Monday, 21 December 2015

Pink Cardigan

I’ve been having a fairly turbulent time in the last few months with a combination of work, friends, relationship, and family stressors which have been cumulating into a rather stressful time. This isn’t what I want to talk about and actually in an ostensibly un-Deb-like manner I don’t seem to want to talk about it with anyone. I’ve spoken about an aspect or two to choice individuals but no-one has heard all of it yet. I suspect I’m still stage two Kubler-Ross-ing (yea, I just made that a verb) but that’s not important. I like to think that I can cope with a high-ish level of stress and can keep it from affecting my life in a noticeable way. I have been coming to terms with the amassed instability and starting to feel a little more like me. Then, a few days ago one of my colleagues came into the office that we share and said:

“Oh you’re back in colours again! I like the pink cardigan.”

Other things I like are....
I hadn’t noticed that I had stopped wearing colours and therefore I definatly didn’t know that it had been spotted. I know that when I get stressed my external appearance does change such as my skin deteriorates as a combination of increased stress acne and poor diet, likewise with my hair and nails, but I’d never considered that my dress choice would change. Isn’t that interesting? I suppose it makes sense given that our clothes are an externalisation of our personality and mood will influence which aspects of our personality’s we wish to express. Therefore it should be natural that mood directly affects clothing choice, but I’d never noticed. I don’t think it’s a bidirectional relationship either so you couldn’t infer that someone in all black was sad because they may just like the colour, so it may be that someone who is sad may be drawn to wearing all black. I guess the converse would be true too; you can’t assume someone in colours is happy but it is possible that someone who is happy is more likely to be drawn to wearing colourful clothes.

I chose my clothes because I like them, rarely because they are fashionable, even less likely because they are practical, and never because they go together! I am the queen of wearing things that shouldn’t go together or aren’t appropriate for the weather/event/social group (can you say converses to climb a snowy mountain? Actually that one wasn’t my fault… ok woolly legwarmers in June to see the handyman). So I have a relationship with clothes that I wear them because they make me happy so it is interesting to see that I also wear them because I am happy (/happier than before).


So long live the pink cardigan and may I wear it in the future simultaneously because it makes me happy and because I am happy.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

Morocco: Chapter 4 - A Marrakesh Marathon

Friday 9th October - Marrakesh 
Just one of the many market streets
I am writing this with the soothing background music of my boiler being replaced which while is rather noisy hopefully I will have both heating and hot water by the end of the day. This will be great as I can stop having to shower at other peoples houses or at work and Chloe (the cat) will be happier as she doesn't like the cold snap we are having. Chloe has hidden but unfortunately her bolthole is in the kitchen where the boiler is... I will have to be extra nice to her this evening because she will blame me for the scary noises.

So Marrakesh! We literally did so much this day that each time I tell people what I did, I forget to mention a couple of things because it seems impossible that we did this much but we really did! Another local guide picked us up at 9 in a different bus (I missed our bus driver already) and off we went into the city. First we arrived at some Royal tombs. The actual tombs are rather plain following tradition however the rooms themselves were decorated beautifully with carvings and intricate tiling. It was very peaceful and cool in the morning air as not many places were up yet. It seems strange that a hot country culture only start their day when it's already hot but I guess they start late because they use the cool of the evening to get things done instead. Anyway the stillness and quiet of the place despite the fact we were still very much in the midst of the city made the tombs feel very peaceful but mildly eerie in that way that cemeteries only can.

An archway in the Palace
Next we went to another palace. I think this is the bit that I usually forget about because we had seen so many by this point. I'm sure to the trained eye they are all significantly different but unfortunately my eyes were bored by this point and although very pretty I was getting bored of pretty fountains in white tiled courtyards surrounded by rooms with elaborately decorated high ceilings. Also by this point a lot of the other tourist tours had arrived and it felt very much like shuffling through on a conveyor belt which detracted slightly.

Apparently one of the tallest Mosque towers in Africa!
Next was probably one of my favourite parts of the whole trip. We were taken on foot through many different winding side streets with wall to wall stalls and shops that were just sleepily opening despite the fact that we had already seen two places already that morning! But we arrived at an apothecary!  We were taken upstairs and all the different products were explained and we were allowed to test them. All of this was explained by a man who had an uncanny resemblance to Omid Djalili (Although he's Iranian isn't he? Maybe not then) and was just as loud and charismatic. He explained the ways they use argon oil and the difference between the raw oil used in beauty products and the eating oil used for cooking and dipping. He also came round with a small bag of black seeds in a muslin and invited us to inhale deeply from it. He came to me first and I was a little apprehensive so I only sniffed the tiniest bit -  too much! Instantly my eyes watered and my head swam as what felt like a menthol brick hit my brain! Sort of like how I would imagine a pan galactic gargle blaster does, only with menthol not lemon. Menthol isn't the right smell here but I don't have a description for what it actually was. The rest of the group saw this reaction and all laughed however each and every one of them did the same thing when they had a smell! Goodness knows what they are! Ah according to google they're cumin seeds! Well now you know. He also had many creams and oils and herbs and teas, all for sale and with the tagline "You buy two and one is gift" and all able to test apart from the hemorrhoid cream "we don't make demonstration". 

