The Library of Birmingham

DSCN5934I was very lucky to have a sneak preview of The Library of Birmingham before it opens its doors to the public on 3 September 2013.

I was a guest at one of a series of soft testing. Members of the public were there to test the knowledge of the staff, some of the services on offer and generally feed back on the building.

Today the photo embargo was lifted and I can now share my photos and thoughts about my visit.

The press have also released their reports, it seems The Guardian hates the library and Birmingham, and the council. The Independent is kinder.

This is my personal feedback, based on what I experienced on the day.

What I hope they have got right by the time of opening is:

The temperature. It was too warm, everywhere. It was a warm day, after a particularly hot few days. The studio theatre we met in was stuffy.

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The Shakespeare Memorial Room was sauna like. The rest of the building was certainly warmer than needed. Time will tell if this is a snag or a major issue.

The wi-fi. This was patchy and non existent on either of the terraces.

The lifts. They were so slow, I wasted valuable time waiting for one to arrive.

My other thoughts are:

The Children’s Library is on the Lower Ground yet the Buggy Park is on the Ground Floor. This does not seem very practical or secure to me. Buggies are very expensive and I cannot see parents wanting to leave them unattended. Or take toddlers down two escalators.

The change from escalators to a travelator in the main body of the library was a bit disconcerting, especially coming down. I can’t say why exactly but it confused me a bit. I wear varifocals and sometimes I have issues with stairs and escalators, so perhaps it is just me.

I think there are some accessibility issues. My mom, as her sight deteriorated would have found it very difficult to navigate around the rotunda and on the escalators. The light would not have been adequate for her. For me, as the person who took her out and about in her wheelchair, I would have found it difficult to manoeuvre around the building. And mom would have got fed up of waiting for the lifts. As I am not a wheelchair user nor was with someone who is on the day, I couldn’t test this, I did however ask someone who was there with a wheelchair user. They thought there were some issues too. Again, time will tell how major a problem this is.

So onto the good bits.


The Rotunda of Books is stunning.

DSCN5940Every member of staff I spoke to was enthusiastic and excited about opening to the public and were well informed. They will have a lot of changes to get used to and I think they are up to the job.

DSCN5946The Secret Garden on the 7th floor is lovely and will be a good place to relax. The views are amazing.


I also liked the Discovery Terrace on the 3rd floor. DSCN5961

More amazing views of Birmingham.

I will be visiting the library when it opens and hope that I can organise a special visit behind the scenes for Make Friends with a Book, the shared reading group I helped establish in Sandwell.

In the future I will be trying out the cafe and may even write a blog post from there. So watch this space.


Jamie and Jack


So today, everybody is talking about Jamie Oliver and his rant about poor people (did he really say that?) who choose big tellies and chips over mange tout from the market.

I hope his mom has phoned him and given him a proper telling off. He flunked school and if it wasn’t for the fact that he had parents owned a pub and gave him the opportunity and encouragement to follow a food career, he too could be one of those poor people living on a diet of Kyle instead of Kale.

I like Jamie, I really do, he put his head over the parapet and criticised school dinners, got the government to increase the spend on school meals. Turkey Twizzlers were revealed to be made of pink slime and his books improved my husbands cooking.

He is a bit gobby, he gets angry when children are passed burgers through school gates and I genuinely think he cares about the health and diet of young people. Fifteen gives young people employment training. What is not to like about Jamie?

It seems he has some right wing views about poor people that have upset a lot of us, poor or otherwise. Here’s the thing Jamie, not all ‘poor’ people have big tellies and eat chips. Some rich people do. People may be poor because they have a disability and can’t work. People may struggle because their partner died. Some are poor because they got into debt and got ripped off by loan sharks. What is shocking is that many of these loan sharks companies are legal, advertise on the big telly conveying the message is that Wonga will solve all their problems and Brighthouse has everything you need to have a lovely home. All at two zillion percent interest.

