Monday, 31 October 2011

Running all the time...

I must confess that the words of Japanese author Haruki Murakami and I have never met before until this trip and the case of a broken Kindle led me to raid the bookshelves of our hosts. I selected a number of books from a choice of inspirational reads, autobiographical accounts of huge achievements by huge achievers and brick thick history books; these are not unlikely reads for our hosts - a passionate history teacher and a sporty corporate high flyer. Murakami's memoirs about his relationship with running seemed a gentle way to ease my way in to these options seeing as I know a little bit about running and I have long wanted to get to know Mr Murakami better.

Here is my Short and Sweet Book Review of "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running".

What's it all about? Murakami offers an surprisingly enthralling and indepth insight into his relationship with long distance running, which begins as a way to lose weight but becomes a consuming but essential part of his personal and professional life for nearly three decades.

What's so good about it? Murakami is clearly very skilled when it comes to honest, simple and tenderly written prose and of all his books this one is rare insofar as he is the subject and the pain, personal struggles and triumphs he documents are his own.

Who, me? Not interested in running? Well, don't assume that this book isn't for you as the messages and inspiration I took away from it can be applied to any life challenge, problem or experience, but if you do run (or like me "think" you do) this book may just inspire you to commit a little bit more to it and its emotional and physical benefits.

P.S. I fear you will see more Murakami books on these pages as I am already part of the way through Norwegian Wood. He's got me...

(Please note any links to Amazon are through my Amazon Associates account which means I make a little money (5%) from any purchases made from clicking through this link. Thank you please.)

Just give me today...

Another Kings of Convenience track for my #MusicMonday. This is because we had an awful day travelling by public transport from Singapore to Malaysia on Saturday (full explanation to follow soon!) and it was only listening to this song that I felt a sense of calm and cool once again. P.S. I love watching videos of their live performances and one day I WILL see them live. One day.

Here are some Instagram photos I took from the roof of our hotel Marina Bay Sands, which I guess in hotel terms is kind of a big deal. You can read what I thought about it here.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

She was a day tripper: FRIM

It's been surprisingly "nice" coming back to a place we've already visited as the first stop on our trip. There's no pressure to "do" sight seeing or touristy things every single day of our time in Kuala Lumpur as we ticked most of those boxes last year and so NewMan and I have spent a lot of time catching up on sleep and dare I admit it, work emails and tasks as the run up to us leaving was chaotic and predominantly offline. I've not really clarified this, but we are both going to be working while we are away. I will be doing whatever writing work I can get my hands on, as well as remote freelancing in the "day job" as and when I am needed (which already has been more than I expected; it's "nice" to be wanted).

As we enjoy this catch up time and a luxurious period of adjustment before we hit the road again (this weekend we will visit three countries in four days) I have been reminded of the time we spent in Malaysia last year, where we went out and about and saw so much. It was a key trip really, insofar as it was my first time in Asia and opened up my eyes to a continent I'd previously been mostly uninterested in, mainly due to ignorance and lack of awareness or insight. I am happy to say that last year's trip afforded me some precious insight and when discussing a long term trip with NewMan it was a given that it would incorporate more of south east Asia. Some of our photos can be found in this "Start of Something" post and below are some more photos of one of the trip's highlights, a day trip to FRIM which included an exciting canopy walk.

FRIM stands for Forest Research Institute Malaysia and is a vast tropical forest and research establishment based in Kepong, which is around a 20 minute drive from central Kuala Lumpur. Originally established and effectively planted by the British Colonials in the 1920s, FRIM's aims and purpose have changed very little since then as a research site dedicated to scientific understanding and research of tropical forestry.

We drove up there early(ish) one morning via the Batu Caves (which is overrated in my opinion, and not for anyone with a dislike of hot weather, tourists or monkeys) and were lucky that we managed to get a ticket for the canopy walk in time as it closes around 1pm and they only have a set amount of tickets for walkers each day. You will need to be dressed appropriately as it is likely to be hot and humid and you will need to walk around 2km up hill to where the canopy walk begins on steep and not at all smooth terrain, though part of it is tarmac and suitable for runners, a number of which we disbelievingly did see.

