Review: Outlandish Scotland Journey Part 1 and 2

When I read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager)*, I thought to myself, “I really want to go to those places and see those things.” I often wish it was easier to find stuff in Scotland but there’s so many things in Scotland that it can be hard to know where to look for anything specific! Anyway, that was before they made a TV show out of it, and now there’s even more Outlander locations in Scotland!

*Book 1 was retitled Cross-Stitch in the UK for some stupid reason, and they wonder why it was initially less popular over here; it’s still the same love story between Jamie and Claire.

Another rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the way to Loch Ness.

The first guide, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 1, covers the Outlander sites between Edinburgh and Inverness, while the second, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 2, covers Inverness and a whole plethora of sites around the city. In both cases, the sites are marked on a map so you can see the route that goes between them all.

If that’s not enough, there are also very clear directions explaining how to get to each location, and the guides are very clear about what you will find in each place, with lots of details to help you make the most of your holiday. One thing I especially liked was the thistle icons that rated each location, and showed whether a location was worth visiting or not, so I could see at-a-glance how many sites to spend time visiting (nearly all of them… now I just need a reliable vehicle to travel in).

Another thing I liked was the author has found pictures of what the places look like, and put them alongside what the places looked like in the TV series, so you get an idea about how similar the places are in real life (for example, some buildings in Culross were painted for filming so in real life they’re a different colour).

One more thing that I liked about these guides is that they give you the disabled access information, so if you are traveling as a disabled person or if you’re taking someone who is disabled, you have a good sense of whether you can get into any specific place. I’ve talked before about why that’s important to include in travel guides as it can make or break some people’s trips.

It was also useful to know how much time to schedule for each aspect of the trip; for example, it tells you how much time each itinerary will take, depending on whether you want to do it faster or slower, so you have a good idea of how much time to budget.

Other things that you will find in these guide books include: Where to park, for sites where parking isn’t immediately obvious; whether any individual attraction is worth a visit or not (and an explanation and references showing why not, if it’s bad, so you can make an informed choice); how much they cost; and there are even lots of extras, such as places of interest that weren’t in the books/TV series but are still worth a visit while you’re in each area.

These Outlandish Scotland Journey ebook guides also really make use of being in an electronic format, by linking to additional useful information, which basically means it’s like someone went out and painstakingly researched your holiday for you, so all you have to do is follow the route and have a great time! Or, if, like me, you’re the sort of person who likes to go out and discover things, these guides have a lot of mileage in them as well; I would choose the most interesting locations, and see what turned up in the space between them while I was traveling (because Scotland has a LOT of space).

If you live in Scotland, you could do some of these locations as a series of day-trips at the weekend, rather than a long holiday, and it would certainly be a great way to spend your days off! If I still lived in Edinburgh, I would definitely do that.

These guides are useful for a wide range of readers, both locals and further afield, and my overall conclusion is that they are well worth a buy if you are going anywhere in Scotland this year or researching a future trip.

Find the Outlandish Scotland Journey guides on Amazon here: Part 1 and Part 2
Or find out more here: Outlandish Scotland Journey website

The “Village” Of Blackadder, England

I spotted a point on my map* that said “Blackadder” near the Whiteadder river, so I went on another adventure in my car because I had to see this for myself.  It was 2012 and I was on my way back from Edinburgh heading south.

Being, of course, a huge fan of Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson’s comedy show “Blackadder” I had to take a detour and see for myself that this was a real place.  I wanted a photo of the sign that said “Welcome to Blackadder.”

I followed the route on the map (see also, my article on how to buy a good road atlas) until I reached the Whiteadder River, along with a signpost for the village of Whiteadder.

The river Whiteadder
The river Whiteadder. The green car in the shot was my first car, a Vauxhall Corsa named Bubbles.
A bridge over the River Whiteadder. Blackadder Village
A bridge over the River Whiteadder.

After driving around the open farmland of Northumberland for an hour, I spotted this handwritten signpost that said Blackadder Mains is this way (in Scots English, “Mains” isn’t part of the town/village name, it’s a short way of saying “town center” or “village center”).  I was hopeful that there’d be some shops or whatnot that I could photograph, along with the “Welcome To Blackadder” sign I wanted to see.

Signpost to Blackadder Village.
Signpost to Blackadder Village.

I turned down the road thinking it must be past the two farm buildings I could see.  Wrong.  Turns out, despite what the mapmakers must have found hilariously funny, Blackadder isn’t really a village.  It’s a hamlet at best, but probably actually a farm.  There were a couple of buildings side by side and that was it.  One of the buildings was a barn.  The best part?  When I stopped to take a picture, I discovered that visitors to Blackadder are so rare that the people here came out of their buildings to demand to know what I was doing.  And asked me to leave before I could get a photo.  There was definitely not a sign saying “Welcome to Blackadder.”

So the moral of the story is that maps are not better than Sat-Nav, despite what techno-luddites (usually trying to look good in front of old people) might tell you, they have their flaws.  One of them being that generally the cartographers haven’t visited every place on the map and can’t always guarantee that the information is correct.  I would imagine that Blackadder is only marked on the map because otherwise there would have been a big empty space, and mapmakers detest empty spaces on maps, they don’t want people thinking they didn’t do their job properly.   Google maps, on the other hand, offers you a satellite view of your destination so you can check that you’re really going where you think you are going, and if you’ve got half a brain you’re not going to mindlessly follow the “turn left” instructions on a sat-nav any more than you would with a paper map.   Maps can be useful, but sat-nav is more helpful.

I also don’t think places should have signs saying “Mains” if they don’t have at least one shop (or, y’know, three houses) because it’s misleading.  Maybe that’s why the sign was written in marker pen.  What it probably should have said was “Blackadder Farm.”  At the end of the day, however, it’s sort of funny that this is the place that bears the same name as the scheming weasel of a man from the popular comedy series.

If you want to visit a nice place in this area, go to Berwick Upon Tweed.  They have petrol stations and other modern conveniences such as shops that are closed on a Sunday and closed after 5 on a weekday, and they also have car parking.  There is a nice river and they’re not too far from Lindisfarne (which I will write about soon) which is a great day out in and of itself.

*A map is a piece of paper that behaves like the screen of a Sat-Nav. For advice on choosing sheet maps, check out this article

The Swiss Alpine Route to Verona: Solo Interrail Part 5

New to my Solo Interrail series? Start here

I’m going to pick up where I left off last time, after I had just made it back to Zurich station and was now feeling like I was back in civilization having just spent the morning lost in the alps.  I sat down over a coffee and wrote postcards to my Grandma and Aunt.  This was 2008, a year after the EU smoking ban, which Switzerland was exempt from, so smoking indoors was a bit of a novelty and I did make the most of it (I don’t smoke now so I think I would hate to return to any country without an indoor ban on smoking).  I asked two nice backbackers to take my photo with one of my disposable cameras.

