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     My wife Cheryl and I settled on a two-week British adventure: one week in London and a second week driving around southern England.

     Despite having driven in England once before, doubts started to creep into my thoughts about one minute after booking the trip. Would a 64-year-old brain still retain the ability to drive on the left acquired years ago? The answer turned out to be “sort of.”

     At the end of our week in London, we picked up our car at Heathrow. All went swimmingly and we were soon sitting in a lovely little Kia Cee’d heading for the multilane M25 motorway.

     I was still nervous and a little rusty. Cheryl, however, was very nervous being disoriented by the 180° switch in perspective and alarmed at my apparent inability to keep the car a safe distance from the curb.

     After hearing “you’re too close, you’re too close!” several times, I seemed to be getting my bearings. But then, less than five minutes into our trip and about ten seconds after Cheryl encouragingly told me “you’re doing really well”, I missed a slight curve in the road and drove the Kia up and over a raised curb that punctured the left front tire.

     The rapidly flapping and clanking sound coming from the left suggested we were now well beyond the flat tire stage and quickly verging on the driving on a rim stage. I finally stopped the car on a busy off ramp.

     I got out and examined the left front tire which was no longer a tire but more a large black pretzel twisted around and over the wheel rim. What right-hand drive confidence I had possessed mere minutes ago had entirely dissipated and I was wishing for nothing more than a rescue from this motoring nightmare.

     Luckily, the rescue came. Cheryl called the rental car emergency number and managed to arrange for roadside assistance. Within twenty minutes, not one but two Royal Automobile Club vans appeared to remove the dead tire and replace it with the temporary spare from the trunk.

     Somehow we made it back to the rental car lot where we dropped off the crippled car, completed an accident report form and surprisingly were given another car to drive. We headed out again, this time with a brand new Ford Focus with all four tires. Before I knew it, we were on the M25 heading east.

     Eventually, we made it to our first B& B in Hawkhurst, a small village in Kent. After a fitful night of sleep, I felt somewhat prepared for another day of driving. After all, we were staying in Hawkhurst for two nights and would only be making relatively short daytrips to local historical sites. I assumed the driving would be somewhat easier. It turned out I was wrong.

     As we drove onto smaller and smaller roads, they became narrower as shoulders disappeared and were replaced by hedges, stone fences and hedge-covered stone fences. When we passed through small towns and villages, the navigating became even trickier with local vehicles parked right on the street.

     Savvy drivers knew when they could make it unscathed past parked cars and, when they couldn’t, they stopped and waited for the opposite lane to clear before proceeding. I thought I was catching on to this space-judging thing until I errantly tried to squeeze by oncoming traffic and a line of parked cars taking up half my lane.

     Just as Cheryl shouted “watch out!”, I heard a dull thud. Our passenger side mirror had taken a swipe at the driver’s side mirror of a parked car as we passed and I feared the worst. Luckily, both mirrors collapsed but didn’t break. Ours suffered nothing more than a slight black mark but my driving confidence took another big hit.

      The next six days were a blur of narrow roads, roundabouts and hedge-covered stone fences but somehow I survived. At the end, thanks to Cheryl’s now expert navigating skills, I even managed to safely exit the M25 and find the rental car lot.

     At first, I swore that I would never again attempt driving in England. Yet after a couple of weeks, like the mother who suffers through childbirth, I was quickly starting to forget the pain and stress of my British driving experience and entertaining the possibility of doing it again.


     Why not? The next time we wouldn’t undertake as extensive an itinerary, we’d book a minimum of three nights at each B&B and Cheryl could take on some of the driving duties. Maybe we’d even rent a car right away after getting off the plane at Heathrow and drive straight to Cornwall in one five-hour mad dash. Then again…..

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Sometimes it is the thought of imminent fear, not fear itself, that stops us in our tracks. To think of this possibility is one thing, to experience it is another. Two hundred and seventy five stairs didn’t seem bad , I wanted to take a chance.

