Do you feel lucky?

Late last year I saw an interview with Australian columnist, presenter and commentator Jamila Rizvi about the launch of her book Not Just Lucky. Her premise was this: Why do successful, high-powered, high-achieving women undermine what they’ve achieved, what they aspire to and what they are capable of with the word luck?

Something prickled within me.

A few years ago I was promoted into a new job. It encapsulated all of the things I love to do and that I do well – developing new ideas for the business, working with a whole range of people in a whole lot of places and creating the ways and means to keep it all going well beyond whatever my tenure in the role.

Excited beyond measure, I had emailed my happy news to loved ones abroad, veering between the pride of taking on the kind of create-as-you-go role I’d always dreamed of and the disbelief that, after all of the ups and downs I’d experienced since moving the London, it was finally happening for me. I felt liked I’d earned it, like I’d paid my dues and deserved this opportunity. At the same time, I felt like it could be gone in a flash.

And I wondered, could this ephemeral quality be what Rizvi was referring to, what had disquieted me during her interview? Her own disparaging inner voice – the one that “says things that no polite human being would ever say to someone else” – sounded a lot like mine. So I got hold of the book and started to read.

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Over the first couple of chapters, my inner voice protested: Perhaps men (and I generalise here) could do with a little more of the humility and collaborative practice associated with women. But gradually I saw Rizvi’s point. It’s not so much the issue of who has particular qualities but rather that our attachment to humility does not always serve us.

Her chapter on conditioning – that we are products of the world around us and that our initial reactions are invariably the result of this conditioning rather than any objective ‘truth’ about the situation – gave me pause.

“First comes conditioning. Next comes me.”

She writes about crying at work, something that’s seen as the purview of women. Have you done this? I have – as a result of sheer frustration, of persisting with putting my point across. Of being reprimanded with “it’s not nice / appropriate” to push or “you’ll get a reputation as a bully”.

It’s exasperating not to be heard – it builds and seethes and then it boils over…and ‘leaks’.

Rizvi (along with a whole lot of other research) points to the different ways that girls and boys are socialised as they grow up. Boys are discouraged from showing “emotional fragility” (a topic for a whole other blog post!) while girls are discouraged from showing anger and aggression. So first comes that conditioning – the collaborating, the ‘appropriately assertive’ discussion, the ‘playing nicely’ – and it gets in the way of the authentic response – me.

I’m not saying that we should adopt aggression and anger as a mantra – we have far more to offer than that. But sometimes a personal flop can show up as failing for womankind and the extra scrutiny that comes with being the first, the one and only or even one of a select few can be pretty tough to take.

So how should we be dealing with the slings and arrows of social expectation? I found three gems in Rizvi’s chapters that I thought might help me to go beyond my conditioned responses.

1. Accept that your brain is hard-wired to protect you from lions, not criticism.

Cortisol has achieved somewhat of a celebrity status over the last few years. Books have been written and experts have waxed lyrical about why society is stressed, tired, overweight and just plain grumpy. But cortisol is one of the physical ways our brain prepares our bodies to respond to danger. It used to be lions that might have eaten you alive. Now it appears, it’s criticism. Thinking about it like this made criticism seem palatable and eminently more survivable.

2. Don’t forget it’s the receiver that makes criticism constructive.

We love to be right and to make others wrong. And we judge and take the role of the ‘wronged one’ when criticism strikes, wallowing in resentment and righteous indignation. It’s satisfying, isn’t it? Before we know it we’re off on a quest for the next heady hit…but where does our righteousness get us? It is up to us to step past the conditioned response and find the courage and stoicism to unearth the lesson hidden in the censure.

3. Everyone who is good at something did it for the first time without knowing how.

I’ve spent my career in marketing, innovation and customer development and I forget how many layers of ‘knowing’ I have developed. My recent foray into the world of property has thrust me right back into the space of conscious incompetence and with each week that passes I realise just how much I do not know and how scared I am of getting it wrong. This pearl of wisdom reminded me that getting good at something, let along gaining mastery of it, takes time. It also takes the resilience to keep getting up every time you take a knock and the persistence to always keep moving forward, even if the next step is just a tiny one.

Where does all this leave me?

Well I figure the world can’t afford to wait for us – actually, make that me – to be perfect. I have far too much to offer to be squirrelling it away until it is ‘just so’.

So maybe I need to practise owning the successes along the way and stop taking the criticism as something being wrong with me instead of as an opportunity to choose who I want to be in the world.

No-one is born lucky and when I took that job, my Dad wrote to me saying among many other things, that I’d worked hard and made my own luck. (And you’d be right in thinking that I cried as I read his words.) Yes, I did work hard. I also took some risks. And I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. I’m also a big believer in that if you put it out there, the Universe provides.

But luck is hard to ‘own’ so I’m thinking that what it’s really time to start thinking, saying, and embracing far more often is that luck had nothing to do with it.

So how much of your life are you willing to own?

Do you feel grateful?

Or do you just feel lucky?

A weekend in Kent

The Easter long weekend is done and it has glowered and grizzled and pretty much rained for the whole four days. This morning, the weather forecast touted a high of 14C for London but having just come back from running a couple of errands up the street, it feels like more of the same damp squib to me.

*sigh*

It’s led me to reminisce about sunnier times – like when I spent a warm summer weekend in Kent last July.

