Posts Tagged ‘Namibia’

New Year

Ok, I was up until 2am and just woke up (at 11.30am) so am feeling a bit out of it and sleepy so I can’t promise that this post will be the most inspired I have ever written!

New Year’s Eve itself ended up being a lovely mishmash of friends from different areas of my life who had never met. One friend brought her pet sausage dog so, obviously, we all giggled and cooed and bonded over that.

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After a lot of sitting around, we finally started cooking, using my favourite Michel Roux cookbook, and produced an extremely tasty dish called ‘poussin scented with ginger and lemongrass.’ I liked it because it sounded a bit Mastercheffy.

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The poussin was with steamed broccoli, fried rocket leaves (tastier than it sounds) rice and a sauce made from the ginger and lemongrass and leftover chicken stuff.

For dessert, we made poached cherries with rice pudding, which I cooked on high speed, as it was getting late, so wasn’t quite up to Michel’s standards. I imagine he’d eliminate me from the semi finals for my speedy cooking methods. O well. It was tasty anyway.

We then got our warm coats on and drove to Richmond Park, parking outside and walking inside, to a point we knew was quite high so we would have a fabulous view over London for the fireworks. We found ourselves a good spot and waited for the celebrations to begin.

It was fantastic when they did start. In almost every direction, in any gap between the trees, we could see fireworks displays happening in all different parts of London. We had a view to our left towards the park gate and saw, occasionally, fireworks going off in different places across Surrey. In front of us were the fireworks at the South Bank in central London, and behind us were displays in other parts of South West London. They went on for a little while and we cracked open our bottle of prosecco and passed around the single glass I had grabbed in a hurry when leaving the house, like poor students sharing bad wine before a night out.

After the fireworks displays had finished and the sausage dog had calmed down (there were lots of other dogs in the park and she had become very excited), we wandered back home and watched a bit of TV before giving up for the evening. It was all very lovely and civilised.

And now, time to make some new year’s resolutions, mainly so they are recorded somewhere so that I am obliged, sort of, to keep them. Ok, here goes.

– Plan a trip to Namibia
– Plan a trip to Asia
– Eat more ethically, especially with meat
– Finish all the books I’m in the middle of
– Revamp the wardrobe a little
– Say yes to social engagements (instead of my default setting, which is no cause I’m lazy)

Narnia and I

Our relationship goes way back. Anyone who knows me well, knows about my Narnia-love.

I had probably read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at some point as a child but then my dad got me the box set in my teens and I read all seven chronicles. It took over my existence for a while. I rejoiced when they defeated the White Witch, when Caspian beat his uncle and reigned over Narnia, when Jill and Eustace broke Prince Rilian free from his spell and when Peter triumphed in the last battle. I despaired when Aslan was killed on the ancient table, when Nikabrik tried to overthrow Caspian and when Edmund and Lucy were told they had to leave Narnia. And I wept for the second half of the last book because I knew the end was nigh.

When in the Narnia zone, it becomes a very real place to me. It is the pleasant background to my normal day. Things are just generally nicer and more storybook, even when I’m just at work.

Right before going on our gap years, my friend Joe and I had walked from his house into Reading, which had taken about four hours. We had talked about Narnia a lot. It was one of those lovely days, early in our friendship when everything we said or did became a nice memory, stored up to take away with me. He left for his gap year before me so I sent him all seven books in the post to China and, miraculously, nothing happened to them along the way. I took a copy of the books with me to Africa and we started to read them on the 16th December, countries and oceans apart, to prepare for Christmas.

In fact, one day, whilst discussing Narnia with a bit of alcohol in our systems, two friends and I jumped into the rather big wardrobe we had in our room in Namibia, and searched around in the back for some snow or trees. We found neither.

Every year since then, I’ve started reading them on the 16th so I’m usually on book 4 or 5 by Christmas Day, and I keep reading till I finish them.

When my friend, Jay, started basically living on our sofa when we were at uni, I had started reading them as usual and I would always stay in the front room with her, on the other sofa. And we used to read the books to each other, a chapter each, until she got tired and I would keep reading until she had fallen asleep.

