The week the wheels came off… and went back on

I’m beginning to settle into my new working/horsey balance pattern.  There’s still going to be some adjusting along the way, but last week saw a bit of a golden opportunity: I would spend both Monday and Saturday at the yard, and I should’ve had enough time to work with and ride Prince on both days.  Should being the operative word.

As it happened, time wasn’t the issue: we spent most of Monday entertaining some guests – employees of the local council who make lots of referrals to us, and came to have a kind of experience day.  We showed them directly what the kids they refer to us get to do, by running some sessions for them.  There were also cookies and cups of tea and lots of questions, all of which was good practice for the coming week (our open days are finally happening!) as we had to be “on” all the time, fielding questions about what we do, how we do it and the impact it has.

Once the goodbyes had been said and the morning declared a success, it was time for Prince to do some real work (having spent an hour conning a group of people into picking him the juiciest grass from the other side of the fence and hand-feeding it to him).  By this point, there was a sideways wind and he wasn’t really in the mood to work, having been in the company for a very extroverted group all morning.  Nor was I, if I’m honest, with a couple of distractions playing on my mind.  But I set to it anyway, grooming him and tacking up to ride.

I realised not long into our ground work session that riding wasn’t a good idea.  Prince gave me a lot of attitude, wasn’t really concentrating and didn’t seem capable of achieving much.  So I got to a place where we’d done something good, then gave up for the day.  I was pretty despondent – handling my emotions is something I’m not great at, especially when I’ve got a goal which I don’t think is going to be reached.  As the play day gets closer, I’ve had far less saddle time than I’d like (I know that’s always the way, but I haven’t really ridden at all, rather than it being a case of getting only three hours of riding a week when my ideal would be six or eight).  When I went home on Monday, I felt pretty hopeless.

I had four days away to try and get myself together, but although Saturday dawned sunny and warm, I still wasn’t feeling any more positive.  But my day started with a surprise: I had to move Bella, alpha mare of the little herd, to another paddock.  Over the winter, she was easy to handle (because she was cold and knew that humans = helpers); throughout the spring, she has become progressively awkward to catch, as her owner’s pregnancy has advanced and she’s not receiving the attention that she thinks she should be.  As an extroverted horse, she’s basically a bit bored, so I played the catching game with her.

Bella and I did a dance around the field, but it wasn’t Bella leading me in a game of chase, it was me saying, “okay, let’s play”.  I had to go a little carefully, as she’s (we suspect) torn a muscle in a hind leg and has limited her mobility a little at the moment, but there was more than enough movement for a quick game.  As we made our way across the paddock, we reached Prince’s favourite spot – small tree stump, which Prince itches on but all of the horses can use as a podium.  Bella was on one side of it, I was on the other, so I backed away and beckoned her towards me.  It’s plenty small enough for her to step over, and she had the option to go safely around either side of it… but she chose to step up onto it with her front feet.  I almost fell over in shock.  I’ve done no real liberty work on my horsemanship journey so far, and here I was with an injured alpha mare offering me a big touchdown.  I stood and gawped for a few seconds, praising Bella verbally, before gently stepping into her space and scratching her neck as she stood on the log.  There was just enough time for me to step back and snap a couple of quick pictures before she got down, stood quietly behind the log and waited whilst I went and haltered her.

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One satisfied horse gave me a confidence boost, and when it came time to work with Prince a couple of hours later, the weather was calm and sunny, I was in a good mood and we were ready to go.  I plaited him up again (my skills in that area are definitely improving!) and away we went.  I played a quick variety of games, trying to get him focused, particularly on picking his front feet up and being aware of where they are – he trips a bit at the moment, even though he’s sound and his tack fits, it seems to be a concentration issue, so I tried my best to get him switched on.

Happy that he was ready to go, I swapped his halter for a bridle and hopped on.  My previous ride a few weeks earlier had involved him expressing some quite serious opinions on going round corners (we were only able to do so sideways at a walk – not ideal), but I focused on where we were at and moved off.  He was a bit wobbly in that he finds maintaining straightness hard (which is due to all sorts of things: not being ride-fit, being inexperienced under saddle, and being ridden in a different paddock to where he normally is), because again, it involves concentrating, but I decided to forgive him the wonky lines and focus on just getting forwards – we have the rest of our lives to ride spirit level lines if we want to, I just wanted to get closer to a point where we might be able to leave the yard and go on a hack one day!

