Getting around

Apart from the facts that I have yet to save up and have nowhere to keep a horse, one of the factors which is holding me back in my First Horse Hunt is the fact that I have no means of transporting said furry friend.  Neither my parents nor I own a vehicle which is capable of towing a trailer, and I’ve also never towed anything before.  So I’m sure you can also make the leap that my own horsebox wouldn’t be in the offing either (unless I win the lottery and hire a chauffeur).

So this presents a logistical issue and, although it’s one I needn’t worry about too much just yet, it has got me thinking.  Obviously, when I obtain an equine, I will need to transport him or her from their current home to their new one (unless I’m incredibly lucky and they won’t be moving house or it’s hackable).  Then, once said horse is in my possession, there are two or three eventualities for which I would require transport: medical (either emergencies or investigations which aren’t able to take place at home); social (we might like to attend a sponsored ride or play day, go to the beach or just trailer to a friend’s for a visit); competitive (another unlikely one, as it’s not something which is in my plans, but you never know!).  Many of these situations would be planned, and it’s not unreasonable that my horse and I could travel with a helpful friend who does have a box or trailer and the ability to drive one, but is this the sort of thing you want to be stressing about in an emergency?

Which brings me to the point of my post: how much of a priority should this realistically be?  Given that I have time, it’s not outside of the realms of possibility that I could ask a friend to teach me about towing and let me practice.  Saving for a suitable car and trailer would be another matter, but is this something which should be high up my list?  My guess is that the answer is “it depends”.  As with many things, it depends where my horse would be kept, how friendly and available the other owners are and proximity to said vet, social activities and other opportunities.

How long’s a piece of string?  Pick up any and add a bit.

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What I was doing while you were breeding – book review

Don’t worry, I’ll stop showing off soon.  I’ve now finished all of the books on the “books I was truly excited about reading” list, so things are bound to slow down now.  Or maybe it’s time to make good on my promise to review the Ladybird book I got for Christmas…

Last September, my friends and I spent a night at Portland airport.  It was no accident – we weren’t victims of cancellation or horrendous delays, we just had an early morning flight and saw no point in spending a precious $30 each on accommodation and breakfast when we could bunk down on the concourse for free.  We had blankets, snacks and each other, what more could we want?  And besides, PDX has been voted America’s best airport two years in a row, so why not take advantage of the supposedly-brilliant facilities?

I remember catching up on quite a bit of blogging that night, and dozing in a corner with my friend Eva.  But I also, of course, ventured into every shop in the airport in search of entertainment.  One of the perks is that one bookstore sells second-hand books, although I didn’t buy any.  I did find a book I knew I’d love to read, though, but rather than buy it at the time, it promptly got added to my wish list and showed up on Christmas day.

What I was doing while you were breeding is the sort of book I’d one day love to be able to write.  I won’t, because my life isn’t as adventurous as the author’s, but the title alone was something I related to straight away.  Although I mostly forget that I’m almost 28 (much of the time, I convince myself I’m still 21 and that there’s plenty of time before I have to grow up), there’s an increasing frequency of reminders that my peer group are overtaking me in the grown up stakes.  Thanks, social media, for the slew of engagement announcements around Christmas (no doubt there will be more in the next couple of weeks).  Thanks also for the unmitigated (and, frankly, horrifying) week-by-week pregnancy updates.  These days, I feel like I’m the only one whose updates still revolve around bars I’ve visited and bottles of wine I’ve consumed, rather than number of night feeds and childhood diseases.

But this book is a reminder that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, that I’m not alone in seeing out my twenties without marrying or buying a house.  A lazy reviewer’s description would be that this is Eat, Pray, Love for girls under 30, but that’s too simplistic really.  It’s more about working hard, playing harder and learning how to compromise but not settle.  I didn’t really want the book to end: I laughed, then I laughed harder, and I wished I had it in me to live the author’s dreamy lifestyle of undertaking a well-paid job for eight months per year, enabling myself to travel for a chunk of the rest.  Those kind of roles are a rare thing, and I’ll just have to stick to what mere mortals do – enjoy the job I have, and save up to take some time out and see more things.

Above all, I’ve started a new list, using one of the sentiments from the book which struck the strongest chord with me: the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it.  Newman explains it as doing the typical thing relating to the place that you’re in – riding Icelandic ponies across a frozen plain in Iceland, for example.  Or going to a luau, perhaps.  It’s a “when in Rome” sort of concept, designed to make sure you fully absorb the culture of wherever you are.  Many of us don’t do it enough, preferring to stick to our comfort zones, but if that’s the approach we take, we’re neither breeding and settling like our friends, nor living as we’d perhaps like.

