A Travellerspoint blog

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Working to Airline Baggage Restriction Guidelines

semi-overcast 10 °C

Somehow I had accumulated stuff, although I don’t go shopping a lot and was practically a pauper, when the time came to pack up my life, suddenly I had stuff.

I was entitled to 20kg on my first flight home-bound and I figured this was ample as everything fit in without any major zipper strain and I was able to lift and carry it to the bus stop.
Oh how wrong I was, apparently it weighed 23.7kg.

I watched the top of the girls head as she processed my passport, hoping she wouldn't look up and notice my bag.
"Be cool," I thought, "it's early, what's a few kilos between friends?"

She finished, looked up and...
“Now you are currently at 23kg”, the girl said cheerfully, “it’s ₤14 per kilo you are over…” She looked at me as if she expected me to hand over my credit card.

"I respectively disagree," I wanted to say, "I'm not that strong and this has been on my back for the past hour on two buses and walking down the road".

“…ah, right,” I say in a real-bummed tone, pretending I hadn't noticed the extra almost 4kg the second I put it on the scale.
“Would you like to do that?” she asks hopefully,

“Um, no… thank you, I’ll just…sort it”, I mumble as I drag the heavy and getting heavier by the minute bag off the scales and motioned that I was going ‘over there’, selecting a piece of white reflective floor by the ropes.

So I sat on the floor of Bristol International Airport at 6:30am surrounded by all my worldly possessions. I was heading home after 14 months. The majority of the flight was made up of middle-aged holiday makers, families and excited girls weekends away, all of which have been pre-prepared, booked into resorts and were super psyched to get drunk and sunburnt, they had all already checked-in when the airport opened.

There I was, a bit tired from my early start, hungry from skipping breakfast, sad to be leaving my new home and just sitting on the floor in the middle of the airport looking at my luggage, thinking a) how amazing I am at packing given everything was neatly stacked inside and it closed with ease, but also b) what the hell am I supposed to put on, there really isn't that much in there, and I didn't fancy messing up my killer packing.

So out comes my woollen jumper from my zip lock back which had all but re-inflated. On it goes.
Keep in mind; despite it being a chilly Bristolian morning, my destination forecast was edging towards 32 degrees c.

It was still not going to do the trick I needed to get rid of 4kg, and couldn't put it in my carry-on because there was a good chance that would soon be weighed and was most certainly over the limit.

I took out a few items and spread them around me taking up a 2m radius by the check-in ropes, creating a mini-transit 'shit haven'.
I took it up again and I had lost a kilo. The girl had saved herself the anguish and disappeared so her male colleague asked again if I was happy to check that then and pay the excess.
“How much is it again? ₤14?” I ask, hoping there had been a last minute 100% fee reduction.
“Yes”
“Haha, no”

Back to my junk pile on the floor. I decided the summer dress I was wearing, with trousers underneath was far too light and comfortable, so off it comes in the airport and I throw on my wool dress that was the only thing that jumped out to me as being potentially weighty.
I put it on, then the wool jumper, then my jacket, then my coat and scarf.

In the mean time I had taken a few random items out that I could sacrifice if need be. Not included in this pile was the 1 litre bottle of Polish vodka I bought last year that was clearly weighing me down significantly, but by this point we’d come so far together there really was no turning back.
I had also put two notepads, two adapters, a camera charger, earphones, an old phone and a phone charger in my jacket pocket that was already housing my phone and keys. My travel wallet and journal were already out as ‘housing important items’ so can’t be part of my weight limit.
I dragged it back up and it was 22kg. How does this still weigh so much? And how can all the stuff I’ve taken out only collectively weigh a kilo and a half?
I tinkered about in my open bag pathetically like a unskilled surgeon looking for his lost wristwatch in a organ pool. Careful not to dislodge anything. My bag was still sitting on the scales next to the check–in agent. He no doubt wanted to go get a cup of tea as mine was the last bag to be checked on. I heard him loudly say this over his phone.

Unable to find anything to put on and unwilling to dig deeper and risk messing up my packing I looked up at him with sad eyes,

“So, how strict are we with this 20kg thing?” I ask hopefully

On more than one occasion I've found that being a sweet and charming individual can do you wonders at airports. When approaching the airport desk this has a much better chance of flying with peers and men, don’t attempt it with a middle-aged lady; just assume she is having a shit day. SHE will make you throw out 4kg and then assign you the seat next to the toilet, and divert your bags via South Korea. She will also shoot daggers right into your soul with her eyes.

