Friday, 12 September 2014

Real inspiration

Click here to visit Gandys webpage
Since I started writing this blog lots of things have changed for me - most notably I've been fortunate enough to pick up some real writing work.  One of the other spin offs is that I occasionally get offered free stuff - nothing too flash or fancy - usually books, invites to events, meals etc.  We very, very rarely take up these offers - I'd much rather experience something as a paying guest and be free to say what I genuinely think than feel I ought to say something nice because I got sent it for free or was bribed in some way by nice hospitality.

Last week we got an invite which was a little different and you can tell how eager I was to attend because a) I willingly gave up 2 days of our precious hols to travel to London, b) I wore girl clothes and c) I put on make up for the third time this year (a new personal record).  So what was it that caused such a reaction?  The Gandys End of Summer Party.

L-R Rob Forkan, Newton Faulkner, Paul Forkan

If you don't know who Gandys are, let me explain.  In 2004 when the Boxing Day tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Rob and Paul Forkan (and their siblings Matty and Rosie) lost both their parents.  These weren't over privileged kids on a flashy Christmas break - this was a family that had spent years travelling to some of the poorest parts of the world working on humanitarian projects.  You can read more of their journey in their own words here.

Determined to do something which would both honour their parents memory and ensure something positive came out of such an awful tragedy they founded Gandys as a sustainable social enterprise.  They sell flip flops to generate income which in turn provides nutrition, education and support to children living in appalling conditions - they have already funded children's homes in India and Sri Lanka and their vision is to open them all around the world.

Newton Faulkner before the power died...
The end of summer party was a chance to celebrate everything they have achieved so far and an unassuming beer garden was transformed into a beach party with henna tattoos, pedicures and iced drinks for all. Newton Faulkner provided the perfect soundtrack performing a small but lovingly crafted set.  The power gliched halfway through his final number but the crowd enthusiastically stepped in supplying both vocals and percussion when needed.

A few people have very kindly said that in some tiny way I've inspired them, well these two guys inspire me.  I lost my father quite suddenly when I was just 18 but the experience had a profound effect on my life and my personal values so I absolutely understand what drives Rob and Paul.  When something like that happens it permanently changes the way you see the world and switches your priorities for ever.

If you don't already own a pair then you can buy your Gandys flipflops here (just don't let me catch you wearing them atop of Helvellyn!).  Rob and Paul have also written a book about their journey so far - it's not available until 27th November but you can pre-order it on Amazon here.  I've not used this blog to promote anything in the past so hopefully, as this is such an amazing story, you'll forgive me just this once.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Life in the sloe lane.

View from the train
You may have noticed a distinct lack of hiking blogs over recent months - this is mainly due to the fact I've had a spectacularly busy summer working as well, of course, of all my Glasgow shenanigans.

View from the station
Wonderful though it's all been so far as paying the mortgage is concerned, I've not been doing very well from a "new and better balanced life" standpoint.  Days have been a blur of train journeys up and down the country tapping  away on my laptop to meet another print deadline.  Fair to say I've been getting my hiking kicks vicariously via Steve who is still doing really well on his 214 fells in 214 days adventure (he's behind on the blog as he's using all the good weather days to get up the hills).

Just one reason to visit Morecambe Bay
Things have thankfully slowed a little over the past couple of weeks allowing me to take stock.  I've made a couple of big decisions - I turned down a big contract working overseas as although it would have been gloriously well paid, it would have taken me away from home far too much.  It's no good having values unless you're going to stick to them.  I've also trimmed some other work out which didn't tie in to the work life balance principle.  I'm still questioning my sanity a little, but I know deep down it was exactly the right thing to do.

So what have I been doing instead?  Well I've been getting more involved with the group promoting Morecambe Bay as a tourist destination, taking the time to walk to appointments instead of just jumping on a bus or taking the car and yes, finally getting a bit of hiking in.

