Oh Highcliffe! (Contemporary Bed and Breakfast, Falmouth)

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Most people who know me (and if you've had a chance to peruse my About Me page) will know I’m a brazen London devotee.

This city courses through my veins. I fall a teeny bit more in love every day in a giddy, pubescent kind of fashion. Oh, the history, the people, the sights, the sounds, the smells (OK, at a push) and the pumping non-stop, 24-hour-accessibility of it all! Swoon. 

But even the most passionate of lovers needs a break every now and then to stop things getting staid. Often I hear myself think 'God, I'm knackered with city life! I need to get off for a bit!’ So, the other weekend me, hubby and bump did just that; we hopped off the revolving London ride and headed to Falmouth on the South coast of Cornwall for a long weekend of salty sea air and much needed R&R. 

After working late the evening before, a 6-hour car journey at first light, an exhaustion of Spotify playlists ('no more Madonna!') and yet another wee break it's safe to say we were a little tightly coiled upon arrival. So arriving at Highcliffe Bed and Breakfast to, genuinely, the warmest welcome I've ever been given was just the tonic. 

Owners Simon and Vanessa and their lovely daughter pulled up outside the guest house at the same time as us; and no matter it was before official checking-in hours or that they were enjoying a family Friday afternoon. We were greeted like habitués rather than too-early strangers. Friendly chat ensued, help with bags dished out and we were gently ushered into the warm sanctuary of their contemporary B&B. Setting the scene for an absolutely incredible weekend. 

I cannot recommend Highcliffe enough and here's why in no apparent order.

Firstly, the bedroom. A long weekend provides an advantageous head start to Saturday and, for me, guilt-free permission to laze about and do exactly what you wouldn't usually do on a Friday. Watch Netflix at 4pm with a hot chocolate (in lieu of wine)? Why the heck not. Ideally you need a great room to do this, like sumptuous Room 8…

Room 8 is a premium super king double delight at the top of the guest house. It is snug but not poky and tastefully decorated with subtle touches of sunny yellow that seared through the cold February rain outside. Stylish and plentiful lighting illuminated all the features and the giant bed with Egyptian cotton linen was so comfortable I fell into a deep slumber each night - completely unheard of in recent weeks. Everything was cleverly thought out - handy bottle opener (woefully unused; I miss PROSECCO *sob*) hot water bottle tucked away in drawer, yellow and grey cashmere blanket casually draped over a chair if it got too chilly (it didn't), generous bathrobes and ample spotlit wardrobe space for people who pack a week's worth of clothes for a weekend.

The sparkling ensuite bathroom hosted a curved, roll top slipper bath and fleecy white towels and was kitted out with Orla Kiely products. I had to be pried out of the powerful shower each time, usually with food as bait (see below). The harbour view from the Velux bathroom window was a joy each morning. Unfortunately we chose to visit Falmouth at the same time as #stormimogen, who raged outside fiercely. It really didn't matter, the hatches were battened down and we were tucked up in a chic bolt hole - Imogen and her tantrums were no bother to us. Besides, we managed to wedge in a Gyllyngvase Beach walk or two over the weekend, as well as a swim and a massage at the local spa, so everything was not lost.

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Secondly, the decor. Highcliffe's guest and dining room are simply gorgeous. The owners, although only ever a buzz away and always conveniently around just when you needed them, live downstairs. With your own key, guests can come and go as you please. Vanessa had previously worked for a well-known glossy interior magazine and Simon held a top role in Media, and this is reflected in the sophisticated and high-standard interior design and well-finished furniture.

There's motion-activated lighting when you're too sleepy to flick a switch and striking modern colour schemes. They've done a great job of ensuring it is personal and welcoming rather than identikit. The guest lounge is beautifully furnished and stocked with back catalogues of fashion (hello, Vogue), travel and lifestyle magazines – for which I am a complete sucker. In my head, Suitcase magazine (a magazine that embraces the eclectic and adventurous appetite of a generation of creatives and entrepreneurs) is a visual representation of my every day life. Sadly, and realistically, it is not. There are lovely little touches; a table with sweets for adults, an honesty tuck box bursting with bars of Green and Black's Chocolate, Tunnocks Teacakes and Tyrrell's Crisps for midnight feasts. The dining room is kitted out with beautiful homeware from Willow and Stone, with a shop just down the road on Arwenack Street.

