R.A.K. Clague by Deborah Clague

What makes London one of the greatest cities in the world for me is their support of the Arts and encouragement of learning. Nearly all museums and galleries in the capital offer free admission. During a previous trip I visited the massive British Museum, who's most famous object is perhaps the Rosetta Stone. It was amazing to see this 2200-year-old artifact up close and imagine myself in another era, in another world. 

On this holiday, I spent full days at the Natural History Museum, which housed amazing specimens of dinosaurs (including a few animatronic ones), as well as a cool earthquake simulator fashioned to look like a Japanese grocery store while replicating the 1995 Kobe disaster; the National Portrait Gallery, which showcased Britain's most famous citizens from King Charles II and his many (many!) mistresses to modern pop icons like Paul McCartney and Amy Winehouse; and, my FAVOURITE, the Victoria and Albert Museum which bills itself as "the world's leading museum of art and design". Indeed, it is. I was overwhelmed within 30 minutes of entering. I could have spent my entire trip exploring and learning from it's 7km of galleries housing everything to do with my chosen career path. Needless to say, I left reinvigorated and inspired wanting to create my own masterpieces that may one day be deemed worthy of archiving and preserving. I want to leave an imprint with my life. 


I am not religious but I love to visit old, historic European churches. The grandeur of the architecture is truly awe-inspiring and spiritual, and heck, on some level it is a miracle that I don't burst into flames upon entering them.

On this trip, I visited St. Paul's Cathedral and experienced a moment of serendipity that marked, yet again, a moment where I feel my father's presence was with me. I haven't even written about all of these experiences but maybe I will one day. I feel they've gone beyond coincidental and have strengthened my belief in the existence of an afterlife.

As always now, when entering any religious shrine, I say a prayer and light a votive for my beloved father. It may mean nothing, but I've always felt positive energy is exponential. I want what's in my heart, including all memories of loved ones present and lost, to be housed in good karma. To me, that means everything. After doing this in St. Paul's, I started to feel very, very sad to the point of fighting a losing battle at controlling my tears. London was my father's favourite city in the world and I just wished he could be there physically with me in that moment. I became too distracted to listen to the audio tour I was given and just roamed aimlessly for a bit in an attempt to clear my head. I eventually found myself at the North Quire Aisle. From the corner of my eye, I noticed my name. Clague. 

I did a double-take. I was staring at a large memorial to choirists of St. Paul's Cathedral who had perished during World War II. One of the dozen or so names on the memorial was an "R.A.K. Clague". 

I was shocked. 

And then elated. Here was a Clague (related or not) who had left an imprint with his life. Here was a Clague memorialized in one of the most historic, iconic buildings in the world.

I have no interest in war and believe that I wouldn't have even noticed this had my father's spirit not guided me to the back of the church to view it. My mood changed on a dime. I could not stop smiling afterwards. I have contacted the church to find out more information about them. 

On the walk back to my hotel, a street musician played "Once Upon a Dream". Life is indeed like this at times. 

Escalator to upper gallery at Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

Escalator to upper gallery at Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

Stegosaurus at Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

Stegosaurus at Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

My favourite animatronic dinosaur at the Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

My favourite animatronic dinosaur at the Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

The extinct dodo bird, Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

The extinct dodo bird, Natural History Museum (©Deborah Clague)

National Gallery, London (©Deborah Clague)

National Gallery, London (©Deborah Clague)

Small, narrow historic building near St. Paul's Cathedral (©Deborah Clague)

Small, narrow historic building near St. Paul's Cathedral (©Deborah Clague)

St. Paul's Cathedral, London (©Deborah Clague)

St. Paul's Cathedral, London (©Deborah Clague)

St. Paul's Cathedral, London (©Deborah Clague)

St. Paul's Cathedral, London (©Deborah Clague)

View from the Golden Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral, London (©Deborah Clague)

View from the Golden Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral, London (©Deborah Clague)

Selfie from atop the Golden Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral, London (©Deborah Clague)

Selfie from atop the Golden Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral, London (©Deborah Clague)

View from atop the Golden Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral (©Deborah Clague)

View from atop the Golden Gallery, St. Paul's Cathedral (©Deborah Clague)

Street artist juggling fire, London (©Deborah Clague)

Street artist juggling fire, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Renaissance Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Sculpture Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

The Sculpture Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (©Deborah Clague)

Rude by Deborah Clague

I have a love/hate relationship with traveling to extremely populous cities. At the start of a trip, I loathe the experience of crowds and traffic and the general vulgarity of having to prove oneself worthy of inclusion in a megalopolis society. But after day three, my personality kicks in. My Aries, only-child, center of the universe personality kicks in and reminds me that I am so worthy. I deserve to be here as much as anyone else. No one need grant me permission because I am capable of seizing it. 

