Avocados: About 3 Mexican pesos each

Day 8 : Palenque, Chiapas

One week in mexico and not a single bad avocado. Dan and I have eaten about 12 market-bought ones and countless more spread in tacos from the stands that pepper the streets here. I’m worried about avocado withdrawl on our return – avocado and tequila withdrawl. Last night, in our concrete jungle hostel, we drank two thirds of a litre. I feel a little sick at the thought of it.

We’re in Palenque, after taking a night bus from Talum, and arrived here two days ago at about 5.30 in the morning. We’re staying out of town in El Panchain – a surreal backpacker ‘village’. El Panchain couldn’t have existed twenty years ago; it’s not a village that has become a traveller hangout, like Thailand’s Pai or Manali in India, but is only hostels and restaurants for backpackers. Is a village of travellers. It sounds horrific but is actually very nice: good food, very peaceful (apart from some terrifying noises coming from the jungle) and pretty cheap. Our third morning here and the third time Dan and I are woken up by an incessant roaring, all the other animals go quiet and all you can here is the roaring, like something out of a horror film. It’s a sound neither of us have heard before or want to hear again – though we do want to know what it is…

Yesterday we had a ‘no spend’ day, i.e. we’ve been spending far too much since we’ve been here and so are trying to make up for it with ‘no spend’ days. It was wonderful. We strolled through Palenque – a town described by other travellers and the Lonely Planet as uninteresting which it’s not – and drank, possibly, the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, entered the most weird and wonderful apothecary where I had to stop Dan buying various potions that would ‘help’ his manhood, sampled raw cocoa, read Mexican baby books, ate some very cheap and delicious tacos, tried on cowboy hats, gawped at pinyatas and Christmas decorations to rival Oxford St, meandered through an awesome graveyard and bought avocados and tequila.

The only thing not seen yesterday was much wildlife, a first. Since we’ve been here we have seen:

Pelicans, pigs, massive iguanas, blow fish, needle fish, jelly fish, cat fish, enormous turkey type animals, enormous rats, racoons / squirrels?, a cockroach, buzzards, bright blue birds, bright yellow birds, bright red birds, bright pink birds, bright multi-coloured birds, big fluroecsant butterflies, big moths, bats and more stuff I can’t think of.

The day before yesterday we visited the Palenque ruins, which is why tourists come here. They are remarkable. Today we’re going to visit the waterfalls, which is the other reason why tourists come here. It’s 8am and I’ve made us packed lunches: guacamole, bread and tequila. I’m still wide awake at  7am every morning, Dan thinks I’ve got a problem, “you’re so energetic in the mornings, where does it come from?”



Driftwood: Free if you’re in Mexico

With the heartbreakingly peculiar dream of dad still with its hold over my consciousness, I decide to leave Dan to his dreams and in so doing leave the tent. I had bought dad a season ticket to Tottenham Hotspur, this despite him not caring too much for football and, to my knowledge, never having attended a Premiership game. Similar to many dreams I have of dad, in the cruel trickery of sleep he is alive but divorced from mum and I was desperetly trying to find some time with him – fearful it would be my last chance. When I awoke, waken by the sounds of some exotic bird – which later after close inspection I realise is more crow-like than exotic – I am relieved and grateful as the pain of dad’s divorce and his strange new girlfriend dissipate into thin air. Microseconds later I’m bitter as I remember for the thousandth time that dad is dead.

I don’t cry.

This is good. Dreams like this usually leave me exhausted, my face swollen and my pillow soaked. Worried I might lapse into another bitter sweet world where dad is alive but just not as I want it, I leave the tent and breathe out the remnants of sleep, letting my head fill with the sounds of the crashing surf. The tent is solid: Boy Scout, colonial-like, cool and perfectly built. Dan and I feel like true explorers and spent last night under candle light, draped under stolen airplane blankets surprised at how cool the night was. I pick up The Forward Book of Poetry (a present from the beloved Manorites), Palabra por Palabra – which I am soon to find is beyond my baby Spanish tongue – and navigate my way through the perfect manicured 8-10 metres of jungle that separate our Indianna Jones home from an empty Caribbean beach.

It is 7.37 am. This is a good time I decide and vow to wake every morning at this time, knowing as I do so that I will break the vow within a week – once my body clock has fully acclimatised.