Morecambe Bay Sunset

Morecambe Moonrise

Funny how no one walks these days - not like they used to.  With more and more cars on the road the emphasis is always on how fast you can get there rather than enjoying the journey.  I had a meeting at the Lancaster House Hotel last week and though I could have taken a bus from the city centre, I decided to walk instead.  The few miles there along the A6 weren't the most picturesque, but when the meeting was over I took the pretty way back along the canal - took a lot longer than driving, but I saw so much more.

Beautiful hedgerows

Lancaster Canal

Lancaster Canal

Then yesterday I finally got my hiking boots back on again.  Steve nabbed the car and was off conquering most of the Crinkle Crags range so I decided to explore more local paths and found a rather lovely route winding away from Grange, over the far side of Hampsfell and around the fields near Cartmel.  Utterly stunning and I didn't see another person until the end of the route back up by the hospice.

Finally back out hiking

Curious ramp

The views were glorious, the weather spectacular and the hedgerow laden with sloes.  I already have 2 litres of sloe gin on the go, plus a litre of damson gin and 4 jars of damson jam - but it seemed a sin to leave them there and the "scratched to ribbons arms" were a small price to pay.  But the very best part about it all was that I had the time to do it.  No rushing, no racing and no nagging worry at the back of my mind that I really should be getting a move on.

Ripe for the picking!

I've heard many people wondering where this year has gone, it's flown by so fast and how can it be September already?  But so did last year, and the year before that.  Before we know it we'll be old and grey and wondering how it all went by so quickly without us even noticing. You may question my sanity for turning down a big contract, I could have bought a lot of nice stuff with the money I made - but turning it down has bought me the one thing the contract never could - time - and for me that's more important than pretty much anything else.

Beautiful Morecambe Bay

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

And if I should become a stranger...

It's hard to know where to start with this blog - the past 2 weeks have been spectacular in ways I can't even begin to describe and, in a way, there's no point in me even trying.  If you were there, then you'll understand and if you weren't then I'll never be able to get across just what we all went through and how it's changed all of our lives in many different ways.
Ready for rehearsal!

I wistfully thought I'd be able to blog most days but rehearsals became so completely time consuming and exhausting that I was lucky if I was awake enough to catch the 11:23am train from Ayr to Glasgow - sightseeing became a distant memory as the closing ceremony bubble enveloped us all.  That said we did manage one late evening at Pacific Quay enjoying the action on the big screen and a couple of live shows as I sampled the odd single malt or two...

So very true.
Rehearsals were 50% about learning the moves and 50% about making new friends.  For all of us our comfort zones became a distant memory as we learned move after move and the realisation of what we were about to do gradually dawned.  I'll watch all opening and closing ceremonies with different eyes now - instead of the spectacle I'll see the individuals that make it up - folks just like all of us doing the very best they can while silently praying the camera doesn't pick them out if (when!) they make a wrong move or forget a step.  What started as a slightly drunken idea when the application pinged into my inbox was now fast becoming a reality.

The weather didn't always play ball but getting soaked while wearing ponchos and prancing around to Kylie tunes worked wonders for team spirit and there were very few grumpy faces to be seen.  To be honest I'm amazed there isn't more video footage taken from the many houses surrounding the rehearsal grounds, we must have looked quite a sight - especially on dress rehearsal day with folks in hot pants and daisy garlands giving it their all while the rain lashed down around them.
Singing & dancing in the rain!

The 3rd of August arrived in the blink of an eye and although I tried to make time to enjoy every second of the day and take in everything around me, it was as if someone had hit the fast forward button and before I knew it we were linking arms and singing Auld Lang Syne with 40,000 others as fireworks went off high above us.  There were a few things that really stayed in my mind though:

  • The biblical downpour about 30 minutes before we were due to leave the rehearsal venue
  • Listening to Kylie's sound check and hearing her try to learn the words to Auld Lang Syne (and then hearing someone tell her not to worry too much as noone else really knew all the words anyway!)
  • Seeing Deacon Blue backstage
  • Watching all the Scottish flags wave and being deafened by the roar when the games were described as being "Pure dead brilliant"
  • Randomly grabbing athletes for photos - I was worried at first that they wouldn't want to be bothered but then they started photobombing our pics so...
  • Being on the stage for the Gold Coast "Sea of Flags" section
  • Not knowing who to hug first when it was all over
The end of the adventure
Many of us are now firm friends and, thanks to social media, we can keep in touch and continue to share adventures and new experiences.  I've enjoyed reading how this particular adventure has inspired people in different ways, some have joined drama groups, others are going to more auditions and a few have even signed up for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018 (best start saving guys!) :-)  

I must admit I don't feel the urge to do this all over again, much as I've enjoyed it, you know me - I always want to try something different so who knows what I'll end up doing next.  What it has inspired us to do is to go back and explore more of the west coast of Scotland - we have 2 weeks hols lined up in September and were thinking of going somewhere hot and sunny but have now decided to head north of the border again instead (not that I'm suggesting it won't be hot and sunny there or anything...) .  I've got a real urge to explore Islay and Steve hasn't quite figured out why yet - let's just keep telling him it's for the scenery...

Clyde and friends - late home from rehearsals again

New friends, good memories

Dress rehearsal perks!

A spot of sightseeing around Culzean

Bye bye Bellahouston!

Hello Hampden!

View from the Maldives flag on the field

Ready to go on for Sea of Flags

Team photo being photobombed by athletes.

And tents - shimmy!

Austin Powers moment anyone..?

Don't look down!

Did I miss the Mexican Wave?

From my upcoming book "How to pose awkwardly for photos"

Have no idea who they are - but they're English and have medals! 

I absolutely love my home in Cumbria, but this adventure has meant I've left a small part of my heart in Scotland and this song will always take me back there.  I may even become "intoxicated by the scenery" on Islay and treat Steve to a rousing rendition...

Monday, 28 July 2014

What happens in rehearsal...

...stays in rehearsal.   Well the details of the performance do anyway, but how much rehearsing actually takes place?  I hadn't a clue before I got involved in this so here's a quick insight into what happens before the big night.
Sunset over Arran from Culzean

First up there is a LOT of rehearsing and a lot of late finishes - in the final 10 days there are rehearsals every day and several 7 hour + days.  During rehearsals there is an army of people milling around supporting us at every turn - there's security  checking us in, casting making sure we have the right bibs, stage managers answering random questions and a huge choreography team teaching us everything we need to know.  Then there's the costume team sorting our clothing, the tech team making sure the audio all works, the props guys, the folks who make sure the loos work and the incredible team who keep us all fed and watered. 
Trying to get home before I turn into a pumpkin. 

And what about the people who erected all the tents and marquees we rehearse in, the ones that mark out the pitch and the team who are instantly on hand with either sun cream or ponchos depending on the weather.  Then of course there's the management team making sure everything goes according to plan and the contact team who answer endless questions and queries in between rehearsals and communicate changes in our schedule.   Like I said, an immense team and every single one of them is friendly and supportive - we really are in very good hands so when you see us out there, doing our thang, know that we are only the tiny tip of a very large and well organised ice berg.  (And that's just rehearsals - don't even start me on all the folks getting the stadium ready for our big performance.)
Star of the opening ceremony. 

However the good folks of Scotland choose to vote in a few weeks time, there is no denying this place has a unique identify that goes way beyond haggis, tartan and Nessie - they're warm, friendly and very funny with a great self deprecating sense of humour.

All this rehearsing hasn't left a lot of time for sightseeing so I've been learning the language instead.  I had a crash course in pronunciation on my second rehearsal when I nearly ended up sleeping on the streets as my hotel was on Sauchiehall Street and I had no idea how to pronounce when I had to ask for directions ("Sookyall" in case you're wondering), and we're now camped at Culzean ("Cullain") Castle.

I've also added the following to my vocabulary:

*  Laldy - effort.  "Gie it laldy hen" = "I say young lady, do put some effort in"
*  Greetin - crying/ emotional. "Ah were greetin when ah dropped mi bottle of whisky" = "I was most upset when my bottle of Laphroaig accidentally slipped from my grasp"
*  Windie henging (Window hanging) - to lean on a balcony or windowsill chatting to the person in the tenement next door (from the days before 4G).
*  Staying - living. "Ah stay in Paisley" = "I live in Paisley on a permanent basis. "
*  Ned - Chav "D'ya see that ned over there? " = "I think I've just spotted Katie Price".

I have the luxury of a day to explore the city before rehearsals kick off at 5pm - I could stay on Delores and take it easy, but where's the fun in that?

Part 1 - And now for something completely different
Part 2 - Jobs for all
Part 3 - Why does it matter?
Part 4 - A Flying visit to Scotland
Part 6 - If I should become a stranger

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A flying visit to Scotland

This whole adventure has been about saying "yes " to new experiences so when they offered us the opportunity to take part in the final dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony of course I said " yes , even though it meant but a few hours sleep as I needed to be in Wigan the next day. Not much time for sightseeing then...

Just 3 hours to be precise and I tried to use them wisely, honest I did!

Bag dumped and off to explore - destination People's Palace.   I zig zagged through the city in the glorious sunshine and noticed how much busier it is now everyone has started arriving. George Square was chocca though sadly Wellington is now missing his hat.

Some sections of the city have been closed off due to the games and that includes the park around the People's Palace.  I was struggling to find my way until I bumped into 3 very helpful gents who accompanied me right to the door. All those involved with the games have been given large accreditation passes which serve 2 main purposes.  Firstly they get you in to the venues you need to access and secondly,  and perhaps more importantly,  they are an open invitation to chat and meet some of the massive array of people involved in putting the games together.  I didn't get all their names but Stuart was the one whose ear I bent the most - he may be hiding his accreditation in future.  He told me about the history of the areas we passed and pointed out an excellent bar I'd be needing later. (He also pointed out The Barras - home of designer labels apparently...)
Sadly I'd dawdled and nattered so much that the People's Palace was closed - though I did sneak into the hot house at the back for a look around.   Now here I was with 1 hour 15 mins on my hands before I needed to head off for the big meet up at Central Station.  Pondering how best to spend my time my eyes fell upon the bar Stuart had recommended earlier - after he'd taken the trouble to point it out the very least I could do was explore it further. It was the West Brewery and he was absolutely correct - lovely food and beer and the perfect place to top up on my carbs and fluids for the night ahead.

On my way back to town I passed an excellent park with a path designed to look like a shelf of album covers listing all the bands who've played at the nearby Barralands venue.  The kids were playing games jumping from colour to colour while the adults were trying to outcool each other with claims of how many bands they'd heard of/ listened to/ knew before they were famous.

The evening was spent at the dress rehearsal about which my lips are tightly sealed, but here are just a few of the things I learned:

*  It's a long walk from Dalmarnock station to the East entrance of Celtic Park.
*  Athletes taking part in the opening ceremony spend a lot of time queuing.
*  Jersey and Guernsey enter separate teams and there's a pretty fierce rivalry between them.
*  There are way more countries in the Commonwealth than you think there are.
*  There is an excellent shuttle bus service back to the centre of Glasgow.
*  Most of the fast food places will still be open, though a surprising number of pubs may be closed if last night is anything to go by.
*  Everything sounds louder at night - especially dropped phones in hotel rooms  - and stage whispering "sorry" to your neighbours probably doesn't help.

So that's it now - home for a couple of nights before returning on Thursday and starting wall to wall rehearsals.  All I need now is a coffee and a bacon sarnie to get me through the day and I'll be just fine.

Part 1 - And now for something completely different
Part 2 - Jobs for all
Part 3 - Why does it matter?
Part 5 - What happens in rehearsal...
Part 6 - If I should become a stranger


Friday, 11 July 2014

Why does it matter?

