got from the information centre. However, I had to expand my carry-on and bring it back as a checked bag, so I think we did okay on that front. I think doing the actual book trail may have led to book overload and a collapse when I realised I couldn’t take all the books home with me.





The SO appropriately modelling a bookshop bag in Makars’ Court.

5. Makars’ Court: Okay, so this is a bit of a cheat, as technically Makars’ Court is sort of part and parcel of the Writers’ Museum, and is where all those lovely quotes are inscribed in the flagstones. However, I feel it deserves its own entry, as it’s a lovely spot to potter about, reading and hiding from the throngs of people roaring up and down the Royal Mile (I’m not good with crowded sight seeing. I like the hidden spots). There’s also a restaurant next to the court called Makar’s Rest, which has quotes papering the walls, and which serves a rather nice veggie haggis. Make sure you’re not eating for a day or so after, though. It’s filling.




5 Non-Literary Things:


  1. 1.Eat: I may have developed a slight obsession with scones while I was there, as I had one every morning for breakfast (hey, the jam counts as fruit, okay?). I can report that the best one was either at the Scottish National Art Gallery (where I engaged in a moment of social awkwardness by saying “you, too”, to the nice man working there who wished me a nice visit), or at a tiny takeaway cafe called The Edinburgh Larder. The Art Gallery ones were delicate, almost cake-like, the others a little sturdier, but both were tasty with a good amount of fruit and no nasty bicarb aftertaste. We did eat things other than scones, of course – beautiful salads of grains and haloumi in Stockbridge and sharing plates of roasted vegetables on Market Street and cheese platters in the Old Town and fish’n’chips because, well, fish’n’chips. It’s a good place for eating.


Spring in Scotland.

2. Arthur’s Seat: Slap bang in the middle of the city is a rather large green hill, full of lovely rocky faces and wound about with a network of paths (we managed to find one of the less travelled of these, so arrived on the top by a very direct and rather sweaty route). It offers both stunning views in all directions and the feeling of having escaped the city to the country – on foot. And despite the fact that it’s obviously very popular, there are plenty of quiet spots to sit and look at the view, even on a sunny Saturday morning. Plus it’s a possible location for Camelot, so, cool.



An unexpected Parthenon.

3. Calton Hill: Having staggered out of the hotel fairly early on the first morning, we spotted a hill, so we climbed it. We did not realise it was Calton Hill, so did not expect part of a Parthenon to suddenly appear as we wandered to the top. We also did not expect to encounter stunning, sunshiny views across the city, Arthur’s Seat swimming in morning light, Nelson’s Monument, and not one but two observatories. It was a good start.



The old town from the castle.

4. Edinburgh Castle: I loved the castle, but actually think I preferred looking at it from the outside, particularly from St Cuthburt’s Church grounds, which are green and beautiful, the sheer sides of the rock looming above them and the castle perched on top. Inside was, obviously, busy. Very busy. I hate to think what summer’s like. But the audio tour was interesting, and the history fascinating, and the views (again) amazing. Next time, though, I think I’ll sit in the (dead) quiet of the churchyard and look at it from there.





The castle from St Cuthburts

5. Cemeteries I’ve always loved wandering in old cemeteries, looking at the inscriptions on the tombstones and imagining the lives of those gone. They’re quiet, peaceful places, and for all my horror reading I’ve never been afraid of them. And there are some beautiful ones in Edinburgh, if that’s your thing. At the castle, there’s a cemetery for dog soldiers, which is small but very sweet, then there are three others we walked around – New Calton Graveyard, with its views over Holyrood to Arthur’s Seat, and its tower where the watchman and his family lived, protecting the dead from grave robbers, is bare and open and oddly abandoned feeling. Old Calton Burial Ground is enclosed and insular, presided over by the tomb of David Hume and the Political Martyr’s Monument. It’s a place of whispers and crowded silence. Finally we went to St Cuthburt’s, stumbling on it as we skirted the castle on the way to Grassmarket. Richly green with spring growth, well-used paths cut through it to connect Princess Street Gardens to roads on the other side of the churchyard. The tombstones are old, cracked and moss covered, but it feels alive, a part of the city with the rock and the castle leaning over it and joggers and walkers peopling the shadowed trails. Plus, I’m sure I spotted a house that Gertrude the reaper would just love. It’d be convenient, too.


Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat

So that was Edinburgh for me. I loved it, and can’t wait to go back and explore some more of Scotland. Have you been? What are your must-sees?


Wandering & Wondering

Wandering & Wondering

Skinny streets? Check. Old buildings? Check. Possible cats? Yesss.

I have a reasonably good sense of direction. I don’t mean I have a compass inside my head that points infallibly North, but I can generally find my way back to hotels in strange cities, I can normally figure out shortcuts that actually are shortcuts when hiking, and if there’s a body of water anywhere about you can pretty much guarantee that I’ll make my way to it before long. So I don’t have any great horror of being lost. And, as it happens, I rather think that being a little lost – not the scary sort of oh-my-god-this-city-is-full-of-dark-alleys lost, or the dreadful how-long-can-I-survive-on-a-muesli-bar lost, but that lovely, luxurious sort of lost, where you have no timetable to keep to, and you just follow your feet – I think there’s a lot to be said for it. I’d even venture to suggest that there’s something magical to it.

