Crikey Moses!

It’s been a hell of a month since my last post. In fact it’s been a hell of a two and half months. When I got back from America I spent a day at my brother’s house in London where I mostly, slept, washed clothes and repacked to go to Latitude Festival.

I’ve never been to a music festival before (apart from Greenbelt – the ‘Christian’ festival when I was about 15), and I was really looking forward to it, as much for the comedy on offer as the music. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, mostly because it feels like it was so long ago and I can’t remember too many details! Suffice to say I had a fantastic time; musical highlights were Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons and Tom Jones, and there was plenty of comedy too – I loved Doc Brown and Abandoman, and Robin Ince did a brilliant job, seemingly never off stage in the Literary Tent. My favourite things of the whole weekend though were Mark Watson’s drunken book reading which was absolutely hilarious, and Stories for a Starlit Sky which happened on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at midnight. These stories by Daniel Kitson are accompanied by music from Gavin Osborn – how could I not love something from my two favourite performers?!

After Latitude I spent another couple of days in London and managed to fit in Edinburgh previews from Stewart Lee, Tiernan Douieb, Carl Donnelly and Jon Richardson. All but Jon’s shows were as close to finished as they could be and I really enjoyed all of them. I was particularly surprised by Donnelly’s show – I’ve only ever seen him do a five minute set before which I wasn’t that enamoured with but I loved his hour long show.

I eventually got home exactly a month after I left, but I only stayed in my own flat for two nights before I went to Manchester for my much anticipated first date with the man I’d managed to fall in love with, despite only having met him in person for a couple of hours two months before. We were both nervous about how the weekend would go but we needn’t have worried – it turned out we liked each other just as much in 3D real life as we did online. So after an amazing couple of days in Manchester I was back in my own bed for another two nights before getting the train down to my parents’ house in Blackpool. I managed to squeeze in another night in Manchester before making my way to Great Tower Scout campsite near Windermere in the Lake District for a week of helping at Red Rose 2010, an international camp organised by West Lancashire Scouts.

Both my parents have been involved with the Scout Association for a very long time and so was I until about the age of 18, in fact I was only 14 weeks old when I went to my first Scout camp, and I went every year until I was 15 when my Dad wouldn’t let me go any more because as the only girl, I was too distracting for the Scouts! I was a leader myself for a couple of years before leaving home for university and I’ve helped out at a few things since. However, after a slightly drunken conversation with my Dad at Christmas I had volunteered to help out as staff on this camp, and had some how ended up becoming a fully paid up member of the Scout Association again, with necker, woggle and all! I had a great time at camp, and only a couple of weeks before I went back to school it was brilliant to get some experience of working with kids again, and it reminded me why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.

The only downside to camping, despite my Dad’s technical wizardry in managing to set up an internet connection in a tent, from a phone line in a tree, I felt somewhat disconnected from the world again, and from one boy in particular. So when Barry offered to come up to the Lakes on Friday night I jumped at the opportunity. It was also give me a chance to introduce him to my Mum and Dad. It was a little bit weird to see him in this situation, and after having made an effort to look my best for our previous meetings, lord knows what he really thought when he turned up to find me unwashed, and wearing my waterproof jacket with shorts, hiking boots and knee high socks! But then I always find looking slightly ridiculous is a good test of a man’s love, don’t you?

After a rain-battered night in a tiny tent, our mental lives continued as Barry drove back to Manchester in order to on a train back North to Edinburgh and I got the train back to Dunfermline, where I spent exactly two hours before I was also back on a train bound for Edinburgh. I’d invited Barry to come to the Fringe for a weekend of comedy, booze and fun before I’d even gone to America but I don’t think either of us could have guessed how far our relationship would have come by this point. We had a brilliant weekend together, I love Edinburgh at any time of year but it’s even better when there’s comedy round every corner. I will review the shows at some point but I can’t marshal my thoughts enough to do it at the moment. Highly recommended though are Michael Legge and Robin Ince’s Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire, Jonny Sweet, Loretta Maine, Helen Arney, Alex Horne, Sarah Millican, Des Bishop and of course Daniel Kitson.

I spent a couple more days in Edinburgh for finally making it back to my own flat on Wednesday, but only because I had to attend a council induction day for all the probationer teachers in Fife yesterday. I can’t believe I actually start school on Monday! At least the kids don’t come back until Wednesday so I’ve got a couple of days to try and remember how to be a teacher again. But first, it’s back to Edinburgh this afternoon to meet my lovely boyfriend again (it still feels a bit strange, and wonderful, to say I have a boyfriend) for another couple of days of worry free comedy and fun…before I return to the real world with a bump on Monday.

If there’s one thing I can say about this summer, it’s that it certainly wasn’t boring. No-one can accuse me of wasting time, that’s for sure! It’s been the best summer I can remember for a very long time, and one I’m not going to forget in a hurry.

Bright Light City

Frickin’ Vegas baby!

After my trip to the Grand Canyon, the next day saw me heading back west, over the Hoover Dam into Nevada, and to Las Vegas. Vegas is one of the many places in America I’ve wanted to go to for a long time, and I probably would have been going on this trip anyway, but happily my trip to the States also coincided with The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 (TAM8), the critical thinking and skepticism conference organised by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). 

TAM8 was held at the South Point Casino which is about 2 miles south of the main strip. That didn’t matter though, when I pulled up outside and walked through the front door, right into all the sounds and lights of a real Las Vegas casino. It was another one of those real ‘just like the movies’ moments. And when I’d checked in and seen the size of my (£28 a night) room I actually jumped up and down like an excited child.

