Saturday, 29 September 2012

Life feels so much better when you've had your hair done

What is it about getting your hair done?

You know what I mean, that feeling of being refreshed, relaxed and confident.

I love getting my hair done. In fact I've had it done today!

Today did not start great.

Having woken up this morning after consuming far too much alcohol yesterday I wasn't feeling great. I then had my Saturday morning 60 minutes spin class to go to.

I dragged myself out of bed and went to get the bus to the gym - a little later than normal. I just missed it! (After running from my flat to catch it in a panic). So I started to walk, conscious there wasn't long until the class started.

Just as I was about a third of the way there and had crossed the road seeing that I'd also just missed an alternative bus at another stop, I saw the bus number I originally wanted to get - a second one had come along already! So I ran back over the road to catch it.

Therefore I turned up at the gym in a bit of a stressed out, sweaty mess. With just under 10 minutes until the class started. I felt relieved as our instructor on a Saturday is always a bit late to start as she runs another class beforehand.

I reach the spin studio a tad flustered and am met with Win. Our teacher from Tuesday nights who is very tough.

Yes on a day when I was already a tad hungover and had a flustered start to the morning I was faced with an hour of a super strict spin teacher too!

Well I survived. Yes it was super tough and I felt ill AND I was next to some old guy who literally left a bath of sweat on the floor around his bike (where I was expected to stand to do our stretches), but I made it.

Then began my next stress to get home from the gym, eat and get washed and dressed ready for my hairdresser to arrive. In less than an hour...

My hairdresser is amazing, a local lady she works in Sainsburys for her day job and then does her hairdressing on the side. She comes to your home and is such good value.

As soon as she got to the flat I started to finally unwind. We had a good old gossip and put the world to right as always. And she started doing my hair.

For the next two hours plus she dyed my hair, combed it, washed it, cut it, styled it, blow dried it and straightened it. My head now feels light, my hair is super soft and shiny and I just feel better in general.

There's something about someone touching your hair and pampering it which I find so therapeutic, I totally relax and often get a bit sleepy as I leave my hairdresser to play about with my hair.

Now maybe it's because she comes to my home, maybe it's because she's done my hair for so long now that I trust her, but I love getting my hair done. I now feel relaxed and human again.

Last night's alcohol consumption is forgotten, spinning's sweat and aches far far away. All with a bit of dye and some scissors!

Those of you reading this thinking 'I hate getting my hair done, it's so stressful, I worry non-stop...' You have not met the right hair stylist.

Believe me years back I too felt angst at getting my hair done - whether it be dyed, cut or simply trimmed. I didn't trust the people doing my hair and I always worried how it'd turn out. My neck ached when my hair was washed and I was never fully happy by the end.

I now know this was down to where and who did my hair. So if you hate hairdressers, get concerned over cutting or deliberate over dyes, change your stylist. After all as they say 'you're worth it'

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Too old to travel? Too boring to backpack?

Tonight is the third week of Channel 4's The Audience. As I've mentioned before I really like this concept and enjoy the problem solving journey as you watch.

Funnily enough this week is about travelling. Should the guy quit his job and go travelling? He has no mortgage, has never been anywhere particularly exotic on holiday. It seems a no brainer, but obviously as always with this program there'll be more to it.

For a long time I've seen work colleagues over the years go travelling and I've often wondered did I commit myself too early by buying a property and getting a mortgage when younger?

Since going to Thailand (yes I'm sorry I am going to mention it again!) I've really thought more about travelling.

Yes I've been very lucky and had a good childhood where I got to travel all over the world. I've been on some amazing holidays and breaks in my adulthood too.

However I've never travelled 'properly'. Always going on holidays, rather than going away for an extended period of time.

Now, as I'm 30, I've got a mortgage and I'm thinking more about the future and settling down, have I left it too late?

My boyfriend is just getting settled into his job after that awful period last year when he was out of work, and so travelling for him, I imagine is a no go.

I've not been in my job long enough to get a paid long term break to go travelling either.

There's times where I think I've still seen a lot of the world and still can.

Yet I've never completely cut off from real life and gone with just a backpack on, my passport and minimal cash. Have I ever really properly experienced a country?

Moreover would I be able to cope as a 'backpacker'? Yes over the years I'm getting better at packing lighter, but I'm certainly a far way from fitting everything in one compact bag.

Could I cope going on my own, or being apart from the man I love for so long? Is it safe? What if I got ill?

Just asking these questions makes me think I've got too 'old' and serious to go travelling.

Am I just wanting to go as my last holiday was so amazing? Am I going to regret it when I'm elderly and realise I've missed out. Or am I simply tempted to feel younger and more fun?

Nothing but questions!

Who knows. Perhaps I need the help of The Audience too!

Bookworm: The Love of my life by Louise Douglas

I've just finished my first fiction book in a while, no longer reading about real life people and their travelling antics. This time I've moved over to love and loss and a fictional offering.

Not the wisest way to choose a book, but yet again I was tempted in by a Kindle recommendation/cheap price offer.

On reading the blurb I was hoping for a PS I Love You type offering. The Love of my life wasn't quite this. However it appealed because it was a bit different.

When you read about a young widow you often are met with a kindhearted character who was so good in life you can't understand how such a tragedy happened to her. With Olivia Feliccone this is not the case.

Don't expect a timid, mild mannered young female in the main character - you'll in fact be met with a strong woman, with an eventful past who uses her looks in life.

