A Letter to Toby, 2017

Dear Toby,

Today is my nineteenth birthday, and your thirty-fifth.

Last year’s letter was particularly emotional, I know. It wasn’t easy for me to write, but I’m glad I got it down. This year, though, things are different. They’re so different. It might be hard for me to actually describe it all, though I’m always willing to do my best. I know you never really got to know me, so this way at least I know that I’ve given you the chance. I don’t believe in an afterlife, I was honest about that last time, but I also don’t believe my logic to be infallible. If you are, by some distant miracle, out there, then at least you know that I love you nonetheless.

Firstly, I’m at university. This does mean, unfortunately, that I can’t be home to deliver your letter in person. I think I’m going to ask Mum to print out a copy and take it to you instead. Following the old routine, choosing a stone from the garden, or from the beach (after all, the good stones in the garden came from the beach) and use it as a paperweight. That’s the way I’ve done it before. I guess the physical placement of the paper doesn’t mean anything, the value is that I’ve written it in the first place. I’d like it to be delivered nonetheless, but I’m sure you’ll understand if I can’t.

But anyway, I’m at university. More precisely, I’m at the University of Winchester. I don’t know if you ever visited Winchester, knew anybody who had lived there or been there, but it’s a lovely town. Old, pretty, lots of history and lots of life. There’s so much nature here too; did you know I sort of unofficially inherited that collection of nature books, the hardcover ones? I read them so many times, and now I get to see so many of those thing in real life! It’s incredible, Toby. It’s comfortable, that’s what it is. I think you’d like it. It’s close enough to home that I don’t feel completely adrift, but it’s far enough away that my few grievances about island living are easily forgotten. I love my flat and I get along well with my flatmates, there are seven of them, even though it’s a trek up a steep hill whenever I want to go home. I’d ask you to guess what I’m studying, though I think it’s probably a little obvious. I’m studying Creative Writing, of course I am, I’ve said before that writing was my goal. Well now I’m getting there, Toby, I’m making progress!

As you might imagine, this changes things. I’m celebrating my birthday not with the traditional family gathering, everyone huddled into the lounge with the sofas, armchairs, beanbags and cushions all occupied, but instead by going to class. It sounds boring, I know, but it really isn’t, and that’s not all I’m doing, either. After that I’m going into town, going to watch as they turn on all the Christmas lights, the shining strings that span the high street all illuminated at once. I think I’m going to dinner afterwards, either in town or back at the university, with my friend and her mother. I’ll open my cards, for I have most of them with me already. I might have to go down to the post-room at some point, too. It’s a nice, laid-back way of spending the day. Enough sparkle to stand out from the rest, but not too much fuss.

I like to think, actually, that I started celebrating my birthday last weekend. Last weekend, as I curled up under my big fluffy blanket to watch videos and listen to music with Alastair, that was the real beginning. You’d love him, I think. He loves video games, he even works in a video game shop, and he’s got the sweetest personality. I miss him when I’m here, and though I miss all of my friends when I’m away I feel the distance from Alastair the most.

The next weekend, then, is the height of the celebration. Mum’s flying over on Friday, and then we’re going to go into town for dinner in the evening before we head to the theatre to see a local production of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Then, on Saturday, we’re going to go on a day-trip. If all goes to plan, we’ll be driving down to Brighton! That’s where Hannah went to university, though I’ve never been there before myself. I’ve heard all sorts of good things about it though.

(Speaking of Hannah, you should see the adventures she’s having at the moment. They look fantastic, I’ve seen all of the photographs from her travels around Vietnam.)

We’re still connected, right? By so many things. Not just our birthdays, by numbers, but by interests and experiences and a shared sense of where we call home. That, I think, is one of the most important connections to me right now. While I’m not home, not technically, the sense of kinship I feel with my fellow islanders is stronger than ever. And when I think of home, when I’m watching the lights and wishing they were the lights that hover over the sea, I’ll be thinking of that connection.

As ever, Toby, I’ll sing my happy birthday to you.

Your birthday buddy,

Becks xxxxx



This is a fill for a prompt I received on Tumblr: the word ‘seashell’. As you might imagine, this is a prompt I dearly love. The you is this story is very much me, but I wanted to share this with you as an experience. This is not the first thing I have written about seashells, but it’s definitely my favourite.


The beach, in the winter, is made for scavengers and dog-walkers.

