Monday, 8 April 2013

An Expedition to...Claridges

Every now and again I feel that it is important to treat yourself to a little luxury. When things are getting tough you've got to switch yourself off from everything that is negative in your life and embrace everything that is positive. Last month I set us the challenge of planning an expedition, something that we could plan over the months before embarking on our adventure. Mine involved travel, I planned to finally make a trip to Canada to see my relatives. The last time I travelled there was 2001 and each time another year slipped by I always felt bad that I still hadn't been back and still hadn't seen the relatives that I loved and cared about. I knew that this year there was no stopping me and so I started planning a head, thinking about how we would get there, where we would stay, who we would visit and what we would do.
There was only one thing that would stop me from travelling and that was if my Mum became more ill but it seemed unlikely given her excellent response to the treatment that she was having. But it wasn't to be as Cancer has a nasty way of popping up whenever it wants to and when the chemo stopped the cancer came back in various other places. So of course my expedition needed to go on hold. I will get back there one day but right now it's important that I look after my Mum...after all she's spent most of her life looking after me.

So, now it was time to plan another expedition, something in my own country and possibly one that could include my Mum.  One night whilst watching a documentary about the Claridges Hotel in London I had an idea. The whole point of the expedition was to do something that you wouldn't normally do. I watched the documentary about all of the rich, elegant people taking their tea in the salon, relaxing in their suites, dining in the restaurant and sipping cocktails in the Fumoir. It all seemed like a million miles away from the life that I lead. My Mum sighed as the programme finished and said "Wouldn't it be amazing to visit a place like would be a dream a once in a lifetime experience!" That comment started me thinking, why couldn't we go? Why not for a day could we live like the rich and famous and visit Claridges? So I teamed up with my Sister and we started to plan an expedition for our Mum, if Claridges was a once in a lifetime experience then it was definitely going to be a once in a lifetime experience for her. We weren't travelling 3000 miles across the world we were going to travel ninety minutes down the train track, twenty minutes in a taxi and arrive at our final destination...a million miles away from our everyday lives.

A Whole New World
I've never travelled First Class before so my expedition begun the moment that we stepped on to the train. I never even bother reserving seats, I just usually end up perched below a smelly armpit or sat on the floor by the train's loo. But today I was settled in to my leather seat enjoying the air conditioned carriage and sipping my mineral water. Mum's face was lit up like the sunshine! We had all dressed up for the occasion and felt brilliant. The next part of the journey took us through the streets of London as we made our way in a classic London taxi to Claridges, how posh we felt as we told the driver where we were going and then were greeted from the taxi by a Claridges door man who held the door open as we fell out of the taxi and stepped on to the elegant door mat and gently pushed our way into the art deco style lobby. We stood in a line looking around us at the beautiful marbled floors, the blazing fire and the gigantic vases filled with magnolias and tulips.

We were escorted to our table in the tea salon, passing tables crowned with elegant cake stands, tall glasses of champagne and the beautiful Claridges signature china. Ladies with perfect hair, pearls and Mulberry handbags sat sipping tea, deep in conversation with their friends as the staff impeccably dressed in pristine suits made us feel at home.

We felt a million miles away from our real world but the three of us were made to feel no different to anybody else in the room, we may as well have been royalty for the way that we were treated and we soon relaxed in to our table and studied the menu of never ending teas. We placed our orders of English Breakfast, French Vanilla and Damson tea. I had ordered the Damson tea, a blend of berries, fruits and spiced with tasted like Christmas. My Sister's tea was a sweet vanilla, which tasted like Crème Patissiere. The tall champagne glasses in the centre of the table were moved in front of each of us, our napkins placed in our lap and then we watched as the waitress carefully poured our Laurent Perrier Champagne in to each glass. A platter of beautiful sandwiches was placed in the middle of the table...we stared excitedly at the food before us smoked salmon, dill and horseradish; cucumber, rocket and cream cheese; egg and cress; chicken and salad and a beautiful ham and tomato sandwich with the most delicious mustard. We carefully ate our little delicate sandwiches and then were brought more as we cleared our plates. What was next? We watched as people came and left the tea room. The grand piano in the corner sprung to life and a violinist accompanied the pianist filling the room with gentle music.

