10 reasons to be happy right now

I’m baaaack!

So first, an apology. I’ve been the world’s worst blogger lately (at least on here – over at Theatre Things I’ve been a busy bee). But I’ve been feeling bad about it, and then I got a lovely comment the other day from Sarah that inspired me to try harder. So here I am!

Now part of the problem with happy blogging has been that recently I’ve been slipping back into some bad habits, and keep finding myself moaning about stuff to anyone who’ll listen (and, I’m sure, a few people who look like they’re listening but have actually gone to their happy place).

So I decided to get back to basics, and make a list of 10 reasons to be happy right now. And here they are:

  • Tomorrow is a new day. More importantly, tomorrow is also Saturday.
  • It’s bluebell season.

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  • Next month I get to be bridesmaid for one of my bestest friends. In Greece. On the beach.
  • I totally got 100% on this Friends quiz.
  • The Kinky Boots London cast made an album – not that it wasn’t fun to listen to the Broadway actors attempt a Northampton accent. (I promise you, if you’re ever feeling a bit blue, this show will cheer you right up.)
  • One of my colleagues bought us profiteroles today. They were good.

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This is not my route home from work (sadly). But it’s a nice photo.

What’s making you happy today?

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Meninos do Bloco Fogo: summer fun for kids

This post is for parents of kids who enjoy having fun and making a lot of noise.

So… all parents, then. Moving on.

If you’re based in or near Kent, and the rapidly approaching summer holidays are filling you with a mild sense of dread as you wonder how you’re going to keep the children entertained, I have a great suggestion. It’ll get them out from under your feet, and give them a place to get all that noise and energy out of their system. And they’ll get a free t-shirt. Bonus!

Bloco Fogo are a Kent-based samba band, who play at events all over the country (and beyond). You may even have seen them perform before; they’re easily recognisable by their distinctive red and yellow outfits, and can often be found parading down high streets or motivating marathon runners, among loads of other great events. They even performed at my friend’s wedding…

Bloco Fogo at my friend's wedding

This year, from 3rd to 7th August, Bloco Fogo are running their first summer school for children aged 8-14, called Meninos do Bloco Fogo, in Tunbridge Wells. The aim is to introduce kids to Brazilian drumming and all the skills that come with it, including the dance moves – and they’ll even have a chance to customise their own costume. Rumour has it they may also get to learn a bit of Brazilian Portuguese, if a certain person who works for a language learning company gets herself organised (yes, that would be me).

Most importantly, at the end of the week, they’ll get to perform on Saturday 8th August with the band, so their mums and dads can see how much they’ve learnt.

Now, full disclosure: the event is being organised by one of my best friends, who just happens to be one of the most talented people I know. Cheryl’s been performing with Bloco Fogo for years (that’s her in the wedding dress above) and I’ve no doubt that her enthusiasm and passion for samba is going to make the week loads of fun for everyone involved. I may even try and sneak in myself and have a go; after all, who doesn’t enjoy hitting stuff from time to time?

And in case you had any doubt about how fab the band are, here they are leading an awesome mass busk in Cardiff earlier this month, with 400 other drummers:

Meninos do Bloco Fogo costs £75 per child for the whole week, and includes everything – all the tuition, costumes, language freebies, t-shirt. That sounds like pretty good value to me, in exchange for a week of peace 😉 Although please don’t hold me responsible if they decide they want to take up drumming as a result…

There’s more detail in the flyer below – or email Cheryl for a free info pack to find out more. You can also follow Bloco Fogo on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Meninos do Bloco Fogo flyer

Here comes the sun (possibly) – now with added Pimm’s Poll!

I woke up this morning with one sunburnt arm, as a result of sitting outside yesterday to watch the Wimbledon men’s final (and what a match that was!), and with the song ‘Here comes the sun’ going round and round in my head. Together, these two things combined to inspire today’s blog post – my ten favourite things about summer. Wimbledon men's final in London 1. Not having to wear a coat

After a long winter, complete with hurricane-force winds and record-breaking rainfall, and then that annoying couple of months when you’re not quite sure if you need a jacket, so you take one with you, then take it off within five minutes of leaving the house and end up carrying it all day, it’s nice to now be able to head out in the confident knowledge that you don’t need a coat. Of course, this is England, so you may still set out without any additional layers, and then find it’s pouring with rain by mid-afternoon. Like today. Doh.

