Tuesday 20 November 2012

Four Quick Fire-Firsts and my Movember Mo...

This week I have mostly been contemplating the fact that this Friday would be Nathan’s 21st birthday. I know I have a lot to say, but I’m not sure that I feel like writing it at this very minute.

I also know I have a tendency to waffle when it comes to writing (who am I kidding, and speaking too). And we have something of a first backlog on our hands here. So, I give you four firsts, each described in less than 50 words…

Give away a book with an inspirational quote written inside

Ali Smith's Boy Meets Girl on its way to Norwich

Left a book that uses Blind Date’s Cilla Black as a metaphor for interchangeability of gender roles on a train to Norwich. The quote came from Dr Suess. No idea whether anybody picked it up, but I like to believe it’s making someone happy!

Spend a day somewhere new in the UK 

The (blurry) pier of Brighton lit up at night
Took Glenn to Brighton for his birthday (completely selfless act). Loved the independent shops in the Lanes, loved the free deckchair use on the pier, loved the pebbled beach and the bars’ laid-back atmosphere. Did not love the pressure to buy an engagement ring or the price of cockles.

Try a new sport 

Perhaps looking the other way would
have helped with my technique....

Went to a driving range (the waffle potential here about whether this counts as a sport is endless - good job I am limited). Provided quite a few comic moments for my fellow golfers but was surprisingly good by the end (i.e. the ball actually left the floor). Top Golf fun is highly recommended…. 

My high score of.... 42!

Eat sushi off of a conveyor belt

Overpriced novelty, but I still love sushi. That is all you need to know.

If you’re looking for any other details, you will just have to ask!

Now, onto a first in the making…

I thought November would be a good time to start learning how to knit and to complete my first of knitting something; Christmas gifts are usually cheaper homemade. So I downloaded a few books for knitting for dummies onto my Kindle, including one called Manly Knits. Inside, I found this little gem of a knitting pattern…

Now, November is also a good time to grow a moustache and take part in a campaign to raise awareness of issues that affect men. While I would struggle to take part in Movember in the traditional way (do not even jokingly suggest otherwise, please), I thought I would hijack the Movember campaign as part of my efforts to raise awareness of another issue that affects thousands of men (and their families and friends) every single month.

So far, I have just about learnt to cast on, knit, purl and bind off. I will keep you all updated on my Movember Mo as it starts coming along… 

Wednesday 31 October 2012

A few firsts I snuck in while your backs were all turned...

I was going to start this post with the phrase "I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last updated my blog." But, actually, I can. When I read back on diaries I tried to keep in the past almost every other entry starts with "I can't believe it's so long since I last wrote in here...". So, in an unofficial first, this time I will believe. But not writing does not mean I have not been completing my firsts. In the next few days, I will update you on all the things I've been too busy getting on with to actually write about...

Start a Career
Ok, so the prep work has been going on for years now (along with a bit of reckless travelling and occasional binge drinking) but within the last month I have finally landed myself a job that I believe I want to continue working within for the rest of my working career. Maybe not this exact job forever, but within this line of work, with this kind of company.

The only result when you search 'Career Woman'
on Wiki Commons...  a charicature by HonorĂ© Daumier... nice.
And I kind of landed into it by accident (well, let’s say by making my own luck.) 

Friday 28 September 2012

Cook dinner for my family for one whole week

As you may have noticed, the Hat has been made somewhat redundant for the past few weeks, as opportunities for firsts keep creeping up on me.

Getting ready to move for a new job has meant a couple of other ideas that were already in the Hat have become necessary (or at least much easier) to complete before their time of being picked out.

For example, I don’t think my family would have appreciated me cooking for them quite so much if they had to wait for me to drive the 60-odd miles to Ipswich every night after work before I even turned on the oven. Obviously, I would have had no problem at all with this, but, you know, I’m just selfless, always thinking of others, and we can’t all be like that.

So last week I dusted off my cook books and decided it was time I earned my keep. 

Hard at work

Tuesday 25 September 2012

10 things I learnt from this year's major sporting event.

Just in case you missed it, London hosted some sporting event this summer that was apparently a pretty big deal. Thank you, Government, taxpayers and private sector investors for spending billions to give me the opportunity to complete a first of attending a major sporting event. 

