Friday, 3 August 2012

An end, a beginning, an anniversary and a cake

So I've been blogging at Cardigangirlverity for over three years now; I remember reading early on that the average life of a blog is 18 months, so I have more than doubled that. The blog started out as a way for me to talk about books with other like minded people, it moved on into baking, and more recently I've talked about gardening and sport. It's become a bit too much of a miscellany really and I think the fact that I haven't been happy with this is partly why I've been absent from the blog so much recently, along with the fact that work has been so super crazy that I have no headspace for bookish thoughts, and my increasing focus on swimming and now triathlon. I have exciting plans for the latter in 2013, so have set up a new blog to record my progress and thoughts on this topic; of course I know that a lot of my readers here have absolutely no interest at all in sport/triathlon so it seemed sensible to start a different and separate blog, and focus my time on that.

Of course it would be lovely to see readers from here over there too especially as I'll not be deleting any of the blogs I currently follow from my Google reader. So without further ado, I introduce you to Tuna To Tri, the explanation for this name is on the blog!

I couldn't possibly close without some cake, so here is a rather wonderful cake that I have made to celebrate one year of being married to Mr W (yesterday) and five years of being together (tomorrow). It's an Austrian hazelnut cake, given our nuptials in Austria, how could I resist choosing this from Peggy Porschen's latest book "Boutique baking". The cake is made from ground hazelnuts and dark chocolate (and butter, eggs, sugar) and topped with marzipan and chocolate ganache. Definitely one of the most involved cakes I've made so I got out the gold leaf that Hayley gave me for my birthday and used it on the top! Thank you very much for following me over the last few years :-)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Catch-up in the garden

It's been a while since I've posted about my garden. To be honest, the extreme monsoon weather hasn't been very good for it! Although it has saved me watering it, it has meant that I haven't had the opportunity to feed the plants so much.

We've been enjoying some homegrown strawberries for about a fortnight now, at the rate of about 6 every other day. I think I need to have more strawberry plants next year to keep up with the demand I have for them.

The tomato plants are desperately in need of some sun, but there are small tomatoes growing on one of them.

Two of my seven courgette plants just withered and died. I have no idea why. I am about to harvest my first courgette. It's been so exciting watching them grow, although I had to pull off two which were rotting yesterday. Again, not sure why, but posit the extreme amount of rain.

I think our potatoes have blight; apparently the conditions have been good for blight for about six weeks now. Oh well, at least I can empathise with the Irish Potato Famine.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Library Loot.

Sorry that tipping your head on one side is necessary, I'll list the titles below so that those reading my blog don't get a crick in their necks!  Whilst I managed to get my reading going again about 4 weeks ago, the last 3 weeks have been such a whirlwind that everything just tailed off again.  I didn't really have any good reading material to hand, and although I went to the library a couple of times I didn't really find anything.  So I tried to help myself a bit by reserving a couple of books, and when I went in to pick them up, I decided to have a bit of a look around, and came out with a total of 14 books.  A mixture of things that I hope will inspire me for a bit.

Summer of Secrets and Love, lies and Lizzie, both by Rosie Rushton.  She is one of my favourite teen authors because she is not too over the top, and also because I have been reading her since I was a teen.  I hadn't kept up with her much recently, and just discovered that she did a series of 6 books which are modern day retellings of ther six Jane Austen novels.  These are Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.  I've read three of the others already and they're really
 rather good.
Secret Olympian was recommended to me by a twitter friend, and as I get increasingly excited about the Olympics, it's nice to have some topical reading.
The last day of term by Francis Gilbert is a novel by the man who has written a lot about being a teacher, so it will I'm sure be a true to life school story!
The echoes of dreams by Marcia Willett was pointed out to me by a colleague; she's not an author I especially pick up, but as this one is about ballet and Cornwall, two of my favourite things to read about, how could I resist?
The desperate brides club by Alison Sherlock and The house on Willow Street by Cathy Kelly look like fairly light reading, the latter author is one I pick up regularly, and the former one I have not come across before.
Two sports books, one on running and one on cycling as I try to think a bit more about doing triathlon.
The art of camping intrigued me, it will be perfect reading in a fortnight's time when we go to stay in a Yurt for our wedding anniversary.  I can't really bear the thought of camping, although I love reading about it, but our posh yurt which even has electricity should be ok.
Isla Dewar and Farahad Zama are authors who I have enjoyed previously, so I am hoping that Winter Bride and Mrs Ali's road to happiness will be good reads.
and finally there's a history of the London Underground which looks interesting and which I hope I will persuade Mr W to pick up too (although not until he's finished his maths' assignment!)

