2+0+1+2 = a very busy year

Oh heck, this year really has been monumental in lots of ways. There have been highs which left me feeling there was nothing left to achieve and lows when I hit the bottom and still kept going. What a year.

So, what did I actually do?

Re-affirmed my National pride

I have always been extremely proud to be British. I love Britain in spite of her faults because Britain always pulls it out of the bag. Always.

This year, Britain pulled two amazing things out of the bag. Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Celebrations and the London 2012 Olympics. Lets go in chronological order and start with the Diamond Jubilee.

The Diamond Jubilee was an utter joy. Never have I seen National pride quite like it before. There were very few people being grumpy about the festivities. You could see reminders everywhere you looked. My personal favourite was the Jubilee line London Underground trains.

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The Nation got behind our Monarch and celebrated the only way we know how; Eat, drink and be merry (even when it’s raining). I was back in the home town for the Jubilee celebrations and went to several street parties. They were at schools, in fields, at leisure centres and just everywhere, really. There was food, music and general Community spirit wherever you looked. I baked some British inspired cakes for the occasion. I made mini victoria sponges, Cherry ‘fakewell’ cakes and a large union jack sponge.
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One of the parties I went to was organised by my sister and a few other families with whom they regularly holiday. You can see the very British spread here (please note the awfully 70s cheese on sticks stuck into tin foil covered cabbages prepared by me).

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The whole country really did get involved. The Thames saw record breaking numbers of ships sail along it for the flotilla, massive music concerts were staged and London, in general, was transformed into a celebration City. Truly fantastic! The vibes you got walking around, talking to people about it or just enjoying the bunting and Union Jacks everywhere really got the blood in my veins running red white and blue again.

Next, the Olympics. The first thing that I adored about the Olympics was the torch relay. What a completely amazing way to remind the Country that it’s not just the London Olympics. It was a very British Olympics. Training camps were all over the UK, the sailing and rowing events happened outside of London and the whole Country was encouraged to, and did, get involved. The torch relay was a huge part of this. 8,000 local heroes and celebrities were nominated as torch bearers and had the enviable, once in a life time opportunity, to play their role in celebrating everything that’s Great (and good) about Britain. The torch passed through over 1000 villages, towns and cities in the UK. It was brilliant, you could even watch the ‘torchcam’ for live coverage of where it was and who was carrying it. Super! I was lucky enough to meet a torch bearer in Look Mum, no hands! on Old Street in London.

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This lady is Katie Ford. She is an ultra cyclist who has epilepsy and she carried the torch. I met her whilst watching the mens road race at Look Mum, no hands!. She spent the entire time posing for photos and being a complete joy. A genuinely lovely lady who does amazing work campaigning for epilepsy. If she is a benchmark for the kinds of Britons who carried the torch up and down the Country then, I will tell you for free, we are going to be a ok Britain. We really are.

For the past few years, I had been living in the east end of London literally minutes away from the Olympic Park site. In the three years leading up to the Olympics, the areas of Stratford, Leyton and Leytonstone were dug up, re worked, re paved, re painted and generally given a very fresh faced look to them. This is obviously great for local residents when it’s finished but. I won’t lie, it was a pain in the bum whilst it was all happening. Trying to keep informed about what roads were closed and when, which busses were diverted, when the extra tube outages were going to be etc was a daily thing. And it wasn’t just the east end. Central took a hammering too. There’s no wonder that, by the time the Olympics actually arrived, Londoners were generally feeling quite grumpy about the whole thing. It was a very long and expensive inconvenience to them. However, come the opening ceremony, even the most hard nosed Londoner and cynics everywhere found their hearts warming and cynicism getting lost between the sofa cushions.

A lot of this was due to the amazingly fabulous job Danny Boyle did with the opening ceremony. It was amazingly British, utterly inspiring and gave the Country exactly what it needed and wanted. A massive reminder that Britain is Great. Despite all the rubbish we are dealing with (and have dealt with in the past), we always come out with weather as mild as our manners and a quiet ‘can do’ attitude. I adored the opening ceremony. When I said earlier I live minutes form the Olympic park, I wasn’t kidding. Here’s a snap of the fireworks of the opening ceremony as watched from my front door.

