How to get your motorboat to start

Some of you know I am a fan of boating and yachting, while to others, this will be a surprise. I’ve been on inland motorboats and seafaring yachts, and this article aims to cover how to start a boat with a motor, as well as a little overview of the rules of the waterways. Barges are a little different (I think; every time I’ve been on one, somebody else has sorted it out), but if you’re on a canal holiday in a barge, you should be shown how to work the engine.

1. Does it have a key-protected ignition? If so, put the key in and turn it.

2. Now find the engine. It’s usually a big, boxy thing at one end of the boat, or if it’s an inboard motor, they can be hidden behind a hatch or panel.

3. Find something that looks like a handle with a piece of string attached to it.

4. Pull it firmly. If you’re too gentle with it, it won’t start. If you pull it too hard, the string could snap. The engine might have a couple (or more) false starts before it catches; older engines or those which have stood idle for long periods of time have the most trouble with this. There’s a knack to pulling these so they catch more easily, which you will get the hang of with enough practice.

Rules of the British inland waterways:
At narrow passes in open water, canals or rivers, you should be on the right hand side when you’re passing another boat (the opposite side to where you drive a car, if you’re British). This is also true if you’re at sea and navigating a marina or other narrow area.
Approach bridges slowly, and ensure you have enough height and width for your boat, particularly if you’re not on a barge, as those are what the waterways are generally designed for and there’s some very, very low bridges.
The person closest to the bridge (or other obstacle) has right of way!
The speed limit on canals is 4mph. Any faster, and the wake (ripples) from your boat could cause problems for other water users.
To stop your boat, put the gear lever to the opposite of the direction you’re currently traveling: If you’re going forwards, put it into reverse, and vice versa.
Further information can be found from the Canal and River trust here.

Review: Outlandish Scotland Journey Part 1 and 2

When I read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager)*, I thought to myself, “I really want to go to those places and see those things.” I often wish it was easier to find stuff in Scotland but there’s so many things in Scotland that it can be hard to know where to look for anything specific! Anyway, that was before they made a TV show out of it, and now there’s even more Outlander locations in Scotland!

*Book 1 was retitled Cross-Stitch in the UK for some stupid reason, and they wonder why it was initially less popular over here; it’s still the same love story between Jamie and Claire.

Another rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the way to Loch Ness.

The first guide, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 1, covers the Outlander sites between Edinburgh and Inverness, while the second, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 2, covers Inverness and a whole plethora of sites around the city. In both cases, the sites are marked on a map so you can see the route that goes between them all.

If that’s not enough, there are also very clear directions explaining how to get to each location, and the guides are very clear about what you will find in each place, with lots of details to help you make the most of your holiday. One thing I especially liked was the thistle icons that rated each location, and showed whether a location was worth visiting or not, so I could see at-a-glance how many sites to spend time visiting (nearly all of them… now I just need a reliable vehicle to travel in).

Another thing I liked was the author has found pictures of what the places look like, and put them alongside what the places looked like in the TV series, so you get an idea about how similar the places are in real life (for example, some buildings in Culross were painted for filming so in real life they’re a different colour).

One more thing that I liked about these guides is that they give you the disabled access information, so if you are traveling as a disabled person or if you’re taking someone who is disabled, you have a good sense of whether you can get into any specific place. I’ve talked before about why that’s important to include in travel guides as it can make or break some people’s trips.

It was also useful to know how much time to schedule for each aspect of the trip; for example, it tells you how much time each itinerary will take, depending on whether you want to do it faster or slower, so you have a good idea of how much time to budget.

Other things that you will find in these guide books include: Where to park, for sites where parking isn’t immediately obvious; whether any individual attraction is worth a visit or not (and an explanation and references showing why not, if it’s bad, so you can make an informed choice); how much they cost; and there are even lots of extras, such as places of interest that weren’t in the books/TV series but are still worth a visit while you’re in each area.

These Outlandish Scotland Journey ebook guides also really make use of being in an electronic format, by linking to additional useful information, which basically means it’s like someone went out and painstakingly researched your holiday for you, so all you have to do is follow the route and have a great time! Or, if, like me, you’re the sort of person who likes to go out and discover things, these guides have a lot of mileage in them as well; I would choose the most interesting locations, and see what turned up in the space between them while I was traveling (because Scotland has a LOT of space).

