Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Train ride To Scotland: Communication the key to happiness

Now like I was saying in my previous posting (which you should have read!) it was only when I was alone did I meet some inspirational people, the type you meet only when traveling. The guy across from me on the train to Preston from Euston was one of those rare traveler types that actually get me.

He was studying Russian and I was writing eventually he struck up a conversation with me even though we were in the quiet car of the train. Everything he said about life, people and traveling was like taking words from my Tracy’s book of philosophies.

He informed me that people connect through communication and communication as in conversation is what makes people happy. That is why when traveling you form close bonds very quickly because you are forced to communicate, whereas in everyday life you are not forced to do so.

We talked about countries we love, books, music and talents. He told me everyone needs a talent if you do not have a talent then you only own things and “do” nothing. What was my talent? I thought perhaps I should give learning to play my guitar another go

He also stated the importance of letter writing, the actual act of putting pen to paper. He says it is more personal and people convey more emotions when something is written and not typed. He loved the fact that I was hand writing in my journal and as well had a separate book for my random ideas, blog postings and stories. the fact is though I am probably the world’s worst hand writer. When I got to a certain grade in school they told us we did not have to use cursive it was only recommended, so I said nuts to that! I hated cursive writing and I haven’t written in cursive since except for my signature, so I have messy loopy scribbly printing that marks the pages of my journals and notebooks which I never leave to go on a trip without.

This English Engineer living in Norway was a unique and rare person that I know I was meant to meet perhaps that was why he was sitting in my already reserved seat 8A and I didn’t ask him to leave. He inspired me to never stop traveling and exploring, he inspired me to meet the world and to keep on with my scribbly printing. Perhaps he is right communication is the key to happiness.

The Car Ride to Hahn

Every time I left English Boy it seemed something was telling me I was doomed or destined to travel the world alone because it was only then that I would have a rare “travel experience.” Perhaps being doomed to be forever the “single female traveler” isn’t so bad. On this U.K. with a slice of Germany trip it was only when I was alone away from English boy that I met inspirational people, those people that will always stick with you in your memory where ever you go. As well as those experiences that make you think,” holy crap, I am here! I am actually doing this!!” No matter how many places you have been to, no matter how many experiences have jaded you there will always be those incredible authentic and sometimes very subtle I am F-ing here experiences. I met someone on my train ride to Scotland who I know will stick with me.

Now I am writing in retrospect at the moment so I am not currently on my way to Scotland I am actually in freezing cold Canada in a basement continuing with my blog but you aren’t really supposed to know that but in doing this sometimes I make mistakes with the order in which things happen. I actually forgot a key moment in this trip so before I continue with what I am about to say about the man I met on my way to Scotland I am going to tell you about my car ride to the Hahn Airport in Germany. Yup I am taking you back to Germany but this goes with the current theme of my posting.

I was leaving Karlsruhe after visiting my best friend from home and a quick visit with a friend I lived with in Mexico…

The Car Ride to Hahn

I wasn’t looking forward to the tram, train, bus and then plane journey but it was relaxing alone time after a hard night of partying.

Unfortunately the exact bus I needed to get to Hahn from the train station in Mainz was pulled from the schedule. The next option was leaving at 5:00pm and I didn’t want to run through the airport like we did in Stansted, which would be cutting it way too close. I seemed to have forgotten what the Hahn airport was like. However it didn’t look like there were any other options. I was going to wait in the station and read my book but thought I would give the bus stop one last check. I saw a few people there waiting for the bus so perhaps it was coming. I asked a man if he spoke English and he said yes and that he didn’t actually speak German. I wanted to hug him, someone who actually speaks my language. Turns out he was Italian, we talked a while and more people joined us at the bus stop. For a bus that was never going to show.

There was a couple who looked quite distraught the guy couldn’t wait till 5pm he would miss his flight. The girl called a friend to drive him to the airport and announced to the line that they would have two extra spaces. I wasn’t going to be nice I wanted this ride so I stepped forward and said I would take it. The older Italian guy said we would both go (apparently he was with me?). We squeezed into the backseat and took off through the misty German Country side which to me didn’t look that different to the Canadian landscape that I am used to.

There I was in the a car with a Lithuanian, an Italian and two Germans, it felt surreal especially when I declared to them in conversation that I wanted to write because this scene felt more like a scene in a book slowly unfolding as someone read the words on a page. The buildup of the characters came out as I talked to each backseat member. I told the Lithuanian about my travels and he called me a Tramp. I told him I prefer gypsy but I guess there have been times when I travelled with very little like a tramp.

