Archive for the Diary Category

Nervous arrivals at Mumbai Airport

Posted in Diary, Story fragments with tags , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by helenperkins

STEPPING out of Mumbai airport felt like stepping out of the Big Brother House.

Long before I found my way to the exit, I could hear shouting and cheering. I hoped the audience waiting for me outside was a friendly one.

I dragged my suitcase through the double doors at 1am local time and was met with the full force of three-hundred people shouting and waving. Taxi drivers, families, partners, hotel owners, porters, and more taxi drivers all clamoured for attention. The crowd was held back by railings and several security employees. All these jostled and clustered around a small floodlit square.

Like a rabbit in the headlights I stood in the centre, dead still. Please be here; please be here; please be here.

And then, as if by magic and four years since I had last seen her, my friend Afsha appeared in the corner of my view, raised above the sea of people.

She headed to the airport straight after her Mumbai birthday party. I hauled my bag to the only part of India I knew, even a little bit, and followed her into the night. Her favourite taxi driver sped us across the city to West Khar, where she and her family lived.

Mumbai’s roads, even at 1am, were busy. There was the honking and screeching of cars and yellow-topped auto-rickshaws, which nipped in an out of spaces in the traffic like fairground dodgems. I talked to Afsha – I can’t remember anything I said – and stared and gawped out into the evening. We arrived at Afsha’s home and, somewhere between meeting her mum and the dawn breaking I fell fast asleep.

This blog is a visual record of my trip, with a few tales and spots of advice. I hope it’s useful, especially for anyone who fits into the category of the nervous solo female traveler, and who is also hoping to spread their wings for the first time.

 

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Your meating has been cancelled: my July as a vegan

Posted in Diary with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2011 by helenperkins

So this month, as a test of willpower and an insight into the sorry, meat-free lives of others, I have become a vegan. Pardon my enthusiasm.

The rules of this lifestyle choice mean I can’t eat meat, and I can’t eat fish, eggs, dairy products of any sort, or honey.

“What about chocolate?” you might ask.

Well, it has dairy. So no.

“How about chicken?”

No.

“What about wine gums?”

They contain gelatine, so no.

The vegan diet is one I have successfully avoided for two decades. It is not something you could stumble into by chance. It is hard work, as I have discovered.

I’m a week into this diet and it’s forced my back into cooking again. I’ve so far made up a very nice tagine, a vegetable curry, a thick sweet potato soup and some strange lemon chargrilled pepper dish with quinoa (which is a bit like chewy cous cous).

But my dad thinks I’m nuts, I’m already clueless as to what to eat tomorrow and I am starting to dream about barbecued salmon.

I’ve begun to crave things I’m not normally even that bothered about. Hot chocolate, mussels, tabasco sauce. Last night I decided what I really wanted was stroganoff – a cream based dish I haven’t eaten in about ten years. So either I’m pregnant or this is my body telling me that something fundamental is missing from my culinary vocabulary.

Main courses are difficult to construct if you are used to the meat-and-three-veg paradigm. Desserts are even more difficult.

I asked the kind looking lady in Marks and Spencers if they sold dairy-free yoghurts and she looked completely thrown by the question. At one point I wondered if she was going to fall into the refrigerator section.

Convenience meals that don’t have eggs or cheese in them are almost impossible to find and, worse still, eating out does not work. Every single dish you will find on a standard restaurant menu fails the vegan test. Waiters and waitresses, almost without exception, will eye you up with anything from mild confusion to fire and brimstone derision.

So why bother? Well, I’ve been reading up. Most vegans argue that by buying and eating animal products you support, even if indirectly, animal suffering and dodgy mass farming for the sake of business.

Another reason they stick to the chick peas is that animal-related food production requires more energy and land than arable farming. Thirty cows in a field can sustain fewer Cumbrians than that same field filled with barley and, on a larger scale, meat-eating is considered less efficient and therefore less helpful in feeding the world population.

That’s all well and good but it does not solve my yoghurt deficiency and my newfound obsession with Russian stews, and while you can get vegan things from vegan shops in vegan towns, they are hard to come by, more expensive and they vary wildly on the taste scale.

