Thursday, 30 June 2011

June Book Review

I remember the days when I used to read loads. Where have they gone to? What am I doing now that stops me from reading as much as I used to? Maybe I am reading as much as I did last year, it just doesn’t feel like it?

Either way, there’s only 2 books up for review this month. Hurray.

Needles & Pearls – Gil McNeil
I read the first book in this series a while back. I hope my review didn’t come off as disparaging because it wasn’t meant to, it’s just that there’s not too much I can say about this kind of book. I could relay the plot to you but if I did that then it wouldn’t be worth you reading it and I’m not saying that’s it not worth reading, it’s a really lovely book, I just can’t say much about it.

McNeil has succeeded where so many fail – she’s written characters that are likeable. Ok, they’re a little one dimensional but they’re likeable and sometimes all you want from a book is a little entertainment and light reading. These books hit the spot and I have to say, that having finished this one I kind of wanted to know when the next one would be available to read.

The Testament of Gideon Mack – James Robertson
This guy's been sitting on my shelf for quite some time and I thought it was time he had his turn in the limelight. You know when you read a book and you can’t believe you let it sit on the shelf for so long? This is how I felt about this one.

The Testament of Gideon Mack begins with a foreword from a publisher, who explains the back story – Mack was a priest in a small village in Scotland who fell into the Black Jaws, a local river, disappeared for 3 days and emerged a changed man, claiming that he’d been hanging out with the devil. Then he went into the hills and was never seen again. Shortly afterwards a manuscript was found which details his life and how he came to meet the Devil – hence his testament.

It’s odd to read a book when you already know how it ends but Robertson has managed to create a character which is engaging but at the same time a bit of a loser in life. He’s also managed to deal with some tricky questions about religion and belief but with a sleight of hand that doesn’t weigh down on you.

Mack is a Minister who doesn’t know if he believes in God – is this a problem? Is it impossible that he met and spent time with the Devil? In the end it’s up to you to decide what happened but in a sense that’s not the real question – if he believed that it happened then surely that’s all that’s important.

This book also contains one of my favourite quotes ever and chimed in with something I say all the time;

“My time in Leith had taught me that it was possible to be a Christian without involving Christ very much.”

Loved it.

Also finished this month (by the skin of my teeth) my 6th classic of the year – Tess of the d’Urbervilles – but that’s getting a post all of its own.


Book of the month?

The Testament of Gideon Mack. It’s a difficult task to write a book that’s enjoyable to read but also makes you question difficult topics. Hats off to Mr Robinson.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Today we are One

Well lookee here. We’ve made it to a year.
(And apparently gained the ability to rhyme.)

I won’t lie, it feels like longer. I mean I know it has been, so many of you have been with me longer than this guy’s been around, but I feel like this year’s been a long one.

It took me a long time to decide whether or not I would start a new blog after breaking up with the boyfriend. I went backwards and forwards over it many times – shall I just carry on as I am? Shall I just change the name of this one? Shall I just scrap it and start again?

Overall I’m pleased I started again. I needed to. After all I was pretty much starting my life again, it made sense to do the same in blog format.

How things have changed in that year. I look back over those first few posts and try and conjure up how I was feeling when I wrote them. In a way I’m thankful that it’s all kind of hazy and vague. I definitely know that I don’t want to particularly revisit it in too fine detail.

I found a piece of paper the other day. I must have done it at work and it was a list of all the emotions that I was feeling post break-up. It wasn’t pretty.

There was everything from feeling happy that I’d made the right decision to guilt at the pain that I’d caused, to anxiety about the choices I’d made to anger that I was being blamed for something when we both knew there was a problem, to sadness that I had yet another failed relationship behind me.

It was a very messy page.

If I was to do a similar list today I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be quite as messed up. It wouldn’t be perfect, but I’m most definitely on an even keel emotions-wise.

At one point I did consider just not blogging anymore after the break-up. To tell the truth I was kind of embarrassed. Here was this blog that was all about living with someone and yet I’d completely failed at doing that – I felt like a right idiot. But mainly that’s because I’d kept a lot of the doubts and fear and torment to myself, not wanting to have a blog full of whining and doom and gloom. Maybe that was to my detriment.

I decided I did want to carry on blogging after the break-up purely because I like it. I do. I like you guys. I miss you when I don’t hear from you. I find myself wanting to tell you things, wanting to let you know how things are with me (whether you want to hear them or not).

And you’ve made me realise that I made the right decision. I’m glad that you’ve stuck with me for this past year. I’m glad that you’ve patiently listened to me as I’ve rambled on about totally idiotic things, that you’ve praised me when I’ve brought something to show-and-tell and that you’ve given me advice and feedback and generally made me feel better.

I did plan on doing a giveaway for my one year anniversary. I even started to buy a couple of things for it. And then I sort of forgot in the temporary move to my Dad’s so let’s pretend that I haven’t told you all that and one day I will surprise you.

But yeah.


Monday, 27 June 2011

Running Woman Part 5 – Of Tape and Eggs.

Last week’s trip to the physio was a pretty embarrassing one. I had to admit that the shin splints had come back because I was a moron who ran too far.

He agreed that I was indeed a moron and that most likely they’d come back because I’d done too much too soon. But he also said it was good that they were recovering well – the lump that comes up on my shin when they flare up had already gone down by the time I went to see him and the tenderness had disappeared. A week’s recovery was pretty good he said. I have now christened my shin splints lump, Linus.

