The not so social side of media

Social Media. What a strange and frequently misleading name that is.

I often think that social media, and twitter in particular, is like being in a busy local pub, with a cross section of people all having opinions, some more vociferous than others, having a laugh, chatting about the telly and listening to songs on the jukebox.

The twitter I inhabited from around the time of the referendum until recently was like going into that dodgy pub down the road where everything you say could potentially, and often did, cause a punch-up.

Since the disastrous Brexit vote, using social media has really shown its nasty side. Initially the divide was between brexiters and remainers with point scoring on ‘facts’ being the main topic of interaction (and yes I hold my hand up for frustrated tweets and Facebook posts). However as time has evolved not only has the war continued between these factions but increasingly there has been a rise in demonisation within the remain camp of those who don’t share the same political views. To be part of the remainer ‘clique’ it appears that you must only support the Lib Dems and/or attach yourself to a centrist group to defeat Brexit (at any costs, without any manifesto and led by someone with an interesting political past).

To be clear about my position I have always been a Labour supporter, never waivering but recently have found the political leadership and manifestos of the Green Party growing in appeal. My voting constituency of the past 30 years has more often than not, not had a Labour candidate stand, so limited options have led to voting tactically for Lib Dems despite not feeling confident of their ability (borne out in their appalling coalition behaviour in my view). My initial joy at the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, someone who I thought would put Labour back on track to their ethos of a party representing the left of politics, has subsequently wained as he pursues a stance on Brexit that I believe is more about appeasing and attracting ukip supporters than actually representing the many he purports to be representing. So I’m red with splodges of green and I wear my political heart openly.

A visit to twitter whilst being open about your politics was no longer a fun way to while away some time, no longer could you assume that like-minded folk would happily debate stuff and put the world to rights with you….. a visit to twitter was filled with trepidation.

After a lot of thought about whether to give up on twitter I finally took the decision to unfollow some people who were making a visit there less pleasant than it should be (along with others who never interact or only tweet misery). As for Facebook well I keep my friends there to a minimum and tolerate the odd one or two who hold views that I find unpalatable so that’s manageable and serves its main purpose (for me) of sharing and seeing family photos. And Instagram is just a fun way to show off your life in photos and never, in my experience, crosses the barrier to nastiness.

The result has been a better experience of social media, with Twitter in particular harking back to the good old days of fun banter with a balance of opinion on everything from politics to tv, food and clothes.

From now on I’ll stick to my local, it’s much more sociable.

The art of communication

When I first moved away from home at the age of 18 I stayed in a hostel in Knightsbridge, a wonderful location which I never took advantage of but at that age I wasn't interested in history or culture. I've made up for it since.

I had two options for contacting my family, a telephone box in front of the Albert Memorial or writing letters. As my parents didn't have a home phone at that time it was always the latter but I'd use the phone box to call my boyfriend back in Suffolk. The first time I did this I'd splashed out on false nails earlier that evening (clearly I was going for the sophisticated look) and as I settled into the phone box and put my fingers in the dial I realised I couldn't actually move the dial as I had only nail in the hole. I had to rip the false nails off before I could call him. End of sophistication.

The weekly letters I used to receive from my Mum were a joy. It was like having a chat with her, she wrote about exactly the things she'd have said to me if I was sitting in the kitchen with her. I still have those letters and occasionally I read them, they're a great way to keep her memory alive for me.

Now 40 years later and living away from my family, technology means instant communication and this is what makes the distance away from them so much easier. I dread to think now how my Mum must've felt when I moved away. Now it would be awful for me if I didn't have the ease of communication with family.

The joy of receiving a WhatsApp message or a video call is wonderful. The ping of the incoming message must the the equivalent of my Mum hearing the thump on the doormat of a letter arriving. Now instead of eagerly ripping open the envelope to devour the latest news from home it's a quick swipe of the phone screen to reveal the full message before I reply.

Occasionally I still send snail mail to my daughters, just a few silly words in a card and sometimes I receive the same from them, there still is nothing quite like a handwritten note, however short.

I hope the art of writing notes or letters never dies, re-reading them gives a thrill that re-reading WhatsApps could never recreate, although trust me I do keep all my electronic communications with my family.