Back at Bristol International Airport, time now 6:45am, the whole of the check-in area is now deserted except for me and my junk – now spread all over the general vicinity and the one guy now left to deal with me. The last passenger.

I tried to make it obvious that I haven’t over packed for a four-day holiday.
I mean come on I was carrying a map in a poster tube.
Show me a little love I thought.

“I can let it through at 20.9kg”, he says, hoping it will solve both our problems.

Also by this point the whole scenario seemed a bit pathetic, I wasn't going to pay excess and I think by this point we both knew this. For me it was the fact that I'd been only quasi-employed and was only citizenship away from being on benefits and he knew because he had a ridiculous person in front of him wearing 10 outfits inside a respectable public place.

I kept eye contact and I pulled out another scarf and wrapped it around me as well.

“I reckon that will do it”, he said, really it weighed nothing but I appreciated his desire to get this show on the road.

  • *Triumphant sound**

I think his generosity was partly out of convenience but also partly out of sympathy knowing that I now was going to have to board my plane to a Mediterranean, almost Middle Eastern destination wearing;

Socks
Boots
Trousers
Singlet
Wool dress
Wool jumper
Zip up jacket
Coat
Large blanket scarf
Scarf
Headphones

He labelled my bag and informed me I had to take it to the next counter over, to irregular baggage. I was ready to roll.

Anyone who knows me well knows I am a hoarder and don’t like to waste things/dispose of perfectly good items. I surveyed the pile of stuff I had pulled out in my haste to make my bag lighter; three sanitary pads and a tampon with a total combined weight 5g, a block of soap, a jar of cranberry sauce, my water proof rucksack cover, a pocket translator and a head lamp.
I pitched the head lamp and sanitary items.
Evidently that’s all I could spare. Obviously I wasn't giving up the jar of Cranberry Sauce from last Christmas.

Then right in front of the man that checked me in and the one about to take my irregular-shaped luggage, I unzipped the bottom of my rucksack and shoved the rest of my items back in.
In retrospect I ought have kept the headlamp as well but really felt I needed to actively dispose of something although I sincerely hope I don’t have to go down any mines any time soon.

With a “HEAVY’ luggage tag emblazoned on it, off it went, (side bar – when was 20kg heavy, OH&S BS, if I can lift 20kg I'm pretty sure the burly guy who’s full-time job is lifting heavy bags can)

With not an ounce of dignity lost from changing in the foyer or sitting on the floor of Bristol International Airport surrounded by feminine hygiene products and winter clothing, I took my boarding pass and said ‘adieu’ with my head held high. Off I trotted, with my combined carry-on, coat pocket weight and wearable clothing weight I was easily carrying an extra 15kg and I began sweating immediately as I stumbled towards security.

In two hours time I was to disembark in the Cypriot heat in my snow gear and carry my 20kg rucksack, though to be fair, 23kg rucksack, as that sacrificed tampon didn't really weigh a lot. Nothing but a sweaty ball of assorted fabrics with phone charges hanging out every pocket.

Welcome to Cyprus where the current temperature is 36 degrees c.

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 09:56 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged packing airports luggage baggage Comments (1)

A European Expedition - Travel Journal

2009-2010 Travel Journal

In 2009 I began an epic travel journey that is still unrivalled for adventure, fun and sheer awesomeness. From the beginning this trip was shaping up to be the ultimate life adventure so I started keeping a journal, I was already keeping a written journal, but this one was going to be different.

Before long my 2009-2010 Travel Journal became a beast beyond anything I ever dreamed of.

I documented the places I went, the people I met, the things I saw and the fun I had all in one book. I carefully filled each, unremovable page with handwritten stories and illustrations. There was no room for error especially as its pages grew and the time and scale of the project intensified.

In 2010 when I ran out of money and I reluctantly boarded a flight home I had my tray table down and my mini Faber Castells out in order to document the final stage of my journey, it also happened to be the very last page of the entire book, a sign I couldn't have stayed longer despite how much I wanted to.

This journal is my ultimate travel souvenir. It is full of stories, familiar faces and documents my time in the best way possible, with pictures. I have just as many fond memories of drawing on trains and spreading out my pencils in random locations across the continent as I do of the content itself.

