Glastonbury here I come…

June 26, 2013

..when I’ve finished writing lists that is.

I can’t wait! Danny has been there for a week already; helping to build the many bars that will serve pints and pints of beer to the 170,000 people who are limbering up to descend on this corner of Somerset over the next few days.

Glastonbury  set up: flowers and tents

Those pretty flowers won’t stand a chance…

It is an extraordinary event – a veritable town constructed in the middle of otherwise peaceful farmers fields, all for one long weekend of revelry and mayhem. It takes a good half hour to walk from one side of the site to the other and that’s now, before the crowds arrive to slow you down. It’s an astonishing transformation that happens because of the 30,000 people involved in the staging and set up of Glastonbury.

Glastonbury set up: tent pegs

Since time immemorial humans have held festivals; spectacular occasions at which to rejoice in the delights of being alive. Festivals are about escapism and celebration and I’m definitely up for both. I think I’ve loved parties (or at least the idea of them!) ever since my 6th or 7th birthday which was crowned with a 3D polystyrene fairy castle with lights in the turrets, built for me by my Dad. And now I can’t wait to go to Glastonbury with all its spires and magical kingdoms.

Glastonbury tree spraying

I have no idea…

I haven’t been since having the girls 12 years ago. More recently we’ve diverted our festival attention to family-focussed, smaller festivals like Green Man, Latitude, Truck and the tiniest and bestest of all: Wood Festival – yay!

But now the girls are getting a bit older and we can leave them on their own with tins of beans we’ve begun to sneak off for occasional grown-up festival moments. Last September we went to Portmeirion for Festival No. 6. which was absolutely fab, bar camping on a hill which I really don’t recommend.

Portmeirion festival no6 w/s

Portmeirion is very special to me, having spent many childhood Summer holidays in nearby Portmadog. We’d make an annual pilgrimage to Portmeirion village via the ‘train bach‘ and a secret over-the-fence back entrance that has long since been closed up. Walks in the woods, on the beach and in, out and around the wonderful architecture of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. All this first fuelled my love of quirkiness in all its glorious forms.

If you haven’t been to Portmeirion please put it on your list of essential places to visit. It is spectacular and wondrous. If you don’t believe me, then follow all the hollywood stars, famous authors, top musicians and King Zog of Albania, all of whom have stayed here since the 1920s.

Portmeirion village

Just like Portmeirion, the thing I am most looking forward to at Glastonbury is the crazy architecture and the make-believe worlds which here will only exist for a few short, heady days. I hear tales of Block 9 with derelict buildings, abandoned New York cabs and a tube train, jostling for attention with the Unfairground – another dystopia built with plywood, paint and heaps of creativity.  Strange landscapes looming out of the countryside, that will only come alive at night once the live music finally subsides. I can’t wait. I think perhaps I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve done something in this kind of world, had life taken different turns. But I’m very happy to enjoy the magic rather than create it.

Glastonbury sign at night

Glastonbury in lights. Quilted lights of course.

And there are a few favourite haunts of old to revisit. The Tiny Tea tent in the Green Fields will be a daily destination for, err, tea. And now that I don’t drink alcohol it might be my bar of choice rather than the cider bus. This Glastonbury will doubtless be a very different experience for me because of the absence of booze, though none the worse I’m quite sure. I daresay some things will stay the same – like the mud and the toilets however I don’t think the grass will talk to me this time.

Glastonbury meeting place

In two days time there’ll be a thousand people on this spot alone…

And if the toilets are all too much without the numbing effects of drink then I’m in the luxurious position of being able to retreat to staff quarters. Danny and co. are working (hard I might say, 12 hour days mostly) for Avalon who provide many of the bars and the hospitality, so we camp in their staff enclosure complete with showers and toilets, which based on past experience will mostly work and mostly contain toilet roll. What more could a girl want. Not much actually; I’m quite happy to slum it and I definitely don’t need a hairdryer or an iron. It’s not a wedding is it?

Glastonbury Tiny Tea Tent

The Tiny Tea Tent takes shape

Being builders and seasoned Glastonbury workers, Danny’s gang have honed the art of a top-notch camp that is the envy of other crews on site. A well-equipped kitchen with fridge-freezer, stereo system and communal dining table all await. Torquay Mark is camp chef, turning out risotto, cheesecake and not a burnt sausage in sight. This year they’ve thankfully rejected the widescreen tv that invaded their camp for one year only! I kid you not: last year one of their number was found watching the bands on telly rather than going to see them play live in the next field. Oh so wrong!

Glastonbury camp

Camp Glastonbury

Slightly bizarrely perhaps, the music is a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve never chosen a particular festival because x, y, or z band are playing, though of course I won’t go to a festival that favours music I don’t like. But I go for the event itself, for the joy of it, to spend time with friends, play with the kids and see some great music at the same time. It is also true that as I ahem, mature, I have less and less idea who any of the bands are anyway. My first look at the line up for Glastonbury and I was a bit lost after the Rolling Stones and a handful of others. So it’s lucky that I like a surprise.

All I seek is my ‘festival highlight’ – it’s a quest, a mission of mine to experience at least one special moment and I haven’t yet been to a festival that has failed to deliver. We always find great musical moments though often not by the bands we expected greatness from. Gotan Project, Tunng, Gruff Rhys (thank you very much), John Grant, New Order, Future Islands – these have all been surprise highlights from past festivals.

Glastonbury bar building

I have high hopes that this expedition to Glastonbury will be no different and I can’t wait to experience it all through new, clear eyes. Mind you, with the organisation and planning that’s involved in getting me out of the house, my eyes will still be bleary, just for different reasons.

Honestly, will all you parents who are reading this please take a moment to congratulate yourselves for all that you do in the name of parenting. Writing detailed notes regarding the girls commitments for just a few days is like writing military manouvers and it makes me realise exactly how much is involved in this parenting game. So really, well done to all of us. Three cheers!

Glastonbury flags

What’s a festival without flags?

