Wish You Were Here? Travels in Bruges (*Video*)

I recently visited the fair city of Bruges (or, to give it’s Flemish name, Brugge) in Belgium. While on paper there was nothing grand or seemingly important about this four day break in a historic city, for me personally it meant a lot. Why? Because it was the first time I’d ever travelled abroad by myself. It has been something I’ve wanted, nay, known deep down I was capable of for a while but I never had the courage to take the leap.

So as something a bit different I’ve created a video of my travels in the historic city. View and enjoy!

I had the best time in Bruges by experiencing all the city has to offer and more (a highlight not showcased in the video was a very moving moment when I had an organ recital all to myself in one of Bruges’ many churches. I’d been wondering around the church and about to leave when a volunteer started playing. I sat in the pews and was almost brought to tears by the beauty of the music and the environment.)

For anyone considering similar I say simply this. Do. It.

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The Bits of London that Make the Bigger Picture

It’s been a while since I put together a heavily picture-based post and I also haven’t given much of an update into my crazy London lifestyle* (*crazy mainly because I now shop at Tesco’s rather than Sainsburys – I’m off the chain). So as I was scrolling through the very typically Alice photo reels I thought I’d combine the two and create a random post full of random images. If you want to see more photos like these check me out on Instagram (aeb_thewriter).

First off, start with this to set your weekend off right:

Maybe it’s the work, maybe it’s the general buzz of the big city but I’ve very much got into my acoustic covers since moving. Perfect music to unwind to.

And what’s a chilled weekend without a good coffee? My local haunt is a tiny little shop on the corner of Cinnamon Street rather aptly called Cinnamon Coffee Shop.

Inside there’s only a small selection of seats however every one offers a perfect people watching spot, be it people walking down the quiet back streets of Wapping or those dashing in and out with their soy lattes to go. I’ve spent many an hour in this place on a weekend afternoon, chilling with a book whilst The Beatles play in the background.

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I drink coffee alongside exposed lightbulbs and at 2/3 circle tables. I’m not hipster, but…

And if Cinnamon is packed out then the coffee world is my oyster. I usually hang out at Caffe Nero on the South Bank (Oxo Tower), but closer to the flat you can find me either at the Starbucks at St. Katherine’s Docks or the Starbucks at Hay’s Galleria.

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It’s outside, but covered over, but charging eat-in prices (but paying for take out).

And if you disturb me whilst reading…

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Or clean away my coffee when I haven’t finished…

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“The small girl took command of the situation”…by running away from the body.

That said, even though I’m arguably doing more ‘young professional’ reading (sans avocado) than ever before, I still think I have a little way to go yet. A) because an equally intellectual man has yet to act on this (“wait, you’re telling me Hollywood is a lie?”) and B) my powers of embracing all forms of Art is still a little way off. Case in point; this Sainsburys receipt on display at the Tate Modern (South Bank).

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You know I’d probably have found it easier to accept if I hadn’t discovered the shopper-come-artist spent over £50 and didn’t claim any of the Nectar points.

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That’s 26.5p in points. Wasted. And you know, back in June 2016 I’d have happily have taken those. It’s just selfish if you ask me.

But that’s the crazy thing with living somewhere where you wake up with a view of Tower Bridge and say goodnight to the bright lights of the Shard. Things and places that I wouldn’t have ever imagined having access to are now only a short walk away. I see the Tower of London twice everyday on my walking commute to work to the point of being blasé to its historic value and beauty.

Loathed as I am to say it, London has also opened me up to some great opportunities and experiences. I’ve attended fancy events with old friends I haven’t seen in ages…

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…and at the polar opposite I’ve got completely drenched queuing for tickets in the pouring rain.

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I was one of the last people to get a seat but, from looking at everyone else, the worst prepared for the British weather. My whole body was so numb and shaking it’s a wonder I could take a photo.

I recently discovered that, contrary to my assumptions, my name isn’t as obvious as I had thought. This is what happened when I went bowling after work with some colleagues (including Bev and Theo).

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Hmm.

The weekend just gone marked the main celebration of Bonfire night (English tradition of lighting big fires and fireworks on or around 5th November. Has historical links, Google it). And in part because I didn’t have anyone to go with but more significantly because I didn’t fancy having to pay the money and fight the London crowds I chose to have a quiet one in. That was until I realised that my bedroom window had a clear sight of a massive firework display happening locally, which this expertly taken photo proves (and will you full on instantaneous envy).

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You really had to be there. After trying about ten times to get a decent shot I put my phone down and enjoyed the display as it was intended to be seen.