Zurich station Switzerland
Me in a coffee shop in Zurich Station, Switzerland holding a postcard of Switzerland, having just had a mini adventure in the Alps. My backpack is on the left and my handbag is on the right. In front of me were a well-earned coffee and a book by Anne Mustoe, as well as another postcard. I remember strategically moving the ashtray out of the shot because I didn’t want to get into trouble for smoking.

From my travel journal:

“Next, I went to the station newsagent and negotiated stamps in German (all credit went to the pan-European phrasebook I’d packed).  Next I searched for a post-box.
“Excuse me?” I flagged down a passing man.
“Hey there!”  The friendly American accent warmed my soul.
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen the nearest post box, have you?”
“Sure!  It’s just out there, on the left.  It’s yellow.”  He said.
“Thank you very VERY much.”  I replied.
“No problem.” He said.
I followed the directions and found the post box just outside the station, then posted my post cards and hoped that was actually a post box (that, or I’d just put them in a used ticket disposal box, but I hoped not because they were nice postcards).

Then I got the 9:00am train to Milan, which terminated at Venice.  Depending on what time it gets in, I may just stay on the train rather than aiming for Verona.  However, I would prefer to stay in Verona as from there it would be easier to get back to Calais.
What followed was a wonderful train ride through the Swiss alps.

Swiss alps
The Swiss Alps, taken through the window of a train at high speed, using a disposable camera. Under the circumstances I’m pleased with how these pics came out.
The Swiss Alps
The Swiss Alps, taken through the window of a train at high speed, using a disposable camera. Under the circumstances I’m pleased with how these pics came out.
The Swiss alps lake
A giant lake in the Swiss Alps, taken through the window of a train at high speed, using a disposable camera. Under the circumstances I’m pleased with how these pics came out.

The scenery is beautiful, especially around Zug station – if I ever get a chance to go to Switzerland again, Zug is the place to go!  Unfortunately, it also means I have already began using up my 3rd disposable camera – I’ll have to get another couple in Italy.  The scenery of grassy fells, snowy mountains and powder-sprinkled pine trees is absolutely breathtaking.  It’s much nicer to see the Alps from the ground than in an aeroplane!  I’m glad not to have tried travelling onwards in the dark otherwise I would have missed this, which would have been unforgivable.

…I think I’ve just done my bit to ensure the continental opinion of English eccentricity; I took a photo of my compartment (because I’ve never been on a train with compartments before, this is like being on the Hogwarts Goddamn Express), but I waited until the other occupants had moved because it’s perhaps a bit over-zealous even for a tourist.

(a little bit later) As we emerge from the Alps, the architectural style has become markedly Italian, with the arched windows and straight-pitched, less high roofs.  We are still in Switzerland, but signs for “ristorante touristes” are at the side of the road which runs parallel with the train track.  There is also significantly less snow, but the sky is still that clear, brilliant blue, and the sun feels warm now.  I feel less close to the sky again – being on the German side of Switzerland was like standing on a very high plateau, and it’s nice, but I’m glad to be at my normal altitude again.  Hopefully it will be sunny in Verona and even more I hope that the tourist office is open so I can find accommodation between now and Tuesday (the Easter weekend is now upon us).”

Changing trains in Milan, I was profoundly disappointed.  It was standard tall buildings type of architecture, nothing particularly chic or attractive about the place, it could have been absolutely anywhere.  I decided to continue onwards.  The next train was, now that I was in Italy, run by Trenitalia.  It had dents all over the outside of the carriages and inside, there was no air conditioning, people were just crammed on top of each other.  Opposite me, a woman sat down with a chicken in a cage.  An actual chicken.  It was squawking up a fuss and flapping its feathers everywhere, and she insisted, on this full-to-bursting train, that the chicken needed its own seat, even when a man tried to sit down.  This tiny old woman clung to the chicken cage with a death grip and started shouting at him until he left the carriage.  I was too timid to get a photo of the ridiculous chicken.

Later that evening, I disembarked at Verona train station and booked 3 nights in a hotel (Novo Hotel Rossi) in Verona, where I decided to remain for the rest of the Easter weekend.  Annoyingly, despite it being the Easter Saturday, when everything is usually business as usual in the UK, in Verona, literally everything (apart from one Sushi restaurant) was closed and since I didn’t speak Italian (I do now, this trip is what prompted me to learn when I got back), I couldn’t understand the signs in the shop doors.

I found the aforementioned Sushi restaurant, only to discover that the staff didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Italian, so I ended up trying to order in Japanese.  Turns out, only the elderly grandmother could actually speak Japanese but she invited me to share a pot of tea with her after I’d eaten, apparently she’d never met a gaijin who could speak Japanese before.  I guess you wouldn’t, living in Verona.  I don’t speak very much though (and I sure as hell can’t read it), so she probably found my conversation lacklustre.  I’d like to learn more at some point so I can navigate Japanese cosmetics but that’s a bit off topic for a travel post!

Anyway, that was my first day in Verona, and I’d used up over half of my Interrail pass (any 5 days of travel valid for 10 days of travel and non travel), but I decided not to worry about that.

I will continue with my Solo Interrail journey here.

As a side-note, if you are wondering why my posts/response times are erratic, it’s because I’m back to work, now teaching at a facility for children who have been expelled from school, mostly young offenders, which is a very intense job, as well as being quite a drive from my house, and I’m a bit exhausted, but I am interested in everything people have to say still!!

Brussels, Belgium: Solo Interrail Part 2

Seconds after writing this and publishing it, I found out that Brussels airport and metro have been attacked in the last couple of hours by terrorists and it’s still unfolding.  I am completely shocked and disgusted that this has happened.  Nobody deserves this but Brussels is such a lovely place, nothing bad should ever happen there.  I hope everyone can get to safety and that they catch the monsters responsible.  Terrorists are so utterly evil, but how could even they do this?  What has Brussels ever done to offend anyone?  I am crying right now because this is so shocking.  My heart goes out to everyone in Brussels and all of Belgium right now, and everyone affected by this in any way.

Okay so I may have gotten one tiny detail wrong last week.  I didn’t get straight on a train with the intent of going to Belgium from Paris.  The Parisian Lecher was basically trying to get me to stay in Paris with him and I told him that if there were no trains to Venice then I would just go back home, and I bought a reservation to Calais. After making myself feel less disgusting in the train bathroom I pored over my maps of Europe and tried to work out a route over the Alps to Italy. I wasn’t going to let one bad experience ruin the whole trip.

I jumped off the train at Lille (France) and continued to Mons (Belgium), which was the interchange to Brussels.  As soon as you get into Belgium it’s really obvious that you’re not in France any more, because the Belgians are really big on their art-deco style, and you can see it everywhere.  It’s so classy and 1920s, and it’s very easy to see why this is the land of Hercule Poirot.  I was relieved I didn’t have to go all the way back to Calais, and after the stress of Paris, Belgium was just delightful.  From the moment I stepped off the train in Brussels and saw signposts in English, I knew I was somewhere friendly.

