Thinking of Manchester

Like everyone waking up in the UK today, and many people across the world, I’m deeply shocked and saddened by the bomb blast which has killed 22 people so far. Those poor, poor babies, out having fun and enjoying what should have been an amazing night in their young lives. Parents, taking their kids to concerts to keep them safe. Fans, all at the venue for the same purpose – to enjoy the music and performance of someone they admire.

It’s unthinkable.Thoughts with Manchester

It’s too early to jump to conclusions and as yet (as far as I know) no terrorist group has come forward to claim responsibility, so maybe it is just one lone nutter with a grudge to bear. In a way that would be easier to stomach than thinking terrorism has infiltrated the heart of our society and killed innocent people.

Although, if you’ve lost a loved one in such horrible circumstances, the origin of the attack and attacked is probably neither hear nor there.

I’ve been buoyed by acts of kindness I’ve read about in the wake of the attack; like taxi drivers turning off their meters and driving people wherever they needed to go, hotels offering free rooms to people stranded, kids who have been separated from family or friends being taken to safety and the general Manchester population opening up their doors and their homes to provide cups of tea, beds and a safe haven for those affected.

These acts of kindness shouldn’t be necessary, because in an ideal world this would never have happened. But it’s good to know that the majority of the human race not only deplores such behaviour from cowardly bombers, but openly and actively pull together to make the aftermath as easy as possible for everyone to deal with.

Sad times.

Thanks, as always, for reading. xx

What we got up to in Penang

We arrived in Penang at 11am on a Monday morning after approximately 16 hours of travelling, 2 flights and very little sleep. Initially I feared I would crash and burn and have to hit the sack for a couple of hours but both of us were invigorated by finally being there, and the beachy view, so we checked into our (upgraded) room, unpacked, and set off to explore.

Batu Ferringhi beach

Although the majority of attractions in Penang are in the capital, George Town, we wanted to base ourselves by the coast for that all important paddle in the sea, so opted for Batu Ferringhi which is on the North of the island. Batu is little more than one long main street, with a number of hotels to suit all budgets, lots and lots of food establishments, mini markets and tailors shops (tailoring is big in Malaysia, the husband had a fabulous shirt made during our stay).

Batu comes alive early evening when the hawker food centres and nightly market open for business, both of which are a marvel to behold! The market stalls run for approximately 2km along the main street and sell everything from watches to sunglasses to bags, t-shirts, trinkets and trainers (mostly designer copies) and each stall is meticulously set up each and every night and packed away at the end (around midnight). We watched some stall holders wheeling their metal stall around 200 metres down the street, into the path of oncoming traffic, like it was the most normal thing in the world!

There’s not an awful lot to do in Batu Ferringhi, which suited us fine. It’s mainly focussed around eating (yay!) and sightseeing outside of the town. Because Malaysia is a Muslim country alcohol is heavily taxed, and therefore expensive, and there isn’t much of a drinking culture. Many restaurants don’t serve alcohol or, if they do, it will be purely beer. Booze prices are similar to at home, in some cases slightly more expensive, with a small glass of wine at around £5. We bought some drinks from a licensed liquor store and had a couple of nightcaps on our balcony and also spent a couple of evenings in the Hard Rock Café drinking delicious but overpriced cocktails! Hard Rock had a house band who played from 10.30pm each evening and were very good.

One of the things we were really looking forward to was the food, and it didn’t disappoint. There is a proliferation of both Indian and Chinese food in Malaysia, with Malay cuisine being something of a combination of the two, with lots of rice, noodles, fresh seafood and spices. You wouldn’t touch many of the streetfood stalls with a barge pole back at home but somehow, over there, eating from a hut constructed from metal poles with a corrugated iron roof, plastic patio chairs and a bucket at the side of the road for washing up seems perfectly normal! We had no stomach problems at all and ate some absolutely amazing dishes. A personal highlight was an amazing Mee Goreng (noodles cooked with meat and spices) for a ridiculous 80 pence. The husband pushed the boat out that night, his dinner was £1.20! The taste and flavours and freshness were just incredible. Also in Penang are a couple of large hawker centres, where lots of foodstalls are under one roof – all serving different cuisine. Our favourite was Long Island which we went to twice. The process is simple – get a table number and then go to whichever stalls you want, order your food, they will cook it fresh and bring it to your table where you then pay.

