Category Archives: Days out/nights out

Housemate Heaven

Moving out of my parents’ house was the best decision I ever made.

I have now settled in to my new abode. The rent is reasonable at £375 a month. For that I pink-new-home-cards-simple-new-house-classic-ideas-wonderful-sample-animal-love-spread-doorget the run of the whole house, next day service on any repairs, a TV with two channels, all bills included and the perfect housemate.

Helen is my age, a lovely, bubbly, tidy, respectful and relaxed tenant with shoulder-length dark brown straight hair and blue eyes. She works at a local hospital organising heart operations, but she wants to be a personal assistant.

She should really be a counsellor, she is so good at listening. Her brother is a psychiatrist so it must run in the family. She will patiently listen to any drivel I spout and look like she is interested. We both like rugby, drum and bass (minus illicit substances) and watching crap on TV (First Dates). That was until my boyfriend “fixed” it. We lost Channel 4 and 5 and now we just have BBC 1 and 2.

So far the landlord’s mum has provided a brand new toaster the day after the old one blew the electrics. I thought I would need to replace the fuse but thankfully it was as easy as switching it back on (thanks Google and the flashlight on my phone). She also does all the washing up and the dishwasher whenever she pops round (once every couple of weeks).  What more could you want?

Credit: Chic On A Shoestring

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Well there is one thing, a washing machine that you can use on any setting. Currently it only works on 40 degrees, delicate cycle and a quick spin. But I am being fussy. The household appliances are a strange combination of 80’s retro (literally from that decade if not older) and brand new, with the “replace it when it’s broken” philosophy. The dishwasher is safe enough but put the washing machine on the wrong setting and you get water all over the floor when you open it. Without a mop it took about an hour to sponge it all up…

It is peaceful here. No nagging from my mother (which was constant and caused headaches), just freedom. I can do no wrong in Helen’s eyes except when I half finish chores (a bad habit).

I have yet to use the complimentary garden herbs – rosemary and lemon thyme. I cooked a meal for Helen the first Friday. I got a discounted pork shoulder joint (only £3.50) and roasted it for an hour with white wine and potatoes. It was delicious.

The landlord is about my age, chatty and excitable with dark brown curly hair and bright eyes. She is a primary school teacher who lives in Bristol. Her parents help her manage the house they helped her buy (worth about £250,000 with a mortgage of just over £500 a month). They hoped she would stay in in the city but she went about four hours away to live with a boyfriend. That did not work out and she ended up staying there for the job which was better.

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Credit: Cardiff Caerdidi Tours courtesy of TripAdvisor.

I spent some quality time with her this weekend. She is also interested in rugby because her father was in a local team. Unfortunately rugby is a risky sport and he broke his ankle, shattering the bones in his leg. He never played again but kept it in his life by being the Chairman of the club and the ticketing association. We watched the Cardiff Blues lose narrowly to Munster (Ireland). I also went round the castle in Cardiff (Wales) and the National Museum. Apparently there isn’t much else to do there but it kept me entertained all weekend.

In other news I failed my automatic driving test for the second time. I failed the first one in February and the second one two days ago. The first time was because I had not had enough practice at parallel parking on a hill and was so shaken up after doing it correctly that I tried to get closer to the kerb wrongly. I ended up reversing out into the road. I forgot to put the car back into forward gear and then turned the wheel the wrong way. I got three minors (for going 40 in a 60 on undulating hills, for not being far enough into the middle of the road when turning right and for not looking ahead through the window before setting off).

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Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second time I was nearly back at the test centre (at that stage I had passed) when I lost concentration and thought it would only be a minor if I followed a van round a parked car. The man in the car waiting on the other side of the road was livid, gesticulating wildly. Of course it was a major – I should have waited. I got 7 minors including speeding (30 instead of 20), steering (not passing the wheel through my hands correctly) and going through an amber traffic light instead of stopping. If you are preparing for the test please click on this link for some advice.

As for my accommodation, it will probably be sold in a year or so but for now I am quite happy to stay where I am – this living arrangement works.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Driving, Life of Lydia, Travel, Uncategorized

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

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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October 10, 2015 · 7:17 pm

My First “Airbnb” Experience

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For my birthday I was going to see Prodigy in London with a friend. I was delighted that my cousin had decided to join us.

