Bristol, Happiness, Healthy living

Lockdown Days

So, we are still in lockdown in the UK.  Rather than staying safe, we are staying alert, whatever that means and is open to interpretation.

For me, it means relatively little has changed.  I still can’t visit friends at their homes, I still can’t go for a swim and I still can’t visit family, especially as they are shielding as part of the most vulnerable category, however, we are allowed to meet with a friend from another household as long as we maintain social distancing requirements.  We can now go out more than once a day and we can go and visit places for exercise that are more than a short walk away.  The only technical hitch we have, is that we have been instructed to avoid public transport.  As we don’t have a car, this pretty much means we are still limited to the immediate area.

Husband and I, however, have established a new kind of normal and probably have more of a routine than we’ve had for years.  In an attempt to improve my sleeping habits and create a more regular routine I had already started to set my alarm for 7.30am and I have maintained that habit.  That is probably where the similarities between life before Covid_19 and life with Covid_19 end.  During this enforced period at home I have been reading a number of books based on spirituality, in particular the belief that we are all made from the same stuff as everything else in the universe.  What I particularly like about the books I’ve been reading is that it is based on science, specifically quantum physics.

So, after waking up at 7:30 my day pretty much follows the same outline every day

I start with scraping my tongue, and splashing water on my face – a practice based in Ayurveda.

I then have a cup of hot lemon water, with ginger, turmeric and cinnamon which I keep in ice cube trays in the freezer.

Following this I have breakfast – usually porridge with seeds, and berries, occasionally yoghurt with seeds, nuts and berries, or oat biscuits with peanut butter.

After breakfast I do a short yoga routine.  Due to my fibromyalgia this is a bit of a work in progress.  I am up to about 15 minutes per day.

I follow this with time on my meditation stool, some days I do a mantra, some days I do some breathing exercises, I usually include a period of heart coherence and most days I will also do a short meditation.  I’ve started to do the guided meditation of the day on Insight Timer, as much as anything to embrace new things and not get stuck in a meditation rut. My favourite so far, that I would never normally have tried, is meditation to poetry.

All of this takes about an hour, but the difference it has made to my well-being is immense.  This is the one thing that after lockdown will be staying.  I would not have made time for this under normal circumstances, but now I have embraced the opportunity, I would be very sad to miss it.  On days when I am short of time in the morning, I still make sure I at least do the yoga and a short meditation, as it does genuinely set me up for the day. 

Usually husband goes out to do the food shopping whilst I am doing my daily practice, but during the remainder of the morning time is spent doing chores, doing crafts, reading and going for a walk.  More often than not, the walk takes in a rather lovely little coffee hut by the side of the water.  This coffee hut has kept me sane!  I’m not so sure now if it’s the coffee or the time spent on the bench watching the world go by that matters.  I live in an apartment with no outside space, so that time sitting outdoors is invaluable. During these walks we have found some amazing things around Bristol, including a beautiful rose garden at Temple Gardens.

The local coffee hut is a very welcome distraction!

Afternoons vary, depending as much as anything on levels of pain or energy, what I fancy doing, or which free course I have signed up to!  I spend this time watching videos, reading, doing more creative crafts, writing letters to friends and family.  Later on in the afternoon I do a bit more exercise.  I am a big fan of moving little and often, so I will do some Qi Gong and we often go for a second walk in the local area.  The afternoons are definitely busier than the mornings in the centre of Bristol and it is nice to see some signs of life, from a safe distance, of course.  I will also spend some more time sitting on my stool, more heart coherence, more meditating – whatever takes my fancy to be honest!

Our evenings are more often than not spent in watching the TV.  We don’t watch a vast amount of television – we watch Points West, the local news, the One Show on BBC1 and then normally watch one other programme during the evening.  Besides that I’ll do a bit more crochet or some more reading.  Once a week we have an online meet-up with our friends over a glass of wine and share news from the week. As with many people, this time spent with friends has been huge and makes you feel part of the world again, if only for a short time.

