In Praise Of The Bank Holiday

It is late August and the weather is so dismal here in Hertfordshire that you need the lights on mid-afternoon in order to read your book without squinting. And tomorrow we hail the last of the official UK summer public holidays which brings with it the Notting Hill Carnival 2015, Europe’s biggest street festival. This year we already have warnings for thundery downpours, wind and lightning. Well, that’s the UK for you folks.

Weather is often the main theme of Bank Holidays, because the UK is second to bottom of the global list for the number of public holidays we are allocated. Each one is therefore heavy with anticipation, as workers unite in their need to make the most of a bonus day off which could bring with it a trip to the seaside, a long weekend away, an extra duvet day or simply a day pottering about in the garden.

Newspapers the day after invariably have pictures of drenched people being soaked on a pier by rogue waves, umbrellas turned inside out, although in fairness we do also occasionally get photos of sunburnt citizens lying prone on a pebbly beach eating chips and ice cream. Often just to spice things up there are massive queues on motorways, rail strikes and other jolly travel disruptions.

Motorway gridlock UK

Bank Holiday on beach UK

Until 1834, the Bank of England observed about 33 saints’ days and religious festivals as holidays, but in 1834 this was reduced to four: 1 May (May Day), 1 November (All Saints’ Day), Good Friday and Christmas Day. Nowadays we observe about 8 public holidays per annum, which is the second to lowest public holiday entitlement in the world. (India has the most with 18-21 depending on the province).

So let’s make each one count. Have a good one, whatever the weather.

Bank Holiday

And in case the sun fails to make an appearance, commit this to memory:

idyllic sunny beach

Annie Bee x

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A Little Cornish Gem

Dydh da*

I am currently in wet and wild Cornwall. We aquaplaned down the M5 with the heating on full blast, wondering whether these ‘staycations’ are all they are cracked up to be. Thankfully we are not camping, or swimming as it is sometimes referred to here in the West Country.  I did remember to pack some annoying clichés: rain never killed anyone (oh, I think it did) and there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

This morning, with a very beady eye on the forecast, Mr Bee and I went on a bracing 5 mile trek along the Cornish Coastal path and we timed it well. Other than some slightly nerve-wracking stray cows and 2 very intrepid (mad?) runners, we met hardly a soul. While it could neither be called ‘hot’, nor ‘August-like’, we managed to stay on our feet despite the gales, dodged the showers and got back in one piece.

At this point an early lunch beckoned.

Cornwall these days has many pockets of pure foodie heaven. One of my absolute favourites is Strong Adolfo’s, a cafe on the A39 (or Atlantic Highway) which is part of the Hawksfield Cornwall site. A couple of miles from Wadebridge, it is made up of a number of units which include a fabulous speciality food store called The Arc, which stocks lots of locally sourced goodies; a beautifully curated vintage furniture store called Goose Shed; an interiors shop, Jo & Co Home, as well as an art gallery (Circle Contemporary) and The Library which Hawksfield describe as an ‘open plan office space designed for individual users who want to take the office out of the home and into a social environment where you can network and grow your business’. Sounds heavenly.

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One of the main reasons I like Strong Adolfo’s is their unfazed approach to food allergies, in my case Coeliac Disease. They take the whole gluten free issue utterly in their stride, and frankly anywhere which offers GF Frangipani Cake is going to get my vote ~ e-v-e-r-y time. The food is good value, fresh, thoughtfully put together and the surroundings are great fun.

Strong Adolfo's

We had a delicious lunch, bought heaps of treats in the deli, as well as a  new clock from Jo & Co Home. Oh and a mug with a bumble bee on it which I could not resist.

If you are anywhere near this neck of the woods I highly recommend a visit.

* “Hello” in Cornish.

Annie Bee x

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What To Expect Of Your Empty Nest

Autumn: Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. 

And season of empty nests too, or at least here in the UK where the academic year begins in September.

