A new, but old, obsession

Sometimes, I rather like being late to the party…

In the run up to Christmas, Sunday night’s Twitter feeds were full of discussions regarding the impact of WW1 and the Spanish Flu. My mother and sister engaged in hearty debates about people who were total strangers to me. The evening of Christmas Day was spent watching two hours of a TV show I knew next to nothing about.

I talk, of course, of Downton Abbey. In my defence, there are plenty of reasons why I’d not joined the rest of the nation (and the Americans) in period drama frenzy:
1. It was on at 9pm on a Sunday. During series one I would have been at the pub after church at this time. Last autumn, I was en route home from church, preparing myself for early Monday morning Greek classes.
2. I dislike ITVplayer with a passion. It crashes, there are lots of ads, it’s just generally irritating which doesn’t entice me to keep up with shows on it.
3. I have a contrary nature and don’t always like to do as society dictates.

However, given my family’s passion for it, it seemed likely I’d enjoy it. We are united in our love of certain (note: ‘certain’) ITV period dramas – namely Brideshead Revisited, Jewel in the Crown and Tenko – so if they like something, I probably will too. When series one of Downton appeared on my sister’s Christmas list, I thought this was a cunning opportunity – by bestowing it upon her, there was likely to be the possibility of borrowing it in the very near future.

The boxset was duly handed over the night we went to Grease. I finally got around to watching it a week later and within 24 hours had watched 5 episodes. Dressing for church the next morning, I watched another. (As I tweeted: “Getting dressed while watching Downton gives one the illusion of living in a country mansion & having servants to help dress one…”) I was beginning to worry that I’d suffer withdrawal symptoms, given that I had just one episode left and no season two on the horizon. Fortunately, our worship leader came to the rescue, promising to bring it in. [Sadly, he’s now forgotten it twice, and I am now suffering withdrawal, hence this post.] As he described it, Downton is like chocolate – not necessarily the best thing ever made, but it meets a need and is utterly addictive.

To try and keep withdrawal at bay, I’ve returned to the Comic Relief Downton spoof from last year. 12 months ago I watched this and found it faintly amusing; this evening I’ve been laughing heartily – if you haven’t seen it and consider yourself to be a Downton aficionado, do indulge.

And, just in case you’re worried about my current obsessive state – what with the egg hunting and period drama watching – it’s ok. When things are time limited, obsessing over them is absolutely fine. Honest.

Educated family adventures

Something I’m trying to ignore this week is the fact that, although it’s half-term at Vicar School, the other half of my life (i.e. the church job half) is very busy. So busy in fact, that I had to turn down an invitation to Texas. As four friends jetted off there over the last few days, I have to admit to being just a tad jealous.

But half-term does at least mean a free Monday, which happily coincided with my mother paying a visit to my sister. A day-trip to Oxford seemed like a good way to spend some quality time together, especially as we designated it a ‘Laurel day’ – a day named after a family friend with whom days out invariably involve travelling from cafe to cafe and a lot of cake. We got in some culture at the Ashmolean (though there was little point in staying long as its cafe was shut), consumed tea and a pastry, visited the covered market, ate lunch, shopped a little, and walked through some colleges. All in all, I think you’d agree, a very cultured day…

You know you’re in Oxford when even the street names get educational:

One of the best things about Oxford is its covered market (location of the original Ben’s Cookies and a eat-in Pie Minister). A gem of a shop is cake decorating related, with windows full of impressive creations. I decided that its creation of the Bodleian could be an excellently apt wedding cake, but that a comparison with the original was essential:

In case you can’t tell, the cake’s on the left…

The last time the three of us went on a cultural adventure, it was our weekend in Paris. There we created the ever-fun statue game, so it was great to have another opportunity to play it. Sadly, there were few opportunities, save this one in the (very quiet) courtyard of the Bodleian: 

It always seems as though people are trying to find a deeper meaning to everything in the city of dreaming spires – even the graffiti:

I’ll leave that last one to your own interpretation…

Making Friday Fun of me

This is self-indulgent, but it is Christmas, and I am tired. In lieu of genuine Friday Fun, I will instead be making fun of myself (and perhaps poking a little fun at my family too). Trips to Belfast and time with the family often involve a little digging through the archives and prompt some introspection – boxes of old school stuff resides there, as do a lot of photo albums.

