Five people that win… May

1. This cat.

2. Conchita.

3. (The poems and stories of) Maya Angelou.

Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.

I feel a bit weird putting Maya Angelou in this list, as she sadly passed away on the 28th, at the age of 86. However, she was such a wonderful person, and so inspiring, that I felt I had to acknowledge her passing here. Below is a clip of her reciting the wonderful poem And Still I Rise. I also love the poem Phenomenal Woman. Oh and who can fail to be moved by On the Pulse of the Morning, written for andrecited at the inauguration of President Clinton. I”m planning on filling my suitcase with many works of hers when I go on holiday next week.

Rest in Peace, phenomenal woman.

4. The people of Nottingham.

I defy you to watch this without getting a little weepy.

5. Solange / Jay-Z.

Well I think one wins, and the other qualifies for Villain of the Month. However, it’s hard to say which is which, and I guess we’ll probably never know. Certainly the celebrity story of the month (sorry Kimye – although you fought hard, and gave a good battle with your hot pastor.)

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them … Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like … Be certain that you do not die without having done something wonderful for humanity.

– Maya Angelou

Life is a theatre set in which there are but few practicable entrances.

Last week I went to see Punch Drunk’s latest show The Drowned Man at Temple Studios near Paddington.

(Image taken from the National Theatre website)

(Image taken from the National Theatre website)

I was filled with trepidation before I went, for a number of reasons. Firstly – immersive theatre. I had no idea what to expect, I was kind of thinking along the lines of The London Dungeon with some interpretive dance thrown in for good measure. What if they jump out at me from behind a curtain? What if they – god forbid – make me join in? I’m not a joiner. I prefer passive participation to getting up on stage and improvising a moving scene with nothing but a stranger and a prop for company. Secondly, I had heard some mixed reviews from friends about the show. Some people seem to have found it completely transformative, practically giving up all other social interaction in favour of going to see the show as often as possible, ekeing out as much meaning from it as they could. Others, however, were more lukewarm – one saying that the shoe was so busy they could never shake the other audience members and it didn’t feel like an intimate show as much as a bunch of people in masks straining to hear what was being said by people they could barely see. And another just felt kind of baffled by it all, not knowing if the people they were watching were the right choices, and always feeling there was something better they were missing just around the corner.

But mainly the London Dungeon thing.

When we first arrived at the venue – a huge ex-postal sorting office set over 5 floors – I was nervous to say the least. This wasn’t helped by the fact that almost immediately after entering my sister and I lost the rest of our group. No matter, we thought, we’ll just simply don our Eyes Wide Shut-esque masks of doom and carry on. Almost immediately we lost ourselves in this strange world of film studios and dive bars – and when we emerged  -separately –  blinking into the bar three hours later we couldn’t wait to find out what we each had discovered and how it added to what we had learnt on our adventures

I don’t want to give much away, because most of the joy in the evening is in discovering it for yourself, but briefly – the story is based on Woyzeck – a stage play by Georg Buchner – and tells two mirrored stories of adultery and murder.

As I said before, we spent 3 hours in there, and the time just flew by. I started off going around with my sister, but when she got taken into a room by the mysterious (and very creepy) doctor, I spent the rest of the time choosing my own path, and it’s this way I really think you get to make the most of your time there.

Punchdrunk: Sophie Bortolussi in The Drowned Man

(Image taken from theguardian.com)

It’s hard to describe what you see when you’re in there, as everyone has a very different experience depending on which characters they choose to spend time with (and there are a lot to choose from – 40 in total I think, although doubt I even saw half of them) – but the atmosphere really is everything, with the lighting and music and dark corridors all adding to the impending sense of tragedy.

And it’s very easy to find yourself alone. Completely alone. Some of those rooms, man. Nightmares are born in there.

The dancing and choreography was spectacular – particular standout moments for me were William and Mary’s duet on the car, Dwayne’s descent into madness in the desert and Wendy’s beautiful and moving solo dance through the forest. This was so beautifully lit , with the lighting coming from behind putting her in silhouette as she danced through the trees it was almost magical.

Although I don’t think I’m a confirmed groupie, I definitely want to see this again, following different characters and seeing what more I can glean of the stories. From talking to my friends at the end there were whole character arcs and plot points I had missed – just as there were for them when they heard my experience. Things like my tales of the sound effects girl who takes her job a little too seriously were met with blank looks from my friends, whilst I was just bemused when they all started talking about the postcards they’d seen get passed around. It’s all part of the mystery.

