Monday, January 28

Crochet and a Post Office

I am a big fan of crochet, it's one of my stress busters and it can make things so much faster than knitting.

Today has been a regular Monday at work, it was after work that leads me to a blog post: I managed to complete two rows of a crocheted gift (76 double crochets and 76 single crochets for those of you interested), tie off the loose ends, and pack it into a jiffy bag in the time it took six numbers to roll past at the post office. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

There was a hair raising moment between the numbers 162 and 166 (my number) as numbers 163 and 164 had in fact left the building, with 165 being assumed so too. My heart was racing as I fought with the sellotape to close the packet securely as 164 flashed up, I still had to stick on the address label. I jumped up just as 166 was called with my coat, scarf, bag, jiffy package and purse flailing away but I managed it. By the time I'd refocused on my destination, 'sportello' 5, I saw that 165 was present after all: 165 saved the day!

I headed to the empty counter (sportello 4) where I stuck down the label and copied the address onto it from my phone. It then transpired that number 165, even though appearing quite a pristine, well-prepared client, had just whipped out some items from a holdall that needed packing: he was faffing with his parcel at the counter! Did he not know this irritates cashiers?

Thankfully I was close enough to make eye contact with the cashier and show him my 166 ticket, the number that should be at the counter. He took my jiffy package to be weighed while number 165 continued writing away. I did get reprimanded for not having covered all the writing on the jiffy bag (I recycle them), but the cashier stuck sticky labels over the words anyway. Last time I posted something at the post office I was reprimanded for having used envelopes that were too small, and therefore cost twice as much: it seems you can't get anything right at that place no matter how prepqred you think you are.

Anyway, the crochet gift has made it safely into the postal system and will hopefully be on its way to the recipient soon, with standard postage. It could take weeks, if it arrives at all. If it doesn't arrive it just gives me a reason to crochet another gift. Win, win!

Sunday, October 14

A Summer of Reading


With Autumn on the doorstep, I don't know how much I'll be able to read now I'm back at work so here's a reflection on what I read over the Summer.

I have never read as many books in my Summer as I did this year. Normally it’s one or two books, during the flights here and there, however, as I ended up having five mini holidays I ended up reading eight books in the months of July and August, six of which were between July 26th and August 26th…so…here's what I read...

It started with ‘Il Piccolo Principe’ (The Little Prince) in Italian. For anyone who hasn’t heard of this childhood classic, it is originally written by a French author, Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, and is a lovely dialogue between the narrator and a little prince who elaborates on the different worlds he has been visiting looking for a friend. Each planet has a character, which tells a moral. It’s full of wonderful imagery, and really calls your imagination to wake up! I read that between park breaks and weekends, finishing it on the way to Pescara, I think.

I can’t really remember which book I read next, but I remember taking Oryx and Crake with me to Marseille, finding it really hard to put it down. It is a classic Margaret Atwood science fiction, which creates a world, a few decades ahead of us, with the characters living in a very split world. I won’t say anymore as it's worth a read and enjoyed it because I didn’t have a clue what Oryx and Crake were until reading it. But I will tell you it is the first of the MacAddams trilogy, which I didn’t know until I finished it!

The book I read in the fastest time was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling. As this is a script, it took me roughly two and a half hours one afternoon while H was at work. I enjoyed the quick pace of the story as it gathered the old, well-loved characters together and added their offspring. In particular I found the main storyline focusing on the relationship between Harry and one of his sons well written and a common ‘story’ that I’m sure many parents may fight themselves.

The least enjoyable book of the Summer was Righto Jeeves, one of the many Jeeves series by P.G. Wodehouse. Strangely there was an inscription in the book that said something along the lines of ‘you must read at least one Wodehouse in your lifetime’. I am glad I have indeed done that, but I won’t be picking up another Jeeves book in my lifetime. I found the main character far to idiotic, and the language itself, in it's famous ‘BBC’ English was, for me, unbearable. As a sitcom it works perfectly, but as a book, it was just too much for me.

