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Van Life


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Van life isn’t for everyone. I mean, nothing is really for everyone because, incredibly, there are people who don’t like ice cream… or sunshine… or time off work… or Birkenstocks… or any form of fun, apparently. So you don’t need to read this article to know that there is a portion of the population who will not enjoy living in a tiny space with few possessions, doing without luxuries such as, I don’t know… electricity. In fact, you might as well stop reading now (just kidding, keep reading, it gets good later).

When I say that van life isn’t for everyone I’m addressing those who think they’ll love van life; those who have an idealistic fantasy about sticking their middle finger up to the nine-to-five for days or weeks or perhaps forever, escaping the stresses of the modern world in search of a simpler existence. Those who dream of leaving behind the ladle, the shower curtain, those clip things that keep bread bags closed, overdue hoovering, strangely coloured shoe polish that doesn’t match any of your shoes past or present, confusing water bills, bits of wrapping paper that are too small to be useful, and all the other crap you somehow accumulate when living in a house. Those who yearn to pick a place on the map and take off in a majestic house vehicle in the direction of the sunset, or, more likely, the direction of the place they picked on the map. Well, if you’re one of those people, as you’ve probably already guessed, I’m here to manage your expectations. Hi, yes, it’s Bella, we’ve met before.

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Blog, Travel

Australia


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Australia. The land of eternal sunshine, overly descriptive road signs and a preposterous number of ant species. The place where it’s acceptable for men to wear short shorts, you’ll get cream with your dessert whether you like it or not, and where it’s illegal to complain about the rain. Don’t be fooled into thinking that travelling is all jet setting, partying, glamour and lounging around on the beach drinking beers. It isn’t. Being a solo traveller (did I just call myself a solo traveller?) you are faced with a whole new world of challenges that are hard to understand unless you’ve done it yourself. But I’ll give it a go.

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Blog, Culture

Tea


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Have you ever wondered why the British drink tea so much? Perhaps you think that we’re obsessed with this strange beverage with its oriental origins and milky additives. Well, we are. You see, tea is more than a drink to us. It’s a way of life. Let me explain.

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Blog, Culture

Instagram


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Instagram. What an absolutely fascinating place. I’ve been secretly admiring the filters on Instagram for some time; even though until recently I wasn’t on the platform I saw people’s Insta posts dotted around in other locations on the internet and I hatched a theory that the filters can make any old crap look good. Like, really, any old shit. No photography skills necessary, just a phone and the urge to take photos of, well, whatever you darn well please. Whoever made those filters is a Goddamn genius. GENIUS, I tell you.

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Blog, Culture

Flexin’


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I’ve recently discovered ‘flexing’. What is that, you ask? I’m not convinced that anyone really knows for sure but I think it’s very amusing. Flexing, or maybe I should call it ‘flexin’, isn’t the thing that happens when you tense your muscles – well, it is the thing that happens when you tense your muscles, but that’s not the kind of flexin’ that I’m talking about. What I’m talking about translates to ‘showing off’; flaunting your material wealth and using this as a barometer to demonstrate to others how worthy you are as a person. It’s not a new concept and the term ‘flexin’ has been around for ages, but I should state that the cutting edge of culture (especially American culture) doesn’t reach me at the rock under which I live until way after the event, so if you already know what I’m talking about you’re probably thinking “Pfff, gurl where you been?”

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Disappointing Things About Being an Adult


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When I was little, I was excited about the prospect of adult life. I envisaged a whole world of adventure and possibility and no one around to tell you what to do. When you’re a kid, adults seem like they have their shit together and things make sense to them and they know about stuff and I wanted some of that for myself. Make no mistake: being a kid is tough. You have to do what people tell you and no one takes you seriously and you’re really small so there’s loads of stuff you can’t do by yourself. Plus you have to go to school, which is a cruel and confusing place.