It was a ‘big birthday’ for stepmum-B’s Mum. B had flown into London earlier in the week and had been staying at Chez Gidday for a few days so we headed into London’s Friday afternoon commuter swell and down to Kent together for a weekend of family catch-ups and birthday festivities. The weekend proved to be gloriously warm and mostly sunny so aside from the party on Saturday evening, we were able to spend some time poking around a few of Kent’s picturesque and historic towns.

We began in Canterbury, the city that gave birth to Geoffrey Chaucer and his tales.

Canterbury - Chaucer and gardens

L: Statue of Geoffrey Chaucer in Castle Street; R: Lush gardens along the old city walls

Canterbury Cathedral is a must see. It’s chock full of glorious architecture…

Canterbury Cathedral - people

Intricate carvings – including on the tomb of Henry IV and his queen, Joan of Navarre (right)

Canterbury Cathedral - looking up

So many spectacular things to admire, it’s easy to lose track of time.

…and comes with somewhat of a chequered past.

Canterbury Cathedral - TB montage

L: Looking down the length of the cathedral from the Trinity Chapel; R: This memorial marks the site of the murder of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, in 1170.

And then there are Canterbury’s many pubs.

Canterbury signs

There’s a little bit of whatever takes your fancy here. Make sure you check out the old ducking stool around the corner from The Old Weavers House.

The local folk festival was on so we managed to catch the parade on Saturday morning…

Canterbury Folk Festival

Catching the start of the street parade for the folk festival.

…as well as popping into the Canterbury Museum for a spot of local history. To our surprise, we found this little piece of Down Under hanging on the wall.

On the Moira Station

On the Moira Station, Australia – oil on millboard – by P Lee, 1890.

After a pleasant morning, we were to meet up with some of the family for a pre-do catch up. However, things didn’t quite go according to plan so B’s brother took us to the town of Sandwich. Folkish pursuits having established themselves here too, we were regaled with some spirited morris dancing as soon as we arrived.

Sandwich - Morris dancers montage

Morris dancing on the banks of the River Stour

Luckily there was also plenty of time to enjoy an ice-cream while wandering through the bustling main square and polish off some delicious fish and chips.

Sunday morning dawned and instead of the relaxed ambling we had counted on after the festivities of the night before, more plans had been developing and we had another family get-together to squeeze in before I caught my train. But there was still time for a quick trip to Botany Bay – the Kent version – for a look around.

Botany Bay views montage

Yes, there was a beach – with people swimming and everything. It was that warm…

Botany Bay Folly montage

The top picture is what’s known as either the Folly or Neptune’s Tower. (There’s quite a good post about it on Echoes of the Past if you are interested in finding out more.) We also introduced B’s brother and his girlfriend to geocaching here. The bottom picture is the view from the coastal path alongside the Folly.

Botany Bay - Seagulls (sml)

A seagull and chick enjoying the sea air and sunshine.

Botany Bay - sign (sml)

Two more birds enjoying the sunshine and sea air of Botany Bay (that’s me on the right).

After a little basking in the sun at the Botany Bay Hotel – over a pretty decent coffee I might add – we headed off to our final shindig via the delightful seaside town of Broadstairs.

Broadstairs, Viking Bay

Viking Bay, Broadstairs – another beach with people swimming!

It was a flying stop, just long enough to get out of the car for ten minutes and admire the view, before driving on to our last family do of the weekend. More eating, drinking and gas bagging ensued…and then it was time to say my goodbyes. Before long I was sitting by the train window relaxed, sun-kissed and watching the Kent countryside, bathed in the soft light of a summer’s evening, whisk by.


The rain has stopped now and I’m pleased to report that it’s definitely feeling warmer at Chez Gidday – the toasty winter throw has been tossed aside and I have the kitchen window open a fraction to ‘freshen the air’.

But what I’m really hoping is that some  proper sunshine is not far away, when it will be just warm enough to sit outside, albeit jumper-clad, to read or to relocate the chores I’ve been doing on the comfy couch. Let’s face it. While waxing nostalgic about summers past from the Gidday sofa has been a pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon, I am definitely looking forward to tap-tap-tapping away on the back patio instead.

Fingers crossed that this will come sooner rather than later.

Reasons why

I spent last weekend at a three-day property symposium at the Birmingham NEC.

I had travelled up to Birmingham on Thursday night to make sure I got checked-in and unpacked ready to start Friday morning. If you’ve been following UK news reports over the last few weeks, you’ll know that the weather here has been a little different from what we are used to so as I was greeted by bone-chilling wind and swirling snow on arrival, I bailed on the planned walk to the hotel and jumped in a cab. As we trundled carefully along the icy dark roads, I had no idea how I was going to find my way back in the morning.

It stayed icy for the next three days so each morning I’d layer up like a pass-the-parcel prize – jumper over long sleeve top over singlet, wool tights under jeans, thick socks under sensible walking boots all topped off with my warmest snow-coat and beanie. I’d walk around the corner to the Drop and Go at the Airport and get a cab to the exhibition centre. Then I’d reverse the process each evening.

After three long and full days, I was both buzzing and completely spent. Mercifully my trip back to London on Sunday night went smoothly and when I got home, I dropped my bags inside the front door and crawled happily into my own bed. That meant I spent Monday sorting myself out. I tackled several loads of laundry, a pile of unopened post and the stream of unread emails. I planned my week, allocating time in my calendar to prepare for things coming up and to follow up on all of the to-dos from the weekend.

I was beavering away when the doorbell rang. I get a lot of people ringing the doorbell during the day trying to sell their charities, ideas, political affiliations, etc. and if I’m not expecting anyone, I don’t answer the door. But when the bell rang a second time, gut instinct told me I should see who was there.

