Monthly Archives: November 2013

A weekend in Birmingham

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I feel like a villager in Birmingham. It’s a city for giants, with skyscrapers touching the clouds all around. If you have money to spare it’s a lovely place for a night out.

My boyfriend’s university friends were having a reunion. I imagined a rowdy night out with mostly guys, as it had been last year. But this year there was a married couple who worked at a charity for children with learning difficulties and a physicist with his Masters student girlfriend. Or at least that’s as much as I could gather from the conversation. I was feeling a bit shy. I had said I didn’t mind staying at home and working – after all my boyfriend was offered a spare bed. But when I saw the company I could see why he was keen for me to come.

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We rolled up at the Marriott Hotel. It had been the only last-minute booking available and my boyfriend grumbled about it and said it was “just a hotel”. But it wasn’t “just a hotel” to me. Although there were smudges of something on the marble floor under the light, everything else was clean. The bathroom was mostly marble, with pretty shell mirror lights. The room was standard, except that it had a nice wooden wardrobe and three windows, two of which opened. I was expecting a kettle and teas for the price but it was still a treat. I was so tired later I didn’t mind the firm mattress, which is just how my boyfriend likes it, though he really doesn’t need the extra support.

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Spot Santa!

I was going to put on a short party skirt and top but luckily my boyfriend told me that we would be outside for a while at the German market, so I kept my acrylic LBD (long black dress) on. The whole of the city centre was covered in little wooden huts with fake greenery and baubles on the top. There were Santas on the rooves and a large Christmas tree. It was “Frankfurt” in Birmingham and the prices were probably just as ridiculous. The atmosphere was lovely though and there was one stall selling incredible hand-crafted chocolates in tool shapes – there were pliers, bolts, calipers, cameras, instruments and hammers. All the details were so delicate.

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We went to a French restaurant, Le Truc. I had a lovely hot spiced apple cocktail with a slice of apple in. It warmed me up and tasted sweet and delicious. We sat down to dinner and I ordered onglet. I wasn’t sure what it was but it sounded fancy, and with beef dripping chips. I asked one of the company what it was and I heard “snake”. I proudly announced to my boyfriend that I was having the most exotic dish. He didn’t know what onglet was but asked why they would serve snake. I asked the waitress and apparently it was steak. She asked how my boyfriend would like his steak. I told her he likes it freshly killed with blood still oozing from it. When he served it to me for the first time recently I could still taste the blood and felt a bit sick.

The onglet arrived but gristle was a better description. I couldn’t cut it. I struggled for a while and then gave up, ordering a fillet steak instead. When it came it was the best I’d tried, juicy, succulent and full of flavour. It was £17.50 for that and some standard chips – I couldn’t taste the beef dripping apparently on them, and a couple of leaves of spinach. I also had a goats cheese starter that was a slice of fried goats cheese on a potato cake. I thought it wasn’t much for £6.

I shared my boyfriend’s creme brulee for dessert and that was delicious. I’d IMG_0016only taken £50 cash to the city, thinking I would just be going for dinner and maybe a few drinks, but the drinks were so lovely I ended up spending £40 on two cocktails and the meal. The surroundings were nice with chandeliers and arty sketches and cartoons, and there was actually a French waiter. He was asked whether there were any nuts in the tart or sticky toffee pudding and didn’t understand until I translated rather falteringly with what I could remember.

Gingers was a lovely cocktail bar. They were really tasty and there was a wide variety on the menu. They were £6.50 each so I tried to make mine last. I had a strawberry milkshake one with a little too much alcohol in, it was quite sharp. Some were £8.50.

Although it was a classy establishment, unfortunately shortly after we sat down someone projectile vomited out of the toilet door (clearly more money than sense) and there were no other seats free. We were soon breathing through our mouths due to the chlorine bleach cleaning operation underway from a glamourous member of staff in a figgure-hugging LBD (also long). Ladies tottered around her in ridiculous heels, wearing fancy short dresses, fake-style make-up, curled freshly-dyed hair bouncing about. It was lovely being able to talk – the music was in the background and there wasn’t a dancing area, one wouldn’t want to encourage drink-spilling and debauchery.

My boyfriend took great delight in ordering “the gayest thing on the menu”. He had been yawning since the restaurant and after enjoying IMG_0023a sweet “Pink Panther” cocktail in a delicate little glass yawned until everyone followed suit and decided to call it a night. Most of the company were 30 or over and clearly weren’t used to such late nights.

In the morning I was annoyed that I woke up too late to enjoy the hotel pool. I enjoyed using the marble bathroom and the novelty of riding in a lift with a carpet and a mirror though.

