Speed Sketching and Urban Sketching From Home

I’ve written about urban sketching previously (urban sketching post). It’s been one of the most successful New Year’s Resolutions I’ve ever made. Even in the present climate it provides a way to relate to your surroundings and and other people without requiring any compromise in personal safety. Traditionally urban sketching involves drawing the whole scene in front of you to capture the moment: people, structures, vehicles, weather etc, but in my own sketches I find I tend to focus on one thing or another. When out and about sketching I usually categorise my sketching into two groups: people sketches and architectural sketches, both require completely different approaches, skills consequently they are suited to completely different situations.

Speed People Sketching

These are sketches I often refer to as coffee shop sketches as that’s my main venue. With these my aim is always to capture a persons posture, movement or attitude as quickly as possible. Sometimes furtively so they don’t notice me staring at them and sometimes in seconds as they are walking past the window. The practice leaves no time for hesitation or perfectionism and the results are fun little moments. I always keep a small sketchbook with me with a couple of pens; pencil is no good as its tempting to try and “correct” things resulting in missing the moment or removing the essence of the sketch.

Stationary people are simpler to sketch, people on phones, reading or eating, whereas passers by provide the challenge of movement and a maximum of 20 seconds before they’re out of sight. Admittedly some of the results are unidentifiable as people but it can be endlessly entertaining. You never really know how much you can do in those short seconds until you try, and as with everything you improve the more you practice.

Architectural Urban Sketching

Architectural sketches in many ways are the easier of the two. Firstly buildings don’t move giving you all the time you need, secondly they usually involve a lot of straight lines and follow very clear rules about perspective giving you some leeway in observation and thirdly you don’t tend to offend anyone if its not a great likeness or unflattering. For a good few years this type of sketch has been my preference enjoying the lack of time constraint and clearly identifiable results sometimes with sketching groups and sometimes alone. I also enjoy the way it forms a travel journal of the places I’ve been and seen.

With the current restrictions a lot of our normal meet-ups and live urban sketching has gone online and we have utilised google street view all over the world seeing places and buildings we have never seen before and still maintaining that human connection through zoom and group pages. In additions my urban sketching group have began a weekly perspective challenge based on personal photos with the intention of developing or skill with understanding and representing perspective in the image we see.

It’s not the same as real life urban sketching, it suffers from the same problem as drawing from pictures. The screen image has already been converted to a 2D representation, bypassing the need for you brain to do the job of understanding the 3 dimensions and sense of depth and space, but it still provides useful and enjoyable practice.

The Value of Comfort Reading

The reasons for reading are many and varied. For some it’s academic; a need to understand a new idea, for work, school or even just out of curiosity. For others it’s for entertainment, they want to laugh at humorous events, or feel the rush of adrenaline during tense moments. For a lot of people the reason they state is escapism. They get to leave their current life behind and enter another. One which they get to choose, maybe with quests, wizards and dragons. Maybe they visit a new land and culture, or experience a different career and colleagues. Perhaps they participate in a high speed chase, or a battle or an intergalactic war. Whatever floats your boat, there is a book that can take you there.

imagination-concept-girl-reading-a-book-vector-3853075

I am part of a few Facebook book groups, in general they are open and friendly and as a group non-judgmental. That being said individuals will state their opinions that you may or may not agree with. One I’ve seen a lot of is that there are so many books in the world, why would you ever re-read a book. Another almost unconscious bias, is that some books are more worthy than others, children’s books or young adult books (YA) seem to have a stigma attached to them, almost like you need to apologise for reading or enjoying them. People are allowed their opinions and they are perfectly valid. I however disagree with these two ideas.

Sometimes though, what you need is a comfort reads; when you aren’t looking for a grand epiphany, or a rollercoaster of emotions, instead a sense of soothing familiarity and innocent positivity. There are books that naturally fall into this category for example “cozy mysteries” where everything turns out well for the characters you are invested in such as Miss Marple by Agatha Christie, or Agatha Raisin by M.C. Beaton (review here). Or easy reading chick-lit such as Wild Designs by Katie Fforde (review here) or Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Café by Millie Johnson. If you enjoy farcical capers there’s P.G Wodehouse (review here) or The fugitive Pigeon by Donald E Westlake (review here).

But these aren’t the type of books I want to focus on. Instead, when I’m stressed or down, homesick or lonely, what I crave is a re-read of a favourite, or books aimed at younger people

Recently on a road trip in my campervan, we started experiencing mechanical difficulties, we needed to carry on, and so we listened to Claudine at St Clare’s by Enid Blyton. One of my childhood favourites I have read many times, even as an adult. Did I learn anything? No. Did I feel any strong emotions? No. But that was the point. I could escape into this world I knew inside out and allow myself to relax into the gentle humour of the book without worrying about twists or turns. I am also very excited about the new Malory towers TV series that’s just starting. From what I’ve seen on social media, it’s the parents who are really interested in this, probably for a similar nostalgic reason.