From my travel journal:

“…They have an open tourist information centre, which is in the train station (which has a shopping-centre-like layout map) and it can reserve hotel rooms and give you area maps.  It’s dead good.  So I’ve had a long, thorough shower, changed my clothes and am sitting on an actual bed in an actual hotel room.  And there’s a delicious box of Belgian chocolate truffles in reaching distance.

This evening I plan to have a meal out then plan my next move – likely to Luxembourg or Stuttgart,maybe Cologne.  I won’t continue to wax lyrical about Brussells.  All I will say is firstly, Belgium deserves its reputation for food and chocolate (they even make the vegetables taste amazing)*  I ate a boiled chicken and seasonal vegetables meal with a creme brulee dessert.  Secondly, the architecture of Brussells is way underrated.  The city’s up there with the big tourist centres as a really beautiful place – only Brussells is totally friendly.  I am staying at the Argus Hotel near Metro Louise, amongst the high-end shopping area (Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Sonia Rykiel etc), and it’s tariff says E110 on the door but I paid significantly less.

Later still:  I have looked over my map and decided to go to Stuttgart tomorrow from Bruxelles (via Frankfurt) aiming to be on the 11:59 (lmao) train from Bruxelles Midi Station (just in case I forget tomorrow).  This will give me plenty of extra time to buy a necklace and also to postcard-shop and take some photos, although if I keep snapping I’ll run out of disposable cameras!”

*At the time, I wasn’t the biggest fan of specific vegetables.  Looking back, I genuinely have no idea what I was eating.  Fast forward 6 months and vegetables were all I ate, because I went vegan!!

Scan_Pic0009

brussells2
The Art Deco dining room in Bruxelles’ Argus Hotel, showcasing the main drawback of old fashioned film-cameras – you had to wait until the picture was developed before you could see how (or if) it had come out.
brussells1
Somewhere in Belgium – Belgium was full of rather delightful architecture.
brussells4
This was a stunning light and water display in a shopping centre in Brussels. Once again the disposable camera didn’t quite capture the moment.

What I learned in Belgium:

One of the things that really surprised me at the time was how lovely Belgium is, and it’s completely underrated among the under 30’s.  Having seen more of the whole country now, I think it’s a delightful destination and well worth a visit if you like a classy travel experience (rather than a non-stop party).  If that sounds duller than a dry white wine,  Brussels (or Belgium for that matter) probably isn’t the place for you.  I did actually go back to Brussels in 2014, when my husband and I just dropped into Brussels for dinner (we were hungry, and I’ll link the story here when I get to it), and I still think it’s an incredibly sophisticated destination with unparallelled food.  In terms of ambience, it’s probably how Paris was forty or fifty years ago and it makes for a good romantic getaway because it’s not packed with tourists but it’s still very ambient.

The main thing I learned though was that there’s a reason people don’t use disposable cameras any more. At the time, I thought it was the amount of space they take up.   Actually, I didn’t learn about the photo quality difference for several years – I have always believed that film-cameras are way better than digital, and I think I was right until the last couple of years, when digital cameras finally started having a good enough resolution (number of megapixels) to be able to produce better pictures, and we finally got a unified digital storage method (SD cards) with a reasonable amount of storage per card, at an affordable price.  There was a long time when there were so many different types of memory cards for different cameras and devices, that it was pointless buying either cameras or cards because as soon as they stopped making the cards, the camera was useless, and as soon as the camera broke, you had to buy a new set of different cards for the new camera, it was all the most ridiculous situation because of compatibility (and that’s if we don’t get started on those stupid wires we had to use to upload stuff – how many different connectors does the world need?  I’m so glad that 99% of everything uses a micro USB these days).

There’s a world of difference between a disposable camera and a regular camera, however, and one of the key differences is aperture.  Disposable cameras (and those cheap non-disposable fixed focus 35mm cameras that everyone used to have) have a fixed aperture that’s optimized for daytime holiday shots in the sort of light you get in the Mediterranean.  That’s why these tend to come out acceptably on them.  But they’re really not useful at all in low-light settings such as evenings or indoors in certain places.

Nowadays, I use a DSLR camera and I have a bridge camera as my backup.  Yes, a DSLR is heavier, and OH MY GOD it was so expensive, but it’s worth it to get stunning pictures first-time-every-time when I’m on a once in a lifetime trip or at a concert.

Read part 3 of my Interrail journey here
To see my articles on photography, click here.

Sindelfingen’s Unexpected Medieval Centre

We were looking for the museum and rathaus (same building), standing on a street surrounded by concrete brutalist architecture of the square boxes variety. The city centre was very “modern” in the sense that it looked to all be built after the 1940s. Concrete – with bits of pebble stuck to it – seemed to be the last word in architecture. What did we expect from the town whose only claim to fame is that, being quite close to Stuttgart, it’s within driving distance of the Porsche Museum? I’d seen a list on some trip advising website (I forget the name) of “5 things to do in Sindelfingen.” By comparison, there were over 300 things to do in York, where I live, and I regularly can’t find anything to do here.

The concrete architecture.
The concrete architecture.

Why were we even here? After the hectic drive to Salzburg and the overstimulation from everything that amazing place had to offer, and a complete repeat of hectic drive and overstim combo courtesy of Rome, we had decided to find a town that had absolutely nothing of interest – but still had a hotel with a swimming pool. We’d both felt that, on our honeymoon, we hadn’t spent enough time in our swimwear. The next three days was supposed to fix that.

Sindelfingen had been our destination because we were looking for somewhere with no big tourism distractions. Somewhere where we didn’t feel bad for staying in. Where we didn’t feel compelled to get out and look around and take photos.

I think I have more photos of Sindelfingen than I do of Salzburg. It was awesome; a complete hidden find.

So, the morning after our first night in the delightful Hotel Berlin, another nod to “modern” (1950s) architecture, with genuine 1950s decor such as a wall to wall mirror with teak fitted nightstands, we had gone out in search of some of the things to do in Sindelfingen, mostly because it was ironic, in the unique sense of the word that brings humour to an otherwise dull situation.

The Hotel Berlin in Sindelfingen
The Hotel Berlin in Sindelfingen.  That’s my car camper!!!

The things to do in Sindelfingen had included: The “friendship fountain,” made with articulated creatures; the rathaus, the Porsche Museum, the Mercedes Factory (both of which are in Stuttgart), Breuningerland, the shopping centre, the museum, and a zebra crossing (zebrastreifen). We found the Friendship Fountain pretty much straight away.

