Saturday, 24 December 2011

I don't like Alpaca

In case you're interested, it's tough and chewy. No fun at all. I wasn't brave enough to try cuy (guinea pig), but though those who were have told me it's disgusting and smells really strong and bad! And yes, guinea pig is quite the trendy thing to eat over this way. It arrives on the table with fried paws, head, teeth and all.
     More on Peru. The ceviche is delicious, as is the pisco sour. Peruvian wine can be really good but is expensive to buy so it's safer to go for the Argy Bargy. 
     We started in Lima, where a clever little duo decided to rob me in the bus station. Oh how they underestimated the Foley! One of the scoundrels knocked on the window when Oscar went to the loo asking for the time. I told him I didn't have it, but he kept knocking on the window and was mumbling away, holding my attention, as I'm sure you're now guessing. I turned around and scoundrel number 2 is walking away with my bag. I screamed 'LADRON! QUE TIENE MI BOLSO!' (THIEF! HE HAS MY BAG!) Anyone who has heard me get a fright or squeal in general can only imagine. I jumped up and ran after him, and everyone else jumped up and ran after him, too (Thank you Limeños). He dashed out the door, throwing a rucksack down on the floor. A man picked up the bag and said 'here's your bag,' but I said, 'that's not my bag. This is my bag.' Scoundrel number 2 had dropped my bag right near where he had picked it up, but I hadn't seen that. Because he was being followed, he dropped his bag too! The thief who lost his bag. Ha.
     Now, don't mistakenly associate Peru with thieves because those scoundrels were the only rotten eggs we've come across so far and we're almost leaving (touch wood - about the scoundrels not leaving). Much more detail on the beautiful Peru next. To wet your senses (don't be naughty), did you know Peru has desert? Good wine? Alpaca and Guinea pig? The deepest canyon in the world and the largest lake at high altitude?     

Grinding my way to 29

Cartagena, the most expensive place in Colombia, is a wonderful bubble of wealth. Undoubtedly beautiful within the stone walls, this is where the cruisers stop to let the tourists have their peek at Colombia. On the other side of the walls is where the real life is. We happened to go to a carnival in that area and celebrated my birthday there! Music pumping and vibrating its way from car boots, flour being thrown into people’s faces, foam being sprayed everywhere, car body paint being rubbed into your skin, and bodies, everywhere, grinding, slowly, in ways I have never seen before. And let me not forget the fireworks being thrown on the ground, burning whoever was near their landing point. Oscar was on one side of the street with people showing him how to dance, and I was on the other side with my own group of teachers. Mine were 13 and 14 years old, and spoke with a wisdom and knowledge that made me feel like the child. They moved my hips, my waist, my legs like I was their doll-that-didn’t-know-how-to-dance. I don’t know if it’s coming across but it was SO much fun. Everyone stopped to talk to us with such an openness and interest. My dance teacher told me that music is the food for the soul, that on a bad day, she walks onto the street, finds her friends, listens to the music, and dances. And she told me never to forget.
     A huge Colombian asked me to dance. Nothing strange about that, you think, but you don’t know how the bodies move here on the coast of Colombia! As we danced, I nervously told him that my boyfriend was “over there”, which, of course, had two knock-on effects: 1. He thought I was crazy and 2. He made best friends with Oscar. Dancing with everyone is the way it is, and I knew that, but my modest European self couldn’t handle it.
     With a hangover we made it to Taganga. (This has mixed reviews in the Lonely Planet so it’s just as well we don’t take much notice of it. I’ve decided some typical Gringo wrote it, who likes to eat burgers and pizza and vegetarian lasagna.) Taganga is a fishing village, where normal life goes on and where tourists come to hang out and live for a while. I can see why people stop here. It has another rhythm, the fishermen fish and come to shore at 6pm where the village congregates to buy fresh fish off the boat. The people are lovely. Our hostel was called Happy Hostel, which says it all. If you go to Taganga, stay there. We met the following characters: 1. An English girl who had been there 3 months and had a puppy and a Tagangan  fiancé. 2. An Irish guy with springy curly hair and a mad laugh, who had been there for a month and was, let’s say, taking it easy. 3. A Colombian 37 year old who had been travelling for 13 years around Colombia, and next year is starting with the rest of South America. We spent our days on a tiny cove with a beautiful view called “Big Beach”, eating the regional fish called cojinoa. Yum. No pups or engagement for us.
      We left our rucksacks in Happy and headed to Tayrona National Park, only with Danielle’s small rucksack (thanks Danielle). Let’s say we were travelling very light, and very dirty, for 5 days. We got to the park and walked to a beach called Arrecifes. Here is when it became official that Colombian timing is about a third of (my) reality. Either they make huge estimates or they run everywhere. Going by what I’ve seen, I’d say it’s the former. We stayed at Don Pedro’s campsite. Mr Pedro is 78 years old and only leaves the park when he has to, about once a year. The next day we went to the beach.
     Tayrona National Park is famous for “The Lost City” ruins left by its indigenous people. What isn’t so well known is that these indigenous peoples’ descendents are still alive (Kogi people), and they lived in the park until they were made to leave to make room for tourism. The park is owned and run by a French company. If I had known this I wouldn't have paid the expensive fee to get in. One thing I will say is that we went to Pueblito, a smaller version of The Lost City, and it was the physically hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the most amazing.
     Palomino is a small village nearby, where you see the Kogi's throughout the day, walking around in complete families (they always go everywhere together). It had a mystic, magical feel and there we slept in hammocks on the beach and woke up to the crash of the waves (but couldn't go in because the crash was too strong!). From there we went to Uribia, which is right up near Venezuela, and it feels like you've left Colombia. Here, goats are still used in trade, marriage and disagreements. Uribia is a small, crazy town where I was scared to cross the road, where lame dogs are hopping everywhere and where taxis are beeping their way through to show that they're available. It was an amazing place to see, and the food was not good. We got a shared jeep to Cabo de la Vela, one of the most amazing beaches I've seen, where you can walk 300 metres into the sea and it's still up to your tummy: perfect for me and the abuelos! It was amazing, and very quiet, the only bad thing was that money was taken from our wallet in our room, probably from the family (I think it was the son) which is a shame. It was also the only money we had left so we couldn't eat for a day and a half in order to pay for the transport on the way back (no cash machines here...)
     We travelled south, stopping in San Gil on the way, popping into Bogota again to see Angelina and David and visiting Andres Carne de Res, an AMAZING place worth a stop and some cash to see.

