A colourful morning…

I have no desire in life to do a marathon. I realise this is something that is on a lot of people’s ‘bucket lists’ but it is most certainly not on mine. It was for a while, because everyone seemed to do them so I thought I should too. But then I realised that I found no joy whatsoever in running. I simply find it boring.

Over the last couple of years some of my American friends have posted pictures of them doing something called Colour Run. It was the only thing that made me think ‘well…maybe’ to running. It looked really fun, and I liked the idea of it being about fun rather than what time you ran it in! So when one of the Soul Surfers crew told us that they were doing Scotland’s first ever Colour Run in Edinburgh – an event called Color Me Rad - I thought ‘YES!’ So a bunch of us signed up as ‘Team Rad Surfers‘.

There were some issues getting there as there were too many cars all arriving at once and no one had thought about that. Loads of people complained, but really – this is what it is often like for events at the Royal Highland Centre where Color Me Rad was held. But the traffic jam gave me a chance to eat breakfast and get my ‘Rad’ tattoo on

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And soon we were jogging around the fields of the Royal Highland centre…(and walking…it was nice to walk to chat with friends and just enjoy the atmosphere).

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After every kilometre there was a station were stewards had sacks of coloured cornflour to throw at you. Each station was a different colour, and after the 3rd or 4th kilometre mark there was one where it was mixed with liquid to spray on the runners. The admission fee included a free t-shirt to take home, sunglasses and even safety pins for your registration number. Profits from the event were going to Make-A-Wish foundation.

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At the end of circuit, stewards handed a small packet of coloured powder, which were to be taken to the colour bomb zone. Here groups of friends were throwing the packets of colour all over each other. There was also an MC who had the crowd of finishers getting even more pumped up with tunes, throwing colour out into the crowd and some freebies (Miss Sweetroot who did it with us, managed to catch a Color Me Rad sweatband set). By the end I looked like this:

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And it took a lot of scrubbing in the shower when I got home to get myself back to my usual milky white colour again.

All in all, we had a blast, and would love to do it again next year!

 

Books and my inner child

When I transferred from the School of Geography to the Medical School in Aberdeen, it was with a new plan in mind. It was to not be a Geography teacher, but instead to become a Community Education worker (as it was known at the time). I hoped to get my degree in Health Promotion, then do my postgraduate diploma after graduation.

So I didn’t look into any courses other than Community Learning and Development ones when I applied for graduate school last summer. It wasn’t until I met my roommate in Germany that I knew there was a Graduate course at Glasgow university on Children’s Literature and Literacy. I love hearing about the things my friend is studying, and am geeky enough to want to read her dissertation when it’s done!

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As I’ve mentioned, a friend and I would like to write a book for children. Specifically we want to write books that will widen the breadth of knowledge and understanding of other cultures from a young age so children are not hearing a single story of stereotyped cultures. I saw my roommate post on facebook about a conference being organised by some of the Children’s Literature postgraduates at Glasgow, and discovered I could go. They graciously allowed me to come despite only being able to attend for one of the two days (I was gutted I couldn’t go to both) even though I was not a librarian, copy editor, illustrator or author (yet).

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I got learn about editing, publishing, writing and designing books for children, how children can interpret and learn from picturebooks and discovered a couple of books I wasn’t aware of and now wish I had more book tokens! (Christmas?).

The first workshop was a children’s author called Jane Blatt and it was fascinating to learn about the research she has done on how babies and toddlers interact with books and how it inspired her book ‘Books Always Everywhere’. I hope Carrie, Kathy and Jenni know their babies may be getting some random gifts in the form of treasure baskets this Christmas! The book was published by Nosy Crow whose presentation I missed (it sounded like I really did miss out!)

I learned about editing from a lovely editor called Morven who recommended some great resources that I should probably use more often. I’m terrible when it comes to blogging for just writing and hitting publish without any proof reading whatsoever. Just so you know – I don’t do that with my university essay or with any work publications!

And then a librarian from Glasgow Life had brought all these books pictured above which we marked to what topics they could be used for to start discussion with children. Folks – for me this was like being in a sweetie shop. I love, love, love books for young children.

