Finish this list – number 23

Ok, I’m not going to finish the list on this post but I am going to update it and add to it. I’ve also spent some time thinking about why I’m doing this. I talked before about motivation and a focus for writing a blog but that’s not really enough. I began to wonder if it’s terribly self centred and indulgent. Or maybe it’s a chance to challenge myself and set some goals that mean I make the most of my time. I need to be realistic though, I’m not exactly what you’d call brave! And I do want this list to be doable. So I have some items to add now and will find more to add later. Some challenges that is! Anyway, if you’ve read the previous blog, you’ll know already what number 24 is…

24. Visit Iceland in late summer

25. Visit Flanders Fields – there has been so much about the First World War that it would seem wrong to go to Belgium and not visit the site of so many battles. We are scheduled to go there in 2016

26. Write a short story – 20 years or so ago I had an article published in ‘The Lady’ magazine. This was a non-fiction piece on moving house. I would like to write a fictional short story, and who knows maybe that could be published too!

27. Move the garden shed – when we moved here, the wall in the dining room was solid. We chose to put the shed in the part of the garden that the dining room wall was near and could therefore not be seen from the house. However, we decided to add some windows into the wall and now we look out of our lovely new windows onto a grotty old shed! Time for it to be somewhere else…

28. Finish Jack Vetriano puzzle – for my birthday last year I got a 1000 piece puzzle of the Singing Butler. I’ve not even finished the edgy bits yet so there’s a way to go!

29. Build a Lego Mini – a friend posted on Facebook a photo of a Lego camper van she had just completed. It looked great fun and I was inspired. I searched the Lego website and found a Mini, the car I have always wanted. The kit was bought for me for my birthday and now I’m building it. Using all 1077 pieces!

And that’s it for now. More ideas for the list in due course.

Advertisements

See the Northern Lights, go whale watching – numbers 5 and 18

Well we’ve been to Iceland and I can’t tick either of those two off! I had been very hopeful that we would see the Northern Lights and if I’m honest it was a big driver for booking the Iceland trip. However, the weather made sure it wasn’t to be. I thought I would be disappointed, but I’m really not. We had such a fantastic time in Iceland where the land is so amazing and the people truly lovely that it didn’t seem to matter. I guess it helps that we are already planning to return! It also turns out that the whales are very elusive in the winter, it’s much better to see them in the summer. So I can’t write about either of those things, but I can write about what we did see in Iceland.

We arrived on Sunday morning just after sunrise, at this time of year that’s just before 11am! I had seen the sunrise times and was intrigued to know what it would be like, all I can say is I really admire how the Icelandic people (and all those in other similar countries) deal with all that darkness. More on that later. 20150118_112524Snow covered the country, the sun was beaming across the whiteness and despite the temperature of -5 degrees Celsius felt very welcoming. We boarded the bus to take us to Reykjavik. The landscape was breathtaking, the white of the snow contrasted by the dark rocks jutting out at all angles. I was won over immediately and this is my first picture, taken from the bus across the airport.

Our accommodation was basic but clean and most importantly very warm! We oriented ourselves and headed to the supermarket where we discovered that in Iceland, you can’t buy alcohol in the supermarket and, horror of horrors, the wine shop is closed on a Sunday! We put that right by heading to a local bar in the evening. However, we were not late back for bed having started the day at 4.45am and we were booked on an all day tour for the following day.

The following day arrived with the rain, driving icy rain. All tours were cancelled so we headed back to our accommodation for a much needed top up of tea. Then we went out to explore, dipping in and out of quirky shops and drinking in the atmosphere. The rain and wind did not let up and when we headed slightly out of town to visit an Icelandic sculdomed houseptor’s house we felt the full force of the wind and icy rain. By the time we arrived we were soaked through and freezing. The lady in charge kindly made us coffee and helped us drape our wet outer clothes on the hot radiator. It was a rather chilly visit but interesting to learn about Ásmundur Sveinsson whose work was inspired by people as well as Icelandic tales and traditions. He also built the house, considered to be one of his finest works.

Tuesday, my birthday, saw us rise early again and this time join the tour. Not being used to such short days, it was most odd sitting on the bus in complete darkness at 9 o’clock in the morning. It felt quite disorientating, my head knew it was 9am but all my senses were telling me it was much earlier. Watching the arrival of day from the coach over the next 90 minutes felt like a very slow and hard start. I find it hard enough having the sun rise after 8am, but just before 11am is a real killer. However, our day had only just begun and was set to get better and better.