Next stop, El Peru.

Monday, 12 December 2011


I can't seem to keep on top of my updates, and to think that before we started travelling I worried in case I would get bored. No chance! It's a struggle even to check email, write the diary, write on here every now and again, book hostels for where we're headed and read up on them. It's amazing how far from your life you become, and how quickly you get used to it: following basic needs like eating, sleeping, excreting, seeing and learning. A huge indulgence, where your time, your day, tomorrow, is all your own. 
     In every hostel you have to fill in your name, age, occupation and passport number. Marketing and communications feels very alien right now. Once I wrote Engineer. I think I'll make up a new occupation wherever I go, ha!
     Once we left our adoptive Colombian family we headed for Salento, in the coffee region; a tiny little town beside the Cocora Valley, where the wax palm trees are that are symbolic of Colombia. We spent a day walking through the mountains, crossing rivers on bouncy bridges and jumping over cow pats and horse pats (can you call horse poo pat?). After a few days here and lots of rain, we went to Medellin, the land of the Paisas. I learnt afterwards that the Paisas get their name from back in the day when Antioqiua wanted independence from Colombia, they wanted to become 'Paisa A', 'Country A' with A for Antioquia. Interesting huh? And the Paisas are different. They have a recognisably different accent and are uber friendly. I also later learnt that in this region a strain of Alzheimers is common here, possible due to a Basque back in the 18th century who moved here and who had over a hundred children. The family is now up to 5,000 members and through them and lots of intermarriage, the strain has grown. There is now a study here into Alzheimers. That's my lot for silly information for today.
     Two interesting things to tell of our experience in Medellin are that we went up the cable car to Santo Domingo which was a day to remember. Walking down that slope gave me thighs of steel (if momentarily). It was a gradient of 50 degrees I swear. Later we were told that walking down there a few years ago we would have come out naked. I'm glad it was this year we did it. This change may well have something to do with the fact that a huge library of modern architecture has been built here and a metrocable developed to join this poor area with the city. The mayor invested a lot of money in improving the situation for the less fortunate, which not many mayors around this neck of the woods do. 
     The other thing of interest is that we had a run-in with a mad American off his head on drugs at 10 am on Sunday morning. It was like seeing someone thinking he was in a computer game, scarey at the time, sad in retrospect.
     From Medellin we went north to the Carribbean, Yeah baby. 

More of that soon.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Colombia: a blissful month (Part 1 or it will be too long!)

Every now and then I forgot where we were, and I thought, this is Colombia. We're so used to hearing about it in terms of cocaine, Farc, guerilla, kidnapping, danger, that when we were wondering around this paradisiacal place, where the people are as warm as the sun, I thought what a shame it is how we pick up the crumbs from the media and take it as wheat. There is so much more to Colombia than cocaine.
        In Bogota, the capital of over 10 million, the people are so nice and friendly. People hold things for you on the Transmilenio if you're standing, they offer you their map if you ask them which bus to take. They take you there. Then you step out of Bogota and the people are even more delightful, as is the weather. (Bogota is known in Colombia as the fridge. It seems a little like London - clouds - sun - clouds - rain - clouds - ). From there we went to Ana Poima with a buddy Angelina from Barcelona and her lovely family, all of which were as excited as we were for us to be there (the Colombians in general are delighted to have visitors in their country - a sign of the times changing at last I imagine). The grounds around the house were filled with lime trees, mango trees,  flowers of all kinds. We drank margheritas with the limes still hot from the trees - delicious! I have to say here that Colombian limes are as big as oranges. Avocados are like mini rugby balls, mangos like melons... There is also every type of fruit imaginable. Just a few we've tried are papaya, maracuya, lulo, zapote, guanabana, mora, tomate del arbol, granadilla, and more that I can't remember the name of... there are so so many! And you have them in juice, every day. I bet that has something to do with my new, untroubled, tummy.
        After delicious days in Ana Poima, being looked after with yummy typical food from the region, roasting sun and a swimming pool surrounded by palm trees, the two birds left the nest...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Summary of the rest of Mexico

I got carried away with travelling... it's unreal how busy you get hehehe. So here is a summary of the rest of Mexico...

San Juan de Chamula, Chiapas. The highlight of Chiapas. A small village near San Cristobal, it gives a glimpse into the native life here. The plaza is beautiful for the church that stands colourfully to one side. Once inside...candles. Everywhere. Rows and rows of them in every corner, at every metre, with families sitting or kneeling before them, chanting, or praying aloud. Like mini alters, the squares of candles of different colours and sizes, are lit in order, from furthest away to finally, the row before the family. The elder woman of the group then rubs a hen along the tops of the candles and pulls its neck until it breaks. This ritual is a mixture of mayan belief with catholicism and can be done any day of the year. The hen is sacrificed and eaten after in stew. It’s a hen for the women and a cock for the men; the same is carried out for new babies (and the placenta is buried under the house).

Palenque - ruins. We walked there from the town which took 2 hours and was lovely. We got a guide called Miguel Angel, a local whose first language was indigenous, and whose parents were potters. There are about 26 ruins here, and another 1000 yet to be uncovered. After a tour of the temples present, the ball courts etc it’s hard to fathom another 1000. Miguel Angel told us about King Pakal, who reigned for over 60 years since he was 12, how his servants were killed upon his death so that they accompany him, and that this is an honour. They surround him in their burial, along with his jewels and valuable possessions.

Merida. The people here were very different to other parts of Mexico. Everyone wanted to talk to us, and stopped us to do so on the street. It highlighted how different people are from state to state, with their own traditions, food, music, histories. We saw traditional Yucatecan dance and music in typical dress which was beautiful (in a square surrounded by police as there was a government event going on around the corner). Police are everywhere in Mexico. You get used to it after a while.

