Goodbye Social Media

Dear friends and readers,

I am currently having a social media detox.

This is for many reasons, but mainly because I find social media actually makes me far less social!

Too much time spent staring at my phone and finding the perfect filter, and too much time assuming I know what my friends are up to, without actually calling them up to find out.  And so much wasted time, mindlessly scrolling through endless images, when I could just be reading a book, or learning something new.

So I’ve done it – goodbye Twitter for good, Facebook deactivated (I can’t quite yet bring myself to delete the account completely), and Instagram – well it’s still there, inactive for the moment, and perhaps I will come back at some point, with a healthier attitude.

I plan to read more books, write more letters and spend more time with people, rather than their online counterparts.

And I hope this will also give me more time to focus on the blog, to meet and speak with people, and write about their amazing stories and share them with you!

So do keep checking back, and if you would like to be updated on a regular basis, please do sign up with your email below.

I would never want, however, to become another annoying email in your inbox, so if email notifications aren’t for you, please check back every Wednesday at lunchtime (1pm) for my latest post.

Lots of love, Alice xxx💕💕

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From Canterbury to Jerusalem

Alice spoke with author Guy Stagg about his first book.

I first met Guy Stagg quite a few years ago at a drinks party. I had begun with ‘So what are you up to at the moment?’, and to my surprise, the answer, for once, was both unexpected and fascinating.

Guy it turned out, had recently arrived home after walking all the way from Canterbury to Jerusalem, alone.

On hearing this, I cornered the poor man for the rest of the evening, gleaning every detail I could. Just what an amazing thing to have done! There we all were sitting at our desks day in day out in London, justifying our ‘careers’ to ourselves and everyone else, endlessly attending banal drinks parties, or just drinking too much cheap white wine in the pub, and Guy, aged 25 had, instead, decided to make this stupendous trip, and not only that, he had done it alone.

Over the last couple of years I had heard he was writing a book about his walk, and when I got wind it was soon to be published, I decided it was time to get in contact again.

So we met, on one of those abnormally freezing spring mornings, in a Dalston coffee shop, and Guy kindly told me all sorts about his own journey, why he took this pilgrimage and why he decided to write about it.

In June 2012 Guy set out on an impromptu walk from his flat in South West London, with the aim of reaching Canterbury the next day.  He walked in a pair of borrowed hiking boots and his Barbour, and he reached Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of midsummers day, and says, on arrival felt ‘pure exhaustion’.  He said, as he lay in the grass in the shadow of the cathedral bathed in evening sunlight, he felt for the first time in a long time, completely ‘in the present’, the walk had allowed his ‘mind to be cleared out’. 

 Outside Canterbury Cathedral, there is a stone which marks the start of the pilgrim route the ‘Via Francigena’ and on seeing this stone, it was in that moment, that the idea came to him, and he knew that what he would do next.  He knew that he needed to do it soon, to plan quickly and just go, without too much time to think about it.

The part of this that I find amazing is the complete courage, the courage to walk away from your day job, your ‘career’ and to undertake a venture into the unknown, and also to do it completely alone.

Guy studied English at Cambridge, and says at 16 he knew he wanted to be a writer.  After graduating the logical career seemed to be journalism, but the fast-paced journalistic style on the comments desk at a newspaper turned out not to be a path that would make him happy. He says at that time ‘he was not proud of his writing’, indeed writing was actually making him unhappy.  He was for a time on anti-depressants, and was saving money for law-school, with a change of career in mind.

In the spring of 2012 he came off the anti-depressants, and it was at this point that he decided to make the impromptu walk to Canterbury that changed everything.

 Six months later, on new years day 2013, he set out for Jerusalem with the intention of ‘leaving his life behind’. Although he was following a pilgrim route, this wasn’t a religious pilgrimage, at this point Guy ‘wasn’t a believer’ and didn’t believe ‘that ritual could heal’. His only initial deadline was to reach Rome in time for Easter.  He took everything he would need and could carry, planning for the alps in the winter, and far warmer climes further East. He navigated using maps, although of course he did have a phone with him just in case.

