Tag Archive | London

New Year, New Look

yesterday2013 wasn’t my best year but that’s now behind me and I’m ready to move forward. I already have a good feeling about 2014 with a number of events to look forward to in the diary.

Before I start as I mean to go on for the next 365 days or so I have decided to change my Blog-look for something a bit funkier and different to my previous theme. A change is as good as a rest so they say and the clean and fresh layout and colour scheme works well with my content. Who knows? I might change it more regularly in future to shake things up a bit but this suits me for now.

change

Looking forward month-by-month I’m sure that this time next year I will be thinking “What happened to 2014?” Already I have so much going on, so many people to see and places to go that I will need all my energy and stamina to get through these exciting times. Needless to say, rest and recuperation will also be high up the agenda as well as healthy eating and gentle exercise to build up my strength slowly but surely.

progress

To start at the beginning, January is a “write-off” as we will be busy, busy, busy preparing and filing UK personal tax returns before the 31 January deadline and before we know it February will be upon us. I celebrate my birthday in February and have already booked the day off to ensure I won’t break my lifetime habit of never working on my birthday. I haven’t done so far and I don’t intend to start now at the tender age of 51! It’s good to have something to look forward to in what many people consider the most depressing month of the year.

March heralds Spring with the Iranian New Year “Now Ruz” to enjoy and my niece’s Hen “Do” in London. I’m not sure what we are up to yet but a day and evening out in the capital promises to be fun. April will be a busy month with the Wedding of the Year when Pippa gets her man at last and this is closely followed by my son Will heading off to Iceland for a geography field trip of a lifetime-lucky boy. Geysers, thermal power stations, volcanoes and the blue lagoon all await and how I am looking forward to hearing all about it.

May is usually a lovely month with my garden getting into its stride and a couple of Bank Holidays to shorten the working weeks is always welcome.

June will be quite stressful I imagine with important A Level exams for Will who is hoping for some good grades to get him into his University of choice to study Geography and Natural Hazards. The course looks great and having been to an open day a couple of months ago I would gladly swap places with him!

The summer promises a fabulous holiday for me and Feri, details of which I will disclose as and when it is booked! It is a belated 50th birthday present for me and it will be well worth waiting for if we can book the holiday we want. Needless to say my camera won’t be far from my side with batteries fully charged!

Late summer brings the exam results and hopefully a place at University for my baby boy. I can’t believe that 18 years have disappeared so fast and that he will be leaving home but I know that he will enjoy the experience and the opportunities it will bring him. I am excited for him and I have my fingers crossed that his exams go well-he deserves it.

All this and I haven’t included the major sporting highlights. The Football World Cup in Brazil, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ryder cup at Gleneagles and the Winter Olympics in Russia.

There is also the 100 year anniversary of the start of WW1 to commemorate.

2013 has been challenging, disappointing, frustrating and tiring.

2014 will be inspiring, exciting, joyful and tiring!

Bring it on!

new year

Ruby Wax on Mindfulness

003Last Monday I was invited to the Barbican in London to attend a mental health event featuring Ruby Wax. I duly made my way down to the Metropolis from Birmingham  first to enjoy a drinks reception kindly hosted by my employers, KPMG and Linklaters followed by the event itself.

The reception was a great place to start the evening as everyone there has a personal interest in mental health. The reasons for their interest were varied, interesting and often surprising. You just never know what goes on behind those shutters and it is humbling to hear others talk about their experiences of their own mental health issues or those of their family. The best thing though, is that we were all talking about “it”. Thankfully the stigma attached to mental illness is slowly but surely being whittled away so that more people are prepared to stand up and admit to their illness. I have seen first hand the amazing results that being open and honest can bring about and listening to others in “my tribe” it appears that the word is spreading with life-changing impact.

Bold and brash. Modest and mindful. In simple terms this describes the very distinct and diverse traits of the complex personality that is Ruby Wax. Polar opposites-the Ruby Wax of old and the “new” Ruby that is now the proud owner of a number of Diplomas in subjects related to mental health. At first I was rather sceptical, but as the evening wore on, I soon realised that this woman knows her stuff. She also knows that she has limits, and most of the “show” was given over to her interviewer, Radio 4’s Claudia Hammond and Psychologist  Dr Tamara Russell who specialises in Mindfulness.

005And this is where the evening got really interesting. I have been a fan of Mindfulness and MCBT (Mindful Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for many years and often practise MCBT techniques to get me through the day. Ruby Wax has clearly cottoned on to its benefits, and if I understand correctly, her new book describes Mindfulness and how it can help with depression. She herself uses the techniques and finds it does help her condition. Good for her for sharing and if it encourages others to follow suit, it has to be a good thing.

Mindfulness is described as;

“the awareness that arises
when paying attention in a
particular way: on purpose, in
the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”
(Kabat-Zinn 1994)

and there are numerous books and websites which contain information about Mindfulness and how to practise the techniques.

Personally, I have a Mindfulness bell set up on my computer so that it chimes at certain times of the day when I recognise that I am usually at my most vulnerable. On hearing the bell, the Pavlov Dog in me immediately takes in a deep breath and starts 2 minutes of breathing properly. In the moment. Calm and peaceful. Relaxed and refreshed. It works for me.

 The evening was very different to what I expected but pleasantly so. I wasn’t disappointed-far from it I was impressed by Ruby’s approach and demeanour and she came across as a genuine “sufferer” and someone who is determined to help herself. She is no victim, but she remains vulnerable and for this, her admissions are commendable and inspiring to many others who find themselves unable to “come out” just yet.

I don’t think I will be buying her book which comes out in June, and I didn’t learn anything new on the night but it was a great idea and I would recommend going to listen to her talk about her battles with depression and Mindfulness if you get the opportunity.

It was £10 well spent!

Useful links:

 Oxford Mindfulness Centre 

Mindfulness bell

Tragedy and triumph-all 6’s and 7’s

I love sport. I love sporting events and I have always loved watching the Olympics. Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci were favourites of mine during the 1970’s and more recently our national treasure Steve Redgrave has been inspirational. In the grand build-up to London 2012 however my interest was definitely muted. Strange considering that I still have a box full of Olympic memorabilia in the garage including a 1972 Munich Olympic souvenir book complete with collector cards; a Nadia Comaneci tribute book from 1976 courtesy of the Daily Express and for which I pestered my mum for weeks to collect the tokens and a Misha bear mascot brought back from a trip to Moscow by a school friend. So why the apparent disinterest?

I think that I know now but the penny dropped only after I read an article in a newspaper during the Games. Dr Andrew Hartle was a volunteer medic during London 2012. These were the Games that we found out we’d won on 6 July 2005.  He was also involved in helping victims of the London Bombings on 7 July 2005. Two days of such extremes of emotions that even now, 7 years on it is difficult to comprehend.

I too was in London on 6 July 2005. I remember listening to the radio at lunchtime eagerly awaiting the result of the bid but not believing for one minute that we would get the Games. Being based in Canary Wharf, I couldn’t make it across to Trafalgar Square to hear the announcement and participate in the euphoric ticker-tape frenzy of joy and excitement which followed the good news but my journey home that evening was a precursor to the goodwill and friendliness that the Games have recently demonstrated. Everyone (well, almost everyone) was thrilled to have captured one of the greatest shows on earth and the mood was buoyant. Even the annoying signalling failure couldn’t dampen our spirits and I arrived home already looking forward to London 2012.

Sadly, our joy was short-lived. I too was in London on 7 July 2005, as coincidentally was my sister. This was the dreadful day that 4 bombs shook and shocked London during the morning rush-hour and although I wasn’t directly involved in any of the bombings, I was affected by the aftermath and what I experienced and saw that day clearly took its toll. I was travelling from King’s Cross St Pancras towards Bank Station on the underground at around 9.00am when the first indications that something was wrong was when we sailed past a scheduled stop. I asked the woman standing next to me if I had imagined it, but she hadn’t noticed. My suspicions were confirmed  on arrival at Bank where we arrived to wailing sirens and emergency announcements to evacuate the train and station as quickly as possible. I wasn’t to know at this stage but those sirens and emergency announcements would continue relentlessly all day and would be in my head for days afterwards.

Unlike some, who sat on the train assuming this was a hoax or drill, I wasted no time in getting out of the station. There was some confusion at ground level and the staff were busy redirecting people to local stations. At this stage, we were told that “power surges” were to blame for the disruption but no further information about the delays and reinstating the services was forthcoming. Again I was based in Canary Wharf and I headed down to London Bridge hoping to get the Jubilee Line instead. Things were no better here and no one could give any more details. Not to be thwarted by the trains, I decided that I would catch a boat down the Thames to the Wharf and treat it as an unexpected adventure. Before I could leave London Bridge however, I overheard two policemen talking about “bombs” and “explosions”. I challenged them about the “power surges” and managed to get them to admit that there had been a series of explosions on the tube, and a bus had just blown up near Euston. Clearly they didn’t want to announce this publicly as panic may have ensued but for me based on what I’d just been told survival mode kicked in immediately and I made an instant decision to make my way home.

By this time, the streets were full of emergency vehicles; police cars, ambulances, bomb disposal unit vans, dog handlers and the sirens were ear-piercing and incessant. The buses flew past either full of passengers and unable to stop to pick anyone else up, or with their destination signs showing “out of service”. There were no trains, no taxis and no buses. Shank’s Pony was my only means of getting out of London and so my 10 mile trek Northwards out of London began.

Fortunately, I had my London A-Z with me (although I was to walk so far North that I went off the page in the end) and first made my way up to Islington. Having done some training there many years ago, I knew that there was an M&S where I could get some food and water as I already figured it would be a long day. I took £200 out of the cashpoint, bought some sandwiches and drink than started to walk.

One of my first encounters heading up to St Pancras and Archway was with a man in a suit, carrying a briefcase who stopped to talk to me as he went by. He reminded me of the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. He was clearly agitated, and his clothes were splattered with blood. He was telling me not to go to Euston. He had seen a bus blow up and he was late for work. At this stage I was too wrapped up in my battle to get home that I am ashamed to say I didn’t comprehend straightaway what had happened to him. He rushed off before I had chance to think clearly and by the time I realised that he was in shock after witnessing the Tavistock Square bomb blast, he had disappeared.   

I walked for a long time. Sometimes people walked with me, a shared experience with a shared goal. Getting out. The traffic was gridlocked. There were long queues at garages and car-hire kiosks.  No one who was lucky enough to be on wheels was going anywhere anytime soon. A double-decker bus crawled past and came to a stop outside Holloway prison. I will never forget the young man who banged on the door of the bus demanding to be let on. The bus was crammed with people and the driver could take no more. Tempers and frustration were building and this particular man ran round to the drivers window shouting abuse and smashed the glass in fury. The bus driver then had to try to report the incident before moving on. This was impossible as there was no mobile phone signal and everyone was incommunicado.

This was another frustration. The communication channels were down. I couldn’t contact anyone to let them know I was ok. They couldn’t contact me. They knew I was in London; had been at Kings Cross St Pancras but nothing. I knew my sister was somewhere in London but didn’t know where or whether she was ok. Thankfully she got home safely later in the day.

It started to rain but that was the least of my worries. It didn’t seem to matter. The day could hardly get any worse and I had to keep on plodding on. I had in my mind that if I could get up to Golder’s Green, I might be able to catch a National Express coach heading “Up North” somewhere. I wasn’t bothered where exactly, as long as I got to a place where someone could fetch me.

To make sure I was following my A-Z properly, I stopped at a Shell garage to check my directions. When I explained what had happened, a woman approached me and asked if I’d like to borrow her push bike! It was a kind thought, but on the basis that I would not be able to return said bike, I thanked her for her offer and continued walking.

I walked for a long time, and although the traffic started to thin, there were still no buses available. I struck it lucky when I crossed a road and looking to my left, spotted a taxi sign. I walked down the side road and into the shop where a woman in front of me was arranging a taxi to take her to St Alban’s. She too was trying to get home. The cost? A mere £36. I leapt in and asked if I could share her taxi and the cost and was thrilled when she agreed.

My journey home got a lot easier from here as the taxi dropped me off at St Alban’s train station from where I caught a train to Bedford (no ticket required when I explained to the guard where I had come from). By now it was 3.30pm and I had been non-contactable for almost the whole day.It was whilst I was on this train that the mobile phone signal returned and my phone went berserk with incoming text messages and voice mails that had accumulated during the day.  I was able to call everyone and reassure them that I was fine and on my way home albeit I needed someone to pick me up from Bedford.

The local BBC reporter greeted me when I emerged from the station and asked to interview me about my experiences in London that day. Apparently I was one of the first people “out” but I couldn’t oblige. It was too harrowing, I was exhausted and I made my apologies. He understood totally and invited me to share a cup of tea with him and his reporting team whilst I waited for my husband to pick me up. For this I was grateful and for the first time that day, stopped to take stock. I sat in the BBC van, drinking my tea and watching 20+ live TV screens broadcasting out of London. For the first time I saw the carnage that I’d left behind; the casualties and the amazing efforts of the emergency services and volunteers.

I was one of the lucky ones who made it home on 7 July but, subconsciously, like Dr Hartle I too had associated the 2012 Olympic Games with the 7/7 atrocities but it wasn’t until  I read about his experiences that I realised it.

This may help to explain why, having spent so many years and months being outwardly unenthusiastic about the games, I became an emotional wreck from the moment back in May when I saw the Flame arrive at Culdrose. I watched the plane approach and I started to cry.  I cried when a local hero carried the torch through my village of Lubenham on 2 July in the pouring rain. I cried at the opening ceremony; the 5 Olympic rings appearing out of the molten metal “factory” as they soared into the night sky made me sob and I thought I would never stop crying when I thought that Sir Steve Redgrave was going to light the Olympic flame as befits a 5-times Olympic gold medallist. But that was nothing compared to the beauty and inspirational lighting of the cauldron performed by 7 young people. The hope of a nation. “Inspire a generation” was the motto. They did and I cried some more.

In the end, the Games were a massive triumph of goodwill and support and will represent the start of an amazing legacy for a whole new generation. I am now able to separate the two incidents of 6 and 7 July 2005 and I enjoyed the sporting feast without ever losing sight of those who lost their lives or were injured on 7/7.

Finally, I was able to bring the both events together one day in July. We went to Hyde Park to watch the Olympic action on the live screens and watched Tom Daley qualify for the 10m diving final. The canoeists also won gold that morning and we enjoyed a couple of hours in the sunshine with fellow revellers before leaving for the theatre.

Then, on the way out of the park, we stopped at the 7/7 memorial to the 52 victims of the bombings to pay our respects and for me, to say goodbye to the demons.

I will never forget that tragic day in London, 7 July 2005, when 52 people lost their lives but equally I will always remember that fabulous day in London, 6 July 2005 when we learned that the biggest sports show on earth was to be entrusted to London in 2012.

I think we owed it to all those people to do it right in their memory.

I think we did just that.

and….moving on to the Paralympics. How about this for inspiration.

Martine Wright-GB Sitting Volleyball team. Good luck! 

File:7 July Memorial - Hyde Park.jpg

The Olympic Torch Relay

The Olympic torch has just travelled through my village and I am so glad that I went out early and stood in the wind and rain to grab a prime position. The torch arrived right on schedule passing through at 3.50pm on its way to Leicester where it will spend the night.

People started to arrive very early on this afternoon and as I wanted to get a good view and take some photos I walked round with an hour to go to select my spot. Local schools sent home at lunchtime so they could see the torch and join in the flag-waving fun. Despite the poor weather, everyone enjoyed themselves and even the police motorcycle outriders joined in by waving to the crowds and giving high-fives as they drove past.

We could buy Union Jack flags and hats and the Coco-Cola bus was giving out free frisbees and souvenir bottles of coke.

Local guy Rob Gomez arrived first, running slowly along the high street flanked by the flame security convoy, and when he reached the corner of High Street and Foxton Road, the two torches “kissed” as Rob handed the flame over to David Willson. David was waiting for a good 10 minutes and had spent all that time having his photo taken with the crowd. Adults and children alike clamoured to touch the torch and have their picture taken and David did a great job keeping everyone happy.

It was a great sight to see and everyone I spoke to said that coming to see the torch had stimulated their interest in the upcoming Olympics starting later in the month. The torch is an ancient symbol of the Olympic Games and seeing how people reacted to it today I also suspect that it sprinkles magic dust over us all as it passes by so that the excitement and anticipation gradually builds as it travels across the country reaching a climax in London on 27 July. No one could fail to be moved by the sight of the flame as it flickered obstinately in the strong wind and heavy drizzle. Resilient and determined to stay alight until its job was done,  these are the qualities that our Olympic and Paralympic athletes have already shown to reach the Games, and which they will need in buckets if they are to fulfil their potential after training so hard for so long.

Good luck to all our athletes-this is your moment to shine.

Uncharted territory indeed

My readers will be aware that I use the online do-it-yourself mood monitoring tool Moodscope which I find invaluable in helping manage my mood swings and lifestyle.  Another welcome feature for subscribers to Moodscope is the daily inspiring email from Jon (Cousins) the founder of Moodscope and diagnosed bi-polar depressive. I always read his email and often wonder how he manages to come up with something different each day. Respect. The trick to these emails however is not just to read them, but to take his comments on board and try to act on them. It’s all to do with being proactive and positive and in taking the initiative, you will reap the benefits of your efforts. Like me today.

Yesterday (21 September), Jon’s email was entitled “Uncharted territory” .  I read this Blog post and it dawned on me that, unusually, I haven’t spoken to anyone new for quite a while. As someone who does a lot of travelling on the train and has responsibility for several different offices across the UK, I realised that I had settled into a “comfort zone” which accompanied my recent downturn in mood and desire to withdraw from the world.

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I am always happy to make positive connections where I think they exist. Today, I was presented with lots of opportunities to speak with and work with “new” people and found it amazingly refreshing, exciting and I learnt a lot. Hurrah! Change, development, initiative, ideas, learning and creativity is what I thrive on and I feel that I have emerged from my self-imposed cocoon at last. At work I have “new” colleagues to work with over the next few months and I’m looking forward to it. The change is good and has inspired me to focus on what I do best with renewed energy.

This attitude and positivity also spilled over into my train journey home when I met a delightful young Somalian girl dressed in hijab and abaya who was travelling from Glasgow to  Leicester to help her Doctor husband pack his case and move up to Scotland. All she did was ask me, in broken english but with an endearing smile, which train she needed to catch from Birmingham New Street to Leicester. I explained that I was going that way myself and I would help her.

Over the next hour, we found the right train, some seats and found out a lot about each other. She told me that she has been in the UK (Glasgow) for 4 years and is learning how to speak English at Glasgow College. She also happened to mention that she was struggling to understand her tutor this year (a Glaswegian) whereas last year she had no such problems when she had a tutor from London.  At this I started to laugh and explained that if she can learn to speak English in Glasgow she’s brilliant! Although her English was broken, she made every effort to speak with me and made use of the vocabulary she had. No, it wasn’t perfect but she made herself understood and we “chatted” for an hour between Birmingham and Leicester.

She told me that she misses Somalia because she could go out in the warm weather with no shoes on whereas in Scotland it is cold all the time and shoes are always needed. She asked me if it ever stops raining and what is Buckingham Palace like? She wanted to know about my gold jewellery (obviously not European) and asked whether I had been to Africa. She will never go back to Somalia because “They are killing each other” and she will always look after her mum. She is the youngest of seven children and when someone gets married she does the beautiful henna hand paintings. All this and more with limited vocabulary.

 When we got to Leicester, I showed her the exit and where her husband would be waiting. Giving me a hug she said “Thank you so much. You have been very kind and it has been nice meeting you”.

Who needs Reddybrek for a warm glow? Not me.

Her name?

No idea 😦

Resilience-a reminder

Resilience comes from your inner strength and is something that you need in truck-loads when fighting depression or negative thinking. Everyone has bad days, but it is how you react to adverse conditions that matters and resilience is the key to success. Take today for example;

Today I am working in London. I travel into London frequently and I know that public transport can be unreliable. My train into London was on time and everything on schedule until I encountered problems with the Underground. I was diverted off the Northern Line onto the Jubilee Line in order to get to Canary Wharf and when I arrived at the office at just after 10.00am my desk reservation had expired.  Grrrrrr…..So not only was I late but I had no desk.

 I could have given up there and then turned round and  gone home quite happily but after a deep breath and with help of one of my colleagues  I found a desk and set up camp.

Things were looking up until I decided that what I really needed was my pineapple yoghurt. Instead of eating it however I ended up wearing it.  I spilt pineapple yoghurt down my (black) skirt and over the desk and floor. By this time (10.30am) I was ready to give up on the day, concede defeat and could not imagine that the day could get any better. And there were times when I have to admit, that is exactly what I would have done. I was fine if things were going smoothly, but easily upset when things went wrong.

Now, I think resilience. Don’t give up.These are only minor blips in the day. Things could be a whole lot worse so put it behind you and move on.

That’s what I did. I had a very enjoyable and successful meeting later in the morning, a nice chat with a friend at lunchtime and I will be heading off home soon.

That’s not so bad is it?