Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The new normal

I've not really talked about work that much here, but in case you're new around these parts here's a speedy, potted history of the work world of Claire. After the whole art college, university, working at any old job to stay in London, early to mid 20's thing, I returned home to Teesside where the world of libraries took over. I started what was initially a two month contract in the local university library, fast forward by twelve years (although it never did feel very fast) and I decided to quit libraryland and go back to school to learn a whole new career. That was in February 2013. 16 months later I graduated with an MSc in IT Project Management and I got my first job fresh out of university all over again. Full time, permanent work is almost impossible to come by these days and so I'm still on the hunt for the return to that kind of normal Monday to Friday, 9-5 type job. Which brings you fresh up to date and right here to this post.

The new normal. For me, my 'normal' work life is now part time. This is not by choice, trust me, I would love a full time job, but it does have its perks of which I am often grateful. The obvious downside is that part time work equals part time pay...and currently I'm working for a charity so also doesn't equal holiday or sick pay.  After years of receiving all of those things it's very hard to adjust, both financially and mentally.

Financially, I am lucky to be with Dave at this point in my life. He's been hugely supportive of this big change to our lives and though the luxuries we used to enjoy with two full time wages have obviously been reduced, it's never been a problem and for that I am beyond grateful. His main concern is my happiness and being 100% behind my (often slightly barmy) life decisions.

Mentally though? Yowser. People can say all the right things but the sound of your own voice can often be a harsh one, and the worst critic at that. I'm not sure I dare admit how many times that voice has said the dreaded words 'you should have stayed in the library...' I believe in myself, I know I made the right decision, but (and there's always a but) that voice constantly wonders how long it will take me to get back on my feet, to where I was before, financially secure, and confident that my job future is no longer a risky outlook.

The world of work is so vastly different these days. People work many variations of contracts, hours, and locations. Working from home is often seen as the desirable option - I wonder how many desks and office chairs Ikea sell? They've just added two more to their sales log this weekend after I set up my own mini office. Let's just take a moment to appreciate my new chair. Oh happy buttocks (thanks Fizz!) my new chair is so incredibly comfortable and supportive and is exceptionally good for spinning slowly from side to side whilst thinking.

Getting back to my point though. I can't be the only one who finds it hard to adjust to this new normal? It's SO different from the Monday to Friday, 9-5 way that I started my work life in. There's no-one to provide structure, it's up to you what time you work and how many cups of tea you drink in a day, hell you can even work in your pyjamas if you're so inclined! It's a brave new world and you have to be mega-disciplined to make it through a day without giving in to the distractions. I wonder if it will be one of those things where I just get used to this and then I return to that other way and I'll be blogging about how much I hate the structure and the 9-5...

I would love to know if you have any similar experiences. How do you think you would cope? Send some reassurance that I'm not the only weirdo out there trying to adjust to this new normal.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Last One!

I promise, I promise, it's the last holiday pic. But let's just take a moment to admire the beauty of the very first ice cream, served from a bobbing canal boat in Stratford Upon Avon. Yum!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Three Daggers

Let's talk luxury. 5 star luxury. It's such a good label but from my experience very few places live up to the hype. Not this one, definitely not this one. The Three Daggers in Wiltshire is absolutely delightful.

With only 3 rooms the whole experience feels pretty exclusive and really rather special. We were in The Priory room with a hugely high beamed ceiling, an enormous bed, and the best bathroom/walk-in shower I have ever experienced.

And that's not all. There is also a living room/kitchen which is shared amongst the very small number of residents. With another large screen TV (each room has its own large screen TV also), a fabulously comfy sofa, and a fully equipped kitchen with a large variety of tea and coffee making facilities, fully stocked fridge, freshly baked bread for midnight snacks, and all sorts of other baked goodies, this hotel is worth every single star.

Breakfast is included in the accommodation and you can opt for a buffet style one from a heavily laden table or something cooked from the kitchen. Ever one to give everything a go, I opted for the buffet and Dave for the cooked. His poached eggs looked (and tasted!) like perfection, and my Dorset Cereal muesli with natural yoghurt and giant fresh strawberries were delicious! Followed by a round of toast, a grand pot of tea, and a fab cup of freshly brewed coffee. There's also the choice of croissant or pain au chocolat, and various other cereals from the buffet table.

Whilst we're on the subject of food, you can also opt to eat in the restaurant or pub below. We were initially booked into the restaurant side but opted to stay in the pub side for an informal evening. The menu choice was wide and apart from a mix up with our bread starter, the food was extremely tasty and beautifully presented.

