Tag Archives: London

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 night in Essex

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Surprises always carry some element of risk. So when I headed off down to Essex I just had to cross my fingers and hope for the best. But that made it exciting.

It required careful planning and some subtle questions. I booked time off work and the ticket. Then I asked where to send a birthday card, and whether it would be ok if it arrived a day early. I was arriving then as I had plans on the Friday – my friend had booked time off work to visit me and as she lived in London had kindly agreed to make it a road trip. I knew which station was closest as I had visited my boyfriend before. Then I had to find out what sort of birthday cake he wanted. So I said I was going to buy him a cake slice after work, what sort did he want. He was home the weekend before, back from working down in Essex. We had a rather heated discussion with him saying he didn’t want me to buy anything and with me still trying to find out what he wanted. I probed further at Birmingham, when as chance would have it we walked past a Patisserie Valerie counter in the Bullring shopping mall. I had already decided this was the most suitable option. I had previously spotted the cafe whilst trying to locate Boots in both stations to get an urgent product for a friend. Instead of having a cake going off on the train journey down I could buy it fresh there. Perfect! I love Patisserie Valerie. It’s so pretty and tasty and the cakes are unlike anything else I have seen.

So once at St Pancras I walked over to Kings Cross as the cafe is larger there. I picked up the fruits of the forest tart which I had discovered was the ideal birthday dessert. I was a bit worried it would get squashed on the connecting tube journey but luckily it was fine and in good packaging. Five hours later I was at a station in the middle of nowhere. I tried to call my boyfriend and it went to voicemail. I paniced a little. Plan B had not been settled upon, as I knew where my boyfriend was staying and what time he finished work. So I text him and then read a book about walking through Istanbul. It recommended the Galeta Bridge for a view of the ancient buildings. I decided Plan B was waiting until 9pm when he would have finished work at the latest and then getting a £25 taxi. This would cost as much as the cheap advance fare down covering two trains and the tube, for what was a 40 minute bus journey.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw my boyfriend calling. He didn’t sound as delighted as I had hoped, but that was due to a 6am-6pm day. He assured me in the car that he was delighted and seemed surprised by the Patisserie Valerie bag. He said he had no idea what it was. He’d obviously forgotten our discussions on two occasions on the subject with the amount of 12 hour days he had worked.

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We checked in to his lovely four star hotel and had a family room with two double beds. I looked forward to a good night’s sleep without the covers being pulled off me or being rolled into or trying to fit around a sleeping starfish. Like the Marriott the bathroom was all marble, with gold taps. They could have been cleaned a little better but after 027reading a microbiologist’s recommendations on hotels I knew that didn’t really matter, walking round in my flip flops. I was annoyed I’d forgotten antibacterial wipes which the article had said should be used for wiping down door handles and remotes. I’d checked it when I last stayed at the hotel when wondering whether to use the bath, and in the absence of a “chlorine bleach wipe” decided not to.

We went out to a Chinese restaurant, as the hotel’s restaurant menu is a bit limited. It looked like a former pub and had the words “Chinese, Thai and English cuisine” plastered on the front. The decor was lovely, all red Chinese lanterns. I chose the Thai menu and had a lovely creamy coconut and green curry soup with prawns and some rather 042interesting meat that tasted a little too slimy to be chicken. It was delicious though. Then I ordered pork sweet and sour. I imagined thin beef sirloin strips but instead I got fatty deep fried pork. I struggled through it as I didn’t want to cause a scene for my boyfriend’s birthday meal. An hour or two later I felt quite queasy- as I have IBS my digestion doesn’t cope well with fatty food. I made myself try a bit of the birthday tart – I wanted to see whether it was value for money. However it was just a biscuit base, some cream and some fruit. I was a bit disappointed but it looked great and my boyfriend enjoyed it. He saved some for work in his hotel fridge.

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When I settled down onto the bed once again I was disappointed that it was a firm mattress. This meant I couldn’t sleep. My boyfriend can sleep whenever he wants to, as long as he’s not too hot or cold. But I woke up every hour or so and in the morning awoke after a fitful sleep with a sore back. A double-blind study has confirmed this link. Jonny rushed off in the dead of night taking the tart for his colleagues to enjoy.

I now had the mission of getting to Edgware station. I had to take a bus in the middle of nowhere. Google said it was opposite the hotel but after walking around for some time I couldn’t see a stop. So I waited on the grass verge with cars whizzing past, one honking its horn at me. I started to feel a bit silly and wished I could hitch a lift. But miraculously the bus appeared from nowhere. The first one had not been until 9am, so I had told my friend the earliest I could arrive was midday. This meant we had more motorway traffic. I was the only person on the bus and told the driver to tell me when we got to the destination. I got off on a narrow country lane and walked round the corner to the next stop. Thankfully this time there was a bus shelter. No information though and I was unsure if I was on the right side of the road to do the next leg of the journey.

Then some old ladies turned up, all made up with bouffant dyed hair, talking about how they were going on holiday and how one of them had been exploring the local area with her free bus pass. It was a small village and they clearly knew everyone. I relaxed a bit when I heard one of them say that she was going to the station I was going to.

After winding round country lanes I queasily arrived at the station and felt proud of myself for getting there and saving £23.50 in the process. I did miss a train due to a typically slow bus but luckily the next train was delayed by a minute, arriving just a couple of minutes after my scheduled one. Then I took two tubes to complete the three hour journey. It was wonderful to make it to Edgware solely on public transport and to be able to plan with accuracy using transportdirect –  I had reliable times, maps and plenty of details.

