Open your eyes to dining in the dark…


Sometimes you have to open your eyes to new experiences. Or, in this case, close them. Well, just not be able to see out of them. For a three-course meal. Whilst making new friends. Sound intriguing?

My friend Cleo, (blogger of soundmindtravel.com) went to Dans Le Noir (translation: In The Dark) restaurant in London a while ago and fully recommended the experience. And I do too. It’s a case of experiencing it yourself to fully understand it… but I’ll try and describe it anyway…

Strolling along to restaurant, we tried to act cool about the whole experience. Yet, seconds earlier, I had concerns that it wasn’t even open! Black-out curtains mask the windows, you see. Giving the place, a complete mysterious tone immediately. The entrance area does have light, luckily. We met the host, who explained how the evening would work and chose our food before entering the restaurant. I opted for a complete White, Blind Menu; my husband, a Red, Blind, Meat menu. So yes, not only could we not see what we were eating, but we weren’t going to know what we were eating either.

It was the small – normally insignificant – parts of the evening that were surprisingly difficult to me.  Could walking into a restaurant and sitting down be difficult? It’s something you’d do whilst chatting, laughing, turning around to your dining companion, gazing at other diners even. This time, however, I had my hand on a blind waiter’s shoulder and my husband followed, with his hand on my shoulder, and we shuffled along in a “follow the leader” fashion.

We were taken to a shared table with one other couple, and a male dining alone. As the blind waiter, guided us to our exact seats, the three individuals greeted us and started to chatter and welcome us to the meal. I felt so overwhelmed at that point. I was trying to listen to them, reply appropriately – all whilst trying to pull my seat out, sit down and locate the items on the table: cutlery, wine glass, serviette etc. In the dark, this all felt incredibly difficult.

You couldn’t see anything. Not even a faint outline of people? You may ask. No… not a single shadow. Couldn’t you use your phone as a light? Well, no – because we had locked all belongings away in the entrance area. I can’t stress enough how dark it was. It was pitch, midnight, inky black. Much darker than I had predicted… even after reading my friend’s review.

Talking to strangers and trying to get to know them without seeing them, is the oddest thing. It becomes all about their voice and their words. We played some silly truth or lie games and got each other to describe their partner’s physical appearance. We spoke to the couple for almost an hour, then they left (they were at a later stage of the meal to us). And it was shocking to think, that we could see that couple anywhere on the street and we would have no idea it was them!

The actual eating was a challenge. My starter was quite straight forward – I managed to use my knife and fork and find the food on the plate quite easily! Simply, because, being a starter, there wasn’t much of it. The main was a little trickier. I had a ‘Mickey Mouse’ plate where each food item was in a different section. This enabled me to tell the difference between each food product on the plate, but it made it harder to use the cutlery. Plus, I kept finding sections of the plate untouched! For this reason, my husband and I both resorted to using our hands like toddlers.  Yes, it was disgusting and animalistic, but it was the only way to ensure we ate everything. The plus side, of course, was no one could see!

Interestingly, the male diner on our table was a novelist writing a book about someone with heightened senses.  He told us that he ate at the restaurant regularly for research. Naturally, I was fascinated by this conversation and he was the one who initiated the ‘truth and lie’ games, as he seemed to pick up interesting ways to get to know people in the dark! Furthermore, we got to meet him at the end of the meal and had a drink with him in the bar.  I was so confident it was him, simply due to his voice.  I went over and flashed my grey-painted nails at him (a truth from the game) and we laughed about the fact that my husband didn’t have black hair (a clear lie).

The bar area was fantastic and experimented with the importance of other senses too. There was a silent disco and sign language booklets to help you order cocktails.  Plus, they gave us colour photograph menus, so we could see what we ate.  I guessed most right apart from the meat.  I want to keep the secret of the blind menu.. but my “beef”was something a little more obscure!