Dishes were no more than around £3 each at most, and the husband made the mistake of sending me off to do the ordering with a fistful of ringgits (Malaysian currency). We ended up with easily enough food for 4 people from about 7 different stalls! Examples included 10 sticks of chicken satay for less than £2, national favourite Char Kway Teow, Tom Yum soup, onion roti and chicken samosas. Amazing.

As well as spending time in Batu, we ventured into the capital Georgetown for two full days to soak up the sights and sounds. There’s a lot of building going on in Georgetown, lots of high rise condos and apartments (they have to build upwards due to lack of space on the ground) which sit along heavily adorned temples of such beauty and acres of green forest hills. It’s a really complex landscape with a different view at every turn, architecture influenced by British colonial days and a view across the Malacca Straits to the mainland. It also doesn’t seem to have a centre as such, and isn’t particularly easy to navigate, so a map is a must.

Penang Hill

Technically outside of Georgetown, in the nearby Air Itam neighbourhood, Penang Hill rises 833 metres above the city and is a green and luscious area. Accessed by funicular railway which, at it’s steepest, rises at 50+ percentage, it’s definitely worth a visit. You could spend as little as 10 minutes for the views, up to most of a day exploring the summit of the hill and it’s attractions. We had a wander round, marvelled at the views, had some lunch, had a look round the Hindu temple, and took lots of photos. The funicular is a highlight in itself, and a feat of engineering, imagine building a railway on a hill that steep!

 

Dharmikarama Burmese temple

I was very excited to visit temples in Malaysia, not because I identify with any religion (I don’t) but because the architecture and attention to detail is so stunning. This temple and the Wat Chaiyamangkalaram Thai temple (below) are opposite each other, incongruously positioned on opposite sides of the street in the middle of George Town. At first glance it seems to be a competition between who can bring the most bling, there’s a A LOT of gold leaf, everywhere! The temple itself is very serene and picturesque, with dedicated areas for praying, although non praying people can also enter as long as shoes are removed.

 

 

Wat Chaiyamangkalaram Thai temple

This temple is famous for the reclining Buddha – 33 metres long and the 3rd biggest in the world, but it was closing as we arrived so we only got to peek inside. Again there are multiple buildings, gold leaf and mosaics everywhere. The architecture is incredible – everywhere you look is a stunning building or intricate piece of work. Amazing.

 

Little India

I’m going to be slightly controversial here and say that Little India was a disappointment. Firstly it wasn’t as busy and bustling as we’d hoped, which I think is because we were there in the afternoon and the main food sellers don’t open until early evening, but secondly it wasn’t that Indian, to us! Let me elaborate – I live in Birmingham which has a large Indian and Pakistani community, and there are areas of Birmingham where these communities live closely together and therefore develop their own “Little India” with sari shops, indian restaurants, mosques, and food stalls filling the air with pungent fragrance. So this place wasn’t really any different to anything I’ve experienced at home. If you live in an area or country that doesn’t have an Indian community that you’ve experienced, then you may feel very differently. Whilst there we did have an incredible thali style lunch at a restaurant which came with chicken curry, mutton curry, tandoori fish, basmati rice, pickles and poppadum, and it was spectacular, and I also snapped some pics of the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple but only from the outside as it was closed.

 

Street art in Armenia Street

We struggled to find Armenia Street initially, walking round in a big circle, trying to get in the map (a Friends reference!!) and starting to get ever so slightly narky with each other in the crazy heat of the day. When we did find it we were only there for 15 minutes or so, but it was good to see some of the fun street art which is a renowned tourist attraction in the city. Getting a photo without someone else in it who’s trying to do the same is something of a struggle, but a bit of patience goes a long way.

We also visitied Masjid Kapitan Keling and Kek Lok Si Temple, but I’ll be doing a separate post on both of those.

Would I recommend Penang? Absolutely. The people are incredibly friendly, generous and selfless, keen to tell you about their homeland (as we found with a couple of very chatty taxi drivers), the food is absolutely incredible and very cheap, there’s a good balance of city and beach to suit all interests and the mix of architecture is fascinating.

Feelgood Friday [7] – Rufus the rescue dog

I haven’t seen anything good in the press to share with you this week – it all seems to be doom and gloom and misery and politics – so here’s a Feelgood Friday story from my personal life.