Phew, writing about them was nearly as hard as carrying them back to work from the library!

In the next week, I am going to try really hard to make some time to read.  Half an hour during the day on my teabreaks, and half an hour at least in the evening.  I definitely need to rest more, so reading is a good way of achieving it, and hopefully that would mean I can make some decent headway on this pile.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Olympic Torch Relay

Well, this post has been a while coming, for which apologies, and most of you are probably fed up with hearing me talk about it.  Life has been an absolute whirlwind in the last fortnight with carrying the Olympic Torch, using it for fundraising, auctioning it on ebay, selling it and then the subsequent media publicity.  Things are just starting to die down now, and I'll spend some time this weekend totting up all of the money that I have raised and then that will be it.

My torch relay day was 9th July. I had the day off work, and Mr W took the afternoon off as I was due to carry the torch in the late afternoon.  I spent most of the morning feeling hugely nervous and excited and trying to persuade as many people as possible to come along, and feeling cheered by a lovely Good Luck card from the Mind Events team.  Before I knew it, it was 2pm and time to put on my uniform.  Some of the supporters had started arriving at our house to don Mind t-shirts and pick up flags, but I then had to leave before the full contingent had arrived to go to my pick up point, the local leisure centre.  This was for me a short walk away (the rest of the other torch bearers had had to drive), so I had to contend with a lot of interested looks as I walked over.  At the pick up point we had a briefing, a lot of waiting around, some posing in front of the bus, and eventually got onto the bus to go to the start of the Kidlington leg to wait for the flame to arrive.

When the bus turned out of the leisure centre, it was an amazing feeling.  The roads had been pretty empty when I walked over, but in an hour, people had come out in vast numbers and they all went mental when they saw us on the bus!  We had to drive along the whole of the route, so lots of waving, and particularly excited waving when I saw my family and friends waiting where I would start my leg.  After another half hour wait at the start, the flame was approaching, so we started the dropping off process.  Our bus deposited each torch-bearer about 5 minutes before the flame arrive at their starting point, where they would wait for the previous torchbearer to come and light them up in "the kiss".  I was dropped off on the other side of the road from my family, but when I pointed them out to one of the stewards, they took me across and I was able to say hi to everyone. 

Lots of photos, and then completely random strangers wanted photos, and all seemed to know my name.  Suddenly the flame arrived, and I was positioned to be lit up.  I waved at the web cam because I knew how many people were at home/work watching me.  The torch was lit; wow; it was quite fiery and I worried about my eyebrows (and suddenly as to whether my shoe laces were tied properly, bit late to think about that!  Everyone was cheering and I was off, running and waving.  It was a bit of a shame then that my supporters didn't really see me run but Mr W ran trying to get some photos.  And, as I went along my 300m I saw my colleague's wife, and then two more friends just at the end.  Just as I was starting to run out of breath and waving strength and smiling ability, I could see the next torchbearer ahead and we passed the flame.  Then it was back onto the bus for the remainder of the relay, more waving at the crowds, before we went back to the leisure centre to get our torches decommissioned and then make our way home.

Obviously, I had walked there, so I had to walk back and I was mobbed several times for people wanting their photos with me and the torch. When I eventually made it home, the fizzy wine was flowing although they had resisted starting eating the cake.  We took loads of pictures of everyone with the torch and generous donations to Mind were made.  My facebook and twitter accounts went absolutely viral with people uploading photos of me.  It was very difficult to wind down and go to bed after that!