My epiphany on this trip to London, England, came, as predicted, at the 72-hour mark. My initial days in the capital had gone well. I had an amazing room at St. James Court, a beautiful hotel located so close to Buckingham Palace that I could claim the Queen of England was my neighbour for two weeks - literally. I had experienced great food and drink. I had only once narrowly escaped death or dismemberment when I failed to look the correct way when crossing a street. All things considered, that was pretty good. I was learning the rhythm of the city fast. 

Or so I thought.

The sidewalk was a different story. 

I spent the majority of day three at the Tower of London, a truly fascinating (albeit macabre) attraction wherein one gets to learn about King Henry VIII's God-complex and see the Crown Jewels up close and personal. Returning to my hotel, tired and with achy muscles, I took a slow, meandering walk back along Southbank while admiring the Thames and the reflection of the iconic architecture lining its banks. As I strolled, I noticed a group of five people walking towards me side-by-side. There wasn't room for all of us on the promenade, but I made my way to the far left hoping one of the group would do the same. Nope. We came closer. Nope. A collision was imminent.

"Fuck this", I thought and braced for the person on the end to bump into me.

She did. Hard.

I continued walking, keeping any ill-thoughts of the unmannerly individual to myself, when I heard them yell at me from behind:

"YOU'RE RUDE!"

I refused to look back and give them the satisfaction of acknowledgement. This minor incident though was all I needed to change my thinking from that of tourist to "I belong". 

This is the big city. This is London. You fight for a seat at the table here. 

Buckingham Palace (©Deborah Clague)

Buckingham Palace (©Deborah Clague)

Buckingham Palace (©Deborah Clague)

Buckingham Palace (©Deborah Clague)

Me in front of Buckingham Palace (©Deborah Clague)

Me in front of Buckingham Palace (©Deborah Clague)

Security fence surrounding Buckingham Palace (©Deborah Clague)

Security fence surrounding Buckingham Palace (©Deborah Clague)

Westminster (©Deborah Clague)

Westminster (©Deborah Clague)

London Eye (©Deborah Clague)

London Eye (©Deborah Clague)

Security at No.10 Downing Street, residence of the British Prime Minister (©Deborah Clague)

Security at No.10 Downing Street, residence of the British Prime Minister (©Deborah Clague)

The moat surrounding the Tower of London features zoomorphic statuary of creatures that once called it home (©Deborah Clague)

The moat surrounding the Tower of London features zoomorphic statuary of creatures that once called it home (©Deborah Clague)

The White Tower, former palace and prison (©Deborah Clague)

The White Tower, former palace and prison (©Deborah Clague)

Interior hallway at the Tower of London (©Deborah Clague)

Interior hallway at the Tower of London (©Deborah Clague)

Medieval wall carvings left behind by prisoners in the Tower of London (©Deborah Clague)

Medieval wall carvings left behind by prisoners in the Tower of London (©Deborah Clague)

Students learn about the infamous scaffold site, where prisoners (and some Queens) were executed on the Tower of London grounds (©Deborah Clague)

Students learn about the infamous scaffold site, where prisoners (and some Queens) were executed on the Tower of London grounds (©Deborah Clague)

The Scaffold Site, where prisoners (and some Queens) were executed at the Tower of London (©Deborah Clague)

The Scaffold Site, where prisoners (and some Queens) were executed at the Tower of London (©Deborah Clague)

The Jewel House which houses the Crown Jewels (©Deborah Clague)

The Jewel House which houses the Crown Jewels (©Deborah Clague)

Security at front of the Jewel Tower (©Deborah Clague)

Security at front of the Jewel Tower (©Deborah Clague)

The Royal Armouries Collection in the White Tower (©Deborah Clague)

The Royal Armouries Collection in the White Tower (©Deborah Clague)

The Royal Armouries Collection in the White Tower (©Deborah Clague)

The Royal Armouries Collection in the White Tower (©Deborah Clague)

Street mosaic art, London (©Deborah Clague)

Street mosaic art, London (©Deborah Clague)

Tower Bridge (©Deborah Clague)

Tower Bridge (©Deborah Clague)

Tower Bridge (©Deborah Clague)

Tower Bridge (©Deborah Clague)

Dog playing on the bank of the Thames River (©Deborah Clague)

Dog playing on the bank of the Thames River (©Deborah Clague)

