Risky Business

On New Year’s Eve, a question was asked of the table at which I was seated: “What did you learn in 2016 and what would you like to master in 2017?”

As reflective, end of year questions go, it was a pretty good one. Not too cheesy;  not uber-religious (given as it was a mixed crowd); and it could be interpreted in a few ways.

I probably could have answered it multiple times over. Looking at my list of 2016 Firsts [yes, I still do this – less intentionally, more reflectively realising what I’d done for the first time in the past year], there were plenty of things I’d learned. Including:

  • How to take a funeral.
  • A huge number of film-related factoids, thanks to regular attendance at the BFI’s monthly MK3D nights – when Mark Kermode shares his wisdom.
  • How to lead a Transformational Index workshop on my own. [Now a significant part of my freelance income.)
  • More about gin. Specifically, which gins I like. (Still not found many that I don’t like!)
  • That it’s possible to walk from Gare du Nord to Gare d’Austerlitz and really is the best way to combat French strike action in Paris.
  • How to preside at the Eucharist.

Some lessons were simply the natural course for the stage of ministry I’m at. Some were delightful happenings. Other lessons were less of a joy and more of a necessity. But I’ve learned a lot all the same.

However, it wasn’t anything from that list that came to mind on New Year’s Eve. In fact, it wasn’t a specific event or experience, it was an attitude. In 2016, I learnt that I can take risks and it will be ok. And if it doesn’t turn out ok, that can be fine too.

I’m not a natural risk taker. My Myers-Briggs profile is ISTJ (some readers will at this point nod sagely and understand exactly what this means…) I am an introvert and a planner. I don’t do spontaneity well. I like to know what’s next. Someone once commented that my love of walking across London is indicative of my personality type: it’s time alone with my thoughts (or podcasts) and I always know exactly how long it will take to reach my destination because traffic/other people won’t interfere with my journey time. They were pretty spot on.

It’s not that as 2016 dawned I decided to become a risky person. It just sort of happened and it was good.

The example I shared on NYE was from my adventures this year at the BFI. Back in February I went to my first MK3D event. I knew that in the room were people who I’d communicated with on Twitter, but I didn’t intentionally set out to meet any of them. When I returned in March, I noticed that a few of them were sitting together and so, with all my extrovertedness mustered, I approached them in the bar afterwards and asked if I could join them for a drink. I don’t do that sort of thing – ever! But it worked. We’re now a committed foursome and sit together at each event. We all agreed in December that becoming friends was a definite highlight of the year.

It may not sound that incredible, but as friends who heard about it at the time commented, it just wasn’t something I’d usually do.

Fast-forward to the summer and the planning of a holiday to the States. I discovered a while ago that my sister has coined the term “Doing a Liz”, to describe my habit of jetting off to some semi-exotic location simply on the premise that I have friends there. She has never travelled alone. I thrive on it.

Usually, these trips are pretty well planned. I know where I’m going, where I’m staying, who I’ll see and when I’ll get there. Over the last few years, my trips have increasingly involved friends who are my MBTI opposites. There’s less planning, more spontaneity. I’m getting better at having a flexible schedule (to a degree). But on that October trip to the States I left a whole weekend blank. I was hopeful that it would be spent in Virginia, but I’d not been able to lock down the details. I’d told the friend I was staying with in New York that I’d probably be with them on the Monday, but that there was an element of uncertainty around it – if things went wrong, perhaps I’d end up there sooner.

I took a risk. A previous version of me may well have said that it was a ridiculous plan (or non-plan) and booked to go straight from DC to NYC. It all worked out. In fact, it worked out better than I might ever have been able to plan it – including a car-ride from Northern Virginia all the way to Brooklyn (what are the chances that someone will need to make an 8 hour drive to your destination on the same day you need to be there??). I had a great time and returned home so thankful that I had *not* planned the trip to within an inch of its life.

As if to cement 2016 as something of a risk-taking year, I celebrated New Year’s Eve back in Virginia on a trip that ranks as the most spontaneous bit of international travel I’ve ever undertaken. Friends were heading out there before a work trip to North Carolina and I had unexpectedly secured Sunday January 1st off work – cue space for a decent length holiday. But the actual trip booking? The week before Christmas. That is decidedly uncharacteristic Liz behaviour – but my goodness, how much did I need that trip!!

Thinking about this theme of risk in the early days of the new year, I’ve been struck that actually, riskiness has been a bigger part of my life since I got ordained. Not so much because of ordination, but because I took up a half-stipend job, trusting that I’d be able to muster enough freelance work to make up the difference. Financially I’ve not quite managed the other half of my stipend, but every time I’ve finished a piece of work a new piece has shown up pretty quickly. As 2017 dawned, I’ve got two pretty exciting projects on the table and the prospect of more to come. The risk is paying off.

