An Ode to my MacPac…

As I was recently rooting around in my loft for something, I found my big macpac, and realised I’ve had it for 10 years this year. It’s the best rucksack I’ve ever bought, it has a lifetime guarantee, and it’s EXTREMELY well-made, so I thought it was worthy of a little shout-out.

I bought my matching big and little macpacs in 2007, before going to Nepal for a year.

My big macpac has gone with me to Nepal, India, Malaysia, Singapore, France, Liverpool, South Sudan, India again, Nepal again, Kashmir, Oxford, the USA, The Philippines, Thailand, Australia, Iraq, Jordan, Canada, USA again, Australia again, Senegal, Kenya, Iraq again, and Senegal again.

Other than an unfortunate incident once where my Big Mac got ripped in an airport and needed to be patched (I sent it off to macpac and they fixed it up and shipped it back to me), it has held up remarkably well! In Nepal I used to keep it empty under my bed, but padlocked as my passport was in there, and when I lost the key, I had to beg the locksmith to cut through the padlock carefully not to damage the zip!

It’s incredibly comfortable, exactly the right size, and I love that it unzips like a proper suitcase instead of rooting around in a normal rucksack. I also love that you can fold in and zip up the straps when checking it in at airports so they don’t get damaged en-route.

My little macpac has gone with me EVERYWHERE in the last 10 years. It’s literally my everyday bag, it carries my laptop into work everyday, it goes with me on mini-breaks and weekends, and in addition to all of the countries my big mac has been to it has ALSO been with me to Qatar, Madrid, Italy and Switzerland!

Obviously daily use for 10 years has left my little mac a bit grubby, but considering what it’s been through, it’s holding up INCREDIBLY well! It’s even still mostly waterproof, as I learned after a can of tonic water exploded inside it once in the Philippines…

This little bag goes with me pretty much everywhere, is still sturdy and comfy after 10 years, and it zips onto the front of Big Mac (although I hardly ever do that).

So, all in all, as a fairly frequent traveller, I give these bags 10 out of 10 and highly recommend them for your travelling adventures.


2009 Round-up

Friday 8th January 2010

Hi Everyone,
My deepest apologies for not writing much over the last 5 months or so.

I think the last time I wrote it was about July and I was manically writing my masters dissertation. I’d have written sooner, but I’m afraid my life in the last 4 or 5 months has been unbelievably dull and so there really hasn’t been much to report!

Let’s see, I finished my thesis in August, and am proud to announce that I somehow wangled a distinction, and I graduated in December, so I am now, officially, Maya, Master of Science (Brief pause for applause and adoration….) Continue reading

Unwelcome advice…

Monday 27th July 2009

Hello again!

Well, not so much to report this time around. The dissertation deadline looms, and myself and most of my friends have been locked in our rooms chained to our laptops. I have personally reached a stage where I’m so sick of reading and re-reading paragraphs over and over that I basically can’t bear to work on it at all at the moment!

However, what amusing anecdotes can I regale for your amusement this time?

Well, last week I accidentally set my kitchen on fire, but I maintain that that was not my fault at all, except in a technical way.
I was cooking bangers and mash for a few of my classmates (a lot of them are international students who have never tried such a classic british meal!), as we’ve been getting together once a week to discuss our issues, problems and general dissertation-related nightmares. Continue reading

The bells, the bells!

Sunday 12th July 2009

Hello again everyone,
Just a quick update to let you all know how I’m doing.

I’m now back in Liverpool, attempting to write up my beasty dissertation and hunt for jobs at the same time!

It’s starting out pretty slowly, but I’m hoping I can get into the flow pretty soon. I’ve been going to the University library from 9 to 5, as they have these little private study rooms you can use which are really quiet. So, it’s like having my own office to go to really. The only problem is, they’re so quiet that the other day, I didn’t hear the announcement that the library was closing. I carried on working and when I looked at my watch and realised it was ten past six, I packed up and hurried downstairs, expecting to see an irate member of the library staff ready to give me a telling-off.