Some of London's iconic telephone booths have been converted to wifi spots (©Deborah Clague)

Some of London's iconic telephone booths have been converted to wifi spots (©Deborah Clague)

Yum! (©Deborah Clague)

Yum! (©Deborah Clague)

England Gallery updated by Deborah Clague

The gallery of images from my recent trip to England and the Isle of Man has been updated. You can view them by clicking here

The streets of London at dusk (2017). ©Deborah Clague

The streets of London at dusk (2017). ©Deborah Clague

The Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London, England (2017). ©Deborah Clague

The Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London, England (2017). ©Deborah Clague

St. Paul's Cathedral graces the skyline for those crossing Millennium Bridge, London, England (2017). ©Deborah Clague

St. Paul's Cathedral graces the skyline for those crossing Millennium Bridge, London, England (2017). ©Deborah Clague

The statue of Winston Churchill looms over the House of Parliament, London, England (2017) ©Deborah Clague

The statue of Winston Churchill looms over the House of Parliament, London, England (2017) ©Deborah Clague

Descent by Deborah Clague

This view of London's skyscrapers piercing through the cloud top gave me chills as I descended into London, England on January 23: 

The Shard, at 95 storeys, is the tallest building in the United Kingdom. 

The Shard, at 95 storeys, is the tallest building in the United Kingdom. 

🇬🇧 by Deborah Clague

As I visit the motherland, I reflect upon things I love about Great Britain: 


ACCENTS: There are a number of regional accents one encounters while traveling throughout the United Kingdom. The scouse intonation of Liverpool is a sharp contrast to the posh cadence of London's uppercrust. I love it all, even though I might not always understand it. I recall an incident from the last time I was in England, 2007, when my father and I went into a restaurant in Lowestoft, a small coastal town on the easternmost edge of the country. As the waitress warmly greeted us, with what I suspected were the daily specials, my father turned to me, puzzled, and whispered "I have no idea what she's saying." 

Well, neither did I. But I turned to her and ordered the safest bet "two fish-and-chips, please" (which ended up being delicious).

On this trip, I am most looking forward to hearing the Manx accent, as my ancestral home is the Isle of Man.


MEN'S FASHION: Men in London dress well. Really well. It's as though they believe meeting the Queen herself at the supermarket is a possibility and therefore must always be donning a clean pressed suit. It's glorious and a huge contrast to the much more relaxed land of flannel and denim that is North America. 


IDRIS ELBA IN A SUIT: On that note, take a moment to appreciate the most handsome British male wearing the shit out of this suit. Sigh. 


CORGIS: When I'm having a bad day, I image search corgi puppies. INSTANT mood elevator. I am so thankful to live in a world with dogs. 


MUSIC SCENE: There's something in the water when it comes to British musicians. Some of the most iconic, influential artists have come from the island nation. Their songbooks – ranging from a variety of genres – have played much of the soundtrack to my life. Even part of my name is derived from "Beatlemania"; my mother was/is a HUGE Beatles fan (and is probably still in love with Paul McCartney to this day, tbh). Her own background is French and wanted one of my names to reflect this heritage. Enter my first connection to the Fab Four and their 1964 track, "Michelle", off the Revolver album which my mother chose as my middle name. 

Secondly, the name of my creative services business was obviously an ode. It is the perfect nonsensical life mantra. Life goes on. 

And while they may not be direct family lineage, two individuals with the surname Clague have, in turn, influenced The Beatles. John Lennon's mother, Julia, was unfortunately killed in a vehicular accident during the former Beatles teenage years by an Eric Clague of Liverpool. Her passing is considered by many to be the catalyst that led to his expression of emotion through song and the eventual formation of the beloved group.

Then, while doing genealogy research last week, I came across this

Who knows if it is something but the interconnectivity of it all and possibility that a family member may have indirectly influenced the creation of some of the greatest songs in modern history makes my imagination run wild. 


LEMON CURD: I don't even really know what curd is but it's delicious and one of my favourite desserts is to stir it into vanilla-flavoured yogurt. 


CADBURY: And on the dessert note, Cadbury is FAR superior to Hershey's. Like ... 


LITRATURE:  It is of course a result of history being written by the victors (or perhaps the more controversial term "oppressors") that our language and educational system in the west is heavily influenced by England and the artists, poets, and scribes that called it home. The older I get, the more I invest in learning about world literature but the magical, transcendent works of Shakespeare, Austen, Doyle, Rowling and numerous others still resonate the human experience across time and space. 


Just one more for good measure: 

Book Recommendations by Deborah Clague

Bad Girls Throughout History
Written by Ann Shen

Between recent world events and my own personal history, I have been in need of female inspiration. This book details, through brief but impactful biographies and whimsical illustration, the lives of one hundred women who dreamed and dared to go beyond what was expected of them to change the world. From warriors (Ching Shih) to queens (Elizabeth I), actresses (Dorothy Dandridge) to adventurers (Amelia Earhart), "Bad Girls Throughout History" documents a different side of human existence that is all too often cast aside in favour of the male gaze. My new goal in life is to make the second edition.  

Favourite line: I appreciated the introduction to journalist Nellie Bly and Disney artist Mary Blair. 


The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo
Written by Amy Schumer

I bought this book for my best friend who is obsessed with Amy Schumer. She read it in two days and then passed it back to me with an enthusiastic review. I also devoured and absolutely loved it. In this collection of essays (billed as a "non-memoir"), Amy shares moments that shaped her life in a frank, confessional style of writing that is entertaining, insightful and empowering. I was surprised to read that the seemingly brash comedian is a workaholic introvert at heart who values solitude. We'd probably be friends.

Favourite line: "So much has changed about me since I was that confident, happy girl in high school. In the years since then, I've experienced a lot of desperation and self-doubt, but in a way, I've come full circle. I know my worth."


Alexander McQueen: Evolution
Written by Katherine Gleason

For Christmas, my best friend got me this beautiful coffee table book on the life and work of one of the greatest designers of the past century, Alexander McQueen. It includes a condensed biography on the man, myth and legend and focuses more on his output and the theatre of his collections. The themes of life, death and sex are a common thread throughout his complex, visually stimulating art. 

Favourite line: my favourite fashion show of all time is 2004's "Deliverance".

Atlas Obscura by Deborah Clague

Me standing at the heavily fortified border crossing between North and South Korea (2015).

Me standing at the heavily fortified border crossing between North and South Korea (2015).

I wrote about Atlas Obscura in the My Favourite Things of the Year post. The book is SO awesome, I rush home every day after work to lose myself in its nearly 500 pages (yes, I'm a nerd in case that wasn't already apparent). The writing style is so engaging, the subject matter so fascinating, that I cannot recommend it enough. I am already planning travels around it. 

The book – and website it's based on – focus on lesser-known curiosities around the globe. Prior to reading it, I had never heard of the longplayer in London, England (a musical recording arranged in such a way that the variations will never repeat for one thousand years; listen to it digitally here); Mount Roraima, Venezuela (an unbelievably beautiful flat top mountain with its own unique ecosystem); or Centralia, Pennsylvania (seriously, WTF?). 

My immersion in this tome has me contemplating my own travels. In particular, moments I've experienced that have stayed with me and formed a part of who I've become. They weren't always the main event. They often involved a chance encounter with someone who, in a way they will never realize, has impacted my life profoundly. 

These are some of the global experiences I've had that resulted in memories of a lifetime: 

6) Making friends with a stranger in Frankfurt Airport (2016): earlier this year, I traveled to Dubai. It hasn't been my favourite destination. All the flashy buildings and endless shopping malls proved too superficial for my tastes. However, the journey did result in meeting someone that I think of often. It happened during a stopover at Frankfurt Airport. A friendly woman from Chennai, India struck up conversation with me as we waited for our Toronto-bound flight. We talked for hours like old friends, it was almost as if the thread of our bond was pre-existing. She told me of her family. I told her of my future plans to visit her country (with her even offering to be my tour guide and lend a place to stay). It can become lonely traveling solo, so these types of interactions always elicit joy in me. We became separated after landing at YYZ and while she did leave a voicemail message for me afterwards, it was sadly without a return number. On the very slim chance she is reading this, please give me another call or send an email. You are an amazing woman that I'd love to reconnect with. 

5) Driving through the Canadian Rockies in the dead of winter (2001): it was a late December drive from Banff to Edmonton. The days were already short during this time of year, but the shadow of the mountains decreased them even further until all one saw were shapes moving in the darkness. And stars. Thousands (millions!) of stars overhead. We were the only ones on the road, save for the herds of elk illuminated only by moonlight that took the lack of vehicular traffic to wander where they once couldn't roam. This drive made me realize how truly stunning my home and native land is, even with the lights off.  

4) Relaxing at a Japanese spa theme park (2015): My excursion to Japan in 2015 was memorable for a number of reasons, the main one being I CLIMBED A FREAKIN' MOUNTAIN. But that is the expected answer. The following day was also legendary. It may take strength, fortitude and deep belief in one's self to accomplish climbing a 12,000+ ft peak, but it takes all of that and more to be stark bloomin' naked in front of dozens of staring strangers at a Japanese onsen.

