Ferry survival tactics!

I started writing this blog post about Greek ferries 10 months ago. I know, crazy, 10 months and still only sat in the draft section of my blog. Lazy, probably. But also I had unshakable desire to travel on more ferries. I feel in a better place to write this now than when we were just back from Sikinos and I couldn’t describe how much I loved the Greek ferry system; but I am still learning to love its quirks and mysteries. We had travelled on Zante Ferries ‘Adamantios Korais’ on a midnight sailing from Sikinos to Santorini and I was mesmerized her bubblegum pink and mint green leather seating reminiscent of a down-beat disco bar. It was built in Japan in the late 1980s and has this futuristic interior that was a wonderful reminder of the lost glamour of sailboat travel.  When we were home G encouraged my ferry interest by buying a random book from Amazon which captures a little slice geekery called ‘5 Days in Greece: the Greek Ferry Industry at a crossroads”. This book is something of a gem as it is written by a couple of ferry fanatics who capture a key time in Hellenic maritime history. It has amazing photographs of ferries and detailed descriptions before several of the older ships (often ex-cross-channel boats) were about to be retired following the change in legislation in the aftermath of the MS Express Sanmina disaster in 2000. If you don’t know the tragic tale, the Sanmina sank outside Paros in September 2000 – it was due to end its service after 35 years the following year. 82 people lost their lives in the disaster and the cause of which was not only the ship shunted into rocks and let in water, but the crew failed to lock nine of the ships eleven watertight doors. I saw some underwater photos of the wreck at the Kini Aquarium last week which prompted my thoughts on it.  As a result Greek law was changed to ensure that all boats retire at 30 years and are subject to extra safety procedures as well as voyages now having ‘black box’ recorders. This meant that in the 2000’s many of the older characterful ferries that had metamorphosed from one country route to another shipping company altogether, were taken out of service. But there are still some wonderful boats on journeys across the islands, charting between major and minor ports. It’s not just the boat that plays a role here but also the voyage and the views, as well as the stories that people bring with them as they travel.

Last week we stood waving my parents off at Ermoupoli port as they took the Blue Star Naxos to Mykonos to catch a flight– little did I know there had been a mix up at the ticket agency and I’d mistakenly managed to buy them tickets for July travel instead of June (I can’t even blame my bad Greek, the whole transaction was done in English!) Although afterwards they reassured me all was sorted quickly and the ship staff shrugged when realising that someone must have let them use the incorrect tickets for their outbound journey. Meaning that no one knew they were on-board, contravening the basic sea-travel law of having a passenger manifest!  Some things never change.

2017-06-29_03-37-18

Whilst we waved we watched two glamorous looking young American girls disembark the Blue Star and stand around on Syros port – they ambled over to the store to buy beers and stood waiting around. Like most ports the accommodation owners are allowed to tout for passing trade when a boat comes in – as the girls had been standing around for a while the lady who runs a hotel in town asked the girls if they had a place to stay in Syros. I didn’t over hear the exchange but we certainly started watching when the Greek lady started pointing to the Blue Star ferry and shouting “No, this is Syros! After here is Mykonos…Quickly! Run! Go”. The girls screeched some expletives and then started running back towards the ferry they had just left, arms flailing, wheelie suitcases falling over and bouncing over the perilous concrete, one lost a wedge heel shoe…all the while they both miraculously held onto their beers! It was quite a commotion for the port in the midday sun, but too late for them to hop on the Blue Star, as the harbour master had unhooked the ropes and it had started reversing out of port. Luckily, the old faithful Aqua Spirit was still tied in and from what I could see the Greek lady helped negotiate them onto the ferry  and off to Mykonos without too much fuss! I imagine that will be quite the story for those travellers, but I also think it must happen all the time – perhaps if you’ve arrived on a 10 hour flight and are jet-lagged, it’s could be plausible to mistake the venetian hills of Ermoupoli for the sugar cube houses of Mykonos. But they do always make announcements in English as well as Greek…and Mykonos and Syros don’t even sound similar…

Sometimes it seems like you need a Rubik’s cube to figure out the timetables – believe me I do spend a considerable amount of time looking at them.That being said the ferry network confuses most people, myself included. Sometimes it’s easier and quicker to go to the main islands on a slow boat overnight like Crete, than it is to go shorter distances to smaller places! The ferry timetabling is much part of the local news media here, Cyclades24 has news stories dedicated to timetabling, which boats ran late, which failed to run at all. Things like the fast connections to Syros from Athens only started late in June, so people think they don’t bring enough tourists out of the peak season – then connections to close by islands like Sifnos are badly served by the boats.

