Wednesday, 30 September 2009

#3 Do a project with the Tuesday Club at the Camden Society

Apologies for my complete lack of communication recently. What do you mean, you didn't notice? Oh.

So I have been sidetracked - by list-type and non-list-type stuff, admittedly. One of the huge things I did recently was help organise Twestival Local London, a big fundraising event organised by people via Twitter. This event was for the NSPCC, and their Childline helpline particularly. I volunteered because I like to help, and I thought it would be a good experience. And it was. Elizabeth Varley, the main organiser, was a particular inspiration - calm, unrelentingly upbeat and energetic, really knew her stuff and thought on her feet and generally pulled together a great event on practically nothing. I hope we shall remain friends.

In fact, I should probably write a whole post about Twestival at some point, as I learned an awful lot from it.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. The point (YES, I HAVE ONE) is that I have ticked another thing off my list! For the past six weeks or so, I have been helping out with the Monday Club at the Camden Society. Yes, I know I said the Tuesday Club, but they're the same thing only on different nights, and they needed more help with the Monday Club.

The Camden Society provides services for adults and children with learning difficulties around London. The Monday Club is a social group that provides company, activities, fun and learning in a safe, accepting environment. It's lovely being involved with such a worthwhile cause.

The first few weeks were really daunting. I just sort of hovered round the edges while the bedlam went on around me. And it is bedlam. There's about 20-30 adults of varying learning difficulties, ranging from the functioning autistic guys to the wheelchair-bound, non-verbal people who have their full-time carers with them. We do a range of activities - painting, cooking, watching films, bowling, anything they can do for cheap or free where everyone can be supervised easily.

It's hard work, I'll be honest. It takes all your concentration to make sure no one is hurting themselves, or wetting themselves or stealing anything. But as the weeks progress and they all start trusting me more, I'm starting to feel like a valuable addition to the team. It's still a struggle to get myself up there on a Monday night after a long day at work, but I always enjoy it while I'm there. Plus it's great experience for my Psychology studies, which I start next week. Yep - that's more news, I guess - I'm starting an OU course in Psychology next week, which is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. Hopefully by the time this 30th year is up, I will be much closer to doing a job I am suited for. Fingers crossed I can find the time and motivation to fit it all in...

Monday, 24 August 2009

An update

So, I should have ticked 'skydiving' off my list by now if everything had gone to plan. But, erm, it didn't. I hadn't considered the fact that the darn weather might have played havoc with our attempt.
So we turned up at the airfield at nine, thinking we were doing pretty well to get there so early. Some people had been there since six, so we were already last in the queue.
Oh well, we thought - we'll still jump at about three or four o'clock - fine.
One plane load went up. We watched how high they went and my heart started thumping - the plane was a speck in the sky - properly high. Then the wind started. And didn't stop. We also had some rain, just so we could no longer even be sitting outside. We watched daytime telly, and drank too much tea. We got trained at one point, which got our hopes up a lot, but then it soon became obvious that there just wasn't enough time to fit us in even if the weather had got better immediately.
So, with heavy hearts we made our way back to London to our waiting work colleagues who had all come out to celebrate with us. It was a bit like a scene from a bad soap plot where someone has a surprise party thrown for them and then reveals they've failed their driving test/exams/pregnancy test/whatever. "Take off the party hats, lads!"
We're hoping to re-book for next week, but I will let you know AFTER I have done it this time.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

My final ever post?

*WARNING: This gets a little soppy. It's mostly to be read in the event of my death, please*

So, after months of waiting, my skydive is now upon us. I think most people who know me will be breathing a sigh of relief, given how much I have banged on about it, pestering for sponsorship, making jokes about my imminent tragic death and so on. All day people have asked me if I am nervous, and told me I must be mad, and "just imagine that feeling of sitting at the open door and looking down" and I have just thought SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. I realise that everyone means well, but frankly, I don't want to hear it. Also - those of you who joked about bouncing if the parachute failed, or to 'break a leg' (oh ha ha ha ha), just imagine how you'll feel if something tragic does happen, and that's the last thing you've said to me. Just imagine.