Have you done The Thing in The Place?  What was it?!  And if you’ve settled down already, what’s the greatest adventure you wish you’d taken beforehand?

All angles

In my attempt to make a decision on how to spend my year, I’ve had heart to hearts with friends, made a pros and cons matrix (a list would be far too simplistic), drunk a lot of wine and noted the things I’d like to achieve in either situation (improvements I could make, procedures I could implement, and fun things I could do).

It got to the point that I’d agonised so much that I just wanted it all to be over, and one of my closest friends demanded that I just pick, because the whole thing was clearly making me uncomfortable.  I’d lost count by this point of the amount of people who told me to flip a coin or pick one option out of a hat, and that my reaction to that game of chance would tell me how I really felt.  Unfortunately, my brain is not so easily fooled – there really is nothing in it when it comes to this contest.  I’ve got two great options to choose from, both beneficial to my future, both things I’ll enjoy doing, and both opportunities which of course have down sides.

And then I received a truly great piece of advice.  “Which one frightens you most?” a friend asked.  I answered quickly.  “That’s your answer,” she smiled.

She had a point.  We finished our cups of tea, trudged through a muddy field and returned with two horses to work, and I mulled it over some more.

As I played with the horse, a lightbulb flickered into life.  I was wrong about which choice really scared me.  It wasn’t that the answer I’d given was wrong, just that it, in reality, is mildly less scary than the other choice.  I figured out that I was scared of both, for different reasons (of course).

And again, the waters were muddied…

Killer questions

In an uncharacteristic move, I was unprepared for a situation I found myself in the other weekend.  Back in December, I had a message from the director of my summer camp to provide dates of recruitment fairs she’d be attending in the UK and Ireland – former staff were invited along to say hi and help out.  There had been one such person two years previously when I was hired, and I thought it’d be a fun thing to do (plus I needed to see the director and discuss what may or may not happen in 2015), so I agreed to attend one of the London fairs.

Having witnessed someone else do what I knew I’d be doing, I didn’t think about it too much – the day I was hired, a friendly girl (who, as it happened, had done two summers in the horseback department) was essentially entertaining the queue of waiting candidates.  She wasn’t assessing anyone, but she was available to ask any of the more informal questions an applicant might have.  I assumed I’d be in the same position, so I didn’t prepare myself other than remembering what I might get asked.

However, I forgot that things have changed slightly in the meantime – I initially turned down the opportunity to return to camp in 2015, deciding to stay in the UK and start to get my life back on a permanent track.  Some good things have happened this winter, and I wanted to stick with them.  Then my boss also said she wouldn’t return, and the carrot of a promotion was dangled in front of me.  My decision was on the rocks.

Nobody at the recruitment fair I helped at was uncertain.  Once the doors opened, we were inundated with enthusiastic applicants.  I duly triaged the queue, turning away anyone who was seeking a position we’d already filled, and warming up those who we could potentially take.  As I was chatting away, my director grabbed me and asked me to speak to an applicant she’d already approved of – our first candidate for horseback.  I was excited to finally talk horse with someone, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I’d have to vet their skills!  The director had decided she was happy with the person – not an easy feat, she’s justifiably a tough woman to please – and I was to make a call as to whether their horsey experience was sound.

I explained a little about the department – one of the problems we often face at camp is that whoever hires people (a selection of directors travel around the world, and none of them work at the barn) doesn’t know a huge amount about what we do and how the day works, so they aren’t able to answer detailed questions.  Sometimes, it’s clear staff have been accidentally misled, and they get a big shock.  They’re normally told it’s hard work (which any horse person should already know) and long hours are involved (but again, it’s camp, not a holiday – you’re there to work!) but sometimes they seem to show up assuming they’ll ride several hours per day, or during their breaks… not the case!

It’s difficult to give an accurate representation of what it’s like without scaring people off, but I tried my best.  Anyone who loves horses and wants to work with them shouldn’t be phased by the hours, the poo picking and the grunt work, but some are.  So I was fairly gentle.  I made sure to explain that the majority of riders are beginners and that it’s therefore very repetitive.  I laboured the point that if you get an hour in the saddle every two days, you’ve done well.  But I did also point out that none of our horses live in unless they’re seriously ill, so although there’s poo to pick, there are no stables to muck out.  And they all remained keen.

Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t ask them too many questions – the thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that people can talk a great game, have brilliant experience with horses and know their stuff, but when it comes to teaching… that’s a different thing.  You honestly can’t properly tell how someone is as a teacher until you see them do it.  So I didn’t ask for any detailed philosophies there, but I did ask two questions which, to me and the way our barn runs are critical: how confident are you handling horses on the ground; how good are you at picking out hooves?

Those questions sound basic, right?  They should do, but they aren’t.  We do always get a variety of levels of experience (see previous regarding the type of person responsible for hiring staff – non-experts), but it amazes me how many staff seriously lack confidence when they’ve got an excited or flighty horse on the end of a lead rope, or who are reluctant to bend over and pick out eight hooves first thing in the morning (that’s all they have to do once we’ve tacked up!  Each member of staff is responsible for two specific horses – if you as a person do the same two horses once or twice per day for 13 weeks on the bounce, if those horses don’t have at least the fourth hoof in the air waiting for you, you’re doing something very wrong).

Throughout the course of the afternoon, I vetted and accepted enough staff to fill my department, and they’re all lovely.  It was very exciting to take people through that process and see their reactions.  But I did walk away a little disappointed in myself for only thinking of two killer questions – I used to work in recruitment for goodness’s sake!  Anyway, it’s done now.  I got excited about camp again.  So my 2015 is still to be confirmed…

If you’re looking for grooms or junior instructors, what’s the most important horsey quality for you?  Clearly, something else of great importance is that someone has the confidence to speak up when they’re uncertain, rather than do something wrong, but that goes for any job… Do you look for champion hoof pickers, strong biceps for lugging water buckets or another type of X-Factor?  Let me know in the comments!

Room with a view

There seems to be something about this time of year which makes me crave a miniature change of scenery.  Or it’s that during the post-Christmas tidy up I pull my finger out, look beguilingly at my Dad and he grits his teeth and fetches his hammer.

When I got my first iPhone five years ago, the amount of photos I took on a daily basis increased rapidly; when I re-discovered my ability to leave the country two years later, I went a little nuts, and I suddenly have a vast collection of digital photographs, rivalled only by those who have children.  It’s kind of fascinating that, not only have photos gone from being an extravagance to normality, but that it’s also become far more difficult to take bad ones (bad in terms of the actual quality of the shot – it’s arguably far easier now to take pictures which are poor in terms of composition, and that are unflattering to the subject).

I can pinpoint the reasons for my own excitement about photos easily: my trip to South Africa was largely funded by a generous gift from my grandparents, and as a sign of gratitude, as well as a nod to the fact that it was a trip now beyond either of them given their ages, I made sure that I documented the trip heavily.  Given the volume of output I create, I sometimes find going through my photos and choosing ones to print a chore; depending on my mood, it can also be a sad task to trawl my pictures and be reminded that the fun is over for the time being, but I try to remind myself that it’s not forever, and there is more to come.

At some point, I decided to try and up my game a little, and Googled basic tips on composition.  I can’t remember the source, but the top rule I found is the “rule of thirds” – this is the single easiest rule not only to remember, but to implement effectively.  Here’s what I now try to do:

  • Place the main subject of your image in a third, rather than the centre – your images instantly become more interesting, as the viewer’s eye is encouraged to look at the surroundings as well as the subject. It gives better context, especially with subjects who are moving (horse people listen up here!)
  • If you aren’t great at fractions, most devices will have a grid mode – play around with your phone or camera until you figure out how to make it display a grid, which then allows you to really see how your image breaks down, like an extra viewfinder
  • I most frequently find myself applying the rule of thirds laterally (so I place my subject towards the left or right of the frame, whether it’s a landscape or a portrait), but often use it vertically too (meaning the subject is in the top or bottom of the frame, as opposed to the middle), and occasionally use both (subject is in one of the extreme corners)
  • Of course, there are exceptions to every rule – sometimes your subject is enormous, and there just isn’t a suitable spot for you to take the photo from in order to change the positioning; sometimes, it just looks right for it to be centred. But next time you’re taking pictures, just give it a go.  Particularly if it’s a stationary subject, like a landscape – take your picture as you normally would, then take another shot applying the rule of thirds and compare them

