Archive for May, 2012

May 29, 2012

Choosing a New Bike.

I’m in the process of choosing a new bike, and I need your help!

Although I would really love a stable of bikes, so that I’d have one for every eventuality (wouldn’t we all?) I need to start with one.

Reasons for choosing a traditional bike:

1) I don’t get to ride very often and this is unlikely to change in the future, so I need to think about the kind of riding I do get to do

2) Most of the cycling I’ll get to do will be pottering around on local rides or riding with the kids as they learn. This is likely to be in local parks, trails and quiet areas.

3) Aesthetically, this kind of bike is really pleasing

4) I’ve always wanted one!

5) I still plan to get a more rugged hybrid kind of bike too, for things like trail riding with my husband, when I get the chance.

6) I would have a new bike by the time I go to Cycletta.

7) Cycletta is only one day. This bike would be for life.

Reasons not to get a bike like this:

1) They’re pretty, but how practical are they?

2) I wouldn’t really be able to ride it off-road very much.

3) How will I look at Cycletta on this kind of bike, surrounded by road bikes?

Hmm. Anyway, if we assume that I am going to get a traditional bike, I’m still stuck with indecision and this is where you come in.

Help me choose between these:

Pashley Princess Sovereign: This is the classic Pashley bike.

Pashley Brittania: This is based on a Princess, but it’s red!

Pashley Poppy: This is based on a Princess frame but with a straighter handlebar, no basket. It comes in this pale blue or a pastel pink.

Genesis CDF Cyclocross bike.

Finally, this is a bit of an odd inclusion, but I do love this bike. It’s a cyclocross bike so would be useful for any occasion but I’m not sure if I will like sitting forward in a road bike style. Mostly, I like it because it’s cornflower blue!

So what I want you to do is help me choose. A little disclaimer here, because I might not end up buying the one you pick, but it will help clarify my thoughts. Then I’m going to Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative (where the photos are from) to have a test ride and do some shopping!

May 28, 2012

Cookbook Challenge

Recently I made the rather startling discovery that I’ve amassed a collection of 64 cookbooks. They sit on shelves in the kitchen and sitting room gathering dust, while I reach for a jar of pesto again and again.

Cookbooks are clearly something of an addiction for me. The sheer beauty of them, the gorgeous photography and styling and the promise they offer of a slightly better life, if only you try some of their recipes, draws me in time and again. Yet, I rarely cook anything different. Partly because of a lack of time, partly because my kids are stuck in a place where they refuse to try new things to eat and partly because of the ease with which I get stuck in the pasta pesto routine.

So, in an attempt to make my ownership of 64 cookbooks seem a little more sensible (and urged on by some lovely Twitter friends) I’ve started a mini-challenge, which is to cook something from each of my cookbooks. Originally, the deadline was to cook 35 new things before the end of my 35:35 challenge. However, as I’ve realised that there is a distinct possibility that  I’m going to fail in my challenge (something I’m not thrilled about, but hey, that’s life) I have now given up on that self-imposed deadline and now I’m just going to try to cook something from each of them.

To record this, I’ve set up a Tumblr account which will just have a photo each time I cook something, together with the information about the book it is from.

I’m hoping that this will re-ignite my interest in food, get the kids to try some new things, improve my diet and health a bit and make far better use of my lovely organic veg box and home grown fruit and vegetables. I’ve completed about half a dozen recipes now, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m hoping to focus my attention on things that are relatively quick to make, so I can easily cook them in the evening after work, rather than only making an effort every so often. I want this to be the start of a longer term change in my cooking and eating habits and I’m hoping it will have a positive effect on the rest of my household too!

One thing I’ve noticed though, is how many books about baking I have and how weighted in favour of a handful of authors my collection is. I seem to have every book that Nigel Slater has written, and a fair collection of Nigella, Rachel Allen and Jamie Oliver books too. However, I have not a single book about Thai, Chinese or Malaysian cookery, something I only realised after searching in vain for a Beef Rendang recipe the other day. So, perhaps once I’ve legitimised my collection by actually using it, I can start to add to it and fill the gaps – starting with a book about Asian cookery.

If you’ve got any cookbook recommendations, do let me know. I’d love to hear from fellow cookbook addicts!