Our first stop was at a tomato farm. No auto correction gone wrong here, I did mean to write tomato farm. I certainly had not expected that but not surprisingly the whole thing is under glass, no double glazing, mind, just standard 4mm glass. Importing goods is an expensive business, 20150120_105815so the ingenious Icelandic farmers have harnessed their natural resources to enable them to grow tomatoes and other vegetables (cucumbers, peppers etc) and distribute them to the supermarkets directly so that tomatoes picked today will be on the shelves tomorrow. The heat and power are generated from the geothermal stations using the heat of the water underground, it comes to the surface at about 200 degrees Celsius. The owner told us with great pride how they make it work. They even import special flies and bees to keep down the pests and pollinate the plants so no pesticides are needed. Everything is controlled by computer and the owner is able to track and operate every part of the farm on his phone, wherever he may be in the world! A cup of fresh tomato soup was a fine end to this visit.

20150120_114841The next stop was the geyser. The snowy landscape belies the heat below, but here the waters bubble to the surface, steam pouring off them. The original spouting geyser is called Geysir, but due to earthquake activity, now no longer spouts. The new spouting king is Strokkur, about 50 metres from Geysir and is most impressive. The water is a flat puddle which becomes agitated like sea hit by a fierce wind, then bubbles push up until whoosh! the whole thing blows. The jet of water varied in height each time it blew (every 3 minutes or so) the most impressive being about 50 metres high. It really is impossible to watch and not let out a woooooo!

Moving on, we arrived at the Gullfoss, or Gold Falls. We heard its deep rumble before we set eyes on it and wh20150120_132338en we did it was another wow moment. The falls are huge, about 20 metres wide and in two steps a fall of 32 metres. I have never been to Niagara and Iguassu so cannot compare to either of those, but I was totally bowled over. The sun chose this moment to come out too adding to the beauty. The snowy mountains in the background framed these falls so beautifully. The power of the water (80 cubic metres per second) was matched by the cold as part of the falls were frozen. Without a doubt, this was my favourite part of Iceland we saw, I was utterly mesmerised.

We had to move on, and for a not very big island (just under half the area of the UK), it goes for things in a big way. We drove off the European tectonic plate, into the Mid Atlantic Ridge and across to the American tectonic plate. The wall of the American continent towered above us and these tectonic plates are moving apart at about 3 cm per year. 20150120_154743No wonder there are so many earthquakes and volcanos on their little island! We walked along part of the Mid Atlantic Ridge alongside the wall of the American plate past the site of the first Icelandic parliament. They met here in 939, the oldest parliament in the world. When we reached the end of our walk, the sun, low in the sky, dipped behind some clouds giving a fitting and beautiful finish to the day.

Our final day we decided on a lie in! In the afternoon we headed out on a boat. We had learnt that whales are much more plentiful in the region in summer so our expectations were suitably capped. What we did get was a different perspective on the landscape of and ar20150121_131155ound Reykjavik. We were given all in one suits to wear and were mighty grateful for them, it was very cold and when the wind caught it was brutal. Still, we were out on the sea off the coast of Iceland in January… We were lucky and a pod of 6 or 7 white beaked dolphins were swimming around and graced us with their company for a good 20 minutes or so. I don’t mind admitting I got a little emotional when we first spotted them. To see such beautiful, peaceful creatures in their natural habitat and to share time with them is the greatest of privileges. We did not take pictures for two main reasons. It was far more important to experience the moment for real rather than through the screen of a camera and it was far to cold to take our gloves off! A truly fitting end to our trip to Iceland. Now all we need to do is plan the return visit…

And that brings me back to the list, number 24 is to visit Iceland in the summer. I want to see the Gullfoss in the different season, from the postcards I can see how different it will be. There is so much we did not have time to explore, glaciers, the northern parts of the island and many more we have yet to discover. So our plan is a trip for late August (maybe 2015 or more likely 2016) where we plan to go whale watching (94% chance of seeing the humpback whale from the north in summer) and maybe even the Northern Lights. We are planning and keeping fingers crossed at the same time…