St CLares

Another week, I was a having a difficult and stressful week at work. I felt the week slipping out of my control. So I downloaded Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. I’d never listened to or read it before, so I didn’t know the exact storyline, but the idealistic nature, charming naivety and cheerful positivity allowed me to relax and filled me with a sense of serenity. I even painted a little watercolour of my favourite scene.

Winnie the Pooh

This week I was due to go on holiday to see my family. I live and work abroad in Kazakhstan where I don’t speak their language and in general they don’t speak mine, consequently it can be quite isolating so I was excited to go home for a bit. Obviously things being as they are at the moment it didn’t happen and so I needed to provide myself with a sense of home and comfort another way. The books that give me greatest sense of home, are The Belgariad by David Eddings.

Belgariad books

This is a light and easy going traditional fantasy series written in the early 1980s. It’s not written in a YA or children’s style, though its innocence and child friendly subject matter make it perfectly suitable for that age group. Unlike the popular heavy and brutal grim dark style that dominates the fantasy genre today, these books promote all the positive attributes of the genre. They books take me back to my childhood, my Dad loves them, and introduced me to them when I was about 12 (in between Harry Potter books). Since then I have read them many times, the characters feel like friends, the cities and towns like holiday destinations, the world itself as familiar to me as any home would be, in fact more consistently so as I’ve moved so often in my adult life.

Belgariad

What I’m trying to say is, reading isn’t a competition; there are no prizes for completing a reading challenge, or reading the Booker Prize nominees, or ploughing through the classics. By all means set goals, and work on self improvement or study if you want. But allow yourself some comfort reading along the way

For more information of where to get hold of audiobooks have a look at my previous post here

The Village: An Imagining.

One of the quirks of the Russian language is the lack of articles; as a results many Russian speakers misuse articles when speaking English. This has led to possibly my favourite phrase ever. They all love to talk about “The Village

What are you doing at the weekend: I’m going to The Village.

Are you busy this evening: Yes I’m going to The Village.

Would you like to come to The Village.

It doesn’t matter who you talk to they all phrase it the same way, not a village, or my parents’ village. They never name The Village or in any way acknowledge that there may be another village in existence. To me it has a fantastical ring to it, to the point that this is what I imagine based on their descriptions.

To The Village!

Kazakhstan has only one village, it is known as The Village (capital T, capital V). It is somewhere in the centre of the country so that everyone can access it easily.

It seems there is some sort of direct, as the crow flies, means of transport to The Village. I’d like to think they teleport or similar, but they usually talk of taxis and trains so instead there must be a dedicated group of people whose sole responsibility in the nation is to transport people to and from The Village. I like to imagine them in a uniform, wearing national colours as they work for their country, or maybe there are different clans or rival factions, perhaps the train and taxi people are rivals. Maybe there are rogue transporters running people back and forth without official papers smuggling people or object in and out of the village without the authorities knowing; or maybe they do know, but turn a blind eye, taking a slice of course.

fantasy uniform

The village itself must be huge, during the weekend the population of the village must quadruple. It needs to house almost the whole population of Kazakhstan during the weekend and holidays. Maybe it’s on a parallel plane of existence.

During week days the population is old people and a few young children. The old people would be a bit like fantasy elves, they are long lived, stoic and formal. They’ve seen and know too much, they continue to practice the old ways despite the modern advancements their children try to bring back from the cities. I imagine the grandparents indulge their grandchildren in the secrecy of the week, imparting knowledge to them and even occasionally smiling, while the children’s parents work in the many cities.

babushkas_edit

Their houses are immaculately clean as all of the women’s’ time is spent on housework and preparing food for the weekend’s festivities. I picture the men spending their time looking serious and sitting in their chair. They may take a walk around The Village, maybe they will read a book.

Logically however, there must be some sort of spacial rift in The Village as despite my colleagues all going to The Village, they have never mentioned seeing each other there. Or perhaps there is a wrong side of the tracks mentality. Maybe long held family rivalries prevent different groups socialising in The Village, it would not be tolerated. The adults who leave The Village during the week do as they please in the city and this causes friction between them and the previous generations. The grandparents consider going to a city frivolous and unnecessary, they suspect their children are dishonouring their legacy.

fantasy citadel

As soon as they get back to The Village each woman is expected to join in cleaning the house, and preparing the weakly feasts, all their time is to be spent with their own family sharing in the running of the household. I imagine all the females gathered around a stew pot as they prepare a special meal, stirring occasionally as aromatic vapour flows through the house, maybe they make bread and gossip about their neighbours. This is where they gain the knowledge of the old ways. Occasionally special events occur, new year, a birthday, a new birth in which socialising is encouraged, but of course only with friends and allies; the appropriate gifts should be given and feasts prepared. There is a balance between keeping their children doing the right things and keeping them happy.

fantasy-wizards-ingredients-mike-savad

Maybe they are trained to never reveal the true nature of The Village, to never name speak its name as everyone knows names have power. The Kazakhs I know are incredibly difficult to get straight answers from and will reveal little to nothing about themselves. Perhaps they are all hiding a big secret about The Village. Maybe it was their safe place against the Russians.

