Lunch with Steinbeck, dinner with Forrest

Chats about California today reminded me of this. Would love to go back and spend more time out there.

travellingcoral

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On the drive down the coast from Santa Cruz to Monterey the scenery was stunning, most of the time. The last few miles, we headed inland along Highway 1 across flat, fertile plains, dedicated to agriculture. The fields were full of people hand picking artichokes and sprouts. We saw signs advertising kiwis and strawberries too. These fields stretched out as far as the eye could see, between the sea and the mountains. Despite the obvious fertility, there was something else, the vastness, the intense human labour. This was a place where people worked the land by hand. Unlike the vast corn fields, that glow in the sun, this was not a place of beauty.

I had not then made the link between this valley and John Steinbeck. He was born and raised in Salinas, the town sitting in the middle of this plain. He sometimes worked the land to earn some…

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Valued Volunteer Award for Make Friends with a Book

Volunteers’ Week takes place every year from 1 to 7 June, and for the past few years, The Volunteer Centre Sandwell has hosted an award ceremony at The Public in West Bromwich to recognise the contribution volunteers make across the borough.

This year, Make Friends with a Book was one of the projects nominated. I was so thrilled that this group had been invited to the awards ceremony because this was a group I had worked closely with between 2009 and 2011 when I was a Community Development Manager working on the Big Lottery Community Libraries Programme in Sandwell.

Part of my remit in this role was to recruit volunteers to support activities in the lovely new community rooms at Smethwick Library and the very first volunteer I took on supported Make Friends with a Book at Smethwick Library. She later went on to become a BUDS volunteer (who were also nominated for an award last week). When Make Friends with a Book started at Bleakhouse Library, I recruited two regular members of the group to become volunteers for that group too.

Make Friends with a Book facilitators are trained by The Reader Organisation who started the Get Into Reading Project in Liverpool. Novels, short stories and poems are read aloud, with breaks so the group can reflect on what they have heard.

The amazing thing about the Bleakhouse Library volunteers is this. Before becoming volunteers they visited the library, borrowed a book and then went home. After they started volunteering they began to think of other activities they would like to have at their library and got involved in making the decisions about what went on in their library. The initial volunteers recruited more volunteers. The designing and planning of the reading garden was all done by volunteers. Another volunteer runs a self help group for people suffering with arthritis. The Art Group is all volunteer led. Volunteering went viral.

Picture this. We are all chatting over a cuppa before we settle down to listen to Gina read this week’s short story, in comes Gill in gardening gloves with a trowel in her hand. She had been tidying up her raised bed. All the gardening volunteers have their own bed which they look after, as do children from the local school.

Now picture this. Make Friends with a Book hits Stratford! Group members,  family and friends, including the lovely volunteers from two Sandwell Libraries are pictured here, after enjoying The Tempest performed by the RSC at Stratford upon Avon in October 2012.

Make Friends with a Book at Stratford upon Avon

The volunteers who support Make Friends with a Book got the recognision they deserved on Friday, and carried away a Valued Volunteer award. I will admit to shedding a little tear of happiness that day. I was so proud of them, and proud be part of the team that brought shared reading to Sandwell.

9 reasons not to travel

Staff at the local travel agents will never recommend any where that they are going on holiday to me and my family. This is because they know about our track record for holiday disasters.

These are those I recall off the top of my head, in no particular order.

  1. Andros the sinking pedalo, when we are rescued by a speed boat
  2. Ibiza lilo adventure, when Tim floats out to sea and Phil has to scramble over a rough sea bed to save him
  3. Majorca: the Thomson Dream nightmare, planes are grounded because of a volcano and we endure a 48 hour journey home by boat and coach. The boat is over crowded and there are no cabins left, or so they tell us……
  4. Grand Canaria, thieves who stole a camera and cash from our coffee table, while we were in the same room
  5. The Hotel California experience, trapped in LA by Qantas grounding all planes in October 2011
  6. Florida, losing a 9 year old daughter in Church Street 
  7. Dalyan, an earthquake and a very near miss by a lightning strike
  8. Egypt Nile Cruise, the holiday that never was due to the coup and playing the waiting game to get a refund from the travel agent
  9. Fiji, evacuated from Bounty Island in a cyclone. This was the only time on our RTW trip that the FCO contacted us.