What I am certain of is that no one chooses to be poor. People with good jobs can lose their homes if they are made redundant. Three months away from homelessness. I have been there, have lain awake at night and wondered how I can keep my house, buy shoes for the children and have enough money for the prepayment electric meter. I was lucky as parents stepped in and helped us out financially. Not everyone has parents that can or will.

I am also lucky because I can cook. My grandmother had to feed an extended family on a very small budget and I guess by watching her I learned basic techniques. By the time we had cookery lessons at school, I was capable of making beans on toast, (a recent survey claimed that 1 in 10 are not) and I went to uni with a pressure cooker, a Kenwood Mixer and a recipe book. I ate well on a limited student budget and created Beef Daube in bedsit kitchens. I owe that to my mom, her complete inability to cook made learning to cook a matter of survival or else eat soggy cabbage the rest of my life.

I am lucky that I have travelled. It was travelling that changed my cooking. I wrote a post You Never forget your first Moussaka a while ago, as it was my first trip to Greece that really inspired me to experiment more with food. Since travelling in SE Asia I have cooked more with thai basil and lemongrass. I am lucky that I have a local grower that supplies me with these plants so I don’t have to pay silly Waitrose prices for them.

Jamie thinks we all need to go to our local market and buy fresh cheap ingredients. I don’t have a local market. It would cost me £4 in bus fare to go to the market in Birmingham. If I was living on a minimum wage I could not afford to do that. That is equivalent of buying a veg bag from Salop Drive Community Garden. A valuable community resource which  the council may pull funding on, a resource that not only gives people on limited incomes access to affordable healthy food, but also provides the opportunity for people with disabilities to learn gardening skills. A resource that is under threat due to budget cuts.

I can also buy from The Bearwood Pantry a food co op who buy direct from a farmer. Watch this short film to find out more about what they do. Then there is a couple of enterprising butchers who have recently started to sell loose vegetables since the fruit and veg shop shut down (yet punters still complain it is more expensive than Iceland) which I mentioned in The Tesco Footprint post.

Jamie really has no idea what it is like to struggle to bring up a family on a minimum wage, to not have access to a wide range of affordable ingredients and not have the skills to make a pasta sauce without opening a jar. I have ranted before about the Live Below the Line recipes and I would rather not eat a sausage at all than eat one from a value range, as they suggest, basing their meals around frozen veg, plastic bread and cheap sausages.

And yet, his accusing poor people of eating chips and cheese maybe career suicide combined with his affiliation with The Sun. The ad on my big telly promoting his budget cookery was patronising. With his flash diamante shoes and his cheeky chappy manner screaming ‘I am rich and I can show you benefit plebs how to cook with mange tout from your local markets’ made me want to chuck all his cookbooks in the bin. And The Sun, Jamie. Will you let your daughters flick through the pages to find your recipes? How will you explain Page Three to them? I would have admired you so much more if you had told them that you would not work with them while they still have Page Three. You cannot be motivated by the money, surely? You care about family values yet will encourage people to buy this publication for your recipes? Bring a paper into the home which objectifies women. How do you look your wife, your mom and your children in their eyes when they open The Sun and see tits?

Jamie is a millionaire, from a privileged background. He may have struggled at school and he has worked hard, but he doesn’t have a clue about what is like to manage on a limited budget, he doesn not know what it is like to be really hungry.

But Jack does.  A Girl Called Jack really knows what it is like to be broke and cold and hungry and is angry at how the smug rich think all ‘poor’ people choose a telly over mange tout. She uses easily available, cheap ingredients and transforms them into interesting affordable and nutritious meals. She got flak for using tinned potatoes (they are cheaper than fresh) and has accused of being a foodie snob for using chick peas. And, OMG, she used fish paste in a pasta dish. You would have thought the sky had fallen in. Yet she is adapting recipes from Nigel and Nigella and making them simple and affordable. She didn’t feed her son crisps and watch her big telly eating chips when she was unemployed and had less than £6 to feed herself and her child for a week and she doesn’t now she has got a job and a book deal. Because she knows that hunger hurts and her recipes and her campaigning is telling it like it really is.

