Saturday, 31 March 2012

First glimpse inside the new Olympic Stadium

Well, we may have failed to get tickets to the Olympics (other than for the football at Old Trafford), but today I got the chance to cheer Tris across the finishing line in the new Olympic stadium after he completed The Olympic Park 5 mile Run.

Just 5,000 runners were selected for the race (each runner was allowed two guests) - the first competitive event to be run in the Olympic Park, and a first glimpse for the public of the new Olympic London landmarks that we will become so familiar with over the summer.

Directions to the Olympic Park were provided by a series of 'pointing people' in pink. "Can I have a finger?" asked one girl to a Olympic Guide - but he declined her request.

We were channelled through a shopping centre - if you'd forgotten your Speedo's or athletics kit then you could relax. All your sporting needs were catered for (and you could pick up a Mulberry handbag and a little something from Prada!)

"I - I want to thank you, for giving me the best day of my li-ey-ife" sang Dido encouragingly from the large outdoor speakers.

Security was slick as we entered the Olympic Park. We had to queue, but it didn't take long. Once we were through, a bizarre phenomenon took hold. Everywhere people could be seen posing for photos like Usain Bolt!

The stadium is almost ready - there is still a bit of work to be done to finish installing the seating, but it is practically there. It's not as impressive as I imagine Bejing's 'Birdsnest' stadium to have been, but it was pretty good.

There is a strange red roller coaster arrangement just next to the athletics stadium, which I assume will be topped by the Olympic flame. The jury is still out on that. I can't decide whether it's OK, or whether I hate it. As we queued up, it did feel a bit like we were about to visit a theme park. But when the park is finally finished and the covers have come off, I'm sure the atmosphere will be electric.

Entertainment, prior to the start of the race was a Queen tribute act, the UK cheerleading champions and 'Britain's Got Talent' acts 'Flawless' (street dance) and electronic string quartet eScala. I missed the latter because I'd gone to watch Tris start in the first wave of runners. And while I was waiting - I got a proper treat. Not only did I spot my second royal in as many weeks (The Queen in Manchester 10 days ago, and her granddaughter, Princess Beatrice who started the race today), I also got a close up view of 'cleavage of the year' Holly Willoughby.

As she jumped from her golf buggy and dashed towards the starting podium, the wind in her hair and a bounce in her step - she seemed to move in slow motion - just like Garth's "Dream Weaver" woman in the film Wayne's World. It took all my self restraint not to break into a rendition of "Foxy Lady!"

A Roger Black and Steve Batley later and they were off.

I made it back to the stadium just in time to see the first wave finish. It must have been amazing to run into the Olympic stadium at the end of the race - as they entered the stadium through the tunnel, the theme tune to 'Chariots of Fire' spurred them on. Many ran with cameras to photograph the crowds and the occasion, others ran draped in Union Jacks. Some even adopted the starting position at the 100m mark and then sprinted the final stretch.

And then, amongst a sea of red was Tris - very helpfully bucking the trend in orange. Rounding the final bend like Mo Farah he crossed the finish line like a champion, in an amazing joint 341st position (out of 5,000 runners).

It was a real privilege to be part of such a fantastic day. I'm thoroughly in the mood now for the real thing. Roll on 27th July!


Thursday, 29 March 2012

Strange things in pictures

There seems to be a craze at the moment for photos with something weird hidden within ("don't tell - just share once you've found the mysterious thing - it will being you luck" ...etc).

Well, I've got a few of my own to share today. I've hunted out my old photo album - USA Road Trip 1992 (vol 2) which is stuffed full of photos cataloguing strange phenomenon. 

The strangest ones were taken in Arizona. When I got my photos back from Boots, I could hardly believe my eyes. I'd managed to capture something so strange, so paranormal looking that had 'Most Haunted' been invented, I'd have been sending them in to Yvette Fielding!

And then I realised, that I'd actually loaded the same film into my camera twice and a whole load of my Grand Canyon pictures had been super-imposed on top of San Fransisco!

So - see if you can spot Alcatraz floating in the Grand Canyon, The Golden Gate Bridge emerging from a squirrels bum and the Loan Pine of California's Highway 1 wrestling for position with a desert pointy poker thing!

But of course, if you can see them, don't tell anyone, pass it on as a symbol of good luck and fortune ........... or some such sh*t!


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Web wizardry

Yesterday I was blinded by wizardry! I met with my web designer (aka the mice in the mouse organ), who is currently beavering away building the beast which is

4Manchester Women website design.

