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My First “Airbnb” Experience

Prodigy 1

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.

woman-serving-tea

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.

ProdigyCard

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.

Sweaty beer cheer 89067_ORIG-pig_pen_smelly_kid_peanuts_charlie_brown

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

What’s hot – thermals and my blog on its anniversary!

Hello and welcome on a rainy dark cold English winter evening.

First of all I just want to thank you for checking out my blog over the last year. In 2013 I was unhappily unemployed and decided something needed to change. With qualifications and experience but fighting just to get an interview I began blogging and found a virtual family. Thank you to all those who read, commented, and supported me through that tough time and gave me the strength to keep going.

Thinking of ways I could help readers in my situation gave me something to do other than the endless repetitive task of filling out applications mixed in with a YouTube workout or two. I suddenly had an exciting project to do that stimulated my neurons far more than the endless repetition of personal details.

A year on I yet again face an uncertain future. But either way I will have gained more experience to help me stand out.

So what have I learnt during my year of blogging?

Rose Heart (4)1. Love and relationship stories are the most popular. My highest spike in viewings was the story of my first date. There are some highly entertaining dating blogs out there.

2. To accept an award you are expected to write endless drivel about yourself. I have only done this once, although I have appreciated the nominations.

3. The blog world is a real community – there are always friendly people that have been through exactly what you have and can sympathise. I found this especially helpful during times of financial hardship and struggling to get work. Use this support network.

4. It is a great way to help others. My most popular article remains Pros and Cons of Unemployment. I couldn’t find any articles on positives of unemployment. In this dire situation I thought about the British idiom “every cloud has a silver lining” and realised that if I could focus on this I would be able to cope with the situation much better. I began feeling happier, more confident and began interviews by following my own advice (for once). 

5. Blogging is a great tool to test creative projects – sharing photographs, paintings, cartoons and so on.

international-students1_10892518_std_16. I have been surprised at how international it is – my blog has been viewed in an incredible 87 countries and counting.

7. There is such a great variety out there. Just search for the topic you want to read and it’s all free.

And finally –

I have just realised how fantastic these are. Most people know that wearing layers keeps you warmer because they trap heat. The most important layer is the one next to your skin. Then the second one insulates and is also close to the body to minimise air gaps. You can read more about this technique here.

The lower the rating, the warmer it is! By silk I assume this means thick woven fabric…

Everyone raised their eyebrows and told me they were for the elderly and the elderly alone. When I looked on the thermals section of a clothing company the metrics did show that all comments were from the over 50s. But when thinking about saving money why not remember the wisdom of previous generations. Instead of turning up the heating, buy a few undergarments.

It cost me about £12 for the shirt and for the leggings but it’s a one-off purchase. You will get a lot more off your heating bill than that. I’m currently wearing thermal leggings with trousers over the top, thermal and standard long-sleeved shirts and an acrylic jersey. I have worn them all day. I don’t need an expensive wool one with all these layers. I find it itchy anyway.

As you have clothes over them, it doesn’t matter what they look like and you don’t have to admit to wearing them. But actually there are some good looking ones now – my shirt has dark blue and white stripes and being a scoop neck I can wear it under other tops without it showing. The leggings I’m wearing at the moment are more effective at retaining heat. They are mostly acrylic and their snug but comfortable fitting means there are no air gaps.

So go on, stay warm for less this winter.

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Filed under Advice, Jobhunting, Life of Lydia, Work

Don’t just stand there, do something!

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This afternoon I went swimming with a friend. I hadn’t seen her for ages and was really looking forward to it. We had a good gossip and remarked at how busy the pool was that session. There were people selfishly ploughing up and down and almost into us.

I left the pool to get my goggles from my locker. When I got back I saw to my horror that my friend was struggling to keep afloat in the deep end.

The key rule being "kindly refrain from lane rage". We saw a lot of that today!

The key rule being “kindly refrain from lane rage”. We saw a lot of that today!

There were about 15 people in the pool and they were all at the sides just gawping at her. It was awful. I was about to leap in myself, what were the lifeguards doing? I looked to my left and they were also standing there staring. It was like someone had paused a film. I announced “my friend needs help” and suddenly the play button was pressed again and the lifeguards leapt into action. I jumped into the pool too and hugged my friend.

She was really embarrassed and said she “felt stupid” for “making a scene”. But I said the onlookers should be the ones feeling embarrassed for just looking on instead of doing something. I hugged her, she was clearly shaken at the ordeal. She had been struggling for several minutes crying for help and no one did anything.

This seems to happen often now. No one comes to the rescue in an emergency for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they don’t want to get involved or they think someone else will. But sadly, it’s nothing new.

According to psychologists, the phenomenon is known as “bystander effect”, when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation.images (4)

It first came to public attention in 1964, when Kitty Genovese was stabbed and raped in the streets of Queens, New York. Reports at the time claimed that there were 38 neighbours who heard her screams and that none of them did anything, even when the killer returned to finish the job. A more recent investigation suggests that there were perhaps only “6 or 7 witnesses”. One of them “did not want to be involved” as he was drunk, and so telephoned a neighbour asking them to contact the police.

rotorua-attack-pregnant-123Another more recent example is an assault that happened in New Zealand, where a pregnant lady was kicked and stamped on in front of 20 people. Only two witnesses called police and no one physically helped. But according to the psychologist quoted in that news report, once someone steps in, others tend to follow.

