What I did on my holidays

Dublin has been on my list of places to visit for longer than I can care to remember, so it was good to get on a plane and actually do that last week. Of course, we had to go and pick the day of the worst conceivable weather to travel in for a person whose fear of flying is legendary, but following a three hour delay that allayed my fears that they’d just fly on through a storm regardless, we finally got off the ground and were touching down before I’d even thought to unfasten my seatbelt. The flight itself was obviously not the smoothest in history, but it was nowhere NEAR as bumpy as my ill-fated returns from Athens and Madrid, so if nothing else it taught me not to assume anything from a certain type of weather!

On arrival, we were soon to discover another slight error in our planning, however, which was managing to book a trip slap-bang in the middle of TWO major local sporting events (including the now-infamous Thierry Henry handball game) but this didn’t seem to ruin things too much – we just gave Temple Bar a slightly wider berth than we otherwise would have done. Joe fortunately knows the city well enough to find a bar that wasn’t too full-on on for the first night, so he sunk a few Guinnesses while I continued stoically with the gin that had earlier helped me board the flight…

We stayed in a particularly lovely hotel called Number 31, which was set in the Georgian part of town and very modernist despite its history. They gave us a huge room with three beds and a comically massive chair. It claimed to have won an award for the best breakfasts in Ireland, which turned out to be a very good thing when I discovered the reality of finding a vegetarian meal anywhere in Dublin.

There were plenty of cafes during the day serving veggie stuff but our fine dining habit was curtailed from day one, when Joe was served bacon in a ‘vegetarian’ risotto at one of the places we’d booked in advance. Ho hum! On our last night we shared a romantic bag of chips on Baggott Street followed up by a 9 inch takeaway pizza in the hotel.

Don’t assume we sat around eating junk food and drinking obvious drinks, mind you: plenty of art and culture was observed, including two art exhibitions, a tour around the Chester Beatty library and its wonders, and culminating in a trip to the Gate Theatre to see a new adaptation of The Birds.. In the unlikely event that any of you ever go and see it, I won’t spoiler the end. But good grief it was chilling! We also managed to catch up with ex Benwell Road resident Nora, take a walk along the canal and buy ghastly souvenirs, so all in all not bad going for a three day jaunt. I liked the city and want to go back, but will be factoring in a day trip to Cork next time where the nearest rated veggie restuarant is situated 😉

More photos here.

Admin and outings

Joe and I declared Wednesday and Thursday ‘admin days’, which meant that he played computer games while I went out shopping and got my hair cut. It’s quite short now incidentally – I must have got to that age. Oh, we got some boring stuff done as well – I’m looking at a ‘to-do’ list that’s 90% ticked so some progress must have been made but I’d never be so rude as to blog about it.

Brighton break

No week off would be complete without at trip to see Dad and Julia on the coast, so we picked another gloriously gale-ridden day to jump on a train and show up for a couple of days’ lounging, tea-drinking and cat watching. We also made the obligatory pilgrimage to Food for Friends, which just keeps on churning out the goods. On the cat front, Boingley is still with us (in some senses at least) but has a dodgy thyroid and is so zonked out on drugs to lower her levels that she rarely emerges from the cat basket these days. During the weekend I dragged my folks to a big craft fair that was a lot of fun, particularly since I’d forgotten how amusingly bizarre my Dad’s behaviour is towards total strangers whenever we go anywhere together. This has not changed.

While I was down there, the urge struck me to equip myself with a new phone, and I finally settled on the HTC Hero, having conducted extensive twitter-based research. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to test out its myriad and apparently wonderful Android features as yet, because the person who served me at T-Mobile was new to the job and of course I was too British to demand that someone else do it despite knowing it would go wrong. I’m still waiting for them to put me on the right data package and may soon have to ‘turn to twitter’ to ensure this happens promptly.

Update: It has indeed ‘gone wrong’. I still can’t access the google android store a week later, despite several despairing calls to T-Mobile. If anyone else can help me out here you’ll be my hero…

home is where the hearth is

On Sunday, I packed my bags and headed up to London to play the drums: you can read about the fantastic time I had banging away on them below.

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BUST is back: roll up for the Christmas Craftacular

bust-craftacular.gifIt’s back! The biggest craft extravaganza this side of the Atlantic is returning for a big festive bash in London on 12th December when BUST magazine take over York Hall in Bethnal Green.

The Craftacular, which only started to host events in the UK a year ago, has fast become an important fixture in the indie crafter’s diary. Its summer event was a huge hit, and this more tinsel-tastic affair promises to be splendid fun too – with a Christmas tree Tombola; tea and cake at the Lady Luck Rules OK Pop-Up Christmas Party, knitting know-how with Prick Your Finger and Knit & Destroy’s giant knit-along Christmas decoration. And if that’s not enough to get your needles knocking, plenty of very hip-sounding DJs will be in residence, spinning tunes as you craft the night away.

Anyone else planning on going along?

