Category Archives: Childhood Dreams

Disneyland Paris with Elliot and Emiko – 27th to the 30th August 2015

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In front of the Disney Castle

In front of the Disney Castle

Going to Disneyland was something I dreamed of as a child, as did every child I know. It never happened and I was left to change the dream to taking my own child to experience this mythical, magical wonder. Finally, when she turned eight, I figured Emiko was old enough to both enjoy it and remember it. I booked a trip for myself, my daughter and my husband for three nights and four days at Disneyland Paris at the end of the summer holidays when it was marginally more affordable. I had lowered my expectations in some regards, as the visit was to take place whilst I was five months pregnant, and expectant mothers are not allowed on most rides and attractions. I still figured I could have some fun though, and would get enjoyment out of my daughter’s pleasure. Here are my diary entries from the trip:

Day One (27th August)

Emi in our hotel room

Emi in our hotel room

Travel goes as well as it can and we arrive only mildly stressed by it. We check into Hotel Cheyenne after queuing at vastly crowded reception and go to our room only to discover the following: the lock you put the key cards into doesn’t work that well and requires multiple attempts before we can gain access to the room; tea, coffee and even kettle are not complimentary as in even the most basic B and B but are costly extras which must be acquired from aforementioned crowded reception and the TV has only four channels in English, two of which are news. We have just spent several days in a Premier Inn in Oxford while visiting Elliot’s mother and grandmother; so far the Premier Inn is nicer. Unpacking, I realise that somewhere between train and shuttle ride, I have lost my mobile phone. We head to reception to report it missing and find out where it might go if it was lost on the shuttle and handed in by someone but no luck.

Emi and Elliot in front of the Disney Park

Emi and Elliot in front of the Disney Park

We venture out to the Disney parks despite the constant rain. The rain doesn’t stop all day and it turns out neither my aging boots nor my ‘waterproof’ jacket can cope. I spend the remainder of the day cold and damp. We do some enjoyable browsing of shops and checking out locations of stuff in parks. To get out of the wet weather, we go to Starbucks and discover the ‘Starbucks Name’ is a thing in France too -here I am not ‘Lizzie’ but ‘Léti’. I wait with Emi while Elliot goes on the Armageddon Experience -I’d have liked to go too but I’m not allowed because I’m pregnant. Elliot later says he can’t see why that is.

We eat dinner at hot sandwich place called Earl of Sandwich -it’s not bad. We stop to watch the Disney Parade which was good, except for an annoying woman with a camera constantly blocking Emi’s view trying to take pictures. This is aggravating as she pretty much pushed her way in front after we’d been waiting for ages, and also clearly the parade is aimed at children; I let quite a few in front of me so they can see better. Frankly my feet and back are killing me by this point. We head back to hotel as it is getting to Emi’s bedtime. I spend the evening watching Bones on my laptop (thank goodness Elliot had the foresight to say we bring it and have it ready stocked with entertainment.) Other occupants of the hotel apparently have no regard for time of night and are excessively noisy in hallways. I have a terrible night of sleep, where I wake up constantly. I cannot get comfortable, as there are not enough pillows and I am persistently thirsty. I drink lots of water and have to get up to use bathroom several times.

Day Two (28th Aug)

Elliot and Emi on the Studio Tour Tram

Elliot and Emi on the Studio Tour Tram

Today is not raining, it is actually quite nice weather. The day starts okay, breakfast is not bad and we take advantage of the buffet style food to make several ham and cheese rolls to take with us for lunch, as well as a quantity of croissants. Everything is so expensive here we figure we may as well. We head out for look around. I buy myself a headband with Minnie mouse ears and bow, I’m quite pleased as it was the only souvenir I had really wanted. We discover that several Disney character’s are out for meet and greet. Unlike in TV adverts, they do not just wander the park at random, oh no. Queuing to meet Minnie Mouse is expected to take two hours and Mickey is no longer with her. Other characters have similarly long lines. We are somewhat disillusioned as it seems like a ridiculous waste of time. We go instead to the Sleeping Beauty castle to see what’s what. My bladder decides today is going to be the day to insist on constantly demanding attention, go pregnancy! Eventually we decide to buy Emiko a princess dress (Ariel’s wedding gown) and tiara as seems like a large part of small girl’s Disney experience.

Emi in her princess dress.

Emi in her princess dress.

We queue for 30 minutes to take 2 minute ride on carousel as it is one of the very few rides I can go on. A group decision is made that the queues for Alice’s Labyrinth do not justify walking through a bunch of chest-high hedges. What is the point of a maze when anyone over four and a half foot can see over the top? We go into different section of the park, I end up sitting on a bench whilst Emi and Elliot ride Pirates of the Caribbean. I’m glad they enjoyed it. We wander through various fake caves and man-made waterfalls for a while until we come to an Indiana Jones ride. Elliot wants to go on it but Emiko doesn’t. I am not allowed to. Elliot doesn’t want to go on rides by himself and is frustrated that Emi only really wants to go on the sort of rides we have in our hometown and none of the bigger rides, which she says are scary. This is the point where the day starts to go wrong.

