Sunday, 12 August 2012

Oh I do like... be on holiday. Particularly when it's beside the seaside.

Hi, dear reader. It's me again, back - if only briefly - to tell you about my latest holiday. I realise I've been somewhat lax in my blogging of late. Life has kind of got in the way, if I'm honest. And it will do again pretty soon, but more of that in another post. For now, however, it's holiday blog time...

I'm just back from a fun-filled (yes, really!) week in Yorkshire, which also doubled up as multiple trips down memory lane. Day trips to Whitby and Scarborough. Country drives around the North York Moors and Vale of York. A visit to York itself. Almost every day brought a wave of remembered moments. Even staying in the cottage was (a bit) like those family holidays we had as I was growing up.

But the biggest jolt was when we deliberately went out to find some specific places, and I found that I had very vivid recollections of the places themselves that were hidden in the dim dusty parts of my unconscious mind. Places like Great Ayton, where I spent a week every summer in my teenage years discovering that I wasn't quite as far from normal as I thought I was. Or like the suburbs of York, where my grandparents lived and where I spent time most school holidays. Or Hemingbrough, where my Mum's grandparents lived. Finding that I recognised street names and bits of road almost instantly was very strange, and just proves how powerful our brains really are.

We also found time to do new stuff on our week away - a James concert at the Stockton Weekender Festival, a performance of the York Mystery Plays, and a visit to Castle Howard being just some of them.

Best of all, however, was the taster we got of what 'playing house' is going to be like. Soon, very soon. But that's a post for another day too. For now, I'll leave you with some of the photos from our break. There's more to be posted so check back a couple of times if you want to see the full set.

Thanks for reading, hope to see you again soon :)

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Sh*t Happens...

...but so, luckily, does good stuff!

The observant among you will have noticed that I haven't blogged for a while. Ahem! To be more accurate I haven't blogged since March and I've only blogged 11 times this year altogether. After hitting my blogging pinnacle in 2011, with a blog post more or less every other day, 2012 has been a bit of a famine for bon mots.

My excuse? Well, life just kind of got in the way. Not in the really tough and horrible way that it has done in the past, but in an altogether happier and much more fun way. I can safely say that I have never been happier. And I like that. I like that a lot!

I'm hoping that this little cloud of happiness will keep on floating around for quite some time to come. But I confess I'm aso hoping that I get myself back into some of my other life stuff too. For example, I definitely need to start running again. My Race a Month Challenge fell this month (although my awesome running partner in crime is still plugging on, completing her May race last weekend) and if I'm honest I've actually only run 5 times this year, 4 races and 1 training run. There is no excuse except distraction and laziness.

Oh, and I also need to start blogging again.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Back on the road

So, today was race 3 in the great 2012 race-a-month challenge. The venue - Grangemouth; the distance - 10k; the time - 1:04:09.

Am I happy with the time? Not entirely. I was hoping to get back within the hour but with no training, I guess this isn't too bad. And it does, at least, break my race time decline, being a good 30 seconds better than my last 10k (even though it's a good 8 minutes slower than my PB).

It does, however, show just how much I need to get back into my training and regular running if I'm to improve my PB this year. Or be ready for my second half marathon in May.

Next up is the Balfron 10k in April. Time to lace my shoes a bit more regularly, I think.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Random thoughts 4: Words, words, words

My Random Thoughts challenge for this week is all about words. Which I'm really excited about because I love words. As an aside, I'm also really excited to have a couple of friends who seem to also love words about as much as I do. The awesome Just Frances, for whom I include within this blog her favourite word - antidisestablishmentarianism, and Graham, who has been very keen to point out my own particular turns of phrase over the past few months and I suspect would find the same humour as me from the lead photo for today's blog post!

But returning to the challenge, this week my instruction was to take 10 words at random out of the dictionary and decide for myself what they should mean. See what I mean? Great fun!