In all seriousness, this experience was really inspiring.  Those waiters – and all blind and visually-impaired people – have such huge obstacles to overcome every day.  And they do it.  It’s important to appreciate something that we take for granted.  I was impressed with myself that meal for pouring a glass of water! It’s nothing compared to some people’s daily life.  But they don’t want pity; they want understanding. And you can understand… even if it’s just for the time it takes you to eat a meal. The restaurant keep many blind and visually-impaired people in employment and links with many charities too.

I urge you to go and “not see” for yourself: it will truly open your eyes!

 

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Written in the stars?

Can our star sign be something to believe in- like religion or ghosts? Can it help us to understand who we are? Even without hard evidence, surely, it can be an area of interest?

A typical Scorpio is described as the following:

  • Dark and mysterious
  • Complicated
  • Likes to feel in control
  • Assertive 
  • Confident
  • Emotional
  • Demanding, unreasonable, unforgiving  (when in a bad mood, may I add!)
  • Possessive and jealous
  • Loyal
  • Over-thinker 
  • Truthful
  • Passionate 
  • Honest

I am all of those things at some time or another.  All those traits fit with my personality.  So does that mean that I slot perfectly into that 1/12 of the astrological pie- between October 23rd-November 21st? Does it mean that everyone born between those dates has the same personality as myself? Of course not.  I’m not deluded enough to think that every person born in early November has the the exact same traits as me…nor would I want them too. I was actually meant to be born 3 weeks later (incidentally, my best friend was born on the date I was due… do we have some kind of cosmic link?) So I would have been a Sagittarius. But no, I’m slap bang in the middle of Scorpio. People may think I’m crazy, but I do think it means something.  I choose to believe that it was meant to be: that I was born on November 9th, resulting in being a Scorpio. 

Another question is why do I like to believe I’m a typical Scorpio? I guess we all like to think we have something daring and different about us.  Scorpios are described as the sign with a sting in their tail: people who are emotional, people who care, but also people who are confident and intimidating. All these attributes give our personality depth, which we all love to believe we have.  Notice too, from the traits at the beginning, I’ve included negative traits as well as positive.  What’s the harm in believing I’m a typical Scorpio? 

Scorpios are also described as quiet and secretive – those traits don’t fit with who I am, you’re thinking.  But in certain contexts they do.  I enjoy being quiet and alone- and there are certain things (believe it or not) that I don’t tell anyone.  “Introverts who socialise like extroverts,” is a quote, again, associated with Scorpios. (Remember my previous blog about this subject? Introverted Extrovert this Christmas.. take a look). I strongly believe that is me.  

As a teenager, I was deeply into astrology. I had all the books (shocking, I know!), read my horoscope, had a personalised horoscope etc.  You have to be careful that they don’t become didactic and influence your life too much, though.  Any horoscope- personalised or from a daily newspaper- can be manipulated to be true to you, if you choose.  Don’t fall into the blackhole trap of living your life by them.  The “predictions” could fit with anyone’s day and life, quite frankly- let alone just any Scorpio. So, for me, personally: star signs/ when we’re born/ our personality traits: fascinating.  Horoscopes: dangerous and unbelievable.

To summarise, I’m trying to say that star signs can just be an area of interest and help us to understand ourselves a little more.  Whereas, I’m not comparing them to religion and ghosts in in terms of substance and importance in people’s lives, I’m just linking them in the way that they are also areas people choose to believe in without hard, scientific evidence too. 

If an area interests us and helps us in some way, and as result, makes us happy, what’s the harm? 

                             xsxs

Reason, Season, or Lifetime…

People come into our life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime – but can we always tell which one? Why do certain people come into our lives? How can we make sure we have the right people in our circle?

I love meeting new people, making friends, and keeping and maintaining friendships. However, we can’t just keep expanding our social circle; the bigger circles get, the less manageable they are. If you are standing in a massive, wide circle, you can’t make eye contact with everyone – some people are too far away. A large circle is fragile and prone to breaking away. And do we even need it anyway? A smaller circle is tighter, more protective of you: it can wrap around you like a hug.

