© accioloki

Sorry, did you say gap years are for doing something productive? [10-14/6]

Oh, I thought you meant meeting all your internet friends who live all around the world. In the last three years I have been lucky enough to meet some incredible people through my love of literature, specifically Harry Potter. I have also been lucky enough to meet an awful lot of them in the last year with all my travels. This trip is no different.

My next stop on my trip across the United States was California where I stayed with Em. I arrived in San Francisco in the early hours of Tuesday 10th. Em and her boyfriend, Greg, picked me up and we headed to Pier 39.

We had some breakfast on the pier and then had a look around the shops and mirror maze. Most of the day was spent in a puzzle shop, getting exceptionally frustrated when I couldn’t complete anything and the others could, that is, until I completed something. Our other favourite shop was a candle making shop where they made the most gorgeous layered candles with the most amazing designs on them, ranging from underwater scenes and SF Giants to tiki lanterns and oms.

Backbending by the Golden Gate Bridge.

After the pier we headed over to the Golden Gate Bridge. I did a backbend and we had a little walk on the extremely windy bridge and I was bloody freezing, but it was fun all the same. A quick jaunt on the bridge later and we were back in the car and on the way back to Em's.

Modesto was much warmer than San Fran, thankfully, but everywhere was over air conditioned and I felt like I was shivering all the time. That evening we went out for dinner with Em’s older brother, Thom, to Outback. It was a steakhouse and I had the most delicious sirloin with stilton before we headed over to a frozen yoghurt place for dessert.

I had planned for about a month that while I was away I would dye my hair red so that evening we grabbed some dye from Target and Em and her younger sister, Katherine, helped me.

It was like a murder scene!

The next day Thom took me, Em and Greg to Monterey Bay Aquarium and it was amazing. It was the first time I’d been to an aquarium since I became a dive professional and it was a very different experience. I thoroughly enjoyed myself but I couldn’t help noticing the sizes of some tanks in comparison the the fish inside. Generally, they were pretty good but there were a handful of times I was a bit uncomfortable, especially when there was a baby leopard shark in a tank that was shorter than it.

However, there were super awesome exhibits like the jellyfish and the deep ocean tank (which was massive, don’t worry). I may have missed the molas in Indonesia but there was a juvenile in that tank!

The really freaking cool jellyfish.

Once home we decided to watch 'Finding Nemo' (obviously) and after dinner, Em and Thom's dad took us all out for ice cream. That night we went for a walk around the neighbourhood to this really high walled area where we hung for a while and chatted. I almost felt like I was in some American teen film or something.

On Thursday Em, Greg and I went to see 'The Fault In Our Stars' at the cinema. It was an incredible adaption from the book and just as utterly painful but I still enjoyed it. We had lunch in the infamous In-N-Out Burger, which I swear to you was the best burger I have ever eaten, and then headed to the mall for some shopping.

Me with Budge, Thom’s super cute super awesome parakeet.

Thom, Katherine and her boyfriend, Zach, joined us for dinner at a Chicagoan Italian, before Kat and Zach left and we went to play crazy golf. I have to say, that was some of the most fun I have had in years.

Em attempting to distract me while playing crazy golf.

On my last day we chilled out and had lunch at an awesome chinese place before heading to Sacremento where I would catch the bus up to Oregon.
Let me tell you - it was absolute hell. It all started when the guy that sat next to me smelled like dog, and then I realised that was because he had a  puppy in his backpack! Thankfully security realised and took him off the bus before we went anywhere. Then the bus proceeded to stop in every bloody town between Sacremento and Portland - look it up, that’s a long way! I barely slept at all…

The bus ride may have been horrendous but my few days in Cali were amazing. I had a fantastic time with Em and meeting her family and I am incredibly grateful for the hospitality they showed me.

Me and Em on my last night.

posted 1 month ago | 0 #hawaii #oahu #diving #2014 #jun14 #usa 2014 #yoga

The Real Hawaii Five-0! [5-9/6]

The 5th June 2014 is, to date, the longest day of my life. I woke at 6am and headed to Heathrow with my Dad, eating breakfast in the BA lounge before boarding our first leg to Los Angeles and then on to Oahu. I spent the flights (and considerable amount of time waiting in the LA immigration queue) reading and managed to finish 'Clockwork Princess' and start/finish the released books of the 'Mara Dyer' trilogy (which is definitely worth reading if you love YA paranormal romance-y type books).