The beautiful art deco mirrors and lights glinted in the gentle light of the room whilst outside the city buzzed with the hustle and bustle of shoppers, workers and cars. Inside Claridges the world had slowed down, my watch actually stopped and nothing mattered any more. Another platter arrived with delicious fruit and apple scones, still warm from the oven and with little pots of clotted cream and Marco Polo jelly. The elegant scones fell open and we piled on the cream and jelly, which was swiftly replaced by more as we ran low. Our tea was constantly topped up as our cups became almost empty, we didn't have to do anything but eat and drink. Then our table was crowned with a beautiful selection of cakes and pastries, a fruit tart with cream, little lemon puddings topped with toasted marshmallow, delicate chocolate cakes and millefeuilles. By this point it was necessary to sit back and take in our surroundings whilst we digested the delicious food we had already eaten and yet the Waitress still snuck us more cake.

New pots of tea were brought over and we began to sample our cakes but after a few we were defeated by cake and an elegant bag was brought over with our leftovers neatly packaged up. We sat for longer and listened to the piano, our lovely French waitress chatted to us and told us to stay for as long as we liked. We finished our tea and I ventured out of the tea salon to investigate the ladies room. The perfumed hallway led me to an elegant room with beautiful mirrors and dressing tables, I entered in to the toilets and found a beautiful room with more art deco features, beautiful tiles and a lady who turned the taps on and off for you, regulating the temperature and presenting you with a white fluffy towel for your hands. I walked slowly back to the tea room and sat back down with a could we go back home to normality now? The waitress walked over as we reluctantly started to button up our coats and presented us each with a small white box of chocolates tied with an elegant black ribbon with Claridges written in gold writing on it. We thanked the waitress a hundred times and then slowly left the room. Then we were back in our taxi heading through the now quieter streets of London, past the red buses, we pulled up outside Vera Wang and admired the beautiful wedding dresses before speeding off and arriving outside St Pancras station.  

With a little time left we browsed the shops in the station, reading books in Foyles, selecting toys to take home to my Sister's boys in Hamleys and purchasing loose tea and another tempting cake in Peyton and Byrne. It was time to leave this wonderful world where we had spent a wonderful afternoon and make our way back home, back to the real world which now seemed slightly more enriched by such a wonderful experience.

From now on I think anything is possible, no matter what class you are, how much money you have or don't have, if you want to do something  go and do it because as my family is learning (the hard way) life is very short. Plan your expedition (no matter what it is) and when you've done it, plan another will be glad that you did.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Theme for March - Plan your Expedition

Maybe you will raise money for charity?
This month the theme is to come up with your own expedition. It's something to work on throughout the year but at the end of March I will update you with what my expedition is and what I am doing. Your expedition can be something as simple as training for a marathon and running it, maybe you will aim to raise funds for a charity with your goal at the end to raise a certain amount of money. Maybe there is a place you have always wanted to visit and this year you're going to do it...stop putting it off and make the journey. Your expedition could be setting up a business or maybe you're going to go and seek the career you've always dreamt of, maybe your expedition will be how you will get there perhaps you will need to re-train or take on additional study? Whatever it is, keep Felicity and her team in your mind and focus on your goal, plan your expedition carefully as they did. Life is short, we spend too much time putting things off or talking ourselves out of something because we are afraid or can't justify doing it. When I finished Felicity's book I felt quite envious of the women for achieving something so big and setting themselves an incredible challenge. Now it's our turn, our expedition...whatever it is take a deep breath and get started, you will get there.
Or maybe organise that dream holiday?

Women - we are wonderful!

I'm sorry but we women are an incredible species aren't we? Look at what we do and what we have overcome over the years. We have fought battles for women's rights and gained equality in what was a male dominated world. In some countries women are still battling for their rights and to be treated equal to men. We balance our careers with raising our families, I like to think of us as the glue that holds everything together and I don't believe in the question "who is the stronger or women?" because I believe we are equal. However as a woman the answer has got to be women hasn't it? Although my husband is great at getting the lid off a jar.

