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?

Hello Kitty cake

It's been a while since I made a cake for Free Cakes for Kids, but here is my latest for Angela who will be 9 at the weekend and who requested Hello Kitty on a Victoria Sponge with strawberry jam and buttercream.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Garden update

As it's not raining for once, it's time for a little garden update. I have to say that the recent weather (torrential rain and high winds) has not been pleasant for my little babies and I hope they will survive. I planted the tomatoes out on Jubilee Weekend and they do just about seem ok although desperately in need of some sun.

 The courgettes went out a week ago - following the first lot of courgettes which failed, we decided that part of the problem was that the ground had not been properly prepared so Mr W has kindly sieved the soil and then tipped five bags of compost on top (Sainsburys special offer...) and then I planted them out. They ARE very floppy but it seems one doesn't need to cane them. I think one of them won't survive, but two of them have started growing little flowers which I was very excited to spot when I watered them earlier. They seem quite thirsty, I'm not sure whether it's the compost that's super absorbant or that they are planted next to the garage but they seem to need a lot of water in addition to the rain that's falling. Won't be so much of a problem once Mr W fixed the outside tap and I can either use the hose (now that the hose ban has been lifted) or at least not carry my watering can so far!

Saturday 16 June 2012

A busy Saturday

So, alarm went off at 8am today and although I could have easily slept for another four hours and probably should have done, I was up and out of the house by 8.30 heading back to Bedford for another go at a 1.5k swimming race at 10.30. As you can see by this photo that Mr W took, I probably should have stayed in bed. Especially as the windy conditions seemed to promise a repeat of last Saturday. However, I got in, swam, and was pleased to get out in about 22 minutes, 20 seconds, which given the wind, the fact that I hadn't taken a rest day yesterday, and that I was very tired is pretty good given that my best time is 22:03.

Out of the water and dressed again by 11am, Mr W drove us home, and it was time to clean and tidy and hoover the house again in anticipation of my afternoon tea guests. The cake that I showed you yesterday was decorated with my interpretation of the Virago Books logo, and the people coming for tea were friends from the Virago Modern Classics Librarything group, a group devoted to people who like myself love and collect Virago Modern Classics. I couldn't wait for them to see my collections!

The ladies (and gentleman) had spent the morning in Oxford looking around bookshops and having lunch, and then came on up to me. A lot of new faces, although twitter pictures and facebook helped me to identify people, as well as old friend Claire and friend/colleague Stuck in a book Simon. A sumptuous tea was provided partly by myself (look at my apple shaped shortbread!), and some of the guests also contributed things - coconut and raspberry cake and chocolate brownies. Tea and squash was drank and I hope everyone had a good time!

Friday 15 June 2012

Reading SLUMP

It’s been a bit of a blogging slump too, and I guess for the same reasons.  Too much openwater swimming and triathlon, too much occupying myself at work, gardening to be done, and too many vegetable box vegetables to be put into eating form.  I’ve barely read a thing for weeks with the possible exception of magazines (mainly on healthy living and triathlon and swimming) and a few Brownie books and Chalet school fill ins.  However, I started reading one Chalet School fill in on Monday, and I still haven’t finished it.  I realised I must be in a slump at lunchtime today when I went to the library and nothing caught my eye at all and I came out empty handed with the exception of a DVD borrowed in an attempt to make me sit down at lunchtime.  The swimming is great and I’m desperate to make the most of the short season available but it IS time consuming.

I feel like I’m failing a bit.  I had plans at the beginning of the year and I’m not really delivering on them.  Oh well.  I think I need to get back to small and realistic goals, such as an hour of cross stitch a week,  taking at least one of my tea breaks a day and using it to read rather than run errands. 

Since I stopped getting the weekend newspapers I've missed out on reviews of recent books published and I've barely got time to do more than skim blog posts at the moment (apologies also for lack of commenting!) so ifyou've read or come across any recent books which I might like, let me know and I'll try to get them from the library!