Emiko gets stroppy because she claims we haven’t bought her a souvenir. I point out that we got her a princess outfit and she says that she didn’t really want it. I say we wouldn’t have spent that much buying it for her if we’d known that because she sure seemed like she wanted it it the shop. Somehow the situation escalates until Elliot and I are cross with her for being so ungrateful and she is saying she wants to go back to the hotel and sulk. The final straw comes when she tries to hit me and says we are ruining her perfect holiday. I point out that it is actually her who is ruining things. No one is happy now so we abandon the ride Elliot wanted to go on and head for Starbucks for coffee because it is the only thing we can think of.

Eventually Emi apologises. Elliot and I explain why her behaviour was unacceptable, then say that if she wants any more souvenirs she will have to spend her pocket money on them and is not to expect any more funding from us. We head to the Studio Park and wait in line to see Spiderman, which cheers everyone up.

Emi being rescued by Spiderman

Emi being rescued by Spiderman

The day continues a little better but Emiko is still reluctant to be adventurous with rides. Nothing she wants to go on is really worth the queues and everything Elliot wants to go on intimidates her. He doesn’t want to do any of it by himself and I am too pregnant to be allowed on any of it anyway. Emiko then pulls herself and Elliot out of the line for Thunder Mountain (one of the few rides she and Elliot both want to go on) because she needs the loo. The line is 70 minutes long so they do not bother to go back in. She doesn’t want to go in the haunted house and the boat ride is closed by the time we get there, so we spend forever waiting for the little train. We circle the park once and get off at Discovery Land. E and E do the Star Wars experience. I wait outside for ages as I cannot do that either. They both enjoyed it and I am happy.

This is what I was hoping for -they would have fun and I would live vicariously through them. They get in line for Space Mountain and I am patiently settling down to wait when they return, Elliot looking unimpressed. Emiko did want to go on it but then it made a loud noise and she changed her mind. Both Elliot and I are feeling like it was a bit of a waste of money to come when Emiko is not making the most of it so we decide to go back to the hotel. We stop to watch Queen Elsa go past as it just happens to be time for that. I am trying very hard not to show how disappointed and disillusioned I am with how this is all turning out. I don’t think anyone is enjoying this trip as much as I had intended. I am hoping tomorrow is better.

Day Three (29th August)

Us with Mickey and Minnie.

Us with Mickey and Minnie.

Day three is much, much better. Prepared for the queuing, we arrive earlier to see Mickey and Minnie Mouse and although the line is still long and the wait even longer, eventually we get to pose for pictures with them. Elliot is extremely amused when Mickey accidentally hits me in the face with his ears, because I’ve been doing it to Elliot all day with mine. We get tea and coffee and go to the Studio Park to watch the car stunt show, which is extremely entertaining and has choreographed chase scenes with shoot-outs, jumps, explosions and a biker who slides through flames and runs around on fire (planned and safely).

Lightening McQueen at the stunt show.

Lightening McQueen at the stunt show.

Following this, we wander around for a while then go on the boat ride we missed yesterday. It is also quite enjoyable. By this point my feet are killing me and I am too hot as it is very sunny, so we get Frozen-themed slushies and sit down. Then we take Emi to the Disney Store to spend her allowance, which has been burning a hole in her pocket ever since we arrived. She leaves with three new toys and we leave with a realisation that somewhere our parenting has gone wrong and we have to work on her materialism. We make her buy her own dinner with what’s left of her allowance to help teach her the value of money.  Thankfully, she is reasonably accepting of this and I think it helps her realise why we wanted her to experience the trip fully and not just think about buying toys the whole time. I also think she actually enjoyed getting her own receipt and food timer -it made her feel a bit grown-up and independent.

Day Four (30th August)

It’s our final day, so we check out of our hotel and go to the Disney Parks for a final look round. We collect our photos of us with Spiderman and Minnie. We end up going to see Stitch Live, which I probably enjoy as much as the kids do. My amusement is more entertaining for Elliot than the actual show, I think. I spend several minutes afterwards busting out my impression of Stitch (which I’ve been told is pretty good). Later we go to see the show CinéMagique. I’m not sure what to expect but it turns out to be a semi-interactive clip show which is very cool, although I wish they hadn’t included the clip from the Exorcist because the show was billed as family friendly. Emi may not have known what it was but she didn’t like it and I don’t find vomit remotely humorous.  We spend a long while killing time in Starbucks, as we have run out of things to do that we can logically fit in before our train leaves. We take a last look in the shops and I buy a fridge magnet for my collection and a pencil and pen for my friend RJ as little gifts-she is starting uni soon so I figure they’ll be useful. Train ride back is pretty uneventful and I am glad to be back home with my own bed.