We went to brunch at one of The Independent’s top 50 cafes. Nothing on the meu cost less than £6 so it was a bit pricey, and for that I only got three IMG_0041Scottish pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, a couple of blueberries and a strawberry. When we ordered tea I asked what tea they had and they said Earl Grey or ordinary. I wasn’t impressed. The salmon and poached egg brunch was probably what impressed reviewers, it looked like better value for money. There were wooden tables and the tea came in a lovely knitted tea-cosy. It was called The Plough and the toilet was rather fancy, all wood pannelling with their own soap and hand cream.

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We then went round the Christmas market again. I had a potato pancake, deep-fried. It was very fatty and chewy and not to my taste, even with the apple sauce. Others had little dough balls. I tried one but they were also chewy and fatty. Not worth £4 but they looked pretty.

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Then we went round the Bullring shopping mall. It just had chain stores in but we got lunch there. We marvelled at the cakes and tarts at the Patisserie Valerie counter. I asked whether my boyfriend wanted a tart for his birthday (on Friday). I said he was only allowed an edible one though.

We rushed to the station only to discover that when I was really tired I had bought a ticket from Sheffield to Birmingham instead of the other way round, having booked a ticket from Sheffield to London for our upcoming trip to Istanbul at the same time. My boyfriend was driving down south for an 11 day shift, working away. I’m going to London the day before we fly  and my boyfriend is picking me up and taking me to the airport hotel. I bought him return flights and he’s treating me to free 4 star spa hotel accommodation throughout the trip, as he stays away so often with work that he has lots of points he can use.

So my knight in shining armour not only bought me drinks and my Christmas presents but then had to buy my train fare home. He’s refusing to let me pay him back so I’ll get him something nice for Christmas instead.

I’m really looking forward to the next two weekends and I’ll tell you all about them as soon as I can.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Food, Life of Lydia

Crossroads

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I come from a background centred around achievement. It’s a matter of family pride and the most common question people ask is “what do you do [for a living]?”

We’re judged on the job we have and stereotypes surrounding it, the jobs our children do, our homes, our cars and 44543483784241483TSzh5a2Qcthe clothes we wear. We’re all expected to have ambition, a drive to succeed.

But what if our dream turns out to be a misguided fantasy? What if we lose our drive and/or just want to enjoy ourselves after work? Is that really so wrong?

I dreamed of being a journalist from a young age. I desperately wanted to join the fast-paced exciting world of newspaper journalism. Or at least I thought I did. But when I did extensive work experience I realised that the glamourous images in my head were vastly different from the nitty gritty reality, as I saw that actually, print journalists were low-paid, stressed out and had dubious morals.

I have an administration job and have just applied for one with a company PiggyBank-About-to-get-Smashedrather than an agency, offering just £15 000 a year. Is that even enough to live on? I don’t think I can save for a house or drive a car on that. Unless you want to go into management, administration does not offer much in terms of salary or progression.

What if our goals do not fit into the vision that our family/friends/society has for us? What if we just want a happy life? I am expected to be a librarian, a teacher or an administrator. Mum says “just write a bestseller”, “be the next J.K Rowling”. If only it was that easy.

When I declared that I wanted to be a nurse, all hell broke loose. My family told me they were stressed-out, low paid and bitchy. My nursing friends told me this was indeed true, but that little things like making a difference made it rewarding. All my friends told me to go for it and that I would make a great nurse. So I did, but sadly was unsuccessful. And as another of my dreams falls by the wayside, I’m taking stock and wondering what to do with my life.

Sure, if I moved to London I perhaps would have got somewhere. There are many large creative companies there offering positions with good experience and progression. But I strongly dislike London. It’s dirty, smelly and stressful. I feel claustrophobic with all the people pushing, shoving and coughing in my face. I feel the soot in the Underground sticking to me, and when I wash my face in the evening the water turns grey. I dislike the cold way people brush right past me, noses in the air, wrapped up in something I could never afford. On that note (literally), I dislike the sky-high prices blowing holes in your wallet.

So I’m left asking myself…

What do I do now??

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Filed under Life of Lydia, Work

Attachment

This morning I did an analytic meditation on attachment. Our fancy phone, our partner, our lifestyle and many other objects, people and ideas can be sources.

I’ve often had disappointment in love and today I realised why. Previously I have projected desired good qualities onto a boyfriend and then expected him to behave in a way that I would. Just because I am chatty and physically affectionate I sometimes expect a partner to be as well. We often expect a boyfriend, girlfriend, fiance, husband to be like us. For example we might plan a big surprise party when they prefer the company of a few good friends. We need to appreciate differences in personality of those we are close to. It’s also important to recognise the difference between love and attachment, because often they feel like the same thing.