If you live in Scotland, you could do some of these locations as a series of day-trips at the weekend, rather than a long holiday, and it would certainly be a great way to spend your days off! If I still lived in Edinburgh, I would definitely do that.

These guides are useful for a wide range of readers, both locals and further afield, and my overall conclusion is that they are well worth a buy if you are going anywhere in Scotland this year or researching a future trip.

Find the Outlandish Scotland Journey guides on Amazon here: Part 1 and Part 2
Or find out more here: Outlandish Scotland Journey website

York’s Computer Museum

When people say “best kept secret” they usually mean “tourist hotspot,” but the computer museum (called The Jim Austin Computer Collection, or the Computer Sheds) in Fimber, about 40 minutes out of York, is York’s best kept secret, and it’s anything but busy. In fact, we should keep it between you and I. I would be pretty sad if it suddenly became a major tourist attraction because as it is, it’s pretty much the best collection of artefacts that I’ve ever seen (and all the guys who keep it running were only too happy to talk computers with our group of 5 people who ventured out of York). I’d wanted to see this collection since 2008, when I first heard about it, but this was my first opportunity to do so, and I’m glad I did (and that I went with a bunch of people who knew more stuff about old computers than I do – and I’m pretty enthusiastic about them).

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

One of the best things about this place is that it hasn’t had “museum heritage management” done to it yet; it’s still got that sense of discovery, you’re not just seeing what some overpaid museum education officer wants you to see, you get to see everything. And touch some of it (if you’re careful and sensible). There’s other electronic equipment besides computers – televisions, cameras and radio equipment are also represented in the collection.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
A 1917-1920 wireless (radio) receiver device.

There’s no cafe, there’s no gift shop, no ticket office, and no twee middle aged women reiterating the same 5 facts every 20 minutes to new tour groups; there’s just boatloads of computers, and the people who love them (and they do actually have a boat). It’s fitting, because that’s really how the whole computer movement has progressed. There are so many stories of “Windows started out as two enthusiastic guys in a garage,”  “Apple started out as three enthusiastic guys in a garage,” and so on, that if this place got the proper museum treatment, I’d be sad.

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds retro motherboard

Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds
This unassuming device is what was used to make punch cards (the input in very old computers).
Jim Austin Computer Collection York Computer Sheds punch tape
And this is some punch tape (which would have been done on a different machine to the one pictured above).

The Jim Austin Computer Collection reminds me of why I fell in love with archaeology – and exactly why I have no intention of working in a museum. This stuff is real, it feels real, it’s being taken care of by people who know about it, and I recognized loads of the stuff that was there. More than that, it felt alive. There’s no arbitrary reductionism going on to cheapen the past to make it more palatable for people with short attention spans. I wish I could say the same for most museums.

But if this place did become a ticketed, gift-shopped museum, I think it’s the one museum I’d actually enjoy working at.

I have more photos, but since the majority of my readers are not computer enthusiasts, I shall save them for another time.

If you are in the area and would like to visit the Jim Austin Computer Collection, further details can be found at their website. Personally I found this to be a great day out, although I wouldn’t recommend it for (chronological) children unless they’re sensible and very well behaved. Entry is free but it would probably be polite to get in touch in advance so someone’s there to open up the place for you.

I made a rabbit stroller for under $15

Have you ever wondered how to make a rabbit stroller for your houserabbits, so you can take them places?  I wanted a rabbit stroller because my bunnies sometimes need to travel with me, such as when I took them to the vets today.  I originally wanted this rabbit stroller so I could include my rabbits in our wedding, but sadly the registry offices in the UK don’t allow pets or animals except guide dogs, and we didn’t want the rabbits to wait outside on the hottest day of 2014, so this project languished in obscurity.

