A Pinch Of Salt…Feeling Like Jenny

Loose-limbed. Unruffled. Calm. Fluid.

These are all things I associate with a truly relaxing holiday. You know, the kind where you reach a sort of ‘one-ness’ with the world from your prone position on the sun lounge. The kind where the most critical decisions may include shall I read or doze, am I hungry enough to be bothered moving to accommodate some sort of snacking, and is it cocktail o’clock yet. Where it takes effort to pull yourself back ‘together’ again in order to manage a) the trip home and b) contributing something beyond water cooler stories during the first week back at work.

Most of us save hard and schedule annual leave with military zeal to achieve this and, when it’s all done, find ourselves gazing wistfully at our fading tan lines and poring over travel websites to plan that next escape firmly in the foreseeable future.

Well this week, I managed to achieve this in the space of a couple of hours in South West London. On Thursday night I ventured just off Chiswick High Road, crossed the threshold into the world of Floatation Therapy and experienced the most profound relaxation ever. 

People, welcome to Floatopia.

There are lots of benefits associated with floatation therapy including stress relief, detoxing, increased energy, improved concentration, relief from injuries, regulating sleeping patterns (one float apparently simulates 4 hours of sleep) and releasing Endorphins – the body’s natural pain killer and happy pill.

So I filled in my form, donned my Floatopia-issued slippers and was shown to my Private Float Suite. After a quick run through of the Float Room itself and the do’s and don’ts I was left to my own devices and not wanting to waste a moment, I was showered and ‘in’.
Floatation simulates a zero gravity environment for the body by heating a solution of Epsom Salts to skin temperature. The ‘water’ for want of a better word, is quite shallow (waist deep when you are seated) so I got myself in the right spot, pulled the door closed, turned off the light and lay back to find myself floating effortlessly in the darkness.
My brain chattered furiously and I in turns let myself listen to my garbled thoughts and then gently pulled my mind back to the sensation of the stillness. The soft background music stopped – this happens after about 15 minutes I was told – and after a while (and I really couldn’t tell you how long) the chatter slowed and my limbs seemed to become ‘at one’, blurring the edges of my physical self, with the warm salt solution around me. I let my mind float too, observing it flit about as if the thoughts were not really mine and listening to my heart beating comfortingly in the background. At one stage, I tried to count my heart rate but my thoughts drifted away again.

It is the most extraordinary experience to be completely with yourself in this way. I’ve never ‘mastered’ meditation, always with one ‘eye’ on the clock and feeling too impatient with the distractions of the mind and body. But I imagine this is what it must be – this total acceptance of everything: the itches, the niggles, the thoughts, the chatter and then the move back to stillness, silence and peace.

The background music started softly again to signal the end of my float. Feeling a bit disconcerted I fumbled for the light switch and stretched to establish the connection between limbs and brain again. My Floatopia ‘host’ had mentioned I might ‘feel like Jenny’ at the end of the float – whoever she is, I’d like to be Jenny a lot more often.

15 minutes later I was showered, dressed and in the chill out area feeling like I had spent a blissful two weeks on a beautiful beach somewhere.

All in about 2 hours and for the bargain Groupon voucher price of £17.

And to top it off, I slept the best sleep for years on Thursday night and continued into Friday, calm and unruffled, in the face of the end of the week commuting challenges.
Now that’s has to be the best value holiday I’ve ever had.

All Things New…And 22 Sleeps To Go

It’s been a busy weekend and as a result it’s gotten to Sunday afternoon before I’ve had the opportunity to be tap-tap-tapping away in my front window.  But it’s been a weekend of some new experiences which I want to share with you.

The first happened yesterday afternoon when I went to have my very own studio photo shoot at insspire in Clapham.  Prompted by a couldn’t-resist deal on living social (and the fact that since I’ve had my hair cut short again, I do not have a lot of photos that actually look like me), I’d booked my session several weeks ago and so yesterday found me strolling up Lavender Hill in the afternoon sunshine feeling excited and just a tad nervous.

Taken in hand by the lovely (and official Master of Photography) Monika, first it was into make-up.  I don’t wear very much of this on a day-to-day basis so it felt rather Hollywood to have someone else doing the primping and preening for me – although it was a little disconcerting to have that same someone peering at my face wondering what she could ‘do’ with it.

Half an hour later it was back downstairs to the studio to start shooting.  What can I say except that it was fun and very, very weird.  There was lots of standing, sitting, leaning, lying and draping – and yes, that was all me!  Monika spent an hour coaxing me into different poses and faces: there were lighting changes, set changes, costume changes (well, just one – I changed my top) and even a camera change!

I left feeling a little tired, a little emotional, a little curious to see how the pics come out (viewing is not until the 19th July so stay tuned!) and a lot exhilarated.  Let’s just say that the small top-up Sainsbury’s shop I stopped to do in Wimbledon on the way home took a little longer than it usually does.

The second new thing for this weekend is that I have continued my foray into the The Great Bake-Off with a new challenge.  We are off to Kew the Music at Kew Gardens tonight and part of the deal is that we all bring stuff along to share.  A-down-the-hill let me know yesterday that there was marinated chicken, frittata, olives and snacky things and chocolate whoopie pies already on the menu so this morning I was whipping up a batch of Raspberry and Coconut Cakes (a variation on the Apple and Raspberry Squares I’d done previously).

But this is not the new thing.  Oh no!  I baked TWO things today – yes two! 

So I am enormously proud to present to you the latest addition to The Great Bake-Off family:

TAH DAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Walnut and Rosemary Bread

I want to take this little beauty intact to tonight’s festivities so there’s a huge risk posed by the fact I have not conducted my usual taste test – but it looks completely wicked right?

Time is a-ticking so I best be off to pack my baked goods and other essentials for tonight’s summer of fun (picnic blanket, folding chair, paper plates, plastic wine glasses, umbrella – yes sadly, showers are forecast).  In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for a dry evening and some tasty bread!

ps…you’ve had a few days respite from the countdown but with only 22 sleeps to go before the good ship 41 goes into dry dock, I thought it would be very helpful of me to give you a little nudge.  Best not stand next to the ship’s railing peeps – the nudging gets more persistent the closer we get and I wouldn’t want you to end up in ‘the drink’.  Or would I?

London…On The Cheap(side)…

I had lunch with some great friends of mine today who moved to the UK permanently two and half years ago. We were chatting about how long it takes to feel ‘settled’ and they reminded me that, in their early expat days, I had said to them that it took me somewhere between 18 months to two years before I’d started to feel like I had actually ‘built’ a life for myself versus the feeling of being a long staying tourist.

Did I really say that?  I can’t really remember…

But what I do remember is my initial shock at how expensive things were and a big part of feeling ‘settled’ for me was finding ways to do things cheaply – most expats in the UK can reel off a whole variety of discount ‘opportunities’ – and I soon learned that if you look hard enough, there are lots of ways to do this.

For example, today’s lunch included a 50% discount off the food bill and was booked through toptable…and my travel to our fab foodie feast was courtesy of Oystercard (which almost halves the bus fare).  I have also booked a 70min massage for a few weeks time through Groupon at a whopping 66% off and I have had countless 2-for-1 meals with friends using vouchers from newspapers like the Metro, email newsletters (Giraffe, gbk and Pizza Express are particular faves) and voucher websites like vouchercloud and vouchers.co.uk.

So the key to London ‘on the cheap’ is this – Sign up for as many things as you can.  You may fill your inbox to overflowing but when it comes to getting the deals, it really is a numbers game.

And you can also rest assured in the knowledge that you’ll never go hungry – if all else fails, supermarket-brand baked beans are only 19p a can!


ps…for you Londoners that might be interested in some terrific Turkish fare, get yourself down to Cirrik in Richmond…via toptable of course!