This is Rufus. He’s a scruffy little terrier with a sad background.

He was abandoned by his previous family and ended up in a rescue home. No-one knows for sure how he was treated by his old family, but based on how subdued and quiet he was in the home there’s a good chance he wasn’t showered with the love a little dog deserves.

Then along came my Mom, who fell in love with him, and took him to his new home, where he lives happily to this day.

Rufus used to be called Bradley. Who calls a dog Bradley? And when he first came to his new home, at my Mom’s, it was like he had no personality. He used to lie under the coffee table and not make a sound. You could fuss and cuddle him and he’d just sit there, with no reaction. It was heartbreaking. When my Mom had to take him back to the rescue home for his injections he cried, as though he recognised where he was going and thought he was going to be left again.

Now he’s a happy little chap who loves to play with his “big brother” Oscar the boxer dog, loves to lie in the sunshine, and loves to play with plastic bottles!

Rufus sunbathing

I bribed him with crisps for these Christmas pics!

He loved having a Mohican, little hipster!

Rufus mohican

He needs no persuading to pose in glasses – this is the “chews” at 10!

Rufus reading glasses

And he loves the doggy spa in the sunny garden!

Rufus doggy spa

Have you ever taken in a rescue dog?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

New Look sale buys

I may have just bought a new house and committed to all the extra outgoings associated therein, but I still cant resist a sale email. Damn you New Look. Damn you!

Or, if you look at the cuteness I’ve bagged for not much money, bless you New Look. Bless you!

Mustard floral flared sleeve blouse – £6New Look yellow floral top

Pink velvet t-shirt – £6

New Look pink crushed velvet tshirt

Black & white suede touch zebra courts – £8

New Look zebra print shoes

NASA t-shirt – £6

New Look NASA tshirt

Multi hoop earrings – £1.25

New Look silver hoop earrings

Black coated/leather look midi pencil skirt – £10

New Look black coated pencil skirt

Black tulle hanky hem skirt – £10

New Look black tulle skirtI’ll be found wearing all my fancy new clothes in my garden drinking tap water to save money, ha ha!!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

How does your garden grow?

Not gonna lie, this is a blatant way of giving a shout out to my new garden!

We got the keys to our new place on Friday night, and although we don’t have to move in immediately as we’re waiting to complete the sale on our flat, we’ve already been enjoying the novelty of having a garden.

When I was growing up I just assumed I’d get married, live in a house with a garden and have kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, at all. It’s just that I realised it wasn’t what I wanted out of life, even though I thought it’s the path I would take, because that’s what grown ups did. Instead, when I got together with the husband (who himself had already had houses and gardens and…shock horror…other relationships (!!) and other houses) we evaluated what we wanted and decided that actually we weren’t in the right headspace for the responsibility of a house and a garden (translates to couldn’t be arsed with the idea of mowing grass and the like) so we decided on a flat with beautifully manicured gardens, looked after by the estate gardener, and a balcony space where we could have a bit of colour in pots and some furniture to sit outside and soak up the sun.

Fast forward 11 years and our priorities have changed. We no longer want to be out and about multiple times a week – we love the thought of being at home in our own space, spending Saturday afternoons outside in the sun, welcoming friends for barbecues, and being more homebody-ish (that’s not to say we don’t still love eating and drinking out – one of our criteria for moving was the location which had to be in our beloved Moseley with it’s proliferation of restaurants, pubs and bars).

Anyway, to backtrack, we bagged our house and garden. It’s very very private – hidden behind a cul de sac so you wouldn’t know it was there unless you knew it was there. No passing traffic. A garden with different areas and lots of scope for al fresco dining and relaxing, plant pots, pretties and all the solar lights.

Here are a few pics!

I have bluebells and daisies – how exciting!

Lots of ivy and trees make the whole space incredibly green

Garden greenery

After a strong start on Saturday, we dedicated Sunday to buying sunloungers, relaxing, and looking up!

Are you a garden person? Do you love outside space?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Feelgood Friday [6] – First Dates on Channel 4

Did anyone see First Dates this week? (for anyone who’s not familiar with it, or not in the UK, it’s a dating program where single people are matched up and get to go on a dinner date in the First Dates restaurant. Everything is filmed and some couples are featured more heavily than others in each episode. At the end the two people are put together in a room and asked how they thought the date went, and if they’d like to see each other again. Sometimes the outcome can be rather awkward, as you can imagine!)

