I went for an early morning walk today and took some pictures while it was still quiet & the snow was fresh and crisp. Ordinary landscapes become transformed with a dusting of snow but with several inches of snow the local park becomes a landscape reminisce of Narnia; a magical wilderness with nothing but the crunching sound of snow beneath your feet & the sound of birds rustling in the trees above your head. Here are some of the pictures I took; I hope you like them.
Ever revisited a place where you used to live a long time ago? What motivates you to undertake on such a visit? What do you hope it will achieve? Will it up to your expectations?
These were the questions racing through my mind a few days ago when I was deliberating whether to visit a place I last lived in 12 years ago. I don’t know why I felt the urge to visit there. My Dad said is was ‘A Quest for Past Happiness’. But I don’t recall being particularly happy there for the most part of it. I was 20 and decided to move to a village in the New Forest for a year’s work placement, at the time a 5 hour train journey away from my then boyfriend. But although I found it difficult, I have some really happy memories of the place and of the time. Of snatched weekends of happiness when he’d arrive on the train/bus/ferry for a few days at a time before he’d have to return (to a soundtrack of tears and Classic Rock!) back to his studies at University. When he visited we’d explore the New Forest together and everything seemed more colorful, more vivid and really beautiful.
We’ve long since broken up (we ended up together for several years) but I fondly remember all the lovely places we visited there and wanted to see if remained as magical as I remembered.
Some aspects inevitably were a mild disappointment. One of my all time favorite shops had long since closed down thus leaving a void in my nostalgia. I soften the blow with a long walk by the sea from Lymington towards Milford-on-Sea armed only with a lidded cup of tea and a Cornish pasty. Some things never deteriorate or diminish; it’s still one of the most dreamily beautiful stretches of coastline in the UK and was exactly how I remembered it. I ate my pasty whilst staring out to sea. Two runners ran past me and smiled, reminding me of the one of the things I love so much nowadays: my running. I was now wishing I’d bought my trainers this time round!
I carried on walking and passing familiar places until my feet ached but I kept smiling; I was glad I came back to see this place again.
I next returned to the village where I lived for a year. Hythe is mainly accessible from Southampton by ferry and (interesting fact) is home of the World’s oldest pier train. Previous days were spent watching this train go up and down the pier, a gentle chug chug chug as it delivered commuters to the small passenger ferry every 30 minutes which then departed onward to Southampton.
In the distance across the massive expanse of water massive cruise liners were busy being boarded, ready to set sail on their epic voyages around the world. It’s a remarkable place to sit and watch the world go by. You feel almost at the edge of the Earth with a flurry of activity barely visible by eye but on closer inspection being epic in proportions. Massive container ships passing by of all shapes and sizes, delivering and receiving orders of astronomical proportions. The expanse of water is so large however that it makes these ships look like mere toys, bobbing up and down for our entertainment rather than serving a critical purpose.
I watched the ships in the Solent for a little while with an ice cream and then began the walk back to my car. During which I thought about the days I felt utterly alone here but also the days where I was happier than I’d ever been.
During the walk, a familiar couple passed me on the road, smiling as they passed. They were my former neighbours in the block of flats In which I used to live. They didn’t remember me but I got a warm glow of familiarity.
There are pieces of home everywhere if you choose to look for them.
Did you leave the house this morning under the cover of darkness, scrape an inch thick layer of ice from your car (last used on or around the 19th December) and begin that trudge to work on desperately quiet roads?
Did you see a warm glow emitting from the houses of your neighbours, inside blissfully unaware of your imminent commute and probably not yet even surfacing from under their duvets? Did you attempt to head to the shops for a quick lunch but had to turn back as you were overrun with smug shoppers, still on their holidays with days to kill and wandering at a snail’s pace around Marks & Spencers?
Then A Big Welcome to you my friends! You are in good company. Read on and I will attempt to get you through this difficult period of the year, using a powerful combination of bitter experience and some rather amateur attempts at positive mentality.