2. Ice cream

On the whole, I’m not a huge fan of hot weather; given a choice I’d rather be cold and putting on layers than hot, because there’s only so many layers you can remove (particularly when you’re allergic to getting your legs out, for fear of blinding innocent passersby with their extreme whiteness). And let’s not even mention how unbearable the District Line becomes when it’s hot. Urgh. But if there’s one thing that makes it all better, it’s ice cream*. Not on the District Line, though, obviously, unless you want your ice cream to end up in someone’s armpit.

* especially if it’s Magnum Strawberry and White Chocolate. They’re limited edition, and the day they stop selling them, I may actually cry.

3. Pimm’s

I’m concerned that I talk a bit too much about Pimm’s and am giving a bad impression of myself. I’m really not a big drinker on the whole, but there’s something about relaxing with a nice cold glass of Pimm’s that makes everything ok. Also, it has fruit in it, so it’s good for me. Right?

(Update: when I shared this post on Facebook last night, it led to an interesting discussion about whether Pimm’s is actually nice, or whether it actually tastes like soil. So I thought I’d throw the question out and see what everyone else thinks. Don’t be scared to say if you hate it too; I won’t be offended – after all, it just means more for me…)

Moving on…

4. Barbecues

Barbecues aren’t always great. If you choose the wrong day, you find yourself huddling in the house, ready to run out at the appropriate moment to grab a soggy burger from the hapless host, then dash back inside to eat in the living room. And then there’s the eternal dilemma of how to balance your plate of food and assemble your burger whilst also holding a drink, and trying to keep an excitable dog away from the sausages. Yes, I speak from experience. But there’s one thing I love about barbecues, and that’s the way they seem to exert a magnetic pull on any men present. I don’t know why boys are so attracted by fire (personally open flames of any kind terrify me), but it makes me laugh every time. BBQ 5. My birthday!

I was born almost exactly half-way through the year, which is great because it means I have a nice even gap between my birthday and Christmas. Admittedly I have also had to do exams on my birthday in the past, and then there was the time I decided to celebrate my 18th the evening that England were playing Germany in the World Cup. Big mistake. But on the whole, it’s a great time to have a birthday. I recommend it.

6. Open air theatre

As you probably guessed by now, I’m a massive fan of theatre of pretty much any kind. But there’s something a bit special about open air theatre; I think it’s the fact that you never quite know what’s going to happen, because it’s so much harder to control everything outdoors. A couple of years ago, I watched Richard III at the Globe during a thunderstorm. Fortunately, unlike the poor people standing, I was under cover, but I completely missed one scene because of the noise from the pouring rain, and spent most of the afternoon mildly terrified of being struck by lightning. And despite all that, it was brilliant, because bizarrely, the weather seemed to fit perfectly with the play. Particularly dramatic moments were punctuated by loud crashes of thunder, and as the play drew to a close, with the villain defeated, the sun came out and the rain stopped. The actors adapted admirably and worked with the elements to make it one of the most memorable theatre outings I’ve had. Then again, there was also the time I went to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the play got cancelled before it even started because of the torrential rain. So it doesn’t always work out. Rain at the Globe theatre 7. Child-free paths

Now don’t get me wrong. I like children. But my office is opposite a primary school, so for most of the year, my five-minute walk from the tube station to work is an obstacle course, the obstacles being small children on scooters and mothers with pushchairs who seem blissfully unaware of my presence (not to mention, given that this is Fulham, a fair number of au pairs). So please don’t judge me for looking forward to six glorious weeks when I can walk down the street without falling over anyone.