Suki Brownsdon
Anyone who's been within 10 yards of me over the past month or so will know that I find it very hard to talk about anything other than the Commonwealth Games - but why does it mean so much to me to be a part of it all?  Well, when I was a kid the main things I remember watching on TV were sport (not football but athletics, gymnastics and, usually, swimming).  I swam competitively and June Croft, Jackie Willmot and Suki Brownsdon were the people I looked up to.  Names not familiar to everybody - but they were people who inspired the teenage me as I ploughed mile after mile up and down our local council pool.

The Olympics and Commonwealth Games were, therefore, required viewing in our household - along with Star Trek and Blakes 7 - and I dreamt of being a part of it all.  Sadly my swimming talent wasn't enough to get me there but I have remained an avid fan.  When the Commonwealth Games came to Manchester in 2002 I was beside myself but, sadly, I had one of those years when the wheels came off my life a little.  But still I followed it on TV.

When London got the Olympics I had signed up as a volunteer within hours but, again would you believe it, my life took another sharp left and I was unable to be a part of it.  I watched it on TV, and on my phone app, and whined pitifully at the screen.  Work took me to London a week after the games finished and I made my way to the window in John Lewis that overlooks the park and pressed my nose to the glass, the closest I had managed to get...

So cue Glasgow 2014 - I gave life a very stern warning not to mess me around this time and signed up.  We were invited for auditions at Film City in Govan Road and neither hell nor high water was going to keep me away!  I'm no dancer but somehow managed to do enough to convince them to let me be a part of the closing ceremony.  The day the email came through I danced around the house - badly, but I danced.

Film City

So that brings us to now - the 3 pre games rehearsals are now, unbelievably, done and dusted and we resume activities on 25th July - which should just about give my aching limbs a chance to recover.  We're being pushed really hard in rehearsals and rightly so, but it is fantastic fun and I shall be rehearsing at least once every day until the 25th.
I *will* find you...

I'm also conscious that the media will be judging our efforts and they can sometimes be a little less than kind, so as a warning to any journalists who may take it upon themselves to say anything less than glowing about the closing ceremony (or the opening - they're our team mates too), let this picture be a gentle warning to you... 

And what of Glasgow?  Well I spent the entire day hopping on and off the bus tour and learning a whole bunch of stuff about the place - here's just a few bits that I picked up along way:

  • The bloke behind Liptons Tea was from there
  • As was the bloke who invented the macintosh
  • To get off "Scot Free" comes from the fact a criminal can be tried and found "unproven" in Scotland
  • Chicken Tikka Masala was invented there
  • They have the biggest KFC in Europe
  • They have more parks than any other city in the world

It's a big city - everything about it is big - the architecture is immense from the ancient to the modern.  The necropolis has to be seen to be believed and offers magnificent views of the cathedral and outskirts of the city.

Modern architecture

Botanical Gardens - one of many, many green spaces

Cathedral from the Necropolis

The tourguide on the first bus also told me to go and explore the university, so I did, what an amazing place (4th oldest in the world behind Oxford, Cambridge and, erm... I forgot - sorry!)

And then there's The Lighthouse where you can find an amazing if eversoslightly scary to ascend staircase and some superb and far less scary exhibitions - including a detailed one about how the Commonwealth Games came to be there and how environmentally friendly they will be.

From the bottom looking up.

From the top looking down. Blurry cos I was scared!

They also have a great sense of humour - this statue in George Square is adorned with a "hat" most of the time - and if you're arriving by train watch for the mural alongside the tracks as you approach Central Station - it shows the city skyline and notable features, including this chap who has been painted with his "hat" on.  

So, that's why all of this means so much to me - I know it sounds dramatic but I have been waiting for this opportunity my whole life and I will absolutely be giving it 110%.  I'm loving meeting new folks, making new friends and learning new skills and if I don't lose at least half a stone doing this then there's no justice in the world.  The only downside is that after most rehearsals I have this tune buzzing around my head.  Can't think why, but if you're in the cast, you'll probably understand...  :-)