Week 23 woes

I knew January would be hard, but this is something else. Navigating the rollercoaster of a stressful job all week, then spending every weekend trying to pull off my end of year master’s assignment would be brutal if I wasn’t pregnant. But it is what it is. The only way out is through. So on I go.

Last night I went to see the doctor. When I stepped on the scales she raised an eyebrow and told me I had put on 3kg in a month. Apparently rather more than the 1.5kg she would have expected. She put it down to ‘Christmas eating’ (fair) and told me to cut down my sugar intake (cue immediate guilt about the double sized portion of egg custard tart I had consumed not two hours before my appointment). She told me my blood pressure was low. I told her I was stressed, so she wrote me a prescription for a magnesium supplement, asked if I needed a doctor’s note for some time off work. I’d love that, frankly, but right now it’s not the solution.

I’m trying to manage my stress better. It’s strange knowing that now I’m not just responsible for myself but another tiny human. Whereas before I would have pushed through the pain barrier, stayed late every night in the office, deprived myself of sleep and food and whatever else stood in the way of hitting deadlines, now I just can’t do it. I’ve set myself boundaries – not working past 7pm being one of them. I’m also trying to adopt a ‘one day at a time’ mentality, focusing only on the things I can realistically achieve in each day, instead of the mountain of things I can’t. If it means deadlines sometimes can’t be achieved, then so be it. I’m human, not a machine.

Prenatal yoga three times a week is helping, but it’s not enough. So when it feels the walls are closing in – like last night – I’m just allowing myself to stop, talk to a friend, have a bath, do whatever I need to get my heart rate back down, my blood pressure back up. This baby is more important than work, than course, than anything. I have to prioritise him.

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Carry on Camping

My first experience of camping was Glastonbury 2005. Fresh faced and only twenty three, I arrived with a bright pink two man tent (for two people! What was I thinking?! Total novice) and solar powered shower, feeling so upbeat I could have taken on the world. Five hours later, lightning lit the artificial sky above my head in violent, neon pink, screams rang out across the field below, and the constant dripping on my forehead had me contemplating the efficacy of Chinese water torture. It was, in short, horrific, and the sight of toppled porta-loos and police divers searching for shocked campers’ passports in a soupy sea of mud the next morning did little to bolster my spirits. Nor the sheer effort of walking more than ten paces, the gloopy mud clamping my wellies in its vice-like grip with every step, making extrication an almost superhuman feat. Still, at least I was in a better position than another member of our party, who, on waking in the night to find his tent filling with water, grabbed his pen knife and proceeded to cut his way out of his tent (an inadvisable act when you are to spend the next four nights sleeping in aforementioned tent, and the weather forecast shows no immediate sign of improvement).

You’d think, on the basis of that experience, that I would never have attempted camping again. But despite the harsh conditions, that weekend spawned a love affair with festivals that has spanned more than a decade hence. And since I’ve hitherto not had the funds to upgrade to a gold-plated yurt complete with midget butler (or whatever else it is the cool kids do these days in their VIP areas), the humble tent and backpack combo has been used time and again – though always as an enabler, rather than a leisure pursuit in its own right.

So you can imagine my surprise at having ACTUALLY ENJOYED my first experience of CAMPING JUST FOR FUN, the recent spell of glorious summer weather having lured us at the weekend to a campsite in the Vresse-sur-Semois region of the Belgian Ardennes. Granted, there were a LOT of static homes and caravans where we stayed (our little tent stood out like a sore thumb), and we were woefully underprepared compared to some of the seasoned pros there (reversing our car to the barbecue so we could sit in the boot whilst eating, because we hadn’t brought any chairs), but overall my first time at a camp site was very positive. It had drinking water, clean toilet and shower blocks, and even a bar (God love those boozy Belgians-like home away from home). All that, and our pitch was located right beside the river, which was lovely.

After pitching our tent on Saturday we walked the kilometer into Bohan, passing a broken bridge that told of how the region suffered in WWII (the whole area felt steeped in history, which was fascinating). After failing to procure the bicycles our campsite host had tried to organise for us through a local vendor, we opted for an eleven kilometer hike through the forest, which was beautiful and challenging in equal measure – the main challenge being the near-constant horse fly attacks along the route. Three hours after we set off, we arrived back at the campsite, dirty and tired but exhilarated, and ready to prepare our barbeque supper and have a drink in the bar before bed.

On Sunday we woke surprisingly late, thanks to my sensible suggestion of positioning the tent in an area that would be shaded from the morning sun. We showered, packed up, bade our neighbours goodbye, and drove the four kilometres to Vresse, from where we hired a two person kayak. This was by far my favourite part of the weekend. Horseflies aside (those little bastards), we spent a very pleasant couple of hours cruising along the river, culminating in a palpitation-inducing accidental rapid navigation, after we failed to spot the signs and went the wrong way down a river channel (filmed by several amused looking tourists).

