Take my hand. Let’s walk together.

Tonight Marc and I watched two episodes of the British television series Happy Valley.

Let me tell you, that is one grossly misleading title.

The show is excellent, but grim as shite (in the parlance of all the characters.)

I wanted to watch a third episode, but Marc told me he couldn’t handle any more for the night, and opted instead to play some Dark Souls.

(This should deftly illustrate just how brutal and bleak the series can be, in so far as he would nominate this maddeningly difficult video game to be an appropriate palette cleanser. Good grief.)

Meanwhile, I am laughing because he keeps inadvertently poisoning his allies with a pair of enchanted, and very deadly pantaloons.

I feel like we’re all bonkers around these here parts.

The weather here in Vancouver has been so starkly beautiful of late.

My favourites are the afternoons when everything seems to be aglow in a soft, rose gold. As the sun hangs heavy in the blush toned sky, you could swear that you can feel your blood run a little warmer, even as your shadow grows a little longer.


I could easily hack a winter made purely of this magic.

Five years ago we were living in Birmingham England.

Our days were a brilliant pick-and-mix of graduate courses, teaching at a community school, running around the Edgbaston Reservoir, exploring the city, and heading out on cross-country adventures.

One of my most vivid memories of this time, is the amount of time we spent walking in the cold autumn air – both together and apart.

We didn’t have a car while we were there, for many reasons of course, but funds and fear of driving on the opposite side of the road were the two that topped the list.

(I cannot tell you the number of times I was almost smoked by a vehicle because I looked the wrong way before stepping into the street, nor the number of times I could have been destroyed in a round-a-bout whilst riding my bicycle. A quick study on the English rules of the road, I was not.)

However, being without a ride (my garbage ten pound bike notwithstanding) was never an issue.

We loved careening about the city – both on foot and riding public transit.

The first time we were waiting at the bus stop, we didn’t know that you needed to actually flag down the bus (you stick your arm out as it approaches to indicate that you want it to pull over), so each one just kept driving on by.

“Why won’t they pull over!?” I exclaimed as I watched the fifth red double decker zoom on past.

“You don’t have your hand out,” remarked a kindly older woman who happened to be walking by. “You have to put your hand out, love. Or else they won’t know that you want to board.”

I thanked her (and felt my heart grow three sizes – an event that I would come to expect every time someone addressed me as “love” during my time in Brum.)

Strangely, I think some of my most cherished memories of our time spent in the city, are the mornings in which Marc and I would commute together to our teaching jobs.

Classes began at eight thirty in the morning and it was about a forty-five minute commute from our flat in Edgbaston to the school in Alum Rock.

We would wake up around seven, and together we would greet the day.

Never saying much whilst we got ready, we were like two silent dancers, each lost in our own little routine, before locking up and walking to the bus stop.

The mornings were always so cold, and I relished the chance to walk arm in arm together, as well as bundle myself up in Marc’s embrace as we waited at the stop.

Sometimes we would read the free magazines that were handed out at the Broad Street interchange, but mostly we would talk quietly about our lesson plans or make each other laugh with stories from the previous day’s classes.

For breakfast I could buy a three pack of egg tarts from Greggs. For one pound you couldn’t get anything more delicious (and most likely, anything as remarkably unhealthy.)

From the stop in Alum Rock we would walk up to the road to the school, betting on which of our students would be waiting at the main entrance for us to arrive and unlock the doors.

Once inside, they would make tea and try convince us to let them play one game of billiards before settling down to their first lesson.

Our decision normally rested on how much sugar had been put in our tea.

In the afternoons, I would bus to the university for either my classes, or to do research for my thesis, while Marc worked on overhauling the school’s curriculum and marking systems.

In the evening, we would meet back at the flat and then go for a walk.

Marvelling at the multi-coloured trees rapidly losing their leaves, we’d spy each spindly bare branch waving self-consciously in the wind.