It was the weekend before the event so there were hardly any places left in the bed and breakfast (bnb) houses we were looking at. Only the expensive or low-rated options were left and the nearest hotel was 5 miles away.

A “B ‘n B” breakthrough

“What can we do?” I asked my cousin “this place only has a single room left! and this one is a bit too expensive isn’t it.”

My cousin would know best as she was an experienced traveller. On a break in between her Masters degree she had gone to Spain spontaneously on her own. She is a student and I am saving for a big holiday (of course I will blog about it) so we are both skint. We had already shelled out £50 for the gig ticket.

“Well…” she replied “when I was in Madrid I stayed in a really nice air bnb place. It was really cheap and overlooking the main plaza! It would have been really expensive to stay at a hotel in that location.”

“What is air bnb?” I asked. I vaguely recollected an advert on it.

“Is it that one where you sleep on people’s sofas? cos I’m not doing that!”

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I had spent one night on a sofa and hadn’t slept a wink as I tried to find a way to get my long legs spread out without having the arm of the sofa digging in. There wasn’t enough width to curl up. It was a nightmare and there was no chance of it being a dream. I had emerged from that student house looking like I’d spent the night in a hedge, and that probably would have been more comfortable.

My cultured cousin laughed. “No it’s not that one! Though I think there is one like that. It’s called couch-surfing isn’t it? This is similar but you get a proper bed.”

“A proper bed? isn’t that the same as a proper bed and breakfast then?”

“It’s like that but it’s where someone rents out their spare room. You get to meet lots of different people doing it and the ones I’ve met have all been lovely. You don’t always get breakfast but they’re usually in good locations.”

I was intrigued. The other choices were pretty limited so I thought we should give it a try.

You just needed an email address and password to set up an account and it was free. You could search by country as well as by city.

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The places were advertised with a picture of the bedroom with the Google map location on the right. Perfect. We looked and most of the good places were taken but there was one that stood out.

London Luxury

The photograph that I liked featured a beautiful white “Victorian” bathroom with a vintage bath (a new bath in an old style, not a tin one). The house looked modern and spacious for London. Not only that but it was a 10 minute walk from the venue. There was a paragraph or two about the owner, a smiling middle-aged lady who had travelled around Ecuador and liked the theatre. There were good reviews and it wasn’t too expensive.

The house was close to the station and my cousin was already there.

As I walked up to the stained-glass front door I felt a bit nervous. It seemed odd to walk in to a stranger’s house and stay there like one of their friends or family. But my anxiety subsided when our host opened the door and greeted me, grinning from ear to ear.

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She was a warm, friendly lady with a healthy glow and a slight tan. She served us tea and sat with us in their airy conservatory with a view onto a verdant garden. There was a little shed at the end and a trellis with flowering plants.

My cousin looked relaxed and had enjoyed a pleasant chat. I had not expected such peace and quiet. But it was a privileged residential area and of course, only parts of (mostly inner) London are chaotic, dirty and noisy.

I felt that I needed a shower on arrival to the house, as I had been on the Tube and became conscious of the grimy soot sticking to me. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it. That and the gig atmosphere turned the bathwater grey the next day.

Double delight

We were amused that we were sharing a double bed. We had dark wooden drawers and a wardrobe to match, with a fluffy turquoise carpet and curtains tied back. I laid down some ground rules – no farting in bed and no trespassing over the middle line. My cousin broke both rules by the next morning.

We got glittered-up for the rave and headed out. We clip-clopped in our heels through the drizzle along rows of tall neat Victorian houses, shivering. Pretty soon we felt rather lost and decided that we would turn back after ten minutes.

“Did you see the pictures in the bathroom?” my cousin asked.

“Yes, interesting weren’t they!” I replied. There had been pictures of the couple in skimpy 1930s-style carbaret outfits with feathers and pearls.

“Do you think they’re swingers?” my cousin giggled.

“No it’s just fancy dress.”

“Yes but there was more than one of them like that.” We laughed.

Fortunately after a 20 minute totter we found the pub our host had directed us too. But as it was 9pm they had closed for food so we went to the takeaway opposite. It took ten minutes but the kofta kebab was well worth it. As we were late we had to eat waiting for a taxi, sheltering under a tree from the relentless rain.