I didn’t mean for this post to be a photography lesson, but somehow it happened anyway!  My main point was going to be this – show you all the views I currently wake up to.  Because, for me, one of the beautiful places I’ve been to just isn’t enough:

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Above: these frames were hung this time last year, and I’ve just switched two of the original shots out for other prints – the small silver frame on the left now contains a shot I took last year in Hawaii (which completely disobeys the above rules!) and the one at the top in the black frame was taken in Greece (I’d forgotten about it, because it’s hidden away in an album!  It was my sister’s idea to bring that one out).  I’m really pleased with how this now looks, and can’t wait for the new pictures to go up alongside them…

memories-photos-friends-selfie-portrait-beach-hawaii-oahu-scenery-landscape-riding-horses-trail-san francisco-california-las vegas-holiday-summer-camp

…and above are the new pictures waiting to be hung!  I’ve made a classic mistake though: we only have one picture hook in the house, so “buy picture hooks” has added my “to-do whilst waiting for new job to start” list.  These are all photos from 2014, and I took all but one of them!  The “between the ears” shot is also the one I use for the lock screen on my phone, and it gets better every time I look at it – there’s a lot of movement in it which brings it to life, and helps keep the memory powerful in my mind.

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Those of you who know me well will have noticed a very important picture was missing: that’s because it has a special home.  Above is possibly my favourite shot of the summer (I’m sort of sad I didn’t take it, but that’s because I’m the subject!  I’m eternally grateful to my friends James and Eva, who were shooting “my” horse and me from the banks of the river that afternoon).  My Mum repeatedly says that the only time I smile is when I’m on a horse (it’s not true, I swear!), but I defy a horse person not to smile when they see this – I’m grinning, the horse is engaged and enjoying himself, the sun is shining, and I remember being in the saddle that day thinking “I get paid to do this”.  I was trying to figure out how to position my new frames, and then I glanced up and remembered there’s a huge chunk of real estate on one side of the room that I haven’t touched.  There was also a vacant picture hook (abandoned from the days when I last hung a clock there many years ago) begging for attention, and the fact that it sits above my rosette board?  Well, that just felt like a sign.  I will never win a rosette with that horse, but that picture deserves many prizes in my book.  Now I just have to save some money so that I can fill the space around it…

The tree of life

My Mum started it.  I was young and impressionable, and we were on a painful cycling holiday in Germany when she took us to a Christmas decoration shop.  It was the middle of the summer, horribly hot with more bugs in the air than I knew the names for.  But we came away with a couple of festive souvenirs, neither of which I could identify now, though the seed had been planted.

My Christmas decorating tactics when at university mainly involved tinsel.  I’ve never been a big fan of the stuff on trees, but when you live in a flat or house which is mainly corridors and banisters, it begins to make sense.  As one housemate once put it, “it looks like Christmas threw up in here” – I was delighted that, at the time, we lived in an enormous house, which I’d decided could “handle” a huge amount of glittery strings.

I’ve never really had my own tree, as I’ve chosen instead to wait until I’m back at the family home (which I’ve managed for every Christmas) to really enjoy a traditional tree (I do own a three-foot baby pink tree, bought mainly as it was incredibly cheap).  My family aren’t allowed to decorate the tree without me, and if I live away, I make time to return a few weeks prior to Christmas in order to put the tree up.  Because I, too, have started something: I’m building a collection of ornaments.  The pace has picked up since I’ve begun travelling more for pleasure – I now ensure that I don’t return home from a significant trip without a new decoration for my future trees.  Until I get my own home and family, they’ll hang on my parents’ tree, to remind me where I’ve been.  These are their stories…

London 2012 ornaments
When I first saw these at Spirit of Christmas in 2012, I didn’t know whether to fall in love or be appalled.  I didn’t think they could possibly be genuine, as I couldn’t imagine LOCOG licensing such a product… but they did, and they were.  I snapped up two of London 2012’s mascots for the trees of my future – one is in traditional Beefeater dress, the other is (of course) an ice-skating Santa.  When I posted a photo of them on Instagram, a friend who was similarly mourning the loss of the Olympics was desperate to know where I got them, and when I gave her the name of the supplier, immediately bought a set online.  2014 will see Wenlock and Mandeville grace our tree for the third time, as their manufacturers enjoy a prime spot in Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas shop.  Olympic legacy via Christmas decorations – something LOCOG should be proud of.

