My Stage is the World

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive

I like driving in my car

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Fill my little car right up

Up bright and early (although I still missed breakfast), we walked back to South Central Station, via a Hungry Jacks for a frozen raspberry Fanta ($1), and after topping up our Myki cards, boarded the train for Kensington.

With Google Maps as our guide and a LOT of luggage between us, we confidently strode off down the road, realising after 15 minutes that once again we were going the wrong way. Typical. Turning around, we eventually rocked up at Wicked Campers to pick up our little yellow Holden Spark, complete with roof tent.

Sitting behind the wheel for the first time in just over two years was a little daunting, but I took it all in my stride and set off… Realising five minutes later that “there’s not much petrol, you’ll need to fill up soon” meant “the tank is empty”. After ten minutes of quite stressful driving, we managed to fill the car up and set the SatNav for the Great Ocean Road!

On the road

Thankfully Australians drive on the left (something they remind you of constantly), so once we got onto the highway, I was absolutely fine driving, although struggling not to speed (it’s too easy). In just over an hour, we were approaching Torquay Visitor’s Centre, so I parked (perfectly) and we got our bearings.

List of campsites, leaflets and a week’s worth of food in tow, it was Miss H’s turn to drive… For 20km, until I made her swap back to me. It’s just a small issue, but she couldn’t change gear and we were at the top of the hill on a very busy road (speed limit 100 kmh), with lots of cars behind us – slightly terrifying.

Back behind the wheel, I had to be aware of the sudden ‘viewpoint on your left’ signs or we’d have missed them. We almost missed the Memorial Arch, but I managed to swing the car into the car park at the last minute. Perfectly legally… Ahem.

Our cameras were constantly in use as we stopped off at as many (interesting) points as we could. In fact, we’d only just passed Lorne when we realised it was almost 6pm and we needed to find a campsite. This we did after another less than legitimate right turn off the highway.

The campsite wasn’t the cheapest, but it was possibly the most beautiful. Just beyond the sea, the Cumberland River ran into the campsite to form a water hole that was framed by huge hills either side. The showers used rainwater and there were trees and bushes everywhere, plus woods and a private beach. It was peaceful and friendly and full of Australians.

Everybody loves Raymond

We parked up and set about putting up the tent: “You just take the cover off, pull the ladder out and boom. Mattress etc is in there. Have fun.” wasn’t quite accurate…

After ten minutes of giggling and struggling, watched by amused Aussies, about twelve of them came over to help us. The men scratched their heads and pulled bits and pieces, whilst the women who also came over offered helpful advice. The children just looked stunned. I helpfully took photos.

Eventually though, he was up! But there was no bedding and no tent pegs. We did have several poles though that were completely useless. Back to the office I went to beg some bedding and some kind man lent us two tent pegs so – finally – we were all set up.

We were the talk of the campsite! Everyone was coming over, taking photos and asking questions – they all loved it! Most people had been coming to this campsite each year for decades and now brought their own families. They made the area sound so lovely that we decided to stay a second night to explore.

Feeling more outdoorsy now, we got out our stove, ready for our packet pasta (with tinned chicken and veg) and it was all going well (once a nice man turned it on for us), until it ran out of gas. Apparently “you’ve got loads of gas” means “you’ve got no gas”. Luckily the nice couple next door overheard our cursing and gave us a gas canister, also inviting us to fire sit for them while they looked around.

Obviously fire sitting led to a nice evening with them, drinking (their) beer and roasting (our) marshmallows. We even found a use for the redundant tent poles – toasting forks!

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Go Go Power Rangers

Power RangersI have quite a vivid imagination and often forget that I live in the real world… usually when I’m walking home or sitting on a train. Daydreaming or fantasising is something everyone does and as children most of our games are based on this.

The trouble is that these days, when I wake up and realise I’m back in reality, I always feel disappointed.

A few weeks ago my friend mentioned he was watching Power Rangers: The Movie, as you do. Now I happen to LOVE this film and always wanted to be a Power Ranger when I was little (the pink one, obviously because she kicked ass, got the hot white one and was a gymnast).

So when he said this I begged him to wait until I could see it with him (quoting along no doubt), and although we haven’t quite managed it yet (dude – we should really organise this), when we do get around to it, it will be awesome.

Last night we went to a party at my hot nurse friend’s house and afterwards when we were waiting for a bus, we were very tempted to rent the newer ULTIMATE Power Rangers movie.

We didn’t and instead of losing myself into a fantasy world of monsters and dinosaur shaped vehicles, I ended up sat on a train next to a drunk man in a suit who passed out with his head on my shoulder… although he then thought it was a good idea to cycle home.

