Buenos Aires: big Mack style

So The Mack flew out about a week ago to join me in Buenos Aires and, in typical fashion, I greeted him with clenched fists rather than the traditional open arms.  I would love to be one of those girls who gets really excited at the prospect of 3 weeks’ quality time, away from it all.  But I’m far too uptight for that.

It’s ok.  We’ve developed a system.  We wake up, get a few hours’ work done.  Have a huge fight.  Then head out for some lunch and sightseeing.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about The Mack that winds me up.  It seems to be everything.  Let’s see…

He can’t speak Spanish, so I have to do all the talking.  And when he does try a few words, he says them in a deep throaty growl, so he sounds like a Latin American Tony the Tiger.  “Una cervesa-grrrrrrr”.  Funny the first time…

The fact that no bread basket is safe within a 5 metre radius.


But mainly because he wants to do stuff all the time.  Not just mooching around, but stuff that requires some degree of organising.  I mean, how dare he come all the way over here and then want to do something interesting.  Why the hell can’t he be content with just being here?  So bloody unreasonable.

What can I say, I tried my hardest to deter him, but the man is strong-willed.  And thank God he is, because otherwise we would have missed out on some corkers.

So I give you Buenos Aires: big Mack style…


At least one meal a day must consist of something that your girlfriend/wife/cardiac surgeon says is bad for you.  If you can, try to combine deep fried with pastry and sugar.  Plenty of options in Buenos Aires.  Sweet and meaty empanadas?  Dulce de leche with everything?  Two double-scoop ice-creams back-to-back, with extra sauce and cookie sprinkles?  Don’t mind if he does.

Teatime at Las Violetas

Teatime at Las Violetas

The Mack said that he’d always had dreams of retiring to Buenos Aires and could picture himself as a bald, fat man in a white linen suit.  Sadly, we weren’t able to find the linen suit….


Have absolutely no sense of direction and claim that it’s because they built BsAs the wrong way round.  Seriously think about downloading a compass app so that you can find North.  Regularly say to your girlfriend: “it’s that way, right”?  Er, wrong.

Mix with locals

Use vayable.com to find interesting tours and experiences given by local people – we did a tour of the lesser known Caballito district (cool barber-shop museum and an incredibly ornate church where Pope Francis was baptised, no less) and a wine-tasting (which I spoiled by being a know-all and the best taster was actually the Mendoza olive oil).


Buy yourself a pair of finest Argentinian leather brogues.  In a colour that can only be described as dirt-cowboy-yellow.

Point out to locals the inherent flaws in their economic and fiscal policies.  And make a sound like a ticking clock when talking about their future.  Then say that it’s such a shame, because they really were such a highly educated, civilised, wealthy nation…


Be afraid, be very afraid of the gargantuan koi carp in the Jardin Japonais.  Especially the one that looks like it has false eyelashes.  Make sure you push a few small children in front of you for easier bait.



Make sure you get to a football game.  Don’t bother with Boca Juniors – $200 a head to sit with a load of other gringos doesn’t make for fun times.  The Mack found a great guy called Eze through Vayable who took us to his family’s box at Independiente to watch a relegation battle.

Thoroughly woeful match (no structure to their play and the worst back four we’d ever seen), but great atmosphere.  And we had the excitement of being bundled into Eze’s uncle’s car as the final whistle blew to avoid being beaten to death by the Independiente fans who were baying for the Chairman’s blood after the 1-1 draw (the Chairman’s box was 3 down from ours…).  Footballing passion in spades.



Admire the old Mafioso-looking men at the afternoon milonga at Confiteria Ideal.  Feel truly like the Mack Daddy when they ask you for permission to dance with your chicas.

Get suckered into trying a tango lesson when you’d only turned up at Café Vinilo so early because you wanted to be sure to get a table.  Mangle your girlfriend’s feet and get frustrated that Tango is such a restrictive dance when you’re just itching to bust some moves.  Console yourself with the full Latin cheesiness of the club singer. Decide that the chorus lyrics to all tango songs are probably “Antonio Banderas, Antonio Banderas, Antonio Banderas…. and Penelope Cruz“.


Off the Beaten Track

Take a trip out to the delta at Tigre.  Ignore the weather forecast and sit on a speedboat for 6 hours wearing only a t-shirt.  Discover that the river plate makes it possible to walk on water for a stretch of about 60km between Tigre and Buenos Aires (you might have to swim the last 200-odd metres).  Bang on about this amazing phenomenon for the rest of your trip/life.  Don’t worry about whether anyone’s listening.