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from the way this was captured, in my head this looks like we’re doing a piaffe… maybe one day!

Having walked around for a while, checking steering and brakes, I nudged Prince into a trot and found him much more willing than before.  I continued to focus on transitions, forwards and gentle steering and, eventually, we cornered at a trot!  See below for triumphant video:

Please excuse my hideously out of practice riding, and Prince’s aforementioned wobbly form.  It’s a work in progress, but that’s now the key word: progress was again made.  I’ve got everything crossed that I’ll ride at the play day in a month, but I’m trying not to hold my breath…

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look at his beautiful swishy feathers!

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and we can do backup too!

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Oh, and the other thing?  I realised whilst I was riding that when I checked my Timehop app on Saturday morning, a photo had appeared from a year ago of me riding another 15hh black horse… on a different continent, in a different type of saddle and of a completely different build, but either way – two years, two 15hh Black Beauties.  It’s funny how life works out!

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on the left: Murray in the US, 2014; on the right: Prince in the UK, 2015. Spot the difference!

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Old ground

We’ve been here before.  A year ago, I blogged on the flaws in the BBC’s coverage of Badminton Horse Trials, one of the highlights of the equestrian calendar.  Unbelievably, the coverage in 2015 was worse than before.  Admittedly, I missed the coverage on cross country day because – guess what? – I was out with my friends’ horses, but I was kept up to date by my sister, and cross country day isn’t what I’m taking issue with.

Although the BBC didn’t take my most basic advice on board – that, if they can’t give eventing top-billing on main channels, that there should at least be consistency, and any coverage of the event should be via the Red Button channel OR BBC 2, not straddling the two – they do seem to have communicated their message better: in 2014, I was fielding many Tweets from confused fans who were watching on the wrong channel.  This year, the Twitter backlash was regarding something very different.  In 2014, cross country day was little better than decimation – only 28 horses and riders made it to the final day of competition.  A year later, there were many riders remaining, and the competition was in an exciting state – the top of the leader board was packed with big, talented names, with very few points between them, demanding stellar performances.  It would’ve been very watchable… had the cameras been rolling.

The BBC chose to show just six show jumping rounds live in 2015.  On a day when 57 combinations remained in the competition.  I’m not advocating they show all of them, that would be tedious, but those livetweeting the event vouched for the fact that the show jumping course was riding badly, meaning that the competition was hotter than hot.  Instead, the BBC showed a lot of cross country highlights: great for those who missed the cross country coverage or have never watched the sport before, again terrible for the hardcore fans.

We all know I’m a big fan, but objectively speaking, Clare Balding did again do a great job: she worked hard, running around the collecting ring and speaking to riders as soon as they came out of the show jumping ring.  This made great use of the seconds between rounds, and she gained some good insights from riders such as Mark Todd, as well as following first-timer Rose Carnegie diligently all the way through the event.  Clare further proved her credentials in the pre-recorded footage, talking viewers through different shapes and sizes of horses, and capably picking up a horse’s enormous hoof – the woman knows her way around a horse, and has a great passion for them, you can tell she loves covering equestrian events, and I hope that broadcasters continue to put someone who enjoys a sport in front of the camera, because it adds something special to the coverage.

At this point I despair, really.  Two years in a row the BBC have demonstrated that they have a great deal of talent at their fingertips – the technicality of the broadcast is great; Balding and the commentary team of Ian Stark and Mike Tucker remain on point – but it’s wasted with poor production and scheduling.  There’s precious little equestrianism – which has three Olympic sports and a huge amount of talented Brits – on free to air television annually, but at this point, I’d almost rather there were none at all.  I remain disappointed and deprived of my favourite sport.  Where do we go from here, and how do we ensure that people are able to view equestrian sport and be excited by it as I once was?

Masterclass

I’m very lucky that, despite my poor financial situation, I am still finding ways to enjoy myself, ably assisted by my family.  One of the things I’ve done recently was attend a recording of The Clare Balding Show with my Mum.  As with all TV audience things, the tickets were free, and unlike most other shows, these ones were guaranteed (with UK shows, production companies tend to over-book ticketed events which are free, because the audience aren’t financially invested so they get a percentage of no-shows, but need a full studio) – usually you have to queue up fairly early in order to ensure that you get in.  The very big down side to this particular show is that the audience have to stand – more on that later.