So here goes:-

Drawl - either, a laid back artistic technique in the abstract genre, used to create baffling and occasionally childlike paintings. Not cubist, but more similar to the surreal style favoured by Dali and his like; or, a small compartment or hidey-hole for putting bizarre and seemingly pointless objects that may one day become useful - as in, "I'll just put this thingmie in the drawl in case we need it in future"

Freight - a scary event experienced by a good Morningside lady and how she felt afterwards. "He jumped out in front of me, waved it around and shouted obscenities. I got quite a freight you know, Elsie!"

Marcella - sounds like it should be a fruit, perhaps a type of sweet cherry, but is in fact a type of cotton material. I think I prefer my definition...

Pantaloon - the actor who plays the fool in the annual village pantomime. Often people think he's really talented but then quickly realise he's just typecast. Alternatively, it has been extended to refer to the co-worker you desperately try (and fail) to avoid in the corridor before he pins you down to ask the most idiotic questions about that project you're working on, showing all the while an unhealthy interest in the subject.

Scrouge - I was surprised to find that this was a real word as well as the name for the famous miser from Dickens' Christmas Carol. I was even more surprised to find that its meaning fitted perfectly with the word - a form of definitional onomatopoeia!

Telophase - a great invention that allows you to instantly disintegrate that annoying cold caller who has just interrupted your favourite TV programme with their telephone call offering the very latest insurance/financial service/double glazing/solar panel. "Press 1 to hear your messages. Press 2 to delete messages. Press 3 to delete caller"

Univocal - like a unicycle but louder

Legacy - the obscure language for legal documents used by lawyers to confuse and mystify their clients, and in the process, successfully pad their bills.

Comfort - a stronghold and defensive building designed to protect sheep. (It's my meaning, you don't like it, make up your own!!)

Irreprehensible - politicians, journalists and economists normally. Not because they're paeans of virtue, but because they really do try to convince us that they are beyond blame...

And before I go, just to share with you another few things this challenge put me in mind of ...

a) great dialect words - crabbit, glaikit, hattered, biddy
b) words that can be said in any number of ways - leg-end, pig-eon to name but two
c) words that are just funny in themselves, or at least to me - potato (but don't ask me why!), and
d) made up languages - tnew ot serutcip, as Molesworth would say...

So, that's my 10 words - and more. It's been great fun and I really would encourage my reader(s) to try it for themselves - either with their own set of 10 words or with any of mine above. I'd love to know if I've got the meanings wrong...!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Random Thoughts 3: Memories

My blog challenge for this week is to write about a holiday memory. When I got my email telling me what my topic was this week, I confess I thought - ya dancer, this will be a cracker. Which of my many amazing trips, sorry adventures would I write about? Would it be Spain, or Sicily? Wales, perhaps? Or Shetland? Or maybe my first solo foray to Bristol?

But then I thought I'd blogged enough about them already, and it woud be too easy. Or rather, too hard to pick out just one memory. So I thought I'd go a bit further back and think about my childhood holidays.

Again, it's not too easy to pick out just one memory. Rather it's a mix of all sorts of rememberings, sights, sounds, smells and just plain feelings.

Most of my childhood holidays were spent with my grandparents at their home in York, or  in some part of the UK in a cosy (and sometimes, not so cosy!) self catering cottage in the off-season. We never really took holidays in the summer because either my dad would be working or the garden would be in full bloom and needing a lot of attention. In any case, we were lucky enough to grow up in a seaside village and my sister and I were more than happy enough to spend our summer holidays running wild at home. We were never short of things to do and there were adventures aplenty from what I can remember.

When I was thinking about this blog post, one particular non-home, non-York holiday memory sprang to mind. I must have been very young, probably less than 4 years old. We were staying in a cottage next to a working farm. It was the summer and we were somewhere in the west of Scotland. It was a hot summer (for a change!) and the cottage was beautifully cool inside. I seem to remember us being cooled off after days at the beach with cool baths and the smell of calamine lotion springs to mind, so I'm guessing we probably got a touch of sunburn as well. I remember we played on the beach a lot. I think our grandparents were there, I seem to remember showing off my new pretty cotton nightdress to them and thinking I looked like a princess.

All of those are great memories but that's not the one that sprang to mind. This was.