The Lithuanian worked for an international company that makes metal machinery. He had a cute boyish smile which contrasted to the Italian on the other side of me. He was nice but serious, slightly bitter and very Italian. He travels for business but by the look of him and the airline he chose he must not make much money or else he spends it elsewhere. I saw a sign once in a bar that said something like have money but dress like you don’t. Perhaps that was the case for the Italian. The shoes were what tipped me off a pair of old black lace ups otherwise he wasn’t dressed two bad but shoes in most countries are an indicator of how much money you have. He did have a mature George Clooney sexiness to him.

It wasn’t hitch hiking so much but the ride did remind me of a time when I got stuck on the coast in Nicaragua after all the buses had returned, I was with some guy friends from my hostel and my small backpack was stolen earlier in the day. So I was broke and the guys had a spent most of their money trying to cheer me up by buying bottles of Flor de Cana rum and fish meals in a sea side hut. To get back to Leon we hitched a ride with a Nicaraguan woman driving a pickup truck. She made the guys sit in the back and I rode in the front. There was an English woman in the back seat with a baby. I didn’t get her whole story as to why she was in Nicaragua with the baby but I will always remember the advice she gave me, “Never marry, forget love just have lovers.”

You never really know who you will meet along the way. I looked at the fresh faced Lithuanian with the smile that melted my heart and the rugged bitter sexy Italian and thought, “Here’s to Lovers!”

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Live in the place where you are: London, England

Yes I did it, much to my best girlfriends’ disappointment, I returned to English boy. He is always so happy to see me whenever we reunite, he hugs me like he actually cares and declares how much he has missed me. That gives me something to hold onto but then the novelty of me yet again wears off quite quickly and I can sense his thoughts, “right, now how do I say this to her without sounding like an arsehole? I really wish she would just leave”.

I didn’t go back to him right away though I stayed a night in a hostel in Central London. He invited me to stay at his before I headed up to Scotland so I did, I caved. Why was I so weak when normally I am so strong? I am independent, I am a woman of the world, I thrive on being on my own and going off the beaten traveller path but place me in a room with English boy and all that goes out the window. I didn’t really care for him that much when I first met him so why now and why when I was in Canada living in my parents basement? I suppose because I wasn’t off conquering the world, I was on his territory and not on neutral ground and he was winning, he was in control, even though I pretended to be, I knew I wasn’t.

I took off on my own while he worked and visited the non-touristic regions that one can do and really enjoy when they have been to a city a number of times. I went to the neighborhood of Shoreditch to find the Brick Lane clothing exchange which promised to be vintage shopper’s paradise. I didn’t end up finding the massive store but spent many hours going from one vintage shop to the next on the yellow brick road of alternative clothes and unique cafes. Big oversized knitted sweaters, altered jean shorts, woolly winter skirts and polyester soon blended together into one mesh of retro inhibiting me from distinguishing one from another. I did however score an amazing pair of orange heels that will come in handy with my birthday approaching.

Also in the spirit of my birthday I took myself to a West End Theatre production. I only discovered my love for theatre and Musicals in the recent years when I saw Mama Mia and Dirty Dancing in Toronto but to see a production in one of the famous West End London Theatres, now that is the cream of the crop! I have no problem dining, going to the cinema or theatre alone but when I was pulled on stage during Priscilla Queen of the desert it really made me wish I had a friend there to share the experience with me. The thing is if you want to do something but you have no one to go with or your friends can’t afford it, that shouldn’t stand in your way and it never stands in mine. I know my career as a West End theatre performer started that night so no one else needs to justify that.

Exploring and enjoying everything London has to offer from the high street and vintage shops, landmarks, tourist attractions, parks and night life got me thinking; English boy has always done what I have done, scrimp and save to travel, leave for years on end only to come back and do it again, always despising the place where we are from but not really enjoying where we are because we are too focused on getting away to see the world.

I feel like if you know where I am from, if you have been to my city you would say, “Well fair enough Tracy, I COMPLETELY understand why you would want to get the feck out of there.” English boy on the other hand has no excuse; he is from in my opinion one of the most vibrant cities in the world with so much to offer. He has the fortunate advantage that he was born there. He really does need to fully take advantage of what London has to offer. He needs to indulge, devour and explore what is in his own backyard. He needs to live in the place where he is. I think he has come to this realization, although this was always part of his “plan,” enjoy his twenties, get a good job in his thirties and then settle down. I hope he does and wish him all the best in the future but the fact that he has a “plan” like that makes me less attracted to him. It’s nice to have goals we all should but life is crazy, unplanned and chaotic. Things sometimes all are about timing but usually it’s never on our watch fate ticks that tock.

