Month: January 2014

Animal Instinct Determines Direction

Ever been lost and though you had either a paper or digital map in hand, you were none the wiser. I have!

For those of you who haven’t and intuitively ‘go west’ no matter the conditions or the diversions, you, my friends, actually have a functional animal instinct. Go figure!

As for the rest of us, we apparently have one too, but not so functional. In fact, ours is dysfunctional.  We must keep moving, however, even if we are way off course.

The experts say that there might be a way, moving forward, to activate this instinct.

In the meantime, check out my latest Huff Post blog to find out more about how sense of direction might be determined in the human brain and what it has to do with the big picture anyhow.

Pay by the Phone Parking, the Secret is Out

Driving in London can be rather hectic, owing to volume of traffic, road works, and various road users (cyclists, motorists, runners), which is why I drive as little as possible.

But since I moved slightly further afield, I find myself wheeling out the car at least once per week, sometimes twice. Who would have ever thought it? Small town girl confidently takes to London’s roads. Recently, two friends commended me on this very thing.

Enough bragging. There is a reason for my madness. The daughter of a retired defensive driving trainer, I happen to like driving and consider it a route to freedom, except when I can’t find a parking meter.

Thank goodness for the ‘pay by phone’ parking meters in Westminster, my main hang- out. Here is how it works:

Once parked, you read the number on the meter or sign, make a phone call and pay, having already registered with the service. For smart phone users (that’s me), it’s even easier. You download the QuickPark app on your phone, register with the service, and after parking simply enter the meter’s number into the app and follow prompts.

In both cases, you usually receive a confirmation text message from the City of Westminster within seconds, unless, of course, something’s gone wrong.

And as with Murphy’s Law, whatever can go wrong will, especially with the app. As with all apps, there are glitches to work out, updates, etc. Still, in the meantime, you can be on your merry way and sort out the immediate hiccup over the telephone.

Better yet, you needn’t rush back to the car to feed the meter with coins to extend your time. All you have to do is extend from the app, send a text or make a quick call. Hassle free, right. Well it used to be until someone tipped off everybody else.

Now I find myself circling around like a vulture, looking for one space, just one. When I can’t find one, I resort to parking in Chelsea, old school style—feeding the meter with coins. The problem here is not the coins. I always have coins when driving. It’s gauging the time. If it is too little, you have to rush back to the car to avoid a ticket, if it is too much, you’ve blown a wad of money.

A few years ago when Westminster introduced ‘pay by phone’ parking meters, I was naively outraged. What about visitors who don’t have a registered credit card, I asked? All I could think of were the times when Paul and I drove around in Edinburgh, Paris, any major city, looking for a parking space. Oh how we felt sweetly relieved when we found one, just one.

The thought of having to find yet another (like finding a needle in a haystack) due to not being registered made me speak up to anyone who would listen.

People will simply not come, I insisted.  This was also said about congestion charges, the £10 per day charge to drive in certain zones in Central London. Never mind!

Anyhow, I was assured that ‘pay by phone’ meters would revolutionise parking in Central London, cutting out the scramble for coins and the race back to meters to avoid parking fines, and so it has.

Pity, the word got out so soon. Anyhow, I know other boroughs offer the option; for instance, Lambeth. But I don’t drive there. Da! Now someone just needs to convince Kensington and Chelsea to get on board, but quietly, please!

Remembering the Sociability of Holiday

Having returned to London after a week in St. Lucia, I can’t help but notice the pull of gravity in the air, on the ground, all around me, whereas in St. Lucia, everyone and everything kind of floated through the days and nights.

At the risk of stereotyping the people of St. Lucia, I will say they have an easygoing air about them. From the children who rode beautiful horses wildly along the beach and often showed off their aquatic skills as well, to the older gentlemen with long white hair and sun baked skin who appeared to mentor the younger men, they were all rather refreshing.

Perhaps it’s something to do with the sea that casts a spell of fleeting sociability on the people, the birds, the insects, etc. One of the locals told me it had to do with living and making a living. But whatever it was, it rubbed off on the holidaymakers, who mingled not only with the locals but also with each other as if they had left their cool culture behind.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that Britons are anti-social at home – on the contrary, if mixed in a room together to do one thing or another. Even if begrudgingly so, they mingle. And plenty are willing to offer a helping hand on the streets if asked but few, if any, go out of their way to start a conversation with a complete stranger just because, unless they are on holiday.

As such, how refreshing it was to meet a man well into his fifties, who had learned to swim recently as part of the rigorous training he took on to sail across the Atlantic in his first boat expedition ever.  He made it and enjoyed it, too! There’s hope for this non-swimmer after all.

Then there was the mother of nine; yes you read correctly, nine, who still manages a successful business. Wow, is all I can say.  And how could I forget the no named, outgoing gentleman who entered the ladies dressing room in the hotel’s departure lounge to blow dry his wife’s hair. And he wasn’t a hairdresser either. Refreshing, right. On the contrary, but never mind. He was on holiday

Anyhow, that’s behaviour for the birds literally. The St. Lucia birds didn’t honour any etiquette to my mind, hanging out in the dinning room as and when they pleased and sneaking food off plates very eagerly. Also, they visited balconies and rooms if the opportunity presented itself.

On one of our outings we ran into an ornithologist of sorts who dispelled any concerns of a bird take over. He did, however, confirm that the birds, one called the bananaquit, had an affinity for sugar, a key ingredient in the local food and drink. Ah ha!

Perhaps that explains the mosquitoes too. I got more bites than I did when I was staying out in a remote village in the Philippines. Though I could have done without the insects in particular, they come with the lush vegetation of the island, gorgeous flora and fauna.  Nothing like seeing bird of paradise in its true habitat!

Still, I’ll take it anywhere I can get it and the sociability, too, of people that is. As for the overly zealous birds, which produced the sounds of wind chimes, quite often after the rain, and the illusive mosquitoes that struck in the night, I am happy to leave them on holiday, even if it does mean giving up the tropical climate.

Back to earth!

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