Seven days in Mauritius #1

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Last September, straight after handing in my final dissertation for my Master's degree, I packed my bag and headed the furthest from the UK that I've ever been - to Mauritius, to visit my mum. She was on a six month stint working on a wildlife conservation project, helping local conservationists work to protect endangered species. So, it was probably appropriate that after a day recovering from my sleepless (read: turbulent) flight, our first trip out was to the tiny Île aux Aigrettes, now a nature reserve managed by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. I encountered my first giant tortoise, learnt about ebony forests, spotted Telfair's skinks, and visited the little island museum to see the poor, doomed Dodo.

The next day, we were picked up by a friend of a friend who does tours of the island, and were whisked off on an extremely thorough excursion across the Southern part of Mauritius. Starting off in Mahebourg, we visited the diamond shops (not our thing) and the model boat makers (actually very interesting), before quickly heading into the Mauritian countryside. The Hindu temple at the Ganga Talao crater lake was a beautiful visit, and we were lucky to have our guide able to explain to us the significance of all of its aspects. I admired the many temple cats, the monkeys, the loudly-singing frogs and the great number of fish causing the lake's surface to boil with anticipation every time a passer-by looked over the edge. We headed further west, stopping at a local restaurant for lunch (and twice for roadside pineapple), and then making our way through the hills of the Black River Gorge National Park, winding down through the sugarcane to the Chamarel distillery for rum tasting. Me being me, I bought local papaya jam instead. A little wobbly from our tasting, we stared out across the near-three hundred foot Chamarel waterfall and marvelled at the Seven Coloured Earths, before heading down to see darkness fall at the viewpoint over Le Morne Brabant mountain (the site of the famous 'underwater waterfall' illusion!) and making our drive through the fields and villages back to the bay.

Another day, another contact from my mum's colleague, and we were taken out on the reef by Zoulou, an expert on the best snorkelling spots in the area. After a look around the wreck and a swim, he took us to some of the more difficult locations - one being Île de la Passe, a fortified island which was a key site in the Battle of Grand Port, where British colonial forces fought the French, who occupied Mauritius. There are still plenty of military structures on the island, complete with the carved graffiti of soldiers occupying the island. We also headed to the more easily accessed Île aux Fouquets, wading through the shallows to wander around the ruined lighthouse. One of the most exciting parts of the day was driving the boat up the river to the Grande Reviere Sud-Est waterfall, watching the giant fruit bats lazily flapping from tree to tree, and sharing my lunch with wild macaques who clambered down from the trees to the riverbank. To my mum's great amusement, Zoulou forced me - terrified - to drive the boat back to Blue Bay, and we finished off with a final snorkel over the reef, looking out for the resident family of clownfish and getting extremely sunburnt in the process. A day well spent (minus the sunburn, whose tan lines I'm still sporting, nearly six months later.)

A weekend in Gothenburg

Monday, 27 November 2017

This year has been a pretty good one for cheap travel. I've got a sharp eye when it comes to the Ryanair sales, and one of the few benefits of a zero-hours work schedule is some occasional flexibility - so I've made the most of it whilst I still can. A couple of weeks ago, I headed off on a long-awaited trip with five old school friends. We haven't been away together since a post-A-levels trip to Majorca which was less about culture and more about drinking and sunbathing. Several years later, we still managed to get in a bit of alcohol - mainly in the form of Glühwein - but we were a little more imaginative when it came to our activities!