He said what I thought he might say – go back to the beginning. Back to running for not even 1km. Just up the street and back down again. Then next time for 1km. Then next time for 2km. Exactly the same plan as before. 

Obviously I’m to continue with the exercises, even though I don’t feel like I’m making much progress. He says that I’m doing well with them and to keep going.

But basically I’ve come to the end of the road as far as physio goes. He just said it’s unfortunately one of those things that just might keep happening to me. Or it might not if I build up properly this time. But I know a whole range of stretches to do now once I’ve been running and I have my strengthening exercises and I know what to do if they do flare up, just go back to the beginning again.

I don’t really know what this means as far as running and I are concerned – I guess I see how it goes. There might come a point where it becomes clear that I can’t run any further than a certain distance, I’ll just have to see.

He did try another taping exercise with me however which I feel might be pretty good. It just consists of three seemingly random bits of tape being put across my leg.

They might not look like they’re doing anything but they’re actually pulling my leg round slightly and alleviating the pressure on the front of my shins. As soon as he did it I could feel that it will probably make a difference. And the good news is it’s one I can do myself so I have the tape all purchased ready to go.

I really wanted to go for a test run with this tape but knew I wouldn’t be able to until the weekend. Unfortunately there was a night out on the Friday standing between me and my run. And I was wearing a dress for the night out, not the most amazing of looks. But I didn’t want to ruin my chance to give the tape a whirl so I just went out anyways and hoped that people didn’t look too closely at my leg.

It was a good night and much fun was had. At the end of the night we began the epic battle that is waged every Friday/Saturday night in Hull – trying to find a taxi. Looking for a career? Come and be a black cab driver in Hull, we’re desperately short, no jokes, it’s impossible to find one.

We ended up walking just over a mile until we eventually flagged one down. It stopped on the other side of the road, I ran over to it....and twisted my ankle.

For reals.

If it wasn’t so tragic it would be hilarious. Do you ever get the feeling that someone’s trying to tell you not to do something? If I was one to believe in signs then I would have said that running the Race for Life was not in my destiny this year.

It’s not a terrible sprain. I can actually walk on it pretty well but it’s most definitely swollen and has suddenly turned bright red, I’m hoping for a pretty impressive bruise in the next couple of days. Also, bizarrely, I’ve developed a bruise on the other side of my foot, don’t know what that’s about.

So obviously running and testing out the taping method has been put on hold for some time. I am actually hoping that given a week or so of rest, I might be able to get back out there and give it a little test.

So now in addition to Linus, my shin splints lump, we have Eddie, my Ankle Egg. Eddie had a weekend of being iced and ibuprofen-ed and elevated. And actually he went out on Saturday night as well, but in flat shoes (for the first time ever I would like to point out. Turns out that Hull isn’t really full of short men, they only seem short when you’ve got 4 inch heels on), so he’s not hampering me too much. Even though I’ve christened him, I’m hoping our relationship will be short-lived.

Both ankles for comparison. Spot Eddie sticking out on the right. (Shoes are £6 from Primark btw)

I think I’ll be glad when this Race for Life malarkey is all over.


The Running Woman Chronicles can be found here.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Glimmer

There was a plan put in place when I decided to do my Masters degree. I’d decided towards the end of my final year that a Masters was the route I wanted to go down and I the advice that I took from a lecturer was to apply immediately, get a place for the September, but then defer entry until the following September and take a year out in the ‘real’ world to avoid education fatigue.

The other advantage to working for a year would be that I could save up the money to pay for my tuition. Trying to get money for postgraduate degrees is difficult to say the least, the money’s widely available for undergraduates, but those wishing to continue on have got to do it themselves, unless they happen to studying for something vocational, in which case money is all around.

So I returned to Hull and got my job in the cafe and began working hard to save money.


I forgot about the saving money part. Instead I went out and partied hard and didn’t save anything.

And I have literally been paying for it since.

I could sit and beat myself up about my foolish ways but I’m not going to. I was young, I made a bit of a mistake and trust me it’s not the kind of mistake that you repeat twice, so it belongs to that great list of ‘life experiences’.

However, with September fast approaching I realised I had to do something about funding my next year.

My salvation came in the form of a career development loan – a sort of half way house between a student loan and a normal bank loan. They’re lent by banks and you start making repayments on a set date, nothing to do with how much you’re earning or how long you’ve been in work, on this date, you will begin repaying your loan. The interest rates are usually a bit lower than normal bank loans and stayed fixed, so you’re not faced with a rapidly mounting bill that you can’t afford to pay.

I can’t remember the exact amount I took out now, pretty much as much as I could, to cover my tuition fees, my halls of residence and my general being-a-student-ways.

Life was good.

Until before I knew it, November 2006 was approaching and the first payment of my CDL was due. At the time I had just graduated, a little later than I should have done because a bit of a family crisis saw me having to take an extension to finish my dissertation, which meant that I also delayed getting a job.

I tried calling up to ask if I could delay the repayments? No can do. I needed £180 from somewhere and had only one option...

Move back to Hull.

And here I have been ever since.

Working. And paying £180 a month towards my CDL. And that’s just been my life for the past three and a half years.