I met up with my friend Liza (@wickedlibrarian), who had travelled down from her home in Illinois with her husband Bill (@billtannica) for TAM. It was great to see Liza again having met her previously on her trip to the UK last autumn, and to meet Bill. And after 10 days travelling alone, as much fun as that had been, it was lovely to see some familiar faces.

Although I was mainly in Vegas for TAM, and to experience all that it would have to offer, I was also determined to see ‘Las Vegas’ too. After checking into the hotel I had to take my now beloved Dodge back to the car rental place at the airport, but before I did that I had just enough time to take a drive down the strip and see some of the world famous hotels. There really is something very surreal about an almost life size Eiffel Tower in the middle of the Nevada desert! 

I got a chance to see some more of the strip on my second day in Vegas – we met Bill’s cousins for lunch, next to the Trevi Fountain in Caesar’s Palace (like you do) and then after getting a lift down to the Stratosphere at the north end of the strip then walked back through some of the other hotels – notably the Venetian, Paris, and the new City Centre. Luckily a lot of the hotels are connected, requiring minimal time to be spent outside in the ridiculous desert heat – I swear the soles on my Converse were actually melting!

The three days of speakers and events of TAM were brilliant – if you haven’t heard of TAM and have no idea what I’m talking about there’s a good summary here. I’m not going to go into masses of detail about what happened and who I saw here but I will mention a few highlights. After about 18 months of listening to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe it was very exciting to be witness to two live recordings (even if they were at 8am and I was still eating breakfast at the time) and I got to speak to one of the hosts, Jay Novella, when I was buying an SGU t-shirt. Also, getting to hear James Randi himself speaking (particularly his very interesting reminisces about his many appearances on the Johnny Carson TV show) and to see the tiny man himself in the corridors (although I didn’t have the balls to actually speak to him) was pretty awesome. Other great speakers for me were Michael Shermer, Simon Singh (as always), Mythbusters’ Adam Savage, Paul Provenza and the now infamous ‘Don’t be a dick’ speech by Phil Plait (you can read a transcript here). 

And of course, I can’t forget to mention the Skepchick‘s Bordello Party, which took place about a mile from the hotel at a cabin in the desert. It was a lot of fun and I got to speak to current JREF president DJ Grothe, and talk to fellow Brit, Sid Rodrigues.

On my last night in Las Vegas (which was also my last night in America) I headed back down the strip to get the full on night time Vegas experience. And I loved it! I saw the pirate show at Treasure Island, went into even more of the hotels including the Luxor, Excaliber, New York, New York and my favourite; the Bellagio. I also saw the fountains at the Bellagio a couple of times. They are amazing, and I think probably my favourite thing in Vegas.

And that was it. I left Vegas and flew back to the UK (spending two hours in Houston, Texas on the way). It was the end of my American adventure but not the end of my holiday. I still had another ten days to spend in London and at Latitude Festival before I finally made it home.

This really was a trip of a lifetime. I knew when I was planning it that it was going to be brilliant but I didn’t realise just how amazing it was going to be. I packed so much into my 19 nights that it felt like I had been there months. And there was another thing that made my trip even more amazing than I could have imagined….and that was something that has turned into an entirely new adventure….

You see, I had company on my trip. Not actual physical company, but virtual company from a boy; a boy I had met on my last trip to London and had started chatting to online before setting off on my trip. All the time I was 5000 miles and 8 hours away, we exchanged emails and tweets and texts, then phone calls for hours (oh, how I love the wonder that is Skype), and somehow, despite the strangeness of the circumstances our friendship and later mutual admiration grew. And this weekend, 8 weeks and 10500 miles after first meeting, I went to see him at home in Manchester….and we started our new adventure together. It seems you really do find love when you least expect it after all. 

I get my kicks on Route 66

I’ve totally neglected this blogging thing…but it’s such a pain in the arse to do on my phone, and I’m guessing most of you who read this have seen my updates on Twitter and Facebook anyway. Still, I’m going to try and do a quick round up of what I’ve been doing since that last blog post.

Wednesday – Shannon and I went and did the tourist thing in LA. We drove down the coast past the stupidly expensive beach front houses of Malibu, and the amusement park on Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach, with the delayed reaction instructions of the satnav on my phone causing much hilarity along the way.

We saw all the sights of Venice Beach – a man wearing tiny shorts and working out at Muscle Beach, skaters and cyclists, hippies and street traders, and not forgetting the several offices of Marijuana Doctors! And I bought a new hat from a man who called himself ‘Hat Dog’ and kept randomly making me try on different hats while telling me, several times, how nobody new more about hats than him, and how Angelina Jolie had bought 17 hats off him! He was hilarious, but I think if I hadn’t been with Shannon I would have been a little bit terrified.

After some lunch we drove to Hollywood Boulevard through Beverley Hills and past Rodeo Drive – which I was very excited about due to their prominence in Pretty Woman! On Hollywood Boulevard we looked at the Walk of Fame stars on the sidewalk, saw the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are held and, my favourite bit, saw all the hand and footprints outside Graumann’s Chinese Theater. You could spend hours there just comparing the size of your hands and feet to all the celebrities!

