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

Obscure jewels

The great thing about Cumbria is that you can find almost unknown treasures just off the
beaten track.  Sometimes you wonder how they survive; others seem to be thriving
despite not being anywhere obvious, nor well-signposted.

1. Brampton to Longtown (7)An example is the delightful little museum at Bewcastle – out in the middle of wild, almost-unvisited, haunted Reiver country.  It doesn’t take long to look around, but it tells the story of Bewcastle for those lone visitors who trek up to this remote part of north Cumbria.

 

Today we went to Threlkeld Mining Museum, which sits within the Lake District National Park just outside sometimes-crowded (relatively speaking) Keswick.  It represents one of the contradictions of the Lake District, even of Cumbria itself: this now idyllically rural county once made its wealth from industry, the landscape being gouged to free various valuable minerals.  Copper, lead, slate, graphite and even coal have been taken from the fells, valleys and coast that sheep now roam over and walkers ramble across.

Threlkeld Mining Museum appears not much more than a collection of rusty excavators in a quarry at first glance, but spending some time there is rewarding.  There’s a short ride on a narrow gauge steam train which takes you up to a quarry which is still worked – perhaps recently most significantly to help repair the road past Thirlmere (Keswick to Ambleside) which collapsed when the side of Hevellyn suffered a major landslip in the floods of December 2015 – and a tour of the old mine workings.  The guides are informative and enthusiastic and you come away with an enhanced understanding of how unsafe and unhealthy conditions were working underground – children carrying large tubs of excretia away at the ends of shifts; pit ponies and men falling down shafts, to be left at the bottom to rot; poisonous lead; children laying explosives, made from goose quills filled with powder, at close range because they were more expendable than adults… the social history is fascinating and humbling.

The Museum has no flash modern cafe facilities but during the gap between our train ride and our underground tour, one of the Museum staff pointed us in the direction of the cafe in Threlkeld village (the excellent Village Coffee Shop).  This was another ‘find’.  The village is bypassed by the A66 but if you bother to turn off the main road and head into the village there is a sign for a cafe.   This is situated in a beautifully refurbished village hall with superb views across to the quarry and the fells beyond.  It’s a community enterprise project (I can’t remember the exact name) so the cafe is run by paid members of staff but any profit it makes is ploughed back into the community.  It’s no amateur tea-room either: the coffee was lovely, the cakes looked superb, and the toilets were clean and nicely decorated with fresh flowers.

And friends I Threlkeld Mining Museum April 2017 (1)worked with at British Waterways may be amused to see that one of BW’s rusty excavators now lives at the Mining Museum!

 

Half term with the kids

Half term has been and gone in a flash.  Last weekend was David’s turn to have the children, although I had them on Friday night and Saturday night, which meant that I had time for a run on Askham Fell with Penny on Sunday.  Both of us had work to do so after a late lunch at the cafe at Askham Hall, it was time to head home.  I drove back over the hills rather than up the motorway, and came to the conclusion that one day I shall live in Penrith or Kirkoswald, high up a hill and with a view.

On Monday Edward and Bella were keen to go to Energi, the new(ish) trampolining place in Carlisle.  I jumped too… I’m not very good as whilst I don’t mind jumping high, I’m not very brave at jumping over on to the next trampoline – though I did manage it a few times.  I also landed on the hard bit in between a couple of times, which is rather jarring on the ankles.  I wonder if I was the oldest jumper in the place?  I’m now thinking it would be good to go to one of the ‘Energi Fit’ classes.

Tuesday I had a conference and choir, so the children were with David Monday night and Tuesday night and back to me on Wednesday morning.  We had various dentists and opticians appointments all week, Edward had a swimming lesson every afternoon, and Bella was booked on to a Robotics course on Wednesday.  She found it boring as all they did was make robots out of cardboard, but at least she didn’t learn how to hack the school computer and write rude things on it, which was what happened after the Coding course… we also did some cooking that afternoon – she made a flourless chocolate cake and I made banana cake.  As nobody wanted to eat the banana cake (none of us is a fan of bananas, it seems) we gave it away, and I understand it was enjoyed by the recipients.

On Thursday the ‘treat’ was the Lego Batman movie, along with popcorn and hotdogs.  It hasn’t been a particularly healthy week food-wise, the more so as the kids seem to be rebelling against my tendency to want to eat fish as my main protein rather than red meat.  So this week we have had spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, and chilli with tacos – I’ve also made lamb tagine which I’m going to add butternut squash to before serving it with couscous, but I’m not sure what the trio’s reaction will be to that.

