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.)

Prior preparation and planning

The 30th birthday cycle continues. This Saturday – the first celebration of my academic year and thus the beginning of an intensive season of 30th’s – brings a classic themed party. Literally classic, as my friend’s returning to the 1930s and hosting a black tie themed event. A perfect excuse to dress up. (Next weekend brings another 30th, this time wine tasting – also excellent.)

However, when you think about it, the 1930s is actually a tricky decade to style. The 1920s were distinctive in their flapper dresses; the late 1940’s and early 1950’s were the epitome of glamour. All I can think of in terms of the 30’s is the outbreak of WW2 and uniforms. Still, the beauty of black tie is that as long as you’ve got a fancy dress and the right accessories, the only historic aspect you need to be accurate on is your hair.

Tonight was my first free evening in over a week (and my last in about the same length of time – honestly, my diary is horrific right now, though generally in a good way) and therefore my only opportunity to discover, practice and perfect a decent 1930’s hair-do. So I’m now sat in my PJ’s, sporting a rather elegant hair style that made doing the washing up feel far more glamorous than usual.

It’s all thanks to YouTube and the wonder of hair tutorials – particularly this woman’s. [Favourite moment in one video is an annotation that states “people ask how I manage to keep my arms up so long – it’s because I work out a lot”…] I began withHow to do a pin up hairstyle’ and failed to put enough ooomph into my tresses to get it to work properly. ‘Pin up hair tutorial’ proved more successful (yes, I realise they sound the same, but there were significant differences) but it was still clear I needed more volume.

Thus, it looks as though I’ll be spending a significant amount of Saturday with my head covered in rollers. This wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that I’ve got a meeting in central London from 10.30 till 4pm – still, I’ve travelled on the tube in rollers before, no doubt I can cope with doing it again.

I guess what this post really needs is a photo of the hair. Thing is, hair photos are always tricky – even with the  iPhone 4’s double facing camera – so this is the best of a bad bunch:

The fact that the bags under my eyes are so noticeable in this photo terrifies me. 
Clearly the effects of no two-day weekends for weeks & weeks are beginning to show.

Those hair combs are today’s Primark acquisitions – along with some pseudo pearl bracelets & necklace, a brooch and some shoes – the beauty of being able to stock up on a vast quantity of ‘vintage’ accessories for a lot less than £20! All I need now is a final decision on the dress (not that I’ve got many to choose from) and some seriously red lipstick…

Dressing Up

Do you want to know what I’m wearing? 

[This isn’t going anywhere dodgy – promise!] 
Right at this moment I’m clad in a pale blue evening dress. It’s Saturday night, I’m watching X Factor and I’m wearing what’s effectively a ball gown. 
Here’s the thing. Life has far too few opportunities to dress up properly. Sadly, we no longer live in the era (or have the money required for the lifestyle) of dressing for dinner. Parties at which ‘proper’ evening dress is required are few and far between; cocktail dresses can get a regular airing at weddings and fancy functions, but floor-length dresses are usually reserved for balls and concert dress. Sadly, I haven’t had an invitation to a ball in almost a decade and my last black-tie concert was 5 years ago – the only time the dress I’m currently wearing was worn. 
You’re now gaining a random insight into my life. Sometimes, when I have the flat to myself and get a sudden flash of inspiration, I pull my fancy clothes out of the wardrobe and try them on. Partly, it’s to check whether they fit; partly it’s to remind myself what they look like; and partly it’s to imagine that I have some swanky event to wear them to. I don’t think any girl grows out of the childhood love of dressing up… 
So, I have a campaign. I want to bring back fancy events to which such clothes can be worn. Where men will be wearing black-tie – an outfit that never fails to make its wearer better looking than they are in civvies. Hope is on the horizon, I do at least have an invite to a 1930’s themed dinner next month (the continuing roll of 30th birthdays) which will require both fancy outfit and hair. But nothing at which the blue dress could be worn – so if someone would like to organise a ball I’d be most grateful. 
Failing that, I may have to simply wear these dresses on normal days – so I can get my money’s worth out of them. Floor-length dresses might be a tad tricky on the tube’s escalators, but I’m sure I’d get the hang of it. Who’s with me? 
I couldn’t really leave this post without a photo of the dress, could I? 
It’s not a great picture of the dress, but it’s a favourite because it tells a story – though not one that anyone bar maybe 2 readers will get. 
Plus, I’m rather smug in the realisation that the dress now fits a lot better than it did then. 