The canopy walk itself consists of 200 metres of walkways, made up of 4 "bridges" joined by tree house life platforms, all positioned 30 metres above the ground of the forest floor, however it feels much higher as you are on a hill side looking down at the distance you have climbed. It may not be one for vertigo sufferers and indeed don't look too closely at how the bridges are made, though it should be said that the canopy walk has been going successfully since 1992 and though a little wobbly, I felt safe enough to enjoy the views out across Kuala Lumpur and marvel in more shades of green than I have ever seen. The perfect day trip if you find yourself in KL with a day to spare, kill or go jungle trekking.

P.S. This is how the walkways are made.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Wake me up before you go go...

I have already referred to the fact that NewMan and I have done more exercise in our first week in Malaysia than we did in perhaps the last 6 months in London. But this was always part of our plan. We were very keen to explore a different way of life and a lifestyle that meant more outdoor living, more activity, more adventure. We certainly found more activity and a little adventure when we were invited to go wake boarding with our good friends CeCe and Tony, who have been going regularly since April. NewMan had already been a few times before, so I was the only beginner in a group which always causes me to feel a small weight of intimidation on my shoulders.

However, I was determined to enjoy the experience, which wouldn't be difficult seeing as it was blissfully warm and sunny day and we were all aboard a speed boat which was totally pimping (for want of a better word). Yet as we sped off into a surprisingly beautiful and calm man made lake in Putrajaya, I just couldn't help but taunt myself that it could be really embarrassing and boring for everyone else, if I didn't manage to at least pull myself up out of the water. Oh and our instructor was the official coach of the Malaysian national wake boarding team, no less, so no pressure there either. The above photo captures how I was feeling a little too accurately.

(You see how I have a tendency to over think and over analyse things?)

To cut a long, wet and occasionally bumpy story short, there is a happy ending. I managed to get up, on my very first try and then on my second go I somehow stayed up moved around with some credibility. Apparently it's because I'm a snowboarder and I have to say NewMan's snowboarding expertise (he's VERY good) shone through on his go as he moved up and around the water like a pro, well, in my beginners' eyes anyway.

The fear, the speed, the falling, the physical exertion; it was just like learning to snowboard again and it was mentally incredibly stimulating as well as physically good to poke and pull at some dormant muscles. Needless to say I am hooked and I have squeezed in an additional session and NewMan has been a total of three times since being here. I feel a gentle sense of achievement in not only being now able to "wake board", but in finding a summer sport that NewMan and I can share and I now look forward to seeing if we can find somewhere to wake board in Thailand.

Here are some photos of us all showing off:

And don't think for a second that I didn't fall in, because...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Let's hear it for the boy...

Picture the scene. NewMan and I are sat in a departure lounge in Gatwick airport moments away from boarding a flight that will take us to the other side of the world on a long, exciting six month long adventure. I am not scared of flying. Nor am I overly thrilled by it as I do suffer from cabin fever and an irrational paranoia of getting deep vein thrombosis on long haul flights. So it was at this stage that I checked I had my flying survival kit ready and to hand. This kit consists of my iPod, my Kindle and a warm pair of socks. My iPod was fully charged and I lined up a favourite Camera Obscura album of mine to listen to, my socks were freshly washed and rolled up in anticipation of use once on board, however, my Kindle was a less than happy sight. My screen saver didn't look right, in so far as there was a huge chunk of Virginia Woolf missing and there were random lines through the bottom half of the display. Inwardly panicking I did what everyone does to a technological device that isn't working properly, I switched it on and off again. No change to poor old Virginia, she never did have much luck.

This was not looking good. Kindle's aren't like computers, the electronic ink paper display is not going to recover once it has been damaged or in my case ruined. I ashamedly showed NewMan the Kindle, almost painfully disappointed in myself as this Kindle had been NewMan's Christmas present to me.

"Oh dear," he said, taking the device from my hands and looking closely at the screen.

"It doesn't look good. Does it?" I am ever the optimist.