This is the "Friendship Fountain" in Sindelfingen
This is the “Friendship Fountain” in Sindelfingen

The fountain was awesome and had these tiny little articulated (jointed) models around it:

A wolf, one of the articulated models that were part of the Friendship Fountain.
A wolf, one of the articulated models that were part of the Friendship Fountain.
A two headed dragon
A two headed dragon

Next, we looked for the Rathaus. It turned out to be tourist information, but we went in anyway and talked to the lady behind the counter, I asked “Wahre ist der Altes Rathaus, bitte?” and she gave me a very lengthy answer, and I don’t know if she even realised I didn’t actually speak German, we had a good long conversation, albeit a little one-sided. I did know what she roughly said – this was the rathaus, the internet kept getting it confused with the museum, the museum was in the old town and then something about opening hours. We thanked her and left. I would have liked to get a photo of one of the things in the gift shop – Monopoly: Sindelfingen Edition, but I didn’t want to offend the information lady and didn’t know how to ask in German.  The third thing to do was to see the museum. We wandered off in search of it, the picture on the internet had been spectacular and I wanted to see the building – timber framed, late medieval, couldn’t wait.

We got a bit lost at this point. Basically I saw a timber framed building and thought “that must be the museum!” and walked towards it. Then we saw this:

timber framed Sindelfingen haus

Mind. Blown.

So it turns out that Sindelfingen has this huge old town full of timber framed houses and they’re all really really pretty and you can walk around them and imagine you live there.

We wasted about an hour doing this. Not one singe mention of this on the internet on the trip advice website we’d looked at when we were in Rome deciding where to go next. Apparently Sindelfingeners think the town’s zebra crossing is of more interest.  We didn’t find the zebrastreifen though so who knows maybe it’s really special.

sindelfingen timber framed houses

As we were about to give up on the museum, we rounded a corner and saw a building with a bell tower. Guess what it was? The Old Rathaus – A.K.A the museum. So it used to be the rathaus and now it wasn’t so everyone in Sindelfingen and all the signposts kept pointing us away from it towards the current Rathaus.

The museum from the direction we approached in.
The museum from the direction we approached in.

It was closed. I couldn’t actually make sense of the opening hours because there were three different sets posted on the door (in German – nobody in Sindelfingen spoke English except our hotel receptionists) so I decided that since the lights were off and the door was locked, we were out of luck. That was fine, I had really wanted to see the building itself, not the stuff inside it, that would have just been icing on the cake.

The statue outside the Sindelfingen museum near Stuttgart Germany
The statue outside the Sindelfingen museum near Stuttgart Germany
An interesting doorway around the side of the museum.
An interesting doorway around the side of the museum.

We continued to wander around Sindelfingen to take in more of the timber framed houses, stopping off at the shopping centre for some more Balea silver shampoo for me to bring home (and lunch – schnitzels and chips), then we went back to our hotel, happy that we had found the very best and unexpected thing to do in Sindelfingen, that hadn’t been mentioned anywhere, and that the museum had been pretty spectacular from the outside.

The museum from another direction, looking even more spectacular.
The museum from another direction, looking even more spectacular.

11 words British people don’t actually say.

This article is about the “British” words and phrases we don’t actually use in Britain, so if you’re planning a holiday to England, Scotland or any other part of Britain, and trying to learn some colloquialisms, scratch these from your list – the consequences of saying some of them can be a fist to the face (which, curiously, we tend not to call “fisticuffs”). This article has occasional use of the f-word etc.

This article about British words came about after an American blogger mentioned how if he ever came to the UK he’d be sure to tip a bob to the waiter. That was shortly followed up with someone (also American) commenting on a page on dialects with some sense of authority that British people said “sitting room” or “parlour” instead of “living room” or “den.” If you’re writing a British character for a book, these words will throw up a big red flag that kills suspension of disbelief for anyone British reading the book, and if you’re coming to Britain for a trip or travel, you will be mocked for using these words.

So here’s the words and phrases we just don’t say (or very, very rarely) in the UK:

1. British Accent – we rarely classify ourselves as “British” as opposed to our individual countries. For example, I’m English, my mother was Irish (which ISN’T part of the UK), my father was Jamaican (we say Afro-Caribbean not Afro-British, BTW), the man on my birth certificate was Scottish, my best friend at uni was Welsh. So we would start by saying “English accent” or “Scottish accent.” Then we’d get more specific, such as “Northern accent” for people from the north of England.

2. Bob – we call it money or cash, we use the word quid to mean pounds, or p (pronounced “pee”) to mean pence (multiple of penny). If you say “pennies” (multiple of penny) to anyone from the UK who speaks Polish, they will laugh at you because that’s how you pronounce the word “penis” in Polish.

3. Ta – Nowhere do people in the UK say “ta” for goodbye. That’s an Americanism you have imposed on us. “Ta ta” might be said by a posh elderly aunt (or a young lady with adorably misguided aspirations) from time to time, and “tara” (pronounced ter-rah with a long a at the end) is another word for goodbye, but we don’t say “ta” to greet someone’s departure. Ta is an informal way of saying “thank-you” in the North of England (as in, ‘ta very much’).

4. Cheero – Nobody’s said this since the second world war. Cheerio is sometimes used by older people, but again it’s dying out and it’s considered more old fashioned than roast beef. The last time I heard it was in the lyrics to a song in Oliver Twist, in the context “so long fare thee well, pip pip cheerio…” and we also don’t say “thee,” so it shouldn’t be considered an accurate representation of our modern language (it was made in the 1960s, after all).

5. Codswallop – Another old-fashioned term, we tend to say “bullshit” “bull” or “crap” (crap has three meanings – excrement, something that is really terrible, or something that is untrue). Our favourite, however, is “bollocks” when we want to call out something as untrue. The only time in living memory that a British person’s said codswallop was when Hagrid says it in Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (we call it Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, BTW) – and that’s set in 1991 (if you do the math from the gravestones etc this adds up).

6. On your bike (actually, it was always “on yer bike”) – Very dated to the 1980s. We tend to say “fuck off” these days or, if we’re being polite, “sod off” or “get lost.”

7. Fitty – this isn’t a word. I’ve lived in Britain for 29 years, I’ve travelled all over, I’ve voraciously devoured literature, and nobody has ever used this word in any context. It’s made up. Some people would say someone is “fit” meaning attractive (or “she’s well fit” or “he’s dead fit”), and there’s the very outdated and generally offensive word “totty” which again no-one has used for a very long time, but we just don’t have the word “fitty.” It even sounds made up. Referring to someone as “fitty” will probably have people wondering whether you think they’re epileptic. If they buy into fear-of-rape culture, they might even use this opportunity to make a scene.

8. Rumpy Pumpy – if you suggest having some ‘rumpy pumpy’ to any woman under 45, she will tell you to fuck off. AVOID! Nobody’s used this word since 1995, and even then it was only in an ironic sense. Nobody actually uses this word to describe sex that they have had or are going to have.

9. Sweet Fanny Adams – no, we say “fuck all” to mean the same thing. Nobody’s used “Fanny Adams” to mean “Fuck All” since World War II.

10. Toodle Pip – again, the only time this gets used is by people who are being ironic. It’s a joke. People are taking the piss when they say this.