On the way he stayed in refuges and monasteries, and started to go to mass, sharing in the worship and practices, mainly out of politeness but also out of an intrigue for these medieval rituals, and the people who performed them, and the desire to know ‘what it felt like to be a believer. ‘

He passed through France, Switzerland, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, to Istanbul where he witnessed the Taxim Square Riots, and on through Turkey, Cypress and Lebanon, and did take one flight to Jordan and then onto Israel, walking around eight hours every day.  He says he rarely felt nervous mainly because he ‘had no prior experience or danger, and hadn’t thought about the risks’. But his ‘perspective on highs and lows shifted’.

He also hadn’t anticipated just how kind people would be, nor how much they would share about their lives and experiences. He says that perhaps they were prepared to share more with him, as he was just a stranger passing through. And that often the personal information and fundamental experiences being shared had a religious strand - marriage, children – the most important times in peoples lives, which he found ‘nourishing’.

The purpose of this trip was never to write a book, but as he went, he kept a diary every day taking notes, initially mostly functional jottings, but as he went on, he started to capture events more closely as they had a ‘deeper emotional effect’.

On reaching Jerusalem 10 months later, he says he was just ‘so glad to have done the walk and ‘is glad for every step, good and bad’.  He also says he has ‘opened up to being changed’, with a ‘broader shift on his own life’,  and he could identify with his experience in a more ‘holistic way’.

On returning to England, he felt almost obliged to write about his journey ‘I have to write about it’, the unusual historical events he had witnessed, along with his shifting understanding of religion, and this unique perspective he had gained.

And so this incredible experience brought him back to writing, it has been an open-ended process, and it has taken him four years ‘for it to be as good as he can make it’. And he is proud for having worked on something consistently for four years.

We spoke a little about travel writers, and Guy says one of his biggest influences has been W.G Sebald, particularly his ‘Rings of Saturn’ in which Sebald intertwines the precise details of a walk in Suffolk with history, crossing space and time.  Other writing influences have been Bruce Chatwin and his ‘In Patagonia’ and Olivia Laing.

I wanted to ask about his religious beliefs since completing the walk, and Guy said that he now attends church twice a month, and the walk has drawn him closer towards Christian traditions, fundamentally mysticism, although he still doesn’t agree with the creed. For him, religious ritual is a valid resource even for non-believers.

He also says ‘his need for walking’, for the moment ‘has been fulfilled’, although he has been for some walks around England since arriving back from Jersualem.

 His finished book, The Crossway, excitingly is now complete, and I can’t wait to read it.

Alice xxx

Guy Stagg

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Talking with Writer Katie De Klee

Alice caught up with freelance journalist and writer Katie de Klee.

Where are you at the moment?

As I write this, I am cruising at 40,000 ft somewhere above Maputo. I suppose by the time I finish all the questions I’ll be nearer Morocco air space, but I guess we’ll see as we go.

I am on my way home to Sussex for a short while. For the last year the longest I have been anywhere is 5 weeks. Between Sussex, Northern India, Bali and South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Western Cape (Jeffrey’s Bay, Muizenberg, Kommetjie, Sea Point, Hogsback, Clan William)… It’s been a quite a nomadic year. So the answer I suppose is – I am all over the place! Writing on a plane seems somehow quite meaningful. My life is a bit up in the air.

What are you up to?

All sorts of things. I am editing a book that tackles conservation in Tchad and shares recipes from a tented safari camps. “Cooking For Conservation” is currently on Kickstarter, and I’m in the process or refining and restructuring the text. I also do copywriting, social media and marketing strategy for South African superfood brand Wazoogles (which is going through a major growth spurt). Plus the odd freelance magazine article, bits of creative writing. And I just did a yoga teacher training, so that’s been taking up some time. And I just started learning to surf. So far the shark evasion is going very well… cutting lines down the waves is proving to be more of a challenge. But the sunrises from the water are amazing.