But Mexico and the Caribbean sea. Sat on the sand the sun is low in the sky, a 20 degree angle perhaps. The sun rises above the sea (I should have got up earlier and watched the sunrise). Nevermind, I was dreaming of watching Spurs with dad even though neither of us like spurs. There’s a strong breeze, not quite a wind but somewhere in between, why is there no English word for it? To my right, stretch miles of empty white beach littered with washed up coral and seaweed, not like our seaweed. Not the ungainly and child-like, bottleneck green, bloated bulbous spaghetti that your school friends chased you with. But fine beetroot red delicate stuff, like moorland heather. As if not to be outdone, every thirty or so metres lies driftwood; nature’s sculptures that mock our efforts. Effortless bleached beached beauties. Stark, elegant and pot marked: tiny holes inside which I imagine lie tales from where the carcass has drifted. I think of everything. Of the seaweed, the crystal water, the jungle creeping onto the beach, the blinding sand, the washed up coral – but the driftwoods are my favourite. And I think they would be dad’s too, and smiling I begin to cry.

Swaparama Party: Free

I don’t like clothes shopping. When I was a teenager, spending my Saturday job’s earnings with a 24 inch waist and no real boobs, I loved clothes shopping. Back then money was for buying clothes only and I wanted the latest throwaway fashion.

Fast forward ten years and my earnings are for food and heating, my waist and boobs have grown, and I’m no advocate of throwaway fashion.

So it was with great excitement that I gathered up a large pile of clothes and shoes, hauled them up the stairs, and provided my contribution to the Manor’s very first Swaparama Party.

Luckily I only had two flights of stairs to contend with, other swappers – coming straight from work – had London rush hour tubes to battle. But ha! Did that stop those dedicated clothes lovers / hoarders? No. We had sacks and sacks arrive, suitcases arrive, ladies breathless and beaming, exclaiming, “This is suuuuuch a good idea! I‘ve got sooo much stuff!” (I should add here that the Sheer Massive Amount of Clothes Award, goes to Miss Keeley Webb who arrived with a car boot bursting with clothes – about six large sacks I believe.)

Accompanying the clothes was a healthy appetite to swapping, delicious nibbles (thank you Hayley, Bobby and Abi), and a rather unhealthy amount of white wine. The swapping itself was enthused with a degree of excellent-natured fairness and humility (by most). About 30 ladies, many of whom had never met, hung up their most prized possessions on the specially commissioned rails (thanks Tom and Abi) and displayed their shoes, handbags and scarves around the room. It did look a little like a charity shop…

We began orderly and sophisticated. One by one we took it in turns to hold up whichever of our items we felt was ‘best’ and gave fellow swappers a chance to ‘bid’ for it – plead for it that is. I acquired a beautiful pink kimono from one lovely swapper who then declared to the swapternity that she generally ‘wore it after sex’. I’ve not worn it yet…

And in true selfless swapping spirit, the ladies would often insist the other had it because it ‘looked better’ or because she hadn’t acquired enough stuff yet.

It was beautiful, for a time…

Not long later it became a free for all (it was inevitable).  As late arrivals arrived so did their respective loots, that and flowing wine ensured the night took on a fantastically giggly girly quality, reaching volumes that only excited women can.

There was some illegal trading early on, I myself was approached by one swapper who slyly suggested I trade a pair of my shoes (themselves hand-me-downs from the much missed Lauren Armes), for a beautiful belt. I relented, I confess: I broke swap laws.

However, the little bit of illegal trading and swap lifting (some very nice items disappeared early on before the swap began), did nothing but add a little scandal to what was a fantastic evening.

The swap turned into a bit of a party and some boys turned up (including one half of MGMT). Sorry I had to get that in there.

Girls left breathless, beaming and a little flushed, with their new outfits in tow. Today, five days later, I’m still wearing ‘new’ clothes and I’ve not spent a penny.

Abergavenny Food Festival: £6.00 for basic entry

Very worse for wear and desperate to sit down, I find myself, faggot roll in hand, watching a Welshman slice up a three foot long carcass with the grace and skill one would expect of a seamstress or ice sculptor. Nauseous yet enthralled, I keep watching the butcher slice through the cow as his colleague explains to my fellow 50 or so spectators the importance of each joint; why some are more tender than others, and how best they should be cooked.

Luckily for me I have a strong stomach – I challenge others to face faggots and live butcher demonstrations having spent the best part of the night before ‘sampling’ the delights of Abergavenny’s night life. Luckily for me too, I am at the Abergavenny Food Festival in South Wales; a must visit for anyone who loves food, and a welcome retreat from the savage commercialisation that is eating away at the fabric of our society. Woah! Really? Yes.

