Crawling towards Christmas

I’d have liked to have found the time today to write a festive piece of fiction; a story about the spirit of Christmas or some such like, or a heartwarming tale of inspiration and frivolity. Instead, I’ve been chasing my tail with marathon training, present wrapping and holiday packing, topped off with a final pre-Christmas evening with friends at a beautiful mews flat (what I wouldn’t give to have the kind of money to afford one of those) in Paddington, where mulled wine and homemade festive turkey offerings were plentiful (and gratefully received after the aforementioned training).

Tomorrow morning a two hour run awaits, after which it will finally be the long-awaited time to pack up and leave London for the holidays – this year being even more exciting than usual given the two week trip to Hong Kong and the Philippines that has been tacked onto the end of them.

Despite being two days into my break already I’m finding it hard to switch off and relax. I guess it’s not surprising that it takes our over stimulated minds a while to adjust to the slower pace of life that holidays bring, especially given how rare such occasions are for the vast majority of us. And it’s not just our minds-all too often our bodies go into a state of collapse the second we give them the chance to as well, resulting in unwelcome holiday illnesses that prevent us from enjoying the time we have been looking forward to for weeks or months in advance.

But rather than tempt fate by talking about ill health I shall stop here and retire to bed, in order to give myself the best chance of a truly Merry Christmas. The festive season so far has been joyous, here’s to the lovely days that still lie ahead.

image

Advertisements

Pamper Time

It’s been a bitch of a week, to be frank – from general exhaustion and unnecessary (although, I must admit, self-inflicted) stress to being reduced to tears in the office by a colleague, I’m quite happy to chalk this one down to experience and draw a very large line under it.

Given the above, coupled with the fact I put in an epic writing stint last night and managed to complete my NaNowrimo novel two days early, today’s spa day in Windsor with three of my best girl friends really couldn’t have come at a better time.

We four first had a night away together back in April, when we went to Brighton and spent the day on the beach and the night in a questionable club on the sea front (where we were about ten years older than the rest of the, er, ‘clientele’ – and that’s putting it nicely). This time, however, we are opting for a more relaxed affair, consisting of two hours in the spa, manicures and facials and a champagne afternoon tea at the Harte and Garter hotel in Windsor. Once pampered we will hit the town for cocktails at Browns and then dinner, after which we will retire to the hotel for a restful sleep. Bliss.

image

Eyes on the Prize

Aside

No writing has been achieved today, which isn’t ideal given that there are only three days left of NaNowrimo (two in which I will be able to write) and I’ve got a whopping 8,000 words to get down if I’m to chalk up another win. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I work best under pressure, so I’m just going to have to have faith in myself and hope that a couple of late night scribing sessions will be enough to see me through.

The truth is I’m shattered. Last night wasn’t the best night’s sleep as the wanderer had returned and was up to his usual nocturnal activities (not that i’m complaining as I love having him home – but, on that note, if anyone knows of any tips to help restless sleepers they’d be gratefully received). I can’t blame my tiredness entirely on my boyfriend’s return, however – I think it’s fair to say the relentless cycle of training and organising is finally beginning to take its toll.

Fortunately, however, I’ve only got thirteen more days of work before almost a month of holiday, so now it’s all about the countdown-I just have to keep spinning those plates for another few weeks and then I can relax. As far as a constantly on the move trip to a part of the world that’s recently been devastated by a natural disaster can be called ‘relaxing,’ that is…..

Duvet Day

Whilst slobbing around for a whole day in pyjamas isn’t normally my style, from time to time it’s great to give in to temptation and settle down in front of the TV with a fry up and a box set of DVDs (or, in these technologically advanced times, a laptop streaming a series directly from the internet). It’s especially rewarding when the weather outside is foul (tick) and there’s just enough food in the fridge to get you through the day without having to leave the flat or order a takeaway (double tick). Also, given that NaNoWriMo month is fast approaching and this may be the last lazy Sunday this flat sees for some weeks, I feel all the more vindicated for having made this decision.

Duvet days are (I believe I’m correct in asserting) a primary feature of most people’s university experience. Later in life, therefore, it’s rather enjoyable, on the odd occasion, to cast off the shackles of civilised society and revert to eighteen year old type. Characterised by an outright refusal to get dressed and a tendency to eat vast quantities of food whilst watching back to back episodes of the same television programme, Duvet Days are the perfect tonic for the modern overworked and overstimulated mind. Want to eat ice cream in your pants and stare into space for a few hours, troubling your mind with nothing more taxing than what channel to watch and whether to opt for coffee or tea? Go ahead my friend, because a Duvet Day is YOUR opportunity to do just that without experiencing a single iota of guilt. Now, will somebody pass the remote?

The lapsed athlete

Just when you think the Great British Summer is drawing to an end it pulls out all the stops for one last week to show you exactly what you’ll be missing for the next nine months. It’s somewhat appropriate, then, that I should today be attending a friend’s tropical-themed birthday party to make the most of this final hoorah. Without wanting to be selfish, however, I must admit I’d rather like the temperature to be a fraction on the cooler side for next Sunday’s half marathon. The closer the event has got the more my training seems to have tailed off, so I need all the help I can get to avoid keeling over half way through.