The trick is deciding who makes it into this special group circle.  With time being so precious in our busy, modern lives, we have to prioritise. We have no control over the people we meet of course, but we have the ability to make the effort for those we want to keep in our lives.  Common analogy, but friendship is like a plant: we water daily, feed it, trim off the horrible bits – but the plant still has to respond to this. The other person has to do their bit too – or nothing will grow. A friendship cannot survive without input on both sides. Or any kind of relationship for that matter.

I have lost some friendships and relationships with family members over the last few years. I can firmly and confidently say this is not down to me not making an effort. To start with anyway – I will make effort, until the other person doesn’t. Some of these relationships have naturally drifted apart because of changes in lives. Some have ended because they were toxic. Some people have left my life because they did something unforgivable. It’s all part of life. But one thing I have learnt – I will get in touch with people, arrange to see people, message people- –  but only for so long. If it doesn’t get returned, I back off.

Additionally, I used to get a bit upset if I couldn’t connect with someone; if we didn’t get along. I have struggled throughout life with this – if someone doesn’t like me. But I’m learning to accept that it is absolutely fine: not everyone is meant to get on. You can’t be friends with everyone (a constant mantra to myself!) You can be the reddest, juiciest apple – but some people will prefer oranges. Of course, this means the circle that I do have is all the more valuable.

So why would people come into our life for a reason? I think sometimes we meet people to teach us something. Alternatively, we are meant to teach them something. We all meet people who we dislike too – and this is again a reason. We learn something about ourselves and relationships, and we can all move on.

Furthermore, a season can be any length of time throughout our lives: childhood, University, work etc. Some people will join mid-season and can completely enrich our lives for a Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter. They may move on  – and you will too – but they were an important part of that section of your life.

I became friendly and thoroughly enjoyed the company of a lot of people throughout the planning of my sister’s wedding.  ‘Sentimental me’ feels a little sad that I won’t see these people as often now – they are my sister’s friends or brother-in-law’s family. My husband jokes that we barely have time to see the people we already want to – but does that stop me trying to continue some of these friendships? Equally, I have some fantastic, fun colleagues at the moment  – a lot are leaving in the Summer (how it tends to happen when you work in a school, sadly) and again, I can’t imagine not seeing them again.  Not always realistic, but some of the “season” people can be upgraded to the “lifetime” circle. It’s all what’s meant to be – with effort on both parts too of course 😉

Finally, it kind of goes without saying, but those who make it to the “lifetime” circle are the ones who evolve with you, help you to become the person you need to be (and vice versa), and are there for the full journey: from seed to full growth.

Your life needs people from all these three categories though – just make sure you don’t let the really special ones go: invite them into your circle – and if they are truly special, they won’t want to leave it.

XSXS

Image result for reason season or lifetime

 

The Most Important Thing…

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My sister got married on Friday.  She and my brother-in-law to be had asked me to write some words for the ceremony. Naturally,  I was honoured – and also a little nervous. I’m fine with public speaking, but when you are reading aloud your own words in such an emotionally-heightened situation like a family wedding, it can be daunting. For me, it was mainly the fact that I needed to make it through without crying (too much!) and to do my words – and the bride and groom –  justice. Luckily, it went well. I got tears and laughter in the right places (always a bonus!)

The Most Important Thing…

Within this beautiful setting of a luxurious wedding of classy dress, exciting atmosphere and immaculate décor, it’s easy to forget the most important component of all: the love story underneath it. As much as the outward appearance of today will add to our experience, and will be highlighted in the photographs and videos for years to come, love is the most exceptional part of today, but it cannot be seen. However, love has an empowering feeling that will stay with us for the whole of the day – and the following days and weeks and years to come.

No matter how it is dressed up, love is the same. Love is timeless. Love is everything. Love is what we all live for – and aim for.

Life will have golden days and black, dark days, but love is the one thing that keeps us all going in each of our chapters, until we reach the end of the story. To have found a person to express that love to – and to spend your life with, is an achievement in which you should both feel very lucky.

