Aug. 27th, 2014 03:47 pm
unallersimple: (hectopus)

The market stalls look so beautiful in the evenings.
Warmth and light during dark winter nights.


unallersimple: (hectopus)

Recently I have travelled down to London TWICE to see Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire. She is my all time favourite actress and this is the first chance I got to meet her so it was a pretty big deal for me. (Think jumping around my bedroom going "Oh my god!" on a regular basis...Screaming at my computer when I found out she was doing theatre again etc.) Last time she did theatre four or five years ago I was living in Japan so I've been waiting a really, really long time for this. Tickets to see her in theatre are very much in demand, so much so I had to became a friend of The Young Vic 10 MONTHS AGO in order to buy two tickets to see the play before the theatre even knew what dates the show would be on! I sat in the car park at work for forty five minutes on the phone on the morning tickets went live to get front row seats. I've ended up doing an ridiculous amount of ridiculous things to make this happen, but I have NO regrets! My bank account does though...

It was all worth it. So, so worth it. The play was amazing. The cast was phenomenal.
Words cannot explain how great it was or do it justice.

I was worried it would bring back a lot of upsetting memories or trigger flashbacks, as this was the play I was studying at school when I found my mum after she hung herself. Also the play itself is about a tragic mental breakdown which ends in a trip to the mental asylum, a suggested lobotomy and features a suicide. Thankfully though admiring the acting combined with the excitement of meeting Gillian Anderson afterwards meant the experience was a really happy one for me. I feel like I've put my A-Level demons to bed now, and I was able to appreciate and study the text properly for the first time. I even decided to read other plays by the same playwright!

Meeting Gillian is definitely the best experience I've had of meeting a famous person after a performance. In the past I've encountered celebrities who weren't at all bothered about meeting fans, were rude or were so famous they were swamped and you couldn't get anywhere near them. That's fine, as I know actors don't owe their fans anything, but it is always so disappointing when you wait quietly and politely and don't hassle them, and they shove the program they signed back at you with disdain or don't stop to sign at all.
Gillian was the complete opposite. Genuinely happy to meet everyone. She took the time to sign for everyone who waited and listened to what people wanted to say to her. She understood that her fans admire and look up to her, and need to thank her for that and explain how she's touched their lives. She was patient. Smiley. Friendly. Modest. A little bit nervous when stepping out in front of the line of fans. All that added to her charm and appeal. All that even though she was exhausted after doing a three hour long performance where she was in nearly every scene! (Twice on some Wednesdays and Saturdays!)

The first time I met her I thanked her for something and talked about something that's too personal to share here, but she seemed genuinely touched by my story which was nice. She signed my program so quickly, and the moment was over so quickly I forgot to ask her to personalise it though. Whoops.

The second time I met her I got a personalised signature and asked her to sign my arm. (I was strongly considering getting it tattooed.) She didn't judge me for this at all or get freaked out (Phew!) and said some people have asked for the same. She was patient and wanted to get it exactly right for me, which I loved. Again, being a bit too excited to be 'with it', I didn't really manage to specify exactly where I wanted it and instead just pointed at my forearm. My bad skin also meant by the time I got back to the hostel it was already fading too much to get tattooed, plus I couldn't find any tattoo parlours open that late from Google. Oh well. I was thrilled to have it on my arm for a few days anyway. : D

Sadly you couldn't get your photo taken with her, but you could get someone to take photos of you from the side.
I love how happy I look in them. This has definitely been one of the best moments of my life. I love her!



unallersimple: (hectopus)
Lately I've been traveling with items that are falling apart, that I fear will fall apart soon or that are so old they're just downright unpleasant to use. I realised that some things, such as my travel pillow, haven't been replaced since I first started traveling nearly 10 years ago! I also have a bad habit of lugging many and/or massive books around with me or I end up running late before I travel because I can't decide which book(s) to bring.

I got a bonus from work at the end of the financial year so I used it to treat myself to some new travel stuff. I bought a Kindle Paperwhite, which still blows my mind so much I take it out from time to time just to look at it in awe. It's like, one book, but it can contain over a thousand inside! Amazing! :0

The lovely map print Kindle case and purple travel pillow are from Paperchase. You can see from the photo how disgusting my old pillow had become!


Instead of using a backpack that I bought for £6 from the shop below the mouse infested house I lived in during my first year in Manchester, I am know going to use this baby. Osprey. 1.3kg. Can hold 38L but is still small enough for carry on luggage to save on baggage fees on low budget airlines. (For comparison my full size backpacker's backpack is 55L with a 10L detachable daysack.) The back section opens up like a suitcase, making it easier to pack and access your belongings. It has rucksack straps, a shoulder strap, or you can zip all the straps away for safer, more compact storage in places like overhead lockers. It has lots of little features I love, such as a padded space in the front section to hold delicate devices, and little pouches on the front to hold water bottles.

I think I'm in love.
unallersimple: (hectopus)

Someone in Faro showing the world that it doesn't matter
if you don't have your own private washing line.


Potugal - 1

Jul. 8th, 2014 10:18 pm
unallersimple: (hectopus)
It was the day before my flight to Portugal. I was so excited. Finally a new country after all this time. Everything was packed and ready. I just had one last thing to do before bed; check the weather to see whether I needed to take my coat or not.

Definitely coat.
And umbrella.
And poncho.
And spare plastic bags to line my backpack and help keep everything dry.
The weather report made for a depressing sight. It was going to piss it down every single day. All day. All I wanted to do was cancel my holiday.

Still I was determined to make the most of the situation so I packed some extra items to help keep me dry and taped up my languishing boots Keanu style.

You can see from the photo below that the landing in Faro very much set the tone. Grey. Water, water everywhere. It rained and blew a storm all afternoon; turning my umbrella inside out repeatedly and soaking all my clothes. I was very relieved when it was finally time to catch my coach to Lisbon a few hours later.