Tigre Delta

Tigre Delta

And then congratulate yourself for a job well done.  Next stop, Uruguay.

Lessons Learned in Buenos Aires

My friend Aimee is putting herself through a self-imposed tango bootcamp here in Buenos Aires.  Most of which involves her lying on the floor wearing 80s flashdance leggings and breathing deeply – she claims it’s incredibly taxing, but we’re yet to be convinced).

They take tango very seriously here.  Aimee is not allowed to breathe standing up until she has learned to breathe properly lying down.  And that could take weeks.  Apparently she needs to learn to soften her breastbone.  Since bones are notoriously tricky things to soften, I don’t rate her chances.

She has bought some very beautiful red suede tango shoes from a famous shop here in BsAs, called Comme il Faut.  If you have a foot fetish, then may I suggest this as a suitable place of worship.  In the upstairs room of a little row of boutique shops, women line the edges, feet naked as the day they were born, their eyes lit up with the feverish glow of the true believer.  There are almost no shoes on display.  In this shop, you simply tell the assistants your size and they bring you heaped boxes of jewel-coloured stilettos.  It is a reverent place, voices are not raised except for little squeals and moans of pleasure.

I feel they’re missing a trick with their business.  If it were mine, I would make all the mirrors one-way and create a space in the backroom for pedi-voyeurs.  Double the revenue, double the pleasure-giving.  Win, win, kerr-ching.

holiday vs work/travel

This trip for me is the first real stress-test of the new lifestyle.  The idea was that the money I’d save by not living in London would fund the trip, so I’d come away from a 2 month adventure cash neutral.  And since I’ll carry on working on business ideas whilst I’m travelling, I’m not losing any time on income-generating projects.

Like so many of my ideas, this one’s proving great at a conceptual level and about a million miles wide of the mark in real life…

Firstly, South America is not cheap.  If, like me, you are pretty rough round the edges when it comes to actual knowledge on anything political or socio-economical, then you probably think that poor old Argentina is still on the financial skids and you’ll be living like a king on a couple of pesos a day.

Not quite.  Great quality beef is cheap.  You can feast on a side of cow quite happily for £10 a meal.  But that’s where the gravy train ends.  Accommodation is expensive.  Drinks are around the same price as in London.  Flights are extortionate and the amazing long-distance bus service has significantly ramped up its prices in recent times.

If you’re used to travelling in India and South East Asia, then South America will feel like you’re taking a sledgehammer to your savings account.  I’m realising that city living = city living, no matter where you are.  Which makes it fine if your plan is to stay put in a city for a few months and live like a local (like these guys do: http://istanbul.for91days.com/).  Not so good if you’re seeing the sights a lot and eating out twice a day.

In other words, I’m 10 days in and I’ve rinsed through an awful lot of cash.

important lessons

I’ve learned some valuable lessons since I’ve been here:

– I’m probably not cut out to be a tango dancer, so that’s one potential source of revenue gone.  I tried to blame my malco-ordination on the fact I was wearing flat shoes, but in truth I just can’t pivot in any way that doesn’t remind me of that old advert with the dancing hippos.  And I’m tense.  Very tense.  All the time.

– I really should do a bit more research (than none) on the places I’m visiting.  At least to find out if I can vaguely afford to spend time in them and, if so, for how long.  I like to think I’m being spontaneous and carefree.  In reality, I’m just in denial and increasing debt.

– Being away is great for creating space and focus to get on with projects.  Everything feels less pressured here and it’s amazing how much more energy you’re willing to put into work when you have new places to explore.

The Mack arrives today, so it will be back to the regime of post-it notes and time-keeping.  I’m not feeling anywhere near as cross about it as I do when I’m in London.  But that could be because I now know my way around Buenos Aires, so if it gets too much, I can just go off grid and he’ll never, ever find me…

Burger King, Buenos Aires-style

Burger King, Buenos Aires-style

highs and lows of semi-retirement

There are two distinct parts to being semi-retired.

