Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Oxfam stewarding is a great way to do a festival

All quiet at the end of the night shift at Fire Tower Echo

When an earthquake shook Nepal just weeks after my parents returned from visiting the country, the importance of international charities really struck home. Many people they had met were affected by the situation and many will not see their lives return to normal for a long time.

One way that charities, such as Oxfam, can raise money is by providing stewards for music festivals in the UK. They are given the equivalent of an hourly minimum wage for the work their volunteers do and these helpers get to experience a festival while doing good at the same time.

Pops and I are big music fans and festival veterans, so this year decided to offer our services up to Oxfam and volunteered for Womad. It turned out to be a great decision, leading us to meet some wonderful people and have a truly positive stewarding experience.

How do you get a picture of the Womad sign with nobody else around?
Do it at 7am after a night shift

Having never stewarded before and not attended Womad either, the whole thing was new to us, but we were welcomed into the stewarding fold and quickly felt at home. One of the nicest things about stewarding is that Oxfam has its own campsite and you are immediately surrounded by friendly faces. Not only this, but there is a marquee where you can sit and chat to fellow volunteers, showers and onsite catering, which was provided at Womad by Nuts.

The Oxfam campsite has a very special atmosphere

We were all told in advance to bring our own crockery and cutlery, as disposable items such as these would not be provided. Nuts piled up our plates with huge mounds of delicious food at much cheaper prices than those that could be found in the arena. Each steward is given a food voucher for every shift they do, which also helps to keep the workforce going, with hearty falafels and masses of salads for me and steak and chips for Pops.

Seeing the sun come up at the end of our night shift

Stewarding a festival is not the same as simply attending one as a punter and eight-hour shifts should not be entered into lightly. The benefits of experiencing a festival in this manner far outweigh the hard work, however, with some small and large perks coming as part of the bargain. It is really nice for example, to be able to explore the site before the customers arrive; to recognise the faces of the people you wristbanded in the rain, now that the sun is shining; and to make lots of friends with fellow volunteers.

In return for working the festival, Oxfam stewards get to see some of the acts, without having to buy a ticket. Not knowing what shifts we would be given in advance, we didn't manage to see Count Drachma or Aurelio, but we did get to see the likes of Souad Massi and a Kathkali performance. You certainly can't grumble about that.

Kathkali performers from Kerala in The Big Red Tent

The weather at this year's Womad has seen it dubbed by many as Womud, but luckily Pops and I were prepared. We spent a very soggy eight-hour day shift wristbanding people in the rain, as we were decked out in wellies, overtrousers and waterproof coats. No matter whatever the weather, Oxfam stewards soldier on and we all got through it together. A sign went up in the Oxfam marquee saying that anyone flooded out of their tents could sleep in there, although it appeared nobody needed to make use of the invitation.

It is also almost impossible not to remain vigilant while not on shift and help the public even when not wearing your Oxfam tabbard. Not only did Pops and I help when we spotted someone who had fallen in the mud, but I gave directions to people who were lost and generally got involved at every opportunity.

On leaving Womad, we said goodbye to the friends we had made in the Oxfam campsite and started to head off towards the car. One of the main organisers of stewards at Womad thanked us for our help, which echoed an attitude that was felt throughout the whole festival, with those in charge being very communicable and appreciative of the time people had donated.

Make a difference - steward for Oxfam

There were 400 Oxfam stewards at this year's Womad festival, making some £70,000 for the charity. During the summer festival season in the UK, Oxfam makes more than £1 million through stewarding. This is a huge amount for just three shifts per person. To find out more, visit the Oxfam stewarding website.

Friday, 17 July 2015

How to pass 7 hours in an airport

Essential items in the fight against airport boredom

There are a number of reasons why you might end up spending seven (or another number) of hours in an airport. It could be that your flight is delayed, or like us, your flights were so cheap that you have to change a few times on your way home.

In our instance, the seven hours were at Brazil's Sao Paolo Airport and the prospect of heading into such a vast city just to try and get back within the time frame was too much to contemplate. So we decided to pass them in the terminal building, and actually, they went pretty quickly.

Our entertainment system

When I was growing up and we travelled a lot as a family, my dad always carried with him an old tobacco tin of his grandfather's, which contained all the necessary items required to keep a small group of people entertained when travelling. They fitted in perfectly, with two pencil sharpeners to fill a gap. I remember the intent look on a boy's face as my dad sharpened a pencil for him with one of these items on a trip to Malawi.

Knowing that we would have such a long time to wait I decided to create my own version of this tin before leaving home. I packed a set of cards, six dice and instead of the pencil sharpeners, two rubber pigs. Along with these materials, I also had to hand the instructions for a number of games to play with them (thanks to Pops for providing these). It's amazing how two small pigs can keep two grown women entertained for such a long time. Any travellers who have not encountered Pass the Pigs should look into this quirky and easily transportable game.

Dice games in Sao Paulo Airport

The dice also got used, with classics Yahtzee and Farkle going down well. For anyone not familiar with these games, it is worth learning the rules and packing a set of dice on your next trip. You never know when you might get stuck at an airport or find yourself with only a few Uruguayan pesos left on a wet evening in Colonia.