It holds pride of place in my book shelf. I have photographed it in order to preserve it so I thought I would share it with you all.
(NB: Some pages were impossible to photograph as it is bound, so some of the text is lost)

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 07:37 Tagged journal travel_journal Comments (0)

Exactly How Green Was My Valley?

A South Wales Road Trip

rain

“Have you got your passport,” I casually ask, looking up from the road map as we are careening down the M32 towards the Severn Bridge and South Wales.

“What, no,” my friend says swivelling back and forth from the road to me, looking, hoping rather for a sign of a joke.

“Well it is a different country,” I say, but before she could slam on the brakes and call the whole trip off I start laughing at my own hilariousness. To Wales we go. This compact little slice of Great Britain packs in some of the most stunning scenery, amazing history, impressive fortresses and castles, pristine coastline, rolling green valleys and ‘flowery adjective here’ mountains. In other words, it’s some of the best shit on offer in the mother country.

It’s land abounds in natures gift, with lush, rolling hills and green fields, it’s really not surprising that when Australia was settled and our decision makers stood out on the edges of the settlement at Sydney cove, looking at the marshy estuaries, the dry, barren landscape and the golden sandy beaches that they thought, ‘it’s a dead spit for me home in the valleys in south Wales”. Thus history was made. So here we were, heading to South Wales, old South Wales.

As it is, navigating British roads is a nightmare given their penchant for massive roundabouts and late signage which leads to a lot of “oh shit that was it”, lane cutting, re-entering roundabouts, exiting and re-entering major motorways and ‘chuckin’ U-ies’. So the bilingual signage was an extra challenge, given too that my friend and driver kept trying to read Welsh.

“Canol y dref?” preparing slam on the brakes and turn back.

“Read above,”

“O, town centre”.

A man’s home is his castle and Wales has more castles per capita than any other country. I must say I am a sucker for a good castle, you can keep your churches, cathedrals and stately homes, give me a good old fashioned defensive castle to climb on and explore, let my imagination run wild and maybe also give me a sword in case I want to re-enact a battle. Welsh history is filled with invasion and battle and everyone has had a slice of the Welsh rarebit, from the Celts, Romans and Vikings to the Normans and Saxons. Long before there was a united Wales to plunder, the many small Welsh kingdoms battled and conquered each other. The rest of the time they were just trying to keep the English and their big noses out, while the English tried to keep the Welsh with their unruly Celtic roots far from their civilised society so with all this drama castles of all shapes and sizes sprung up throughout the land.

One of the largest and best preserved castles in the UK, Caerphilly Castle is a good old fashioned 13th century stronghold with a lake forming a natural moat, big turrets, hidden passage ways and secret slots to tip hot oil on the enemy or bow and arrow people right in the eyeball.

I love having a historical aspect to my travels and because I have a decent knowledge of history it means often people believe what I say, which is great, only I often tell ever-so-slight untruths for my own amusement. For example while we were at The Tower of London I told someone that you couldn’t be a Beefeater if you were a vegetarian.

My friend and I were sitting in the room of this 900-odd year old castle to escape yet another Welsh downpour on our summer holiday and I looked up at the light switch,

“That’s a nice authentic, medieval light switch” I say, seemingly impressed.

My friend looked at me with trepidation, trusting that she was wrong but also confused given I had done a semester of Welsh history at university so there’s really no telling what facts I could know.

“…must be super old,” I say, ignoring her confusion

“How old is tha..” she fumbles for a sentence, fully aware at this point she was about to say something dumb. “When did...when did electricity come to England?” she asks as if she knows the answer but isn’t convinced she’s right.

“Oh the Romans brought it with them”, I say nonchalantly, “clever, invented plumbing, floor heating...” I trail off as I get up and walk out of the room.

An hour later we were standing on the site of Franciscan Friary, I told her it was a kitchen where they fried stuff like fish and chips. Basically I will eventually yet deservedly, lose all credibility regarding historical facts.

The other most impressive of the castle stops was Carreg Cennen, a grand castle ruin sitting atop a natural stone mountain above the rolling fields of the Brecon Beacons. The castle stands high on the landscape between the green grass and the blue sky. From the top you can see for miles, no invading army or visit from the in-laws stood a chance.

We drove on through country side, through lush forests, the beautiful rocky coastline of Pembrokeshire through flat farm land, back through the mountains of the Brecon Beacons, rocky cliffs, dense trees, into the rolling countryside of the valleys then the lush, green, Wye Valley with the river running perfectly through the centre.