Bust Christmas Craftacular: 12 midday – 7:00pm, York Hall, 5-15 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PJ

Unlock your potential #2: Drumming up success

Anthony and I prepare for our next blogging challenge

This weekend, following my birthday and a week of rigorous chilling out in Dublin (full report to follow!) I was feeling relaxed and ready for my next potentialist adventure: a session with high-energy drumming team BassToneSlap, who’d pitched up in Covent Garden Piazza for to help London rediscover its inner beat.

At a time when many of us (an impressive 53% according to the recent research carried out by American Express and the Future Laboratory) are keen to put our energies into self-improvement, I’m far from being alone in my desire to add a few accomplishments to my existing skillset. And what could be more rewarding, life-affirming and fun than setting free any suppressed musical talent that might be lurking just beneath the surface?

Perhaps, I quietly hoped, BassToneSlap could be the catalyst I needed in kick-starting a musical eduction that like so many people I abandoned when I left school. The potentialist message is all about exploring these untapped and neglected areas of our lives to realise our full potential, and in some cases that can mean revisiting interests and activities that have lain dormant for years or even decades. Banging on a drum certainly fell into the latter camp for me! Here’s a video clip taken on the day to give you and idea how they roll:

I was pretty excited about meeting these guys, who I’d first seen on Dragon’s Den and whose enthusiasm and energy was infectious even through the TV screen. Unfortunately, the only rhythm I was able to detect en route to the session was the steady thump of torrential November rain hitting my umbrella — and I wondered how on earth the troupe was going to ‘drum up’ any morale at all in such drizzly conditions.

I needn’t have worried though: the sound of energetic drumming could be heard from as far off as the Tube station, and the friendly helpers on hand seemed to be doing a great job of encouraging those with nothing more life-changing on their minds than shopping to take some time out and embrace what would  be an altogether more creative experience.

I was certainly eager to join them: drumming is one of those things I’d always fancied having a go at based on a secret hunch that I’d be rather good at it. I’ve always loved music and played the piano at school but I got hung up on all those pesky notes, envying those whose parents were rich or tolerant enough to buy them a drum kit, which I imagined would more or less play itself given an adequate sense of rhythm.

Happily, my unashamed confidence was well-founded on this occasion and I found that I took to drumming just as quickly and easily as I’d hoped, soon picking up the rhythm and loving the feeling of being immersed in such an absorbing task (that’s concentration on my face, not boredom!). A group of a dozen or so newbie drummers were given the chance to take part in each session with all ages in attendance, and it didn’t take long for a real sense of togetherness and team spirit to develop amongst this motley bunch of strangers.

Look! Hands in perfect unison

But how does indulging in a spot of drumming fit into the business of enriching and investing in your future?

For me, the experience was rewarding in a number of ways that could certainly contribute to a more rounded future. For starters I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate music and the way it enriches our lives, so actually participating in a musical event is immediately rewarding. The drums are a good instrument to work with if you want to feel instantly satisfied because they are so easy to get to grips with – at least in part because there aren’t any notes to learn. And learning as part of a group with BassToneSlap takes away any performance anxiety you might have in a traditional music lesson — even if you do make a mistake you can easily blame the five-year-old bashing away on the tom-tom behind you!

Learning to drum is also a surprisingly fun and effective way to develop and improve our powers of concentration, which in an age of instant gratification is becoming a bit of a dying art. As a blogger I’m terrible at focusing on anything longer than a 140 character tweet, but when I’m forced to pay attention for long enough, the sense of relief is immense. Drumming is great for sharpening concentration because you need it to keep the rhythm going, and then to ensure you’re ready to react to whatever the lead drummer instructs you to do next.

Finally, another eminently employer-pleasing skill that can be honed through drumming is the ability to work as a team. There are a definite sense of camaraderie I’ve not felt through any other class or activity I’ve taken part in, and paying attention to what your neighbour’s doing is crucial. So would I put drumming on my CV? You bet I would…and if it didn’t help land me that dream job right away I’d at least be able to beat away the frustration!

If you’re feeling inspired to give it a try yourself, here’s a taster tutorial video from BassToneSlap!

Unlock your potential: learning a new skill

learn-to-knit
Learning to knit at I knit London: me with Anthony of Fresh Plastic

Since the very first whisperings of recession began to circulate, I’ve been hearing about a growing number of people for whom economic downturn has led not depression and worry but rather to a surprising upturn in personal creativity, resourcefulness and growth. Refusing to be beaten down by gloomy predictions, these resilient individuals are choosing to invest in the one thing they know they can trust: themselves.

American Express
, which has recently carried out in-depth research on the subject, has a name for this group of people: Potentialists. Potentialists are rejecting the idea that happiness and fulfilment is based solely on financial or work-related success and are instead focusing on the more long-lasting goals of self-improvement and personal fulfilment. And they’re no small minority: the research has found that 53% of us intend to plough resources into learning new skills and knowledge in this tough economic climate.