Instead, as I came down the stairs, something started beeping over and over again, and it dawned on me that the place looked awfully deserted. I stood in the massive entrance area, yelling “Hello? Is anyone there?” before realising I was all alone, and clearly locked inside the giant library (hence the beeping of the alarm!).
I knew I’d set off the alarms, but didn’t really know what else to do, so I just went out the turnstiles as normal and went out the emergency exit door. Continue reading

Whatever happened to romance?

Tuesday 7th April 2009

Hello again everyone,
The last couple of weeks have been really busy as usual, but also really quite surreal too!

(Before I get started I should attach a small health warning to this email. There will be some strong language, sexual references and absolute proof that men are evil nasty arseholes. My apologies about the foul language – there’s plenty more to come, so anyone likely to be offended may want to stop reading! I have edited my list of recipients so hopefully anyone likely to be really offended will get sent an alternative, less-offensive version of this email!)

First things first, (I’ll start off with the unoffensive bits!) 2009 is a very interesting year, as I’ve just discovered. I watched a documentary the other day about the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which I think is the largest oil spill North America has ever seen, although I don’t know if it was the biggest in the world. This year is the 20th anniversary, and just last year the people of Valdez finally got their settlement from Exxon – £12,000 per person after 20 years of fighting, and they’re still living with the aftermath. Continue reading

The Hot Pirate

Tuesday 17th March 2009

Hello again,
Time for another update….

The Financial Management course lost it’s appeal rather quickly I’m sad to say (not that any of you will be surprised!).
It was actually all quite interesting, but pretty hardcore, doing finances 9-5 every day for three weeks! It’s also getting towards the end of term, so everyone’s completely exhausted!

However now we’ve moved onto an exciting new module called “Technical Support”, which is mostly about logistics and water/waste management – surprisingly interesting considering most of it is about how to dig a proper latrine! We’ve also learnt how to calculate “sludge accumulation rates” to assess how long it will be before you’ll need to dig a new pit!

My love life remains fairly boring, but I have recently discovered that Liverpool has quite a few hot guys, and I have been busy appreciating the view as usual!
I went to a party a couple of weeks ago, which was really fun and I met loads of nice new people. There were also several gorgeous guys there, which was great, and I was spoilt for choice between Hot English Guy, Hot Spanish Guy, Hot Scottish Guy and Hot Nigerian Guy!
Sadly, (and rather typically), as the night went on, I spent lots of time moving around chatting to people, and then Hot Nigerian guy left, Hot Scottish guy turned out to be madly in love with someone else, I’m pretty sure Hot Spanish guy was gay, and then Hot English guy got drunk and passed out on the sofa!

I really shouldn’t be at all surprised, but there we go!

Then last Saturday I went out with a few friends for a girl’s night, and the most random thing happened! My flatmate S and I were in a club, and I suddenly noticed a bunch of guys dressed up as pirates standing behind her. One of them was really quite fit, so I just said to S “Hey look! There’s a really hot pirate standing behind you”, and she promptly turned around, and said to the guy “Hi, this is my friend Maya” and then walked away!
It was actually a stroke of genius, as I got chatting to Hot Pirate, (who was GORGEOUS by the way), and he turned out to also be quite nice and interesting too. (What are the chances, a nice guy, who’s interesting and gorgeous???).
So we chatted for a while, and then he kissed me, (I don’t think I could actually be more swept off my feet at this point!).
I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of the evening, except to say that he was a perfect gentleman and asked for my number before seeing me into a cab!

So, having finally met the perfect man (26, gorgeous, nice, interesting, and likes to dress up as Johnny Depp on the weekends!), I predictably spent the whole of the next week thinking about him and did not spend a lot of time working on my 3,500 word essay on strategic financial planning (seriously, do you blame me??).

We exchanged text messages throughout the week, although I suddenly found myself completely unable to actually write a text message without consulting at least 4 people on what I should say, and precisely what time of evening I should send it, etc. It’s been sooooo long since I’ve been anywhere near actual dating that I am totally hopeless and pathetic and can’t seem to reply to a text without calling 6 people to ask if they think he likes me (I know, very sad!).