And there’s my day!  So very simple, but incredibly enjoyable.  Once a week I go to volunteer at one of the hotels hosting homeless people in Bristol and three times a week I go out for a Nordic Walk.  I’m following the NHS Couch to 5k programme.  I daren’t run due to my fibromyalgia, but by using the poles, I do get more of a full body workout and walk faster than I would normally.  I’m up to week 3 now and as yet have not been too badly affected, so I am hopeful that my battered body will withstand the pace!  If not, I’ll just have to walk slower.

I’ve spent a lot of time crafting, (and drinking tea), getting back into my crochet course.

As with the spiritual practices, if you’d told me two months a go that I would be so content with such a simple quiet life I would have thought you were totally mad. Normally, I am constantly on the go, filling my days with busy-ness, can’t sit still, hate doing nothing.  Now I find myself frequently looking out of the window watching the birds.  True, I only have a choice of pigeons and sea gulls to look at, but I am back to just watching the birds and am more content to just sit and be.  I’ve also become more productive, rather than busily trying to do a million and one things I can just sit and focus on one thing at a time.  I’m back to enjoying my crochet course, and I am so close to finishing it.  

I’ve had time to reflect, time to contemplate, time to wonder (much to husband’s annoyance as he frequently gets dragged into my wondering).  I’m beginning to see signs of the real me that got pushed aside and dragged under by my last years in teaching, I’m starting to enjoy the process and not be so concerned by the outcomes, which no longer have to be so perfect.  I’m starting to laugh a bit more.  I’m starting to sleep better.  For me, this period of time spent with my husband, just the two of us, has been a blessing.  Days with him are still the sparkliest of all.  I am hopeful that when we are allowed back into the real world, that the things I have learned will hold me in good stead and I won’t find it quite as intimidating as it was before.  

The roses at Temple Gardens, Bristol

Bristol, Walking, Well-being

Life in Lockdown

As many other people across the world, I am in lockdown, or quarantine, or whatever it is you happen to call it.  I am in the British version of lockdown, as one thing I have discovered throughout this, is one country’s version of lockdown is very different to another. 

  • I am allowed to go out for essential trips, to the pharmacy or supermarket as infrequently as possible.
  • I cannot meet up with people from other households
  • I am allowed to go out for exercise once a day.

I have been quite surprised at how well I have taken to the lockdown.  Prior to this situation I had been doing quite a lot of work on remaining present and strategies to enable me to remain present, remain mindful, and to find joy in the simple.  It also coincided with an increase in a spiritual faith (which, apparently, is often a knock on effect of developing a daily meditation practice).  Don’t ask me to explain exactly what form that ‘faith’ takes as it varies from one day to the next!    One thing that I have always had running through me like a steel core, is hope.  People often say, if I was a stick of rock, I would have something running through me.  For me it is hope.  Even in my hardest, darkest moments I have always had hope that tomorrow will be a better day.  Recently I went to watch The Book of Mormon, and there is a song in it ‘Tomorrow is a Latter Day’.  All through this lockdown I have been humming to myself ‘Tomorrow is a Better Day’.  If you’d asked me 12 months ago, how I would have responded to this situation we find ourselves in, it certainly wouldn’t have been humming songs!

I do, also appreciate, that I only have myself and my husband to think about, and that relatively there has been very little change to the way we live our lives, as I have been a Stay at Home Wife for 5 years in May.  We are very fortunate, in that we have no financial worries, or work worries, neither of us is a key worker and so relative to many other people we do have little by way of stressors to affect us at this time.

St Nic’s Market

It has also coincided with my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and so I was already in a position where I wasn’t able to exercise and needed to sit down and take stock of life a little.  This has literally forced me to sit down and reflect on who I am and where I am.

One of the key benefits of the lockdown is, as yet, I haven’t been bored, although I do realise there is more than an element of busy-ness about my days and avoiding periods of quiet.  Filling my time with stuff and chocolate, rather than face the quiet.  I haven’t once panicked about picking up the virus.  I have shouted at my parents for not following the rules, but this does seem to be a common trend with my friends with older parent.  I do have about a million projects on the go, or that I am dying to start.  I have taken advantage of so much free ‘stuff’.  30 day yoga challenges, meditation challenges, Qi Gong routines, Kundalini Yoga, you name it, it’s arrived in my inbox and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve tried it all, some of which I’ve really enjoyed, some of which I was really glad it was free, because that was really not my cup of tea.  I even have a friend from school who does a gig from her lounge at the weekend, which really lifts our spirits. There have been some down days, but these have been more of an exception.

