Cheese Twists

2015-01-01 11.12.11

I picked up a loaf of bread and stood in line waiting to pay. On the counter to my right were all the croissants and cakes and slightly strange combinations like green curry pie which we get in Bangkok. There were plastic trays, tongs and rolls of paper at the far end. And, I noticed, among all the reduced bread, what looked like a few packets of cheese twists. I walked over to them and picked up a packet. It was priced at 50 baht. I put them back and joined the line again which was now a few people deeper.

Cheese twists. A variation of the cheese straws that mum used to buy from the bakery in town. Cheese straws were flaky and greasy and cheesy and soft. They were a bit messy. Pastry crumbs and grease marks were left in the paper bag, on our fingers, around our lips. (The ones we tried to replicate at home were never quite the same. Always slightly too burnt, or crunchy, or not cheesy enough.)

Cheese twists though. These were the grown up version. They were crunchy and less likely to leave a mess. They were a bit posh. At Christmas, for our birthdays or Burns night, we would go over to Grandma and Granfer’s, only a few minutes away. Out would come the cheese twists, probably bought from Waitrose. Several wine glasses would be filled at least half full with sherry, as was Granfer’s measure. Elderflower cordial possibly for us two teens. Maybe a gin and tonic or two for Grandma. And then plenty of wine with the meal. I don’t really remember the details of conversations had around the table, but I do remember the laughter, smiles and shining eyes. Also Grandma’s loud burps.

After the meal there would be biscuits from the biscuit tin, a slightly rusty round box with blue patterns on it. It contained all the treats, more than at home. Tunnocks, Rocky bars and the occasional Penguin laid on a sheet of kitchen roll. Tea for Granfer and mum, coffee for Grandma and Dad.

On one evening there was supposed to be a meteor shower, and so after eating and drinking we all went out to the front of the house to look up into the sky. Grandma and Granfer’s house was an end of terrace, and on the corner of a small crescent a little way off of the main road, so it was quiet. Only the occasional car drove past. There were a few lights from windows and street lamps. Unfortunately one of these streetlamps was right in the way of our view, and it made it difficult to see any glimmers in the sky. Slightly drunkenly, Grandma and Granfer tried to block out the light by each covering one eye with a hand. I don’t know why they thought using one eye would help… in any case it’s possible we woke up the houses around us with all the giggling.

I miss them.

I put my bread down in front of the cashier. I dashed back around to the end of the line and grasped the cheese twists and handed them to the cashier. On second thoughts…

Messing about in boats

“Mmm, you’ve got to have confidence in your spray-skirt”, J agreed.

I took a sip of water. The hum of conversation continued around us. It was getting darker, and if I twisted around ever-so slightly behind me I could see the amber glow sinking at the mouth of the river. Someone had sketched on the palm trees in charcoal.

Cross legged on the floor we passed around the bill and managed to work out what each of us owed. We traded our table for a wooden boat, and as the dusk turned black we sped up the river. A breeze stirred the humid air. The twinkling lights from the fireflies reminded me faintly of Christmas.

Back at my hotel I considered S’s story. Held tight in her kayak, she had braved the waves, only to get tossed about and lose control under a vicious wave. To be honest, however big the wave had been, didn’t seem to matter to me. She couldn’t get out of her boat. She couldn’t roll well enough, and her spray-skirt was too tight. She panicked.

Several times that day I’d got flipped upside down while attempting to surf for the first time ever. It was fine, fun even, I pulled on the handle of my spray skirt and I could breathe air again. But once already, I’d gotten into my kayak and secured my spray-skirt only to have paddled for a little while and have someone point out that I’d gotten the handle stuck inside. I tried to open the seal from inside with my knee, but failed. “People drown that way.” Her panic seemed quite real to me.

We had three more full days at the symposium, and in that time S hoped to regain some of her confidence. I hoped to learn some more about kayaking and experience less than flat water. A few of the other people hoped to achieve their BCU 3 star qualification.

By the end of the week, I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t done more sea-kayaking sooner. I got flipped out of my kayak an uncountable number of times, and the bruises on legs got bigger. I kept going back in. My nose and throat burned from the salt water, but I pulled my white Tiderace to shore, emptied it and fought through the waves again and again. And I started to actually brace properly. I managed not to get flipped over a few times. I started to win!

With the aid of our wonderfully qualified instructors, S managed to improve her rolling technique. She flipped herself over and back up again while A adjusted her paddle and gave a bit of a tug on the side of her kayak. While still not fully trusting her spray-skirt, her confidence was growing bit by bit.


This was my first ever ‘Sea Kayaking Symposium’. It was run by Kayak Chang in Koh Chang on the east coast of Thailand. They’re based at the Amari Emerald Cove Hotel at Khlong Prao beach, which is a beautiful hotel (though I stayed elsewhere).