We got to our hotel in Waikiki in the evening and crashed at about 10pm. That is, of course, Hawaii time. I don’t sleep on flights so by the time I fell asleep on the 5th, I had been awake for over 24 hours. Bloody timezones!

On Friday, due to me having caught a cold, we didn’t go diving as originally planned. Instead we headed to Pearl Harbour where I was given one of many history lessons from my father. It was very interesting to see the Arizona and to compare the WWII submarine, the Bowfin, to our modern day subs that I was lucky enough to get a tour of a few years ago.

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Wheel pose on the deck of the Bowfin with the Arizona memorial in the bacground.

A spot of shopping was done at the Navy Exchange (AKA my new favourite thing - a discounted and tax-free shopping mall for military), which was full of labels and makeup and dive kit and technology and just about anything you could ever want.

After that we headed to Fort Shafter for the reason for our trip to Hawaii - to see Rick and Bron for Rick’s 50th. When I was very young (1997/8), we lived in Quantico, VA, while my Dad was at staff college. There we met the Burrs, Rick being the Aussie representative, but since then I have only seen them one other time, when I was not much older. Dad has bumped into Rick around the world when tours collided, but generally, we haven’t seen them much, although we try to keep in touch. Therefore, when I stepped through the gates of their gorgeous house, no longer the tiny chubby toddler with her hair piled on top of her head in a pineapple, I think we all became a bit nostalgic.

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Bron, me and George back in Virginia in 1997.

Bron later told me that in the first split second, she had thought I was my Mum who sadly couldn’t come with us due to work commitments, but we all wished she could have. The four of us caught up for a bit and I was introduced to Rick's parents. Just being there was incredible and to see old friends again (who amazingly, I do remember) was truly wonderful. That evening we agreed to meet at a bar with the rest of those who travelled for the party - about thirty odd Aussies - for drinks and dinner. Due to the US 21 rule, I obviously couldn't drink, but we had a good time all the same.

Saturday rolled around and finally we could dive. Admittedly it was tough as my sinuses were not yet wholly clear, but the diving was enjoyable all the same. We dived a wreck called the Sea Tiger and then another shallower reef closer in to shore. There was some nice sea life - massive turtles, a white tip reef shark, some eagles rays and a devil scorpion fish - but it was no Indonesia. I’m of the belief that, thanks to that place, I’ll always be comparing each dive to those I did there and I will be truly amazed if one ever matches up.

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Bron and I almost seventeen years later.

After our dives we did a spot of shopping - I may have gone on a bit of a spree in Forever 21, but when you can buy as much clothing as I did for $55, you have to make the most of it. Then we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the party.

The theme was, naturally, Hawaiian and thanks to my job at New Look, I had a pair of shorts that were perfect. We caught a bus from Waikiki to Fort Shafter with everyone else and were greeted at the Burrs house with shell necklaces and champagne.

We mingled and I met some truly incredible people, drank Mai Tais, took photos and generally had fun. The food was really cool - mini American classics such as cheese burgers, tacos, macaroni cheese and so on - and the entertainment, hula dancers, was brilliant.

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The hula dancers.

Speeches were spoken, a slideshow was shown, cake was cut and music was played as everyone danced the night away. We all boarded the bus back to our hotels and Dad and I crashed as soon as we were back - an enjoyable night had been had!

Our final day in Hawaii arrived sooner than expected. Dad wanted to take me up to Sunset Beach but after driving to the North Shore, we decided the traffic was too bad to continue. We headed back to the Navy Exchange and then to a phone shop to sort out getting a sim for my trip which turned into getting a whole new phone for near to nothing!

We met up with all the Aussies again for drinks and dinner at sunset. It was good fun, recalling tales of past nights on the trip and being smuggled tequila shots and Mai Tais by the adults. In the end, the waitress didn’t even card me and offered me drinks. Maybe I can get used to the 21 rule…

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My last sunset on Oahu.

Nightmare struck upon arrival at the airport this morning. The plan being to check one of my bags in all the way home while the other bag and I got off in LA. However, a kerfuffle ensued to do with having to check both bags to London or cancel the second leg, which was barely resolved by the time the flight was due to leave. We raced through security and the terminal, not even delaying the plane.