May 25, 2012

Versatile Blogger Award

I’ve won a Versatile Blog Award! I’ve been nominated twice for this award in recent weeks, and due to my extreme tardiness, am only getting around to writing this post now. So, a huge apology is required to the lovely folk at Willow Cottage Garden. Please go and visit their lovely blog now, to make up for me being a bit rubbish and late with this post, and also because they’re mad enough to be living in their garden with their kids this summer while some work is being done to their house. Oh, and they also write lovely blog posts about gardening, chickens, food, and all manner of ‘The Good Life’ loveliness. They’re ace.

Then, go and visit the multi-talented and all round Herman cake guru that is Catherine at For Bella and Will because she nominated me too.

I’m so grateful to them both for this – I think ‘Versatile’ is a very positive way of describing this blog, and given that I miss out on being a real part of the ‘mummy blogging’ community, because I don’t really blog about my kids, it’s nice to be recognised for something lovely.

So, a huge thank you to them.

There are rules about accepting this award. I might break them though. I have a habit of doing that.

Lets see:

Firstly I have to thank the people who nominated me.

Then I have to nominate 15 other people. Oh crikey. I don’t know 15 other blogs. Truthfully. Hmm.

Finally, I have to tell you seven things about myself.

Right. I can do this.

1: I am a Gemini. This proves useful on occasion, as my Mum uses it as a reason for accepting my scanner ways. Being a Gemini is like being a scanner, according to her. I often read my horoscope. When it suits me, I choose to believe it and when it doesn’t, I happily dismiss it. I’m fairly sure most of us do that though.

2: Many moons ago, I used to work as a riding instructor at a stables connected to a castle. Said castle was haunted, and the stableyard was right next to the family graveyard. When we used to do late night checks on the horses, we used to run around the yard at breakneck speed, just in case we bumped into the headless horseman. No-one ever did though.

3: I have a rubbish tattoo. I got it by accident when I went with a friend to get her nose pierced. She took so long deciding whether to go ahead with it or not, by the time we came out I was inked. I was only 17, and the place was a bit dodgy so it’s a rubbish tattoo. Still, if I ever need to be indentified, there will be a distinguishing feature. Every crime drama I’ve seen seems to suggest this will be a useful thing, so the rubbish tattoo stays.

4: I’m pretty sure I have one hip bigger than the other. If I ever get to know you well, I’ll show you and you can be the judge.

5: At Easter, when I was in the house on my own, I put my wedding dress on just for fun and got stuck in it. It’s not too small, I hasten to add, but I pulled the laces really tight and then couldn’t get it off again. Took me hours to finally extract myself. For a moment, I thought I’d have to go to Easter Sunday dinner wearing it.

6: Despite all the stories about people not knowing their neighbours these days, I am trusted with a spare set of keys and the alarm code to my neighbour’s house. I think this proves beyond all doubt that I am a Good Person.

7: I’ve had lots of cats in my life, yet I’ve never gone out to deliberately obtain a cat. They all arrive by accident. My latest arrived on holiday when my oldest friend was planning her emigration, and she’s never left. When she arrived, she was so scared of us she lived under a sofa, and now she yells at me all the time.

I’m sorry that I didn’t follow the rules of this award properly. One thing it has taught me is that I don’t have enough time for reading other blogs. So, I’ll be rectifying that soon. Still, at least you got to find out a bunch of stuff about me that I’ve not told you before…

May 23, 2012

Yves Rocher Skincare Review

Yves Rocher is a company that’s been in my peripheral vision for a long time. It’s the number one skin care brand in France, and that’s where I’ve seen it on sale when I’ve been on holiday, so I’ve not really been in the market for skin care purchases.  As a result of that, I’ve never tried any of their range until now, as they are expanding into the UK market and so can be bought by mail order.

The first of their products I’ve been using is the Derma Smoothing Day Moisturiser for sensitive skin. I have skin that I’d consider to be sensitive. I am allergic to a few things and my skin often flares up for no discernible reason, so I tend to look for products that are designed to deal with that. This moisturiser comes well packaged in a nicely designed tub with a pink lid. It has a fairly thick gel-cream texture and is unscented. This is to remove any irritants that people may find in perfumes, and leaves it with a pleasant enough, fairly neutral smell. I liked this cream. It does exactly what it sets out to do, offer good long-lasting moisture without irritating my skin. I’ve been using it regularly, and applying liberally, for a couple of weeks and there is still plenty left in the 50ml sized jar, so I think it offers really good value too. It doesn’t have an SPF, so you’d need to add one of those on top, and luckily Yves Rocher do a range of sun protection too!