Expect to see more ‘poor’ people in the country, Jamie, as the bedroom tax hits, as more jobs go in the public sector, as companies out source employee services to Romania. People get made redundant, clever, talented people are losing their jobs. They apply for 10 plus jobs a week get interviews weekly, and rejection letters daily.

We do not need Wonga, we need financial education in schools and more credit unions. A number of library services have blocked access to applying for loans on line and are providing information about managing money and information about credit unions. I just hope that these resources don’t close too.

We shouldn’t need food banks. We need access to affordable food, decent wages and people like Jack.

Eat, Drink, Sleep and a Cup of Kindness on Hollywood Boulevard

IMG_2874Hollywood Boulevard is not all fancy theatres, red carpets and stars. Much of it is pretty run down and has a lot of adult shops and a lot more homeless peopleIMG_2737

Going through my notes that I made on my travels (not as many as I wished that I had) I stumbled across the account of a time I spent in a cafe on Hollywood Boulevard. My husband was having his hair cut in The Fade Inn Barbershop so I went for tea at Sabor y Cultura while he got himself groomed. I was the only person using pen and paper, and the oldest one there by at least 20 years. It was the music that made me feel that this was the place for me. Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head; Love Potion Number 9; Under the Boardwalk; You Were Made for Me; Downtown and McArthur Park. I could have stayed there all day.IMG_3127

Customers were mostly 30 something white and male and unlike most of the other people we met in LA did not appear to be resting actors. One guy was meticulously sticking pictures on to small cubes, others mostly seemed to be freelancers using the cafe as their office. They may have escaped corporate life, yet, as there were very few communal tables, had exchanged a cubicle for a table of one’s own in a cafe with free wifi.

As an older woman I was invisible to them so it was easy to people watch and make up lives for them. Indeed a place I could write a novel.

There was art for sale, laptop leads trailing across the floor, a hum of creativity. Lots of herbal tea and coffee. The notice board carried ads for charity walks and live music events. It may have been full of 20 and 30 something geeks, but these guys were just like the people I hung out with in the 70’s. Just a lot more geeky. With tech.

I liked it there, the 70’s was my era, and, if you are ever on Hollywood Boulevard step away from the bright lights, head towards Hollywood and Western and stop off at Sabor y Cultura and support this indie. Fortunately this place has not changed since I was there, unlike the best diner we went to in LA (see below).

Along this stretch there were a few good Thai restaurants, and further up past Hollywood and Western you are in Thai town, 5 minutes south you are in Little Mexico. The food at all of these was incredibly cheap and very good, lots of motels around her, some seedier than others, yet I never felt unsafe. IMG_3130

On our first day there we were so scared of LA we thought getting to Starbucks for a nasty tea and muffin without being mugged was a bonus. After 5 days we were living like locals eating bacon and eggs and pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast at Angels Restaurant. Family run, excellent food and as many coffee refills as you can take.

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Having just looked this establishment up it seems that Angels is no more. It is now known as 54Twenty and linked to the Dixie Hollywood Hotel next door.

While they have retained the 70’s diner look (it looks as if everything is brand new) it has fancy food on fancy plates and no doubt the photograph of the fountain used in Friends has gone too. IMG_2883Such a shame. The area was having a clean up when we were there but this is not progress in my opinion and makes me quite sad. Change isn’t always for the better and I cannot believe how much this has upset me.IMG_3013

This is where the real people live and work on minimum wage, not 10 minutes walk away from the fake glitz and glamour of the Chinese Theatre where wannabes dress up as Darth Vadar and charge punters to have photos taken with them (we got this one free). Real people like Bon and Brian who worked at Coral Sands Motel, who sent most of their wages home to family they had left behind in the Philippines.  They were so kind to us when we had our own Hotel California moment. We could check out, but due to the grounding of the Qantas fleet, we could never leave.

