On the rink: Curling in Kent

‘Random’ can be an overused word – particularly by teenage ‘guyz’ who think everything is weird – but a trip to England’s only dedicated curling rink could justifiably be called random.

Did any of us ‘need’ to try curling that weekend? No. But a brilliant friend had a weird birthday wish that just needed to be fulfilled. Afterwards all of us were richer individuals for having shared the experience at Fenton’s Rink in Kent.

England's only curling rink

England’s only curling rink

Curling is an odd sport (but no odder than any other when you think about it). Its quirkiness and Team GB’s success adds up to the fascination it generates. It turns out curling should also not be underestimated – tiring on the thighs (and the mind) and you even have to watch a safety video.

Curling stones are ONLY made in Scotland, out of granite

Curling stones are ONLY made in Scotland, out of granite

Once everyone has the proper training, you are let lose on the ice, with groups getting full use of the rink and two coaches for support. Most people start off cautious and it is lovely to see everyone’s confidence and competitiveness grow.

Picture of people curling

The flags definitely fuel the competition

Kind of like bowling on ice, you have to get the shoes right. This aint no fashion show folks…

Image of black curling shoes

Ice shoes

To add to the quirks and charm of Fentons, it is set right in the heart of the Kent countryside and with a retro feel that transports you back to the time of Torvil and Dean. As they say, a change is as good as a rest, so while a trip curling might feel random, it might just make your weekend

The farm yard frontage adds to the mystery

The farm yard frontage adds to the mystery

So retro. So random.

So retro. So random.

Fentons Ice rink is open seven days a week and can be booked for two hour group sessions.

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London Carols: Best places to sing your little christmas heart out

Christmas isn’t Christmas unless someone has plugged in the carol singers.

Specifically I’m talking – little boys with haunting beautiful voices, baritones with big wool coats like the Dad in Home Alone and a soprano singing in the candlelight, making everyone feel like they understand the meaning of life for one tiny instant.

A lovely friend of mine is behind the organisation of Maggies first Christmas concert at St Paul’s Cathedral, which promise to fulfill my  actual Christmas wishes with the extra special bonus of seeing London’s iconic St. Paul’s like a proper VIP.

Not only will there be performances from St Paul’s Consort Choir, but also solos and readings by famous faces including tenor Toby Spence, mezzo-soprano Dame Ann Murray, the Manning Camerata Orchestra and  Dominic WestSimon Callow, Jeremy Paxman and Maggie’s Patron Janet Ellis.  WHAT A CHRISTMAS DREAM COME TRUE…If you need more convincing we will also be treated to WARM CHESTNUTS and HOT CHOCOLATE. I know right?

Christmas Carol Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral

Maggies Christmas Carol Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral – 16th December 2014, 19.00-20.30

The concert takes place on Tuesday 16 December 2014 at 19.00 with all proceeds going towards growing Maggie’s Centres in London, including its centre at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Tickets are available from £25 (but selling out fast!) and can be booked online through the Barbican box office. See Maggies website here.

If you are not free on 16th or fancy something different, I’d also recommend these other truly awesome carol concerts to get in the real spirit (versus having a nervous breakdown on Oxford Street, which is often the alternative):

Is it too early to say Happy Christmas?

The London stress test

There is a particular kind of ‘London Stress’. Background white noise, which builds to silently flip its lid.

…And then you’re f-bombing people as you force onto a tube, or freaking out with Google maps in Soho, lost and late, or questioning the meaning of life after working until midnight, your taxi driver stoically ignoring your tears.

Picture of a tube carriage whizzing by

Attributation – Old Street London Underground Station by Annie Mole

Londoners don’t necessarily have more stress than people elsewhere, and we certainly have it better than many. Stress is prevalent even the smallest, most scenic locations, just listen to The Archers.

But London stress – which exists within the bubble of this city – is specific to life here. It can burn you out, makes you lose perspective, even lose yourself.

Why is London so stressful? The relentless pace, the competition, maddening crowds, the aggressive transport system, the stretched housing, the pressure of companies demanding that extra inch of excellence, of growth. Technology that keeps us wired up to global expectations 24-7, set against the fact that we all arrive here, fresh young things, thrilled by the prospect of a phone conversation with NYC at midnight to make us feel like we belong.

I always remember talking with two strangers on a train to Manchester, the summer before I moved to London, about (mostly their) concerns for me in London. One said: ‘Just remember, you don’t have to become like everyone else’.

But I did. I became one of the worst.

I’m not alone. Palpitations, eye-twitches, migraines, tears at work, and more serious stress aggravated chronic conditions and anxiety are worryingly common just among the people I know, if you lift the lid a little.

What can we do about it? I haven’t got much of a clue, or I wouldn’t be experiencing a tightening neck-vein at the mere head-on confrontation of the issue. But something must be done.

Some meditate. Others medicate. A lot swear by running. I’ve heard great things about Mindfulness. Dale Carneige’s ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ has helped a friend of mine, while another swears by Andrew Johnson’s relaxation recordings. The School of Life is a fabulous urban retreat that I love. We all know massage can help.

Burning rose oil apparently instills a sense of calm, yoga is amazing, as is chamomile tea and Classic FM at the end of a long day. A walk in the park can help you ‘get away’ when a holiday isn’t an option.

Me? I try some of these things. I mostly talk to friends and drink wine. I also write this blog.

I wonder if these small management strategies are a sustainable answer though, I wonder how much rose oil can actually make a difference.

When I first moved to London it all felt so temporary, I looked at the old-timers and wondered how they hacked it. A work colleague told me that the answer is to find the London you can manage, to create it for yourself – job, house, lifestyle. Apparently its possible. Maybe that’s our answer.

Where to watch fireworks in London

I’ve never liked Halloween. I don’t understand the appeal of dressing up like I’ve been in a car crash and then trying to look a little bit sexy.

Bonfire night? That’s different. Fireworks, hot dogs and good clean fun is something I can get behind. I’ll happily park objections to the (equally weird) ritual of celebrating burning someone alive, for a spiced cider and everyone coming together.

Bang

Bang

So great is my nerdy nostalgia I invited friends over for a ‘firework themed lunch’ (which I know sounds like the start of an ill-fated episode of casualty, but don’t worry it was FINE). I even consulted Pippa Middleton’s suggestions for a bonfire feast in her much-mocked ‘party book’ Celebrate. I made her filled jacket potatoes, before moving on to my own honey and mustard sausages and a great toffee apple and blackcurrant crumble recipe I found. Unfortunately London was 30 degrees, so I really should have adapted and served salads and ice-cream.

I usually go to Battersea Park Fireworks – its amazing display, set to music in such regal and impressive surroundings – is one of the best ways to spend £10 in London. However this year, we headed up to North London (so far up I risked a nosebleed) to see what Alexandra Palace had to offer.

Whizz

Whizz

The first noticeable thing were the crowds – the display was delayed by half an hour to let everyone in. But once it started it was amazing and they chucked  everything at it. As my friend aptly put it, it was basically like watching exploding money.

Pop

Pop

However, one of the best things was discovering the aerial view of London on the viewing platform. Just stunning and my camera phone doesn’t do it justice.

What a view

What a view

So I’ll come back to Ally Pally – even if there are no fireworks. But Battersea Park’s display is scheduled for next weekend in case I’ve tempted anyone….