Long weekend in Wales and the British countryside

8 Oct

As well as taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon, I spent some time in England and Wales. One of the main things that we had to do was to visit The Morgan Car Company. I bought my other half a driving experience for his Christmas present.

He took off with the instructor for an hour of driving, while I sat in the cafe reading Ian Rankin and doing a bit of German vocabulary training. Rock and roll all the way!

When he returned, I have never seen him so happy. He was like a kid at Christmas, who had got the bike that he had been hoping for since June. After that we had a tour around the factory. In an age where most British car manufacturing has been moved abroad because of cost reasons, it’s perhaps surprising that all of the cars are made by hand. By that, I mean, every part. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process but the outcome is something beautiful to behold. If I come into some money, I will be ordering my car straight away – the waiting list is over a year long.

On the Friday we had an appointment to have afternoon tea at The Manor Hotel in Castle Coombe. Castle Coombe is famous for being where the film War Horse was filmed. The village is tiny and so quaint. There was even a little shop set up outside one of the houses that said that the lady was the baker to the film and TV industry and there were different cakes, jam and drinks laid out. You just popped the money into an honesty box.

The afternoon tea was lovely. The room itself was a beautiful, rich yellow colour. The food was excellent as well: cucumber, salmon, coronation chicken and cheese sandwiches, a sweet and a savoury scone and a selection of intricate cakes and macaroons. Yummy!

I don’t think that I have ever been to Wiltshire before. It was a lovely day to drive through the British countryside and relax.

On Saturday we took it easy because we had the half marathon the next day. So we wandered around the shop, walked along Cardiff Bay and the Barrage and had enough pasta to sink a battleship before retiring for an early night before the hard work on Sunday began!

Survivor

4 Oct

Along with 25,000 other people, I survived the half marathon on Sunday in Cardiff. From 9am on Sunday morning, the place was packed with runners ready to make their way around the 13.1 mile course. The 0.1 is very important. It’s this last little bit that will kill you off, if you’re not careful.

Of course, I could have trained more, lost a bit more weight but it was too late to think of what could’ve beens. Armed with a Cardiff City bin bag to keep me warm before the gun went off, it was only going to be my mind that would hold me back.

The start of the race was ok. There were so many people that it was impossible to start off too fast. We had already walked along part of the course two days before so I knew after we went through Penarth Marina and over the Barrage to Mermaid Bay that I was half way there.

I had a couple of bad patches, especially between mile 8 and 9 and then again after 10 miles, but with the help of the Rocky theme tune and some more classic hits, I managed to power through.

Overall, I was disappointed with my time but I did manage to run a 10 mile personal best. I only managed to beat it by 9 seconds, and I am sure that I can run better than that.

The weather stayed reasonably dry and I fully deserved my beer and fish and chips in the pub afterwards. I was glad that I didn’t have to get on a plane back to Switzerland on Sunday night. The legs were a touch sore.

On to the next race…

Five years

27 Sep

Five years ago, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket (still the only one-way ticket I have ever purchased) and one suitcase, ready to begin a new adventure in Switzerland.

It doesn’t seem like five years ago, and I never would have believed that I would still be here five years down the line and be enjoying living here. For at least the first six to nine months, I was convinced that I had made the wrong decision and I was wondering how difficult it would be to move all my things back. I spent a lot of lonely nights (and they were also dark and miserable because of the time of year) not really knowing what to do with myself.

After the first 12 months, I was more settled and learning the language definitely helped. Although at the time, it seems like I was spending a lot of time learning things like “Do you sell salt?” which aren’t so helpful in every day life. I also had a very bad habit in the beginning of never asking for anything in a shop, because I was far too embarrassed. If I needed salt and it wasn’t on the shelf where I thought it should be, I simply did without it. Luckily, I always managed to find the ice cream.

The time of being anxious that I had made the wrong decision is far behind me now. There are still things that annoy me about living in another country. Everyone thinking that you come from London when you say you are English is a particular bugbear of mine; as is the lack of fish and chips and the over abundance of paprika crisps. I still hold out hope that smokey bacon flavour crisps will be introduced here but that hope is fading steadily.

I appreciate that Switzerland is not a country that is for everyone’s taste. I know a lot of people who would struggle to keep up with the punctuality of this country and all of the rules that a well-behaved expat must abide by. For me, this part of Swiss culture has not been so hard to adapt to. I think I have had good timekeeping drummed into me from an early age. To the extent that if someone is two minutes late and doesn’t offer an apology, they are immediately struck off the Christmas card list. No second chances here.