And then we heard more about the research being done on Picturebooks from some researchers at Glasgow University. This is where I discovered the most hilarious and thought provoking book called Mr Wuffles which is all about some aliens in a spaceship have a terrible experience with a cat, escape and meet a tribe of ants who have also had some problems with the same cat and how they find friendship through shared experiences and overcome language barriers.

The other books that were introduced to me by fellow attendees which I urge you to check out are The Arrival by Shaun Tan which tells the story of many immigrants with beautiful illustrations. And It’s A Book! by Lane Smith which is all about a tech savvy jackass donkey who has never seen a book before and has to have the concept of a book made with paper explained to him.

I’m hoping that next year I might get the chance to audit some of the MEd Children’s Literature courses so I can learn more. It’s definitely an area of life that I love and feel very passionate about. Something probably (ok, I know) my friends’ kids have picked up on. :)

 

Answering the FAQs of the moment…

Hi Everyone,

Since the charity I work for broke the news about the closure I’ve been inundated with e-mails asking if I’m ok, how sorry they are, how angry they are (in some cases) and what I’m going to do next. It’s really lovely to know that so many people care, but also overwhelming and I haven’t managed to get through all those messages to be able to reply to each one individually as I want to.

I know many of my friends read this blog so I’ll answer some of the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.

It’s not a question, but usually the first thing people say is ‘OMG! I’m so sorry. :( ‘ Yes. I’m sorry too. It’s really sad, and it honestly feels like a death in the family. We are as a team grieving and with that comes the stress, the dread of telling people, and our heads not being quite fully screwed on (like on Monday, my colleague passed the phone to me and I answered “Hello, I’m Laura Anne, can I ask who I am phoning to…oh wait, no. I mean speaking to” thankfully the person on the other end of the phone laughed with me! And my colleagues who overheard were giggling too.)

I do also get why some are feeling anger, especially when they know how much the charity I worked for has helped so many people and still very much needed. But for reasons I won’t go into here, I think it’s right that it is ending. I just hope that something else provides for the need.

Why don’t you start your own charity? It has crossed my mind, but I’m also very aware of how exhausted I am from the battles that I’ve faced working for this one. It is hard work, it requires long term financial support and also I think I need time to get used to the idea that my workplace won’t be there when I leave. I never imagined leaving without handing my work over to someone. I can see myself possibly starting a charity similar to the one I’ve worked for these last 7 years in the future, but I don’t think the time is right to do it this summer!

Are you ok? I’m not going to lie and say that this process is easy and fun. It is not. But I do have peace that there is a reason for this, and there are opportunities that are going to come from this chapter of my life coming to a close. There are a few things in the back of my mind, well, one in particular that I’ll not mention here at the moment as it’s just an idea and I don’t know whether it’s possible that it could happen. I’m waiting for some direction from the universe for that!*

*If by some chance a random thought pops into your head that you think you need to share with me, then no matter how ‘out there’ it may seem, do share it. If I think it’s totally unrelated I’ll just tell you. After all, I’m the girl who told her friends that they needed to go find a blue camper van when the only one for sale seemed to be green. It turned out the green camper van was actually  blue.

What am I going to do? Well there is still work to do in my job before this month ends and my notice period has ended. I have 3 more Spanish classes to go at Edinburgh uni. There are two campfires to plan for and badges to be awarded. I have some gymnastics tickets that will be used this July. And my friend has just booked us tickets for Shakespeare for Breakfast on one of the first days at the Fringe because we enjoyed it so much last year. There is a lot to look forward to. I’m hoping that when my last day at work arrives it is going to give me time to skype with my friend to brainstorm about the children’s book we are hoping to write together. And I’ve applied for a few jobs that I think I’d be a good fit for (let’s hope the prospective employers think so too!) In between I’m trying to make time to do internet searches for jobs and apply for them, and willing my little MacBook to please stay alive until I get another job (it’s about to turn 4 which seems to be the magic number that each of my laptops always die on. This MacBook is already showing signs of following this particular trend). Oh yes. And one more year of university….I need to decide if I want to upgrade my diploma to a Masters. Eek!