This week’s episode featured the fabulous Jeni and Eric, both in their 80s, both widowed after marriages spanning 50+ years and both wanting to meet someone to share things with.

I had a vested interest in this episode as I know Jeni. I first met her when our friends renewed their marriage vows last year (she’s the “mother of the bride”), and I sat next to her at some other friends’ amazing wedding in October. Jeni is bright, fun, vivacious and sharp. She’s also incredibly creative (she, along with her daughter, were responsible for creating many of the beautiful skull and spooky decorations and dressing the wedding venue, and an amazing job they did).

I’ve said it before, but I love love! And I don’t think age or loss should be a barrier to finding love. Of course there are people who lose their partner and have no intention or inclination to ever meet another person, and that’s ok too, but happiness and companionship is as important in later life as it is when we’re younger. It was quite clear from the episode that Jeni and Eric both have an incredible zest for life and a space in their hearts where their beloved partner used to be. That doesn’t mean they’re replacing them or forgetting them, just that the heart has a huge capacity to heal and feel.

They had a lovely, chatty dinner date and decided that yes, they’d like to see each other again.

Just look how cute they are together!

First Dates Jeni and Eric

You can still catch the episode on Channel 4 on Demand

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

5 things I thought on our first day in Malaysia

It’s been almost a week since we left Malaysia, and I haven’t got round to sorting my photos <<bad blogger>> I will be writing lots of posts about what we got up to soon, but in the mean time here were some of my initial reactions after 15 hours of travelling!

Thank God we’ve made it!
When I came across the deal for our trip, I knew it was an amazing offer and not worth not going. I also figured that part of the reason the offer price was so good is because the flights were with Malaysia Airlines who are still trying to (re)build their customer base. Mention them to most people (certainly the people I know) and the reaction is “good luck with the plane not disappearing”. MH370 is still firmly in people’s minds, and no-one’s more than the husband. He was obsessed with the case when it happened and I knew how he’d react at the prospect of flying with them. So I gave him the hard sell on the holiday, the weather, the amazing things we’d see, the food we’d eat. I didn’t tell him anything about the flights until he asked me, and by then he was already hooked on the idea of the trip.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t part of me that was ever so slightly nervous about something happening, and we certainly both joked that if the plane was going to go missing then hopefully it would be on our way back after we’d had a great time, but then I rationalised it by how many flights are operated every single day by Malaysia Airlines without incident and thankfully the husband saw it that way too.

And, do you know what? They were amazing. Legroom, comfort, food and service were all brilliant, and I’d have no hesitation in recommending them. KL airport, pictured right above, was pretty cool too!

Does anyone actually have a driving licence?
Our taxi transfer from the airport to the hotel was pretty hairy, and it was a sign of things to come. Lane discipline is almost none existent, driving bumper to bumper is the norm, and throw in some crazy moped drivers and you feel like you need to hold onto your seat! There are so many mopeds on the road and personal safety seems far down the list of considerations – we saw people riding mopeds with tiny babies on their laps, people wearing no helmets, 3 adults squashed on one moped, people carrying oversized items like big pieces of wood – and no-one bats an eyelid. Although cars are right hand drive and they drive on the left hand side of the road – just like here in the UK – NO WAY would I consider hiring anything on wheels and taking my chances. It was crazy!

This is going to be an ugly holiday for me
You know when you go to a hot country and you get off the plane and the heat envelops you like a warm hug (especially if the temperatures have been less than great at home). Imagine that warm hug being delivered by someone in a wet shirt, leaving you all clammy and damp. That’s what it felt like when we got to Penang. We knew that the humidity levels would be high but it was like nowhere I’ve ever experienced. The only way to cope was keep my hair scraped off my face and tissues to hand to mop my heavily perspiring brow.

Me at Penang Hill

Me at the top of Penang Hill – check out those frizzy flyaway hairs!

Even minimal make up just fell off within 10 minutes of leaving the hotel room! Kuala Lumpur was more manageable, but I still avoided photos as I was looking less than my best!