When I finally got home I ended up dreaming I was a Power Ranger and had to fight armies of putties who were taking over London and climbing over all the buildings. I was a heroine and felt that I’d achieved something.

This morning, I woke up it was to a day of housework and filing (although my room is now clean and tidy and the recycling bin is full of old bank statements, payslips and other rubbish) so for those people who say ‘to live is the greatest adventure of all’ – right now I’d rather live in my imagination.

And yes, we were standing at the bus stop singing the Power Rangers theme tune.

Don’t judge us – you’re just jealous.

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Animal Antics

Streetcat Named BobAs most of you know I’m not a particularly charitable person and my patience is often tried. However, for some reason or another I have recently developed a heart and am being affected by stories I read (and write about). Here’s another that touched me in a way that Endal the guide dog did.

I saw an interview with James in the Metro and I was very interested and when I was writing an article about famous pets, naturally I included him. I did try to get my company involved, but it was too complicated. Never mind. Here’s James and Bob’s story:

James Bowen had a troubled life which eventually led to him being thrown out of his sister’s house and living on the streets addicted to heroin. Eventually he started living in a flat in Tottenham and busking around Camden and Covent Garden.

One day he came home to find a cat sitting outside his flat. Nobody seemed to own the cat and gradually James let him into his life. But Bob was no ordinary cat. He would follow James onto the bus or tube and sit on his shoulder or in his guitar case when he busked.

Soon Bob had quite a fanclub as people came to see the little ginger cat with a scarf who sat so serenely while his master played. This little cat has given James a new lease of life and something to live for and he has written a book ‘A Streetcat Named Bob‘ about their journey together.

I am a cat person and had seen James before all the hype. Their partnership truly is lovely and I’m glad that they’ve found each other. Good luck to you both!

Follow James and Bob on Twitter: @Streetcatbob

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Service with a smile

Smiley faceShopping is a girl’s favourite pastime, especially after payday when the size 6 fits you!

Of course the experience is made by the customer service you receive in the shops. Now, I’ve worked in retail and trying to be nice to everyone when you’re having ‘one of those days’ ain’t easy. Except that it is. A smile costs nothing and even more fun is inventing stories and characters to amuse or flatter your customer.

“Oh I love this top – I wore it on my birthday.” you say to a lady buying a hideous gold sequinned vest. Flirting with old men buying jewellery for their wives… and mistresses. Endless fun and I really enjoyed it.

Positivity really does make a difference and people respond and cheer up because of it.

I went shopping on Wednesday – the anaesthetic was wearing off and I felt a bit dizzy – retail therapy seemed a good idea. But who won the customer service awards?

Not Primark.

  • I’m not a huge fan of Primark, but they do quite nice baby clothes and occasionally they’ll surprise you with a total bargain. Aside from looking like a jumble sale and smelling… well, cheap, the staff often leave a lot to be desired. My cashier (I bought some AWESOME wellies – whether they’re waterproof or not is another matter) ignored me completely and didn’t say a single word to me. Her colleague was chattering away nonstop to her customer, but I let her be – perhaps her husband had died and she was struggling to get through the day?
  • As I walked into Specsavers to pick up my new glasses (exciting) I was faced by about eight members of staff, all hastily trying to swallow the chocolates they were eating. They all started forward in their race to service me. A young(ish) boy won and apologised for his chocolatey face. He adjusted my glasses and was very smiley and chatty – it was his first day. No problem there – bad service wouldn’t have put me off! My Karen Millen glasses were £125 but because I have lensemail they were only £45 so even with extra-thin lenses and anti-reflective coating they were a bargainous £85!
  • The boy in HMV looked tired and overcharged me. He apologised profusely and explained that he’d given his dissertation in that morning and hadn’t slept in 3 days. I could easily sympathise with him – giving in my MA dissertation was one of the worst days of my life (until Sean Bean hugged me) and I was sent home from work for looking like a zombie. I told him to go to bed.
  • But the overall winner is Marks and Spencer. I was trying to buy lunch – not easy when it’s a) raining (soggy salad anyone?) and b) you can’t eat wheat. I couldn’t find the free-from range but a nice lady not only showed me the range, but brought me samples of each product. Her colleague then printed off a list of all their gluten-free foods – which includes Percy Pigs HURRAH (but not Smarties as I found out at the hospital) – a list of some FORTY pages! I also got a free carrier bag from a friendly cashier.