That evening I found my lovely, lovely youth hostel (ironically called Sunshine Paradise) without any problems. It’s one of the nicest yet oddest places I’ve ever stayed in as it’s located on the upper floors of one of Portugal's busiest train stations and has swimming pool on the roof! Getting to my room involved walking across a balcony that overlooked the main entrance to the station. I found great amusement in making the journey to and from the kitchen in my pyjamas and observing all the Lisboans rushing to the platforms whenever I went to get a late evening cup of tea.


A few things I loved about the hostel:

1 - A beautiful map of the world chipped out of the plaster in the wall in the dining room.

2 – The table in the dining room which didn’t have any legs and was suspended from wire cables attached to the ceiling. Completely impractical for eating off but very funny trying to eat from a constantly wobbling surface!


unallersimple: (hectopus)
I set myself a goal to go to three new countries this year. As it's now July and it's been a few months since my last trip to Portugal I figured I'd better get a move on; I still have two left to go! I've been researching this evening. Having a think about where I want to go next. As always my destination is decided by looking at route maps and flights and reading Wikitravel until I see something that makes me feel like I HAVE to go there.

A few hours ago I was looking at places to visit near Dubrovnik and I saw this picture on the page for Plitvice National Park. I was so stunned by the colours I gasped out loud.

I then saw this photo of Mostar and started crying because it looks so beautiful!

So it looks like Croatia will be country number 23 with Bosnia and Herzegovina coming in at 24!

Whilst wiping the tears from my eyes this evening I also had a moment of recognition and thought;
"Wait a minute...I've seen that bridge somewhere before."
I dug out my copy of Michael Palin's New Europe and saw that he had indeed visited Mostar. I am even more delighted with my travel plans know that I know that I'll be following in his footsteps once more. (He's my all time lifelong travel hero you see. I've watched and admired his travel shows for as long as I can remember.)

Which brings me on to another piece of good news: I bought a ticket to see Michael Palin's one man show in September called Travel to Work! I was very lucky to get a ticket as I was shamefully late in finding out about it; especially after missing his book signing in Nottingham earlier this year by only finding out about it on the day it happened. I need to be much more aware of these things! I very much hope that I'll be able to get my paperback copy of Around the World in 80 Days signed at the theatre door, especially as he isn't performing in Nottingham so I'll have to travel all the way back to Manchester for the show. I also worry that with all this Monty Python stuff happening again he'll be too famous to meet fans post performance. :S

Whatever happens September is going to be a great month though. :D

unallersimple: (hectopus)
Whilst so many amazing and wonderful things happened in 2013 it was also a very sad and difficult time. I was hurting so much after my relationship ended. Life without them was unbearable. I was devastated. Distraught. SAD had hit me hard, winter just wouldn't end and I was in a job I hated so much I used to cry on the way to work. I was constantly being picked on. I'd lost all confidence and self esteem. I didn't know what to do with my life. I felt like I hadn't achieved anything since coming back from Japan. I was so depressed I could barely function. My mental health had deteriorated to the point where I could no longer hold down a job, so I worked out my notice and just tried to get through one day at a time from there. I self harmed. Sometimes I felt suicidal, but most of the time I felt like I could live but I'd never be well enough to work again or function like a normal human being. I felt sick all the time. There was no rest or relief. Just grief.

I was determined to do everything I could to help myself though. I had several months of counselling. I treated myself. I did things I'd always wanted to but never had the time for. I surrounded myself with wonderful people and had some amazing, life changing experiences with them. I explored all of Manchester. Travelled to places I'd never been to before in the UK. Went to BiCon again. Marched in the Manchester Pride Parade. I got articles and book reviews I'd written published. I taught workshops both in England and in Denmark. (A country I'd already been to in 2006.) What a year!

Isn't it weird how all these amazing things happened despite being so ill? I think losing everything is so liberating because you have the freedom to do anything. No job, relationship or fear of going outside your comfort zone is stopping you. You have nothing left to lose. No mortgage to pay off. No one to stay in one city for. In the end I managed to work really hard to get the job that I'd always wanted. It happened to be in Nottingham, but I didn't mind moving somewhere new because I knew it would be a great chance for me to start over.

I've been here about 3 months and I'm so much happier now. I function fine. I eat normally. I haven't self harmed in months. I do so much volunteer work. I go to roller derby practice on a regular basis and am getting stronger and fitter in ways I never thought possible. I skate well! I love my new house and my new job and I love the adventure of living in a place I don't know yet. I love my new life!

I've been saving really hard since I started earning again and I've finally been able to think about my poor, neglected Mission 101. (The last time I went to a new country was in December 2012.) I've just spent hours looking at flight prices and times and found a return to Faro for £50! I'll fly out at the end of March. Buying the tickets felt amazing. I've worked so hard to recover and get to where I am now and that makes the trip feel more rewarding. I feel so proud. I've stuck a copy of the tickets on my wall. I'd forgotten what the excitement of planning a new trip felt like. Such an adrenaline rush. My hands are shaking. Country 22 here I come. :D

unallersimple: (hectopus)
Click on the links to read Part 1 and Part 2 of Kate's experiences of applying for the JET Programme.


Lizzie: What advice would you give to people wanting to apply to JET in the future?

Kate: The best piece of advice that I can offer is to research JET and make sure that this is something that you definitely want. JET is an amazing opportunity for you to get to experience but you need to be 100% committed to it. My sister and a friend of mine are both applying for the 2014 JET Programme and they have asked if I have any advice and I've told them both the same thing. Start immersing yourself in as much Japanese culture as possible. This will not only look good on an application, but it will also benefit you as you'll be introduced to a way of life that you could be experiencing very soon. Also be aware that the application and selection process can be daunting but do not let this put you off – the hard work you put in will be more than worth it in the end. :)

Lizzie: How did it feel to find out you'd been accepted?