Yes, this is my top tips for Working Over Christmas or a being a WOC (apologies for rubbish acronym but I couldn’t help myself being back in the workplace an’ all) from a WOC Veteran of 3 years (and counting…)
1. Ease yourself back in to your pre-Christmas food regime
Now, just because you’re back in ‘work mode’ with respect to attendance and actually having to do work, this does not mean you can’t reward yourself with the odd indulgent snack throughout the day to take the edge off the post holiday blues. It’s still far too early to be starting any New Years Heath Kicks. Save that for when ‘the others’ have come back. Treat yourself to a giant pastry (like me this morning) or even a mince pie (erm, also me) and at least your digestive system can still feel like it’s still on holiday.
2. Snack Attack!
You know the tonne of snacks and general Christmas treats everyone brought in just before they left for the holidays? They’re still here. And guess what? No one is going to want to touch them when they get back after they’ve had a fortnight of chocolate selection boxes and cakes. Do them a favour and remove the temptation before they get back and complain about them.
3. Ever Chaired a Meeting but never been senior enough to do so? Now’s your chance!
Now, since nobody is around, use the opportunity to make some important decisions around here. You have the rare opportunity to simultaniously be the Chair, minute taker AND core attendee of your very own meeting! Now don’t let the power go to your head!…
4. Perfect that ‘post holiday’ conversation
You know the one…
‘Did you have a good Christmas?’
‘Yeah, it was good thanks, what about you?’
‘Yeah really enjoyed it thanks, it was a bit quiet but it was nice to have a break’ etc etc BLAH BLAH BLAH
Use the additional week to your advantge and enchance that post Christmas exchange of words. Rehearse some Christmas holiday stories that will astound, entertain and perhaps even concern your colleagues. If you’re short of ideas, simply steal a plot from a recent soap opera storyline and (as long as your colleague doesn’t actually watch said soap) have fun watching your colleagues awkward reponse.
‘Do you have a good Christmas?’
‘No, not really actually.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, this might sound a bit far fetched, but I found out on Christmas Day that my sister is actully my Mother.’ (REMEMBER TO KEEP A STRAIGHT FACE AT THIS POINT)
‘Oh right…um, I don’t know what to say’. And from this moment henceforth, no one else will dare to ask you how your Christmas holiday was. (You’re Welcome WOCs!)
5. Last but not least, the quiet…oh the peace and quiet
This week, my office is down from 30 to erm, 3. And this means the office is practically deserted. No, I’m not suggesting doing anything untoward here, because after all you have professional standards to maintain. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t introduce just a leeeetle bit of fun to break up the long days of loneliness. For example, haven’t you always wanted to sing Celine Dion ‘My Heart Will Go On’ at the top of your voice in the open plan office, or wear a Mullet wig and feather boa whilst sat working at your desk. For no other reason than you can. And it would be mildly amusing.
Now my fellow WOCs, if you have managed to get this far in this article, I’d love to hear from you in my comments section…what silly thing have you introduced to bring a teeny tiny of joy to your working day whilst everyone is still shoving down the last remnants of the turkey and watching the third repeat of the Miranda Christmas special on the TV. The Fools.
I hope this article helps get you though this difficult period. And please, follow me if you’d like to read more from me. I’m fairly new at this Blogging malarky, so would really appreciate your likes and or ‘feedback’…or what I like to refer to as a sh*it sandwich; a slice of negativity in between two big thick slices of positivity!
And last but not least, I wish you a very Happy 2015!
Something you should probably know about me is I do a LOT of running. I started a few years ago, not for your usual weight loss reasons, but to improve my mood. After a difficult start, it ended up having a phenomenally positive effect on my life and significantly reduced my stress levels. If I’m in a bad mood, I’ll decide to go for a run thus completely forgetting what I was in a bad mood about in the first place!
The thing about runners however that can really irritate non runners is that they can become quite evangelical about running. Google ‘inspiration running quotes’ and you will see what I mean. I’ve selected a few here for your viewing pleasure (or annoyance depending on how inactive you have been of late!):
Here’s my personal favourite for when I’m having a ‘slow’ day:
So when my friend Sharon suggested I sign up for the Loftus Poultry run just before Christmas because it would be ‘fun’, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. You see, I sign up for races probably every few weeks as they always have a really good atmosphere and having something to aim for keeps you motivated to keep training.
And I knew at this one there would be Christmas fancy dress.