I hope that settles some burning questions. I know I’m super lucky to have been blessed with a sense of humour and have been able to laugh at some of the ironic moments that have been occurring and the days where we get overwhelmed by the unknowns and the sadness of farewelling something that has been a huge part of our lives. I’ve always been a laugher more than a crier, and I plan to keep it that way. :) The great thing about times of upheaval is that they force you to reflect, reassess and affirm you are on the right path, still holding integrity to your values and beliefs and make you realise who your true friends are. I’ve been blessed with oh so many incredible people to call my friends and I know exactly how lucky I am in that regard.

I’ll be keeping you posted!

LA x

 

 

Wednesday HodgePodge – the June edition!


1. I’ve read several posts and status updates recently describing end of year school field trips. Do you remember taking school field trips as a kid? Where did you go and do you recall a favorite? For any parents responding today, have you ever chaperoned a school field trip, and if so where?

I did so many field trips. A memory from primary school is going to Edinburgh Zoo in the middle of winter every. single. year. There’d be snow on the ground and we’d be eating packed lunches outside shivering. 

In high school there were less field trips, but I took part in two amazing trips in my last year of high school. A work experience exchange in Sweden where I got to teach dance, and a Geography trip to Morocco where we climbed the highest mountain in North Africa, rode camels and slept on the edge of the Sahara and I almost got kidnapped in Marrakech.

2. What’s something you’re tired of seeing online?

Gossip.

I’m tired of seeing it in magazine after magazine too. And I’m sad that people buy those magazines. I’m sad that I used to be one of the people buying them because I wanted to conform…

3. June is the month for roses. Which of the following expressions would you say has most recently applied to your life-‘everything’s coming up roses’, ‘there’s no rose without a thorn’, ‘came out smelling like a rose’, or ‘wearing rose-colored glasses’? 

There’s no rose without a thorn.

Because good things can always come out of the crappy things!

4. When grilling outdoors do you prefer gas or charcoal? Who does the grilling at your house? What’s the last thing you ate that was cooked on a grill?

Gas? Who barbecues/braais with gas? Charcoal people. Charcoal. I’ve never been anywhere that is posh enough to have a gas lit barbecue outside!! Oh my goodness. 

5. Are you afraid of the dark?

Not really. I got used to it camping, and I now find it really difficult to sleep if it’s not totally dark.

6. Share a favorite song with a number in it’s title.

23 by Jimmy Eat World.

7. “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”(C.G. Jung). Do you agree? Why or why not?

I totally agree. I’ve realised that often what irritates me is stuff that I want to change in myself and also what I can be really judgmental about!

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

I can’t believe it’s June already, this year is going crazy fast. My best friend is almost due to have her baby and I’ve only seen her a couple of times since she became pregnant, and feeling sad because I was around so much for her previous pregnancy. We now live an hour’s drive away in a small town and I don’t have a car anymore. It totally sucks!

Saying goodbye to a 7 year chapter…

Soon after I wrote last Wednesday morning, I washed my stinky hair, blow dried it and straightened it and headed for work. I strongly sensed I needed to dedicate some time in my day to pray. I knew that Central (the church Soul Surfers is connected to) had a prayer room, as our Tuesday night collective used to meet there once a month to pray together. The problem was whether it was available or not. I started calling friends who I thought might have the church office number as I walked to the bus stop, and while on the bus started searching the internet on my phone for their number. Eventually a friend, who works for the church, called me back and helped me out.

The woman I work with is also a Christian, and I text her to tell her of my plan in case she wanted to join me. She did, and I met her there as she was coming to work later.

During that time I used the Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals book again. I read out the Midday prayer (at 3.30 p.m. – ha ha!) and then we let that set us up for the words of our prayers to come from there. Essentially I felt like we entrusted the whole thing to God. I remember praying for us to have peace to accept whatever decision would be made.

I just didn’t know that the decision had already been made.