"No, it does not," Defeatism doesn't suit NewMan, especially when it comes to technology. The pit of guilt in my stomach expanded. "How did it happen?"

"I don't know, I guess I must have packed it badly," Oh how the irony of this statement stank considering I've just polished off a series of blog posts about preparing and packing for this trip.

"Hmm, well looks like we need to get you a new Kindle," NewMan's smile and new positivity relit my flames of excitement. We didn't answer the "How?" "Where?" "When?" questions which silently followed but I was able to put these questions on hold as I focused on making the most of Emirates' extensive in flight movies. I watched Submarine (an odd once to watch when you've not slept for nearly 20 hours), Brighton Rock (all style and no substance as the characters lacked credibility and depth but it was very beautifully shot), Senna (fascinatingly haunting and sad), The Tree of Life (I can't possibly comment as I was half asleep through most of it).

When we got to Malaysia the full extent of lacking a Kindle hit me. I had no books to read, and more importantly no spare baggage weight or space to allocate to a stash of novels I was being teased with by the kind people we are staying with. Knowing that I've been so looking forward to all the reading I would do on this trip, NewMan wasted very little time in making strides to replace the Kindle. Not only can you not buy any type of e-book reader, in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur airports but Amazon does not deliver to Malaysia. Getting another one delivered to the UK then courier-ing it over to south east Asia presented a logistical headache and other options were similarly complicated.

And so it came about that NewMan and a Google search saved the day. I'm fairly sure there is an element of "dodge" about the transaction but we found a young Malaysian man who imports and sells US Kindles to the Malaysian market and after a 30 minute taxi ride (for £4!!) the other day we arrived at a shopping centre in the middle of nowhere and a deal was done. My new Kindle is in perfect condition and I have been enjoying being reunited with my extensive collection of ebooks that I had stocked up in preparation for this trip; you have got to love this cloud computing age where things are stored remotely online rather than gone forever once a device is lost, stolen or compromised in an awkward packing situation.

Of course this was far from a serious or life threatening problem but it was our first challenge in a new country and it was also one that I am both proud and embarrassed to say NewMan automatically took upon himself and he succeeded with all the skill of a man who knows his way around the internet. Thank you NewMan!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Day and Night: Kuala Lumpur

It has been less than a week since we left the UK and I think I've adjusted to the difference in time zone well, even if I do find it strange that by the time the UK are up and having their first morning cups of tea, we are already more than halfway through the day and thinking about our first beer of the evening. When I then think about our future journey heading even further east and crossing the line in to the southern hemisphere and how that means that I will be a whole day or night ahead of folks back home, my braincells start to go a bit cross eyed. There's not a lot I can do about time zones and my journeys across them, other than to see it as a reminder to live in the moment. Only by embracing the time zone I am in, and trying not to dwell on what time of day it may be back home or in our next destination, will I have any hope of combatting jet lag and enjoying the place and time I am living in.

Speaking of which here are some photos of day, dusk and night (in the middle of an impressive lightning storm) from the balcony of our friends' apartment where we are staying in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The iconic Petronas towers and KL city centre skyline lie behind us but this means the view is West facing meaning mesmerising sunsets across miles and miles of landscape which looks and feels very different from London. It is also a view best enjoyed with good friends and that evening beer I'm already thinking about...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Pumped up kicks

This is my #MusicMonday for Suma and the rest of you. Pretty sure it's been overplayed already but it's the only decent song the radio stations out here are playing in Malaysia. It would appear that "Eurotrash" music and those over-produced sounds-the-same US songs export a little too well.

"Pumped up kicks" is a fairly accurate description of what we've been up to since our arrival. In five days both NewMan and I have done more exercise than we did in six months in London; wakeboarding (twice), swimming (everyday), squash and spinning sessions. It's been the perfect start to our trip as we're staying with good friends so don't yet have to fend for ourselves and we're easing ourselves gently in to the change of pace, weather and lifestyle. I promise to bring you more stories and photos soon, but for now here's a collection on Instagram photos taken since I've been here (and yes, they really are Angry Bird slippers, but sadly no, I didn't buy any).