From: suvaconsular@fco.gov.uk

> To: coral
> Subject: Tropical Depression affecting Fiji

> Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2012 23:51:20 +0000

>
> Dear British Citizens,
>
> A severe flood warning remains in force for major rivers, streams and low lying areas of Western Viti Levu This has caused major flooding and has closed roads paticularly in Nadi Town and left both locals and tourists stranded.
>
> Should you wish to seek urgent consular assistance or know off any british nationals in need of urgent assitance please do not hestitate to contact us on the telephone number (679)3229100 or (679)3304746.
>
> In light of this adverse weather conditions, we will be grateful if you can confirm yuor safety and well being in Fiji. The Consular team would like you to monitor the latest situation on the Fiji Meteorological Service website: (www.met.gov.fj) or http://www.ukinfiji.fco.gov.uk for further update.
>
> Kind regards
> Consular Team.

Of course this won’t stop us travelling. Off to Dalyan again in 2 weeks time. The mission to take Mom to all the places she loved, begins.

PS just back from Dalyan. We had another earthquake. This prompted us to recall other holiday disasters….

10. The shoe bomber incident which meant we could not bring the wine we had bought in Kefalonia  back to the UK. We sold it around the pool and gave it to the reps.

11. The hurricane in Kefalonia that kept us in the hotel all day. I love storm watching so this was a treat for me but lots of moaning from others that they couldn’t sunbathe or use the pool.

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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Friends. The other one about Social Media.

Batu Caves Thaipusam 2007

Just over a year ago I started following two people on twitter. Very different people. One was @JDEntrepreneur the other @thevicarswife.

I liked the feisty tweets from @thevicarswife and really admire the work she and her extended household are doing in a very deprived area of Sandwell. Her blog is really brilliant. You can find it here.

When she knew I would be visiting Malaysia she invited me for tea at The Vicarage. I remember the day vividly. Her three children were in dressing up clothes jumping down the stairs. I immediately felt at home as much of my childhood was like this, when I wasn’t living up a tree! At the Vicarage there is always tea and lots of homemade cake. Yet it was four months later that I was able to realise the real value of the friendship.

I was in Kuala Lumparand hating it. Really hating it. Phil and I had joined a G Adventures tour travelling overland from Singapore to Bangkok. We’d been on the road for three months in first world countries so Malaysia was a bit of the shock to the system. There were some great people in the group. And one that everyone found difficult. Ugh Oh I shall call her. Our tour guide, Pong, had been mugged outside our horrible hotel. And the previous night we had eaten horrible food in a fake American bar. This wasn’t the Colours of Asia I had been expecting.

We had been to the Thaipusam festival in the Batu Caves. Phil, Kelly, Sean and I found it so disturbing we had fought back through the crowds, back on to an even more overcrowded train and gone back to the hotel. We were all exhausted and a bit teary. On top of the tension in the group caused by Ugh Oh, which was getting seriously difficult by then, the day had just about finished us off. So I tweeted @thevicarswife. ‘Help hating KL need authentic place to eat’. Within 30 minutes she had contacted her friends in KL and had a recommendation. Koon Kee’s Great Wonton on Petaling street. When we eventually found the place, and that is another story for another day, we had some wonderful food and the Carling Girl had never been so busy. That night, Two Dinners Sean, Phil and I began our baby saving mission in South East Asia. Thanks to @thevicarswife.

So how does @JDEntreneur fit in to all this. He intrigued me as a then 19 year ol entrepreneur. He said some daft things sometimes (who doesn’t) and I often picked him up on his grammar and spelling, yet one couldn’t deny that he was a hard worker, inspiring young people to set up businesses. This is his blog about social media. I would urge you to read his others, too.

And this is the conversation between us on twitter.

Jamie Dunn ‏@JDEntrepreneur

Got to write my next column for @Birminghammail tonight… listing some topics to cover. Anything you think should be added?!

Expand

@JDEntrepreneur @birminghammail supporting independent retailers, stalking tweeters? marketing and social media

@travellingcoral done. Have a read as I’ve mentioned our brief meeting!