Look at what the nice man at the door delivered!

Aussie snacks

It was veritable cornucopia of Aussie delights. Burger Rings, Twisties – both chicken- and cheese-flavoured ones – a bag each of chocolate and liquorice bullets and Caramello Koalas, and two each of Crunchie and Cherry Ripe chocolate bars. Yippee!

As I was reverently unpacking it all and exclaiming over each nostalgic favourite, I found something more.

tim tams header

Chicky's tim tams

Yes! My very own super-sized packet of Tim Tams!

In lieu of my being Down Under for Christmas, it seems that my sister (Lil Chicky) had taken it upon herself to deliver a little bit of Down Under to the UK, gathering a whole lot of my favourite Aussie snacks and sending them across the sea. And the timing was perfect, taking me back to our time in Paris together and reminding me why I’m launching myself into the world of property investing.

Back in November, I had just completed my three-day basic property training and had committed to a two-year elite mentoring and training program. I knew nothing about property but I did know that I wanted to build a different financial future for myself. One that would give me some choices about how I spend my time in the years ahead – whether that’s in having the freedom and security to choose a job that I love and that fulfils me, building a portfolio career through contracting and non-executive director roles or pursuing some of my personal passions in education, mental health and travel.

We’d had about three weeks notice of her trip and between her getting on several planes and me whizzing across the channel on Eurostar, we’d managed to rendezvous in the Latin Quarter, make our plans and soak up as much as two erstwhile Australians ambling through the last shreds of Autumn in Paris could manage.

We were sitting on the top deck of the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus on our first morning. It was dry, blue-skied and quite sunny yet the wind was icy – but the top deck is the best place for photographs so we had wrapped ourselves in beanies and scarves and taken our seats upstairs.

I was watching her take photos, leaning to get the best angles as the bus tootled around the sights and I had a thought that stopped me in my tracks: I could not have done this if I’d been working. With three weeks notice, I might have managed to wangle a three-day weekend, working my tail off to get things done beforehand and planning the trip at the same time. But my mind would have been filled with everything I hadn’t quite managed to get done before I left and wondering what would be waiting for me when I got back.

Instead there I was, my ears warm and toasty under my new beanie and the tip of my nose red with cold, completely present and hanging out with one of my favourite people on the planet. It was a moment of pure joy…and also one of clarity. I found myself thinking, ‘moments like this are what I want my life to be about’. To spend it with the people that matter most to me, to make a difference in what I do and to invest time in the things I’m passionate about.

The moment was brief and poignant – and it has stayed with me. Over the last couple of months, I have embarked on my property journey in earnest, preparing my strategy, travelling to investigate a number of investment areas, building my network of contacts, researching the people I need in my power team right up to attending last weekend’s Symposium and booking my first viewings for later this week.

All new and scary things to me.

And what keeps me pushing forward are my reasons why, the very ones that were delivered in a moment of blinding clarity on the top deck of a tourist bus in Paris.

Some little bits of what I fancy

London has a lot of museums and galleries and many are free but sometimes it pays to spend time getting to know a particular museum well.

One of my favourite museums in London is the V&A. It bills itself as the world’s leading museum of art and design but what I love is the way that the V&A uses these themes to bring stories to life. Exploring the diverse history of different parts of the world or dissecting the nature of our society and the environment we live in through the lens of human creativity and expression is a wonderful way to spend a few hours.

I’m at the museum every couple of months for the V&A book group and always go early, thinking I’ll pop into an exhibition, explore a specific gallery or take one of the free guided tours to make an afternoon of it. And in ambling around, I’m usually delighted by something unexpected: the view from the top of a newly-discovered staircase or a fascinating item tucked away in an unbidden nook or cranny.

In a place where there’s so much to see, I’ve come to realise that it pays to wander with only the semblance of a plan, to linger and read about the things that simply take your fancy. It also pays to look around – that’s up, sideways, around corners and behind you.

Here’s why.

Dale Chihuly’s Rotunda Chandelier – the Grand Entrance

If you look up as you enter through the main museum entrance from Cromwell Road, it’s hard to miss Dale Chihuly‘s spectacular 27ft (8.2m) sculptured-glass chandelier suspended airily above the information desk.

V+A Blown glass chandelier

The Rotunda Chandelier in the museum’s main reception, viewed from an upper gallery at the top of a staircase I’d never climbed before.

V+A C-up Rotunda chandlier and clock

The view looking up from the information desk on the ground floor. I’m feeling very grateful for the excellent zoom on my camera phone – look at all of that exquisite detail and the individuality of the glass elements.

The chandelier comprises 1,300 blue and green hand-blown and mould-blown pieces – these were made in Chihuly’s Seattle studio and then took five days to assemble – in situ – over the chandelier’s steel frame.

Every time I visit and look up at it, I want to take another photo. It’s definitely one worth lingering over.

Es Devlin’s The Singing Tree

Last December I planned for my visit to include a wander around the Opera: Passion, Politics and Power exhibition near the new Blavatnik entrance on Exhibition Road. However, the tunnel entrance from nearby South Kensington tube station had been closed so I’d been forced to make the 10-minute walk to the museum above ground.

Glad to escape the damp grey day outside, I breathed a sigh of relief as I dashed through the Cromwell Road entrance and tore off my woolly scarf and hat…only to be pulled up short by an hypnotic display of sound and light.

