This, my friends is my best challenge yet! Chosen colour and number combination was 'Yellow 2' which was kayaking. As I choose the challenge at the start of each week to do that coming weekend, I am always going to be quite restricted by what availability there is for my chosen activity. The most obvious company seemed to be London Kayak Tours. As the forthcoming weekend was midsummer, the trip they were running was a 'Summer Solstice' Kayak tour in Windsor...starting at 4.15am on Sunday! There is no room for discomfort around minor details like a crazily early starting time though, despite the fact that I would have to navigate my way around how to get there 3 hours before the trains started running. So I signed up for 'Easycar', a scheme where you hire a car directly from an owner. The one closest to me was this lovely little convertible mini....this seemed like an unexpected additional part of the adventure!
So, my alarm went off at 2.30am and I set off half an hour later in my lovely car for Windsor. A very relaxing if slightly surreal experience as I drove through West London as most people were coming home from a night out, At 4am a surprisingly large group of 16 of us gathered near the river in Windsor and got kitted up. There was a real mix of people from experienced kayakers to first timers and the team at London Kayaks immediately put us at ease saying that very few people fall out of their kayaks, on average about 2 a year. I at least felt confident in my swimming if that happened! We set off apprehensively with the sun yet to come up. Paddling down the river was such an amazingly tranquil experience, gently bobbing past Windsor Castle with no-one else on the water but our group of solstice seekers.
The London Kayak team led us down a small offshoot of the main river which had a real Amazon feel to it. By this time the sun was up and we all agreed how pleased we were that we had sacrificed our sleep for this magical experience. All too soon our adventure was over and we paddled back to our starting point at 6am. A cafe had agreed to open early for us to have some post kayaking breakfast which was much appreciated! We discussed how great it was and thought about other paddles we could do (Hampton Court Palace and Paddle is on my hit list). By 8am I was back in the car and driving back to London, still a good 2 hours before most people in the city were up. This #TheSecretLife experience is going to be hard to beat, but that said, this week's one promises to be fun - more on that to follow....!
Well, from cycling 43miles last week to something very different this week......which is all part of the adventure!
This weeks suggested colour and number combination was 'Pink, 2'. The magic card out of the box was 'Wigmore Lates' Something which may surprise people who know me is that in my 11 years in London I have never been to this musical gem of a venue that is Wigmore Hall. It dates back to 1901 when it was built by Bechstein, the German piano company, next to their piano showroom in Marylebone. Although I credit myself with having quite diverse music taste (well, I mean, flamenco!?) I rarely go to classical events. But a deal is a deal, so I would go and see whatever was on for their ‘Friday Late’ last week. ‘Friday Lates’ are a great series of musical recitals from 10 – 11pm every Friday night – who knew? Last week turned out to be 'Arcangelo',some of the worlds finest musicians who play both historical and modern instruments. Hmmm..what would that be like??
Now the slight challenge with this little venture of mine is that there is an element to it which causes anxiety to the eternal planner in me. If I pick something which is dependent on booking a ticket, will there be GOOD tickets left? Now, here's the added bonus I have found to undertaking these challenges solo....there are some great single seats available at concerts, in this case bang in the centre of the first row, £15!
As the evening didn't begin until 10pm, I thought I would make the most of the night and really embrace 'treating London like a tourist'. I booked myself a 'table for one' at the Portman Corner Restaurant at the Radisson Hotel in Marylebone. Although not the focus of the night, more an added bonus, I really enjoyed my solo dining experience. What's more, my lemon sole, salted caramel cheesecake, coffee and 2 glasses of wine came in at just over £30 courtesy of my Taste Card...Result! Also, the really liberating part of dining in your own is the fact that you can eat at your own pace, not having to consider anyone else's tastes...and listen in on other people's conversations...
Dinner over, I headed to the wonderful Wigmore Hall for the concert start time of 10pm. Well, I can honestly say I was enthralled from start to finish. Nine German Arias was performed by musicians on harpsichord, viola, flute, violin, lute, and soprano voice. In my prime seat at the front row I felt totally immersed - 75 minutes of musical joy, which I was sad to see come to an end. Ah, but the Wigmore Hall have that covered, and at 11.15pm we were invited downstairs to the bar where a jazz quartet were ready to accompany our post concert drinks. The musicians joined for drinks where I had such an interesting chat with the lute player. It was considered very bad form to take photographs of the performers in the main hall so here are some pics of the wonderful ceiling frieze and the post event jazz band. Now I'm off to prepare for this weekend's task which is a real classic...all I can say is I'm taking advantage of the long summer solstice....It promises to be a great one!