The second product I have been using is their Precious Night Oil, which is part of the organic range. I love facial oils for my skin. As I get older, my skin has got drier and wrinklier (how lovely) and this oil, used in the evening after thoroughly cleansing, feels really nourishing. I loved the smell from the sweet orange oil it contains. This product contains extracts from five different plants; lavender, jojoba, petitgrain, sesame, and sweet orange. Again the product is nicely packaged, in recycled cardboard and feels like a good quality product. I have been using this for a couple of weeks each evening and my skin does feel as though it’s less dry. It’s a pleasure to use and again, it feels like really good value, considering how little is needed each time.

I’d definitely buy more products from this brand on the strength of these two. In fact, I’ve got my eye on some of their home spa products which look gorgeous…

May 21, 2012

One Night Away.

Occasionally I have to travel with my job and stay overnight in a hotel. Never fancy (and rightly so, I’m not on holiday!) the hotels are always clean, safe, centrally located and very, very anonymous. The kind of hotel where you could be anywhere. This anonymity extends to the bedrooms, which have usually got very little to tell you where in the country you are and instead focus your attention on the giant bed, small kettle and free wifi.

And I love it.

My own life is chaotic, filled with people, meetings, events, obligations, projects and people. I barely know what I’m doing from one day to the next. My house reflects that too. It’s really small and filled to the rafters with stuff. I’m often on the hunt for something that I put somewhere ‘really safe’ that has immediately gone missing and the clutter makes it an absolute haven for dust, which I never feel in the mood to deal with. As I sit here, in my bed, I can see a giant pile of laundry, a gift that needs wrapping, a stack of old magazines that I need to recycle, a pile of boxed chocolate eggs left over from Easter, a discarded trail of toys and my husband’s new road bike, which has been leaning against our bedroom wall since it arrived because he’s been waiting for cleats. I’m sure you can begin to see why that anonymous hotel room looks like a blessed retreat.

But for one night every few months, I get to stay in complete calm with only a handful of routinely organised possessions. Clothes on hangers, toiletries lined up as though a row of soldiers in the bathroom, and a book by my bed. Nothing else. It is heaven, even though either side of this hotel stay will have been back-to-back meetings; the reason I’m away in the first place. (As an aside, packing to go away overnight always makes me feel like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Remember, she had that skull-print vanity case? I love that film…)

Coming home, I almost feel refreshed, yet there is nothing like staying in a hotel to make me see my own house in a new light. It is small and cluttered. We do need to do some work to it, and I really, really need to deal with my magazine buying habit, because there are  high-rise piles of them all over the place, like some kind of paper city.

However, the main reason our house is cluttered is also the main reason I could never stay in a hotel for more than one night at a time. My children. They have a lot of stuff. From the contents of Christmas crackers to the free gifts on the covers of Cbeebies magazine, my daughter has amassed a remarkable assortment of small plastic bits of rubbish and my son is intent on filling the house with Thomas the Tank Engine toys. Not to mention the amounts of laundry they generate, food they drop everywhere and the art gallery’s worth of paintings adorning the kitchen wall. They’re a pair of professional mess-makers!

When I came home from work yesterday after my overnight stay away, my lovely son ran up to me in his t-shirt and pants (we’re potty training) and one sock, shouting ‘Mummy!’ and gave me a giant cuddle. After which he demanded ice cream and wandered off to play. At bed time, my wonderful daughter and I spent a long time talking about ‘nice things’ while I stroked her hair, before she went off to sleep.

I think perhaps I like the occasional hotel stay precisely because it is so different to my usual life. It offers a glimpse into what life might be like if I’d made different choices, reined in some of my own clutter creating tendencies, or not had my children. I get to lie on the bed and not see lot of stuff littering the room, or even go to the bathroom without someone hammering on the door! Not that I’m saying I’d be decorating my home like a hotel chain, but it is a more simplistic and organised feeling. But the truth is, that after one night of it, I would be bored. I’d miss my family too much and I’d miss my clutter!

Some of the clutter exists because of our projects, plans, hopes and dreams. It’s not all just old supermarket receipts and things that haven’t quite made it to the bin. Some of it is more important. It’s paintings the children did that will be framed and put on the wall. It’s travel brochures for places I long to visit. It’s my husband’s new bike that he will ride every Sunday morning, for his own version of freedom. It is our life.

