Achievement Unlocked – Year 2011 Complete.

In the past 12 months, I have been happier and healthier (well sort of) than I can ever remember being before. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I do have suspicions.

That means that I have achieved more than I ever thought possible in 2011. Here’s a summary of what I have achieved and a smattering of what i want to do next year.

I learned how to play the banjo.

I have always wanted to be able to play an instrument which inspired sheer joy for me. I have played instruments before (clarinet & flute mainly) but they never made me feel like the fear of performance was worth the reward. Singing has always been my main creative outlet but I have always wanted to do more. I have always loved the banjo. A folk musician friend pointed me to the EFDSS for banjo lessons and oh how I love playing that instrument.

 

Cycled the BHF London to Brighton

When I began cycling (about 3 years ago), I set my sights firmly on wanting to be fit enough to cycle the London to Brighton ride. This year I was fit enough and had even acquired a new bicycle. I completed the 54 mile cycle (including cycling up ‘The Beacon’) in 4 hours and 45 minutes raising a total of nearly £400 for charity.

 

Losing 3 stones (in weight, not literally 3 stones)

At the start of this year, I weighed 3 stones more than I do now and was also 3 dress sizes bigger. I lost weight by eating sensibly and exercising. Who knew that combination actually worked and was not just propaganda.

Joined a Gospel Choir

Covered in a very recent blog post, I won’t repeat myself but i will share an extra picture of us singing at a recent gig. It was a Christmas craft fayre and we were the entertainment crammed into a corner by some stalls. Its not all glamorous all the time.

Improved cooking skills (to the delight of friends and housemates)

I have many friends. Some cook, some don’t. This year, I have shared my skills and also stolen other people’s skills. With regard to my own skills. I have improved my skill set by getting better at icing cakes. Here’s some of the results:

 

 

 

As far as acquiring the skills of others, I have learned how to cook Indian food from scratch. I can now cook, Chicken curry, Chana Masala, Tarka Daal, Saag Aloo, Onion Bhajis, Aloo Tikka and Chicken Korma. Evidence Below:

In 2012, I want to learn how to cook Chinese food.

Friends and Family

This year, I have managed to successfully retain my entire circle of friends but also add to it. I am lucky enough to have a truly amazing circle of friends who treat me very well indeed.  I need to see more of my friends who do not live in London. I must make more visits outside of the City.

My family remains entirely intact. My Father’s side of the family had a fabulous reunion this year where we all came together for a jolly good catch up.  It’s easy to forget how many of us there are but it’s so good to all be in one room together even though we need to hire a village hall to get us all in nowadays. I stay in touch with my immediate family (Grandmother, parents, sisters, nieces/nephews etc) on a very regular basis but it does get difficult to accommodate every extended family member. In 2012, I resolve to do better as sending more regular letters and updated to my extended family.

Indoor Climbing

Now that I am fitter and thinner than ever before, I have had the opportunity to take up previously untangable sports. The firt one ticked off my list is indoor climbing. I have now completed my beginners course and will be doing the internediate course in the new year.

I do hope to get back on a horse next year too. My sister now owns her own horse and is not all that far away from me (I am in London and she is in Oxfordshire). In 2012, I will visit her and ride her horse to gauge my fear levels before taking the plunge entirely and riding in London. This visit may or may not coincide with a rather fabulous Burns Night Caleigh at the mess….. just saying

And Finally……

I have kept my job. I’ve never really been good at not getting ‘itchy feet’ with regards to jobs and employment. I never normally last more than 12 months. My current job is going strong at 20 months! I have been promoted twice and am challenged every day (not always in a good way but a challenge is still a challenge). Despite the recession, I believe I am truly making headway and gaining skills I will have for life if I choose to use them.

 

I’ll say that I hope anyone who got to the point of my post had an equally satisfying 2011 and plenty of ambitions for 2012.

 

 

 

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London still treats me very well

I have now lived in London for just over three years. There is not a day which passes when I do not love this City a little bit more. There is a mind boggling amount of things you can do for free. There’s an even greater number of things you can do if you pay for it. I have completed a healthy combination of the 2 activities in the past twelve months so I’ll share a few of my experiences.

The London Eye

I went on the London Eye as part of a London sightseeing mission with my eldest sister, brother in law and nephew. The staff are well organised, friendly and, although the queue to collect tickets was long, the waiting really wasn’t all that bad.

We shared a pod with about 18 other people. Everyone was really well mannered and took it in turns to share the best viewing angles with very good grace. It was a gloriously clear day.

It’s easy to forget just how many iconic landmarks London has when you live here. I take it completely for granted that I can cycle around Trafalgar Square any time I like or that the glory of Tower Bridge lit up at night is 40 minutes from my house. Plenty of comedy photos were taken by everyone in the pod and there was a general feeling of awe at the views. I was not an exception to the comedy photo’s or the ‘ooohhh’ing and ‘ahhhh’ing. My favorite comedy picture is of me holding the bridge up. It was ever so heavy.

As enjoyable as the London Eye was, I would have been horribly upset if I’d paid the full £19 adult fare. My advice would be to get a voucher. If you can find a voucher to take the cost below the £10, it’s worth the money. I would begrudge anything more than £10.

Madame Tussauds

The trip I made to Madame Tussauds was as part of a milestone birthday celebration in London weekend bender. I was very hung over and tired. i actually believe that this enhanced my enjoyment of Tussaudes as I had the pleseant ‘this might not actually be real life’ angle on the whole experience.

Firstly, the queues for Tussaudes are horrific. We queued for nearly 2 hours. There is ‘in queue line’ entertainment in the form of a DJ and some quiz type things but, essentially, it’s a two hour long queue. A queue that long is never fun.