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The ruby slipper
Of all the things available to stare at in Washington DC, one which I couldn’t possibly miss was the ruby slippers at the Museum of American History.  The Wizard of Oz is still one of my favourite movies, so in 2013 I duly made my pilgrimage to see the famous shoes.  Sadly, they don’t make them big enough for my Yeti-sized trotters, but the Smithsonian do sell ruby slipper ornaments, and my collection immediately expanded.

Festive lobster
Amongst the weird and wonderful everythings of New Orleans, I spied something so perfect that I laughed out loud.  As well as proudly proclaiming it’s birthplace, this piece involves an appropriately-attired lobster playing the saxophone.  Of course.  But it also pays homage to one of the best pieces of dialogue in The Best Christmas Movie ever.

Viva Las Christmas
Another destination on my 2013 road trip, another certainty of finding glitzy tat.  There was a selection of typical options in Las Vegas, but rather than choose my favourite one, I selected the one which best commemorated my first visit – the hotel my friend and I stayed in is represented here, and a small piece of the Strip occupies a branch on my tree.

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Wreathed lighthouse
Ptown, Cape Cod, isn’t really about subtlety, so there’s a certain irony in the simplicity of this piece.  Eva and I spent two lovely days on and around the Cape this summer, and once we reached the end of our trek, she enjoyed Ptown as much as I did.  My criteria for decorations isn’t that they must be tacky – it’s that they should represent the place they’re from, as well as being obviously festive (so it’s not enough that an ornament is able to hang from a tree, it must also be clearly Christmassy).  The wreath is key here, otherwise it’d just be a (admittedly lovely) porcelain lighthouse.

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The one which didn’t make it
“Wouldn’t it be great,” Eva and I said, perhaps a little tipsily, “if, when we’re in Hawaii, we find a Christmas decoration which marries Hawaii and Christmas?  Something like, I don’t know, Santa in a grass skirt?”  Well, of course somebody had already thought of that.  I delighted in scrolling through the Santa’s Pen website whilst we waited at an airport for a flight.  When we made it to the store in Honolulu, I was agog at the choice, and eventually plumped for Santa, in said grass skirt, enjoying a drink in a hammock.  The sales assistant wrote “Mele Kalikimaka” (Merry Christmas) on it for me… and I promptly lost my purchase, but only realised the night before we were due to leave.  After the shop had closed.  And we left before it opened.  And they don’t ship internationally.  Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to cover it, but at least I have an excuse for a second visit to Oahu someday…

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Spoilt for choice
Berlin was bound to be tough: Germany is famously festive, with Christmas markets galore if you travel in November.  We went in October, and in the major cities, you’re always going to find it a little tricky to find something more unique and less mass-produced.  So I compromised, and made a trip to the highly-commercial Kathe Wohlfahrt.  I spent a long time selecting my ornaments, and came away with just two, both of which appealed to my horsey side.  The girl on the hobby horse is unpopular in our house already, but I couldn’t resist this miniature mirror into my childhood.  And the little deer-at-the-manger scene is simple but beautifully detailed – hopefully you can see the tiny strands of hay in the feeder.  Along with the lighthouse, they will make their debut on the tree in 2014.

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I’m not sure how many more ornaments I’ll get the chance to buy over the years, but I enjoy having an eclectic and non-matchy tree: whenever I see a shot of a tree on Facebook or Instagram, where the poor thing has been swathed in traditional glitzy baubles and trussed up with ribbons (why?!  Ribbons are for gifts!), I shake my head, turn to look at my traveller’s tree, and look forward to sharing the stories even more.  Because “I went to Homebase and picked out things which were on three for two” just isn’t interesting.

How to do it

Regular readers of my blog will know that my favourite L word is Legacyevent legacy, to be precise.  Events aren’t just about what happens in the moment, they expire, and it’s a challenge to see not just how long you can make it last (though given that I’m the queen of stretching birthdays out for two weeks, my love for event legacy is unsurprising), but how much of a positive impact the ripples can have on their surroundings, and for how long.

Olympic Games are notoriously poor at producing good legacies, which is why the IOC has become a huge fan of the event industry’s favourite buzz word – these mega-events take seven years of pre-production (and that’s just from the moment of winning the bid, there are at least three years prior to that devoted to pitching and bidding and schmoozing), only to expire within four weeks of competition.  By that point, a city is often left with brand new Olympic-quality facilities which it sometimes has no idea what to do with.  It’s not just the competition venues, it’s the athlete housing and media capabilities.  So things have to change.