The next day I put my torch on ebay and in the meantime Mr W and I did some fundraising events taking the torch to our workplaces and Tri club asking people to make a donation in return for a photo with the torch.   The torch auction finished this last Tuesday and closed at £4.3k which is an impressive total.  The local media got very excited and I did a radio interview before work on Wednesday, which was used as the basis for this article, and local tv and local paper interviews at lunchtime! 

There's been some excellent publicity for Mind, through the media opportunities, as well as the Mind-t-shirt clad supporters on the day, and I have had some really good conversations with people about mental health as a result.  Mental health is not talked about as often as it should be, and yet with 1 in 4 people in the UK suffering a mental health problem each year, if it's not you suffering, then it's very likely to be someone close to you.  Mind are doing excellent work supporting those with mental health difficulties, promoting good mental health, and raising the profile of mental health issues in the UK, so I am very happy to have been able to support them over the last fortnight. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

Double swimming race weekend

Two more swimming races in the bag this weekend, although if I’m honest one was more of a “challenge” or fun race since there were no timing chips or prizes on offer!  And both on my own, without the Team bit of Team Mermaid as Mr W was away on a study school.

Back to Box End lake at Bedford on Saturday for the 3rd of 4 1500m races.  Much better conditions than last time (well, pouring rain, but very little wind) which enabled me to put a PB in the bag (albeit only by 4 seconds) and break 22 minutes for the distance (albeit by only 1 second – my time was 21:59).  Am sure if Mr W had been cheering me on, if the lake had been less weedy, and I hadn’t got into a tangle with a pair of swimmers, I could have done even better!  Because one of my usual rivals was absent, I even bagged third place, though there didn’t seem to be a prize this time.

On Sunday, it was another fairly early start to head down to Bournemouth, this time for the Pier to Pier swim!  I’ve never done such a big swim before – there were 1400 starters!  We organised ourselves into faster swimmers at the front and recreational at the back (and there were a lot of them, identifiable by surf wetsuits rather than swimming specific ones), I waited fairly near the front for the run in (another unusual aspect for me…).  I’m not very good at wading through waves, so it was down and swimming as soon as I was knee deep, which meant that a huge amount of sand disappeared into my wetsuit.  It was an odd swim, mainly as I don’t usually do sea swims, so I have nothing to compare it against.  Swimming a long stretch was hard as it was difficult to anticipate how far into the swim I was; the swell was frustrating as was the salty water.  I pushed through and was fairly pleased to complete the swim in 34:29 (according to my watch), which meant that I was on average about 30s per km slower than the day before.  I think I must have been in the first 20-30 finishers, although difficult to tell without someone standing there and counting!  A tiring day, more because of the driving than the swimming, but glad to have completed the challenge of swimming from Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe Pier!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Small Press Fortnight: Forgotten Classics

I was very excited to be asked by Jodie to participate in Small Press Fortnight as some of the best books I've read in recent years have been published by Small Presses.  I'm sure that most people who read this blog are familiar with the wonderful Persephone Books who do sterling work in this field, and who are one of my favourite Small Presses specialising in forgotten classics, but for the purposes of this blog, I want to link back to some older posts and highlight three slightly less well known Small Presses, which predominantly specialise in childrens literature.

Girls Gone By Publishing came to my attention when I started collecting Chalet School books in my late teens; they were set up around the same time in fact.  As any Chalet School book collector knows, whilst many of the titles are readily available, there are others which are extremely rare and collectable.  Girls Gone By started to reissue these, in handsome paperback editions, which made them once again available to the collector and completist.  Amazingly these editions are now themselves collectors items!  Girls Gone By have expanded to publish a number of other very out of print authors, such as my favourite Antonia Forest.  Her school books are fairly easily available, but not the rest of the titles that she wrote.  I wrote this post about Girls Gone By a couple of years ago, and have since vastly expanded my collection.  I've even started dipping my toe into the world of Chalet School fill ins, based on the assumption that they wouldn't publish rubbish, and I have so far been proved correct.