Although the story of Olivia, widowed after her husband Luca dies in a motorway accident, is moving, you'll be surprised by how she and her deceased partner are characterised. Even Luca turns out to be a bad boy and not the prodigal son in a big Italian family as you may have expected.

The way Douglas writes is addictive and she makes her characters different to what you'd expect.

Not as much happened in the book as I thought it would and it focusses more on present day than Olivia and Luca's history together.

I feel you learn why Olivia is the way she is, but the emotion and the love between her and her husband isn't heavily described - there isn't much scene setting of their love.

At first I found this made it hard to sympathise as much with the main female and I worried I wouldn't feel the emotions involved. However in little references Douglas makes throughout you start to realise how close they were.

Good bits
Addictive reading
Easy to read
Strong characters
Different to what you're expecting

Not so great
If you were expecting a soppy love story and a happy ever after you'll be disappointed
Not enough description of Luca and Olivia's relationship
At times you're unsure whether to like the main character or not

Overall I liked the fact this book took a refreshing approach and turned a typical romantic tragedy on its head somewhat to create a read which was addictive and unexpected.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Bookworm: I Come Alone by Michelle J. Coote

Lately I seem to be reading a lot of books about people going travelling – I’ve gone from fiction through to real life. Whether this is through a new love for this genre of books, or just me still trying to hang on desperately to my Thai trip, who knows.

The latest offering I’ve worked through is I Come Alone by Michelle J. Coote. On reading the blurb about this true travelling tale, we’re promised to hear about a lone female traveller who quits her ‘soul-destroying’ desk job and embarks on an adventure across Thailand and India.

Ah great, I thought, I can read about people’s views of Thailand again and hopefully find common experiences mentioned which I can relate to. The issue I had with the last book ‘The Backpacker’ was that I took a dislike to the author and his general views and morals in life.

Since this latest read was by a female, perhaps I might have more in common with her? And everyone dreams of ditching the desk job and running away to another country for sun and new sights. I was looking forward to enjoying an inspiring book.

Once I'd got a little way into the book, I started to wish the blurb hadn't pulled me in so much. Michelle has been travelling before she wrote this book and so it wasn't as if she went travelling for the first time when she decided to leave her job. Something which I was expecting so that things would be more dramatic and unknown for her.

Aside from this issue I began the book and really enjoyed relating to so many things she saw and experienced in Thailand. I was pleased with the love she felt for the country and how she described how welcoming the people were. Exactly what I'd thought!

The book then goes on to describe her experiences in India as well.

Although the descriptions were great and it was interesting to hear what happened and what Cootes thought of these places, food and people, it did feel like reading someone's travel journal.

Not in a voyeuristic and exciting way though, almost like reading through an itinerary of somebody's trip.

I guess this is the issue when reading 'real life' travel stories. Although people may have good experiences, they may not be natural or gripping writers.

Good points
Some interesting tales
Good descriptions
Liked how I could relate to mentions of Thailand
Gained some insight into India

Not so great
Wasn't what I expected
Quite a 'plodding along' sort of book, nothing too dramatic happens
Constant references to travels before and after the time of the book, which you don't know about
Quite a bland ending

Looking back the book was easy to read and expanded my knowledge of both Thailand and India and even perhaps gave me ideas for my return to Thailand (whenever that may be, but I'd say it's pretty inevitable). However, for how it's described, I found myself disappointed with what I Come Alone had to offer.

I'm taking a break from travel tales for now, with a fictional, traumatic story about lost love and am hoping for a PS I Love You alternative (or at least that's what the blurb suggests!)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Don't tell the bride - magical or mental?

As we all know I love trashy TV. I like nothing better than unwinding on my sofa after a day at work and letting my brain go numb as I enjoy programmes which need no thinking. Just sit back and enjoy the trash!

One of the shows I therefore love is Don't Tell The Bride.

For anyone who - insanely - hasn't seen this BBC Three offering, it focuses on a couple for a few weeks. The man gets a budget of £12,000 and after being separated from his girlfriend he has to plan and book an ENTIRE wedding.

The girl gets NO say at all on the day, no input at all.

Just think girls, that big day - some say the biggest day of your life and you're leaving it all to a man. The cake, the flowers, the venue, the hen do, the dress! Need I say more.

Nearly every time I watch this show I think why, why did you go on this show?? Why would you ever agree to it? Particularly when those girls feature who have their dream day in mind and are very set in their ways about what they will or won't have.

Of course if you really have no money and this is your only way to get married, well you're getting handed £12k for 'free' effectively.

I just can't get my head around the fact you put something so important on the TV for every trashy TV watching person to see. Your special day. Surely that should be private?

Also the cynical side of me says - why don't you talk before the show?? Yes, of course the rule of the show is not to communicate throughout the process. Nobody knows what you've told your man beforehand though do they?...

Just give them a list of what you want and hey presto! It's done!

Moreover, why are some of the people getting married? There are the guys who pick the opposite venue to what the bride would ever choose, those that waste most of the budget on jokey props or the stag do. And nobody will ever forgot the moron in the Las Vegas episode...

I for one would not go on this programme unless I was super desperate. However if we did have to go on there, I am pretty confident my man knows me well enough to know what I'd want and what we'd both want on our special day as a couple.

Most of these men (and to be fair women) seem to forget the point of marriage - love and spending the rest of your life with that special someone. Not an excuse for a party or being the most different.

Anyway I've got to get back to my trashy TV, there's a guy planning a heavy metal wedding this time and a girl who wants two wedding dresses...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

There goes the sun

I've been feeling a bit down this weekend - mainly I think due to seemingly being on the verge of getting a bit ill and rundown. The other reason being Summer is over.

