Seeing for myself

Finally, I can blog about an exceptionally exciting (in my small world) adventure that begins in 10 days time! I struggle with secrets, so having a social media embargo on this was quite a challenge…

On February 24th, I fly to Uganda for a week, courtesy of Tearfund. I’ll be travelling in a team of four, Katie from Tearfund, Dave Walker (of cartoon fame) and Bex Lewis (world expert on ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’), with an aim to live blog, tweet and generally record via social media our experiences. We’ve even been turned into a cartoon…

Tearfund-bloggers-cartoon-square2DWThe main point of our trip is to visit a village that’s the Ugandan element of the See For Yourself campaign (which I wrote about after the Digital Day last year), and to share our interactions, reflections, conversations and experiences so that people in the UK can hear about it. I’m genuinely a big fan of this campaign, because it does two things I think need to be at the centre of our thinking with regard to international development and mission:

1. It empowers local communities to identify their development priorities and equips them with the skills to achieve their goals.
2. It helps British communities to continue to grow in their understanding that ‘mission’ is as much local as it is international.

It’s about mobilising communities for change (appropriately, the programme is known as ‘church mobilisation’ – cunning), and we’ll be visiting the community of Ogongora which has been engaged in this for a few years now. Then we’ll visit two other communities who are earlier on in the process. Here’s some of Ogongora’s story:

So, right now I’m rather excited! This is my first ever trip to the African continent (a fact that seems to shock many people – clearly I appear to be very well travelled) and gives me an opportunity, at the end of the trip, to catch up with a flatmate of old who is married to a Ugandan and lives in Kampala. I’ve always been a passionate journaller of my travels, and finally these will have a purpose!

I’ll be posting regularly during the trip; Twitter will be a hive of activity; photos will appear on Flickr; and bandwidth dependent, there may be video blogs too. You can follow everyone’s contributions via the Tearfund website which will brilliantly collate it all. If you’re not in the least bit interested in this, tough. Stories about lost underwear and London undergound will resume when I get back in early March.

And this is me, in cartoon form, I rather like it!


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…

The catastrophic combination of escalators and luggage

There are two things that I get rather nervous around, on quite a rational basis:
Escalators and trolley cases.

The first is entirely my mother’s fault (my sister and I are agreed on this). We both vividly recall an expedition on the underground when we were children where a woman in front of us dropped her travelcard as we approached the top of the escalator. She bent down to try and pick it up, desperately trying to catch the flimsy piece of card before the end of the escalator sucked it away. My mother, no doubt terrified that this woman would block our exit from the escalator and cause a human pile up, yelled at her to give up and get out of our way – which I suspect she did.

I’ve chronicled my fear of escalators before, but it is particularly acute when getting off upwards ones – the fear that if your exit is blocked you will fall back down the steps, causing injury to yourself and others. Plus, I’ve seen it happen, terrifyingly, on down escalators where someone has fallen at the bottom and people couldn’t get past and in the time it took for someone to press the emergency button 15 people were piled on top of each other. Arghhhhh!

Trolley cases are similarly awful – but I’m fairly sure I have no one to blame for the fear than myself. I strongly dislike those short ones business people tote, because you can’t see them until it’s almost too late and you fall over them. In fact, my mum was recently on a course with someone who, that morning, had come a cropper thanks to one of them. He ran to jump on a tube that was already on the platform and didn’t see the short trolley case someone in front of him was pulling along. He tripped over it, landing with his head just inside the tube doors, just as they closed – on his head. Fortunately that was the worst of it (it could have been much worse) and he lived to tell the tale.

When you combine escalators and trolley cases, things get even worse. One Christmas, en route back to the shire, someone in front of me on the escalator at Paddington overbalanced owing to the weight of the two cases she had with her. Were it not for the pre-Christmas crush of passengers, she would have fallen down a very steep escalator. As it was, I was able to hold her up and someone caught one of the cases she had lost hold of – but it was utterly terrifying.

As a rule, I’m generally very cautious when travelling with my case [yes, I may hate them, but I do have to own one – they are of course one of the easiest ways in which to carry luggage]. I have a particular routine when using escalators. The case handle moves from my right to my left hand, so that I’m able to hold on to the rail with my right, ensuring my stability and safety. Usually this is fine – unless I’m distracted…

The other week, C and I returned to London after a frenetic week working in Southport, arriving at Euston in the middle of rush hour. We chatted away as we approached the escalator down to the tube, which, combined with the crowd of commuters, distracted me from getting things into the right hands. I stepped on to the escalator, reached for the rail and lost grip of my case – I turned round to see it standing firm at the top, while I was carried away from it. Embarrassment, clumsiness and apologies followed. I tried to walk back up to claim it, but wasn’t quick enough. Luckily a Knight in Shining Armour (ok, male commuter in their early 30s) grabbed hold of it and carried it down the escalator to where I was sheepishly waiting. C had gone on ahead, clearly determined to distance himself from this utter idiot.

Do you know what the topic of conversation was that so distracted me from my luggage carrying duties? A sign, just by the tube entrance, informing passengers that 17 people had been injured owing to alcohol on the escalators and 37 had been injured because of luggage. The irony.

It wasn’t this sign, but something similar – this is Baker Street’s version.