11. Cack-handed – I got this claimed as “I’m not co-ordinated” from this page but actually it’s a derogatory term meaning left handed (the hand that you wipe your arse with if you’re right handed), from the days when schools were run by a certain type of nuns (and other pro-social psychopaths) who thought that left-handedness was a sign of the devil. There are plenty of British people out there who hate on lefties due to their subconscious cultural conditioning. Use it anywhere near a left-handed person and prepare to get bitch slapped. It’s as offensive to a left-handed person as the N-word is to most human beings.

12. Fisticuffs – another one from Oliver Twist, people tend to call a fight a “scrap” a “punch up” a “brawl” or a “fight.” Then they tend to call the police. Assault is a crime in Britain, and is defined as “any unwanted physical contact” but people still do it and the police are utterly arbitrary in whether they choose to enforce it or not, like most other things here. I know someone who got a criminal record for putting their hand on someone’s shoulder, and I know someone who got away with trying to kill their child after years of abuse. It varies.

Generally when looking at British words and phrases, when faced with the choice between a bigger or smaller word, we will use the smaller one. Water will always find it’s lowest level, and it’s the same with language – think about what the minimum is that you need to say to make yourself understood instead of trying to dress it up with loads of words or phrases that might be inaccurate. Communication is about understanding, and the only real rule of communication (at least, general communication, not specialized e.g. academia) is that if most people can’t understand you, you’re doing it wrong. I stated “most people” not “all” because you can’t please everyone and some people will just never understand you.

Wanderlust: Hawaii

It’s Wanderlust Wednesday… time for me to go look at a place I want to visit, then write about it.

Today, I’m going to talk Hawaii.

I’ve wanted to go to Hawaii since I was a kid. I had a Hawaii Barbie, and I remember being captivated by the little “background scene” they do on the box to show you what the doll might look like if you weren’t living in a shitty concrete jungle.

Or is it asphalt?

Asphalt, concrete, none of it is Hawaii.

I have a list of foods I’d like to eat if I ever go (mostly plants, Hawaii is home to loads of rare plants), and I have a huge list of activities I’d like to do when I get there too.

Here’s some pictures of Hawaii:

Picture courtesy of Qantas airlines.
Picture courtesy of Qantas airlines.
Picture courtesy of Go Hawaii.
Picture courtesy of Go Hawaii.
Picture courtesy of Flora 2000.
Picture courtesy of Flora 2000.
Picture of Old Lahaina Luau, courtesy of Alternative Hawaii.
Picture of Old Lahaina Luau, courtesy of Alternative Hawaii.

Isn’t Hawaii an exciting place??  Apparently it was annexed by the USA in 1898, before that it was an independent island nation with its own monarchy.  Before it was called Hawaii, it used to be called the Sandwich Islands, because Cook wanted to brownnose to the Earl of Sandwich.  I prefer the name Hawaii.  I would love to visit the islands.  Here’s my rundown of the 5 things I want to do most in Hawaii:

  1. Climb Mauna Kea on The Big Island Hawai’i:  Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world from bottom to top – but most of it’s underwater, with only 4,205m (13,796 feet) of that is above sea level, so it doesn’t really rate for mountaineers.  That wouldn’t stop me trekking up it – it’s higher than Ben Nevis (which I totes need to write about now I’ve climbed it… argh I have such a long to do list).
  2. Grab a cocktail in O’ahu:  It’s the third largest island, but it’s home to two thirds of the population of Hawaii, and I’d love to sip a cocktail (virgin or otherwise) from one of those beach bars (I don’t want Tom Cruise to mix it, though I actually hear he’s quit tending bar and works as an actor now???  So I’m probably safe).
  3. Snorkeling in Maui:  The second largest island is home to all sorts of fun sporting activities.  I’ve always wanted to give snorkelling a go, and apparently Maui is a good place to do this.
  4. Surfing in Maui:  Of course, no trip to Hawaii would be complete for me unless it included some surf dudes with attitude…  wait, that was California, wasn’t it?  I still want to go surfing in Hawaii.  And that song is still pretty chillin’ all these years later:
  5. See some shell crafting in Niihau:  This island has a population of only 170 – but apparently they’re the finest shell craftspeople in the world.  I’d love to see them at work.

Have you ever been to Hawaii?  What’s it like?  Tell me all about it!

I’m back, I’m back, SHAM-OWN! You know I’m back, I’m back, you know it (woo)…

First, the Seroquel saga continues as I await a pharmacy that actually stocks the dosage.  Apparently they should have specified time release on the Rx then I could have got it fulfilled at 5 different pharmacies.  That was my day wasted.  All else I did today was the school run (I would have sent him in with an apple for the teacher, but he IS the teacher and he detests apples.  I did consider putting ribbons in his little ringlets but he went with the Health and Safety ponytail which is fair when you’re in a room where you get to burn things).  And I had two different hours of therapy.  There’s the psychotherapy in the morning and the EMDR for PTSD in the afternoon.  Tuesday was a busy day.  And an expensive one.  But both approaches have their advantages and I’ll discuss them once I’ve spent more time doing them both.

Then, there’s the trip to London which I got back from yesterday evening.

Friday I bought myself two new camera lenses, an 18-250mm one for close and far stuff (the zoom is IMMENSE and the wide angle is BEAUT), and a 40mm lens for lightweight snaps, and for times I need a sharper image.  Such as when I’m making youtube vids.  The best things about the 40mm are a) it sounds like a James Bond gun. b) it doesn’t have an official Ultra Silent Motor, but it’s motor is the QUIETEST EVER and c) It’s the smallest lens that canon make.  oh and d) its aperture is the best I could afford and better than the other two lenses.

I’m so glad I tried the lenses out as I would have bought the 50mm on Amazon and it was WAY less good than the 40mm (and 50mm doesn’t sound like a James Bond gun, it sounds like a Duke Nukem gun: Hail to the KING baby).  I bought them from Park Cameras off Oxford Street in London (Tottenham Ct Rd end of Ox St), and they had a selection of new and quality second hands, and if you take your camera they let you try out lenses on your camera so you can see what you like.  I saved a LOT of money compared to buying these lenses online (like, I saved £300-ish).  The staff are all knowledgable about cameras too – so I also found out why my original lens was so crap – it wasn’t original to the camera, it was older, so whenever the previous owner sold my camera to Cash Converters, they kept the original lens to my camera and bunged their older, more crap one on it instead.  Bastard.  I wouldn’t have minded but it arrived WITHOUT A GODDAMN LENS CAP.  Who treats an expensive DSLR like that????  I’ll put sample pics up when my computer isn’t infested with some weird spyware or AIDS or something.
I also bought myself a camera microphone.  I treated myself to a RODE branded one from an audio shop off Tottenham Court Road and early indications are that it is going to be perfect.