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The Gig – Prodigy the-prodigy

I enjoyed the band, especially the classics that reminded me of student days. Thousands filled the hall with a high ceiling and the lighting was great but unfortunately the sound at the gig was focussed at the front and there were no speakers further back. The sound system was clearly not built or configured for the electronic music either. One of the band did make an effort to remedy this by coming near us to sing (or rather shout, it is that kind of music) on a mini stage in the middle, dreadlocks swinging. Cheers erupted around us as people surged forward. Eyes bulged and hands shot up to follow the beat.

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The hyperactive crowd fully compensated for the muffled performance when he went back, as they thrashed around with reckless abandon. Beer flew everywhere and drenched us. The air was thick with the smell of that and foul body odours. Every so often I had to move as I would end up in a cloud of it and I decided that I’d grown out of grunge.

Pint pouring

When my cousin had a pint poured down her she lost it, turning round and shouting at the miscreant. He apologised and moved away. She angrily said to the man behind him “I hope you’re not going to pour that down me too!”. This started a conversation which went very well and she ended up on the bearded bloke’s shoulders waving her arms around.

We rocked out until the early hours, leaving as the orange streetlight sky started to pale. It was about 4 when we finally went to sleep after a hushed chinwag.

Healthy host

Four hours later I was woken by the sound of the front door closing as our healthy host ran to the gym. As you do on a Saturday morning. I was impressed but seriously sleepy and dozed off until an hour before our checkout time. It was a quiet area and we were in a little guest room down our own hallway with our own bathroom at the other end.

After a bath I felt rejuvenated (and much cleaner). We had a nice chat with our host, who was back from her early morning workout, and her husband. They were a good-looking, kind and knowledgeable pair. I felt guilty when I asked her if I had woken her up and she said she had heard the door shut when we came in. She assured me that it was fine and we were very quiet. She said she was a light sleeper.

We left in search of the nearest pub breakfast. As we stumbled along I decided that although I would not be going to a Prodigy gig again, I would definitely be staying with airbnb for my next trip…

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

A Country Wedding

bride and groom 2 My boyfriend’s housemates were getting married. They had been together for five and a half years when Tony popped the question in Italy at the top of a tower. If you did say no at the top of a tower you would have a long awkward walk down but no was never an answer that applied to this couple.

They had been together happily in the two years I had known my boyfriend. I had rarely seen them argue and they are both warm friendly people with a healthy sense of humour.

They had moved in officially for about a year, as before that Jess had been working nearby and visiting. But then she managed to get a dance teaching job in the same city. Tony manages a promotional film company and is obcessed with Star Wars and Lego, so Star Wars Lego figurines decorated the front room.

The first time in their house I had giggled at the bizarre collection of Tony’s former mobile telephones decorating the wall by the stairs. The oldest one was an early 1990s cordless. It is great to have Jess’s company around the house. No longer were random socks and beer/wine bottles/glasses littering the kitchen and front room. The previous housemates had moved out and got married too. There must have been something in the chilly air. Eventually it will be our turn to move out of separate houses and try living in one. Who knows, maybe we will get married.

The epic celebrations began on Friday night. As the groom was a Beaver/Explorer leader, they helped cook pie and peas. My boyfriend said he would help but unfortunately as it was in the middle of the countryside I was reliant on a lift (I am halfway through driving lessons…). He had to wait until I could finally escape from work, getting home about 6.30. So when we arrived some were obviously irritated that we did not appear “after lunch” as my boyfriend had suggested. He had just told me to leave early as possible and regrettably that was not an option. darwin lake birds eye

We arrived in the middle of the countryside where in the middle of farmers fields stood a circle of new build cottages around a lake, with a “barn” – a modern stone hall at the back. On the grass stood a massive white marquee complete with tables, chairs and decorations. darwin tent Almost everyone had enthusiastically participated in the beer-brewing competition and someone had even made a lovely fruity cider. There were beers with ginger, apple, a smoky flavour and the bride’s family homegrown honey. The beer tasting glasses had a little sticker on the base with a cartoon couple, their names and the wedding date. You could tell the bride was a teacher. Everything was immaculately planned. We had a pub quiz as a friend brought his own beer taps and questions along. This was accompanied by a hilarious game featuring a ball tied into tights around your waist. You had to hit a ball on the ground with it which involved a lot of thrusting. thrust game   At about 11 we called it a night and returned to our self-catering cottage. In the morning woke up to sunshine. The Scout boys staying with us organised their own breakfast, so we had cereal. Then we rushed out to Matlock to get a cable for the Wii, as this was to be set up in the bassment of the barn for the children.