Or maybe its just a quirk of the language.

Starting My New Teaching Job in Kazakhstan

You may by now realise there is a significant lag between real life and my blogs, however I actually wrote all these at the time they happened, but I’m only now getting around to uploading them. Anyway, below is a continuation of my adventures in Kazakhstan.


My goodness 7:30 feels early when you’re a day behind on sleep plus several hours jet lagged, but never mind, I had to meet N___ at 8:10 so he could show me the way to school and get me through security. A short slightly awkwardly silent 10 minute walk later and we were there. N___explained who I was to the guards so they would let me in before depositing me with the vice principle of something or other.

This was not the woman who had interviewed me or had been emailing me.

She had been made redundant. (was back to being a teacher).

As had the part of the V.P.’s role that included all things connected with international teachers.

That explained the lack of organisation and communication the last 2 months.

Never mind.

i-have-no-idea-what-im-doing-5120x2880-4358

The V.P. explained a lot about who the different V.P.s were and other leadership positions and why the names didn’t match up with the signs on the doors (not that it mattered, I couldn’t read them or remember anyone’s name anyway). She then led me on a tour of the school. It was very tidy and all the pupils looked very smart. Eventually I was deposited at the Physics department. There were 14 people in the physics department, I was the only one fluent in English.

I was made to feel very welcome, offered several different desks in several different workrooms. They all wanted the English speaker in their room.


One of the ladies is called Gulnara.

Gul is a type of flower and nara means camel she informed me.

What a lovely name.

camel-rose-rose-flower-background

I was asked by several people at different times how old I was. Is this a cultural difference? Is it a fairly standard question to ask a relative stranger in Kazakhstan? I didn’t mind telling them I am 30. They were surprised. They said they thought I was younger, so that was nice I suppose.

The school ran on WhatsApp, or that’s how it seemed. There were loads of groups for teachers and classes, it seemed I needed to download it if I was to know what was going on. I did download it. I still didn’t know what’s going on.

whatsapp-update-latest-version

I was given a laptop. Everything was in Russian. The password was in Russian using the Russian keyboard. I figured out the English key equivalent so I could login in, then I switched to the English keyboard and figured everything else out by location.

I went to observe a lesson. This particular teacher has very little English but insisted the pupils speak English only. They were researching part of the topic then explaining it to others. Where I come from that’s a classic “f.o.f.o.” lesson. If this was the level expected of me I might be alright.


The only person in the department who spoke reasonable English was M___, she offered to accompany me to lunch in the cafeteria. I went along and spent approximately 80p on a seasoned rice dish that contained carrots and some unidentified meat. It was quite dry but tasty.  We didn’t linger and soon headed back to the department.

I was WhatsApped by the VP in the middle of the day to tell me my contract didn’t start until tomorrow so after meeting everyone else I was free for the rest of the day.

I took that to mean I could go home. So I did.

Damn jet lag.

I was still awake at midnight.

I listened to my audio Russian lessons for half an hour and learnt to count to ten. Go me.

I eventually slept

russian audio

My New Home in Kazakhstan

I finally got to sleep 15 minutes before landing. The sun was up it was 8:30 in the morning (4:30 a.m. U.K. time) and the airport looked like an abandoned industrial estate with one dilapidated shed on it. I grabbed by hand luggage and followed everyone else walking across what I suppose was the airfield towards the wire fence where people were waiting to greet them.

A random guy said my name (at least I thought so, I could have misheard) and like the sensible person I am I happily followed him, after all I was expecting to be met, though I had no idea by who. He started to lead me towards the car park at which point I felt it wise to ask where I should collect my luggage. Lucky I mentioned it as he hadn’t thought about that. Once my 1 suitcase and backpack were collected we loaded them and ourselves into a minibus with another random guy at the wheel. As the minibus door was being closed yet another random guy tried to barge on board. I get the impression he was some sort of vagrant and the driver and greeter were emphatic in denying him entry and firmly shut the door. Since then I’ve realised there is a very informal “taxi” system around these parts so it probably wasn’t so odd.