The festival brings together, showcases and educates hapless eaters (like myself) on what we sit down in front of three times a day or, worse still, eat on the move whilst rushing between meetings. In the small medieval market town of Aber (as it’s known to locals), farmers, producers, sellers, chefs and food writers converge in a celebration of all things digestible and delectable. The streets are transformed into dazzling arrays of fresh produce, from green tomato chutneys and homemade scotch eggs – like you wished your gran had made – to the most complex and sophisticated of Roquefort and wild boar cured sausage. There is no hierarchy here; provided it hails from a genuine concern for tasty nutritious food, and not from a sole concern to make money, the produce is awarded a place.

My stomach settled, accompanied by a silent vow to visit my butcher more often, Elsa (my food wife) and I stroll over to the Borough Theatre to watch Jay Rayner give a talk on restaurants. In the past, the festival has been described as ‘intimate’ and ‘cosy’ – despite the 40,000 visitors it now attracts. Sat snug in the theatre with Jay’s wife sat directly behind me, it certainly feels intimate; and this is a feeling that pervades throughout, Elsa and I make new friends everywhere we turn (this is possibly helped by the various local ales, fruit wines and meads we must  try in the name of research).

Continuing our holiday from cling film wrappers and refrigerated sarnies, we stroll up to the castle – I mean what food festival would be complete without its own castle? – where ornate tents and picnic benches provide a welcome respite from the hungry crowds. On our way we pass a French skiffle band and a man wearing an a-frame sign that reads, ‘Bet ewe Glam Lamb is here today.’ And I’m sure it is, but before we can hunt the lambs down we’re sidetracked by Jane Mason of Virtuous Bread.com ranting about the Pope and the scandal that is communion bread. The castle’s rant stand provides the chance for individuals to espouse their food gripes. The subjects of rants include lovers not making loud enough noises when eating each other’s cooking and cooks being too noisy in the kitchen – according to one ranter a good kitchen is a silent one.

At the castle, however, it isn’t silent and doesn’t remain quite so tranquil for long. The Saturday night Party at the Castle event, which takes place every year, kicks off with a fantastic firework display and is followed by a steady stream of excellent bands. Elsa and I waddle away to the music, raspberry wine in one hand, Persian lamb kebab in the other, deeply satisfied.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe: £5.00

There is nothing quite like a British balmy evening – nothing I tell ye, nowt. Good weather is such a rarity for us that when it comes we embrace it like nowhere else. Indeed, whilst those on the Asian continent dance and delight at the arrival of the first rain, at the advent of sun stroke we prance about virtually naked, proclaiming repeatedly, “God, it’s boiling”, and “I’m so hot”.

(Incidentally, we are usually pink, sweaty and bloated, complete with Vitamin E deficiency and white asparagus-like legs, we are definitely not hot).

So when my friend D (a sweet-face man; a proper man, as one shall see in a summer’s day), bought 48 standing tickets for the midnight performance of a Midsummer’s Night Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe, though I instantly put my hand up, I was concerned it might rain.

I was wrong – as usual – completely wrong. It was warm and delicious, like it is on holiday in Spain. The heat was a healing envelope in which all was made possible, because when it’s warm like that – and I’m sorry non-Londonians but only London has heat like it – when it’s warm like that, all feels possible.

Thus the stage for A Midsummer’s Night Dream was set, and what a stage it was. The show was fantastic, the company exquisite and the Globe simply magnificent. The company performing was Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour, and I thoroughly recommend them.

But of course what really made the dream so special was that it was: swift as a shadow, short as any dream; brief as the lightning in the collied night.

Because it won’t stay that warm for much longer folks so be sure to embrace it whilst it’s here.

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
Make sure you wander everywhere.


One Netball UK: £90.00 per season

Normally I write alone, but today I’m graced with the company of both Cupid and Captain Birdseye. The former, currently disguised as a mini hot water bottle, is happily hugging my inner thigh whilst the latter, (in his more recognised role), graces the cover of a packet of frozen peas and sits, precariously, on the top of my left foot. Embarrassing.