My workshop was great on Saturday and I was really psyched to find out that the originator for this whole theory/technique came up with it as a way for traumatized musicians to re-find their voices after surviving WWI as conscripted soldiers in Germany (he moved immediately to France and later turned his efforts to helping traumatised Jews escaping the Nazi regime).

However, something must have hit a nerve or something because on Sunday I really didn’t feel well at all and I couldn’t go to the second day which was a shame because I was looking forward to taking it all further.  It took 4 hours, but I felt a bit better by the afternoon and went into the City and took some pics (which are travelly so I’ll devote a whole article to them.  I might do a whole nother article on the shops you can find in Mayfair because it’s an impressive collection.  There were TWO Maseratis illegally parked).

I then went to have an unplanned and therefore VERY detailed consultation at Victoria’s Secret in Mayfair, which is on New Bond Street, at the other end to Tiffany’s (which is where New BS becomes Old BS; and which I did NOT let myself near until I was certain it had closed for the day, and even then I only took photos from the other side of the road just in case I got tempted to go online on my phone and make a purchase.  Hells to the NO I didn’t set foot in there, because I has ALL OF THE WILLPOWER).

I did however go to Vic’s S. as mentioned above, and I did get a thorough and informative and friendly consultation whilst dressed top to toe in mens clothing (excepting underwear) and wearing men’s shoes (not intentional, just happened to throw it all on that a.m.).  So full points for professionalism.

ALL.  OF.  THE.  WILL.  POWAH.  Tiffany and Co Old Bond Street London.
ALL. OF. THE. WILL. POWAH. Tiffany and Co Old Bond Street London.

At Vic’s S. they don’t just wrap a tape measure round your squishies then truss you up in elastic, they start by taking your name, and introducing themselves (I know it’s like they buy you dinner first), then they ask what type of bras you like, then they measure you, give you some samples to try (that are kept for the express purpose of ascertaining which type of bra you like) then they tick on your personalized consult card to tell you what bras you liked, they write your size on the card, and tell you where (in the 4 floor store) to find the bras you’ve been matched with, where you find them in a range of colors, accents and lace options.  I chose to ignore all the advice from my consult and bought myself a nice front zipping underwired sports bra in black.  Because I almost exclusively wear sports bras (TMI, I know).  I also bought the AMAZINGLY SCENTED body lotions I’d been craving ever since someone brought me back a sample set from Florida about 5 years ago, and I’m so glad I did because now I can smell like that again EVERY DAY.  I haven’t used any of them yet, but occasionally I’ve popped the lids of one or other and just inhaled the delightful scent.

BRB.

Ohhh…..

Love Spell and Pure Seduction you both smell sooooo good!

*does that Homer Simpson drooling thing*

Must not eat them.

Ahem…

Anyway, my laptop was doing a strange thing when I got back so I’m not sure what’s wrong with it but both Hijack This and Malwarebytes are embroiled in fisticuffs trying to detangle why my security log and internet history have been edited while I was away.  HMMMM…

Also Banacek was apparently too lazy to get up to eat today, so he did it lying down:

That's right... he is the laziest rabbit.  If Winnie the Pooh came to visit, he'd have no trouble getting back out of THIS rabbit's house.  Banacek has actually chewed the entrances to his play boxes so he can fit better.
That’s right… he is the laziest rabbit. If Winnie the Pooh came to visit, that bear would have no trouble getting back out of THIS rabbit’s house (although I think they may fight each other to the death over who got to eat the Hunny). Banacek has actually chewed the entrances to his play boxes so he can fit better.

And speaking of Honey, as y’all probably know, it’s my middle name.  Jasmine Honeysuckle is actually the name my mother gave me when I was born, she was told by the Catholic priest at my Christening that this name was no good and that there had never been any Saint Jasmine or Saint Honeysuckle (he cancelled my Christening over this) so she changed it to something more traditional.  I am NOT having the word “suckle” anywhere in my name, so when I recently experienced name dysphoria (before I knew it was gender-related), I changed it (unofficially) to Jasmine Honey about a month before my mum died, then she died and I never got a chance to finish connecting with my new name and make it legal etc.  Honey Jasmine had been my preferred configuration but I wanted to eliminate Jasmine first since that was the way I was originally named.  And it’s all gone down the krapper and stuck.  My acquaintances (all except my ex-best-friend/unrequieted-whatnot) have all been very good with this, although when I started pinpointing major genderqueer-ies (gender queries?) I felt Jasmine wasn’t my best fit first name.  So for the past few months I’ve not really thought of myself in terms of actually HAVING a name.  Which I’ve been happy with, I don’t need a label, I know who I am.  But society insists on calling me words and medical types insists on repeating my full legal ‘name’ several times per sentence to show they know who I am (when they do this it really alienates me from them further).  So I’m thinking of swapping it around to Honey Jasmine (etc).  The only issues are, a) I’d have the same initial and part-last-name as my mum (and that’s a bit weird given all the medically-diagnosed-PTSD she caused me) and b) I feel a bit bad because my dad chose my legal, re-registered names but they’re terrible I hate them and don’t recognize them to respond to because all my life nobody ever called me my registered names.  Apparently it’s been so long since anyone last called me Jasmine, and I see people so infrequently that no-one uses my name to my face, that I don’t seem to be able to associate with it any more either.  That’s very sad.

People call me Honey a lot.  And it’s simultaneously stupidly gendered and still non-gendered.  Which kinda makes it more androgynous.  Like me.  And while it sounds like a porn name, go and google Jasmine Honey and see what comes up.  Or search it on Twitter.  There is a real porn star with my actual name.  Just saying.  It’s hard to rise to prominence on the internet when you keep wondering whether your followers are waiting for you to get your double G’s out, then they see your itty bitty C’s half hidden by a fake moustache and they send you hate mail (which, having received both, is very slightly better than wank-mail but still).

I know there are a few better names out there than Honey, but I’m saving them for when I have kids.  Plus Honey is familiar and comfortable.  Icons with the name being Honey Rider and Miss Honey from Matilda.  Or maybe I should keep Jasmine and stop over thinking this.  I’m considering something else as well, but I just don’t know right now.  Imma think about this s’more before I do anything irreversible like change my Twitter name m’kay…

And I got my manuscript completely edited (and somehow added about 5000 words to it in the process) and sent back to the editors to double check.  Now I’m waiting to find out if it’s getting the go ahead or needs editing further.  I canNOT edit without a list written by a responsible person.

And here’s the video that the title is a reference to:

So let me tell you once again – Who’s Back!

So that’s been my whirlwind of a past few days, how’ve you been?  Let me know in the comments!

How I converted a Citroen Xsara Picasso into a Campervan

Travel Tuesday:  How I Converted A Citroen Xsara Picasso into A People Carrier Campervan Conversion

Today I want to talk about ROADHOUSE (my car camper)

Have you ever dreamed of owning a car that fits comfortably into a parking bay and STILL lets you sleep in it, stretched out, comfy and flat? That was the plan when I sold my £7500 Golf to buy a £600 Citroen Xsara Picasso (it was a category C write off, and had just been repaired when I bought it).