The number 3 and the letter O

Or, if you will, simply the dreaded 30…

The trickle of 30th birthday invitations is beginning to snowball and within 6 short months it will be akin to an avalanche.

That’s not me boasting about the number of social engagements I have to go to, I would hasten to add, simply a reflection of the point in my life that I now find myself at. Generally, I find that the bulk of my friends are spread across the academic years immediately above and below mine, which meant that the 30th’s started last autumn, but will really get going when ‘my year’ start in September this year. [To explain to the non-Brits. The cut off for the school year is August 31st – so I’m one of the youngest in my year…]

What’s struck me of late is the variety of invitations I’ve acquired. (I did, of course, have to be going off on some kind of random tangent with this!) These days the standard is a Facebook invite – pretty impersonal, but gets the job done nonetheless – with the added bonus of being able to see who else is invited. Others choose the simple e-mail, whilst the corporate whores amongst us issue Outlook meeting requests…

What came as a total surprise was an engraved, ivory card invitation to a quiet soiree – this particularly invitation is significantly more sophisticated than most of the wedding invites I’ve had, though that may say more about my class of friends than anything else! The fact that the invitation’s resulted in a degree of intrigue amongst certain social circles is an added bonus.

Thank goodness most of my contemporaries will hit the number of doom before I do. Partly because I’ll get to sample many celebrations before planning my own – so I should have plenty of ideas; and also, I’ll get to gloat over my ‘still in my 20s’ status in the company of elderly 30 somethings. Cruel I know, but my day will come and others will take their turn in inflicting emotional age-related anguish upon me. (For those friends that would like to hit me right now, take solace in the fact that amongst my ‘girls’ I’m one of the oldest and am already enduring taunts about how close I am to becoming ‘officially old’.)

And my plans for this weekend? Another 30th of course. In fact, this particular friend is being greedy by having two celebrations, over 100 miles apart. [Yes, this is the out of town trip dilemma from the previous post. Dilemma was resolved surprisingly painlessly.] So, I am off to Bath, home of Jane Austen, to see if I can locate my own Mr Darcy. Well, a girl can dream, can’t they?

The grinch is proved wrong…

Happy new year!

I’m pleased to report that (unlike many of my facebook friends and those I partied with last night) I am not a hungover quivering mess today! [Though this was more due to common sense overtaking the temptation to drink my way through a collection of international spirits – I’d not eaten enough during the day and didn’t dare risk the consequences…]

As is so often the case, it’s the nights you expect little of that turn out to be the best. Hanging out with the wonderful Annabelle and her various (very geeky) chums – only two of whom I’d met previously – was simply a plan devised to ensure that I had some fun, forgot the events of the day before and celebrated the arrival of 2010 appropriately.

“Appropriately” included:

  • Heading out onto the street, with a bagpipe player in tow, to serenade the neighbourhood with Auld Lang Syne and similarly bagpipe suitable tunes and watching London explode with fireworks.
  • Going out for a walk about an hour later (an attempt to sober up a geek) and it starting to snow, lots. Beautiful. 
  • Much music, laughter and an exceptional performance of me & Annabelle’s party piece – the Lesbian Love Duet…
  • Boxes and boxes of takeaway pizza (a rare treat, except the one that had tinned salmon as its main ingredient – urgh!). 
  • Being taught martial arts techniques to combat any future muggings. (My arm’s now covered in bruises!)
  • And most appropriately of all, a new year’s kiss.
And so 2010 rolled in, in a fog of a night spent having too much fun and not enough sleep – but who cares?! I can catch up on sleep via the wonderful means of napping. I missed Strauss from Vienna, but had a bracing walk through the streets of South London instead.
Chatting with the ever wise Abidemi just minutes ago, we were both of the opinion that 2010 is going to be an important year, with lots of exciting opportunities. We’re not simply choosing to look on the bright side – we are full of optimism for the new year ahead and it has to be said that this is the first time I’ve felt like this on January 1st for a good long while.
May 2010 be just as exciting for you…