DSC_2209

 

I feared for the vehicle, its contents and all other beings on the road during the short drive to my new lodgings, so much so I felt the need to look up the traffic related deaths statistics for Kazakhstan. It was no surprise to find its several times higher than Europe and well above average for the world, so that’s good to know.

roadinjuries_Kazakhstan

My greeter finally introduced himself as N__. He teaches English though he has never been to an English speaking country, so he must have worked hard to get to that level. He offered to meet me at 12:00 to help me get a sim card and cash out. I thought I had better take him up on the offer despite my desire to sleep.

I was handed over to my new landlord who led me to my new apartment and his mother who had evidently been finishing off the cleaning. You would not believe the decor of the place, every wall and rug was a different colour and pattern, it was quite something to behold. It was officially the biggest place I had lived in on my own.  Admittedly the only other place I’d lived in alone was my boat, so it wasn’t a massive accomplishment. The landlord’s wife had baked me 4 different cake type items and I was told I would be invited to dine with them in a week or so which I thought was very sweet of them (p.s. this never happened).

 

My apartment consisted of:

  • A kitchen with 1 table and 4 stools. 1 pan, 1 mug, 1 spoon, 2 knives and 2 forks, 1 glass oven dish and several glass plates and bowls.
  • A large double bedroom with balcony.
  • A large living room containing 1 long sofa and 1 small TV.
  • 1 toilet.
  • 1 bathroom.
  • Several large wardrobe type cupboards,
  • A large hallway,
  • 1 spacious other room I like to call the ironing room containing 1 chair, 1 cupboard and an ironing board set up. I don’t believe in ironing.

I stripped out of my sweaty travel clothes (as soon as they had left, not while they were there obviously), climbed into bed and slept for 2 hours before getting up to go and sort out my life. N__ was very helpful and got me set up with a Kazakh sim card so I was reassuringly connected to the internet wherever I went from then on (data and minutes etc. are super cheap out here). My Revolut card as usual thoroughly impressed me by being fully functional in any cash machine getting me interbank rates as I withdrew some money. Then with cash and a sim card sorted I did a spot of shopping before heading home. Then going shopping again as I had forgotten a lot of things.

Things I didn’t bring with but wish I had

  • A towel
  • A hairbrush – oops
  • A white sheet – for my projector
  • Home foods – the supermarkets don’t look very international to say the least

Purchases

  • Milk and cereal – just in case all else fails
  • Pasta and tomato puree – a safe bet
  • Cheese spread and bread – easy lunch solution
  • Blanket – to snuggle up on the sofa and watch TV
  • Water – the tap water tastes bad and I’m not convinced it’s safe to drink
  • Onion, potatoes and peas – it seemed sensible

After settling in for the night, and unpacking everything into a very small portion of the storage available I video called my parents and one of my brothers to show off my still fit and healthy person and also my unusually decorated home. Shattered by this point I decided to eat my packed sandwiches for tea followed by the cakes I had been gifted.

The cakes tasted awful.

I ate chocolate buttons instead.

kazakhstan area

Travelling to Kazakhstan

I know I’ve skipped ahead a bit in the story, and maybe I will go back and fill in the rest of the summer eventually, but for now let’s get on with heading to Kazakhstan.

To The Airport

The day had arrived to travel to Kazakhstan. My sister and I popped into town to buy some more suitable shoes, maybe an extra backpack for luggage and some food to take on the trains and planes. This was accomplished with relative ease before I finished off packing and got dropped at the train station again by my ever so helpful sister. I was to take the 12:20 train to London Euston, then the Underground to Heathrow.

The train was cancelled.

No replacement train or bus was offered, just wait for the next one.

I didn’t have time for that. I re-routed myself and caught a different train to Birmingham New Street.

So did the rest of the world apparently.

I stood in a sweltering carriage for 30 minutes with my large suitcase, a backpack a handbag and my face in some stranger’s armpit.

train

We eventually arrived and I managed to catch a train 5 minutes later to Euston. This one was also standing room only. I sat on the floor by the doors. If I can offer you one travel tip it is this: the floor is the coolest and arguably most spacious seat on a train. I sat there quite happily reading my book and eating my sandwich, leaning on my luggage legs stretched out. Eventually there was space on a seat so I moved to a table to eat some of a large pot of yoghurt I had packed for the occasion and to continue with my book.

Getting to Heathrow from Euston wasn’t as terrible as I had imagined. Sure I had to lug my suitcase and bags through hordes of people in a cramped, hot, airless space, but besides that I simply looked at the map, hopped in a lift (after waiting in a queue), walked down a tunnel and climbed on the next train listing Heathrow terminal  4. It was an hour long journey and I even managed to get a seat for some of it.