I'm definitely a Summer girl. I love the sun, I love fashion, I love the way when the sun is shining everywhere looks better and everybody seems to have a smile on their face.

Ever since returning from Thailand, I'll admit I've missed it non stop and how easy and hassle free life seemed there. Returning to work and having to get on busy trains with rude commuters isn't the best to bring a smile to my face after pure white sands, crystal clear blue waters and non-stop smiles.

Now, people are back at work from their breaks everyone keeps talking about how Summer is over. And that makes me sad.

However sitting in my little flat this evening I happened to look out the window and saw such pretty skies I had to take some photos of them.

Then it got me thinking, maybe Autumn isn't so bad...

Yes the sun is fading and the temperature is dropping. However, now we can look forward to colder darker nights snuggled up on the sofa with loved ones, beautiful scenes as golden leaves fall from the trees.

Also not minding hitting that gym quite so much as you're not missing out on any sun and fun outside. Comfort food and family fun in Halloween and Guy Fawkes night. Preparing for Christmas and all the presents you're going to treat those you love to.

Hitting the shops to get some new clothes for Autumn/Winter fashion.

And of course as we've seen in the last few years, we're bound to get treated to some bonus sun in a bit of freak season weather too!!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Bad boys: why do they appeal?

Unfortunately most of us ladies will have had experience of a bad relationship with a ‘bad boy’, or if not definitely know someone who has. If you’re even more unlucky you’ll have had more than one encounter of this kind.

If like me, you’ll have watched from afar as you see your girlfriends treated appallingly – spoken to like rubbish, emotionally blackmailed, had mind games played with or even physically abused – and said ‘I’d never let them happen to me’. You question why people stand for it? Worse still they stay with the person and go back for more.

Never you, right?


I am pretty sure that once in a woman’s life she will experience a bad boy. I hate to wish this on anyone, but I reckon I’m right. Regardless of how strong a female you believe yourself to be, when you fall for this type of guy you fall big time and don’t recognise yourself at the end of it.

But why? What is it about us girls that makes us so attracted to bad boys?

Have you ever noticed they’ve always got a charm about them? Even if they’re not super attractive, they have something in their personality or their aura even that pulls you in and makes them likeable.

I think there are four main things that make up a bad boy – everyone likes them (they seem to be the cool friend in a group), their personality that pulls you in, the excitement of being with someone a bit ‘dangerous’ and last but not least generally they seem to be very good in bed…

But then what is it about them that once you realise actually they’re a bit of an a*****le, you still can’t let go? How do they have this hold over you?

New research [] has suggested the initial attraction – how you get stuck with these wastes of space – is down to our hormones. At certain times we’re drawn to men who seem a bit bad and our hormones signal to us they’ll make good fathers.

Other studies suggest it is how we have evolved as humans – rather than learning bad boys are bad (like we thought in the past [], where the media plays up the ‘rogue’ as the attractive character us ladies have changed our mind and got the wrong impression.

Or we can be told the guy that’s no good for you pulls you in as they offer something fresh and different [].

Whilst researcher Peter Jonason [] argues women who don’t like to feel deep emotion and prefer to keep an emotional distance are actually most prone to going for the bad guy.

This just seems like madness at first – the ones who are trying to stop themselves from getting hurt are the ones who go to the man who is most likely to hurt them. However, if you think about it for a minute those of us who think we’re strong are probably the ones likely to hold back like Jonason suggests.
The worrying thing though is that surely that means you are destined to keep dating bad boys as once you’ve been hurt you’ll be even more cautious with your emotion?

In a relationship now for seven years with someone who isn’t a nasty person I can safely tell you it doesn’t have to be a pattern! There are good guys out there, but you do need to learn to trust.

After being with someone for over three years I eventually got rid and learnt my lesson, but why did I stay there so long? I decided to see if good old Google could help provide some suggestions…

To be honest I couldn’t see a lot – certainly nothing other than common sense answers I could give myself. When you’re in these relationships a lot of it is about mind games. And this is a popular answer people give – it’s an emotional thing. You feel comfortable being in that relationship and get stuck in a rut, you are fearful you won’t meet someone else, your confidence is knocked and you think this is as good as it gets, you forgive too easily and make excuses.

As clich̩ as it sounds, I was once told by a relative of mine Рwho herself had been in a bad relationship (in fact she was married to him), that when you meet these bad boys and it all goes wrong you put up with things. A lot. But then one day something snaps and enough is enough. You stop putting up with it.

Then starts the long old process of getting over it and becoming that strong woman again.

My advice? Obviously you would think avoid the bad boys. Yes of course. But you know what, sometimes there is one benefit of being with a bad boy. Like everything in life you shouldn’t have regrets I feel and after being with someone like that you sure as hell learn from it and know what you will never ever put up with again – meaning future relationships are stronger, healthier and more successful.

A Paralympic Farewell

On Sunday 9th September London had to sadly face the fact it was time to say goodbye to one of its greatest Summers in a long time. No, certainly not weather-wise, but in terms of sport, history and British pride.

Admittedly a lot of us had doubted the country and whether we’d be ready in time, would we put on a good enough show, would the athletes perform and get us medals? I would say the answer is without a doubt yes and then some!

For a start even the whole atmosphere in London changed. I was away for some of the Olympics I know, but whilst I was here there was something different about it. Travel seemed easier; commuters were friendlier and even in shops/restaurants/bars staff seemed more helpful. London just seemed nicer.