One day we'd been out and got home later in the afternoon. The farmyard had piglets in it. We'd seen them a few times during our holiday. This particular day they were quite agitated and squealing a lot. And their bottoms looked sore. I can remember asking what was wrong, and my Dad (or my Mum) told me they were a bit sore because they'd just had their tails docked.

Now, to my little mind that was bad enough. Imagine having a bit of you cut off, that must really hurt. No wonder their bottoms were sore and red! Looking back on it now I realise, you don't dock piglets' tails. I think what had probably happened was a bit more painful and something that little boy piggies definitely wouldn't enjoy...

Oh, the innocence of youth!

(And I bet that's not the blog post you thought you'd get this week, Frances!)

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Random Thoughts 2: Of ships and shoes and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings

This week's blog challenge, set by my partner in crime, I confess has had me somewhat flummoxed. My prompt was to write about a man who teaches his cockroaches how to dance. I mean...??? To be fair, this kind of thing was always going to happen since we're taking our challenge prompts from a creative writing ideas page. But, since my blog is generally about me and my meanderings, and dancing insects with exoskeletons don't generally make an appearance in my daily life, this was a hard one.

To start with, I thought I'd find out a bit more about cockroaches. A quick Google search took me quickly to more information than you'd ever want to know. And just as quickly convinced me that I *really* don't want to know anything more about the little darlings -  I mean, I knew (and was quite comfortable knowing) that they are hardy little creatures, most likely to survive a nuclear holocaust, but did I really want to know that the female can remain pregnant forever and can produce 150 offspring per year? Or that they can fly? Or that they can grow to be over 2 inches long? No, I didn't. And, sadly, now that I know them, I can't unknow them, no matter how hard I try. And believe me, I'm trying really really hard just now!

By now, you're probably as grossed out as I am by the subject so I'll change it - but first, another factoid I discovered is that they have 6 legs with 3 knees per leg. So dance classes were probably quite fun - if you like cockroaches that is...

Anyway, having convinced myself that I didn't need to know anything more about cockroaches, my mind next wandered on to that phrase about angels dancing on pins. I realised that I didn't actually know what that meant, what the proper quote was or even where it comes from.

Seems it is a reference to pointless discussions about meaningless things, or at very least things so completely theoretical that it would be impossible to prove them one way or the other, and of little real value if you did. Hmm, sound like another item in the news recently?

And after that, my wardrobe mind led me on to the quote in the title of this post -a prize to the first person to correctly identify its source (without checking Google first - no cheating now!). Details of the prize will be revealed once the winner is announced.

Which all just goes to prove, if you really try, you can write about anything...

And in case you're wondering about the photo, as befits a post about random thoughts, it's a random picture too. Pretty, isn't it?!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

North by North West

I'm currently heading back to Scotland after a(nother) great weekend in and around Manchester. As the TransPennine Express whisks me North, I thought I'd use the time productively to share my weekend.

Until I visited just after New Year, I really wasn't sure what I'd think of Manchester. It's a big city after all, one of England's 10 'core cities', and that means big. Being a bit of a hick, I don't always feel comfortable in big cities. London, for example, usually intimidates me – the buildings are so tall and close together, the crowds so thick and purposeful, the expressions on faces so focused.

I was prepared to feel that way in Manchester too – but it didn't happen. Instead I actually felt quite at home. Now that might in part be because I was being shown round by someone who knows the city well, but I'm not sure that's the whole reason. The city has (to me at least) a good vibe – an undercurrent of humour and humanity, a city where people live not just work or visit. It also was far less busy and crowded than I expected – although to be fair, we did avoid the main shopping drag. 

It has some big buildings and some very modern ones, that's true. But it also has some more human scale ones, and a great combination of old mixed in with the new. The red brick definitely helps too. Less severe than London, or Edinburgh even. And stylish, very stylish!

