Song of the week: 22nd March 2014

I’m sitting in the airport (again) and am on my way to Australia for the first time.  I’ve bought a bottle of Southern Comfort that *should* last me my month and a bit there.  I’m off to see friends old and new – Jess, who I’ve known since school, possibly before, Ruby, former flatmate and marvelous Aussie, Ruby’s extended family who are hopefully putting me up for a bit.  I might bump into David, who I met coming off the last plane and who needs to earn more about Australian TV.  I’m definitely going on the Neighbours tour – hat self respecting fan with two board games and two best of DVDs wouldn’t?  (I really don’t think it matters that I’ve not really seen it in 5 years…)


So my songs this week have been prepping for the oncoming country.

The first is from Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, two brilliant musicians I’ve been lucky enough to be taught by.

The Drover’s Boy came up in a lecture I’ve been listening to from La Trobe University about picture books for children and I’ve known it for a long time as this wonderful song. You should also look out for The Outside Track and Dance to your Daddy/The Flaming Drones, actually just get yourself the album. (No video available of The Drover’s Boy so here’s Dance to your Daddy)


As I’m also going to Sydney I have to include an ABBA song – it’s Fernando – simply because Muriel’s Wedding is an awesome film and I love the trip to Hibiscus Island where Mariel (as she has renamed herself) and Rhonda become friends.  Ruby and I are off to Fiji later in the year and I fully intend to dress up in ABBA costumes and perform Waterloo before collapsing at the foot of a tree laughing and hoping that life is as good as an ABBA song.  I’m also really tempted to go and try on wedding dresses and pretend I’m marrying Tim Sims, but I’ll rein myself in.

When I get on youtube again I’ll also give you a little bit of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and some The Fast Show that also help sum up what Australia means to me.  Comment below if you want to guess what those clips might be….


And here they are:

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

Ahhhh I’m so behind, so let’s take a few posts and catch up…


On the 11th, after a long night bus from Hanoi, I arrived at Easy Tiger hostel in Phong Nha National Park.  I’d been looking for somewhere to go to that was a bit remote, but given that I’ve not planned this part of the trip particularly well, I’m having to just do highlights.  A guy I met in Vientiane, Alastair, recommended the Phong Nha Farmstay as a good place to go as it’s halfway down the country, in the National Park and they do tours.  Plus it’s a lovely place to stay.  They were booked up but suggested I try Easy Tiger.

Designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site to protect it’s amazing cave system, under it’s geological categorisation, but also has amazing bio-diversity and as the British caving Association and local explorers attempt to study and uncover more caves they are also finding more new species.  The area is also home to the world’s largest cave, which was ‘discovered’ only 5 years ago in 2009.

I hardly slept on the bus, so had a long nap and a bit of a rest while watching the new Jonathan Creek episodes.  Then I got up for a wander around the village – it’s not big, I took a leisurely pace and had finished within about 20 minutes. I passed houses, loads of locals looked both bemused and entertained to see a red faced white girl wandering past.  One handed me her child and laughed saying ‘100 thousand!’  The child didn’t seem too entertained, but people walked out into the street to laugh with her.  I walked over a rice paddy and heard the unmistakable sound of a school playground.  Following the noise I came upon the primary school, to be met by loads of children running up, waving and shouting ‘Hello!’  somehow they all managed to get in time with one another so for a little while it got a bit Midwich Cuckoos, but then I headed back to the hostel.






The lady at the hostel wrote a note in Vietnamese for me explaining that I was a teacher and could I visit and they let me in.  The chairs are tiny, as always, they don’t seem to have any tables, but otherwise, just like any other primary classroom.

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The teacher, Thanh Huyen, was very helpful despite our language barriers and let me look around.  The parents seemed quite surprised to see me there when they came to pick up their kids.

Yesterday was the big trip to Paradise Cave, Highway 20 and Dark Cave.

Highway 20 is so called because on the 15th November 1972 the Americans carpet bombed this area of Vietnam as it is the narrowest part of the country and they were attempting to cut off supply streams and movement options for the Northern Vietnamese.  8 people were sheltering in the cave known as 8 Lady Cave and were trapped by a falling rock and died of starvation 9 days later, the local villagers powerless to help them.  The majority of those killed in the cave were 20 years old.

The highway, crossing over the border to Laos was built and maintained by local Vietnamese, many of whom were too young to be in the army, so around 5 years old, so our guide Chrissie (Joss Stone look-alike) told us.  They were given enough supplies to last them as long as they were expected to survive in the area.  how long was that?  2 days.  15 year olds, working on a road because they couldn’t join the army were expected to live for 2 days.  If they found someone dead on the road then they would collect their supplies and keep moving on.