The focaccia starter with homemade pesto, cumin hummus, and balsamic vinegar dips was huge and delicious. My chicken Caesar salad was divine and Dave's spatchcock poussin in BBQ sauce with fries and homemade coleslaw was also yummy, though he had serious food envy over my seriously good salad. Despite being full up to the brim I couldn't resist ordering a pudding of white chocolate crème brulee. Served with home baked shortbread and a chilled strawberry coated in white chocolate the sugar crack was a resounding success and absolutely bloody delicious! For £34, the meal was excellent value and also got a resounding 5 stars from us both.

Also worth a mention is the farm shop and the brewery. Dave tried the beers and liked them enough to buy some to bring home (and some for a gift) and the farm shop was gorgeous, with blooming flowers hanging everywhere and lots of tasty treats to choose from. We opted to bring home some Three Daggers Ale Chutney which is blummin' fabulous on a cheese sandwich!

Our overall experience was just the best. The staff were friendly and couldn't do enough for you, and the 2 night stay was indeed the luxury they promise. If you are looking for a lovely couple of nights away I can highly recommend the Daggers. Absolutely delightful!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Roadtrip Part 4 - I forgot about Stonehenge!

From Wiltshire we were only about 20 minutes away from Stonehenge so decided to stop off along the way. We pre-booked our tickets, which I would highly recommend, as it's busy, way busy, which means lots of queues. The whole timed thing is a bit of a nonsense though, so don't feel too tied down to your arrival time. And also don't bother with the bus, instead take a stroll along the road to the rocks, much more preferable than a crowded bus.

Once again Dave had been, but a long long time ago. So long ago that the visitor centre didn't even exist! As I said, we scrapped the bus idea and decided to walk to the stones. The road is available for pedestrians also, or you can head off on one of the guided public footpaths to cross a bit of country at the same time. It doesn't take long to walk and was so much more enjoyable, for us anyway. The buses all seemed crowded and full of hassled looking visitors.

I was really surprised by how interested I was in Stonehenge. I always thought it was just a bunch of rocks but it was fascinating to be so close to something so old and steeped in so much history and myth and legend. I didn't get a spiritual vibe, but the crowds were big and the walkways were busy. There are apparently tours that are available later at night which will allow you into the stone circle and I would think at sunset, that would be something quite spectacular, but the daytime visit was satisfactory, for us anyway.

They're big. Like big ass big! And it's hard to imagine how the people managed to move them and get them there in the first place. Once you get past the first bit of walkway, the crowds disperse slightly and if you walk all the way around you can get much closer to the stones than you initially think. From there you get a real sense of the scale and size of the rocks and they're pretty impressive.

All in all, it was well worth the visit and even though it's expensive, it's an impressive sight. Once you get past all the selfie sticks and crowds!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Roadtrip Part 3 - Luxury, Longleat, Lashings of Butterbeer

It's another big'un. But you can never have enough cups of tea in one day, right?

With the prospect of rain for 4 days straight we decided to quit the camping, pack up the very soggy tent, and head to a hotel for some serious hair washing (that would be for me) and sleep in a room that didn't move with the weather. Staying in Cornwall, we booked a basic room and headed to Truro. It did exactly what it said on the tin and I slept for 12 hours straight. Feeling refreshed we started one of the longest legs of the journey, out of Cornwall and back to civilisation.

It took us 10 hours to travel 100 metres...ha! Not really, we got caught in one bit where there was road works but good music and some pear drop sweeties soon solved that.

We decided to stop for a coffee at the services at Exeter on the M5. NEVER EVER DO THIS! Yowser! We went from hardly any people to all the people in the entire world, or that was what it felt like, all queuing up for Burger King. Horrid. I'm still mentally scarred by the experience.

Thankfully that horror was to be replaced by one of sheer relaxation when we reached our hotel for the night. It was intended to be our first hotel from camping so we planned a bit of luxury, spoiling ourselves, and oh-ho we were not let down. The 3 Daggers was absolutely ah-mazing! I've planned another blog post about it as it was such a brilliant place to stay so look out for that soon.

The reason for our Wiltshire accommodation was to go to Longleat. I was sooo looking forward to this as had always wanted to go so was properly excited. After we'd been there about 2 hours I was filled with a kind of dread, is this all there is to see type feeling? If you do go, don't worry, once you've moved past the smaller attractions the safari drive is well worth the wait. The place was packed so Dave suggested we go over lunchtime when everyone else would be eating. Brilliant idea as it was really quiet. Essentially you get to drive around and the animals roam around you. Quite an amazing concept and also pretty brilliant! We saw so many cool animals and even though the road is probably only about a mile long, it took us 2 full hours to drive round it all.

As the last of the crowds started to fade away we wandered around the other attractions, the best one being the maze of mirrors! So much fun!

We might have ended the day with another ice cream... And yes, we're on a healthy eating thing now!

And so to Watford. Say what? Not exactly the most sexy sounding place. You would be right there, but very conveniently located for HARRY POTTER WORLD! (not the real name at all but it sums it up pretty well). It was our last day. I was big style looking forward to this but also kind of nervous as Dave knows absolutely nothing about Potter and has no interest in it either.

That's a guy right there who will indulge your likes even if they're not his likes, just sayin'.

We arrived. The queues were enormous. But it was worth it. I'm really not going to say too much as if you plan to go (and who wouldn't) I would hate to ruin the many brilliant surprises that are there to greet you. All I will say is that it was absolutely, 100% a 5 star attraction, for all ages. If you love Potter you will gasp out loud and be open jaw delighted by so many things, and even if you don't love Potter (like Dave) you will LOVE it! Yes that is the real steam train. And the real Knight Bus. I say no more.

And so our road trip came to an end. A brilliantly good end. It was proper fabulous and a truly great holiday. I think they call them a Stay-Cation these days but I just call it a bloody good time!  

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Roadtrip Part 2 - Cornwall, Cream Tea, and Camping

Grab a cuppa before you start, it's a long one!

Out of everything we had planned I was looking forward to Cornwall the most. We were there for the longest time, we were going to be camping, it's a beautiful part of this country...I just couldn't wait!

For the first time since we'd set off we had seen and done everything that we wanted from where we were in Street, so after a hearty breakfast we were straight on the road. You'll hear all kinds of horror stories if you ask people about Cornwall as there's one road in and the same road out. Oooh I once sat in a traffic queue for 10 hours, oh it took 7 hours to move one mile, and so on. I reckon we must have been very lucky as we only got stuck once and that was in a set of road works. It certainly didn't take us 10 hours (more like 2) and our major concern was which petrol station was going to give us the last Costa coffee before we exited normal civilisation.

Our first stop was in Pentewan Sands, conveniently located for both the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. We were pretty chuffed to get the tent up without too much hassle/snapping (something about putting up tents that causes snippiness amongst our generally laid back selves...) and safe to say we relaxed right into it:

Can't really say the same about our first overnight experience as the wind buffeted the tent almost out of the ground and the rain lashed down (I don't need the loo, I don't need the loo, gah I need the loo!) so it was two tired people who were up and about the next day for some serious amounts of walking!

We decided to try and do the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan in the same day, in case we missed out on one of them. We did it, and my FitBit recorded that we walked 20,000 steps which was a whole lot of miles. It was very tiring but well worth it, however if you have more time I'd take a day for each to allow yourself a slightly more relaxing visit.

First up, Eden. Dave had been here before, many moons ago, but it was the first time for me; it was the opposite for Heligan. There was so much to see and do but we did our usual thing of picking a route and heading that way. We meandered along the passing of time walkway (I can't remember the exact name) before heading to the Rainforest dome. It's hot, that kind of steamy hot that makes my hair go frizzy from root to tip (side note: I pretty much gave up on trying to make my hair do anything other than frizz the whole time we were in Cornwall, at one with the elements and all that jazz) but pretty awe inspiring. Everything is huge! The plants are huge and the leaves are enormous! The other dome is not as steamy but everything is equally as large. Take these giant lemons for example (snort!):

I found the domes fascinating, but I equally enjoyed mooching around the grounds. We had a good chat with the gardener in the allotment about leeks, and I bravely took the barefoot challenge through all kinds of different things underfoot.

I also started seeing this succulent everywhere and became slightly obsessed with having one (side note: we bought one)

From one garden to another. Heligan was a whole other ball game. Being slightly later in the day the crowds were much less and the whole thing just seemed more relaxing and at holiday pace than the bustling Eden. Once again we wandered around woodland paths and through fields of wild flowers, stopping to say hello to some very greedy piglets along the way. The garden is now famous for its sculptures and these two were a delight to stumble across, and the maid particularly felt very peaceful and serene.

I would highly recommend both gardens, if you're into that kind of thing, and who wouldn't be fascinated by giant leaves and gently dappling light?

Our final destination in Cornwall was The Lizard, home of Henry's Campsite which would be our home for the next 6 nights. What can I say about Henry's? Unique, quirky, not at all for the faint hearted (ducks and chickens roam freely, toilets are unisex and generally in falling down sheds with piped music, showers cost 20p so don't be afraid to share the cubicle with your tent buddy and jump right in when they're done) but if you can get past all that it's bloody brilliant and we had the best time! We had a sea view, our very own palm tree, and warm croissants and yummy coffee were available every day, along with jugs of cider and marshmallows for melting over your BBQ.

The Lizard? The Lizard was special. Very special. Every day was a new adventure, with turquoise seas, cream teas, delicious local ice cream, beer and cider, blue skies, hot sun, and sheer joy. If you ever find yourself there head to Coverack (beautiful), Roskilly's Farm (best ice cream ever), take a walk to the most Southerly part of England, enjoy a cream tea, a Sunday lunch at the Top House, and an evening stroll in the last of the sun. Magical days.