South Wales is of course known for its valleys, the coal mining industry fed the country for over a century. The once booming, now rather sleepy UNESCO town of Blaenarvon is home to Big Pit, one of the last of the deep mines in Wales to close. Now converted into an educational facility, Big Pit gives visitors an insight into the mining history in Wales. You can see exhibits, the old shower room which is filled with equipment and the stories about the bleak life of coal miners.

The best part is you can go down an actual coal mine and experience the mining life for yourself, free of course from the hard work and misery, and jazzed up with novel equipment and jokes.

As well as the beauty of Wales, the main highlight is it’s filled with slightly unhinged, hilarious accented Welsh people. We file into the mine entrance, a bunch of Welsh men in yellow mining suits are waiting for us, I get a helmet nailed on to my head with a few taps and shuffle forward to another who is fixing my generator belt and flash light attachment.

“Where you from then?” he asks in his delightfully whimsical Welsh valley accent.

“Australia but I live in England, in Bristol,” I say

“England”, he spits and puts down the generator belt he was in the middle of putting around me in disgust.

“Why would you live in England”, he says in mock outrage.

Not wanting to lose a potential Welsh miner friend I jumped to my own defence,

“…I used to live in Swansea for a bit”

“You did,” he said cheering up, “that’s alright then,” and he picks the belt back up and fastened what is about 2kgs around my waist, pulling heavily on my lower back, where I hold my stress anyway.

We left all our belongings behind in order not to blow up the mine with signals and batteries and the like and filed into a small metal cage lift and descended 90ft below the surface into the deep, dark, caverns of Big Pit. It was enough time for the temperature to drop, the miner to tell some classic gags about the toilets leaking so mind the drips and for me to speculate wildly on the relationship of an old man, a young Thai woman and 5-year old girl.

Big Pit was a working mine until 1980 and is still checked daily for gasses and potential dangers which is why we had nothing but our mine-safe generators. I would have preferred a canary but it wasn’t made available. We learnt the ins and outs of mines and miners, obviously I was already pretty knowledgeable on the matter because I’d seen How Green Was My Valley. We looked through noting several decades of work and the changes that occurred from building materials, brick and wood arches to steel arches and the workmen themselves, which began with men, women and young children before workplace rules came in to practice and union regulations changed the course of miners’ life dramatically. Even horses lived down there; they were blind because they only came to the surface once a year. As well as the hard labour, dangerous environment and threat of coal dust in your lungs and dying in general, rats and other vermin stole their lunches and crawled up trouser legs, so it was a wonderful place to live and work.

As we were walking through I came to chatting with my miner guide, in his thick Welsh accent he asked me what I do, I had enjoyed Blaenarvon and the guys seemed like they have a craic of a time stopping the lifts on one another and bantering. I fancied myself in hardhat with attached flashlight, great for secret, night time snacking I thought, and a yellow jumpsuit is something I would wear well.

“Not much,” I said, “Do you have any jobs going?”

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 14:12 Archived in Wales Tagged road_trip castle mines welsh valleys south_wales caerphilly pembrokeshire carreg_cennen the_tipsy_gipsy Comments (2)

A Coffee and Cannoli Overlooking Stromboli

I-talia, it's the besta food in the worlda

sunny 33 °C

“Mangi mangi”, the Old Italian Nonna living in my head says as I attack a family-sized pizza at 1:30am. Yes, a whole one and yes I had already had dinner, but the imaginary Nonna also tells me,
“Mangi bambino, you are just skin and bone”.

“Si Nonna, si”

It’s true I am just skin in bone only with a hefty carbohydrate layer protecting me from the elements. The Italian love of the 3 P’s is certainly not lost on me, and a philosophy I can get behind. A daily dose of pasta, pizza and pane (bread) will get you through life happy, maybe a little lumpy around the edges, but certainly happy.

As you may have noticed previously I do like a good old fashioned eating holiday. I take them under a guise of a normal, cultural and historical expedition, but I intend for them to be a non-stop snaxcursion.

Italy is responsible for some of my favourite food groups, fresh produce, tasty flavour, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bread and delicious desserts, including my personal raison d'être, gelato. So it was fitting that for my second 2012 jaunt/food holiday it would be back to everyone’s favourite boot and in particular, it’s football, Sicily.

Yeah, sure I was excited for relaxing on the beaches in some well-missed sunshine. I was going for the Sicilian culture and the beauty of Italy, but I was staying for the cannoli, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a big, fat, pistachio-encrusted liar.