Another children's publisher which does similar work is Fidra books.  They tend to specialise slightly more in animal and horsey books.  I wrote a post about Fidra books here.

And finally.  Without Greyladies publishing who would have known that so many of my favourite children's authors, including those published by GGBP and Fidra has also written books for adults?  And that these were  equally readable?  My favourite of all of their authors is Susan Scarlett, the pseudonym for Noel Streatfeild.  Yes, some of you may be familiar with her adult novels, as well as her children's books, but did you know that she also wrote light "romances" under this name?  Mills and Boon they are certainly not, but they are meatier versions of her children's books with a bit of love interest.  Perfect for comfort reading if you don't want to be reading a children's book!  I've written before about Greyladies here and here.

So all it remains is for me to conclude this post by saying hurrah for small presses in enabling me to read more and collect more of my favourite children's authors without requiring a small fortune to purchase first editions!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Catching up is due

Catching up is due, and this week has rather got the better of me.  There are wonderful pictures of my Torch Relay to be shared, and I have garden updates too, and swimming and training bulletins to issue.  Unfortunately my grandmother died, not unexpectedly, but it's still unexpected somehow, on Monday night, which has turned this week into a real rollercoaster.  I hope to catch up with everything soon; my post for Jodie's Small Press Fortnight may also be somewhat delayed.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Torch relay on Monday

As many of you know, I will be carrying the Olympic Torch on Monday.  You can watch me online on the BBC Torch Cam site here at at 16.49 (approx) BST.

I have been working with Mind this week to produce a press release for the local media, and I am too proud of it for it to languish in the inboxes of the local media, so am publishing it here too!

05 July 2012

Kidlington’s Olympic representative to auction torch for Mind

Kidlington’s Olympic torch runner, Verity Westgate, has announced she will sell her torch
in auction to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity. Verity has supported Mind
since the death of her close friend Emily, who tragically took her own life in 2006 after
battling depression for many years.

Like Emily, Verity has struggled with depression several times in her life, but has been
lucky enough to recover. She credits exercise with being one of the key elements in
ensuring that she remains well, making her role as Olympic torch bearer even more
significant. In auctioning the torch after her leg of the relay route, Verity hopes to raise
money for the charity she is extremely passionate about. Just as importantly, she hopes
it will increase awareness of mental health issues and encourage others to speak out
about their own experiences, so everyone can receive the help and support they need.

The torch, which will be sold through eBay next week, is expected to go for over £2,000
pounds, adding to the £5,000 Verity has already raised for Mind over the last three
years. In 2009 Verity took part in the Great North Swim, a year later she swam 3.8k in
Dorney Lake and last year swam an impressive 10k, all to generate vital funds for Mind
and raise awareness of the issues surrounding mental health.

Mind campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding of
mental health. The money Verity raises will go towards helping 1 in 4 people, like Verity
and Emily who experience a mental health problem every year.

Verity said:

“The benefits I’ve gained from exercise in boosting my own mental health have been
incredible. I am delighted to have been nominated to run with the Olympic torch and look
forward to marking the event by auctioning the torch for Mind. To have the opportunity to
raise money and awareness for a cause so close to my heart is a pleasure”.

Head of fundraising at Mind, Caroline Corr, said:

“We are extremely grateful for the remarkable work and fundraising that Verity has
carried out for us over the last few years. It is great that she has taken this massive
opportunity to raise awareness of the issues that surround those who experience mental
health problems. Verity has made a huge contribution to Mind and we wish her the very
best of luck in her Olympic torch run”.

