From London to Lincolnshire: Part One – From City Commuting to Country Cycling

Hello friends. It’s been a while. I’m going to blame it on dodgy Internet connections which meant I struggled to find a private space to write for about a year. But I’m back and ready to fill you in!

I have recently moved “home” to Lincolnshire from London and as a teacher I have kind of a luxury in that I have the six week summer break to settle in to my new place, refamiliarise myself with the way of life “up here” and generally relax before the September madness begins.

One way I decided to get acquainted with my new adopted city of Lincoln and the surrounding area was to get out on my bike to explore. I found a cycle route called the Water Railway, so called because the tracks follow what used to be a railway between Lincoln and Boston, which seems to have been finally closed around 1980 (although don’t quote me on that… I’m no expert). If you do the whole thing from Lincoln to Boston, you will cycle 31 miles – not something I think I could achieve even if I wanted to. Luckily there are many stopping points along the way and I decided to choose Bardney as mine, which is 9 miles from Lincoln, making it an 18 mile round trip (and slightly more to get back to my house which, I might add, is right at the top of the hill near the Cathedral).

I started the main route from Waterside South and it was pretty straightforward… all you have to do is follow the path. It runs alongside the River Witham and is more or less flat, perfect after navigating some of the steep streets of Lincoln to get there. Along the Water Railway there are also many places to stop and rest, as well as historical signs, some of which I read, and some of which I just cycled past as I was keen to get to my destination. However it would be good to take more time over it if you were particularly interested; there was information about each place along the path (including Washingborough, Fiskerton Fen, the Five Mile Bridge, Bardney Lock) as well as information about the old stations and ferries that would travel along the river to Boston (taking six hours each way – according to one of the signs I took the time to read).

It was a great place to see wildlife and, along the way, I saw (in no particular order): a hedgehog, a heron, some swans, cows, possibly a kestrel, some martins, dragon flies… this might not seem that special but it was to me, after cycling to work in London and not seeing anything natural (except perhaps an urban fox if you’re lucky).

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There were also several artistic sculptures and pieces along the path which I suppose are there to add interest, as it could otherwise get quite dull; after all, you are more or less cycling miles along what seems to be a straight and relatively even path. One of my favourites was some metal cows, and when I passed it on the way back, there were real cows on the opposite bank.

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One of the most interesting parts of my venture along the Water Railway was my stop in Bardney, particularly at Bardney Tearooms. I admit, I really didn’t know much about Bardney before I cycled there, but I knew I would find a cafe there to stop at. What I didn’t know was that Bardney Tearooms appears to be housed in the old station building and there are what seems to be the original station signage on the front and the old gate which would have been opened out at the level crossing. Inside, the tearooms were very quaint and had a kind of 1940s feel (possibly there was some wartime memorabilia but I might be making that up).

 

 

After stopping there for a cheeky ice cream I decided to head back to Lincoln. I found it somewhat easier on the way back as I had more of an idea of the distances involved, but I was also cycling into the wind which made it harder. Finally, when I came off the Water Railway at Waterside South, I had the ascent to the Cathedral Quarter and admittedly, there was one street where I got off and pushed (but according to the map, the gradient was more than 1 in 7, if you know what that means)!

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After being used to cycling in London alongside the traffic, it was really nice to get out into the open and cycle for a long stretch. In London I would always cycle with a high-vis jacket and helmet and I’m not going to stop doing that as I think they keep me safe, however at points I did feel a bit silly wearing it all, because you could probably get away with not doing that on the country paths. The advantage of London is that it has properly marked cycle paths and I was worried initially that it wouldn’t be as safe in Lincoln, however to my pleasant surprise, some of the busier roads had off-road cycle paths and crossings that you can cycle over when the light goes green. At Bardney Tearooms I also picked up a detailed map of Lincoln which has a key for each road according to its safety for cyclists.

So hopefully before I return to school in September, I will get another chance to try out a cycle path in Lincoln. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and I look forward to writing many more now that I have Internet 🙂

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A Celebration of Wellness

I’m currently on a train to Lincolnshire, travelling to my brother’s wedding, and instead of doing my usual train journey thing of eating followed by sleeping, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to grab a few minutes of quality writing time.