Olympic fireworks from my street

I spent a lot of the opening ceremony seeing if I could spot any of the friends I knew were participating in it. Alas, I never spotted a single one of them, but, I adored their Facebook profiles after the ceremony was done. All of the secrets they had been keeping, all of the photos they weren’t allowed to show before, all of the gossip was finally free and filling up my Facebook feed! I cannot believe how they all kept it such a secret. Them and the audiences at the two rehearsal shows. Just unbelievable  Well done you fine guys and gals for keeping it all under your hats. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but, watching the ceremony and having literally NO idea what to expect was sheer joy. Thank you, one and all.

Other moments that made my National Pride swell was seeing the purple army and athletes swarming East London. I have never seen anything like it. It was wondrous  You could barely walk 5 minutes without seeing a National tracksuit wearing sports person/coach or a purple clad Games maker. Everyone had this permanent look of ‘is this really happening’ on their faces. Just amazing. The BEST thing I saw though was this Youtube clip which reminded me of why most other nations do not get us Brits. This lady epitomises  for me, what it is to be British.

But that’s enough of me gushing about how much I believe in Britain and how Great it is. Let’s get on with what else I have been up to this year.

Continued my love affair with cycling

I have discovered that my enthusiasm for showing pictures of my bicycle, and her various components, to other people is very similar to the enthusiasm other people have about showing pictures of their children. This may seem strange but my bicycle is just a good as a child. No, better than a child. She’s quieter, does exactly as she’s told, she’s more environmentally friendly and she actually SAVES me money. That’s right, saves (just in case you were wondering, that was supposed to be tongue in cheek and not a reference at all to my lonely, childless existence).

Anyway, in 2011, I cycled the British Heart Foundation London to Brighton. It was a 54 mile ride that I considered to be a real target. I completed the 54 miles in 4 hrs 45 minutes. In 2012, I participated in three organised cycles of varying distances. The first was The London Classic.

The London Classic was a 35 mile ride across the cobbles and hills of London. I LOVED it. We started and finished at Gypsy Hill (SE19). The 35 miles was essentially a massive loop of London. It was an amazing way to see South London which, for me, had been previously uncharted territory as well as seeing the more familiar sights too. I only had to bail out and push my bike up one hill. That bad boy was the hill at Canonbie Road (SE23). The view from the top was this (also, the incline does not look too bad on this picture but I can assure you, it was horrendous):

Canonbie Road SE23

Pretty spectacular, no? Anyway, the London Classic is free to enter, the organisers simply ask that you support their chosen charity. The sign up for the 2013 ride will open in February and I suggest that, if you like cycling, are in London and can safely commit yourself to a 30+ mile ride, that you sign up. It was brilliant.

The second ride I did was for the Stroke Association’s Thames Bridges ride. It was a 50 mile ride across the iconic bridges of London. I did blog about it so I won’t bore you with more details. I will however point you at the entry which you can find here.

The final ride I completed was the Tour de Latitude. I was incredibly lucky to win a pair of tickets for the Tour de Latitude from a blog I follow (London Cyclist). This gave me and a cycling mad friend the opportunity to cycle to the Latitude music festival. We could start from Ipswich (35 miles to Latitude), Sudbury (55 miles to Latitude) or Hackney in London (113 miles to Latitude). After umming, ahhing and shrieking with excitement several times, we went for London. That’s right. 113 miles. On a bicycle. In 1 day. The blood drained from both of our faces when the enormity of it sank in but we were mostly excited.

There were several things which definitely perked us up:
1) It was sponsored by M&S. This meant that at our rest stops, we could load up on M&S food and drinks. Woo Hoo!
2) We got upgraded to VIP camping. That meant hot showers all weekend and the ability to take our own booze into the arena.
3) The tickets to not only the ride but also into the festival were completely free!
4) We knew that, if we managed it, we would be VERY proud of ourselves.
5) I could now legitimately buy the tires I’d been wanting on the premise of needing skinnier tires for the ride.

I planned meticulously, as always:

Tour de Latitude planning

We began at 7:30am in Hackney and found ourselves at Latitude festival 11 hours later. We were greeted by M&S prosecco and more Percy Pigs than anyone can reasonably consume in one sitting. We also befriended Pery and Colins helpers which ensured we continued to receive unhealthy amounts of Percy Pigs whenever the M&S people spotted us.