It was the re-shelving of my baby photo album that began a last minute retrospection on Wednesday evening. I discovered a couple of albums of photos that I hadn’t seen in years, both containing photographic evidence of at least two memorable holidays and assorted other curious photos. (Each album ended with a random assortment of pictures that bore no relation to each other – much time was spent trying to date them, with my father frequently insisting my sister must have been 7 in photos where I knew she was at least 10.)

I ended up having to get copies (poor quality photos of photos, sadly) of some of the classics, which at least amused us briefly. Knowing that other people’s photos are rarely that interesting, this post may only interest three people, but never mind. At the very least it should make all of us very grateful not to be living in the early 1990’s…

Flicking through these albums, I made a few discoveries. Firstly – and this wasn’t so much a discovery as a resurrection of a memory I’d tried to suppress – fashion in the 90’s was very, very bad.
Exhibit A: Matching mother-daughter floral all in ones. And I thought jumpsuits were a recent phenomenon?!

We were in Boston, eating Deli sandwiches. The caption said we were eating pastrami & rye, but there’s no way my ten year old self would’ve chosen that as a sandwich filling.

Exhibit B: Dungarees (and paint splattered jeans) were never a good look. [I was also disturbed at how often that neon bumbag featured in photos…]
Another Boston photo. We were there for a couple of months – my outfit is entirely American.

Exhibit C: Mismatched clothing. Oh dear…
Secondly, a discovery that my sister – without fail – did amusing poses in all photos. Or, would try to get into photos that had nothing to do with her. Look closely at the three above and you’ll spot comedy faces or arm gestures, typical of the family clown. However, this is my favourite:

Me and my parents studied this picture for a long time and none of us could work out why we stopped in front of a branch of C&A for a photo. It’s possible the feature is actually the canal and it’s also possible that it’s from a trip to the Netherlands in 1994 (this deduction made solely from the fact that I’m wearing a green coat, thus meaning I was definitely at secondary school). Anyway, note the ridiculous facial expression in the foreground. [Edit: a Facebook friend recognised it as Lincoln. Not quite as exotic, but perfectly plausible.]

Thirdly, it seems that I was actually known as ‘Lizzy’ in public and with people other than my immediate family. I have something of a multiple personality when it comes to versions of my name, which I think I’ve mentioned before, but I’d been fairly sure that only a very small group of people called me Lizzy. However, two photos from the summer I turned 10 would seem to dispute this:

My 10th birthday cake, clearly iced with ‘Lizzy’.

Peculiar, possibly Native American in aim, face-painting with ‘Lizzy’ across my forehead. 
[It was a Vacation Bible School with a pioneer theme. I couldn’t possibly explain…]

Fourthly, one word: beard…

I have a friend who’s come close to emulating this feat in recent months, but I think even they are beaten by my Dad’s 1982 effort. Really quite impressive. [Sobering thought. My Dad was the age I am now in that photo.] 
Fifthly, I had always been under the impression that I’d been excited about visiting Mozart’s birthplace when we went to Salzburg. It seems I was wrong:
Not a great advert for Mozart, but a potentially great one for Clothkits – that’s a matching outfit, right there! 

Because I’m a generous individual, if you do find this stuff vaguely interesting, there’s a whole album of it.

History on a tea towel

A photo challenge for you – can you identify me (and my sister, for those that know her) on the tea towel below:

In case you’re wondering, that’s a tea towel with a self-portrait of every member of my primary school in the 1990-91 academic year. It’s one of those things primary schools produce at Christmas which are then bestowed upon beloved relatives as gifts – relatives who probably smile sweetly and then put it away in a drawer.

Unless, it seems, you are my grandparents. I received this photo this morning from my mother who (presumably) had just been washing up in my grandparents’ kitchen. I reckon it’s in pretty good condition for a twenty year old towel…

Oh, and in case you can’t find me, I’m on the fourth row from the bottom, second from right. (For Mim fans, she’s five rows down from the title, fifth in from right and has a very big head.) I’m rather impressed with the level of detail a 9 year old me includes – down to the crest on my sweatshirt and my bunches. The only downside (and I suspect this irked me at the time) is that we had to use black pen to draw our pictures, thus meaning that my hair was depicted a lot darker than it naturally is.

