Saturday, 15 January 2011

Keeping it local

This year I've made a conscious decision to 'keep it local'.

Clapham Common is a great part of London; a green haven tucked down in the south of this sprawling city. It's a microcosm of different cultures and communities, all wrapped around the outside of this vast outdoor space that is the common.

Despite the fabulous features, it's easy to take it all for granted. In the average week you'll walk past the common to catch the bus or tube; returning home 12 hours later, barely giving it a glimpse. And on the weekend in the winter, you might even avoid its quite muddy surfaces all together.

But this year I'm trying to spend more time making the most of our collective backyard.

Every Monday I have a tennis lesson on its very nice, floodlight tennis courts, with a local coach and other locals eager to improve their backhands. Thursdays see me at the Trinity Church on the opposite side of the common, speaking bad espaƱol alongside nine others. Then on Saturday mornings I drag myself out of bed to run, jump, bend and lie on the common's muddy surface with a bunch of other local fools, while everyone else is enjoying a sleep in. And of course now that marathon training is on the schedule, I'm joining the others, circumnavigating this great space at all times of the day and night.

Our common is the life force that brings people together around here. This year I intend on spending more time appreciating just how fortunate we really are.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

And so it begins

Better late than never should probably be the headline for this post. The 2011 Paris marathon is on April 10th, and I'm registered to run.

Now that is apparently 12 weeks, 2 days, and about 19 hours away. Not really that far into the future, considering how far 26 miles really is. On foot.

Somehow, at Christmas time, as I forced another mince pie down, it seemed ages away.

But the fear of failure has finally hit, and I've now re-connected with my trainers.

Marathon training: day 1 - trying to protect myself from the 5 degree conditions

It's now been about two weeks and I'm slowly getting back into it. Although it still takes all of the willpower I can possibly muster to climb out from under my duvet at 6am on a very dark, and really rather cold morning.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Farewell festive season

The 6th of January sees the official end to the festive season. A bright and tasty light in an otherwise dark couple of months, it's a very welcome festival on this side of the world.

But all good things must come to an end, and yesterday as I walked home, I mourned its passing as I walked along pavements littered with forlorn looking Christmas tree skeletons, lying prone, waiting for the bin men to remove them. Their work is done here; they are no longer required. They are off to become wood chips.

Now we must dig around and find the boxes the decorations belong in, take down the Christmas cards from friends and family, and try to remember to buy a 2011 calendar.

"On with the new year!" we must think. We turn our faces towards the light of the ever-lengthening days, and think about festivities to come: birthdays, Royal weddings, trips abroad, visits from loved ones, and the taste of the approaching spring.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A dying art

Go into your average stationery shop here in the UK and you'll see walls just lined with greeting cards. Including some for occasions you haven't even heard of before.

You can buy the obvious cards of course: births, deaths and marriages; all the milestone ages, sorry you're leaving, good luck in retirement, Mother's, Father's, Christmas and Valentine's Day. But apparently we also now want to send cards for Easter, Halloween, St Patrick's Day, graduation, and when you've moved house too.

Publishers in the UK produce more than 2.6 billion greeting cards every year. And those of us here in Britain buy more cards than any other country in the world. That's an industry worth over £1.2 billion a year. More than we spend on tea and coffee put together.

Unfortunately, so many cards now seem to be just about the token gesture. Apparently we're too busy these days to actually write messages. Where did all the words go?

The other day, when I went into a large and well-stocked stationery shop looking for some lovely writing paper, I was very disappointed. There were a million types of wrapping paper, gift bags, gift boxes, tags, small cards, big cards, cards that turned into freestanding Christmas scenes, ready-made wedding invitations, place setting cards, photo albums, diaries and calendars, but only two kinds of writing paper. In two shades of white.

Do people not write letters anymore? Are we at such a stage that we require information instantly and can't wait for Royal Mail to deliver? Am I just terribly behind in loving things falling through that old school slot in the door?

I very much fear that the art of letter writing is dying out. It's going the way of dance cards and long-distance train travel. So this year, I plan to do my best to bring the letter back. Let's make mail cool again. It worked for cupcakes and knitting. Why can't we revive post?

2011 is going to be the year of the letter. Surely there are few things more wonderful than coming home to find a handwritten envelope waiting for you on the bench. You make a cup of tea, sit somewhere comfortable and then wrap yourself in another person's words for a few moments of time, their voice reading aloud to you; laughter, tears, and exclamations.

Please join me in trying to save something is really quite lovely. I just don't think we're really that busy we can't put pen to paper to brighten someone else's day.

Why not give it a go?