Firsts but not lasts (possibly)

According to my list, there are 80 things that I did for the first time in 2011. [The observant of you will notice that I counted 79 in Tuesday’s post. I remembered one while writing this one.] In all probability there were more than this, but some would have been too tedious to list (yes, even more tedious than ‘drunk a Corona’) and some – like my trip to Paris – contained multiple firsts that were too numerous to list in their entirety.

Because I’m still a researcher at heart, I’m going to do a little evaluation and comparison with the 2010 list. Checking the 2011 version of this post, I see that I listed 78 2010 Firsts (in the mysteriously named ‘clean’ version) and then classified them according to type. So here’s an evaluation of 2011’s Firsts:

  • Again, 14 were food/drink related (it seems I am a creature of habit). I did make a point of noting new places in which I’d eaten, which is an excellent pursuit as it means you remember good places to go.
  • Seven were geographical (i.e. new places – towns and suchlike visited).
  • Many were cultural (I lost track of what exactly I was counting as ‘cultural’) – museums, BBC recordings, plays, concerts – actually, it was with the latter that I got stuck. A concert at King’s Place was definitely a cultural experience, but was Take That at Wembley? 
  • There were 13 items in my Firsts for 2011 list. I definitely did four of them and kind of did a couple of others. Some were total failures – I didn’t have a single driving lesson in 2011, let alone contemplate either of the tests; and I didn’t visit a new country (though I did go to France thrice). 
2011 Firsts photographically & chronologically
[It took me more time to get those flipping photos in order than it did to write this post. 
Yes. I am that anal.]
Like last year, my biggest achievement was dance related. In 2010 I did tap dancing at Pineapple Studios, in 2011 it was ballet in Putney. I loved it and honestly, if the classes hadn’t been way beyond my level, in Putney and on Saturdays, I’d have totally been up for continuing. Last term I fully intended to take Beginners’ Ballet at the local dance school, but sadly it clashes with my home group night this year. But I still have my shoes (and a growing collection of Black Swan inspired leg warmers) so I’m all set. 
Actually, walking the Thames Path was possibly a bigger achievement in terms of physical exertion – never have I been so tired! But it, and the training involved, were definitely a contributing factor to my new found obsession with walking everywhere I possibly can. Friends in the East End find my passion for walking 5 miles to Bow utterly mental, but it’s something I’ve been doing almost once a week lately. 
Oh, and then there was Paris! And the rest of the French firsts – which all totally make up for not getting to a new country this year. Who wouldn’t have their first sight of the Eiffel Tower on a list of the year’s highlights? Not to mention learning how to scaffold in French… 
This year’s also marked several lifestyle firsts – a first sermon at St Mary’s; first job in a church; first term at Vicar School; first Macbook; my first experience of living in King’s Cross – none of which I could have put on a list at the beginning of the year. 
Like I said the other day, the project’s carrying on – in fact, I already have two Firsts booked in for next week – and I’m really pleased to see that other people have taken it up for this year too. Most excitingly of all, it’s not the case that the firsts are also lasts, so let 2012 also see plenty of seconds! 

So that was 2011…

Looking back, 2011 was something of an epic year…
The spring saw me face a big challenge and pass – meaning that the summer involved moving house and the autumn included a new job and a new life as a trainee vicar. Big changes, but good ones.

I don’t do resolutions, but it is useful to look back on the year that’s ended and look ahead (positively) to the coming one. On Saturday morning I held a (somewhat epic) brunch at which my friend Becki asked the room two questions:
(i) What will you leave behind in 2011?
(ii) What will you take up in 2012?
I like that kind of an attitude to the progression of time. January is a good time to feel free of the things that may have made last year hard, or that we don’t want to taint this year; it’s also an ideal time to move in to new things. No, I’m not going to share my answers, but suffice to say that the friends in the room were affirming in their enthusiasm for them.

Counting the blessings of the past year is also a much more constructive way to look back. I was really touched to hear via Twitter that my vicar’s daughter had included me on her list of 2011 blessings – she and the rest of her family are definitely on mine! Thinking about it on New Year’s Day, these would have to be some of the others:

  • Vicar School friends (and Christmas Jumpers).
  • New colleagues and friends at my new church.
  • Staying in touch (and becoming better friends) with ex-colleagues and church people.
  • The Matroyshka House community. 
  • Living in central London. 
Then, of course, there are The Firsts. It’s now two years since I came up with the concept, and it’s one that’s connected with a lot of people. In fact, I discovered last week that my friend’s mum had used it as the basis for their family Christmas letter this year! I hope she won’t mind me quoting its opening paragraph:

Someone we know keeps a list of firsts in her life; from momentous, I never thought I’d do that occasions, to small events such as visiting a new coffee house or trying a new food. Anne jotted down a few of hers for 2011 and it is easy to remember the more significant events but not so easy to remember the smaller ones. However the recording of firsts has helped her realise how rich life can be in the big and the small. So in 2012 she has resolved to record every first, if the shrinking grey matter can remember if something is indeed a first, but does this matter if the experience is a positive one. Not all firsts are good, and neither are all firsts lasts. Oh dear getting deep now!