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Trostlose Frau (Short Story) Part Two


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[Read part one of this short story here]

Trostlose Frau – Two

Police Constable Atkinson drove her patrol car in no particular hurry along the ambling A457. The country road was popular with motorcyclists on dry days due to its sweeping cambered corners, technical chicanes, and many opportunities for full-throttle hair-raising recreation. She thought about her own bike, the mighty Ducati Monster, gathering dust in the garage. Now rare were the days when the stars aligned and she could get out for a ride and a Sunday half pint with the guys and gals of the East Wickington Motorcycle Club. Those were the good old days indeed. A sharp babble from the radio jerked her from her daydream. Emergency response required for traffic incident on the B6385 north of Marbury. Not her jurisdiction at the moment – she had been summoned for other purposes. When was the last time she had got on the bike? A year ago? Two? Steve would remember. She emerged from the deep shade of an alley of beech trees into dazzling summer sunshine and there, on the right, was the boundary wall of Worthing estate. At the entrance, some 800 metres of brick wall later, she slowed to a stop and waited for a gap in the oncoming traffic. Drivers raced round the bend far too quickly then braked hard upon seeing her latent vehicle. She wore her best stern police officer face, internally amused by their panicked faces and flimsy and obvious attempts to appear law-abiding. Eyes forward. Nothing to see here.
Her patrol car trundled along the never-ending driveway. Well-fenced green fields extended either side into infinity and tall, ancient trees towered above, patiently lining the gravel track. After minutes of driving a large stately home edged into view. It reminded her of the National Trust properties she and Steve had visited together, before they were married and work took over her life. Watson’s patrol car was already parked near the grand stone steps that led up to the main door. A navy blue Bentley rested nobly just beyond. Watson probably had things taken care of already. Presumably she was just there to be a friendly face. Reassurance. Don’t worry, sir, we have things under control. She shut off the engine and levered herself out of the car. The afternoon was quiet and her shoes on the deep gravel seemed disproportionately loud. She reached the door and tapped the golden door knocker. It was that loud, certain, police knock that became intuitive once she put on her uniform in the morning. Standing back a step or two, she looked up at the face of the house. Creeper plants crawled their way skyward, gripping the cream stone wall, green leaves bobbing and waving in the gentle breeze. A rattle and an unlatching from within; the heavy door opened a little and a woman peered through the gap.
“Good afternoon madam, my name’s PC Atkinson. I’m just here to assist with the ongoing investigation and ask a few questions of those who have given statements.”
It was the voice she used for such formal work situations; soothing yet self-assured, like a telesales pitch or a weather forecaster. The woman behind the door hesitated.
“Please come in.” She said in a distinctly Eastern European accent. Romanian perhaps. PC Atkinson stepped inside the grand house, blinking hard to clear the green tinge left in her vision from the bright day outside. It wasn’t as musty-smelling as the old National Trust houses she remembered and somewhere nearby was the faint chiming of clocks. The Eastern European maid led the way, through the entrance hall which contained a magnificent staircase and a great many closed doors. The dark wooden floor was scattered with ornate rugs and unnecessary furniture – a single chair and desk; a glass-fronted cabinet; a cushioned Chippendale sofa. They reached almost the end of the hall before stopping at an anonymous door and the woman opened it inwards. There stood Watson – all assertive, rugby player, six foot three of him – making notes. He looked up and nodded in acknowledgement. It was a library. She, of course, was expecting a library, from the statements and the notes, but seeing it in the flesh really was impressive. It had dark wooden shelves dominating, standing floor to ceiling and filled with burgundy and green cloth-bound volumes. There was a writing desk, a huge fireplace, and several paintings hanging, dignified, on patches of wall not filled with bookshelves.
“If you had any questions for Mr Berne, he will be awake from his sleep in a moment.” The maid explained to Atkinson, clearly to get her up to speed with the proceedings, hands politely folded at her stomach.
“Thank you, Mrs Serban, we’ll wait.” Watson replied, apparently in control of things. They waited for the maid to leave the room. All the staff at the estate had already given statements, Atkinson had learned in the briefing earlier that day. What sparse evidence remained at the scene had already been collected. The two officers looked at each other. Both knew this insurance claim thing had no legs, but they were there to probe. The truth was, that they had nothing.