Get close to the ceramic poppies – number 3

Well it’s been longer than I wanted between posts, but I’m still posting! However, it’s good timing as this one is about the poppies and the ones we ordered arrived yesterday. Unfortunately, the boxes were soggy and damaged as the courier just left them on the doorstep. As we don’t use our front door, we didn’t see them until the next day during which time it rained. So we are getting replacement boxes, which is great but I’m not happy that this will dig into any money that is being collected for the charities. That is unless they claim it back from the courier, I somewhat doubt that…

Anyway, the day we got close to the ceramic poppies! I am of course talking about the poppies that were planted in the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War and one was planted for each person killed in combat. I 20141121_124306really wanted to see them but as more and more people heard about them, the busier it got and the less attractive it felt. In the meantime my husband spotted a call out for volunteers to pick them starting on the  12th November. So we signed up and got a slot on 21st November, 3 hours with a team of people in the moat. Once Remembrance Day was over and the poppies started to be picked, it became very clear that what was under the poppies was mud and lots of it. This seemed very poignant to me, the muddy fields of northern France had turned into fields of poppies, this display was doing the reverse.

We planned our day, a bag for our wellies, trainers on for a walk through London on our way there and back. On the morning itself we read the emailed instructions (nothing like being organised!) and found out there was nowhere to leave bags. And that is how we found ourselves one Friday morning standing with all the suited and booted commuters waiting for the train wearing our already muddy wellies!20141121_132223

We got off the train at Blackfriars and walked on the south side of the river to the Tower. On the way we saw a couple of Paddingtons. There was quite a queue of volunteers and we joined them. Everyone was in good spirits and there was lots of ‘Where have you come from?’, a happy way to spend our queuing time.

We had taken our own gardening gloves, having seen some pictures of those the20141121_122610y were handing out I didn’t really fancy given them a go! (Yes, that is a pile of gloves on the left all worn, dirtied and waiting for the next wearer!) We also took some latex gloves to wear underneath which worked a treat keeping our hands dry and so much warmer. At last we walked through the doors and heard the words ‘welcome to the moat of the Tower of London’. I really was there. In the distance I spied a sea of poppies and quickly whipped out my phone for some pictures, I wasn’t sure if we would be allowed to take photos but it turned out not to be a problem.

We walked to where the poppies were and I felt a mix of joy at seeing them and a sense of loss that each represented a life lost too soon. There was not 20141121_110643much time to sit and ruminate though as the day’s work began. We were shown how to dismantle the poppies, separate the washers and stems and delicately place the ceramic poppy head in individual boxes. There were essentially three teams, those picking and dismantling the poppies, those sorting the stems (there were three different lengths) which included removing any stubborn washers of which there were many! The third team was making up boxes and stacking the filled boxes on the pallets to be taken away and cleaned.

For anyone interested in group dynamics this would have been a fascinating observation. A group o20141121_103257f strangers coming together for a common goal, quickly settled into an efficient and relaxed pattern of working. We did have limited time, but there was no storming (Tuckman’s model, forming, storming, norming and performing), but there was certainly lots of performing. The pile of boxes of poppies grew and grew, the pile of stems, neatly cable tied by length, did the same. There was little direction given, a suggestion to rotate teams so that everyone got the chance to actually pick the poppies, but that was all. Occasionally we paused to take a photograph or two but on the whole worked hard throughout the shif20141121_103503t.

When the three hours were up we were tired and seriously muddy! I had carried bundles of the stems against my coat and looked like I’d been rolling round in the mud. Not being used to physical work (even though I do run a bit!) we both felt quite tired afterwards and were more than ready for something to eat. We were lucky as there were still quite a few poppies still in place yet largely the crowds had gone. So we ignored our rumbling tummies and took in the sights of the poppies in the moat.

Eventually we headed off and walked to St Paul’s Cathedral. We didn20141121_121013‘t go in, that really would have been too much. We looked most out of place, still in our wellies and covered in mud we would have been far more at home in the farmyard. Still needs must and we headed into a cafe for some lunch. Fortunately, being London, no one really took notice of the eccentric scruffy couple digging into their sandwiches. We headed home, tired but happy and threw our coats straight in the washing machine!

In about 36 hours from now we are off to Iceland, fingers crossed another on the list of 50 will be ticked….the Northern Lights!

Write this blog! – number 1

Ok so you could argue that just by writing I’m doing this one, but it’s more than that. It’s about learning. Two main things really, how this works (I want to be able to add photos which I will try out in a minute!) and learning how to write. An article I wrote was published once and I even got paid for it! It was a very long time ago and not a lot of money, but I do like the idea of doing something a bit different. So this blog I hope will help me, if nothing else to get into the habit of writing on a regular basis. I don’t want to ‘earn a living’ from it, I know that is unrealistic. But it would be nice to reach a wider audience in time.