A lot of great Italian food comes from Sicily, they gave us the tasty street snacks like arancini – stuffed, deep fried risotto balls, desserts like cannoli and cassata as well as seafood dishes of countless concoctions. While planning my holiday I compiled a list of foods I needed to eat and the restaurants and cafes who were the best purveyors of said foods, I managed to pen this song which sums up my mindset.

Pizza and pasta and Sicilian caponata,
Arancini, gelato – limone or fragola
Blanco or rosso what vino you bring
These are a few of the edible things.
Coffee and cannoli overlooking Stromboli…etc.

I was excited about my breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and on a 10-day adventure I couldn’t afford to waste a single meal on something not amazing and not part of my culinary adventure. About here my mother would say, “stop thinking about your stomach” but in my defence the cuisine is as much tied to the nation’s culture and traditions as the sights. So not only is it legitimate to have a food holiday, if you don’t partake then you are missing out on a perfect, prosciutto and mozzarella stuffed slice of authentic Italian life.

I don’t want to give you the impression I attacked Italy like Pac-Man, consuming all that was in my way. It’s not entirely inaccurate but I do have some class, and some rules, tips and tricks to share with you about embarking on an Italian food holiday, or if you prefer, a cultural and historical visit with a subtle, high-level food focus.

First and foremost, the first stop by one and all upon arrival, the gelataria. Well, first city stop, it’s not unusual for me to have a coffee purchased and consumed in airport arrivals. Find an artisanal gelataria, where someone is following old family recipes and churning gelato with a mixture of sugar, cream and liquid happiness. Gelato is not only allowed, but required to be eaten at least once a day, if it is particularly hot you can have it more than once.
A breakfast gelato is perfectly acceptable but one must stick to breakfast flavours like your fruit varieties, coffee is also acceptable.
For other flavours you must wait until noon...okay, 10:30am.
In Sicily you are allowed to have a scoop of gelato inside a brioche bun. It’s a Sicilian speciality so technically it’s a cultural exercise to indulge in such a grossly obese breakfast item.

Gelato Tip: Think about your flavours, those who mix cream-based flavours with fruit flavours are the goon drinkers of the gelato connoisseur world. For example, ordering a zesty, refreshing lemon with a creamy Nutella gelato is the action of a monster/serial killer.
Also when practicing your excellent Italian while ordering, note that incorrect pronunciation of Pesca (peach) and Pesce (fish) produce very different results.
Sick of gelato? Sacrilege. Try a granita, a Sicilian drink made with crushed ice but in the fancier parts more a creamy, runny ice cream.
Also feel free to buy a brioche and dip that bad boy in there as well. Totally acceptable.

Coffee. Your daily cappuccino and croissant is a breakfast that merely lines your stomach for further gastronomic delights. You are only supposed to order a cappuccino at breakfast from then on just throw back an espresso to really feel your heart beat.

Coffee tip: A latte as we say in Australia, well, “la-day”, is a glass of hot milk in Italy.
My friend was tired and feeling ill when she went in to the bar to order her coffee. As the girl brought out my café latte and her latte, I laughed hysterically for 10 minutes, I was making such a scene even the guy at the other table started laughing. Lesson reinforced.

Other Sicilian specialities include fish, mussels, swordfish and other under the sea critters, molluscs and crustaceans. So much fresh seafood is for sale at the Catania Fish Market. I had to foolishly worn sandals and had to deal with the trauma of wet, fish gutsy feet. The giant swordfish is a sight of pure misery, when I think about how they were probably just swimming about, no doubt playing pirates with their noses as one would if one had a sword for a nose, then boom, dead on an old plastic bag of ice in a filthy bucket.
The highlight was old men peeling prawns amongst piles of rubbish in the gutter under a bridge, an old guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he serves an old lady, picks up a fish and throws it on the scales, the ash dropping on the display of marine life, some of which was still wiggling no doubt wondering why they were on ice and couldn’t quite swim away. Oh the panic.
I did try some swordfish, the taste was meaty, salty but otherwise unfishy. I was also going to be adventurous and try another local speciality, a stuffed sardine and I very nearly did, my fork touched 4 crumbs of the stuffing and I wretched.
I also tried a seafood risotto which tastes like the beach, being dunked by a wave specifically.

