{30/04/2012}   Hangovers

There can never be a hangover day when you don’t consider how much better life would be without alcohol.  I wasted my Sunday because of a good night out on Saturday.  Saturday night would have been just as good if I’d drunk half as much, spent half as much and felt like going out for the day on Sunday, as was the plan.

I awoke yesterday feeling unexpectedly fine but I just knew that a hangover was imminent.  Sure enough, by about 11.30 I felt wretched and tired.  No nausea and no headache (though I had taken a couple of paracetamol in anticipation) though.  Bar a walk to a local café for lunch and a walk later, I stayed in and felt the weight of a sad face and the knowledge that I was frittering away a precious day off.

I was alcohol chirpy after half a bottle of bubbly before going out.  If I’d just topped up the bubbles in moderation, maybe another glass or two, all would have been great today.  I wasn’t even dreadfully drunk, I just drank too much.

Anyway, enough with the melancholy.  I think the worst part of having a hangover is knowing that you’ve wasted a day, though if you feel really rough, that’s probably the worst part of it on the day.  On day two, the wasted day element is more pronounced perhaps.  I think I felt so sorry for myself yesterday because it’s the first hangover day I’ve had in ages and I felt an overriding feeling of disappointment in myself for having knocked back the prosecco and cocktails with such enthusiasm when at least a pint of water in between would have done me wonders.

I know it can be fun being a bit tipsy and it’s great how you lose your inhibitions and gain confidence (though there is a fine line before you cross into over-confidence annoyance!) but really, as I’ve ranted before, one good night at the price of one whole day is just too much.

For me, and probably most others who went to university or worked straight after school, these were the drinking years.  In a bizarre way, I suppose the socialising and experimenting with excess are a way of rebelling against the more regimented lifestyle associated with school, the beginning of freedom, of adulthood.  I nursed many a hangover and I didn’t usually care about weekend daytime spent flopped out after a heroic night of drinking/recharging the liver for the next night of excessive alcohol consumption.  But once you start working five days a week and suddenly you’re paying your own way for things, perspectives change.  And fortunately, your body slowly starts to be less forgiving and hangovers get worse and tolerance reduces.

I suppose I am writing this having felt sorry for myself yesterday.  There’s no point saying I am not going to drink again because I will.  I wish I didn’t enjoy both the taste and the buzz of alcohol because I would love to want to give up.  I have given up trying hangover cures – though I have a vague recollection that boiling banana skins and drinking the water, despite tasting foul (punishment, as I saw it), worked quite well – I now believe I should just ride the storm with misery/a headache/post-booze tiredness as the price to pay for my excess.  I guess this being my first hangover day for a while will be enough to warn me off the “oh, just one more” drink next time I’m out, and maybe for another few months.  It was probably the Lemon Meringue Pie cocktail that did me in on Saturday night!  Next weekend, I shall be unhungover and do lots of lively and exciting things to make up for yesterday!


Kayaking is fun, tiring and my new hobby! Outfit-wise, by the time I was encased in a life vest and spray deck (skirt thing!) it wouldn’t have mattered how stylish (or otherwise in my case) I was. Exercise-wise, previously unknown muscles are making their presence felt.

As the sea was choppy, my first kayaking experience was on a canal, which was perfect. It didn’t rain for the c1.5 hours we were out, it was just my friend and I with two instructors and for that we paid £20 each. Our kayaks were heavy duty plastic, each one weighing 27kg. We shared carrying both at the same time, which was the most strength-demanding thing we did. In total we probably carried them 150-200m, so a fair way. I didn’t disgrace getting into the kayak, to my immense surprise, in fact by my standards my transition from land to water was quite smooth!

Then the four of us paddled, not in the desired straight line, along the beautiful Napoleonic canal. It was delightfully idyllic and I felt a bit Jerome K Jerome, though “One woman in a kayak” rather than the three men in a boat!

My waterproof trousers saved me a lot of leg splash and, unusually, minus the hoodie, I had on the right clothes for warmth levels.

