Was my summer worth it?

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but I’ve had a pretty eventful summer. 
I’ve jumped into ice cold lakes, been to a rave, cleaned and emptied an entire house, been kicked out of a hotel, scaled rockfaces and bookshelves, defrosted my first freezer, been a translator, gotten lost, made unlikely friends, eaten a steak at 10pm covered in mud, moved house again, read approximately one thousand books, written approximately ten thousand articles and blogs, dived into the Med, almost been kidnapped a couple of times, stargazed listening to Czech folk music, slept in tents and cars and mansions and left my teenage years behind me. And that’s just some of the stuff I was sober enough to remember.
With all this excitement to try and draw some kind of life experience from, I don’t really know where to start. It’s been a haphazard whirlwind of rushing trains, buses and flights. Countless bags packed and unpacked, outfits changed and taxis home; always on the way to somewhere else. I’ve not really had time to take stock of it all- and now I’m about to hurtle myself into a whole host of work- of Yorker, degree and part time varieties.
So have I learnt anything? I’m not sure. I definitely feel more grow-ed up, though I’m a far cry from a proper adult just yet. I now know not to get onto a boat with creepy men, not to snigger at people sincerely singing into the middle distance, not to take pyjamas to a rave. I can more or less bake bread, I’ve memorised the rules of Fuck the Dealer, and have endured the pain of a triple figure phone bill.

I’d been joking that my mini gap-yah was a soul searching mission, that I was going off to find myself in a bookshop, south of France. I wasn’t genuinely expecting an epiphany while sunbathing in a hammock, but I think I secretly was hoping to find something out about myself. I blame reading Eat, Pray, Love. Truth is, I’m not sure I did. No- I’m not struggling with an existential crisis, I just don’t think these three months have been a life-changing event for me. Not overtly, anyway.

That’s not to say I haven’t really, thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’d do the whole “memories that’ll last a lifetime” spiel, but it’s a bit cheesy and tired so I’ll just take it for granted that you’ll all agree I’ve had a great time. Saves on me using up a load of clichés and gushing about how fabulous my life has been. You’d only get jealous.

Looking back, there is one change I’d make. I was certain at the beginning of summer that I’d do just fine on my own; and while Regina, Alex, Jerry & Kevin will always house a lovely little alcove in my heart; I don’t think I’d do it alone again. For one thing, there’s no one to take picture of me when I’m gallivanting around, but more importantly; it would have been cool to have always had someone with me, experiencing the same things at the same time- and who isn’t going to get sick of me constantly retelling anecdotes.
I’ve especially loved having Anna with me in my last week in France- someone who’s cool and funny and interesting- there to take the piss out of my accent and to have “you had to be there” moments with. I’ll forever refer to distant places as “Ain’t no man collecting your bins”, and tell people that they’ve got the wrong end of the leek.
One of the best things about my summer has been all the reunions I’ve been having. Stressed Mecca Bingo experiences with the BFF, fancy meals in London, nights out with the boys and walks round Sainsbury’s with my mum. Those are the little moments that have really stitched all the antics of my summer up together- and I don’t care how disgustingly cheesy that sounds. I love coming home just as much as I love getting my one way ticket out again.
Though I’ve come out a little battered, I’ve come out in one piece. In related news, my mum is now giving away all the kittens she had while I was off making a fuss somewhere to any good home. Back to normality; to work and studying and facing up to graduation (gulp). It’s time for the tan to fade(!)


My first rave; a review.

I’m not really the kind of person you’d expect to hear has gone to a rave. I don’t usually make it past the third pub when on a crawl, and the only house or trance music I listen to is whatever Sam Dumigan has downloaded in his infinite music wisdom onto my laptop without telling me.

So when my workaway host told me we were heading out to a “Free Party” yesterday- I had no idea what to expect. First of all, I needed an explanation as to what a “free party” meant. (jsyk, turns out it says it on the tin.). I couldn’t decide what to wear; having forgotten my UV face paint, I was at a bit of a loss. Then I didn’t know what to bring.

I’m almost certainly the only person at the rave who packed a book (for the journey!), a 12-pack of jam tarts and a pair of pyjamas. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Getting to the rave was a long and confusing process. As they’re not strictly speaking entirely 100% legal (not even a little bit); the address wasn’t exactly exhibited on a banner being flown around Acquitaine for all to see. Instead, we were told to drive to a town, then call a number, then drive to another town. Repeat this a few times, often driving back to the place you’ve just been sent from. The process wasn’t in the slightest bit frustrating, which surprised us, because you’d expect that this would have us tearing our hair out in clumps. Then, eventually, find a man standing at the corner of a road who tells you to drive down the centre of a field, and voila.

The woods were being set up for the nights events when we arrived- speakers being plugged into trees, the STD info stand lining up their information leaflets, artwork being strategically draped from more trees. It was all very interesting to watch, so Anna and I parked ourself on a sawn log and chatted as we watched the night unfold.

