Monday, 29 August 2011

Wedding Blessing

I thought that you might like to see a few photos from our wedding blessing on Friday. Yes I am delighted to declare that even God has now recognised our union. 

It did feel a bit odd to get my sparkly dress out again and be re-newing our vows to each other. I'm delighted to say that Tris was still keen to be married to me!

Well - it would have been rude not to wear the dress again!

Beautiful big sis.

Tris read through the order of blessing in the car on the way down and declared after five minutes that he was fully prepared. 'I do, I do, I will'! He said proudly - his bit learned.

The service went really well, with dad trying to out do me and my sister in a lovely gold embossed cape. We wondered where he was going with his address when he started talking about Ronald Reagan, but he managed to pull it round in the end - impressive!

Unfortunately it did lash it down (what do you expect on an English bank holiday), but I was fine, I had a bridal brolly, which kept me both dry and stylish when I went across the church yard to put my bouquet on mum's grave. 

Out done by my dad!

We had a lovely reception in the Wishing Well pub in the village of Dyke, which was followed by a beer festival in a marquee in an adjoining field. The beer festival was nothing to do with us - purely by chance - but made the males in our party very happy. In fact when they were summoned by their ladies, the message came back that the entrance had collapsed and they were trapped inside, being tended to by the East Anglian Mountain Rescue. 

Party rocks, while husband is stuck in collapsed beer tent.

When a Head Teacher tells you this, you tend to believe her! Off I went into the field in my sparkly frock, at full pelt to help liberate my husband from the collapsed beer tent, to find them all happy as Larry getting as much real ale down their necks as possible and trying to persuade the land lord to make it an annual festival - Dykefest!

Tris also told me about how, as the first people there at the start of the beer festival, they had all been interviewed and photographed by the Bourne Local (newspaper) - wedding suited up and  proudly holding their pints of Old Speckled Pig (or whatever). I was very impressed and promptly put in an order for a copy with my dad. 

That was a wind up too - Tris, I'm sad to say is not doing very well in terms of the 'honesty' part of his wedding vows! Unlike one little girl who, high on a cocktail of fizzy swizzles love hearts and parma violets (she managed to accumulate practically everyones favour boxes) decided to let me into a little secret. 

'Did you know that daddy has a pair of gold sparkly ladies knickers?' She said.

I have to say I didn't - but I do now!

The happy couple - ahhh!

So - this will probably be the last update for a while - we are off tomorrow to have a 'wonderful' honeymoon in Boston, New England and New York. I'm looking forward to lots of amazing adventures which I'll be sure to fill you in on when we get back. Ax

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Stalking Hurricanes

The news is reporting that parts of New York are being evacuated (including Manhattan), with a state of emergency issued as far north as Cape Cod, which looks like it's going to be battered by Hurricane Irene tomorrow. 

Hurricane Irene

I wrote a couple of days ago that whenever I go to the US I always seem to end up dodging disaster (read I don't BELIEVE it! ). 

Well, I am avidly watching the news reports again at the moment. We fly out to Boston on Tuesday and travel around New England before finishing up in New York. We are supposed to be camping, but I think I'll be taking a credit card and wellies in case we have to up-grade!

When I was driving today, I remembered something else. I was actually planning a holiday to New Orleans in 2005. Can't remember why, but I canned that trip and it never got booked. Good job - my planned dates would have seen me right in the middle of Hurricane Katrina!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Song of Solomon

Our wedding at Oakfield Manor, at Chester Zoo back in June was a civil ceremony, so tomorrow we will be having a small church wedding blessing, which my dad will take, in Bourne Abbey, Lincolnshire. 


Guests at our wedding at Chester Zoo


Mum and dad moved to Bourne in 2000 when dad retired. Sadly mum only lived there for 18 months - she is buried in the church yard.


Bourne Abbey


I get to wear my lovely dress again, but this time I'll be doing my own hair, make up and nails. 


A civil ceremony means that you can't include anything even remotely religious - tomorrow we get to have some beautiful readings, including The Song of Solomon. Even though it's not going to be a big do, I know that you'll all be thinking of us. When you read this verse, just stop, spare us a thought and wish us good luck for a long, happy and now church blessed marriage.