Thankfully, I have good friends with sensible advice, and after several long chats, most people agreed that I should just go ahead and ask him if he wanted to meet me for a drink. It was all a bit much, but I eventually did.
Unfortunately he replied that he’s just broken up with his girlfriend and isn’t really ready to start seeing other people, but I actually wasn’t that upset about it, as it was just such a relief to finally know whether or not he was interested! I have subsequently developed a new-found respect for men, given that they generally do the asking-out, as it’s nerve-wracking and exhausting! Also, I found that once all the weirdness of trying to flirt was taken out of the equation, we got on really well and ended up chatting for ages after that!

So,there’s a tiny possibility that he may one day decide he’s over his ex, and that I’m the perfect woman, but I’m pretty sure my hot pirate was just too good to be true, (although you never know!).
In the meantime I think I’ll just have to keep looking…..
It may be hard to find another man who can live up to the pirate though!

So, as for my upcoming trip to Sudan, I’ve been extremely busy getting passport photos taken and filling in visa application forms, and health and safety risk assessment forms (which are hilarious by the way – I have to rate the likelihood of a volcanic eruption, chemical dusts, and glaciers, crevasses and ice falls! I also had to say whether or not there was a risk of “desert”!). I’ve also been getting vaccinated against Hepatitis, Meningitis C, A, Y and W and Rabies etc. The rabies vaccine is actually quite cool – you have to have a series of 3 injections over 4 or 5 weeks, and the vaccine is bright neon pink! It looked seriously radioactive.

Unfortunately, as many of you will have seen on the news, the International Criminal Court (ICC) have announced their decision to issue a warrant for the arrest of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, of Sudan for committing war crimes in Darfur. It’s quite the historic occasion, as the ICC has never issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state before. However it’s not exactly clear who is planning to enforce the warrant and actually arrest him! The Sudanese Government aren’t a signatory to the ICC, and therefore don’t recognise their decisions, so they have no plans to cooperate in the near future, but that’s hardly a surprise!

However the Sudanese Government have also just chucked about 13 NGO’s out of Darfur. It’s a huge shame, as obviously the NGO’s have nothing to do with the ICC, but nevermind. All of which makes things a bit complicated for me! CHF, the organisation I’m planning to go with, have also been ejected from Darfur and Khartoum, but they still have an office in Juba, where I’m planning to go. The government have issued a statement to say that all of the NGO’s in the South can stay and continue operations as normal, but that could all change at any time. So, CHF have asked me to postpone my trip until things calm down a bit, which is reasonable given the circumstances. However, it also means that in case it all falls through, I’ll have to come up with a plan B. I’m also now getting quite pressed for time, as I only have a limited window of time when I can conduct my research in the field. So, I’m working on a back-up plan, although the worst-case scenario is that I’ll have to stay in Liverpool and do a desk study instead. However I may still get to go to Sudan in May if things start settling down a bit – keep your fingers crossed!

In the meantime, along with the million other things I have to do, there’s a 2,500 word fundraising proposal to write for next Monday, and then a 5,000 word essay on the role of the “military logistics machine” in humanitarian aid work, due two weeks later! In amongst all that I also have to go to a friend’s birthday dinner this week, and another friend’s Beach-themed Party on Friday.
No rest for the wicked….

So, that’s all my news for the time being,
hope you’re all well and happy,

tons of love
Pirate Maya

ps – for those of you who may not have heard yet, my big sister just got engaged to her lovely boyfriend! We are all thrilled for them both, obviously! However it does sometimes make me think: My brother is married with three beautiful children and my sister has been married and is now engaged, while at 27, I’ve only just managed to get up the courage to ask someone out by text message…..
I suspect I was at the back of the queue when God was handing out dating skills! Ah well, you never know, next time I meet a nice guy, I may actually get as far as a whole phone call…….