The ladder is sandy and salt-scratchy, stinging your hands as you lower yourself down onto the pebbles. This is not the most popular beach you could have chosen, but it was close and small and, in the grey of winter, miserably vacant. The tide is recently-retreated, leaving the shore slippery and damp while the waves lap at the edge of far-away rock-pools. You can hear it whispering as if it were close, but when you turn your head towards the horizon you can barely see past the rocks that stretch out from the headland. The little you can see of the ocean is grey and restless, restless the same way that you find yourself in the winter. You kick a pinkish-coloured pebble to reveal the sand beneath before wandering down into the finer shingle. This is not one of the prettier beaches on the island, with the concrete drain-pipe that splits it down the middle and the constant traffic behind you. You shuck your rucksack from your shoulders and leave it safely on top of the drain-pipe because you’ve learnt by now that carrying it around while you scramble over rocks is a foolproof way to drop it in a tide-pool.

The shingle before you is littered with shells. It’s difficult to identify them all, but you’ve picked up a little knowledge from one of your grandfather’s old nature books. Conical limpet-shells, loosed from their rocks and laid to rest on the shore. Tiny yellow snail shells, strewn in their thousands and glittering damp and bright against the granite pebbles. There are grey topshells and periwinkles, pleasant in their simplicity and their abundance. Rarer is the bright spot of ivory that leads you to damp white cockle shells or a pale peppery furrow shell, the shine of a razor shells’ nacre hidden similarly in the sand. This little bay is no Shell Beach, of course, but that was several months and a boat-ride away. This would do until the spring when the ferries started running.

You collect mostly pretty spiralled dogwhelks and wentletraps, brushing the damp sand off of them and shoving them into the pocket of your coat until you walked back to the drain-pipe. You’d walked out quite a way over the rocks before you see pink staining the sky between the clouds and decide to turn back. You feel inside your pockets and they are moist and grainy, a feeling you recognise to mean an afternoon well-spent. The tide, you notice, is slowly trailing you back to the shingle. It will be hours yet before it returns to throw its’ debris on the beach and across the road, but right now it hides amongst the shadows cast by the rocks. The sea on this side of the island is a unique beast, great and grey with a preference for ambushing the coast rather than openly approaching it.

There are a couple of striped venus shells laying unappreciated and battered by the tides, so you pick those up as well. Never mind their chipped edges, you feel sort of sorry for them. You’d been hoping, after the high spring tide of the last evening, that you might spot a shimmering green ormer shell that had been thrown up amongst tangles of sand and seaweed. Though you’d searched all along the tideline, there hasn’t been anything of the sort. A mermaid’s purse and a dead crab lay trapped in coils of bladder-wrack, crunchy beneath your trainers. You have enough crab-claws and so you ignore them, the smell isn’t worth it once you get them home.

You’re unloading your pockets of shells when you hear it. A dog’s bark, a person’s distant call. They’re coming down from the grassy headland walk and you haste to retreat from the pebbles, stumbling over stones as you make your way up to the ladder. The beach is meant to be solitary and quiet, and that’s not something you want to deny them. You see them over the wall as they stroll down from the headland path at the other side of the bay and smile. The beach, in the winter, is made for scavengers and dog-walkers. It feels nice to know that it sees them.

You walk home with plans to return tomorrow. You never know what the sea might deliver overnight.

A Letter to Toby, 2016

Each year, I write a letter. It’s a fairly new tradition, only the last couple of years, but it’s important to me nonetheless. Later this afternoon I will take this letter to it’s true destination, held in place by an Albecq stone. However, over time, the rain will wash it away and the reminder will be lost, so I wanted to give this letter a more permanent home. Forgive me if this feels too personal for a blog such as this, but it felt only fitting to keep this in my internet archive and preserve it as it is, on the day on which it is most important. So, to Toby, who loved me so wholeheartedly in the two years we shared, know that I love you too.


Dear Toby,

Today is my eighteenth birthday, your thirty-fourth.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, that we were supposed to celebrate our birthdays together. The whole family gathered in one lounge or another, opening cards and gifts and sharing a cake. Tom, Nan, Auntie Gill and Uncle Hugh, Emma, Hannah and James. My mum and now Kevin, too. Our friends, perhaps. Now I know we can’t do that, of course we can’t, but I can write you a letter. I’m sorry that’s all I can do.

I was thinking, last night, about the idea of adulthood. For most of my young teenage life I didn’t think I’d ever get here. It wasn’t anything particularly bad. Not in a solid sense, a purposeful sense, but I’ve never felt like I’m suited to adulthood. When a thought struck me last night, though, I realised that it’s something I’m going to have to face. I realised, in the sudden way that late-night philosophical epiphanies often present themselves, that I am now older in numbers than you ever got to be. It was strange and sad notion to come across, considering all that I have previously said. At two o’clock this morning I realised that this gift I’d been given, the same gift you so deserved, is something I can’t take for granted.

