Category Archives: A Challenge

Anything that involves me doing unnecessary research on a project that is not work related

Geordie Pride: Great North Run 2013

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It doesn’t take much to draw out the Geordie pride in this Northern lass, so a huge global event like the Great North Run just sets me to almost bursting. In fact, this 55,000 field race, from over 100,000 applicants, makes it Britain’s biggest participation event, and the Geordies LOVE to host a big party.

But why is this Great Run so universally loved, attracting people from over 40 countries to the North East of England?

Could it be the weather?

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Probably not!

Could it be the joyous fun of running long distances?

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Hmm…. curious stuff. Yet doubtful.

What could possibly motivate 55,000 people to get up on a chilly Sunday morning, the North sea breeze cutting at their scantily clad bodies, to run 13.1 miles of tarmac roads only to get a medal and short term fear of stairs?

collage gnrThe glee of running 13.1 miles with 55,499 friends at the Great North Run

Today, as my mother and I waited on the banks of the South Shields coastline, gloomy skies above us, surrounded by fellow wrapped up Geordies, we marvelled at this wonderful event on our doorstep (and literally on the doorsteps of many). Catterick Garrison soldiers marched along the final 200m to guide and cheer the elite runners in.

We watched David Weir destroy his fellow elite wheelchair racers as he powered through the finish line to yet another victory. We saw the legendary Dibaba stripped of her 11-year winning streak as Kenya stormed through the tape. Jeptoo crushing her opponents. And then we watched what is being pitched as the greatest finish in the history of this Great British competition. Sticking together for 10 miles or more, Mo and Haile battled along the route with Bekele sitting just behind them. Then as the end drew near, Bekele made a run for it, and it seemed Haile and Mo were left stranded, aghast. But no, in the final 800m, The Mo-Bot, cheered on with a surge of crowd participation (we nearly burst some blood vessels), grit his teeth and gave it some welly. If you were not there, you missed a treat. We were jumping up and down as they fought it out with only metres to go (check out my photo finish above). Mo came in a close second, and this effort of cheer and sheer will to drive him through almost finished off the audience. Then, with a sigh of joy, a rustle and a jiggle of pride, we looked out to the North Sea. A shared pride in being British.

5 minutes later, partially recovered from the exciting drama that had just got us screeching for another British win, we rallied our viewing neighbours to cheer on Dr James Kelly, PhD Chemist, international runner extraordinaire!

“Go James!” we all shouted. “GO JAMES!”

1003927_10100601624052983_896829386_nDr Kelly. The magnificent.

He took only 1 hour and 6 minutes to run 13.1 miles. Placing 22nd! Mind boggling stuff!

It is particularly mind boggling to me in fact, as I continue to battle with my very conservative half marathon time of 2 hours this year. 3 times I have tried to become a runner. And 3 times I have slowed to an almost stop as 9 miles rolls in and Beth’s quads say NO MORE NOW! I ran a Central Park half (twice) and I ran to Brooklyn (slowly), and each time I took 2 hours, or thereabouts. I even got beat by a baby yesterday. A BABY. This is no joke. I should add here that his dad was pushing him in a perambulator, but still. OUCH. All summer I have been loving the camaraderie of a wonderful nationwide venture: Park Run. A weekly 9am jog around a local park, mine is Saltwell Park in Gateshead, but you can find more convenient runs all over the country. To me, after repeatedly hitting a 9 mile wall, 5K always seems more doable on a Saturday morning when the day is my oyster (is that a saying?). I have seen little progress, but I always finish with my heart pumping effectively (phew) and my legs feeling like they don’t much like the idea of long distance but will at least humour me in this resolve. As long I go nice and slow.

So to me, a loser to babies and almost anyone else, anything near the 1 hour mark is genius. Bravo James.

Once the elite runners ran (in the actual sense of the word) towards the warmth, a shower and a long sit, the fun runners began to filter through. And I like to call this time “when Beth comes into her own”. I can clap loudly for England. Oh yes, and the cheering. I go at it like there is no tomorrow. If your name is on your shirt, I’ll scream it. If you have a crumpling frame, I’ll squeal to distract you as you approach the end. And if you are standing next to me. Apologies.

What a day. What a northern Geordie filled day. Can I be any more proud of my people?