And while I’m here I offer another big cheer to the grandparents without whom I would not be going at all. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And to those lovely girls who will be entertaining themselves and their grandparents for the long weekend without us. Love you X

So just before I go and pack my essential festival sparkle and wellies (actually my wellies have sparkle), here are a few random festival camping tips from the bottom of our rucksack, just for you:

1. Wet wipes, take loads of wet wipes. And carry them round with you…

2. Take clothes for cold weather. Unless it’s a scorcher the evenings will still get cold.

3. Don’t try and fold your sleeping bag neatly – stuff it in the bag. It’s the best way and it’s very satisfying when we spend most of our lives trying to create order from chaos!

4. Boys; please don’t wee up the perimeter fences. Someone has to dismantle them afterwards.

5. Take an edible treat or two. A couple of bars of lovely chocolate can brighten the dullest day.

6. Snuggle up close with your valuables.

7. Pack your festival skirt. And wear it. Whatever the weather.

silver skirt

Told you I needed it.

See you on the other side…

Advertisements

“A bargain, a bargain…

June 21, 2013

..there’s nothing like a bargain;

Give me six for three, or four for the price of two…

There’s nothing takes your money like a bargain!”

Lyrics from “A Bargain” by Mr Boom, Scottish folk singer

I’ve been spending rather too much time (and money) in the local charity shops recently. Nothing new there as my friends will attest, but after buying another two unmissable bargain jackets on Monday I’m beginning to make myself feel a little sickened by my own excess.

And while this excessive spending is going on I’m also being dripfed information about better, more sustainable living. It’s coming at me from many angles and I’m hearing it loud and clear!

I like the two jackets, they are good buys and I’m sure I’ll wear them, but I far from need them and they’ll join a growing collection of lovely-bargain-secondhand-couldn’t-resist-won’t-see-the-like-again-fits-perfectly-only-£3.50-each jackets that I have hanging in my Danny’s, wardrobe.

And at the same time there’s a slowly expanding bin bag of clothes I’m getting ready to take to the aforementioned charity shops, in order to replenish their now dwindled stock. There’s obviously a nice cycle going on here but symbiotic though it is, on another level it’s not that healthy. And at the end of the day I’m not sure I’m ahead, except perhaps in jackets.

In the last couple of weeks alone and alongside secondhand clothes I have also – okay this is confession time – acquired:

collage of recent bargain purchases

  • One black urn/vase. £4. Laughter and mirth from friends who decide I’ve bought my own funeral urn. Turns out to be Wedgwood and rather nice. Smaller version on ebay for £88. Who’s laughing now?
  • Two ‘chalk’ pens in fluoro colours £1.60 each (yellow one matches the kitchen shelf of course), reduced in WHSmith and suitable for writing on…
  • One ornate white plaster picture frame with chalk board (slightly damaged) from Roman Road market. £10. Bargain? Maybe, but where’s it going to hang?
  • Six ‘silver’ (EPNS) table/serving spoons in a bundle from carboot sale. £3. I’ve actually needed some of these for over a year. Honest.
  • One small side plate featuring cross-channel ferries. 50p. Will work well with industrial machinery placemats and oil rig coasters I already have. Have re-arranged the crockery shelf to accommodate.
  • One pack of badges featuring cartoon eyes. 50p. Small. Good. Shall I wear on a jacket or leave in the packet?
  • One pair unworn black converse trainers for Elsa from carboot sale. £4. Result.
  • Set of six Terry Thomas DVDs £5 and secondhand book on farting £1, both for Father’s Day and from the carboot sale. That’s how cheap we are!

So you get the picture. Oh but wait, I’m withholding vital evidence from the trial, me Lud. On top of all this I actually bought a NEW item of clothing, which I hardly ever do. I blame this particular blip on my friend Rachel who MADE me go shopping with her! Having sat in a changing room for 2 hours to help her re-vamp her flagging wardrobe, I practically ran to Monki afterwards – my favourite/only high street shop destination of the moment, which has a bloomin’ sale on and so I bought a silver skirt, reduced to £12. It was the only one left/a bargain/perfect festival wear – take your pick, all applied at the time. 

silver skirt

Exhibit A

I really do like curating objects and clothes, and what I wear and what I collect is a reflection of me. And it matters to me. However when I’m once again trying to squeeze things into corners of the house and am putting things out in order to make space, then the value of these purchases becomes very questionable. Oh and just ask Alice what she thinks about my extensive ‘bargain wardobe’ in the mornings when I’m faffing about trying to decide what to wear. For the school run. Sigh.

I know that some people (though not many people I know) will be laughing into their Gucci handbags at my idea of excess, but it IS excessive to keep buying stuff I really don’t need just because it temporarily lightens my day and satisfies some other imaginary need.

If I compare my consumption with that of my Grandma it is as though we’re from completely different times, not just a couple of generations apart. It feels like an after effect of the Second World War. Maybe we, as a society, went on a shopping spree to celebrate and we just haven’t stopped buying since; buoyed up by ever-increasing (until now) relative amounts of disposable income.

And consumption and acquisition have become irrevocably linked to identity. Once our basic psychological needs are satisfied, we seek ‘higher’ forms of satisfaction, such as the desire to be identified as an individual; unique, different, better than those around us and it seems that we (I) often achieve this through spending money rather than other, more productive creative means. It’s probably an inevitable aspect of a capitalist society in which the primary concern is for individual wellbeing, not that of society and the earth itself. But it ain’t good.

And to get properly gloomy for a moment – while I’m here I may as well lay out my complete apocalyptic thesis of doom – while I believe that capitalism is a deeply flawed system that is slowly beginning to unravel, it’s going to take a lot longer before it completely fails. I don’t think we’ve learned much from the recent financial crises – nothing much has changed and I think we’ll have our hand forced before we take the drastic action required to save us from ourselves. The World is changing, irrevocably and I sincerely hope we come out the other side stronger and better. I also hope that the journey to ‘the other side’ is not too painful.

I don’t think we will ever return to the same level of wealth that we’ve had until recently. And rightly so, frankly. We need to get to a point where clothes, goods, flights etc. cost what they should, based the amount of labour, resources and processes involved in producing them. In that way we will limit their consumption to a more sustainable level.