Now, at just a few days after it’s all ended I can already feel the change in people and the capital.

My views on the closing ceremony really changed in the lead up to the event and on the day. At first I was excited to be at such an important event, if a tad unsure of the whole Coldplay aspect of it. Then I got super excited when Rihanna was mentioned, and again when rumours about Jay-Z started. However, after attending events and arriving to Stratford on the day I was more moved about the whole thing. How well athletes had done, how people’s views of those less abled were changing and how this was such a historic evening – regardless of which music stars it featured. That wasn’t what mattered here.

After eating and drinking in the Westfield shopping centre we made our way into the Olympic Park itself. Where we were quite disappointed to see that the 2012 Superstore was closed – my boyfriend had been planning a few purchases. As usual the Games Makers were their super-enthusiastic selves and there was a super atmosphere building. Being typical me I was a bit disappointed to see the sun had gone in and it was getting quite chilly. The last time we’d been at the venue it was overcast and I was hoping to nab some brighter photos of the various areas and buildings (everything looks better in the sun!)

Once we made our way to the Olympic stadium (to be our first and last visit), we decided we’d better get a drink quickly before entering. Outside we’d seen those beer men who carry draught beer on their backs, like you get at gigs, however within the grounds of the stadium there didn’t seem to be any. So we ended up joining a very long queue to wait for something alcoholic – not many of the stands seemed to be offering alcohol and it wasn’t all that clear which ones did.

Eventually we made our way into the stadium with just 10 minutes to go before the ‘pre-show’ and sat down to read through our guide we’d been given on the evening’s running order and what things meant in line with the ceremony’s theme.

We were up high – around 6 rows or so from the very back/top of the stadium, but we were seated near the Olympic Torch and the way the stadium is designed I didn’t feel funny headed from the height (as I’ve often felt up high at Wembley or the o2). Also our view was great; we could take it all in.

Later on – when the musical acts were on, we discovered where we were seated the artists had their backs to us and were hidden by a giant staircase. Again though, this wasn’t what the ceremony was all about and it didn’t bother us or spoil our experience.
So I’ve heard people since talk about the ceremony (after seeing it on television in the UK) that it was ‘just a Coldplay concert’. Believe me if you were there, this was far from the case. The Festival of Flame theme covered various seasons and was all about coming together – the Paralympic athletes were seated in the main arena so they were in the middle of all the action and there was constantly something going on – you just didn’t know where to look next.

Aerial acrobatics, a crop circle, a Help for Heroes tribute, a taster of Rio 2016, giant floats and items made from scrap metal, a heart of flames surrounding all the participating country flags, fireworks, the list is endless.

I also acquired a friend for the evening in the little girl sat next to me. A young girl with Downs Syndrome, named Ray (I think short for Ramona), grabbed onto my arm as soon as I sat down and wouldn’t let go. She was worried how cold I was and was trying to warm me up and continued to look after me throughout the event – pulling down my chair when it was time to sit down after any anthems, talking to me about what was happening and telling me she loved me. Bless her, she was such a lovely child and her poor Dad kept worrying she was annoying me and kept a watchful eye!

Later on she did call Trev (my boyfriend) her boyfriend and I laughed and told her she could have him!

Throughout the whole evening I felt very emotional. It was such a nice feeling in the stadium and you just felt so proud to be a part of it.

At times you just felt so sad this ceremony was signifying the end of it all – when the torch went out for instance, but then you were also mesmerised by seeing Paralympic athletes Ellie Simmonds and Jonnie Peacock and the display that followed.

Once it was all over we stayed in the stadium for a short while just taking it in and then began our journey home. Again I was expecting a nightmare experience getting into the station and the train ride home – everything flowed perfectly. Yes there were crowds but we just moved along slowly and a train arrived pretty quickly where we got a seat in an almost empty carriage.

I will never forget our experiences of the Paralympics and am so pleased my boyfriend got us tickets and I made the effort to go enjoy it, rather than remain the cynical commuter I had been previously. The Paralympics brought it all – a change in opinion, a pride to be British, tears, smiles and fireworks – no wonder people are calling it the most best Paralympics ever!

Melican at the Paralympics: Part 2

I think most people would agree a kind of sad lull has fallen over the UK, in particular London, this week. The event everyone was moaning about and worrying about its impact actually had us all coming together and celebrating what it meant to be British. London 2012 – the Olympics and Paralympics.

A bit of a latecomer to the party, I attended the Paralympics just before it all finished, but I am so glad I did. What an experience.

As I blogged previously my first experience was at the Olympic Park at Stratford and all on offer there. However, my second visit was quite different.

On Saturday 8th September my boyfriend and I attended the Paralympics at the Excel Centre. Again, we were using day passes (allowing you access to various events if there are seats available). This time we were allowed to see Wheelchair Fencing, Boccia and Wheelchair Table Tennis.

We ended up seeing all three – with Boccia without a doubt definitely our favourite. We saw two games – one where GB were aiming for Bronze and the other where GB were aiming for Gold. The second was GB v Thailand and Thailand won. We all know by now how much I love Thailand so I told my boyfriend I would be happy whoever won. Pattaya Tadtong – who won – was so happy when he got Gold, it was very emotional to be there and an amazing experience.

It was funny though – the day was a real mixture of emotions and experiences. On the way to the Excel Centre we ended up going via the Royal Docks and really appreciated how beautiful London can be and how being from here you can really take it for granted. The Games Makers were as friendly and enthusiastic as ever, but unfortunately some staff in the Excel centre weren’t quite so cheerful!

