Category Archives: 1. BE ACTIVE – Sports, yoga, dance classes, etc

Sports, yoga and other activities

GUEST POST – CULTURE IN LONDON: Fridaze by Leonie Ellis

Note from Sasha: So our celebrant tells us that organising a wedding should be fun as the day itself flies by, and y’know what, it is. Yes, it is, really. Planning menus and tasting wine and talking about flowers and eating cake and planning a fantastic party for all the people you love, is fun. I even bought Monica-from-Friends style cocktail sticks so we can do a pop-up table plan. But, it means daily life sort of goes on hold for a bit (thank god we decided to get married quickly, I couldn’t keep this up for more than 6 months) so I’m not really checking out much of London – apart from gyms, yoga classes, facialists and wedding shops. So I’m leaving the exploration of London to my brilliant friend Leonie who has summed up all that is fabulous and beautiful in London in January. She does a weekly round up of what’s on in her “Fridaze” emails – tweet her to get on the list @Leonie_Ellis.

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ART

A couple of weeks ago, the West end art galleries held their first opening shows of 2012 after the Christmas break. Eastcastle Street and Mayfair was heaving with a throng flitting between each gallery like a swarm of fevered bees with impoverished artists scrambling for the free beers at each stop. I would recommend heading to ‘Sex and Friends’ by Tobias Rehberger at Pilar Corrias on until Feb 17th.

Irene Alvarez has taken the art of tapestry to a new level with an exhibition of lurex, Walt Disney, synthetic flou inspired pieces. Check out her work here.

Martin Parr has curated an exhibition featuring Richard Simpkins and Simone Lueck entitled ‘Richard & Famous’ which explores our burgeoning celebrity culture and its increasingly blurred boundaries. The exhibition takes its title from Australian star-hunter Richard Simpkin’s extraordinary project Richard & Famous. Since 1989 Simpkin has pursued celebrities to have his photo taken with them. LA-based photographer Simone Lueck posted online adverts inviting older women to pose in the guise of their favourite movie star. The image below is Mara as Brigitte Bardot shot in 2009. Dazed and Confused interviewed Martin Parr about this exhibition.

Future Map 2011 – Future Map is an annual survey show exhibiting the best cutting edge talent from the graduating year at University of the Arts London. Reviewing all the graduate and postgraduate courses in art, design, fashion and communications, an illustrious panel of industry experts chose works they feel best represent the next generation of creativity. On until 5th Feb.

Graffiti artist Stik started out by spotting likely looking walls, sketching and planning his ideas for them and spraying them in just hours, or even minutes, in order to run off before the police found him, but these days  bookshops, galleries, cafes and social centers in both London and Bristol are commissioning him to paint their walls. And for the first time he’s started to rent a studio and to sell canvases and sculptures through galleries. A map has been created on Google of where to find Stik’s work around London. Here it is.

Need some creative inspiration? Haw-Lin is a website with nothing more than than a collection of random images that might just spark that idea you need.

PARTY

I have never entered into the futile attempt of a ‘dry’ January and just as well I haven’t disappointed my tradition this year as I have discovered these 2 drinking establishments:

The Whistling Shop – This bar takes elements of Victorian and Dickensian drinking culture, fusing them with very forward thinking and bar tending techniques. They have a laboratory in which to experiment with flavour, multi-sensory perception and theatrical cocktails which can then be enjoyed whilst being surrounded by wood and glass pannelled rooms and gaslight. This just about trips every switch for me.

69 Colebrookerow – Tony Conigliaro is widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s pioneering drinks creators, and is continually working to break the boundries surrounding drinking experiences. A team of lab-coated bartenders habit this Islington hideaway. Old school charm is at the centre of the bars ethos combining 30’s jazz, faultless service and the odd bow tie.

Artists LuckyPDF are hosting Bubblebyte after party at the Bussey Building in Peckham on the 27th Jan with  Will be good. Check out this link for details.

