As I write this, I am enjoying my 17th evening in Bali. It’s an incredible island that we have been enjoying a great deal for two weeks, and in due course I will report on the many exciting things we have seen and done before today. However if I may, I would like to skip all that and talk about the cup of cat shit coffee I drank today.

That’s not me doing some creative swearing to emphasise how bad it was. I actually had a coffee that was made with beans that had been passed by a feline-esque jungle dwelling mammal, and apparently it’s the most expensive coffee in the world. The story goes that the little civet (or luwak or weasely/catty/stoat-ish thing) is a very picky animal that has a particular fondness for only the finest coffee berries. It sniffs them out, eats the juicy flesh of the berry but can’t properly digest the bean inside. However some sort of enzyme in its stomach causes a reaction in the beans and removes any hint of bitterness to create a coffee that when brewed tastes smoother than highly polished silk. Because this is rather a long process which relies on wild animals doing their job properly and then local farmers being able to locate their poo and dig through it to find the necessary goodies, the street price of a kilo of this coffee is around $700; coincidentally the exact same amount You Are What You Eat’s Gillian McKeith charges for one of her stool sample sweetcorn fritters. Obviously I’m a fancy pants and I wouldn’t be taking such a ludicrously long holiday if I wasn’t rich beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, but even I have my limits. Fortunately we found ourselves in the cafe of a local cooperative run by a volunteer who is largely motivated by responsible and sustainable farming rather than making a fast buck from excrement, and a cup of his lovely brew cost less than three quid.

Bottom beans apart, the best thing about this cup of coffee was the brewing process. Having ordered a one person pot of coffee I was presented with a sort of Indonesian chemistry set. There was fire, metal, tubes and a big glass with some ground coffee in it. All very exciting but I hadn’t got the slightest idea what I was supposed to do with it.

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After a few minutes and a few words of explanation from the man in charge, things started to happen. The flame heats water in the can above it which, once boiling, overflows through the pipe and into the glass. Then after a few seconds in the ground coffee the water is sucked back up the pipe due to the vacuum created when it left the can. Perhaps. I didn’t really understand what he was saying and I switched off when the explanation became too dependent on science, preferring to put it all down to magic, and I just enjoyed the show instead.

After all the excitement of the brewing process (which you can repeat up to three times depending on your coffee-strength preference; I opted for two because I prefer to sip my coffee rather than eat it with a spoon) the actual drinking of the stuff was going to struggle to keep the momentum of the experience up. It was though a very lovely cup of coffee and was definitely worth the effort of making it. Especially when there are hipsters in New York drinking it for ten times the price I paid. Add to that the fact that they don’t get a plate of the worlds best ever banana fritters with home grown chocolate dipping sauce to go with it, and I’m looking kind of like a freaking genius right now.

To round off our trip to Sydney, we indulged in a bit of high class outdoor summery sophisticated culture. We went to the Moonlight Cinema in Centennial Gardens, where they throw up a screen, project a film on to it as the sun goes down and everyone drinks wine and eats picnics like right smug, self-satisfied Australian bastards whose lives are perfect. What a joy to be one of them for the night. We saw Hitchcock even though its official release date wasn’t for some days yet, which only added to the sense that we were somehow among the privileged and better than the rest of the world. The film was great but for me the best bit of the evening was just before the sun went down, when hundreds of birds migrated from one end of the park to the other. Except they weren’t birds, they were massive bloody bats.

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We had seen them before during the day, roosting in a tree, all balled up like little hanging cats with leather jackets on but as they flew towards at dusk it was like being in a vampire film or a Meat Loaf album cover and it was completely amazing (because the vampire film in question was something really good and not Twilight and because Meat Loaf is a bad ass regardless of his questionable politics).

After a farewell meal of Nepalese curried goat with Angelo and Andrew we took our leave from Sydney and set a course for Bali. Lovely.

Everyone knows that China is at the forefront of the world’s technological and scientific advancement right now and as its population grows, its economy strengthens and its education gets better, the move towards Chinese global domination becomes more and more likely. While the Americans tell each other this is bad and it spells the end for American jobs and American industry and America being the leader of the free world, Australia is merrily embracing Chinese science because in Australia, Chinese science means this:

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Yes, as the photo above appears to illustrate, in Sydney’s China town they have a chemistry lab opened up on to the street where be-goggled ladies mix together liquids from various flasks, pour in some liquid nitrogen and make it look like they’ve set the place on fire. This would all be quite fun if they were just conducting random experiments for the entertainment of passing tourists. However they were actually making ice cream so it was all one hell of a lot of delicious mega fun. You choose your flavour and then they put milk and cream and some pop corn and truffle oil (Lovisa) or burnt butter (me) and probably some sugar and stuff in to a food mixer, pour over the liquid nitrogen and then give you the best ice cream you’ve ever had when it comes out. The place is called N2, it’s on Dixon Street, and if you’re ever in Sydney you have to go there.