When we went to watch Boccia the first time the seats were in an awful position so we moved and then one of the staff were fantastic and came to find us to say they’d spotted a better seat for us – what service! However, on going to watch the Wheelchair Table Tennis, one of the men’s attitude left a lot to be desired and just gave off a real air of not wanting to be there. He kept telling people very abruptly how they must not go past a certain seat and was getting people to get up and move to the very end of a row (for no reason there were loads of empty seats!) A real shame and the only one we experienced.

I also found the Excel didn’t have the same buzz about it as the Olympic Park – I guess understandable when you consider the size difference. Although once you were in the events themselves you could feel the atmosphere again. We even got to see a medal ceremony for the Boccia which was fantastic to watch and again had my emotions going!

After we’d finished at the Excel (after around 5 hours) we decided to try out the cable car from the Royal Docks to North Greenwich. I’d really recommend it actually. The ride itself only lasts around 5 minutes, but it’s priced pretty reasonably and even the huge queue we joined moved quickly. You get great views, particularly if you’re up there on a sunny day like we were.

We munched down some food and drink at the o2 and then made our way home – exhausted. Then it was off to bed that night ready for the excitement of the next day – the closing ceremony!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Decisions decisions

I am so indecisive. Even when simply sat in a restaurant chain eaterie I struggle to decide what I want to order. Starters or not. What colour wine? Do I want afters?

What usually happens is that I ask to be the last person in the group to order and if I'm with my man I opt for sharer starters or persuade him to get another main I like so I can try some of his!

At work I take my lunch in each day, on the odd occasion I haven't brought my food in with me I end up in a nightmare situation - struggling to decide what to get to eat.

When making important decisions I take my time and if others are involved I always try and keep everyone happy as much as I can. Which in turn makes decision making even tougher.

How do you know when you make decisions if you're making the right choice? Or whether you're being selfish, stupid or misguided.

So when I saw an advert for new Channel 4 programme The Audience I was extremely interested.

A person has a life dilemma facing them, for a week 50 people follow them and talk to the people involved. At the end the group have to make a joint decision and give this poor person their answer.

What makes me laugh is even here I can't decide. I thought oh what a great idea for a show and how nice to have all those people to guide you.

Then in the next breath? I don't know how I'd feel having complete strangers making such a big decision for me.

How are the people selected?

Before I get confused whether I even want to watch the show or not! I'm off to concentrate on it and see if I'm able to make a decision for someone else. Is it easier to pick a choice for someone you're not involved with?

Erm... Can I get back to you on that one?

Bookworm: The Backpacker by John Harris

I think this is the first time I’ve been in a position such as this with a book. After seeing this book listed as a ‘recommended’ option on my Kindle I decided to download it (particularly as it was quite cheap on there too!) Predictably tempted by the mention of Thailand and the book being like The Beach, “but true”, I was sure it was going to be a hit.

The book centres around John Harris who goes on holiday to India and ends up meeting new people, breaking up with his girlfriend and discovering a passion for visiting new places – returning to England not an option.

In terms of the story itself, I am a tad unsure whether it is all true to be honest – I don’t want to spoil what happens by detailing events, but if you read it you’ll see what I mean. It does at times seem a little far-fetched. I can’t deny I was hooked though and kept wanting to read on and see what happened next.

It was more John and his travelling friends he made that gave me the problem with this book. Specifically their attitude. Now I am no Mother Theresa and I don’t have experience of actual backpacking and what I’d call ‘proper’ travelling (i.e. going away for more than a couple of weeks and travelling around various areas, typically on a tight budget). However, the way Harris refers to some locations and the people I found pretty rude. His behaviour moreover was selfish and arrogant at times – I cannot believe some of the things they did and the way they acted.

At one point the author criticises a Scottish worker in Hong Kong for being a pig and his attitude towards the local people and customs. Yet if Harris stepped back and looked how he acted and how he treated the locals (in particular women in the sex trade) he might realise his own issues.

Maybe I am just too traditional and ‘prim and proper’ in my attitude, but I just can’t see how it is ever acceptable to steal money, steal people’s belongings (and pretty huge ones at times) or damage someone else’s property.

Part of me wonders if the guy writing this is just a bit too good at stretching the truth and he’d like to think these things all happened, who knows…

Good bits
True or not, the story keeps you interested and wondering what will happen next
I liked getting a different person’s perspective on travelling
Enjoyed hearing about other countries

Not so great
Very narrow view from the author on what visiting other countries should involve
Not a fan of his behaviour most of the time and his treatment of the Asian women

Overall I did enjoy the story itself and the book. However the main character – who in turn is the writer of the book as well in this case – I found to be a rather ignorant pig and his behaviour and attitude appalled me at times.

I’d be interested to see what other backpackers and travellers made of his take on things…

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Melican at the Paralympics

Last weekend saw me doing something I was admittedly doubtful I would ever do. In the past I’d complained about it and was dubious as to how spectacular it would be. But I did it.

On Saturday I visited the Olympic Park.

Back when everyone was trying to get tickets to London2012 (you know when everyone complained and it was labelled a bit of a shambles as ‘nobody’ could get tickets, you didn’t even know what events you’d get etc…), my boyfriend asked me if I’d like to go. My response was pretty much ‘Do what you want, I’m not bothered’, so he went about applying for tickets (about £300 worth I believe).

