Wish You Were Here? Travels in Bruges (*Video*)

I recently visited the fair city of Bruges (or, to give it’s Flemish name, Brugge) in Belgium. While on paper there was nothing grand or seemingly important about this four day break in a historic city, for me personally it meant a lot. Why? Because it was the first time I’d ever travelled abroad by myself. It has been something I’ve wanted, nay, known deep down I was capable of for a while but I never had the courage to take the leap.

So as something a bit different I’ve created a video of my travels in the historic city. View and enjoy!

I had the best time in Bruges by experiencing all the city has to offer and more (a highlight not showcased in the video was a very moving moment when I had an organ recital all to myself in one of Bruges’ many churches. I’d been wondering around the church and about to leave when a volunteer started playing. I sat in the pews and was almost brought to tears by the beauty of the music and the environment.)

For anyone considering similar I say simply this. Do. It.

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Solo Adventures

I’m just back after my first solo city break to the wonderful Bruges. I spent hours in the coffee shops recommended by locals, explored the parts of city day-tourists lacked stamina for, I even got my own classical organ concert in a deserted church. Oh, and I consumed A LOT of beer and chocolate.

To the little voice inside my head (and anyone else’s) know that you don’t need to have someone else (friend, partner etc.) to justify a holiday. Be your own person and create your own adventures.

(Blog post to follow.)

 

The Bits of London that Make the Bigger Picture

It’s been a while since I put together a heavily picture-based post and I also haven’t given much of an update into my crazy London lifestyle* (*crazy mainly because I now shop at Tesco’s rather than Sainsburys – I’m off the chain). So as I was scrolling through the very typically Alice photo reels I thought I’d combine the two and create a random post full of random images. If you want to see more photos like these check me out on Instagram (aeb_thewriter).

First off, start with this to set your weekend off right:

Maybe it’s the work, maybe it’s the general buzz of the big city but I’ve very much got into my acoustic covers since moving. Perfect music to unwind to.

And what’s a chilled weekend without a good coffee? My local haunt is a tiny little shop on the corner of Cinnamon Street rather aptly called Cinnamon Coffee Shop.

Inside there’s only a small selection of seats however every one offers a perfect people watching spot, be it people walking down the quiet back streets of Wapping or those dashing in and out with their soy lattes to go. I’ve spent many an hour in this place on a weekend afternoon, chilling with a book whilst The Beatles play in the background.

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I drink coffee alongside exposed lightbulbs and at 2/3 circle tables. I’m not hipster, but…

And if Cinnamon is packed out then the coffee world is my oyster. I usually hang out at Caffe Nero on the South Bank (Oxo Tower), but closer to the flat you can find me either at the Starbucks at St. Katherine’s Docks or the Starbucks at Hay’s Galleria.

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It’s outside, but covered over, but charging eat-in prices (but paying for take out).

And if you disturb me whilst reading…

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Or clean away my coffee when I haven’t finished…

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“The small girl took command of the situation”…by running away from the body.

That said, even though I’m arguably doing more ‘young professional’ reading (sans avocado) than ever before, I still think I have a little way to go yet. A) because an equally intellectual man has yet to act on this (“wait, you’re telling me Hollywood is a lie?”) and B) my powers of embracing all forms of Art is still a little way off. Case in point; this Sainsburys receipt on display at the Tate Modern (South Bank).

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You know I’d probably have found it easier to accept if I hadn’t discovered the shopper-come-artist spent over £50 and didn’t claim any of the Nectar points.

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That’s 26.5p in points. Wasted. And you know, back in June 2016 I’d have happily have taken those. It’s just selfish if you ask me.

But that’s the crazy thing with living somewhere where you wake up with a view of Tower Bridge and say goodnight to the bright lights of the Shard. Things and places that I wouldn’t have ever imagined having access to are now only a short walk away. I see the Tower of London twice everyday on my walking commute to work to the point of being blasé to its historic value and beauty.

Loathed as I am to say it, London has also opened me up to some great opportunities and experiences. I’ve attended fancy events with old friends I haven’t seen in ages…

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…and at the polar opposite I’ve got completely drenched queuing for tickets in the pouring rain.

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I was one of the last people to get a seat but, from looking at everyone else, the worst prepared for the British weather. My whole body was so numb and shaking it’s a wonder I could take a photo.