Main Room
✺ AIDS-3D hot from Miami, cold from Berlin
⊙ DJ SKYPE beaming in from Amsterdam
✺ CRAXXXSMRYF ?????? (¿Germany¿)
⊙ MATTHEW STONE returns from NYC, finally
✺ EDDIE PEAKE = www.eddiepeake.com
⊙ FELIX LEE (NATIONAL GRID)
✺ BRADLEY ZERO (RHYTHM SECTION)

Bunga Bunga Lounge
✺ Enchante (Greco-Roman / TopNice)
⊙ STAN IRADANOV (HOUNDS OF HATE)
✺ Paul B. Davis (Beige / TopNice)
⊙ Hampus Time (Top Nice)
✺ Burning Bush (Top Nice)
⊙ T-Trak

MUSIC

Some new blood going under the name of Pandr Eyez. Have a listen here and read Don’t Panic’s interview with the band here.

Some more new talent Peepholes. Have a listen to their soundcloud here and read their interview with Dazed and Confused here.

This list an excellent list of the recent albums you need to listen to.

Go and discover some new musical  talent at HMV’s ‘The Best New Bands’ event

FASHION

Steaming, bubbling geysers on the verge of explosion, blue lagoons and wishing wells carry particular significance in Tze Goh’s S/S12 collection after a trip to Iceland to witness the Northern lights. Read Tze’s interview in AnOther about the stunning country and how it inspired here.

My friends at Barebones have created this frankly amazing T Shirt that I will be wearing permanently until it falls apart over the summer. You can buy one too for a mere £15 from the BareBones website where you will also find a spectacular array of illustrations.

AND JUST BECAUSE I LIKE IT……

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The Thames by Speedboat

So there’s a few things I learned at the hen night I went to last weekend. Firstly, any group of girls, even if they hardly know each other, will get along just perfectly after a bellyful of wine. Secondly, there will be an awkward moment at the wedding when you realise that no-one remembers each other’s names. Thirdly, you can make a hen do the most ridiculous things because she’ll be drunk with wine and nerves and excitement after about 30 minutes and so deliriously happy to be getting married. And finally, whizzing down the Thames by speedboat is really, really good fun.

Actually, I’ll go further, it was bloody brilliant. I must admit when I heard we were doing it, I had visions of screaming girls, eyes shut, freezing cold, knees to chest, while the dirty Thames splashed across our hen night outfits.  This might be because the last time I was on a speedboat, it was the quick route from Laos to Thailand, our driver cigarette in mouth, pouring petrol into the engine, ear plugs in, 2 inches of space to stretch out in, 6 hours of noise and wind and sheer panic. I’ve also seen it advertised in incongruous settings where it seemed a bit naff – see the Iguazu Falls by speedboat! Have a romantic ride along the Seine…by speedboat! It didn’t really appeal to me.

But I really, really enjoyed it. In boiling hot sunshine (oh where did you go?), myself and 19 other girls put our life jackets on and boarded two Thames Rib speedboats at Embankment, the venue for our late night Walkabout dancing, ahem. Better than a slow boat because you’re small so you can get up close to the sights (I’d never seen such a close view of the Houses of Parliament from the river) and you get both the normal tour from Westminster to the London Eye to Tower Bridge and a trip further East than other boat trips I’ve done – it was nice to see the renovated East End Wharfs and lovely new flats with their sunny balconies all along the riverbank.

But then, after we had passed far enough out to the East, amongst the modern flats near Canary Wharf on either side, our lovely tour guide stepped on the throttle and we FLEW, rollercoaster style, along the Thames, screaming and holding onto the boat in a white-knuckle ride style. Or I did at least. Sure, the slow boat up the Thames is nice n’ stuff but I bet you didn’t shriek your head off. And no ladies, you don’t get wet. And the best thing about it all? They remind you at the start when you pass the MI5 building that Pierce Brosnan zoomed up the Thames in a speedboat chase in The World Is Not Enough, and when you’re whizzing around, slanting left and right and over the waves, they PLAY THE BOND THEME TUNE at the same time. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in ages.

The Thames Rib Experience is £45 per adult and lasts about an hour. I hope my fellow hen ladies don’t mind me showing some of our photos here. I’m the blonde grinning inanely while my hair tangles in a windswept mess around my head – this might explain my interesting hairstyle for the rest of the evening. Thank you bridesmaids for organising!!