5:37 PM – 14 Oct 12 · Details
I was that stalker person. Regular readers will know I like indie coffee shops with WiFi. I was visiting Brewsmiths near Snow Hill Station. It was the first time I had been there. Had no idea that Jamie Dunn ‏@JDEntrepreneur would be there. Turns out it was his first visit too. I recognised him from his blog and as he sat down I tweeted that he had just walked in, as you do. It was pure coincidence that we were both there on the same day. If you believe in coincidence. If nothing else it gave him inspiration for his blog about social media. And it was very funny to seem him looking around the cafe trying to work out who I was.
So who have you met first through twitter and then in real life? How did it go?

Friends. The one about Social Media

Over a year ago I blogged about how social media is a useful tool to keep in touch with friends. I was in Fowey and had hosted lunch for Cornish friends we had met in Turkey. Social media was the way we had kept in touch for a couple of years. Also at the lunch that day was a friend of my mom, then aged 77, had also met in Turkey and yes, kept in touch with via Facebook.

When I was travelling, being able to chat to my son on Christmas day via Facebook was one of the things that helped combat a rare, but extremely painful bout of homesickness. Indeed the iPad  was passed around the table and he had random conversations from our hosts family and friends.

Now back in the UK  Phil and I have stayed in contact with a few of the people we met on our travels. Through Facebook.

Barb and Pet who were brilliant hosts on Christmas day in Melbourne, who completely scuppered my Skipping Christmas plans.

Tim and Jo Ann in Wellington who we met in Northlands taking photos of this view. They casually suggested we could park on their property when were in Wellington before we crossed to the south Island. What they meant was, stay in our beautiful home and we will treat you to a slap up meal at Cocos, a film at The Roxy Cinema and a glimpse of all things Hobbiton, and a  few Oscars.  We are still pinching ourselves!

And of course the wonderfully warm and funny Sean and Kelly from the USA. Musical theatre as therapy in Thailand. Who knew? We saved a lot of babies on that trip and I did my fist duet in a karaoke bar because that Sean he is bad!

And now I am reflecting a lot on what I was doing this time last year and how my life is now.

All the friends I have made since retuning home have all been via social media. Through twitter I met people living in my neighbourhood via #BearBeers. Though Facebook I met so many lovely people on The Bearwood Page, mainly because of the bid to become a Portas Pilot.  These are not just Facebook friends. They are real friends. I have been out for meals and drinks  with them, had fabulous dinner parties in their homes. Even had one to stay at my house during renovations in her own home.

I would not have met any of these people if it were not for Facebook.

The downside is that I have encountered some trolls. They are not my Facebook friends, just keyboard cowards with narrow lives who will never be at my dinner table.  Interestingly the ones who are now in my life have all travelled further than the end of the road. Taken risks with their lives. Have a bigger picture of the world. And like good food. A bit like me really.

And that is why I guess they are my friends.

Far sickness Part One, or why some of the people in Bearwood are awesome

After travelling I found it very difficult to settle back into the normal routine of living in England. Everything was too small and so very grey. I was not working and to be honest I had changed. Old friends and acquaintances only know the old me. They asked about the trip like I had just come back from two weeks in Benidorm. One ex work colleague was shocked to see me, I thought you were off travelling she said. I was, I said, I have been away five months. The look on her face was priceless. She was still in the same job with the same problems doing the same things. In the meantime I had been around the world. I had moved on and she was in exactly the same place as she had been five months ago.

With many people I discovered that when they asked how the trip went, they were just being polite. Eyes glazed over when you talked about the Remarkable Rocks or your first kangaroo. They didn’t get it or me anymore. Some of them understood that I couldn’t slot back into my old life like nothing had happened. Others who had travelled understood, and like a secret society, we share tales of Down Under. And some like the new version more.

I made new friends in New Zealand and Australia and despite the distance and despite the fact they only spent a few days with me,  they know me better than most of my old friends, because they met the person who was on a journey. I wasn’t judged by what job I did or what clothes I wore, which is just as well as my wardrobe was limited and I took no makeup with me.