The boat service throughout the year is a life-line, yet we travellers often forget it isn’t just there for Greek island hopping and zipping between beaches. It isn’t so as much a complex method of travel for tourists to navigate and understand– it’s a complex industry which primarily is designed to move local people and goods to keep the islands functioning! They need regular heavily subsidised routes for locals to access basic services – when we were trapped in Tinos in May due to the union strikes – the only boat going back to Syros took 4 hours and went via Andros, which any you look at the map is a four hour detour. But that network has an obligation to provide at least a bi-weekly accessible route to Syros, as it has hospitals, law courts and tax offices.

In the peak summer there are countless potential routes to get you across island groups by hydrofoil or highspeed line from Piraeus to Santorini or Naxos and Mykonos – all the most popular islands have the best connections (which again is a source of grumbles for Islands trying to attract tourism as they are tied by the ferry companies desire to be commercially viable). But come Winter the ferry’s reduce to a slow skeleton service connecting island networks at the mercy of being cut off by weather, and for the smaller and remote places the weekly ferry is a lifeline. They don’t have sources of food and supplies – a simple fact on some of the rocky outcrops in the Cyclades, communities have self-sufficiently existed there for years without deliveries of goods and services – small populations with enough farming and livestock for their villages. Now when these small islands like Tilos, Halki or Paros started attracting tourists from the late 60s onwards they needed roads building, construction, cabling, electrical supplies, and transport – every single thing has to be delivered by boat and that sometimes includes its water supply, although many now have de-salination plants thanks to the wonders of EU funding.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/35570210216/in/dateposted-public/

Wherever you arrive or depart it is brilliantly orchestrated chaos.  If it’s a big boat it is chaos on a grand scale, huge swathes of passengers swarming on clambering for seats, cars and motorbikes revving their engines, trucks of goods, tankers and parcels being loaded on by people with endless clipboards and labels running on and off the boat. It is a feat of ingenuity that only the Greeks could master. If this was the UK there would be too many forms to complete and dockets to sign that a boat would never get out of port!

IMAG6029

There are a few good rules to follow: pay attention to where they ask you to leave bags when you board on the car deck and remember where it is, they usually have signs for each destination, but sometimes the man will just point and shout! If you really do want a seat and the option on bigger ferries tend to be deck or economy or the next class is airline seat, do pay the few extra euros for the airline seat. Some of the time you can just sit wherever you want on deck, in the cafes or in the air-conditioned lounges – but sometimes on busier ferries people reserve all the seats with their luggage and just leave their stuff, meaning no one else can sit down. Sometimes the staff ask people to move or the ticket inspectors check everyone should be sitting there. Most Greek people like to rush on and set up a spot for their families, but I do like to roam around the boat, perusing the café’s (usually for a decent spanakopita and espresso) and viewing the islands from the deck as we pass by. Its best to always wrap up warm even if its hot outside, once on-deck in the meltimi winds or in an air-conditioned cabin the temperatures can plummet. I safely take travel calm tablet on longer journey’s, I’ve never been sea-sick but its just insurance against it happening. But they do sell tablets on board.  It’s usually a lot simpler on shorter journey’s like the ‘Despina’ from Corfu to Paxos, or the aptly named ‘Meganisi II’ from Nidri on Lefkada or a personal favourite was taking the 70s aircraft-esque Tilos Sea Star from Rhodes Harbour in which they showed episodes of Blackadder with Greek subtitles. We recently ventured on Golden Star’s latest boat the highspeed SuperRunner to Paros which despite being in the middle of a storm was a smooth and swift journey in relative luxury!

IMAG6097

Travelling by ferry should always be seen as a big part of the holiday, whether you are there for a few weeks or just a short hop from Piraeus in Athens. One Easter on a small Dodekanise Express I left my luggage next to a crate full of live chicks on the hydrofoil to Patmos which was utterly cute to see the little bundles of yellow feathers chirping away, although I fear their destination may have not been so nice. We have seen herds of sheep, crates of tomatoes, fresh flowers and even prisoners being transported by armed police.  I spent 5 blissful days on Halki and actually enjoyed waking up at 3am to watch the towering Crete bound Anek ferry arrive into the tiny port, watching the chaos ensue on the sleepy harbour from the balcony as it unloaded trucks and passengers blinking bleary eyed. It’s lights on deck lit up the dock like Christmas!