Emily has found in Patrick, a partner for life. He is a brilliant man – loyal, supportive, understanding and funny – and most importantly, for a husband of my sister: patient!  Patrick is also incredibly lucky with his choice of wife. Emily is his best friend: caring without limits, tender, loving and oh so funny – sometimes without meaning to be! I have been blessed with her as a sister for almost 27 years now  – so I know he’ll be truly blessed to have her as a wife for his happy ever after. He just needs to keep a good stock of gin 😉

Like any good love story, there will be dramatic moments, sad parts and some interesting, lively characters. But if you focus on each other and the love and respect you have, then you will have the greatest love story and marriage of all.  

Congratulations to my sister and new brother-in-law. Our tiny family is growing!

XSXS

Friendship has no age

Tomorrow, I am attending a funeral of a special friend.  That’s what I’ve told people and they have reacted with horror and sadness….even more so because they’ve assumed it was a peer. 
No.  He was almost 85 and, of course it is still awfully sad and upsetting, but I do comprehend people’s reaction.  Of course, it’s less shocking for a man of 85 to die suddenly.  But it in terms of friendship, it is no less important. 

I’ve thought about this for a while.  Originally, when I started visiting my friend at his care home, I used to call him my “neighbour” or more specifically “my neighbor’s brother” or “a man I volunteered to visit”. Could I also call him a grandad figure? I could…but, no.  That’s not needed.  He was pure and simply someone I was close to: a friend.  

Friendship can occur between any two individuals. You can be as close to someone ten years younger than you, as you can twenty years older than you.  I’m learning this more and more as I get older.  Some of the colleagues I get on best with are in their fifties. Or, equally in their twenties. Frequently, I’ve met people who were the same year at school as I was….. we are the same age; we know similar people.  But we didn’t click.  It takes more than age to create a bond with someone…. interests, morals, sense of humour are more vital than the year you were born. Friendship has no age or barriers. 

So tomorrow, I say goodbye to a friend whom I laughed with.  A friend whom I had tea and cake with.  A friend I looked at photographs with.  

A friend.  

Are You Successful?

What makes a person a success? Why does society view success in such a limited way? What is the key to true success?

This blog topic has needed more research and a longer thought-process than most. Partly, to understand the notion of what people think success is; partly to find a way to write about people’s real-life situations in a way that highlights various examples of success. This blog post is not belittling anyone’s success or life choices, just in case you do recognise a real-life example. I’m just exploring the many options that there are to success.

Imagine a successful person. What do you envisage? You would not be alone if you pictured someone in a smart, formal business-suit rushing to catch a plane, in order to complete an important job role in their busy and high-flying career. Society teaches us to think about success in this way: career, wealth and travel. If you manage those, you are successful to the world, apparently. And in many cases, this is true. But let’s open that brief case and delve a little deeper to what makes a person truly successful at life.

I’ve noticed the term “successful” be thrown around my various family and friendship groups lately – a bit like a pass-the-parcel. People are keen to pass this term “success” on to other people, but are so reluctant to keep it to apply to themselves. When, really, we all want to open that pass-the-parcel: we all want to be successful. One example at a party recently, was a comment “she’s the most successful out of all of us,” the reason being that the girl in question was a few years younger than the rest of us, and had climbed the career ladder quite high for a tender adult age. And good for her! She clearly wanted to achieve that job role and job satisfaction by that age and has accomplished it. But when did success become just about your career or job?

Many people believe that success is the key to happiness. You need to achieve great things – get that job; bring home the money; buy the house. This helps to be happy.  But what if I said happiness is the key to success? This is what I firmly believe and I will explain why… If you are truly happy with your “lot in life” whatever that may. If you have learnt from your mistakes; got a job that makes you happy; stood by your decisions and you are truly happy as a result, then I think you’re pretty damn successful.

My Dad is another example (I hope he won’t mind me mentioning him here). As he nears retirement age, he occasionally complains that he wishes he had learnt a trade, worked for himself or simply attained more of a career. Now my Dad has always worked hard  – a true grafter. He has worked his whole life, bringing home money to support his wife and two daughters. He has now paid his mortgage off and he and my Mum can now enjoy holidays whenever they like. More importantly, he was able to be a loving, dedicated husband and father who has been around for us all. If he had learnt a trade would he be any happier? Would his family? Maybe he’s have slightly more job satisfaction , but longer hours and more stress perhaps. I think my Dad’s successful at life  – and I hope he will read this when he has his next moan!