If you haven’t already seen this, I highly recommend that you do so. Get tickets from the National Theatre website here – the prices start at 35 pounds, and it looks like it’s on until July. Don’t be put off by the “immersive” tag, just take a deep breath and go with it – it’s worth it, and the more you put in, the more you get out of it. Oh, and wear comfortable shoes – if you do it right, you’ll cover a lot of ground while you’re in there. And maybe come out of the other side a changed person.

Today’s quote is from Victor Hugo in Les Miserables.

Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.

Whilst at a recent “awayday” (*shudder*) at work, we had a session on mindfulness, and how to take this concept and apply it to our everyday lives. Mindfulness is having a “bit of a moment”, with everyone from Google to Arianna Huffington to the World Bank getting on board. Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. There’s lots of interesting stuff about it around – including on the NHS pages, and I think it’s well worth a look if you feel like the stresses of life are getting you down and you need a way to calm some of the noise.

Now, I’m normally a bit of a cynic about these things – especially when it seems to be a “movement”, and has been co-opted by big finance companies with a need to show their caring, fluffy side – Google’s mindfulness guru is known as Jolly Good Fellow, fyi, but a few things said at the session really struck a chord  – and I started to think about how I could and incorporate some of this into my everyday life.

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Like totally zen man.

I also recently came across an article in the New York Times on “mindless accumulation”, which is something I think we all need to be more aware of – I don’t think  there’s nothing wrong with having things and liking things (I do love things. I really do.) – but when it crosses over into getting more more more, just for the sake of it, I think we have to question our motives – and our sanity. The article refers specifically to earning wages, and reports an interesting study where subjects were made to listen to white noise in order to receive chocolates as a reward. Despite saying at the beginning of the study how much chocolate they would be able to consume, they carried on listening to the white noise well beyond this point – for the sake of getting more chocolate than they could eat (they couldn’t take any extra away with them).

The impulse seemed less pronounced, even mixed, with the low earners. They earned less chocolate than they predicted they could eat. But the high earners and the low earners listened to about the same amount of obnoxious noise in the five-minute period, which Dr. Hsee said strongly suggested that both groups were driven by the same thing: not by how much they need, but by how much work they could withstand.

How applicable is this to the real world, where people earn money, not chocolate, and can’t predict how long life will last, or whether they will need resources to prepare for a calamity? Hard to say, but the study does show that even when people know clear boundaries — that they absolutely can’t take the candy with them when they go — they still earn more than they can possibly use.

So with all that in mind, I thought I would come up with a few things I could take on board which might make everything a little more peaceful and calm in my life.

1. Turn off my screen at night

This is gonna be hard, man. I am an unconscious (subconscious?) phone checker. I look at it constantly. I take it to bed with me and it’s the last thing I look at before I go to sleep (poor boyfriend) and the first thing I look at when I wake up – unless the cat has climbed on to my chest in the middle of the night and is doing her weird creepy stare-y thing. I don’t even know why I do it half the time, it’s almost a kind of compulsion. So no more looking at my phone while in bed. I’m going to start leaving it charging downstairs and everything. Well, at some point I will do this. Baby steps.

2. Five minutes a day of quiet brain time

Again, I think this is going to be a hard one. I’m not talking full on meditation here. Just five minutes where I’m not looking at my phone, talking on my phone, looking at a computer, reading a book, reading a paper, listening to music, watching TV, making endless to-do lists in my head, berating myself for all that I haven’t yet done… You get the picture. Just five minutes of quietening my brain, thinking about breathing, and just being. That’s all.

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I would probably meditate more if I could somehow incorporate staring at a picture of Ryan Gosling. (Image taken from IMDB)

3. Do something creative every day

Now I don’t mean creating a masterwork or knitting a sweater in an evening, I just mean making the effort to do something other than work/slobbing out in front of the TV/passively enjoying something. So my choir is included in this, as is writing a blog post – and of course, baking, knitting and sewing are all included.

4. Eat at the table

I haven’t broached this one with my boyfriend yet, so we’ll see how this one turns out. At the moment our dining table is covered in sewing paraphernalia and Stuff (I like stuff, did I mention that), so our dinners are inevitably spent balancing plates on our laps in front of Game of Thrones. But just once a week I am pledging to eat my dinner at the table like a proper grown up. This is inevitably going to be easier during the summer months as we’ve already had as many BBQs as we can cram in, eating outside at the garden table. But we’ll see!

5. Buying once stuff I love

I read a great tip once – only buy it if it makes you do a dance in the dressing room. And that about sums it up. Buy it if I love it, not because it’s on sale or because I think I should get it, or just well it’s ok and it will probably go well with that skirt maybe if I put a belt on. Just be more mindful.

