Thank you, Beast from the East

As a teacher in the UK, I often feel as if I am on a treadmill where the setting is slightly too high and I just keep going and going, a seemingly never-ending cycle of planning-teaching-marking, of getting up early, working a full day where an uninterrupted break time is a luxury, coming home and doing more work, and repeating the cycle the next day. On top of this, I don’t make it easy for myself when it comes to my home life. I put far too much pressure on myself to keep up with cleaning, tidying, washing, and find that I feel stressed when my home environment is chaotic. I also care a lot about my family and friendships, prioritising them too, but if I’m honest, do I prioritise them above my work? I really try to, but striking a balance is hard. I consciously make an effort to set myself boundaries of when I’ll work and when I’ll see friends and family, but I also find that I need time for just me to be on my own, and that is very difficult to fit into my busy schedule.

Considering all this, I very often feel myself wishing and hoping that if I could just have one day off, if I could only stop for a moment, that I would get some much-needed breathing space, that I could get off the treadmill. I often get up in the morning, longing for more sleep and wishing I could stay in bed. On my days off at the weekend, I have often packed so many plans in, almost trying to make up for the all the work I do, that it isn’t really a rest. Work hard, Play hard.

So you would think that this morning, when I got a message through from the Assistant Head that our school was closed due to the snow, that I would have been rejoicing. A day off? My prayers had been answered!

Wrong – my initial feelings were worry and disappointment: disappointment, because Wednesday is usually the “easy” day in the week for me, where I get 2 hours or so of Planning time, less contact time with the challenging members of my class and generally less marking; worry, because I left my laptop at work yesterday, as well as the fact that to complete planning at home I need access to the medium term planning on the school system and I can’t get onto that at home. A day off school, unable to do work, unable to use this time to prepare for next week… I felt like I should be happy about the free day ahead of me, but instead I felt anxious.

Feeling worried, I shared my feelings with my family, who told me to just enjoy the day. I knew I should feel like that… but I still felt underlying guilt that I wouldn’t be able to work. It wasn’t until our boss sent us an e-mail that actually told us all to enjoy ourselves (don’t do any work, and don’t check your work e-mails again!) that I started to feel better, that actually it was OK not to do work today.

So, with my gift of a free day, I did the kind of things that I usually long for – simple pleasures that made me feel much more relaxed and happy. I went back to bed, slept, caught up on some TV, chatted with family, met friends for a coffee… and we ended up making snow angels and having a laugh, walking like penguins huddled together under an umbrella as the snow came down around us.

It was a fun day, which made me embrace my inner child, playing in the snow, taking pictures of the pretty scenes, and finally just letting go. The roads here are also far too dangerous in these weather conditions, so it comforted me that by staying off school, we were keeping ourselves and others safe.

So, thank you Beast from the East, for forcing me to relax and to realise that the sky doesn’t fall in if you get off the treadmill for one day! (Even if there are huge snowflakes falling from it).



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).


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.



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)!


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 🙂

Ynys Mon: Old and New Memories


Last week, on May Bank holiday weekend, I went on a somewhat risky holiday to North Wales.

  • Risk 1: the weather – everybody knows that Britain does not have the best weather… and especially in North Wales it can be very wet and windy. I was just praying it would be dry!
  • Risk 2: nostalgia – should you ever go back to a place you once held happy memories? The risk is that the changes you find from past to present are upsetting, or stirring up old memories could be emotional in a way that you are not prepared for.

This was not a typical British holiday. My sister, parents and I were going to be staying on the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon in Welsh – and sorry for those who know there should be a circumflex on the o but I can’t get my computer to do it!), which we left about 21 years ago, when my sister and I were 7.

Old memories

I have a lot of happy memories from my time there, and nearly all of them involve being in the outdoors, on the cliffs, at the seaside, in the woods and in all weathers, too. Splashing at the windy, cloudy beach, in wellies shaped like frogs; searching the woods for the Three Bears’ house (thanks Mum & Dad!); being pelted in the face by hailstones at school pick up time; a school trip on a life boat; walking past long reeds and grass, thinking of the adders that could be lurking there; picking honeysuckle from the roadside as a gift to a teacher (a little bit of a teacher’s pet, clearly!)