We were upbeat as we walked back to work in torrential rain. We arrived back rain sodden. My jeans were so heavy from being rained on they were hanging off me, and my socks were dyed purple from my soggy shoes! I actually had to call one of our trustees to ask if she could please bring a hairdryer with her to the meeting. We were giggling like schoolgirls at the whole thing as my colleague suggested we lock the doors and I should just sit inthe office in my underwear while my jeans dried off (I opted out of that idea!)

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When our chairman arrived, he asked if we could go through to speak with them before the meeting. It was then he pulled out a statement and read it out to us.

The trustees had decided that we needed to wind down the charity and close shop.

I sat on the floor with my newly purple socks, soggy jeans and insane hair, while outside I could hear our team of volunteers starting to arrive for the meeting.

The two trustees graciously allowed me to text a few trusted friends to ask them to pray. I knew I needed it to be able to get through the next hour or so without bawling my eyes out. I didn’t want to hear anything – I wanted to go home, cry, talk it out, go back to work in the morning ready to ask my questions. But I had peace that I knew wasn’t coming from my nature, and silently thanked God. He had known what was coming. This was why He had impressed upon me to go into that prayer space – to have my heart ready to hear what they had to say.

The upshot is that as of 30th June, our centre – the place I’ve called ‘work’ for the last seven years – will close it’s doors. My contract ended. We will help our clients to transition and we will refer any new enquiries for support to other organisations.

I’m not going to lie. It is heartbreaking. The service we have provided is needed more than ever in our city. It sucks that we couldn’t get the financial support and human resources to meet the increasing demand.

Do I know what is coming next? Only that I’m about to learn what is involved in closing down a charity.

Am I worried? I trust that God will see me through as He always has done. But let’s be honest – I’m very aware that come September I have £1,600 in tuition fees to pay for the rest of my postgraduate diploma – and if I want to do my Masters – double that. I’m also aware that my bank account is looking emptier by the day.

It is a strange thing. I never imagined this ending where I wasn’t handing over the role to someone else. There are lots of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ (like if only I’d gone full-time at uni so I was graduating this year rather than next year!). My Mum came into my room after I’d made all the phone calls I needed to, and commented how much we were needed and suggested I should start my own charity.

It crossed my mind.

But I also know I need time to grieve this loss. I’m ending a huge chapter of my life. Longer than high school or university. I’m going to have to support others through it too.

My counselling supervisor shared a picture she had seen as she was praying, of a seed from a dead fruit falling to the ground, and new fruit growing from that seed. I can’t help but look back on the prayer that had haunted me from that morning…the final words “Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.”

So I will take that time to listen. There is much on my mind and has been for a few weeks now so it may be this door closing will give me an opportunity to explore some options that I didn’t believe possible before now.

And let’s see what fruit grows from the seeds of the dying fruit! :)

 

 

What I’ve been reading…

So there’s a post in my drafts folder I’m waiting to be able to share with you all as a follow up to my last post. It’s frustrating not to be able to write about things yet, but I will surely do in due course, because yesterday life took an unexpected turn.

To try and keep my mind off what I would like to write about, I’m stealing an idea from Shannon who has just today posted about what she has been reading lately. I too have been actually able to read some books lately. Since I handed in my final assignment of the year at the end of March I have been free to read things not written by sociologists, philosophers, educational theorists and political activists.

Queenie by Jacqueline Wilson.

yes. This is a book aimed at the 8-12 year old age bracket. But I love, love, love children’s books. This one was a loan from the wonderful 9 year old Miss Sweetroot. I had been babysitting Miss Sweetroot last year when this was bedtime reading. These days Miss S reads to herself, but as the story had a few old fashioned phrases and big words it was being read together. And the thing was, because I’m not there every night I didn’t get to find out when Elsie got to meet Queenie – the cat on the ward or if Elsie’s Nan survived from tuberculosis. The story is set in 1953, with a young girl called Elsie who gets bovine tuberculosis in her leg and has to be sent to a children’s hospital to be put in a cast while her Nan (her main caregiver) is in a sanatorium with tuberculosis of the lungs. It is a heartbreaking tale, but also uplifting to see how Elsie deals with the scariness of spending months in hospital having no contact with her beloved Nan. It’s also a great way of helping children learn a little bit of history too!