Attachment makes us behave in a way which often runs contrary to who we really are and destroys our peace of mind. We might be clingy or bombard someone with texts, thinking that the more we contact them, the more likely they are to answer. Of course the opposite is true. We develop unrealistic expectations of those we love, expecting them  to always be there and make us happy. Our mood can go up and down depending on what’s happening in our relationships. We might feel hurt by a partner’s behaviour when in fact we just need to understand. It always helps to try and see things from their perspective.

Perhaps we get into dysfunctional relationships because we don’t want to be alone, because we’re in love with the idea of love or because we try to fool ourselves that we are compatible when we are not.

We may plan our days around our partners. But really we should get on with our own lives, our own independent journey. If they want to join us then that’s great but if they don’t, don’t lose sight of who you are and what you want to achieve. Only you can shape your future.

YouCanDoIt

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My First Charity Event!

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About two weeks ago I went the distance for a good cause. I’d done 20 miles a couple of times, but hadn’t had the chance to train for the 40 mile British Heart Foundation cycle at all. It was around a forest near Mansfield with cycling tracks of varying abilities.

In the weeks before I’d begged colleagues, family and friends to donate and was humbled by the response. Every pound was an achievement, and I excitedly monitored the charity web page http://www.justgiving.com/overrideladies (which is still open for donations. Special thanks to Fiona, a blogger who donated!)

I was anxious. What if I injured myself? What if I had a puncture? I hadn’t had the opportunity to get an inner tube kit and wasn’t sure how to change a tyre if it did blow out. What if I couldn’t finish it? There was rather a lot of uncertainty, but at least I knew I could get there. I woke my lovely boyfriend up at 6am and soon we were off. There was no turning back now. Just as we arrived the sun rose into a hazy pink gold and blue sky. Beautiful.

I had a cycling shirt and then winter running outfit over the top. Full length lycra trousers, a waterproof jacket from my boyfriend and a bag full of cereal bars. Great for that extra push.

I was anxious to start ahead of the slower riders, so I went right to the start line. There was a great sense of community, we were all in this together, and an excited tension. We were reminded it was not a race. I was treating it like one though, for all those who had supported me and would ask for my time. I saw a lady from my cycling group at the start but when I went back to the crowd I couldn’t find her again and I didn’t have their phone numbers. I found out later that they set off in the second wave.

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Copyright mysportspix.net (purchased copy)

The starting horn sounded and we were off in a blur of spokes and helmets. For the first 20 miles going out I was powering through, pedalling furiously, showering myself with mud and puddle water. We went past farmer’s fields, into a park, past a cockerel strutting his stuff, past caravans, lakes, over little bridges and round country lanes. The scenery was lovely, with golden bronze trees everywhere and farmer’s fields. There were army cadets helping us across busier roads and at water stops along the way (though I preferred to pedal on, I didn’t want to lose momentum).

On the way back several people got punctures tires hissing suddenly from the carpet of prickly conker shells. They had their bikes upside down replacing the inner tube. I could see why mountain bikes had been recommended. Quite a few cyclists with thinner tyres suffered. I zoomed past, hoping the next lot wouldn’t stop me in my tracks.

Then we were on the way back. I wasn’t sure how far I had to go as I could only get the distance in kilometres. Didn’t someone say there was 0.8km in a mile? I started to lose heart a bit. The route looked familiar but I couldn’t remember how far out I was. As I passed the farmland again I saw a band of rain sweeping through. I was glad of the jacket but I didn’t want to stop to zip it up so I did get a little drenched. When it stopped, I swung my bag round and text, drank or ate cereal bars as I cycled. The speedier  sportsmen zipped past, sweat flying off them. Some had hearts on the back of their rucksacks showing who they were riding for.

Finally we were into the forest again and I felt relieved. I’d had great fun but time was starting to drag now and after 30 miles my legs started burning. Every push became painful and I was grateful for the downhills. The route had been fairly flat, especially after compared to the hills where I live, and I had expected to feel the strain long before now.

Other participants spurred me on, yelling out encouragement as they passed. We kept saying to each other “surely it’s not much further!” and finally we heard the cheers of the crowd and the megaphone announcements gradually getting closer. It took me a while to work up a last sprint as I was drained (despite the many cereal bars) and my circulation was on fire. But finally we came out of the wooded track and onto the finishing field. It was over and I had done it. Twice my furthest distance, off road and in only four hours. Ten miles an hour was a speed to be proud of. I put on my medal and the camera flashed in my tired but triumphant mud-splattered face.

Will I do it again? I’m not sure. It was a little too long. 30 miles would have been enough, but I’m sure it would have been easier with training. I am so grateful to all those who had a heart and donated. I have so far raised £170. Thank you.

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