COFFEE · History & Old Stuff · Holidays · Travel · weather · Zakynthos

In which I am a bit nerdy in museums, talk a lot about coffee and have two autumn equinoxes because one isn’t enough

Hello and happy September! And happy autumn! I adore this time of year, except for a) when it rains literal buckets while you are at the bus stop and b) when you get the dates of the equinox confused. This year I had two equinoxes. Not mad about it.

How has your September been? Mine has been really good actually. On holiday I learnt what a Zombie cocktail is, did actually learn what a paddle board is and how to use one, met some excellent cats and far too many people were nice to me on my birthday. Back in Ye Olde Rain Bucket Country I have mostly been working or waiting for a bus. Or both! I haven’t gotten used to saying ‘King Charles’ yet without immediately following it up with the word ‘spaniel.’ I have also spent approximately 284749 minutes on hold to the doctor, trying to figure out how to finish my degree without two or five organs falling out. Speaking of my degree, can someone please add a few hours onto the day? I’m already doing my uni reading and requiring half an hour to understand one paragraph. I nearly did a creative writing degree. Have I ever told you about that? When I was just thinking, ‘let’s go to uni so adult life goes away for a few years. We’ve done, like, a lot of creative writing already. It won’t be a cake walk but we’ll manage.’ Then I thought, ‘if we’re going to end up in massive debt the degree might as well be extremely hard.’

AND IT IS.

I do have a cafetiere now though. That helps. My flatmates are getting cafetieres too, presumably inspired by how much of a nicer person I am when I’m awake. If I’d been really clever, I’d have taken a photograph of it full of excellent coffee, next to a witchy mug that changes colour when you put hot liquid in it, to show you how fancy I now am. I drank the coffee in order to write this post though, so have instead a photo of a grave marking I saw in a museum in Zante Town:

skull and crossbones grave marker from 1666, in Byzantine Museum of Zakynthos.

Cool huh. I sort of love grave markers and death ritual things. I got to see some Minoan larnakes, which are essentially small coffins, in the Heraklion archaeological museum in Crete when I was there. They’re so intricately decorated and so well made that they are still viewable three thousand-plus years later. We don’t know that much about the Minoan people, but we do know how they looked after their dead. Which I think is quite an important thing to know about a civilisation, because death rituals and practices reflect people’s attitude to life.

Three painted larnakes in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete.

Getting deep, huh. It’s all the coffee. I’ve got to get ready for Freshers events and also for work, so I will see you in October. I’m going to be a mess, just so you know, when the final Dreamer Trilogy book comes out in a few weeks’ time. I might write about it but more likely I will stare at my ceiling and neglect all other areas of my life for approximately two weeks.

I can’t wait bahaha.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Animals... · brain chat · History & Old Stuff · Travel

Chilling Out in Crete

Hello and happy it’s-basically-August! How are you?

I’m doing well, cheers for asking. I’ve spent the last month in Crete, making friends with local cats, learning what the accusative case is – well, almost learning – and successfully asking for both wine and orange juice in Greek. Not at the same time, yet.

Tomorrow I am up at stupid o’clock to make my way home, so today I have been trying to figure out where the time went and also trying to figure out how to pack a jug of raki into my case. I’ve think done a better job with the latter than the former, but I suppose I won’t know for sure until I unpack…

I have A TONNE of photos from my trip, but I will be honest that unless you are very into stray animals or Minoan archaeology, they are not that exciting. Thankfully I am into BOTH so here you go:

Otherwise, I am busy writing a Secret Project that will get a code name when I can be bothered to think of one. Magicnovel is too vague. [redacted]novel will give the game away before I’m ready to talk about it. There are other bits and bobs going on – I am moving back to Uni City in a couple of weeks and I’m desperate to do a better job preparing for second year than I did first; some of my favourite people got engaged and I’m so happy I could puke; I had a wee bout of Covid and some other health news I’m mulling over but generally I’m alive and, despite the neighbourhood rooster conspiring to wake me up from the hours of 3am onwards, am feeling all right. I thought I’d better pop in and say hi while it lasts, because air travel and the British rail system will probably remove all my energy and goodwill in the time it takes to say ‘please ensure your bags are safely stowed.’ Does anyone actually enjoy flying? I never really minded it, but on my flight into Crete it occurred to me that the only bit of the process I genuinely like is walking through duty free after you’ve cleared security. That perfume waft says holidays like nothing else. But the rest – air pressure changes, tiny toilet cubicles, constant bloody queues for bloody everything, recycled air – can fuck right off. I’ve been threatening to take the train from the UK to the Mediterranean for a few years now and I think it’s time I start planning it seriously. At first it was a fun idea, because commercial air travel is terrible for the planet and all that, but the more I think about it, the happier I’d be to never get a plane again for a journey that takes less than five hours. If my ears are going to hurt and my brain is going to catastrophise plane crashes, I might as well be leaving Europe. Get a long enough flight that they give you a little toothbrush.

Okay, I do like the little toothbrushes.

Speaking of things I can’t stand these days, I think I might stop updating my business-y social media pages. I’ve not really bothered with it, at varying degrees, for the last year or so. I think I have a big enough data set now to be confident that not using social media to endlessly shout about my work, knowing the algorithm will hide it from anyone who might actually want to see it, makes me happier than using it. I’ll still be here and on Patreon, and I’ll still send my monthly-ish email newsletters because you gus are lovely, but I reckon it’s time to step back from the rest. I won’t delete the accounts, because I do like to pop in sometimes to keep up with my favourite creators and see what people are chatting about. I write YA stories, so I kind of need to know what The Youth are saying. But the ratio of bullshit:pleasant content has gone from 2:8 a few years ago to 8:2 now, and I’m not sure it’s the sort of system that can be changed from the inside.

It’s getting dark and I need to pack a last few things while I can still be bothered, so I will say bye for now. Let me know how your summer is going – or winter, if you’re in the southern hemisphere. I try not to look at stats anymore so I’m not sure if any of you are. I hope so, I love that half the world is making its way through one season while the other half is at a completely different one. I’m tentatively looking forward to autumn back in the UK, because it’s so beautiful and cosy, but at the same time I never want summer to end. If I had the money and energy to learn how physics works, I’d dedicate my life to bottling sunlight. Carry a vial around in the winter. But then, if I had the money to figure out how to bottle sunlight, I’d have the money to piss off on holiday for a bit in January. By train, obviously, and ferry, like in an Agatha Christie novel.

Right, have a good one. Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

(All Hail) Creation · Art · History & Old Stuff

Some Ancient History ft. a Dinosaur Front-flipping into a Boat

I was in a good creative flow all day and forgot to have a shower until about 4:30, which is too early for pyjamas but too late for proper clothing so this post is coming to you from someone wearing a dinosaur onesie. With a tail.

gif of a dinosaur front flipping onto a boat

 

I feel bad for not coming to say hi here more often but I’ve been writing a lot of short stories and they always take up a lot more screen time than I expect them to. It’s really satisfying to post a story every week though – I’m tentatively hoping I can keep it up until March at least. That said, there’s a very real chance that I’ll cheat and just share a haiku if I’m stuck. SPEAKING OF POETRY:

Mum and I went to the British Museum yesterday to see the Troy exhibition they’ve got on. Good points: tonnes of ancient artwork of naked people and/or gods; some medieval books that look like they should only exist in fairy tales; at least one statue of a dying Achilles; enough information to fill my brain for years. Bad points: it was quite dark and so busy that I might have to purchase the very large companion book just to understand all of the above, because there was no way to read all the plaques.

Got some pictures of my favourite Valentine’s cards while I was there too:

I Would Fall into Tartarus with You card held in front of dying Achilles statue at British Museum Troy Myth and Reality exhibition

If you follow me on Instagram you can expect more from where that came from, just saying.

