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Four days in Jaipur, India






After my time in Kerala I hopped on a plane up to Delhi – a huge, hectic, mess of a city, and a shock to the system after the serenity of the backwaters. I was out of there on a train to Jaipur quicker than you can wolf down a chipati.

Jaipur, also know as ‘the pink city’, is the third point on the so-called ‘golden triangle’ tourist trail, along with Delhi and Agra. Despite its beauty, India managed to get the better of me in Jaipur – I was frazzled and weary, lacking the energy needed to successfully deal with touts and wannabe rip-off merchants, and every trip down the street felt like an assault course as I dodged cars, animals, motorbikes and ever-curious locals. I’ve never felt in such a constant state of flight or fight while just trying to go about my day.

I know every visitor to India gets pushed to the limit at some point, and I guess Jaipur was the point where it happened for me. But still, I managed to get out and see some of the main (and very beautiful) tourist sites.

Jaipur-amber-fort-viewThis is the view from Amber Fort, just outside the city.

Jaipur-amber-fort-coloursInside Amber Fort. The amount of amazing colour, everywhere, is one of the most striking features of India – just look at those saris.

Jaipur-amber-fort-selfieIndian domestic tourists love posing for and taking pictures!

Jaipur-monkeys-loadsThe atmospheric monkey temple. They may look cute but these little critters were actually pretty vicious. Make sure you visit with a local who the monkeys recognise as dominant.

Jaipur-monkey-cow-2It’s easy to feed them when you’re with a guide, but try without and you’ll get a nasty set of monkey gnashers bared right at you!

Jaipur-rooftops-2A glimpse of the city below as we climbed the monkey temple.

Jaipur-hutsThere’s no escaping the harsh realities of life in India – even outside a beautiful tourist attraction.

Jaipur-familiesThe water palace. This place was stunning – it appeared to actually glow in the sunlight.

Jaipur-stallsA street food shacks scene. So. Much. Colour.

Jaipur, you may have worn me out, but your energy, vibrancy and lifeforce is unbeatable.

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How to conquer your fears: Five things I learnt after speaking at Blogtacular

Blogtacular 2015 Official Photos by Piers MacDonald. Thanks Mollie Makes (6)

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at one of my favourite-ever creative events – Blogtacular. The day started with an opening keynote speech by Grace Bonney, all about facing fear. It was pretty fitting, seeing as I was gearing up to face one of my own biggest fears – public speaking!

Like many people, the idea of standing in front of a bunch of strangers and trying to make myself sound interesting and clever and inspiring while they sit there staring makes my heart palpitate. However, I’ve got a habit of blindly saying yes to things without thinking about it, then only realising afterwards how freakishly terrified I am of doing whatever it is I’m signed up to. So when my editor Lara suggested we do a talk on the creative process and staying inspired (which I’ve been writing about a lot recently) I immediately agreed. Then realised I was actually going to have to do it. Whoops.

Grace Bonney of Design Sponge delivering her speech

Grace Bonney of Design Sponge delivering her keynote speech

Turns out, my annoying habit of landing myself in scary situations is actually something of a blessing, as it forces me out of my comfort zone and gets me staring those fears right in the face. And do you know what? They usually turn out to be not so scary after all. In the end, I really enjoyed working on and delivering our talk, and all the positive feedback afterwards was just great. So I thought I’d share a few tips the whole process has taught me about facing those scary situations head-on.

1. Realise there’s no difference between you and someone else who already does whatever it is you’re scared of
I’ve always found the realisation of just how similar I am to everyone else to be one of the most liberating feelings, ever. At least 90% of anything is a mixture of guts, work and a little luck, and talent only ever plays a small part. When I got a freak-out about speaking, I just thought: why should other people be able to do this, and not me? What magical powers do they possess? Answer: none.

2. Imagine what the absolute best outcome could be
Think what you could miss out on if you don’t go through with your fear. Visualising all the amazing things that could happen, or how you’ll feel if you succeed, can be the best motivator. Thinking about what a high I’d be on if the talk went well stopped me from backing out.

3. Talk about it
Tell people about your fears – preferably people involved with or who’ve been through the same thing as you. The more you air them, the smaller they’ll seem. Telling Lara and the rest of my team how nervous I was really helped chill me out.