On my return, I made a choice to get involved with a group of local people who were bidding for Portas Pilot funding. They like me were passionate about the neighborhood they lived in and concerned about the ever increasing number of shops that were closing. These were people I had never met before and the joy of that was that they were meeting the new me and had no reference to my past. All they knew was that I had just got back from travelling and had a background in community development.

I joined in a challenge to shop locally, driven by the bid, to discover what our local shops did and did not provide.  As a result of the shopping challenge and driven by a passion to feed themselves and their families well, (watch out Jamie Oliver) a group of women then established the Bearwood Pantry. I am amazed by their energy and commitment to the project.

Others working on the bid had organised successful events such as the Bearwood Shuffle and Bearwood Handmade so were doers not talkers, my kind of people. Together we surveyed shoppers and traders, made a film about our high street, using the talents of local people and did the best we could with the tools and time we had available. Many of us gave up our weekends to ensure we consulted the wider community at events such as the Lightwoods Park Festival. 

As a result of being involved with the Portas Pilot I am privileged to have met some very lovely people in Bearwood. Many are not born and bred Bearwoodians (including a German, a Canadian and a couple of Ozzies). This may be why they challenge and question, in the same way that I have and will continue to do so, the lack of real choice on the high street for food and the lack of a real community hub that is not faith based. They have seen that in their home communities and have seen it in other communites in England. As I do when I travel both home and abroad. A space where we can take our family, our knitting or our lap top and meet with likeminded people. Places like Six Eight Cafe. Conduct business, share skills, run craft workshops, listen to story tellers, poets, live music and Book Cross. Dare I say, even have a pop up library.

All these things can and do happen in other high streets and towns. Why not Bearwood? In the meantime this is our high street. I think we deserve better.

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’twas the night before Christmas in Melbourne

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It is quite strange to be spending Christmas in Australia. It’s hot and sunny, so spending the afternoon listening to live music with a cold beer seemed a good way to spend Christmas Eve.

Phil and I were at Abbotsford Convent to visit the Christmas Eve Slow Food Market.

I was also keen to see Lentil as Anything at Abbotsford, as Phil and I have been volunteering at the one in St Kilda. This one is qute different as the food is buffet style, and as one of the cooks is Sri Lankan, the food slightly different and equally delicious. All vegetarian and we enjoyed dhal, beetroot korma, rice and steamed dumplings.

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The setting is beautiful yet it is just off a busy and culturally diverse high street. Enjoying the sunshine with us were families and couples, old and young, people from the UK, France, Germany, India, Sri Lanka, and South East Asia. Conversations taking place over lunch in half a dozen different languages. There were Muslims and Sikhs, Christians and those with no religious beliefs gathering as a community in the grounds of a former convent. I wonder what the nuns would have made of that?

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This is the poetry tree in Lentil as Anything.

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And this is where you make a wish and pay as you feel, there are no prices on the menu. The idea is that those who can afford to pay more do, so that everyone can afford to eat, whatever their circumstances.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Skipping Christmas

Skipping Christmas

Image via Wikipedia

Some of you may have watched the film Christmas with the Kranks, which is what the suits in Hollywood decided to call the film based on the book, by John Grisham Skipping Christmas

Because Phil and I will be in Melbourne for Christmas we are to some extent also skipping Christmas. We are not buying each other presents. We plan to go to the beach with the dogs on Christmas day and have lunch at the cafe in St Kilda we have been volunteering for, Lentil as Anything but in the evening we will have a special dinner with produce from the Slow Food market at Abbotsford Convent with sparking Shiraz, which apparently is the Aussie wine of choice at Christmas. I will also serve it slightly chilled!

Both our kids will be spending Christmas with the parents of their significant others. This has been the toughest thing for me. It will be the day I will miss them most, but I know that they will be looked after and have a great time. Next year guys, it’s back to our house, ok?

However, I haven’t gone completely Bah Humbug. Melbourne is all dressed up, and this is what I saw today from Chloe’s tapas bar. Who is Chloe? Scroll down to see!

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Even the trams are festive.

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Each evening there are projections on the State Library featuring scenes from The Nutcracker

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Meet Chloe.

So, we are not really Skipping Christmas, just doing it differently, spending less money and still having fun!