There’s the incredibly smug “retired” bit, where you spend your weekdays flaunting your freedom.  Being able to see sold-out exhibitions, going for a slap-up afternoon tea just because you fancy eating miniature food, or starting cocktail o’clock at 3pm on a Tuesday… It doesn’t really matter what you do – all that matters is (1) you’re not at work and (2) you make sure everyone knows it.  You know you’re doing great at this bit when your nearest and dearest regularly tell you via facebook to stop showing off and get a bloody job.

afternoon tea

And then there’s the less smug “semi” bit.  Which basically translates as not having enough money to actually retire.  And then translates as having to email all your mates and former colleagues and random people you once met at a work “do”, to ask them if they have any work that they need help with.  And finally translates as ringing round various temp agencies to tell them that you pack a mean 70-words-per-minute and surely somebody, somewhere needs a jaded former lawyer with an acute allergy to hard work??

reality check

Six months into the new lifestyle and time to take stock.  For anyone watching my progress with (a) a view to jacking it in and living the dream, or (b) anticipatory schadenfreude, here’s a list of the highs and lows so far, to help you make your mind up.

the highs

  • leaving my job and being able to leave all the accumulated stress and mental energy behind.  I expected there to be a time-lag between physically quitting and mentally quitting.  As it turned out, I seemed to shrug it off as I walked out the door.  See ya, suckers!
  • how incredibly supportive and enthusiastic everyone has been.  And also how my decision seems to have positively rubbed off on other people, even without my doing anything.  I don’t think that I’ve made it look particularly easy, but I think I have shown that there is an alternative to what we’ve been sold.
  • being able to go full olympics last summer and being massively over-excited every day for the best part of a couple of months.  Typically whilst wearing ridiculous union-jack-emblazoned outfits.
  • learning new stuff and meeting new people.  So far, I’ve learned basic html, javascript and css (all very poorly, but at least I gave it a go – try Codeacademy’s free online training if you’re keen).  I’ve got to grips with WordPress for blogging and basic websites.  I’ve discovered tons of resources available for start-up businesses.  And I’ve learned that even though I still detest networking, my new lifestyle at least provides a talking point (for about 10 seconds before they decide they hate me and my smugness).
  • going to bed at 2am and getting up at 10am.  Much more in tune with my body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.  And nothing good happens before 10am.  Fact.
  • getting very carried away with new business ideas, before either forgetting them (see above high re: 2am bedtime) or realising that they lack the vital money-making element.
  • losing my blackberry tic.  You know, that involuntary twitch every time you see the notification light flash.  And the Tourette’s that seemed to accompany it.  That’s disappeared too.
  • the month spent horizontal in the Indian sunshine.  Aside from the karma drama and the fear that all that lounging would result in muscle wastage rendering me unable to walk, it was wonderful to escape the winter grims.

the lows (regrets, I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention…)

  • the lost passport f***-up, practically doubling the cost of my India trip.  Idiot.  And yes, my passport is in a very safe place now.
  • the ever-lurking spectre of anxiety about money.  Which starts from fair-enough resolutions not to spend quite so much on cocktails.  But which quickly spirals to resenting paying for essentials like shower gel and toothpaste.
  • not getting the Friday feeling anymore.
  • the occasional bouts of self-doubt which, if left unchecked, descend into abject fear and disillusionment over your complete lack of purpose in life. Daytime TV feeds this.  Avoid anything involving homes under a hammer, bargain hunting or escaping to the country.  They will only highlight that your life has no meaning.

Since nobody seems in a hurry to get me back to work, I’ll probably focus on the retired bit for a little while longer.  Starting with a week in the Lake District next week.  Smug enough for you??

karma drama continues…

I’ve come to the conclusion that I must have done something truly terrible to anger the Indian gods.  I have no idea what, but if anyone knows a way of paying baksheesh directly to Ganesh and his pals to clear my debt, that would be a great help.

Regular readers will remember that I’ve already had a bit of a run in with Jet Airways, who wouldn’t let me use the inbound portion of my return flight, because I couldn’t make the outbound flight.  So I ended up forfeiting the £500 flight I’d already paid for and paying another £300 to get my seat back on the flight home.

Well, I didn’t think that it was possible to top that business wizardry.  Oh me of little faith…

Right, so I’m in possession of a Goa – Mumbai – London flight.  But I’ve decided that I’m going to spend a week or so in Kerala.  I’m going to experience the delights of the Indian rail system and take a train from Margao in Goa to Kochi in Kerala.  It’s 12 hours.  I’ve given it careful consideration and decided that air conditioning and veg food is the optimum combination for that journey.