Me with a lot of carpets!
After our little shopping spree we went for lunch and I had tagine and frites in a weird Moroccan type of Nandos! Afterwards I went with another lady and the guide to a carpet shop. It took us a little while to walk there but I didn't mind as I could have walked through the little streets for hours without getting bored at all! There were so many interesting things on offer and so many.... interesting (lol) looking salesmen. Come to think of it I actually saw very few women in the whole trip! There must be some because there were lots of children but I don't know where they were all hidden. That's a shame. The carpet shop was epic. In every definition of the word. The owner wasn't in when we arrived so we were invited to explore and there were so many carpets rolled folded and stacked floor to ceiling in the side rooms and then the central room was 3 stories high with carpets hung out of the balconies covering the entirety of the walls in a crazy sort of patchwork blanket. There was one so large I'm sure it could cover my whole apartment and then some! The owner arrived and was suitably gracious with excellent English and a small army of men to send off for carpets and unfurl them onto the floor for viewing. I thought it was great fun! After a little time working what I wanted I decided on a Berber design carpet (as apposed to the Arabic ones - I am now surprisingly well versed in Moroccan carpet designs.) and it is being shipped to me as we speak. I was hoping it would arrive this week as I have been at home however it looks like I will be receiving a  "We missed you" card and will have to pick it up when I bribe someone to drive me to a depot. 

The lily pond in the garden
A quick fresh squeezed orange juice later (4 dirham which is about 27p or you can splash out on a grapefruit and pay 67p) the two of us decided to get in a taxi and go to the Jardin Mejorelle which is the #1 on TripAdvisor I'm told. So not to argue with the great wisdom of TripAdvisor (which by the way is not coming up as an incorrect word and just shows how universal it is if it's accepted by spellcheck!) we walked to the taxi rank. One driver came up to us and said he would take us for 100 driham which was a joke as we expected to pay about 30. Our conversation went - 100, 30, 70, 30, 60, 30, 50, 30 (clearly negotiation was not his skill) and then a different driver came and said he would take us for 30 straight off the bat and poached us. We were dropped off at the side of a very busy road with a vague hand wave that the garden was in that direction which didn't fill me with confidence but then I saw a sign that confirmed that so we paid the man and set off. Conveniently we bumped into a few others from our group just getting out of a horse and carriage (fancy) so we all stood in the queue (yes queue for a garden?!). Inside it was lovely, apparently Yves Saint Laurent had part owned the garden so it was suitable stylish and had a little exhibit of his posters. It also had a Berber culture museum although having spoken to those who paid the extra to see it; we knew it all already thanks to our excellent guide! 

We went back to the hotel and I intended to have a swim. Having got up to my knees and realised it was even colder than the first one, I decided against it and went back to my room to have a bath. Having read about 50 work emails (I'm going to guess that took at least half an hour) my bath was only 5 inches deep and that's with me in it. So I had failed again. I gave up and had a shower instead! We went to dinner somewhere fancy! There was booze and everything! I had a great steak, a half bottle of wine, and a yummy chocolate thing. Om nom nom. We managed to thoroughly embarrass our guide when we said thank you - I didn't know the Moroccan complexion could blush so much!

Back to the hotel for bed and an early start as the transport to the airport was booked for 7.40.

Saturday 10th October - Marrakesh to Casablanca to UK
Some of Yves Saint Laurent's original posters
I'll keep this one short because it's entirely anticlimactic after Friday. We were picked up in a taxi and the girl who has only just been on time for every pick up, was only just one time as per the norm. However I got thinking about this and realised I used to be the girl that was only just on time for everything and therefore the fact that someone else was meant that I must not be any more! When did I become punctual and vaguely organised?! I might have done some growing up and that scares me a little to be honest! 

Some of the brightly coloured pots in the garden
One delayed flight and queuing for check in, security, passport control, the gate, and the bus, (Heathrow all is forgiven) we had no time to do anything other than board which was irritating given that we arrived 2 hours early and our flight was delayed by 30 mins! We said goodbye to a girl on her way to Canada and picked up 3 more at Casablanca who had got an earlier flight there. Another relatively short flight with slightly better food but pervier male flight attendants later we were back in England's green and pleasant land and a mere 12 hours after I started traveling I was back with my parents at their place for the night. Sausage casserole and wine later (yay not tagine or cous cous) I was asleep.