The greatest of these is love. Song of Solomon 2:10-13

My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

I don’t BELIEVE it!

There are lots of things I don’t believe today.

I can’t believe it’s been two years today since my cancer diagnosis. Bloody hell, what a week that was! On the one hand, two years seems like nothing. But on the other, when I think of what’s happened – holy moley! And I’ve managed to fit in an engagement, wedding and redundancy as well. How do I do it?

My diagnosis was actually on the day before we were due to fly out to the States for our big summer holiday. The plan was to stay with friends in Boston, then to travel around New England and finish up with a few days in New York. We had to cancel the trip with a days notice – and damn you insurance companies – we only got a fraction of our money back (Bar-stools)!

Does this trip sound familiar? Well that’s because we will be attempting it again next week, for our honeymoon. I cannot begin to tell you what an achievement it will be and how much it will feel like I’ve ‘book-ended’ this whole terrible experience. I never thought I’d see the day and I don’t want to speak too soon, but I bloody did it!

The reason I don’t want to speak too soon brings me to my next ‘I don’t BELIEVE it!’

I don’t believe that I woke up this morning to news of earthquakes (5.8 on the whatsit scale) along the east coast of America, which not only temporarily closed JFK airport but much more importantly stopped some tennis in Connecticut. This is so rare, that the TV and radio channels had to broadcast that it was actually for real. 

Check out this news report with the headline ‘What?! An earthquake? The east coast reacts with shock. 
Even better – there are promises of serious aftershocks over the next couple of weeks. We fly out there on Tuesday.

One news web site leads to another and it gets better. Apparently hurricane Irene is also due to hit at the weekend – for our ‘Exploring New England’ part of the holiday – we will be in a tent. Check out this lovely bit of news:

The storm is forecast to approach the coast of the Carolinas on Saturday morning. After that, the saturated New England region could be at risk from torrential rains, high winds and flooding from Irene, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said on Tuesday.

Why does this keep happening to me? America has been trying to kill me off for years. Whenever I come to the States there is always some drama.

In 1992 my friend Julie and I had just booked our road trip around the western states when the LA riots broke out (following the acquittal of white policemen who were caught on video beating up Rodney King, an African American). 

Sunrise over the Grand Canyon


Although our trip started in Las Vegas – it was due to finish in LA. We were terrified – in particular of taking a wrong exit from the freeway and ending up in the ghetto – it was before sat navs and I was in charge of navigation so the margin for error was substantial.

As it happens LA was fine but it did add an extra tension to the trip.

I LOVED Lucy! Universal Studios, LA

Then in 1999 on my next trip to the States I just missed Hurricane Floyd which was not only MASSIVE, but came ashore exactly where I was flying out to stay the next day in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (you can read more about that trip in my ‘Finding the one’ blog).

The next trip to the states was to New York 6th – 11th September 2001, and we all know what happened then. I was actually in the air flying home when the planes went into the Twin Towers (you can read more about that trip in my ‘New York 9-11’ blog).

My trip to the States in 2002 (North and South Carolina) was probably the least eventful although I do remember that it was a particularly good year for tornado’s and we did have to go and hide in the storm shelter under the stairs a couple of times. If you want a good old adrenaline rush, there’s nothing like watching the tornado reports on the TV – coming closer and closer. To panic, not to panic? It’s the modern day equivalent of watching the German army advance on Stalingrad.

My last trip to the States was again to LA as part of my round the world adventure in 2007. I don’t remember anything too traumatic happening – apart from seeing Britney Spears in a shop?! (you can read more about that in my ‘Chasing Fame’ blog). But then I was flying in from Fiji that time rather than the UK, so maybe I took the Gods by surprise.

Britney (scarf & wig)

 I’m trying hard not to take it personally, and to be fair it isn’t just the States. I seem to have a knack for dodging disaster.

Christchurch cathedral, before the earthquake.