We were clearly too early at 8pm. By eleven, people had only just started to arrive, though the music had been thundering on since we’d got there. This didn’t faze us, though, having settled quite cosily onto our log and well on our way through a five litre box of red wine.

Very much enjoying our terrible wine and hilarious conversations, neither of us had noticed that the rave had started to pick up. The music was a thumping bass mixed up with other noises- and I can’t really think of a more complimentary way of describing it accurately so I think I’ll leave it at that.

Not that my opinion affected the rest of the rave-goers enjoyment of the music. They were having a cracking time- so much so that they were in a weird zombie like state, worshipping the piled up speakers by vaguely shaking themselves around whilst stood directly facing them, like an inanimate dance partner. Most of their eyes were glazed over, lending the name “Trance” to the genre with a beautiful accuracy. Perhaps I’d missed something about the musics enchanting ability, or perhaps it was something to do with all the drugs these people were evidently on. Either way.

Not wanting to miss out, I had a bash at copying the favoured dance moves, though it was more like a half-hearted solo mosh pit, jutting around within a small space, so gave that up pretty quickly. There was one guy who chose instead to impersonate swimming all night. It’s quite likely he was on drugs, come to think of it.

After several hours of staring at speakers barking out deep bass at us, surrounded by dreadlocked headbanging and brazen drug deals, getting chatting to some Italian racists, and spilling enitre bottles of beer down ourselves, myself and Anna trunched up to the car to fix ourselves a cheese sandwich and to listen to some Michael Jackson on the radio.

True to form, I fell asleep at around 3am, tucked into a sleeping bag in the back of the car. The amalgamated bass’of the two separate dancefloors didn’t wake me, the hundreds of veteran-rave goers balancing beer bottles on the bonnet while they rolled joints didn’t wake me, and the general din crowds of people having-it-large didn’t wake me.

When I did get up- a solid eight hours sleep under my belt- the party hadn’t stopped. Wandering around, the crowds had thinned out but were still partying hard. There was a fine mist of drug and dance sweats hovering, and the open air loo system meant you had to watch where you were going in case you accidentally trod in a poo that you couldn’t tell whether its origin had been from a dog or an actual human.

I think the regulars were as surprised as I was to find myself there. Clearly, I wasn’t the usual clientèle for an illegal rave in the forest. Apparently it’s unusual to change into a pair of cosy pyjamas before bed. Apparently it’s unusual to go to bed at all. In any case, I can’t say I’m decided on the rave. I had an incredible time, largely due to the wonderful entertainment Anna Finn provided, but I don’t think it’s my scene. Whatever, I probably won’t be invited to another, so it doesn’t matter at all really.


I’ve learnt a few things about myself in France…

Travelling, it has been suggested, is one of the best ways to learn life lessons. You know, soul searching, horizon broadening, that kind of thing. And I for one agree. There are a number of things I didn’t know I was shit at, but now, thanks to my trip in France, I’m now enlightened to.

This may not shock those of you who have seen my culinary attempts before, but it’s been a genuine surprise to me. I am viciously proud of the curries I make- and am a spice snob like you’ve never known before. But pass me some flour and a whisk, and I deteriorate. A five minute can’t-fail bread recipe becomes all out kitchen war, a food fight between me and the mixing bowl. And after all the effort and stressed google searches (“what is hoummus supposed to look like”), the result always tastes like shit. It’s so demoralising.


Still, not one to let a little stodgy bread or salty chocolate brownies get in my way, I’ve made myself a little promise that I’m going to carry on making stuff from scratch. I’m going to stop relying on tins of peaches to get my five a day, and I’m going to make the perfect loaf of bread if it kills me.

Coping with bugs.
I’ve never been one of those people who squeels at the sight of a creepy crawly. I’d prefer for them not to be in my cocktail, or in my bed, but as long as they keep themselves to themselves, I can carry on with my life. If you don’t look at me, I won’t look at you. It’s worked for me all my life- and I even have the magic ability to not implode whenever a wasp dawdles by unlike basically everyone else I know.

But that’s changed. You try sharing a tent with the entire fucking cast of A Bug’s Life.When I’m trying to relax on a hammock with a good book and Beedrill, of Pokemon fame, tries to pick an unprovoked fight with me, then as far as I’m concerned, our laissez-faire deal is off. Next time a demon hybrid of Eight-Legged Freaks and the devil incarnate creeps up on me, I’m going to scream until someone bigger and braver than me disposes of it.

Speaking French
Despite my 80% attendance at my evening classes last year, it turns out I’m not fluent in French. Waste of money, I know. I do give it a good try, and spend a lot of my time at parties translating the conversations around me for Anna, the other workawayer staying with us who has an even tinier grasp of the language than me.

It’s cool though- I have one useful phrase nailed. If in doubt, I go “je peut comprende un peu, mais je ne parle pas“. And for those of you who can’t be arsed to translate, it means “I can understand a little, but I can’t speak it”. And for the rest of you who are aware how appallingly bad that attempt is- don’t jump to your trolling stations just yet- ITS SUPPOSED TO BE BAD FRENCH. That way, I’m promptly exempt from having to struggle to understand what’s going on. Genius, really.

Being cool 

Okay, this one isn’t really new. There have been some hints over the past twenty years that have indicated I’m not blisteringly cutting edge. I have a blog, for starters. I get withdrawal symptoms from Coronation Street, and form really strong attachments to authors (if you’re reading this, Bill Bryson/Simon Armitage, I love you). I’m not sure the press needs to be informed of this revelation.

But the extent of how uncool I am has certainly come to light. While I’m at a gangette (French riverside parties- very similar to Fishing For Bishops vibes, but with free onion soup at the end), and everyone else is passing around beer and joints, I’m taking a quick nap in the back of the car. I had to hold back the surge of emotion upon finding a birthday message in a handwritten prayer book. I only just managed to contain my excitement on finding a pressed flower in a French art book from the 1930s.

Long and short of it; if you are asked on a scale of one to ten how uncool Farrah Kelly is, you should politely ask the enquirer for a larger scale.

There have been some other life lessons, for good measure. It’s not all been about how sub-par I am. I’m not as bad you’d rightly expect at rockclimbing. I can find a books’ ISBN number in less than ten seconds. I can climb to the top of a pile of crates with a torch in my mouth, a book on palmreading in one hand and a long checklist in the the other, and still manage to come back down with the right edition of Keats. You know, real life skills. The important stuff.


How being surrounded by books has made me die a little inside

Working in a book shop is, in many ways, an ideal job for me. I get to spend time rummaging through boxes of travel guides and novels, I get to scale ceiling-height shelves looking for signed anthologies, I get to have that gorgeous smell of books surrounding me. Basically, I can spend my entire working day nerding out without anyone judging me.

But there is one thing. Working with 20,000 books is playing havoc with how I view the world.

In one way, my faith in hardcopy reading (and therefore humanity) is deepened. I’m stirred into a fuzzy feeling when I see the sheer volume of books that are ordered everyday. Someone, somewhere, is really looking forward to getting that first edition children’s book. A book that was printed in Milan, lent in libraries in Sao Paulo, and packed up in a barn in south of France, is now winging its way to Susan in Dorset. Removing bookmarks from well-thumbed novels, reading annotations from people’s close studies. The romantic in me is having an absolute field day.

On the other hand, I’ve realised how crazy people are. Utterly, utterly batshit. People will read anything.

But before I tirade about this, a disclaimer; I hate that snobbery that inhabits people’s opinions of literature. You know, how anytime a novel gets a film adaptation, everyone’s knickers automatically twist and we all splutter about it not doing the book justice. Or whenever something that The Independent didn’t review gets popular, and everyone guards their precious Waterstones loyalty cards like Twihards are going to soil all the “real” literature in the world. Let’s just man up about books- people like to read, and are entertained by different things. Get over it. You have more important things to troll than a Fifty Shades of Grey Facebook page.

So I’m really really not being snobby about this. This is unadulterated astonishment.

Yesterday I catalogued a book by a German woman from the seventies, talking about her drawings of cats. Seriously. That’s it. Not only does the book exist- and just think what that entails; someone thought the idea of the book sounded neat, someone WROTE that book, and someone else went out and PAID MONEY for it- but the thing is selling for about £20.

It’s even stranger when you have to examine these books closer. Think no one would be interested in 700 recipes that solely rely on the use of a microwave? Think again, there’s four editions of that bad boy. Couldn’t possibly foresee a situation in which someone would want to update a guide to behavioural habits of German Shepards? Wrong. Volume four, now available in shops near you.

The one that really hurt my feelings, though, was the catchily titled “Mathematics in Fun and Earnest . I swear to God. Google it right now. If anything was going to put a dampener on my definition of fun (and earnest…), it’s this book.

Now I know that seeing as anyone is allowed to write books, about anything they want, there is a LOT of crap out there. There’s not much I can (or would) do about it. But this really was taking the biscuit. I can’t think of anything worse than having to read that book. As Emma Bennett once eloquently put it, “I’d rather sick up a chip”. I calmly put the book back onto its pile, and tried to hold back the rush of sheer disgust.

My main rule for travelling has been to always overestimate how many books you’ll need. The extra weight in my suitcase will be worth it- I don’t want to end up reading taxi leaflets again like on my last day in Turkey, with seven hours to spare at the airport. But just knowing this Mathematics in Fun and Earnest exists has cemented for me what was already core advice. In no circumstances do I want to be left with a choice of MIF&E or staring blankly at an airport wall for seven hours. I honestly don’t know which I’d choose.

“For the traveller”