Legacies haven’t always looked like they do today, with tree-lined parks which are home to affordable housing for local people, and world-class facilities which will train the stars of the future whilst providing entertainment and a place for residents to keep fit.  Occasionally, a legacy is accidental or, at least, something which could’ve been completely different.

On my recent trip to Berlin, I visited the Olympiastadion, the venue which hosted the 2006 football World Cup final, but which is also infamous for holding the 1936 Olympics.  Where, hindsight keenly showed us, Hitler oversaw the building of what would become an enormous rally ground.  What he probably didn’t predict is that, almost 80 years later on a windy Tuesday in October, the park would be full of people wandering around clutching personal electronic devices and being guided around the park via GPS in a variety of languages.  This, dear readers, is a legacy many events may only dream of.

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For it is not – yet, one might argue – the fate of any other Olympic Games.  London’s legacy is foetal by comparison, but those in charge should learn from Berlin.  The Olympiastadion has pulled off an incredible feat, arguably thanks to input from the Brits themselves.  When Berlin was divided post-WW2, the stadium was part of the British sector, and was duly preserved.  Between foreign occupation, the Cold War and a divided state, the park could easily have fallen into ruin.  Instead, it has not only survived, but thrived.

2. berlin olympiastadion olmypics football stadium olympic games legacy

My family and I chose to take the fairly new multimedia guided tours, which was €3 per person on top of the park entry fee.  Don’t tell those who run the stadium, but they could be charging twice that – many other tour operators do.  We were each given a smartphone-type device (they’re GPS enabled – you can click on each part of the tour as you get to it, but the map guides you around and is set to autoplay when you reach the relevant section) and headphones (which, my Dad remarked, have the added bonus of keeping your ears warm) before departing on our tour.  There are two versions – 65 minutes or 100 minutes, and we chose the latter.

We were given a wealth of information on our tour, beginning with the stadium’s original history as a horse racing venue.  You’re then sped up to it’s predominant current use as a football stadium, where the events pro in me drooled at the brilliantly-designed lighting system which creates no shadows on the pitch.  Then the real reason I’d insisted on a visit began, and we were taken around the park, with the opportunity to see the list of gold medal winners from the 1936 games, the site which bore the Olympic flame, and many other things.

3. rally ground olympiastadion sport facility stadium olympic park legacy

As I walked around the park, there was an incredible example of legacy at every turn: alongside the rally ground, which is still used as a polo field (polo was an Olympic sport in 1936, and one which Team GB won a medal in!), there is a small field with practice cross country fences (this part of the park wasn’t explained, but I could see that it wasn’t big enough to have been the actual course – a rider was using it, though!).  Across a small road, there were also at least two outdoor sand schools, both of which were in use, presumably by either visiting riders or those who keep horses nearby.

4. berlin olympiastadion legacy eventing jumping olympics olympic games park 7. olympic park berlin olympiastadion training facility equestrian 6. berlin olympiastadion equestrian training facility legacy park olympic 5. berlin olympiastadion equestrian eventing training legacy jump cross country olympic park

Further walking led to a small outdoor pool where swimming practice was taking place – yes, outdoors in October!  There’s a reason the team in question – a local water polo club – are incredibly successful… Also training on the day were various levels of age group football players, making use of smaller pitches within the park.  When I reached the final stop on the tour – the original Olympic swimming and diving pools – my guide informed me that the pool is available for members of the public to use in summer months, almost 80 years post-Games!  Many Olympic pools since have fallen out of use less than eight years post-Games, never mind eight decades later.

8. berlin olympiastadion diving aquatics board elevator legacy park olympics 9. berlin olympiastadion legacy olympic games facility aquatics swimming pool park

The tour involves a lot of walking, and the park is very different to the images we are shown of how the delivery agencies hope for London’s Olympic park to look (it’s very austere, lacking in decorative flora and fauna – although, this makes it very low-maintenance – but I think that’s a subtle awareness from the German’s that their park is unique, that it is also an eerie reminder of Nazism, as well as a place of sporting significance), but it is an incredible experience.  Many people remember only the negatives in Germany’s history, but the present is very much positive, with a venue which was built to last seeing sustained use.  It’s certainly a place which I would be proud to see my tax dollars funding in the present day.

As I crossed from the pool to the stadium, multimedia device in hand, to meet up with my family, I wondered how many people could be wandering around London’s Olympic park eight decades from now, what they might be clutching and how their experience could be.  I hope that there is something good to see, that the facilities are open for business, that we have built it and people will come.