The weekend was largely food-based. We visited the small shops around the Kronhuset, sampling chocolate (great), liquorice (not so much) and salmiak (definitely not for us). We ate meatballs and lingonberry jam in the Saluhallen, were given free hot waffles by a visiting church, and picked up local Swedish cheese to eat back at the apartment. We headed to Barn for great cocktails and fantastic burgers, and overloaded on cheap churros at the Christmas markets. We got giant head-sized cinnamon buns and Swedish cheese pie at Cafe Husaren. I stayed an extra day and had amazing Italian food at Hotel Bellora (who also offer a breakfast buffet that dreams are made of; the full works). In between all the eating, we took a trip out tVrångö, the most southerly island in the Gothenburg archipelago, to wander around the island and plan our moves to Sweden; rode the wooden rollercoaster at Liseberg amusement park, complete with awful mid-scream photographs; sweated it out in the mini rainforest and sat mesmerised by the aquarium at Universeum; and walked for miles around Slottsskogen park in the snow and sunshine. I didn't tick off any of my museums, but that's all the reason to go back - I'm planning for the summer.

Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Over the last few of months, my seven-day-a-week research and writing schedule didn't leave me a lot of time for other things, especially not extra trips into London for exhibitions. After the final hand in for my Master's degree, I headed straight out to visit my mum in Mauritius, and after that had a whole (slightly jetlagged) four days before diving straight into work on a research project. Most of those were spent doing life admin, but I also sneaked in a trip to the Wellcome Collection to see their new exhibition: Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

Split over six sections (persuasion, education, hospitalisation, medication, contagion and provocation), the show examines the often overlooked sphere of design related to health: the information campaigns, wayfinding design, medication packaging and a whole host of other graphics. It's something which I've thought about a little more since starting to collect matchbox labels, which very often were used to communicate health related information (or flat out propaganda). My favourite objects were the vintage anti-smoking stamps, issued from 65 countries so far; the Catoptrum Microcosmicum from 1660, featuring hinged paper layers showing human anatomy; the New Rail Alphabet typeface developed from Margaret Calvert's original and used first in the NHS; Yin Yao's pain visualisation research; and 19th century broadsheets warning of the cholera epidemic. It's really a treasure trove of amazing design objects, many of which you'd probably never notice in day to day life but are essential - like the 'battenberg emergency' pattern on ambulances, or the familiar prescription bags from Boots. Another cracker from the Wellcome Collection, and it's free! If you can't get to the exhibition before January, you can see highlights, and even download the information about the exhibits, on the website.

FIND 'CAN GRAPHIC DESIGN SAVE YOUR LIFE?' AT: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

Some of my health-related matchbox labels!

Post-apocalyptic & Dystopian Reads #7

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Leigh Brackett
Following the atrocities of nuclear war, the American people have taken to blaming technology itself for the devastation and have retreated into the pre-technological world, banning large towns and cities in an attempt to prevent further wars. Religious groups less reliant on modern technology have flourished, and are now dominant in society: it is one of these groups that Len and Esau come from. The boys push back at their strictly controlled society, and end up in Bartorstown, a semi-mythical hub of forbidden technology; soon they learn that it's not quite what they thought it was. This isn't a book which is lacking in characterisation - it's slow and considered (occasionally too much for my liking - I didn't warm to either Len or Esau much!), though if you're looking for women, you won't find them. It took me a while to wade through the religion, but it's worth it for an interesting coming-of-age story with a starkly realistic thread of disillusionment.

William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson
In the world created by Nolan and Johnson, society is entirely made up of young people: the population is controlled by compulsory, yet almost universally accepted, euthanasia for citizens once they reach the age of twenty one. Most citizens willingly turn up to the 'Sleepshops' to be executed, but occasionally some try to escape - and it's Logan's job to hunt them down, until he becomes one of them himself. The novel isn't fantastically thought out in terms of logistics; a lot of questions are left unanswered, and some of the answers we are given just don't make a whole lot of sense. The book is short, and so the story unfolds at a blistering pace in some areas, which leaves some elements feeling underdeveloped. However - I really enjoyed it anyway. For its flaws, the world created is vivid and intriguing, and despite its messiness, it was just fun.