All in all an excellent whirlwind tour of Morocco! Having crammed cities, country, mountains and desert into just 6 days is remarkable. While not exactly relaxing it has been great to see another country and get to know the culture as much as possible.

I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings on my ramblings :) I wonder where I'll end up next?!

My trip (the * is the finish)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Morocco: Chapter 3 - Mountains, Mules, and Musicians

Wednesday - Ait Benhaddou to the Atlas Mountains

The view that came with breakfast
So not feeling great after my night of very little sleep I went down to breakfast and while food didn't make me feel better, the view was amazing! The balcony overlooked one of the oldest settlements and it really was beautiful. 

We went across to explore it and had to cross a river using sandbags which was a little difficult given how wobbly and lightheaded I was feeling but it seemed to make me less anxious and I made it to the other side fine. We wandered round the snaking little alleys and climbed the winding staircases. While exploring there are mainly guesthouses with the original families having moved nearby into newer buildings. There were also a lot of artists selling paintings and drawings to passers by. One of the things that seemed popular was taking a seemingly plain painting and putting it over a flame which made another set of designs appear. They explained it was a mix of tea and sugar so that when it dried it was invisible but you could burn the sugar to leave the dark brown marks. It was a way to send secret messages which was cool. 
Walking through the crops

Halfway up climbing to the top I didn't feel so great so I sat down in the shade with a generously provided carb gel and waited for the others to come back down from the peak. However I think sitting in the shade and people watching was probably much more interesting than the view from the top. So many groups went past and you can almost instinctively tell where someone is from just by their dress and gait. There were Americans, French, German, and other English groups having tours at the same time and I heard the locals pick up on the nationalities too and flawlessly switch between languages to try to make sales. It's interesting how a job as seemingly basic as selling drawings to tourists can demand so many skills. It made me wonder why they would chose to do this if they are clearly capable of much more given by their language skills alone? My musings were interrupted when my group returned (thankfully) and we went back on the bus. 

My noble steed
We seemed to drive for ages along twisty mountain roads which was not helping my blood pressure so I had a sleep and when I woke up we were at the side of the road seemingly nowhere with 3 mules. Stay with me, this wasn't a dream. We all got out and our daypacks were loaded onto the mules and then we set off walking. If I was well I think this walk would have been really nice! We did a bit through the rocky area and then continued through the fruit tree groves. I did start to find it difficult after a while especially since a lot of others were stopping to take photos and then storming ahead. I don't like stopping and starting so I picked a couple of songs to sing in my head and kept a steady rhythm of plodding on. After about an hour maybe more we stopped and everyone asked how I was - I guess I looked rough. Therefore I was plonked on a mule and we carried on. I think the mule owner thought it was funny that I was riding while some of the ladies more advanced in age continued to walk. I did feel bad about that too but a little while later a taxi went past and they got into the taxi which made me feel better. I decided to stay on the mule rather than get into the taxi as I was enjoying the fresh air and the view. Walking past a guy with a lot of apples, one of our group bought one but I guess she overpaid as the guy then gave apples to all of us walking by. I was rather happy by this point with the view and my mule and now even an apple! It's the simple things in life.

The view from the balcony
Arriving at where we were staying was great and lunch was not tagine! I've never seen people more excited about pasta and tinned mackerel but I was glad for pasta and tinned mackerel too. Then most of our group went off to a Hammam which is a public steam room where you go to get scrubbed and all squeaky clean. I thought steam and my head wouldn't mix well so I stayed behind. I lay down for a 20 min nap and woke up an hour later but the others still weren't back. I had a shower and sat on the balcony with a couple of other girls who stayed behind. We drank tea and discussed life and watched the sun sink in the sky. 

3 hours later the others returned having had what they described as a "group bonding experience" as apparently bikini tops were not advised and therefore our group with an age range of over 40 years had got to know each other quite well! Feeling smug that I was one of the few who's boobs hadn't been seen by near a dozen people that day I had another nap and woke up in time for cous-cous and tagine then back to bed.

Thursday - Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh
Walking down the mountains
I woke up feeling much stronger and managed an ok amount of food at breakfast. The walk back down the mountain was really nice! Being mostly downhill it was easier though harder on the knees and I was able to appreciate the scenery much more than on our way up. The bus driver was waiting for us back at the random side of the road and drove us only a little way till we arrived at the Berber King's Palace. The tour guide was hilarious and took us round many ornately decorated rooms. Apparently the King had 4 wives and 75 concubines! 