I left a piece of my childhood heart in Wales and I really wanted to go back, most specifically to the South Stack, where there is a lighthouse and where we used to go and look for puffins with Dad. This is a place I always remembered fondly.

South Stack

New memories

Going back 21 years later, it was time to look back but also to create new memories in the present, being older and wiser and more able to appreciate the stunning scenery around us. We won the gamble we had taken on the British weather as it was sunny and warm throughout our stay, with hardly any wind on our trip to South Stack and Holyhead mountain. It felt like a miracle to see the sea with no white breakers and to be walking around Anglesey in short sleeves… and having to put sunscreen on my fair British skin. I was no longer the child hiding her face in her coat to stop the painful white ice-stones pummelling into me. (As you might have guessed from that old memory, that was the day I learnt what “hailstones” were).

Another new memory I will take with me about Wales is a sense that it holds some kind of spiritual, magical feeling. There were times when we were walking through woods with the sunlight slightly breaking through the leaves, the flowers and undergrowth dappled with light, a peace around us, everything so still but also as if it was somehow waiting to come alive. I’m not sure I am really describing this feeling very well, but when you think about Welsh myth and legend, with the red dragon emblem, it does feel appropriate that this sense of magic seems to live and breathe in the Welsh landscape and countryside.

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a sense of spirit and magic



I have mainly written this post so that I can let the photographs I took really speak for themselves about the beautiful landscape and scenery of our trip. The sunny weather was the perfect backdrop to show it off, but also, if it had been gloomy, it might have brought out a different “moody” feel to the landscape. Whatever risk there is with the weather, this nostalgic trip has awakened a deep love in me for this part of Wales, this “home” I left, and still carry with me in my heart.

South Stack and Holyhead Mountain


Woodland Walks


Coast and Beach


Snowdon National Park – Llyn Idwal

Go Ape: Let Go and have a Socially Acceptable Scream

Go Ape: was it really for me?

I’m not the thrill-seeking kind (I tend to find the stresses of everyday life adrenalin-fuelled enough!) but when my friend Hannah suggested a trip to Go Ape to celebrate her birthday, I was excited to try it out. For those of you who don’t know, Go Ape is a kind of tree top adventure course, where you climb up high on rope ladders, cross from platform to platform on different types of bridges and nets, and come down to Earth by zooming along zip wires.

I first heard about Go Ape a few years ago from a Kiwi woman I met when teaching at a summer school in Ely, and when she told me that she was going to spend her day off (the one day off we got per week) swinging through the tree tops, I must have looked at her like she was slightly mad (I personally had been imagining a quiet day exploring nearby Cambridge, seeking peace away from the hundreds of children). However, a few years on, I can understand now that Go Ape is a great alternative way to release stress and get away from it all. After all, up in the trees you can certainly look at the world from a different perspective.

That said, I was approaching the trip with a slight feeling of trepidation. Everyone I’ve ever met who’s done Go Ape (and let’s face it, most people I’ve ever met in general) are more adventurous and less nervous… and I was wondering how I would respond to it. Would I get vertigo? Would I find myself freaking out? Or would I actually discover that I was in my element? There was only one way to find out…

Tree top crossing Photo credit:
Tree top crossing
Photo credit:

Overcoming obstacles: first signs of difficulty

On arrival my friends and I were given harnesses, trained on how to use the equipment, and after practising together with an instructor on site 1, we were left to make our own way through the rest of the sites 2-5. Site 1 had been easy as it was all about familiarising yourself with the various hooks and getting used to how it all worked; Site 2 was where things started to get a little more interesting. It turned out (as I had suspected) that I was a wimp and found myself shrieking a lot at the first sign of difficulty: getting up the rope ladder. I really didn’t like the sensation of it swinging under my feet. Next came a crossing along a bridge made of planks of wood; this too proved difficult and it was thanks to Becky’s encouragement (first couple of steps – “Well done, Jo,” next couple of steps – “you’re doing really well!”) that I kept going to the other side. Luckily, it so happened that Becky was also a wimp (her words!) so we were able to take the course more slowly together, encourage each other and seek solace in the fact that neither of us was alone in our fear.