Before that they would play a live video of the wedding for a friend with locked-in syndrome, Nick. I first met him at the end of last year at a housewarming party for him. Someone told me he was joking with me through interpretation of his eye movements and I was inspired by his positivity. It was a moving experience. There was a scene about this type of communication in the film about Stephen Hawking and it made me cry because it showed what a challenge it was. Like Stephen, Nick was an Oxbridge graduate, and was in his 40s helping to run Scouts when he randomly had a brain stem stroke which paralysed him.

After going round all the video game shops in the small town we rushed back and had one of my boyfriend’s best dishes for lunch – omelette with caramelised onions, cheese, olives and salami. On returning to the cottage I saw a glamorous slender tanned lady with blonde waves get out of a Jaguar with a man in a sharp suit. We were later told that the man was a military commander in Brazil.

We quickly changed for the main event. We got back in time to help the groom get the wedding room free of clutter. I wore a sleeveless A-line dress that was lined and navy with pink roses on. There was quite a breeze making things chilly but we stayed outside to drink quartetchampagne and listen to the lovely male quartet sing. They were wearing white suits, red bow ties. The songs were old-fashioned classics.

Then it was time for the wedding itself. We filed in. The groom swayed from foot to foot anxiously, fiddling with his watch and looking around, chatting to his best men in front of the registrar, a middle-aged lady with round cheeks and blonde cropped hair. There were about 200 guests filling the floor. There were waves of whispers and the air was heavy with anticipation . There was a small wooden trellis in the middle of a stage with ivy round it but other than that the decoration was minimal. Then the music started and the bridesmaids slowly entered, all wearing slightly different outfits but in the same dark navy.

There was a pause and then we finally got to see the dress. Normally when I see the bride it is after work so she is usually exhausted, sleepy and hardly has energy to smile, but today her face was illuminated with joy from her rosy, natural complexion and perfect plaited dark hair as she glided along with her train, perfectly poised in her strapless white satin folded gown. The groom, on seeing her, appeared to breathe a sigh of relief in his flattering dark suit and smiled broadly in return. vows and dress

They said their individual vows and the registrar spoke of the sanctity of marriage and how it was about cherishing and supporting each other. Then we were invited to sing “Stand By Me” by Ben King. It was a beautiful moment, the couple so perfect for each other, two kind, lovely, cheerful souls combined for evermore, and the music of so many voices, young and old, in harmony. I welled up with the emotion.

As we filed out I turned to my boyfriend and saw that he had tears in his eyes too. I had never seen him cry before and I was touched.

We were then seated in the marquee which was decorated with (fake) ivy and carpeted. It was beautiful with little wedding gifts for guests of the bride’s family honey and lego for the groom’s touch. lego and honey Every little detail had been planned. We had a starter of nice Italian meats and olives. Then lasagne and brownies.

There were several short speeches and the groom thanked everyone for their efforts in helping bring the wedding weekend/festival together. Then there was the longest speech from the best man. Apparently it was timed at an hour and 25 minutes and featured raffle prizes for gifts such as a bottle of Fanta that featured in the story of how the groom and his best man met. It reminded me of an embarrassing time at junior school where I did a competition which hardly anyone entered and then I presented sherbet sticks in assembly as the prize, after trying to sell them for 25p each.

After that there was a break to get ready for the evening event. I kept the same dress on and we sat and chatted in the barn. Then we went upstairs to watch the bride and groom’s choreographed dance. It was beautiful and the delivery was flawless. wedding throw The disco came on later – the wedding room had been transformed with the chairs and the stage was gone. The LED backdrop ensured there were coloured lights across the dance floor. My boyfriend sorted the children out on the Wii and showed them how to use the controls. wiiii He looked like good father material helping and chatting happily to an inquisitive boy but of course I did not tell him that. He was concerned enough by me hinting that maybe it would be our turn for a wedding at some point. You should have seen his face when my cousin and I looked at diamonds in the Natural History Museum in London and then went on to accidentally (honest) walk through the maternity and baby clothes sections of Harrods. He frogmarched us out of there when I cooed over a baby duffle coat.