So seafood is lost on me, but while Sicily has all the usual delicious suspects like pizza and pasta, what I needed to get my fat, little pork sausage fingers on was the desserts. I wasn’t to be leaving the island without eating a cannoli, a pastry tube filled with sweetened ricotta. It was decadent and creamy with a slight crunch from the shell and the pistachio encrusted ends.
You’d have someone whacked for one. And I imagine the Mafia do all the time.

My food excursion/cultural visit to Italy was complete with a cooking course in Rome, where we whipped up a gnocchi with a fresh tomato sauce, tiramisu, stuffed peppers and stuffed pumpkin flowers.

Arrrrrghhhlll *drools on keyboard*

I am no professional but with a class of mostly Americans I would consider myself a Michelin Star-level chef (or Michelin man-sized chef) in comparison, primarily because I didn’t ask things like “gnocchi, what’s a gnocchi I’ve never heard of it” or when shown how to crack a walnut say “oh my gawwd that’s awwwwesome”. Yes it is… it really is. It must be wondrous to be so easily impressed.
I learnt some facts about eggs, garlic and tomato but more that I wish I were Italian and that I want to have a Nonna to take me to the markets with her to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, perhaps a whole swordfish, then help her whip up delicious meals while she told me to eat more tiramisu because I’m nothing but skin and bones. I want that.

So in conclusion not only do I love Italy and Italian food but I am officially in the market for an adoptive Italian family. My Italian is limited but with some lessons, a bit of sun and some darker hair dye I could pass as a local. In exchange I’ll do what I do for my own family, eat their food, live in their house, dance in the TV ad breaks and sing in the car over the radio. Forward any interest to my email address.

Ah Italy, you are a country so great, so amazing, so delicious you fill both my soul and my stomach with glee. Alas though, you make the post travel misery even more prevalent as I look at the Tesco sandwich selection, wondering who would buy a plain cheese sandwich, and long for an arancini stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.

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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 08:01 Archived in Italy Tagged food travel italy sicily pizza pasta italian_cuisine the_tipsy_gipsy Comments (1)

Sun and Son - Bristol Park Life

The Unhitched Wagon Series

There is no place more affected by weather than England. Not only is it a part of everyday conversation but life itself revolves around the weather – it’s all doom and gloom until the sun comes out. The rarity of sunshine means upon its appearance all of life’s plans can be, and are abandoned. Suddenly the t-shirts come off and pale flesh comes out. The coats are left behind (temporarily) and everybody migrates to the parks to soak up the rays and increase their Vitamin D stores like desperate squirrels storing acorns for the winter.

On these sunny days the park looks like a festival – hundreds of people in the same small place, gathered on the grass listening to music, reading and cooking vegetarian sausages on disposable BBQs. There is stay at home mums and dads, nannies, the unemployed and students scattered across the grass. The agile are hula hooping, the hippies banging on bongo drums and smoking splifs. Before long school is out and children also come flooding in, suddenly the peace and quiet turns to yells of frivolity and shrieks of excitement – bescootered kids scootering, balls catapulting towards you. Everyone is lapping up life in the sun there is a distinct aroma 30+ sunscreen and euphora in the air. Even the occasional dad in a business suit will arrive to meet the family at the park for some daddy and kid bonding time if the sun is high after business hours are over. Everyone is overcome with clinical jubilation; they forget their misery and smile.

On a sunny day me and my fellow part-time employed friend lie out on the nice, green English grass and work on our tans and sun screen applications respectively. Spending our afternoon reading books, doing the crossword, drinking coffee and eating baguettes with pesto and generally acting like the ladies of leisure we are. Sometimes reading and chatting gives way to lying on the picnic rug and watching the people and then making up stories and generally judging our fellow park goers for their life decisions, or rather, their alleged life decisions.
My local park lies just off the UK’s longest independent high street in a veritable melting pot of Bristolian society, a park forming a cusp between the neighbourhoods of the hippies, hobos and students and middle-class families. These neighbourhoods are made up of double income families and grown-up hippies rearing the kind of children that eat soya margarine, sushi and hummus and who are ‘expressing themselves’ when they stamp their feet and have a hissy fit.

The park is also a natural habitat of the local “yummy mummies” which is what they I believe they refer to themselves as. They roam around the city park between 3-4:30, socialising, judging, and social climbing, oh and picking their kids up and giving them a post-school run-a-round the park. It’s a ‘be seen’ type environment. We sit from our picnic rug and observe, staying quiet so as to not startle them. The ‘yummy mummies’ are the ones who have their shit together, they have probably just come from a quick Zumba class or coffee date with the girlfriends. They might be in their designer gym gear or something that says ‘I’m a mum, but I’m still hot’, some casual high street fashions. They are all pushing expensive strollers that are aerodynamic, turn into space ships as the child develops and have a compartment to cure a ham. Roughly the size of a Smart car.

