What the Asparamanser said

My daughter was a guest at a Hen weekend recently where they were all asked to bring stories about dating disasters. The bride to be was to guess the person the story was about. My daughter story began with the words ‘I was at my mom’s Christmas Party’ and the bride immediately shouted out my daughters name. It seems that amongst my daughters friends my house parties were legendary.

Now one could think, how cool that your daughter and her friends enjoy your parties. I would like to think that too.

130So I will tell you another story. When I was on the Whit Tour with the Jockey Men’s Morris in May 2011 I had my asparagus read at The Fleece Inn. For this you are given a bunch of asparagus and drop them randomly on the table. One stalk slipped out of my hands before I dropped the bunch and I got a knowing look (more of that in a moment). This Asparamanser told me two things. One was to get all my affairs in order as I needed to make sure all the plans were in place for a long journey. This was a bit uncanny, as I was, as readers of this blog know, going to be embarking on the round the world trip in October 2011. I had only just that week announced to my work place of my intention to take redundancy in order to travel. Nothing was booked.  A  few close friends knew I planned to travel. The asparagus reader could not have known that. Then she came back to the asparagus that had got away. This indicated, apparently that sometimes after a drink or two I may be a bit loose with my words and say things I may regret, and I needed to be mindful of that.  On the coach after lunch we all shared what the asparagus reader had told us. When I mentioned  the bit about the loose tongue at parties, all my friends burst out laughing.

So I have appear to have a reputation of giving and enjoying parties. Which is fine. Except that my parties include lots of wine. And beer. Well I have friends who are Morris men so naturally there is beer. All in the safety of my own home. Well sometimes in other peoples houses. And always lots of lovely home cooked food and samosas and music and people enjoy themselves. They must do because they keep coming back.

We scaled back on parties this year, we were recovering travellers and had lost the house party mojo. There was no decent weather for a BBQ and now no young kids around to want a firework party. At Christmas we held a poker party and a vinyl night. Close friends and family who played poker, listened to vinyl,enjoyed shared food and well yes some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, craft beer and organic cider.

IMG_7232Our round the world trip was on reflection a journey to new world wine growing regions. Paso Robles California (they keep the best); Marlborough, New Zealand and the Hunter Valley and Margaret River in Australia.  We enjoyed our wine responsibly, most of the time. We also discovered the delights of a Sunday sesh in Melbourne (thanks to What’s Dave Doing) at Riverland Bar and a post, cooling drink, after a very warm day trip to Williamstown relaxing with craft beers, food and ChloeIMG_5541This is the view from our seat in Chloe’ s Room overlooking Federation Square and the Christmas Tram.

And this is the lovely food we enjoyed.IMG_5533

In SE Asia we drank beer, as it was cheap and we were hot. In the last 11 days of travelling I lost about 12 pounds in weight, due to a combination of beautiful healthy freshly prepared food, the heat, and no wine. We did save a lot of babies but that is another story. I had already lost about the same amount of weight in Fiji for the same reasons, despite spending most of the day sleeping in a hammock.  I was slimmer and healthier than I had been for years when I returned home.

Back in the UK I soon slipped back into bad habits.  At first, because we were broke and had no jobs, and had enjoyed the cleansing diet in SE Asia,  we ate healthily and drank occasionally. A year later, and the bad habits had crept back into our lifestyles. I had the ill health of my mom to contend with, unemployment, and lots of other stuff that is life. I put on weight. I decided to start running to combat the weight and my low mood, then got ill so had to stop.

And now it is almost Lent. Traditionally people give up things. Some people give up chocolate or wine. And some people take something up for Lent. A food bank charity has suggested that people donate what they save at Lent to them. One year I read of a family who lived on the minimum wage during Lent. They wanted their children to be able to reflect on how privileged they were, so had to forgo cinema visits and ballet lessons. They didn’t eat out and cut back on grocery bills. And donated what they saved to some charity. what a good idea, I thought. Then I read  ‘this excludes our mortgage payment’ and that made me very angry indeed. The smugness of living a comfortable life and let’s pretend to be like poor people mentality infuriated me. I have lived on Income support and know what is like to have only a pound in my pocket to feed a family of four. And that same smugness creeps into Live Below the Line, which is why I blogged about that too.

However, it has made me think, could I, should I give up wine for Lent?