So here we go again, a weekend of nervously checking the news reports and tracking a hurricane. If all goes to plan we’ll fly out next week, an excellent opportunity for another travel blog – especially as we get to New York exactly 10 years to the day after I flew out. Not exactly September 11th, but in terms of the day – bang on. Now that will be a bit weird.

 If not, I guess we’ll head somewhere a bit safer – Libya anyone?

Friday, 19 August 2011

Playground Etiquette

I don’t have children of my own, so when it comes to playground etiquette, I’m a bit of a novice. I do however have a beautiful Godboy called Sam (4 yrs) and I try my hardest to be the best Godmum I can be.
Yesterday, Sam’s Granny was at the doctors and his mummy had to work, so I was drafted in to help out. It was a nice day so I promised Sam that he could ride his bike to the park. It seemed like an easy babysitting gig, so he got his bike out, put on his helmet, showed me how his bell worked and off we went.

Within 100 yards, he’d declared that his bike was very hard to ride and that he probably didn’t have enough energy to make it to the park. I did try and I know I probably should have been firmer, but I caved and ended up pushing his bike all the way to the park.

I’ve not been to our local park for a while – it would seem that at 10 o’clock in the morning it becomes a speedway. I was almost mown down by a 6 year old careering out of control towards me on his birthday bicycle. Said child then cycled at full pelt into the curb and did a very impressive roll across the grass. Then followed that key moment – the one where it could go either way. Get up and dust yourself down, or howl. 

‘Who are you here with?’ I asked. ‘Your mum?’

‘My Grandma’ he replied pointing, wobbly, inspecting his grass stains.

‘Go and find her then, she’ll check you’re OK’.

Off he went on his bike, semi-sobbing, to his Grandma who looked about 25 years old. I did a double take. 

‘Impressive’ I thought, nodded and then turned my attention back to Sam, who despite his sticky front brake, was heading for the playground, making a lovely left turn signal as he cycled towards the gate. That’s my boy – very proud!

Excellent signals!

While Sam threw himself down the slide (thankfully he still had his helmet on), I nobbled a Granddad to help me fix the bike. It didn’t start off very well when I called his grandson a girl. But if people won’t cut their child’s hair, how am I to know? To the uninitiated they look very similar at 18 months old.

Actually Granddad was a bit crap in the bike mending department. He very usefully told me to take it back to the shop. I thought Granddads were genetically programmed to fix bikes? Very disappointing!

So, instead of achieving ‘easy option’ I had to actually do something about it myself. There was no way I was carrying Sam’s bike all the way back again – it was very heavy – it had stabilizers. 

Actually, it wasn’t so hard to fix – it just meant that he couldn’t use his front brake. After congratulating myself on my mechanical genius, Sam insisted that I went on the roundabout and pushed me round until I felt sick. He refused to stop – until I managed to distract him with a well timed helicopter appearance!

‘Look – helicopter’ I shouted, and while he was waiting for it to appear from behind the trees, I managed to stick my foot out, slow the damn thing down and jump off. I needed a sit down after that!

Sam wanted to go down the slide again, but this time head first. He still had his helmet on, so I figured that covered any health and safety issues. He wasn’t quite sure how to go about it though. Never having been head first down a slide myself, I probably wasn’t the best person to ask, but I managed to talk him through it and Sam duly skeleton bobbed down the slide successfully, beaming as he got to the bottom.

It’s funny how children talk to each other. Sam at the grand old age of four is clearly very grown up and sensible, so when the little boy (that looked like a little girl), tried to climb up the slide, Sam in his very serious voice, reprimanded him and told him that he was ‘too little!’ So the little boy offered Sam a crisp and Sam duly let him climb up the slide. I love his tactics.

All too soon it was time for us to go. Of course Sam didn’t want to go and called me a ‘Pinky ponky poo-poo’, but I’ve been called worse so we left the park with Sam riding ‘very, very fast’ all the way on his bike, minding that he didn’t use his front brake. We stopped just long enough for him to name the snails on the fence ‘Sarky and Farty’ – what does his mother teach him? Before getting back to his house for a well earned glass of milk and a jaffa cake.

