Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Week 8: Let the Battle Begin


Last week's new thing took me out of my comfort zone in more ways then one.  For starters, I left my home comforts behind me to camp for three whole, consecutive nights.  That's two more than I have ever camped previously and, bearing in mind that the last time I went I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that it had all been a nightmare, this alone was no mean feat.  Add to that a healthy mix of weapons, war and fancy dress and you have my Week 8 as I became a temporary member of the Earl of Manchester's Regiment in the Northern Association of the Army of Parliament... basically, I took part in a civil war re-enactment!


The venue for the battle was Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, a very impressive stately home and the birth place of Winston Churchill.  The grounds are absolutely stunning and as part of the event, organised by the Sealed Knot, we were fortunate to be able to camp there.  That was the first obvious advantage of attending such an event; you get to do things that you wouldn't usually be able to do - in this case camp somewhere special, where there isn't usually a camp site.

Its Not Just About Camping 

As soon as we arrived at the campsite on the Friday evening though it was quite clear that this was something more.  It could be described as a festival rather than a camping ground.  There were tents everywhere high on the hill top, a large  beer and entertainment tent and food and craft stalls.  These things though, do not make a festival atmosphere, the people do, and the other 'Knotters' could not have been more friendly from the moment we pulled up in the car, everyone was incredibly lovely.  Later, speaking to people, it became apparent that many members have a family history with their Regiment's - it's not uncommon for grand-parents, parents, children and children of children to all attend but you shouldn't think for a moment that this would create an awkward clique for a newbe.  EVERYBODY was completely generous and welcoming, you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch (and I'm not just saying that because some of them were armed!).

Choosing a Role

There were a variety of roles available for first-timers at the battle - pike man, musketeer or water carrier.

Days start at 10am with a drill, in which the newcomers received training and the old-hands practised.

Pike man is not just reserved for men but, to be honest, it's fairly brutal.  You'd have to be a lady with special qualities to get involved in one of their scrums, involving over 30 individuals with long wooden sticks, and come out unscathed.  I decided to give this a wide birth.  The thought of being smacked in the face by a metal helmet and squashed to near death somehow didn't appeal... also very hot weather + lots of thick clothing + physical activity = urgh! Not something that a lady such as myself wants to get that close to!

Pike Men during drill

"All for one and one for all, muskerhounds are always ready"... the cartoon Dogtanian was my only previous experience of the life of a Musketeer and I don't think this was reflective of reality for obvious reasons.  This weekend gave me the option to actually try out this role for myself.   Although you need a license to be able to fire the gun, as a newcomer you are able to handle a gun and enjoy hand to hand combat on the field.  This is still fairly physically involved and I'm a bit of a wimp so I decided that I'd give this a miss too!

So that just left one role option remaining - that of a water carrier (also known as a Good Wife although this title seems to be substituted more often than not!).  Now, don't think that the job of a water carrier is literally a walk in the park because it ain't! It involves being out on the battle field, in the thick of the action, with a constant eye out for danger and a impromptu rush forward to water the troops when necessary as well as ensuring that there is a constant supply of water available to them (you can only carry so much at a time!).  This role seemed most suited to me for my first time on the battlefield.

Me during Drill practising my water carrying duties

The Battle Itself (In Pictures....)

Dress code is quite strict but luckily there were spare sets of clothes on hand for me and my newcomer pals and other members were kind enough to lend us additional items such as hats and shoes so that we truly looked the part.  I think you'll agree, I do! 


There were many Regiment's involved in the the day, which was one of the largest Sealed Knot events of the year.  The precession to the battlefield alone was quite impressive.
Especially given these stunning surroundings.

Out on the field.  I am in there somewhere, honest:

My favourite manoeuvre of the day was 'the hedgehog', where those who were unarmed (like me!) were surrounded by pike men and the horses ran around us bashing the pikes with swords!



It's Not All About the Day Job


After a hard day on the battlefield, its fair to say that these people know how to party, whether it's in their civvies, traditional dress or fancy dress (apparently 'round head' doesn't count!).  Drinking, dancing and partying is generally encouraged and done very well.  Evening entertainment was provided in the form of a live band on the Saturday night and a disco on the Sunday, where the song words were projected on the wall for everybody to sing along to - genius! 

