This time last year I sat down in an excruciatingly hot & sticky cyber cafe in a tiny Venezuelan coastal town and wrote the first blog entry of my travels over on Twentysomething Burnouts. In the strange way that time meddles with the mind; it feels like just yesterday and a million years ago at the same time. The next six months are going to be jam-packed with this sort of anniversary; this time last year I was in trekking up Machu Picchu Mountain, this time last year I was sleeping in a hammock, this time last year I was on the Amazon river spotting pink river dolphins, this time last year I shared a bed with the worlds deadliest scorpion… and every single one makes me take stock of where my life was then… and where my life is now. I’m learning that this has its (obvious) pros and cons! Whilst I love thinking back to the once-in-a-lifetime trip and the incredible memories; I also feel like a hostage to the past at the same time, and don’t really wish to live in a fog of reflection and comparison until next March. I have so many important life-things to focus on in the present (dream job! wedding! new flat! London stuff!) but I can feel the clawing clutch of nostalgia and wistful “I wish I was back there” gloom settling on me almost every morning as I pack my backpack and set off for the daily work grind (despite the fact I adore my current daily grinding and it’s in here:
which kind of helps)
Something to help banish those blues has been making the most of living in one of the best places on earth! Forget my trip of a lifetime, some people aspire to visit London just once and I get it on our doorstep every day. I have to have a word with myself occasionally and remind myself how lucky I am (even if my lungs aren’t; living in London = now asthmatic)
I turned 30 in May, and for my birthday I’ve been spoilt rotten over the summer by family as I cashed in IOU’ed London based experience gifts (the best kind) and kept milking the celebrations as hard as possible! Firstly my sibling Meg took me for my first ever tasting menu. This is where you are treated to a 6-course meal and each course has a wine selected to match the food selection. My inability at Geography did hamper the start of the night. I had diligently googled The Don, and as I know it was south, which is basically all the same to this northern lass, I headed off to the address provided. It was only when I had caught two buses and walked about 20 minutes in brand new Lotta From Stockholm clogs (breaking in shoes that contain brand new leather AND hard-wood is not the one) that I rocked up to a restaurant that looked… well… a little sketchier than what I was expecting. And sure enough there are TWO The Don’s in London and I was at entirely the wrong one. Already late and now in a bit of a sweaty state; I did something I never ever do. I hailed a black cab and it zoomed me over Tower Bridge giving me a “wow I’m a real life Londoner” moment; and in mere moments I had a glass of chilled bubbles in my hand and could rest up my sore feet.
Meg and I opted for the tasting menu at The Don; which was perfect in every way. The Don provided us with flawless food, impeccable service (polite and knowledgeable, but never stuffy or judgey) and a buzzy atmosphere where no one sat close enough to eavesdrop as our conversation got more scandalous as we drank more dessert wine! The absolute BEST bit of the night however was the cheese tray. More cultured readers may have experienced this delight before; but to me it was completely new. Basically at the end of your meal, a very smart cheese-expert wheels over a huge tray that is mounded up with about 50 cheeses. They are laid out from hard > soft, strong > mild. Oh and BLUE. Luckily these siblings share a passion for anything strong, sticky and stinky and loaded up our plates with everything that ticked that box. The waiter was happy to stand for about 20 minutes as we made our selection; patiently explaining where every cheese was from, how it was made and what was unique about it. We even tried one that had a line of charcoal running through it. Although every course was a taste sensation in its own right, I think I could probably have just eaten 6 courses of the holy cheese mountain.
My next spoiling session was courtesy of my big sister Jess. As children we shared a bedroom and a unshakable love for My Little Pony’s. We tried to progress our toy pony love to real life horses, but sadly Bradford isn’t exactly big on wildlife. We managed to get to a couple of riding lessons in one summer holiday; but rather than scampering around with enchanted pastel coloured ponys, we were both a bit shocked when we were expected to clamber onto these stinky, snorty, huuuuge creatures. I have one really strong memory of forgetting to take a riding hat one time, and therefore being late because I had to go back and borrow someones, and by the time I arrived to the lesson there were no horses left. (On grown-up-person reflection, that seems like pretty bad planning) As a result they brought out the “naughty horse” who usually wasn’t trusted to have a rider. His name was Duke, he had a mohawk, he was about three times taller than me and it took him about 4 minutes between me saddling up to him chucking me off onto one of the jumps. Thanks Duke! Despite this sad story; both Jess and I have maintained a curious interest in horse riding and ever since we both moved to London have had “Horse Ride Around Hyde Park” firmly on our must do list.
Because she’s a super smart cookie, Jess actually got organised and sorted this out for my 30th. We had to wait until the horses were back from summer holiday (!) so a recent autumnal Saturday we met in Hyde Park and headed off to find the Ross Nye Stables. The stables are tucked away down Bathurst Mews; an idyllic little collection of terraces where you suddenly feel like you are a million miles away from the sirens and hubub of central London. Now that I’ve ticked off a key must-do list item, I might just replace it with “Lurk around cute Mews more often”.
We were met by a friendly lady who pointed us in the direction of (super chic) riding boots and (less chic) hats. Jess was introduced to her gorgeous, placid horse and easily hopped on. I was introduced to my horse, the naughty one, and nearly fell right off the other side as I tried to graciously get on. We hadn’t been sure what to expect from our jaunt out, but had thought that as we had stated we were absolute beginners, that we’d get on a horse and then have someone just drag us about on a rope – a bit like riding a Donkey at Blackpool.
What actually happened was that we both had a teacher who accompanied us on a horse next to us. Jess had a really chatty teacher about her own age. My teacher was 13 years old. (Are you spotting a theme?) My slight witheringness at her age quickly went out the window when the first thing we had to do with our horses was ride them out onto the MAIN ROAD to get to the park. Panic! Luckily my very capable teacher shouted instructions and occasionally reached over and gave my grumpy horse a nudge in the right direction. After successfully negotiating the road without any motorbikes, sudden car honking or anything else that might frighten the horses into doing something scary, we were in the park. I actually needn’t have worried about the road-scares, as it actually turned out my horse had one single phobia and that was… plastic bags! Totally rational! Luckily the litter collectors had been pretty over-zealous in the park that day, otherwise my joy-ride would have been over pretty quickly.
I have a whole new respect for horse riders and pony people. I had always looked at anyone on a horse and thought; i could do that, just sit on the thing and it does all the work. WRONG. Actually even staying on a horse is pretty tricky! You have to hold the reins right, position your legs properly oh and tell the horse what to do using special secret signals. At first we had a pleasant stroll around; taking in the flame tinted autumn leaves, enjoying the cooling air and waving at the tourists taking photos. Then it was down to the hard work. In Hyde Park there are amazing horse-lanes that have existed since horse was the main form of transport in London. It was on these lanes that we learnt to trot, and canter. Jess was a natural, trotting away and looking elegant. I didn’t realise at first that you need to lift up and down out of the saddle in time with the horses movements. My first attempt at trotting just worked out to be me lifting up and down at exactly the opposite time to the horse and as a result I sat on a hot water bottle for about two days afterwards because of the damage I’d done to my poor glutes!
I was full of enthusiasm though, if not talent, and soon we were hammering along and I was really enjoying the unusual feeling of moving that fast and that freely around the park. The lesson lasted an hour, and was so thorough. My teacher talked me through everything really patiently and answered all my inane questions such as how are police horses trained and how you can tell if the horse if miffed? I had imagined that Jess I would just be strolling slowly around the park swapping gossip and having a good natter, but we actually didn’t get to talk once. Luckily we’d had a good lunch and chat time first.
After braving the main road again, and then scampering back into the mews, my legs turned to jelly trying to get off the horse. I hadn’t realised how every muscle in my body had been tense and active in the riding and I basically melted into a pool of ouch and relief that we had survived. It was such an amazing experience and so much better than I’d expected. It was really special to have that one on one teaching and to get to basically be riding independently from the off. We felt so proud of what we’d achieved and I definitely feel like getting straight back on the horse (ho ho) but maybe somewhere a little less public next time.