Those of you who know me in ‘real life’ or follow any of my blogs might know that I have something of an addictive personality. I also like a challenge. Whilst living in London I took part in the Big Egg Hunt 2012 and Big Egg Hunt 2013, and also BT ArtBox; three similar events where fibreglass objects are painted by artists to raise money for charities, and members of the public are encouraged to hunt around to find them all. In the 2012 Big Egg Hunt I found 209 of the 210 eggs (one was never actually on display) and in 2013 I found all 102 eggs. I didn’t do as well with the phone boxes, and only found 69 out of 83 or 84.
Naturally, I was very excited to hear that a similar event was being held in Bristol this year, just after I moved to this fabulous city. These events are a great way to explore a place, and I learnt a lot about London whilst taking part in the previous events, so I was very keen to have a go at the Gromit Unleashed trail.
Gromit Unleashed runs from 1st July – 8th September, and sees 80 Gromit (the dog from popular animation Wallace and Gromit) statues scattered around Bristol and the surrounding area (with one in London Paddington). When I saw the map I thought there would be no way I could collect them all, even though I did have plans to go to London, because some of the ones on the outskirts of Bristol were just too far away. Distant locations included Cheddar Gorge and Westonbirt Arboretum, which would be very difficult to get to using public transport alone. Luckily, my Mum is as crazy as I am and was up for a spot of Gromiting by car! (‘Gromiting’, by the way, is the new word that has been coined because of this event. I hope it makes it into the dictionary!)
I spotted my first Gromit before the trail had officially begun, when the statues were still being painted in May, and today (with a LOT of help from my mum and her car) I found my 80th Gromit!
I’ve seen so much of Bristol and the surrounding area now and have got a real feel for the place. It’s been lovely to drive through the countryside, walk around different parts of town, and discover new things. All throughout the trail I’ve been glued to the official Gromit Unleashed app, which I have to say is absolutely smashing! It’s very playfully made, with great Gromiting music and little snippets from Wallace whenever you ‘find’ a Gromit. The whole event has brought out the child in me, and it’s been crackin’ fun, Gromit!
Of course, there’s a serious side to this, and one mustn’t forget that this wonderful event is all in aid of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity. The statues will be auctioned off in October to raise money for the charity.
If all of this sounds like jolly good fun to you, there’s still two weeks left to see the Gromits (until 8th September). Then, from 18th – 22nd September all 80 Gromits will form a public exhibition titled ‘The Greatest Dog Show on Earth’ at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Clifton, Bristol. For more information, visit: www.gromitunleashed.org.uk.
Here are the 80 Gromits, and for more pictures please visit my Flickr set.
I had another cycling lesson tonight, and it was great. I spent the week dreaming that perhaps one lesson would be enough and that today I would just cycle off into the sunset, but I know it will take more work than that. Already I’ve learnt that good things are worth working for, and have certainly reinforced the old saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. I did well today, and still no injuries, but I do have a long way to go.
My cycling teacher said something tonight which really rang true, and I don’t know if she realised how deep and meaningful it was when she said it, or if she was simply offering me cycling advice. To paraphrase, she said, “It’s no good looking in one direction forever as you’ll only go that way. You have to remember to look where you want to go.”
Those are the words I’m going to take with me this week as I ride in to the second half of the year. I have a very different perspective on life now than I did when the year began, simply because I started looking in a different direction, towards where I wanted to go. I’m quite happy going the way I’m going at the moment, but I mustn’t forget to look around me too, and to keep my eyes open for all opportunities that come my way, whatever the direction.
The phrase “it’s like learning to ride a bike” is one I don’t think I have ever uttered. It’s a common phrase used to explain how easy it is to master a skill. Everyone can ride a bike, can’t they?
No, they can’t.
I’m 31 years old and have never learnt to ride a bike. For various reasons I didn’t have one when I was growing up, and by the time I was an awkward, overweight teenager it was just too embarrassing to even consider trying to learn. I did briefly have a go once, but failed quickly and found trying to teach myself was actually really hard. I’m not usually one to quit something because it’s hard, but I just figured I would muddle through life without wheels, and I’ve managed pretty well until now.