V+A Singing Xmas Tree

As part of the V&A’s annual Christmas programme, set designer Es Devlin combined modern innovations like crowd-sourcing and machine-learning to conceive this Singing Tree. Installed inside the Grand Entrance between 27th November 2017 and 6th January 2018, museum visitors were invited to contribute a festive word or two that became part of this mesmerising audio-visual carol.

The video doesn’t reproduce the carolling voices very well but believe me, being greeted by this after braving a cold and blustery December day was a complete joy.

Rachel Kneebone’s 399 Days – Medieval and Renaissance Galleries (room 50a)

I had arrived a little early for one of the free gallery tours that leave from beneath the Rotunda and rather than stand around waiting (remember peeps, I will never be British enough to wait when I don’t have to), I decided to amuse myself by meandering around the neighbouring gallery.

Rachel Kneebone‘s pillar of legs and arms caught my eye almost immediately.

V+A Sculpture gallery Kneebone's 399

399 Days is a five metre tall column of writhing porcelain figures and it looks pretty interesting from a distance. However it was in getting up close that it became fascinating and I lost the entirety of my 15-minute early-ness poring over the intricacies of this extraordinary piece.

Julian Melchiorri’s Exhale – the Members’ Cloakroom

This surprising gem hangs above the members’ cloakroom desk (which is up the staircase behind you as you come in from the museum’s tunnel entrance). It’s a pretty enough piece but it wasn’t until I read the wall plaque that I really got excited about this one. Peeps, this is a breathing chandelier.

V+A Exhale chandelier

Designer and V&A Engineer-in-Residence Julian Melchiorri combined advances in biotechnology, engineering and architecture to come up with this life-affirming bionic chandelier. The ‘leaves’ of the chandelier contain microalgae: when they are fed with water they remove carbon dioxide from and release oxygen into the surroundings.

(Remember learning about photosynthesis in those high school biology lessons? This is pretty much it peeps.)

Its location is a bit tucked away but don’t be put off. It’s easy to get close to and you’ll be able to spot it as you come up the aforementioned stairs or down the staircase from the upper floor of the European Galleries.

Even as I sit here typing this, I still feel absolutely thrilled by how clever this is – it also makes me wonder how it could be applied more widely in our increasingly polluted world.

Paul Cummins’ Sixteen Poppies – opposite the Members’ Cloakroom

In 2014, the Tower of London marked 100 years since Britain entered WWI with a temporary installation – called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red – where 888, 246 of Cummins’ hand-made ceramic poppies were planted in the tower moat to represent each of the British military lives lost. Five million people visited the installation between July and November 2014 after which the poppies were sold and the proceeds donated to six service charities.

V+A Red Poppies

The sixteen poppies on display just opposite the Members’ Cloakroom were purchased by the V&A as a tribute to the sixteen members of its staff who died in the War – their names are also inscribed on a memorial tablet at the Main Entrance on Cromwell Road.

Main Cafe, designed by James Gamble, William Morris and Edward Poynter

And finally, when all is said and done, there’s nothing better than having coffee and cake in the glorious historic rooms of the museum’s main cafe.

V+A Cafe montage

The Gamble Room

The museum’s founding Director, Henry Cole had learnt a thing or two about public refreshment while running the Great Exhibition in 1851 and believed that a museum restaurant would be a way to encourage people to enjoy culture. Well ahead of other museums (that did not invest in catering until the 20th century), Cole invested in the world’s first museum restaurant at the V&A, opening the Gamble Room in 1868 followed by the opening of the Poynter and Morris rooms on either side.

These three rooms form the hub of the V&A’s main cafe and any of them are an especially pleasant place to rest your weary legs after wandering around the galleries. If you are lucky, someone might be playing the piano in the Gamble Room. In any case, I’m  a big fan of the restorative benefits provided by their Black Velvet cake…

black velvet cake 1

Black velvet – that means chocolate Guinness cake with Prosecco frosting peeps.

Oh yes, that’s definitely something I fancy and it’s not for sharing!

In the meantime, if you fancy a cultural boost to your creative spirit, I’s recommend a visit to the V&A. And if you are a fan already, please leave a comment and let me know what little bits of the V&A you fancy…and where I can find them!

The joy of faffing

It’s a chilly old Sunday here in London and I’m tucked up under a cosy throw wondering what I am going to write.

Somehow I’ve landed in this small pause and with the busy-ness of the rest of February ahead of me, I’m trying to make the most of it. But waiting is an odd feeling isn’t it? I can see my careful plans ahead of me but am forced to pause, itching to get on with things. I find it hard to do nothing and in the absence of something to do, I’m prone to a bit of faffing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, faffing means busy-ing oneself with unproductive or nonsense activities. Case in point: I was looking up an appropriate definition of faffing for the link in the previous paragraph when I learned of an alternative definition – apparently faffing during freshers’ week refers to a particular form of – ahem – acquainting oneself with a university’s newest arrivals.

Faffing.

*Snigger*

Anyway in thinking about February so far, it has dawned on me that it has been quite the month for faffing. (Of the nonsense kind – keep it clean peeps!)

It’s been a month where the weather has swung between the crisp blue-skies of below 5⁰C and the giddying heights of double-figure days. Last night it reached 10⁰C – that’s after a week of nights below zero – and for fear of over-heating, I removed the extra blanket that’s been on my bed for the last two months. But today it’s been sleeting on and off, there are snow showers forecast for this evening and the mercury is slated to dip back to zero again by tomorrow morning. With the weather faffing about like this, the blanket needs to stay within easy reach. So I faffed about this morning, draping it carefully over the end of the bed to ensure I could roll it up-and-over or fold it back-and-across as needed from my position beneath the duvet.

