Spring Frolic…

This afternoon I hosted a small group of friends at Gidday HQ.

Our quartet – or Fab Four if you like – makes an effort to do something together every month. March saw us venture into The Lost Lectures, February was lunch at The Banana Store and a wander around Borough Market (see my post on London’s Hip Pocket for more on this outing) and last year we discovered  some rather delectable delights at Ceviche in London’s Soho and beneath Tower Bridge at The Perkin Reveller.

It has been such a busy time for our little quartet that there was a danger of April slipping away without a Fab Four frolic. So I took matters into my own hands and invited my trio of lovely ladies for a Gidday soiree on the back patio.

To my delight (and great relief) the weather stayed dry and while it was a trifle chilly, I had blankets and wraps on hand. There was even much excitement when the sun made a cursory appearance between main course and dessert and for a few brief minutes, we basked in Spring-like warmth.

I learnt years ago that the key to being able to enjoy hosting these events is being prepared – I have no desire to be stuck in the kitchen while my guests are having all of the fun.  So we started proceedings with a vegetable platter, an avocado dip and some Mediterranean bread and seeded crackers for dipping – and I got to enjoy the wine and conversation, both of which flowed effortlessly.

To follow was a cheese and vegetable pastry-less quiche which went down a storm and after part-baking this morning, only need another 20mins in the oven. It came with a big bowl of green salad (easy to whip up) and some fresh vine tomatoes marinated in a light dressing (made last night) all of which meant I spent more time at the table…and drank more wine.

But the thing I am most proud of is my dessert – individual ginger and white chocolate cheesecakes…

..built to frame the cute champagne candles I had found in Tesco a couple of weeks ago and complete with golden ‘bubbles’. And made last night meaning even more time at the table for me this afternoon.

Before long, over three hours had passed, the coffees had been finished and it was time for my visitors to go.

It was such a pleasant Sunday afternoon and it reminded me how much I love to cook for other people, an opportunity that needs to be ‘manufactured’ in my time of singledom versus being ever-present – as it was – when I was part of a couple. And in any case, solo cooking exploits can be quite dangerous. Prior experience tells me that one cannot should not consume cheesecake (or any baked goods for that matter) on one’s own and still expect to fit into one’s jeans. Sharing is definitely the key.

So here’s to more Spring Sundays with fabulous friends, scrumptious sustenance and convivial conversation.

One In A Million…

A week or so ago I was flicking through the Metro newspaper on the train to work when a headline caught my eye – The Science Of Falling In Love. Apparently there are more than 15 million singletons in the UK (or there were on the 29th March at any rate). I had no idea I was part of such a large contingent.

While the article turned out to be a glorified advertorial for dating site, e-harmony, I was mildly horrified at the statistic that 4 in 5 people lie about their age, weight and height online. Not that they lie – although while not surprised, I do find that a little perturbing – but that they feel they must in order to attract a partner.

Has our online world really forced us down such a shallow path? I mean I love a flattering profile pic as much as the next person but to lie about the essentials seems a little counter-productive. Doesn’t it all come out in the wash if things go well?

And I do mean the wash. Let’s talk about Spanx for a minute. For those of you who have been living under a rock don’t know, Spanx is a brand of body shaping undergarment – control pants or fixit knickers if you will – that boost the butts, trim the thighs and nip the waists of women (and some men) the world over. By all accounts these garments can reduce you by up to a dress size. (Blokes reading this should substitute whatever the equivalent for yourselves is here.) It seems that humankind seeks to emulate some idealistic form – whatever that may be – that will give us the best chance of attracting a mate. 

Whether that be for one night only or for many nights to come, my point is this. Eventually it comes off, leaving what you previously squeezed into some fairly uncomfortable underwear, out there in all its glory.

There’s knowing how to make the best of what you’ve got – I’m a pear-shaped, short-legged sheila so let’s just say skinny jeans are not my best friend – but this body shaping stuff is supremely uncomfortable. The pragmatic side of me also wonders whether this means that we need a wardrobe in two sizes – under control and out of control.

So where is the line? I could go on for ages here – there’s makeup, body treatments (from fake tan to cosmetic enhancement), hair extensions and even the humble WonderBra – and I’ve tried a few. But in considering singledom from my view of the world as a participant in the marketing profession (yes there’s another little snippet about me for you), is there a whiff of caveat emptor in today’s dating landscape? How far should one go to attract attention before the advertising becomes misleading and deceptive?

I’m told it’s just a numbers game and you’ve got to be ‘in it to win it’. But is it really…

…or is it possible to employ a little creative license, get lucky and beat the odds?

The Dating Game…

Source: pinterest

As a single lass whose broken heart has been carefully glued back together over the last year or so, I am starting to notice more and more avenues  available for me to meet my next conquest, the man of my dreams, a fella.

