New Year New Start – Update

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I have made good progress on my mission objectives. Tonight I met up with my future housemate.

My last attempt had been unsuccessful when Olivia’s friend returned from travelling and needed somewhere to stay. I thought that was it and was about to give up after a month of looking. I had asked to view another property but they had enough people viewing.

Then, out of the blue, the 30-something landlord replied saying no-one had made a definite offer, did I still want to have a look. She had moved to Bristol to live with her boyfriend. They had split up and she was wondering whether to move back to Sheffield or stay in Bristol, where she had a good teaching job.

I thought it would do and said yes straight away.

The terraced house was entered through the back. The kitchen was a bit small but was modern and well equipped. The living room was 15 degrees but that was because they’d only just turned the heating on and it came on twice a day.

There wasn’t a desk in the room but there was a kitchen table downstairs. My compact room looked out onto a brick wall and the petrol station but I’d only go in there to sleep anyway. My future housemate has said she wouldn’t mind me getting some bushes in pots to break it up a bit.

I could picture myself putting on a roast and nipping outside for some fresh rosemary.

There was plenty of storage space which was great because I have so much stuff. Maybe this is a good opportunity to downsize my clutter as well as my living space. It looked out onto a brick wall and a petrol station. Not ideal, but the curtains had black-out linings. I tested them and they created the bat’s cave I require.

The lounge was nice enough, with comfy chairs and a photo block of the Paris skyline. The TV wasn’t as big as ours and was a bit low but that wouldn’t matter, I have my laptop. The landlord’s bedroom had a Paris-themed duvet.

Paris skyline at dusk from the Hotel Concord roof.

Although it didn’t have a lawn it was near a park and it had a herb garden outside planted by the landlord’s mother, who showed me round. She sighed as she explained that her daughter had never been green-fingered and although she had tried to encourage her to plant some flowers, she was more interested in the house. There was a little patio behind the house.

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I could picture myself putting on a roast and nipping outside for some fresh rosemary. The neighbours on one side were boys in their twenties or early thirties. I could see a nice modern kitchen and they had a lovely little back yard with a square of gravel, a wood burner and some garden furniture. They also had a shed that used to be an outdoor toilet. On the other side was a recently redecorated house for sale.
The landlord’s mother explained that the area wasn’t safe and that opportunists scouted the area on a regular basis. She had been a bit worried when her daughter bought the house. So they had fitted the safest door they could find she said, gesturing to the solid, chunky front door.man-breaking-into-home She asked that I kept it locked even when inside. Where I live we have had one attempted break in almost 30 years and the neighbours had a break in at Christmas, but that was their first. The intruder got as far as the back entrance, breaking through a small back door and setting off the alarm. He tripped over a bucket and falling against the washing machine blocking the way, before running off. The eagle-eyed neighbours saw the delinquent running away and the police were round quickly with a forensics team to check for prints. The neighbour at the end got broken into about five times though, once they even prised open a window and got in through that.

Mum also said there was a “drugs house” near where I was living and said that they would try and break in for drug money. Apparently there hasn’t been a problem since the house was bought though.

The housemate was a 28 year old girl with shoulder-length dark brown hair and sparkly blue eyes who worked at a local hospital organising operations. She was friendly and a good listener. She treated me to a cocktail and we had a good chat. We had lots in common – we both came from medical backgrounds – many of her three siblings were doctors, and we liked the same music and TV programme. Neither of us could cook much but we wanted to try. She had managed to expand her repertoire beyond my pasta and sauce.

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I will have to give up my glamorous lifestyle in this large airy, light house and adapt. The rent is a third of my salary but it’s a small price to pay for independence.assetuploadfile35520800

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New Year New Start

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I started 2016 on the beach in New Zealand but the peace and happiness I returned with didn’t last long.

By October I realised something had to change. After having a good ponder I realised that there were areas of my life that I needed to change and improve.

Mission Move Out house-search

I have started but it is not going well. I spent December looking for a house-share in a desperate bid for independence.

In my city, the average rental price has risen by 4% in five years. It has stayed expensive in my area, with the monthly cost adding up to a third of my salary. In comparison, house prices have risen by 7% in five years. Although this is a modest increase, I still could not afford to stay in the area if I bought a house on my own.