Jargon Balls…

Wednesday 11th February 2009

Hello there my lovelies,

Yes, that’s right, it is indeed time for another exciting installment of Maya’s life – hope you’re ready for it!

Let’s see, where to begin….. well, my friend Dee took me to a beginner’s tango class with her last week, which I actually really enjoyed (it’s fairly slow to start with, so I found it easier to learn the steps!). Dee was away this week, so I dragged my flatmate Misiri along with me instead, and she loves it too. Also I’m proud to say that after only my second class, the teacher said I was good enough to stay on with the advanced group! I learned the salida and the ocho and I am tres chuffed!

Also this week there was a vintage fair at the student union, where I bought some gorgeous jewellry and a fabulous 70’s nylon dress, which you’ll soon be getting pictures of!

School continues at a very fast pace with all sorts of dramas along the way (naturally). Having almost completely confirmed my placement in Sudan with an NGO called CHF, I got an email from FAO (UN) out of the blue telling me they have gotten me security clearance to go with them! All a bit of a nightmare, as I seem to have accidentally double-booked myself, but it’s almost all fixed now – hopefully!

So, the advanced tango class want me, and CHF and FAO want me – clearly I’m very desirable!

In other news, we have started a new module this week – “Practical Financial Management for NGO’s”. Sounds thrilling doesn’t it?
However, it’s surprisingly good! It’s a 4 week training course run by MANGO, a group who specialise in NGO financial management training, and they are really good. Their tagline is “taking the fear out of finance”, and it’s geared towards people who work in the field and don’t know much about finance.
They completely won me over on the first day – we came into class on Monday morning, and they had some lovely west African music playing, and on each desk we had a manual, workbook, and loads of free stuff! I got a MANGO pen, a calculator, and a notepad – I’m such a sucker for free stuff!
Also they gave us each an orange foam stress ball ( a “jargon” ball), and said any time they used any acronyms or financial jargon and didn’t explain what it meant then we should throw the balls at them! It was really fun, although suffice to say that despite being a class full of mature masters students, when given a bunch of foam balls the room quickly descended into something resembling kindergarten at breaktime!

So, I am now surprisingly comfortable using words like “budget” and “cost centers” and “internal control” and even “accruals”, although it took me a while to get my head around that one! I’m still not entirely sure what “imprest” means, but I like the sound of it, and may start trying to use it in sentences more often! We have also been busy re-learning English, as words like “cash” in the phrase “cash accounting” can also include cheques and debits, and “receipt” can mean all sorts of things, like the bit of paper you get when you buy something, or money coming into your account – crazy! 🙂
So, turns out accounting isn’t so scary, and we even had a go in our workbooks, totalling up the petty cash, transferring it into our cashbook and general ledgers, then reconciling it with the bank statements and commitments – it’s like, totally awesome.

Anyhoo, enough about the thrilling world of accountancy – we have to do a financial risk assessment case study next week, and then create a budget, by which time I may be curled up in a small ball mumbling “external audit…..procurement policies…..separation of duties……unggh”

I am also busy writing a full fundraising proposal for an assessment which has to include an imaginary project which I have now created, complete with it’s own GANTT chart and LogFrame (bet you all wish you had jargon balls to throw at me now!). I have also prepared a presentation for tomorrow’s class on corruption in the sector, and the ethics committee liked my research proposal – I have to make a few small changes, but I essentially got the green light from them to go ahead with my research – so yay!

Basically, I’m a very busy little bee at the moment, but still loving the course, and enjoying Liverpool a lot – I finally managed to go to a few museums last week too. I saw the International Slavery Museum, which was ok, but frankly not very international, and mostly about Liverpool. I also went to the Tate Liverpool, which was awesome – a whole exhibition of William Blake, plus a 20th Century art exhibition full of Degas, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Warhol and loads of other great stuff.

All in all, I’m doing pretty well, and have also recently discovered Neighbours On Demand on the internet, so I can satisfy my soap addiction by watching an entire month of Neighbours in one go! Brilliant!