3) Scavi Tour, Vatican (2011): Few people know of this very exclusive tour of the underground necropolis beneath Saint Peter's Basilica and even fewer get to go on it. By chance (and perhaps luck), my father and I had the opportunity. I am not religious but visiting a site with such rich history, and seeing the bones of the individual who is said to have spread the gospel of Christianity to the world after Jesus's crucifixion, was a very humbling experience.  

2) Riding for nearly 40 hours on a train from Beijing to Chengdu, China (2007): I've already documented this here, here and here. At the time, it felt like hell. The more I reflect though – and the more distance there is between me and that toilet – I realize what an immense learning experience it was. Everyone should take a long-distance train in a foreign country. It's a wonderful way to connect with locals. 

1) Taking this private tour through the DMZ, South Korea (2015): Every Christmas, I watch a Seth Rogan film. Don't ask me why. My life has just somehow evolved to watching stoner comedies during the holidays. In 2014, that film was 'The Interview'. Throughout that year, my interest in Korea (both North and South) was also peaking. After viewing it, I boldly booked airfare to Seoul along with the aforementioned tour. I didn't really know what to expect, and I do admit to second-guessing my decision in the weeks before traveling, but in the end it proved to be one of the greatest trips of my life. Seoul itself, I feel, is poised to be one of the world's dominant cities of influence. I would love to work there. If you are a recruiter, hit me up. Seriously. But THE particular moment that has put it on this list happened while visiting a hilltop South Korean army base. A shy recruit handed over his binoculars and motioned for me to look at a river down below. As I did this, I caught glimpse of members of the North Korean army patrolling its banks. I was floored. Here I was witnessing a moment of modern history. I then tried to peer at more of the mountainous, raw landscape sprawled out before me, eventually catching sight of a North Korean army base on the peak opposite. Through the lens, I observed a North Korean soldier looking right back at me. A shiver went down my spine. 

Me watching the sunrise over Japan from the summit of Mount Fuji. I CLIMBED A FREAKIN' MOUNTAIN (2015)!!!

Me watching the sunrise over Japan from the summit of Mount Fuji. I CLIMBED A FREAKIN' MOUNTAIN (2015)!!!

Christmas by Deborah Clague

This is a short story about my annual Christmas breakdown. Over the last three years, it has become an event that happens at random, at unexpected times and unexpected places. It is also nearly invisible to those around me; despite writing this public online journal about my life, I am very private and covert in person. Only those truly close to me ever suspect an emotional shift.  

Last year, it happened at work after I glanced up at my bulletin board and saw a picture of him. As it's right in the periphery line of vision of my computer screen, it is technically an image I see every day. Yet, last year I felt it. The weight of its meaning gave me pause as my breathing became heavy and I could feel my eyes well up with tears. I was having an anxiety attack. Thankfully, I have my own office and quickly closed the door to take a ten minute breather. 

Today, it happened in my car while waiting in a long drive-thru line at McDonalds. All afternoon I had been shopping with a friend, listening to them talk about their upcoming family gathering while observing other families out and about sharing moments and completing their Christmas shopping in tandem. After we parted ways, I knew I needed a junk food hit. The greasiest of burger, the saltiest of fries. Only this could provide comfort. After pulling in, it hit me. My lips quivered and the waterworks began. Good God, I miss my father. 

I don't really look forward to this season anymore. The emptiness of loss (and anger and sadness) is still there every. single. day. But in the week or so leading up to Christmas, it becomes amplified. And only those living it understand.

It really sucks.

It really sucks that my father will never meet my future husband or ever get to play with my future kids. I think that bothered him. It definitely bothers me. 

It really sucks that other people's happiness brings me down. I hate admitting this but I'm not above being human. It's a terrible thought to harbour and I feel great shame by it. It's not that I don't want their contentment to happen - most definitely not, it is what everyone deserves - just that I can't be 100% present in these moments because my mind is so clouded by envy. 

What doesn't suck though are small, serendipitous signs from the universe. After today's pathetic breakdown, I received a text from an old friend looking to reconnect. They, too, are still mourning the loss of their much loved mother. And my neighbour, an elderly widow, left a surprise gift at my doorstep of freshly-baked bread and cookies, inviting me for tea as she misses my company.

Perhaps these unexpected gestures were karma to detract from the negative one. 

That's the other thing about loss - those living it always look for meaning. I believe it is there. I am willing to search for it. I am not alone. 

And neither are you.