On two occasions I requested further viewings only for the house to get snapped up the same day. I realised I was  going to have to change the game and go with my gut (and not just metaphorically, see below). I tried it today and got “OK, I have a few more viewings this week so I’ll let you know.”

I am new to the househunting game so I was stumped. Maybe I had said too much and she had decided we wouldn’t get on? I said I could be tidy but I wasn’t naturally. Was that the clincher? Did this mean she was politely telling me where to go? Did she need more time to make her mind up? Could it even mean that she liked me but didn’t want to let the other potential tenants down?

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When I have a house my living room will be similar.

The place was perfect. Flowers decorated every surface and the lady, Olivia, had impeccable taste, with arty prints decorating the walls and vintage leather sofas. The place was spotless and homely.

She was also perfect. We liked all the same things and had identical schedules that somehow did not conflict with each other.

She even had the same personality. I didn’t think it was possible to find someone even more bubbly and excitable than me.

After a month of touring dismal dumps and meeting oddballs and eccentrics this was a breath of fresh air. Finally, somewhere I could call home if I’m lucky.

I told Olivia about my viewing experiences. There was a hovel with two young male tenants resembling hippies. The living room looked like it hadn’t changed from the 70s. 21231169There were grubby fabric settees and an old television on stilts. Smoking paraphernalia littered the table and street light filtered through the gaps in the blinds.

The kitchen was the only nice thing about the place. I was shown upstairs to a bedroom with such a sloping ceiling in that I couldn’t actually get to the bed. A naked light bulb blinked weakly through the gloom. I went upstairs hopeful for better things and was greeted with another severe sloping ceiling. This time I managed to get to the bed, sat down and nearly went right through it, the mattress was that old. Again it was lit with a single bulb. The only furnishings in both rooms were the threadbare curtains hanging limply across windows which were so tiny and so elevated that you couldn’t see what would have been a great view.

I thought I’d seen it all until they led me outside to the “garden” – a patch of grass with a massive black block of wood over it which they explained had been a door. The builders had ripped it out so the landlord said it was not her responsibility. It had been there for months. I tried to open the “shed” and a mountain of junk threatened to burst its way to freedom and join the door on the “lawn”.

If the house wasn’t ridiculous, the inhabitants were. I visited a property with a live-in landlord. I imagined that we’d have a good natter in the living room over a cup of tea, maybe cook dinner for each other, watch films together…I opened the door to a business-like lady in her 60s. She marched me up to the room which was lovely, so far so good. Then she took me downstairs and explained how I would be expected to stay in my room as the rest of the house was hers.

I asked whether I could possibly share the living room occasionally and she politely but firmly declined. She said I could cross her other living room to use the kitchen. She had forced herself to accept that her tenant would have to go through her living room to get through to the (thankfully shared) kitchen. Having proudly declared that the house was out of bounds she asked when I could move in. She hoped it could be soon because she needed the money. I politely but firmly declined the offer.

I want to move out because I don’t like living alone, it’s too quiet. I don’t like living with my parents either as I want more privacy and we don’t always get on. Currently I am getting comments about my accumulation of some winter insulation – I am 5 kilograms overweight, which brings me on to my next point.

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Mission Minimise

I need to minimise my fat/sugar intake. I can no longer spend the day guzzling from the sweet tin at work. No more cheeseburger snacks either. I don’t burn any calories with my sedentary job so I need to ensure my intake matches that or do more exercise. I have a medicine ball in my room that I hardly use which will come in handy for toning up. It’s easy to be lazy but I plan to get more involved in the walking group at least and do the odd run. There’s nothing like running for cutting the kilos.

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Mission Motor

I will pass my driving test. Automatic lessons are great and I know it will happen if I just put my mind to it.

Lessons are hit and miss (literally if it wasn’t for dual controls) but I feel like I’m nearly at the end of the road. My general driving is usually good but my manoeuvres need some work. I feel like I cracked parallel parking today but unfortunately I was so elated after that I set off without looking. Thank goodness it was a quiet road.

Once I can drive I will be more independent and I won’t have to beg for lifts all the time.

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My First Automatic Driving Lessons

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I have been learning to drive for over two years.

