A firey dilemma

I’m a big fan of birthdays that are outside of the norm – when by ‘norm’ I mean meals at restaurants or drinks in a bar. Last month, for example, saw an afternoon of fun in the park where each guest was instructed to bring an Olympic themed activity with them. [My contribution was dry-land synchronised swimming, but sadly we didn’t get to try it. Competitive strawberry shoelace eating with no hands was epic though.]

However, I become slightly less excited about unusual birthday celebrations that involve significant levels of clothing removal – like an evening in a sauna in Barking.

Having said that, when Saturday morning dawned, the fact that I had a pedicure booked as part of the party was quite a pleasing thought. However, I began to worry at lunch time when I realised that I’d left my swimsuit at home and couldn’t work out what I should wear in the sauna.

The fabulous Barking Bathhouse sauna. (Credit.)

The thing was, I’d been organised – I’d studied the Barking Bathhouse’s website, chosen a treatment and ascertained that they didn’t have water based spa activities. (As in a pool or hot tub – they did have showers and toilets.) Therefore, my logical mind had concluded that no swimsuit was needed. For some reason I hadn’t considered the sauna, or any of the following points:

1. I didn’t know everyone who’d be there. Plus, some of them were men with whom I have slightly awkward relationships already. Did I want to sauna with them without a swimsuit/similar attire? No.

2. Spa towels are difficult to predict, size-wise. Yes, I could’ve gone in starkers with a towel, but I had no guarantee this would protect my modesty. (Obviously, a bath robe would be far too warm in a sauna.)

3. I couldn’t do the primary school PE thing of vest & pants because I needed to wear my vest & pants for the rest of the evening – which would not be pleasant having sauna-ed in them.

And thus, the lack of a swimsuit became quite a pressing issue.

The issue was realised while I was at a gathering of women leaders (in all likelihood, this will be tomorrow’s blog topic), and several women provided advice – or simply laughed at my predicament. What could I do? As I saw it, there were a few options:

  • Go home and get my swimsuit. (Not an option really – I didn’t have the time.)
  • Go and buy a new swimsuit. (Similarly tricky – swimsuit shopping is a pain at the best of times.)
  • Acquire alternative underwear. (Doable, but where from?)

When telling this story to my mother earlier, I had got this far when she came up with a (genius) fourth option: Buy a large beach towel. Yes, that would’ve solved it – kind of.

So, what did I do?
Well, thanks to TfL engineering work, I had to travel to Barking via Stratford, so a quick stop at M&S (happily the nearest store to the tube exit at Westfield) was little bother. There, I happily discovered matching vest & pants sets for £6. A solution to my dilemma and new underwear – bonus!

So, was the party as traumatic as I feared? In a word: no.
Yes, the towels were too small; but my vest & pants set did the job of a tankini. Yes, there was a man in the sauna; but he was married and visually impaired without glasses. Yes, there were strangers; but I’ve sauna-ed with strangers many, many times at my old gym, so no biggy.

Plus, the spa served drinks in jam-jars; I tasted chocolate beer for the first time; I got a glittery pedicure; the squidgy baby was as delightful as ever; and I overcame virtually all modesty issues and even hung out in the spa’s bar in my bath robe and towel (fear not, I was not alone in doing this). The Barking Bathhouse is highly recommended should you need a spot of pampering – it may not be around for long, but it’s certainly worth a trip.

Delightful smoothies in jam-jars – but cava was even better. (Credit.)

Quick question

Some of you may remember that a few months ago I decided to make the move from Blogger to WordPress and had acquired lizclutterbuck.com along the way. In fact, I know some of you remember this, as sporadically I’ve had tweets from people asking why it hadn’t gone live yet.

There are several reasons. For a start, the site is being built for me, for free, by a generous friend (who’s also using the process to teach themselves some new skills) and not only have they been busy over the summer, they’d also hit upon a technical hitch that needed resolution. When getting things for free, I don’t tend to hassle!

But some of the blame lies at my feet. Always prone to procrastination and an inability to make important decisions quickly, I’d delayed some key elements of my own contribution to the site – the most important of which was its name.

Look above this post. You’ll notice the title of this blog is ‘Eliza Does Very Little’. It was an unusual moment of inspiration on the quiet night in 2005 when this blog was first created and it’s served its purpose well. But the point of developing a new site was to have a website of which this blog will be part, rather than just a blog. It’s also meant to be more professional looking and less amateurish – so could do with a rather more serious name.