I enjoyed parts of the holiday more than others. I am naturally inclined to focus on negative aspects of life but I am determined to come away from this trip remembering mostly the good times -I refuse to let a few unlucky moments darken my experience. I have never taken a child on holiday before and I think everyone learned some lessons there. We probably should have anticipated more how overwhelming it would be for Emi and we should have taken advantage of the disability fast pass you can get if your child has autism (but since her autism is mild we frequently don’t use things like that, it feels like they are aimed at people worse off and we like to give her the opportunity to cope for herself. Next time I think we’ll just take it when offered.) It was difficult being pregnant, I don’t thing we’ll go on vacation next time I am. And I won’t expect magical perfection from my next family holiday either -even if it is the fabled land of Disney.

11th October 2014 – No.65: Get Married

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_DSC2797Elliot and I met in 2007, at a shared friends birthday party. After that, he moved away for a while but when he came back to Hastings, he rented a room at my daughter’s dad’s house and we started to notice each other a bit. Elliot is extremely shy and I am just a bit dim about other people’s opinions of me, so we went around liking each other for ages before we realized the feeling was mutual. We started dating on May 8th 2011 and got engaged when on New Year’s Eve 2012. We set our wedding date for the 14th October 2014.

Elliot and I signing the marriage register

Elliot and me signing the marriage register

We stayed at different houses the night before so we could get ready separately.  I spent the morning at my mum’s house with my sister, daughter and the rest of my bridesmaids. The morning passed in a flurry of dresses, make-up and warm pain au chocolat, with less stress and panic than I’d suspected there might be, other than getting rained on a bit on the way to the car. Our wedding was taking place at a venue called the Azur, which has stunning views as it’s basically on the beach. Incidentally, it’s featured in the movie Byzantium (quite a lot of it is filmed in Hastings, where we live), so if you want to see what the room where we got married looks like, you can see it in the scene where Saoirse Ronan’s character is playing piano.)

Hannah's Cat form the traditional archway

Hannah’s Cat form the traditional archway

Arriving at the venue, I waited with my mum for my interview with the registrar (for those of you who are not English, they have to do a last minute interview before the ceremony to make sure it’s all above board.) I was feeling pretty nervous by this point, but happy nerves. Eventually the Master of Ceremonies said it was time, so I went into the hallway and joined the rest of my bridal party. My morris side was there to support me and they kicked things off by processing in, accompanied by live music. My bridesmaids Sue and Lou went next, followed by my twin sister and my daughter, who was scattering rose petals.

 

Elliot and me with our Lucky Sweep

Elliot and me with our Lucky Sweep

At that point, I realized I’d left my bouquet in the kitchen sink. There’s a rather funny photo taken at the point I told my mum this; she looks horrified.  Finally, it was my turn, so I took my mum’s arm and we walked in. I could see Elliot waiting for me, looking awesome in his suit. We did the part of the ceremony where my mum gave me away (when I first asked her to give me away she wasn’t keen on participating in what she viewed as an archaic idea of male ownership of women, but I pointed out that to me, it was more like saying, ‘I’ve spent my life loving this person and now it’s your turn; I’m trusting you to look after her heart.’ Then she was OK with it.)

Photograph ALL the guests!

Photograph ALL the guests!

The ceremony went pretty flawlessly, Elliot came in too soon on one of his vows and ended up saying “I will” twice. When it was my turn, I did the same thing as a little joke. We signed the register and processed out of the wedding room under the tradition arch of staves my morris side does whenever one of us gets married. We had some time then for drinks and congratulations and for photographs. We got several with our Lucky Sweep. It’s a dying British tradition that a chimney sweep at your wedding brings good luck and this particular sweep is the one who cleans the chimneys at my mum’s house -he used to make the brushes dance out the top of them to entertain me and my siblings when we were children. Since it had stopped raining and was actually quite beautifully sunny, we went outside for more photos, taken by Matt; the son of a friend of ours named Barny who had quite a hand in getting us together, since he was the one who told each of us that we liked each other and this is what resulted in our first date.

The bridesmaids and grooms men with the happy couple

The bridesmaids and grooms men with the happy couple

There are always an enormous amount of photos taken at weddings, so the photo-taking went on for some time and took up most of the gap between the wedding and the meal. I got a lot of compliments on my dress, and most people were surprised to discover it had been made for me by a very good friend out of about £30 worth of curtain fabric (we had a very low budget for our wedding.) We’d paid for a special package provided by our venue, the Azur, called the ‘Grand Wedding for a Grand’, so £1000 got us the venue, the master of ceremonies, a three course meal for 50 guests and the use of the venue for our reception at no extra cost. They were even happy for us to bring our own buffet for the evening. The meal options were very nice, a choice of gnocchi or winter root soup for starters, chicken breast in Marsala wine or  (actually, I’ve forgotten what the vegetarian option was because I didn’t eat it) for the main and warm chocolate brownie with mint ice cream, or apple crumble for dessert. Elliot bucked the menu, he said it was his wedding day and he was having steak, so he did. There were some rather envious looks when it was brought in sizzling away on a hot stone platter.

