Shropshire in the Sun

It was a bank holiday and we went out exploring a nearby Medieval castle and a village little changed since the industrial revolution. With the wedding nearly two months behind us, we’re still taking advantage of the free things to do around the Midlands for an unusual day out, to enjoy the tranquil lull after four months of non-stop running. As we explored the castle, and wandered along the river with our ice-creams, I remembered my childhood visiting French castles and tiny northern villages, and realised I’ve always been a daydreamer, walking carefully and inventing stories in my head :

This room might have been a drawing room, or an armoury, there were no battles fought here but imagine the nobleman wishing he could prove his might over this area. The King came here, maybe he made some important decisions here, right here leaning against this wall in all its glory with tapestries and candles, with a burning fire and gazing pensively out this window at the valley surrounding the manor, the same valley that surrounds us seven hundred years later when all that’s left is a tangle of stones and stories and imagination…


Acton Burnell and Ironbridge

These old track ways, leading up to the door of what is now the tourist information office – once used for transporting goods from the bank of the river to the warehouse. Now that I work in logistics I think of the money that changed hands, the deals that were made, shouting and running – businessmen with their warm coats overseeing the commerce. A tender of rolled cloth is unloaded from a barge, it reaches the shore and positions itself within the ruts carved in the stone floor. Setting off a loose cutting falls and gets caught in the wheel, the whole tender spills out back into the river, ruining its load. The worker pushing the cart is fired on the spot, a valuable consignment from China is ruined, he walks the two miles home to his family of six children not knowing how he’ll feed them tonight…

Written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Tangle

Acton Burnell Castle is cared for by English Heritage and is free to enter

Ironbridge Gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, looked after by English Heritage and free to explore


Inside the Suitcase

Her folded clothes, neat pairs of high-waisted trousers, mini-skirts and shorts, brand new t-shirts, smart blouses her mother had sewn for her more formal dinners – or in case she meets a gentleman. Underwear of course, a nightgown, a coat and jumpers for the evening, and a new bikini. She also had a one-piece that her mother insisted she take, in case she meets a gentleman. Hanging up on the front of the wardrobe and with strict instructions from her mother to unpack and hang back up as soon as possible is her beaded dress that sparkles at the trim. Light blue, not a bright skyblue that’s the colour of the daytime, or a midnight blue that comes with the last bus home, but that magical blue that appears on the opposite side of the sky to the sunset.

She adds a small washbag with soap and toothbrush, it’s green leather with a monogrammed CA in the top corner and seems to have much better craftsmanship than everything except the dress. There will be a shop to replace what she uses, she’s not sure how she’ll wash her clothes but her mother tells her to look after everything. Two books follow, a romance and a collection of essays – to give her an interesting conversation at these dinners. She includes a small notebook with a photograph of her family glued onto the front, telling her mother she would get homesick easily. It’s empty except for five addresses – her parents, two of her closest sisters who now live in the countryside to the south of the city and two close friends from work. She checks them again and slots her boarding card in the middle of the book as she lays it neatly on top of the pile.


She picks up her perfume from the top of the small table beside the window, there’s a photo of her sisters and a small pink candle that’s nearly burnt out. She dabs a little on her neck and drops it into another bag with her notebook, the brown leather with warm metal clasp sits next to the suitcase. She walks over to the case open on the bed and closes it shut – closing her life here and now.

Taking a moment to reflect, she hasn’t told her parents she’s not coming back. They wouldn’t let her get on that ship if they knew, she kept her secret for three years while she worked for the ticket, and in her brown leather bag she also carries an envelope with £100.00 is hidden away in the lining, she’ll exchange it for dollars or pesos or anything else she needs to get by. Her plan is to leave at the furthest port from England, she’ll watch the ship fade into the distance at sunset and she knows she’ll cry. Her parents will beg her to come home and she’ll cry and she’ll regret it, but those feelings won’t last forever. Overwhelmed for a moment a she feels the tears coming already and as she resolves herself she takes her suitcase and walks confidently out of the life that was hers for twenty English years, knowing that the world is nearly hers.