I think that’s all from me, except to say that if you like short stories and would like to commission me one, you can do if you join up to my Patreon before the end of February. Story itself can be expected some time before the clocks go forward. Ish.

History & Old Stuff · Travel

More from Malta: Church Stuff & More Church Stuff Plus I Figure Out That Thomas Cook is Not the Same Guy Who ‘Discovered’ America

My brother left a couple of things at home when he went back to uni over the weekend: a computer cable and a cold. Not one that’s bad enough to lie on the sofa declaring total uselessness, but bad enough that I would like to do that.

I promised more Malta photos, so here we go:

wristbone of St Paul in Valletta

This is St Paul’s wrist bone, apparently. It lives in St Paul’s Shipwreck Church in Valletta (not to be confused with St John’s Co Cathedral or St Paul’s Pro Cathedral, which are both also in Valletta). I can’t tell you how much I was hoping it would move as I looked at it and extend a golden middle finger.

Caravaggio portrait in Valletta

This is a Caravaggio painting, in St John’s Co Cathedral. I can’t remember what it’s called, nor the name of the other, much larger one that also lives in the cathedral. I don’t know what I’m looking at, art-wise, but Caravaggio’s paintings did make all the others in the cathedral look like they were done by small  children. Caravaggio was a member of the Knights of Malta for a bit – I think he got expelled for swashbucking and murder – but they got some cool paintings out of it so all’s well that ends well. Except for the murder victims.

Door Sign Reading 'Shalom' in Sliema Malta

Houses in Malta have names as well as/instead of numbers and this was my favourite. Other contenders: Joan d’Arc and America (a whole street had American-inspired street names, turned out the embassy was down the road I think).

Jesus and Mary painting in Gozo

I trotted around half a dozen cool museums in Gozo’s Citadel, because you pay something like 10 euros and get entrance to a bunch of places. One of them was a museum of Christian paintings and I shit you not, every Jesus had the face of a middle aged man. Cute lil chubby baby from the neck down, sensible accountant from the neck up.

In the time it’s taken to put this post together I’ve eaten half a pot of salsa, so I’m pleased to announce that my airways are clearer and that I will probably be suffering a digestive complaint in half an hour. You win some you lose some ahhahaaa.

RIGHT. ONTO OTHER BUSINESS.

First of all, can I just say that until today I thought that Thomas Cook (the man who started the late travel company) was the same man who explored then-unknown lands and got killed by angry local Hawaiians in the 18th century. I’m never sure how I feel about the ‘explorers’ of yore who went around invading places and enslaving local people, and I dunno if James Cook (explorer) was a slave-y explorer or just someone who liked going to new places.

Ah. I just figured out that the slave-y explorer I was thinking of was Christopher Columbus. James Cook was a completely different person. I THOUGHT I WAS WELL READ HOW DID I CONFLATE CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS WITH A DERBYSHIRE BUSINESSMAN.

This is a good opportunity to segue into my next item: I’m researching a new potential project and have put together a survey about it. If you have 3-5 minutes and have recently felt frustrated and/or hopeless when consuming the news, I’d appreciate your input. It’s completely anonymous and will let me know if my idea is worth pursuing. Clearly I need some help with my general knowledge, so please do take a minute to help me out…

(All Hail) Creation · History & Old Stuff

In which Southend is less shit than we thought!

Afternoon. You might have noticed I’ve redecorated the blog and changed the theme to something else white and blocky, although by the time you read this I might have changed it twice more and/or back to how it was.

I’ve hit a mid-afternoon slump and can’t actually remember what this blog was supposed to be about, so let’s talk about dead kings! Or princes, as the case may be. Or may not be. Who read about the Prittlewell Princely burial and felt a mild stab of pride at being from Southend? It was a fleeting stab – kind of a twinge? – but YES HELLO THAT’S A BIT OF VERGE I RECOGNISE. I’m going to the exhibition as soon as I can.