Something to do with this?

Those who know me are unlikely to describe me as sporty. And, as for watching it, I rarely see the point. I get bored before the half time whistle blows on any football match (why can’t they just decide the whole thing on penalties and do away with the other 90-odd minutes?).

But I really got into the Olympic and Paralympic games. And it didn’t even take much effort (on my part. Probably not so true of the athletes). So I was very glad that boyfriend Glenn talked me into buying tickets for the last evening of events of London 2012.

So, in an attempt to be succinct, and not to gush and waffle on about how brilliant it all was, here is my list of 10 things I have personally learnt from London 2012.

1. I can feel patriotic at times. Despite all my past ramblings on how patriotism is based on a completely arbitrary factor of the country you are born in, sometimes I do feel proud to live in this country. And it was not just seeing the success of the athletes that made me feel a twinge. But the Best of British soundtrack to the opening ceremony almost bought a tear to my eye. (See around 1hr 4mins and 30 secs for the start of the medley) 

2. The Paralympics classification system is not as complicated as it first seems. Especially when you have a mum who can explain it all to you. 

3. I really want to get fit. Watching the athletes achieve amazing feats with their super fit bodies was truly inspirational (and not quite as pervy on my part as that makes it sound). I am more envious of Jennifer Ennis’ washboard stomach than of any ridiculous fashion advert model such as this one from Kookai. (However, possessing the desire to get fit and actually making an effort to do it are two very different states of mind. I don’t think my lunchtime Zumba session is quite enough to turn me into an Olympic standard athlete.) 

4. I am terrible at doing ‘The Bolt’ (thought I would put this up here before you did, Glenn). 

There was a second attempt, but, to be honest, it wasn't much better!
5. Events on a national scale encourage a sense of camaraderie and get people in London to actually talk to each other. Even on the tube. The one resounding memory I will take from going to watch the Paralympic was the general atmosphere and sense of cheeriness. A few weeks after the games and this kind of talk already seems twee and ridiculous. But, for a few brief weeks Brits dropped their natural cynicism and it was actually like that. 

6. Boris dances in exactly the way you would imagine him to. 

7. Some moments can be draw droppingly amazing to watch, such as this, and this

8. That most national anthems sound pretty much the same. But it’s a shame Italy didn’t win more gold medals because theirs is much more jaunty. 

9. Ministers who attend national sporting events give the general population a unique opportunity to tell them exactly how they feel about their policies. 

10. I can get wrapped up in and enjoy sporting events. Obviously, when you’re sitting in a stadium with 80,000 other people who are all cheering along the athletes just a few hundred metres in front of you it is easy to get taken in by it all. But long before I actually made it to the Olympic Park I found myself screaming at the athletes on screen and jumping up and down when Team GB won gold. Something I have never really found myself doing in the past.

All for me
    So, in conclusion, I’m pretty sure the Olympic Games were held in London especially for my benefit (well, and maybe for the benefit of other people like me. People who aren’t really that into sport, but have been inspired to take a little bit more of an interest in it by the general brilliance of the Games. And people who like striking up random conversations on the tube without being branded a psycho).

    Wednesday 19 September 2012

    Visit a new country

    What springs to mind when you think of Amsterdam? Coffee shops and cannabis? The red light district? Or perhaps tulips and canals? For me, the one thing that jumps out as the defining feature of the trip there is the people.

    I could tell you all about sitting on a beach with Darth Vader, an astronaut and the Dutch Prime Minister (actual reality, not any drug induced hallucinations).* But obviously I know you would much rather me ramble on about how nice people are.

    Get out the way fellow tourists! I <3 amsterdam.
    Thanks to my personal photographer Chloe for the pics

    Monday 10 September 2012

    World Suicide Prevention Day

    From The CALMzone 

    Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I have been out all day but I didn't want to let it pass without a mention on here. 

    Suicide always seems to me like such a difficult thing to try and prevent. There is rarely only one cause. But the International Association for Suicide Prevention is doing all it can to try and help us to better understand what can be done to stop it from happening.