GUEST POST: Arts & Crafts in London – How Being Creative Makes you Happy

Note from Sasha: I was introduced to Hannah Bullivant’s blog Seeds and Stitches through a comment she left on this blog, and I was blown away by her beautiful photos, her creativity, sense of style and the gorgeous way she decorates her flat. When I was young (too young!) I was told by a teacher at Primary School  that I was crap at art and so I stopped drawing pictures and making houses out of cardboard boxes. But I think its sad the world splits us up into creatives and non-creatives. Whenever I do anything arty – painting a plantpot or making someone a birthday card – I really enjoy it. I want to introduce more creativity into my life so I asked Hannah for some thoughts on how to get creative in London and I love what she’s come up with. In the meantime, I’ve been invited to a the craft group Hannah mentions below (formerly called Stitch n Bitch), which sounds fabulous, and  I’ve signed up to a choir too. Ha!  

Hannah Bullivant is a South East Londoner, freelance writer and blogger, lover of ethical style. She spends her time navigating around the 9-5 by making stuff, collecting old junk, playing country living in the city and tracking down London’s best cocktail, afternoon tea, curry, brunch. She writes for Amelia’s magazine and for her blog Seeds And Stitches.

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Easy peasy farm animal cupcakes (blogged here)

There is something weirdly but undeniably satisfying about using your hands to do something. Whether it’s carving a table or just chopping your carrots in a fancy way, it feels good.

Fabric bread bag originally blogged here

Ken Robinson, in a hugely popular talk about creativity, advocates that we are all born with a natural creative instinct, but that this instinct is bludgeoned out of us by stifling educational and corporate structures. I really believe this; have you ever met a kid that doesn’t like making things? You may not be an ‘Artist’ but I bet that you partake in little acts of making with your hands every day, you just may not label them as such. Ever been tickled after a particularly satisfying dishwasher stack? Or reveled in the act of writing instead of typing? Derived an odd sense of achievement after folding your pillowcases perfectly? (or is that just me?!) Enjoyed signing something with a particularly elaborate swirl? And – ok – chopping your carrots in perfect parallelograms may not mean you are the next Turner prize winner but it does demonstrate that we at least have the capacity to be a bit crafty. Even if it’s on the sly. And I happen to think that if more people were able to spend just a little more time making stuff, we’d all be a bit happier. Because it is satisfying having control of a little project, from start to finish, something most of us can’t do in the rest of our lives. It is satisfying creating something that actually looks half decent. Even if it doesn’t look half decent. It is satisfying saving money and feeling smug about ‘doing it yourself’.

Cupcake/Muffin flags made from old envelopes. Tutorial originally written for Anelia’s Magazine here

I should clarify that I am not a craft expert. I sometimes write about craft. I occasionally partake in it myself. But an artisan I most certainly am not. I actually only know the basics of most things, but I’ve learned that its about how to cobble those basics together. For example, I only know how to sew straight lines with my sewing machine. But with those straight lines I’ve made dresses, quilts, curtains, cushion covers and table-cloths. I only know how to do one crochet stitch (the granny square- and that isn’t even the name of a stitch!) but I have used that to make a cushion cover and (nearly) make a blanket. And it is quite amazing what a bit of sanding and painting will do a cheap looking bit of furniture. I now cant think of anything nicer than being sat at my sewing machine whilst listening to the Radio 4 Women’s Hour podcast, or a TED talk. And err, no, I’m not in my 60’s. I’m in my twenties. But the point is that making these things makes me happy, and if I can make stuff, so can you.

The start of my Crochet blanket originally blogged here

David Gauntlett, author of making is connecting’ argues that when we make things we connect; with our materials, with others, and ultimately with the world around us. All this connecting, he argues, leads to greater citizen engagement and increased happiness because happiness is strongly associated with our connections with others, and engagement with our own projects. He concludes Happiness has to be worked towards, and it flows from action, not passivity.”