By the time we arrived back in Brussels, two hours after we set off, we were exhausted but revitalised. Despite only being away for one night it felt like a holiday, and made us realise how much we need weekends like that in our life, to rebalance the relative stresses of work and socialising. Sometimes there is nothing like switching off your smartphone, taking off your watch and getting amongst nature. It makes you feel alive, reminds you what life’s all about and, above all else, shows you can have adventure anywhere, if you just seek it out.

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The Power of Touch

Everyone has a ‘thing’ that helps them to achieve ultimate relaxation. For some it might be listening to music, for others reading a book or meditating. Whilst I do love all those past times, my ‘thing’ would have to be, absolutely and unequivocally, massage. Why? Because not only does the feeling of another person’s fingers connecting with your skin feel toe-curlingly sensual, it’s also recognition that you need – and more importantly deserve – time out from your normal routine. It’s decadent, extravagant and too expensive (for most of us mere mortals) to be a regular occurrence, which makes it all the more enjoyable. As an ardent traveller it also takes me back to exotic places I’ve visited like Bali, conjuring up the many sights, sounds and smells I experienced there.

Today I had my first massage in a depressingly long time at the Tantalizing Spa in Pimlico. I’d bought it as a Wowcher deal last month for a paltry £14, so in truth I didn’t have the highest of hopes for its quality. How wrong I was. The spa doesn’t look much from the outside but the room I was led into was cosy and beautifully decorated. The massage table was so comfortable it felt like lying on a cloud. And the massage itself was just…Wow. This lady clearly knew her stuff, as an hour later her finger tips had melted my rubbish day away and left me feeling fantastic. I floated out of the salon and down the road to the tube station without once feeling the need to check my phone or my watch. I also noticed that my walking pace had slowed compared to normal, which for me is a sure sign relaxation has set in.

But the real treat came as I was heading for the door and my masseuse offered me a second massage for half the normal price if I came back within a month. With such positive benefits to both mind and body, it would have been rude to turn her down…

Escape to the country

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It may be rose tinted glasses syndrome that’s responsible for the long, unbroken childhood summers in that are forever etched in my memory, but I can’t help feeling the last few summers have been distinctly underwhelming here in this great country I call home-which is precisely why I’m squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of this one and have this weekend been down to Devon for a bit of country living in the August sunshine.

City living’s so fast paced it’s easy to get totally swept along with the tide and lose all semblance of tranquility. That’s why I love escaping every now and then to a place where the phone signal and electricity are intermittent and the pace of life considerably more sedate. Not sedate for the people who live here, perhaps, but certainly for those of us who are fortunate to be able to visit once in a while.

At first it’s quite a shock to the system being partially “offline” and adjusting to not having to check your watch every five minutes. But once you have adjusted it’s blissful going with the flow and spending time with nature instead of being constantly “plugged in” to one form of technology or other.

This weekend we’ve been to a village fete – where we spent ages trying to beat one another playing a simple game involving putting bits of pipe onto a board in the fastest time (take that Candy Crush) – and attended the obligatory post-event booze up in the local pub. We’ve also driven and walked through beautiful Devonshire countryside and sat down to a lovely roast pork dinner. If not exactly relaxing (we haven’t really stopped at any point to rest per se) it has at least been refreshing for our minds and bodies to take a break from the normal frenetic London lifestyle. Without the odd weekend like this I think I might go slightly mad, so long may they-and indeed this glorious and long-awaited summer-last.

 

Maritime adventures and Philharmonic fun

This weekend I managed to escape the rat race and head down to Rochester to spend the weekend with friends from my Borneo volunteering experience in 2011. The purpose for the visit, besides a general meet up, was to visit one member of the group who has recently bought a house boat (and accompanying berth) on the Medway Marina.

Having always loved being beside the water this was an ideal excursion for me and, though the summer heat wave was taking a slightly disappointing impromptu break, we had a great day lunching on the boat and walking along Baty’s Marsh. At one stage during the walk there were scenes of high drama when we heard a monumental crash and ran back to the main road, to find a hysterical woman who had crashed her Audi into a barrier. Fortunately our Raleigh expedition medic was with us and was able to help calm the woman down until the police arrived.

In the evening we had a barbecue at the marina before walking the half hour to Rochester Castle for a Proms concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (buying tickets for this was possibly the most grown up I’ve ever felt). None of us knew what to expect and we were taken aback by the organisation (almost everyone had thought to bring camping chairs) and the sea of Union Jack flags. We found a spot on the perimeter to lay our picnic rug down and duly proceeded to enjoy the evening’s festivities – in particular the awesome fireworks display at the end of the night (which my brain found somewhat confusing given that fireworks are normally restricted to November).