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Thirdly, the food. There's an age-old saying that when you're preggers you eat for two. That weekend I possibly ate for four. The breakfast is a delicious feast. Think crunchy homemade granola and seeds, thick Greek natural yoghurt, delicious natural cereals, chilled juices. Fresh fruit and hot, buttery toast and a vast choice of condiments (including Vegemite! Streuth! A hangover from my Sydney days and one antipodean habit I've been unable to break, sorry Marmite). Unlimited pots of Cornish Tea's Smuggler's Brew and locally supported coffee. That's before you've tackled the Full English (veggie and non-)or the daily special, which during our stay included garlic-smoked field mushrooms and sautéed spinach with a poached egg on door-stop granary toast. I'm not kidding, I would literally crawl up the stairs to Room 8 on my hands and knees after a 3-course breakfast. I would love to blame the bump and the mild vertical ascent but it wasn't, it was just me being a great big greedy guts. 

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Fourthly, the proprietors. All the fancy pants stuff is marvellous and don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the glitz. But with style you must have substance and when paying to stay away from home, to be made to feel you're a wanted guest. Simon and Vanessa genuinely want to ensure you have a really, really great stay and pull out all the stops without making it feel forced. Nothing was too much trouble. Their warmth and ebullience also filters through to their breakfast crew who were incredibly friendly and chipper. Simon's encyclopaedic knowledge of Falmouth, it's charming local gems, restaurants and characters was invaluable and everyone spoke so highly of them. The Wheelhouse, Hunkydory Restaurant and Bar and Beerwolf Books were highlights, sadly we didn't make it to Dolly's Tea Room and Wine Bar but this provides a perfectly valid excuse to return.  

Alas, I have one grumble.

Time went way, way too quickly. Being comfortably ensconced at Highcliffe for some inexplicable reason means that time passes at double the normal speed. In a flash, we were on the A39 homeward bound, driving through Storm Imogen and feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. It's back to the grindstone now and Highcliffe is but a distant memory, but every now and then I allow myself to imagine being tucked up in contemporary Room 8 with a cup of Cornish brew, a well-worn Du Maurier and the prospect of both a Highcliffe breakfast and a glorious Falmouth day ahead.

Until next time...

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Thank you 2013, it's been a blast.

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Thank you to each and everyone of my Material Whirl followers. The likers, the admiring head-nodders, the laugh-out-louders, the sharers, the forwarders, and the retweeters.

You make... late nights after long (real job) days surviving only by the power of Diet Coke, standing on the tube with my face way too close to a stranger and typing on an iPhone, the solitary coffees in cafes with just me and my Mac, and the begging, emailing, researching...absolutely 100% worth it.

With your help and support 2013 has seen Material Whirl take a small but noticeable step (in uncomfortable, but new shoes). I am lucky to have reviewed some fantastic acts for Jazz FM, have guest reviewed for some smashing London hangouts with their support (and retweets) and some inspiring fashion people have even been in touch with me. Right this minute, I have 139 Facebook likes, 100 Instagram followers and 411 Twitter followers with numbers rising - not bad but definitely need more.

2013 was kind to Material Whirl. Did you know a New York City subway train holds 1,200 people? Well, this blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people. That makes me smile and keeps me motivated to do more in 2014. - have a quick read of my report below (with fancy images, thanks Wordpress)

Here's a little report of Material Whirl's progress in 2013.

It is a great start and I am absolutely over the moon; but 2014 needs to be bigger and even better (with more NYC subway train trips. Or, even better, Tube trips if I knew the stats on that). Hopefully this is just the beginning.

Thank you so much to each and everyone of you who made it happen.

Happy New Year. I hope 2014 brings you everything you want and deserve... I have a feeling it is going to be spectacular.

xxx

Stanfords Bookshop, Covent Garden

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Stanfords is an incredible travel bookshop located on Long Acre in Covent Garden.