Hotel workers strike

The Coral Sands Motel, was opposite a clinic where addicts queued each morning and next to a shopping mall with Starbucks and a supermarket.  It was undergoing renovation when we were there in October 2011, yet they seem to have kept the mirrors at bed level. Can’t think why!

What seemed to be a disaster at the time became an opportunity thanks to these guys. Brian drove to the airport so we could return the hire car and get a lift back to the motel with him. The manager gave us a phone for our room, at no extra charge, so we could call Qantas 24/7 to see when we could fly to New Zealand . They all suggested places to visit which we had not covered in our original whistlestop sightseeing LA tour.

We travelled on the clean, safe and unstaffed Metro, got to see Union Station and explored Little Tokyo. And the icing on the cake being in town for the West Hollywood Carnaval. We got to Santa Monica Boulevard by public bus (only poor people use the bus) yet that night as the streets were closed, carnaval goers took the bus too. I was sat next to Marilyn Monroe and opposite 3 witches. I may even have seen Elvis. We had many interesting experiences in California but this was definitely the most memorable.

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I will never forget their kindness and understanding. There are kind people all over the world. Even in LA.


And it wouldn’t be Hollywood without a cheesy picture.

Have you been to LA? Did you visit Angels and hate the idea that it has now been ‘made over’? What is the best American diner you have been to?

Twitter talk

I was going to share my happy bus experience today. I am not as I am not feeling that happy now. Outraged, astonished and bemused is closer to what I am feeling, all because I dared put my head above the parapet on twitter.

It followed my visit to West Bromwich and The Public yesterday. And my blog post. Not really sure how it all started as there were quite a few of us involved in the conversation.

  1. morning @westbrompaul hope you are going to help save @_the_public .Its contribution to health & wellbeing on many levels is important

  2. @brummytaff The council cannot afford to subsidise it. The Public will still be there but is likely to end up with a smaller arts offer.

  3. @westbrompaul @PaulSandars @brummytaff health, wellbeing, culture not high on the councils agenda just more tesco and poundlands

However it seems that because I live in Birmingham, I have no right to have an opinion of decisions made by Sandwell Councillors. 

@westbrompaul: @travellingcoral @PaulSandars The people of Sandwell are my priority. I make no apologies for that.” < Rt Indeed Paul

While I absolutely accept that they are not my elected members, I do not accept that I should not be able to voice an opinion about Sandwell, its councillors or The Public.

I also dared correct @sandwellleaders grammar in response to this: I couldn’t help myself.

@westbrompaul @travellingcoral @PaulSandars Paul just ask where they pay there Council Tax !

And so it continued:

  1. @sandwellleader @westbrompaul @PaulSandars i am shocked that you are confined by boundaries esp now bham is labour controlled

  2. @travellingcoral @westbrompaul @PaulSandars When will you have something positive to say about Sandwell.. There their

    And there is more:

    1. @sandwellleader @westbrompaul @PaulSandars I have a lot to say positively about Sandwell: libraries the first but need to be marketed better

    2. @travellingcoral Your off again Coral but they need better marketing.

      Grammar is clearly not the strong point of Darren Cooper. Others agree.

      @travellingcoral And you’re/ your 😉

       I just hope the advice is taken on board.

      @loveourpublic @westbrompaul @travellingcoral @PaulSandars Thanks for the tip useful 🙂

      The message is clear here. Am wondering if I will need a visa to visit Sandwell.

      1. @travellingcoral @sandwellleader @PaulSandars You can always go to Birmingham if you’re that unhappy. Bearwood & Cape Hill are busy places.

        At least Paul can spell.

        If not take advice.

        1. @westbrompaul @loveourpublic @travellingcoral @sandwellleader @PaulSandars Suggest you setup separate personal & professional accounts guys

        2. @re7ox I don’t need two, thanks.
        3. @westbrompaul No need to thank me. Just an observation. Most employees have a statement to differentiate their public/professional views.

          Interestingly, only one Sandwell councillor attended Hyper WM when it was held at The Public. She has since been reprimanded for improper use of social media. (IMHO she didn’t). Darren and the Pauls may have found it useful. I suppose I should be glad that at least they are having a conversation and not just sending messages.