A lot of my friends have achieved jobs and moved to various big cities – or countries – as a result. They have flown the nest and gone off to be successful in the “big city”. If that is what they choose to do and want to do, then that is fabulous. What I find interesting is that a few of them have confided that they feel they couldn’t return to our small home town, as they would feel unsuccessful as a result. To me, if you are unhappy in the big city earning the big bucks (and I am by no measure, saying they are) and you want to get a different job and return closer to friends and family – and are happy as  a result of that, then that’s true success to me. It’s not about returning with your tail between your legs, it’s about making the decision to be true to yourself and doing it. Experience things and learn from it. Again, I am not assuming that people can’t be happy in addition to a high flying job in a strange city – I know not everyone is like me 😉 I’m pointing out that it’s also a success to admit that you would rather have something else in life.

Society may view me as unsuccessful. I have a below average salary that doesn’t reflect my age or education, and I still live in my small, non-eventful hometown. However, I think I am successful. There, I’ve caught the pass-the-parcel and happy to admit that I think this. I have a job that I adore and gives me job satisfaction every day (most days!) and that has led me to have small business of my own on the side. I live in my hometown because, you know what? I like it here. It’s home. And in addition to my English degree, university taught me something more important: I am a home bird. I like to live within walking distance from my friends and family. I love to travel and go on holiday, BUT my town and roots are important to me – more important than any job or any amounts of money.

Other people may view success differently and I think that’s the point. We need to define what success means to us and put it into practice. If we are doing what makes us happy in this short life, then we are making a success of it.

XSXS

 

Everyone has baggage…

Do the things we carry with us make us who we are? Do they define us? Can physical baggage change how we feel emotionally?

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I’ve just returned from one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on: a trip to Malta for my friends’ wedding. The joy didn’t arrive on the plane with us, however. Neither did my luggage! But let’s just rewind some hours previous to this…

The journey to the airport was the most stressful I’ve ever encountered. We’d already spent hours (it seemed!) discussing a suitable departure time from home, in order to get to the airport in time. I already felt I was carrying a lot of tension as baggage – as well as my large holdall. We went quite early in the end, especially since the online check-in had said there wasn’t enough seats on the plane for our party of 8 to check-in. “It’ll just be that the website’s down!” we exclaimed. “All will be fine,” we repeated, as the British do when there is no cup of tea to soothe the situation.

Additionally to this, the 2 hour drive to the airport took 4 hours due to an accident on the motorway. We had little time to check in when we finally arrived – we were the last ones. The earlier check-in warning was correct – 2 of our party had to go on a different flight. So already, we’d lost some of our friend baggage.  A quick diversion to Brussels and 400 Euros payment sweetened this for them though! My husband and I checked in our baggage – if only I’d known that my bag wasn’t going to Malta any time soon.

After check-in, I normally get that first sigh of relief – you are physically free of luggage and just have yourselves to worry about. Not this time though. We sped to security and, although our friends got through swiftly with ease, we were ages. Firstly, I got “beeped” by the metal detectors and had to have this body scan thing. I also had to wait for my turn, due to a teenage girl having a sobbing fit. Seriously could we not catch a break? She was crying because she thought she was going to get arrested I think. Don’t wear the shiny necklace and bomb shaped shoes then love!  (Okay the shoes are a joke – and I also have no idea why I get beeped every time. I must have metal in my blood or something!) I finally walked out and realised hubby was still not done. Why you ask? Oh he’d forgotten that you can’t put liquids into your hand luggage. Even though a few moments before I’d said to him “Does my Vaseline need a plastic bag you think – is it a liquid?” This still didn’t prompt him to remember that his whole toiletry bag was in his bag. Honestly, men!