For those wondering you can get from Birmingham New Street to London Heathrow using public transport for about £35 in 3 – 4 hours as follows:

  • New Street –> Euston by train (approx £30 – 2 hours)
  • Head to the underground and pay cash or swipe a oyster, contactless credit or debit card for the rest of the journey (£5 – 1.5 hours)
  • Choose either:
    • Northern line going South – Euston–> Leicester Square
    • or
    • Victoria line going West – Euston –> Green Park
  • Switch to the Piccadilly line going West –> Heathrow (check your particular train goes to the terminal you need – they alternate between terminal 4 and 5)
  • Make sure you swipe your ticket or card when exiting the train line.

tube-medium-zoned

I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check my bags in. My flight included 2 checked bags of up to 23kg each. I did not want to drag 2 suitcases around so I overpacked my suitcase and included an extra backpack to transfer some stuff into at check in. It worked like a charm.

I took a few moments to enjoy my remaining liquids before going through security. I queued up, and like the practiced professional I am I had laptop, tablet, kobo, phone out and in a tray, bag in another, coat and handbag in another and was through the scanner in moments. Whoop.

My bag got stopped.

Why! I had been so careful.

I had not been careful. I had left a half pot of yoghurt in my bag which over the remainder of the train journey had managed to spill inside its plastic bag and had made a bit of a mess. The security lady was very pleasant about it and in the bin it went. My pre-packed sandwich survived the ordeal and continued on with me to Kazakhstan

The plane was delayed.

I only had 1.5 hours transfer time in Nur- Sultan to begin with. This was a little concerning. Oh Well, nothing I could do about it.

Happy Little accidents

I was flying with Air Astana and when we finally boarded  I had a full row of 3 seats to myself. I considered myself particularly lucky as I when I had checked in online only middle seats were available and I wasn’t looking forward to 6.5 hours sat between 2 strangers.

The service was impeccable. The air hostess was very attentive offering sweets, drinks and headphones early on. I had a pillow and a blanket package already on my seat, and not one of those thin fleecy blue ones I’ve had before. Once we were safely in the air the air hostess returned to ask if I would like to eat first then sleep or sleep then eat. Food and then sleep I thought. The food was served on proper crockery with real metal cutlery. I had thought this was a budget airline, I was very impressed.

After a short time reading my book I looked across to see the man in the aisle opposite me calling the air hostess over and standing up. I looked on in interest as she made his 3 seats into a bed for him. Out of the blanket package she unrolled a mattress topper that she fixed across his seats before ushering him onto it and placing the blanket on top. She caught my eye and indicated did I want my bed made?

Heck yes I did!

I stood up to provide access to the seats and properly looked around for the first time. It was at this point I realised I and a few others were in a separate section to the majority of the flight. Where we all had 3 seats to ourselves they were sat shoulder to shoulder. I glanced back at the rows near mine, all were very business looking men, all with 3 seats to themselves. Had I booked some sort of business class ticket without realising? I wanted to check my ticket but had to wait until my bed was made, naturally.

sleeper economy

I settled across my 3 seats and routed through my bad until I found my ticket. It said sleeper class, was that different to economy? I checked my other booking information, it definitely said economy so I could argue my point. What a happy little accident. Part of me didn’t want to sleep, I had the privilege of these 3 seats it seemed a waste to sleep through it. That being said I did need to sleep so I lay down and made myself as comfortable as possible.

I wasn’t comfortable, I tried very possible sleeping position and failed to sleep in all of them. In the end I settled for sitting up and reading my book. Regardless of the lack of sleep it was one of the best flying experiences I have ever had. Plus as a bonus I got a card that allowed me access to the business class fast pass queues in the airport. I’ve saved that for another journey.

The moral of the story: If your flight offers sleeper class tickets and they don’t cost significantly more, get one!

I had the perfect amount of time to pass through passport control, get my visa stamped and reach my next gate (after nearly entering a part of the airport I wasn’t supposed to). As I was boarded onto the plane the boarding agent (is that what they’re called?) told me my seat number had been changed. O.K. I wasn’t really bothered, it was only a short 2.5 hour flight. As it happened I had been changed to an emergency exit seat, extra leg room and a window; bonus!

Drama

Again I was highly interested in the goings on in the aisle across from me. A woman was wanting to sit next to her friend but her ticket was for a different seat (bare in mind I am inferring as it was all in Russian of Kazakh or some such) the air hostess would not allow her to just take a different passengers seat so she waited in the aisle seat on my side of the plane. Eventually the passenger whose seat she wanted arrived. After a moments discussion he nodded and she took his seat and he sat in the aisle seat on my side.

That was when the drama really began.