The kayaking itself was both relaxing yet satisfyingly challenging. I am definitely more weedy with my left arm and I didn’t paddle with the smooth left-right action of the instructors. I was more left-right-left-left-left-right-paddle in water to brake and start from straight. Though I did have a very satisfying few burst of straight line speeding along.

As for the 360 degree turns, it took me an absurdly long time to grasp which direction to lean and when to paddle which way. But on finding myself at the end of a complete circle without having encountered canal bank or rushes was quite an achievement.

There is more to be aware of and moves to learn than I probably expected. I like the idea of getting to grips with them and I would very much like to be a proficient kayaker, and in particular to go on kayaking holidays. However, I have yet to capsize and this worries me slightly. Hopefully, that will first occur in a nice warm, clean swimming pool!

As a form of exercise, my arms and inner thighs are feeling it most today. My thumb/forefinger area, ie where the paddle pressure is exerted, is a little tender and my waist and shoulders have a mild exercised feeling. My legs were all aquiver when I got out of the kayak, but that soon abated!

All in all, it was fantastic to be outdoors, exercising, admiring the scenery, being on water and not being aware of time or usual stresses. I really, really enjoyed it and I feel very smug and satisfied by the kind of aches I have this morning. I had expected to write today about incidents and capsizing, but no. Maybe they will come! Having a flask of tea and some caramel waffles on the beach afterwards was a genius reward, despite the fact we were both cold by then! I wonder if we’ll be on the sea next week, surely it won’t be possible to be incident free again?!

Later this morning I am going sea kayaking for the first time. It is raining and windy and, I strongly suspect, quite cold. I have a list of clothing to wear in lieu of a wetsuit. I realise I don’t really know what to expect so thought I would write today about what it might be like and tomorrow about what it was like.

For my bottom half, I have very thin silk long johns, nylony tracksuit bottoms (I am not expecting or even hoping to look good!) and waterproof trousers with a pair of sort of trainers without laces. On top I have a thermal top, maybe a t-shirt over it, a hoodie and a waterproof jacket. There is a slim chance I could actually look better in a wetsuit and that really is saying something!

Progressing from fashions, I am prepared for incidents getting into the kayak. I feel that clawing back dignity after everyone has seen my outfit will be well and truly scuppered during this process. I have some uncomfortable flashbacks to a teenage day or two canoeing where similar problems surfaced!

I think we will be on or by the water for two hours. If the sea is choppy, which I think is likely, we will be on the Royal Military Canal (onto which more members of public can view our escapades!). This may be a good thing for a complete novice. We are told to bring a change of clothes as we might get wet. I am actually envisaging full immersion and being cold and wet, albeit in an adventurous, heroic kind of way! I also assume we will have to be able to exit the kayak in the event of overturning. Believe me, I will take every measure to not get wet/overturn. Again, there was an eskimo roll series of incidents in my canoeing experience. Writing this is making me wonder if kayaking really is for me!

When I lived next to someone with a selection of sea kayaks in Seasalter, I decided then that I liked the idea, just never did anything about it. In October, swimming in the sea at Folkestone, hot though that weekend was, the water was still icy cold and I looked on in envy (the kind which makes you contemplate how you can have what they have in a theft kind of way!) as a few people got into their kayaks and floated on the beautiful calm sea. They didn’t get wet and, to my mind, had a better deal than me as I never warmed up while swimming in the sea (but I did enjoy it in the sense that it woke me up and there is always something exciting about being in/on the sea). But it’s thanks to a friend who did all the research and organising that I am going, so I might not be the only one to disgrace myself in some novice way!

I figure if I enjoy it today, in the rain on a canal with possibly inappropriate clothing (might be too hot, too cold, too wet, too restricted), this could be a great new activity for me. Physically, I am expecting a lot of sitting in a kayak for this first lesson and I predict the most cardiovascular exercise I will get will be from getting in and out of the kayak. If I do get to paddle any great distance, I suspect it will shock me how difficult it will be to paddle smoothly without dousing myself and anyone near me in water. All this said, I am very much looking forward to it!