An education in Akumal. We went turtle spotting as were told this is where you see turtles over 1 metre long. But after an afternoon on the beach around the nests and waiting for the big moment, we saw none! On return to the hostel everyone laughed their titties off at us because… you can only see turtles in the sea! We didn’t know! In fact, male turtles never touch land after they are born and go to sea for the first time. Haha. So the next day we went back and snorkelled and yes, we swam with turtles and sting rays and it was fantastic, seeing them dance and swim effortlessly around you. On our second day at the same beach we ran into a protest by the local Mexicans. CEA (Centro Ecologico de Akumal) that works for the protection of the turtles, wants to privatise the beach. The thing is, this has been done before by supposed Ecogocial centres, and really, they are in cahoots with the Americans that have bought houses all along the coast, as well as other business owners. It’s dressed up as protection but it’s about tourism and money, and while we were there, chatting to the people, they told us how their town was moved to the other side of the bridge, far from the beach, to make way for the businesses that now occupy it. Back at the hostel, Cynthia the owner, told us this has happened all over the coast; the same thing happened in Tulum - an organisation for turtles ended up building a 5 star hotel. It seems that the locals fear that other parts will become like Cancun and Playa del Carmen (or Playa del Crimen, as they call it): taken over by Gringos. Mexicans have to pay the same as tourists to visit the water caves, when, some years ago, that’s where they showered when there was no running water in houses. Also, where there are hotels and bars, you cannot access the beach at all as it is private property, so in Tulum you can go a few kilometres and not access the beach at all.

Coba - more ruins, but different. The main temple is so high! You can literally see they were trying to get as close as they could to the sky/sun. Poor Oscar had a hard time up there. But the view was beautiful. Pure jungle for miles and miles, and the tips of other ruins poking through. (A little like Tikal in Guatamala).

Santa Fe - a beautiful, little visited, wide beach with hardly anyone, near the Tulum ruins, which we saw from the sea. Oscar saw more than I did because he swam further out ;-)

Pancakes and syrup - was our last breaky in Tulum, and I piled on the syrup like there was no tomorrow because it was so yummy. Within an hour I was puking. And an hour later I was on the bus for Playa del Carmen, puking! We planned to go to Isla Mujeres but a hurricane was coming and they were evacuating the island so no chance there. For the next two days I was in bed, let’s say, sick. And it was great timing because the weather was horrid and all we had to do was eat chocolate and watch films and wait for the rain to stop and for a plane to fly. (Nb. Do not eat chocolate with a bad tummy = not good).

Mexico City - the Mexican monster.  It’s not necessarily the size that is scarey. I’d say it’s the population. At over 21 million, and the 3rd biggest city in the world, there are people EVERYWHERE. There are also taco stalls on every corner, in the dozen or hundred, so you can barely walk on the pavement. There are cars and traffic jams at all times. You go to sleep hearing honking horns and the honking horns wake you up before your alarm clock does. (As do swerving cars, men kicking cars as they nearly ran over their child…). Am I making myself clear? We’re talking high impact. The metro is always busy and people literally run for the seats and push their way on and off (I have to admit that I was good at this - it must be in the blood!). Oh, and there are pregnant women everywhere, and children too, and toddlers, and babies. For the first time I was struck by such young mothers and fathers…women much younger than me and pregnant, with a couple of little ones running around already.
        Of course, along with this is that there was loads to see there. It is full to the brim with everything you could think of seeing. Top visits were: Museo de Dolores Olmedo, Museo de Frida Kahlo, Museo Antropologico, Teotihaucan, Museo de Bellas Artes, the area of Coyoacan and of course El dia de los muertos, when everyone dresses up and walks in the centre and there are alters everywhere remembering loved ones and their favourite things.
The posh parts are posh. Posh parts are always pretty, rosy, smell nice, have parks, big shiny cars, nice restaurants. And the poor parts are pretty damn shocking. The thing is, we ended up in a Women’s Christian Centre (don’t ask), and it was all a bit random. We were near the zocalo, and right around the corner a group of young people had set up home in the shape of plastic sheets and matresses and sofas on the footpath. They were all teenagers and getting high on glue all day and all night. Outside our hostel on the footpath every morning were several new turds that you had to avoid. One night I got to see one being done in action. The smell of the street was intoxicating: a mixture of faeces, glue, and many other bodily functions long ago had. Apparently the state won't do anything to help or move the youngsters, but receives grants for having them there. Another day we saw an elderly lady go to the loo into her hand and throw it in the bin. It was disturbing to see how expert and dignified she was, at the same time as watching the traffic pass by.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Day 2: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

First stop: Na Bolom: House of the Jaguar, created by two explorers, Franz and Trudy, that bought it to keep the Indigenous cultures alive. They came many years ago to explore Chiapas, making first contact with many groups of Indigenous to find out what they needed, communicating on behalf of the government.

The house was amazing, filled with photographs, artefacts, Indigenous instruments, clothing, maps of the exploration excursions. Photos of Franz and Trudy, sculptures  of jaguars and other animals. It felt really spiritual and warm, and respectful to the Indigenous people, who can be so marginalised, and it made me feel so insignificant and lame... just another traveller that comes to take a look but doesn't contribute in any positive way. It made me feel very humble.

After that we'd worked up a (humble) hunger. On the way to Na Bolom we'd seen a sign for a restaurant so we went in and were happy to find a really tiny place for...Mexicans. (They're hard to come by). It was the front room of a house with a few tables, a few locals, and us. We were all served at the same time like in a big event, five people in this small room. Delicious soup with pasta to start, and the most delicious salsa verde ever, which we ate in tortillas (copying a local). Yum! Then we had pollo en mole. Yum, yum, yum! Cleaned the plate without looking up or talking once (oops!). And I mustn't forget the agua de fresa - also delicious. All for 35 pesos - about 2 quid.