You see, there is something I have been meaning to write about, but I kept refraining from putting pen to paper (or letters to screen?) because part of me didn’t want to jinx it.

It is, essentially, a celebration.

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A celebration that I am in a good place, and I’m not going to take that for granted. Because I know that not so long ago I was in a terrible place and wondered if there would ever be a way out.

I feel so much better and, having felt stressed, angry, sad, irritable and all other shades of depressed for so long and not really known it, I now feel generally calm, happy, strong, rational, clear-headed and excited about the future, and have done for several months.

In my experience of managing mental health, I once read somewhere that it is a good idea to write down what it feels like for you when you are well. There might be a few reasons for this; one idea is to read it when you are down to reassure you that you can feel well (because when you are in the throes of mental illness it may feel like you will never feel well again). Another good reason for doing this is that you are able to identify how your body feels and what your emotional state is like when you are feeling good, and, by comparison, to recognise when you aren’t feeling so good. This kind of personal understanding of your own reactions and moods can be extremely helpful if you begin to feel ill again; you can then take steps towards wellness before it becomes worse.

So, what brought about this change in me? I feel so different, I almost feel younger (which must be a sign that I felt this hopeful and happy at a time in my past; I’m thinking of my final year at uni where everything seemed to come together and I was excited about graduating and what the future would hold).

It didn’t happen by accident, that’s for sure. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like, Oh, I feel well again! (which is kind of what happens after a few days of having the flu).

There are a few things I did, and am still doing, which have helped me to feel so good in myself:

  • I stopped taking the anti-depressants. Obviously, this may not work for everybody, but I realised that since I had been taking the pills, they had made my moods more erratic, and I had never had a feeling of being well. I had the dosage changed several times and nothing seemed to work. In the end, I decided I didn’t want them any more. I had actually felt better without them and thought that I would see how it went for me and if I needed something else, I would try that. It’s been a year now, and things have just got better and better. Obviously, if things had not improved, I would have probably tried a different type of pill. I’m not advocating coming off the drugs as a cure, I just had a personal feeling that they hadn’t helped me. I think it’s important to listen to your body in these situations. If you need them, take them; I know many people who have taken anti-depressants and it has worked for them, it just didn’t work for me.
  • I gave up caffeine. This one is so simple, but it had the most amazing affect! I started drinking decaffeinated tea and coffee instead of the usual kind, and it didn’t take long for me to notice a difference in my moods and general feeling of well-being. I’ve always been pretty sensitive to caffeine and had avoided coffee for a long time, but cutting it out completely was probably one of the best things I did to feel well again. Now, if I drink it by accident or when there’s no alternative to decaf, I instantly feel the effects on my body. To me, the effects of caffeine on my body mimic those of anxiety (fast heartbeat, feeling a little nauseous, feeling angsty) and are just unpleasant. Without it, I feel so much better, less anxious and highly-strung.
  • I had therapy. I did the NHS CBT counselling and it gave me some practical short-term strategies to manage anxiety and depression, but it didn’t go anywhere near deep enough for me. I saw a private counsellor instead. It was in central London, it was pricey, but it was an investment. I knew in the very first session that this counsellor was going to be a great help to me. I went to see her for around 9 months, every week to start with, then every two weeks when I felt better. Did I enjoy going? No. Did I always want to go to the sessions? No. But I did it because I knew it would be good for me. And it was.
  • I joined a choir. I feel like a member of Glee Club… I joined a choir which sings the cheesiest songs but it’s so much fun. Every Monday night, I go to the local Salvation Army Hall and sing classic pop tunes, such as ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet and ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ by The Beegies and Take That! It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and part of me is a little embarrassed, but the other part of me has so much fun I don’t care. I also feel part of my community and I meet other people so there are lots of good things about it. Plus the instructor makes me laugh from beginning to end. It is definitely good for my soul.
  • I stopped overreacting to little things. In hindsight, I can see how stressed and irritable I was, because little mishaps and annoyances used to upset me beyond belief. Now I often find myself laughing in the face of adversity. Sometimes I have to stop a negative or stressed thought in its tracks and consciously decide not to engage with it. It works. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not worth the negative effect on your body and mind.
  • I stopped bringing so much work home. I realised that when it came to work, something had to give. It was a choice between my health and my job, and my health had to take priority (because, without it, I wouldn’t be able to do my job anyway). As a teacher, it is easy to take work home and the hours can stack up if you don’t notice. So I set myself some boundaries, made sure I stuck to them, and I really noticed a difference. I now feel like I have a much better work/life balance, which I once thought was absolutely impossible.