 

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Short Story: Trostlose Frau


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With the grace and skill of an old wise leopard, Mick landed in a crouch – thud – on the other side of the old and crumbling brick wall. Scaling this high wall into the estate had been surprisingly easy – the bricks were old and full of footholds – and he was pleased to have avoided landing in one of the thick, woody rose bushes. He stayed motionless like this for a few moments to listen and scan the surrounding area for any sign of activity. There was no one around. He crouch-walked, clothes snagging on rose thorns, to a better position where he could sit comfortably among the bushes but not be seen from the big house in the near distance. There were still twenty minutes or so until the Lord Bayrne, or Burn or whatever it was, was due to leave for his afternoon appointments. He could see the navy blue Bentley was still parked on the gravel at the front.
It was a particularly lovely early evening in summer; golden sunshine illuminating the big lawn and the weighty smell of roses drifting around on a gentle breeze. Topiary bushes posed in their various shapes in pots about the place and an old-fashioned stone trough with a hand pump resided stoically in an oval of closely cropped lawn in the middle of the circular gravel driveway. Huge Georgian pillars propped up the grand porch as they had done for generations and tall windows reflected the blue sky back at itself. Mick admired these things as he sat, waiting, though he was also aware of the irony of this given his reason for being there.
Movement from the house: a butler emerges through the large green doors. British racing green; a shade with such history and grandeur. Lord what’s-his-name emerges, bent over slightly and using a cane but well-dressed and looking like a man not willing to accept old age just yet. Tweed jacket, cream-coloured trousers, light blue shirt and a bow tie. White hair. Mick couldn’t quite make out the man’s features.
The butler patiently waits for the Lord to shuffle past before closing the doors again, trotting down the steps to reach the car first and hold the rear passenger door open now. The Lord lowers himself in, unsteady on his cane, thin legs placed inside the car – one… two – and lastly the walking stick is tucked in. The butler ensures all is well before closing the door – clunk – and walking with long strides to the driver’s side. The car starts and crunches slowly across the gravel, around the grass oval and continues out of sight along the lengthy drive.
There are a small number of staff in the house, they told Mick. Use the entrance on the eastern side; the servants’ quarters. He slides the sleeve of his bomber jacket back enough to see the time on his watch. The Trostlose Frau is located in the library, they told him. He squeezes the woollen material of his balaclava between finger and thumb, toying with it in his pocket. Perhaps, after a certain level of wealth, people begin to search for meaning and worth in more and more abstract things because they can afford to buy such increasingly extraneous possessions and, well, why not? What’s forty thousand pounds for a Roman clay pot to a millionaire when it may contain the secret to happiness? A price worth paying. But what happens when they realise that the pot is empty, perhaps not even Roman, and that they are, unexpectedly, still unhappy? Was it the money that caused the unhappiness? Or the useless clay pot? Probably being unhappy but surrounded by luxury is preferable to being unhappy and in poverty, or is it even lonelier? At least poor people know who their real friends are. Mick looks at his watch again. Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, he takes his phone out and types a WhatsApp message:
OK
He sends it. The two blue ticks show the message has been read. Typing… The thumbs-up emoji. He puts the phone back in his pocket and zips it up.
How peculiar it is that an art piece could be worth millions. Mere oil paint dabbed in formation on a bit of canvas. It has no intrinsic value of its own. People invent a value; they make it up based on, what? A feeling they have about the painting. The conviction that one artist is a genius while another is mediocre. These art collectors seem the craziest rich people of all.
The crunching sound of a vehicle on the gravel drive becomes louder. He scans the surrounding area again, absorbing the quiet, gentle scene. A white van travels quickly into sight and brakes to a halt in front of the house with a skid. He stands. Show time.