This week, in an attempt to get some parts of my life under control I decided to ring up Barclays (who supplied my CDL) and give them my new address. Goodness knows what address they had for me, I’ve moved about that much over the past 3 years and it was one of those things that I kept saying I would do but never got around to doing it (mostly down to a fear of the call centre – anyone else get that? You don’t want to ring because you just don’t have the energy to talk to someone who you can’t really understand?).

So I rang, gave my change of address, asked for a statement to be sent out to me and then asked, just while I was on the phone,

“When am I due to be finished paying this loan by the way?”

The man replied, “According to our records, the final payment will be on 31st October 2011.”

Hold up.

October 2011? As in this 2011? The year we’re currently in?

*Cue celebrations*

I don’t really know when I was thinking it would be paid off, I’ve been so used to paying it out that I wasn’t able to conceive of a time when I would be done with it.

It was a good feeling. No. It was an ecstatic feeling. It’s not so much that I’ll have an extra £180 a month (I won’t really, it will go towards paying off my credit card debt) it’s just that this will officially mark the beginning of the end. The beginning of starting to get my life a little less burdened down with debt. (I don’t count my student loan, I’ve long accepted that I’ll be paying that bugger off until the day I die. Plus it goes straight out of my pay cheque so I treat like I do tax and national insurance, it’s just money I never had!)

In other words it’s a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Just a glimmer, but a good sign nonetheless.


Hurray! This is my 200th post. Good work little blog.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A change of style

Just over three and a half years ago (3 years and 7 months today to be exact. And who doesn’t love being exact?) my Grandma died.
She was a woman who had things in order and all grandchildren were left money that had been put in savings accounts since we were born (mine paid for my trip to America in 2008) and we all got something else.

My cousins both received jewellery and I received my clock, which I have spoken about before and might just be my most prized possession.

A few months ago I was round at my Dad’s and he told me that he had something for me from Grandma.

Hello randomness.

It turns out it was from Grandma, but via my Dad’s wife, who had been left a ring by Grandma, with the intention that it would eventually be passed to me. For reasons unknown, C has decided she doesn’t want the ring anymore and so it’s been passed to me early.

I don’t really wear much jewellery to be honest. I have my charm bracelet (remind me to introduce you to him some time) which I wear all the time and a few necklaces rotate round but I’m no longer dripping in it like I used to be when I was younger.

Most of the time I have just one ring on my finger. A small, square-cut amethyst with some teeny tiny diamonds on either side that my Mum bought me with some insurance money that she got when she was burgled many years ago. It’s pretty neat and plain and I love it and when I’ve sat and daydreamed about my engagement ring (there’s no point pretending I don’t, sometimes I’m too girly for my own good) it’s always been along similar lines.

This guy has changed a lot of that for me.

You can tell how long these posts end up in the preparation stage of life - the eagle eyed among you will spot that the book in the background of this shot is Wuthering Heights!

For a start it’s gold. I have always sworn I don’t like gold, I’m a silver or white gold lady. (I’d be a platinum lady but I don’t think I know anyone rich enough) But I don’t mind this gold.

Second it’s all a bit old-fashioned and fancy pants. I don’t really know my cuts of stones but I’m going to go with the blindingly obvious and say this is an oval cut (please let me know if I’m wrong) with some diamonds kicking about it and it’s not my usual style at all.

But I think that secretly that’s what I like about it. I like that it’s different. I like that it’s not like anything you’d see in H Samuel. It’s been around the block a bit. I remember when I went shopping for a pink sapphire for my sister’s 40th a couple of years ago – I went to a second hand jewellery shop and could have spent hours in there looking at all the different rings, not that pricey at all, only not ‘worth’ much because they’re a little bit older, not perfect and not fashionable. I think I’d to know that my ring wasn’t new on – I’d like to sit and imagine who had owned it before and where it had been.

It’s not worth masses of money. I wasn’t sure if I should get it insured so Culture Friend and I took a visit to a wee jewellers in town to get a verbal evaluation. We were told by an incredibly snotty woman that it was damaged (opals are apparently notoriously easy to mark and chip, they’re not particularly hardy and you apparently shouldn’t get them wet either) and that if it was on the house insurance I’d probably get about £200-300 for it. And this was all said with an air of “So it’s not worth anything.”

But to little old me, £200-300 is a lot of money so I am super careful with it and I’m not wearing it all the time. It’s not relegated to once in a Sheffield flood, it’s just one that I wear if I’m going out or on a weekday when I feel I just need something really pretty to look at.

PS. Incidentally the other day Dad found the receipt for the ring. My Grandpa bought it on 9th December 1972. Grandma’s birthday was 10th December so this was obviously a last minute purchase for her birthday (it would have been her 49th). And he bought it for the grand total of £59

PPS. Don't worry, I'm not particularly superstitious so the fact that Opals are supposed to be bad luck doesn't really phase me.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Running Woman - Part 4 - Why I am a Moron

One comment on yesterday’s post. Ouch. Guess no-one’s loving the running woman tales. Shame. Because I’m blatantly not going to stop. (Thanks for the love though Alex!)

Run my Route has become my best friend since I’ve started running. I would love to be the kind of free spirit that can just go out and run for an extended period of time but I just can’t. I need to have a purpose to my running, I need to know the route, no meandering for me.

