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.
*  The opening ceremony is going to be SPECTACULAR!

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.



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

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...  :-)

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Jobs for all!

Five months ago I didn't have much of an opinion about Glasgow.  I'd never visited the city centre and what I knew about it came from grim dramas and dark comedies - but that all began to change when I came for my auditions and continues to change with each and every visit.   Glasgow is a fantastic city with interesting architecture and fascinating museums.  (I've heard that the shopping is good too but that's not really my thing.)  Edinburgh is a beautiful city and tries really hard with all its tourist attractions whereas Glasgow has more of a "this is the way we are and if you don't like it that's just tough" approach and I like that in a place.




The city is completely gearing up for the games which only increases the excitement as I explore on my way to the rehearsal venue.  I'm staying over after each rehearsal and allowing myself plenty of time to explore and take it all in - which explains why I'm currently enjoying an al fresco breakfast in the sunshine in George Square.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - and it wasn't nearly long enough!  From Dali to dangling heads and a sainted Elvis this place has it all and is an absolute must!   I'll be back (but not in a menacing trying to kill you & change the space time continuum kind of a way)






Rehearsals stepped up a gear last night as roles began to be assigned and initial costume fittings began. We're all assigned to different roles and groups, with no real idea why but happily put our faith in the magnificent team behind it all.  I am utterly rubbish with names but Mark is in charge of it all (looks a bit like Danny Dyer but doesn't swear so much - at least not in front of us) and EJ looks after the choreography and is a bit of a legend for appearing in Sunshine on Leith. 

Last night we got to rehearse outside in the glorious evening sunshine and we can only hope it's like that on the night.  We are so incredibly well looked after with tea and coffee on tap and a myriad of people in flourescent jackets to turn to if we have any questions at all - most notably Elly and Adam who are our main points of contact and who must have the patience of saints - or a secret stash of whisky (most likely both) as they deal with question after question with unfailing smiles and good humour. 

Next rehearsal is on Wednesday and I can't wait.  This amazing journey gets better with every step I take - and trust me, there are a LOT of steps! As the picture below says - Bring it on!





Friday, 4 July 2014

Tarzan never had this much fun!

When I was a kid Saturday mornings and school holidays were never the same without Johnny Weissmuller's echoing Tarzan call.  I know that probably really shows my age but why not?  I am what I am and hiding it doesn't make me any younger.  Anyway, back to Johnny.  I was mesmerised by the way he swung through the jungle and dreamed one day of being able to do the same thing.  Go Ape in Grizedale didn't give me the chance to do exactly that, but it came very close.

With 3km of zipwire to go at there is plenty to keep you busy for a good 2 hours or more (so do make sure you visit the loo before you strap into your harness!) and being set in the very heart of the Grizedale forest means there's plenty of stunning scenery to admire along the way too.  You won't whiz past all of it on a wire at 30mph, you'll have the time to admire the views at a more sedate pace during the short walks between the launch platforms.  Talking of walking...

The initial hike
After signing in at the Go Ape offices (next to the cafe and kids adventure playground) and covering the essential health & safety stuff you begin the first part of the adventure - a 20 minute walk through the woods to a pair of Land Rovers waiting to take you the rest of the way.  Along the walk it's a great chance to chat to the instructors to learn more of the story behind the wires and the design headaches they had putting it all together.  Or you could put the time to good use by questioning your sanity as fellow flyers zoom by overhead...

The Land Rovers are a welcome sight and carry you the remainder of the way to the start of the trek with the drivers keen to test your knowledge of the Lake District fells that pop into view as you climb higher.  Once at the top the harness donning shenanigans can begin in earnest - possibly the most inelegant part of any high ropes type of activity.  I'll be honest, I've worn more comfortable harnesses, but that could be because they're new.  Having landed from the first flight clutching my groin like an over enthusiastic member of the latest boy band, the instructor made a few useful suggestions and adjustments and I was soon on my way again.

And so to the zipwires - I could try and explain this section in words, but why would I when photos and videos do the job so much better?





View along the final zipwire






I was told that if I curled myself into a ball and made myself smaller I'd go quicker.  Not that I'm competitive or anything, but it did seem to work... :-)



There are some restrictions as to who can take part in the adventure, but that's mainly down to the laws of physics - short people who don't weigh enough just wouldn't have the momentum to get down some of the wires - but all the Ts & Cs and other background info can be found on the Go Ape Grizedale site here along with booking instructions.

They opened to the public on 4th July and are already fully booked for some weekends over the summer, so if you fancy your chance to be Johnny Wiessmuller, or even if you're more of a George of the Jungle fan, best make your booking quick - miss out and you may be driven to this...


Thursday, 3 July 2014

And now for something completely different...

As I write this Monty Python are in the middle of a series of shows so it seemed an appropriate title. Pretty much all of my blogs to date have been about hiking and/or the outdoors,  but this is the start of a series of something a bit different.