There were times in sites 2 and 3 when the only thing that got me from one swinging wooden plank to another was the thought of a nice, cool gin once I was back on firm ground. However, there were other forms of motivation that really got me through. Quite early on in the course, I had come across real difficulty after swinging into a cargo net that I then had to climb up to reach the platform. Finding it tricky to get a grip on the net, and even more difficult to pull myself up (aware of my limited upper body strength) I uselessly hung there, and found myself saying (or actually wailing) “I can’t do it!” – only to be told in a rather no-nonsense way by the instructor, “Yes, you can!” The fact is, I didn’t really have a choice. Unless I wanted to hang off the cargo net for the foreseeable future, I would have to find it within myself to pull myself up and keep going. The instructor was right, of course I could do it, it just took me a little longer. That was the first and last time the words “I can’t do it”, which I find come all too easily to me, escaped my lips for the rest of the course.

Photo credit:
Cargo net crossing Photo credit:

I also found that in order to make it through, I had to engage in what is known in the self-help industry as “positive self-talk”; in other words, talking to yourself in an encouraging way. After a slight panic on seeing another cargo net that reached from one platform to another, I asked my friends despairingly, “How did you do that?!” They talked me through the best approach and I had to go for it. It was not nearly as hard as I had thought on first sight. Half-way across I felt really proud of myself for managing it. Go, Jo, go! 🙂

Other times where the positive voice inside really had to shine through were the moments just before the leap onto a zip wire. At these points, although I logically knew I was safely attached, I had to work up the courage to step off the platform and really let go. At these points I found that counting myself down really helped. 1… 2… 3… close your eyes, step off, and enjoy the ride down to Earth! Riding along the zip wires was a great opportunity to have a good scream, but rather than screaming I indulged in hysterical laughter – both choices probably worked wonders to release stress and tension! Discussing this afterwards, I think it was Becky who made the point that there are not many places where you could scream like this… so if you’re feeling pent up, perhaps try a trip to Go Ape!

Photo Credit:
Monkey Puzzle crossing (one of my least favourites!) Photo Credit:


Sites 4 and 5 were by far the most enjoyable for me, and I’m not sure if this is because by this point I was more familiar with everything, that it had taken me a while to warm up, or because, with only two sites left, I knew it would nearly be over (!). However, this is where I really started to enjoy the crossings and discovered my inner adventurer. Also, when presented with choices of route (extreme or moderate) I did opt for moderate, which made me feel a lot better (and it’s important to know your limits!) A personal highlight was the zip wire which involved stepping onto a skateboard for the ride down; I also enjoyed the invigorating climb up the ladders at the end of the course, which reached to an amazing height, and, taking the final zip wire was a great feeling!

So if you fancy a good scream, are not too afraid of heights, and want to give yourself a challenge, try Go Ape! And if you think you might not be the adventurous type, you never know, you might surprise yourself.

Escaping to Edinburgh – Am I a loser?

It’s Half-term so I’m free to write again, and in my newly restyled blog – hope you like it 🙂 Just trying to keep it fresh!

Introduction to the Escape – and pre-trip deliberations

So today I’m here to tell you about my most recent escapade – a mini-break in Edinburgh. It’s a city I’ve wanted to visit for a few years, but until now, I had never got it together to actually go. In fact, I had always been sort of waiting for the right time, for a friend (or preferably boyfriend!) to go with, for enough money, etc.  It was all just excuses, and it finally dawned on me that if I wanted to go, I should just go. Alone.

So that’s exactly what I did, after much deliberation. I deliberated mostly about whether the decision to go on a mini-break alone would be cool, fun and liberating, or would make me a total loser. I’m fairly happy in my own company, and have travelled solo before, but never without the prospect of a job or friend to meet at the other end. The thought of travelling solo, sleeping solo, eating solo and exploring solo seemed a little sad in the eyes of the most negative part of myself…and I had a strange inner battle going on before I finally went ahead, booked the train, booked the hotel and decided to go for it. In the end, the inner adventurer in me won out, but I still couldn’t quite shake a slight feeling of dread every time I pictured myself dining out totally alone. My final philosophy was that I would never know if a mini-break alone would be fun, miserable, or just plain old fine until I actually did it, and I knew that I would learn over the trip just how happy I really am in my own company; if I ended up having a miserable time, well, I would just know to go with friends and family in future.