Now I’m sat in LA, about to split from my Dad and head to San Francisco, thinking of how lucky I am and how great the short four days we had on Oahu were. People come in and out of our lives all the time, but some you will never forget because they shaped a part of your life that you will always remember.

VIP(N)s: Very Important Potter-Nerds [4-6/4]

There are a very few things that a weekend with friends cannot cure. Even reminiscing about it brings a smile creeping onto my face, no matter what is going on in my life currently.

On Friday 4th April, I drove up to Lexy's house as that evening we had been invited (yet again) to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour for the VIP launch of their Feathers and Flight event. Unlike the other times I’ve been invited by WB, I had other friends going who I already knew. When Lex and I arrived, we waited for our friend Emilie before signing in for our VIP passes and having a drink before we went through.

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Lexy, Alys, Emilie and I in front of the Cupboard Under The Stairs.

First of all, before entering the Great Hall, we had a Q&A session with the films animal, specifically bird, trainers. We were shown a video of the training of the owls to carry and drop letter for owl post scenes and even their attempts of a having a literal birds eye camera for filming.

The Great Hall was decked out for breakfast with Cheeri-Owls cereal lining the tables. I stopped, dropped and backbended in front of the doors as we all congregated, looked around and ate canapes (which were absolutely delicious, without a doubt).

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My Great Hall backbend.

We continued through the tour, chatting with the guides, including the events coordinator (who I’m half-proud to say knew me upon sight seen as he’s invited me to so many events). He told us a few extra things including some Game of Thrones filming spoilers, as one of the bird trainers works on that too!

As the event was about flying, we all got free broom photos to add to our collections before heading out into the backlot to meet the owls! We all got photos with Hedwig and had some Butterbeer before going back into the warm.

We met Hedwig!

The rest of the tour flew by and soon we were all saying goodbye with our treats from WB including a Hedwig backpack, snitch, quill pen and chocolate frog.

The next morning Lex and I woke before getting ready to head into London. We spent the day in the cold outside Alexandra Palace queuing for You Me At Six with Godric knows how many other people.

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The never ending queue.

Out of all the concerts I’ve been to, Ally Pally was probably the biggest venue and that came with consequences. The most obvious being more people. While we weren’t too far back or anything, the crowd was much rowdier and the pushing was worse than any of the others, even Paramore. It was also the hottest concert with so many people in one room!

Still, we enjoyed ourselves with a great setlist mostly including the songs of their new album, Cavalier Youth, though there were some old classics in there too.

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The setlist.

The encore ended with the first single from Cavalier Youth, 'Lived A Lie', complete with falling confetti. Sadly, this was the time when a crowd surfer decided to lean on me and practically land on me as he fell to the floor. However, besides that incident, both Lexy and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

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Josh Franceschi and Max Helyer of You Me At Six.

On Sunday, we woke up and immediately started making our picnic. Lexy sent some covert texts to Bee about doing nothing all day while Kath, from her home, did the same. The plan was that I was meeting up with Bee in Kent for a birthday picnic (which had been a few weeks before), but instead, I invited Lex and Kath as a surprise! We had had it planned for a while so setting decoys here and there through the days prior had been fun and, Merlin, it was worth it.

Lex and I drove to Sevenoaks while Kath and Bee jumped on trains. Kath arrived first and joined us, hiding behind a tree with Lexy until Bee arrived. Her face when she was tacklehugged by the pair was absolutely priceless and I don’t think I have ever enjoyed setting up a surprise more.

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Lexy and Kath hiding behind a tree at Sevenoaks train station.

Naturally, as with a picnic, we had far too much food and, less common with picnics, multiple untoasted bagels. I mean, when you take bagels on a picnic, you toast them first and eat them cold but toasted, right? I’m not overreacting or anything, am I?

Anyway, we had a wonderful time walking around the wildlife park;  feeding ducks with untoasted bagels; opening presents and getting glitter in every single crevice of Bee’s handbag.

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Bee with the world’s biggest bee house.

Sadly, the day ended too soon and we took Bee back to the station while I drove Lexy and Kath home. So ended an extremely fun weekend of Potter, Pop-Punk and Picnics. There are some days when you can’t help but love life.