Friday, 21 October 2011

Pack it up, pack it in

Last but not least in this series of posts about packing is "Step 3: How to pack". Packing is a personal thing with people adopting different approaches to suit their own needs (I must ask NewMan to share his inexplicably successful "throw in and zip up" technique one day) but after many years of work trips, weekend breaks and girlie holidays I have found that the following tips work well for me. (Please note there is nothing ground breaking in this post and I make few apologies from this as you will learn from point 5 that I am not the expert I thought I was.)

1. LHR, nothing to do with Heathrow airport rather Lay flat, fold in Half and Roll. Rolling clothes instead of folding has changed my life. Well my packing life that is. Not only does it mean more clothes, less creases it has also enabled me to see what I'm packing better and allows for more condense and space effective packing. Warning though, this approach will not mean lighter packing, in fact quite the opposite so bear this in mind when considering your weight restrictions as referred to in Step 2.

2. Washbags are so 1990s. I actually "free pack" most of my toiletries and bottled beauty concoctions tucking them in between my rolls of clothes as I have found that if you bag all of these together in a washbag they they become bulkier and more obstructive to pack. Just one to consider.

3. Knickers aren't worth much. This tip is one for ladies who are fond of small garments of underwear like I am. It's really not worth having a dedicated area in your suitcase for these "scraps of fabric" (my mother's words) so instead I tuck them in to any available corner or space. I do the same for socks, rolled up belts, and other small items.

4. Secure liquids. Is there anything more devastating than a bottle of shampoo exploding in your bag? Yes of course there is, war, famine and unjust persecution could all easily win that prize but having to wash all your clothes before you've even worn them would probably annoy you for a few minutes at least so save yourself the risk by securing bottles with tape or wrapping in plastic bags.

5. Learn from experience. Speaking of plastic bags, pack a couple if you can as you may need one for dirty laundry or a temporary rubbish bag. Also ensure your Kindle is packed safely and securely with no unnecessary pressure on the screen as this could cause it to break. Oh and if you're not used to the recycled air on planes or the artificially cool air from air con units this may result in you getting a cold so pack more than one small half empty travel pack of tissues. These are three things that I have learnt the hard way on this trip already and no doubt there will be more things to learn from silly mistakes. And boy do I really miss my Kindle.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Leaving London

So here we are...

We landed in Malaysia last night and we're warm, happy and only slightly jet lagged. I will blog about the journey and our arrival in Malaysia soon, but I am happy to say that the journey wasn't totally counter productive. I was able to spend a handful of hours on Photoshop (thanks to Emirates' in seat power supply and relatively large seat area in Economy-bonus!) and in addition to preparing a number of blog posts I was able to create a collage of the Instagram photos I took recently of London. I have previously blogged photos of London here and even if I lived there for the rest of my life, I don't think I would ever tire of taking photos of this vast, gentle monster of a city.

I don't know about other people, but when I knew I was leaving London, a city I have come to love unconditionally, I was even more eager to mentally and photographically capture as much of it as I could; the good and the bad. This collage is therefore dedicated to London, I will miss you madly and will never underestimate how special it is to leave a city and know that I could return at any given time and call it home.

(Come find me on Instagram under the name "bushbirdie".)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Let's get out of this country...

And we're off. In a matter of hours NewMan and I will be on board an aeroplane winging our way to Malaysia to see our good friends CeCe and B. I am sure by staying with friends for the first two weeks of our trip we are cheating a bit as the possibility of us getting mugged, food poisoning or stung by a jelly fish is minimal as we allow two established ex-pats lead us around a country we have already enjoyed visiting last year. I'm not sure I mind though. I am looking forward to catching up with them, as well as grabbing extra hours of sleep, relaxation and online time in their lovely home as I catch up on blogging, which I have greatly missed over the last few busy weeks getting everything ready for this moment.

This "moment" is what we in my family often refer to as the time when you enter "sod-it mode". NewMan and I have done a lot to get this point, including the emptying of two flats, the leaving of one job, the beginning of a new freelance career, the moving of house twice and the sharing of fond and drunken farewells with friends and family (not to mention endless packing, organising, preparing and the surgically attaching passport to self so it doesn't get lost). So it is at this point that we can start to relax, to say "sod it" and just go with the flow because in theory we should be ready. And do you know what? I actually think I am.