What do you think – could any of these help make a difference? Or do you do any of these already? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Today’s quote is from Mother Theresa.

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.

A little while back I wrote about my struggle to get up off my backside and move my legs – well, I thought I’d give a little update on how that was going! Last Saturday was the night me and my friend were aiming for – the Nike women’s run We Own the Night. Just a short little 10k around Victoria Park.

Like my sexyface?

This is my race face.

The training had gone pretty well – giving myself something to aim for, and something that I couldn’t just dismiss as not requiring training, meant that I had run out of excuses – and even got out and about in the pouring rain, which quite frankly shows a keenness beyond all normal bounds of sanity. The picture below was taken on my rainiest run in the 18 months I’ve been visiting Judith.

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Turns out I love a peace-sign selfie.

My friend Nat and I had got out once to run together, which went pretty well (we found the optimum running speed which meant we could keep up a good gossip at the same time. There’s probably a scientific formula for it)

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Surprisingly chipper for two people about to run over 6 miles.

Before the race, the longest distance Nat had run for was about 5k, and she was expecting to keep up a routine of running-walking throughout the race, so she was feeling nervous before the start. The atmosphere was great though, with music playing and MC-ing by Daddy Dark from Run Dem Crew – and everyone was chatting to each other whilst we waited for the start. We spoke to two other ladies who were also just hoping to get around, and the lady to the other start was covered in fairy lights. Not like any other race I’ve been to!

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Everyone loves a high-five.

The course was also great fun – and the friendliest I’ve ever done. It’s the only run I’ve ever done where you could hear people chatting all around you, and we even chatted to a few people as we went around. Throughout the course at various places there was music playing, bands, and disco tunnels of light to keep us entertained. And dancing (like our legs weren’t suffering enough). There were people cheering all the way around, making us feel like a million dollars (“Who owns the night?” “We do!”) – and we managed to see our boyfriends twice on the way round for a sneaky high-five to keep us going.

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Victory is ours!

Nat was an absolute machine. At about 4k I said to her “I reckon you’re going to run this all the way round” and she just smiled and said “I am! I’m going to run it!” And she did! Ran all the way – I was so proud of her. We even managed a sprint finish over the line, which is the only way to end a race in my view.

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We totally did.

The race was great fun, although I think Nike needs to rethink the course a little bit. We were the last pen to start, and by the time we got going, the fastest wave were on their second lap. I don’t mind being overtaken, but I think we all got in the way and might have prevented a few PBs. Next time they should cordon off a separate lane for the faster runners on their second leg. Or just get us slower lot started a bit earlier, as there was a lot of hanging around at the start, without much of an idea what was going on. We didn’t get much of a chance to check out the food and tents after the race, because the rain – which had luckily held out for the duration of the run – started coming down, and we were getting cold. We did manage to get the free glass of Prosecco though. Obviously.

I’ll definitely do this race again next year – it’s practically in my backyard, after all – and Nat and I are already checking out ParkRuns and future 10ks. Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we have a runner.

Today’s quote is from John Bingham – a marathon runner and writer.

However small the chance might be of striking lucky, the chance was there.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the latest book on my Roald Dahl odyssey, is perhaps his most famous, due to the various screen and stage versions (I wrote about the musical here). I enjoyed this so much more than James and the Giant Peach – perhaps because its more grounded in reality (well, within reason), perhaps just because I’m more familiar with it, and so it’s like slipping on a big fluffy bathrobe every time I open up a chapter. How quickly the commute melted away (ha – see what I did there) to be replaced with the magical world of Willy Wonka and his hardworking Oompa Loompas.

Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory

Published in 1964, the story tells the tale of Charlie Bucket, a young boy growing up in extreme poverty whos only means of escape from his life of drudgery is provided by a mentally unstable recluse who tortures young children for fun.

Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all if it hasn’t been whipped with whips. Just like poached eggs isn’t poached eggs unless it’s been stolen in the dead of night.

Well, not quite. There’s also a group of possibly illegal immigrants slash trafficking victims who never see daylight and only converse through naughty rhyme.

KIDDING! If you don’t know the story by now a) why not?? and b) go sort it out. Go on, I’ll wait. It’s only a slim novel. Hurry back.

It’s a great morality tale – who doesn’t whoop when the spoiled kids get their comeuppance, and cheer when goodness wins out over all – and told with the usual subversive charm and wit we all expect from Roald Dahl. No wonder it’s a perennial favourite, and been brought to life in so many different guises.

Mr Wonka: Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.

Charlie Bucket: What happened?