I would highly recommend Kayak Chang as a company for some serious kayaking trips and journeys around beautiful islands. The company is very professional, with well looked after, good quality and practically new equipment. The guides have been kayaking for years and know what they are talking about.

These aren’t sit on top tours that you can do in a bikini though – note. You pay more for a reason. For me it was worth every single penny.

I really hope next year I will be able to kayak again with Kayak Chang. The symposium was brilliant – my love for Koh Chang has increased, and I know I need more kayaking in my life.

Click here to find out more about Kayak Chang and the tours and courses they offer :)

Please note – this is completely my own genuine opinion!

Reading and Writing Thai – Somsonge Burusphat

DrawingCowsinBrugesI highly recommend this book for anyone starting out to read the Thai language. The main thing I like about it is that it introduces everything slowly and builds it up gradually. I can string letters together to make the right sounds, but the tones, up until now, have been mystifying to me. I did a simple Google for ‘Thai tone rules’ and was completely overwhelmed by the explanations and the charts! I read a few posts on blogs from people who reckon they have ‘cracked’ the rules and found a way to simplify everything and just got more and more confused. What works for some people doesn’t work for others.

I took a deep sigh and a break from the computer and re-scanned my bookshelf. I noticed this book, which I had bought nearly a year ago and not properly looked at. I had been plowing headfirst into children’s books without much guidance or really understanding what I was doing, and was at much the same level as I had been months ago. I needed some drastic action, and realised that this might be the answer to actually improving.

The author starts by introducing mid and low class consonants and long vowels, then high class consonants and long vowels. Then she looks at the final sound of the syllable and how it affects tone. There are lots of repetitive exercises to help drill everything into the memory. After that, she moves on to talking about  short vowels and how the first and last consonant affect the tone. And so it goes on, gradually building up the rules that you have to remember. I really like the fact that she explains everything, but the majority of the book is reading exercises, which is what it should be. I believe that rather than knowing and being able to recite the tone rule chart off by heart, with enough practice I will be able to see a word and recognise it’s tone from looking at it, which of course, is what I’m aiming for. I already feel confident reading words with the tone rules that I have studied so far, and I’ve only been studying it for a few weeks. I feel like I’m getting somewhere!

There is maybe one con for me, that is that I don’t really understand the transliteration that is used. I also don’t really want to spend time learning it as I want to spend that time learning Thai. It’s used to explain what kind of sound the letters make. There’s no CD, so I think that if you don’t know what sounds the letters and vowels make already, it would be difficult to make any sense of it at first. Having said that, there are plenty of videos on YouTube of people showing the Thai letters and making the sounds, so there’s no excuse not to be able to learn it quite fast, if you haven’t got access to a native speak who will go through it with you. The transliteration is also used to for a few exercises that help you spell in Thai for example – ‘write ‘dEEn’ (walk) in Thai. If you don’t understand the transliteration then you can’t do the exercises.

Other than that I think it’s a great book in which the process of learning and remembering has been clearly thought out. Yay :D

How have you found learning the tone rules? What resources have you used when learning to read Thai?

November

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During the past month I have:

– Started teaching at a new job where the classes are rather large,

– Bought a sofa,

– Bought 2 orchids, one with flowers that look like octopuses,

– Bought a fridge,

– Celebrated 1 year with my gorgeous girl,

– Written 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month!

(See my posts about NaNo last year here and here.)

It was my third attempt, and my second time at winning. Big thanks go out to the group of writers in Asia who I met with on Skype for word races :)

To explain: NaNoWriMo is a challenge to those people who say they could write a novel, or a book, or something but say they never have time, or keep putting it off, or whatever. Or for people who are slightly barmy and just want to see if they can do it or not (aka me). The challenge is to write 50k words of fiction (though I suppose you could write anything) in November, so that’s 1667 words a day average. If you reach the end you get a certificate, and a lot of personal satisfaction. It doesn’t have to be 50k of good writing, no, that’s not the challenge. Just words that form some sort of coherent something. Editing comes later.

For me, this works so well. If I were to write 50k of good stuff straight off the bat, it would take me f o r e v e r. I get disheartened when I have, what at Nano is called, an ‘inner editor’, constantly telling me that every word I write isn’t good enough, or doesn’t really fit, or doesn’t make sense or is just plain awful. And so I don’t write. I write a bit and then I delete it or I give up because I don’t give myself a chance to just write.

Not only that, but I fail to get excited about a plot that is just scrappy bits of information and nothing real.

Writing nearly 2000 words a day, means I don’t have time to let the bad stuff in. So what if there is a gaping plot hole, if the character isn’t really rounded, if I’ve jumped about and missed out a connecting link, if I change my mind about something half way through. My story is a living breathing real thing. I get inspired, I get excited, and I create.

There are days when I get annoyed too, of course. Days when I wish I had never taken up the challenge. But it gets remarkably easier the third time around. The first time I got about half way and gave up. Second time I finished and third time I felt like I could have written more – my story is no where near finished.