I had arranged to meet a friend at Whinlatter on Friday and as we drove down there the weather was colourful.  The sky was bright azure blue, the main central lakeland fells were covered in snow, and the plantlife was a mix of golden russet brown and vibrant-about-to-be-spring green.  The kids had a good time running around in the playground, although Alex tried to be too old and too cool for it.  Judging by my garden, spring is definitely on its way, and despite Storm Doris (a bit of a non-event up here in Cumbria), the weather hasn’t even been particularly cold.

Not until today, that is – and even then it was only cold on Talkin Fell.  Alex had a friend, Luke, to stay for the weekend.  We had a militaristic day yesterday with a visit to Carlisle Castle and the Regimental Museum followed by the Roman Gallery at Tullie House and then today decided we’d walk up Talkin Fell.

It all started well enough but became windier, wetter and wilder the higher we got.  Bella then fell over in some mud (as happened last time we went up there as well – spot the brown-ness of her black jeans), and the happy mood of the day changed to grumpiness.  As by then we were all getting colder and wetter we decided perhaps we wouldn’t go all the way to the top and eat our picnic up by the cairns: and the two older boys suggested sensibly that we should walk back to the car and eat the picnic in the car.

Edward has got happily filthy every day this holiday week; they have all eaten a lot of rubbish food (as well as plenty of good food as well) – and despite the inevitable arguments, anger and tellings off – it’s been a fab. week.

Club la Santa, Lanzarote

This is just a brief post with plenty of pictures as a short memento of a fantastic holiday.  ‘Thank you’ to my friend Penny, who was an easy travelling companion, and to my Mum who gave me a generous enough cheque for my birthday that I could afford to go back to Club la Santa for the FOURTH time (I hardly ever go back to exactly the same place twice – there are too many other interesting places to explore, but I always have a fab. time at Club la Santa).  It had been refurbished and extended since I last went and is now really nice and modern – and the showers are fantastic!

We flew out of the UK on a day when there was snow on the ground.  The weather on Lanzarote was not perfect all week – it was very windy for cycling – and we even wore jeans (rather than dresses/skirts) some evenings, and fleeces – but it was as good as many a British summer and great to be outdoors exercising almost all day every day.  We agreed we should try something new every day so in addition to running, swimming and cycling we did:

paddle boarding; a fitness class on paddle boards; deep water aqua; Zumba; aerial relaxation; aerial pilates (and, in my case, aerial yoga as well); TRX; body balance; body attack; body combat, Taiji Qigong… etc.

By bike we cycled:

to the Fire Mountains (the visitor centre en route is great – and free – and I love the way it’s still so hot underfoot in the mountains themselves that dry brushwood will catch fire);

past Playa de Fumara, up to the Monumento al Campesino and then along a very bumpy road through La Geria to then head back down from Tinajo to Club la Santa;

and up through Soo, Munique and Tiagua to Nazaret and a house that once belonged to Omar Shariff – Lag-Omar – but which is now a fascinating ‘museum’ come party venue (I think the guy trying to sell me some Aloe Vera products was also trying to chat me up… telling me that Aloe Vera would make me sexy and that I’d come back in two weeks and want to kiss him… hmm…).

I especially liked the way that many of the roads had ‘watch out for cyclists’ signs – I think it was only on the route of the Lanzarote Ironman, but shows how popular the island is for cyclists.  At 856 sq km there’s only really one ironman route available – as a comparison, Cumbria covers 6,768 sq km: but has a total of c.400,000 people to Lanzarote’s 139,000. Both of course have their populations boosted significantly by tourists – something which the Lanzarotians seem to welcome: they were all incredibly friendly and seemed delighted if you even spoke a couple of words in hesitating Spanish.

I’ve mentioned restaurants in a separate post. We were a bit disappointed by the ones at Club la Santa, other than La Plaza in the square (where we were served by a cute English waiter who was a bit of an Orlando Bloom look alike).  Restaurant Atlantico is great for enormous quantities of food; El Lago was disappointing for what it seemed to be trying to achieve, although they make a lovely gin and tonic.  Talking of gins and tonics, the Welsh barman in the Sports Bar was a bit of a gin expert and took ages creating two masterly gin and tonics – he likes Martin Miller, which is one I had come across, bought and particularly liked when I had a dinner party recently.