Wordless Wednesday – tourists at the luau

First of all: an apology.  To anyone who has ever given me a dance lesson, or taught me any kind of motor skill – I am not normally this bad.  And to the people of Hawaii, I’m sorry I murdered your dance.  But, respect to you, it’s really difficult and really fast.  I’d quite like to see Beyonce do it.

PSA over, here’s the real post.  Now that smartphone cameras are decent quality, and I’m wedded to my iPhone, my compact digital camera usually sits sadly neglected.

It comes out on special occasions, or when I go on “big” holidays.  My trip around the US was no exception, and when my friends and I hopped up on stage to try and learn the hula at the luau we attended in Hawaii, the new friends we’d made at our table captured the evidence.

I found this video whilst waiting for my flight home from Berlin, and have barely stopped laughing since.  So here you go: the hula, being murdered by myself and my friends Eva and Sarah.

Flying visit

Even I cringed at that pun.  This time last week, I was in Berlin (this time two months ago I was in Vermont, trying my best to consume 20 scoops of ice cream plus toppings… and that way, madness lies).  Our first family holiday in over 11 years ended in zero injuries, with minimal fights.  I’m going to call that a win.

It’s a good thing that I’ve accustomed myself to stupid AM flights, because we had to leave the house at 6:30am in order to make our plane.  A pit stop in duty free allowed for a purchase of coffee (necessary) and sunglasses (with approval all the way from Melbourne, Australia courtesy of my much-missed friend and holiday partner), and then we were off.

norwegian air exit row selfie legs legroom seat aeroplane flight

By the time we made it through the archaic – it probably should be some sort of protected building – and ironically-named Schӧnefeld airport and into the city, there wasn’t much of Monday left.  We took an evening tour of the Bundestag (formerly the Reichstag – Germany’s Houses of Parliament).  As someone with a limited interest in and attention span for history, my tolerance for this kind of activity was already waning, and was further hampered by tiredness.  But there were highlights, including seeing how the building has been redeveloped in order to stand as a monument to Germany’s bad times, as well as a positive look at the future.  Some would call the interior austere, but it’s actually nice to see a political building which doesn’t waste a huge amount of financial resources on wallpaper or carpeting.  It’s a comfortable place to work, but not ostentatious.

The following day involved my favourite activity.  The event manager in me fired on all cylinders, and geeked out over the sheer brilliance that is the legacy of Berlin’s 1936 Olympics.  We visited Berlin’s Olympic Park, and I could’ve happily spent all day there – and that was before I spotted that there were several riders exercising their horses across two outdoor arenas and a miniature cross country course.  I enjoyed this trip so much that I’m going to dedicate a separate blog post to it, but here’s the gist: if you’re ever in Berlin, go and see this place.

berlin germany olympiastadion olympic park stadium legacy rings BW

Having undertaken a 100 minute tour of the stadium and covered more distance than I imagined, I felt like I deserved a treat, so we made for the destination I’d spent most time researching – Fassbender and Rausch, a chocolate shop and restaurant.  I failed to persuade my family to dine properly in the restaurant, but I did convince them to indulge in hot chocolate and cake.  It was a bit of a busman’s holiday (those who know me well are aware that I’m back in the retail dream world of a chocolate shop as my job), but it was interesting to be the customer for once.  The vast shop demonstrated the importance of having staff available on the shop floor to help customers: even though I know where I am with chocolate, I had no idea where to start on this place, so I decided to take photos instead.

fassbender rausch chocolate berlin germany shop wall anniversary

brilliant marketing – 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaching and the chocolate shop create this. Well done!

Day three of our trip involved more cake, though with disappointingly slow service (at the time of writing, I haven’t completed my Trip Advisor reviews for the visit, but it’s just a matter of time!), though there was a highlight on day three.  Mum wanted to visit Berlin’s largest department store, KaDeWe, and it did not disappoint.