Ray Bradbury
Another classic in the dystopian world, which I'm surprised I didn't pick up until recently. Fahrenheit 451 deals with a world where books are banned, and the ban enforced by 'firemen', whose job is no longer to prevent fires but to start them in order to burn the possessions of those caught reading. But what happens when a fireman himself is overcome with curiosity? I was torn about this book. I see people referencing it when they want to complain that 'modern society is so vapid, no one reads books!' (untrue and infuriating) and this made me stubbornly keen to dislike it. And yes, Bradbury is pretty much yelling 'television will ruin your mind!' He's gone on to emphasise this perspective in interviews; it's not the government censorship which killed books, he says, but the fact that everyone got distracted by technology! It's a common fear, but one which is clearly unfounded. Saying that, Bradbury does have a way with words - despite my problems with the premise, the reading was enjoyable.

Hugh Howey
By now I've read a lot of this genre, so it's not often I come across a new work which has an original perspective: in Wool, Howey has it. His story is set in the Silo, a huge underground bunker descending nearly a hundred and fifty storeys below the surface of the earth, now a toxic wasteland entirely hostile to life. The thousands in the silo are born, live and die underground, their population controlled by a reproduction lottery and their curiosity about the outside world suppressed by strict laws and the preachings of the silo's priests. Crime is infrequent, but severely punished. The most severe infractions result in being sent to 'cleaning' - being made to clean the sensors which transmit the view of the inhospitable world outside to the residents of the silo, and being left to succumb to the poisonous gases. Starting off as a short, self-published story, the novel expanded as readers showed interest, and does sometimes feel a little long-winded. However, Howey creates a really compelling mystery to the dark(er) reality of the silo, and I'm looking forward to see where it goes.

Adrian Barnes
Barnes tells a story of chronic sleep deprivation; a world suddenly separated into the Awakened, permanently sleepless, and Dreamers, who retain their ability to rest. Misanthropic Paul, our protagonist, is one of the Dreamers, and quickly finds out just how dangerous the new world can be for him, unless he finds a way to fit in to the new order of chaos. It's, perhaps understandably, a fairly grim read. I was expecting to really enjoy this novel, but none of it came together for me. I'd already read Kenneth Calhoun's Black Moon, another novel whose premise lies in sleeplessness (published after this one) and whilst Barnes takes his novel in a different direction, I felt it was nowhere near as successful. Barnes got a lot of praise for his experimental style, and some of it really works, but it also feels like the storyline development took a backseat. In an interview, Barnes said that he would 'invent people and places that are bizarre' and 'try to force them' into the novel -  and that's exactly what it feels like; forced.

See all my reviews of Post-Apocalyptic & Dystopian Reads here!

Summer in Suffolk

Saturday, 15 July 2017

After getting back from Canada and dealing with my first ever bout of jet lag combined with London's sticky hot weather and research fatigue, a couple of days of sea air were exactly the right remedy to blow out some of the cobwebs. Our destination was the pretty town of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. We arrived in the morning - with a detour via the shop at Alder Carr Farm to pick up a pint of home made damson plum ice cream - and after breakfast we headed straight out for a walk across the flats to the beach. Last time we took Angel to the beach was her first ever visit and she wasn't off the lead yet, but this time she had a blast fighting the waves, chasing pebbles and being stopped from drinking salt water. We took a walk along the coast and then back through the town, where Angel had her first doggy ice cream cone (in one bite), and headed back to the cottage to relax before dinner at The Lighthouse. Aldeburgh is beautiful, full of grand period houses and cute pastel coloured cottages. It's also very dog friendly - nearly every shop has a bowl of water outside, there's plenty of pubs and restaurants which allow dogs in their outdoor areas (including The Lighthouse) and whilst the beach in front of the town is dog free May-September, they're allowed on the beaches either side as well as the main promenade. On the next morning's itinerary was a visit to Southwold, another pretty town with sandy beaches and a lighthouse; but on arrival we were foiled by a giant storm which put our thunder-terrified dog straight into meltdown mode. We cheered ourselves up on our escape by stopping off for strawberries from a local farm to eat with my homemade brownies and damson ice cream for lunch. The three of us were pretty sad when the time came to pack up the car and head back to London!