Mayday Parade live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2014

posted 4 months ago | via | | 17971 #inspiration

Wake up with the fondest memories [4-6/2]

I landed late in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday and headed straight to my friend’s house, Pixie. We had a lovely dinner with her family before falling asleep early due to my usual schedule.

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Me and Pixie having lunch in KLCC shopping centre.

The next day Pixie and I headed off into KLCC for a walk around the city, to see the towers and look around before meeting up with one of Pixie’s friends, Rachel, and heading to Chin Woo Stadium - where Mayday Parade would be playing that night.

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Mayday Parade performing at Chin Woo Stadium.

The show started with two Malay acts, Heart Attack and Scarlet Heroes. They were okay - I had heard a lot about them from Pixie and Rachel as they frequently support concerts and Pix often works the concerts - but they were interesting. We had a laugh during Scarlet Heroes as the guitarist was channeling Vic Fuentes of Pierce the Veil and it cracked us up.

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Some of Pixie’s friends: Dini, me, Pixie and Rachel.

Before long Mayday Parade were on and it was one of the most incredible concerts. Their music means so much to me - both the title of this post and the title of this blog are lyrics from Mayday songs. One from 'Jamie All Over' and the other from 'I'd Rather Make Mistakes Than Nothing At All' so it was incredible to finally see them live.

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Derek Sanders and Alex Garcia playing.

They started out with a song from their new album, ‘Ghosts’, and then followed it with an old classic, 'Jamie All Over'. The setlist included songs from their first EP, Tales Told By Dead Friends, to their 2013 released album, Monsters In The Closet.

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Alex Garcia and Jeremy Lenzo on stage.

I especially enjoyed 'When You See My Friends', 'You Be The Anchor That Keeps My Feet On The Ground, I'll Be The Wings That Keep Your Heart In The Clouds' and the encore, 'I'd Hate To Be You When People Find Out What This Song Is About'.

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Derek performing ‘Miserable At Best’.

After the show, Pixie grabbed my hand and we ran across the stadium and back stage. She knew the guards due to her previous work at concerts and so we managed to get back. There we saw some of the band members, Alex Garcia, Brooke Betts and Jeremy Lenzo, hanging outside smoking so we went to talk to them. Pixie knew how much it would mean for me to meet them so she introduced us and we hung out with them for a bit. Alex was lovely and chatted away with us for a bit.

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The setlist.

As we were heading away, I spotted Derek Sanders, the lead singer, just inside. Pixie, like the amazing human being she is, went up to Nadeem, the organiser, who was standing between us and Derek, and said “my friend’s come all the way from England, please can we meet Derek?” Nadeem instantly threw his all access pass around my neck and said that I deserved it for coming all that way. We met Derek and I was over the moon. I even got to keep the pass!

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Derek and I - his hair is more fabulous than mine ;)

The only not fantastically amazing thing that happened that night was that one of the infected scratches on my foot reacted badly to the hours on my feet and therefore swelled massively. We spent the early hours of Thursday morning icing the foot to try and reduce the pain and swelling but to little avail. I left KL the next evening, a mere twelve hours before the missing flight took off, with a still swollen foot. I have to say traveling with a foot the size of a football was not easy but I was home before long and it was lovely to finally see my mum again.

posted 4 months ago | via | | 2853 #inspiration #reading

This novel completely slaughtered me, and yet I have a very special place in my heart for this series of books.

Finales and Farewells [24/2-4/3]

My final week on Lembongan arrived far sooner than I could have wished. Luckily for me I had things to keep me busy. Jacqui had asked for some help on an open water course she was teaching (only her second as she was in the IDC before mine) so I spent Monday and Tuesday helping her out with that.

A sunset at Sandy Bay during one of my last days.

On Tuesday, due to one of the students, Cindy, having to come up feeling sick from OW2, Jacqui asked me to finish her final two open water dives alone while Jax did the other two students. It wasn’t easy as there was too much current to kneel in the sand so I had to keep us both buoyant while Cindy did her skills. She also struggled with mask clearing and had to spend a lot of the time calming her down which also didn’t help. For someone who had never taught an open water alone before, I think I did pretty well. I certainly reaped the benefits on Thursday when I found out I got the certification. I have officially taught someone to dive!

