The beginning of a major wall painting project

Paints, pens, pencils and non-fiction books cover my desk.

I’m starting a project.

I start projects all the time: stories that never find their endings, paintings that have nothing but a background, or are missing the paint. I have sketches I give up on stuffed into boxes in my room back at my parents’ house. Often I embrace this feel of unfinished and proudly stick the pictures on the walls.

Now I know that to get anywhere with creative endeavours you need more than just a great imagination. You need a skill that often alludes me. You need organisation.

Which is where I, and many other creative people, fall down.

But this project, unlike most of my projects, I’m already certain has a more than good chance of success.

On this project, there’s a deadline – the end of the year. I’ve got the Mother standing over me holding a whip (figuratively). She expects a finished project and will make sure it happens.

So whilst everyone else relaxes over Christmas I’m painting some walls. The Midget is also going to be painting. I actually think she’ll end up doing more of the brush work than me since the biggest, and most time-consuming challenge will be getting my designs (which I haven’t yet drawn) onto the walls.

I need the designs ready before Christmas so I hope nobody was wanting presents.

The first task is to learn to draw like an Ancient Egyptian. Preferably an Egyptian from the first half of the 18th dynasty. Luckily Ancient Egyptians had a clear grid system which they worked to for all of their figures.

Image copied from tomb of Sarenput II 12th dynasty

It’s a big, complex project and so I’m having to plan. I need to do research. I’m probably going to hop over to the capital and check out the big museum of stolen treasures. It is one of my favourite places to go.

Research list:

Egyptian Painting and Relief – Gay Robins

Art of the World | Egypt – L. Woldering

Egyptian Art – Cyril Aldred

I need something with more and bigger pictures.


Painting on walls is one of my favourite things. Ancient Egypt is another. I’m nervous with excitement already.

Have you ever painted a mural?

The question of luggage: packing for travel

cat bird and sun painted shutter bratislavaToo much stuff

Various relatives have at some point raised worries about my holiday wardrobe. For some people, especially those who have witnessed me gathering the troops to load the cars when moving in and out of university accommodation, the idea of me travelling light might seem like a joke.

I do own a lot of stuff. The Boyfriend points this out on a regular occasion – partly because we have a very small house and partly because he’s just awkward.

I’m a woman with many creative hobbies, painting requires an easel, sewing requires Lulu the Grandmother’s dress-making doll and cycling requires a bicycle. Yeah ok, cycling and creative don’t fit together.

Of course I don’t get around to sewing all that often, I tend to do a lot in a spurt, and at the moment I’ve a shortage of thread and fabric for anything large. Same with painting. Too little canvas, too little paint – hence a lot of doodling or drawing on the tablet. Much of my art materials still live in Yorkshire.

I could talk about pianos but I’m not going to.

When I told the Midget we were only taking our small rucksacks on this Eastern Europe adventure of ours she thought I was joking. You would have thought that living with me for 16 years she would have learnt to recognise when I’m trying to make a joke.

Since we’ve been out here I’ve seen suitcases dragged onto trains, remembering the absence of platforms, which I could have fitted into. I’ve seen rucksacks bigger than the people carrying them and flocks of handbags, carrier bags and coats in thrall.

On one train the girl next to me, inter-railing for a fortnight, stated she’d worn about a third of the clothes she’d brought. She was flying home the next day and was worried about her baggage allowance – 25kg.

dog butterfly painted shutter bratislavaHow I packed for Eastern Europe

I carry a 30 litre rucksack. If I’m wearing my boots then everything else fits inside it. The boots were a necessity, otherwise I would have struggled with the miles and miles we’ve walked.

Inside I have enough clothes for a week, a gorgeous but large camera, a pair of dolly shoes, a coat, various bathroom supplies  and a water-bottle.

The Midget and I share a charger for our phones and my tablet. I have a diary/notebook which I keep easily accessible and small things like a couple of purses, passport etc.

I also have a handbag, but this fits inside the rucksack for when I’m hopping on and off trains.

I don’t keep receipts, tickets or leaflets. The Midget hoards, I just take lots of photos.

Mainland Europe isn’t an alien planet. Here they have shampoo (ours is from Hungary and smells strongly of almonds), tissues and tampons. I’ve seen Marks and Spencer’s and H and M plus many more exciting alternatives.

After the initial panic, the Midget agrees that for this sort of adventure, hand luggage works just fine.

Maybe I’m not so crazy after all.

Too much coffee. Too much cake.

[Written whilst travelling, posted from home.]

burger recipe polandI’m sat in a café with a goat beanie baby drinking tea – it’s Assam as anything that remotely tastes of what I’d call normal (Yorkshire tea or Lapsang Souchong) isn’t sold this side of the channel.

My coffee limit has been reached. Not particularly today, I’ve had one cup, but in general over the last two weeks. Tea’s a lighter welcome refreshment.

The overdose of coffee is part of a bigger problem. My entire diet is a disaster.