Let me tell you, Toby, a little bit about how I’m celebrating our birthday, this year. For a start, it’s on a Wednesday. I know, having a mid-week birthday can be a drag. I’m even writing this while sitting in my usual spot at school. Right by the window, overlooking the car-park, I often have some friends beside me. At this particular moment I happen to be alone, but several people stopped by at breaktime. Yes, celebrating on a Wednesday is not exactly ideal, but it won’t be a Wednesday forever so I ask you to bear with me. On Saturday I had dinner with two of my good friends from school, at a restaurant down by the roundabout in town. Sunday evening some of my other, outside-of-school friends came bowling with me. The Bowl must be similar to how you knew it, just refurbished with a newer, uglier carpet. I swear they haven’t even changed the lanes these last sixteen years, judging by how often they break down. Either way, it wouldn’t be unfamiliar. My friend Luke took us for a drive beforehand and afterwards, helping to keep our small island cabin-fever at bay. I’d like to imagine you’d get on well with my friends. They’re all kind, friendly, some of them quite shy. Most of them like superheroes and action movies, comic books and music.

Today, on our actual birthday, I am seeing our family. Auntie Gill, Uncle Hugh, Hannah, Nan. Mum and Kevin. They’re going to gather up in our lounge this afternoon so we can have tea and cake. James is at work this evening, in his new job at the bicycle shop. Isn’t it the perfect position for James? We’re all proud of him having that job. Emma, her husband James and their two children, Libby and Harry, I’m sure I’ll see them before too long as well. You’d love their little family too, I swear. You’re an uncle, isn’t that an odd thought? You’d adore them, your niece and nephew. They’re both so sweet, they could work their way deep inside anyone’s heart in a matter of minutes.

Next Saturday, Saturday coming, is the pièce de résistance. I’m going to London with one of my best friends, all the way over there to see a concert. I wonder what sort of music you liked? Was it like Tom’s sort of music? If it was then we likely would have had that in common, Tom’s influence on my music taste is clear to see. There’s been a lot of good music these last couple of years, too, I wish you could hear some of it, sometimes. Still, nobody ever told me the kind of things you liked; video games and television shows, music or even sports. I hardly know you, really.

Still, there is a connection. We are, in a now sorrowful sort of way, inextricably linked. Of course, there are still memories of you every day, everywhere in the family. Nan’s photograph of you on the windowsill, all these stories I get told. Every time somebody says ‘Lord, love a chicken!’, I know that it comes from you. Today, though, is the sixteenth of November, and that means we’re closer than ever. This time each year is another connection, every time I think your name it feels a little stronger. I wish, I wish I could have known you better, had we shared more than two birthdays. Time and time again, I have thought this over. There’s no use being too upset over it, but sometimes it provides some kind of feeling. Positive or negative, I’m not sure, but it’s something. That, many times, is enough.

This whole letter writing thing, I can’t say it’s entirely selfless. I want to be a writer, you see, have done since I was eleven. I would be lying if I said this wasn’t partially in the interest of that. These last couple of months I’ve been starting to think that if I try really, really hard then I might just be able to do it. Part of being an adult, it appears, is preparing for a future. My future, if I’m lucky, involves writing. I’m doing as much as I can to throw myself head-first into a swimming pool of prose and keep myself afloat. Reviews, blogs, stories and now letters, I turn my head inside out to express these things. It must be evocative, because my mum cried at the last letter. It felt sort of like an achievement, like I’d done a good job, and it echoed all of my feelings, too.

No matter how hard these things are to write, Toby, I don’t regret putting my pen to paper. Neither do I regret a single word, nor a single shed tear. Like I said to you last time, I’m not sure if other people write to you like this, or how often they may do so. Perhaps they speak, or draw, or act or sing, instead. I’ll make sure to sing a song for you, too. In my head, as everyone around me sings the familiar tune of ‘Happy Birthday’, I’ll sing along with your name in the lyrics.

Here’s to you on our birthday, Toby. Let’s both have a good one.

Your baby cousin (now an adult),

Becks xxxxx

Early morning in Bedford Sqaure

Like airport morning blues, there’s a feeling. It’s strange and surreal, often stirred up by a combination of unfamiliar cities and midnights, catching night buses or early-evening trains. That kind of feeling, a weird one that I can’t quite pin down. This is the story of the last time I stumbled upon it.


It was half past three in the morning, on the corner of Bedford Square.

I was standing, shivering, wearing only my pyjamas, my coat and a pair of scuffed grey plimsolls. The distant shrill of the fire alarm was ringing in both my ears and the hotel. Luckily our room had been right next to the fire exit, a concrete staircase where the bell echoed in a chorus louder than it did in any bedroom. There were only about six others with us. I was surprised there weren’t more. After all, I had disobeyed everything I had ever been taught by routine fire drills by stumbling across the room for my phone, using its light to locate my jacket and shoes. My mother, startled awake in the twin bed next to mine, had done the same.

