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Archive for June 2015

Annual Life List check-in

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It’s my birthday! I am 37! Time to review the Life List. Items in bold indicate things that I have done; items in italics indicate things that are in progress. You can tell I had just got into diving when I was first pulling this together.


Do my PADI rescue / Do my Divemaster / log 100 dives (currently at 49, I think) / log 50 dives in UK waters (currently at eight) / dive with seals in Farne / dive with whale sharks / do a liveaboard (technically I have done this, but feel like it should be longer than two nights to count) / do a wreck dive (twice, off the coast of Egypt near Safaga, November 2013) / dive with great whites if I can figure out how to do it environmentally responsibly / dive Silfra / ice dive (probably in Baikal) / night dive in phosphorescence / do some sort of lengthy (at least one month) possibly conservation diving thing where I dive multiple times a day / compile a list of the top sites I want to dive, and then dive them / try free diving / dive in a cenote / dive with basking sharks / swim or dive with blue whales, Sri Lanka / learn to surf / try skiing or snowboarding / go rock climbing (near Dahab, October 2013) / do a long (50 – 100 mile) bike ride / do a multiple-day kayaking trip / do a long hiking trip (multiple days, possibly camping – e.g. the West Highland way) / sky dive / go on a multi-day rafting trip (two days, South Sudan, March 2013) / do a triathlon / run at least 10k (June 2014) (possibly half marathon or even marathon if I don’t hate it) / learn to white water kayak / learn to sail / do some sort of swimtrek / go potholing (argh) / get driving license! (passed theory test May 2015) / buy Lada Niva and bring it back to the UK / learn to use my sewing machine / once I have learned to drive, learn engine maintenance / get motorbike license / develop a repertoire of good dishes I can cook / learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube / learn how to strip a gun and put it back together blindfolded / fire a gun (Oman, January 2015) / fire an AK [details redacted] / go canyoning / buy a dress that shows off my back properly / learn how to do the front crawl properly for at least 100m / visit every country in the world (currently at 97 of 206, using the UN-Plus list) / get to know Glasgow properly / get to know Scotland properly / island hop in Scotland / go on a multi-day ocean journey (out of sight of land) / travel up one of the big Russian rivers into the Arctic circle / do the Trans-Siberian again but this time to Vladivostok, stopping along the way / travel up the Amazon / see sea turtles hatching (saw sea turtles laying their eggs in Oman, January 2014) / go to the Galapagos / go to Easter Island / spend time in very rural Australia, probably volunteering with an indigenous organisation / trek to Everest base camp / summit Kilimanjaro / see the aurora (borealis or australis) / go to Antarctica / spend at least three months living in a large north American city (ideally New York) / spend at least a month living in Paris / kayak with whales (possibly in Hermanus) / see a meteor shower / visit Laas-Geel, Somaliland (March 2015) / be in Lewes for 5 November / go to Venice for Carnivale / see the Pallio in Siena / go to Pamplona for the running of the bulls / go to New Orleans for mardi gras / go to Rio de Janeiro for Mardi Gras / be somewhere in Latin America for Semana Santa / go to Up Helly Aa / spend my birthday somewhere it is a big deal (John the Baptist / midsummer) / go to India for Holi / be in Mexico for the day of the dead / visit Guelta d’Archei, Chad / visit Antelope Canyon, US / visit the Ring of fire, Wrangel Island, Russia / visit that place in Venezuela with the permanent thunderstorm / visit Orkney and Shetland / visit Lindisfarne / visit Snowdonia (August 2014) / visit Anglesey / visit Brittany / visit Corsica and Sardinia / visit Greenland / visit the Faroe Islands / see narwhals in the wild / see orcas in the wild / do a proper sauna in Finland / visit all the European capitals (missing capitals: Andorra la Vella, Vienna, Minsk, Sofia, Vilnius, Luxembourg, Valetta, Chisinau, Podgorica, Stockholm, Bern, Kiev)  / see bison in Belarus / visit Chernobyl / go to Jökulsárlón / visit Niaux caves, France / see the Alhambra / visit the Bucovina monasteries / and the Meteora monasteries / visit the Kamchatka peninsula / go bog canoeing in Estonia / visit Nagorno Karabakh (October 2014) / visit the Aral Sea / visit Pamukkale / visit Gaza / visit the Western Oases in Egypt, and the black and white desert / travel overland between Khartoum and Cairo / visit Suakin / dive in the Red Sea off the coast of Sudan / visit the Danakil Depression / visit Mustang / travel to every state of the US (current count: Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, California) / travel to the far north of Canada (Nunavut or Yukon) / visit the Dogon Escarpment / visit Timbuktu / visit Lamu (October 2014) / see Mount Kenya / visit the Turkana region / see polar bears in Canada / go gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Uganda / visit the Okavango delta / go up the Shard / visit Lake Kaindy in Kazakhstan / climb the highest mountains (hills, really) in England, Wales (August 2014) and Scotland / go to Burning Man / visit the Mogollon Canyon Range / walk the Broomway / walk around downtown Mogadishu / visit Yakutsk and the Pillars of Lena / spend time above the Arctic circle (in winter) / visit all the Mountain Bothy Association bothies / visit Socotra / do an Mountain Bothy Association work camp / do a proper reading in a bookshop or book festival (bookshops: Leaves in Juba, March 2013. Festival: Budapest Book Fair, April 2013 – technically not a reading, but I was on a couple of panels, which I’m going to count) / teach on a creative writing course / go on a writing retreat / organise, or help organise, a literary festival / do [secret plan: redacted] / write [redacted] book / write a non-fiction book / blog weekly for at least a year (have I actually managed this yet? Not sure) / write enough poetry for a small collection (even if it never sees the light of day) / likewise short stories / likewise a play / do some sort of collaborative writing project / participate in some sort of oral history project / take part in the creation of a graphic novel / make a short film / devise and complete some sort of musical project / devise and complete some sort of artistic project / make a garden / learn to play my way through the big piano music book that I have / learn about radio production and make some sort of radio documentary / perfect my flat / get organised in my study / get my financial affairs 100% in order / do an ethical audit of the way I live, and live by it / get a full health screening (August 2013, though probably time for another one) / take part in some sort of community project where I live / properly finish [redacted project] / write to authors whose writing I love / revise life list on a yearly basis (hello!) / do [secret project of narcissism] / hold a tarantula / go through and listen to all my music, delete the stuff I don’t like, acquire more of the stuff I do / go to a prom (this kind of prom, not this kind of prom) / start an NGO / go on an actual, proper EXPEDITION to somewhere completely off the tourist trail / work in a proper humanitarian or emergency context / get my genes sequenced / do a PhD, one day / take at least one university-level economics course / take at least one university-level science course / get a C qualification in French in DELF/DALF / get some sort of recognisable qualification in German / get Russian to conversational level (probably through an immersion course) / get Arabic to conversational level (probably through an immersion course) (intensive course done in Oman December 2014 – January 2015, but wouldn’t say I’m conversational yet) / learn to speak Spanish to conversational level / learn basic Somali / compile list of literature that I should read, and read it / compile list of films that I should see, and see them / learn about whisk(e)y / learn about wine / see a murmuration of starlings doing their swirly thing / get properly good at yoga (possibly do a retreat!) / establish a signature scent / publish an academic article / learn how to use Excel really well / learn proper orienteering (compass, ordinance survey map, etc.) / do some sort of photography course (possibly online) / see a solar eclipse.


