Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Voting with a conscience

I am voting Labour in the European parliamentary elections tomorrow, because I know that the party is standing some excellent candidates who will make great MEPs for London. And I am casting a Labour vote because it is a vote against the BNP and UKIP - which alone is reason enough to vote.

I'm voting Labour with some difficulty however. It's not because I don't agree with the values of the party - I've been a member for so long that cancelling my membership would be like divorcing a member of my family - but the party in government, in its present form has stopped inspiring me. I haven't done any campaigning for the party in months - but then again I haven't felt like defending the record of politicians in general - let alone Labour politicians.

Like the rest of the British public, I'm furious with MPs who have abused the expenses system. A lot of it isn't a massive surprise to me - I used to work in an MP's Parliamentary office and many people I know who work in politics would have been witness to some of these extravagant claims - Labour and Tory alike. But it's the arrogance and the inability to recognise where serious changes need to be made which really makes me angry.

At times like this, we need real leadership - and in this situation, our Prime Minister hasn't led, but followed, and cautiously suggested half-hearted attempts at reforming the expenses system. When our entire constitutional settlement is in question, Gordon Brown hasn't met the political challenges posed by other MPs and the public at large - at a time when we should be going back to the drawing board and sketching out ideas for real changes in the way we do politics. Much as though I admire his command of economic policy and leadership during a time of global recession, there is a distinct lack of communication over what's going on in the PM's head. Does he have any answers to the current crisis of democracy? Or is he happy to struggle on with a big question mark over how MPs should reconnect with their constituents who are spitting feathers over ludicrous and excessive claims? I don't know, and I'm not prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The Guardian's editorial had it spot on today - and when the most credible Labour-supporting newspaper of the chattering classes starts to seriously question Gordon Brown's authority. Good luck to the rebels who are, as I speak, attempting to gather enough support to challenge the leadership. I hope we can have a General Election soon because if Labour is proud of its record (and I think it really should be) then it won't be frightened of a test at the polls.

I don't know whether the party can turn itself around in the next year, the next five years, or the next ten years in its quest to become credible with the electorate again. It will need someone articulate, open to new ideas, probably much younger, and less tainted by the battles of the past to succeed. But - and my boyfriend will probably disagree with me on this one - I do believe in voting according to the values you are brought up with and for me, that's about the belief in collective action and the idea that we can achieve more in unity than we achieve alone.

Vote Labour tomorrow if you genuinely believe that Britain should be represented by a broadly progressive force in Europe - but don't feel that by voting Labour tomorrow that you're voting for the current incumbent of No. 10 Downing Street.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Cycling for a good cause

The other day, I woke up feeling like I could take on anything and win. This doesn't happen very often, and certainly not at 7:15am in the morning. But, the day dawned bright and sunny, and I felt the overwhelming urge to take on a new challenge.

Over the course of one weekend in the summer I will be cycling from London to Paris, to raise money for the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, for which I volunteer. It will take several days, but it will be worth it. Andy and I have already planned a post-ride party in Paris - which will hopefully be warm, serene and relaxing after several days manic pedalling across the English and French countryside.


1. I don't have a bike. I realise I must rectify this in order to complete the ride - and I need to start training soon. But I'm already planning trips into and across town, to Brighton, and the countryside.
2. I am tremendously unfit - so will probably have to take it more slowly at first. But part of the point of all this is to increase my general fitness levels. I've joined several gyms in the past - and get bored quickly - so hopefully this will be a form of fitness which I can really enjoy.

I will be setting up ways in which you can sponsor me soon. Watch this space!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Monday June 28 2004 - To San Francisco

Leaving the first Californian campsite, we head straight to San Francisco, which I have eagerly awaited throughout this trip. San Fran has to be the most attactive, charming, vibrant and beautiful city in the US, with it's small town feel, steep and confined Meditterranean style streets and architecture. We go in through Haight Ashbury, a funny district with vintage clothes, record stores and cafes etc. Then take photographs of the six oldest buildings in San Francisco, which pre-date the Great Fire in the early 20th century.

After checking in at the Laine Hotel in Downtown, we go for the surprise trip Cori has arranged for us. It's a boat trip in the Bay with drinks and buffet, past Alcatraz, underneath the Golden Gate bridge. I get free drinks bought at the bar. After the boat trip, we head back to the hotel, taking dinner at an Indian restaurant next door. Early night tonight, for it will be a long day tomorrow.

Sunday June 27 2004


An early start, then to a long eight miles to the beach, which is well worth it. A marine mist soon lifts and the sun shines radiantly all day. We lay on the beach and have lunch for one and a half hours then hike back to the van, where Cori is waiting for us. I get slightly sunburnt.

Saturday June 26 2004

In the morning, we were due to try our hand at dune buggies, but due to driving licence requirements (i.e. the lack of one) this doesn't happen, except for Astrid and Dave. The rest of us play mini golf. A beautiful drive along the coast to our next campsite - this time in California. This one is close to the sea, and is a rather pleasant grassy location, unlike last night. There are two other Trek groups at the same campsite.