These are some of the main things I did which have helped me become a happier person in the last year or so. There are other little things which all add up, like making more time for friends, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet.

There are so many parts of your life where changes can be made: your diet, your social life, your exercise, your work/life balance, your sleep patterns, and even if you start working on improving just one of these life areas, everything else somehow begins to fall into place too.

I am just so grateful that in the last year or so, I have made some amazingly positive changes in my life and feel so much healthier, happier and stronger. There was a time when I didn’t think this would ever be possible. I still get my moments of anger and sadness, that’s human, and they are just moments, not stretches of days or weeks like they once might have been.

I’m grateful to all my friends and family who supported me through this time, but also for my own strength and perseverance which got me through and I’m writing this partly in case I do ever feel down again; to tell myself, that yes I am strong and I can feel well and I can overcome depression and anxiety.

So, here’s to the future, and to finding strength, health and happiness.

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Alternatives to Online Dating: Part 3 (perhaps the last in the series)

I have a confession to make… I briefly went back on Tinder in a moment of loneliness. I very quickly remembered what had caused me to delete it, but only after getting a few dodgy messages and arranging an unsuccessful date. Unsuccessful because it never actually happened. We messaged, we whatsapped, we arranged a date and then rescheduled it because the guy was unwell; he seemed genuinely disappointed not to be able to make it and was keen to rearrange another time, then on the day he chickened out and said it wasn’t a good time for him. So then I got angry (again) and have now deleted Tinder (again).

This unsuccessful date above follows a series of unsuccessful non-dates from a guy I met at the speed dating event (described in Part One). This guy would sound like he was making an invitation, such as by messaging something like, “Are you free in the day time on Saturday?” or “What are your plans this weekend?”, only to then reply to my answer with “I’ve already got plans” or not to reply at all. Very strange behaviour, very puzzling, I just couldn’t work out whether he wanted to see me or not. I’m assuming not seeing as I haven’t heard from him in several weeks.

Anyway I have digressed. The brief interlude where I went back on Tinder precedes my second attendance of a ‘Speed Dater’ organised event, the same company who organised the Cookery Class described in Part Two. This time I had signed up for a wine-tasting event. I love wine and I’ve always wanted to do wine-tasting – here was my chance and the prospect of meeting someone whilst doing it was an added bonus.

Luckily this time there seemed to be a more even spread of men and women (although as always there were slightly more women). There were also a couple of familiar faces from the Cookery Class I had attended.

We were offered a glass of wine on arrival and after a little time for mingling, we were grouped at 4 tables. Women stayed in their places, men rotated to different tables after one or two wine tastings (six different tastings in total). We had a selection of 3 white, 3 red. A wine expert talked to us about the wine, we smelt it and tasted it, I thought perhaps we would swill it and maybe spit it out as I have heard about wine tasting before… but at this event, there was no spitting out, just drinking the wine (although there was the option to pour it away if you really didn’t like it). As you can imagine, after the glass on arrival and several different tastings, I (and the other attendees) got a little bit tipsy. As the evening went on, everyone was noticeably more relaxed, sociable (even rowdy…)

It was a fun evening and I would recommend it if you like wine, but you really don’t have to be particularly interested in wine or an expert. You can just turn up, have a few drinks, get chatting to different people and see if you meet anyone you like…

Unfortunately for me there was no such luck; with these Speed Dater events you have the opportunity the next day to message the other attendees online, which I did but have sadly had no reply…

So, three events so far, the search continues… but I haven’t signed up to anything else yet as I am losing the will to date. This may be the last in the series of ‘Alternatives to Online Dating’ unless I decide to do any more organised events. I’ve just lost my P.M.A when it comes to dating. The apathy of the guys I have met lately has seriously frustrated me, as have the false impressions created by people’s profiles, and the fact that people seem to want to socialise with a screen rather than face-to-face with a real person. This is a symptom of the technological world we live in, but it makes me seriously despair. There is a lot more to my anger and frustration than the fact I am struggling to find the right guy for me. The anger and frustration I feel are part of the wider issues and worries I have about an apparent total reliance on technology and online “socialising” as a preference to talking to someone in real life; of self-promotion through false images and instant gratification through technology rather than investing and building relationships through face-to-face encounters.

I honestly just don’t know what more I can do other than to go back online and play these silly dating games of messaging someone online for weeks on end because that is the apparently normal thing to do now before you can even suggest meeting in real life. Only for your real life meeting not to happen because the other person gets freaked out that the relationship is moving off-screen, or for one or both of you to be disappointed by the real life meeting because they don’t look like their profile picture or have a weird voice or quirky habit that you never would have known about if you had just kept messaging online.

Perhaps I sound bitter; perhaps I am. Perhaps I am seriously worried about what these trends I am noticing on the dating scene mean for the future of our world – there is a huge over-reliance on technology, a kind of fear of meeting a new person in real life, and an assumption that a new person will be available with one swipe for your instant sexual gratification… but where does that leave people who want a meaningful and long-term relationship?

 

 

Alternatives to Online Dating: Part 2

Following my venture into Speed Dating described in Part 1, here’s another instalment in the series involving… a Cooking Class for singles.

These seem to be trendy at the moment and I’m picturing the slightly cringe Match.com advert for this kind of event, where a nerdy guy is making two prawns talk to each other and finds love from a girl who doesn’t judge him, but joins in… (isn’t he just living the dream…?)

I found the event I attended on Speeddater.co.uk and my main reason for doing it was that I love cooking and I love food, and I thought it would be a great way to meet like-minded people. Included in the event was a glass of Prosecco on arrival, the meal you cook as a group (chicken saltimbocca) and a chocolate brownie dessert cooked by the chefs. I sort of thought that if I didn’t meet anyone, at least I would get to learn a new recipe and eat a (hopefully) delicious meal. At £38 I did think it was a bit pricey (compared to Tinder for example which is free!) but when I thought about what was included: the drink, the meal, the cooking class, and the opportunity to meet other single people, I thought it was worth a try.

The event was hosted at L’atelier des Chefs near Oxford St and it was a really nice venue. I enjoyed the glass of bubbles on arrival and all the staff were really friendly. There was quite a big group of singles (about 20) but I have to admit I was disappointed to find that there were quite a few more women than men. We were split into groups for cooking, and in my group there were 3 women including myself, and 1 man. This frustrated me, as I spent a lot of time interacting with the other women, and although they were all lovely and it was fun, meeting other women is not exactly what I had come for.

The cooking class itself was run by a professional chef who was good-humoured and coped well with quite a rowdy bunch of people in his kitchen, as well as our (collective) ineptitude (e.g. not following his instructions as exactly as he had hoped). It was a good laugh and I enjoyed learning the recipe; it also revealed to me that the way someone approaches cooking can tell you a lot about their general personality. For example the woman next to me seemed very meticulous in that she chopped things very slowly and finely, and was anxious about following the recipe exactly to the letter. Some people are more laid-back and if something doesn’t quite go to plan, they just brush it off. In general, the entire group seemed to really enjoy the cooking class and it was pretty straightforward, with every group member being involved.

We dished up our own meals, following the chef’s instructions, and we had also individually prepared our own chicken breast, which we then ate ourselves. I liked this as I don’t know how comfortable I would have been eating meat prepared by someone else in the group. I know that might sound really paranoid but it just made me a lot more comfortable that I was eating my own food.