I am not a writer either. What I mean is that, Nano is the first real go at writing something fictional I’ve ever had. I believe that this turns off some people who do deem themselves writers. They see it’s just for amateurs as a way to say they can write, and as a way to dumb down the art of storytelling. I don’t see this at all. Writing takes time and patience, and being good at writing really takes learning, and more patience. But most of all, of course, writing takes writing. Nano is just a starting point. What you choose to do with your words afterwards is up to you.

And… never mind adults like me, but Nano is inspiring lots of children to write and want to write more in the future. This can only be a good thing!

This year for me, it was like a puzzle, where I was creating the shapes of the pieces and the picture on them, but I had no idea of the overall picture. I had a lot of fun trying to tie everything together. I also learnt that I find it really hard to write dialogue, decide on character names, and that even when I think I don’t have anything to write, I do.

I’m taking a break at the moment, I will be continuing to write it… I can’t have an unfinished story! Then the editing will begin later. Ahhh!

For anyone considering taking part next year, do it, I urge you. It feels really good to accomplish something, even if it’s just for yourself. :)

ooops…

nano

Hey there. Wow, it’s been a little while, huh.

In amongst writing 50,000 in November, going back to England for Christmas and then getting thoroughly wrapped up in a new relationship ♥, I sort of, uh, forgot about my blog…

To be honest…. 50,000 words… I think I needed a rest from typing for a little while…

At about 7pm on the 30th November (early!!!) I frantically typed my last 100 words, and then 100 more… and stopped at 50,100 ish, Broken and shattered, my hands cramping and my inner writer shouting at my inner editor ‘I told you I could do it!’, I stared at the word document in awe for a moment. Then I punched the air repeatedly. Then I backed it up on my flash drive, put it in my dropbox folder, and emailed it to myself. You never can be too careful, huh.

Over the past 30 days, I had been under the word count, nearly every day. My goal was 1667 every day, but that didn’t happen. At the weekends I managed to catch up with 2000 a day, 3000 a day, but by the last day I was still behind by a ridiculous 7000 words.

Something in me told me I had to do it. I couldn’t just give up. There were 43,000 words behind me, 7000 was nothing. I had the whole day off, and so I typed, pretty much continuously.

Editing, however, has been a completely different story (haha is that a pun there… is it?).

Well… ok editing hasn’t begun yet. I was meant to do it this month, February, but I think I’ve subconsciously pushed it to one side. I need to do it though. All that work I put in, I can’t let it go to waste, however awful it is.

Anywayyy! Just a quick update. I will be posting some more photos this weekend, and then I’ll be back on track :)

‘Thirty days and nights of literary abandon’

November, for me, will be taken up by large amounts of tea and black coffee, not much sleep, staring at a blank word document, followed by intense sessions of furious typing, a lot of foot tapping, walking, and furious note scribbling. All in my attempt to write 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th.

I will be taking part in NaNoWriMo, you see. November is National Novel Writing Month.

I have been trying desperately to prepare for it because this is my second attempt at the challenge. My first attempt ended up in 26,000 words (not bad really) of poorly written science fiction. I went into it blind, and suffered.

I am not a writer, and doubt that I will ever declare that I am one. I find it incredibly difficult to express myself in word-form, and I lack passion. I think, that’s what I do. Putting it on to paper is a whole other level. It feels permanent and exposed and I feel, well, vulnerable. The difficulty is part of why I try, though.

I have a ridiculous amount of admiration for people like my sister, who if she’s anything, she’s a writer. She enjoys it. She can’t not write. From an early age we had her poetry and writings up on our fridge, on the walls (sometimes literally written on the walls…) – deep and well thought out philosophies, clearly expressed.

I don’t know how to prepare for a month of writing every spare moment. It’s like knowing you are going to a buffet meal tomorrow. Do you starve yourself so you have an appetite? Or do you build yourself up to it like a marathon runner, eating a little more and a little more until you are sure your stomach will cope with all that damn well already paid for food? Like a long car journey – you are going to be sat down for a while, so to prepare for it do you… stand up? Will I get fed up of all the writing? Should I… read books and write in preparation.. or not?

I’ve decided to try and create some sort of premise for my novel… an outline of some sort because, well, because of the disaster of last time, and because yes, it does make a lot of sense to do so – I don’t really know how I thought I would create something meaningful last time without an actual plot. I’ve also started re-reading one of my favourite books, by Banana Yoshimoto – Kitchen. I am still unsure if reading a book that I love so much is a good idea however. Will what I write ever compare to it?! Is it going to make my writing feel totally inadequate from the start? Or will it give me inspiration?

Ultimately, I don’t have a clue how things will go until I start writing. I know it will go up and down, but I don’t know when, why and for how long.

It is terribly exciting.

I wish a lot of good luck to all you other ‘nanos’ out there! I’m very intrigued into your preparation process…