Hello 2013

My ideal way of spending today would have been tramping through the wilds of Hampstead Heath. (In the style of a Richard Curtis film, complete with co-ordinated winter knitwear and a handsome man on my arm, obviously.) However, that wasn’t to be, so instead I spent it watching donkeys, cheerleaders, Storm Troopers, Games Makers and kites fly through the streets of Piccadilly. (Clarification: only the kites were flying, everyone else had their feet firmly on the ground, apart from the unicyclers of Hackney and stilt-walkers of Barking.)

Ballooooons!

Impressive kites, no? 

It was the London New Years Day Parade, a rather bizarre event that goes on for a phenomenal length of time and features a competition between London’s boroughs as to has the best float – my money was on Merton. (Yes, that’s a borough!) A friend’s boyfriend was one of the Games Makers, so I kept her company during the two hour wait on the cold streets before his appearance. I already have one numb toe – by the time we left I had eight!

That would be the donkey breeding society. No, I had no idea either.
(Their marching was accompanied by a rendition of ‘Little Donkey’. Awesome!)

The point of this introduction is to say that, should I be collecting them, attending the parade would be a 2013 First. However, I’m virtually certain that I won’t be doing that this year. It’s been three years and my motivation to try new things has grown beyond belief (I believe Easter’s foray into snail eating might be the pinnacle of this), so it’s served its purpose. I’m an awful lot readier to try something out than I was when 2010 dawned. It’s also inspired a lot of other people to keep track of their own firsts – my mum, for example, is now recording her ’60 Firsts’. I’m fairly sure it’s not a list of 60 things she’ll do for the first time, but in fact things she’ll do for the first time now that she’s 60 (like having a pedicure and getting her senior citizen’s railcard).

As I’m sure I’ve said before, I don’t do resolutions. Once I’m back at work, my commitment to My Fitness Pal (the best calorie counting app out there, in my humble opinion) will resume; I have a new gym membership – but that’s thanks to a special offer I can actually afford; and my current mission to sort certain aspects of my life out began several weeks ago and is non-calendar related. However, I do like a challenge, and thus I’m grateful to Jenni for her suggestion of something I should do in 2013.

It’s not massively original, but it is something I’ll enjoy and ought not to be too challenging – it’s simply a 365 day photo challenge. There’s no theme, the idea is basically to capture something beautiful (or just interesting, failing that, it’ll be food…) in the ordinary-ness of every day. (I’ll admit that my days aren’t always the most ordinary, but still, the principle’s there.) It’s being facilitated by the rather fabulous new Flickr app (the acquisition of which I think gained three extra months on my pro membership). I may try and round up the photos on a regular basis, but otherwise they’ll have their own set on Flickr and will inevitably get tweeted.

And what of 2013? Well, there are already a number of adventures in the pipeline…

  • Next month I’ll be visiting Africa for the very first time, specifically, Uganda. It’s super exciting and I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity by Tearfund. There will be more (much more) about this soon – in fact, I’ll probably bore you all rigid talking about it!
  • Easter sees a return to Chateau Duffy. (Want to come too?)
  • Fingers crossed I’ll be heading back to Texas at some point in the summer (I’ve got a bit of a research project brewing).
  • Then there’s the ongoing adventure that is vicar training, though 2013 sees the beginning of the end with the commencement of curacy hunting. Scary stuff!

The other thing that 2013 holds is the launch of lizclutterbuck.com! I promise! I know this has been a very, very long time coming. (I was chastised recently by a friend for not getting my act together – I’m now worried that this will be a massive disappointment to all who are eagerly awaiting it.) Basically, it’s been in my hands for over a month and hopefully in the next few days I’ll be able to send word to my web designer that my part’s done, and it’s time to begin the final stage of the process. It definitely needs to be up and running pre-Uganda, so there’s at least a deadline! (However, I am getting this as a freebie, so there are limits to how quickly this can happen. Needless to say, I’m extremely grateful.)

