Posts Tagged ‘nature’

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Kew’s gardens.

January 4, 2013

After a fine New Year’s Eve party and a bracing New Year’s Day walk (and post-walk viewing of The Princess and the Frog), the 2nd of January was the day Toby and I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Before Christmas, Toby’s eagle eyes had spotted an offer for the 12 Days of Christmas at Kew, which basically consisted of free tickets to the gardens. And so off we went! Although it was a cloudy and drizzly day, there was plenty to see and we had a fabulous time (I must be growing up / getting old, because visiting a place like this for 3 hours would have been my idea of hell only a couple of years ago). There were various intriguing sculptures:

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Conservatories filled with tropical plants and palm trees, desert environments and tanks with marine life:

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A part dedicated to alpine plants (with some very pretty narcissi) and a Japanese garden area similar to the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park:

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Some beautiful temples scattered around (dedicated to a lucky Princess Augusta), an impressive lake, and some intriguing statues:

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As the rain came down more persistently, we walked through more of the park area, along an avenue lined with thimble-shaped bushes, and to a Japanese pagoda.

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This is where the pictures end, but there was more! We came across an overpriced café/restaurant which I am sure served lovely food and drink but at more than I was willing to spend when out for a day in a park. And if we’d gone there for free, I think I would have felt even more aggrieved had we already paid to get in and then had to pay more to sustain ourselves along the way! There was a stinky compost heap, and located near that, the most terrifying part of the day: the Treetop Walkway. So it looks lovely on the website – take my advice and stick to viewing the pictures here. Because once you’ve climbed four floors’ worth of see-through metal mesh stairs, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths (up until this point in my life, I was able to tolerate heights, but I’ve evidently developed a fear of them) and begun to walk round (the walkway is a large oval-shape), you realise that IT MOVES. The fucking walkway SWAYS. I am using caps because that is how much it freaked me out. I held on to the wooden banister and started to walk round more quickly, keeping my eyes looking at the (on that day, murky) canopy of trees to distract myself from: the fact that the walkway seemed to be held up by nothing more than sparse metal trees, the swaying which appeared to be becoming more violent, and the mesh floor through which one could see the ground far below. Toby was a few feet behind me and suddenly called to me that he felt sick and had to go back down; I gauged that despite feeling like the terror had been unremitting for at least 10 minutes, I was less than a third of the way around the walkway and so I decided to practically run with him back to the lift and get down and off the thing sharpish. Even while we waited for the lift, I could feel the structure moving.

I never saw or heard a giant crash or collapsing of the structure, and so I presume that everything was fine and that the Treetop Walkway is indeed meant to sway (perhaps it gives one a more vivid experience of what it’s like to be a tree). The view is fantastic, as you can see on the link in the above paragraph. But if you even think you aren’t a fan of heights, take my advice and stick to the website experience: don’t go up there, because it’s terrifying to anyone with nerves of less than steel.

And with that, we decided to say goodbye to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It is a truly fantastic experience and well worth seeing once – I’d happily go back again next year if we can get free tickets again. Although it feels very “cultural” and its visitors were largely comprised of families trying to entertain their children before they go back to school and elderly National Trust devotees, it was wonderful to do and see something different, and to be wowed by the feats and ingenuity of nature. The aquarium-style exhibits were wonderful, and the conservatories are numerous and really immerse one in a tropical environment. And of course, that Treetop Walkway is an unforgettable experience 😉 It’s definitely worth a visit!

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sensitivity.

May 27, 2012

I find that as I’m getting older, rather than becoming more blasé and desensitised to things, significant and insignificant events alike have a deeper emotional resonance. As a teenager, I watched endless horror films without ever getting scared (the very occasional example aside); I sped through various important academic achievements and educational landmarks without batting an eyelid or appreciating the gravity of them (even when everyone around me was congratulating me and making a really big deal); I would visit new places without often taking in what surrounded me beyond a cursory acknowledgement. How could I be more jaded in my adolescence than I am now? Going to a wedding or even the graduation of my students brings a lump to my throat; watching a romantic drama or action extravaganza that is meant to be a disposable way of passing a couple of hours can have unexpected meaning that makes me stop and really contemplate. I’ve always been in touch with my emotions and music & lyrics have always been a great emotional conduit for me (which makes sense), but lately it feels like I have more of them!

Is it because, as a fully-fledged adult, I’m more aware of my own mortality and my lack of invincibility? I don’t ever remember feeling “invincible” per se… Am I just more mature and thus more able to appreciate and find the value in art, nature, landmarks (both literal and figurative) and emotions?  Am I just more easily emotionally manipulated the longer I’m exposed to mainstream entertainment? Is my resilience being worn down, or is my emotional intelligence developing? I sincerely hope it’s the latter! 

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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.