The wax works are as impressive as you expect them to be. The content of the rooms is regularly updated so there will always be the latest teen heart throb wax work getting mobbed by the girls (Robert Pattinson in my case). I was too busy stroking Patrick Stewart’s head to take notice of Robert but the Birthday girls were not.

There is a great selection of classics and modern works. You also have you staples e.g The Queen & Prince Phillip, ex-Prime Ministers you want to melt down into candles and musical legends like Jimi Hendrix. I particularly enjoyed the Marvel Heroes 4D experience. I can confirm, Ironman does have buns of steel…

The dungeons at Tussauds are suitably scary too. I basically screamed and ran through as fast as I could so I can’t comment on much about it. I had my eyes closed quite tightly and my fingers in my ears.

It is a staggering £29 to get into Tussauds if you buy your tickets on the door on the day. For me, Tussauds is not worth the £29, on the day, entrance fee. The tickets are cheaper if you pre-book or go during off peak times. I would put my maximum price for Tussaudes at £18-£20. Any more than that, and I would feel robbed. I would also say that Tussauds is a one time visit attraction. There would be no point, for me personally, in going back to see th elatest updated works at all. I will enjoy my comedy photographs for a long time though. If I do go to Tussauds again, will be for my milestone Birthday celebration.

St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s has long been iconic and a major tourist attraction. I had never been before because religious buildings tend to give me the heebie jeebies. I can’t explain it, they just make me feel unsettled. However, a friend got some complimentary tickets for St Paul’s so I decided to get over the jitters and go. The ‘Occupy London Stock Exchange’ protest camp was set up quite resolutely outside. Our complimentary tickets were courtesy of the London Stock Exchange. I had to have a little chuckle.

Once inside the Cathedral, you can pick up an audio guide. I would highly reccommend this. It is informative and well presented. It really did thoroughly enhance my visit. It is well thought out and guides you around all of the major aspects of the Cathedral without really imposing itself on you. Some audio guides cause mass and simultaneous thoughts of suicide when they drone on for too long on one subject but the St Paul’s one is very good at keeping the information in digestible amounts.

You’re not really supposed to take photos of the interiors of the Cathedral but, once you get up the stairs and out in the open, you can snap yourself happy. If you are physically able to, you should climb to the top of the Cathedral. The views are simply stunning. You can see the City of London just behind me here.

It’s important to remember that St Paul’s is a fully functional place of worship. There are songs and prayers throughout the day which visitors are welcome to stay and attend. As I am very skittish about these sorts of things, we chose these times to do all of the stair climbing and outside exploration.

There is also a crypt to explore at St Paul’s but we ran out of time before we could fully look around it so I will be going back another day to finish off St Paul’s completely.

I would never have gone to St Paul’s had I not been offered a free ticket. Having been around once now, I can, with my hand on my heart, say I would happily pay the £14.50 entry fee to go round again. It is a truly magnificent building. Not only that, but it is a work of architectural genius which has been lovingly restored. The audio guides are fantastic, the staff could not have been more helpful, the interior decoration is awe inspiring and the views from both levels of the dome are stunning. By far my favourite London attraction this year.

Singing songs & swaying in time

It’s no secret that I sing. I sing in the kitchen. I sing in the shower. I sing karaoke. I sing in an originals band. And now, for your enjoyment, I sing in a Gospel choir too.

Having been the lead (well, only) singer in the originals band for a good long while, I became aware that my ability to sing and create harmonies was woeful. Historically, singing in a choir is the most intricate harmony singing you can imagine. I didn’t want to join a static, traditionalist choir of 50 people who sing note perfect with immaculate diction. I wanted something with a bit more personality. Luckily, the rather lovely Felix (of the Smart Women’s Recording Club) emailed round details of an audition being held by another smart woman. The audition was for a Gospel ‘fusion’ choir which automatically sparked my interest. I am not religious but Gospel singing always seems truly celebratory and not mournful (like so many traditional choral arrangements do) and I thought, well, what the heck.

I turn up to the audition as the only rock and roll singer and instantly felt out of my depth. In my audition group, I had classically trained singers, gospel singers and other singers with far more experience than me. My nerves didn’t improve after the audition started as the first thing we do is listen to three notes, played simultaneously, and then have to sing back each individual note we had heard. After this was a warm up. I was the only person who had to feel for their diaphragm the whole audition to make sure I’m using the right muscles to sing. I’m was also the only person who thought a warm up was a shot and a pint before going on stage.

After the note test and the warm up, we got into the actual singing. First, our job was to sing a harmony for whoever is singing lead to Adele’s ‘Rolling in the deep’. The second job was to sing the lead on Adele’s ‘Rolling in the deep’. I was pretty horrific at the harmony singing but managed to belt out the lead part without too many issues as was expected.

Also, as if that wasn’t enough nerve inducing stuff, we were being filmed! You can see the audition video here if you so choose.

In summary, I felt entirely out of my depth and like an utter fraud. I had absolutely no expectation of being asked to attend rehearsals or join the choir. However, I was asked to attend rehearsals and, eventually, to join the choir in an official ‘sign the contract’ manner. I am a proud member of ‘Gospel Essence’ and have been singing with them for just under a year now.

I have a few gigs with them under my belt, the most recent being a Christmas carol session, and hopefully many more to come.

My time in the choir has definitely served to improve my harmony singing but, in addition, has given me far my joy than I ever expected. I can honestly say I truly love singing with Gospel Essence. Everyone shares the same passions and we all get along amazingly. Life is much more fun with the choir in it.

I am very proud of the fact that I get to sing the lead on one of our demo tracks. It’s a re-work of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ and can be heard here on the choir’s Soundcloud.

We are available to sing at Corporate Events, Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, Birthdays and just generally any occasion you had in mind really. No, I mean it……