Being quite an open-minded sort, in the past I have ogled the online options, given the introduction agency scene a whirl and speed-dated (the rapid, not drug-induced, kind) with assistance of locks and keys. No, not like that – that would be another type of blog entirely. It’s actually quite harmless fun, until you realise you are – at 34 – the oldest in the room by a long way. And that was 8 years ago.

Today I read about a new method for the time-poor and travel-rich. Those clever pragmatists over at KLM have developed Meet and Seat which allows you to choose your on-board neighbours based on LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. They say it is an ideal opportunity for ‘networking’ but some pundits suggest it will be used more for matchmaking, whether that be between long term relationship seekers or those looking for the more abridged variety. I will use it to avoid crying babies and large, smelly people.

There’s been a ground swell of news and opinion about purposeful singledom too. Each week, I read Hannah Betts’ ‘Things You Only Know If You’re Single’ column in The Times Magazine (which you will have to pay to read for yourself thanks to bad Uncle Rupert). Last week’s was ‘…that one should forget dating sites in favour of realism.’ Nuff said on that score. She also writes stuff for The Telegraph which I fall over intermittently and which you can read online for free.

And just prior to Christmas, Elizabeth Tannen shared her thoughts on the whole scene over at The Huffington Post in Five Excuses For Being Single  By the way, Elizabeth has written a fab post called ‘Letting Your Silly Out’ on her own blog but I digress…again.

So this led me to think about dating. My approach in the past has been underpinned by the philosophy that if you open your eyes/mind, ‘the universe provides’. But I’ve also read things which suggest we should treat finding a partner in the same way as finding a job. Know your ‘audience’, targeted selection, tailor your ‘CV’. It just doesn’t seem to have that joyous and romantic ring to it, does it? Nor does it sound fun.

My theory is that life happens the way it happens and if we remain open along the way, we stand a chance in spite of the pitfalls.

But I’m not quite sure what you would put on this CV.

My last relationship began as a friendship with my next door neighbour and, if I exclude the last couple of months, went on for five and a half very happy years. I’ve met others through common interests (there were a few of these during my ballroom dancing days), chance encounters at bus stops and all sorts of liaisons in between. There have been the short and sweets, the long and lingerings, the quick fizzers – and then the gaps in between where I get to immerse myself in all the things I love to do without any of the negotiation or compromise.

And there, in that unequivocal indulgence of all the things I love, lies the rub…

Source: pinterest
The defence rests.

Travel Broadens The Mind…The Euro Zone

I’ve been a Travelling Wilbury again peeps and this week’s expedition found me in Nuremberg, Germany. While there hasn’t been much of an opportunity to sightsee, I’ll be sharing some spectacular pics and a brief highlights package when next I put fingers to keyboard.  But in the meantime, I’ve been browsing BA’s business:life magazine to see what’s new in the world of fascinating facts.
Having been in Germany this week, it seems only appropriate to make a start with the locals so according to USwitch/WHO, 66.5% of Germans are overweight, making them the fattest nation in Europe. Must be all that beer and sausage. 
Not to be outdone, Britons holidaying in France gain an average of 7.3lbs over a fortnight (cheese and wine related methinks) and 6% of Scottish high street shops are takeaway food outlets (I suspect the heady delights of deep fried Mars Bars come in here somewhere). But 82% of Spanish holidaymakers say they can’t live without herbal teabags and 63% of Spanish women are dissatisfied with their lives. Let me see, cheese and wine or herbal teabags. Seems a pretty simple equation to me. Attendez-moi, s’il vous plait!
Speaking of holidays, did you know that Irish workers get the lowest holiday entitlement in Europe (29 days)? There’s clearly so much to be done harvesting potatoes, making widget-induced alcohol, marketing expensive glass crystal and encouraging gullible visitors to their fair isle to hang upside down and plant their smackers on some old stone. Spare a thought for the less diligent Swedes and Portugese who enjoy a further 10 days left to their own devices. 
On second thoughts, it probably takes an extra 10 days per annum to assemble flat pack furniture so I think we are down to the Portugese as the most relaxed nation in Europe.
As a single gal, it would be remiss of me not to include a couple of key insights into the European singles scene. Lucky for me, 60% of men across Britain, France, Spain and Italy (as well as the US and Brazil) say they prefer brunettes. And 73% of British singletons seeking a partner rate a good sense of humour as a must-have trait. 
(Note to self: dark and funny, dark and funny, dark and funny. Repeat such affirmation each morning while wondering whether to pluck irreverent silver threads from my still largely brunette barnet.)
And last but certainly not least, it’s back to the green and slightly drizzly isle of Great Britain. In typical understated British style, without boasting, shouting or any remote sense of preening, I was informed by a soundbite in the magazine sidebar that Cambridge is the top university in the world. So it would appear that that unique blend of British intelligence and Victorian modesty is alive and well and did not disappear with Mr Humphreys being free to stroke Mrs Slocombe’s pussy.
But I also learnt that one fifth of British people do not know a dairy cow is a female. So maybe the world’s best is just ‘keeping its powder dry’ and we shall see cleverness unleashed in it’s finest form on University Challenge
Or maybe they are just otherwise engaged training for next year’s boat race.
For more fascinating conversation starters for your next cocktail soiree or dinner party, check out my other Travel Broadens The Mind posts:
You’ll never be lost for words again.

Travel Broadens The Mind…Flights Of Fantasy

As you know, I have been travelling over the last couple of weeks and you know what that means – more of my wry observations on the facts of life according to BA’s business:life magazine! (Calm down peeps, I know you can barely contain your excitement.)

The theme of the June 2011 issue of business:life is ‘If At First You Don’t Succeed…why we all need to fail’.  Whilst I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment (and in fact, the general tone of the articles), the ‘stats sound bites’ strewn throughout seemed to suggest that perhaps the realms of fantasy are society’s preferred option.

We start with that perennial favourite, the body beautiful.  According to business:life sources, one third of UK women would be prepared to trade at least a year of their life in exchange for an ‘ideal body’.  I have news for them.  Obsessing about the ideal body and what constitutes this has probably shortened their lifespan already.  Particularly since Britons don’t start worrying about their health until aged 39 – I suspect the additional 4 inches around the waistline is probably the first clue.  And then a third think that they will grow their own fruit and veg this summer – a healthy and noble ambition, no less. Does digging up garden beds gone to seed cover the ‘needing to fail’ bit?  Might also count as exercise…two birds with one stone there.
Next we take a look at what we’ve been doing other than worrying and planting a few carrots and strawbs – watching telly.  One fifth of Britons have been motivated to start their own business after watching programmes such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice. So I have a question – does this mean they actually started a business or just got a nice, warm feeling about it?  Reports that business failures are actually down 7.9% across the UK for Jan/Feb 2011 versus the previous year would appear to be an encouraging sign. However, the Welsh have clearly not been paying attention – with business failures up 23.9%, I suspect that the nice, warm feeling has passed them by.  Although there’s 2.2 million potholes in Britain – perhaps that repesents a business opportunity in the offing or at the very least, an episode of The Apprentice.  Oh, sorry they already have that – when the candidates lug their shovels with them into their interviews and proceed to dig deep, deep, deep holes… 

On the subject of starting one’s own business, 53% of Britain’s entrepreneurs put their success down to their innate talents, rather than learnt skills or education. (Perhaps pot-hole identification is genetic?)  So I ask you this – what are Mums-and-Dads (M-A-D) doing paying squillions for privately educated children (£360,000 apparently) to then attend fee-paying universities?  And then spending an average of £772 to bail their little darlings out on their gap year?  No wonder 38% of Britons would use a discount voucher on a first date and 23% of British readers are attracted to e-books because of the cost.

And as to the value of all this education?  Well, one in five Britons thinks Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple are historical figures.  I rest my case…

And finally, in light of my re-entry into singledom this year, let’s look to the state of romance here in the UK:

16% of British adults are planning a holiday with their parents this year.

312 is the number of times the average couple argues each year.

72% of young British men never buy flowers for their loved ones.

On the other hand, let’s not.

Inspired By…The Original Single Girl

I was catching up on reading last weekend’s Times magazine (and listening to some Laura Branigan, but that’s another story!) and I dipped into a column that I have not read for quite sometime – Things You Only Know If You’re Single written by the fabulously single Hannah Betts.

(For those of you who don’t know, I am, once again, a single girl – again, another story, and unrelated to Laura Branigan.)

Anyway, the topic of singledom was this – that “Elizabeth I was the original career single”. Intrigued, I read on.

Betts includes some supporting quotes (which I will share here as if you want to read the column on-line for yourselves, The Times in their commercial wisdom, will now make you pay to read their stuff) such as,

“Better beggar woman and single than queen and married”

which, while I don’t subscribe to being the marrying kind, seems a little blinkered and/or extreme; and one which is entirely up my street:

“I will have here but one mistress and no master”

There is a lot written about Elizabeth, her life and her reign during the Golden Age – a lot of which I’ve read.  But I was inspired to go-a-googling to see if I could find a statement that would sum up how much this frivolous yet wily and conservative political genius achieved during the 44 years of her reign…

When she ascended the throne in 1558, England was an impoverished country torn apart by religious squabbles. When she died at Richmond Palace on the 24th March 1603, England was one of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world.  (http://www.elizabethi.org)/)

So the Virgin Queen pretty much rocked her world. But I have to admit, I don’t think I’d have ever been prepared to forego potential sexual misadventures for it (be honest, would you?!!)…and let’s face it, THAT horse bolted a long time ago.

But Betts is right – Elizabeth I is absolutely a true hero among ‘lone ranger’ icons.

ps…it’s exactly 3 weeks ’til Christmas today…and while the beloved widget thingy (which is on my blog for those of you receiving this by email) is still marching festively towards the 25th, the advent calendar will be marking its annual pilgrimage towards the big day in a communal fashion on the office filing cupboard…