First drink together

Our first drink together as a married couple

The meal was of course followed by toasts, which we kept limited. Elliot’s cousin Be made one, since he was the best man -it was well put together and very funny. It is also the reason large numbers of people now refer to us as ‘Lizziot.’ My mother made a speech full of in jokes for me, which was very sweet but lost on most people, especially as my mother is a very quiet speaker and most of the room couldn’t hear her. Elliot wasn’t going to make a speech but ended up doing it off the cuff after our Master of Ceremonies announced him as doing one (obviously assuming he was planning on it.) It was short, simple and perfect. While dinner was being digested we took the chance for some more photo’s and then went back inside to socialise and welcome our evening guests.

My morris bells and Elliot's Joker socks

My morris bells and Elliot’s Joker socks

Our evening entertainment was a fantastic ceilidh band called the Sugarloaf Band and we had a whale of a time dancing the night away to their wonderful Irish music. Elliot and I had our first dance alone, consisting of an awkward shuffle in random circles because neither of us can waltz. We did actually try to get lessons but our teacher kept cancelling on us due to laryngitis, so we gave up.  Fortunately with ceilidh dancing you have a caller giving instructions, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the dance, it’s just a load of fun. It’s also not that easy in a fishtail dress.

Swapping headgear...

Swapping headgear…

We spent a happy evening chatting to our guests as they enjoyed the dancing and buffet, and all the guests that weren’t Elliot’s family commented on how many of the guests actually were his family -Elliot has a very large family and we had them visiting from places like Denmark and America as well as all over England. For our wedding cake we’d selected a chocolate cake shaped like a caterpillar. I thought it would be a waste of money to buy the usual fondant covered fruitcake that you usually get at weddings and I figured a party cake from our local Marks and Spencer’s would do fine (and it did.) Since Elliot’s cousin Sam had used a sword to cut the cake at his wedding, I’d been joking to Elliot that we should outdo him and use an axe -I was quite surprised when he suddenly produced a giant battle axe (courtesy of Be.) We duly used it to decapitate the caterpillar, which was funny until Be said ‘Now it’ll never be a butterfly’ and my daughter started crying. I think she was pretty tired and overwhelmed by then.

Cutting the cake :)

Cutting the cake 🙂

All good things come to an end and eventually we had to go home. Surrounded by joy and good wishes from our loved ones, we piled into a taxi with all the gifts, which we wouldn’t open until the next day. We got back happy and exhausted, made some tea, got into bed and watched Armageddon, since it was on TV.  It was a perfect day and I couldn’t have had it go any better.

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The doomed caterpillar cake meets it’s fate

7th December 2013 – No.47: Go Ice-skating

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image from pixaby

image from pixaby

Ah, ice-skating…that most wintery of pastimes, a sport I have have adored since I was a little girl and saw figure skating on TV.  Torville and Dean, Dancing on Ice…all making my little Wiggle heart go flutter. Alas, the Hastings ice-rink has been derelict since it closed in 1997 and I never did get to go when it was open. The nearest permanent one is too far away to get to without a car, so my only recourse is the temporary one which opens in our shopping centre every December for around a month.  It’s only been going for a few years and I just hadn’t got around to going yet, so when my friend Louise’s teenage daughter Lexy asked if I would go with her, I jumped at the chance. I met up with Lexy on the 7th of December 2013 at Priory Meadow Shopping Centre. We paid for our session and found skates in our sizes. We had a little wait for the previous session to end, so we watched the other skaters for a while.

 

47 - iceskating

I’m the one in the rainbow hat 🙂

When it was our turn, we filed onto the rink one-by-one. I’m afraid I kind of stepped on the ice, froze, and then inched out of the way when I realised I was blocking the entrance. I haven’t got very much experience with roller-blading and none whatsoever with skating, so it was always going to be a little awkward, especially as it takes me a few minutes to convince my legs to move, but eventually, I was off, like a snail in a race! It is quite a small rink and there were quite a few people on it, but I soon realised the greatest liabilities were the children, many of whom were aided by giant penguins that they pushed about whilst flailing madly with their legs. Prone to changing direction without the slightest warning, they each consumed around a square meter of ice and collisions were sometimes impossible to avoid. Lexy, being a keen and practiced skater, was literally skating circles around everybody at high speed, but she did stop to take some photos for me towards the end of our half hour.