I didn’t travel by ferry until I was about 6 years old on my first holiday to France, we would have driven all the way down to Dover to get the ferry to Calais. I have very little memory of being on the ferry, but it obviously stuck a cord somewhere. Now I see the ferry is a big part of the adventure in Greece, and we have lots of mini-trips that should incorporate more routes and boats. Although I have a feeling that the Aqua Spirit may become a ship we know too well this summer, and Hellenic Seaway’s Artemis, as they seem to be the only two boats covering most of the smaller Cyclades Islands.

Luckily getting my hands on some ‘Ferry Swag’ is a new hobby. So far I’m the proud owner of Blue Star Ferries cap which when I wear (mostly for gardening or running) I secretly want people to ask me about timetables…go on, I might even know the answer!

Finding time and space for exploring

One  of the things I find myself obsessing over is time. Where does it go? It seeps through, minutes into hours and then whole afternoons are lost to fiddling around in the garden or sitting in the shade reading a book. Then I remind myself, with a pinch, that this is okay, when I’m not committed to my scheduled working hours, the time is mine, and this is what we came for. The break from the norm. To release yourself from the shackles of time and plans and endless things to do…meetings to attend, responsibilities, action and reflection and worry and inaction, is a complete luxury. The awful concept of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) creeps in, but I have learnt quickly to bat that one away as I look out on the barren hills, hear the goat bells, feel the prickle of hot sun on my skin and appreciate everything as it is now.

It’s June and we have nearly been away for 3 months, now the island is filling up with visitors and  all of a sudden I get waves of impatience about what I’m doing or not doing – “why aren’t I better speaking Greek?” “why haven’t I written more, read more, learnt more..”This the horrible fact of being me and not listening when people say ‘siga siga’ (slowly slowly). But I hope I am learning to be more patient with my expectations.

That’s why heading out for a crazy hike on Thursday morning was such a brilliantly spur of the moment plan. My parents arrived on Thursday, so knowing that the next week or so would be taken up with ‘holidaying’ heading out for an early hike before I collected them at Syros Port made perfect sense.

That’s the main thing I appreciate here…the diary is wide open, anything can happen. No over planning necessary today, big decisions are food related. We are both learning to tear up the plan (whatever that means – I know people that have their diaries filled every weekend for the next year, life agenda’s mapped out to the 3rd child/ board promotion /forever home…) That’s okay, this sort of plan works well for some people – life can have a direction and goals to work towards. But that doesn’t always allow  to see the possibilities and be open to seeing life in a different mold, we can’t all be cookie-cutter suburban 9-5’ers. What happens when things throw you off course? How does a plan change?  This is the ‘noodle-overload’ that often debilitates me from making any decisions at all! In fact G and I suffered from this for the past year, Greece teased us on the horizon of our Zone 5 lives like a golden carrot on a string. But we struggled to make it real by looking at every scenario in utter detail, over-thinking in its worst form. In the end things happen and you respond with the right reaction, like making a dream real.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/35362986075/in/datetaken-public/

But right now, here in Syros with a plan-free summer it feels so positive not to know where I am heading, to free up the minutia of planning small and big things is truly liberating. That’s why waking up on Thursday and walking to Aetos Beach under azure blue sky and encountering no other wanderers on the path was the perfect way to just get out there and discover this magical place we now call home.

2017-06-17_06-20-42

The walk was a 9k round trip Kini – Delfini – Varvarousa – Aetos.  The paths once past Varvarousa and Aetos scale high up the cliffs mostly unmarked so take a bit of working out as you go through an old patch of abandoned house ruins and a quarry-like piles of stones. The hillsides become more vegetated with pine trees and some paths are overgrown with prickly branches…I was wearing shorts, a rookie error! There is also spectacular wild lavender and sage scenting the hillsides at this time of year. But when you arrive at a deserted cove, pale sand untouched and the morning sun just starting to heat up it makes all the effort worthwhile.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/35362940905/in/datetaken-public/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/34520055194/in/datetaken-public/

Enjoy your Sunday, now it’s raining here and I can be thankful the plants don’t need watering. Time to take my parents on a tour of ‘Kini in the rain’…