Nope!

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Fish and Chips for lunch, home, and a lie down. Too much excitement for this Geordie.

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Summer Salads. Homey Herbs

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The sister surpassed herself this week. Again. Cheeky lamb kebabs (kebobs?) without the skewer action. We shall call this dish:

“Lamb Kebobs (skewers optional)”

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Lemon chunk ready for squeezing. Let me at it!

mushroom salad with lemon dressing (see previous salad/dressing in this series)

lamb marinade
fennel seeds,
cumin seeds,
coriander seeds,
lemon juice and zest,
1 garlic clove,
olive oil
and pepper

mint yoghurt
low fat natural yoghurt,
garlic clove,
and fresh mint

First, to prepare the marinade crush the fennel seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds into a fine powder with your pestle and mortar. Then mix with fresh parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 garlic clove, olive oil and pepper. Marinade for as long as you can and then grill on skewers or not! Prepare salad and dress just before serving with a simple mint yoghurt, using fresh mint from the garden. Grow it. It is an easy going plant. Thrives absolutely.

Eat outside.

And then…

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for dessert? Yes, fruit scones with clotted cream are the business

Sweet, sweet summer

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With all of this cooking and eating and cooking, and then eating again, I was feeling the balance of savoury to sweet needed a bit of tweaking. So we embarked on a couple of days of trial baking as an attempt to try out some new recipes. We opened up all the baking books, highlighting our favourites. Here is the shortlist in action.

Coconut macaroons

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Coconut and almond macaroons

ingredients
2 egg whites
115g (4 oz) icing sugar
115g (4 oz) ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
115g (4 oz) dessicated coconut

directions
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (Gas 2). Grease two baking trays.
Use an electric beater to whisk the egg whites until stiff but moist. Sift in the icing sugar and gently fold into the egg whites. Gently fold in the almonds, vanilla extract and dessicated coconut until the mixture is combined, forming a sticky dough.
Spoon walnut-sized pieces of the mixture onto the baking trays.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the macaroons are crisp and golden on the outside.
Transfer to a cooling rack.

Florentines (Chocolate optional. haha of course it is)

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ingredients
50g caster sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons Congac or Grand Marnier
60g butter
50g plain flour
75g slivered almonds
50g sultanas
50g glace red or green cherries
100g chocolate, melted

directions
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / Gas mark 4. Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper or parchment.
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, liqueur and butter. Warm over a low heat to melt the butter and sugar; remove from heat and stir well.
Add the flour, almonds, sultanas and glace cherries; stir well to combine evenly.
Spoon small amounts of the mixture onto the trays, leaving some space between them to prevent sticking together.
Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven but let them harden on the tray for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.
Dip one side of each florentine into melted chocolate and leave to harden.
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These were my top faves of the day

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A platter of delights

Betty’s of Harrogate Fat Rascals

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Pre-oven fat rascals. Cherries for the eyes and an almond for the snarl. Cheeky rascals.

ingredients
100 g butter, softened
250 g plain flour
75 g currants
50 g mixed citrus peels
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
75 g golden caster sugar
150 ml whipping cream or 150 ml sour cream or 150 ml creme fraiche
1 egg, beaten
glace cherries, for decoration
blanched almond, for decoration (whole)

directions
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425F/Gas 7 and grease or line a baking sheet, or a cookie sheet.
Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix well.
Add the cream and mix to a stiff paste – a firm dough.
Roll the mixture out on a floured board, to about 1″ thickness and stamp out rounds, of about 3″ in diameter. ( You can also shape the fat rascals by hand; take a piece of dough, about the size of a small egg, and make a small ball – flatten it out slghtly into bread roll shapes – like a bread bap shape.)
Arrange them on the greased baking tray and glaze them generously with the beaten egg.
Then place 2 whole blanched almonds on top with a halved glace cherry for decoration – pushing them down gently into the dough, so they do not fall off during baking!
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they have risen and are golden brown.
Allow to cool on a wire cooling rack.
Store them in an airtight tin for up to 4 days OR eat them straight away. Whichever.

IMG_1079Hello Fat Rascals

I think the balance has been restored!

As the money runs out in one of the poorest countries in the world….

