14 March, 2017

Yoga in Kennington

I recently had to look for a new yoga class to join because the teacher whose classes I had attended for the past ten years or so was taking a break from teaching. I was rather disappointed because I thought that it might be difficult to find a good replacement for my old teacher.

It took me a few tries to find a new teacher who is (a) local, (b) good, and (c) runs sufficiently challenging classes, but I've managed to find someone who is great. She is called Elli and runs regular classes in Kennington near Oxford.

Elli teaches hatha yoga. The classes are very well structured and quite demanding -- focussing on increasing core strength as well as maintaining flexibility -- but they are also fun and easygoing. Elli herself is lovely -- very friendly and relaxed. The classes take place in a large school hall, so there is plenty of space.

If you're looking to join a yoga class in or near Oxford, I would recommend this one. You can find out more about Elli's classes on her website.

11 March, 2017

How you view buildings

Something struck me the other day when walking into the building where I work -- how you perceive a building very much depends on your state of mind.

The place where I work has a (fairly) impressive entrance lobby, with a dedicated and very professional receptionist and comfy chairs and corporate literature for waiting visitors. There's a big stairway that sweeps down into the lobby and, when you come down that stairway, those people waiting in the lobby in the comfy chairs look up expectantly.

I remember coming for my interview here. It all seemed rather intimidating at the time -- waiting and watching the stairs for my host to come and collect me. But now that I work there, the building doesn't seem imposing or intimidating at all. It's all quite familiar; it's just where I work, after all.

Isn't it interesting, then, how your mental state or the way you are feeling can affect your perception of concrete things?

The Tidal Zone

I have just finished reading a book by one of my favourite authors, Sarah Moss.

This one -- her most recent -- is called "The Tidal Zone" and is a really interesting, thought-provoking read. The basic story line involves a fifteen-year-old girl who almost dies from an unexplained anaphylactic incident whilst at school. The book is told in the first person (from the girl's father's point of view) and follows how the girl's family copes after this incident.

However, this basic story line is in fact a container for a whole host of other things -- and it is these things that the book is really about. Moss covers the NHS (how it operates in today's chronically underfunded and chronically overcrowded world), the nature of family, how one's previous experience shapes one's reaction to future experiences, how the the practicalities of everyday life impact on a relationship, the role of breadwinner versus homemaker... The list goes on.

This description makes "The Tidal Zone" sound like a very serious book -- and in some ways it is, or at least some of the topics that Moss writes about in it are serious. Yet the writing style is light and lively and Moss is genuinely funny, drawing out the humour in the banalities of everyday life.

If you're looking for a book that is superbly written and easy to read but also intelligent and insightful, I would recommend "The Tidal Zone".

03 March, 2017

The Waterfront Cafe at Benson

I just wanted to write a blog post singing the praises of the Waterfront Cafe at Benson.

My friend Sally and I meet up here regularly for coffee, cakes and a chat. It is right by the river, so has a lovely outlook with lots of boats and meadows beyond. There are lots of tables inside and a large, canopied terrace outside, so you can always get a table -- including one in the fresh air and sunshine, if you wish.

The coffee is good and they have an unusual and scrummy range of cakes (we are particularly partial to the Portuguese custard tarts). They also serve a range of hot meals, cooked breakfast, etc.

The waiting staff are friendly and efficient.

What more could you want?!

Eltham Palace

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated  my birthday with a day trip to Eltham Palace, which is near Greenwich.The last time we visited was when our oldest daughter was a tiny baby, so more than fourteen years ago...

We found Eltham as interesting now as then. It was a royal palace for centuries, dating back to the time of Edward II, and Henry VIII spent much of his childhood there. Only the great hall of the original medieval palace remains, but this has been incorporated into the modern mansion, and it is really stunning.

The modern house that stands now was built in the 1930s. It is a beautiful mansion, with an enormous, wood panelled entrance hall. It is really interesting to see a stately home from this contemporary period when what you are used to visiting is ancient houses from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even the kids were impressed -- they really enjoyed seeing something newer and different.

The gardens surrounding the mansion are also beautiful and we spent an enjoyable half hour strolling through them. We finished off with lunch in the newly-built visitor centre, which was very good. There is also an outdoor adventure playground, which will be of interest to families with young children.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our day out at Eltham Palace, and I would certainly recommend a visit.

07 February, 2017

Getting older

My husband and I are struggling with elderly parents at the moment. We all have an inkling, I suppose, that our parents getting older can be a difficult time, but it's not until you're in the midst of it that you fully appreciate all that this entails.

At the moment we live in fear of the phone ringing, because one of our parents has fallen a couple of times recently. They have a bracelet around their wrist which allows them to contact a private company that can call an ambulance if they are unwell or have fallen -- otherwise how would anyone know, with them living alone? That's positive, of course, but it's not straightforward.

The foremost problem is that, once called, it takes ages for the ambulance to come -- over four hours, last time. So, you are left with an elderly person lying on the floor in the cold unable to get themselves up. Once the ambulance arrives, the staff are absolutely great, but it's the wait that's the problem.

An added problem is that the company that calls the ambulance doesn't have a call back number, so while they will ring to tell you that your relative has fallen and an ambulance has been called, there is no way of ascertaining when the ambulance has arrived or how long it might be. If you live at a distance from your parent, this leaves you with a huge dilemma -- do you embark on a journey of several hours to reach them or will the ambulance get there first? Last time, not wanting to call 999 when they were clearly so busy, we had to resort to scrabbling around on the Web for possible non-emergency numbers to ring in a bid to get hold of any information.

Social care is another problem. Social services will only visit the elderly on a regular basis if they are incapable of looking after themselves and are in need of personal care, i.e. help with getting out of bed, washing and dressing. If an elderly person is capable of doing these things, then they are judged to be able, but of course there are other things that they may need help with. For example, they become reliant on meals-on-wheels services and hired domestic help if they are not up to cooking or cleaning.

It can also be difficult to persuade elderly relatives to do things that would actually be helpful to their situation. We have suggested joining befriending networks of other elderly people and even hiring someone to help with transport to events, appointments, etc., but with no luck so far.

What we have really learnt from all of this is how important it is to plan ahead. We all need to acknowledge the fact that we will get old (however unwelcome the notion) and think in advance about how we will deal with this and the help that we may need to organise.

06 February, 2017

An Inspector Calls

We visited London at the weekend. Our main reason for doing so was that we had tickets for An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse. Our eldest is studying this play for GCSE, so we thought this would be a good excuse for a trip to the theatre -- one of our favourite things.

The play, of course, is superb -- and its message is so relevant in today's climate of nationalism and individualism. The performance was excellent too. This is a revival of the National Theatre's 1992 production using the original 1992 set, the centre of which is a house which closes up and opens out, a metaphor for the family's ignorance of, and lack of care for, the lives of those far less fortunate than themselves. As the family is forced by the inspector to pay attention to its fellow citizens, the house opens up to the elements, eventually collapsing as the family's self-satisfied world is torn apart.

Before the theatre, we had lunch at Zizzi in Bow Street, which was a good experience -- tasty food and very friendly staff.

And we made use of our favourite tube station, North Ealing, on our way into and out of London. We love this station -- it has a fast, direct line into the centre, is very well managed, and has lovely, clean loos. What more could you ask for?!