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life was fantastic! I read the sequel/prequel thing (A God in Ruins) last Summer, and although I enjoyed that book more, I found that Life After Life was a real ‘thinker’ of a book. It was irritating the amount of lives that are in it, but then that is the point. I liked how Atkinson led you through the characters and added more depth and breadth to them each life around.

The last book I read was given to me for my birthday by a friend: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It was a tale inspired by the Bible story of Hosea, with the main character called ‘Micheal Hosea’. I read it very quickly, and actually managed to read each paragraph (I tend to skim read unless I like the book, i.e. I skimmed pages and pages of Righto Jeeves). The main character was set up well, and I felt such a strong connection to her as she struggles to understand emotion after years of having to suppress it. 

I left one book with my brother in England as I finished it while staying with him: A Short Guide to Tractors in the Ukraine by Marina Lewycka. It was the silliest book I read of the Summer as an elderly gentleman marries a much younger Ukrainian woman and the story leads you through the marriage, and subsequent separation by the point of view of one of the daughters. I think that there were some aspects of the storyline I didn’t catch as there were insinuations of situations that led me to reread some passages a few times, but other than that, it was ok.

The book that struck me the most was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hossain. Following the life of a boy and his friend, who live in Afghanistan during turbulent times, the writing was incredible. I am not usually able to read passages of ‘gory details’, but the writing was so poetic and attached me to the characters that I was able to ‘hold on’ to the characters even when they were going through hell. I highly recommend this book as it really is emotional yet eye opening to what I imagine is still happening in some parts of the world.

Out of the books I read I’ll be keeping Redeeming Love, Oryx and Crake and The Kite Runner on my shelf until I am ready to part with them, they have left their mark. Whereas the others, except the Harry Potter, will be moving on to any colleagues or the Christmas Fair at church: I don’t like to keep books unless they have really had an impact.

Roll on the Christmas break!

Saturday, July 28

Our 2018 Holiday in words

This is a longer post than usual, but then it's a recount of six rather fun-filled days spent in and around Marseille for what was my 2018 Holiday with H.

Thursday: Travelling and Marseille

Being woken every two hours for a thirty-minute pit stop on a nine hour coach trip can be both a blessing and a curse: it meant I stretched my legs as I needed too, but didn't really get much continuous sleep. We eventually arrived, on time, in Marseille at 8.15am and sat down at the first bakery we found. It seems that any bakery sells yummies.

Walking towards the sea, we made our way through the centre of Marseille to the Old Port where 'hanger' (hungry anger) struck me while standing under a mirrored hangar. We promptly went to McDonald's so I could have something quick to eat, and we could both use the bathroom! It's nice to know Mc D's are always there for the rescue.

Once the 'hangry' episode had passed, I discovered I had not only forgotten to pack our holiday hats and picnic blanket, but also transfer my holiday money across. After attempting to transfer my money with my app, I had problems connecting my app and banking app, then resorted to another transfer method, ending up blocking my money into an online account which I can only access once home: the fun of technology and finances! Thankfully, travelling with H meant it wasn't the big crisis it once would have been when I travelled alone.

Back on our feet, we headed back inland to make our way slowly to our apartment. Passing by a church, we sat for lunch on the steps and remained there for over an hour. It was here that I then remembered I had also forgot to pack my driving licence: no hiring car to explore the Calanques for us! As I was feeling slightly annoyed, H managed to stay patient as we continued to walk up the hill.

It turned out our apartment was a ten minute walk from the Palais Longchamp, a palace with a huge fountain and large gardens. As we still had our suitcases with us, we remained in front of the palace in the shade of a tree to pass the time, rather than going up the steps into the garden. The breeze and shade was a welcome respite.

On reaching our room we had to use our broken French to correct the owners who thought we were staying four nights, not five as we had booked. Once all had been resolved we discovered the room really did have everything you could need. It had a little kitchen area with fridge, microwave, sink, and the bathroom was reasonable. All good for resting!