Sam on his way back from the park.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Minimoon in Paris (2)

Le chat noir.

Continuing from yesterdays blog - more Parisian minimoon antics.

We loved our Montmatre walking tour so much that on day four we did another discover walk, this time it was the Îlse de la Cité and Notre Dame

Notre Dame.

Reading the facade.
Once again it was brilliant. We learned to how to read the carvings on the facade of the cathedral, saw the location of a barbers and pie makers which provided the original inspiration for the story of Sweeny Todd and the house where medieval lovers Rosamund and Abelard lived, prior to her expulsion to a nunnery and his castration – Ow! And at the end, we all stuck our bags up our jumpers and posed in a very un-pc way as the hunch back of Notre Dame for a group photo.

Crazy woman.

And her art.

More art was bought from a crazy woman by the side of the road, before walking up past the Louvre, through the Tuileries to Place de la Concorde. 

One of the things I love most about travelling is buying my Rough Guide book the month before and reading all about the history of a place. I knew very little about Paris – of course I knew about the French Revolution, but it was more from ‘Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head’ with Sid James as The Scarlet Pimpernel, than anything more factual. The blood-shed that took place during the revolution was horrific. At one point they were guillotining people so quickly that bodies mounted up while rats and dogs wallowed in the lakes of congealed stinking blood that blocked the drains. The Place de la Concorde saw the beheading of thousands. 

Site of rampant beheading.

I stood there in the middle of Place de la Concorde, next to the fountains and giant obelisk trying to imagine the scenes. Like most places with a grizzly past, you stand there and while on one level you know what took place – in the middle of modern day Paris with all the traffic and bustle, you just can’t quite connect with it. Nonetheless, it was still very impressive. 

Onwards along the Champs Elysees – we became part of the city planning which sees the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and Arc du Triomphe line up beautifully, then onto the Étoile itself and the Arc with its huge Tricolour blowing crazily in the wind in the middle. Napoleon sure knew how to build an impressive monument.

View from the Eiffel Tower of the Etoile.


On our last day, riding the metro like Parisians, we dumped our bags at Gare du Nord and went back to cross off the final thing on our ‘must do’ list for Paris - The Louvre.

This is where I can publically say – ‘Rough Guide to Paris – I love you’!

‘Don’t queue up with all the others by the Pyramid’ it said go through the side door ‘Porte des Lions’. Although there are some days when it’s not open, for us it worked like a charm as we by-passed the queues and waltzed straight in. 

The place NOT to queue.

The Louvre was not at all what I’d expected. I knew there was a pyramid involved in things somewhere, but other than that I thought it was going to be a dingy little museum. Not so, it was a ruddy great big palace and it was spectacular.

We were tight for time so we needed tactics. We decided to limit ourselves to the first floor and head straight for the main attraction, following the thoughtfully placed ‘Mona Lisa – this way’ sign posts. Everyone I know who has seen the Mona Lisa has told me what a disappointment it is - that it’s small and dirty. I was expecting something the size of a postage stamp, so I’m probably the only person in history to have been pleasantly surprised by the old girl. 
Mona, Mona, Mona!

It didn’t take me long to muscle my way to the front to take my obligatory ‘Mona photo’, before winkling out the other, less popular Di Vinci portraits residing in the Louvre. Again, another top Rough Guide tip, the other Di Vinci’s are much more beguiling and practically ignored by the crowds.

The other Di Vinci girl.

If you are into the Italian Renaissance or Egyptology then the Louvre is for you. Personally I’d rather have seen some of the Impressionists, but they are in other museums, so I guess I’ll have to save them for another day.

At 2pm we started trying to leave the Louvre. Thirty minutes later we were still trying to leave. The place is just huge and not designed for a quick escape.

And then we were back on the Eurostar to London. Paris was romantic, intense, superb, and it was over all too quickly. We couldn’t have chosen a better place for our minimoon and we did it to the max.