I booked my first lesson after I was unable to get to a friend’s wedding. It would have been easy to drive there and surely wouldn’t have cost the £40 taxi ride in petrol. The fare was fine but I was weak, wheezing and coughing every 5 minutes, so they probably wouldn’t have been able to hear their vows.

Two months ago my exasperated instructor suggested I try an automatic car which does not have gears. After asking whether I was ready occasionally, I was delighted to do a mock test and get no serious errors. You only have to get one serious error to fail and I would regularly get three. Something clicked and I put into practice what I had learnt. I had booked my test for this month. But as time went on and it got closer to the test and we started talking about it, my skills slipped. I had a lesson a month ago where I couldn’t work out what had gone wrong. I knew how to drive so why wasn’t I able to? It was really grinding my gears.

I called a driving school and asked for an automatic driving lesson. If you pass on an automatic you can’t drive a manual car. I was warned that the cars are more expensive to tax and use more fuel. After I accepted this briefing I was given the number of the instructor. I would recommend checking the website first as I was not told about a special offer and I didn’t know that an electric car was available.

“There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car. It happened so quickly I couldn’t process it.”

I was very nervous about my first lesson because I have heard of so many accidents and been part of one as a passenger. We were leaving the pavement. We looked past a parked car and the road was clear, so mum drove out. There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car speeding past.

He stopped a car length and a half down the road with a scratched door. It had happened so quickly I couldn’t process it. Mum noticed that the man said “got to go, I’ll call you later” as he dropped his phone into the door pocket, before coming over to get insurance details. Dad spoke about the driver who rammed a parked car outside our house last week while on the phone to his girlfriend. He hit the car with such force that a wheel came off and bits of bumper and brake light were scattered on the road. He called the police but as no one was hurt they didn’t press charges. A friend of a friend was coming out of a junction and a sign was blocking her view. She looked past the sign and the road was clear. She then entered the road and hit and killed a motorcyclist. Another of mum’s friends accidentally reversed into her dad, breaking his legs.

Finally, there was the driver the year above me at school  who killed her friend. She had just passed her driving test and her A levels. She reportedly went over a hill up the road from us too fast and lost control of the steering, hitting a brick wall next to the road. Her friend in the passenger seat had just passed her A levels and had a place at university. When I started sixth form the common room was quiet and sombre. That is why I didn’t drive at 18.

I live on a bus route to the city so I was able to get most places without needing to ask for a lift or get a taxi. In London the public transport is so good that there is no need. However, the buses to the Peak District only stop at the villages and are once an hour so it would be lovely to go somewhere off the main roads at a time that is convenient for my friends.

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The instructor got out and shook hands. I got into the driving seat and panicked. There was no third pedal, there was one massive one and one smaller one. ABC so that was the brake and the clutch. I couldn’t see past the car in the mirrors, the steering wheel and the pedals were too far away and I didn’t know how to adjust them. I couldn’t do the cockpit drill of making sure the car was set to my specifications.

The instructor was bemused. He knew I had driven for two years and I was sitting there doing nothing. “So, what do you do first?” he prompted. I told him and he waited for me to sort things out. I explained that this car was different from the Vauxhall Astra I’d driven previously and I didn’t know what to do. He smiled and helped. “What do you do next?” he prompted. “Put the clutch down and put it into…” I replied before I remembered that there was no clutch and no first gear, just a gear-stick. What did you do with it?

He demonstrated that you flicked the gear left to put it in gear and right to put it in neutral. He demonstrated that he had added plastic additions to the wheel to allow you to switch to manual if necessary. I frowned at the extra confusion this might cause and was relieved when he said we wouldn’t need them.

The ignition was higher up in this car and the key was in a different direction, so I wasn’t sure which way was on. The instructor had to show me how to switch the engine on. I was so embarrassed I struggled to remember the handbrake and indicator. The instructor wanted to laugh but smiled politely instead.

I hadn’t come out of the drive before but had only left from the side of it, so I did have a brief flashback of our collision, especially as we had just been talking about it. I nervously sat higher in the seat as I scanned the edge of the road on both sides quickly a couple of times before pressing the accelerator gingerly, inching out. He indicated and off we went.

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The accelerator required a steady and increased push to increase speed and the brake was really responsive. The slightest touch and the car would slow quicker than expected. I stabbed it gingerly, jerking the car to a quick stop instead of a slow gradual one. He said “I like to push my students so I might get you to do manoeuvres you aren’t that comfortable with.” “That’s fine”, I said. I had no idea what that would entail but I was about to find out.