So a little lighter of baggage once again (toothpaste, sun cream and after-sun to be precise) we went to the gate. No duty free shopping today, ironically the one time we’d needed to buy sun lotion too! We rushed to the gate and our friends exclaimed that my row had been called  – so off I went to board the plane. Checking in late also meant I had to sit alone, but I think I needed it. 3 hour flight + a book + a glass of wine and some Pringles = a much more relaxed Sammy. The tension had parachuted away.

Once at baggage retrieval, I was now truly ready to start the holiday. There had only been about 200 people on the flight, so the luggage whirred around the conveyor belt quickly – people grabbing, pulling and sliding their belongings off. Then nothing. No more bags. I knew, with the theme of the trip so far that mine hadn’t made it. Turns out, it was still in Heathrow and it would be with me the next morning.

Being an organised individual, I had a bikini, two pairs of pants and a pull-on beach dress in my hand luggage. (Oh and my husband and I didn’t mix our clothes up, because we were staying in different apartments: girls and boys.) Yet, I had no deodorant, toothbrush or anything to go out in that evening. I felt a little sad – and then I felt guilt. Why did I have the right to feel sad about material objects? Some people had nothing. Yes, we were also two of our party down, but we were all alive and well. This trip was only 4 days  long and I couldn’t afford to waste one by being depressed about by lack of clothing and toiletries. My new outfit to try on was one of freedom and invigoration. Plus I didn’t have to lug my bag into the taxi or up to our 5th floor apartment! Silver linings and all that.

I’ve never thought of myself as materialistic and I also believe certain things happen to try us and test us. It was freeing to think I literally had what was on my back (and the couple of items I mentioned above). I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon at the beach – everyone has the same baggage there don’t they? Bikini, towel and some sun lotion (borrowed by a friend!) and you’re set. I must  admit I had a little wobble just before we got ready to go out though. Reception said they didn’t have a toothbrush to give me and I didn’t have any of my essentials to get ready with: make-up, perfume, body lotion, jewelry etc. For the first time since University, I felt homesick. It was the same feeling – a yearning for home comforts. Like I said above, I am not materialistic as such. I don’t particularly have expensive brands of these things –  and I was hugely grateful for everything my friends lent me/gave me – but those things are what make you “you”. We went out, had fun and cocktails – I looked alright I had to admit, my beach dress and bra combo along with borrowed jeweled flat shoes, a friend having done my make-up, a borrowed necklace and my travel bag as a handbag – but I felt like a slightly different version of “me”. I truly appreciated friendship in that hour we got ready though. As I say, I feel it was a test and it has definitely made me appreciate things that we take for granted.

The next morning at 8am, I got straight up, bunged the same beach dress on and inquired about my case. They had said at the airport that it would arrive in Malta at 1am.  The man on reception said that with his 30 years’ experience, he had noticed that the airline normally lie about the arrival and it would more likely be that evening. I was done at playing Lord of the Flies by this point and just wanted my stuff. So, another day out in the same shorts and top and bikini. Maybe, I’d lose friends too, due to my growing stench! We also joked that I could have photos taken in various spots in the same outfit. Furthermore, I was starting to worry that I’d be going to my friends’ wedding in my beach dress at this rate!

After breakfast, we returned to the room for money so that I could go out and buy a tooth brush, some pants and my sanity… when I almost tripped over a case. First thoughts of messy, untidy room-mates popped in my mind – then I recognized the white (well not so white any more – this is also the same case that I left in Newquay 5 years ago! It has had more adventures than me!) splashed with multi-coloured patterns. My case was here! Ridiculously, we all cheered! Because it was so much earlier and unexpected, it made it even more special! I had a sudden urge to get changed every hour  – just to make each and every item of clothing truly appreciated and valued! All after brushing my teeth of course 😉

So, I think we all have baggage. We all have “stuff” that make us who we are. Whether it is clothes and shoes; mobile phones; ipads; books; cuddly toys. They aren’t what’s important of course and they don’t make life more meaningful. My holiday was still fantastic with the stressful start. But they do help us to be who we are; survive the day-to-day; be the best version of ourselves. But I do recommend going without for a bit, to make you truly appreciate them. It is true that you don’t really appreciate something until it’s gone.

I rest my case 😉 …

XSXS

 

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