Friday: Marseille

A lazy start to the day, enjoying One Tree Hill episodes in English in the TV in our room! After eating the last piadine we had brought with us from home for lunch, we set off via metro for the Old Port to book tickets for our planned trip on Sunday to Frioul Island. We didn't get the tickets though as we were a day early: you can only buy the tickets the day before, which I had read on the website, but forgotten shortly afterwards. 

It wasn't a wasted metro trip as we continued on to the Basilique Notre Dame du Gardin, a twenty-five minute walk up hill. We bought peaches and cherries on the way so we had a fresh snack for when we arrived. Greengrocers are still a common sight on the streets of Marseille. 

Once at the Basilique there were three main areas to see for free. First we walked through the Crypt, a space under the main church itself with a chapel and shrines at which to place a candle for €2, €5 or €10  depending on the size of the candle. Then we headed to the Terraces. Here we stopped for our snack: the shade of the Basilique and a soft breeze were both welcome refreshments after the heat of walking. Once revitalised, and with cherry-stained finger tips, we wandered into the Basilique itself to find a mass about to start, so a security guard hurriedly closed the central doors and put out 'Silence' signs. Needless to say it was a beautiful church, with striking mosaics of many colours, surrounded by gold tiles.

After our Basilique experience we headed back down the hill to the area of Marseille known for its street art: Cours Julien. This area was dazzling, with colours everywhere you looked, on poles, walls, screens, we even saw a street sign with a pole that had a knitted cover. As this area was also full of restaurants of different ethnicities, we settled for dinner in the outside area of a Libanese restaurant, which was on the same street as an Indian/Pakistani restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and what appeared to be an actual French restaurant, a rarity in the area!

Saturday: Arles

We met Robert at Marseille station for our first BlaBla car experience as he drove us to Arles with a girl from Toulouse. H and I found out about this town from the brochures we picked up in Marseille, as it has a roman amphitheatre, but as we looked up more about it, it turns out it is also famous due to Van Gogh and it's big street markets. As H loves a good market, we were grateful that Robert ended up dropping us off right in the middle of it!

Picking up a few bargains (linen dress for €2, prayer mat for €4...) we sat for a coffee and croissant before tackling the other half of the market. It really was massive, and the biggest market I have ever wandered around. It was the usual hustle and bustle with sellers vocalising their wares and pick pockets to look out for. 

Lunch consisted of paella, olives, a fresh tomato and delicacies from various market stalls that we ate in the Public Gardens next to the market. There was a sign at the entrance with a Van Gogh painting that was showing the perspective from which he had once painted. It was a different scene now however as the market ensured the gardens were full of people seeking shade from the hot sun.

Arles is where we bought a few postcards in a souvenir shop opppsite the Roman amphitheatre. The shop owner was very friendly and explained some features of the surrounding area, including an area nearby that has flamingoes. Unfortunately we had other things scheduled to see so didn't add a flamingo excursion to the list, but I bought a flamingo scarf instead!

As there were no BlaBla cars heading back to Arles when we needed one, we got the train back to Marseille and headed back to the Old Port to get the ferry tickets. After queueing and successfully getting tickets, we decided on burgers for dinner and found out that the #2 burger bar in Marseille was just around the corner from where we were. It was a great discovery as the burgers were very yummy, with 'french' chips that had herbs de provence on them: H rated the meal 4/5, not bumping up to 5 as the bun was slightly bigger than the burger and so was a little bit too soft!

On the way home, via the metro, we checked out the International Jazz event in the Longchamp gardens. It turned out it was a ticket event, and as we didn't know any of the artists playing, we didn't think it was worth the €35. Heading home to sleep off the busy day was the preferred option.

Sunday: Frioul Islands

Our 'official' 1st wedding anniversary was celebrated by a gift exchange over breakfast then the day exploring the Frioul Islands. These islands were around thirty minutes away by ferry from the Old Port of Marseille and was €10.80 return each. Once at the port of Frioul we decided to head to the left, and cross the walkway to the second Island.

The sun, we discovered later, had an index of eight, which explained why we both got sun burn during our walks. There were pretty coves all around the island that were popular with sunbathers and boats alike. The water was a crystal clear blue and looked so refreshing, however our object for the first half of the day was to walk about.