I didn’t have time in between the blind panic and the rush down to properly prepare for the cold of late-October, early-morning London. My shoes were only half-on, allowing me heels to rest on the frigid tarmac and I hadn’t so much as shrugged on my coat until we were safely out of the building. A man in a reflective vest ushered us to the other side of the road and, without looking, we went. On the opposite pavement was where I finally fixed my shoes and shut off the torch on my phone, realising a moment too late that it was a useless tool in the unfamiliar city; I couldn’t even connect to a network, let alone spill my commentary to the insomniacs of the internet. All of the sounds of London, the hiss of hydraulics on a double-decker bus, the roar of Tottenham Court Road station, the shouting of the pedestrians, I couldn’t hear any of them. The still-ringing bell and the pulsing of my heartbeat had eclipsed all other sounds. A horde of hotel guests then flooded out of the front entrance, across the taxi rank and towards us on the pavement. Twelve stories worth of businessmen and holidaygoers all blocking a busy city street while I, at the back of the crowd, stared up at the blue light of Centre Point tower and wished that there were stars above London.

Somebody was guiding us around the corner, a lady with a megaphone and box full of who-knows-what, down Adeline Place and towards Bedford Square. Despite staying in that same hotel for years prior, I had never taken this route before. It was all terraced houses and, I think, some trees leaning over us. I could see Centre Point a little clearer from this far away, and the cranes over Oxford Street. There must have been two-hundred or more guests now crowded on the corner of the square, several with no coats or shoes or even sleeves; everyone was whispering about this and that, what was or wasn’t going on inside the hotel. I realised that we had forgotten our room key in the half-asleep hurry to get ourselves outside and that we would have negotiate our way back in, if we ever got back in. I was beginning to regain my hearing and along with it the ambience of London’s busiest shopping district under the guise of night. The alarm was still ringing, the lady with the megaphone having disappeared on the promise of informing us of any developments. So there we stood for a good twenty minutes, my mother looking around us at the other evacuees and me playing games on my phone, because without a connection it wasn’t any good for anything else.

By the time we’d developed what might be called a serious case of the shivers, people starting meandering back towards the hotel. The alarm had stopped (and with its departure a dream-like stupor had fell over me, helped by the phantom ringing that continued in my head), but the woman with the megaphone had not yet returned. I wasn’t sure about trusting the crowd, we were told to stay put and I was loathe to follow but I wouldn’t want to be the last person left standing out in the cold. We didn’t rush, but as we rounded the corner we could see that the doors were about to re-open and the entire crowd slowly allowed to wander back inside. We were surprisingly near the front and I found my mind falling back to the evening before as we had waited on the steps of the Palladium theatre for the doormen to open the floodgates. The concierge staff were milling about inside, readying the hotel and manning the desks as one man opened the door to let the first few people back inside. They moved towards the steps like a upside-down waterfall, flowing towards to the lifts and clogging up the foyer.

We were no more than ten minutes behind them, teetering on the edge of the steps as the glacial crowd stopped once again, the lifts having abandoned them to deliver another small group to their floor. Once at the top of the steps, having watched the wheelchair lift having gone up and down with the fascinated awe with which one stares at moving machines when it’s nearing four in the morning, we had to detour to the front desk where a bleary-eyed receptionist inquired about our room number. Two hundred and something, the furthest room from the lifts, the number is unimportant as long as we remembered that was where it was. My mother told her the number in a fit of exhausted brilliance and then we rejoined the crawl for the lifts. The crowd was moving a little more steadily, having remembered the existence of the emergency stairs and taking that route when possible, a move we decided to use ourselves. It shouldn’t have been far, we were only going to the second floor, but it felt like the Escher room from Labyrinth, we must have climbed about six flights of stairs before we finally reached the door labelled ‘2.’

Hours later I might have fallen back asleep, might have, to headlights shining outside and the memory of Centre Point’s blue light. Not long after I would find myself drowsily wandering Paddington Station, but that’s another story for another day.

The Los Angeles Report

This is a blog-post that came about following my holiday in Los Angeles, and subsequently my friend Alicia asking for recommendations of places to visit and places to eat. I maybe got a little carried away, and seeing as I hadn’t previously posted about that trip I figured I’d post on here as a kind of summary of what we did and what we enjoyed. Of course, it is addressed to Alicia, hence the direct address throughout, but it could equally serve as my own tips for anyone visiting LA from the UK, especially people with the same sensitivities as myself.