Oh and I have just read this blog about the Asparamanser so there seems there is a pattern in her predictions……

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Am I still travellingcoral?

I have spent the past few months sharing my photos from the round the world trip I took with my husband last year. In a few days we will have been back in the UK for a year. Which is why I sometimes wonder that to call this blog travellingcoral and to use that as my twitter name is wrong somehow.

Yet in my head, I am still travelling. I have written before that I still can’t get used to having actual wardrobes and live in nearly the same clothes I wore on the trip, I expected that to last a few weeks, but it has lasted 52 weeks. IMG_1322

I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco. I left my soul in nearly every place we visited. I ache to be back in New Zealand, to spend more time in Bay of Islands and the Coromandel Peninsular, to visit friends in Wellington and see more of the South Island. And I wished we had gone to Yosemite when we were in California, spent more time in Santa Cruz and stayed longer at Pismo Beach.

We spent nearly two months in Australia yet only scratched the surface. Even though the cost of everything is migraine inducing and I have no idea where one buys underwear (no Marks and Spencers) I’d go back in a heartbeat. Melbourne got under my skin and I miss it so much.They have free BBQ‘s in public places, and trams, and seating like this.

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I follow some brilliant travel bloggers and when I read about what they are up to and places they have visited my heart literally aches. Yet these same bloggers were wonderfully helpful when planning the trip and continue to inspire future travelling plans. Thanks particular to these guys: http://whatsdavedoing.com/ http://www.ytravelblog.com/ and also look at this if you are even remotely interested in travelling http://nomadicsamuel.com/top100travelblogs

In a previous blog, https://travellingcoral.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/go-now-while-you-can/ I mentioned how Mom had encouraged Phil and me to take this trip. And now she has gone my one big tie to my adopted hometown has gone too. Ok I still have a house and a son and a husband here, but other than that….. well I don’t have a job, the kids are in their 20’s and I don’t really want to live here any more. And now one of my new friends is moving back to Sydney which will mean I will have nearly as many close friends in the Southern Hemisphere as I have in the UK.

My memories of SE Asia weren’t my fondest. We were travelling with G Adventures and of course in a group you can always expect there to be tension occasionally. I think this group was unique in that one individual managed to alienate everyone in the group within 24 hours. All of us tried to get along with her, some with more success than others. As we often had to travel for 5 hours plus on mini buses, it did become a sometimes comical but always a tactical manoeuvre to avoid being in the same bus this person was in.DSCN0313 If this sounds cruel, I am sorry, yet it is true. All of us on that trip would have had a better experience if this person had not been there.DSCN0282

We developed a penchant for singing Hollywood Musicals very loudly and discovered new versions of Doe a Deer (linked to beer and Saving Babies) and she was always offered the seat at the front with the driver. The tour guide sacrificed his single room and shared with a traveller so that no one else had to share a room with a person who despite having the biggest bag didn’t seem to wash or change clothes.The suitcase was full of food she had brought from Canada and she was still eating it 11 days later.

Pong, our wonderful guide in an effort to calm her, and give us respite,encouraged her listen to Buddhist Chanting. Can you imagine sharing a cable car with her? This is the impact it had on one of us.DSCN0741

Yet looking back at the photo of that trip with G Adventures brings back good memories, especially with Sean, Kelly, Jojo and Gemma. The hours we spent looking for this eh Sean!DSCN0442And I got to eat wonderful food, took part in karaoke (what happens in Krabi, stays in Krabi) and saved lots of babies and enjoy views like this.DSCN0853

So am I still travelling? While not having left the UK in the past 12 months Phil and I have had a number of mini breaks. Hay and Brecon for the food, scenery and the books; Winchester for the markets; London for the theatre, The Tate and London Calling to see Paul Simon in Hyde Park (all London visits are due to the generosity of my wonderful daughter and her partner). I am off to Malvern to visit the flea market and Carnival Records and browse the vinyl with my new friends and Holly the Australian Cattle dog who I met via Facebook (the friends not the dog, obviously). And drink tea and eat lots of cake probably.

And yes I am still travellingcoral. Travelling isn’t about visiting places and taking photos. It is is about how what happens and who you meet shape your life. The people I met on my trip are the lasting memories, strangers who became friends.The new friends in the UK, my mom’s illness and now her passing have and will continue to shape who I am. And may it never stop.