Some stuffed vegetables I made for my baby half brother, originally blogged here

In my experience, I would certainly agree that ‘making is connecting’. I am part of an online craft community which is full of lovely people who are more than willing to share their skills with others. We share inspiration on Pinterest, write free tutorials and encourage each other on our blogs. This craft community is also growing all the time; there are approximately 300,000 shops on the online handmade marketplace Etsy, thousands and thousands of craft blogs, and literally millions of accounts on the photography site Flickr. And lots of these people are beginners or self taught. And I’ve learned a few things from this community too. You don’t have to be an interior designer to be able to make your house look nice. You don’t have to be a knitwear aficionado to learn how to cast on. And you don’t have to be a fashion designer to learn how to understand a dress pattern. You just might need to be shown how to do it by someone.

Simple Spring garland, originally blogged here

I don’t, however, want to give an idealised rose-tinted view of ‘the power of creation’ (blah blah). It is mostly satisfying, but it can also be fraught with frustration. Sometimes my sewing machine just does not play ball for no apparent reason, often right at the end of a project, when I’ve stayed up till 3am to finish it. My husband has since dubbed the way I sometimes (ahem) react to this – swearing, throwing fabric across the room, and, slightly embarrassingly, occasionally crying – as sewing rage’. But the pleasure in seeing something coming together, and then looking at the finished object, even with all its faults, at 4am, with huge bags under my eyes, having emptied the entire contents of my fabric shelves across the room, is unrivalled. Learning how to take clothes in or let them out, depending on my current commitment to my exercise regime, has also been an incredibly useful money saving skill, as has the ability to make Birthday presents, Christmas cards, anniversary gifts etc. A pleasant side affect is that I have also discovered that I am able to relax in a way other than slouched in front of a box set with a glass of wine in my pyjamas. I reserve a special place in my heart for this very activity, I just do it a lot less.

Potato stamping article originally written for Amelia’s Magazine here

Where to learn

There are oodles of new crafty venues popping up all over the UK where you can learn how to make things like jewelry or knickers or a candle, typically in just one afternoon. Be warned though, I don’t think its possible to really learn to how make a dress, no matter how simple it is, in one day. But these venues are perfect for a girly afternoon of making in a quaint room often festooned in bunting and accompanied by afternoon tea (they make a killing from hen parties, I imagine).

But I am reserving my most passionate (and less girly) recommendation for local community colleges. I am currently doing a tailoring course at Lewisham College where I am finally learning how to understand all those fiddly instructions and faffy bits of paper that form a dress pattern. Glam it is not. No afternoon tea in mismatched china for me. But its cheap, I am supporting my local community, and I actually learn how to do something over a considerable amount of time (15 weeks for only £120!) Lots of community colleges are also facing closures and cuts so it’s a good time to show them your support. If you are unsure if you have one near you, check your councils website and look for ‘adult and community education’. I was flabbergasted to find courses in everything from balloon art to woodwork, upholstery, tailoring, yoga, gardening, cookery and floristry; there really is something for everyone, and all offered on your door step.

 Learning how to make the collar for my dress a Lewisham College

A few resources (please chime in in the comments if you know of a good course or website):

Craft venues in London

Craft groups in London, open to new members and beginners

Online resources

Direct Gov might be able to help you toward a local community college http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/AdultLearning/DG_96

When was the last time you took a stroll along the South Bank?

My basic point being, if it has been rather a long time then you should probably get yourself there soon as you can – there’s tons going on:

1. From now until 4 September, the South Bank Centre is celebrating the Festival of Britain’s 60th anniverary. There are performances, talks, events, comedy and an exhibition. I went on Saturday and, although possibly more of a nostalgia-fest for those who were actually there, it is a lovely celebration of British creativity and community in spite of the post-war slump, triumph over adversity and all that, and coming so soon after the Royal wedding, it makes you feel quite proud to be British. What other nation could have invented bunting?

2. There is an urban beach for beach parties, getting sand in your toes, and other sand-based tomfoolery. Mucho beach snogging noted.

3. You should also check out the Dishoom Chowpatty Beach Bar which is there until 4 October and where you can sit outside overlooking the beach and drink some wonderful (v strong!) Juhu Punch, Bombay Pimms and eat some of Dishoom’s lovely food.