{27/04/2012}   UK identity

All Brits, are you English/Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish or British? This is something I have been thinking a lot about recently. I don’t feel I have an identity within my country.

In my ideal, fluffy world historical issues would be irrelevant and the UK would be one happy nation and I would possibly quite like being British, encompassing the huge diversity within the British population. Increasingly, I feel I might be English. But then I get uncomfortable about all the extremist associations. I was born and raised in Kent and I live there now but I don’t consider myself Kentish because I have no idea what that means. What would someone from, say, Northumbria think about me if I said that? Why would anyone know what makes someone Kentish? I have only chosen Northumbria as it’s one of the furthest counties from Kent, but our geography and economy are very different. If we both say we’re from England, doesn’t that unite us, at least a bit?

There are some many aspects of British culture that I can’t and don’t identify with. I remember a Japanese student who I would have a laugh with in class, some months later, telling me that he’d met a few English people before but hadn’t thought he liked English people because he hadn’t liked them. He said that I’d made him like English people. I felt this was good for England‑Japan relations but it really struck me the extent to which people base their impressions of a country’s people on the individuals they meet. Without a shadow of doubt, and it disappoints me hugely to say this, I don’t like most members of the British general public I come in contact with. For that reason, I guess that’s why I have identity issues.

My answer to what is an English person will be staggeringly different to that of most other people, though I wonder if, increasingly, there are other people out there like me who would merely answer: I don’t know.

In terms of the UK breaking up, I guess maybe it’s become necessary (but that’s a whole other issue!), but that won’t help with my crisis of social, cultural identity. Am I English? If so, what does that make me and what do I have in common with every other English person? I mean, my dad was from Latvia and he lived in the UK since long before I was even born. Does that change anything? Such a lengthy issue, I’m amazed I’ve kept this so short!

{26/04/2012}   A plan B evening

Work didn’t go to plan yesterday.  Neither did the trains.  But my treasure of a mum drove over to my flat in the early evening to stay with my cat and Chris had almost ready my perfect dinner: bubbly followed by chicken kiev (a recent obsession) with spinach, potatoes and oyster mushrooms.  Then key lime pie.

Fortunately I was working with a friend yesterday, though unfortunate for her as my day started with aches and pains and I never got into the steno zone for the entirety of the day’s c230 pages.  The job sat from 10-6, our highspeed trains had been electrocuted (or similar) so there was commuter carnage and I have another job at 10am today.  I would have been at home for a mere nine hours and I was shattered anyway, hence my plan B.

I ended up with a cracking dinner, chirpy company and a lie-in before work.  Admittedly I have a lot of plan b stuff here … but no work tops.  My choices were yesterday’s slightly (very) whiffy top or an XL man’s t shirt.  But then I found the sad remains of my squash kit, and a clean black polo style top.  Clean and my size is promising, though hardly smart!

Unsurprisingly I have no point to this post and it is not going to suddenly become engaging.  Hold on, I’ve thought of a point!  Normally I pack too much for overnight stays but this last-minute plan has made me see excess packing is unnecessary!  I had borrowed night clothes, a borrowed laptop for work, my HTC charged on a spare BlackBerry charger and I am writing this, with some difficulty, on said HTC.

So thank you to all the people who helped me out last night.  It is also nice for me to have managed a bit of overnight spontaneity, I feel marginally exciting!  Hurrah for plan B being better than plan A!