After being here for five years, I have now successfully applied for my C permit. This means that I have the same rights of a Swiss citizen, apart from I can’t have a passport or vote. As the country seems to be running quite fine without my inputs, that’s fine by me.

A change for me will be that I no longer have to pay tax out of my wages, but I have to make a tax declaration once a year. I guess I have been here for so long that the tax authorities trust me that I won’t skip the country without paying it. It should be interesting filling in that huge form for the first time. I will definitely need a dictionary on hand when I come to complete it, as well as a calculator.

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The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous

23 Sep

We live in a world where we are surrounded by news. It’s virtually impossible to stay away from current affairs. There was a time when our only source of news was news bulletins in the morning, lunchtime and in the evening. Now, news is available 24/7. There is no getting away from know what is happening in the world with smartphones, tablets and the internet.

In my view news comes in three many forms: The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous. Good news is something that, hopefully, we are all familiar with. Fake news is a relatively new phenomenon, in which news stories with questionable reliability quickly spread over the internet and social media sources. It can be hard to spot these fake news stories and lots of people take them at face values. This can be very dangerous ground, especially during election times where the general population can be more susceptible to believing things that they want to read.

By far my favourite type of news is the ridiculous news; the news that seems like it has to be made up because there is no way that could happen in real life but actually turns out to be true. This type of news has me howling with laughter.

I have spotted two examples of this type of news this week. One of them involved a family calling in the RSPCA, an organisation who protect animals within in UK, because they thought that a rare type of lizard had nested under a bed in their house. Terrified at the prospect of an unusual beast taking refuge in their home, they called to ask for it to be removed. The RSPCA were baffled. Approaching the lizard very carefully, they soon realised that it was, in fact, a dirty sock.

I cannot imagine how embarrassing it would be to be the person who made the phone call only to discover that they had called about a dirty sock. You can read the full report here. If you look at the photo, I don’t think it could have possibly looked like a lizard under the bed. How many red and white striped lizards have you seen in your life? And what is the likelihood that a lizard would survive in the milder climates in the UK.

This did remind me though of the type of embarrassment that we all must have endured on occasions when we are convinced we have lost something, only to find that it was in the first place that we looked. I regularly do this with my bank card. I turn the flat upside down because I have already looked in my handbag, my coat, my trouser pocket and every other logical place. Just when I am ready to call the bank to report it stolen, I look “one last time” in my coat and there it is in the pocket. It’s almost as if someone has placed it there while I was searching the flat madly because it definitely wasn’t there when I looked 20 minutes ago. Sure, this situation is embarrassing but not as embarrassing as calling a third party to remove dirty washing rather than a potentially dangerous reptile.

The second story I read this week was about a group of tourists who were rescued from a forest. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Where exactly were they? In the Amazon jungle? Some remote part of Africa? No, they were in a rhododendron forest in Killarney, Ireland. I’m not an expert on gardening and flowers but I don’t think that rhododendrons grow all that big. Apparently the group became disoriented and a helicopter and boat rescued them. I am glad that they weren’t somewhere more treacherous, like a butterfly house. You can read the story here, if you don’t believe me.

I guess this type of ridiculous news puts life into perspective. Reports always seem to be about bad things happening in the world. Wthout these amusing stories to lighten the load, would modern life seem too horrible to bear? Deep down I think that they strike a chord because we could imagine these things happening to us or, at least, someone that we know because we all know one person who would find themselves lost in a mass of rhododendrons.

 

40 Before 40: Challenge #8

21 Sep

The eighth challenge on my #40Before40 list is to watch all of the films on the iMDB Top 250 films list.

These are the highest rated films on the iMDB (internet Movie Database). As the list is subject to change, I have “frozen” the list on 27.08.2017. My aim is to watch all of them before I turn 40.

Below is the complete list with the films that I have already seen highlighted in another colour. As I previously mentioned, the rule is that I don’t have to rewatch films that I have seen before.

I have been 100% honest with the list. I have seen parts of some of the films and then fallen asleep (think Lord of the Rings, but this was also true for Gladiator). So I will rewatch these in order to tick them off my list with confidence.

Of the 250 films, I have seen 79 of them. The films that are highlighted in green are films that I have recently watched. I have written a small review of these films at the bottom of the list.