But feminism aside I have just finished an inspirational book called "Call of the White - Taking the World to the South Pole" by Felicity Aston. For weeks I've been sneaking off to bed at 9pm to read more about this fascinating adventure to Antarctica. I have always been interested in Antarctica since my Lecturer at University spent a couple of hours showing us slides and talking about her visit to Antarctica and the research that she carried out there, it's a place that I find so fascinating but so far out of my reach. To go there frightens me but exhilarates me at the same time. This book took me closer, I felt like I was there with all of the women. Felicity's adventure started when she decided to put together an all women's team to ski to the South Pole with. Each woman would come from a country within the Commonwealth to form an international team. The team was to be ordinary women who wanted to inspire other people to grab their dreams or better their lives. In the end Felicity sorted through 800 applications, travelling to each of the Commonwealth countries to interview potential team members and narrow it down to  just one woman from each of the following Commonwealth countries India, Jamaica, Brunei, New Zealand, the UK, Singapore and Cyprus. Some of the women who joined the expedition had never experienced or seen snow, some had never been in a tent.

I was in complete awe of all of the women who completed the expedition as well as the women who had the courage to apply in the first place. Felicity inspired me, she fought hard for what she believed in and led these women through one of the toughest journeys in the world not just in their trek to the South Pole but also in their fundraising and gaining sponsorship and support for their expedition, these women worked tirelessly and extremely hard, fighting for what they believed in and wanted to achieve even before they set foot on the ice. Felicity's final words at the end of the book really spoke to me...she wrote that a woman who had climbed Everest came to speak at her school when she was a teenager, the woman had said that she had once been told that there are two paths in life and that taking the harder path would always lead to greater fulfilment. Felicity said that she decided from that moment that she would always seek out the 'hard path.' I haven't trekked across Antarctica but with all the bumps and winding roads in my life I would say that I have chosen the hard path and from thinking about Felicity's words and reading this book I'm glad that I have, some of the things I have encountered in my life I would never have chosen for myself or wished for myself to experience; but having experienced these bumps  I've learned a lot, become wiser and I now know that I am a stronger person than I think. If I had taken the 'easy path' my life would have been boring and I perhaps wouldn't be the person that I am today. Felicity said that the real success of the expedition was the impact that it had on the lives of others, inspiring people to make a decision in their own lives. But what I loved about the book was the determination of the women, their attitude to never giving up and proving that as women we can do anything that we want.

For some of the women on the expedition they were the first women from their country to ski to the South Pole, some of these women are still experiencing male dominance and segregation in their country and are seen as the weaker sex. How incredible must they feel to think back to what they have done and know that they have achieved something so amazing that no other woman in their country has achieved? I know I would feel on top of the world and eager to encourage other women to do the same. Thanks to this book I feel more inspired to know that I can do anything that I want and with sheer determination and willingness I will get to where I want to be...I'll get to my own Antarctica.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Did you sign up to something positive?

So...what did you sign up to? Did you sign up to anything? Surprisingly I did, although it's not going all that well. This month money was particularly tight and where the sensible thing would be to tighten the purse strings and forego some luxuries I just can't seem to do that.

I can't resist a meal deal!

As an Intellectual Dinner Club member the lack of not going out for dinner each month is proving too difficult for me. When our boiler broke during one of the coldest weeks of the year so far I used it as the perfect excuse to visit my favourite restaurant right on my doorstep, Mustard and Punch. Three courses for just £22 and half a bottle of wine thrown in, well that's a bargain isn't it? And then a visit to the Woodman in Thunderbridge was just too tempting to turn down, their menu of delicious warming dishes proved too much to resist and I overindulged by again choosing three courses...Yorkshire pudding and onion gravy, slow roasted belly pork, STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING! How could I not?