I’ve got loads of 5km routes mapped out so I can mix things up and change things around and not get too bored in the same old routine. Heck I’d even planned out longer routes when I was considering running a 10km race. (It might still happen, I haven’t abandoned hope completely yet!)

Pretty much the only unanimous advice I’ve gathered about shin splints is that you have to start back slowly. Very slowly. This requires enormous amounts of patience, of which I am in short supply. I don’t want to take things slowly, I want to just start running again thank you very much.

But I was determined to be a good girl and seeing as the physiotherapist had made me promise I would take it slowly I had mapped out lots of shorter routes to start building back up.

First up – the 1km route.

I sailed round smoothly. I was feeling good. The inserts seemed to be doing a good job. I had no pain the next day. Super-duper.

Next up – the 2km route.

I had it all planned out and set off in the company of my i-pod to chug along. I figured 2km would take me about 15 minutes absolute tops, considering that I’m still regaining my fitness and trying to take things slowly.

So about half way round this route I think to myself, “Bloody hell woman, this seems like it’s been a lot longer than 1km, what’s wrong with you? You’re all out of breath and stuff?”

The longer I ran the more I beat myself up.

Well this is brilliant. You’re never going to be able to run 5km by 17th July if you’re struggling this much to run 2km

How can you have lost this much fitness this quickly? How ridiculous

God you suck at life

It was only when I was just round the corner from my Dad’s house that it dawned on me that maybe I should stop beating myself up. Or actually, I should continue beating myself up, but not for the fact that I was unfit but for the fact that I’m a complete idiot.

A trip to the Run my Route website confirmed that I am indeed a Grade A Fool.

When you plan your route you can choose to get the distance in mile or kilometres. Dumbass here really hadn’t run 2 kilometres There was a reason I was finding it pretty hard going. This person had run 2 miles. So I’d actually run 3.5km.

What a twat.

Not only did I feel like an idiot I really felt like an idiot because I couldn’t believe that I’d convinced myself to carry on running even though I knew I was running further than 2km. It’s quite scary in a way, talk about the power of the mind, what else might I be able to convince myself to do?!

And of course, because I’m an idiot I have been rewarded accordingly.

With shin splints.

I ran too far too quickly and now I have to pay the price and have managed to set myself back to zero. They’re not terrible, they’ve been worse and at least I know what they are now so can set about icing them and hoping for the best. But I am furious with myself for being so foolish.

I can’t say for definite that if I’d only run 2km then I’d be ok but I suspect this is the case. (Although I do have a record of being pretty hard on myself, hence this very story.)

I hate situations where you can’t pin the blame on anyone else and have to take full responsibility for your own actions. It makes me mad. Please can’t I blame someone else for my gross incompetency?

So I’m back to zero. I’m pretty busy this week so running would be out of the question anyway. I have a physiotherapy appointment on Friday, which I’m dreading because I’m going to have to confess to my sins and the Race for Life is looming ever closer and my fitness is receding further away.

So in a word - ARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Running Woman - Part 3 - FFF

Where were we? Oh yes, here’s where I left off. So basically I was under orders not to run anymore until I’d been seen by a physiotherapist.

My appointment was booked in and I was driving myself up the wall not being able to do the thing that I’d only just discovered I really wanted to do.

Whilst I was waiting for my appointment I summoned up the expertise of a friend who just so happens to be a podiatrist and just so happens to know quite a bit about biomechanics. I asked him if he was brave enough to take a look at my feet and see if he could see anything wrong with him.

The diagnosis came within a few seconds.

I have flat feet. Very flat feet. It’s one of those things that I’d never noticed before but once it was pointed out to me it was obvious. Poor feet, the more I looked, the more deformed they seemed to be. Whereas most people have a lovely arch in their foot, meaning the inside of their foot doesn’t quite touch the ground, every square inch of mine is hugging the ground as if it’s afraid to let go.

Why is this a problem?

I’d love to be able to tell you but I had trouble grasping all the technical terms. A nice way of saying I’m a flat footed freak (FFF) is to say that I over-pronate. Much nicer.

Basically, when my foot strikes the ground, it rolls excessively inwards. To add to my flat feet I apparently have hyper-flexibility in my feet. Apparently this is the one time when having a flexible body isn’t a good thing. When I’m running, because I am an FFF, my hip, thigh, basically the whole leg, rotate too far inwards. Add to this the fact that I’ve got pretty strong calf muscles (which I hate but can do nothing about, I was born with the legs of a rugby player) which are over-powering my “anterior compartment” – that’s the front of my leg to you and me – has basically led to shin splints.

The remedy? Orthotics. Or insoles/inserts for my shoes which should put my feet in the right position and put me back in alignment.

I thanked my friend and went on my merry little way. Feeling slightly self-conscious about the way I was walking but trying to wear my new FFF badge with pride.

The very next day I went to see my physiotherapist. (Note to self – when going to see physiotherapist bear in mind that you might want to shave your legs. Especially if it turns out he’s pretty hot. Damn.) He asked me to do a variety of things, one of which was to stand on one leg and bend my knee.

When normal people do this the knee should bend directly over their foot – so when it’s bent you shouldn’t be able to see your foot really because your knee is in the way. Your hips should also stay aligned. When I did it I elicited this response from my physiotherapist...


Which is never normally a good sign.

