Monday, 22 September 2014

Meet 'Billy'...

Let me introduce you to “Billy Bedford”, the latest addition to our family.

Billy is a 30 year old Bedford CF2 Mobile Home, and he’s in need of some serious TLC!

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  Following our fabulous weekend of music festival frivolities this summer (during which I found liberation and embraced the idea of camping, and ‘roughing it’ in general).  Also, totally inspired by George Clarke’s “Amazing Spaces”, we perhaps got a little carried away!  We began imagining ourselves spending next summer motoring around the country (who knows, maybe even Europe), in an amazing small space of our own, taking in every beer and music festival we come across along the way.

I have to say, an iconic VW camper van was more what I had in mind… that is, until I realised we would need a small mortgage to acquire one.  So, we decided to settle for our own, more affordable, version of a “classic” motor home.

And there he was… jumping out at us from the pages of Auto (actually, it was the ridiculously low price tag that jumped out more than anything), and off we went to check him out.  We were unsure at first, and in fact walked away from our first viewing of Billy saying “it probably wouldn’t be the sensible thing to do”.  Since when have we been a “sensible” couple?!

Two days later we found ourselves handing over the cash and quite literally “chugging” away in our newly acquired vehicle.  Neil, my hubby, was bursting with excitement at the thought of getting stuck in to our new project.  I, on the other hand (following behind in my trusty little Peugeot), felt a little apprehensive (understatement!).

Rightly so, as it turned out.  I’d say we got about 500 yards from the garage before Billy came to a sudden halt!  I waited, thinking he had just stalled, but no, it seemed we’d run out of diesel (dodgy fuel gauge!).  Billy, being so old, doesn’t have hazards, so we also had an impatient queue of vehicles behind us, sounding their horns in protest.  Things were not going to plan!

We managed to roll Billy back into a side street, and called the garage, who came to our rescue with a can of diesel, successfully getting us back on the road… for about a further 500 yards, until, yes you guessed it, we broke down again… whoah, whoah, whoah!!  Back to the garage went Billy. I could go on, and on, and on, but to cut a long story short… several cans of diesel, two RAC call-outs, and many an obscenity later, we eventually got our new “investment” on home territory.

On closer inspection, it seems there’s a problem with the fuel tank (you don’t say!), and despite the problems so far, my hubby remains optimistic that this is easily ‘curable’, and is a mere ‘hitch’.  Once the fuel tank is cleaned up (or, worst case scenario, replaced), we’ll realise what an absolute bargain we’ve acquired, and will be hitting the open road in search of adventure.

Despite his age, Billy’s interior is in pretty good condition, and I’ll certainly have loads of fun choosing fabrics and ‘accessories’ to personalise the space.  Initial thoughts are around a ‘Cath Kidston’ type theme, but who knows where my imagination (and Pinterest!) will take me.

You wouldn’t think it, looking at him just now, but I have a strange feeling we’ll have many a good time in old Billy.  Watch this space!

Neil and Alfie, getting acquainted with Billy

Bit of TLC and this'll be perfect for a brew and a bacon butty in the mornings!

Clean and tidy as it is, for its age... the Tartan will be going!

The 'cab' and 'high-sleeper'... still working on ideas to improve these areas - suggestions welcome!

Well, what are we waiting for? I'm hungry for adventure... let's go!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Give Your Brain a Break!

Could 'Mindfulness' be the key to your serenity?

Does our modern, technology rich, and often stress-filled world leave you with an over-stimulated mind and an inability to switch off?  Then read on…

This time of year’s perhaps not so bad, many of us have had summer holidays and time to relax in the company of our family and friends, leaving us feeling refreshed and our batteries re-charged.  However, we all know those lazy hazy summer months don’t last forever, and before we know it, it’s back on the treadmill! 

So, once the tan starts to fade and the sound of the sea gently breaking on the shore feels like a dim and distant memory, when the cold, dark winter months start to set in, and the stresses and strains of everyday life begin to take their toll , you may want to consider practising a little ‘mindfulness’.

I, for one, am a born worrier!  Add that to the fact that (like most people) I have an extremely busy life, working full time,  looking after a family and home, trying to fit in exercise and hobbies, (not to mention everything else in between), and it becomes virtually impossible to ever fully unwind.