One exception to this is vegan ice cream, which I do solemnly testify is amazing and should be eaten everywhere, by everyone, everyday. Pass me a spoon please.

This month is going to go one of two ways:

1) My body will get over its craving for rum and raisin ice cream and I will grow to like this purer diet. My energy levels will soar and my skin will glow like that of a flawless Blake-inspired newborn baby.

2) I will become absolutely sick of pasta, my vitamin D levels will deplete, my skin will fall off and I’ll sack the whole thing off and never want to hear the dreaded V word every again.

Wish me luck.

The Year of the Quit: my March away from Facebook

Posted in Diary, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2011 by helenperkins

In January I quit coca cola for the month, a resolution that tested my self control to a previously unknown degree.

I’ve since returned to my caffeinated beverage of choice like a fat kid to cake – oh the disgrace – although in fairness I have managed to curb the ratio of coke to blood pulsing through my veins.

For my February experiment I quit alcohol, which left friends suspecting I had become a secret Mormon and, even more annoying, confused my immune system enough to spark a three-week cold. I never get colds!

This month I have axed Facebook.

Less than 24 hours into the challenge, my news editor wanted me to find out what had happened to a man involved in an industrial accident.

“What’s his number?”

“I don’t know, we haven’t got his contact details, you’ll have to find him.”

“Do we know where he’s ended up?”

“No. He’s supposed to be in intensive care though.”

“How do we know that?”

“Some man told one of the typists.”

“Some man?”

With a name but no address, phone number, workplace, hospital, even town, it is very difficult to chase someone down.

The phone book offered no help. The Health and Safety Executive couldn’t help. Councils thought my position was very funny. Certain members of other relevant organisations couldn’t find their arse with both hands. You know who you are.

I needed Facebook.

So there I was, breaking my Quit rules before I’d even got started.

Found the guy within ten minutes.

Make no mistake; Facebook is an amazing tool for journalists. Regardless of the ethics involved, it’s become a first point of call if someone dies and the paper needs a tribute photo, or comments from friends or relatives.

Unfortunately, it’s also the virtual procrastination capital of the world – and a distraction that haunts this generation’s global population.

Even at the top of the Eiffel town, one starry evening, I heard an American teenager telling her friend that Sammy’s Facebook profile picture was ‘totally just a way of getting at me’.

Oh brother, get a life.

So I have, and I haven’t missed Facey B as much as I thought I would.

It’s frustrating to have to converse in email again – there’s no pictures and everything is all texty. I feel like I’m working with vinyl. It’s even more annoying not to see photos from my friend’s party. I was there, and it’d be nice to relive the experience.

My generation work hard to regulate and cultivate a healthy online identity. I’m sure this obsession with watching life replayed on the web is warped 21 century vanity.

We try to maintain our online personas, like a growing web garden of the self that needs constant pruning, tending and watering everyday, lest it become unkempt and overgrown – ugly – unpopular.

Maybe online blogging is just another extension of this drive – mankind’s latest weird quest to prove we are alive.

Next month I’m giving up supermarkets. Please feel free to send food parcels…

A merry drinker’s diary of reluctant sobriety

Posted in Diary, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2011 by helenperkins

It’s February and I have given up the plonk. Drat it.

This is all part of my year-long mission of self discovery, where I cut out one thing each month and attempt to learn from it. And this month what I have mostly discovered is that I like cocktails.

And I love gin.

And, God, I would sell my soul for a bottle of deepest, darkest red Italian wine.

It’s easy enough to say no to a boozy glow on a Tuesday night, when I’m not going out and I’m half asleep anyway. However, during the first weekend of February’s self-motivated teetotalism I was due to meet with old university friends.

Our Manchester reunion should have featured cheeky meals, sneaky bar crawls and lots of chatter. To be fair it had all of these things, but oh, I couldn’t have a drink.

Eleanor and Kathryn were supping Zombies, Rachael was drinking fruit beer, and I was drinking orange juice. This is my standard cure for a hangover, not a replacement for one.