So last night, a few days later than usual, I picked up The Magician’s Nephew and started to read. All the lovely feelings of being on familiar ground and being in for a great read were ignited and I sipped my cup of tea and smiled.

“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our world and the land of Narnia first began….”

Of COURSE there won’t be snow in Africa!

I just have to say something which has been on my mind for a while now. That song, Feed The World, which I thought was Free The World until really recently. It’s ridiculous.

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime.”
Duuuuh! Of course there won’t. What that got to do with anything? Is that fact supposed to evoke pity in me?

O no, they won’t have snow, they must be soooo gutted. I bet all that sunshine and warm weather is really bugging them and that they wish, in their hardship, that they had snow. It’s so hard living in a sunny country.

It’s the worst thing ever. If, as we are led to believe by the song, everyone in Africa is sitting around starving and poverty-stricken, do you really think SNOW, of all things, is going to help the situation? Now they’re starving, poverty-stricken and dying of pneumonia.

As an aside, there also “won’t be snow” in Australia this Christmastime but they can think again if they’re expecting a load of food parcels because of it!

The next bit, “The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life.” Talk about talking down to people! Like we’re whispering with a doctor about a cancer ridden old lady. Africa isn’t one massive country unable to do anything for itself or work out how to get food. If you’d have told any of the people in the town in Namibia where I lived that the greatest gift they could expect was to not die, I’m pretty sure they would have found it hilarious. They were people like you or I and they were doing ok. Of course there are places of extreme poverty in many countries in Africa but as a whole, it’s just not possible to write one song, applicable to all, about how everyone is starving. It’s really offensive.

And lastly, “Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?” To be honest, I don’t think it’s very high on the priority list. A lot of African countries aren’t Christian. It makes absolutely no sense to say, ‘O, isn’t it awful? They don’t have any celebrations at Christmas.’ It’s like a Muslim country singing a song about how awful it is for us in Britain and “Do they know it’s Ramadan time at all?” Well, no, I don’t know when Ramadan is, not because I’m terribly unfortunate and you must raise money for me. Just because it’s not something I celebrate anyway. So to say about Africa, do they know it’s Christmas – probably some of them don’t. What on earth has that got to do with how poor they are or aren’t?

And that is my rant over and done with. I’ve been needing to let that out for years over this stupid stupid song.

Thank you.

PS I’ve just remembered that there was a town further inland from Luderitz, where I lived, which did get snow! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Bob Geldof. Was it Bob Geldof?

On chocolate

More Nanny Rhino today…

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I’m not one of those girls who’s mad on chocolate. I like it, don’t get me wrong. But whenever I think of chocolate lovers, I think of a girl I went to secondary school with, Gwen, who would go around the common room in sixth form, asking if anyone had chocolate with them and could she buy it from them. She’d be brandishing a fifty pence piece to back up her request and asking around desperately. At the time, I was a bit young to wonder why she had such a thing for chocolate. I just thought it was a little strange.

 

Alternately, a girl I went to junior school with, Louise, was allergic to chocolate! Allergic! It’d be a pretty sad existence if you couldn’t give in to the odd chocolate moment.

 

When my brother and I were younger, I distinctly remember being a massive fan of Yorkie bars. It was always my favourite. If we got given 50p by a generous relative, we would scuttle off to the sweet shop around the corner and giggle excitedly, while we looked at all the sherbet sticks and flying saucer sweets and fried egg sweets and Mr Freezy flavoured ice sticks. A lot of the time, though, I’d get a Yorkie. Now I think about it, I fear I may have been wasting a fantastic opportunity for potential sweetie-induced happiness. I just wanted a big bar of solid chocolate. Then Yorkie brought out these adverts on TV which said, “Yorkie! Not for girls!” So I had a little-girl-tiff and stopped buying them. I switched my allegiance to Dime bars, which were about half the price anyway, and shook my proverbial fist at the the Yorkie makers, knowing they’d notice my missing custom and regret their silly no-girls advert.