“It just needs someone to take the lead,” he said.

“Someone needs to break free of that social phenomena of the bystander apathy and stick out, be courageous.” Which  I suppose is what happened when I broke the stunned silence of onlookers today.images (5)

I had reacted a bit slowly as I expected lifeguards to do their job, but once I realised what was happening I am glad I did  something.

The reason that witnesses don’t respond is because of confusion, fear and uncertainty. Perhaps they are not sure if it is their responsibility. It’s easier not to act. If it’s safer not to that is understandable. But out of 20 witnesses of the serious assault in New Zealand, just 10% reacted and called police.

Alzheimers-WomanSomeone I was at school with, Hassan, was walking along the street when he saw an elderly lady wandering about, clearly lost and confused. Everyone else just walked past her, but Hassan, a doctor, couldn’t ignore her. He discovered that the lady had wandered out of her nursing home. He took her to hospital, as the nursing home insisted the lady was still in bed. He was hailed as a hero and he was. But this is something that we all should do. He may have saved her life.

There was the shocking neglect at Stafford Hospital, which included patients being so desperate for water that they were drinking from vases. Everyone thought it was someone else’s duty to ensure basic needs were met.

What today taught me is that I am a lady of reaction rather than inaction. In an emergency the difference between these two responses can mean life and death, if not for you then for someone else.

People have died when they could have been saved.  If we don’t act we all have blood on our hands. So don’t just look the other way and don’t just stand there. Be the person to make a difference.

bystander-effect

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Exercise for Less This Winter

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It’s the time of year when you may think about joining a gym or renewing your membership.

I looked at the glossy online photos and was nearly enticed. Then I spoke to friends about it and realised I was looking at it the wrong way. The cheapest decent gym and swimming pool deal I could find nearby was a fixed 12 month one. It would be £47 per month and that would be off-peak. The hours were not specified.

However, if I go to a gym down the road from work it’ll cost £20 without the pool and then I can go swimming once a week elsewhere for a total £36 a month.

Here is a website where you can search for cheaper gyms near you:

http://www.payasugym.com/

One near me is only £17 and this website lets you pay for just one session to test it. It also gives you the lowdown on opening times and facilities in an easy-read format. Bear in mind that 20% of people stop going to the gym after six months. If you think this could be you don’t enter into a 12 month contract.

There are more money-saving tips here.

Think about it. Are there cheaper ways you can exercise? Can you cycle to work and back with night lights and the right clothing? Just make sure the light is designed for the roads and isn’t too bright or has two settings for on/off road. In the long run (or cycle) that will cost you less. Is there a free group you can join? I am sorted with my cycling one.

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This year’s English Spring…

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I opened the back door today to this, the coldest spring since 1962. I saw some great snow photographs in The Metro, which I still enjoy on my way to work. Most seem to be outraged by the relentless wintry onslaught, especially when the calendar says that we should have daffodils not bare branches. Others however are using it as an opportunity to showcase their creations or fashion-sense. It didn’t stop my boyfriend going on a “10.62” km run last night!

I was glad to hear that The Duchess of Cambridge managed to get up to Windermere in the Lake District to spend time with Beaver and Cub Scout groups. Some of the footage for which was shot by my boyfriend’s housemate! He is one of the leaders of a group that attended. Luckily the Duchess went back early by train (Virgin of course), whereas the cameraman had to endure a 6 hour journey home. Although Kate looks down to earth in the photographs, the Telegraph is quick to point out that she is wearing £300 wellies.

The weather is in stark contrast to last March.

Meanwhile in New Zealand my relatives have been enjoying their best summer for years.

This is our fourth snow dump of 2013. I must really love this country to be 037putting up with this

But it gives me the perfect opportunity to make the most of the time indoors with a curry weekend. I intend to cook a korma tonight (ok I admit this one’s with a ready-made jar of sauce) and tomorrow a proper home-made dahl with red lentils and mushrooms. I had an M & S microwave one last night which was fantastic, but nothing beats healthier home-cooked food.

It was certainly better than the lamb tikka bhuna I had when I last went out to an Indian restaurant, which consisted of a couple of pieces in a watery thin sauce. With all the other meat on the menu being chicken it was clear to see that meal quality had been sacrificed in favour of cost-cutting. This could be another case where trusting reviews let my boyfriend and I down, or perhaps I just ordered the wrong dish, his was delicious.

Red Lentils

With heating costs rising it’s even more important to save money, and at around £1 per kilo these are great value. You only need 1/4 cup per person! I 027usually do 250g each time so I have plenty for leftovers and to freeze. Simply wash through like you do with rice and cover with boiling beef stock in water and add a tin or two of chopped tomatoes (one tin is enough for two servings). Boil for 5 mins, then simmer for 15 mins with a teaspoon each of various herbs and spices (I added mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cinammon, garam masala, coriander seeds and frozen coriander. You should also add tumeric or curry powder) and any vegetables you want, I used pretty much everything I had!  Fresh coriander on serving was great too. I’d recommend about 200g of spinach added just before you take it off the heat. If it needs sweetening up add more cinammon.

I chose to slow cook mine for a more intense flavour burst – it really made a difference! Overall it’s a cheap, healthy, high in fibre and filling meal. I have only recently discovered this and felt the need to share. I cooked the above dish from this recipe. If you try it do let me know how it goes.

As for the bizarre weather, there is some debate about whether this is due to climate change or the arrival of another Ice Age…what do you think?

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