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Look at those happy faces. Thanks China.

Australia is a big country, one covered in exciting animals, big rocks, things to do and people to meet. They play a lot of cricket, arguably the greatest sport there is (it’s not an easy argument to win, one that goes “Cricket is the greatest sport there is”, “No it’s really shit and boring”, “No I promise it really is amazing and I can’t really explain why but it just is, ok?”, “No.”) If you are English then you definitely know at least 500 smug people who have been to Australia on their gap year, or just after they finished uni or who emigrated when they retired, and they think its the best place ever in the world. And yet, with respect to all the people that I know and love who have been so fond of it, I have never had any compulsion to go there myself. It always struck me as being just like England but hotter and definitely smugger.

However, as it is very difficult to circumnavigate the globe in this direction without stopping over, and since two of our least smug friends had emigrated a year ago, we gave Sydney the benefit of the doubt and booked ourselves in for two weeks.

Let us begin with a little whining about the downsides of visiting Sydney. It is expensive as a bastard. If you can afford to live here you can afford to be smug. Our budget for two weeks in Sydney was approximately the same as a month in New York. With that in mind, we had to stay in a youth hostel. A very nice youth hostel it must be said, with clean sheets, a more than adequate supply of bread, an excellent toaster, range of cereal, tea, milk and sugar. However, a youth hostel in Australia means being surrounded by English dunderheads, away from mummy and daddy for the first time and not knowing how to behave. They sit in front of the TV all day while the sun is shining outside, then start drinking in the evening and keep everyone awake with the sort of shouty bullshit drunken machismo that they think is going to get them laid by the locals but which is only ever appealing to other English people, the like of which they could have impressed for much less than the cost of a round the world plane ticket. At times it was as though we’d accidentally found ourselves in a TOWIE vs Geordie Shore dick-swinging, tit-flashing, arsehole contest, with the appropriate regional accents for good measure. This though I rather predicted. What I never expected was to leave the confines of the hostel and find myself liking Sydney so very much.

We started off, as one (two?) inevitably does (do?) with seeing the big sites. We walked up to the harbour to see the opera house and the bridge and were delighted to find two properly worthwhile, impressive feats of human engineering and architecture, the first we had seen since leaving New York. Having been so consumed by the natural beauty of the western states in the US and down in New Zealand, it was nice to be reminded that people aren’t that shit after all and can even make things look nice when they try.

As with anything and anywhere else though, the big fat tourist sights are there for the big fat tourists, and once we were done with them, we needed to get the d-low from some locals if we were to get the most out of our stay. Fortunately for us, two of the best locals in town happened to be a couple of very good friends from our Brighton days, Andrew and Angelo.

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Andrew and Angelo know a thing or two about having fun on the beach.

I didn’t even know Sydney had so many beaches. I had heard of Bondi but assumed it was out of town, not a short bus ride away, and not on a bus that takes you past loads of other really lovely walkable coastline. Luckily for us, Angelo and Andrew did know this, so they took us out on a bunch of different amazing coastal walks. Here you can see me and the two of them thinking the warning signs on the beach are a bit lame.

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Fortunately there is no photographic evidence of me, shortly afterwards, fighting for my life, pathetically doggy paddling against the monstrous force of Mother Nature and her massive watery ego.

Aside from that brush with death, we had a most wonderful time at the seaside. Lovisa and Angelo jumped from the rocks like a pair of Chinese synchronised divers:

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We made friends with a french bulldog puppy called Boz:

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And we took ourselves some unashamedly sexy pictures:

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After all that fun we had earned ourselves an ice cream, made of pure science…

New Zealand, beautiful though it unquestionably is, suffers from a particularly ugly blight; every single person there is English. Sort of. Actually they are mostly from New Zealand. However as an English person it is impossible not to notice the proliferation of your fellow countryman/woman in every coffee shop, bar and youth hostel all over the land. While travelling abroad it is discomfiting and more than that, disappointing to hear a Home Counties accent. One hopes to encounter and indulge in foreign culture and rituals while telling interested locals about how you are from St. Albans which is a “really historic city, just outside London. Yeah I live next to the queen, yeah…” and perhaps you might pine a little for home because maybe it wasn’t as bad as you thought when you were booking your flights. When you get to the other side of the world and realise everyone there is also getting the hell away from St. Albans, your heart sinks as you realise you have nothing to share with these people because you’ve already spent 27 years hanging out with middle class wankers from the suburbs.

And so your journey takes you onward if you are lucky, to a strange and tropical island full of eastern promise, spiritual awakenings, otherworldly ceremony and tropical foods. Or you might, as Lovisa and I did, take a plane to Sydney and spend two weeks in the company of the fucking English.