My rabbit stroller is finally a successful, completed project!  After procrastinating for 2 years, I finally got it made last night.  It took about half an hour last night, plus about an hour or two (two years ago).  I couldn’t afford a fancy stroller conversion by a professional rabbit stroller company, and a dog stroller was way out of my price range too, so I made do with the cheapest pushchair money couldn’t buy:

When I bought the stroller (a pushchair), this was what it looked like.  Note the cracked handle (right) and the open front for baby’s feet to go through (or, for my rabbits to escape through)!  The pushchair was also dirty and very difficult to open and close, but it was an unbelievable bargain at £2.80 from a private seller on ebay.  There was no postage to pay as I collected it myself.  Why did I buy this shitty cheap stroller for my VIP bunnies?  Because at the end of the day, the fabric’s not important, I can fix that, but I wanted a good solid base, intact and working wheels, and more important than anything else, the backrest on the pushchair seat had to adjust to flat, to turn it into a pram, because I wanted more floorspace for the buns to lie down in.  This one had that function but still folds down for storage.

I bought a net cot cover (one of these) for about £2 from Amazon Warehouse Deals which, if you’ve never heard of it, is where you can buy loads of Amazon.com products at amazing discounts for reasons such as “the box is damaged” (which, if you shop on Amazon, you know happens all the time on full priced products anyway).  The strong mesh didn’t look like it would protect from mosquitoes as the holes in the mesh were too large, but it was perfect for keeping rabbits in their stroller while making the whole thing breathable (I didn’t want hot, cross bunnies).  I cut and sewed the mesh cover to the bottom of the fabric pad like so:

stroller3

This then went over the baby handrest like this, to stop rabbits escaping through the leg holes:

stroller4

Optionally, when it’s raining, it’s possible to also lift the foot rest up to cover the same spot with more solid plastic, but it does still need that mesh net there to stop the foot rest just falling down all the time:

stroller05

I don’t know what this is called but I bought it at the Mothercare outlet store on sale for £5.  The brand of this rain hood thingy is Mamas and Papas.  It’s like a rain hood with a mesh net, the whole thing attaches over the top of a stroller to keep bugs away from babies (or something, I really don’t know but all strollers seem to have things like this).  This one gets narrower towards one end for some reason, but overall it was perfect to attach to our stroller to stop the bunnies from just jumping out of their snuggly space:

stroller06

how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits
The hood thingy attached to the back of the stroller like so.

This hood thingy had popper loops that made it easy to attach to our stroller, even though our stroller was some obscure brand, not Mamas and Papas (as a sidenote, I highly recommend Mothercare for rabbit toys, they make indestructible toys for newborns that are often also great for bunnies).

how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits

The existing (non-waterproof) canopy hood thingy on the stroller was non-removable and part of the structure of the stroller but the new one from Mamas + Papas was really great because it was wider than the original, and fitted perfectly over the top, but the metal frame of it was lightweight and flexible so it also squishes through the stroller’s handle so I can change the direction the rabbits are facing (the handle flips so you can either see your rabbits, or they can see where they’re going; I recommend one where you can see your rabbits if you’re getting a stroller with a non-movable handle because the rabbits will try to escape).

how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits
The mesh net raincover thingy is attached over the top of the existing raincover.

stroller11

The outside of the stroller had now been rabbit proofed, but the inside still looked utterly miserable.  I hated it and the fabric was worn and discolored in places, so I found this cute rabbit scarf someone had bought me for a present at some point in the past, and I lined the stroller with it.

stroller12

See?  Way cuter and it has a rabbit print on it.  Long term, I think I’m going to make a new padding for the inside of the stroller so it’s machine washable because bunnies are generally very tidy and clean but sometimes they gotta pee and I like to wash their fabric cushions and other items ASAP when they get soiled.

I also tied the front of the fabric to avoid any dangling ends that could get caught in the wheels:

stroller13

To continue the improvements, I used two wide hair ribbons I bought about 5 years ago from Wal-Mart (ASDA) and wrapped them around the handle, after tying them to each other to make one long ribbon.  This looks much nicer than the cracked broken handle, and feels a bit more comfortable to hold, but long term I want some foam padding between me and the cracked handle and of course this handle isn’t practical in a rain storm:

how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits

I hooked my umbrella over the handle because if it rains, that mesh netting’s not going to keep my bunnies dry so I’ll need a backup!  This is the finished, fixed, converted rabbit stroller, it fits two bunnies in the main area and the netting just unhooks from the front to get the buns in and out:

how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits
The finished bunny stroller

Another view of the finished bunny stroller:

how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits
A side view of the bunny stroller

And, of course, here’s some pictures of Timmy in his new stroller:

how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits
Bunny in a rabbit stroller! Cutest bunny ears ever!
how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits
Bunny in a rabbit stroller!
how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits
My favorite pic of Timmy in his bunny stroller. I love having houserabbits.
how to make a rabbit stroller DIY houserabbits
“Where are we going, mommy? Does this contraption go to the carrots?”