At first the instructor was quiet. It was quite a change from my last instructor, who was chatty. I felt like I was being tested, which made me more nervous but I wasn’t driving as badly as anticipated. Or at least it didn’t feel like I was, until he said “mirrors…..mirrors….do you know what MSM means? No switch that off, what haven’t you done?……did you look in your mirrors?…..and then I heard a sigh. But I still forgot to check the mirrors before signalling. Embarrassed, I apologised again. I needed to get out of that habit for my instructor’s sanity.

After about an hour I did a few successful checks. His repetition had paid off. Then he said “I’ll give you instructions from now on.” I still drove like an idiot. I knew what to do, I was just driving like a boy racer. He said “what’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?”. “50” I replied, checking my speedometer. That was fine. He directed me on a roundabout to the start of a dual carriageway. I expected to go off but we kept on it until the speed limit was 60. I felt surprisingly comfortable doing 50 but was quite nervous about 60. It felt like the first time I went above 30 and felt like I was flying. I slowed as we approached a roundabout and I didn’t know what lane so I guessed and then indicated and changed into the correct one.  He asked how I knew what lane to go in and I told him how I went in the left for the first and second exist and right for the third onwards. He directed us around multiple roundabouts until I started to feel more confident. Then I was coming up to a roundabout when he said “what lane do we need to be in?” I guessed that I was in the wrong one. “I don’t know” I replied. “Look at the road markings” he said. I looked ahead and couldn’t see anything further in front. “Look further down” he said. There it was. I was in the wrong lane again.

Car driving down street, headlights on

Then I saw a car coming towards me on the roundabout and drove forward. I was on autopilot thinking about how I was in the wrong lane and I didn’t think about anything else. The instructor braked for me and looked at me, scared.

“What would have happened if you’d gone out then?”

“I would’ve crashed.”

“Yes you would have gone straight into that car coming towards us. Why did you do that?”

I paused. Why did I? I won’t be doing that again. It was like the first time I went on a dual carriageway with my first instructor (I’m on my third) who also liked to push his pupils. I thought I could turn the indicator off with the wheel at 50 miles an hour. I was surprised as we almost swerved into an oncoming car and my instructor grabbed the wheel with lightning reactions.

“You did three dangerous” the instructor announced. “I’ll drive us back”. Now it was my turn to sigh. I was never going to be able to drive. Ever.

“I can get you passing by the end of November” the instructor said. Well, maybe there was hope on the horizon. If I could just drive towards it safely and slowly enough.

On the way back the instructor imitated my driving a little until I giggled uncontrollably. He looked at me. “What?”. Realising that I could laugh at myself and wouldn’t be offended, he proceeded to show me what I was like. “I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.” He smiled.

Nana Joan with my second cousin, Maliko.

Nana Joan with my second cousin Maliko.

I saw that I was driving with my arms stretched stiffly in front of me, my eyes mostly fixed ahead, occasionally looking down my nose at the door mirror as if I was looking down through spectacles and then quickly staring ahead again, then occasionally flicking my eyes to the other mirror. I was jerking the brake in a stop/start manner,scared-learner-driver-main holding the wheel gingerly with the edge of my fingers, flicking it to make it turn. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” The instructor said, bemused again. “Do you have a grandma?” he asked. “Yes” I said, smiling at the memory of Nana Joan in New Zealand, with her kind eyes, wide smile, curly brown hair (she still hasn’t gone grey at 89, I hope I have those genes) and laughter lines. “Would you drive like this with your grandma in that seat?” he asked, jerking the car to a halt repeatedly. “No.” I replied. I also had a bad habit of looking at my instructor when he was talking. “Eyes on the road please!” he reminded me.

My instructor explained that he used to be a taxi driver and that when he took the instructor’s test he realised how shocking his driving was. He said he passed second time because he was too cocky the first time and didn’t show the instructor that he was looking in the mirrors.

“I got honked at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.”

I thought he wouldn’t want to see me again, after moaning about how a student nearly damaged his car, but he later said that he enjoyed the challenge of teaching me.

