Friends, Happiness, Well-being

Looking backwards, and forwards!

I recently did one of those Facebook game things, the ones that you do in insane moments of utter boredom. It was my 2020 horoscope based on my Chinese birth sign, which is evidently the Pig. According to the horoscope, 2019 had been a poor year and 2020 would be much better. It was incorrect, 2019 has been fabulous. If nothing else it saw me cross off two, yes two, things on my bucket list.

Bucket list item number 1: a trip to Iceland to see the northern lights. I’ve shared my photo with you, and I swear that is the northern lights. Sadly, I didn’t have a camera up to the job, but they were there and I saw them. As for the stars, for me and my aspirations of being an astronaut, that was almost as exciting as the lights themselves.

But Iceland itself is such a magical place. The scenery is just out of this world. My favourite visit of the trip was to a small village, Eyrarbakki, to the south of Reykjavik. We stayed at the home of a friend, and I can without a shadow of a doubt say that evening was the best of my life, the views, the horizon was so clear, the sea, the snow, being cosy by the fire, eating authentic home made food. It was so special, that Iceland has now gone on to my husband’s bucket list.

Bucket list item number 2: Paddleboarding. Less Jennifer Aniston and more hippo on a wobble board, but I did it. In the salubrious surroundings of Bristol Harbour. To be fair, the views from the board were fabulous and it was great to see the city from a different perspective, but it’s not the most welcoming water ever! The one thing I wish I’d done differently was fall in. I think if I had fallen in and removed that fear, I might have gained confidence more quickly. I’m definitely going to do it again.

Paddle Boarding in Bristol

Parasailing in Albufeira

Highlight of the summer: parasailing. I’ve always wanted to have a go at this, but never found anyone daft enough to do it with me. Enter an old family friend who let slip she’d give it a try. As ever, I bounced on to the boat, thinking this was great fun, and only at the point of lift off did I start to consider where I was and what I was doing! It was fantastic. It was so quiet and peaceful, with great views of Albufeira from the sea. The only downside was that even from that short ride we could see pieces of plastic floating in the ocean.

Special occasions: two weddings. Absolute belters. Both so completely different, but both relaxed and definitely about the love of the two people getting married, rather than the actual wedding day itself. One in a field in Staffordshire, one on a boat in Bristol. One spring wedding, one autumn wedding. It was a real pleasure and privilege to be invited to them – they will be hard to beat.

Travels around the UK: we flew to Belfast for a friend’s 60th birthday party, which included a food tour of the city. If you’re ever ,looking for a good traditional Irish breakfast, the restaurant in Belfast City Hall is the place to go. I’ve been fascinated with Irish History since I did my first degree, so to be able to visit the city was a real treat for me. We did a Black Cab tour and the knowledge of our driver was second to none.

We also embarked on a tour around the North West of England, specifically Burnley and the Lake District. I’ve never visited Burnley before and was pleasantly surprised. Despite the weather being awful, the scenery surrounding the town was just stunning and our hosts were so incredibly welcoming that poor weather did nothing to dampen what was a fantastic weekend. As ever, the Lake District didn’t disappoint. We stayed in Bowness and abandoned our car for a few days, using buses and boats to travel around this fabulous part of the UK

Townley Hall, Burnley
Trentham Gardens

2019 was also a great year for catching up with old friends. I’d found myself in somewhat of a slump at the beginning of the year and said yes to more opportunities, throwing myself into them with gusto. I went on a fantastic hen weekend to Bath, it was actually great to stay in the city for a few nights rather than just pop over from Bristol for a day trip. I met a friend that I’d not seen since we left school and spent a lovely afternoon catching up on news during a walk at Trentham Gardens. I met another school friend for a coffee in Bristol that lasted for a good few hours, as we too caught up on 30 years worth of gossip. And I reconnected with an old family friend and her family. Again, we’d not seen each other for about 25 years, but it was like no time had passed at all, and it was this re-acquaintance that provided me the opportunity to go para-sailing.

But perhaps the best thing for me in 2019 is I finally started to get a grip on my mental health. It’s been a long time in progress, but finally I can say I am in my happy place. I am content, and I have actually started to look forward, rather than wallow in the past. My initial reaction to anything isn’t panic first act later, I’m starting to get my head around a calmer response to events and to take things a little more in my stride. I’ve realised that I don’t have to be perfect at everything all of the time; that I dont always have to enter insane challenges to prove I can do something, that I dont have to have a proper qualification for everything I do. I still have a long way to go, but finally I am enjoying meandering along the way, looking at the sights, rather than staring solely at the destination.

So, bring on 2020! If it’s anything half as good as 2019 then it’s going to be a wonderful year.

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.