It has become a strange tradition in our family that I phone everyone before getting on a flight, especially a long haul one, in case I don't come back. That way I get to tell them I love them and that would have been our last conversation. I say 'strange' as we're not a family that dwells much on death. I'm not sure what my parents want for their funerals, for example. Maybe it's because I have been raised with no faith (GODLESS as one awful Brownie leader once called me), it means that I have always believed that when you die, that's it. No glorious light to walk towards, no Heaven to reward me for all my good deeds, nor any Hell to punish me for my awful, blasphemous thoughts and actions. Nope, just the end of electrical impulses going through my heart, the slowing down of my breathing, the switching off of my wondrous, glorious brain (that's not me being cocky - I think the human brain is one of the most astounding things ever created).

So I spoke to both of my parents tonight, and my sister. I didn't call the brothers, and that's not because I love them any less, but I do speak to them less, so they would find it really weird if I suddenly called them out of the blue. I talked to my sister about her job, my job, Edinburgh Festival. I talked to my Dad about his cat, his nerd test result (Geek Lord, as if we didn't know already) and the Bank Holiday weekend plans. And then I talked to Ma. As always, the most emotional of the family (probably equally tied with me in terms of tears spilled generally, both of sadness and of joy), she gave me a lump in my throat saying how proud she was of me, how I was always in her heart, how she had loved me for every second since the moment I was born.

I have never doubted this. I know exactly how lucky I am to have such a supportive and loving family, no matter how much the craziness and the shouting and the arguing annoys me at times. I have never wondered whether they would be there for me, and I try not to take that for granted. I also have a network of lovely, lovely friends, some of whom now live a long way from me geographically, but remain in my life because they're so damn brilliant. I try to remember this as well, whenever my day gets crappy and the petty things build up. We've all had our moments - those days where nothing seems to go to plan, and you just have to take a step back and appreciate what you DO have.

So, just so you all know, I want to be cremated at Mourn Hill in Winchester. If possible, I would like to have my ashes scattered off Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, preferably on a sunny day (not likely in Bristol, to be fair), and if I could blow back into the faces of a few random people who happen to be passing by at the time, that would at least give you all a smile.

I have a great life, and I am very lucky. I love you all.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

#28 Go to the Whispering Gallery in St Paul's

When you live in a city, you very rarely actually do the touristy things that city is famous for. I have never seen the Crown Jewels. I was a small child the last time we went to the Tower of London. And I must have looked at St Paul's dozens of times from across the river at Tate Modern and thought "I should really go back there". And so I did.

Yesterday, my friend Alex and I found ourselves inside one of Christopher Wren's most famous creations. Despite it being a sunny Saturday in August, it wasn't completely overwhelmed with people as I had feared it would be. It really is an awe-inspiring structure - vast, ornate, beautiful. The famous dome is huge, and massively high - it goes up to a top point of about a hundred metres inside. The ceilings are decorated in gold imagery, with the dome itself being painted with scenes from St Paul's life.

In this dome is the whispering gallery, so called because you are supposed to be able to whisper on one side and be able to hear it on the opposite side of the dome due to that damn pesky science stuff. We couldn't really try this out for a couple of reasons - it was already quite noisy up there and the sweaty palms that Alex was experiencing weren't from being in a highly religious space, but a small amount of vertigo that I didn't know about before. We then climbed up to the external viewing platform of the Stone Gallery at around fifty metres up and then continued our climb to the smaller external viewing platform of the Golden Gallery at around eighty metres up. From here, you could see the Crystal Palace television aerial and Wembley Stadium in the distance, and there were spectacular views of the City and the South Bank - wonderful stuff.

There was only really one negative aspect to our visit - the fact that you were not allowed to take photos, even without a flash, and the officious and humourless way this was enforced by the stewards. Yes, they're probably dealing with more idiots every day than you or I could possibly imagine, but they were just so dour and severe when telling us off that they made me a little bit angry. A certain type of Christian that doesn't act in a particularly 'Christian' way.

Anyway, all in all it was completely worth it, especially as Alex lied and got us in on student rates. We are most definitely going to Hell for that one.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Other activities

In the spirit of doing things I don't normally do, I have put something I have written where people might actually see it. I have written a post for the lovely Stuart Waterman of Lucky Voice for their blog - here it is on their website.
Fame at last!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Week 10: #33 Go to a music festival

For someone who loves her live music as much as I do, it may come as a surprise that I have very little time for music festivals. I have only been to two 'proper' ones in my life, one of which was only on during the night so we went home during the day and showered and changed and ate, which is kind of cheating, really. It was in Spain, so the nights were balmy and you could get away with just wearing a t-shirt, and it didn't rain, which suits me all over. The other festival experience was The Big Chill which fits with my middle-class sensibilities. I enjoyed it, but mostly because I made my boyfriend at the time pack the inflatable mattress and duvet - I am a rubbish camper. And while the music was good, and the company fun, I also managed to get sunstroke on the first day. Imagine queuing for those Portaloos when you can't keep anything down - not even water, seriously. Or lying in a tent with your head throbbing and the ceiling spinning and knowing there are countless guy-ropes between you and somewhere to be sick in the pitch black of night.