After a quick glimpse of the Hollywood sign and (more) ice cream we headed back up to Shannon’s house. But a bit bizarrely to a different house to the one we left in the morning. I have to thank Shannon and Jeremy so much for their hospitality – I don’t think I would want a guest when I was literally in the middle of moving house! And despite my worries I wasn’t even very allergic to their cute little dogs Austin and Marvin.

I loved LA and it was great to see all the famous sights and the places you recognise from the movies, but I don’t think I could spend any longer than a day there!

Thursday – A fairly early start, a little bit if shopping at the outlet mall where I wanted to buy new Converse but ended up with a Gap hoody too, and then I was back on the road heading for Palm Springs, a place I’d heard of but didn’t know much about. A pretty boring drive down the Interstate later and I was stepping out of the car into 110 degree heat – that’s about 43 centigrade. I’ve experienced that kind of heat before, in the heatwave of 2003 when I was working in the Dordogne. But this was desert heat, and it’s like actually being in an oven! A quick enquiry at the visitor centre and I’d landed a room at a fairly swanky hotel (with a pool) for the bargain price of $40. In the evening I had a wander round the street market they have on the main street every Thursday evening, and along with some corn on the cob and fresh lemonade, I also got a massage from a Chinese man. Excellent.

Friday – The reason I was in Palm Springs was to go the 2.5 miles up Mount Saint Jacinta on the Arial Tramway as recommended by my friends Claire and Dave. And boy am I glad I followed their recommendation.

I was up and about early enough to get the first car up the mountain at 10am, with an assortment of ill-prepared tourists and over-equipped hikers, and I’m glad I did, because when I went on the 1.5 mile Desert View loop there was no-one else around to spoil my enjoyment of the absolutely awesome fucking views. It was just staggering – we just don’t get vistas that…big in Europe. It’s really hard to explain just how breathtaking it was, hopefully when I get home and get the photos off my actual camera some of them will do it justice. And it was also a blessedly cool 20 centigrade up there. I spent an hour or so admiring the views then came back down and set off on my drive to Yuma, right on the California/ Arizona border, and the Yuma of the film ‘3.10 to Yuma’ fame. I found a motel, had some food and got I think the earliest night of my whole holiday. Man I was tired!

Saturday – After a look round the Quatermaster’s Store, a preserved military depot from the 19th Century and the Yuma Territorial Prison museum, I set off on the drive North to Kingman on Route 66. And the first few hours of that drive were up the US 95 which runs up through Arizona. It is one of those roads that looks like someone has drawn it on the map with a ruler. Running perfectly North/South in the straightest line you’ve ever seen. I turned on the cruise control and rested my fingertips on the wheel, and that was about all I needed to do!

As I drove further north the road got a bit more interesting as it ran alongside the Colorado river (which seemed to be full of people in speedboats and on jet skis enjoying the holiday weekend). When I hit the I-40 I actually had to drive a little way in the wrong direction so I could get on to ‘Historic Route 66’ and yes, I did play the song at full blast as soon as I hit my first actual bit of the old road! The bit I drove winds its way through the Black Mountains and the town of Oatman, which really is still like the the old Wild West, wooden sidewalks, wild donkeys and all!

It’s amazing to think that this steep, winding, probably somewhat treacherous road was once (and until fairly recently – well the late 70s/ early 80s anyway) the main thoroughfare across the States. After driving through the hills from Oatman I arrived in Kingman. Which in the words of the song sits between ‘Flagstaff Arizona, don’t forget Winona…’ and ‘Barstow, San Bernadino’. Kingman has a rich Route 66 history and I stayed in the properly old school Hill Top Motel, and further indulged my love of 50s diners at Mr D’s.

Sunday – Independence Day
After a look round the excellent Route 66 museum and the pancakes for breakfast that I’d been holding out for. I was intending on driving east to Meteor Crater then back west to spend the night in Flagstaff but I mentioned it on Twitter the lovely Liza (@wickedlibrarian) did some research online for me and found out the July 4th Fireworks had been cancelled due to the high fire risk. She suggested I try Sedona which is about 30 miles south of Flagstaff.

But first I went to the Arizona Meteor Crater, another thing I wouldn’t have done were it not for a recommendation, this time from the awesome @BarrySkellern. The crater was formed 50,000 years ago by a 150 foot meteor and it was really impressive to see. The little museum there was great too, with lots of interactive exhibits.

So then I set of back west heading for Sedona, what I didn’t realise was that once I left the Interstate at Flagstaff I would be driving right through Oak Creek Canyon, another spectacular experience. It took a bit of driving about to find a motel and when I did the only room they had left was a ‘jacuzzi room’ so they gave it me at a discount and I actually had an anteroom off the bedroom just for the jacuzzi!

A short drive down the road took me to Cottonwood and the fireworks display. I managed to find it somewhat accidentally then found myself in a field full of hundreds of Americans and more glowsticks than I’ve ever seen before in my life! I had a hot dog and ooh’ed and ahh’ed with the rest of ’em. It was almost like being a native!

Monday – Back to Flagstaff and a look round the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was first discovered. When i arrived they were doing solar viewings with a specially filtered telescope and I got to look at the sun and see a tiny black sunspot which is actually the size of the Earth! We got to in one of the domes and see the original telescope Lowell himself used when he was looking for life on Mars in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. That was really cool and then I had a very quick look round the exhibits…but I think I’m a bit over -spaced at the moment, certainly at the level of space information available in tourist attractions!