So it was a week of lovely weather and fresh air, exercise as well as relaxation, food and drink.  It was good for the mind and soul as well as the body, and I was a little sad to come home.  One day I would love to take the kids there, as I’m sure they’d enjoy it too.

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!

 

 

Ever onwards; always developing

Someone once described me as being like a butterfly – and later had a dream of me as the Ice Queen, fighting off his enemies.  Both beautiful images which I take as compliments, holding them dear and treasuring them in my heart (“Thank You” to the man who said them to me).  But they also made – and make – me consider myself: what do they say about me?  Obviously any interpretation is subjective – what they conjure up to me may be completely different for someone else.  The main thing that struck me was a sense of strength and elegance; of flying free; and yet of delicate beauty – of fragility.  A butterfly can so easily be crushed, and ice can shatter into seemingly glass-like shards, which melt away to water (another substance however which can seem so fragile and yet have such enormous strength).  But that is not to deny that there is an appropriate strength there.

That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling recently.  I know I am strong; I know I can get through the bad things which have happened and which continue to happen to me; but I am also conscious of how I flew too high and crashed so, so far, and I feel broken; splintered.  Is that possible?  Is there anything wrong with flying too high?  Do we sometimes have to do that in order to learn the very lessons that we need?  Do we need to fly that high in order truly to become freer – to fly off the path we were on and perhaps crash land onto the one we were meant to be on?

Hence the previous post: I am trying to face up to my pain and to learn from it: and there are all sorts of lessons I am learning.  Lessons about myself (as a mother; as a friend; as a singer and creative person; as a lover); lessons about human nature.  By stepping back and examining myself I am also learning better how to look out at the world and see myself in perspective.  Although I could be accused of being introspective, that is helping me at the same time to be more sensitive to the world around me, and to look at the bigger picture, and I’m reading all sorts of writing by all sorts of people from a worldwide spread of religious and non-religious viewpoints.  Some themes keep repeating themselves: for example that we are individuals but we are all made of the same matter, and interconnected.  Whilst we are tiny specks compared to the stars, I love thinking of us all as star dust.  I also want to help others – not in a social worker sort of way as that’s not me, but somehow through using my skills as a writer, performer and communicator.  I want to help change the world: and it’s interesting that my daughter seems to have the same ambition, which she has acquired completely on her own, not from anything I have said to her.  Perhaps she, at 10, has a better sense of her ‘life path’ than I did.

I went for a walk up Talkin Fell again yesterday.  As I walked up through the woods the bluebells waved under the trees, a blue haze splattered with sunshine and shadows (the photos at the top show the bluebells in Ridge Woods as well), birds singing as a backdrop.  Up on the solitary top the wind was strong and in the distance I could see it was raining over Scotland and the Lakeland Fells: but above me there was a bright blue sky with just floaty wisps of cirrus.  The tiny exquisitely graceful white wild flowers were brushed by the wind; a lapwing and its mate called anxiously to each other and then flew up together to check that no predators (me) were approaching their nest.  For a time I sat, leaning against stone, and just soaked it all in.

Later my friends Jo and Mike arrived, on their way home from Orkney.  They took me out to dinner at the Golden Fleece at Ruleholme – we had booked a table as it’s practically impossible to get in otherwise, it’s so popular.  Deservedly so – the décor is lovely (I particularly like the maps on the tables, and we all liked the way there are different dining areas); the ambiance is comfortable and busy without being too noisy; they had about 5 or 6 different gins to choose from; the service is professional but friendly; and the food was lovely and cooked exactly how we requested.  However it is probably one of the most expensive restaurants locally, though it’s good value for money as the food is good and the helpings are generous.  The only disappointment was that there was not more choice of vegetarian and fish options (and in fact that is where Capernaum bistro in Brampton has a real selling point – but perhaps people around here are predominantly carnivores!).  A 16 oz Chateaubriand was 57 GBP (sorry – the pound sign has disappeared from my computer)… none of us had that…

Today was Sunday, the day of the week which I have always found the lowest point if I’m feeling low already.  I refined a promotional leaflet for Two Red Heads and… for Care Homes, and delivered a few by foot; a big pile of ironing is waiting (perhaps to be done in front of a film) and a pile of washing is waiting to be hung up.  My children used to come back on a Sunday: I won’t see them until tomorrow after school.  Something has to change.