I think it's a couple of things that put me off festivals, mostly that I am not good with crowds. While I love the feeling of being in the middle of an audience at a gig, it's having them around when you want to eat, or go to the loo, or just GET anywhere, that gets to me. I think it's something to do with the claustrophobia I keep under control most of the time - this big group of people control what I can and can't do just by their sheer number. This is why Notting Hill Carnival would be SHEER HELL for me.

So, I cheat and go to one-day festivals in London. I get to decide when I leave, I get to sleep at home - everyone's a winner. Yesterday we (my friend Kate and I) went to Lovebox in London's glamorous Victoria Park in trendy (*cough*) Hackney. It was a good day, though I could have done without the rain halfway through, and being particularly tired after another busy week. We got there just in time for VV Brown, who was really very good, and then wandered over to the smaller stage to watch MPHO (who I still don't know how to pronounce) who was also soulful and really owned the stage. There we bumped into a colleague from work, Simon, and his friend Kristen, who was very pleasant. We then just headed back to the main stage for the rest of the day, where we chatted through Rumble Strips, bopped along to Florence & The Machine (who looked BRILLIANT), tutted at N*E*R*D getting all the pretty ladies onstage to dance with them, and cheered and bounced and sang along to Duran Duran, who I don't think have aged in the last twenty years.

There were a few problems with the day - I was aware that I had other friends I was supposed to find but mobiles weren't working properly, so we kept missing each other. The toilets were rubbish, and having urinals in the middle of banks of toilets meant that there were lots of blokes weeing very close to you when you were queuing - drunk blokes, at that. And the crowd was just a bit trendy for my liking - one more pair of neon sunglasses, and I swear they would have been stamped on.

So I am glad I went, but even gladder that I wasn't at Latitude this weekend in the rain - imagine camping in this...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Oh, and another thing...

I have arranged my skydive for 21st August. I am doing it to raise money for Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research, so feel free to sponsor me here:

Week 9 - #34 Write the first chapter of my novel (sort of)

There's a common view that there's a novel in everyone just waiting to get out. Talk to anyone who works in fiction publishing and they will tell you that this is rubbish - think of some of the worst fiction you've read (and I have read some trashy stuff in my time) and then think of the stuff that was worse than that which had to be waded through and rejected by slush pile readers. Yes, people are employed solely to read through the unsolicited manuscripts that the publishing houses get.

So a number of times I have been told that I should write something (she said, modestly) - this is mostly because I am very verbose, especially via e mail. In fact, I am an awful lot better by e mail than I am on the phone - it's just much more the environment that I enjoy. This means that my friends easily get pissed off with me for not phoning, which is completely understandable. I will try to be better at that this year as well, I promise.

I often have ideas for novels that are mostly in the 'chick lit' vein - it's probably easy to think of these ones, as they tend to be formulaic. I always get stuck on the endings though - I have never been a good finisher of most things, but especially stories. But recently I found a good idea for a book - a novel about an obsessive relationship. A bit dark, a bit creepy - certainly more literary than anything I've thought about doing before.

So I've written some of it. Not much, just the opening scenes, and I've kind of worked out a plot. Except the ending. Always the damn ending that eludes me.

Of course, the next step would be to show people and see what they think. That's the hard part really - like holding your newborn up to the world and getting a bunch of critics to give it marks out of ten for attractiveness. Add into this my general lack of confidence in my skills and the fact that I have three talented siblings - a sister high up in fiction publishing, one brother who's a journalist and another brother who won a scholarship for his creative writing - and, well, it's not looking likely to ever be shown to anyone. Maybe after I have written the next chapter. And if anyone wants to tell me how it should end, that would be great.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Week 8 - #51 Try a new cocktail

I know, I know - standards are slipping already. We're only up to week 8 and already I am falling behind. But, hell, it's summer in London, and anyone who knows me will know that this is when my social life goes into overdrive a little.