I found myself attracted to drinks I don’t even like. I’ve never craved a Bloody Mary before but, on the Saturday in question, I would have danced the funky chicken on the bar tables for le boisson avec celery stick.

And more than the actual drink, I miss identity amnesia alcohol offers.

For the price of a mild-to-moderate hangover I forget what makes Helen Perkins Helen Perkins. I become history-less, inhibition-less, more inclined to dance, liable to tell you things I’d normally blush over. 

“Well, I hope you know this phase is going to kill your sex life,” my friend said, in grave tones, as if had declared I was becoming a nun.

“Never had sex sober then?”

“Jesus, no.”

Late night drinks are considered to be something of a tradition in Lancaster – an unrefusable gateway to social activity. The following comments were prompted after I declined gin from super-generous friends.

“Then when are we going to see you?” – Tom.

“How on earth will you switch off?” – Sarah.

“If you’re sober we’re all going to be incredibly annoying.”

“This sounds like an eating disorder to me.” – Harry, never dilutes his opinions.

It’s not all been bad news. I’m more than two weeks into my diary of sobriety and, grudgingly, I feel better for it.

Early mornings are easier, and, without the head-screwed-to-the-wind-turbine feeling, I have managed to get more projects set up, more stories written (I write news for a weekly paper), more conversations had and I feel vaguely more optimistic (depending on the day, hour, minute you ask me).

The western world clearly has an odd relationship with alcohol. It’s bad, it’s a liver killer, it’s a hangover, it’s full-fat hedonistic activity that leaves you part-conscious scrabbling round a central reservation in Birmingham at 3am.

Still, it’s also a guilty secret shared, it’s bedroom antics to terrify the older generations, it’s excuse for conversation. It’s not something I’d ever want to give up.

In March I’m taking the tipple back up and attempting to give up Facebook – Satan’s procrastination temptation. 

Cheers to that.

Blackburn’s 10k Winter Warmer and the strangeness of running folk.

Posted in Diary with tags , , , , on February 14, 2010 by helenperkins

Today was the big day, my first training hurdle, the Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k.

After peeling myself away from bed at the relatively disgusting time of 7.25am on Valentines Day, eating copius muesli (for its low glycemic index, maximum righteousness etc) and de-icing the car, I was ready to rattle down the M6.

Imagine the scene. Three-hundred hardened runners were mulling around the Witton Park Pavilion – an old cricket-hut type bulding set in fields and amongst some daunting looking hills. I, as everyone pretty much knows, am less intimidating than a doughnut but some of the people I walked past were at least 95 per cent solid protein.

As I picked up my race number from the stewards behind their little Formica tables, I heard one particularly meaty looking bloke – by which I mean he actually resembled one massive piece of ham – say to his stringy looking friend, “I’ve done the course already this morning, just going to go and get some PowerMax!”

Fear.

Most people were part of a race team, mulling around talking about their best times and doing stretches I have never seen before, wearing £90 trainers and clad from head to toe in Lucozade-sponsored kit. I must have looked like a lost spectator.

A siren blares and we set off. Once round the athletics track and up a steep 4k climb to the peak of Blackburn. This was by far the worst bit of the run, made even more painful by the fact that you knew, as you struggled up this relentless countryside, that this was only the start of the race.

Later, Chris informed me that back at the Pavilion an organiser had announced, over the tanoy system, that one runner had collapsed and was being treated by paramedics. On the hill, I was still considering faking a heart attack to get a lift back to camp by the kind looking ambulance men with their warm looking ambulance.

At the peak of the run there is an amazing view of the countryside spread out before you like a huge king-sized bed. I was glad I wasn’t in a running club for that mile, and that I didn’t have my music with me.

This morning Blackburn was covering in a layer of hazy mist and dew. It was like God baked a world and then finished it off with icing sugar. I guess in that simile I would represent a pink sprinkle.

The last 5k were all fairly steep down hill, across roads, up through woods and back across football pitches, rugby pitches and, at one point, a burger van. You know you’re engaged in a hardcore sporting activity when you see 50 men run towards it and not one of them is reaching for a bacon butty.