As they mingle you quickly get to see the social circles form, the cream rises. Obviously there is a small window to prove yourself before little Felix and Tolly have to get off their scooter and get to tennis practice. The yummiest mummiest of the yummy mummies are drawn to each other to chat about Quinoa and the need for 3 year olds to learn Mandarin. These ones are obviously affluent and work from home or have home help. Then there is the rung below, who have the opportunity should they play their cards right, to integrate with the upper echelons. These yummy mummies are nearly there, they are working a lot harder, there’s no time for a Yoga class but they could probably juggle a few things and meet for coffee. These ones went home and got changed before coming to do the school run. Have thrown together a casual ensemble that says, ‘no I’ve been wearing this all day’. If you look closely you can see the few flyaway hairs pointing to signs of distress and panic leading up to that school pick up.

Then you have a third category around the external perimeter. They are a hot mess, trying hard, they probably work or are full-time mums or both. They are doing the right thing, doing the after school park socialise, the kids are in Kung Foo and Yoga for Kids classes but they are a hot mess. They attempt to penetrate the circles. They just do not cut the mustard in a sundress and runners and unkempt hairstyle. They have pulled on a pair of pants over a pair of leggings and the leggings are hanging out underneath. This will not do. That is not living up to the yummy mummy code, no visible signs of exhaustion or despair are permitted. They are trying not to scream as Sam the little shit is ignoring polite requests and is zooming passed on his scooter and Florence is pulling off the heads of the daffodils. How unkempt.
This awkward hour of mingling and trying to casually drop in on conversation, make new friends, set up play dates and generally impress fellow mums soon ends with jiu-jitsu classes and guitar lessons to get to and before long they all disperse leaving us park dwellers to get back to sunning ourselves and not eavesdropping and judging others.

Suddenly it’s not as fun and its getting dark, the sun is setting. Some families arrive bringing their dinner to the park for some al fresco dining, some couscous salad and wraps. On plates. No fish and chips, on the newspaper in these parts.
I think of runners and sundress lady as I wander home. Wondering if she goes home to her husband and says, “no honey, not today, little Florence will have to play with the poor kids for another week”. She looks hopelessly in her cupboard and says, “Do you mind if I spend ₤100 on some lycra running leggings? Jennifer Smythly-Finch was wearing them at the park and she’s lost all her baby weight in 6 days drinking smoothies of wheatgrass and elephant semen and she swears by them. I also overheard her telling the others that if your children are not watching Human Planet documentaries and eating micro-greens they will probably be bad at maths and you may as well teach them how the plumbing works now. Get a head start. Do you think we should get Sam a tutor? Or change his name to something more hip like Erkin? Maybe I should enrol him in a Business for Tots class, I think he has strong entrepreneurial skills, I saw him steal a football and try and sell it back today. I think he’s got a head for business…”

The sun sets and with some luck it will rise high above the clouds again tomorrow so we can continue to speculate on the intricate lives and social cliques of yummy mummys.

NB. In actuality, since this Spring heatwave it has rained constantly and it has been 3 months since we have last tuned into our favourite park soap opera, when the sun returns I am expecting eye patches, evil twins and at least one scandalous affair.
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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 11:05 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged park summer sun soap_opera bristol gossip yummy_mummies Comments (1)

In Flanders Fields

The Formation of the ANZAC Spirit.

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Belgium not only has a myriad of beautiful cities all in close proximity to each other, a traveller’s dream diet of waffles, fries, beer and chocolate but it is a country that played a great role in the formation of our great nation of Australia. While the infamous Battle of Gallipoli has come to symbolise the ANZAC spirit and WW1, the majority of the Australian troops were fighting and killed on the Western front, namely the Somme in France and the Fields of Flanders in Belgium. It was in these fields where our brave soldiers not only fought and died but where the poppies grew and became synonymous with the Great War.

It has been a long, bitter European winter. The Italian-born Belgian lady cooking my second waffle in one sitting is one of several to assure me it’s the coldest it has been in many years.

It is an icy morning in Brugge as I walk along the pebbled streets towards the Kruispoort, the gate in the old city walls to flag down my ride on the main road. The fog is heavy and sitting low on the canals as the sun is rising and trying its hardest to peek through.