A night cap at the marina boat yard when we had walked back rounded off what had been a perfect day, and we rested our heads aboard the splendid Sovereign B&B boat. All in all it was a thoroughly British weekend – stubborn weather included – and I loved every second.

Hot tub dreamin’

Since Hot Tub Cinema the other week hot tubs have (unsurprisingly, I suppose) been on my mind. And not just my mind, it would seem, as a friend of mine has now decided he wants to hire a garden full of inflatable ones for his upcoming birthday (how brilliant is that?!)

Looking back beyond hot tub cinema I think the seed of my obsession may actually have been planted last summer when, two days before I was due to attend the Secret Garden Party festival in Cambridge, a friend who’d had to drop out offered me her ticket for ‘Bathing in the Sky.’ For the princely sum of twenty-something pounds I had procured a ticket to what I couldn’t have known then would prove to be a lifeline on the third day of a particularly muddy festival.

Inside this veritable Garden of Eden were not only the most delightful wooden hot tubs, set amongst a leafy green Hobbit-esque enclave away from the grubby horrors of the camp site and stages, but also shower facilities that would leave even the filthiest of revellers gloriously clean. In short, the two hours I spent there with my boyfriend and my best friend were amongst the best of my life, and I emerged feeling like a new woman.

Given my soon-to-be-part-time employment status I’ve no idea why I started browsing the internet and torturing myself with all of the amazing hot tub options on the market (although I couldn’t help but notice Arctic Spas do an ‘extreme bargain’ option on reconditioned, used hot tubs – surely I could save up for one of those?!), but what I am increasingly beginning to feel is that, until I have a hot tub to call my own, I simply will not have ‘arrived’ in life.

Picture this: After a hard day’s work you come home, walk through the door, hang your coat up and go upstairs to change into your fluffy white bath robe and slippers. Moments later you walk through the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of chilled Prosecco and open up the doors to the patio, upon which sits a glorious hot tub. Steam swirls invitingly up from its surface as you remove your robe and sink beneath the water. Within moments your troubles are all but forgotten and you are transported somewhere else entirely; your muscles relax, you close your eyes and you are home. Doesn’t everyone dream of this?

Okay, maybe not everyone, but few could deny a hot tub is a welcome addition to any ski holiday. Thus far in my skiing career (and I use the word ‘career’ loosely) I can’t say I’ve been able to afford a chalet with its own private hot tub, but just as in my previous example I imagine it would be a thing of great beauty and a most enjoyable experience to dip a post-ski frozen toe into the warmth of the water within.

It’s the decadence, really, that I covet. Nobody needs a hot tub to survive, granted, but what a lovely treat to come home to. There must surely be some research somewhere on the positive benefits of owning one; I’d hazard a guess they reduce stress in much the same way as owning a cat (though don’t quote me on that).

But until my freelance career sky rockets I’m sad to say my dream of owning a hot tub – reconditioned or otherwise – looks to be just that: A dream. So in the meantime I suppose I’ll have to make do with stroking the cat (and, come to think of it, I should probably start saving for a house to put the hot tub in…)

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Time out

I probably shouldn’t admit to being short of inspiration today, but there you have it: My confession. It’s been a taxing start to the year, to say the least, and I’ve exhausted all of my energy stores – both mental and physical. Training for next weekend’s 16 mile run isn’t helping on the physical front, but it has at least given me a focus for which I’ve been grateful in my lower moments; hard as it is to get out and running when the axe of redundancy (or any other challenging life event) is hovering over your neck, it really is true what they say about exercise making you feel better. Though I’m still not convinced I’m going to enjoy tomorrow morning’s scheduled 12 mile run in the rain….

But this is not to be a negative post, far from it. I’ve found a new job that I’m itching to start, have already got some freelance irons in the fire and genuinely feel this period of change will be the making of me – I’m just looking forward to the change phase being over and the new phase being underway, because it’s the change phase itself that’s so very tiring.

Rather than go home and slump on the sofa this evening (as is my body’s inclination) I’ve decided to be proactive in beating the tiredness, and am planning a return to the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Putney for its evening Satsang class. The Centre is a branch of the ashram in Kerala (southern India) where I did a two week residential yoga course in 2011. Satsang is a free class which comprises a twenty to thirty minute group meditation session, followed by 45 minutes of mantra chanting and a talk on the philosophy of yoga. It sounds a bit crack pot, I’ll admit, but I actually find the whole thing very relaxing, and a great way to ‘switch off’ the mind after a long day or period of stress. To any disbelievers reading this post I will say only this: Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

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Writing this post reminded me of the few days post-ashram when I and two of my fellow ashramees [sic] spent a few days on the coast, in Kovalam. This pic was when we were still full of the enthusiasm of regular yoga practice – how times have changed (for me at least, I can’t speak for the others!)