Today so far I've chatted with one daughter in Vietnam, the other daughter in London, a nephew and two of my sisters in Suffolk and lovely friends in Northumberland and Bristol. All from the sunlounger on my terrace in France.

Technology is pretty good isn't it?

You say tomato, I say tomato

Our neighbours, and friends, have a rather large collection of animals so when they wanted to take a few days away we offered to look after the menagerie for them. Once they were certain we were serious and had fully briefed us on what to do when with the dogs, cats, rabbits, macaws, parrots, goats, chickens, tortoises and various assorted other birds, off they went with the instructions that any eggs, fruit and veg we wanted we could have rather than leave them to waste. And so we very quickly amassed a huge supply of the best tasting tomatoes we’ve had for a long time.

Salads ✔️

tomato pasta sauce ✔️

grilled tomato ✔️

I then thought of making a curry and wanted a vegetarian recipe. Poring over recipes on my ipad I saw a couple that looked interesting so decided to use parts of both and combine to make my version, a tomato, aubergine and chickpea curry.

As with all recipe experiments the proof really was in the tasting. And it was a huge hit with both of us so here’s what I did:

Ingredients

2 large tomatoes (and I mean large these were each the size of small plate) chopped into bite sized pieces.

1 small aubergine chopped into bite sized pieces

2 onions chopped

4 garlic cloves chopped

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 can coconut milk

1 jar of chickpeas

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon mild chilli powder

1 teaspoon mustard powder

2 teaspoons turmeric

Method

Heat oil in saucepan and sweat onions on low heat for 5 minutes, add chopped garlic, tomatoes and aubergine. Stir to amalgamate. Add all spices, stir and cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Add coconut milk, bring to boil, reduce heat add chickpeas and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes until sauce is rich and thickened. Serve with basmati rice.

Trendsetter, moi?

A flying visit to the UK last weekend for some much needed family catch-up time was lovely. It literally was a flying visit as we got the plane (those drugs are still coming in handy see previous blogs). A bargain fare with Ryanair was too good to ignore. 

We also hired a car to get us to Suffolk, London and Oxford. The hire company tried to persuade us to upgrade the car we’d ordered, we had typically chosen the cheapest vehicle to save money but also we didn’t need that Qashqai we were being offered, only for the company to give us a free upgrade anyway. My advice stick to your choice they often don’t have the cheapest vehicles as they are the most popular choice so you’ll be quids in.

A visit to London is always an opportunity to visit Pappagones Italian restaurant, the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy I think, always good quality food. A slight mistake to visit on a Friday night though, it was understandably busy to the point of being overwhelming which unfortunately took the edge off the experience. My advice of visiting this fab place is to choose wisely so you’ve got room for their amazing Banoffee pie. (Lots of advice in this blog you lucky lot).

Oxford was beautiful as ever, I never tire of seeing the colleges and yes it’s busy but worth it, especially when you’ve got great company. It was definitely a day of fun and giggles and more importantly time with my daughter.

An early start on Sunday as we headed back to Stansted airport and the flight home. Doom laden Facebook posts telling of 100km winds in our area sent my anxiety levels sky-high. I duly took my calming tablets but they seemed to be taking their time to work. Fortunately and another piece of advice; don’t believe Facebook posts, it was a calm flight with no turbulence and definitely no gales to greet us on our landing in Perpignan.

Anyway the real point of this blog was really about picking up a Sunday newspaper on our way home, we haven’t read the Sunday Times for nearly 3 years and yes I know we shouldn’t be lining Murdochs overflowing wallet any further or reading such biased papers but we did. I finally got to read Style this morning. It was always my go to section of the paper so I was looking forward to browsing the pages, but yes you’ve guessed it, what a load of tosh. With fashions that no one in their right mind would wear, to a ridiculous article claiming you should adjust your beauty regime to match your menstrual cycle (seriously WTF) and a suggestion to part your eyebrows (yes you’ve read that correctly) so you can make them look like a feather (easier to stick a feather above each eye if you really want to look a fool). But there was one tiny snippet that shows I’m still ahead of the game, palm painting, this is where the hairdresser freestyles putting the highlights in your hair with his/her hands and my lovely French hairdressers have been doing that to me for the past couple of years. So I’m still trend setting from the sunny slopes of the Pyrenees Orientale.