I have finally been myself.  My battered, weary, worn-out self.  I haven’t had to pretend to anyone that I’m someone or something I’m not, I haven’t had to fit in, or be someone else’s idea of the person I am.  I’ve been me.  I’ve done a daily (ish) Facebook live for my friends and not once have I bothered about my hair, or makeup and have worn my favourite slopping, staying in jumper for most instalments.  My friends have seen the real me, who I now realise, is the person that most of my older friends already knew. It is my newer friends, those who encountered the navy wearing version of me, the one a quest for perfection, the one who strived to be something I’m not, that may be a bit more surprised by what they see.

Banksy’s Girl with the Diamond Earring gained a mask

As with many people I have embraced technology and am spending quite a bit of time chatting to friends on line.  Monday night is Mum and Dad, Tuesday and Friday is spent the with the ladies from the Menopause Movement and Saturday evening is ‘Girls Night In’ with my friends from the local hostelry.  I think without these I might have gone insane.  I always thought I was a bit of a misfit and that I could take or leave other people, however, as time has gone on I realise that actually I do really need people, I need to chat, I need to laugh and smile and as much as anything I really need to get out and see people in real life!

I think I am quite fortunate that I am living in a bubble.  We are right in the centre of Bristol and all the shops are shut, all the car parks are shut, there is absolutely no reason to be here.  It is the strangest thing, and I wonder if in all of its history, Bristol has ever seen anything like this. As a consequence there is little by way of people, or traffic, there are no queues at the local supermarkets and M&S is doing some great bargains on food.  I’ve had way too many of their Easter Eggs at knock down prices.  We also have access to a selection of take-away food as several of the local independent restaurants have found ways to continue trading.  Our morning walk takes us past an independent coffee shop, we’ve eaten Korean street food, Caribbean food, pasta dishes, burgers.  A couple of times we have ventured further afield, south of the river and have been shocked by the sudden increase in traffic and the number of people, and the queues, the queues, at the supermarket.  The only downside to our bubble is a lack of outside space, so as a consequence, we take our daily exercise very seriously, as it is our opportunity to get out and experience something different.  This being Bristol we have had some amazing sights on our walks, every day spotting something different, from updates to Banksy street art to a rainbow appearing in the windows of the council house.

Hopefully, this coming week, we will get some news as to whether or not we can leave our bubble at any time soon.  On the one hand, I am ready to get out and meet people, on the other it comes with a massive concern about the impact. I also don’t know if I’ve ready for people to invade our bubble. Seeing Bristol so peaceful during lockdown, having time and space to breathe has been a real treat and a privilege and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to share it again!

Bristol Council House with it’s rainbow for the NHS

Bristol, Food and drink, Friends, Happiness, Portugal

Marvellous May

What a month it turned out to be!  It’s absolutely whizzed by and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

At the start of the year I signed up to Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Experience and have been half heartedly following it through.  The theme for April was friends – and I kind of poo-pooed it as ‘not-for-me’.  During May, however, that came back to haunt me in a big way! It’s not only Gretchen Rubin that advocates friendships, there’s a lot of research that supports the view that friendships are key – especially real life in person friendships, not the social media kind.

I suppose, if I’m honest, that I’ve largely spurned friendships in the past, thinking I’m not really the sort of person people would want to spend time with, which is largely a result of anxiety, but one thing that this month has proven is I have friends in abundance and my thoughts on the matter have been completed incorrect.

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My marvellous month started on May 1st with lunch in Albufeira.  Just my friend and I.  She is my sort of mate – the sort that you know is there for you, but you don’t have to check in every day.  The sort that really doesn’t care what you turn up in as the point of the lunch is the talking and the laughter, not the colour of your lipstick or whose shoes you are wearing.  In a way that makes it even better, because when we do go out for lunch we have loads to catch up on and we laugh from start to finish.  We also went out with our husbands for a beautiful lunch next to the old marina in Albufeira.  My friend and I have been several times without husbands who decided they were missing a trick.  Having been with us they now understand how we can take 4 hours over lunch!

