The CIPR Awards!

So! Friday night, we had a bit of a party. A PR party!

The party started in the office really, as thanks to mounting excitement levels and a pretty substantial supply of Halloween mini rolls (Oh Waitrose, how we love thee), nobody really did much work on Friday afternoon…

After managing to lock myself in my workmate’s spare room while getting changed (not even joking – her housemate shoulder-barged the door down…) we made it to The Hilton to meet the rest of the team. We glam up rather well, don’t you think!?

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We were up for 2 awards, and we’ve never really had a team night out before, so we were all quite buzzy and excited from the start. Though my boss’s bubble was punctured when he had to pay £7 for a G&T  at the bar… then rounded the corner and saw the free wine. Woops.

I couldn’t help but be aware that basically everyone who works in PR in Cardiff was in the same room. It added to the buzz, I think – eyeing up the competition! It was also a corker of a networking opportunity for me… But more on that later!

There were a lot of intros and speeches and (randomly) a pub quiz of sorts to get through before we got to what we were all after … FOOD! I’d been to dos at the Hilton (*clang*) back in my Student Media days so I was expecting big things – and they didn’t disappoint! Pork terrine and piccalilli, stuffed chicken breast wrapped in parma ham, and (my personal fave) a gorgeous tangy lemon mousse and shortbread biccie. I could have eaten it all twice. And had to stop myself hoovering up Eira’s biccie too. Then – awards time!

The host was Matt Johnson from This Morning and he was, err… merry to say the least! I don’t know if all “PR dos” are that rowdy, or if it was just his hosting skills getting the room going. Well – I’m not sure swearing at a company who were nominated lots but didn’t win anything (awkward) and offering bottles of champers to the loudest table in the room (a man genuinely stood on his chair, waving a candleabra) can be called hosting skills… But still!!

There were quite a lot of categories to get through, and they dotted about the list – which kept it fresh, but also meant I never knew whether my category would be next! My heart would pause ever so slightly when the applause died down and the next one was announced… but it turned out I wasn’t til quite near the end.

I was up for Outstanding Young Communicator, and went to a panel interview back in the summer after making the shortlist. On the night it was down to just 3 of us – and they made us stand up in front of the whole toom! Which they didn’t do for any other category. So in terms of literal exposure, it was fantastic – I was so glad I wore a brightly-coloured dress!

My heart really was pounding by this point, and my arms felt all wobbly. It felt very, very quiet in the room, and my cheeks were suddenly very warm. It was exciting. I have to say it, standing up in front of a whole roomful of PR professionals, singled out among them – I was really quite proud of myself. Everything I said on my application form was true. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am.

I didn’t win, but that didn’t make me any less proud. I am sure everyone says this when they don’t win something, but I honestly didn’t expect to! I said well done to the guy who did win (networking 😉 ), and as we were chatting he asked me how old I was. Turns out he’s 5 years older than me! And I’m fairly sure the person who won it last year was about the same age.

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Making the final 3, at my age, having worked for just 2 years… that’s not bad. We didn’t win in our other category either, Outstanding Small Consultancy – but we can be proud of ourselves there too. We are not just small, we’re tiny – there’s 4 of us – and we’re doing some really good work. We’re holding our own! We were still on that list – we were, and are, still competition. It was recognition of all of those things. It showed others not to disregard us, and showed us not to disregard ourselves.

And we kicked ass at the karaoke afterwards.

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I’ve always said, travelling or no travelling, it was still time to move on. But I am going to miss these guys!

Tweeting a few people the next morning (always on!), the Director of another agency sent me a really lovely message to say how well I’d done to be a finalist, ending, “your time will come”. This has shown me that, after this far, people think something of me. Now, people expect something of me.

My time will come? Damn right it will!

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Mugshots

Ahhhhhhhhhhh….. Freak out!

And not in the le Freak, c’est Chic way. I’ll tell you what freaking out is not, Chic, and that is, well, chic.

I even have the proof – check out these mugshots:

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As my dear friend Dave put it on Twitter – “Presumably you were both later freed on bail?”

Basicallly, I’m starting to freak out a little bit.