So if you work in retail – and even if you don’t – it really does pay to make someone’s experience pleasant.

Go on smile at someone on the tube or ask the grumpy man on the bus a question. I dare you!

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Best paw forward

As most of you know, one of the topics I write about at work is pets. The following animal touched my heart when I wrote about Labradors a few weeks ago and today I came across his story again.

It just goes to show how little credit some people give animals. This story is so touching that every time I learn more about this gorgeous dog, I get a bit emotional.

Allen Parton is a Gulf War veteran who was injured in a car crash. His memory was affected and he was confined to a wheelchair. It was a struggle for him to get through the days as he couldn’t remember a large portion of his life, including marrying his wife Sandra and having his children.

Then one day Endal, a Labrador training to be an assistance dog came into his life, almost by chance. This remarkable dog showed Allen to hope and that he could live his life again.

Endal was the first dog to operate a chip and pin machine, ride the London Eye and use a cashpoint – truly incredible achievements for a dog.

When Allen was knocked out of his wheelchair, Endal placed him in the recovery position, gave him his mobile phone and went for help.

During his lifetime, Endal travelled widely, making public appearances and gaining fans and admirers across the nation. He was voted Dog of the Millennium and received the animal equivalent of the George Cross.

Endal passed away in 2009 at the age of 13, but is remembered by all as a heroic and loyal dog who gave hope to those who had lost faith.

Endal and Allen’s full story can be found at: http://www.endal.co.uk/ and a film of Endal’s life is due to be released soon.

RIP Endal – Dog of the Millennium

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When I am old I shall wear purple

I’ve decided to dedicate this blog to my grandma. She really is a marvel and an inspiration to us all. She’s 89 in June and, because of the steep hill where my parents live, is pretty much housebound. Her balance is poor and she can’t use her triangular walker on the hill so unless one of us drives her to the centre, which is flat, she can’t go out.

However, she’s always positive, no matter what. If you ask her how she is, she usually replies “Oh I can’t complain, I’ve got my health and my wonderful family, I’m really very lucky.”

It makes you realise that you need to make the most of life and appreciate what you have. She’s got some wonderful stories about when she went trekking in the Himalayas, her life as a midwife and the many travels she did by herself after she was widowed in 1987.

So I’m taking a leaf out of my grandma’s book and appreciating what I have.

To do this, I threw away a load of crap that I don’t want/need. Most of it will go to the charity shop, so hopefully someone else will enjoy my old rubbish. I also packed up all my ‘house’ stuff into two boxes and put them in my parents’ loft. I’m desperate to finally get to use my spotty things, but don’t want to risk them getting broken in a shared house. This gives me more room for all the new clothes I bought this weekend.

I even managed to be positive about the vile weather we’re having – we needed water after all (hosepipe ban? HA!), I didn’t have to go out in it and hopefully tomorrow it won’t rain so I can wear my suede boots,

Everyone’s saying I’m a much nicer person recently but all I hope is that when I’m nearly 90 I’ll be able to say that I’m healthy and happy, surrounded by people who love me.

If this video doesn’t make you smile, then you’re dead inside!

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Food for thought

For a 3 day week I’ve been a busy bee – watching everything and everyone closely. As a writer, observation is crucial as anything could be a potential lead, give rise to a story or article. You see people who could easily be caricatured for a book, overhear anecdotes you’ll treasure forever and share moments with fellow passengers. I hate to admit it, but there are good sides to commuting.

I was eavesdropping on the train and overheard a man explaining to his friend how he and his wife weren’t having children. He wanted them, but she didn’t… yet. He loved her so much, that he was sacrificing his dream to be a daddy. It really made me think. Yes, I want kids – some day – but people who don’t want children shouldn’t be judged. There are so many unwanted children in the world that it’s good if people who don’t want them, don’t have them.

In the Evening Standard yesterday, there was an article about poor children going to school starving. It really touched my heart. I needed to get involved. I’ve spent most of my life battling with food, obsessing over it, avoiding it and using it as both a punishment and a reward. These children have nothing.

I’ve offered my support to Kids Company and am going to see about volunteering when I have days off; they will also be my charity for any races I undertake this year.

I love children and they all deserve a good start in life. I know what it’s like to be hungry: you’re tired and grumpy and you just can’t concentrate. Donating money’s all very well, but I want to be useful and see the effects first hand.

Someone suggested I ran for NEDA, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Yes they deserve support, but I’m trying to forget that part of my life and move on. It’s always going to be there lingering, but my time should go to those that are suffering undeservedly and have no choice.

Sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/MCH4KidsCo

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