Blimey, I have to take a break here to say that I can’t believe I’m writing all this. Last week I was blogging about mangoes for goodness sake. But it’s the joy of blogging and this post is a reflection of what is preoccupying my charity shop of a mind right now. I’m not massively bright or politically aware, so you’ll be able to argue, pick holes and find far more eloquent accounts about the current state of the World we live in than this effort, but it’s what I know (or believe) in my gut, to be true.

Ultimately of course I hope I’m completely wrong. There’s another part of me that recognises that throughout history human beings have had something terrible, a demon, to dwell and focus on and that perhaps my fear is just that; the modern monster, the current trendy apocolyptic terror for those of us who can afford to seek an abstract fear.

But really – I shouldn’t be able to buy a silver skirt for £12 should I? And if it’s available for that price I shouldn’t buy it, should I? But I am weak and I am a magpie and I am indoctrinated and so I bought that skirt and played my part. But this isn’t a tale of complete doom. In writing this I also acknowledge a possible key to change.

If I believe that we are all culpable by our small wanton acts, for the current mess we’re in then presumably I must also believe that we can all influence it for the better as well, if we make some changes. Small, positive steps by each of us can contribute to a much better story for the future. What we can’t do is devolve ourselves of all responsibility for the mess or for solving it.

Our friend Lucy suggested to me that we ‘start by planting a lettuce in a window box’. She’s right; small steps lead to big changes. We do all have the ability to contribute and we should all do our bit to change the world we live in for the better. But it’s a small step and I must sign up to more than a couple of homegrown lettuces.

lettuces and strawberry plant collage

To help us get to a better place there are growing numbers of people and groups who are leading by example and showing us the positive steps we can take towards a better, healthier and more sustainable way of living. The clamour for a different way of life is growing and I hope it gets so loud we can’t ignore it, though I realise we’re a long way off that yet.

So here are the inspiring articles and happenings that crossed my path this week. Mere morsels to whet your appetite…

1. Guardian article: Transition Towns

2. BBC News article: food swapping

3. JoJo Tulloh‘s new book “The Modern Peasant’: a veritable feast of edible essays on sustainable food production in an urban environment. JoJo spoke at my local WI meeting at which there was also a food swap. My first taste of the WI – inspiring and enlightening.

4. Observer article: Britain’s New Peasants down on the Farm

Have a read of the articles, look around and see what’s happening in your area and maybe you’ll be inspired like me, because it’s not hopeless. It can’t be.

Disclaimer: I’m sure I’ll be reporting from the charity shops again before long, for this is no overnight conversion. But I’m beginning to act with a little more conscience and I won’t be buying any more silver skirts. Oh and if next week I’m blogging about Gucci handbags then batton down the hatches: there is no hope.

Ain’t no sunshine when you’ve gone…

June 14, 2013

In the absence of proper sun in the sky, it falls upon each of us to create some of our own, for life is no good without it.

At Alice’s school some of the children have created some much needed sunshine on the walls and it is a bright and cheery sight indeed…

kids sunflower painting collage

Meanwhile at home we’ve achieved our own major success, with help from a boxful of these…

box of alphonso mangoes

I like mangoes ALL the time, but life is truly enhanced in Spring and early Summer when two of the best mango varieties, which also happen to have two of the shortest seasons, arrive in town.

For a few short weeks in the Spring and early Summer, boxes of them are stacked up outside our local Asian supermarkets. Life is indeed brightened by their presence. The mango carnival has arrived, in my head anyway. First up are the all-singing, all-dancing Alphonsos and they are followed, heel hot, by the equally delicious, slightly more diminutive Honey mangoes.

You can’t buy either variety singly; not easily anyway, but who’d only want to buy just one of these anyhow? Their flesh is fragrant, sweet, juicy, velvety and totally irresistable; a boxful lasts a mere few days around here.  Last weekend we bought a precious box of Alphonsos from the legendary Taj Stores in Brick Lane and in the car on the way home as the anticipation grew, so their sweet scent wafted through from the boot to us in the front. Mmmm…

Opening a box of Alphonsos is like opening a Christmas present. Actually it’s better because you KNOW you’re going to love what’s inside. There’s a little bit of friction on lifting the lid, as if it’s reluctant to give up the treasure within, but once off there’s just a rough tissue paper cover between you and the golden jewels inside. Each fruit is carefully wrapped in its own newspaper nest, protected for the long journey from India to East End.

mangoes in paper

Usually I might say, I try to shop mindfully – I shop locally, use supermarkets infrequently and minimise food miles when I can. I also love the seasonality of food, so currently we’re also enjoying the delights of English asparagus and peas. Incidentally, earlier this week I made a delicious rapeseed mayonnaise or ‘rouille’; recipe via the Guardian, in which to dip our asparagus spears. Yum. And it’s still going strong – salad, sandwiches and supper all covered alongside a simple cooked chicken. Cooks notes: extreme patience needed for adding the oil drop by drop. And though it seems like a lot of oil it’s just right.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, I’m afraid my best efforts with food miles and local produce fly completely out of the window when the Alphonso and Honey mangoes arrive. I am definitely no saint and they are certainly a guilty pleasure.

Of course there are many delicious things you can cook and create with mangoes. Pork and mango is a great combination and mango salads are delish as are mango creams. Such dishes feature at discerning restaurants at this time of year. But in my opinion the BEST way to eat these sweet and succulent beauties is in the privacy of your own home, where you can bask in the full glory and wonder of their un-adorned flesh.

Alphonso mango flesh is sliced away from the stone, after peeling in my book. This is usually a slippery and none too elegant affair, but the resulting heap is absolutely delectable. Eat straight off the board – I do – or if you’re really restrained, transfer to a bowl, for a modicum of decorum before devouring.

A unique preparation technique for honey mangoes adds another layer of excitement and keeps everything together; until you get it near your mouth, that is. Select your fruit and (after giving it a good, deep, appreciative sniff) slice in half across its middle and around the thin stone. Twist the two cut halves in opposite directions and one half of the mango will pull away. Twist and remove the slippery stone from the other half (elegance matters not) and then simply spoon the sweet flesh straight into your expectant, drooling mouth.

mango half and spoon

Bliss.