I actually remember, albeit vagually, visiting an exhibition about the burial in either Southend Museum or Prittlewell Priory 12 or 15 years ago, when it was quite a new find. I don’t remember being hugely excited but take two should be better, mostly because I now know how to read.

It occurred to me ages ago that it might be quite fun to do a series of posts about things in and around Southend that are actually quite nice (there are some excellent shops and a few interesting historical places and/or haunted places), but I never got around to it. Maybe I should start with the exhibition? Or the bit of verge under which the Saxon king/prince was buried for several centuries? The Aldi across the road is staffed by lovely people, but we might have trouble getting photographs that don’t feature traffic. Or tarmac.

History & Old Stuff

Congratulations on Your Century of Voting Ladies! (or not if you’re poor and under 30 I guess um come back in a decade)

Afternoon!

Since we are celebrating a century in the UK since some-but-not-all-actually-not-many-but-SOME women got the vote, I thought I’d better use my hard earned freedom of speech and say hello. Coincidentally I am doing an Open University course at the moment (I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned that?) and the current topic is Chartism. I had never heard of the Chartist movement before I read my textbook, and it turns out that is because a) Chartism was an early 19th century movement to gain universal suffrage in Britain but b) it didn’t actually work so c) no one really bothers talking about it unless they are specifically discussing history or humanities (hiii). But it’s really interesting!

In 1842, several hundred thousand people took a charter and petition with about 3 million signatures to Parliament, demanding that Parliament consider giving people the vote. Well, male people. But all male people over 21, regardless of the land they owned! The charter also demanded that any old person could run for Parliament, and that MPs be paid, so you didn’t have to be rich and bored to decide to go and run Scunthorpe or wherever. Aside from the fact the charter didn’t mention women at all and wanted annual elections (Christ what a thought) Chartists were quite the modern community. They utilised the printing press and organised grassroots local meetings. They even tried to get co-operative living off the ground to stop miserly middle class middle men ripping off the working poor. Anyway, it didn’t work. The Chartists did three or four national petitions in total, but the aristocracy was terrified that if they rescinded a tiny little bit of power, there might be a revolution as violent as the one in France, so they resisted change as long as possible.

Anyway, now we’re here. 2018! The people are in power! Sort of. Mostly? I read a fascinating article yesterday about the female-driven economy and it was simultaneously uplifting and depressing. I knew the stat that there are more CEOs named John than there are women CEOs, but I didn’t know that when airbags were first released they killed a lot of women and children because the presumably male engineers testing them hadn’t thought to test for anyone who weighed less than 250lbs.

Cinderella uggghhh GIF
from giphy

It’s funny what a centenary will do to you: hearing the Today Programme chat to and about extraordinary women this morning has spurred me on a bit. I had a business meeting today, and until this morning it wouldn’t have occurred to me to call it a business meeting but actually it was a meeting in which I did business. I also made a video for my Patreon page and transcribed 1000 words for my giant story project. The next part of The Elastic Band Theory, by the way, is online now. Am I doing open heart surgery? No. Am doing important work that I should talk more about? Yep.

I guess I knew this academically, but I’m only just starting to understand why there are so many men named John in the FTSE 100: most men I know ooze confidence in their ability to get shit done, or at least possess the confidence to go and get shit done. Most of the women I know just get on with what needs doing without thinking much of it. I feel like women generally are more likely to say ‘I went to work then made the dinner and walked the dog, feeling a bit knackered to be honest’ than say ‘I just put in a five hour shift, cooked a healthy nutritious meal for four people and took the dog on a two hour hike! I’m feeling tired but it’s so worth it when I see my children happy!’ If my brother or dad were running an Etsy store, they would have scheduled that business meeting about two years ago. I had the confidence to send an enquiry email three weeks ago. It’s almost as though I’m socially conditioned to think less of my abilities than all the men I know are. How odd. I wonder if there’s a group of people who believe men and women are the same and should be treated as such?

Pink feminist definition print by Francesca's Words

Couldn’t resist. Here’s to the next 100 years of smashing the patriarchy!