And so the adventure begins! The first colour and number suggested to me were 'Yellow, 7'. This card from 'the Secret Life' box directed me to a page of a book called 'Cycling in the South East of England' - one of many activity books I've had for years but barely looked at. Page 52 - 'Colne Valley Trail and Ebury Way' was the bike ride I had to undertake. This is a route that goes from Paddington to Uxbridge along the Grand Union Canal. Now this is where the whole process is already proving to be educational, as I have cycled and run along the Grand Union Canal, but only ever to the East, in fact all the way to Mile End, via Regents Park and Little Venice. But, who knew. this canal path actually goes all the way to Birmingham (and thankfully that wasn't my task ahead!).
I picked the towpath up at Ladbroke Grove and cycled west along the canal. Although not what you would call 'scenic' along these first few miles, I was totally thrown when I found myself cycling across the north circular road....alongside a canal, with cars whizzing by underneath....what??
After this things started to get a lot greener, going past Alperton and Perivale. This was not travel along the Central line though, it is hard to believe that this green idyll exists within London. Then at Bulls Bridge, just beyond Southall, the canal loops round and a few miles later on gives the option to go to Slough on an alternative branch. Sticking to my path though, heading North, I saw several mileage markers for Birmingham (137miles....maybe another day!). Apart from one slightly eerie experience where I cycled apprehensively under a tunnel to a howling noise that sounded like someone being tortured (turned out to be the largest weimaranar dog I have ever seen - safely on the other side of the canal path), this was the one of the most peaceful bike rides I have ever done in London. Peppered with lovely little locks and quaint bistros and pubs, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. I was slightly sad when I arrived at Uxbridge and my 21.5mile journey was over. So, with the competitive side in me never being far away, rather than taking the suggested (easy?) option of the Metropolitan line back home...I about turned and cycled back! Wonderful, 43miles of traffic free cycling where I only encountered about 12 people...and a slightly disconcerting dog. It was also a step back in time - a glimpse into the history of how goods used to be transported through the country on this, the longest canal path in the UK.
A great start to #TheSecretLife ...what will next week bring?
So here’s where I’m at. I am someone who loves experiencing new adventures and developing myself, and I adore London for that reason. When I turned 40 (ahem, a few years ago) I drew up a list of 40 things I wanted to do – I think I developed what everyone now calls their ‘bucket list’. I worked my way through many different experiences which ranged from drinking champagne at the top of Tower 42, through to playing flamenco guitar, and learning how to ice skate (though not at the same time!)
I think we now live in an age where there are so many opportunities available to us bombarding us with messages via so many channels, that we become paralysed by choice. We are online and switched onto an overwhelming array of options for most of our waking life – just think about dating apps as an example.
As Barry Schwarz explains in his book ‘The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less’, our obsession with choice, contributes to anxiety, dissatisfaction and regret.
So, I have decided to try a little experiment and see how things go when the choice is taken out of my hands…..
I decided to go a bit ‘old school’ on this. I have gathered together books, copies of numerous Time Out, sports and activity magazines and got to work with scissors and glue stick. I now have a boxed collection of experiences and opportunities ranging from art and culture, to sports, self improvement, day trips etc etc. It’s all under the heading ‘The Secret Life of Me’, inspired by the Walter Mitty film. Often given negative connotations, a ‘Walter Mitty’ character is seen as a fantasist or daydreamer - nothing wrong with that as long as you carry out your dreams.
Here’s the plan….
For the next few months, once a week, I am asking different friends to choose a colour and a number and I will then undertake that experience. I won’t shy away from things on the basis of weather (I’m Scottish, I have never let this hold me back!) and so only barring exceptional circumstances I will carry out whatever fate decides.
There is a bigger picture and business idea behind this, so I would be interested to see what people think of the concept. Maybe comment on my adventures, suggest things that you would like to see included (only criteria is that it isn’t life threatening!)
Bring on #thesecretlife ......I will post my first adventure next week!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.