I hope you’re all well, and have a great Valentine’s Day. I am heading down to Brighton at the weekend, to visit my friend O, who I haven’t seen for YEARS! We are planning to get dressed up and hit the town for Valentine’s day and generally enjoy ourselves a lot. Plus it’s an excuse to wear my fabulous new vintage dress. For those of you who enjoy my slightly odd fashion sense, I can tell you that my new dress is long, circa 1978 and made of stretchy nylon/polyester. It’s also brown with big green and orange flowers on and it smells of grandmothers and I LOVE IT! You’ll just have to appreciate that mental image until I have some pictures to go with it!

that’s it for now,
lots of love to all of you,
Sought-After Maya

p.s. – Am I in fact wearing your granny’s old curtains? Find out next time………..

Snakes, Sudan, and Student life.

Sunday 18th January 2009

Hey everyone,
Time for another mammoth update, so prepare yourselves!
Our classes are going really well, but it’s very intense! We have a HUGE amount of work to do and this Thursday we have to submit our proposals to the ethics committee, so I have to do a hell of a lot before then if I’m going to get it in on time (if you miss the deadline, the committee don’t meet again for a month, which leaves things a bit last minute!). Also I’ve had some really good news about my research project – CHF International are really keen to host me in South Sudan, so it’s almost all confirmed, which is a relief – lots of other people in my class are nowhere near getting a hosting organisation yet.

So yay!

In other random news….

LSTM itself has two buildings now – the old red brick one, which is actually very pretty, and a brand-spanking new one next door, which Bill Gates paid for (something in the region of £50 million). In there they do all the HIV, TB and major tropical disease research – apparently LSTM are constantly doing breakthrough research and basically are just amazing at it.

This also means that on the top floor of the building we’re in (the old brick one), there’s a thing called “The Snake Room”! Literally an entire lab filled with some of the most poisonous snakes in the world, which they milk for venom. Then they send the venom off to Costa Rica, inject it into horses, as apparently it doesn’t kill them, and then after a few months when the horse has built up an immunity to it, they tap it’s blood and use it for anti-venom things (although they’ve just discovered it works much better with camels, as they have a higher blood temperature, which means the anti-venom doesn’t need to be kept cool while in transit to various African countries).
Random! So, Barry, our lecturer has promised to arrange a guided tour of the snake room for us at some point, but in the meantime it’s quite exciting coming to lectures every day knowing that two floors above you there’s a room full of really poisonous snakes!

So, as well as wresting with the ethics form, and debating the pros and cons of qualitative or quantitative research methods (gripping, isn’t it?), I’m still learning an incredible amount of fascinating and sometimes quite scary things!

In our fundraising module, we had a discussion group on why some NGO’s might refuse funding from certain donors (e.g. refusing to accept money from a tobacco company, or Nestle because of unethical practices etc). A, one of the girls in our group had found out a really frightening thing about USAID, one of the biggest donors in the world (I can’t remember if it is actually the biggest, or if it’s second to the EU). Either way, USAID, (which is the US Government funding body for NGO’s), have just piloted a new scheme in Gaza, which might be implemented soon across all of their funding partners. It’s called the Partner Vetting System (PVS) and it’s a link directly from USAID to a CIA database (sorry, “law-enforcement information sharing system”), which, if implemented, means that any NGO looking for funding from the US needs to provide detailed personal information about all of their national staff, including suppliers, which is fed into this database. The premise of it (thanks to Bush’s “War on Terror”) is to ensure that no US Government funding inadvertently supports terrorism, but there has been absolutely no proof of that so far, and the way PVS works is really pretty unethical.

Because it’s going to be used for “law-enforcement purposes” (e.g. CIA), it is exempt from all privacy laws, and there is no guarantee of confidentiality regarding the information provided. The CIA can do whatever they want with it and it could have huge implications for local staff on the ground.
For example, if Oxfam have received funding from USAID to run a project in Liberia, and then hire Alice, a local liberian girl to clean their office, they have to provide USAID with the following information about Alice (this is taken from the USAID website) :

“Personally identifiable information collected from potential USAID partners includes: Name, date of birth, place of birth, county of origin, Social Security Number or other ID type or ID number, nationality, address, phone number, email address, and organizational affiliations.”