The Trip – Day One

The solo trip began early on Tuesday morning when I left Petts Wood for Kings Cross to get on the 08.00 East Coast train to Edinburgh, which amazingly takes just under 4 and a half hours. I actually left a fairly warm and sunny London behind but as I travelled further and further north, the sky got ever cloudier and grey, the train felt chilly and somewhere around Berwick-upon-Tweed, it started raining. Still, you don’t travel in Britain in late October thinking you are going to get sunshine, and after getting a hot chocolate on arrival in Edinburgh, I was told, “We don’t live here for the weather!” The rain and cold was at least giving me the authentic autumnal experience.


I went to check into my hotel – The Grassmarket Hotel – which had a convenient central location near several pubs and restaurants, and also offered something a little different in the way of decor. It had a young and trendy feel to it but as well as being quirky, my room was also very clean and comfortable. The walls were stylishly decorated with pages from The Dandy, but my favourite idiosyncrasy of this hotel were the complementary Tunnock’s teacakes and mugs decorated with a Tunnock’s teacake emblem. These were also available to purchase from the hotel which I did when checking out as a memory of my very comfortable stay there.

Exploring solo on Day One involved a trip to the brightly painted Museum of Edinburgh, and purchases of a few edible souvenirs from the Fudge House of Edinburgh, as well as some whisky-flavoured fruit cake from a shop offering many tempting traditionally Scottish delicacies.

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Then came my ultimate dread on the first evening – dining out alone – which I still felt awkward about. I went to an inn close to the hotel – The White Hart Inn – and was relaxed by the cosy, friendly atmosphere. As I sipped the White Hart ale and sampled the delights of the traditional haggis, neeps and tatties (award-winning at the White Hart), I found that I was actually enjoying myself (although I still think it would have been much more enjoyable with a friend). However the food and ale were delicious, the staff were friendly and the pub was cosy; all in all my first day alone in Edinburgh had been enjoyable, relaxing, and I was looking forward to the next full day ahead.

Haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) in a creamy whisky sauce... delicious!
My solo meal of haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) in a creamy whisky sauce… delicious!

Day Two

This was the single full day of the trip and stands out to me as the highlight of my time in Edinburgh. I woke up to sunny skies and a fresh autumn day that was the perfect weather for walking round Holyrood Park and climbing up to Arthur’s Seat, the hill which overlooks the city. It was an invigorating climb and I was happy to reach the top and take a seat on the rocky summit, where I stopped to take in the stunning views.

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In the afternoon I visited the Scotch Whisky Experience just to do something a bit different and in the hope of getting a nice gift for my dad; I was also looking forward to a taste of the tipple! However I have to confess that I didn’t actually enjoy the drink (it’s a bit strong for my liking) but I did get that nice gift I was after. I also enjoyed looking in the shops in the Royal Mile, and at the end of the day, I returned to the White Hart with more confidence and less awkwardness than the previous night. My  wish for a friend to talk to came true when a six-year-old called Joe tapped me on the shoulder and called me a cutie (be careful what  you wish for!).

A cabinet of whisky from floor to ceiling around the ENTIRE room; the Scotch Whisky Experience is home to the largest private collection of whisky in the world.
tasting the tipple!










Day Three

My final day in Edinburgh, and I spent the morning doing a bit of gift-shop browsing, and visited the Writers’ Museum about the lives of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. I also went to The Elephant House (one of the cafes where J. K. Rowling wrote the early editions of Harry Potter). I boarded the 2.30 train to London where I am now writing this very blog post.

The Writers’ Museum
Shopping on the Royal Mile








Final thoughts

When I took this trip, I knew that it would test my own ability to be alone, and to my surprise, Day Two was the day where I discovered that I could be happy in my own company to an extent that I didn’t think was actually possible. Part of me cynically thought that spending a lot of time alone would be boring and depressing, but on the second day in Edinburgh, I found the opposite to be true. As the day went on, I experienced a growing feeling of peace and contentment and I had a lovely time exploring Edinburgh in my own way. My return trip to the White Hart confirmed that by the end of Day Two, I was a lot more comfortable with being alone in Edinburgh.

I’m really pleased that my inner adventurer persuaded me to take this trip. I had a great time and am returning to London with more than a few souvenirs, some edible ones as well as photographs, memories and experiences. I’ve included some more photos of Edinburgh below.