We had to get these done yesterday for our Vietnamese visas, which have been the main focus of my waking hours / energy resources for approximately the last 72 hours. Basically, until about 3pm on Sunday, we weren’t fully aware we needed to get them before we go. By which I mean, we weren’t aware. Cue a slightly panicky phone call to Rob, who was travelling back to Cardiff, and the priceless line, “Well, I’m on a train, so there’s not really anything I can do about it now…”

For some reason we both were of the opinion that we got them on the border. Very, very wrong! Alarm bells, albeit vague, muffled ones, began to ring when friends of ours who are going on holiday to Vietnam told me they had to (very nervously) post their passports to the Embassy to get theirs. It still didn’t fully twig – the conversation went more along the lines of how scary it is to put your passport in a post box and how expensive stamps are these days. I know. Ridiculous. I told you they were vague bells – more “oh is that a bell ringing? – OH look something shiny!”

So Sunday afternoon was when the penny finally dropped, and it was not a fun moment for me. I think – think!! please please please – we are on top of it now though. Forms were emailed first thing this morning, and I get to reacquaint myself with the Megabus on Thursday to go and pick them up…

*sigh*. I think part of it was how disappointed we both were in ourselves for not having been On This. We are not the kind of people to leave things to the last minute, or overlook something so important! I started having my jabs for this trip in August, for goodness’ sake. We’ve just both been so busy we’ve hardly had time to sit down and chat. The 2 hours of driving each day doesn’t help either – if I want to do something like go to the gym after work it’s nearly 8pm by the time I finally, frazzled and wanting anything except a computer screen to look at, stop.

I knew we had to get our visas, but “Get our visas” was just another bullet point on my big swirling mental checklist. Alongside things like, “Do my nails for CIPR awards on Friday” and “Make Mum’s Christmas present”. It made me feel silly at the time but it’s understandable – Yes, travelling is the priority, of course it is, but we also have work lives and social lives and family lives to lead for the next 3 weeks too. It’s my birthday in 10 days’ time and for the first time probably ever, I keep forgetting!

I think we’d been bobbing along for just a few days too long saying things like “Ooh it’s getting so close now!” and “Ooh we’re going to have so much to do as it gets closer!”… Consider this rectified. Monday night we wrote EVERYTHING that we need to do down. And then starting doing them!

The lists look better already, I must say. And so therefore do my anxiety levels.

I’ve been told it’s normal to have a little freak out in the lead up to a trip like this. It’s normal, right? And considering Asia’s the bit we’ve planned least… It’s understandable?!

The facts of the matter are these: I have 3 weeks to read up on stuff and get excited; I don’t WANT everything to be totally planned (remember this, Sally); and most importantly – everything is going to be fine.

The Notebook

Disclaimer: This post isn’t about The Notebook you think it is!

I watched ‘Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey‘ last night. I was just channel-hopping, but caught the voiceover telling me he was, this week, visiting Penang. Which is on my list for our upcoming adventure! (Getting scarily close now – but that’s another story).

Why? Well firstly because it is ridiculously fun to say. Pe-nannngggggg…. Sorry. But also because it is known as “the street food capital of Malaysia”. This post from one of my fave food blogs got my taste buds going! Now it’s pretty well-documented that one of my biggest reasons for going travelling is all the FOOD. I love food and I love trying new things. It’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it? New experiences, tastes and flavours. We’re even going to try and do a cooking course while we’re out there. I could already quite happily live off Wagamamas alone, so I am expecting South East Asia to be, well, food heaven. And with Malaysia already being such a mish mash of Malay, Thai, Indian, Chinese and, yep, European food – Penang must be pretty flippin’ good.

I didn’t watch the whole episode as I was up at 5.30 yesterday, and my bed was calling. I only actually saw him do one recipe, for Beef Rendang, which was already on my Must Try list. So in terms of food to get excited about, I didn’t really learn much!

De Tai Tong cafe, Penang

In truth, it isn’t really the food that I wanted to write about here. It isn’t really even Penang – even though I’m still pretty up for going. That wasn’t what struck me while watching the episode. It was the bit when he walked into his big, old-colonial style hotel and there was a shot of some of the guests milling about the foyer. They were all 50-60 plus, white, and judging by the swankiness of where they were staying, pretty well off, dressed in capri pants and khakis. Then there was a shot of Rick in the hotel dining room, lifting silver cloches to reveal the different breakfasts on offer (which he helpfully described as “fish curry” and “chicken curry” – cheers for the insight, Rick…). And it just made me… a bit sad. I think I may have genuinely sighed. What is the point?