We danced the night away at the disco and he barely took his eyes off me. It was lovely and it was nice to see the groom getting into it at the end of the night. Tony and Jess made sure they had time for everyone.

The lake of the venue

Wonderful shot by Martyn Miller, the retired photographer. All other photographs are courtesy of him as I forgot my camera. The lake of the venue

My main impression from the weekend was that it was completely inclusive. Everyone was made to feel special and welcomed. There were people of all ages and backgrounds there and they were so friendly and enthusiastic. We were not sure whether to stay on Sunday but we soon discovered that the toilet paper and washing-up liquid were running out and the heating and television had gone off, so it was time to make a move. It was overcast and still windy, not ideal for the summer clothes I had brought, hoping for warmer weather (you can never hope for better weather in England. If you don’t bring a coat it will be cold, if you don’t bring an umbrella it will rain). I had forgotten my coat. The Scouts in our cottage all left.

We went out for brunch at a farm cafe which was expensive but tasty. I had spinach soup and a cranberry and bacon panini and felt less sleepy. When we got back my boyfriend said he wanted to help and I was expecting there to be a team already on the case. I had told my parents we would be back for dinner. But it turned out that aside from the bride and groom’s immediate family we were it. I felt that we were fully justified in arriving too late to help at the start after our efforts packing up.

We collected the rubbish and heaved the sacks into a little cart. We pushed the dripping smelly things into the bins. We carried piles and piles of chairs from the big white tent into the hall. Then we started on the tables. We unpeeled the black masking tape keeping the strips of carpet together, wrapping maggots and whatever else had got from the soil into it. We took up all the nails holding down the carpets and rolled them up.

I drew the line at lifting up the muddy boards and entertained the best man’s baby instead. The mum jokingly asked whether I did babysitting and I wished she was serious. The little girl with large dark eyes looked at me in wonder. She liked my shiny purse and kept trying to chew on it, so I would distract her with the tassles on my scarf, which she then pulled into her pram, choking me, so I untangled it from her tiny fingers.

Finally it was time for the baby’s nap so I then said if I was walking on the mud with muddy boards I would need to change my footwear. Once in the car I finally stopped shivering and couldn’t face going out again. I was in a t-shirt, thin cardigan and a pashmina scarf. I sat there for 10 minutes with my walking boots on before heading back out and running through the rain. Thankfully it was done. lego wedding cake I forgot my slice of the wedding cake, so eager was I to leave the cold and get back to a home-cooked meal. We said our goodbyes to the pale sleepy couple and went on our way.

In the car on the way back I asked my boyfriend whether the wedding had made him want to have a big event if we got married.

“Are you joking?!” he said.

“Didn’t you see how stressed they got? Nah, what’s the point? Why not save it for a house instead?

I’d just go to a registry office.”

“But what about my big white dress?” I asked.

“Do you really need one?” He replied.

“It didn’t happen this time, but I’ve seen the meaning of marriage lost in a big wedding, it becomes all about that instead.”

He had a point, but hopefully we could compromise on the dress…

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My First Ski (Accident)

whistler Ever since I watched skiers from the longest highest unsupported gondola in the world I have wanted to try it.

I was having the trip of a lifetime with my aunt. We took a coach from our hotel in Vancouver and drove for hours towards Whistler resort. After going past a large lake with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks we began to ascend and the snow started and deepened around the road. Whistler Creekside in the afternoon     whistler-view

On arrival we were greeted by the homely lights of wooden lodges and chalets. At the bottom was a fancy bar where I enjoyed a delicious Earl Grey lemon cocktail, truffle fries and fondue. Maybe this sort of food is part of the reason behind it being named the Number 1 Resort in a ski magazine. Apparently it is pricey though, a keen snowsporter told me it is £70 a day just to ski. 470033_10100541308911379_959251302_o Then we got on the 4 person gondola. We travelled at a standard height to the top of Whistler Peak and I admired the sight of skiers zig-zagging and curving down the slope. It looked so exciting I wanted to hop off and try it. There was a father and son with us. The boy of about 7 had been snowboarding so much that he was already “better than me” the dad said proudly. The boy looked up admiringly. 461643_10100541308786629_541747113_o  458266_10100541307913379_562161844_o

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View from the glass floor of the gondola dangling above a mountain with no supporting post in sight.