A post for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Interior, based on a suitcase that belonged to my father’s aunt. All I know is that she used it for a cruise on the SS Canberra. I’ve guessed at her age, the initial on the address label we have is a C Asbury, I don’t even know where she went but the fact that we have the suitcase shows that she did come back. We’re using this for cards at our wedding, to fit into our vaguely international theme, a fitting reuse I think!

Saltley Gas Towers

Birmingham’s industrial landscape matches so well with this week’s travel theme : Metal. I caught the Saltley gas towers on the train home from Leicester a few years ago. If you come and go from the north or east of the city by train, you’ll be very familiar with these. You’ll always have a marker on that path, whether that gleaming green and white warehouse on side of the motorway, or the beautiful big church just as you enter the city, there will always be some marker that in your heart fills you with a feeling of “nearly home!”. It’s always going to be a mixed emotion, still happy to be travelling and full of fresh memories, but sad because you know that the minute you step through that door the adventure is over.


Gas Towers

Important Travel Tips : Mexico

My favourite view in Mexico

My favourite view in Mexico

Two wonderful weeks in Mexico – travelling between Metepec and Tequila via el DF, Querétaro and Guadalajara – requires some forward thinking. Which of course with Christmas and a house-buy looming, I didn’t bother doing – didn’t take enough clothes, the right type of clothes, didn’t have time to get pesos in the UK, booked my travel insurance the night before, and so on. I did buy a new guidebook that actually turned out to be pretty useful when we couldn’t find our way to Coyoacan, and even suggested a walking itinerary around the bohemian La Condesa district that we did, discovering new bars and parks and lovely little chocolate shops. So here are some travel tips for the more laid-back visitor :

  • Pack for the weather. Remember that Mexico doesn’t get much above 20º during Winter, so take more than just 9 sleeveless tops and dresses for the 16 days you’re going to be there. What the hell was I thinking? I think – I think, that brain was overloaded with moving-house-stress and the everlasting impression of that first year I went when it was boiling hot, all the time.
  • The flight is long, but lovely KLM give you a schedule of what films will be showing, and luckily as I fly there in December, and back in January I get a good variety for both ways. Check out the list before you go, and plan, because 12 hours in a plane is really boring unless you’ve got some good telly. I normally start off with a comedy TV, then a film and then TV again and so on until dinner-time.
  • Be really British and carry your brolly. When it rains it really rains. We took a road trip to Guadalajara, four and a half of the five hours driving were in the rain. Then when we got there it was like a ghost town with very few people in the streets, unfortunately left the city centre very grey and industrial looking, with few restaurants open.
  • Take cash with you. I tried nearly every cash machine I passed, but only two (out of about twenty) gave me any money. Make sure the bank know when you’re going away, mine did – but I still had to call a very nice lady at my bank who said it was to do with the chip. Unless you want to march into Banamex and have a go at the cashier.
  • It’s all about the breakfast. Or rather, brunch. Eggs cooked al gusto, with chilli, bacon, ham, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, chorizo, then sweet breads, papaya, chilaquiles, frijoles, sopes, pineapple, tamales, potatoes, melon and tacos. Get up at 08h00, and prepare yourself for the biggest breakfast of your life, every day.
  • Driving in Mexico City is mad. Absolutely mad. But I never feel unsafe with Daniel driving, there’s a strange logic to it. Make sure you check the traffic before crossing the road because bikes and carts sometimes nip across on red.
  • Govenment protests happen. EPN spouting bollocks about how privatising the oil industry will be a good thing for Mexico sparked this one, cue “Peña, Mancera, la misma chingadera!”
Privatising Pemex, NO!!

Privatising Pemex, NO!!