I recently discovered that, contrary to my assumptions, my name isn’t as obvious as I had thought. This is what happened when I went bowling after work with some colleagues (including Bev and Theo).

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Hmm.

The weekend just gone marked the main celebration of Bonfire night (English tradition of lighting big fires and fireworks on or around 5th November. Has historical links, Google it). And in part because I didn’t have anyone to go with but more significantly because I didn’t fancy having to pay the money and fight the London crowds I chose to have a quiet one in. That was until I realised that my bedroom window had a clear sight of a massive firework display happening locally, which this expertly taken photo proves (and will you full on instantaneous envy).

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You really had to be there. After trying about ten times to get a decent shot I put my phone down and enjoyed the display as it was intended to be seen.

Have you ever watched a firework display in slouch clothing with a plate of Chilli Con Carne? Very novel experience.

In a pictorial nutshell those are the key elements of my life in London. Work, coffee, books, exhibitions, embracing spontaneity. So far I think I’ve got the balance right, I’m spending more money (“welcome to London hun”) but not as much as I had expected. As I say to work colleagues and friends, “I can buy a cheap-ish coffee at work everyday and gulp it quickly in front of a computer monitor, or I can invest a little more on the weekends and enjoy a hot drink and cake in a coffee shop where I can relax for an hour.” Seems an obvious choice to me.

Central London may be causing havoc with my skin and with my shopping habits (it is frustrating that the entirety of ‘The City’ shuts down on the weekend) but I have come to accept that it’s what comes as part of the lifestyle when you live so ridiculously close to work by London standards. Charm and character will just have to wait for those times I travel back to the family home (picture the opening scene of Bridget Jones).

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Fun fact: the opening scenes/scenes of Bridget’s family home were filmed in a village called Snowshill which itself is near to where I was brought up. In case you wanted further proof I am country bumpkin.

For what it’s worth (worth being not having to pay for a Tube season ticket and live in an area of suburbia feels out of character given its location), Wapping is more than good enough for me. Who knows what the next weeks will hold as I take on this smoke-filled jungle at Christmas, but right now I’m going to focus on the more pressing questions.

For example…

1. What was going through this person’s head last Saturday at the Surrey Quays Tesco Extra?

If it’s what I think it is then they’ve missed the point. Everyone knows the quality of water is only as good as the plant feed when it comes to cut flowers. Boy are they going to look silly when they come to put those on their kitchen table.

And 2. Why are they called epanbeppies here?

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When She Gives You This Look…

I was in a hipster bar in Shoreditch the other day, attending a chilled out event with an old friend. Before the event kicked off the organiser handed out two disposable cameras, encouraging attendees to use the ‘retro’ objects to take snaps of themselves and their friends. After a quick operation guide for the avocado lovers we were left to our own free will as the main event kicked off. The was only one rule – you have to turn the flash on to get a viewable image post development.

About mid way through one of the cameras reached my friend and I at the back. After a lot of faff (“you’ve got to hold the flash button and the snap button? Well that’s impractical”), my friend got her arms into position and was able to press both front flash and main snap buttons. She held her fingers in position, waiting for me to give the go ahead, completely unaware that I was instead focusing all energies on trying to maintain what I thought was a half-decent smile in the pitch black room. Eventually through gritted teeth and aching cheeks I told her to take the photo. A second later there was a click and I was blinded. The flash on that camera! God that flash left me seeing blotches for minutes afterwards! “Enjoying the show?” “Well I would if I could see it!” Watery eyed we passed the disposable camera to two guys and carried on with our glasses of wine. We tried to forget the hipster ritual we’d put ourselves through for no reason.

That was until today. Today I was reminded once again why I can never be a famous super model type. A) I like food but B) this girl does not handle a camera well, with now the addition of ‘flash lighting’ being able to join the list of photographic types that don’t suit me.

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is the developed photo taken on a Kodak disposable camera in the basement of a Shoreditch bar in East London.

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I mean…

What makes it worse:

  • My friend came out so well in comparison (I can’t play the ‘neither of us suited it’).
  • The event organiser emailed all the ticket holders with a direct link to an album of all the developed photos on their Facebook page (so a lot of people will have now seen the photo).
  • Finally (and most importantly) if you look through the album you’ll see that everyone else who took a photo came out well/funny, EVERYONE ELSE.