Kate: I was in shock! I had been anticipating the day for so long that when I found out I couldn't really process it. I had imagined dramatically falling to my knees, screaming, jumping, dancing... but none of this happened. I was at home for Easter break and had woken up really early for some reason. I heard my mum and dad leave the house to go shopping and then later I heard the letter box clatter. As soon as I heard it I suddenly felt as if it was from the embassy. I didn't go downstairs to check as I was nervous, I suddenly felt like I didn't want to know. Later I heard my mum and dad come back in and exchange a few hushed words between them before coming up the stairs. Yep. It was definitely a letter from the embassy. My mum hovered in my doorway waiting for me to open it and my dad asked if I wanted him to read it for me... I asked them both if they wouldn't mind giving me a minute to prepare myself and I'd let them know as soon as I did. I sat looking at it for about five minutes – this was going to change my life either way. The most important envelope ever.

I eventually tore it open and couldn't get past the first sentence. I'd made it. I would be leaving for Japan in four months. At this point the shaking started. I couldn't believe that all of my hard work had finally paid off. I had never wanted something so much in my life and I had actually achieved it. I went downstairs and told my mum who let out a blood curdling scream before hugging me. This made my dad run into the house from the front garden, jump onto the hug and also let out a few blood curdling yells for good measure too. Then the tears started – they were both crying and I was still in shock. I couldn't smile, cry, laugh... all I could do was continue to shake. Then I had to phone my Grandad and sister and let them know, cue more tears and incoherent rambling on my behalf. Then I did the old Facebook status and received a flurry of likes, comments and smiley faces from people I haven't seen for about 15 years – the usual. To be very honest it didn't register with me for most of that day, even after all of the congratulations, champagne and celebrations. It didn't sink in until about three days later when I started frantically trying to gather all of the documentation needed to ensure my placement and organising medicals and chest x-rays. The fun and games of scrambling around for signatures, filling out forms and getting passport photographs had started all over again. At least this time I knew I was definitely going.

Lizzie's comment: Yep, a lot of people are shocked to realise that even after getting onto JET the hard work and stress still continues! You have to get a lot of documents such as the CRB check ready in a short amount of time. Do it as soon as possible and stay patient and positive!

How are you feeling about going to live in Japan?

Kate: I'm really excited. I can't describe the feeling very well, some mornings I wake up and feel nothing but excitement and then I'll get a sudden wave of fear. I know that the experience will be challenging as well as amazing all at once. I'm prepared for the culture shock and know that everything wont be perfect 100% of the time but I'm ready to face whatever comes my way. I found out my prefecture last week. I'm off to Hokkaido which I am absolutely thrilled about. I've yet to hear of my exact location but it hasn't stopped me from learning as much as I can about the island. At the moment I'm a font of information about general facts about Hokkaido that my friends and family have been driven insane with. I'll be sitting there and just flash some random picture of the lavender fields or Matsumae castle on my phone in the middle of conversation. I think they can't wait until August when they'll finally be rid of me. :)

Most of all, I realise how lucky I am. I know that this experience will change my life and I'm so grateful that I get to be a part of something so amazing.


I'd like to say a huge thank you to Kate for answering my questions despite being really busy with university and preparing for life in Japan. Good luck with everything!
unallersimple: (hectopus)
Click here for the first entry of this three part interview.

In this post Kate will talk about how she found the JET Programme interview at the Japanese embassy in London.

Lizzie: So how did it go?

Kate: I found out I had got through to the interview stage on the 9th January 2013. When I heard the news I couldn't stop shaking. After the initial excitement it dawned on me that it wasn't that far away. I had less than two weeks to prepare! I needed to get to London, buy a smart new suit for the interview and remember how to breathe! During January the UK was blanketed in snow making travelling around quite difficult which caused me to panic even more. I added Virgin trains to my Twitter account so I could stalk the notifications and cancellations. Fortunately my sister lives in West London so I had a place to stay for a few days beforehand and mentally prepare.

As the interview drew closer my nerves started to get the better of me. What if I messed it up? What would they make of my scouse accent? What if they asked me a question in Japanese?! The English grammar test – what the hell is grammar?! After seeing my near enough melt down my sister and her boyfriend intervened and took me to the nearest pub where they explained that I just needed to relax. I knew my own reasons why I wanted to go and everything that I had written in my personal statement was key, they would more than likely focus on that.

The next day I left for the Embassy about 2 and a half hours early just to be safe. (Pesky snow!) I made sure I knew exactly where the Embassy was. It looked beautiful in the snow. I remember feeling a bit awe struck as I stood outside it, but then after looking at my phone I realised it was an hour and a half too early. I settled in Costa went over some notes but I must admit it was quite difficult to focus on anything at that point. I had researched JET interview experiences online before I left and read/watched some amusing tales. (I think every interview candidate has some sort of trauma happen on the day of interview.) You need time to settle your nerves and collect your thoughts. You also have to take the five minute grammar test BEFORE your allotted interview so my advice is get there well within time.

After passing my interview invitation slip to the polite lady behind the reception desk at the embassy, I received my pass and was asked to take a seat. I waited quietly and tried to collect my thoughts. About 10 minutes passed before a boy and girl arrived together and sat opposite me, we exchanged friendly smiles and nods of encouragement but each chose to remain quiet. (I read online that you are watched throughout the ENTIRE time you spend inside the Embassy – how true this is I don't really know but I wasn't going to risk anything by appearing like a gossiping fishwife in the reception area.)

A few minutes later a girl arrived and escorted me and the girl who had just arrived upstairs. She explained that we must be escorted through the Embassy at all times. We were led into a room and handed our grammar test. I was convinced that I had destroyed all chances of ever becoming an ALT during those painful 5 minutes. I thought I knew the answers but then second guessed myself, refusing to trust in instinct. I still have no idea how it went. After that we were sat in front of a somewhat cheesy looking DVD and had the chance to ask the previous JET's any questions we may have. I think I asked something along the lines of if you are successful and are offered a place on JET, do you stay in the same prefecture for your entire placement if you want to renew your contract. The answer was yes by the way just in case you're wondering. (Lizzie: Though you can apply for a transfer under exceptional circumstances such as the JET Programme being cut in your area, which was what happened in Matsue the year after I left. There is sadly no guarantee you'll get a transfer though.)