This doesn't mean I'm not sad (I am). This doesn't mean I'm not scared (I am a little). This doesn't mean I won't miss Shepherd's Bush, London, my friends and my family (I will A LOT) but I am ready so let's do this.

I'll see you on the other side...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Our time is running out...

For the last few months or more every Monday I have been sharing a song with one of my loveliest Twitter followers Suma to honour a Twitter tradition called #MusicMonday that seemed to go quiet a bit too soon for our liking.  I had been using my Tumblr to post the songs however I have decided to incorporate it into this blog as I'd like my Tumblr to be photos only, and I'm also keen to include the songs I chose in this journey I am about to embark on, tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. We fly tomorrow.

And it is for that reason that I have chosen Muse performing an acoustic version of their song "Time Is Running Out" for today's #MusicMonday.

You can see Suma's (superbly chosen!) #MusicMondays on her blog here; it's been so lovely having someone recommend new songs and artists to me and I hope she feels the same as I'd like to think we are now sisters in music! I really think that after love, music makes the world go round so if you'd like to join Suma and I feel free to post and share with us your #MusicMondays too.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Pack it up, pack it in...

Following on from the major sort out of stuff, the second phase of both this blog's and my own experience of packing for a big trip was deciding what to take. This sounds simple; bikinis, sun protection, sunglasses. Done. Of course it is not that simple. It is very tricky deciding on what you do and don't need to wear for the next six months or so. There was only one way to get started; to cover my bed with all the clothes, belongings and things I would "like" to take with me.

The next step involved questioning, over-analysing and slightly panicking about the use, purpose, wear-ability and wash-ability of each item.

The next and final step was me groaning, giving up  reaching for some painkillers and putting the kettle on.

That is why I unashamedly called upon help from my friends and Twitter followers (who are my friends too of course) to compile some top tips in relation to deciding what to take when travelling around the other side of the world. These are what my wise worldly friends help me realise:

1. Be restriction ready! It sounds silly but be aware of any potential restrictions; this could be checked-in and carry on luggage weight restrictions (some of our flights we're only allowed up to 20kg), washing restrictions (bye bye dry clean only!) or those imposed by the weather, culture or religion of where you are going, i.e. for the first leg of our trip we are travelling in predominantly Muslim countries so there will be a time and a place for the itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini. 

2. Go halves. Many of those I trust most to give good advice told me they live by the "halving" rule. That is, pack once and then half everything and pack again and that's actually what you need to take. That is die hard travel packing advice and wasn't received well by wimpy me. I did however apply it rigidly to the dress and top count (especially after someone tweeted me in response to the above photo "Why do you need so many dresses? Are you going on a cruise?").

3. Wash and don't go grey. Some clothes wash better than others and in fact when you're on the road and relying on hand wash or unfamiliar washing facilities, you will apparently find that dark colours wash better and whites will become less white and more day old dishwater grey.

4. They have shops in other countries too. So apparently I can buy shampoo, pants and even an extra dress or two in other countries, even in the southern hemisphere! There really is no need to panic buy, unless of course you are going to very remote areas of the world, in which case I would actually suggest you read other blogs as this one will not be your best preparation!

5. Prioritise pills, pain relief and peaceful flying. Clothes are a relatively minor issue when it comes to real essentials. If you need certain medication, ensure you have enough before travelling. (Check!) Though they have shops (no really they do!!) it's unlikely there will be a Boots just down the road from our beach shack nor will some over the counter meds be as easy to come by, so gather your essential first aid items before you go and if you need inspiration my top 3 are ibuprofen, plasters and Sudocreme. (Check!) We will be flying a lot over the next six months and for that reason a healthy supply of ear plugs, an eye mask and a nicely stocked Kindle will sure enough become my bestest friends. (Check!)

I should also add, don't forget your toothbrush! (I always do).