Next on the agenda was the Museo de Medicina Maya, about Mayan belief, medicine and practice. It showed all types of plants and animals that are used for various ailments and illnesses, and we watched a video about motherhood, more specifically, giving birth. The woman is on her knees, leaning forwards against her husband who is sitting in front of her. The partera, (the midwife with no medican qualifications) pulls the sash tight across her tummy to help the baby come out, continuing to do so, each time lower and tighter. If the baby doesn't come, she gives her a raw egg and other things I can't remember. Watching it, I thought how incredibly dignified: fully dressed, on your knees when the baby pops out into the hands of the partera, who is standing behind the Mother-to-be.

Next, we searched for the Museo de trajes regionales, and when we had given up and were going, we looked through a doorway and it was the museum. When we walked through the courtyard, we passed by a group of people sitting together, one with his leg out and another man, apparently treating it. I didn't see anything apart from a bare leg and lots of bottles. I thought, someone's curing someone, and then I thought, how random - in the middle of a museum!

There was a room filled with traditional Indigenous costumes, from head to toe, maybe thirty or forty, and they were beautiful. Handmade bags, shirts, shawls, coats, with feathers. Animal skins, intricately weaved with colours. Here were more photos of men, women, groups, of Indigenous. We went from room to room (the curing group moved to a more secluded area), and then we got to a room, of which an entire wall was covered with pictures of burn injuries, and severe injuries that must have come from infections or diseases. There were newspaper articles and thank you letters. It turns out that Sergio Castro is an engineer, but has dedicated his life to treating Indigenous people for free. In one article, I read that the Indigenous don't trust whites or Mestizos (European and Latin mix), or even other Indigenous groups, but many come looking for help from Castro. It described one man who had fallen into a fire and had both legs amputated, and post-op was sent home from the hospital. Three weeks later, when Sergio visited him, his wounds were rotting.

He is something of a guardian angel to those people, with no money and little access to healthcare. He is Godfather to over 60 children - the people's way of honouring him as it is a huge honour to be Godfather in the Indigenous culture. There isn't much information on that museum, but it was so educational and touching, and, I guess, saddening. But with a silver lining. 

Day 1: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

What struck me as we wondered around the huge market by the church, seeing whole families behind their market stall: Father, Mother, two, three, four children of all different ages (seemingly but a year apart), running around, playing, crying, looking after each other, Mothers with babies wrapped up in blankets and tied to their waists, sewing cushions, tops, dresses that dangle infront of you, ... what struck me is how far away I am from the world of the i. iphones, ipads, ipods, wiis, the lot. I have only seen one and it belonged to a Japanese tourist that was using it to get to his hostel.

The artesania is beautiful here, and so is the family life you see everywhere, and the mountains that surround the centre, covered with mist. It rained throughout our stay there, but it only made it all the more picturesque. Which is just as well because we were told by a local that it rains eleven months of the year (rock on London!)

There was a trade fair going on while we were there, on tourism. Bizarrely, they decided to close down the market for the days it was on, to clean up the main plaza, which is such a shame. Of course for all the indigenous that come from their villages to sell, but for the tourists too. I reckon you could sign up to a different tour every day but still not get anywhere close to this beautiful rich, poor world.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Guadalajara and on to Oaxaca

I left out some bits on Guadalajara with all the storytelling of our little drama and have decided to continue from there. I lived in Guadalajara ten years ago and have been dying to go back ever since and find the family I lived with, because the fact that I never rang them when I got to London has always haunted me.

On my big return last week, I was constantly looking for signs, street corners, puestos de tacos, places I'd been, but I couldn't find any. It left me a little confused and sad, wondering where I'd spent those three months and if it really was the same place. In a teeny weeny way I could begin to empathise with people who leave their home countries and go back five, ten, twenty years later to a place they do not recognise. In some way I can understand why some choose not to go back. We went on a mission to find the house I lived in, and I was delighted that I found my way, only to get to the house, now empty with a big 'To Rent' sign. We tried calling the number to trace the owner, Uncle of the Dad of the family I stayed with, but they moved to Michoacan six years ago and there was no way of getting in touch. I can't help but feel angry at my younger self for not ringing a long, long time ago.

Another thing I wanted to say about Guadalajara was the presence of DEATH. Yes, Death. Hundreds and thousands of skeletons called Katrinas, and skull heads and faces are everywhere: in bars, markets, shops, homes, offices, for sale, for decoration, made of wood, of stone, of plastic, of sugar. Dressed up as bride and groom, with friends' names on, with family titles on, eg. Tia, Hermana, Amiga. I found it all pretty bizarre and morbid and funny, and got talking about it with Natalia. Death is something embraced, celebrated, remembered. It is part of life. El dia de los Muertos on 31st October is a day specifically to remember the dead, take out their favourite possessions, instruments, drink and food. Although I think it's beautiful, I still couldn't understand it, and Natalia found it hard to understand that I couldn't understand. I explained that death is something that I fear, that saddens me, that I try not to be so afraid of. I do love the idea of celebration of life past, in one's present. That another's life can be celebrated and brought into the today.

Moving on to Oaxaca, where we went to the MACO, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca, where we stumbled across an exhibition called Materia Oscura, by Daniel Guzman. The introduction to the exhibition left its mark on me. It lies much closer to the way I feel about death, about life, about journeys. It was as follows (yes, I took a photograph and copied it out):

Es poco mas de un ano del fallecimiento de mi madre, y el viaje a su pueblo en Oaxaca todavia duele, y todo lo que me rodea ahi: la casa de mi abuela, el paisaje, la gente, la luz, la comida, el olor del campo, me traen su imagen, su recuerdo. Con el paso del tiempo esa imagen y recuerdo se han convertido en materia oscura. Una interrogante acerca del sentido de las cosas que hago, del rumbo que ha tomado mi vida, de como me relaciono con la gente, con mis deseos y mis sentimientos, siempre me he sentido un extrano en esa tierra al igual que en la ciudad de Mexico, pero es algo dentro de mi, y no de la geografia ni de la gente con la que me ha tocado vivir lo que escinde mi ser, nada de lo que haga o diga con mi trabajo o con este texto podra evocar de una manera plena lo que siento. 