After the observatory I carried on west to Williams and to the first accommodation I’d actually booked in advance since San Francisco. It’s a little B&B called the Canyon Country Inn right on Route 66. I did make a bit of a school boy error when booking because it doesn’t have wifi but then when I booked I didn’t realise how much I would be relying on internet access during this trip. Still all it took was a short stroll down the main street to find wifi spilling out of all the other motels.

Before I went out for dinner I sat out on the little porch outside my room, playing my ukulele and drinking a beer. Living. The. Dream.

Tuesday – I took the old Grand Canyon Railway which has period cars and provides information and entertainment en route to the Canyon. It takes about two and a half hours to get there, and it was a joy to have a day off from driving.

The Canyon was pretty much exactly as I expected. It’s very impressive, especially the first five minutes of staring at it in wonder. And it’s also heaving with tourists, exactly as I expected. From the train depot (which is at the South Rim) I walked west along the rim trail then followed the Bright Angel trail down into the Canyon. This is one of the trails that leads all the way down to the Colorado river, if you follow it long enough. I only walked down a mile or so and found a little spot in the shade, just off the trail to eat my lunch. While I was there I saw a mule train coming back up the trail. That’s got to be the easy way to do it! Once I came back up I walked a bit further along the rim trail then headed back for the train back to Williams.

The Grand Canyon is an impressive place and if I ever went back I’d love to the overnight hike right down to the river. But because it was precisely what I was expecting, and because it was so full of tourists it can’t beat that view and the peace and quiet at the top of that cable car above Palm Springs.

Tomorrow I’m entering into Phase 3 of my trip. I’m driving to Vegas, dropping off my Dodge and spending the next four days at The Amaz!ng Meeting. I’ll be meeting up with Liza (and Bill, her husband too) which I’m really looking forward, especially since I’ve not seen her since October!

It feels like a month since I was in San Francisco, not a week. I don’t think I could’ve crammed any more into this holiday if I tried. It is officially The Best Holiday Ever.

For now, thanks for reading and I bid you adieu.

Adventures in Southern California: The Return

Oh dear blog reader, how I’ve been neglecting you…but I’ve just been so gosh-darned busy over here in the US of A.

So, when I left you it was Friday and I’d just spent my first full day in San Francisco. Here’s what happened next (in brief)…

Saturday –
I hired a bike and rode from Fort Mason to the Golden Gate Bridge (only about 3 miles). I only rode to the middle of the bridge and back because despite it being really sunny and hot at sea level it was still misty (and freezing) on the bridge.

There was a great spot to take photos on the way down though with brilliant views over the city. A nice man offered to take this photo for me but I’m sticking to principle that every photo of me on this holiday will be taken by me with only the views in the background changing!

After that I had a wander in Fisherman’s Wharf which is really tacky- just like the Golden Mile back home in Blackpool really! Then I rode the cable car all the way back downtown. I was hanging off the side like a real tourist which is pretty scary when you start going down those hills!

The weather was really hot, but quite windy so you didn’t notice it so much. When I was on the bike I had leggings and my converse boots on and managed to sunburn the 4 inches of exposed flesh! And my nose a bit too… My legs now look completely ridiculous with their stripy sections!

Sunday –
I was awake at 7am to watch the football (don’t know why I bothered!), then I went to watch some of the Gay Pride parade which was cool – very flamboyant! One whole section was just cheerleaders and they were my favourites, even when it seemed like they were about to throw people into the overhead electric cables that the buses run on!

After that I walked miles to the Golden Gate park and went to the Academy of Sciences – the guy working on reception at the hotel had recommended it. It was good too – the planetarium was my favourite bit, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg no less! And it has a ‘living roof’ which was really cool, and, I believe, inspired by the Teletubbies!

After that I got the bus to the pier for the boat to Alcatraz. And there it is…The Rock.

It was brilliant- there was an audio tour of the cellhouse narrated by former officers and inmates then a talk about some of the escape attempts. And I spent most of the time trying to spot film locations!

I went on the evening tour so the boat back was at 8.40 just as the sun was setting- the views were amazing. Then on the way back to my hotel I had pasta in Little Italy then went to a bar as recommended by Michael Legge…where they filmed a bit of Basic Instinct apparently!

Monday –
I checked out of the hotel and picked up my rental car – a Dodge Caliber…it’s pretty big but not massive. And I managed to drive out of San Fran without crashing or dying, despite the best efforts of the satnav to make me turn left when I wasn’t allowed… and I keep trying to change gear! From San Francisco I went to Walnut Creek, over the Oakland bridge to the San Francisco Creamery for ice cream. I saw it on Man v. Food and had to go there! I had a corned beef sandwich with actual corned beef that didn’t come out of a tin, and then had the biggest dish of apple pie flavour ice cream ever made, and that was a small!

From there I headed down Highway 1; the Pacific Coast Highway, to a place called San Simeon where William Randolph Hearst built a castle…the barman at the hotel in San Francisco recommended it, and it’s about half way to Oxnard where I was going next to meet my Twitter friend Shannon (@monasmith).

The views down the coast were amazing. I realised I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean before. It’s a really great drive along the winding coast road, if you ever find yourself in that part of the world I would definitely recommend it over the main Highway 101.

There isn’t really anything in San Simeon itself except a load of motels but I was excited to stay in a motel right on the coast, just like in the movies with drive up rooms and everything!