At the start of the next lesson the instructor had me reversing out of a drive onto the main road. I was terrified but I was driving under his instruction and at snail speed. That was smoothly done, as was a turn in the road. However, I went off a roundabout into the wrong lane and the instructor corrected me. I got beeped at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.

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Later, when I went to change lanes I thought I had space to move in front of an oncoming car and I didn’t. I forgot that I didn’t have the right of way and expected the oncoming car to slow down for me. Not so fast. Taking time to judge distance and the rules of the road is more important than speed. Having road experience from being a cyclist I drive defensively in that almost every time I am on the road as a (mostly safe) driver or a passenger I witness dangerous driving and therefore I expect the worse.

Every driver should be a cyclist to get experience of what it is like to be a vulnerable road user having to go into the flood of traffic to turn right or trying to turn in front of you into side roads. I see dangerous drivers much more often than dangerous cyclists. I expect a driver to emerge from a side road without looking. This almost happened today and my mum was ready for it, swerving and beeping (only to announce her presence of course). I now even expect a car to park in the middle of the road on a blind bend.

If you are struggling to learn on a manual try automatic lessons. It should make you a safer driver and automatic cars are the future.

In a new suburb being planned in London I learnt that the area is being planned around driverless cars picking up and dropping off passengers. Just when I was getting used to the idea of Uber taxis, technology advances yet again. If I still can’t pass my test I will wait for the new dawn of driverless cars.

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Update and Stanage Sunshine

Hello readers,

Apologies for taking a whole year out of blogging.

Time blurred by packing and planning for a 5 week tour of New Zealand (via Singapore) in November last year.

To get the best experience you need to take least several weeks off work and have a couple of grand saved. We went in December which is the height of their summer and you can then use the bank holidays to minimise the impact on annual leave.

We stayed at Air BnB houses to save on accommodation costs. We got recommendations from friendly locals who were warm and welcoming. Tourism is big business in New Zealand and there is so much to see and do.

I caught up with everything and shivered my way through the winter, mostly hibernating in my bedroom in a onesie.

In Spring I was catching up with family and I turned another year older. I am sorry to say that I am now in the last year of my twenties.

I have had a lovely summer holiday sunbathing, cycling, canoeing, visiting castles and medieval villages and seeing the Tour de France whizz by in a little village of around 1,000 people an hour south of Toulouse. When I got back I reconnected with an old friend and enjoyed getting to know local folk by joining a walking and jogging group. The jogging group is fun and friendly but is on hold while I rehearse for a work carol concert. I am also still enjoying netball twice a week and I have recently switched from driving lessons in a car with gears to one without. After over two years trying I am hoping that taking the gears out of the equation will get me to test stage again, like I was in the summer before my skills hit the brakes. Since I got even busier it has been hard to find time to blog.

The last few weekends have been incredible. I’ve been to Anglesey, Wales, a really scenic spot which again I would highly recommend, and much cheaper than the tropical paradise holiday as far away as you can fly (32 hours non-stop or you can make it more bearable with a stopover).

I’ve been to a festival in London and even got sunburnt in late September and I’ve been on a weekend away with the walking group to Stour Valley, Suffolk, exploring the coastline there at Orford Ness, the island that the Ministry of Defence used to test bombs and detonators – so it was important to stick to the path. It is now owned by The National Trust, a nature and heritage conservation charity which was founded in 1884 when Octavia Hill, a social reformer, was asked to help preserve Sayes Court garden in south east London. In 1885, Octavia raised public awareness of railway developments threatening the Lake District. This collaboration led to the foundation of The National Trust for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Natural Beauty, to hold land and buildings in perpetuity “for ever, for everyone”.

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Octavia Hill, social reformer

Today it has over 3.4 million members and it is currently seeking to ensure that Britain’s coastline is maintained. There was a map at Orford Ness showing how the project was doing. It is about half complete.

I am not a National Trust member but I often visit their land, stately homes and cafes. I am a member of the Ramblers Association, a charity whose goal is to ensure that routes and places people go walking are maintained and enjoyed.

I also enjoyed a walk across Essex farmland on the group’s weekend away, with friendly horses and cows and alongside a Wind in the Willows river with rowing boats sliding by, admiring thatched cottages.

I’ll post the highlights along with more current events.