It is little more than a year since the death of my mother, and the trip to her village in Oaxaca still hurts,and everything around me there: my grandmother's house, the landscape, the people, the light, the food, the smell of the country, they bring her image, her memory. With the passage of time that image and memory have become dark matter. A question around the meaning of the things I do, the direction my life has taken, how I interact with people, with my wishes and my feelings, I have always felt stranger in that land as in the city of Mexico, but it's something inside me, not the geography or the people with whom I have lived that splits my being, nothing I say or do with my work or this text may fully evoke how I feel.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Little Poet hits Mexico

Well, after time out in London to complete the second draft of my novel, I am now in Mexico. The plan is to go from here to Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina in the next four and a half months.

We arrived in Mexico City and headed for San Luis de la Paz, where a friend of Oscars' lives. From there we went to Queretaro, then Guanajuato (saw the smallest Mommy in the world - a six month old feotus). The first things to strike me were the colours. Red and yellow and pink and blue, orange and purple and green.... Literally, it's so colourful and magical and vibrant and full of life, and reflects the culture through colours: passion, love, laughter, tears, drama, music and pain. Because it's all here and by the tonne.

After a few days we came to Guadalajara, where I lived for a few months ten years ago, and where a friend of ours, Natalia, lives. On the fourth day of our trip we went to a beautiful artesanal town outside called Tlaquepaque, accompanied by Natalia and her boyfriend, who seemed to know everyone, and who was greeted in the street with hugs and kisses by the chef of the restaurant we were headed for (El Sope). I wondered what was going on. I thought they must be old family friends: all the staff in the restaurant spent the entire meal coming to the table and telling him how to eat everything and asking if he wanted more goat's head. Now I know that he is a well known public person in the state of Jalisco, so, while I thought he knew everyone, it was everyone that knew him. If I'd known, I would have dressed up.

We ate a dish called Birria, beef with lots of salsa and spices and lime and onion and tortillas. Tortillas go with everything. It was delicious, and, I believe, a dish to try when you're in Mexico. Afterwards, we visited a beautiful little hotel called La casa de las flores, charming and authentic. If my budget was higher I would love to stay there (60 euros per night which is great value - my budget's very low).

The next morning I woke up desperate for the loo. I mean desperate. I darted for the toilet, next door to the bedroom, but realised I didn't make it when I woke up on the floor with a pounding head and Oscar leaning over me, shouting my name. I told him to take me to the loo, and he carried me the metre or two, when I fainted again. Let's say it wasn't the highest point of Week One. It was quite the 'out of body' experience; aware of everything but not able to do a thing: speak, move, or see. The only thing that was moving was my tummy: violently expelling the offender.

In the hospital, the doctor didn't seem too interested in me, but gave me saline and antibiotics through a drip none the less. He wasn't impressed when I told him I was English (having thought I was Spanish) and when he spoke, it was to tell Oscar every city he'd been to in Spain, and where the best lamb is eaten. Oscar wasn't too impressed as he wanted to hear about me, and I wasn't impressed as I wanted him to talk about England.

Now, after a day of rest we're back on it. Yesterday went to Tequila, a lovely town where, guess what, Tequila comes from. Today we went to Tonala and ate a torta ahogada - drowned sandwich... so far so good...

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The potholes, the bumps, the clouds, the lows. They are all worth it for the moment of flying through the air, the highs, that sparkle of the silver lining.

- Little Poet

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Tonight they are home,
But still, sit the two
Empty chairs at the table.
Two plates less to wash.
Their Mothers hold hankies
To their eyes, while
Their Fathers nod to themselves proudly, reaching
Into the mahogony cabinet in the
Sitting room, placing the medal
With the Queen's name inside, so it
Stands up in its box.
Tonight they are home
And the sounds will be quieter, now.
But over there, in Afghanistan,
The cracks, the shots,
The splitting of flesh
Go on.

Thought for the day

Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle.    

- Michelangelo

Friday, 24 June 2011

The van

You were there, sitting beside me
And I was driving -
I didn't have a license in the dream, either
And the van was out of control, flying over potholes
That made us bounce in the air, up and down
With no seat belts on.
When we went over the edge of the cliff
You were there, sitting beside me
As the glare of the bright, yellow sun
Became streaked with splashes of red.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Reading under spotlight

I'm reading a short story of mine at on Sunday! I better get practising my reading voice.


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A thief through the letterbox

It's cold and the sky is grey -
The birds are in their nests,
My wallet is empty.

A statement from the bank -
More charges for taking out money
and going over the overdraft.

Twenty-five pounds a time -
I didn't know.
Nothing they can do,

When they have all my money -
and charge me for taking it out.
Tears come and the skies crack open and

The rain falls -
I have to run out before
The clothes are soaked.

Monday, 6 June 2011


To and fro, to and fro -
Your brush, moving so steadily
I can count on it

To be there, always. With
A smell of White Spirit
That could knock a horse

And a spattered sheet at your feet,
Or wood chipping and a chisel
In your hand. Painting,

Filling in. Making good.
To and fro, to and fro -
Rocking me like a child

In your arms, small
Against your broad chest
And strong arms that are
So used to the flow of the brush.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

I think I just finished...

the first draft of my novel!

Now, the first thing I would usually do at a time like this (not that I've ever had a time like this), is begin to start worrying about the slog that lies ahead, all the work before me. But I will fight that as best I can. And I will be happy with myself, for the day at least.

Cheers. To doing what you can to follow your dreams.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Little Poet stats... Ye who come here

So I come here to scribble, right? It's an outlet, a place to write down what I'm thinking, and maybe if I'm lucky have a few pairs of eyes read it. But then you think, or I think, who is actually looking at Little Poet Know It All...
Well, I'll tell you.
Countries (in no particular order) of viewers of my little blog by the Little Poet are:

United Kingdom
United States
Hong Kong
South Korea

My thoughts are, in order:
  1. Wow, there's a few countries right there
  2. I hope Canada is Margaret Atwood
  3. I want more!!! But hey, doesn't everyone?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Our ends are in our beginnings,
our first breath is the beginning of death.
– English proverb.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Cat got your tongue?

