Saturday, 27 October 2012


When I booked my flights to Cayman, I was fully aware that visiting a Caribbean island during hurricane season (albeit the tail-end of the season) was a slightly high-risk choice.

But I still hadn't anticipated that Hurricane Sandy would be making its presence felt - strengthening and becoming a very serious proposition indeed as it headed for Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti and then up towards the east coast of America.

We were really lucky. Sandy only turned from a tropical storm into a hurricane as it moved further away from us, and, whereas some Caribbean islands were directly hit, with a high death toll in Cuba and Haiti, we just had some rather changeable weather, rather than any risk to our safety or to the island's infrastructure - and for that I am very grateful.

The day after I arrived, the normally tranquil Caribbean suddenly started to rival the Pacific in terms of rather intimidating waves, while freakishly sudden rainstorms drenched everything before moving on again just as quickly as they'd arrived.

The giant seas put the kibosh on a couple of the bigger activities we'd scheduled, including a snorkelling trip to Stingray City and a trial dive. But there's something very freeing about being on holiday with two of the people whose company you most enjoy, and feeling no pressure to run around being the World's Best Tourist.

Instead, our days tended to begin in leisurely fashion, with some midday beach action.

Then lunch - usually jerk anything.

Maybe some drinks. This, my friends, is a Mudslide. The low-calorie afternoon beverage of choice.

Then some afternoon swimming or snorkelling.

A little more beachside drinking.

And one last sunset swim.

If you're a big old geek like me, any rain-enforced breaks from the water can be easily filled with board games. And of course, catch-up chat with Fi and Luke, friends that I  used to see every day, and now might not get to hang out with for another year.

It was so amazing to see their new lives in the Caribbean, meet their new friends, pad around their fancy new home and see for myself how happy they are in chilled, friendly Cayman.

I'm also very, very grateful that Sandy largely bypassed us, and hopeful that it doesn't cause too much more damage before it runs its course.

Now I just need to work out when and how I can make it back for a return visit...

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

For your listening pleasure: My favourite cover songs

David Byrne, © Marcia Resnick

For no reason other than that I was listening to music in my car and realised some of my absolute favourite songs are covers - some classics in their own right, others a little bit more unexpected - I decided to compile a little playlist for you.

20 cover tunes, beloved by me, that either offer something distinct from the original recordings, or (in some cases) are just plain better. You can get the whole playlist from Spotify here should you feel so inclined.

1. Diamond Dogs, Beck (originally by David Bowie)

2. I'm on Fire, Bat for Lashes (originally by Bruce Springsteen)

3. Handle With Care, Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins (originally by the Traveling Wilburys)

4.When Doves Cry, Patti Smith (originally by Prince)

5. Diamonds are Forever, The Arctic Monkeys (originally by Shirley Bassey)

6. Blitzkrieg Bop, Yo La Tengo (originally by the Ramones)

7. Eleanor Rigby, Ray Charles (originally by The Beatles)

8. Sea of Love, Tom Waits (originally by Phil Phillips)

9. She's Not There, Neko Case and Nick Cave (originally by The Zombies)

10. Immigrant Song, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Karen O (originally by Led Zeppelin)

11. Hounds of Love, The Futureheads (originally by Kate Bush)

12. Rocket Man, My Morning Jacket (originally by Elton John)

13. Hurt, Johnny Cash (originally by Nine Inch Nails)

14. The Killing Moon, Pavement (originally by Echo and the Bunnymen)

15. Boys are Back in Town, Belle and Sebastian (originally by Thin Lizzy)

16. Waterloo Sunset, David Bowie (originally by The Kinks)

17. No Surprises, Regina Spektor (originally by Radiohead)

18. If You Leave, Nada Surf (originally by Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark)

19. What a Wonderful World, Nick Cave and Shane McGowan (originally by Louis Armstrong)

20. I Wanna Dance With Somebody, David Byrne (originally by Whitney Houston)

Three things to note: Firstly, I could very easily have compiled an entire playlist made up of David Bowie covers. Maybe that should be tomorrow's task...