More twisty roads followed and I think our bus driver must have been a rally car driver at some point because he seemed to know every curve and made the bus stick to them exactly! We had lunch at probably the only building for miles around as was everyone else on the road it seemed. It was such an unusual mix of tourists and locals all in one place because there wasn't anywhere else! I slept for the last 2 hours of driving, there's just something about car travel that makes me sleepy! Although thinking about it maybe it isn't just cars that make me sleepy as I have fallen asleep on boats and planes and all sorts of different types of transport! I'm pretty sure I nodded off briefly a couple of times on the mule too, maybe not on the camel though. 

The view from the newest King's palace on the older palace (left) and the oldest palace (middle)
We arrived in Marrakesh and it was very obvious we were now in a city. There were cars and scooters all over the roads as lanes and lights seemed like suggestions rather than rules. A quick shower later and we went out to see the big markets. We took the bus there and I don't mean our bus, I mean a real bus bus. The locals looked rather confused when 14 tourists got on and started being very loud. Nevermind. We got to the grand souk and there were hundreds of little market stalls, musicians, dancers, and even snake charmers! The snakes were a little creepy because they're just sitting on the floor chilling out. Their owners will pick them up and try to put them round your neck and charge you for a photograph, I decided I didn't need a snake round my neck. we did however stop and watch some of the musicians who very dramatically acted out a family argument to great amusement of the crowd, I guess it's funny in most cultures to watch a tiny old woman terrorise her sons.

We had dinner at one of the stalls that our guide said was good to eat at so all of us squished into a tiny stall's seats. While we were there another guide and his group appeared to eat there but he only had 6 people and so our guide sat at the head of his 14 strong group looking very popular in comparison! Afterwards we split into two groups as some wanted to walk back and some took the bus. As one of the walkers we set off past the mosque tower which is one of the tallest in the world and given how old it is, it's pretty impressive building! A pleasant walk back and I was tucked up in bed both excited and sad for tomorrow would be our last day in Morocco. 

I'll tell you all about it soon.


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Morocco: Chapter 2 - The Sahara

Monday - Zagora to the Sahara
9 hours of sleep passed very quickly with only a brief interruption from the 5.30 call to prayer. I had forgotten nearly everything that our guide had told us about today, all I remembered was camels but I was prepared to just go with the flow and see what happened!

Off we went into the dunes!
We got back on the bus and drove for a little while till we arrived at another settlement, maybe a little larger than the last but still made from the traditional materials. This is a village that is known for its ceramics so we were taken on a tour by a very colourfully dressed guide. He showed us how the clay is made and shaped and then fired with all the different colours to make the different glazes. They use indigo to make blue, mint for green, henna gives red, and finally saffron, egg yolk and pomegranate seeds make yellow! It was all very interesting. Of course we were taken to the shop and invited to browse and itially I thought I would pick up something small and useful like a key bowl but that soon went out the window when I spotted some adorable little tea pots so now I have one of those instead. I'm pretty sure you cant use it as a teapot either but its adorable none the less.

All the colours!
We were also shown the mausoleum of... urm, someone important I guess, and you could knock on the door and make a wish. Apparently this guy was very smart and had collected a great many books so we went to see his book collection too. This was sadly all behind glass so there wasn't that excellent old book smell when you walked in. However on seeing what type of books they were I can understand why they need protecting. So many of them were very old and covered the beginnings of human understanding of maths, biology, astronomy, medicine, and many other topics. There was even a copy of the Quran that was over 1000 years old and written on gazelle skin!

Moving on we arrived for lunch in a hotel that we were strangely never going to stay in! This was one of the last buildings before the edge of the Sahara! More tagine and cous-cous and then we waited for the heat of the day to die down so that we could ride our camels (!) out to the Bedouin camp in the desert where we would be spending the night. The heat however had no intention of going anywhere and hung in the air stubbornly. Eventually we were called out to meet our camels. They're much bigger than I had thought! And much lumpier in gait too. Whoever looked at a camel and thought 'That looks comfy to ride long distances' was wrong, though I suppose its preferable to walking yourself. The trick is to sit further back in the saddle behind the hump with your legs bent. However they don't have stirups so your legs hang under their own weight which makes them sore after a while. We rode out in caravans of 4 and the views were amazing and well worth the lumpy bumpy ride!

Timbuktu 52 days by camel across the desert.... no thanks!
We arrived at our camp and was pleasantly surprised to find it had little huts, loos, and even a little running water! In the desert for goodness sake. We climbed a sand dune to watch the sunset into the dunes and it suddenly hit me; 4 days ago I was running round like a mad thing at work and here I was on a sand dune in the bloody Sahara desert having ridden a camel to get there! Madness.