FINALLY it was interview time. A Japanese lady came out of the interview room, smiled at me and called my name. I stood and followed her inside half expecting a steel faced panel of about 10 people facing my chair stranded in the middle of the room with a spotlight on it. But to my surprise (and relief!) the room was inviting, brightly lit and the panel desk only had two people behind it, the polite Japanese lady who had led me in and a friendly American man. They instantly put me at ease with their encouraging smiles and friendly handshakes. I was asked to take a seat and then it began.

As the interview progressed I grew more and more confident in my answers. I tried to keep referring back to the initial question and to make sure I answered as thoroughly as possible. 20 minutes went by in what felt like 2. I seriously couldn't believe it when the American man thanked me for my answers and asked if there was anything in particular that I thought they had missed out that I would like to discuss. I did add something that I had forgotten to mention in a previous answer and then that was it! I stood and shook hands with each of them and thanked them for their time. I was escorted down to the reception by the nice ex-JET girl once again and then made my way in a daze down to the tube station. It was kind of weird for me as it wasn't the feeling of relief that I had been expecting. To be very honest I felt a little bit sad. That was it. No more JET. I had done everything I could and now I just had to wait. Almost three years of preparation and excitement had suddenly come to a halt and I felt a little bit lost without it. The next three months was going to be absolute torture if this feeling persisted. After a flurry of phone calls from family and friends I felt better. They were right in saying that even if I didn't get accepted I had already come a long way. I felt proud that I had reached interview stage.

Lizzie's comments: Lots of great points raised in this description of her interview e.g. that you don't have long to prepare for the interview once you've been told you have one.

Kate also did the following which I recommend to future applicants:
*Research what questions they ask in advance and prepare answers.
*Prepare for travel disruptions.
*Arrive at the embassy early.
*Don't talk to other JET applicants at the embassy – they view this as potential cheating.
*Don't panic!

Work out how to sell yourself as the best candidate possible in the short amount of time provided. Remember that it's about why you would make a great teacher. Tell them why you will be able to adapt well to life in Japan. Show how dedicated and passionate you are about the goals of JET and explain how you want to be a source of grassroots internationalisation and culture exchange both in Japan and back in your home country after JET.

It's NOT about why YOU want to live in Japan. It's about what you can offer the JET Programme and what you will do for your future students and neighbours! If you keep that in mind when you interview you'll do well.


Read Part 3 here.

Read about my JET Programme interview here.

unallersimple: (hectopus)
The JET Programme has become well known for having a long and arduous application progress, one that could take up to a whopping 10 months of your life. So if you decide that this is something you want to do you really need to start preparing early and make sure you're giving yourself the best chance of getting in.

One of the things you have to do as part of the application process is write a personal statement between 800-1000 words long. For the past four years I've been approached by people asking me to read through their statements. Last year I worked with someone called Kate who found out she was accepted onto JET this April. (I wasn't kidding about that 10 months!) She'll fly out to live in Hokkaido in July. I asked her a few questions about the application process so I could share her experiences here and give some advice to future applicants.


Lizzie: What made you want to apply for the JET Programme?

Kate: This is the easiest but hardest question to answer all at once because, well it's Japan! I cannot explain my love or fascination for all things Japanese. I've been smitten with the culture for as long as I can remember. I found out about the JET Programme in a kind of haphazard manner – it was actually from a Facebook comment a complete stranger had written on one of the “likes” pages you can follow. This girl had written something along the lines of “I've just found out that I'm going to live and work in Japan as part of the JET Programme.” and went into detail about how excited she was. My initial thought was, what is this JET Programme and how do I do it! I soon came across the official website and set about deciphering whether or not I was eligible and could afford it.

During my second year I started to take evening classes in Japanese and it was there that the spark really was ignited – our teacher championed Japanese events and programs and JET was one of the things mentioned. Since then I have been fortunate enough to meet up with previous JET participants. Everyone helped support and shape my own distant dream into something very real and within my reach.

Lizzie's comments: Kate's answer is the kind of answer the JET Programme want to see reflected in your application form and statement. Her main reason for wanting to to Japan is just's Japan! She loves the country, the language and the culture and wants to be there to be immersed in it and experience daily life there. Her main reason isn't because she wants the opportunity to travel, she thinks JET is an easy ride (it isn't) or she wants the high salary. These are of course all reasons why people want to go, but they shouldn't be the main reason. You also need to make it clear that reasons like having a love of anime are paths leading to the chance to experience a larger, more diverse culture rather than reasons in themselves. Candidates with the strongest chance of being accepted echo these kinds of sentiments about Japan.

Lizzie: How have you found the application process?

Kate: In one word: daunting. I had known about and wanted to do JET long before I started applying, so I did everything as early as possible in terms of collecting all of the extra documentation like references. (For me this was important as I had to contact ex-employers who live in Ireland so I didn't want to spring a request out of the blue and simply hope for the best.) I asked my chosen referees before applications had even opened just so I could rest assured that I had them and wouldn't be left waiting for a last minute reference that could potentially hold up the rest of my application. I was extremely nervous about the documents that were out of my control such as waiting for my new passport and my references.

One of the most important aspects of the entire process is the personal statement. This is what will get you noticed and make you stand out from the crowd. I was fortunate enough to have contacts who are ex-ALT's and they offered me the most invaluable and inspiring help. I honestly don't think I would have been successful without their guidance and support – especially Lizzie who runs this blog. (Lizzie: Thanks Kate!) She read, re-read, suggested, advised and helped me so much with my personal statement. Looking back at my first draft compared to the statement that I eventually sent in – you can see there is a whole world of difference between them!