It begins with breakfast. I don’t fancy meat and cheese first thing in the morning. When we stay in places that offer a complimentary breakfast I’m overwhelmed and just drink more coffee, sometimes orange juice and eat the fruit.

When there’s no breakfast options then a trip to the nearest bakery for croissants and coffee is in order, and I’m not sure that this rates positively on the healthy scale, even if it tastes good.

When we’re self-catering, i.e. a hostel with kitchen or an apartment, then cereal is an option. Of course we can’t carry a cereal box around with us, but cereal comes in minuscule boxes anyway. Small enough that between two of us we can finish a box in three days.

There is little variety in the cereal sold here. And I feel the basic normal cereals are the ones that are missing. If you want something that’s soaked in chocolate and has a picture of a cartoon astronaut you’ll be fine. If you want something with the most minimal number of calories you’ll also have no problem. If you want normal cereal you’re screwed.

We’re darting between city centres so corner shops replace the supermarkets (although there was an underground Aldi in Vienna), this accounts for the lack of shelf space, but mostly I think the problem is that cereal isn’t revered like it is in my house at home where it’s bought 15 boxes at a time.

Meals that aren’t breakfast come under one of three types:
1. Ones we cook or make. Pasta with vegetables or bread cheese and salami.
2. Ones we eat at restaurants. Pizza or local dishes like gnocchi, veal stew or goulash.
3. Cake or pastries.

Three meals a day can therefore look like: croissant, pizza, cake.

Of course we also have snacks. Sometimes cake, but there are also Spar’s budget cereal bars (the banana one really is very bananary), strawberry and cream flavoured sweets originally bought in Hungary and rather unappetising butter flavoured crisps.

We had chocolate but that lasted all of ten minutes.

What food do you miss when you’re away?

The adventure of everyday

Boy and girl in forest doodle

I’m home.

Back at work and everything. They apparently missed me. Something about me being that useful link that holds the team together, the lubricant for communication. I walked into the office and saw relieved faces. I spent a few hours here and there letting the professional, well-mannered ranting happen, smiled and said ok. What’s next? Where are we going now?

My mind has cleared, I’ve had time to think and I’m no longer just growling at my task list.

Holiday leaves relics. I’ve got many photos, three loads of washing on the line and numerous dead plants. More problematically, I have no flat black shoes. One pair resides in a Polish landfill, the others in the Netherlands.

I gained a mini pair of Delft pottery style clogs – they took up less room in my bag but are much too small to wear for work.

delft pottery clogs from holland

I accidentally tried to pay for washing-up gloves with Croatian Kuna. That took the woman at the supermarket checkout by surprise.

There is also the small heap of memory cards from my excessive collection of photos. I love the magic of a good photo, but I’m not very good at taking them. I had to text the Boyfriend for help in using my camera when I accidentally pressed a button I shouldn’t have somewhere in Eastern Europe.

Amazingly, I wrote too. Lots and lots of words scribbled in a notebook. One day I’ll come back to them and spend an hour or two sat on the floor laughing at myself before putting them back on the shelf.

There are some holiday blog posts lined up, mostly waiting for pictures and for a quick proofread which will turn into a major edit and likely delay them further. That’s the way with blog posts, you either hit publish and find you ‘was sat’ rather than ‘was sitting’, or you have an ever-expanding folder of never seen drafts.

Travelling is great, home is great too. Sometimes it takes the other to help you remember how lucky you are.

Somewhere in Slovenia on the bus.

The Midget pointed out this graffiti to me
The Midget pointed out this graffiti to me

Hungary presented the first ‘autobus’ diversion. Like this one the train to bus transition was impressively efficient. The coaches stood in lines with competent multilingual men directing people and more men loading bags.

Of course it isn’t ideal, but on the train I was sitting next to a girl who stank of cigarette smoke and here I’ve got the Midget beside me – she showered this morning – and we’re surrounded by older women in gold earrings and coloured scarves.

It”s a different sort of view from a bus. Trains tend to travel across the countryside. Slovenia has stunning scenery, almost 60% is forest and there’s a surplus of hills. Buses however take you through places. Places with houses and allotments.

This bus has a mesh across the windows which stops people looking in, but makes everything outside look slightly hazy. Lucky then that it’s only a short diversion.

[Written on my phone whilst travelling.]

Somewhere in Hungary on the bus

We’re somewhere in Hungary, although it might be Croatia, on a bus. There’s maintenance happening to the train track between Budapest and Zagreb.

The train (bus) passengers are an interesting bunch, due to us surprisingly fitting exactly into the demographic. The racks are crammed with rucksacks. The seats are filled with twenty somethings with bright English accents complaining about the rain, the leg room, the absence of wi-fi and the lack of a dining car.

Of course neither the Midget or I are actually complaining. I’ve got my earphones tight in and a good view to stare out of the window. Plus we shouldn’t be complaining, we’re on the bus that didn’t break down.