The woman’s official seat was not this one, it was much further down the plane. The guy did not want this but the woman had now taken his seat and was refusing to budge. Queues were forming, the person who had the aisle seat ticket on my side arrived and wanted his seat. The woman still refused to move, the displaced guy was waving his ticket around, the air hostess attempted to reason with both, the new guy had no idea what was going on and simply took his seat ignoring all else. An extra air host arrived and nothing changed (is it air host for male and air hostess for female? I’ve never thought about before. Maybe its air steward and air stewardess. Oh well I’m not going back and changing it now). Eventually the displaced guy got a seat the row behind mine which was still an emergency exit seat so he had the extra leg room.

After the low key drama boarding the plane the flight was completely uneventful. I finished a very entertaining book about inter-railing around Europe in the 90s, and completed a few puzzles in my puzzle book. I did of course attempt to sleep but not very successfully.

dont lean out window

 

Finally we landed in what appeared to be a barren piece of land with a rickety old shed in it, apparently it was the airport.

First impressions of Kazakhstan coming soon.

The Best Travel Game – The Legs Game (House rules)

The legs game is the best road travel game I know, as a kid, and even now as an adult it is a great game that everyone can participate in no matter how long or short the journey is. It works less well on long stretches of motorway or for train travel, but for towns, cities, villages and the A-roads in between it’s ideal.

Recently my brother told me how he had introduced his fiance and her family to The legs Game while in Australia. They seemed to enjoy the game however there seemed to be some disagreement about the rules, which seems ridiculous as they didn’t know the game up until that point.

This game was first taught to me on a bus journey by someone older in the church, I think though I don’t really remember; I must have been maybe 9 or 10. As a family we have played this game on many road trips, and it manages to engage us all, even Dad has been known to participate.

Anyway with this in mind I thought it would be a good idea to explain the rules of The Legs Game, or at least our house rules.

This game depends on a certain degree of honesty and trust as having a score keeper is no fun, so bear that in mind if your you’re with a bunch of cheaters.

The aim of the game is to collect the highest leg score. You score by being the first to spot and call out any written word/sign of an object that would naturally have legs; you score the number of legs the object has.

For example, imagine you are driving down a British country road and you spot a pub called the Bull and Dog. If you are the first to see and call out it’s name you would get 8 points, 4 for the bull and 4 for the dog. Note it must be written text, not an image.

legs game bull and dog

House rule variations:

  • A location/object can only be claimed once – using the pub as an example, it may have multiple signs on it however only one person can have the points.
  • At least one other person must be able to verify the viewing of the sign/writing (not compulsory, it depends on how trustworthy your lot are)
  • Inanimate objects are permitted (e.g. bed and breakfast – 4 points awarded as beds have 4 legs)

legs game bed and breakfast

More contentious house rules:

  • Professions are permitted for 2 points (e.g. estate agents – these are people therefore 2 points are allowed)
  • Names are not permitted (e.g. The Shakespeare gets zero points)
  • MAN lorries are permitted for 2 point
  • Number plates are permitted (rarely an issue)
  • A table may be permitted for 4 points (decide among yourselves)

legs game shakespeare

Plurals (2 options):

  • Plurals don’t alter the points, only a single amount is awarded (e.g. Kittens for sale – 4 points awarded as a kitten has 4 legs) – my brother thinks this is the correct plural rule.

OR

  • Plurals are awarded double points as it implies more than one (e.g. Kittens for sale – 8 points awarded as 2 kittens would have 8 legs) – I think this is the correct plural rule.

Also, be aware if you play this game close to home or on routes you are particularly familiar with, some of your party may try and claim points before they are actually visible as they know they are coming. This should be discouraged however you see fit.

Whichever set of rules you play doesn’t really matter, just make sure you agree on them before hand.

A Summer with Toby

In case you don’t know, Toby is my campervan; a 1991 Talbot Express to be precise.

Having just bought Toby from a private seller I decided to take him for a brand new MOT despite his current one only being 1 month old. If I was driving him all the way to Spain I wanted him in tip top condition. He failed on loads of points that the previous MOT should have picked up on, he needed some welding and a few other bits and pieces (though by all accounts he was in very good condition for his age). I did the only sensible thing, I threw money at the problem. I was planning on leaving in 2 weeks. The guys at the garage were incredibly helpful and by the time I got him back he was driving like a dream and I felt very poor.

Road Trip to the Ferry Port

After the final packing and loading of the camper-van we finally left for Spain. Our first stop was the local Morrisons. We bought petrol, snacks and had macaroni cheese to tide us over. Having never driven Toby more than 15 miles, we were now driving to 300 miles or so to Dover to get the ferry. He drove so much better than he had before the trip to the garage, he could even cruise at 65 mph on the motorway without complaining. I think we even managed to over-take a lorry at one point, it was exciting. We didn’t make it to the ferry port until about 11:30 pm which was a bit later than I’d hoped but the ferry wasn’t until about 6 a.m. the next day. We drove around looking for a likely spot to pull up for the night and settled on a small carpark; we pulled our curtains closed ready for a few hours sleep.