I have arranged to travel from Brugge to Flanders and walk in the footsteps of our soldiers. What was once a battlefield, this area along the Belgian-French border is now part of rural Flanders with memorials to great battles lying in farmers paddocks and by the sides of small country roads.

To this day so much history lies under these fields, sunk so far below the surface most evidence will never be found. Farmers tilling the soil each spring and autumn still uncover masses of ammunition and weapons. Each farmer has a shed full of old rusted rifles and bullets from this artillery heavy war. We stop near St. Julien and look at a farmer’s collection from his recent harvest, a box full of misshapen rusted iron and unmistakable bullets and grenades hidden under the earth for almost a century, preserved by the bog. There is still an estimated 1.5 billion pieces still under the earth and it will take another 65 years to uncover it all.

The muddy fields provided a harsh, challenging backdrop for battle and it is said, at the time it was the mud that was the soldier’s biggest enemy. Photos from the era show the fields of mud meeting the waists of the soldiers wading through. Today the mud is gone and has been replaced by fields of grass, but even now the soft soil of Flanders sinks beneath your feet as you walk, made even worse by the wet winter.

Just outside Passendale near Zonnebeke lies Tyne Cot Cemetery, the world's largest burial site for the British Imperial Troops. Set in the peaceful flat green fields, rows and rows of identical marble headstones commemorate the fatalities on the nearby fields. An old German pill box bunker still sits among headstones of the soldiers from Australia, New Zealand and Britain as well as the many nameless. Only 1/3 of the graves here are identified.

While many graves house the remains of unidentified soldiers, many more soldiers remains were never recovered. Located in the rebuilt city of Ypres and unveiled in 1927, the grand Menin Gate has the names of 102,000 Allied troops etched into its structure. These are the names of those who fought and were lost forever to the fields of Flanders. A particularly poignant reminder of the horrors of war, symbolising the sheer magnitude of soldiers lost, those who fought and never came home but vanished into the fields without trace.

The area around the Ypres Salient is so rich in history it’s an archeological race against time to uncover and protect sacred sites, Communication trenches had recently been uncovered in an industrial estate outside Ypres. The petition for preservation passed and it now sits for people to visit, a small piece of history on a patch of grass between two giant warehouses, surrounded by wind turbines and other feats of modern industrialisation.

On the outskirts of Ypres our last stop is Essex Farm, a makeshift war hospital where Canadian doctor John McCrae was stationed briefly. It was here that the symbol of the Great War came into fruition. It is believed the poppy blooms when the ground is distressed and across the battlefields of Flanders bright red poppies peppered the region, leading the doctor to pen his famous poem In Flanders Fields. His stirring words cemented the poppy as the symbol for all that was fought and lost in Flanders and in the Great War. Part of the structure that was the dressing station still stands and the adjoining cemetery is particularly unique having 95 per cent of it's graves named.

As I peruse some of the headstones two school buses were pulled over outside the memorial to see the grave of the youngest victim of the war of the western front. Valentine Strudwick was 14 when he signed up for the war. He was wounded in action immediately and returned to Britain but before his mother could visit, he was returned to the front line in Ypres and killed. These English school children are confronted with the sacrifices made by children their own age, that this boy at 14 lied about his age in order to be sent to a war, to fight in a battle against an unknown enemy with little training and few skills. A sacrifice perhaps no 14 year old today would ever make.

It was a dirty war, and the fatalities on a scale unimaginable. A war fought, unlike today, with just man power and artillery, where men ran into an onslaught of bullets. We remember their sacrifice to retain peace but for Australians we must remember that these soldiers fought to shape our nation, at a time when we were new and uncertain. A 13 year old country when the war began. It was from this war that we discovered a patriotism for our new home and got a sense of self outside that of the motherland, something defined by the ANZAC spirit which came to be our defining spirit as Australians. It was the first time people united as Australians. With ANZAC day we remember all those who fought in the wars and continue to fight but it was on these farmers field in rural Belgium that our nationalism was born. As with Gallipoli it was during these WW1 battles that the ANZAC spirit began and became so heavily instilled in the formation of our nation. It epitomised what became our nation’s dogma, a country built on mateship, courage and patriotism.
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Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 08:35 Archived in Belgium Tagged australia belgium soldiers anzac ww1 flanders fields_of_flanders Comments (0)

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