 

Speaking of chocolate, actually, there are lots of new weird and wacky things happening with chocolate, which take inspiration from it’s original use as a savoury drink, mixed with chilli, when first discovered and drunk in South America. So chilli chocolate bars abound the shelves of high end delicatessens or your local Whole Foods. I like the idea of liking chilli and chocolate together. I have tried, and failed, to get myself to like it. I just cannot stand the prickly heat in the back of my throat after I have swallowed a lovely mouthful of sweet melty chocolate. My senses scream at me to stop. It is just wrong, I’m sorry for those of you who love this combination.

 

Another thing which doesn’t work for me is chocolate pasta. I had originally thought that it would be great with something savoury. A friend told me he had it with a veal dish. Great, I thought, let me be gourmet and get into this chocolate pasta scene! Then someone told me that I had it all wrong. Chocolate pasta was a dessert and I must warm some cream up, add walnuts, cook my pasta and then add it to my warm cream and walnuts, mix around and then serve up, as my dessert. Ok, I thought, that sounds interesting, I can do that.

 

And I did it.

 

And it tasted like…. pasta with cream and walnuts. Normal regular pasta with cream and walnuts. In all honesty, cream and walnuts are not my usual accompaniment to pasta so I put it aside, disappointed. All that anticipation, all that planning… and it just tasted like regular pasta. Maybe I got it from the wrong company. Maybe I should have looked around for a really great quality one or asked for recommendations. Anyway, that’s the end of the road for my chocolate pasta journey, I think.

 

Now, another chocolate thing that I have reached the end of the road with is chocolate mousse. Not eating it! No, I am of course still eating it. Making it myself at home though, no more! In the early days of cooking in my kitchen, I didn’t have an electric whisk so I whisked my egg whites by hand. I would get severe arm ache and give up before it had quite finished being whisked. I’d just keep on with the recipe, in blind hope that it would be fine. It wasn’t. It would come out to dense and hard, instead of soft and fluffy. I tried it a second time, having convinced myself that the eggs must have been rubbish or something. The same thing happened. So I stopped making chocolate mousse. Maybe that’s silly, because now I have an electric whisk so I could try it again. I think I have a mental block with chocolate mousse now though.

 

I did go through a stage of drinking unsweetened hot chocolate not too long ago. It was an unexpected pleasure which grew on me. I used Bournville cocoa powder, steamed milk and vanilla or almond extract. I occasionally used orange oil but it tended to overwhelm the whole thing. Peppermint did the same and almost tasted toothpaste-ish. So I stuck to vanilla or almond. Because it’s bitter, it takes a few times to get used to it but I started really looking forward to my evening vanilla hot chocolate after a while.

 

Another of my favourite things to do with chocolate when I have guests over is a kind of help-yourself thing. I grate a load of dark chocolate, finely chop some mint, mix them together and put it in a small dish. I grate some more and zest an orange in with it and put that into a dish. Sometimes I do one of plain dark chocolate grated. You can play around with what flavours you want to add. Then I get loads of those mini pots of icecream and tell everyone to pick a pot and top it with whatever they want from the dishes of chocolate. Or you could go even simpler, get a huge bowl, half some strawberries and throw in some cherries, then get some dark chocolate and break it roughly into pieces and throw in aswell and get get nibbling.

 

With Christmas approaching, I am guessing my chocolate intake will increase drastically. Not because there is far better chocolate around at Christmas and I will be unable to control myself. It’s more because it will be there, freely available and right in front of my face (of course, I could choose not to stand directly in front of the Christmas chocolate and sweeties aisle at the supermarket but I like it there, ok?). So I will eat it. Because I can see it. Advent calendars, not a favourite or any special memories but a nice reason to eat chocolate first thing every morning. A selection box, again no amazing memories, just that my grandfather used to get us one every year, without fail. But if I bought all those individual chocolate bars in a shop and ate them all in one day, people would judge me, quite harshly I should think. Wrap it in a plastic packet with a fun Christmas picture on the front and call it a ‘selection box’ and it’s suddenly fine! Eat them all, no problem!

 

In Namibia, my friend Lucy and I, used to get a chocolate bar called Top Deck, if we had any spare money. This was an exciting time for us, when it happened. It was white chocolate on the bottom and milk chocolate on the top. It looked beautiful and we loved it, although I’ve no memory of how it tasted.