I made my first apple crumble of the Autumn season today with apples from the garden. An easy dessert but so tasty and warming, it was lovely. I used oats, brown sugar and a light dusting of cinnamon for the topping and I got a good crisp finish with that.

These photos are the best I can do with a camera phone as I can take ages when I have my proper camera with me, but here is what I have been up to this weekend:

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Copyright literarylydi

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Copyright literarylydi

I like country walks in the nearby Peak District. It is such a privilege to live so close to such beautiful scenery and wild nature. It was peaceful on Stanage Edge today, with a slight breeze and occasional sunshine. The sky was reflected in the rippling pools of standing water. Stanage is a beauty spot, a long gritstone edge popular with climbers, ramblers, fell runners and mountain bikers. You can walk along the top for miles and the views of the surrounding hills and valleys are incredible, especially when the sun illuminates all the bright colours of the landscape which inspires local artists.

We walked to Stanage Pole -a replica of a boundary marker that divided Sheffield, South Yorkshire with the High Peak, Derbyshire.

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My First Stadium Rugby Matches

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First we saw England at Twickenham. What a disappointment. To get the best seats we had to shell out £315 each. Luckily we won our “bid” for them. The cheapest tickets for the final are over £400.

Despite this expense, we only ended up in the middle of the side, meaning that players were too far away when at one end of the circle. I had envisaged being on the same level as the players, but apparently those seats are even more expensive.

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That knee injury that gave England a yellow card.

The other irritation was the stop/start nature of play. As soon as we had got back into things the whistle blew again and we re-started. So frustrating to watch. It wasn’t fun for players either I imagine.

Then the game was stopped for two injuries – Wales players being taken off on stretcher boards (concussion and shoulder dislocation).

It was dismal. Nothing really happened with the ball slowly going back and forth and lots of penalties. Then finally Wales defeated us. I got bored of hearing “Swing low, sweet chariot” (haven’t we got anything else?)

Our view was good when the players were near our side. This is without zoom.

Our view was good when the players were near our side. This is without zoom.

There wasn’t really a team spirit in our area, no one said hi, they were all individuals. There was a girl screeching in my ear for most of it. At least she was enjoying it more than me.

I couldn’t even focus on taking a nice photograph as my zoom couldn’t function from that far away. But at least there wasn’t much chanting or cheering going on, it was quite dignified. We even sat politely next to Wales fans without doing more than the odd scowl.

On the train home we had a sing off including such delights as the chariot song versus “you can shove your f****** chariot up your ass, you can shove your f****** chariot up your ass” and other more civilised songs such as “Land of Our Fathers” and something about pilgrims.

At least the Welsh had more interesting songs and better voices.

We had a nightmare getting back in London – our straightforward way home was blocked by a wall of fans and police so we had to go the wrong way back to our hotel using night buses and trains. It took us at least an hour for a 40 minute journey.

Then we travelled up to Newcastle to see New Zealand versus Tonga. I’m also a New Zealand national (technically – I have a child’s passport and have never lived there more than six months).

The beauty of it being a country other than the United Kingdom meant that the roads were clear, traffic was not a problem. I worried that there wouldn’t be many fans but the stadium was at full capacity. Most Brits seemed to like the underdog (well, England was/is) and were cheering for them.

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The All Blacks were completely different. For a start the Haka is great to watch and the war cries add to the experience. They had an impressive dance off with Tonga and they won that too. I have been taught the Haka by a Maori chief in their tribal hut, part of the tourist experience in Rotorua. It was originally a war dance completed at the start of battle, to scare away evil spirits and to intimidate the enemy. They also have charms called Tikis which are supposed to scare spirits away. When I came back to England I got a prize in PE for pulling a Haka war face for a dance. It was the scariest expression.

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They thrashed Tonga and there were hardly any whistles. They just got on with it, looking solid and competent in contrast to the dozy Brits.

Dan Carter was fantastic as always, kicking many a try. Sadly these are his last matches before retirement.

We had a better position for half the price, or at least it seemed so but maybe it was just because the game was more engrossing. It was again in the middle but this time at the back so we had a better view of the pitch.

The Kiwis were really friendly. The couple behind us got talking and it emerged that one of them, Russ, was the manager of the supermarket where my grandma shops in Auckland! He said that when we visit I was to let him know when she was in and he would surprise her with a tannoy announcement.

