Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The top ten of the previously unseen

And to (almost) complete my 52 Shots collection for 2009, may I present to you, the top ten of the previously unseen (in no particular order)

Number 42:

The day before the Cedars Road horror finished. One last evening on the salmon pink sofa.

Number 43:

When we still all went out and had fun after work.

Number 44:

Another pic of that time I cooked nine things for nine great people.

Number 45:

The girls take on Amsterdam

Number 46:

Besties go to the beach - Piha, NZ

Number 47:

Slaving away - Xmas 08
(not technically a 2009 photo, but I just had to throw this one in...)

Number 48:

The now 'not so baby' baby Beth

Number 49:

A possibly sometimes windy spot on the South Downs

Number 50:

The 2009 Bramwell newborn - Baby Niamh

Number 51:

The wedding of the year - the wonderful Kate and Brent tie the knot

Monday, 28 December 2009

52 Shots #41

And so it grows.....

'9 Whilst I'm Still 29'

Way back in May, I created a sixth challenge:

6. Make a patchwork quilt by hand

I'd like to be craftier than I am. I think I have it in me. My mum is a craft genius. I want to be just a little bit more like her. I plan to make a quilt made up of fabric I have collected from family and friends. Important little scraps of their lives all brought together by my hands, a needle, and some thread.

Then I pretty much forgot about the quilt, and focused training for the marathon and cooking large scale dinners. Until about a week ago that is.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

52 Shots #40

I seek out the lights of Sloane Square in an attempt to unearth my Christmas spirit.

I leave a little bit more broke, but feeling a bit more festive.

Monday, 21 December 2009

52 Shots #39

Manchester shows its garish face on a working day filled with quite the opposite of hope and joy.

52 Shots #37 & #38

Fifteen people come for Christmas dinner. Highlights include: the bubbles on arrival, Mark's beef and horseradish starter with homemade onion marmalade, and the apple & blackcurrant crumble with vanilla bean custard.

Quote of the evening: 'Kath - I don't want to make a scene, but something brown is dripping out of the oven and pooling onto our floor'. A small Emma 'I'm never having another dinner party again' tantrum ensued.

But the serenity is restored by dessert. And a large glass of Merlot.

Friday, 18 December 2009

52 Shots #36

Clapham is treated to a magical dusting of icing sugar-like snow. The cars are all in rows, lightly coated like little Christmas mince pies.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

52 Shots #35 & Random Act of kindness #2

Random Act of Kindness #2 - make cupcakes for your colleagues

52 Shots #34 & Random Act of kindness #1

Random Act of Kindness: rescue two refugee goldfish from almost certain death

It was like some sort of special forces rescue mission with Martin going high-speed (as high-speed as you can on the Brighton to Victoria train) to get the rescued goldfish to their new home within the hour and a half time limit, before they suffocated in their plastic bag.

Rescued from almost certain death in an over-crowded tank at a garden centre somewhere outside of Brighton, these two fish now have a home next to my desk, in the middle of the office. After much debate they were named John and Jerome after two rather disliked consultants who left us not long ago...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

52 Shots #33

Me and baby Niamh spend our first 'Auntie - Niece' time quality together whilst she happens to be hanging out on this side of the world.

Niamh is so ridiculously cute I start to doubt whether we can possibly be related.

Saturday, 28 November 2009


Outside my window at the moment, the activity level is high.

Every time I look, nature is frantically making its final preparations before the cold really hits.

The fat, sleek squirrels sprint along the fence tops like slightly crazed mothers on Christmas shopping duties. And Mr & Mrs Fox have taken to climbing trees or conquering roofs to complete their foraging for the season, still a little devious looking in their movements.

Along the streets the leaf carcasses now lie in a thick carpet, waiting for the winds of the autumn to carry them away to a place they can break down in peace.

But as the fauna finalises its winter holiday prep; and the trees strip themselves of their obvious life, that magical holiday feeling has begun to pepper London. Whole streets are bathed in twinkling lights, and as the thermometer drops, we begin to think of mulled wine, ice skating and thicker gloves.

52 Shots #32

On a Sunday evening, thousands of miles away from the actual event, a big, old house in Clapham celebrates the 30th birthday of my friend Phoebe with quite a tasty carrot cake.

Happy birthday Phoebe!!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Time goes by

Two years ago this week, I dragged a wheelie suitcase and a bunch of aspirations up the Clapham Common tube station stairs, and out into a grey and autumnal London morning.