 

Nanny Rhino and the law of tea

Yes, that’s right. I’m fobbing you off with something from my Nanny Rhino, rather than writing a proper blog for you. Again. Apologies. I have been busy (for ‘busy,’ read: lazy).

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Tea. What a wonderful wonderful beverage. Not much beats a tea. As a non-drinker (of the alcoholic variety, I of course, do drink other things), tea is as wacky as it gets in my world. Well, apart from when I occasionally drink coffee.

 

I do get quite wacky with my tea sometimes. When I first moved to university and happened to have a peppermint tea at someone’s house, a whole new world opened up in front of me. And it was very exciting indeed. I used to have a small travel kettle in my room which just brewed enough for one cup. I also had a rubbishy student job at a coffee place inside a train station. They would open at the crack of dawn to get the early commuters and close late at night to get the drunken husbands desperately trying to sober up with espressos before returning home to their wives.

 

I was often on the early shifts, which meant arriving at 5.30am. Whether cycling or taking the bus, I needed to leave myself about twenty minutes. So my alarm would go off at 4.15am and I would grumpily throw back the duvet and force myself over to the desk to put the kettle on. A mug with a tea bag would be waiting, having been placed there the night before. The kettle would boil, the water would go in and while it brewed, I would gripe about early starts and it surely being against the Human Rights Act and I could possibly sue my employers. Then the tea would finish brewing, I’d ditch the bag and, depending on which tea it was, I’d add milk and have a sip.

 

Things slowly seemed kind of nice then. I could hear the birds singing and see the sun rising. I would put in headphones and listen to I Don’t Know Why by Norah Jones (always the same song, because of the line “I waited till I saw the sun.”) and write. I was doing a joint honours degree and one of my subjects was Creative Writing. The lecturers had advised us to write for twenty minutes every morning. I realised what I always realise at that time of day, when my grumpiness has slid off and down under the floorboards some place and all the nice things about being awake in an empty world while everyone else sleeps become obvious. There’s just me. Me and my cup of tea. My day feels nicer when I start it that way.

 

Yesterday morning, for example, even though I didn’t have time to have tea at home, I managed an earl grey and a scone in between all the breakfast and coffee orders at work. It helped.

 

I have been known to branch out quite spectacularly when making tea. I went for milk-less tea for a long time, which led to forays into the world of fresh mint tea (plucked from my own garden), cardamom concoctions and licorice infusions. When living abroad in Namibia, my friend, Lucy, and I, in our poverty, drank a lot of rooibos tea, to keep our tummies full! It was dirt cheap for a box of fifty and every evening, we would stand at our window in our kitchen and watch the sun set over the water. We were living on the coast, our little house looking out over the Atlantic ocean, and got the most beautiful skies I have ever seen in my life. Colours I didn’t think belonged in a sky – greys, oranges, pinks, reds, blues, purples. Rooibos tea will always mean beautiful African sunsets to me.

 

Careless brewers, who throw the bag in walk away from it, then return later in the day to add milk, should be publicly reprimanded for killing tea. Teabag squeezers also need the same level of punishment.

 

Don’t just leave it there for ten minutes! It shows you don’t care. It comes out like black coffee and is far too bitter. And don’t go the opposite direction and try to brew it too quickly by taking a teaspoon and squeezing your bag against the side of the cup! What’s wrong with you? You’re suffocating it. Let it brew gently. Unless you have so little respect for yourself that you don’t mind drinking tannin, then please do not squeeze. 

Songs that remind me of stuff 2

Be Prepared from the Lion King soundtrack
My friend, Fiona, and I were travelling around Namibia in an old battered truck which was pretty low on gadgets. It didn’t have air con, a radio or even a tape deck. We’d get to our destination and peel ourselves off the seat, sweaty and disgusting and hope no-one noticed as we shuffled into the reception of wherever we’d stopped over. Due to the lack of music, we spent hours singing to each other. We returned to the Lion King soundtrack again and again. Be Prepared was a firm favourite and got an airing at least five times every day.