While meandering we saw lots of nature that we had read about in the information brochure: crystal veins in the rock walls, low bushes with succulent red berries, prickly pear cactus, however the only birds were saw were seagulls. It was quite sparse at times, and involved walking over shingles and up rocky hills. Thankfully we had our walking boots on so even though we looked a bit odd trapsing through the swimwear clad sun seekers that had arrived to the coves wearing flip flops, it meant we reached the most southern point of the Island without any problems.

Our lunch location was stunning: we perched ourselves on a cliff shelf just above the water line, but with an overhang that gave us shade. Here we stayed for over two hours, both to eat our panini that we had bought at the port, and to relax. I had brought Margaret Atwood's book Oryx and Crake with me which turned out to be a page turner so I was more than happy to sit for an hour whilst H bounded off to explore.

On returning from his expedition, H proudly presented me with some quartz crystals, and sea shells, natural souvenirs of our (his) adventuring. We then headed back up the rock face to the military base on the top of the hill that marked where the real road started. It was while walking back to the port that we caught the sun: I have no idea what the temperature was but the rays were fierce and the backs of my knees got burnt, as did the back of H's neck.

Mid-afternoon sun, plus a forty-minute walk was thirsty work so we stopped at the port in Frioul for refreshment. It was here that I rediscovered my love of mint syrup. It brought back memories of our honeymoon last year when I had rediscovered it there, having previously enjoyed it as a squash alternative in Pescara, and before that I think it was sometimes a drink option at my Grandma Pakes' house.

Finally we set off for some beach time. The main Frioul Island had a larger creek that also had a beach. It was a bit of a walk to get there, but was pleasant. The usual pebbles (or huge, sharp, rocks as I tend to view them) were strewn along the waters edge prooving problematic for anyone without jelly/sea shoes, however our bare feet managed it and we both enjoyed a quick splash around before collapsing in exhaustion in the last of the sun.

To mark our first anniversary properly, we washed off the sea water using the hose pipe tap and dressed up in the smart clothes we had packed for the occasion. We then headed back to Frioul port where there were a few restaurants. We ended up sharing a four course meal starting with a mozzarella salad, then salmon tagliatelle, followed by grilled prawns with rice, and ending with a creme brulee. It was delish!

Catching the 10pm ferry home meant we eventually reached our apartment around midnight. Another long day, but worth every minute.

Monday: Cassis and Les Calanques

By now our legs were hurting when we awoke, averaging three hours a day on foot was taking its toll! Even the toes on my left foot were having a revolt against Marseille life and were causing me a few tweaks, but, we ploughed on and set off for the 9:32 train to Cassis. This location had been recommended to us at my friend's wedding by the bride's brother and his partner, with the words 'most beautiful area of southern France' also included in the conversation.

Beautiful it certainly was, close to the train station it certainly wasn't! It took a good twenty-five minutes to walk from the Cassis train station into Cassis itself, then a further hour and ten minutes to the first Calanques. Calanques is Google translated as creek, which are apparently dents in the shoreline that are longer than coves. Makes sense as that is indeed what we found.

We visited only one of the Calanques, as walking up and down yet more stony hillsides was not as appealing as staying in the creek we first arrived in: it was stunning. Again the water was crystal clear, unnervingly so, with children and adults alike swimming with their faces down and snorkles up. As I'm not a fan of swimming in water that might have animals in (since the crab snip of August 2014), I managed an eleven minute dip once I'd plucked up enough courage to get into the water, by sliding down H's back from the rocks! I'm definitely someone who needs to do something often to keep fear at bay and living far from the sea is taking it's toll on my level of comfort when in 'open' water.

As it was just too lovely, we stayed at the Calanques for over two hours, enjoying lunch, and relaxing. I managed to read through a good chunk of my Atwood story which had got me gripped. So much so H had to wait for me to finish a chapter before we set off back towards Cassis.