You need to be positive and determined throughout the application process but most importantly you need to believe that you're good enough and are exactly the kind of person who will thrive out there. You WILL be a good ALT. You WILL absorb and appreciate the culture. You WILL take this once in a lifetime chance to help change your life for the better. I must have read through my entire application about 10 times making sure everything was accounted for, filled in correctly and gathered neatly into little bunches. I remember how happy and relieved I was when I finally posted it – a huge weight had suddenly been lifted from my shoulders and I kind of relaxed for a while. I felt stupidly excited when I received my stamp addressed envelope back from the Embassy with the JET stamp on the back. The Embassy definitely had my application – it was all up to fate now!

Lizzie's comments: Kate was definitely wise with her preparation for applying to JET, starting it long before applications opened. She took Japanese courses during her second year at university and later on took a 140 hour TEFL course which showed her commitment and dedication to living and teaching in a foreign country. She also sourced her referees early and gave them lots of advance notice. Finally she did her research and consulted with ex-JETs to get the best advice possible. The key thing here is that the statements and forms take a lot of time and hard work so you have to prepare as much as possible in advance. Her answer also shows how many highs and lows you will experience before you even get accepted on the JET Programme so as Kate mentions, lots of patience and positivity is needed!


Click on the links for Part 2 and Part 3.

unallersimple: (hectopus)
One of the reasons I moved to Manchester was because I knew it was a city with a large LGBT community which was something I'd always been missing in life. Growing up in Cumbria and living in Norwich & Japan meant that I was either unable to come out about being bisexual, or that I was out but there were few other LGBT people in the area and little to no LGBT venues to go to.

Manchester feels like a non-straight paradise to me. We have one of the country's biggest Pride festivals. I've had LGBT employers and co-workers. There are LGBT choirs, sports teams and book groups. There is not only a street of LGBT nightclubs & pubs to frequent (Canal Street) but a whole area of the city centre called The Village! You can see same sex couples kissing or holding hands in the street like any male-female couple. The police actively encourage LGBT people to report any homophobia or hate crime they experience. All of this is amazing.

However biphobia and bi erasure is still a subtle part of everday life. I've experienced it in the workplace. When I come out to people I still get the same old questions and responses such as "Can't you make your mind up?" or "You're greedy." Bisexuality is largely absent in the media. (E.g. Can you name any bisexual characters apart from ones from Torchwood?) Many LGBT charities & organisations such as the Lesbian & Gay Foundation leave out the b word. Travel books have chapters for Lesbian & Gay travelers. Don't even get me started on how often people and the media refer to same-sex marriage as gay marriage; it drives me nuts! Shockingly and sickeningly Google bans the word bisexual from its auto complete search feature. These are just a few examples that come to mind as I type but there are many more.

It's also very difficult to find other bisexual people and you rarely (knowingly) encounter them in everyday life, though I'm not 100% sure why this is.

So I went looking for bisexual groups in Manchester and found BiPhoria At my first meeting everyone there told me that I had to go to BiCon. I'd never heard of it, but I was told to register as soon as possible because "it's the highlight of the bisexual year". I learned that BiCon is a huge 4 day conference for bisexual people and their friends & family held every year in a different city in the UK. The event consists of workshops during the day and pub socials and parties in the evening. In 2012 the 30th BiCon was held.

Last summer I nervously boarded a train to Bradford for my first one. It felt like a bisexual rite of passage somehow. I knew going alone without knowing anyone would be hard but well worth it. I wasn't wrong. I soon got talking to people and made new friends. I really enjoyed the workshops, which were on a wide range of topics from coming out to bi activism to how to give a Indian head massage. I found all the workshops I attended really interesting and scribbled down lots of notes and thoughts each time. The parties were great fun too.

The biggest thing for me was that it was absolutely astonishing to be in a room full of over 100 bisexuals. I'd never seen so many before! I wondered if that was how straight people feel all the time; being one of the majority. Not being discriminated against or afraid. Being able to be yourself. Being able to assume almost everyone else there has the same sexuality as you. (Maybe feeling these things without realising it.) It was something I've never felt before. What a wonderful feeling. It was so great to have a space to be me. A space where I didn't have to choose one part of me or the other depending on whether I'm in straight space or an LGBT one (which are predominantly gay & lesbian).

BiCon was well run, affordable, great value for money and inclusive of everyone regardless of income, ethnicity, sexuality, relationship choices etc. I had such a good time that I signed up for the BiCon this year as soon as registration opened. Now when I go to BiPhoria I'm the one telling new members of the group that it's the highlight of the bisexual year. It really is.

unallersimple: (hectopus)
I find that living in Manchester really inspires me to be more creative and artistic. The city is full of art galleries, exhibitions and museums and in between all of those are funky, quirky and beautifully decorated cafes & restaurants. They all seem to be at just the right level for an aspiring beginner too. You see all these cool amazing things on the walls and think, "yeah I can glue stuff together to look like that" or "oooo what a lovely way to use a jam jar!" Nothing looks like it's beyond what you can have a go at making.

One place I often frequent is The Richmond Tea Rooms. Inside you can sip your beverage to 1940s music whilst admiring the Alice in Wonderland themed interior, but what gets me every time is the stunning beauty of the little inside greenhouse/conservatory area. If I ever have a yard or a garden wall I'll be sure to get some old lanterns or bird cages and make some really cool lighting out of them.

Another thing that got my creative juices flowing was The First Cut exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery last year. I'd never seen anything like it yet admired it's simplicity; all you'd need to make most of what was on display is paper and a craft knife. The exhibition got me so excited that I bought loads of paper and a craft knife set on the way home and was soon gluing paper onto every plain storage box in my bedroom. I want to have a go at making something with a really delicate and intricate design one day - when I have the stillness and patience required!

^Wonder Forest by Manabu Hangai

Finally over Winter a place called teacup in the Northern Quarter had some really cool tea & cake themed paper snowflakes on the walls. : )

Whilst I'm talking about teacup I really should inform you that it sells the most amazing rainbow cake I've ever seen!