8. Festivals

I’m not talking knee deep in mud, haven’t showered for three days festivals. I did that once, and the sight of the toilets by the last morning was enough to put me off for life. What can I say, I like my creature comforts. But I’ve had some great times at festivals and open air gigs over the years, including the time we nearly drowned at a Coldplay gig (I’m not even joking) and the time we saw our old music teacher in Bjorn Again at V Festival. Actually, that was kind of weird and embarrassing. But you get the idea.

9. Wimbledon

Need I say more? (Don’t worry, I hear you crying, ‘Please don’t!’)

10. Sunsets

Just to clarify, although I wasn’t great at science stuff at school, I do realise the sun sets all year round. But during winter, it’s dark before I leave the office, so I’ve come to associate sunsets with the summer months, when I actually get to see them. As you know, I’m officially a sunset addict, and can’t see one without getting my camera out. So the summer invariably means a lot of me wandering about staring at the sky and getting in people’s way, then annoying everyone on Twitter with my photos. Sorry about that. Another sunset over Greenhithe, Kent Now obviously, because I’ve written this post, I’m assuming that in about five minutes’ time it’s going to start raining and won’t stop till September. Sorry I ruined summer. Have a Pimm’s; it’ll help. Honest.

Who wants Pimm’s?

Happy Wimbledon, everyone! And commiserations if you’re not a sports fan, because now you really don’t stand a chance. Maybe it’s a good time for a holiday, somewhere without TVs?

You may remember that last year, I took myself off to Turkey, assuming that nothing important would happen in the first three days of Wimbledon, only to miss Nadal, Federer, Tsonga and Sharapova, among others, all going out. So this time I vowed to stay very much in the UK, and not go too far from a TV. And naturally nothing extraordinary happened until today (I won’t say any more in case anyone hasn’t caught up on the action yet).

But who cares if there’s drama? It’s Wimbledon! My favourite of the Grand Slams, because it’s the one I remember watching growing up (maybe I watched the others, but if I did, I don’t remember). And also it gives me an excuse to drink Pimm’s on a regular basis. And unlike the U.S. or Australian Open, I don’t have to stay up till silly o’clock to watch it. Although work does tend to rather get in the way.

Speaking of work, I seem to have become the unofficial Wimbledon expert; people keep coming to me for updates, and to ask if I’ve got tickets this year. Sadly I don’t, and haven’t yet decided if I’m prepared to brave The Queue – although the All England Club’s only just down the road from the office, so I might give it a try. Either way, I’ll be watching most of the tennis on TV, and keeping my fingers crossed that Andy Murray can repeat last year’s heroic feat. Honestly, I don’t see it happening, but then I didn’t expect it last year either – so who knows. And even though most of the other British singles players have gone out, we still have Heather Watson, and lots of Brits still to play in the doubles, so all is not completely lost yet.

Wimbledon

Meanwhile, I’ve been out on the tennis court myself a couple of times lately. I’m rubbish at tennis, but it’s good fun and I think I’m getting better at hitting the ball – I just have no control over where it goes, so occasionally I get credit for a brilliant shot that I never intended, and more often my opponent ends up watching as the ball goes sailing over their head and into the next court, narrowly avoiding hitting the small child having a tennis lesson. (I’ve never actually hit the small child, just to be clear.) I also spend two days walking like an old lady afterwards, so I’m not sure I’m quite up to Wimbledon standard just yet.

Maybe next year?

London 2012 – one year on

Yesterday, it was one year since the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony – also known as The Night the Queen Jumped out of a Helicopter (I still maintain that was actually the Queen, and nobody will persuade me otherwise). I think it’s safe to say that Friday night last July marked the moment when we Brits finally started to believe it might actually go well.

Up till then, in our true British fashion, most of us were assuming that we’d mess it up somehow. The BBC even made a TV show, the satirical and brilliant Twenty Twelve, and got Seb Coe to join in the fun at his own expense. And it didn’t bode well that when the Olympic flame was carried through my nearest town, Gravesend, someone tried to grab it, before himself being grabbed by security staff. Even once the opening ceremony got underway, we were still waiting for Boris Johnson to do something ridiculous – which in fact he did, but not till a few days later, and fortunately it turned out to be comedy gold. I love Boris, but if he ever becomes prime minister, I may have to leave the country.