I haven’t written this blog for a while, but if you follow my other blogs you’ll know I’ve been settling in to my new life in Bristol really well and loving every minute of it. I can now walk to work (rather than using public transport), and it only takes about 30 minutes, so I spend a lot of time marching across town, getting lots of exercise. Every day I’m passed by countless speedy cyclists, whizzing along without a care in the world, and I admit I do sometimes feel pangs of jealousy. Not only is it a fast way to get from A to B, cycling looks like fun.
But I’ve lived in places with lots of cyclists before. In Japan people can cycle on the pavement and pretty much everyone rides a bike, it seems. I was a bit jealous then too, but I managed fine on my feet. By the time I had become an adult I had well and truly convinced myself that I wasn’t meant to be a cyclist. I was too big, probably had no sense of balance, and didn’t really need to cycle anyway.
Then, a few weeks ago something snapped inside me and I realised I was missing out. I was reading about an island in Japan that I’d like to visit someday, and how you can have so much fun if you just hire a bike there and cycle around, and I just thought “this is ridiculous”.
A quick Google led me straight to Life Cycle, a “small, energetic, innovative and committed Bristol-based charity helping local people transform their lives through cycling”. It said they offered free cycling lessons for adults living, working or studying in the Bristol City Council area, and I immediately signed up.
Signing up alone took a lot of nerve – this was a hell of a mountain I was about to conquer – but I knew I still had to actually go through with the lesson. In order to make sure I didn’t chicken out, I told everyone I was going to the lesson. It was embarrassing to not be able to cycle as an adult, but it would be worse to not even try to learn and have to tell people I hadn’t done it.
So, tonight I went along to a park to meet a woman with a bicycle. I was terribly nervous – scared that I would fall off and hurt myself, worried that I would look a fool, embarrassed about being an adult who couldn’t ride a bike. Fortunately my teacher was really kind, and reassured me that hundreds of adults can’t do things that other people take for granted, like cycling and swimming, and that she taught adults to ride bikes all the time. She really put me at ease and, although I was quite distracted by how silly I thought I must look, I managed to get on with it and have a go.
And, do you know what? I can do it!
I actually managed to ride a bike today, for the first time in my life. Of course, the teacher supported me at first, but before even half the lesson was up I was able to do it on my own (albeit with a bit of a wobble, and not necessarily in a straight line). I have two more free lessons, and I intend to make good use of them! Of course, at some point I shall need to buy a bike too, but I’m not going to try and run before I can cycle. 😉
I feel so proud of myself, not just because I could ride a bike, but because I was brave enough to have a go. I’m not writing this blog post to blow my own trumpet though, I’m writing it because I’d like to inspire others to get over their fears and jump the hurdles in their lives. Yes, it’s embarrassing if you can’t do something, for whatever reason, but there’s bound to be someone out there who can help you learn that skill or get over that fear. I’m so pleased that I didn’t just bookmark the page as “something to do one day” but that I actually went straight ahead and booked a lesson.
I’ll end with one of my favourite inspirational quotes:
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it… Boldness has genius, magic and power in it, begin it now!”
(Quote attributed to Goethe, but possibly from another source)
If you follow my other blogs, Haikugirl’s Japan or Picturing England, you might already know that I’m moving to Bristol at the end of the month for a new job. London is a brilliant city, but it can get tiring, and I’m ready for a new adventure. I’m actually really excited about having a whole new city at my doorstep to explore, and have found myself exploring already even though I haven’t moved yet. I was in Bristol on Friday flat hunting, and managed to cover rather a lot of ground (on foot) while looking for a place to live. On Saturday morning I was too tired to walk far, but had a little wander around the harbour.
I found a curious bridge called ‘Pero’s Bridge‘, dedicated to the memory of Pero, an enslaved African man who was brought to Bristol in 1783 as a servant.
On the bridge, I was delighted to find some love locks. As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of this often neglected blog, I have a bit of a thing for ‘love locks’. Love locks, as I call them, are the padlocks that people leave on bridges, declaring their undying love for one another. I guess I am a romantic at heart.