  • Use your phone calculator. You’ll need it. Tax is added onto the base price tag of most things, so it’ll never be quite the price you expect.
  • Remember to tip! Service staff in America have a really low minimum wage because they rely mainly on tips for their pay.
  • Don’t try and avoid fast food, it’s different and often better in America, and you’ll be glad of the time saved when not eating in proper restaurants all the time.
  • There is little to no public transport depending on the area, and certainly not much that’s easily navigable without a local on your side to help you out. Driving is really the only option for getting around efficiently, though it’s very congested, so I’d be prepared for that.
  • For the love of God, take a laptop. You can likely charge it on the plane, and you’ll be glad of the distraction from the long flight. It also makes accessing social media a lot easier, and even when in a different time zone you’ll appreciate the connection.
  • Take photos! Take loads of photos! As evidenced by my Instagram feed, you should take as many photos as you can. It’s normal and not frowned upon at all, and if you see something cool, you should snap it. Photos also help preserve memories, and you’re bound to have a lot.
  • If you can, collect tickets and receipts. It’s a fun pastime, and it can create a cool journal or scrapbook. Postcards are great as well.
  • Buy stuff. Don’t regret buying stuff. It’s a long way, it’s a rare opportunity. There’s so much in LA that even if you go again you’re unlikely to do the same things twice.
  • Know the full address of where you’re staying. They will likely ask you as you go through customs, and ‘Los Angeles’ will not suffice.
  • Try Hershey’s chocolate. British people will tell you that it’s awful compared to Cadbury’s. It’s not, it’s really good. Just, good in a different way.
  • It will be hot. Really hot. Uncomfortably hot. Prepare for this.
  • If it does, by some miracle, rain: don’t be self-conscious about laughing at everyone in wellies. There’s no need for wellies in a light drizzle. Everyone wears them anyway as a fashion statement, and it’s ridiculous.
  • For flight music, buy a headphone splitter at the airport (Dixon’s) and have some prepared travel playlists. I’ll include mine below so you can download them and maybe give you a few mix CDs if you want, because I have a killer Cali playlist and a nice sleepy flight one too.
  • Eat at the airport. Drink water on the flight. Bring your own entertainment even if you know they have movies. Movies are never enough (or maybe it’s because I have ADHD, I don’t know, but I prefer to have alternatives)
  • Enjoy yourself!



In N’ Out (burgers, fast food, sit in or takeaway)

Right outside the airport is the best location, see the planes flying overhead while you eat awesome American burgers. I’d suggest looking up their menu options online, because there are a lot of ‘secret’ menu items that are easily accessible on the internet but not advertised in the actual restaurants.

800 Degrees (pizza, fast food, sit in or takeaway)

Fast food, but classy fast food. Doesn’t feel like a dive and there’s a lot of choices you can make regarding toppings. Everything is cooked right in front of you in proper pizza ovens. Also serves salad and meatballs. Various locations, but if you’re flying back from LAX it’s the best option to eat in departures.

Cheesecake Factory (sit in only, casual restaurant)

Can be a bit of a wait, but it’s worth it. Nice, well made meals with a famous selection of cheesecakes to choose for dessert. We went to the branch in Santa Monica, which is right next to a small beach and well organised.

Smash Burger (fast food, burgers, sit in or takeaway)

Not sure of locations in LA (we went to an outlet branch in Camarillo) but it’s a chain so I’m sure there’ll be some. Nice signature burger and sauce recipe, a nice change to some of the plainer options but the simple ones are available if you ask.

If you’re into it, Phillipe’s Original French-Dip Sandwiches (fast food, sit in)

Not particularly impressed by this one, but it’s a tradition. I wouldn’t go again, but if you’re interested it’s a classic fast food place that serves sandwiches dipped in gravy. Seems very love-it or hate-it, would suggest checking it out on Yelp for more opinions. Most reviews are positive, so I’m willing to bet that personal taste and delicate British sensitivities were the only things working against it for me. It’s close to Downtown, so it’s pretty convenient if you were looking to visit The Last Bookstore or other things in that area. Olvera Street (I’ll elaborate later) is within walking distance. There’s a cool atmosphere there, very traditional American diner-style, so I’d say it’s worth it for the experience even if you’re not so big a fan of the food.

LaLa’s Grill (sit in restaurant, not too fancy)

Located on Melrose Avenue, LaLa’s grill is in the perfect place to eat if you want to go to the Groundlings (which you should, in fact I think I’d be disappointed if you didn’t go to Groundlings at some point), and the food is nice. Lots of garlic, but fairly simple meals that aren’t too complicated or difficult to order and understand. Named after a Spanish nickname for ‘grandmother’, the atmosphere of the restaurant is nice while offering warm outside seats which allow you to look along Melrose.