47 - iceskating (2)

Afterwards, we went back to Lexy and Lou’s house and Lexy made me some hot chocolate, which is just the thing for a cold winter’s day. I was pretty pleased with myself; I had a lot of fun, I didn’t knock down any kids and I didn’t fall over once (although there was one dodgy moment.)

A day or two later, I showed my friend Thea my photos and she got no end of amusement from them. She says it’s funny seeing an adult skating like a beginner because she mostly sees young children skate that way. Being Canadian, obviously she was born ice-skating 😛 I offered to film it next time and she was quite taken with the idea, so come next December, I may well add a video to this post.

13th November 2013 – No.44b: Learn to Play the Flute; Grade Two Exam

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Flute Grade 2

I began studying for my Grade 2 flute exam shortly after I completed the first. Like last time, I chopped and changed the tunes I was learning, as I found some more or less enjoyable to play than others; but eventually I ended up with this selection: ‘Marche Militaire’ by (Franz Schubert), ‘The Liberty Bell’ (J.P. Sousa) and ‘Humoreske’ (Michael Rose), the last being my unaccompanied piece.  I also had two new scales, in addition to the ones from last time; A minor (harmonic or melodic at my choice) and D major (2 octaves)

I booked my exam for the 13th November, and once again booked my pianist Rebecca to accompany me in the exams. The day of, I went to rehearse at her house. Marche Militaire, I was pretty satisfied with; having practised it the most as it was the first in the book. The Liberty Bell, I had practised the least, as it was one I’d switched to later. Humoreske was always going to worry me, as it was the solo piece. Other than that I felt prepared. As per the plan, we then piled into Rebecca’s car and drove to Bexhill.

About five minutes before we arrived at the exam hall, Rebecca suddenly shouted ‘F*CK!…I’ve forgotten the music.” There was no time to go back, and my copy of the sheet music didn’t have the piano accompaniment on it, so there was no choice but to carry on to the hall and explain. Fortunately, someone had cancelled their exam later in the day, so they let me have that time slot instead and we went back to Rebecca’s house again. A quick cup of Earl Grey and another practise later, we tried again, this time arriving with no problem.

Most components of the exam went pretty well, although I once again flaked on the arpeggios (especially E minor), which is ridiculous really because I know them so well. I played D major perfectly on one breath, which I had never been able to do before. I thought my unaccompanied piece was alright. ‘Marche Militaire’ went great. The only blip other than my E minor arpeggio was ‘The Liberty Bell’. It was all going swimmingly, then in the fourth from last bar, I missed a note and blanked. I didn’t manage to come in again until the last note. Now I only missed three or four notes and Rebecca said it was the best she’d heard me play it, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

It was agonizing having to wait three weeks for my results. It was even more agonizing to check the ABRSM website and see my result – Pass. This is going to sound stupid, but I was devastated. I really wanted a Merit, I was sure I’d done enough to earn one, and so had Rebecca been. The worst part, was I couldn’t find out what went wrong until the breakdown arrived in the mail. It was nearly a week later that I finally got the breakdown of my results.

First, the bad news. For ‘The Liberty Bell’, I received 19/30 – a FAIL. Despite my performance having, and I quote, ‘rhythmic performance with clarity of articulation’, those last two bars I missed cost me dearly. Why am I being dramatic about this? Because there’s a really good chance not failing this segment would have got me the overall merit I was after.

For ‘Marche Militaire’, I got 23/30, a pass. While the character of the march was ’emphasised in (my) clear tonguing and rhythmic control’, the ‘repeated notes were not clear’. Ok, not bad, moving on. Unaccompanied piece, ‘Humoreske’ – 26/30, a merit! Yippee! The tone was ‘well-supported’ and the notes ‘confidently conveyed’, it was ‘a stable and effective performance’.

I also got a pass for my sight-reading (it’s not my strongest skill), a merit for my scales and (get this) a DISTINCTION for my aural test, 17/18! Who’d have thought it? All together, a respectable 116/150, exactly what I got last time, 4 marks off a merit. Well, it took me over a week to stop being pissed off that a relatively tiny mistake cost me my goal and to see that a pass at Grade 2 is still better than a pass at Grade 1 (I did, at least, get better. And in truth, I did pass two graded music exams in the same calendar year, so I did well.)

I can be very hard on myself and hold myself to high standards but that’s probably why even when I fail to achieve my goal, what I’m left with is still a good result. And hey, this is just an incentive to try EVEN HARDER next time to get what I want. Next step, Grade 3….

