Five Weeks to Wed: Reflection on Youth

By the time I was seven I had the whole marriage thing wrapped up – my husband would be tall (at least a head taller than me), dark and handsome, I would be bedecked in lavish jewels and wear a big meringue dress (almost exactly like the one Jennifer Connelly wore in Labyrinth – see below). The ceremony, no less lavish than the dress (naturally), would take place in a beautiful church, with the reception in a grand country mansion. Guests would eat plentifully (mostly chocolate), and I would spend the remainder of my days tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Or something like that.

Fast forward 27 years (ouch) and the reality isn’t so far from the dream. My husband to be is indeed tall (not quite a head taller, but let’s not, if you’ll excuse the pun, split hairs) and handsome, if not quite dark (but red haired will do nicely). The lavish jewels are out (clearly my seven year old self had no concept of money), the dress thankfully not quite in the meringue league, and the ceremony will not be in a church (this part I’m sad about, but as we are not Catholic we weren’t allowed to marry in the on-site chapel, and will instead do it outside on the lawn, weather permitting…). And much as I’d have liked a meal made entirely of chocolate, my 34 year old self has to acknowledge it’s not to everyone’s taste. But on one front I’ve trumped seven year old me entirely, for we are not getting married in a grand country mansion, but an actual bona fide castle (albeit because our original, far less grand and ergo far less expensive venue cancelled, but still..). And in Austria, land of stunning lakes and mountains.

With five weeks to go the nerves are kicking in, not about the marriage itself (fortunately), but rather about the plethora of things still to be ticked off the to do list. And the weather. Such a thing shouldn’t matter, of course, but as putting up a marquee will cost us an extra grand I would dearly love to see a forecast devoid of rain when it comes to marquee decision day (two days before the main event). And also, given that our loved ones are making such an effort to be there on our special day,  I would love to have sunshine as much as for them as for us. But what will be will be. I’ve learned a lot during this process about not stressing over things you can’t control. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s another part of growing up. And on the whole, I think we’re both doing pretty well. Next stop: tripping the light fantastic and dancing on sunbeams with unicorns. Bring it on.

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Eight Secrets to Beating the Winter Blues

1. Have friends in far flung places – It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes speaking to friends who live in warmer climes conjures up feelings akin to actually being there (plus it’s good to keep in touch should you find yourself with spare holiday to use up before the end of the financial year..)

2. Make homemade soup – It may not have a reputation as being the most exciting type of food, but homemade soup that is bursting to the brim with healthy vegetables is the best body, mind and soul food there is, except, that is, for…..

3. Eat chocolate (in all its glorious forms, but especially Dairy Milk Dime Bar Crunch and dark chocolate Liebniz biscuits) like it’s going out of fashion – Scientists the world over agree that chocolate makes us happy. Not only that, dark chocolate is even good for us. I rest my case, your honour.

4. Exercise regularly – yes it’s a royal pain in the backside having to go for a run when you’d rather be in the pub tucking into a roast and some mulled wine, but you know you’ll feel better once those endorphins have kicked in (not to mention less guilty when you do eventually get to the pub…)

5. Wear slipper socks  – There’s nothing nicer than getting in from a long day at the office, kicking off your shoes and transferring your tootsies into a nice toasty pair of slipper socks before you settle onto the sofa for the evening (hot water bottle and hot chocolate optional extras).

6. Have a massage – In the winter time our skin takes a bashing from the cold wind and plummeting temperatures, so why not stimulate it with some warming hands and essential oils? With all the cheap deals floating around on sites like Groupon these days, it’s a justifiable indulgence…

7. Buy some Radox ‘Uplifting’ pink grapefruit and basil shower gel – Once you’ve tried it your morning showers will never be the same again. Trust me.

8. Plan a January get away – The best way to cope with January is, well, to not be here for most of it. So why not book a break somewhere hot to ride out the most miserable month of the year? It’s not like anyone’s doing any work in the office anyway…

In Bruges

We arrived in Bruges yesterday evening. It was raining. Almost twenty four hours later I can report the rain has barely ceased. Fortunately, however, there are lots of fun things to do here in spite of the weather – as we have discovered today. This morning, after a hearty cooked breakfast, we walked to the chocolate museum, where we found out lots about the Mayans and their sacrificial activities, and learned about the origins of chocolate and its high ranking amongst the British aristocracy. After a chocolate making demonstration we wandered over to the brewery via some chocolate shops and a tea room, where we sampled chocolate tea (which I rather enjoyed but which the other half was less than enthusiastic about). The next available brewery tour was an hour after we arrived, so we made the most of sampling some local beers whilst we waited. The tour itself was well executed and informative, and afterwards we took full advantage of the beers available in the shop to take home to England for tasting sessions with friends.