2012 Firsts

All the things I ‘achieved’ for the first time in 2012:

Eaten at Bill’s Cafe
Drunk at the Milk Bar, Soho
Consumed a Lemon Meringue Cupcake
Had dinner at Leon
Participated in a WADs viewing
Watched a film at the Soho Curzon
Been a member of the audience at BBC TV Centre
Watched Room 101 being recorded
Watched a play at the Vaudeville Theatre
Eaten at the Saville Club
Given a talk at an Alpha Course
Preached at St George’s
Led 7am prayers
Been to a KCL GMS performance
Had a haircut at Hair by Fairy
Led a morning service at St George’s
Visited Claridges
Held a Fabergé egg
Worshipped at St Margaret Lothbury
Stayed at Wydale Hall
Visited the new bit of Broadcasting House
Heard Roxanne Emery perform live
Watched Sadie & the Hotheads play
Travelled to Paris solo
Drunk ginger rum
Strimmed
Watched The Princess Bride
Attended the HTB Leadership Conference
Spent time in the same room as Tony Blair
Flown with Aer Lingus
Given a keynote address at a conference
Flown Delta
Visited Atlanta airport
Drunk frozen margarita(s)
Drunk frozen sangria(s)
Eaten a kolache
Had a pedicure
Eaten shrimp
Visited San Antonio & Detroit airports
Stayed in Mablethorpe
Experienced Focus
Attended a BBC Prom
Danced at a silent disco
Participated in a Google+ Hangout
Studied at St Jude’s
Had a (non-dental) x-ray
Run a Student Alpha course
Played mafia
Preached at St Mellitus
Baked pecan pie
Listened to the General Synod livestream
Played Musical Bingo
Had an MRI scan
Visited the Royal Academy of Art
Conducted the St George’s Christmas Choir
Munched at Theoc House in Tewksbury
Drunk Spiced Apple & Rhubarb Magners

Farewell 2012

My mother has tweeted to complain about my lack of blogging over the holiday season, so I feel compelled to post something before the year is out. (Ironically, I suspect she might also have complained had I spent much of the four days we had together at Christmas with my face behind a screen, chronicling our adventures.) In fact, since I returned from the shire, I’ve been busy…

Well, not that busy. I’ve had the flat to myself; an edict against any form of healthy eating (until tomorrow); a stash of iPlayered Christmas goodies; a season of Glee; and a sudden passion to cover the flat’s walls with pictures. (Oh, and the small matter of two essays.) All in all, not a bad way to spend a few days of solitude.

And like that, the end of the year is upon us! The New Year’s Eve grinch has firmly taken hold of me this year, and I see little point in ridiculous celebrations, but it seems appropriate to reflect upon the year on which the sun is currently setting. Reviews of the year can be a little bit dull, but perhaps I can liven it up a bit? Or, perhaps I will just deliberately be dull and write mine in the style of a round-robin Christmas letter? This year I reached the grown-up landmark of receiving my very first one in the post (from San Diego in fact – and it was not in the least bit dull), but did also get to read the basket of epistles that my parents receive on an annual basis.

The 2012 Firsts – more of them anon too…

Ok, I tried writing a round-robin style thing and it didn’t go anywhere. Either I’m spectacularly dull, or the fact that I write a blog completely defeats the point of writing one! I did say to someone the other day that if/when I reach that stage of life, I’ll just put a hyperlink in my Christmas cards. Perhaps it’s simply worth collating a few of my favourite things from 2012? (I’m currently watching The Sound of Music – it inspired a particularly insipid paragraph of my letter.) Follow the links if you care to, that’s where the interesting stuff will be…

Favourite birthday party:
Celebrating my mother’s own diamond jubilee the same weekend as the Queen’s – complete with surprise guests and a trip to the Titanic dockyard. (Oh yes, I know how to have a great time!)

Favourite treasure hunt experience:
The eggs. How we loved the eggs. Sure, the Olympic trail with mascots Mandeville & Wenlock was fun (especially when playing the Statue Game) but the eggs were an eggcellent obsession.

Favourite overseas adventure:
One word: Texas. Yes, there have also been three trips to France, but Texas exceeded all expectations and yielded one experience that is still, 6 months on, my highlight of the year – lying in the rapids at Mo Ranch contemplating the world.

Favourite international sporting event that took place in London:
There’s not much that can beat Wimbledon in my world, but the Olympics (and Paralympics) beat it hollow this year. I was nearly in tears the other day watching The 50 Greatest Olympic Moments, such were the memories it evoked. Simply an amazing summer.