I wanted to know who these people were, and where they went to realise their goals and dreams. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be trying stepping out of my own hectic and results-driven comfort zone to see if I can discover for myself why so many people are becoming potentialists. This journey began at iKnit London, a small knitting shop in Waterloo. My challenge: to learn a new skill – knitting – in just a couple of hours.

iknitlondon

I Knit's London store


Potentialist Challenge no.1: learn a new skill

It may surprise readers of my craft blog to learn that this knitting class was the biggest challenge for me in the entire Potentialist experiment. I was somewhat afraid of having to admit that despite an avid interest in the subject, making things with my hands is just not something that comes naturally to me. I’m very much not a ‘hobbies’ person; never leaving myself time to engage my brain in the short slots between work assignments — and one too many bad experiences with unsympathetic and inpatient knitting teachers had left me considerably reluctant to try again…

But try I did, under the very patient tuition of I Knit’s Gerard Allt. At first, my fears were only confirmed as I fumbled and struggled to perform the most basic of knitting manoeuvres, convinced that my fellow learners (all male – not significant here but it raised my competitive heckles at the time) were picking it up far quicker than I was. ‘Here we go again’, I thought, before starting my usual spiel about how I have no hand-eye coordination and am probably missing a gene somewhere that means I’ll never be able to master knitting.

But even as I said these things I knew that this was not the case: the truth is that like many work-obsessed adrenaline addicts I have no patience whatsoever and an attention span so short I often find it hard to complete sentences. Far from being a clumsy worker I was great at art in my schooldays, and have only let creative pursuits fall by the wayside as money-making concerns have taken their place.

learn-to-knit

making progress...

So taking inspiration from the amazing garments and other knitted bits and bobs in the I Knit shop (and helped more than a little by my competitive spirit) I forced myself to focus on the task as hard as I could and eventually found that I was getting into a rhythm. After a few false starts that included a snapped needle, I soon had to admit that not only was I getting it, my work was coming out incredibly neatly. I did have the knitting gene after all!

Seeing this change in myself was almost like watching the effect of the recession in microcosm: here I was being forced to slow down, to focus my attention on one thing at a time and to banish my worries about how long it was taking to ‘get it right’ and what else I should be doing. Instead, I was benefiting from the calming and therapeutic aspects of this gently repetitive craft, my mind free of all concerns other than not dropping my next stitch. I wasn’t in any hurry to make up the baby booties pattern that Gerard had optimistically chosen for us, but neither were any of the other beginners, all of whom seemed as happy as I was to have got the hang of basic knitting.

In a fast-paced world of goals-driven behaviour and working practices that intrude on every part of life, sitting down and making things the old-fashioned way just isn’t on the agenda. But my experience at iknit taught me a lot about why so many people are picking up new hobbies and skills. Either through necessity or choice, people are adopting a slower and more relaxed pace of life and this grants them the focus and dedication needed for learning. The shift could come about through redundancy or decreased working hours, but equally I think that people are tired of the throwaway consumer culture that’s built up around us in recent years, and want to devote their time to enriching their lives in ways that will stay with them forever.

I feel far more confident about learning new skills already and can’t wait to share the next challenge with you!

Snark is alive and well in the craft community

craft-fail2.jpg‘Craft’ and ‘Snark’ are not words you’ll often hear in the same sentence. The gentle, supportive craft community is usually exempt from the scrutiny and bitchiness applied to policics, music and celebrities, and most people like it that way.

Or so you might think. I’ve recently chance upon a few sites that are designed to poke fun at craft ‘errors’ – the shockingly ugly, the ill-advised and the downright pointless – and have found that snark in the craft community is alive and well. I haven’t made my mind up what I think of all this yet: on the one hand I don’t like the culture of encouragement without criticism that can flourish in this world and feel a bit of brutal honesty is sometimes needed to help creativity. On the other hand, I quite like the warmth and cameraderie that exists in craft. What do you think? And while you’re making up your mind, take a look at my mini-guide to craft snark sites here!

Top 5 worst times to go shopping

shopping-trauma Everyone knows that supermarket shopping when you’re hungry is bad news: you come back with twice as much food as you need, most likely including the more expensive ‘treats’ you’d normally consider out of bounds, and it never ends well. But when else should you lock up your credit card and avoid going within a mile of any shops?

Head over to Walletpop for five examples of when we’re at are weakest and most vulnerable to temptation — and read my tips on how to avoid it!

Pinnie porn: Aprons that rock!

When I’m entertaining guests, my usual strategy is to select and put aside a fabulous outfit, pull on something old and slobby to cook in, only to notice three hours later that time’s up and I’ll have to greet my friends in the same filthy old rags I’d started work in. I’m usually still pulling on my best shoes by the dessert course…
The answer is, of course an apron. And happily there are plenty out there that are far from frumpy! The ‘cupcake apron’ pictured above is part of a range of pinup-inspired aprons by Etsy seller World Famous Aprons, who has a nice selection of printed pinnies, including polka-dot, leopard and zebra. It’s so pretty I can’t imagine wanting to take it off!