Hope you enjoyed this post, and that you also like the blog makeover.

Love, Jo xxx

All Rosy in the Garden

It’s been one  week  since I joined a new teaching position in a new school; it’s also been  about one week since I  gained a new housemate (little sis!) and one week since I last did some gardening (after my summer aim of taming the wilderness that I inherited from the previous tenants one year ago).

A lot can change in a year, and as I am starting the new academic year 2014-15 I can’t help but think of the person and teacher that I was one year ago and how far I have come. The new position is not  without its challenges, but hopefully ones which I am able to accept more readily and face with greater confidence.

I also think about my flat which was so new to me only a year ago, when I had only just bought my own furniture and put it up (with a little help from Dad) and when I was only just getting to grips with my new-found complete independence and responsibility.

Last year’s first primary teaching job and new flat seemed to come hand-in-hand; one year on and another new teaching position has arrived where I am thankfully and happily a lot more comfortable, a lot more relaxed (a strange and wonderful feeling for me!) and am able to draw on my experiences and even enjoy it! The same has to be said of my flat – without all the worries I had this time last year, I am able to appreciate the beautiful roses in bloom in the garden, and to appreciate my summer efforts of making the garden look more presentable.

I wanted to let you all know, through this blog post, that the new job has been a wonderful and welcome change for me, and also to show you how beautiful the roses in the garden are. They may be thorny but now they are in bloom, they are a beautiful sight. They seem to represent the difficulties I have faced but can now appreciate, and the fact that I myself have “blossomed” and grown over the last year.

I hope you enjoy the photos of the beautiful flowers 🙂

Thank you for reading,

Love Jo xxx

British Summer Part 3: Turkish Baths in the East End

Hello readers,

It seems that with the chilly weather, British Summer is turning into British Autumn. It feels that summer was a little short-lived and I am optimistically hoping that a surprise heat wave is on its way just to finish off the school holidays nicely… but if that doesn’t happen and you need some warmth, there is always the Thermal Spa Experience which I was extremely happy to discover last weekend.

I came across the ‘Experience’ by chance whilst looking online for ideas – Mum was visiting London for the day and had left the planning up to me. I thought it was best not to do something involving a lot of walking or anything too crowded, and somehow managed to come across a recommendation for Spa London, which is located in several different areas of the city. The website I viewed mentioned the branch at Bethnal Green (called York Hall Day Spa), and stated that you could have three hours in the thermal spa for £25.00. This sounded like the perfect relaxing day I had in mind and in just a few minutes I had booked and paid for a session for the following day. Excited, I decided not to tell Mum exactly what we were doing so it could be a nice surprise.

The Thermal Spa Experience at Bethnal Green is set in one of the oldest Turkish Baths in London and was restored into the spa as it is today in 2005. As part of the three-hour session, you have access to a sauna, two steam rooms, a Hammam (heated seating area), the Turkish Baths (a series of hot rooms: Tepidarium “warm room”, Caldarium “hot room”, Laconium “hottest room”), a Monsoon Shower, an Ice Fountain (for rubbing ice on the body after a heat treatment), a Plunge Pool (to stimulate circulation and to use between heat treatments), Bucket Shower (basically a bucket of cold water you can pour over yourself after a heat treatment) and a Relaxation Lounge (with loungers, sofas, and refreshments such as water, herbal tea and fruit). The spa provides customers with bath robes, towels and footwear. You can also book additional beauty treatments such as massages and facials, and they also offer packages for hen-dos and mothers-to-be.

On arrival at the spa, we were recommended to alternate hot and cold treatments for the best results. I loved the heat treatments, and in between them, I braved the Bucket Shower and Plunge Pool and really did feel the refreshing effects! After the three hour session my face was glowing, and I felt amazing! Mum was so relaxed that she even dozed off in the Relaxation Lounge 😉 It was a lovely day and we both felt great afterwards.

I was so surprised to discover these Turkish Baths in central London, and when you are in the spa, it is so peaceful and relaxing that you can forget where you are. I was also impressed by the history of the Turkish Baths themselves and I’m pleased that they have been restored so that they can still be enjoyed.

If you are interested in paying these baths a visit, find out more here. I am pretty sure that I will be going back again soon!

York Hall today (Hammam)
York Hall Turkish Baths c.1920