Colin & Percy

We also spotted multicoloured sheep, as you do in the Countryside.

sheep and us

The festival was brilliant. I had a truly amazing time. Latitude is very well organised. The food vendors had tasty offerings for you every day, the stalls weren’t just selling normal tat and they even had an Oxfam tent. brilliant! Latitude tries really hard to include all ages but still holds enough ‘cool’ for the young kids. I felt my age at Latitude this year when (during Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes) I had a nice sit down in the seating banks at the back of the main stage. The bands we saw were great (Bon Iver in particular stole my heart), the comedians were pant wettingly funny (Russell Kane in particular), the VIP camping was superb (never underestimate the joy of a hot shower at 4am whilst you are drunk and in a field) and the company was excellent. I also remember some raving and have  a vague recollection of some kind of theatre but I was very drunk…. Anyway, fun times were had by all and I feel such a sense of achievement and reward after cycling there from London. I really do.

I also love Daisy more than ever.

Daisy

Attended the most anticipated gig of my life

I finally saw Incubus play live this year. I have been a fan of Incubus since the late 90’s but, I’d never managed to see them live. This year. It happened. I will never forget it and it was entirely worth the wait. All of my pictures were rubbish apart from the picture of the ticket as you can see.

Incubus ticket

Their set consisted of 90% old stuff and 10% new stuff. Those are the kinds of splits I like. They played everything I wanted them too. I got embarrassingly excited when I recognised the opening riff to ‘Sick Sad Little World’ about half a second into the song starting and shrieked like a banshee.

Incubus were so tight technically it was obscene. I was almost offended by how good at their jobs they are. The crowd was whipped up, there were three separate mosh pits and I relished every second of it. Thank you Incubus.

There were many other fabulous gigs this year but the only other one I will mention is ‘Twas the night before Wembley’. This gig was a celebration that Frank Turner had sold out Wembley Arena. Frank Turner is signed to a fairly small record label (Xtra Mile Recordings) so for one of their artists to sell out a big venue like Wembley Arena is a big deal. Therefore, they rounded up some Xtra Mile artists and put on a teeny tiny show at the Barfly in Camden. The headline was Billy Bragg (who is a legend don’t you know) with Jim Lockley and the Solemn Sun, Crazy Arm and Ben Marwood too. It was a great gig full of atmosphere and basically a massive middle finger to huge record labels. You don’t need to be huge to be great at what you do. Xtra Mile proves it, all the freaking time. As does Fat Wreck Chords. Smaller, independent labels make my world go round. Please don’t ever quit what you’re doing guys. I’d cry if you did. A lot.

Continued to bake and bake and bake and bake and bake…….

I can’t count how many cakes and biscuits I baked in 2012 so I’m just going to add lots of photos instead:

Maggie's cakes

Chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and butter cream icing. Banoffee pie.

cakeadots

‘Cakeadots’. Vanilla sponge, strawberry jam butter cream, chocolate buttons.

Bailey's cupcakes

Mini Bailey’s Cupcakes – Chocolate, whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream sponges with Bailey’s Irish Cream buttercream (recipe from the ‘Baking Cupcakes with Lola’ book).

Julie

Double layer vanilla sponge with chocolate ganache inside. Choclate fudge, baileys and vanilla butter cream outer.

Gingerbread House

Gingerbread House – Gingerbread and royal icing. Decorated with mini smarties, glace cherry window and choc chip roof detail.

Lion King Cake

Chcolate sponge inner. Vanilla buttercream outer.

99 fakes

’99 Fakes – Chocolate/Vanilla sponge baked inside the wafer. Vanilla butter cream top, small piece of 99 flake.

Reunited with the guys

I played a gig with my band for the first time in 18 months or so. It was amazing and I am truly grateful to the boys for agreeing to such a hair brained idea with such gusto.

The boys

I moved to a different Country

Yes! This year, I left Blighty for Hong Kong. My experiences, thus far, have been blogged about so I won’t repeat myself. I’ll point you to the following entries instead:

Hong Kong you say? No Problem says I!

What are the differences between Hong Kong and Blighty? My observations thus far.

Hong Kong – doings so far

Not the kind of Festival I’m used to.

Something big, bronze and better than expected.

National Day in Hong Kong

Hobbies in Honkers

Summary

I’ve been blooming busy and this is a very long entry. So I will leave it at that even though I want to also tell you about:

Music I listened to

Movies I saw

Parties I went to

And this one time, some stuff that happened at band camp……….

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