Ageing and such like

I have come across various quotations recently, including one today which said ‘it’s never too late to become the person you want to become’ and another – an advertisement by the Sanctuary Spa – encouraging women to relax and to ‘let go’ .  As I am just starting a college course, aiming for a change in career and it’s my birthday next week, both got me thinking.

Changing career is both exciting and daunting.   I am old enough to be the mother, if not the grandmother, of some of the other students.  But for some while now I have wanted to do something more creative.  Singing and writing were never going to pay the bills; cooking on the other hand, although at most levels not as well paid as surveying, could do.  I am torn between wanting to do something which is fulfilling for me; having to provide financially for my children; trying to balance work with looking after my children (picking them up from school, not too many hours in after school club, trying not to ask their father to look after them more than I do, etc. etc.).  I don’t know whether I’m doing the right thing – I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone in many ways – but I do know that drifting along as a surveyor is not satisfying, not fulfilling and, ultimately, doesn’t seem to be providing the right opportunities to make of it either a career or a vocation any longer.  I’ve applied for jobs and got nowhere, whereas already opportunities for catering are coming my way.

The other issue I’m debating in my head is whether it’s selfish to find something which is fulfilling, career-wise (which is why being able to provide for my children financially is an important factor).  The Sanctuary advert popped into my consciousness at just the right moment: my Thursday evening run had been cancelled (partly by me – the weather was atrocious) and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and a bit low.  Straight away I was thinking about my ‘to do’ list and how, as I wasn’t going running I then ‘must do… singing practice; learn/practice Italian; sort out my college folder; write all the features I’ve been meaning to write; go out for a run anyway…’ as if the suddenly empty time had to be filled.

The Sanctuary advert pulled me up short.  I roamed around a bit on Facebook, finding an inspiring clip about a man who had started running at 95 and long jump at 97; I lit some candles and had a bath (I normally have a shower as it’s quicker), lying there for ages not even reading but with bubbles about a foot higher than the surface of the water, just day dreaming; I eventually did some singing; and then I roamed around a bit more on Facebook and pinterest before writing this post.

I haven’t done all the things I could have done; but instead of feeling sad and sorry for myself I’ve enjoyed having some contemplative, peaceful time on my own.  I’m happy that I’m following my dream of being more creative, and excited about my change of career and where it might lead me: and I’m glad I’m doing it before I’m too old.

I still have a list of things to do, or that I wish to do, and I don’t want to live to regret not doing anything – but at the same time I know that sometimes it’s OK just to take some time out and do nothing.  As the Italians say, “la dolce far niente”.  And at those points, when you’re happy enough and confident enough to stop – to have a break from the rushing around we all do – you can look into yourself and see who you really are.  And you know what?  I like who I am (phew!).

Advertisements

Comfort Zones

download

I’ve never really been one to stay in my comfort zone for too long: though people’s attitude to me has varied between ‘what the hell are you doing that for – are you an idiot?’ and ‘good for you’.  Funny, isn’t it – how people’s reactions to the things we do can be so diametrically opposed.  Just confirms that you have to do what your own heart/ head/ senses/ conscience tell you to do, not what other people think you should do, as some people will think you are right and some – probably, if it was analyzed, about 50% – will think you are wrong.

I can’t remember the first time I stepped outside my comfort zone and did something someone thought I shouldn’t, but I do remember my father saying something along the lines of daughters doing incomprehensible, rash things like switching to degree courses in subjects such as music.  I also remember a musical friend saying with surprise, about one of my music essays, “you sounded as if you knew what you were talking about – even though I knew you had no idea what a diminished 9th was” (actually, I might have known what a diminished 9th was – I probably looked it up purely for the purposes of the essay).

Later on of course I went for a safe-ish option and became a chartered surveyor.  At that point the unemployment rate for surveyors was very low, although to become chartered as a non-cognate graduate and as a woman (shock, horror – ‘they’ didn’t even approve of women wearing trousers to work when I began my surveying career in 1986!) was more unusual.  Someone from one of the long-established West End firms wrote in response to my job request, that they might have a job going managing their fleet cars – and that they (he) thought that often it was best if people ‘stuck to their own last’.