Favourite ‘Church of England makes a massive mistake’ moment:
This might seem like an odd favourite thing, but however ridiculous the women bishops vote was, the aftermath has proved to be very interesting (and there’s a whole other blog post on this subject that’ll be posted in the new year).

Favourite instance of sharing space with a celebrity:
Sure, I’ve shared a tipi with JLS; a branch of Leon with Simon Mayo; an auditorium with literary greats; watched Lady Grantham’s (Downton) band play; and was sat behind Victoria Coren at HIGNFY, but the winner has to be watching Robert Redford being interviewed in front of me during a live Wittertainment broadcast. Robert Redford = film royalty.

Favourite day of acting like a child, despite being 31:
Harry Potter day. Utterly no contest.

It’s been great, but already 2013 looks set to be exciting – but more of that tomorrow. For now, let’s remember what’s made 2012 wonderful and rejoice in it.

Merry pseudo Christmas

A couple of months ago, I ‘celebrated’ Christmas early, with fake snow, over excited young women and cold tents. To be honest, it wasn’t much of a celebration – I didn’t get any presents, there wasn’t any booze and only the quality (and quantity) of food and the presence of friends helped to redeem the situation. This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about this escapade – I did so in the immediate aftermath, but couldn’t mention the specifics as I was sworn to secrecy until today.

As I write, A Very JLS Christmas is being broadcast on Sky 1. I don’t have Sky and therefore cannot watch it, but there is a small possibility that I may appear in it. I’m not a massive JLS fan, but, as I said at the time, this was a case of ‘have an enhanced CRB, have exceedingly random adventure’. Well, it was slightly more than that – more a case of ‘have a friend who has friends who produce music videos who need chaperones for a Christmas special’.

It’s not every day that you get a message from a friend asking if you’d be free during half term to sleep in a tipi with a load of JLS fans. I was initially unsure, till I found out about the fake snow and campfire. I’m a sucker for a bit of fake precipitation and a singalong.

Watching the campfire. See the fake snow? Apparently it’s some sort of fat. Nice.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that this adventure wasn’t anywhere near as glamourous as it might have seemed it would be. There were moments of ridiculousness and excitement, but they were interspersed with very long periods of nothing-ness (other than UNO and chatting), combined with cold and unpredictable weather, and absolutely crazy boyband fans.

The concept was a simple one. JLS would perform a secret gig in the middle of a forest somewhere beyond Uxbridge. The night before, a selected group of their biggest fans would gather for a singalong, meet and greet, and spend the night sleeping in tipis. All this would be filmed and turned into a festive special. However, it was realised during the shoot’s planning that the fans couldn’t be left unsupervised overnight (even though the few under 18s all had adults with them), and thus, the need for chaperones or ‘tipi hosts’ as we became known, was identified. How on earth would they find seven women with enhanced CRB’s who would be free to spend up to two days in a forest in the middle of the week?

Luckily, the producer had a good friend who was a teacher – complete with CRB – who would be on half-term that week. This friend also had other teacher/CRB equipped friends who they had met, and who might be up for a bit of an adventure. And thus, four teachers, one nurse, a social worker and a trainee vicar came to be key staff on a music video shoot…

Adventure #1: Catching a golf buggy from the car park to the secret location…
 
The whole thing was something of a mystery to us. Had we ever been crazy boyband fans? No. Had we ever worked on something so shrouded in secrecy? No. Had we ever been responsible for a hoard of excitable young adults? Fortunately yes, yes we had. But there were other mysteries…
Firstly, why were so few of the girls dressed appropriately for the weather and the festive season? The fans knew that they’d be outdoors and that it was Christmas themed, and had been told to dress accordingly. Did they? Did they heck! But then, if you were a crazy boyband fan and had a chance to meet them, would you want to be wearing a thick coat, boats, scarf and hat? We’d come prepared partly because we’re sensible and hate being cold, but also because we’d been warned of what the conditions were like. Amusingly, while the fans were being assembled around the campfire, the director approached us and complimented our look, inviting us to take a spot near the front – at which point we had to explain that we were crew, not fans. [I’m not sure how I would have lived that down!]
The second mystery was also clothing related. Never, in all my life, had I ever seen so many onesies in one place (aside from on a group of babies in a creche, but that’s an appropriate onesie context). In case you’re not familiar with this phenomenon, it’s recently become ‘acceptable’ for grown ups to wear all-in-ones, or baby-grows. They’re particularly popular amongst girls in their teens and apparently are also available in JLS colours. Every member of my tipi had one and gleefully got into them after the singalong and before the meet & greet with the band. In fact, if you do watch the special, the chaperones will be the ones wearing normal clothes.