From Australia to New Zealand…and back

Sydney was our first destination after leaving Singapore. When we arrived at the airport we decided to get a taxi to our hotel for convenience and the taxi driver was less than happy with the recent weather, it’d been wet, very wet. The sun was shining then so we were happy, after booking into our hotel and grabbing a map we headed out through the botanical gardens to the harbour.

Sydney is full of slim, beautiful, young people. I began to feel quite old. No matter this wasn’t a beauty contest and we soon were seduced by the iconic views of Sydney. The sun was beating down as we strolled around the harbour, choosing a harbour side restaurant at random we enjoyed a fabulous late lunch watching the glamorous folk stroll past. Queen Mary 2 was in dock and the views were amazing.

After our snack we headed round to the Rocks area then to the bridge and watched a glorious sunset. Heading back to the hotel, with the botanical gardens closed we inevitably got lost and ended up walking miles further than necessary but we found a fabulous pizza restaurant and rested our feet whilst we ate the best pizza I’ve had since our honeymoon in Italy.

Then the rain started.

And it barely stopped for the next 3 days we were in Sydney.

This didn’t stop us enjoying the area, getting our first taste of antipodian pies (pies then became our go to snack), going on a free walking tour, exploring on our own, seeing the biggest scariest bats we’d ever seen, loving the wildlife in the botanical gardens and finally celebrating Js birthday with a lovely lunchtime meal before heading to the airport for our flight to New Zealand.

We arrived at Christchurch airport in the early hours of the morning and were glad we’d booked a room in a hotel only a few minutes stroll away.

After picking up the hire car we headed to our first destination Sumner, a suburb of Christchurch. It was a hot day and this pretty seaside village was alive with flocks of people enjoying the sandy beaches. Our b&b was a converted space in a garage and was really delightful. A huge bed, pretty decor, a great bathroom and the best home made granola I’ve ever tasted.

NZ - Sumner beach

The next day we headed for Akaroa, with its French history it seemed like a great location. Using the car sat nav we set off only to find the road closed as a result of last years devastating earthquake. After a faff we found an alternative route and delighted in the amazing scenery en route but also loving all that this tiny, pretty village had to offer.

The following day we left Sumner and headed across country to Hokitika, it was a wet day so we missed seeing Arthur’s Pass at its best but we did have our first NZ pie from the village of Sheffield and boy was that an amazing pie.

Arriving at Hokitika the sun came out and we were so pleased with the views from our accommodation (again it was part of the garage, there seemed to be a theme here). We overlooked the river and we had our first view of Mt Cook. Hokitika also gave us the best sunsets of our entire trip and the 50+ photos I have of them are testament to their beauty.

NZ - Hokitika sunset (8)In Hokitika we had fish (blue cod) and chips wrapped in newspaper and discovered Hokey Pokey ice cream, which then became my 2nd obsession after pies and the cause of the expanding waistline.

Whilst here we visited the Pancake rocks, Hokitika Gorge and Lake Kaniere. All amazing sights and we ran out of words to describe the beauty each place offered.

One of the peculiarities of this particular area was the single track bridges, some quite large span bridges only wide enough for one carriageway, sometimes it was with a bit ofNZ - Greymouth single track road and railway line (1) a wish and a prayer that you headed onto the bridge hoping that nothing was coming the other way. And one particularly weird bridge the road was shared by the railway track.

We loved the west coast and Hokitika and in an ideal world we would have loved to spend longer here as it was oozing with spectacular sights but with another destination booked we left this lovely place and headed along the west coast. First stop was Franz Joseph Glacier. We took the walking route to the glacier on the basis of cost plus neither of us particularly fancy helicopters as a mode of transport. It was a lovely walk, reasonably busy and if I’m being really honest the final view was not much more impressive than the first view we’d had about an hour previously but the exercise was a good way of burning off those pies and ice cream.