Have you ever watched a firework display in slouch clothing with a plate of Chilli Con Carne? Very novel experience.

In a pictorial nutshell those are the key elements of my life in London. Work, coffee, books, exhibitions, embracing spontaneity. So far I think I’ve got the balance right, I’m spending more money (“welcome to London hun”) but not as much as I had expected. As I say to work colleagues and friends, “I can buy a cheap-ish coffee at work everyday and gulp it quickly in front of a computer monitor, or I can invest a little more on the weekends and enjoy a hot drink and cake in a coffee shop where I can relax for an hour.” Seems an obvious choice to me.

Central London may be causing havoc with my skin and with my shopping habits (it is frustrating that the entirety of ‘The City’ shuts down on the weekend) but I have come to accept that it’s what comes as part of the lifestyle when you live so ridiculously close to work by London standards. Charm and character will just have to wait for those times I travel back to the family home (picture the opening scene of Bridget Jones).

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Fun fact: the opening scenes/scenes of Bridget’s family home were filmed in a village called Snowshill which itself is near to where I was brought up. In case you wanted further proof I am country bumpkin.

For what it’s worth (worth being not having to pay for a Tube season ticket and live in an area of suburbia feels out of character given its location), Wapping is more than good enough for me. Who knows what the next weeks will hold as I take on this smoke-filled jungle at Christmas, but right now I’m going to focus on the more pressing questions.

For example…

1. What was going through this person’s head last Saturday at the Surrey Quays Tesco Extra?

If it’s what I think it is then they’ve missed the point. Everyone knows the quality of water is only as good as the plant feed when it comes to cut flowers. Boy are they going to look silly when they come to put those on their kitchen table.

And 2. Why are they called epanbeppies here?

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When She Gives You This Look…

I was in a hipster bar in Shoreditch the other day, attending a chilled out event with an old friend. Before the event kicked off the organiser handed out two disposable cameras, encouraging attendees to use the ‘retro’ objects to take snaps of themselves and their friends. After a quick operation guide for the avocado lovers we were left to our own free will as the main event kicked off. The was only one rule – you have to turn the flash on to get a viewable image post development.

About mid way through one of the cameras reached my friend and I at the back. After a lot of faff (“you’ve got to hold the flash button and the snap button? Well that’s impractical”), my friend got her arms into position and was able to press both front flash and main snap buttons. She held her fingers in position, waiting for me to give the go ahead, completely unaware that I was instead focusing all energies on trying to maintain what I thought was a half-decent smile in the pitch black room. Eventually through gritted teeth and aching cheeks I told her to take the photo. A second later there was a click and I was blinded. The flash on that camera! God that flash left me seeing blotches for minutes afterwards! “Enjoying the show?” “Well I would if I could see it!” Watery eyed we passed the disposable camera to two guys and carried on with our glasses of wine. We tried to forget the hipster ritual we’d put ourselves through for no reason.

That was until today. Today I was reminded once again why I can never be a famous super model type. A) I like food but B) this girl does not handle a camera well, with now the addition of ‘flash lighting’ being able to join the list of photographic types that don’t suit me.

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is the developed photo taken on a Kodak disposable camera in the basement of a Shoreditch bar in East London.

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I mean…

What makes it worse:

  • My friend came out so well in comparison (I can’t play the ‘neither of us suited it’).
  • The event organiser emailed all the ticket holders with a direct link to an album of all the developed photos on their Facebook page (so a lot of people will have now seen the photo).
  • Finally (and most importantly) if you look through the album you’ll see that everyone else who took a photo came out well/funny, EVERYONE ELSE.

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All the attendees are looking classy and humorous whereas I’m sat in the back row bar stools looking like someone trying to get through a date with Rumpelstiltskin. That or a charity case of a human suffering with a freak jaw lock condition, for which I expect to be approached by Channel 5 in the upcoming days.

Dear or dear. Still, who says I can’t laugh at myself from time to time? But seriously, don’t hand me a disposable camera again. Please.

London One Month in: A Brief Moment of Reflection

At the end of this week I’ll have been living and working in the big smoke for a month and what a whirlwind of experiences it has been.

Walking past the Tower of London each morning like it’s just another overdeveloped house on the street, diving in and out of fellow commuters like it’s an art form (and, when it fails, dashing off without making eye contact). Staring blanking the world and for once the world happily blanking you back, this city is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. It was when a cyclist yelled at me “watch the f**king road!” whilst jumping a red light that I realised I was properly London. Why? Because I did not care.