The guide lady had said fitness was required to climb up the cathedral’s tower. Fitness, not only strong bones but a strong heart too. I had been warned but as usual I didn’t listen.  When silly questions shot out of me without permission, our middle aged guide answered. She told me against climbing under fear’s influence.

 If there’s one downside to being young and stubborn it is this; you don’t know better until you are in the deep or until you find yourself cooped up, hyperventilating on a loop staircase going upwards, latching to sanity by the rail’s metal.

 I blame my curiosity and gothic architecture for my unfortunate halt. It was March, rain was thrashing the streets and the York Minster tempted my senses.  The gargoyles and sculptures, staring down at the passersby’s  bobbing dark umbrellas lured me inside. I had to see to believe their stares were meant to ward off devil, legends claimed. Once inside, warm candle light and a circular stained glass window made me pause. The window was much like the postcards my late grandfather sent me when he visited the Notre Dame in Paris, an odd familiarity. It was reverence coupled with human enthusiasm for recreating beauty, the fumbling of the past against the present.

The ticketing officer brought me out from my childhood when he asked if I was interested in touring the central tower. It was meters above earth, promising an unforgettable view of York and the north cities off the horizon. Fearless, I had agreed.

An hour later I was silently cursing myself, my bravery and stupidity. There I was then, halfway between heaven and earth rationalizing with myself the need to finish the climb. Despite the vertigo that settled comfortably in my limbs first, despite stalling the line of movers, climbers, fearless beings.  I sat on a window vault, heaving. The circular walls  around me closed in. On them was ink and carvings. Initials, promises and assertions of visits.  Dates and names to those who passed before me. We leave our legacy in stone, with stone we cannot erode. I thought of pulling out a pen, I couldn’t yet move my fingers.

‘I am scared too, you are not alone.’ called a lady who stopped by my feet, heaving.

I nodded hysterically.  ‘I’ll stay with you,’ she added.

One step, two steps, three steps, breath.

Four steps, five steps, a gentler heart beat then wind.

‘I can see light,’ I said.

‘I know,’ the lady panted.

I’ve climbed many towers since then but I can never forget the wind fondling my hair and the intense, epileptic rush in my legs. The rooftops donned in red bricks. There were other cities off the horizon, there were treetops and people as small as ants. There were bell chimes from the adjunct tower sending waves down my spine. There was a photograph of my face whiter than the clouds.

If there’s one downside to being young and stubborn it is this; you don’t know better until you are on top of the tower, breathing a lungful of midday mist and midday chimes. Fearless.


 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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st georges malta
Corinthia Hotel St Georges Bay, Malta

Does your New Year’s Resolution include travel? I want to go to the Corinthia Hotel St Georges Bay Malta and have dinner outside. This picture is practically making me drool! I have never been to Malta and I think I just might book by March 31, 2015  and stay at this luxury hotel for 50% off!

Corinthia Hotel Budapest
Corinthia Hotel Budapest

I loved my visit to Budapest but I did not stay here at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest. I have not been in Europe for awhile and this sale is making me think it is time to return. Wandering the streets in Europe after growing up in California has always made me feel that history books have come to life. Maybe that is what I need to do next.

Corinthia Hotel Lisbon
Corinthia Hotel Lisbon

During my seven years of sailing the seven seas, I only spent one day in Portugal in the city of Lisbon. Returning there is on the top of my list of dreams. Staying at the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon for 50% off seems like a great match!

Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg
Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg

During one summer at sea, I spent many afternoons at St Catherine’s Palace in the gardens whenever we had a call in St. Petersburg. I remember the golden statues and it seems fitting to stay at the Corinthia St Petersburg with such a stunning lobby. I have to admit I am only going back there in summer!


If you dream about Big Ben in London, stay three nights but only pay for two at Corinthia Hotel London  thanks to the Corinthia Hotels Annual Sale.

Where will your dreams take you in 2015? Share your top wishes below–they might come true!

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After finishing college I couldn’t stay in the countryside any longer. I was living in a county full of people whose idea of culture is drinking cider and comparing tractors. I needed out.

