Sunday, 18 October 2015

Rugby, Ball and Tough Mudders!

So now all the Northern Hemisphere nations are out of the Rugby World Cup, it's time to tot up the positives and negatives of the whole experience - at least from my point of view and accepting that others may disagree.

The first positive is that we didn't pay stupid amounts of money to go to Twickenham. We went to two great matches - one at Elland Road: Scotland v USA. Lots of running rugby, great atmosphere and ... happy men in kilts in quantity. For women of a certain age, this is perfection. The second match was at St James' Park in Newcastle and it was great to see the All Blacks play for the first time  (for me) and was part of a rather eventful evening of which more later.

Also no Stuart Barnes on the commentary team on ITV. Joy! He is surely the biggest killjoy of English rugby. Yes we were, and are, fabulous hosts but realistically we cannot cut the mustard in the world game anymore.

So the honest negatives: the pool of death - why did they do the draw three years before the event? Also being pragmatic, when the winner of the European player of the year for the last three years is English (one of those being Jonny obviously) why would you not get over yourself and pick Nick Abendenon and Steffon Armitage? Then there's the decision to let a player from another code cut his teeth on international rugby in the World Cup. Daft. And finally, what bright spark thought Paloma Faith should murder "The World in Yoooooooniyon" umpteen times a day? If I was Henry VIII I would have had her beheaded by now.

So on a more personal note, a week ago we managed to combine three of my most favourite things: seeing my gorgeous children (two out of four ain't bad), watching top class rugby and grooving round the dance floor with my beloved. A few weeks ago, the aforementioned told me we were going to a ball in Newcastle on a Friday night. No, I told him. I have an appointment with two hakas - All Blacks and Tonga - at St James' Park. So after a little toing and froing, we agreed that my beloved's partner for the ball would be number 4 child who would come down from Edinburgh and I would go on from the sub's bench after the rugby which I was attending with number 3 child.

But first we had to check in to our hotel which was - bonus for me! - full of Samoan rugby players. In fact, we conclusively proved that only 3 Samoan rugby players will fit in a standard hotel lift with no room for anyone else. And they were lovely, posing for photographs with the twins and generally being delightful. Alesana Tuilagi who plays for Newcastle Falcons and therefore a properly lovely chap, posed with both children.

So number 3 and I headed off to St James' Park, watched rugby and had a great time (another negative - see above - no Guinness! Rugby should always be accompanied by Guinness, surely everyone knows that!) and then returned to the hotel where number 3 was looking very gorgeous and had had dinner with my beloved and his delightful colleagues. It took less than an hour to walk from St James' Park, change out of my England rugby shirt and jeans and into my posh frock and be on the dance floor with my beloved. Not bad, eh?

And now a week on and I have today done my first Tough Mudder. This was one of Acorn's last events as we are winding up the charity next year so somehow I found myself not marshalling which was what I had intended to do, but running with Lady H. We started at the back (but that's not where we finished!) and headed off over fences and obstacles, struggling through ponds which had water shoulder-high for short folks like me and up hill and down dale over muddy terrain for a full 10k. So not last, but nearly - but more importantly, a year ago I could scarcely walk to the bottom of the garden and this week I have had my final cancer treatment (nurse with comedy-large syringe!) and now I can do a Tough Mudder! Happy me!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Barcelona... as Bookends.

So we've had three glorious days in Barcelona - one of our most favourite places  - and this time it has had a special significance.

This is our third visit to this eclectic, exhilarating city and each time we find new places to explore and old haunts to revisit. We have our 'must-do' restaurants and bars, shops and sights but this city of wide tree-lined boulevards and twisting narrow alleys always holds surprises. Why do we love it? Because it embraces the cosmopolitan (more later!) whilst remaining passionately Catalan. Because every museum, shop and bar packs a welcome to all whilst remaining sleek and stylish (can you imagine saying that about Leeds or York?) and the Catalan is very much on show as we arrive the day after the local elections. There are flags in the upstairs windows of every building declaring their allegiance to the independence of the red and yellow stripes. 

New things to us this this time included A Walk with Gaudi which having spent so much time at La Sagrada Familia on our last visit was the perfect way to try to understand Gaudi's use of light, colour and the shapes of nature. We also visited the underground Roman city and walked amongst its dye shops, wineries and laundries. But the highlight was certainly the Xavier Miserachs exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The Blanc i Negre exhibition of photographs from the early 1960s is an emotive tour of the faces and life of those times in Barcelona by the celebrated photographer

But as this is a short break with my beloved, it must also be a gastronomic tour. Included then is a return visit to Agua where the bustling city meets the beach culture and the superb food is accompanied by watching people learning to walk the high wire tied between two palm trees - just for fun! This is where we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in 2014. Returns too to two very contrasting tapas bars - Catalana on the Carrer de Mallorca where you fight for a seat at the bar amongst the suits and the tourists and the tapas and wine are delivered by expert and rapid bar staff. And to Irati, another tapas favourite which nestles in a narrow alley near Las Ramblas and could so easily be missed. Here you point to the tapas on the bar top and help yourself, waiting for the moment when the delicious hot tapas come from the kitchen and you hope that they make it far enough down the bar to reach you. Each succulent morsel has a cocktail stick in it and when you're done they just tot up the sticks and present you with a bill. 

And our new gastronomic discovery is an Argentinian restaurant where the steaks are sublime and the service quirky but very generous. And we have found indisputably the best best rooftop cocktail bar at The Majestic where I may have had one too many cosmopolitans...

So why is this visit of such significance? In April 2014 when we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in Barcelona I found the lump which was the start of my year of treatment, and by going back to Barcelona - perhaps not quite the same person as I was then - I feel I have put a full stop to that time. Enough... I may not be as brave or full of energy as I once was but I am here and looking at life in a new way. Even if I don't look the same (still getting used to that...)

Back in glorious Yorkshire walking across the fields of stubble with two dogs whilst the woodland shows the first glimpses of autumn colour I know that that chapter of my life is now complete with Barcelona as bookends. Fingers always crossed...