Offerings to spirits

Offerings to spirits

8 Lady Cave where 8 people were entombed by a falling rock after a bombing raid.

8 Lady Cave where 8 people were entombed by a falling rock after a bombing raid.

The names of those killed in the cave and those who were manning the anti-aircraft posts.

The names of those killed in the cave and those who were manning the anti-aircraft posts.

The smoke of offerings burnt to send to the spirit world.

The smoke of offerings burnt to send to the spirit world.

Chrissie, our guide

Chrissie, our guide

We took some time to look around and the other guide spotted a couple of monkeys scampering across the mountain.  Luckily my camera has a pretty good zoom so this is what I saw through the viewfinder.




As ‘Joss Stone’ kept on talking, briefing us on the history of the area, I spotted a tornado of butterflies across the road.


Soon it was time to move onto Paradise Cave (Thiên Đường Cave)  31km long cave which gets is a bit of a walk up the hill to get there.  We could only go through the first 1km, on a raised wooden walkway, but that was enough for me.  There are amazing examples of stalagmites and stalactites, as well as helictites, which I’d never heard of before.

But the main part of the day was reserved for Dark Cave, so-called because it is formed from basalt instead of limestone.  We were to kayak to the entrance, then walk through mud filled passages, swim through a pool in the cave to reach the main part.

I was sharing a kayak with Gill, who has a bad shoulder, and neither of us has kayaked before.  So essentially I was doing most of the paddling and just as we set off, a random Vietnamese girl jumped in the back with no paddle.  We eventually made it to the cave in a beautifully choreographed movement of circles, back paddling and attempting to follow the others (who all looked very professional) in a straight line.  There were some locals fishing who were pissing themselves with laughter and beckoning us towards them.  I really would have been good at kayaking if I could have been, but, unfortunately I have to admit, I was crap.

As I’ve not tested out the waterproof case for my camera and it would have been pointless in the mud, I have no pictures of my own, but have found some on Google.

dark cave 1 dark cave 2

The mud was thick and slippery, making farty type squelchy sounds as we walked.  I am not a particularly physical or active person and I always worry about my knee dislocating (it has 15 times before) so this was a struggle for me.  There was one section where you had to go up a steep mud bank, which I didn’t manage, but behind it was just a mud pool where a bit of a mud fight broke out.  The others in our group were not quite this covered but this is a good illustration:

dark caave 3

Next we clambered back through the muddy tunnels, slightly easier this time because I knew roughly where I was going (albeit backwards) and I just sucked it up and slid around on my bum a bit.

Then we reached the shore of the cave pool, headed straight in, pretty cold, but I adjusted to it, and swam across about 70m before reaching a pebbly bank and then swimming again through a narrow passageway and under a big rock.  We had a bit of a talk about this cave then swam back, me at the front, this time without the lights on our helmets on.  It’s quite a strange experience, swimming in the dark with a teardrop shaped beacon of light signalling the outside world to you.  The water, by the way, is definitely colder second time in.

We headed back towards the boats and Gill and I had the brilliant idea of swimming back to the jetty instead of taking the kayak.  I was really pleased I did this as I didn’t take the opportunity to swim in the River Kwai (no-one else was and I didn’t want to feel like an idiot in my swimming costume) or in the River Ping, near Chiang Mai.

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It was a long and exhausting day, but in a good way, and my legs have not yet recovered from the mud and the steps, but I think that when I get back home I will start to try messing about in boats a bit more.

Song of the Week: 17th March 2014

Sorry it’s a bit late, but I’ve been trying to fit as much into the last few days as I can, as well as getting on with writing and trying to rest my back. 


This week I’ve been in Vietnam and so I was thinking of listing the Original Cast Recording of Miss Saigon, but I can’t stand Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer, I can manage him as Peron in Evita – he even signed my book and video case – I just think he’s not that good in this.  Plus that seems like an obvious choice and I don’t want to be doing that. I also thought about Billy Joel’s Goodnight Saigon, but that didn’t seem right either.  Although Vietnam is synonymous in many minds with war, that’s not how the country feels to me.  So nothing actually connected to Vietnam. 


Instead, I’ve been thinking about the journeys, long bus trips I’ve been on over the last two and a half weeks.  The songs (yep, can’t choose again) I’ve picked are both Elton John, both feel like they should be listened to as you drive along with the sun setting and turning the sky a selection of inky blues, reds and oranges with the wind blowing through your hair. 