It doesn’t make sense to fly back from Kerala to Goa and then on to Mumbai.  In fact you can’t – you have to fly Kerala – Bangalore – Goa – Mumbai.  Rubbish.  So I’ve paid for a flight direct from Kerala to Mumbai and I’ll pick up my flight back to London from there.

Simples, right?

Not exactly.  What you actually get is a scene straight from an incredibly well-crafted psychological thriller – one of those ones where the clever villain creates such a web of chaos and misdirection that it makes the protagonist start to doubt their sanity.

the true cost of flying

Given my history with Jet, I raise my concerns that they’d somehow cancel my Mumbai – London flight if I didn’t get my Goa – Mumbai flight.  The local travel agent in Goa laughs at the suggestion.  Don’t worry, he says, you can just cancel your domestic flight.  It will cost you about 950 rupees (£10).  Easy breezy.

So I call Jet Airways at midday, thinking I’ll get it done before I go and lounge on the beach.  2 hours later and I’m still on the phone with them.  Here’s a quick recap, for those unlucky enough not to have been on the call with me:

–       disconnections x 3 times

–       explaining that there are 2 separate passengers, both with the same surname, under 2 different e-tickets x 4 times

–       learning that it is not possible to simply cancel the Goa – Mumbai flight.  You have the option of cancelling the entire Goa – Mumbai – London flight (that, remember, you’ve already paid £800 total for by now) – you will get £80 back in refund and then you have to purchase a new Mumbai – London ticket.  Err, not that appealing, but thanks for the offer.

–       alternatively, you can pay a re-routing charge of £100 per passenger for the privilege of NOT travelling on the 1-hour Goa – Mumbai flight.

So, only ten times the cost that the travel agent told you… Bargain.

By this point, you have started to understand that there is nothing that you can do.  Jet will always win.  Their illogic knows no bounds and you, mere mortal that you are, are no match for their cunning.  You agree to pay the re-routing charge on a flight that you are not re-routing anywhere in the slightest.  At least then it’s done.  So, you send your sis off to the beach whilst you deal with the payment.

But wait, there’s another problem.  Now it seems that you cannot actually get them to take your payment.  The credit card won’t go through.  But it isn’t a problem with the card.  Too easy.  No, the problem is that your sister’s ticket was issued in the name of Miss Alexandra Hughes.  Pretty standard you might think – all international airlines use the same title for unmarried women.

Oh yes, madam, says the Jet customer service rep.  Only with Jet, the title “Miss” can only be used for children.  The ticket should have been issued as Ms Alexandra Hughes.  The “Miss” title brings it up as a child fare on their system and it won’t process the payment.  Don’t worry – the fare that you have paid is an adult fare and the cancellation of the Goa – Mumbai flight has been made, it is only the payment that won’t go through.

And no, even though they are the airline issuing the tickets, there is no way for them to change the “Miss” to a “Ms” on their system.  “There is no button to allow for that”

Does anyone understand that – even a word of that?  Don’t even go there, you’ll give yourself an aneurism with the effort of mentally contorting yourself.  And you’ll still be nowhere near.

And of course there is no other solution – you’ll have to go to an airport counter or one of Jet’s city offices to make the payment.  The nearest one is a 3 hour, £20 round-trip taxi ride away.

Ok, so that’s a pain in the arse, but you’ll be in a city in a few days when you go to Kerala, so if Jet can just cancel those changes, you’ll go to their office in Kochi and deal with it all there.

Oh you English are so funny!  That’s not how the game works.  There is no way to reverse the flight cancellations now.  It doesn’t matter that it’s not your fault that Jet can’t process your payment and that there was no way of knowing that this problem even existed until after they had already processed the cancellations.  It’s done now.

And now for the finale: you have to complete payment on the cancellations within 18 hours, otherwise you will have to pay again and you risk your international flight being cancelled in the meantime.  And it is now 2pm where you are and the airport desk closes at 6pm.  So you’d better hurry along.

And you do.  You run to the beach to tell your sis through your tears that you have to do an airport run.  Yep, right now.  That, once again, the fuckers have managed to trap you in their fiendish plot to break your will.  And you grab your passports, both phones, your tickets and credit cards and you get in a taxi.

I get car sick at the best of times.  Wasting a precious day of Goan sunshine to sit in a stuffy taxi for 3 hours was not how I envisaged my mini-retirement.