What are you writing about?

Superfoods and breakfasts, African photographers, London grime poetry, the feeling of cold water on bare skin, rebel mice and what it means to get an architectural education.

Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a freelance journalist and writer?

I started out as a freelance journalist in Cape Town in 2013 when I arrived there. I knew very little about the country, so being in a job that demands you ask questions gave me a chance to find out about SA in a way that tourists (and even locals) never do. I worked for a news agency for a year or so, learnt a lot. But writing news is fairy dark and fairly blunt. So after a while I moved to a youth culture magazine and from there to a design/creativity focused platform, Design Indaba. I was the editor of the Design Indaba web magazine for 2.5 years and then decided to go freelance again. In between all of those things I have written for pregnancy websites, advertising, small business, my brothers, myself, and probably a few things I can’t even remember.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I like words. And story telling. I’m better at telling other people’s stories than I am my own, so for now being a journalist/copy writer feels like the perfect job. I enjoy the challenge of communicating in an interesting way. I like the mobility of my work. Even when I worked in-house for publications I have always been able to move between my two homes, north and south. And this last year I’ve worked all over the world.

Who / what is your greatest inspiration?

Difficult conversation. I have many, and they change every day. Some of the people I met through Design Indaba were really amazing. They don’t inspire me to join them on their mission, but they do inspire me by having such a sense of purpose. Christian Benimana, Tea Uglow, Naresh Ramchandani. There are more writers that inspire me than I can list… Roald Dahl, Jeanette Winterson, A A Milne, Philip Pullman, Milan Kundera, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Tom Robbins… I could go on…

What has been your best travel adventure?

Too many again! Moving to Cape Town has been a great adventure! Nearly 7 years of adventure. Mexico for 7 weeks while I was at university with a couple of friends. We travelled barefoot, eating mangoes and hitch hiking and feeling totally free and brave. India and Bali last year with my boyfriend Warren was an amazing, more adult adventure. Even the last month in Jeffrey’s Bay was a calm kind of normality shift, which opens up a door for more adventures that are similar. We have some adventures planned for the end of this year too.

What are you reading?

100 pages on the internet always. Quartz articles (actually sometimes just their email newsletter). Purple Hibiscus, Charles Bukowski poems, and some books from my course still - at the moment one called Anatomy of the Spirit. Which is interesting, but slow.

What are you watching?

Peaky Blinders, Chef’s Table, Surfing documentaries (not always my choice, but a hazard of hanging out with frothers. "Surfwise" reminded me a bit of my own mad family though, and the Laird Hamilton film was pretty wild. He’s a kook).

What are you drinking?

Tea. Lots of it, an old addiction from cold Edinburgh flats. Sometimes coffee, always tongue-scaldingly hot. Cold beer. Leonista tequila on ice, slowly.

What are you eating?

Mostly vegetarian food. A lot of smoothie bowls for breakfast (you’ll need to meet Warren to understand, we even started making hot smooth oat bowls in the SA winter). Falafels, homemade seaweed sushi rolls, eggs on toast for dinner.

What are you growing?

We grew sprouts and wheatgrass for a while. But then we ate them all… I “grow” my own kefir (“care for”? “farm”?). I got into mushroom and kelp/nori foraging this year too. So the world grows that for me. I try to grow herbs sometimes too… And otherwise some hardy little succulents.

What are you listening to?

My Discover Weekly. It’s pretty eclectic. Franc Moody, Lambchop, Quantic, Paul Simon, Felix LaBand, Bongeziwe Mabandla

What are you dancing to?

Some of the above. Native Young in Cape Town, Franc Moody in Sussex.

Who are you following on Instagram?

Mostly food and travel people, and my friends. And Baddie Winkle.

Online or Offline?

Both.

Favourite place in South Africa?

Scarborough beach, and the Karoo.

Favourite place in the UK?

