19 January 2009

Blue Monday (article from the Daily Mail)

"If you are feeling a little down then you can take solace in the thought that things are unlikely to get any worse.

Today, say experts, is the unhappiest day in the entire year.

Unpaid Christmas bills, nasty weather, and failed New Year's resolutions combine to make January 22 the gloomiest in the calendar.

But if anyone can cope with 'blue Monday' it is the British, who researchers have found to be mainly optimists.

More than 85 per cent of us expect the future to be happier than it is now, according to researchers.

Dr Cliff Arnall, a Cardiff University psychologist, devised the formula that shows today is the most depressing.

His equation takes into account six factors: weather, debt, time since Christmas, time since failing our new year's resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action.

Taken together they pinpoint today as 'Blue Monday'.

Dr Arnall said that by understanding the main factors for depression we can prevent becoming unhappy next year.

He said: 'Use the day as a springboard for a higher quality life. For example, keeping Christmas spending to a strict budget next year will make you less depressed in the last week of January.

'Also, decide on changing behaviour, such as giving up smoking, eating better, exercising more and getting that new job.'

It might also be a good idea to take extra care on the roads.

Research by Privilege Insurance reveals that nearly half of the UK's drivers suffer from seasonal symptoms such as depression and lethargy in January, which impact on their driving ability.

All is not doom and gloom, however, as a survey of 85 per cent of people in Britain expect to be happier in the future than they are now, a psychological study for Standard Life Bank found.

Scots were the most optimistic, followed by people in the South West, while people from London and the West Midlands had the least positive outlook on life, researchers discovered.

Taking up a new hobby is the most favoured tactic by Britons to become happier in 2007, amid a general trend for people wanting to make work less of a focus in 2007.

People responding to the survey said they hoped to make themselves happier by clearing their debts, paying off their mortgage and achieving financial security.

Those who listed things they were looking forward to were plans to reduce their working hours or retire to improve their quality of life.

The research - entitled the Freestyle Happiness Index - also found that the nation's optimism is being boosted by a falling interest in material possessions.

For the 15 per cent of pessimists and those who feel very depressed, the Samaritans urged people not to bottle it up but to get in touch.

Press spokesperson Kate Redway said: 'Sadly, one in five people in the UK experience depression and this time of year can be particularly difficult, with people in debt after Christmas and finding it hard to settle back into a work routine during dark days.'"

Copied from the Daily Mail

18 January 2009

Ice-skating at Somerset House

Every winter Andrew and I have carried on our dear friends the Beard's tradition of ice-skating at a different venue in London. Our first year we went with the Beards and the Triefenbachs to ice-skate at the Tower of London. Last year we went with the Noris to ice-skate at Hyde Park Corner's Winter Wonderland. This year, no one came with us, but we went and had a great time anyway at Somerset House, which is rumoured to be the most picturesque ice-skating venue in London...

15 January 2009

St Albans!

Last week I had a little down time while I was waiting for a proof to come in, so I decided to look into some quick day trips from London. I quickly found St Albans, which is a small village just 20 minutes outside of London, and sent out an email asking whether anyone wanted to join us. There isn't much to do in St Albans, especially on a day when it's below freezing outside (literally). However, there are a lot of dog-friendly pubs around the city, so we took the dogs and two other couples—the Frasers and the McGuigans—and took the train up there around mid-day this past Saturday.

When we arrived, the first thing we wanted to do was grab some lunch and a pint. The first dog-friendly pub I had on my list was Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which claims to be the oldest pub in England and holds the Guinness World Record for it. We had hot chocolate with Bailey's in it and good food. The pub was a bit disappointing in that it was playing a mix of new hits and club music, which seemed weird for one that claims to be the oldest in England, and it was so cold! There were some areas that had fires, but we were apparently near an open door and were quite chilly as we ate. The food was really good, though. I think everyone was pleased.

When we walked out we discovered, to our dismay, that it was snowing. Yes, snowing. Then we walked through a gate into a field to find the remains of a Roman Wall, and walked right onto a huge frozen pond. Frozen solid!! There were people ice-skating on it!! I still can't get over that. In all my years in Alabama, I don't think I've ever seen a pond frozen completely solid enough that you could walk and ice-skate on it. We walked on the pond for a bit (I let Hadley pull me along by her lead), looked for a dead bird that was frozen into the ice somewhere in the pond about which everyone around was talking, realised that we were freezing and didn't have time to find said dead bird, and made our way across to the Roman Wall. The Roman Wall is just one small section of the two-mile long wall built between AD 265 and 270 to defend the Roman city of Verulamium. Most of the old Roman stone was "robbed out" for subsequnet building projects, principally the Cathedral. The main section of the Roman wall in Verulamium Park is enclosed by a fence.

After that we realised that it was getting dark, so the only other thing we (well, I) really wanted to see was the remains of Sopwell Nunnery. The nunnery ruins are set far enough away from the road to feel secluded and, yet, weren't hard to find. We arrived at the perfect time; the last people wandering around were just leaving, so we were free to roam around freely and take pictures unhindered by strangers. The remains have a rather mystical and eerie quality; there was a light fog that added to atmosphere. The fact that the local authorities keep the land around it naturally overgrown gives the effect of stumbling across some previously undiscovered ruins.

The original nunnery dates back to 1140 and was built by Geoffrey de Gorham, the abbot of St Albans. In the 1500s it became part of Sir Richard Lee’s Tudor mansion, but the nunnery seems to be the only surviving building. There is enough of it left to provide an idea of the size and layout.

The nunnery was by far my favourite part of our trip to St Albans.

By the time we finished at the nunnery, we were near frozen. We really couldn't feel our fingers and toes, and it was starting to grow dark, so we made our way to another pub called The Goat.

I had seen online that they had board games available to play at the bar, so I figured that would be a good place to wind down and finish the day. We ordered our pints and played Scrabble. Sharon beat the poop out of the rest of us, and when we were finished, we made our way back to the train station and headed home to London to thaw out with some hot and spicy Thai food from the Churchill Arms, our favourite Thai pub.

I know, I know. We went on a day trip and only saw two things and two pubs! We didn't arrive there until around 1pm, and it gets dark around 3:30 or 4pm, so we didn't have much time. Plus, you just don't understand how cold it was!! To be honest, I didn't even really pay attention to the weather forecast when I planned this trip; I just wanted to go somewhere that the dogs would enjoy. I should have planned a trip SOUTH of London, rather than North. Oh, well. It was a lovely day anyway.

03 January 2009

Happy New Year!!

As stated in the last post, I was sick before we left London, and because of our stressful time before and after we arrived in the US, we never made a booking or concrete plans for New Years Eve. Luckily, our friend Sharon (who was also getting over the flu) was on the ball and made a booking for four at the Duke of Wellington pub in Notting Hill, which is about a block away from their flat. She called us when we landed on the 30th to make sure we wanted to do that, and we were just ecstatic that we had something to do and someone to hang out with!

On New Year's Eve, I took the dogs and walked to the nearby party shop to buy some funky New Year's hats or headbands and party blowers. I arrived to picked-over disarray. They had five New Year's hats left. Five. So I bought four of them -- two black, two gold -- and four gold party blowers. Andrew and I took a bottle of champagne to the Frasers flat, and we then realised that the party hats I bought were much too small for a normal-sized heads. We wore them anyway, though, and had one of our best New Year's celebrations yet. It was relaxing, laid back, not too crowded or over priced. We couldn't have asked for better company, and it was just what we needed to ring in our last New Year in London.