Then there was the nerve-wracking hour spent at the Jet Airways counter outside Dabolim Airport, wondering what new twist they would come up with to test me.  The elation at finally getting the new tickets issued – entirely unwarranted – it’s not as though I haven’t now paid for them three times over…  Being pulled over by the airport police so they could extort Prakash, my taxi driver, some pitiable amount (I couldn’t bear to tell him that it was my fault: that I was the jinx).  The celebratory BaskinRobbins ice-creams I bought for us both on the drive home (world class chocolate for Prakash, butterscotch ribbon and pralines and cream for me).  The anxious look on my sister’s face as I arrived back at the beach – she thought Jet had kidnapped me – and I’d left without leaving the room key at reception, so she was stranded, on the beach, with no money, no phone and a day’s worth of food and drinks on the tab.  Happy holiday.

I’m really hoping that’s the end of it.  I feel like I’ve paid my dues.  But if anyone could put in a good word for me with the deities, just in case, I’d be very grateful.  I’m planning a houseboat trip on the Keralan backwaters next week……

karma drama

Apparently, the karmic trade-off for trying to create a new lifestyle where you head off to India for a month when the weather gets too brrrrr in London goes a little something like this:

Friday night: T -4 days:  Begin packing your suitcase.  Notice that your passport isn’t where it normally lives.  Start to feel a little hot and twitchy.  Look in all the places where you might have put it for “safety”.  Nada.  Feel sick but head out to dinner anyway, trusting that it will turn up tomorrow.

Saturday morning: T -3.5 days:  Wake up at 7am having had anxiety dreams all night.  Try desperately to remember what the hell might have happened to your passport.  Curse your utterly useless memory.  Curse everything.  Curse your boyfriend for not getting out of bed immediately to help you look for the passport.  Call Southern Trains, Brighton station and a succession of pubs in Brighton to see if they have it, cos naturally you went to a mate’s comedy gig straight after picking up your Indian visa. Nothing’s been handed in.  Call the passport advice line to find out what can be done.  Book an appointment at the Peterborough passport office for 8am on Monday morning.  Call the Indian High Commission about your visa.  Curse them for being closed.

Saturday afternoon: T -3 days:  Turn your entire flat upside down.  Look inside your knee high boots, pillowcases, food cupboards and some rucksacks that you haven’t used since 1993.  Just in case.  Call your mum in panic.  Call your sister and let her know she might be flying out on Tuesday without you.  Feel terrible.

Curl up in a ball under the covers and vow not to wake up until it’s all better. Then realise that the post-office might shut early on a Sat, so race down there on your bike and get a passport application form.  Actually make that two, because you’re bloody useless at filling in forms.  You need passport photos too, but you have filthy, matted hair and puffy eyes from crying.  Somehow, you don’t think that look will help persuade the authorities to issue you with an emergency passport.

Sunday morning T -2.5 days:  Survey the futile wreckage of your bedroom. Resign yourself to breaking your neck as you try to navigate the obstacle course you’ve created by taking everything you own out of the 3 loft spaces in your room. At least that would be one solution to the passport problem.

Accept your mum’s offer to join in the hunt-the-passport game that afternoon. Mums have a spidey-sense when it comes to finding lost stuff. Try really hard not to get your hopes up that your mum will spot it instantly she gets there and say, “oh darling, here it is, how could you have missed that?”.

Sunday afternoon: T -2 days:

Go along with your mum’s suggestion and start praying fervently to St Anthony and St Jude.  Leave your mum to her search whilst you make outlandish promises to various deities in return for your passport revealing itself.  After a few hours, admit defeat and console your mum in her disappointment that the saints let her down this time.

Get new passport photos. Sulk that your boyfriend made you accept the first shots the man took. Grudgingly admit that otherwise you would have been in Snappy Snaps all night and that maybe that is just how you look. Secretly decide to get them done again at Euston.  Meet your ex at Euston and have him countersign your passport application.  Try and get an early night in prep for your new passport and visa mission tomorrow.  Finally fall asleep at 1am and then wake up every half hour, terrified you’ll sleep through your alarm.

Monday morning T-1.5 days:  Drag yourself out of bed at 5am.  Go the tube only to find that there are no trains via Kings Cross.  Run to the nearest minicab office.  They’ve got nothing for half an hour.  Have a little cry at the ridiculousness of it all.  Sprint the 10 mins down to Kentish Town.  Get a bus to Kings Cross just in time for your train.  Calm yourself with some soothing Bon Iver on the hour-long train journey to Peterborough.  Put some make-up on to improve your chances of the passport office processing your application quickly.