            At the time London seemed like the center of the world. Every time I had taken a day trip there I felt a buzz of excitement riding on actual buses with two floors, instead of the coaches we referred to as buses in Somerset. I would stand on the left side of the escalators (the biggest pet-peeve of any Londoner) and gawk at the advertisements for plays and events going on around London before arriving at the underground, which at the time seemed like more of an experience than an actual means of transport.

            The move to London meant freedom from the boredom of the countryside as a teenager. Freedom to do what I wanted and be what I wanted.

            The move was initially a huge shock to my system and people from countries I’d never heard of speaking languages I didn’t know existed suddenly surrounded me. I felt like I had been living in a bubble my entire life and somebody had just let me out. I began to absorb the concept of the world in all its entirety by watching and listening to the diverse masses of London talk and pray and dance and sing and live. I watched life unfold in all its different ways and felt myself grow.

            There are so many different sorts of people in London who are there for so many different reasons. So many potential friends and lovers and enemies. I savored the vast anonymousness of it and at the same time I basked in the knowledge London offered me the potential to become anything and everything I dreamed of. 

            Whatever mood I was in London responded; exhibitions, parties, parks, museums. A lot of it was free. A lot of it was incredibly overpriced. I felt strength from the knowledge and experience I was gaining simply by being in a place. There’s so much to discover by just wandering and taking buses to the edge of the city and back again. Always new sights and experiences and people to meet.

Although now I have chosen to move onto different places, London started a fire in me that is still burning alight now. I spent three years there witnessing my ambitions and dreams grow and London hardening me to the ways of the world. By the end of my time there I had grown into a sort of dependency that was difficult to let go of, and although I’m longer in London, London is still a part of me.


Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.


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Croagh Patrick, Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland.

Knock Airport, Co. Mayo is claimed by proud locals to be the foggiest airport on earth; it is remote, built on a hill and, reassuringly, has a large statue of Jesus at the beginning of the runway. Once safely alongside, we walked across the tarmac, rain beating down, to find the door into the arrival lounge locked. After several minutes of waiting in the drizzle, an airport official eventually obliged and somehow raised laughter when he probably deserved complaints, by declaring, in lilting, West of Ireland tones, “It was a surprise flight, we didn’t know you were coming!”

Soon though our party (my wife, two daughters and mother) were zipping along country roads on the way to the wedding of my niece, Anne. We also looked forward to an extended three-day break in Mayo, the county of my father’s birth. The MPV toiled admirably with six of us on board and far too much luggage. When we eventually reached Westport, it was getting dark. We knocked on the guesthouse door to be met by a friendly, unashamedly ‘left-field’ landlady, dressed in floral apron,  tweed dress and a sixties beehive hairstyle.

 “Come in, come in,” she said, “I’ll make some tea. Why wouldn’t I?” 

Completely unable to answer her question we smiled broadly.  And they say it is just the English and Americans who are divided by the same language!  But we immediately felt at home here, like putting on your most comfortable slippers.

 “Where have you all come from?” she asked as she busied off to the kitchen.

 I explained that during the day we had all travelled from four separate UK cities, to which she replied:

 “Jeez, I’ll bet ye feel murdered!”

Five minutes later we were feasting on Irish soda bread and strong tea, while the landlady  explained that a ”widow woman” up the street had died that day and she was now “away to the wake”. I detected more than a slight sense of eager anticipation in her voice.

 “Just leave the crockery and help yourself to whatever you want – sorry I have to go.” And with that offer the dear woman headed for the door.

 You just don’t get that sort of hospitality in the chain hotels, even if duvets had not yet replaced eiderdowns and the owner’s cat gave us a menacing John Wayne stare.

