About Me

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Hello, I’m Toni Love, and I live in an unbelievable chaotic space know as my life. I’m first generation,born in the UK, of West African descent. I was married, became a mum, and divorced all before I was 25, and have spent the last 10 years keeping it all together. In my former life I was a copy writer for one of the big 5 firms (or 4 I think it is now). Anyway, after a career break to raise my son, on my return I found I was all sloganed out! I moved into the corporate world then, and started my own consultancy. I have a 9 year old son, Barry, who recently went off to boarding school abroad, and a cat called Snowy who prefers the company of my neighbour's to mine, thus making me “petless” and child free. It was only then I took stock and realised the nothingness of it all; a sort of mini life crisis. I have decided to shake things up a bit. I miss writing, so that’s why I blog, I need new direction, new goals and new objectives. I’m thinking a change in career, a new pastime, relocation and a nice gentleman friend to ice the cake! (Why not put it out there! ;o) Thank you for joining me on this journey. I welcome comments, suggestions or any ideas on postings! Enjoy the ride! 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

A Guide Beginners Bartering!

Cusco

The journey to Cusco was horrendous. We spent the best part of the day traveling only to cover a few hundred miles, the reason being we had to fly back to Lima first (inward groan), go out through customs only to check back in and go through security again, and fly back out to Cusco. I had travelled prepared, at least, and stuffed myself silly at breakfast. As usual I had my backpack full of treats, but so far the sniffer dogs had no interest in them. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended or not.

We finally arrived tired and dishevelled, and as soon as my foot set foot on the ground I was breathless. This had nothing to do with my surroundings. I could only just about breath! If I had known that it was in this state I would remain for the next week, I would have seriously reconsidered!

Those who can teach!
We got to the airport and it was marginal bigger than our previous stop; there were no transfers to our new hotel so we were left to fend for ourselves. Being pre-warned of the extortionate prices the taxi drivers would charge, I was ready for some good old-fashioned haggling. In my country of origin haggling is a national sport, something to be relished, and you are judged by your ability to negotiate the best price possible. In my country of birth, however, most Brits just don’t have the stomach for it. Being brought up on the best of both I was ready and willing; after all I had grown up watching my aunts do it, even in London! I'll never forget the day I offered to take my aunt, who was on holiday shopping for some electrical goods, and watched, at first in horror and embarrassment, which soon turned into pure admiration, as she had managed to knock 10% off the displayed price and got free delivery! The guy even through in an extended warranty. I asked her how she had the guts to do such a thing and she giggled and said, “Bartering in England is so sweet because it’s not the done thing! You would be surprised to know that the shop assistants are more uncomfortable than you were.” She was right. I asked her what if he had said no? And she replied, “A 'no' doesn’t kill you, but knowing you paid more for something you could have paid less for could drive you insane. If you are too scared to hear a 'no' you will never hear a 'yes'!”

Tried and Tested
This was certainly a turning point in my life of a magnitude one can never explain! From then on it became my mantra: “If you fear the 'no' you will never get a 'yes'!”I have bargained my way through many a situation, including dodgy seats at concerts/theatres/London 2012, flight upgrades, VIP lounges/parties/parking, etc. During the 2012 Olympics I got tickets for the rowing only to find that the tickets I had were standing only, and so far away from the finish line I would have been better of in the pub! Refusing to settle for this I went into a charm offensive and wrangled front row boat house seats, and was rewarded for my efforts by seeing Team GM win its first gold medal in the women’s skulls double! Too many to list, my friends call me a Jammy Dodger (lucky), some would even call me brazened; they can call it what they want, but they are more than happy to reap the benefits!

Benchmarking
The first thing to do when haggling for a taxi in a foreign country is to figure out what the standard official fair is. You can do this by going to the chauffeur services on air side or land side and making enquires. Once you know what this fare is you have a benchmark in your mind. Outside taxies will try and charge 40% more; your objective should be half of what they quote you.

The Rules of Engagement!
The vendor will go in high for two reasons: 1. if there is someone willing to pay the price they are laughing all the way to the bank and will be trading the war stories for weeks, and 2. it makes allowances for any haggling. As a Ghanaian I will always go in low as it makes the vendor know you are not messing around, and it also gives you wiggle room for the vendor to feel they have one over you!