I got up pretty early and was at Hearst Castle by 9.30am but it seems you really need to book in advance because the next available tour wasn’t until 11.50am. I really didn’t want to wait around that long but I did see the really good 40 minute film about the history of the castle and had a look round the exhibits in the visitor centre. I didn’t even get a glimpse of the castle in the ended because it’s way up on the hill and was completely hidden in the mist!

From San Simeon I carried on South to Oxnard where I was going to stay with Shannon, only stopping for lunch in a cute little town called Summerland, oh and being baffled when trying to fill the car with petrol…it turned out I had to leave my credit card with the cashier before they would turn the pump on….I eventually discovered when the lady in the shop spoke to me through the pump!

I arrived at Shannon’s at about 4pm (I don’t know how I would be managing without the satnav on my phone by the way) and we had a good catch up before I went to watch her Roller Derby practice. I knew a bit about derby but it’s pretty brutal! Looks like a lot of fun though. After practice we headed back to Shannon’s and bed.

I’m going to leave this here for now as it’s already miles long. Yesterday I spent the day being a tourist LA and Hollywood with Shannon and today I drove to Palm Springs….which is definitely the hottest place so far, I suppose it is in the desert after all…but I’m going to save the details for another day. Rest assured though, I think so far this is the best holiday I’ve ever had…and I’ve still got 10 days to go!

As always, thanks for reading. Until next time….

If you’re going to San Francisco

…be sure to…have a passport photo that looks like you. As I discovered after being detained by US Immigration for two hours when I arrived last night – just what I needed after 21 hours of travelling. The problem is that my passport is nine and a half years old. On the photo I have long blonde hair…but it’s still me! People do get hair cuts after all. But then the plastic over the photo is bubbled (and always has been) but I suppose it does look a bit dodgy. Anyway, after the first immigration man looked backwards and forwards between me and the passport for a good ten minutes he sent me to wait in the Immigration with the visa-less students, the Polish who had told the first official she was getting married in the US then suddenly couldn’t speak English anymore, the Arabic woman and her toddler who were getting deported, and the British family whose father had an expired Green Card. For the first 45 minutes or so it was quite interesting, just like one of those Airport! programmes on TV. But after another 45 minutes I was just tired and close to tears…..what if they actually didn’t let me in? But after looking at my passport, along with my driving license and student ID, the immigration officer finally decided to let me in – after thinking about it for another half an hour. Welcome to America!

Luckily, arriving at my hotel more than made up for the drama of getting in. I’d booked it online with minimal research so I was delighted to discover it was exactly what I’d hoped for. The Hotel Majestic is the oldest hotel in San Francisco having survived the great earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906. It’s old, and a bit shabby round the edges, but full of character and with the friendliest staff. My room even has a canopy bed and a roll top bath.

After beating the jet lag (which I know isn’t that hard in this direction) by staying up with a couple of glasses of wine until 11pm local time then sleeping until 10am, I’ve had a great first day in San Francisco. I’ve walked all over the city, miles and miles up and down its famous hilly streets. I started off walking over to Telegraph Hill, which as the name would suggest is a hill, it’s got a tower on top that you can go up for great views of the city (when it’s not shrouded in mist!). On the way I stumbled on the Cable Car museum which was tiny but cool and you could see all the big wheels and pulleys actually running the cables. I love walking everywhere in cities because you do just happen on stuff all the time.

Before I went up Telegraph Hill I went to the Beat Museum and to the City Lights book store, made famous by the beat poets. I don’t really know that much about them, apart from reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road when I was 19 and thought I was cool, but I love that era.

You can drive up Telegraph Hill but the are also steps cut into the steep sides, so after a mercifully short climb to the top I took the elevator up the 210ft Coit Tower. From the top there are panoramic views of the city and despite the mist it was pretty impressive. You could just about see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, and Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz island below.

After I came down from Telegraph Hill I walked back downtown through the Financial District then to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). I’m loving still having my student ID because I got discount here and at the Beat Museum. SFMOMA was great – some really cool photos in an exhibition called The View From Here and a new exhibition with some Andy Warhol stuff that was interesting to see in real life.

Right, nearly there, after SFMOMA I walked west to Alamo Square to see the ‘Painted Ladies’ – old Victorian houses painted all pastel colours. I wanted to see them anyway but also, just before I came away, my sister-in-law said I had to take photos of the ‘colourful houses’! I’m absolutely loving all the San Francisco architecture; there are so many different styles and colours and weirdly shaped buildings designed to fit on the steepest of ‘Frisco’s hills.

From Alamo Square I headed back to my hotel, and bought a new ukulele on the way!! It’s a concert uke (the next size up from the soprano which I already have), solid spruce top and it’s lovely…and only $99, which I think is quite cheap but I’ve not quite figured out the exchange rate yet.

After a quick pit stop, I went out for a delicious burger to a diner that’s in an old cable car carriage. And now I’m back at my hotel drinking raspberry cider in my room and watching the World Cup. I think tomorrow’s plan is Golden Gate Bridge and possibly the science museum, then Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz on Sunday. And Monday morning I pick up my car and leave this city…although I’m bit terrified of driving for the first time in America on these crazy city streets!

That’s all for now – Tune in next time for more of Sarah’s Adventures in America. Coming Soon!

Good Morning America

So it’s finally here, almost… tomorrow I’m finally going on my long awaited trip to America. It’s going to be a long day of travelling. My friend is picking me up at 7.15am to give me a lift to Edinburgh airport, I’m flying down to Heathrow, have a few hours to wait there then fly to San Francisco at 2pm and like magic will arrive, 11 hours later, at 5pm! At which point I have to try and stay awake until normal bedtime and then that should be that. Like my Dad, I don’t really agree with jet lag. Luckily, I’m very good at sleeping so I plan on doing plenty of that on the big plane (I’m very excited about the big plane – I’ve only flown long haul once before…) and I reckon I’ll be OK.