Sprinkles/Black Velvet Cupcakes (cupcake shop)

Not a restaurant, but it’s famous for the ‘Cupcake ATM’ that’s outside as well the freshly-baked cupcakes on offer. A lovely range, good for a snack and you can get little spoons so that you can walk as you eat. A nice snack to have as you wander Rodeo Drive, there’s also a famous ice-cream shop next door that belongs to the same company.

Coldstone’s Creamery (ice-cream chain shop, various locations, sit-in available)

Coldstone’s is an ice-cream branch that our American relatives enthused over. You choose a base flavour of ice-cream, which includes bubblegum and cake-batter amongst more traditional flavours. Then you can choose your toppings, but unlike other ice-cream places they mix the toppings into the ice-cream on marble slabs, which explain the company’s name. It’s delicious, quite large servings but definitely a good snack.

Manhattan Beach Creamery (ice cream and sweet shop)

If you want some awesome ice-cream sandwiches and a place to watch the sunset, get some from the Manhattan Beach Creamery before heading two minutes down the road to the pier, one of the best sunset views you’ll ever see. They have a selection of American sweets as well as their ice-creams and ice-cream sandwiches, but I’d recommend the sandwiches above all. You just don’t get them as much here, but they’re delicious.

Yogurtland (frozen yogurt shop, sit in or takeaway)

Yogurtland is the best place to try frozen yogurt. Similar to Coldstone, they offer sample pots to test their flavours and almost all are low-fat or fat-free. You can mix flavours from yogurt taps into different size tubs before adding toppings of your choice, ranging from fruit to mini oreos and more. The end result is priced by weight and therefore always a fair cost for what you have. Many nice flavours too, a common branch that can found in many places.



Griffith Park Observatory

The best views of LA and an awesome planetarium show, I’d recommend this for the pure enjoyment of the science museum alone. The show is projected in the planetarium dome as you lean back in cinema seats. Not boring at all, there are practical demonstrations of some awesome astrophysics stuff, not to mention the meteorites and the room with the scale model planets. You can also find out what you weigh on each planet, which is awesome.

Calle Olvera Market

Won’t take long but it’s worth a visit, Olvera Street is home to the oldest building in LA and also an everyday market with the most colourful stalls. It’s a Mexican market with Mexican restaurants and snacks all around, not to mention some fantastic souvenirs! Clay calavera and silver crosses, lots of candles and ceramics. It’s truly a beautiful, fun market. There’s usually a mariachi band around somewhere. Might be an idea to brush up on your Spanish for when you actually buy things though, just for authenticity.


The best thing I can recommend to you is the Groundlings theatre, a small comedy club with a little auditorium and some great talent. I expect the Thursday improv show, Cookin’ With Gas, will still be running weekly during your visit, so please try and go if you can. It’s one of the best comedy performances I’ve ever seen, and there are some pretty notable performers involved. Tickets can be bought online beforehand (though we bought ours on the night a little before the show, that’s because Shannon knows the place well; I’d definitely suggest booking online). Other than the Thursday improv show, there are other shows going on all the time.

StarLine Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour (Red Route)

Alright, so it looks a little cheesy. It is a little cheesy. However, the Red Route offers a really good coverall tour of Hollywood and La Brea, with opportunities to get off and look around at whichever stops you want. You can start at any of the stops, which include the official start point at the Chinese Theatre, the Guitar Center, the Beverly Center, the La Brea Tar Pits and Melrose Avenue. This, naturally, includes the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Dolby Theatre, the Rock Walk of Fame, the Sunset Strip, and more. All of the places I mentioned are worth at least a quick visit, but the Guitar Center and La Brea are two I would definitely recommend which may not have stood out to you beforehand.

The Last Bookstore

The largest new and used books and record store in Los Angeles, it’s famous for it’s artistic decoration (see: the piano and the tunnel of books) and also the sheer amount of books and records. The building is innocuous from the outside, but inside stand imperial columns and impressive shelves. There’s a really nice atmosphere in the bookstore, and there’s a massive section on theatre and scripts in amongst the old records and newer genres like comics and graphic novels. There’s also a horror vault upstairs and ‘the labyrinth’, along with several small artists’ studios that are rented to independent artists who use them as a workspace and shop.

Amoeba Records

If you’re into music, it’s a must-see. This is the largest new and used record and CD store in LA, I’d guess, and it’s definitely the most impressive. One thing you’ll notice in America is the lack of a large chain music store like HMV, which means that there’s a massive reliance on old-style indie music stores, especially in an area as arts-based as California. Amoeba is the biggest of these, where you can find DVDs upstairs along with the huge collection of CDs and records of all genres, and also music-themed books and genuine vintage posters as well.