The next day, Anne was married, romantically (Pierce Brosnan got spliced there) to Seanin at Ballintubber Abbey: that most iconic of Catholic churches, where priests had fled by boat across the lough at the back of the abbey when religious zeal consumed Cromwell.  Later we feasted, sang and danced to fast, Irish music. What a difference to English weddings, I thought, where there is a reluctance to start off the dancing. Here just about every table emptied as guests rushed to the floor. The next day, fortified by a full Irish breakfast, with black and white pudding, we strolled past the pretty blue and pink buildings, lured by the sound of the wild Atlantic hammering onto the rocks in the harbour. On our way, we counted six Guinness tankers piping the black stuff into the cellars of the countless bars as nuns strolled by.  The secular and the sacred seemed to co-exist very comfortably in this beautiful little town and the general ambience of the place was most attractive.  

The next day, I sat alone at the top of Croagh Patrick, a sharply pointed mountain, which in excess of 25,000 Catholic pilgrims climb on the last Sunday in July: Reek Sunday. I looked down on the town, the majestic Mayo countryside and the distant specks of my closest family. I felt humbled by the fact that my father had come over to Manchester all those years ago to toil and sweat to help build the city’s skyscrapers. It had been nearly thirty years since his death but we sat together on the top of the mountain that day and the pieces of my life seemed to fit together in an unusually clear and comforting way. His was not a perfect life and nor has mine been, but in my heart I heard my dad say that there is no future in the past. The chance to make the most of the years to come was what mattered more.

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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It’s the same walk but every day it’s different. Yesterday the mountains were shrouded in mist and I walked in steady drizzle; today the sun is shining and the bright yellow of the beech leaves contrasts sharply with the blue of the autumn sky. It’s still damp underfoot, however, and I slip and slide as I climb the muddy mountain path.

Table Mountain. We call it a mountain but my French friends, used to higher and more imposing Alpine scenery, allow themselves a quiet laugh when I confess that our mountain stands at just 1,479ft; indeed, the highest mountain in South Wales, Pen-y-Fan, struggles to top 2,906ft. But the low altitude is deceptive. Wales’ grandiose and sometimes bleak upland landscapes certainly feel higher and more remote than they are. As I make my way across the farmland, the ground rises steadily and the old market town of Crickhowell and the lush Usk valley can be seen clearly behind me. The noise of the traffic falls away and soon I can hear no more than the occasional call of a buzzard and the sound of the wind in the trees. I am quite alone.

When we first moved to Crickhowell I was terrified of walking the hills alone, convinced that mad axemen lay around every corner and that danger lurked behind every hedgerow. But I soon realised that my need for fresh air and open landscapes far exceeded that of my husband and that if I wanted to walk every day, then occasionally I would have to set out on my own. I started with the easy footpaths which had direct access to roads and from which houses were visible and, eventually, after a few weeks of walking these and returning home unscathed, I decided I was ready for the hills.

18 years on, it’s hard to remember this fear. Being alone in the hills has become essential to my well-being and for me part of the joy of walking is experiencing the comforting, ever-changing natural landscapes around my home. I climb to the top of the last field, cross the stile and follow the rocky path under a canopy of trees, where the final few leaves of autumn cling to the stark bare branches. Yesterday’s rain has made a stream of the footpath and I’m forced to edge along the muddy bank, making my way slowly from one dry patch of land to the next. Then suddenly the footpath ends and the view opens out to the last steep rise of the mountain, the flat top of the Iron-Age hill fort which is known to locals as Table Mountain, yet marked on the map by the Welsh name which it shares with the town – Crug Hywel or Hywel’s Rock.

From here, walkers can choose a gentler ascent, skirting the base of the hill, but I prefer the shorter, steeper climb through the burnished-copper bracken, scrambling up the very last stretch of footpath across rocks and boulders, to pull myself up onto the flat summit where all is silent and grandiose. I stand still and take in the view of the mountains: directly ahead the impressive ridge of Pen Carreg Calch, a vast expanse of peat and heather grazed by semi-wild Welsh ponies and hundreds of sheep; to the north-west, the jagged outline of the Beacons; to the south-east, the distinctive cone of the Sugar Loaf which towers above Abergavenny. The sun is starting to dip now, the sharp light creating long winter shadows across the fields, and despite the effort of the climb I’m aware of the falling temperature.