I adore Clare Balding, and have for years.  Since 2012, her star has risen to unimaginable heights, leading to some people thinking that they’re actually a bit sick of her but, in my eyes, Clare can do no wrong.  For the uninitiated – because, incredibly, it has come to my attention recently that there are even people in the UK who haven’t heard of her – Clare was born to do something sporty.  Her father is a retired racehorse trainer.  He, in fact, trained the Queen’s racehorses.  It wasn’t unusual for the Queen to have breakfast at Clare’s family home when she was growing up, as the Queen popped in a couple of times each year to see her horses.  Clare had a brief stint as a jockey before going to university, and her younger brother has ultimately taken over the racehorse training business.

Clare, meanwhile, went into broadcasting.  Racing being her specialist subject is where she started in sporting terms, but she’s also fronted televised rugby, equestrian and Olympic and Paralympic sport.  Oh and she has two radio shows, which aren’t related to sport.  In recent years, she’s developed a reputation for being a champion of the people (approximately one in every four sentences she delivered on air during the London Games was about how great the Games Makers were) and for being impeccably prepared, no matter what the subject (she’s become something of an expert in swimming and winter sports, as well as racing).  She’s brilliant at just getting hold of people: Olympian Chad Le Clos’s Dad is famous because of her, and if she’s at the races, she’s whizzing around the paddock with a microphone picking out the most random trainers, owners and jockeys in order to get their thoughts on forthcoming events.

Her current TV show is kind of a sporting chat show – she has three sporting guests on and interviews them, taking questions from the audience and from Twitter (Clare’s a massive tweeter, running her own account and engaging enthusiastically with her followers).  I was expecting to be impressed when we went to the show, because I’m such a fan, but I didn’t think I’d be blown away.  The show is recorded in a back-alley hangar on the Olympic Park – it’s far less impressive than it sounds, sadly, but I guess you’re not really meant to be impressed by the building and set.

The recording we went to was quite uniquely horsey – the guests were former-cyclist Victoria Pendleton, now-retired jockey AP McCoy and fresh-from-Vegas dressage rider Charlotte DuJardin.  I can’t think of the last time I saw so many horsey faces on one show.  It may actually never have happened.  That is the Power of Clare.  When she came out to start the show, you could tell she was more excited than she usually is – and her standard excitement level is roughly ten out of ten – and that she was looking forward to the show, and pleased at the amount of clearly-horsey people in the audience.  She was friendly, polite and well-prepared.  We were in for a treat.

AP McCoy was first onto the sofa.  The interview was filmed five days prior to his retirement.  Five days before he would be crowned champion jockey for the twenty-first season in a row (this was already a done deal, he is the Roger Federer of National Hunt racing).  But McCoy is famously… coy.  Withdrawn.  Private.  Dedicated and probably a little bit mad (what I didn’t know prior to the interview is that, like me, he has a spinal fusion… and that, like me, he was back on a horse two months later.  Difference between me and him is that he was racing competitively, I was cantering a riding school horse around an arena.  His fusion is also three vertebrae shorter than mine… but let’s not split hairs).  We had a feeling the interview would be good… because Clare.  She knows AP well, and she’s good at getting things out of even the quietest subject.  But she barely had to.  He came out with some brilliant anecdotes all by himself, as well as responding fantastically to her questions.  It was a bit emotional, as his impending retirement was addressed, but it was fantastic.

After almost an hour, Victoria and Charlotte were brought out to join AP, and some of my favourite horsey topics were covered: Charlotte is a huge champion for helmets in dressage, and this was discussed along with the accident which is the reason behind her stance.  Pendleton is currently training to gain a jockey’s licence, switching from cycling to horse racing, and noted that she hadn’t considered how much your relationship with the horse can impact what you’re doing, with this not having been a factor in her previous sport.  Part of me would urge her to switch out of racing as soon as possible (she’s contracted to her current challenged as it’s being funded by a sponsor), as she seemed to really like building this relationship, and I know that she’d get more of it in probably any equestrian sport other than racing or maybe polo.  That said, even AP spoke about having a relationship with his mounts – jockeys are famed for leaping from one horse to another without truly getting involved, but McCoy openly stated that he cried when one of his most famous rides died a few years ago (unfortunately, the horse sustained an injury during a race, which I’d certainly be crying about had I been on it).