So, on to an easy one - trying a new cocktail. I don't tend to drink cocktails very much. being more at home with a pint of lager or some cheap red wine - not much of a girly girl as you may have gathered. But sometimes I like to order something that may come with an umbrella and makes me look 10 times more sophisticated and dead grown-up. I don't do it enough, really.

Last week I went with my lovely friend Jacquie to the Design Museum late. They were having a London through the ages via design night - how London itself has influenced design I guess. It was basically an excuse to catch up for a good old gossip surrounded by those nerdy boys I love so much. Also, there was a good old-fashioned Cockney sing-along around the piano, which I started to enjoy after a few drinks - all very silly, but fun.

Anyway, the evening was sponsored by Beefeater Gin and they had provided one free complimentary cocktail on arrival - so we had delicious chilli gin martinis with passion fruit. Doesn't sound like the most tempting option does it, but it was really very lovely. And lethal. We were supposed to get one each, but Jacquie persuaded the sweet Mexican waiter with a twinkle in his eye that we should have, well, three or four cocktails each for free. Sometimes being a bit cheeky gets you a long way...

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Week 7: #30 Go to a gig based purely on the recommendation of a friend

I love my live music. I can feel completely blissful while stuck in the middle of a sweaty bunch of people just listening and enjoying what's being played for me. I'm simple like that.

I'm not even that fussy about what I go and see. Last week, for example, I went to see lovely, folky King Creosote at the 100 Club and slick, manufactured Britney Spears at the O2. What? I got free tickets and I wasn't going to pass up that potential car crash. It was actually very entertaining, even if she didn't sing a SINGLE note all night. More like going to see a 'show' rather than witnessing a skilled craftsman showing me what they can do.

So on Wednesday, my friend Hannah badgered me into going to Proud Galleries in London's hip (=scummy) Camden. She is, among other things, a rather excellent photographer of rock bands. She has been working closely with an unsigned London band called Morning Lane, producing their photos and promotional leaflets and so on. She was displaying some of her work and Morning Lane were playing at a night she had co-organised called Proud Experience, so I went along in support, despite never having listened to the band before.

The night itself was very entertaining with some of my favourite people in attendance (Twitter users - @rubytrubes always buys you doubles instead of singles - you have been warned) and some great music. The first support act was a young Irish lady called Kal Lavelle who looked like Robyn but played acoustic-y songs about one night stands and the like. Cute stuff. I'll be honest, I didn't pay much attention to the next band (who I think were called Eric Ness and his band) as I was gossiping and catching up with some old friends. Good thing I am not a music reviewer, eh? Phew. And finally, our headliners - Morning Lane. Hmm - I'm in a bit of a tight spot here really, as they are friends of friends. Let's just say, it was catchy stuff, tightly delivered but sounded a little too much like Nickelback or Placebo for my liking (or somewhere between the two) - there were no musical revolutions going on here. So, not my kind of thing but certainly talented guys.

All in all, a lovely night was had by all. Made even sweeter because I could walk home (I laugh in the face of your tube strike, Mr Crow!). Up next musically, The Dead Weather (with the completely awesome Jack White) and reliving my youth at the Blur reunion gig in Hyde Park. Unfortunately, mankle issues mean that there will be no bouncing up and down for me, so I may have to take a sedate place towards the back of the crowd.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Week 6: #18 Read a self-help book

When I initially sent round my list to the people I trust to know me and give me honest feedback, this was one that my friend Phil decided was not worth it. From what I can remember, she thought self-help books were boring, generic and patronising and I would not gain anything from the experience. So far in my life, I would agree with her. If I want to learn something from a book, it's generally non-fiction about psychology or social issues (that makes me sound like an arse, doesn't it?).

I think the one I chose was not your typical self-help book, however. I think if I had plumped for a Men are from Mars, or The Secret, or one of the millions of ones written in the same ilk (or God forbid that terrible one about the different messages men and women read into text messages that scraped the barrel recently), I would have had the exact experience that Phil was describing. I actually read 101 Things to do Before you Diet by Mimi Spencer, which I found funny, insightful and revealing.

Presented as a list of, you guessed it, 101 things to try instead of dieting, it had some useful advice. It was also easy to pick up and put down, as it split handily into sections. There were pointers on cutting calories where you won't even notice them going (like in ketchup, or switching to skimmed milk). There were tips about which clothes to wear, why you should dress for who you are, not who you want to be. Why you should buy quality food and clothing rather than the false economy of cheap things (though, sadly that would mean me saying goodbye to my beloved H & M and Primark, and frankly, I am not paid enough to switch just yet).

