UK: Angry Llamas, Nettles, and Geocaching in the Chilterns

Nearest Geocache 2.2km. Centre the compass to face in the direction of the geocache.”

You’ve navigated out of the town and into a field, where a Llama shifts its weight between its legs and eyes you warily. Why is there a llama in a field in Chesham? Is it even a llama?

More importantly: why didn’t you bring more water? You’ve drunk half of it already and you’ve only just started.

It’s a thirty minute walk back into town so you decide to power on. Maybe your body will do that camel thing and respire fat into water; maybe you’ll just become severely dehydrated, sleep for 16 hours when you get home and consider taking the day off work the next day because the headache and nausea hasn’t gone away.

Useful for when you don't have a map
Useful for when you don’t have a map

After a while you recheck the geocaching app and see that the first one is now less than a kilometre away. You keep walking. Crickets leap across your path as you disturb the grass and all you can hear is the constant high-pitched hum of insects communicating.

Then your GPS leads you back to a road, which you follow for a bit until your phone buzzes: “You’re getting close! Start looking for the cache now as your GPS is only accurate to within 30ft.

On one side of the the road is a line of houses. On the other,  nettles and weird spiky dead flowers grow to waist-height around a dozen or so trees. You can’t see anything over there except angry things that will sting you, clouds of flies and webs full of fat spiders who are probably angry too. It’s your first time Geocaching so you decide to check the hint– “In a tree.”

Dammit. Damn. There are lots of trees and there’s no way to get to them except by wading through the nettles and angry bitey things.

You gingerly tread around the nettles and– “Ow, ow, no.”

The hiking trousers are thick enough to stop mosquitoes and UV rays, but not nettles. You retreat and reconsider your plan of attack. You’d forgotten how uncomfortable nettle stings are and almost consider going home and pretending you never went out at all.

But the little Winston Churchill on your shoulder commands you to fight on. The Bear Grylls on the other side advises you to drink your own-

Your own reasoning breaks through: you are the higher species- the nettles don’t even have a brain! A variety of successful companies (BP, Exxon Valdez, Pfizer et al) just destroy the environment when it gets in their way and thus far it has worked out very well for them.

You tuck your trousers into your socks for added protection, and employ the sideways stomp method. Within minutes, the ground is flat enough for a picnic. A quick search of the first tree comes up empty. There’s nothing on the ground and nothing tucked into the tree branches.

One down, five to go. You continue your mindless destruction of the British countryside until you spot a little black thing protruding from a tangle of ivy around the bough of the third tree.

Found another one!
Found it!
Inside the cache
Inside the cache, logbook signed, all on top of a little nettle corpse.

Nettles conquered and triumph running through your veins, you set off in search of the next geocache.

It's down here
It’s down here
Pump Lane
You do not faze me, compost-to-be!

There’s a fallen tree in your path, but you’re on a roll and nothing will stop you now. Within minutes, the cache is in your hands and you are signing the slightly damp logbook.

Feeling both an increasing pressure on your bladder and the symptoms of severe dehydration and heatstroke, you decide to locate one more cache before calling it a day.

You swap a few objects, stick your knee into some more nettles and stumble back to Chesham tube station with a heartbeat like a hummingbird’s, a headache to rival that of David Cameron’s at every mention of Scottish Independence, and a strong desire to vomit.

On the way home you have a nap and wake up at your station feeling like death. It takes you three times longer to walk to your house than it usually does, and it also takes a day or two to fully recover from the ordeal.

Still, you found three caches on your first go.

ISTANBUL: The Balici Boys on Atatürk Bridge

Karaköy Tram Station
Karaköy Tram Station

You smell them before you see them: two young boys huffing glue from a crumpled plastic bag.

Earlier, you tried to visit Galata Tower and got lost in Beyoğlu instead. It’s a sprawl of streets set on a thigh-burningly steep hillside, and the towering apartment buildings quash any hope of using the witch’s hat roof of the Genoese tower to navigate.

You head uphill and the streets quickly constrict around you. Men sit on upturned crates and play backgammon on the pavement while vans squeeze around everyone to deliver goods to the dozens of little electrical shops selling yellowing boxes of bulbs and minute bolts and hooks.

Then, as you were beginning to suspect that you were in completely the wrong place, your friend points out Galata Tower, just visible over the satellite dishes cluttering up the roofs.

You reach it in some discomfort. Someone had put out a tray of milk for the stray cats which you had accidentally stepped in, and you have not had such a vigorous workout since the time you had to chase your dog down the street after a chugger left the front gate open.

Street in Galata
This was unfortunately the only photo I took of the gradient. When people took ten paces forward, they’d disappear.

The return to the main part of Istanbul was equally fraught with difficulty.

“Are we even walking in the right direction?”

“Well, there’s the water. We need to be on the other side of it.”

“Yes but how?”

Traffic is going at almost a hundred miles an hour as you cling to the chain-link fence and step along the foot-wide pavement beside the highway. You had to go through a urine-stained concrete alley and past a disused freighter port to get there, but you can see the tram line and you’re feeling hopeful again.

A little way ahead of you, there are two boys around the age of twelve sitting on the crash barrier. As you get closer, you begin to smell the glue vapours, and then you notice the yellowish plastic bag gripped in their filthy sunburnt hands.

One of them makes eye contact with you for a moment, and then his eyes trail back to the ground, and he takes another huff from the bag.

LONDON: Friends with Pretty Houses

summer house 015
summer house 014

summer house 016

summer house 018

“I need help with this maths test I have to do to get this internship and I don’t even know what half the questions are even asking me.”

“Lana and I are both maths tutors.”

“It’s strange maths though. I never came across anything like it when I was working in the bank.”

Colander light shade à la Bloomsbury Group
Colander light shade à la Bloomsbury Group

summer house 035

“How much did your camera cost?”

“It’s a cheap DSLR, but it still cost a few hundred pounds.”

“Why do your photos look like they were taken on a shitty disposable then?”

“Because I edit them like that.”


“It’s a cosy sort of look.”

“Why not just buy a disposal camera?”

“I spent all my money on this camera.”


summer house 017

“Why don’t you guys just do the test for me? I know someone who got their sister to do their test for a job at the Home Office and they’re doing fine.”

ISTANBUL: How to Shell a Sunflower Seed in less than a Second

Sunflower Seeds
A bag of sunflower seeds in Üsküdar

“It’s simple,” Cansu says, taking a whole sunflower seed and placing it between her teeth. Two snaps later, the seed is in her mouth and she is discarding the empty shell.

“Can you do it again?”

She obliges, but you still can’t work out how it’s done.

“You hold it and bite down,” she explains. “The seed pops into your mouth.”

Her instructions aren’t clear enough and the whole thing shatters in your mouth. You pick out the shards of shell and mutter something about witchcraft.

“Don’t bite so hard.” She advises.

You try again, more gently this time, and somehow end up with the seed on your tongue and the empty shell between your fingers.

“Would you like another?”

“No thanks,” you say. You have dabbled in enough magic for one day.

It took a week and a half for anyone to notice that we were wearing matching shoes.
It took a week and a half for anyone to notice that we were wearing matching shoes.

LONDON: Summer Solstice in the Suburbs

Bored in Suburban London

You and a friend are sitting on a bench outside a supermarket, enjoying the longest night of the year. Rats scuttle through the litter in the hedge behind you, and a balloon drifts into space on the warm air currents.

“I bet we could get that.” Your friend says.

“Yeah.” You reply.


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