We were stood for about three hours in total – not great for an audience who participate in sports which involve sitting down! – but we both agreed we’d go again.  The engaging guests helped no end, and I wouldn’t go for just anyone, but it’s always fun to watch these things from the inside.  Clare led her guests in a brief photo op at the end, where they sat together and slowly shifted to face each section of the audience, so that we could get our phones out and take pictures of them on the stage.  I wasn’t at the best angle, but my greatest shot is below.

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On top of this, I got a tap on my shoulder during one of the breaks and Mr EquineHour himself introduced himself.  I found out later that other Twitter pals were in attendance – it’s a small horsey world!

It’s great to watch first-hand as people do what they’re best at, and I’d encourage anyone to get there if they can.

The Clare Balding Show is broadcast in the UK on BT Sport on Thursday nights, with a shortened version on BBC2 on Friday nights.  The show is currently filmed on Tuesdays, and tickets can be applied for here.  Let me know if you end up going!

Horsemas

I actually didn’t ask for a horse this Christmas, because I’ve realised I may as well put Prince Charming on my wishlist.  So, of course, I didn’t get a horse for Christmas.  Among my (admittedly lovely) stack of presents on Christmas day there were three horse-related gifts though, so here they are:

Much as I got a joke toy horse (still not laughing, Mum) in 2013, this year I got a book as a bit of a laugh.  Further details on the contents of the Ladybird “Learning to Ride” book possibly to come in a future blog post, needless to say it’s pretty dated!  Clare Balding’s second book, incidentally, is just as good (albeit with fewer horses) as her first.

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My parents sort of followed in my footsteps last summer (or should that be tyre tracks?) when they went on a road trip in the US.  It took some doing, but I finally persuaded them to visit one of my favourite towns along their route, and they duly bought me a Christmas present in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Alright, so not many people will see my pink and horsey socks, but they still make me smile.

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I’ve saved the best until last: as someone who is a huge advocate for safety and up to date equipment, I’ve been shamefully lax about replacing my helmet (I haven’t had any accidents in it, rest assured I would’ve pulled my finger out if that had been the case, it’s just that mine has been used for more hours than it strictly should’ve been).  This was probably a boring present to most people, but a necessary one.  The boring stakes got upped when I decided to go with replacing my previous one with an identical sibling (a Champion Ventair, in case you’re wondering), but I’ve had a great experience with this helmet and, with a limited budget (and an enormous head which, criminally, puts the price up), I wasn’t going to be able to afford one of the posh showjumping type ones.  I haven’t adjusted it properly yet, and please excuse the slightly-awkward selfie!

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I did also get a little bit of money when one of my relatives ran out of inspiration, and at the moment I can’t decide whether that will fund a new pair of jodhpurs (again, after over-use of some delightfully cheap ones, they’ve all totally given up the ghost at the same time) or a riding lesson.

Maybe the horse will turn up under the tree at the end of this year… I live in hope.

Sucking eggs

As it’s (almost) the middle of winter, there’s a lot of blustering advice going around the horse community at the moment whereby some are criticising others for moaning.  I’m tempted to join in, because it is frustrating as a non-horse owner to sit and watch those who whinge about “having” to “find time” to go and “do the horse” in the dark/wet/cold/mud/before work/after the school run/prior to microwaving dinner.  I can’t promise that won’t one day be me.  And yes, it’s awful if you’re having a less than ideal time of it – your horse might have thrown a shoe and the farrier’s too busy to come straight away, meaning you can’t ride, but your horse still poos and needs his rug changing; your beloved equine might have a more serious injury, which requires walking in-hand to get some exercise or, worse, mean box rest.  You probably curse the day anyone invited you to ride as a small child, rendering you helplessly hooked on this furry drug, and leaving you in the current situation of financial ruin with an inability to feel your extremities.  But something makes you do it.

And here’s what I’ve learned: focus on the positive.  I’m not sure if this is a story which can be told, it may be something which requires living, but I’m going to try.  I’ve been through some dark times with my riding, and there may be more to come.  But even the bad times haven’t made me want to give up.  I still want nothing more than to be with a horse and, ultimately, clamber into the saddle.  I am happier around horses, whether I’m mucking out a box, attempting to get matted mud out of a mane or dragging water buckets around with wet legs (though that situation is much improved since my discovery that ski pants are the way forward).

But here’s the thing: this is your time.  It’s play, rather than work, and should be enjoyed.  We pour a phenomenal amount of money, time and effort into our horses, so it’s even more important that we enjoy them than we enjoy our work (and we know how I feel about the importance of feeling positively about our jobs, too).  But to give a pictorial (and festively-themed) representation of why we should cherish this time, I’m going to give you some examples from the past, present and future.