A hotel room may be calm and tidy. But it is not a home…

May 16, 2012

A Weekend in Cambridge

Our main reason for going to Cambridge for the weekend was a visit to the Scott Polar Research Institute. My husband has long been fascinated by Captain Scott and I’m sure he’s becoming something of an expert on the subject of the ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’, around the start of the 20th Century. So it felt like a fitting birthday gift to go with him to see a special exhibition to commemorate the centenary of Scott’s death and see the the original documents, letters and artefacts from that final (and sadly fatal) expedition. Not the cheeriest of birthday treats, perhaps, but one that I knew he’d really appreciate. I’ve been resisting learning about Scott for a long while, as I’m sometimes a bit feeble and knowing the unhappy ending thought it wouldn’t really be for me. However, since watching A Great White Silence earlier this year, I’ve found myself being drawn to the story, despite myself!

The entrance to the Polar Institute has two beautiful illustrations in the domed roof, of the Arctic and Antarctic regions of the world. Although it’s not a huge place, it’s filled with extraordinary items. The exhibition we were there to see has now closed, but I imagine that it will reappear again one day, given how popular it was on the day we were there.

It took me precisely one cabinet of letters for me to well up with tears. The notes written by Lawrence Oates about the ponies they took with them were truly poignant as it showed that they were in no fit state to begin the journey, even though they would be killed and eaten, as planned, towards the end. As someone with a fascination about the relationship between people and horses (it was the subject of my equine science degree thesis), this one little pencil written note was the first of many that had me in tears.

Further into the exhibition were decorations for Christmas celebrations, notes from various excursions within the main expedition, pencil drawn illustrations, Herbert Ponting’s photographs, notes for books, and many, many letters home. The reindeer skin sleeping bag from which Oates climbed to leave the tent and walk fatally into the snow (with the words ‘I am just going outside and may be some time’) was there, which drew quite a lot more of my tears. As did the final letters written by Scott, Wilson and Bowers when they knew they would die and Scott’s diary, opened at the final, barely legible entry before his death.

Despite the tears, I’m so glad I was able to see this exhibition. It’s made me want to learn more about this period of great exploration and given me a new level of admiration for these remarkable men.

After all my tears, we needed some sustenance  and that all important cup of tea, and the great hive mind of Twitter had firmly pointed us in the direction of Fitzbillies. A Cambridge institution, Fitzbillies closed down for a period in 2011. Thankfully, it was taken over by food writer Tim Hayward who kept everything that had made it so special. I was there especially to hunt down the famous Chelsea buns. My previous experiences of Chelsea buns having just been from the supermarket, I was completely unprepared for the utter wonderfulness of these ones. Handmade, sticky with syrup and filled with raisins and cinnamon, I fell completely in love and ate two while we were there. I’m planning to buy more by mail order for my birthday. Mail order Chelsea buns! My life is complete…

The following day we went to the Fitzwilliam museum, which is far larger and more impressive than I’d imagined. With an imposing entrance hall, an eclectic collection of exhibits ranging from Egyptian mummies to German porcelain and classical music performances on a lunchtime, this is a really special museum and I’d like to revisit to see more of it.

As we are planning to join the Friends group of the Polar Research Institute, we will be back in Cambridge again. After all, because of all the rain, we didn’t get the chance to go punting on the Cam, which I’d still love to do! I loved this city. The combination of stunning University buildings, great food, cultural highlights and cyclist friendly streets made for a great weekend break. I’d recommend it.

May 14, 2012

Running Without Music

Recently, I wrote my first guest post for a fabulous blog, A Hell of A Woman, about running and pre-eclampsia. Since I wrote it, I’ve been feeling a bit of a fraud, considering that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been out for a run in recent months. I can give you lots of reasons why, from lack of time to sore feet, but the overwhelming reason is my sheer bloody laziness.

Having written it, and sent it flying through the ether where I cannot change a word of it, I have taken the other option. That of starting running again, so that I’m not a liar who writes about running whilst sitting on the sofa drinking tea. I’ve been twice this week, and although I’m obviously a lot less fit than the last time I ran, I’ve enjoyed myself more than I anticipated. It’s made me want to try harder to find the time to run and to beat my own excuses for not doing exercise. I struggle with running, because I do have plantar fasciitis, which gives me a shooting pain up into my foot each time I land, but it’s being managed by physio and, if I’m honest with myself about it, it’s far easier to manage when I’m slimmer and fitter.