Dinner of more tagine (shocker) and then the party started where the tribesmen and our group playing the drums and singing and dancing round the fire. This was all framed by the epicness of the stars as, with no light pollution, the milky way was in full view as it boldly blazed across the sky. We pulled the beds out from the little huts and slept on the sand under the stars and I wished I wasn't so tired so I could stay up later to watch them and take them all in. I did see a few shooting stars before I nodded off though which was a great treat.
Dancing into the night

Tuesday - Sahara to Ait Benhaddou
Woke up just before dawn so scurried up a dune to watch the sun rise. Again just as awesome as sunset though less sweaty and more sleepy. Everything was so still and quiet including ourselves as no one seemed willing to break the tranquility.

I'd had a near completely undisturbed night apart from needing to pee at one point and being glad that I had remembered 'Turn left at Sue to get to the loo' as I didn't want to wake anyone with a torch. Thankfully the oil lamps at the loos were still burning so I didn't need a light at all!

Back to the camels for the morning ride out of the desert and it was interesting to see where people hurt! Almost everyone's inner thighs hurt but some had lower back aches and even sore shoulders! I'm guessing that since I used to ride anyway I was spared from the sore back and shoulders that come from resisting an animals movement rather than rolling with it. I seemed to get either a comfier camel or I had desensitised to it this time as I had a significantly more pleasant ride. We arrived at another hotel we weren't staying at (a bit of a theme now) and didn't even have lunch this time however our guide had negotiated that we could use the showers so in rotations of 4 we all washed as much sand as possible out of as many places as possible! Then we started on a long day of driving stopping for lunch and snacks along the way.

When we arrived at our hotel (one we were actually using as a hotel not a restaurant or shower) I wasn't feeling well so I skipped most of dinner and spend a restless night getting very little sleep with my dreams making very little sense but leaving me confused and disorientated.

Again this feels like enough for one post.


Monday, 12 October 2015

Morocco: Chapter 1 - Kasbahs and Kittens

I've been off on holiday! Those that have read my last post will know that I probably could have done with a holiday slightly sooner than this but better late than never in this case.

Saturday: London - Casablanca - Ouarazate
Well actually no I guess I should explain how I came to be in Morocco to begin with didn't I? So through a slightly unusual method (well, it is me) I stumbled across Exodus a company that specialise in adventure holidays. I had started with the Lonely Planet for holiday ideas as the general repository of all travel knowledge. From some of the tours recommended on there I jumped to external sites and when I followed some on twitter, more 'suggested' companies popped up: this is how I found them. Twitter is rapidly becoming one of my more useful apps! I wonder why I resisted it for so long; it's so much more than people giving updates about their boring lives and is a real work tool and business accessing network. Given how short notice I wanted to go away I put my preferred dates and budget in and saw what popped up. From the selection I picked Morocco! It's somewhere I've never been before and heard mixed things about so I was keen to go and make my mind up about it myself. So a phone call and a couple of emails later I was all booked onto the trip and with only a few days to go before, I set about making sure I had everything I needed.
Agrabah inspired thoughts
In the queue to board at Heathrow I was approached by a couple of women who asked if I was on a holiday tour - I guess the walking boots and day sack hand luggage gave me away - and through overhearing this conversation two more ladies introduced themselves. Comforted by the fact there were other people on the tour here and I was actually in the right place at the right time; the flight was rather non-eventful. At Casablanca (who knew that was in Morocco!) for our transfer we met two more individual travelers so now we were 7 travelers. We made an odd group ranging from age 22 to 68 but that didn't stop us nattering away. It was great that conversation wasn't forced and it quickly squashed the last of my anxiety about traveling by myself.

We were picked up in Ouarzazate by a very smiley tour guide but given that it was gone midnight by this point, I wasn't really in the mood to be smiled at. In bed by 2 to be awake by 7. About half of the amount of sleep I needed and hardly the most relaxing start to a holiday but needs must.

Sunday: Ouarazate - Zagora
Breakfast was accompanied by a troupe of kittens playing at our ankles - a reoccurring theme given the cats ambling through the departure lounge at Casablanca - and through an interesting surprise we discovered tea did not mean tea but meant a heavily sweetened mint hot drink that wasn't dissimilar from drinking the aqueous equivalent of spearmint gum. The 14 of us all got into a mini bus and set off for the day. It might be worth going through who else was on the trip; there were 4 solo travelers, four pairs of friends, and one couple; two from Singapore, two from Canada, one from Germany, and 9 from England; 13 women and one guy!