Blogtacular 2015 Official Photos by Piers MacDonald. Thanks Mollie Makes (27)

4. Prepare yourself
Yes, you should do it. But don’t do it badly, otherwise you’ll have a terrible experience and it’ll put you off taking risks in the future. Before Lara and I did our presentation for real, we practised several times. And when I was younger, before I jumped on planes to other countries on my own, I thoroughly researched and planned where I was going.

5. Seriously, just do it
There’s no more I can say, really. Just take a deep breath and go for it. You’ll be fine. I promise.

Blogtacular 2015 Official Photos by Piers MacDonald. Thanks Mollie Makes (587)

Ermm, yeah, that’s me

(Photographs courtesy of Mollie Makes and Piers MacDonald)

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Village life in Kerala, India






Thought I’d share some images from my stay in a beautiful village near Alleppey, Kerala. I can’t believe this was five months ago now – who has their foot on the excelerator peddle of my life? I stayed at Greenpalms Homestay – which I discovered through the always-awesome Bridges and Balloons – located on an island in the backwaters. Getting off the auto-rickshaw and travelling to the village by canoe felt like entering a dreamworld.

Colourful, Portuguese-style houses and lush tropical vegetation line the banks of the waters, while locals stand on the banks washing saris or travel past by boat. The usual tourist thing to do in the backwaters is a houseboat trip, but sadly this was slightly out of my budget. However, my tightened purse strings were actually a blessing, as the village stay ended up being a highlight of my trip – a world of calm and relaxation away from the madness of Mumbai, and a wonderful chance to experience village life.

Village-orange-coconutsI went on a morning walk with a friend of my host family, learning about all the local flora and fauna. and the different ways they are used. These orange coconuts create a natural version of Red Bull, apparently.

Village-coconut-oilCoconuts and coconut oil are a staple of Keralan cooking. These are being dried out in the sun, ready to make oil from.

Village-powder-puff How pretty is this powder puff flower?

Village-breakfastA typical breakfast of coconut, rice and beans – delicious.

Village-toddy-toolsThese tools are used to make ‘toddy’ – an alcoholic drink made from the sap of palm trees. Kerala is (technically) a dry state, but the village still has its own toddy bar where the men will drink and socialise.


The villagers were some of the friendliest and most hospitable I encountered on my trip. Kerala has some of the highest standards of living in India – the literacy rate is 93.91% (compared to a national average of 74%); the average age for women to marry is 22 (in Rajatsthan it’s only 17), and there are food programmes to ensure no families living below the poverty line go hungry. I didn’t experience any of the hassle that usually comes with being a lone female traveller in India, and my stay here was definitely the most relaxing part of my trip.

I can’t recommend staying at Greenpalms enough. The food was delicious (and made from ingredients all sourced on the island) and the hosts also offer canoeing, cycling and motorboat trips. I stayed three nights, but it’d be easy to loose a couple of weeks there.

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Becoming the change

be the changeI swing between how much I should share my political views online. I worry about being judged by people; about the future repercussions of being open about my beliefs, or even simply just winding people up by being too preachy or self-righteous.

But the fact is, I believe in compassion, kindness, justice and equality. My values make up a central tenet of my identity. And I do not believe the government my country voted in last Thursday shares these values.

All around me people are upset, angry and heartbroken. They’re fearful of what the next five years will bring, and what kind of state the UK will be left in at the end of it.

But in-between all the anguish, I see so many glimmers of positivity. People are waking up, realising they need to work hard to make things change. Discussions are popping everywhere about how we can fight back; how we can effectively communicate our message.

If we can positively harness all this emotion and energy, we have a real chance to show that society doesn’t have to be run this way and there are kinder, more compassionate ways to live.

I’ve dipped in and out of activism many times over the years, but now I’m determined to try and do my part to effect change in a more mindful, strategic manner. No more simply thinking about my values  – I’m going to make sure I live them as best as I can.

I’ve joined the Labour party; I will join the NUJ, and I will use my professional skills and expertise to support organisations such as Arts Emergency and Rife Magazine. Because I believe in the power of art and creativity, and in supporting young people.