Here is a lovely version of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Sara Bareilles:

And the ultimate bus song, thanks to Almost Famous, Tiny Dancer.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

From the outside news reports the protests in Bangkok in February 2014 were more like riots, clashes with the police and sadly people died.

Inside, this was not the case everywhere. The protests were spread across a large area, with tents, music, food, I was given free water and invited to write on the pro-democracy walls.

A ten minute walk into the protest site I found these children dancing.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective

Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective

When I feel like I’ve had a really tough day I have a flick through a photo album on my computer that helps me put things into perspective. One is of me, my friends and family having fun, to remind me that I can have fun. The other, from which this photo is taken, reminds me of things that others have gone through.

This photo was taken at the JEATH Museum in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, which commemorates the live lives lost of those working on the ‘Death Railway’ as forced labour for the Japanese Army during WW2.

I am a wee weaver

What should you do if you are only going to a city for one day and then flying out? I had no idea for Vientiane but my cousin Rebecca gave me a good idea – she’d been and spent the day on a textiles course.  I asked her which one, she couldn’t exactly remember but googled and found Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women.  Perfect.  I emailed, booked myself in for a day’s visit and off I went.

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Response: A Teacher’s Tale

I just read this on my friend’s facebook status and decided that from the other side of the world I should write about it.  As usual, this will be a stream of consciousness so hopefully will make sense! 


“So… Some of you will be aware that, between Acting jobs, I work as a Supply Teacher. This past week I’ve been back at a school I regularly work in – no names – teaching a variety of subjects. Wednesday it was PE. Now, PE is a strange one to cover because the kids are not used to me being in anything but a suit and tie however, at least when I teach PE they get to have a practical lesson rather than just sit in a classroom.

“Lesson 3 was a Yr11 (5th year in old money!) lesson in which a number of boys were playing football. Still more boys had “not got kit” (for which they were not reprimanded at all!) but spent the lesson leaning against a wall. At one point, noticing movement out of the corner of my eye, I turned to see the non-participants clustered over at the fence (a tall steel affair with a spiked top – to keep the paedos out! …or, in truth, to keep the kids IN!) One of the boys – a ruddy-cheeked, pretty-boy – had climbed up the fence and as I watched, hawked a great mouthful of phlegm which he then spat at a woman walking past!

“As you can imagine, she was disgusted – as was I! I ushered the boys away from the fence and apologized profusely to the woman – who spoke no English – while the boys jeered and made racist remarks! On taking them “in” I spoke to the Head of PE who had me point out the spitter, who – to my face – refuted the accusation with “He’s a fucking liar, Sir!”
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You’ve gotta get a gimmick…

I’ve managed to get myself a little bit sorted out now – I’ve bought a back pack, packed it, un-packed it a but, left everything on my bed in the vain hope that it will sort itself out.  I’ve got a room in a Travelodge for the night before my flight, I’ve got Mum taking me to London in her Mystery Machine, ta Mum.  I’ve even gone so far as to book a hostel for my first few nights in Bangkok.  I know crazy, eh?  And in 20 minutes I’ll be off for my hepatitis A booster.

Well now I’m obviously procrastinating because I’ve yet to get up, have shower, get dressed, but I have come up with something to do in the next two weeks – make myself a travel companion!


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Hello new readers…

Hello to any of you who are visiting and reading for the first time, lovely of you to stop by, and welcome back those that have been here before. 


Have a look through the old posts if you like, please feel free to share the link, comment, give me ideas of where I should go to for my trip, particularly in the US, SE Asia, New Zealand or Fiji. Let me know if you would like me to pop by on the trip.  I caan make you a good meal if you can give me a sofa or spare bed to sleep on! I’m very open to people’s ideas and suggestions and I’ll be updating here as things develop.



And the band played ‘Waltzing Matilda’…

Today is Remembrance Day,  the Sunday closest to Armistice Day and, as such, many people have been wearing red or white poppies and visiting cenotaphs to remember the dead, both civilian and military, that gave their lives in wars across the world. 


Tomorrow is 11th November and 95 years ago it was the day of the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. Armistice Day is a day to remember the sacrifices made by many, too many, people over the years in order to protect the ways of life back home. 

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Oh I get by with a little help from my friends.

I’ve been a bit slack on here because I’ve been making things and working.  I’m saving up to go on a round the world trip and so will be selling my felt creations to go towards this and help me blog from exciting places. 


If you would like to help fund this then please click on the tab ‘Felt creations’, have a look through and fill in the form and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. 


P.S. If you’d just like to donate, then please do, that would be awesome!