Camper Margot

Things that went unexpectedly well:

  • Toby – he drove really well and used less petrol than I feared.
  • Margot – she loves being in the camper and snoozed most of the way.

Things we we should have considered earlier:

  • Toilets – the carpark did not have a toilet. Mum and I both dealt with this differently but I’ll leave out the details.
  • The bed – we hadn’t actually investigated how the bed set up; by morning we knew it wasn’t how we’d done it.

 

Driving Through France

We took the non toll road route. I had a vague outline of a plan, places I wanted  to reach each day though no actual idea about where we’d sleep. A lot of Europe is very campervan friendly so I figured we’d make it up as we went along, after all we couldn’t really know how far we’d go each day.

The roads through France are very wide and well kept, there were views of fields for miles and we eventually made it into areas of sunflower fields (my favourite). I’d hoped to make close to Bordeaux that first day but it was getting dark and late and we decided to find a campsite for the comfort of a hit shower. We made a better attempt at creating the bed, but it still didn’t seem right. We covered about 500 miles from the port to the campsite, we were hungry, grimy and a little grumpy but the campsite staff were friendly and chatty and the inevitable pouring rain came more as a relief than a problem.

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As the driver, I was happy to just keep driving, I would have hated to be a passenger though so I tried to keep in mind what it was like for Mum. As I mentioned before Margot was having a great time so I wasn’t too concerned about her. I’d connected my MP3 player to the sound system so we had music and we kept trying to find a coffee shop on the road but it seemed impossible. It was difficult enough to find a petrol station at times, and we really needed petrol, with Toby being so old it wasn’t a good idea to run low on Petrol.

For day 2 we decided to take a detour into Bordeaux, it seemed a shame to do all that driving and not actually visit anywhere. We were listening to “A Good Year” by Peter Mayle as an audiobook in the camper (downloadable from audible). It’s set in France with vineyards, wine and eccentric French plumbing (read unreliable French plumbing) and they went to Bordeaux at one point so we thought it fitting.

a good year

The traffic getting in was appalling, and getting out was even worse. We were in the middle of a heat wave and you may be surprised to learn that Toby doesn’t have air conditioning. In fact with the crawling pace of the traffic the engine was getting worryingly hot (I didn’t mention this to mum) the dashboard indicator was creeping closer and closer to the red zone. Once we were moving it was fine, it just needed the air flow.

We arrived in Bordeaux about 1pm, it was was beautiful. I love architecture and I could have spent weeks wandering around and sketching, but alas that wasn’t the sort of trip we were on this time so I took photos. We managed to find an open cafe eventually (everything was closed for the holidays) and spent a fortune on one creme-brulee and a single profiterole. After only and hour or so we decided to continue on our way. We wanted to reach Spain that day and that meant getting through the mountains.

bordeaux

We took one more stop before heading into the mountain at a town called Orthez. We made sandwiches and took Margot for a stroll. It was a little cooler and the town was pretty and quiet. It was as we started making our way through the Mountains that Toby started having “moments”. He had a “cough” he used to do this quite a lot before he went into the garage and usually he just snapped out of it. We made it up and through the mountains without too much concern though I was going as easily as I could. He’s quite a big heavy beast for the size of his engine and it was quite a climb. I was relieved when we made it to the decent though I hadn’t really indicated my concerns to mum (you notice it far more as the driver).

route 2

We’d driven about 400 miles that second day and had made it into Spain without me realising. I’d expected some sort of notable border, someone to check documentation etc but nope, nothing. So we carried on driving into the night.

Tune in next time to find out about where we slept and how Toby coped with a very hilly Spain.

Preparing To Leave

Before heading to Kazakhstan I had a few things to sort at home. Such as buy a camper-van, try to sell my boat, flog most of my belongings, pack Margot and any items I wanted to keep into my camper-van and drive them to Spain for safe keeping, turn 30, you know, the usual things.

Toby 1

I won’t give you a full diary account of everything, but here are a couple of highlights:

The Penny farthing

I managed to sell a lot of my belongings by carboot and online, in particular I sold my penny-farthing using Facebook Marketplace. The lady who bought it was registered blind and was coming to collect it on the train with her guide dog, I was going to meet her at the station in the afternoon.

penny farthing

  • I was late leaving school meaning I was really short on time to get the bike to the station.
  • I couldn’t find the key to unlock the bike from the bike rack, I went back and forth to the boat with handfulls of keys – non of them worked, now I had even less time.
  • I eventually got my electric drill and broke the lock off – nobody at the marina batted an eyelid.
  • I couldn’t get the flaming thing into my car!
  • I grabbed the keys to the camper-van and managed to cram it in there.
  • I drove to the train station in the camper having only driven it once up to that point.