We all sat around a table to eat, men on one side, women on the other, and then we could enjoy the fruits of our labour. It was nice to get a chance to meet different people in the group, and after the main meal, the men moved along one or two spaces so that we got to meet more members of the group. However, I still felt bothered by there being more women than men and I feel like I did spend too much time talking to women rather than men, facilitated by where we had been grouped for cooking and sitting down to eat.

After the event, which finished around 9.30, we had to leave the venue but it was suggested that the group could continue their evening at the pubs nearby. I, however, decided to call it a night… I just didn’t really want to spend any more time chatting to 20 people I didn’t know, and I hadn’t met any men who I wanted to spend more time with. Overall it had been fun, but it really is hard spending a long time with people you don’t really know. Although maybe it’s easier for some people, I’m not sure.

So should you try a dating cooking class? If you like cooking and you want to meet other like-minded singles then, yes. I did enjoy it and I would be keen to do it again, were it not for the lack of a 50:50 ratio and also that towards the end, I did feel like I ran out of steam a little interacting with a large group of people. On the plus side, I did eat a delicious meal AND I got to keep my apron!

The search for love continues…

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Alternatives to Online Dating: Part 1

When my sister got married in November, I suddenly felt truly inspired in a way I never had before. Love is real, love is possible, love is something we can all find (and already have no doubt, in one way or another).

I had reached a point where even the thought of an online dating app made me angry. I just found them really boring, full of profiles that all looked the same after a while, and most of all, it felt that people didn’t even want to meet, that they would prefer to interact behind a screen, and then dispose of you when they lost interest (because it’s easier to do that with someone you haven’t actually met). After trying a number of formats over the years (Okcupid, Lovestruck, E-harmony, Happn, Tinder, Once), I joined Bumble and that really was the last straw… a totally zero date success rate, and I felt as if there were a load of unwritten rules that I wasn’t following and basically felt like a failure.

So I decided to delete all of them. Be free. But then I thought… how do I meet someone now? Is it possible to meet anyone the old-fashioned way? (What even is the old-fashioned way?!)

I did a search on singles events in my local area… surely there would be other people who had also lost faith in dating apps… surely I wasn’t the only one?

I soon found out that there was a regular Speed Dating event about 10 minutes away from where I live. The thought of speed dating made me a bit nervous (remembering a really cringe lock-and-key event I went to a couple of years ago) but I figured there would be no harm in trying it out. January – the time for new year’s resolutions. The time to try a different approach to dating.

On the night it was snowing and I thought about not turning up. But the thought of trying it out was intriguing and the fact it was only a short walk away made it easier to go along. I figured that if it was rubbish I just wouldn’t do it again.

It was a bit awkward on arrival and I shouldn’t really have been surprised about this, but most of the other women there had come with at least one friend for moral support. I hadn’t really thought much about the fact I was going alone until it was actually happening. I tried to strike up conversation at the bar with a guy who had arrived at the same time as me, but he seemed really shy and unfortunately it was like getting blood out of a stone.

Luckily, during the actual event, the conversation flowed much better. There were numbered “stations” at different tables and that was where the women sat. I chose a seat at a sofa and stayed there for the evening while the men rotated round every 4 minutes. It’s surprising how long a 4 minute conversation is and it is definitely enough time to make a judgement about whether the person you’re talking to is someone you’d like to know more about – or not, as the case may be.

In total I chatted to about 13 different people; some I was disappointed when the 4 minutes ended, others relieved… there was also a mix of people, some I fancied but the conversation just didn’t work, others I enjoyed the conversation but didn’t fancy them, and others that I did fancy and wanted to chat to more. One guy seemed panicked by the 4 minute timing and frantically asked me quick-fire questions in a crazed way… one guy kept nudging me coyly throughout the conversation, another guy told me he could decide on the 2nd date if he wanted to marry a girl, then proceeded to ask me to the name the time and place of our next date. There were however some other nice, normal guys who I got on with and could have chatted to longer.

When the speed dating finished, we were invited to stay longer and have a drink, although most people just left. I stayed and talked a bit longer with the other guests, which it was nice to do without the time pressure.