It was on the way back to Cassis that something magical (Godly) happened...we found a bus. Now we knew shuttles buses existed between the station, Cassis and the Calanques, but when everything is in a language you don't fully understand, it was easier just to go on foot. However, when a bus is just sitting at a stop, with its door open, who wouldn't enquire! With our limited knowledge of French, and the luck of a kind bus driver who didn't charge us, we ended up getting a bus from the Calanques to the town centre, with not only knowledge that the shuttle to the train station was a real thing, but also vague directions to its stop, and the words 'navette gare' (station shuttle bus) to repeat confidently to any poor shop assistant. 

It was the assistant at a ticket booth for boat trips to the Calanques that got my bad French/English/Italian sentence looking for the bus stop. I was relieved his English was better than my communication attempts as he gave me clear directions, with sign posts ("right bar, then supermarket, then crossroads with pharmacy"). When I returned victoriously with the directions, H proceeded to laugh at how bad my speech was becoming.

Once on the bus to the station it was an easy return to Marseille with a train arriving shortly after we arrived at Cassis station. For dinner we stopped off for a pizza from a kebab shop on the way home, getting two so we could take what we didn't eat for lunch the next day. I also enjoyed a cherry coke, something I haven't had for a really long time!

Tuesday: Marseille

Our last day in Marseille started with a quick clean of our apartment that had served us well during our stay. We then dropped off the keys and headed for the train station where we had scouted out the left luggage options when we had got off the train from Cassis. It was great to know we could walk around Marseille for one last day without our suitcases in tow.

We spent our last few hours walking around the area of the new port, and also spent considerable time just sitting: first in a Starbucks, then in a Burger King, very original I know! I can safely say it was a super holiday with a good balance between adventuring and relaxing. I even finished my Atwood book, eager to read the next one in the trilogy, although knowing it was part of a trilogy before starting the book would have helped me with the rather abrupt ending!

Overall Marseille ended up being a really liveable and likeable town, in my opinion. It had streets that were full of phone shops, and bars serving tea, and lots of grafitti, then other streets of boutiques and designer shops, then the more typical high streets with everything. As it was hot, the shopping centre in the middle of town was a great supply of air conditioned bliss! And that is that. Our 2018 Holiday done and dusted. 

I wonder how long my shins will ache for?! 

Saturday, May 19

He has a dent in the bottom of his shoes...

...because he has been pushing that darn pedal for days on end.

Marino Formenti turns out to be a ruddy good pianist. I had never heard of him, but H and I stumbled into his Nowhere installation, experience, performance event this afternoon and it was pretty unique. Strangely enough it turned out to be situated just around the corner from my school. 

Judgung by the scribbled print on the walls, he's been playing the piano everyday from 10am to midnight, for quite a few days with his day list including Bach, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Froberger, Brian Eno, at times playing the same piece two, three, or four times. Pretty impressive I say, as an amateur pianist that rattles off a Mozart Sonata omce every two weeks. He certainly looked like he'd been playing a while when we rocked up at 5pm.

During our stay, Formenti went so far to write on the wall 'If you came to see me you should think about it', which could have reflected his frustration for how the six of us present at the time were on our phones, reading a book, or apparently sleeping. Eitherway his piano touch is mesmerising, as is the emotion with which he plays. I would imagine most people would go stir crazy being watched by a love stream camera and an average of ten people at any time, yet he aproached each 'sitting' with an astounding level of concentration and attention, letting himself just twinkle away.

Behind Formenti's piano stool was a two-by-two IKEA shelf with sheet music laid on and inside it. From this he took music on a few occasions, definitely for a Bach Sarabande, which meant his Ray Ban glasses were added to his facial composure. Other times he played head bent, flowing into the piano, and with others, he grunted along with the melody he was emitting from the grand piano.

Curiously at one point he moved the tripodded live stream camera to point towards one of the handwritten walls. All his actions taken in, or ignored, by whoever happened to be in thebroom at the time. Turns out this isn't the first time his played an installation of this kind, and I hope I can experience another one in my lifetime.