The CIA then enter all this information into their database and if they discover that Alice’s father’s brother’s wife’s cousin once voted for the wrong people, then you have to fire Alice or risk losing all your funding. Also, Alice’s name and personal information remains on the database, with no guarantees about confidentiality, so it would affect her future chances of getting a visa for a lot of countries and if it was leaked to local authorities could lead to retaliation against Alice in some countries, and literally put her life at risk.
Even if you buy a computer for your office from Mohammed in the computer shop, you have to provide USAID with all his personal information too!

It’s utterly insane, and has led to a bit of an outcry from the NGO community – Oxfam has apparently said that if they implement this system (it’s currently only being used in Gaza as a pilot scheme), then they will stop applying for funds from USAID. Oxfam are well-established enough to afford to say that, and many European NGO’s have other funding options. However, the majority of American NGO’s get 99% of their funding from USAID, and therefore would have to either comply with the new rules or go out of business.
Several Advocacy NGO’s are attempting to sue USAID for breach of Human Rights, but seriously, taking on USAID means taking on the US Government (not to mention the CIA) – I’m pretty sure they’re not going to win!

Here are some quotes about PVS. This was taken from the advocacy blog of OMB Watch:
“Highlights from the proposed PVS:

“USAID does not believe that it should wait for hard proof that our funds are actually flowing to terrorists” before assigning a designation of humanitarian groups as connected to terror-related activities.
Permits “the sharing of information, provided to USAID by applicants, with the intelligence community.”
Some organizations fear “considerable dangers associated with USAID using its implementing partners for U.S. law enforcement or intelligence purposes in foreign countries…leading to retaliation by foreign governments against partner employees and employees of subs of partners.”
Also from OMB:

“The organization said the university had received in $100,000 in 2006 in “in-kind” aid from USAID, and it also complained that USAID planned to provide $2.4 million in scholarships for about 2,000 Palestinian students without a guarantee that recipients are not “members of the Hamas or Islamic Jihad student unions, have participated in their events, or have given any support to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, including voting for them in the council elections.”
The fact that the U.S. government is responding to the appeals of an organization which is concerned about the political beliefs of students who receive scholarship funds from U.S. funds and may or may not have voted for Hamas is disturbing. This politicizes aid and violates the principle of a secret ballot.”

So in other words, we’re all for democracy in the US, but we’re going to need to know who you voted for, and we may penalise you if you voted for the wrong people!

Sorry for all that if it was boring for most of you, but I find it fascinating, and also a bit scary!

Anyhoo, on to other things, I’ve been really loving Liverpool as a city – it’s so much fun and there’s loads to do. However, I am once again starting to really feel my age, as although I’m only 27, I’m a long way from my own undergrad student days, and being surrounded by really young students does make me feel terribly old and boring!


My flatmate S is lovely, she’s doing a Masters degree in micro-biology, but is only 21 and I hadn’t really noticed the age gap until we went out last Friday night. She had suggested we all get together and have a few drinks at our flat before going out (the old student trick of getting drunk before leaving the house to save money!). That was fine, but Dee (another girl on my course – also 27) and I only managed a glass and a half of wine before we left, and it was only when we reached our first destination that I realised how bad it was going to be! We arrived at Flares, 70’s theme bar, complete with light-up dancefloor and mega-cheesy music. It was completely empty – we were literally the only people there, and as the others all headed straight for the empty dancefloor it slowly dawned on Dee and I that everyone else in our group was actually already hammered!

70's steph

I personally wasn’t nearly drunk enough to dance alone in an empty club, and although the discovery that there was a stripper-pole in the window did cheer me up, I still wasn’t actually drunk enough to fully appreciate it!