We have a rule that when the rain starts it's time for us to go, but if the sun had stayed shining, I would have had a really hard time to pull myself away. I think I fell in love with Cornwall a teensy bit...

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Roadtrip Part 1 - The Charming Countryside

We're home from the road trip and we had the best time! I'll be sharing some posts over the next few days with our adventures, places we visited, thoughts and recommendations, and rather a lot of ice creams. Here we go!

As Cornwall is such a long drive from where we live, we decided to break up the journey and visit a few places along the way in the first few days. We started in Stratford Upon Avon, on to Bath, and then Glastonbury and Street as our final destination. 3 days, 3 nights. Here we go.

First up Stratford Upon Avon. I had been before, on a very quick overnighter to see David Tennant in Hamlet at the RSC, as you do. I remember that it seemed to be a lovely place so was very much looking forward to exploring it more. We headed straight for the river and strolled along the banks, admiring the weeping willow trees and canal boats, eating lovely ice cream along the way.

When it started to rain we ducked into the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company in case you didn't know) and were lucky to be able to join a behind the scenes tour. (I'd recommend booking this in advance to ensure you do get a place as I think we lucked out being able to jump onto the last tour of the day). Every tour is different, depending on what is happening in the theatre on the day, but we were very fortunate to see the very quick changeover from Othello (the matinee performance) to Merchant of Venice (the evening performance, with just 1.5 hours for the change over). As people in a theatre group it was fascinating to watch the extremely efficient crew wield giant mallets and manoeuvre mirrored flooring into place. As was seeing the control room (massive! we have a teeny tiny TV monitor backstage and cans) with its gazillion computers and other techy theatre stuff. Lots of interesting stories and tales from the tour guide and an opportunity to have a good old nose around. I would definitely recommend it and at £8.50 for well over an hour, a total bargain to boot.

The next day, based on a road sign cos that's just how we roll, we decided to visit Anne Hathaway's Cottage. I knew absolutely nothing about it at all so was utterly delighted to lay my eyes upon this:

The word charming doesn't even come close. It was simply lovely! We were actually the very first people there and so were lucky to stroll around the gardens all alone for quite a while. I think that added to the charm and delight even more. I didn't stop smiling the whole time we were there. The gardens are beautiful, and you get to see inside the cottage and go up and down a few windy staircases and duck your head under the beams. So cute! We topped the morning loveliness off with a coffee stop over the road at the café, where you have a lovely view of the cottage, and some very tasty coffee too. Highly recommended.

Onto Bath. We had planned to see both the Abbey and the Roman Baths and thoroughly enjoyed both things. Again, the Baths is well worth a visit, lots to see and excellent value for money. I would recommend getting there early, or booking ahead, as the queues get bigger and bigger throughout the day. By the time we wandered back around mid-afternoon time they were snaking right down the street!

The Abbey was beautiful inside, and I was particularly taken with the ceiling.


I'll let you into a little secret about me. I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to posh restaurants. I feel really out of place and not at all comfortable. I know it's something I need to get over, but in the meantime I prefer some good old pub grub where there are no tablecloths for me to spill my food all over and only one set of cutlery. Dave is very understanding of this quirk of mine so was all on board when I suggested getting takeout pizza and sitting in the park in the evening sunshine at the Royal Crescent. Turns out it was an absolutely rockin' idea and the pizza was one of my most favourite meals of the trip. Polished off with yet another ice cream (it's the rules that you must have one every single day of a holiday, you know!) and some evening lounging in the grass, a thoroughly enjoyable evening was had by all.

Next up: Glastonbury. Not for the festival I hasten to add, that was the week before. I went to the festival once in 2001, loved it, but that's a whole other story probably. For this one we planned to climb the Tor, and I fancied a trip to the Chalice Well Gardens. If there was an ice cream thrown in at the bottom of the Tor all the better really. It was steeper than we thought so some serious lazing around was needed at the top to catch our breath.

The Chalice Gardens were lovely. A little haven hidden from the road, where silence and meditation are encouraged, but remember you need to remain fully clothed at all times (!) We basically moved from one bench to another, enjoying the sounds of birds singing and looking at all the pretty flowers. Sadly there was no coffee to be found so we plodded back to the car and set off for our hotel for the night.

Which was located in Street. The hotel was as cute as a button as we were housed in a cottage away from the bustling pub, with a window seat (and wifi!)where I could catch up on some blogs and some quiet time.

We took a stroll along Street later that evening but it was quite unimpressive really. The main focus was this Clarks Village as that's where the shoes were made apparently. I texted Rachel to let her know we were in the home of her favourite shoes and she was suitably impressed. As for us we headed to bed ready for our next big adventure - the Cornwall days. More tomorrow...