Samuel Johnson once said ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford’. I couldn’t agree more. That said, it is nice to dream of visiting far-flung places every now and then. Or, you may choose to use your precious time in London as a springboard to visit other European destinations for a weekend. Whatever your inspiration, escape the hustle and bustle of tourist-laden Covent Garden and transport yourself anywhere you desire in the world – care of this amazing travel bookshop.

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Stanfords is bursting with maps scaling every inch of the globe, stylish city guides, an abundance of Lonely Planets and clever gadgets to satisfy the geekiest of gadget lover. It stocks a fantastic range of modern travel fiction and non-fiction to take the place of a backpacking buddy and browsing the shelves is a global adventure in itself. You can also pick up some truly unique gifts and go on, treat yourself to a beautiful  journey to capture on paper all of your own travel tales. It opened in 1901 and past customers include Florence Nightingale and even Sherlock Holmes (in The Hound of the Baskervilles) adding to the sense of history and quintessential London.

Stanfords has an in-store Sacred Café, serving typical New Zealand organic fair trade coffee roast and a range of teas. Hearty food adds to a real Antipodean experience in London.

I love whiling away a few hours in Stanfords because, like travelling itself, entering through the doors is an adventure into the unknown and always inspirational. You may only intend to browse or buy a gift, but guaranteed you will leave with a head full of dreams and solid plans for your next trip.

Although you won’t be able to stay away from London too long of course.

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An ode to the X68 bus

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Oh X68, or eXpress 68 to give you the full title you so gallantly deserve. Travelling aboard your blue speckled double decks is such sweet sorrow. You are the bane of my commuting life yet you know all too well I would be lost without you.

There are countless reasons why the seemingly uneventful journey from West Croydon to Russell Square is so eventful, my current route to work now that I am living temporarily in the Crystal Palace area, but here are some of the reasons why I love you, X68.

1. You laugh in the face of the bus timetable (helpfully available in PDF form on the TFL website). You are a free spirit, the nomadic pilgrim of South London. You are not restricted by life's inane structures or plans. You drive to the beat of your own drum. You turn up when you feel like it, preferring to operate by the timetable of life. What I really mean is you are usually sodding late.

2. Sometimes you choose to terminate short of your final destination and instead of concluding at Russell Square, as advertised on the overhead destination board, you stop somewhere else en route. Like Kennington. Or Camberwell, setting us a Krypton Factor-esque challenge to get to work via alternative means - on foot, by tube, via a hitchhiked ride for the more desperate. This presents another problem to solve ahead of an already full day and is both stimulating and good for developing my navigation skills. Thank you.

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3. In the nicest way, your drivers are mildly psychotic. Cyclists in the bus lane, traverse at your peril. Passengers who speak to or obscure the driver's vision while the bus is moving? I wish you luck. Running for the bus in a frenzy, perspiring and cursing along the way? Chances are they will wait until you are an inch away from making it and then close those whooshing doors, laughing maniacally like Vincent Price at the end of Thriller. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have also been that passenger, keeled over gasping for breath and shaking my fist at the back of the bus. (Swearing).

4. Said drivers have rather a penchant for the brake pedal. This creates a jolting, bumpy jaunt with repeatedly abrupt stops and starts and leaves poor unsuspecting passengers flying all over the bus, flailing their arms wildly and hanging onto a pole for dear life. Composing a text or reading at least one page of a book is virtually impossible without the use of Hyoscine to ward off extreme travel sickness. Some poor woman the other day ran off with her hand over her mouth ready to spew, the roller coaster ride too much to endure. I could feel her pain. Wedged at the back last week between two hefty gentlemen I had to take deep gulps of breath and fix my glare on a stable object to avoid my own unfortunate puking incident.