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Sky High

Then we carried on to Blackcomb  – the peak opposite, in a 10 person gondola with a glass floor. Skiers and snowboarders joined us, enthusiastic, chatty and exuberant from their alpine adventures. There were fir tree forests but even here there were people off-piste skiing, darting around in the sparser areas. At the highest point the 10 foot trees looked like matchsticks and we could see the whole valley blanketed in snow. The phrase winter wonderland must have been inspired by this. I was quite nervous when we got that high, especially when someone said “I wonder what would happen if we fell now, look, we’re only supported by that wire up there, there isn’t peak2peak-after-a-snowfallanother post for miles”. I imagine I wasn’t the only one who wanted to slap him. You should definitely put it on your to do/bucket list. I’ll never forget the experience.

I wondered whether I would ever get the chance to try snow-sports as most people were already at intermediate stage that I knew or didn’t ski. People said it was risky, cold and expensive. Our holiday will cost more than £1,000 for a week just for the basics. An opportunity came round a few months ago when a new friend, Andy, a doctor working as a G.P. He said that he hadn’t been but wanted to as well. Perfect. So we booked a pricey £175 day course at Castleford Xscape, an indoor slope with real snow, at -5 degrees Celcius. It would be 8 hours and I expected to be quite confident by the end of it, ready to go on to intermediate ones later. fixedthumbnailer

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I was expecting to be fitted for skis and boots but it was every man/woman for themselves. I got the size of my feet but they were too small. I got the next size up but didn’t know how to put mine on, so I thought they didn’t fit. So I finally went back and the assistant thought my foot might have a high arch so gave me another pair which they said weren’t as good. It really wasn’t. It dug into the back of my leg and was quite sore after some hours. I went back and worked out myself how to get the boots on. You had to tear it apart to fit it. It’s even more important to get a good fit with them if you’re a woman – the structure of our knees means we’re more likely to get injuries. Skiis were heavier than they looked. ski-boot_1007324cProfeetInfographicImage Andy was getting frustrated with turns and got the instructor to give him some personalised tuition. The teaching was too general for me too. I was doing turns with snowploughs, which is where you make a pizza slice shape with your skis, the end of the slice being the front of your skis and then go back to parallel skis. Mine were fitted too long and I struggled to stop them crossing, which makes you fall. It was a gentle slope so we didn’t pick up much speed. We copied and were given the occasional tip. Then after a nice lunch around £7 of a burger and chips I had more energy for the beginner/intermediate bit of the lesson. We spent a long time going from half-way up the main slope.

Tricky Turns

It was higher but I still felt safe as although I couldn’t do parallel turns, I could do snowplough ones that slowed me down. We hadn’t been told anything about where your foot should be in the boot. Parallel turns in skiing look easy but they are not for the beginner. Every time one foot would drag and I would do a triangle (snowplough) turn instead. It was getting frustrating. I asked for help but the instructor said I was fine. I didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth. Chillfactore-beginners

Crash Landing

I’d been dreading going up to the top as it was higher than the highest slope I’d launched myself down sledging. Now I was on two tiny sledges attached to each foot and had far less control and surface area. If I fell backwards I might break my neck and that would be it. If I fell on one side I might dislocate something. Fall too hard and I might even break something. But the instructor told us to fall if we were going too fast or turn across the slope. I fell off the pomola (seat for one person on a wire) on the first try and then couldn’t get up on my massive skis. Turned out I was in between sizes so they had fitted skis which were too long and I felt like Pingu ice-skating. When I finally started down the slope I couldn’t see the bottom.

maxresdefault It was terrifying, but what could go wrong? The instructor had said that he wouldn’t have taken us up there unless he was sure we were ready, so we shouldn’t worry. I didn’t believe that. He had a schedule to keep and he was going to carry on regardless. I didn’t feel my turns were developed enough but we were following him in loops so we would be fine…surely. I did two turns and was just relaxing and thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all when one foot wouldn’t turn.

The edge had become wedged in the snow. I jerked my foot to free it. It came free suddenly and turned straight as it did. My other foot spun round with it and I was going straight. I looked at the teacher but his eyes were elsewhere. I’d be ok I thought, I’d turn across the slope. But when I tried to turn my feet in my boots one size too big (I was between sizes there too) they wouldn’t budge and I continued to slide down.

My speed began to snowball and I started screaming at the top of my lungs. My eyes were watering at the blast of icy air, people were blurs and the slope seemed to clear as I hurtled down. I couldn’t turn and in the panic I didn’t know what else I could do. My experience was similar to this video but faster. An instructor later told us that the top speed down there is 35 miles per hour. beginners

Suddenly three quarters of the way down, the instructor appeared and yelled “sit down!”. I was like a rabbit in the headlights so it took me a short moment to process it. But then I imagined breaking my neck as I fell over backwards. Should I roll? Then I might break something too. But before I could do anything the fence zoomed towards me and it was finally flat so I could turn. I braced myself and stiffened my shoulders. I’d hit it on the side to minimise injury. SMASH CRASH THUD THUD. My body was a projectile that collided with the wooden and (thankfully) plastic mesh fence. I hit it on one shoulder, grabbing for the mesh to slow the impact. The force of it rotated me and I hit it on my other shoulder and cut my chin on the plastic, such was the speed. The impact then threw me backwards.

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The staff responded immediately, three of them running in on all sides. One instructor I’d chatted to earlier, a tall guy with black-framed glasses and black spiky hair kindly asked questions. He reminded me of the actor Jeff Goldblum. I said I had a sore neck and started crying at the idea that I might be paralysed just from this. But as I lay on the snow with everyone gathered around I realised that it was an ache not a sharp stabbing pain like a broken bone as someone ran up next to me with a spinal board.

“I’ve just sprained it” I said weakly. Should I test it out or was that too risky? What the hell, I didn’t want to be carried off and create even more of a scene. I sat up suddenly and bent my neck. It was sore but thank goodness, not fractured. The staff gently pushed me back down.

“No sudden movements, we don’t know what your injuries are yet.” “It’s ok” I insisted, “I’ve just sprained it. I can move it fine.” He asked if anything else hurt. “My back”. I said. That ached from the fall. “Could it be broken?” he asked. “No it just aches, I’m fine.”

Andy appeared. “I’m a doctor” he announced and everyone visibly relaxed and looked to him to sort things out. He asked how I was. I tried to get up and this time they allowed it, helped by three staff. My boyfriend appeared. “Are you ok?” “Yes” I whimpered, as Mikhail-Maksimochkin-accident-stretcherAndy and the first-aider helped me to the first-aid room.

The health and safety officer was a young girl with dark eyes and hair scraped back into a small ponytail. She was brusque and dismissive. It was clear that I’d embarrassed them with this accident which required an incident form and a bump note. Andy did tests for broken bones and they were negative. He thought my nose might be broken because it looked bruised but he felt it and it was fine, just dirt from the fence.

The girl wiped the blood off my chin. It bled again but she didn’t notice as she was busy getting my account as briefly as possible. She clearly wanted it over and done with but looked sympathetic as she told me I was the fourth person to hit the fence that month. Andy had to ask for a plaster as blood was slowly pooling on my chin. I’d bit my lip as I crashed and that was stinging a bit. There wasn’t enough blood for it to drip onto my mum’s ski suit luckily. There were only bandages and massive blue plasters in the first-aid box.

The instructor came in as I was giving my statement, apologising. “Why didn’t you sit down?” he asked. He asked if I really needed the plaster. I said they’d had to put it on as my chin wouldn’t stop bleeding. He went out, saying he’d come and see me afterwards. Finally my boyfriend appeared. He said he didn’t want to crowd me. When he’s hurt he doesn’t like too much attention but likes to “get on with it”. The first-aider refused to let me complete the last hour of my lesson so I went upstairs to the cafe in a huff and sat at the window watching Andy confidently winding down and my boyfriend having fun. He looked up often which was nice.