Secondly, Nick Cave has covered basically every good song ever written (as proven here), from Dylan to the Beatles to Pulp. Just one more reason why he is my hero.

Thirdly, I discovered a few absolutely amazing songs that are sadly not available on Spotify, or anywhere, really, except via terrible quality YouTube clips. Still worth taking a gander at, I feel.

The Flaming Lips' take on Under Pressure:

And Sufjan Stevens singing a bit of R.E.M:


Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Happiest Place on Earth

This week I ticked off one of the goals of my Californian bucket list, and made my first trip to Disneyland.

I'd dropped my sister and her friend off there last summer, and then proceeded to spend the day covering a fan expo in Anaheim while they rode roller coasters and  posed with Mickey, but I'd never actually found the time to go myself.

Then (I am very lucky) I acquired a couple of free tickets, so I rounded up my friend E and headed south for a day of Minnie ears, kids' rides and giggling fits.

There are two things you should know:

1. The first thing we did on arriving at the park was buy said Minnie Mouse ears. They stayed on all day.

2. We are both absolute and total cowards when it comes to scary rides. We define 'scary rides' as anything that takes place in the dark, anything fast, anything with sharp corners, anything involving a simulator, and, well, anything with a height limit of over about 3ft.

There will be no detailed descriptions here of Space Mountain, the Star Wars simulator thingy, or anything else even faintly adventurous. Because we never went anywhere near them.

So. Are you ready to see us tackling a bunch of rides generally considered lame by anyone who's hit nursery school age?


Up first: It's a Small World. Sing it with me: 'It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all....'

Beefeaters and belly dancers, men riding cartoon-y tigers, clog-wearing Dutch, and Flamenco-dancing Spanish, all represented in beautiful living colour. E may have had a giggling fit halfway through. We may have enjoyed this around 600% more than anyone else we saw.

The Haunted Mansion: I love a good haunted house ride. And, because it's Halloween season at Disney, this one had been well and truly pimped out. Tim Burton-style.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Historically speaking, my favourite theme-park ride in the world. On my first ever Disneyland adventure, to Euro Disney (I was 10 or 11. My mother still fondly remembers it as the day I found a squashed slug in my trainer. Ahem), my sister and I fell completely in love with all things piratical, and didn't say much except 'Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum' and 'It's a Pirates Life for Me' for the rest of the holiday.

What can I say? I was a very cool child.

You get the picture, right? We went on Mr Toad's Wild Ride, we criticised the Snow White ride for its lack of narrative arc (you can't go straight from the scary witch/evil queen carrying out her plan to 'and they lived happily ever after'!). We rode the carousel, and we visited pretty much every single gift shop in the park. 

Disneyland isn't as big as Disney World, and it doesn't have as many flashy rides as Universal Studios. But it's the original, it's cute and a manageable size and as long as you hang up all pretence at adulthood when you put your Minnie ears on, it makes for an awesome day out.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Great Californian bucket list

I've tried to make the most of living in California over the past year and a bit. From Palm Springs to Yosemite, San Diego to Santa Barbara, I've been on little weekend adventures, I've been a California tour-guide for various visitors, and I've explored lots of LA.

But there are still a few more things I'd like to do while I'm living here, so I can feel like a proper west coast girl. These are mainly LA based, purely and simply because I'm running very low on holiday allowance!

So without further ado, here's my list of the 10 Californian experiences I'm planning on working through:

1. Go to Disneyland

2. Take a surfing lesson

3. Go to Coachella

4. Eat tacos at Yuca's

5. Visit Catalina

6. Do a Man vs Food challenge (this is my sister's masterplan. If I'm doing it, she's going down with me!)

7. Go to a drive-in movie

8. Attend a Super Bowl party

9. Go to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl

10. Go to a baseball game

Actually I will have ticked at least one of these off within the next 24 hours, I hope. More to come!

*Image credits for these seem to have fallen into a Pinterest black hole. I'd be happy to add them if anyone can illuminate me...