Russ from Auckland.

Russ from Auckland.

They were part of an official rugby tour group and gave me their free water and All Blacks cap.

There wasn’t much alcoholic drink on offer – it was all from the sponsors so there was a choice of beer and cider. Luckily we were sitting by the only TV screen in the stadium so if I missed a try I could see it in slow motion on that.

The match was riveting as the play went quickly both ways. There were some true sprinters and passes were generally flawless with a few slips which were quickly picked up again. A highlight was when Nonu charged, dreadlocks swinging as he was undefended down a quarter of the pitch right at the edge. The crowd roared and he touched down. Fantastic to watch. It was also a moment in history for him as the match earned him his 100th cap – marked by an actual cap for playing 100 international games. His talent was clearly visible as he streaked down the pitch.

Copyright Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Copyright Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

One “fan” tried a different kind of streaking. He was caught and pushed roughly off the pitch as the crowd booed. Perhaps he was the anti-social lout I’d seen mooning people earlier.

There was a yellow card for both New Zealand and Tonga when they did a high tackle – lifting a player up and jerking their legs up so they fell. But they accepted it with good grace.

The crowd were fantastic. There was a warm friendly atmosphere, with Mexican waves rippling around the stadium. It looked so spectacular that I missed a try admiring it. My family in New Zealand all support the All Blacks – they’re a key part of the culture and people are proud to support them. They lead the world rankings at the moment after all, just in front of their arch rivals Australia. England are a puny 10 and Tonga are 14. I felt sorry for them watching them get well and truly beaten, but they put up a good fight.

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Afterwards they even brought their children onto the pitch and signed autographs. There was euphoria this time rather than the glum silence of the England defeat, with smiles all round. But the fans didn’t act like this was a victory – they are used 20151009_203506[1]to seeing the All Blacks triumph in a flash of tight tackles and tribal tattoos. 20151009_211454[1]

Try 2

Try 2

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Try 1

Try 1

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The Tongan player sent to the “sin bin” (a yellow card means players have to sit out for 10 minutes). He did a high tackle, lifting someone off the ground by their knees.

A fluke try - the ball slipped off their feet but with their quick reactions the All Black player picked it up and touched down.

A fluke try – the ball slipped off their feet but with their quick reactions the All Black player picked it up and touched down.

The All Blacks captain congratulates Nonu on his 100th match.

The All Blacks captain congratulates Nonu on his 100th match. In his hand is the cap he receives as an award. Nonu teared up as he thanked his family.

The end of the match.

The end of the match.

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What a run! One of the most amazing tries – a straight sprint up the edge.

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4 Comments

October 10, 2015 · 7:17 pm

FODMAP food fun

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I have had a rocky ride with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I was diagnosed with it as a university student in 2007, after I had agnoising abdominal pains that kept me awake and horrific belching.

Blood tests ruled out coeliac disease and I had an ultrasound which was clear. I was offered an endoscopy – an investigation where a tube is shoved down your throat – but mum warned me off, telling me what a traumatic experience it was for her.psyllium

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Psyllium looks about as great as it tastes.

I tried all sorts of remedies. Peppermint tea which helped in the short term, a low dose of antidepressant medication, which completely stopped symptoms but induced vivid nightmares, and psyllium husk (found in the brand Fybogel) which made me feel sick. You had to quickly drink grains floating in water. It was hard to pinpoint which particular foods set me off. No pain relief medication helped.

A 2013 medical study concluded that  the low FODMAP diet offers leads to significant improvement for the majority of those with digestive disorders, around 15% of the world’s population. Research suggested that certain carbohydrates were responsible in 1988 and the diet was developed following further studies. I have found that I no longer have stomach pains before or after eating and I no longer get bloating. It has given me significant relief.

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Around 75% of patients in two small studies found that their symptoms had improved. More research needs to be undertaken as this could be a cheap option for the National Health Service rather than relying on medication. It should be recommended to all patients complaining of digestive discomfort. A Gastroenterology journal entitled A FODMAP Diet Update: Craze or Credible? concluded: “evidence indicates that the FODMAP diet provides an effective approach to managing patients with FGID [digestive disorders].”

I discovered the FODMAP diet through online research. This stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.