    Ultimately, there is only ever one person who can really prevent a suicide and that is the person considering it. But, if this is you, you can get help from others. You may be the one making that final decision, but there are many people around you who want to help. Call the Samaritans. Go and tell your family. Visit the doctor. Talk to a friend. Get medication or get your current medication reviewed. Ask to switch counsellors. Speak to CALM. Everybody has down times but you do not have to live with suicidal thoughts and the best solution does not involve acting on them. There is a way. There is always a way. 

    According to this site, it is actually World Suicide Prevent Week. And after reading stories of some people on Twitter who have attempted suicide, I thought it would be good to share some on here - evidence that, even if things seem bad, it can and will get better. 

    Reasons to Go On Living
    Spun Out
    Huffington Post
    Waking Up Alive

    + lots more on Twitter

    Monday 3 September 2012

    Harry Potter and the girls who never grew up

    Flying on a broomstick…

    Ok, I admit, this one was not on the original list but this is definitely a first for me. And while it is not technically flying, it’s as pretty close as you are ever going to get to it – there’s wind machines and everything. 

    If I'm going to embarrass myself by writing about it, I may as well go all
    out and give you pictorial evidence. And, yes, I was very excited to wear the gown. 

    I should probably warn you that I might suddenly switch to gushing teenage nerd girl mode while I tell you about my time at The Making of Harry Potter tour at the WB Studios near Watford. But please don’t turn away so quickly. I can assure you that this is not just a place for 25-year-old children who love HP but for film buff ‘kids’ of any age. 

    Wednesday 22 August 2012

    Star spotting and Emma's book club

    A lesson in science

    By Jared Tennant (Perseid meteor shower) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
    By Jared Tennant via  Wikimedia Commons 

    Sitting in the middle of the green outside my house armed with a hoodie, fold-out chair and a glass of wine is one of the more unusual ways I’ve spent a Saturday night. And it was well worth it.

    The challenge I picked out of the Hat on August 10 for the following week was to create and name my own cocktail. But the next evening, while I was sat in with my boyfriend and a bottle of wine, my ‘I want to be an astrophysicist’ youngest brother told us that there was going to be a show in the sky at around 1am.

    A quick update from Brian Cox on Twitter (thank you technology) confirmed that a meteor shower was due to pass over the country that night (not that I ever doubted George was right). I’m not sure whether it was the alcohol or the geek in me that got me so excited but I decided that I would be staying up to watch the meteor shower and that my first for the week was actually going to be stargazing, and not the indulgence of more alcohol.

    I found it extra exhilarating that I could share my experience with people around the world via Twitter (whether the world wanted to know about it or not) and that I could use other people’s tweets to work out where we would stand the best chances of seeing some shooting stars.

    And I learnt a lot in the hour or so leading up to midnight, when the streetlights are turned off in our area, and most of it came from the Meteorwatch site. So, FYI, the Perseid meteor shower occurs every year through July and August, reaching a peak at around the August 12 – 13. During their peak time, the rate can be up to 100 per hour. The Perseid shower is brighter than most and, because it happens during the warmer nights of August, it make them a good starting point for the budding astronomer. The Perseid meteors are tiny particles of debris which fall from the tail of the comet 109P/Swift Tuttle (I know you are impressed). When they collide with the Earth’s atmosphere they burn causing the streaks and flashes in the sky known as shooting stars (therefore shooting stars are actually not stars at all).

    However, my own smart-sounding tweets about #ISS and #perseid were slightly undermined by my visit to kidsastronomy.com and my failing to learn to recognise a single constellation. Oh well, thanks to Men in Black, I’ll always know Orion’s Belt. I can live with that.

    By NASA (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    We also got to see the ISS pass overhead

    But, after all the build up, 45 minutes of sitting out, we had seen nothing.  Nothing but an orange glow of streetlights coming from the town centre (in the direction I’d been expecting to see the shower).

    And then George piped up with a “oh, I think I just saw one.” Then boyfriend Glenn did too. Then it was me sat there, the only one not to see a shooting star, while these two tried to explain it to me as proof that they weren’t just trying to wind me up.

    And then nothing again for ages. Just me sat there, the girl 20/20 vision next to two spectacled guys and I was the only one yet to see anything. As the girl who really wanted to wear glasses as a teenager, only to be told that she had perfect vision and could go years without revisiting the optician, I didn’t think it was fair that they got to have the cool glasses and the chance to see the meteors first.