NZ - Franz Joseph Glacier (26)Next was the mirror lake or Lake Matheson to give it its proper name. Here the views of Mt Cook were spectacular and hoping for a calm lake we took the walk to the lake. Unfortunately it wasn’t calm enough to give the mirror reflection but still it was awesome. We met a young German man who said that he’d visited previously and had still not experienced the mirror effect so I guess you just have to be very fortunate to see it in all its glory.NZ - Lake Matheson (21)

A very long drive later we finally arrived very late at our next two night accommodation, not quite a garage conversion this time but not far off.

Hawea Flat was another good base to explore the ‘middle’ of South Island. We took a circular route the next day to Arrowtown, going over the mountains through Cardrona with more stunning views. Arrowtown Arnold gold mining village has been restored (possibly a little too shiny) to its former glory and now its pavements are teeming with tourists. I found the town too hectic to fully enjoy but once we headed down to the river it was much more pleasant and we spent some time watching hopeful souls panning for gold in the river.

Leaving Arrowtown we drove back to our accommodation via the Gibbston Valley a stunning wine growing region with vineyards enticing you in to taste and buy their excellent wines. New Zealand wine really is quite lovely and nothing like some of the stuff found on the shelves of the supermarkets in the UK.

Our next stop was Te Anau the base to explore Milford Sound. Te Anau seemed to have little purpose other than to be a ‘holding area’ for visiting the Sounds. It’s a busy place, not terribly attractive and mainly filled with restaurants and travel companies.

After a bit of research we decided to visit both Milford and Doubtful Sounds. We drove to Milford Sound as that was the most economical way of doing the trip, it was an early start but was much better than taking the long drive following lots of coaches. At one point we stopped the car to swap over driving, as we passed by the back of the car I glanced over Js shoulder to see three HUGE birds sitting on the ground watching us. In the gloom of the very early light I thought they were eagles of some sort and quickly leapt into the car. They came very close to the car and when I started to open the window to get a photo they got very excited and started moving even closer. We quickly departed. I later found out they are Kea Birds who after being fed frequently by tourists they have turned into ‘muggers’ following anyone in the area and trying to steal their food. It is a shame that tourism has had this effect on these inquisitive birds.

NZ - Kea birds

Milford Sound is a beautiful trip and even though it was cold and wet the views were very impressive.NZ - Milford Sound (8)NZ - Milford Sound (27)

The next day another early start but this time we were taken by coach to Doubtful Sound, the trip is very well organised with a boat across Lake Manapouri, another coach over Wilmot Pass and finally a cruise through Doubtful Sound to the Tasman Sea. If we were impressed by Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound was spectacular. Again it was cold and wet but this didn’t detract from the beauty.

Heading back north the next day to Fairlie for our next two nights we saw more amazing sights but the one that kept the camera busy the most was Lake Tekapo, the bluest of blues and with a clear view of the snow capped Mt Cook it was a sight to behold. I’m not sure that the photos do it justice but here’s a taster.NZ - Lake Tekapo (4)

Our accommodation in Fairlie came complete with a West Highland Terrier, which coincidently was the spitting image of my late Mothers dog. He assumed all rights to come and go in our apartment and was a cheeky little fella, we fell in love with him but soon realised he shared his love with anyone who gave him a bit of attention.

A circular drive from Fairlie took us to the coast and I was on a mission to see penguins. After an amazing brunch en route we stopped at a Penguin viewing area, however they were apparently out for the day doing what penguins do and were expected back later that evening. Unable to wait that long we took a walk around and lounging on the jetty were basking seals, just a couple of feet away from us.NZ - Oamaru seal

Delightful as they were they weren’t penguins, so off we went again and I spotted a small sign saying there was a beach where penguins were. After scouring the beach, and getting chased by an irate seal (he obviously knew I preferred penguins) a woman beckoned us over. They were researching the penguins and weighing any they found and they’d just found one hiding in the bushes. I was so excited. My photo isn’t great they didn’t want me to get any closer so I just had to zoom in with the camera and hope for the best.

As happy as Larry I skipped off the beach and we continued our route.