So, we moved on to another club, which was equally empty, and the music selection was even worse. I was hovering on the edge of the dancefloor, watching the others drunkenly fall about the empty stage and attempting to down pints before running off to throw up, debating how many rum and cokes it would take before I actually enjoyed this.

Then I suddenly thought to myself “I would have so much more fun right now if I was at home with a bottle of wine and a good film”. That was around the time that I also realised I’m so over student life! I’m clearly far too old to appreciate the finer points of stripper poles and the ability to drink a pint in 30 seconds. Ah well, probably for the best, what with all this work I have to do!
That’s about it from me for now – I’m sure this email is long enough by now!

hope you’re all well and happy,


love Maya

Happy 2009!

Monday 5th January 2009

Hello everyone!
It’s clearly been far too long since you had a nice long juicy update from me, so here it is!
Firstly, I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and New Year! Mine was fantastic – lots of relaxing at home with my mum and R, and my sister and her boyfriend. Far too much wine was drunk, and chocolate consumed. I attempted to make my first ever roulade on Boxing Day to eat instead of the roast goose that mum made, as it was my first proper Christmas as a vegetarian and also my first Christmas at home in 5 years!

The roulade was…… nice, (it was chestnut, mushroom and pepper) but not as aesthetically pleasing as I’d hoped – instead of rolling up nicely, it kind of slumped back down into a brownish splodge!
However, the holidays were fun, very relaxing and it was wonderful to see so many of my friends and family. We even got to see my gorgeous nephews, courtesy of skype and a webcam, opening their presents from us, which was great fun, although J, who’s now three, kept asking if there was chocolate inside, and seemed rather uninterested in anything toy-shaped – a boy after my own heart!


After that I had a lovely new year’s eve with my friends Betty, Bryn, Bill and Rita at their flat in London, where we attempted to drink a toast on the hour every hour, to celebrate new year wherever it was in the world at that particular moment! We managed to toast China several times over, as they only have one time zone, but it technically covers at least three, and there was some confusion about when it was new year in India, so we continued toasting them for several hours as well, just in case.

Then I drove from London to Oxford, where I stayed with my friend H for a couple of days before continuing on up north to Liverpool.

I am now settled into my new flat, which is very nice, and have met my new housemates, who are equally nice (at least they seem that way so far!).
My house is literally less than a minute’s walk to the school (our building is basically behind the lecture hall), and a ten-minute walk from the center of Liverpool, so I couldn’t ask for more really!
There are at least 50 pubs within about a half-mile radius, but I will of course be far too busy studying to do any serious drinking (ha ha ha ha – couldn’t actually say that with a straight face!).

The only downside to my new flat is the view, which, although it’s on the 6th floor and gives me a wonderful panorama of the city, does not, in fact, include any hot French guys.
I do miss my lovely neighbours in Les Minguettes, but alas, a view of the city will just have to do instead!

Classes start tomorrow, so the fun and games will begin, but so far I must say I really do like Liverpool quite a lot – it’s a really interesting city, with loads of things to do, and people have been really friendly and nice. I must be blending in well with the locals too, as yesterday I got stopped 3 times by people asking me directions! I was rather embarrassed to have to say “Sorry, I don’t know where anything is yet!”
However, I have discovered the shopping district, which has possibly the best city center shopping EVER, and have spent several hours wandering about happily. Liverpool also has the biggest Primark I’ve ever seen, which made me extremely happy (now that I’m poor and have spent all my savings!!).

So, here I am all settled in, and my little car Lucy (who turns 20 this year) made it all the way up here too, although sadly the little crack in her windscreen is now two foot long and desperately in need of replacement! Autoglass quoted me £300 to replace it, which I laughed at, as the car only cost £300 in the first place!
So, the hunt for a new windscreen continues, but Lucy is comfortably locked up in a safe little car park next door, with a few other cars to keep her company, and I can see her from my bedroom window, which is nice.

Well, that’s about enough rambling for now,

I wish you and all your vehicles a very happy 2009!

tons of love
Maya (and Lucy!)