Autumn Empty Nest

I have been at this parenting malarkey for 31 years now, and have seen a fair smattering of things in that time, but am faced this year with a new chapter: Empty Nest Syndrome (ENS). While technically not a medical condition I think many parents find it a very real problem. How can it be described? This pretty much sums it up for many:

Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents or guardians may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university.

I haven’t decided yet which sort of ENer I am most likely to be. Many of my friends have started out with a wry smile on their faces (‘Empty nest? Me? Are you kidding? I am doing the EN Dance round my kitchen in high heels and full make up, dreaming of a cheap not-school-holidays-priced week away in the Caribbean’) only to end up being that parent who spends the entire autumn with their mobile glued to their ear dealing with their fledgling’s very real psychological/medical issues.

A bit of humour might be useful then to start. Dorothy Parker is always good for a bon mot

~ The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tyres.

empty-nest

empty nest 1

Out of curiosity I ventured onto a parents’ forum to see if ENS was showing up as a thing. There is anxiety galore out there ~ worries for both the kids and us parents. I didn’t go so deep into the Dark Web as to find ENers who have survived (maybe they are all busy redecorating their kid’s bedrooms and building a sauna/fully stocked bar/disco room) but there is a palpable sense of concern from those whose little babies are leaving for Freshers Week in less than a month. There are plenty of stories about the nightmare of “helicopter parents” too, those of us who can’t let go and hover, thinking we are being helpful. The following was written by a weary academic:

One year we had a mother who camped on her daughter’s floor in Halls for the first two weeks and not only walked her to lectures, but sat in on them as well. In the end we had to insist she b*ggered off and left her ADULT daughter to get on with her own life.

Is our current level of concern increased by the amount of student debt our kids are now letting themselves in for? In many ways, we (the student, the parents, indeed the entire family) are now the client in the whole University decision-making operation. When your kids are going to graduate with a substantial debt (£27k or thereabouts) is it any wonder parents want to advise on courses, accommodation etc?

On a very practical level, there is some useful advice out there on how much stuff Little Jonny should  take in the first year. I definitely over-bought when the middle Baby Bee went off, and probably also overestimated the size of her room as well. And if you buy too much kitchen equipment, the chances of it ever being washed up diminishes for starters which may not go down too well amongst their brand new flatmates.

When I went off to Uni (back in the late 1800s) I failed to read the information pack and very stupidly took NO kitchen things at all. None. I went out to the Army and Navy store and bought one bowl, one teaspoon (which I still have) and a small saucepan. This kept me going for a surprisingly long time, though I did lose weight in those first months. And ate a lot of Alpen which, for the record, is not solely a breakfast food.

So when you are in Ikea, or John Lewis, looking at those Freshers starter packs, my advice is to work on the assumption you can halve it and Little Jonny will still survive. Better that your son or daughter ends up buying a few more bits and pieces a month into the experience than let them take so much gear it is literally impossible for them to unpack.

As for my empty nest ~ well I will let you know what it looks like when I am a month or so in. It might be a tale of abject loneliness, or a postcard from a beach in the Caribbean. Who knows which way I will go. Only time will tell.

Vacant empty nest

Wish me luck!

Annie Bee x

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Surprising Finds #5 ~ A Revolving Writer’s Hut

If you read (and hopefully enjoyed) my recent blogpost on The Rise Of The She Shed, you will know what a fan I am of interesting small workspaces.

I am fortunate to live fairly near Shaw’s Corner, the National Trust’s country home of Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw. He lived in the Edwardian villa for over 40 years from 1906; he was hugely prolific, writing nearly 60 plays, over 250,000 letters and untold numbers of articles and pamphlets. Today the property is open to the public and is well-tended by staff and volunteers.

His writing hut at Shaw’s Corner (as the local villagers called the Rectory) in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire, was, and is today (after restoration) a remarkable spot indeed. The strange thing about his hut is that it spins. Mounted on a revolving mechanism, when finding himself writing in the shade, he simply put his shoulder into it and shifted it to chase the sun.