Yes, I'm wearing purple fluffy slippers :)

Yes, I’m wearing purple fluffy slippers 🙂

 

3rd of May 2013 – No.53: Walk from St.Leonards to Rye

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The walk from St.Leonards to Rye was an idea born many years ago when my father mentioned that it was possible to walk all the way to Rye by going along the clifftops. I decided then I was going to do it someday, although at the time I was too young to make such a walk unaccompanied. I intended to do it in 2011, then in 2012 but both those years the summers were really windy and rainy and the winters even harsher. Exposed on a clifftop, you really want no more than a light breeze and a little sunshine if you are after a pleasant walk. The summer of 2013, however turned out to be the hottest, sunniest summer we’d had since 2006, back before Emiko was born, when I wrote my list.
I mentioned my planned walk to my fiance Elliot to see if he was interested in coming with me and he was. Elliot loves hiking. He mentioned it to his cousin Be and he decided to come too. Finally, hearing of our expedition, our friend Sue decided to join us and so the date was set. The Long Walk, as it would come to be known, would take us 13.1 miles along the seafront from St.Leonards, where I lived, up onto the East Hill, which is part of the cliffs, through Hastings Country Park, which runs the length of them and then back down again. This was as far as I’d gotten before and the rest, while having been memorised from Googlemap, was technically an unknown.

Me, MEF and Be in a tree

Me, Elliot and Be in a tree

I liked the idea of setting off not knowing exactly how to get to my destination. I decided to use the occasion to test the weight of my disaster prep bag. I have been putting together three-day bags for use in an emergency resulting in us needing to leave our home (this is a government recommended precaution, not doomsday-prepper madness) and I wanted to make sure I could easily carry my supplies a fair distance.  We had planned to leave at 10am (because Be couldn’t meet us earlier), estimated the journey to take no more than 5 hours including breaks and aimed to arrive in Rye at around 3pm and celebrate with a well-earned cream tea. Life being life, of course that isn’t quite what happened. Various delays meant we didn’t meet Be until 12, so we were behind schedule.

The first part of the walk was lovely but hard-going. The clifftop is basically a series of hills, so you have to walk up and then down 4 or 5 slopes of varying steepness in order to get to the flat bit. While it kills the calves, going up isn’t too bad. You get beautiful views of parts of Hastings and the sea and the park itself is lovely. There are some really interesting plants up there. It’s a popular place to walk and we met quite a few people coming and going along the trail. We were asked to take a picture of a group of American tourists, who were quite pleased to discover Elliot is American too. When we were done, we got them to take our photo. Somewhere around 2, we stopped for lunch. Elliot and I had been to our local bakery before we left and had enormous rolls to eat. Mine was bacon. There is something really lovely about unwrapping greasy paper to reveal delicious meat and bread when you’ve been hiking.

L to R, MEF, Me, Sue, Be

L to R, Elliot, Me, Sue, Be

After lunch we carried on until we reached the village of Fairlight, where we proceeded to buy more water, having consumed all of ours during the last few hours. Once you get through Fairlight, you reach Pett Level and that is really where the Country Park ends. After that, you follow the Sea Road, a very long, straight and frankly, monotonous path along the pebble beach. It goes right alongside the old marshes, now home to numerous sheep. We did find an ice cream van though and I treated Sue and myself to an ice cream cone each.
Once you eventually reach the end of the Sea Road, you walk past a load of caravan holiday lets and take a shortcut across a field to reach the final stretch. This a road which has three very, very long straight roads, connected by corners, which means you can’t see Rye until you turn the last corner and even then it’s seems like a really long way away. By this point, we’d mostly stopped talking. While the uphill of the Country Park is harder on the legs, it’s variety and postcard views make it a more engaging walk than the latter half of the journey. I think we all just wanted to reach Rye so we could sit down, having not sat down since lunch, almost three hours ago.

The sign at Pett Level

The sign at Pett Level (that’s Sue and Be in the background)

We knew we were too late for cream tea, by the time we made it into Rye the teashops would all be closed, which was a little disappointing. Happily, while my feet hurt, the disaster bag wasn’t bothering me at all, which means I got the weight limit right. Plus, if anyone had needed first aid, I would have had supplies to hand. Finally, we spotted the sign that told us we had reached the official outskirts of Rye, at which point, Be took off running and crossed the invisible line.
“I win!” he shouted, and was promptly followed by Sue claiming second place. Elliot and I stopped to take a photo of me with the sign and before we crossed the boundary together. Then we walked into the centre of Rye and waited in the station carpark for Sue’s Mum, (whom everyone calls Mother because she mothers us all), to pick us up and drive us home again. All of us were exhausted and in dire need of a cup of tea but it was great fun and I am planning other Long Walks.