On Boxing Day we bade a tearful farewell to Queenstown. It had been a wonderful three night stay, surrounded by stunning mountains, rivers and lakes, but most heart-breaking of all was that we were to leave behind the first and possibly last 4-star breakfast buffet of our trip.

After stuffing ourselves full of lamb and mint sausages, Danish pastries and banana bread, yoghurt with cinnamon flavoured berries and hot chocolate with marshmallows, we put ourselves on another InterCity coach and headed up to Christchurch.

Sadly we arrived in a ghost town, far more widely damaged by the earthquakes of 2010/11 than I had realised. The whole of the city centre is currently fenced off as a danger zone, with many of the surrounding areas seemingly abandoned and barely any sign of life during what you would think of as the busy holiday period. It was all rather sad, and as if to exacerbate the morose atmosphere, it pissed down the whole time we were there.

We couldn’t leave without finding at least one bright spot though, and find it we did. In amongst the debris of the former town centre is a small shopping precinct constructed from colourfully decorated ex-shipping containers, put together in the aftermath of the earthquakes to try and bring about some regeneration of the area, or at least cling on to what vestiges of city life remained. It is a very small collection of shops, mostly selling postcards or gift-y items, most of which seemed to be imported from the Lanes in Brighton and therefore held little interest to two ex-Brightonians. However it is all worth it (perhaps not all worth it; the two earthquakes, 185 killed, countless more injured, who-knows-how-many lives forever ruined) if you manage to find the butter chicken on sale at the little Indian takeaway tucked in to one of the slimmer containers. Mop up a bit of that with a naan bread and you can’t be faulted for momentarily forgetting that you are in the middle of a crumbling heap of broken dreams. Delicious.

With us barely having noticed, by the time we had got as far south as Queenstown, it was Christmas. For the first 26 years of my life, Christmas had been cold and wet and the weather outside was almost without exception always frightful. The next year I had my first experience of the famed White Christmas, the joy of which was tempered by the fact that it was also the first time I have ever had to work on December 25th, the price one pays for living in a snowy, Norwegian dreamworld.

This year I spent Christmas Day walking around a beachy, boaty, pretty little town, eating ice cream and enjoying all thirty of the degrees that were radiating off the sun all over my face. In truth it didn’t really feel a lot like Christmas, so we went on a jet boat ride to try and make ourselves feel a bit more festive. The results were quite astonishing.


I promise I haven’t made that face since I saw my present stack under the tree in 1994, the year my mum went to the newly opened Sheffield Wednesday Superstore and got me pretty much one of everything. The spirit of the season was clearly very much alive in me. Either that or I was sitting on a boat going 80 km/h with AC/DC and Kenny Loggins turned up to eleven on the stereo, while our grizzly old Kiwi captain Neville made everyone shit themselves with a series of death-defying spins and life-flashing-before-your-eyes scrapes with low bridges and trees.

Not exactly Christmassy but not exactly not life-affirmingly brilliant either.

After 8 hours on the bus with tour guide/driver Dave, a man so obviously in love with his job yet conflicted and saddened by the estrangement of his wife and children, to the extent that he wistfully longed for them aloud, apparently unaware or at least not caring that his microphone was still on, it was with relief that we could disembark in Wellington and think of happier things. With only a few hours in town we didn’t have much time to think at all in fact, which probably explains why, as a British person abroad looking for new experiences and tastes of foreign culture, I found myself eating a large plateful of fish and chips. For what it’s worth, it was jolly good fish and chips and they were served with a very well dressed salad, something one can not get in the average English chippy.

After a night in an utterly pleasant hostel we awoke early to catch the ferry to Picton and the South Island where we would be spending the rest of our time in New Zealand. This trip in itself was extraordinarily pretty but then we would have been disappointed with anything less having gotten to know New Zealand as the best looking place on earth.

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Upon arrival in Picton we jumped straight on to another bus to take us to Kaikoura, a small east coast town famed for its whale and dolphin communities. While we decided against spending over NZ$200 to go on a boat trip where there was an “85% chance” of seeing something big and whale-y, we did rent a couple of bikes and went and found some seals instead.

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Having found seals, we also discovered that a gangly nerd in a cycling helmet is a really effective way of ruining an otherwise lovely photograph of the mountainous coastline.

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I haven’t posted forever. Thank you for your patience. I am now going to proceed as though nothing ever happened and pick up where I left off.

The USA is a wonderful country. We saw a lot of breath-taking scenery, acquainted ourselves with a number of different and interesting cities, ate about 500 delicious hamburgers and generally had a lovely time. However there is only so much waking up to news of a mass shooting that one can take so it was with some relief that we left for New Zealand.