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

This book had been recommended to me by several friends. I wasn’t ready to read it last year – too many loved ones were battling (and dying from) cancer. Hazel is sixteen year old girl with terminal cancer who is struggling with feeling like she is causing her family to stop living because she is dying. She ends making friends with Isaac and Augustus at a cancer support group and the three of them become good friends sharing the ups and downs of being a cancer patient and sharing a cynicism about the support group. Hazel and Augustus begin a relationship and much of the book follows them as they try to track down Hazel’s favourite author and Hazel’s struggle with allowing herself and Augustus to fall in love when she knows she is dying. I won’t share anymore – but it is definitely worth a read, and I’m interested to see how the movie adaptation turns out.

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

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I’d wanted to see the movie mainly because it was filmed in Kauai, Hawaii. It was an ok film, but it felt like it moved too quickly in some ways and left me kinda thinking ‘huh?’. I figured some aspects would have got lost in editing, and decided to get the book to see if it would answer the bits I felt were left out. Yes and No. I could tell the filmmakers had tried to stay true to the book, and they’d done this very well in some cases. But I felt like the true struggle of George Clooney’s character in dealing with his ancestry and inheritance and the history of Hawaii was not articulated well enough in the movie, and how his eldest daughter had ended up how she was was missed from the film a bit. It was a  nice easy read while I was waiting in train stations or sitting in parks in Paris!

Fly A Little Higher by Laura Sobiech

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I’ve written about this book already, but it arrived the day I came back from Paris. I basically read the thing from cover to cover in one night – with a break to go to a Girlguiding meeting. Laura writes so eloquently and really takes you into not just Zach’s story but how the people closest to him dealt with learning to live while their loved one was dying. It was an emotional read but inspiring too. Zach has a great message to share with everyone, but I also so admired Laura’s honesty and generosity with her youngest son. The bonus part is by buying the book, you are helping raise funds for research into osteosarcoma – a cancer that does not get the same attention as many other types of cancer.

 

 

Smoky hair in the midst of transitions…

My hair smells of campfire smoke as I sat with the Soul Surfers crew last night toasting marshmallows (marshmallows may be my downfall to ever becoming a vegetarian). I’m wrapped in my duvet listening to BBC 6 Music (my favourite radio station). I’ve been thinking of my friends who are grieving or worried they are about to be grieving the loss of a loved one.

Yesterday for the first time I was able to admit something to fellow humans I haven’t wanted to admit but knew I’d eventually have to. Thank you peers and friends who sat and listened and empathised with me. I don’t know if you’re reading, but if you are, I really appreciate it.

Today I enter with some trepidation. There is an important meeting tonight at work, and I suspect it’s going to end with me coming home relieved, uneasy or in tears. If you are the praying type, please pray I’ll have the right responses!

My friends introduced me to a book of Common Prayer put together by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. This morning I’m meditating on this prayer:

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organise myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord, teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longings I hold inside. Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

Seven years of blogging: what changed?

It’s been seven years now since I started blogging. This was one of my early posts back on Musings of a Koala. It’s kinda crazy to read it now.

A friend of mine said she missed me writing on ‘topics’ on my blog. I should really have got clarification on what that meant exactly (if you’re reading, I think you’ll know who you are so remind me to ask you next time we chat!!). If I’m honest it’s gotten tougher to find to time and motivation to write. However, I will say that events in the recent weeks may have changed that slightly…

If I’m right in what my friend meant, I think I stopped blogging on topics about three years ago. And I’m going to try and explain why I think that happened…

A few years ago I went through probably the most anti-climatic and difficult crisis of faith I’ve ever had. It was very different to crises of faith I’d had previously. In my early years of my faith I was up and down in my emotions and faith like supersonic yo-yo.I had to learn a whole new culture that I didn’t naturally belong in, because I hadn’t grown up with it. It took me a good five years. As soon as I was settled, it was like God said ‘Ok. On to the next lesson‘. My first year as a graduate was an unmitigated disaster. I learned a great deal from that disastrous year…because I started losing perspective on my priorities, and I suffered the consequences.