4. The Hayward Gallery is hosting the Tracy Emin exhibition Love Is What You Want. I also went along on Saturday and will post more soon but here’s a quick tip – perhaps avoid taking your mother unless you are able to remain perfectly comfortable while Tracey discusses grabbing a man’s balls on a giant TV screen in front of you.

5. There are these cool painted huts all along the Thames front filled with art and sculptures.

6. If you wander further down to the brilliant art deco Miami-style Design Museum (although beware the shop – you could spend a small fortune on trendy designer cutlery or similar) and upstairs to the Blueprint Cafe with one of the most incredible views over London and fantastic food. Here’s Marina O’Loughlin from the Metro’s glowing review and here’s mine. It’s all been spruced up recently for its 21st birthday so definitely worth a visit.

7. Just as romantic is the Royal Festival Hall’s Skylon restaurant which is offering a 3 course lunch plus tickets to Tracey Emin’s exhibition for £29 – well worth a trip.

8. The BFI and its lovely Atrium bar is always worth a visit – and they’re doing a Jeff Bridges retrospective from 1 – 30 June.

Cycling to work – week 4

I’m now 4 weeks into my cycling to work project and I’m cycling in pretty much every day. I’m still loving it and reckon I’m toning up (and this is combined with a noticeable decrease in gym attendance + increase in wine-drinking & cheese plates). I’ve stopped having to prepare so much although I still need to pack the next day’s work clothes the night before, and I’ve made some improvements which have made it even nicer:

  • Thanks to some fantastic comments on my first cycling to work post, I’ve ditched the sweat-inducing backpack and now have a back shelf and paniers which I FIXED ON MYSELF using plyers and screws and similar. I bought the red Ortlieb City (approx £30 for a single) which is fully waterproof and fits my handbag, work clothes and lunch, as well as on occasion (this has been tried and tested) 3 bottles of wine, a bag of Neals Yard Cheese and 2 large bags of supermarket shopping. I added my own strap so I can carry it easily. It is fab and hasn’t made me fall over yet.
  • The Chef pointed out my tyres were almost sans air. He pumped them up. That made me go quicker.
  • I have stopped cycling in full sports kit as that meant during the day I was wandering round Soho in fleece and rucksack rather than my normal gear. So I now wear trainers and trackie bums and a t-shirt with a normal jacket that I can wear for lunch. I’ve also cycled straight from work in a dress and knee-high boots to a restaurant which was fine and felt quite glamorous, apart from arriving with a slightly sweaty back (covered with cardigan pronto). I’d be happy to cycle to post-work drinks wearing normal clothes now – knee high boots and a dress works brilliantly, just be aware of saddle-chafing and ripped tights (sorry!).
  • I can also now see sans glasses (a post on eye-lasering is coming this week) so I have escaped the irritation and indignity of steamed-up-rain-soaked glasses when cycling in crappy weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only reason this photo is here is to show that I DID IT MYSELF with a tool box n everything

I feel more confident cycling on the streets now, especially when its light. If I get into a crush, I’m happy to zip around and through it and get into a space, although I’ve had a couple of close calls, mainly with lorries and buses who’ve pulled too close to the left-hand kerb. I have also realised the benefit of cycling a block or two on the pavement to get out of a traffic jam or avoid a one-way long cut. Pedestrians may get irritated but it’s better than being in danger and gets you there quicker. I am VERY aware of pedestrians and make sure I give them a wide birth. Londoners are hilariously distracted at times, especially with their head in an iPhone, but we all need to look out for one another. I have started taking  different routes depending on my mood and how much time I’ve got. I love that London is so flat.

London is opening up to me more. It seems smaller, easier to get around. I know I can get from The Chef’s place to Marble Arch and the shops of Oxford Street in 30 minutes, and it’s flat all the way. I’m getting from Brixton to Tottenham Court Road in 35 minutes, down from 45 at the start. I’m learning the cobbled streets of Covent Garden and have discovered the location of several restaurants and shops that were previously hidden to me. I’m getting to know London’s bridges and the Thames better. I know where the wind  blows stronger and the cars drive faster. I’m saving money on public transport costs.

I’m spending more time hanging out in these sorts of places – this is the fabulous Brixton Cycles

I am feeling London get warmer and lighter, and that makes me happy. I can’t wait to cycle in Summer. I think I’m getting a bit of a tan, or I may be wind-beaten. Either way I think not being on the tube and all this fresh air is good for my skin. Which reminds me, every time I go on the tube, I am reminded that it can be such a horrible experience – boiling hot, dusty, jam-packed, everyone stroppy and mean. I’m happy to have escaped. If you still get the tube everyday then I’m sorry and I don’t mean to make you feel bad, but cycling is a viable alternative and if a big unfit wuss like me can do it then anyone can.

Cycling is a good way to get the measure of Londeners too. I’ve been getting to know different people – cabbies shouting at me for not realising there was a bike path on Battersea Bridge Road, bus drivers who may either squish you into the side of the road or tell you there’s a bike path on Battersea Bridge, lorry drivers who are generally nice with their banter on how bad the traffic is, but who sometimes just DON’T SEEM TO SEE YOU AT ALL. I’m still a stop-at-the-red-light-cyclist unless it’s a one-lane road with no-one crossing, and think that everyone should be. It is definitely the MAJORITY of people who stop, apart from a small number of dickheads who quite rightly get shouted at by pedestrians. Its so dangerous – in fact my friend saw someone get wiped out by Tottenham Court Road by a cyclist last week. It must save you about 1 minute of time and is just so pointless, as well as unnecessarily harming the cyclist-pedestrian bond which is already strained. Sometimes pedestrians are silly – shouting if you cycle on the pavement or across a zebra crossing when its clear I would be killed if I’d stayed on the road or I’m nowhere near them. But we all need to share the love and I understand how annoying certain cyclists can be.

I’d like to see things improving for cyclists in the next few years. Personally, I’ll be hanging out more at Brixton Cycles as an accessories geek and may invest in a faster bike or *shriek* some cycling shorts. I’d like to see cycle lanes marked more clearly – otherwise you don’t know they are there. I’d like lorries and buses to be more considerate. But it is changing my life in a really nice way. It means the thing I hate most about London – transport – has gone from being my biggest pain to one of my biggest pleasures. It is making me do exercise for a purpose and not for guilt. It is becoming my mode of transport to work, a way of life. And that’s the best sort of exercise there is.

And today I worked out something that’s even better (and if this whole post is just getting way too chirpy for you now, please feel free to delete) – I’m finding my working week is going FASTER. Not that my time is going faster, but I suddenly realise it’s Wednesday and my working week has flown by . I think it’s because normally I’d spend 1 hour a day on my tube commute to work and this is pretty much work time too – it’s just getting from A to B, still a bit stressed, thinking about work. Now, the minute I leave work, its ME time – zipping away, thinking about routes, concentrating on beating that bus or overtaking that bloke, smiling. And by the time I’m home I’ve forgotten work entirely.

My biggest worry is that I’m going to give it up or stop being so enthusiastic about it – like I did dance classes, and photography, and yoga, and a million other things – but I’m hoping this won’t be the case. The tube is only likely to get worse and the weather better, and I think my new-found calf muscles are worth the effort alone. I seriously LOVED all your comments on my last post so would love to get more ideas about other things I can try. Next time I’ll try to take some photos of my actual route. And if you’re lucky, my new lycra 🙂

Cycling to work – Week 1

No-one can accuse the HPL of being all mouth and no trousers and thus my NY resolution to start cycling to work started in earnest this week. I knew next to nothing about cycle commuting so I’m imparting my new-found wisdom for other beginners who are tempted to give it a shot. I still have a LOT to learn, mind. I prepared the way I prepare for any new hobby – I bought lots of new shiny things that I may or may not need. What I bought and/or already had is below :