And when you’ve finished spooning the succulent flesh into your mouth, there is still one final treat in store – as if it could get any better. Pick up your mango stone, pop it in your mouth and suck. The juiciest, sweetest flesh clings to the stone and it is your duty to leave none; not one juicy vestige, behind.

Sinfully gorgeous, it is essential to end up with juice running down your arm and a big, sweet grin on your face!

You may also find you are left with a mostly dry and slightly hairy stone. With the addition of some felt pen eyes this can be turned into a temporary pet for the children to enjoy. Honey the hamster always enjoys her short time with us. Of course she can’t stay very long though…

And when you’ve finally finished, rather than wipe any juicy dribbles away or heaven forbid, wash them off; why not just rub them in – mango is known for its skin-replenishing properties, you know. Hurrah!

Pile of Alphonso mango flesh on chopping board

No self-respecting restaurant would allow you to indulge in this kind of behaviour. Well they could, but they won’t, so this is a fine example of home food prep (I can hardly call it cooking) outgunning even the classiest restaurant.

So that means that as well as everything else, eating these delights at home actually SAVES you the expense of a posh night out!

Now, I’m sorry to bring the tone down at this point, but I feel that amid this joy we must spare a thought for a group of sad individuals who, according to our learned friend Rod, suffer a strain of dermatitis that arises from skin contact with mangoes. These tragic souls come out in a nasty rash, bless ’em. Mind you Rod assures us that they can still eat mango, so long as it doesn’t touch the sides on the way in. Where there’s a will there’s a way, I say.

So there we have it; my suggested sunshine substitute. I utterly, utterly recommend, encourage and cajole you to seek out your nearest Asian supermarket or greengrocer and find out what the fuss is about for yourself. I know you have to buy a boxful, but I promise you won’t regret it; why not share the love with your friends and neighbours.

The Alphonso season only lasts a couple more weeks, then the honey mangoes will arrive for even less time. So hurry, while stocks last! Between these two delectable fruits we should be kept in sunshine through much of this miserable season that is, or at least may be, our summer. And should the sun actually come out then you can enjoy these little beauties outside, in the sun. Even more heavenly.

Very important note. Please, please, don’t be under any illusion that the average supermarket mango is an adequate substitute for this slice of heaven.

It. Is. Not.

Why not let us know how you get on AND share your top tips for bringing some much-needed sunshine into your life.

Happy weekend everyone.

poppy in the gutter

Finally and by way of a special bonus I offer you my secret recipe for an instant and really cheap holiday – we all need one of those from time to time. When going to bed switch your sheets and pillows round and sleep at the other end. In the morning you’ll awake in unfamiliar surroundings and for a few blissful seconds, you’ll think you’re on holiday. Joy.

Cybher 2013. A grand day out…

June 6, 2013

Saturday was Cybher Day, the women bloggers conference that I first wrote about last week with mounting trepidation.

On the day it was end to end fab. Of course. All my pre-conference nerves were un-founded. Of course. Everyone was lovely. Of course. And I learned loads. Of course. It’s easy to know all this in retrospect and I look forward to the day when I can cut straight to the exciting part, but for now the nerves travel with me.

As for my account of the day I’ll begin near the end, if you don’t mind, with a little incident that still makes me chuckle and somehow sets up the day. But I’m afraid it involves me going to the loo. Can you bear it? That’s a clue.

When in the loo I heard a disembodied male voice addressing me through the walls. Was it the God of Blogging speaking to me directly? It had been a pretty amazing day. I listened harder and realised eventually I was being treated to a Paddington Bear story. Well of course. I loved Paddington when I was little and had there not been great conversations to return to in the bar I might well have stayed for a whole story.

Of course Paddington is a stranger in a foreign land and on Saturday I felt rather like that little bear: abroad and slightly confused, nervous but also hopeful and very curious. Like Paddington Bear on his first visit to a stately home, I had my “duffle coat…freshly ironed” and my “Wellington boots had an extra special shine to them”. I climbed the steps of 8 Northumberland Avenue feeling a little overwhelmed and a lot excited. I did not however, as I’d thought I might, skulk around the corner before going in. Result.

Imagine my surprise when the first item on the agenda was a present! For me. For all of us. A lovely new pod satchel from the Leather Satchel Company. It would definitely fit a whole round of marmalade sandwiches. Given the significance of last year’s Cybher bag for me – a random charity shop find that led me straight to the conference – this shiny new Cybher satchel was a wonderful start to the day. Oh my, what a lucky girl!

Paddington books and Cybher satchel

All my Paddington books, back in the limelight for a moment!

Paddington Bear, on his stately home visit was overwhelmed by all around him; “it really was like another world” and so it was for me on Saturday. As a novice blogger it was quite something to be surrounded by so much blogging expertise and experience. And having blogged ’til now on a virtual island it was pretty amazing to be in the same room as 200+ other people doing the same as me.

I spent the whole day watching, listening and learning – eyes and ears wide open to it all. Of course social media offers a virtual world of meetings, conversations and exchanges, but for the likes of me (I’ve still got a lot to learn about online connectivity) there’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting to bring everything and everyone truly to life.

Zoe Margolis’ opening speech set the tone for the day. Zoe is the woman behind Girl with a One Track Mind. She wrote this controversial blog about sex and her experiences of it under a pseudonym. Then in 2006 she was ‘outed’; pilloried by the press, sacked from her job and forced to go into hiding. Zoe’s keynote was inspiring and eye-opening as she described her experiences during that nightmare time.

Revenge when it came, was delivered by others in the blogosphere who dropped a Google bomb on the journalists responsible for calling Zoe ‘a slut’ and worse. A Google bombwhat?! Who knew there was such a thing? This was an online uprising by fellow women bloggers; a focussed attack to right a wrong. It shows the power of group intervention and the importance of mutual online support. Listening to Zoe I realised how little I know about this virtual World I’ve tentatively joined and how much I’ve under-estimated its potential strength.