Anyway, tomorrow I have a large group of people who I have mainly never met before coming to my house for tea.  I’ll write more in due course (I hope!) (determined to find some time to write this weekend) but perhaps from this photo of a cake that I made for tomorrow you can tell what we all have in common?

Sunday 10 June 2012

First ever triathlon

So, less than 24 hours after starting yesterday's Long Swim, I found myself at Blenheim, ready to start my first ever triathlon.  I have to say I wasn't feeling tip top after the race yesterday and woke up this morning feeling nauseous and dizzy.  I wasn't sure if it was an after effect of yesterday, a bug or nerves, but having paid £75 to enter Blenheim Tri (so expensive!), I was determined to see if I could at least start it even though I felt so rough.  The short car journey there was punctuated by a discussion about whether I could stop after the swim or the bike or just do one lap of the bike.  Here I am sitting waiting for it to be time to go and get ready for the start of my wave.  Check out the giant inflatable sports drink bottle in the background!

Here I am dressed up in my wetsuit and nearly ready to go.  Sun had briefly come out which was nice!

 Here I am somewhere on the left waiting for the race to start.  I was exceptionally happy that my wave was given pink hats to wear.
 Here I am coming out of the swim (750m), and running (400m uphill) to T1.  I was happy that I managed to get out of the top of my wetsuit very quickly and easily.  I was one of the first out of the swim on my wave, maybe 4th out of about 200.
 After stripping my wetsuit off completely, donning socks and shoes and my number belt and the all important helmet, it was time for 3 laps of the bike course (total 19.8k).  There was a horrific hill which was very hard on my bike, which as you see from this picture is better fitted to commuting than triathlon (I only have 6 gears), which I had to do three times, but I was happy that I didn't have to stop and walk.  I must have got overtaken by almost everyone from my wave as when I got back to the bike racks they were virtually full again.
 Finally, dispense with the bike and helmet for the run.  2 laps, 5.4k, getting quite hot by this time so very glad of water at the aid stations which could be thrown over one's head.  Ended the race with a very damp chest area. I was proud of myself for not walking at all, and overtook a couple of people who were walking (but was again, mostly overtaken)
 And finally, just approaching the finish.  Looking distinctly grumpy.  Obviously a sprint distance not long enough for me.  Does an ironman beckon?!  (I jest...)
Looking at my watch I could see that I had got around in 1:50ish which was a good ten minutes faster than what I could have hoped for.  I guess I was lucky over yesterday when the windy conditions would have made the swim and the bike a lot harder.

When the official times came through, I immediately realised there was a mistake as I had been given a time of 31 minutes for the swim!  Given that my watch had said 11 minutes just as I approached the exit, and that I can swim nearly 2 km in 31 minutes, I thought it unlikely.  Ken realised that my  chip had obviously got mixed up with the previous wave as deducting 20 minutes made it all more realistic.

My correct times have just been issued: 11:29 for the swim (750m), 57:29 for the bike (19.8k), 34:21 for the run (5.4k). Total of 1:50:46, so around 7 minutes in transition. Not bad given that T1 involves a 400m uphill run!

I am really pleased with it!  I am not sure if I have got "the bug", greater improvements would involve more time training on the bike and the run and taking time away from my beloved swimming, and really I would have to spend money buying a "proper" bike.  We'll have to see.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Third swimming race of the season

This time a 3.8k swim at Lechlade, a pretty 3/4 hour drive away (so practically on my doorstep for once).  3.8k is the distance that I have really been working on in the last year; the holy grail for this distance is to achieve it in under an hour.  I am confident that I am pretty close to doing this....depending on the conditions.

A personal best *was* achieved, last year I completed a race at the same distance in 1:09:13, this year in 1:07ish - official results have yet to be posted.  Not quite what I was hoping for.  But it was the conditions.  You might have noticed it's been a bit windy in the last 24 hours, my first impression of the lake when we arrived was that it was a bit like the sea.  A strong current in one direction created by the wind meant a difficult fight down half of each lap, with waves seeming to appear whenever you wanted to breathe, as well as making it very difficult to swim in a straight line without "sighting" every 6 strokes (or less).  Mr W comforted me afterwards by pointing out that only one person got in under an hour (yes, there were tears at having missed my target by quite so much).

