Saturday, 23 April 2016

What are you scared of?

Almost a year ago I quit my editor’s job to go freelancing. That was a big decision; it was tough. But equally it was liberating. And now I can’t imagine having to step foot in an office everyday, let alone share a commuter train twice a day with stressed-out lemmings.

But this almost-year of freelancing has been interesting and more difficult than I expected it would be. If I thought quitting my job was hard, that has been nothing in comparison with grappling with the fear and self-doubt of venturing out on the hare-brained idea to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40. The woeful tally so far being a big fat one! (I sit here writing this with the self-pity coming off me in waves).

The fact is, in the past 10 months I’ve experienced a rollercoaster of emotions – from the jubilation of employment freedom to the finger-biting worry of where the next pay cheque will come from, and a whole mish-mash in between.

But it has been fear that has been the greatest plague. It’s been all consuming and paralysing; this little voice nattering away in my head telling me I’m not good enough, that I don’t have the skills, the experience, the kit, the money or the aptitude to climb 40 volcanoes – or, indeed, to do anything remotely exciting or adventurous.

I look at all the awesome explorers and adventurers out there – they’ve been climbing mountains since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, they are strong and brave and courageous, putting tents up blind folded with one hand tied behind their back, drinking the juice from elephant dung, and sleeping in the middle of nowhere with just the stars for company.

Then I look at myself – a failed girl guide and control freak, with an irrational phobia of getting sick and a susceptibility to the cold. I’ve never wild camped, the thought of going number twos in the bush is anathema to me, and I freaked out climbing Mt Snowdon (which actually anyone could climb). I have grandiose dreams of skipping up volcanoes but my cardiovascular fitness means I’m out of breathe by the time I reach the top of escalators in tube stations, while my upper body strength is confined by my “superhuman” ability to do no more than 10 push ups on my toes (and that’s on a good day). I mean, I don’t even know how to put crampons on boots! Lordy, I don’t even own crampons!

So, where do I get off thinking I can be some Lara Croft wannabe, volcano-climbing supremo? I’m just an ordinary girl (ok, almost middle-aged woman), living an ordinary life with extraordinary dreams.

But there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people who probably feel the same. People with dreams, who watch television programmes entranced by their on-screen heroes, feeling guilty that they even entertained the idea of venturing forth and conquering. They read the books, cover to cover, spellbound by the images jumping from the pages, feeling that niggle of pain in their chest and wishing away the argumentative voices in their head. They are the ones who daydream but don’t know where to start; the ones with families and responsibilities who will always come up with an excuse.

I feel your fear. I am that person.

To all those people, you are not alone.

“Fear can be good when you're walking past an alley at night or when you need to check the locks on your doors before you go to bed, but it's not good when you have a goal and you're fearful of obstacles. We often get trapped by our fears, but anyone who has had success has failed before.” - Queen Latifah

What are you scared of?

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

5 reasons to visit London’s East End

London’s East End – it has a troubled past, known for its poverty and the infamous Jack the Ripper. But it’s also an area rich in history and a eclectic mix of cultures, resulting from the waves of immigration to the area – Huguenots, Jews, and Bangladeshis. Now in 2016 it’s an edgy, bustling metropolis fusing market stalls with hippies and creatives, curry houses with renovated former industrial sites, and Henry VIII hunting grounds with high-end consumerism. It’s an untempered blend of past and present, where every street corner leads from one world to the next with a multitude of new discoveries to tempt the intrepid traveller.    

London’s East End is vast and there are certainly more than five reasons why you should visit but, here, I give five reasons based on my recent tour through Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Brick Lane

1. A Brick Lane curry is a must
On virtually every London backpacker’s check list, a Brick Lane curry is an absolute must and is sure not to disappoint. Brick Lane, itself, is home to numerous curry houses with tantalising aromas wafting out their doors, which has built up from the strong Bangladeshi community that immigrated to London in the 1950s and 60s. Many would describe a Brick Lane curry as the best in Britain – spicy and flavoursome, with huge chunks of juicy meat, all served with rice and a tasty naan bread. Try Aladin, listed by the BBC as one of the world’s best curry houses.   

This is just a sample of what is on offer!

2. Feast on a traditional English meal
A curry might be a cornerstone of modern English cuisine but any hungry traveller to London can’t go without trying the traditional fare of fish n’ chips and mushy peas (also known as a “luminous green sludge”). It just so happens that it is believed the concept of battered fish with deep fried chips originated in London’s East End and that the first combined fish n’ chip shop was opened by a Jewish immigrant there in the 1860s. It makes sense then to try the English tradition when visiting the East End. Visit Poppies Fish & Chips for an award-winning 1950s dining experience – but note, it’s popular and the queue will often go out the door.    

3. Tap into the inner creative
As the creatives have filed into East London, giving it its distinctive edgy vibe, they have left their marks on the walls of buildings – from giant birds to alien space invaders and even a Banksy sketch. The street art and installations are colourful, creative and inspiring. Wander the streets yourself or take a guided tour to learn more about the artistic origins.

4. Say meow to the East End’s most famous cat
Lenny the pub cat is described as the guv’nor at one of the best pubs in Spitalfields, The Pride of Spitalfields, just off Brick Lane. This rotund moggie struts around the pub, pulling in the punters or serenely sits on a stool at the bar. Lenny even has his own Twitter account and some say he is the most photographed cat in the world. Come to the pub to stroke the cat but stay for a tasty ale or cider.
Lenny the pub cat
5. Pig out on a selection of culinary delights
Think the East End is just about curry? Well think again. With the enticing mix of cultures, the smorgasbord that is on offer will have your taste buds dancing. From smoky bacon sarnies and custardy bread and butter pudding to fresh bagels stuffed with thick cuts of salt beef and juicy gherkins. Or just breathe in the tantalising aromas while wandering around the heady bustle of Spitalfields market. To really taste what the East End has on offer try a food tour like Eating London’s East End food tour.    
Tasty bread and butter pudding

Been to London's East End? What are your favourite best bits? 

Many thanks to Eating London, part of Eating Europe Tours, for the press trip. All opinions are my own.