I know everyone is different, and everyone wants different things out of their trips abroad. But for me, if you’re going to go somewhere – go and BE there. I’m not saying stay in the grottiest hostel you can find, just for the “authenticity”. I’m just saying – travel to really travel. Experience where you are. You can’t really get to know a place, and understand its culture and what makes it tick, and revel in the differences to everything you know – if you’re in some swanky, air conditioned 5 star. Where the only interaction you’ll get with local people is thanking the guy who carries your back to the lift. That is so not the point. That is so not for me.

Okay, everyone needs to be comfortable. And there’s a difference between backpacking and 2 weeks vacation. But firstly, I wouldn’t go to somewhere as exotic and different as Penang on a 2 week holiday and not get stuck in. I’d think – crap! I’m only here for 2 weeks? How can I experience as much of this place as I can? When you’ve got so many exciting things to be out doing and seeing (and eating), you’re not really going to be mooching about the room much, are you.

Think about it – what do you really need? You need the basics – a shower, a roof, a bed – and a clean one if you can find it. But to me that really is it.  Somewhere to sleep, somewhere to get clean, and for me, a notebook to try and preserve it all. I have kept a travel diary on both our previous trips, and they are among my most treasured items. The very last thing I’ll do before we fly is go to Paperchase, or Waterstones, on my own, quietly, and with solemn excitement, choose The Notebook that I’m taking to the other side of the world with me.

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People have started to ask me – now that the countdown is ticking – if packing is freaking me out. On the surface, yes – because packing is always stressful. But I’m not worrying about how I’ll fit in all the stuff I want to take. I’m concerned about making sure I have the things I need. I don’t need a hundred different outfits, or hair straighteners or even more than one pair of shoes (hello, faithful flip flops). If anything I’m looking forward to stripping back. I’ve never been that materialistic – many a time a voice in my head has told me that that £30 Topshop top that everyone is wearing? Having it won’t change my life. “Stripping back” and remembering what’s important is one of the lessons I know I’ll come with. And I for one think it’s one more people would really benefit from learning.

Happy National Poetry Day!

Today is National Poetry Day, and I for one am enjoying revelling, rolling and rediscovering words, words, words. It feels right that this year’s theme is water, as it’s been bucketing it down all day here!

I always loved poetry, and had loads of Books of Verse and A Poem a Day and Spike Milligan as a child. I still remember the cover of the Children’s Book Of Verse that I had (wonder where that is nowadays?) and used to read them like I do novels now, flicking through or sitting for many happy hours. I was always destined to be a Lit student, wasn’t I 🙂

I kind of wish I’d done a bit more poetry during the English Lit side of my degree, but as I got older the Language and Linguistics part has sort of overtaken. Not that I mind – it just means that the poems that really hold meaning or sentiment for me are ones from, well, before. My English Lit A Level, Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife collection – Mrs Midas in particular (I have to say I’m pleased I still remember them -the studying paid off!) but also earlier in school. We did Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman in Year 5 or 6 and learnt to recite it, and I still remember it now.  rhythmic and evocative. The Highwayman came riding, riding, riding… 

(I also remember our teacher’s incandescent outburst when some of the boys in my class trilled “Galloped awaaay to the West!!” in stupid girly voices… Maybe that’s why it’s stayed in my mind?)

We did Auden’s The Night Mail in Year 8 or 9 too, and learnt to recite it as a group, in a circle, all the desks pushed back. I remember the energy and electricity in the room and it feeling like the train whooshed past us, and the smiles on everyone’s faces the first time we all got it right!

I also remember drawing a picture to accompany a Christina Rossetti poem about a monkey when I was in Year 1. Something about curling a question mark with it’s tail… I love remembering things like this; it kind of makes me a bit warm of fuzzy to think I did love words from that early on. Nice to know I’m doing something I really do love, and have loved for a long ol’ while!

Weirdly, my two favourite poems have Highwayman-esque overtones. I say my two favourite because for a long time I got the two confused, conflated them into one verse that flitted from one to the other.

I’ll leave my real, real favourite til last, but this is a close second. I don’t remember when or where I first heard it – I think either this, or the other one, was (weirdly) engraved on to the side of a building or hotel that we used to drive past on the way to my godmother’s house when I was little. I noticed it from the car one time, and then always kept a lookout to see it again. I loved that something so romantic, so artistic, was right there – right in the public eye. Not tucked away in a book to enjoy curled up by myself, but right out in the open for everyone to enjoy. It made me feel like poems weren’t my secret anymore, but something for us all to celebrate.