  1. The Shawshank Redemption
  2. The Godfather
  3. The Godfather: Part II
  4. The Dark Knight
  5. 12 Angry Men
  6. Schindler’s List
  7. Pulp Fiction
  8. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
  9. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  10. Fight Club
  11. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  12. Forrest Gump
  13. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
  14. Inception
  15. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  16. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  17. Goodfellas
  18. The Matrix
  19. Seven Samurai
  20. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
  21. City of God
  22. Se7en
  23. The Silence of the Lambs
  24. It’s a Wonderful Life
  25. Life is Beautiful
  26. The Usual Suspects
  27. Léon: The Professional
  28. Saving Private Ryan
  29. Spirited Away
  30. Once Upon a Time in the West
  31. American History X
  32. Interstellar
  33. Psycho
  34. City Lights
  35. Casablanca
  36. The Green Mile
  37. The Untouchables
  38. Modern Times
  39. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  40. The Pianist
  41. The Departed
  42. Rear Window
  43. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  44. Back to the Future
  45. Whiplash
  46. Gladiator
  47. The Prestige
  48. The Lion King
  49. Memento
  50. Apocalyspe Now
  51. Alien
  52. The Great Dictator
  53. Sunset Boulevard
  54. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  55. Cinema Paradiso
  56. The Lives of Other
  57. Grave of the Fireflies
  58. Paths of Glory
  59. Django Unchained
  60. The Shining
  61. E
  62. American Beauty
  63. The Dark Knight Rises
  64. Princess Mononoke
  65. Aliens
  66. Old Boy
  67. Witness for the Prosecution
  68. Once Upon a Time in America
  69. Das Boot
  70. Citizen Kane
  71. Dunkirk
  72. Dangal
  73. Vertigo
  74. North by Northwest
  75. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
  76. Braveheart
  77. Resevior Dogs
  78. M
  79. Requiem for a Dream
  80. Amélie
  81. Like Stars on Earth
  82. A Clockwork Orange
  83. Lawrence of Arabia
  84. Double Indemnity
  85. Taxi Driver
  86. Your Name
  87. Amadeus
  88. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  89. To Kill a Mockingbird
  90. Full Metal Jacket
  91. Toy Story 3
  92. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  93. Singin’ in the Rain
  94. The Sting
  95. Toy Story
  96. Bicycle Thieves
  97. Inglorious Basterds
  98. The Kind
  99. 3 Idiots
  100. Snatch
  101. Monthy Python and the Holy Grail
  102. For a Few Dollars More
  103. L.A. Confidential
  104. The Hunt
  105. Good Will Hunting
  106. Scarface
  107. The Apartment
  108. Rashomon
  109. A Separation
  110. Metropolis
  111. My Father and My Son
  112. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  113. All About Eve
  114. Yojimbo
  115. Batman Begins
  116. Up
  117. Some Like It Hot
  118. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  119. Unforgiven
  120. Downfall
  121. Die Hard
  122. Raging Bull
  123. Heat
  124. The Third Man
  125. Children of Heaven
  126. The Great Escape
  127. Chinatown
  128. Ikiru
  129. Pan’s Labyrinth
  130. My Neighbor Totoro
  131. Ran
  132. Inside Out
  133. The Gold Rush
  134. The Secret in Their Eyes
  135. On the Waterfront
  136. Incendies
  137. Judgement at Nuremburg
  138. Bridge Over the River Kwai
  139. Howl’s Moving Castle
  140. Room
  141. Bladerunner
  142. The Seventh Seal
  143. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
  144. Smith Goes to Washington
  145. Casino
  146. A Beautiful Mind
  147. The Elephant Man
  148. Wild Strawberries
  149. V for Vendetta
  150. The Wolf of Wall Street
  151. The General
  152. Warrior
  153. La La Land
  154. Andrei Rublev
  155. Trainspotting
  156. Dial M for Murder
  157. Sunrise
  158. Gran Torino
  159. The Bandit
  160. The Deer Hunter
  161. Gone with the Wind
  162. Fargo
  163. The Sixth Sense
  164. The Big Lebowski
  165. The Thing
  166. No Country for Old Men
  167. Finding Nemo
  168. Tokyo Story
  169. Logan
  170. Hacksaw Ridge
  171. Cool Hand Luke
  172. Rang De Basanti
  173. There Will Be Blood
  174. Rebecca
  175. The Passion of Joan of Arc
  176. Come and See
  177. Kill Bill: Vol. 1
  178. How to Train Your Dragon
  179. Mary and Max
  180. Gone Girl
  181. A Wednesday
  182. Into the Wild
  183. Shutter Island
  184. It Happened One Night
  185. Life of Brian
  186. Wild Tales
  187. Platoon
  188. Hotel Rwanda
  189. The Wages of Fear
  190. Rush
  191. Network
  192. In the Name of the Father
  193. Stand By Me
  194. Baby Driver
  195. The 400 Blows
  196. Ben-Hur
  197. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  198. Persona
  199. Mad Max: Fury Road
  200. Spotlight
  201. 12 Years a Slave
  202. Million Dollar Baby
  203. Memories of Murder
  204. Jurassic Park
  205. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  206. Amores Perros
  207. Stalker
  208. The Maltese Falcon
  209. Paper Moon
  210. The Truman Show
  211. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
  212. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
  213. The Night of Cabiria
  214. The Princess Bride
  215. Before Sunrise
  216. Munna Bhai M.B.B.S
  217. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  218. The Grapes of Wrath
  219. Prisoners
  220. Rocky
  221. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  222. Touch of Evil
  223. Catch Me If You Can
  224. Diabolique
  225. Gandhi
  226. Sholay
  227. Donnie Darko
  228. Monsters, Inc
  229. Annie Hall
  230. The Bourne Ultimatum
  231. The Terminator
  232. Barry Lyndon
  233. The Wizard of Oz
  234. Groundhog Day
  235. Le Haine
  236. Jaws
  237. Twelve Monkeys
  238. Internal Affairs
  239. The Best Years of Our Lives
  240. Hera Pheri
  241. The Help
  242. In the Mood for Love
  243. Beauty and the Beast
  244. The Battle of Algiers
  245. Gangs of Wasseypur
  246. Dog Day Afternoon
  247. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
  248. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  249. K