But then James Bond met the Queen, and from that moment there was no going back. I’m fairly sure mine wasn’t the only home where someone shrieked, ‘It’s really her!’ Suddenly, we were proud to be British, and all our doubts seemed like a distant memory. Of course it helped that we won lots of medals – who can forget Helen Glover and Heather Stanning winning our first gold in the women’s pairs rowing? Or Super Saturday when we won six golds in one day (including the first of two for Mo Farah)? Andy Murray getting his revenge on Roger Federer in the tennis final. Chris Hoy overtaking Steve Redgrave to become Britain’s most successful Olympian ever. Bradley Wiggins following up his Tour de France win with an Olympic title…

The only thing that went wrong was the ticketing system. Like many people, I spent countless hours on my computer trying to get tickets for something – anything – but eventually had to admit defeat and watch it on TV instead. What I loved most about the Olympics was the way it made me care passionately about sports I’ve previously never even watched, let alone had any interest in. Rowing, cycling, diving, table tennis, even judo – I loved it all. And I did make it to London for the marathon so I can at least say I’ve been to the Olympics 🙂

London Olympic marathon

And then it was over – but we weren’t bereft for long because just a couple of weeks later it was time for the Paralympics, and they were awesome. Not only was it great sport, but it put a lot of things in perspective – for me, at least – to see ‘disabled’ athletes achieving things that I couldn’t even dream of. And, best of all, I got to be there this time: first, for

Goalball, which is a sort of cross between football and dodgeball for blind and partially sighted players. Then it was into the Olympic stadium, just in time to sing the national anthem for Aled Davies (80,000 people singing ‘God Save the Queen’ is not something I’ll forget any time soon) and watch the Weirwolf win his first of four golds. We were also there to see Oscar Pistorius come second to Alan Oliveira; whatever’s happened since then, seeing Oscar was still one of my highlights.

Welcome to London 2012

London Olympic Stadium

Olympic flame

We were also lucky enough to be there for the wheelchair tennis, which was absolutely amazing. Anyone who knows me is probably sick of hearing me go on about Nick Taylor, who serves by flicking the ball with his feet, and then hits it by swinging the racquet tied to his wrist. As someone who struggles to get around the court on two working legs, watching players like this was inspiring to say the least.

And then after the closing ceremony (or should I call it ‘the Coldplay gig’), it really was over and life was suddenly back to normal. It was easy to think that all the talk of ‘legacy’ and ‘heritage’ would come to nothing – and it’s true that I haven’t been following, or playing, most of the sports I was so interested in since last summer. But yesterday I was back at the Olympic Stadium for the Anniversary Games, and it was obvious that we haven’t forgotten. This was an event that usually takes place at Crystal Palace, but was moved this year to coincide with the anniversary. Crystal Palace holds 15,000 people; the Olympic Stadium holds 80,000 – and yet every single seat was occupied. And the noise as Mo Farah crossed the line in the 3,000m was ear-splitting. (The BBC later described us as a ‘raucous crowd‘. I’ve never been called raucous before.) After the recent revelations about failed drug tests, the athletics world needed a bit of a lift, and it got it.

London Anniversary Games

London Anniversary Games

Today, the stadium hosted a special Paralympic athletics event, bringing back some of the stars of 2012 – David Weir, Hannah Cockcroft, Alan Oliveira, Jonnie Peacock, Michael McKillop and more. Again, the event was a sell-out and although I wasn’t there this time, it looked amazing. The crowd loved it; even the weather co-operated. And best of all, it’s great to see that the Paralympic athletes are now up there with those from the Olympics in people’s minds.

It’s been fun this weekend to relive the triumph that was London 2012, which was unforgettable, and gave us so many great moments. It made us, even if only briefly, proud to be British and proved that we don’t make a mess of everything – despite the best efforts of the residents of Gravesend.