That sort of comment was, of course, guaranteed to make me stick to becoming a chartered surveyor rather than giving up – as with the guy who I had worked with previously who said what on earth made me think I’d stick to it when I’d stuck to nothing else work-wise up until then… what made me stick to it was that I had something to prove, not only to other people but also to myself.

After about 8 years in surveying I’d had enough however and decided to chuck it all in and go to work as a holiday rep., firstly in France (where I would have liked to have stayed) and then in Norway.  My father said “You’re not to give up a well-paid secure job to become a holiday rep.”.  Did I take any notice?  I had no mortgage, no children… and left a job paying £30,000 pa for one paying about £3,000 pa.  I had a great time and have seen bits of rural France that I shall probably never see again – and I could also speak fluent French when I got back.  My French is no longer fluent, but it gave me a confidence in speaking it which I think probably also helped with, later on, learning Italian.

I fell into a comfort zone after that though – my career progressed; I bought a flat; I earned (compared to my mortgage) a lot of money.  Then I met David, settled down, had children, moved to Cumbria… life was steady.

Or was it?  Don’t you think Life has a way of surprising you?  I am well aware that it really cannot be planned for – some things you wish for do indeed happen, but the effects of them are never quite what you expect and there are all the other things which happen which you didn’t even dream of (or the things you wished for happen, but turn out then to follow a different path from the one you’d expected or hoped for).

So there I was, plodding along, doing a job, taking redundancy as I hated the job and assumed I would just walk into another one as I always had… and I ended up pregnant, aged 48/49.  The creative side of me, which had been somewhat under wraps since graduating, had started rearing its head as well: I was singing and writing and started doing more of both.  The baby arrived, and provided a huge amount of joy and a fair amount of media interest.

Then my husband left.  After a few months of adjusting to it and having unexpectedly inherited a bit of money, I found I wanted to spread my wings and enjoy my new-found freedom and my 45% child-free time.   About a year later I got a job as a surveyor again, having thought I’d never go back to it, and had the most passionate and intense love affair of my life, with a guy who tapped right into the essence of me – the creative, free me which had been trying to escape the comfort zone for so long.

And now… after the pain (I still miss him); the acceptance (my kids have to come first) and the realisation (I am a creative person, and a people person)… I am about to step out of my comfort zone again.  I have a new job as a part-time chef, and am about to start a catering course in September.  Because of time restraints it is unlikely, come September, that I shall work as a surveyor again – after 30-odd years in the profession.

But, as I said in my college interview, I have 12 to 15 years of working life left.  I want, and intend, them to be enjoyable and (therefore) successful.  On an emotional level it feels as if I’m doing the right thing; on a practical level it also makes sense as there is far more demand for chefs than there is for surveyors and I have experience (e.g. in management and also in promotion) which is transferable.  I may go ‘backwards’ initially (in terms of starting again at the bottom, having to retrain, and not earning much) but it’s in order to go forwards more.  And the opportunities and openings are enormous – I wanted to live and work in France but didn’t manage it – becoming a chef my only restraint to where I work is my children.  There’s also a whole history to how I got to this stage, but it’s not necessarily relevant: suffice to say that when a friend suggested I get a job as a chef I mulled it over and eventually realised that she was talking a lot of sense and picking up on something which had been within me for a while.

She also suggested I start a supper club, so that’s exactly what I’ve done, with the profit going to charity.  If you feel like ‘sharing’ this and encouraging friends who live in or who are visiting Cumbria to come along, it would be great if you could – I would love to get really booked up.  And guess what… my new website also has a blog!