What have I learnt so far? Well, by having had such a gap after my second every post, it was the need to have a focus of something to write about, hence using the list. That has the double benefit of getting me out and about and actually doing things too! I’ve also read some other blogs, advice I’ve seen from other writers always includes ‘do lots of reading’. I don’t know about lots, but I will certainly make time to do some reading. I have subscribed to a couple of blogs and will continue to do so. I will be reasonably discerning, I would far rather read a few good blogs, than lots and lots of not so good blogs. Of course, what constitutes good and not so good is another story in itself.

Back to the technical….(another thing I’ve learnt, I try to use the word ‘so’ far too often – I nearly started this paragraph with it!). How to add a photo, I can’t write about the poppies without sharing a photo. First step – save draft! Second step, find the right buttons. Woo there we are, well there I am anyway!10529448_10203062799665188_1953672006_n A photo taken a few months ago at a B&B just outside of Bolton in Lancashire. Now I want to see if I can wrap the text around the photo. And all I had to do was drag the photo into the text. Bingo!

Another thing I have learned over time is not to try to do too much at once. I have sorted out the photo and that’s enough for one sitting. I often want to be perfect at things straight away, so a little restraint and mastering of skills one by one will do me now harm at all!

When I next come to learn something on here it will be how to make the posts look a bit more interesting, different backgrounds and the like.

It was my first day back at work today after the Christmas break. I am very pleased that I have continued to post – I know it’s only the third one on this attempt, but it’s all going in the right direction. I want to write a post once or twice a week which I think is a much more achievable target than every day.

 

The War of the Worlds – number 2

The first of my 50 that I will share! It’s the not the first that I did but why do things in order?

I have always liked Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and bought the double album (on vinyl of course!) when it was first released in 1978. My husband treated himself the the new version earlier this year so I bought tickets to see the arena show at the O2 Arena for his birthday.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that Liam Neeson (lovely voice, but Richard Burton is still my favourite) would be a hologram and I knew that Jason Donovan was in it. I knew little else. So I was very surprised to find that Jeff Wayne was conducting the whole show. There was a small orchestra and the Black Smoke Band with Herbie Flowers. I had no idea Herbie Flowers was still going (sorry Herbie!) The O2 arena is an amazing venue for this type of show. There was a real buzz about the place while waiting for the show to start. And when it did, starting with the Eve of War it sent shivers down my spine. Liam Neeson telling of the Earth being watched from afar and then the opening chords. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful music can be and the physical effect it can have.

The arena was the perfect place for such a huge show. Filmed backdrops complimented live action and the music was played to perfection. The only disappointment was Brian McFadden as the journalist’s sung thoughts. My favourite song (almost my favourite of all time!) is Forever Autumn and Justin Hayward’s version was far superior. This is but a minor gripe as the show was amazing. Jason Donovan played the Pastor with Carrie Hope-Fletcher as his wife. Two big musical theatre stars and as the review I had seen before said, they really stole the show. Dramatic and brilliant story telling in a song.

I have to mention the Martians – after all without them there would be no show! Most of them were on the screen but there was one which descended from the ceiling and shot fire above the audience’s heads. Very impressive and added massively to the atmosphere. It’s a shame it was the farewell tour, but you never know, a new version may make another appearance!

During Forever Autumn lots of paper autumn leaves floated from the ceiling. We managed to snaffle three, each different colours. A happy keep sake. We bought a programme at the huge price of £15. I do object to such a price but we don’t do these things often and it is a great way to remember the event. I was pleased that only a small part of the programme was adverts and there was a lot of information about the history of the production so all in all, almost worth the money!

We travelled between Central London and the O2 Arena by the river boat which added to the fun of the day. The guys who work on those boats are just amazing. The speed and deftness they handle the many dockings with is breath taking. They certainly earn their money and it must be a really tough job in wet and cold weather. For us, it was a far better way to travel than on the tube.

The day ended perfectly as we returned home to my daughter who came home from uni for the Christmas holidays. It was a shame we couldn’t be there to greet her, but lovely to find her there when we did get home.

A worthy tick on the list of 50 – I hope they are all as good as this!