Sunday, 26 February 2012


Last Wednesday I went to Floatworks near London Bridge for my floatation tank experience. I'd been at the Hockney Exhibition at the Royal Academy beforehand and had a bit of rush across London to get there in time so wasn't feeling particularly relaxed when I arrived. The building looks like a warehouse and I wasn't sure how to get in. The door, when I found it, looked like a tradesmen's entrance on the side of the building and I had to ring the bell to get buzzed in.

I went down the not particularly enticing stairs to the dimly lit reception area. It had a fish tank and there was new age relaxation type music playing. Very cliched. As I sat waiting I thought about how depressing it would be to work down here in nice weather. I had to fill in a form and was given a pair of flip flops to wear.

After a few minutes I was called through. The rooms are private and each have a shower, a chair and a big egg shaped floatation tank in them. I was given instructions on how to use it - pretty simple really: button on right is emergency button; first button on left is for the light inside the tank; second button on left is to control the lid. There was also a spray bottle of fresh water on the inside of the tank in case I got salt water in my eyes. Luckily I didn't need it.

I was told to have a quick shower and in five minutes music would start playing and the lights in the room would go out. The shower had gel, shampoo and conditioner and I was provided with a towel. There was also vaseline in case I had any cuts (it's recommended to put vaseline over them to prevent stinging) and earplugs. These aren't for noise prevention, but to prevent too much salty water getting in your ears.

I got undressed and showered pretty quickly so I was in the tank before the lights went out. I got myself stretched out in the water and put the neck pillow under my neck. I checked out that I knew where the buttons were and that I knew how to control the lights and lid of the tank itself.

The music started low and got slightly louder as the lights dimmed. It plays for the first 10 minutes. Then there are 45 minutes of silence before a final 5 minutes of music to let you know your time is almost up. I turned the light out in the tank and lay in complete darkness listening to the music and trying to get comfy. Although I was floating I wasn't really letting all my muscles relax, particularly my neck muscles. I moved around a bit too. I'd only realise I'd moved when my head or feet would touch the end of the tank or I'd touch the sides.

I didn't put the lid down at first as it was completely dark anyway. But then the part of my body that was above the water line started to feel a bit cold, so I lowered the lid and warmed up straight away. It was a bit stuffy, but better than being cold.

I did manage to relax and felt quite drowsy but didn't actually nod off. When the music started to play again I was surprised that the 45 minutes were already over. I raised the lid and sat up. Then I lay down again, but this time without the neck pillow. It wasn't any better. If I was to do this again I don't know what I could do to help my neck feel comfortable.

I got out of the tank (easier said than done with such buoyant water) and back into the shower. As I was in the shower the tank lid closed and gurgling noises emanated from it - no doubt it was being cleaned ready for the next user. It took a while to feel that I'd got all the salt off my body and out of my hair. Once I was dry and dressed I went to another room where there are mirrors, hairdryers and spray deodorants. Then, apart from paying, my experience was over.

So what did I think of it and did it live up to my expectations? I think it was pretty much what I expected it to be. I enjoyed it as a one off experience but don't think it was any more relaxing than a spa pool, jacuzzi or steam room. For less than the £45 this cost me, I could have spent several hours in one of the spas in Baden Baden in Germany and would have left feeling much more relaxed than I did from here. I'm glad I've done it and sated my curiosity and I would recommend it as a chance to experience something a bit different. However, it's not something I'll likely do again (not unless it was a lot cheaper!) and even if money wasn't an issue it doesn't appeal as something to do on a regular basis.

One plus though, is that for several days afterwards my skin felt really soft. Even after I'd had other showers the effect still lasted.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Ice hockey

This isn't on my list but it will be a first. I've just booked tickets to see an ice hockey game. I know nothing about it but it sounds like fun. The 15 year old daughter of a friend is coming with me and as she's a fan who goes fairly regularly, I'm hoping she'll explain it to me as we go along. 

The game is in Nottingham which is where my friends live. We'll be watching the Panthers (the local team) play the Fife Flyers on the 3rd of March. It's a Saturday so I'll probably make a weekend of it and try to fit some other stuff in too.

Apparently ice hockey is big in Germany where my brother lives so I may get to go again when I go to visit at Easter. This is going to start seeming like a habit!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Altitude training

I was just browsing for tents and came across this. Ellis Brigham in Manchester have an altitude training centre. It seems that you pay 30 quid to sit in an egg chair, strap a mask over your face and get a readout on how well you deal with altitude. I've always felt as though I slow right down in even relatively low altitudes and so this could be an interesting test for me when I start my preparation for Kilimanjaro. It's not being able to deal with the altitude that worries me most about the climb and if I don't complete it, it will probably be due to this.

The site also mentions that you can book a series of training sessions before you embark on a high altitude trip. It doesn't say how much this would be, but I imagine it will be quite pricey. I do like the idea of working out on the cross trainer with an oxygen depleting mask stuck to my face though. I wonder if this is what they mean?

Sunday, 12 February 2012

2012 Twelve January Review

    As we're now into February I thought I should review how I'm doing on my 2012 Twelve. I've only mentioned the tasks I've actually done something about.
1. Floating in a floatation tank - I've got this booked and will be floating a week on Wednesday.

3. Taking at least one photo every day of the year - I've done this for about half the month. I've started carrying my snappy camera around with me all the time, but most days just forget about it.

4. Coming up with a fitness plan and sticking to it (the start of my training for Kilimanjaro, though I may not actually climb it for several years yet) - I haven't done anything about the fitness plan yet, but I did attend a talk on Kilimanjaro.  

7. Learning to use at least 3 new pieces of technology or computer programmes (not counting my new camera) - I'm booked to do an 'Apple in an hour' course at school just after half term. This will be the start of me learning to use an Apple Mac.  

8. Doing a writing course - I've enrolled for an online course with the London School of Journalism and received the first two lessons. I haven't had time to start them yet though.

9. Getting at least one piece of writing published (paid or unpaid, as long as someone else makes the decision to publish it and it's not self-published) - I wrote a brief book review for Wanderlust and they've accepted it. I'm not getting paid, but will be published in a prestigious travel magazine.  

11. Buying a car/van that I can sleep in (and doing any necessary conversions/adaptations) - I've started researching vans and how to convert them.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Stonehenge and Greenland

Womad falls at the wrong part of summer. I'd much rather it was at the beginning of the summer holidays and then I could head south for the festival and then go up to Scotland for the rest of the summer. As it is I'm going to have nine days of holiday time before the festival. I'd spend the first few days at home anyway as I always have lots to do and sort out before I can go away. But nine days! I'll feel like I'm wasting my precious time off. So I'm going to head down to the Wiltshire / Somerset area and have a few days wandering around before Womad starts.

I'd been wondering what to do for these few days, but not doing any actual research as I've got other trips to plans first. I've just watched a documentary on iplayer about some new archaelogical excavations on Orkney and the programme was linking what was being found there with the later stone age 'buildings' of Stonehenge and Avebury and so on. I like this kind of stuff so I started thinking about doing some kind of walk linking the various neolithic remains together. Then just as I was flicking through my 'Walk' magazine (it's the magazine issued by the Ramblers) I came across an article about a proposed Great Stones Way which does exactly that. It links Avebury to Old Sarum via Stonehenge, Silbury Hill, Salisbury Plain, the Kennet and Avon Canal, Woodhenge and Durrington Walls. It all seems quite easy to do on existing paths except for for the slight problem of the MOD firing range on Salisbury Plain. The route is about 38 miles and so three easy days would do it, though it should also be possible to walk it in two if need be.

Feeling happy as I always do when a plan starts to formulate in my mind, I turned the page. An article on Greenland. More specifically an article on walking the Arctic Circle Trail which seems to be a cheap way to see Greenland. I've been looking at ways of getting to Greenland for a few years and haven't yet managed to come up with a cheap way of doing it. I'd have to fly from Copenhagen and all in all flights would be about £1000. But once there the walking is free, I can wild camp or stay in free huts and even the canoe I would need to paddle across one of the lakes is free. I'd take my own lightweight dried food and so would only need to buy fuel for my stove. The trail is 165km long and to divide it into a hut-to-hut traverse would mean taking nine days. With a few days spent at either end that would give me about a fortnight in Greenland. I could then spend the rest of the summer cycling and camping in Denmark. I'm already feeling quite excited about this. I won't be able to do it this summer, but I don't have anything on my calendar for next year yet!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Sex and the City 2

I've never got into watching Sex and the City - I don't think I've actually seen any of the TV episodes. I did watch the first movie a few years ago, but wasn't impressed. When the second movie came out and was supposedly set in Abu Dhabi I wanted to watch it just to see how the Arab/Muslim/Middle East themes had been dealt with. But as I didn't expect to enjoy it I certainly didn't want to pay full price for it.

A couple of weeks ago I found the DVD in a supermarket for £2.99 and so bought it. I was right not to pay full price and right that I wasn't likely to enjoy it. In fact it actually feels like I've wasted over two hours of my life watching it, but I have to remind myself that the reason I wanted to see it wasn't to spend a relaxing evening watching an enjoyable film but instead was to have my academic head on and critique it. So I suppose I'm glad I've seen it.   

The movie was actually filmed in Morocco as the producers couldn't get permission to film in Abu Dhabi or anywhere else in the UAE. No wonder. All the stereotypes are there: opulent hotels, sand dunes and camels, mysogynistic men and beautiful houseboys,  women in abayas and niqabs with designer clothes underneath, religious fervour regarding sexuality and the showing of female flesh, and so on and so on. The storyline is very weak (I'm not sure there really is one) and the bits of 'story' seem to be there just to provide a link between the stereotypes.

But maybe I'm being too harsh and this blatant demonstration of stereotypes is actual a good thing, as a lot of the Middle East including the Gulf is like this and so the film is showing that a holiday here is not the same as a holiday in the Med or the Caribbean and therefore you shouldn't expect to act in the way you would in either of these locations or at home. It's also more of a reflection on Americans than on Arabs or Muslims as it pictures the New Yorkers arriving having done no research and having no idea as to how to behave or dress in an acceptable manner and assuming that it would be fine to blunder on in their usual manner. Well, ok, one of the women had done some research and she tried to educate the others, but these snippets seemed mainly to be for the purpose of setting the scene for what would later go wrong and for keeping the viewer up to speed as to why things were a problem for the girls. This is an assumption that viewers are uneducated in such matters and need them pointing out, which I suppose is justified on the whole.

So maybe I shouldn't be so critical of the film, after all they haven't actually depicted anthing 'wrong' and if it encourages future visitors to think a bit more about cultural sensitivity before choosing to go there then that can't be a bad thing. I do wish they'd shown more of the positives to balance it out a bit though.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Another Quote

The most rewarding travel experiences do not depend on our destination or the length of our journey, but on our levels of awareness.

Tristan Gooley