You will see from my previous running post that there are some ‘unusual’ costumes which can appear at these events. Jesus was my personal favourite this year. Other than the Santa hat worn at my previous race, I haven’t worn a costume as such for a race before so thought I’d give it a go; it is Christmas after all! So ‘Mary Christmas’ was born. I customised my existing lady santa costume with the following:
1. Present bows
2. Christmas Gift Tags
3. Plastic cake decorations that I’d found in a cake tin 5 minutes before I set off which I’d sewn into the skirt, my personal favourites were Mr Reindeer and Mr Robin.
I drove to pick up Sharon from the main road and found her stood in full Santa costume complete with beard. We got some funny looks on the drive there!
Loftus Poultry run (http://www.poultryrun.info) has been going for over 30 years now and attracts both serious and comedy runners purely out to enjoy the day. On this occasion, I was in the latter category. The race has got it’s name because the main prizes consist of Poultry from a local butcher; when I arrived I saw a series of chickens and turkeys being loaded onto the a table for afterwards (don’t worry, they’re already dead!).
So after having a quick catch up with my running friends (we are rather a sociable bunch!) we all set off from Loftus leisure centre for the 8 mile mainly uphill slog which is a loop around the surrounding villages. It was a very tough race. I spent the first two miles trying to keep pace with a man who was playing Christmas music from his phone (it can be surprisingly motivating!) and was keeping up with the main crowd until about mile 5. The I hit massive wall. Thoughts going through my mind consisted of:
‘Why is it so windy?!’
‘Where has everyone gone?!’
‘This is NOT fun!’
‘I wonder if I’ll win best costume?’
On this occasion (and this happens some times in races) I just lost all motivation to continue and just started walking. This is highly unusual for me, but I always refer to the quotation below in rare circumstances such as this:
Towards the end as I ran through the housing estate behind the leisure centre, some little girls were stood on the window sill in their bedroom and were cheering me on to finish and shouted ‘Merry Christmas!’. It’s moments like this that keep you going to the finish and I was spurred on to start running again (albeit slowly).
‘Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas!’ Shouted the crowds as I did a last sprint towards the finish line.
‘Never AGAIN!’ I said through gritted teeth to Sharon as I ran through it.
As always however, once I’d had my post race cup of tea, I was feeling rather euphoric and very quickly changed my mind about the whole experience,
‘Now I know what to expect from the course, I’ll definitely do it again next year!’
I didn’t win best costume in the end; there wasn’t a best costume prize but were instead giving bottles of wine away to those who finished in fancy dress. They’d run out of wine by the time I showed up!
So tonight I went for dinner at a lovely restaurant near my house called ‘The Waiting Room’ in Eaglescliffe. It vegetarian, but don’t let that put you off; it’s been voted one of the best restaurants in the UK (and that’s including the ones that have meat!) and I’ve been going regularly for years.
It’s name (I assume) comes from the fact its over the road from Eaglescliffe train station. Either that or people just enjoy loitering in there without buying any food, but that wouldn’t be a particularly good business model so I’m going with the former. One of the reasons I bought a house close by was so I can easily hop on a direct train back to AFormerLondonGirl HQ to visit the parental unit and then hop back up quickly enough when I need my space again.
Helen had the spinach and feta pancake, Katie the lasagne with sesame potatoes (yum!) and i had the goats cheese roulade (double yum!). I (as per usual) was the only one with room for dessert so had the usual..
‘Sticky toffee pudding please, with LOTS of custard!’
I have no shame.
They also have cool events on a Sunday night called ‘Waiting for Sunday’ and they have anything from bands, to comedians and it’s usually quite eclectic which I love. One year I saw a brilliant band called The LoveSick Cowboys and because it was Halloween me and my friend went along as zombie cowgirls.
If you are ever in the Teesside area for any reason, you must visit this restaurant, you won’t regret it.
So, to follow on from my tipping dilemma as discussed in my previous blog, I mentioned this to my friends Katie and Helen at dinner and asked for their opinions on the matter.
‘What, you tip at beauty salons?!’ says Katie,
‘Of course, it’s the same as hairdressers isn’t it…except the hair is erm, elsewhere!’.
‘Well no one tips me to to my job!’ (Katie is an accountant).
So there we have it folks.