Generally, I enjoyed the read and would recommend it to anyone. However, there were a few points that I thought were probably aimed at middle-aged women and people with kids rather than someone like me. I don't really throw dinner parties, or eat at fancy restaurants (unless the 'classic combo' of Quavers and Worcestershire Sauce flavoured Walkers that my friend Hannah always orders for us at the pub counts as 'eating out'). There were some things that are just impractical for me - she advises never really wearing flats as they make you look dumpy. Yes, I know this, but a combination of never perfecting the art of high heel walking and the pins holding my ankle together mean I really don't want to be prancing around in stilettos just to make my legs look longer. She also advises never having a hangover, and while this is very good advice, it's just not a practical reality in my life as it is at the moment.

So I came out of my first brush with self-help books pretty unscathed, and will keep the book to revisit some of the points at a later date, no doubt. Will I be reading any others, though? I doubt it.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Week 5 - #35 Visit the Whitechapel Gallery

A one line review of the Whitechapel Gallery? I don't get it.

To elaborate - the Whitechapel Gallery opened in the early 1900s. It specialises in promoting the work of artists that live and work in the East End, but has also done major early exhibitions of more famous folk like Picasso and Rothko. From what I can gather from the website (and could be bothered to read in the gallery - it was a bright sunny day and I was very hungover), they redeveloped and re-opened the gallery recently.

Situated bang next to Aldgate East station, it's a beautiful space - simultaneously modern and bright but with original (Victorian) touches in the architecture that give it just the right amount of gravitas (you're looking at art here, people - art). But the layout is very confusing - I am not sure whether I even saw everything as there didn't seem to be any kind of 'Go this way now' guidance - perhaps a nod to a more bohemian approach to curating?

There were four (five?) gallery spaces, plus a small cinema and an impressive reading room/library, obviously lovingly donated by a kind patron of the arts. The main piece I wanted to see, Goshka Macuga's woven interpretation of Picasso's Guernica in cloth, was actually amazing, and well worth the visit by itself really. Go and see it.

The rest of the art, well, erm...I just don't know. There were a couple of nice pieces of sculpture, pleasing mirror and glass that meant my companion got distracted by how tanned his legs were getting. The rest was, in my humble opinion, much like the stuff I'd see at Winchester School of Art's foundation course shows, everyone trying to out-do each other in their 'craziness' - yawn. There were mannequins in shopping trolleys and blocks of concrete with metal rods sticking out of them. Maybe I am not sophisticated in my tastes, but there is modern art out there that I like, I promise.

Perhaps it's also the location, and the general bored superiority of most of the people working there, but it was all very 'East London' - not something I particularly buy in to. And while I don't need to be told what to look at and how long for, a little help with order of exhibitions may have come in handy. Beautiful space though, and in keeping with the rarely-celebrated but hugely important tradition of London galleries, it's free entry. My favourite price.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Week 4 # 6 - Dip my toes in the sea

I know, I know - been very slack for the past couple of weeks. There are reasons for this - we are currently looking for a new flatmate which is simultaneously tedious and stressful (ie it both sucks and blows), and I have been on holiday, which at least allows me to fulfill one thing from my list.

So, yes, last week I went to Crete with my sister, her fiance and their friend for a week of sunshine, sea, beer and tsatsiki. And I didn't just dip my toes in the water, either - the whole bikini-clad body went in. Don't worry - all witnesses have had their eye sockets thoroughly bleached for their own mental health.

Crete was beautiful, and we even fitted in some culture by visiting the ancient palace at Knossos. 3000 years old and some of the vases are still standing - amazing. We didn't find a Minotaur, though, much to everyone's disappointment. I think he probably starved to death given the current taboo nature of throwing virgins at monsters. (I know he was slain by Theseus, but that doesn't make for a very good joke, does it?).

The photos are residing on my computer, which BT has decreed in their ultimate wisdom is not allowed internet connection for some reason. So, when the winds are blowing in the right direction, I may get enough signal to post them somewhere. Needless to say, the sights, villa, sea and company were all sparkling and lovely. Much needed.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Week 3: #15 Visit the Hunterian Museum

I try to visit the museums and galleries of London as much as possible, particularly the free ones or exhibitions that I can get into free through work (yes, being a public servant does have some benefits). But there is a small museum in the back streets of Holborn that I had been meaning to visit for a while.

