Monday, 31 December 2012

Changes and challenges

Two weeks before Christmas after four and a half years of being self employed, working from my HQ in The Cupboard, I started a temporary job which involves going into an office every day.  It's an exciting job which I think is also going to be a lot of fun, working with a great team and I'm really looking forward to it. But going from homeworking to office bound has been a slight shock to the system.

Putting aside the fact that I can't work half the day in my PJs (it was never a regular occurrence but just knowing I could was kind of nice!) I’ve quite like the novelty of getting dressed up every day (jeans and jumper were the usual uniform in The Cupboard). The downside is the increasing pile of washing and ironing...
The commute is working out to be about a 45 minute drive (to The Cupboard it's a minute - downstairs and turn left) but I've decided to use this constructively to listen to Learn Spanish CDs - if nothing else I may learn to shout at other drivers in a different language.

I will be there All Day. A huge benefit for me of being self employed was being able to balance work and other things. Although regularly working more than 8 hours a day for myself I could split it up and be flexible so I could also get to shops/ hospital appointments/ hairdressers/ gym/ take car to the garage etc easily anytime. I could take the dog out when it was light or whenever it stopped raining/ snowing etc. I could meet people easily for coffee/ lunch/ meetings without clock watching. I could always catch up on my work later on in the evenings or weekends. I will now have to work things around work time (like walk the dog only in the dark).

Having so little time (or so it feels at the moment) outside work I will have to be Much More Organised. My first week was ok. Wanting to stay vegan I cooked meals in advance at the weekend as I don't want to stop eating healthy home cooked food, made my packed lunch and prepared breakfast the night before. My second week was the week before Christmas and more frantic with trying to fit in shopping for last minute presents, food shopping as I was Doing Christmas Day, wrapping, socialising, cleaning the house and those million and one things there is always to do this time of year.

I will get paid a regular salary, every month, on time! As I am regularly chasing up several well overdue invoices - this is a huge plus and a very welcome benefit.  I have paid holidays and time off - unheard of luxury when self employed!

I'm also aiming to keep some freelance work ticking along (the job is just an interim one for nine months) and of course want to concentrate on my writing. In theory this is all possible. My challenge for the New Year is to work out how to fit it all in. There are of course seven days in a week and 24 hours in a day. It is all do-able. So tomorrow on New Year's Day I will be making a plan - oh I do love a plan - that I can stick to. I will share with you Dear Reader and plot it all on here so I can feel accountable and like I'm making public commitments that someone somewhere someday may well ask me about.

To kick off and help with my writing aims I'm taking part in 100k words in 100 days challenge, thanks once again to Sally and looking forward to charting the ups and downs with my fellow 100k challengers on the FaceBook page.

Changes and challenges – 2013 here we come!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sunday Snippet

Sunday snippet time - a little taster from the WIP (or WISP - Work In Slow Progress!) - my e-book about this year's trek to Machu Picchu...

Walking through the tiny airport to collect our bags we speculated on whether it was unfinished, under repair, or just was always this way. Looking around we decided that it probably 'just was'. A much needed trip to the toilets also gave us our first taste of what to expect in the bathroom department. The fact that there was no toilet paper and no toilet seat were the least of the problems - there were no lights and no ceiling either. Welcome to Cusco...

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Let the festive fun begin...

Disparaging as I was with Christmas stuff appearing in shops before we'd even got Bonfire Night out of the way, the first weekend in December marks the start of the festive season for me. The tree is up, tinsel draped, lights lit, chestnuts roasted, wine mulled, parties planned... Christmas here we come!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Hidden Treasures

I love finding hidden gems on my own doorstep and experiencing that 'wow why didn't I find this before' feeling.

This week I took a trip to Newcastle's Lit and Phil. It's a fantastically located building near the Central Station and en route to the quayside, making it a place I have passed more times over many years than I could ever remember.

Like many of this city's understated glorious buildings, there is nothing yelling at you to come in. There is a small easy to ignore A board outside when it is open and if you do take the time to peer closer there is a plaque. Neither prepares you for what's inside.

Walk through the entrance of this 200 year old building and you're at the foot of the type of staircase built for ladies in crinolines to glide down and be greeted by men in top hats with large mutton chop whiskers. At the top of this elegant staircase is a list of some past members of the Lit and Phil that reads like a roll call of the North East's great and good - Bewick, Swan, Dobson, Grainger, Armstrong, Parsons, Grey, Stephenson. It harks back to an era of engineering excellence and reflects the region's strengths in ideas, ingenuity and creativity. The list takes us right up to recent times - the first lady president (hurrah!) and today's incumbent Alexander Armstrong.

If you then throw open the doors (with a bit of effort, they built them sturdy in those days), ignore the definitely modern day security system, you step back to a time when printing was the latest technology and books prized possessions. It smells like a library and looks like a library - no glass and steel or rows of computers here. It is all about the books.  Rows and rows of them, floor to ceiling, covering every inch of wall space. One hundred and fifty thousand of them.  As someone who once dreamt of working in a proper library where you got to say shhhh, use a stamper and shin up ladders to impossibly high shelves, it's heaven on earth.