When I run outside, I always use my Ipod (safely; off road, in public and during the day, before you start tutting at me) to keep me going. Sadly, this was inside the bag that I had stolen recently, and although I received insurance compensation, I ended up spending my new iPod money on ballet lessons for my daughter. So I’ve earned myself much-coveted ‘Good Mummy’ brownie points, but I’ve had no music.

I never thought that I was much of a music fan. Certainly I barely know what is going on in music these days, either the ‘X Factor’ stuff or the cool, indie underground so-new-no-one-knows-about-them bands. Most of the time I end up listening to Radio 2, or whatever the kids want to listen to, a mix of Disney and LMFAO which is enough to make your ears bleed! For a brief period many years ago, I had a deeper fascination with music. I’m talking a LONG time ago, back when I used to buy Smash Hits to memorise the lyrics and try to tape the Top 40 countdown without getting any of the DJ talking at the end of each track. That took plenty of dedication and swift ‘press the pause button’ responses, I can tell you. I doubt I’d have such lightening fast reactions these days.

I’ve realised though, since losing my iPod, that I listen to music far more often than I’d realised and so I do need to replace it. I miss music, in my own middle-of-the road not very cool kind of way. (Perhaps I am cool though, those eighties and early nineties Smash Hits have left me able to sing along to almost any song from that period, which drives my husband up the wall!)

The one thing I thought I needed music for, above anything else, was for exercise. I listen to the kind of dance and pop music that my daughter loves, because the tempo is better. Also, I do love pop music, I cannot continue to pretend otherwise. (Ok, I’m not cool. I know that really…)

I run off road, and so don’t suffer from the kind of ‘ Run, Forrest, Run!’ type comments that people who run on the roads often have to contend with. However, being able to block out even that possibility was one of the reasons I’ve always worn headphones when I’m running alone. In company, it’s a bit different. I’m usually running with, or more accurately, behind, my husband then and busy concentrating all my energies on swearing at him to bloody slow down.

I’ve realised a few things when out running this week. Firstly, not listening to music meant I was listening to birdsong instead. This was actually really lovely and made me feel more a part of the environment I was running through, which was a truly positive feeling and one of the ace things about being outside and not in a gym. When I’m out with my husband, we chat, when I can breathe enough anyway, so I never really listen to the birds.

Unfortunately, I also realised that I talk to myself a lot when I’m running. On my run yesterday, it started off with the odd ‘come on’ whisper when I was struggling a bit. But when I was reaching the top of a horrible hill, there were distinct Incredible Hulk noises coming from somewhere deep inside me, until I reached the top and keeled over heaving, like an out of condition racehorse.

I was a bit shocked to hear myself so now I’m wondering if I always make these noises? Am I blithely running about with my headphones in, grunting all over Temple Newsam? Do I sing aloud? Dear God – can other people hear me?

So, I have decided, that lovely though the birdsong was, it is definitely time to invest in a new iPod. Maybe when I’m out running with my husband, I will try to listen to the birds. Running alone without music is a bit like being a character in a film with no soundtrack and that soundtrack needs to come back. I may be grunting, singing and heaving on the outside, but in my head I’m Rocky Balboa, listening to ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and feeling like a champion…

May 11, 2012

Coffee in Rome and in Leeds

I used to think that I didn’t like coffee. I’m a tea drinker, and although I love the smell of coffee, the taste has always disappointed, often bitter and with a lingering aftertaste that I hated.  It turns out that what I dislike is bad coffee. In Rome, I was presented with a giant bowl of latte as part of breakfast every day and I loved it. Spurred on by this, we hunted down several espresso bars during our trip to try them out.

One of my favourites was right next door to the Pantheon. Called Caffe Tazza D’Oro, this bar was full of burnished wood, brass fittings and regular local customers alongside us tourists. It’s a well known place and was bustling with customers on our visit, so had a great atmosphere. You paid at the till, then took your ticket to the bar where your coffee was made fresh to order. I loved it, especially watching how the coffee was made and it’s given me something of a taste for espresso as well as a curiosity about how great coffee is made.

Luckily, the city I live in is undergoing something of a coffee renaissance. Several independent coffee places have opened up in recent months and years and they’re serving great coffee. I had my first coffee back in Leeds after my Rome trip at Brewbar Espresso and it was made with obvious care, beautifully presented and lovely to drink, without any hint of the bitter aftertaste that has put me off coffee in the past. Each coffee place in Leeds has their own unique twist and I’m going to do a proper review of them all in another post, after I’ve been on a coffee crawl! In the meantime, you could read this great review from Mondomulia, who went on the first Leeds Coffee Crawl, here.