We’re also now contactable right around the clock, every single day of the week (home or away), thanks to explosive developments in technology and social media over recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I rely on my mobile as much as the next person, but every now and again when I’m in need of a little peace and solitude, I would gladly go back to the times when we didn’t even have a landline to the house!

So, how can we escape the constant mental chatter, switch off and tune out all those stresfull distractions?  Well, instead of turning to that post-work Pinot (which I’m the first to admit, does seem to do the trick), I’ve been trying to train my brain to focus on living in the moment , not worrying about the past or fretting about what might happen in the future, just concentrating on the here and now… in other words ‘mindfulness’.

Now I know the idea of Meditation is nothing new, but it’s often associated with sitting in the Lotus Position, breathing in incense and humming ‘omm’ to some weird and wonderful music.  Well, there’s nothing wrong with that if it works for you, but it’s not for everyone (believe me I’ve tried it!)

According to an article I read a few months ago, there is no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness.  It’s simply about making regular time for yourself (5-10 minutes a day) to do nothing, to think about nothing but the moment, in fact time to just simply be!  Easier said than done?.. yes, very much so, but it’s worth persevering.

For you, mindfulness might mean simply sitting down, closing your eyes and turning your attention to your breathing, nothing else.  Concentrating on where you feel it the most, in your nostrils, your chest or the rise and fall of your upper body?

It might be that your mindfulness works best in the shower.  Focus on the sensation of the water against your skin, breath in and enjoy the scent of your shower gel, enjoy how your scalp feels when you massage in your shampoo.

Even just a good old coffee break can turn into mindfulness. Concentrate on nothing but the wonderful aroma of the coffee and the warm soothing feeling in your mouth and in your throat, really focus on each and every sip.

Bedtime might be the time for you, as you lay there, focus in turn on every inch of your body from toes to head.  Notice any feelings of discomfort or tension and try to imagine them easing away with each breath you take.

If your thoughts start turning to ‘I wonder what’ll happen in Corrie tonight’ or ‘damn I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer for dinner’, stop, and bring your attention right back to your breathing / showering / coffee sipping (I can do this for almost 10 minutes now without my mind drifting off – quite an achievement for me!)

It really doesn’t matter how or when you practice your mindfulness, all that really matters is that you’re taking time to focus your brain on tuning out distractions.  The trick is not to try and stop thinking all together (I for one would find that impossible), but to think only about the moment and the sensations your body is experiencing.

Apparently, practised regularly, mindfulness can reduce stress (in turn sharpening memory and concentration), and lead to an all-round happier brain.  Research also shows that mindfulness may support the immune system, improve sleep, lift energy levels and help with pain management.

Why not give it a go?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

All the Fun of the Festival

This summer, at the ripe old age of forty-six, I finally popped my ‘festival cherry’!

See more Festival Fun pics at the end of the post...
Now I like to think of myself as a kind of fun loving gal, and am always more than appreciative of a bit of quality live music, so why have I not donned my Wellies and Daisy Dukes, thrown my tent over my shoulder and headed off for a wild weekend in a field before now?

I’ve been to plenty of music concerts and one day festivals (in fact I’ve even performed at a few), and actually love nothing more than being out in the open air, dancing and singing, with the beat of a good strong drum and bass thudding in my chest.  Add a bit of sunshine (if you’re lucky), a few cheeky drinks and, well, that’s my kind of heaven.

What’s been my problem with a weekend of ‘festivalling’ so far then, and what made me change my mind this year?  Well, for a start, my ‘kids’ have been big festival goers over recent years, and I have seen the state they come home in!  I cannot begin to describe the smell of their clothes and tents (which were so bad on one occasion, we literally just binned the lot), not to mention the grey look on their faces and bags under their eyes, due to lack of sleep and a ridiculous excess of alcohol.  They’ve regaled me with tales of their “brilliant” weekends, involving activities which I won’t go into (all legal of course – well at least the ones they’ve told me about), but which are most definitely not my idea of fun. They also seemed to take great pleasure in watching me squirm as they described what had been their toilet and washing facilities for the past few days.