This is an Arabic arch as it has a point
We drove to the middle of nowhere seemingly and there was this little settlement of buildings with walls made of straw and mud painted in a dusty salmon pink. We were taken up to the roof for lunch. In the guide it was reported that for the time of year it should be around mid 20s in temperature however we arrived in a heat wave and spend the trip with temperatures in the high 30s in the heat of the day! Therefore lunch was warm and I was glad for the canopy. Looking out onto the view it seemed absurd. This settlement was the only thing around for miles and seemed to have no infrastructure or connection to the outside world apart from the dirt track that we drove in on. We had out first real Moroccan meal. I had beef tagine with vegetables which was very tasty! It was so much more food than I could eat though. After lunch we were taken on a tour of the Kasbah and learned all about how they work, the politics, the houses, the families, even about the types of arches and what they all mean. It was explained to us that in this village there would me a great different type of people with a mix of Arabs, Berbers, Jews, Christians, and Moors and each of these groups comes with their own symbols and type of arch. It really is a completely different culture with much more symbolism that seems to be lost in our utilitarian practical approach. It was nice to be inside the buildings where it was cooler too as the sun was at full heat by this time. We were each given a loop of hand spun and naturally dyed wool that they were weaving into carpets. I still have it round my ankle now as it stretched to be too large for my wrist.

On to the hotel afterwards and it was very nice. I went for a swim but upon putting my ankle into the water I realised it was quite cold! It took me about 10 minutes to get myself fully in the water much to the amusement of the German girl I had come to the pool with. Just after I was in the Canadian girls arrived and again put me to shame by jumping straight in. But they're used to the cold right? It was nice to have a stretch and do some exercise having been traveling for so long and the cool water meant you didn't boil in the heat while doing it.
The view from the roof of the Kasbah with the palmery surrounding it and the volcanic mountains protruding

Later that night a few of us went into the town for a coffee. Arabic culture being mainly Muslim doesn't have a lot of bars therefore coffee shops rule supreme and are open late into the night as there is still a demand and clients aren't getting drunk and rowdy like in bars! Seems like a win win situation however I wonder how everyone sleeps if you spend a Friday night drinking coffee not vodka! I had a nos-nos which means half and half so it's near a cappuccino. I was delighted to find the coffee was delicious as I was definitely needing some caffeine by then! It also struck me how similar it was to Manchester's curry mile. All the people out together eating and drinking coffee on tables on the street. It never occurred to me that the Arabic district in Manchester would be so close to the originals! Only warmer which makes it much more pleasant.

That feels like enough to have written for one post. Keep watching for the rest of my trip!


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Imagine you had to do everything 2 hours earlier than normal

Actually me in my sleep lab pretending to be a patient for a photo shoot!
So your alarm went off at 4.30 in the morning and you snooze it for 30 minutes in disbelief because it feels so damn early. By 5 you’re awake but not up, every muscle in your body screams to stay in bed and your eyes refuse to open for more than a few seconds before collapsing under their own weight. Somehow you drag yourself to the shower and by 5.30 you’re standing wrapped in a towel looking longingly at your bed and wondering if you just got back under the covers if today would go away. But you know it won’t.

Clothes now; which ones? You’re not awake enough to make proper decisions about how you want to look today. Do you have meetings? Yes. Do you need a blazer? Probably. Do you have anything other than a pink cardigan clean given that you’re in a green dress?  No. Do you care that you’re in a green dress with a pink cardigan? Urm… damn it, yes. 

By 6.30 you’re dry and dressed. But still not awake. You go to leave for the bus but realise you haven’t fed the cat (who is infuriatingly still asleep on your bed) while feeding the cat you find your glasses that you lost a few days ago on the top of the fridge and check your watch for the time to realise you have no idea where your watch is. You go to find shoes but your legs have swollen from standing and now your boots don’t zip up. You spend a couple of minutes looking for your comfy yellow shoes and remember they’re under your desk at work. You find different shoes and wince as the hole you rubbed into the ball of your foot yesterday catches on the edge. You can’t do the buckles up.  Your hair gets in the way when you look down to concentrate blocking your view. Right, put everything down, ouch you caught your hair in your handbag strap, sit down, and buckle your shoes, then get up, and pick everything up again. Ouch you caught your hair in your handbag strap again. So not awake. So stressed. So much has gone wrong. So not going to cry, keep it together. 

Now it’s 6.40 ish (remember – no watch) and you’re at the bus stop. ‘Why are you at the bus stop this early?!’ screams your brain and you shiver as you took off the pink cardigan and your metabolism hasn’t woken up yet and is refusing to keep you warm mainly because you haven’t eaten yet but that’s because your stomach thinks food sounds disgusting and is making you feel sick in protest of the early start. You’re late for the bus which should have come at 6.34 but you’re hoping it’s late. Damn being sleepy, if you’d only gotten up a couple of minutes earlier, or was on the ball quicker, then you might have made it to the bus on time to be at work for 7. 