When I stand on one leg and bend my knee, my knee and thigh go shooting off inwards and one hip rises higher than the other. Basically I’m all wonky. He gave me a set of exercises to do to practice getting my muscles working in the right way – believe me this is hard, trying to correct the way that you’ve been walking for 28 years is no mean feat.

I asked about insoles/inserts and the physiotherapist seemed reluctant, saying he’d rather my muscles worked in the right way then “fixing” me with an insert.

Being the geek that I am I took on my exercises with relish and diligently did my homework and going back a week later was praised for my efforts. The shin pain was now totally gone and I was given the official release to go back to running. But to build up very very slowly. First up I was allowed to run for 2 minutes. No more. He also strapped up my left foot to try and simulate an arch. This felt weird but I have to wonder the use of it because after a couple of days it didn’t seem to be doing anything and was pretty skanky so I had to remove it.

I decided to go back to my podiatrist friend and ask about inserts. To me the physiotherapist advice didn’t make sense. I understand that it’s good to get my muscles working in the right way, but surely as long as I remain flat footed then the problem of excessively rolling inwards is never really going to go away. I can try and be aware when I’m running but being too aware is most likely going to result in me falling over.

My friend got me some inserts and I tried them out. It was a little like walking on the moon. I couldn’t believe that this is how most people walk normally, my goodness how do you all do it?!

I went out for a 1km run the next day to see how I went. I was determined to build up slowly, as advised by the physiotherapist and every other website I’ve consulted about shin splints and see how I went.

So how did it go?

Until next time....

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Something New

So you may remember that one of my Not Really Resolutions for this year was to finally get all my photos from my holiday in France last year in an album of some sorts.

I didn't want to just put them in some plastic sleeve photo album but I equally didn't want to go down the route of mega-serious scrapbooking involving bits of lace and embossing powders. So (as I usually am in my life) I decided to try and tread some kind of middle ground and create something that was part photo album, part diary and not boring.

I'd had a couple of ideas of how I wanted it to go, I purchased a big map of the region while I was out there, along with a notebook that I wanted to use as the basis for things but I still wasn't feeling it was special enough.

Then one of The Stitchettes told us about something cool she'd seen - that people were embroidering on to postcards and the like, either random patterns or as a kind of doodling or as a way of adding fun details. This idea took route in my brain and stayed there until eventually, with a bit of a quiet day ahead of me a couple of weekends ago, I got all my tools together and made a bit of a start.

My tools consisted of:
- Photos
- Notebook
- Map
- Thread box - specifically red, blue and white embroidery threads
- Ruler
- Scissors
- Pen
- Glue
- Pointy stick thing for putting holes in things (gosh I wish I knew the real name for this but it's brilliant, I got it from Hobbycraft)
- Cup of tea

You know those times when you pick up something that's new to you and you just run and run with it and get incredibly over-excited about it? This was definitely one of those times. I ran with things like a wild embroidery woman.

I've tried out a few things so far. Things like putting borders around photos....

...And adding embellishments to other photos...

For this one I drew the flower on with pen and then put strategic holes in it with the pointy sticky thing 

...And I've used it to add fun parts to the diary side of things. Instead of just a boring list of places we went to, I used the threads on a postcard to pick out all the places we went...

...And I used the embroidery instead of the pen. Look! It's like writing!...

...And for picking out detail already on photos. You can't see it very well on this photo but I've picked out some of the girders on the Viaduc de Garabit in red thread to make it come alive a little bit...

All in all? I've been having a lot of fun. And hell I'm not even a little bit done with it yet. As with a lot of things creative, I had a mad splurge and then haven't really touched it for a week (but I had to pay attention to my ripple blanket, it's been so neglected lately!). But everything's all laid out and ready for me to start again when the mood grabs me.

Mostly I'm just excited. Like, really excited. 

Can you tell?

Monday, 13 June 2011

Magical Mystery Tour

So I've been away for the past few days visiting The Person. It was kind of a special weekend. One which kind of marked the fact that we've been together for one whole year. Ideally we were going to take a long weekend to spend together but the God's conspired against us (mainly in the form of The Person's work who were sending him on training on Monday morning) so we just took Friday off.

The Person was in charge of the weekend's activities and duly told me he'd organised a SURPRISE trip on the Friday.

I won't lie, I'm not big on surprises at all. I'm a lady who likes to be in control. I have no problem doing new things, I just want to know what those new things are going to be.

I asked for wardrobe advice and was told to bring outdoor shoes, my trainers would be fine, but something sensible, and a coat. I started to worry a little bit. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a city girl. I like my amenities to be close at hand, and if there isn't a Tesco within 10km I start to hyperventilate. Jokes, jokes, I'm not that bad, I don't mind the country in small doses, but again, I like to be in charge.

I tried to make The Person yield the mystery information but it was to no avail. All I knew was that I had to get up early doors ready to get on the train.

Before we left, The Person put on his walking boots. My heart sank a little bit. This mystery location was definitely going to involve the countryside. But I put my faith in him and off we trotted. Normally the trip to this mystery location just involves a straight through train from Preston, but due to some engineering works, our mystery tour took on several diversions - in total 2 trains and a bus - so I got to see quite a few rural train stations along the way.