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My friend then drove us with her friend for five hours up to London. It was a Friday and traffic meant a stop-start 071ride. I ate chocolates as I watched the entertaining sight of a bus going backwards – it looked like it was being driven instead of towed. I also enjoyed a hot spiced apple drink with cinammon and star anise in Costa Coffee, my favourite drink.

I had a lovely time in Essex although next time I think I’ll order something different at the Chinese, or perhaps try pub food.

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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

My First Cycling Commute

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Today was the first time I have cycled to work! It was twice as fast as the bus and once there I felt invigorated and powered through the morning.

I used to use my brother’s bike. He cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats as a teenager and raised hundreds of pounds for Cancer Research UK, and I was inspired by this to try a commute. After all if he emerged unscathed from a trip like that, half an hour on the roads should be no problem.

I rode until the bus and cycle lanes finished and then decided to keep safe by walking through town. Red lanes here are ridiculous, one stops at the top of a hill before cars go into a bottleneck at the bottom, so you often have to go on the pavement as the queue doesn’t leave enough room.

Cars often park in the lanes meaning you have to weave around them. But at least most of the vehicles were generous with space.

My bag was a bit heavy – I had to carry both locks in it – you should have one in between the wheel, over the main frame and round the bar and the other securing the back wheel going through the main frame and round the bar. If this sounds a bit confusing have a look at the  image below.

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I considered getting insurance – it would probably cost me less than the bus.

I thought it would be a lot harder returning uphill than it was – whenever it got a bit much I could get on the pavement and walk. I was clearly a first-timer – other 2-wheel commuters were whizzing past me as if they were in the Tour de France. I felt like a fancy dress runner at the back of a marathon.

The only thing is that it’s not that safe to be zooming down when the road is wet, so most of the time the weather will prevent me from commuting in this way. But I enjoyed regaining control for the day, no longer forced to wait in the cold for a bus that may or may be late, smelly or snail-slow.

On arrival the facilities were sufficient – there was a shower, although it was a bit basic not having a changing room. I was amused by a notice requesting users to direct the shower head away from the door to avoid a “swimming pool” floor, to which one indignant bather had responded in red capitals “OR YOU COULD INVEST IN A BETTER SHOWER CUBICLE!” I hovered around my stuff on the one chair whilst changing and as there was no mirror I did my makeup in the toilets.

My verdict? You can bike to the top of town from my area using the bike/bus lanes. Just be careful of the buses as they don’t leave much space and will come up right behind you if you hold them up (despite the fact that they seem to be quite happy to go slower than the speed limit at any other time). Look behind you when coming out of bus lanes – I squeaked as a bus sped right past me almost as I was coming out of it, leaving no room whatsoever.  It was a little annoying having to walk right through town as there are no decent lanes running through – for example there is a strip on one side of the road going down but not coming up. But really it depends on our changeable weather…I don’t fancy getting cold and wet.

As for elsewhere – I’ve heard cycling in London can be quite risky and from what I have heard I wouldn’t recommend it!

Top 10 First-Timer Tips

1. Follow the rules of the road. If you’re not sure read the Highway Code. Or copy what more experienced cyclists do. Signal clearly well before turning using the signals below. Make sure you keep your balance whilst you do so.

2. Give your bike an M.O.T the night before – check the tyres to ensure they’re hard enough, cycle round a bit to check the gear chain is in good working order and the seat is at the right height.

3. Make sure you have a helmet and wear a reflective jacket even in the day. IfFlyer-Front you’re wearing  clothes that make you noticeable, keeping as far to the side as possible and following the rules of the road then there is no excuse for anyone driving.

4. If you’re going to wear work clothes, wear a “wicking” shirt underneath that draws away the sweat. Secure your trousers with reflective bands or they’ll get shredded in the gear chain axle. I’d advise wearing skin tight “pedal-pushers” (three-quarter length trousers) a t-shirt and a light longer sleeved jacket as a wind-breaker.  A shower is also recommended!

4. ALWAYS LOOK BEHIND YOU WHEN COMING OUT of a lane. Be it a bus stop marking or from behind a car. It’s best to wait for a gap in traffic or wait for a car that’s seen you and has therefore left space.

5. AVOID ROUNDABOUTS – it’s tricky to stay in the right lane and cars can’t always leave sufficient space and may not be looking around their lane as they come round the bend. Also, beware of slippy roads in wet weather and AVOID TRAM TRACKS – many friends have fallen off riding on these.

6. Beware of potholes on bike lanes – where I live there are quite a few! Also beware of broken glass in them. Your commute will be much slower with a puncture. Then if possible, walk to work from the end of the bike lane like I do – I’d rather take a bit more time getting there than risk my safety.

7. ANTICIPATE – just as important as when driving, leave space for people getting out of parked cars. Keep an eye on pedestrians, they may not be aware of you when crossing the road.

8. Lock both front and bike wheels to the main frame and the bar. If you are concerned about security perhaps consider insuring your bike, it’ll cost less than replacing it and perhaps less than using public transport.

9. Make sure you have a hearty lunch or a snack approximately two hours before you leave. It’s no fun cycling on an empty stomach. But don’t eat less than two hours before or your blood will be involved in digestion rather than powering your muscles.

Above all…

10. ENJOY!

Try it and write about your experience. It fulfilled my exercise needs of the day, saved me time and money, was carbon-neutral and had positive effects on my mood and productivity.

bike_to_work

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