If I'm honest, I also went into this race a bit tired and perhaps a bit under carbohydrated.  It took me longer to bounce back from my 10k than I would have liked and I have had a few stressful things going on in the last fortnight.  I am going to prioritise rest in the next week or so as well as trying to eat sensibly, my next 3.8k attempt will be in 3 weeks time.

Anyway, rest won't begin until tomorrow night.  Tomorrow, less than 24 hours after starting today's race, I'll be doing my first Sprint Distance Triathlon - 750m swim, 19.8k bike, 5.4k run - at Blenheim Palace - a nice setting, which admiring shall provide an excuse for going slowly.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Two ways with bananas

I've mentioned before that bananas can be somewhat a bane of the weekly veg box. Don't get me wrong, I love bananas and would be most upset if we didn't get some each week, but I don't always get around to eating my daily banana (particularly if they are not at the right level of ripeness) and then there is that dreadful moment when you realise you have more than one banana which is past the pleasant eating stage. So I'm always on the lookout for good banana recipes and here are two I've made in the last fortnight.Firstly a banana cheesecake from a recipe in last month's Good Housekeeping Magazine. It was actually a banoffee flavour but I didn't have any toffee sauce, merely a packet of maltesers which had accidentally been left in the sun, so I mashed them up and put them on the top instead. Cheesecake is a bit of a faff, separating eggs, and whipping the whites and folding it all together without losing the air, but it's a rewarding faff I think and Mr W appreciated.Secondly, this is my second attempt at banana and coconut flapjacks using this recipe. The first batch was exceedingly tasty, the banana makes them nice and moist (sometimes flapjacks can just be a bit too dry), and the coconut provides a different sort of texture. This second time around I added in some raisin.s

Monday 4 June 2012

Happy Jubilee

If I'm honest, I haven't managed to do much to celebrate the Jubilee. Saturday was spent visiting a relative in hospital (the Bank Holiday traffic almost doubling the time taken for the 300 mile round trip), and Sunday spent celebrating my Dad's birthday, before coming back to work today (not too much of a hardship given the unpleasant weather). But how could I pass up the opportunity for a bit of themed baking? here are my Jubilee Battenberg and my Jubilee Cookies. Apologies for the silence on the blog front; it seems that swimming 10k took me longer to bounce back from than I would have liked, which is frustrating as I am gearing up for my first of 4 attempts this season to swim a 3.8k in under an hour on Saturday, and doing my first triathlon on Sunday. Oh well, I will continue to eat cake...

Sunday 27 May 2012

Second swimming race of the season

What a change in the weather to last week. At the start of the week, having heard that the water was hovering around 12C, I ordered swim socks and gloves to swim in this weekend.  By the end of the week, with warm weather over the last few days, the temperature rocketed, and this morning the lake was a toasty 19.2.  Almost too warm for my wetsuit.

It was back to Dorney Lake, near Eton, for another attempt at the 10k that I did last year (in 3h 32m).  Having had the training camp in February and got myself a better wetsuit, I was hoping to get around in 3 hours.  And what perfect conditions to attempt it in.  Even if the sign below seemed to suggest that actually we shouldn't be swimming in the lake.

We got there nice and early to enable the application of much suncream and consumption of extra water, and here I am wearing the race t-shirt which had arrived in the post on Friday.

Here I am again, just about ready to go, although still with my sunglasses on at this stage.  Unfortunately, having got fully into my wetsuit, we were told of a 15 minute delay to the start, so I took the top bit off again, far too hot to wait around in a wetsuit. 

Finally it was into the water for a quick briefing, and then off.  There were about 450 swimmers so the start was quite difficult as the course was quite narrow.  But about 500m in, there was a bit more space and I was able to focus on swimming.  And swimming.  And swimming.

