I had an idea

It was mid Line of Duty binge.  As usual I was lying on my bed, candle flickering, engrossed in the twisted plot when it suddenly came to me.  I could write about that, that’d be a great title. I could say x and y and z.


12hours on and I can’t for the life of me remember what that idea was.  I’ve put myself back in that place, closing my eyes as I try to recall the sights, the sounds and smells of the moment in a bid to trigger the recall of that great idea.


But no, it won’t come and so instead I’ve decided to randomly write – kind of stream of consciousness stuff and just see what comes out.


Ironically, since moving to Kampot to, amongst other things, write, the ideas for blogs have become fewer and farther between.  The ability to see a story in a situation diminished, my faith in being able to write something of interest contracted.  And so, when an idea does pop into my messy old head I usually hang on to it for dear life.


And I have to hang on to it because, as well as having a diminishing supply of blog ideas I have developed an aversion to opening up my laptop to write the rare ones that do appear down.


Somehow, I have turned my writing for pleasure into a work or study like exploit.  Something that I need to think endlessly about but avoid doing at all costs, something to beat myself up over with a huge metaphorical stick, a thing of pain not pleasure.


I do this with work stuff.  If there’s something I ‘have to do’ I will obstinately not do it.  Waving two fingers to complicity whilst bingeing and brooding and generally making myself feel shite.


Why oh why do I do this?  Why do I make life harder than it needs to be? What on earth do I get from not doing it?  What do I stand to gain?


As an unhappy teenager I did it for attention.  Not doing my homework, skiving off school and being deliberately obstinate elicited a detention, or even better being put on report – an opportunity to get acknowledgement without being ‘bad, written praise for my good behaviour and one on one time with authority figures.


But in my life now this no longer makes sense.  If I don’t write, the only person that notices is me.  Putting my writing  out there gets the attention, the praise, the plaudits so WTF is going on?


Maybe it’s more akin to why I do it in my working life (and my University study too).  I know I’ll meet the deadline, I know I know what I’m doing and have everything I need in my head and I have accepted that not committing it to ‘paper’ until the very last minute is just part of my process.


But no, that doesn’t make sense either.  There is no deadline for my writing so I can’t be waiting for that moment to creep nearer before I commit.  I don’t always have it all ready in my head – sometimes I genuinely just don’t know what to write.  So what the hell is going on?


I truly don’t know.  But if you do then: Answers on a postcard please to……


And that’s where, 24 hours ago, I was with this blog.  A glib close to an unfinished exploration.  Maybe with a small element of despair attached, but glib none the less.


An all to regular scroll through my Twitter timeline yesterday led me to the discovery of a post that made me challenge my dismissal.



I have been given the lemons in the form of a talent and a passion to write.



And it’s really a no brainer!  There is no choice!


I don’t want to be that procrastinator filled with regret.


I choose to make lemonade.


I really , really want to make lemonade.


But I think I need help.


I have to understand whatever is stopping me.  To know why I’m sabotaging myself will help to reduce the hold it has over me.


And so I’m putting out a plea.  If anyone thinks they can help me work through this, or knows someone who can then please, please, please let me know.


Dandelion wishes, butterfly kisses and a crazy ass cleaner

In my quest to claw my way up from the pits of last week I’ve been spending a bit more time outdoors.  It’s super hot just now and with the storm clouds looming the humidity is ramping up and so, determined to take advantage of any breeze there is, I’ve shifted one of my chairs around to look out front onto the courtyard garden and beyond to the mountains.


From my breezy lounging point I read, I write and I ponder.  It’s beautifully peaceful with only the rustling of trees and the ever present birdsong keeping me company.  The typing and writing is intermittent as the pondering takes over.  My usual soundtrack of “What am I doing?” “Why am I doing it?”, along with the ever present Norman’s useful input of “Why the f*ck am I so lazy” of course.


I feel myself sinking.  I am lazy! Who in the real world spends their days just lounging around, watching shite TV and expecting to be ok?  My ruminations in full swing, I barely notice the gentle brushing of something on my arm, a gentle tickling right in the crook.  I look down and am surprised to see a dandelion wish resting there.


Dandelion wishes may be common as muck back home in the UK, but here in Cambodia it’s the first one I’ve seen and the fact that I’m seeing it today seems like more than chance.


My lovely little sis, Victoria, adores dandelion wishes, regularly heading to the gorgeous Trentham Gardens to visit the giant sculptured ones that dance in the wind all around the park and today, this little one landing on me reminds me that she is here with me, believing in me and supporting me every step of the way.

dandelion 2

Trentham Gardens Dandelion Wishes – Pic stolen from my sis’s Facebook



Trentham Gardens dandelion wishes – Pic stolen from my sis’s Facebook page

I won’t lie, the first forty years of mine and Victoria’s relationship were a pretty bumpy ride but we’re now in an amazing place of mutual love, support, respect and trust which means so much to me.  I’m so proud to be big sister to such an amazing woman who not only has tenacity, drive and a work ethic that I can only marvel at but is also an awe-inspiring mother to my two gorgeous nieces Emily and Grace.  I see so much of myself in Emily as she transitions from cute kid to awkward teen and the patience with which Victoria deals with her and supports her through her process of self-destruction and out the other side is wonderful to watch.


My sis and her gorgeous girls

Yep, I am now crying as I’m writing but it feels good though, cathartic and in some way helping to shift something that’s got stuck in me.


I read for a while, sipping on a builders brew which whilst inducing a sweat worthy of its own bucket refreshes none the less.  A large yellow and black butterfly flutters gently back and forth in the growing breeze. Heading directly into the wind and seemingly making little progress doesn’t seem to bother it, it just hovers patiently and waits for the breeze to abate when once again it floats hither and thither before resting momentarily on a leaf, or a sill to recover it’s breath before heading off once more.  What a metaphor for my life.  At times I float effortlessly on the breeze, basking as I do what I love, taking a rest from time time to recoup.  Now all I have to do is master not battling against my self-induced head on draught – the words I say to myself that batter and buffet me about stopping me making progress.  Like the butterfly I need to become accepting of this as a phase, knowing it will pass and I can again return to floating and resting.


My poetic reverie is shattered by a clatter and I look up to see my crazy ass cleaner stumble out of an apartment, dressed in a colourful mishmash of clothing, floppy hat covering her eyes and loaded down with bedding and bog rolls but grinning at me like a Cheshire cat.  She proceeds to make a fish wife like call to her mate downstairs before heading over to talk ten to the dozen to me in Khmer whilst I smile and nod inanely without a clue what is being said.  And I’m reminded of the answer to my ruminations about “what am I doing?” and “why am I doing it?”


My mad ass cleaner about to emit a fishwife worthy yell


To avoid further conversation I often resort to selfies as was the case in this earlier meeting with her

Living in a beautiful country, basking in the love and friendship of wonderful, kind, fun loving, crazy ass people and supported by my wonderful family and friends back home I’m channelling my inner butterfly and becoming me (to coin one of my sis’s favourite phrases – the perfectly imperfect me) one cray adventure at a time.

Messing about on the river


Kampot is a river town.  It’s one of the things that drew me too it.  I love water, no surprise when you consider I’m a Cancerian with both my sun and moon in Cancer at the time of my birth and spending time by water or on it brings about a sense of peace.


Or at least it does when I’m not knee deep in a river at 8.30 on a Saturday morning trying to scramble my way to kneeling on a paddle board floating away from me on the Kampot River.


Before doing so I’d listened carefully as my tutor and guide for the morning, Sal, showed me how to get on, the transition from kneeling to standing, how to paddle straight and turn myself around, all the time repeating the most important point of all – Look ahead, not at your feet!


Balanced precariously, doggy style on the board, Sal encouraged me to move to standing – easier said than done.  In yoga, one of the things I struggle with is bringing my legs through from downward dog to place them at my hands and here was Sal asking me to perform the same manouvere but this time on a piece of polystyrene in a deep murky mass of water.


I clumsily dragged my left leg through and there I sat, half up, half down and totally paralysed with Norman laughing uproariously in my ear.

When suggesting I stay kneeling for a while longer to gain confidence, poor Sal and Zoe (who had paddle boarded previously) bore the brunt of my sharp tongue as I snapped No, aware that if I didn’t do it now, Norman would have a field day and my sense of failure would make it nigh on impossible for me to recover.


All the while chanting the mantra, “look up, not at your feet” and with Sal and Zoe echoing it around me I unsteadily dragged my right leg through and tentatively pushed through my feet and core until I was at last upright. My euphoria was short lived as I realised that, rather than pointing straight ahead, my feet were in fact placed at 45 degree angles aka duck style.  Not a problem you may think until I tell you that my feet (particularly the right one) felt literally glued to the board.


This is actually not a new phenomenon for me – I have experienced the sensation of being unable to lift my feet before but have never been so acutely aware of its link to my feelings of fear around lack of stability and grounding.  I managed to shuffle my left foot around but no matter how strongly I tried to urge my right foot to move it just would not shift, my leg a solid lump of immovable lead.


Eventually Sal came to my rescue, paddling over to simultaneously hold my board and shuffle the foot round to its rightful place and thus stop my board keeling over and finally we were off.


We headed up river edging slowly towards the old bridge, Sal choosing a straight smooth pathway whilst Zoe and I clumsily zigzagged our way there.  Past the bridge and onwards out of town I felt myself relax slightly, getting into my paddling stride and actually daring to look around a bit rather than fixing obsessively on the horizon.  By the time we got to the New Bridge, Zoe and I were actually chatting and I was beginning to enjoy myself.


It was at this point that Sal proposed a rest, a joyful concept until I realised that this meant transitioning from my standing position back to kneeling.  A few girly squeals later and I was down on my knees and paddling along again in between taking welcome gulps from my bottle of water which had been out of reach whilst standing, due to it being secured to the board by strapping and taking a couple of snaps on my phone which until this point had been secured in a waterproof pocket around my neck.


We paddled silently along, passing fewer and fewer dwellings and denser and denser foliage, the ripples our boards were making the only movement on the deserted river.


All too soon it was time to stand again which I this time managed with no more grace but far less panicky squeaking.  I truly was getting the hang of things.


The paddle up the river was amazing.  I totally get why people can get hooked on these kind of activities, such a peaceful, gentle way to glide along and be part of the river and at one with nature rather than crashing through it on a motor boat or similar and far less traumatic than getting repeatedly beached as we did on our boat trip to Battambang.  We weaved our way along, criss crossing the banks to make the most of limited shade, passing mangroves filled with exotic looking plants and buzzing from the sounds of birds and animals, bursting into song (my rendition of Old Man River was Grammy award worthy in my opinion!), chatting, laughing and joking but also spending quiet time lost in our own thoughts.  No matter how focused on my paddling technique I was I never managed to keep pace with Sal who motored ahead even when he had one hand off the paddle to talk to someone on his phone.
Further up river a current rose as the tide appeared to turn and, for Zoe and I who were by this point 2 hours in and tiring rapidly, it brought the relief of a helping hand speeding us on the last leg of the tour.


Knackered but elated we headed toward the beach laughing about how the hell we were going to disembark as we watched Sal achieve the feat effortlessly.  I glided in first and then unceremoniously scrambled and tripped forward on my board as it hit the beach, squealing and laughing as I struggled off waving my arms about wildly in an attempt to avoid falling in.  Zoe managed a slightly less fairy elephant disembarkation and before we knew it we were both on land and helping Sal to collect everything up to transport to our awaiting tuktuk for the journey back.


My water baby Cancerian self well and truly sated, we arrived back in town windswept, sun blushed and exhausted and after much needed sustenance in the form of strong coffee and good food headed to our respective homes for a well-earned nana nap.




The week that was

This week has had a definite downhill momentum to it.  In fairness, I started it tired after a fabulous weekend spending time with friends from around the world visiting Kampot for the New Year, but no matter how hard I battled the slump continued and grew.  Chatting to friends online and reading around it seems that a lot of people are experiencing the same feelings and there’s cosmic energy at play and so with that in mind I’m trying really hard to not give myself a hard time or let Norman have free reign which can only serve to make matters worse.


That said, as I feel myself very slightly manoeuvring my way out of the slump (it’s 7.30am and I’m dressed, out of the house at a café in town writing this) I’ve decided to take all the ‘shoulds’, ‘woulds’ and ‘coulds’ and put them on paper (well a screen) to share them with you, in an attempt to further break the cycle.  So here goes, Sara’s stream of consciousness for the week ending 22nd April 2017:


Things that I thought about (over and over) that would help:

  • Doing yoga
  • Going for a bike ride
  • Reading a book
  • Listening to music
  • Stopping the constant mind numbing surfing of social media
  • Writing to you guys
  • Doing my Khmer homework
  • Talking to people in Khmer
  • Getting off the bed
  • Switching the laptop off
  • Having a shower and getting dressed before 3pm
  • Not picking up my phone the moment that I wake
  • Eating proper meals and not mindlessly snacking


Things that I did that didn’t help:

  • Only thought about and didn’t do yoga
  • Ditto bike riding
  • Ditto writing
  • Ditto reading
  • Ditto listening to music
  • Ditto Khmer homework and speaking practice
  • Didn’t get dressed before 3pm on 3 days this week
  • Picked up my phone the moment that I woke on every day this week and read shite on it for over an hour before even getting up for a pee or having a drink
  • Mindlessly surfed Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for hour after hour (and when even that dross wasn’t enough, scrolled through LinkedIn FFS!!!!)
  • Having caught up on all the usual Real Housewives suspects (including the ridiculously awful Cheshire version), Vanderpump Rules, The Good Fight, Scandal, Made in Chelsea (can’t believe I’m admitting to that one) & Car Share within minutes of them appearing on the streaming site, resorting to gorming at even more super shite TV in the form of:
    • Benidorm – they really are scraping the bottom of the barrel with the latest series
    • The Sheriffs are Coming – Did you know there’s 6 seasons of this programme and in the last week I’ve caught up with 3 of them!!
      Second Chance Summer, Tuscany – I quite enjoyed this series which is from the creators of the Real Exotic Marigold Hotel. The only thing that would improve it is a cameo appearance by the fabulously irreverent, burpy, farty, Miriam Margolyes.
    • The Amazing Race – I was addicted to this series when I lived in China, waiting all week for 9 o’clock Wednesday night to arrive so that I could watch the next episode and obsessively talking about the contestants in it to anyone who would listen (and even to those who didn’t)
    • And the piece de resistance in my car crash tv viewing:
      • Just tattoo of us – A show where ‘friends’ choose a tattoo and it’s placement for the other who has no idea what’s being permanently inked on them. Series one highlight was female cousins, one of whom decided to ‘brand’ her relation with “SLUT” in red capital letters on her arse!!!
    • Cancelled a meeting and missed a Khmer class because of a headache and immediately felt guilty but relieved at the same time
    • Woke naturally at 6 then went back to sleep until 12 (not once this week, but twice)
    • Lay in bed with a cup of tea and a packet of biscuits, consumed the whole packet and then thought about getting another packet out of the fridge (the only thing that stopped me being my CBA attitude to being vertical as opposed to horizontal on my bed). And for the record this happened on more than one occasion on more than one day.
    • Read the news and got anxious about the whole general election shite, the only conclusion I reached being that Theresa May scares the bejesus out of me and we’re all doomed!


But, in the spirit of balance, here’s a few good things that I did that slowed the decline:

  • Met up with an amazing woman who runs a social enterprise here to talk about working with them. I start next week WHOOP WHOOP!!!!
  • Forced myself to go to the other two Khmer classes this week despite wanting to stay home (including having to walk on Wednesday because some cheeky guests at my guesthouse had the nerve to use all the bikes).
  • Laughed like a drain in Khmer class on Friday as our attempts to form coherent sentences took on a’ Mind your Language’ quality.
  • Only watched 1.5 hours of TV yesterday and instead read a book from cover to cover. A fabulous story called Shtum about a family with a son with severe autism.
  • Made couscous for tea one evening even though I really wanted the packet of crisps which lay oh so temptingly on top of the fridge winking at me.
  • Chatted with good friends and my gorgeous sister – the best therapy ever.
  • Acknowledged that each and every point on the first two lists was purely a moment in time and not a reflection on who I fundamentally am.

So there you have it.  My messy head on a page.  Wherever you’re reading this I hope that you’re either sailing smoothly on, or if like me you’re caught up in the spiral, are at least cutting yourself some slack safe in the knowledge that ‘this too shall pass’.



Khmer Happy New Year


I’ve always loved that Sophat and some of my other Cambodian friends referred to the New Year here as ‘Khmer Happy New Year’ because for me it conjured up images of a really playful, joyful occasion and last weekend I was able to witness the reality which turned out to be just that.


Set over three days, Khmer Happy New Year occurs between April 13-17 each year (usually it’s 13-15 but this year was 14-16 which I assume has something to do with the moon or something like that) and coincides with Songkran, the Thai Water Festival.


Official New Year began at 03.14 on 14 April and apparently involved Khmer families performing religious ceremonies and letting off fireworks.  Thankfully, none of the families around my home did the latter and so I slept peacefully through this part of the formalities.


Venturing out in the morning, the first thing I noticed were Cambodian flags proudly lining the highway into Kampot town and countless shops and houses along the route displaying their overflowing altar tables loaded with generous offerings to the Gods.  Some had decorated these with fairy lights and balloons and all were stocked with copious cans of beer to keep the Gods on good terms for the year to come.


Apart from the religious and superstitious ceremonial stuff, Khmer Happy New Year basically involves spending time with family.  In the past families would gather at home and sit around eating, drinking, playing traditional games and chatting, but with increased prosperity and improved transport links a large percentage of the population now take the opportunity of the holiday from work to go out and about.  Those living in the capital head home to the provinces, leaving Phnom Penh a ghost town and the roads in a state of even more bedlam than usual.


You may recall that back in September I experienced the holidays out and about phenomena when I took a day trip to Kep, the super sleepy seaside town transforming itself into Bank Holiday Blackpool on speed and this Friday to Sunday in Kampot I witnessed the precursor to that town’s transformation again as the main route from Kampot to Kep was flooded with traffic making the pilgrimage.


On each morning, the usually fairly tranquil main road into town was bumper to bumper with motorbikes, cars, pick up trucks and minivans all overloaded with people and provisions.  Whilst the grown up in me knows the way people travel here is dangerous: families of six all piled onto one motorbike; cars with passengers contorted into every inch of space in the back seat and the boot tied with string to hold in the huge red ice box of beers and sodas that is an essential part of the picnic here; extended families standing packed shoulder to shoulder in the back of pick up trucks; whilst in other pickups a blanket is rigged up to provide shelter from the fierce sun for the family of five who huddle beneath, the child within was uplifted by the fact that everyone looked so damned excited to be heading out on their adventures.


I followed the convoy into town, partaking in a bit of dangerous road activity myself on the Sunday by snapping photos with one hand whilst steering my bike precariously around the melee of traffic with the other before we parted company at the roundabout.

Thankfully these journeys did not see me succumbing to another Khmer Happy New Year activity adopted from the Thai Songkran tradition of being soaked to the skin by people with water pistols, hose pipes and buckets of water although there were a couple of near misses as I cycled past the market place on my way home right through the middle of a battle between opposing trucks lining the road.


The other big part of Khmer Happy New Year (and every other festival, ceremony or family gathering of any type in Cambodia) is eating.  A quick glance into homes afforded a view of families sitting together squatting around a picnic blanket on the floor tucking in to assorted dishes and supping from a can of beer, At pavement restaurants in town groups of youths on motorbikes and cars stuffed with families pulled up on their way home from a trip up the mountain or to the waterfall to eat together, roadside stalls piled high with durian and other exotic offerings appeared out of nowhere to feed the hungry hoards, tiffin tins hung from motorbikes, people balanced on full rice cookers and baskets of provisions in trucks and bags of snacks were passed around as the convoy shuffled along to Kep.  And basically, people took every opportunity to eat, drink and be merry.


And so Khmer Happy New Year rumbled on, a festival of praying, eating, travelling, relaxing, socialising and generally being Happy.


Halfway There

I’m just about at the midpoint in my ‘what’s next’ adventure here in Kampot and so thought it might be a good time to reflect on where I’m up to.


Back in February I wrote a post about my next chapter and included a list of what the next chapter entailed, and so, in the spirit of holding myself accountable whilst at the same time doing so with kindness and without the input of Norman, here’s my reflections on where I’m at with the stuff on that list:


  1. Find a base in Kampot (probably a long stay guesthouse).
    Mission accomplished! I’ve found myself a lovely little haven a couple of km out of town, a studio flat within a guesthouse complex.  I look out onto open countryside, wake to the sound of roosters crowing and the sun rising directly outside my door, spend days sitting outside doing stuff whilst village like life goes on around me despite being located just off the main Phnom Penh Road and then sit watching the sun slowly set behind the mountains looking out across the complex.


  1. Continue to wear flip flops every day
    Mission also accomplished! Thanks to unseasonally wet, stormy weather (the enhanced North East Monsoon according to the BBC), my Crocs flip flops have had more outings than I may have expected and the Fit Flops have stayed home to protect their sequinned fabulousness from the flooding (we got 77mm in a couple of hours the other afternoon) but nonetheless I can safely safe my life is 100% flip flop wearing.
  2. Write for pleasure
    Started well, got a bit stuck, hopefully coming unstuck – same sh*t different day!


  1. Write for money
    I’ve managed to get a couple of gigs writing training materials via a freelancer website and really enjoyed the work (even managed to be ok with my bingeing procrastination behaviour). Now need to see if I can work out how to get more of this work – any help anyone can give me is appreciated.


  1. Look for online and face to face English teaching gigs
    I have officially been accepted to one of the online teaching sites that delivers conversational English to Chinese students and hope to trial this in the next couple of weeks. Not sure whether I’ll enjoy it or not but it seems like a fairly simple way to earn amounts that will help me live life out here using time in the evenings when I’m not doing anything else (apart from binge watch series obviously).


  1. Explore revamping and reigniting renaissance4women as an online coaching business
    Small foray into this with the relaunch of the Way of Life Plan on International Women’s Day led to a big fight with Norman, a brief knock to my confidence followed quickly by a return to a determination to continue exploring this one. Watch this space!



  1. Test out the feasibility of running small group PT sessions in Kampot
    Norman and I have had a chat, make that several chats, in fact let’s be honest a continuous conversation and I currently can’t beat him on this one.  My fraud complex is looming too large thanks to me not exercising for yonks, carrying a fair few extra pounds and not doing that great on the eating well front (damn the Belgian Bakery and other purveyors of raisin pastries along with biscuit manufacturers the world over).  And no, this isn’t me being unkind, it’s me being honest but, in that spirit, I will add that I do practice yoga 2or3 times a week right now and am hoping to build that to every day and am out on a bike roughly 5 days out of 7 with at least one 20km bike ride in that mix so it’s not all doom and gloom but it’s definitely not the right time to be using those fitness skills I have for monetary gain.


  1. Join a crafting community or if there isn’t already one then create one
    Limited progress here.  Have engaged in lots of thinking on this one but not been brave enough to put it out in the community yet for fear of a repeat of number 6!


  1. Look at ways to practically support the work of a great project in Kampot called the Banteay Srey Project
    I’m very excited to have started working with the team at the Banteay Srey Spa.  They’re a great bunch of women: Freya, the founder, is an inspiration and the team of trainees and fulltime volunteers have been extremely welcoming and friendly.  Every time I visit I leave feeling super enthused and energised and to be honest, think I get as much, if not more from being part of the project than they can ever hope to get from me.


  1. Constantly look for opportunities to generate income through sharing my skills and expertise to allow me to live in the Kingdom of Wonder for the foreseeable future
    Stock photo sites have proved a double-edged sword for me so far.  My first downloaded netted a 25¢ pay out and a rush of positive endorphins.  Rejection emails for photos not deemed to be “commercially viable” on the other hand give Norman free reign and send me diving into the biscuit barrel.

    An online survey site has netted me another 25¢ with the potential to earn more if I can bear the mind numbing clicking through of surveys without losing the will to live.

    My long-held Amazon Affiliates account has been resurrected and whenever I recommend books here on my blog I will be using the affiliate links to hopefully earn a bit of passive income.  If you don’t want to use these links please feel free to search for the books through Google – I do it on other people’s sites sometimes – and will never know ;-D


So that’s the list, but I’m excited to say it’s not all.  I’ve become an over achiever and done some exciting stuff (for me anyway) not on the list.


First up, I’ve started being social.  It started slowly on safe ground with a meet up for breakfast with the VSO volunteer working here and progressed to chatting to the other expats living at my guesthouse (there’s a whole post in the that one but I can’t quite work out how to write it).   Volunteering at Banteay Srey led me to friendly chats over fruit juices and breakfast with the yoga teachers and even saw me attending a yoga class which Norman unfortunately decided to attend to but didn’t totally succeed in putting me off thinking about trying again.  And I recently reached the heady heights of engaging in conversation with random people in cafes which has twice so far led to arranging follow up meet ups for cake and coffee – Mrs ‘nobody will like me’ is actually making friends!


And in a similar vein, I’ve really exposed myself by signing up for group Khmer conversation classes, rather than avoiding endless chats with Norman over my failures and being judged, by either a) not bothering to learn at all (if you can’t be perfect why bother?!) or b) getting a 1to1 teacher who will actually allow me to speak more English than Khmer giving me the false comfort of paying but not having to do the work (a bit like paying your money for Weight Watchers membership being all you need to do to lose the extra 2 stone you’re carrying).

I’ve just completed my first week and have loved every minute of it.  There are five of us in class and the teacher’s Cambodian partner and her children join us and apart from the first 10 minutes of the first class when ‘Be Perfect Sara’ refused to let me practice speaking  I have been a real keen bean, volunteering to try first and answering the teacher’s questions with aplomb.  I dash home to practice my new found linguistic skills on my lovely cleaning lady at the guesthouse who, having answered my questions proceeds to talk to me at warp speed about stuff I don’t understand assuming that knowing three questions and their answers renders me fluent.  And as well as smiling and nodding inanely as I did in the past, I can now proudly tell her I don’t understand and ask her to speak slowly.  Admittedly, I still don’t understand when she does speak slowly but small steps eh….



So, to sum up – life is good.  Whilst I’m looking forward to heading back to the UK to catch up with people and put on my big girl pants to work as Academic Directing at a Summer School for a month, Kampot is definitely feeling like the right place for me to be.  To that end, when extending my visa I optimistically opted for the 12 month option, putting aside my financial thrift needs in favour of a feeling of belonging that will see me back here in September for whatever comes next.




I’m in that ‘can’t quite get the story out’ phase again.  I had it a while back and ended up writing a little piece about the half formed stories in my head which helped me break out of the chains but even that isn’t forthcoming at the moment.


The butt of the problem is that I’m over thinking it (yes, yes, I can hear those of you who know me well guffawing).  I’ve done a lot of reading about writing and being a writer lately along with diving in to a couple of collections of short pieces by writers I admire and as a result, and with the help of Norman obviously, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t measure up.


I don’t have a clue where to start when it comes to fiction, how does anyone “develop a character” or “weave a subplot into the main plot” or “build an atmospheric scene” or any of the myriad other things that go into a can’t put it down novel?


When it comes to writing about the stuff that happens to me, I have more of a chance.  I can do this and I enjoy doing it.  But I’ve become intimidated, weighed down, unsettled by writing in the same genre as those I consider superior in style and voice.


And the result of this has been a series (approximately 18 to date) of opening paragraphs reaching around 5 lines before I read it back, tut in disgust and then hit ‘ctrl A’ followed by ‘ctrl x’ to totally erase that which I consider dire.  On a good day I then reluctantly begin again, more likely I turn to my binge activities (TV and food) to help me to avoid the pain.


I’ve even done it this morning with this piece.  I’ve come down to my favourite Sunday morning breakfast spot – all shabby chic interiors, chill out tunes, super good coffee and bacon hash to die for – and deleted 5 introductions to this little soliloquy.


But this time, finally, I’ve broken through and am determined to get this one written, to battle the demons, to put Norman back in his cage and get back on track.


The coffee’s kicked in, the cat’s joined me (OMG I’m becoming a cat person) and my confidence is returning.

And being really truthful (in other words cutting myself some slack) I have actually done some writing.


First off, I’ve managed to get a couple of paid gigs writing training/marketing materials for a small business coach which was enjoyable and is definitely something I’d like to do more of, so anyone reading this who needs written stuff for their business (or knows someone who does) please give me a shout.


Also, I’ve been writing a couple of pieces with the  working title of ‘You couldn’t make it up’, trying to get down on paper those bonkers things that I’ve encountered in life that would never make the grade in fiction writing as they’re totally ridiculous.  It’s tough going but enjoyable at the same time and I’m hoping it may be the start of that book I plan to write.


So that’s where I’m at, stuck but unstuck, confident but lacking in confidence, same sh*t different day as they say.



Happy Sunday to one and all.





Learning something new


As you know I’m a prolific singer.  In my head and out loud I’m very rarely without a tune and my Kampot bike rides are no different, many of them featuring the quirky earworm – Birdhouse in your Soul by They Might be Giants.


An odd choice you may think, but read on and you’ll discover why it’s not such a strange thing to be singing after all.


Let me kick off by saying that Cambodia is a real joy to behold for the bird lover.  As the dry season progresses the variety and volume of birdsong increases making it an almost constant soundtrack to your day, even in the most urbanised areas of the towns and cities.  Birds range from your common and garden sparrows to more exotic parakeets and various birds of prey along with a fair few water loving birds such as storks and cranes, especially around the rivers, canals and rice fields.


But that’s not the reason for my earworm.  That, I’m afraid to say is slightly less salubrious but interesting none the less.


The first time I visited Kampot I stumbled upon a local expat publication – The Kampot Survival Guide, which, as well as providing really useful information about the practicalities of visiting or living in Kampot (all laced with a healthy dose of sarcasm) gives an insight into the town’s history and make up.  It talks about the Chinese influence on the town and makes mention of the fact that:


“We have many bird houses that produce a truly Chinese delicacy, birds nest soup. Some of these are makeshift and some of them are specially built for the job.”


At the time, I thought very little of this and went about my day enjoying all that this sleepy little river town has to offer.


However, returning as I have to make Kampot my home for a while I’ve become intrigued.  As I have been cycling around exploring and also wandering on foot I have regularly seen large flocks of what look like swallows looping and swooping around strange looking windowless buildings dotted around the area.


My interest piqued, I returned once more to the Kampot Survival Guide and discovered that these buildings were in fact the birdhouses they refer to.  They describe them thus:


“They are easy to spot, just look for a big house with no windows. They simulate cave conditions inside and tempt the birds in by playing looped bird calls, playing loudest at sunrise and sunset. “


Fascinated, I consulted the great God Google for more info and was amazed to learn that the birds are in fact swiftlets (there are 3 different kinds and they are only present in South East Asia, despite birds nest soup being a Chinese delicacy) and 1kg of their solidified saliva nest will net the Cambodian farmer around $600 per kilo, with cleaned and processed nest commanding 3-5 times that price.  That’s not bad going for harvesting congealed bird spit!


Now I’m no fan of bird’s nest soup.  Like most weird and wonderful food offerings I have tried it (5 years in China will do that to you) and to be honest would much rather have a dollop of rice noodles in my soup thank you very much.  But that said, as long as the farming is being carried out ethically – i.e. the nests aren’t being harvested before the eggs are laid and hatched – I am not averse to the birdhouses in and around Kampot, especially as they have encouraged me to learn more and also invoked the repeated singing of the lovely Birdhouse in your Soul on an almost daily basis.