I did, when my family was young, dabble in the caravan thing, but I have never been a true camper (well, apart from once in a two man tent during my late teens, which resulted in tears and a last minute check-in at a local B&B, I’ll say no more!)  In fact, up until now, the very thought of sleeping under canvas has always filled me with horror and brought me out in a cold sweat!  Anyone who knows me well would vouch for this, and I think I’ve probably surprised many by taking the plunge this year (actually, no-one more-so than myself). 

So, what did make me reconsider and go for it this summer?  Well, I've always loved live music and I guess I was just feeling adventurous, in the mood to do something I hadn’t done before, something that was way out of my comfort zone… a new experience I could tick off my list etc, etc.   Yes, I know, you seasoned campers / festival goers are probably thinking ‘what on earth’s the big deal, she’s been camping not base- jumping!’, but for me, and my anxieties around camping (in particular the loos), it may as well have been base-jumping!

Anyway, how did it go?  In a deliberate attempt to avoid scenes of teenage alcohol induced carnage (which seems to be part and parcel of many of the larger festivals), we decided to go for the small, family friendly option (remember my blog is from a post-forty point of view ;-), and eagerly booked our tickets for Wickham. Where?! I hear you say.  Well, Wickham is a beautiful little village, two miles north of the town of Fareham (near Portsmouth), so it was a bit of a treck for us from up T’North, but well worth it.

The festival site itself (covered in masses of soft, glistening, golden straw - great for soaking up the mud!) is located in a picturesque rural setting on rolling farmland, which works perfectly with the general vibe of the festival, and is what I would describe as ‘Folkesque’.  Although this festival is described as a ‘Folk’ festival, the music is by no means exclusively Folk, and there really is something to suit pretty much everyone’s taste.  You may not find big names such as Dolly Parton headlining Wickham, but you will find an absolute wealth of talent and breath-taking musicianship on the main stage, including some fairly well-known acts such as James Blunt, The Lightening Seeds, The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, and Bellowhead. There were also a few other blasts from the past including Hazel O’Conner (remember her from the 80’s?!)…  I wasn’t exactly a fan of her’s back then, but I was very impressed with what she’s doing now, which is writing some fantastic music and singing alongside two amazingly talented lady musicians, one on keys, the other on sax.  I enjoyed Hazel’s set so much that I bought the CD.  There were also two other smaller stages, one featuring new, young talent and the other dedicated to acoustic sets.

As with most festivals I guess, there were loads of craft stalls, real ale tents, an international food fayre, children’s entertainers, vintage clothes stalls, a pop-up bar, a solar cinema and so on.  As I was determined to completely embrace my first time festival experience, I wasted no time in getting into the spirit by buying (and wearing for the whole weekend) a flower headband and a ‘hippy’ style hoodie, having a henna tattoo, sampling a different culinary delight every day (with plastic cutlery, from polystyrene containers, whilst sitting on the floor), and of course drinking copious amounts of alcohol. I even bought myself some incense sticks and an ash catcher.

Wickham itself (which we visited one day for some more cash – no cash machines on site), is a lovely little village and well worth a trip. There was also a local Farm Shop and Tea Rooms right next to the campsite – very handy!

If we had one complaint about our festival experience, it would be on the subject of our wrist bands.  On arrival at the festival site, we joined a fairly lengthy, snake-like queue to receive our bands.  We were expecting this to be the case though, and the queue was dealt with pretty quickly and efficiently by the friendly and welcoming festival staff. We were however rather hoping for a nice colourful fabric wrist band, as we’d seen the kids come home with from other festivals (and then not take off for six months or more!) Instead we got plain, plastic bands that scratched every time they brushed against your skin (a bit like the ones you get when you’re admitted to hospital!).  Sorry Wickham, but at £150 each for a weekend ticket, we were expecting wrist bands with a little more style and comfort… yes I know, nit-picking!

So, we thoroughly enjoyed the whole festival experience, but what about the camping?  Well, we were greeted in Wickham on day one by lashings of rain, thunder and lightning… great!  Nevertheless, we zipped up our rain coats and got on with erecting the tent (I didn’t have a clue, and it was hilarious!) Luckily, my husband is a dab hand at this camping malarkey, so I was in safe hands.  In no time at all, the rain had given way to the sunshine, and we were pumping up the air bed to the sound of the kettle boiling away on the cute little camping stove (all quite a novelty to me!)