I am alone, apart from the sheep and the occasional raven or buzzard. I breathe in the fresh mountain air and feel rooted, content and at home – after years of travel and residence abroad I have found a base in this beautiful part of my homeland and I feel deeply grateful to be here. And although there’s not another human being in sight, I find that I am not afraid. I have lost my fear of walking alone in the hills.

About the Author

Helen Isaacs works as a tour guide leading groups through Wales, France and Italy. She is also a professional translator who specialises in travel literature from her base in the market town of Crickhowell, in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, UK.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Enjoy this excerpt from Ellen Hawley’s new book: The Divorce Diet !
This is from a few pages into the first chapter of
The Divorce Diet. Abigail’s making a birthday dinner for her husband and a diet dinner for herself.


the divorce dietI drop Rosie off at the neighbor’s and carry my groceries in. It feels odd not to have Rosie in one arm—kind of lonely and off balance.

It also feels free. Light. As if I’ve lost weight already. I’ve been planning this dinner all week and want to give it my full attention.

Step one, then: the cake.

In the double boiler, I melt bittersweet chocolate imported from Belgium, which I’ve been saving for a special occasion. When the last island of solid chocolate gives itself over helplessly to a liquid state, I stir in unsalted butter and they wrap around each other like lovers. I would drown in them willingly.

More than willingly: ecstatically.

I pour in crème de cassis. I’ve never used this before and it’s gorgeous stuff, jewel red and glowing as if it was made of light.

I add egg yolks, espresso powder, flour, thick shavings of white chocolate. When I fold in the egg whites I’ve beaten with salt and sugar, the batter looks like velvet.

Or like sex.

Okay, not exactly like sex, but it does make me think about sex.

Everything makes me think about sex.

Which shouldn’t surprise me, really. It’s been a while.

I set the cake in the oven, melt semisweet chocolate and brush it onto some small, perfect leaves I picked in the back yard, and I balance them in the freezer. I melt more chocolate for the frosting, stir in more butter, and watch them wrap around each other like—can’t I think about anything else this afternoon?—lovers. I stir in the sugar, the cream, the vanilla, and imagine painting Thad’s belly with it even though he doesn’t go for that sort of thing.

I cover the frosting so it won’t harden while I run across the street to pick up Rosie.

She flaps her arms at me and coos.

I pick her up and say, “Are you Mama’s gorgeous baby?”

She says, “Mmm ba ba ba ba.”

“And I missed you too.”

I thank my neighbor and carry Rosie to my kitchen, where I put a fingerful of frosting on her tongue and one on my own. . . .

I take the cake out of the oven and put Thad’s potato in, and I nurse Rosie and wash Rosie and walk Rosie and lower Rosie into her crib. I put clean sheets on the bed, turn down the corner on Thad’s side, and arrange candles in a romantic configuration on the bedside table.

By the time I’m done, I’ve completely seduced myself. How could he not feel the same way? . . .

At seven-thirty I light the candles on the dining room table so they’ll be burning when Thad walks in. He’s had to work late a lot recently; it’s no wonder he’s been cranky. Starting today, I will be more understanding.

By eight I’ve blown the candles out so they won’t burn down too far.

When he gets home at nearly eight-thirty, I relight them.

Dinner: For me, marinated skinless chicken breast that may or may not weigh 3 ounces; salad with no dressing; slice of cake no bigger across than the width of my thumb because it would be rude to make Thad eat birthday cake by himself, and besides, I don’t want to insult the cook. For Thad, chicken breast with sour cream gravy; baked potato; sort-of Caesar salad with homemade dressing; French bread with unsalted butter; slice of cake.

I pick at my chicken breast, which tastes . . . like industrial residue. . . .

Ellen Hawley
Ellen Hawley

By contrast, the bare-naked lettuce tastes great.

Thad looks miserable and picks at his food. . . .

Keeping my voice casual, I ask, “Is something wrong?”

He shrugs dismally.