In a coffee shop in Stockport, he took me to a different place - a parallel universe. He showed me inside the guts of the site. He showed me the HTML!

"Can you do it like this?" I'd ask, and off he'd go into HTML-Land, type some mumbo jumbo, delete a few bits - and  voilĂ  - done! It's wizardry I tell you!

HTLM - what????

It reminded me of when I worked for The National Library for the Blind - the largest Braille lending library in Europe. That was like wizardry too! I'd see people touch reading massive Braille volumes and I'd see our Braille translation team, turning text into a series of dots. Those who had vision would read the pattern of dots by sight. It was a fabulous and fascinating thing to see. They would explain it as like learning another language with a different alphabet. 

Reading Braille.

With the development of new, more mainstream technologies , such as e-books, the future of Braille is debatable. Out dated to some, essential for others. 

Either way, I'm endeavouring to ensure  that the new 4Manchester Women web site is as accessible as my web designer and I  can make it.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

My 'Challengingly Wonderful Life' - update

There is so much going on at the moment - so it's just a quick update from me today. The launch of 4Manchester Women is less than three weeks away now and there is still loads to do. 

I'm meeting my web designer this afternoon to go through changes. The photo shoots are done, pictures chosen, most of the copy for the pages is complete and I've planned the first two weeks content, including some great offers and a fantastic competition (if I can pull it off). I just need to get on now and do it! I can't deny it - I'm having a wobble - "Who on earth do I think I am? What do I know about setting up a website magazine - what if it's crap and no one reads it .....Aggggghhhhhrrrrr" etc. etc. 

I do know it's just jitters and if I keep on going, taking each day at a time, I will get there. Launch day, Monday April 16th 2012 will be what I make of it - and whatever happens, it will go down in my personal history as the day I stepped out of my comfort zone - out of the shadows and gave launching my own business a go.

Having said that, last week was my best week EVER here at My Wonderful Life Blog Central (aka my spare room). A visit from The Queen and a fabulous re-tweet from The Manchester Evening News Desk of my 'Canoeing along The Bridgewater Canal in the sunshine' blog helped me along to a fabulous weekly total of 1,711 page views, it's not huge, I'm told is pretty good for a little personal blog!

Talking of our Scottish canoe challenge - the 60 mile, coast to coast Caledonian Canal Challenge. Well I applied for our permit yesterday, and in the process frightened the living be-jesus out of myself. I've had to inform someone called Hamish at the Coast Guard!

Now don't get me wrong, we aren't novices. We've canoed many times, especially on holiday, but this is a completely different kettle of fish. In order to get a license I had to answer the following questions - see what I mean?

Experience / Capability:

Knowledge of Lochs:


Type of craft:

Name of boat or expedition:

List of Safety Equipment carried:

VHF Call Sign:

Confirmation that a risk assessment has been carried out and an emergency contingency plan is in place:

But I apparently answered them all sufficiently to be granted a license. No I didn't say that our emergency plan was to point towards the shore and shout "SH*******T!" at the top of our voices!

It's the thought of the lochs that's giving me the jitters - especially Loch Ness, all 23 miles of it, with it's 5ft high waves (in bad weather) and freezing temperatures. Challenge or no, I'm hugging that shoreline and at the slightest sign of a swell, I'm out of there. 

I didn't log a boat or expedition name - but I think we do probably need one. I did think about 'Titanic' as a tribute to the big boat's 100 year anniversary (April 15th), but it's the whole sinking thing - probably not such a good idea.

So what do you think? What should we call our vessel and expedition? All suggestions welcome.

And finally - FINALLY, I think I'm ready to move on the week 2 of the Couch to 5K running programme. I've been trying to successfully complete week 1 for the past month, but having finally completed the programme three times in one week now as required, I think I'm ready to move on. Week 2's programme is as follows:

2 Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes.
So that's my life at the moment - currently 'Challengingly Wonderful' - but still smiling and so, so happy that I'm still here to live it.


Monday, 26 March 2012

My wonderful gap year revisited: Bangkok - Malaysian border

It's five years this month since I started out on my epic around the world adventure. My gap year came at the tender age of 38 years, but I think the wait made it all the more special.


So over the last few weeks, in a fit of nostalgia I've been revisiting my old travel journals. If you need to catch up, so far you've missed:

Five years on, my wonderful gap year revisited.
My wonderful gap year revisited - Laos.

For today's instalment - written exactly five years ago today, I'm sat in an Internet cafe in the seaside resort of Ao Nang (Krabi) on the west coast of Thailand. 

Burns victim! 