What happened? He got nothing for the Olympics and then received two sets of day passes – one for the Olympic Park, during the Paralympics, and one for the Excel Centre, during the Paralympics. No set events tickets and those he did have were for the Paralympics. He also got closing ceremony tickets to the Paralympics he informed me with a smile on his face.

I didn’t feel much excitement - scrap that – any excitement at this news, I wasn’t fussed about the Olympics anyway, it was primarily being hosted in the ‘dump’ that is Stratford (sorry if you live there…and yes, I do realise I live in Essex and can’t really talk!...) Ashamed as I am to admit this, I also felt disappointment that what he’d go wasn’t even for the ‘proper’ Olympics, and in fact for the Paralympics. Yes I know, what an awful thing to say or think. But there, it’s out there, that was my honest reaction.

Fast forward to July and my thoughts on the Olympics and Paralympics were still somewhat Scrooge-like and my main concerns were the impact it was going to have on my journey to and from work and that I hoped it didn’t cause delays to my journey to the airport for my holiday in Thailand for my 30th!

As it was – as much as I hate to admit it – I thought London coped pretty well with this major event and the floods of tourists and additional people in and around the Olympics venues. I rarely experienced any delays or problems on my trains (no more than usual anyway!) and everything did seem to be ready on time and go to plan.

I came back from Thailand super relaxed, if a little depressed at being back in boring Britain and not in a stunning tropical island setting, and realised pretty soon we were due to go to the Paralympics. The only thing this filled me with was dread – ever since I got back from holiday my time has been filled with eating and drinking out constantly and not getting enough sleep. My boyfriend informed me we had some sort of plans on Saturday evening (which turned out to be a great birthday surprise) so we need an early start so we could see things at the Paralympics and get back home in time. Great – less sleep, again.

One saviour in all this was information from my Olympics-obsessed boss that although we had ‘day passes’ this did actually allow you access into events. Finally a little flicker of interest started to appear. Hm maybe I might in some way enjoy this?

Waking up at 730am on Saturday I did not feel this way. I just wanted to stay in bed and couldn’t be bothered to make the journey to Stratford (which is only a 5 minute bus ride and a 20 minutes train ride away). Off we went – my boyfriend dressed in suitable GB attire, me wearing a blue and white striped top (and a red ring on my finger – in a poor attempt to wear red, white and blue).

Unfortunately the day we went was so miserable weather-wise, the sky was grey and everything looked dark. Not ideal for Little Miss Sun-worshipper me! I always think wherever you go, when you visit places, they always look better in the sun. My words to my boyfriend as we walked out of the station and down the avenue towards the entrance were something along the lines of “Seriously though if you were a tourist or from abroad and you were met with this wouldn’t you be a bit unimpressed and think what a sh**hole?” He was not impressed.

My lack of enthusiasm continued as we queued to get through security and I had my arms crossed (to keep me warm honestly!) and I yawned non-stop. Unexpectedly friendly and enthusiastic staff did start to melt my ice maiden mood somewhat, but I felt no excitement at getting in and walking through the entrance. What was wrong with me??

We walked around the Olympic Park – past some of the now well-known sites – the aquatics centre, the velodrome, the hideous Orbit (sorry but I just don’t get it, as I said to my boyfriend “If I asked someone to design an iconic structure for a such an important historic event and I got that I’d be fuming!”), McDonalds(!) and more I was impressed at the size of the park itself but nothing more. My boyfriend accused me of being a ‘typical Brit’ for being miserable and not getting into the spirit.

Then we walked towards the Copper Box and saw that there were seats available for Goalball and we decided to go in and give it a go…

That is when I changed.

First off – day passes – are such a good idea. On first impression you may have thought – like me – that these were simply to get you into the main Olympic Park area and give you a chance to walk round and take a few photos, just to say ‘I was there’. But the whole idea of day passes is to give you a chance to go into the Olympic Park and yes walk round and see things/purchase Olympics merchandise, but then also have access to a select number of events. On the day we went we had a choice of Goalball, Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair tennis and Football. These involve 4 venues within the park – the Copper Box, Basketball Arena, Eton Manor and Riverbank Arena. Outside each venue is ticker displaying information and if there are ‘day pass’ seats available. To be honest I actually found this way of attending much better – I don’t think I’d be too keen on staying in one place for one event only.

Anyway, so back to Goalball. This involves participants with vision impairment, which varies between players so everyone has to wear dark shaded glasses to ensure they are all at the same level of sight (or lack of) to make things fair. There are 3 people on each team – we were lucky and got to see GB vs Sweden (we drew!) and the aim is to get a goal from throwing the ball from one end of the pitch to the other into the goal, players block the ball with their body and can only tell where it is by the sound of the rubber ball hitting the floor and the bells within it. Because of this you have to silent – the whole arena in which it’s played has to be silent during play.

I’m not sure if it’s the amazing skill of the players, the fact you’re at a historic event, or the way the whole buzz and chatter completely stops when that whistle blows, but this game is spellbinding. You just can’t take your eyes off what’s playing in front of you. I loved it.

After Goalball, we then walked round the park a bit more and headed over to the Basketball Arena. This was very busy, but we still managed to find a seat and saw the second half of a men’s game between Turkey and Italy. And then to our delight realised a GB match was coming up – Ladies GB against Ladies Brazil. Again the atmosphere was great, although I must admit the American-theme on things (which I know is part of basketball) did start to grate on me a little – the ‘host’ getting people to dance on camera, ‘play the bongos’ and use the ‘clapometer’. Don’t get me wrong for families and tourists it’d be great, but after a few times, it just got on my nerves!