A final trip to this place, Burkes Pass, before we headed back to Christchurch. It was a haven for anyone who loves old cars and Americana.

Our flight to Melbourne the next day ended up being cancelled and we were booked onto a flight the next day, but with not enough time to explore Christchurch we settled for getting lost (for a change) and then having a lovely dinner at our hotel.

We only had one day in Melbourne and how we wished we’d had longer. Melbourne was hot, beautiful, chilled and friendly. We loved it. We ended up walking FIFTEEN MILES that day; we heard Adele sound check for her gig that night, we walked through the botanical gardens, we saw Melbourne Cricket Club, we rode a tram, we took a bus tour and walked and walked and walked, finally getting back to the hotel with blisters on feet and sleeping like logs before heading off to the airport for our flight to Singapore and one last night with the family.

It was an incredible month away; I personally achieved so much by taking so many flights and also travelling on boats (another fear of mine) and we both had an experience we never dreamed we would have. We are even considering going back to New Zealand to see the northern part of South Island which we couldn’t get to this time.

Slinging in Singapore 

Singapore was our original (and first) destination of our holiday. The first thing that strikes you once you’re out of the airport is the heat and humidity, it’s overpowering. Air conditioning is an absolute must but even that barely touches the heat at times, everywhere you go you’re looking forward to the next air conditioned area just for a brief respite. My nicely coiffed hair went from sleek and shiny to a frizzy mess within hours, no amount of hair conditioner or coconut oil could tame the suddenly wild locks, any attempt to look chic and sophisticated disappeared immediately. But enough of my hair issues what is Singapore like?

It’s clean, bright, full of modern architectural wonders and busy, very busy. It’s a place that awakens and overpowers your senses, there isn’t a journey that doesn’t involve constant head turning and exclamations of ‘look at that’. We were only there a week but I cannot imagine that you’d ever get blasé about the sights. The incredible Marina Bay Sands complex Singapore - Marina Bay Sandswith a giant surfboard atop which has an elegant and expensive bar, as well as an infinity pool and goodness knows what else was the first place we visited and even on a hot and very rainy day (note photo is not of the rainy day) it didn’t fail to impress.

I didn’t mention the rain did I? Oh my goodness can it rain. It was like standing with someone pouring bucket after bucket of water over you for up to an hour and longer. One day when we decided to go out on our own exploring we rejected the offer of an umbrella. Big mistake. On our way back our 10 minute walk left us wetter than if we’d just jumped in the river fully clothed.

Aside from all the glitz of the gleaming new buildings there is some character, Chinatown was especially exciting, full of shops and stalls, brightly coloured and selling everything you could imagine and crucially at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. As a bargain lover I was in my element. Yes of course there’s tat but there’s also plenty of beautiful things to buy too, plus I got my supply of Tiger Balm (the best thing for all aches and pains, coughs and snuffles).

Yes Singapore is expensive, there’s no denying it. Alcohol is almost(!) prohibitively expensive. One of the exceptions to this is public transport, that is good value and as you would expect very efficient. The other exception is the Hawker stalls selling glorious food at silly prices. As lovers of good food we went to the only Michelin recognised hawker stall for lunch, we queued for nearly an hour (this was the only stall where there was a queue) and watched as the food was freshly cooked, then expertly chopped up to be served on paper plates when you finally got to the front of the queue. Some customers waved their arms in celebration as they finally got served their meal that they had been patiently waiting for. Was it Michelin quality food? I’m not sure, it was excellent that is certain, it was fresh, full of flavour and beautifully cooked so if that’s the criteria that Michelin looks for then yes it is. We loved our meal, that was what was important and we can certainly tick off that as one of the Michelin restaurants we’ve visited and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. And best of all the total cost for both our meals….$4.50 the equivalent of about £2.50.

Of course no visit to Singapore is complete without a trip to Raffles Hotel for cocktails. We loved it. It’s a beautiful colonial building, with friendly and efficient staff and it delivers what you expect, a tasty drink, in classy surroundings with a touch of authenticity.

