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Life in the big smoke

A roadtrip, a gallery and a country manor

Yesterday Gerry and I drove out to Margate to put up some prints for his up and coming solo show at the Margate Gallery. We’ve been to this seaside town before. It’s a strange mix of shabby and chic. Run down shops along tired streets with small, trendy boutiques and cafés thrown into the mix. Everything is cheap and there seems to be so much potential in this place, but then we hear about shops closing and there are people in the pubs early on Monday afternoons and some of the town just seems very rundown. But every time we go out there’s a new shop or a new café. It can be a charming town (in its own way), even on a cold November day.

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It was a grey and rainy day, but I got to spend some time by the sea so the weather didn’t matter that much.

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We spent the afternoon putting up prints for the show, aided by plenty of coffee and sugar.

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Earlier we had stumbled across an old style sweet shop. I normally don’t eat much candy, but the last few busy weeks have made it quite difficult not to rely on coffee and sugar for that extra push. It’ll probably be like this until Christmas.

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Mmmmm… lemon sherbets, a new found love.

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We finished late in the evening and spent the night outside of Cantebury, in Howfield Manor, where we got to sleep in a four poster bed(!). The place was cute, but slightly odd in the way small hotels can sometimes be a bit offbeat. We had dinner in an almost empty restaurant and plotted future travels.

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I didn’t sleep lots because I had to wake up at five in the morning to be live on Finnish radio. But we had some strong coffee with a full English before the drive back to London. And here I am back in the studio, eating left over candy and wondering when the sugar crash will hit me.

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Dreaming of northern places

Last night I googled the largest islands in the world. It turns out the fifth largest island is called Baffin. It’s a place I’ve never heard of before, but when I found it on a map I realised it’s that large island north of Canada which sort of looks like an upside down unicorn. Apparently it’s a popular destination for base jumpers because there are many amazing cliffs. It’s also home to around eleven thousand people. The capital is called Iqaluit.

Iqaluit. Image by Leslie Coates via Innovation.ca

I sometimes read a blog called Where is Acacia, by photographer Acacia Johnson who travels to many amazing northern places, trekking over snow and ice. She is pretty inspiring. This morning I checked my bloglovin feed (because I didn’t want to start writing just yet) and Acacia is currently in Iqaluit. I find these coincidences interesting. When you hear about something new it starts popping up in random places.

I would like to go to Iqaluit. I’d like to go to Greenland, Svalbard, to the North Sea coast in Norway and to remote Scottish islands.

A while ago I read an article on Aeon magazine by a British writer who left her life in London behind and moved up to Orkney to work with Cornrakes. It’s an interesting and peaceful read.

Perhaps it’s because it’s early in the morning, perhaps it’s because I’m a bit stressed and it’s grey outside and the nights are creeping ever closer to the mornings, but this sort of life holds a lot of appeal to me at the moment – the sea wind blowing outside, a fire keeping away the worst of the winter cold, air that’s not been polluted by hundreds of thousands of cars and buses.

When I first moved to the UK I liked the softness of the colours here, all that pollution in the air, the greens and blues muted and warm, there’s a hint of yellow in the leaves and the grass. Now I miss the clear, harsh blue of home. I miss the white of winter, the dialed up colours of clear summer days. The bright reds and yellows in the autumn.

I grew up in a small town in rural Finland. I didn’t see the trees and sea shores and the open skies. I didn’t listen to the rain beating against the roof at night or the wind howling during autumn storms. I hated chopping wood for winter fires and raking leaves in September. I wanted to escape, I wanted to go away, learn, grow, run around big cities with a take away coffee in one hand, hailing taxis and reading books in cafés like cool people do in movies. And here I am in London. The pendulum swings past where it all started, to another extreme.

Top image by Blake Richard Verdoorn.

A night in a haunted Scottish castle

“Which room are you sleeping in,” my guide Nicola asks me.
“Number 18,” I say.
“Oh, I shouldn’t have asked you. Bad things happen in that room.”

In the beginning of April Gerry and I spent a night in Tulloch Castle in Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands. We were travelling around Scotland doing a few stories about Scottish independence for media in Finland.

I didn’t see much of the hotel at first. After checking in I curled up on the bed in our room and fell asleep, exhausted after doing stories and travelling for days. Gerry had left in a rush to watch Ross Conunty beat Hibs at the football stadium in town. Not a single thought of ghosts entered my mind and I woke up a couple of minutes before I was set to join the castle’s own ghost tour. I hung around in the lush reception area, bleary eyed and half-asleep, wondering if I’d perhaps got this tour thing wrong. As I was staring up at a stag head on the wall Nicola showed up and told me I was the only one doing the tour that night.