Looking at it now though, it makes me wonder if it was too long to go on the side of a building. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong, I’m just sure I saw “Is there anybody there, said the Traveller…” . That line, the image of “the moonlit door” and the “champed the grass” have always stuck with me. Kind of get shivers – it’s so quiet, so still, and so sad. It made me sad as a child too, and I still can’t work out why.

Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
   Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
   When the plunging hoofs were gone.
This is the one I always got it confused with. And the other contender for The Poem On The Wall. Rudyard Kipling’s The Way Through The Woods. It’s a bit sad too – the idea that something was there, and now it isn’t, and nobody will ever really know. Because remember, there is no way through the woods.  Happy National Poetry day, everyone.

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods …
But there is no road through the woods.

Woods

Sisters and brownies

This is the end of our first week in “Barrybados” – or, Rob’s aunt and uncle’s house in Barry. Rob’s not actually here this weekend (he has a habit of doing that!), but only a couple of “spare part” moments – we’ve only been here a week, it’s to be expected I suppose!

Rob’s aunt and uncle have 2 daughters – Jodi and Carly – so the house is super girly; I’m loving it! It’s so not what I’m used to, having grown up with 3 brothers. We had a Bake Off this weekend to celebrate Jodi’s birthday. I’ve met Carly a few times but only met Jodi at her wedding in the summer. As in literally met her for the first time outside the church, it was a bit weird! But we have a lot in common (like a propensity towards waaay too many books) so it was nice to get to know her a bit better.

Rob was slightly gutted to have missed the Bake Off – you know what that boy’s like when it comes to cake. But we had time to get our entry in the oven before his train on Saturday! Check these out…

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Those, my friends, are double chocolate cherry brownies, courtesy of this recipe from current GBBO contestant Beca. Gooey or what!?

I had to leave the hazelnuts out as Carly’s allergic but these are SERIOUSLY gooey so a bit of crunch would be nice! I had quite a small tin so the mixture made two big batches, which yielded 18 fairly sizeable brownies. The second batch was a bit better I think, as it had more of the cherries and white choc chunks in (they must sink to the bottom of the bowl slightly once you mix them in – I did a little trip down to the train station in between batches so the bowl was stood on the side for a while!). I have renamed them Danger Brownies this afternoon as it is dangerous to be alone in a room with them – one disappeared (ahem) while I was boxing some of the leftovers up for the guys at work tomorrow.

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For my first attempt at brownies I was pretty pleased! And I think it’s a recipe you could easily chop and change. Just don’t pay too much attention to the frankly obscene amount of butter that goes in.

We had a pretty good spread to judge between!
– Jodi’s rosemary and red onion focaccia rolls (providing a much-needed something savoury!)
– Eileen’s berry crumble traybake (deeeelish, and not too sweet)
– Will’s fondant fancies (he spent literally HOURS on them… they are not easy!)
– Carly’s cupcakes: raspberry and white choc and chocolate orange. Cake. O. Rama.

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We each tried some of everyone’s and then each wrote down our top 3. Jodi’s rolls came out the winner – possibly something to do with the fact that a) it was her birthday and b) we were all CRAVING something savoury by the end of the afternoon… Only joking – they were definitely my fave!

It was really nice seeing the girls together, too. I’ve been thinking recently how nice it would be to have a sister. I never thought I wanted one – I love my brothers, obviously, and really love how close Mum and I are. She always calls me her “saving grace”, some respite from the house of boys! And growing up around boys meant I was never one of those shy girls or silly girls who don’t know how to speak to boys; I’ve always had lots of male friends too. And I always used to say that if I had had a sister we’d have fought like anything. Saying that, me and the boys had some pretty colourful moments; a house full of teenagers wasn’t exactly peaceful! But it’s different with girls. Girls can be so…. mean.

But now that we’re all a bit older, I think differently. I look at all my friends with sisters and think… that would be nice. I don’t really have a best friend as such – I’m lucky enough to have some really lovely, really close friends – but I can’t help but envy people who have that one friend, that one person. Where you’re theirs and they’re yours, no question. My closest friends sort of have other people in that “best friend” slot (or they do to my mind, anyway), and I think that if I had a sister, that doesn’t really matter so much. You’ve kind of already got one right there.