February 2017 · History & Old Stuff · South East Asia 2017

The Cu Chi Tunnels & Ruinification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

One of the best things about a city as sprawling as Ho Chi Minh City, and a country as vast as Vietnam, is that you can swing from ‘adventure tour’ to ‘relaxed museum visit’ in the blink of an eye. Case in point: Cu Chi and the Ruinification Palace.

The Cu Chi Tunnels

SOME HISTORY: during the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong built a complex network of tunnels across both North and South Vietnam to avoid bombing by US forces. The tunnels under the Cu Chi district of Saigon were used as military headquarters as well as living facilities for locals, and now they’re available to tour. From above there’s some jungle, an obligatory gift shop and an inexplicable shooting range. The real fun comes when your guide moves some leaf litter, hauls a plank of wood from the ground and shows you… a foot-wide tunnel entrance.

Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
You’d think after South East Asian toilet facilities I wouldn’t be phased by a hole in the ground… but at least you’re not expected to live in the sewage system.

You can climb in, pull the hatch over your head, feel your way into the tunnel proper and then haul yourself out again. I had a sneaky feeling that despite being a similar size to Vietnamese people – or more similar than most Westerners – I would get stuck in the tunnel and die, so I abstained. For scale, a few six foot guys on our tour did get in, but barely.

Next we saw some of the absolutely genius, totally sneaky, every-naughty-child’s-dream-booby-trap booby traps.

Each trap is pretty simple: when stepped on, its spikes impale the victim through various body parts. If I remember my GCSE history, the stress and paranoia of living with the threat of these traps contributed heavily to the ridiculous levels of PTSD troops experienced. I got pretty stressed just looking at them, so hats off to the war veterans in that respect.

As people lived day-to-day in the tunnels, they came up with ingenious ways of hiding their presence, like cooking during the misty early mornings to mask smoke, or putting air vents in tree trunks to disguise them. They did get flooded out – literally – but generally speaking, the Viet Cong one-upped the West for years. Of course, the tunnels themselves helped.

Entrance to Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
During the war, tunnel entrances were so well hidden that even Viet Cong couldn’t always find them.

Before you go down into them, the guide warns that if you’re claustrophobic or suffer from high blood pressure, you should stay outside. Whatever, I thought, I‘m almost as small as the Viet Cong and I don’t think I’m that claustrophobic. Let’s go!

Turns out I’m a bit claustrophobic, and not that small.

I don’t have any photos from my brush with suffocation, because I was too busy humming songs to distract myself, checking my brother was still following me and trying not to think about suffocating. The tunnels are roughly the size of an air vent, made of stone, and frequently drop a level or move upwards so you have to haul yourself up or drop down a few feet. I’m five foot one, ish, and I nearly got stuck, so I have no idea how average-sized people managed it. I suspect that tourists over a certain size are bluntly told not to go, because they would genuinely get wedged and there’s just no way to get them out.

We survived, though, with grubby backpacks and a deep respect for the communities who spent years underground. Now, on to something more aesthetically pleasing than some rocks:

The Ruinification Palace

From the outside, the Ruinification Palace, also known as Independence Palace, is basically the 1960s encapsulated in a building. I don’t like that blocky, grey concrete style of architecture at all, probably because there’s a lot of it in Southend and as a child, with drizzle stuck to my neck and a grey sky next to grey buildings filled with grey people, I decided I would leave Southend for warmer lands as soon as possible. Happily, the interior reminded me of The Man from UNCLE and appealed greatly to my unachievable ambition to have a spotless, symmetrical bedroom.

SOME HISTORY: there’s been a palace of sorts on that site since the 19th century, during French occupation, and after a bomb attack in 1962 the building was completely redesigned. The president of South Vietnam lived and worked there until 1975 when Saigon fell to the North and tanks literally rolled through the gates. The president surrendered immediately and the palace has been left as it was then, from the meeting rooms to the underground war bunkers.