Selfies and travel

I was rather taken aback when I read the news that a girl tumbled off a cliff in Zakynthos trying to take the perfect selfie shot with a shipwreck in the background – she was the second death in the same circumstances this year. This isn’t just tragic a waste of a life, its beyond sad as it is symptomatic of a wider malaise – everywhere you go selfie sticks are at sights, museums, planes, beaches….even churches. I wonder if people often know what they are taking a pic in front of. Its the opposite of why we travel isn’t it? We all want to remember things with a photo, but that needs to be complemented with experience and getting a feel for another place and ‘seeing’ the sights.  This selfie-culture isn’t bad in itself, but it feeds an absolute obsession with the self, controlling your image on social media, filtered perfection, a projection of the ideal (often female) form.  I watched one girl try on several hats and glasses to get the perfect shot in Mykonos Harbour last week, I did wonder what this performance achieved.  Is it that we can all be the star of our own media channel or just another way to nihilism creates and curates the perfect online version of yourself? But I concluded there is probably no-real self in most of these posed selfies, authenticity can only come from a whole lived experience.  I can’t say I’ve never ‘selfied’ up but there is a whole generation growing up with this scary scrutiny over their appearance – and it worries me.

2017-06-14_06-01-51

We spent a few miserable hours in Mykonos last week, not miserable as we had fun, but just in the broadest sense it wasn’t a great place to hangout. We were there as G’s family had a flight back to the UK late that day so we decided to stay one night as a jumping off point for an island hop adventure. We arrived and took the boat bus to the old town, Mykonos Chora and it was just so busy on the tiny harbour. 4 gigantic cruise liners were docked in the bay…thousnads of people milling about taking selfies and shouting loudly. I didn’t hear any Greek being spoken at all.

Well here’s the deal – if you crave overcrowded streets, overpriced food and drink, fancy boutiques that will let you shop till your heart is content, please go, eat drink and be merry! I am totally sure the island is lovely – it gets millions of visitors so they can’t all be mad, maybe there are villages and goats and even smiley old ladies – but in my experience it was a strange Disney-esque version of a Cycladic town. Mykonos was once a hippie gay-friendly little place, and in the past 2 decades has embraced tourism and drank from the cup of exclusivity, letting such celebs Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashian clan be the island’s poster girls. It now has a rather wild party scene that means it attracts teenagers from around the world. Now it feels such a long way from Shirley Valentine sitting at that lonely taverna chair when it was filmed there in the late 80s. “The only thing I ever wanted to do was travel. I’d like to drink a glass of wine, sitting by the sea, watching the sun go down”.  My favourite line!

2017-06-14_06-02-48

Anyway we said goodbye to the family waving them off into an airport bound taxi, and survived a night in Mykonos. Mostly watching UK election coverage on the apartment TV – but hey…

Next morning at 8am we walked from the town to the new port to catch our boat, a pleasant enough walk but without any pedestrian friendly pavements (Greek town planners please note, people like to walk places, please build pavements when you build new roads). Apart from when an intoxicated young man swerved over on a quad bike and asked us the way to “Super Paradise” I thought he said “Parasite” which would have made sense..It then started to rain with a massive downpour at the port. No umbrella! But once we reached Paros on the new refurbished Superunner which has just joined the Golden Star fleet, the rain had cleared and we felt like we have arrived in an altogether different atmosphere. Less crowds, more space and less hustle!

2017-06-14_05-58-04

A quick hop on the Antiparos Star (5Euros) took us to the smaller island to the south. Antiparos really is a little gem, a small harbour with daytrip boats and regular connections to Parikia (Paros Town) and car ferries via Pounda. Its not a tiny island like say, Halki or Antipaxos, but it does feel immediately slower paced as you step off into the harbour lined with restaurants and shops. It’s fairly compact and has a wide main street where most other shops, taverna’s and bars are.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/34460736894/in/datetaken-public/

The town and Castro (castle) area are beautiful and postcard perfect. Also, without the crowds when we were there – so if you seek those typical Greek scenes of taverna’s on squares and bourganvilla draped over doorways and tiny churches, Antiparos town fits the bill.

2017-06-14_05-15-21

The island is mostly flat so perfect for cycling, we hired bikes on day and drove the 9k to the Caves. I admit I got off my bike and pushed at the steepest last slog of the climb (190meters!)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/35174791701/in/datetaken-public/

The caves were worth the effort, discovered in the 1700s (with graffiti to prove it!) and having held significance for both geological wonder and a place of shelter during wars and invasion, they remain the greatest and oldest example of natural cave chambers in the whole of Greece.  Read more here: http://www.antiparos.info/En/Cave.htm

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/34461327994/in/datetaken-public/

We really just chilled out for 3 long balmy days and nights on the island. It has fantastic beaches and good priced taverna’s, with very traditional Greek fare. We ate heartily, and were shown around the kitchen at Pavlo’s Place and talked through the menu. I had delicious goat stew with orzo pasta. We devoured every moment, minimised the selfies and treated the time as a fantastic holiday.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/35138000072/in/datetaken-public/

Staying in Astera’s Apartments was perfect, tucked away from the main street in the Chora, but close to the beaches and peacefully quiet on a night. Pretty and quiet beaches shaded by tamerisk trees and only a few beach bars in sight…what’s not to love about Antiparos.