5 laps in total, 2km each, stopped for a couple of Veggie Jelly Teddy bears after the 3rd lap, and some water, whereupon Mr W told me that I was 8 minutes up on the splits that I needed to achieve to get around in 3 hours.  He thought I'd misheard him as I didn't take the planned rest stop and restarted swimming again, with my mouthful of Jelly Teddy Bears getting mainly lost to the bottom of the lake :(  I was keen to consolidate the gains and maybe get an even better time than 3 hours.

Swimming swimming swimming, and eventually I was on the last km, tried to swim as fast as I could, got to the end of the lake, and fell over as I tried to get out.  Very ungainly climb up the bank to get to the gate where the timing chips were being registered.  Not sure of the exact time yet, but Mr W had his stopwatch on (and I believe has measured the splits of each lap) and told me it was about 2:47.  I wish he had shouted at me on the last bit and I might have got in at 2:45.  We'll wait and see what the exact result is tonight.

Very dazed afterwards.  Straight off for some food, but bizarrely was not hungry so had some soup and a bit of Mr W's veggie breakfast before stopping for strawberries from the farm shop.  Still hasn't sunk in quite how fast I swum, and there's still plenty of potential for improvement as I certainly waasn't in the top 50 finishers.  The almost perfect conditions certainly helped.

Day off work tomorrow to recover, although if the weather stays as nice, I'l definitely be heading to the outdoor pool to stretch my arms out.  No races next weekend, instead a visiting blogger and a father's birthday, but there are two the weekend after - eek!

Thursday 24 May 2012

Nice things

Been a bit busy for blogging this week, but here's some pictures from this week so far:

The plants are growing and looking very green. This weekend may be the one where I can plant out the second attempt at courgettes.

An orange cake has been made along with smarties cookies as a thank you for a friend who picked me up some Cornish Rattler cider this week. Not available in Oxon and rather good for hot weather.

Reading lots of brownie books, remembering them from my childhood, good to reread.

Outdoor swimming

Saturday 19 May 2012

First swimming race of the season

First swimming race of the season this morning, and the first time my Mum has ever come along to watch me.  I had a really bad case of nerves last night, I think because this season is the first time that I have been trying to get round as fast as I can, rather than merely finish, having had the training camp this year and been working really hard on both fitness and technique.

It actually went pretty well.  The distance was 1500m which is actually 100m shorter than any swimming race I've ever done before, two laps of a 750m loop.  There was a 750m race and a 5k race happening at the same time, so the water was quite busy at the start,  but the 5kers had to go down to the end of the lake so they soon split out.  I found it hard swimming at my fastest, and nearly threw up a couple of times; I'm used to longer distances and thus slower and steadier swimming, but I pushed on, and eventually was climbing out (that is the hardest bit, a finish up the bank).  I had been hoping for a time of under 25 minutes, and was secretly hoping for a time for about 23 minutes, so I should have been pleased with my time of 22 minutes 3 seconds.  However, I had asked my Mum and husband to count the number of female 1500m swimmers out before me, and they thought that I was the third female out.  I was really excited as this would have meant that I would have won a prize, but unfortunately I was 4th, and came in 13 seconds off a podium place.  Disappointing as comparing with last year's results, my time would have placed.  Anyway, this is the first of a four series race, so I now have the time to beat, and fingers crossed maybe for a podium place at some point in this season.

Have been taking it easy for the rest of the day, as tomorrow I want to get my last cold water long swim in before I attempt to swim 10k at Eton's Dorney Lake next Sunday.  I'm not nervous about the distance, but I am nervous about the cold.  With the weather we've had this year so far, the lake is about 5 degrees colder than it was last year, and I am nervous that the cold may defeat me.  We'll see.