A bus appears at around 6.53 and you’re at your desk by 7.30 (having picked up a bacon roll on the way as your stomach might just be tempted into life with bacon). You’re an hour later than your goal. Damn. Waking up earlier seems impossible as does being more awake and quicker in the morning. You try to inventively curse all mornings and morning people but your vocabulary hasn’t woken up either and all you can manage is something a 14 year old would call poor at best.  Defeated you go in search of coffee.

You now work your way through the day, perking up around 9ish. You pack up around 4 having been sluggish in the morning, and get home for 5. You’re exhausted having been awake so early and every muscle wants to go back to sleep. You know you shouldn’t though as you need a proper sleep tonight. You power through doing things that require little energy like ordering food. By 6 exhaustion beats you and you collapse into bed in whatever you happened to be wearing at the time. You know you haven’t done the washing up, or the hovering, or been to your gym class, or put laundry on so you don’t have to wear pink cardigans with green dresses, or organised for your faulty suitcase to be picked up, or argued with the electricity company about who supplies your flat, or fed the cat again – but you just don’t care. 

At 10.00 you wake up. You’re really awake. Damn, you knew going to sleep early would disrupt your sleep cycle. Your stomach reminds you that you didn’t eat dinner; the cat reminds you she hasn’t had dinner either. In the dark, so as not to wake up any more, you shuffle into the kitchen, put some toast on and feed the cat. 2 slices of jam on toast later you shuffle back to bed and try to get back to sleep. You’ll wake up with enough time to have a proper meal in the morning.

10.30 Still not asleep.

11.00 You could get up and do the chores? That would wake you up though wouldn’t it?

11.30 Why can’t you sleep? You have to be up in 5 hours.

12.00 4 and a half hours.

4.30 Your alarm goes off and you repeat the whole damn thing again. You are too tired to get up early enough to eat a proper breakfast, or any breakfast really, you skip the shower in preference of dry shampoo, it’s not like you went to the gym and got sweaty anyway. You’re late for the bus again, having had a rotten night’s sleep again, you panic again…..

This has been my life for the past 2 weeks. Only let me mention one thing: all the times are 2 hours earlier than they should be. I have written what my day feels like not what it is. It’s called phase shifting and it means that my internal body clock is wrong basically. So I don’t get up at 5am, its 7am but it feels like 5. I don’t have random insomnia between 10.00 and 12.00, its 12.00 and 2.00. Do you see? Now re-read that day and it suddenly seems very odd doesn’t it? 

Having worked in chronobiology I am aware of all the normal reasons that sleep can be disturbed; I’m avoiding light when I should, I’m getting light when I should, I’m avoiding caffeine when I should (half-life of 6 hours so that double espresso you had at 9am is the same as having a single espresso at 3pm… or half an espresso at 9pm) I’m avoiding cognitive stimulation at night, I’m using mind settling techniques, all of it! I have considered the shift between summer and autumn meaning there’s less light exposure in general however Manchester has seen very little of ‘summer’ this year so I doubt it could be that. If anything I am more exposed to natural light at the moment having done several client visits recently. So there’s no apparent external stimulus that could be causing it. 

So looking internally the other thing I could potentially attribute it to; is stress although I don’t consider my job stressful. It could potentially be lack of a holiday for the last couple of months so I have booked myself some time off with a mix of down time at home to relax and time away for a change of scenery. 

However that doesn’t help me in the short term as I am essentially loosing 2 hours of every day: I lose 2 hours of sleep in the mornings when my body thinks it’s too early to get up but I drag it out of bed anyway, and I lose 2 hours of productive time in the evenings because my body just wants to go to sleep as soon as I turn the key in my front door! I do of course get that time back in a terribly convenient block of insomnia between midnight at 2am which is no use to anybody so I count it as time lost. 

It also means that I’m constantly running at higher sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is basically tiredness, so the more you’re awake the more tired you get. So, when you sleep, this pressure drops, quickly at first but lower as you become less sleepy. See the green line? This person is awake from 7am to 10pm so their sleep pressure rises, then they sleep till 7am and it goes back down. It does this regularly and evenly each day. Now look at the purple line. That’s me. So I start the day feeling like it’s earlier, so I have higher sleep pressure, so I have a nap at 6pm because I am really sleepy, then I wake up at midnight, back to sleep at 2 but I’m not back to meet the green line by morning. Now I’m starting day 2 on even higher sleep pressure to begin with, I repeat the day and now I’m even further away from where ‘normal’ is. See how easy it is to be completely different from normal in just a couple of days?

I am hoping that soon I will just totally exhaust myself and I won’t wake up at midnight and then I might have a shot of getting back to somewhere that doesn’t feel like trying to watch all of lord of the rings in one sitting! Well I have a holiday booked in a couple of weeks’ time so that should do it if it doesn’t correct itself in time.