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All the attendees are looking classy and humorous whereas I’m sat in the back row bar stools looking like someone trying to get through a date with Rumpelstiltskin. That or a charity case of a human suffering with a freak jaw lock condition, for which I expect to be approached by Channel 5 in the upcoming days.

Dear or dear. Still, who says I can’t laugh at myself from time to time? But seriously, don’t hand me a disposable camera again. Please.

Matrix Bread

A soundbite into my mind via a true story from today (15/10/18)…

The other day I bought myself a loaf of bread. Standard. At the self service checkout I noticed a slight tear (about 2cm long) in the plastic wrap of the bread which naturally put me off a little. I mean a tear equals air exposure which will enviably result in my bread going stale quicker. But then I’d already scanned the product and didn’t fancy hassling Mr “I hate my life as a self service check out assistant, I dare you to ask me for assistance” so I purchased said loaf regardless.

Today I went to the cupboard to make some toast (FYI I now have jam on my toast as well as butter, because since moving to London I live life on the edge) and I spent a good two minutes trying to find the tear in the wrap for reasons that’ll never be fully understood. Couldn’t find it so came to the very rational and balanced conclusion that my life is The Truman Show and/or the Matrix and I’m quite possibly a female version of Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey (although not at the same time, that would be weird). This resulted in a very normal reaction…I panicked.

Anyway, after worrying that my life was completely staged I suddenly discovered the original rip in the packaging and gave a small sigh of relief. On reflection my I worry a) why I was contemplating my existence over a rip in the packaging of some averagely priced bread from Tesco’s and b) why my pulse rate dropped when I found it.

And the worst bit? As I put my bread in the toaster I actually felt disappointed that my life wasn’t staged and thereby frustrated that found the rip. Honestly.

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to every minute of every blinking day in my mind.

 

Chipping Campden meets Camden Market: A Parental Visit to London

Collecting my parents from Paddington station reminded me of my early outings to the English capital, back when I had depended on friends coming to meet me at the station and hold my hand as we navigated around the big smoke. So when I saw my parents approaching from the far end of platform ten I knew exactly how to make them feel at ease in the unfamiliar surroundings.

I stretched my arms wide, as if I was waiting with a banner at Heathrow arrivals, and exclaimed a little too loudly, “welcome to Paddington!”

“We’ve been here before.” Dad grunted.

“Oh yes, of course.”

“Good to see you!” Mum beamed as she grasped me in a tight hug. “We’ve missed you!”

“Mum, its been two weeks.”

“That’s a good point, when are you next coming home?”

“You’ve just got here Dad.”

“I didn’t go to the loo on the train, how long will it take us to get to Camden?”

I pulled out City Mapper on my phone. “Thirty minutes.”

“Is that to a coffee shop?”

“Well, no, it’s from Paddington to Camden station. I couldn’t guess on the coffee shop front.”

“Then I need to find the loos.”

“But they cost 30p here.”

“Yes but I’m not stupid with money like you.”

It’s always a weird feeling when your own Mother refers their child’s habit of super-saving as ‘stupid with money’, as if she’s never once mourned the closure of high street department stores on account of their free-to-use toilets.

Because of Mum’s firm stance on this matter we spent the first five minutes of my parents’ visit to the world famous London trekking up and down the length of the station to locate women’s facilities. Not sure where that features in Lonely Planet’s ‘Things to Do’.

When we finally found the toilets (meters away from where we’d first started) Dad dipped in and then swiftly came out.

“What is it?”

“I didn’t realise you had to pay.”

“I told you both before that they’re 30p to use.”

“I just thought that for men’s…never mind.”

Somewhere I could hear a dormant feminist awakening from a forty-year slumber. I rolled my eyes and changed the subject to that of the very average train journey they’d been on to get to Paddington.

Welcome to my very Cotswold parents. A Dad who thinks everything in London is a five-minute walk away, a Mum who would happily spend two days in the Paddington branch of Costa Coffee. Within the first ten minutes of their arrival I felt exhausted and ready for bed or a strong drink.

At that point Mum reappeared from the loos and, sensing that somewhere a feminist was setting up a GPS locator on my Father, I guided both parents down to the depths of the Bakerloo line. Unfortunately for us all it wasn’t just any Sunday in September, it was quite possibly be the last sunny Sunday of the year. In my planning I had not foreseen packed Tubes just as much as I hadn’t planned for the escalators to be broken at Euston and Campden stations.