I Just Can’t Wait To Be King from the Lion King soundtrack
Lion King soundtrack again but a different situation. I’m in the last year of school and I’ve got a theatre studies class. We’re all sitting waiting for the teacher and somehow… A frenzy takes hold of us. A few girls start singing I Just Can’t Wait To Be King. A few more join in. Soon we’re all singing. Then we’re bordering on shouting. We’ve started bashing on the desks and our chairs in time to the tune. “O, I JUST CAAAAN’T WAIT!……”

The door opens. Our teacher is standing there. We stop, mid-desk-whack, and wonder if there’s any chance at all in the entire world, that she didn’t hear us…. “What on earth is going on? I could hear you all the way down the corridor!”

We had nothing to offer in our defence. We looked into our laps, 18 year old girls having been caught acting like 8 year olds. The lesson got underway but we were all pretty red faced for the entire time.

I popped in to see this teacher a few years ago when I was in Liverpool and we laughed about this day. I still felt kind of embarrassed though.

Jenny From The Block by Jennifer Lopez
Another secondary school story. I had a friend called Cilla who used to ‘perform’ this song every breaktime. She had slightly adjusted the words though. It was hilarious. J.Lo’s version goes:
“I used to have a little, now I have a lot.
No matter where I go, I know where I came from.
Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got.
I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block.”

Cilla’s version went:
“Used to have a little, now I still have a little.
No matter where I go, I’m still where I came from.
Don’t be fooled by the rocks I haven’t got.
I’m still. I’m still Cilla from the block.”

Mr Cellophane from the Chicago soundtrack
This reminds me of walking through a park in London, I think Hyde Park, but I didn’t know London at the time so I’m not sure. I had met all the people who were going with the same gap year organisation as me and we were all leaving for our adventures in about a month. We met in London for some fun before leaving and two of my favourite friends and I were walking together and singing this song. I hasn’t seen Chicago so I didn’t know it but I just kind of mumbled along with them while they sang. I thought they were best people I had ever known.

Going au naturel

When I was living in Namibia, a friend who was super cool grew her body hair and didn’t shave and she was great. She was au naturel and I wanted to be just like her.

So I came back to England in winter and decided to be au naturel and cool. I had not thought about the fact that my friend was being au naturel in summer in Namibia. Because it was winter, I was wearing tights and leggings a lot. Tight things on your legs when your legs are waaaaaay hairy is itchy in the extreme! I was constantly shifting and fidgeting with my tights, itching and scratching. I started to get little red rashy bits where the hair had been pressed into a pair of tights at the wrong angle.

The armpits. Well, the armpits were a constant problem. I get hot much quicker than I get cold, anyway. So even though it was winter, I’d be sweating up a storm under my jumper. I was constantly showering to stop from getting too stinky.

It was all very awkward and complicated. Lots of itching and sweating. NOT what I’d signed up for! Why wasn’t I the picture of au naturel and coolness? Why weren’t girls looking at me and thinking how admirable it was that I was being true to my body and its natural form? But no, I was the sweaty itchy kid in the corner with leg rashes who dreamed of taking a razor to it all….

Eventually, I did it. I just did it. It felt great! I was smooth and fuss-free and happy.

So I’m sorry, world. I tried.

I tried. And I failed.

And now I swim. So there is no way I can be mega hairy and preparing for Brazil 2016. Everyone knows you need to be streamlined so you can go faster. Unfortunately that’s what it comes down to. So I have to follow my Olympic dreams and that’s just how it’s got to be. Alright?

My bucket list

Due another work emergency, I am writing in a rush again. So I thought I’d share something that’s been on my mind for a while. Since I finished my law degree actually. It’s stuff I’d like to do in the near future. I figure if I write it down, then I’ve said it out loud so there’s some obligation to at least try and do it. Ok, here goes….

1. Join a book club.
2. Master front crawl.
3. Go back to Namibia (or at least make solid plans about it).
4. Go on (or plan) an epic walking adventure.
5. Try running (haha!)
6. Go to Secret Cinema at least once.
7. Sign up for a college course (not sure what in, I just think would be fun. Maybe food).
8. Go to that restaurant in London where everything’s completely in the dark.

So there it is. Realistically, 2 and 5 are the most achievable as they just require me making the effort to do it. Let’s see how the rest go.

I’ve said them now. There’s no backing out…..

I dare you to make your own and put it in the comments section. There’ll be no backing out then. Go on! Do it.