 

Recent film reviews:

71. Dunkirk – I thoroughly enjoyed this film. To my shame I didn’t know much about what happened at Dunkirk. It was an eye opener and very emotional to watch. The woman sat next to me in the cinema was sobbing her heart out. The film shows three separate stories that are intertwined. I was completely engrossed until part way into the film when I thought “Oh that’s Harry Styles!”. In fairness, he performance was good; a lot better than his 1D days.

146. A Beautiful Mind –  I am not sure how I have managed to avoid this film for the past 16 years. I think that I have seen the start of the film before because it did seem familiar. It is the story of the mathematician John Nash, who suffered with mental health problems, even though his work and theories have probably influenced economics more than anyone else in the 20th century. The story was not 100% accurate, as I later found out reading more about his life online, but the story is interested and had me gripped.

170. Hawsaw Ridge – I had no idea what this film was about. It charts the life of Desmond Doss, a soldier in WWII, who is a consciencious objector to war because of his religious view. He enlists in the medical corps to save lives rather then take them. The film, more than any other war film I have seen, depicts the senselessness and futility of war and also serves as a reminder than one person can make a difference.

175. How to Train a Dragon – one of only two animated films on the list that I haven’t seen. For me, there weren’t enough innuendos aimed at adults in the film. Normally in these types of films there are several layers so that adults understand some parts of the film in a slightly different way to how a child would. Nevertheless, the good defeats evil in the end. And the dragons are pretty cool.

194. Baby Driver – I have no idea what I was expecting with this film. I had only seen the poster for the film before I went to the cinema. The film was a lot better than I was expecting and had a really good cast. I also loved all the music. Highly recommended.

238. Twelve Monkeys – I have a sneeky suspicion that I have seen this film before, but I watched it all anyway. Bruce Willis’ character time-travels between the 2034 and 1996 trying to find out who has wiped out the human race with a deadly virus. An, at times, complex plot because of the to-ing and fro-ing between the two time periods.

 

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40 Before 40: Challenge #29

19 Sep

One of my challenges for my #40Before40 is to read every book on the 40 Books that Every Woman Should Read list.

My reasoning behind this was that I predominately read books my male authors; more by accident than design. I recently discovered that the Norwegian writer, Jo Nesbo, is actually male. All this time I thought he was a woman, mainly because in English “Jo” is a woman’s name and “Joe” is a man’s name. So, this list will hopefully redress the balance.

There are a number of books on this list that I have part read and not finished. Some of them I definitely started as a young teenager and never go round to finishing.