  1. A bike. A trek allant with nice whicker basket. Old-fasioned ladies bike that makes me sit up tall and take in the view. Looks best with floral skirt and non-helmet-head flowing locks. With baguette. Hopelessly impractical for commuting as it’s heavy and the basket makes it unwieldy for narrow-space-car-passing. (Total cost about £399 I think – sadly bought before Ride To Work scheme introduced. Am going to buy proper light road bike through RTW soon.)
  2. A lock – one of the solid ones. Plus a key to open it.
  3. Bike lights. They should be set to flashy-flashy as this saves batteries and removed when you park it up otherwise they get nicked.
  4. A repair kit (ha! Like I will EVER use this).
  5. A high-vis vest.
  6. A helmet.
  7. A bike pump to fit on the bike. It falls off constantly and is currently in a drawer somewhere. (All the “extras” cost about £50).
  8. A rucksack to carry work clothes in while I cycle.

The most important thing is to get your route nailed – avoiding busy roads, learning where the cycle paths are and what lanes you need to be in. The Chef and I did a dry run on Sunday where we got a bit lost but worked out the rough route, and on Monday morning I cycled in with my work mate. There are tons of cycle route planners that you can use.

I’ve now cycled to work and back twice this week and I love it already. The cycle to work is wonderful – it’s light and airy and I cycle along the Thames, past the Houses of Parliament, along Pall Mall, round Trafalgar Square and through Covent Garden. A lovely route for people-watching and admiring London’s great views. And I imagine I’ll see the seasons changing the trees and colours and water far more than before. AND while it’s winter I’m not sweaty enough to merit a shower at the other end so I just need to pop on work clothes and I’m office-ready.

Any stresses are replaced by thinking about whether to cycle slow or fast, what lane I need to be in, enjoying the ride, and humming (this week = Scotland The Brave). Also I’ve been absolutely exhausted both days when I’ve got home and the muscles in my legs feel stronger so I know I’m going to get fit and it means I don’t stress so much about going to the gym. By the time I’ve got to my desk at 9am I’ve done 40 minutes of cardio and this makes me happy.

I’m certainly not cycle-fit yet which explains why every man and his dog has overtaken me, which I’ve blamed on my heavy bike (bad. workman. tools), although I have noticed I’m pedalling about half the speed of the people whizzing by. My newbie tip is to use a couple of flat stretches to cycle walking-pace, checking out the view, and then use your energy to cycle like hell in the really busy bits, especially when squished between a bus and a lorry, or overtaking a bus as it starts to pull out.

The ride home? Hmmm, I’ll be honest – when it’s dark and cold and a bit rainy, its a bit miserable. My hands feel cold even through gloves, and both cyclists and drivers seem really stroppy and go really fast to get home as quickly as possible (totally understandable but I’m a sensitive soul, especially on my first week). There’s no view and it’s a bit scary as you feel less visible.

I haven’t had any major disasters yet – I’ve been in the wrong lane a couple of times, but a few wobbly indications and I’ve got myself in the right place. I’ve also been beeped at twice by taxi drivers when I was a little hesitant about where I was going (I think newbies should really have “learner” signs). There are two horrible bits of my route – Vauxhall roundabout and Trafalgar Square – which I’ve been OK on but often found myself unhappily squished between large vehicles and found that I needed to (i) squeeze my way through them into a bit of space; or (ii) indicate wildly and wobble into the middle of a lane. The good thing is that at rush hour there are tons of other cyclists that you can snuggle up behind and follow. Just sniff out the high-vis. If it all gets a bit scary, I’d suggest just stepping off and pushing your bike to the pavement, crossing the road and then jumping back on when it gets better. Also if you are squished, I’ve found making yourself known to the drivers by giving them a “if you move an inch your wing mirror will smash into my crotch” kind of look then you’ll feel more comfortable. The best thing would be to find a route that avoids these roads but sometimes it’s just not possible.

One moan I have is that I’m a stop-at-the-red-light cyclist and I have almost been knocked over about three times by other cyclists – all lycra or army-combats clad men – who have almost hit my bike as they zoom past. I get that some people don’t feel they need to stop at the lights (which I don’t really agree with ever since I saw an old lady getting knocked over by a cyclist doing exactly that at Liverpool Street) but no reason to go so fast or so close to me.