In other news, obviously I am avidly following the start of the Torch Relay to try and get an idea of what I'll be doing on the 9th July.  Not long to go!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Cooking with Oranges

So last night saw the great Steamed Pudding experiment using this recipe to use up some of our remaining oranges from the previous week's veg box (Mr W finds them a bit difficult to eat at work). My Mum used to regularly make steamed puddings, but it's not something I've ever attempted. I was concerned that I didn't have a big enough saucepan (so just made a mini one in the end!), and that the pudding basin would just melt (I stood it on a saucer and kept checking that it didn't boil dry). But it seems to have come out ok!

One orange left, and a chance for me to make the Orange and Mincemeat Flapjacks from the Go Faster Food book that I mentioned last week. First swimming race of the season on Saturday, and as it's a 1.5km swim which is considerably shorter distance than I usually swim (3.8k or 10k), so requires faster swimming overall. Good speed session in the pool yesterday, and a longer gentle swim today, so now it's time for rest and some carbohydrates. Fingers crossed that these do the trick.

Verity's Veg Box Part 6

This week’s veg box caught me a bit by surprise. We still had 1.5 courgettes left from the previous box, as well as an avocado which was only just ripe, 4 oranges, 2 bananas and 2 apples left. I had also said no to three of the vegetables in this week’s list so I had 3 wild card vegetables to account for. It’s meant that both last night and tonight I have spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen cooking up a storm (or something), and I have further cooking to look forward to at the weekend (yay – slightly sarcastic yay as I’m suffering from a lack of downtime at the moment!).

What did we get this week? We got two large beef tomatoes, mushrooms (wild card), red pepper, chicory (eek – never seen or tasted let alone cooked that one!), leeks (wild card…), salad leaves (wild card but that’s fine, I can cope with salad!), two slightly knobbly cucumbers and radishes.

I’d already been planning to make a veggie chilli with the red pepper so just put the mushrooms in as well. A 4 portion yield which will do for a packed tea for Mr W tomorrow night, a dinner on Friday night and two portions for the third hungry member of our family, the freezer.

With the leeks, I whipped up a macaroni and leek cheese, using milk that had been in the freezer, and for the first time making a white sauce in the microwave. It’s a lot easier I promise you!! I sliced beef tomato on top, and Mr W ate half before I had got my camera out.

Using up the courgettes and some asparagus and incorporating leftover spinach and one of the beef tomatoes, I made myself this wonderful looking risotto.

Cucumbers and radishes will go with Mr W’s lunches, so it’s just the chicory left to deal with. Have sought advice on this one too, and have come up with a chicory gratin (to which I’ll add the remaining leek) which we’ll have with jacket potatoes (and a tuna steak for Mr W) at the weekend. Fingers crossed it works!

And tonight I’m making my first attempt at a steamed pudding. I saw this recipe and thought I’d give it a go with my oranges, though for the sake of our waistlines I’m not making the Orange cream. I’m a bit nervous but have sought advice from my Mum and a colleague about steaming puddings and fingers crossed it’ll be ok! I’ll post about it tomorrow as I have another bake in mind for using up the last orange.

Friday 11 May 2012

Books about brownie guides

Onto more book purchase confessions.  These books have all arrived in the last week or so.  I was browsing through Juxtabook's blog the other day and was reminded about the author Verily Anderson by this post here which links to a biographical article about her.  I decided that I was in the mood to reread her Brownie books and ordered a host of 1p copies from Amazon (ok, I know it's £2.81 by the time you factor in the postage but never mind).  I am really looking forward to reading them, they are the perfect follow up to school stories for a wet and miserable May.

I am SURE that I read more books from this genre when I was a child.  I was only ever a brownie for about a year as our local pack wasn't terribly exciting, but like boarding school I was always fascinated by the idea.  I've had a google but I can't think of any more titles or even find some sort of fan page.  Can anyone help me out here?

Thursday 10 May 2012

Cake eating for sport

Well, cake eating could easily be a sport.  It certainly seemed that way when I hosted the Oxford Free Cakes for Kids volunteers meeting last weekend.  I made four sorts of sweet treats in the end: carrot cake, gluten free marmalade slice, smartie cookies and mini Victoria sponges.  I had hoped for the beautiful pictures, but people turned up early and I didn't get a chance!  Much cake eating was done, but there was still a huge amount of cake leftover which Mr W and I have been ploughing our way through over the last week.  I've put on 2lb I kid you not which is not great so close to the start of the open water swimming season.  So no cake for me now, need to try to focus a bit more on starchy carbohydrates rather than sugars at least 6 days a week! 