So when people in the very English town of Swindon grab me and ask “what’s London like?” or colleagues in London nudge me with take out cups “would you go back there [Swindon] now?”  I feel myself lost for words. How can you defend a proudly average town surrounded by Cotswold beauty or champion a buzzing and vibrant city that rips you off at every turn? You just can’t, especially not in one sentence (which is what everyone wants). One month in and I don’t see myself being able to formulate a succinct sound bite anytime soon.

I swore to myself weeks before moving that I was not going to let this opportunity slip. I refused to spend eight months working flat out and then moping about my bedroom complaining I had nothing to do. I didn’t want to become like some of my other London friends or indeed like myself in the Cotswolds, brought up without visiting or fully appreciating what was on offer on one’s doorstep.

In light of this, here is a short list of some of the things I’ve done in my first month (well, three weeks three days):

  • Started a diary-come-log-come-Alice’s-attempts-at-professionalism
  • Walked along the South Bank A LOT
  • Visited the Tate Modern even more
  • Introduced to and then introduced others to Borough Market
  • Speed Friending (like speed dating but a lot more chilled out)
  • Made new friends
  • Caught up with very old friends
  • Comedy gigs
  • Explored Wapping
  • Tate Gallery
  • National Portrait Museum
  • Been out for drinks
  • General landmarks – e.g. St Pauls, Westminster, various bridges
  • Burnt 1,000,000,000,000,000 calories from walking everywhere (a mix of commuting and stubbornness to pay for the Tube. 90 minute walking time is my cut off point for getting the Tube on a weekend).
  • Got ill
  • Bought my weight in face cleansers after discovering the heat and air quality was making my skin truly disgusting (FYI I don’t plan on coming out of London with an improved life expectancy).
  • Spoilt countless tourist photos and selfies and walked into a number of French school children on purpose for taking up the entire pavement. Bruises of pride.

And this is only month one. As I get more established I hope to explore more of real London as opposed to tourist London through personal exploration and using my old and new friends (no pressure guys). I want to network with people and make a name for myself. And then I want to meet a rich banker who will take me out to the opera and buy me Hotel Chocolat chocolates for no reason (not just the free samples they give when you visit a shop). And then he’ll remind me how wonderfully amazing I am when I moan about the price of eggs and then buy me the most expensive eggs at M&S to prove a point. When the latter happens I’m not waiting around, consider the man engaged.

I mean I’m not asking for much right?

I’m Ruddy Awesome

The below piece was something I recently did for my organisation’s internal newsletter. At the time it got a lot of praise and a few chuckles so I thought I’d share it with my lovely readers as well (be it with a few tweaks to make it understandable to an external audience). Enjoy!

I’m Ruddy Awesome

 

Recently myself and a group of work colleagues undertook a two-day Mindset and Attitude course. Now, while all those in attendance will completely understand the term ‘lollipop moment’, say that to the rest of the world and you only get concern over my company’s funding policies (especially when you talk about the whole ‘tied up with rope, blindfolded and groping about “game”’ and dancing around to ABBA). With my Excel course I got given manuals to leave about my desk (‘look at me, I’m so smart. I have manuals!’) but Mindset, well, it’s harder to explain.

‘Annie, right now are you in the box or out the box?’

‘…I’m at my desk?’

 At Mindset we discussed our values and career aspirations and learnt ways to communicate better amongst other valuable exercises. On paper it was a jolly outing interjected with TED talks and Psychology lessons, nothing that you’d think would make much difference. However, in the weeks and months since I’ve started to form a new perspective.

The thing is when it comes to the day-to-day I’m pretty modest. I know how to talk to people and how to construct a fabulous bit of writing, but when someone tells me I’m awesome I’ve never been good at taking it onboard. I throw my head to one side and my hand goes all limp, finished with an ‘oh you’ as I quite literally bat away the feedback. Mindset and Attitude helped me acknowledge this and, when I struggled to praise myself, Richard Thorpe (the man leading the sessions) got the group to fill in. Being unable to run away from the positive comments of my peers turned me beetroot red, but five minutes was all it took for me to realise my own strengths and qualities.

A couple of weeks later I was in an art gallery in Bath (as you do) when the room steward grabbed me mid-exit. Much to my surprise, the lady proceeded to shower me with praise. She’d been fascinated by how I’d taken in the art on display (because apparently there’s a right and wrong way to view art) and didn’t want me to leave without saying something. Aside from thinking ‘how do I get “art viewing” on my CV?’ I also found myself smiling, eyes locked and hand firmly at my side.

