Friday, 28 April 2017

April Travels

I thought that weekends would be my favourite ever things once I had a job. Turns out it’s Bank Holidays. I haven’t had a full week at work for 3 weeks, and the May Day Bank Holiday will make that 4. A 5 day week, and a 2 day weekend is a dark, distant memory.

The Easter weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to string a couple of days holiday on to, to make a whole week off – and give us time for a family weekend in Wiltshire, before a couple of sunny days in Devon. I never went to Devon or Cornwall as a kid, so until recent years it was a bit of a mystery to me. I’d heard it had nice beaches, and was amazing in the sun, but that it was a shame it rained most of the time. Until this month, I’d only seen Devon in the grey and drizzle. But clearly the Easter weather gods were looking down on us, and we had 2 b-e-a-utiful sunny days in Plymouth, and a slightly grey but dry morning on Dartmoor.

Not only was this an excellent trip for weather, but also for walks, food and discovering new places. Plymouth is Simon’s university town, and this was only my third visit – but somehow, each time we go, we find somewhere new to explore. This time was a new length of the coastal path, complete with friendly West-country dog walker, slobbery bulldog and pebble beaches. From Royal William Yard, you can see so far round the bays, in different directions, and it gave us some inspiration for longer walks to do another time. It’s easy to forget what real, fresh sea air is like when you live surrounded by seemingly fresh, but actually dangerously polluted, air most of the time. But on sunny days, with a chilly breeze, it feels more refreshing than ever.

I think we walked about 26 miles in about 48 hours. To the other side of Plymouth, to TKMaxx, round a reservoir, up a tor. Sometimes I get sad that I sit at a desk for a really long time, and then I sit on the sofa. And I want to walk places at weekends, and on holiday. By the time we left Plymouth, my feet were sore and my legs were bruised (still not 100% sure why…) but I felt so much better than I had in a while. At first, it made me sad that we live so far away – and that’s difficult to just pop down for a weekend of seaside walks. And then I remembered that I could do that now, closer to home, in Kent or Sussex or Hampshire. But I don’t, and I want to.

I’ve never thought about Plymouth as being a culinary haven. It’s always been the home to pasties that I wish I could eat, but I can’t. This trip was a real game changer. For a start, I had a full on salad for 50p. Sitting down, on a comfy sofa, in a cafĂ©, with table service. God bless the South West. But the real highlight was a (what I think was) really authentic Japanese meal. It was served by a lady in a Kimono, came complete with Miso, and the chef bowed to us before we left. Oh, and the food was top notch. I had nice fish; I had amazing coffee cake; I discovered a really good range of sparkling elderflower drinks; and I had the breakfast that dreams are made of – vegan coconut pancakes (courtesy of The Hidden Olive, my new favourite breakfast destination). Coming home to shepherd’s pie from the freezer was an enormous disappointment.

Until last year, following a fantastic week in Yorkshire, I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the staycation. I like a holiday to be sunny, to feel like I’m really going somewhere different, and to feel like I’m away. But I’ve learned that you can do that here too. Our few days in Plymouth were relaxing, and easy. I didn’t have to try and convert any currency, translate a menu, or panic that I’ve left my passport somewhere. My feet and my sleep pattern (literally why are all UK hotels SO HOT AND STUFFY?) were ready to come home, but the rest of me wasn’t; I wanted more sea air, more teriyaki chicken, and more time to be outside. 

Here’s to squeezing in more UK weekends away. 

March: spice up your life

I was going to call this post ‘spring clean your life’, but then I remembered that the whole reason for writing this was to move away from the mundane things (like cleaning) and making a more, well, spicy, life for yourself. Your early twenties are a weird time of your life. For the first time, you’re not really told what you have to do anymore and you sort of have to figure it out for yourself. I feel like the last few years have been a bit of a limbo – between being a teenager and being an adult, between being a student and being at work, and between doing what I should do (or feel like I should do) and doing what I want to. And I didn’t want it to go on forever. January and February were big changes and settling in months, and March has been a ‘making it fun and sustainable’ month. Weekends are no longer about survival mode, and evenings for packed lunch making and trying not to fall asleep on the sofa.

Spice number 1: remember the things you love. The times in my life when I’ve been my happiest, I’ve usually also been my busiest. Just school was never enough; there was ballet, and drama, and public speaking, and debating, and the charity committee, and Brownies, and volunteering – and, you know, homework and friends and family life. So why should just a job be enough? No matter how fulfilling your days at work are, there’s nothing like really getting back into a hobby, something that is done purely for fun. It’s easy to feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to really indulge these pleasures but, for me at least, that’s just not true. Ballet classes are going to be one of the highlights of my week. Some exercise at the end of a day (and week) of sitting at a desk, getting back into one of my favourite childhood hobbies, and living out my 4 year old dream of becoming a ballerina the best I can.

Number 2 spicy: I’m yet to discover some sort of am dram that takes my fancy, or that doesn’t require me to be at rehearsals for 99% of my spare time. So booking in lots of theatre trips seems like the next best option. After a busy month of plays in February, I’m looking forward to seeing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in May and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the summer. There’s Coriolanus in November, and Hamilton next year, and I have super talented friends in Whisper House and Once in the summer. There’s a handful of musicals I wish I could see again, The Book of Mormon, The Lion King – and I’m desperate to see School of Rock. Here’s to next payday…and more shows to look forward to.

The 3rd spicy: is it possible to get through the winter without or a holiday, or at least booking one to look forward to in the summer? I don’t think it is. On a dark, rainy weekend in February, there was absolutely nothing that could get me through the Sunday blues like booking a week in the sun. Our week in Crete in September now feels really far away, but at least I know we’re going…eventually. In the meantime, we’ve had a long weekend in Wiltshire and a couple of days in Devon, which was lovely. And hopefully there'll be time for a weekend in Jersey to visit my adopted orangutan. I’m keen to visit a friend in Germany before the end of the year, and trying to save my pennies to going skiing next year – so there’s lots of exciting trips on the cards. As much as I love weekends at home, and in London, there’s nothing quite like going away somewhere different, and somewhere new to help you properly relax. I’m looking forward to the seaside, days out with friends, lots of sightseeing, swimming, long sunny evenings, and being outdoors.

Final spice: sorting out your health is perhaps the least spicy, and the most important factor in future spiciness. 6 months after first seeing a nutritionist, I think I now finally know what I can and can’t eat and feel infinitely better for it. I made it my goal to cook a new recipe every week this year, so I don’t eat the same meals all the time, and I’m enjoying doing it and not feeling restricted by my diet. I have a gym membership, and all the good intentions and poor discipline that goes with it. I have a great osteopath who sorts out my back once in a while. And, for the first time in a long time, I have no serious ailments/burns/chilblains/need for crutches. It’s a great time to be alive.

Sometimes you need to step back and look at what it is you’re doing; what makes you happy, and what you wish you were doing but can’t. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I was the only one (or at least the main one) stopping myself from doing the things I wanted; and I was the only one that could change it. Whether it’s giving up bothering with useless people, or taking up (or revisiting) a new hobby, or working out what it is that will really make you happy…do it. If not now, then when? 
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