Train from Preston to Oxenholme, bus to Grange-over-Sands, train to Dalton-in-Furness

On the final train, The Person turned to me and asked me if I was excited. I replied that I was nervous, which was similar but not really the same thing. He asked me what would be something that I would be excited about. I gave it a little thought but I could really only think of one thing...

"The zoo" I replied. He looked a little bit crestfallen and answered " there anything else that you would feel excited about?" I had a think but I couldn't think of anything...

The train rumbled on and I asked if the day would involve animals in any way shape or form. The Person replied "I can't say yes or no to be honest. There might be but I can't promise anything."

That did not make me feel better.

Getting off the train at Dalton-in-Furness didn't enlighten me any further, or make me feel any better. It's in the middle of nowhere, just two platforms, no ticket office, nothing doing at all. I had a sinking feeling...

The Person called a taxi to come and take us to the mystery location which further confused me, what the hell was going on?

All became clear when we got in the taxi driver and he asked us, "Are you going to the zoo?"

My eyes got very big.

"Are we going to the zoo?!" I asked The Person.

We certainly were. We weren't just going to the zoo though. We were going to the ultimate zoo. One that I didn't even know existed (you get bonus points if you've ever heard of this place by the way). We were going to South Lakes Wild Animal Park. Now I get giddy about anything involving animals, but had I known how exciting this day was about to be I probably would have completely hyperventilated and most likely dropped in a dead faint on the spot.

Want to know the main reason why?


Lemurs are pretty much one of my favourites (I think we all know that any kind of large cat is going to take ultimate precedence but that really is a given) so I was very excited to find out that South Lakes have a pretty large lemur population. But it gets better......these lemurs are wandering about free. You know as in, not behind bars. As in. Right next to you. As in. You could reach out and touch them.

BUT you must not reach out and touch the lemurs. There are several signs about warning you not to do it, you could get bitten and if they caught you touching them you would get thrown out. But seriously, when they're as close as they are it's hard not to. In fact, it goes against all of my natural instincts not to touch them. I'm an animal toucher I'm afraid - dogs and cats in the street, if it has 4 legs, I'm going to try and cop a feel. At one point I was gripping on to my bag with a vice like grip as I desperately tried not to succumb.

But it was hard. No I'm not zoomed in on this photo, he was that close.

Like other zoos, South Lakes has set feeding times for you to come along to and see the animals being fed, but unlike any zoo I've been to, you're allowed to feed the animals too. Even typing this out now is making me feel excited. Because I can remember feeding the giraffes...

...Which are huge by the way. I mean you know giraffes are big but I've never been this close to one before and it's not until their head is too big to get in shot that you realise the sheer size of these guys. They were actually pretty gentle when they were taking the leaves out of your hands, although you did run the risk of getting a lick from a very big tongue.

I have also fed Humboldt Penguins...

....Which are kind of smelly. That's what 12 tonne of fish will do for you. These guys were super gentle. You just dangled a fish above them and put it straight in their beaks. They get pretty mad if you don't appear to be supplying them with fish though, a few people had their cameras and their shoelaces pecked at.

We also fed the lemurs. They had grapes for dinner and were hilarious - all the animals know the score and know just what feeding times mean. They all lined up mostly neatly along the barriers to be nicely fed. The lemur that The Person fed was incredibly cute and put their little lemur hand on his to take the grape from him. Mine was a little snatchier, but I loved him just the same.

We saw the jaguars and lions being fed, which involved the keepers hanging chickens off 12 foot poles and then letting the kitties in to clamber up and pull them down.

I could go on. And on. And on. And on. And probably on. But I'll stop there. 

You get my drift. It was amazing.

And even more amazing is the attention South Lakes puts on conservation, they are ultimately geared towards the conservation of species of wild animals (a point which is somewhat hammered home in the talks they give - less info about conservation and more interesting facts about the animals would have been appreciated) and there are plenty of opportunities to either adopt animals or contribute in some other way to their programmes.

In short?

The Person wins the prize for best magical mystery tour ever.

And I even has a lemur of my own!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Crazy Cat Lady Part 11 - Harry

As I said in my last post, I'm living at my Dad's house at the moment. This is great in many ways but for one rather huge one.

A distinct lack of furry people.

My whole life has been filled with cats. As long as I've been alive, there's been a cat there. There are stories of Smudge lying like one of the lions in Trafalgar Square alongside my Moses basket. Apart from when I was at university, there's been a total period of about 4 months when I haven't had a cat at home.

Here at Dad's there are no cats for me. They're not cat people, they obviously had Jess, but since she died there's no piece of fur to cuddle up to and quite frankly it sucks.

I mean who the hell are you supposed to talk to if there isn't a cat wandering about? Talking to myself just makes me feel plain batty. Talking to a cat is just like talking to another person. (Isn't it?!)

Me being me, I'm always on the look out for another cat to make friends with and I've been in luck at Dad's. Now that Jess isn't around anymore, moggies have begun to come into the garden to make it their own. Most of them are irritatingly skittish. Why don't they realise that I'm lovely?

But I have managed to make friends with next door's cat, Harry.

Harry lives with his sister Daisy - she looks just like Harry but is minus a tail. Harry comes and sunbathes on the path in the garden, and sometimes comes and braves it on the patio.

Our relationship is fragile to tell you the truth. Sometimes he likes me and is happy to come and have a stroke, sometimes he runs from me as if I'm a cat-stealing ogre.