Verity will be running with the Olympic torch in Kidlington on Monday 9 July at 4.50pm.
Mind is urging local residents to come and cheer to show their support for Verity and for

A catch-up

So, I've been off work this week on annual leave.  I had high hopes for blogging this week.  I wanted to tell you about how I was reading again and what I was reading.  I even planned to tell my week off in photos and post a blog each day full of photos of what I'd been doing.

Sadly, life doesn't quite work out this way.  It's been more tiring than I could have anticipated with two people close to Mr W and myself in hospital, Mr W embarking on a new fitness routine which meant none of my planned lie ins materialising until today, and somehow one way and another I don't seem to really have had a minute to myself except whilst swimming.  At least that has been fitted in. 

So here is my week off, or some of it, in numbers.

Number of hospitals visited: 2
Number of hospital visits made: 5
Number of pots of jam made: 34
Number of volcanoes of jam: 1
Number of hours spent clearing up after volcano of jam: ongoing
Number of hob plates still not quite clean: 2
Number of swimming pools visited: 5
Number of swimming lakes visited:2
Number of swimming races: 1
Number of podium finishes in swimming races: 1 (yes, I came third!!)
Number of times that have had a swimming pool to myself for more than 20 minutes: 3
Number of press releases written: 1 (will post this shortly...)
Number of radio appearances: 1
Number of new bicycles purchased: 1
Number of new bicycles purchased and ridden: 0
Books read: 3 (only one novel - Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton - excellent)
Number of books recieved in the post: 2 (a special torch-bearing present from my friend Owen called "Torch" by Jill Paton Walsh, and a triathlon training manual)
Number of loads of washing: 4
Number of loads of washing hung outside: 1
Number of hours spent in the car: about 9

Sorry for being such a lapsed blogger!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

10 years on

Next month it is 10 years since I took my final A level exam and left school. This weekend I am marking the occasion with a mini reunion with two of my best friends from the two years of 6th form, E and K. E is one of my oldest friends, and we've known each other for approaching two decades; we've stayed in touch pretty much constantly since leaving school, having a routine whilst at university of emailing each other on a certain day of the week, that lasted through several years of work before life has just got too busy. Although K and I were good friends, we have only met once in the last eight years which was at my wedding lunch last summer. I'm pretty sure we can pick up where we left off and am looking forward to filling in the gaps and having fun like we used to - there's something very comfortable about being in the company of the people who saw you through your inappropriate crushes and inability to choose clothing.

It's got me thinking though as milestones always do (and I haven't even had to navigate the minefield that is a school reunion yet), about what we've achieved in the last decade, and how much or how little of that could have been predicted then. E and K and I *were* all clever, getting reasonable GCSE results, and in the case of E and myself, excellent A level results that took us to Oxbridge, but never really lauded as being clever by our school. Since then, between us, we all have first degrees (2:1s), there's a Masters (with distinction), and a PHD that's nearly completed. Along with a myriad of professional qualifications in both librarianship and tax accountancy.None of us had boyfriends (except K, briefly) at school, yet one of us is married, and we all own property with our partners, and have been with them for 8, 5 and 4 years respectively. My inability to cover a Christmas cake neatly hasn't stopped me from successfully making my own wedding cake, and E's procession of unfinished sewing projects doesn't prevent her from making cushions and other things for her house with her own sewing machine. My Physical Education teachers would be astounded by the fact that I regularly choose to enter competitive events and that I swim in excess of 20km every week and recently completed a 10k swim followed by a triathlon only a fortnight late. I could go on.

I'd like to be able to tell my 18 year old self that you never really know what's round the corner. You may feel that you have been set upon a certain path, but you don't know how that works out; I wonder if that is the sort of advice my 38 year old self will want to give my 28 year old self? In some ways I am entering a period of stability in my life with a marriage and home ownership - but so many things are uncertain. Who knows what another ten years will bring?

Oh, and who'd have thought that we'd end up in the garden centre at the pyo fruit farm that I took the ladies to buying plants? Seems city dwellers (unlike suburban me) don't get access to proper countryside or gardens very often. Or that we then spent at least an hour discussing our respective vegetable growings?