Okay, this isn’t the time for casual. I lean forward and say, “Thad, tell me. What is it?” I sound so understanding that it’s a wonder I have to ask. I would tell me anything.

He mashes cake into the plate with his fork and looks into the mess he’s made. He looks at his napkin, his coffee spoon, his watchband. They’re all easier to look at than I am.

“Sweetheart,” I say. “Whatever it is—”

I can’t seem to find the end of my sentence.

“It’s not you,” he says. “Really. It’s me.”

I have a very bad feeling about this.

He looks up. He says, “Okay, I’m going to come right out and say this, okay? I’m just going to say this. It’s this whole marriage thing. It doesn’t work for me.”

. . . I know things aren’t perfect, but there is no way this can possibly mean what it means.

I stare at Thad blankly. My mind shuts down and my body stands up. It walks to the window and looks out. The tree outside has leaves. Each leaf is separate and perfect. I have never seen leaves as purely as I see them at this instant. I never knew they were so beautiful.

I turn around and see Thad, who is separate but not perfect and who has chocolate smeared on the corner of his mouth.

I have to say something. My marriage depends on me saying something.

I say, “But why?”

Which is not the thing I need to say. I know that.

“It’s not you,” Thad says again.

I say, “What do you mean it’s not me?” and I know this isn’t the right thing either but it says itself. The words coming out of my mouth have nothing more to do with me than the way Thad feels about this marriage thing. They wandered in from the conversation every couple in the country have when they split up, tagging behind It’s not you, it’s me like a pesky little sister.

Any minute now, he’ll ask if we can’t still be friends.

Except that we can’t be splitting up. Other people do that. The two of us, we’ll be fine.

“It’s just—. I’m having trouble with the whole idea of marriage,” Thad says.

Oh. Well. Of course. Imagine my relief.

Thad’s staring at the table. At the dishes, actually, so I snatch them away and hustle them off to the kitchen as if all of this was their fault.

I set them down harder than I meant to.

It’s okay, I tell myself. None of this is really happening.

Thad’s plate is thick with mashed-up cake and I scrape a finger through it.

Snack: Mashed-up cake Thad didn’t eat.

Exercise: I tell myself to go back out there and fight for him.

I wipe my fingers on the dishrag, blow my nose and march into the living room, ready for battle.

Thad’s turned on the TV.

“You can’t just end the marriage and not tell me what’s wrong,” I say.

“Nothing’s wrong. It’s me. It’s all me.”

“Please,” I say, “just tell me. Whatever it is, I’d rather know.”

He stares at the floor. Somebody on the TV laughs.

“Will you talk to me?” I say. “Don’t you owe me that much?”

He tells me again that it’s all his fault. I’m sure he’s right about this, but it’s not the point.

I stomp into the kitchen and wash dishes, then stomp back to the living room.

“What about Rosie?” I say. “You can’t leave Rosie.”

He tells me what a shit he is.

I don’t try to convince him that he isn’t.

I stalk back to the kitchen and cut myself a slice of cake. . . .

By the time I get back to the living room, Thad’s making a bed on the couch. The TV’s still on.

“You’re better off without me,” he says. “It hasn’t been much fun for either of us lately.”

“It hasn’t?” I say, sounding as if this was news to me, which in a way it is. Yes, we’ve been snappish and critical and less than ecstatically happy, but that happens to people. It doesn’t mean we have to end our marriage thing.

I take the cake out of the oven.

Snack: 1 slice of cake the width of my palm.

Exercise: I double wrap what’s left of the cake and hide it in the laundry hamper, where even if I do think to look for it I’d never eat it, and I take myself to bed.

The empty side of the bed stretches out beside me like the Gobi Desert. Even in the dark I can make out the unlit candles on the bedside table.

He could at least have told me what a nice meal I made before he said he was leaving, I think.

Abigail Marie, I think, you are such an idiot.

He can’t leave me, I think. He has the only income.

I roll over and try to stop thinking.

I am twenty-five years old, I think, and my world is ending.