Visit: Brampton Supper Club

(and on Facebook: Facebook page for Brampton Supper Club)

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties

– Erich Fromm

flowers for courage

Restaurants

I haven’t had much money for eating out this year – it’s been a difficult year emotionally and financially, although both have improved as time has gone on.  Unfortunately with the latter, as soon as I think things are improving they seem to go pear-shaped again – the latest being an unexpected tax bill which has arisen not through my error but due to HMRC’s ineptitude with my PAYE… that having been said, I have no doubt they will still want me to pay it (bang goes the lump sum from one of my pensions, which was going to pay for some house repairs and garden maintenance).

Still, despite that I have been on some brilliant trips this year and therefore eaten out in some fantastic places.  There isn’t really any one restaurant which stands out in Italy – all the food is so fantastic, and as everybody says, the ice cream is out of this world.  But I’ve mentioned The Bridge restaurant in St Asaph, North Wales and Bella and I enjoyed Carluccio’s in London.

Then in Lanzarote recently a friend and I came across what is possibly one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in in my entire life: Alma tapas & + (Alma tapas y mas) in La Santa village on the north west coast of the island.  We’d been a bit disappointed with most of the food on-site at Club la Santa and had tried the restaurant Verde Mar in la Santa village one evening – which was good, as was The Plaza within the Club la Santa complex itself.  We had decided we’d go back to the Verde Mar and so walked into la Santa village on the penultimate night of the holiday.  For some reason when we got there we thought we’d look to see what other restaurants there were – Penny had spotted a tapas bar one day when we’d been cycling through, though neither of us was particularly keen to have tapas.  We spotted the restaurant and liked the decor and the look of the menu… and headed in.

Alma tapas & + is a tapas bar during the day and a fully fledged restaurant at night – and Wow is it some restaurant.  The service was excellent with friendly, good-natured staff who seemed to be happy in their jobs and who were attentive without being intrusive but who were quick to respond when customers wanted something – they even seemed to like my attempts to speak Spanish, which as usual I got muddled up with Italian.  The freshly baked bread rolls were not made in house but were local, and were served warmed up with the local ‘mojos’ – a green and an orangey sauce/dip which we had been served each evening that we’d ordered bread and which are delicious (I’m just not totally sure what’s in them!).

Our main courses that day were Lamb for me and Fillet Steak for Penny – despite the fact that both of us tend to eat fish rather than red meat.  Both dishes were beautifully presented, cooked perfectly and served with a delicious selection of ‘al dente’ vegetables.  For dessert I chose a hazelnut mousse with a crispy coffee base and I think, from memory, also a layer of dark chocolate.  It was incredibly light and foamy and absolutely fantastic (and I don’t normally go for desserts).  Then, just as we were about to pay and to leave, we were offered a liqueur on the house – as they didn’t have any limoncello they offered us a grapefruit-based liqueur which again was delicious, partly as it had a lovely sharpness to it as well as the sweetness of a liqueur.

The meal was so fantastic that we opted to go there again on the final night.  This time we both had a starter as well as the bread and mojos and I ordered the Thai lobster bisque which had tempted me the day before.  This was a light, spicy soup served with some pieces of lobster, which is something I haven’t eaten since I last ate it in Capernaum bistro over a year ago, but which I love (I first tried lobster in Greece, where you could pick your lobster out of a tank where it was swimming around…).  The blend of flavours worked perfectly and I adored the fact that it wasn’t a creamy, cloying soup.

As Penny had sung the praises of the fillet steak so highly the evening before I was torn between tuna and steak, and in the end opted for the steak.  It was really melt in the mouth stuff, and later when the Brazilian owner came round she told us how they ensure it remains so succulent and soft.  Despite being full by then it was difficult to resist having a dessert, and this time it was an airy, foamy mango mousse with a white chocolate ‘cream’ beneath it.  I seem to remember the creamy base was made with yoghurt so again it was not too sweet and was of a heavenly lightness.  Desserts that light and foamy seem just to slip down as if they have no calories at all!

Despite being far busier on this second evening the service was again excellent, and we left feeling a little sad that we hadn’t discovered this superb restaurant sooner.  But I hope very much that it prospers and continues to excel.  You can be sure that next time I’m on Lanzarote I know exactly where I am going to eat.  I’m just sorry that despite taking my camera with me, I completely forgot to take any photos as I was enjoying my food so much!  You can see some of their creations on their Facebook page though – click here.

Cooking and Cadets

Alex has joined the Army Cadets.  He’s taking it very seriously – yesterday he insisted on having a very short hair cut when it wasn’t that long ago he was objecting to having it cut short at all – and he has been polishing his boots (fingers crossed the new-found discipline being instilled in him will expand into all areas of his life and will last – though he doesn’t yet seem to have applied it to his homework).

Today was Remembrance Sunday and the Army Cadets, along with Air Cadets, Air Force Personnel and some others, paraded through Brampton to the church.  Alex was with them, trying to keep his face straight when Edward wanted to run up to him and give him a high five, and was then running alongside the marching parade (earlier he – Edward – had been shouting.  He was a match for the sergeant major!).  It was a pity about the weather when it’s been so gorgeous recently, but perhaps appropriate for Remembrance Sunday – rather as Good Friday should really always be a rainy day.

It’s sad in the photos seeing Capernaum.  It started to close on Sundays about a year or more ago, but now it’s closed permanently every day.  I hadn’t been in ages for a variety of reasons, including lack of money, but the children still ask if they can go in there even though they know it’s closed.  It means however that I have rediscovered my enjoyment of cooking myself – when David left and I had some inheritance I started living a bit of a single, ‘party’, life again for a while, and having a good restaurant at the end of the road was a bonus.  I have always enjoyed cooking though and having helped in the restaurant and then also more recently been to Italy, I’m trying out new things or trying to improve on things I’ve made before.

Today was therefore a bit of a cooking-fest: I was in the right mood to get creative in the kitchen and the weather was the sort to make you want to stay indoors rather than beckoning you out into the hills.  Bella made a victoria sponge, adding almond extract and orange zest, while I had a third attempt at Panna Cotta.  It always seems so heavy when I make it, whereas the one we had in Carluccio’s last weekend was so light… I thought I’d try single cream and sheet gelatine, but although it was better it still wasn’t light enough for my taste.  Bella suggested trying less gelatine and I think she may be right.

I then made Ricciarelli, but this time made them larger than last time and with orange zest rather than lemon zest.  I think I prefer them with lemon zest – they’re slightly sharper – and I very much want to try making them with almond flour rather than ground almonds (the health food shop has some on order for me).  I wasn’t totally sure that they were cooked through to the middle as they were so much bigger than the first batch I made, so I left them in the oven once I’d switched it off, to dry out a bit more.  Later I opened the door and left some bread dough to rise while Edward and I went out to watch Alex in his parade.

I then cooked roast pork for dinner (it’s the second time I’ve bought it from Sainsburys and both times I have been very disappointed with the crackling), with all sorts of side dishes: the kids did their usual thing of eating some bits and being very fussy about others, although it was nice to see Alex produce a clean plate.  But then he hadn’t eaten since breakfast time.  He also appreciated a panna cotta, some cake and a Ricciarelli biscuit.

And soon I shall be off to Lanzarote where I shall no doubt enjoy some Spanish food!

 

 

Capernaum

Much as I love the children, I have to admit that having single, childfree time, is great…

Last night I went to Brampton’s newest and most classy restaurant for the fourth time in about 5 weeks (see my review and others equally as enthusiastic and complimentary on Trip Advisor – Capernaum Bistro).  I was early arriving – Nicola was a little bit late.  I hasten to add that I didn’t mind in the slightest – I was quite happy sitting there day dreaming and doing nothing for a change while Chef-Proprietor Anthony and his team rushed around looking after people. By the time she arrived I’d almost finished a gin and tonic and had munched my way through the delicious crudities (tiny slices of toasted (?) ciabatta with ham hock terrine and – I think – tapinade (sorry Anthony but I can’t remember!).  Both were lovely, the ham hock terrine being so delicate that it almost didn’t taste meaty.