We were lucky enough to borrow some traditional ladies dress for one of the evenings.  As I said earlier, the people here are so generous, to the extent that we were even offered a choice of different outfits from somebody's personal collection... and what beautiful clothes they were.  Time to embrace femininity after a day largely dressed like a bloke!

My friend and I in our lady get-up

Party Tent!


Verdict

I would absolutely and completely recommend this to anybody; it's social, it's involved, it's active, it's outdoors, you get to do fun things that you wouldn't usually be able to do and stay places that the public usually aren't invited to stay.  The atmosphere is friendly and inclusive and I guarantee that you will be made to feel welcome by everyone that you meet.  Plus, its very reasonably priced! 
Go on, give it a go!

Special Thanks

Thank you to Michael Molcher, a 7year long member of the Earle of Manchester's Regiment, who invited us to attend as part of his birthday celebrations (I won't tell you how old, I'll just say that he doesn't look it!). If you fancy it though, don't wait for an invite, just contact them through their website.


And finally... Action Photobomb!!!

Just for fun!





Week 9: A Something New that is Definately Not a Fad!!!

Ok, time to come clean, for all those wondering why I haven't yet been bog snorkeling, enrolled in Hell Runner or completed the World's Longest Zip Line (which looks amazing, by the way, and is only in north Wales!), Week 9's something new should shed some light on this... this week I went for my first ever baby scan.


All being well, we'll have our new arrival in time for Christmas... until then ridiculous, physical activities are firmly out of bounds!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Week 7: Nothing to Tweet Home About

I'm a fan of Facebook.  I must check it a few times a day.  I like to see what my friends and acquaintances are up to, to be happy when there's something to celebrate and to be concerned when things aren't really going to plan.

It's a digital age and Facebook allows us to openly verbalise the trivia of our lives allowing the people we know to interact when we are pleased, or down, or excited, or... whatever!  I find this interesting.  Strange, therefore, that I have never been attracted to Twitter as it is basically an extension of the 'status update' theme.  So, this week I decided to give it a go.

Who to Follow

There may be people reading this who would have started the Twitter experience differently from me but I have gone this totally alone, without advice or guidance.  Maybe that was a mistake.  I started by choosing a selection of people to follow.  I chose:
  • Stephen Fry - the UK's most proficient Tweeter so I believe.  He had to be worth a go.
  • Zooey Deschanel - Who's that girl... its Jess! Yes, Jess from New Girl, one of my favourite TV programmes and also the star of everybody's favourite Christmas (sorry, is it too early in the year to say that word) film, Elf. 
  • Chris Evan - He just seems like a bloke who has a lot to say.
  • Oprah Winfrey -Everybody needs to be inspired.
  • Kevin Spacey - Love him and all the films I've ever seen him in (please don't spoil it my pointing out works that I might not like).
  • Miranda Hart - She's just, what I would call, HILARIOUS! Such fun!
  • Tom Hanks - A modern Hollywood legend
So that's my line up.  It looks impressive.  If these people were coming around for dinner I'd definitely tidy up and I'd probably buy a new dress... that was before I read their Tweets for a week!

So, What did I learn?

Not much to be honest, I'm going to keep this brief.

Tom Hanks has posted 2 photos of himself with 2 different groups of people.  I'm not sure why and I don't know who they are.

Zooey Deschanel let us all know that the final episode of the latest series of New Girl was to be screened in the U.S. this week.  This doesn't affect us in the UK at the moment but it is sad as I really do appreciate that programme but, hey-ho, no need to worry for the moment.  Apart from that she has been chillaxing in bed with her dog and posting pictures to prove it - cute.
 If there was a second person in the room taking this picture, neither Zooey nor the dog seems particularly interested in them!

Oprah Winfrey lives up to her inspirational ideals with posts such as,
"'Put a voice on that hurt and give your tears a sound'. Love that"
"Classic mother mistake: Focusing on what you don't want...MAJOR... I was so afraid he was going to fail, I forgot to focus on his success"
"WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT? How would you answer that question Tweethearts".
I'm sure these slogans have an audience though I'm not sure that it's me... I do, however, like the word 'Tweethearts'!

Stephen Fry didn't disappoint with the number of Tweets he Tweeted during the course of the week although, unfortunately (and this may offend some), I'm afraid I wasn't all that interested in what he had to say.  Chris Evans was frequent with his Tweets and often provided a commentary on what he was doing and a slightly personal insight in to his life, which I notice other Tweeters (understandably) shy away from.  Chris Evans seems to have a reasonable balance between letting his readers in on his life whilst keeping a safe distance.  This can't be an easy balance to maintain and he's probably the most interesting of my celebs for this reason.