{25/04/2012}   Breakfast

I love breakfasts, I get up and usually think about what to have for breakfast.  This morning I am eating freshly baked (bread maker set for 6am) bread that I’ve toasted.  One slice has Marmite on it and the other marmalade.  My first, and most enjoyable, tea of the day is at my side and I have at least 20 minutes of sitting time ahead of me.
I know someone who has the same breakfast at the same time every day, except on a Sunday.  This would ruin it for me.  I can never remember what I had for previous meals but I do know I, unusually for me, had a bowl of cereal yesterday.  I suppose I have toast more than most things but I am a huge fan of eggs for breakfast, from pancakes (a favourite) to poached.
One of my guilty food pleasures is a McDonald’s sausage and egg McMuffin set.  Oh yeah.  I often have that as a birthday treat stemming from when I lived in Japan and my friend Kaori and I started a tradition of delivering a McD breakfast to the birthday girl.  A very nice association, but I’m afraid to say I also buy them occasionally because I love them!
I have recently rediscovered eggy bread with bacon on the side.  Even though I have now almost finished my breakfast, I am on a roll now thinking about favourite breakfasts!  I do love a good fry up and I have a bit of a thing for black pudding, though I hardly ever have it.  Oooo, and a few years ago, based on something I ate at a favourite cafe, Windy Corner, in Whitstable, another favourite is (ideally) portobello mushrooms, sauteed in just a little bit of fat.  Then once they sweat pour away, or soak away with kitchen paper, the water, add a little garlic salt and some pepper.  Then add a large dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream or single cream, something creamy.  So good.  For me, finished off a treat with a bit of crispy bacon and a fried egg.
I can’t get excited about cereals, probably in part because I don’t like milk.  I went through a phase of adding fruit juice instead but that didn’t work.  They don’t excite me.  But an annual bowl of sugar puffs is rather nice.  Likewise Coco Pops!
In the past year or so I have discovered that oats don’t always agree with me.  I can never remember what happens until after I’ve eaten them.  Fortunately, I’m not big on porridge anyway, though if I do have it it has to be one third oats, water, milk and with a dollop of golden syrup.  And people say porridge is healthy?!
I have done the fruit thing, in fact I kept that up for quite a while.  But it fills me up then leaves me desperately hungry about an hour later, thus making me snack, thus rendering the health benefits of the fruit negated, and then some.
Oh crumpets, how I love thee.  And hot cross buns.  Oh yeah.   I have also attempted to recreate the sausage egg McMuffin with English muffins.  Not bad, but such muffins are a little dreary.  Not a huge fan of bagels but I venture there sometimes.
But isn’t it lovely to have a meal that gives you such a boost and which, for me at least – I FORGOT PANCAKES AND WAFFLES, big yum – consists of two of the most exciting things: tea and eggs.  I also like the fact I always have something in the house for breakfast, the same can’t be said for lunch or dinner.  Oh, this is just one great big breakfast love-in!

{24/04/2012}   Nostalgia food

Last night, as a cheeky late-train-home energy boost, I had a walnut whip. My overriding feeling was how small they are. But I think they always were quite small. I don’t even like walnuts that much, it’s just the novelty shape and sof mallow that makes it so exciting. Recently, I seem to have been eating quite a few things for nostalgia purposes.
A few weeks ago I made pineapple upside down pudding. I wouldn’t go quite as dreamy eyed as to say it transported me back to my childhood, but there certainly was the feeling of a fond memory of days when my mum baked a home made pudding for just about every day.
A few years ago for a birthday party, I had a retro food afternoon whereby everyone bought or made food from their childhood. The flat was inundated with the likes of iced rings, cheesy wotsits, teacakes, viscount bars and other snacky type foods. There were also a few Frey Bentos tinned pies (I don’t think I ever had them as a child but they were never supposed to be haute cuisine!), a jar of that dreadful sandwich paste (which I do recall being smeared on bread and taken as the occasional packed lunch sandwich filler. There is a dim recollection of actually quite liking a few flavours but I know the fishy ones were revolting), some Vesta meals and then an array of homemade things, ranging from vol au vents to meatloaf.
As exciting as this vast array of oo-do-you-remember-them food stuffs was, none of us were that enthusiastic about eating them. The home made stuff was eaten and enjoyed but I guess none of us are so keen on processed food anymore and it all seemed to be a triumph of aesthetics/bright colours than taste. Oh well, it was fun. Until I got left with loads of biscuits, crisps etc. And I really must chuck out that jar of sandwich paste – remember the lid had to be twisted off to pop, a sign of freshness!
On the subject of crisps, it has often bothered me that few – in fact none that I can think of now – people share with me a fond memory of pig crisps. I have no idea what they were called but they were 3D pig shapes, loosely resembling bacon flavour. They were thin but crispy and rather tasty. Or they might have been horrid but I have the impression that they were things of greatness and wonder.
I suppose nostalgia food falls into two categories: home made stuff and snacky stuff. The snacky stuff is best remembered through the medium of conversation. But recently, I really have enjoyed beef stroganoff, lemon meringue pie, coq au vin and I am desperate to recreate, from an old Marguerite Patten cookbook, the fruity curry I am often going on about! I guess the nice thing about such dishes is that they do evoke just a little bit of a childhood memory of nice meals at home, of days when all you had to worry about were boys and homework … or maybe I’m rose tinting that too!