After basketball (and grabbing some lunch) we headed off for another walk and after viewing the Park Live area we walked to Eton Manor for the tennis. Yes the lunch was expensive, but it tasted great and to be fair it’s no different to any other event or festival food and drink. Conscious of time, we didn’t sit in a particular court for long to watch the tennis, but instead poked our heads in on a few games to experience it at least. Unfortunately the football had no seats left and we had to leave the park in order to get back in time for my surprise. However, we’d been there for over 6 hours at this point so felt we’d ‘got our money’s worth’ and seen quite a lot.

I left the park feeling happy, impressed and inspired. In fact, I would even go so far to say I think we’re the lucky ones with our Paralympics tickets. I’m sure the Olympics were an indescribable experience don’t get me wrong – but what we got to see was something even more special and I’m glad the Paralympics have proven to be such a big hit for the Games.

I’m now looking forward to our next visit – a very pleasant surprise. Oh didn’t I mention? We’ve got another day pass for the Excel Centre this Saturday – where I believe we can see Boccia, wheelchair table tennis and wheelchair fencing. And then on Sunday evening we’re off to the closing ceremony – which is currently said to feature the likes of Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay-Z. I am so excited! I have a feeling it’s all going to be very moving too, so am hoping I don’t get all tearful!!

My view on London2012 – to be continued…

Monday, 3 September 2012

Top Thailand Tips

I certainly don’t profess to be some sort of expert on the subject - far from it in fact - but I thought it might be good to share some of my experiences in Thailand and what I found worked for us (and what didn’t). Being a first time visitor to Thailand I found the advice of those who’d been before extremely useful and having holidayed in this beautiful location myself now, I thought I’d share any words of wisdom I may have to offer too.

One of my first concerns on visiting Thailand, and in fact something that had put me off before, was safety. This is not an issue. Providing you use some common sense – the same as you would when travelling anywhere you’re not familiar with – you’ll be fine. In beach locations there are people selling the usual tourist tat (although to be honest I loved a lot of it!) but if you simply smile and say no thank you they WILL leave you alone. Thai people are not pushy.
When you’re on the beach and want to go in the sea and leave your valuables – again it’s fine – wherever I go I just secure my beach bag and put it under my beach towel. This seemed to work fine in Thailand too.
Everywhere you go you are made to feel welcome and safe, obviously if you decide to venture to the more ‘trashy’ areas keep your belongings close and avoid eye contact if you don’t want to be pulled into any dodgy strip bars or clubs. Try and work out costs and what’s involved before you just walk on into a venue.
As you probably know Thailand is very popular with tourists so you won’t struggle with language at all, the majority of Thai people where you’re likely to visit can speak great English and often signs are in Thai and English. Often hotels will give you a card which has their address on in Thai, when we landed in Bangkok one of the desk staff wrote out our hotel address out for us in Thai to give to the cab driver just in case their English wasn’t so strong.
People say Thailand is the land of smiles and they are not wrong – nothing is too much trouble and you will always be met with a bow and a greeting (typically ‘Sawadee’)
As a mark of respect Thai people will take their shoes off a lot, even when showing you round your room or cleaning it you’ll find shoes outside the door before entering. In some restaurants and shops you’ll find this is the way too, so make sure you keep an eye out for signs, so as not to offend.

It obviously depends what sort of trip you’re on, and this advice is purely focussed on a similar type of experience as I had (not staying in hostels/backpacking, but by the same token not staying in the fanciest, luxurious of locations). We found food portions were very big. You often don’t need a starter or if you do get one to share.
Most Thai dishes are very spicy. A lot of restaurants will ask you if you want your dish milder or not. I would recommend you say yes. I like a bit of spice in my food, but so I can enjoy it and it flavours the dish. On our first meal in Bangkok I ordered a speciality of the restaurant but it was described as a coconut curry, it brought tears to my eyes and sweat on my face – it was hot! You will also find as your holiday moves on you’ll adapt to the spice.

We took around £300 each spending money in Thai baht with us and then took our credit and debit cards with to pay for trips/draw out cash when needed. There are lots of ATMs about, although you may find they often limit the number of notes you’re allowed – we found it best to select the tourist ATMs which had pre-defined amounts on them and were easier to get cash from.
Eating out is great value, particularly if you opt for traditional Thai food, you will get super cheap food.
Drinks wise - A bottle of beer you can normally get for around £1, a large bottle for £1.50-£2, cocktails are normally in happy hours and are about £3 or so. Wine is a tad dearer at about £4.50-£5 a glass. You can get coconut milk out of a fresh coconut for really cheap on the beaches, or buy big bottles of water from supermarkets for like 30p. Most hotels give you complimentary bottles of water each day anyway.
It is not standard to tip and you’ll find if you do you’ll be met with such gratefulness and shock. We’re not typically huge tippers and I only like to do so when I feel service has been really great, I hate customary tipping for the sake of it. On a few occasions we gave a (very small) tip to various hotel staff or cab drivers and they were so surprised and really pleased.