However, there’s a problem: I can’t think of a new name.

At a breakfast meeting with my web developer yesterday morning [this sounds absurdly efficient – in fact they’d been staying at my place and we only remembered to talk website half an hour before they had to catch a train] we contemplated the options. In truth, unless I have a sudden lightbulb moment, there is only one option – to name lizclutterbuck.com the highly original ‘LizClutterbuck.com’. In the words of the famous advert, it does exactly what it says on the tin, but it’s not at all creative.

So, blog readers, I need your help. Can you think of anything more interesting? Ideally something short and sweet (I’m drawn to a pair of words for some reason, I just can’t think of two) and not at all cheesy.
Suggestions happily received in the comments, via Twitter, on Facebook, in an email or a text, or, if you’re really retro, on a carrier pigeon.

I’d be most grateful!

Pre-Greenbelt ponderings

Tomorrow I head off to my 15th consecutive Greenbelt festival. It’s been an end of summer fixture in my diary since I was 17 – yet this year, I seriously considered not going at all.

I’ve never been a ‘buy my ticket at the end of the previous festival’ kind of Greenbelter. To be fair, my first four Greenbelts came free, courtesy of performer passes. Some years I went with the organisation I worked with. Once (and only once) I volunteered in the children’s area as a gatekeeper – the fact that I had a walkie-talkie is about the only positive I took away from that experience. Sometimes I miraculously acquired cheaper tickets courtesy of family members who were working. Regardless of my Greenbelt role or function, I always camped with the same people – the people I’d camped with the first few festivals.

We developed Greenbelt rituals – like the all-important pitching of tents by those volunteering on the day before the festival officially opened; the acquisition of foldable chairs (with beverage holders); the baking of cake to supplement a diet of pie; and the skipping of Sunday’s communion service so we could instead sit around in our PJs and chat. Excellent times. It was these rituals that last year helped Greenbelt to feel like home when I arrived having moved out of my home of 5 years the day before.

So why did I think about giving it a miss in 2012? For a start, several of my Greenbelt camping buddies were having to miss it this year. New born babies, broken wrists, singing in proms and weddings are all very good excuses, but it’s sad all the same. Then there was the fact that I’ve already spent a week this summer in a tent and I don’t enjoy it.

Plus, there was slight disillusionment in the Greenbelt experience as a whole. One of my favourite elements of the festival – the classical scratch choir – had been dropped from the programme (so I’m biased, my friend Matt’s conducted it for the last few years and both he and his kids/youth scratch choirs are missing this year). No one could quite work out why… Then there were the changes to the Children’s Area that had taken place last year. I’m still sad that parents can’t now leave their children and go off to grown-up things (especially in the case of single parents) and I’m also sad that friends whose skills have been utilised so well are now no longer needed. Anyway, a combination of these things all helped to make me feel like I’d just forget about it this year.

But I’d forgotten one crucial element of Greenbelt. The people.
Yes, the people I camp with are important, but I saw most of them only a month ago at the zoo – some of them more recently than that. What Greenbelt manages to do over and over again is bring together people from almost all parts of my life, in one small geographical area and for just three days. I rarely make any of the programme because I spend so much time catching up with long-lost friends.

Every year, new people get added into the mix. This year I’m catching a lift to Cheltenham with a woman who goes to the church I now work at. While I’m there, I will no doubt bump into several Vicar School friends who were total strangers this time 12 months ago. I’ll attend a 6 year old’s birthday party.  I’ll find people I only know courtesy of Twitter. There’ll be former colleagues from at least two jobs. And this year, I’ll share a tent with Matryoshka Haus people instead.

Greenbelt is a unique microcosm of society that exists in a bubble for a short period of time. It would be unrealistic to expect it to exist elsewhere and for longer, so when it’s time, it’s best to make the most of it. And, despite the weather forecast, I’m really glad that this year I will be.

Disgruntled

After many, many years of happy Blogger use, I’m becoming increasingly disgruntled with the platform. I’ve long lusted after the clean, sharp feel of WordPress blogs, but couldn’t bear the faff of moving everything over and learning a whole new system.