The oldest book here is from 1560, the newest from the latest best sellers list. And everything in between. The two cavernous rooms each have an upper level balcony that you can walk around. The balconies and stairs are built for practicality rather than health and safety and you are trusted, as you were in the good old days, to take enough care not to throw yourself over the ornate railing.

There is no shushing here - originally founded as a 'conversation club', it is a sociable place where discussions and debates are actively encouraged (and as likely to feature football as much as the latest political or scientific issues). Inclusive and forward thinking, women were admitted as members by 1804 and there is currently a 'ladies room' if you want to escape from all that football talk.  Downstairs there is a quiet room though for anyone who wants or needs to sit in silence.

As if you need any more encouragement to linger for more than a while, there is a supply of tea, coffee and cakes and you can take your pick of seats from those at the huge wooden tables, to leather arm chairs to the comfy sofa in the Ladies Room.

As well as the surprising, splendid building and contents, the ambience and environment of the Lit and Phil is so far removed from the bustling, busy modern streets outside that it is a very special sanctuary indeed. And one I'll be escaping to whenever I can.

If you want to find out more go to Newcastle Lit and Phil's website here

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Here's five fab things in my week

Been a while since I've looked back and thought about fab things that have happened in a week. This one started with a bang - firework's night which I can't enjoy as the poor dog is always terrified, it peaked with some wonderful news mid week (see point 1 below) and the end of it finds me exhausted but feeling very content as I write this sitting in my favourite cafe before heading out for a celebratory cocktail. Happy Friday! And here's my fab things of the week:

·      Getting a long term work project (well nine months long - that's long term when you're self employed!) and one that I am excited about and looking forward to starting
·      Buying myself and teen son poppies to wear and finding he has already bought his own - I love that he does things like this which I think are thoughtful and respectful
·      Meeting an incredible lady who lost her own son aged just 15 years old. She decided to fund raise in his memory and has raised almost half a million pounds - inspiring and just puts everything into perspective
·      Going to Ikea and only coming home with some tea lights (essentials)- I am so over wasting money!
·      Decided what I'm going to do next year for my own fund raising challenge - I'm supporting Maggie's Cancer Centres - watch this space for details of the slightly crazy rather scary plans I have...

Friday, 2 November 2012

It may be NaNo but not as we know it

I just realised yesterday was this blog’s first birthday! I started this on 1/11/11 with a blog on firsts that included me taking part for the first time in NaNoWriMo.

I was inspired after a great writing workshop ran by Stephanie Butland. The aim was to get me doing some (to me) scary things - writing regularly, maybe write things that other people would read (eek!), hopefully connect with others and be A Writer like I’ve always wanted to be. Over the past year as I’ve been trying to do this, there have been plenty of life’s ups, downs and in-betweens, some things I’ve written about on here – and some that remain unwritten. I admire all those really upfront bloggers who bare their life and souls warts and all but I’ve shied away from that and realised that there are no rules, it’s my blog and I can write what I like! But it does mean that at really busy or difficult times I don’t blog as often as I had hoped I would and I’d like that to change. So my aim as I go into my second year is to blog better, more often – and maybe let people get to know me a bit more… (that may be scarier for you than I dear Reader!)

The other Very Exciting writing thing that has happened since I started this blog was getting the contract with ebook publisher Collca to publish a travelogue about the trek to Machu Picchu I did earlier this year.   I have, as many others do I think, a couple of very contrary gremlins that live on my shoulders and whisper in my ears. One that tells me that I CAN do anything and gives me confidence and positivity, the other is a dark little devil who constantly says there’s no way you can do this, who chips away at my self belief and confidence. At the moment he’s winning as I’m behind with my own writing schedule and I can hear him uttering ‘I told you so...’

So, I wasn’t going to join in with NaNoWriMo this year, I need to get my ebook finished by the end of the month and I’m writing and editing as I go along - but there’s something great about just knowing a whole bunch of others across the word are writing, creating and panicking away too. So while officially I’m doing my own thing I will be posting my word count, updating this blog with progress and checking in occasionally with others I find who are taking part in this month of madness! (But not so much that it just adds to my ever growing list of distractions!)

So – one year one – and I have one ebook to finish in one month - one is still a magic number! And because I CAN do it, I’m now off to write!


Friday, 19 October 2012

The fabbest Friday news...

Sometimes we get bogged down with the difficult day to day doings so on a Friday I like to have a little look back and come up with 5 fab things that have happened during the week. I probably can think of 5 fab things but actually today I'm just going to tell you about one. Only one but it's the FABBEST thing ever.... well at least for a long time.
This week, dear Reader, I signed a contract with a publisher!!!!!!!!!!!!! ( I do overdo my exclamation marks but I think that statement deserves each and every one of them)

I have signed with Collca to publish an ebook about the trek I undertook earlier this year to Machu Picchu. (You can read more about the trip here) Part travelogue/ part memoir, I hope that it will be informative and entertaining, that it might even inspire others to do something similar... most of all I just hope people will enjoy reading it of course...