I’m going to take the time to be more active in my community, supporting the library and the local food bank and getting involved in local activism. I think strong communities are essential to healthy societies, so I’m going to take the time to help mine as best as I can.

I’m not going to be going on every single demo left, right and centre, because I don’t believe they necessarily communicate messages in the most effective way. However, this isn’t a slight on anyone attending them – if that’s what you want to do, then more power to you.

I’m not going to resort to name-calling or cries of ‘Tory scum.’ I’m going to stick to arguing the oppositions’ ideas and not lowering myself to personal attacks. Some comments I see on social media really do not help the left’s cause.

Most conservative voters are normal people, worried about the economy and other issues, who weren’t convinced by the left’s argument. The trouble so many of us have with this Government is that they lack compassionate and the ability to imagine what life is like for other people – so let’s not lower themselves to behaving like them.

And, similarly, I’m not going to berate anyone for being a ‘lazy lefty’ just because they’re not getting involved in activism or fighting back – people may have a multitude of different reasons as to why can’t or don’t want to. Like I said, I believe in empathy.

And most of all, I’m going to remind myself daily what my values are and try and make sure they are reflected in all my actions and everything I do. Because I truly believe that people, together, can change the world.

Image by Zachary Smith

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How I fell out of love with my kindle

Books I remember the first time I held my eReader. So overwhelmed was I with the prospect that almost every single book in the world could land right here, in my lap, that I didn’t even care that it was black, plastic and actually rather ugly. It was my own, digital version of that huge library room from Beauty and the Beast, and I span and twirled around it, loading my Amazon cart to the brim with 99p specials.

So enticed was I by the cheap prices and the fact that books could download into my hands at the touch of a button, I manged to fill my library with almost every book on my must-read list within a week. And at first, getting through them wasn’t a problem. I enjoyed the novelty.

But after a while, something shifted. I began finding it increasingly difficult to lose myself in books when reading them from a screen. It was as if there was a barrier between me and the words, stopping me from diving in properly. Books also started losing their uniqueness. There’s something about finishing a paperback and placing it back on the shelf, looking at its coloured spine sitting proudly next to all your other much-loved titles that just can’t be replicated digitally.

Books were no longer precious objects, their words and stories lovingly wrapped in a beautiful cover, but just another few megabytes of data to sit alongside my emails and calendar. Slowly I stopped picking up the kindle, and started returning to my bookshelf instead. I even went back to Foyles and purchased new paperbacks, even though I had plenty of unread titles stashed in my digital library. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

I’ve been using the internet since I was 11 and pretty much everything in my life is digital. But, for me, books are one thing I can’t seem to hand over to the world of pixels and downloads. I feel only a solid paper or hardback cover can really pay tribute to all the lessons and life-enrichment they hold. Plus, books are also a bonding tool – people come over and admire your collection, you chat about your favourites and give them one to read, then they return the favour the next time you see them. eReaders eliminate this part of the reading experience.

So sorry, kindle. I appreciate the way you let people access books so easily as well as your ability to democratise the publishing process. But for now you’re staying in my drawer, and tonight I’ll be leafing through my stash of paperbacks to choose my next read.

Image by Curtis Perry, shared under a creative commons licence.

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New Year in Fort Kochi (or, how not to panic when it all goes wrong)








Sometimes when travelling, you have to just go with the flow. Or, in other words: try not to freak out when a massive fuck up happens.

I experienced a stark lesson in this when I went to spend New Year’s Eve in Kerala, India. I was determined to travel from Mumbai down to Varkala in the south so I could see in 2015 on a beach, and planned to fly to  Kochi, take a taxi ride across the city and then catch a train. It was going to take nine hours in total, and I had an uneasy feeling that something, somewhere along the way was going to go slightly wrong.

When I arrived at Mumbai domestic airport on 30 December, close-to-the-bone time-wise due to the white knuckle Indian traffic, the woman at the checkout desk just stared at my e-ticket, looking confused. “I’m afraid we don’t have you booked on this flight, ma’am,” she informed me. “But I’ve paid for it and that’s my booking reference,” I replied, pointing at the nonsensical combination of letters and numbers. She simply shook her head.