    Add to this the creepy noises coming from the bushes, and talks about how centrifugal forces are ficticious (apparently it’s centripetal. Yeah, it went a bit over my head too) I was just about ready to give in. I’d seen a few stars and I could just make a cocktail. It would be fine.

    Then an unmistakable bright flare fell down the left side of the line of houses in front of us, looking a little bit like the falling embers of a firework.

    Saturday 11 August 2012

    I don't know what to say.

    I don’t know what to say.

    Always the first reaction when someone knows that you’ve lost someone. And, all things considered, I don’t think it’s a bad reaction at all. But if you do want more of an idea of what I think you should say (because clearly I am an oracle of all death and bereavement now) read on.

    First off, I want to point out that this post was inspired by the video below, which was part of the Jezebel’s ‘ask a mortician’ series. It also covers such gripping questions as ‘Can you tattoo a body after death?’ and ‘What happens to dead bodies in space?’.

    I will admit that the biggest reason I like the video so much is because I think the woman is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met-but-not-actually-met on the internet. But she also has some interesting points as well as being super cool.

    Obviously suicide come with its own set of issues that are sometimes different to other bereavements. I think if you loose somebody to suicide you worry that people may not be as sympathetic because of the element of choice involved. Luckily, I’ve found this has not been the case but it was something I was concerned about when my brother died.

    In fact, in general, I have found that most people’s natural reactions are usually comforting and appropriate and I think that, on the whole, people worry about offending or saying the wrong thing far too much. But, in my experience, some people do come out with some corkers when looking for the right words to say in an uncomfortable situation. So if you want some advice on what I think then this is it:

    Wednesday 8 August 2012

    What's in The Hat?

    As promised, here is a list and short explanation of the firsts that are in The Hat:
    • Read a book by an author I've always wanted to read - This is what I picked out of The Hat this week and, after much deliberation, I've chosen to read Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent. I do actually have quite a long list of authors and books I want to read but never get round to picking up so I'm not sure why I've chosen this beast of a book to read in a week. But I'm getting through it. 
    Ok, so it's two books in one but even half of this monster is
    quite a lot to get through in a week
    • Eat something new - I've tried quite a few different foods in my life time. The one that always springs to mind when I think of unusual food experiences is walking round Gatorland in Florida, holding and cooing over the baby alligators, throwing hot dogs to the fully grown crocs and then eating them all in a kids 'gator nuggets' meal. Yum. And then there were the bits in the soup in Cambodia that I initially thought were mushrooms but actually turned out to be some animal's intestines. But, despite such culinary heights as these, there are still plenty of foods I want to try. 
    • Cook for my parents for a week - Living at home, I miss choosing and cooking my own meals. I could just do this anyway but it's so much easier having somebody sort out dinner and cook for you. So I thought I'd be nice (and get to eat exactly what I want to eat) for a week. 
    • Try a new martial art - This is one I am a bit worried about. I tried Ju Jutsu (NOT jujitsu, apparently there's a difference. Who knew?) once in the spirit of finding an activity that my boyfriend and I could take part it together. It all went downhill from the moment I was asked to do a forward roll. But I feel like it would be cool to be a kickass black-belt and there's nothing I won't try in the pursuit of looking even cooler. 
    • Bake a soufflĂ© -  Notoriously     difficult to cook. And, good or bad, I thought the pictures would make a good blog post in themselves. 
    • Knit something - I've wanted to learn how to knit for ages. Started so many scarves when I was younger and never got more than an inch in length.
    • Try a new sport - I've never been one for sporting activity but I'm sure somewhere out there is a sport that is made for me and I would really really enjoy if only I could just find it. All I know is that it's not squash. Or Jujustu. 
    • Perform a random act of kindness - I remember reading about this 'random act of kindness' malarkey quite a while ago and thinking it seemed like a lovely little idea. The kind of lovely little idea you think 'awww' and then do nothing about. But my first post on this blog, and the Aung San Suu Kyi quote, got me thinking about it again. 

    Thursday 2 August 2012

    The development of loving-kindness

    Of all weeks to visit the Ipswich Buddhist Centre, I picked the night when they were discussing Buddhism and death. Pretty appropriate, I think, considering the reason I ended up going was due to this blog. But it did make for a more intense evening than I was prepared for.