Today I took the rabbits out in their stroller, since I no longer have a car and they had a vet appointment.  The vets is just over a mile each way.  I didn’t like how low the stroller’s handle was, and it didn’t have any way of raising it.  I’m only 5’6″, I’m above average but I’m not a giant, and it seems a bit sexist that they’ve designed this pushchair for really, really short people. I’d be aware of that if you’re buying a stroller for your buns.  Aside from that it was ok although I want more padding between the rabbits and all the bumps of the pavement.  The biggest issue is that they can’t be in it for more than about half an hour because there’s no way of giving them water.  I need one of those travel pet bowls for dogs in cars, because my rabbits don’t drink from bottles, and even if they did, there’s nowhere in this stroller to attach one.  That’s going to be the next addition to this bunny stroller.

The rabbits liked being able to see out, and I think they didn’t mind being in their stroller once they got over the initial confusion about what was going on.  The vet thought it was adorable.  After going to the vets, I needed some feminine hygiene supplies so I walked around the supermarket with my rabbits in their stroller.  The woman at the till gave me a very strange look but no-one else really noticed that there were bunnies in the stroller.  I’ve used the stroller once before, taking Fifer to a supermarket the day after Katie died (he needed companionship and so did I), but he could easily escape because the sides were open (he chose not to, because he’s a very well behaved rabbit), which I wasn’t happy about.  Now it’s 100% rabbit proof and safe to use outdoors too!

Is It Legal?
Regarding the law, unless you’re going somewhere such as a government building (eg. for a wedding), anywhere else there is no specific law in the UK against taking your bunnies as long as they are safe and in an enclosed space. As long as the bunnies are safe and can’t escape, its perfectly legal to take them to most public places (if slightly unusual), but I would suggest people consider whether the environment might stress the rabbits too much before just taking them out everywhere. Public transport (bus drivers etc) may have issues if you get on a busy bus and have to take the rabbits out of the stroller to fold it away and put in the luggage hold, because at that point there’s a loose rabbit on their bus, so I would think about that aspect as well.

Verdict:  Project successful.

Total cost: £9.80 (or about $13).

Is This The Sexiest Red Sonja Cosplay Ever?

This amazing Red Sonja cosplay was brought to you by tinfoil, a £1 bikini off ebay, a red wig and some make up. It’s a tutorial but I’ve done it in a “follow me making my Red Sonja cosplay” style. Yes, that’s my natural waist and abs (as seen in the Princess Leia cosplay in February). I am 29 and I refuse to grow up and stop playing dress up.

Red Sonja cosplay death gaze holding Cecil the lion
I am Red Sonja. I just fought a lion. Barehanded. In a tinfoil bikini. Now I’m giving a dentist the death gaze. With a crotch shot. My photo editing skills are unbelievable.

I decided to do this cosplay this week so I can look back and remember the innocent time when I used to dress up in ridiculously skimpy outfits and go out to places with people, when it never occurred to me that I might lose my boobs to cancer (or gender dysphoria for that matter).  Red Sonja’s good for dysphoria because she’s supposed to look slightly manly, anyway.  In the movie, I would say Red Sonja was the sexiest androgynous person I’ve ever seen.  It did help that she was being flanked by Arnie’s Conan.

Red Sonja Cosplay
Red Sonja Cosplay
Red Sonja Cosplay
Red Sonja Cosplay
Red Sonja Cosplay
Red Sonja Cosplay

This came about because I have to go to the hospital tomorrow with a lump in my boob, and when I was writing my family history and making calls to check things, I discovered there were a total of 7 cases of breast cancer in my immediate family in the last 18 years and 2 cases of ovarian cancer, distributed on both sides of the family. It’s therefore very likely that I have the genes with the 87% chance of breast cancer and 50% chance of ovarian. If this lump isn’t cancer, I’ve got a hard decision to make about preventative surgery. If it is, then I’m going to lose my boobs because I’m not pissing around when it comes to cancer, I’m going to hit it hard.