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Nicola has been working at the castle since she was fifteen, she’s now 24 with a young son at home. She normally does the ghost tour even though she seemed terrified of the ghosts herself.

We start in a dark room with thick walls and tiny holes for windows, a room that had been used as prison cell. A heavy door closes behind us and a single light bulb swings back and forth in the ceiling. The room is bare, with a table pushed into one corner. It seems ordinary, but it’s late at night, I’ve not slept much during the last few days. I feel slightly unsettled by it all.

“It’s said that two nuns were buried alive here, under the floor,” Nicola explains in a matter of fact way. She opens a small cupboard at the back of the room and I look into the darkness, half expecting something to jump out at me.

We continue the tour. Underneath the front door there is a hatch, leading to a tunnel, which might take you all the way to central Dingwall, if you fancy crawling on all fours in a very small space. After we’ve looked at the tunnel Nicola asks me for my room number. When I tell her it’s room 18 she seems to regret her question, but tells me not to worry, it’s just that strange sounds have been heard from that room.

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“You can feel something’s wrong as soon as you step into that room. We’ve had customers tell us they’ve heard sounds form in there, like someone’s moving around furniture, even though the room’s been empty that night.”

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I tell myself I slept there earlier that evening, that I didn’t feel there was anything strange or unusual about the room. Instead I thought it was comfortable, with a lovely wide bed and cool castle-red wall paper. But I’m easily scared. I wonder if I’ll sleep again that night.

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We walk up the stairs to the main dining room. The castle is dark and quiet around us. The room is filled with empty tables and in the middle of one wall hangs a large painting. This is the most important part of the whole tour – the portrait of the Davidson family who lived in the castle in the early 1800s. Maybe it’s the late hour, maybe it’s something else, but the girls in the painting look like they could have come straight out of a horror movie.

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Behind one of the young girls is a darker area. That’s where their father, Duncan Davidson, once stood, Nicola explains. For reasons unknown he has been painted out of the portrait. The girl in front of him is his daughter, who is now known as the green lady, the castle’s most famous ghost.

According to Nicola the girl walked in on her father (known as the Stag because of his many love affairs) in bed with one of his mistresses. She was so shocked by this that she ran down the stairs and fell to her death. Ever since then she’s haunted Tulloch Castle.

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Room eight seems to be her favourite spot and Nicola tells me about a guest from Edinburgh who couldn’t even stay a night in the room.

“He kept having a dream about these two young girls knocking on his door, asking to see his dog. He tried to tell them that his dog was dead.”

The man then woke up to his room being freezing cold. So cold he could see his own breath, Nicola tells me. He managed to fall asleep again, but kept having the same dream. Eventually he woke up and noticed the two girls in the room with him.

“He felt like he couldn’t move and the girls were suffocating him. He managed to reach the phone to phone the receptionist who came to help him and gave him a drink,” Nicola tells me.

I tell myself, this sounds like sleep paralysis, but the thought of the girl from the painting standing next to my bed sends a shiver down my spine.

We keep walking around the castle and there are many more stories about ghosts, strange shadows and noises.

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“This is the most scary room I think, sometimes I have the guests walk in before me,” Nicola says and pushes open a heavy wooden door with an intricate pattern. She feels her way to a light switch and we step into an impressive room with wooden panels. On one wall hangs a portrait of a stubborn looking old lady.

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“I’m only going to say nice things about this lady this time,” Nicola tells me.

I ask her why and she explains that she once came into the room with a man who was also doing the ghost tour on his own. She’d said something insulting about the lady and suddenly the lights in the room started to flicker. The man had become so frightened he had started crying and they quickly left the room. I start thinking Nicola is either very superstitious or a very good guide.

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The tour finishes and I meet Gerry in the hotel bar. I down a gin and tonic, but even though I tell myself I don’t believe in ghosts, my imagination is now working on overdrive. When we get back to our room I notice that we’re actually staying in room 19 instead of the supposedly haunted room 18. I breathe a sigh of relief, but as we go to sleep I keep listening. The tiniest sound makes me wonder. I ask myself what would happen if I’d open my eyes and see a ghostly girl standing in the room.

It takes a while, but eventually I fall asleep. The night passes quietly. In the morning the hotel is full of light, we eat a scottish breakfast and drink some black coffee. I give Gerry a guided tour and think about how much scarier things can seem at night.