So all this over indulging and sampling beautiful, local food meant that my lack of funds were becoming increasingly worrying and my growing waist band was making my clothes disturbingly tighter...although it was the double chin that was bothering me the most (I still tap it with the back of my hand hoping it will gradually go back up to where it came from.)

Sign up to something positive.

Huddersfield parkrunSigning up for something was proving to be difficult. I had no money and my energy levels were sinking rapidly thanks to a new desk job and my over indulgence. Then a friend recommended The Park Run to me, it was genius and the perfect thing to start off my year positively. Park Run is genius, it's a nationwide event that takes place every Saturday morning in various locations up and down the country, in my case it starts at 9am (eek!) at my local park. It's completely free but all you have to do is sign up on their website and print off a barcode, which you have to present when you complete your run each week. Your results are then published on their website and you can track your progress...brilliant! Each run is 5k and you can run, walk, jog, take your Dog however you want to get around, but the idea is to run. So I did it...I did my first run on a freezing cold morning amongst people of all shapes and sizes. I ended up at the finish line 35 minutes later, propped against a tree trying very hard to get my breath back and not throw up in front of everybody. It was such a friendly, jolly place to be and everyone spurred each other on shouting encouragement and inviting us to have a nice warm drink in the cafe afterwards. Unfortunately with the snow and a wine-fuelled Friday night the other weekend it's been a while since I've been back but I've got my barcode ready, my IPod charged and I'm ready for another go on Saturday. I have to say I'm actually quite proud of myself...even if I am booked into the 3 Acres Restaurant in two weeks time, well everything in moderation I need to have some fuel to burn off at Park Run!



Wednesday, 9 January 2013

New Year, Old You - The Theme for January

I hate that saying "New Year, New You!" At the start of every year they wheel that one out again and every year I think, no it's still the same old me. I know what they mean, it's time to get a new, improved version of yourself but for me that never actually happens. I don't go and get a radical haircut or new wardrobe instead I usually buy   reduced bubble bath from Boots and shave my legs, read a magazine and try and feel inspired by all these amazing women who have left a career in law or so and are now running a business knitting tea cosies in their garden shed or who have moved abroad and converted a haunted house into a Provencal paradise.Very inspiring but they are all usually rich!

At the start of January we are all told that we should start that diet now but it never really works out does it? Especially if like me you have a mountain of chocolate to climb. So forget it I'm not dieting nor am I depriving myself of anything cake or chocolate like or anything that comes out of a bottle with a cork in it. Here is this month's theme...

This month we are going to start out quite easy, nothing challenging and nothing that really involves using our brains much. We want you to sign up for something...anything! Here are some ideas:

1. Sign up to dance classes

2. Sign up for night school

3. Sign up for a magazine  subscription

4. Sign up to a blog and start blogging

5. Join the RSPB

6. Sign up to Race for Life

7. Sign up to join a book group

By the end of the month we should all have signed up for something. We will present our themes on here so you can see how we got on, what we joined and why and how it's made us feel. Feel free to e-mail in and tell us about your experiences

Happy January!

A Change of Plan

It's the start of a brand New Year and already we are feeling the need to tighten our purse strings. It's a bit depressing really because The Intellectual Dinner Club has been running since 2009 and all this time we have managed to keep our dinners going each month...and I always managed to find a few extra pennies for dessert! But realistically it's just not feasible to be eating out every month and besides we've pretty much eaten our way through Huddersfield and Holmfirth now so there's not many other places to go. Our dream was to move on to travelling around the UK and discover some hidden gems that offered amazing food and service without breaking the bank. Then maybe we could eat our way around London, Paris...the World!! The aim was to offer fresh, honest (without being horrible), unpretentious restaurant reviews that didn't confuse with big words, food that you've never even heard of or would want to eat and telling you how micro-food is now a la mode; tiny little leaves arranged on top of some edible soil?...I don't think so!Unfortunately we are going to have to leave the dinner side of our club to the over-fed, pretentious, slightly rude food critics that grace the pages of our food supplements each month and instead we will focus on the Intellectual side of our club, the themes.

Each month there will be a theme posted on to our blog, a challenge, project, goal however you want to view it, that all of us can join in with if you like. How you interpret it is up to you but the aim here is to achieve something each month. By Christmas you will have achieved twelve things that you didn't know you would achieve this year. It may be something simple like seeing that film that you've always wanted to see so come 2014 you will have seen it, you've achieved something. I'm setting no goals or New Year Resolutions this year instead each month The Intellectual Dinner Club will set the themes and I will use these as my goals.

If you do decide to join in let's use our blog to talk about what we have achieved, to inspire each other to keep going. Maybe you've interpreted the theme in a different way if so, let us know...e-mail us and we can add your theme to the blog. Maybe you can suggest some themes too? We can be as creative as we like and come Christmas we will hopefully have picked up some new skills, learnt a few things and be feeling creative, inspired and intellectual! Who knows what we will do each month, I just know that I can't wait to get started, it's a new beginning ladies!

Monday, 31 December 2012

New Years Eve

This time last year I was geared up for 2012, my best year yet I promised myself. I wasn't in a great place and my commitment to 12 in 2012 gave me goals that I felt would be realistic and achievable...ha...that didn't quite happen! My year threw up challenges that on New Years Eve 2011 I didn't think would be possible. With my husband jetting out to visit his critically ill Mother in Finland I laid alone in a bath filled high with bubbles sipping champagne and then retiring to bed before was wonderful. I approached the start of January refreshed and raring to go but with my mother-in-law seriously ill and my Uncle passing away by February everything seemed to be falling apart. Let's skip past everything else quickly, I became ill myself and then my Father passed away after I spent five months caring for him, ten weeks later after settling my Father's affairs my Mum was diagnosed with Cancer and then my Great Uncle became ill and I returned to caring again before he passed away suddenly at the end of November...phew what a year!

So here I am faced with another year and slightly worried about what this one will bring. But I have a new attitude towards this one, I'm making no New Year resolutions and there will be no 13 in 2013. This year is all about me, I've decided that I want to be just a little bit more selfish and do what I want to do. The other day my subscription to Essentials Magazine dropped on to the door mat and today, with a handful of chocolate in my hand I laid out on the sofa and devoured not only the chocolate but the entire magazine. By the time I had finished I felt great, positive and pleased to know that many women like me are also approaching 2013 in the same way. The Editor's letter was called "It's Time to Get Happy!" And she's absolutely right, it is! There's nothing I should feel guilty about, if I want to eat like a pig I'm going to; if I don't want to do something I'm going to say NO and I'm going to make sure I achieve that work/life balance without feeling negative about's not all about money and work. My favourite page of the magazine was "101 Best Bits of Advice Ever!"
"Learn to trust your instincts...if something doesn't feel right, listen to it go with your gut. It doesn't lie." This is so true and something I can definitely say I have learnt this year. The Celebrity Words of Wisdom also helped too..."There are no regrets in life, just lessons" from Jennifer Aniston
"The important thing is to realise that no matter what people's opinions may be, they're only just that - people's opinions" Mary J Blige; and my favourite "Never eat anything bigger than your head!" - Miss Piggy. So here I am, I know 2013 won't be easy, I know there will be changes that unsettle me and days when I feel sad and stressed but I feel that this year has made me grow up and find some direction in my life and I know that by the time I reach Christmas 2013 I will be much more wiser again and hopefully achieving my goals whatever they turn out to be...I've decided I won't be setting myself any, instead I'm just going to go and discover my goals as I move through the year.

It's raining and I feel content that I'm sat here warm and cosy with a fridge full of food that's absolutely no good for me, there's plenty of alcohol and champagne to celebrate the end of a horrible year and plenty of rubbish to watch on the television. I've developed a bit of a muffin top above my jeans but I've just devoured a third of a box of I care? No I really don't. I'm not planning a diet, I'm not going to get up and go running in the morning in fact I'm going to put my pyjamas on, eat some more chocolate and watch the Sound of Music knowing that I can because it's my life and I can do anything that I want. I'll go running next week...once I've eaten everything...although nothing bigger than my head! Happy New Year.

Catherine xx