I was reminiscing yesterday (over my second pint of cider) about how seriously I took training for my first sprint distance triathlon in 2009. So terrified was I of being unable to complete the race that I went cold turkey for a month beforehand, giving up booze and fags (these were in the days of my being a dirty smoker) completely. With the second sprint I was a little more relaxed with my regime, though when the Olympic distance triathlon came around I really knuckled down with the training to avoid full scale cardiac arrest half way around the course.

My first long distance run was the Whole Foods Market run in Kingston in March this year. At sixteen miles it was a serious challenge for someone who had previously never run further than ten kilometres. I trained hard and, fortunately, it paid off, as I don’t think I would have managed to get around the course in the freak weather conditions (zero degrees and snowing at the end of March? Really?) had I not been at the peak of my physical fitness.

This time around, however, I seem to have adopted a rather more laissez faire attitude. I’ve put the time in and roughly followed the same schedule as for the March run, but if circumstances (read: social commitments / pub) have made it difficult to fulfil every running obligation then I (literally) haven’t sweated over it. The only big run I’ve missed to date is the nine miler I was planning for today (see previous comment about ciders in the pub to understand why that hasn’t happened), but there’s always tomorrow, right? Or maybe the day after…?

athlete

Escape to the country

This weekend I’ve opted out of London life, preferring instead to soak up the glorious sunshine in the sleepy Hampshire village of East Stratton. I’ll admit the weather’s been a stroke of luck; it wouldn’t have been quite as perfect if it had been grey and rainy, though still not that far off.

East Stratton is a picture postcard village, the kind of place the word idyllic was invented to describe. With beautifully restored thatched cottages, a village hall, church and quaint pub (where I’m staying tonight) opposite the village green it’s got pretty much everything a country village needs.

The pub is called the Northbrook Arms. As well as having all the trappings you’d expect from a country pub (including my particular weakness, a real fire) it has several guest bedrooms upstairs which are designed to a very high spec (think satin bed linen and mahogany furniture). It even has an old fashioned skittle alley located in one of the outbuildings, though I can’t say we’ve ventured in there yet (having been seduced by afternoon tea and a game of Scrabble sitting at the pub tables in the village green opposite).

In short, this place is the antithesis of the frenetic London lifestyle that we’ve come here to escape (albeit just for one night). It’s great to know that places like this exist right on our doorstep (East Stratton’s only an hour and a half’s drive out of London). I’ll definitely be reaping the rewards of this little break for some time to come.

 

 

Productivity and pressure

Today’s mot du jour (said in a sophisticated French accent, naturellement) is “productive.” It’s 11.07am as I type this and already I’ve run five kilometres on the treadmill, sifted through the reams of crap accumulated in my desk drawers during my sixteen months here (binning most of it and saving a few nuggets that may be of use later on), applied for my New York visa, ordered both my travel money and insurance and made an exhaustively comprehensive to do list covering virtually every remaining minute of my working day (and indeed beyond, as this evening I’ll be helping my boyfriend move into his new place by lugging a massive suitcase from one end of London to the other in the name of love – or lunacy, I’m not sure which).

In short, I’m in the midst of a necessary manic phase, which has got me thinking about the nature of pressure. I don’t know about you but I have a love hate relationship with pressure. When I’m under huge amounts of it I panic; my hands sweat, my head pounds, my breathing is shallow. Sometimes (too often) I turn into a whimpering, gibbering mess in the corner, claiming between sobs that it’s all too much, I just can’t do it. But then a funny thing happens; I remind myself to breathe, drag myself out of the corner, put the kettle on and sit back down at my desk. And then I simply carry on. And you know what? If it wasn’t for the pressure bearing down on me I often wouldn’t complete the task I’d set out to achieve in the first place. In other words, much as it stresses me out, pressure is an essential part of my productivity. I work better with it than without it – and that’s a fact.

At school and university I could often be found at 2am the night before an important exam, cramming every bit of information I possibly could into my brain. It wasn’t that I hadn’t bothered to revise (well, it wasn’t always that), I just couldn’t focus properly until I was under sufficient pressure to be able to block everything else out. I’ll never forget the week before my dissertation was due when it dawned on me I really had left it too late, and I had to pull out every last stop to deliver on time. My body’s reaction to that particular period of pressure was somewhat extreme – I blacked out whilst hyperventilating over the choice of finishing my dissertation and attending a party. Needless to say I eventually (and sensibly, as wasn’t always customary in those days) opted to stay in and finish the dissertation, and thankfully went on to clinch an upper second degree as a result.

In today’s society pressure is, whether we like it or not, all around us. We feel pressure to succeed in every aspect of our lives, from our jobs to our relationships and even in our hobbies. Even those who seem, on the face of it, to be at the top of their game – the company CEO, for example – are under constant pressure to deliver better, smarter, cheaper. But the reason such people get to the top of their game is because they’ve managed to get a handle on the pressure and make it work to their advantage. They’ve understood that often pressure is a good thing which provides a necessary catalyst for change (if you don’t think change is a good thing, see yesterday’s post which, I hope, will change your mind – geddit?).

Now I’m afraid I really must be off, I’ve got a million and one things to do before the day is out and my hands are getting clammy….

This photo shows me at a time when I was under considerable pressure – to host and deliver a successful end of expedition ceremony in Borneo in 2011. You can tell from the sweat on my brow I was nervous (and also brown – so brown, sigh…), but fortunately my effort was passable and the event was a success. See? Pressure in action. I rest my case.