Even though I do say so myself, I think I coped well with my first camping experience.  I’d taken a hot water bottle so I wasn’t cold and miserable at night (one of my biggest camping anxieties was the lack of central heating!), and in fact found our tent to be really quite cosy and comfortable.  I wasn’t looking forward to struggling with a camping stove either, but was to be taken aback at how territorial my hubby was over his camping gear and how he insisted on cooking our bacon and eggs in the mornings (the only other time he cooks really is when we barbecue, although he can do a mean Sunday Roast when he puts his mind to it).  However, keen to fully involve myself in this new experience I insisted that I had a turn at cooking breakfast too… just the once though!

And so, to what was without doubt my biggest camping fear and anxiety of all… the loos!  On arrival at Wickham we had opted for the ‘quiet’ campsite, one of the reasons being that on this site you could park your car next to your tent, much more convenient than hauling your belongings over half a dozen fields.  However the quiet site did not have the ‘Posh Wash’ toilets and showers that were advertised on the festival website.  Instead our site had just four, 'Loos R Us' cubicles (you know the type I mean), and no showers. The loos were fine for the first day or two, but by day four were quite literally stomach churning!  Did I cry? no, not once.  Instead, armed with my own loo roll, wet wipes, and taking a very deep breath before I entered the cubicle, just got on with the job in hand.  Although we had read that the other campsite had “posh” loos and showers, it was a little bit of a walk away from our site, so we decided to just make do with the facilities at hand.  That is, until the last day when we decided on our way to the arena, that we’d check out these so-called posh toilets … wow, sheer luxury!  Beautifully clean, serviced toilets and showers equal to the standard of your average budget hotel, we had missed out, big time!  Ah well, lesson learned for our next visit, and I could take pride in the fact I had conquered my anxieties and survived the grotty loos!  In fact, speaking to one lady (who was a regular at Glastonbury), and said the toilets that we had been using were some of the worst she’d ever seen, strangely left me actually looking forward to my next festival and camping experience (not even the loos will spoil my enjoyment!)

And so, my new motto in life is going to be ‘to never again close my mind to anything, however fearful I am, without first giving it a go’.  Actually, I have tried to adopt this philosophy on life before and it’s not easy, but this time I’m determined… bring on the next new experience!

If you're looking for a gentle, family friendly, talent packed introduction to summer music festivals,
Wickham could be just for you!

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Selfies... If You Can't Beat 'em, Join 'em

Yes, love them or loathe them, ‘Selfies’ seem to be all the rage!

ME!!... new lippy (just had to pout!)
If I’d tried a little harder, I could have possibly made that opening sentence sound even more middle-aged and mumsy, however I’m trying to write this post with my ‘young’ head on and with an open mind, in the hope that at the end of it I will (like so many of you out there) learn to love, and not loathe, the Selfie.

If I’m honest, I just don’t really get it, and maybe that’s because I’m 'of a certain age'.  If it had been the done-thing when I was younger, I can just imagine my parents’ reaction to Selfie-taking and posting pics on-line for the whole world to see … it would probably have gone something like ‘stop being so vain and self-obsessed, who’s interested in what you’re doing – put the camera away and get on with enjoying your life’.  And maybe that would have been good advice!

However it cannot be denied that there are lots of people out there who are interested in what others are up to, and simply enjoy a good old nosey - admittedly, I’m no stranger to scrolling down my FB, Twitter and Instagram pages in search of new photos. Equally, there are many who seem to be unashamedly in love with yours truly, and want to share their wonderful selves in all manner of poses ranging from pouting in front of a mirror (for no apparent reason), to lying on a beach semi-naked! To me, these photos have no obvious message other than ‘look at me’ or ‘please post a comment saying how gorgeous I am!'

I don’t know why, but if these types of photos were taken by someone else, or with someone else, they would somehow seem more acceptable, and far less self-obsessive and attention seeking.  It’s the fact that an individual, whilst alone, has felt the need to take photos of themselves not doing anything particularly informative, interesting or even for the purposes of spreading a bit of humour, that I find more than a tad irritating.  Now there’s a form of Selfie I do get – the funny ones. Anyone willing to snap a shot of themselves in a particularly embarrassing or compromising situation, for the amusement of others, is okay in my book.