Home at Avins. And the Isle of Mull.

Favourite place in the world?

I haven’t finished looking for that yet..

What is your Escape?

Reading, yoga, swimming in the sea. Listening to music. Cooking. Anything is an escape from something else. What’s your cage?

Katie de Klee

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Into the Woods

The Other Emily spends an entertaining evening at the theatre with this classic Sondheim musical.

As you were all heading out into your bank holiday weekends, I ventured Into the Woods to a dark world of grimly comic Fairy tales.Who else could turn childhood favourites into (even) darker versions of the stories other than Stephen Sondheim? Woven into a modern mash up of wolves, beanstalks, bakers, and princesses, this production is a reprisal of the sell-out show in 2014, and sits easily in the round at the Cockpit Theatre. The forest floor is a generous carpet of wood-chipping, and the eerie woods of Sondheim’s imagination a set of ladders ascending into the sky, and dangling down from the beams of the theatre. I took my place with a bird’s eye view (and out of the way of any possible audience participation) and waited for the Narrator (Jordan Michael Todd) to begin the tale.Director Tim McArthur promises the audience a 21st Century twist with his adaptation, and we certainly get that. Jack and his Maw are Glaswegian Neds; the Baker and his wife are Health & Safety conscious with their hair nets and crocs; Cinderella’s Step Mother and her sisters are straight out of TOWIE; and an Irish Witch & Rapunzel battle over a Mother’s right to control her daughter’s life. Our protagonists are a parade of modern stereotypes, which proves a little gimmicky at times; the paedophilic wolf, portrayed as a wide boy; Jack’s drunk Mother lurching around with thong on display, an overwrought, coked-up Rapunzel rejected by her Chelsea Prince Charming etc.In our world of ‘more’, the characters all wish for something else to fill the void. In a nutshell, the Baker wants a child, but the Baker has been cursed by his friendly next-door neighbour, the Witch. She sends him off into the woods to fetch four magic ingredients to break the curse; a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, a slipper as pure as gold – see where they all fit in now? Cue the music.And in this production, we are treated, on the whole, to some fine performances. Aaron Clingham, the musical director, steers the discordant score through the woods with a few tonal mishaps from his singers. I was rather taken by the awkward Jack, played by Jamie O’Donnell, clambering to the top of the ladder-cum-beanstalk, plaintively singing ‘Giants in the Sky’. The stand out performance comes from the Witch, Michele Moran, who ably settles into the role of the haggard old crone whose love for Rapunzel is borderline claustrophobic. She steers much of the narrative, finally breaking the curse of the poor old Baker, to the delight of all.End of Act One, and it all looks smooth sailing – the Baker’s curse has been lifted! Little Red Riding Hood and her Granny are safely back side by side! Jack has his favourite cow and Cinders and Rapunzel their handsome princes. But wait – there’s still Act Two to go, and from the opening number ‘So Happy’ we know it’s not going to be a bunch of laughs. Sondheim’s trademark satirical voice reminds us that we just can’t stay content for long, there’s always something else we want.It’s a clunkier second act – which is partly down to the Book, and by the end of the rampage (oh, did I neglect to mention Jack’s Giantess comes down and tramples most of the ensemble?) I feel like I’ve had a fairly large dose of Medieval Morality - face your responsibilities, own up to your choices, don’t become an overbearing parent. The cast unravel a tad, spending much of the act staring up at the imaginary Giant, and the choreography of the Finale is slightly gauche. The intimate set, which worked so atmospherically in the first act, loses its magic, and when the haze from the woods rises, it left me with the harsh reality of black box theatre…I think it will take a few more magic beans for me to become a hard and fast Sondheim fan, though there will be many in the audience. As for the production at the Cockpit, the actors still have to find their footing on the wood-chipped floor and sort out a few rookie mic issues, but, with that aside, it is an entertaining watch.

INTO THE WOODS runs at the Cockpit Theatre until the 24th June.

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