Songs that remind me of stuff

Mariah Carey – Heartbreaker album
I was big into Mariah when I was younger. I’d sit warbling away to My All or Always Be My Baby, imagining a life where I was christened The Voice and asked to sing for the Queen and made people get a little teary with my beautiful singing. In my late teens, I still listened to anything and everything she sung but kept it a little quiet and pretended I was listening to Destiny’s Child. When I started learning to drive, my instructor was a slightly older gentleman who was a bit of a pushover. I wasn’t supposed to have any music on but knew he would let me, so made a mixtape of all my favourite Mariah hits, mostly from the Heartbreaker album and would listen to it on my driving lessons. There’s an area of Liverpool called Garston, that we drove through a lot so I always think of Garston when I hear that album.

Leaving on a Jet Plane by Peter, Paul and Mary (or Bjork)
When the gap year organisation that I went away with did the training session I was on, there were a few country groups being trained together. Us Namibia volunteers had been put with the two Mozambique volunteers, the two Bolivia volunteers and the really huge China group. There were about thirty of them going to different projects. Two of these volunteers, a boy called Joe and a girl called Robyn became my new favourite people. We were glued together most of the time, finding everything ridiculously funny and just generally having fun. Somehow, a discussion of our favourite songs came up and Joe and I had the sane favourite song – Leaving on a Jet Plane. And we all were about to leave in jet planes for our gap years! I loved the original by Peter, Paul and Mary. He loved the cover by Bjork. So this confirmed it. We were destined to be best friends forever. In case you were wondering, Robyn and Joe and I are still good friends. It must have been the mutual song-love.

Dispatch – The General
When I was on my gap year, my friend Lucy used to listen to this song all the time. This reminds me of foolish nights out when we had first arrived and didn’t quite know what we were doing and had a load of friends over, post-pub, talking nonsense for hours, despite the fact that we would be teaching a few hours later.

Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley – Turn Your Lights Down Low
We were on the longest bus journey in the world, my friend and I, travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. It was Cambodian New Year so the traffic on the roads was horrendous. Instead of taking six hours, it took twelve. My friend had a combination of things wrong, an ear infection, really bad bites, vomiting. It was really worrying but there was nothing we could do except wait to get to Phnom Penh. Being the non-doctor I am, I had diagnosed possible malaria. It was all quite scary. He was sleepy so I leaned awkwardly and lay his head on my chest and stroked his arm in an attempt to comfort him. After an hour or two, I had extreme backache, sideache, neckache, shoulderache and everything else but couldn’t move as Chennour was finally sleeping. I gingerly leaned around him and got his iPod and plugged myself in, hoping to tune out from the pain for a bit. Somehow, Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley had been set to repeat and I couldn’t figure out how to stop it. So I spent the last few hours of that journey extremely uncomfortable and listening to Turn Your Lights Down Low on repeat. Painful/humorous memories.

Faith Hill
This is another Namibia memory. We were trying to get to Cape Town for our Christmas holidays. We had bought bus tickets and needed to switch buses in a town called Keetmanshoop (pronounced Keet-mans-hoop, not Keet-man-shoop, which we did for an embarrassingly long time until someone corrected us). We got off the first bus and waited for the second bus. And waited. And waited. Two hours late, the bus arrived, everyone else got on, Lucy and I, ever the Brits, queued politely at the edge of the crowd and were last to get on. There was only one seat left, we were told. We got ready to fume, we had been sold tickets, we demanded to be allowed on! Not to worry, we were told, there’s one a few minutes behind. Ok, that’s fine then. We sat down and waited. We looked up and down the road, we took turns falling asleep on our bags, we ate everything we had brought for the journey, shops closed for the night then opened for the morning again, 9pm turned into 7am. We were two 18 years olds, in a town in the middle of nowhere, with bus tickets we couldn’t use and no other mode of transport available. Then a man approached. Your typical prematurely-balding, pale, wide-eyed, plays-the-psychotic-murderer-in-a-film type. And offered us a lift. We jumped at it. Bags were grabbed, common sense was left behind, and we jumped into the car with this potential torturer. He asked if we wanted any music on. The silence was a bit awkward. All I could find was a Faith Hill album, so I put it on and played it all the way through. Then pressed play when it ended, to keep the silence at bay. And pressed play again. And again. For the entire seven hour journey…..