5. The commanding announcement 'this is an express service and will now run non-stop to Waterloo' always, without fail, prompts the Theme from S-Express to whirl constantly around in my head for the entire journey. Despite this announcement that confirms the service runs continuously to Waterloo, there is always some poor b*gger who does not know the drill. They are an X68 virgin if you will. They want to get off in West Norwood please, they do not require the onward hour journey to Waterloo, thanks very much. They innocently ding the bell in good time, ready to disembark. Ding. As the driver continues past their stop they press it again, a little more firmly. Ding. Perhaps the bell is not working. Ding. Oh dear, maybe the driver hasn't heard, oh well never mind I'll get off at the next stop. Ding. Then sheer panic sets in. They are not getting off this bus anytime soon. Ding. I am going AN HOUR out of my way and will be horribly late for work. Ding. My boss will never believe me. Ding. Perhaps I'll never get off. Ding. OH GOD. They realise no amount of 'DRIVER, LET ME OFF!'s are going to work here. Ding. Ding. DING. (For those Breaking Bad devotees, think of Tuco Salamanca's uncle Hector and that incessant bell). Someone bravely whispers 'you can press the emergency button to open the doors' and someone else says encouragingly 'go, run for your life'! As they press the red button heroically they are released into the fresh air and we wave, smiling sadly, as we continue on our jerky way.

Yet, how can I possibly moan? You take me all the way from home to Waterloo (usually) without stopping. Thus, you are slightly superior to the 68 or even the 468, parallel services that run along the same route more or less but have to stop. Ha. Inferior route sisters, we laugh at your perpetual stopping. You offer unbeatable views of amazing London town and all it has to offer.  As the brilliant Phil Earle quoted in his article for The Guardian 'one minute it's the electric buzz of Elephant and Castle, the next time I look up, I'm in the shadows of the glorious South Bank and Big Ben'.

Your passengers are true heroes. A quick peek on Twitter reveals that you already have your own admirers, your bus groupies, throwing themselves at you and queuing up to get on board. The X68 has a unique passenger community of its own, amazing individuals with an unbreakable spirit, a strong stomach and a cracking sense of humour. I have noticed some passengers embark, courageously say hello to the (psychotic) driver and take their time to wave at people they know, say hi, as if it they were among great friends rather than fellow commuters.  I love these guys. Some of them also tweet gems such as 'Honestly, the X68 bus never fails to entertain. Always a drama!', 'The mighty X68 bus is like warp drive to S London'... and 'Power to the people! X68 bus driver goes off course, his passengers start shouting directions. #humansatnav saves the day'. This makes me smile a lot and feel part of a high-achieving team. I'm an X68'er and proud of it.

When I move back to the East End next year, I am not ashamed to say that I will miss it - the unpredictability, at times the downright cruelty of it all, the jerkiness, and the drama.

X68. I've got the hots for you.

 
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Pre-Holiday Rules

Norman Parkinson  - Travel

This bank holiday just passed, Material Whirl jetted off on a fantastic hen weekend to sunny, sunny Spain with a group of six lovely hens.

I had planned to have my size-appropriate suitcase packed in advance and to rest well in the days leading up to the hen to counterbalance the indubitable sleep deprivation ahead. I envisioned a relaxed me wafting effortlessly into Gatwick's North Terminal poised and calm - the embodiment of airport-chic.

HA HA HA. I was the last in the group to arrive; running wildly from the airport terminal shuttle, apologising and slightly clammy and feeling unprepared. A schoolgirl error had been made; I had failed to apply the rather substantial experience gained from many years of holidaying.

I had forgotten my very own Pre-Holiday Rules.

PRE-HOLIDAY RULES

Without fail, I will always...