In April 2007 I was a hot mess. But I was determined to trust God and believed He would lead me back to where I was supposed to be. And of course, long term readers know that meant ending a relationship, saying goodbye to the safety of a job, my own home and heading to Australia for a month before I returned to the home city that was so full of horrible childhood memories.

I actually hate looking at photos of myself from that time because I lost so much weight with the stress of it all. By the time I came back from Australia I probably weighed under 8 stone…

IMG_4774This photo was taken in May 2007 just after I got back from Australia when I was up in Aberdeen to get tested for melanoma. I think I look almost anorexic in this picture. 

I arrived back on May 4th 2007. I surprisingly found a church to call ‘home’ almost straight away, and I was actively involved in the life of the church serving as a youth mentor and as a backing vocalist on the music team within a month of my first visit. I joined a smallgroup and the main core of that group are some of my closest friends to this day.

My first few years back in Edinburgh were no picnic. I’m pretty sure I’d have had a total mental breakdown if it hadn’t been for my smallgroup being a steady anchor for me. They were a source of encouragement, challenge and also being willing to let a flawed person like me try to encourage and challenge them in return. There was constant change and drama and it was the one consistent aspect of my life. I knew no matter what I had that safe sanctuary where I could return for a couple of hours a week before I headed back into the madness that was my life.

When I came back from South Africa in 2009, there was a church restructure. I had come back with a lot to process and think about, and I never ended up getting the chance with all the impending changes. Our smallgroup disbanded and it felt like my safe sanctuary, my anchor in the storm was ripped away from me. I tried to suck it up and make the best of things over the next year as many of the folks I’d worked with in ministry left, along with friends and families who’s young people I had worked with for 2-3 years by that point through the youth programme. I struggled. I got hurt. I probably hurt other people in my hurting state. Suffice to say that there came a point when enough was enough and I had to make one has to be one of the most heartbreaking decisions I’ve ever made since I left Aberdeen.

I left the church.

I was also not prepared to be cut off on social media by folks who I’d previously thought my friends. I cared about the people at the church and wished them well. For several months I didn’t attend church services at all – anywhere. I needed that time because I’d gotten to the point where I wasn’t sure if I’d been manipulated and ‘hoodwinked’ into a religious cult called Christianity. Was God real? I needed to find Him in a way I could be sure it was Him and not just being programmed to believe by other people.

After three months, I was assured that yes…God was real. He still loved me. And He was still with me…no matter where I went.

Though I never really found a new place to call home, I did find myself repurposed and using my gifts and skills again elsewhere.

But in terms of writing, I really miss the days where I’d write and knew my readership. Every time I blogged on something I’d find it being read by folks in church who would chat to me about it. I loved that interaction, and I think it motivated me to keep on writing as honestly as I could – the silly stuff and the serious stuff! There were so many posts I wanted to write but couldn’t during those months of brokenness for fear of how they could affect the people reading them. For the first time ever, I began to censor myself.

So back to the recent events…

I feel like I’m at a crossroads in my life once again. My relationship with God still exists, but it is certainly not what it once was. If you asked me today how my life is going, I’d have to say it’s a mixed bag of good and bad. There are aspects that I’m really struggling with right now, and other aspects I’m really enjoying and excited about. I know that I have lots to ponder, lots to reflect on and lots to write about. There are things I think I really want to do, but needing to find more courage for.

One thing I know for sure is that I feel like my motivation for writing is getting back on track to where it once was. Where it’s going to go – I don’t know yet. But I do know for sure that I’d really appreciate your feedback.

 

Touristing in Paris…

Hi Everyone who is still dropping by these blogosphere parts. The last few days have been non-stop! I arrived back fairly late (on normal people terms) on Tuesday night from Paris via London, and went straight into a day of work and Girlguiding on Wednesday and work, voting and Spanish class yesterday. So this is my first day to really process my poor wee filled up brain. I realise that you could get a superbly negative feel from my last post, it’s been difficult to answer the question ‘How was Paris?’ I’ve had in the last few days!