Did I ever think that two years later I would still be here? Not on your life.

Just when you think you've got life sorted, you find yourself outside Willsden Green tube, after a disastrous job hunting day, getting a call from a recruitment agent. And then everything changes.

The path that I thought would lead to through nine months in London and then onto two years in Japan, has instead taken me a completely different direction.

But for all I gave away when I turned down Japan, I have gained ten times as much in its place.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

52 Shots #31

Dutiful turbines slice the endless Gran Canarian wind

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The small things

One rainy morning last week I spent my bus journey watching a mother and her small son play noughts and crosses on the steamed up window.

Game after game they played; the mother patiently tutoring her son in the art of getting three in a row in her soft Eastern European tongue. Occasionally they would both look across to me and our eyes would smile at one another.

They rushed off the bus at Elephant & Castle to get on with their days. As I watched them walk along the shiny footpath hand in hand in the rain, I wished he could keep the memory of this morning's lesson tucked away somewhere safe forever.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Now I have...

About this time last year I blogged a list of 'I have never....'s.

It seems that, without really trying, I have managed to knock quite a few of them off over this past year. Six in fact.

Just last week I swam in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Pretty much like any other ocean, but was very nice all the same. Mainly because the air temperature was about 25 degrees and we were leaping off a boat, which at the time was lolling about a Gran Canarian Bay.

I guess I should start thinking about crafting a new list. Before I know it, I'll have slid down a bannister, in my new (stolen) shell suit whilst chewing on some snake, as I'm off to see the Northern Lights.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Forward planning

I used to be a real planner. I never would have imagined I could turn into a person who, on Thursday night checks her flight confirmation to discover she is flying out half a day earlier on Saturday than she thought. I haven't washed anything, packed anything; in fact I don't even have everything. And I certainly haven't learnt everything I should have. Under prepared is not the word. I'm desperately hoping for a sailing instructor with Dalai Lama-like patience.

At the moment through the windows to our backyard nature, we can see the animals prepare for the winter. I couldn't believe just how fat and fluffy the squirrels have gotten. I was really quite saddened on the weekend when told that squirrels hibernate. I've had so much joy recently watching them dart along fences, turn 360s in our big tree, then chase a friend across the roofs. The other day, one particularly feisty one managed to tumble about 10 metres from the tree to the ground and still land on his feet with a look on his face as if he meant the whole stunt.

The big fat wood pigeon can't believe his luck as the berry bush just keeps on producing; and Mr Fox can still be seen sneaking his way about the back of the garden in the now-dim early morning light.

It's a good thing I don't have to hibernate. I really would doubt my ability to plan far enough in advance.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Ladies that paint

We love our house. But even I could tell that the kitchen needed some TLC in the form of a lick of paint.

And so it was that on a Friday night when most of London was still at the pub, three ladies met at a little DIY store in Clapham, to arm themselves for a weekend of re-decoration.

We pushed everything into the middle of the room, and covered the entire place in plastic (thanks Lambeth Council for all those recycling bags).

And then we spent the rest of Friday evening washing and filling the fault lines which ran along the edges of the walls, as well as the holes from picture hooks a long time past.

The next morning, bright and early, we sanded. And sanded. And sanded some more. Then we washed.

Finally it was time to paint. This, we discovered was the relatively painless bit. So Saturday night was spent roller in hand. As was Sunday morning.

By 6pm Sunday evening normality had returned and we were washing the paint from our hair and nails and admiring our work through very weary eyes.

Now it is a little bit like when you play too much tetris and your eyes start fitting blocks in everywhere you look; all of a sudden I seem to be obsessed with examining paint work wherever I go.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Out of my comfort zone - number 2

I'm sure nearly everyone has something that scares them. For me it's death. So much so that even thinking about it now is making my stomach contract. Let's keep this post short, shall we?

It is the thought of there being nothing afterwards that has me staring into the dark of night sometimes, gripped with fear.

So in order to confront my gut-twisting phobia, this week I went to the somewhat ironically named 'School of Life' for a lecture on 'How to Think About Death'.

I was running late which was great because it meant that I didn't have time to think about the possibility of what awaited me.

Fortunately, what did await me on arrival, was my very calm friend Kath and a large glass of wine.

We looked at the philosophical side to death and then brought it a bit closer to home and started to think about our own deaths. By that time I was onto my second large glass of wine, so I was becoming less worried about death by the mouthful.

I'm not sure that after listening to someone talk on death for two hours, that I'm less scared of it; although I quite like the idea of planning my own funeral and writing my own eulogy. If I have to die, I would at least like to force my favourite music upon people for one last time.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The crab apple epilogue

Here is one for you Ness & Dave!

The Sunday evening following my jelly experiment, I baked a batch of scones, one of which I topped with my crab apple jelly that had been cellaring in a cool spot under my sink. The consistency was good; the colour was spot on; and fortunately the taste was fitting for crab apple jelly as well. Success it seems.

Next stop plum jam I think.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Sunday Jelly

What is a girl to do when she sees an underutilised, overabundant crab apple tree in a garden with no one but the birds paying it any attention?

Well, when life gives you crab apples, make crab apple jelly.

I've never made such a thing before, but on a grey and drizzly Sunday, with the Internet as my sous chef, I attempted to construct something from a fruit I was about 95% sure was crab apple.

After weeding out all the bad apples, I sat the entire population on the stove in an excellent jam making pot I happened upon in the back of a cupboard.

I boiled the lights out of them and then strained the juice through an old (but super clean) white shirt which had been retired.

I then added more sugar than you'd ever care to know and boiled the juice which looked remarkably like dirty dish water until slowly it clarified and began to seem a lot more like a crab apple jelly I know and trust.

Eventually I carefully poured the liquid into the identical little jam jars I bought from the funny little DIY store just down the road.

I then spent the rest of the day feeling so ridiculously proud of myself that you'd have thought I'd just split the atom.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Books to read before I'm 30 - book three

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

It's one of those books I have always meant to squeeze into my life somewhere along the way, but I never was much good with the idea of wizards.

However the overwhelming talent of Tolkien is enough to capture even this realist's heart. Just like when reading 'A Suitable Boy' I spent a lot of time whilst reading 'Lord of the Rings' wondering how this could have been written by a human being. Its detail, depth, complexity, poetry, colour and life is such that you could be led to believe it is of another world.

I may have rolled my eyes once or twice at having to read a book which is so long my version was separated into three 'normal' sized books, but I have already found myself forcing it on others like some crazed paperback pusher.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

52 Shots #30

A Swiss Daisy poses with an air of disgruntlement as I pass her field on my way down the mountain.

2. Climb a mountain

Right under the marathon on the list of nine things to do whilst I'm still 29, is a mountain.

After a weekend of severe cheese and wine ingestion, early on a sunny Monday morning, a party of five walked up Rigi just across Lake Lucerne, Switzerland.

The cloud came in in the afternoon but the view 1800 metres up was still spectacular. As was the macaroni cheese at the restaurant just down from the summit.

I enjoyed myself so much I think I might try and knock a few more mountains off over the next few months.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A ticket to ride

I have travelled solo to many places. But every time I have been somewhere, I have been in a little way accompanied.

My passport has been with me across borders and through airports; together we've taken boats, planes, rickshaws and tuk-tuks.

But after almost ten years together it is nearly time to say goodbye. My passport has officially 14 more days to live before I finally lay it to rest, after a something of a hard but fulfilling life.

It is probably a good thing that I get a new one. Firstly because the photo is right up there with the worst ever taken in the history of passports, but also because I'm increasingly getting funny looks at customs when they struggle to find a spare page to stamp.

If ever there was a suspicious passport filled with visas from Laos, India, Russia, Mongolia, China, India, Vietnam, Japan and so on, it is mine.

Monday, 21 September 2009

It's done

Well, I did it. 26 miles around the city of Berlin with 39,999 others on a beautiful sunny day.

A big thanks for all those pre-race good luck e mails and messages received from Switzerland, Tanzania, NZ, Cayman Islands and lots of other places in between. All your faces appeared in the crowd on my way around the course. Although perhaps that was just the delirium.

Here is a list of surprising facts about my Berlin marathon:
  • It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would
  • I felt very lucky to have put a knee bandage down the back of my pants, when at the 25km mark my gammy knee started to scream loudly. The bandage mostly muffled the screams
  • I haven't seen so many people throwing up at one time since my last high school party
  • It is actually quite possible to drink water / eat a banana and run without choking. Mostly
  • I actually managed to pass a lot of people who looked as if they should have been going a lot faster than they were. Likewise, there were a few 70 year olds that were faster than they really should have been
  • I does make you run faster when people shout your name
  • Porta-loos at marathons are far worse than regular porta-loos. Way too many nervous people in one place
  • Europeans have no qualms about outdoor full frontal nudity when changing post-marathon. The most entertaining bit of this is watching all the prudish English speakers very obviously divert their eyes en-masse
  • Running with 39,999 other people requires quite some concentration so as not to catch someone's heels and face plant the pavement
  • A post-marathon massage is always going to be a good idea, even if it does require you to stand in a queue for half an hour
So there you go. I've ticked that one off. Now it is time for my autumnal challenge to become a skipper.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The loneliness of the long distance runner

So here I am. Saturday night and I'm in my shoebox-sized hotel room in Berlin watching BBC News, my only English TV channel.

Clothing is laid out, complete with lucky hat; race number attached; timing chip shoe-laced in; pasta ingested.

Now all there is to do is to wait, and then sleep. And hush the little part of me that pipes up every now and then saying 'what the hell are you doing?! Why aren't you at home in London drinking wine with everyone else?'

Berlin in the sunshine

Despite a couple of shocks (my Lufthansa plane being rather too reminiscent of a golf cart and the reality of my accommodation as pretty much a Japanese capsule hotel) Berlin has charmed me.

It is alive and very busy this weekend as 40,000 people attempt 26 miles. My taxi driver told me disappointingly that he is far from a sportsman. 'I eat carbs before sleep' he admitted, as if it was a dirty secret.

Today was spent trying not to think about tomorrow. Just being a tourist. And what a great city it is to be a snap-happy, guidebook in bag, map in hand, tourist.

Berlin satisfies my secret love of communist architecture; my curiosity about cities brought to their knees by a war started less than a lifetime ago; and makes me realise I have an affinity with a country of practical, down to earth, no nonsense people.

It is a wide, flat city of massive squat buildings, surprisingly patchworked with large amounts of greenery. Bicycles buzz the streets, happily getting in the way of both pedestrians and motorists.

Tomorrow I get the grand tour; circumnavigating this great city on foot.

52 Shots #29

I stand on the remains of the wall that once divided a city

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Tapering off

Surely the best part of any marathon training plan is the 'taper'.

You have an excuse for sitting around, doing very little, and eating quite a lot. After all, it's what the schedule says you should do.

There is nothing like knowing that all the hard work is done. The Sunday afternoons of three and a half hour runs; a severe lack of red wine in my life; and way more laundry than I'm used to.

Just one last long run remains. All 26 miles of it.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

My piece of sky

My new bedroom has a window to the sky.

The other night from my bed I watched the stars peer out from a deep pool of blue. And when I awoke the next morning, there was a half moon centre stage. In the dim light of dawn he had a cagey look on his face as if he'd been caught after being out all night.

And now, as write this, I'm curled up in an oblong of Saturday afternoon sunshine watching the odd web-like cloud pass across my ever changing piece of sky.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Goodbye 77

I was skeptical at first, but soon enough I was converted to your ways. Not only are you an above ground form of transport, but you always provide me with a seat on which to quietly read my book of the moment, or share a TED talk podcast or two.

You avoid the worst of the traffic (unlike the 87) and after following the river with a view that tourists would pay for, you drop me nicely at Waterloo, giving me a riverside walk to round off my commute.

But now I have moved off your route, and as much as I'm very happy to be in a wonderful new house, I'm a little bit sad to know I'll have to find another big red bus to get me to and from work.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

My year of meat

When the doctor told me that my blood wasn't looking quite as hot as it usually does, I thought I'd try an experiment.

After 11 years of not eating red meat; any of our feathered friends; or indeed anything hoofed, I decided to test the waters. Just for a few months I'd try eating meat to see if anything changed.

So last week I had my 'coming out as a carnivore' dinner party.

A lot of organic beef and 18 outdoor-reared pork chipolatas went into the making of it.

Everyone seemed to enjoy their beef & ale stew and stomach of steel reacted fine to its first proper meat meal for over a decade.

Now let's see if it makes me run faster.

Monday, 24 August 2009

'My Sunday' 52 Shots - series #28

A perfect pre-run breakfast at the dining room table

My trail around Richmond Park lies before me like the Yellow Brick Road

An hour and a half and one circuit later, I turn for one last glimpse of nature, only to see that the giants have scratched the sky

Little shiny blackberries line the A3 all the way home

Me and my friend Anna lounge on Clapham Common in the late afternoon sunshine, chewing on life, love and pretzels

After much sun and a long run, I curl up with my middle Earth friends