I have been lucky enough to be selected to be part of the closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and I am beyond excited.   Having attended my first rehearsal I can tell you 2 things.  Firstly it is going to be AMAZING and secondly I will be telling you NOTHING else about the content.  No clues, hints or insider tips.  What happens in rehearsal stays in rehearsal.   However I thought it might be fun to track my experiences as someone who has never done anything like this in the past.

Well, actually that's a lie.  When I was younger I did a fair amount of amateur dramatics but the seating capacity of Bentley Methodist Church is somewhat less than Hampden Park.

The ceremony is on 3rd August and rehearsals began last night.  There will be 3 rehearsals prior to the games starting and then pretty much every day from 25th July onwards.   Evening rehearsals kick off around 5pm and can last until after 10pm.  This is a big and expensive commitment as I'll be staying over in and around Glasgow,  but it's going to be an incredible experience that will never be repeated and isn't that what life is all about?

I was so excited that I insisted Steve drop me off at Oxenholme half an hour before my train was due, you know, just in case...  Once in Glasgow it was over to Kelvin Hall to pick up my official accreditation before zooming to the hotel for a quick 20 min rest before rehearsals. I could have made it easier by getting a cab but you learn so much more about a place on foot.  In this case I learned how hilly Glasgow is...

First rehearsal was understandably a lot of admin and orientation but it wasn't long before we were on our feet getting to grips with everything.   There is a LOT to learn and most of us are way outside our comfort zones but the camaraderie is fantastic and there was a lot of laughter.   By the end of it I'd say most of us were exhausted,  excited and a little bit scared - but in a good way.

This is the start of an incredible journey which I'm going to track on here so I can look back and always remember it - and hopefully you'll enjoy coming along with me.  Next rehearsal is on Saturday and my priority before then is to buy a sports bra to avoid causing a diplomatic incident.   Bet you're curious about what we're getting up to now, aren't you?  :-)

Part 2 - Jobs for all
Part 3 - Why does it matter?

Monday, 23 June 2014

Saving the best until last

Greystoke Cycle Cafe garden
OK, so I'm a day or so late with this, but that was because I was far too busy yesterday having fun back at the Greystoke Cycle Cafe,  While Steve was doing manly things and making his longbow, I was having a wonderful time on my Pen and Wash course and having a good old poke around inbetween times.

The cafe is owned and run by the wonderful Annie - a woman whose boundless energy and optimism is surpassed only by her thoughtfulness and ingenuity.  The cafe is specifically for cyclists and it has everything those travelling on 2 wheels could possibly ever need - as well as a warm welcome and fabulous, plentiful food you will find cycle pumps, clamps for essential repairs alongside cans of oil, plus jugs of juice and water to refill your bottles as you head off on your way.  And if you happen to turn up and find them closed, worry not, for there is a room of dry towels, hot water bottles, flapjack, tea and coffee which is all covered by your trusted payment into the honesty box.  There really is no other place like this and the many lovely comments in their visitors book show just how valued the cafe is by everyone who visits.

Everything the cyclist needs

Warmth, shelter and flapjack!
But it never rains in Cumbria!
Don't just take my word for it!
But there is way more to this cafe than just being a cafe!  Throughout the year they run an amazing selection of quirky and unusual courses allowing you to learn everything from cheesemaking to stone carving and of course longbow making.  The full list is here - they make perfect birthday or Christmas presents with Annie being sure to send you a lovely message to put inside your card and welcoming everyone personally when they arrive.

Steve will tell you all about his Longbow making course on his own blog, but suffice to say that the course ended with 9 happy men firing their longbows in the field opposite the cafe.

9 happy men and their longbows!
Tony Saunders who runs the Longbow Course and his
fab cheeky Tshirt

The pace of the Pen and Wash course was somewhat more sedate, but the tutor Margaret Jarvis was engaging and talented and soon had us all confidently splashing colour around and creating masterpieces.  The talent within the group was impressive and embarrassing at the same time - I love trying to paint but lack any real talent, though I more than make up for that with my use of colour, lots and lots of colour.  I can always see the picture in my minds eye, it just never makes it out of the end of my hand and on to the paper...

The beginning...
After a few expert tips!
Please don't judge the quality of the tuition by the
standard of my dodgy masterpiece!
Greystoke Cycle Cafe has been there for around 8 years and on a hot sunny Sunday there really is no reason why it shouldn't be packed to the rafters.  During the course we got to sample the many delights of the menu - home made soups (including a foraged and utterly delightful weed soup), home made cordials, fresh scones, puddings to die for and all served with a smile and a friendly word.  It was great watching the expressions of the people stopping by for the first time as they tried to take it all in.

So many people say they're looking for a proper traditional cafe, well here it is.  You can keep your anonymous over priced coffee chains, if there were only more wonderful little gems like this around the world would be a lot nicer place.