I’m in San Francisco for 4 nights before picking up a hire car and driving down the Pacific Coast to LA, then East along some of the old Route 66 (and yes I have several versions of the song to listen to while I do) to Arizona and the Grand Canyon, before finishing my trip with 5 nights in Las Vegas and all the fun of the skeptic conference that is TAM 8.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with a couple of my Twitter pals (@monasmith and @wickedlibrarian) whilst I’m away. As much as I enjoy travelling alone it will be lovely to see some familiar faces in the foreign land.

So that’s me, I’m nearly all set – I’ve mowed the lawn, I’ve cleaned the flat, my Sky+ box is empty, I’ve almost packed (well there’s lots of stuff on my spare bed – I just need to put it in a bag), the fridge is empty and I’ve put the cat out. Is there anything I’ve forgotten?

I’m going to try and blog while I’m away; as a record so I don’t forget things and so I don’t come back and bore everyone with a massive blog post of ‘then I went here, then I did this..’. I’m sure I’ll still manage to get on Twitter a fair bit too…you don’t get rid of me that easily. But for now, I bid you adieu. 

See you on the other side.

Bring Me Sunshine

Morecambe; the one-man play based on the life of ‘National Treasure’ Eric Morecambe, rather than the run-down seaside town from which its most famous son took his name, first appeared at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe to rave reviews. A longer version, with the same cast and creative team is now nearing the end of a national tour and as I hadn’t managed to catch it in Edinburgh last year I was delighted to find out a few months ago that the Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline would be one of the dates on the tour. And so it was on Friday night, that I took my seat in the theatre to find out what all the fuss was about.

I wouldn’t say I am a massive Morecambe and Wise fan, after all Eric died in 1984 on my 6th birthday. However, I grew up with the Christmas Specials which it seems were eternally repeated and I certainly have the same affection for the inimitable duo that any member of the British public over 30 has. I was certainly enough of a fan to be aware of the silly walks, the regular gags, and the paper bag trick which all appear here.

This play (now running at close to two hours – I wonder what has been added to the hour long performance of the Fringe?) is not simply a two hour long impression of Eric Morecambe. Bob Golding bears an uncanny resemblance to Morecambe as soon as he sticks his head round the curtain, with trademark black glasses and pipe and he certainly has the voice and mannerisms down, but he inhabits the character and gives him such a warmth, and goes so much deeper than the Eric of stage and screen that we already know, that you really feel it’s the man himself there on the stage.

After beginning with the BBC announcement of Morecambe’s death in 1984 (he died of a heart attack after coming off stage in Tewkesbury), the play goes back to the beginning of the story and follows the progress of John Eric Bartholomew from a school boy song and dance act playing the clubs and hotels of Lancashire with the support of his mother Sadie, to his meeting with Ernie Wise (or Ernest Wiseman as he was then) and the creation of their double act in 1940, through to their successes on both stage and on the small screen, and the happiness of his private life. The play doesn’t only focus on the successes though, we are also taken through the more difficult times in Eric’s life; how he and Ernie were called up for National Service – Ernie to the Merchant Navy and he as a Bevan Boy in the coal mines of Lancashire, and how he was invalided out of the service by a heart condition that would eventually contribute to his death. From the duo’s appearances in the seedy ‘variety’ shows of Soho where the audience were more interested in watching naked girls than their jokes, to the failure of their first appearance on television – after which one reviewer wrote that TV would become ‘the box they buried Morecambe and Wise in’, a review Eric carried with him for the rest of his life. How Morecambe and Wise never managed to crack America, despite a few appearances on The Ed Sullivan show, but their success in Britain more than made up for this.

Bob Golding really is fantastic in this role, and not only as Eric Morecambe but as all the other characters he brings into the story (Ernie appears on stage throughout the play but I won’t give away how this is achieved – Eric and Ernie even sing together several times). His job is surely made easier by the pacey script from writer Tim Whitnall which zips along for the close to two hour running time taking the audience from laughs one second to tears in the eye and a lump in the throat the next. The play is also a credit to director Guy Masterson who has got the very best from script and actor, while working with minimal set and staging.

But the really star of the show has to be Eric Morecambe himself – the boy who took his name from the Lancashire town of his birth and made his name in a partnership that lasted over 40 years. This play is a fitting tribute and celebration of the life of a man who really was ‘Britain’s Best Loved Comic’.

Get busy living. . .

It’s been a funny old week in my world. Last Saturday my friends Claire and Dave took me out for dinner for my birthday then I stayed over at their house – because although it’s not very far from where I live, it’s easier to sleep over than get a taxi home. I drunk rather a lot, and stayed up drinking, watching TV and chatting on Twitter after they had gone to bed. It was all good fun and nice to hang out with Claire and Dave, having not really seen them for a few weeks.

But on Sunday morning after they gave me a lift home I felt inexplicably glum. And that feeling of having a dark cloud hanging over me didn’t really leave me all week. And I did what I always did when I was feeling miserable. I ate. I was meant to be trying to lose the couple of pounds I’d put on during my week in London but instead I was back to ordering pizza and eating massive bags of giant chocolate buttons and whole tubs of ice-cream. This eating to try and make myself feel better was one demon I thought I’d conquered but clearly not. But of course it didn’t make me feel better, to be honest it didn’t make me feel anything at all. I didn’t feel angry, or guilty, or even sick. I just felt…nothing. And I think that has been part of my trouble this week.