2017-06-14_05-12-47

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/35304291845/in/datetaken-public/

Just don’t let too many people know about it, that’s the tricky thing – Tom Hanks and his Greek-American wife have a house there…there’s a smattering too many ’boutiques’ in the town…please don’t ruin it!

Here comes the summer!

Whilst I was lounging in the sun in the UK the weather back on Syros was just plain weird – the village experienced a deluge of a months’ worth of rain in a few hours which caused a mudslide down the main road onto the beach. Sounds worse than it turned out to be – but still the clean up took a while for the tavern and hotel owners, and there were a few grumbles about the drainage. Concrete roads and houses create run off problems in places like this when unseasonal rain falls, which is worsened by the heavy clay-like soil which isn’t be able to quickly absorb extra rainfall when it hits.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/34269583174/in/datetaken-public/

But luckily the house and garden was intact upon our return. Bar a massive sweeping of pollen and pine needles fallen from the big trees that shade the terrace.  In fact, the garden had had a major growth spurt from the milder and wetter weather. Our landlord also popped by to water the seedlings, which I am forever grateful for. So the tomatoes, courgette and cucumber have spurted along in our absence. On our return, I made a bamboo climber support for the cucumber (which was indeed a cucumber, not a courgette – an easy mistake!) Luckily we have a limitless supply of bamboo from the canes growing in the garden which means everything will be supported nicely.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/34292828744/in/datetaken-public/

We had a few ‘days of gloom’ as I describe it last week, where the sky stays a grey colour all day and the sea looks murky and un-enticing. I heard the announcers on the Radio describe the weather forecast as ‘winter’ – it’s not far wrong, most of the Cyclades have had much less rain and colder temperatures this Spring than usual. But the garden soil was wet and warm so I planted more calendula seeds, potted out some cosmos and marigolds.  Last Monday it was 20c and cloudy, yet now a week later it is 29c and wall to wall sunshine. The locals have assured me that summer has finally arrived!

I woke this morning with Namaste inspired intentions of a run and yoga session – but on wandering outside with my coffee I was immediately distracted by the garden. One of the most brilliant things about working UK time is that I start work at 11.30am Greek time, so I have these blissful long mornings to fill before work commences. Although usually filed with chores (Greek houses take a lot of sweeping and de-anting!) or exercise and writing, this time makes the day seem longer and quite frankly when I think of the daily 1 hour commute in London, these hours back are a gift to be used wisely.

So this morning I pottered and deadheaded some of the petunia and pansy flowers. Replanted radish seeds, as many either failed to germinate or washed away. I am persevering with lettuce and spinach although it is starting to get too warm for germination. I planted out the aubergine in the bed and another courgette. The first one bought as a plug plant is flowering, so I am hoping that I find some larger pots or oil cans for the remaining tomato and courgette seedlings, as it’s getting late now. I bought some unusual Trombocino seeds (trumpet shaped squash) at the RHS Chelsea Show so was really pleased that one germinated in a few days.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/34948950922/in/datetaken-public/

The broadbeans look full of promise but local horticulture knowledge says it might be too war for them to fruit. While I was pottering and weeding, our feline friend nicknamed Bowie skipped over to purr round my ankles, then our landlord popped over and gave us some bulbs of garlic from his garden, enticingly fresh and with the cucumbers he shared last week, and the dill from the market – we will be surviving off homemade tzatziki for weeks.