As an alternative to online dating, it definitely has potential. For a start, I met about 13 new people on one night; you instantly find out if you have chemistry, or are able to hold a face-to-face conversation (which might not always be the case if you have only ever talked  on-screen). The downside was that it did get a little boring and that the host company only gave you from 9-5 the next day to upload your score card info (whether you wanted to keep in touch or not, to find out who you matched with) and I didn’t upload my information in time (as I was at work the whole day without much of a break).

However you don’t have to rely on the score card info, you can always be brave and exchange numbers with someone you met on the night and take it from there… 😉

So… my search for true love continues… watch this space!

 

 

 

Edinburgh Hogmanay

Yes, it’s a little late now and most people have moved beyond new year’s excitement and into the more dreary mood of January (or at least that’s the general feeling I’m getting around me at the moment)… but I really wanted to share my experience of celebrating New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh as it was my first Hogmanay.

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Watching the midnight fireworks through the trees on Princes Street

It was my second trip to Edinburgh after visiting in October 2014 (you can read it about it here if you like) and I was surprised to find just how familiar the city felt to me. I also expected Edinburgh to feel slightly intense in the lead up to this huge event, as I’m sure London would, where around a major event I would expect at least an air of anticipation and at most a mad frenzy. However I was pleasantly surprised that the whole time I was there, Edinburgh felt relaxed, chilled and had a really positive vibe. It was as if throwing New Year’s party attended by thousands was a walk in the park.

On New Year’s Eve there were several different events on in the city centre, including the Old Town Ceilidh and Concert in the Gardens (featuring Paolo Nutini). I did wish I had been able to get tickets to the live concert as it would have been cool to hear some live music on the night, but although I booked well in advance (in October) it was sold out even then. The moral is, if you are interested in attending, book tickets really early.

I had tickets to the Street Party which meant that from 9pm to 1am I joined the crowds on Princes Street, sang, drank and danced along to pop music; we even managed to get our photo up on the big screen. Every hour leading up to midnight, there was a small firework display up at the castle, giving a taster of the display to come when the clock struck twelve. I had such a great time street-partying that I didn’t even really notice the time ticking away and the countdown seemed to go by in minutes, not hours. Before we knew it, we were watching the beautiful New Year fireworks at midnight, and one hour later, having danced some more, we were singing Auld Lang Syne before the Street Party finally finished.

It was one of the most chilled, happy, positive New Year’s Eves I have ever celebrated and I would definitely recommend it if you are thinking about doing it. Just make sure you get bookings in early so you don’t miss out.

The Importance of Being Earnest (in life and blogging, 2017)

Sorry, Oscar Wilde fans, this post has absolutely nothing to do with the play of the same name… I just borrowed the title because it fits so beautifully with my new intentions for 2017.

For the past few years I have written Happy New Year posts, setting out my aims for the year ahead, and I would have done so again. This is usually a time where I like to reflect on the year gone by and approach the new year feeling refreshed and positive. And I very much feel like I am approaching 2017 from a positive place, perhaps the most mentally healthy I have been for several years, and following last year’s struggles with depression, this is a huge achievement for me. I’m so pleased and happy to be here, feeling this way, when at times it didn’t seem possible that I would feel like this ever again.

So, on being earnest. I am interpreting earnestness using the following definition:  earnest-definition

And I am stating my earnestness today because one of my “new” goals for 2017 is to write more. I also said that in 2016, and 2015 and possibly 2014 and 2013… and, did I?

No.

But this year I absolutely mean it. I really do. Seriously. Earnestly. Because my “new year” didn’t start 2 days ago. In a way it started when I returned from Australia in August 2016, with a fresh perspective and outlook. The post-Australia, second-half-of -2016-me was energised and determined not to look back. I have since made some changes to my routine that were holding me back from worklife-balance, from having time for the things I enjoy and I have made some space. Space to breathe, space to relax, space to be myself.

So even though previous new year’s resolutions to write more have not stuck, I am hoping that 2017 will be different, that I will use the space I have created to write, express and put myself out there in a way that I feared to do so in previous years.

Happy New Year readers, let’s have a good one!