Even some celebs are getting hooked on snapping sneaky pics of themselves.  Heaven knows why, wouldn’t you think spending most of your life being ‘hounded’ by the paparazzi, the last thing you’d want to do whilst alone, is join the club and start taking pictures of yourself?!

Clearly there are times when only a Selfie will do, examples might include being alone at the Victoria Falls, or slap bang by yourself in the middle of the Rio Carnival (the latter being top of my bucket list).  Obviously in these situations a Selfie would be absolutely justified, nay essential!   Or, if you were to find yourself standing on the platform waiting for a train and spotted David Beckham out of the corner of your eye (a scenario taken straight from one of my dreams) – it would be a crime not to whip out your phone and grab a Selfie, with the man himself in the background.

I know that for many of us, there are just some situations or experiences that we simply want to capture, essentially for ourselves - but hey why not share them with others too.  They don’t have to be as spectacular as those mentioned above, indeed my hubby and I have taken many a Selfie when out and about just the two of us.  It’s fantastic that we can take photos of ourselves without bothering passers-by as used to be the case (in the olden days!), or (as my hubby and I have done on many a holiday, before the invention of Selfies), set the camera up on a flat surface and run like mad to get into position and pose before the photo is taken automatically in less than one minute!

Selfies aside, I’ve never been very good at remembering to take photos actually. In fact I’ve been known to lug a camera around with me all day and forget to take a single shot!  Truth is, if I’m doing something enjoyable, exciting or interesting enough to warrant taking a pic, I’m usually too busy ‘in the moment’ to even think about getting the camera out – much to my regret after the event I might add.  In recent years though, with mobile phones having such great cameras making it much more convenient to snap a photo, and the fact that I’ve taken up blogging as a hobby, I’ve really tried to make an effort on this score, and take more photos now than I’ve ever done.

Anyhow, back to the point, as part of my attempt to understand, and learn to love (even become part of) the phenomenon that is the ‘Selfie’, I spent yesterday trying it out for myself. Yes, I spent my whole, pretty mundane and ordinary day, capturing those not so special moments to share with you all.  Mostly, I felt ridiculous, and can honestly say I don’t think I will ever get what I call the true Selfie (i.e. one person, alone, taking photos of themselves for no apparent reason, except to say ‘look at me’).  However, having really thought about it, I do now understand that there is perhaps a time and a place when only the Selfie will do.  I also understand that the recent explosion in technology, allowing us to take half decent photos of ourselves (preferably with someone else and/or doing something interesting), without the need for a tripod, or roping in a stranger who doesn't know which button on the camera to press (yes, I know, showing my age again) should be seen as an absolute positive.

So, here's my day in Selfies, which I promise you, will definitely NOT be repeated!

ME!!... early morning look - no slap and a bit dark and grainy (photo's not very good quality either!)
ME!!... brushing my teeth (fascinating)

ME!!... in the garden with wet hair (and sunnies to disguise my tired eyes)
ME!!... in my room doing my hair (actually those straighteners aren't even switched on)
ME!!... in a half-hearted attempt at making pegging the washing out look like fun
ME!!... looking less than enthusiastic about cleaning the kitchen

Not what I call a true Selife (as I'm having to share the limelight here with Alfie) but... ME!!..walking the dog

ME!!... blogging, and trying to look studious

ME!!... thinking about doing some vacuuming - exciting stuff
ME!!... saying sod the vacuuming, I'll have a sneaky G&T in the garden instead
ME!!... playing my guitar (but obviously NOT playing my guitar, as I'm taking a Selfie and don't have 3 hands)

ME!!... on my retro 'blower' (bit blurry!)

ME!!... enjoying a cuppa (everyone can relate to this one, right?)

ME!!... Touching up my powder (spending the day at home or not, a girl can't risk being shiny - you never know who might call round!)

ME!!.. Reading a book (going for the studious look again, but this time in my room just to mix things up a bit)
ME!!... Absolutely sick to the back teeth of taking SELFIES!!!

What's your 'take' on Selfies?