I’m glad to know there’s a little bit of love in Bristol…
You might remember from previous posts that I’ve got a little bit of a thing for the modern tradition of love locks; that is, people declaring their love for each other on a padlock, and locking it to (usually) a bridge in a public place. You can read more about love locks I’ve found before in these posts: part #1 (Brooklyn Bridge, New York), part #2 (Hungerford bridge & Tower Bridge in London), and part #3 (Shoreditch, London).
Now I’m back with part #4, because this weekend I visited the British Heart Foundation Love Installation at Covent Garden.
For a suggested donation of £3, Joe Public and his adoring girlfriend/wife/lover have been able to declare their undying love for each other on a red padlock this week, and lock it to a giant installation reading ‘LOVE’. Actually, looking at the love locks, it hasn’t just been romantic love that has been declared – there have also been friendships, family love, love for places, and memorials to loved ones.
I visited the installation on Friday night, but it was too dark to get good pictures. I went back on Saturday, but it was too crowded. So, not wanting to miss out, I decided to go into town again this morning before the shops opened and get some more photos. I was really moved by some of the declarations I read, and even left one of my own (see if you can spot it).
The installation (and a similar one at Camden Lock) were in aid of National Heart Month (February).
Last year I enjoyed taking part in the Big Egg Hunt and finding 209 eggs hidden all over London (see 2012’s post), so I was delighted to hear that the Big Egg Hunt was back this year. On a slightly smaller scale, this year there are only 101 eggs to find (plus the mascot, Eggbert), and this time the eggs are only scattered around Covent Garden, not the whole of London. Most of the eggs are really easy to find, and it only took me last night and an hour or so today to snap them all.
All of the eggs in The Big Egg Hunt are decorated and designed by different artists, painters, sculptors and ceramicists, and some of them are really creative and original. The headline artists are Sam Taylor-Johnson (formerly Taylor-Wood), Billy Childish, Alexis Harding and Michael Petry.
One of the best things about the Big Egg Hunt is the great atmosphere it produces. Suddenly everyone is on the same mission, and complete strangers happily chat to each other in the streets. I met this lovely chap today who made the effort to call out to me when he saw me again later and offer me helping in finding Eggbert, who was hiding. Usually in London people don’t look at each other, let along speak to each other, so it make a really nice change to discover that there are in fact some friendly people out there. The Eggsperts hovering around Covent Garden selling books and giving out chocolate were also lovely!
The Big Egg Hunt is sponsored by Lindt chocolate and in support of Action for Children, a charity committed to helping the most vulnerable and neglected children in the UK. The Big Egg Hunt will be in London until Sunday 17th February, before it moves off to Birmingham (19th – 25th February), Liverpool (27th February – 5th March), Manchester (7th – 13th March), Glasgow (15th – 20th March) and then finally back to London for Easter (22nd March – 1st April).
Find out more at thebigegghunk.co.uk.
I don’t think I would ever have enough time to respond to all of WordPress’s ‘daily prompts’, but this year I hope to do some of them when the mood takes me. Today I feel the urge, so here I am responding to the challenge of sharing my favourite quote and explaining why it moves me.
Here’s the one quote I always return to:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. (Mark Twain)
I think it’s fairly obvious why I like this quote – it’s all about following your dreams, throwing caution to the wind, and not being afraid to have a go. Although that’s not a philosophy I’ve always stuck to in my life, it is something that is generally in the back of my mind when I’m making big decisions (like when I quit a well paid job in publishing to go and live in Japan).
This quote usually comes to mind whenever I see the sea. The sea calms me, but also excites me, because it makes me think of adventures and travel. I love the idea of literally throwing off my bowlines and sailing away from the safe harbour, off into the distance, in search of adventure. We’ve got it all too easy these days, what with hoping on planes and being able to communicate so easily with people on the other side of the world. Sometimes I long for the days when people had to go on epic journeys because there was no other way to get from A to B, and when the journey was all part of the adventure. Now everything seems to be about how fast we can get from A to B, and how much we can distract ourselves with technology along the way. When we get to our destination, we already know what we’re going to find, because we’ve seen it all online already.
We must never forget to explore, dream, and discover, wherever we are.
Have you read Miranda Hart‘s book, Is It Just Me?, yet? No? Why on earth not?