Shaw is known to have written many of his major works in his home-built revolving hut located at the bottom of his garden. So how did it work? The tiny structure was built on a central steel-pole frame with a circular track so that it could be rotated on its axis to follow the arc of the sun’s light during the day. Shaw dubbed the hut “London”, so that unwanted visitors could be told he was away “visiting the capital”. Ingenious. Today the garden is rather more heavily planted than when he was using it to top up on Vitamin D, but it is an enchanting spot nonetheless. He had a phone, desk, electricity and (I LOVE this bit) a bed!.

I took these photos today and hope they give an idea of the charm of both the hut and the house and gardens. Sadly the house was closed for what turns out to be some major electrical renovations, but, while the grounds are small, they are most appealing. Information on visiting can be found here.

Some further research on the hut and Shaw turned up some other photos and an article from 1929 detailing the health benefits of his revolving hut – plenty of Vitamin D. Funnily enough there was a recent report in the news here in the UK about the variable amount of Vitamin D us Brits can obtain from our often dodgy weather. Public Health England says more than one in five people have low levels of vitamin D. Shaw, who by the way lived well into his 90s, was clearly well ahead of his time.

I love this picture of him with his surf board in South Africa when he was 75:

George Bernard Shaw surfing at the Muizenberg beach at the age of 75

Other notable writer’s huts are plentiful: perhaps the most famous in the UK are Roald Dahl’s:

Roald Dahl's hut

Roald Dahl’s writing hut, Buckinghamshire

……… and Dylan Thomas’s hut in Laugharne, Camarthenshire.

Inside Dylan Thomas's hut

Inside Dylan Thomas’s hut


Dylan Thomas's hut, Laugharne

Dylan Thomas’s hut, Laugharne

There are more inspiring photos of sheds and writer’s huts: here.

If you are lucky enough to have a hut where you work, I would love to hear about it.

Well, the sun is out (we have had a dismal summer in my view) so I am off out to top up on some vitamin D myself.

Annie Bee x

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Willpower ~ How Does It Work?

I have been giving a lot of thought to the question of willpower. I can’t say I have it in abundance, but when I do decide to do something (even if it is after many years of not doing anything), I do seem to be able to stick to my guns. So much about our health (by which here I mean diet and exercise) comes down to that often elusive willpower.

Anyone with a slightly addictive personality (which refers to a particular set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to developing addictions) will know about hitting rock bottom. There is often a trigger for deciding that enough is enough, whether it relates to drugs, alcohol abuse or over-eating. These triggers are very personal, but in my experience there comes a moment of compete clarity after which you know change MUST take place. It is only then that you take control of the problem and make changes.

Firstly then, what exactly is willpower?

The American Psychological Association calls willpower

the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

From what I have researched on the subject, willpower has a finite supply. You therefore need to use it wisely, which is a nuisance frankly. I won’t be the only person out there who has thought it was a bottomless well and the issue was how you can harness as much as possible. On the flip-side, the good news is that you can work on building strategies to improve your use of it.

willpower

One interesting aspect of willpower is that people will often use up the limited supply on family and professional matters, leaving little for themselves. After a taxing day at the office, or with the kids, it is far more difficult to then find the time to keep on making good decisions about food. A recent study showed that people faced with a very stressful work-related task who were then asked to choose between different foods tended to make less healthy choices. Personally I think this is also compounded by the reasoning that a difficult day requires reward. You have had a very tough day at work, or dealing with 3 kids under the age of 7, or 2 moody teenagers, and a large glass of wine at 5.30pm (“the sun is over the yardarm somewhere”) sounds infinitely justifiable. Or, in food terms, you have a had the day from hell in the workplace, so you decide that a takeaway curry will cheer you up instead of the omelette and salad you had originally planned.

So willpower is definitely a tricky one: it is limited and it can be sabotaged fairly easily too. Sounds like other strategies are required. What are some ways of improving your chances of making best use of willpower when it comes to dieting?