The next and final step in this series about packing will be, er, packing itself. I have just about zipped up my suitcase for the last time so hope to share more top tips about this experience with you soon. I will also reveal if Angry Bird did or didn't make the grade.

Monday, 10 October 2011


My arms are sore. This morning I had two needles forced into the flesh of left and right deltoids, all in the worthy cause of protecting me against Hepatitis A and Diphtheria. Yes it's a little late (FYI optimum time for travel shots is five weeks before departure, not 1 week and a bit a la Bird) but I've been reassured that because we will be in Kuala Lumpur to begin with I "should" be okay.

There are a lot of "shoulds" floating around at the moment. We should do this before we go, we should do that to say goodbye, we should make sure we see them, and them and them and quite frankly my head starts to spin. Although we are only going for six months at most, saying goodbye and leaving is carrying an uncomfortable amount of weight and significance and I'm not sure why. Or rather, I was unsure why, but I think I've figured it out. It's the unknown. When life can change drastically, or even end, in a split second it is quite daunting to wonder what will happen in an extended period of split seconds for both us the travellers and for those we leave behind.

On the flip side of this I am thrilled by the uncertainty, by how good our trip could be. But here's where the "shoulds" turn to "coulds; this could happen, that could happen, we could get sick, we could get mugged, we could get hurt and worst of all, we could break up. It has shocked both of us that travel insurance for long stay trips offer such pitiful coverage for valuables and so we are focusing on the best medical coverage and ensuring our contingency budgets "could" cover us "should" the worst happen to our belongings.

My aching arms are a reminder that we have made sensible steps to protect ourselves from a lot of things, but ultimately nothing would protect us completely should the worst happen, which of course, it could. And thus I find yet again that travelling perfectly imitates life, because in reality this applies to the journey of life no matter how far you fly.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Simple Disobedience

Don't you just love it when you read a book by a new author and the writing, the story, the theme and the characters leave you a little bit breathless because you are that impressed and moved. Oh, just me is it? Ah well, that it was happened when I read Naomi Alderman's debut novel, Disobedience.

What's it all about? Set in in Hendon, north London, this is a story of a young woman who returns to the Orthodox Jewish community she grew up in but left behind confronting new and old dilemas.

What's so good about it? The story and people feel very real and almost predictable and yet there are still twists and turns in this novel which educates about a very introvert community without patronising or degrading.

Who, me? Naomi Alderman's second book The Lessons couldn't have been a more different story (she adopts a first person narrative as a man) which is a testament to her ability as a writer and likewise Disobedience is a story for all even if you think the themes may not relate.

Read more of my Short and Sweet Book Reviews here.

(Please note any links to Amazon are through my Amazon Associates account which means I make a little money (5%) from any purchases made from clicking through this link. Thank you please.)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Pack it up, pack it in...

I used to love packing, and I even used to love unpacking. These were in the days when my friends and I would literally count down every day preceding our girlie holiday, from day 237 or so.

Then followed a job which required regular travel and though I became more accomplished at it, reducing my baggage from maximum to minimum weight allowances, the novelty soured and packing lacked the same excitement, even for holidays. However, it must be done for this big ole trip of ours and seeing as we're facing nearly six months on the road and no fixed abode to come home to, this is no ordinary boring chore to be avoided until the last minute. Packing for this trip has been and continues to be emotionally and physically draining.

I've decided to blog about the experience in the hope it will be vaguely therapeutic thus replenishing my energy and excitement levels (which thankfully didn't dip too low). I'd also like to think it will possibly be helpful to someone else who one day faces the same challenge and for this reason I've broken the packing process down into three phases;

1. Getting rid of all the stuff,
2. Deciding what to take,
3. Actual proper packing.

Note to self: Improve on my phase titles.

As soon as I knew an extended holiday travelling experience was on the cards, I knew I couldn't do it without reducing my personal belongings by half, if not more. Bearing in mind that at that time I had personal belongings stored in the loft and spare bedroom of my parents house, in addition to the double bedroom bursting with clothes et al at my beloved Shepherd's Bush flat, this was to be a strategic task and mammoth undertaking to rival minor military operations, or at least a cryptic challenge on Crystal Maze.