Aside from the food and of course the joy of spending time with the family other things that were amazing were the Gardens by the Bay and the Botanical Gardens, both these places were stunning. Filled with plants, animals, sculptures and of course lots of people. We took the most photos in these places, everywhere we looked there was something exciting to see and the grandchildren clearly loved visiting them even though it was probably the umpteenth time they’d done so in the short time they’ve lived there.

Would we visit Singapore again? Whilst we’ve got family there definitely yes, otherwise no. It’s a striking place and we’re glad we’ve been but it lacks a soul. It is a large business district essentially that has areas, beautifully designed and executed areas, for pleasure but it isn’t a holiday destination in my view.

Where was Wendy?

 

For at least the past 25 years I’ve been terrified of flying. I’ve been on planes in that time but very infrequently and always absolutely rigid with fear, any movement due to turbulence had me practically weeping.

When my step-daughter, son-in-law and our 3 youngest grandchildren moved to Singapore last summer we felt that we should visit them in their new home.

Cue anxiety.

Then I thought I could get help with this fear in the form of medication from my GP and at that point we decided if we were going to travel as far as Singapore then why not continue on and visit a few other places? Where to was the next decision.

I’ve had a bit of an interest in seeing a bit of Australia and Mr D has an interest in New Zealand, so it seemed that perhaps we could try to fit those in to the trip.

A visit to my GP to confirm he could prescribe medication to get me through the anxiety and at Christmas the research of routes and fares began.

Now I’m pretty damned good at looking for bargains, within a short time of moving to France I’d already sussed best (cheapest) places to buy petrol, best supermarkets and restaurants so I was confident in my abilities of scouring the internet for air fares.

First piece of research was best online travel companies. I chose Kayak initially as I liked their search engine, I could create ‘trips’ and save routes. I ended up creating at least nine different trips with various dates, cities and lengths of stays.

Second research was best way to get to New Zealand, was it via Singapore or Australia or was it best to ‘do’ NZ first? So many options. Then of course which part(s) of Australia to see.

My head hurt with all the possible configurations.

The final route we decided on was Singapore, Sydney, Christchurch, Melbourne, Singapore then home. Best prices for flights was the next headache. It may be the holiday of a lifetime but I had no intention of paying over the odds for flights. Daily monitoring of prices became the thing.  I was driving everyone crazy and was persuaded to just go for it and book, there were no guarantees the prices were going to drop further so I went ahead and bought the return flights to Singapore for a very good price with Emirates, however only for a couple of days later a different airline was offering flights at £100 less per person. I wasn’t happy but our flight times were better and shorter in duration so I consoled myself with that. (The decision to go with Emirates actually was an excellent choice, they were amazing, we cannot fault them at all. Courteous staff, great food, comfortable seats and on our return flight they even took a photo of me and Mr D and presented it to us as a memento of our flight).

The flights from Singapore to Australia and New Zealand were far more complex, there were so many options and by this time I wanted to be able to do the entire booking process in one go. I found that Opodo offered multi-trip bookings, which meant I could choose the flights but essentially make one booking, it was also going to be easier to track and manage whilst we were en-route. After a couple of false starts I finally got the flights we wanted with the times that suited us and paid the money.

All good so far.

The headache really began then. Accommodation. Hotels in Australia ended up being the best option and we chose well, the delightful Simpsons Hotel in Sydney served up delicious breakfasts to set us up well on our days out exploring. Then in Melbourne we plumped for the ParkView Hotel another lovely hotel with those all important excellent breakfasts.

Accommodation in New Zealand involved us deciding on a route to drive around with accurate timings for lengths of stay in each area. Luckily a Christmas present from my daughter of the Lonely Planet guide for New Zealand was a godsend, they gave recommended routes plus full info on towns and attractions. Once we decided on route I then scoured Airbnb and BookaBach for suitable places that met certain important needs for us (wifi, own bathroom etc). Some places we stayed were amazing some not quite so but we had a great time (more on that in next blog).

Finally and most importantly a trip back to the GP who provided me with enough tranquilising medication to soothe an angry elephant and we were ready for the off, a month of travel which involved 9 flights.

Pics and more information on that holiday of a lifetime to follow.

Please note all recommendations are entirely my own and I have not been given anything for mentioning the companies within this article.