Bruges is a funny place-charming and quaint with fantastic architecture and delicious food, yet also so full of tourists as to be, at times, almost soulless. The canals are beautiful but were today oft frequented by rain mac-clad foreigners sitting in boats clutching umbrellas. At every turn there seemed to be a walking tour.

It’s not all bad though. There are still delightful enclaves to be found, and last night’s dinner in a gorgeous haute cuisine canal-side restaurant that we stumbled across was just sublime. It’s now 7.20pm and we’re off in search of seafood and cocktails. Until tomorrow…

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In another life

If you had to choose five alternative careers what would they be? I’ve thought about this question for some time and my five (besides being a famous author, which I haven’t put on the list since I’m hopeful it might yet happen) would be:

1. Restaurant critic

It’s no secret that I love food (the only eating disorder I’d ever be capable of would be extreme binging – without the post-binge purge), so I’ve always thought being a restaurant critic would be right up my culinary street. Can you imagine making a living out of stuffing your face? Not only that-stuffing your face with top quality fare (because I’d obviously only be sampling the delights of the top rated Michelin star restaurants, not Happy Eaters or Wetherspoons. Hang on, do Happy Eaters even exist any more? Oh God, I think I may be showing my age).

2.Chocolate/cheese/wine taster (ideally all three)

On the same theme as number one, this is a no brainer. Chocolate, cheese and wine are unquestionably three of my favourite things, so why wouldn’t I want to spend my working day sampling them? One possible danger of this career choice would be risking getting sick of what you spend all day tasting. Possibly also the high chance of becoming morbidly obese and/or an alcoholic. Would still be fun though-for a while at least…

3.Photographer

I have my second job to thank for my  interest in photography. A colleague – who sadly passed away from a brain tumour while I was working there – taught me the basics of working in a studio with an SLR camera, and when I subsequently went travelling I bought my own second hand SLR to take with me. In the years since I’m ashamed to say the manual settings have taken a back seat in favour of automatic, and after my camera died a death (RIP Canon EOS 3D) I reverted to taking snaps on my phone, as I still do today. The iphone does have a good camera but nothing beats the feel of an SLR in your hand and the thrill of capturing a really crisp, professional looking shot. I wish I hadn’t let my photography skills slide. I think I’ve got an eye for a good picture and could have been a good professional photographer.

4.Travel journalist

Another no-brainer; I love to travel, I love to write, hence getting paid to do both would pretty much be my dream career. It’s not hard to see why this is one of the most sought after and competitive careers out there. But a girl can always dream…

5.Psychologist

I studied psychology as an undergraduate, and have always wondered whether I should have pursued it as a career. I’m interested in all of the theory (in particular Freud’s psychoanalysis) but in practice I was never all that academically minded, and I was beyond useless at statistics. Perhaps I’m just looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but if I had my time again I might just consider taking it forward. Fortunately I now have a job that has an element of psychology to it, so I suppose I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Thinking about it, in one way or another my life does incorporate most of the things I’ve mentioned, it’s just that not all of them bring financial gain. And as everyone knows money can’t buy happiness, that suits me just fine.

 

Of course another career could have been as a pop star. I think I look right at home with McFly in this picture, taken way back when they came to play at McDonald’s on the Strand for competition winners when I worked for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Can’t think why they didn’t ask for a duet…

A Chocolatey Affair

Today, rather than write a fictional story or bore you with the woes of job hunting, I want to talk about chocolate; how it makes me feel, how it tastes in my mouth and generally the myriad ways in which I believe it improves my existence – because I really do.

Take this afternoon for instance. I returned from a gruelling TEN MILE (impressed? Please be impressed) run and dragged my weary limbs into the shower, before dressing and resuming work at my desk. But something was missing. Ah, I thought, a cup of tea! For truly no afternoon of work can be complete without one (doesn’t it say that in the Bible or something? “And on the seventh day, God kicked back with a cup of PG Tips and observed all he had done.” No? Well it should do).  

No sooner had I made my tea than the feeling of something being amiss returned. Then it occurred to me how nice it would be to have a little post-workout treat as an accompaniment. I duly delved into my bag of Christmas treats and was distressed to find the box of Lindor chocolates which I had been systematically working my way through was – shock horror– empty. Fearing the worst I ran my hand around the inside of the bag. My hand settled on a small square box. As I pulled it out a wave of happiness washed over me, for it was not just any chocolatey treat, it was the Holy Grail of chocolatey treats: A Chocolate Orange.