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The theory is that some fruits, animal dairy products, wheat products, beans, garlic and onion (containing Fructose, Lactose, Fructans, Galactans and Polyols) are incompletely absorbed and are harder to digest. IBS sufferers appear to be particularly sensitive to them. For a full list click here and go to the bottom of the page.

A main plus point is that it is not a restrictive diet. You could still have trigger foods, just less of them. It was only onions and garlic that the diet recommended completely avoiding. This only caused a problem with curries. Spring onions were a decent substitute for stir fries and garlic puree in stir fry sauces did not cause me any trouble.

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The aim is to try the diet for six weeks and then introduce one trigger food a week and see how much it affects you.

A typical day included:

Breakfast:

Porridge or muesli with lactose-free milk, banana and coconut flakes

I like lacto free milk by Arla, it is still cow’s milk and tastes the same, but with an enzyme added to break down the lactose. There is no point trying goat or sheep milk instead – it still contains lactose.

Almond milk tends to stick in the back of the throat, hemp milk tastes too watery and coconut milk is too sweet. Forget soya milk as soy beans are on the list of foods to limit.

I’ve saved money by bulk buying a kilograme of oats rather than ready-made porridge sachets. Simply add a quarter of a cup of oats to half a cup of milk and half a cup of water (or 40g oats, 175ml water, 175ml milk) and microwave for two minutes, microwave for two minutes more. You may need to practice this on a weekend first as it depends on your microwave wattage.

I got ready-baked oats which are a minute or two quicker, but they don’t taste as nice as standard Scottish ones.

Lunch:

Pasta or potato salad (I was able to handle the small amount of gluten pasta for lunch)

Green salad with mozzarella slices

Leftovers

Dinner:

Gluten-free pasta and sauce or

stir fry

or steak, spinach and potatoes (for days when I’m tired and need an iron boost).

Dessert

Snowconut frozen yoghurt – gluten and lactose free as it is made from coconut milk this is a tasty alternative

Melon (not watermelon – this is high FODMAP)

Strawberries and a little cream

Unfortunately there is not much lactose free yoghurt available but I find that in small quantities I can usually tolerate it.

I recently had wheat pasta again and as anticipated, I had a sore tummy approximately an hour later. Rice pasta is just as good if you get thicker varieties such as penne and fusilli. I will be eating lunch portions only. Before sport I avoid any trigger foods. I have also cut down on my alcohol intake as this makes my symptoms flare too. If I am out drinking I try to alternate with juice.

If you try it let me know how it goes. You can find checklists online to take when you’re shopping, such as this one. Remember you need to reduce/avoid intake of any high FODMAP foods for six weeks before you start reintroducing foods on this list. It may be helpful to keep a food diary during this time.

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How To Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer

images (1)Fed up of feeling like a piece of meat on your holidays? Want to stick to blood donation for people?

Here is a bite-sized guide to mozzie magnets and the precautions you can take to get them to buzz off.

What are mozzies attracted to?

Carbon Dioxide

We can’t help attracting mosquitoes as they hone in on the carbon dioxide plumes we exhale. So we have to take steps to defend ourselves.

Please do not bother with citronella though, research have found it is less effective than DEET – the active incredient in most bug repellant products – protecting for merely 3 hours or less.

Hot Skin

Common areas include the forehead, wrists, elbows and neck. You can protect your head and neck with a buff, a versatile scarf that can be worn in a variety of ways.

According to research published in 2000 in medical journal the Lancet, pregnant women are twice as likely to be bitten due to being hotter and exhaling more carbon dioxide.

Dark clothing

Some mosquitoes are visual hunters that search people out from their outline against the horizon. No need to break out the camouflage from that army surplus store – there is a range of bug repellant clothing.

Scented perfumes, colognes and lotions

Unless the perfume is bug-repellant deodorant.

Cholesterol

A reason to exercise before that tropical holiday.

Lactic acid

A good excuse not to exercise once abroad.

Movement

Unless you are a statue impersonator you won’t have much luck with this, so cover up. You may feel like strutting in your Speedoes/bronzing in your bikini but you won’t look so good covered in bites.

Type “O” blood

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found mosquitoes landed on people with type O blood nearly twice as often as those with type A. O well, you will just have to follow the above advice.

Avoid going out at dawn or dusk as this is when mosquitoes are particularly active.

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