Mum was on the hunt for a new perfume, and when we found the department, I made an immediate recommendation (Balenciaga’s Florabotanica).  My suggestion wasn’t ignored, but Mum did choose to seek further advice from a sales assistant.  Armed with a few samples, we went for a wander around the rest of the store so that she could decide.  I swooned when I finally found the section housing my favourite (very expensive) fragrance brand, then tried on some ridiculous sunglasses… before Mum plumped for the first perfume I’d suggested.  Definitely missed my calling there… When purchasing the largest bottle of this perfume, you get a silk scarf as a gift.  The sales assistants must have liked us, because although Mum bought the smallest bottle, she was given a scarf… and so was I!  It promptly got tied to my handbag, and I may also be stealing a splash or two of the perfume, as it’s one of my favourites too (ulterior motive, moi?).

handbag mulberry phoebe vintage scarf design balenciaga freebie fragrance british leather

yay for freebies! Brilliant customer service

Of course, our budget flight home was delayed (update on my airlines blog post possibly coming soon, now featuring Norwegian Air!), but we made it unscathed.  Thanks to the vast portions of food and increased cake consumption, I’m probably three dress sizes bigger, though being back at work might fix that.  Not only is it my final trip out of the country for a while, but it’s also my last use of my current passport: it doesn’t expire until next October, but due to US immigration restrictions, that’s not enough validity to enable me to return to camp next summer, if I choose to go.  So, as I’m still keeping my options open, it’s time to get into the photo booth and get myself some new ID.  The adventure continues… without my family.

Ich staube mit dem Staubsauger

I spent four years studying German and passed my GCSE with an A grade, but can estimate the number of times I’ve used the language during the last decade (side note: sob – can’t believe I’m that old!) using the fingers of one hand.  That’s all about to change: I’m going to Berlin next week.

I was still in the US when I received a few fractured messages from my mother regarding Berlin, and it wasn’t until I got hold of her via Skype that I got any kind of sense out of her.  “I’ve got some money, your sister hasn’t been away this year and Dad’s taken some time off work.  Would you like to come to Berlin in October?”  I think I was in the middle of Vermont at the time, and couldn’t formulate a response other than, “Erm, sure.”

We haven’t been on a family holiday together since that very year in which I took my GCSE German exams.  In May 2003, the four of us spent a week together in Cape Cod: “It’ll be lovely,” Mum insisted, “the weather will be much nicer than it is at home.”

“You’re taking me out of the country during the week’s break in the middle of the first set of important exams I’ve ever sat?” I was incredulous.  Surely this wasn’t my mother talking, but some alien who’s taken over her body.

“Yes!” she insisted.  “It’ll be great.”

“I don’t think so,” I replied.  “Their weather’s the same as ours.  Look, it’s pretty much level with us!”  I didn’t take GCSE Geography – can you tell?

“It’ll be lovely!” Mum repeated.  It wasn’t.  It pissed with rain all week, the beaches were windy and quiet, many of the towns hadn’t yet opened for the summer season.  As my Dad put it, my revision books went for a nice trip (they didn’t make it out of my backpack the entire week, even though the weather was awful).

After that trip, I refused to go on any family holidays.  I was far too grown up to spend two weeks in the same hotel room as my parents and sister, plus they’d decided to go to increasingly wetter and colder destinations which I had no interest in (I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d made that decision intentionally).  As a consequence, I didn’t go on holiday for three years, when my parents’ generosity funded a trip for myself and my Dad to go to Florida the spring after I had my scoliosis surgery as a, “well done for surviving that, sorry you had a shit summer” present.

So it’s not two weeks in Florida (sadly), but it’s also not a week in wet and windy Cape Cod (also kind of sadly, because it is a lovely place).  Instead, it’s three nights in Berlin as a foursome.  But I am an adult, so I’m far from bound to my family.  Here are the other problems: I hate art, I have a limited attention span when it comes to architecture and history, and I don’t drink beer.  So what, dear readers, do I do for three days in a city where my favourite and most comfortable phrase is, “I suck with the dust-sucker”?

Clearly, there are things in Berlin which appeal to me: I have already insisted that we will pay a visit to what is reportedly one of the world’s greatest chocolate shops (doesn’t it look like Harrods?!); Mum has sourced a coffee and cake tour, which sounds divine; Berlin loves Christmas almost as much as I do, so there should be plenty of Christmas decoration shops to plunder.  But that will still leave me with a lot of time.  Much as I’d love to, I can’t spend three days eating chocolate (it’s my job anyway, worse luck, but we all know I can’t afford to inflate my girth to house-like proportions).

Art, an abundance of history and Oktoberfest are out.  Don’t go there.  Anybody else got any other ideas?  Other than dragging a bunch of my gay friends with me and dancing our socks off in Berlin’s variety of clubs – believe me, I’ve already considered that option.