  • End up packing the night before and until at least 1.30 am wailing 'I AM JUST SO TIRED, I CANNOT DO THIS' while hand washing three bikinis, meticulously selecting matching accessories for every single item of clothing and making mental lists out loud, such as 'morning top, top for the pool, top for post-beach cocktails, pre-dinner drinks top, emergency top' etc rather than actually filling my suitcase. All this while my long-suffering and very dear husband looks on despairingly. Or lies on the cool floor, hoping sleep will come soon.
  • Add Holiday by Madonna to my iPod track list (sometimes going berserk and adding the You Can Dance Extended Remix) and listen to this en route to the airport or at 6.30 am at home, still packing, and delirious through lack of sleep (see above point).
  • Spend a fortune on toiletries prior to the holiday, enough to warrant a possible remortgage of our house, most of which goes towards poxy rip-off miniatures. This also includes the purchase of a complete range of new sun care products in SPF50 - Moisturising Sun Protection with Insect Repellent (in both spray and lotion formats), High Protection Face Moisturiser, Sun Care Balm for Lips, Sun Care Spray for Hair, Moisturising After Sun, Hydrating Tan Optimiser - before finding a replica set on the bottom shelf of the bathroom cabinet the night before. All of this despite the fact I have not had a tan since 1984.
  • Purchase at least six vest tops with a stylish 'capsule wardrobe' in mind, even though only questionable colour choices remain as part of a 2-4-1 offer (hello, turdy brown and pallid lilac) and subsequently finding the 'Vest Top Drawer' the night before departure. All of this despite the fact I will bring them all home unworn and put them straight back in the drawer ready to forget next year.
  • Run out of room in my suitcase leaving me with no choice but to take unwanted overspill in my hand luggage. I would love to be one of those women who sail through departures with a minimally packed Michael Kors Tote and their passport always conveniently ready to display. I am not. I am the girl with a beach towel stuffed into an already full Oasis holdall, blocking access to essential travel documents, that requires re- packing every time I need to get my sodding purse out.
  • Pack enough cosmetics to make up not only my fellow holidaymakers but the entire outward bound flight, forcing the airport security staff to enquire, quite reasonably, if I am a makeup artist by trade. This includes superfluous bronzed-shimmer products and shouty new summer collections such as the must-try eyeshadow in Daisy Yellow or flattering eye pencil in Plum (it's not) even though I will wear my 'work makeup' for the duration of the holiday.
  • Obsessively check for my passport and tickets at least nine times en route to the airport, convinced I have neither or have scooped up my expired passport instead, where the photo of me resembles a pale '90s Goth who has listened to far too much teenage-angst rock music.
  • Seriously consider purchasing a new padlock at the airport, even though there are at least seven of the little buggers hidden somewhere in the house, possibly in the abyss that is the spare drawer. Or the Vest Top drawer.
  • Solemnly promise to myself that drinking before or on the aeroplane is unnecessary and, if the truth be told, uncouth. Cave in after the slightest hint of turbulence (take off) and down a complimentary Vodka and Diet Coke or three. Thus ending up absolutely legless and revealing to Billy and Francis from Jersey my entire life story, deepest secrets and recently developed fear of flying, sobbing into my beverage while they smile politely or pretend to be asleep.

Note to self for next trip: Never forget the holiday rules.

Ever.

A dolphin encounter of the calamitous kind

Last week I sustained a mild but unfortunate injury after a freak accident involving a Lonely Planet New Zealand guide.

As I flopped into bed and pulled the duvet cover over my tired body, I failed to realise that the hefty book was laying on top of the covers and inadvertently managed to flip it up into my face, where its hard spine met my right eye with a thump.

Fortunately, I have never been punched in the face before but I imagine the feeling is similar to the sensation I felt that very minute. I cried a bit, applied a cold compress and then woke up the next morning with a lump that has now been cleverly camouflaged with makeup.

Another bizarre injury to add to the list.

You see, travel and calamity always seem to go hand in hand with me, as a flick through one of my travel diaries in 2006 reminded me…

Monday 23 October 2006
Riverview Lodge, Christchurch, New Zealand
8am

What an awesome start to the day! Slept well here in the Riverview Lodge as the bed is soft and comfy with a gorgeous verdant throw and huge fluffy pillows. The owner Ernst (great name) had prepared a breakfast of fruit salad and homemade granola and said I was Queen Nicola. Hmm, should I be worried, is that weird? Anyway, I can see the sleepy River Avon out of the view from my window and I have grown quite attached to Christchurch with its old-English feel.

I’m now on my way to Kaikoura for whale watching and the booked-in-advance Kaikoura Swim with Dolphins, something I have always wanted to do since I was a child. It’s just me and two very pretty Japanese girls so far. Due to a mild fear of being in the water, I am feeling a little nervous but very excited. I’m sure everything will be absolutely fine.

11pm

Oh God, how is it humanly possible to still feel nauseated. I now remember exactly why I am not, and never will be, a water baby.

Travel to the town of Kaikoura was fantastic. It was snug and warm on the coach as we travelled along the coastal route and I caught sight of its incredible vista – the captivating mountain range provided some dramatic scenery and the peninsula that jutted out towards the Pacific Ocean was majestic. It created an incredible back drop to our view of the humpback whales lifting out of the water and crashing back down again with a graceful thud.