I know for a FACT that my window cleaners avoided me last month so I would have to see them to give them a tip this month. The truth is, they are so suspicious looking, I continue to pay them (even though I’m not even sure they are fully cleaning my windows) just to prevent them from potentially burgling my house when I’m at work. Yes that’s right, I’m paying my window cleaners protection money.
So we had a wonderful evening, we laughed a lot, ate loads of lovely food and have agreed to head out together over Christmas to have a few drinks, have a dance and attempt to meet some eligible batchelors. Due to my ongoing social awkwardness this is highly unlikely…but one can but try!
I’m off to bed as I’m tired after that epic dessert!
So following on from getting new hair Friday, I treated myself to a discount massage on Saturday lunchtime then had a lazy afternoon half watching old Christmas films whilst doing my bi-annual filing of my paperwork aka opening several months of bills and immediately throwing them out. My question for beauty salon etiquette; how much do you tip if you’ve received the treatment at a reduced price?! Do you scale down the tip to match the percentage final cost?! Ruminating over issues like this prevent me from fully relaxing during said treatments hence why I tent to put off going! So my afternoon included sorting out all of my old photos and inevitably coming across those of my ex-fiance. I remember that beyond the face-pulling/cheeky grins lies the corrupt mind of a sociopath – BEWARE! I reminded myself in case I feel tempted to contact him again. I went to a friend of a friends house party in the evening but only had a couple of drinks as I was running the next day. My friend had a drunk close collision with an antler light fitting and I decided to put Bruno Mars ‘Uptown Funk’ on repeat as I feel it’s the only song worth listening to, well this week anyway.
Those who weren’t feeling socially awkward dance to it with me, one guy decided he would only NOT feel awkward dancing if he was wearing a Bruno Mars-esque fedora. We made it happen. I ate cheese straight from the packet. Put it on some Doritos. My diet has sunk to a new low.
I awoke the next day and went to my 5km trail race in the grounds of a mansion opposite where I live. Preston Park was built in the 19th century in Stockton-on-Tees (Cleveland, North East England) and houses a replica Victorian Street. It only costs £1 to get in and you can return as many times as you like during the year; it’s an absolute bargain. It also houses a fantastic painting called ‘The Dice Players’ by a French artist called Georges de La Tour which was painted in the 1600s, a few years before the artists death. It’s one of the most beautiful paintings I’ve ever seen and I love visiting it. The way the artist has captured the faces of those playing the dice game is truly magical, I always ask myself ‘is that how they actually looked back then?!’ for some reason. I feel so privileged to live opposite such an amazing place. There was around 250 people doing the race, I wore my Santa hat to try and be a bit festive about it. However, the clear winner of best Christmas costume so far was someone who decided to roll up wearing nothing but sandals and two strategically placed tea towels, and you could only see his race number when he lifted up the front tea towel. I was calling him Jesus but my atheist friend told me off and said I was mistaken as he was clearly Joseph! My question back to him was HOW DOES HE EVEN KNOW THAT! He ran carrying a cuddly sheep. What a legend. Anyway returned home after a good gossip with my friend Sharon whilst we ran additional 5km (we are clearly mad) and spent the rest of the day relaxing with the sunday papers…bliss 🙂 To conclude: a fun packed weekend! Bye for now, Claire
I don’t know if i’m going to one day regret saying this, but I think it may be a sign of getting old when you see yourself becoming more like your parents but you don’t actually mind as much as you once would have done. Uh Oh. Well, they have much less to worry about nowadays, they’ve not got that much to do (being both retired and bordering on retirement), they are always laughing about something and they don’t particularly care when they say weird stuff.
Yes, the Parental Unit have been in residence. Since I’ve moved Up North, Mum and Dad visit me every few months; occasionally they stay with me in my house (like this time) but mostly tend to rent a cottage in Richmond which is about a 40 minute drive away. The reason for this is because after a few days in each other’s company it becomes apparent that there are too many egos in too small a space. Plus, a few years ago, my father became rather attached to Richmond, so much so that he wishes to move there. So it’s nothing personal. I hope. Despite this, I’ve really enjoyed them staying. We went into Yarm (the local town) and my father bought what will be known henceforth as ‘The Coat’. Let me explain. When Dad (or any other member of the Banton family for that matter) spends more than approximately £7.50 on an item of clothing, Mum exhibits the following patterns of behaviour:
1) She brings up said expenditure in literally every other sentance.