Me with sign at Rye

Me with the sign at Rye

17 of April 2013 – No.25: Go fire-walking

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image from pixaby

image from pixaby

I first came across the idea of fire-walking when I was a little child. I was going through a phase of fascination with all things paranormal and discovered an encyclopaedia in my local library detailing many things of a spooky persuasion, including the exploits of certain fakirs, who walked on burning coals. This is me we are talking about, so of course, my seven year old brain thought ‘I bet I could do that’ and yet another desire was born. I had known for ages that our local hospice, St.Michael’s Hospice would every few years hold a sponsored fire-walk to raise funds, but so far I had always missed the announcement and therefore the application deadline.  This year however, I was buying our local Observer on a weekly basis so I could keep up with the news on the Hastings Carnival Queen competition, so I did see it. I wasted no time in applying, paid my £10 entry fee and set about raising money.

On the 17th of April, my fiance Elliot and I went to William Parker School where the fire-walk was to take place. I registered and received my participation t-shirt. I could see the fire-pit laid out but not yet burning and began to get quite excited. There was quite a lot going on to entertain spectators while those of us taking part were getting our training/pep talk, so Elliot went off to get a burger and I joined my fellow fire-walkers in the school gym. The training was mostly designed to get everyone hyped up and confident and to lay potential worries to rest. I didn’t really have any worries or doubts about my ability to go through with it, because I had already researched the physics behind the act. Fire-walking is possible because of several things: firstly, by the time the fire dies down to embers, it is mostly carbon and ash, both of which are poor conductors of heat. Secondly, you walk across the embers quickly, so there is no time for heat to transfer (this is similar to the trick where you pass your finger through a candle flame, if you’ve ever tried it) and thirdly, at that time of year the grass is usually damp and forms a moisture barrier on your feet. There is actually an episode of Mythbusters where they demonstrate the effectiveness of the moisture barrier by dipping their hands in molten lead. So unless you stand on the fire, you will not get burnt.

An hour or so later, suitably pepped up by our training exercises, the participants and I exited the gym and assembled around the fire, by now at the preferable state for walking across. There followed some showmanship by the event organisers where they demonstrated the temperature of the fire with heat sensors and then they began sending us across, accompanied by furious drumming by the local Section 5 drummers.  I took off my shoes, rolled up my trouser legs and joined the queue. Finally my turn came. The guy running the event asked everyone by turn the same two questions to determine we were ready before they let us go.

“What is your name?” asked the guy.

“Elizabeth Fitzgerald” I answered confidently.

“Are you ready?” he roared at me.

“Yes!” I bellowed back, and walked briskly out onto the burning coals in my bare feet. I felt a cosy warmth beneath my soles and before I knew it, had crashed into the man at the other end who was there to stop people like me who over-enthusiastically carried on charging down the field after we had left the fire behind us. Then I turned around and joined the group of people who had completed the challenge to cheer on the remaining people. One girl even did the fire-walk in her bikini!

Afterwards I joined Elliot, who said it was awesome and then gave me the unfortunate news that none of his photos had come out. They were all blurred from the motion and the amount of ash in the air, so unfortunately I cannot show them to you. I was quite disappointed but I cheered up when the celebratory firework display started up at the end. A week later, I received my certificate in the mail, along with a letter thanking me for the £115 I had raised.

Despite the sad lack of photographic evidence, the whole experience was brilliant and I will always have my memories. I always knew I could do it and now I have proved I can. 🙂

16. 25. Firewalking

14th of April 2013 – No.30a: Compete in a Beauty Pageant

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I had been meaning to enter the competition for Hastings Carnival /Miss Hastings for a long time but had not had the confidence. Even so, I couldn’t shake the desire to try, so in 2013, I plucked up my courage and entered.

The photo I used to enter.

The photo I used to enter.

The competition is actually just a public interview, unlike American pageants there is no talent section or modelling but you do have to wear something nice and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to trot out the shoes I bought with my birthday money. These shoes are the Best Shoes Ever. They are Irregular Choice ‘I’m Bossy’ shoes in green and they have little bunny buttons sewn on the toes. (You can see them here http://www.polyvore.com/irregular_choice_im_bossy/thing?id=28626862)

The only problem is I had nothing that went with them, so my friend Sue and I made a pink polka dot skirt and sewed little rabbits along the hem. A few days before the competition, my poor little Emi came down with a bug and subsequently passed it on to me, albeit much more mildly.  I was really worried that I was going to unable to participate through illness, however I continued to prepare and even managed to get down to the nail salon the day before (accompanied by Elliot to make sure I was OK, even though the smell of the nail stuff gives him a headache- there’s love for you). I got pink polka dot to match the skirt.

A couple of hours before the competition, I began getting ready, dressing in the pink polka dot skirt, plus a cute cream cardigan and the Best Shoes Ever. A friend came over to do my make-up, watched like a hawk by Emiko, who is fascinated by her as she looks rather like her ‘Operetta’ Monster High doll. There was a mild panic when she accidentally dropped the mascara brush on my skirt but with a little soap and water we did get it out eventually. I added a few accessories, a bracelet Sue made me and a turquoise necklace Elliot bought me, then we said goodbye to Emiko and her babysitter and drove over to the venue.