The Hunterian Museum is a display in the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields round the back of LSE. It contains the collections of John Hunter, who was an eminent surgeon in the late 1700s who is widely regarded as contributing a huge amount to our understanding of anatomy. He was very concerned with scientific method in medicine and gathered vast amounts of animal and human specimens for study. All of which can be found in jars, still preserved to this day. And it's FREE to get in to!

I am not particularly squeamish about stuff to do with innards and dead things. I grew up thinking I would be a doctor until I realised just how crap I was at chemistry (truly, seriously, never got it AT ALL). But even I found some of the things in jars quite unnerving. There were anteater foetuses and elephant hearts. There was a baby kangaroo that looked like something out of the Alien films. There was a skeleton of a giant man (around 7 foot 7) that made me glad I wasn't dating a basketball player. The stuff that caught me by surprise, though, was the bits of human pickled for posterity. There was a cross-section of a young boy's face that was preserved as an example of nose cancer, but they had injected the face with red dye to show up the cancer better. This meant the face had a proper pink, living tinge to it and looked like it was from last week rather than over 200 years ago. They also had several human foetuses in jars showing stages of development. While I am vehemently pro-choice I had never been confronted with what these things look like in reality and it did take me aback a little. I don't think it's changed my opinion (nor did it set out to), but at least I feel a bit better informed about the physical nature of what grows inside you at four, eight, twelve weeks.

So, yes, I would recommend it to anyone with a reasonably strong constitution, and perhaps advise vegetarians to steer clear. There's lots of our animal friends displayed in most undignified fashions.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Week 2: #37 Visit a spa

Another easy week, as someone else did all the hard work for me. As a reward for editing the very marvelous Dangerous Book for Boys, my sister Katie was given two day passes to The Sanctuary in Covent Garden, and very kindly invited me to go with her.

I have never been to a spa before, being someone who is not typically indulgent or girly. I had my first facial at the tender age of 29, because I was given it as a gift by friends of mine who are more dermatologically aware. I guess we were brought up to pursue intellectual and social pursuits rather than focus on the aesthetic (yes, yes - I know the three can exist together, as demonstrated by some of my more 'put-together' friends).

So the first thing we had to do was to decide on the treatments we were going to have. The Sanctuary website gave details of our choices, but it was so difficult to choose. Did we want something indulgent, or soothing, or invigorating? Did I want them to remove my toxins, or put me in a flotation tank, or perform African blessing rituals over me? Did I want to be rubbed down with cinnamon, or olive, or herbal compresses?

We finally decided, after much to-ing and fro-ing, to have a 'Soothing La Sultane' treatment, described as follows:

'Transport yourself to the fragrant gardens and spicy souks of Marrakech.This ultimate mood enhancer begins with a full body and face exfoliation using black olive soap. Hot mitts then cleanse, followed by a complete top to toe massage using a blend of melted shea butter mixed with essential oils. A fabulous tension releasing experience.'

Oh yes.

The next thing to worry about was spa etiquette. Namely - body hair removal. I decided that, for the sake of my beautician and the other ladies there, it was probably best to remove the hair that I would usually remove (legs, armpits, bikini line), but no more - I hadn't quite appreciated just how small the paper knickers are in that place. I probably shouldn't have worried about that really, given that all lighting in there is set to 'romantic' at all times.

It's a beautiful place, The Sanctuary. In the centre of Covent Garden, the front just looks like a little shop, and I hadn't even noticed that it was there before. It's vast inside, with a large koi carp pool at the centre of it all. The setting is incredibly relaxing, the staff attentive and friendly and the facilities wonderful. However, there were some women there who were just sleeping by the side of the carp pond, and it did make us wonder why you would pay the (frankly astounding) entrance fee just to sleep. But, then again, we have never been (and are not likely to ever be) filthy rich.

The whole day was lovely, mostly because neither Katie nor I ever really stop and lie down in a quiet room. Unfortunately, I find it very difficult to relax, so even during some enforced meditative time my brain was spinning off in lots of directions and not focusing on my breathing as it should have been. I wonder whether I could ever achieve that with practice?

The most ridiculous thanks to Katie for inviting me along to this. As for the advice given by my beautician, I'm not sure any of it will stick. Frankly, life's too short to exfoliate, buff, cleanse, tone, and moisturise my whole body morning and night...