And anyway, can’t we spread some cyclist love? I know I’m a newbie and thus a bit wobbly and unsure and not privy to THE CODE, but NO-ONE has ever smiled at me, or said “after you” or done anything nice. Is cycling a non-contact commute like the tube?  Maybe we should be like Mini drivers or Harley bikers and honk each other (erm or just smile) when we congregate in that square at the front of traffic lights? I know we’re busy and stuff but it would make everyone’s commute a bit nicer.

So, I’m going to continue my cycling to work project, hopefully twice or three times a week, and if you see a blonde with a whicker basket who’s inevitably in the wrong lane and/or in the middle of the road, smiling or indeed honking, you’ll know it’s me.

Happy New Year & fun things to do in January

So here’s the start of 2011 and so far, so typical. Have awoken several pounds heavier than when I checked before Christmas, and am ridiculously dehydrafted due to overdose of wine-drinking and other assorted booze-related escapades over the Christmas season. Skin is terrible, I have spots and an unidentifiable illness that makes me feel crap and cough a lot. If we are what we eat then I am a wine-soaked slab of greasy bacon with a stilton and coffee chaser.

And yet, I am sure we have all done the same thing today. I weighed myself – yikes! – and then made various mental notes about my behaviour this month. Starting mostly TOMORROW of course (well, I have not the mental nor physical strength today). And then I had a breakfast of mango and pear smoothie (Gwyneth’s detox doctor in the Sunday Times says two – two! – of your meals per day should be liquid), green tea and a hard-boiled egg. I am craving a strong coffee but I won’t, I won’t! I have been gardening. And I’m taking my bike out to cycle to the supermarket to buy some ingredients for a veggie soup for laters. Which I will have with WATER not wine not wine not wine. I am planning to go to the gym tomorrow to slog it out with the other losers who haven’t been for the last month or so. I’m going to be dancing and yoga-ing all month. I will turn up to work early and leave at a decent hour. I will concentrate more, be focused and not get distracted. I even have a new pen…

…All of this sadly points to the inevitable fact that January is not going to be much fun (unless it is your birthday in which case, none of your friends will be detoxing, honest). However, there are still many many things you can do with your friends and fan-damily that can be a larf and needn’t involve boozing, pigging out or sitting on your sofa, so I thought some of these might be of interest:

  • To ignore your hunger and make up for lack of nights in the pub, you could get in some big-hitting culture – the Gaughin exhibition at the Tate Modern perhaps, or see a play like the Black Watch at the Barbican or FELA! at National Theatre.
  • In fact, this Sunday 9 January you can watch Buster Keaton’s The Navigator silent film with live piano accompaniment at the Barbican, which should be brilliant.
  • Or on Friday 28 January there are late night exhibitions of China Through The Looking Glass at the V&A and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum.
  • A comedy night is bound to cheer you up although normally necessitates beer, sadly. There’s tons of comedy venues in London but for a nice intimate venue and good quality comedians, I really like the 99 club on Leicester Square, the Chuckle Club or Banana Cabaret.
  • If you can’t bear the thought of going to the gym (don’t blame you) then perhaps take a group of friends to do something active – cycle to Richmond Park and take some photos, have a bowling night at Bloomsbury Bowls or All Star Lanes, do the charleston or the tango at the Wapping Project or salsa at Bar Salsa, or indulge your guilty I-love-Step-It-Up-2 side with a hip hop class at Street Sessions which start at the end of January.
  • Or if you want to do lots of crazy Scottish dancing you can celebrate Burns’ night around his birthday on 25 January (see my suggestions for a DIY Burns dinner here) with a Ceilidh Club dance and haggis fest, although unfortunately whisky drinking is pretty much obligatory.
  • Wrap up warm and take a long walk down the South Bank and catch La Soiree featuring the stars of La Clique at the pop-up South Bank big top, followed by a wander down the Thames.
  • Finally, if you’ve done your detox and fancy a treat then both Gingerline and Leluu of Fernandez & Leluu (read my review here) are doing supper clubs on Friday 21 and 22 January.

I hope it isn’t too miserable for you all and as always please feel free to comment with stuff you’re doing that I may have missed. Hasta pronto 5 pounds lighter I hope x