Make it to the passport office dead on time at 8am.  Marvel once again at how everyone outside of London is always so much more friendly and helpful.  Feel that your crack-of-dawn start was worth it when the nice lady agrees to issue you with a new passport on the 4-hour service, “even though they don’t normally do that for lost passports”.  Loiter in the shopping centre for warmth whilst waiting for the shops to open.  Text your mum to ask her to contact the Indian High Commission to find out what you have to do to get a same day replacement visa.

She tells you that in order to get a replacement visa, you must undertake a quest that will test your strength of character, your physical endurance and most of all, your sanity.  Despair at the lunacy of a system that will not accept the production of a brand new passport as evidence of the loss of an old passport, but also requires a receipt from the police confirming that you have reported the loss.  Stumble upon the Peterborough constabulary HQ.  Report the loss to them and get your receipt.

Monday afternoon T-1 day:  Pick up your new passport at midday.  Sprint to the train station to get the next train back to London.  Arrive to find that all trains are delayed by a couple of hours.  Call your boyfriend from the far end of the platform where your fellow passengers can’t hear your frustrated sobs.  Declare it all pointless and that you can’t go on.  Put the phone down on your boyfriend as he tells you to pull yourself together and compares your situation to Challenge Anneka.

Get on the train which magically speeds you to London on time.  Find the nearest internet cafe and print off your new Indian visa application.  Wonder how many internet cafes in London now have your passport and personal details stored on their systems.  Take the tube to Holborn and run down Kingsway to the Indian High Commission at Aldwych.  Arrive dead on 2pm – just in time for the afternoon session of the emergency visa counter.  Dare to believe that maybe this will all come good after all.

Stand 4th in line in the queue.  Watch as the people in front of you address the visa official as “Sir” and behave very deferentially.  Make a mental note to do the same.  Notice that the woman behind you appears distressed.  She tells you that her mother passed away last night and she is trying to get a visa to fly to India that evening to be with her family.  Tell her to take your place in the queue and offer your condolences for her loss.  Chat to her about her children, her job and why you are going to India.  Reassure her that she will get her visa and that it will all be ok.

When it’s your turn at the counter, look the man in the eyes and explain that you spoke to another official this morning who told you to come to the High Commission to obtain a replacement visa.  Explain that you had a visa issued in October, but lost your passport on Friday and you have a flight booked tomorrow which you will lose if you cannot get a new visa.  Explain that you have travelled to Peterborough at 5am to get a new passport.  Show him all your documents, including the all-elusive police receipt.

Start to tremble as the man tells you that they will not issue you a new visa today.  And dismisses your assertion that one of his colleagues said that you would get one.  He looks perplexed at why you would hand him a police report of the loss.  He goes on to say that they will not accept the application at the High Commission and that you have to go to the nearest visa office at Victoria.  He says the very best they can do is to expedite your application, but it will take 24 hours to process.

Normally that would be ok, because you don’t fly until 9pm tomorrow.  So, normally, you would have time to pick up your new visa and head straight to the airport.  Except that tomorrow is Diwali, the biggest religious festival in India and both the visa office and High Commission are closed.  So your luck’s run out and all of that rushing around and trying so hard and wishing so strongly have come to nothing.

Try to remain coherent and respectful as the tears start to fall and you try to beseech them to do something more to help you.  Explain that it’s not for you that you’re doing this – you’re going to India with your sister who has been recently bereaved and you don’t want her to have to travel alone.  Totally impassive reaction.  Force a “thank you” as they mark your papers “urgent”, so that you can collect your new visa at 11am on Wednesday morning.  14 hours too late for your flight.

Make your way to the bus stop on the Strand feeling utterly desolate.  Cry openly and loudly as you walk down the street and get on the bus.  Ignore the curious stares of the other passengers.  It’s just a typical bus journey in London, people.  Nothing to see here.  Deliver your paperwork to the visa office and explain your story.  They find it all rather amusing.  Particularly the part where they get to tell you that, if it weren’t for Diwali, you’d have been fine.  Quite the punchline.

Call your travel agency to find out what can be done about your flight.  They promise to call you back with options.  They don’t, but you decide to speak to them in the morning, since there’s nothing you can do to change the situation tonight.