Maybe it’s because there’s a lot of wedding talk going on around me. We’re getting into that stage now, after all. Sisters are often bridesmaids – not just because they’re your sister, but because by that time you’re out of the scary, fighty teenage phase and you’re probably pretty good friends too. And with the on-going wedding-ness, my mind’s been wandering to drawing up my Imaginary Bridesmaid List, and the people I’d choose to be mine, either haven’t or wouldn’t choose me to be theirs, due to either the presence of sisters or best friends. In some cases one and the same. Would that then be weird, to choose them if they hadn’t chosen me? But then who else would I have – can someone be your best friend, if you aren’t theirs?

Maybe I’m just being over-sensitive. I always have a bit of “absence guilt” – but in my more rational moments, I know that people grow up and move away. You just have to pick up the telephone more often, that’s all.

Another Imaginary List – the Imaginary how-many-kids-do-you-want List. I always said I never wanted more than one girl, because I wouldn’t know what to do with a house full of girls! But maybe it would be nice, to have a girly house. There was a mum and her two daughters, probably my age, in the café today, chatting and having coffee together. I watched them for a little bit and thought, even if they did fight like anything when they were younger…. that would be nice.

Good advice

Indulged in one of my favourite Sunday treats this afternoon – a leisurely hour or two in a café, reading the paper with a vanilla latte.

Came across this lovely bit of advice in today’s Telegraph. A mantra to adopt, I think.

“We all need three things in life: Something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.”

Oh, and a cup of tea. Better make it four.
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Travel blogging!

I have something exciting to tell you. While I am on my travels, I’m going to be doing some freelance blogging for a fabby little website, Gap Year 365!

gapyear365Gap Year 365 is a real treasure trove of tips and tours for gap years, volunteering breaks and shorter trips, like the one I’m planning – and no, you don’t have to be a fresh-faced 18-year-old to get involved! There’s such an enormous range of advice and ideas to tailor make your dream trip, anywhere in the world. Since I discovered them on Twitter I’ve been trawling the site for inspiration!

They popped up in my Twitter feed advertising for freelance Travel Writers and I absolutely jumped at the chance.  (I was actually at my friend’s birthday party in Taunton at the time… Always working, me!) Something I have always wanted to be is a travel writer. And now, well… I kind of am!

While I told them I’m not actually jetting off til November, I was pretty keen to get scribbling – and check that they like how I write, of course! Luckily, they did… and my first post on how to choose a hostel went live earlier this month 🙂 You can read it here.

 

Lightbulb moment

BLACKOUT lowB O 4 6 13 00021.jpgWhen I was about 6 or 7, there was a power cut at home. I remember it being pretty fun, because Mum got candles out, like we did at Halloween. Maybe part of 7-year-old me was waiting for her to get the blue food colouring and lemonade out, and make the Witches Brew we had at Halloween too!

My youngest brother was probably about 4, so this power cut was a bigger deal to him than to the rest of us. I remember standing in our candlelit kitchen and him asking me, “Does that mean we can’t turn the taps on?”

As anyone else who grew up in the 90s will testify, the only response to this kind of dumbass question was – “Durrrrrrr! Of course we can, taps aren’t electric!”

This was obviously one of the first times I learnt how good it feels to be right about something (ha!…) seeing as I remember it so clearly!

But do you know what I learnt this week? Turns out, I was kind of wrong.

Did anyone else watch Blackout on Monday? It was 9pm on Channel 4. It was a documentary-style drama, filmed as if on cameraphones and home video recorders, about what would happen if the whole of the National Grid went down. For a week. No electricity. Anywhere. What would happen?

I won’t lie, I didn’t make it to the end. I got pretty freaked out after about 40 minutes and we changed the channel… But I do want to know how it ended. Because it really taught me a few things! Like about the taps – we need mains electricity to pump water. So after a while, once the back up generators go too – no water.

Mobile phone masts go eventually too. No calling anyone, even if you do have any battery left. And cash machines – you can’t get cash out. Being that annoying person who never has cash on them, that struck a chord with me.