Mr Wonka: He lived happily ever after.

If you want more evidence of the twisted beauty of Roald Dahl’s storytelling, check out this thread about Snozzberries (which talks about the film, but the words are lifted straight from the book).

According to Wikipedia (and why would we doubt it), the story was originally inspired by Roald Dahl’s experience of chocolate companies during his schooldays – with Cadbury often sending testers to schoolkids, hoping to get their feedback on the new products. At the same time, Cadbury and Rowntree’s used to send spies – posing as employees – into each other’s factories to try and steal their secrets. Because of this, the world of chocolate-making became more and more mysterious, as they hid their methods – and their elaborate machinery – behind closed doors.

Roald Dahl Fact Of The Day: Did you know that he came up with The Gremlins? The term “gremlin” was originally coined by RAF pilots in the twenties (Roald Dahl himself served as an RAF pilot in World War II), as an explanation for anything that went wrong with their aircraft. In 1943, Dahl wrote his first ever children’s story about these creatures, as a commission for Walt Disney to accompany an animated film, that actually never got made. Roald Dahl writes about his experience in writing this story in his book of short stories The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, and this Roald Dahl fansite has more detail, including a link to the whole story!

Next on the list is The Twits, which I vividly remember reading back when I was a nipper. I hope the memory isn’t so vivid because I identify with the characters…

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.

It’s funny how friends you knew from school, growing up together as you battle through adolescence and beyond, can lead such different lives to you – yet when you see each other the years slip away and you’re giggling together like you’re still sitting at the back of the bus. As it was when my school friends and I recently met up for a long lazy pub lunch and country stroll – and I also got the chance to grill my friend Ben who has recently established Puddle Lane Duck Eggs, a farm supplying free range organic duck eggs. He currently has around 600 ducks, laying 450 eggs a day – and he will soon be increasing the number of ducks he has so that his farm produces eggs throughout the year (Apparently ducks lay eggs all year round, but they stop two months before their hatching date, and start again on their hatching date. How do they know?!)

Ducks. All the ducks. (Picture from organicduckeggs.com)

Ducks. All the ducks. (Picture from organicduckeggs.com)

Duck eggs are particularly good for baking, resulting in a much fluffier, more moist, better risen cake – this is apparently because they are higher in albumen and fat than their chicken equivalent. Also, the larger yolk to egg-white ratio, and because the yolks are richer and thicker, (Or as I said, the yolks are just more yolk-y. I’m good at the words.), they are much better for custards and creamy fillings. Not only that, but if you need to go gluten-free, use duck eggs as the extra protein in the whites will help bind the gluten free ingredients better. So what are you waiting for?

Ben was kind enough to give us all a dozen eggs to take home, with the promise that we would share with him the outcome of any baking. I decided to go for a simple Victoria sponge recipe as I thought the simple flavours would better show off the use of duck eggs then something more complicated (read: chocolatey).

Look at these beauties.

Look at these beauties.

I baked my sponge in two batches as I wanted to make a behemoth of a cake and I only have one 20cm cake tin. The first batch was a three-egger (a technical term I’ve coined), and for this I used 175g self-raising flour, 175g caster sugar, 175g butter and a teaspoon of vanilla. Cream the butter and sugar first before adding the egg and vanilla in stages, before finally folding in the sieved flour. Then bake in a lined tin for about 30 mins at 180 degrees, or until risen and golden in colour – it’ll be fully cooked when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, and the top is firm with a bit of bounce when you press down.

Oh so yolky.

Oh so yolky.

I then followed this up with a two-egger (seriously, I should copyright this s**t), and just changed my proportions accordingly (i.e. two-thirds of 175g is about 110-120g each of the other ingredients*. Unfortunately, I got a bit distracted and baked this second cake on the grill setting (Please note: not to be recommended, unless you like your cakes black on top and liquidy in the middle), and had to use another two of my eggs to make another batch.

(Since making the cake, I’ve read a few more recipes, and I think in future I will use the traditional Women’s Institute way of weighing the eggs in their shells, and then using the same weight in flour and caster sugar. This probably makes a lot more sense when using duck eggs as they are so much bigger. However, I don’t think it really made a difference to the bake – it was delicious as it was!)

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If all else fails, add more whipped cream.

History sidebar: Did you know that the Victoria sponge is so named because one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting (Anna, the Duchess of Bedford) used to get peckish at about four o clock (I hear you sister) and so created teatime to stave off the “sinking feeling” she got because lunch wasn’t big enough. Come on, we’ve all been there. You should see the stuff shoved in my office drawers to get me over the mid-afternoon slump.