Aside from the murder and obesity, ignorance, religious zealotry, racism, bigotry and war-mongering, the main problem with America is its scale. It is so huge that between all the good looking bits lie an awful lot of boring, ugly bits. The same can not be said of New Zealand. It is a little country but one which wastes no space with anything other than majestic beauty. In New Zealand there are no bad views. In New Zealand every time you turn around there is a mountain or a lake or a rainforest or a beach or something else that you tell yourself was definitely used as a dramatic backdrop for a scene in Lord of the Rings because it looks so fantastical and unlike anywhere else that you ever thought could actually be real.

With all that beautiful nature waiting to be explored, we did what any self-respecting pair would do upon arrival in Auckland; we went to the cinema to watch The Hobbit.

In our defence, the whole country was going bat shit with Hobbit fever when we arrived and it just seemed like a far better deal to actually go and see the film rather than pay $200 for a Hobbit Experience Tour, even if they do let you dress up as a dwarf and swing an axe around some of the locations used in the picture.

With only 12 days to travel north to south, we were restricted to only a night or two in each of our stops so after finding some excellent kebabs for breakfast, we caught the bus from Auckland down to Rotorua.

Apparently this is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations. Unfortunately nobody remembered to tell the tourists. The town was almost completely empty and whether it was the drizzle and fog or the smell of shit from the sulphurous hot springs that kept everyone away, we seemed to have the place to ourselves.

This was mostly a positive thing except that there was no crowd to follow through said hot springs and therefore we quite easily found ourselves on the wrong side of the signs that said ‘WARNING Death by volatile, boiling spring water is imminent if you stray from the path’ or words to that effect. The ground in these danger areas literally flexed beneath your feet as it was only centimetres thick, and while I shit myself knowing I was one heavy step away from a most unpleasant demise in bubbly egg-flavoured water, Lovisa got the camera out and took pictures of me being a terrified little girl.

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After that taste of mortality I needed to unwind so, seeing as we could because as I’ve already tried to establish New Zealand is amazing, we took a walk through the local rainforest. Needless to say it was a very handsome forest indeed.

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The following day we took off for Wellington, home of rubber boots and some very fine fish and chips.

A brief segue away from the travel blog to discuss the erotic breakout literary super smash hit of the year that I entertained myself with for a few days lying on the beaches of Hawaii.

I’m not afraid to admit that I’m not a regular reader of books, but I can’t help but be taken in when one breaks the mainstream and becomes a part of pop culture. I’ve read all the Harry Potter books and the whole of the Millennium Trilogy. I’m not enough of a teenage girl to have bothered with Twilight, but apparently I am enough of a middle aged woman to have now read Fifty Shades of Grey.

I don’t mean to be lazily hyperboulus (I made up this word. I have an imagination which is more than can be said for the woman that wrote this book) in my assessment, but this is surely the worst book ever sent to print, at least the worst ever to have made a multi-millionaire of its author and become the subject of a bidding war between Hollywood studios for the film rights.

There is no good place to start with criticising this book because absolutely everything about it is so utterly dire.

The author has a list of adjectives and verbs that I would estimate is around ten words long, which she chooses from over and over to try and describe her characters who subsequently have no discernible personalities and only repeatedly bite their lips, flush their cheeks, hitch their breath and violently push their tongues in to each others mouths. For over 500 pages. Really, that’s all they do. Read it. You’ll see. But don’t read it, it’s shit.

The story is supposed to take place in and around Vancouver, Portland and Seattle. However I read in a newspaper interview that E.L. James (the twit responsible for writing this abomination) has never been to any of these cities and used Google Maps to get a sense for the places. That explains why there is no sense of the places, the book is devoid of any atmosphere at all, and having read it, rather than wish to visit the Pacific Northwest, I want to visit Mrs James and call her a dickhead.

The heroine of the piece is just finishing an undergraduate degree at an American college in 2012 and yet doesn’t have an email address and has rarely used the Internet. Either her course is a bizarre anomaly in a world where computers are at the centre of just about everything that is taught or the author is out of touch with the reality and didn’t do any research before sitting down to write this rubbish. I’m fairly certain it’s the latter but will be happy to be proved wrong. Actually I wouldn’t be happy because she would have done research and still managed to produce a book of such astoundingly uninformed nonsense. Cock.

Of course the big reason Fifty Shades of Grey caused such a stir was its sexy content and titillating whips ‘n’ chains adventures. I believe that readers are supposed to be turned on and excited by the forbidden acts that take place, and live out their wildest fantasies vicariously through the lead characters’ lives. Well without wishing to ruin the end for everyone, they break up because she realises that getting beaten up by him isn’t so fun as she had thought it might have been and actually she doesn’t like it when he hits her. Sexy.

There’s more to say about how bad this book is but I now realise how much I hate myself for having read it and hate myself even more for having spent some time writing about it and I have to stop before I end it all. Sorry for the sad and angry mind diarrhoea.