Success!

We made it in time, we even had enough time to pump up the tires.

The Boat

Despite several promising viewings I didn’t manage to sell the boat in the time I had available, the plan was still to “move out” though. My Mum offered to come and visit and help with the clearing out and join me on the drive to Spain. I wont bore you with the details of clearing the boat, but we had several lovely picnics in the marina and ate out a lot as mum decided the first thing that needed emptying were the food cupboards and we weren’t to cook anymore.

The day we were due to leave I was sitting on the front of the boat disconnecting the gas when I heard a splash and instantly realised my whole purse had fallen in the marina and was quickly sinking below the boats. I quickly plunged my upper body over the side of the boat into the water in and attempt to grab it before it was out of reach but no luck. Mum had no idea what was going on and thought I was falling in. I explained, partially stripped and jumped in after it – it had all my bank cards and driving licence in; if I lost it we were going to be massively delayed. The water was a little chilly and extremely dark and murky. Down between the boats and under the pontoon it was pitch black, I couldn’t see anything and didn’t know where the bottom was.

Mum secured Margot and came to assist – she was more panicked than I was as she couldn’t do anything. I bobbed about in the water trying to calm my heart rate so I could hold my breath long enough to reach the bottom. It was imperative I was slow and calm as if I stirred the silt up I would lose my purse forever and this water was incredibly silty. I dove down and slowly waved my hands around – nothing. I came back up reassuring Mum that it was under control. Up and down I went a few times until finally my hand made contact with my purse and I triumphantly made it to the surface.

margot

The purse safely on-board, the only difficulty remaining was how on Earth to get out. You have to realise the water level is maybe 70cm below the pontoons and a meter or more below anything on the boat you can grab. I tried clinging to the boat and pontoon and hoisting myself out, I tried using the ropes on my neighbours boat for a bit of leverage – it didn’t help, I tried moving further along in the hopes there was something to grab lower down and provide a bit some much needed assistance but no. Obviously I did eventually get out, using some combination of ropes , and Mum and swinging my legs up first, though not without gaining quite a scratch that seems to have left a bit of a scar, though I think it was fortunate not to get infected.

marina

Everything in my purse was laid out to dry, I changed clothes and Mum, Margot and myself went to the coffee shop for a breather. I couldn’t believe the adrenaline rush such an incident had caused.

We did manage to leave for Spain as planned, I’ll give you a few highlights from that adventure next time.

When Things Come Together

Ooh another Kazakhstan section, but you’ve turned down the job, what could possibly be happening now I hear you ask. Well, 4 days after declining the job offer in Kazakhstan, the international recruitment lady contacted me to suggest the same job, for the same group of schools, in a different city, in the same country, where I would be able to find accommodation allowing dogs, and as it’s a rural city it pays more (counter-intuitively).

s-margot.jpg

Though I would have to re-interview for the role with the staff at the new school. I now considered myself experienced with these interviews having completed one before with great success, so I thought, Why not and signed myself up for another Skype interview.

The interview seemed very much more a token interview this time. They seemed to have decided that if the previous school in the big city had wanted me then it must be their lucky day to get me out in the sticks.

After a little deliberation I decided to accept this job offer.

Team teaching grade 10-12 physics only, class size a maximum of 12 students: it sounded like a the most idyllic job I could have ever imagined.

s sketch tewkesbury

Then came the logistics. This is one of the main things about being a grown-up that I hate. Admin. Insurance, documentation, notaries, visas, vaccines, flights, council tax … and so on and so forth.

Plus I still had to get through the rest of the school term; though as the year 11’s had gone on exam leave my timetable was significantly improved and summer time on a narrowboat is wonderful, I especially enjoyed my mini veg garden.

Many of my colleagues were both envious and confused by my decision. Envious as I was leaving before what looked to be a difficult year, and confused as Kazakhstan wasn’t really an obvious choice. I don’t know the precise nuances of each of their situations, but I do believe people are rarely as trapped in their jobs as they think they are. If they really wanted a change they could do it, it might be difficult or uncomfortable but I don’t believe impossible.

I was due to start at the beginning of September alas the paperwork side of things slowed things down considerably to the point that I wasn’t entirely sure it would all come together, but , spoiler alert, it did, and I’ll tell you more about that in another post.

So here is where the real tale begins, as I start my journey towards teaching physics in Kazakhstan.

s boat & margot