If his owners are in their garden he's more likely to stay with me and roll about and have a flirt. I think he needs the reassurance of their presence. When they're talking to me I guess he figures I'm unlikely to put my cat-stealing plan into action and is happy to hang about.

It's not perfect but it will do. And let's face it, I have another 2 months to put my plan into full action.

He will be mine.

*cue evil laugh*

It's a good job I'm only staying round the corner from my house so I can sneak back and steal Maggie and Maud cuddles. Otherwise I might go mad.


I am about to disappear until next week - I'm off to see The Person. Hurray for me. Don't be jealous.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Daddy's Girl

I was the ultimate Daddy's girl growing up. He could do no wrong in my eyes. And I in his I guess.

He was the only person I wanted to please, the only person I wanted to be proud of me, nobody else mattered, not Mum, not brother, not sister, just him.

And then one day he literally packed and left. I was actually there when he was doing it although I wasn't aware at the time, I was desperately ill in bed with a kidney infection which was to lead to me being hospitalized that night. He was supposed to be at home looking after me while Mum was at work. Instead he was packing and taking things to my Grandma's. He told my Mum he was leaving when she came in from work, he told me as I was waiting for the paramedics to arrive to take me to hospital.

We didn't speak for about 4 or 5 years after that. It was my choice, I didn't know how to communicate with him anymore, couldn't process the way in which he behaved and I couldn't forgive him for what he'd done to Mum.

Eventually we cobbled together some kind of relationship. It's not the same and obviously won't ever be the same, he's not the same person to me anymore. I could stay angry at him for his behaviour when I was a child and a young adult (behaviour which I didn't really understand until I grew up myself and came to unblock memories and understand grown up actions more clearly) but I don't feel that would be productive. I could never speak to him again and if I explained my reasons I think people would feel that was perfectly reasonable. But you only get one father. I have friends who have lost their fathers and I feel it would be reckless of me to cast one aside, even if he isn't perfect.

The relationship we have now is good, if not exactly like a father/daughter relationship. It's hard to explain exactly how it is. I guess the closest is an uncle/niece relationship although not quite that distant. Somewhere in the middle I suppose. Whilst I see him as a figure of authority and offer due respect, his opinion doesn't matter to me as much as it once would have done. I've never been nervous about introducing him to boyfriends, most of the time they haven't been introduced at all, because it didn't matter to me what he thought, I'm far more nervous about introducing boyfriends to my brother. I tell Dad things about my life that I wouldn't tell Mum because I would worry that she would worry about me, whereas I don't feel like he would be as bothered - or not bothered, I just care much more about my Mum than I do for him I think.

But things are good. And getting better with time. The holiday last year in France that I took was the longest period of time I'd spent with him since he left when I was 16. That was a huge step forward for us.

I mentioned in my previous post that I am currently house-sitting for him and his wife whilst they are at the house in France. I was happy to do it and get my own space for a while but was unprepared for the blasts of nostalgia that have hit me when I've turned round corners or opened cupboards or walked through doors. Remnants of a life that could have been mine. That was mine.

Like these dogs. They used to sit on Dad's chest of drawers in Mum and Dad's bedroom. Every so often I would beg and beg for Dad to let me touch them. I had to go and sit quietly and calmly on the bed and he would get them down and bring them over to me and I would pat them on the head. When I got older I would hark back to those times and when Dad was getting ready for work in the morning and putting his tie on (taken from the top left drawer of the chest) I would ask to touch them again, he would lift them down and I would pat their heads, mimicking my childish ways, before running back to my room to get ready for school.

Now they're here. Sat on a different chest of drawers. When I picked them up and moved them to take the photo above I moved them ever so ever so carefully, feeling like I shouldn't really be touching them without adult supervision.

Or this owl mug. This used to be on Dad's desk at the University where he worked. He didn't used to drink out of it, it had pens in it. Pens that I would use when I came to his work on the odd occasion. I would draw on the whiteboard, quite the novelty for someone who went to a traditional school that still had chalkboards in the classrooms. I would sit and mess about, printing out pictures of the Friends cast to stick on my folders for school (I was probably responsible for most of the costs of printing at the university in those days).

Now it sits in a cupboard with the other mugs. The University is no more, Dad was made redundant a few years ago. When I opened up the cupboard and saw him for the first time, the nostalgia nearly bowled me over. I longed for those days when everything was happy.

And what about this chair? The chair that used to sit in the bedroom that Dad would hang his clothes over throughout the week, before hanging things back in the wardrobe or putting things in the wash at the end of the week. The chair that now sits in the hallway of a house I didn't grow up in.

It's hard to describe the feeling. Obviously I see things from my childhood at my Mum's all the time and it doesn't feel odd. I guess that's because I was never separated from them in the first place and also because they're still attached to Mum and therefore make sense. These items I haven't seen for 12 years and although they are at once familiar, they also feel strange because they're all in the wrong place.

There's more obviously. I could take you on a tour but I won't. I feel I've shared enough just this once.

Dad's coming back for 4 weeks in a couple of weeks time before going back to France until the end of August. I haven't decided yet whether I will go back home or stay with him here for a while. Although my instinct is to leave, maybe this is the opportunity to have a new kind of experience with him.

I hate being a grown up.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

May Flickr Favourites

Hurray for May.