We had an hour to look around the small settlement of Kaikoura, the base for our dolphin swimming, so I made use of some perusing time on the Esplanade, and bought some very nice Roxy jeans. I have absolutely no idea where I’ll wear them in good old Blighty in fear of looking like an extra from Home and Away, but while in Australasia, do as the Australasian’s do. I met a very nice American couple, Sharon and Dean, who I sat next to during the pre-swim educational video. I paid attention to every single word of that video, wanting not only to know everything I could about these amazing marine mammals in their natural habitat but also to be fully prepared for a full-blown aquatic disaster.

When we were told that we needed to be ‘confident in the open ocean' and 'it is an advantage to have had previous snorkeling experience’ I nodded along confidently with everyone else, not wanting to share my fears with Sharon that I still hadn’t quite got over a traumatic experience in the Lazy River at The Water Palace, Croydon, in 1991 and if the truth be told I didn’t really like to get my hair wet.

We took a small bus to our boat, Delphinidae, a charming white and blue vessel. The sight of it bobbing up and down on the water prompted my stomach to do a small but noticeable flip, but I overlooked the flip and boarded the boat ready for my adventure.

Safety checks complete, wet suits zipped up tightly and snorkeling equipment distributed, we set off on our open ocean experience, across the choppy Pacific. Our instructor – British, very tall, with floppy Hugh Grant-esque hair and bags of enthusiasm - loved the sea, unlike me. 'Jeez it’s a bit rough today!' he said enthusiastically with a mildly irritating inflection suggesting he'd been out of the UK for a while. ‘You’re not kidding, Hugh’ I thought as the waves crashed against the boat and sprayed the back of my head with sea-foam. He repeated the very important instructions we'd heard in the video that I tried desperately to listen to as the bumpy ocean threw me from side to side, up and down off my seat and nearly over the edge. 'When you hear the siren that's your cue to go in the water slowly. Don't get too close to the dolphins, and if you need assistance just put your hand in the air and I'll come help you, no drama. Enjoy!’ shouted Hugh. Loudly.

Was it me or were the waves getting larger and more powerful? The open ocean experience was making me feel a little unnerved. That jutting peninsula was nowhere in sight and all I could see was miles and miles of ocean. A quick peek around at my fellow wetsuits revealed no other panicked faces so I tried to push to the back of my mind that I was feeling a bit crook. The Swedish girls looked tanned and blond, the epitome of ocean chic. The Aussies looked completely relaxed in their wetsuits, as if they were wearing a second skin.

I was so pale I was translucent, but at least I could be used as a makeshift buoy in case anyone needed something to hang onto in the water to attract attention. The wailing shriek of siren was our cue that Flipper and friends were here to play, so I flipped on over in my flippers and pulled the slightly too-tight mask over my head, creating a very interesting bouffant.

We headed excitedly to the edge of the boat and I prepared to lower myself down the boat's ladder into the water. All was going well until a wave of nausea rose up inside me, without warning. I desperately clambered back up the ladder and past the others as quickly as is humanly possible in big, wide fins where I proceeded to throw up in the nearest bucket. Four times. Yep, four.

It is quite possible that I have never been so ill, or so embarrassed in my life, as my fellow crew members splashed gaily around in the sea with the acrobatic dusky dolphins and I retched in a bucket as the boat bobbed up and down relentlessly and Hugh patted me on the back.

I like dolphins. I don’t eat tuna, but if I did, you can bet your life it would be dolphin-friendly. When I was a child I adopted a dolphin, Sundance, for Christmas (for life of course, not just for Christmas. Well until I was at least nine). Being a slightly less naive and far more cynical adult, I now realise of course that me and five hundred other kids had the same certificate, but in my eyes my £2 per month gave me sole ownership of Sundance. I have always dreamed of swimming with dolphins, so why oh why did my sea legs decide to wobble on this day?

The vomiting eventually ceased and I stood up slowly on teetering legs, looking out to the ocean. I talked to myself inwardly, a little motivational talk if you like. Nicola, your trip to NZ is going to be over soon, this may be your last chance to do this. Hold your head high, put a mask on it and shove that snorkel in your mouth. Get in that water!'. So I staggered determinedly to the sea, reassuring a concerned Hugh that I was indeed OK.