  • Have a long-term, achievable goal. Are you going to a wedding in November, to which you would dearly love to get back into your favourite dress? Perhaps you want to be able to run a 5K next year and have realised that shedding some weight will make that goal a great deal easier to achieve? Make a record of your achievements as you go along and set yourself a goal you can meet.
  • Stay well rested. Over-tired people make bad decisions.
  • If you have a bad day, and your diet has seemingly gone out the window, put it behind you. It is done, nothing can be achieved by dwelling on it (except perhaps to work out why it happened and try to take steps to avoid making that mistake again – learn from it). Get back on track and don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • Minimise temptation. We are expecting a lot from willpower – don’t make it doubly hard by putting temptations in your way.

determination

I don’t want to sound preachy, but for those people who say “I simply don’t have the willpower” I would say this: you haven’t hit your rock bottom yet. When you do, and you decide to take control, have an achievable plan and work hard. The benefits are joyous.

Annie Bee x

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It’s An Age Thing

I was out the other day with one of my very oldest of friends – we have been buddies for nearly 4 decades. During the course of our ramblings we covered mothers, losing our fathers, marriage, grief, gardening, diet, exercise, ex-boyfriends, schools, grey hair, children, health, money, the menopause, work, holidays: in 2 hours we touched on pretty much everything. Nothing is off limits.

Several times I heard myself saying, “well, it’s our age”.

“Isn’t it hilarious how we both love gardening?”

“Well, it’s our age”.

Our interest in healthy eating: – it’s our age. Our newfound specialist knowledge about dementia: – it’s our age. Sore knees after exercising? – yes, you’ve got it.

Our friendship has spanned forty years and we have changed, moved, made mistakes, lost touch and survived some ups and downs. At any point on that path, so much of what we did, decisions we made, things we said, places we went and people we shared our lives with were quite simply down to our age. In our teens we both did some mad things, as all youngsters do. But we did what seemed completely right at any given time.

Things may not be 100% perfect for either of us, but we are healthy and happy and getting on with what life is currently throwing at us. We still feel young, we ARE young! Long may that last.

It’s a funny old life. Old age quote

Annie Bee x

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Sight Jogging ~ Wait … What?

I read a headline in the paper the other day which said Sight Jogging, but I read it because I thought it said SLIGHT jogging, which is something I do exceptionally well. Whilst I do sometimes call what I do ‘running’, the reality is that it is merely jogging, and (it gets worse) I mix it up with power walking. Anyway, I digress.

So there is this thing called Sight Jogging – like Sight Seeing, but with your running shoes on and presumably with little scope for taking pictures with the flash off inside an ancient church. When I started looking into this new phenomenon (from what I can see, it started in 2014) it struck me it might actually be an elaborate April Fools’. But there are reviews for it on TripAdvisor, so it must be true.

Sight Jogging Vienna

There are Sight Jogging tours in a number of European cities – Brussels, Rome, Dublin, Venice, Prague and Berlin for starters. London of course offers it too. One company is London jogging tours; one of their routes is along the Thames from Tower Hill to the Houses of Parliament, which is about 7km and sounds rather jolly. It says it is perfect for ‘gentle joggers’ and/or ‘recreational joggers’. So what does that mean? Would it suit me, a slight jogger? They say that if the tour is aimed at gentle joggers, there are plenty of stops whereas the other group runs at a more steady pace.  I guess there is just one way to find out.

sight jogging stuttgart

I am not averse to exercising on holiday although some days walking from the sun lounger to the beach bar and back again is more than ample. However, if this is something which appeals to you, it looks like it is also available outside Europe as well – Australia, South Africa, Singapore, Scandinavia and Russia have joined the fun. Eventually, you may be able to sight run the globe. Have a look here to see where in the world it is happening.

As one of the websites helpfully says, “don’t forget to pack your running shoes”. Might be an idea to leave the selfie stick at home though. Jogging along sightseeing with one of those could take someone’s eye out.

If you want to see my thoughts on fartlekking (or interval training as it is more boringly called) please see Fartlekking Post 1 and Fartlekking Post 2.

Have a super weekend.

Annie Bee x

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