Mutual support, community and online friendship clearly sustained Zoe during those dark days and they became key themes for Cybher Day. I enjoyed the conversations as much as the sessions and learned so much from both. I met some great people that I hope will become firm blogging friends. I won’t give a roll call here (I’d hate to miss anyone out), but what matters is that the ice is well and truly broken and I look forward to lots more conversations with my new blogging chums. Doubtless you’ll meet them all in time.

Collage of dolls group

My daughter making Cybher friends*

*Monster dolls by Pete Fowler

I realise by the way, that this account sounds very gushing. It is. With good reason. It was a fine day that became about much more than top tips and friendly people. For me it was about becoming part of of a supportive community that feels right. Sian and her Cybher team deserve every credit for pulling that community together and inspiring its members.

Alongside a desire to make blogging friends and learn, I also went to Cybher with a specific question in mind, that could overwrite all else. In the midst of all this should I really carry on blogging? There are some fabulous blogs out there and at Cybher I watched some of them projected on big screens. Seeing them up there added to my nagging fear that I have nothing valuable to add to the online conversation.

But during the day I came to realise that while we’re all blogging in different ways and for different reasons, all of us have a tale to tell and we’re all entitled to contribute. Including me.

Caroline Criado-Perez from The Women’s Room told us in no uncertain terms to see the value in what we do, to focus on the positive and not the negative that we women tend to dwell on. Moi?! I shrunk into my chair but took heed. I am beginning to realise that I need to stop pulling myself down and comparing myself (unfavourably) to others. I’m very good at it I might say. Is it fear? Or is it just a bad habit I need to shake? Work in progress.

In pursuit of further evidence for myself I also undertook a little poll in my head each time I spoke to an experienced blogger. And my survey said…  that all those beautifully crafted blogs are the result of years of effort. Well of course they are. What was I thinking? It’s too early for me to expect to tell a coherent story. Forget the blog stats, I was advised and just enjoy writing – it’s the secret to success. So I’ll try.

So now I have permission from myself and all those lovely Cybherites to continue my unfocussed ramblings for the time being. Hurrah. Permission is something I clearly seek from others; it’s a subject I’ll return to another day, but for now: permission granted Burgess.

So I daresay there’ll be a pic’n’mix of posts to come: musings on being a woman and a mother who is trying to re-arrange herself and re-emerge in midlife. There’ll be plenty of carefully teased navel fluff for your consideration and in time, when I put myself back in the job market proper there’ll be the trials and tribulations of that process. I might also produce the occasional plate of food for you to savour, though I’ll need to be careful not to gunk up the camera. And I’m tempted to rave about my favourite kitchen gadgets (teaser: my aunty’s potato peeler, see NOW you’re excited) and maybe sometimes I’ll move the clutter aside so I can photograph some of my charity shop finds and pretend I live like Candy Pop, although of course you’ll know the truth!

So here I go. Cybher 2013 has opened this new door a little wider for me and I’m looking forward to pushing it a bit further. A round of applause to the good ship Cybher and all who sail in her.

hands in the air clapping

Woo hoo!

Postscript: Oh and by the way many attendees have posted comprehensive and really helpful posts that you can peruse on Cybher’s website so you too can learn from the day’s sessions, should you wish to join this wonderful world of blogging. Go on. It’s good to have a voice.

Serendipity

May 30, 2013

One fine day in early Spring I bought myself a bag. A lovely leather satchel, purchased from our local charity shop, I mean boutique, from whence I get most of my treasures, clothes and junk. It was one of those really lucky finds – I couldn’t believe it was in a charity shop. Big smile.

Luverley...

Luverley…

On the bus home I surveyed my booty and was intrigued by the word ‘Cybher’ embossed on its luminous yellow front. A quick snoop online led me straight to the Cyhber bloggers conference. Seeing as this was around the time that I embarked on this blog of self-discovery and new beginnings, it was clearly meant to be. So naturally I enrolled. Immediate excitement.

And now Cybher has finally rolled around. It’s this Saturday…

Cybher badge

So right now, this minute, I’d like to be writing about my growing excitement and deliberating about the outfit I’m going to wear (as many others are), but instead this is what you get from me:

Since booking my place at Cybher I’ve thrown myself around on an oh-so familiar roller coaster of destructive thoughts about going – I won’t know anyone, everyone else will be online savvy, super cool and younger/prettier/sharper/wittier than me. Should I even go?

…in a situation like this you can rely on me to imagine the worst case scenario in vivid detail – its one of my greatest creative skills you know.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Tie ourselves up in knots and focus on ALL the things that might go wrong, however UNlikely, while forgetting or choosing not to consider the things that will probably, almost certainly, definitely be great. Of course fear is a crucial emotion with a vital purpose. It prepares us for danger and prevents us from throwing ourselves into perilous situations. But this is an exciting women’s blogging conference, not a tank full of hungry sharks!

I’d like to think that by now, in my middle years, I’d have shaken off fruitless fears like this and be focussed instead on the really important things in life, like my fambily and enjoying life. Our cat has it sussed – I often look at her and wonder at her wisdom. She might have a small brain but she focusses it on all the most important things. Food, comfort and sleep, basically!

And note that my Cybher bag matches the kitchen. Natch.

And note that my Cybher bag matches the kitchen. Double delight!

I’d like to be able to say that I no longer worry about such things as Saturday, but that’s not how it is. Not yet anyway. No, unfortunately I still do worry; too much. My brain continues to work overtime on matters that it should not concern itself with.

So my current tactic is to question these automatic thoughts – the negative ones that spring up without any encouragement. I am trying to challenge their validity. Exactly when did that worst case scenario ever come true?

I’ve been helped on this occasion by social media, Twitter in particular. Who’d have thought? Well not me 6 months ago. Following @Cybher on Twitter I have learned that of course there are other first timers and that there are other nervous delegates. Sharing our fears in little bite-sized pieces has been very helpful as has tw(m)eeting beforehand and it has made me realise how mad we all are to dwell on negative thoughts.

All of this online social media lark has been such a fascinating learning curve and attending Cybher has already opened my eyes about the virtual social world, and I haven’t even got there yet! I wrote here only last week that I might not blog for much longer. I hope though that I might come away from Saturday full of ideas of how to continue writing a blog that is relevant. If not, it will be the right time to stop.