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fund 1 fund 2

The money is running out. I know we said the last push was final, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. Check out the images above and the website here: http://www.gofundme.com/housing-in-bangladesh

Come on. It’s just like a registry list, except there are no nut bowls or thick fluffy towels. In fact it’s a steal. One very poor family is getting a house designed just for them and how they live. This special Geordie is changing their lives. And you can help her.

And if you can’t afford anything, a simple exploitation of social media could go a long way. So please, pass it on!

Progress – Jo Ashbridge – RIBA Boyd Auger Scholarship

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So I have not been around for a while. Mainly because I have been indulging in a little too much Tribeca Film Festival 2013 (reviews to come) and galavanting about on various red carpets in search of film gold. But this Monday morning I wanted to help out the little sister with more gushing publicity.

Miss Jo Ashbridge is nearing the end of her time in Bangladesh and also her funding. So with social media hopefully on her side, we hope this final push for a new home for one lucky family, will be a roaring success. She has already designed some magnificent mahogany windows and doors for detailing and is working painstakingly hard to perfect this new house for the beneficiaries.

Sometimes giving to charity can seem a bit vague. Where is your money going you might ask in one pensive moment? Administration costs? Salaries? Well here is your chance (roll up. roll up people) to give directly to the cause. The cause in this instance being shelter, something I cheekily presume is taken for granted by all you readers. Sterling pounds and US dollars (currencies we are by no means restricted to) go a tremendously long way in Bangladesh’s neck of the woods so please get on it if you feel so inclined.

And if these images of progress don’t get your cash flowing maybe this video update will spark something inside your hearts. (Can you spot the Channel 4 documentary styling along the way? Look how interactive this is)

Progress – Jo Ashbridge – RIBA Boyd Auger Scholarship

Gushing over? Yep (for now!)

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Cutting windows and doors

Fishing trip

Fishing Trip

Nobu para children

Nobu para children

Casting concrete

Casting concrete

On site detailing

On site detailing

Site Progress

Site progress

Every Little Helps

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Please help Architect & Sister Jo Ashbridge reach her goal. Help her build a home for a family in Bangladesh.

http://www.gofundme.com/housing-in-bangladesh

To inspire you I have re-posted my favourite blog post on the process to date. I love a good bubble/cry (see last post) so I tend to read this over and over again just to get my eyes watering. Pitched as a real life “Spartacus” moment Sister Jo is making her mark halfway across the world and her humble family is bursting with pride (WOW I am feeling gushy today. Apologies all).

Community Engagement

To better understand household assets we are conducting a survey within the hamlet of Nobu para, based in part on the Bangladesh Population and Housing Census 2011 carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, with a increased focus on the housing conditions. There is one family in particular that is in desperate need of improved living space and they are interested in our new techniques, having previously attended a ‘Building For Safety’ workshop.

My project however requires the backing of the community, exactly 50 individuals across nine households. Equally, beneficiary identification must be a collaborative effort and the final decision approved by majority. This process will ensure both ownership on the part of the individual household and the entire hamlet, and reduce the likelihood of future conflict.

Today we held a community meeting in the local pre-school. It had been scheduled for 2pm following feedback of household availability so that everyone’s voice could be heard. At 2.10pm there is only myself, the SAFE team and two older men living in adjacent houses. Today is Shoroshoti Puja, a festival in worship of the Hindu Goddess of education. Perhaps they have all decided a little dancing is in order?

Then, one by one people start arriving, signing their attendance, until all households are represented. Where the male head of the household is unable to attend, their wives and elder children are present.

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We open the meeting with personal introductions, inviting all the villagers to speak. I present my project, the research undertaken to date and overall goals and SAFE talk of their motivations. I have secured funding to design and construct a new house with one family, the remainder of the funds targeted at further research into earthen plasters (following my initial findings last July), amenities and additional workshops to connect with the entire village. Even before we can present our analysis of the housing survey, the entire room are in agreement as to which family should be chosen.

Now the issue of household contribution, something which has been playing on my mind for some time now. Personally I do not believe in ‘basic aid’. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not against aid. I am not a staunch follower of Easterly. It might be easier if I saw the situation as black and white, if I could argue a position with uninterrupted conviction. The reality is my mind changes on a daily basis. It changes when I am welcomed into the home of a family who are clearly existing hand-to-mouth, when I am offered their last packet of biscuits and all they ask is that I come back to visit. It changes when I see children living under simple tarpaulin sheets on the streets of Dhaka, unable to escape the monsoon rains or indeed their situation. It changes when I see such entrepreneurial spirit that it takes my breath away. It changes.