I know from an unpleasant previous experience that the Chocolate Orange should be savoured and not gorged upon. If you ate it whole in one sitting you would have consumed most of your day’s calories, and would most likely feel rather nauseous to boot. But dipping a few segments into a mug of steaming tea and letting them melt onto your tongue is an experience I defy anyone – other than those who are allergic to chocolate, don’t like chocolate, or who are allergic to or don’t like orange – not to enjoy.

My adoration of chocolate doesn’t stop at Lindor and Chocolate Orange; far from it. I’m currently having a love affair with salted caramel in all its scrumptious chocolatey forms, and dark Lindt chocolate with sea salt is so divine it’s almost worth killing for (not that I endorse killing in any form, you understand). Dark chocolate with chilli is definitely worth a punt for the more adventurous aficionados. And don’t even get me started on Reese’s Cups – chocolate and peanut butter together? Dribble.

I suppose in light of this obsession it’s easy to see why I was a chubby child. My grandmother used to cut up Mars bars in a bowl for me to eat, and mum would often bring chocolate éclairs (the fresh cream variety – NOM) when she came to collect me from school. Being the product of a broken home, I think she used such treats to assuage her guilt at my sibling-less, father-less, state, though in reality I was as happy as a sand boy stuffing my face and playing with my Polly Pockets.

Fortunately after shedding the puppy fat and discovering exercise I managed to regulate my weight, whilst still occasionally indulging in my favourite treat. Over the years my habit has waxed and waned depending on my mood and situation. I wouldn’t say I use chocolate as a crutch, exactly, but I do find it comforting to eat every now and again – particularly after a bad day or a vigorous exercise session, when I can eat it guilt-free knowing I deserve it.

“Everything in moderation” is a phrase I’ve used many a time, and never has it been more appropriate than when it comes to chocolate. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a disgustingly chocolatey dessert after a meal in a nice restaurant, but if I ate it morning, noon and night the pleasure would evaporate and it would no longer be a treat but rather something commonplace.

We have a great relationship, Chocolate and I. But it’s a good job I’ve a half marathon to train for whilst I’m facing unemployment because, between you, me and the Mars bar, I think my consumption may just be on the rise.

Now, where did I put that Chocolate Orange again?

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Food glorious food

I’m not a natural cook, but stick me in a kitchen with some simple raw ingredients, a recipe book and a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio and I’ll have a damn good crack at producing something that’s half way edible. Without a recipe I’m rather less confident, with a vastly reduced repertoire consisting mainly of, well, spaghetti Bolognese. But to me it doesn’t matter what I cook, it’s the act of cooking I find enjoyable. The problem is that I, like many others, rarely make the time to do it.

The sad fact is when working all the hours God sends its often cooking that drops off most peoples’ registers. And who can blame them? If you’re routinely trooping through your front door after nine o’clock each night the last thing you feel like doing is deboning a sea bass and whipping up a pomegranate and red wine jus. Far easier to whack a frozen ready meal in the microwave, or even grab the nearest takeaway menu and slump onto the sofa.

But the funny thing is that if you can find the strength to drag yourself into the kitchen and create something from scratch, it has an oddly therapeutic effect. I don’t know whether it’s the act of cooking itself – chopping and grating, seasoning and tasting – that is so soothing or the fact the time spent doing it creates much needed space for your brain to relax. But whatever it is I believe that cooking is good for the soul.

And then there’s eating. I’ve often posited that I would be an exceptional candidate for a career in competitive eating, such is my love of (and inability to produce normal-sized plates of) food. Diets have never held much sway with me, for I come from the school of thought that suggests food is one of the great pleasures of life. Why should we deprive ourselves of what we love?

As long as you’re not stuffing yourself with saturated fats at every opportunity the occasional treat is fine – my particular weaknesses being chocolate and Big Mac meals on a hangover (I am eating chocolate as I write this). Everything in moderation, including (and yes, I know this is boring) regular exercise is the way to lead a healthy and contented life – not existing on Ryvita with a hot water and paprika chaser from dawn until dusk. Where’s the joy in that? I’ll take an extra roll of back fat over shoulder blades so sharp they can cut through glass any day of the week.

Now where’s that takeaway menu…

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I couldn’t write a post about my love of food without referencing this bad boy: The Breakfast Burrito, which weighs about the same as a newborn baby. The first time I ordered one of these on Koh Tao I was told most people can only manage half. Needless to say I ate the whole thing in minutes and returned most mornings afterwards to do the same. It was, in short, an artery-hardening lump of wickedly delicious ingredients, and if it shortened my life by a few months (as I’ve no doubt it did) then all I can say is that it was very much worth it. So there.