Go travelling. While you can.

DSCF2609I have been putting off writing this for days, weeks even as every time  I think about it I find myself getting tearful. Yet I need to do it. While I can.

Last year I made a major decision to go travelling. I have wanted to visit New Zealand for longer than I can remember. I had an old uni friend in Melbourne who I wanted to visit and wanted to see some kangaroos and koalas and Sydney Harbour.  My husband has always wanted to visit California and drive the Big Sur and slowly we built  a bucket list  round the world itinerary.

And we knew we had to do it sooner than later as we both had 79 year old moms who had had a few health scares. It was agreed that our children would update their grandmothers on our progress as we intended only to keep in touch on line. No phone calls. No post cards.

Despite having failing eyesight my mom was at the time relatively digitally engaged. She was on Facebook and used email regularly to keep in touch with friends she had made around the world on her own travels. So that she could still use her computer she had invested in all sorts of gadgets and software.

The mom in law, on the other hand thinks computers are the work of the devil. She also thought going off round the world at our age was a teeny bit selfish. It wasn’t. It was very selfish of us. That was the point. After 30 years of doing jobs that sometimes we loved, often hated, a combination of at least 7 redundancies between us (we stopped counting) living below the line when on benefits and bringing up two children, we decided that it was time to do something just for us. While we can.

So here’s the thing. If we had put off travelling when we did, because of all the excuses we had made for the past 26 years we may never have gone. So many travel bloggers say don’t put it off, because you have kids, you have a house, you have a good job, you don’t have a job, you are scared, you have a boy or girl friend who doesn’t want you to go, it’s not the right time, and they are right, none of these are good enough reasons not to go.

In July 2011 I was offered another 6 to 9 months contract in my job. If I had accepted I would have been unhappier than I could imagine, doing a job I no longer loved. I had achieved everything I had set out to do and needed a new challenge. I begged to be made redundant. I told my stunned boss that there was a plane ticket with my name on it and now was the time to use it.

The day I accepted my severance package everything else fell into place. The Melbourne visit became a house sit for 6 weeks, we found perfect tenants for the house, and the airfares were exactly the same amount as the enhanced part of my redundancy pay. So we booked our flights and did it, while we could.

Mom was delighted when I told her we were going. And actually she is the only person who, on our return, was genuinely interested in where we had been and what we had done.

In the past 3 months my mom has become more or less housebound as she has to have oxygen 24/7, can barely walk across a room without becoming breathless, has to have  a carer come in to get her out of bed and wash her and has had a stair lift installed. I could not go off on a 5 month round the world trip now as I want to be near to my mom. Having a mom who is blind and wheelchair bound, is a reason not to go. Mom doesn’t want to be a virtual prisoner in her home she wants to be boarding a plane to go somewhere warm to escape the cold and rain in England. She wants to be in Luxor or Bangkok or Singapore or… well anywhere but home.  But that is unlikely to happen. So what she talks of now is a short stay in Switzerland.

So do it while you can.

This is my mom. As I know her. Not the frail woman I hardly recognise. Thank you mom for giving me the travel bug.

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Round the world with my kagool

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The one item of clothing I lugged around the world that I do not regret taking was my trusty kagool or kag in a bag. It was well used in New Zealand when we went on a wine tasting tour … Continue reading

Cooking with James Martin

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This gallery contains 16 photos.

So I won a blogging competition. On Facebook, with Thomas Cook. I don’t enter many competitions, but I’d been on a blogging course and thought why not? After all it combined the two loves of my life, travel and food. … Continue reading

Live Below the Line Lentils

Day 3 of Live below the Line Week started really well. I made a lentil curry. Using fresh vegetables and lentils and coconut mil from a local independent store this was a very cheap and nutritious meal. It was also really tasty. I am not a vegetarian and I don’t think I ever will be, yet, having no meat days is a the way to eat well on a low budget.

I ate a lot of vegetarian food when I was a volunteer at Lentil as Anything in St Kilda, Melbourne. I really enjoyed my time working there, they are a great team and the philosophy of this social enterprise is amazing. There are no prices on the menu. Instead customers are invited to give what they feel the food is worth and have the opportunity to donate to the philosophy.

