March – opposites attract

At the beginning of the month I spent an evening at a sort of farewell gathering with my friend and her family, before bidding her goodbye as she travelled halfway across the world to a place called Azad Kashmir. She is of Pakistani origin and her family is large, with more cousins and aunts and uncles than one can easily fathom, but their family unit is something special. Sitting around the dinner table laden with colourful dishes, each emitting aromas which simultaneously made my stomach grumble and my eyes water, the feeling of hungry anticipation was unanimous. As her honorary guest I was offered the first portion, which would have been fine had I known what to choose. Being very much of Celtic origin, all I could request was ‘the least spicy, please,’ as I was handed a dish of something unknown. Of course it was delicious, though the side-gallon of water was definitely necessary. My friend took great care that I was only given food my taste buds could handle, for which I was eternally grateful.

As I walked home later that evening, I felt a cosy warmth inside that had nothing to do with the vast amount of spicy food I had consumed. The whole evening had been so positive and friendly, but most of all, in a bizarre parallel-universe sort of way, familiar. A feeling of happy realisation came over me as I suddenly understood that her family was the same as mine, right down to the package of leftovers I carried home for later. I thought about everything, from the amount of people wandering in and out of her house during the evening, to the myriad cousins, uncles, aunts and family friends, to the meal itself with more food than anyone could really eat, to the cultural bond which tied everyone together. Despite the supposed opposite exteriors, the parallels between our families were uncanny.

Living in England, I only really see my immediate family, which isn’t quite the same as being among what seems like hundreds of people milling about and turning up at your house just for the craic. A short hop over the Irish Sea however, and you’ll find a totally different story. The majority of my family are Irish, which, for any Irish readers out there, probably means there’s no need to continue. For everyone else though, I’ll explain. Being the daughter of a parent with nine siblings whose ages span over a couple of decades, I have over fifty cousins, including various recent offspring from the older ones. The latter may not strictly be classed as cousins, but to avoid complex family trees we tend to just label them as such. Needless to say, family gatherings are large. And fun – really fun – but mostly large. There’s always tons of food, heaps of leftovers, and that buzz which only comes from being part of a big family unit. If nothing else, the Irish culture never fails to promote inclusion, friendship, and full stomachs.

Minus the spices, and it becomes extremely difficult to differentiate between my family and that of my friend.

I’ve travelled to Ireland almost every year of my life so far, and every time I’m greeted by that same good humour and acceptance. Living in the next door country the majority of the time, I sometimes forget that familial buzz, but spending just one evening with my friend and her family revived that feeling tenfold.

This month has been very much one of restlessness and yearning to get out and explore more, but that evening brought with it another dimension to my perspective of the world. No matter how different the exterior – cultural, physical, environmental, etc. – more often than not, our roots remain the same.

Lemon cake, tea and samosas – a perfect multicultural mix!

 

If you read this Asra, thanks for reminding me of that all too important family spirit, and even more so for the samosas!

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February – and breathe…

So that’s a wrap on February. Bring on spring and, failing that, bring on pancakes! Or so my thoughts were at the beginning of this month, which seemed to flash by in a momentary blur of icy hailstones, brute-force winds, and a variety of Siberian and European storms. Beginning with a figurative storm and ending with a literal one, it was one hell of a whirlwind month. If January crawled, February took it upon itself to do a full on sprint to make up for lost time. Now suddenly March is upon us, and I find myself reflecting over the craziness of the past four weeks.

The weather alone essentially turned every walking or driving experience into something which closely resembled one of Hercules’s twelve labours.

Cue picture of me battling the elements as I trekked out for a walk at work:

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I defy any weather to stop me from my walks.

It was survival of the fittest and absolutely no joke.

Kudos to my tiny little car though, which proved quite the trooper through the so-called ‘beast from the east’. Sure, I had to dig her out of my driveway every morning, scrape several inches of snow from the roof, and not forget to evaporate the icicles which merrily decorated the whole lower edge right down to the license plate, but hey, I’ll be damned if she didn’t trundle through the sleet and wind as steadily as if it had been the middle of summer.

First proper winter driving experience – check.

Here’s a few pictures of slightly calmer times, between the snowstorms and bracing winds of the last month:

 

In retrospect, the weather was really a conveniently giant metaphor for the frustrating time I’ve had in other aspects of my life during this month. Everything from work stress to social stress proved a strain, until all I wanted to do was run to the other side of the world and breathe. Let’s just say it was trying, but the most important part there is the ‘was’. I think I’m through it now – walking 10 miles over last weekend helped let off some steam – and things are definitely more chilled now (pun unintended). Or maybe I’m just a bit less grumpy. We all go through fazes, I guess.

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I forgot to take any photographs of the amazing scenery during my 10 miles of walking, so here’s Jet afterwards, showing me how much he can’t even.

However, through all the wind and rain and general ‘Yorkshire tropics’* there was some good news. My daffodils, which I painstakingly planted over several frosty November weekends at the end of last year, have begun to sprout. Everywhere. Literally, they’re popping up all over the garden with no apparent intention of stopping anytime soon. Forty bulbs – that’s how many there were. It was forty for £3 or eighty for £5, and no way was I planting eighty bulbs. “It’s a good deal though,” my work colleagues said when I lugged the initial bag of bulbs into the office after the spontaneous lunchtime purchase. “It is,” I agreed, “If you want nothing but daffodils ever again.” I love daffodils, more so because my favourite colour is yellow, but one can only take so much of a good thing. I struggled to find places for them all around the garden, but finally managed to distribute them in as many corners and plant pots as I could find. Winter gardening is not something I’d recommend – my dog was certainly the most confused at his human’s sudden urge to dig – but it seems to be paying off!

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The long, long planting process.

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The ‘before’ picture, having planted my forty daffodil bulbs. Stand by for ‘after’.

On a totally unrelated and slightly warmer note, I also chose February to do something I have never before shown much interest in: cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I will bake until the cows come home, but cooking has always been a ‘meh’ topic for me. Suffice to say, that faze seems to have dissipated faster than the snow outside, but for all of last month I rather fancied myself Queen of the Kitchen. Here’s a short rundown of what are probably best referred to as ‘experiments’:

American-style blueberry pancakes – light, fluffy, sweet, what more could you want?

 

Apple pie baked apples – tasted good, but definitely didn’t quite look like the picture. More effort than they’re really worth in my opinion. No photos of these (they were eaten too fast), so I’ll insert the link below of the recipe I used.

http://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a55164/apple-pie-baked-apples-recipe/

Risotto stuffed peppers – lots of bitty preparation but well worth the results. Delicious. Again, no pics, but here’s the recipe link:

https://recipes.sainsburys.co.uk/recipes/main-courses/easy-knorr-risotto-stuffed-peppers

Chocolate cuties (yes, that’s their official name) – healthy(ish) bites of adorableness. Satsuma segments dipped in chocolate and cooled in the fridge – these didn’t last long.

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If the same wave of domesticity should hit at some point in the future, I’ll be sure to document the results. Realistically though, there’s a very slim chance!

So that’s February all done and dusted. March has already got off to an interesting start with more new endeavours and a few memories made, so I’m excited to see where the month takes me.

Until next time, have a great month and keep warm wherever you are!

*When the weather changes so frequently that we experience sun, rain, snow, wind, and anything else the Pennines can hurl our way within about a ten minute window.

 

What’s in a Name?

During my time at university, I took a creative writing module which explored a variety of writing styles and techniques, and encouraged us to think more abstractly about our own style. To put this into practice we were set a task, which required us to pair our names with the five main senses and create a ‘description’ of our name.

Although the task was only to describe our own name, I couldn’t resist doing the same for another. Alexis. It was a name given to a character in a novel I began, a name I have always loved, and also the name with which I was almost christened. Sometimes I think I would have preferred to be called Alex, or Alexandra, or Alexis, as the name feels significantly stronger than Sarah. Is that weird to think? Can names be strong, or are they simply what we make them? I feel Sarah is soft, not weak, but not powerful either. Sarah is safe, comfortable, secure, but Alex shouts adventure, courage, strength! I have always loved the etymology of names, and spend hours choosing names for my characters in stories. But this was something new, unexpected, and fresh to muse over, so here are my descriptions, which make my feelings of these two names abundantly clear.

Sarah

My name is the colour of ripe peaches. It smells like fresh country air and feels soft but solid, like a well-plumped cushion. My name tastes sweet, like melting toffee and sounds like water flowing gently down a stream.

Alexis

If my name was Alexis, it would be deep purple with streaks of yellow; strong like the indigo night flashing with light just before the storm breaks. It would smell like deep forests, where the light rarely penetrates. It would feel solid, with no hint of weakness, despite its rounded corners. It tastes like red grapes, solid but sweet once bitten, with a slight tang at the end. It sounds like a firework, first a whispering hiss followed by a great explosion of uniqueness.

So there you have it – fairly obvious which is the ‘stronger’ name. The fact is though, I like both of them, even though I far more fit the description of my actual name. I envy Alexis, I really do, but I also think some softness is required, particularly with the harsh traumas being inflicted on the world at the moment. So I will be content with Sarah, whilst taking my adventuring one step at a time as always. Sarah is good, Sarah is solid, but there’s another thing to remember too.

The middle name, so often secret, hidden away like a constant embarrassment. I’m not embarrassed of my middle name, rather, I think of it as a secret strength to use when times are tough. Una. That’s my name, Sarah Una, which brings yet another element to the softness of Sarah. Una brings strength, but a more magical, fantastical power, I think. Una brings majesty and brightness; a different type of adventure than Alexis, but adventure none the less. Una lifts Sarah, and Sarah keeps Una grounded, together creating a fusion of fantastic soundness.

So what does make up the fabric of a name? I guess only us as individuals will know, as they do become so closely intertwined with our personality. Regardless of that, it’s interesting to think about. Maybe in a few years Sarah won’t mean sanctuary any more, maybe Una will take the helm and steer her across new realms of strength and weakness and open up a whole world of experience. Maybe, or maybe not. Either way, Sarah Una is solid; Sarah Una is an entity in herself, and Sarah Una is determined to explore, achieve and drive herself to write her own outstanding, sparkling story.

Snippet #2: Blank page

I’m staring at this blank page, thinking, hoping, willing something to appear. What do I write? Where do I begin? I have so many thoughts, so many ideas, and yet they refuse to materialise on the page. I could do so much. I could write a masterpiece! This is how every single author started out, so how did they begin?

After several minutes of scrutinising the resolute blank canvas in front of me, I come to this conclusion; in the battle of paper versus mind, paper wins every time.

After several more minutes I realise this; it is not about a battle. Writing is about closing your eyes and letting the words flow through your fingers onto the paper. If they are ready to be released, they will be. Simple as.

So, a paragraph into nothing, where do I start…?

My words are not quite ready, it seems.

 

 

Here’s a link to the idea behind my ‘snippets’: Snippets

Snippets

Here’s the thing, as much as I love to write, write, and write some more, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to bash out all my thoughts and wonders. There are SO MANY things I want to write about, mostly places I’ve travelled to, and of course those little bits of magic in everyday life. But at the moment I’m feeling the pressure, as I really want to keep up with my blog and The Fairytale Traveller persona but, thanks to my new full-time job, simply do not have the mental capacity to open my laptop and write when I return home from work. So I’ve had an idea which will relieve some pressure, and that idea comes in the form of ‘Snippets’.

‘Snippets’ will be exactly that. Snippets of writing, instead of longer stories, poems, and general warblings. Instead of pushing myself to write long pieces every time, ‘Snippets’ will enable me to throw a few thoughts onto (virtual) paper every so often, to maintain my blogging regularity without feeling the necessity to write something more substantial or ‘deep’. Also, in truth, not all of the magical moments I witness are set in epic surroundings – often they are tiny and momentary, but still deserve to be captured.

So I will write to you in snippets, and will title each one ‘Snippet: [title]’, so you know it can be read at a glance. At the moment I’m celebrating a four day weekend thanks to Easter, so I have the luxury of stocking up on longer pieces, ready to release as and when, but I will give you a taster of a snippet; a snippet of a snippet, if you will.

Snippet: When Dogs Fly

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The hurdle jumper that never was.

The day was sunny, my camera was primed. I had taken a number of snaps already, but this one absolutely caught the excitement of the day. The sheer joy and exhilaration on Jet’s face as he flew for a millisecond will always be with me. Even if he does spend the rest of his time curled up on the rug, I’ll remember this perfect moment, and i’m pretty sure he does too as he snuffles away, paws twitching frantically in his sleep.

Can I get a ‘HELL YEAH!’?

Ever had that moment when you’re browsing online, perhaps trolling through social media on your phone, when suddenly something so wonderful appears that it simply cannot be ignored? It leaves your thumb hovering in mid-air like some ungainly fleshy insect that has forgotten how land. It seems to hum, or maybe that’s just your thumb beginning to shake from hanging in mid-air so long. I’m talking about a simple thumbnail image of a place unknown, glowing artificially through the screen, reflecting in your widened eyes like a beacon of starry-eyed possibility. Because the place is beautiful, exciting, entrancing, intriguing, mysterious, unknown…

 

Your senses begin to awaken. The want. The yearning. The wanderlust. You must find this place, this unknown place that has caught your eye, locked your mind, electrified your heart, and hurled your senses into overdrive. You take a hasty screenshot of the place, and flick to your contacts list. You scroll, scroll further. Who will you choose? Who will you take on this adventure? Scrolling, more scrolling. Always broke, always ill, always working.

 I don’t know… How much would it cost? How far away is it? How would we get there? When will we go? 

I don’t know. I literally have no idea. But I don’t care. We’ll make it work. We’ll take the train, the bus, a car, save up money – plan properly. But right now, I don’t care. We’ll make it work. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and all that. Let’s have a picnic in a forest! Let’s sing to the stars! Let’s get lost in a foreign city! Let’s fall in love with people, places, things, moments! Let’s run through the night and breathe, really breathe for once. Let’s just go. This is the time for excitement, anticipation, exploration!

But no. Questions, questions, questions, contaminating the excitement until it crumples into a subdued possibility. One day, we say, when we’re less busy. The image drops into the infinite backlog of photographs. Wishes and memories all bound together to peruse while sitting at home; on the bus; to sneak glances of at work; to sigh over, whilst getting ready for bed.

Memories become wisps, wishes become pangs of regret.

Just one day, I wish that someone would be spontaneous with me. It used to happen, during watery dawns and shivering twilights, star-spangled nights and sunshiney days. Then life caught up, and reality claimed us once more. We were enveloped into the rat-race and set on an ever-circling track. Round and round with no exit, other than throwing ourselves into the abyss.

Except our minds remain our own. Our hearts and hopes beat in a unique drumbeat of curiosity. We know it’s not enough, this endless cycle of grey travel to grey offices with grey people. We know. Deep down, we all know. Yet still nobody will be spontaneous with me. First come work, house, money, time. Then adventure, if we’re lucky.

That’s just not good enough for me. I feel restless, so restless. I need spontaneity sometimes. Not constantly, but sometimes it’s good to rock the boat a little. I don’t want all those exciting images to go to waste, I want to live and breathe them, and inspire others to do the same. Problem is, I don’t want to do it alone. I could go by myself, as so many others do. But I don’t want to, as I thrive so much more in company. Just one person would do; a security, a buffer, a friendly face to share the experience. But no, once more I am forced to add the enticing picture to the hundreds of other backlog images, gathering dust until they themselves turn grey.

What can I do? What can I say? Let’s just go! Let’s just stay…

All I want is one person who, instead of dragging up anxieties, will say ‘Hell yeah! Let’s go!’ It might take days to plan, it might take months, but all I want – all I yearn for – is someone to really feel that adrenaline rush of wanderlust, same as me.

I live in England, let’s face it, in a couple of years travel abroad will be a whole lot more difficult… So why wait, why settle now? Why not take the chance while it’s there? I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so if anyone does crave an adventure like me, please get in touch. Everyone needs an adventure sometimes, whether or not they realise!

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This Blog is Still Finding Itself.

I began this blog with the intention of creating a space for me to record my memories of places travelled, as well as finding the fantastical and magical aspects of seemingly normal, everyday places. The first few blogposts followed that ‘rule’, but since then my writing has taken off in many adverse directions.

I have opened up so much more than I ever imagined I would, just in these first two months. About my writing, myself; things very close to my heart that I barely discuss with my friends, let alone strangers. I guess I loved the idea of having an anonymous presence, where people would only judge the posts as they came and then disappeared into the endless vortex of other blogs. It was to be a completely effervescent lifestyle, where I could live in a single, temporary moment before moving on to something else. That much has remained the same, I still get a wonderful, spontaneous kick of adrenaline writing each post. It’s exciting for a day or so when I see the responses, but then it fades until I begin the next blog, and so on. Apart from that, the rest of the blog seems to have taken on a life of its own – my life – but in a format that only shows the deepest, most heartfelt thoughts, moments, and memories of mine.

I am okay with this, I think, but I will endeavour to continue writing about my travels far and wide too, discovering the magic and majesty wherever I go, and recording those moments in my blog. It may not be implicit where I see the magical elements during my travels but, rest assured, if they have made it to The Fairytale Traveller, there will definitely be some fantastical existence intertwined within the words, no matter how obvious or obscure. I can only hope that you, my fellow writers and readers, will be patient with me, until my words begin to form something greater than themselves, than myself; until the stories flow without restriction, the words dance about the page, and The Fairytale Traveller begins to breathe a life of its own.

Thanks to you all