Journalling a sibling rivalry

One of the good things about having a sibling is that you can test whether certain quirks of your personality are a result of nature or nurture. Mim and I have a reputation for sororal telepathy as far as fashion, birthday greetings and Facebook statuses are concerned (we published near identical ones on our return from Paris and not simply in a “I just came back from Paris” way).

However, one major difference in our personalities relates to travel. I love it; she doesn’t. Flights to and from Belfast are taken under duress. She has absolutely no desire to visit New Zealand. She’s not spectacularly keen on new places. And when she does travel, she doesn’t write a journal…

As I’ve explained before, our parents were very insistent when we were growing up that we should record our family holidays for posterity. Not just photographically, but in writing. As youngsters we were started on scrapbooks that might contain a sentence or two about our activities (very early books indicate some tracing over parental writing) as well as suitable souvenirs and illustrations – drawings of sandcastles, ice lolly sticks, postcards and sheep wool amongst other ‘interesting’ items. This progressed to more writing based journalling – by age 9 I was writing more and in notebooks of my own choosing. Generally, such entries were about food – but I’ve mentioned that before too.

When we went to America the summer I was 10 and Mim was 7 the journalling was even more important – it was part of the deal struck with school to let us out of the classroom a few weeks early for an important cross-cultural encounter. The last time I read through my creation I discovered a bizarre mix of (bad) drawings (particularly one of Ellis Island and someone crying), lists of food (typical) and observations of weird Americanisms (our mother specifically told us before we left that we should only refer to rubbers as erasers in America, it took me years to work out why). Anyway, the pinnacle of Mim’s travel journalling career was reached during this summer, with her description of our 4th July experience in New York:

“We watched fireworks, this is the sound they made: bang.”
[Actually, to give the girl credit, she was still 3 weeks off turning 7 and managed to use a colon correctly.] 

Anyway, the bottom line is that travel journalling is a past time that me and my parents value immensely, but she doesn’t. My journalling has been refined over the years to the point that I’m now terribly specific about what is required (what a surprise, me, being terribly specific about something!):
  • A5 sized notebook, lined, preferably with an elastic band round the cover. 

  • Different colour pens. (Or, as I acquired recently, a pen of many colours – not had one since school!)

  • Scissors, glue & sticky tape. 

  • Pile of stuff gleaned from places visited – tickets, boarding passes, receipts, postcards, business cards, maps, food packaging… 

  • [Top tip for you: if you want photos of landmarks etc, pick up as many brochures as you can find in tourist information centres, then cut them up to illustrate your writing.] 


I’m incredibly glad my parents instilled this in me. In fact, it probably goes some way to explaining my fondness of blogging and did, in part, lead to my Palestinian blog which is basically a write up of my journal from a trip there in 2007. I dug out the diaries (or at least the grown up ones) last night for the purpose of this post and read the one from my first trip back to the Pacific from cover to cover. I’m quite proud of that one – I was a student and had plenty of time on my hands to work on it when I got back, which probably explains this hand-drawn map of Waiheke Island: 


One of my favourites is from my US trip two years ago. Perhaps because I travelled solo, I got a lot more of it done along the way, and it’s full of random bits of rubbish – an Oreo packet; mini cereal box; and Magnolia bakery boxes to name but a few. I had a lovely A5 notebook, with a classic NYC image on the front, but the irritating thing was that because American paper sizes are different, stuff I collected didn’t always fit – thank goodness I carried scissors… 

Oh yes, and the other thing I’ve got into – the notebook cover collage. As if the inside wasn’t enough!
Going back to my sister and journalling. As we waited for the Eurostar at some unearthly hour of the morning the other week, our Mum handed us a notebook each and informed us that she was carrying glue – just in case. I hadn’t been sure that two days in Paris would merit a journal, but this was only an A6 sized book and it was, after all, my first trip there. I wrote up some of the trip while we were there and on the way home, Mum took notes from guidebooks and my camera on the train and what did Mim do? Sleep. No mention was made as to whether there would be a prize for the best completed journal, but if there was, I hope I’d win after the effort I put into finishing it on Sunday.
Creative use of the Paris iPhone photos and a classic cover collage. 

What’s that you say? I ought to get a life? At least the next time I visit Paris I’ll know exactly where to find the truly amazing patisserie we visited…