Girls, fuck body confidence. Fuck dysphoria, too.  Make the most of what you’ve got while you’ve got it. You can always look worse than you do now.  See, I’ve worked it out.  It’s not about being pretty, it’s about accepting that you’re not, that there’s no such thing as pretty, and dressing how you want to anyway.  

Given the circumstances, I am shamelessly proud of this cosplay. It might be the last sexy one I get to do for a while, depending on what the results are tomorrow.  Also for the record I always thought Red Sonja’s chain mail bikini was WAY sexier than Leia’s gold bikini.  But we shall see (if I ever get a chance to cosplay slave Leia* beyond my bedroom).

 

*Sorry, Disney, I meant dancing girl Leia.  I’m sure she was being paid very well by Jabba for her time and efforts.

The “Village” Of Blackadder, England

I spotted a point on my map* that said “Blackadder” near the Whiteadder river, so I went on another adventure in my car because I had to see this for myself.  It was 2012 and I was on my way back from Edinburgh heading south.

Being, of course, a huge fan of Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson’s comedy show “Blackadder” I had to take a detour and see for myself that this was a real place.  I wanted a photo of the sign that said “Welcome to Blackadder.”

I followed the route on the map (see also, my article on how to buy a good road atlas) until I reached the Whiteadder River, along with a signpost for the village of Whiteadder.

The river Whiteadder
The river Whiteadder. The green car in the shot was my first car, a Vauxhall Corsa named Bubbles.
A bridge over the River Whiteadder. Blackadder Village
A bridge over the River Whiteadder.

After driving around the open farmland of Northumberland for an hour, I spotted this handwritten signpost that said Blackadder Mains is this way (in Scots English, “Mains” isn’t part of the town/village name, it’s a short way of saying “town center” or “village center”).  I was hopeful that there’d be some shops or whatnot that I could photograph, along with the “Welcome To Blackadder” sign I wanted to see.

Signpost to Blackadder Village.
Signpost to Blackadder Village.

I turned down the road thinking it must be past the two farm buildings I could see.  Wrong.  Turns out, despite what the mapmakers must have found hilariously funny, Blackadder isn’t really a village.  It’s a hamlet at best, but probably actually a farm.  There were a couple of buildings side by side and that was it.  One of the buildings was a barn.  The best part?  When I stopped to take a picture, I discovered that visitors to Blackadder are so rare that the people here came out of their buildings to demand to know what I was doing.  And asked me to leave before I could get a photo.  There was definitely not a sign saying “Welcome to Blackadder.”

So the moral of the story is that maps are not better than Sat-Nav, despite what techno-luddites (usually trying to look good in front of old people) might tell you, they have their flaws.  One of them being that generally the cartographers haven’t visited every place on the map and can’t always guarantee that the information is correct.  I would imagine that Blackadder is only marked on the map because otherwise there would have been a big empty space, and mapmakers detest empty spaces on maps, they don’t want people thinking they didn’t do their job properly.   Google maps, on the other hand, offers you a satellite view of your destination so you can check that you’re really going where you think you are going, and if you’ve got half a brain you’re not going to mindlessly follow the “turn left” instructions on a sat-nav any more than you would with a paper map.   Maps can be useful, but sat-nav is more helpful.

I also don’t think places should have signs saying “Mains” if they don’t have at least one shop (or, y’know, three houses) because it’s misleading.  Maybe that’s why the sign was written in marker pen.  What it probably should have said was “Blackadder Farm.”  At the end of the day, however, it’s sort of funny that this is the place that bears the same name as the scheming weasel of a man from the popular comedy series.

If you want to visit a nice place in this area, go to Berwick Upon Tweed.  They have petrol stations and other modern conveniences such as shops that are closed on a Sunday and closed after 5 on a weekday, and they also have car parking.  There is a nice river and they’re not too far from Lindisfarne (which I will write about soon) which is a great day out in and of itself.

*A map is a piece of paper that behaves like the screen of a Sat-Nav. For advice on choosing sheet maps, check out this article

I robbed a museum: Solo Interrail Part 7

Warning: This post is probably going to offend someone’s middle class or Christian sensibilities.  But it’s a tale that needs to be told.