Written by Jess

June 24, 2015 at 3:13 pm

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Reading nothing much in Cairo

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View from the Left Bank, my favourite brunch spot

Going through one of those phases where I just can’t settle on a book. I have 15 books in my ‘in progress’ folder on my Kindle, and 500+ entirely unread books elsewhere, and yet. It’s probably in large part due to the fact that I am engaged in watching all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which a friend kindly passed on to me, and so that’s where I’m getting my fiction hit at the moment. Anyway it’s bound to pass soon enough; in the meantime, have some photos of one of my all time top-five favourite cities.


Sunset over Heliopolis, first night


Ramadan decorations, Zamalek


They paved Tahrir and put up a parking lot. (Literally.)


Old sign, Downtown


Under the bridge

Written by Jess

June 21, 2015 at 4:41 pm

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Reading ‘Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour’ in travel hell

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The book: Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, Morgan Matson

The place: everywhere

The photo above was taken late at night at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, shortly before I boarded a flight that ushered in 36 hours of genuine travel hell, involving an overnight flight from Rome to Addis to Nairobi, deportation from Kenya for having been in an Ebola zone within the preceding three weeks, nine hours of detention in the Port Health basement of Nairobi Airport, being put on a flight back to Addis with no information about whether or when I would be able to fly on from there or whether Ethiopia would let me into the country, bursting into tears in front of an Ethiopian Airways employee at midnight on Saturday when they informed me that the next flight to London was at 11.30 on Monday morning, maxing out my bank’s limit to withdraw a small brick of birr to buy my way onto a 4am flight to Cairo, desperately trying to change my remaining birr into either dollars or euros so I would have enough money to buy an Egyptian visa (as I wasn’t going to be able to withdraw any more money that day) and being told that the banks wouldn’t do so because I didn’t have an Ethiopian visa, and, when finally arriving in Cairo, discovering that not only had my bag not made it, but that no one had the slightest idea where it was because the woman who’d checked me in in Rome hadn’t given me the correct tag. I travel so much that it takes a lot to make me lose my composure, but this did it. However, a couple of days later, and a couple of good nights’ sleep, I’m feeling a lot more sanguine about everything; my bag has been located (though it is yet to arrive), and I have moved in with my former Cairo flatmate for the rest of the week. Besides, Cairo is one of my all-time favourite cities, and travel catastrophe aside, I’m very happy to spend a week here, revisiting old haunts from when I lived here in 2013-14.

In any case, said travel disaster came on the heels of an absolutely glorious week in Italy, so it was probably required for karmic redress.


Cloud over Verona




My companion and me, San Marino


Oh, Sienaaaaaaaa! (Could not stop singing this the entire time I was there.)


Siena pigeons


Malfatti with shaved truffles. Possibly the best thing I have ever put in my mouth.


The view from our Siena accommodation


Tuscan winetasting


Sunset over the Tiber, final night

Written by Jess

June 16, 2015 at 4:16 pm

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Reading ‘Finders Keepers’ on a train

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2015-06-06 15.58.00

(Drafted post, took photo, lost photo, replaced it with a random photo taken from a train between Germany and Italy several days later. Oops.)

The book: Finders Keepers, Stephen King

The place: Train between South Wales and Glasgow

Yes, all right, this was actually three days ago and I am now in a completely different country (Germany!) reading a completely different book, but still: new Stephen King always deserves a mention. I referred to Tana French as an example of a super-reliable author a while back, but Stephen King is even more so: two books a year, pretty much every year, despite his claims that he was retiring after his accident a few years back. Come off it, Stephen. You’re in this for life.

I thought this was ace: a sequel to last year’s Mr Mercedes and – as that was – a fairly straightforward detective story with very little by way of supernatural elements (mostly just a teaser for what I guess is coming in the next book). Something that I’ve always found fascinating in King’s works is how much he writes about writing, and his unease with the role of the writer: so many of his books and stories involve writers coming to bad ends, getting too caught up in their work (The Dark Half, Secret Window) or spawning lunatic fans (Misery, obviously) or just the whole idea of the author as God, which he explores in the Dark Tower books (which I adore). Finders Keepers, however, is the first book of King’s that I can think of that’s more from the perspective of the reader, and it’s a great evocation of the power of books and their ability to inspire obsession.

“For readers, one of life’s most electrifying discoveries is that they are readers – not just capable of doing it … but in love with it. Hopelessly. Head over heels. The first book that does that is never forgotten, and each page seems to bring a fresh revelation, one that burns and exalts. Yes! That’s how it is! Yes! I saw that too! And, of course, That’s what I think! That’s what I FEEL!

Written by Jess

June 7, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized