It’s been a bit of a week. In fact, if I’m honest it’s been a bit of a year! I’m currently sat in my hotel room near Sheffield wondering where the last 6 months have gone.

For those who aren’t aware, I work full time in London, but also operate two small ‘businesses’ (actually it’s one, but there are two sides to it). The first is my Photography and the second is software development. The software side has been my baby for years and it’s the reason I’m ‘oop North’ this weekend.

I find myself, complete with iPad, phones, laptop, camera kit (you never know) and a rather pathetic array of clothes, in a recently refurbished hotel room attempting to work out how I approach tomorrow. In my previous work, I was always working away here, there or wherever and I always had a brief. I knew what to expect (ish) and I delivered the goods (if my ex-boss if reading this and has other ideas… I’m sorry). But this time is a bit of an unknown. The software relates to data collection in Sport and as such I need to ensure that next weekend, the iPads have good enough internet signal to do the business. I have armed myself with an array of goodies downloaded from the App Store which are hopefully going to tell me good news and snacks.

I managed to entertain myself briefly in the rather packed (and noisy) hotel bar this evening, enjoying my beer and burger. The diet is nowhere to be seen and that’s working fine for me right now. I’m at the end of the first week of my marathon training but so exhausted from everything that it’s had to be turned into a 15 week plan. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Anyway, I’m quite excited about exploring this new part of the North. I normally skip straight past here and head for York! In fact, I think the last time I was in Sheffield, it was a day trip about 10 years ago!

Travels of 2014 – Trip 1b(?) – well it wasn’t for work and wasn’t abroad

Following my week in New York, I had a week off booked. This was my first week off since September last year, however I didn’t feel like I’d had any time off for a lot longer. Work has been hectic and with a lot of deadlines and difficult project work to complete. My week away from my mobile and laptop was to be spent tidying up the house and then taking a trip to the North to see some old friends.
Thursday morning I hopped on my train and headed up to Durham. Frankly this was a trip that I shouldn’t have bothered making. N, was due to meet me in Durham so that we could have a bite to eat, a drink and a catch up. He’s been working hard on building his own business and I did have a sneaky feeling that our catchup wouldn’t happen. Sure enough, at midday, he asked if I would be able to meet him a little further North. With a serious lack of funds due to waiting on expenses (and the fact that I was already travelling for 4 hours) I declined and we had to cancel. I was very disappointed, however understanding that he has been putting his heart and soul into trying to get his business going, I sadly conceded that there was nothing to be done or gained from being too upset.
However, emotional and still suffering the after effects of jet lag, I found myself, watery eyed, staring out of my train at London Kings Cross, contemplating what I could do with my short time in the Durham. In fact, I spent most of my journey trying to work out what to do. And there was a lot of journey. I left my house at 10.30am and at 3pm I was still sat on my train, just outside Grantham staring at the fields. At 5pm, I arrived at my hotel. Slightly worse for wear due to enjoying one too many glasses of wine.
Tired, emotional, tipsy and feeling generally rubbish, I headed for the hotel bar and had a meal there before retiring to bed early.
Friday morning I woke with excitement as I was to head to York to meet an old (and very close) friend. As I departed the hotel I looked across the River Weir and realised that my last trip to Durham had also been very short. It had centered around the building opposite, as I was there to train some staff joining the BBC (well, it had become Siemens) Technology team. It was at this point that I also remembered the steps that you have to take up to the train station.
After too many steps to count, a big hill and lots of regret over bringing spare shoes in my luggage, I arrived at the station. Frozen, hungry and a little hungover, I awaited the packed train heading to Manchester Airport, which would see me arrive at a slightly warmer York.
When I arrived, I walked through the City, aiming to locate my room for the night. My usual hotel choice had been spurned for this trip and I had booked myself and 3 friends (joining me on Saturday) into a pub in town.
The Roman Bath was a place that I had only ever walked past and glanced in before. It had been chosen primarily because it would allow one night stays on the weekend and secondly for its central location. When I arrived I was greeted in the most cheery and upbeat manner by Chris. His bright conversation and quick wit was welcomed after my dismal Thursday and I looked around to see several people enjoying a drink and food in the bar. I was shown to my room and I must confess to being pleasantly surprised. A small, but functional double room with an ensuite shower, TV, wardrobe and a proper key. None of this swipe card fun and games which usually results in being able to access your room at 3am and waking up everyone around you!
When I re-entered the bar later in the day, following a walk to my favourite Tea Room (Chloes, near the Last Drop Inn), I was greeted by Paul (who runs the Roman Bath), as if I were a regular. By this time of the evening, the place was buzzing, every table occupied by diners and drinkers. I had a swift half (of very good beer) and then proceeded to meet my friend, V, in the pub down the road.
The night was a lot of fun. We had a meal and then went back to our meeting place, where we sang along with the pianist (sorry Ali), before then heading to watch a band perform at the Golden Fleece. Much fun (and beer) was had but I must confess to being glad to get back to my room for some much needed sleep.
The room was perfect. Quiet, comfy bed and in the morning a good shower awaited me, followed by an even better full English breakfast.
Ready to start Saturday, I walked around York and then went to the train station to meet one of the party due in at 11.30. I ensured he could check into the hotel ok and then we took a walk to a pub to catch the Liverpool match. By this time, my other two friends were attempting to navigate their way into town from their parking position. This should have been fairly simple, however D, has never been the best with maps. Or directions. Or instructions.
Then, while we were in the pub, the heavens opened. It rained so hard that when my friends made it to the pub, D’s jeans were soaked through. They both looked like they had just stepped out of a power shower.
Once the game had finished, we agreed to take a walk back to our rooms so that we could all get changed (and that D and S could dry off/warm up!).
When we met up again we walked back to the pub in order to watch the Stevenage game (as D is a life long fan). The beer and company was brilliant… The football, not so much. V met us (once her hangover from the night before had settled down) and we went off in search of food. The rest of the night was brilliant. We talked about old times, old friends and faces that we hadn’t seen in years and of course caught up on some gossip.
We called it a night fairly early on and V headed home while we went back to the Roman Bath. We were just in time for a swift pint, so sat on the corner and continued our chats. It was at this point that I realised just how much some people have to deal with on a day to day basis.
S (who is D’s wife) went through a lot last year. My blog isn’t the place for detail, but I have the upmost respect and admiration for her. She’s a beautiful woman, tall, slim, blonde and walks with a confidence that few have. But every hour of every day she battles with anxiety and worry. So many people would hide away or let it drag them down, but she copes brilliantly. I’m so pleased and proud to be able to be considered her friend. I just hope that we all get to spend more time together soon. Never easy when you don’t live near to each other, but it’s a sign of true friendship when you can meet up after a few months (or years) and pick up where you left off.
As for D and S finding their car on Sunday morning, well… What should have been a 15 minute walk turned into nearly an hour. In the pouring rain. All due to D’s map reading ‘skills’.
It must be love.

Ten years have passed, but it’s still in my heart

It’s nearly ten years since I first stepped off the train and visited York. This beautiful City captured my heart straight away. My job, a Digital Audio Trainer for the BBC, took me to several cities around England, some of which I’ve never been back to, but this is one I have had the pleasure of revisiting many times.

I remember that first experience. From getting into the taxi at the train station and heading for BBC Radio York, to the late night walks back to the hotel, the restaurants and most of all the people. Not just those working at the Radio Station, but the locals I met while out shopping or eating in the evenings, were some of the friendliest I have met.

On 8th February I took myself back up to York to meet a good friend of mine (V) who has settled there after spending a few years at University. Even the train journey makes me feel content. Particularly going through Sheffield. I have no idea why, but I always catch my breath when I see the brick work just before you get to the station, which signifies (to me anyway) that I am in the North.

My trip this time was due to be a couple of nights of chatting, drinking and eating while celebrating my Birthday with V, which had fallen in the week before.

I stayed in that same hotel which I was booked into for work in 2003. With views over the River and just a few minutes into the heart of the City, I felt the hotel (Park Inn) was a good choice. I wasn’t disappointed. The staff, friendly and welcoming as always and the room, with a view over the river and toward the Minster, was just what I needed to help me to relax.

York Minster at nightI met V in the shadow of the beautifully lit York Minster and we headed to the Three Legged Mare for a drink and catch up. As we walked in, I immediately fell in love with it. Filled with people relaxing, chatting, drinking ale courtesy of the York Brewery and soaking up the piano music being supplied by a well-known local Busker. Approaching the bar, V was hugged and welcomed by several people and not once was I made to feel like an outsider. The two gentlemen she knew at the bar, chatted away and included me in their conversations as if I had known them for months.

The evening progressed and we moved on to The Golden Fleece to take in the sounds of another local Busker and his band. Again, it was filled with people laughing and enjoying themselves. The band started up at 9pm and the music was brilliant. A great mixture of songs from the 60’s to the present day, which got everyone singing along, clapping and cheering for more when it was over. The skeleton at the bar was a surprise, but I’m reliably informed he Skeletonwas wearing a Santa hat at Christmas, so at least he likes to get involved.

The evening finished as it started, in the Three Legged Mare, where we planned our Saturday. Rather than my usual walk around the City, involving too much coffee, the Hog Roast and walking the walls, V suggested a road trip with another of her friends.

Saturday’s road trip was brilliant. After picking up K, we spent an hour heading East to Bridlington. The journey was worth it. Parking in the Harbour, we decided to go to South Beach. We walked toward the sea, with the harbour to our left, blue sky overhead and the warmth of the sun on our faces.

538080_10151243113800946_1868307437_nHaving decided to go down the gangway toward the seawall where the fishermen were, we noticed there was a lack of dry land between us and the beach. The three of us and another couple who had the same idea were stood staring at the water, approximately 4 feet across, which was covering the sand by about an inch. V made a dash for it and made it across, as did the man who had appeared. Minutes later the water was gathering momentum, so, sensing a break in the tide, K made a run across the water, only getting her trainers and bottom of her jeans wet. The man was trying to encourage both myself and his partner across, but she gave up and said she would walk up and along South Cliff Road (a good 10 minute walk). I waited a minute or two to see if the water (now 3-4 inches deep) would go out. It did, but as I stepped onto a slightly raised bit of sand, it came gushing back in. Shrieking, I got out the other side to laughter, soaked trainers, socks and jeans (halfway to my knees). I squelched my way down the beach for the rest of the afternoon.

We walked for an hour or so, the warmth of the sun was welcomed and somewhat surprising. Soon, realising just how far we had walked (and how hungry we were), we headed back to find somewhere to eat. Walking around the town, we found a little cafe for Fish and Chips. Red seating and numerous old style heaters propped up on the windowsill gave it a very old fashioned feel and smell. I opted for sausage rather than fish which turned out to be two jumbo sausages and a plate of chips! The food was fantastic, but I couldn’t finish it all.

IcecreamNo trip to the seaside would have been complete without an ice cream, even in a rather chilly 4 degrees, and so we set off in search of one. Eventually (5 or 6 places later) we found what we were after and headed for a short walk toward North Beach. This turned into a very short walk as the temperature plummeted. A brisk walk back to the car and we had decided that enough was enough. We were all frozen stiff.

Saturday night was spent with V and a couple of her friends from University. I could direct you to the places we visited by I’ve no idea on the names. Mainly because we spent a good 20 minutes trying to find somewhere ‘quiet’ so we could have a chat! However the quiet locations were soon traded in for louder, busier bars and we eventually finished the night off in a club.

Sunday was a relaxed affair. I headed for breakfast, which was packed. The staff quickly found me a table and soon I was happily tucking in to a large Full English Breakfast and coffee. Over the 10 years I’ve travelled for work (and pleasure) I’ve had some awful experiences of breakfast, but this was very well done. No congealed beans or rubber scrambled eggs, instead it was hot, fresh and very tasty. After breakfast, I had planned to take a walk out in York and soak up the atmosphere, but the weather had turned and the wind and rain put me off. Instead, I returned to my room to stared out of the window at the City.

What strikes me most of all is that my thoughts while there, are always my most creative. There’s something about that City, like Liverpool, which inspires me. I don’t know why and being able to tap into that inspiration when I return home, is something I’ve never managed.

Inspiration and creativity seems to be so muted in my everyday life. It’s there, I know it is. It’s just a case of finding it.