I finished reading it yesterday and feel the need to share now. I laughed (out loud, sometimes, while in public places), I almost cried, and I nodded my head in agreement quite a lot (on pretty much every page actually – must have looked like some kind of nodding dog). Throughout most of the book a knowing smile was spread across my face, and people around me on the train or in Starbucks must have wondered what it was that I knew that they didn’t. It was simple – I knew I was reading a gem of a book!
Just before I read the final chapter of the book I had been wandering along a quiet street in south-west London when I suddenly imagined myself bumping into Miranda Hart (probably literally, since we both seem prone to bumping into things). I often imagine such scenarios, and now I know that it’s not just me who does this, which is reassuring. After bumping into Miranda, I imagined apologising profusely, laughing it off together, and then explaining to her that I was just about to finish reading her book and that I loved it. In the past when I’ve met famous people I’ve become a jabbering sweaty fool (sorry Jonathan Ross!), but on this occasion I would exude confidence and wit and Miranda would instantly see that I was her kind of people (that’s how the fantasy went, anyway).
Because I am, dear reader, I am her kind of people. The book asks “is it just me?”, and I can say with total confidence that it most certainly is not just you, Miranda. Never have I read a book I related to more. It was hilarious because life is hilarious, isn’t it? And if you don’t laugh, you’ll probably just cry. Or sit around frowning, which I admit I am prone to doing sometimes.
Right from the first page I knew I was going to love Is It Just Me?. Miranda talks about where you might be reading the book (I was stood in Sainsbury’s having not actually bought said book yet, trying to kill some time because the tills weren’t open – bloomin’ Sunday trading laws). On that first page Miranda makes a reference to commuting, which perfectly describes why I hate it with such a passion: “Maybe you’re standing on a commuter train, using this book as a filter between you and a repellent armpit. If so, I’m terribly sorry. That’s no way to start the day, is it? Face in a pit.“. I knew I was going to love every word that followed.
Is It Just Me? is an amusing romp through life’s trials and tribulations (good word, ‘tribulations’), in which Miranda talks to her 18-year-old self, who attends and all-female boarding school. As she covers each topic, from music and hobbies to office life, to diets, dating and dreams, Miranda gives advice, tells anecdotes and asks “is it just me?”. If you’ve ever seen her wonderful BBC comedy (currently showing series 3 on Mondays at 9pm), you’ll have an idea what kind of stories you’re in for. These are stories of ordinary stuff, like how to balance a drink and plate at a buffet and actually eat the foot on your plate (you can’t, it’s impossible), making small talk with super intelligent people (just don’t get me started on that!), and carrying watermelons (we’ve all seen Dirty Dancing, right?).
But it’s the last chapter on ‘dreams’ which I really adored, and which actually brought a tear to my eye. I won’t ruin it for you, because I do insist you buy and read this book yourself, but Miranda talks about the importance of following one’s dreams, just as she has done. She reminds us all that life is silly and difficult at times, but that we must hold on to our dreams, even the little ones. We must also be honest with ourselves about what those dreams are, and not attempt to make our dreams fit in with what we think we should be doing or what the rest of the world thinks we should be doing. If it’s been your dream since childhood, and it’s still your dream now, then it probably is what you ought to be doing. I’ll give you a small quote:
I think it’s sad when people stop dreaming, or start losing hope. Because holding onto the bonkers dream might just turn out to be the most marvellous thing you ever did…. Allow me to sit back, fold my arms, hoist my trousers northwards and say, ‘YOU. YOU are the person this industry has been waiting for.
So it was with this thought about dreams that I finished Is It Just Me?, while riding on a slightly sweaty Piccadilly Line tube, face not quite in a pit. Ever since I can remember I have been writing stories. When I was a kid I wrote stories about killer piranha fish and Sylvanian Families. Now I write stories about Japan. Although it’s always been my dream to be a writer, I guess I struggle with the idea that I actually could. I find it hard to imagine walking into a bookshop and seeing my book on the shelf (I’d better hurry up or bookshops might cease to exist, what with all this technology), or being invited to a bookshop to give a reading, but why shouldn’t I achieve my dream?
When I heard Miranda had a book out, I just thought it would be a jolly good laugh to read – such fun – and it was, but I didn’t expect to get a real life lesson too.
Thank you, Miranda Hart, for what I call I really fabulous book!