Showtime!
So, he said 50 sols (5 more than the official cars) and I offered him 15. He balked and came back with 45, out of principal I remained at 15. I must say that this move is not very “sportmanly” and would not recommend it to those new to this sport. Even when it comes to bartering there are rules of etiquette – after all we are in negotiation, and refusing to budge shows you are not prepared to negotiate. I did it to let him know I knew his first price was too outrageous! It paid off and he dropped down to 35; I said 20, he said 25, and I accepted. Not because I felt it was a good price, nor because I had lost my nerve; it was purely because I was out of breath! Even speaking was an issue, and so I knew right away that I had lost this battle by the grin on the taxi driver's face. I soon realised why: the actual cost was 12 sols, but in the scheme of things it was nothing. After all, it was only pennies involved, but like I said it’s not the money involved, its purely a sport!


 

 

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A Tail of Two Cities


Smogtastic Lima
We stayed at the Miraflores in Lima, which is a lovely 4-star, however my first impressions of Lima were not at all good. It was crowded, noisy and covered by a blanket of smog. A real pea souper with hardly any green open space, and the weather was dull and dreary.

Smog


We spent 2 days in Lima, which was more than enough. There’s lots of cathedrals, monasteries and museums to see; we went to 4 in one afternoon. There were city tours for about 75 soles, which is around £20 per person. We decided to hire a taxi to give us a tour as we wanted to see the city at our own pace, which was fast; it cost 150 Soles for 4 hours. (way to early to haggle!)


The Franciscan monastery was amazing with recently uncovered frescos dating back hundreds of years, and lavish ceremonial carriages gilded in gold. Bionic woman has a real morbid streak and loved the catacombs, which I found very disturbing. I can’t imagine those poor souls realised that when they were dead and buried their bones would be exhumed and arranged into lovely designs or just heaped in piles for tourists to come and gawk at; it's cremation for me!  
Last Rites
An uncoverd Grave





The architecture was very interesting; it had a Spanish colonial style to it, and the people were friendly enough and willing to help a weary traveller. We did get stung by the taxi driver who offered to take us to a nice restaurant and wait for us to enjoy our meal; this little friendly offer cost us twice as much as the city tour. This was our own fault as everybody knows all prices should be negotiated before the trip, as well as any “kind offers,” but we were tired and weary, so can be forgiven for this oversight!





Though the city is on the coast it was more stone beaches as opposed to sand; but the seafood was amazing, as was all the food in Peru .

By the end of the second day we had seen enough and were ready to depart to Arequipa. 

Bridge of lights!













Arequipa
We left for Arequipa at the crack of dawn: 4:30 a.m. to be precise. I am not a morning person so needless to say I was out of sorts. The taxi ride to the airport was a short one and we arrived at the airport in good time. So began the first of very many domestic flights. We flew with TACO airline which had a fleet of more sturdier plans as opposed to the tiny little propeller things passing themselves off as commercial airliners.


Check-in was tedious as we had suitcases and our cumbersome backpacks, mine being 35 litres. We finally got through the domestic airport and to the departure lounge. By this point I was starving; unfortunately, there was nothing to be had within the domestic departure lounge. However, being the African that I am I had come to Peru prepared with several bags of “choffi.”  Choffi is an African delicacy which can only be described as seasoned  deep fried and cured turkey rear! It’s delicious! Unfortunately for bionic woman, being a vegetarian meant she had to be content with a dubious cup of coffee until we got to Arequipa.


Arequipa is a beautiful city, also known as the “White City.” It is located at an altitude of 2,328 metres above sea level, and is nested between mountains and a volcano. Of all the cities we visited it was in fact one of my favourite. On arrival at Arequipa I was surprised at how basic the airport was; it was like a wedding marquee, the immigration desk was a box, and customs was a dude who stood behind what appeared to be a garden table. This did not mean that security was lax; there were at least 3 sniffer dogs! I prayed for my uneaten choffi!


We stayed in a hotel called Sonesta Posadas del Inca Arequipa, which was a lovely hotel ideally located in the town square with all major attractions within walking distance, with fantastic views of the volcano and a rooftop swimming pool. The air was nice and crisp and the people were warm and friendly – a far cry from the pea souper we'd left behind in Lima.