I know it makes me sounds naive, but I genuinely learnt a lot from watching it. I’m not saying it’s going to revolutionise my way of life, and I’m going to become a self-sustainability nut like one of the characters in the programme. I do still want to grow my own veg one day, but I currently live in a first floor flat with no garden or windowledges. But it’s certainly made me appreciate just how much we depend on electricity. I’m going to be better at keeping my car filled up. And I’m definitely going to start carrying cash.

A taste of the Great British Bake Off!

I never did much baking when I was younger. I definitely remember licking the cake mix bowl as a kid, but food tech GCSE was definitely one of the most traumatising experiences of my life!! I’d never really made a cake until second year of Uni, a birthday cake for my cake-loving new boyfriend… It was chocolate and covered in royal icing and chocolate buttons to make it look like a football. It may have taught me (the hard way) not to open the oven door when your cake’s baking… But I can safely say Rob loved attempt number two.

Anyway, since then, my cakes have got better, slowly but surely, and greatly helped by the two incredible girls I lived with last year! Both incredibly creative and very knowledgeable, natural bakers. Penny had an inbuilt cake sensor; even with our rubbish oven she just knew when it was ready. She’s like the Spiderman of the cake world. And EPS once made a full-on Disney princess-style castle cake, using ice cream cones covered in pink icing for the towers. Unbelievable. And I began to gradually pick up some of their skill (and a lot of their leftover icing).

You may have seen a few of my tentative baking adventures pop up on here over the past few months… and if you follow me on Twitter you’ll see I love The Great British Bake Off. A lot. Maybe too much!! SO – you will imagine how excited this very very amateur baker was to hear that one of our clients was hosting an event… and that they were only booking an actual GBBO star baker to come along!!

That star baker was the lovely Brendan Lynch, who was runner up in the last series. After a week of emailing him back and forth (and a couple of ridiculously exciting phone conversations – I got real butterflies!!) I now know everything about him, from the name of his dog (Monty) to what first got him into baking (working through Raymond Blanc’s book) to his favourite bakes (French, Italian, Sicilian and German pastries. Fact.). And – I got to meet the man himself yesterday afternoon :-).

I was umm-ing and ahh-ing all week about whether to go – it’s an hour’s drive away, I didn’t want to intrude on a client thing… But he did seem genuine in his encouragements to me to come along, even promising to save me a loaf of bread if I couldn’t make it!

The event was so much fun. It was like a private baking lesson! Brendan is just the most lovely guy – charming, warm, eloquent and knowledgeable. And very sweetly funny, too – I think he took a bit of a shine to Rob, being the only guy there! As we came in he had just started to mix up a soda bread, which he talked us through in great detail, then popped in the oven. It was just so exciting to be there and watch him! He had some great little tips. He brushed natural yoghurt over the soda bread before baking it, and sprinkled over barley flakes – tiny things that really aren’t hard, but make the final thing just that much better. Soon we could smell it baking and…. yummmm. We were all drooling while he started on recipe number 2.

This was a cinnamon and orange Kringle bread – it’s Scandanavian. I know! One of his missions is to bake breads from all around the world. He’s currently working his way through the Baltics (#topfanfact). And of my goodness, it was amazing. Two words for you: cinnamon. Sugar. Spread all over the dough (on top of a layer of melted butter, because cinnamon equals “instant death” for yeast). Then rolled, sliced (sans chopping board, on the beautiful marble show home kitchen work top… !), simply twisted and shaped into a ring. The finished thing looked so impressive, but it was so easy to do! If I’d just seen the recipe in a cookbook I’d have automatically written it off as too hard, but having seen it done I’d genuinely give it a go now. It’s not as hard as it looks, this baking stuff!

And then, of course, we had a good old chat about Bake Off. And a few behind the scenes secrets were revealed!! Firstly, he is not a fan of those fancy slidey-door ovens – which I always thought looked pretty fab. Secondly, did you know the contestants only got £150 towards ingredients? And that’s for the whole 10 weeks – including all the practicing they do at home. It was just so interesting to hear what it’s actually like to go through the experience – and I think Brendan’s maturity and self-assuredness going into it obviously helped him deal with the more “commercial” side of being on a TV programme.