    The task was to go to a meditation session but, having been curious about Buddhism in the past, I decided to go to the newcomers' night, which is held once a week. The idea of the evening is to provide a relaxed and informal session where meditation beginners and those who are new to Buddhism can go to find out a bit more.

    After being made to feel welcome and having a brief chat with some of the other people there, we were taken upstairs to a quiet room to meditate. I really had no idea what to expect but there were plenty of cushions and blankets and mats and to make you feel comfortable while sitting and there was plenty of advice offered also.

    Not sure I'm quite ready for this yet...
    Picture by Tevaprapas Makklay

     The meditation was The Metta Bhavana, or development of loving-kindness. It is a meditation to help you become kinder to yourself and others.  

    Now, I’m not a religious person, But who also doesn’t want to develop a more ‘warm and open heart’? I think spending 30 minutes sitting quietly and thinking warm and positive thoughts towards yourself and other people can’t be a bad thing.

    Although I found my concentration wondering at a few points, I did find the experience very relaxing and I’m now keen to practise it again.

    As well as the calm and focus of meditation, hearing of some of the concepts of Buddhism – the interconnectedness of living things, nothing is permanent, karma and re-birth – in the past have made me curious to learn more. When I was travelling in South East Asia I visited quite a few Buddhist temples and spoke to a lot of people who practised the religion but I still feel I know relatively little about it.

    That is why I choose to go to the newcomer’s evening rather than just the meditation session earlier in the week. The evening also featured a discussion on a concept of Buddhism; this week’s topic being death. Considering they discuss 21 different topics on rotation, I did pretty well to come along on one the two weeks of the year they dfocus on death!

    What was said was interesting. In basic terms, Buddhists believe in rebirth and the idea that the consciousness moves on when the body dies. After a talk about these beliefs, there was a chance to contribute to an open discussion. Much of the discussion focused around people’s experiences of ‘letting go’ when older relatives, who have been suffering with a disease, and seeing their death as something positive.

    While there was some talk of unexpected death, it was mostly focused on how it can be a reminder of your own imminent demise, how death is inevitable and that nothing is permanent, but little of it seemed particularly helpful for somebody grieving an unexpected death. 

    I am in no doubt that, had I been braver and brought the issue up myself, that they would have been open to talking and perhaps something more comforting for me would have come from the discussion. But I am never really one to speak out in group conversations, despite feeling welcome and engaged.

    There was one quote that I found comforting. It said that death was just an enforced period of meditation. Given the positive experience I found meditation to be, I think that idea is reassuring.    

    Ipswich Buddhist Centre holds its Newcomers' Night is every Wednesday between 7:30 - 10pm

    Tuesday 31 July 2012

    The Hat

    Lesson learnt this week: taking kids to the cinema is really good fun. They laugh at inappropriate moments, they jump up out their seats to try swipe the baddies and they share their sweets with you without you even asking.

    Granted, if I was at the cinema watching something more grown up than Ice Age 4 I would probably want the person next to me to sit still and be quiet (although snack sharing would be encouraged) but it made watching the fourth film in a tired franchise much more exciting. I even found myself giggling along with jokes about 'boogers'. 

    Not that any of this should be surprising really. I expected it to be fun. That’s why I wanted to do it. Kids are good at showing unashamed excitement and that can be infectious. Sometimes it’s just nice to be around people like that, even if they are aged five, seven and ten.

    Tuesday 24 July 2012

    Decisions, decisions

    So, finally, a post not just all about feelings. Finally a post about me actively doing something.

    Sunday 22 July 2012

    The power of words

    Personalised Scrabble Tiles available from MixtGoods

    Death. Dead. Deceased.

    Is or was? Were or are?

    Committed suicide? Completed suicide? Took their own life?

    One thing starting this has really made me consider it is the power of words and how we choose them.

    Obviously I have experiences talking about what has happened before I started this blog. And talking about Nathan’s death does throw up some of the same issues as writing about it. A lot of advice I have read warns people from using the phrase ‘committed suicide’, suggesting that it still carries with it the criminal implications the act of suicide had in the past. Personally, I find this is the first phrase that comes to mind when using the word suicide and I often find using ‘completed suicide’ sounds awkward.