I reviewed the Citroen Xsara Picasso in a previous article, to tell you all of its good and bad points. In a future article, I’ll talk about WHY I swapped my VW Golf for a Picasso. Here I wanted to talk about how I converted the Picasso, and what we actually do when we’re on the road and we want to use our car as a camper.

There were some big problems I needed to overcome in order to “convert” my car. Here are the things I did, in order (click to go straight to that section or scroll to read the lot):

Took back seats out – NOTE this gets you an MoT advisory because it stops them checking rear seat belts, so put seats back in for your MoT.

Made window blocking panels.

Bought a memory foam mattress and stuffed it in.

Added a ceiling luggage storage.

Removed it again after Europe.

Scrapped window panels after Europe.

Put curtains in.

Added a shoe holder for storage.

Fitted the memory foam mattress.

Draped a blanket over the two front headrests.

Here we go then:

 

Took back seats out

 

– NOTE this gets you an MoT advisory because it stops them checking rear seat belts, so put seats back in for your MoT.

They were pretty easy to take out. They have a lever at the back, then you tilt the seat forward, and jiggle it with brute force and ignorance until it comes out. Swearing at it is optional. Why did I say easy? They were VERY easy when compared to a lot of other cars I’ve looked at, and they are designed to be removable so it wasn’t anything like trying to get the seat pad of the VW Golf out. My husband custom-built a storage unit in one of our spare bedrooms to keep the seats when we don’t want them in the car. This also makes the car more fuel efficient because they’re slightly heavy at around 15kg (which is the same weight as a cardboard fry box full of frozen McDonald’s fries).

 

Made window blocking panels.

I bought some silver coated insulating bubble wrap, at £7.99 a roll from Homebase. One window at a time, I held the insulation up against the car window and drew the shape of each window on separate areas of the bubble wrap, cutting each out before moving on to the next window. I was going to attach it with sticky back velcro, but when we set off for Europe I realised I’d left it behind, so I ended up using gaffer tape (duct tape, duck tape, same diff) and that was an okay fix although the condensation in the car caused the tape on the back window to unstick a lot and the stickiness of the tape damaged the panels so we couldn’t use the same ones again.

 

Bought a memory foam mattress and stuffed it in.

I bought mine off Ebay, I literally went for a 3 inch thick “memory foam” mattress. I had investigated a lot of options including cot mattresses, inflatables and roll mats, and decided this £17.99 memory foam mattress would be the cheapest. They had a two inch option at £14.99 as well but we thought that was sacrificing comfort. We just folded the lower end so that it would fit in the car, and after we got back from Europe we took it out of the car and put it on our bed to make it warm and cosy over winter. Update: We had to chuck it out after 15 months because it started to stink. It was still pretty cheap but I’m looking into other ways to do the same thing. To be honest you don’t really need it in summer even in the Highlands, but in the Alps, or in winter, something like this is essential.

 

Added a ceiling luggage storage.

I got some of that fabric that net curtains are made out of, and sewed it over some elastic at either end, then tied the elastic together and attached this to the handles above the rear doors. If there had been somewhere to attach it front centre this would have been a great storage idea, but as it happens it was mostly in the way and didn’t fit an awful lot in because it didn’t stay on the ceiling at all.

 

Removed it again after Europe.

I scrapped that idea for now, so storage is still an issue.

 

Scrapped window panels after Europe.

I decided that storing them in the car when you’re on a long journey is far too much hassle (you can’t legally have them in the windows when you’re driving which means you need to put them somewhere), so I looked at other options.

 

Put curtains in.

Basically I was SO squeamish about permanently damaging the car, because there were NO tutorials for how to put curtains into your car, so I used the thinnest drill bit available and drilled very thin holes into the plastic either side of the back windows, then screwed some eye hooks into the holes. I tied string to the eye hooks and sewed some curtains out of cheapass satin material that I had hanging around after I made a dress. I also used some nice ribbons as curtain ties to keep them out of the way as they tend to blow around the car if either of the front windows are open and you’re driving. I keep the bottoms of the curtains attached to the windows during sleep times by using the sticky back velcro that we forgot to take to Europe. It doesn’t stand up to a lot of force but if you open and close the velcro pieces carefully they’re a great solution to this problem.

how to put curtains into camper conversion

how to put curtains into camper conversion

 

Added a shoe holder for storing smaller items:

I dangled it down the back of the driver seat. It’s basically a fabric thing with loads of pockets, so we keep gloves, deodorant, binoculars etc in the little pockets, helping us to stay organised in a small space.

storage car campervan

(the Citroen Xsara Picasso car campervan tragically died due to a gearbox failure on a busy set of traffic lights – I was very ill at the time and had to force the car through the traffic lights so the damn engine seized up.  We are currently driving the hilariously inappropriate Rover 75, where I have installed the behind-the-seat storage just as it was in the Picasso, and the picture above is a photo of the back of the driver seat in the Rover 75).

Fitted the memory foam mattress

 

.

For Scotland, I had to change the shape of the mattress because we had to fit a kayak in there as well as our usual luggage. So I cut some of the length and width off the mattress so it also didn’t need to be folded at the foot end, giving us more foot room and making it more manoeuvrable if we needed it out of the way for any reason.

How to make a bed to convert a people carrier into a campervan camper car

How to make a bed to convert a people carrier into a campervan camper car

 

Draped a blanket over the two front headrests.

When we went to Europe we used one of those silver reflective panels in the front windscreen but it kept falling down and then people could see into the back of the car where I often needed to get dressed (I’m a chick. Sleeping in underwire gets uncomfortable after a couple of days. I also physically cannot sleep in socks). On our Scotland trip I realised that a fleece blanket or a microfibre towel does the job just fine. They can be easily removed when we want to pass through to the front of the vehicle or for when I’m driving so I still have full visibility.

This was when we were sleeping in it in Scotland.  That's an extra large microfibre towel from a camping shop.
This was when we were sleeping in it in Scotland. That’s an extra large microfibre towel from a camping shop.

Future plans for our camper:

1. Proper ceiling storage. I’m still not sure what to go for here, having exhausted every search term to try and find some inspiration, but once I work it out I’ll do an article on it.

2. Ventilation. I want to drill wall vents into the side of the car (on the non-petrol side) but since I drove the car through a wall on the petrol side a couple of months ago, I’m not sure if it still has the structural integrity to withstand more damage to the body.

3. Other storage. I need more storage solutions, although we fitted all our luggage and a kayak in with us when we went to Scotland a few weeks ago, it could still be better organized.

4. Rear window curtain – I was most recently using that silver sunshield gaffer taped to the back window because I haven’t made curtains for the rear yet.