Friday June 25, Seattle - Oregon coast

A long drive out of Seattle, through Oregon to a small campsite where we eat. Not much to report today, because of the large amount of travelling.

Thursday June 24, Seattle

Seattle is like a cross between Chicago and Vancouver. Very liberal and lively, and quite pleasant to be in. There are a lot of soup kitchens, apparently because of the high homeless population.

Once again, I spend the day by myself browsing the shops etc. I take a ride on the streetcar, take a ride on a trolleybus (!) and see the Space Needle, which hardly touches space really and is nothing to write home about. It is Jo's birthday, so we take the opportunity to go out for dinner at a crappy Mexican restaurant. The food is appalling - either that, or I hate Mexican food.

Wednesday June 23 2004


Kamloops was pretty dull. Now in Vancouver, and what a spectacular journey it was through BC to get here. Ever since we left Banff the journey has been consistently spectacular scenery. Arrive in Vancouver around midday, take a short tour through the city to our campground. British Columbia is very green and full of trees, much like home in fact.

In the evening we have dinner on George Park (pizza). I spend the day browsing the shops, see the Warhol at Vancouver Art Gallery and take advantage of how cheap it is here.

Tuesday June 22 2004

After a boozy night, we take to the lake for the morning's activity. Astrid is hungover but Pete, Martin and I go canoeing which is quite fun. In the afternoon it gets a little too hot after lunch. We leave at 4pm, put the clocks back an hour, and head through the rest of the Rockies to Kamloops - a very basic campsite with no shower, which is home for the night.

Monday June 21, Banff - Golden, (England 4, Croatia 2)

Left Banff around about mid-afternoon, and headed towards Golden, British Columbia. England played Croatia in Euro 2004 and won 4-2. The group watched the match in a pub called the Screw and Tap I decided to wander around Banff by myself for a bit though.

Drove through some beautiful parts of the Rockies, stopping off at a lake on the way. Then arrived at a campsite for the night at Golden, run by eccentric middle-aged couple. There is another Trek group staying at the campsite. Their leader is a very good-looking guy called Clive who thinks I look like the comedian Jamie Kennedy. So that's two alter-egos (the other one being Chris Martin from Coldplay, according to Martin).

Sunday June 20 2004, Banff - Fathers' Day

Awoke at the nice reasonable hour of 9:15am today. Much more than like normall! Took the bus into Banff town, had breakfast, checked emails and did some shopping. Bought flip-flops in GAP. Phoned home having spent $9.00 on calls - I hope my parents are sufficiently satisfied that I'm alive and well, and that I've not been mauled by a bear.

Drunk coffee in Starbucks. Tonight we're going to dinner somewhere with the rest of the group, let it not be pizza again!!!

Weather is dry but quite cloudy, in any case it's dry enough and warm enough for shorts and sandals.

Quite enjoying a day off by myself - this is what it's all about.

Saturday June 19 2004, Banff, Canada

A really pleasant day in Banff and Lake Louise. The night was cold - the weather this morning a little sharp - but once we get to Lake Louise it really gets to warm up. I'm a bit wary of taking a long hike, but decide with the rest of the group, to take the 'Tea House' trail, which goes around Lake Agnes to the top of the mountain (a three and a half mile round trip). The views of the lake and mountains are absolutely stunning. The water is an almost unnatural blue, so clear and clean looking, I've never seen anything like it. Eventually we reach the top - a charming little tea house where I order soup and bread. The birds are not shy here, one swoops down and steals bread from our plate! (Last night, a squirrel made off with a whole Twix bar from John and Jo's tent!!!).

Go down the mountain, briefly meet Astrid, who's been swanning around not doing much! Then sit in the Fairmont Lake Louise Hotel - a magnificent place - have coffee and generally chill.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Friday June 18 2004, Glacier to Banff, (Canada)

The coldest start yet today - it was minus 2 degrees last night. It's Jon's birthday today, and I'm on the drag as usual, but we get away at a reasonable time and cross the border into Canada - the province of Alberta. Relatively quick and pain-free border crossing. After a grocery stop and lunch, we cross into Calgary. Pleasant enough, and quite a prosperous city. Eventually we reach Banff, stopping off at the visitor centre. Our campsite is in a very impressive location at the foot of a mountain.


Got home to the campsite, very drunk having gone out for Jon's birthday. Haven't had quite so much beer in ages!

Thursday June 17 2004, Glacier


A very cold, sleepless night, what with the wind, rain and bear and mouse related distractions. My shower at the campsite costs $2 dollars and lasts about 8 1/2 minutes, but feels more like 8 1/2 seconds. The warmth is welcome however. I grab a coffee outside the Swift Current Motor Inn, and take a short 1.8km hike with Astrid - although we actually just sit by a lake on a large rock for most of the time. Once the others get back , the evening is much more pleasant - we start a campfire to cook dinner on and this keeps us going until the end of the evening.

Wednesday, June 16 2004, Yellowstone to Glacier


It is considerably colder and much gloomier looking here in Glacier National Park. We set up camp amid Severe Bear Warnings, and a strict instruction to keep everything with a smell locked away inside the van:

So that's reassuring then.