Since I was ravenous I headed straight to the buffet breakfast, which was great! After being fed and watered I headed straight to bed. The jet lag was no joke. We spent 2 nights in Arequipa. I was all churched out after Lima and wanted to do nothing more than read and relax by the pool. I told bionic woman that it was all part of my acclimatisation; she insisted on a daily work out of 100 squats and lunges, planking which would make Ms. Carter cry, and her personal favourite: a gruelling session of abs. I was ready to pass out and saw the first signs of what the altitude could do to one's fitness. I was a little concerned.


There was lots to do in the city and its surrounds. The activities were mainly extreme sports -- well, that’s what I judged them to be. White water rafting, volcanic ash surfing, mountain biking down the volcano, climbing the volcano... We opted out of all of these on the basis of trying to conserve our energy and to avoid injury. Besides visiting Santa Catalina we did very little. I did even less. I purchased my first bag of coca leaves and begun to chew. The leaves did indeed pep me up a bit. It was becoming apparent, however, that the altitude was gonna be a bitch! 


We left Arequipa, and to be honest I was sad to leave, or perhaps I was more anxious about traveling to a higher altitude and, even more so, dreading the trek!!!

















 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Night Before the Big Adventure

The night before the trip was the hardest, not knowing what to pack or what to expect, and having a 25 kilo weight allowance on KLM. It was comical considering all the stuff we had to pack. Imagine having to pack for all four seasons, plus camping equipment, medical supplies and energy snacks and having to keep it all under 25 kilos.
 
Kit list
Not wanting the hassle at the airport, I packed the most sensible suitcase ever, which consisted of:
2 fleece tops (necessary) 1 fleece suit (essential) 1 thermal suit 1 Dinner dress (you never know!) (not necessary!) 1 bikini (necessary) 2 sets of gym kit (the sports bra type) (necessary) 2 pair of trekking trousers which can be adjusted to shorts (essential) 2 pair of combat shorts (necessary)
5 Ccotton shirts (2 short sleeves) (essential) 6 vest tops(essential) 6 pairs of socks 3 sport (essential)3 pairs of walking socks (essential) 1 body warmer (essential) 1 down feather compact coat (necessary) 1 waterproof coat with trousers (essential) 1 Pair of walking boots (essential) 1 pair of walking shoes (necessary) 1 pair of Birkenstocks (necessary) 1 pair of flip-flops (necessary)

 After reading about the conditions on the Inca trail I found the lifesaving tip of packing each outfit in a zip-lock bag and labelling it. This was definately the most sensible bit of planning, which was well rewarded. All bound and zip-locked we headed off to Heathrow airport!


We flew Air France/KLM and the flights came in at £980 from Heathrow to Lima via Charles de Gaulle. The trip took well over 13 hours door to door. We flew cattle class, but surprisingly it was very comfortable and the food was good. We left the UK at 0730 a.m. and arrived in our hotel in Lima at 8 p.m.

The travel was exhausting mostly because I hadn’t been sleeping properly for days prior to our departure. I would  wake up in the middle of the night in a panic about the trek and with major concerns about my fitness. My knees had begun to ache, so I stopped going to the gym for fear of injury. By the time we arrived I had worked myself into a right old state and was fit for nothing and headed straight to bed.
 
 
 
We woke up the next morning absolutely starving. I, for one, was delighted at the prospect of a breakfast buffet; over the years I have learnt how to work a buffet, and the key for me is speed. It takes 15 minutes for my body to realise it's full, so as long as I got as much down before this message left my stomach to my brain I was ready to overindulge! There is a reason behind this madness: I had lost all the weight I had put on beforehand, and there were concerns I wouldn’t have enough energy in reserve to cope with the trek and any little illnesses that might come along.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The world is a wonderful place


Can I have an extension?

Please forgive me for my lack of posts I have recently returned from Peru and whilst I had every intention of real-time posts. The lack of laptop and sometimes electricity made it harder than anticipated!

 

Cloud Forest


I am putting all my tales and advice together and will have it all up shortly in the meantime her are some pictures!  

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

A Great City


On the map
I have become very fond of Edinburgh. As far as cities go it is up there with some of the best I’ve been to. What I like about it most is everything is accessible, and in terms of numbers of trees per square meter I’m sure it’s quite high up there on the list. The weather was fantastic and the city is well geared for alfresco dining. The food is delicious and reasonably priced, which is just as well, as it is known a Scotsman and his money are seldom parted!