If I were a red Indian (which I could easily pass for at the moment), my name would be "sweats with lobster head!"  I got very badly sun burned on a boat yesterday. But I'll come back to that in a minute.

Yes I did finally get to the Grand Palace in Bangkok - at long last, and it was quite spectacular. But a touch over the top maybe, with all the be-jewelling and Buddha’s and scary creatures and glass mosaics. It felt a bit like Thailand-Land. I half expected to see Mickey Mouse strolling around in full Buddhist monk outfit. 

I did a bad thing. The Grand Palace houses the most sacred Buddha in all of Thailand - the Emerald Buddha. He is a little fella who sits on the top of a big pyramid of gold glorification. He has three outfits which he changes during official ceremonies throughout the year, according to the season. The Thai people the length and breadth of the country fall to their knees to pray in front of him. 

The worst thing you can do is to show the bottom of your feet to a Buddha. So what did I do? I gave him a full frontal verruca view as I stretched out my tired and sweaty legs in front of me! An angry official came and smacked my ankles and pointed as I shuffled round with a shamed look on my face.

I also went to see the massive reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. It was truly amazing - but I have to say, if I had to stay there in that heat I'd be reclining too.

After that I met up with my tour group (Bangkok to Singapore for the next 17 days).

We set off early the next morning to visit the floating markets and Kanchanaburi (home to Bridge over the River Kwai), which was right on the western border of Thailand, near the Burmese border

Floating markets - hmmmm - bit like a zoo actually. There were lots of small boats floating around on what smelt like an open sewer with old women trying to sell you bananas and hats that turned into fans. Wasn't a huge fan (pardon the pun). 

Then on to K'buri – first of all we visited an original bit of track actually built by the prisoners of war. The place was beautiful – really peaceful with the river running just along-side. It was hard to believe that somewhere so beautiful had such a grizzly history. Thirty eight people died for every 1km of track. That’s one person for every sleeper. It was overwhelming. 

The scenery was very strange too. Just as we made our approach to K'buri, the earth changed colour to a deep red, the colour of dried blood. It was like someone had picked up those poor bastards and wrung out every last bit of their juice and trampled it into the earth. The greens seemed very green and the reds very red. It was a very 3-dimensional place.

The bridge over the River Kwai that you see now isn't the one actually built by the POW's - that was bombed by the allies. But it was still incredible to walk across it. It's something I've wanted to do for such a long time. 

Dad - I got you a Burma / Thailand Railway cap badge which I know you will treasure.

But it was the cemetery that did me in. With 'Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence' playing my Ipod I wandered round the graves (6,000 in total), with Australians on one side and Brits on the other. It was hard to get your head around the fact that you were walking over so many people's remains. As usual with war, they were mostly young boys under 25 years. Again it makes me think that our generation has got off very lightly.

From there, another two hours drive to get the overnight train down the Thai peninsula to Surat Thani. 

This was quite an adventure, with your own little bed with a curtain which screened you off. The only one other thing to say about the train was - squat toilet! It’s a strange experience indeed to look down and see the track speeding below you. I will never complain about Virgin Pendolino's again!

Finally we made it down to Ao Nang which is part of the seaside resort of Krabi. It's absolutely beautiful here. I was trying to think of the best way to describe the scenery - it's like someone has stuck their thumb up through the earth’s crust, and pushed up giant mounds of jungle covered limestone. They rise from the earth and they rise the sea. It really takes your breath away.

Since we’ve been here, we've been on a boat over to ‘Chicken’ and ‘Poda Island’, where I did a bit of snorkeling, and then yesterday we chartered a speedboat and went down to Ko Phi Phi. We actually went to where they  filmed 'The Beach' with Leonardo de Caprio. We did more snorkeling and generally chilled.

Again I find myself trying to reconcile history with reality. Ko Phi Phi, as with lots of the islands and coast around here, were wiped out by the Tsunami just over two years ago. I found myself looking at the people and thinking “I wonder what your story is?” It's never far from my thoughts that so many of the people that perished were just like me, on holiday, having fun - then hell arrived.

They've reconstructed Phi Phi now - but I think they've overdone it a bit. Now there are so many tourist bungalows and hotels that the island's infrastructure is struggling to cope. I saw bags and bags of rubbish piled up waiting to be collected.

It was a brilliant day, but I have managed to get quite burned which I am quite cross about. The last thing I wanted was to be lugging a heavy backpack about with a burned back. And to top it off, I've got Delhi belly which isn't nice at all. So I think I'm just going to have a quiet one today (near a toilet). We set off again tomorrow, across the Thai border and on into Malaysia.