In the city we visited many of the sites – the Town Hall with its Ford Madox Brown murals and opulent marble staircase, Old (or to be more accurate, not so old quite spanking new) Trafford, Rylands Library, Museum of Science andIndustry, Salford Quays, the Lowry Theatre, the People's HistoryMuseum. We even made a trip out to the mecca of Mammon that is the Trafford Centre. Sadly, Coronation Street is no more so the Granada Studio Tour wasn't on the itinerary.

But it wasn't all city life – and I confess I was amazed at what beautiful countryside there is within very easy reach of the city centre. Beautiful market towns and former mill towns with vibrant high streets and pretty cottages. Rolling moors and enticing country walks. Saturday morning'stea stop, for example, was a garden centre near Warrington boasting a tea room complete with outside booths, blankets and heaters, all with a great view of the fantastical ice sculptures created by the small fountain.

Admittedly the North West has its fair share of down at heel locations – mill towns that haven't survived the post industrial age that is modern Britain, areas of deprivation and poverty. A quick scan of the local council websites tell the story with regeneration schemes, anti poverty projects and youth employment initiatives commonplace.

But for all that, you know what? I liked it – even the train journey through Dumfries & Galloway, the Lake District and Lancashire is a pleasure. Apart from the damn Virgin Pendolino trains that is, their travel sick inducing properties never cease to amaze me. This morning's alternative of the TransPennine Express is a joy by comparison, even if it is just a glorified Sprinter train!

PS Best of all was the company, but that's a whole different story for another day...

Friday, 10 February 2012

Random Thoughts: Wealth

I blogged earlier this week that I've taken up a new blogging challenge - the Random Thoughts challenge set by my partner in crime, the awesome Just Frances. So here goes with my first one...

I am challenged to write for you about Cooking up my own 'Get Rich Quick' scheme. Now this is a bit of a hard one for me, in part because I've never yet managed to do it, and in part becauise I'm really not that interesting in getting rich. In fact the whole millionaire celebrity culture that we appear to have created in this country simply turns me off. Don't get me wrong, I like having cash. I like being able to afford to buy the pretty silly things I like, but if I'm honest, I'm really quite happy just being comfortable. I don't crave more, I'm content with what I've got - and I really don't know what I'd spend it on if I had more. Apart from shoes, that is - obviously. And travelling...

But back to the challenge. I've never really been an entrepreneur. As a child, I wasn't the one setting up car washing or gardening businesses. I did have an after school job doing ironing for one of the local shopowners, but that was the scale of my ambition.

My only foray into self employed-dom has been a fairly unsuccessful (financially at least) dabbling in handmade jewellery making. For a couple of years I spent most of my evenings creating 'unique' (ie unsellable) items that I would then spend most of my weekends at craft fairs not selling.

Overall I made a financial loss on the 'business'. Ironically, however, I did make a profit courtesy of HMRC - to keep on the right side of everything I opted to declare myself self employed and as a result was obliged to complete a tax return each year. It seems I was overpaying tax on other aspects of my earnings and as a result for the last few years I've received a rebate.

Not quite get rich, and certainly not very quick, but bizarrely it did bring in additional income. Ho hum, who'd have thought it.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Missing in inaction

As regular readers will realise, I've been a bit absent this year so far. At least from my blog that is. Truth i,s I've hit a bit of a block. Not a 'can't write', writer's block kind of block, but a 'not really sure what to write' one.

The thing is, as you know, this is a personal self indulgent little blog, where I get to write about what's happening to me, what I'm thinking and how life is faring for me. I'm generally pretty open in it, and at times I've shared some deeply personal stuff. It's what seems right to do. But at the moment, for a variety of reasons that I'll no doubt share in due course, my personal life isn't something I'm comfortable sharing with the world at the moment.

Now don't worry, there's nothing wrong. I'm perfectly ok, no bad things are happening - it's just that I'm not ready to write publicly about some stuff and that's been blocking me from writing about anything. So it was with great pleasure today that Frances (the queen of awesomeness herself) and I agreed to our latest blog challenge. So for the next while, we're going to both post at least once a week on a random topic - and not just any random topic but one drawn completely at random from a creative writing prompt website with numbers generated digitally at random for us. To make sure we don't cheat, we're both going to select each other's number and therefore topic and then we will have until the following weekend to compose our inane ramblings, sorry works of genius.