Not really, I've just said that because it rhymes. Actually May was not a particularly good month photo-wise. In fact I think it might have been one of the worst, when I just really found myself struggling with finding anything at all to photograph. These things will happen though. And hey! I'm five months in! Who would have thought I'd get this far?

I think I just need to accept that sometimes my life just isn't thrillingly exciting and that's ok. Sometimes all I really do is go to work, come home, play with some cats, do something crafty. Aint no shame in that baby.

Anyway, this month's favourite moments included:

1st May - Reasons why I love this photo: It was sunny. It features food. It involved The Person (oh my god you can totally see part of his arm in the top right of the photo!). At the moment, those three things are pretty much all I need to keep me happy. Yes you may commence gagging now. I don't know, there's just something wonderful about food photographs isn't there? No?!

5th May - I love voting. I do. I'm not given to talking about politics publicly. I grew up in a house where we didn't discuss who voted for which party (I still have no idea who my parents vote for), hence I'm the same and I don't tell people who I vote for. I know people find this both weird and infuriating but it's just the way it is, I have no desire to be defined by the political party I voted for in the last election. I will talk about political things, just not who I voted for.

I do like politics though and steam will start pouring out of my ears should I hear someone say that they didn't vote in the election because they "couldn't be bothered" or because "it won't make any difference." Voting is a privilege and should be exercised accordingly.

10th May - I feel like I'm fated to always be going through some kind of duck drama. The latest saga involves some ducks who have decided to chill out on top of the Guildhall in the city centre. I can see them from my office window and the days are punctuated by me exclaiming "They're bloody back again!" The Guildhall knows about them (yours truly went to the Reception to tell them) and they have in turn phoned the RSPCA. Now we have to wait and see what happens. I don't think they have actually laid eggs up there but I've a feeling they're thinking about it.

12th May - Exciting times that I haven't even shared with you yet! I'm currently housesitting for my Dad and his wife who have gone to their house in France for the summer. They've been away since the beginning of May and won't be returning properly until the end of August, with my Dad coming back for a 4 week stint at the end of June/beginning of July. So I'm living it up on my lonesome. The house is far too big for one person (actually it's far too big for 2 people), so I'm rattling around a bit, but I'm taking full advantage of Sky Plus and superfast broadband while I can.

21st May - Already blogged about this baby here. I love it loads and loads and I've even scored a commission off it. Win! I'd make one for myself but my name's too long and I don't think there's a stick big enough. Plus, you know, I'm 28.

30th May - And you met these guys in my blog post yesterday. There's nothing quite like the feeling of achieving something crafty and these guys were no exception. I love how cool they look and that they're a personalised gift which makes them special, yet they didn't take me forever and a day to make. Hurray.


Another month bites the dust. Hey this time next month I will officially be halfway through. This makes me both excited and also nervous. I have to do another 6 months?!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Baby Etiquette

I'm at that stage in life where everyone around me is getting married and having babies. This is all good fun but it is requiring a certain amount of organisation in my life as I try to get ready for all these upcoming events.

Hen dos and weddings require much saving for (whatever happened to just having a nice night out in town, why is the minimum spend now about £200?!), making sure diaries are free, possibly booking days off work, booking hotels, sorting out gifts and outfits.

Babies should in theory be just as easy to sort out - you know when they're coming (or thereabouts) you know what you can get them, and yet somehow, it always seems to take me by surprise. I decide what I'm buying/making and they're pregnant, and I see them getting bigger and bigger and yet somehow the two don't connect in my brain and suddenly I get the text announcing the birth of another bouncing bundle of joy and I panic.

This latest baby most definitely shouldn't have taken me by surprise. My friend's actually had a pretty terrible pregnancy and has been laid up for about 18 weeks of it. As in laid up. Every time she so much as sat up she would pass out and she ended up in hospital for a couple of months, whilst they ran a barrage of tests to try and work out what it was. The Doctors were stumped and all they could do was put it down to "one of those pregnancy things" would should clear up when she gave birth.

Luckily it did all clear up once the little man had arrived. Unfortunately for me though, the Doctors decided to bring the little person's arrival forward by a couple of weeks and induced my friend. This most definitely caught me on the hop and suddenly I had one baby and no present. Eek.

My plan? Take some babygros. Take my Sublime Stitching craft pad. Take my thread box. Take one bank holiday. Make something cool.

And you know what? I totally did make something cool. In fact I made two something cools.

Then comes the part I hate. I'm never sure what the right thing is to do as a friend/family member when someone has just had a baby. I'm conscious that I don't want to appear uncaring about the new addition to their family but I also don't want to appear that I have no idea how much time and work a new baby takes.

In short I have to walk the tricksy tightrope. Do I text straight away and I say I'd like to come and see the baby? Do I not text at all? If I've text once and asked do I text again?

I get far too stressed about whether or not I'm a good friend.

Anyway I have sent my text saying I would love to see the baby and I will now retreat to a safe distance. But, I want to make sure that the babygros still fit, I know how fast these little suckers can grow and it's bad enough that I've embroidered something he's only going to get to wear once, let alone something he's never going to get to wear because I didn't see him in time, so they have flown off in the post to hopefully be enjoyed.

Now the next baby is due at the end of August. I know it's due. So obviously I will have this present ready on time. Right?