I am excited, exhilarated, enthused, elated, energised, ecstatic. And just a little bit nervous, scared and apprehensive...

I am sure I will be detailing all of these feelings and more as I now go on this particular writing journey, so I'm keeping this post short and sweet (I am still slightly in shock plus getting my head round just how much work I have to do!)

But in the meantime if you want to have a flavour of the type of book Collca publish I can highly recommend Trish Nicholson's Journey in Bhutan and would like to say a huge thanks to Trish who encouraged and supported me to take this huge step forward! 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Daring to do it again!

It's also been a while - too long - since I've joined in with the weekly visual dare that Angela sets here
This photo is I think particularly fabulous, so a great time to get back into it - and DARE!!

'Go on' she urged, 'take a look.'I flinched even though she was holding the mirror way back. 'It's ok, honestly. We've fixed it. No-one will recognise you.' I took a breathe, closing my eyes. I could hear the surge of blood rushing around my head and the pulsing thump of my heart. If I opened my eyes there would be no going back. If only I could keep them closed maybe nothing would have to change. It took a second or two to focus. She was right. No-one would recognise me. I was gone.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday Snippet

Forgive me dear Reader (if you're still with me) for I have neglected my blog recently. Life, the universe and everything has been distracting me. But I have also been writing offline. So to get back into the blogging and get me into sharing which I'm bad at - at least when it comes to writing (other people read what I've written....•screams• :-O) I'm going to start posting a bit of the WIP as a Sunday Snippet. First snippet below (and am very happy for any/ all feedback...)
Oh, bit of context - it's about my trek earlier this year to Machu Picchu...

The doctor entered the room without knocking. I got ready to answer his enquiries about my health but, instead, he said gruffly, Your insurance company no word from them. He then left the room. A tiny lady with a weather-beaten face topped with jet black hair came in. She smiled a gap toothed smile and we exchanged 'Buenos dias'. She proceeded to clean the room, gloveless, using the same cloth to wipe everything from the toilet to the bedside cabinet, then departed with a cheery 'Adios'.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Let's get rid

Now - I consider myself quite worldly wise, I'm don’t believe I’m naive, I've been out into the big bad world. I've worked in journalism, publishing, PR. I've worked in male dominated, macho cultured organisations. I know there is still inequality for women in opportunities, in employment, in society, in all sorts of ways, and to all kinds of degrees. I do though like to feel that we have moved forward, that things improve with time. But for a couple of weeks I've been musing about some things that didn’t just make me feel uncomfortable, but disturbed me. It may be that things have been heading this way and I just haven't been aware - or it may be that there really is something going on, some kind of shift - backwards.

I guess it was visible most recently by the ongoing Assange case where, as everyone came out with an opinion, at least intelligent, considered, thoughtfully written pieces counteracted the odd, the extreme and the ignorant.

But this article below turned up in my daily regional (and usually very sensible) newspaper the Newcastle Journal. This link is to the writer's blog but was reproduced word for word in his column (of 'wit and wisdom') in the Journal. And I found it neither witty nor wise but disappointing and disturbing.

In focusing this particular piece on rape he describes a scenario that could come straight out of an episode of Mad Men (era late ‘50s). "She made her reluctance clear. I carried on". This is not a confession that our columnist appears ashamed of nor seems to want to apologise for - but rather he is relieved not to have got into trouble for it. Mr Hann then goes on to ridicule the fact that no means no "Of course the consequences for human reproduction will be simply disastrous."

At around the same time I came across something via Twitter - another article that was being RT'd by other (rather more respectable) journalists who had found it unbelievable too.

In his interview with classical violinist Nicola Benedetti the reporter immediately sets the snidey, sniggering tone for the whole article, "I must have hit a bum note after asking why the sexy Scot doesn't make more of her fabulous figure - when she suddenly flies off on one." Ms Benedetti's desire to talk about her music and achievements rather than any desire to take her clothes off doesn't stop him: "So I guess Nicola won't be posing for the lads mags anytime soon. Pity because she looks as fit as a fiddle." He is not interested at all in how dedicated, talented, creative, intelligent or hard working this young woman is.

Both of these articles depressed me but I'd filed them away in the 'must look into properly later' part of my brain until I read this Saturday's Guardian.

Deborah Orr's brilliant article you can read here focuses on The Sun and a new campaign to get rid of Page 3 but as it so rightly points out that this is just ‘the highly visible tip of misogyny's iceberg'.

And I think the two articles that had recently made me feel so uncomfortable are prime examples of what happens when what should be outdated attitudes are allowed to linger. They display such a misogynist, demeaning view of women and the only positive was that were plenty of people who had the same reactions to them as I did. They are truly dreadful pieces of ‘journalism’.

Yet they were deemed acceptable to be printed in mainstream newspapers. The writers, the editorial team, the editor all thought it acceptable to print them. No doubt if asked why the 'justification’ would be because it's opinionated/ humourous/ controversial/ witty.

It’s not. And this isn't a women versus men thing. I don't know of any man I’ve spoken to who have found either of these articles any of those things. Nor is it a sense of humour versus humourless thing, nor a freedom of expression thing. It's about a respect thing, a treating each other as you would want (male or female) to be treated thing, a being an intelligent species that doesn't need to put each other down in this way thing.
As Deborah Orr puts it so well “[Page 3] carries the message that objectification and exploitation are all that human beings can offer to each other or expect."

So, that's why I am signing up to the new campaign wanting to see the end of page 3. Getting rid is sending the right message that this is from an era that is well behind us or at least should be, that we have moved on, attitudes have changed (they have, surely...) – for the better not worse, that we have all grown up. Getting rid of page 3 would be empowerment for women - and men. Let's get rid of outdated pictures and outdated attitudes. And move to where I’d prefer to be living - in 2012.

The campaign’s on Twitter @NoMorePage3 and the petition is here

And one last thing to ponder – below is something also currently doing the rounds of social media. This, I believe, is a genuine article from about 60 years ago – just how far have we come?

Friday, 7 September 2012

Just lie back and relax

Recently my mojo has been more low-jo, I've been feeling somewhat out of the groove, rather off kilter, a bit off balance. I've been trying to get back on track this week and to help deal with what feels like stresses and strains of work, life, the universe and everything, I decided to go for a massage. Also, I had bought it as one of those Groupon things - those 'bargains' that so often, for me anyway, turn out to be a waste of money as I buy then forget about it until it's too late and the 'valid until' date is long gone.

I haven't had a massage for such a long time I realised and surely that would help me switch off, wind down and feel better... wouldn't it?

It was a newly opened place where I hadn't been before and the young, beautifully made up therapist was friendly and welcoming. I filled in the necessary forms, flagging up recent issues and opted for the aromatherapy (I was curious about the chocolate massage but decided it sounded more like it belonged in the Fifty Shades of Shite book).

I undressed as instructed, keeping just pants on and lay on my stomach before the therapist came in and started work. I gave up trying to make conversation, not just because I was supposed to be relaxing but it's also a bit tricky when your head is poking through that small round hole and you get a mouthful of towel if you open it.

It was then I realised that it had been such a long time since I had done this (not that it's ever been a regular occurrence) that I am now in the possession of two false boobs which, unlike real ones, remain pretty permanently pert and don't squish out under pressure. It wasn't that it was just a bit uncomfortable but given that Ive quite recently had a bit of plastic surgery I suddenly wondered if lying so heavily on them was a good idea. I ended up tensing up and trying to keep the weight off my orbs which, while being massaged very thoroughly and firmly (thank god I'd chosen the 'relaxing' option) on my back, was not easy to do. Nor very relaxing at all. 

The peaceful ambience was then shattered when the therapist removed the towel and asked me to turn over. My involuntary shriek of 'I need to stay covered up' took us both a bit by surprise. I had also forgotten that I have gone from Ms No Inhibitions (once happy to sunbathe topless, go skinny dipping, keep the lights off) to Ms Prude (cannot even cope with female changing rooms, swimming or saunas). She reassured me she was just holding the towel to drape it over me again once I turned over. I did and it was fine.

So, now to relax then. Except... I hadn't mentioned, as it always sounds silly, but I don't reeeeaally like having my feet touched. And yes she had now moved onto those. I bit my lip and strained to stop myself involuntarily kicking the poor girl as she gave what for anyone who likes having their feet touched is, I am sure, a relaxing rub. I think she interpreted my deep sigh of relief when she moved off them and onto my legs as one of contentment and calm.

I did settle down and enjoyed the leg part as I've just started running again and had some aching muscles - and I have no problems with my legs being touched - or being naked!

But I don't really like my head being touched either. I tried an Indian head massage once and it just made me want to both scream and cry at the same time. I don't even like going to the hairdressers for this very reason. A head massage wasn't part of this one though so I thought that wouldnt be a problem until she started on my face. Now I have never had a facial in my life, I have no desire to have one, and don't really like anyone else doing my make up or actually even like opticians getting all close up and personal. And I can now confirm that yup I don't like having my face massaged either. Not just 'don't like' but actually hate, actually feels-like-torture kind of hate. (I'd be such a rubbish spy - just give me a massage and I'll 'fess up to anything!). So I literally gritted my teeth and tensed up again until the massage/ torture was finally over.   

I came out just feeling oily, silly and quite cross with myself, and didn't relax until I got home and sat down with a cuppa. I now I know why I probably haven't had a massage for such a long time. And will remind myself of this next time I think it'll be a good idea. I will just have to find some other means of relaxing and treating myself.

But - as it was a special Groupon deal - I still have two massages/ torture sessions booked and paid for to get through... Anyone want to take my place??

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

I said no to the guinea pig...

As you may well know earlier this year I went on a trek to Machu Picchu (yes I did go on about it!). I'm writing something that I hope will be an e-book about the actual experience but wanted to share a recent article published in North East Appetite magazine that's actually mainly about the food (it being a foodie magazine...!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Being vegan in France... oui?

So, as a newly turned vegan our recent trip to France was my first venture abroad with my fussy eating habits. Did I make it, did I manage to stay vegan in France, home of fromage galore...?? Well you can find out in the latest note on my FaceBook page here

But if you'd like a clue to the answer...
 I managed to find a couple of vegan restaurants...!
A typical menu

                                                                                                     A typical salad

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Mother's Pride

Today my son is 17 years old. He is now old enough to do many things including start driving – proper cars, not just the little ones with pedals (it did make what to get for his birthday easy – those lessons are booked).

Unlike most other years I am having a quiet day, we are having the usual birthday BBQ next weekend - which is actually just as well given today’s torrential rain. So while he’s off with his girlfriend I am indulging in a little maternal reflection. I am somewhat surprised (how CAN he be so old?), a little apprehensive (he’s going to be going out into the big wide world on his own so soon?) and a lot proud.

Of course he isn’t perfect, who is, but I am so proud of the thoughtful, good humoured, kind, rounded young man he’s growing into.  We disagree on things, we have arguments, but we talk a lot, we laugh together and he still surprises me at times.

Last week, like many others, his AS level results were not what had been expected or predicted by the school (thanks Mr Gove). After the upset he decided to start the courses all again, retake the whole year, knowing that he wants to do better and knowing the career he wants in the future will be affected. This is the first time he has had any issues with schools and exams (I know, I’ve been a lucky mum!) but he handled the disappointment and decision making with a mature positive attitude.

After a trip to Edinburgh this week he brought me back presents including Edinburgh Rock – and had made sure it was vegan. And a pencil in my favourite colour purple. And a coaster with a campervan on it because he knows that I really want one (we often discuss my dream of travelling round Europe in one)!

Despite our sometimes heated debates about social inequality, when we were on holiday recently he stopped to give a homeless person sitting with his dog some money. I couldn’t stop myself giving him a hug for it.

He has a great group of friends, a lovely long term girlfriend who’s family adore him, he knows what he wants to do and where he wants to be. I smiled so much when a few weeks ago, unprompted and out of the blue, he declared how happy he was and how much he loved his life.

And that is all a parent can ever want to hear.

Happy birthday baby boy!

 The Ferrari I got him for his birthday...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Home again home again jiggedy jig...

Back safe and sound after our French fun. Taking forever to catch up with things! Will be back blogging soon but in the meantime here's an article my fave foodie mag Appetite published about my continuing vegan ventures :)
And if you want to keep up to date with those specific shennanigans you can like the Facebook page

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Lost in France so far...

In Paris we visited various cafes of course as well as saint Chapelle and the Conciergie then the Pompidou Centre covering miles of pavement along the way. So much so that I actually wore my feet out. Never ever have I felt feet so sore nor felt like such an old woman. I blame tramping streets looking for the Apple store (& indulging son) a task hindered by not realising how the French system of street numbering works... Paris is of course busy, beautiful and just so fabulously French. Je t'aime. 
We then took a train to Orleans. Not sure what to expect I was surprised - in a good way. From the market stalls selling books to the compact size and friendliness, this is a place I could have stayed longer than a day in - although we had 'done' the sights in that time. Joan of Arc is of course big in these parts with a statue, museum and house to her name. And the odd cafe or two. 

We were then heading off to Loire Valley. Picking up a car in Orleans I drove straight onto the busiest section, had a near miss with a tram, apparantley went through a red light (I didn't see the tram let alone a traffic light!) and got stopped by a spectacularly humourless police man. Let off with a stern telling off, thankfully the rest of the journey was less eventful. We arrived safely at the gite, greeted by Madame whose instructions and warnings made it sound like a 5 star establishment rather than the basic slightly shabby place it actually is (she also stung me for extras including sheets and cleaning and refused to take a card payment so has less than endeared herself to me) But no matter, last night was the first time for a while I felt very relaxed, slept amazingly well and woke quite refreshed. We've been exploring the local towns and chateau, the food and wine is good (except its no place for a vegan and I have been seduced by the local cheese) and we are as they say Having A Lovely Time. 

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Losing control - and passports

I sometimes think that I am quite a laid back, easy going, chilled type of person - though others may disagree with me, in fact I have heard the term 'control freak' uttered in my direction on more than one occasion.

As I tell my son (usually when he objects to my interrogation about his plans, timings and social arrangements) I just like to know what is happening, I need to get things done and I like to have a plan. It's not control freakery it's just good management. When you are juggling many things, especially when you live on your own and there is noone else sharing the load, this makes perfect sense. In a work environment I am used to being in charge, making sure things are done and delivered, being ultimately accountable.

I did however slightly worry that I may have a tendency for OCD when last week my mum helpfully hung some washing out for me but IN THE WRONG PLACES. I hate the fact people could see my underwear so that always goes along the bottom line of the rotary dryer with the larger items hung from the top lines hiding the pants. And surely everyone knows you fill a whole side up with garments before starting to peg them onto another side... But I digress... As I say I am NOT a control freak!

I do like organising holidays. I much prefer to book my own flights, accommodation and everything in between. Again I don't think this is control freakery, it's just the preference I have for more independent type of travelling that suits where we like to go and what we like to do.

This year we decided to head to France, (not being a control freak, I consulted with son, it was a democratic rather than a dictatorial decision). So over the past few weeks I have sorted a trip that involves flying to Paris, staying there a couple of nights, a train to Orleans, pick up a car there, to a gite for a week in Loire Valley then back home via another couple of nights in Paris. It's just me and number one son so I reckon this gives us enough city time to keep him entertained and me enough chilling time to be able to relax without either of us getting bored or restless (and we are both quite happy mooching about as we call it and equally able to pass the time reading or being entertained with an iPad).

I'd booked the final bits just last week, found a book in the library on the Loire Valley, dug out an old guidebook on Paris and got some maps. The thing I love best about preparing for a holiday is coming up with places to visit or things to see and do (it's called good planning not control freakery remember). This was what I was looking forward to doing when I woke up in the middle of the night a few days before we were due to fly off and suddenly realised son's passport hadn't yet come back from the passport office. Cue a few days of increasingly irate and desperate phone calls to the passport office number, escalating stress levels and several nights where I was forced to drink wine to try to get a wink of sleep. Even son's laid back 'it'll be here' started to wane a bit when it still wasn't here two days before take off. Actually I hadn't even been able to speak to anyone in the actual passport agency (the poor call handlers who can only take details and say 'someone will ring you back' were the ones getting my angst ridden calls because their colleagues weren't ringing me back at all - in fact I am still waiting for that much promised call back..)

This was stressful for many reasons of course but one of them very definitely being it was Out of My Control. Horrors. Apart from emailing (three times) phoning (I actually lost count of how many times I pressed re-dial) and sending my son to the passport office (just the once - fortunately it's not far)- whether or not my son was going to be able to come on holiday felt horribly, horrifyingly beyond my control.

I came up with options for plan B of course (as a good planner - not a control freak - does). These were: I'd not go at all (and waste all that money), go on my own (I don't mind going solo but it's not the holiday I would've chosen to do by myself), or find someone to go in son's place (I have one friend who I know could possibly have done so at very short notice - but then my mother volunteered herself...which made the situation even worse!). But I couldn't solve the problem of my son maybe not coming with me, it was out of my hands - and I can't remember a time I have ever not been able to make things right, solve problems or sort things out when they involve him.

This is a tale of woe with a happy ending though. The passport finally arrived on Monday afternoon, bringing with it an outpouring of relief, cheers, celebrations. We are back on track, maps are out, itinerary is being sorted - and we are off to France today! And the lesson learnt, for this control freak, sorry - top planner, is check whether your passports need renewed many months rather than weeks in advance in the future.

Au revoir mes amis!

(and this is me when the passport finally arrived....)

Monday, 23 July 2012

Hairy house

I'm testing out using email to post to my blog so here's a pic of a rather excessively ivy clad house I spotted yesterday. I think it looks hairy and uncomfortable like an out of control beard....

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Good things even in One of Those Weeks

While I now usually post five fab things about my week on a Friday, I believe it's better late than never - so here's some good things about my week this week, and it can be Smashing Saturday instead of Fab Friday...

This is a particularly interesting thing to do today as last week was One of Those. It started with getting turned down for some work I'd put a bid in for and really hoped to do, in the middle of it I had a *phone call* from school (in 12 years I have NEVER had a phone call from school!) to say son had given his notes to another pupil who'd copied them verbatim and put them in to be marked by the exam board who were none too pleased. Then the week peaked when I woke up in the middle of the night Thursday/ Friday and realised that son's passport renewal that I'd sent off several weeks ago hasn't yet come back from the passport office. And we're going to France this Wednesday.

So just a little stressed and distressed this week - although more positively, I have more work opportunities to go for, I spoke to son's teacher and he isn't the one in trouble he was just a bit over generous, and - you know what - the sun is now shining and I'm soon heading up to a cottage in Northumberland for a walking, eating and drinking girly night. The passport saga does however continue. After a day and a half, more than a dozen phone calls I am still waiting for someone to call back and let me know where his passport is... I am though breathing deeply and chanting 'it'll be fine'...

But now to the good and the things this week I am grateful for...
1. My new neighbour - I have a little pond in my garden, nothing fancy like the type you could keep those huge fancy fish in, just a little hole in the ground with some water and green stuff in it - but it now has been given the seal of approval from a froggy friend who has decided it's good enough to move into. Welcome Kermit!

2. Lovely libraries - I spent nearly a whole day in my local city library this week, first time I've really used it beyond popping into the cafe or for some sort of talk or event. Despite being nostalgic and a bit sad about the loss of staff stamping books (all self service don't you know) the facilities, building and staff are all pretty fabulous. It is now going to be one of my regular haunts too as without distractions I got a lot of writing done.

3. Proper pubs - I met a friend in one of those dying breeds, a proper pub where as you open the door you are greeted with a wall of aroma, the unmistakeable smell of stale beer, where whatever time of day it is it's quite dim inside, where the half dozen blokes resting on the bar are unmistakenly regulars, and where there is a no nonsense bar maid in sensible shoes in charge. In my yoof there were so many proper pubs like this, I even worked in some of them, but of course one of the drawbacks of development is that so many of them are now gone or changed into chain pubs, wine bars, or glitzy gastronomic places. I love proper pubs with proper beer.

4. My favourite flower - lots of things are growing fabulously in the garden thanks to the deluge of constant rain and if you can see past the humungous weeds many of the flowers and shrubs are blooming. One of my favourites is this clematis, I just find the colour and shape of the flower pretty perfect. The arch it normally climbs up came a cropper in recent winds but I have another one to put up and in the meantime it carries on flowering regardless. A lovely, pretty piece of pleasure.

5. My final fab thing of the week is - yep - those kittens. I have already posted a pic so won't spoil you or bang on about them again, but they've been fabulously soothing!

How many fab things have you found this week?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Purr-fect way to de-stress

I'm currently kitty sitting for my next door neighbours pair of pussies while they are away. Popping in, scooping the poop, filling up the food and water are all easy to do. But these little fellas love a cuddle too and it is impossible just to pop in and straight out again. They demand some play time, lap to sit on and an audience for their purrs which reach earthquake tremor levels.
And I have found it the perfect way to take half an hour out, sit and be still, switch off and de-stress. The house is silent apart from their content rumblings, they've been fed, watered and played with and they fall asleep curled up and happy. All is well with the world.
 You can't beat a cute cat pic!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Five fab Friday things

I've been all over the place this week, in all kinds of way, but here are five things I'm thankful for this week...
  • Friends - this week I have been out and about seeing new ones and old ones (in the relationship not the age sense!) They have made me welcome, made me vegan food and we have talked, laughed, eaten, drank, talked and laughed some more. Friends are fab!
  • Home - I do like being away, travelling, seeing people but I sooo love coming home, especially when my boys (one son, one dog, one cat) are all waiting and so happy to see me back
  • Tofu - not something I thought I would ever be grateful for given its curious consistency and bland look and taste, but my one of my friends made me the best vegan chocolate mousse type pudding ever and the secret ingredient was tofu - who'd have thought...?!
  • Navigational skills - or lack of them, actually maybe fairer to say my lack of all things geographical. This skills gap allowed me to think that Bristol/ Swindon/ Nottingham/ Leicester were all near neighbours (and very near London) which is why I planned in one trip to stop off at so many places which are actually not that near to each other at all (and not just outside London) But I'm glad I did it all.
  • Losing my phone - or more acurately, finding it again! I lost it in a field after thinking that the pocket I had put it in was too small (always listen and act on your gut feeling is that lesson!) when I went to take it out it had gone. After several circuits of the field, with a rising panicky feeling (addicted to my iPhone - moi?!) and berating myself I spotted it hiding in some long grass. Phew!
What's been good about your week?
Amazing but true... this is made of tofu!!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Visual dare - distorted

I'm delighted to get time to take part this week in Angela's Visual Dare. I'm not quite sure how I got to this from her fab photo prompt but guess that's part of the fun..! 

Her heavy sealed eyes opened slowly, scouring the room. Strange faces in a photograph stared back, a bright red dress, the kind she would covet but never dare wear was slung over a chair. Was she dreaming or ill, maybe she had a fever. Then droplets of memory started tapping onto her thoughts. Bright lights, sticky smells, a fairground. A dare to go into the tent of Mystic Mags. She’d entered laughing, saying she’d cross her palm with silver. She hears clearly the voice replying ‘so you want a new life, a new you? Well if you're sure my pretty...'

Friday, 6 July 2012

Fab Friday Fings

I've decided every Friday shall be Fab Friday for me - not just because it's my favourite day of the week, but so I can look back and remind myself of the good things that happen in a week.
So, starting today, five things I'm thankful for on this Fab Friday are:
  • Booking a holiday with my boy - he's nearly 17 but still wants to come on holiday with me, this year I wasn't sure if he would... and I'm well prepared for a refusal happening some time in the near future! But we get on well, have fun when we travel together and knowing that some day soon he'll prefer to be off with his mates makes it even more memorable. And I love arranging holidays! So in three weeks time we are off to Paris, then on to the Loire Valley where we've not been before.
  • The car park present - a lovely chap came up to me as I was just about to pay £10.50 (scandalous amount!!) for parking in a city centre multi-storey. He gave me a ticket and explained he gets them free from his workplace but not to say anything as he'd get sacked if they knew he was giving them away. He saved me money and made my day with his random act of kindness - and of course I won't say anything at all to anyone...!
  • The rain - yes I am actually counting the rain as a Good Thing. Last week it was a Terrifying Thing as I ploughed my poor little car through floods that came over her bonnet, but as I sat in the garden yesterday (the one day in ages it hasn't rained) I appreciated how green, lush and thriving everything is (yes weeds included...!). And it saves my having to water the garden (see - really looking for the positives)
  • Sweeties - going vegan has definitely curbed my sweet tooth - no biscuits, cake is a rare treat - but this week I have found sweets, totally and utterly vegan sweets! Sooooo excited I bought (and ate) two packets...
  • Our beach - no it's not really ours but that's what I call it, just a few miles away from my house. This week as the fields have been too swampy to go walking in me and my dog have been to our beach every day in the rain, fog, wind and even - once at least - a bit of sunshine. It doesn't matter what the weather is like, it's one of my favourite places to be, a calming place that always helps me get perspective and peace.  

What things are you thankful for this week?

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

So how was it for me?

My trial month of being vegan is over - I committed to one month in June because it sounded like a do-able time scale and I honestly didn't know if at the end of it I'd be reaching for the cheesy scrambled egg with extra mayo.

The fact that I'm not and have no desire to three days after the official end of the 'trial', even though I could if I wanted and justify it to myself, says something.

What has been fascinating is focusing on food and realising how distant our normal relationship with it is. I was surprised on my first vegan trip round the supermarket to realise, after an unfeasible amount of time label gazing, how much seemingly unnecessary stuff goes into what we eat. Even usual things I'd buy as a vegetarian mostly contained some kind of dairy product added in some guise. Veggie sausages, falafel, quorn, pesto - all out.  It's also been a revelation just how much diary as a vegetarian I must have been eating, it does become not only a meat substitute but often the only thing people can think of to offer you.

Making meals at home hasn't changed much - much of what I'd make anyway would be relatively vegan, or easily made into vegan by say leaving the parmesan out. I can actually say I haven't missed cheese which is surprising (until my brother turned up and his partner hadn't known and had brought me a bag full of gorgeous looking cheeses as a present... I sulked and son scoffed them!) The only think I do think about occasionally is scrambled eggs on a weekend for brunch - I haven't tried the tofu version of them yet, I know it won't be the same.  Meals round friends houses have been great, they've wanted to try new recipes and it's been fab hearing other non vegans exhort how delicious (and easy) vegan food can be.

Eating out however is a whole different experience. Restaurants have to be picked carefully or given a pre-warning phone call - it's like the olden days where you wore a bell around your neck that signalled you were 'unclean'.  Eating out on a lunchtime is the trickiest thing - the usual grab something in a cafe like a normal person means at best I am lucky to get some fruit or a salad and a packet of (plain) crisps. Of all the things this has been the most difficult. Apart from train travel - which was a similar barren experience and actually meant I was hungrier longer as had a long journey.

It means that you have to be a little more organised and prepared ,which quite frankly I'm not - yet.

I decided to try vegan because of the potential health benefits - so have I noticed any? It's hard to say given I had an operation 12 days in which meant hardly eating for a few days after, then a week later suffered from a stomach infection which meant surviving a few more days on soup and bread. But, given that I am at the end of quite a stressful few months (April - trekking in Peru and suffering altitude sickness, May - having a hysterectomy, June - having plastic surgery done) I am feeling surprisingly well and what I do know is the days when I have eaten well and slept well I've felt very well. And it has 'cured' me of picking and snacking (one of the downsides of working at home) and of my sweet tooth - no longer can I just have a couple of biscuits or piece of cake with a cuppa.

So, partly because I have had the blip in the middle which blighted the experience a bit, partly because it is starting to feel like the 'norm' and partly because I'm still fascinated as I have only just scratched the surface and have loads more to try and to look into, I am not going to end my vegan experience with the end of June. Oh no, I am carrying on being that awkward one, that one who has to explain what they can and can't eat, that one who just says 'it's fine I'll just have the salad then - no dressing' for at least a while longer yet...  

And if you want to follow my vegan ups and downs, recipes, good (and bad) places to go you can like my Vegan Virgin FaceBook page  

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Loo with a view

Even as I sit here writing with biblical style storms raging - you know the Proper Ones where you don't even get to count to one thousand between the thunder and lightening, where the dog is cowering, electrical things are unplugged and people are tweeting pictures of flooding (go to the hashtag #newcastleendofdays for amazing photos) I still love the north east.

As it's my adopted or second home (the first being a little corner of Yorkshire where I was brought up) I love that I live just a couple of miles from a gorgeous beach, on an amazing snaking coastline which if you come inland from has some of the most stunning scenery and fantastic heritage - castles and Roman bits a-plenty!

It's also only about 20 minutes into Newcastle, small enough to feel safe and welcoming, large enough to be buzzing and cater for all tastes. It's the city of my youthful party days, now the place where I exercise my more cultured side (ok and still the occasional party night...)  One of the things I love is that there is always loads more to see, things I still haven't been to, or new stuff that come along. Oh and I absolutely adore the bridges.

At the weekend we went to the Baltic, once a flour mill sitting on banks of the Tyne now an international arts centre, which we've been to many times before but this time we climbed to the very top floor to have a special meal at Six, the restaurant there. I'd never been before and was wowed by the food, the service - and the toilets. I love checking out toilets in places (and I'm sure I'll write a Duff Guide to them some day) but the ones at Six will take some beating - surely the loo with the best view... What do you reckon? (and if you're interested in finding out about the food too I've written a review at