Whether to Bearwood, or to the city center, or to the Garden House (our neighbourhood pub) – we’d stride along together.

Our blood a little warmer.

Shadows a little longer.

Our time across the pond

Currently I am missing Birmingham, UK something fierce.  In the fall of 2009 my husband and I spent four months in the city.  I was on academic exchange for my graduate program, and during our time overseas I attended classes, travelled the country, taught English at a school for young Afghani asylum seekers, spent a week in Switzerland – in short, I had the most amazing and profound adventure of my life.

As we crawl closer to September – the month we departed for the UK – I cannot help but reflect on our time spent in Brum.

Here is a brief snapshot of the start to what ended up being a truly brilliant, beautiful, and life-changing time:

Day three/four in Jolly Ol’ England.  Baaaaaahhhh.

Yesterday we moved into our new place.  The night previous Marc had seriously destroyed his stomach (the tragic mistake?  Purchasing a can of Carlsberg lager on our way home from dinner as an accompaniment for six individually wrapped cake pastries that were amazing, yet deliriously rich and quite heavy on the tummy) and spent most of the night in agony, pacing around the hotel room.  This, coupled by the fact that we had spent a good portion of the day walking around the city left us completely knackered (in the parlance of our times, or at least country) and we managed to not only sleep in past breakfast, but past check-out.

Hotel room!
Hotel room!

Stress was had. 

And we had ALL of it.

Also I’m not sure I would do very well as a regular student at the University of Birmingham.  The campus seems to be run in a “laissez-faire” kind of way, which does not sit well with neurotics and obsessive compulsives (aka-me.)

I met today with my tutor, who was lovely and personable and we discussed my course sign up, but mostly we chatted about the campus and how easy it is to sit in on other professors’ courses as long as you contact them first. 

There is a PoliSci introduction this Friday from 11-12 that will cover everything course-related and although I didn’t want to make her go through everything that I would be hearing in two days’ time, it was all I could do not to jump up from my seat and yell out “WHY THE CAN’T WE DO ANYTHING BY A STRICT SCHEDULE I AM NOT GOOD WITH BLURRY LINES.”

She was so calm as she sat there telling me that as long as I had signed up for my courses by the second week of term (bloody October 10th or there around) I would be okay.

My guts were roiling just thinking about this.

The campus is phenomenal, with lovely red brick buildings that stand in sharp contrast to the velvety green of the grass that spreads around the campus like a deranged serpent in pursuit of higher learning (or maybe just to munch on the ankle of an undergrad or two.) 

Campus clock!

I am excited to explore the European Research Institute and attend the guest lecture series available to all students. 

I am excited to attend classes where I will actually be interested in the material in hopes to rediscover why I actually fell in love with academia in the first place. 

I am excited to ride my bike along Norfolk Road wearing my chunky boots and pink tuque, daydreaming about the city’s Christmas market while trying not to get killed each time I forget which way the cars are coming.

Birmingham Adventures 040
Christmas market!

I cannot believe that Marc and I will be here for but four months. The city is powered by a maddeningly seductive electricity that I have yet to discover anywhere in Vancouver.  This spark runs through the multicultural signposts standing at each street corner, and in the form of head scarfs and turbans and skin colours that range from the palest pales to the deepest blacks.  It is present in the bustling how-to-do of New Street and the downtown core, in the cheap but flavourful takeaways that take up space on most street corners (and often in between), and the men selling fresh dairy products down at the open air market, bellowing over and over about their jumbo sized eggs, sold either in a half or one dozen cartons.

This country is also bloody fantastic due to the amount of candy available EVERYWHERE.  As I sit typing this I am eating a package of “Quarter Pounders” drinking a class of Diet Cherry Coke. 

I feel a bit of existential angst every time I set foot in a grocery mart: there is so much to choose from I find myself asking “what’s the point?  I’ll never be able to try all of these products!”