I lowered myself in and tried to put the sickness episode behind me. The ocean was cold and tasted salty in my parched mouth and I was finding it hard to kick my weak legs to stay afloat. Then it happened. A dolphin swam towards me and momentarily stopped; its sleek body just about visible under the wavy water. It looked at me, I looked at it and then it leaped above the water and started to swim away so I followed, remembering not to get too close. I swam alongside it, just for a couple of minutes but it was a perfect moment of solitude. I couldn't hear anything around me and I felt very at peace, like time had literally stopped. I was the dreamy nine-year old girl again, swimming alongside what may just have been my beloved adoptee. Then it was gone.

In its place my nausea returned to taunt me. I quickly realised I was far, far out to sea and I couldn't touch the bottom. The cold water shocked my body back to the present and I could feel the sickness rising up again to make yet another appearance. Hugh’s words echoed in my head 'put your hand in the air and I'll come help you, no drama'. So I waved my hand in the air frantically as I swam to the boats edge. Realising there was in fact a drama, I was ungracefully pulled onto the boat by one of the other instructors like a slippery, wet fish head first. I lifted my face, distorted by the huge snorkel mask, and whispered 'please can I have the bucket' before flopping back down again in defeat.

For the next five minutes, Hugh had the unfortunate task of emptying the bucket ready for the next onslaught, whilst simultaneously making small talk and congratulating me on my short but successful swim. He gently suggested I remove my wetsuit, as we both knew I was done for the day and we had at least another hour to go before being back on land. I was so ashamed, surely it couldn't get any worse than this.

So I attempted to get undressed as the boat continued to sway and I gulped down deep breaths of oxygen to overcome what was surely the undefeated world record for seasickness. I tried to get my fins off, but one big flipper refused to pop off my foot despite me ungracefully bending over and pulling on the bugger for dear life. I gave up and started instead to pull down the zip on the top half of my wet suit, when I heaved once more and signalled frantically for the bucket. As I threw up, I noticed that my bikini top had unhelpfully slipped off to one side, exposing my naked chest to Hugh, the crew and the poor dolphins. Hugh held my hair back while I freed myself not only of my breakfast but any last remnants of dignity that I may have one had. Where were my girlfriends when I needed them?

Boob flashing aside, and in an attempt to see the positive, the trip back to land was great. I was wrapped in a fleecy blanket and given some sweet tea and chocolate as I watched the land finally coming to view in the distance. I lived my dolphin encounter vicariously through my group and listened to their excited chatter as I got waited on hand and flipper and had some photos taken for me. I really did feel like Queen Nicola - Ernst would have been proud of me, although maybe not so much the exposure part.

Back safely on land, I slept on the coach home and made it back to Christchurch early evening. I checked my emails, replied to Lauren who I met in Peru and the girls back home who hopefully will see the funny side of today's goings on. I'm now in my room, with my backpack stuffed with clothes, and I'm shattered and trying to forget that I still feel like I'm on a boat. Bleurgh. I am meeting Ernst at 6.50 am for another royal breakfast and then have a taxi booked to take me to Columbo Street to meet my fellow travellers for our trip to the majestic Mount Cook. Excited, and relieved that I'll be trekking around a mountain and not swimming with a mammal.

Goodnight xx

So, it was a day to remember but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. In May this year I am travelling to New Zealand for five weeks with Alex. Any encounters with dolphins, unless accidental, are not part of our itinerary.

Nor is wearing a wet suit.

Oh, The Places You'll Go! (Plus the bang-ups, hang-ups, and slumps)

In the winter of 2007 I flew ten thousand miles around the world to escape - from myself.

London’s chaotic pace had given me a sense of incompleteness. A busy life, a demanding career and a fast-approaching thirtieth birthday all contributed to a sense of anxiety.

I had contemplated working abroad and the dream was fading like an old photograph. So, I pushed aside my fears and booked a one-way ticket to Sydney, Australia. I was leaving in five weeks.

Those remaining days filled quickly with departures; farewell parties soaked with drinks and emotion. At Heathrow Airport, I left family with tears streaming down my face, entering into an unknown adventure.