I was confidently leaving English boy and the “what if” had been answered with some confusion a lot of hot and cold but in the end a “NO”. I was slightly disappointed but I was on my way to Scotland to see family, the homeland of my late Grandmother and a certain backup boy.

That’s right I had another one in my back pocket; did you think I would come all this way just to get rejected by some English guy? A girl does need a few men in waiting now doesn’t she?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Thrift Pay Out: Banking in Hereford, England

While I was enjoying an early morning pint during my never ending ale drinking session in Hereford, England I discovered a very fascinating concept: the Thrift Pay Out.

I noticed over the course of the weekend people kept on giving my friend money to hold on to. I found this very odd, I know she is quite good friends with a lot of the men and woman that frequent her pub but it was happening quite a bit, then on the Sunday my friend set up a table in the pub with a money box, her laptop and a box of recipe cards. She was basically acting as a bank working out of the pub. She informed me that this was an old tradition that most pub did in smaller towns. She had a thrift pay out in the pub that she own with her husband and as far as she could remember her mom’s had one as well in her pub. The recipe cards had the person's name and account number and there she recorded their transaction, as well as on a excel file on her computer.

The clients who this unique non-bank, banking system are employees, regulars and well anyone in the community who want to take advantage. People are able to deposit as much as they want every Sunday and it is saved until two weeks before Christmas. Although some people in recent time have been using it like a bank, withdrawing as well as depositing. The employees of the pub have the amount they want deposited subtracted from their weekly wages so they are not noticing the missing the money and right before Christmas they get their thrift pay-out.

The concept has become even more popular in the last few years with the economic crisis and people’s mistrust in banks and corporations. Perhaps those 99% people should do a bit more creative thinking, less sleeping in tents in front of Saint Paul’s and learn a lesson from the pubs of English villages. Some may think the villagers are a bit behind the times but we may need to look to the past to solve problems of the present and move forward to the future.

Remembrance Sunday: Hereford England

Remembrance Day in an English village is a bit different than Remembrance Day in Canada.

(Yes, now you realize how far behind I am with my blog but hey at least I am writing in it in a somewhat regular basis and I have realized after looking at my blog reading lists my fellow traveler bloggers get wrapped up in the actual travelling and neglect their blogs as well so don’t judge I’m not the only one!!)

Right so back to Remembrance Day in England, it is acknowledged on November 11th and a moment of silence is observed on the eleventh hour, as well leading up to the day poppies are sold on the street but the difference is the real day is Remembrance Sunday. In Hereford, England where life revolves around the pub so does Remembrance Day. It is one of the busiest days of the year in the pub with young and old coming in for pints and to socialize with the community. The men are all dressed in suits and woman in dark coloured dresses with a burst of colour coming from their red poppies.

My friend had to work the morning in the pub so we were there early to see the day unfold. By 10:00am the first customer came in through the back patio but by noon after the Remembrance parade you could not move in the pub. I find a lot of places, especially back home lack this sense of community, I blame it on the fact that everything is so spread out and distances are so great in my country that among many reasons and problems with the modern age we live in. It was so nice to see young and old together drinking pints and eating the free pub fair that was supplied just for the special day. They all united for a very important day.

Lest we forget

Frederick Renwick - Front Line Gunner the Royal Canadian Army

Barbara (Bowman) Renwick – Royal Women’s Auxiliary Air force

My Grandparents

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pub Life in England; Hereford

To me this small English village near the Welsh border seems very surreal, it is very quintessential English. To any English person they would find it utterly boring, there really isn’t much there and it is a very small town. Everyone literally knows everyone. There are no shopping malls just a lovely town centre which to me whatever is in walking distance should be considered the town centre which would encompass this entire town but not in English standards. To me an independent studier of culture and people this town never fails to amaze me.

Hereford is still very rich in old English culture. A lot of people still carry on old English traditions which kind of make me slightly envious as my country is so new we lack traditions that define a culture. We are a mixed bagged of various cultures either letting go of their past traditions from the old country or mashing together ideas and values from mixed upon mixed families. We are a country full of mutts and immigrants.

One thing that you can say about England and not too many other places is that the heart and soul of the community is in the pub. You do not have to go far to find one either, they are plentiful and everywhere. In a Canadian city you would need to go to the city centre or how we call it “Downtown” to find nightlife. In Britain you walk down your street and there is your “local”, an easy walk after work and an easy stumble after a few.

The English pub transcends generations, you do not have one for students or one for the old farts, everyone is out together at the same time on the same night drinking, playing pool, gossiping and chatting up the opposite sex.

You have the young girls in their stilettos and minis trying to impress next to the middle aged couple getting drunk with their friends. Young guys playing pool while old timers who love their real ales wait for a go.