It’s a lot greener than I expected
Because of the year round hot temperatures, I think I expected the landscape to be a lot more parched and barren. Quite the opposite in fact, it was incredibly green. Our hotel room balcony in Penang overlooked a hill of forest, and everywhere we went flowers flourished.

Clockwise, from top left – view from Penang Hill, flowers at Kek Lok Si temple, view from Kek Lok Si temple up to Penang Hill

We soon realised why, on our first night, when the rain came. It was like someone had turned on a tap and, with only seconds warning, the streets were coursing with rain water. So yeah, the plants get all the nourishment they need!

It’s perfectly acceptable to eat curry for breakfast
We arrived at our hotel just as the breakfast buffet was coming to an end so, being the greedy foodie that I am, I had a little look around to see what was on offer ready for the next day. The hotel obviously needs to cater for visitors from across the world, so the food choices reflected that. Croissants, bread for toast, fresh fruit, porridge, sausages and baked beans sat alongside fried rice, noodles and spicy curry dishes. I love spicy food and can often be heard saying I’d eat it at anytime of day, so I wasn’t going to miss out on a legitimate opportunity! I had a little taster of local cuisine most mornings, and it was delish!

Ooh, so many memories just from writing this short post!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Feelgood Friday [5] – something to live for

I was in Heathrow airspace when the London Marathon was taking place, but I still caught enough of this story for it to be part of my regular Friday slot.

Part of the story may be familiar to you; a suicidal young man was ready to jump from Waterloo Bridge but was talked down by a stranger who told him that death was not the answer.

The (previously) suicidal guy went on to launch a nationwide appeal to find and thank the gent who had talked him out of his mortal destiny.

In an unexpected next step the two have recently gone on to run, and complete, the recent London Marathon in aid of mental health charity Heads Together, which has some of the younger, more progressive Royals, at it’s core.

What a beautiful story. From the end, to a new beginning, to a burgeoning support network looking after multitudes of people in need.

Good work Jonny and Neil.

Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn marathon runners

Read the full story here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

My trip to Malaysia – a précis!

I’m back from my South East Asia adventures, in Malaysia!

Malaysia flag

Miss me? No? Didn’t even realise I was gone? Awkward!!

Malaysia was, as expected, pretty epic. We crammed in a whole heap of stuff during our visit, and I have a whole heap of photos and blog posts to write about things we did but, until then, here are some facts and highlights of our hol!

  • Our trip was for 9 days / 8 nights, during which time we flew 21,870 miles on 4 different flights.
  • Stayed in Batu Ferringhi on Penang Island, and Kuala Lumpur on the mainland, also visiting George Town and Air Itam in Penang, and Gombok just outside KL.
  • “Lived” in 2 hotels, one on the 14th floor and the other on the 25th floor
  • Had an amazing meal for just 80 pence
  • Spent more on a glass of wine than 2 skirts from the market
  • Paddled in the sea
  • Took a ride in a trike covered in fairy lights blasting out “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees
  • Visited 5 temples, 1 mosque, 2 caves and 2 towers
  • Took a funicular railway to 833 metres above sea level and looked down on the city below
  • Ate Chinese, Malaysian and Indian food from places that you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole in the UK, but were some of the tastiest food ever!
  • Walked 120km, climbed up hundreds of steps, went to the 86th floor of the tallest twin towers in the world, and stood 421 metres above ground level on a glass floor in the KL tower (not all in one day!)
  • Got punched by a monkey (more on that in a future post!)

I hope everyone is doing well – let me know what’s been going on with you!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Feelgood Friday [4] – real men love each other too

This story is a couple of weeks old now, but definitely deserving of a Feelgood Friday spot!

Two gay teenagers were attacked in Anaheim, Holland, for holding hands in public. They were on the way home from a night out when a group started shouting homophobic slurs at them, before launching a physical attack which left them both hospitalised.

It’s all the more shocking as The Netherlands has a reputation for being a very liberal country, and was the first country to legalise same sex marriage in 2001.

In a show of public support for the teens, and in condemnation of the attack, Dutch male politicians took to the streets holding hands.

Alexander Pechtold and Wouter Koolmees holding handsAlexander Pechtold, left, leader of the Democrats D66 party, and Wouter Koolmees, financial specialist of D66, hold hands as they arrive for a political meeting

Read the full story here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x