But I do believe that if aid is the only reasonable option in a certain circumstance, it should not be simple. It should not be presented as aid, it cannot ignore the beneficiaries and what they are able to offer to the process. Perhaps the line between aid and development is not so defined. Perhaps aid could aspire to be appropriate development.

In this project we are asking for a contribution. This is where theory and reality collide. The chosen beneficiary household is very much at the bottom of the ecomomic ladder. The family own the land on which they reside but no additional agricultural land. Tarinduro (father) works as a day labourer earning between 100-200 BDT (£0.62-£1.63) per day, but this is seasonal work and even then not guaranteed. With the eldest son in high school, their daughter in primary and youngest son below school age there are no additional incomes. They can contribute earth, following the demolition of their existing house and they may be able to help with labour. Are these true contributions? If we ask for construction material or small financial assistance, they will undoubtedly be forced to take out a loan… potentially initiating a spiral of debt. Is the theory flawed?

We present this to the group and ask their advice. We argue that I am not a member of the community, and cannot be expected to take the entire financial burden. Can the community offer any assistance? We are inundated with questions… what type of house will we be constructing… how much will it cost? Many of which we are unable to answer in detail as we are at the very beginning of the design process. It’s a tense moment. We have identified the most vulnerable household within the community, but their neighbours are certainly not affluent. The majority also live in bamboo and earth dwellings, albeit better constructed. Their plots may be slightly larger, they may own three cows… but no one is connected to the grid, only one household has a latrine and it is currently out of use. Are we asking too much?

Then from the corner one man raises his voice… “I can offer a bag of cement”. Suddenly another voice… “we can offer a few pieces of bamboo”, a ripple effect… “we can give two bags of cement”… “we will help with the labour”… It’s a real life ‘Spartacus’ moment. I am overwhelmed and have to take a breath to hold down the tears.

OK, so here we go!”

The End

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I find it is almost always best to write a blog post with a splitting headache, very puffy red eyes and tear stained cheeks. It adds an element of the ridiculous and you’ll probably agree, when you hear why I find myself in this state this Sunday evening as the Oscars play on TV from California State.

3 minutes ago I closed a window on my laptop rolling the credits to the last episode of the seventh and final season of The West Wing.

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Is it my blurry vision or is this image a little misty?

Slow off the mark, I began my adventure with the Bartlett Administration only a few months ago. It has taken me much less time than the American public (it took them 7 years of course) and I cannot possibly imagine the personal strain such an investment would have had on the general public: the avid, passionate viewers of this drama series that is.

I have laughed at the sparky speedy wit of my favourites: President Bartlett, Toby, CJ and Joshua Lyman to name a few. I have gasped at the twists and turns, the shocks and surprise attacks, the near deaths, the possible frauds, the loves lost and finally realised. I have cried. Well a lot, so the list would be less blog post, more government legislative document. And I have gradually increased my consumption of episodes to a whopping 7 or 8 a night as I powered through to the end, a bittersweet undertaking that had me hungry for more and clear that at some point there would be none. I don’t want to reveal anything specific, because well that is unfair, but let me say this. In the final episode that just had me heaving and rosy cheeked, I felt like my heart was being stripped out of my chest, as President Jed Bartlett strode the halls of his West Wing one final time. Mr Aaron Sorkin has a lot to answer for. I know most of my friends will be relieved to know it is finally over, and for them too. It is not right to talk of these fictional characters as if they were real and living. But I couldn’t help it and for that I apologise. My sort of family will be greatly missed and I must take a few days to breathe deeply and take a step back from this overblown intensity and hope that I can go on with life as normal, without my President and his impressive team.

Too much? Possibly. But did I mention that I am an emotional dribble on my sofa right now? So a little bit of dramatic rambling should be expected.

I also think a lesson should be learned here. If I discover a quality drama series has finished long ago and so offers all episodes to me back-to-back, then I should slowly step away. Resist any urge or well-intentioned advice, and go for a run instead. Yes. Good idea me.