I left the gallery feeling great. An actual lollipop moment! I also realised that in my quest to be a classy, empowered lady maybe I had been one all along. Perhaps I’d been my own blocker, taking in only the bad comments and pushing away the good.

Take aways from Mindset and Attitude include making time for people (a cheeky Facebook like at 7am does not count) and an end to copious coffee drinking at 10pm. Going forward I’m going to hold my head that bit higher and tell myself I’m the best thing to happen to every meeting. Why? Because I’m ruddy awesome.

 

More information on the Mindset Coaching offered by Richard Thorpe can be found on his company website: https://www.wiseheart.co.uk/ or contact Richard direct at richard@wiseheart.co.uk

 

Dear Joe…

The below article (titled “Dear Joe”) was written for a work newsletter which is produced on a rotational basis by those on my finance development program. It’s a light hearted take on when I did something very crazy; telling the CEO of a top ten finance institution to improve his presentation skills.

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‘You criticised the CEO? Are you crazy?!’

You know how in the movies the protagonist always has a life affirming moment on top of a mountain or in the pouring rain? Well mine took place in the West Swindon branch of Dominoes.

‘I didn’t criticise him, I just told him his presentation needed improvement.’

‘Oh Alice.’

And that’s when it hit me.

It had all started so well-meaning. Joe Garner had delivered a presentation to the 2017 Emerging Talent cohort back in November. All eyes in the room were on Joe as he tested his microphone on stage, it felt like I was at some kind of corporate Ed Sheeran concert. And yet, by the time it was finished I felt mildly disappointed.

Because no digital communication in the history of mankind has ever been misinterpreted, I decided to email Joe my feedback. ‘Dear Joe,’ I started, ‘thanks for taking the time to present on Friday. At the risk of sounding critical…’

Fast forward eight hours and there I was in Dominoes having the above conversation with my housemate.

‘I’m stuffed, aren’t I?’

I received a prompt reply from Joe the next day. Thankfully he’d seen the well-meaning in my email and thanked me for the feedback, whilst also responding to one of my points. ‘How can we expect people to magically buy houses when we don’t educate on finance?’ I ever so delicately put. Well, Joe says, funnily enough it was a topic currently being looked into by ExCo and something that I might want to be more informed on if I so wished.

Next thing I know, I’m outside the office Graeme Hughes, Relationships and Distribution Lead and ExCo member. He and Hannah Faulkner, Joe’s Executive Assistant, sat with me for almost an hour discussing past, present and future ideas for finance education. Graeme explained the different approaches Nationwide had taken in the past and why they hadn’t been as successful as hoped. I took a powerful sip on my strong coffee and gave my response to these comments. Graeme’s eyebrow lifted as he leaned back in his chair.

‘Ok, so what do you propose?’

I came away from the meeting with a splitting headache but feeling as pumped as David Cameron. The firm handshake and broad smile of Graeme said what Hannah readily exclaimed. ‘I am so glad to have met you! We must meet again!’

All said and done I really need to stop emailing Joe Garner.

How to be More Like Alice

Have you ever woken up and thought ‘damn, yet another morning and I’m still not Alice E. Bennett? Heck I’m not even Alice Bennett and there are thousands of those, including this deceased bae…’

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Well fear not because below are a few simple things you can adopt in your life to be less like you and more like me. And a world with more Alice would be a fudging sweet one.

  • Make this your new backing track:
  • Or this:
  • Listen to Classic FM on lunch breaks whilst reading solid literature. Bonus points for adding an amused/coy smile when you have no idea what you’re reading about.
  • Make the same sad cheese sandwich for lunch everyday. Own the saved pennies, disown the taste!
  • Play the game ‘new mole or just melted chocolate?’
  • Walk so fast you forget to look where you’re going, trip and smash your head into the pavement. Is that concussion or are you feeling sassier already?WP_20160218_18_08_05_Pro.jpg
  • Spill tea or coffee. Just because.
  • Dresses need to become a thing in your life.
  • Either look adorable…

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  • …Or honest.

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  • Drink wine knowing almost certainly what it will bring.
  • Read books in coffee shops – initially with the pretence of looking sophisticated but then because you enjoy the experience.
  • Explore/visit things by yourself and be perfectly happy in doing so.
  • Work hard, write harder.
  • Love your family.

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  • Mock your family.
  • But most of all, never forget your humble beginnings as a pair of 90s curtains.

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  • …Or a bin bag.securedownload (3)

 

Do that and you’ll be right on track to being more like Alice E. Bennett. Just don’t come knocking round my door asking for tea bags, you can spill your own tea.