So yes, lots of interior design, craft and cake ideas to be found in Inspiranchester.
unallersimple: (hectopus)
Last year my dearest friend Kumiko came to stay in Manchester for a few weeks. People who've been reading this blog a while will vaguely know her from when I wrote about my day trips around Shimane. Her father was the headteacher at my base school who often took me, Bryan & Emily out skiing or to wineries & hot springs. Her family always had me round for dinner, they had me stay over after I'd handed in the keys to my apartment when I was leaving and his wife even taught me JSL! I became very good friends with all the family and was so sad to say goodbye to them when I left Japan.

Having Kumiko over for nearly a month last March was marvelous! It was great to see her again, catch up on all the gossip from work (she went on to teach at the same school her father and I did) and get to know her better. I loved having the chance to repay her some of her family's kindness and generosity.

Unlike others who have visited me in Manchester, Kumiko was able to see past common Japanese stereotypes that trap many into being unable to experience more than "DIFFERENT! COLD! EXPENSIVE! MANY DOG BREEDS! NO TRADITIONAL FOOD! BAD SERVICE!" She was really up for finding out what else life in the UK is about and really gets that a large part of who we are is sitting for hours in a good pub with family & friends.

Whilst she was here we went round Manchester together, visited my sister in York and even went to see the Hunger Games movie in fancy dress with my mates in Chorlton.

^May the odds be ever in your favour! Friends provided us with fabric pens & t-shirts so we could make our costumes.

^In York we saw some youth doing Parkour in the ruins of St Mary's Abbey and decided to give it a go ourselves.

^In the museum gardens near the ruins I managed to take an amazing photo of a squirrel!

^At Clifford's Tower we spotted a Japanese sign translation fail. The last line on the sign says "irasshaimase" (what someone says to welcome you into a shop or restuarant) when it should say "yōkoso".

Me and Kumiko Skype regularly and earlier this year I found out that SHE IS COMING BACK TO LIVE IN THE UK FOR 9 MONTHS! What's even better is that now her parents are retired THEY ARE COMING TO VISIT US IN ENGLAND LATER IN THE YEAR! I'm so excited! I pick Kumiko up from Manchester airport on the 18th April. Let's enjoy UK life together! :D
unallersimple: (hectopus)
This is an absolutely monster sized post so to keep things tidy I've hidden it all behind something called an lj cut.

Simply click here and all will be revealed! )
unallersimple: (hectopus)
One thing I've wanted to do recently is collect the links to all the posts where I've written about the death of my mum. (I found her body after she hung herself in 2004 when I was 16.) It turns out there are a lot less posts than I thought which I guess can only be a good thing. I hope that if you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, especially if it's through suicide, then these will help in some way. One of the worse things about bereavement for me is that there is so much stigma and taboo surrounding it. You can't talk to anyone what happened. No one knows what to say or how to talk to you any more, like you suddenly stop being human. People soon forget anyway. Those who haven't experienced a bereavement of someone that close to them can't understand that you never really get over the pain of the loss, but it is something you learn to live with over time. It just takes a really long time.


Finland 2005 (18 months on) - "Mum may have taken her life, but she is is not taking mine."

Whilst I was working in Japan in 2010 the 14th January that year would have been mum's 50th birthday. There's a brief mention of it in the third paragraph from the end.



I've found it quite interesting to see how me, my writing & my grief have changed over the years.

Two Years Without Mum - Emo teen!

Three Years

Four Years

The Big Five - Questioning WHY someone kills themselves.

6 Years Without Mum

Years 7-11 can't have been much trouble or have held much significance as I didn't feel the need to write about them!

This year, 2016, it has been 12 years and I did a sad post and a happy post.

unallersimple: (hectopus)
Bone marrow is something found in centre of certain bones which creates stem cells. Stem cells are vitally important as they grow into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets which we can't live without. Diseases such as leukaemia stop bone marrow from fuctioning properly and whilst this can be successfully treated with chemotherapy, for some the only chance of a cure is through a stem cell transplant. The right match can be found within the family but only about 30% of the time. The other 70% of people rely on a matched volunteer donor found through the The British Bone Marrow Registry.

Last week when I donated blood again I finally got round to doing the paperwork so I could apply to join the register. It was really easy to do. I just filled in a short form and gave one small blood sample. You give a few blood samples in addition to your main donation anyway when you give blood (to screen for things like HIV), so I didn't notice one more being taken. That sample gets sent off and they work out your tissue type and see if you're suitable to become a stem cell donor. All I have to do now is wait for a letter from the registry to confirm I've been accepted and update my contact details if they change. That's it.

If my tissue type is a match for someone who needs a stem cell transplant then someone will get in touch to see if I am willing and able to donate. This might happen in a few months, a few years or in 20 years time. It might never happen at all.

The reason that I'm writing this post today is because I've told a few people that I've joined the register and the response has been; "You do realise that it involves a really painful operation where they drill into your bones don't you?" Even if that were true, does it matter? I'm perfectly happy to have ONE small operation if it means I can save someone's life. I know that if I was literally dying for some new stem cells I would want everyone to join the register in the hopes of finding a match. I would want someone to be kind enough to donate so I could live. My friends and family would too.

So let's dispel the myth. There are two ways to donate. One is by going to a blood donor centre and having two small needles inserted; one in each arm. Your blood flows out, the stem cells are seperated from the rest of your blood, your blood flows back in. It takes no longer than a few hours. You don't need any kind of general anaesthetic. (Though you will be injected with a drug that causes your body to make more stem cells for five days leading up the actual donation.) I could do that to save someone's life. Going for a 5 mile run sounds more strenuous, but hardly anyone would react so negatively and put you off doing that would they?

The second way of donating is by having bone marrow removed from your hip bones. This is done using a needle and syringe under a general anaesthetic in hospital, so despite the myth it's not even a surgical operation! You stay in hospital for 2 days and need a further 5 at home for recovery. I like the sound of the first way of donating better so I'd choose that one if possible, but even if this was the only way of donating it would mean I could save a life and stop a family going through a bereavement so I'd still do this.