Paris - je t'aime xx

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to our wedding ‘Bliss List’ and treated us to the sights and sounds of Paris for our wedding present. We had the best time – Trés bien with nobs on!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Minimoon in Paris (1)

Now clearly I won’t be telling everything about our minimoon in Paris! But I just thought it might be nice to fill you in on some of the highlights. 

I hope it brings back fabulous memories for those who have already been, and for those who haven’t – a sneak preview into the city d’amour!

Arriving at the Gare du Nord on the Eurostar brings you right into the centre of the city. I’ve done my fair share of travelling in the past, but I’ve never had a reaction to a city like I had when I arrived in Paris. Normally you arrive at an airport way out in the sticks and have to travel through the not so nice bits before arriving somewhere worthy of a photo. But not Paris! 

Arriving at Gare du Nord.

As soon as you walk through the station doors, there it is, Paris, just as all the guidebooks promised. Immediately I was in love with the place. With its tall pale buildings with black iron balconies, pavement cafes with red awnings and lots and lots of geraniums in window boxes, within a minute of arriving, Paris did not disappoint.

I was so excited, despite carrying a heavy backpack, I did a little dance on the pavement.

To new arrivals, the metro system looks impossible, so we decided to walk to the Gare de l’est to give us a fighting chance of an easier route to our apartment, down by the Eiffel Tower. It didn’t look very far on the map. Hindsight is indeed a marvellous thing. It didn’t take us long to realise that the cartographer had been a bit sparing with his road listings. In short, we got a bit lost and it was much further than it looked on the map.

I have no idea what this is - but it was very nice!

But to me, this is the most exciting part of travelling - arriving somewhere new, with new smells and sights and languages. Getting a bit lost in the past has opened the door to some fabulous places that I never would have found if I’d stuck to the guidebook. Clearly you don’t want to go wandering around the ghetto and I’m aware that arriving somewhere new is when you are at your most vulnerable, but we were in central Paris, the sun was shining and we weren’t running to a timetable, so I figured we would be OK.

You have no idea how good it felt to be back in the travelling groove, in my scruffs with all my belongings in a backpack. For a long, long time I thought those days were behind me. When I was ill I spent too much time looking at my travel photos, trying to go back to my happy places and grieving at the thought of hanging up my plug adaptors, trek towel and head torch. But here I was in Paris – I was back baby!

I must admit to being a bit scared of Paris when I arrived, in particular of Parisians. Parisians have a fearsome reputation for arrogance, rudeness and a refusal to speak English. The latter is fair enough – but with an ‘O-Level’ in French that was never very good at the best of times, I was nervous of being outed as a linguistic idiot. 

This vision of a scary, rude Parisian screaming at me in French, while I stammered ‘plus lentement s'il vous plâit’, couldn’t have been further than the truth. Everyone we met was charming and couldn’t have been more helpful. Like the man who found us looking at a perplexing metro wall map trying to plan a route to our apartment. Not only did he speak to us in English, while we tried to speak to him in French, he accompanied us to the nearest station and then told us which road to follow - radiating from the square where we’d surfaced, before tipping his hat, bidding us ‘Au revoir’ and heading off in the opposite direction. Quelle gentile homme! 

Nothing can compare to that moment when you first spy the Eiffel Tower. When you travel underground, popping up like a little Meerkat in random squares and boulevards, you miss the great sites. Walking across the square I thought ‘Ok you big tower of metal, I know you’re here somewhere’. When we finally turned the corner into the road where our apartment was – there it was, all along, the ‘Tour Eiffel’. I let out a little scream and did another little dance for joy on a pavement in Paris. This was turning into a very good day!

Shout 'YIPPEE' and do a little dance.

Our apartment was on the 21st floor with amazing views of the city – you could even see Notre Dame in the distance.

View from our apartment.

We deposited our belongings and set off to explore, heading for the River Seine where we spontaneously jumped onto a river cruise and celebrated with a can of Heineken! I sat with Tris on the open top of the boat and couldn’t remember the last time I was so happy. While our wedding was amazing and a big success, it was nice for things to be just about the two of us again. We sailed along the river to the sounds of traditional French music, while the city sites glided past us – the left and the right banks. The tower, the Grand and Petit Palais, under the Pont Alexandre III, past the Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre, the Tuileries and around the Îlse de la Cité with the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was magical.