I’m always going to be a tea drinker, but now coffee has turned into another option, rather than something I would completely avoid. Having never, ever had coffee from a chain like Starbucks (something I’m actually a bit proud of, considering their dominance over the market) I am very happy that Leeds now has an independent option, where coffee is made and served by people who have a passion for what they are doing and want to spend time chatting with you about the coffee they are serving. It’s the start of an education for me, and I’m looking forward to learning more.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hunt down the prices for a coffee making master class and a machine for my kitchen…

May 8, 2012

My 35:35 Challenge: A Month to Go…

As I write this, there is a month to go until my self-imposed 35:35 Challenge deadline and it’s looking as though I might not complete it, as I have eight challenges left, and not many ideas booked in, or much money to spend on it!

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this recently, because although the Challenge is meaningless to everyone else, it has structured the whole of  last year for me.  It has made me say ‘yes’ to things where previously I might have said ‘no’. It’s made me braver, as I often find myself in places on my own and a bit out of my depth. It’s led me to new places, to new situations and to lots of new people. I am hopeful that a handful of those people might even become real friends. So, in short, it’s changed my life.

So, it shouldn’t matter if I don’t get to 35 things. The changes that have taken place within me will continue once my birthday is over. I’m still more likely to say yes than I ever was and be brave about trying things even if that means I have to sit at a table on my own, too scared to approach other people before being feeble and running away (which has happened).

It does matter though. It matters to me that I get to 35 things. It matters to me that I finish something. I rarely finish things, you see, and I want to finish this. One of my strengths is that I’ve always been really excited about what is new. What’s next. Planning, learning, researching – those are the things I love. It’s part of being a scanner. However, I know that my weakness is staying the course. Finishing things off is tedious and often dull, especially with the prospect of something shiny and new on the horizon. And there always is something shiny and new, because I’m interested in everything. Actually, not everything – computer games, Formula 1 and golf are rare things that I have no time for. Everything else though…

It doesn’t matter usually because once I learnt to accept who I was and what my personality is like (which took a long time and used up a lot of tears) I realised that I don’t have to finish things. Very often, once I have learnt what I want to learn about a subject, I’ll happily move on. Sometimes I return to that subject at a later date, sometimes it’s a one-time-only affair and I never look back.

Yet, I’m going to try, for once, to finish something. Even if I get to the end and the things I do are a bit small, or a bit dull, I’m going to finish it, just because part of being a grown up is learning to push yourself a bit, I think and let’s face it, if my last eight things could all potentially be ‘cakes-I’ve-never-eaten-before’, it’s hardly going to be uncomfortable, is it?

One of the reasons I’m going to try to finish, is because I’ve been re-reading one of the best books I’ve EVER read, ‘What do I do When I Want To Do Everything?’ by Barbara Sher. In one of the chapters, entitled ‘I Never Finish Anything’, Sher says that it is important to know how to finish a project, even if you feel like walking away, because one day you’ll have a project you want to finish (and I don’t mean at work, where I have no choice!) and you’ll need the tools to help you do that. So, this is my attempt to learn.

So, wish me luck, and if you happen to live in Leeds, and have something you think I’d like to try ( for free or very cheap) before my birthday Challenge deadline, please do give me a shout. Even if you want to be my partner in a ‘cakes-I’ve-never-eaten-before’ marathon eating day…

This is a cake I ate for the first time last week – triple chocolate brownie with salted caramel ice cream and popcorn, from Create. It was very special.

PS: My birthday is on 6th June, which I recently found out is the same day as Captain Scott’s birthday. This pleases me enormously.  Please send cake.

May 4, 2012

Kayaking on Coniston Water

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything physical for my 35:35 Challenge and I’ve really missed it. Thankfully, my friends are fabulous, and so last Wednesday, I tried my hand at kayaking on Coniston Water in the Lake District.

My lovely friend Hillary has already given me loads of support and last year, gave me a drumming lesson. Honestly, she drums, she kayaks, she’s the co-conspirator on Eating Adventures (which involves taking a bunch of work friends to a different foodie place in Leeds each month) and she makes the best flapjacks I’ve ever eaten.  She’s a total inspiration and I am very glad that she’s my friend. If you’re not following her on Twitter, you should be (@hilltux). Anyway, we loaded up her car with her two sea kayaks and set off for the Lake District early last Wednesday morning, with the skies above already looking a bit grey and forbidding.