Miranda Hart, as funny as she is, clearly isn't one for Twitter.  This week I learnt she was filming an episode of 'Would I Lie to You'.  That is all.

Kevin Spacey often went for a more serious perspective on life and ultimately provided, what I consider to be, the best Tweet of the week.  Its a link to a Youtube clip and it's basically about how you perceive your environment and rationalise your thoughts.  There is a lot of truth in it, it's called This is Water:

 

And that's that, a brief synopsis of everything I learnt on Twitter this week from the mouths of celebs.


Verdict

Fail. 

Twitter is not for me.  

Maybe it's because I didn't follow the 'right' people, or maybe because its because I'm not particularly interested in celebrity culture, but Twitter continues to be as unappealing to me as it always has.  I think I'll leave it there.

Stay tuned for next week's Blog though, I promise I more interesting and upbeat tale.  It's exciting!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Week 6: It's a Kinda Magic

Last October I went in to hospital for an operation to remove my thyroid.  Despite my worry it wasn't serious and I was, and continue to be, absolutely fine.  However, just like in the aftermath of any procedure, it pays to take it easy.  Most people would choose to lounge in bed or on the sofa and either read a book, watch a dvd or make their way through a missed TV series.  This is exactly what I did for over two and half weeks.

My husband had a different idea though on how I might want to relax without idly wasting time.  He suggested I learn magic!

I decided not to take him up on his suggestion on the basis that I couldn't really move my head!  I think it was just too soon.  He went on alone anyway and learnt a trick without me, which I have to admit is really impressive and I suppose I've always half regretted not giving it a go.

So, that's the background for this week's Something New

Is it Possible to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks? 

(Just saying it before you do!) 

Without giving away the tricks of the trade, Leigh's trick is concerned with slight of hand.  I haven't got slight hands, in fact I'm fairly clumsy so I don't think a trick like that would be suitable for me.  Instead I decided to go for something that's a little more calculated. 

They say that a true magician never reveals her secret and I will stand by this saying.  I wont even challenge you to come up with the solution on how to do it, it'll only take the fun out of it.... just enjoy it.
 

Abracadabra

video

Verdict


Well I think that video speaks for itself.  It wasn't too difficult to learn though admittedly that wasn't the first take that you see here - we really needed to learn to spell Abracadabra for the trick to work! Its a bit long winded but it is quite fun when it pays off.  I enjoyed doing it and will be available for weddings, bar mitzvahs  etc. but ultimately I think I'll leave the magic to people who actually have talent.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Week 5: Sleeping Beauty

Although I can appreciate the beauty of a good lie-in and even the occasional afternoon nap I have not, alas, spent this week sleeping.  I did, however, go to see Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool last Saturday night with my mum.


My Relationship with Formal Dance


Unlike many little girls of my generation I never really attended dance classes at a young age with the exception of the occasional Irish Dancing lesson.  Maybe even at that young age I could have been described as faddy although I think that it was far more likely that being so heavy on my feet with the grace of a baby elephant and the balance of Weeble (I'd wobble but I wouldn't fall down!) just meant that dance wasn't my thing.  I remember being in infant's school and the nurse taking us out one by one and asking us to hop out of the room on one leg and back in to the room on the other.  It should have been a fun game for a six year old but I just hopped in and out on the same leg.  I just couldn't manage the other without falling over.  

That's probably why I went to swimming lessons instead of dance school.

For this reason then I 've never really been interested in what you might term Contemporary Dance.  I don't suppose I have ever really been bothered enough to attempt to appreciate or understand it.

That was until I saw this beautiful advertisement poster in the station on the way to work one morning:

There was only one thing for it.  It was time to see if its fair to judge a book by its cover.... or a ballet by its poster as may be more accurate in this particular case.

The Performance of Sleeping Beauty


The Empire Theatre is a lovely venue for any performance, from its traditional red velvet seats, to the ornate ceiling and marble plinths at the rear, it feels like a special place.  Couple this with a full audience dressed to impress and an almost audible anticipation of what's to come and you have an exciting evening before the first cast member has even made an appearance on the stage.