Then there was the Wine Festival which takes place during the first weekend of May every year in Albufeira.  We’ve always been away for it in the past, so this was our first attempt!  I tried really very hard to be sensible about it – I really wanted to find a nice Rose that I could drink – rather than Casal Mendes or .  What I did discover was that there are lots of beautiful wines available in Portugal, so why the restaurants all serve the same ones, I don’t know.  I also learned that after tasting a few wines they all merge into one, making a choice very difficult.

This was closely followed by a walk around Faro with friends from my first teaching post in Staffordshire.  I’ve done this walk before and it’s just perfect for showing people a taste of Portugal in a relatively short space of time.  It was a fabulous morning walking in the sun, catching up on news and finished off with a pastel da nata with coffee at the O Seu Cafe.  I always find it very peculiar when I see friends in Portugal – so to have three of them all at once was a real treat.

Faro walking tour

Prior to our return to Bristol we went out for dinner with a group of friends we have met in Portugal – some expats and some who holiday regularly in Albufeira.  Over the years we have been spending time in Portugal, we have made some really lovely friendships and very much look forward to people coming out to visit.  We do also travel the length of the country to return the visits when we are in the UK, so we are off to Burnley in July.

It’s always lovely returning to Bristol as it provides us with an opportunity to catch up, which generally happens on a Friday evening at our not so local pub.  At the start of the football season we’d had a friendly wager on how high up the Championship league table Bristol City would finish.  Our first Friday home was the presentation evening which was taken very seriously, complete with food, speeches and awards.  This is what I would call typically silly British behaviour – but it’s the sort of banter that makes an evening and a friendship.

We’ve been out for dinner, with yet another couple that we love spending time with, to a superb restaurant in Bristol, Pasta Loco, one of the many independent restaurants that are now so popular across the city.  We’d been wanting to go here for a long time and were always too late to book – this time I booked three months in advance and it didn’t disappoint, providing yet another evening of good food, good wine and amazing company.

And finally!  The wedding!  The mother of the bride was one of my friends that had visited Portugal earlier in the month.  I’ve seen her 3 times in 2 months, in 3 entirely different locations, and it’s been wonderful.  Whenever I go back home, the bride and her mother are always the first people I contact to arrange a time to catch up.  Each time, it’s like the months since the last time we met up haven’t mattered, we just carry on from where we left off.  I can honestly say that this is the best wedding I have been to – if ever there was a wedding you wanted to be at – this was the one.  Everything about it was just stunning – it was true to the bride and her husband and it was perfect.  It was held in a place that was special to the bride and it just oozed love in a way I have never experienced at a wedding before.  From start to finish, it was about the love of two people (and their daughter) – and that shone through every moment of the day.  It was a real honour to have been invited to share in the day.

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In amongst all this there have been so many other things I have done with good friends.  I went shopping, I’ve been for coffees, I’ve been for dinners, for lunches, walked alongside the River Avon, been along to watch Take That and danced the night away.  I even popped into school in Uttoxeter on the day prior to the wedding.  In the past I wouldn’t have done this, thinking there would be no-one who would be interested in seeing me.  This time I went in and spent a lovely hour catching  up with old colleagues – followed by a Saturday morning drinking coffee in a sunny garden wondering where 10 years had disappeared to.

I am incredibly fortunate and so very grateful to have such a wide circle of lovely, loving and loyal friends around me – of all ages and inclinations.  I am also so very grateful that I have finally woken up to appreciate what is there in front of me and to take the opportunities to spend time with friends that I feel in the past I have either taken for granted or just plain ignored.  The research is correct – real life friendships matter.  It’s a long time since I have laughed so much in the company of good friends and I look forward to many more happy times.

 

 

Albufeira, Bristol, Happiness, Walking

Changeover Week!