The first step was to block out weekends to tackle the piles of "stuff". If you have as much stuff as I do you have to be strict with yourself, so aside from a curry out with my parents on the Saturday night, a few months ago I descended on the family home for a weekend and locked myself in the spare room (my old bedroom, sigh...) and faced my demons and angels, also known as nearly twenty years of memories and memorabilia.

Some of it was easy; of course, I don't need a box full of empty Apple product boxes (!!?!???!) nor is it necessary for me to keep hold of 3 years back issues of InStyle magazine and I surely don't need to keep every essay I ever wrote (and I found most of them again saved on floppy disk - retro!). Books read and not wanted by my Mum were piled up and donated to charity along with bag after bag of clothes, bags and shoes I'd ashamedly forgotten I even owned. I found no less than two carrier bags of things I'd borrowed from friends once upon a time and I set about returning them to their rightful owners. This was the easy part.

What wasn't so easy, was the shoe boxes of letters and cards dating back nearly fifteen years to and from pen pals, friends, boyfriends, my Grandma and my Mum. I had to be strict with myself and really question how many letters I needed to keep from a pen pal I "met" through Girl Guides who was arguably Take That's biggest fan; there were hundreds! I also had to do the same with German and French exchange friends I've sadly since lost contact with. Even with my nearest and dearest I decided to keep only birthday cards for my 18th and 21st or those that made me smile the hardest. Upon discovering long forgotten letters from ex-boyfriends I experienced both pangs of sadness and heart leaps of joy at the fondest and most bittersweet memories. Above all for (nearly) each one (there were no more than a handful!) I felt nearly physically swamped by memories of how deeply and stupidly enamoured I had been, and yet I struggled to recall the colour of his eyes, how he smelt or where we went on our first date. It almost didn't feel normal to have forgotten all of those things, yet I suppose it must be.

I reduced the letters and cards to just one shoebox, which I am allowed to store at my parents'. In fact, a lot of my personal belongings that I want to keep (not to mention a whole winter wardrobe) will be staying there and to say I'm grateful for this is an under statement. No-one knows the irrationally ridiculous amounts of stuff I've accumulated over the years and yet they're still letting me keep anything I'm remotely sentimental about in their loft. They've been amazing.

As for my modestly sized flat in Shepherd's Bush, unbelievably I emptied out 8 bin bags of "stuff" to the charity shop from there alone. If you happen to buy something in a charity shop within a mile radius of Shepherd's Bush it is highly likely it once belonged to me. This makes me very happy, particularly as so far I haven't missed anything. It also makes me happy that of all the clearing out I did (three full weekends in total!) it only resulted two small plastic bags of landfill rubbish. The rest I gave to charity, sold, freecycled (via my Mum - thank you!), gave to friends or recycled.

I'm sure there's a saying which encompasses how when you lose one thing you gain something else and indeed in the process of getting rid of so much stuff I found things I'm now happy to have as they have new meaning or new life as in the last year or so I've become increasingly crafty and have also set up my own online vintage store. It's good to have things to come home to.

I'd be lying if I said I no longer own anything I don't need. There are still three boxes full of old photos (ah, do you remember the pre-digital days?) in need of organising, though it melted my heart a bit finding and sifting through old childhood photos with my Mum. For some unknown reason I was also unable to face, or rather find the time to face selling most of my 500+ strong CD collection. But how can I when I found such treats as the Charles & Eddie album?

And here I am at NewMan's flat with little more than what will be flying with me to the other side of the world in two weeks time. I am poorer in terms of material assets but certainly richer for the experience and I'd like to share some of my "Top Tips" for getting rid of stuff should you have to at some point for travelling or otherwise.

1. Make time. Without question getting rid of stuff, having a sort out, clearing out your closet will take a lot of time so make the time by blocking out a weekend or longer. Ensure you have minimal distractions (turn off the Twitter!) and no place to be later in the day as this will disrupt your flow and potential productivity.