But lately, a few things have happened that have begun to change my mind:

  • I’ve taken on the management of a WordPress blog [well, officially a blog hosted on a WordPress site which is apparently slightly different] and I’m being taught how to use it properly by someone who (kind of) knows what they’re doing. Turns out it’s not that difficult and many things are massively more sensible than Blogger’s system.
  • Blogger have rolled out a new user interface that has arrived with many quirks, despite having been in Beta for ages. Lots of things just aren’t working and no one seems to be taking notice of feedback or complaints. Scheduled posts (writing a post to be published later – a very useful feature) hasn’t worked for 3 weeks and hasn’t even made it on to the ‘Known Issues’ page. 
  • I think it might be time to take my online presence a little more seriously and make things look rather more professional. WordPress seems to lend itself to this more readily than Blogger.
I’m not totally decided though. For a start, this could be quite a big, faffing, project and I’ve actually got quite a lot of work and sermon writing (and moving flat) to do between now and mid-July. I could also make quite a massive mess of it if I’m not careful and I’d hate to lose 5+ years of considered blogging and comments. But potentially this could be an excellent summer project, especially if I can persuade my WordPress teacher and professional webby friends to help me…
But I’d welcome your thoughts. Blogger people – should I stay? WordPress people – is it worth it? Has anyone made the switch themselves? Was it a nightmare? Thoughts would be very much appreciated.
In the meantime, Google, could you get your act together please? 
Yours, disgruntled of King’s Cross.

On dilemmas and film stars

Last week was pretty epic in its level of interestingness. You can’t complain about a week that begins with a Monday night in the company of famous authors; continues with an evening avec Bishops (ok, maybe that’s not interesting to all, but it is in my world); and concludes on Friday afternoon with half an hour in the company of Robert Redford.

God bless Wittertainment, the BBC and the Sundance London Film Festival – and, most importantly of all, Fridays as days off. Being free on Friday afternoon just over a week ago meant that I was able to listen live to the show (a first, I usually save the podcast for my post vicar school walk home) in response to a tip-off that an exciting announcement was being made. Exciting it was – a live show was taking place the following week, in London, and with Robert Redford. I filled in the form in record time and prayed.

Well, I filled in the form and alerted a fellow fan that they should do the same. Annoyingly, for things like this you’re only allowed 2 tickets and I have two friends who I knew would love to join me. Sadly, the quota filled up too quickly and I was left with the dilemma of which of the two I should take. 

I don’t like difficult decisions at the best of times – this was a bit of a ‘mare. How do you decide between:
Friend 1 – responsible for introducing me to Wittertainment. Never been to a live broadcast. First to know that I stood a good chance of getting tickets.
Friend 2 – massive Wittertainment fan who took me to the Christmas show in 2010 and offered me tickets to last year’s that I couldn’t take up. Took me to The Now Show last month and gave me their spare ticket to World Book Night. Currently storing a lot of my possessions in their home.

See? Tough call. I did what any other sensible person would do – I played them off against each other. Friend 1 said he’d fight Friend 2 ‘to the death’. Friend 2 accepted this challenge, stating that they’d bring peanuts (Friend 1 has a nut allergy). Ultimately though, I went on a ‘first come, first served’ basis – meaning that Friend 1 got it. 

But the guilt was still there and Twitter made it SO much worse. Friday morning’s Twitter stream looked like this:
Me – “Geekily excited about today’s antics. What should one wear to a radio broadcast at a film festival??”
Friend 2 – “not going to be jealous…not going to be jealous…not going to be jealous…not going to be jealous…”
Me: “*Feels bad & struggles to think of suitable response*
Friend 2: “I’m an evangelist, and thus all about the guilt. *mission accomplished* – all is well! Have a great time!”

And then Friend 1 decided to be all gracious and tweet:
“Looking forward to seeing @Wittertainment live at Sundance London today, courtesy of @LizaClutterbuck.” 
Because that didn’t rub her nose in it, not at all…

In the end, my decision was kind of justified in a twist of Christian small world-ness. Another response to my excited tweet was from a fellow trainee vicar who had tickets too. We were right behind him in the queue to get in and it emerged that Vicar School Friend and Friend 1 had once worked together but hadn’t seen each other since. What a coincidence.
Photo from here
Dilemmas and friendship issues aside, it was an excellent afternoon. If someone could find out how Robert Redford has managed to stay so well preserved, and sell it, they could make a heck of a lot of money! He’s 75 and doesn’t look a day over 50. He was great to listen to too (you can download the podcast of the programme here), witty, politically knowledgeable (in the right way), and a great story-teller. I clearly need to have something of a Refordathon in order to fully appreciate his brilliance. (And find some way of making a Clutterbuckathon a possibility – suggestions are welcome.)