I’m not a city person – crowds make me uncomfortable and too much noise gives me headaches – always has. I grew up in quiet places, and I tend to seek them out as an adult as well. But that isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good city trip – bookshops! Funky cafes! Maybe a show! Museums! Monuments! All this stuff! Which is all very well and good, but still not my favourite part about a city. I mean, yeah – I can wander around and look at beautiful statues and impressive buildings for a certain amount of time, and I love a good amble around an interesting museum, and of course I’m going to check out all the good secondhand bookshops – but after about a day of that (maybe a little longer when it involves bookshops) I’m done. And please god don’t give me a schedule. Don’t make me plan stuff. I can take one scheduled event in a trip, anything else I somehow manage not to turn up on time for. Oops. Sorry about that. What shall I do now?

I don’t know what’s down that way, but it looks interesting. Let’s go.

Oh, I know.

Let’s wander.

See how close that is to wonder? Coincidence, I don’t think.

Wandering is my favourite way to see anywhere. Give me a pair of comfy trainers, a bottle of water, and a city map that I can refer to occasionally to make sure I’m still in the same county, and I’m happy. Sure, I’ll take a look at your big sights, but they’re always so crowded, so peopley. Those little courtyards where old men play chess and drink pastiche, the narrow lanes with washing strung from one scarred wall to another, the decrepit fountains leaking moss and sweet water over the cobbles, the cats sleeping in doorways and old women cackling like crows in front of shops selling unfamiliar drinks and stinking cheeses – that. That’s what I want to see. That’s where I want to get lost. I want to sit for a moment outside a cafe that doesn’t have the menu in four different languages, and jump back to avoid bicycles rather than tour groups. I want to glimpse little worn churches and catch snippets of conversation in languages I don’t understand, and to feel inconspicuous in my strangeness, not a potential customer to be reeled in, just a passerby peeking in. And yes, while I wander I wonder, too. Wonder about the lives beyond the net curtains and oversized doors, wonder what people are arguing about, wonder about the differences and similarities between me and unmet others. Maybe tell some stories to myself about them, maybe people my pages with that particular pattern of tiles on the wall of that particular courtyard, or the way that particular old woman laughed, all full of raucous life.

I’m not sure how I got up here, and I’m even less sure how I’m going to get down. All good.

There’s other sorts of wandering and wondering, of course. My Dad has never been one for following maps or even necessarily paths, although that can occasionally be a little dicey. He still tends to point at a hill and say to me, “Go climb that one,” leaving me to muddle around the place looking for tracks that seem to point in the right direction. Generally this turns out quite well, although I do remember as a rather small person being sent off with a treasure map that involved compass bearings and distances measured in strides. Unfortunately my small person strides didn’t quite match his grown up ones, and I have a pretty good feeling I got in a right strop about that. Or there was the habit we had of finding lighthouses on remote islands and climbing up their slatted wood sides so we could sit under the light, explorers surveying the terrain (Mum really loved that). And as an even smaller person, I remember climbing through New Zealand bush and creek-lined gullies, slipping and sliding all over the place and finding the skull of a long-dead sheep, which even then had the ability to capture my imagination and turn into a what-if. So yeah, getting comfortably lost in wild places can be fun, too. A bit harder to taxi back from, and often involving scratches on your legs and twigs in your hair, but fun. And sometimes you can come to a quiet place, a place where you could almost believe no one else has come to, not this particular spot with its heavy carpet of moss and roof of leaves, and the glimpse of a waterfall beyond it, and you listen to the silence, and think – what happens here when I’m not here? What could happen?

Totally worth the scratched legs, though.

These are my favourite ways to explore anywhere, and for a writer there’s a wealth of ideas and inspiration to be found in both the wandering and the wondering. Even in my own little corner of the world, just the act of ducking down a side street I’ve never ventured onto before, or taking a path that I don’t know has a taste of excitement to it. And to me, there’s no better grease for a stuck story than walking. Wandering and watching and wondering.

How about you?

PSA, kids – if you’re wandering in cities and towns find out first if they’re safe for wandering – for all my love of adventuring, there are places I’ve been where I’ve stuck strictly to the tourist routes. And make sure you have the taxi fare back for if you walk further than you think. Wilderness wandering can be a risky business – dress for the weather, make sure you have water and food, your phone is charged and you’re certain that you’re only going to get relatively lost (i.e. you may be back a bit late for lunch, having had to wade through some bogs to get there, not holy crap I’m going to be spending the night out here). Really lost does not tend to end well. Also best make sure it’s not hunting season and that you’re on public or national park land. I may have wondered what it was like to get shot, but it’s not something I ever want to experience.

Now go on – get lost.

Wandering’s often rewarded.
Bookshops, Road Trips, & Preconceptions

Bookshops, Road Trips, & Preconceptions

When we decided to head to Paris for a few nights, I had two things I wanted to do – visit the Catacombs, because they were closed the last time we were there, and visit a few English secondhand bookshops, because this has become a bit of a thing for me. Unfortunately, the Catacombs are conspiring against me, as they were closed again, so that left the bookshops – which was really more than enough. And as this is, of course, a blog primarily concerning the reading and writing of books, I thought I could make quite a nice little blog post about visiting them.

So let’s start with a couple of scene-setting shots…

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