Paris was lovely – to see my friend, to make some new ones, to re-take pictures to replace my rubbish ones from the disposable camera I had last time I was there (remember those?!). In my head it was going to be a cool trip to catch with an old friend and see some sights in Paris. I just didn’t expect to feel the way I did about the things I saw that weren’t tourist attractions and feel so impacted by it. Does that make sense? So here are a few snaps from the touristy point of view!

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The restaurant we walked for about 15-20 minutes to get to from Luxembourg metro that had been recommended in the May 2014 issue of Lonely Planet. If your budget includes not eating at all – this is your place! ha ha!

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At Invalides – we went to say happy birthday to one of my friend’s coursemates. It was fun to see crowds of people with their wine picnics – even a ghettoblaster was seen down by the Seine as the sun was setting.

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After dropping off some stuff at a friend’s apartment to be stored, we headed to Notre Dame. I’ve been inside before so we didn’t go in, and it was such gorgeous weather we didn’t really want to be inside anyway!

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On a looonnngg walk from Invalides to the Eiffel Tower (because the metro didn’t seem to be running right along the line that afternoon – I don’t know why) we spotted this building that has planted growing in its walls. Water trickled down the walls to keep it all alive and lush!

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It was sunny!

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We went from the Eiffel Tower to the East side of the city to visit the Café des Chats. It was lovely, but frustrating that they hadn’t told us that we couldn’t get food – only cakes at the time we were there. We hadn’t really eaten all day, and I ended up getting sick from all the sugar and the dyed pink dairy cream they put on the cupcake I ordered. We ended up leaving sooner than we would have in order to find food before R had to leave to meet some medical researchers.I felt terrible that I had to end up going home after spending pretty much the whole time we were in a Chinese restaurant afterward in the bathroom. Not fun!

20140523-113036.jpgAfter farewelling my friend and helping her to get all her suitcases to the taxi at the ungodly hours of the morning, after a bit of sleep I headed to the Louvre. I didn’t go in as I wanted to make sure I ate better that day – also I didn’t want to be indoors. I also had to giggle at some of the ducks in the fountain pond. One came over to me as I was taking a picture to say hello which excited a kid, but then I dropped my phone and the duck freaked a bit! Sorry Parisian duck!

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I headed to Montmartre where I figured there would be tons of cafes that might be more reasonably priced than those near the Louvre. After a potato omelette and salad I asked the way to the Sacre Coeur – ‘up’ she said to me in French. I’d forgotten how many stairs there were, and was kicking myself when I realised I could have taken the Funicular to the top! Ha ha!

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I love that they had the old fashioned Metro sign at Absesses station. It reminds me of The Aristocats. My friend pointed out that it should remind me of Amelie too. I still wasn’t feeling all that great from the night before, so I decided to get out the sun in the afternoon by heading to the Musee D’Orsay which was free entry and I’d heard some preferred over the Louvre. However, it was closed on Mondays. I met an American dude, and we decided to head  East to a part of the city neither of us had explored before where the Bastille and Victor Hugo’s house was…

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And discovered that the Victor Hugo museum was closed too.

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So we headed to the Centre Pompidou instead which was really cool, and definitely required more time than I had.

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This was one of the nicer Metro lines – it was still smelly but some of the trains were newer and cleaner!

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Before leaving Paris I decided to stop off at the Jardin du Luxembourg where I’d planned to wander on Sunday evening while my friend was at her dinner meeting. I didn’t have too much time before I had to make my way to the Gare du Nord for check in on the Eurostar, but it was still sunny though you could tell the clouds were beginning to make their way to Paris! I loved that there were chairs everywhere so you could sit and read (or smoke as many were doing – yuk!) or simply watch the world go by. It was a pleasant way to spend my last minutes and was grateful when I discovered how icky, airless, hot and stuffy both the Eurostar departure lounge and eurostar trains are!

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A strange weekend

It has been a strange weekend.

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Friday saw me travelling to London to meet with my friend Judith for dinner and stay over at her home. Saturday saw me having a flying visit to my friends Richard and Lisa for breakfast in their new (to me) flat before catching the Eurostar to Paris to see my friend Ruky.