  • Mariachi is basically the happiest job in the world. See Mariachi, they’re normally hawking round Reforma actually, and they always pose for the camera, even if they’re mid-song!
  • Learn the two basics, “Soy guëra, pero no soy gringa” (I’m blonde but I’m not American). And the “excuse me” rule, Excuse me 1 : To get someone’s attention = Disculpe. Excuse me 2 : To squeeze past someone = Con Permiso. Excuse me 3 : To say sorry = Perdón.
  • Valet Parking is amazing! You can drive straight up to the city centre restaurant, throw your keys at the guy, drink for the next six hours and and still drive home. Luckily the night we drank for six hours was really close to the house so we actually walked there. On the same note, three jagerbombs, six bottles of Corona and a whiskey and orange are actually a really good cure for jet-lag.
  • Everything is spicy. If a Mexican says it’s not, don’t believe them. “You put green chilli, then molé, then this other spice, but it’s not very spicy in the end”. Erm, yes it is, I’m not eating that.
  • Carry a few extra pesos with you. The cute factor is everywhere, children selling sweets, children doing acrobatics at the traffic lights, children just asking for money straight out in their torn jeans and dirty shoes.
  • Remember that the politics here is corrupt. A driving license costs you 250 pesos no questions asked. The national football team won the Olympic gold medal, but the Mexican FA won’t invest in player development, so games are left full of advertising and no substance. Then the last thing the government privatised was the railways, and all that’s left of that is three tourist trains, all the rest of the money left Mexico, or went straight into the politicians pockets.
  • Love the country and its people. The country has so much to be proud of, such a progressive and tolerant nation in some ways, but so humble in others. Yes the divide between rich and poor is very noticeable, but buy the little girl an ice cream, and give the little acrobatic boy at the traffic lights your 10 pesos, it’s 11pm and he should be at home in bed in the warm. But love every bit of this puebla, meet people and enjoy this rich, warm-hearted nation.
I heart MEX

I heart MEX

Rage Against the Answer Machine

Rage Against the Answer Machine on Radio 1 with Greg James

Rage Against the Answer Machine on Radio 1 with Greg James

Listening to BBC Radio 1’s Rage Against the Answer Machine every Thursday just makes me giggle on the way home from work. It’s about a half hour drive so I get most of it which makes a nice change – usually I join half-way through some segment and feel like I’ve missed out and start flicking through the stations. The way it works is really simple, there’s a phone number, call it and rage away! Then they play a selection, like Angry Indicator man “That stick on the side of the steering wheel is the indicator!!! If you do not use it – I do not know what you are doing!!!” Not quite having the confidence to call it myself, here is a short list of my rages from the past week or so :

Google seems to think this is do-able in 45 minutes

Google seems to think this is do-able in 45 minutes – in rush hour

1. You might have a massive Audi, or a BMW but you still need to be in the right lane on the island*, that is why I am pipping you, you dumbass-cutting-in-front-of-me-from-the-right-hand-lane-to-go-down-the-Small-Heath-Bypass! The middle lane is for straight on, you are in the lane to go right.

2. Solicitors, why aren’t you open just Saturday morning, or just one late night? Most people work Monday to Friday 9-5, including you, so don’t be so surprised when we ask for an appointment, in Walsall, on a Saturday morning. Walsall! The flat we’re buying is just half a mile from where we live now and we have to go to sodding Walsall. What would you do, faced with an hour drive over there, for your latest appointment that’s still half an hour earlier than you finish work? I hate having time off for things like that, doctors and other appointments that aren’t necessary, why can’t they at least have a late night, just til 18h30, that’s all it would take. Please?

How do you fail to see that this is First Class?

How do you fail to see that this is First Class?

3. Your ticket says Standard Class, you’re quite obviously sitting in First Class despite all the signs stating where you are (including that one at eye-level on the door you opened to get here, and the one that’s actually printed on the seat you are sitting in). Then you act all innocent to the ticket inspector like you cannot actually use your chuffing eyes. People pay full price for a nice quiet First Class seat and you are ruining it with your stupid pumping music and long phone call about what you’re doing tonight with Gaz and Jonesey.

4. Shut up Shut up Shut up!! Heavy loud music on a Sunday night coming from big-marquee-in-garden-over-there. I can still hear you with all windows shut!

I think that’s it, I must be feeling quite chilled out at the moment. A lovely French, Spanish, Portuguese and Mexican juevebes** and dinner yesterday and winding down to the weekend must be taking effect.

What trivial things have pissed you off this week? Would you broadcast it on the radio?

* For all the non-Brummies – this is a roundabout. ** And for all the non-Spanish-speakers – this is a mix of the Spanish words for Thursday and Drink, ie., Cheeky Thursday Drinkie.

Hot Chocolate Season

Cola Cao, what can be better?