We'll be identifying our challenge posts with the title 'Random Thoughts' and I'll be tagging mine 'randomness' just in case you're ever daft enough to want to read them all.

Hopefully this will help me get back into my blogging groove. To be honest, I've missed it - you may not have done, but I definitely have. So here we go, let 2012 be the year of random!!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Through wind and rain...

Well, yesterday saw me run my first race of the year, as predicted last time I posted. It was the first of my race a month challenge set by the awesome Just Frances. This will see us get through 2012 with a minimum of one organised race a month. We already have a few mapped out and a few gaps in the schedule, but yesterday was the day we got it all kicked off.

And, to be honest, weather-wise, we would have struggled to get a worse day - short of blizzard conditions, that is! As Frances tells me, she's run in colder conditions, but yesterday was the whole package of yukky conditions - rain, strong headwind, bitingly cold, with muddy and uneven conditions underfoot. Added to our combined lack of training, we were fearing the worst. To be honest, I was convinced I was likely to come last having looked at last year's results. And while I'm not running to win, if I'm entirely honest, I find coming last a real problem.

But as it turns out, I did ok. My time wasn't the best (1:04:51 - my slowest yet for a 10k), and my running certainly wasn't elegant. But I didn't disgrace myself - I wasn't last, I managed to run the whole race without stopping and I crossed the finish line with some (but not a lot) of puff left. And while I was shattered afterwards and in my bed by 9pm last night, today I'm not feeling too bad at all. A few twinges but no crippling muscle strains or aching joints.

And surprising amounts of energy - must be all those endolphins. Either that or my post race nutrition - it's all about eating and drinking the right things after all...

Friday, 13 January 2012

Racing ahead of myself

Regular readers of this blog will know that last year saw me taking on perhaps my biggest challenge yet - running a marathon with my awesome partner in crime. It was, I confess, a hard slog - not all of the time but as the distances got longer and the race got nearer, it became a real trial.

I can't say that I enjoyed it but I am exceptionally proud of myself that I completed it. Before, during and after the race I was firm in my conviction that I wouldn't do another one. The pain - physical and psychological - was just too much for me, and having done it once I didn't feel any great compulsion to do it again. I can safely say I really didn't understand how people could become addicted to such a god awful experience.

Just over 3 months on, has my view changed? Not really. I'm not quite so anti trying another marathon 'in due course' now, but it's still not something I feel compelled to rush out and do straight away. I haven't given up the running however.

Or to be more accurate, I won't be giving up the running. I have rather given it up over the winter but that's starting to change. I got out on my first run in 2 months at the weekend and while my time wasn't great and I felt pretty sore for a few days afterwards, it's also true to say that I felt good afterwards. It was great to get the air in my lungs again, to stretch my legs out and to stomp round my 4 mile running route.

Which is just as well really, since the aforementioned Frances has challenged me to a race a month for 2012 and we have our first one lined up for next weekend. Luckily it's just (!?) a 10k so I've got half a chance of surviving it with only minimal training.

However, for minimal read 'No' training. And if I'm not careful that might be the way it is this year. For a variety of reasons I'm expecting to find my personal time under pressure this year. I'm not unhappy about that but it does mean I'm going to have to be much more disciplined about my training schedule. Before work runs might need to start happening once the mornings get light enough. Weekend runs will need to be squeezed in as and when to get some longer distances under my belt.

I'm looking forward to it. No, really I am. I'm particularly looking forward to enjoying my running again, without the fear of 26.2 miles hanging over me as it did for large parts of last year. But knowing me and my competitive streak, I'll just replace the challenge of endurance with one of speed and will spend my year obsessing about PBs.

Still, there are worse things to obsess about...

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Comfort for the soul

...and for the body.