Sunday, May 6

Going home

“You’ll be homesick, desperately homesick, but you’ll never get home again.” Jeremiah 22:27 MSG

When I'm in Italy and I'm preparing myself to go to England, I say "I'm going home.".

When I'm in England and I'm on my way back to Italy, I say "I'm going home.".

The transition from Milan to England always follows the same pattern: first there's the excitement of knowing I'm returning to England for a bit. I plan who I'm going to see, what I'll do and what I'll buy and perhaps eat. Then, the travel time itself comes with apprehension as I have to ensure I'm on time, that I get the connections to go where I'm going, and although I've relaxed somewhat over these last seven years, the tension of travelling can still worry me. After that, once the excitement of seeing familiar places and faces passes a few hours after arrival, I normally start to feel the tug of the 'other'. It curbs my enthusiasm as I miss the faces, places, routine and familiarity of Italy, and now that I'm married, it is harder.

To me, the word 'home' resonates with being settled, but sometimes wanting to be somewhere else. It's a state of living in a fixed point, but always stretching to what's past, with the line between the fixed point and the before, being 'home', the memories. Home is both here and there, today and yesterday, and therefore what will be too. Which, funnily enough, sounds a lot like Hebrews 13:8 in my well-loved New King James Bible: 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.'

And so although I remain 'homesick, desperately homesick' (Jeremiah 22:27, MSG), I am home when I focus on God as Trinity*: praying to the Father, waiting and looking for Christ, and living in the Spirit.


*God as Trinity is explored by Richard Rohr in a lot of his writings, more recently in a book called The Divine Dance which I recommend to any wanting to explore this concept further.

Saturday, April 28

Martesana

I had a bank holiday on a Wednesday and it was great!

H and I headed out on bicycles along one of the canals that go into Milan. It's a pretty long canal and we managed to cycle along a lot of it, over 20km I think! We saw lots of things and enjoyed two picnics on the way.

I like the Martesana. Although it starts near the Central station, there is quite a bit of nature in it, which, as a friend and I discussed on a walk along it, would indicate it is doing OK as an eco system. The curious thing is that there are goldfish in it, and lots of them, that flash through the water on a particular stretch of it. I've got no idea how so many got there, it seems ubsurd that so many goldfish came from someone throwing their unwanted pets into the canal, unless goldfish breed 'like rabbits' of course.

On this particular trip along the Martesana, H and I went up as far as a gelateria in Cassano d'Adda, a 40 minute cycle from where the canal finally merges with the River Adda. I'm sure one day we'll make it up to the river, but Wednesday it was not to be. There were so many people out and about on their bicycles, there was quite a bit of congestion at times! 

Tuesday, February 27

Below is a blog post dated from the 3rd December that I just discovered I never published. Enjoy! We've since completed the Changes unit and obviously there are many things I have since learnt about myself and my identity that need to change to move forward, but hey ho.

I am a very, very fortunate person. There is a group of people that I remain in contact with even though our daily, weekly and often monthly paths never cross. These friendships formed during sixth-form, although some of them I knew many years before, as early as playgroup.

Roots is the current theme at my workplace. The training we had on this took the form of perspectives but I have been reflecting more on our my identity (the last theme) and how my identity is 'rooted' in certain frames, images, and memories. That way, when I reach the 'Changes' theme, perhaps I will have explored enough of myself to be able to reflect on the aspects of my identity that I may meed to change to move forwards. Anyway, I digress.

My friends, OBG as they are known, are made up of a very diverse bunch of people, with very different lifestyles and priorities, to the point that I think that if we were to meet each other for the first time right now, in our present identities, we may not strike up friendships. However, our present identities are made up of our histories: the university stories, the cars, the houses we've lived in, the love stories, the decision making, the holidays, deaths of friends and family. History. Perhaps subconciously known, but there.

Some of my other friends do not have 'old' friends such as OBG. Perhaps it's an 'island' thing which makes us reconnect as we do, seeking continuity. Eitherway, I love our yearly Christmas get together, it's always worth the trip, no matter how short the time we actually share.

Long live OBG and associates!