In any event I am pedalling fast towards Cybher Day now. On Saturday morning I’ll be lurking round a corner with a coffee, hiding before I go in. Either that or I’ll be running horribly late due to a last minute fashion crisis, because come the day I will still have NO idea what to wear. But either way I WILL be there. And I sincerely hope that all the other worriers are there too.

Meanwhile my phone is pinging beside me with new tweets. So while I’d normally be happy to continue analysing the inside of my head, I shall sign off now and get back to the important matter of virtual pre-meets. Hello Cybher and fellow Cybherites, one and all. I look forward to meeting you. Honest!

A tiny piece of guerilla street art

A tiny piece of guerilla street art to end with…

First to last?

May 24, 2013

So here I am coming to the end of week one of coasting through life with my foot off the pedal. I christened the experience by queuing for tickets to see David Bowie Is at the V&A. I don’t think I’ve ever stood in a queue like that before. I always watch news reports with people queuing for new Apple products or department store sales with a mixture of pity and disappointment (in them, not me). I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything badly enough to camp out for it. But this week I did. I queued because I could.

Being the V&A this was a very civilised queue and having watched all those news reports over the years I equipped myself with a large coffee, an empty bladder and a big book. I stopped short of a hunting stick. There was no barging and no camaraderie, this was the V&A after all. So I settled down for a long wait; read my book and drank my coffee. And my bladder did what it does admirably. Thank you bladder.

V&A-queue

But I only got about halfway through my coffee and a chapter and we were on the move. Once inside it was a mere 15 minutes more before I secured my tix for next week. As it’s half term we’re all going. I hope the girls love it. I think they will. Good for them to know it didn’t all start with Lady Gaga. Of course I know, having visited the Tudor and Stuart; In Fine Style exhibition last week that quirky style has been around for a very long time. Did you know for example that Charles II favoured a hairstyle with the right side cut shorter than the other. Witness…

Charles II bust

Are those hair extensions?

Fancy that, there really is nothing new. I wonder if he wore his britches back to front as well.

Having reached the end of that V&A queue I realised I had reached the end of a period of transition from work to life after. And here I am now, living the life after. I like it. After the queue I wandered around the V&A – what a treat, to go round the galleries without a purpose, just looking and seeing and admiring – everything from cute biscuit tins to giant replica pillars.

But I’d hate to give the impression that it’s all peace and quiet and calm and tranquility. Is it heck. I have a lovely family to tend – well they’re lovely usually and a pain in the bum sometimes. Life in the slow lane away from work is as busy as ever and sometimes I wonder how I had time to work.

But it’s busy partly because I make it so. Yesterday I made a cake, because I could. It’s a lovely, sticky unctuous confection from Ottolenghi, called Revani though I believe it’s a Turkish classic.

cake

mmmm…. cake

It’s still sitting in the tin because it’s coming away with us this weekend (camping in the rain!), so I can’t comment on its deliciousness but an already moist cake soaked in lemony syrup has to be good, doesn’t it? I’ll report back.

So this is the pleasure I am finding among the busy-ness; doing things because I can and not because I have to. I also think I might try to learn Spanish. I honestly don’t know if I can but I think I’ll give it a go. Elsa loves the idea of teaching me (she’s learning at school), we can have Spanish chats, I can make tapas while thinking in Spanish and of course we’ll HAVE to go to Spain for us to practise!

Reaching the end of that queue in the V&A also made me wonder whether I’ve reached the end of this blog for the time being. It was intended to be about the transition from work to life beyond and I think I’ve done that and in the short term, awarded myself an extended holiday. Because I can.

Of course I could post endlessly about cakes I make, exhibitions I visit and the bits of my own navel fluff I extract while gazing at it, but I don’t think it’s of much interest to anyone else. A blog should have a sense of purpose and something worthwhile to say – something of value to its readers. Of course there’s vanity involved but it shouldn’t be a vanity project.

I could pretend to be a committed domestic goddess or a devoted vintage queen – photograph all my vintage charity shop bargains draped in the only corners of our house that aren’t covered with piles of paper and be sure to bake a cake every day while wearing a gingham apron, but that wouldn’t be right, now would it.

So we’ll see. I shan’t stop right here, right now, I’ll have a think about it and in the meantime I’ll relish the opportunity I’ve had thus far to write these little missives and put them out there in the World…

Happy Friday one and all.

...and look what appeared in the park this week.

Oh and look what appeared in the park this week.

Winding down…

May 17, 2013

It’s about 6 weeks since I left my job of 18 years and I’ve FINALLY realised that I can afford (literally and figuratively) to take some time to look around, see the World (not the BIG world, just the small World nearby) and simply be for a while, before I launch myself into the pursuit of new work.

deadbike

Stop pedalling girl!

I’ve spent a lot of life rushing about, as we all do and now that I have a rare opportunity to NOT do that for a little while, I should grasp it with both hands.

But it’s harder than you might think, for me anyway. I suppose it’s fear; fear of what will happen if I stop pedalling. I might fall off; never work again, lose myself.

It’s also difficult to watch familiar anchor lines float away into the sky and let them go. The familiar structures of a working life are taken away and you’re left with… yourself. Eeek! Work and the busy-ness (or business) of life are a great distraction, a neat avoidance technique. Take all that away and suddenly you’re exposed. Yikes!

So anyway, determined to achieve a more even and calm state I set out this week to enjoy a bit more and stress a bit less.

tulips and forget-me-nots

Municipal planting at its beautiful best

Has it been a walk in the park? No. I’ve had a walk in the park, several, but it’s been a mixed bag of emotions. Up, down and sideways I’ve been; round and round the garden. While wandering around I’ve been trying to weed out some of the more unhelpful and unnecessary ifs, buts and maybes that circle in my head and overall I think I’m heading in the right direction. But blimey it’s complicated.

Oh and have you spotted the major problem with my leetle plan?  Being determined to become laid back is surely a glorious big fat oxymoron!

Ah well. I won’t give myself grief instead I’ll laugh and give myself credit for getting a few steps closer. At least I’ve recognised what I need to do AND got a few steps closer to achieving it by carving out some entertainment this week. Gigs and art have both been on the menu already.