People watching

Airports are fascinating places, with plenty of people milling around and trying to achieve various outcomes. After spending 11 days in several countries on our trip, we enjoyed working out where the different people were from. There were far fewer mate cups and flasks, as we were no longer in Argentina or Uruguay, but the thick soles of some of the women were a give-away that were from one of these countries, as we had spotted them throughout our trip.


Seven hours is a long time to go without food, but this can be further complicated by not having any money to purchase anything. This can be particularly tricky if you are in an airport in a country different to the one you have been visiting. We had been in Brazil for half a day on this trip, but had spent all of our reales at Iguazu, so needed to find an alternative source.

One solution was to exchange some of the Argentinian pesos we had left, but the cambio at the airport wanting to charge $17 to do this, making it not worth it at all. Despite the fact there were ATMs displaying the names of our banks on them, our debit cards did not grant us access to any cash. In the end we chanced it and ordered some food and found we could pay by card. If this hadn't worked, we were going to be a bit stuck and undoubtedly, hungry.

Other ideas

There are plenty of other things that you can do to help pass the time at an airport, including:
  • Reading
  • Catching up on your travel journal
  • Shopping
  • Checking into an airport lounge
  • Getting a massage
  • Having your nails done
  • Writing your postcards and desperately trying to find a post box

Game rules - courtesy of Pops

  • A game using SIX dice for any number of players.
  • The aim is to reach a target score (say 5,000 points).
  • The key to the game is to decide when to bank your score, as if you do not score you lose all your score for that turn.
  • What gives you a score? – 1 is 100 5 is 50
  • Three 2s = 200, three 3s = 300, three 4s = 400, three 5s = 500, three 6s = 600, BUT three 1s = 1,000 AND 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 = 2,000. All these scores have to be thrown with one throw of the dice.
  • Throw all the dice, but you must keep at least one scoring dice (a1, a 5 or 3 of a kind, etc). Keep a mental record of your score, throw the remaining dice (if you wish) and add on the score from this new dice. You must score with each throw or you will forfeit all your points for that round. If you use all six dice, you can throw again and add on to this mental score, but there is always the chance you could lose all your points accrued in that turn if you fail to score. When you decide to stick that score is then written down and used to head for the target score.
  • You can pass any unused dice to the next person – if they choose to use those dice then your score from that round becomes theirs. E.g. if the dice were passed to you and the person passing had just scored 350 and you rolled the dice and rolled a 1 you would then have a score of 450. You do not have to accept the unused dice and may simply start again with all six dice.

  • A game using FIVE dice for any number of players.
  • The aim, to obtain the highest score of all the players.
  • There are 13 rounds of play and 13 ways to use the dice for one of the ways of scoring – but you may decide to forfeit one of the ways of scoring if you cannot fulfil a way of scoring.
  • With each throw, you first throw all 5 dice. You may keep some or all of these dice and throw the remaining dice twice more. You then have to decide which of the 13 rounds you are going to score against. 
  • With the top half of the scoring sheet (i.e. 3 x 1; 3 x 2; 3 x 3; 3 x 4; 3 x 5; 3 x 6) if you exceed or reach the target score of 63 you get an additional bonus of 35.
  • What each term means:
  • Yahtzee: 5 of the same number
  • Full house: 3 of 1 number and 2 of a different number 
  • Low straight: 4 numbers in order e.g. 2, 3, 4, 5,
  • High straight: 5 numbers in a row e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 
  • Low score and high score: Throw as above, the only stipulation that the low score must be less than the high score

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Why I don't want to travel full-time

As a travel writer and blogger, I see a lot of posts from people who are on the road full-time hoping to impart wisdom onto others, so they can do the same in a sustainable way. I have been very lucky to travel a lot throughout my life and despite a number of longer trips, I have always come home.

While a little part of me would like to be constantly travelling, I know that I am not really that person deep down. I love packing my backpack for a trip, having enough time to explore a place properly and at some point want to live abroad again, but I also love coming home.

The feeling that I get when I see the Angel of the North is incomparable to any other. With limited flights from Newcastle Airport available, many of my trips start and end with a train journey and catching a glimpse of this strong representation that I am nearly home always gives me excited butterflies.

If work requirements and money weren't obstacles I would undoubtedly travel more than I do now, but I don't think I would pack up and head off for good. I love where I live and am close to my family, as well as truly believing that the north-east of England is a fantastic place, so think I would always want to return here.

While it is easy to look upon the lives of those who travel full-time as the perfect situation, it is also important to realise that such a lifestyle is not for everyone. I am the type of traveller who needs the time between trips to process and fully appreciate all that I saw and experienced, as well as a few home comforts and cuddles from my nieces and nephew to keep everything in perspective.

When I was 22 I worked in a backpackers' hostel in Cordoba, Spain for a while and one of the best parts about it was meeting so many interesting people. What became noticeable, however, among those who were visiting Andalucia as part of a long-term travel plan or round-the-world trip was that a few of them were no longer able to take it all in.

It's safe to say that not everyone gets incredible experience overload, but it is easy to see how it could happen. When visiting fantastic places that are all very different and new one after another, it must be exhausting. There is no way to compare the beauty of a Mayan temple with a beach in Tarifa or a Klimt hung on the wall of a gallery, but your mind needs space to compute all of these things, or at least mine does anyway.

That is why I value the days when I look out over a grey Gateshead sky and see the new cygnets in the local park as much as my time travelling. I love going away, but also coming home and have the whole of my life to see the world, a small section at a time.