It has to be said that reading this has actually made me decide to keep going with the Firsts lists. Other people list every book they’ve read, presumably partly to keep track of what they’ve read (or do they just do it to look clever?), so my habit of tracking Firsts will just be my version of that. If it helps me realise how rich and diverse my life is, that can only be a good thing!

Predictably, my next post will be a 2011 Firsts review, once I’ve had chance to properly evaluate the 79 listed…

Happy new year people! May you leave behind all that you want to in 2011 and feel free to take up what 2012 offers you.

2011 Firsts

All the things I accomplished for the first time during 2010. 

Why I did this is explained here.

Joined Twitter

Stayed in Thurlby, Lincolnshire

Successfully negotiated a rope swing
Eaten Colin the Caterpillars (and begun an unhealthy addiction)
Moved up to level 3 plank in pilates
Eaten olives
Performed solo karaoke in front of total strangers
Had my hair styled in a Marilyn Monroe-esque fashion
Filmed a music video
Rowed for at least 10 minutes on the highest setting
Been to Ely (beautiful Cathedral)
Got asked to sing BVs (without having to audition)
Attempted needle felting
Visited Webbs of Whychbold
Been commissioned to be the official photographer at an event
Consumed a MaltEaster Bunny (and a couple more for good measure…)
Travelled to Northampton (not keen to go again)
Visited the Hummingbird Bakery
Tried (and failed at) pole dancing
Climbed the Monument
Listened to the jazz stylings & funky soul of Liz & Hilary Cole
Been to the 100 Club
Baked Pineapple & Coconut cupcakes
Taken a car through a car-wash
Read a book whilst cycling at the gym
Visited Royal Holloway College
Gone to Chichester (for all of 15 minutes)
Eaten cherry tomatoes
Created my first YouTube tutorial
Sung with RBCS
Eaten a Black Bottom cupcake (one word: wow)
Walked all the way from home to work (6+ miles)
Bought and cooked with courgette
Reversed around a corner
Conducted a job interview
Played poker
Driven over Tower Bridge
Gone to New Wine
Worked in a cafe
Ordered pizza online
Baked marshmallow cupcakes and Red Velvet cupcakes
Bought clothing in Topshop
Owned a size 12 dress
Visited Broadcasting House
Owned something from FCUK
Driven onto a ferry (& used the Woolwich Ferry)
Been to a play at the Olivier theatre
Attended ‘Last Orders’ at Greenbelt
Drunk sherry
Listened to the Wittertainment podcast
Visited the Swedenborg Society
Led a student group
Run around Southwark Park
Visited the Highgate Mennonites
Stayed in Leicester
Chaired an AGM
Been to a service at St Paul’s Cathedral
Owned an iPhone
Drunk absinthe
Sung with the Swingle Singers
Attended the Olympia Horse Show
Flown from Birmingham International Airport

Sailing home for Christmas

A surprising discovery during the Volcanic Ash Cloud drama, was that it’s remarkably cheap to travel from England to Ireland via train and boat. For little more than £30, my Dad was able to escape from Manchester and make it back to Belfast in the same day. Last Christmas it also saved my stranded Australian Godsister from a Christmas on the floor of Stansted airport. This Christmas, partly to avoid potential travel chaos and partly because it seemed like a more logical option, I bought a SailRail ticket to Ireland instead of budget flights.

On paper, it does look slightly ridiculous. I exchanged a 4 hour door-to-door journey for a 9 hour one. Flying would’ve involved a 40 minute train journey, an hour’s flight and a 20 minute car ride. SailRail comprised two 2 hour train journeys, a 2 hour ferry crossing and a two hour car ride – that’s considerably epic. (Though I’m grateful that getting to Euston only required a 15 minute walk.)

However, there are multiple benefits:
– The environmental damage is less.
– The only luggage restriction is what you can carry – no liquid restrictions or security checks.
– There’s a lot more potential for getting work done at tables.
– Chester to Holyhead is a very scenic route.
– You can watch a lot of DVDs (or iPlayer downloads) in 6 hours.
– It’s cheaper than flying.

Of course, being me, I had to find my own form of entertainment. I’d been amazingly organised and not only had created a picnic for both breakfast and lunch (when your train leaves at 7.10am, you need to take a breakfast picnic) but had also trawled iPlayer for fun things to watch. Sitting on the train, immersed in the Steve Jobs documentary, I realised that most of my fellow passengers were also en route to Dublin – after all, who else would be so keen to get to Chester at that hour of the morning?