Of course, I have read all of the Harry Potter books. I was a bit late to the party. I read all of them, one after another, in the summer of 2015. Some of the authors are not as famous as J.K. Rowling but I am sure that their books are equally as worthy of being on the list.

Below is the complete list. Those books highlights in red I have already read. Out of 40 I have read 4. Time to get reading!

  1. The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley
  2. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  3. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  4. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  6. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  7. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
  8. Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
  9. The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende
  10. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  11. Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion
  12. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  13. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  15. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  16. Runaway by Alice Munro
  17. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  18. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
  19. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  20. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  21. Cherry by Mary Karr
  22. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  23. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
  24. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  25. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  26. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer
  27. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  28. Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender
  29. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  30. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  31. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  32. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
  33. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
  34. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  35. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  36. What Was She Thinking? by Zoe Heller
  37. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  38. Broken Harbor by Tana French
  39. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  40. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Training done!

17 Sep

Today marked the end of my long training runs for the Cardiff Half Marathon in two weeks. I could not be happier if I tried. When the alarm went off early this morning, I tried hard to think of an excuse not to go. If I chose not to go this morning, then it would be much harder to compete the 13.1 miles in two weeks.

The prospect of a 19 km (roughly 11.5 miles) run is not something than most sane people would relish but I was glad that the morning was cool, but not raining, and overcast. Last weekend, I had measured out the distance that I wanted to do on my bike. Today I didn’t have to think, just run the pre-planned distance. That didn’t stop me from looking at my app to check how far I had gone about every 200 meters. It’s funny how when you know in which direction you are running that you brain tricks you into thinking that you have run a further distance that you actually have. At one point, I thought to myself that I just need to go round this corner and I am at this specific point. I turned the corner and then I realised I was nowhere need to where I thought I was. Demotivating does not even cover it.

I ran slower than I hope to do on the day but the main thing was that I completed. On the days, with a combination of nerves, adrenaline and people lining the streets to watch, I should go faster. I have a time in mind that I would like to achieve. Unfortunately, it won’t be a personal best time. I still have some weight to lose, which will help a lot, and, although I have managed to put in a shift and get the long runs ticked off, I can still improve my speed (by quite a bit) and core strength. These things needs months before you can see improvements. It was just impossible to incorporate these as well into my training schedule. My basic fitness and endurance was the priority for this half marathon.

I have been given the advice: Train hard, win easy. I agree with this motto. I am not sure that I have trained so hard for this race, so I am anticipating that the win will not be so easy. But I am ready to surprise myself.

One of the things that slowed me down today which won’t on the actual day is dogs and dog owners. The stretch that I do is popular with dog walkers and I am always a bit nervous when a dog is not on the lead. Most of the time, I slow down, just in case the dog is spooked by my running. A month ago, a dog wasn’t under control and came for me. I almost fell into a ditch while trying to get out of its way. Generally though, people here are very responsible with their dogs and make sure that they are on the lead when they see you or, at least, take hold of them.

Almost every person that I ran past today said “Good Morning” to me. It takes some effort for me to say it back because I am concentrating on breathing in and out, not on speaking. I definitely won’t have this problem during the race in Cardiff. Although, when I ran the Liverpool 10 Mile race in 2016, there was a runner in the race who was running with her dog attached by its lead to a belt around her waist. I have no idea if she stopped to scoop the poop for the benefit of other runners behind her.

I have completed my long run a week early because I have a hockey match next weekend. There is no way that I could play our Swiss cup game on Saturday and then run 19 km on the Sunday. For the next two weeks, I will be just keep going steadily with some short distances and resting well. The two words any long distance runner loves to hear: resting well. I will be making sure that my knee is okay and doing all the stretches that I need to make sure that I have no pain on the day, getting plenty of sleep and keeping my diet in check.

My diet is the main thing that lets me down. I love eating and cooking. I have been having salad for lunch for the past 6 weeks or so and trying not to snack on unhealthy things. I have by and large succeeded. My worry is that I land in Bristol on the Wednesday before the race. I have been promised fish and chips and burgers from the other half, who is also running and will be waiting for quite a while for me to crawl over the finish line. How can a girl possibly resist? I can’t remember the last time I had fish and chips. My will power will have to be strong. I am definitely looking forward to that first pint after crossing the finishing line because then the need for will power will definitely be over.

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Perfect running weather for a Brit!