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Week 1: #2 Write to my MP about something I am passionate about

OK - quite an easy one to start with, but I have had a hell of a week between my birthday, work woes and London Book Fair. Anyway, it still counts, so there.

I used to be very up on politics and policy - I did my degree in Social Policy so could talk til the cows came home about the pros and cons of privatisation, why meritocracy in education and employment was the ideal but virtually impossible to achieve in reality and why I was never going to vote Conservative. But life kinda got in the way. I was distracted by current affairs, cultural things and idle gossip, not to mention all of the usual work/life interfering stuff. I can't remember the last time I got heatedly involved in a political discussion and really knew what I was talking about. The last time I talked to my friends about an election, it was one that wasn't even taking place on these shores (can any of you tell me what Obama's policies actually are? Thought not).

Then this popped up on my Twitter via @JazCummins. It is called The Map of Gaps, and it's a map put together by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the End Violence Against Women Coalition. It shows the access that women around the country have to various amenities to do with violence, rape and so on. The map is quite startling in terms of how much of a postcode lottery it all is. I hadn't realised that for the 4m women in London, there is one rape crisis centre. One! The NHS spends an estimated 1.2 billion pounds on treating physical injuries sustained through violence on women, but the Dept. of Health has not made any significant investment in specialised violence against women services.

I have been very lucky to not really have experienced any need for these services (the only violence towards me being meted out by muggers) but other women I know haven't been so lucky. And I won't necessarily always be so lucky.

The Map of Gaps has a form to fill in that goes straight to your MP if you enter your postcode. My local MP is Glenda Jackson, who, I can see from has some good views on the Iraq War and gay rights. I think I like the woman (and not in the same way as my Dad, who likes her cos she took her top off on some BBC drama in the 70s). So, through the Map of Gaps site I have sent her a letter lobbying for more access (and equality of access) for women in my local area to the services they will need should the awfulness happen to them. And you should do it too! Go on - it'll make you feel good.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

So little time left

So, Sunday brings the start of this year of doing my list. I need to get over my natural reserved-ness and start shouting about it to people to keep me on track. God knows I am prone to letting things fall by the wayside if I think no-one's watching so I need everyone to keep pestering me about this. It's for my own good.
I have a couple already lined up for the next few weeks, so the initial start shouldn't be a problem. It'll be showing some stamina in four months or so that may be tricky. Lots of people have said they would help, so it's just a matter of knowing when I need an extra push and asking for it.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Getting some stuff in order

OK, so to complete some of my list takes a bit of planning. This week I have returned to the simply awesome Camden Society to talk to them about doing some voluntary work with their social groups for adults with learning difficulties (number 3 on my list). Apparently they don't just let any old schmuck loose on these guys. So they are going to check I am not a sex offender or anything nasty, but I should be able to start after Easter, once my ankle metalwork has stopped giving me quite so much jip (I do walk and grumble like a pensioner at the moment).
One of the best things about these guys is just how accepting they are of anyone, and how much faith they have in me to make a difference. It's a real boost after a day at work where you run round in circles getting virtually nothing done to have someone putting such trust in you. They want me to work at their Monday Club, which has recently re-launched and needs a bit of a boost, so there's loads to get my teeth in to. Hooray!
(Oh, and I got a lift on the Sunshine Bus, which was certainly a euphemism when I was at school)

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

#22 - Skydive

OK, so I am putting some things into action in preparation for 'off' in a couple of weeks. It's getting scarily near, considering this will also mark the leaving of my twenties, which has been easily my favourite decade of my life so far.
But, talking to my lovely friend and colleague Kate in the pub on Friday, I received some good news - she is happy to do my skydive with me! She is constantly raising money for the Bobby Moore Fund - a cause close to her heart - so will jump for them. I am not sure who I am going to raise money for, but I will probably follow suit as it's one of those causes that doesn't get half as much attention as it should. Probably because bowel cancer just isn't as easy to talk about as breast cancer - it's all just a little more 'real' and without the 'fun' fundraising ideas that bras and boobs offer.
So, I need to look into how long I have to wait for the metalwork in the ankle to settle in before I do anything to snap it again, but it's all shaping up nicely!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Dragging other people into it