The ghost of ponies past
I was That girl: the one who got really excited when she spotted a horsebox on the motorway.  The child who didn’t want to do any sport other than riding.  The one who scoured TV listings and memorised event schedules in order to watch the quarterly 15 minutes of equestrianism on TV.  The girl who, when finally given the opportunity, cherished time with her loaned pony, and got to do exactly what she wanted – try a hand at showing off in the ring.  These aren’t from Burghley or Badminton or Hickstead or Olympia, like the ones from my dreams, but nobody’s taking them away from me.  My past is made of pastel ribbons, and I loved almost every minute.

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The ghost of horses future
I’m not clever enough in the right way to have made this image, I saw it on Facebook a while ago, and fell in love with it.  My body has grown up, but it still has that shadow of The Dream attached.  Whatever shape yours takes – and mine has many, actually – keep it in mind with every step you take.

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The ghost of horses present
This is the kind of thing which you often hear professionals say when they’re quizzed on why they do certain things that they do, but this relates beautifully to the everyman/woman too.  I’m a huge advocate of doing things for yourself, but sometimes it’s worth bearing in mind that you’re also always being watched.  Give someone something to look up to.  Show them that life is fun and worthwhile.  Be the one to demonstrate the possibilities by having them yourself (that’s a win-win).

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With all of that taken on board, if you’re still struggling to find the impetus to go and pat your pony and tell him how much you love him and can’t wait to take him on the first glorious hack during Spring, take Pat Parelli’s advice: buy a motorbike.

Wordless Wednesday – festive outfits

As I did last winter, I’m working in retail at the moment.  My dress code at work is “anything black” (plus company-provided apron).  Sequins, glitter, appropriately festive kit… it’s all allowed.  So last year, I ensured I possessed a Christmas jumper, and have kept it for this year… as well as adding to my collection.  And during the final weekend before Christmas and on Christmas Eve, well I just go for broke and add headgear.  Because subtlety doesn’t normally get you very far.

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This Friday (12 December) is Save the Children’s annual Christmas Jumper day – wear your Christmas jumper and donate to a great cause.  More information can be found here, let’s spread some joy!  I’d love to see what my readers’ jumpers are like

The tree of life

My Mum started it.  I was young and impressionable, and we were on a painful cycling holiday in Germany when she took us to a Christmas decoration shop.  It was the middle of the summer, horribly hot with more bugs in the air than I knew the names for.  But we came away with a couple of festive souvenirs, neither of which I could identify now, though the seed had been planted.

My Christmas decorating tactics when at university mainly involved tinsel.  I’ve never been a big fan of the stuff on trees, but when you live in a flat or house which is mainly corridors and banisters, it begins to make sense.  As one housemate once put it, “it looks like Christmas threw up in here” – I was delighted that, at the time, we lived in an enormous house, which I’d decided could “handle” a huge amount of glittery strings.

I’ve never really had my own tree, as I’ve chosen instead to wait until I’m back at the family home (which I’ve managed for every Christmas) to really enjoy a traditional tree (I do own a three-foot baby pink tree, bought mainly as it was incredibly cheap).  My family aren’t allowed to decorate the tree without me, and if I live away, I make time to return a few weeks prior to Christmas in order to put the tree up.  Because I, too, have started something: I’m building a collection of ornaments.  The pace has picked up since I’ve begun travelling more for pleasure – I now ensure that I don’t return home from a significant trip without a new decoration for my future trees.  Until I get my own home and family, they’ll hang on my parents’ tree, to remind me where I’ve been.  These are their stories…

London 2012 ornaments
When I first saw these at Spirit of Christmas in 2012, I didn’t know whether to fall in love or be appalled.  I didn’t think they could possibly be genuine, as I couldn’t imagine LOCOG licensing such a product… but they did, and they were.  I snapped up two of London 2012’s mascots for the trees of my future – one is in traditional Beefeater dress, the other is (of course) an ice-skating Santa.  When I posted a photo of them on Instagram, a friend who was similarly mourning the loss of the Olympics was desperate to know where I got them, and when I gave her the name of the supplier, immediately bought a set online.  2014 will see Wenlock and Mandeville grace our tree for the third time, as their manufacturers enjoy a prime spot in Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas shop.  Olympic legacy via Christmas decorations – something LOCOG should be proud of.