The old traditional pubs in England like the one my friend’s mother owns looks and feels like a house where the whole community comes to meet and socialize. People are there from eleven in the morning having a pint until eleven at night when last call is rung. The gossip mills churn, decisions are made and the best lines of bullshit are spouted. Problems are solved at night and hung over are cured in the morning with another pint.

We dropped my friend's son off to his Grandmother and had time to kill so we had a pint at the pub. We were meeting friends so we went to the pub. We got dressed up for a night out so we went to the pub. We wanted to have a meal out so we went to the pub. We went to visit my friend's mom so we went to the pub...fair enough she lives upstairs but you get my drift. I saw men sitting by themselves reading a book, going over work, sitting at a laptop, ladies sharing a glass of wine after work, families with children, seniors with their friends.

As well to this day Saturday night is a night to dress up in one’s finest. I thought it a bit odd that an older gentleman that was a friend of my friend’s was decked out in his suit, I thought he must have had a hot date but my friend later informed me that it’s an old tradition to get decked out on a Saturday night. Even to a pub I thought. At home a pub is a place where you dress down as much as you want; it actually looks strange to see someone dressed up like they are going to a club or a wedding in a pub. The men in this town have been getting dressed up on a Saturday night no matter where they went for years and they weren’t going to stop anytime soon. To be honest I kind of like the tradition I mean how often do we really get dressed up these days? For a wedding or a Christmas party, even those are becoming a bit too casual. What happened to those old days when men wore suits and hats and woman wouldn’t be seen wearing jeans? Right ok maybe I am going a bit too far back in time but it would be nice to have a no jeans and tee rule for a Saturday night and actually put some effort in and not because you are trying to impress anyone but just because it is Saturday and that’s what you do.

Then you have the pub food that the English rave about and crave for. A Sunday Roast with Yorkshire pudding and potatoes, chili on rice, jacked potatoes and of course fish and chips. Going to the pub for lunch is like having a Sunday dinner with your family and is very much an English staple in daily life.

The second time in Hereford I saw some old faces and some new ones but was welcomed into the pub family just as before where my glass was never empty and I truly understood the lyrics to the song by Spirit of the West, “Home for a Rest”

“You'll have to excuse me, I'm not at my best
I've been gone for a week
I've been drunk since I left
And these so-called vacations
Will soon be my death
I'm so sick from the drink
I need home for a rest
Take me home....

A Return to the Barrels: Hereford, England

Most of my closet and dearest friends to me I have met somewhere on the road. I do not see them every week or every year for that matter but they have touched my life like no one else has and will always stay close to my heart. As well with them no time or distance will ever disrupt our friendship. I consider my friend Pip to be one of these nearest and dearest. I met her in 2006 when I first left Canada to live in England but ended up on the Greek island of Santorini. It was a summer that changed my life and that I will never forget. I worked as a waitress in a cocktail bar and Pip kind of worked…but mostly drank. She was one of my customers but we became fast friends in a crazy tiny village with only two roads; the Beach Road and the Main road.

I had been to Hereford years ago to visit Pip when I was living in Southampton with the Ex. That weekend was a hazy blur of cider, ales, red wine, Mika and Dolly Parton. Pip’s mother owns the biggest pub in town and I arrived right in the middle of their annual charity beer festival. I had volunteered to work but could only get paid in pints. After pulling ales all day and into the night the pub would close at eleven then the staff would start to drink in the early hours of the morning. We carried on the drinking back at Pip’s house where every morning we would pass out on the floor of her living room listening to the best cheesy pop music.

Four years later I found myself again taking the train and making my way to the Quintessential English town of Hereford, home of the Mappa Mundi and The Barrels Pub. I was returning to pub life in England.

Continuing on the Trail; A Brighton Wrap up

I often come to a conflict with myself, I look for bargains and the cheaper way out, but at the same time I cannot commit so I end up paying more for things due to my lack of commitment. Such was the case when I decided to buy a ticket to Brighton. I waited to the last minute to buy a ticket because I didn't really know when I should leave or how long I should go for. I wanted to just show up at the bus or train station and have some tout yell at me shoving my bag onto the correct bus and I would just follow in confusion as I would in Latin America. I am too used to the organized chaos of third world countries. Instead I got ripped off because I bought my ticket at the bus station and I didn't want to decide on a return date. I also had to sit three hours on a bus instead of the 45min train ride, all because of my stubbornness not to commit. Well it worked out in the end because I decided to stay longer than expected in Brighton; I was still even gutted that I couldn't stay longer yet. I had pre-booked a train to Hereford early Friday morning so I had to leave Brighton on Thursday.