At the beginning of the competition

Photography by Alun Sambrook – At the beginning of the competition

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who had turned out to support me and began feeling quite excited and happily nervous. All the contestants were rounded up and taken to a room downstairs for the pre-contest briefing and the opportunity to meet last year’s winner, the Mayor of Hastings, and the rest of the judges. We had a wait of ¾ of an hour until the pageant began, so we started chatting amongst ourselves and getting to know one another. I mostly talked to one of last year’s princesses, who told me she was a cheerleader and rode horses. She seemed very nice, as did most of the girls.
Finally, it was time and we were guided out to parade in front of the audience and judges, before going backstage. From there we were called up one by one for our interview. When it was my turn, I stood up straight, smiled my best beauty queen smile and walked elegantly (I hope) onto the stage. Taking my seat on the bar stool, I answered a series of questions from the compere.

Photography by Alun Sambrook - Being interviewed

Photography by Alun Sambrook – Being interviewed

“So, tell us a little about yourself,” invited the compere.
“Well,” I smiled charmingly, “I volunteer as a Girlguiding Leader with the Rainbows, I love to dance and I am learning to play the flute.”
“And how long have you lived in Hastings?”
“I was born here.”
“In the Old Town?”
“Er, no, central Hastings”, I answered, caught off-guard for a moment as there are no hospitals near the Old Town. There are none in central Hastings either, so it was a stupid answer to the question and internally, I was thinking ‘I probably should have just said yes.’
“What prompted you to apply for Carnival Queen?” he continued.
“It seemed like a good opportunity to promote our lovely town and at the same time make friends and enjoy new experiences,” I responded.

Photography by Alun Sambrook - Being interviewed

Photography by Alun Sambrook – Being interviewed

“What is your favourite thing about our town?” the compère asked, as he had to every contestant. Knowing that every girl before me had said the same thing I was planning to say, namely that the town’s events were the best thing, I ad-libbed from my practiced answer a little at the beginning, before ending with my rehearsed response:
“I think Hastings is a place where people can really be themselves and feel free to express their individuality. I also love the sense of community that comes with events such as Jack in the Green, Pirate Day and of course, Hastings Week and the Carnival.”
“Thank you; let’s have a round of applause for Elizabeth!”
I stood up and walked off-stage past the judges, smiling and waving as if I were the Queen of England, catching a glimpse of my adoring fans (Elliot and my friends) as I walked past. Once all the contestants had been interviewed, we were allowed to hang out with our friends and family until the judges had finished deliberating.

All of my friends asked me how I was doing and I told them I was having fun. Rosie wanted to know if I’d been nervous and I told her truthfully I’d been more nervous about the flute exam. Elliot was disappointed that none of his photos had come out well. One friend had brought all her kids to support me, which was nice. Soon enough it was time for the results, so along with the other eight finalists, I walked back on-stage and seated myself to await the announcement.

Photo by Elliot - The announcement

Photo by Elliot – The announcement

Photography by Alun Sambrook - All the contestants

Photography by Alun Sambrook – All the contestants

The crowns and sashes were laid out on the table and the thrones were positioned at the front of the stage.  The compère seemed determined to draw out the suspense as long as possible, listing the various prizes for the winners, but even so, I was surprised when one contestant’s mother, standing far too close to the stage, yelled out:
“Get on with it!” but  the compère continued unperturbed. The title of Second Princess, he informed us, went to a 14 year-old, the youngest contestant. That was when I knew I hadn’t won. I just had a gut feeling about it, so I was graciously accepting when First Princess went to one of last year’s Princesses and the titles of Old Town Carnival Queen and Miss Hastings went to a girl who’d previously been the Hastings May Queen. Not so the rude mother, who shrieked:
“What a crock of sh*t!” and stormed out, leaving her poor daughter on the stage to face the embarrassment of everyone pointing her out and muttering to each other. While I felt sorry for her, I felt even sorrier for the new Carnival Queen, having her victory moment marred by such an outburst.

Photography by Alun Sambrook - The winners, with everyone else

Photography by Alun Sambrook – The winners, with everyone else

My friends all said they were genuinely surprised that I didn’t at least get Princess but I didn’t really think much of my odds to begin with which is why the goal is ‘compete in a beauty pageant’ and not ‘win a beauty pageant’. You might be wondering why I would bother going for something I believed I had low odds of winning but then if I never entered then my odds of winning would have been 0 and not 1-in-9, so there you go.
P.S. And yes, I did spend the next morning crying in my bathroom  but I know in my heart that in the eyes of my friends, fiancé and family, I am beautiful and will always be a Queen. I’m not giving up.

Thanks go to Alun Sambrook for the use of his images.