I was a gigging fiend in my youth – loved it. At least three or four times a week I’d be at some dive bar or pub watching a band play loud. The Pogues (when they were Pogue Mahone and beyond) were probably my favourite band – I’ve seen them play more than 70 times, thought not at all in the last 10 years. I think Shane is a genius songwriter.

Going to see live music unlocks something really special and takes me back to those carefree days (were they?). I love the raw and immediate impact that live music has. It makes me smile and dance and sing. Perfect.

IMG_3824_edited-1

So first up this week was Shugo Tokumaru at the Hoxton Bar and Grill. It being the cooool East End there were many, many beards in the audience, all as eager as us to see this diminutive Japanese man strut his stuff. He plays wonderful rinky-dink pop-filled ditties and is accompanied first by a crazy drummer with a small drum kit and a larger than life attitude to playing it. There’s also a table of toys plus accordian, xylophone and mouth organ – all of which are played by a talented lady who smiles not at all until the gig’s over. Best toy instrument this time: a boxing hand puppet punching a toy tambourine. Joy. Best cover song: Video Killed the Radio Star.

Then on Wednesday night off to see John Grant play at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire via some fine tapas at Tapas Revolution at Westfield. Ooh, it was just like being on holiday – if you ignored the plethora of chain stores in the background that is.

tapas

nom, nom, nom

He’s fantastic, is Mr John Grant. Truly talented. His songs are clever, funny and insightful. Try GMF – his new single and a fine anthem for many of the men in the audience on Wednesday.

He clearly does too much thinking as well, but he channels his beautifully into his fantabulastic songs. He carries the audience with his wonderful resonant voice and makes us all think we can sing. We can’t. He also manages to make everyone feel as though HE is privileged to have all of US watching him. He’s self-deprecating and lovable. Great night.

Incidentally I noticed there was a preponderance of beards at this concert too – not achingly trendy Hoxton ones, but cuddly/cool gay men ones. One way or another the beards have landed.

To complete a music hattrick we were supposed to go and see Alt-J last night but discovered yesterday that our tickets were forgeries. We bought them through Get me in so at least we got a refund, but VERY disappointing. No beards.

By way of compensation, not really but anyway…

Yesterday I went to the Queen’s Gallery with my Mum to see an exhibition of Tudor and Stuart fashion as portrayed in paintings. It was fascinating – there really is a very clear line between the fashion world of then and now. King Charles II was responsible for today’s three piece suit – he introduced its forerunner and pretty much insisted it became fashion. Oh and he favoured a lopsided hairstyle longer on the left than the right. He didn’t do beards though. Wise man.

Some paintings showed outfits that cost the modern equivalent of a house. The outfit might only be worn a handful of times so it was essential to capture its splendour on canvas. Of course if you could afford the frock you could afford the painting.

Though extremely wealthy it wasn’t a throw-away society – clothes and cloth were recycled and reused time and time again; restyled to meet fashion’s new dictats, cut into smaller and smaller pieces and even melted to release the gold and silver threads for reuse. Hence the complete lack of clothes to have survived to the current day. It made the one or two pieces that were on display seem very special indeed.

In Fine Style; The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion is well worth a visit I think. To tempt you here’s one of my favourite paintings…

royal-baby

Portrait of a Young Boy by Paulus Moreelse, 1639.

He looks like he’s on wheels. And notice the creases in his dress – deliberately featured in the painting as a display of wealth – not only can we afford the clothes we can afford to have them carefully pressed as well. I’d better get ironing.

But ironing doesn’t fit with my new found reeeeelaxed self. Back to the park instead I think.

red tulips and daisies

Bethnal Green’s Glorious Gardens

Have a great weekend and please, send me any tips you have for doing this relaxation thing properly!

Great Expectations

May 11, 2013

My goodness, how time flies. A whole week has gone by since I heard the dreaded news about the pitch. But I was lucky enough to be away last weekend – glooooorious bank holiday sun and 3 days camping – the perfect antidote to the pain of rejection.

Every new dawn is indeed a wonderful thing. But a new start sometimes brings with it some pain.

tents

Dawn breaks.

It’s 5 a.m. Imagine if you will, those trees are full of birds singing to greet the new day.

No they aren’t. The birds have fled. Those tents contain giggling, laughing and yelling kids. And one by one so do all the other tents in the circle as they all catch on to the delights of early morning frivolity.

Heavy sighs and bleary eyes from every adult present.

Action required to ensure more sleep the next night.

How about a 6 mile hike.

Perfect.

Our girls are members of the Woodcraft Folk and we were camping with our district. Oh what fun we had. Three days of messing about in tents, watching the children play, play, play – their freedom and fun artfully enabled but not controlled by the grown-ups.

camp-wide

The Woodcraft Circle

This kind of freedom is something all children are entitled to, although of course not all get to experience it. And as adults we lose all sense of freedom if we’re not careful. Some people don’t but I know I have. I’m taking action to reclaim it, but it’s an uphill battle.

field-wide

A newly planted field of beans

Mostly it’s me I’m battling. Years of learned behaviour and self-defined rules to try and rewrite. Rules that tell me what I can and can’t do, what I am and am not capable of, what I should and shouldn’t do. How did that happen?

They’re not healthy guidelines within which to play and explore, which is what I saw Woodcraft Folk achieve for the children at camp. Theirs are guidelines and principles that enable freedom of expression, rather than stifle it. Inspiring indeed.

bluebells

My first ever sight of a bluebell wood

We saw an amazing array of vistas on this one walk. Surprising and quite beautiful landscapes around every corner. Like life itself I guess, if you look at it with the right eyes.

tunnel-of-leaves

A tunnel of fragrant hawthorn blossom

Of course not all landscapes are as immediately arresting as this. But that doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful. It’s just a matter of perspective. Mental note to self: remember to enjoy the view whenever possible.