My favourite bit is that the top floor of the palace was originally designed as an open space for the president to meditate upon various issues in peace and quiet. He turned it into a party room with a dance floor and space for 100 guests.

I am not wholly unsurprised the South lost the war.

History & Old Stuff · January 2017 · South East Asia 2017 · Travel

Siem Reap: Markets & Museums

We have now been in Siem Reap four days, and we decided to stay another night and get a night bus to Phnom Penh so we could see more. We flew in from Bangkok early Thursday morning (our Thai visas required proof of onward travel, so we paid about £40 for a 45 minute flight, which had better service than some European flights I’ve been on *cough* EasyJet *cough*). I preferred Cambodia to Bangkok the moment we landed. Siem Reap airport is very new and incredibly pretty (and I am shallow) and the city in general reminds me a lot of Greece. Everything is dusty but very green, the roads are bustling but not total chaos – there are even separate lanes for tuk tuks and motorbikes – and stray dogs are three apiece (and before you make a joke that’s not funny, no I will not be adopting any).

Maxim had been sick from some dodgy seafood the night before, so once we got into town we hung out in a cafe waiting to check in to our hostel. I experienced my first – and definitely not my last – squatting toilet, tucked down a tarpaulined alley in what felt like the Cambodian equivalent of the old York Road market in Southend.

We’ve spent most of our time here exploring Angkor Wat, which will require a post by itself, and we’ve also visited Angkor Night Market, which is right next to our hostel (no live gerbils, but lots of opportunity to haggle over t-shirts) and Pub Street.

Angkor Night Market Siem Reap Cambodia
One lane of a many, many laned part of Angkor Night Market. Stalls included jewellery made from bullets, local spirits and cuddly toy elephants.

Pub St is supposed to be quite a big deal, but as far as I could tell it’s mostly made of restaurants, tourists and people begging. Over about three hours we saw two war veterans, one without legs pedaling (literally, with his hands) a cart of books, one blind and guided by a child. Then there was a guy performing circus tricks, although he wasn’t very good and nearly set himself on fire/took his eyes out/killed passersby, and then a small child who prodded me in the armpit as I walked the market, shrieked ‘CHEEP CHEEP’ at me and would have been elbowed in the face if I’d been a second slower to realise he was about eight. A few tourists gave them money, if just to get them to go away, which obviously has the opposite effect. I’m not sure what the Cambodian government does for its war vets and its homeless (presumably very little) so if anyone from government is reading, please sort your shit out. I don’t want to see children begging on my holiday any more than I want to see stray dogs, but I know which I’d rather you fixed first.

We also visited the local War Museum, and if you thought priceless antiques sitting outside at Bangkok’s National Museum was a travesty, don’t bother with Siem Reap’s War Museum. It’s filled with tanks, guns and landmines (some still in the ground) from the Cambodian civil war and genocide, and everything is sitting outside except the guns, which you can pick up.

arms-war-museum
Pick a weapon, any weapon

We’re going to the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, so I will wait until then to wax lyrical on Pol Pot and his band of merry megalomaniacs. In the mean time here is a short list of interesting facts:

  • In Cambodian culture some people collect the teeth of a cremated loved one and wear them on a string necklace to keep the loved one close and watching over them. When the string breaks, the deceased has moved on
  • During the Cambodian genocide, most of the rice grown was exported to China in exchange for arms, so locals learned to eat termites and other assorted creatures
  • There is a special type of shovel in existence that prisoners would use to dig a hole. Then their captor would kill them with the serrated edge of that very shovel, and bury them in the grave they’d just dug themselves
  • There’s a guide at the War Museum who was a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge. At various points he stepped on a landmine filled with ball-bearings, lost his sight in both eyes then had one of them restored by a UN initiative and put his story into a book.

I will leave this here because the wifi is cutting out a bit – I have a photo of a termite hill and everything. Maybe that will be one for the outtakes. Next stop is Phnom Penh and the museums, which I am told will make me depressed about the state of humanity. Good thing I had all that practise living through 2016 then, innit.