However I should maybe mention here that I am also not a big fan of classical music.  It just isn't something I listen to.  If I had to choose, I'd say I'm more of a Smooth FM kind of girl, seconded by local commercial radio or even BBC Radio 2 but NEVER Classic FM.  If you add this to my lack of interest in ballet dancing, the evening should have been a complete washout but, as you might be able to tell from the atmosphere I have alluded to, the shift of the balance quickly changed.  

I won't spoil the story for you though everybody surely knows the basic tale of Sleeping Beauty.  Matthew Bourne has taken this and given it a twist.  Whilst the traditional Tchaikovsky music is used throughout and the story begins in the the late 1890s, when the original ballet was first performed, Bourne takes you right through to modern day with amazing sets, costumes and humour.  Traditional dancing was interspersed at times with some, quite frankly, unbelievable dancing in which performers were so fluid they look as though their bones must have disintegrated but yet their strength was always apparent.  In other scenes traditional ballet seemingly morphed in to something more akin to modern street dance.  

It was truly spectacular to see.  

Unfortunately, with it being a formal performance the opportunities to take photographs (as proof for this blog!) were limited but this photograph taken during the interval gives you an idea of the Gothic themes of the show.


We did try to take some with me in them during the interval but unfortunately this coincided with my mum's coughing fit (it was slightly messier than that but the less said the better!) and basically the photographs reflected the mood of the photographer - blurry!

Still a bit blurry (below) but more usable, this is the infamously inspiring poster outside The Empire in all of its glory taken on the way home.


Verdict

It was absolutely amazing.  

I didn't realise how emotional it had been until the very end when all the cast stepped forward for their bow raising their joined hands together above their heads.  I thought they looked as though they were about to give us a rendition of the Hokey-Cokey, which I thought was absolutely hilarious in contrast... only to find my laughter almost turning to tears for no explicable reason.  

It's fair to say I was moved by the experience and look forward to seeing Bourne's other 2 ballets, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, sometime in the hopefully not to distant future.  



   

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Week 4: Disco with a Twist

This weeks 'something new' came in the form of an opportunity, rather than a plan, thanks to the wondrous social media target advertisements of Facebook, which incidentally is where I'm pretty sure you've followed the link to this page from!  Apparently my age, gender, interests and location combined made me an ideal candidate for TK Maxx's Silent Disco, an event that they were staging in various locations as part of their 'Do Your Thing' summer campaign... funny they should suggest that as it ties in perfectly with the themes of this blog.

For those of you who don't know what a silent disco is, rest assured that you are not alone.  I too had to look it up on-line before agreeing to attend.  In a nutshell, rather than music being pumped in to your environment, like in a normal disco, the sound is instead directed straight to your ears through wireless headphones.  That's it, such a simple concept but not one that makes me want to go out there and get involved.  It's a good job that I'm looking for new things to write about or I might have missed out.    

Liverpool, get ready to Do Your Thing


The event took place last Thursday at 6:30 in the evening.  It had been a long day, made longer by staying in work until after 6pm to pass some time save going home and coming back.  Let's just say I was tired and not really in the mood.  Yet the incentive to do something new, as well as TK Maxx's own incentive of a £25 voucher for the first 100 people in (!), was just the motivation I needed.  

Doors opened at 6:30pm prompt.  First things first, paper work.  Collection of wireless earphones and signing of waiver for publicity.  Done.  Then it was time for the good stuff.  Earphones on, volume adjusted and channel selected.  There were two to choose from, both rather good, but one featuring the live feed from the in-store DJ and commentary from the event's choreographer... yes, you read that right, there was a real, live choreographer!

Before we hit the dance floor there was just time to head over to the bar for a (non-alcoholic) mojito served with ice and fresh mint. Delicious.  Then a quick wander around the shop whilst the dance floor warmed up.   


 Me with my Mojito getting ready to trip the light fantastic and with
my special John Travolta pose below.

The Arctic Monkeys were wrong - I don't Look Good on the Dance Floor 

The orchestrated highlight of the event must be the choreographer who really got the crowd going, swapping between the two music channels so that there was something for everyone, allowing scope for free styling whilst giving others direction through organised routines.  Not wanting to compete with the lad in his teens doing the caterpillar or the larger than life 50-something-year-old trying to do the splits, I went for the stylised option.  