Knowing from previous ferry experiences that electricity is hard to come by on the boat, I had a power-saving strategy too – keep Macbook plugged in on both trains, thus ensuring that I definitely had enough juice to keep me amused to Dublin. Arriva Trains Wales’ non-functioning sockets threatened to scupper this, but I managed to find my own amusement for the Chester-Holyhead leg.

An unpleasant encounter with an unreasonable woman with an overly-large bag introduced me to a beardy, bookish fellow. He pointed out to the woman that on a crowded train it was rather off to place a large bag under a table, thus meaning that no one else sat there would have room for their feet. The woman angrily refused offers to move the bag and didn’t seem to see what the problem was, so beardy man and I moved away and found alternative seats. Always a fan of beardy, bookish types, I chronicled my adventures on Twitter and in turn managed to amuse some friends too. When you’re going to be in a confined space with the same group of people for several hours, there’s always scope for making a new friend…

The ferry trip and time in Eire meant that I was out of Twitter contact for several hours. The last friends at home heard of the saga was that I’d spotted what he was reading while we were on board the bus from the station to the ferry. Details of the rest of the trip had to wait until after the Twitter blackout. I did make a friend, but not beardy man – an 18 month old child travelling with her mum who needed an extra hand/pair of eyes at changeovers. It’s probably a good thing that I became separated from beardy man onboard as within half an hour of cast-off, I was beginning to turn green at the gills. The fast crossings are a good thing (2 hours instead of 4), but on a moderately rough sea, it’s rather choppy. The sight of a small child throwing up into a Waitrose carrier bag almost finished me off, but a festive episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks took my mind off it till we reach land again.

I’m rather looking forward to my return trip on Thursday – I may even use the time for a Harry Potter marathon. The only niggling worry is that the Irish/British let me out/in. The ferry company said passports weren’t needed for crossings and that a driving licence or bankcard would be sufficient ID. However, when your driving licence says you were born in Tonga, it doesn’t make for great evidence of your nationality…

Festively baking & boozing

It really isn’t Christmas without a party, and without a party there is no (real) excuse for festive baking or, more importantly, festive boozing. Our flat’s having one such party tomorrow night, courtesy of our Germanic part-planner who sadly leaves the Big Smoke next week. In preparation, I spent last night trying out a new Christmas cookie recipe [baked while watching Love, Actually to get me in the mood]. Having sampled some of the results I can testify that it’s worth sharing, so here it is:

Discovered via googling ‘cinnamon biscuits’ and landing here, I amended slightly to suit my cinnamon fetish tendencies…

Christmas in biscuit form

150g (5 oz) self-rising flour
150g (5 oz) plain flour
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
125g (4 ½ oz) butter
100g (3 ¾ oz) sugar
1 egg beaten
Caster Sugar & cinnamon – for sprinkling
1. Set oven at 160 degrees C (Gas Mark 3).
2. Sift flours and cinnamon into a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, mix butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg and mix well.
4. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix into firm dough. Lift on to a lightly floured board, knead until smooth.
5. Roll to 5mm thickness and cut into shapes.
6. Sprinkle sugar & cinnamon onto a plate and coat biscuits before placing on baking sheet.
7. Bake in the preheated oven until light golden colour, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool and harden.

As an afterthought, this morning I decided to add a drizzling of cinnamon icing – not too much, just enough to make them even sweeter and even more cinnamony [as I said, it’s an obsession].

For all parties, it is obligatory to have booze. At Christmas, this is often of a spiced, mulled and hot variety, but why not branch out and go cold? So cold, that it actually involves ice cream. You may recall that at my first ever Thanksgiving the other week, I had my first ever egg nog – I now have the recipe, so I’ll share it with you: 
D’s Holiday Egg Nog
(It’s an American holiday so obvs, it’s an American recipe.)
(Also, it sounds lethal, but it’s yummy – honest!)

12 eggs – separated
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. Salt
2 tbsp. Nutmeg
2 cups bourbon
2 oz. Rum (The Booze is optional! Most of the time he makes a mixture of bourbon, rum, and brandy.)
½ c. powdered sugar
4 cups heavy cream
4 cups milk
½ gallon vanilla ice cream

1. Beat egg yolks until creamy; beat in sugar, salt, vanilla , and nutmeg. Beat in bourbon and rum slowly.
2. Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form, beating in powdered sugar. Add cream and milk to yolk mixture; fold in egg whites. 
3. Then use beater as you add ice cream. (The ice cream makes it cold and frothy). 
[The mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated for several hours – then add in the ice cream.]
Pour it into a classy glass, grate some nutmeg – et voila!!
Did you know that nutmeg is a hallucinogenic? 
(Turns out you’d need to eat an awful lot before it took effect though…)