Having scoffed the lot, when Nicola arrived we were generously provided with more crudities in the form of little cubes of ham hock with pistaccios.  Yum…  we then shared a starter of caprese, beef tomatoes and mozzarella with a lovely pesto dressing which I could have just eaten loads of on toast.  In fact a large helping of that entire dish with some salad leaves would make a fab. lunch… and fresh pesto is so much better than the stuff in jars.  The Co-op started selling fresh pesto at one point but sadly they’ve stopped again.  I’ll have to either make my own or keep my fingers crossed that Capernaum opens a delicatessen.  In fact one of my ambitions has long been to open a delicatessen in Brampton, and the block in which Capernaum is situated has always seemed the right location.  Any funders out there?

Capernaum 24th January (1)Between courses we were served the heavenly surprise of a complimentary palate cleanser.  I’m dying to use the term amuse bouche as I think it’s such a great one – lit. ‘amuse the mouth’ – but I’m not sure that’s strictly the right expression and in fact of course it would apply more to the crudities.  I choose the word ‘heavenly’ deliberately: the first mouthful of this damson sorbet with a champagne topping had my taste buds dancing with delight.  Superlatives aren’t adequate to describe that first mouthful (and the second, third…).  And aren’t its colours beautiful?

Nicola then progressed to Beef and Ale pie, which looked lovely, and I had a sirloin steak.  I love the straw fries with parmesan and we also shared seasonal veg. with new potatoes and root vegetables.  I had said I’d share a dessert with Nicola but in fact by then I was feeling far too full, so I had a liqueur (amaretto) coffee while she had crumble.Capernaum 24th January (2)

Post-dinner we sat and chatted upstairs in the lounge area with a glass of port each, continuing to put the world to rights.  This mostly entailed discussing how Brampton was a good place for ex-city-dwellers who want a truly rural life but with facilities (decent wine bars/bistros) as good as those in a city; talking about her forthcoming move to Holmfirth (her husband moves ahead of her and the girls tomorrow); and the reasons for my marriage break up (or should that be breakdown…).  I eventually rolled home feeling good about life, and about myself.  I have some of the feelings I had when I was single – the excitement of having a social life, potentially doing some travelling, and being able to go out with friends and feel no pressure to get home by a certain time – but with the fulfillment and satisfaction of having children.  Sadly, David leaving has given me the space I need from time to time just to relax, unwind and do my own thing.  I guess it’s partly that I don’t feel guilty – if the children are being looked after by him I have a few hours or a couple of days when I can switch off to a large extent from being a mother and, guilt-free, just be me.

One question which has come up in the past few days in my conversations with both Kath and Nicola is ‘would I get married again?’.  The answer is, I don’t know: there’s a lot to be said for feeling young, free and single at times: on the other hand a good marriage or settled relationship can be an especially close support and companionship.  At the moment I’m even in two minds about the whole internet dating thing, though it’s fun to get messages and ‘talk’ to some new guys online: part of me feels that just to do my own thing and concentrate on  my writing and singing and some exercise would be enough in addition to my children, work and friends.

In the spirit of temporarily reduced responsibility, I sat down this morning to apply for two jobs – but have decided not to as the deadline is tomorrow, the application form has some difficult questions on it which I don’t want to think about right now, and I’m just not sure enough about the organisation and type of work to want to apply at the moment.  Instead I’m off out for a run up the Ridge, to get some kindling for the wood-burner, and then to start some decorating or gardening and to do some writing-related stuff: plus a good hour of singing practice this evening after I get the kids to bed.

Life is good.

Footnote: while running in Ridge Woods I came across a new stone memorial to a Lorna Graves (2014).  It was rather lovely: roughly hewn with a relief of a cow and the moon on it.  I don’t know who you were Lorna Graves, nor the significance of the cow and the moon, but your memory lives on in a glorious spot.