Haggis Neeps and Tatties with whisky sauce


A tale of a few cities
I cannot say I am well-travelled within the UK but the few places I have been to include Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol , Swansea and Cardiff. The people I meet in these cities all seem to be in awe of my capital city credentials, whether they are drawn to the capital themselves or simply admire the people who live in it. Speaking to the folks in Edinburgh, as soon as I mention I live in London, they almost look at you in pity as if to say, “Aah ya poor lass, not to worry you’re here now!” Its really interesting.  



In terms of shops there are the main shops, which can be found on every High Street in the UK, as well as a huge number of boutiques, which are a stylists dream! From bespoke kilt shops to fashionable milliners, I stumbled across this amazing vintage shop where I could spend the whole day rummaging, finding everything from vintage C&A to Hobbs (and everything in between).

An amazing vintage shop
So, Tart knows I have a thing about churches so he makes a point of taking me to some really pretty ones, usually for Sunday service but on this occasion we went to Greyfriars to see a famous grave of the owner of Greyfriars Bobby.

 
 
A Man's best friend
The story goes back to the 1858 when a local policeman, John Gray, known as Auld Jock, adopted a Skye Terrier to be his guard dog whilst out on patrol. He and the dog were the best of friends until Auld Jock was taken seriously ill. After a deathbed vigil, Bobby’s owner sadly past away. Then for the next 14 years Bobby guarded Auld Jock’s grave until the day he died. It is a true story, a very moving tail on loyalty; I must be honest my eyes did well up whilst reading about this super dog. I had a Yorkshire terrier who I absolutely adored and still miss. Terriers are a lovely breed. 

After a lovely alfresco lunch we went off to the whisky festival, which was very interesting with lots of different whiskies to try (too many, perhaps). I have a new found respect for this drink, knowing how much time and energy goes into producing the good stuff.  I am now converted, and now, after red wine, whisky is my drink of choice; so long gin and tonic! 
 
Red Lights
Anyway, Tart had to rush off and I was chaperoned by his friend Ned, who felt it was essential for me to experience the other side of their great city. So off we went to the “pubic triangle.” (I laughed out loud too); this mini red light district is in the shadows of Edinburgh castle and consists of three exotic dance “clubs” (I use this term very loosely). Ned insisted we pull a hat trick and visit all three, and not wanting to be a bad sport I went along with it. The first turned out to be a tiny pub (20 ft. by 20 ft.) with little cubicles where one-to-one shows were put on; the next was a want-to-be Stringfellows joint with neon lights and chrome; the final one was the piece de resistance, as it was very high tech with TVs, strobe lights and oversized sofas. “WHY ON EARTH WOULD A GOOD CHRISTIAN GIRL VISIT SUCH AN ESTABLISHMENT,” I hear you cry. It is simple curiosity. I am curious by nature, so I went along with it. I must say the ladies were lovely, very friendly whilst I asked them a ton of questions! I guess I had a stereotype of the ladies who worked in this industry but I have been proven so wrong.

Enjoying a Whisky talk!
All in all it was a lovely stay; the weather, food and company were all great. Unfortunately, my training has been put on the backburner, which is pretty bad as I leave for Peru in 5 days!!!
GULP.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Timeless Travel


So, I went to hang out with Tart for a long weekend; a friend of his had some whisky doo in Edinburgh so were tagging along for fun! I normally fly from Luton or Stansted to Edinburgh, but if I’m honest I find the hole process very stressful. Coming from me, a seasoned traveller, it says a lot.

I just feel that the attitude is, if it don’t fly out of Heathrow, anything goes!
First class cabin

Orange Squash
Okay, so my chosen carrier EASYJET may have something to do with my not-to-fond memories of this journey. EASYJET, being the Wal-Mart of air travel, really is the pits, with staff whom can only be described as horrendous!! They take great pleasure in bullying passengers and letting them know who is boss; you so much as look at them sideways and they will threaten to take you off the flight.  And as for their baggage policy, it’s a joke.