The tipis were pretty, but not warm.
The third mystery was the band themselves. Of course we’d heard of JLS (though I suspect not all my readers have), but did we know their entire back catalogue or even their names? Not so much. At one point we were forced to consult Wikipedia during one of long waits, just so we didn’t make idiots of ourselves in front of the fans (who were so crazy that we didn’t want to risk being mobbed). It’s probably lucky that we did, as every one of us ended up coming face to face with at least two of the band. I even got a hug from the only one whose name I knew before arriving. (The littlest one – Aston.) Ask me nothing else about them though, because I simply don’t know (and don’t care).
We will say little of the health and safety issues, the cold and the tipi that flooded in the middle of the night, but suffice to say it was an Experience. (And yes, that is experience with a capital E.) In the mean time, should you be in need of some experienced chaperones for your celebrity event, let me know – we’re thinking of setting up a business.

Thanksgiving – Squared

It would appear that the UK is beginning to embrace Thanksgiving with quite a passion. I can quite understand why – pumpkin pie deserves to be added to the British menu and it’s always good to say thank-you. After last year’s inaugural Thanksgiving experience, this year I manage to double my thankfulness with a Matryoshka Haus Thanksgiving the weekend before the official date; and a Thanksgiving/Christmas with the St George’s students nearly a week after the occasion.

There can never be too many opportunities on which to eat pie.

Chocolate coins may now be my favourite table decoration – pretty and tasty.

In true Thanksgiving style, it seems only sensible to reflect upon the season via thankfulness…

Obviously, I’m thankful for Matryoshka Haus, Shannon and the Thanksgiving tradition she’s built up in London. We’ve written a fair bit about it on the In Da Haus blog, but suffice to say, Thanksgiving is all about community and the communal table – which Matryoshka Haus epitomises.

I’m thankful that other people will usually cook the turkey and that I was only left in sole charge of the bird for 20 minutes. (For the St George’s crew we compromised with Waitrose rotisserie chickens. God bless Waitrose!)

All I had to deal with was the foil and an initial blast in the oven. 
Thankfully, this year’s turkey went un-named.

On a Saturday afternoon full of cooking and a little bit of stress, I was very grateful to discover that I’m not alone in my love of singing along to musicals while working in the kitchen. I may now never be able to listen to Les Mis without remembering some admirable falsetto efforts from a male member of the community…

I am inordinately grateful for Shannon’s family egg-nog recipe (I blogged it last year). It’s delicious and boozy and generally wonderful. I’m also thankful for the tip to serve it only in plastic cups, which saved me a lot of glasses when the students came round; and hugely grateful that when I made it for the second time in just over 2 weeks, I had a proper electric mixer with which to mix it. I’m also grateful that I managed to separate 12 eggs without incident, despite having spent the previous three hours drinking mimosas while cooking. Thankfully, I also halved the recipe for the students, so I didn’t have to drink 3 litres of it on my own.

My contribution to the MH Thanksgiving: mini pecan pies & mini apple crumble pies.
Almost everything’s better in miniature… 

I thank the internet and its myriad pie recipes – particularly this pecan pie recipe that’s American, yet incorporated that most British of ingredients: Golden Syrup. I also thank the students who made two different varieties of pumpkin pie and a pecan-apple one too. (God bless Waitrose again for stocking tinned pumpkin.)

Thankfully well-risen Yorkshires and the remnants of fabulous student pies.

I’m thankful for a church that supports me in a sometimes ridiculous ministry. Especially when it lets me ransack its kitchen for extra plates, jugs, glasses and even a table, so that I can successfully feed 12 people around the same table in my lounge. I’m also rather thankful for the marvellous flat the church provides me with. This meal would have been impossible last year.

A selection of well-fed students. 
(Bless the guys for their persistance with paper hats.)