When I booked the last hour days later, the receptionist stated how much it was. Although staff had said they’d make a note on the system they clearly hadn’t. I said I hadn’t been able to do Lesson 5 as I’d crashed and hadn’t been allowed to complete it. She said she wasn’t sure if I could get it for free and that she’d check. After speaking to an instructor she booked me in.5aac3a674db76fb1e01b4ab8f426987317038ae0

When I went back two days later I was in the 9pm slot on a weekday so it was wonderfully quiet and I didn’t have to worry about what other skiers/snowboarders were doing and whether we’d collide. My boyfriend was going to ski but at £25 (the same price as an hour’s lesson) even off-peak he didn’t bother. I built up confidence and faced my fear, pointing myself towards the bottom of the slope from the top but in a snowplough so that I could slowly turn. The coaching was personalised in that I got two tips in the hour but it was mostly again a matter of copying the instructor. Unfortunately we couldn’t see what his feet were doing in his ski boots, which is probably what prevented me from improving the last time. You need to know where to put your weight in your foot. You need to literally be on your toes when you turn. My boyfriend gave me useful tips on the way there that would have been useful in training. My arms and shoulders were achy, my knees had purple bruises, my chin had a Harry Potter mark on it and there was a red spot on my nose but I’d been really lucky. At least the incident support was great and I didn’t get any serious injuries. I didn’t get too confident or foolhardy and now I know what can go wrong I won’t take risks but will slowly build up my skills.

As my Yorkshire champion instructor said “if you have the tiniest bit of doubt in your mind, don’t do it.”

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The beautiful Kate Middleton is a skiing fan. She was first spotted kissing Prince William on a ski holiday.

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My First Hen Do

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I’m coming to the age now where friends are getting engaged. After watching Don’t Tell the Bride I assumed that these always involved pink sashes, penis accessories, tiaras, tutus and competitive drinking.on-it-until-we-vomit-hen-do-t-shirt

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But this was a classy do, especially as the bride’s mum was in attendance. There were pink sashes but no phallic items here, the organiser proudly announced. We had a private room booked out in one of the most fancy places in town. The tables were grouped in an upside-down U-shape enabling conversation with more people.

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Everyone was dressed up and looked lovely. The bride-to-be is a dance teacher and her teacher friends enthusiastically complained about their ridiculous workload and the panic surrounding Ofsted (government evaluation) visits. Then the talk turned to dogs – one of the girls had brought one over from China that had lived with them while she’d taught English. He’d had to go back weeks before they did and his flight was more expensive. Then he’d had to have lots of jabs. He’s an enthusiastic Golden Retriever that we’ve seen on occasion, his big fluffy self scurrying towards us biting a slipper.

I said I would quite like a pug, a chihuahua and a cat and they didn’t seem to know what to say. I always thought pugs were ugly creatures with their wrinkles, squashed nose and scary goggle eyes. But then I met one. It looked up at me and I walked away in disgust. It trotted behind me wagging its tail. I sat down to watch TV and it looked up at me with it’s massive eyes. Then it braced itself, arched its back and launched itself onto the sofa. It sat next to me on its hind legs with its little front paws dangling in front, panting heavily and making Darth Vader noises.cute-pug27

I haven’t met a chihuahua but they look cute and cuddly and a vet told me that a dog should have a canine companion to play with.

Ok it's a corgi but you get the idea.

Ok it’s a corgi but you get the idea.

They’re also a lot cheaper than children and I won’t be ready for them for a long time. I’ll also get practice on caring for something that is dependent on me and they’d persuade me out in this atrocious English climate which currently oscillates between sleet, rain and the occasional spot of sunshine, but always with temperatures below 10 degrees, at least until late April I expect.

The three-course meal was delicious and the quizzes were a great idea. They both tested how well you knew the bride and groom with some interesting questions (what film/TV couple does the groom say they most resemble? Hans Solo and Princess Leia. What film/TV couple does the bride say they most resemble? Peter and Lois Griffin from Family Guy). The winners received rosettes.

The plans had been shrouded in secrecy, so we found out what the girls had been up to that day. They had been at a village hall making t-shirt necklaces, sushi and doing competitions. Then they’d put together a useful book of “wife advice”, from food and cocktail recipes, DIY tips, all beautifully collaged with their own photos and craft items. We wrote a message in it.

The hen looked lovely and smiled broadly all night, excitable and enthusiastic. She made sure she spoke to all the guests.

They are a lovely couple and I’m sure they will have a long happy future together. They’ve been together six years after being set up by a friend. You can see love when one of them walks in and the other’s eyes light up. They work as a team supporting each other, effortlessly co-ordinating daily life and making each other laugh.

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