Cruising the River Seine.

Same Seine but different!

All modes of transport covered.

Back on dry land, we avoided the hundreds of hawkers selling Eiffel Tower tat, with a well rehearsed ‘Non-Merci’ and sat and watched the sun set before going for dinner at a local café with fabulous views of the tower - which lit up and started to twinkle at 10pm. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.


Our restaurant.

The Eiffel Tower all lit up.

Sadly, not the perfect start to the next day – Tris had eaten something that didn’t agree with him. I was woken to the romantic sounds of vomiting. Tris hasn’t been physically sick since the 1980’s, so I knew it was serious and was duly dispatched to hunt down and bring back lucozade from the local supermarché. Mission accomplished and with Tris promising to phone me immediately if his condition deteriorated, I set off to ‘do’ Paris solo.

Photo taken while stuck on roundabout.

Apart from inadvertently getting stuck on a roundabout in the middle of all the crazy Parisian drivers, and an attempted scam by a pretend deaf person, I had a fairly uneventful wander through St Germain and the Latin Quarter. Although I spent 6 months travelling by myself around the world a few years ago, I was missing my travel buddy. Ahhh :-)

One thing that did amaze me though, was that in the midst of all the crazy driving, you’d see stylish Parisian women on bicycles, in crisp white shirts and tailored beige trousers with perfect hair (NO helmets) gliding calmly though the madness. Bonkers!

Day three was probably our best day, with an early morning trip up the tower - fighting every fibre in my being not to re-create the 1985 'View to a Kill', Duran Duran video with baddie, Grace Jones. The view from the top was spectacular with the wide boulevards and city planning clear to see. Tempting us up on the top of Montmatre, pure white and hazy in the distance, you could just about make out Sacré Coeur – our afternoon destination.

Going up?

Splendid view from up here.

Like little Meerkats we popped up out of the metro again, and this time we were right by the Moulin Rouge. Again it was one of those iconic Parisian pictures and again it didn’t disappoint. We sat on the benches on the gravelled central strip and ate baguettes and counted the sex shops. Tris had been struggling all morning with hay fever so nipped into a nearby shop to get some hanky’s, while I started to text a friend ‘Hi, sat having lunch outside sex shops, Tris has gone to get tissues’. I re-read my text, thought better of it and pressed cancel!

Moulin Rouge

We didn't go in here!

While Tris had been acquainting himself with the Paris drainage system the day before, I’d picked up some leaflets from the foyer of our hotel. It included one from ‘Discover Walks’ which invited us to ‘See Paris with a Parisian’. The walking tours were free – the guides were paid in tips so it was an incentive for them to pull out all the stops.

The tour was fantastic – if you are in Paris I would really recommend them

Our tour guides.

Climbing up to Sacre Coeur.

Removing the curse of Dalida.

The guides, two young girls, clearly loved their city and wanted us to love it too. They were really amusing and told us tales and stories as we wound our way up through the streets of Montmatre, which I’m sure we wouldn’t have got with a regular tour. If I thought I loved Paris, then I loved, loved, loved Montmatre with Sacré Coeur the cherry on the top. After the tour had finished, Tris and I sat on the steps at the front of the cathedral and along with lots of other tourists, watched the street performers – including the best ‘keepie uppie’ skills I’ve ever seen.

Sacre Coeur - beautiful.
Impressive ball control!

After that we wandered through the streets, bought art and sat at a pavement cafe drinking cold pression biere and eating free nuts. 

Buying art.


That evening, while crossing the pont des artes, I remembered that I had the padlock for my gym locker in my bag. So we scratched ‘T+A 11.6.11’ (the date of our wedding) onto the lock and attached it, along with thousands of other ‘love locks’ onto the bridge and threw the key into the river. If you are in Paris, see if you can find it – it’s by the second lamppost from the right bank, on the left hand side.

Our 'Love Lock'.

A whole lot of love!

 More from Paris tomorrow!