My favourite part of the walk was the last. A long tramp across soggy marshlands as we neared our final destination. A dramatic, desolate landscape oozing (quite literally) with its own mysterious history and mud. Lots of mud.

swamp-wide

Bleak and beautiful

I almost expected Magwitch from Dickens’ classic story ‘Great Expectations’ to appear from behind a soggy hillock demanding wittles and a file with menaces. We had biscuits for the kids and we certainly could’ve spared one or two for a needy convict. Alas, we didn’t meet any escaped prisoners, however we did meet our own adversary.

The deep and watery gulleys that surrounded us in this marshland began to cut through the neat green pathway marked on our map. The first of these gloopy stream beds was relatively easy to cross and the kids continued onto the path beyond with little fuss. But the second was more of a challenge – a deep scar in the wet earth, about 15 feet deep and 20 feet across, with steep and extremely slippery banks and up to a foot of sticky mud at the bottom.

Th first couple of people to cross lost their shoes, their dignity and their balance. So we adults found ourselves having to consider quite carefully the best course of action to get our 20 children across this steep, deep, slippery, muddy, sodden gulley. For a while it seemed quite daunting, but once we reminded ourselves and the children that the worst that would happen was that we’d get very muddy, it suddenly became a lot more doable. Something I need to do more often – remind myself that outcomes are unlikely to be catastrophic.

swamp-feet

Look, no feet!

Eventually and after investigating alternative routes each one as impassable as the last, we elected to form a human chain and pass the children across the divide, one by one. Just as we began the job at hand, the next group with younger children turned up. So our human chain was strengthened and so was the challenge.

It was great to see different people’s responses to the situation. Most were practical, one or two were natural leaders, nearly all were happy to be part of the team and there were only one or two who insisted on doing their own thing, regardless of the best interests of the group. Fascinating stuff. I wasn’t one of the leaders, but I played my part as a fully committed member of the team – a valuable link in the chain.

swamp-chain

We carried the littlest children – passing them from one person to the next and we held the hands of everyone else – big children and adults alike, until about an hour later we had all 30 or so children and accompanying adults safely across; muddy, tired and relieved. Never was a post-walk ice cream so gratefully received as it was by those children!

ice cream

Earned and deserved

And come the next morning, They slept. They slept like babies.

And so did I. The pitch put in its place, buried in the mud and marked up as one of life’s experiences from which there is much to learn and nothing to regret. As Eleanor Roosevelt said;

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face.”

So thank you Woodcraft Folk, for a wonderful and uplifting weekend.

swampwide

Mission accomplished. The Crouch Estuary at Brandy Hole

Oh and in case you’re wondering, all this wild beauty was in Essex. Deepest, darkest Essex. Lovely isn’t it.

Splat.

May 2, 2013

manky-pigeons

What a difference a day makes.

Being in the final 20 wasn’t enough; I just heard that I didn’t make it to the final 15 of the mentoring programme. Feel gutted right now but I suppose that’s inevitable.

But that feeling’ll wear off and I’ll pick myself and move on; with the idea or without. It’s not the end of the world and I learned a massive amount doing it.

At least I’m not a manky pigeon.

Dizzy heights

April 30, 2013

I’ve been too scared to write about this ’til now, for fear of jinxing my chances.

Today I pitched a small business idea to a panel of top business executives. An elevator pitch it was (a long elevator mind you) – a 3 minute whistle-stop tour of my idea. The aim? To hopefully convince the corporate whizzes that I should be included on a business support / mentoring programme. I really want to be part of it. I want some professional guidance and to be able to think ideas through with other people. I’m not very good by myself.

So since hearing that I was shortlisted last week, I’ve practised and practised; refined my words, paced up and down, tested my outfit, sorted my props, changed my outfit, done my sums, redone my sums, honed my words, dreamt my words, slept my words and eaten my words. It’s true to say that I’ve done quite a lot of prep for this.

And the GOOD thing, the really good thing, is that compared to the other occasions in my life when I’ve faced presentations or scary meetings, I’ve mostly been fairly relaxed. I’ve even had glimpses of a notion that actually maybe it just might be okay.

THIS is a major breakthrough! We do terrible things to ourselves, don’t we? And one of the terrible things I’ve done to myself, over many years is to make situations like this almost impossible to survive, not literally but effectively. So this new possibility, not just of survival but maybe even of thriving, has been A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and uplifting.

So this morning I took myself and my carefully honed elevator pitch to Canary Wharf. And just as I thought I was on top of it all I realised exactly where I had to go…

Yes THAT one!

Yes THAT one!

In the actual Canary Wharf building; number 1 Canada Square, with the famous pointy top! Sorry I missed the point(y top) from where I was stood, and was too distracted to go looking for better shots, but you get the idea. Here was I with my little idea, pitching it into the middle of London’s financial hub. Intimidated. Me? Yes.

All my calm and resolve whooshed away like a leaf on the breeze. So I texted Danny a little ‘Eek!’ And quick as a flash he texted straight back:

“Enjoy your moment”.

And then, thanks to those little words of woven gold I remembered the other possibility; the GOOD possibility of survival, of not making a fool of myself, of maybe even coming out feeling good and well.

So, restored and ready thanks to Danny I went to the tower, rode the lift – would’ve been good to have done the pitch in the elevator – and then delivered my 3 minute masterpiece. Just like that.

It went so fast that I can’t remember most of it. I think I said most things as I planned, but I’m not sure. There are whole paragraphs of eloquence that may or may not have made it across the room. For all I know they may still be hanging there.

Crazy really, that all that preparation culminated in just 3 minutes of showtime. But it was worth it, worth the planning. If there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I function better if I’m prepared. I don’t fly by the seat of my pants easily; I prefer a pre-arranged plane seat, thank you very much.

So I came away relieved and faintly happy. Yes happy. I think I really DID enjoy my moment. I even made the panel laugh at one point. And not because I embarrassed myself.

So, flushed with success, and relief, I went for a coffee. In Rome.

canary-wharf-coffee

Well it felt like Rome. Hard to believe I was in the middle of London, although in most directions there were an awful lot of suits to remind me of my locality. Anyway I enjoyed the moment. Savoured it.

Maybe I can look forward to THIS in my new life. Coffee on sunny terrazzas and warm glow-y feelings. Aaaaaah…

Long may it last. And may you have that same feeling as well. We all deserve it.


%d bloggers like this: