Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Easter Weekend: BCA Nationals and the Bluebell Wood

Life recently seems to be always busy. Blink once and before you know it, it's three months later and you're not quite sure where the time went. This very phenomenon happened to me in regards to Easter weekend. I blinked and the four glorious days of holiday were over, blinked again and here we are - two weeks further on and I'm only just putting fingers to keys.

Easter weekend kicked off with a cheer comp - myself and my team, Sparks All Stars, were off to British Cheerleading Association Nationals in Telford. Which, as it turns out, is a large town quite near Birmingham but also quite near Wales. My friends and I stayed in a little village called Ironbridge, home to the world's first  (rather pretty) major bridge made out of cast iron which also happened to be just over the road from our pub hotel. However, we didn't have much time to enjoy the scenery as it was early to bed in preparation for an early wake up call the next day.

The following day, our alarms went off at a painful 6am. Then, it was on with  our make-up, up with our hair and out with our uniforms on, ready to perform on the mat! We were all quite nervous as this competition historically was one we don't perform all that well at, but we were going to give it our best shot!

After much waiting around, we took to  the mat and smashed out our routine with all the energy we could muster.

Then, it was all over and we were back to waiting for results....

Finally, it was time for awards! We nervously waited, our anticipation heightened by the fact that awards were delayed! Bu then, suddenly, with barely any warning, the judges were announcing our category. We came second!!

Although this wasn't first place, we were super super happy as we hadn't been expecting to place at all!

Happy but tired after our long days, we eventually headed home to our waiting beds.

Sunday morning, I was up early again to head to my childhood home for a couple of days of relaxation, tasty food and being spoilt. Oh and Easter eggs (finally!). My boyfriend also joined us, just in time to devour a home cooked dinner of leg of lamb!

The final day of the holiday (after golden chocolate eggs for breakfast) was spent visiting the Bluebell Wood, a wood near my home which, come spring, is carpeted in bluebells as far as the eye can see!

It's really a rather spectacular sight!

Hundreds and hundreds of beautiful blue (purple-y?) flowers everywhere!

After our walk, we retired to the village pub where we basked in the beautiful sunshine....

...before heading home for a late lunch outside under blossom in the garden.

An exciting weekend finished off with some well needed relaxation!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Bumps and Bruises: Paintballing in Warwickshire

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Warwickshire where I went paintballing for the very first time.

To say the least, I was a little apprehensive. I’d seen the bumps and bruises friends had received from previous trips and had heard the stories of particularly painful shots to tender body parts. However, the trip had been organised for my boyfriend’s birthday, so there was simply no way I could gracefully avoid the situation. I was going to be shot at with fast flying paint whether I liked it or not!

My apprehension was not alleviated when, upon arriving at the paintballing grounds (a forest in the middle of the countryside), I was given a padded body protector. This was followed by a boiler suit and a heavy duty helmet, complete with full face visor…

Next came the safety demonstration. I listened avidly, soaking up all of the instructions (“Don’t carry your gun by the trigger”, “Don’t pick up a smoke grenade by the end on fire”, “Don’t shoot someone at point blank range. It will hurt….”) and quickly vowing not to get too close to anyone out in the field.

Then, we were let loose.

We played a number of games out in the woods. One was ‘capture the flag’ where we had to steal a flag from ‘the Tardis’ (a inventively painted portaloo) and run with it into enemy ground. I spent much of this game tactically hiding behind a tree, providing completely essential ‘cover fire’ from a safe, if ineffective, distance.

However, by the second game I was getting more into the swing of things. I’d mastered my gun and even managed to kill off a few of the ‘infected zombies’ heading in my direction without getting shot too badly.

Our last game was a free for all. Finally, the chance I’d been waiting for – an opportunity to fire at will at my troublesome boyfriend who had got me into this situation to begin with. Suddenly, with my new found goal and determination, my aim seemed to markedly improve…!

Paintballing actually turned out to be a lot of fun and not nearly as scary as I had first envisioned. Yes, getting hit wasn’t the most pleasant experience but, to be honest, half of the shots you didn’t notice in the heat of the moment! By the end of the session I had a couple of impressive bruises, but also a giant grin on my face!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Trauma of a Being a Bag Hoarder (and the true meaning of a ‘bag for life’)

Sunday morning I decided to be PRODUCTIVE. I was going to sit down and hem a skirt which, when I bought, was totally convinced that my five foot two frame would totally fill out an item marked as ‘tall’. Needless to say, once reality had resumed, I realised a good few inches had to come off the skirt and to do that, I needed my sewing machines. Which meant I had to venture into The Cupboard.

The Cupboard is present in almost every house up and down the country. It’s where you store Stuff. (Stuff being everything that you can’t quite find a home for anywhere else). My Cupboard has everything in it from brooms, clothes and towels, to paint scrapers and screwdrivers. And the bag bag – the one bag which contains every other bag you’ve ever had, ever. Which you’ve promised yourself you’ll reuse, especially now the 5p bag charge has come in.

Now, I love the Earth. I’m quite a big fan of being about to breath clean air and of the simple things like trees and flowers. However, one thing I am hopeless at is reusing my bags. I try, I honestly do. But more often than not, I get to the checkout till and make that quick snap judgement, ‘Is two pints of milk, three cans of soup and a bag of spinach too much to carry in my arms? Or shall I just…?’ before guiltily leaving with my shiny new, planet guzzling plastic bag in hand. Which, inevitably, ends up in The Cupboard.

Anyway, this particular Sunday morning, I opened The Cupboard to get my sewing machine when an avalanche of bags suddenly rained down on me, puddling at my feet (and half way to my knees). Tesco bags mingled in with the much nicer Sainsbury’s one (seriously Tesco, how are we supposed to reuse that?! Up your game please!), lovely paper bags in with the even fancier canvas. Hundreds of bags which, until this moment, had been waiting in the dark for their moment to pounce!  Realisation struck. It was time to tackle this monstrosity.

The next hour was spent sorting – nice bags into one bag, practical bags (like the classic giant IKEA one!) into another and those long past their best into the bin. Most importantly however, one sturdy practical bag made it into my handbag where I vowed never ever ever to be without it again…

So what is the moral of this story? Well, I’m pretty sure whoever came up with a ‘bag for life’ didn’t mean for us to hide them away in our cupboards until the end of time. Be better than me and try your best to reuse and recycle, not just hoard!

P.s – I eventually did also manage to hem the skirt – look at all that productivity!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Skiing in La Tania

As the weather turns from the chilly bite of winter into the much more affable breeze of spring, I find myself thinking back to the snowy slopes of the French Alps, Or, more specifically, my most recent ski trip to La Tania.

La Tania is a tiny little ski resort set in the Courchevel area area of the Three Valleys.  Reached by crawling your way up the steep mountainside (or by skiing down winding, forest-y slopes), it had some rather good skiing to offer over the expansive Three Valleys ski area.

We were very lucky. Despite going quite late in the season, it absolutely tipped it down with snow before we arrived. This could only mean one thing - powder!

On our first morning, we pulled on our ski boots, clipped on our skis and headed straight out onto the slopes into glorious sunshine!

Our days followed the same pattern - up early to catch that day's freshest snow, demolish a large lunch and ski again until we dropped. Then, back to the chalet to collapse in front of the fire before heaving ourselves to table for a hearty three course meal.

On our second day, we found an amazing little place for lunch which served perhaps the most amazing hot chocolate I have ever had the pleasure to drink.

Look at that pile of cream!

We may have possibly gone back to the same restaurant most days after that....

On the chalet staff's day off, we headed into the little town in search of our own dinner. There, we ordered my favourite dish - a pierrade.

This is where a hot stone is placed on your table, along with a platter of raw meat and sides. Then, you cook your meat yourself at the table.

Not only is this really entertaining, but also tastes amazing!

After dinner, we braved the dark steep climb straight up the ski slopes to get back to our chalet - quite an impressive feat!

I had a lovely time in La Tania, but like all good things, all too soon it was time to go home. As we wound our way back down the mountains, I dreamed of sweetie frosted hot chocolates - surely it couldn't be too long before I returned!?

Sunday, 14 February 2016

January (and Feb) Adventures

The start to the new year has been rather exciting to say the least and rather a lot has happened. Below are some of the highlights:

My birthday is in January and this means that the family has to spoil me! So, with this in mind, I ended up being taken to lunch at the Charlotte Street Hotel and dinner at Chai Ki.

The Charlotte Street Hotel has an amazing set menu which is not only very reasonable, but also is far too difficult to choose from just because everything sounds just so yummy.

Look at how good it all looks!

The Hotel's restaurant is also such a lovely environment - light and bright with colourful walls and, most importantly, delicious cocktails.

Chai Ki in Canary Wharf  has a very different vibe to the Charlotte Street Hotel. It serves modern Indian food which I love and so I was quite excited to try new dishes outside of the usual dishes I'd order.

We tried a pear and tandoori chicken salad, grilled aubergine steaks and a number of different curries. Safe to say, the plates were essentially licked clean!

I was also rather spoilt by the boyfriend too!

Once all of the birthday celebrations were out of the way, it was back to normal life.

One day, my Mum came to visit me and so we headed to Sticks'n''Sushi in Wimbledon for a light (but tasty) lunch.

Sticks'n'Sushi is a successful restaurant group which started in Denmark and is well known for having some of the best Japanese food around! Therefore, I was somewhat excited to try what they had on offer.

We were not disappointed! We shared some beef tataki and dug into two large salads.

Not only was everything delicious, all the food just looks beautiful!

Finally, some good friends took us to try out the roof bar at Selfridges - Forest on the Roof.

After speeding up in the express lift, you step out into a tunnel of fairy lights and tangled branches before walking into a magical grotto of a bar.

Happily for us, the cocktails were equally magical!

All in all, it's been a lovely start to the year - bring on the rest of it!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Shaka Zulu, London’s largest South African restaurant, knows how to make an impact. The entrance is guarded by an enormous Zulu warrior whose shadow you walk under before being whisked away by an escalator, down into the depths of the restaurant.

Once you reach the bottom, you realise just how large Shaka Zulu is. The restaurant stretches out in front of you and the whole place is immaculately themed – there are big cat sculptures and elephant heads hanging on the wall, all watched over by more huge Zulu warriors.

I was invited to Shaka Zulu to try out their rather exotic food and was intrigued to see whether it was as impressive as the venue. I soon found out I wouldn't be disappointed! 
As my boyfriend and I settled into our seats, we were given a welcome glass of fizz with some sort of pink candy-floss-like substance settled at the bottom which made me smile. We sipped on our drinks, excitedly awaiting our food! 

Starters arrived and the boyfriend and I eagerly dived in to the large sharing board which was presented. On it were lamb samosas, salmon and ostrich terrine, accompanied by a salad and garlic-y bread. The lamb samosas were delicious, but I was particularly taken with the ostrich - it was the first time I had ever tried it!

Next was mains.  I had (blindly and bravely at the time!) picked the ostrich steak and the boyfriend had gone for a steak (as in a normal-from-a-cow-beef-steak). We had also ordered a number of sides to share which included roast cinnamon butternut squash and sugar snaps with caramelised onions. 

The food may not be the most photogenic in the world, but my meat was cooked perfectly - pink all the way through and it just tasted delicious. Ostrich turned out to be quite gamey, but not as strong as venison or boar. I would definitely recommend trying it! The boyfriend was also very pleased with his steak, happily piling peri-peri fries and sugar snaps on top of it. 
Then came the puddings. Look how pretty they were! 

I was practically ready to pop after the mains, but managed a spoonful (or two!) of the yummy desserts! There was a little cheese cake, a chocolatey tart and a  creamy traditional South African tart. 
Once I had slightly recovered from munching through our rather large amount of food, I went for a little explore around the restaurant....

.....making a new friend or two along the way!

I really enjoyed visiting Shaka Zulu. The venue is just spectacular (we couldn't stop commenting on it all evening!) and the food was very tasty and definitely interesting! When I return, I am going to have to try the crocodile and the zebra! I would really recommend giving it a try, especially if you have a hungry boy in tow - I challenge them to manage to eat everything put in front of them! 
Thank you for having us Shaka Zulu- we will be seeing you soon!