Graeme’s family have been visiting this past week, so it was the best excuse to be tourists for a few days, eating out and cooking BBQ’s, enjoying sunbathing and snorkelling, wandering round Ano Syros and walking to Galissas.  This coincided with a Greek bank holiday for Orthodox Pentecost (Whit Monday) which marks the end of the Easter cycle of celebrations and the day of the Holy Spirit. Kini was incredibly busy with Athenians here on holiday and the weather heated up accordingly. All the Taverna’s were full on Saturday and Sunday night as suddenly everywhere we went felt like summer had arrived. The near empty beach we had known and loved, was brimming with families and sun seekers, enjoying their first taste of a glorious Greek summer. But this only lasts three days – and walking past today on my lunch break it was back to its more expected scattering of tourists and locals.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/144180115@N07/34509118376/in/datetaken-public/

While I’m glad the weather has turned in Syros, I’ll keep doing a sundance for my friends back in the UK who have been updating me with rain stories…

reflections on the past week

I arrived back from London on Sunday night. Shaken up on choppy waters from Piraeus and needing some well-deserved sleep. I had been back to London for a week to work and then spend time catching up with family and friends. A week flew by from the moment we landed back; filled with work, drinking tea (oh, tea I love you!), drinking in the sun, eating curry…
London was on top chaotic form. Sunny, buoyant and alive. Through the city streets, the pavements hummed with bustling bodies and warm concrete. The city magically turns itself inside out to enjoy what could just be a fleeting glimpse of heat from the sun and showering everyone with the frisky feel of summer. Windows open, laughter and music travelled through the dusk air. It was like a brief affair that could drive you back to a lover – London was flirting now I’d left and I had to resist.  I met friends, we jostled for seats in the sun and I enjoyed the frenetic pace. If only it was ever this nice to me when we were together.

I tried not to eat terribly, but failed on arrival (a pub burger and pint of English cider) and by Monday evening I got back to my hotel room with a Tesco sandwich meal deal. Sadly the first of 2 I ate that week and I’m not proud. I scoffed it down watching the TV news, something had happened in Manchester at a concert at the Arena, reporters were trying to piece it together but details were hazy. I switched off, my mind rendered blank from a busy day, opening events, answering questions and doing more talking in 12 hours than it felt I’d done in weeks. The next morning I had an early start for an event so my alarm pinged at 4am…switching on the news stopped me in my tracks of making coffee. I, like most of us on Tuesday morning woke to what was the reality of a tragic scene unfolding – dozens of teenagers and children injured, missing and dead.  I don’t wish to repeat what has already been reported – a home-grown terrorist, one of us radicalised by whatever force entices a once reasonable young man to walk into a public space with the sole aim of killing the maximum people possible and himself. I cannot even imagine what that takes. But more so, we are forced to live through what his actions have taken away. Young lives on the cusp of adulthood, children at their first concert, parents waiting patiently for their return. All their unwritten futures erased in seconds. The news cycle went over all the details and most people I met that week were experiencing a mix of shock, anger and crucially, resilience. As I was at work this meant I was forced to adapt and get on, minimise risks, that’s what we do – be aware. Although the country was in the midst of a glorious heat wave, a cloud of doom and fear hung close.

The events in Manchester made me consider how fear can permeate our lives. We are the lucky ones, when tragedy strikes and it wasn’t your loved ones, we get to live on. Each day is a gift and each could be the last. Yet this provides no comfort if we allow fear to inhabit this space.

Those teenagers getting ready to go to the concert didn’t even consider the possibility of fearing a terrorist act – why should they? No person should ever have to think of such danger – we can’t live like that. It’s impossible to predict. I recall the absolute life changing excitement of my first concert. The details are burned into my memories like scorch marks. December 8th 1994, Blur Newcastle Metro Arena. I wore an orange shirt over a black shiney baby doll dress from Topshop and Chipie trainers that had stripes that glowed in the dark. I was 13 and my Dad drove me and my three best friends there. He waited outside in his van to pick us up. It was actually the literally most exciting night of my, up to then, life. We learned all the lyrics to every Blur song ever written in the weeks beforehand, talking of nothing else but what to wear, what to do, what to sing, who we loved best. Mine was always Graham Coxon, the weird outcast of the band. We chattered through classes at schools, “Blur, Blur, Blur” Gigs and music were the doorways to possibilities that existed outside the confines our little town, our childhoods, our desires. Once inside the Arena we bought everything pocket money could afford; souvenir programmes and scarves and t-shirts.

That night 23 years ago still speaks to me as a significant life event, it holds a precious feeling of freedom, singing along to every word in every song and seeing the world as a place of pure joy– believing in possibilities. Ideas are being formed, everything is new and breathless, scary and at high speed. Because that is what being a teenager should be; thrilling and fearless.

No-one can ever take that away.

I hope that every person affected by what happened last week doesn’t forget how precious a first concert is as a rites of passage. Music can be a great healer for us all.