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The ruby slipper
Of all the things available to stare at in Washington DC, one which I couldn’t possibly miss was the ruby slippers at the Museum of American History.  The Wizard of Oz is still one of my favourite movies, so in 2013 I duly made my pilgrimage to see the famous shoes.  Sadly, they don’t make them big enough for my Yeti-sized trotters, but the Smithsonian do sell ruby slipper ornaments, and my collection immediately expanded.

Festive lobster
Amongst the weird and wonderful everythings of New Orleans, I spied something so perfect that I laughed out loud.  As well as proudly proclaiming it’s birthplace, this piece involves an appropriately-attired lobster playing the saxophone.  Of course.  But it also pays homage to one of the best pieces of dialogue in The Best Christmas Movie ever.

Viva Las Christmas
Another destination on my 2013 road trip, another certainty of finding glitzy tat.  There was a selection of typical options in Las Vegas, but rather than choose my favourite one, I selected the one which best commemorated my first visit – the hotel my friend and I stayed in is represented here, and a small piece of the Strip occupies a branch on my tree.

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Wreathed lighthouse
Ptown, Cape Cod, isn’t really about subtlety, so there’s a certain irony in the simplicity of this piece.  Eva and I spent two lovely days on and around the Cape this summer, and once we reached the end of our trek, she enjoyed Ptown as much as I did.  My criteria for decorations isn’t that they must be tacky – it’s that they should represent the place they’re from, as well as being obviously festive (so it’s not enough that an ornament is able to hang from a tree, it must also be clearly Christmassy).  The wreath is key here, otherwise it’d just be a (admittedly lovely) porcelain lighthouse.

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The one which didn’t make it
“Wouldn’t it be great,” Eva and I said, perhaps a little tipsily, “if, when we’re in Hawaii, we find a Christmas decoration which marries Hawaii and Christmas?  Something like, I don’t know, Santa in a grass skirt?”  Well, of course somebody had already thought of that.  I delighted in scrolling through the Santa’s Pen website whilst we waited at an airport for a flight.  When we made it to the store in Honolulu, I was agog at the choice, and eventually plumped for Santa, in said grass skirt, enjoying a drink in a hammock.  The sales assistant wrote “Mele Kalikimaka” (Merry Christmas) on it for me… and I promptly lost my purchase, but only realised the night before we were due to leave.  After the shop had closed.  And we left before it opened.  And they don’t ship internationally.  Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to cover it, but at least I have an excuse for a second visit to Oahu someday…

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Spoilt for choice
Berlin was bound to be tough: Germany is famously festive, with Christmas markets galore if you travel in November.  We went in October, and in the major cities, you’re always going to find it a little tricky to find something more unique and less mass-produced.  So I compromised, and made a trip to the highly-commercial Kathe Wohlfahrt.  I spent a long time selecting my ornaments, and came away with just two, both of which appealed to my horsey side.  The girl on the hobby horse is unpopular in our house already, but I couldn’t resist this miniature mirror into my childhood.  And the little deer-at-the-manger scene is simple but beautifully detailed – hopefully you can see the tiny strands of hay in the feeder.  Along with the lighthouse, they will make their debut on the tree in 2014.

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I’m not sure how many more ornaments I’ll get the chance to buy over the years, but I enjoy having an eclectic and non-matchy tree: whenever I see a shot of a tree on Facebook or Instagram, where the poor thing has been swathed in traditional glitzy baubles and trussed up with ribbons (why?!  Ribbons are for gifts!), I shake my head, turn to look at my traveller’s tree, and look forward to sharing the stories even more.  Because “I went to Homebase and picked out things which were on three for two” just isn’t interesting.

Wordless Wednesday – tourists at the luau

First of all: an apology.  To anyone who has ever given me a dance lesson, or taught me any kind of motor skill – I am not normally this bad.  And to the people of Hawaii, I’m sorry I murdered your dance.  But, respect to you, it’s really difficult and really fast.  I’d quite like to see Beyonce do it.

PSA over, here’s the real post.  Now that smartphone cameras are decent quality, and I’m wedded to my iPhone, my compact digital camera usually sits sadly neglected.

It comes out on special occasions, or when I go on “big” holidays.  My trip around the US was no exception, and when my friends and I hopped up on stage to try and learn the hula at the luau we attended in Hawaii, the new friends we’d made at our table captured the evidence.