A dear friend who was with me on both my American adventures in 2016 has told me more than once how proud she is of me. (Each time emphasising very sweetly that she doesn’t mean it in any kind of a patronising way!) It’s not that she wants me to live in a particularly risky way, but that taking certain risks is demonstrative of confidence – confidence in myself and perhaps most importantly, confidence that God has got this.

It’s not the first time in my life that I’ve taken risks, but I think in 2016 I realised how important it can be – even when the risks don’t quite work out how you expect them to. In fact, especially when they don’t!

Appropriately enough, on January 4th, in Durham NC, I discovered this print in the rather fabulous Parker & Otis:

The plan is that it’ll hang on the wall and help me face the risks of 2017. I will not be afraid. Even when I get stuck into the thing I said I was looking to master…

…driving. Yep. 2017 could actually be the year I knuckle down, feel the fear and do it anyway. God help me and all other road users!

2013 Firsts

I know, I said 2012 would be the end of this – but after writing a review of 2013 and going through last year’s blogposts, they just came popping up. So here’s the list I’ve been able to compile from my memory and blog:

Watched the New Year’s Day Parade.
Had physio & podiatry appointments.
Eaten mint M&M’s.
Watched a film at the IMAX. (Les Mis, obviously.)
Launched lizclutterbuck.com
Drunk tea at Tinderbox.
Been interviewed by UCB.
Experienced a retreat in daily life.
Learnt to french-plait my own hair.
Taken anti-malarials.
Visited Uganda.
Been fitted with orthotics.
Drunk tea at Teasmiths.
Been interviewed by Premier Radio. (And been in a live radio studio.)
Become a school governor.
Chatted to Rupert Everett.
Visited the London Transport Museum. 
Watched Robin run a marathon.
Visited the Titanic Experience.
Completed the 0-5k app.
Visited the Clerkenwell Design Show.
Joined the PCC.
Looked after Doris for over 24 hours in London.
Travelled on the Emirates Sky Line.
Watched the Graham Norton Show being recorded.
Drunk Strawberry & Lime cider.
Eaten dim sum in Chinatown.
Watched the News Quiz being recorded.
Watched The Book of Mormon.
Watched Andy Murray win a semi-final at Wimbledon from Henman Hill.
Experienced the joy of a Brit winning Wimbledon.
Watched A Chorus Line.
Hunted for Gromits.
Seen a play at the Finborough Theatre.
Done the Enneagram.
Written for the Church Times.
Played Greenbelt Bingo.
Experienced the Les Miserables Mass.
Flown Air France.
Visited San Francisco & the Bay Area.
Visited Facebook, Google, Apple & Stamford.
Owned an iPad.
Drunk a Shake Away milkshake.
Had a cooking lesson in a Jamie Oliver cooking school.
Cooked Thai Green Curry from scratch.
Been the student rep for a QAA inspection.
Eaten afternoon tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury.
Played Love Letters.
Sung at the St Mellitus Open Mic Night. 
Participated in the November Care Package Swap.
Had a chaplaincy placement at Guy’s & St Thomas’.
Visited BT Tower.
Watched Sherlock.
Owned a cassock.
Been interviewed by the BBC.
Watched The Light Princess at the National Theatre.
Preached at a carol service.
Had a trip on the London Eye in daylight.
Created a Gingerbread Nativity & made Royal Icing. 
Attended a Desert Island Discs themed dinner party. 

2013 Firsts

Looking back, 2013 times

Another year has passed and thus it is time for the obligatory end of year round-up blogpost. 2013 began with an optimistic blogpost about the start of the new year and the end of my project to count up things I had done for the first time.

This post contained a commitment to Project 365 – the taking of one photo a day – which should have been an easy task, given that barely a day goes by without my taking a photo. But a combination of illness (not leaving the house for 3 days isn’t conducive to photography) and forgetfulness meant that it didn’t last past March. However, an unexpected development of 2013 was my commitment to the 0-5km running app, meaning that between February and May I learnt to run 5km – which has since evolved into a fairly regular running habit and an Instagram hashtag of #photographyontherun. It’s amazing what you pass while running…

Photography on the run 2013Before you ask, I’ve got very good at jogging on the spot while taking photos. It basically came about because the RunKeeper app allows you to save photos to your runs, so why not keep track of where you’re running? 

Several of the year’s highlights came with their own form of ID or pass. Obviously, the first thing one does when given one of these is take a photo of it. (Especially as you never know whether you’ll get to keep them at the end of your visit.)

Passes

That would be Matryoshka Haus’ meeting at Apple; my glorious evening at Facebook; the Ask DEC event at BT Tower; writing for the Church Times at Greenbelt; and being interviewed by 8 different local BBC stations. Effectively, have a pass, have a highlight of your year.