#1: The Nights And The Flights

  1. Paris // The 1975
  2. Four Walls // Broods
  3. 505 // Arctic Monkeys
  4. I Walk the Line // Halsey
  5. N.M.S.S. // Elvis Depressedly
  6. If I Believe You // The 1975
  7. Hey Lacey // Electric Century
  8. Hiding Tonight // Alex Turner
  9. Dead Sea // The Lumineers
  10. Weird Honey // Elvis Depressedly
  11. Drugstore Perfume // Gerard Way
  12. Clean // The Japanese House
  13. Pressure // The 1975
  14. Heaven [feat. Betty Who] // Troye Sivan
  15. Barcelona // George Ezra
  16. L.A.F // Broods
  17. Mad at Nothing // Patrick Stump


#2: Look For Me On The Coast

  1. Golden Days // Panic! at the Disc
  2. The Only Place // Best Coast
  3. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It // R.E.M
  4. Beverly Hills // Weezer
  5. Electrolite // R.E.M
  6. West Coast // Coconut Records
  7. It Never Rains In Southern California // Albert Hammond
  8. California Dreamin’ // The Mamas and the Papas
  9. Santa Carla Twilight // Tiger Army
  10. Donde Estas, Yolanda? // Pink Martini
  11. Take Me to L.A. // Nights and Weekend
  12. L.A. Devotee // Panic! at the Disco
  13. We’ve Had Enough // Alkaline Trio
  14. Sleepless in Silverlake // Les Savy Fay
  15. Time Spent in Los Angeles // Dawes
  16. We Don’t Need Another Song About California // My Chemical Romance


Album Recommendations:

Death of a Bachelor // Panic! at the Disco

It’s practically a love-song for Los Angeles. It actually includes one literal love-song for Los Angeles, LA Devotee, but it fits the mood for an LA holiday.

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys // My Chemical Romance

Both the concept album and the comic are set in post-apocalyptic desert California, and the album is very lively with a few calmer songs at the end. I’d suggest getting the deluxe version, as it contains two of my favourites, Vampire Money and We Don’t Need Another Song About California.

Total Life Forever // Foals

This album is one that I bought in Amoeba Records, so maybe I’m a little biased, but this is a brilliant album for travelling and for evoking that sun-soaked, lazy atmosphere of holidays. Enough of the album is upbeat that you won’t find it dull, but the nostalgic sense it gives is more than enough for it to make it onto my recommendations list.

I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It // The 1975

Okay, so this is an album I would recommend for any situation, but the mix of beautiful slow tracks and more upbeat pop numbers really makes it good one to have playing in your ears in California. There are pop-culture critiques and themes throughout which are pretty topical considering the city you’re visiting, but it’s a fun album that I think you’ll enjoy.

The Lumineers // The Lumineers

This just really makes me feel like travelling. Similarly, George Ezra’s Wanted on Voyage evokes a similar feeling. It’s a great one for flights and drives, and the historical themes and folk sound really create a homely album that feels like a cosy reflection on all your favourite travels.

Badlands // Halsey

I know, it’s pretty new and was incredibly popular upon its release, but this is a really good album if you like pop music. A lot of it is calming and a lot of it is more fast-paced, but Halsey’s voice is nice to listen to and it’s an easy one just to start listening to at any time, if you haven’t already.

Soul Punk // Patrick Stump

Soul Punk, and the deluxe tracks, are one of my favourite things to listen to on flights and while driving. It’s got a really lively sound with some cynical lyrics and themes, and it’s been a favourite of mine for a while before my friend told me it was great for travelling music.


Lastly, I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic time. Remember that these are my opinion, and feel free to throw them all out the aeroplane window if you don’t agree. And also, please add your own recommendations in the comments, anyone, if you have any; I’d love to see them!

Have a great time in Los Angeles!

I am not asleep on a plane.

I am not asleep on a plane.

My own breathing is all I can hear above the droning of the jets. Fours and eights. When I was still listening to music, I counted my breath in fours and eights, changing the number according to the tempo. There was a key to remember, not that I needed one. Fast equals fours. There were one or two tracks on my carefully curated nights and flights playlist that were just too in-between to judge. I’d be inhaling eights and exhaling fours, vice versa or any combination of the two, because the rhythm compulsion was just strong enough to stop me from counting to five.

If I’d known that my brain would try and punish me with primary-school mathematics, perhaps I would have chosen my music in a way that didn’t sabotage any chance of sleep. Instead of suffer those neither-here-nor-theres, I decide to rest in travel silence. Sit up for moment, cut the music and pull the earphones away from where they were probably affixing themselves permanently to my ears. It’s fine, they were starting to hurt where my head was leant to the side. Instead of fours and eights, that internal voice in my head starts counting down all the way from two-hundred, after the realisation that one-hundred was not nearly long enough for my brain to start fogging over. 