          And in case I don’t understand that my views are not important to them.

          1. @sandwellleader @westbrompaul @PaulSandars 2/2 and what happens in Bearwood impacts us in B17.parking and litter. empty shops.

          @travellingcoral @westbrompaul @PaulSandars Moan to Birmingham then.

          I already have expressed my concerns to my local councillor on how what happens in Bearwood has an inpact on those that live on the border. I don’t think I have moaned to him or a Sandwell councillor. Ever. Expressed my views and challenged decisions perhaps. And got the refuse collected because my councillor understands that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. To listen twice as much as you talk is the making of a great communicator.

          Amusingly, it ended thus:

          Next week I am volunteering. On Bank Holiday Monday. For Sandwell Library and Information Services. At the Sandwell Show. Promoting the wonderful services that are available in lovely Sandwell Libraries. To the people of Sandwell.

          I will be letting Darren et al know that, of that you can be assured.

          And bringing my passport, just in case.

The Tesco Footprint

I visited West Bromwich on Tuesday this week and after one very happy bus journey (to be a future post) I met a friend at The Public. This Arts Centre is under threat of closure and I wanted to show my support by actually visiting and not just tweeting about it. I also wanted to show my friend the Central Library as it is a stunning building. We were also taking some photos for the 365 Project. You can see my photos here and my friends here.  The last and certainly least reason for the visit was to see New Square.

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The imaginatively named New Square is in my humble opinion a Tesco vanity we are the big boys and we want that land project, with a massive supermarket, an Odeon Cinema, some other chain stores and the promise of more mixed retail come. It is also adjacent to The Public which when built caused much controversy as it was bringing art to a community who wanted a cinema and a swimming pool.  West Bromwich didn’t want art. It seems the council doesn’t either. Indeed one of my tweets about the matter was

@_the_public @tom_watson sandwell doesn’ t value the arts, it might create aspiration

I may have been a little bit harsh. Or I may have hit the nail on the head. Either way the reaction to the announcement of its closure has made the local MP wade in

News: MP Tom Watson calls on council to find solution for The Public  #Sandwell

And this from The Leader of the Council

After a lot of hard work, a change of management and apparently a 30k subsidy per week (what can that be spent on?) Sandwell Council have now said they will not subsidise The Public after November 2013. The Public struggled to get visitors in the past, and one of the main reasons was that it had very little footfall due to its location. It introduced a range of activities for the whole community, including Tea Dances, a film club, some unique exhibitions and has featured work by Tracy Emin. It has a cafe which on the day I was there was full of people of all ages.

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Footfall is no longer an issue as it is now on New Square opposite the cinema, coffee shops and restaurants. After years of subsidy, it is now the council want to close it and turn it into a sixth form centre. This makes no sense to me and many others, finally The Public is bang in the centre of a well marketed ‘entertainment destination’. A multi million pound investment has been made in West Bromwich for Sandwell College, so why do they need to convert The Public into a sixth form?

That aside, this new development has effectively shifted the town centre to gravitate around New Square which is good for The Public yet look at this Tesco footprint.

Tesco footprint

Like many high streets West Bromwich has its fair share of empty shops. It also has a thriving indoor and outdoor market, most of which are run by independent family businesses. What impact will Tesco and the other multiples have on them? There is some refurbishment work going on in the pedestrianised part of the high street and in one of the older shopping centres, Queens Square. Only time will tell if Tesco rips the heart out of this high street and community too.

I don’t like big supermarkets for a number of reasons, and while I would like to avoid them completely, it is not really a viable option for me when I can only buy what I can carry and within walking distance. I have touched on my shopping preferences here in my April Shopping Challenge post.

Supermarkets appear to be cheap yet with the bogof offers and bulk buys most people are buying more than they really need which leads to food waste. They are designed to tempt the consumer to buy things they don’t really need, and spend money they can ill afford.(Sandwell has high levels of deprivation, unemployment and a high proportion of NEETS).