I respect that some people who are able to donate stem cells don't want to for various reasons. We are all well within our rights to say no. I just feel that everyone should be educated about it at school or should at least read up about it and give it some serious consideration. At the very least, they should support people who sign up to join the register rather than telling them how horrible having their bones drilled will be. It's not true. It's not even a nice thing to do! Even if you join the register you might never need to be asked to donate anyway.

It makes me so mad that these negative attidudes and myths are the reason more people don't give blood or join the register. It's such a shame.

Here's the NHS site for giving blood. I'm pretty sure you need to be a blood donor in order to join the Bone Marrow Registry. You can sign up to be a blood donor here. Giving blood takes about an hour in total, but only about 10 minutes of that is spent with a needle in your arm. The remainder of the time is spent filling in forms, checking you're ok to give blood then scoffing the free crisps and biscuits whilst you rest afterwards. : )

Here's the website for the Bone Marrow Registry.



Mar. 31st, 2013 01:28 pm
unallersimple: (hectopus)
I was down in London in last month visiting step-family and friends for a long overdue catch up. It had been a year since I was last there. Some of the people I was very happy to spend time with were Mark & Yvette who I used to live with when we were at university together in Norwich. They bought a house in south London last year so I popped over to check out their new digs. Their house is amazing. So spacious, cosy and beautifully decorated I had quite a terrible bout of home envy whilst I was there!

As Mark was working the afternoon I arrived me and Yvette braved the freezing cold temperatures and took the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) to Greenwich which was just a few stops away. It was lovely to visit an area of London I've never been to before and ride the DLR for the first time. I'm still amazed that the trains can operate without any drivers! I was really impressed with Greenwich. It felt like a small, upmarket and creative family town. Even walking under dark skies in a bitterly cold wind the atmosphere was delightful. The buildings stunning. All shop windows beautifully dressed. I felt really inspired and re-energised by spending the afternoon there.

First up was a quick peek at the Cutty Sark which I would love to look round some day (along with all the other museums). I also saw the ferry terminal where Yvette informed me that people commute to work from there. The idea seemed so funny and surprising to me. I guess I associate London with double decker buses and The Tube so much it seems odd that there are other forms of transport. When you think of commuting by ferry you imagine living on an island off the coast of the UK before you think of central London.

              ^The Cutty Sark

After seeing the ship we walked on in the direction of Greenwich Arts and Crafts Market. It's indoor and has rows upon rows of stalls in the middle with two lines of funky little shops on either side. Even though everything for sale there was what I describe as "luxary tat" I still left with quite a few shopping bags, a small print that is now hanging on my bedroom wall and lots of ideas for crafts. In case you're wondering what I mean by "luxary tat" think overpriced stuff that looks pretty and you want it but you don't really need it and ultimately could have a go at making it yourself anyway.

To rest and warm up after walking around all afternoon we stopped at a cafe just next to one the entrances to the market. This also turned out to be a really creative and inspiring place to be as it was a ceramic cafe. I've never seen this kind of thing before but it's an absolutely smashing idea. You choose a blank ceramic when you go in which could be anything from an item of crockery to a small animal then you paint and decorate it at your table whilst you eat and drink. When you're done the staff fire it for you and you can collect it about a week later or have it delivered to you. We just consumed calories during our visit, but if I'm ever showing friends round Greenwich in the future I'd love to take them there. Especially if it's a friend from Japan as decorating something like a mini telephone box would make a great souvenir.

Once we got back to her place Yvette introduced me to the joys of a comedy called Modern Family and once Mark returned the three of us ate dinner and watched the film Starter for Ten. I have to say the scene in the restuarant where the main character talks about his dad's death is an absolutely cracking piece of acting from James McAvoy, and the most realistic moment
I've ever seen in film of what it's like to be a young person whose suffered the loss of a parent. I also have to say that Yvette's cooking is well fit.

unallersimple: (hectopus)
During the second week of March I went up to Glasgow to visit friends and see a bit more of Scotland than the BBC studios located there. It felt like quite a momentous occasion, as in my 25 years of life I'd only ever crossed the border once to take part in a children's television gameshow when I was 12. On that very exciting day of filming 50/50, we were dropped off & picked up from outside the studio so didn't get a chance to see anything else in the city. It was a great day though. I got to meet Sally Gray, stand next to her on camera AND take part in one of the games. Sadly our school lost, but I didn't really care because well, I was clearly in with the children's telvision presenters now after spending time with Sally. At one point a balloon with some velcro on the end of its string (which had been part of one of the games) got stuck in her hair and I was the one who noticed and politely pointed it out to her. I could hardly believe the events of the day. There I was, a tiny unknown from Kendal, not only helping to create great television but also giving balloon hair advice to one of the presenters from It'll Never Work!

Anyway I jest, so yes, I was very keen to see more than just the BBC building in Glasgow. I had realised that I knew very little about Scotland apart from the usual stereotypical images of fried food, Trainspotting and weather colder & greyer than my hometown. This made me feel rather ashamed. It's one of the reasons I've been staying in the UK so long to be honest; I've seen so much of the world but know next to nothing about huge areas of my own country. So up I went on the train and how exciting it was to go further north than Carlisle!

Most of the weekend was spent hanging out with my friends and avoiding snow & low temperatures, but we managed to get out on the Sunday and have a quick drive around the city and go to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. What a beautiful building. I was in awe from just looking at it from the outside and when I walked in I was breathtaken once more. It felt like stepping inside a palace. The building has such a rich history too; it first opened its doors over a hundred years ago.

In 2003 Kilvingrove closed for refurbishment and it seems that it re-opened in 2006 with a lot of controversy. I was warned by my friends before going in that it wasn't as good as it used to be and that it had been severely dumbed down. At first I wasn't sure if that was just their reaction to the changes made to a museum they had not only loved but grown up with, but I soon saw what they meant. It was as if the refurbishment had been managed by someone who hated reading. And was on drugs.