Further, I used to think that I drank quite a lot of tea and only now realize how silly I was in my naivety.  M and I drink somewhere between eight to ten cups of tea a day, more on days that we spend time in the company of friends.  It will be running through our veins in no time and I’ll find myself transformed into Kevin McDonald’s Tetley addict, imagining that Dave Foley dressed as a giant tea bag is chasing me around my flat shouting “COME ON…DUNK ME!  DUNK ME!”

Birmingham Adventures 114
Rugby game tea!

I may need help.

Or at the very least, another cuppa.


Have laughs, will travel

Sometimes, you just need to act like a nutter.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In December of 2009, M and I spent a week in Geneva and five days in London before returning home to Canada.

We had been living in the UK while I was on research leave for my MA, and we really wanted to wrap up our trip in a special way.

We figured stops in two brilliant, bustling cities (in the weeks leading up to Christmas no less) would make for an excellent send off.

Now, suffice to say that I love my husband madly (emphasis on the mad) and when I state that we have a heck of a good time travelling together, this is not hyperbole.

This is fact.

During our time in Switzerland, we bopped about the place, our eyes semi-sprung from our sockets, incredulous at how expensive everything was (I mean, twelve francs for a happy meal!? How is that even possible?), attempting to take in all the jaw-dropping beauty offered up by our environs.

M is half-Swiss so we had the immense pleasure of staying with his amazing cousin Lisette, a woman whom I love dearly – so much so that I will be hard pressed not to name my first child after her.

(If luck should have it that it be born a boy, well, he’ll have to endure. Perhaps some hard living country songstress will write a rousing tune about him and his namesake. It would be a bona fide hit; a certified chart topper.)

Lisette’s sister Bea is another of my all time favourites – she is the epitome of chic. Her doggie Tisha is also the epitome of cute, with her eyes that melt your heart, and magical powers to make handfuls of biscuits materialize out of thin air.

On our first day in Geneva, we toured much of the old town and then visited St. Pierre Cathedral. Having climbed to the bell tower, we took full advantage of an empty observation deck to partake in some high tom foolery.

Exhibit A:


On our trip to Bern, M kept asking me to take photos so “it looked like he was running to jump aboard the train while it was still moving.”

This is the best I could do:

It’s amazing the associated press hasn’t been blowing up my phone trying to get me to come and work for them.

Perhaps one of my most favourite laugh-until-you-cry-and-then-bloody-well-laugh-some-more moments came when we were in London.

It was our second day in the city. We sprung out of bed at an early hour, despite having walking some twelve-odd hours the day before, so eager we were for adventure.

Boy was it was cold as heck.

We arrived at Kensington Gardens and immediately were besieged by hoards of hungry, and as such, aggressive water fowl. They were absolutely insatiable! I managed to capture the madness (albeit all too briefly) in the following video.


Finally, because I’m a silly, silly girl, and I’m always asking M to pose for inane photos, I requested that he pretend to tickle the giant, mummified hippopotamus that’s hanging two stories up in the Museum of Natural History:

And then pet the skeleton of some poor prehistoric beast that perished in some Jurassic tar pit and/or meteor shower:


Just typing out these words – just looking at all of our many photos from this trip has got me feeling homesick. Yearning for our small, rubbish flat on Rotton Park Road, my running loop at the Edgbaston Reservoir, my young English students at Right Track School, the beautiful red brick at the University of Birmingham, and all the carefree nights and weekends M and I spent around the city, and different parts of the country.

So you’ll have to excuse me.

I’m off to take some photos. I’m off for a new adventure.

It’s all okay in the UK

To round out a week full of travel-centric blog posts, I would like to share with you all a brief snap shot of Mr. M’s and my first few days in the magical city of Brum.

We lived in Birmingham for four months in 2009. I was on research leave for my MA, and M, being a Swiss citizen, was working as a language teacher at a community school, teaching ESL to young Afghani asylum seekers.