Chronobiology is interesting but damn annoying at the moment!


Monday, 14 September 2015

Productively Pissed?

This summer I have been lucky enough to get invited to three weddings. All of them gorgeous and beautiful celebrations of commitments but interestingly all in very unique ways. I could probably spend a whole post talking about them and waxing lyrical about what its like to go to a wedding as a single woman in her 20s with the juxtoposition of being thrilled for the happy couple and simultaneously feeling a little lacking and how that was warped as being in love is a rareity not a right and in no way am I incomplete for being single blah blah blah.

Anyway at the first wedding I got horrifically drunk at. I don't even realise how... well I do now but at the time I didn't feel that far gone. All sensibleness went out the window and ludicrous Deb took over. Though I am informed by my most excellent room-mate/faux lesbian partner/good Samaritan who got me home for that night that I am just an exceedingly happy drunk rather than offensive, unpleasant or chundery.

At the second wedding I was a little scared from the first one and therefore only had two drinks.

Therefore Goldilocks went to the third wedding and drank just right. Which brings me to my point: tipsy Deb gets stuff done! I caught up with at least half a dozen friends, which isn't easy to do! I mean proper catch up too where you end up talking about not just what is happening right now in their lives but their hopes and dreams too. Also I now have another half dozen people on facebook from making friends with them that night too and I don't add people on facebook unless I would genuinely count them as people I would enjoy spending more time with. So I got to know them enough to feel comfortable. On-top of this prolific networking I agreed to....

a 5km run,

teach a pilates class,

visit Scotland,

go to a handful of church events,

and hire someone!

Madness productivity!
Come to think of it I think I have previously noted how effective I can be with a bit of booze in me when explaining how I came to book myself onto an ice skating course despite being extremely anxious about ice! You can read about that here.

I wonder how much else I could get done? Could I start integrating this into my chores to make them easier? Gin to take out the bin? Rum to go for a run? A glass of cabernet to put my clothes away? Ha ha ha. I made myself laugh. But there does seem to be something holding me back from being productive that alcohol seems to remove (when consumed in moderation). Maybe I should test this theory and report back if its effective... probably isn't healthy either way though.


Tuesday, 25 August 2015


Menisculis a nightwaif
So this is something that has come up in my life twice in the last week and it’s bothering me. Both cases are people treating me as an idea not as a person. As if I were some ethereal concept personified through an allegoric quirk of nature. 

The first person said to me “you look frightfully perfect and in control” which is the most sterile thing to say. I don’t consider myself to be those things in the slightest and I am sad that she sees me that way because it means she doesn’t know me at all. It’s our imperfections that make us and how we deal with chaos that shows how we really are. I’ve known her for nearly 2 years now and speak regularly about all aspects of each other’s’ lives and apparently we don’t know each other at all. Either I haven’t communicated properly to her or she hasn’t listened properly to me. Potentially it’s both?

The second person I can’t pick a direct quote because it’s not that sort of thing but he also sees me as something I’m not. I think this version of Deb is more dangerous as it has impossibly high expectations which don't align with who I am. He has this mental picture of how his life should be with his house and his wife (who is only ever described as beautiful and nothing else) and kids and dogs I get the impression that he thinks I would be the missing piece of his puzzle and then the rest would perfectly fall into place. John Green put it brilliantly in his recent blog post: But Did You Read the Book? talking about his book and its film adaption Paper Towns. He said: "there’s a line in the beginning of the novel: “Everyone gets a miracle.” The male narrator of the story believes his miracle is Margo Roth Spiegelman,[....] Later in the book, the boy realizes that Margo is not a miracle, that she is just a person, and that his imagining her as a miracle has been terribly hurtful to them both. [.....] we must see people as people, that we must learn to imagine them complexly instead of idealizing them, that the romantic male gaze is limiting and destructive to women. That’s the whole point of the story to me." 

Well I’m not perfect or in control, and I’m certainly not a miracle. I would unrestrict John’s statement that it isn’t just the romantic male gaze that is limiting and destructive to relationships, but it is symbolically conceptualising people and not seeing them as people regardless of gender or the element of romance. However, it seems difficult to show someone who you are, as it gets filtered and distorted in delivery, then it’s difficult for them to see who you are, as they distort their interpretation of you into what they want to see. So by extension it’s virtually impossible to understand how someone else sees you as it has then gone through three distortions; since you distort their distortions on your original distorted projection. Still with me? Withstanding that grammatical nightmare; isn’t that sad? Does no one see who we really are? Is that why it’s so rare for people to say – they get me – because so few people actually do? Am I (are we all) doomed to be a waif of misconception detached from the human spectrum and forced into a claustrophobic notion? To be eternally a concept and not a person sounds like a perfectly dreadful way to be.