But onto what I really meant when I wrote the title of this post "Cake eating for sport".  I borrowed a book from the library recently called "Go faster food".  It's written by a marathon runner married to another marathon runner who wanted to come up with recipes to sustain them during busy working lives training for marathons.  It gave me a good recap of good nutritional advice but obviously the recipes were quite interesting too.  I wasn't especially inspired by the savoury options so much but more by the cake (surprise surprise), and since Mr W is embarking on a 400k cycle ride this weekend (yes, that'll be through the night - I think he will be starting at 6am and then completing it about 2am; fortunately the organisers are supplying a hall for people to sleep in so he can have a rest before he drives home (thus preserving my night's sleep!!) I thought I'd make something from it to help with the carb-loading beforehand and post race recovery.  I offered him the choice of two recipes that caught my eye (will probably make the other one next week as I happen to have both sets of ingredients to hand), he chose the honey, lime and ginger oaties.  They are described as a bit more cakey than a flapjack, but are very similar to flapjack in construction - melted butter mixed with sugar, honey, lime juice and zest, and ginger syrup mixed with raisins, oats, flour and stem ginger.  Fingers crossed that they do the trick!

Wednesday 9 May 2012

I don’t know what it is about this time of year; maybe it is the anticipation of summer being met with miserable weather (SURELY by May we should be sitting out in the garden?), maybe it is the Bank Holidays which fall in term time and thus have to be worked, deserving some sort of treat, but always around this time of year I find myself buying books. It was worse of all the year that I started this blog when I bought about 10 Persephone books and numerous Viragos in the space of a few days.

This year has been no exception; I mentioned on Saturday my delightful jaunt to Woodstock where I picked up two books. Prior to that I had a little bit of a splurge getting some Girls Gone By books. I don’t feel in the mood for anything very literary at the moment, and school stories seem A Good Thing. I’ve finally dipped my toe into the waters of Chalet School fill-in fiction. I have read all of the Chalet School books so many times that I am desperate for some new stories featuring my favourite characters, and despite having previously been very dismissive of this “fan fiction”, I enjoyed the Antonia Forest fill in so much that I thought I would give it a go. A number of authors have written fill-ins, but I feel that being published by Girls Gone By is probably a good seal of approval, so I randomly chose a few. I also bought The scholarship girl by Josephine Elder having enjoyed some of her other books for both girls and adults.

These books have all arrived in the last week and I am looking forward to some fairly easy reading and escapism into the world of school (how is it that school stories become escapist? I’m sure when I was a child school was anything but, but now that I work full time I hearken back to the days where I got to spend time with my friends every day and go home at 4pm).

Tuesday 8 May 2012

I have to say it's rather nice to get home to boxes of fresh fruit and vegetabkes.  Look at my lovely apples, bananas and oranges!  Oranges and bananas do particularly put one in mind of warmer and sunnier climes.  I saw a recipe for a mincemeat and orange flapjack so that may get made this week.

Onto the veg.  This week we have jersey potatoes (covered in mud, necessitated scrubbing - I don't think I've ever scrubbed a potato free of mud in my life!), lambs lettuce, cherry tomatoes on the vine, radishes, courgettes, avocado, broccoli, and beetroot.  It's nice to have some salad stuff this week as we didn't get any last week, and I have a quiche in the oven which will do for the next three nights with the lovely salad veg and jersey royals.
As for the beetroot, my heart sank a bit.  It's the third time we've had them now, possibly even the fourth, and I'm a bit beetrooted out.  Last time I made sweet potato and beetroot curry, but I haven't really got much else to use them with this time.  Another risotto perhaps; roasting has also been recommended I think previously.  The beetroot also need a good scrub as well...