But these weeks are also very exciting as we remember what it is that we so love about each of the places we are fortunate enough to live in.  I have talked about the contrasts between the two places before – but this time coming from Albufeira to Bristol seems to have been more extreme.

Two lots of cleaning, it’s a bizarrely northern thing I suspect.  I spend hours cleaning one apartment so that it’s nice to come back to, and then spend the first day back cleaning – even though nothing has happened in the apartment whilst we were away.  This time the cleaning took on additional focus as a relative will be staying in our Portuguese home whilst we are in Bristol – so I have discovered yet another level of clean – ‘relative that isn’t your parents, sister or nephews’ clean!

The last time we came was for a flying visit so that I could go on the Hen weekend in Bath, so I barely had any time to spend in Bristol and so didn’t fully appreciate it.  This time we have come back for the wedding – which I am very excited about and we are here for a few weeks.  Husband did ask me last week what it was I was most looking forward to about being here and it was the wedding.  Now I am back here, I realise there was so much more that I miss about Bristol.

Coalport Wedding Bouquet
Coalport Wedding Bouquet

Bristol is home.  Despite my best efforts to make our Albufeira apartment as homely as possible, without moving lock, stock and barrel, there are ‘things’ in Bristol which make it home.  For a start there is my wedding bouquet which I made from Coalport brooches; then there are my Grandad’s books along with his certificates proudly displayed on the wall, as they have been since 1945 I imagine; my Nana’s vase and balloon lady; the dog’s radio (the dog passed over 2 years ago now, but for some reason that radio which never gets used survived downsizing); the gifts I received from good friends at my first wedding and were the treasures I took with me when I left; the daft bits and bobs that my sister has bought me for Christmas over the years.  It’s not just about me, there are ornaments from my mother-in-law’s home, things that she loved and which are of sentimental value to my husband.  There are other bits and pieces that represent our life together as well as those we separately bought to our home – silly little things that make a home.

Of course, there are our friends.  We were fortunate enough to have lots of friends visit us during our stay in Albufeira, including the mother of the bride at the forthcoming wedding and it is so lovely to be able to catch up with them again.  Or last meal in Albufeira was at an excellent restaurant, The Country Cockerel Kitchen, with our good friend Graham Evans amongst others. We also have reservations at a couple of beautiful restaurants in Bristol during this stay, along with a visit to the ‘Mighty Gate’ to watch Take That!  Food, in particular, is one thing that both husband and I genuinely miss when we are in Portugal.  The choice in Bristol is immense and so varied.  Already this week we’ve eaten falafel from Eat a Pitta, (nothing in Albufeira has come close to the standard of these falafel) had Caribbean food from the Friday street food market outside St Nic’s market, gone along to the farmers market on Whiteladies Road.  Whilst the food in Albufeira is lovely and there is a wide choice of good quality restaurants, nothing really compares to the variety on offer in Bristol – much of which is relatively cheap and of outstanding quality.

Bits that make a home a home
Bits that make a home a home

Bristol is generally a fantastic, vibrant, diverse place to be.  There is no ‘normal’ that I can identify.  People are just themselves, content in the knowledge that it’s ok to be who you want to be, but nobody bats an eyelid, nobody feels the need to conform.  Vintage and second hand shopping is as popular as high street shopping as people hunt for unique pieces that will set them apart from the crowd.  I know that I myself feel more relaxed here and under less pressure to fit in.  I’ve recently watched a programme on Netflix, ‘Call to Courage’ with Brene Brown.  One thing that really struck a chord with me is that fitting in isn’t the same as belonging.  When you try to ‘fit in’ you change aspects of yourself to make yourself more acceptable, more popular, more normal.  When you belong, you can just be yourself.  I belong in Bristol, I ‘fit in’ in Albufeira and that, in a nutshell is the key difference.  I’ve always been a bit quirky, a bit of a lone wolf and during the last years of my teaching I lost my individuality a bit.  It’s beginning to come back now, and when I am in Bristol I truly feel I can be myself, without judgement, no matter how bonkers that might be.

