The calming effect of big country


It’s book-writing time, but this blog is tap-tap-tapping against the inside of my head. I’ll have to let the damn thing out so I can get on with it.

It’s about a landscape. One of those terrifying, big country, exploding-out-of-the-earth places that remind you that this planet will survive all the madness – it’s us who will end up fossils. Continue reading

The Cinque Terre you’ll never find in a travel guide

Walked up some hills, saw some views, ate gelato.

If you asked Small, Medium and Large for their version of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre that’s probably the best you’d get.

However if you had followed them for five and a half hours of vertical hiking trails, sat at café tables in five picturesque seaside towns, and listened to their mad chatter, you would learn a lot more about the undiscovered delights of one of Italy’s most picturesque and popular tourist destinations.

I’ll give you a bit of an idea.

Continue reading

French Special Forces stole my suitcase and framed British Airways  


French operatives establish positions for the suitcase-heist

As a travelling day, it didn’t start off well.

It was only two days since France’s worst-ever air disaster and passengers boarding my Marseille flight bound for Paris were all peering into the cockpit to check for signs of the pilots’ will to live.

I was determined to keep my thoughts selflessly and appropriately where they belonged – with the dead and the bereaved.

Then I stepped onto the plane and let myself down. My split-second mental health assessment of the pilots: low grade anxiety triggered by being stared at all morning by terrified passengers.

In my defence, I was sick as a dog and not thinking straight. Snot was pouring out my nose so fast that it was making it to my chin before I could unfold the next tissue.

A four day solo trip to New York to see old friends and two fantastic theatre productions had seemed like a magical opportunity for the several weeks that I had been planning it. Now it didn’t seem like such a great idea.

Ninety minutes later, safely on the tarmac in Paris but with the whole Atlantic yet to cross, I dabbed my stinging nostrils and peered out the window to see armed men in black taking up positions all around the plane.

Continue reading

Tears and pears in the French Alps

Madame, vous aller pleurer d’émotion.” [Madame, you are going to weep from emotion.]

The Monsieur paused for dramatic effect then presented a tiny cup of amour de poire, a delicate pear wine produced high up in the French Alps, a cork’s throw from the Italian border.

I knew it was a good idea to step into this curious little shop.

“You’ll get stuck in there,” Sabbatical Man had warned, eyeing the many signs at the door that suggested an eccentricity of proprietorship and eclecticism of wares that would make a quick browse impossible. Continue reading

Tasting snow


Face down in the white, skis at odds, snowflakes up my left nostril, I practiced mindfulness and observed silence.

The silence of the mountains.

The silence of a metre of fresh snow.

The silence of The Instructor, a relentlessly positive man, finally lost for words.

Clarity came at last.

Skiing is suicide and I am not ready to die. Continue reading

Surprising Switzerland


“Why the bloody hell do they build these monstrosities?” the cross English woman shouted at her terrified little husband. “Why? It’s just so bloody awful!”

She was glaring at a sparkling new adventure playground in the final stages of construction high up the side of a Swiss mountain.

The husband nodded sadly and watched his wife pull her hat down over her ears, stretch her waistband high up under her bosom and storm off to start the bloody nature walk she had bloody come here for.

Meanwhile the five of us, absentmindedly wiping her spittle from our faces, were spellbound.

Continue reading