                                                                                          Kayaks and drums. Pretty cool.

Once we got there, we got the kayaks ready and then dressed ourselves for the occasion. I was happy to learn how to get the kayak ready – I really enjoy the feeling of being capable and learning something practical and it’s been a while since I’ve had that opportunity.

                                                                                          I look good, no?

Despite spending every childhood summer in Cowes on the Isle of Wight,  I’ve never done any kind of watersport at all, so it was with a palpable sense of trepidation that I approached the water. With help, I clambered somewhat inelegantly into the small space inside the kayak and pushed off into the water with Hillary in her kayak close behind. By this point, those grey clouds had become darker and the wind was starting to increase. This hadn’t stopped a school party from getting into rowing boats though, so I thought I was safe enough.

There are no photos of me in the kayak, so you ‘re just going to have to take my word for it that I was there! Thankfully, my phone wouldn’t fit into the pocket in my jacket – for a brief moment I contemplated it, which just shows you how attached I am to the damn thing.

Although the sea kayak is bigger than the one I saw later on my weekend visit to Cambridge (which will be the subject for another post) to me it felt tiny and a little claustrophobic. The waves on the water, created by the wind, made me feel as though I was going to instantly capsize and I used my foot rests to brace myself more than I think was really necessary. I’ve been reading a book called ‘A Boat in Our Baggage’, by Maria Coffey to be inspired beforehand and it’s amazing to think that two people kayaked around the world in something little bigger than the kayak I was sat in.

We set off, with Hillary shouting instruction to help me sort out my paddling skills. You have to put the paddle in the water so that it glides, rather than letting it get too deep into the water. It took me a while to work it out.  Unfortunately, we were increasingly being hampered by the wind which was trying to dictate the direction we travelled in and the waves that wind was creating.

We made our way to the other side of the lake, realising that in the difficult weather conditions we were unlikely to do anything intrepid like cross the whole lake and I started to feel more comfortable in the kayak. Heading into the waves, instead of meeting them side on made me feel more in control and less likely to capsize.

Until I capsized.

I cannot begin to tell you what happened. One second I was sitting upright in the water and the next, with a brief ‘ooh’, I was under the water. Thankfully, everything happened as it was supposed to, and it wasn’t long before I was on the surface of the water gasping at the cold and the shock. A good job that phone wasn’t in my pocket, eh? I managed, with Hillary’s help, to swim to the shore, where we looked at our choices. I could either walk around the edge of the lake to meet Hillary at the car-park, wait where I was for her to paddle back and then drive round to meet me, or get back in the kayak and paddle back myself. It was freeing cold and so I picked the final option. After all, the movement of paddling would keep me warmer and the chance of me falling in again felt pretty slim. I got back in, after tipping out the water, and we set off. I felt fine really. To be honest, facing the thing that I’d been scared of, I thought that the worst had happened.

Then I capsized again…

Ok, by this time I’d had enough. Again, I came up from under the kayak easily enough, and again I swam to the shore. The edge of the water was really shallow but I was tired and cold, slipping all over the rocks and being a bit feeble. I sat on the rocks and we decided on plan B. Hillary set off in her kayak and I watched, shivering, as she slowly made her way across the water, battling the wind and the waves, to the other edge of the lake and the carpark.

It felt like forever before she came back, wielding a giant blanket to wrap me in. We made our way back to her car and I stripped in the carpark, covered in the aforementioned blanket, and got into some dry clothing. Then, sitting in the front seat of the car, I realised I couldn’t feel my feet. Really couldn’t feel them. I mentioned to Hillary that my feet looked like the toe-tagged corpse in every TV crime drama I’ve ever seen. She peered over and then said ‘it’s amazing how quickly the body starts to shut down, isn’t it?’

Erm…not the body. My body! My feet were dead. Thankfully, after quite a long and painful blasting with the in-car heaters, they slowly came back to life.

Even though this was a real challenge, I’d do it again. In better, calmer weather conditions, I can imagine it being a really peaceful way to spend time on the water and I was getting used to the feeling of  losing the bottom half of my body as I knew it, and gaining a bottom half that was a kayak. That might not make sense, but it’s how it feels.

I should also point out before I finish this post, as I came up from the water the first time I fell in, Hillary was readying herself to jump in and rescue me. Like I say, I’m very grateful to have her as my friend…