I still don’t know what went wrong there, but they offered me a seat on a later flight instead. As I strode through security, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t going to arrive in time to catch the last train to Varkala. It was also a public holiday in India and most hotels were filled with domestic tourists, so I knew I’d be lucky to find somewhere to stay the night in Kochi. Feeling panicked, I pulled out my Lonely Planet and called the cheapest hotel listed – The Princess Inn in Fort Kochi. Luckily, they had one room free as they’d just had a cancellation. Phew. I then booked a train ticket for 5am the next morning to take me to Varkala. All saved, I thought.

After touching down in Kochi I strolled over to the pre paid taxi counter and showed my hotel address. “You need to get a ferry,” the woman behind the counter explained. “We can only drop you at the crossing.” Turns out Fort Kochi is located on an island, pretty far form both the airport and train station. Ok, no worries, I thought. I’ll just have to leave super early tomorrow.

As I sat in the cab, watching the sun go down behind palm trees, I flicked open my guidebook and started reading up on Fort Kochi. “First ferry to the mainland departs at 6.30am,” it stated. Too late to catch my train. I sank back into my seat as it began to dawn on me I wasn’t going to make it to Varkala, or at least not in time to relax and actually enjoy New Years’ Eve. “What’s good to do in Fort Kochi over the next couple of days?” I asked my driver. He smiled and began telling me about the huge carnival procession, the waterfront concert and also the art biennale that were all taking place. Well, I thought. It seems all is not lost.

So I may not have experienced my fantasised-about New Year of dancing on a beach til the early hours, but I did enjoy a procession of decorated elephants, dancing hindu gods and elaborate floats; a huge concert featuring mass drumming; fireworks going off all around me and a huge Santa effigy being burnt; amazing art, yoga on a rooftop and mouthwatering Keralan food.

I don’t believe in fate or things happening for a reason, but sometimes when you just embrace the fuck ups and mistakes it all works out better than you could ever have imagined.

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How to make mornings suck slightly less

m6rT4MYFQ7CT8j9m2AEC_JakeGivens - Sunset in the Park

I’ve written about my aversion to the mornings before. I’m just not one of those people who naturally springs out of bed, ready to seize the day. All I want to seize is my duvet – again – so I can clamber right back under it.

However, I’ve recently got a few tactics nailed down now that, for me, manage to slightly ease the inferno of pain and self-loathing that is waking up. Of course they won’t work for everyone, but if you’re a fellow night owl and snooze button lover they might just make your pre-10am life a leeeeeetle bit easier. If you’re one of those annoying people who jump out of bed at 6am, go for a run and (probably) sing to the birds, then go away because this isn’t for you and you don’t need it (PS. I hate you).

1. Don’t set an alarm

Now I know this might seem counter-productive – how am I ever supposed to get out of bed without a raging noise to force me?! But trust me, alarms are evil. They were forged in the flames of hell by the devil himself (I think). If you get to bed on time, you can train yourself to wake up without one. It eases you into the world of the waking far more gently, and won’t get stuck in the snooze-wake-snooze-wake-snooze-wake-ARGGHHH trap ever again.

2. No screens after 10pm

You’ve probably heard this one before as it’s constantly trotted out in all those ‘How to sleep better/ rise earlier/ be a better person’ articles. But that’s because it’s true! I used to read on the Kindle app on my iPad before bed, and once I switched back to good old-fashioned paperbacks I really noticed the difference. Plus you won’t get sucked into that ‘Oh I’ll just look at this, maybe I’ll search for this… SHIT it’s 2am’ trap (been there).

3. Try writing before bed

Related to number two. I’m enjoying doing a bit of free writing before bed at the moment – as well as getting me away from everything electronic, it helps get out all those thoughts and anxieties that can often appear at night and interrupt your sleep. It also seems to make me drift off to sleep… I’m hoping that’s not because my writing’s so boring.

4. Pick your outfit the night before

I used to think this sounded a bit control freak-y and Stepford Wife-y, but it really helps! It gives you one less thing to fuss over in the morning, and also stops you from feeling a bit ‘meh’ all day cos you only had time to grab the first thing you saw.

5. And finally…

Don’t beat yourself up if it all goes wrong You woke up late. It’s ok. No one died. Just get on with your day and being a total badass like always.

Image by Jake Givens via Unsplash