Call your mum and sister and tell them the bad news.  Offer to put your sis up in a hotel near the airport in Goa until you can fly out.  Tell her the latest you’ll be there will be Sunday, cos you can take a friend’s unwanted direct flight out on Saturday night.

Tuesday morning: T-0.5:  Go to your sister’s house and start looking for hotels.  Realise quickly that they are all booked up because of Diwali.  Experience the now familiar surge of adrenalin and cortisol which is what you’ve been running on for the past few days.  Spend 3 hours looking for a hotel that (a) doesn’t cost same as India’s annual GDP and (b) doesn’t have reviews on Trip Advisor written by cockroaches who’ve had a lovely stay there.  Find one and quickly book it.  Then receive an email that says that the room isn’t booked until you receive a confirmation email from the hotel, which can take 12 hours.  Only there aren’t 12 hours before your sister is due to check in.  Brilliant.

Email your travel agent.  Ask them how much a single flight to Goa would be on Weds or Thurs.  Explain that you will use the return portion of your existing flight for the way back.  Receive an email back saying that if you don’t make your outbound flight then you will automatically forfeit your return leg.  Immediately start crying again.  Call Jet Airways who tell you that this is not true, that it is only a travel agency policy.  Call the travel agency and go absolutely ballistic.  They’re sticking to their guns.  It’s not their policy, it’s the airline’s policy.  And no, they won’t do a conference call with you and the airline to resolve it.  Why would they – this way they get to keep the money from your original booking and get more from you to book a replacement flight.  Utter bloody scam.

Call Jet again.  Speak to several people, including a manager.  Now they’ve changed their tune.  The first person you spoke to gave you wrong information.  You can’t use your return leg even though you’ve paid for it.  You’ll have to book a whole new flight.  No, they won’t put you through to their lawyers.  No, they can’t tell you where this is in your ticket’s terms and conditions.  End the call, seething.

Call your boyfriend.  He tells you that you will be issuing a claim in the small claims’ court tomorrow and delivering it personally to your travel agent.  He reassures you that you will “get this sorted”.  He means business and sounds worryingly enthused at the prospect of door-stepping the travel agents.

Tuesday afternoon: T-0:  Accompany your sister to the airport.  Buy champagne in Cafe Rouge in a last-ditch attempt to distract her from the fact that she has to fly out alone.  Tell her that you’ll get her hotel room confirmed by the time she lands, or you’ll find her another.

Travel back from Heathrow to central London, watching the Diwali fireworks from the tube window….

Wednesday morning:  Get up at 6am to confirm your sister’s room with the hotel and arrange a taxi pick-up for her at the airport.  Feel absurdly grateful when this turns out to be easy.  Decide that you don’t have the appetite to “go f*** some people up” today, as your boyfriend suggests.  Buy a one way ticket from Goa to London on the same flight that you forfeited.  Work out that you are approximately £750 down on the trip before you’ve even left.  Cry again – it’s what you do best now.  Go to pick up your visa, terrified that something will have gone wrong and it won’t be ready.  Guard your passport with your life, checking it obsessively all the way home.

Thursday and Friday:  Try to get some perspective back in your life and calm the hell down.

Saturday afternoon:  Have a delicious meal with your boyfriend at Crystal kebabs on Holloway Road.  Your guvech stew could easily feed four, so you won’t need to eat on the plane.  Relax at home with a last cup of tea before heading to the airport.  Your boyfriend’s meeting his sister-in-law later for a drink.  She tells him that the Northern line is down this weekend.  You’d meant to check it, but forgotten.  Mildly panic.  Call a minicab to Euston.  Tube to Victoria.  Spend an extortionate amount of money on a single ticket on the Gatwick Express.  Hear footsteps behind you as you board and your boyfriend’s voice telling you that the guard on the gate let him through “because he’s Italian and they love a bit of romance”.  Allow your boyfriend to nearly break your skull on the platform by dipping you for a Hollywood kiss.

Breeze through empty check-in desks and security lanes at Gatwick.  Get picked as always for the 360 body scan.  Do your twirl.  Down some melatonin with a glass of wine (sancerre rose – in the Wetherspoons – fancy!) and head to your gate.  It really would be the final straw if you were to fall asleep before you made it onto the plane.  Find yourself sitting in an aisle seat at the back of the plane next to a nice older man.  Make polite small talk till you’ve taken off.  Then put your hoodie up, your eye-mask on, your headphones in and drift in and out of sleep for almost the entire flight.