I found this video whilst waiting for my flight home from Berlin, and have barely stopped laughing since.  So here you go: the hula, being murdered by myself and my friends Eva and Sarah.

Two thousand miles

At the time of writing, it’s a week since I left camp.  With part of my plans not quite getting off the ground, I decided instead to stick with my closest friend from camp and hit the road: Eva wanted to go to Canada, and had always planned to meet me on the West coast so that we could go to Hawaii together, but instead I found myself on a slightly different route…

We left our arrangements very late, which has meant our plans have been very fluid and often re-arranged at short notice.  Our employers arranged travel to Manhattan in the middle of Labor Day weekend (not the cheapest time to arrive!) and the US was our oyster.  We chose to stay in New York City for two nights, booking a hotel on Madison Avenue in the Flat Iron district.  It was predictably tiny, but sharing a Queen bed with one of my friends having spent 14 weeks in a very small twin bed seemed like luxury.

Our time in Manhattan was largely spent organising things for the following week of our trip, but we did get out and about a little – neither of us are huge fans of NYC, so we stuck to going to the Top of the Rock and 34th Street for a very quick shop.  That and treasuring the simple joy that is eating off a re-useable plate with proper cutlery (all of the tableware at camp is disposable, I’ve spent my summer eating from Styrofoam plates with plastic cutlery).

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the view from the Top of the Rock

We wanted to hire a car from New York all the way to Portland (Oregon, not Maine) and do a mammoth road trip, but thanks to Labor Day, New York was literally sold out of cars.  So was Newark.  So it was time for a new plan.  Things became a little convoluted, leading us to take a bus to Boston, where we got car hire for eight days and headed further north.

The bus journey, of course, ran two hours behind, but the freedom when we finally got our car was fantastic – both of us missed driving and defining our own destiny when we were at camp, so hitting the highway was bliss.  We didn’t manage to get into the driving seat in Boston until gone 5pm, but were ready to be on the road and aimed ourselves at Montpelier, Vermont for the night.

We backtracked the following day to a town we’d stopped in for dinner the previous night: Quechee is a word we’ve still not learned to pronounce, but is home to hidden gems – we went to Sugarbush Farm for a free maple syrup and cheese tasting (if you’re ever in the vicinity, leave the beaten path to find this place – not only is the drive gorgeous, but the produce at the end is also divine), and stopped to take photos at Quechee Gorge (“the little Grand Canyon”, as it likes to call itself) on the way back to the highway.

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Quechee Gorge – getting lots of panorama practice during this trip!

Next stop was the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Waterbury.  This was my fault: we visited on a family holiday several years ago, and I remember (before the days of digital cameras, social media and smartphones) painstakingly sitting with my Dad and writing down the ingredients to one of the world’s largest sundaes.  I wasn’t allowed to attempt eating one as a child, and had told Eva about it earlier in the summer – she was determined to finish my business.  We made a beeline for the scoop shop as soon as we’d finished our tour, purchased our bucket of ice cream (no kidding – 20 scoops plus many toppings)… and ate half of it.

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Disappointed in ourselves, but armed with our celebratory badges and bucket, we forged on to Canada.  There followed over two days of tedious driving – as Eva kept putting it, “I think we’re on the wrong side of the country” – until we hit Prince Edward Island, which is stunning.  I still haven’t quite forgiven the island for charging us $45 to get across the bridge which links it to the mainland, but we stayed at perhaps the best bed and breakfast I’ve ever stayed at.  We took in some intriguing sights on the island, fantasy house-shopping as we drove around.

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5. PEI prince edward island beach view sea canada panorama

yes, another panorama

Our trip back into the USA was interesting to say the least (these days, immigration seem to have a problem with me wanting to enter the country and spend money), but we made it eventually.  We took the supposedly-coastal route through Maine and were disappointed – Route 1 on the East coast is nothing like it’s Western cousin, and an evening rain storm didn’t help.  The journey south continued, taking us to Cape Cod, where I ate my first lobster (with some pretty expert guidance from Eva).  I love seafood, and can happily say that this lobster won’t have been my last.  The weather hasn’t been quite warm enough in Cape Cod for us to fully enjoy the beaches, but as we’ll soon be in Hawaii, we aren’t too worried.

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Over 2,000 miles later, our friendship is intact, the car is returned, and we now board a plane to the West coast, where one of my friends from the UK awaits, along with many other adventures.