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The Happy Puppy Crew
(L-R) Aline, Jo, Meghan, Courtney, me, Grace, Bryan

On Tuesday evening we had planned to go over to Bali for, what Bryan dubbed, a 'pre-going away going away party party'. Jo had had the wonderful idea to go to a karaoke place called 'Happy Puppy' in Denpasar and so we decided to make it an almost but not quite leaving party. The night was great - we sang our hearts out and then somehow, I know exactly how, ended up in a bar in Seminyak called 'Mixwell'.

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Courtney with her shoes which she bought that night and had disappeared before we got home!

Meghan, a friend of DMT Aline had done her open water at Blue Corner a few weeks back and then continued traveling, however she was in Denpasar and catching a flight at 5am on Wednesday so we told her to come out with us. It was great to see her again and she said it was a better way to try and stay up than alone in a hotel room.

I would love to write in great detail about this wonderful night out in Bali but I’m afraid what happens in Bali, stays in Bali. However, I think this morning after picture just about sums it all up.

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Jo, Grace, Courtney and I in Pizza Hut on Wednesday morning.

That weekend was my last on Lembongan and therefore my final Friday night party. Christiane, a childhood friend of Andrew and Cody, decided we should make Jell-O shots so we spent the afternoon doing that and relaxing in the pool. That evening the shots were a hit and we had a lovely and understated night.

Christiane and I spent the next few days by the pool sunning ourselves and reading as sadly I had got a cold and couldn’t dive again. On Monday night, my last night, the whole Blue Corner crew, DMTs, instructors and friends all went out to Sukanusa for a nice meal.

Lembongan Bay the day I left.

The next morning I said goodbye to everyone at Blue Corner before catching the first boat off the island. I would be lying if I said I didn’t tear up just a little bit. Lembongan had become my home for the last two months and the people at Blue Corner had become my family. Going home would be difficult but I had had a wonderful two months and an incredible final week. The last two months I have made amazing friends who I hope to keep in touch with and the times I’ve had will stay with me forever.

Bracelets - something I love to pick up wherever I go, a symbol of my travels. After two months here in Indonesia I have picked up a further three - one from Ubud and two from Lembongan with all three gifts from wonderful friends. I am going to miss this beautiful little island so much but hopefully I shall be back soon. (at Blue Corner Dive)

PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA! [18-24/2]

Rescue courses. Supposedly the most serious and yet most fun course PADI offers - it just depends on how it’s presented by the instructor. I’ve spent the week assisting Jo on two rescue courses and it can definitely be a lot of fun, especially for the victim (and aspiring actress).

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View from Blue Corner - the volcano on Bali.

I started off the week with two days of drowning, yelling 'PIZZA' at the top of my lungs, running out of air, panicking under and above water, dying, being manhandled by instructors, boat-hands and students alike, given mouth to mouth, towed around and more. I loved every second… well, most. The taking of equipment on and off is tiring and irritating, but other than that!

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View of Lembongan from the panorama point at the top of the hill on the way to Sandy Bay.

The students may have almost drowned me a few times but in the end all three passed the course and are now rescue divers! I was rewarded greatly when one student refused to let me go a minute without a drink in my hand (after we finished diving, obviously) and continuously bought everyone drinks.

I spent Wednesday at Sandy Bay with Caroline. We chilled out, read our books, sunbathed, did a touch of yoga and ate some wonderful food. It’s a really nice place to go on the island to just get away for a bit.

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Camel by the pool at Sandy Bay.

After an enjoyable Friday night, in which I promised myself to be in bed by midnight and kept to it(!!!!!), I was up the next day bright and early (7am) for yet another rescue course in both the pool and the sea in one day!! Later that evening we had suckling pig at Blue Corner which was a lovely change  and good fun.

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The hog!

Sunday brought about a day of fun diving when I got to go to Manta Point. Helene, one of the Blue Corner instructors, said there was a beer for whoever got her a decent photo of her with mantas - not just distant shadows, actual close mantas. Guess who succeeded… sort of ;)

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My wonderfully photoshopped photo of Helene with the mantas.

Now it’s a new week and my last full week on this beautiful island. Today I’m jumping in the sea to help Jacqui out on an open water. She was in the IDC group before mine and this is only the second OW she’s done so she asked for an extra pair of eyes and hands in case her three students need some help.

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More mantas!