Damien Rice
I’ve forgotten what his first album was called. I got it in first year at Glasgow Uni and would listen to it every night to try and block out the booming noises from the floor above. I don’t know whether the banging upstairs was music, I could only hear extremely loud thuds, like someone bashing the floor with a hammer. Awful. I hated them. Every time I hear a Damien Rice song, I can still feel the annoyance of the bangs from upstairs but also see the view of the park out of my window, which was nice.

Gwen Stefani – Cool. And James Blunt – Goodbye My Lover
These were both out around the time I was in China climbing the Great Wall. When I’d finished, I stayed with my friend Joe (same one as before) in Beijing for a bit. He was living there, studying. These two songs became about the distant nature of our friendship. We’d spent so little time together but still had an amazing time whenever we did see each other. These songs always remind me of those early days of our friendship, when we had to travel the world to see each other. Nowadays we just have to travel across London. Much easier.

Odd things that have happened when abroad

When my friend and I were living in Namibia, we did various different things – mainly running a local newspaper and teaching in some of the local schools.

Lucy is an amazing artist. I was always finding the loveliest little doodles on bits of paper around the house. Even her writing was beautiful, like looking at a picture. At the creche where we spent a lot of our time, the teachers asked us to brighten up the playground area. The walls were painted white and the paint was peeling so we decided to paint some lovely colourful pictures on the walls.

Lucy drew these beautiful pictures, a different one on each section of wall. I obediently painted where she told me to, not being the best at drawing myself. One evening, we headed over to work on the walls and there was an adult evening class on. They were mostly parents who had brought their children along and left them in the playground area while they went into the class.

So Lucy and I are painting away, an underwater scene this time, the kids are mesmerised by our painting. They were perched on a climbing frame in silence, when suddenly, out of nowhere, we heard this….

“If you see me walking down the street, staring at the sky, dragging my two feet, you just pass me by, it still makes me cry, you can make me whole again…”

What?! They were singing Whole Again by Atomic Kitten!

It was probably the oddest moment of the whole year. Here I was, 18 years old, I had travelled from Liverpool, across the world and made a new life for myself in Africa… And then randomly, whilst painting a wall, ten Namibian children were singing a song by some girls from Liverpool.

They knew all the words as well. Five year old children, who mostly lived in townships and didn’t have an awful lot, still knew the words to Whole Again by Atomic Kitten! Even to the talking bit in the middle. We just carried on painting and laughing to ourselves.

Another time I was in Cambodia with friends. We were in Phnom Penh and had decided to visit the ‘killing fields’, which gave rise to the film of the same name. It was an extremely profound place, made more so by the fact that one of the friends and I had had a mini falling out. One of those things where there’s actually not anything wrong, you’ve just all been spending a long time in close quarters.

So when we got in, we all separated off and went round alone. I found a little bench on the edge of the fields, next to a tree with low branches, and hid from sun, thinking about everything I was seeing and about how silly the argument had been and how I’d tell my friend I was sorry and forget about it.

A noise from the tree interrupted my moment of profundity. There was a little boy sitting on one of the low branches of the tree. He smiled. I smiled back but my face said that I was having a moment and not to interrupt.

But interrupt he did.

“Where are you from?”

“England,” I said, but not in a way that invited further conversation. I turned back to the fields and tried to regain my moment of thoughtfulness. I saw my two friends in the distance, each looking around separately. I thought about how silly the argument had been, especially when faced with the enormous seriousness of a genocide.

That’s when it happened. There was I, lost in my thoughts, wondering about the meaning of life etc. And there was he, a little Cambodian boy, with far more important things on his mind. He had established that I was from England so the first question which entered his mind was this… 

“Do you know David Beckham?”

Do I know David Beckham?! Hilarious. I ended up getting into a big chat with him about the merits of different English football teams. So there we were, at the killing fields, the raw evidence of a recent  genocide plain for all to see, having a chat about David Beckham. He decided Manchester United were the best and we left it at that. Odd.