The food there is so tasty and filling, you do not miss meat. I had one customer, who had never eaten in a vegetarian cafe before. He was a retried man from Yorkshire. Now Yorkshire men are weaned on roast beef! If there is no meat on the plate, it isn’t considered a meal. Needless to say he loved his Moroccan Hot Pot. He was cool guy actually, taken early retirement and was visiting his children who lived in the USA, Melbourne and New Zealand. Living life not watching it from afar.

Working there had inspired me to make more vegetarian meals. this was from a Weight Watchers cook book and the ingredients were very cheap.

Lentils £0.80 as used half a bag

Coconut milk £0.25 as use 1/4 of a tin

Carrots (6) £0.18

Potato (1) £0.06

Onion (3) £0.09

Curry Powder £0.10

Garlic £0.03

Organic Vegetable stock £0.10

Total £1.60 and it made 5 lunches so that is about 32p per portion. I had egg on toast for breakfast. Home made bread and an egg from my chickens comes to about 10p.

So far so good. I can live below the line if I eat like this. Only 42p of the £1 allowance per day gone and I have had two meals.

So here comes the #fail. I went out that evening to a Social Media Surgery. I also had to go to the Apple Store to fix a problem on my iPad, so I was in Birmingham most of the afternoon and evening. I was hungry. I bought a pasty from Gregg’s at 91p. One pasty and that would break the budget for those living below the line.

It doesn’t stop there. A friend had come to the surgery and we had arranged to eat out and try out beer at a pub I had been recommended. Dinner at Bodega was £10 and the real ale at the wonderful Post Office Vaults was £3.40.

Definitely went over the budget then. I don’t regret the money spent on a really good meal at Bodega, but the 91p for a vegetable pasty, I do. For those who have to live on a limited budget in the UK every day, a 91p pasty may seem a cheap and filling option.

Learning to cook is one of the most important life skills. Headlines like this Our Hidden Poor and the growing number of food banks is worrying and are not a solution. They are a band aid. I hope that those taking part in Live Below the Line will continue to consider the cost of the food on their plate, reduce waste and whenever they can, share cooking and shopping skills to help those who live below the line, not from choice for 5 days but from necessity. Every day.

Trains, boats and campervans

There are probably as many camper vans to hire in New Zealand as there are people. Maybe that is why most locals seem to hate them. The invasion of the campervans.

Whether they are Wicked or Juicy, or boring ford transits with a bed, like ours was, as we get to grips with the windy roads, high winds and roadworks on every highway we got abuse.

I was tempted to put dollar signs on the back as a reminder to the more impatient drivers that us tourists are contributing to the local economy.

We buy your produce, shop local, like your wine, can’t afford your lamb, so can we drive on your roads please?

Buy the end of week two we were getting road weary, and wished we had known about the train services on the South Island.

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This one links Christchurch and Picton and for the most part of the journey hugs the coastline. The front carriage is open air so you can admire the views and take some great photos. In a day you can do the round trip and I think it is probably up there with the great railway journeys of the world. The other one takes you across the Southern Alps from Christchurch to Greymouth. I suspect this would be pretty spectacular too.

We followed the rail track for most of the way as we drove from Blenhiem to Christchurch, holding up coaches and trucks as we trundled along in our ford transit with a bed.

We stayed in one place long enough to go whale watching.

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We saw dolphins.

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We saw albatross.

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The boat was lovely, if very bouncy.

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They listened for whales.

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But we didn’t see any whales.

So they gave us a refund and we could then afford to eat this.

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Organic, New Zealand Lamb.

And drink this.

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Organic New Zealand wine.

Dinner was on the whale!

Not blogger of the year

Well we are in New Zealand now. Lost three days here due to QANTAS, nuff said.

Not blogged due to rubbish expensive wifi on excellent campsites, or lack of time at excellent, FREE wifi hotspots at NZ libraries and info centres.

Lovely country. Will reflect more when I have time, right now in camper, in Blenheim, post wine tasting! It’s raining.

Paid too much for wifi so must use it!

Today visited a little museum that hosts Peter Jacksons Aviation hoard and a vintage car museum. Then chilled over wine tasting and great food at Wither Hills vineyard. Lingered all day.

As I’m on the effing iPad will post photos separately. Don’t get me started, Apple!

Love NZ. Love WETA xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Can’t post photos at WETA!! Saw some props from The Hobbit.