I know this is a horrific thing! I had to leave Brighton on Thursgay! How could I leave this amazing city without experiencing the night life, the gay night clubs?! There is nothing better than dancing on a podium to Lady Gaga in the middle of a group of boys in a gay night club. Alas my vision of being lifted up in the crowd by my gay minions singing Born this way was crushed.

I had really enjoyed Brighton and everything it had to offer but just like most places in the world I have visited it really was the people that made the place. My English girlfriend’s uni friends were amazing to me and I really enjoyed seeing how much they cared for each other. Instead of a big night out on my last night in the city I requested to have a night in chatting with my friend, a morning cup of tea with her roommate and an infamous English breakfast in the morning with the whole group.

I also got to visit a friend I met in Colombia the first time I was at the Dreamer Hostel. He had just recently moved to Brighton after living in Southampton my previous home in England and we both agreed hippyfied Brighton is way more our style. It seems like minded people end up in similar places.

I even went on a date in Brighton, that’s right I spent the afternoon with Dick’s brother, Not-A-Dick, although it was just for fun and to put in a good word for my English Girlfriend.

I was excited to be getting on to visit yet another friend I had met in a foreign country along the road but I wasn't quite ready to leave this bohemian seaside town but deep in my heart I knew I would be back. There are certain places I have been to in the world where I have felt like I finally fit in and Brighton was up there on the top of that list. One day I will find one of those places, a city on the coast or an island somewhere to call my home and stay for a while. Until then I will continue on the Gringa Trail.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Le French Club in my La Blog: Brighton, England

I believe I have a knack for languages, I mean I am Canadian so I had to learn French in school. I lived in Greece where I picked up some Greek, spent 8 months in Arabic speaking countries, and have lived and travelled in many countries in Latin American so my Spanish is pretty decent. I studied Portuguese in Rio so it says I speak Brazilian Portuguese on my Facebook.

Well in reality I haven’t spoken French since high school and at the time I was almost failing. I was starting to pick up a bit of Greek but when I lived there all my customers in the bar where I worked were from England and the only reason I got hired was for my English skills, it certainly wasn’t for my waitressing skills or lack thereof. Now all I remember really is courtesies and curses. As for Arabic who am I kidding I came back from eight months in Egypt, Jordan and Israel with an English accent, I was saying “innit” “wanker” “piss off” and calling guys girlfriend’s their missy. I doubt that my Portuguese is decent enough to allow for it to say I speak it on my Facebook page. It’s quite deceitful really like saying I am in a relationship with someone on Facebook when really the closet I have come to a relationship is over staying my welcome with quite the attractive local in a certain country in South America. As for my Spanish I would say it is ok but really? I have spent the equivalent of three years in Spanish speaking countries; normal people would be fluent by now!

I seem to deny all of the above and just go with, “yeah I speak French” or “well yeah I speak Portuguese, says it on my Facebook now doesn’t it?!”

…and that is what got me into trouble when I agreed to go to a French club with my English girlfriend. She wanted to see a guy who runs it and to practice her French, which by the way is actually really good. This particular guy in my opinion was acting and treating her like a dick…funny thing, his name rhymes with dick, coincidence?? That being said I don’t want to offend anyone so we won’t use any real names so from here on out in this blog posting he will be referred to as Dick.

Right so my friend wanted to visit with Dick and the supportive friend that I am I agreed to go to French club, because, um I’m from Canada and we all speak French right? Wrong! Soooooo wrong!

We arrived to the pub where the French club was already in full swing. My English friend had another supportive girlfriend tag along as well but she was a bit reluctant because she wasn’t too confident in her French. Not to worry I told her we will just sit together and get drunk, it will be fun! Meanwhile I find out she is originally from Switzerland and he first Language was French! I was the lone loser who could hardly utter two words in French.

I was squeezed in beside Dick and this older snobby English Lady who I found out spoke five languages and fluently unlike my ability to count to five in Arabic and say “may god be with you” and “god willing”. I could understand what they were all saying in French I mean I did study it in school so it is there somewhere hiding in a deep dark corner of my brain scared to come out. I was trying as well I really was but Spanish kept on popping out of my mouth, I would say a Spanish word with a horrible French accent. I felt like the characters from Pepe Le Pew, “La woof, la woof” Le Meow le Meow”.

Dick was preoccupied with the other girl that came with us so I got stuck talking to snobby French lady. She told me she spoke Greek and excitedly I wanted to tell her I knew some Greek but all I could muster was “Je Parle Greek” but I don’t really Parle (speak) Greek so much, I just really know a few words. She then asked me in Greek if I spoke Greek and I just stared at her blankly and eventually said I have no idea what you’re saying. She then got quite offended and told me off because she had just asked me in Greek if I spoke Greek and obviously I didn’t. She wasn’t so much a fan of me after that and every time I tried to say something in French she would correct me but in a rude and bitter unimpressed way.

So what do you do when some old tart is being a language snob to you where you hardly know anyone? Get another drink!

I ran to the bar many times just to speak English and swig back another glass of red. How did I get stuck with this horrible old lady and why did she hate me so much? At least I was trying!

Things really weren’t going so well, Dick wasn’t paying any attention to my friend and she was on the other side of the table with the French flowing out of her ever so easily recounting the summer she spent in France while everyone nodding knowingly. There I was dashing up to the bar to get away from Mrs. I- speak- five –Languages. Usually I’m not the one needing to speak English, usually I am the cool one who can speak the local language but apparently I have spent too much time in Latin America because when someone had to switch to English to ask a housing question it was on! No more French! We were talking in English and I didn’t care what Snotty English lady thought, she could go back to drinking her La Tea and eating her La cakes and go screw herself! Pardon my French.

So I did what any good friend would do and started chatting to Dick to get him on my side so he would pay more attention to my friend. He got my whole long drawn out English boy story and we brought the group analyzing of my boy drama to another pub with an open mic night, where even more wine was consumed. Turns out Dick has a brother, who isn’t such a Dick.

Just another random night in Brighton, England.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Brighton, England: The North Laines and Vintage Heaven

The odd person at home will call me a hippy because of the way I live my life traveling, working random jobs and pretty much being a free spirit. The title doesn’t really suit me though. At times you can find me on beaches and in hammocks hanging out with the cannabis smoking, dread locked types. I will don a wraparound silk India skirt, wear a sea shell necklace and let the sun rays wash over me but one of the things that differentiates me from my macramé making friends is that I love fashion and I love to shop. Well that and I shower every day and shave my legs, arms and lady bits.

I should say I love style because I don’t follow any specific fashion trends. I find pieces from all over the world that are very uniquely me. The best feeling in the world for a self-professed gypsy fashionista is when someone comments on an article of clothing and asks where you got it from and you can reply, “Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Colombia, England…” I revel in that disappointed look in their face when they realize my amazing piece of clothing is completely unobtainable to them and I give them my sly smug smile when I apologize.

Recently I have been really into vintage shops and I was very exciting to scour the amazing Vintage shops I heard England has to offer. Until this past summer I strayed away from shops that proclaimed to be “vintage” to me that meant really expensive used clothes but I discovered when I ventured into a Vintage shop in my home town called Sympathy for the Rebel that in fact they really aren’t that expensive. The shop hand picks pieces from different decades and different styles from rock, mod, indie, and hipster. This is just one little amazing shop in my small city and I was elated with shopper’s joy but could you imagine my excitement when my Brighton girlfriends brought me to the Lanes in their city.

The Lanes are a pattern of narrow streets and alley ways that form the original fishing village. Today there are two sections of the Lanes; the higher end fashion shops and residential area which makes it way down to the seafront and then the North Laines which is a bohemian village home to cafes, bars, theatres, independent designer shops, vintage shops and bric-a-brac antique shops. You can have an organic vegan breakfast in a café then browse a shop that is entirely dedicated to Alice in Wonderland, find an altered vintage piece of clothing in Dirty Harry’s and wander through Snooper's Paradise flea market.

The place was definitely hippy, gypsy, bohemian or whatever the heck you want to call it or me. I loved it and I spent the next week migrating there every day while my friend was at her Uni classes. I would sip chai tea in a café called Capers while the rain came down then I spent the day browsing shops and trying to score a good vintage find…because there is an fine art to vintage shopping. You have to have a keen eye, at times items on a rack amongst all the other Psychedelic bold colours and styles of the past can look completely…how should I say it…. revolting. You have to look at everything in a shop individually and keeping in mind articles of clothes you already own that would complement it. It's probably best not to go all out completely vintage; mix up the pieces with normal fashions and everyday clothes.

The best thing about some of the Laines shops was that they have resident seamstress designers who alter clothes from back in the day such as old high waisted jean shorts and t-shirts making it into a new unique item. They were also good at window display designs which I always fall for. I walk often walk into a store all the time asking for what the mannequin is wearing but it is a studied art form and a very effective marketing and sales technique.

The Laines are among the many reasons why I fell in love with Brighton. It somewhat reminded me of the artesian neighbourhood of San Telmo in Buenos Aires minus the tango dancers. Finding a place like this wherever I travel is like finding a little home for my gypsy heart in every city.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Ann Summers Party

I have always traveled with the motive to learn about cultures and get to know the people of the land that I am visiting. A destination is more than just a destination. I have couch surfed, I hung out with the Mayans in Guatemala, I went to a Coca leaf fortune teller in Bolivia, I went to a wedding in Bogota Colombia, I eat what the locals do and take local transportation.

You know how the saying goes: When in Rome, do as the Romans.

Well When in England, do as the English and attend an Ann Summers Party

That’s right I passed up Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye and decided to investigate a very English tradition; Kinky sex toys, sexy panties and vibrators. Now don’t get me wrong we aren’t prudes in Canada we have sex shops and lingerie stores and I do believe we have parties like Ann Summers but they are called Fantasia parties however I do not know of anyone who has had or been to a fantasia party so do they really exist? Maybe it’s like Canadians and waxing; I know you can get your legs waxed here but I do not actually know anyone who does it or where it would be done, just not something we do so much.

Ann Summers is a British institution with stores all over the UK where you can find clothes, lingerie, dress up, sex toys and more. The retail store dates back to 1970 when the male founder named the company after his female secretary. She must have be quite the talented secretary to get a sex shop named after her if you know what I mean. She is now a multi Millionaire living in Italy and left him not too long after the company was founded.

In 1981 the party plan concept was created and took off. Now there are over 7500 party organizers employed and there are around 4000 Ann Summers parties every week in the UK.

My Friend Sasha is one such Party Organizer as a way to earn extra money while she attends Uni. Her roommate was the party host and had around twenty girls squished into a very small kitchen. Sasha was learning the Party Rep trade from her supervisor so she was to assist and observe.

Sasha warned us of her supervisor but It was a bit of a shock the see this very large woman walk in with a suit case full of sexy costumes and vibrators. She was overweight, with very large breast and tattoos. She has a very rough English accent and apparently her very well pleased husband is a biker.

This was the woman who was going to try and sell us panties and vibrators?!

Well I had to hand it to her she did know her stuff and was very honest but the way she said, “Now you get your fucking tits in there...”

As well the way you hygienically test out a vibrator is by putting it to your nose and if it makes you sneeze than your good to go. Sneezing is supposed to be the closest thing to an orgasm. This woman has now ruined sneezing for me. Every time I sneeze I think dirty thoughts. I think enough dirty thoughts as it is but now I have her vision in my head saying, “Ya init.” With her very large cupped bras she used as her demos.

We were warned not to put them on our heads because once they were out of the catalogue they went in her dresser. I had to force back the urge which I didn’t have until she mentioned it.

Now I find I am quite adventurous sexually but when we did a game where you racked up points on various sex exploits you had gotten yourself into I had stiff competition with girls who were 10 years younger than me. It’s always the girl you least expect sitting in the corner quiet all night that wins those competitions...or um...friendly games. The damn girl even won animal orgasm bingo.

In the end, the flavoured lube was tempting but I could see myself sitting on my next train starving not wanting to pay the extortionate cost for train food with nothing but flavoured lube to suck on, not such a good idea. Same goes for the chocolate penises. I could just see myself saying to my neighbor, "Would you care for a chocolate peni? That's plural for penis right? ...No? oh... OK then...cotton candy flavored lube? Taste just like at the fair"

The Lingerie was nice but highly over priced even without taking the exchange rate into consideration and who would I show it to? Read the tag line of this blog, “The random life of a SINGLE female traveller.” Could you imagine if I whipped out undies with straps and a garter or a lacy teddy if I met someone along the way? Who packs that shit in their back pack? Honestly though do guys really pay attention to fancy panties? Also I’m not sure what customs would think upon discovering a rabbit vibrator in my suitcase. I have enough problems crossing borders with my dodgy passport.

At least now I can say I have experienced a truly English tradition, I have attended an Ann Summers party; a fun night out with the girls. Boyfriends across Britain have a man and his office affairs with his secretary to thank.

P.S. Just an after thought but is it just me or does the Ann Summers logo look strangely like the logo for Apple Computers? Coincidence?

Bonfire Night Lewes Brighton

I came to Brighton, England to meet up with my English girlfriends who I had met in Peru two years ago and if you an avid reader of my blog and a long time follower you will remember the many adventures we got ourselves into, in Peru and Bolivia. The three of them ten years younger followed older wiser traveller me. Little did they know even though I was an intrepid traveller a lot of it comes down to fluke, timing, spontaneity, flexibility and the people you meet. I’m not much for planning or keeping to a plan but I made decisions, went with my gut and they trusted me. However this time around it was different I was the foreigner in their land and they were now the leaders.

I arrived to Brighton at night after a long bus ride that would have only taken 45min on the train and a lot cheaper but I couldn’t commit to a return date. The girls and I caught up with cups of tea (soooo English!). It was just like two years ago when we first met, I really didn’t know them so well but we connected then and have kept in contact. That night I was thrown right into English Uni life (I had them all fooled they thought I was 20! Wa ha ha!). We stayed up until 7:00am partying and dancing on some poor kid’s bed and then crashed till the afternoon. I met a lot of Sasha’s (English girl number 1) really lovely friends and we all arranged to meet the next day to go to Lewes for Bonfire night (Guy Fawkes)

Lewes is the most famous place in the UK for Bonfire night and has the largest celebration. There are seven bonfire societies that participate in the processions and put on the bonfires. Now these aren’t your regular roast your marshmallows on the fire bonfire. The wood piles are as big as a house. There are seven different bonfires in different parts of the city and seven sets of fireworks displays. The last one of the night is the free one and the one in which we were attending.All the processions are free and can be seen on the main street in the village. We had tried to get there early but even at 4:00pm there was a huge crowd on the streets. We had a big group with us which wasn’t good in this situation; you could very easily lose people. The night was cold but at least it wasn’t raining. There were street vendors

set up everywhere selling typical
English street fair: Curries, Pork on a bun, soup, jacket potatoes and warm beverages. I was starving so I decided to get some Indian food but while I was waiting the process
ions started and my group ran away. The couple serving me were still waiting for a few items to put in my mix bag, George and Americo, two of our group members were yelling at me as everyone took off. I eventually told them to forget it, threw money at them and took the food I had. With bits of samosa running down my arm I watched as people dressed in traditional garb carried flaming crosses, torches, barrels of fire and set off fire crackers. Flaming floats went past and from a distance the entire village looked like it was on fire. It was incredible! Processions from the different societies went past us and fire crackers going in every direction followed behind. In my mind this seemed highly dangerous but that was part of the fun!

The bonfire itself was held in a big open field, a huge pile of wood was in the centre and a rope cut us off from getting remotely close. We froze for what seemed like hours waiting for the fire to be set and the fireworks display to go off. We were at the last bonfire of the night cutting it very close to the last train of the night.

Before the damp cold took completely over huge strange looking floats in the shape of people came through the crowd, one looked like it was a woman riding a man. I'm still not sure the significance it seemed inappropriately erotic. Then came the bonfire society with their torches and barrels of fire in which they

lit the floats and the bonfire. As the woman riding the man burned to the ground fireworks set off in the air. It was an incredible display of fireworks and I have seen many throughout my travels but this one rivals any. Especially since George (one of our group members) told me it was going to be shit.

As soon as the last explosion erupted in the air and trickled down to the ground we were off and it was a race against time. The crowds were moving out and we were all running. We had to get that last train back to Brighton as it stood we could have

already missed it. I was so out of shape huffing and puffing behind the fit 20 year olds, if they didn’t think I was old, then they would now. We were slowly dropping group members some lagged behind and some ran for the bus. There was a huge crowd around the bus and in a split second we had to make the decision to try for it or continue running for the train. We rushed on; Americo, George and Sasha were way ahead of me and Shiloh. I could barely run and I was out of breath but I pushed on. We caught up and found ourselves at a dead end. I realized my group didn’t really know where the station was. Why the heck were we running if we had no idea where we were going? The group asked directions and we were off again running. We came back through the village where the processions were still continuing but more of a tangled aftermath of processions. There was fire everywhere and fire crackers going

off. It felt like a war zone. I got a burst of energy and zipped through the people carrying torches but something caught my foot and I went flying. I skidded across the ground through burnt out fire crackers and rubbish as I landed I looked up to see a crowd of people looking at me and in the same second a woman ran through the street yelling, “he’s got my wallet, he’s got my wallet!” holding a stick in her hand. I got up and started running again. Shiloh was beside me and it was him who accidentally tripped me. We caught up with the others and made it to the train station where there was a huge queue of people pushing and shoving to get on the train. As the line moved and shoved we lost more of our group be it was every man for themselves we continued with the mob and squeezed our way onto the train. We had made it, we had saved 2.50pounds. That’s right I found out we could have just hopped on

the bus like the others did and gotten back to Brighton but instead they wanted to save two pound fifty. It sounds absolutely ridiculous but it’s wonderful.

It was an adrenaline pumping adventure the kind you only have when you are a poor student or a poor traveler. I wasn’t traveling this time as a poor traveller but I had for many years and I admired these kids for it. Plus they brought that type of adventure back to me. The adventure you have when you are fighting against principle and budget.

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