Talking to the local butcher, who after the last veg shop in Bearwood closed down was forced out by an unscruplious landlord who had their palms crossed by a multiple who sells every thing for a £1, has been very enterprising and started to offer a range of loose fresh veg, I asked him how sales were going. Customers have complained that his prices are too high. They would rather go to Iceland and get a bag of carrots for a quid than buy three from him for 40p. Then he added, ‘what they haven’t thought is that they will end up throwing away most of the bag as they have gone off’. Of course they will. It is false economy buying veg  in bulk if you are not going to cook it in a couple of days. Carrots that have been shipped across the county then wrapped in sweaty plastic bags that will go to landfill, will go off quite quickly so they need to be used within a couple of days.  I do by bags from Aldi as that kilo of carrots will be in at least two meals, a soup and a breakfast juice. If they go past their best, and to be honest when we had the heat wave it was a battle to keep anything fresh, I have a compost heap, so eventually it will go back into the land, and a chicken who will eat most other stuff. New potatoes are dinner one night and potato salad the next. Cabbage and carrots are made into coleslaw and a stirfry.

As Team Pugh at  A Year without Supermarkets have found they have saved huge amounts of money and have almost no waste by only shopping at independents and cooking from scratch. The bulk of my shopping is done at Aldi because it has what I want at the price I can afford. It doesn’t have bogof offers that tempt me to buy more than I need and the quality is good. Each week it has the Super 6, offering seasonal fruit and veg, unlike other chains that seem to have offers on  fizzy drinks and fast food, hardly encouraging healthy choices. I don’t need to buy 2 for £5 scrawny pumped full chemicals chickens from Tesco as I can buy a Free Range chicken from Aldi for £5 and stretch it over 3 meals.

Of course Sandwell Council are over excited at having a shiny New Square in the ‘capital’ of Sandwell. Creating oh so many jobs. Of course most of the jobs will be minimum wage or Zero Hours contracts, and what will happen to the staff who will lose their jobs at the Public? 2000 people applied for the 30 jobs at the cinema. All of the folding t-shirts jobs have gone at Primark and it hasn’t opened yet.

The concerns that New Square will have a negative impact on the rest of the town has not been lost by the media, according to a BBC report there will be investment elsewhere in the town. What about those for whom West Bromwich is £3.90 bus ride away. Where is the investment in the rest of the Borough? New Square for West Bromwich. Old litter bins for the rest of Sandwell.DSCN5591

Bula! Fleeced in Fiji

Have just been looking back through the notebook I took on my RTW trip for some writing inspiration. What jumped out of the pages were the words ‘I never expected to feel “ripped off” in Fiji by friendly people who cry Bula! everywhere’.IMG_7827 IMG_7980 I had forgotten that. Fiji is sold to you as the ultimate laid back experience. Which it is. The beaches, the sea, the islands are stunning. And most of the people we met were lovely. I had also noted ‘I have been told that Papanigi is Fijian for white tourist, I think it means cash cow!’

The Ultimate Lei or would you prefer a Lazy Threesome? IMG_7695We had booked a Full Monty package with  Awesome Adventures, to include transport, accommodation and all meals while we island hopped via the Yasawa Flyer. There were a number of packages available such as Tropical Awegasm and Ultimate Lei which I would like to think were thought up by an adolescent spotty boy smoking behind the cycle shed, but more likely to have been dreamed up by guys similar to the Aussie public school boys Jeremy and Josh who we met on a Hunter Valley Wine tour, in some trendy agency in Sydney. From memory we were on the Ultimate Lei as it fitted around our flights.  Having checked the Awesome Adventures web site now it seems some of the schedules of the packages have changed as our first accommodation was Nubua Lodge on Nacula Island which is the last stop for the Yasawa Flyer.