Bagage Test
On one of my trips I had a hold-all which can be “manipulated” into the little test box they have close by the entrance of the ramp. So when asked to place my luggage in the test box I jumped straight to it. It was like a WWF slap down, me taking body slams on my bag to shoehorn it into this little metal box, which I know has shrunk since my last journey, in order to demonstrate that my bag is cabin-approved. Eventually I got the bag in only to be told, “sorry Madame that strap is poking out,” with my hair sweated out and my make-up running I glared at the girl and snarled, “I beg your pardon.”  I must have looked possessed as she then went on to say, “I shouldn’t really let you on, but on this occasion I will.” She then stood there waiting expectantly for me to gush my appreciation for this favour she had bestowed on me! It wasn’t going to happen. After a 2-minute stare down she gave me my documents and I was able to board. 
Newcastle

And all this was after going through security, where I had to face the dreaded pat down, which is an excuse for some chick to cop a feel, whilst she advises in a loud voice, “I just need to check your padding properly”!!!!  The bra was a gel one and I was told on good authority that no one could tell by feeling, but the woman was clearly an expert! I feel used just by recalling the experience.

No, no, no, not this time! I am going by train. Yes you can close your mouths. I took a train to Edinburgh. In terms of time it takes just over 4 hours, which seems like a lot but with a door-to-door comparison its about the same. There isn’t much in the cost as I went 1st class but the experience was simply amazing! 
Angel of the North
Great Britan
The views were spectacular, almost like a whirlwind tour of Great Britain. We when through York with its amazing natural landscape (if you close your eyes when you get to the wind turbines!), then on to Newcastle with views of Tyne Bridge via The Angel of the North, and the historic town of Durum. I mean these are places I seldom get to visit, so to see them all in a day in the comfort of my chair was a real treat.The service was how it used to be before airlines got greedy with tea and coffee on tap, with several meals and snacks served throughout the journey. Pack as much luggage as you like, and no extra charge for golf clubs, and seats that you can really snuggle up and die in with all the legroom you need. And (at no extra charge) not to mention wifi and plug sockets!

I arrived at my destination relaxed and ready for a fun-packed weekend.
Scotland

I would strongly recommend rail as opposed to domestic flights if you still enjoy creature comforts whilst you travel. 

 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Week from Hell

 My car needed major repairs and I shelled out the best part of £200 just to change the battery and reattach the exhaust only for it to be impounded due to a clerical error on the insurance. Of all places for this to happen it just had to be south London! You would not believe what I had to go through to get my car back, having to return twice (80 miles round trip)  as they weren’t sure I was the legal owner despite them writing to me to tell me I was! During my 2 hour wait to get to the counter there were no fewer than 2 arrests for disorderly behaviour, and the cars just kept on being towed in!

 
Real shady characters

The weeks after Barry goes back to school is always a tough one. Hanging up my Super Mum suit is always a difficult transition. My life all of a sudden seems so vacuous; it’s a horrid empty feeling. I sometimes curse those women who lied and said we could have it all. I guess you can if you are okay with doing it all in a half-baked sort of way, but then I'd be riddled with guilt at being a crap mum and having a crap career. If you want to be excellent in at least one of these you have to choose one or the other, work or family. It is as simple as that.

 

Unfortunately, as a lone parent you have even less of a choice: work or live a life relying on the welfare state! This is something I am strongly against. I sometimes feel like screaming at the “smug married” who say silly things like, “you don’t have to work such long hours.” Erm, yes I do, or they will get someone else in to do my job, and probable a man because they are more “flexible.”  Prior to me setting up my own consultancy I used to be surprised at the amount of times meetings would be set for 4:30pm, but then I would look around the table and see I was the only woman there and I would be seething, thinking “don’t you realise that after school club closes at 6pm?”, and “Oh of course you don’t, you have your lovely wives at home tending to your broods!” Needless to say, when redundancy was on the table I grabbed it and ran!!!!

 
Classic shifts and day dresses 

Another SM (Smug Married) suggestion would be, “Why don’t you just stay at home?” Erm, and rely on the elves to provide me with food, electricity, oh and pay my rent? And finally, “You could just get a job in a supermarket?”  I have a HND, a Degree and a Masters and you feel I should be stacking shelves? I wouldn’t last a day on the shop floor; by the end of my shift I would've  devised a new process to run the department more efficiently, delivering 10% savings, and would turn up the next day with an implementation strategy and no doubt fast track to senior management. Its what I am trained to do!

 

Floral and Paisley prints  

But they all can’t be crazy. Perhaps they are right and I am wrong. Maybe it is time to take up a slower pace of life. Have less and live more? Its worth a thought.

I thought I’d mull over this whilst I go check out this summer’s Selfridges window display. Enjoy the pictures!
 
All of the above in neon!

Training is going very well. I have really upped the ante by increasing my weights and durations. With less than four weeks to go, though, my nerves are kicking in.