Ruky had found out a few days before that she had to go to Nigeria for an internship job earlier than expected. So poor Ruky had just finished exams and was trying to pack up a whole year of life into suitcases with a friend staying in her very small room in university halls. She is a very good friend!

Paris has always been one of those places that you have a romanticised view of. At least I think so. People often talk of their love for the city, how beautiful it is, chat about getting married and moving there. Even when they’ve never been.

The only time I’ve been to Paris was when I was 18. When we first arrived, my friends and I were stuck half in, half out of the Gare du Nord for quite a while because of protestors and we had to cross a line of riot police to get out of the station when our train finally properly arrived on the platform. The next morning we went to Montmartre to see the Moulin Rouge, discovered we were in the red light district and across from the Moulin Rouge was what looked like a body bag and a police forensic team. The Parisians were a little difficult when we tried to speak French to them, refused to speak to us if we spoke in English. But we saw cool stuff we hadn’t seen before. And that was lovely. We were exhausted and we had many more stops on our inter rail trip to come. Paris had been our first port of call.

Going back 12 years later and chatting with a friend and others who have been living there for a year or more is a whole different ball game. Firstly, there’s just an atmosphere and attitude that I can’t quite put my finger on. I could not get over how dirty and smelly everything and everywhere was. I’ve been in many cities, and as one person put it, after being on the metro, I could go back to London and kiss the floors of the London Underground! On Saturday, we went to a restaurant recommended by last months issue of Lonely Planet to discover it had shut down. Then we stood on a metro platform for almost an hour as train after train got delayed then cancelled. We gave up and walked to another metro station. By this point it was dark and the streets were filling with homeless people finding doorways and streets to camp on. Mothers with children. I have never seen anything quite like it in the western world. Not in London. Not in Glasgow. Not in New York.

What struck me most though is how many international NGOs seem to have their headquarters in Paris. And yet they don’t seem to be doing anything to what is happening in their own backyard. Apparently they don’t even have anyone collecting statistics on homelessness to even begin to find a cause and subsequent solutions…it made me grateful for everything we have in the UK, flawed as it can be at times. Yes we have social problems in our country, but there are things we are doing, and I’ve yet to see a homeless mother with a toddler sleeping on the street…let alone a street full.

There were also the conversations, I’m a chatty person and the type of girl to talks to you on trains and smiles at people on the London Underground (this is a whole other story and discussion in itself!). I have even instigated conversation on a London bus with an actual Londoner and they didn’t try to kill me (honest! It’s true!). Ruky and I have both been inspired by Chimamanda Adiche’s TED talk on the danger of the single story. We saw it play right before our eyes when we met strangers in places I think twice we had people look and sound shocked when they discovered I was Scottish and Ruky was Nigerian. “But how are you friends?” they asked. Not in a how do you know each other curiosity, but in not understanding finding it weird curiosity.

You realise that though we have come far, there is still a long ways to go for true harmony and diversity to be “normal”.

By Monday I was alone in Paris. It was tough after being unwell the evening before, not having much sleep and helping Ruky get a taxi to the airport. I decided to get out the sun and go to the Musee d’Orsay to discover it was closed. An American guy was there also standing staring at the closed doors and we ended up exploring bits of Paris neither of us had seen together until tea time when I had to return to get food from the shops before they closed and pack. I stopped by a Starbucks…not my usual choice, but I wanted to get a straw to drink with as there were no cups in Ruky’s room because we’d put them into storage for the summer. :)  Again I found the closed one and so did an American couple. It turned out they were Christians and they pointed me in the direction of another one down the street. I didn’t realise they were trying to find a Starbucks too, and they insisted on paying for my order. It was totally uncalled for, but a random act of kindness I appreciated in my exhausted state with my brain on overdrive contemplating the sights, smells and conversations of the previous two days. It was like God knew that day that this extrovert needed some people. It was a strange and unexpected day!

Now I am on a train home frit Edinburgh, seeing London in a new clean and considerate friendly light, thankful for time with one of my good friends and the opportunity to make new ones. Excited for new ventures, new inspiration and pondering…