Yesterday, I had a fantastic morning walking the length of one of the main routes in Bristol.  From Wild Oats, a health food shop at the top of Whiteladies Road, right down to the library on College Green, past the beautiful Will’s Building which dominates Park Street.   Along the way I encountered most of what Bristol has to offer, including a walk for Crohn’s and Colitis, and a motorbike rally raising awareness of Soldier F.  Bristol is loud and busy, with a constant soundtrack of cars, buses, sirens, skateboarders, late-night revellers, the slush puppy wheelbarrow man, all set in a backdrop of the old city.  I love it here and would be sad not to be able to experience it any more.

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Wills Building

 

Albufeira, Bristol, Food and drink, Portugal

Compare and Contrast

I am in the very fortunate position of spending my life living in two amazing places; Albufeira in Portugal and Bristol, United Kingdom.

We are often asked how it is we can bear to live in such a busy place as the centre of Old Town in Albufeira, especially as it gets busier in the summer months.  It gets louder – with music from the bars going on into the early hours of the morning.  There is more traffic and there are way more people.  Yes, our home is in the middle of all of this, but it’s set back on a little side street, away from the hustle and bustle – so we are sort of in the midst of things, but also out of it, on a small one way street that leads to nowhere.  We consider it relatively quiet, especially when you compare it to our home in Bristol.

Rua Henrique Calado

You couldn’t really get more of a contrast.  We have made our home right in the centre of town, in about as busy a spot as you could probably find.  Buses run all day and also through the night.  We are surrounded by office blocks and student accommodation and often when we are awake in the night are treated to the most amazing choirs.  Most of us have belonged to such a choir at some point in our time – the choir made up of people on their way home from the pub, confident in the knowledge that they are the best singers EVER!  We’ve had Oasis, Aha, The Three Tenors, you name it, we’ve probably heard it and each time, you just can’t help but smile!

In Albufeira we have the beaches.  One right on our doorstep, but then other smaller, secluded beaches all along the coast.  We have the changing colours of the sea, the differences in the waves and the tides, every day is a different view – something will have changed.  When the tourists arrive all with their different coloured beach umbrellas it brings a real sense of excitement to the town, particularly at the beginning of the season.  Then in Bristol we have the harbourside.  So busy and bustling, with the brightly coloured boats, floating happily besides great boats such as the Matthew and the SS Great Britain.  We have Gromits, Gorillas and Shaun the Sheep standing to attention, there is even a crocheted crocodile in homage to the crocodile of Bristol that apparently makes his home in the harbour!

 

In both locations you have the old next to the new.  One of my favourites in Bristol is the view of the Church of St John on the wall, part of the original old city walls, right next to iconic pieces of street art, ‘Where the Wall’ and ‘The Vandal’.  Obviously we also have Banksy.  So much so that I don’t even notice them anymore – they are just part and parcel of every day life.  Clearly not in the same league, but in Albufeira several of the electricity boxes have been covered with pieces of street art which reflect the heritage of the town.  Our apartment sits within the original city walls, yet within 5 minutes you are right in the centre of the newer square, and all of the bars and restaurants.  One of my favourite times of year in Albufeira is Easter.  It’s still very much a religious festival in Portugal with processions all across the Easter weekend – through the hoards of tourists there to enjoy the sun.

And as for food!  Both places provide a huge variety of cuisine that vary in Italian, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Vegan, Tapas.  In Bristol we have the added benefit of street food, that really does cover every nationality, including Caribbean.  In Albufeira if you dig deeply enough – well actually – not all that deeply at all, just leave the main tourist areas you can find some outstanding food at reasonable prices.  You might not get a wide choice, but the quality is something else.  Likewise in Bristol, there are just some amazing restaurants, popping up all over the place, some of which are housed in small cargo sheds.  In Bristol it’s really hard to find middle of the the road chain restaurants, we are a picky lot and like our food to be high quality and independent and we will pay.  Equally in Portugal – you can find the middle of the road, microwaved meals, but walk around the back streets and you will find so much more, fantastic little independent restaurants, run by families who are so very enthusiastic about their food and your experience with them really matters.

So, all in all, the two places aren’t all that different – barring the weather obviously!  I’m incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to experience the contrasts.