Inside car camper van conversion roadhouse sleeping in vehicle wild camping campervan

You might also like:
International Window Tinting Laws for Cars Driving Around the World
Driving in Europe: The basics

[travel] Ten Things You Should NEVER Take On Vacation

10 Things You Should NEVER Take On Holiday

The wisdom in packing isn’t knowing what to take, but what to leave out; so I thought I’d bring you a round-up of some things nobody should take on holiday, business trips, vacay or extended travel.

1. Plants:

don't take plants on holiday

I had a Great Aunt Phyllis (may she rest in peace) on the Irish side of my family who used to travel to Ireland every year. Every year she’d get a flowering plant to bring back and put in her garden. Not only is this highly illegal and awkward to actually transport (she’d always hide them in her handbag), but it’s also an environmental nightmare. There’s a reason that you shouldn’t take plants on holiday or bring them home – they can take over the local plants and interfere with plant succession in any environment that isn’t their natural one. Cute exotic pets are illegal to take on holiday (e.g. you can’t take your pet rabbit to Queensland, Australia, and you can’t legally take grey squirrels into the UK either) or bring home, too. The technical term is invasive species. Examples of how this has gone wrong include: Russian Vine in the UK, Pampas Grass in New Zealand and the U.S. and Japanese Kudzu that has invaded parts of the U.S. For these same reasons you should never take them with you either.

2. Anything with a spray or pump nozzle and no lid:

spray bottle

Even if it has a twist off mechanism, it’s like having a loaded gun of mess ready to go off and wreck the rest of your stuff. Even lids aren’t a guarantee of safety: I once had a great foundation from L’Oreal, and it had a pump top and the flimsiest lid. I kept it in my handbag. At least, I did until the lid cracked, came off and the pump lid was left squidging 18-hour foundation all over my stuff, a lot of which had to be binned because it was super greasy. It. Never. Came. Off. It also wrecked the bag that it happened in.  The saddest part was that it was a really great foundation and there wasn’t much left by the time I discovered what was happening.  Another time, I ran into the hallway responding to a hissing noise. Certain it was a snake, I gingerly opened my bag with a stick and was met with a puff of body spray. The sprayer had jammed on something during some subsidence (I carry a lot of crap) and had filled my bag with a floral scent that was at once greasy AND powdery. Again, things had to be thrown away (and it was almost empty when I found it so I had to buy more, which always lives in my bathroom now).

3. Interesting Stones or Pebbles:

I love finding pretty or interesting looking rocks and taking them home. I pocket far less of them than I’d like to, but they always cause the same problems: Rocks are naturally heavy and messy, usually either with mud or sand caked around them and sometimes damp (and isn’t it annoying when you find a stunning one on the beach just for it to fade to a boring off-grey colour when it dries out back home). I’m not saying don’t pick them up, because I personally can’t help myself particularly if they’re those sparkly ones around the water systems of North Scotland. Just… be sensible. Sometimes, it’s better to take home one medium size rock than twenty little ones. And always take them out of your pockets before you wash your clothes, or remove them from your bag before you do yourself a back injury from the extra weight.

4. Travel mugs:

I’m in two minds about them – on one hand, they’re great if you’re the sort of “urban warrior” who walks along a flat pavement to the underground then sits on a flat train to the office then waits in an elevator until you reach your desk. Travel mugs are probably perfect for these people. On the other hand, if you’re running for trains, bending down to greet children, getting jostled in busy market places or even driving around a corner with the mug in a cupholder; travel mugs are really useless. They’re not really made for actual travel, they should perhaps be called “transit mugs” instead. They spill, they leak and they never seem to taste right when you drink from them. Get a very small Thermos instead; I don’t think they’d even spill if you were skydiving or scuba diving.

5. Big pallettes of make-up

jazooli 180 eyeshadow palette

They seem like such a great idea. Lots of variety and they save space on taking each different item individually, right? Right until you drop your bag or it gets roughly handled at an airport or someone steps on it and you hear that awful crunching sound. Additionally, they never come with key pieces such as primer, and you need to budget even more space for brushes. Palettes are best kept at home. Take a capsule set of make-up and keep it in a water resistant bag.

6. Excessive on-location storage solutions:

storage solutions plastic coathanger hanger

An English teacher once told me a story about how he’d taken a class of kids to Russia just after the Berlin Wall had come down (if you don’t know why that was big news, read some world history). The country didn’t really have the infrastructure to cope with tourists, and weren’t sure what to make of a school trip. It was 1990, and everyone was still holding their breath, waiting to see if Russia and America were finished trying to destroy each other.

When one pupil’s bag went through the X-Ray machine with a huge tangle of metal wires in the bottom, security officials leapt into action. They surrounded the fourteen year old whose bag it was, pointing AK47s at him and pinning him to the ground. Nobody knew what was happening or why. When the bag was searched, it turned out to be half-filled with wire coathangers. The boy had never been abroad before and took a bunch of hangers with him. He (and the teacher) then spent seven hours explaining to Russian officials why this had been allowed to happen. Moral of the story? Don’t take storage on holiday. Mary Poppins or not, nobody in the 2010s needs to take their favourite hat stand

hatstand

7. A bag that’s heavier than its contents:

There are some amazing bags on the market. They have all sorts of bells and whistles – walking pole attachments, aluminium frames, retractable wheels, extra padded compartments, ipod attachment, the list of features are endless. So is their carrying weight. Above all, the most important consideration for a good travel bag are that it fits your stuff in and it’s light enough that you don’t dread moving on. Amazon lets you check the weight of most products before you buy them – use this feature wisely, and don’t always rely on bag reviews done by well known outdoors journalists who can carry twice their own weight and live off creatine. Unless you do, too, in which case I recommend the lead-lined bombproof suitcase. In lime green, so you never lose it at the airport. It has an ipod attachment.

8. Anything you’d be embarrassed to explain to an old lady or a toddler:

It’s an acid test. Sometimes, in customs, when they see something peculiar in your luggage, they will pull it out and question you on its use and function. If you’d be embarrassed to explain this to your grandma or to a small child, think how much more embarrassing it would be to explain it to a security guard with a crowd of passengers waiting behind you. If the idea makes you blanch, leave it out.

9. Open packets of food:

open packets of food

They spill, they smell, they make a mess, they attract unwanted attention and sometimes they make annoying noises at inopportune moments. Clip it closed with a food clip and put it out of the way until you can finish nibbling.

10. Board games:

board games

A pack of cards is great. Travel scrabble spells fun on the road. Monopoly, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan and Hero Quest are best left at home. Or someone else’s home. When someone I know once came to stay with me in Edinburgh, they brought a huge rucksack stuffed full of things. I thought they must be going somewhere else afterwards. Nope. They’d filled their bag with one change of clothes, and topped it up with board games. I’m not sure they even brought a toothbrush. It was a highly entertaining two days, but we didn’t even play half of the games and the weight of the bag was unbelievable. Also, you’re liable to ruin your boardgames if they’re with you when you capsize in the Amazon.