I should have been happy this week. I have now completely, and officially finished (and passed) my teacher training. I am the proud holder of a Post Graduate Diploma in Education. But somehow I just don’t seem to be that bothered about it. I think maybe because it seems to have gone so quickly, it doesn’t really feel like that’s it. But it really is. I did it. And I know I should be feeling proud of myself but I don’t really feel like it’s an achievement somehow. 

I’m properly on holiday now, until I start teaching properly on 16th August. And surely the prospect of that amount of time off, with so many exciting things and trips planned, would make anyone happy but even thinking about that didn’t seem to help. Maybe, the thought of having permission not to do anything at all if I don’t feel like it is part of the problem. Maybe I need a purpose, something to do with my time. 

So you see, I should have been happy and I wasn’t. I didn’t even go on Twitter for four days because I didn’t want to publicly whinge and moan about how grumpy and how shit about myself I was feeling. And me staying off Twitter for that long is virtually unheard of these days (in fact I really don’t know how I’m going to cope with limited access in America – I just hope I find plenty of free WiFi), so it was definitely a sign of how bad I was feeling. Also, I found out on Wednesday that I will be going back to the school I did my first placement at for my probation year. And that wasn’t exactly the news I wanted to hear. I did get on well with all the teachers there, but it’s 45 minutes drive away, which is a pain. I’m not that bothered about the travelling time itself but it means I’ll have to spend a lot more on petrol than I would if I was at a school nearer to home. And the school is in quite a deprived area, which is fine, but they also have no money, the buildings are falling down and they have hardly any resources, which all just serves to make my job harder.

But then on Thursday the cloud just seemed to lift. I know this sounds really clichéd but I actually did think of the line that Morgan Freeman’s character Red says in The Shawshank Redemption (although also clichéd, it is one of my favourite films); ‘Get busy living, or get busy dying’. And I decided I needed to have a strong word with myself, stop moping, and get busy living. There’s nothing I can do about the school I’ve been given so I just have to make the most of it, and I’m going to show them how much I’ve changed since my first placement and that I am a good teacher. And I’ve only got another 11 days at home before I head off on my big trip and there’s plenty to do in that time. Starting with painting the bathroom tomorrow.

And perhaps most importantly, I making a big effort to control my eating again. I’m not ‘dieting’ as such any more. Just trying to find a balance of eating good food, and things I like, and still maintaining this healthy weight I’ve worked so hard to achieve. I know there’ll be hiccups along the way but I just need to really try not to let myself head down the road of eating uncontrollably whenever I feel a bit down.

I’ve got so much to be happy about, and to look forward to and to (mis)quote a certain Mr Tim Minchin – Some people have it a whole lot worse than I. I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and get busy living. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.


After last night’s mammoth blogging session I think I’ve caught up on all the gigs I went to during my week in London but I did lots of other things too and thought they deserved a quick round up. 

I had been staying at my brother’s in Essex (it might be Essex but it is still handily on the Central Line) until Sunday but seeing as he was away in France and I had several late nights planned I had decided to splash out on a hotel for the remainder of my trip. So on Sunday I went and checked in to the hotel which was conveniently situated between Holborn and Russell Square tube stations. To kill some time before seeing Mark Watson that evening I went for a bit of a wander round the shops and to scout out a location for the following day’s iPod handover.

After the Mark Watson gig on Sunday night I went back to the West End to meet up with some fellow Twitterers (Audrey: @aMeady, Jason: @mixmasterfestus (who I had met before), Louise: @magicnose and Charlie: @Charlie_w_).  Meeting up with people I’ve only spoken to on the internet is becoming quite a common occurrence for me now but what was a bit unusual about this meeting was that I didn’t actually follow Louise and Charlie on Twitter so I hadn’t even spoken to them online before! However, they were all lovely and we had a few drinks before heading home.

Monday afternoon was the iPod handover, but with some time in the morning I actually managed to make it to the Grace Kelly exhibition at the V&A which I’d attempted to go to the last time I was in London, but it had sold out. I’m never to sure whether the exhibitions you have to pay for are going to be worth it, but it was only £4 with my (luckily still valid) student card. The exhibition is really just displays of Grace Kelly’s clothes, and a film showing old news footage, but I liked it. I also found a new bit of the V&A that I hadn’t seen before; the Theatre and Performance gallery, which I really liked. So a morning well spent.

After handing over the iPod that afternoon, I hung out with my friend Simone for a while which was lovely. I often go to comedy gigs with Simone but there isn’t always much opportunity for talking so it was really lovely to have a proper chat. And we went to what is fast becoming my favourite place in London; Ed’s Easy Diner, for milkshake and cheese fries. I can’t wait to go to America at the end of this month just so I can find a genuine diner to satisfy all my milkshake cravings!

So that was Monday. On Tuesday, I made a bit of an error of judgement. We’d been having lovely weather, but Tuesday was grey and rainy. I decided to walk to the newly refurbished Museum of London but I had forgotten one vital piece of information; this week is half term. And it seemed half of the country’s parents had decided that the Museum of London was an ideal place to take their noisy, rude, ill-mannered children on a rainy Tuesday in half term. Suffice to say my patience wore thin fairly quickly and I didn’t spend quite as much time at the museum as I would have otherwise. Still, it looks like they’ve done a good job with the new galleries, and I might make another trip sometime…just not on a rainy day during the school holidays! (Although, seeing as I’m going to be a teacher, I’m pretty much going to have to do everything during the school holidays from now on. Arrgghhh!). 