I lie awake for a long time, wishing I was asleep, and at some point either I wake up or else I stop trying to sleep, I can’t tell which, and I walk to the living room, where I listen to Thad snore.

He’s sleeping, I think.

I’m not sleeping, I think.

That is so not fair, I think.

I cut a slice of cake the width of my foot and drop it on his face.

He flails around, then sits up, yelling, “You bitch! You want to know why I want out of our marriage? This is why I want out our marriage.”

I stand in the dark and listen to him yell but he might as well be someone else’s husband yelling somewhere down the street.

 Want to read more of Ellen Hawley’s new book, The Divorce Diet?

Get your copy today!

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Student dorm room, Coventry- The United Kingdom.

The water drips, it ticks, pauses, dribbles and ticks again. The tap is now completely shut, there is no banging against the porcelain sink. Stillness arrives, fact is it never left to begin with- it was just drowned by the little noises that spring without control; the cars rushing out on the streets, the wind blowing and the overhead fan moaning. These are the bits that in time become irritating, relentless if one is calm enough to make it a point to hear them.

 I lean over the wooden countertop that stretches away from my ground floor window. I pull the multicolored curtain off my field of vision. Staring at the outside world that’s going into its usual daily business is the first marker of my own silence. The scene quietly unfolds, undisturbed by the morning rush of children, or the coughs of panting dog walkers. It is a clear morning, tinted with some clouds over the horizon. The neighbor across the street moves her blue car off the doorway, the street bustles with people heading to work and students biking to class. My eyes instantly follow an old lady on her daily routine, she straps on her hood, pushes her shopping cart and walks. I watch closely as she turns the corner and disappears into the adjunct road.  In a few minutes, mailmen will fill the streets – soon enough a tin click would be heard at my door too.

While the world moves into life, I quit the watcher’s seat and sit cross-legged on the soft bed. I bow to silence, seconds later footsteps bang on the stairway just left to the door of  my room. Hassan and Gheetan, my housemates, converse in rapid Hindi right outside my door. Their lively intonation intrigues me to listen without comprehending. They shut the main door behind them as they leave me to my silence. The room around grows in sunshine and stillness. The pink cyclamen on the counter awaits watering. The crumpled shopping bags that carpet the floor, between the bookshelf and the desk, beg to be emptied. The clothes left to dry on the heating system near the nightstand need folding. The pictures of family members and friends on the wall next to the bed scream for me to break the silence. My book lies on the edge of the desk, eyeing me to touch its spine. In contemplation I sit back, distant from all those little triggers of movement and speech.

It is quite staggering the amount of useless voices, noises, images, information and memories the brain can rapidly recall when attempting a day in silence. Encyclopedias of songs burst into life and refuse to stop, repeating over and over the tunes. Incredibly long, inadequate words try to fill up in the brain, to compensate the lack of physical movements of the mouth. Memories are the worst, they play on the emotive nibbling away and poking the words out. Knowing when to break the quiet is crucial. The surroundings help me stay grounded, as I look at the walls around me, then at the brown carpet that stretches vertically across the floor, the view from my window distracts my attention from the trains moving in my head. It seems that this is my daily bread these days, a completion of a dream unfolding. In those quiet hours I realize that silence amplifies the senses. It is the secret sixth sense sages refused to share with the world- the one that overpowers and is driven by all the other five we take for granted.


 This is how the world looks to the writer I am trying to become, engulfed in silence- waiting on the flood of words to fill page corners and old paper.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Let’s talk about British food. I mean, let’s really talk about British food. It’s got a terrible reputation. If you visit, what are you going to find?

Breakfast: Every B & B I’ve ever stayed at offered a full English breakfast—or full Scottish or Irish or Welsh breakfast. In Cornwall, where I live, it’s still, mysteriously, called the full English, although the Cornish aren’t given to calling themselves English. Whatever it’s called, though, it includes an egg, a grilled tomato, a sausage, a piece of bacon, a puddle of baked beans, possibly some fried mushrooms, possibly a piece of black pudding, and definitely some toast set in a rack to cool so it won’t, all the gods of breakfast forbid, melt the better.