This time last year, I already knew I’d be heading to Africa for the very first time – on a trip to Uganda with Tearfund in February/March. Without a doubt, it’s a trip that will never be forgotten. Lately, I’ve been having to re-tell some of the stories of our time there, as part of the promotion for Tearfund’s 2014 bloggers’ trip to Cambodia. (You have until Jan 5th to enter, get writing!) Apparently, this time 12 months ago, I expressed a hope of a return trip to Texas. It didn’t happen, but luckily, Texas came to London in the form of the first-ever Matryoshka Haus Learning Lab. And then a plan became concocted that saw me make a debut visit to San Francisco in September. Combined with a Chateau Duffy trip and a return to Merville, and all-in-all, this year’s travel hasn’t been too shabby!

Travel 2013

The other main highlight of 2013 would be the people I got to share it with. As I rather soppily wrote back in October, I am lucky to have some incredibly long-standing and fabulous friends – but they are not the only ones. The Matryoshka Haus folk have played a big part in the year, as have Vicar School chums, but most excitingly, there have been plenty of new friends too!

Friends 2013

Finally, while traipsing through the blog’s 2013 archive, I couldn’t resist compiling a list of 2013 Firsts. Even though I’ve not been keeping track of them throughout the year, it’s amazing what I can remember just with a few prompts. I found so many that I’ve had to create a separate post for them. I guess it will always be a really positive way of reflecting upon the things that have been achieved in a single year!

Oh, and my happiest moment in the whole of 2013? Don’t judge me, but it would probably be this:

Murray wins Wimbledon

Celebrating 2014 on a desert island

Sadly not this kind of desert island:

Tongan beachThough strictly speaking, this isn’t a deserted island, but you get the idea… 

Most Brits will be familiar with the concept of ‘desert island discs’ – stranded on a desert island, you miraculously have access to eight of your favourite tracks and the means with which to play them. (Plus the Bible, complete works of Shakespeare, a book of your own choosing and a self-defined ‘luxury’.) It’s a quintessential piece of British radio programming, in fact it’s the longest running programme on Radio 4, about to celebrate its 72nd birthday at the end of this month. [More fascinating facts about the show can be found on its Wikipedia page.]

Thanks to having friends who come up with brilliant ideas, I found myself spending NYE (a night which I have a strong dislike of) embroiled in a ten person desert island discs – possibly my most middle class evening, ever. The rules were simple, but hard. Choose three of your favourite pieces of music and have a story to share about each of them.

Now, it just so happens that I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I’d choose. Not because I think appearing on the show is a realistic future opportunity, more that it’s the kind of thing you start contemplating when you listen to the DID podcast on a weekly basis. Getting a list of 8 pieces seems nigh on impossible. Faced with cutting this down further to just 3 seemed to be downright cruel.

However, I came up with a system – they needed to be tracks that I liked and that had good stories attached to them, which helped slightly. After all, there were going to be several people at dinner who I’d never met before, so I needed to look like I had a modicum of sense in my musical taste too. [There was every possibility that my choices would be outdone by the resident 2 year old’s taste in music.] I eventually decided that there would be one classical (this particular piece was always a given), something from a musical and something else. That ‘something else’ was not decided upon until the moment I dutifully gave my choices to our host for the evening’s Spotify playlist.

Obviously, this kind of evening only works with a smaller number of people. 30 tracks is perfectly doable over dinner and isn’t too many stories to hear. The playlist was divided into three rounds, each beginning with the DID theme tune (these people know how to do things in style), and each matching a course of the meal. By round three and dessert, there was a contest to see if people could guess whose choice was whose, based on the idea that we’d now know a little bit more about our fellow guests’ musical tastes. All in all, it was a jolly good way to welcome in a new year – and a dinner party concept that I highly recommend.

And my choices? Well, all-in-all, I think they were good ones and reflective of me and my eclectic taste…

1. Adagio from Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor played by Jacqueline du Pre.
Easiest choice. Elgar’s one of my all-time favourite composers; I rather wish I’d taken up the cello (although it is rather bulky); and listening to this in packed tube carriages is hands down the best way of disappearing into tranquility.

2. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, sung by Ella Fitzgerald.
In my list of 8 DID tracks, I’d originally had Etta James’ At Last, but felt that Ella singing Cole Porter was more representative of family car journeys and my long-standing love of Ella’s tones. The fact that my Dad was playing this album when he picked me up from Dublin last week helped secure its choice.

3. La Vie Boheme, the cast of Rent.
There were so many musicals to choose from. If this had been 8 songs and no dinner party, Defying Gravity from Wicked would have been a prime contender. I also dithered with choosing One Day More from Les Mis instead, as both are brilliant examples of ensemble songs mid-way through a musical. In fact, of the two, One Day More is definitely better, but La Vie Boheme holds a special place in my heart. Firstly, it’s a very wordy and oh so slightly inappropriate song – and I know the words to the whole thing, which I consider to be something of an achievement. Secondly, in 2007 while on board a coach somewhere in a Palestinian desert, I had a competition with one of the leaders of our international conference as to who could sing the most of it without forgetting the words. Thirdly, watching Rent (and practising what we liked to call ‘the lesbian love duet’) was a key feature of a previous NYE with an old friend.

Happy new year!

2014 Big Ben

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.)