Now, many museums face these three challanges:
1 - They have to provide information to people of differnt ages who may know a lot or absolutely nothing about the subject.
2 - They have rooms with multiple entrances. This means it's difficult to use a logical and linear route to display information and guide people round as they could enter from any direction.
3 - They have a collection made up of small amounts of stuff from a lot of different time periods and cultures, so it's tricky to get the layout right and ensure a smooth transition from one subject to another.

Kilvingrove sadly failed hard at all of the above.

The information provided was very limited and was often confusing. Often little was mentioned that I didn't already know, although that isn't hard to do when many of the signs merely state something as simple as "Butterflies". I was often left hankering for more information and would stand and look up things on the Internet on my phone. In addition many walls and panels were left empty which was a disapointing waste of space. Some displays weren't labelled or explained at all.

The museum could have overcome the problem of rooms having multiple entrances by putting up introductory information at each entrance or by having arrows or signs directing you to a starting point. That way you would be able to follow the displays round and learn about & fully understand what you were looking at. Kilvingrove did none of these things. I often had no idea where to start looking and could only pick a sign at random and try and make as much sense of things as I could or wonder round trying to find the first panel. This soon grew very frustrating and tiring and caused me to waste a lot of time walking in circles.

Finally the layout of the museum was so odd it felt like someone had done an almighty sneeze of historical artifects. It was so jaring to walk from room to room as you had no idea what was coming next. At one point I stumbled upon a display that suddenly started talking about the influence of American Wild West culture on Glasgow (with nothing to indicate that Glaswegian culture was the new subject). I walked to round to the next panel expecting to find more of the same and instead saw a few small signs and items relating to Glaswegian mental asylums. It was all very unexpected. Especially when the panel after that was empty apart from a packet of nappies with no explanation as to why they were there! I felt very overwhelmed and confused.

Having said all that though, once you let go of the idea of trying to learn anything and embraced the absolute randomness of the establishment you were free to have a weird and wonderful time. I soon started rushing through all the rooms wondering what surprises would come next, enjoying that I had no idea what was going on. It was like running around in one of those nonsensical dreams we all have and by the end I no longer cared that the Spitfire was in the same place as the stuffed elephant because it was all tremendous fun and the building was still as beautiful as ever. I highly recommend you pay a visit yourself.

I sadly didn't get chance to see any more of Glasgow but what an introduction Kilvingrove provided! I shall have to go back and explore the city more.

unallersimple: (japan poster)
I'd like to introduce you to someone called Adam Hacker who contibutes to a site called JapanTourist. We were both ALTs in Shimane and whilst we don't know each other well, we have vaguely kept in touch with each other via Facebook and Twitter since then. I have long admired the photos he uploads, especially his ones of Martha's Vineyard. I only found out he writes for JapanTourist this week but really enjoyed looking through his articles. If you are interested in reading about Shimane and other less well known aspects of Japan then I recommend his stuff. His profile on the site can be found here.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Vogel Park again because I really, really love that place and its super cute penguins.
Never one to miss an opportunity to post a penguin photo, I immediately spammed Adam with one I'd taken the last time I was there. On a similar note, one can never watch this video too many times!


Mar. 4th, 2013 05:51 pm
unallersimple: (hectopus)
I had been thinking about getting an iPad for a while. Every time I did though, I told myself that it's an unnecessary and extravagant purchase. That if I really wanted to type, write and upload photos whilst out the house then I could just take my laptop with me. I kept telling myself that my fantasies about sitting in Oklahoma (one of Manchester's coolest cafes) and blogging were just that. Fantasies. I'd probably get irritated by the people talking loudly next to me and want to go home and type undisturbed to the music of my choice. Besides, if I stayed home I wouldn't even have to get dressed first!

As you may have guessed, the laptop thing never happened. Mine is old now and has a batty life of about ten minutes so I wasn't gonna be using anywhere for long. It's also very large and very heavy and after taking it to and from Japan I didn't fancy lugging it around anywhere ever again.

I realised this week that I've been unemployed a month now and still haven't worked on this journal as much as I was hoping too. I've spent a few 5-6 hour days going through all the posts from the beginning but I'm still only up to 2008. I also still haven't written anything new related to travel. In fact this is only my second new post!

So today I gave in and bought one. I splashed out and got a big fancy one with a lot of storage for all my photos and music. I was able to get it set up straight away in store within a few minutes and can connect it to the Internet using my iPhone. All my contacts, music & photos were automatically uploaded to it from my phone too. My ex told me that all Apple products are designed to work together really well and he's right. It's easy. It's simple. Wonderful in fact. If I had bought a cheaper tablet of a different brand it wouldn't have been anywhere near as good but because I already have an iPhone the two work with other perfectly. I keep getting lots of wonderful surprises like opening up Safari and finding all my bookmarks from my phone are automatically on here. It's so fast and convenient!! Even the case I bought works perfectly with the device, as you can fold over the front cover to make a stand or prop it up on a slant so you can type on the screen like a keyboard.

I went straight from the Apple store to Oklahoma (it really is a great cafe) and headed straight towards the back corner. I've been here for two hours already. Only 15% of the battery has been used. I can type about the same speed on this as I can on a laptop which is great, I was worried the iPad keyboard might slow me down. I can even type one handed really easily whilst sipping a drink or scoffing sweeties as the iPad screen is about the same size as my handspan! People have been talking loudly next to me, but for the most part I've been so absorbed in my own stuff because I don't have to wait for anything to load that I can tune out their chit chat. The music in here is lovely, and I can use an app called Shazam to find out what any songs I love but have never heard of are called. I know I could have done all this on my phone, but it's so much quicker and easier with an iPad. I don't have to squint at a tiny screen. I've discovered that an iPad is a pleasure to use in itself. When you're ready to leave there is no shutting down or packing away involved, just fold the front cover and go.

What a wonderful afternoon it has been. What joy sitting in an inspiring environment and creating is. And I'm out of my pjs. And I'm out of the house. And my iPad is really light and fits discreetly in my bag. And I'm updating my LiveJournal again! Maybe next time I'll even write something about travel...


unallersimple: (Default)

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