{23/04/2012}   Ironing

I spent about five minutes trying to find my iron yesterday. Sadly, this is a reflection of how rarely I use my iron. I have convinced myself that ironing is a waste of time, largely because clothes and, for example, sheets get creased when you use them anyway. So how come some people spend ages meticulously ironing pretty much everything? Or is it my lack of ironing that’s more of a worry?
The reason for my frantic iron search was to enable me to use a shirt I haven’t worn for ages because of its extremely uncool crumpling, particularly bad around the collar. Likewise to use a tablecloth that looked like a crumpled tissue and to iron a crease in my subsequently shortened trousers. A build up, if you like. I then got a bit carried away and thought “what the heck” and ironed a pillow case and a short sleeved heavy cotton shirt type top. The overall results were beyond satisfactory. The shirt was rendered wearable, the tablecloth looks delightful, my pillow case is suddenly more interesting and the shirty top was a revelation of loveliness; it reminded me why I liked it and bought it in the first place.
My conclusion was that I could see the worth in ironing. But I’m not going to start ironing more often because it takes up far too much time and effort. I already struggle enough with the sorting, putting in the washing machine, hanging up and putting away of laundry. I hate it. I see it as three jobs in one. Ironing would make it four and I think each chore should merely be one job. I have seen mountains of ironing in some people’s homes. Why? It is inevitable that everyone in those households will look better turned out than me, and for that I do feel slightly embarrassed. But most of my outer clothes, eg jackets, jumpers, cardigans, don’t get creased anyway, so by putting them over my non-ironed clothes the creases aren’t even noticeable. As for sheets, which take an obscene amount of time to iron, they will look lovely before their first sleep but after that they won’t look much better than mine. I can see that my lack of ironing is largely a laziness issue. I didn’t get that attitude from my parents. My mum ironed (and I’m sure still does) a lot of things and my dad ironed his shirts (though the less said about his water in mouth spitting technique the better!).
Maybe most people do take the extra time and effort to make themselves look a little less slap dash than me. I do care; I would rather have ironed clothes. But I’m not prepared to do it more than the maybe four times a year that I currently iron. But if I had lots of money, I would pay someone to do all my ironable laundry (I would rather do my own pants) and hang it or fold it afterwards!