Confidence is a funny thing. My favourite words are funny and interesting, I really do over use them and should start thinking of some good alternatives. But until then, it's a funny thing. Sometimes I can chat away and other times a cat's got my tongue and is playing with it as if it's a mouse and it won't give it back. So, while the cat paws at my tongue, I can sit for an hour in silence while everyone around me airs their views, says things I agree with, things I think are ridiculous, things I'd like to pick up on and argue about, but I can't because that cat has still got my tongue.
     Then there are other times, when the cat throws it in the air and it comes back to me and I say something, and the blood rushes to my cheeks, my arms, my chest, my goddamn forehead, and I'm burning hot. I want to apologise, tell everyone to ignore the colour of my skin, but if I dare do that it turns to a shade of purple, so I struggle through as quick as I can.
     Lots of people who know me would be stumped to hear this coming from my mouth, from which come loud cackles, arguments, jokes, stories. But if the ground I'm on is a tiny bit shaky, the room I'm in, a tiny bit intimidating, the people I'm talking to, a tiny bit posh, the cat runs in, takes my tongue and leaves only the tail and the heart when it's finished. 

Thursday, 5 May 2011


Is just not nice. There are many ways of wrapping it, hiding it, dressing it up. But it is what it is. They don't want you. Whether it's as a girlfriend, a friend, a piece of writing, a short story, an employee, a synopsis and first three chapters. It might be good, but it's not the one.

I have had many rejections in my life, and I'm sure I've rejected, too. But I had my first literary rejection just the other day, and it's only hitting home now, haha.

It was in the shape of an email, whatever shape that has, and the rejection bit said,

We carefully considered your story and we are releasing it to you in hopes that you find a good home for it elsewhere. 

Well, now. That's actually not bad for a rejection, and did make me feel like going on. I know, it all sounds so dramatic, doesn't it? Well, to me, it is!

Giggle, giggle. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Londoners running the Underground

I've had a couple of funny moments on the tube, lately, so thought, why not share?

I was running for the tube the other day. Before you ask, I wasn't late, and I wasn't going to work. It was really here nor there if I got this tube or the next one, in, say, 2 minutes. Now that I'm back in London I realise that the need to run is inherently ingrained in me. When I see the tube on the platform and I hear the beeps I have to run for it and throw myself in the gap that's closing between the doors. Phew! I always make it. I know the sounds and the timings to heart so I earn some smiles when on the right side of the closed doors.
     This time as I lunged myself at the doors and jumped gracefully onto the tube, something different happened. As I jumped on, something shot up behind me and there was a loud bang that made me scream and everyone in the carriage turn and look. It was like a serve moment in a tennis match: all heads turned to me. I swung around to see what the noise was and what did I find only a man on the ground holding his forehead. Directly in front of him was the yellow pole of the Underground. I think everyone was waiting to see how this panned out. I could almost see the birds flying out from this guy's ears as his head spun around inside itself. Are you okay? I asked him. Yeah, he said. His accent told me he wasn't a Londoner, and his face said he didn't feel very well.

Another night on my way home from watching the Barca-Real Madrid game and a guy had his rather large man-bag on the seat next to him, which became my seat and meant I had only half of it. I sat down and when he didn't look up from his magazine I thought, what a wanker! I thought I'd shimmy and give him the hint; it would shake his bag and the magazine lying on it, which he was reading. I began to shimmy and he looked up. You must think I'm a right ignorant pillock! he said. I'm so sorry! I was away with the fairies. Then we both laughed hard as we knew he'd hit the nail on the head. My annoyance floated away as we chatted.

I find the tube in London quite a funny place (funny weird). No-one talks, no-one smiles, no-one says hello, how are you doing? But I still manage to break though it all when I can and have a giggle with a stranger. It's good fun. Try it, you might like it.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A short, short story called, Finally

     When he told me truth, I was standing at the bottom of the stairs.
     I couldn't take my eyes off his feet. They were bare; the knuckles of his toes knarled, the hairs; thick and black. I wished I was sitting down. The strength in my knees was gone, but not enough to let me slide to the floor. 
     Slowly, I lifted my eyes to meet his; the pale blue disks looked back at me. They usually told me so much, those eyes, they always spoke to me in soft whispers. I searched for a smile, for the ends of his mouth to turn up in a roar of laughter, but there was nothing. 
     So, he didn't love me. That was why he'd been behaving like a stranger; a shadow in the house, in our bed. He'd fallen out of love with me. It was so unromantic, so understated. Me, standing at the bottom of the stairs. Him, in his floral shorts after coming in from the garden. 
     I wonder what made him tell me, then. If it was the sun blasting from the sky that made him finally run for cover, to find me, coming down from getting dressed into a light green dress that was soft on my new, round belly.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Diaspora at Home

People find it amusing to find someone born and bred in Willesden Green, which amuses me in turn. I'm sure there are quite a few of us, and really, it needn't be such a surprise.

I went to the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival in February. Its theme: 'Crossing Borders'. In one lecture they came on to second generation diaspora and my ears pricked up. It was about the thread of diaspora, and the fact that it  doesn't stop with the person who sails. They mentioned belonging, completion of the self; something we all want to do and which are complicated by diaspora. I identified with this, and thought of it the other day when I saw two teenagers with cockney accents in hiqabs on the 98 bus. I also thought of an Irishman my mum used to talk to, and when she asked him what part of Ireland he was from, he said he was born down the road.
     When I say to people that I'm from Willesden, the usual reaction is,
     'Oh! So you're actually from London, then?'
     Well, yes, I guess I am.
     Though it took me a long time to get to that bit. I am just like the kids I see now going to school, with their mums in hijabs, or a scarf, or whatever they might have on. My point is, my parents are from somewhere else, too. So it took me a long time to think I was from here when I used to have an Irish accent myself, when I thought I was from somewhere else. I've argued the point a lot, but I don't bother so much now. When I live in Spain, or should I say Catalunya, then I'm English. But then they say I don't look English, so I say my parents are Irish, and then the reaction is, 'Oh! So you're Irish?'
     Well, I guess I am.