Wow, look at that, and that and that. IMG_7672 IMG_7670 IMG_7636 The journey there was wonderful, we went on the open deck and drank in the scenery. The flier drops off and picks up backpackers, locals and resort workers, stopping at almost every island along the way. There is nothing else to do but sit back and relax. And be entertained by the people jumping onto smaller boats with no seats to be whisked away to an island while the rucksacks are flung over the sea from the flyer to the waiting boats. I never saw one land in the sea but I do wonder if it has happened.IMG_7643 IMG_7644 Too old to be awesome?

Our arrival at Nubua Lodge was not the best, as apparently we were not expected. Lunch was to be served and there were no places for us, so we the old couple, were seated separately from the young backpackers and were made to feel excluded. The average age on this trip was late 20’s to early 30’s and on more than one occasion we were treated differently, as if we shouldn’t be on an Awesome Adventure. We did meet one other couple older than us at the awful non eco Korovou Eco Resort and they too remarked that at times they had experienced similar treatment. There are other more upmarket packages that I guess are deemed ‘more suitable’ for 50 somethings, and Awesome Adventures screams YOLO and young! Yet we were on a backpacking RTW trip and on a budget so 5 star resorts and dressing for dinner were not on our list. The not joining in table Our stay at Nabua got better when we met Christine (not her real name but what she introduced herself as) at one of the get to know everyone type activities that apparently we were going to have to endure at every resort. The need to entertain us at every resort with holiday Club type activities I thought only happened at Butlins never ceased to amaze me, yet we managed to cope with escape most of them. It is what the Papanigi wants from a holiday in a tropical paradise apparently. IMG_7755 Christine Chantelle, Phil and I very soon established ourselves as the rebels on the first night and later on a few other fellow travellers gravitated to our ‘not joining in table’ to escape the hokey cokey or conga dance being organised. And a good time was had by all.IMG_7743 Fleecing the Papanigi

As part of the package we had booked there were a number of activities such as snorkelling included. Off we go in the motor boat with a pile of snorkels and mask to explore the underwater cave. As we arrive the once charming Joe le Taxi boat man tells us it will be $5 for a mask and snorkel. No snorkel no diving so what to do? You cough up the cash. The day before I had struggle to get my bag off the boat without dropping it in the sea, carried it up to the main hut, and after lunch picked it up to take to the Bure we were staying in. A member of the island staff practically snatched it off me and offered to carry it all of 20 metres for me for a tip. WTF?  I had carted that backpack around California, New Zealand and Australia and I wasn’t about to find a tip now in a backpackers resort. On every island there was always an essential extra at $5 but the worst case of trying to exploit  the tourists was in the middle of a Tropical Cyclone.

Phil and I have had a faire share of holiday disasters, but this experience has been the worse so far.

IMG_7995 IMG_7993 IMG_7991 IMG_7987 IMG_7985 IMG_7984 We had earlier that day been evacuated from Bounty Island and experience that had resulted in a cut foot, severe sea sickness and a leaking boat with dubious sparkling electrics. To arrive safely at port was somewhat of a relief and all I wanted to do was check into my warm safe room at Smugglers Cove. The bus driver was not going to the resort, we were not meant to be on his bus that at that time, we were meant to arrive in the evening (hey mister we got no choice we were made to leave the island, there is a cyclone!). Except that I didn’t say that, I may have been a bit ranty and sweary. I was upset and had been really very scared for most of that day. To add insult to injury he said he would drop us off and his friend would take up to the resort for $5 each. I sort of exploded at that point and people moved away from me. Then I cried and got on the bus. Some lovely young Australian backpackers took me under their wings and kindly organised and to shared a taxi with us. I hadn’t until then realised how bad the storm was, Nadi was effectively under water, most places had no power so I guess the bus driver didn’t want to risk getting cut off and leaving the main roads. When I managed to check my email the FCOhad requested me to confirm we were safe. Yes, that bad. Reflections This is what I had written summing up Fiji. ‘Glad we had the two nights at Natural Resort, memories of that night on the beach with the bonfire with all the staff and tourists lying on the canvas and gazing at the stars blocks out all the horror of the last day and the downs of the extra $5 and fleecing the tourists’.

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