By the time I reached 10k – at 56 minutes and beating my own personal target of not dying – I was beat.

There was a man who finished not that long after me who was in his 70s and has ran the Blackburn race every year for the past ten. I hobbled over to say thank you to him, because as I overtook him about half way round (he was still going at a good speed) he shouted, in a rough voice “Well done Lassie!”

I told him it was my first 10k and that I was training to, eventually, do a half marathon. He gave me a wry smile “Ah well next year it’ll be much easier for you – you’ll know the course. And the year after that, and that. You don’t think you’ll ever give this up now you’ve started do you?”

I guess I have already become quite fond of my runs, like smokers look forward to smoking. With the way I run – neck stuck out like a swan, arms flailing – smoking would probably be healthier for me, but there’s something about running.

Half marathon training – and eating more coco pops than you ever thought possible

Posted in Diary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2010 by helenperkins

I made three New Year’s resolutions this year. They went like this:

1. I will paint more, and better, than I ever have before

2. I will start to learn German

3. I will run a half marathon

My first task has been fairly easy to get to work on. I’ve set up several new portraits which are now starting to transform into something – it’s too early to say if they will emerge as boys, girls, or butterflies yet. As always, if you haven’t already you can check out my work at http://www.helenmaryperkins.com

Secondly, I signed up to my German class, where Dorothea is taking me through the wonders of German grammar with several other multi-culture-wannabees, while feeding us stollen and brandishing tense homework upon everyone (homework that helps you differentiate verbs – not homework that literally makes you tense…although). More on that later.

Finally, after all that snow-sky-snot got out the way, I got my trainers out the cupboard and stared long and hard at them.

This is me. Fortunately I'm just a blur caught on Chris' camera, rather than a fully focused, giraffe-like runner with a pained expression and a gait like Dumbo.

I should be perfectly fine to run a half marathon. It’s only 13 miles after all – that’s…well, not very far. I’ve been a pretty active person for the last few years, as far as swimming and running go. And I don’t eat KFC family buckets to myself. Forty-seven-year-old Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days for Sports Relief, so there really is no excuse.

Still, I’m hardly an athlete. I clearly remember Lizzie Carter telling me I ran like a giraffe in year 8 – because, as they say, an elephant never forgets. My previous idea of exercise was 33 lengths (half a mile) in a pool or about 20 minutes (about a mile) jogging round the houses. To make 13 I realise I am going to have to step it up a bit. So in 2010 I started to do a couple of half hour runs in the week and a long Sunday morning run at the weekend. Today this was 8 miles – roughly the distance from the far end of Lancaster town to the University and back again.

Here is what all my miles so far have taught me:

The worst part of running is the middle third. During the first third you’re not tired and during the last third you know you’re going to make it. But you need good music or a nice view for the middle third.

You will see loads of wildlife and be grateful that you made the effort. Bluetits, chickens, nuthatches, squirrels. Sometimes foxes. These will be real, live wildlife, unless you choose the M6 as your route.

Other runners will smile and say hey to you and inside you will feel like part of some weird, masochistic brethren. This is, I believe, one of the best reasons to run. I think, secretly, Wordsworth was a runner.

As 1912 Olympian George S Pattron said: “Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.” I don’t know him but he sounds like a pretty scary guy.

Despite George’s inspiring words you will still gaze longingly at several bus stops on your route home and consider catching a lift back.

The next day you will be stiff and your body will tell you that this George is a deluded prat.

An hour after running you will start to feel hungry and you will then attempt tp consume everything within reach. This afternoon during what I like to call ‘recovery time’ I consumed no less than: two tuna sandwiches, a chocolate yazoo milkshake, half of one of those Soreen loaf things, a large bowl of coco pops, a 200g bag of peanuts, a curry with wraps, two yoghurts, two apples and a banana. Soon I will go and check out what else we’ve got. Like a pregnant woman, I have even started craving foods I previously despised. Peanut butter? Gouda cheese? (As a note: Chris, if you’re reading this I am definitely not pregnant and I’m sorry I’ve finished off your coco pops)

Despite spending most of the run wondering why on earth you do it, as soon as you see the house you will think ‘that wasn’t bad at all, I’ll definitely go further next week!’