Here is a journal entry I wrote at 12:55 am because I couldn’t sleep due to my excitement yes, but also because I had an irrational fear that my landlady’s estranged husband (who also lived in the house) would murder us in our sleep:

I cannot even begin to communicate the hilarity that is M’s and my life here in Birmingham. We are enamoured with the city and its many eccentric but loveable inhabitants, impressed with its Balti and other culinary delights, frustrated with our “washing machine”, flabbergasted at the extremely cheap grocery prices, and proud of the fact that we turned an absolute dive into something that vaguely resembles a home.

Home sweet Brummy home!

Our travel to the city was a gong show and a half, what with the airline deciding to add stops in both Calgary and Dublin at the last minute, and then charging most passengers between four and nine hundred dollars at check-in because their luggage was overweight.

There was more than a little anger brewing at the Fly Globe Span counters (worst airline in the world – copyright 2009)  let me tell you. Luckily, I am a neurotic and anxiety-ridden individual and had already checked the allowances online, so we were in the clear.

Once we arrived in London we decided to take the bus to B town (or Brum, or Birmingham if you’re not into the whole Brevity thing) and not the train, which was a HUGE mistake, albeit much cheaper than the alternative.

The ride ended up taking about four and a half bloody hours.

I spent the time dozing under a pile of jackets because the air conditioning was set to arctic chill MAX, and I apparently have ZERO ability to cope with the cold, while M befriended a six hundred year old man who somehow didn’t succumb to the drop in temperature and die in his seat.

(I should have asked what his secret was.)

Anywho, we managed to finally get to our hotel (the glorious Etap Hotel, that may or may not moonlight as an elderly homosexual pick up joint) and fall into bed.

The next day we set out in search of a place to live and a cell phone plan. Once this (the plan) was procured, we needed to get our Canadian phone unlocked, which led to our first introduction to the Birmingham market, which we LOVE. We’re sure it’s the place where we’ll get most of our fruit and veg and any odd bits that we need.

Market! Well, just down the hill at least.

We then set off for the library in hopes of getting internet access to only learn that THERE IS ABSOLUTELY ZERO FREE WIRELESS IN ENGLAND SERIOUSLY THE INTERNET IS NO WHERE TO BE FOUND.

Why no internet UK? 

Eventually we managed to find a connection and slowly began to contact potential landlords.

M was a bit flabbergasted when it came to actually talking to people on the phone and he kept telling me (while the person was still on the line, yammering away), “I can’t understand anything these people are saying!”

The Brummy accent folks, is truly something to behold.

When one woman asked him if he was a student he responded with “okay” to which she just said “okay?”

Believe me when I say the laugh attack that I had been suppressing since our arrival in the city was unleashed with full force.

The first guy we met was a complete jerk. He showed up twenty-five minutes late, did not say hello, and then mumbled that it was “six months minimum” before just walking back up to his car!

What an arsehole.

After this encounter, we were lucky enough to meet Sue – our now landlord. (Though we did have to walk over 10km in order to get to her place.)

No word of a lie though, the place was a total crap box when we arrived. However, we’ve cleaned like maniacs, and M has put up a ton of paintings that Sue gave us, a coat and towel rack, the bed has new bedding ,and we’ve been given a small tv with tons of vhs tapes.

After a day committed to making our home, well, livable, we bussed to Moseley – a very radtastic area of the city – for dinner and drinks. Once again I was reminded about how much I still hate beer, but seriously the chips here are MAGNIFICENT.

Curry and chips!

Also, this is completely off topic, but if one more person calls me “love” I am seriously going to have to have a sit down, because it DESTROYS me.

Further, I have also now come to realize that “You okay?” doesn’t mean “Are you damaged?” but is more of an expression of helpfulness. This is very good to know because people say this to me A LOT.

Man. This is going to be quite an adventure.

I cannot wait to see where we’ll end up.