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A quick update and some photos from Perranporth, Cornwall

Hi everyone, sorry it’s been a bit quiet here lately. I’ve been feeling slightly under the weather and have spent the week trying to centre my chi. Last Monday Gerry went off on a stag do and I had the flat all to myself for a couple of days, which is pretty rare. I’ve spent most of the week editing stories, finding people to interview and binging on detective stories. Perhaps it’s no wonder my head feels a bit mushy.

Tomorrow Gerry and I are heading north for the wedding, which follows the previously mentioned stag to. Even though I’ve only been back in London for a couple of weeks since my last trip I’m looking forward to getting away again, seeing friends and new sights.

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A couple of weekends ago I travelled out west with my friend Ilaria. She was going surfing and I joined her to spend two days writing by the sea. I had thought it would be very Agatha Christie-esque with old cottages, lots of tea drinking and people wearing white trousers. Instead Perranporth in Cornwall reminded me a bit of a ski resort, but for surfers. I didn’t mind though because the sea was stunning and exhausting at the same time.

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Ilaria surfed and climbed rocks, I felt like a bit of a wimp, walking around trying to shield my camera from unexpected dangers. I did spot some strange things around town though.

lots of dogs

A man with many dogs.

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A hidden skeleton.

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A creepy doll in the Bed and Breakfast.

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Faces everywhere.

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There was also this fantastic swimming pool hidden behind a huge rock. We walked out there when the tide was out and then, a couple of hours later, the sea rolled back in.

How to live cheaply in London

How to survive on less than £10/day in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

London is an expensive city. I once did an interview in Chelsea and had to cough up £6 for a black coffee, this is an area now known for a reality show about rich kids. London attracts the mega-rich and there are parts of town which mainly cater to these people. Some of the world’s most expensive real estate can be found here, it’s possible to spend five figures in a restaurant, there are streets lined with super-luxe cars.

But what about those of us who don’t really want to spend a lot? I’ve been thinking. Is it possible to live cheaply in London? Is it possible to travel here as a tourist and not spend more than £10/day, still have a good time and experience most of what they city has to offer? I think so.

Let’s do a little thought experiment.

1. Couch surf

Firstly you don’t really want to pay for accommodation as that will start adding up really quickly. If you don’t have friends in the city with a sofa to sleep on, then you’ll have to find a stranger who’s willing to take you in. Luckily there is couchsurfing, get acquainted with the website, make friends and you’ll end up meeting some interesting people in real life.

Potential cost: £0

Image via craice’s flickr.

2. Walk everywhere

Public transport can be expensive in London. To avoid this use your feet. If you stick to one area it’s pretty easy to walk to most places. If you don’t mind scary traffic and an initial expense cycling is also a good option. If you need to take public transport the bus is the cheapest option.

Potential cost: £0

cooking Image via Jana Martish.

3. Don’t spend money on food

If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen buying food and cooking it yourself will be a lot cheaper than eating out. However if you don’t want to buy food at all you can always join students and queue up for the Hare Krishna rickshaw project which hands out free meals around London. One rickshaw can be found at the LSE campus.

Potential cost: £0-10

Image via pinterest.

4. Don’t spend money on drink

When I first moved to London I unwittingly stumbled across a great way to get drinks for free. I’m not talking about going on lots of dates and letting the other person pay (I’m too Nordic for that). I went to lots of networking events in the tech industry. I was trying to meet people and find work as a freelance tech journalist, but I also ended up having a lot of fun and getting slightly tipsy. At almost all of these event there is an open bar sponsored by a tech company.

I’m sure technology networking events aren’t the only places where you can grab a free drink. Private views are also a good bet. Find a local event by doing some googling or checking out sites like Meetup.

Potential cost: £0

Image via instagram.

5. Enjoy all the free attractions in the city

London is actually a great place if you don’t want to spend much money. The museums and art galleries are free, and if the weather is good there are some awesome parks and open spaces to hang out in all over the city.

Potential cost: £0

Image via designios flickr.

6. Don’t spend any money on getting an office

If you have to work or use the internet, you can bring your laptop and head over to places like The Barbican or the British Library. You can easily spend a whole day using their free wifi, working away on your laptop. There will be plenty of people doing exactly the same thing. Bring your own sandwiches, but perhaps buy a tea or a coffee as a way to say thank you for using the space.

Potential cost: £0-5

Other resources

What to do with all the money you might save? Go on adventures!