Highlight was a visit to The Roxy where we dined and saw a film with the co owners!

Got to see Oscars and BAFTA awards. Yay.

Plus other stuff. Wellington. Rocks.

Blog Action Day #BAD11

I am proud to take part in Blog</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Action Day Oct 16, 2011 www.blogactionday.org

Blog Action Day 2011 is the day Phil and I start our round the world trip. The day started at 3am to get the National Express Coach to Heathrow at 4:30 am. The local high street was surprisingly busy with the kebab shops doing a roaring trade from the post Saturday night clubbers.

I noticed that half the food, so desperately ‘needed’ after 10 or so pints, had been thrown away, or more unpleasantly, thrown up, on the pavement. On a day that I am blogging on the subject of food, it brought it home to me how we, in the west can take food for granted.

On our travels we will visit the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand. As much as we will be enjoying new places, meeting new people, part of the fun for foodies like us is trying new food, and sharing meals with friends old and new. Our friends in Melbourne who we are house sitting for, plan a BBQ on our arrival to introduce us to their friends and neighbours. It’s what we do, gather people together, to share a meal. For some that shared meal will be very little.

I am writing this while enjoying my first meal of the day, at Heathrow T5 in Wagamamas. A curious east meets west breakfast with noodles, bacon, egg and cabbage, as airline food is so bad we like to fill up before we fly. We worry about getting hungry on the long flight. What do I know about hunger?

What we have just spent on food and drink, would I suspect feed a family for a week, or even a month in some parts of the world. What I have just eaten, could be all a family has in one day, or a week. This is just one food outlet at the airport. Gordon Ramsay‘s, plane food offers picnics at twelve quid. We are just two passengers passing through this airport today, buying food. How many meals will be consumed today here, how much food waste will there be? How many of them will know that I have sat here eating breakfast, blogging about food, on Blog Action Day?

Getting to the airport on time.

Terminal 5 at London Heathrow Airport

Image via Wikipedia

It is just over two weeks until I embark on the round the world trip with my husband, Phil. I have had two major tasks to complete this week for the trip and they have been most frustrating. One is to book a campervan in New Zealand, (and that’s another blog) the other is to book transportation to the airport.

We are flying from Heathrow (the dreaded T5) at 11.30 am on a Sunday. So decisions had to be made as to the best way to get there in plenty of time for the flight.

The options were:

Go by train: According to  Trainline http://www.thetrainline.com and National Rail Enquiries http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ it will take 9 hours to get there. This is because there are no trains after midnight on Saturday to Euston, and the tube to Heathrow doesn’t start till 8am. Neither site factored in Marylebone to Paddington for The Heathrow Express. No early Sunday trains from Birmingham to London so that was crossed off the list.

Stay with my daughter in Wandsworth: this would involve a train and tube journey on Saturday, getting up crack of dawn to get to Paddington or booking a taxi, lots of modes of transport. I love my daughter, but traipsing across London on a Sunday morning was not ever going to happen.

A Heathrow hotel:hotels at the airport are very expensive and the those a distance away would involve more buses and taxis and are not cheap either. None included breakfast in the price.

National Express http://www.nationalexpress.com : which is what we are doing. This is after two frustrating days to find out how to book a return journey with outward and return more than 3 months apart. I could go on for ages and indeed did on Facebook, however the short version is that you have to book an ‘open jaw‘ ticket, that is not available on their web pages, nor do they tell you about it on their website. You can book singles, two singles an open return or a return, but not an open jaw. Instead you spend 10p a minute on their booking line. Fortunately the lady who took my booking was lovely and very helpful, which meant that I didn’t vent my rage on her. Just on Facebook and Twitter.

This was not necessarily the cheapest option;  indeed internal flights in Australia are cheaper. However, a combination of trains, taxis, tube and buses on a Sunday morning gave me palpitations. This is one bus, early in the morning, there will be no traffic and it drops off at T5. Less to go wrong. I hope.

We have to catch the coach at 4.30 am from Bearwood, to get there in ample time for our flight. I will be in the departure lounge for over 3 hours.  Coming back we have 3 hours at Heathrow as we are due to land at 6am from Bangkok, and there is a coach at 7 am which would be cutting it fine, or 9.30. Hopefully there is free wifi so I can vent my rage on Facebook and update my blog. You have been warned.