Cola Cao, what can be better?

Yes it’s Hot Chocolate Season, the weather is turning colder and as I don’t drink tea or coffee I can finally enjoy a hot chocolate with a clear conscience. My absolute favourite is the one at The Green Room, the deluxe is a tall glass with whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate powder. Just Yum! It’s about half an hour from the house though, so I save it for Spanish Meetups once a month on a Sunday afternoon.

Not San Gil, but not far off!

Then it’s the one in Mexico at the Misión San Gil, Quéretaro in Mexico, it’s so creamy, and chocolatey and comes in a beautiful painted mug. And the grounds of the restaurant are magical, set in a colonial hacienda-type building, the hotel forms part of a bigger estate with a golf course and country houses. We go to the hotel just once when we go to Quéretaro, always for breakfast where you can have as much fruit as you want, eggs exactly how you want them, catcus smoothie and this divine hot chocolate. Then we take a little walk in the grounds, with peacocks and butterflies all around.

And there’s Cola Cao. My Spanish treat. Discovered in my first year at uni in the Spanish girls’ kitchen. It was also our erasmus staple drink. We’d sit waiting for (or skipping) lectures in the Cafeteria Interfacultades, with our cup of milk and sachet of Cola Cao, chatting about what happened at the weekend, who had snogged who and who was sick in a wheelie bin and where we were going to go after lectures were over for the day. For me Cola Cao is erasmus in Spain. And I still have it every time I go back, the one above was in Córdoba in a late night café next to the Cathedral in the main square.

Written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme : Brown

Two Little Day Trips – Our Search for a Beer Garden by the River

So, British Summer finally came, and we took two little Day Trips out. We do watch quite a lot of history documentaries, about Medieval Kings and warring Tudor families, so we have been trying to discover a little bit of that for ourselves, heading out to old market towns that were once intimately involved with the history of this country.

1. Tewkesbury – July 2013

We drove down to Tewkesbury, it’s not very easy to get to on the train. In reality we went looking for a beer garden by the river but unfortunately the only pub recommended to us was the Wetherspoons which was fenced back to the river, so absolutely no luck with that. And Tewkesbury has two rivers, the Avon and the Severn, so it’s a quaint little town where the rivers meet. P1040459 - CopySo what is lovely in Tewkesbury? Of course it’s the town, it’s small and barely has a high street, but the views are beautiful, we were lucky enough to find a tower tour run by the Sea Cadets, and climbed the tower of Tewkesbury Abbey for a vista of Gloucestershire in its finest. There are two mills that bookend the town, we started by the Abbey and walked down to the Town along the path on the other side. It is most famous for its Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, where the House of York thrased the Lancastrians in one of the most decisive battles in the War of the Roses and ultimately putting them on the path to victory.

2. Worcester – August 2013

P1040499We got up thinking we’ll go to Worcester. Then sometime during getting dressed we changed to Liverpool but then settled on Worcester. And it was definitely the best idea! Firstly less than a tenner and less than an hour on the train, and it was the Worcester Festival so we had earmarked a few things to keep us busy. There was a craft market by the River Severn, and to be honest it wasn’t as nice as you’d get in Birmingham, a lot of glasswork and knitting but it was nice enough to spend a half hour. We wandered up to the Cathedral, and saw the tomb of King John, (of Robin Hood, throne stealing while Richard III is away at the Crusades fame) and Prince Arthur, older brother of Henry VIII, who died before taking the throne.

The best bit, was a free walking tour themed to the Battle of Worcester (1651), run by the Battle of Worcester Society, we learned about King Charles’ lucky escape through the back of an old Tudor house, and King John’s funeral attire. The Battle of Worcester was basically the one that decided the outcome of the Civil War, and King Chares’ escape led him to France, and in the end back to being King once Cromwell died. The most interesting and British I think, is Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s pilgrimage to Worcester, the birthplace of modern democracy and their disappointment when nobody in Worcester seemed to care! We also had a lovely lunch at The Olive Branch, which is in a little alcove next to an old church, and looks like the perfect place for a Summer’s evening drink. Topped off with a ice cream (there was a pub with a beer garden but ice cream won) by the river it was another lovely day.