OK - so it looks like I already have people lined up to help with the following ones:
11 Make my own sushi
13 Do origami
26 Learn a sentence in sign language
37 Visit a spa
39 Eat salt beef in New York (yes, Phil, this will be followed by eating Chicago deep-dish pizzas in Chicago)
Early days but still something!
The feedback I have got from the covert operations I have done so far has been positive, so I may actually be ready to make this a bit more public by emailing people and putting it on Facebook etc.
Any suggestions are more than welcome about self-promotion - it's not something I have ever really been any good at.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The first draft of the list

OK - this is just the first draft. They are in no particular order - just whatever came into my head and I scribbled down.
I am not proposing to do them in order - for a start, I have recently had a metal plate put in my ankle, so tango may have to wait for a while. I may well come back and edit these again in the next few days, but these are the initial thoughts.
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that there are 53 things on this list. The 53rd is going to be the last - my 31st birthday party on or around 19th April 2010 (which still sounds like a time where we will wear crazy silver space clothing and eat our meals in pill form)

1 Take an Argentinian tango lesson
2 Write to my MP about something I am passionate about
3 Do a project with the Tuesday Club at The Camden Society
4 Have a conversation with someone in a foreign language
5 Cook lamb curry from my Grandad's recipe
6 Dip my toes in the sea
7 Have someone draw/photograph me naked
8 Get back on the climbing wall
9 Go zip lining
10 Speak to a room of people
11 Make my own sushi
12 Make an item of clothing
13 Do origami (make origami? have origami? I am never sure which way to use that word)
14 Get rid of 1/4 of the stuff in my bedroom
15 Go to the Hunterian Museum
16 Visit Paris
17 Go to a workshop at The Make Lounge
18 Read a self-help book
19 Go on an actual blind date
20 Get published (in actual print, in whatever form)
21 Bake bread
22 Skydive
23 Have a therapy session
24 Learn how to play something on the harmonica
25 Write a haiku
26 Learn a sentence in sign language
27 Climb the pagoda in Kew Gardens
28 Go to the Whispering Gallery in St Paul's
29 Watch some burlesque
30 Go to a gig based purely on a recommendation from a friend
31 Watch Casablanca and Citizen Kane
32 Do a sponsored run/walk/something
33 Go to a music festival
34 Write the first chapter of my novel
35 Visit the Whitechapel Gallery
36 Ask an ex for constructive criticism (AKA 'Do a High Fidelity')
37 Visit a spa
38 Learn how to make my Dad's spaghetti bolognese
39 Eat salt beef in New York
40 See the Giant's Causeway
41 Go to a singles night in whatever form
42 Take a sceptical friend to see a band I love
43 Set up my Flickr account and organise my photographs properly
44 See puffins
45 Make my own ice cream
46 Attend a lecture at NPG/V&A/Tate/Photographers Gallery
47 Do a massage class
48 Go to a double bill at the cinema and sit through both films
49 Watch all of The Wire
50 Complain about bad customer service
51 Try a new cocktail
52 Make a really ambitious cake
53 Throw an awesome party to celebrate

Saturday, 7 March 2009

By way of introduction...

Hello. I am a mostly average person. I work in marketing. I live in London. I have lots of close friends and a great family. I like the usual things, more or less to the same extent as anyone else really.

Recently I have noticed that I far too often pin my happiness and wellbeing on the thoughts and actions of others. I'm sure we've all done it. Last night I found myself hauling myself over the coals over yet another guy who picked the other girl. And then a very wise friend pointed out that if the same thing was happening each time, the only common factor in the situations was me. I need to change.

So, with a landmark birthday staring me in the face, I made a list. A list of 52 things that make me happy, or scare me, or will give me a sense of doing something good for the world, or my friends, or my family. Some of them are easy (baking bread, dipping my toes in the sea). Some I will find harder (make an item of clothing, speak to a room of people). Some will be downright expensive (eat salt beef in New York, see puffins), so may have to be edited later. In fact, I am saving my list now and going back to it tomorrow, as I always like room to edit.

The idea is that from my 30th birthday on the 19th April to my 31st birthday in 2010, I will try to complete as many of these things as I can - one a week if possible. And I want to do it for charity. How to work this out, I am not sure, but it may be that people sponsor me for each one I complete, or I just put several charitable items in the list. I am not sure anyone will sponsor me to take a tango class, for instance, but they may sponsor me to do a skydive. I will record my experiences each week, and maybe someone will want to read about them - who knows? Stranger things have happened.

I will add the list tomorrow once I have ascertained that there are enough realistic ones to counterbalance the ones that will make a real difference.