“On behalf of Sadik Khan [Mayor of London], I apologise for the service on the Underground today” I said as we trudged up flight after flight of stairs.

Since moving to London some months beforehand I’d yet to visit Camden. I was raised in the small Cotswold town of Chipping Campden (which we all called Campden), near to Stratford-Upon-Avon (which we all called Stratford) so you can imagine how commonplace it was for Education Officers to assume our school was in the South East. Confusion was the most frequent reaction, on account of us being very white and middle class for the parts of London we were supposedly from. But right here and now in 2018 I was looking forward to trying something new at the suggestion of Dad. What harm could there be at trying something new and different?

Camden was bloody crazy. Absolutely insane. Music, people, street vendors, the atmosphere was stifling and unpleasant even for me. Thanking capitalism for the first time in a long while, we located a Caffé Nero and hid there for over an hour until Dad and I managed to coax Mum out. Taking a route that avoided the main strip, the three of us ventured to Primrose Hill to take in the view. Alongside the dozens of others chatting and selfie-ing at the top I absorbed the panoramic as Mum called out “is it worth it?” from behind. Once she and Dad had joined me and made their pleasing comments I gestured to the area I work in and pointed out a couple of the main sights along the cityscape. We took a couple of selfies and made our way back down the slope.

“It’s nice. But I don’t think you’ll come again, will you?” Mum asked of me.

I glanced at the pasty topless Brits lying on the dusty grass. “No, probably not. Besides, there’s a better view of London from the twelfth floor of my flats and that’s free.” I then remembered that the twelfth floor was also prone to what I called ‘decorative urban debris’ so swiftly changed the subject before thoughts were planted.

We ambled around the quieter streets for a bit, popped into a pricey hipster charity shop, popped just as quickly out, before eventfully admitting defeat and getting the Tube to Wapping, East London (i.e. my kingdom).

To prove nothing in my family ever runs 100% smoothly we suffered from a dramatic mini-incident on the Underground which chiefly stemmed from my foolishness, i.e. I forgot my parents weren’t me. At Euston station (where we’d changed trained) I rushed ahead and hopped onto the carriage with ease. The announcement on the coach was halfway through the familiar “train is ready to depart, mind the doors” when I suddenly remembered I wasn’t travelling alone, my parents were further down the platform, scrambling to catch up to my coach. I realised with horror that my parents weren’t going to make the train. I did the closest thing I could muster to screaming at Dad as beeps warned of doors closing. Dad got on just in time, yanking poor Mum in tow as the doors shut firmly on her right arm. When the automatic response released her from entrapment they revealed a few torn layers of skin but significantly more traumatic pain. As she fumbled around to put some anti-bacterial gel on the sore patch I felt awful. There may have been no physical damage but my impatience to wait two minutes had caused unnecessary stress and pain to the entire trio of us. At that point I decided that the rest of my parent’s visit would have to be drama free.

Seeking calm from the storm of the morning, on arrival at Wapping we went to my local pub and perched by the waterside with two bowls of chips. Thankfully Wapping lived up to the standards I’d set out to my parents and we all enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon. I took them on a walking tour down the old warehouses and cobbled streets before stopping at a place of personal significance. A spot on the north side stretch of the Thames where the river is wide and open and between oneself and the imposing Canary Wharf on the South is nothing but sparkling blue and passing boats.

“I happened upon this view and I just knew I had to do it. I had to move to London and I had to be here.”

As the evening came upon us each hour went by as swiftly as the Docklands Light Railway trains that passed by the window of my parent’s hotel room. Cider was consumed and food was dined on in the pleasurable surroundings of St Katherine’s Docks, but with our feet and bodies feeling the wear of the gummed-up streets and the oily tracks all three of us decided to call it a night at ten o’clock.

 

To be continued…

More Than Just a Sandwich

Recently myself and a small team have been working closely with a local charity in Swindon (Wiltshire, UK). The Sandwich People (headed by The Salvation Army) are a small catering enterprise that help those experiencing hardship retrain and get themselves back on track.

Having recently spent time volunteering with these guys (hence the classic local paper pose) I can vouch that everyone from the management to those producing and selling really do put their all into what they do.

Click this link to read the official article: ‘The Sandwich People’ a scheme to help homeless people

To find out more about how to buy (and thereby support) this great team visit their website The Sandwich People
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