The Full English Breakfast (Vegetarian Version). Photo by Ewan Munro, from Wikimedia Commons.
The Full English Breakfast. Photo by Ewan Munro, from Wikimedia Commons.

Maybe you have to be born here to love it. It’s heavy and although it isn’t always greasy, it tends to be. It’s also one hell of a lot of food. And on a personal note, I hate baked beans. Especially for breakfast. But if you stay at a B & B, it’s included in the price, so if you’re short on money you’ll eat it. It’ll keep you going till late in the day. If money isn’t tight, you can ask for just one or two items—toast and eggs, maybe, or a single baked bean and a grilled tomato. Or you can just have cereal. I can’t remember a B & B that didn’t offer that as well.

Lunch: Most lunch places serve soups and sandwiches, which range from good to not-so, and many sell jacket potatoes—what we called baked potatoes in the U.S.—as a lunch. You can get them with just butter or you can add a filling, anything from coleslaw to baked beans (they’re everywhere) to cheese to curry. In Cornwall (or Devon—the counties are fighting a war over who invented them) you’ll find pasties. They’re a meal in themselves, and not a light one. Traditionally, the pasty was a miner’s lunch and it was made of beef, potato, and veggies folded inside a crust, but vegetarian and vegan versions are sold pretty much everywhere. I’ve eaten enough that I’ve started to notice how greasy they are, but you can’t say you’ve visited the southwest unless you’ve tried one, and they are good.

Afternoon Tea: The British really do love afternoon tea. It’s not necessarily fancy—usually just a cup of tea and something baked, and almost anything baked is worth trying. Scones (unless they’re inside a cellophane package) are almost universally good. Cornish (or let’s be generous: Devon) cream tea is magnificent: scones, jam, and a heavy, unsweetened cream called (don’t let the name put you off) clotted cream. Cornwall and Devon can’t agree on who invented the cream tea or on whether to put the jam or the cream on first. My advice? You’re a visitor; do a little of each and avoid offending anyone.

Cream Tea, with Jam on Top and Bottom to Avoid Offending Anyone. Photo by Foowee, from Wikimedia Commons.

Fruit pies are made with a slightly sweet crust. Since I’m American, I’m used to—and actually like—pie crusts that taste like cardboard, but I love the British version. Ginger cake is also wonderful, and coffee cake is actually made with coffee—another surprise for an American, since our coffee cake got its name from being eaten with coffee instead of being made with it. That’s a random sampling. If you can try everything, do.

Evening Meals: These pretty much divide into (a) carryout, (b) ethnic food, (c) pub or, in cities, café food, and (d) restaurant food.

Carryout: In small towns, this will probably be a kebab shop or a fish n’ chip place. In cities, you’ll find a wider range. This is your cheapest option.

Ethnic food: A small and unscientific survey reveals that every town has at least one Indian restaurant. Cities will have a wider range. They’re not necessarily cheap, but many are good.

Pubs and cafes: Pub grub is traditional British food. I wouldn’t say it’ll send you into ecstasy, but it will fill you up. Some pubs have gone high-end and call themselves gastro pubs, with fancier menus and fancier prices. In cities, you may find cafés—informal, lunch-y places—that stay open in the evening and serve evening meals, but in the countryside, where I live, cafes close by late afternoon.

Restaurants: These tend to be fancier than pubs, and pricier. You’ll find menus outside the doors so you can check prices and offerings. Britain’s in the throes of a food revolution and I’m told that some of the high-end restaurants are very good. I’ve never seen the point in spending silly amounts of money on a meal, so I can’t testify on this.

Vegetarian Food: I have yet to find a place that didn’t offer a vegetarian choice, and sometimes a vegan one. It doesn’t always thrill me, but it does fill me up.

Want to read more from Ellen Hawley? Buy her book: The Divorce Diet due out December 30, 2014

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