Arrive in Goa.  See your sister waiting for you at the airport exit.  Whoop whoop. And she’s not even got too much of a head-start tan.  Get a taxi down to Agonda beach.  Receive a warm welcome from the staff at Jardim a Mar, who remember you from last year.  Dump your bags in your beach hut.  Run down to the sea.

And relax.

time rich cash poor … where to find fun on the cheap

Now that they’ve got over the fact that I no longer work for a living, my friends have started to express concern for how I manage to fill my time.  I think they have visions of me sitting blank-eyed and wild haired, alone on my sofa at home all day, just waiting for everyone else to finish work so I have someone to play with.

Look away now if you don’t want to hear this, but there is a whole world of stuff you could be doing, if only you had the time to do it.  And the best part, loads of it is free or under a tenner, so even us salary-dodgers can get involved.  You just need to know where to look…

Here’s my roundup of where to find free fun (as opposed to fun free: I’ll pass on that, thanks all the same) and general goings-on in London:

© 2012 Londonist

Londonist:  has a permanent “Free London” section on its site and also does a weekly roundup of all things cheap and cheerful.  Usually my first stop when looking for something to do, as it has a really eclectic mix of listings, from exhibitions and talks, to festivals and geekery.  I love the fact that it doesn’t just cover the well-known events, but lots of smaller, local happenings too and it’s well-edited, so you don’t have to search for what’s on.

Look out for:  the “Things to do in London this Weekend” section, published each Thursday and the “Week in Geek” section, for curious types.

© le cool 2012

le cool Londonsign up for their weekly email (every Thurs) to get your cool fix.  Their recommendations are usually on the quirkier side of average and it’s set out as a day-by-day guide: le monday, le tuesday (you get the idea).

Look out for: their guides to other European cities (Barcelona, Paris, Istanbul etc.) and their blog, to read about what you’ve missed out on doing!

© 2012 Thrillist

Thrillist London:  sign up for their daily email or check out their website, where you can search under categories.  Best for new restaurant and bar openings, although they do also feature some unusual events (zombie evacuation race, anyone?).  If you love pop-ups, this is your guide.

Look out for: their same-format US city guides.  London is the only non-US city featured (lucky us!), so if you’re travelling stateside and want to find the coolest hangouts, check them out.

© 2012 Scout London

Scout London:  a newish listings magazine and website.  Covers all of the categories you’d expect: art & culture, comedy, film, food & drink, music, sport etc.  The editorial is a little lacking, but think of it as a less cluttered Time Out and you won’t go far wrong.

Look out fortheir free weekly magazine available from selected London tube stations every Tuesday.

© 2012 Time Out Group Ltd

Time Out: deserves an honourable mention, particularly now that the magazine is free (available from selected zone 1 – 2 tube stations and museums/galleries) and is an edited version of the old style magazine, so much easier to find what you’re looking for.  They have critics’ choices and detailed reviews and they highlight those events that are free.  My only criticism is that the listings are so comprehensive that sometimes you lose the will to live sifting through to find the good stuff.

Look out for: their ipad and mobile apps, when you’re on the move and need a recommendation, fast.  

Lastly, if you can’t quite let go of some of your lavish habits (spa days, cocktails, fancy dinners), make the most of the ever-increasing spamathon of voucher deals (livingsocial, groupon, amazonlocal, wowcher, wahanda).  Being able to do things during the day gives you many more options for fun.  And it feels way more decadent.

Go wild.

Oh, and if anyone has any other suggestions for where to find cool stuff, please share in the comments section.  Thanking you.

i ♥ london

Dear London

Just a little note to say that you looked beautiful last Saturday and I had such a lovely time with you.  Thanks so much for opening your doors to us, it was a really good weekend.  I’ve included some pictures of our day together.  The weather was amazing!

I know sometimes I get a little grinchy with you, when you’re too busy, but you know I don’t mean it really.  I still think you’re the coolest thing on earth.

See you soon,

Caz xxx

* For those of you who’ve never done Open House London.  You must!  It’s on every September (next year’s dates are 21 and 22 Sept 2013).  I’ve done it on and off for about 15 years.  There’s an amazing mix of historical and architecturally significant buildings and private residences that open their doors to the public for the weekend.  It’s totally free.  This year I even got to do a tour of the Beefeater Gin Distillery, tucked away in Kennington!