It's raining heavily before long, so we hastily put up a shelter over the makeshift 'kitchen'. An early night, for tomorrow is yet another early start for hiking.


I am totally paranoid about bears finding smells in the tent. I quickly rummage through my bags in the dark, and find some suncream and popcorn I bought in Mitchell. Unzipping the tent, I rush to the trash can - only I forget to zip up the outer zip whilst I'm gone. Back in the tent, and having zipped everything up, I find I've managed to trap a frustrated mouse in the tent, which is busy doing high-speed circuits of Dave and I nestled in our sleeping bags.

Dave is not happy in the morning. I think relations between us are breaking down.

Tuesday June 15 2004, Yellowstone to Glacier


On the road already, back into the Park. It is bright and sunny, but takes a while to get warm. To 'Old Faithful', and many beautiful and magnificent eruptions ;-)

Some of the other springs and geysers are less awe-inspiring - some of the group take a dip in a 'swimming hole' which is actually very cold.

There was no way I was going in there - (although famously I have since gone skinny-dipping in Sweden!). The day finishes at Mammoth Hot Springs where I buy a very useful pillow for the tent. It also comes in handy for the seemingly interminable sleeping we're doing in the van whilst travelling - long journeys, running out of things to say, warmth - I find it easy to snuggle up to my nearest travelling companion, whether they like it or not!

Upon return to Gardiner, our campsite, the weather is pretty dreadful - wind and rain. By the time I get out of the shower, the gusts and rain are pretty wild. Cori manages to acquire some log cabins for the evening at no extra cost, which are very much welcome. The woman who runs the campsite is a very kind lady indeed - and manages to keep on working despite a nasty accident with a gas stove last night. She'd burned her arm quite badly, and the nearest hospital is 1 1/2 hours drive away - not unusual in this part of the US.

Blanket coverage

It's snow joke. I was bored out of my brains yesterday whilst the rest of London suddenly found wellies, skies and long lost vintage wooden sledges. Having decided to make the trek to work at about 8am, I got to Balham tube only to find that trains weren't really running normally at all. So, I went and had coffee, lost £20 somehow and then made my way home once my boss told me that it wasn't worth going in.

All I can say is that snow days are really boring once the novelty wears off!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Monday June 14 2004, Cody - Yellowstone National Park

It's a gorgeous, bright and sunny day today. We leave camp a little later than normal today, as Cori has to replace a tyre on the van which was stolen in Chicago. We're off to Yellowstone National Park, which is absolutely enormous. After lunch we hike up the 'Elephant Trail', to a stunning view. The hike really knackers me out, but it's worth it to see some waterfalls that are even more spectacular than Niagara. Camp tonight is just outside the park in Montana (or Man-tana, as the locals sometimes say, 'cos there ain't a whole lotta women there...).

Despite the bright sunshine, it's a tad cold and windy - again I don't sleep brilliantly.

Sunday June 13 2004, Wyoming (Devil's Tower to Cody)

Another long trip today through the Blackhills National Forest, and heading to Cody, WY. Spectacular scenery and a long way up. In fact, we've gone so far up that on the way down my ears begin to pop quite badly and I have quite a headache for the rest of the afternoon.

We're most definitely in the midwest now, and it really begins to show when you drive through some of these places. Arriving in Cody, we take a look around the town - I desperately need warm clothes so head straight to the outdoor gear shop to buy a jacket to keep the wind and rain off. It's likely to get much cooler and wetter in these mountainous parts too, and I haven't slept that well. We set up camp in Cody - and in the evening the group splits. Three of the group go to the Cody Rodeo - not my cup of tea at all - and another three of us head to the movie theater to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban. It's great fun to watch, and I do enjoy it, but - true to form in warm, dark places (!) - I fall asleep in the last twenty minutes!

Saturday June 12 2004, Wisconsin - Wyoming

A long trip across the plains today, and into the mountains - through Rapid City to Mount Rushmore. I'm impressed by the way these National Parks, monuments and forests are presented and organised. There's a pride and a devotion to national image here that would put even English Heritage and the National Trust to shame. Mount Rushmore represents what democracy stood for at the time of the Founding Fathers - and it's a pretty safe bet that Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln would be appalled at their successors' actions today.

There are union flags everywhere, as expected. Although I find the show of patriotism a little overwhelming, I still go to the gift shop to buy a copy of the US Constitution, which they sell in a nice handy little format for $9.99.

Leaving Rushmore, we head down the road on a short journey to the Crazy Horse monument - the Native American answer to Rushmore and very much a work in progress. As it's still being carved out of the stone in the mountains there's not that much to say about it except that it'll be quite spectactular when it is eventually finished! Astri and I pay $3.00 to travel in a clapped out school bus to the bottom of the mountain for nothing more than a photographic opportunity. Oh well.

Camp tonight is at Devils' Tower - a campsite at the foot of a somewhat sinister looking rock formation in Wyoming and which was also a principal location used in Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Apparently they show the film regularly on an outdoor screen - though it's very cold tonight, and I don't sleep too well.

Everyone in the group is beginning to bond quite well now, though I still can't help thinking it's a bit like Big Brother on wheels!

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