{22/04/2012}   Buying a new laptop

Having spent two days in car showrooms and another two days on the phone to car people, you would think I’d be steering well clear of showrooms and salesmen.  Yet within the week, I’ve now spent a long afternoon talking laptops in five different stores.  I now have snippets of car knowledge and a far broader understanding of what to look for in a laptop.
Unlike the car buying enterprise, where I found out what I wanted (an alpine white BMW 118i sport with sunroof) but decided to keep my car patched up for at least another year (I am not ready to embrace the concept of a car loan), I am now in possession of a new laptop.  I am also salesmanned out and fed up of big, bright showrooms.
I went to two Currys (I am very unsure about the apostrophes for Currys), two Comet stores and one PC World.  I would have liked to have bought my laptop off the very knowledgeable and totally unpushy bloke at Currys number one.  But by virtue of both geography (I moved from Folkestone to Ashford) and stock, I ended up buying it from Comet number two, from  a man I perceived to be a stereotypical salesman.  Admittedly, he was pleasant and helpful and didn’t try to push me towards the more expensive laptops.  He went round all laptops with my list of requirements, pointed out which would suit and checked availability of all.  But he did make me feel I would have to buy one!  I left the store before I did decide and I did go out of my way to find him to complete the sale.  I was then offered Office, Norton, cleaning gels and cloths, an array of service packs, a laptop case and then discounts when I said no to all bar the first two.  I don’t like feeling ever so slightly bullied.
Every time I buy a new laptop, desktop, netbook or iPad (of which I have all, completely unneccessarily and ridiculously), it amazes me the extent to which technology advances in the intervening years.  I was poised to get USB 3 ports (they are USB ports with a stripe of blue), thus making transfer of files, for example, up to ten times faster.  But then I found out that they are only effective when you use USB 3 compatible USBs.  I couldn’t even find a USB 3 compatible stick and none of my work equipment is USB 3 compatible.  I now know how to identify i5 first generation and, far superior, i5 second generation.  the former has a yellow/gold corner on the sticker, the latter has the same colour but a horizontal line with a sort of tick at one end.  My i5 is turbo charged, an i7 is pretty much supersonic.  My Comet number one advisor was a hardcore gamer, he described laptops in terms of how good they were for [game name that went straight over my head].  I could relate to that, strangely.
I am starting to grow tired of IT things now so I shall end here.  But at least it was a successful afternoon in terms of a purchase being made!  I’m not going to go into detail about the strops I had trying to set it all up though!

{21/04/2012}   Boot fairs

Has anyone I know sold things at a boot fair?  I have been to one boot fair in the name of research for a future boot fair selling day.  It was not a pleasant experience, though in part I probably chose the location badly.
I went to the one at the Flamingo Park on the A20 around Sidcup.  The odds are that anyone who’s ever driven from Kent into London on the M20-A20 has at some point been stuck in a horrendous traffic jam at boot fair rush hour because of that place.  To save on the parking fee, people park on the verge along the A20.  That’s never going to be pretty.  As for the boot fair – I will choose my words carefully – it was full of … well, Chris and I didn’t fit in, put it that way.  It did occur to me that my shiny gold, slightly sporty BMW (albeit 11 years old) would not be a great car from which to sell from.  I longed for my K-reg 1992 Golf!  We arrived at least two hours after it started, it appeared that more people were leaving than arriving.  And those leaving were laden, and in most cases I am not exaggerating, with … I don’t know what, stuff.
In short, though acknowledging that sales of anything decent had occurred hours before we arrived, it was full of, well, crap.  It was apparent that lots of sellers were regulars.  I also wonder how people can have tables piled high with brand new stuff, ie more than one box of the same thing, ahem!  I found it an unexpectedly intimidating environment, despite it being a sunny day with a slight holiday feel to it.  I very much got the impression that a lot, maybe even most, of the people buying were Eastern European farm workers using the boot fair as their local shopping centre, which wasn’t at my issue with that particular boot fair; it was more the over-familiarity between sellers and their almost professional trading techniques.  I was expecting people like me who go there every now and then to get rid of excess stuff.  I realised that boot fairs are the new jumble sales and one of the few places where you can pick up cheap stuff, not that everything did seem as cheap as it should’ve been.
I read a bit about selling at boot fairs, it actually put me off a bit.  The general consensus was that you have to arrive early (one near me starts at 7am Saturdays and Sundays and that seems about normal).  There are so many warnings about when you first open your boot as that’s when most thefts occur.  You are advised to always have someone with you to keep an eye out when you’re off to the loo or buying burgers or hot dogs.  You need a trestle table, ideally prices written somewhere, lots of change, some bags … it starts getting more complicated.  But it would appear to be an arena for selling things you never thought anyone else would want.
Within the next five months, I intend to fill my boot and get rid of stuff.  I got put off ebay after something I sent apparently never arrived plus I don’t like the ebay process.  Bring on the boot fairs.  But not the Flamingo Park one, I would have “novice” written all over me!

et cetera