2. Get online early. If you want to sell your stuff online as part of a big pre-travel or pre-move clear out do it as soon as possible. When I started selling some of my vintage collection via Etsy it took much longer than I expected to get my shop up and running and to then start selling. Admittedly Ebay can be a quicker and easier process but in general the longer you have an item for sale online the longer it's there for a customer to see.

3. Prioritise. My mistake was focusing on my travel wardrobe (i.e. what I wanted to keep) which was a much smaller and easier job than deciding what I didn't want to keep. Do the big jobs first as once you get started you may soon get tired and there's nothing worse than running out of energy or focus halfway through a big job, or when you can't see the floor in your bedroom.

4. Have small goals to meet big goals. Speaking of running out of energy, I find that if I set myself a daily or bi-daily target (and rewarded myself with a nice lunch or cup of tea and cake!) I was more likely to meet my overall goal of clearing out a room or loft space. When I was clearing stuff out of my old bedroom I made it my goal to clear everything I dumped on the bed, which as you can see above I did and boy, did that curry taste good that night!

5. There's a time for sentimentality... There were a number of questions I asked myself when confronted with getting rid of something which had sentimental value but the one which worked best for me was this one, though it may seem a little drastic; "Would you like to still have this to show and/or share with your children or grandchildren?" If the answer was "No" then it had to go...

Coming soon... Step 2: Deciding what to take. How do you decide what to take with you on a 6 month trip? I'm hoping I will know soon enough!

P.S. If you like vintage clothes, accessories and sewing patterns my closing down sale is in full swing over on Etsy. As I'm feeling generous you can also get 10% off if you use the code FUNTIMER. 

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Do you remember? Stockholm

I went to Stockholm in November 2009 with one of my best friends to celebrate her birthday and to enjoy all that the capital city of Sweden has to offer; hunky men, fabulous vintage clothes shops, quirky Scandinavian style and over priced but uber cool cocktail bars. Oh is this not why everyone heads to the "Venice of the North" and the most populated and arguably most popular city in Scandinavia? Then it must be because it is a city that has everything to offer; history, culture, style, class, tradition and a drastically changing climate from  summer to winter.

We braved near minus temperatures and spent two days and two nights fully exploring a city I now want to return to in summer so I can swap 7 hours grey daylight with 18 hours of sunshine, though even this experience had its charms. Indeed locals seemed unperturbed by the dropping temperatures and limited daylight as they busied themselves around us going to work, to the shops or for a run along the side Riddarfjärden, though I imagine November is probably still mild weather for them. With Christmas markets located in the Gamla Stan (literally means "old town"), close to the Royal Stockholm Palace from early November onwards this is the perfect way to feel Christmassy early.

Now I've had a little time to remember the trip and reflect upon it, in actual fact I am glad that I visited Stockholm in winter late autumn as to visit on a hot summer's day would only give me one impression of the city as I find it's much easier to imagine being warmer than cooler, particularly when one loves the heat as much as I do. As we walked along the cobbled narrow streets of Gamla Stan, explored the charity and second hand shops of Södermalm, sauntered lustfully through the serious money streets of Stureplan and drank coffee overlooking the surprisingly blue Baltic sea I could easily imagine how the city may look in summer and one day I will go back to see if my day dreams were remotely accurate.

The cold didn't stop my friend and I and I think we approximately averaged one tourist sight to two clothes shops, accidentally drank delicious hot chocolate served by delicious men in a gay coffee bar in the middle of the Christmas markets (I love those kind of accidents!) before wincing at our restaurant and bar bills at the end of both nights as we braved the cold and the notoriously high tax on alcohol and eating out. We saved (not much!) money by staying in a youth hostel in Kungsholmen and walked everywhere, which is very possible in Stockholm if you have comfortable (warm!) shoes. I am sad that this trip was made long before the days when I would try my hand at travel blogging as there are a number of places and shops I would love to recommend. If you are reading this and planning a trip to Stockholm then do contact me as I may be able to kick my memory into action.

For now more photos (which again demonstrate my obsession for taking photographs of water)...

Oh and just a quick question about a habit which started in Stockholm...