This journey is filled with unexpected pauses. We’ve stopped at the edge of the road atop a hill to lend assistance to the other bus and swap ticket inspectors. We stop again when the other bus gives up, and on the train we stopped multiple times to let other trains pass when it dropped to single track.

The Midget is sat watching a film on her phone. I’m watching the geese romp around a garden. If you’re patient then a detour isn’t a disaster.

Bratislava to Nitra: Mind the gap


The building in the distance is the castle in Bratislava.
The building in the distance is the castle in Bratislava.

‘Mind the gap’ is a phrase I’d normally associate with the London underground where it’s plastered on walls and tourist’s treasures everywhere you look. Whilst there does tend to be some gap between the train and the platform, I’ve always found the signs bemusing becUse it’s a very small gap.

That said, I did recently read some article somewhere that told a story of a man who got his leg stuck between the train and the platform. I think it was in Barcelona? I was amazed. Apparently he fell. Anyway, the rest of the passengers, a truly helpful bunch, hopped off and pushed the train over far enough that the man could get his leg out.

A few days ago, I boarded a train from Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital, to a town called Nitra in slightly less touristy area when when you say “English” in an attempt to make it clear you didn’t understand the question, you’re met with a slightly fearful look and the body language of ‘I’ll go find my colleague’. This contrasts with the old town of Bratislava where you’ll find Slovakians who speak English better than me and make jokes about kebab shops.

[Side note: If you happen to be passing through Bratislava station then go down the hill, take a left at the T junction onto the main road, and on the right hand side is a lovely tiny pancake house. It’s the yellow building. From what I can tell the locals pop in at lunch time and order crepes to take away, although there are a few tables if you wanted to rest your legs. You can get a plain crepe for 25 cents and then there’s plenty of choice of sweet and savory fillings to add, even bilberry jam.]

So the Midget and I board the train to Surany, where you can switch to the local Nitra train. I clutch the ticket (which has a qr code) and the train timetable and nervously check exactly what time we arrive into each and every station. The Midget stares out the window gazing at the fields as they pass by, totally relaxed, calm as she could be, confident that I’ve got everything under control.

We arrive at Surany five minutes late, grab our bags and get to the door.

Now it should be noted that I’m not great at stairs. I’m uncoordinated when I’m not carrying a rucksack and have to hold on to the banister and watch where I put my feet.

And the platform in Surany (if you can call it that) was a long way down. It was more like just the pavement somewhere far below.

Nobody else seemed at all perplexed.

I jumped. And followed the crowd across the rusty train tracks to the building. Inside I looked for the departure board. There wasn’t one. There was a crackly tannoy system that kindly told me when the next train would be arriving and where it was going to, all in Slovakian.

The Midget leant back on the bench overlooking the tracks and the plant pots. I sat upright, nervously watching the other passengers wondering what would happen next.

I didn’t need to worry. The 11.33 train to Nitra pulled into the station at 11.33. It was the only other train. We stumbled back over the rusty rail track and I clambered aboard whilst the Slovakian women in their beautiful wedges and elegant jackets did so with comparitive ease. The Midget hauled the bags up above our heads onto the rack and plugged in her earphones.

I sat on the edge of my seat and watched the fields of dying sunflowers pass by.

Curl up on a sofa, with a glass of wine and a bookshop.

I have never had lemonade (limonade) like they make it in Bratislava. The Midget mutters about how lemonade should be predominantly lemony, but I’ve been persuaded to disagree. So far I’ve drunk strawberry, raspberry and ginger versions. Each comes in a half litre jug with a straw and sometimes a sundae spoon. The jug is crowded with flavour: your chosen fruit, ice, lemon, syrup and appropriate flavour leaves, i.e. mint with raspberry.  The strawberry version had large pieces of strawberry, the ginger was slightly fiberous and the raspberry left you with seeds between your teeth. Each was incredible.

The coffee here is also pretty glorious. The local bookshop offers 17 varieties of espresso. It offers a similar number of wines too, the Slovakians like their wines and I love their prices.

And this is all within a bookshop. Waterstones could learn a lot. In the children’s section there is a tent set out with cushions, and a chess board and games. Whilst the rest of the shop is immaculately tidy, the children’s section looks like children have been there. In the scrapbooking area there is a table and chairs for workshops, and upstairs, in the centre of the room is an area set out for talks – rows and rows of chairs wait expectantly. And unlike Waterstones where you find a few token chairs and sofas, this bookshop had sofas, stools and chairs everywhere, yet doesn’t feel overcrowded.

It’s not just the bookshop which anticipates what people actually want.

In the square near the Danube there was the same theme of plentiful seating. Here there were deckchairs, beanbags and park benches. Again, there was a chess set, this time ginormous, and books – some sort of free for all library or second hand depository?

I have a good feeling about Bratislava. Have you visited yet?

[Posted from the tablet whilst travelling]