Easter Monday was a public holiday, just like the day before.  In Italy this means all the shops and services are closed and assorted relatives have the day off work.  It was a blazing hot day and I didn’t want to go to Venice.

I ate the huge continental breakfast gladly, and decided I couldn’t sit on an Italian train all day.  It would be totally different if they had air conditioning, toilets, buffet cars or even tables or trays where you sat, but they didn’t, and they took long stops at each station.

Having nixed the idea of continuing to travel, I instead planned my return journey.  At this point I had to accept that it was impossible to see EVERYWHERE in Europe on a 5/10 day Interrail ticket (five days of travel valid for 10 days), and I only had 2 days left on my ticket thanks to the cock up in Paris.

I would like to make it clear at this point that overnight since my last post, I am absolutely certain on reflection that I’d flipped over into hypomania (I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder for another 7 years) and some of the things I did that day were actually shameful.  I’d like to say out of character but all I can say is this was what I got like when I was hypomanic.  I did stuff I wouldn’t normally think of and, until about 7 years ago, kleptomania used to hit me pretty hard.  I am sharing this because this is the side of bipolar disorder that nobody likes to admit to (NO, we are NOT all criminals or bad people and if that’s what you take from this article then you were never really going to understand bipolar).

Impatient to get around town, I wanted to hire a bike for the day but decided I didn’t like the idea that everything was opposite on the continent (for the record, 3 months earlier I’d been hit by a car whilst cycling, injuring my hand badly, and I was only just getting my confidence again).  On top of that, I hadn’t brought any trousers with me, and cycling in a dress is not my thing.

I went out on foot and saw the Roman Theatre and Museum, or more specifically, the Amphitheatre. I wandered round in historical paradise, and I particularly liked the glass floor that had been put over a Roman mosaic floor.  The collection of oil lamps was also delightful.  I found loads of broken shards of pottery just lying on the ground, the ground was absolutely littered with them, so, despite being in a museum, I am ashamed to say I pocketed one.  It was definitely Roman.  That’s right, I robbed a museum of a Roman artefact for no better reason than that they didn’t seem to want it.

The worst part is, these same bits of pottery shard could probably have been found on the ground around Verona in any area that hadn’t suffered urbanization.  There was absolutely no reason for me to risk getting a criminal record over it.  Then I had to work out how to leave the museum and whether anyone actually saw me.

Leaving the museum, I was stopped at the entrance by a police officer who hadn’t been there before.  If you’re used to our tame British bobbies, Italian police look pretty scary because they all have guns.

He spoke to me in Italian and searched me.  The hardest thing about being stopped by the police when you’ve clearly been up to no good is trying to keep a passive face that doesn’t give away that you were doing anything.  And shutting the hell up.

Regardless of whether you have a guilty conscience about something (which when you’re bipolar is often the dominant emotion actually, because it makes you do plenty of things to feel guilty about) there’s always a good chance that they’re actually looking for something else.  In my case, I think my bizarre movement and rapid speech, coupled with an inability to comprehend plain Italian, made him think I was on drugs.  After his search turned up nothing, he shone a light in my eyes, then let me go.  If I’d spoken any Italian, I might have had a clue what they’d stopped me for but I don’t think the pottery was the thing, I don’t think they even saw me take it.

As I left the museum, and walked back into the main town, I felt strange, like I had to try really hard to act normal (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever come home drunk and tried to convince your parents that you’re fine), and I was expecting to get called back any moment.  The tales of shoplifters from adolescent Mizz and Sugar magazines, where they always got caught by “a hand on the shoulder” that turned out to be a security guard, were running wild in my imagination and all I wanted to do was get away.  After this debacle was over, I reflected (not for the first time) that the trouble with stealing is that, even if you regret it immediately afterwards and decide you didn’t want to do it, it’s just as hard to not get caught putting something back as it is to take it in the first place; you risk more by trying to do the right thing after a momentary lapse of judgement.  As an eleven year old (the only time I ever went seriously off the rails – a story for another time), I actually got banned from a sweet shop for changing my mind and NOT stealing something, deciding to do the right thing and returning the item to a shelf.  ARRGH.