You know, there's nothing like home cooked food to make you feel good. And, for me at least, nothing like making home cooked food to make me feel good. Honestly, I love it. Cooking really relaxes me. Wait a minute, let me qualify that. Cooking, when there isn't a time pressure really relaxes me. I'm not sure I'd feel the same way if I was having to churn out meal after meal to a schedule, particularly if the diners were fussy or unappreciative. I really do take my hat off to working mums (or dads, for that matter) who manage that particular miracle day in, day out.

But for me, I'm lucky. Generally the only person I have to please is myself - and I'm always appreciative of my efforts! I can pick and choose when I cook, or when I just snack. I can opt to eat in the middle of the day from the canteen at work and just have toast or something similar when I get in at night. My only deadlines are the ones I set myself, and if I'm too tired to cook but am hungry, there's usually something in the freezer that can just be heated up from one of my earlier cooking sessions. (I always make way more than I need with the express intention of freezing the rest for a later date. I know my work/life [im]balance, after all!)

So, last night, after a great day out in Edinburgh exploring what was left of the sales, my relaxation method of choice for a fun Saturday evening was to raid the fridge and get cooking. I confess that I'm not organised enough to plan menus out - unless for special occasions - and my dishes tend to be combinations of what's in the fridge/cupboard and needing to be used up. Years of Protect and Survive from my Mum have left me with a 'nuclear store cupboard' mentality to food shopping, so it's not usually too hard to whip something up from what I can find around and about of an evening.

I'll sometimes buy ingredients with the intention of making a particular dish, but more often I buy things because they look interesting, or I like the taste and know that I'll find something to do with them. As a result, I don't often follow recipes. Generally my dishes are made up, sometimes loosely based on a recipe from a book, but more often just guess work about what flavours and textures will work well together.

Don't get me wrong, I own tons of cookery books, and I love reading them. They generally make my mouth water. I also have a subscription to the ever enticing Delicious magazine. And I wouldn't be without any of them. But they're pretty much just for ideas. My true passion is creating!

And this little lot? Well, it was 2 (3 minus 1 because I had no kidney beans!) and mushroom chilli, and stuffed portobello mushrooms. I ate some of the chilli, which was very good if I say so myself, and the mushrooms have gone into the freezer for another day - probably to be eaten either on their on with a salad of some description, or as a side dish to another main meal. Can't wait!

OK, I did promise the recipes to some friends so here they are - or as close as you get to recipes from me!

Chilli - sweat off some onions and peppers, add chilli flakes and powder, cook off a bit and then add a tin or so of chopped tomatoes (plus any whole ones left in the fridge!). Throw in some quartered button mushrooms and tins of whatever beans you have handy. Cook for about 30 mins to let the juices out and flavours in. My secret additional ingredient for last night was a dash of Jerk Molasses Barbeque sauce, which added a fabulous hint of smokiness. 

A tip from a friend was to make corn bread to go with it. That's a definite for me when the remains come out of the freezer next time!

Stuffed mushrooms - take however many portobello or breakfast mushrooms you have, brush them with olive oil and put in the oven on a baking tray for 4 mins. Meanwhile chop up onions - or in this case, leeks - and sweat in butter. Add garlic if you like, I didn't but I'm sure it would taste good. I had some thyme - which is great with mushrooms - so that went in after the sweating. I also added the stalks from the mushrooms for some extra flavour and to avoid wasting them. Crumble up some cheese, add to the pan together with some breadcrumbs and an egg. Season and then pack on top of the part cooked mushrooms. Put the whole lot back in the oven and cook for another 6 mins or so. Remove, eat, enjoy!

Thursday, 5 January 2012


We often talk about the still before the storm, but what about the peace that comes after it?

As with this week's weather, there's often damage and daily lives can be thrown out of kilter. Things that have been around for a long time can be uprooted and over-turned. It can be difficult to come to terms with sometimes, and the change can be hard.

But sometimes the new perspective can be liberating - not necessarily straight away, but in time you can come to appreciate the new view that you have, the space that wasn't there before, the fresh light in your surroundings.

And just sometimes, that new light and space can allow something really wonderful to grow.

Me? Well, I survived the storm. There was some damage and things have changed, but I found my way through - and found myself at the same time. Now it's time for my something wonderful...

2012 - here I come!