In Ireland, I am English. At University, I was the Irish girl. In Willesden, I'm from Willesden. Sometimes, people are more extreme nationals of their own country when they are out of it. Home is always home, even when you've been living in another country for fifty years and at home for seventeen. Someone asked me the other day why second generation Irish want so much to be Irish? ... Interesting, I said. Maybe it's because they grow up hearing about another place called home. They go home every year. Their extended family are at home. Then you grow up and realise your home is not the same as the one you've grown used to hearing of.

So, in my home, Willesden Green, there are the following places, to name a few:
  • Irish pubs (Angie's, Lula's, McGowan's and more)
  • A Church, with a Polish congregation
  • KD's (A Caribbean take-away shop)
  • Mandy's (an Irish shop)
  • Liquid (used to be an Aussie place, maybe still is?)
  • Red Pig (a Polskie butchers)
  • The Charcoal Grill (Kebab shop)
  • The Central Mosque of Brent
  • The Queensbury Pub (used to be The Green)
  • The Queensbury Deli
  • Nest, a cafe by Willesden Green station
  • Foxtons - a big disappointment. Pizza Express should have got it...
  • Pomegranate - a Thai BYO
What we used to have:
  • The Spotted Dog - an Aussie hub, gone now apart from the façade
  • D & G's - that great family-run Greek
  • Shish - never quite as good as D & G's but a lot better than Foxtons
These places tell me that so many threads, textures and colours meet here, and I think of a line of a poem: 'Wherever I hang me knickers - that's my home', by the Guyanese - British poet Grace Nichols.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mummies Mummies Mummies: food for thought

I stumbled into a 'Mums and Bumps' group yesterday morning. Lots of lovely mummies, or soon to be, sitting around old wooden tables, eating chocolate cake and chatting.

And there I was, alone, reading Fat Is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach (for research purposes). It was uncanny. The page I happened to be on went like this:

"For a mother, everyone else's needs come first. Mothers are the unpaid managers of small, essential, complex and demanding organizations... For her keep, the mother works an estimated ten hours a day (eighteen, if she has a second job outside the home) making sure that the food is purchased and prepared, the children's clothes, toys and books are in place, and that the father's effects are at the ready. She makes the house habitable, clean and comfy; she does the social secretarial work of arranging for the family to spend time with relatives and friends..."

I looked around at this group and wondered if the 'bumps' were ready, and how the already mummies were coping with it all. And their jobs, what were their jobs? Ah, back to the book...

"In a capitalist society everyone is defined by their job. A higher status is given to businessmen, academics and professionals than to production and service workers. Women's work in the home falls into the service and production category. Although often described as menial, deemed creative, dismissed as easy, or revered as god-given, women's work is seen as existing outside the production process and therefore devalued."

Susie goes on to say that "women are seen as different to normal people (who are men), they are seen as 'other'". I look back at the women around me, who have reserved an area of the deli for their Tuesday morning group. They don't look the 'other' to me; they look like they're having fun. Orbach's book is old, now, so maybe lots of this is out of date, and let's hope it continues to become more and more so by the day. These women are attractive, powerful, full of energy and chat. They are not victims, but friends, professionals, people who are also mothers.

I am not a mother. I have one who struggled with the issues Orbach mentions, as many have. I hope that it's easier for mothers, nowadays, to be everything they want to be.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Research. Who wants to do it?

In the novel I'm writing, someone goes missing. I need to research this. Who better to talk to, only the police? I have some idea of what happens... I've watched The Bill, I'm watching The Wire at the moment (and loving it!), but for that real authentic stuff, I want some guidelines to work with. So I pop into the local police station. They have shut the office as there is an urgent case of a missing person, so I have to come back another day. It fleetingly crosses my mind to ask if I can stay, but that thought runs back to where it came from and I shut the door behind me.

I walk down the road to the community police office. A young girl (who looks like she would help me) explains she doesn't know about that department, she'll go and ask her colleagues. A few minutes later and I'm hopeful. The door opens, and instead of inviting me in, she says that they can't talk to me; rules and regulations. I need to talk to press. She'll be able to help me, she's very nice. I go home. I call the number I've been given but it's just after 5pm so there's no answer. I call again the next morning and get through. She'll see what she can do. She takes my email and says she'll get back to me. And she does; to say that, no, press can't help me. I should try the website. Well, I had already read that in the first place, hadn't I.

Someone goes to hospital, not the same person that goes missing, another someone. So I need a doctor. I've been asking myself who's brain I can pick but, as yet, haven't come up with one. I do contact a centre though, and explain my situation. Maybe they could point me in the right direction, let me know about resources available? I wait. Then I get an email saying, no, due to limited resources, they can't help me, many thanks for getting in touch. No, please, thank you.

Wait for it.

The next day I get an email from the same person, with an additional line at the end of the previously sent email, of a link of another institution that might be able to help.

Message of the day?

A teeny weeny life line always pops up when you least expect it.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The blues

Not the music, nor my favourite blues bar
Ain't Nothing But, on Kingly Street,
which you should go to if you haven't already.

I'm not talking about the shades of it in the sky
or The NYPD.

I mean the blues that make you feel heavy
When you wake up in the morning.

The ones that make everything darker
Than on other days.

I mean the way you feel when you're
Standing at the bottom of a mountain.

When it towers over you,
Casts a shadow as far as you can see,

And looks impossible
To climb. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Still writing. You can't see me, but I am

So here I am. Writing to win. Writing, sending, writing some more. That makes me sound really busy. I shouldn't lie. I was out in the sun today reading, and felt my skin get hot and begin to tingle and lose its jaundiced look.

Yes, I'm serious. About the colour of my skin and the heat. The sun is out in London. 21 degrees, yes sirree bob. So get out there in your lunch time and take your clothes off. Your statutory rights will not be affected.

Now I'm back in the pink room and as my dad's is a south-facing house, no more sun for me.

What was my point? Oh yeah, writing to win. Well, no knocks on the door yet. I have had an email though, and it wasn't an automated one. A person (other than a friend) actually wrote to me to say that if I don't hear from her in 45 days, get back in touch.

Er, thanks for that.

I must admit that this did make me kinda happy, even though it was to say, see ya! wouldn't wanna be ya!

I should also tell you that I've marked in my calendar when 45 days from now is.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Writing to WIN!

Here are 14 tips on writing for competitions from that I wanted to share with all writers, or in fact, anyone working on anything:

1. Read the rules and follow them. 
But rules are made to be broken, right? 
2. If you send off for more information always include an SAE. 
That's fair enough 
3. Don't play chicken with the closing date.  
Deadlines are really not my strong point. I do play chicken 
4. If there's a theme, use it.  
Oops. So you mean I can't just send my story with its theme EVERYWHERE? 
5. Keep to the word count.  
Okay. Just five or ten more doesn't count 
6. Don't publicly slag off the competition because you lose or aren't placed above someone who you think is a poorer writer. 
Oh right, you mean like Jacqueline Howett? 
7. Use a typewriter or wordprocessor.
I can do that
8. Spell check and punctuate.
Now, that's where the wordprocessor is a bonus
9. Don't pester the organisers. 
Of course not, I'll just give them a quick call... 
10. Don't use fancy fonts, coloured paper, or attach balloons etc.
Some Marks + Sparks chocolates?
11. Make sure you attach enough stamps and use a decent sized envelope.
Weighing it means queuing at the post office and at 5.30pm the queue is all the way down the road... Do I have to?
12. Include your contact details. 
My facebook page?
13. Never give up your copyright.
Yes, Sir.
14. Keep trying.
Finally, we've cut to the chase.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

"My boss sucks her thumb!"

Well now, that's not really something you ever want to hear, is it? And no, thank the lord it's not my boss that sucks her thumb. I don't have a boss, remember. I don't have a job, ha.

My boss is called Guilt. Guilt if I haven't written anything, Guilt if I have slept in, Guilt if I've got caught up in the afternoon Masterchef. My boss can be pretty nasty sometimes, can make me feel really bad. I've had others, too, that weren't too kind. But I'm happy to say I've never had the misfortune to have a boss that sucks her thumb. All day. With her index finger tickling her nose.

That sounds enough to have to deal with, but on top of that, of course, you have to take the power struggle between you and her, because she has to prove herself, defend her position, flex her muscle.

So the whole thumb sucking thing has a lot more to it. I'll stick with Guilt for now.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Signed, sealed, delivered

I've sent a short story to a couple of competitions, yay! I've filled out the forms, written the cheques, printed the story double spaced, size 12 and stapled the left hand corner as directed. They should get there on time (I sent one way too late a week ago).

Surely that already puts me in the pile, right?

But, which pile?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Spread the Word, like Irish butter on your toast

So I went to Spread the Word's workshop on Saturday 26th March and it was very good.

Direct Action: Reaching New Audiences. A good, catchy title, I thought, and it bought me straight away. Or I bought it, and it wasn't that cheap. I don't know if I learned how to reach new audiences, but I did meet fellow writers, feel vaguely like a writer, even if it was from 9.30 to 5.30, and, oh yes, gaming! Yes, not exactly my cup of tea, either, but it was... interesting. If I learned anything, it's that gaming is certainly going well for Naomi Alderman, author of award-winning novel 'Disobedience', and that it is definitely her cup of chow.

Joe Dunthorne joined us for a performance at lunch, reading extracts from his novel 'Submarine', now out in cinemas, and his new novel. He was brilliant; not only were his pieces and poetry fantastic, but he was patient as the latecomers straggled in, and one lady put her red high heel through the floorboard.

The main thing I came away with at the end of the day (apart from leaflets and a couple of email addresses) was that writing doesn't have to be about holing yourself up in the back room of your house (or your Dad's house, as is my case). What they were telling us was that you actually can get out there, collaborate with people, DO things. Read at open mics, go to events, meet people with whom you have something in common, even if it is that, yes, I just want to be read, too.

It briefly closed the gap between me, all on my own, and everyone else... which was nice. Now I just have to try that list of things outside the walls of this nice, pink, back room.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Getting a book published: Checklist

Novel pitch. Check.

Cover letter. Check.

Synopsis. Check.

First 3 Chapters. Check.

The rest of the novel... erm, working on that.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Baby steps

I'm trying to write a book. I write every day. Am I a writer? I want to be one, I want people to read me, but maybe I'm already there.

What actually makes you a writer, what gives you that title... the confidence, the authority, to call yourself the word with the big W. People keep the books they've written in the drawer of their bedside cabinet, and I never understood why. But maybe that is their dream come true, maybe they don't need to be read by the mass audience. I don't know if I see the point in writing something, in having something to say, if you don't want to share it with people. My problem is that I do; have something to say; want to share it...

The thing is, the road seems so long to get the thing you want to say written down, printed, and then read. I guess I just have to keep on walking.

You've got to make it happen

Oasis, on the radio, telling me over and over again...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Dreams, dreams, dreams

Are dreams meant to be dreamt,
Or are they to be lived?

Are they to be strived for,
Followed as a lamb follows its mother,
To be clung to as a koala bear does, a tree?
Or are they to burn an eternal fire deep inside,
To be kept alive with dry twigs,
A small flame in the darkness?

Are they to be gazed at
With the eyes out of focus?
Or are they to be sought out,
Eyes blurred with concentration?

A dream ceases to be that when it is realised.
Should we try to make them happen
Or should we beat away, the
Glare of the flame hidden
Within our warm, wet flesh?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Never Once

I never told you, once.

I never told you that
I don’t sleep because you dance in the darkness of my eyes,
I can’t work because you're laughing through my ears, nor
Do I breathe when you stand there, before me.

I feel my heart beneath my chest - skipping, pounding.
When you look at me, it feels as if it’s about to crack through me
And bleed all over you.

When you smile at me,
When you touch the bruise on my arm,
My heart tears in two,
Not with desire, nor twitters, nor dances or giggles.

But because you’ll never know,
Not for a second,
Not once.