I have of course had embarrassing injuries before. When I was only ten I decided to ride as fast as I could down a hill ‘no hands and no feet’, resulting in a thrice broken left arm. There’s also the time (more recently) when a severe hangover led me to miscalculate a stair, causing me to fall so heavily on my right arm I gave myself a large welt like hematoma that looked like a sunburnt slug. As for injuries incurred pre-hangover…

Anyway, these current two are not alcohol related – far from it – but are the result of my choosing to become one seventh of an Antipodean wet dream; Wing Attack in the Time Out single player team of the ‘social’ league ran by One Netball UK. You see I decided, with encouragement from a certain S, to join a netball league – after all I was pretty good at school…

Of course what I’d forgotten is that 11 years later being ‘pretty good at school’ doesn’t really cut it, rather it cuts embarrassing injuries like pulled groins. For some reason I had thought it would all be a bit of fun, a run around, a bit of a laugh and to some extent it was. The girls, all of whom were from Australia and New Zealand were very nice, well most were, some were a tad competitive…

When I arrived for the first game one girl told me, smiling encouragingly, not to worry as she hadn’t played for a couple of years. When the umpire came over, handed us our florescent green t-shirts and red bibs and told us to get on the pitch, I looked around in amazement to watch the girls eagerly run on whilst the opposing team discussed tactics. This wasn’t what I’d expected, I could barely remember the rules.

The problem is sport is no fun when you’re the crappest player. It’s the winning that counts not the taking part. And they’re just so much better at sport down under – fact. They’re healthier, more active, outdoorsy, taller, all-round more intimidating, better sports women. But I did my best, I ran around, I fell over, I ran after the ball and passed it to my fellow team mate with the gusto an Olympian would be proud of. Sadly I had run about three metres off side and all the girls had stopped playing. By the end of the game I was the colour of beetroot from both exhaustion and embarrassment.

Today I rang up One Netball UK and asked for a refund, I explained that I signed up to something I wasn’t quite ready for. The girl was of course, in typical Australian fashion, very accommodating and very nice. I think I’ll get my money back.

Now I need to find another fun sport to get involved with, a wrong-side-of-twenties friendly one which doesn’t take itself too seriously and involves fixtures at the pub. Ideas?

Mosaic: £6.00

Whimsical statements fall from my mouth like leaves from trees: once exhaled they pause momentarily before gently floating into a fanciful abyss, never to be seen again. “I must take up dancing again…” drifts another brown and withered leaf…. “I’m definitely learning Spanish this year, definitely” – a bit more defiant, a chestnut falls like a brick to the floor. “Oooh, come see my patio, I’m going to do a mosaic!”

The last statement isn’t so much a falling leaf but belongs to a forest of fallen trees; I’ve been pronouncing mosaic intentions since I don’t know when. And I’ve had visions of myself bent over my chipped china oeuvre, meticulously working on my new-age-meets-Renaissance vision of pale blues and creams, ever since I set eyes on the abandoned concrete space sitting beyond my French windows.

So when I casually tossed aside another mosaic-on-the-patio-remark, I was quietly delighted to watch D pick it up and pop it in his pocket. A few days later a batch of old blue, cream and patterned tiles arrived – they’d been kicking around D’s garden. And sure enough the tiles sat for a while eyeing me up, getting in the way, egging me on to actually do something. And on Saturday we did.

I confess: I litter my life with obstacles. Despite what you may think, I’m actually a hyper-realist and this itself makes me a hyper-fantasist: when you anticipate every perceivable obstacle nothing is possible, so retreating into fantasy becomes the only option. In other words I’m not a doer. D, luckily for me, is.

Having popped round the corner to pick up some cement (yes it is that easy), and having popped it into a bucket with some water and mixed it up, a bit like mixing cake mixture, (not that I would know, baking being a whole sub genre of my whimsy nature), we laid the cement.

We had settled on a snail, in honour of the lady on the top floor. Having looked up snail drawings online and found one to copy, (yes I am that artistically challenged I must copy cartoon snails), we got to work. She took up the best part of the day, and we pretty much made her up as we went along. My flatmate, S, donated an old mirror she didn’t care about, (though she was still drunk from Friday night), and I decided my life-long collection of beads needed putting to work. So our mosaic has tiger’s eye, coral, turquoise and amethyst, as well as lots of other pretty beads that have been gathering dust in the corner of my room over the years.

All finished we stood back and admired our work. Sometime this week I’ll clean her up and invite people around to admire the artistry, “Ooooh come see my patio, I’ve done a mosaic” I’ll say. Perhaps I’ll even bake a cake to honour the occasion….