Anyway, after the museum, I walked down past St Paul’s to cross the Thames at the Millennium Bridge and had a quick look in the Tate Modern. I walked from there right down the Southbank to Westminster Bridge (only stopping on route for some of my favourite apple crumble ice cream, which I’ve only ever seen at a little café under the OXO tower). From the Houses of Parliament I walked through St James’ park, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill and right up the edge of Hyde Park to Marble Arch where I got the tube to White City and TV Centre. Walking all over London is something I’ve taken to doing on my last few trips and I really like it. That walk on Tuesday was 6 miles, and not only do you get to see lots of things you miss on the tube but that 6 miles goes some way to burning off all the milkshakes, ice cream and cider that I seem to consume on my trips to London. It’s also really interesting when you start realising where places are in relation to other places. On Monday night I walked back to the hotel from Highbury and Islington, which as it turns out, isn’t that far, and I never knew that before.

I continued the walking theme on Wednesday by walking up through Regent’s Park to London Zoo. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to London Zoo before, I think maybe I did when I was really little but I can’t remember anything about it if I did. Now I know going to the zoo on a sunny day in half term perhaps seemed a little foolhardy after the museum experience but the difference was this time I was mentally prepared! And the zoo is big and outside so there is much less chance for the charming children to be annoying. So, the zoo was good – I especially liked the penguins and the meercats. And I was a little bit scared of the butterflies – pathetic I know, I just don’t think I like flying things very much. 

After the zoo I walked to Primrose Bakery where I bought….cupcakes of course! I couldn’t resist trying the different varieties so I ended up with four, two of which became my lunch and two of which I barely remember eating when I was a little bit drunken after the Los Quattros Cvnts gig (I know, and so will you if you’ve read my blogs about being fat and the rest, that I’m meant to be controlling my eating and not binge eating…but with the walk to the zoo and back through Camden, and walking to the LQC gig and back I walked 8 miles on Wednesday and after the 6 miles on Tuesday I think I’m allowed a little cake. Perhaps not four cakes…but we’ll work on that for next time!). Anyway, they were delicious!

So finally to yesterday; I’d originally booked my flight for 20.50, thinking I’d be staying at my brother’s and he’d be able to take me to the airport after work. As it turned out I was tired and hungover and had to check out of my hotel at noon. So I decided just to head to Stansted and see if I could get on an earlier flight. With EasyJet, if you want to change a flight in advance, you have to pay any difference in the fare you paid originally and the current fare, plus a £25 amendment fee. However, if you just turn up early at the airport as long as there is room on the earlier flight, you don’t have to pay anything at all! So I managed to get on the 15.50 flight which was much better and meant I could take a detour on the way home via the Tempting Tattie in Edinburgh to get a delicious baked potato for my tea. There seems to be a lot of talk about food in this blog, but seriously, if you’re ever in Edinburgh you should definitely go to the Tempting Tattie on Jeffrey Street. Their potatoes are just about as good as baked potatoes come.

And now I’m home. I’ve got three weeks before I go to America and apart from a couple of jobs (painting my bathroom for one) I’m looking forward to doing not much of anything. I need to make sure my batteries are fully recharged because once I go to America I really don’t stop until I start back at school on the 16th August. It’s going to be one hell of a summer.

A letter to a future me

Dear Sarah,

I’m writing this letter in the hope that you will read it in the future whenever you are struggling, or stressed, or worried and that it might help in some way.

First of all, I want you to remember what it felt like today. Today, when the scales were showing 9st 11lb and, when you’d had all your hair cut off and everyone was telling you how great it looked (while we at it, remember that; if you are undecided about having short hair…just do it, it really suits you). And remember how it felt to have just finished your teacher training course, and all the positive feedback you got from the teachers, telling you what potential to become a great teacher you had. Remember that feeling, because that’s the feeling that you deserve to feel all the time.

And I know you won’t feel like that all the time, but on those days when you are struggling to find the motivation to get out of bed, when you’re wondering if teaching really is the right career for you, or when you feel guilty because you over-consumed then try and remember how you felt today. Remember the hard work it took to get there, and most of all, don’t give up. 

Please, please don’t ever slide back into the downward spiral of self-destruction that over-eating brings. Think about how good it felt to buy those size 10 jeans for the first time in over a decade, think about how looking in the mirror is a pleasure, not a exercise in pain and criticism. Remember the promises you made to yourself and think before you eat. Don’t deny yourself, but just remember that ‘one more slice’ will make a difference.

If you feel lonely, or like you’re in this all alone, then remember your friends. Remember all the fun you’ve had, the comedy you’ve seen and the amount of time you’ve spent laughing. Remember those people, who maybe you aren’t in touch with any more, but who were there to offer support and love whenever you needed it. You still have people like that, and don’t forget to return the favour when those people need you. 

Remember that playing the ukulele will always make you smile.

Mostly, just remember how lucky you are to have a happy, healthy family who support you in everything that you do (both emotionally and financially!), and don’t be too hard on yourself. And always, always remember that whatever happened today and however crappy you feel, tomorrow is a new day.

I love you,

Sarah x