2) She sneers when she mentions said item of clothing.
3) She goes unusually quiet and you can literally feel her thinking about the expenditure and if there is any possible way that it can be undone.
When I bought my Biba fur coat the other week (no regrets), even though she was 400 miles away at the time, she instinctively knew that a Banton somewhere was spending more than the aforementioned amount on clothing. Her left eyebrow started twitching. I’ve since been informed that she didn’t eat her dinner that evening. Where this level of thriftiness has come from no one fully understands. I do however know that my Grandad (her father) painted the front door of their family home the worst shade of pink I have ever since in my life (it stayed like this for at least 3 decades) and he did this simply because it was the cheapest paint he could locate in the North London area. So one can start to understand her extreme dislike of spending money or the general treating of oneself. This has since been transferred onto me in the form of guilt; I felt I had to confess that I had bought the coat before she visited so that she could disapprove in advance without impacting on her visit. There was days of questioning. It will never be forgotton.
Anyway, whilst they were visiting, we drove up to Beamish which is a Victorian town near Newcastle. My Dad recalled that when I first moved up I attempted to drive them to Beamish but we never actually made it because I got stressed, lost and drove the wrong way around a roundabout. I had actually forgotten this had happened and it got my thinking about how disorientated I was when I first moved up to Teesside, so much so I was in a permanent state of confusion for several months desperately trying to find my feet and establish a sense of normality. This memory gave me inspiration to what I would write about next; I decided on a series of quick hints and tips which I have found worked for me to help find ones feet and address this disorientation. The first few months of a new location are a blur of new faces and places (so much so you apparently forget the Highway Code) and it’s important to try and establish some sort of foundation and routine which you can subsequently build on. So here it is, my handy tips for finding ones feet in a new area:
1. Buy your local paper (particularly in the UK). Relying on electronic media like Facebook is a surefire way to not find interesting stuff to do and see. My personal things to find in local media are vintage fairs, craft fairs, gigs and one off exhibitions.
2. Say yes to EVERY invite. I’ve met all of my best friends through acquaintances who have invited me along somewhere & I’ve subsequently lost contact with the original introducer strangely enough.
3. Establishing a routine is critical and leads to greater stability and wellbeing. Every Saturday, I love going into my local coffee shop, buying a sandwich and reading the Saturday paper from cover to cover. Every Tuesday I buy the same celebrity gossip magazine on my way home from work. Familiarity does not breed contempt, it builds comfort in unfamiliar surroundings.
4. Write to your friends. Receiving letters in return are one of the loveliest things to experience, especially if they are on fancy paper. If you don’t particularly want to write to anyone, write to yourself on fancy paper, you can’t but help getting absorbed as it’s deeply theraputic. I read a great quote last weekend which sums this up: ‘An email is a record of your words; a letter is an expression of your state of mind’. I write my thoughts down before I transfer them to my blog, I seem to be able to capture my state of mind better on paper for some reason, perhaps it’s because I grew up writing things down as opposed to typing.
5.Take up old hobbies as well as considering new ones. When I lived in Warrington, I thought it would be a good idea to go to a life drawing class to try and meet new people. I was appalling at life drawing and I was surrounded with people who were very talented at drawing and were rather amused by my attempts to participate in the class. It was never going to work out. I later decided joined a band as I loved music when I was younger and played the piano for years as a child. As this was something I had an actual ability in so it was much more enjoyable and I again met one of my closest friends through doing this.
6. Take up running. Until a few years ago, I had never ran anywhere ever except perhaps for the bus and away from people I disliked. Now, I regularly run between 3 and 6 miles at a time. I started running on my own and totally enjoyed my own company doing this. Mainly because I used it as an excuse to zone out and completely immerse myself in my music collection whilst doing it. I later joined a club and it was one of the best decisions I made. Running clubs are perceived as a scary place but if you find the right one, they become part of your extended family. It is the single best way of meeting new people that I’ve found over the years and you can’t find a better way of both getting fit and becoming more positive in your outlook on life. I know it sounds a bit evangelical but I have indeed become one of ‘those’ people. See featured image for some of my lovely running friends!