I’m so amateur it’s almost funny. If anyone (especially Eddie Izzard) has tips, quotes, biscuits to speed me on my way to 13 miles let me know.

Was ist die gleis fur Schoenefeld Flughafen? And other thoughts from Berlin.

Posted in Diary, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2010 by helenperkins

The cynical part of me, influenced by my working experiences, the writings of Bakhtin and Habermas, and from hearing second hand accounts of politics gurus like Marcuse, would like to suggest holidays were created at exactly the same point that nine-to-five jobs came into existence.

Here’s how it seems to me. An individual works five days out of seven, catering for people’s inflated desire to buy things they don’t need. Eventually the poor repressed soul starts dreaming of work, even while they are sleeping, and they become frustrated and angry and fed up. They realise there is no space in society for them to be creative, that society doesn’t care about them in the way they thought it did when they were younger, and that the job they have is pointless and unfulfilling. They shout ‘Enough!’

…and book a week away – as if that will solve their problems.

While on this strange Western healing experience the pressure, which might otherwise have pushed them to tell their boss where to stick it, subsides and they feel okay with everything again. Unfortunately, this occurs just in time for them to arrive back in England with their savings spent, forced back into the work-sleep-work bind they opted into initially. The holiday even convinces them that they are doing the right thing by continuing in their job. They can’t snorkel and don’t like eating raw goat – so they conclude they don’t suit any alternative situation the world could possibly offer. As a consequence, time and time again you hear people come back with the phrase “Oh, it’s so good to be back home!”

This year I started my first ‘proper’ job as a PR manager in Preston. I was sceptical about the profession because ‘Public Relations’ is often just a fancy phrase substituted for its uglier brother ‘advertising’ – whereas what I really wanted to do was write. Still, I decided to try it out and work hard until Christmas, which I did.

I quickly began publishing stories on our Northwest businesses UK Good Deals, Ghostbikes and ProJump, their products and their staff. Our team did a pretty good job of keeping our customers informed, through email, in newsletters, through our blog, Facebook, Twitter, and in the Lancaster Guardian, Bolton News, Lancashire Post, British Dealer News, Bike Trader Magazine, the Guardian and on hundreds of independent websites across Europe.

During November, my second month of work, I convinced Chris to go on holiday with me. I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been before. Before long we landed in Berlin, North Germany. This was a great place and something I intend to blog about in the future. It was an especially valuable experience for me because I came to realise a few truths about PR and about my working goals while in the harsh light of that cold climate and possibly under the influence of Gluhwein.

Good PR workers view their profession as one which gives the right people the right information at the right time. For example, when you wonder what to eat for tea tonight and the Guardian website has a section entitled ‘5 ideas on what to make for tea tonight’ that’s Marks and Spencers, KFC or Dominos doing ‘great PR’. However, all too often PR departments are made up of unscrupulous salesmen who argue that with the right lighting you can make shit look good and that you must always “Sell, Sell, Sell!”  So, thin fabric is ‘ideal for summer months’, fattening foods are ‘decadent’ and cheap merchandise are ‘value items’ or ‘bargains’. And because PR exists to oil the wheels of the economy, and specific businesses, there is always an element of pressure to accentuate the positive.

Fortunately, I was never asked to be dishonest or to irritate customers with intrusive advertising campaigns, but I was under intrinsic pressure to make our ecommerce company appear attractive – and so that permanent marketing shadow was never too far away.

I think Late Capitalism is also the era of the everyday Public Relations individual – where people market their own lives to themselves. They tell themselves they should put up with a repetitive job they hate for 50 years because it ‘offers training benefits’, the slight possibility of a pension and some vague idea of financial security. After a week out in the strange landscape of Berlin I decided this marketing mindset was something I couldn’t afford to establish in my life. I wanted to write and I wanted to paint and I wanted to make my art a bigger part of what I do. So instead of booking my next holiday I decided enough was enough.

…and I left my job for the New Year.