 Here I am behind the girl in the orange top demonstrating my 'speghetti arms' 
(I don't think that's a technical term nor one to aspire too!)
Good fun all the same
 Below - being cool, brushing off my shoulders as part of the routine.  This part I mastered as it didn't involve moving my feet at the same time.  Co-ordination isn't one of my strong points. 

Verdict

I'm glad I made the effort to attend not only for the bonus £25 voucher that I managed to bag but primarily because it was really good fun.  Clearly, this was probably quite abstract for a silent disco, being in a shop rather than at a club or festival, but 100% effort was put in by all involved and it certainly had novelty value.  I'd definitely give this ago again but there is probably a right place and time - not sure that a sober 6:30pm start in a shop is something I'd do again... oh, what am I saying, of course I would but if possible I'd probably prefer somewhere a bit darker and a bit later next time.

Top tip - if you ever find yourself at one of these events just take your earphones off for a short time, even if its just for a minute or two.  Watching people dance to no music and clap to their own time is just hilarious - worth a visit to a silent disco on its own! 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Week 3: A Near Disaster Averted

You may have noticed that this weeks blog post is a little bit late.  It wasn't for the lack of trying. I'd thought about this weeks activity in advance.  It was planned for Sunday evening, I'd invited my Scottish friend around to share the experience and I'd almost starved myself in preparation all day for what has to be the most quintessential delicacy from north of the boarder.  

No not the humble haggis. I am of course talking about the Mighty Fried Mars Bar!

The Best Laid Plans...

Unfortunately I didn't take in to account the lack of hot-food outlets willing to humour me in cooking up this this rare and desirable treat.  I'd bought my own Mars bar, all they had to do was dip it in their pre-made batter, drop it in the hot fat and let it sizzle until golden but no, I was turned away at the till.  Mission aborted. Food Fad Fail...or was it?

What's a Girls to Do

Sunday was a write off after my disappointment in the take-away shop and I spent the rest of the evening thinking about how I could make this right.  I was only on week 3, I couldn't allow myself to be defeated at this early stage.  And then it struck me - I have a Mars bar, I have a pan of oil and I have a bowl of batter.  All the ingredients are there in my kitchen.  There's only one thing for it then, if this fad was to succeed then I'd have to make my own.  

I soon found out that this is what Mondays are made for.  I'll talk you through the process...

How to Make a Mighty Fried Mars Bar   

First take a Mars bar.  I'd recommend the original and best although I'm sure you could use a cheaper supermarket version if you just wanted to try it without fully committing. Unwrap it and set it to one side whilst you prepare the other elements.

Mix an egg with flour and milk to make a batter.  You don't necessarily need to follow a recipe for this as it needs to be fairly thick to coat the Mars bar.  Pancake consistency, for example, would be too thin.  If you feel it is too thin just add more flour.  Mix well until you have a paste that looks something like that below.
Place 4-5cm of oil in a pan and place on the heat until very hot.  Test the temperature of the oil by dropping a small amount of batter in to the oil.  The batter should sizzle and ball.  Be really careful.  
 Cover the Mars bar with the batter using a spoon for better coverage.
 When the Mars bar is fully covered and the oil is nice and hot, just drop it in and stand back! 
You may have to turn it once depending on how deep your oil is.  It is ready when it's golden brown.
(There are 2 Mighty Fried Mars Bars in the pan below though I didn't eat them both!)

Introducing the Mighty Fried Mars Bar! 

Ok, so it looks fairly gross on the outside.  That's caramel seeping out from the side by the way, although you're right if you're thinking that it looks as though somebody has squeezed a boil!
Neither the outside nor the inside resembles the product that it previously was but don't like that put you off. 

 The crisp crunch on the outside gives way to a smooth, chocolate-caramel centre.  Think melted, warm Mars bar wrapped in a pancake.  Mmmmm.

Verdict

It was disappointing that the local eateries wouldn't indulge me but ultimately it was no big loss.  From the comfort of my own kitchen I was able to create a truly tasty but unusual snack that needed very little effort in its preparation but had a handsome payoff.  Whilst I certainly have a sweet-tooth, I'd also recommend this to people less sugar inclined as the savoury element of the batter detracts from the sweetness of the Mars bar.

I will definitely be indulging in the Mighty Fried Mars Bar again in the future but not too regularly though, I hasten to add (before the Fat-Police turn on their sirens!).