You can tell what a talented and knowledgeable baker he is, and how much love he has for doing it – but he said himself that he wasn’t what the production company necessarily wanted out of a “winner”. Shows like that need a bit of a poster boy – but then, he’s absolutely got what he wanted out of the experience. He truly took it for what it is (unlike another contestant on the series, who was apparently “blacklisted” after a tell-all blog post she wrote found its way into the press – oh dear) and is riding the wave, but on his own terms. He’s doing demonstrations all over the country, going into schools and judging competitions, and teaching baking 2 days a week (note to self: must look into this!). He’s working on a soon-to-be-submitted book proposal, and he’s working with a number of charities on a project he’s truly passionate about – taking baking into care homes. Not just to just give elderly residents something to do – he was very respectful of the homes themselves, but it’s a matter of keeping occupied and keeping happy. Baking can help people, and he is particularly passionate about how baking can help people with dementia.  Smells and tastes are incredibly evocative, and baking can help bring those memories back to life.

I honestly could have stayed all afternoon! I made sure I got a picture, before we left, of course…

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And just as we were leaving, he wrapped this still-warm apple, raisin and caraway seed soda bread in baking paper and placed it in my hands. As good as his word! And I can confirm, it’s absolutely bloody amazing. Have been slicing bits off all evening yesterday, and all day today. We had to stop specially to buy posh jam to go with 🙂

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Oh! And alongside answering all our baking qs –  particularly how to avoid soggy bottoms, of course (proper patisserie shops paint a thin layer of melted chocolate on top to “seal” the pastry before the cream and fruit goes on top – err, yum!) – he gave me some great tips for baking scones. Sift the flour, sugar and salt a mighty 5 times, be very gentle when you cut them out (resist the urge to wiggle the cutter), and soak sultanas in water (or booze!) before adding them to get them to plump up a bit. So I had to have a go this morning didn’t I?

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The verdict? Deeee-licious 🙂

Travelling update: And breathe.

So, as you may have been able to tell, I was a liiiittle bit excited to break the news about travelling. Soz. Long time coming, that’s all I’m gonna say.

It’s been so hard to keep it a secret, but we’ve actually known we were going for a few weeks now… I just didn’t want to say anything before I’d told work! It would be horrible if it just got round to my boss somehow that I was going. I know it’s a job, and people leave jobs, but the agency is such a teeny little family I wanted to make sure I “leave” in the right way. So, 2 months notice, like my contract says. Plus like a week extra, because I wanted to give him as much of a heads up as poss. I don’t want to just disappear and stitch him up (and my colleague, who will have to pick up my workload when I’m gone!).

So… a calmer explanation. Yep, we’ve booked it. Flights, jabs, and now a few of the hostels. It’s coming together! When we first got over the jump-around-the-room-flights-booked part (which was a traumatic enough stage to get to, lemme tell ya, Rob’s parents were noooot on board to start with, and that’s all I’ll say!), it kind of dawned on us just how much we had to organise…! Case in point – we wanted to drive a campervan around NZ for the month that we’re there. Turns out, campervans? They’re crazy expensive. Like, more than our whole budget for NZ expensive. So I’m glad we’ve given ourselves loads of time to get everything in place – but not so much time that it feels too far away to be real! Now that I’ve given in my notice, real is very, very, much how it feels.

And we’re leaving the flat too! Walking home from work yesterday I thought to myself, this is only going to be my life for another few weeks. Like I said in my previous post, I’m finding it harder to ignore the things that annoy me about the flat now that I know we aren’t here for much longer. I just want to move out and get away from the stupid rickety bed (that breaks if you roll over too quickly), the huge white leather sofa (so not my taste, and sticky in the heat), the fridge that makes weird blowing/whirring noises every half an hour (lived here a year and still don’t know why). The fact that there’s carpet in the bathroom (weird pet hate) and that the windows open like thiiiis much… making it an oven in here all year round. Not for much longer though.

And while it’s scary that I won’t be coming back to a job, that’s exciting. This is it now. The next part. This time next year, so much will be different. New flat (already daydreaming about it on Pinterest), stocked to the brim with travel souvenirs and photos. With a second bedroom. Maybe even a garden. New job! Maybe here, maybe in Bristol – maybe I’ll be a commuter. Rob will be a trainee barrister, this time next year. And I’ll have got travelling out of my system.

I know that sounds weird, but that’s important here too. I just feel like… I should have done it by now. Not in a bad way, but I’m looking forward to it being over, so I can move on! Save up for something else for a change!

We’re finally moving forward. And it’s really not as scary as I thought 🙂