At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs into her dressing room, but then started to invite friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o’clock in her rooms, of small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, and tea. Soon, Queen Victoria herself took up this craze – and declared the simple sponge cake to be her favourite of the cakes. See here for more information.

Did you also know, fact fans, that the Victoria Sponge is a cake baked on a tangled web of lies? Apparently a true sponge,  is made from a whisked mixture of eggs, sugar and flour, with no fat added.

Does the icing sugar mask the bitter taste of deceit? (Image brazenly taken from The Internet)

Does the icing sugar mask the bitter taste of deceit? (Image brazenly taken from The Internet)

Despite being a WI member, I don’t like jam. Don’t tell anyone, I don’t want to get excommunicated. So I instead filled my cake with lashings of whipped vanilla cream (just add the beans from a vanilla pod to the cream before you whip it up) and fresh strawberries. Sprinkle a bit of icing sugar over the top, all fancy-like, and off you go.

We really did notice a difference using the duck eggs. The sponge was such a beautiful yellow colour, it looked like it was out of a magazine, and the cake was deliciously moist and flavourful. (And he’s not paid me to say that). I’ll definitely be hitting Ben up for supplies next time we meet. For more information about his farm, take a look at his website  – but if you can’t get a hold of Ben’s eggs, do hunt out duck eggs at your local shop/market, and give them a go. You’d be surprised at the difference!

Words that lost all meaning to me in the writing of this post: yolk; sponge.

Today’s quote is from Douglas Adams

*You might not want to follow my half-assed recipe, and who can blame you! I recommend you look at this Guardian article about how to make the perfect Victoria Sponge, or even go straight to the mothership and use the WI recipe, which is given here.

 

 

 

 

Five people that win… April

1. Victoria Coren-Mitchell

A poker fiend – who knew! Not only was she the first woman to win the European Poker Tour back in 2006, but this April she went and won it again – becoming the first person ever to win twice. Not bad going. In 2009 she published a book – For Richer, For Poorer – A Love Affair With Poker – in which she describes how she came to fall in love with, and excel at, the game. I loved this quote from it, in which she describes winning the tournament in 2006:

And it feels like the moment when Alice has worked out how to get her hands on the little golden key, she has bitten into the magic mushroom and grown larger and smaller and larger and smaller but finally found her balance and taken the key and unlocked the door and she finds herself at last in the beautiful garden, among the bright flower beds and the cool fountains.

2. Mean Girls – 10 years old on the 30th April!

We’ll gloss over just quite how old that makes me feel, and just bow down at how awesome that film is, and how no teen movie since has really come close since it came out (Although perhaps Easy A is a contender. Another red-head lead actress. Coincidence?) . There are so many articles around at the moment celebrating its genius. A look back at the fashion, perhaps? Are you an expert? Take the quiz! (I scored a quite frankly disappointing 13 out of 20. So not fetch). Can you guess the quotes? (Incidentally, the Prince Charles Cinema in London does regular Mean Girls Quote-a-longs. I think I need to get some practice in.) The news that Tina Fey wants to adapt it into a stage musical just makes my little heart dance with joy.

3. John Green.

Ok. Full disclosure. I am 33 years old. I really have no business in celebrating the awesomeness of teen movies, and sobbing my way through Young Adult novels. But that’s where I am in my life and I own it. And if you’re going to inappropriately sob snotty tears on the tube whilst reading a book written for people nearly 20 years younger than you, then you should do it to a book written by this guy.

I’ve got my timings all wrong with this one, cause the book (The Fault in Our Stars) came out years ago, I read it last year, and the movie adaptation isn’t out until June. I don’t care. I found this interview with him in Vulture, and the extended trailer came out a couple of days ago, and so to me he qualifies for an April win. (My blog, my rules).

I’m gonna need a lot of tissues for this one.

4. Prince George

Breaking Antipodean hearts wherever he goes.

I know this is the future leader of my country, but - look at his little face!

I know this is the future leader of my country, but – look at his little face!

5. Ellen Page

Again, technically I should have put her in February. But this latest interview with her in Flare magazine just reminded me, and the world, what a role model should be. So I’m flaunting my non-existent rules once again.

 

Unrelated, but. Is it just me or does she look like Rose Byrne in this picture?

Unrelated, but. Is it just me or does she look like Rose Byrne in this picture?

And, seeing as I started this last month, I thought I would continue. April’s Villain of the Month just has to be King Joffrey. I will say no more for fear of spoilers, but… Aha. Ahahaahahaha. Aha. That is all.