On arrival, it felt like the holiday of a lifetime condensed into a few magical days. But as the jet lag vanished and the glitter settled, it was just me for company. I felt an overwhelming sense of panic, realising this was not a vacation and I had no concrete plan. I knew no one and although the blank canvas should have been exciting, it terrified me.

Exploring the sprawling urban paradise, I felt like a lost child instead of liberated. I ambled along sandy beaches painfully self-conscious in my own pale skin. My younger sister Michelle, a long-serving and very tanned Sydneysider was incredible, introducing me to her many friends, showing me all the magical sights and sounds that Sydney had to offer and surrounding me with excitement and opportunity. But I felt completely and utterly lonely. At parties I felt unusually shy, gulping down drinks and trying to find something worthwhile to say. My comfort blanket had been sharply pulled off my shoulders and I shivered with the exposure.

My CV painted a picture of someone I used to be in London, but did not reward me with a job. It rained uncharacteristically and relentlessly. My cash reserve was diminishing but the distance from home seemed to grow every day. Galleries and museums provided solitude but I was drowning in desolation. The anxiety of being judged followed me like a shadow.

I knew people would question how I could feel this way in such a captivating place. I was lucky to have such a beautifully packaged opportunity but I could not find the confidence to unwrap the ribbon. So I searched for an explanation.

The realisation was painful. I was so heavily weighed down with issues I could not swim to the surface to breathe. Years ago, I had chosen not to accept my university place, a decision I regretted. I felt inadequate amongst the high-flying graduates in my life. I compensated by pushing myself too hard, my life overflowing with people and activity with no room for self-reflection. Instead of celebrating achievements, I always felt I had not accomplished enough. These insecurities had boarded the plane with me as excess baggage.

I took each day as it came but did not learn my lesson. Joining a local group, aptly named Get a Life!, was an attempt to broaden my horizons. First up was Book Club in a restaurant in Circular Quay, but my fellow literature lovers were overbearing and pompous. I drank too much wine far too quickly. I fought the urge to shout rebelliously ‘I don’t even like Catch 22! I haven’t even finished it! Ha!’. I decided instead to Get a Life and excused myself to the bathroom and pegged it out of the door as fast as my tipsy legs would carry me. Walking home in the hammering rain, I rang London to speak to my older sister but my credit ran out just as I said hello. Sitting on the steps of the Opera House I sobbed, wet through to my underwear. I wanted to go home.

It got worse. A simple National Park trek turned into a Bear Grylls endurance test. I got lost and did not pass another person for four hours. My foot bled from an unexplained injury and my water ran out. As the sun set, I felt crippled by absolute fear, convinced that I was being followed and that my time was up. This time I had gone too far.

I made it home, exhausted and grubby but determined. I guess you could say it was my epiphany moment. It was time to leave the destructive path I had chosen to follow for so long and make some changes.

I found a flat and a job in the city. I rediscovered yoga and indulged my infatuation for fashion in markets and vintage boutiques. I explored, I made friends, and I laughed a lot. Life began to sparkle again like the sun shimmering on the Pacific Ocean. I saw my surroundings in dazzling Technicolor.

One afternoon in a second-hand bookshop, I stumbled across an advert for a creative writing course. On enrolling, something finally clicked. I had a place to release all the thoughts, good and bad that swam around my head. Words spilled onto my laptop screen and filled endless notebooks.

I quietened the incessant inner voice that told me I was not good enough and allowed myself to feel a sense of accomplishment. I concentrated on building a portfolio of life experiences rather than worrying about a lack of academic achievements. I finally found solace in writing.

Those remaining days filled quickly with departures; farewell parties soaked with drinks and emotion. One night, a friend gave me a Dr. Seuss book called ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’. It struck me how accurately it reflected the journey I’d gone on; around the globe and in my head.

I returned to London changed, but not a finished article. There is still editing to do. As I learned, you can be in the most remarkable place, but if you are living inside your head, you may as well be anywhere.

The experience has shaped me though, and made me realise what I have to do – stop regretting the past and start writing.

In moments of self-doubt I remember Dr. Seuss’ wise words - you have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose!