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!