Not surprising, really, given how I can barely sleep on a normal night in my normal bed. Also, I rarely find myself on planes. This one in particular is an eleven-hour monster of a journey, and I am not asleep. My mind is buzzing with Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Los Angeles.

When I wake up, or more accurately, that moment when I reach zero for the second time and lose all hope of ever sleeping ever again, we’re over Canada. It’s this huge expanse of white and navy blue, circles of ice floating in the deep sea. It’s that coast that looks like it’s pulling itself North piece by frozen piece, up to join Greenland. The further south we get, the more the sheer white starts to swirl into a tundra of snow and greenish rocks. The flight tracker informs me that that one huge patch of snow was most likely the frozen Lake Winnipeg.

Mum, now that her film has finished, is picking out the funniest place names.

“Look,” she tuts, “All this way just to end up near Surrey.”

Kamloops, Flin Flon, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon. Yellowknife, Norman Wells, Kasaan, Ketchikan. Even goddamn Craig. Barely any of these are nearby, but once we discovered that you can explore the whole world around on the flight map, that was that.

I think I should make a joke about Ketchikan sounding vaguely like “catch if you can”. Or like Ketchum, from the Pokemon anime. Then I remember that Mum wouldn’t get it.

The very south of Canada is beneath us now, nearing the border. There’s a light, translucent cloud beneath us, the first we’ve seen since Greenland, and the flight tracker in front of me is showing labels for Medicine Hat, Moosomin right underneath us. Further ahead is Bismarck, Glasgow, and Salt Lake City. It’s amazing, surprising, how much you can see from 38,000 ft in the air.

I’m thinking back to earlier today. Yesterday, or whenever it was. I’m trying to stop myself from thinking too hard about time zones, so that I don’t break the fabric of space-time or something equally horrible. Gatwick was, as usual, a familiar sort of maze. Arriving at Gatwick is like arriving home, or near enough, because walking out into the foyer faced with WH Smith and Costa, we know our way around. We passed through to the monorail, 2010’s pop-funk quickly becoming ingrained in my head as the soundtrack of my day.

Sheridan, Miles City, Sundance. Gilette, Rapid City and Casper.

Being airside, however, makes me feel sick. There are so many people and so much noise, and none of them had blue hair, which means that they were probably judging me for it. We had a checklist of things to buy, all of which we found before getting lunch in a Wetherspoons that was so loud it could put a festival crowd to shame. I wore my headphones to block it all out, feeling increasingly dreadful right up until we were called to the gate. Like our checklist of things to buy, I was keeping a checklist in my head of every way in which I felt awful. Headache? Check. Nausea? Check. Fatigue? Check, and it was only one o’clock. Aches? Sure, in my arms and my legs and my back. Check, times one hundred.

Bullhead City. Las Vegas. Cedar City. Beaver, Milford, Hurricane, Escalante, Goldfield. In the distance I can see Salinas, which makes me think of my English GCSE. Fresno is to the north of our flight path, that place where people saw a walking pair of trousers and called them the Fresno Nightcrawlers. I’m beginning to see why people find my strange trivia a little annoying.

It’s not long at all now, less than an hour. If I’m honest, I have no idea how I survived. I ignored most of the entertainment package, judging that none of the films (even those on my must-watch list, such as the Hobbit trilogy and the new Star Wars) would have been able to hold my attention without the help of my concentration-in-a-tablet. I listened to music, sat in quiet that was uncomfortable physically rather than socially, and played enough solitaire that I’ll be dreaming in playing card sequences for at least the rest of the week. And then writing this, which has taken pretty much a solid hour or more of my time what with occasionally conversation breaks and wanders up and down the aisle to prevent my legs from dropping off (though they’re so numb I probably wouldn’t notice).

The cabin announcement just told us that it’s currently lightly raining in Los Angeles. Less than five minutes ago, we were listening to It Never Rains In Southern California. I guess we’ll find out in about half an hour.

note: this was genuinely all written on the flight. now that i’m posting it, we’re safely in SoCal and at Nick and Shannon’s, which is probably obvious given that i have wi-fi (though if i’d had wi-fi access there’s a good chance i would never have got this all written). by the way, they were right. it is raining. we got dinner at In N’ Out, which is the third time i’ve had a burger for a meal in the last two days.

In the Lair of the Alchemist

So this is just a short prose write-up of a D&D solo adventure I played through with our DM, Alastair, to help us get a feel of the worldbuilding and characters, and to understand the mechanics of the game. We ended up with this slightly awkward but really interesting scene that takes place in a healer’s parlour, and I wanted to write it out to help myself get into the world and the mindset.

Continue reading “In the Lair of the Alchemist”