It remains to be seen whether my bare feet will survive the transition from my cosy new slippers to blissful sleep…

slippers

…or whether I will be forced to faff about with bed socks.

Faffing.

*Sigh*

Then there’s the clothing conundrum, i.e. the number of layers required to venture comfortably outside the flat. Do I wear the padded ‘sleeping bag’ coat or dial it back to the flannelette-lined waterproof (not seen since Paris in November) and layer-up underneath? Will my ears be warm enough beneath my raspberry knitted beret or do I need my woolly beanie – with pom-pom of course – to keep my shell-likes toasty?

beanie

I’ve miscalculated a bit lately and have ended up faffing about en route, desperately managing scarves and on-again-off-again headwear in an effort to reach the optimum level of toastiness. And the result? I’ve turned up more unkempt/sweatier than I would have liked. And that doesn’t include the hat-hair.

Faffing.

*Grrrrr*

So here I am, tap-tap-tapping away at Gidday HQ. The television has been blinking away across the room and has segued from Colombo to Miss Marple to The Durrels with the snug complacency of a winter’s afternoon best spent indoors. I am looking forward to tonight’s regular telly – a bit of vicarious ice-dancing (courtesy of Dancing on Ice – yes I know the Winter Olympics are on) before finding out how it all turns out in the final episode of BBC’s latest slow-burn thriller, McMafia.

In the meantime I have some batch cooking to do for the week ahead. I’m thinking about reading a chapter or two of my latest business book (Not Just Lucky) or maybe more of the Aussie tale (Kate Grenville’s The Secret River) that’s got me completely hooked. I could always continue with my recent flurry of clean-outs, embarking on a new drawer or cupboard to explore, cull and reorganise. Or there’s my Amazon Watchlist – it beckons with a list of movies “soon leaving Prime” (where they are free to view) that I’ve earmarked for soon-ish viewing.

But here I am, still faffing about writing this blog post instead.

Faffing.

*Aaahhhh*

Seems to me it’s the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

Setting the tone

This morning I was lying in bed listening to the radio. English TV presenter Davina McCall was being interviewed and she mentioned that she ‘loves a new year’, that it was a time of ‘getting on with it’ after the world winding down over the Christmas period. I found myself nodding in agreement from beneath the duvet.

There is something insistent about a new year, isn’t there?

Wherever I am at this time of year, whether Down Under with family in Melbourne or at home here in London, I like to give a nod to the year just gone. This time around I’ve been enormously grateful for the time and space that my end-of-2016 redundancy has given me. 2017 has turned into something of a watershed year. It’s been a year during which I wondered how a life without a job – and the structure that a job brings – might look. It’s certainly been a year of reflecting and exploring what I’m passionate about.

And the first of these is reading.

Yes I’ve been indulging my passion for the written word, reading like a mad thing and finishing the year with 118 books under my belt. At the same time, I’ve tried to challenge myself by reading more widely and I’ve tackled books that have been confronting, uplifting and gripping. Some have been boring, some have been surprising. But for the most part, they took me to new places, immersed me in new stories and left me curious, inspired and hungry for more.

Then there’s learning.

I’ve introduced myself to the world of MOOCs, embarking on the first structured learning I’ve had in over 25 years. I relished the return to economics and development – a subject I loved at high school – and dived into the untested waters of democracy and development in Africa and an introduction to philosophy. It inspired me, taught me, challenged me and frustrated me. What I didn’t expect to learn is that I have a better capacity for self-discipline that I thought.

I’m also passionate about making a difference. Regular readers might remember that in June, I took on my first non-executive director role by becoming a school governor – answering a personal calling to support and guide the young people who will live in the environment/society we are leaving in our wake.

I’ve also been travelling, exploring places like York, Edinburgh and Muscat (Oman) for the first time as well as revisiting old haunts – Oxford and Canterbury in the UK and then Paris with Lil Chicky in November. And on the home-front, I’ve shone some light into a few culinary black spots and added some new made-by-me staples to the Gidday pantry.

That’s not a bad year. It has certainly been a busy and stimulating one so like everyone, I enjoyed the luscious slow-down of the pre-New Year week. But once I could see January on the horizon, just like Davina I was itching to get stuck in again.

So it’s time to tackle 2018.

I’ve already added a new batch-recipe staple to my culinary repertoire – a delicious chicken bhuna curry – courtesy of a pre-new year visit to the Waitrose Cookery School.

bhuna curry montage

Left: The version I produced under supervision (with some sticky rice and made-by-Kym chapati); Right: The batch made at home was an absolute treat. The three leftover portions froze beautifully and kept me well-fed for a week.

I’ll be continuing to expand my aesthetic horizons this year and am off to the V&A Museum next Tuesday. What’s new about that? I hear you say. Well, I’ll be off with my brand spanking new V&A Museum membership – a Christmas present from Mum – tucked safely in my pocket.

VAM membership pack

The membership pack was almost as much fun to open as the promise of free exhibitions and other membership perks!

On the reading front, I’ve signed up to read 70 books for the year on Goodreads – including something from all 50 themes on the PopSugar Reading Challenge 2018  list – and am looking forward to some unexpected gems from my V&A Book Group. And after a few years of donating, I’ve finally made the acquaintance of the bookshelf at my local charity shop.