7. Buy an Ordnance Survey Map of your local area. In other countries this is the equivalent of a detailed map of footpaths, features of interest etc. The reason for this is you take things like knowing where paths are etc for granted in your home town and it takes a very long time to find them on your own in a new area. A map like this really helps you to find your feet quicky.
8. Write a to do list. Plan things in to give yourself things to look forward to that involve your family and closest friends, even if it’s as simple as telephoning someone for a chat. When you are new to an area you sometimes have evenings and weekends to fill until you establish new friendships and it can be lonely at first.
9. Take time to put all your photos in photo album. The problem with digital images is that you forget about them and it’s really comforting to have the physical images in an album to look at.
10. Relax. Don’t feel like there is a rush to make a circle of friends, this does not happen naturally if you try and force it. Learn to enjoy your own company in the immediate, friendships will come in time and with patience. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from people who don’t make you happy, even if it means you have more time to yourself for a while when you do this. I’ve learnt from experience that when you stop spending time with people who bring you down and feel miserable then kinder, better friends will eventually fill the place they once occupied. It’s a happy truth.
Last night was one of only 2 UK dates for The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual tour, confirmed back in August as the last prior to the split of legendary electronic outfit led by siblings Karin and Olof Dreijer. I first discovered The Knife several years ago when I heard ‘Deep Cuts’ being played in the Manchester branch of Urban Outfitters; I remember buying the album there and then after hearing ‘Heartbeats’ as I was really taken with their unique sound. Many people may not realise José Gonzalez was not the first to release this song, which was a big hit in the UK Charts back in 2003. Ever since, they’ve remained a staple in my music collection and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to see them in the city where I first heard their music. As one of a number of gigs for Manchester’s ‘The Warehouse Project’, this did not sell out, most likely due to The Knife not being particularly well known in the UK. This was only to the advantage of the crowd (including myself), who had a comfortable level of space and I had enough room for dancing/spilling my Captain Morgans and coke. I (along with my friend) travelled down from Teesside for the gig (a three and a half hour mid week slog) and learnt on arrival that Manchester Academy has a 11pm curfew which mean the band were on for less than 90 minutes which was a bit of a disappointment considering we are not going to see them again. Despite this, what the set lacked in length it more than made up for in imaginativeness and eccentricity. Someone shouts ‘I’m in love with your brother!’ (Pass it On) to a partially amused crowd and the gig gets off to a gradual start. Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ is a ghostly, understated performance and we patiently wait for the inevitable dancing to kick in characteristic of the bands’ YouTube videos. Then things really begin. Hypnotic dance beats overlapped with calypso drums, a signature part of the Deep Cuts album and at times you feel like you are in the middle of a carnival. The dance routines performed throughout the set were hilarious and we decided to spend the evening copying them. The student stood to next to me swayed drunkenly, gawping at the spectacle before him and further along another jumped up and down waving his arms having the time of his life. This mixed reaction reflected the diverse nature of the audience last night; a mixture of die hard fans and curious students keen to witness the hype surrounding the Swedish duo. Some of the set was mimed, probably due to the degree of dance routines performed but this didn’t impact on the crowds enjoyment. Towards the end, Karin spoke to the crowd in a quite frankly bizarre monologue which I found afterwards is actually a poem called ‘Collective Body Possum’. Without this knowledge, I did actually feel at this point like I was watching a live episode of Eurotrash. ‘I want a body with 2 dicks, 5 pouches and 15 holes!’. Er, alright love…. ‘Heartbeats’ was not performed during the set, a surprise considering it is one of the bands most well known songs. Someone I spoke to afterwards said it didn’t matter to them as the set was so good. I feel differently about this as I’ve heard them previously perform some awesome alternative versions of this classic (my favourite including a Top Gun’s Take My Breath Away inspired synth) so had really been looking forward to hearing it. The Knife are one of those bands where their live sound is by far superior to their album recordings. Although imaginative, the backing music can sound tinny and repetitive at times on their albums but their live shows really bring their music to life and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to see them. We finished the night dancing to The Happy Mondays at 90s night in The Venue and the following day played ‘Heartbeats’ in the car on the way home whilst sighing wistfully…. For some excellent photos from last night visit http://www.thelineofbestfit.com