Again this varies hugely depending on what you’re after. For what we were after – a mix of relaxation, visiting places and being first timers to Thailand we wanted a bit of a mixture but somewhere we wouldn’t feel overwhelmed.
In Bangkok we stayed in the financial district which meant we were in pleasant surroundings, but were also in a good position to visit the more tourist sightseeing areas. We stayed in the Park Plaza Sukhumvit hotel and could not fault it, check out my review ‘Cannot recommend this hotel enough!’
On Koh Samui we wanted to be on one of the best beaches but not be surrounded with tourists or anything too ‘English’, we stayed in the Kandaburi Resort & Spa which was situated at the very far Northern end area of Chaweng Beach, it was beautiful. Have a look at my review ‘Lovely hotel’
This was in a good location if you wanted to go into Chaweng for more nightlife and it was close to well-known temples such as Big Buddha and areas where you can go on ‘safari’ (visit waterfalls, ride an elephant and so on).
Then finally on Koh Phangan, we wanted to have total relaxation at the end of our trip and so we stayed in the Salad Beach area – highly recommended by a friend of mine. We stayed at Salad Beach Resort – a more basic hotel compared to the other two, but still lovely. Read about it on my review ‘A more basic option but very nice’ If you’re into diving this is a very good place to stay as it is near one of the best diving areas there apparently.

Places to visit
There are so many places you can go, but here are some of my favourites/recommendations:

Bangkok (so many more places you can see but we only had 2 full days)
Khao San Road – well known backpacking area, great for cheap drinks and a fun night out
Soi Cowboy – offers evening fun of a more ‘trashy’ kind, however this is said to be a tamer area and so good if you want a nose at what this side of Thailand is like but don’t really want to get involved
Jim Thompson’s House – great museum showing traditional Thai architecture and history/information on Thai silk
The Grand Palace – unfortunately we never got in here but we saw some great temples in the surrounding areas
Damnoen Saduak floating market – long way out and an early start, but well worth it to see the floating market ‘stalls’, ride a longtail down the canals and experience the food, drink and trinkets they have on offer, experience being pulled in to the ‘stalls’ by their big hooked poles and see some traditional Thai homes on the riverbank
Benjakiti Park – this is a big park built in the middle of the financial district, built around a huge lake – beautiful

Koh Samui
Big Buddha – huge golden standing Buddha statue, surrounded by temple bells which you can walk round and hit for luck, stunning scenery around it and a little market and shops nearby selling all sorts
Wat Plai Laem – this temple is home to the huge 18-armed Buddha (also referred to by some as the Lady Monk), there are lots of temples in the nearby surroundings which all offer beautiful ornate decorations and statues, there are huge fish in the lakes there too which are a sight to see!
Island Safari – I would really recommend the trip we went on a half day trip with Island Safari tours. This was due to be 5 hours, but were out for over 6 hours, great value, you experience: elephant trekking, elephant show, monkey show, Thai boxing demo, rubber plantation, rice fields and ox and cart ride, Thai cooking demo, Namuang Waterfall, photo with a tiger (extra cost), fish spa and they also give you lots of free bottled water and a refreshing plate of watermelon, then once you are at the waterfall you get a yummy Thai lunch (drinks not included). Pick up and drop off direct from your hotel and all for approx. £30 pp.
Where we stayed on the beach I’d recommend Your Place for great food and the best place for after dinner drinks and a fire show on the beach.

Koh Pha Ngan
To be honest all we did here was relax and chill! But if you’re not staying there you must go visit, it is beautiful and so peaceful and quiet!
On our last night we did go to a Thai boxing match which was great – all the family can go and all the locals turn up and place bets, it was great fun. We went to the Thong Sala ‘stadium’.
I’d really recommend Salad Hut for lunch or dinner – great food and drink, huge portions and good prices and super friendly service.
The tuk tuk massage hut on the beach was very good value and very friendly too, I felt like I was floating after my 60mins Thai massage
Sunset Bar is a super chilled out bar at the end of Salad Beach, but then most bars there are – relaxing lights, hammocks, relaxing padded pillow seats to lie on…

Everywhere is so laid back you don’t need to be super organised to stay here…
You can pre-organise hotel pick-ups from the airport or ferry ports, but I would recommend just sorting it when you get there, there are always plenty of taxis wherever you are
I booked our ferry trips before we went, again in popular times I guess it’s best to have booked your ferry before BUT I am sure you can book it when you are out there and be sure you know exactly how far you are from the ports – we had about 3 hours to kill at Bang Rak Pier when travelling from Koh Samui to Koh Pha Ngan!
All trips you can definitely sort when in Thailand and try and look for the best deal – also remember some places you can visit yourself and likely don’t need to be through an organised trip
Whenever we asked how much a taxi ride would cost we were told 500 baht (about £10), they never ever seemed to be this much and there are various ways to get around – tuk tuks are great and the cheapest option (if a little hairy at times!), on a lot of the islands their versions of taxis you have to climb into and they have no back (again a fun way to get around if a little daunting at first if you’re a worrier like me!)

We stayed in August and on looking at the weather in Thailand we saw it was within ‘monsoon’ season. If you do the same do not worry, the east side of the islands (Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao) are the driest during this time. We had minimal rain when were there – about 10 minutes one afternoon on Koh Pha Ngan and about 15-20 mins one evening there. Similarly for Bangkok we experienced a little rain when we were out and about one day and then one day whilst we were eating breakfast. It rains quickly and dries up quickly and at most places – as with the sea – the rain is warm! You’ll never feel cold!

Wherever you go you’re bound to have a great time. I panic a lot and am overly organised and even I found I totally unwound, took things as they came and just generally chilled out. You’ll soon find yourself bowing and smiling continuously like the locals and just remember to be patient if at times some people struggle to understand what you mean. And once you see the stunning scenery and relax in that heat all your worries and real life will melt away and be quickly forgotten…