Book stack

I loved Byatt’s The Children’s Book (a V&A Book Group read from last year) so was chuffed to find Possession on the shelf. Grenville and Amis are authors I’ve never read and let’s face it, at less than £1.50 per book, I can afford to explore some new literary horizons.

I’ve also taken my first steps towards being a property investor, attending a 3-day strategy builder course last weekend, booking in for some courses on Buy-To-Let and Multiple-Occupancy over the coming months and getting stuck in with some research.

And of course my governor activity will continue in earnest as we embed last year’s initiatives and embark on some exciting new projects in 2018.

So with all of this setting the tone for the year ahead, I’ve bought some new stationery…

Stationery

Setting the (b)right tone for the year

Isn’t it lovely?

*sigh*

It’s going to be a bright and shiny 2018 peeps – I can feel it already!

Sacred places

Christmas is done for another year and we are coming to the end of that strange hiatus before the new year begins and life gets going in earnest again.

It has been four years since I spent a Christmas at home and flying solo meant that I could plan a completely selfish day, with absolutely no-one to please but myself. The day was filled with favourites: foodie treats (croissants – check, duck-fat roasted potatoes – check, Pat’s mango fruitcake – check), chats with loved ones Down Under and some Singin’ in the Rain (so full of joy and well, Gene Kelly peeps, what’s not to like *sigh*). There was also a luscious stretch of comfy-couch reading and some seasonal happy telly in the form of the Strictly Come Dancing and Great British Bake-off Christmas specials.

This year, the big day also fell smack-bang in the middle of a marvellous six days cocooned at home. I spent many glorious hours snuggled under a cosy throw catching up on movies I’d meant to see and snacking on cheese and home-made fruitcake (not together). And there was plenty of time to indulge in my favourite thing to do – reading. As far as I am concerned, there’s nothing like losing yourself in a good book and for six days, I found myself utterly engrossed in a tale of adventure, mysticism and history – From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple.

From the Holy Mountain

When From the Holy Mountain was published twenty years ago in 1997, I had just started travelling. Egypt had been a passion of mine since I was 14 years old, so much so that a career as an archaeologist had held quite some allure. Unlike others I knew who’d set off post-Uni to backpack around Europe, I went to work, saved my pennies and splashed it all on an escorted group tour through Egypt.

Over two mind-blowing weeks, our tour group travelled between Luxor and Aswan listening to stories of ancient rituals and dynasties, wandering through temples and bazaars and scrutinising endless statues and heiroglyphics. We then returned to Cairo for a couple of days and early one morning four of us took a camel ride up through the dusty streets and around the great stone peaks of the world’s most famous tombs, the mighty Pyramids of Giza.

The next day our bus made a stop there on the way back from Memphis and when our guide mentioned that we’d have enough time to go inside, I jumped at the chance. To my astonishment, the rest of the group elected to stay by the bus taking photos so I joined the file of tourists entering the shaded entrance and climbed determinedly up the stone ramp to the inner chamber.

After fifteen minutes the corridor narrowed until it was only wide enough for one person to pass through. I waited patiently until it was my turn to ‘duck-walk’ under the couple of metres of low ceiling-ed passage before the chamber. I stood, stretched my legs gratefully and moved away from the entrance to let a waiting group leave. As the last person crouched into the low space behind me, their exit stemmed the incoming flow of visitors for a couple of minutes and I was left alone in the chamber. In the dim light, a broken sarcophagus hunched darkly to my right as I gazed upwards to the chamber roof soaring above me. My skin prickled and I stood awestruck by the stillness, by the silence and by the sheer moment of standing under something built 4,500 years ago.

Had I read Dalrymple’s tale back then, I would probably have wanted to spend much longer and venture much further afield than my two weeks allowed. Twenty years later, the part of the world he writes about in From the Holy Mountain fascinates me. It was home to the grand and glittering Byzantium, an empire that stretched from Greece and through Constantinople (now Istanbul), crossing the Bosphorus into the vastness of eastern Turkey, turning south through Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine and finally swinging west across the Sinai Desert into Egypt.

Following in the footsteps of two 6th century monks, Dalrymple’s memoir took me on a five month pilgrimage from Mt Athos in Greece to the Great Kharga Oasis in Upper Egypt. His historic references and stories – taken from accounts of John Mochos and Sophronius’ journey – added a fascinating richness but more than that, Dalrymple’s vivid prose brought to life the distinctive landscapes and peoples he encountered along the way. Scattering these amongst his own discussions, interviews and reflections created this wonderful sense of being alongside him as he travelled. This was his pilgrimage, a chance to slake his obsession with the monks’ journey he had read about years before – and it reminded me of mine taken in the shadow of a 13 year love affair with Egypt all those years ago (albeit mine being much shorter than his).

I stayed buried in Dalrymple’s story of civil wars, displaced peoples and sacred places for almost a week, the memories of my first adventure flooding back and the itch to travel welling inside me. I felt like I was on a wonderful journey and that my life was richer for having read this book. As I closed the final page and added this extraordinary travel memoir to my literary favourites, I made myself a couple of resolutions – to learn more about these ancient worlds and to get Dalrymple’s In Xanadu onto my to-read list.

So here’s to a 2018 full of sacred places to discover and new worlds to explore – have yourselves a happy new year peeps!

The best bits of Paris

In November, I met up with my sister in Paris.

An opportunity had come up for her to attend a conference there and after some last-minute hunting for flight (her) and Eurostar (me) deals, considerable fossicking around on accommodation websites and much emailing, we managed to cobble together a pretty fabulous rendezvous for ourselves.

It was not my first trip to the City of Light – that was way back in 2000, and I’d been three times since (as a tourist, that is) – but this was the first time I’d visited so late in the year.

Temperamental to the core, Europe’s grand old dame put a pretty formidable foot forward, for the most part shrouding herself in icy-grey light and a bone-chilling wind. Occasionally she would toss her drab cloak aside, yielding a few hours of brisk blue sky before her grey mood returned. But Autumn had smeared its dazzling colours over her tree-lined boulevards, smattering her towers and turrets with its trademark reds, oranges and golds. We were enchanted.

Autumn

L to R: Jardins du Luxembourg; Les Jardins du Pont Neuf (taken from the Padlock Bridge); behind Notre Dame Cathedral

I mentioned before that this was not my first trip to Paris but for Lil Chicky it was. As with all first times, there are must-sees-and-dos so a long[ish] list made its way across the world and based on what I knew – and a rather tight planning window – I made us a bit of a plan.

Disclaimer: I do not profess to know Paris well, not like some other people I know. But those ‘others’ have given me some cracking recommendations for my previous visits – my last trip was in 2013 and involved pootling around some lesser known places in between hours spent reading in sun-drenched parks or lingering at outdoor cafes watching the world go by.

So here was my dilemma: How should I balance the new versus the I’ve-seen-it-before, the I-need-to-see-everything against quiet moments of contemplation and reflection that for me make Paris…Paris?

It turned out to be easier than I thought. It had been so long since I’d done the first time things that it was a real treat to go back and do them again. And in most cases, we managed to add a little something extra. So hang on to your woolly hats peeps, here’s your armchair tour of my best bits of Paris.

The Hop-On-Hop-Off (affectionately known as HOHO) bus drove us around the city sights for a couple of hours on Sunday morning and we got some great photos particularly of the ferris wheel on the Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower.

Bridge and Eiffel Tower

The following afternoon we joined a small skip-the-line group (skip-the-line is so worth paying for – I will never live in Britain long enough to love a queue), so were on la Tour Eiffel just as night fell. The city lit up before us and with the tower glowing and sparkling above us…

Eiffel Tower

Far right: Standing on the second level as the light show happens.

…we got the lift right up to the summit (a first for me, very windy and VERY high – over 1000 feet!). We treated ourselves to a [plastic] glass of [expensive] champagne to toast our efforts – it would have been rude not to.

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One morning we spent an hour visiting the stunning Sacre Couer Basilica in Montmarte…

sacre couer

…then strolled through Place du Tertre, its cobbles dappled with easels and Autumn colour. We walked back down the hill of Montmarte via Rue Lepic, stopping to admire the local art and architecture along the way…

Montmarte Artists

…before pausing opposite the Blanche Metro at the bottom for a cheeky photo of the Moulin Rouge. Many years ago I went to a show in this area but have never stopped here during the day – the Pigalle district doesn’t look anywhere near as risque in the daylight.

Moulin Rouge

On a another afternoon we wandered up the Champs Elysees to the Arc du Triomphe…

Arc du Triomphe

…then climbed the 284 steps to the top for the most spectacular views of both Paris and the star-shaped Place Charles de Gaulle below us. We booked our skip-the-line tickets just as we arrived so were able to show them on our phone and walk straight in and up. Definitely my top pick for Paris views.

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On our last morning we spent a few hours at the Louvre Museum wandering through the extraordinary palace building and admiring a few of its most famous exhibits…

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…as well as some not so famous ones (yet!).

Statue.

I laugh out loud every time I see this photo!

We visited the breathtaking Notre Dame Cathedral…

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…and the 13th century royal chapel on the Ile-de-la-Cite, Sainte-Chapelle.

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Map in hand we stalked the famous, and infamous, at the Pere Lachaise Cemetary…

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…and throughout our stay in Paris, found a few ways to honour those that we’ve loved, and lost.

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A month has passed since I let myself into the snug hotel room at Villa Pantheon and hugged my sister hello. We went on to create so many wonderful memories. For five days, we ambled through the boulevards, avenues, gardens and alleyways of Paris together. We walked until we didn’t think we could walk anymore, falling into our beds each night with aching backs, feet and legs only to get up and walk all over the city again the following day. We drank wine, got lost and explored (not always in that order). We laughed – sometimes until we cried (there may have been a ridiculous hat involved) – and ate far too much cake than is considered good for a person.

Paris cakes

L to R: Our trip to the fabulous Angelina on Rue de Rivoli (with special Aussie friend); our discovery of an Angelina outpost at the Louvre and its location-themed special; this absolutely divine tarte tatin at Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel was scrumptious – the cake of trip for me!

But above all, we surrendered to the joy of simply being together…

Arc du Triomphe Paris 2017 2

…and that peeps was definitely the best bit of Paris.

Breath taking

It’s Sunday and again, the world seems to take a breath and sleep a little later.

It was quiet just after 8am when I was roused from sleep. I lay cocooned beneath the covers for a few indulgent minutes, burrowing into the warmth while I drifted gently towards the morning. No radio alarm. No noise from the neighbours. No sporadic chatter from passers-by on the footpath outside. No rise and fall of traffic hum in the street. Time to wallow in the quiet stillness, in that sweet, sweet spot – you know the one – before nature calls, the covers are thrown back and the day begins.

I finally sat up, swinging my legs over the side of the bed and into my slippers. There was an unusual stillness in the air and my heart skipped hopefully as I padded towards the window and drew back the heavy curtain.

Before my eyes lay a world transformed: Fat white flakes swirled down from the insipid sky and settled softly over a garden already shrouded in white. It was a scene of such silent and untouched beauty that it was a few seconds before I realised that I was holding my breath.

It was snowing…

Snow on the Gidday patio

Snow on the wall

Snowy trees 1

I stayed by the window for a while, feeling the smile crinkle the corners of my eyes and child-like wonder fill my heart.

The MET office has been forecasting snow in the UK for a few weeks but a fall and subsequent settling like this in London is unusual. Just last week, a flurry of snowflakes wafted around me as I walked to a meeting and I thought that might be as much as we were likely to get until the New Year. But this is proper snow (for London anyway), one that took a deep breath in the dark hours of last night and then covered my Sunday in a blanket of white.

Snowy trees 2

Snowy rooftops

Even the neighbour’s cat has been over to explore…

I know I won’t be alone in my snow-posting today (and not everybody will have such romantic notions as I do) but I can’t help myself. There’s something magical about it, the way it quietly transforms the world. I can see the snow still falling from my spot here on the comfy couch and I keep interrupting my tapping to wander over and gaze out the window again.

Days like these fill me with a quiet, simple joy and there’s always room for a bit more joy in the world.

So stay warm peeps and have a breathtaking Sunday.

The busy-ness of life

Gidday peeps!

Sorry I’ve been lax on the posting front of late. It’s been a bit busy since I got back from stopping in Muscat seven weeks ago and while I managed to have a little rant about burgers in my last post, finding the time and head space to craft something more has proved a challenge. But I wanted to let you what’s been happening here at Chez Gidday.

First things first – I finished my fourth MOOC, this time on Democracy and Development in Africa, on 14th November and achieved 94%.

Hurrah!

This was quite a hard going course in terms of workload. In each of the seven weeks we were asked to complete several pieces of work – a mix of video lectures and interviews, reading, questions, discussions and essays – which was then capped off by a 3-part exam in the last week. Let me tell you there were many times when I cursed myself for signing up in the first place and then for not being able to walk away and let it go.

But in catching up with a close friend a couple of weeks ago, he complimented me on my commitment and acknowledged my self-discipline as a real strength. Interestingly, one of my reasons for doing these MOOCs was to ensure that my self-discipline ‘muscles’ stayed active. So I’m glad I stuck with it and am proud to say I have the certificate of achievement – as well as a whole lot of new ideas and opinions – to show for it.

My school governor role has really taken off as well. I’ve been attending the monthly marketing meetings as well as making my first visits with each of the dance and the drama curriculum leads at the school. I’ve also spent a day and evening completing my new governor induction training as well as the mandatory safeguarding training. So I’m now in the thick of it and really enjoying it.

Speaking of getting into the thick of it, I took part in an intensive 3-day Property Investment seminar at the beginning of November and also attended the Rethink Mental Illness Members Day the following weekend. Both are areas I’m very interested in exploring over the coming months. Needless to say I don’t think there’ll be any more MOOCs for a while.

Then amongst all of this was my usual smattering of out-and-about-ness.

On the culture front, I had my first ever visit to the Affordable Art Fair

…and spent another afternoon at the V&A immersed in their latest exhibition Opera: Power, Passion & Politics.

Both are areas I know little about so I really enjoyed having my eyes and my ears opened and my cultural horizons challenged.

The last seven weeks has also produced a couple of excellent theatrical highlights with the Donmar Warehouse’s production of The Lady from the Sea (by one of my favourite playwrights Henrik Ibsen) and INK (the story of Rupert Murdoch’s purchase and transformation of The Sun newspaper in the UK). And as regular Giddayers know, I love dance so it was with great delight that I went to see BalletBoyz’s Fourteen Days (and was especially moved by the intimacy of Christopher Wheeldon’s piece, Us). Then last weekend I was completely mesmerised by the provocative musical Cabaret that is touring regional theatres in the UK at the moment (and stars singer Will Young as the irrepressible emcee).

Literary-themed events got a look-in too with a walking tour of Fleet Street – called Publish and Be Damned! – on a rather chilly Saturday.

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There was also the chance to listen to readings from the Man Booker Shortlist authors the evening prior to the announcement of the prize winner, the British Library’s annual Equality Lecture by Professor Mary Evans and Gresham College’s free lecture on the wonderful Jane Austen, the last a welcome follow up to the Jane Austen exhibition I visited in Oxford earlier this year. I also went to some fascinating talks about The Future of Work, Artificial Intelligence, The Fight Against Alzheimers and The Future of our Digital Selves.

But amongst all of this, there was one lowlight.

As a long-time Agatha Christie fan, I had been looking forward to seeing Kenneth Branagh‘s remake of Murder on the Orient Express. But it had a different storyline and while the cinematography was gorgeous, the whole film was a bit ponderous and suffered from style-over-substance syndrome. As far as I am concerned, no-one writes Christie better than Christie so in tinkering with her work, Branagh’s effort left me feeling a bit flat.

And then last week I squeezed a 5-day rendezvous in Paris into proceedings (more on that later)…

…so maybe the word smattering was a bit of an understatement.

Not to mentioned that December 1st is only two sleeps away – when I get to open the first window of Mum’s annual advent calendar and put up the Chez Gidday Christmas tree…

*excited squealing*

So stay tuned. There’ll be more Gidday adventures coming to the blogosphere soon!