Why did I do it?  I don’t know.  Bipolar made me do it.  The uncomfortable truth is that bipolar very rarely makes me do anything I didn’t want to do in the first place, it just makes me do things that otherwise I recognize I SHOULDN’T do, and when I’m in my right mind I follow the rules laid out by society.  Mostly I guess I did it because I felt sorry for the unwanted artefact and also I wanted to prove that I could do it.  Part of my problem is that there are so many things that I work out how to do (in theory) but never really think of putting them into practice.  I think it’s a result of also having PTSD.  When I’m in a building, I always work out every possible escape route in case of entrapment.  When I’m walking home late at night and think there’s something lurking in the shadows, I go through every possible means of disabling someone.  When I’m in the mood to cycle or skate, I plan out routes to cycle round the world.  I don’t ever do these things (usually) but the bipolar disorder can make my ideas about HOW to do something flip over into actually doing it.  A little bit of this is a good thing in the world, it drives progress and pushes people to climb Everest, send a rocket to the moon and such.  But when it becomes a destructive force it’s dangerous.

This (and I will remind you that this was eight years ago) was the last time I stole anything, and after this whole Interrail journey, the kleptomania seemed to subside into an occasional trespassomania (is that a word?  The strong urge to work out how to get into and out of places you’re not really supposed to go.  I’ve got into university buildings, got onto rooves, an ice rink, countless parks and the grounds of several national monuments in England and Scotland.  Every time, I just wanted to see what was inside, and to see whether I could do it).

The very last time I ever did anything remotely similar?  Three years ago, I went to Urban Outfitters looking for a pair of jelly shoes (spoiler alert, I didn’t steal anything).  At the time, JuJu jellies were a total rarity.  They had decided through the bizarre retail laws of not selling things that people actually want, that they’d taken them off the shelves (but I didn’t know this).  Wandering round, I saw a staircase next to the changing room, and due to the design of the shop I thought it was part of the retail floor.  I am SURE there wasn’t a “staff only” sign, and I found myself at the top of a lot of stairs.  I did pass a CCTV control area, which gave me a clue I shouldn’t be there, but I continued anyway.  At the very top of the stairs, before a locked door, there was a huge cardboard box.  It was like six by four feet. For some reason I opened it and inside, it was filled to the brim with JuJu jelly shoes.  I searched for my size and found two pairs, which I took straight downstairs with and took to the till. I had the misfortune of the manager serving me.  She demanded to know where I’d found them, telling me they shouldn’t be out any more.  I said I’d found them near the changing rooms (half true) and when one pair scanned at £20, I even had the audacity to point out that they both had a £10 sticker on them!!  I paid for my shoes and I actually still have one of the pairs (the other pair got very well worn out, until one of the straps broke).  So I guess what I’m saying is I don’t steal from places any more and I regret robbing a museum.

Rewinding back to 2008, the rest of the day in Verona was a continuation on the theme of mediocre bioplar antics in the form of excessive shopping and nuisance making.  I climbed on things, over fences, stepped out in front of traffic and jaywalked. I bought a dress at the Verona outdoor market.  I bought a little bell because they’re universally useful.  I bought a few other things too.  I wanted to buy more things but somehow I got bored looking.  My focus was distinctly lacking.  I wandered around Verona and photographed the streets instead, climbing on or in anything I could. I remember walking on the top of a high wall on one side of a bridge, to the horror of several bystanders (and the ennui of the locals). I went back to McDonalds where the very thin woman was still behind the counter. Had she gone home in between? It made me a little disappointed that she didn’t remember me (this is more of what bipolar does… as if she’d remember when she serves 600-1000 people in a shift).

Picturesque view of Verona from across the river.
Picturesque view of Verona from across the river.
The Roman amphitheatre, Verona.
The Roman amphitheatre, Verona.  Can you imagine standing at the bottom to perform a play?
Standing outside a giant balcony, Verona
Standing outside a giant balcony, Verona, 2008.
View from the top of the hill where the museum is, Verona 2008.
View from the top of the hill where the museum is, Verona 2008.
Another lovely shot of Verona, 2008. All photos taken with a disposable camera.
Another lovely shot of Verona, 2008. All photos on this trip were taken with a disposable camera.