I think I was making the point to C that surely this was a stat to be proud of? Isn’t it better that alcohol related injuries are down? Needless to say, one should be very wary of both escalators and luggage (and alcohol, but I bet you knew that one already).

Paris by app

I was a little surprised to discover on board Eurostar that my mum and sister had only one photographic device with them – their iPhones – despite both of them owing fairly decent ‘actual’ cameras. (In fact, mother owns an SLR that I covet, but I could understand that it was too large for a trip where we were determined to travel light.) I suppose given the fact that my own camera is permanently about my person (except for right at this moment when I believe it’s lying in amongst a pile of clothes on my bedroom floor) it was presumed that I would be designated photographer for the trip – a role I was more than happy to fulfil.

A first trip to Paris is a memorable occasion and I wanted to ensure that I had good quality photos at the end of it, so my actual camera was an essential. However, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t have some fun with my iPhone too – especially once I’d spotted that Mim was making full use of the Retro Camera app on her phone. I’m a very big fan of iPhone photography apps, it’s like having an old-skool film camera but without any of the tricky focussing, developing, time-taken elements. So consider this post a photographic journey through Paris with the aid of a 21st century tool that turns everything into a mediocre photograph from the mid 20th century…

I’ve heard that there are a few decent photography apps that are free – but I don’t own any of them. However, Mim’s ‘Retro Camera’ is one and, from the limited pictures I can pull from her Twitter account [as she hasn’t put them on Facebook yet] it’s clear that you can have a lot of fun with it:

 The Eiffel Tower is fairly self-explanatory. That shot of me will be explained in a later photo. 
Needless to say, we spent an inordinate amount of time at the Arc de Triomphe messing around with apps. 

I believe it works in a similar way to Hipstamatic, in that you choose a lens and effect before you take the photo, yet its results are more similar to Instagram’s. Having been deeply confused by Hipstamatic initially, I’m now a massive fan of it. The limited view-finder you get on your screen means that you’re never quite sure what the photo will look like, which adds a frisson of excitement as you wait for it to develop (something that takes a couple of minutes, rather than days). It seemed to suit Paris very well, and I was very pleased with what I came home with:

That’s Mim responding to ‘look French’ and a rather good outcome to the tricky challenge of ‘doing a Liz’ via Hipstamatic. [Can’t use the front-facing camera.]
 More fun and games at the Arc de Triomphe. 
[All 3 of us had matching shoes – mum and I had the same style; Mim & mum the same colour – we’re a special family…] 


 Without question, the Moulin Rouge looks much more appealing this way & Montmartre cemetery manages to become a lot more brooding. 

Instagram is a canny app, which is why – until recently – it was my favourite. You can either take the photo from within the app, or take one on the normal camera and edit it later – I generally prefer the latter as it gives you more flexibility with what you do with it. There’s a wide range of filters and generally I like the results. (There’s a whole social network attached too, but I don’t really go into that.)

 Yes, I managed to ‘do a Liz’ and get the Eiffel Tower in shot – an advantage of the front-facing camera. Oh, and I realise that the Eiffel Tower’s leaning in that second photo – we were on a boat, it gets tricky! 

A little more niche is ColorSplash – a nifty app that allows you to highlight a particular aspect of a photo in colour, leaving the rest black and white. Morv introduced it to me soon after I got my phone when it was on special offer, but it’s been very handy now and again. In Paris, there seemed to be one logical use for it:

Yes, the classic Metropolitan sign – which then got even better with the use of Instagram:

Finally, my all-time favourite app – PocketBooth. Honestly, it’s genius and I never grow tired of it (though my friends might do, as I often subject them to it). This is what I was doing when Mim took the photo above:

Honestly, I may be practically 30, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever grow up. And that’s a good thing!

A game to play in parks…

…but not in cemeteries.

I am fortunate to have a sister who doesn’t mind making a bit of a fool of herself. [She does, however, mind me making a fool of her – hence her banning me from singing appropriate songs at appropriate Parisian landmarks. No Disney at Notre Dame, no rendition of Come What May at the Moulin Rouge… Sad.]

Somehow, an idea struck me while wandering through the Jardin du Luxembourg that we should emulate the poses of the many statues stood along its paths. I say ‘we’, my sister took on the brunt of the challenge – though my mother and I did one each, just to show willing. The game wasn’t restricted just to the park, but carried on throughout the streets of Paris, even including the Arc de Triomphe.

However, there were some limits. Certain statues were judged by Mim to be inappropriate, as were certain locations. The Montmartre cemetery was full of interestingly posed statues, but we decided that it would be crass to play the game in such a sombre location – a shame, because I had great plans for Nijinksy’s grave…

 Nijinksky (dancer) and Bauchet’s (one time director at the Moulin Rouge) graves.

These two locations – Montmartre Cemetery and the Jardin du Luxembourg – also highlight the supreme awesomeness of the Pocket Rough Guide to Paris. Looking up our first stop in our most recent guidebook (my pre-trip purchase) I discovered that the Rough Guide’s writers felt that we ought to be ‘beguiled’ by the Jardin du Luxembourg and they were right – beguiled we were. (However, disappointingly the toy boats we were promised on the lake did not appear…) It became a running joke to check the Rough Guide to see how we ought to be feeling in any given location – in the cemetery, we were meant to be sombre, yet not oppressed. As a result, I now have a burning ambition to write for the Rough Guide.